Friday, January 29, 2010

'Edge of Darkness' challenges 'Avatar'

By Sarah Sluis

This week's new releases have set up shop in diagonal demographic quadrants: older men (Edge of Darkness) and younger women (When in Rome). Edge of Darkness has the best chance of unseating Avatar, which is still bringing in its millions at an impressive clip. A 20% drop for Avatar will still put the movie at $28 million for the weekend. Unless Edge of Darkness can divert a significant portion of the audience, Avatar will remain on top, though it's likely that Darkness will win Friday before dropping Mel gibson edge of darkness 2 through the rest of the weekend, just like The Book of Eli two weeks ago.

A "well-made genre-blender by professionals who know how to coax tears, deliver thrills," according to our critic Rex Roberts, Edge of Darkness (3,066 theatres) offers a familiar filmgoing experience that will appeal to Mel Gibson fans in particular. The theme of a kidnapped daughter worked particularly well with Liam Neeson's Taken, which released exactly a year ago. Will Darkness be able to beat Taken's $24 million opening weekend?

Romantic comedy When in Rome (2,456) falls on the low end of the struggling genre. It will probably appeal most those teenage girls who haven'tWhen in rome the crew fully grasped the genre's conventions yet. In my review, I noted that its brisk pace keeps the audience from dwelling on the movie's considerable faults, "[whisking] us through the conventions of romantic comedies so quickly there's barely time to groan." The movie will probably open in the single digits or low teens and drop quickly out of the top ten (e.g. Leap Year).

On the specialty front, Saint John of Las Vegas will release in one theatre as part of a new strategy by distributor IndieVest. Wealthy people invest in the film with the side benefit of parties and Hollywood glamour. The movie raised over $10 million, more than it needed, so at least the investors will get some of their money back, given its 5% Rotten Tomatoes rating. That seems to nix its chance at being a cult favorite.

On Monday we'll see if Edge of Darkness was able to pull a coup on reigning champion Avatar, and if When in Rome and Saint John of Las Vegas were able to draw in audiences for their opening wekened.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Yet another self-help book turned movie: 'Eat, Sleep, Poop'

By Sarah Sluis

Okay, okay, the fictionalization of self-help book He's Just Not That Into You wasn't that bad. And Mean Girls was the best high school comedy to come out in a long time (based on nonfiction tale Queen Eat sleep poop Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends...). But under no circumstances do I support a fictionalization of a self-help book with the word "poop" in the title. Yes, a well-connected doctor in Beverly Hills wrote a book about parenting babies called Eat, Sleep, Poop, and it's just a matter of time before it turns up in theatres, courtesy of DreamWorks.

Interestingly, this comes on the heels of another pickup, of the decades-old guide What to Expect When You're Expecting, which was acquired by Lionsgate just weeks ago. Are both companies going to develop them at the same time, to beat each other to the market? Or will one of them wait it out and see how the first mommy film does before beginning production? While parents of young children are better known as television watchers than moviegoers (those annoying people who bring their kids to R-rated movies with the hope that "they will fall asleep" notwithstanding), these two acquisitions show an interest in attracting a demographic neglected by Hollywood. Exhibitors have taken advantage of this market for years now by offering special services to young parents: midday showings of films with the sound turned down, lights dimmed, and babies welcomed. If there's a film specifically targeted at parenting, wouldn't young parents find a way to watch it? On a final note, the pickup of all these nesting titles seems tied to the emphasis on the home that has emerged in the recession. Better hope the focus on the home continues well after the recession recedes.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

'Avatar' breaks two out of three all-time box-office records

By Sarah Sluis

This week, Avatar became the highest grossing film worldwide, just days after it broke the all-time overseas record. Only the domestic all-time record, held by Titanic, is left to fall. And even this film Avatar guns blazing won't be the end of Avatar mania. Given that Cameron has already mentioned he has mapped out sequels for the movie, it came as little surprise when Slash film revealed that Avatar 2 is in the works, with technical crew members signing three to five-year contracts for the second film.

But what to make of Avatar's success? It has the record, but, to many, it doesn't reach quite the same phenomenon level of Titanic, which prompted magazine covers and excited chatter everywhere I went (perhaps the fact that I was a teen girl when Titanic came out contributes to my perception of the film as huge).

For those trying to contextualize just how big of a deal Avatar is, the all-time domestic box-office grosses, adjusted for inflation, help bring Avatar down from Pandora and back to Earth. On this list, the movie has a higher mountain to climb--it's ranked twenty-seventh. Titanic only made it to number six. Most of the films in the top ten are household names and beloved films among many Americans--Gone With the Wind, Star Wars, The Sound of Music, E.T., Jaws, and The Exorcist.

Part of the reason Avatar was able to break so many records so quickly was due to the added income of 3D and IMAX tickets. With enough people paying a 20-30% premium on tickets, the movie was able rack up more money with fewer ticket sales. It also means that at this point, fewer people have seen the movie than many other record-breakers on the list. That stands to change when Avatar receives another boost at the Oscars. With ten films up for Best Picture, it will be a shock if Avatar's not among them.

Having seen, and loved, Avatar in 3D, I'm still a little turned off when I see the images on a television screen or a still online. The look just doesn't seem right to me. Avatar is a uniquely theatrical movie at a time when fewer and fewer people are actually seeing a movie in theatres. It's just a matter of time before 3D-capable television screens help bridge the gap between theatrical and home entertainment, but in the meantime Avatar brings us back to a time when seeing movies on a big screen with few distractions was a special, impossible-to-replicate experience.

Monday, January 25, 2010

'Avatar' passes 'Legion' and 'Tooth Fairy'

By Sarah Sluis

Avatar grabbed the top spot domestically once again, dipping 16% to gross $36 million. Overseas, it did even better, breaking the record set by Titanic. Its cumulative gross of $1.288 billion abroad bested that of Titanic, which finished at $1.242 billion abroad. Titanic still holds the record for domestic box Legion ice cream man office and worldwide box office (the sum of domestic and abroad). Domestically, no movie has been number one for six weeks in a row since Titanic. Now, I just want to know what director James Cameron's next project is--will Avatar 2 come to fruition?

Legion opened in second place with $18.2 million, half the gross of Avatar. Demon-angels and creepy grandmas and ice cream men just never get old. Last year, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, another male-skewing horror/sci-fi mix, opened at $20 million, so the two did roughly similar business.

Tooth Fairy opened two spots lower at number four with $14.5 million, significantly lower than Dwayne Johnson's past two starrers. 2007's The Game Plan, which had a similar set-up that played on Johnson's star persona, opened at $22.9 million. Last year's Race to Witch Mountain opened at $24.4 million. TheDwayne johnson tooth fairy kid-oriented competition wasn't significant either: The Spy Next Door fell to number ten this week with a $4.7 million gross, and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel finished its fifth week at the box office in eighth place with $6.5 million. The Rock may be losing his kid base. Good thing his next film, The Other Guys, appears to be an older-skewing comedy.

Extraordinary Measures opened at number seven with $7 million. The Blind Side-esque Extraordinary measures movie played well in smaller cities and underperformed in big ones, giving distributor CBS Films reason to believe this movie will have strong staying power in less urban areas, where moviegoers often take awhile to catch up with the latest releases.

This Friday romcom When in Rome opens alongside Edge of Darkness, a crime thriller starring Mel Gibson.

Friday, January 22, 2010

'Tooth Fairy' flies into theatres with angel-demons in 'Legion'

By Sarah Sluis

Leading the pack this week is Tooth Fairy (3,344 theatres). Dwayne Johnson stars as a hockey player-turned-tooth fairy. According to critic Ethan Alter, the artist formerly known as The Rock makes Dwayne johnson tooth fairy julia andrews the movie (somewhat) worthwhile. For someone who got his start in the wrestling ring, Johnson seems "entirely at ease in PG-rated surroundings" and "establishes a comfortable rapport with his younger co-stars that's difficult to fake." The movie is expected to grab the runner-up spot this weekend, with Avatar positioned to hold its place at number one.

Horror movie Legion (2,476 theatres) is counting on its scary trailer and TV spots featuring demonic grandmothers to attract Legion grandmother young males. Fallen angels, demons and Dennis Quaid will fill the theatres with horror-seekers and drive the movie to the upper half of the top ten, behind Tooth Fairy and Avatar.

Extraordinary Measures (2,450 theatres) is based on a true story of a father who helped fund a cure for a disease affecting two of his children. The story has many elements common in made-for-TV movies (sick children, "based on a true story," "a parent's fight"), prompting many critics to put the movie in that category. Our Doris Toumarkine, echoing other reviewers, says the movie is "shackled with that Extraordinary measures brendan fraser maybe-best-for-TV ankle chain." Though she enjoyed the film, she felt its middle-of-the-road status may limit its box office outlook to numbers more like Akeelah and the Bee and less like The Blind Side. The Harrison Ford/Brendan Fraser starrer is expected to open in the single-digit millions.

On the specialty front, Creation, a biopic of Charles Darwin, will open in seven theatres. "Bound to spark controversy," according to critic Ray Bennett, the movie is "one of the best delineations of intellectual and emotional struggle seen on film in many a year." Opening on one screen, The Girl on the Train is a French-language film about a girl who claims she was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack on a train. It turns out she's been lying. Director Andre Techine's drama was based on a real incident in France. The lovely Catherine Deneuve, one of my favorite French actresses, plays the girl's mother.

On Monday, we'll weigh in on Avatar's box office, the new releases, and if any returning movies got a boost from the Golden Globes last Sunday.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

An early look at 'How to Train Your Dragon,' 'Shrek Forever After' and 'Megamind'

By Sarah Sluis

In the world of animation, Pixar may be getting most of the press and awards, but DreamWorks Animation is sneaking up on them. While Pixar is releasing an average of one film a year, DreamWorks Animation has three movies lined up for 2010, all in 3D.

At a presentation in New York yesterday, I saw 10 minutes of Megamind (releasing November 5th), 30 minutes of Shrek Forever After (releasing May 21st) and a feature-length version of How to Train Your Dragon (releasing March 26th).

How to Train Your Dragon is the most Pixar-esque of the bunch, eschewing pop culture references How to train your dragon and humor in favor of a universal story and an intricately conceived world. The cinematography is stunning, and represents a huge step forward in CG animation. As directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders explained to us, the animation and lighting teams are typically separate departments that do their work without even talking to each other. They brought in frequent Coen Brothers cinematographer Roger Deakins (who is also listed as a visual consultant for Pixar's Wall-E) to give a talk on linking the lighting and animation steps--he ended up staying to supervise the whole project.

The end product has a dynamic use of light that reflects the dim, candlelit world of the Vikings in the story. While CG animation started out with very flat lighting (think: Toy Story), How to Train Your Dragon at times looks like an animated version of Barry Lyndon. Because of the cinematography and story (and perhaps the fact I got to see the whole thing), this movie impressed me the most. Even in an unfinished version, with the score and certain scenes only roughly animated, it had the most epic, timeless feel. Later, we found out that Steven Spielberg was responsible for one cluster of scenes at the end that were only barely sketched out in animation. The ending had recently been tweaked based on Spielberg's comment after a viewing--a change the directors quickly incorporated.

Beyond the cinematography, little details like hair were rendered with incredible detail. The odd thing with animation is that the closer it approaches

reality, the more hyperreal it looks. Getting the kind of definition

you'd see on natural hair makes it stand out instead of blend in.

Storywise, producer Bonnie Arnold called Hiccup, the film's protagonist, a "teaching hero," an "Obama-type" character because of his emphasis on change--a rather timely comparison. Because the movie is based on a series of children's books by Cressida

Cowell, the team had a J.K. Rowling level of detail to work with. At the press lunch, everyone from Jay Baruchel (voice of the lead, Hiccup) to producer Bonnie Arnold showed an

expansive knowledge of the film's world beyond what appears in

the movie. If How to Train Your Dragon is a success--and it should be--expect a sequel or two in the works.

Shrek Forever After continues to do what the franchise does best: pleasing both children and the parents sitting with them in the theatre. The fourth installment takes its inspiration from It's a Shrek forever after Wonderful Life. The filmmakers

even have gambling, corrupt townspeople and partying witches (the PG

allusion to the prostitutes populating Pottersville). But instead of intervention-by-angel, it's all motivated by an evil creator of magical contracts in fairy tales: Rumpelstiltskin. For those that have watched the first three Shrek movies, the "what if" scenario will be a huge payoff, rewarding viewers for their investment in Shrek's world.

Megamind takes the trio of superhero, villain, and damsel in distress and turns it on its head. In this Megamind version, the villain is the center of the story, and it was hinted that he, not the superhero, ends up with the damsel in distress. With its snappy dialogue and voice performances from Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, and Brad Pitt, this movie appears to be the next step forward after last year's superhero tale Monsters vs. Aliens, which also played with the genre.

With so many movies in the works, DreamWorks Animation is poised to take advantage of the rising sucess of 3D movies at the box office. With a final sequel and two original titles releasing this year, one with definite franchise potential, the studio will be one to watch.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

MLK weekend rewards 'The Book of Eli,' 'Avatar'

By Sarah Sluis

On Friday night, audiences turned out to see new release The Book of Eli, but by the end of the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, Avatar prevailed once again, earning an estimated $54.6 million over the four-day period.

Avatar enjoyed its fifth week at number one and picked up a couple of significant awards at the Golden Globes on Sunday: Best Picture (Drama) and Best Director for James Cameron. Not so shabby. My own parents tried to catch a matinee of the movie on Monday, but they, like dozens of other people in the lobby, were turned away by a sold-out show--with no more screenings for two and a half hours. They went to the beach rather than catch It's Complicated. Zing.

Denzel washington book of eli The Book of Eli, which opened second with an estimated $38 million over the four-day weekend, had a solid $11.6 million opening on Friday and rose to $11.7 million on Saturday before dropping off the next two days to $9 million and $5 million. By comparison, that exceptional beast Avatar did just $10.4 million on Friday, followed by $17, 15, and 11 million the next three days. That kind of rise over a weekend, which can also be seen in its second and fourth weekend, reveals some of the quirks of this long-running (in more than one way) movie. Word-of-mouth usually explains a rise over a movie's opening weekend, but length is a bigger factor here. The 2 hour, 40 minute running time appears to occupy theatres for 3 hours and 30 minutes (once trailers and clean-up is factored in). A 10 o'clock show on a Friday night isn't so appealing when you realize you'll get out at 1 a.m. (past many teenage curfews). The long running time, I suspect, accounts for Avatar's spike on Saturdays and Sundays, when more people attend matinees.

At number three, The Lovely Bones brought in $20 million when it expanded to 2,500 theatres. The showing was much better than I expected, given my disappointment in the literary adaptation, but a quick look reveals that the movie was able to keep its per-screen averages in the five digits during its five-week run in limited release. People, it appears, can be convinced to see the movie, especially given the heavy TV promos I saw (targeted, apparently, to younger women).

Lower down in the top ten, The Spy Next Door debuted at $13 million. The Jackie Chan movie seems Jackie chan spy next door like a Karate Kid permutation. I'll hold out for something closer to the real thing. The remake, which stars Jackie Chan and Will Smith's son, Jaden Smith, comes out on June 11th.

Of the films in the rest of the top ten, Up in the Air fell the least, just 7% to $6.6 million. The most-nominated movie at the Golden Globes came away with just one, for screenplay, but continues to charm audiences.

This Friday, horror film Legion will open along with Extraordinary Measures, a heartwarming true story in the tradition of The Blind Side, and The Tooth Fairy, a big-man-in-a-little-fairy-suit comedy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Top twenty most-anticipated films of 2010, courtesy of Metacritic

By Sarah Sluis

Since the months of January and February are filled with both dreary skies and dreary movies, it's easy to get down on the whole year. When, oh when, will I see the first film worthy of my top ten? Last year I watched my first good film of the year, I Love You, Man (which ended up in my top ten) in January, though it didn't end up in theatres until late March. I don't plan on having such good luck this year--but I do have some good films to look forward to later in 2010, thanks to a perusal of Metacritic's top twenty most-anticipated movies. Although I suspect Metacritic's methodology for this feature was looser than that of its rating aggregation, some worthwhile films turn up in their top twenty.

Inception poster One of my must-sees is their #1 film, Inception. Christopher Nolan directs the sci-fi "architecture of the mind" thriller, which I hope has that tantalizing weirdness of Memento that was toned down in his subsequent films. Please be as awesome as that other sci-fi "world of the mind" movie, The Matrix.

I will dutifully go see their #17 movie, Sex and the City 2, but I suspect it will be more of my attempt to recapture the good times I had watching their TV series than out of the conviction that the movie will be above average. At the very least, it will be fun to see the stylish fangirls dressed up in their New York best as they go to see the movie en masse.

Harry Potter books will always be better than the movies, but that won't stop me from seeing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part I), in November, the fourth-most-anticipated movie.

I missed Iron Man the first time around, but its good buzz and fantastic trailer have convinced me I need to see the sequel, Iron Man 2 (it's also the #2 most-anticipated movie). Watch here to see Robert Downey, Jr. own his senate hearing.

Alice and Wonderland (#9) will also be a must-see, Alice in wonderland poster especially since I liked Tim Burton's version of another children's book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so much. Given its wide-open March time slot, it will be no problem to fit this film in.

Any Martin Scorsese fan worth her muster has to check out Shutter Island (#14), never mind the whispers of delays.

There are also some films of which I'm more skeptical. Tron Legacy (#8) has the most mind-numbing trailer I have ever seen. It's two minutes of this absurdly boring chase scene, followed by a payoff ("But this was supposed to be just a game") that anyone who already read the tagline could figure out.

The remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street (#19) could easily pass by with little buzz, the same way so many other horror remakes have. Given the recent victory of guerrilla-marketed horror flick Paranormal Activity, a remake might not be enough to draw in crowds.

Though I adore Seth Rogen, if The Green Hornet (#6) falters I'll blame a saturation of superhero movies. One sign they might be on the wane? The violent child superheroes in Kick-Ass (#13), which appears to add a bit of parody to the genre. Parody = first sign of a genre's demise.

Of all the movies in the top twenty, the one I'm most willing to put my money on, anticipation-wise, will be The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (#10). Let's hear it for those texting tween girls, the new frontier for movies most likely to have riotous activity on opening day!

To view the top twenty, click here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Netflix data reveals stark geographical contrasts in movie popularity

By Sarah Sluis

Netflix has long been public with their data, even offering a prize of a million dollars to the group that could improve its recommendation system. The contest, of course, required an open sharing of the data. The New York Times released a fascinating infographic last weekend that overlays Netflix rental patterns with Google Maps of twelve U.S. cities. I took it upon myself to analyze the results.

Netflix transformers "The White Hole" For a number of reasons, the movies rented in a city center tended to be different than those rented in more suburban areas, leading many maps with a white hole in the center to indicate no "Top 50" rentals. Most obviously, Paul Blart: Mall Cop played well in areas outside cities, presumably populated with malls and Segway-using security guards. Nights in Rodanthe also played better outside the city, where older females might live. A lot of run-of-the-mill genre films and other drivel played well outside city centers (Dallas loved Knowing), while many art films played better in cities. Is it any wonder that Taken was a "surprise" hit, given that the movie is not in the Top 50 rentals for most of Manhattan and Brooklyn, the center of media? But exceptions prove the rule: Last Chance Harvey, an indie film, played best outside city centers. Perhaps the younger demographics in most cities bumped it out of the top 50 list? Children, too, can account for the "white hole" effect. Bedtime Stories played best outside of city centers. Pixar's Wall-E, however, had more rentals within the city. Here, I suspect a confounding factor. Families in the suburbs likely bought Wall-E (and rented the lesser-reviewed Bedtime Stories), while city dwellers rented Wall-E and passed by Bedtime Stories.

The "Made Locally" Effect Do you remember New in Town, the Renee Zellweger flop about a Miami transplant having a go of Minneapolis? Well, apparently the only people that do live in Minneapolis. The romantic comedy had no traction anywhere else. While most cities shunned romantic comedies--even well-reviewed ones, like The Proposal, did better further outside the city, Confessions of a Shopaholic was a modest exception. The frothy shopping film had a good ranking in the Upper East Side,

Midtown, and West Side neighborhoods in Manhattan, but was utterly absent in the East Village, Lower East Side, and West Brooklyn neighborhoods (like Williamsburg and Park Slope). Here, again, there are two possible solutions. The hipster-populated neighborhoods either saw the film in theatres, and that was enough, or they were simply too cool for the movie. Given the tiny box-office take, I suspect the latter. Other films appealed to niche populations tied to a geographical location, even if the movie wasn't set in that city. Appaloosa, a Western set in Albuquerque, did exceptionally well in parts of Dallas and L.A., but little business in the other big cities.

Netflix"The Black Boost" Films with black actors in lead roles did really, really well in the areas of cities with large black populations, while showing little or no "Top 50" activity anywhere else. Atlanta and Washington D.C. lit up for films like Lakeview Terrace, Traitor, Obsessed,

The Secret Life of Bees, T
yler Perry's The Family that Preys, Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Not Easily Broken,

and Cadillac Records. That's a lot of movies. The South side of Chicago, areas of Dallas, spots all over New York City, and wee sections of Boston, Miami and L.A. also showed heavy activity on these movies. The exception was Seven Pounds, the Will Smith would-be awards movie that was dark red everywhere, indicating heavy rentals.

"The Blue State Boost" Surprise, surprise. People who saw Bush-lambasting W. were concentrated in blue state areas. Milk, set in San Francisco and appealing to liberal, gay-friendly, and awards film audiences, had high levels of rentals in the Bay Area and the liberal areas of other cities, though it bled more easily into other areas than W. Religulous did better in Western states, which have a reputation for being less church-going. Denver, followed by Seattle, was hot for the religion-mocking documentary.

After noting these trends, I'd also like to point out some confounding variables. People who subscribe to Netflix have something in common--they enjoy movies, have enough income to pay for monthly deliveries of said movies, and probably have some other demographic information in common, whether it's race, gender, age, income, or level of education. That can skew results. Netlfix is not the only sign of a movie's popularity in a particular location, since it doesn't know if someone saw the movie in theatres or bought the movie. As noted, that's why I suspected Wall-E was being rented in urban areas and bought (and thus off the map) in areas outside cities. That being said, this data can provide valuable information to distributors and exhibitors wondering why some films that do well at the box office flop for their theatres, and vice versa.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

'Spider-Man 4' abandons one web for another

By Sarah Sluis

After preliminary reports that Spider-Man 4 was falling apart, Variety announced today that director Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire are exiting the project. The kicker? Columbia Pictures already has another script in place that will relaunch Spider-Man as a teenager, leaving them with little to do but find Spiderman4 new cast and crew.

In a world where sequels are often dragged out past their due date, becoming more expensive to make even as interest in the original concept wanes, I was impressed by this business decision. Not only did Columbia walk away from a project that had millions of dollars of sunk development costs, the studio had already hedged their bets by developing a script that wouldn't require their expensive director or star. I suspect that this alternative script might have been used as a bargaining chip to keep the demands of the cast and crew down (or it might have come from plots for Spider-Man 5 or 6, since the screenwriter was tasked with those scripts), but then was recognized as a viable project in its own right. The choice also seemed to be a perfect example of a management style that is now becoming part of business school curricula that emphasizes critical thinking over following through on pre-planned strategies.

The key to management success may be "thinking through

clashing priorities and potential options, rather than hewing to any

pre-planned strategy." A college dean happened upon the success of this approach when he interviewed his son's retiring principal. The principal made effective use of this kind of critical thinking, one the dean supposed had its only natural environment in the occupation of "a hotshot, investment bank-oriented star lawyer."

In the case of Spider-Man, in one corner you have proven talent that is more expensive but can be trusted to bring in a quality project with large returns. The talent is also your problem, because they have a lot of power, which was delaying the project--in the last report before the talent's exit, the project was at a standstill because no one could agree on a villain. In the other corner with the teenage Spider-Man project, you move up a re-launch that probably would have happened anyway, have more control over the project than the talent, and a smaller budget that will be easier to recoup. There's more risk, but you're still dealing with a franchise. That's a lot of high-octane decision-making going on, and Columbia ultimately chose the second option. Though both sides claimed an amicable parting, I can only wish I knew what happened behind closed doors. I'll have to settle for a rewatching of Vince Chase's attempt to land the role of superhero Aquaman in "Entourage," a worthy dramatization of the deal-making process.

Monday, January 11, 2010

'Daybreakers,' 'Leap Year' finish behind holiday releases

By Sarah Sluis

Avatar led the pack for the fourth week in a row, posting a gross three times higher than its closest competitor, $48.5 million. Its week-over-week drop totaled just 29%, compared to drops in the in the 35-55% for the rest of the top ten. Its international gross, a few times that of its domestic gross, helped push the film to a wordwide $1.3 billion. It's the international market, not the domestic one, which will give this movie its best chance at beating the $1.8 billion worldwide record of Titanic--also directed by James Cameron.

Daybreakers 2 The three films debuting this weekend cumulatively made less than Avatar. Vampire pic Daybreakers fared the best of the bunch, earning $15 million and the #4 spot.

Below Daybreakers, Amy Adams romance Leap Year finished sixth with $9.1 million. It failed to exceed the gross of its three-week-old competition, It's Complicated. The Nancy Meyers-directed romantic comedy earned another $11 million, bringing its three-week total to $76 million.Youth in revolt francois nick twisp

Youth in Revolt opened ninth with $7 million. With just 1,873 theatres in its release, the movie made efficient use of its screens, finishing with a per-screen average of $3,700, higher than half the movies in the top ten.

Many of the end-of-the-year specialty releases are expanding through January, posting significant increases in their grosses from week to week. The Young Victoria added 311 theatres for a 476-theatre release. The humanizing look at the budding monarch brought in $1 million, a 23% boost from the previous week. Fox Searchlight's Crazy Heart went from 12 to 33 theatres and earned $460,000.

After shedding theatres for the past two months, The Men Who Stare at Goats added back 120 theatres, boosting its gross 189% to $120,000. The week before, it jumped 30% unexpectedly--perhaps viewers are paying attention to those "For Your Consideration" ads?

The most successful of the films positioned as awards winners, Up in the Air, has grossed $54.7 million so far for Paramount. This week it enjoyed a $7.1 million gross and settled into its fourth week in the top ten. Its timely success at the box office could give it that extra push come awards season.

This Friday, The Spy Next Door (Jackie Chan + children) will compete with dystopic sci-fi tale The Book of Eli, as well as an expansion of The Lovely Bones.

Friday, January 8, 2010

'Leap Year' and 'Youth in Revolt' add laughs to the box-office lineup

By Sarah Sluis

This weekend gives us the first wide releases of 2010. Falling into the fairly recognizable genres of romantic comedy, teen comedy, and vampire (I'm counting that as a genre now), these films should open in the middle of the top ten. Christmastime releases like Avatar, Sherlock Holmes, and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel still have enough steam to finish ahead of the new offerings.

Amy adams matthew goode leap year "As fresh as a hunk of week-old

soda bread," Leap Year (2,511 theatres) is one of those predictable romantic comedies usually released during an off time of the year. Watching the trailer pretty much gives away the whole plot, including a twist that happens at least an hour in, so it would be a good choice for those to talk during a movie? Like knowing that all of the fighting between Amy Adams and Matthew Goode is just an hour-long procrastination before their inevitable union? The romcom is predicted to finish below Daybreakers but above Youth in Revolt.

Daybreakers Daybreakers (2,523 theatres) brings viewers to a futuristic world where vampires feed off an ever-diminishing group of human survivors. While our critic Maitland McDonagh praises the movie for details like "coffee bars where cups of

java come with blood instead of milk, she finds "the story under this rich surface is simplistic and derivative." The most likely candidates to buy tickets for this vampire dystopia will be young, male frequent moviegoers who have already seen Avatar and Sherlock Holmes.

A fresh installment in the teen comedy genre, Youth in Michael cera youth in revolt Revolt (1,873 theatres) will have particular hold among teens and twentysomethings. With plenty of laughs and an unrealistically adult level of dialogue, Michael Cera does what he does best: acting like a nerdy, preternaturally aware teen. Cera has been doing extensive web and viral promos, including one with the cast of breakout hit "Jersey Shore," which may give the movie an edge at the box office. It's currently tracking to finish the lowest out these new releases, so an upset could indicate an underestimation of these viral efforts.

On Monday we'll circle back to see Avatar inching toward Titanic's all-time record, the top returnees adding even more coin to their flush pockets, and if Daybreakers, Leap Year, and Youth in Revolt finish in their expected order.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Movie '127 Hours' will have no dialogue for one hour

By Sarah Sluis

In a flash of genius, I thought I had finally figured out how they are going to make a movie about the guy that was trapped under a boulder for five days and survived by cutting off his arm. Flashbacks. Aron_Ralston_1161960617102753Slumdog Millionaire-style flashbacks.

Those of you who have seen that Oscar-winning smash Slumdog Millionaire last year may remember that the entire story is composed of flashbacks motivated by a police interrogation with the young male protagonist. Detained by inspectors after winning "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?," he summons a different memory with each question they ask. The screenwriters, Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle (the latter directing), will reprise these roles for their new movie, entitled 127 Hours. And flashbacks seem like a perfect strategy to dramatize a man who is literally trapped in one place for five days.

But it appears Beaufoy and Boyle are going in a different direction. There is apparently no dialogue for the first hour. Like Cast Away, without the volleyball. What!?

Well, if there's one person who can pull it off, it would have to be Jamesfrancoforvoguehommesinternationalfw07088James Franco, who was just announced as the lead today. First off, he looks similar to Aron Ralston, the mountaineer who inspired the story. The actor has spent some time at Columbia and guest starring on "General Hospital," (which he called a "performance art" experiment), an unusual combination that gives him an aura of intellectualism which could work for such a role. Fear not, it will probably hit theatres later this year, with production starting in March.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

'I'm with Cancer' casts Anna Kendrick and lands a new director

By Sarah Sluis

If you go to a film entitled I'm with Cancer, you have some idea of what to expect. Cancer = sad. The pun on "I'm with child" = funny. It also implies a kind of child/pet relationship, as if cancer is just this novel thing that pops out of you and starts going goo-goo-ga-ga.

The project also brings to mind a cautionary tale, Funny People. The rather generically titled Judd Apatow movie, which also involved serious illness, didn't live up to expectations this summer. It might have mixed up its tone too much, switching from comedy to drama and back, a strategy that left viewers with an odd, instead of cathartic, emotional experience.


Anna Kendrick just signed on to I'm with Cancer today, joining James McAvoy (the guy with cancer) and Seth Rogen (the guy's friend). Kendrick will play a psychologist who is supposed to help the cancer patient, but is a bit naive about the process. Jonathan Levine will now direct after the original director dropped out due to location difference--an odd-sounding, unusually neutral reason if I ever heard one.

But given the tricky subject of the comedy, how will people react? I found the best response in this script review, which was done by a woman with cancer. She ends up liking the script, though she notes that:

"I'm with Cancer approaches a serious disease with humor and light-heartedness. But to those who know people who have died from cancer, I fear the tone of the story may be off-putting and come across as flippant and disrespectful. It's not, but cancer evokes a lot of emotion in people and personal experiences will most definitely play into one's interpretation of this story."

Point taken. At this point, I'm thinking the tone is a touch more irreverent than Patch Adams, another story about finding humor in the face of death. What this project ultimately has in its favor is its real-life connection. The screenwriter, Will Reiser, based the story on his own experiences, and Rogen is a good friend both in real life and in the movie. While Funny People was purely fictional, Patch Adams (which, if I remember correctly, made me both laugh and cry) was also based on a true story. When you're dealing with a tonally complex story, real-life experiences may be the best way to anchor a film and prevent it from going all over the place.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sandra Bullock, Redbox, and 'Avatar': signs of change in the movie business

By Sarah Sluis

A quick scan of today's top stories shows records falling, new material, genres and stars bringing in big dollars at the box office, and the rental business changing--all signs of an exciting, change-filled year ahead.

First off, Sandra Bullock became the first sole female headliner to bring a movie to $200 million Sandra bullock the blind side domestically with The Blind Side. A couple caveats: "Sole headliner" is kind of an arbitrary distinction. In fact, it mattered little to me that both what's-their-names Nia Vardalos and John Corbett both received credit on My Big Fat Greek Wedding. And add in inflation, and Pretty Woman's $178.4 million gross twenty years ago doesn't look so shabby (though perhaps Richard Gere had something to do with it). So while I appreciate the record, it's not like a female has never brought a film to $200 million before, it's just that they had some prominent supporting actors or co-stars that also received billing. Now that I've said my piece, congratulations to Sandra Bullock! There's a reason your goofy films like Miss Congeniality always merit watching when they come up on cable, and why you're a part of so many people's DVD collections.

Next up, Redbox, which added $1 billion to the rental market. DVD sales are down a lot, BlockbusterRedbox is down a little, but Redbox and Netflix have come in with two models that make renting a movie easy and economical. Even illegal downloaders pay for the convenience of these products. As a Manhattanite, I've never seen a Redbox (though I've heard of sightings of them in Brooklyn), but rest assured, if I were driving to strip malls, I'd be using them for their convenience and pricing structure. I also love that while Netflix is working the market of "deep cuts," using a robust recommendation system to get people to discover unlikely movies, Redbox has been working only on the small percentage of new releases with hyperawareness. Who ever thought that rental markets could be divided in this way? It's pretty clever.

Finally, Avatar, which I'm sure I will be talking about on this blog for months to come. It's the first adult Avatar romance broad-appeal 3D movie of the era, and it's breaking records left and right. A few weeks into its run, my mother just got around to telling me she plans to see it. With this kind of slow build of awareness through the grapevine, this movie will be playing in theatres for months to come. What does James Cameron have up his sleeve that will give him the #1 and #2 movie of all time? In fact, it's that neglected Hollywood demographic: women. Both of these two films have paired action and romance against a background of special-effects and spectacle, making it a must-see for both men and women. Avatar doesn't have as much of a love story as Titanic, so it probably won't do as well. It's worth noting that Cameron'sTerminator films and Aliens also have some of the most memorable female action heroes of all time, minus the love stories that figure into Avatar and Titanic, so that just might be the difference.

Monday, January 4, 2010

'Avatar' continues its reign with the highest-grossing third weekend ever

By Sarah Sluis

Three weeks into Avatar's run, the movie has kept its altitude when most other movies would have dropped off by tens of millions by now. Cue box-office records falling. This weekend it grossed $68.3 Avatar floating islands million, and broke the records for top gross on New Year's Day, as well as the highest-grossing third weekend ever. It's now the #4 top-grossing movie worldwide, below Titanic, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. While James Cameron's Titanic ended up with $1.8 billion worldwide and won't be unseated anytime soon, his Avatar only has to earn another $100 million before it assumes the #2 spot worldwide: give it a week or so.

Will it be possible for Avatar to submerge Titanic? At this point, it's outpacing Titanic's first three weeks, but then again, so were the movies in the #2 and #3 spots for worldwide gross. All the buzz and projections have the movie placing behind Titanic when the dust settles, but the sci-fi spectacle could end up getting closer than predicted. It's also worth noting that although the movie has placed #4 worldwide, it's still #15 domestically, where stalwarts like Star Wars and E.T., released before foreign box office had as big of a share, remain.

The only new release of the week, Sony Picture Classics' awards contender The White Ribbon, The white ribbon grossed $20,000 per location in a three-theatre release. Another one of the distributor's releases, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, came away with the highest per-screen average of the weekend, $32,000.

Most of the returnees in the top ten posted minimal drops or modest gains. The worst-off was Sherlock Holmes, which fell 38% to $38 million. The biggest gain came from The Princess and the Frog, which added 11% to its total to finish with $10 million, followed closely by a 10.3% gain from The Blind Side, which finished two spots higher than Frog with $12.6 million.

Awards favorite Up in the Air also generated a healthy number of ticket sales, going up .7% from last week to make $11.3 million in ticket sales.

This Friday a romance, comedy, and vampire movie will debut in theatres, but don't expect any of them to grab the top spot from Avatar.