Friday, February 26, 2010

'Cop Out' looking to steal the box office, with 'The Crazies' not too far behind

By Sarah Sluis

Coming into the weekend, the policing team of Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan in Cop Out (3,150 theatres) has the best chance of finishing highest. Seemingly made with the idea that 'Sure! Tracy jones cop out everybody loves a buddy cop comedy!,' this is a "completely disposable picture" according to our critic Ethan Alter, who felt that everyone from the actors to the studio was phoning it in. As for those who see the movie, "it's a two-hour time-waster that barely lingers in the memory." Ouch. For director Kevin Smith, making his first commercial picture that he did not also write, the poor reviews must sting--with only a high opening weekend as an antidote.

By comparison, The Crazies (2,476 theatres) has garnered mainly positive reviews, currently tracking 71% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes to Cop The crazies timothy olyphant Out's 17%. FJI critic Maitland McDonagh was thrilled to see this remake of the 1973 George Romero film soar above the so-so remakes of horror movies Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Amityville Horror. She credits excellent acting as a major source of suspense: "...escalating tension hinges on the fact that the line between abnormal behavior triggered by extreme stress and the warning signs of infection is blurred and constantly shifting." The subject matter doesn't hurt either. Small-town Iowans start going crazy after a government plane crash dumps a bioweapon into the town's water, an anxiety shared by our phthalate-fearing, toxins-causing-autism society.

Among holdovers, Shutter Island could make $20 million in its second weekend, which could be a tough number for Cop Out to match. The Ghost Writer, which debuted strong last weekend, will expand from four to 43 theatres in twelve cities. Sony Picture Classics' Oscar-nominated The Last Station will go from 116 to 359 theatres. Its Best Foreign Language film nominee A Prophet (Un Prophete) will also make its premiere. Our critic Alter makes the interesting observation that the drama depicting racially charged French prisons "probably won't seem as novel over here as it was in its homeland," where it won several high-profile awards. Americans are just too inured to the prison genre, spending an "inordinate amount of time following the exploits of people doing time."

On Monday, results will be in for Cop Out, we'll see if The Crazies was able to pick up audiences from strong word-of-mouth, and if Shutter Island was able to hold on to a second week at number one.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Park me in front of 'The Sitter,' please!

By Sarah Sluis

I have rather nostalgic memories of my babysitters, those too-cool teenagers who played with my brother and myself while we ate kid-friendly food like mac 'n cheese and watched a movie. I adored Jonah_hill_5056409 Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead and some of my friends swore similar allegiance to Adventures in Babysitting. And when it came to books, The Babysitter's Club series took up shelves and shelves in the school library--the "Gossip Girl" of my generation. So it's only natural that I would be excited to see the revival of the babysitter movie.

Jonah Hill will star in The Sitter, with David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) directing. The spec script was good enough to spark a bidding war between 20th Century Fox and Paramount (Fox won). Described as Adventures in Babysitting meets Superbad (which Hill starred in), the story follows a Adventures_in_Babysitting(1987) suspended college student living at home who gets roped into babysitting three crazy children next door. It's a nice angle: having the rule-breaker be the enforcer for once. The story also brings to mind Hill's upcoming summer movie Get Him to the Greek, which also involves babysitting--except his charge is a rock star. From the trailer, the movie appears to have the right mix of Hill going along for the ride and freaking out about what is going on, so reprising this persona should be a pretty sure thing. Every generation deserves a good babysitting movie, so I will be pleased to see Hill and Green take on the timeworn genre.

Monday, February 22, 2010

'Shutter Island' takes advantage of a deserted weekend

By Sarah Sluis

The only new wide release in sight, Shutter Island, racked up $40.2 million its opening weekend. Shutter island dicaprio michelle williams Although an unexpected change in release date, from October to February, caused many to raise eyebrows, the strategic change ended up benefiting the movie's box office in a big way. Despite the fact that both director Martin Scorsese and star Leonardo DiCaprio have received better reviews for other films, Shutter Island was the biggest opening ever for both of them. Males and females were drawn equally to the movie, which also attracted viewers from all age groups old enough to see a R-rated film.

On the specialty circuit, The Ghost Writer's four-theatre debut earned each theatre $44,700. The strong opening bodes well for the movie's expansion over the next couple of weeks. Roman Polanski's Best Director win at the Berlin The ghost writer mcgregor brosnon International Film Festival doesn't hurt either.

If Valentine's Day's opening weekend was much larger than expected, its 70% second-weekend drop crashed it right back down with a $17.1 million take. With many films making a steep post-President's Day weekend decline, however, the movie was still relatively strong and held onto second place. Given its holiday-based theme and title, Valentine's Day could have fallen further, but female-skewing romances seem to be all the rage at the box office.

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief dropped 50% from the previous weekend to $15.3 million. The kid-friendly picture is one of the only offerings on the market, and will be for one more weekend before Alice in Wonderland takes the stage.

The Wolfman also fell around 70% to $9.8 million and dropped from second to fifth place. With a cumulative take of $50 million, this movie will lose money for Universal, which reportedly spent $150 million on its production.

Avatar demonstrated its lasting strength by moving up one spot from last week and beating both Percy Jackson and Wolfman, movies that are only on their second week. Avatar's in its tenth. No, it didn't spend as many weeks at number one as Titanic, but a 30% drop after a holiday weekend and another $16.1 million demonstrate this movie's continuing ticket demand.

The other Oscar contender in the top ten, Crazy Heart, moved up a spot with a slight 30% drop to $3 million. Just ten weeks into its run, the movie is positively fresh when compared to the other nominees, which could help when it comes time for Academy members to cast their votes.

This Friday, the buddy comedy Cop Out will hit theatres along with a true product of our health and environmentally conscious times, "tap water made me insane" horror movie The Crazies.

Friday, February 19, 2010

'Shutter Island' poised to shut down the competition

By Sarah Sluis

The only new wide offering on the market, Shutter Island (2,991 theatres), should go straight to the top this weekend, pushed along by equal interest among male and female moviegoers. The longer President's Day weekend is usually followed by larger-than-average drops among returning films, so Shutter island dicaprio despite three movies grossing $30 million plus last weekend, only Valentine's Day has an off-chance of besting the latest (but not greatest) work from director Martin Scorsese.

A "Gothic-style psychological thriller," according to Executive Editor Kevin Lally, Shutter Island suffers from "a surfeit of plot ingredients." Leonardo DiCaprio plays a guy investigating a disappearance in an insane asylum, and creepy things are happening. Two options pop up pretty quickly, perhaps even before the lights go down to start the show: Is it possible that the staff is conspiring to make him insane--or is he already insane, and everything is a delusion? It's a ruse that's sustained the whole way through, but grows wearying towards the end. As critic A.O. Scott of the New York Times aptly puts, "...just when the puzzle should accelerate, the picture slows down...[and gives viewers] painstaking exposition of matters that the audience already suspects are completely irrelevant." Still, the movie is beautiful to look at and draws inspiration from great filmmakers, including 40's suspense great Val Lewton.

Four theatres will unveil The Ghost Writer, which will expand over the next two weekends. Director The ghost writer ewan mcgregor Roman Polanski creates a professional, "well-made thriller that delivers two hours of slick entertainment" according to critic Rex Roberts, but "the movie feels as though it's been plotted by numbers," and the filmmakers include a number of slick contrivances to "coax their story along." With all the publicity from Polanski's imprisonment, as well as a general thumbs-up in the critical community (it's tracking at 78% on Rotten Tomatoes), this movie's opening numbers will be one to watch.

Rounding out the offerings, several small releases will make their way into theatres. The Good Guy, starring Alexis Bledel in a pre-recession love triangle involving Wall Streeters, opens in nine theatres. Happy Tears, about a man (Rip Torn) taking up with a crackhead hussy, much to his daughters' (Demi Moore and Parker Posey) chagrin, opens in 15 theatres. Maybe Torn's drunken bank robbery ("I thought I was in my home") can generate some dollars from people curious to see if he looks soused on-screen? Finally, newbie distributor Paladin releases Blood Done Sign My Name (95 theatres), a civil-rights era drama about violence sparked by the racially motivated murder of a black Vietnam veteran.

On Monday, the mystery of Shutter Island's performance will be solved, The Ghost Writer will have an idea of its prospects in the weeks ahead, and we'll see how Valentine's Day, Percy Jackson, and The Wolfman held on through their second week.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Disney's got a date for 'Prom'

By Sarah Sluis

Yesterday, the blogosphere was circulating with the news that Disney had passed on The Proposal 2, despite the fact that the original movie made over $300 million worldwide while costing just $40 million. The supposed reason? Not enough merchandising.

High-school-musical Today, Disney announced that a project developed under previous production head Oren Aviv has been put back on track. Entitled Prom, the movie would follow around nine teenagers as they prepare for the big event. The ensemble focus makes it seem like a teen version of Valentine's Day, but the studio is hoping the young, high school focus will replicate the success of High School Musical. The financial hook for the movie includes a low, low budget, in the neighborhood of $5-10 million, and a cast of unknowns. As in High School Musical, the studio hopes to launch some new stars. Disney, along with Nickelodeon, is a clearinghouse for young stars that it likes to shepherd into fame. If Disney writes a clause in a contract that calls for a sequel or an option to appear in a subsequent film, it could lock in an actor that becomes a star through his/her appearance in Prom, most likely at a lower rate.

Although a teen romance may not seem like the biggest opportunity for merchandising, Google proved me wrong. The High School Musical franchise has fleece blankets, Barbie knock-offs, life-size photos/standees, logo wristbands, pens, hair products, Christmas stockings, hair ties, calendars, toothbrushes, a "four-piece study kit" (a.k.a. pencil pouch, sharpener, eraser and ruler), umbrellas, board games--a child could have an entire room full of High School Musical merchandise.

The one snag to this film in my mind is a theatrical release. The High School Musical movies were able to build a huge following because they were constantly played on the Disney Channel. Because it was a musical (which this movie will not be), it encouraged repeat viewings as kids interacted with the movie, trying to learn the songs and dances that went along with it. While Disney has incredible access and experience with the teen market, launching a movie without any stars will be challenging--but one that Disney is the most equipped to handle. And with a $5-10 million investment, there's not much to lose.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

First 'Transformers,' now Erector sets. When will the toy films stop?

By Sarah Sluis

Erector Sets: The 3D Movie may be coming to a theatre near you, but I certainly hope not. Toy manufacturer Hasbro has long been on the gravy train of toy-to-movie adaptations, with other Erectorset-1953-ad manufacturers like Mattel and Milton Bradley coming in to create movie adaptations of popular dolls and board games. As the more popular and plottable properties have been snapped up, bizarre and one-note toys have started to be acquired. In a way, it's a wonder that toy-based adaptations haven't happened earlier. Toy companies and movies have a long history of contact with each other (hello, Star Wars merchandising), but until recently their original creations never received a spotlight of their own.

While there have been successful adaptations of plotless properties (I'm counting Pirates of the Caribbean as one I can really stand behind, even though it was a theme park ride and not a toy), making a movie out of Erector sets sounds like a real creative stretch--or worse, totally foreseeable. What is it going to be, a young boy who makes an erector set model that magically comes to life? Haven't we seen enough movies about toys coming to life? With an audience full of young children, however, it's unlikely that a seven-year-old will realize they're being presented with an age-old movie setup.

I wonder if any of these toy-to-movie adaptations were sparked by the success of Toy Story, Pixar's seminal CG film about toys coming to life. At the time, the movie was noticed more for its CG animation than its toys-come-to-life plot, but it was very rewarding to see familiar toys like Mr. Potato Head incorporated into the plotline of the story. Toy Story 3, releasing this summer, includes Ken alongside some fictional toys like a hedgehog called Mr. Pricklepants (although I bet you can buy Mr. Pricklepants as soon as the movie releases). But an adaptation of a property like Erector set seems unnatural and forced. I see the Erector set working much better as a tool in a movie like Toy Story than as the star of its own show, but that won't stop the production company Helix films from creating a "fantasy/adventure franchise."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Audiences swoon for 'Valentine's Day'

By Sarah Sluis

Valentine's Day swept the holiday weekend with an estimated $66.8 million gross over the four-day period, exceeding industry expectations. The timely romantic comedy built on its audience through the Valentines day taylor swift jennifer garnder weekend, peaking on the titular Sunday holiday before dropping by half on Monday. The movie handily beat the $52 million box-office record for President's Day weekend, set by Ghost Rider in 2007. With an expired holiday in the title, the movie's week-over-week future is more uncertain, but its strong opening created a high mountain to slide down.

The Wolfman and Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief were neck and Wolfman emily blunt neck through Sunday, with about $31 million apiece, but Percy Jackson pulled ahead during the Monday school holiday to finish with $38.7 million for the four-day weekend. Given The Wolfman's multiple delays and underwhelming reviews, Universal is probably breathing easy about its $36.4 million opening weekend--even if it isn't close to recouping the movie's $100 million-plus production costs.

Directed by Chris Columbus (who kicked off the Harry Potter series), Percy Jackson, which is based on a series of children's books, could still be the beginning of a film franchise. However, the scale may have been too large. With a $95 million production budget, this movie seems to have been imagined for a Harry Potter-size audience instead of one much smaller, and a $38 million opening weekend won't be enough to make a film that expensive worthwhile.Percy jackson

Beyond the top ten, Fox Searchlight scored an impressive debut with My Name is Khan, a Bollywood production about "an Indian in America battling the double whammy of living with Asperger's Syndrome and as a Muslim man in the post-9/11 world," according to the THR review by Kirk Honeycutt. The romantic drama placed thirteenth with a $2.2 million estimated gross over the four-day weekend. With a targeted 120-theatre release, I suspect that Fox Searchlight cherry-picked its locations based on data from the run of Slumdog Millionaire, the Indian-themed movie that swept the Oscars last year.

Searchlight also placed a film in the top ten with Crazy Heart, which expanded to 1,005 locations and brought in $4.2 million for a ninth place finish. The movie, which stars Jeff Bridges in an Oscar-nominated role, has seen the biggest box-office boost due to its nominations, in part because it released just before the Oscar cutoff date and is still a fresh title.

Among returning films, Avatar headed the pack with a $30 million gross over four days, propelling the movie up 31% from last week (for four days) and 3% (for three days).

Even with tough competition from Valentine's Day, romantic weepie Dear John held on with another $18.8 million. Kid-friendly Tooth Fairy benefited from family crowds on Monday and dropped just 9% to $7.7 million.

This Friday, another delayed movie, Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island, will make its debut into a wide-open field. Only holdovers and small releases, including a four-theatre unveiling of Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer, will serve as competition.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Crowded box office with 'Valentine's Day,' 'Wolfman' and 'Percy Jackson'

By Sarah Sluis

The leader of the pack this weekend is Valentine's Day (3,665 theatres), which shares its name with the holiday this Sunday. With the added bonus of the Monday President's Day holiday, when schools Valentines day kids and many workplaces are closed, the movie is poised to take advantage of couples and singles mooning over the lovey-dovey storyline. Plus, Valentine's Day is a kind of informal sequel along the lines of Love Actually and, to a greater extent, He's Just Not That Into You. The success of those ensemble-style romantic comedies, now a budding genre, will give people an idea of what to expect and encourage fans of the previous movies to catch this one. Variety predicts Valentine's Day will open to $45 million, measurably more than He's Just Not That Into You's $27 million gross over a normal three-day weekend. Reviews, however, have not been kind. But for people in search of a topical diversion, this sup-par box of chocolates may be the best story out there.

A Harry Potter wannabe, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (3,356 theatres) has Percy jackson lotus eaters the ingredients to be "a modest hit with the eight to 12-year-old set," according to critic Ethan Alter, but not the crossover success of Harry Potter. Packed with characters from Greek mythology and Homer's tales, the movie has some modern updates Alter liked, including an iPod screen to reflect the image of Medusa and placing the Lotus Eaters inside a Las Vegas pleasure den. With only two-week-old Tooth Fairy as competition, Percy Jackson is in an envious position to scoop up the family crowd.

The Wolfman (3,222 theatres) has been delayed numerous times, giving off a decaying aroma easily detected by wolfhound critics. Alter Wolfman hopkins del toro notes that "the finished product feels less like a complete feature film than a series of compromises between Universal and the filmmakers." Despite a star cast featuring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, and Emily Blunt, the performers are either unable to rise to the material or the material does not rise to them. With strong interest among males, however, the movie will probably finish in the top three.

On Tuesday, I'll recap the long weekend and find out if Valentine's Day wooed enough moviegoers, and if Percy Jackson and The Wolfman were able to entice their respective audiences.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Writing duo Lutz & Smith to tackle remake of 'Best Little Whorehouse'

By Sarah Sluis

I've had a soft spot for writing team Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten "Kiwi" Smith ever since I perused the audio commentary of Legally Blonde. The duo talked about visiting Southern California sorority The best little whorehouse in texas houses as research for their screenplay. I can only imagine what kind of research they'll embark on when they write the remake of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

The 1982 original (based on a 1978 Broadway play) starred Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds as a madam and a sheriff who unite against a preacher trying to shut the town brothel down. Since the original story drew inspiration from the famous Chicken Ranch brothel in Texas, I wouldn't be surprised if the remake, described as a "complete overhaul," opts to set the movie in the Las Vegas/Nevada area, which tolerates prostitution.

Lutz and Smith have an impressive track record. While working within the romantic comedy genre, which misses the mark much more often than it hits it, they've churned out solid movies. They generally hew to the familiar formulas of romantic comedies, but have better details, dialogue, and nuance that helps them rise to the top of the heap. 10 Things I Hate About You (Rotten Tomatoes 56%) and Legally Blonde (67%) are two of my favorites, and Ella Enchanted (50%) had positive word-of-mouth. Though The House Bunny (39%) was a bit of a retread of Legally Blonde, it entertained--and who ever heard of a movie about an ex-Playboy Bunny getting two out of five critics to like it? I had thought She's the Man (44%) had received poor reviews, but it actually just did poorly at the box office--a tiny $33 million. By comparison, the 14%-rated The Ugly Truth, the worst of the bunch (which I haven't seen), brought in a healthy $88 million.

While these are by no means stellar aggregates, the romantic comedy genre is more likely to have sub-20% ratings like When in Rome (17%) or Leap Year (21%). These movies weren't just poorly Killers heigl kutcher reviewed, they also did terribly at the box office, disliked equally by audiences. Of the Lutz/Smith movies I have seen and enjoyed, they all include strong plotlines NOT involving the character's romance. Legally Blonde is actually mainly about a character's transformation and self-discovery, and getting a man at the end is really just the cherry on top. 10 Things I Hate About You has plenty of sibling rivalry and astute observations about high school life.

Lutz and Smith have a movie coming out this summer, an action comedy called Killers starring Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl. After reading the more male-centered plot description which described an ex-assassin who has settled down with his wife when he discovers he is being hunted down, I was surprised that the trailer (which released today) had a strong alliance with Heigl. In the preview, she goes through a fairly entertaining "Oh-my-goodness-I-married-an-assassin" realization. On June 4th, we'll see if Lutz and Smith can keep up their better-than-average reputation.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Release windows down the rabbit hole for 'Alice in Wonderland'

By Sarah Sluis

Alice in Wonderland already had a bit of drama since it will replace Avatar on IMAX and many 3D screens when it opens March 5, despite the fact that Avatar is still bringing in lots of money. Now, Alice in wonderland rabbit hole Disney has announced that they want the movie to run in theatres for 13 weeks instead of the standard 16 weeks, so the movie can in turn come out on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD that much faster. They'll have to compensate exhibitors to sweeten the deal, perhaps by changing the revenue split, but Disney was already able to work this out in the U.K., where the World Cup in June makes those last weeks less valuable anyway.

Disney head Bob Iger had already mentioned that the company plans on changing release windows to maximize profits, but this will be the first major play to change the release pattern of a major film. As a family movie, Alice in Wonderland is still in the position to sell a lot of DVDs in a market that has been softening. With a shorter time period between theatrical release and rental/purchase, marketing for the latter can be scaled back since awareness will still be high. However, it's worth noting that rental services like Netflix and Blockbuster Online allow you to add films to your queue that are still out in theatres. Even if you've forgotten about a movie, it's still in your queue and ready to watch once it comes out. Services like this, while not yet in wide use, could dramatically alter the theatre-to-rental landscape in the future.

Besides changing the release window, Alice in Wonderland has quietly become one of the most Johnny depp mad hatter expensive movies to be made. Box Office Spy estimates production costs exceeded $230 million. While that seems like quite a sum, director Tim Burton has a strong track record. 2005's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which he directed (and which also starred Johnny Depp) earned $474 million at the worldwide box office (with a reported production budget of $130 million). Alice in Wonderland is an even better-known story. And because Disney made a G-rated version in the '50s, the new Alice in Wonderland seems even more family-friendly than it probably is, knowing Tim Burton. In fact, the new version, which was just rated, received a PG for "fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and

for a smoking caterpillar" (emphasis mine).

Already holding the honor for the most memorable Super Bowl movie ad, according to a poll by, Alice in Wonderland is on the fast track to being a moneymaker with what appears to be a carefully calculated eye to release window and budgeting.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ensemble films spread with 'Contagion, ' 'New Year's Eve'

By Sarah Sluis

From romantic comedies to action thrillers, ensemble films cast with prominent Hollywood stars have their own set of benefits and drawbacks. While the costs of the actors can add up, and a huge cast can confuse viewers, it's a fairly risk-averse strategy. Including names that appeal to a variety of demographics can expand the audience and multiply the star pull.

Valentines day party jessica alba Ensemble romantic comedies have emerged as the latest Hollywood trend. Last year's He's Just Not That Into You spawned Valentine's Day, which releases this Friday, and even before this coming weekend's numbers come in, New Line has planned New Year's Eve, another holiday-themed romantic comedy. Some of the cast may return for the sequel, which would release during the holiday season of 2011. That's a tough time spot, since December releases are usually big-budget blockbusters and critics' choices, not run-of-the-mill romantic comedies. While having a strong ensemble cast can elevate a movie to a more "special" romantic comedy, I think the best strategy would be to include a pair of kids (pre-teens or grade school puppy love) to make the story more family-friendly--like Marley & Me, that dog/marriage movie that did so well during the holiday season of 2008.

In action/thriller ensemble news, director Steven Soderbergh has assembled an impressive cast for his upcoming film Contagion. Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard (both Oscar winners) are in talks to join Matt Steven soderbergh Damon and Jude Law. Styled like Soderbergh's Traffic, the script contains interlocking stories about a disease threat. Participant Media, which chooses projects that have a social action component like the environment (The Cove, Furry Vengeance) or food politics (Food, Inc.) is in talks to co-finance and produce. The movie would shoot late this year, after Soderbergh's thriller Knockout, now filming, and presumably ahead of other Soderbergh projects like his biopic of Liberace that is (was?) in the works. So that makes, at the very least, two high-profile ensemble movies that will release somewhere in 2011.

Monday, February 8, 2010

'Dear John' ousts 'Avatar' from top spot

By Sarah Sluis

Dear John opened to an impressive $32.4 million over the Super Bowl weekend. The debut marks the highest opening for a Nicolas Sparks adaptation. His sentimental romances combine the heartland Amanda seyfried dear john channing tatum appeal of a movie like The Blind Side with the fangirl interest seen in successes like Twilight. Perception of quality, too, influenced its box office. While critics called out the film for its sentimentality and heavy-handedness, its 30% rating at Rotten Tomatoes means it's not terrible. Last year over Super Bowl weekend, older-skewing and poorly reviewed romantic comedy New in Town opened to only $6.7 million, so watch-ability makes a difference. Provided that the largely female audience isn't worn out by the genre, the high opening bodes well for the The Last Song, a Nicolas Sparks adaptation starting Miley Cyrus that opens March 31st.

Avatar came in about $10 million lower than Dear John, even with nine Oscar nominations singing its praises. However, with a small drop of 24% from last week, this movie is still in for the long haul. As its gross continues to dip below the $23.6 million it earned this week, it will be beaten by other promising films' opening weekends.

From Paris with Love didn't get much action, with just $8.1 million in its opening weekend. The movieFrom paris with love 2 did more business Saturday than Friday, indicating a lack of anticipation and an older-skewing audience less likely to join the packs of teenagers in theatres Friday night.

Many of the Oscar-nominated films expanded their runs over the weekend, rising 50-600% from the previous week. With a Best Actor nomination for Jeff Bridges (who I will always love as "The Dude"), Crazy Heart broke into the top ten with a $3.6 million gross that grabbed eighth place. Since the movie is a relative newcomer with just eight weeks in release, it increased just 58%, much smaller than its peers that have been out for several months.

An Education (18 weeks in release) increased 668% from last week to bring in $915,000. The Last Station, which received nominations for Best Actress (Helen Mirren) and Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Plummer), increased 337% to $371,000. Precious tripled the number of theatres in its release for an increase of 104% from last week, $440,000. The Messenger, which also received a Best Supporting Actor nomination (Woody Harrelson), went up 14% for a tiny $20,500 gross. Colin Firth's Best Actor nomination led to a 14% bump for A Single Man, which earned $631,000. The White Ribbon, a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, rose12%to $132,000.

This weekend, Valentine's Day meets the three-day President's Day weekend, and aptly titled Valentine's Day, kid-actioner Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and The Wolfman will all vie for the box-office crown.

Friday, February 5, 2010

'Dear John,' 'From Paris with Love' provide alternatives to the Super Bowl

By Sarah Sluis

Take out your seven-layer dip, it's Super Bowl weekend, when people forgo popcorn for hot wings around a 60-inch screen. On Sunday, movie ticket sales drop precipitously as TV ratings go sky-high. Replicating a formula from last year, studios are releasing both a female-oriented romance expected to play through the weekend, as well as an action movie to catch males Friday and Saturday before most settle in for the big game.

Amanda seyfried dear john Dear John (2,969 theatres) "falls in the upper middle range" of Nicolas Sparks adaptations, according to New York Times critic A.O. Scott. Amanda Seyfried plays a goody-two-shoes who falls for a rough solider (Channing Tatum). They correspond for his year-long deployment, but then 9/11 happens, he re-enlists, and the romance suffers. Slate critic Dana Stevens, who wrote her review in the form of a Dear John letter, voices one of Seyfried's Little Ms. Perfect dilemnas: "Would I be able to organize enough fundraisers to keep him alive and one day realize my dream of opening a horseback-riding camp for autistic children?" With a built-in fan base of Nicolas Sparks readers, Dear John should make a sizeable sum at the box office this weekend.

From Paris with Love (2,722 theatres) releases exactly a year after director Pierre Morel's smash hit Taken. Though the movie tries to replicate the successful elements of the first movie, it doesn't quite work, according to FJI critic Daniel Eagan. Using that familiar veteran/rookie pair-up (played by John From paris with love john travolta jonathan rhys meyers Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, respectively), "the Travolta played for laughs, while the rest pretends to deal seriously with matters of love and trust," leading to an inconsistent tone.

Not to be confused with District 9, District 13: Ultimatum, the sequel to District B13, will open in nine theatres. Director Luc Besson's action thriller "aims to please and nails its targets with more speed and style than most of its higher-priced competition," according to Eagan.

Taking advantage of the buzz generated at its Sundance debut, Frozen will open in 106 theatres. The Open Water-esque premise has three skiers stranded on a ski lift for a weekend. Frozen kinds movie horror Unfortunately, the thriller is unable to "create a self-enclosed world that allows the audience to suspend disbelief," according to critic James Greenberg. Horror movies really need to solve that cell phone problem.

With the Oscar nominations released this Tuesday, four of the nominated films will expand their runs. The Hurt Locker, which is already out on DVD, will move onto 110 screens. Precious will go from 222 to 669 theatres. Crazy Heart will ramp up its release, going from 239 theatres to 819. An Education, which had dwindled to just a four-theatre run from 200 screens, will expand to 760 theatres this weekend. Adding something new to the mix, Oscar-nominated documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers will debut on two screens.

Of course, despite all these new offerings and Oscar-related expansions, Avatar is expected to win the box office for the eighth week in a row, with added interest due to its nine Oscar nominations.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

You got rights to that? Hollywood taps unlikely sources for movie material

By Sarah Sluis

It used to be that movies were based on original ideas or adapted from a book or play. When a movie drew inspiration from actual events, they were usually concerning historical figures or events known to Museum of supernatural history the general public--Gandhi, true crime, or that thinly veiled portrait of Hearst in Citizen Kane. Moreover, Hollywood didn't have a problem fictionalizing the objects and places in everyday life. People used detergent and ate cereal with made-up brand names. In National Lampoon's Vacation, they went to Walley World, even though everyone knew they were talking about Disneyland.

But times have changed. Nowadays, Hollywood frequently picks up the rights to story fragments, objects, games, action figures, and newspaper articles, and then creates a story around them. Sometimes they are well-known (Monopoly), and other times they are relatively obscure (the pickup of a newspaper article about a family that had architects build puzzles into their house).

The latest such project is the pickup of a WEBSITE. You heard me, a U-R-L. DreamWorks has acquired the rights to website Musunahi (, the Museum of Supernatural History. The studio plans to create a story that will "center on the curator of a covert organization known as the Museum of SuperNatural History who must seek out and protect the world's best-kept secrets."

Why not just bypass acquiring the rights to the website but create a fictional version of the same thing? One answer lies in the proliferation of reality television. People love "based on actual events," and teasing out what's real from what's not in reality shows, a challenge that's increased as the shows have become more and more scripted. Having a connection to the real world in a fictional story can ramp up an audience's level of interest if it's done right. Plus, for a movie about aliens and Loch Ness monsters, blurring the line between reality and fiction makes even more sense.

Then there's the marketing consideration. It will be much easier for DreamWorks to mobilize the Musunahi community if they don't have to convince fans the movie is relevant to them: they will already know that the movie is directly based on the museum's material.

But back to the acquisition of a website. What does it say about our culture that movies now hook us because of their things instead of people? A biography of a glamourous songstress may inspire those who want to be like her, those who want to learn about her, or those fascinated with the time period. An object can have the same effect. In the age of user-generated content, people may be more interested in seeing depictions of objects, things, sites they consume rather than a remote historical or celebrity figure.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Clash of the Tentpoles: 'Avatar,' �Alice,' �Titans' and �Dragon' compete for 3D screens

By Sarah Sluis

Three Oscar-nominated movies this year released in 3D: Best Picture nominees Avatar and Up, and Best Animated Feature nominee Coraline (Up also received a nomination in that category). 3D has arrived not only at the multiplex but the most prestigious awards ceremony in film.

Too bad there aren't enough screens to show these movies in 3D.

Alice in wonderland anne hathaway Just when distributors and exhibitors finally ironed out an agreement that would allow them to share the cost of digital upgrades, the recession hit. Though the film industry remains in good shape, in part because of the conversions to the higher-priced screens that did happen, production of 3D films exceeds theatrical capacity. Wide releases need thousands of screens, and right now there's only room for one film at a time.

Last year, Coraline had to compete with My Bloody Valentine 3D for early 2009 spots in 3D screens. This year, behemoth Avatar will have to cede to Tim Burton's 3D fantasy Alice in Wonderland. With Avatar still selling out 3D theatres, especially in IMAX, there's talk of extending Avatar's run. According to a New York Times article on the subject, there have been talks to allow Avatar to continue playing for midnight screenings (which presumably would be less popular for the PG-rated Alice) as a compromise.

The crowding doesn't end there. Just this week, Warner Bros. announced it has converted Clash of theClash of the titans swordfight Titans, a Greek mythology-inspired action movie, to 3D. That means the movie will step on the toes of How to Train Your Dragon, a (charming!) DreamWorks animation tale. Though the studio changed Clash of the Titans' release date from March 26th to April 2nd, Titatns will now grab some screens from Dragon just a week after the movie releases.

But, wait, there's more! Because of the low cost of converting a 2D film to 3D ($5 million or so), tons of big-budget films have jumped on the bandwagon. The last two Harry Potter movies will definitely be in 3D, as will Cats and Dogs 2. Despite Transformers 3's looming deadline, there are talks of converting the movie to 3D in post-production. What started out with animation studios like Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, who committed to produce all their upcoming films in 3D, has turned into a format almost every genre is rushing to embrace. Get ready to make 3D glasses standard eyewear at the movies.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Academy's expanded Best Picture category rewards 'top 10' films

By Sarah Sluis

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that it was expanding the number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten, most people speculated two things would happen: 1) crowd-pleasing, high-grossing movies would receive nominations. 2) smaller, independent movies would receive nominations. Well, the answers are in: the first thing happened, and the second not so much.

Up Academy Awards Three of the ten Oscar nominees for Best Picture were in the 2009 box-office top ten. Avatar is currently #1 for 2009, Up is #4, and The Blind Side is #8. If any movie was a long shot for Best Picture, The Blind Side was it. Many critics would have preferred to see Bright Star, a tiny but well-reviewed film, in that spot.

The last time a top ten film was even nominated was at the 76th Academy Awards, when Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (the #1 film of the year) swept the awards in Titanic-like fashion. That means that before this year, five years passed where no movie in the top ten received a Best Picture nomination. If the goal of expanding the number of nominees is to boost ratings and make more average, non-eclectic moviegoers feel the Academy Awards reflect their own "Best Films," it appears the Academy has succeeded.

That's not to say these movies are bad or don't deserve to be nominated. Last year seemed to be a particularly strong one for blockbusters. I'm right there with Avatar and Up. District 9 (#27) was good, but it didn't make my top ten and I don't think it's quite original enough (beyond its opening sequence) to deserve the nomination. But with a heavy-handed look at racism a la Crash, I guess I shouldn't be surprised it was nominated.

On the other hand, movies at the other end of the spectrum haven't entirely been neglected. The Hurt Locker (#130), A Serious Man (#142) and An Education (#144) all received nominations. Last year, the lowest-ranked film was #120 (Frost/Nixon), so not only are these films a bit lower on the list, there are also three of them instead of the expected two you would get when you double the amount of nominees.

Overall, I think the inclusion of ten nominees better reflects the amount of quality movies out there, and does allow for more commercial (to a greater extent) or more specialized (to a lesser extent) films to receive nominations. At least when a so-so movie squeezes in, there are nine, instead of four, other movies there to balance it out.

Monday, February 1, 2010

'Edge of Darkness' no match for 'Avatar'

By Sarah Sluis

Avatar continued its reign over the box office with its seventh week at

number one. The sci-fi crowd-pleaser coasted through the weekend with a mere 14% drop to rack up another $30 million. Just $5 million away from the

domestic all-time record of $600.4 million set by Titanic, Avatar will roll past the

milestone sometime this week. While Titanic is still the winner once the numbers are adjusted for Mel gibson edge of darkness inflation, both movies had remarkably similar trajectories, rising above initial bad press ("those blue creatures look funny, "there's no way it can make back its money") and then breaking record after record.

In second place, with about half the audience of Avatar, Mel Gibson-starring Edge of Darkness opened at $17.1 million, in line with industry expectations. The solid genre film (57% on Rotten Tomatoes) will draw in action and thrill-seeking moviegoers but won't expand much beyond its genre base.

Romantic comedy When in Rome opened on the high side of expectations, with $12 million of coins to count in its fountain. Its romcom cousin, Leap Year, opened a month ago to $9 million. Since both movies ended up with a 20% Rotten When in rome kristen bell Tomatoes rating, When in Rome benefited from stronger marketing and a younger star to draw in young women to the sketched out, immature storyline.

After a so-so opening weekend, Tooth Fairy flexed some staying power with a small 26% drop, adding another $10 million to its under-the-pillow stash. At the opposite end of the spectrum, horror movie Legion fell a hard 61% to $6.8 million.

This Friday, Edge of Darkness and When in Rome will have to tough it out as they deal with fresh competition. From Paris with Love, an action film starring another older male star, John Travolta, will hit theatres to snatch away Edge of Darkness viewers. When in Rome will have to contend with Dear John, a romantic weepie starring Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried.