Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Movie geeks rejoice with comedy-infographic book 'Movie Charts'

By Sarah Sluis

I'm a big fan of infographics, which have taken off in recent years thanks to the democratizing effects of the Internet and Photoshop. I especially love it when infographics are used in nontraditional ways, which is exactly what Paul Copperwaite's Movie Charts, the book that showed up on my desk this morning, does. With over one hundred sometimes easy-to-get, sometimes more eclectic references to popular movies, this is a nice coffee table book that your friends will laugh at as they look through it. I scanned in some of my favorites below:

Titanic Movie Charts Book

Oh, the irony. Oh, James Cameron...Dances Movie Charts book

Breakfast at Tiffany's vs. Carrie vs. Abigail's Party vs. The Godfather:

On the Waterfront Movie

For those that need a little brush-up on the below (or want to re-live the magic), here's a link to the famous speech. "You was my brother Charlie, you shoulda looked out for my a little bit..."

It appears that the title, published by Spruce, is for sale at Amazon, and is part of a series that includes Pop Charts, graphic takes on movie lyrics.

Monday, March 29, 2010

'How to Train Your Dragon' soars to the top of box office

By Sarah Sluis

How to Train Your Dragon easily landed in first place its opening weekend with a $43.3 million gross, How to train your dragon two-and-a-half times the take of the first runner-up, Alice in Wonderland ($17.3 million). Despite strong reviews, the family-skewing animated movie earned far less than Alice's opening weekend. Like Alice, it should have strong grosses week-to-week, but will have to overcome one significant challenge. Clash of the Titans opens in 3D this Friday, taking away screens from Dragon. This could push the per-screen gross up higher, but it also means there will be fewer time slots and more crowding for Dragon.

Hot Tub Time Machine debuted third with $13.6 million. The retro-themed plot drew in males aged twenty-five and up, many of whom lived through the '80s and enjoyed the comedic rehash of the era. Hot tub time machine 2 Though not a flop, the movie just barely edged out the second-week performance of The Bounty Hunter ($12.4 million), a romantic comedy with broader appeal.

Greenberg added 178 playdates to its run to end the weekend with $1.05 million, ending with a strong $5,000 per-theatre average. The steamy art film Chloe opened to $1 million, but its per-theatre average was a bit lower, $2,000 per screen. The Runaways hasn't been as catchy as Apparition may have hoped, dropping in its second week even as it added screens. The teen rock biopic made $445,000 and fell 44% from last week.

In just five locations, Disney documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty debuted to $33,000, with a respectable $6,600 per screen.

This Friday, 3D Clash of the Titans will open alongside Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too? Disney's The Last Song will jump the gun with a debut this Wednesday, certain to draw in hordes of Miley Cyrus fans.

Friday, March 26, 2010

'How to Train Your Dragon' to set theatres on fire

By Sarah Sluis

With 4,055 theatres, over half of them 3D, and a 95% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, How To Train Your Dragon is poised for a fantastic opening weekend. The animated fantasy's overwhelmingly positive How to train your dragon redhead critical reception puts it among the ranks of Pixar, the perennial winner for Best Animated Film at the Oscars. Our critic Frank Lovece called the DreamWorks Animation film "a masterpiece of art direction and design, with some of the most beautiful landscapes ever animated and state-of-the-art rendering of things like strands of Hiccup's [the hero] hair during flight." Releasing in 3D and IMAX, the movie will enchant young audiences and the adults going along for the ride. Because it's based on a novel, the movie will have added anticipation and awareness and should open extremely strong. However, unlike Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, this movie's appeal will be more family-based, and is unlikely to draw in as many viewers coming without a child in tow.

The stupid comedy du jour, Hot Tub Time Machine (2,754 theatres), is supposedly a little better than Hot tub time machine 1 average. Like its summer cousin The Hangover, an older cast but more juvenile jokes should expand the potential audience. Our critic Ethan Alter enjoyed the comedy's "welcomingly weirder sense of humor" but predicted it won't have the same cultural staying power as '80s classics like Caddyshack.

On the specialty front, director Atom Egoyan's "sexually charged melodrama" Chloe opens in 306 theatres. The subject matter should draw audiences, as will star Amanda Seyfried, whose performance "makes a major impression, adeptly navigating the twists and turns of her character's not-so-apparent motivations."

Disney geeks (Mousejunkies?) will drool for documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty (5 theatres), which chronicles Disney's rebirth after a period of bad films.

The Eclipse, an "intriguing mix of engaging drama and wonderful dialogue, all infused with stirring hints of the supernatural," will debut in six theatres. Award-winning playwright Conor McPherson (The Seafarer) writes and directs.

On Monday, Alice will pass the 3D crown to How to Train Your Dragon, and Hot Tub Time Machine will try its hardest to come in second.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Icahn and Lionsgate CEO exchange open letters in wake of hostile takeover bid

By Sarah Sluis

Forget Twitter fights and Facebook flame wars. As Carl Icahn attempts to take over Lionsgate, the duo has resorted to an old school trick: the open letter.

Carl_icahnshades Icahn released a letter, posted on Variety, criticizing Lionsgate's strategy. Referring to CEO and Co-Chairman Jon Feltheimer, he argued that "hand-picked boards let self-proclaimed 'visionary' CEOs chase their vision indefinitely, even when years pass and their vision is clearly a delusion." Ouch. Lionsgate's stock has remained stagnant for the past several years; therefore Icahn believes the CEO needs to be replaced.

It gets better. Feltheimer wrote back, calling the attack an attempt to divert from the fact that Icahn offered a lowball stock offer, explaining the company's corporate strategy, and pointing out their big movie hits and 70% profitability rate.

Both sides have convincing arguments but the complexity of the situation makes it hard to know who is right. Icahn has access to the company's financial information, as well as whatever strategy the company reveals at shareholders meetings. He's been particularly critical of Lionsgate's attempt to buy MGM, citing declining DVD sales as a reason to get out of the film library business. I'm also curious about the details of Lionsgate's deals. Does the company drive as hard of a bargain as other studios? For example, the studio co-produces and distributes Tyler Perry's movies, but he retains full copyright ownership of his product. Maybe that's what it took to make the deal, but I bet Lionsgate wishes it had just a little more of Perry's purported $400 million movie fortune, which makes him one of the wealthiest people in Hollywood, out of proportion, I would argue, to the overall box office he has created. Then there was all the drama last year with Lionsgate actually driving a hard bargain with "Mad Men" creator Mathew Weiner. Rather ominous rumors circulated about the creator's potential departure before it was reported that Weiner would be returning for another season. Was the talent or the studio making an unusual demand? Was Lionsgate trying to drive a hard deal since it had given too much to talent in the past? Neither of these instances is necessarily a red flag, but maybe they offer hints into what Icahn has sniffed out.

Whatever the outcome, this fight over Lionsgate is turning out to have all the drama of the characters in Wall Street or Pretty Woman (the hostile takeover part). Quick, someone grab the film rights!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Will the 3D Popeye preserve its cartoon-like look?

By Sarah Sluis

Variety brought news today that Popeye, the upcoming animated adaptation from Sony, will release in 3D. What struck me was the accompanying image, which showed a black-outlined, cartoon Popeye. Would it be possible to preserve that kind of look and pop it out in 3D? Most likely--but would the filmmakers choose that visual look?

Popeye-and-olive-oyl The 3D movies I've seen over the past year have had astounding visuals. Up had a wonderful, softly rendered look with a unifying color palette. Avatar created luminous CG forests and floating mountains that looked more real in 3D than they did in the 2D images or clips that often accompanied news pieces about the story. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, while having a more traditional look, had Muppets-inspired characters and visuals that tried to include power lines and machinery and the other things most animated towns leave out of their cities. The best of them all, How to Train Your Dragon (coming out this Friday), has a stunning chiaroscuro look. Fire-lit viking dwellings and caves give the movie a medieval feel.

3D and CG animation are a natural fit. Together, they've elevated animation and even allowed it to become more stylized. Famed live-action cinematographer Roger Deakins helped create the cinematography in How to Train Your Dragon, even warranting a profile at the New York Times. As I wrote a couple of months ago, lighting and animation departments typically don't talk to each other, something Deakins changed when he came in as a supervisor, to considerable effect. Dragon is setting a high standard for animated films that others will surely follow.

I hope Popeye preserves its cartoon look while bumping it out into three dimensions--giving it the feel of a pop-up book, perhaps. While it may be tempting to give the character smooth corners and a CG look, I would welcome the opportunity to see something more retro, much in the same way Disney's Lilo & Stitch brought back the watercolor backgrounds of Disney films fifty years before. (It's worth mentioning that Lilo & Stitch and How to Train Your Dragon share the same directing team--Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois are animation directors to watch)

Right now Popeye has a producer (Avi Arad of Spider-Man) and a screenwriter (Mike Jones, a former trade reporter and self-proclaimed Popeye fan). It's far too soon to tell how Popeye will look, but hopefully it will join my list of animated films with an unusual, non-CG look--like Pixar's The Bear and the Bow , the next animated film I have my eye on.

Monday, March 22, 2010

'Alice' reigns for a third week with 'Wimpy Kid' not far behind

By Sarah Sluis

Alice in Wonderland enjoyed a third week at #1, with another $34.5 million and a sub-50% drop. Next week the Tim Burton fantasy will lose 3D screens and viewers to DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon, but its $265 million cumulative domestic gross (to date) puts it in good shape as it finishes out its run.

Wimpy kid 2 Diary of a Wimpy Kid was the surprise #2, earning $21.6 million to edge out The Bounty Hunter. Making good on the adage that girls are willing to see movies with boy stars (the reverse is not held to be true), the movie drew 50% males and 50% females despite its all-boy cast. Strong advance tickets sales from its fan base made for a solid weekend as a whole, with the movie playing consistently Friday through Sunday. I wouldn't be surprised to see a sequel to this movie if the stars' puberty doesn't get in the way.

The Bounty Hunter debuted in third place with $21 million. Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler were able to wield their star power to their The bounty hunter 2 butler aniston advantage despite critical cries that they were phoning it in. The movie earned just a 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, bad even for a movie from the romantic comedy genre. I guess the addition of the "thriller/action" element helped plunge this movie even farther down in critical reception. I have stronger hopes for Aniston's next romantic comedy project, The Switch (previously titled The Baster), which will release this August.

Universal's Repo Men failed to meet even the studio's modest expectations, tallying a meager $6.1 million. The sci-fi clunker had little to enchant audiences. And with the health care reform bill passing Sunday night, the idea of a futuristic corporation repossessing replacement organs is a fear far from most Americans' minds.

The Runaways opened to $803,000 in limited release, for a per-theatre average of $3,200. The opening is on the low side for a movie with a planned expansion, so this rock biopic will need to find a way to gain speed, not lose it, as it moves into wide release. If the per-theatre average goes Runaways 2 down, as it is apt to do in subsequent weeks, this movie will not be in good shape.

Greenberg kept its distribution to three theatres for a high per-theatre average of $40,000. The neurotic dramedy from director Noah Baumbach will also expand this Friday, and its strong debut should carry it into a profitable second week.

This Friday, How to Train Your Dragon will swoop into theatres alongside '80s retro-comedy Hot Tub Time Machine.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Will 'Bounty Hunter' poach top spot from 'Alice'?

By Sarah Sluis

Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler don't look like they're going to become the next comedy duo in The Bounty Hunter (3,074 theatres), a comedy/action hybrid designed to attract the date-night crowd to the The bounty hunter aniston butler tune of $20-30 million. Aniston and Butler play a separated couple reunited when Butler, a

bounty hunter, must bring in Aniston for skipping a court date; the duo subsequently are pursued by a new set of enemies. The mix of "action thriller" and "marital comedy" didn't go down well with THR critic Kirk Honeycutt, who was frustrated by the movie's implausibility: "Would the

former couple really react to an attempt to murder them in broad

daylight by continuing a quarrel?" Though the star power of Aniston and Butler is spotty, this release has the best chance of unseating 3D Alice in Wonderland.

A retread of worn sci-fi tropes, Repo Men (2,522 theatres) stars Jude Law and Forest Whitaker as human-organ repossessers in a futuristic world. Unfortunate people who have defaulted on their contracts have their bodies opened and replacement organs removed, but the plot doesn't really expand from there. Thematically, the movie is vacant, Repo men 1 "ultimately having nothing to say beyond, 'Pay your bills,'" according to critic Frank Lovece. Universal, which misfired last week with Green Zone, is on track to have a flop a second week in a row.

Thanks to its devoted readers, Diary of a Wimpy Kid (3,077 theatres) has had strong advance ticket sales, but its pre-teen boy following will limit its overall audience. The industry likes to cite one of its tried-and-true adages--"girls will go see movies starring boys, but boys won't see movies starring girls"--so the demographics may broaden. According to our Diary of a wimpy kid 1 wrestling critic Ethan Alter, the movie doesn't compare to the source material. "Diary takes Kinney's well-realized characters and transforms them into boring stick figures," and when the hero "makes mistakes and bruises peoples' feelings," he comes off as a "total prick" instead of a flawed protagonist. Don't think fans of the book won't notice. Alter adds that "kids are often smarter than we think�at least smart enough to recognize when something they enjoyed on the page has been dumbed down for the big screen."

On the specialty front, Greenberg (3 theatres) and The Runaways (244 theatres) both open today, with The Runaways launching an aggressive expansion campaign that will cap with a wide release mid-April. Director Noah Baumbach's Greenberg hasn't impressed critics too much, with star Ben Stiller's unlikable character. I personally was intrigued by the very un-Hollywood, realistic look of co-star Greta Gerwig, but the story as a whole isn't Baumbach's best.

The Runaways should inspire a generation of teenagers with its glamorous rock star girls, but the The runaways kristen stewart 1 movie has a superficial feel, with its characters constantly in motion and having little time to reflect on what's going on. Both Kristen Stewart (Twilight) as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie nail their performances. But really, this movie is about being a tough rocker, being on tour, wearing fantastic 70s clothes and being baaaad. I can't imagine this movie being anything but a hit among young women, yet its R rating might prevent the youngest of rock idolaters from aging up from Hannah Montana.

On Monday we'll see if The Bounty Hunter rounded up more audiences than Alice, and if Greenberg and The Runaways had promising opening weekends.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

ShoWest Day Four: Warner Bros.' Big Picture

By Kevin Lally

Warner Bros.again stagedits "Big Picture"presentation ofits upcoming releases on the final day of Clash_of_the_titans02 ShoWest in Las Vegas. The studiowas honored at the Final Night Banquet and Awards Ceremony with the Worldwide Box Office Achievement Award for setting a worldwide box-office record of $4.01 billion in 2009. And based on the preview of its future product, the outlook for Warners in 2010 is equally robust.

Like last year, Warner Bros. Entertainment president and COO Alan Horn was on hand to introduce the directors and some of the stars of its 2010 slate. Frenchman Louis Letterier previewed two action sequences from the 3D Clash of the Titans, revealing that he was a huge fan of the rather campy 1981 original that boasted stop-motion animation by Ray Harryhausen. The new version substitutes high-tech CGI, of course, and the last-minute conversion from 2D to 3D looked like a success. Avatar lead Sam Worthington, ShoWest's Male Star of the Year, also took the stage, looking less imposing than he does onscreen. (Letterier made a point of praising Worthington's legs, which are amply displayed in the movie.)

Next up wasdirector Christopher Nolan, praised by Horn as someone who truly deserves the term "visionary." Nolan recalled introducing The Dark Knight to the ShoWest crowd two years ago, and the trailer from his mystery-shrouded newproject, Inception, wasvisually striking andtantalizing. Nolan promised "a world in which anything can happen" and an "immersive experience" when audiences watch his tale of dream invaders.

Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon, all looking duly stylish,were introduced by their Sex and the City 2 writer-director Michael Patrick King, who joked, "The film is not in 3D--it's not even double D, but it's definitely interactive" and "a continuation of the party."

Watchmen and 300 director Zack Snyder showed the handsome trailer from his first animated feature, Legend of the Guardians, fromthe same animationhouse as Happy Feet. The young director hassix children, and thisproject is the answer to their question: "Daddy,can you make a movie we can see?"

GregBerlanti, executive producer of TV's "Brothers and Sisters" and "Everwood," previewed the trailer fromhis romantic comedy Life asWe Know It, andit looks likea surefire hit, with some solid laughs and realchemistry between his two extremely good-looking stars,Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel.

Last year, Todd Phillips previewed the trailer for The Hangover to a huge ovation, and this year he returned as ShoWest Director of the Year, with the trailer from his new film, Due Date, a road trip comedy pairing Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis. With a debt to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, it looks like another hit for Phillips, who made the case that comedies need the big screen and a room full of laughing moviegoers as much as big event films. Downey and Galifianakis were also on hand, with the latter begging for his ShoWest Comedy Star of the Year trophy so he could go out and take advantage of some Vegas debauchery post-haste.

The Warner event concluded with an extended trailer from the final Harry Potter two-parter--insurance that the studio's box office will loom just as large in 2010.

Insurge Pictures brings sub-$100,000 movies to Paramount

By Sarah Sluis

Was Paranormal Activity's huge success last year a fluke or a new business model? Using a viral campaign, slow expansion and a geographical emphasis on college towns, the $10,000 horror movie became last year's $100 million surprise hit. Now Paramount's created Insurge Pictures to create Paranormal-Activity viral more movies using the same techniques that made Paranormal successful.

Whatever the outcome, Paramount doesn't have much to lose. With a planned $1 million budget for ten films made for $100,000 each, the investment is a drop in the bucket. Insurge plans to release the finished products theatrically or use them as templates to create higher-budget, more polished features (the original plan for Paranormal Activity). There isn't a planned focus on acquisitions--my guess is that not many good finished films can be sold for that amount.

This model will attract young, hungry filmmakers willing to work for almost nothing for the potential of hitting it big and launching a career. With a planned audience of 13-24's, Insurge will be creating films made by people within--or not much older--than that age bracket.

Filmmaking has become increasingly low-cost and democratic in recent years. Channels like YouTube show clips made by thirteen-year-olds and watched by thirteen-year-olds. Insurge seems like an attempt to scale up this viewing behavior by releasing these movies theatrically.

Nevertheless, the venture might fail as easily as it might succeed. Was Paranormal a one in a thousand movie, or a one in ten movie? One thing I am sure of: more low-budget movies will find ways to be distributed and make money, whether it's on the internet, at the local theatre, or through a major studio like Paramount.

Note: While IndieWire broke the story on March 11, supposedly pending an official announcement, we're still waiting for it a week later. The website and Facebook page mentioned in the article couldn't be readily found, and the Twitter account had protected tweets, leading me to believe they've been pulled until the studio is ready for a full-on launch.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

ShoWest Day Three: 360 degrees of Dolby

By Kevin Lally

On Tuesday morning at ShoWest, Dolby Laboratories announced a new audio format, Dolby Surround 7.1, spurred by the desire of the people at Pixar Animation Studios to deliver something new for the 3D release of Toy Story 3 in June. The sound pioneer has established two back surround channels where currently there is only one, enabling an even more pronounced 360-degree effect for sound effects that pan around the theatre.

Dolby demonstrated the new system at the Brenden Theatre atLas Vegas'Palms Casino, and there to lend his enthuasiastic endorsement was Pixar post-production supervisor Paul Cichocki. "We're always pushing for quality," Cichocki said, "and we thought: What could we do with sound?" Cichockifeels the enhanced directionality of Dolby 7.1 takes audio "to another level," and says the studio is "100% committed" to the new process. In fact, all future Disney/Pixar 3D releases will be in 7.1 audio, he revealed.

The demo for the press utilized sequences from three Pixar movies remixed for Dolby 7.1: Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo and Up. The Toy Story 2 sequences were especially potent, bringing screeching and careening traffic to the back of the auditorium as the toys try to cross a busy highway. The Finding Nemo clip was selected to highlight the enveloping ambience of that undersea adventure, and a frantic chase from Up was amped up higher by the additional rear surrounds.

Cichocki said his team is embarking on a six-week mix of the new Toy Story movie, but the addition of Dolby 7.1 will have a "super-small impact on production," requiring perhaps just one additional day.

Stuart Bowling, Dolby's technical marketing manager, said that theatres already equipped for Dolby 5.1 willface minimal work to adapt their auditoriums for the new format--mainly a "minor wiring change" and the purchase of an additional amplifier.

It seems like a natural combination: 3D imagery getting a 3D audio makeover. We're sure the geniuses at Pixar are salivating over the creative possibilities.

'Vamps' joins the herd of blood-sucking films

By Sarah Sluis

With two solid vampire hits, Twilight and "True Blood," dominating the entertainment industry, everyone's chasing the bandwagon. A promising addition to the slate is the forthcoming project being spearheaded by Amy Heckerling. The director of memorable movies like Clueless, Look Who's AMY copy Talking and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Heckerling had largely disappeared from the credits section on IMDB. She's had only three directorial outings since 1995, none of them hits. Now she's reuniting with her Clueless star Alicia Silverstone for Vamps, the story of two female bloodsuckers who ponder losing their immortality for a shot at true love.

Sigourney Weaver will play the queen vampire, who turned the women into undead souls. Krysten Ritter, who's made something of a career as the quirky sidekick friend in romantic comedies (she was a nice light spot in Confessions of a Shopaholic and 27 Dresses), will be the second banana (I would welcome seeing her in a larger role).

The Twilight-esque vampire hook may attract both younger audiences, despite its older-skewing stars and writer/director. The fantasy component is also a draw. One of the biggest tasks for writers of comedy-romances is devising a plausible reason for the couple to stay apart until the closing credits. It's hard to keep one step ahead of ever-more sophisticated audiences. Instead of rooting for the couple to get together, the audience is often simply bored and waiting for their inevitable union. Fantasy is one way around this problem. Twilight's famously chaste characters are kept apart by external forces and internally imposed obligations--not light, predictable obstacles like "the best friend that I never thought of in that way." Vamps would be able to replicate this believable obstacle within a humorous context.

Instead of Twilight, I see this comedy taking inspiration from 1992's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In that movie, the lead character, Buffy, has a disbelieving, almost jocular attitude toward her obligations. She only wises up to the reality of her situation late in the story, which gives her character a dynamic arc. Perhaps these "Vamps" blithely attempt to circumvent the vampire rules before finding out that true love is much more complicated. With financing in place and a production start date of April 2010 in place, Vamps should head into theatres by next year. Good or bad, I'm ready to see Amy Heckerling flex her writing and directing muscles again.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

ShoWest Day Two: Pixar's Big Ten

By Kevin Lally

For this Pixar fan, the highlight of day two of the ShoWest convention in Las Vegas was the premiere of Toy-story-3 an unfinished, 2Dversion of Toy Story 3, the eagerly anticipated, likely final chapter in the series that debuted with the very first computer-animated feature in 1995. Pixar and Disney Animation chief creative officer John Lasseter was on hand to accept a special ShoWest "Big Ten" Award in honor of the studio's remarkable streak of ten consecutive critical and box-office hits, which altogether have earned $5.5 billion.

Lasseter promised to "keep delivering great movies" and made good on that pledge within minutes. Before the main feature, he introduced the world premiere of Day and Night, the 3D short that will play before the 3D Toy Story 3 in theatres this summer. It's a strikingly original short with an abstract quality unusual for Pixar, reminiscent of some of the standalone shorts Chuck Jones did for Warner Bros. during its theatrical cartoon heyday.

As for Toy Story 3, Lasseter pretty much encouraged viewers to disregard the ShoWest embargo by posting their comments online, as long as they didn't give away the plot. I'll just say that it's an immensely satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, with at least triple the toys, choice opportunities for new players Barbie and Ken, a delightful nod to caper movies, a truly scary action climax, and a poignant conclusion that had me wiping away tears. Pixar has been celebrated for not repeating itself from film to film, but the Toy Story franchise is a welcome exception and, with its beloved 15-year-old characters, this is bound to be a huge summer blockbuster. And I can't wait to see the finished movie in 3D.

Scorsese assembles cast for 'The Invention of Hugo Cabret'

By Sarah Sluis

As a big Scorsese fan with high expectations of his work, I, like many others, was disappointed by Shutter Island. It did well enough at the box office, so at least he gets points for making a profitable picture, but the movie itself was smoke and mirrors followed by a fairly obvious revelation.

Hugo2 I'm more enthusiastic about his next venture, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which has assembled its lead cast, pending final deals. Twelve-year-old Asa Butterfield (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) would play an orphan living in a French train station. He steals mechanical parts from different merchants in an

attempt to bring to life an automaton. The robot-like being intrigued his late father, a clockmaker who worked in a museum, and the boy wants to carry on his legacy. When he steals from a toy store, he ends up entangled

with the owner, Georges Mlis (Ben Kingsley), who in actuality was the pioneer of French cinema and special effects. Fellow kid Chloe Moretz (upcoming Kick-Ass, Let Me In) becomes Butterfield's sidekick, and Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) plays a station inspector who must deal with the trouble-prone boy.

The Sony-distributed movie is based on a young adult book of the same name and winner of the Caldecott Medal in 2008. The award goes to illustrated books, but this one is unusual in that it is a 550 pages--great source material from which to craft a meaty plot and visual style.

Why would Scorsese be interested in a project like this? The most obvious reason is its tie to film history. Scorsese is a passionate lover of film and advocate for film preservation. He would jump at the chance to depict Mlis, who was famous for films like A Trip to the Moon, which employed what Le_Voyage_dans_la_lune were at the time cutting-edge special effects. Hopefully, part of the movie involves recreating some of Mlis' trick photography.

From a character and plot perspective, Scorsese is attracted to morally ambiguous heroes. The boy, who resorts to stealing to fulfill his goal of re-creating this robot, is typical: a good person doing a bad thing. Expect the danger of his actions played up for the cameras.

Left unclear is whether this movie will be a PG-rated family film or something darker. I suspect the former. Tim Burton has had great success drawing a wide audience to his children's tales (Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) with very adult sensibilities. If The Invention of Hugo Cabret has a PG rating and a Scorsese feel, adults and kids alike will be interested in seeing the movie.

Monday, March 15, 2010

ShoWest Day One: Do moviegoers really want healthier snacks?

By Kevin Lally

FJI executive editor Kevin Lally begins a series of reports this week from the annual ShoWest convention in Las Vegas.

ShoWest kicked off on Monday with an unexpected challenge to the movie exhibition community. In his keynote addressat the Las Vegas confab, Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman and CEO Michael Lynton called on movie theatres to provide healthier alternatives to the nation's moviegoers at their concession stands.

"Childhood obesity, and obesity in general," Lynton said,"is an epidemic of major proportions, and requires everyone to chip in to stem the tide."

He cited a survey ofmoviegoers at theatres in 26 locations around the country commissioned by Sony Pictures which found that two-thirds of moviegoers overall and three-quarters of parents are likely to buy healthier options if offered, even at prices similar to what's currently sold, and that 42 percentof parents said they would buy concessions more often if healthier choices are available.

Lynton suggested that movie concession stands add such items as fresh fruit, fruit cups, veggies, yogurt, granola bars and trail mix, and options like unbuttered and air-popped popcorn.

The Sony chairman then announced that the Alliance for a Healthier Generation has offered to help advise cinema owners on how to changetheir menus "in a way that makes sense for your audiences and your business." Former President Bill Clinton heads the Alliance with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clyde Yancy, president of the American Heart Association.

The reaction at my table was mixed at best. The general consensus was that what people say in surveys doesn't necessarily correspond to their actual behavior. One exhibitor reported that he tried offering granola bars and they largely went unsold. Another mentioned past consumer resistance to healthier oils and alternative means of popping corn. Yet another cited Sandra Bullock's gleeful announcement that her first meal after her Oscar win would bea juicy burger and greasy fries.

To many exhibitors, it seems, the movies and indulgent snacking are an enduring match. Guilt over calories and fat simply isn't a welcome part of a night at the movies.

Yes, we're all much more health-conscious than we used to be, and Michael Lynton's wake-up call to the cinema community is a positive act. But "guilt-free" snacking is an engrained part of the moviegoing experience, and the changes he seeks will come in small increments, at best.

More welcome were Lynton's comments about the window between theatrical release dates and release of studio films to other media. "The most important window to me and to Amy [co-chairmanAmy Pascal]is the theatrical window," he confirmed."Always has been.Always will be.We don't make movies for televisions, for iPods, for cell phones or computers.We make movies for big screens in your theatres. Because without a theatre and an audience, we don't have a movie."

"Showing films in theatres is what makes a movie a movie." hedeclared."It's what makes stars stars. It's what makes films famous. It's what makes the public perk up and pay attention.A major motion picture without a theatre is like hockey without ice�Google without the Internet�democracy without an election."

Lynton called new technologies for watching movies "additive, not subtractive," musing that "a rising tide of movie watching raises all ships."

Lyntonplainly stated that "to meet audience demand for entertainment when and where they want it - and to keep ahead of the pirates who will fill any void we leave -- we've all got to be open to experimenting with new and different windows, taking advantage of new and different technologies. As we do that, we do not want to open a new window in a way that closes yours.After all, a closed window can lead to a stuffy room that needs a little air."

Sony's co-chair promised to work with exhibitors "as partners" to preserve the prominence of the theatrical experience while finding a business model that works for both sides of the industry.

Lynton's keynote was a frank and stimulating start to this gathering of movie theatre executives, even ifportions of his "food for thought" may be harder for some to digest than a supersized jumbo combo meal.

Audiences don looking-glasses for 'Alice'

By Sarah Sluis

Alice in Wonderland continued its boffo box office with another first-place finish. The 3D fantasy dropped less than 50% to bring in $62 million. Despite more middling reviews, this 3D blockbuster is way ahead of last year's failed Big March Film, Watchmen. Alice has already done twice the business of that movie's cumulative gross, making the March slot a more profitable time for exhibitors. This week's top ten movies grossed over 50% more than their counterparts in 2009. Tickets from more expensive 3D and IMAX venues added to the bump. IMAX screens for Alice in Wonderland, for example, accounted for 2% of the screens but 13% of profit.

Green zone matt damon 2 Green Zone debuted in second place with $14.5 million. The open was far less profitable than the last Matt Damon-Paul Greengrass effort, The Bourne Ultimatum, and offered yet another example of Iraq War-related movies doing poorly at the box office. With over $100 million in production costs, this movie definitely won't break even in theatres.

Under-the-radar comedy She's Out of My League opened to $9.6 million, slightly above expectations. By comparison, Fox Searchlight's Our Family Wedding debuted with $7.6 million.

The tale of a Hispanic woman marrying a black man, to predictable and

comedic family strife, Our family wedding america ferrera 2 drew mainly Hispanic and black audiences.

Though the comedy earned less than its competitor, Wedding boasted a higher per-screen average ($4,700 vs. $3,200 for League)

thanks to its smaller, more targeted release.

Despite the presence of Twilight star Robert Pattinson, Remember Me opened at an unimpressive $8.3 million. Women comprised about 80% of the audience, but apparently a Twilight star alone does not a blockbuster make. I'll be watching to see if The Runaways, starring Twilighter Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, draws more eyes.

On the heels of its Best Picture win at the Oscars, The Hurt Locker earned $828,000 in 349 theatres. Combined with last week's $439,000 gross, the movie has racked up over $1 million from its re-release, even though the DVD is already in stores. Overall, the Oscars didn't give much of a bump to winners' grosses, with many films showing substantial drops from the previous week (The Blind Side was an exception.) The Oscars were scheduled later this year to avoid conflicting with the Olympics, so most of these movies' wins will spike DVD rather than ticket sales.

This Friday, adult comedy The Bounty Hunter, a comedy for the elementary set, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and sci-fi action movie Repo Men will compete for audiences and try to unseat Alice from the top spot.

Friday, March 12, 2010

'Green Zone' leads this week's new releases

By Sarah Sluis

With four new movies competing for audiences' attention, this weekend will be a busy one at the box office. The number one film, however, is unlikely to change. After a hundred-million-plus opening weekend, Alice in Wonderland should stay in first place, earning at least $50 million in its second weekend.

Green Zone (3,003 theatres) appears to be the likely candidate for second place. Directed by Paul Green zone matt damon Greengrass and starring Matt Damon, the movie could be mistaken for a Bourne knockoff but ends up being far from it. What could have been the birth of the "action muckraker" genre, according to our critic Chris Barsanti, turns into a "bad drama" with a "time-compressed story that sacrifices believability." Close followers of the Iraq invasion and search for WMDs will be rewarded with characters strikingly similar to the original players.

The middling blue-collar comedy She's Out of My League (2,956 theatres) details a romance between a TSA employee (Jay Baruchel) and "a rich, nice, gorgeous law-school grad turned high-end party planner" (Alice Eve). While our critic Frank Lovece praised the movie's performances and male bonding, he felt the movie didn't gel, lacking that je ne sais quoi: chemistry.

The other comedy on the plate is a PG-13 tale of nuptial hijinks, Our Family Wedding (1,605 Our family wedding america ferrera theatres). Starring the lovely America Ferrera from "Ugly Betty," along with Forest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia, the movie lacks the kind of comedic sparkle that would make it great, but according to THR critic Sheri Linden, "there's a sweetness to the silliness that's likely to find a warm welcome." With such a small release, and not much of a marketing campaign to speak of, this movie could either be a surprise performer or a theatrical release that serves primarily as a platform for DVD sales.

Romantic drama Remember Me (2,212 theatres) makes a play for the hearts of Twilight fans, to some success. Robert Pattinson and Remember me robert pattinson Emilie de Ravin ("Lost") co-star as NYU students and lovers who have both experienced the death of a family member. As they bond over their shared sense of loss, another historical tragedy steps in to finish up the plot. Hint: it's set in New York City during the summer of 2001. Whether this movie over- or under-performs at the box office will say a lot about Pattinson's star power.

On Monday we'll circle back to see where these four releases fell in the top ten (hopefully they all make it there), and grumble a little about our loss of one whole hour to Daylight Savings Time.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Florida considers ill-advised 'family-friendly' movie tax credit

By Sarah Sluis

The state of Florida is considering expanding a "family-friendly" tax credit bonus to 5% from 2%, adding special language excluding films that promote "nontraditional family values" that has inflamed gay Wdantvleaveittobeaver rights groups. Whether or not the bill passes (and it shouldn't, but it's supposed to) I doubt it will be effective in legislating morality. The language in the bill seems closer to the Hays Code (circa the 1930s), which forbade such things as miscegenation, swear words now in PG-rated movies, heavy kissing and depictions of crimes that could serve as "how-tos." The code was also supposed to make sure movies upheld the sanctity of marriage and the home, but all it really did was push certain movie scenes behind closed doors.

Since the 2% credit was established in 2007, only eight films have applied for it, with six receiving the credit. One of the rejects? Confessions of a Shopaholic, rated PG by the MPAA for "mild language and thematic elements," ostensibly because of a scene involving shoppers fighting over a pair of shoes. The movies that have been approved include such family-friendly gems as Old Dogs and a Beethoven sequel. These movies don't seem specifically designed to uphold family values, they only seem as though they somehow managed to avoid offending...and I kind of think that old Republican dudes are just the kind of audience that would approve of a movie called Old Dogs, especially after reading the review. Just as the Hays Code made movies dance around the subjects of Rita-hayworth-gilda_ladultery, cut to fluttering curtains during sex scenes and throw their gangsters in jail at the end after a film-long spree of violence, this bill will do nothing but reward a random smattering of films--an extra 2% isn't going to make a box-office hit.

Finally, studios hate it when governments try to control what kinds of films they make, and for that reason alone they might choose not to take advantage of the tax credit. Plus, because the credit has such ambiguous language, it would be too risky to base a production there solely because of the credit. The MPAA was originally created to appease the government and replace individual states' censorship boards. And since the 1952 Miracle case, movies have had First Amendment protection (they didn't from 1915-1952), so there's nothing Florida can do when The Kids Are All Right, the Sundance film about a lesbian couple and their children, starts playing at a theatre near them. I wish Florida lawmakers the best with their ineffective legislation, which will do little to encourage filmmaking but much to alienate citizens and the Hollywood community.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

John Krasinski grabs a two-film part in 'Something Borrowed'

By Sarah Sluis

Perhaps you remember Taylor Lautner's tiny role in Twilight. Without much thought to how big the movie would be, Summit cast a relative unknown with questionable leading man looks. In the sequel, Johnkransinki Lautner had a much bigger role, which led Summit to fret about recasting the part for the sequel. Lautner got a trainer, a six-pack, and maybe a nose job (I haven't been able to confirm, and neither has the Internet), and appears to have grown well into his role as Jacob Black.

To avoid that kind of situation, John Krasinski ("The Office," Away We Go) has been cast in a supporting role for Something Borrowed, with the idea that he'll take on a larger role in the sequel, Something Blue. Authored by Emily Giffin, both of the books have been pretty big hits in the chick lit realm. In the first, a well-behaved lawyer Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) stands by while her more attractive, selfish publicist friend, Darcy, plans a marriage to Dex, a friend of hers. Dex and Rachel end up sleeping with each other, leading to a web of lies and cheating. What's unusual is that the cheating tale is sympathetic to the cheaters, but that's what's made the book more successful, in my opinion--everyone loves a tale of sweet revenge.

What's even more different, from a casting perspective, is that the sequel centers on the enemy, Darcy, who everyone reading the story has grown to hate. She's pregnant (having cheated on her fianc while they were engaged) and goes to London to stay with her friend Ethan (could this be Krasinski?). He sets her straight and helps her have an epiphany of sorts about her bad behavior (i.e., no drinking during pregnancy). Hilary Swank is producing, so it seems like she would be a candidate to play Darcy, but that information has never been released. Filming will start this summer, however, making casting decisions imminent. Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door) is directing.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Development news: Liam Hemsworth, Anna Faris grab starring roles

By Sarah Sluis

With the Oscar dust settling, Hollywood is getting back to developing new projects. Miley Cyrus' co-star in the upcoming teen movie The Last Song just snagged a big action role in upcoming 3D spectacle Arabian Nights. Liam Hemsworth will star as a young commander who teams up with Sinbad and Liam hemsworth Aladdin to rescue Princess Scheherazade. Inferno Entertainment, the production company, appears to have a distribution deal with Sony, though it is unclear if this film will be part of the pact. Liam's older brother is none other than Chris Hemsworth, who played Kirk in Star Trek and appears in upcoming Thor. Looks like a new Hollywood family is being born.

Hemsworth follows another teen hearthrob, Taylor Lautner, into 3D action territory. Lautner has just signed on to Stretch Armstrong, while his Twilight co-star, Robert Pattinson, has opted for a more dramatic route. This Friday, Pattinson's sromantic weepie Remember Me will open, par for the course in terms of his star image, but he is also appearing in Bel Ami, the period drama of a young French journalist who beds wealthy women. He's also on track to star alongside Reese Witherspoon and recent Oscar winner Christoph Waltz in Water for Elephants, a popular book club pick that is now being made into a movie. I wonder how the career choices of Hemsworth, Lautner, and Pattinson will pan out--is action or drama the best way to go?

On another note, an R-rated comedy starring Anna Faris called What's Your Number? is in the works. Faris will play a woman who discovers her number of lovers (twenty) is far above the Cosmo-dictated national average. With the help of a womanizing neighbor (Chris Evans), she revisits all of her lost Anna faris loves with the hope of recycling one into the "forever" category. From a comedic standpoint, I like that the multiple exes will allow for many brief, funny moments as she reunites with each one. Plus, I think Faris is an incredibly talented comedian, stealing her scenes in Lost in Translation and Brokeback Mountain and turning The House Bunny into a sleeper hit. However, the drawback is--hello!--Faris and Evans will end up together in the end. Even the plot synopsis of the book the story is based on, 20 Times a Lady, mentions the predictability of the story and its stock characters. Knowing the ending at the beginning can be incredibly frustrating for the audience and will make the "funny" that much harder to accomplish, even with Faris in the lead.

Monday, March 8, 2010

2010 Oscars favor 'The Hurt Locker' over 'Avatar'

By Sarah Sluis

This weekend was a crazy one for Hollywood, both at the box office and at the Oscars. On Sunday's Oscar ceremony, The Hurt Locker won Best Picture over Avatar, its only real competition. And Alice in Wonderland kicked off the weekend by bulldozing over Avatar's opening three-day gross, earning Hurt_locker_post $116.3 million, a whopping 50% more than Avatar's first-weekend $77 million. Thanks to these two events, Hollywood's prominent, front-running 3D sci-fi spectacle got knocked down back to Earth--a little bit.

The Academy Awards themselves came and went without any major surprises. Most of the whispered favorites in the blogosphere ended up going on to win the awards. With my ear firmly placed to the ground, this blogger was able to correctly pick all the acting categories, director, and picture, along with other talked-about categories like Original Score and Adapted Screenplay. Sure, it required a bit of luck, but also that oft-repeated phrase that "Hollywood likes a good story." That's part of the reason Kathryn Bigelow ("The first woman!!!") won Best Director. To make the award mean more, it seems right to follow it up with Best Picture, no? James Cameron already had his go at being "King of the World," and the Academy wanted to give someone else a turn.

That mood was extended to three of the four acting categories. Christoph Waltz, the winner of Best Supporting Actor, seemed to be the only person whose win was a story of performance alone. Mo'Nique also turned in a great performance, but her victory also seemed to be about coming into the Hollywood family, learning a bit about how the game works while at the same time refusing to play it, since she came under a lot of criticism early in awards season for skipping ceremonies and Monique supposedly requesting appearance fees. In her speech, she opened by saying "First of all I would like to thank the Academy, for showing that it can be about the performance, and not the politics." Okay, but isn't an explicitly "unpolitical" choice making its own kind of anti-statement? Now I'm just running my head round in circles...

Sandra Bullock and Jeff Bridges both won versions of the "It's their time" informal lifetime achievement award--but that didn't mean everyone didn't feel all warm and fuzzy to see these stars finally recognized. Following Mo'Nique, Bullock went right out and acknowledged the motives behind her own win, starting with "Did I really earn this or did I just wear y'all down?" Since Bullock is primarily a comedic Alg_oscar_sandra-bullock actress, and will be unlikely to receive such an opportunity again, it was nice to see this talented performer win for a body of work that includes goofy, non-Oscar films like Miss Congeniality. Bridges, who won on his fifth nomination, was also a pleasure to see on the podium. He called his profession "groovy" (Is he actually like his Big Lebowski character The Dude?) and thanked his wife profusely. Shockingly, by Hollywood standards, they have been married over thirty years. She looked, horror of horrors, like a fifty-year-old woman, and seeing how Bridges has remained true to his roots and first love made me appreciate the actor even more.

To cap off the ceremony, The Hurt Locker won Best Director (which James Cameron claimed not to want) and Best Picture (which James Cameron wanted). I can't wrap my head around how little money The Hurt Locker has made. How can a war movie, an action movie, about bomb diffusers make less in total ($14.7 million) than one Saturday night of Avatar's run? I hope this movie is making a killing in the DVD market, and earned a pretty penny for television rights, but its theatrical release was a disappointment. What's weirder, the movie was a really slow burn. Last year it received just two acting nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards, and won zero. However, given the movie's June release (a rarity for Oscar nominees, let alone winners), maybe a low box office was the price they had to pay for the visibility of being the only awards-worthy movie released that month. As the lowest-grossing movie (pretty much ever) to win the Best Picture Oscar, this movie was propelled by critical word-of-mouth and industry viewings. Now it's a matter of having the rest of the U.S. catch up. Its re-release into theatres this weekend earned it about $400k, and I sincerely hope moviegoers will purchase at least another million bucks in tickets next weekend.

Friday, March 5, 2010

'Alice in Wonderland' on track for a fantastic opening weekend

By Sarah Sluis

Alice in Wonderland opens this weekend in an astounding 3,728 theatres, 2,063 of which will be in 3D, along with 180 IMAX theatres. The movie is expected to earn in the $70 million range for its Red queen alice in wonderland opening weekend, on par with the first weekend of Avatar. Sadly, though, the 3D doesn't even come close to Avatar's. Instead of being shot with 3D cameras, the 3D was added in post-production, a difference noticeable to my eyes. Take the foliage in both of the movies: in Avatar, it's enchanting, but in Alice, it often seemed muddled, distracting, or even eye-straining to watch. Critical response has been mixed, with a current 54% on Rotten Tomatoes. FJI critic Ethan Alter found that director Tim Burton fell short. "When he's at the top of his game, Burton is able to marry his surrealistic visual sensibility with a plot powered by a strong emotional through-line," but the "potent storyline" of a "young woman who finds the courage to defy convention and follow her dreams...gets lost amidst all the banal wonders of his Wonderland." Despite these flaws, the movie will be seen by millions of people, and its $250 million price tag will be offset by that strength of Disney's, merchandising.

Yet another R-rated movie, Brooklyn's Finest (1,936 theatres), will round out the weekend's box Brooklyns finest office. From director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), the cop movie suffers from an "overwhelming sense of dj vu," according to critic Daniel Eagan. While populated by talented actors, including Ethan Hawke, Don Cheadle, Wesley Snipes and Ellen Barkin, their stories are timeworn, with "equally threadbare plots that leave no clich unplumbed, no coincidence ignored, no cheap irony neglected."

While Avatar was in fourth place last weekend, it will take a hit as Alice replaces Avatar on IMAX and many 3D screens. Second-weeker Cop Out will have to battle serious-minded police movie Brooklyn's Finest, and Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief will take a hit as family-friendly Alice comes into view. Oscar fever will help shore up specialty fare such as A Prophet, The Last Station, Crazy Heart, The Blind Side, and a half-dozen others. When the Oscar ceremony begins at 8pm EST on Sunday, I'll be in one place: parked in front of my television and hoping for a few surprises.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hollywood does a 180 with 'Monte Carlo'

By Sarah Sluis

Whenever movies are dramatically recast, it says something about the climate of development in Hollywood. There weren't enough dramatic action parts for women, so Angelina Jolie simply took on a male role in the upcoming spy thriller Salt, which had originally been imagined for Tom Cruise.

Now tweeners are having their day. The upcoming travel adventure movie Monte Carlo has been recast a whole generation younger. Nicole Kidman was originally supposed to lead a cast of three women (including, according to rumors, Julia Roberts) who decide to abandon their shoestring travel plans in Paris and head to Monte Carlo, where they pretend to be glamorous and wealthy women.

Now the role is going to Selena Gomez (Disney's "Wizards of Waverly

Place") with Leighton Meester ("Gossip Girl") in talks to co-star, and at least one other big casting decision in the works. That's a far cry from the source material, which, according to, followed "four middle-aged friends from New Jersey [who] decide to spice up their lackluster lives." Kidman, who was originally attached to star and take a producing credit, may continue her involvement with a supporting role.

The Fox 2000 project will be directed by Thomas Bezucha. He has previously helmed The Family Stone (2005) and Big Eden (2000), both of which he wrote independently. He also has a writing credit on Monte Carlo, but the movie is an adaptation and has been through the hands of several screenwriters.

What could have caused such a seismic generational switch? Several tween sensations have grabbed Hollywood's attention. Besides the obvious success of Twilight, Hannah Montana & Miley Leighton_meester Cyrus: The Best of Both Worlds excited exhibitors back in 2008 when it made a record-breaking debut on the normally barren Super Bowl weekend. The High School Musical franchise seemingly came out of nowhere. I was among the puzzled to check the iTunes store a few years ago and discover the top ten songs had been hijacked by a Disney TV movie. Teens, armed with gift cards from the recent holiday season, exercised their purchasing power in a medium older generations had barely caught up with. Nicholas Sparks-type romances first wowed with the younger-skewing The Notebook, and his latest adaptation, Dear John, has already racked up $73 million. Whether it's a vampire romance, a musical, concert, or romantic weepie, they all had something in common: a young female audience.

Now, movies put into development are releasing at a breakneck pace. Twilight star Robert Pattinson will star in weepie romance Remember Me (March 12), followed by another Nicholas Sparks adaptation, this time starring Miley Cyrus: The Last Song (March 31). The Runaways, starring another Twilight lead, Kristen Stewart, opens March 19th before expanding on April 9th to hordes of interested Twilight fans. Tame-looking romance Letters to Juliet (May 14) comes next, followed by the biggest franchise of them all: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (June 30). With the exception of edgy indie The Runaways, most of these movies will be PG or PG-13, featuring younger stars and more innocent romances than those older gals in Sex and the City 2 (May 28). Oddly enough, there are no tween-type movies in the second half of the year, though their quick, inexpensive production schedules could mean more will appear on the release slate later on in 2010. Tween-to-teen movies are coming out in force. No longer will teens be confined to high school-centered romances or aspiration romcoms with characters in their 20s or 30s. Now, it's just a matter of seeing how crowded this party can get before some of the movies start tanking at the box office.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tribeca Film Festival coming to a Peoria television near you

By Sarah Sluis

Taking a cue from IFC Films, which has pursued day-and-date releases of its movies on-demand along with their theatrical release at New York's IFC Theatre and other select art houses, the Tribeca Film Festival will become a distributor of movies both year-round and during the festival. The theatrical Tribeca film festival platform will be called Tribeca Film, and the online version will be called TFFV (Tribeca Film Festival Virtual).

As someone who has not always had the benefit of living in a city as culturally rich as New York City (seriously, there is so much going on here), nor the inclination to make treks to various city centers for every cool thing going on there, I can see a strong demand for specialty movies finding a way to connect with isolated audiences over their televisions or laptop screens. Most of the people that would take advantage of these movies would have to rent or buy them on DVD anyway. Home exhibition systems that can give the movie an accurate, if not jaw-dropping, presentation, are standard nowadays. Plenty of people in Peoria would be interested!

The movies available on-demand will include niche titles like the environmental documentary Climate of Change, a biopic of someone famous

to select people, Ian Dury, in Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, and what

sounds like a version of Eat, Pray, Love, or maybe The Darjeeling

: Road, Movie, which follows a young man's journey through

India. All of these titles sound like good candidates for on-demand,

with their presumably smaller audiences and limited prospects of

theatrical release. Because the movies will premiere on VOD at the same time as the film festival, there will be some added free publicity. Instead of waiting months for the movie to show up on DVD, or, if they're lucky, a local specialty theatre, people will be able to see the movie at the same time as their city cousins. Given the select audience and niche content, I don't really see this as being a threat to theatre exhibitors. For them, showing these kinds of movies would be unprofitable or require an all-out marketing onslaught.

On the Internet, TFFV (Tribeca Film Festival Virtual) costs $45 and will run concurrently with the festival, showing select movies as they premiere at the New York event. There is a free version that offers the standard briefs and recaps, but the select version will have short films, Q&As, and everything to make a non-NYC-based film geek drool.

There is some precedence for this kind of move. Just this year, Sundance released feature-length films on Hulu, which currently exists as a section (sponsored by Bing) with clips from some films and free (ad-supported) feature-length versions of others (including years-old Super Size Me). On television, Sundance also offered three movies on-demand.

The way I see it, these types of alternative distribution ideas are a way to help match the increase in film production. With digital camcorders, making a movie is cheap, and there are far more films made than exhibited. Considering the kind of dreck that's out there, that's a good thing. But for every movie that deserves never to be seen, there's another that didn't reach a wide audience, was too niche, or too odd. I hope that on-demand, self-distribution, and other platforms can help these movies find an audience. And for viewers, it's a way to bring a little bit of that festival glitz to their own homes.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Predicting the Oscars: Bigelow vs. Cameron

By Sarah Sluis

Right now, the race for the Best Director at the Oscars (this Sunday!) has narrowed down to two front runners: James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow. Formerly husband and wife, a relationship they refuse Kathryn_bigelow to turn into any kind of rivalry, the duo have both won their fair share of awards leading up to the event. Bigelow won the Directors Guild Award (the first woman to do so), an award that has correctly predicted the Oscar win all but six times since 1948. Cameron won the high-profile Golden Globe award for Best Director, but that has correlated only 60% of the time with the Oscar win. Based on that information alone, anyone but Bigelow winning will be an upset.

Even Cameron seems to want Bigelow to win--as long as Avatar gets Best Picture. On both "60 Minutes" (clipped here) and "Charlie Rose" (clipped here), Cameron has rooted for Bigelow in the hopes that the grand prize of Best Picture will go to Avatar and not The Hurt Locker. It's kind of a weird strategy, making him seem magnanimous while at the same time publicly James-cameron-talking giving up a less valuable award as a way to gun for the big one. While I loved Avatar, I think this commentator gets something right: the story is not original at all. It's well done, but not original. When your movie draws comparisons to Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest, and not just old legends like Pocahontas, that shows that you didn't transcend the age-old story but merely offered another iteration of it. Every movie has a flaw, and this is Avatar's biggest one.

Awards time also leads to lots of potential "firsts." Bigelow would be the first female director to win. Cameron would be the first person to win for back-to-back directing projects. Lee Daniels would be the first black person to win the Best Director award. However, his lack of other prominent "Best Director" awards puts him out of the running. So when it comes to Oscar pool time, here's my recommendation: pick Bigelow for Best Director, and Cameron if you want to go for the dark horse.

Monday, March 1, 2010

'Shutter Island' bests 'Cop Out' and 'The Crazies'

By Sarah Sluis

Despite the arrival of fresh competition, Shutter Island dropped less than 50% in its second weekend to hold onto the top spot for the second week in a row, earning $22.2 million. Director Martin Scorsese and star Leonardo DiCaprio are enjoying some of the best box office they've had in awhile, along with a $75 million cumulative gross.

Tracy jordan bruce willis cop out Cop Out debuted in second with $18.5 million. The Kevin Smith-directed, humorous tale of two misfit cops opened higher than star Bruce Willis' previous movie, September's Surrogates. For Tracy Morgan of "30 Rock," this was his first headlining role. Unfortunately, our critic Ethan Alter found Morgan's "unpredictability," his "comic odds with the movie he's been cast's hard to escape the feeling that he's been advised to keep himself in check." As a big fan of his character on "30 Rock," I only hope his next feature, the ensemble piece Death at a Funeral, will fix the problem.

Horror movie remake The Crazies had been The crazies remake building slowly in awareness, and ended up just $2 million short of Cop Out with a $16.5 million total. While many horror movies do the biggest business on Friday, this movie, like many others, peaked on Saturday with a 6% bump from Friday. The poor weather on the East Coast, which had largely cleared up by Saturday (at least in the New York area), may account for the unusually large Saturday bumps across the board. Shutter Island went up 55%, Cop Out 29%, and Avatar 114%.

Avatar astounded for yet another week with a minuscule 13% drop and another $14 million. After months of prodding, including one attempt thwarted by a sold-out show, my own parents finally saw the movie and pronounced the film "stunning." My scientist father was in awe of the 3D technology and apparently sat on the edge of his seat the whole time. Their reception matches the general word-of-mouth that exists for the movie, which has had astounding longevity at the box office. With the Academy Awards next Sunday, the movie will likely see another bump two weeks from now, once the awards tally is in.

The Ghost Writer added 39 locations this weekend and came away with a $20,000 per-location gross, which tipped the movie's cumulative gross over the $1 million mark. A 50% plus drop in per-location earnings is about standard for specialty films, and a $10,000 per location gross next week, combined with an expansion, would rack up millions of dollars for the film.

A prophet photo Sony Picture Classics' A Prophet debuted one week ahead of the Academy Awards, where it is nominated for Best Foreign Film. At nine locations, the prison drama brought in $18,800 per-location for a total of $170,000, a number that will increase in weeks ahead, especially if the movie, regarded as a frontrunner for the win, ends up with an Oscar.

This Friday, Alice in Wonderland will make its 3D and IMAX debut along with a decidedly different cop movie, Brooklyn's Finest.