Friday, April 30, 2010

Beware animals and slashers in 'Furry Vengeance' and 'Nightmare on Elm Street'

By Sarah Sluis

This weekend at the box office, everyone is out to get you. If you're with kids, go for Furry Vengeance (2,997 theatres), the environmentally friendly family comedy about a real estate developer (Brendan Fraser) in a losing battle against the animals defending their forest home. Their defense involves bodily emissions,

Furry_Vengeance_Lg as might be expected, leading to an overall feel that this movie is going for the "lowest common denominator," according to critic Sheri Linden.

For horror fans, there's the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street (3,332 theatres). It's pretty hard to top an original movie, and this remake is no exception. Critic Maitland McDonagh summed it up like this: "The new Nightmare is just another generic horror movie that hits its marks and delivers its blandly anonymous victims into the jaws of malevolent fate. It's perfectly watchable, but nothing to lose sleep over." One interesting casting choice: Jackie Earle Haley as dead child molester Freddy Krueger, his second time around the block playing a child molester.

So maybe you missed Please Give at Tribeca, but saw my post yesterday praising the movie. You're in luck if you're in one of the six locations releasing the film this weekend. Director Nicole Holofcener's strong and incisive film led Ethan Alter to happily conclude that "It's a low-key slice-of-life story that, in its best moments, feels like real life."

On Monday, we'll see where these films ended up. Elm Street will probably finish higher than Furry Vengeance, especially because horror movies open strong. How to Train Your Dragon could end up ahead of Furry Vengeance due to its long legs and continued presence in 3D and IMAX locations.

Charter school documentary 'The Lottery' inspires intense audience discussion

By Sarah Sluis

Most Americans know something about charter schools.

Privately run schools with intensive curricula and frequently non-unionized teachers, their small size and flexible structure is

supposed to help them avoid the

The Lottery documentary pitfalls of a large school system and

educate students from areas where local schools are failing. Madeleine

Sackler's documentary The Lottery (

follows four families in Harlem who have entered their children in the

lottery for the Harlem Success Academy. Each of these families comes

from challenging circumstances. Most of the parents are single, one is

disabled and another's husband is in prison, but they are

committed to getting their child a good education. Of course,

not everyone will get in: there's simply too much demand to enroll in

these excellent schools. Sackler also interviews founders and CEOs of charter schools, principals, goes to political and community hearings about charter

schools, and follows protesters, giving a comprehensive view of the

charter school debate (though she is clearly pro-charter school).


the movie's screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, there was a panel discussion that included Joel Klein, the

chancellor of New York City schools; Eva Moskowitz, the founder and

CEO of Success Charter Network, which founded the Harlem Success

Academy; Sackler, and Karl Willingham, a parent profiled in the

movie. Most of the questions and comments were positive towards

charter schools, but some dissented. While charter school advocates claim

all parents they have ever met want their children to have a good

education, others believe that charter schools self-select since

parents must enter their children in a lottery to attend--an extra step

apathetic parents might not attempt.

Two people came up to the microphone, talking about how they cried

the whole way through the film. For many, it was the moment where a

parent said "No one ever told me I could be an astronaut" that broke

them down. Another, interviewed from prison, referred to Harlem

Success Academy's goal that every one of their students becomes a

college graduate. "No one ever told me I could be a college graduate,"

the inmate said, tears welling up in his eyes. These powerful moments

helped focus the attention on the children. Politics aside (and this issue is ALL about politics), people want to see children educated and told that they can be successful college graduates. The method does not seem to matter as much as the results.

Issues of race were also brought up. One person asked about the

"inarticulate" answers given by the people dissenting against Harlem Success

Academy's expansion. In one documentary segment, for example, angry

parents speak out by calling the expansion "disrespectful," a coded word

that includes issues of power and disenfranchisement. They didn't

expand on the term, I believe, because the word spoke for itself--to their

community. Later, a couple of viewers called the questioner out on his

insensitive comment, which they felt showed ignorance and racism.

Charter schools are itching to expand, and as the issue heats up this documentary is likely to receive more play. The passionate audience included State Senator Craig Johnson,

who made an important decision in favor of charter schools, people

carrying Teach for America tote bags, public school teachers, and many

passionate parents and children (the ones featured in the film were

also there). Sackler revealed that the documentary will go into a

roughly 100-theatre run, and many screenings for special-interest

communities are likely to go along with it. And it's not the only kid

on the block. Sundance documentary Waiting for Superman also explored failing public schools, indicating that the issue is moving into the public spotlight.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

'Please Give' reflects its New York City audience

By Sarah Sluis

Please Give, the latest film by Nicole Holofcener, follows a Manhattan woman (Catherine Keener) who feels incredibly guilty about those less fortunate than her. She runs a business selling vintage furniture, and is

Please give remorseful about buying items from mourning children. Her family has also pre-bought the apartment of the aging lady next door, which they will renovate after her death. Then there's the twenty dollar bills she dispenses to the various homeless people hanging out around 5th Avenue.

As I settled into my seat for the movie, a selection at the Tribeca Film Festival, I overheard the conversation of the two ladies next to me. First, they discussed feeling guilty while on a cruise, because they are staffed with people from third-world countries away from home for nine months of the year. Then, they had a worried discussion about how much to tip delivery men (it was decided that a $5 tip on a $25 purchase was sufficient). They could have been characters right from Holofcener's

Sarah steele movie.

Which is what is so great about Holofcener, who wrote and directed the film. She's spot-on in her characterization and dialogue. The movie is very New York-specific (but that never hurt Woody Allen or "Seinfeld") and captures a specific group of people in New York without becoming too in-jokey. It's the kind of movie that finds humor in truth. A fake tan greeted with an eyebrow raise is much more effective than oompa-loompa jokes about the orange hue. I've seen Holofcener's previous movie, Friends with Money, and was pleasantly surprised. Please Give was so much better, perhaps because each character can be both sympathetic and repulsive.

One of the most telling moments for Keener's character is when she starts crying while a group of young people with Down's Syndrome play basketball. She's so guilty over feeling better off than people, she fails to see that people that are "less fortunate" than her have happy and fulfilling lives in their own way. All she can do is feel bad for people, she can't empathize or see how their lives

Peet have good and bad times just like hers. In between moments like these, there's more superficial concerns, like her daughter's desire for $200 jeans and clear skin. The daughter of the aging woman next door, played by Rebecca Hall, has a sad moroseness around her that channels Noah Baumbach. In a final touch of reality, how the characters act in a group is much different than how they are in twos. Keener's daughter and Hall relate to each other honestly and as friends as they walk dogs together, and the other daughter of the aging woman (Amanda Peet) has an affair with Keener's husband (Oliver Platt). All this, despite the fact that the two families are ostensibly awkward enemies because of the apartment sale. That's why I'll put Holofcener's film among the best that I have seen this year.

Check out FJI's interview with director Nicole Holofcener and our review.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tribeca kills for 'Dream Home'

By Sarah Sluis

Though I'm not a big horror fan, I've had some luck with Asian horror films, which tend to be more inventive both stylistically and in terms of plot. Such was the case with Tribeca Film Festival selection Dream Home, a Chinese horror film with a protagonist whose killings are motivated by the Hong Kong housing crisis.

DREAMHOME_3 I was expecting the movie to respond, in some way, to America's own housing crisis, but that's like fitting a square peg into a round hole. Josie Ho plays a woman who desperately wants to buy her own flat. In the Hong Kong housing market apartments go for $3,000 a square foot (with 30% down!), making even tiny apartments worth millions of dollars. She resorts to killing the tenants of an apartment in an effort to make it vacant. As expected, the plot is inventive, moving back and forth between her one-night killing spree and various points in her life before that, from her childhood to just a few weeks before. However, it was hard for me to see how someone could resort to killing just for an apartment. In America, there was the opposite problem, with tons of housing stock encouraging unqualified buyers to get in too deep. What the two places have in common is the desperation with which people pursue the dream of having a place of one's own, even when it goes against all logical reasoning.

In the Q&A afterward, one horror fan commended director Pang Ho-Cheung for his original death scenes. Ho-Cheung said he came up with the killing ideas by "going around my apartment and looking at how things could be used differently." Indeed, the deaths are very original, both in the type of implements used to cause them and the pacing of the deaths. People wriggle around in their death throes for ages, pinned down or trapped or strangled but still holding on for life (this is the kind of thing that makes horror fans laugh and everyone else squirm and cover their eyes). Vacuum storage bags, coffee tables, and bed slats are all used as weapons, and, believe me, the deaths are not immediate. Ho-Cheung's horror film is also light on suspense. He uses it sparingly, usually in the approach before the attack. Without suspense, the audience is more relaxed. Those that like watching people killed (and that includes the director: "We just started killing

and it was so happy we just kept on doing") got their fair share of original death scenes.

Ho-Cheung also revealed that the role was originally written for a man, but actress Josie Ho expressed interest in a role where she could kill people and took on the part. He maintains that they changed nothing in the script to adapt it to her, a statement that rings mostly true (the dynamic with her married boyfriend seems like it must have been changed a bit). In the killing scenes, this works quite well. Her creative methods of killing seem better motivated, and when she is occasionally being outmatched in strength and being choked, it's very believable. At the same time, her character is an incredibly strong and determined personality, with no discernable weakness.

A final thought: the movie hinges on the weeks before October 31, 2007, the moment when Hong Kong's stock market was at its ultimate high before coming crashing down. Hong Kong audiences know this date, so it's helpful to place the moment in your mind as equivalent to right before all the banks and housing markets crashed in the U.S. As for the movie itself? Horror fans will come away more than fulfilled, but those like me, who only like the genre at its best-of-the-best moments (Audition, Uzumaki, Old Boy), won't have a new favorite to add to their list.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Catching the Tribeca spirit with 'Soul Kitchen'

By Sarah Sluis

Yesterday I caught my first Tribeca Film Festival screening...ever. Despite my fears of hectic, standing-room-only crowds, I found the Village East Cinema frantic in a good way. Yes, there were people waiting

SoulKitchen outside in the rain hiding beneath their umbrellas to get rush tickets before the show. But just as many people were crowded within the halls of the theatres, waiting for their shows, talking, writing, and making the place look like a temporary home.

Seeing a film with a festival audience is an experience well worth the crowds. It's always fun to hear people laugh unexpectedly, or the person next to me whispering in recognition when someone on screen spoke a line of Chinese (I think the Chinese words might have revealed that one of the characters was cheating on the other). A passionate, engaged audience can make a good film great.

I've been on a Hollywood-heavy diet lately, so it was refreshing to take in an independent, foreign-language film. FJI's executive editor Kevin Lally recommended Soul Kitchen (and wrote about it here), a German movie with an independent spirit. You could count all the ways it's not a typical Hollywood movie, which brings me to just that: all the ways it's different than say, restaurant rom-com No Reservations.

Parts of the movie seem like they're going to be predictable, but end up being played out in a much different way than you expect. When the manager of a Hamburg restaurant with terrible food teams up with a rock star chef, you assume they're going to turn the restaurant into a hot spot with rave reviews. Instead, the regulars hate the food, and it's only when a band starts practicing there and one of the fans requests something from the chalkboard menu that hasn't been taken down yet that the restaurant bit starts taking off. The whole movie just isn't that goal-oriented. The changes the restaurant undergoes are only part of the story, and the manager doesn't even want to turn his place into a super-trendy or four-star restaurant. That's surprising to audience members like me, who are so used to scripts revolving around accomplishments and failures.

Thanks to the inclusion of that great Hollywood trope, the eye lock between people who later fall in love, most of the romantic permutations can be guessed, but how they actually unfold is different than a typical romance. It's also fantastic to see a film cast with people that have a non-Hollywood look to them. Yes, some of the stars are beautiful, but all in unconventional ways. You get the feeling that if these people were actors in Hollywood, they would have much different haircuts/noses/figures/teeth.

Soul Kitchen, which has received a great deal of kudos over the festival, is perfectly suited to its environment, and will be at home when it opens this August through independent-minded IFC Films.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Memories of 'Memento' at Tribeca

By Kevin Lally

In 2000, audiences at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals were among the first to see Memento, the Memento ingenious second feature by a young British writer-director named Christopher Nolan. What a differencea decademakes. Today, Nolan is one of the most successful filmmakers in the world, having directed thethird-highest grossing film of all time, The Dark Knight (behind James Cameron's Avatar and Titanic).

To commemorate the tenth anniversary of Memento, the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday screened a handsome print of this riveting modern film noir, followed by a panel discussion moderated by NPR's Robert Krulwich with Jonathan Nolan, Christopher's brother and author of the short story on which the film is based, stars Guy Pearce and Joe Pantoliano, New School psychology professor William Hirst, and MIT professor of behavioral neuroscience Dr. Suzanne Corkin. The event was sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which partners with Tribeca each year in awarding grants to narrative film projects that dramatize science and tecnology themes.

The Sloan Foundation connection in this case was the panel's consensus that Memento is one of the movies' most accurate depictions of how the brain and our memories function. For those unfamilar with the film, Pearce plays Leonard, a man who suffered brain trauma while fighting his wife's attacker and who is now unable to retain new memories. Despite his disorienting handicap, he is determined to find the man who murdered his wife. In a daring stylistic choice that mirrors Leonard's own chronic confusion, the sequence of events ispresented backwards in time, forcing the audience to piece together thefracturednarrative.

Jonathan Nolan confessed that when his brother proposed the backwards structure for his screenplay adaptation, he thought it was "a really bad idea," but later came to realize that the fun of the movie is discovering the story "in the moment" along with the main protagonist.

Pearce said that when he read the complexscript, he responded most strongly to the emotional plight of his character. During production, he didn't really worry much about navigating all the story's twists and turns, since from scene to scene, "I didn't need to remember."

Pantoliano, known to one and all as "Joey Pants," with credits ranging from the pimp in Risky Business to a lowlife in "The Sopranos," brought his typically brash perspective to the discussion of memory: "I say I nailed my wife on the first date; she says it was six months later."

Dr. Corkin noted that Memento isn't precisely about short-term memory loss per se, sincewe retain ourshort-term memoriesfor less than 30 seconds unless we rehearse or encode them. Dr. Corkin could draw from personal experiece in watching the film; for more than 40 years, she consulted with a patient who couldn't generate any new memories after brain surgery for a severe epileptic condition. In all their meetings over all those decades, he never recognized her.

For all those who feel their memories of Memento are clear, Jonathan Nolan revealed that the DVD deliberately contains slight differences from the original theatrical release. So seeing this widescreen modern masterpiece back on the big screen was truly a special event for the Tribeca crowd.

'Dragon' rises above 'The Back-up Plan' and 'Losers'

By Sarah Sluis

In an impressive fifth-week feat, How to Train Your Dragon ascended to number one over the weekend with a $15 million gross and a $10,000 per-screen average. There's two lines of reasoning to explain the rise. One is word-of-mouth. Anyone who's seen the movie (judging from my own reaction and Facebook status updates) has been blown away by the impressive visuals, cute characters and great story. Second is the overcrowded slate during Dragon's release. The movie released as 3D Alice in Wonderland was winding down, and a week later 3D Clash of the Titans opened, crowding the 3D market. Because this movie is so The back-up plan jennifer lopezquality, I'm glad to see audiences rewarding the film by voting for it with ticket sales.

The Back-Up Plan was at first place on Friday before settling in at second place with $12.2 million. The romantic comedy finished roughly in line with expectations. This kind of lackluster performance is the reason people think women don't go to movies--when really, they're saving their movie dates for Sex and the City and Twilight.

The Losers had a disappointing #4 debut. The movie was expected to open above $10 million but came away just shy with $9.6 million. Given its

The losers walking in movie withering reviews, this movie got what was coming to it.

Oceans, the Earth Day release from Disneynature, brought in $6 million over the weekend for a four-day cumulative gross of $8.4 million. The nature film opened below last year's Earth, which earned over $8 million its opening weekend and $14 million from Wednesday to Sunday. However, this type of film tends to play well over several

Oceans movie weeks. Last year's Earth may have benefited from a Wednesday Earth Day, which gave the movie more time to build through the weekend.

Last week's limited releases Exit Through the Gift Shop and The Secret in their Eyes held extremely well. Exit Through the Gift Shop dropped 12% while adding three locations. Each of the eleven locations earned $13,500, the highest per-screen average of the week, for a total of $149,000. The Secret in their Eyes went up 120% from last week going from 10 to 33 locations. Its per-screen average of $11,000 was the second-highest of the week.

This Friday, the environmental comedy Furry Vengeance will open wide opposite the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Aim low this weekend with 'The Back-Up Plan' and 'The Losers'

By Sarah Sluis

Audiences looking for entertainment this weekend will be hard-pressed to find a new offering with rave reviews. Leading the pack is CBS Films' The Back-Up Plan (3,280 theatres), a tired romantic comedy

The back up plan conga line about a woman (Jennifer Lopez) who falls for the perfect guy just as she becomes pregnant with a child conceived with a sperm donor. When I reviewed the movie, I concluded that there's "nothing to see for anyone who's already viewed their fair share of formulaic romantic comedies." Still, for those that enjoy that kind of film, the experience will be "a not very good and yet painless waste of time," as A.O. Scott of the The New York Times so aptly put. The movie is expected to open in the teen millions. A debut on the low end of expectations could put it behind How to Train Your Dragon, which should also post a teen-million figure.

An action-adventure film with an intriguing cast and not much else, The Losers (2,396 theatres), also comes with a caveat emptor. FJI critic Ethan Alter cautions that "the real losers are those folks tricked into forking

The losers giant gun over good money to see this dumbed-down adaptation of the popular comic book." The adaptation follows a group of CIA special operatives who are ordered killed by someone in their own agency. They escape death and turn to wreaking vengeance on the hit man. The cast includes action alums such as Zoe Saldana (Avatar) Chris Evans (Star Trek) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen). Unfortunately, they seem stuck in a movie that seems disorganized and extensively re-worked. This movie is expected to barely cross over into the ten-million range.

After opening yesterday, Earth Day, Oceans will go into the weekend on 1,206 screens, a high number for a nature documentary. The film has already earned $54 million overseas, boding well for its U.S. release. Last

Oceans movie year's Disneynature Earth Day release, Earth, earned $8.8 million its opening weekend on a similar number of screens, so Oceans will probably open in line with those numbers.

The specialty releases this week are a mixed bag. Daniel Eagan despised the "sloppy, thoughtless" documentary Behind the Burly Q (NY), which tries to glorify burlesque while glossing over the drug and sexual abuse that goes along with the profession. Those in the mood to see people with questionable morals would be better served by viewing the "gaggle of (take your pick) hugely rich, greedy, sneaky, promiscuous, self-serving, coke-indulging, desperate denizens of the contemporary art world" in Boogie Woogie (NY).

Tribeca Film Festival enters year nine

By Kevin Lally

The ninth annual Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) kickedoff Wednesdaynight with the world premiere of DreamWorks Animation's Shrek Forever After, one of 85 features to be presented over the course of the 12-day event.

Launched in 2002 with the aim of revitalizing downtownManhattan after the Sept. 11 tragedy, TFF has grown quickly into a signature New York event, a more wide-ranging alternative to the highly selective New York Film Festival held at Lincoln Center each fall.

The selections span the globe and every imaginable genre, from disturbingdocumentaries to light comedies, from poignant dramas to pulpy horror films. Among the hottest ticketsare Freakonomics, the movie adaptation of the best-seller which brought a social dimension to economics, with contributions from some of today's top documentary makers including Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side), Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) and Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight), and Saturday Night, actor James Franco's inside look at the making of a "Saturday Night Live" episode, which will be followed by a panel discussion with Franco and "SNL" cast members. Alex Gibney returns with an untitled new documentary about disgraced New York governor Eliot Spitzer, and rap icon turned movie auteur Ice Cube delivers Straight Outta L.A., a documentary about the Oakland Raiders and the early West Coast rap scene.

So far, I've caughtthirteenof the Tribeca selections, and for me the clear highlight is Soul Kitchen, the Soul Kitchen new film from Turkish-German director Fatih Akin, whose The Edge of Heaven was one of my favorite movies of 2007. Soul Kitchen is much lighter in tone than that fatalistic drama, even if its young Greek protagonist suffers from an awful run of bad luck. Zinos Kazantsakis (played by Akin's co-writer Adam Bousdoukos) runs an unpretentious restaurant in Hamburg and makes plans to leave the country when his girlfriend lands a job in China. But complications ensue, from his thieving brother on parole, to a onetime friend who's scheming to take over his property, to a slipped disc that seems to get progressively worse as his problems mount. Akin's latest features a zany cast of characters, great music, delectable-looking food, and a breakneck pace as Zinos' fortunes rise and fall and rise again. IFC Films opens it in August, and audiences will leave Soul Kitchen will a satsified smile.

IFC also has Cairo Time, a lovely showcase for leading actress Patricia Clarkson and the sights and sounds of Egypt. Clarkson plays Juliette, who arrives alone for a vacation in Cairo after her husband, a U.N. worker, is delayed by a crisis in Gaza. Her husband's Egyptian former business associate Tareq (Aleander Siddig of Syriana) picks her up at the airport and becomes her host and confidant. As Juliette opens herself to the beauty and contemplative rhythms of the Egyptian culture, it becomes clear that the two are falling in love. Will they act on their attraction? Ruba Nadda's understated romance casts a spell, and will certainly find an enthusiastic audience among women "of a certain age."

On the wilder side, Tribeca is presenting Arias with a Twist: The Docufantasy, a look at the collaboration of veteran New York drag performer Joey Arias and master puppeteer Basil Twist. This double portrait makes the casefor both men as special and unique artists, and I for one now regret having missed their 2008 stage show. The movie opens with Arias, hair in a tight bun and wearing a severe, skimpy Thierry Mugler costume, performing Led Zepellin's "Kashmir" while strapped to a gyroscope, as Twist's space aliens surround him. From the glimpses seen here, the uninhibited Arias and the visionary Twist are an ideal theatrical match.Bobby Sheehan'smovie doesn't have an unkind word to say about either artist and borders on gushiness, but Arias and Twist come across as genuinely likeable anddown-to-earth creative whirlwinds. As abonus, thedocumentary also offers a breezy history of the downtown New York performance-art scene that Arias helped nurture.

Another wild fellow was Ian Dury, lead singer of the British punk band The Blockheads, who gets a colorful tribute in the British biopic sex & drugs & rock & roll. Dury, who died in 2000, was a singular groundbreaker, a music star who never let the crippling effects of his childhood polio stand in his way. Mat Whitcross' film has trouble finding the narrative momentum in Dury's life, and depends too much on the thread of the musician's bad influence on his young son (played by Bill Milner of Son of Rambow), but it's a sensational showcase for Andy Serkis (so memorable as the CGI Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films), who creates an uncanny impersonation of the raspy, volatile singer and even performs his own vocals with the real Blockheads.

Sony Pictures Classics has two excellent films in the Tribeca lineup: Nicole Holofcener's Manhattan ensemble comedy Please Give, opening April 30 and already reviewed on the Film Journal website, and Micmacs, the highly imaginative new film from Amelie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who will be profiled in the June issue of FJI.

Tomorrow I'll be at the tenth anniversary screening of Christopher Nolan's twisty Memento, which will be followed by a panel discussion with stars Guy Pearce and Joe Pantoliano and co-writer Jonathan Nolan. It will be a busy weekend in downtown Manhattan. Look for more Tribeca coverage here next week.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Documentaries can now show animal cruelty--and that's a good thing

By Sarah Sluis

Documentaries have to be one of my favorite genres. I love feeling like I've learned something new, and seeing something that "really" happened makes the subject that much more engaging. Because their movies US Vs Stevens animal cruelty are based on facts and events, it can be easy to forget the type of challenges documentary filmmakers are up against.

Like what happens when filmmakers show unsavory sights. On April 20th, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in United States vs. Stevens that documentary filmmakers are allowed to show animal cruelty in films, overruling a 1999 law barring its depiction. Surprise! This is actually a good thing. This is a classic case of a law passed for a specific purpose that was applied by prosecutors in an overextended manner, leading the statute to be struck down.

The 1999 law was targeted to prevent a gross genre of sexual fetish videos involving women stepping on small animals. It had a clause allowing depictions of animal cruelty for "serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value." So movies like The Cove and Food, Inc., which show animal slaughter, were in the clear. But a prosecutor can charge someone based on their own definition of "serious," so anyone on the cusp of violating such a law would end up in court as the case was decided. Most media are against such laws for that reason--it can dampen freedom of speech. Though the defendant in the case, Robert J. Stevens, made a questionable film called Pick-A-Winna: A Pit Bull Documentary, which some said was a guise to show off fighting, the case definitely has some gray areas. Stevens claims to be a pit bull lover and owner, and says the documentary was created because of his fascination with pit bulls. He also was sentenced to more time than that football player who had a dog fighting ring. Interestingly, the decision made numerous comparisons to hunting videos, which are popular niche videos that show killing of animals. Even if they're made in states where hunting is legal, if shown in an area where hunting is illegal, they would violate the animal cruelty statute. That kind of inconsistency was a major reason the law was struck down.

So it's good day for documentary filmmakers. Now it's back to getting their subjects to open up to them and be honest.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How will digital screens change the scheduling of blockbusters?

By Sarah Sluis

Earlier this year, when I spoke to a theatre manager for an unrelated article, he mentioned that their new all-digital theatre was able to show four simultaneous Twilight: New Moon midnight screenings to meet Fandango_app demand--half of the small town's eight screens. In the past, the theatre would have needed four prints in order to show the movie on four screens. Because of advance ticket sales, they were able to set aside the correct amount of auditoriums and fill four theatres with Twilight fans. As entire theatres to convert to digital, the combination of digital projection and advance ticket sale websites has the potential to change the movie exhibition landscape.

Because people are willing to pay surcharges for highly anticipated

movies, advance ticket sales for blockbusters will have the greatest effect on how movies are booked. If a blockbuster could sell out

half the multiplex in one night, wouldn't theatre owners just change

the schedule to get all those people into theatres? There's no way Twilight: New Moon could have earned $72 million in one day (a single-day record) without pre-sold shows and multiple theatres playing the movie at fan-centered times like midnight.

Today, for example, Regal reported robust ticket sales for Sex and the City 2 (opening six weeks from now), which outpaced sales of Kick-Ass last weekend. Depending on ticket sales, Regal can most likely add screenings to meet demand, depending on any contractual obligations it might have to show other movies X amount of times.

Advance movie tickets stand to become more popular as more

people buy smart phones that enable them to buy movie tickets. Fandango, and others already have

iPhone apps for that purpose. Cost, however, will always be something

of an issue. People will only buy tickets in advance if convenience

trumps cost, and heading over for a Sunday afternoon show probably

isn't one of those times. Plus, movie theatres have to set their schedules in advance. While they can switch a movie to a larger theatre if it's playing better than expected, they can't change showtimes once they're published online and in newspapers.

One thing digital projection probably won't be able to change is the annoyance of a sold-out show on a Friday and Saturday night, when even middling movies sell out theatres. If you're lucky, it's playing in

multiple theatres and you can catch the show an hour later (if the next show's not sold out). If you're not as lucky, it's either choose

another movie, wait two hours for a better option, or go home. For those making last-minute decisions, it would be great to be able to purchase a ticket on a phone (no fees) if it's within a couple hours of a show. It gives the consumer more choice. If you can see that a show is sold out, you can pick a second-choice movie and show up later, or search for another movie theatre in the area. If fans buying tickets in advance for Harry Potter or Sex and the City or Avatar is beneficial for the theatres, they should find a way to let consumers buy tickets slightly in advance without tacking on extra fees.

Monday, April 19, 2010

'Kick-Ass' and 'How to Train Your Dragon' both finish around $20 million

By Sarah Sluis

Kick-Ass and How to Train Your Dragon finished neck-and-neck this weekend, each earning around an estimated $20 million, so until the actuals come in we're calling them even. It's pretty unusual for a movie to Kick ass movie 2 return to first place in its fourth week (though Dragon opened in first place), but the release trajectory for Dragon was changed by the last-minute release of Clash of the Titans in 3D, which took 3D screens and the number one spot away from Dragon in its second week. With week-to-week drops ranging from 14-33% so far, the movie is in good shape. This week Dragon crossed the $150 million mark, the reported budget of the animated film.

Kick-Ass was expected to open a bit higher than the $20 million it brought in. However, the movie garnered much better reviews than say, Clash of the Titans, so it should play strongly in coming weeks as word gets out about its fairly unique perspective on the superhero genre. However, its underperformance (at least in its opening week) reflects some of the concerns that led director Matthew Vaughn to seek financing for the project outside studios. All of the studios reportedly balked at the foul language and R-rated script, so Vaughn

found his $50 million in financing elsewhere, then Lionsgate picked it

at Comic-Con for a number in the teen millions. Half of the audience members were under 25 (so, half the audience was from 17-25 since it's R-rated, unless they were there with a parent), so its R rating probably did take a toll on the box office.

Death at a Funeral opened to a respectable $17 million, a more than break-even point for a comedy Death at a funeral 2 reported to cost $21 million. However, the black-skewing movie could not compare to the latest work by the king of that demographic, Tyler Perry, whose dramedy Why Did I Get Married Too? opened to $29 million three weeks ago.

Three specialty releases opened to per-screen averages in the high teens and above. Leading the pack was The City of Your Final Destination, which earned $22,000 on one screen. Banksy documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop posted an impressive $20,000 per location in eight theatres. The Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, The Secret in Their Eyes, earned $17,600 per screen at ten locations. Because the latter two films were able to open on multiple screens with such high screen averages, they are exceptionally well-positioned for further expansion.

This Friday, romantic comedy The Back-Up Plan will go up against the CIA action movie The Losers.

Friday, April 16, 2010

'Kick-Ass' ready to do just that this weekend

By Sarah Sluis

"Hi-yaaa" ing into 3,065 theatres this weekend, Kick-Ass is the strongest release and will likely grab upwards of $25 million. The comic-book adaptation follows a boy who decides to become a superhero. Once Kick ass hit girl he has his modified wetsuit on, however, he ends up getting involved with some real bad guys and real-life vigilante superheroes, requiring him to step up or get snuffed out. The movie has been heavily advertised on cable channels like MTV, though a younger-skewing audience could prove a liability due to its R-rating. While the movie already has the stamp of approval from fanboys, girls should be drawn in by Hit-Girl, a powerful and violent 11-year-old girl who uses salty language. Chlo Moretz does a spectacular job with the character, and shows signs of being an actress who will be around for a long, long time.

A remake of a 2007 British film, now with a predominantly black cast, Death at a Funeral (2,459 theatres) will probably rack up ticket sales this weekend before falling off quickly. Stars like Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence and Tracy Morgan should draw in a wide age demographic, but FJI critic Rex Roberts lamented that the remake "sometimes feels like an Death at a funeral 1 chris rock overproduced sitcom, the humor predicated on insult and injury."

Dark comedy The Joneses will make its way into 192 theatres. The movie has a strong, creepy concept: a fake family pushes luxury brands on a community. Though the movie is opening as we're coming out (hopefully) of a recession, meaning a lot of people aren't running to the stores to buy things, its anti-consumption message could resonate with viewers. If this movie had been released pre-recession, it would have felt like a cautionary tale. But because it's being released mid-recession, it seems to be looking back to a time when everyone was flying high before the fall--which can make the economic failures of its protagonists that much more painful.

Banksy, the clever and elusive street artist, stars in documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop (NY/LA/SF), which critic Kevin Lally found "provocative and entertaining." If you need any more reason to see the documentary, check out some of his outdoor work.

Finally, the winner of Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, The Secret of Their Eyes, will debut in two theatres. The psychological thriller centers on a retired court investigator writing a novel about a 25-year-old rape and murder case, with some romantic subplots thrown in for good measure.

On Monday we'll see if Kick-Ass walked as well as it talked, if Death at a Funeral will compare to Tyler Perry's latest success, and if The Joneses was able to catch on with a recession-minded audience.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Today's Film News: Moving On, Moving Up

By Sarah Sluis

Moving On to more adult roles, Zac Efron has decided to star in a remake of the Swedish film Snabba Cash. I checked out the trailer on YouTube (there's also one with English subtitles) and was hit first with a Zac_efron Gatsby-esque, classy version of excess (lawn party!) followed by the plumbing vans, violence, and dark lighting typical of drug movies. Over the next two minutes, there's more violence, sex, some chase scenes and people fighting with each other, all lit with saturated, luminous cinematography and accompanied by a Swedish music soundtrack. No wonder it inspired a bidding war. After bowing out of Footloose for fear of being typecast into singing and dancing teen roles, Efron has found a project that's exactly the opposite of tweeny-bopper. While fellow Disney star Miley Cyrus recently starred in a PG "transition" movie with a family-oriented, romance-lite plot, The Last Song, Efron has chosen the complete opposite route. Which one will work? Since the project has a "short fuse" clause (the best dealmaking tool ever for impatient fans) and must be made within a certain time period, or the rights expire, we'll get to see Efron soon.

Moving Up: Joss Whedon, creator of the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" series, "Firefly," "Dollhouse" and Avengers-cartoon others, the kind of series that inspired fan backlashes upon their cancellation, has a huge cult following. I should know, because he's an alumnus of my university and when he visited, people started waiting in line hours before he showed up for a talk, and isn't waiting in line ridiculously early a hallmark of geek culture? The geek approval makes him that much more valuable of a commodity. As of this week, he's attached to direct The Avengers, and, today in the blogosphere, little voices say he's involved in Captain America too (they're both Marvel projects). With the support of the fan community, his work will be treated with additional reverence and considered a step above the usual product--that is, if he isn't done in by the sky-high expectations his fans will have created. The choice of Whedon is a great move. He has done serialized and spin-off work and created original, memorable characters. His only feature directing credit, Serenity, was a spin-off of "Firefly." Since The Avengers is kind of a meta-superhero tale, with all the stars (Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, The Fury, and maybe The Hulk) of other comic books coming together, it would be a good idea to have a creative person with their hands in more than one film, and who has experience extending stories across different mediums.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

'Ted' follows 'Beaver,' giving Hollywood a second stuffed animal movie

By Sarah Sluis

It's not unusual in Hollywood to see two films with similar ideas release within a year of each other. Scripts are passed around. People make pitches to multiple studios. Before you know it, someone who passed on a Alg_mel_gibson_beaver script sees it go into development�and worries they made the wrong decision. Quick! Let's make a movie about volcanoes (Dante's Peak/Volcano), animated insects (A Bug's Life/Antz), asteroids hitting the Earth (Armageddon/Deep Impact), or sea creatures (Shark Tale/Finding Nemo). And those are just the most egregious examples. Little bits of plot or characters or situations often appear in waves. It's one thing to riff on a successful part of a movie, but it's another thing to see studios developing a similar project concurrently. It feels a little bit like encroaching on someone else's intellectual property.

On Monday, it was announced that Universal is acquiring a hard-R comedy by "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane called Ted, about a man and his teddy bear. This project sounds remarkably similar to a movie that just wrapped called The Beaver, which is about a man (Mel Gibson) who walks around with a beaver puppet on his hand that he treats like a living creature. The movie was at the top of the Black List of unproduced screenplays in 2008 (meaning everyone in Hollywood read it and liked it), and some time after pulled together its starry cast (Jodie Foster is directing and co-starring)

Some important differences: Ted will be a mixture of live action and CG, with MacFarlane voicing Ted. This means the audience will hear the voice of the stuffed animal, making it more real. As far as I know, the beaver in the other movie doesn't talk. Even if Ted the teddy bear is a delusion or an imaginary voice, the audience will have access to it and it will create a much different feel. A hard-R comedy is also quite different from a quieter black comedy with some drama in it, which is my impression of The Beaver.

Still, two movies about adults with stuffed animal companions? It's the kind of story idea that's so weird it takes a while to warm up to, but once you do, you kind of like it....and you're not the only one. While I hope it ends here, I will be on the lookout for the third stuffed animal-related project.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

If you were a teen boy, would you go for 'Homelanders' or 'Outlaw'?

By Sarah Sluis

For today's pickup news, I thought I would pit two teen male projects against each other. One represents all that is good in the filmmaking business, the latter all that is bad (but then again, I'm a twenty-something female). The first project is Outlaw, which 20th Century Fox just picked up. The movie will be based on the life of Colton Harris-Moore, a teenage fugitive who has committed over a hundred crimes, including stealing boats, cars, and a plane. The tale will be based on an upcoming book by the author Bob Friel, who interviewed the teen for an Outside magazine article. This is the kind of story that you just can't make up. The boy has a tortured past, and the fact that he's become a huge hit on Facebook is a thoroughly modern and fresh take (fictional Kick-Ass, coming out this Friday, gets points for making YouTube videos a meaningful part of the movie's plot).

The other project is the Homelanders series, which Summit just acquired. Based on a series of young adult books (two have released so far), the movie will follow a boy who wakes up with no memory of the last year, tied to a chair and in the process of being tortured. He learns he is on the run from evil, possibly government forces and uses his black belt in karate to defend himself.

While both movies feature autonomous teens living on their own and doing what it takes (even committing crimes) to survive, real life trumps recycled fiction in my book. Here's a comparison of the two. I think the winner is clear...

Slide 1



A fugitive from the authorities

Wakes up after missing a year of his life to find he is a fugitive from authorities

Stole and crashed a Cessna. Steals speedboats, Mercedes

Black belt in karate

True story

Recycles every known action plot device�didn't I see an episode of "24" like this?

He's angry and grew up in a trailer with an abusive father

He's lonely and misses his old life

Sometimes breaks into homes to take bubble baths and eat mint-chip ice cream

Hides out in an abandoned home with a friend and his girlfriend he doesn't remember

Facebook following, online fan club

Knows how to IM

Juvenile delinquent

Good student caught in a situation right out of The Fugitive

Camped in an Indian burial ground on the San Juan Islands, one of the most picturesque, unusual places in the U.S.

I dunno�the grain states somewhere?

Robin Hood

Conservative, Republican slant

David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) may direct

Lorenzo DiBonavenura (Transformers) is producing.

Slide 1

Monday, April 12, 2010

'Date Night' unseats 'Clash of the Titans'

By Sarah Sluis

Date Night triumphed this weekend over action epic Clash of the Titans, which many assumed would take the top spot for the second week in a row. A strong performance from Date Night, coupled with a steeper-Date night carell than-average drop for Clash, clinched the close 1-2 finish ($27.1 million for Date Night, $26.8 million for Clash).

I think the steep drop of Clash is a good thing for the industry. 3D has proved to be hugely profitable, but most critics (and some audiences) seemed to think that the last-minute 2D to 3D conversion of Clash looked poor. While a 56% drop is consistent with male-driven action movies, it also indicates that 3D doesn't guarantee long, profitable runs.

[Update: Clash ended up in first place when the final numbers came in, with $26.6 million to Date Night's $25.2 million]

How to Train Your Dragon did even better in its third week. Ticket sales for the 3D animated movie tapered off just 12%, giving the movie a $25.3 million weekend. Strong weekday sales from Spring Breakers have brought the cumulative gross to $133.8 million in three weeks.

Tyler Perry's How Did I Get Married Too dropped a heavy 62% to $11 million. Perry's movies typically draw strong opening weekend crowds and have high drop-off rates.

Another movie with a Spring Break audience, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, fell just 22% to $4.1 million. Miley Cyrus-starring The Last Song dipped a manageable 37% to $10 million, and Alice in Wonderland steadied its fall this week with a 31% drop to $5.6 million.

Vivendi's Letters to God cracked the top ten with a $1.2 million. Though David Nixon, the producer of the inspirational Fireproof, produced and directed the movie, it was not nearly as successful. Its $1,300 per-screen gross was far less than the $8,000 per-screen Fireproof boasted, a true apples-to-apples comparison since both movies opened on around 800 screens.

Specialty release Everyone Else, a strongly-reviewed German-language movie about a couple's unraveling Everyone else movie after they meet another couple just like them...only better, had the highest per-screen average, $11,400, of any film released this week.

This Friday, the superhero action-comedy with a bite, Kick-Ass, opens alongside Death at a Funeral, a remake of a British film that is cast primarily with black actors, including Chris Rock.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Audiences set for 'Date Night'

By Sarah Sluis

The Tina Fey-Steve Carell action comedy Date Night has an enviable position this weekend. It will command 3,374 screens without any fresh competition. Though the movie should draw audiences with the star power Date night of its leads, the story itself is "an irrelevant and mostly unconvincing clothesline on which Fey and Carell can hang improvised riffs," according to FJI critic Frank Lovece. New York Times critic A.O. Scott found the movie's quality to be "superior to most recent movies of its kind, the marital action comedy...[but] better than The Bounty Hunter or Did You Hear About the Morgans? is not quite the same as 'good.'"

Date Night must open strong to beat the second weekend of Clash of the Titans, which will have 500 more screens, many of them 3D. Even with a 50% dropoff, Clash would still earn $30 million, so Carell and Fey have to hope that their talk-show promotions will drive the movie over that mark to give it the top spot.

Without much of a publicity campaign, the faith-based movie Letters to God (trailer here) will open in 897 Letters to god theatres. The movie follows a young boy who writes letters to God, the postman who intercepts them, and the relationship he develops with the kid's single mom. If the movie posts a high per-screen average, it will follow in the footsteps of other niche Christian movies like Fireproof, 2009's surprise success (Letters to God and Fireproof share the same producer).

The square On the specialty front, "an honest attempt to portray the destructiveness of violence in the Latino community" starring Benjamin Bratt, La Mission, will debut on 15 screens. The Square, "a tale of an adulterous couple in the sunny Sydney suburbs," offers an "entertaining descent into a black-comic hell" in two locations.

On Monday, we'll see if Clash was able to keep ahead of Date Night or if charm of Fey and Carell's charm managed to woo audiences to the action comedy.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Why is Bill Condon directing 'Breaking Dawn'?

By Sarah Sluis

Over at Summit, the decision-makers have made an interesting left turn in the Twilight series: hiring a "prestige" director. While Catherine Hardwicke, Chris Weitz, and David Slade, who have helmed the first Breaking-dawn-bill-condon three installments, all have well-regarded indie movies under their belt, the final choice for Breaking Dawn is none other than Bill Condon. Weitz was an Oscar nominee, but Condon has actually been nominated twice and won once.

Condon is a writer/director who helmed Dreamgirls, Kinsey, and Gods & Monsters. He also wrote the screenplay for Chicago, the Oscar winner for Best Picture. Condon wasn't the only director with a history of high-profile, artsy films to be recruited for the final two installments (most likely Breaking Dawn will be split into two films--why not double the revenue?). Summit apparently approached Stephen Daldry (The Reader), Gus Van Sant (Milk), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) and Fernando Meirelles (City of God) before settling on Condon as the frontrunner.

Perhaps Summit feels that since its audience will be a few years older by the final films, they'll expect more from the movies. The plot for the final movie appears more complicated, too [SPOILERS AHEAD]. The Wikipedia synopsis reveals that Bella gives birth to Edward's child in the final book. In order to prevent the child from dying, they must turn her into a vampire, making the baby a uniquely sentient being that the author herself thought would be difficult to bring to screen. Maybe she just hadn't seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, though, to be honest, I found the old-baby in that movie really creepy-looking.

In the meantime, Twihards will have Eclipse to look forward to this summer (less than a year after New Moon) and production stills from Breaking Dawn when it starts filming this fall.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bringing the 'flyover states' to the big screen

By Sarah Sluis

A lot of movies are set in New York City. Many of the people who read scripts, many of the people who write them, and a large number of people who decide what movies get made live in New York City. Or, if they're based in Los Angeles, they're familiar enough with NYC, fly there regularly, and rarely make contact with the
rather dismissively named flyover states (a nickname I think is funny, nonetheless). That means that a lot of people in the United States have to watch movies about a place they've never been to, or maybe saw on vacation once. I think this is a problem.

New york posters

Having been one of those people myself (I didn't visit New York City until I was twenty, and no, I was not a country bumpkin), I can say that this geographical focus has two effects. One: It glamorizes New York City, the island of skyscrapers and young people with great jobs and fabulous friends. It made me want to live there. Movies are escapism, so why not set a movie in a place so convincingly fabulous? A few movies like this is fine, but when every movie seems like it's set in New York, it brings you to point number two: It's alienating. A good 80% of romantic comedies seem to be set in New York City, as are an array of other genres. After a while, it gets tiring. You want something that reflects your own area. Why else would Minneapolis be one of the highest-renting areas for the Renee Zellweger flop New in Town? Why else would I sit through a terrible romantic comedy that I can't even remember the name of just because it was set in Seattle? (I think it had something to do with a meteorologist.)

Over the past few years, many movies with non-metropolitan settings and values have done extremely well at the box office. The Blind Side is the mainstream example, Fireproof the niche. Tyler Perry's movies, which appeal to a black audience and do especially well in Atlanta, espouse Christian values. Their success continues to surprise the news media, perhaps because this demographic is underrepresented in the occupation. Just today, Variety published a piece calling him the "most underrated force at the box office," though it seems this same piece has been running the past few years everywhere.

I also kind of hate the "city person goes to the country" plotline, which seems to be one of the most common ways to incorporate rural regions into movies. As if it would be impossible to understand country people except through the missteps of city people trying to adapt to the lifestyle. In the (unmatched) fight between Brokeback Mountain vs. Did You Hear About the Morgans?, the rodeo at Brokeback wins, hands down.

The thing is, as the success of Brokeback demonstrates, people in metropolitan areas are curious about rural life and people outside of the New York metro area would like to see an accurate portrayal of their own area. An undercurrent of projects is trying to accomplish this. I'm very excited about Butter, which is about a Midwestern butter-carving contest (no one says you can't make fun of traditions!). There's also The Help, a best-selling book club novel about the relationships between black maids and their employers, which is set in the Deep South. And in a low-budget production reminiscent of Fireproof, actor Corbin Bernsen plans to make a movie about soap-box derbies in Akron, Ohio, using local financing and involving the community.

But this Friday? Catch Date Night, a comedy set in Manhattan.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

When the lead character is holding a Coke/iPhone/Hilton Honors Card

By Sarah Sluis

When the star of a movie chooses Coke over Pepsi, pops into a retail location or shows off his/her new gadget, you have to wonder: Is that product placement, or was that there "originally"? The New York Times posted an article last weekend offering a rare glimpse into the dealmaking surrounding movie product placement. Filmmakers start by identifying places in the script that can be

branded--like the action hero's car--and then brainstorm ways to write

other brands into the script, which is the less authentic way to create

branding possibilities. Companies pay for branding either through a

"straight payment, which usually runs in the mid-six to mid-seven

figures," "a barter arrangement," where the company's goods and

services are offered gratis, or, finally, in exchange for help

marketing the movie.

The_blind_side30 The article brought to mind, first, the many times I've been irritated by branding within movies. Finding a brand that fits organically into a script is difficult. More often, adding in brands leaves recognizable traces apparent to those watching the movie. Just this weekend, I almost did a double take while watching The Blind Side. Sandra Bullock grabs her kids and goes into a Borders bookstore to "grab a design book" while her stunned husband waits outside the restaurant where they have reservations. The characters end up having a "moment" with the children's books Ferdinand and Where the Wild Things Are. The only thing is, the scene is extraneous, since the same "moment" also occurs while Bullock is reading her son a bedtime story. When I Googled "Blind Side product placement," I wasn't the only one on the Internet to have chafed at this reference.

I'm not against product placement. It's an economic reality, and can

create a mutually beneficial relationship between the company and the

movie. The problem is when the balance gets out of whack and a

reference seems more like a commercial than an honest use or opinion of

the product.

While brands are reluctant to be portrayed in movies in a less than a 100% positive light, doing so not only makes the reference more "organic," it often makes the reference more honest or memorable, and gets viewers to question whether it's a product placement or simply a brand called for by the story. I didn't have nearly as much of a problem with the product placement in Up in the Air, which references American Airlines and Hilton (both of whom apparently paid for their placement with marketing). George Clooney's character is very attached to his "points" and "miles," and seems like a brand-conscious person, so to have an actual brand and not a fictional one attached to his mile-accruing quest adds authenticity to the story. Plus, he actually feels ambivalent about his pursuit of such superficial things over actual relationships. It's not enough of a negative to disparage the brand, but it is enough to make the placement seem less like a commercial and more like a mostly positive recommendation or user review from someone.

Few genres or categories of films are safe from branding. Films set in the past can benefit from product placement (Forrest Gump drinking Dr. Pepper, anyone?), and those set in the future, like Minority Report, also include brand names. Far from being only the purview of commercial, populist fare, Oscar-nominated films like The Blind Side and Up in the Air feature prominent product placement. But when scenes are written into the script just to include a branding reference--that's where I draw the line. In the New York Times article, a consultant suggests having the lead actor in an upcoming film stop in a fast food restaurant--an idea that is, gratefully, nixed.

Monday, April 5, 2010

'Clash of the Titans' reaches box-office summit

By Sarah Sluis

Clash of the Titans had a smashing debut with $61.4 million, bolstered by 3D ticket sales. The Greek Clash of the titans scary person God-inspired action tale brought in the highest Easter weekend opening ever. Still, it's disappointing that a movie that was converted to 3D at the last minute can reap the same spoils of a movie like How to Train Your Dragon, which went through the more time-consuming (but better-looking) process by being authored in 3D from start to finish.

Despite a less-than-stellar opening weekend that caused DreamWorks shareholders to take notice and push the stock price down, How to Train Your Dragon had a strong second weekend, dropping just 33% to $29.2 million. The charming children's film should continue to do well as more school-age kids go on Spring Break.

Finishing second, the sequel Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too? opened to a strong $30.1 million,Tyler perry why did i get married too 2 $9 million more than the 2007 original. The dramedy drew an audience that was heavily black, female, and over twenty-five. Perry should be happy too: it's the second-highest debut for the prolific filmmaker. Madea Goes to Jail, the first of the two films he released in 2009, holds the honor of his highest open, $41 million.

Disney's The Last Song, which opened on Wednesday to take advantage of the first wave of Spring Break crowds, added $16.2 million over the weekend to come up with a five-day total of $25.5 Miley cyrus the last song 2 million. I'm already checking star Miley Cyrus' IMDB profile to see what she'll do next as she tries to develop her career and mature her image while keeping her status as tween idol.

Alice in Wonderland had its first drop over 50% this weekend, earning $8.2 million in its fifth week--a far cry from its $116 million opening weekend. The lack of 3D screens steepened its fall. Before the movie's release, many exhibitors were against Disney's plan to release the movie on DVD just twelve weeks after its theatrical release, but its diminishing grosses make the benefits of a prolonged theatrical release negligible.

Breaking Upwards, a tiny indie movie that received positive reviews, earned $15,000 on one screen in New York City, boding well for its expansion next week to L.A. The movie cost just $15,000 to make, and already made it back in first-week ticket sales.

This Friday, Steve Carell and Tina Fey will have a wide-open box office to debut their comedy-adventure Date Night, the only major release of the week.

Friday, April 2, 2010

'Clash of the Titans' fights for the #1 spot

By Sarah Sluis

Clash of the Titans (3,777 theatres) opens this Easter weekend bolstered by not-so-official previews earlier this week, intended to cash in on the Spring Break crowds and avoid the Sunday Easter drop. The Clash of the titans tied up remake of the 1981 Greek gods action-drama is "still pretty damn goofy, just in the 'roided-up way of most overstimulated, underwritten contemporary blockbusters," according to FJI critic Ethan Alter. The movie was converted to 3D at the last minute, a move that will do more for the movie's box-office receipts than its glasses-wearing audience. Alter adds that, "the late-inning inclusion of 3D adds nothing to the viewing experience beyond a mild headache, so don't feel compelled to shell out for the higher ticket price...the gulf between a movie shot in 3D and one converted after the fact is becoming more and more obvious." Though Easter will bring down the Sunday box office, the movie should open over $40 million (the record set by Scary Movie 4) at the very least.

Miley Cyrus' first "adult" movie, The Last Song (2,673 theatres), got a head start by opening this Miley cyrus the last song Wednesday to a $5 million gross, again intended to bring in the Spring Break crowd. Cyrus stars as a talented former pianist and high schooler who spends the summer with her father on the beaches of Georgia. Nicholas Sparks wrote the screenplay, which is intended to gently transition Cyrus into more adult roles. "Virtually bursting its fictional seams with the kind of heart-tugging themes and never-fail plot devices that have stood the test of time," according to FJI critic Shirley Sealy, the movie has already drawn in an audience largely composed of tween-to-teen girls.

Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too (2,155 theatres) opens without critical review, per Perry's norm. The original movie, Why Did I Get Married, opened to $21 million in 2007, though in a timeslot with much less competition. Kind Why did i get married too of like Couple's Retreat, but with more drama, the movie follows four couples on an annual vacation in the Bahamas. The ex-husband of one of the couples shows up, trying to win his remarried wife back, leading all of the couples to examine the problems in their marriages.

On the specialty side, the well-reviewed, extremely low-budget Breaking Upwards opens at New York's IFC Center. The Woody Allen-inspired tale follows a couple that decides to pursue an open relationship. Paladin-distributed The Greatest, starring Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon and Carey Mulligan, "pulls off a stunning feat, drawing an audience into a comprehensive film about grief." The drama opens in New York and Los Angeles.

This Monday we'll recap one of the most competitive Easter weekends to date. With Clash of the Titans, How to Train Your Dragon and Alice in Wonderland all competing for 3D screens, we'll see if the limited space affected overall returns.