Friday, May 28, 2010

'Sex and the City 2' poised for blockbuster weekend

By Sarah Sluis

Midnight screenings of Sex and the City 2 grossed $3 million on Thursday, 20% more than the first

Sex and the city 2 women installment. This puts the femme-driven movie in position to earn at least $60 million this weekend. The first SATC earned $62.6 million over the four-day weekend, so the sequel should do just as well--if not better--in its 3,445 theatres. The sex 'n fashion comedy is unlikely to win any awards among critics, but it's sure to please the hordes of fans arriving to the theatres in stilettos. Who knows, maybe there will be a Sex and the City 3 in our future.

Going up against the girls' trek to Abu Dhabi, the competing release this week also features a Middle Eastern setting. Based on a popular video game, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (3,646

Jake gyllenhaal prince of persia theatres)
will play in a couple hundred more theatres but is unlikely to match SATC2's performance. In its favor, the PG-13 film is fairly tame and should attract family audiences. But it's unlikely to expand beyond its fan base, unless it attracts positive word-of-mouth. According to critic Daniel Eagan "this effects-laden spectacle delivers just what it promises and no more," and is "well-crafted but not especially original."

Those delighted by Amelie and Delicatessen will be thrilled to catch Micmacs (5 theatres in NYC), the latest from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. "A love

Micmacs hijab story that blossoms in an underground junkyard inhabited by eccentric, slightly roguish characters with kind hearts and pure souls," according to critic Rex Roberts, the movie also includes a few scenes in the Middle Eastern desert (a trend of the week). With a liberal political message (anti-guns) along with deft use of YouTube, this movie will be a winner for Jeunet fans and other adventurous moviegoers.

Rounding out the mix, George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead will open in 21 theatres. The movie centers on a minor character from Diary of the Dead, rewarding loyal fans. Critic Maitland McDonagh called the movie a "shaggy dog tale," but noted that "if anyone has earned the right to trifle with the cannibal dead, it's the guy who unleashed them on us in the first place."

On Tuesday, Screener will circle back to count the spoils of the four-day weekend.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

'Sex and the City 2' is not (quite) a romantic comedy

By Sarah Sluis

The reviews are in for Sex and the City 2, and some of them are positively scathing. If you start with the New York Observer review, which opened with "The only thing memorable about Sex and the City 2 is the number two part, which describes it totally, if you get my drift," and work down from there, you have a pretty good idea of what people are saying.

Sex and the City 2 is an extremely easy target, with its over-the-top antics and tenuous connection to real life (at least in movie form). But it's also worth noting what it's not. It's not a story that ends when the girl and the guy get together. And, as I mentioned in my own review, the movie is about how sex, the city, and relationships bond the women to one another. The men in the story are always less important than the friendships, and that's what sets this series apart. It's also what makes some people call the show feminist, empowered, and things like that. It's like the teen movie Now and Then, but with cocktails and crazy clothes.

Writer/director/producer Michael Patrick King's interview with the Wall Street Journal best illustrates how this works (my bolding).

"Mr. King admitted that 'Sex and the City' and its great volume of stories has affected the romantic comedies that have come after. "It's not that they're stealing from us, but we stole from life," he said. "And we got there first. But they've lost the comedy in romantic comedies, or they've lost the romantic. Like girls are doofuses and they're sneaking into beauty parlors and dying each other's hair blue," Mr. King said, referring to the Kate Hudson film Bride Wars."

Sarah jessica parker crazy outfit At one point (when "Sex and the City" was a series), it did feel like it was emulating (a more glamorous than yours) real life, describing the details of socializing in Manhattan and the silly quirks of relationships. I don't feel that the movies capture that feeling as well as the series, which had an added intimacy by being televised in one's own home. I also think the costuming got way out of control--I sincerely doubt anyone would wear a ball gown skirt and T-shirt in a Middle Eastern market. It just looks weird.

Sex and the City has its many detractors, including those that despise its particular brand of feminism. The series itself was supposed to be revolutionary, because it had independent women who were single long after they were supposed to be. As King says to the WSJ, "Sex and the City is about outsiders. Single girls as lepers, should have been married by now. It's the reason the whole thing took off." However, the fact that three out of four of the women are married by the second movie may negate this point. Was "Sex and the City" merely reflecting the fact that people were no longer marrying and having children in their early twenties?

I'm at the point where I hope there won't be a Sex and the City 3 (I've had my fill), but I will also be eagerly awaiting the box office returns from today, opening day. If I can choose between last year's juggernaut Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Sex and the City 2, I'd definitely like to see more of the latter.

At the Douglas house, it's raining awards

By Sarah Sluis
FJI writer Harry Haun reports from the recent Lincoln Center tribute to Wall Street and Solitary Man star Michael Douglas.

One day after Catherine Zeta-Jones picked up the Drama Desk Award for A Little Night Music and three days before she received the Outer Critics Circle Award for same�going halvies both times with Memphis' Montego Glover as Best Actress in a Musical�the man of the house flexed his acting muscles May 24 and accepted the 2010 Chaplin Award from The Film Society of Lincoln Center.

This math was not lost on the honoree's 93-year-old father. "Michael, can you hear me?" Kirk Douglas yelled into the audience at New York's Alice Tully Hall. "That's two awards. You only get one." This was apparently fine with Michael Douglas, who already has won two Oscars�for producing (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the film of his dad's Broadway vehicle) and acting (Gordon Gekko, the "Greed is good" guy of Wall Street, soon due a post-prison comeback in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps).

The elder Douglas, who was considered for Lincoln Center honors in the time past but never quite made the cut, drew a thunderous long-time-coming ovation from the assemblage. He relayed that Michael showed no interest in entering the family business until his sophomore year when, out of the blue, he announced, "Dad, I'm going to do a play." It was Shakespeare's As You Like It, and Kirk checked it out. Afterward, when asked directly, he replied directly, "Michael, you were awful." Learning nothing from that experience, Michael attempted a two-hander. "After the performance, �Dad, how was I?' �Michael, you were terrific.' And from that day on, Michael was terrific in every role that he played." Kirk said that he relished "the opportunity to present the Chaplin Award to my son, the actor, Michael Douglas."

The son rose to the occasion: "It was such a treat to have my father come out here and present this award to me, particularly because it's an award that he has not won�and I hope that him seeing me get this night will encourage him not to give up show business. A couple of weeks ago, he sent me a script and said, �Michael, I'm thinking of doing this movie. Will you look at the script?' I said, �Dad, the insurance alone will cost as much as the movie.' He said, �I guess that's their problem.'"

Douglas got the secret of his success into two words: "Good genes. Both my mother [Diana Dill Douglas Darrid, who was also in attendance] and my father have been working actors their entire life. Dad just finished a one-man show. My mother just finished writing a play. They have never lost their passion for acting over 70 years. I think it was that great philosopher, Yogi Berra, who said you can observe a lot by watching."

In addition to his parents, Douglas thanked his first TV-series co-star, the late Karl Malden.

Zeta-Jones was brought on after a montage of her hubby making love to a glamorous gaggle of Other Women (Glenn Close, Kathleen Turner, Sharon Stone). "We did appear in one movie�Traffic�but we didn't share any scenes together and I wasn't his wife," she said. "The only actor I'd love to work with would be Michael Douglas.

"But the role that I am most proud of�and, as you've seen tonight, there have been many roles�is the role of a father, because he has shown our children a love, a commitment to the three of them�Cameron, Dylan and Carys�and the love he has for them is extraordinary, and I thank you every day for that, darling."

These last words came with some emotional difficulty because of recent events, and she paused twice to compose herself. The New York Post, earlier in the day, ran an exclusive photograph of the meth-dealing Cameron, 31, roaming "his new home," the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, PA. His earliest release date is Dec. 16, 2013.

On film, introducing Zeta-Jones, was Barbara Walters, who's on the mend from heart surgery. ("That makes her one in a million," Douglas cracked, "a journalist with a heart.") Walters noted she shared the same birthday as Douglas and Zeta-Jones (Sept. 25)�"not exactly the same year," she added. Ron Meyer, his agent of 25 years and now Universal president, does share the same year and day.

It was a clip-and-testimony evening, with an assortment of Douglas colleagues stepping up to the plate to sing his praises. Young co-stars who cheered him as a mentor and protector and leader on the set included Erika Christensen from Traffic and Tobey Maguire from Wonder Boys. The director of the latter film (which Douglas and others tend to think is his finest screen work), Curtis Hanson, and Milos Forman of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest had their say as well. Frank Langella, imperious as ever, trumpeted Douglas' acting in the film they did together, the Wall Street sequel�and also in the just-released Solitary Man.

A couple of wild cards popped up on stage during the course of the evening. Jimmy Buffett favored the audience with "Margaritaville" and gave Michael Douglas full credit for it: "Once upon a time there was a liquor company called Seagram's that bought this film company called Universal, and Michael�on my behalf, without me knowing it�reminded The Powers That Be one day that they had an artist on the label who had a song called �Margaritaville' and they were a liquor company that had no tequila, so, in a way, Michael is the cornerstone of the Margaritaville empire."

Also out of left field came newscaster Brian Williams to throw a light on a Douglas "role that hasn't been highlighted here tonight that can best be described as �the best of his brilliant career.'" With that, the lights dimmed, and the intro of his news program unreeled, with an unseen Douglas intoning solemnly, "From NBC News' world headquarters in New York, this is NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams."

"Oscar, schmoscar, he's the announcer of NBC Nightly News," Williams revealed to a startled crowd. "�How did this happen?' I am often asked. "I wrote him a letter, and I said, �How would you like a permanent place in television news?' And he said yes."

Danny DeVito, who just finished his fourth film with Douglas, came out shorter than the podium but wired for sound and feeling rather expansive. (Douglas later said he was "glad to see him standing after 12 limoncellos.") DeVito broke into a hilarious riff about the travails of location shooting�in particular, the Jewel of the Nile ordeal in Mexico when Douglas was horsing around with a rattler and got bit on the arm.

Like a shot, DeVito bolted into action and sucked the venom out. It built to a great exit line. Wagging his finger at Douglas: "I just want to say from the bottom of my heart, Michael, you'd be a dead man now if that snake had [struck below the belt]."


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The drama of the shrinking theatrical window

By Sarah Sluis

Going to the movies can be expensive. Last week, tickets to 3D IMAX Shrek Forever After in New York City hit the twenty-dollar mark, only to be reduced once news outlets got wind of the story (at least that's my take on what happened; the theatre claims it was an error). With movie tickets becoming so expensive, it's no wonder people would turn to rentals to see at least some movies--but that field is getting more expensive as well.

Today, Variety dubbed 2010 the year of the window. New mediums of delivering movies to viewers, like the Internet and on-demand, are becoming more popular and more available.

First, there are the changes that make sense: I think there is a compelling argument for shepherding box-office bombs like MacGruber to

DVD as quickly as possible, so that audiences will still remember the

marketing of a film enough to rent it. Bad movies have arrived in

video stores sooner than good ones for as long as I can remember, and a

further shortening of the window shouldn't be a problem.

Home-theater-u-couch_400 Second, there are the changes that seem like fleecing the customers. I'm skeptical of charging exorbitant fees to see movies at home while they are in theatres. Time Warner, in particular, wants to be able to put movies on-demand thirty days after they release for $20, though some think the number will approach $30-50. For $50, you could take four to six people to the movies, depending on your location, so it's hard to imagine who the intended audience for this could be. My first thought is the cast of "Jon & Kate Plus 8," and my second is those people on the show

"Cribs" that have home theatres. I think it will be very, very

difficult for average households to get over the sticker shock of

paying that much for a movie when they can rent a slightly older one

for $1 at their local RedBox. However, studios have already taken steps like delaying the Netflix release of a movie one month beyond its on-sale date. A bifurcation of the rental release date could make the on-demand experience more valuable. If you wanted to see it at home, you'd have to wait much longer.

One part of the equation that is interesting is the idea of a business' "comfort" with a new idea. Variety explored that notion in a recent article about World Wrestling Entertainment. The pay-per-view provider has recently branched out into feature films starring WWE standouts, and plans to release the movies on DVD shortly after they open in theatres. Perhaps WWE's experience in the pay-per-view and alternative content markets has made it more eager to see theatrical distribution as a way to boost DVD sales, instead of a revenue stream in of itself.

As a counterpoint to that argument, there's still the model of indie, platform release, which is considered incompatible with compressed DVD releases. If a movie needs time to build theatrically, putting it out on DVD may not help. A recent panel at a film financing forum, for example, highlighed the opposite of a "MacGruber" situation: a movie that's doing so well at the box office DVD release can be pushed back.

So few Americans are regular moviegoers (they say that 80% of the tickets come from 20% of the people) that exploring new ways of home distribution makes sense--except for the $50-per-movie fee to see it at home when the theatre is clearly better.

Monday, May 24, 2010

For 'Shrek Forever After,' $71 million is a not-so-happy beginning

By Sarah Sluis

The second and third installments of Shrek both opened to over $100 million, so perhaps it's fitting that the final movie, Shrek Forever After, started winding things down, with a $71.2 million debut. DreamWorks

Shrek forever after rumpelstilskin Animation probably saw the writing on the wall with Shrek 3, which earned just 2.6 times its opening weekend. By comparison, the first Shrek movie earned an astonishing 6.3 times its opening weekend, while Shrek 2 earned 4.1 times its opening weekend. Most animated movies have better-than-average holding power, but Shrek movies have started to play more like franchise blockbusters, drawing in first-week audiences but then failing to catch on among a wide audience or those who have grown tired of the franchise. Good reviews for the fourth film could help this movie in coming weeks, as will its three competition-free weekends before another 3D animated sequel hits the market, Toy Story 3. Even with diminished returns the fourth time around, if Shrek Forever After can bring in three times its opening weekend, it's set for over $200 million in the U.S.

"Saturday Night Live" skit-turned-movie MacGruber attracted just a small subset of SNL viewers for an

Macgruber kirsten wiig underwhelming $4.1 million weekend and sixth place finish. The comedy was the first SNL skit to be made into a movie in ten years, and its poor performance does not bode well for another skit adaptation to hit theatres. I personally was not even a fan of the skit, which was pretty one-note, and it appears many other viewers felt the same way and passed on the movie.

A Bollywood movie cracked the top ten this week. Kites brought in $1 million to debut in eighth place. Our critic Frank Lovece described the movie as "not what most audiences think of when they think Bollywood," but the Bollywood-lite emphasis on fate, romance, melodrama, and action may have been just what American audiences were looking for. An even shorter version, Kites: The Remix, will open this Friday, intent on attracting mainstream audiences.

The strongest returning films in the top ten were Letters to Juliet and Date Night. Letters to Juliet dropped just 32% to $9.1 million in its second weekend. Summit predicted strong word-of-mouth two weeks ago after holding sneak previews of the film, and it appears they were right. Date Night held steady with a 26% slide in its seventh weekend, earning $2.8 million. The stars of these two films are among my favorites and most "likable," which I think has something to do with their movies' holding power.

Solitary man michael douglas Among specialty films, Solitary Man had the highest per-screen average, $22,500. Michael Douglas "delivers one of the finest performances of his career," according to critic Kevin Lally. With an 81% positive Rotten Tomatoes rating, this movie is poised to do well in coming weeks.

This Friday, female audiences will finally have their turn to make a film go to number one with the debut of Sex and the City 2, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time will seek to enchant younger-skewing and family audiences.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Do online games sell audiences on movies?

By Sarah Sluis

The marketing team behind the summer spy movie Salt, starring Angelina Jolie, created an elaborate, interactive online game to fill in viewers on the story and ultimately drive them into the theatres. But does it work?

I recently played "Episode 1" of the game on to test the claims made by the marketers profiled in the New York Times article about the game.

Salt video game Claim #1:
"It's a supersophisticated game, but done in a way that a casual player can understand," said Marc Weinstock, Sony's marketing president.

Results: Agree. Most of the first episode is a video clip with occasional first-person point-of-views, kind of like the introduction to a video game where they set you up to play a level. The game part involves guessing when to tell the truth or bluff, a pretty simple and engaging form of choose-your-own adventure. It looked like there were more complicated ways to get involved, like registering and tracking scores, etc., but I didn't bother with that to start, being a "casual player."

Claim #2: Sony hopes to mimic the viral success of Facebook games like Mafia Wars, which is played by tens of millions of people.

Results: Mixed. While playing the game, it asked me three times it I wanted to link to my Facebook account. I declined each time. But yes, it would be easy to link this to your Facebook account. Which brings me to the next point...why didn't I?

Claim #3: Traditional marketing pushes a message over and over. If people instead pull bits of information into their lives through a game, they are more likely to feel a sense of ownership..."That makes them talk about it, share it, evangelize it," said Elan Lee, a co-founder of Fourth Wall Studios, a pioneer in the games-

Salt video screen as-marketing field that has worked with Paramount Pictures.

Results: I wasn't ready to be an evangelist for a program I hadn't played all the way through. I also didn't want to clutter my Facebook profile with a game, and I generally despise Facebook Connect and all the random apps and games on Facebook. If you do get a link from me, the endorsement is that much more valuable because I am really picky. Maybe someone that played Farmville (or Mafia Wars) would feel differently. On the other hand, if I saw a so-called "Alpha gamer" in my friends that had linked to the game, I would think much higher of it, because I view that friend as an authority on that topic. So just because I wouldn't personally link to the game doesn't mean I wouldn't value the opinion of someone who was willing to put themselves out there.

Claim #4: Women in particular are a focus.
Results:Depending on how you define "casual gamer," I could be one of the 65 million women who play games (does online tetris count?). I liked that the game wasn't a blow-'em-up but involved strategy and figuring out when to lie and when to tell the truth. These are the games that traditionally attract female gamers, though I think the players are a mix of male and female.

And the final test? Did it make me want to see the movie?
Results:Yes. Unlike other online games, this one looked slick and high-budget. The game had a fun spy feel and reminded me that I do like movies with intrigue. I haven't really known what to think about Salt, and this helped cement my interest in checking out the movie. Online games win this round.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cameron Crowe to make first film in five years, 'We Bought a Zoo'

By Sarah Sluis

Cameron Crowe is one of my favorite directors. I love his sensibility, his mix of humor and sadness combined with an eye towards reality. His (successful) movies are also immensely entertaining crowd-pleasers: Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous are included in many people's favorite film lists. But he hasn't

Cameron crowe we bought a zoo been on his game lately. Neither Elizabethtown nor Vanilla Sky electrified audiences or critics, so it's been over a decade since he directed a well-received movie. Let's hope this streak changes when he takes on an adaptation of the British memoir We Bought a Zoo, which is planned for a Christmas release in 2011.

The story follows a man who buys a dilapidated zoo in England. Besides the hazards and challenges of running a zoo, his wife is dying of a brain tumor, leaving behind him and their two children. The British novel was published (at least in the U.S.) by Weinstein books, so although Fox will produce the project, rights probably originated with the Weinstein Company. The release date has been planned for a year and a half from now, so production will probably start within the next six months. Crowe will now be on a search for an A-list star for the role of the zoo-buying man. On IMDB, Ben Stiller is "rumored" for the role. I could see him working in the part, though let's hope he can create a more likable character than the mope he played in Greenberg.

In its favor, the movie will draw animal-loving audiences with its menagerie of cute animals. Because of the success of Fox's Marley & Me (which also has some sad moments), the studio was reportedly excited for another animal-themed project. But figuring out how to balance the sad aspects of the movie against the comedy might be tricky. The book opens with the family finding out that the wife has a brain tumor while they are living in Southern France. It appears that the tumor recurs after the family has moved back to England and bought a zoo. Watching someone die slowly on screen, while making jokes? I loved Patch Adams but this tone will be extremely difficult to nail. From checking out reviews of the book on Amazon, it appears the book solves this problem by focusing mainly on the ins and outs of the zoo. Readers seemed to like the emotional weight of the scenes with his wife, but they didn't dominate the narrative.

I hope Crowe can come up with a great film with unforgettable dialogue and imagery--maybe for the scene when the jaguar escapes from the zoo? We need another image of John Cusack holding a boombox over his head or "Show Me the Money." Make it memorable, Cameron!

Monday, May 17, 2010

'Iron Man 2' bests 'Robin Hood'

By Sarah Sluis

Robin Hood bowed this weekend in second place, earning $37.1 million. The medieval action movie was no match for the second week of Iron Man 2. The sci-fi blockbuster dropped 59% in its second week to $53

Russell crowe horse million
, easily beating Robin Hood. However, both sets of theatres were equally packed. Iron Man 2 brought in $12,000 per theatre, while Robin Hood averaged out at $10,000 per theatre. With almost 900 more locations, however, Iron Man 2 was able to rack up a $15 million lead over Robin Hood.

Romantic counterprogramming to the action fare also did well this weekend. Letters to Juliet led the pack with $13.7 million. Along with the undisclosed amount earned during last week's sneaks, this

Letters to juliet amanda seyfried
modestly budgeted romantic drama should do quite well for Summit. It also cements Amanda Seyfried's star power. By comparison, the more established star Jennifer Lopez opened The Back-Up Plan to the tune of $12.2 million a few weeks ago. Seyfried did have the help of Vanessa Redgrave, however, to bring in Moms and older viewers (teens probably don't know who she is), so she can't take all the credit for the strong opening.

Just Wright, starring Queen Latifah, opened to $8.5 million with a per-screen average that matched that of Letters to Juliet. Both averaged around $4,600 per screen, a sign that Fox Searchlight made a wise decision when it pared the size of the release to 1,800 theatres.

Among returning films in the top ten, Date Night had one of the smallest drops, 26%, to $4 million in its sixth weekend. The comedy has earned $86 million in six weeks, higher than would be expected for a movie that opened at $25.1 million. An older-skewing audience and strong word-of-mouth have propelled this film ahead of similar comedies. CG animated How to Train Your Dragon added another $5.1 million in its eighth week, falling just 23%. The movie will probably take a big drop next week with the opening of DreamWorks Animation movie, Shrek Forever After.

On the specialty front, IFC Films' Looking for Eric and Daddy Longlegs both debuted in the $8,000 range, in one theatre apiece. Princess Kaiulani opened to a $5,500 per-theatre average in 33 locations for a total of $184,000.

This Friday, SNL skit-turned-movie MacGruber will open opposite America's favorite green monster in Shrek Forever After.

Friday, May 14, 2010

'Robin Hood' enters the action movie fray

By Sarah Sluis

Director Ridley Scott may not quite hit the bull's eye with Robin Hood (3,503 theatres), but the movie will provide stiff competition this weekend as it goes against the second weekend of Iron Man 2. Without a

Robin hood russell crowe "dramatic pulse," according to critic Ethan Alter, the origin tale proves to be most exciting at the beginning before settling into a "stultifyingly boring" second half. My guess is that Robin Hood will win the Friday box office before coming in second to Iron Man 2 over the weekend, but it's unclear exactly how the two films will stack up against each other.

Those in for a more romantic view of history can take in Letters to Juliet (2,968 theatres), a romance starring Amanda Seyfriend as an

Letters to juliet couple American visiting Italy. She finds an old letter bemoaning a lost love and decides to track down and reunite the couple. Summit did advance screenings in several hundred theatres last weekend, with 70% of audiences reporting that they would give it positive word-of-mouth, so this could help boost its opening weekend--or drag it down, if many of the audience members managed to see it the previous weekend.

Queen Latifah stars as a sports trainer in Just Wright (1,831 theatres). After a basketball player (Common) is injured, she nurses him back to health and they spark to each other. The limited number

Just wright queen latifah of theatres in release indicates that Fox Searchlight is focusing the release in cinemas that do strong business with black moviegoers--the so-called "Tyler Perry" audience. Our critic Shirley Sealy liked the performances of Common and Paula Patton but felt "her highness" Queen Latifah "couldn't be bothered" to turn in a nuanced performance.

On the specialty front, Princess Kaiulani will release in 33 theatres. The historical romantic drama of Hawaii's last princess is playing in two theatres in New York, four in L.A. and eight near Oahu, so the release skews toward the West Coast and in Hawaii, where Kaiulani is a household name. A local cast and use of the Hawaiian language add authenticity to the project, while the colonial-era story should appeal to "art-house patrons who appreciate period romance," according to critic Justin Lowe.

Dads who feel they can do no good will appreciate Daddy Longlegs (NYC), the uneven story of a divorced dad hanging out with his kids for two weeks. While "there's little more here than a picaresque slice of life with a paternal though not particularly skilled single dad," according to critic Frank Lovece, "the emotions play as real." Also playing in New York City is Looking for Eric, the tale of a depressed, working-class Englishman who receives "hilarious" advice from football player Eric Cantona.

On Monday, we'll see if Robin Hood exercised its box office muscle or if Russell Crowe should put away his quiver and bow to the titanium-plated Iron Man 2.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gibney's documentaries keep turning into feature movies

By Sarah Sluis

Recently, documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney has gone from being a mere blip on my radar to a massive, extremely influential storm. Film Journal recently profiled the filmmaker here, and three of his films--yes,

Alex-nymag THREE, were shown at the Tribeca Film Festival: an Eliot Spitzer movie, My Trip to Al-Qaeda, and his segment of the Freakonomics movie. But what's weirder is that the topics of two of Gibney's movies are also being developed as unrelated feature films.

First, it was announced in March that Casino Jack, a feature about Jack Abramoff, who was profiled in Gibney's Casino Jack and the United States of Money, had been picked up by Metropolitan for distribution. The movie stars Kevin Spacey as Jack Abramoff and will release this fall.

Yesterday, Kirsten Dunst was added to the cast of On the Road, a feature film about Jack Kerouac that is being spearheaded by Francis Ford Coppola. Meanwhile, Gibney has a documentary in the works called Magic Bus about the Merry Pranksters (whose members included the man who inspired On the Road, Kerouac's close friend Neal Cassidy. It's not that Gibney got there first, because Coppola's movie has been in the works for years. It's the fact that Gibney appears to have a knack for choosing red-hot subject matter.

One of the biggest challenges of documentaries, at least in terms of their appeal, is choosing what topic to follow. Most subjects have at least some level of a built-in audience, but interest can ebb and flow. Gibney has directed well-timed political and economic documentaries, such as Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and the upcoming Spitzer movie. For the Abramoff movie, he came in a few years after the dust had settled, and it opened last week to a so-so $3,000 per-theatre average. However, the movie will likely make more of a splash on DVD and TV. Magic Bus, depending on when it releases, could see a nice bump from the publicity for On the Road. However, the '60's aren't exactly hot right now, as evidenced by 80's-style fashions and the relatively cool reception to the movie Taking Woodstock. Finally, Gibney is also working on a documentary about Lance Armstrong. If half the people that bought those yellow rubber band Livestrong bracelets turn out to see the movie, it will be in good shape. I'm betting that the Armstrong documentary will make a bigger splash at the box office than the Spitzer film. And considering that Gibney filed a lawsuit against THINKFilm for mishandling his Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side (it earned just a quarter of a million dollars at the box office, the distributor was in financial trouble and didn't have money to support it), I think this smart documentarian deserves a box-office hit. However, the people who create fictionalized accounts of these stories may have the last laugh--in Casino Jack, Abramoff emails Gibney the following missive: "Why bother making the film? No one watches documentaries. You should make an action movie!"

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Love her or hate her, more Jennifer Aniston movies are on their way

By Sarah Sluis

Oh, Jennifer Aniston. Ever since you left "Friends" you've been making a career out of romantic comedies. Though none of them has been particularly good, I've seen my fair share, which I guess is the reason you

Jennifer Aniston s s s aaaa keep starring in them. People like you even if they leave your movies a little underwhelmed. While I admired your indie starring role in Friends with Money, your tiny role in Office Space earned you way more cred in my book. I missed The Bounty Hunter though I'm interested in seeing The Baster, which sounds like it has some edge to it...except that they just changed the title to the less evocative The Switch. Up next, there's a little more of the same as well as something a bit different.

First, you'll start filming WanderLust this fall with Paul Rudd, director David Wain and producer Judd Apatow. The movie is about a broke couple that moves to a commune. There's two possible options here. One, it goes the typical city-slickers-move-to-the-country route that we've seen hundreds of times. At first the couple is repulsed, then they grow to like their new area and defend it, end of story (For Richer of Poorer, Did You Hear About the Morgans?, etc.) However, I'm a fan of David Wain's Role Models, which was funny and had some spot-on characterizations of niche communities. When he made fun of LARPers (live action role players), it wasn't because he exaggerated the character types, it was because he nailed them to a T. If he can do similar work with the hippy-dippys on the commune, the movie should be in good shape. Having Apatow as a producer won't hurt.

Your second project, Ms. Aniston, also gives me some hope. You'll play one of the eponymous Horrible Bosses. Have we ever seen you play a villain? I'm kind of excited to see you be mean. Jason Bateman, Colin Farrell and Charlie Day (TV's "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia") are also on track to be in the cast. The comedy will center on three friends who decide to murder their bosses in revenge. Seth Gordon (Four Christmases) will direct for Universal. I'm kind of iffy on murder-comedies, because I think the tone can be difficult to nail (although who knows if the planned murders will happen or go awry). It looks like this project comes from a dusted-off script that's been re-tooled by new screenwriters. A good screenplay finally getting its time...or something pulled up to satisfy an actor? We'll know soon enough.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Two 'Three Musketeers' projects move forward

By Sarah Sluis

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Hollywood is full of eyelash-batting people who cozy up to an idea and then go off and develop it on their own. I've written about this trend before, and another battle seems to be heating up.

Currently, there's not one but two Three Musketeers projects in the works. Each one will want to release before the other, so 2011 may be the year of feathered hats and swashbuckling swordsmen---for better or worse. Unlike Baz Luhrmann's Alexander epic or Sacha Baron Cohen's Sherlock Holmes adaptation, both of which were nixed while their competitors' projects moved forward, all six musketeers are going into production this fall. Here's how the two projects stack up:

Three Musketeers

The Three Musketeers

Summit will distribute

Warner Bros. will distribute

From the director of �Resident Evil'

From the director of the �Bourne' films

Trio played by Ray Stevenson, Matthew MacFadyen, Luke Evans�who?

Haven't gotten that far yet

But awesome villains! Christoph Waltz and maybe Orlando Bloom (he's more of a yawn, but eye candy for some)

Maybe they can take some of the rejects from Summit's auditions?

To be released in stunning 3D

Not so fast�you'll also need 3D glasses for this one

Described as �modern but still a period piece.' Isn't that an oxymoron? Clarified as, we will be zooming in on the action, not the corsets and men wearing tights.

From the producer of �Sherlock Holmes,' so expect a mix of annoying matte backgrounds and a general lack of realism

Director Paul W.S. Anderson has been working on the project since October �09

Director Doug Liman was just hired and has a reputation for messy, overbudget productions

With casting and legwork done, and filming starting in September, Summit's likely to be first to the finish

But could Liman's version be better? Or will everyone be sick of all those sword battles? Plus, I'm still recovering from Dumas adaptation �The Man in the Iron Mask'

Monday, May 10, 2010

'Iron Man 2' kicks off blockbuster season

By Sarah Sluis

Iron Man 2 racked up an astounding $133 million over the weekend, a dramatic improvement over Iron Man's

$98 million debut in 2008. The superhero movie had its strongest

performance on Friday, and fell

Robert downey jr iron man 2 slightly through the rest of the

weekend. Overseas, Iron Man 2 is already in its second week and going strong. Stateside, it will have to compete with the action-driven Robin Hood releasing

this Friday. Last year, X-Men Origins: Wolverine dropped 70% in its

second weekend, when Star Trek bowed. Even a 70% drop will still give Iron Man 2 a $40 million second weekend, but given its stronger reception than Wolverine, it will likely post a much higher second weekend.

Babies debuted at number ten with $1.5 million. The documentary followed four babies around the world from birth to first steps. Reviews were starkly separated between baby-haters and those that just

Babies documentary movie couldn't stop oo-ing and aa-ing

over the cute creatures. While the per-screen average could be higher

(just $2,900 per screen at 534 locations), the movie has a chance at

performing well in coming weeks if it attracts positive word-of-mouth.

Besides Babies, Mother and Child also opened this weekend to take advantage of the Sunday Mother's Day holiday. At four locations, the movie earned $11,000 per theatre, the strongest per-theatre average for a specialty film this week. Please Give, in its second week, posted $9,000 per location as it quintupled the amount of theatres in its release (5 to 26).

A Nightmare on Elm Street tumbled 72% in its second week to $9.1 million, a fall expected for the horror movie. Iron Man 2 drove competing action movies downward: Clash of the Titans fell 60%, The Losers went down 69%, and Kick-Ass dropped 66%.

Family movies and comedies emerged unscathed. How to Train Your Dragon crossed the $200 million mark with a $6.7 million weekend, a 36% drop. Date Night dropped 30% to $5.3 million and The Back-up Plan fell 40% to $4.3 million. Even Furry Vengeance dropped just 40% after a disappointing first weekend, adding $4 million to its gross for an $11 million cumulative gross.

This Friday, Gladiator duo of director Ridley Scott and star Russell Crowe re-team for Robin Hood. The Queen Latifah romantic comedy Just Wright and Italy-set romance Letters to Juliet will go up against the male-driven fare.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

'Machete' continues exploitation film trend of highlighting racial issues

By Sarah Sluis

I had no plans to see Machete, a "Mexploitation" film from Robert Rodriguez that originated as a trailer within the movie Grindhouse. But today, I scrolled through Ain't it Cool News and discovered that a Machete trailer has been released in honor of Cinco de Mayo--and even though the movie was made a year ago, the plot

Machete seems like a direct response to the controversial illegal immigration legislation passed in Arizona.

Culled from the Internet, the story goes like this: Danny Trejo plays a Mexican Federale (police officer) who fled the country after a bad encounter with a drug lord (rising drug violence around the Mexican border, anyone?). He's a day laborer who accepts a $100,000+ fee to kill a senator who is sending illegal immigrants out of the country. As he goes in for the kill, he's shot himself, and it turns out he's been set up in order to build support for the bill. With the help of fellow illegal immigrants, he pursues vengeance as he is hunted down by a U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement agent.

While it's social issues movies like Crash that get rewarded at the Oscars, exploitation and horror movies have a long history of tackling racism and discrimination. They appeal to deep emotions and fears, and it can go both ways: just as promiscuous teenage girls are punished in slasher films, often being the first to die, who can forget the black man in Night of the Living Dead surviving a night of zombies only to be killed by vigilantes at the end who assume he is the bad guy?

Pam Grier, who coincidentally has been in the news lately because of her memoir, starred in movies like Coffy

Coffy_02 and Foxy Brown that showed strong, powerful black women and centered around issues of drugs and violence. In Coffy, she sets out to kill the drug dealers who gave her sister contaminated heroin, and in Foxy Brown she goes after the gangsters that killed her law-enforcement boyfriend. The movies can be subversive and expose issues like objectification of women (which works out fine for Grier, who seduces people before killing them). At the same time, the blaxploitation genre has been viewed as a double-edged sword: did it expose black issues or did it perpetuate stereotypes? You could say the same about Machete. The plot is driven by anger, fear, and mistrust. The Danny Trejo character embodies many negative qualities and stereotypes, from what I saw, but it's impressive that the trailer opens with him saying, "$70 a day for yard work. A hundred for roofing. $125 for septic." It's exposing the economic realities of his situation and makes his agreement to kill someone for over a hundred thousand dollars justifiable. I'm now curious to see Machete and find out if Rodriguez has packed the movie with commentary on immigration in between the sex, explosions, and guns. It wouldn't be the first time exploitation films have covered this territory.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Pixar tries to convince college students they're not too old for 'Toy Story 3'

By Sarah Sluis

To build buzz for Toy Story 3, Pixar is turning to college students. While twenty-somethings aren't usually big consumers of animated films, the latest Woody-Buzz Lightyear movie has a few things going for it. First, nostalgia: many of these kids grew up with the first two movies and may have some interest in the third.

Toy Story Viral Second, the story: the plot follows Andy's toys, which have been donated after he goes away to college. What college kid can't relate to coming home and finding that their bedroom has been changed by their parents? Third, crossover family movies: Alice in Wonderland wouldn't have racked up over $300 million at the box office without the help of non-family viewers, and last summer's Up also played widely across demographics.

Like the college-based rollout for Paramount's Paranormal Activity or the free advance screenings popularized by studios like Fox Searchlight, twenty college towns will have abbreviated, cliffhanger screenings of Toy Story 3 that are being promoted virally. The tear-off flyer image on the left, for example, takes you to a website informing you of the screening. Because it's not unusual for studios to preview full-length feature films in advance of their release, there has been some backlash, like this post on FilmJunk that called the promotion a rip-off. In case people didn't spot the flyer, there's also a link to the screenings on Facebook, in a tab next to the Pixar fan page.

Will it work? My guess is--somewhat. Pixar films are fantastic and well-worth a night out, but for some, they lack the cachet of saying that you just saw gross-out movie The Hangover or another more edgy option. But at the same time, the success of Oscar-winning films like Wall-E and Up has paved the way for older, childless people to go back to animated movies without feeling like they are watching something intended for children. They're so critically acclaimed, they're worth seeing in their own right. By offering advance, abbreviated screenings, Pixar will be showing audiences what so many people have already discovered--these films appeal to all ages. Once you see a Pixar film, you understand what everyone's been talking about, so these screenings should help connect college students to an animated genre that's transformed since their own childhood.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Audiences stay awake for 'A Nightmare on Elm Street'

By Sarah Sluis

Platinum Dunes, which has produced several remakes of well-known horror films, struck oil once again with its remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. The revival of dream-stalker Freddy Krueger film took in an

Nightmare on elm street remake impressive, higher-than-predicted $32 million over the weekend, which will no doubt keep those remakes flowing.

The other wide release of the weekend, Furry Vengeance, opened in sixth place with $6.5 million, below expectations. Financed by Participant Media, which makes socially conscious films, this family comedy with animal hijinks must have seemed like a good way to match a crowd-pleasing formula with an environmentally friendly message. But maybe Participant should aim a little higher, both in its subject matter and choosing a more marquee-friendly cast (Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell starred).

Wall Street may have downgraded DreamWorks' stock after the debut of How to Train Your Dragon, but the movie is having the last laugh as it finished another weekend at number two with $10.8 million and a 29% drop from last week. With a $192 million gross, this movie should pass $200 million in about a week. If this were a conventional release with a 50% drop every week, the movie would have topped out at about $80-90 million, so this movie is proof that keeping week-to-week decreases sub-30% really adds up.

Please give

Please Give, an Upper East Side slice-of-life comedy from director Nicole Holofcener (Friends with Money) opened to a strong $25,000 per-screen average, for a total of $128,000. With such a strong debut, this movie will be ripe for expansion. Michael Caine toting a gun in Harry Brown drew audiences to the tune of $9,000 per screen at 19 locations.

This Friday, tentpole season resumes with the release of Iron Man 2. No other film dares to go against it, but there will be a smattering of specialty options for those seeking alternative fare.