Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Forbes list of 'Most bang for your buck' actors doesn't really mean anything

By Sarah Sluis

I'm all about cute statistics, but Forbes' list of actors that deliver that most bang for their buck doesn't really say much. It uses the ratio (actor's salary: total gross of movie) to determine what stars deliver the most money for their performance. If only it were that simple. First, the low-hanging fruit: correlation does not imply causation.

Shia labeouf transformers Take the topper on that list, Shia LaBeouf. He was in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. A movie directed by Steven Spielberg starring Harrison Ford and one of the most famous franchises out there. Of course his salary was low compared to the movie's total gross! He wasn't the main draw in the movie. He wasn't paid that much because he didn't matter that much.

LaBeouf also starred in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Another news flash: no one cared about LaBeouf, they cared about seeing those toys turned into giant heroes and villains in the most confusing, terrible movie to make over $800 million (I'm still bitter about the two hours I lost because of that movie).

What would show the star power of an actor would be a performance in a star-driven vehicle, like a generic action movie or romantic comedy. You would have to exclude performances in huge franchises, control for the effect of having co-stars that were bigger than them, or a huge director. But it's kind of hard to find such movies.

Anne Hathaway, who placed second on the list, comes close to a "star power" movie with Bride Wars, a so-so flick that she starred in with Kate Hudson. The real reason that Hathway placed second, though, was because of a supporting role in Alice in Wonderland, where she played the White Queen. Actor Johnny Depp was a bigger draw, and her influence is somewhat lost in the 3D-driven spectacle adaptation directed by Tim Burton. She contributed to the movie's success, she didn't cause it.

The third-place finisher, Daniel Radcliffe, is also third mainly because he's cast in the behemoth franchise Harry Potter.

It's only when you go lower down the list that actor performances actually start to come into play. Although Iron Man 2 is a comic book franchise, Robert Downey Jr. helped sell tickets, as did his performance in Sherlock Holmes (another adaptation of a well-known property).

Whether an actor is a "value" depends on a lot more than salary and total gross of the movie. If anything, this list confirms that being part of a franchise or known property gives a greater probability for success than an original film. Yet another reason there are so few Inceptions out there and so many Transformer 2s. Also, a note to actors: if you want to game the system, land some supporting roles in really big films, and your fractional salary will boost your ratio and lead everyone to believe you're a great value.

Monday, August 30, 2010

'The Last Exorcism' claims first place, with 'Takers' not far behind

By Sarah Sluis

The belief that horror movies open big was proved yet again this weekend, with The Last Exorcism grabbing the top spot with $21.3 million. The audience was primarily female and over half Latino, which The last exorcism ashley bell close upaccording to Box Office Mojo is the big market for these kinds of supernatural horror movies.

had to settle for second by a margin of just $300,000, finishing at an estimated $21 million even. The contest is close enough that when the actual numbers come in, the first place winner could be reversed. Though the heist movie features virtually an all-male cast, the gender of

Takers ensemble idris elba audiences was split almost 50/50. The hunk appeal of the stars may have made this an equal draw for both males and females, with a stylish presentation to boot.

The re-release of Avatar was expected to gross in the high single digit millions, but fell short of that, finishing with $4 million in twelfth place. However, since the movie is already out on home video, many die-hard fans probably already saw the film recently, and the idea of seeing an extra 8 1/2 minutes of footage maybe just wasn't that enticing. The re-release gave 20th Century Fox bragging rights, however: It pushed the movie over the $750 million mark domestically.

Elsewhere in the top ten, Twilight spoof Vampires Suck fell 56% to $5.3 million. The horror movie Piranha 3D plummeted 57% to $4.3 million, a fate that The Last Exorcism will probably endure next week. Lottery Ticket, also in its second week, fell from fourth right out of the top ten to eleventh with $4 million.

Titles with more staying power included Inception and The Other Guys, each of which dipped in the 35% range. Male-driven action movie The Expendables had a strong showing in its third weekend, dipping 44%. Eat Pray Love leveled its fall slightly, dropping 42% this week compared to 47% last week. Its reported budget was $60 million, and the film has now grossed just as much.

This Friday, George Clooney stars as an aging spy in The American, while Grindhouse-inspired Machete takes on the un-American illegal immigration policies through the guise of an exploitation movie. A bicoastal romance between Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, Going the Distance, rounds out the bunch.

Friday, August 27, 2010

'Takers' and 'The Last Exorcism' take on 'Avatar' re-release

By Sarah Sluis

Kids are starting to go back to school, the first cold chill has swept through New York City, and summer is drawing to a close. This week will be a light one at the box office, with a couple of fun, genre-y diversions sharing space with the re-release of Avatar.

Takers Chris brown A "Michael Mann-lite," stylish drama about a bank heist, Takers (2,206 theatres) features a cast including hip-hop stars Chris Brown and T.I., "The Wire"'s Idris Elba, and well-known actors Matt Dillon and Star Wars-cursed Hayden Christensen. Younger audiences may get the most out of the movie, which "is actually kind of cool, if you've never watched this kind of thing before," according to critic Frank Lovece, who himself was plagued by an ability to predict the plot twists well in advance.

The Last Exorcism (2,874 theatres) pairs up a charlatan priest with a real-life exorcism case, shot in a mockumentary style that "works

The last exorcism ashley bell beautifully," according to critic Maitland McDonagh. Teen girls are expected to shriek through the PG-13 contortions of their peer, but "hardcore gore-hounds will be disappointed by the lack of flashy special effects," predicts McDonagh, since the movie "is more concerned with psychological chills."

Avatar will be re-released in 810 3D venues, including 125 IMAX theatres. The reboot is expected to provide a boon to exhibitors, with an expected gross in the high single millions. The second round in theatres will also help promote the movie's deluxe DVD and Blu-ray release in November. An extra 8 1/2 minutes of footage has been added to provide incentive for fans to see the movie yet again. Especially the kind of fans that tattoo Avatar characters on their back.

For specialty audiences, part one of the ominously titled Mesrine: Death Instinct will open in 28 theatres. The French gangster film is "snazzily shot" but "disappointingly superficial," according to critic Jon

Centurion michael fassbender Frosch. Forced incest takes center stage in the Mexican film Daniel & Ana (NYC), and lovers of B-movies will get a kick out of Gladiator-esque Centurion (9 theatres) from director Neil Marshall. Critic Ethan Alter dubbed him "one of the most reliable contemporary creators of kick-ass genre flicks," and I'll praise him for authoring the truly creepy cave horror movie The Descent.

On Monday, we'll see if there were any takers for Takers, if The Last Exorcism enticed spook-seeking audiences, and if Avatar's second coming resulted in crowded theatres filled with people anxious for a second glimpse.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hipsters, Christians form new indie bases

By Sarah Sluis

Just last week I interviewed a filmmaker who lamented the decline in sources of funding for independent filmmaking. He counted himself as one of the lucky ones, and his "indie" documentary was in fact being distributed by a major studio. So if many independent movies have had to get "bigger" to survive, the other end of the market has had to get smaller to survive, a trend highlighted by two recent New York Times pieces. Besides the fact that they're serving micro-niches, these small indie distributors seem to be serving up movies for audiences just like themselves--be they hipsters or Christians.

A trend that's been covered lately is the use of alternative venues to show small indie films, often to a

Re run theatre hipster crowd intent on finding the undiscovered and unappreciated. As The New York Times reports, boutique theatres and bars that double as performance venues often exhibit the movies. The latter brings to mind the kind of places that book rising indie bands. In fact, as the article explains, many independent music companies are branching out into film, and applying the techniques they honed for musical acts to movies. Their extremely small scale allows for the promotion of movies with infinitesimal audiences: the article mentions the company Factory 25, which has just one employee and needs so sell 400 DVD-LP combinations to break even, out of runs of 1,000.

The "boutique" concept has already been identified and scaled-up by theatre chains, which have added in-theatre dining and other amenities like reserved seating or lounges to create a luxury cinema experience, but part of the appeal in the indie setting is not only the unique venue but seeing a unique, underground film, shared with just a handful of people in an almost bootleg environment. I'm not sure how much this trend can grow, but it presents new ways for audiences to catch movies, and perhaps a technique that larger independent movies can exploit to gain audiences and positive word-of-mouth.

Besides the hipster movie crowd, religious audiences that may have had only straight-to-DVD offerings are also showing up in theatres. The faith-based audience seems to make itself known in waves, occasionally propelling a film like The Passion of the Christ to the top ten, making Fireproof the top independent movie in 2008, and turning the faith-friendly The Blind Side into a $250 million Oscar-nominated juggernaut. The latest movie to appeal to the faith-based audience, What If.., is another made-by-us-for-us movie that debuted to a $2,000 per-screen average on 23 screens this past weekend. The New York Times profiled the director, Dallas Jenkins, as well as the group financing the picture--a large church outside of Chicago. While it doesn't seem as if What If... will be joining the line of religious-themed success stories because of its smallish box-office debut, it's interesting to see these two very different market demographics both reaching their audiences through the specialty film market.

Friday, August 20, 2010

'Nanny,' 'Pirahna,' 'Lottery Ticket' and 'Vampires' crowd the box office

By Sarah Sluis

Emma Thompson's "snaggle-toothed, uni-browed, wart-ridden" version of Mary Poppins makes a second appearance in Nanny McPhee Returns (2,783 theatres). Our critic David Noh was unimpressed with the

Nanny mcphee returns emma thompson movie's jokes about farm animal excrement and "unending, chaotic chase scenes," which leave the audience with a "noisome and numbing" effect. As the only new offering for kid audiences, the movie may open well, but it's unlikely to approach the must-see status that drew such large audiences to the animated crowd-pleasers of the summer.

Expanding into the largest amount of locations this weekend, Vampires Suck (3,233 theatres)

Vampires suck matt lanter jenn proske opened on Wednesday to $4 million, a surprisingly high number for a movie that, judging by the number of the times its name and release date were changed, didn't inspired much confidence among the folks at 20th Century Fox. However, making fun of Twilight and the glitter content of vampire heartthrob Edward's body has become a favorite topic for young males, so this spoof may prove popular among that set. It comes from the creators of genre parodies Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie and its ilk, so viewers will be in store for some stupid fun that, just maybe, offers them a few laughs, especially if you still have a -teen suffix at the end of your age.

Lottery Ticket (1,973 theatres) is expected to draw in largely black audiences to the tale of a boy from the projects who wins the jackpot right before the

Lottery ticket bow wow loretta devine long Fourth of July weekend, leading everyone from his grandma to a rogue preacher to try to snag the ticket from him. First-time director Erik White is "unable to blend broad comedy with the uncomfortable ghetto realities," according to THR critic Kirk Honeycutt, leading to a stereotypical presentation of life for poor blacks. Its first weekend will be the test, since black-oriented comedies, including Tyler Perry's, tend to open big and fade quickly.

Oh, look! It's Jennifer Aniston in another romantic comedy, The Switch (2,012 theatres). In this one, she stars opposite Jason Bateman as a

The switch pregnancy party woman who decides to become a mother with the help of a sperm donor of her choosing, except Bateman replaces his sperm and becomes the father of the kid. It's pretty average, and apparently isn't tracking well. This movie will have to contend with Eat Pray Love, as the two will be battling for some of the same audiences.

A remake of a lowest-common-denominator horror film and Jaws spoof, Piranha 3D (2,470 theatres) adds another dimension to the equation, releasing almost exclusively in 3D (2,220 out of 2,470 theatres in 3D). With just a limited amount of critics seeing the movie, it's currently tracking at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes--what?? As long as you're evaluating it as a low-brow, cheesy exploitation horror movie, it's a "pitch-perfect, guilty-pleasure serving of late-summer schlock that handily nails the tongue-in-cheek spirit of the Roger Corman original," according to THR critic Michael Rechtshaffen.

Releasing with an R rating, despite the filmmakers' protestations, the documentary The Tillman Story (NY/LA; 4 theatres) tells the story of NFL player-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman who died in Afghanistan in what was spun as an act of heroism but was later determined to be a friendly fire incident. Talented director Amir Bar-Lev (My Kid Could Paint That) elicits both heartbreak and outrage with his story. For something lighter, there's the story of a restaurant owner (Adam Bousdoukos) with a struggling business, Soul Kitchen (NY; 2 theatres). Despite an "awful run of bad luck," the owner's "constantly changing fortunes are the good-natured joke in this disarmingly loose and energetic comedy," according to critic Kevin Lally. Based on a true story of a Chinese ballet dancer who goes to Texas as part of an exchange program, only to abandon his homeland for America, Mao's Last Dancer (29 theatres) is a "conventionally told biopic," according to Lally, that "follows a pretty basic path of contrasting Western freedom with the rigid totalitarianism of Li's [Cunxin, the dancer] upbringing." The ballet sequences and true story help make this movie a crowd-pleaser, according to Lally.

On Monday, we'll see where each of these new releases fell in the top ten, and if returning releases The Expendables and Eat Pray Love continue to hold on to their sizeable audiences. The summer movie season is coming to an end, and this may be the last week any film has even a chance of breaking $100 million. Then we'll be on to the September slump. Though many of next month's films aren't expected to be huge winners at the box office, there should be some entertaining ones in the bunch.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Spotlight: J.J. Abrams, the guy who can make 'nerd' films everyone sees

By Sarah Sluis

Last weekend the Comic-Con darling Scott Pilgrim vs. the World opened to a disappointing $10 million. The cult movie Kick-Ass also opened soft, to $19.8 million, though I can vouch for both films: they deserved more. This has led to writers sounding the alarm about so-called nerd films that fail to cross over to the rest of the marketplace.

Jj-abrams Which made me think of someone who has managed to inspire both cult followings and crossover audiences with his work: J.J. Abrams. "Lost" drew in diehard fans as well as mainstream audiences (although some of the less devoted, such as myself, dropped out before the final season). Last year, he managed to attract wide audiences for that apex of nerdom, Star Trek. Never did I think I would go to a Star Trek movie and not think of all the Trekkie nerds I knew in school, but he did a great job making the story accessible and somehow appealing to the kind of people who wouldn't be caught dead at a sci-fi convention, or who had never even seen a single episode.

What stronger sign that someone has "made it" than when Steven Spielberg collaborates with you? The two are working on a sci-fi/aliens/teen-oriented project called Super 8, which is coming out next summer. Both directors have a populist sensibility that also works well with critics, and I bet they'll be able to come up with something incredible together. Let's not forget that both Jaws (Spielberg) and Cloverfield (Abrams, producer) were both the types of action/horror movies that usually receive a much more low-brow treatment.

This week, Abrams announced that he's also working on the nostalgically inspired 7 Minutes in Heaven, which will focus on two teens who disappear in a closet for their seven minutes in kissing heaven, only to return to find their friends dead. It's a clever pairing that juxtaposes the innocence of youth with murder--isn't that what all teen slasher movies are about? Of course, there could be other forces at work, but a slasher is the first that comes to mind, unless Abrams wants to go The Happening route and create toxic trees.

On a lighter note, Abrams appears to have a thing for numbers, and it's only a matter of time before he can count to ten with his films: There's Super 8, 7 Minutes in Heaven, Mission Impossible III and the planned MI:IV, Star Trek the first and the upcoming Star Trek sequel. Now he just needs to make a film with a five or six.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What is Joaquin Phoenix doing in 'I'm Still Here'?

By Sarah Sluis

Perhaps you remember about a year ago Joaquin Phoenix announced he was quitting acting.  Soon after, news surfaced that Phoenix was going to film a documentary (or was it a mockumentary?) about his experience leaving the movies and becoming a rapper.  His celebrity friend Casey Affleck would direct.

Now, the trailer is out, giving audiences a first look at the movie, I'm Still Here.

The film is a rather baffling project, especially for a two-time Oscar nominee, and apparently film buyers were unsure about whether the movie was a mockumentary or documentary.  Nevertheless, it was picked up by Magnolia, and will release in less than a month, as a special presentation at the Toronto Film Festival.  I'm not placing much money on it doing well: it has a confusing premise that could likely backfire, and Phoenix is not a public figure that graces the tabloids regularly, which means there is limited interest in his personal life.

What's odd and sad, however, is that his decision to give up acting and pursue music seems like some kind of tribute to his brother.  According to that crowd-sourced encyclopedia Wikipedia, his brother River Phoenix was in the process of developing a career as a musician when he died of a drug overdose outside of a club.  Joaquin was the one who called 911 and tried to save him.  Joaquin Phoenix has had an interesting life in his own right, enough to create a biographical documentary, not a mock one: his family grew up in the cult Children of God before rejecting it and changing their last name from "Bottom" to "Phoenix." He has struggled with fame before, quitting acting for a year after his brother died, and also gone to rehab for alcohol addiction.  Despite the solemn, existential voiceover at the beginning of the trailer, the movie apparently is a hard R, including graphic sex and gross-out moments.  That seems like some hiding from the truths of his life rather than searching for discovery.  Then there's the fact that the production is currently the target of a lawsuit by someone alleging sexual harassment from Affleck.

Despite my reticence to see the movie because I suspect it will be narcissistic and navel-gazing (and, apparently, gross), there's something intriguing about someone who is drawing a thin line between reality and fiction.  Nowadays reality shows have become more scripted, leaving audiences to wonder--was that set up, or was that for real?  Phoenix, though he may loathe to say it, seems to following in the path of those MTV series "Laguna Beach," "The City," and "The Hills," which purported to follow the lives of the cast members but were in fact scripted to an inscrutable degree.  In such a case, the fictional world spills over into the real world. Just as Phoenix acted oddly on "David Letterman," perhaps while in character, the storyline in the MTV shows was extended to the tabloids, which followed the fictional relationships created on television--and to further blur the line, some of them actually existed.

I'm Still Here may hit theatres and generate lots of publicity, or it may quietly fade like so many other specialty releases. But it reflects an impulse in our society to experience "reality," even if that reality is scripted.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Trailer Roundup: 'Love and Other Drugs' and 'How Do You Know'

By Sarah Sluis

As the summer winds down, I take a look at the two recently released trailers for the fall/winter movie season.

'Love and Other Drugs'

Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal (who were briefly paired together in Brokeback Mountain) star in Love and Other Drugs, which I had pegged as a romance with some dark comedy thrown in. Based on a memoir by a Viagra pharmaceutical rep, it led me to expect something with a little bit of The Insider in it. After all, pharma salespeople are rather morally ambiguous characters, since their job is to persuade doctors to prescribe more of their drug, regardless of what is the best medical decision for the patient

Enter the trailer:

Do I like Love and Other Drugs more or less after seeing the trailer? Less. Why? The trailer makes the movie sound too much like a typical romantic comedy. Worse, it gives away moments that must take place towards the end of the movie, including crying (presumably after a break-up) and Gyllenhaal's character trying to catch up with the Hathaway character on a bus (which is usually the scene right before they kiss and go to closing credits). It's possible that the movie's premise has just been sanitized for a public that's presumably skittish about anything out of the ordinary, and the strongest sign that this is true is one striking omission. Hathaway's character has Parkinson's Disease, a plot point that never makes its way into the trailer. Maybe audiences would find that too depressing? This movie is still on my to-see list when it comes out November 24th, but now it needs to redeem itself to fall in line with my initial expectations. Another good sign? It's releasing over Thanksgiving, a prime slot that implies the studio thinks it's got a good movie on its hands.

'How Do You Know'

The latest from James L. Brooks (who last directed Spanglish and As Good As It Gets), How Do You Know places Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd in a love triangle, and also features Jack Nicholson--a cast full of great actors. It centers on a female softball player (Witherspoon) torn between her baseball pitcher boyfriend (Wilson) and a down-on-his luck corporate guy (Rudd).

Enter the trailer:

Do I like How Do You Know more of less after seeing the trailer? More. Most of all, this trailer seems thoughtful, not gimmicky. The trailer brings to mind a Cameron Crowe movie (perhaps Jerry Maguire?) but that's not a bad thing as far as I'm concerned. We learn less about plot points, which are for the most part elided, and more about the characters' states of mind. In As Good As It Gets, so much of the movie was about Jack Nicholson's character, which enriched the relationship he had with Helen Hunt. I really feel that Brooks will be able to pull off a similarly meaningful character transformation here. I also can't decide if this line of Witherspoon's dialogue is interesting or trite: "Most girls' plan is to meet a guy, fall in love, have a baby. But I don't know if I have what it takes for everybody's regular plan." It's pretty common in romantic comedies for women to say they don't want the standard package only to end up with all of the above in the end. However, if Brooks and Witherspoon can make us believe this about Witherspoon's character, I'll be right on board for this movie. It's also eyeing a high-traffic release date on December 17th, where I'm sure it will attract large audiences.

Independents gather to discuss distribution strategies

By Sarah Sluis
FJI correspondent Doris Toumarkine reports on a panel on independent film distribution strategies, sponsored by HSBC, SnagFilms and IndieWIRE.

Last week's inaugural evening of wine, cheese and insiders' observations at a New York independent film community gathering raised spirits and awareness but also left up in the air some unanswered questions that will surely be addressed in subsequent sessions.

"Ask the Experts: Strategizing Film Fests & Distribution Today," organized by HSBC and SnagFilms and its must-read IndieWIRE website, began with a low-key pep talk from Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard, followed by panel discussions addressing some aspects of festivals and distribution strategies. A brief Q&A followed but failed to elevate the discussion.

The session, which borrowed from the Independent Feature Project's time-honored efforts, was more make-up course than rigorous drill-down into the current or future state of specialty cinema and its challenges.

A harbinger of good things to come, the event introduced HSBC and IndieWIRE's partnership in the new Filmmaker Toolkit Series, comprising similar indie-themed industry evenings to follow and online tools for filmmakers at the IndieWIRE website.

Attendees, panelists and organizers schmoozed and fueled up at the reception before tackling the promised issues: navigating the festival circuit and securing distribution deals. Not as abundant as the reception's cheese cubes, valuable takeaway tips and nuggets of information were in short supply, as so much seemed aimed at newbies in the audience. But the August 11 gabfest was an impressive gathering in terms of those like Bernard who came to share.

A packed auditorium at HSBC's midtown headquarters listened as a number of participants from the nervous playing fields of distribution, production, direction, public relations and festivals shared views about that now proverbial falling or not-falling "sky." The celestial metaphor, or course, was coined only a few short years ago by former Miramax and Warner Independent Pictures exec Mark Gill to denote the digitally and technologically shaken state of the independent sector.

While storm clouds reportedly darken the sky over Gill's latest venture, event participants betrayed no negative notions of the state of things: no sky is falling and, on the contrary, there's hope ahead. Even that "light at the end of the tunnel" metaphor popped up. Sales agent Josh Braun of Submarine spoke about the tiny film Tiny Furniture, which he sold to IFC, the voracious acquirer of so many indie titles.

In spite of Magnolia Pictures' Tom Quinn's pronouncement that "it's a terrible business," there was a largely upbeat vibe in the air regarding the independent sector. But breathing that air was also that proverbial and largely ignored elephant in the room, meaning the brutal but unaddressed topic of "Who the Heck Is Making Money Today and How?" which never tainted the lightweight discussions, even as titles like Bubble, Tiny Furniture, Children of Invention and others were referenced. Most frustrating was the lack of more concrete examples of what's working today and what isn't.

(With the ABCs of the indie world shared during this inaugural event, IndieWIRE co-founder and editor-in-chief Eugene Hernandez, who moderated the discussions with IndieWIRE managing editor Brian Brooks, told FJI that subsequent Toolkit evenings would get more into the nitty-gritty business of the indie sector.)

In introductory remarks, Bernard, who kicked off the discussion that several panels would continue, talked about the "empowered filmmaker" and what he/she must do in the new digital era. The mantra, according to Bernard, is for filmmakers to do the research themselves, that they are the ones who control the destiny of their films and cannot be dependent on anybody else to get their films into the marketplace.

He advised filmmakers to research all potential partners like distributors, publicists, lawyers and sales agents. These latter, he warned, might take too big a chunk of future profits, so let the seller/filmmaker beware of who he/she does deals with.

Flashing back into what seems like ancient movie history, Bernard referenced the millions of dollars the Blair Witch Project filmmakers lost to lawyers and agents. He asked rhetorically: "But should you be giving away anywhere between five and 15 percent of the lifetime profits from your film for free legal work and a sales strategy that usually is comprised of screening your film at a festival, getting all the buyers in a room and seeing who can come up with the most money?"

To underscore his point of filmmakers doing their homework, Bernard handed out a list of more than 60 U.S. theatrical distributors, including a smattering of Bollywood and service-deal companies. He urged the many industry groups like the IFP or DGA to help with this empowerment by providing other useful information. Filmmakers must also answer important questions regarding which time of year is best to release their work and to which theatres. (Bernard's complete speech is available on Indiewire.com.)

Later as a panelist, Bernard reminded that, these days especially, thought must be given to the many platforms available for films and what revenues each might generate. While every distribution outlet is valid, he said, the theatrical window "opens a lot of doors" to and provides a five-year cycle for the many releases (cable, DVD, hotels, etc.) to follow.

The trend of certain film fests getting into the distribution game took a drubbing on the "Strategizing Film Festivals" panel. Cinetic Rights Management's Matt Dentler, formerly atop Austin's SXSW, was especially critical. "The two worlds are very different," he said, and the festivals should be at "arm's length" from distribution because "what works at festivals isn't necessarily what works in the marketplace." Sundance, with YouTube; SXSW with IFC and iTunes; and the Tribeca Film Festival, which set up its own distribution pipeline for titles it had selected for its festival, were cited as crossing this cinematic China Wall. Bottom line, said Dentler, is that it's just no good when festivals are cutting checks back to the filmmakers this way.

But an even more interesting bottom line was revealed when the panel called for a vote of those in the audience who bothered to watch any of these festival films through their distribution channels. Not a hand went up.

Festivals continue, of course, to serve a valuable purpose as marketing tools or even as venues for a film's only chance for a "theatrical" (actually, big-screen) release, said PMK-BNC's Marian Koltai-Levine. Panelists disagreed on whether filmmakers should submit rough cuts and works-in-progress to fests. Women in Films' serial fest-goer Debra Zimmerman voted no, while Rose Kuo, festival programmer and recent big hire at The Film Society of Lincoln Center, opined that, depending on the festival, presenting an unfinished work can be a good thing. Just getting a film looked at and getting knowledgeable feedback can be valuable.

Producer Mynette Louie, whose Children of Invention played about 50 festivals, shared that "a good chunk of change" was made from all the fees her film received from so many festivals paying just for the right to present the film. The fest exposure also helped increase sales for the film's DVDs.

There was plenty of old news. We again heard that while acceptance at first-tier film fests (Toronto, Sundance, Cannes, etc.) is the Holy Grail, second-tier and select regional fests can afford filmmakers a much better chance to be found by scouts (yes, distribs infiltrate the smaller events) and even get some publicity (there are few big films to monopolize the attention). You don't need a doctorate in probability to figure that one out. Nor did news that the odds are staggering for Sundance acceptance knock any socks off.

Documentary filmmaker Sandi Dubowski (Trembling Before G-D, Budrus) underscored the importance of bringing partners to a film and reminded that nonprofits�their name notwithstanding�can lead to significant sources of funding. What filmmakers today have to ask, he said, is: "How do we flip our world?"

In terms of getting the word out about a project, there's a delicate balance, the panel agreed: While it's important not to oversaturate the market with information about a film, filmmakers need to "annoy" people a bit.

French world-sales agent Sebastien Chesneau of Paris-based Rezo generated some enthusiasm with his pitch to attending filmmakers to discuss their films with Rezo in order to learn how various international territories might respond. Citing the popularity of directors like Jim Jarmusch and Woody Allen overseas, Bernard seconded this focus on foreign markets and advised filmmakers to hold back international rights from their domestic distributors.

When the continuing plague of piracy entered the conversation, SnagFilms CEO Rick Allen got a laugh when he said that SnagFilms, via its VOD service, has come up with a foolproof anti-piracy model: making the viewing free. From Allen, the crowd also heard that well-worn supplication to tell "powerful stories," especially as there is now access to a global audience.

Other participating speakers and panelists adding sizzle and prestige if not always useful takeaways to the HBSC/IndieWIRE evening included Emerging Pictures' Ira Deutchman, who observed that it's a "healthy" sign that the studios are getting out of the indie business. IFC Entertainment's Arianna Bocco shared that IFC's four-year-old VOD model "has worked successfully," but only whetted appetites for examples that weren't forthcoming.

Magnolia's Tom Quinn offered that Bubble, the company's first DVD/theatrical day-and-date experiment several years back, "wouldn't work today," but there was no comment on how it even worked back then (although the notion was floated back then that the quirky Soderbergh indie actually was profitable).

One unintended insight gleaned from the evening was the revelation that many at the event weren't aware that there are more theatrical screens available today for specialized product than in years past and that some circuits have even branded these screens dedicated to indies. Audience reaction to news of this availability and a reception conversation with a SnagFilms exec made this clear. Future Toolkit events might want to explore how filmmakers could possibly (miraculously?) exploit this largesse and even learn what might be those miracles for longer runs on theatre screens.

Maybe it's big-city myopia regarding that vast stretch of Flyover America, but there's responsibility somewhere (on exhibitor shoulders?) to get the word out to indies and film fans alike that theatre screens are there for the smaller films.

With its impressive turnout and well-coordinated discussions, the evening did suggest that Toolkit events to follow, as Hernandez promised, will burrow down more deeply into the many issues important to all sides of the indie business.

Discussions, for instance, might focus on which of the more selective fests require world premieres or have similar restrictions regarding submissions. And what might be some real-world examples of truly profitable films initially made available on Web/VOD/DVD prior to theatrical or day-and-date with theatrical but that returned investments and actually worked financially for both filmmakers and distribs (when not self-distributed)?

And in this crazy super-saturated new media world of so much, so often and available anywhere, especially when it comes to e-mail, social networking and Internet content, is there a way to quantify how well sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube work in terms of getting the right attention for a film? And what might be other new forms of viral marketing as a way of getting the word out on a little film to pre-sell it or build awareness, especially when there's little or no marketing budget?

Providing the evening with a discreet whiff of dissent was vet distributor Richard Lorber, who, from the floor during the Q&A, observed (actually groused) that the event had largely been a pitch to first-time filmmakers and that the distributors represented weren't true indies because they were either owned by theatres or the studios. Take that, Sony Pictures Classics, Magnolia, etc.

Privately, a first-time indie director (but not a first-time filmmaker) whose feature is now in edit and who previously produced a strong title for Warner Home Video weighed in on the event to FJI: "It was all kind of basic stuff that I already knew. But it was really good to see so many players and to now be able to put names to faces so that I have more of a potential entry point. But I don't really think I learned anything new, though this gives me more confidence in my instincts [about the business]."

Her most important takeaway was how encouraging the panel was about the marketplace, that there is still a market for small indie films and that "it's no harder than before." She was also grateful to be reminded that finding a distributor isn't necessarily hard, but making money is.

And there's also some newfound confidence that more of her calls will be taken. All in all, this initial and successful HSBC/Snag/IndieWIRE evening assured that events to follow will provide more to chew on (cheese cubes aside).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

'Eat Pray Love' or blow 'em up with 'The Expendables'

By Sarah Sluis

This weekend will be an exciting one at the box office with three well-promoted films enticing audiences, some with mixed critical reception.

The expendables jason statham Opening on the most screens, The Expendables (3,720 theatres) is the man movie of all man movies. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jet Li, and a half-dozen other hulking heroes, the film centers mercenaries, this time assigned to overthrow a third-world dictator. They realize they're pawns of the CIA, a woman gets left behind, and of course they've got to go and save her. Stallone's latest has inspired quite a bit of word-of-mouth, including this boy's YouTube rave (how did he see the movie already?), in which he calls The Expendables "the best action movie I've ever seen." If horror films raise your adrenaline, it sounds like this movie will raise your testosterone--get ready to leave the theatre feeling pumped.

The book Eat Pray Love has already passed the Oprah test. Now the movie will take on the box office,

Julia roberts eat pray love opening in 2,800 theatres. This inspiring, self-development tale will get middle-aged women and book-readers into the theatres, and will probably draw in many infrequent moviegoers. For that reason, opening weekend isn't as big of a deal. If its opening weekend box-office take approaches The Expendables, Sony will have reason to cheer, since I expect this Julia Roberts starrer will do more business in subsequent weekends. Sony's had real success marketing these kinds of films (e.g. Julie & Julia), and there's already a large built-in audience for this movie, so all signs are pointing to a hit.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2,600 theatres) is a movie that's so new it can make even a twenty-something feel old, with its groundbreaking use of

Scott pilgrim michael cera video-game visuals. It's expected to open in the teen millions, though I'm not entirely sure how audiences will respond. After all, Kick-Ass was also a weird, different comic book movie and it finished under $50 million. At least this movie has a PG-13 rating and no "ass" in the title, which will make it more palatable to conservative audiences. I think word-of-mouth on the film's style will make or break the movie. Director Edgar Wright's innovative presentation may just be to today's audiences what Ferris Bueller talking to the camera was to '80s audiences.

Coming in under the radar, the well-reviewed Australian crime drama Animal Kingdom will open in a handful of theatres. According to critic Maitland McDonagh, director David Michod "managed to shrink The Godfather to nuclear-family dimensions without losing any of its epic intensity," which is enough for me to add the movie to my must-see list. Disney will drop off Tales from Earthsea in several markets, a long-delayed Japanese animated film directed by Goro Miyazaki, the son of the well-regarded Hayao Miyazaki.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Is 'Scott Pilgrim' the aesthetic of the future?

By Sarah Sluis

This Friday, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World will open and with it, viewers will be introduced to a new film aesthetic. Throughout the movie, words like "Kaboom" show up on the screen, characters get another chance by grabbing a 1UP extra life, video game-inspired voices shout out achievements like "double

Scott pilgrim michael cera combo" and the camera is placed so we see the characters at a vantage point that suggests they are in a video game. And did I mention that when characters die they are replaced with piles of coins for the winner to collect? What's more, the movie doesn't limit itself to video game references: In one scene, star Michael Cera gets laughs from a sitcom audience as he riffs on "Seinfeld," and fantasy-inspired touches also make their way into the film, including trippy dream sequences and doors popping out of nowhere that lead to new worlds.

The director, Edgar Wright, whom FJI interviewed for this issue, last directed Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Both comedies got laughs from their playful approach to their respective genres (horror and cop movies), but in the interview Wright is "adamant that those films are not spoofs, but rather grand homages to movies that [he and frequent co-writer Simon Pegg] both genuinely adore." Indeed, Wright's work seems to create something new and better out of his understanding of how these genres work, not something derivative.

In his review of the movie, our critic Frank Lovece placed Scott Pilgrim in the "magical realism" category, a style in which fantasy-type things happen in a world where these events are not viewed as strange but simply accepted as part of the story. He points out that in (500) Days in Summer, there's a moment where the lead character suddenly becomes part of a parading dance troupe that celebrates his newfound love. In that movie, just as in Wright's, there is no cue that moves us in between the real world and the fantasy world.

So perhaps Wright's contribution to movies will not necessarily be video game-style techniques, so to speak, but a willingness to incorporate fantasy without putting fuzzy edges at the edge of the frame. Certainly he's not the first person to do this, but his use of non-diegetic music and images within the story is all-encompassing and goes on for the entire length of the movie. It was new enough that, sitting in theatre, it took some time for me to absorb the fact that, yes, this is the way Wright is going to tell the story--and he's going to do it the whole way through. And despite the mild eye strain and frenetic (but fluid) pace of the movie, I admired the movie.

And, because it's entertaining, here's Jason Schwartzman and Michael Cera wreaking havoc on the morning TV weather forecast while promoting Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reese Witherspoon is Peggy Lee

By Sarah Sluis

Maybe Reese Witherspoon has the Oscar itch again? In 2006, she won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the singer and performer June Carter in the musical biopic Walk the Line. Now she's going back to the music and will star in a biopic of Peggy Lee. What's more, Nora Ephron will write and direct the movie.

Side by side, Lee and Witherspoon have a believable resemblance to each other, especially when they're matched for age. Perhaps that's why Witherspoon herself secured the rights to Lee's life from the family's estate after being approached by Lee's granddaughter.

Until recently, Ephron has never tackled the famous person genre, but the success of her adaptation of Julie & Julia last summer may have inspired her to take on this project. Ephron herself usually writes light romance and comedy, which makes me wonder if maybe this biopic will have a lighter take on Lee's life. Generally, musical biographies are filled with some pretty low lows. Lee's Wikipedia page mentions her four marriages, and some biographies mention that she drank heavily but may or may not have crossed the line of being an alcoholic. That's certainly enough to fill the dark chapter of most movies, but not so much that these need to be the defining lows of Lee's life. When Ephron wrote about Julia Child, what came across most was her ebullience and her zest for life. Yes, Ephron's film included some scenes of her difficulty putting together her cookbook, and her sadness at not having children like her sister, but the overall portrait was upbeat. Maybe that's what people need. I don't know if I want to see another dark movie about drug-abusing, alcoholic singers. I'd rather have one about a fun singer who maybe drinks a little too much and gets married a few too many times. Let's see what Ephron comes up with.

With Ephron and Witherspoon banded together, this project could get moving quickly. Witherspoon attaches herself to projects that don't always get off the ground (right away), but once Ephron announces a project, it seems to get made--she currently has zero projects in development on her IMDB page, while Witherspoon has fourteen projects. In the meantime, while Ephron writes the script, audiences can catch Witherspoon this December in the James L. Brooks comedy How Do You Know, and next April in the literary adaptation Water for Elephants--she's quite the busy actress.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Top spot goes to 'The Other Guys'

By Sarah Sluis

The Other Guys led the weekend with $35.6 million, easily unseating Inception, which finished second with $18.6 million. The opening was 50% higher than last week's debut of the comedy Dinner for Schmucks. Younger males turned out in force, and their eagerness to see the movie opening weekend

The other guys wahlberg ferrell helped drive up the first-week gross. The robust debut also affirms Will Ferrell's standing at the box office after last year's flop Land of the Lost. Ferrell will likely be lining up his next big-budget, starring role in the near future. Within the next 12 months, however, we'll see Ferrell wearing a smartly arranged set of hats designed to expand his star persona beyond that of a studio comedy headliner: he's starring in the indie movie Everything Must Go, which is debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival, he's doing voicework in DreamWorks Animation's Megamind, and producing the low-budget teen sex comedy The Virginity Hit. That's what I'd call a diversified portfolio.

In third place, Step Up 3D brought in $15.5 million. 75% of the theatres were 3D, and they brought in 81% of the total revenue. Higher ticket prices should have brought the total from the 3D theatres at least

Step up 3d wall of stereos 25% higher, since most 3D surcharges add that much to the ticket price, so this suggests that 3D theatres underperformed. Variety points out that there are currently four 3D movies out right now, however, and that smaller venues may have scheduled 3D showings of the movie at less opportune times. Since Step Up opened to $20.6 million and Step Up 2 The Streets opened to $18.9 million, this further dip in the opening weekend gross likely spells the end of the franchise.

The Kids Are All Right broke into the top ten, earning $2.6 million in its latest expansion into 147 more locations for a total of 994 theatres. Oddly enough, the movie did a million dollars more last weekend but only eked out a twelfth-place finish. The story of a lesbian-led household and their teens' quest to seek out their sperm donor father has earned $14 million to date, testament both to the movie's good reviews and the subject's appeal in the marketplace.

Rob Reiner's kid-oriented comedy Flipped debuted in 45 theatres with a $5,200 per-screen average, a decent opening figure. This movie is set for expansion in coming weeks so it will need strong

Twelve chace crawford word-of-mouth from initial viewers to propel it forward. The glamorous-teens-gone-bad film Twelve couldn't find its viewers and played to nearly empty theatres, posting just a $460 per-screen average for a total of $107,000. Middle Men, which stars Luke Wilson, also had a disappointing opening weekend, with a light $1,200 per-screen average for a total of $305,000. With a reported budget of $20 million, it looks like Paramount just dumped this movie and hoped for the best.

Lebanon's two-screen debut averaged $8,300 per screen, slightly smaller than another Sony Pictures Classics release about the Lebanon War. Waltz with Bashir averaged $10,000 per screen during its debut weekend in the 2008 holiday season. The Wildest Dream averaged $5,300 per screen on a dozen screens, a respectable amount for the National Geographic release.

This Friday, uber-female picture Eat Pray Love will go up against uber-male action movie The Expendables. The teen-oriented, comic-inspired Scott Pilgrim vs. The World will round out the bunch.

Friday, August 6, 2010

'The Other Guys' set to unseat 'Inception'

By Sarah Sluis

It's time for The Other Guys to have a turn. Inception has been at the top spot at the box office for three weeks running, which should end once the Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg cop comedy hits 3,651

The other guys will ferrell tie theatres
today. Last June, Ferrell took a nosedive with Land of the Lost, a huge bomb that also happened to release the same weekend as the surprise comedy hit of the summer, The Hangover. With The Other Guys, Ferrell will have a shot at redemption. The movie's currently posting a 78% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and FJI critic Frank Lovece called the comedy a "surprisingly witty satire of buddy-cop movies" that "punctures the testosterone bags of a zillion buddy and even lone-wolf cop movies."

Kind of like an urban, older version of High School Musical with frenetically paced professional dancing, Step Up 3D steps into 2,435 theatres this weekend. The "dynamite" dancing, according to critic Maitland McDonagh, also includes a sequence

Step up 3d with two characters dancing through the New York City streets, staged using "a series of extended long shots," "incorporating taxis, brownstone steps and various props," and taking a little bit of inspiration from the 1949 Gene Kelly/Frank Sinatra musical On the Town. Bet that'll sell the movie to today's teenagers.

Opening in 252 theatres, Middle Men stars Luke Wilson as a good guy caught in the sordid side of the Internet boom days. For all the crimes that take place in the movie, however, "the film is no more salacious than an average Lady Gaga video," according to critic Daniel Eagan. Director George Gallo's focus on the "remorse and repentance side" of the "combustible premise," instead of using it for satire, left him cold.

Kind of like a feature-length version of "Gossip Girl" (as if teens needed anything more than that to rush to the theatres), Twelve debuts in 300 theatres. Chace Crawford (a "Gossip Girl" heartbreaker) stars in the tale of glamorous rich kids getting tied up in drugs, violence, and sex. Director Joel Schumacher (age 70) turns out to be handy at the job, to a point, according to critic Kirk Honeycutt, "[giving] enough texture to the tale that one might overlook its soap-opera aspects until the film implodes in the end from an excess of

Flipped movie overheated elements." It's not clear how well this film was marketed, so its success may come down to its ability to get the word out among teenage audiences.

Rob Reiner, who last directed senior-friendly The Bucket List, will hit the same demographic with Flipped. Set in the 1960s, the movie centers on a cute tale of young love that will be sure to inspire nostalgia. Rated just PG, this suburban-set movie looks like an extended version of "The Wonder Years," and is releasing in 45 theatres--but not New York City, which may be too hardened to appreciate the tale.

There's an unusually high number of well-regarded specialty films coming out this weekend, so there's

Lebanon samuel maoz room to put a few on your to-see list. The highly praised Lebanon, which will make you never, ever want to go to war, much less be confined in a tank, opens in NYC and LA. The war drama is so unlike the usual American approach, free of the patriotism, bravado, and never-let-you-downs that appear in U.S. war movies, even anti-war ones. Pretend you're climbing Everest in the documentary The Wildest Dream (12 theatres), a "gorgeous adventure film" and "suspenseful quest" according to critic Erica Abeel. To see a romance set in the Arab world that's not Sex and the City 2, seek Cairo Time (5 theatres), which drew raves at the Tribeca Film Festival this year. Or, if you're in the mood for some English-accented intrigue, there's The Disappearance of Alice Creed (12 theatres), a "nifty little Brit thriller" that centers on a kidnapping.

On Monday, I'll assess Will Ferrell's market value and the performance of The Other Guys, see if teenage audiences were wowed by Step Up 3D or Twelve, and see which of the specialty releases did well enough to warrant a broad expansion.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Disney kills 'Newt,' postpones 'Beauty and the Beast 3D'

By Sarah Sluis

Newt has been dead for months now, but the Pixar project was officially taken off Disney's slate in an

Newt_concept announcement today. The movie was to center on the last two newts left on Earth, who predictably hate each other (but of course are meant for each other). It looks like the project was pushed out by the sequels of Cars and Monsters, Inc., as well as the original project The Bear and the Bow. R.I.P., Newt.

The other announcement was the indefinite postponement of the 3D re-release of Beauty and the Beast in theatres. If Disney took the pulse of the market correctly, this move could have implications for other 3D re-releases. The official word is that Beauty and the Beast would have to release in a crowded market, but there's also the possibility that Disney doesn't want to orchestrate a re-release without an upcoming tie-in or sequel to spread out marketing costs and add revenue.

By comparison, the Toy Story/Toy Story 2 3D re-release in fall 2009 made $30 million. Once you take the estimated conversion cost of $15 million per film as well as marketing costs into account, it doesn't seem Beauty3das though the re-release could have made much of a profit. But because the re-release renewed interest in the Toy Story franchise and the upcoming Toy Story 3, profitability of the theatrical re-release might not have mattered in the grand scheme of things.

In order to make money off the re-release of Beauty and the Beast in 3D, Disney had planned on parents buying the exact same thing (possibly in 3D) for their Blu-rays--a much tougher task. For now, they plan to release the 20th anniversary version of Beauty and the Beast not in 3D, but 2D--despite the fact that a 3D version exists! The 3D home market is expected to take off this year, but so far movies like Clash of the Titans, which just made a huge splash on DVD and Blu-ray, have not been released in 3D. The holiday season is traditionally a time for plenty of DVD/Blu-ray releases and home electronics purchases, so this will be the season that reveals whether 3D films hit the home market--or not.

The postponement shows that Disney feels consumers aren't ready to buy 3D movies (which require newer, capable televisions as well as a Blu-ray player) and that it will be difficult to get consumers to buy tickets to an older title. For now, we'll just have to wait to see that famous ballroom dancing scene pop out on a big screen.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Trend: Older woman/younger woman movies

By Sarah Sluis

Today in pickup news, Fox announced it will develop 29: A Novel, a soon-to-be-published novel by Adina Halpern. The author's previous novel, The Best Ten Days of My Life, was also picked up by Fox, with Amy Adams attached to star and Shawn Levy to direct. 29 centers on a 75-year-old woman who has employed every means possible to look younger. She wishes to be 29, just for a day, and gets her wish. With the

Images207006_StreepMeryl_Devil help of her granddaughter, she has a magical, youthful day, while her own daughter and her similarly aged best friend search for the "missing" woman. This kind of story, let's be clear, is not original. It's a little bit of Freaky Friday, 13 Going On 30, 17 Again, and every other age-reversing tale out there. But instead of someone wanting to be a teenager again (or out of the angst-filled

teen years), the story will target one retirement-age woman and another the age of the young

urban professional. This project continues a trend that's led to box-office success as of late: the pairing a 20 to 30-something actress with a 50+ actress.

2008's Mamma Mia! teamed up Meryl Streep with rising star Amanda Seyfried. Sure, European audiences were drawn in by the ABBA soundtrack, but younger audiences (like myself) came for the younger heroine, but, of course, were charmed by Streep's wonderful performance and fabulous rendition of "Dancing Queen." The movie ended up earning over five times its opening weekend. Streep also filled the position of the older actress in The Devil Wears Prada, which co-starred Anne Hathaway. The movie grossed $125 million, also five times its opening weekend.

Seyfriend repeated the gig of playing opposite an older woman in this May's Letters to Juliet, which teamed her up with Vanessa Redgrave (age 73!). The

Letters_to_juliet movie opened small but quintupled its opening weekend gross over several weeks (making the five-times-opening-weekend formula pretty standard among this genre of films), and generating a tidy profit for Summit.

Last week, I wrote about the development of Mommy & Me, which will pair Streep with Tina Fey, and bring in a wide age range of female audiences. Streep also did this with Julie & Julia, which co-starred thirty-something Amy Adams. Because so many of these old-young movies co-star Streep, it's tempting to attribute it all to her, but this analysis doesn't hold up. Streep's female-centered films that did not include a prominent younger co-star didn't do as well at the box office. It's Complicated also didn't quite achieve the level of success of Streep's films that featured a younger star significantly involved in the plotline. Evening may be the black sheep here, or the exception that proves the rule. The small film that cast Toni Collette and Claire Danes in its "younger" roles, didn't do as well (even though I saw it in theatres, true to form, with my mother and aunt!), perhaps because the younger actresses Collette and Danes were past their twenties and no longer rising stars, or perhaps because the talent roster, which also included older stars Glenn Close and Vanessa Redgrave alongside Streep, was too weighted on the older end of the spectrum.

These younger-older woman stories are perfect for mother-daughter movie dates, but they also seem to attract audiences that are exclusively younger or older. Young audiences have embraced older actresses like Betty White, who was the recipient of a youth-driven, Facebook campaign for her to host "Saturday Night Live" (It worked). Coincidentally, White herself will soon appear as a grandmother in another younger woman/older woman movie, You Again, coming out in September. Kristen Bell plays a woman whose brother is marrying her high school enemy, and it turns out the mothers (50+ actresses Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver) also are high school enemies. Of course, Hollywood can only repeat a formula so many times before the audience begins to tire of it, but for now the young-old pairings are the hot way to draw in both female quadrants to the box office.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Diablo Cody is back with 'Young Adult'

By Sarah Sluis

Screenwriter Diablo Cody soared with Juno and then crashed and burned with Jennifer's Body. Her next project will re-team her with Mandate Pictures, the folks that made Juno. Young Adult will center on a divorced writer of YA (young adult) books who goes back to the Heartland to stalk her ex-boyfriend, who's now married with a kid.

Diablo_cody Charlize Theron is in contention to play the lead female role, and Jason Reitman, who showed he could translate Cody's tone in Juno, will direct. According to The Playlist blog, which read the screenplay, the script "largely [dispenses] with the annoying slang she's been tagged with and is refreshingly unhip." It also reveals that there's a third main role that needs to be cast. While she's chasing down her ex, she befriends a high school classmate who was beaten and crippled by jocks who thought he was gay, and now is overweight, disabled, and stuck in the town. It's a pretty gutsy backstory for a supporting character, almost as if a little piece of Boys Don't Cry is thrown in another movie, but for some reason I'm imagining this character as Damian in Mean Girls, who has a sense of humor about being bullied (not crippled, though) for being chubby and gay by his fellow classmates.

What's compelling about Young Adult is that the premise will once again invert audience expectations. Juno gave us a character who handled teen pregnancy in a manner against type, turning what's usually framed as a melodramatic, Lifetime TV movie situation into something upbeat and light-hearted. In Young Adult, Cody appears to do the same thing. Many a romantic comedy heroine has gone stalking and remained endearing to the audience, but Cody apparently makes her anti-hero unhinged, selfish, and not particularly likable. How refreshing!

Cody has a compelling, unique style, and I believe she has another Juno in her. Young Adult may be it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

'Inception' stays at the head of the table, with 'Dinner for Schmucks' close behind

By Sarah Sluis

For the third week in a row, Inception led the pack at the box office. The dreamy sci-fi movie dipped just 35% to $27.3 million, for a total of $193 million. That means the movie will cross the $200 million mark within the next few days. If it continues to drop around 30% for the rest of its run, it will finish just shy of $300 million.

Dinner for schmucks carell rudd Debuting in second place, the Steve Carell-led Dinner for Schmucks rang up $23.3 million. Based on the French comedy Le Dner des Cons, the remake received mixed reviews (averaging 51% on Rotten Tomatoes). The question here is if the movie will end up with a run similar to Carell's April release Date Night, which opened to $25 million but finished with a figure four times its opening weekend. The tamer PG-13 Date Night, which also co-starred a woman, has more of a mass-market appeal, but Schmucks features Carell as an oblivious buffoon somewhat similar to his Michael Scott character on "The Office," which could draw in audiences.

The idea of pet movies as box-office gold suffered a setback with the $12.5 million debut weekend of Cats & Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. The first Cats & Dogs, which released ages ago in 2001,

Cats&dogs revenge of kitty galore MEOWS opened to $21.7 million. With all the original fans of the series now in their teen years, it's no wonder the sequel failed to generate significant buzz.

Zac Efron was able to secure a $12.1 million opening for his romantic drama Charlie St. Cloud, playing a sensitive young man overwrought with guilt over the death of his younger brother. Awareness and intent to see was high among teen girls, but for the movie to open higher it needed to

Charlie st cloud zac efron appeal to broader audience. Efron can enjoy the fact that his weepie romantic movie played better than that of the competition. Twilighter Robert Pattinson's Remember Me opened to just $8 million in March.

On the specialty front, The Kids Are All Right expanded yet again, going from 201 to 847 theatres and bringing in $3.4 million for a total that's now hovering just under the $10 million mark.

Get Low, starring Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Billy Murray, had an equally starry debut in four theatres with a per-screen average of $22,700. The Weinstein Co.'s The Concert averaged $10,000 per screen on two screens, and the documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, Rebel earned $10,000 on one screen.

This Friday, Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell take on the buddy cop comedy in The Other Guys, and Step Up 3D brings urban dancing to theatres everywhere.