Monday, January 31, 2011

'The Rite' finds disciples and audiences crown 'The King's Speech'

By Sarah Sluis

Exorcism-themed The Rite led the box office this weekend with $15 million. More a thriller than a horror movie, the film lured a slightly older audience, and attracted both genders equally. Back in August, The Rite religious Last Exorcism opened to $24 million, so this movie did well considering its inferior January timeslot.

Action-fueled The Mechanic tied with The Green Hornet, earning $11.5 million. Distributor CBS Films has been struggling to get some hits. This film will be their second-highest opening weekend after The Back-Up Plan. Mechanic jason statham gas station

In the wake of its twelve Oscar nominations, Weinstein Co. release The King's Speech launched an expansion that led to a 40% increase from last week and $11.1 million. Compared to other nominees, this story of friendship between a stuttering king and his speech therapist held back from pursuing a quick expansion. In terms of cumulative gross, it's still behind The Social Network, True Grit, and Black Swan, but it's approaching the total of The Fighter, which is currently at $78 million after eight weeks, compared to The King's Speech's $72 million in ten weeks. New York Times columnist David Carr Kings speech firth rush_ recently wrote an article talking about Harvey Weinstein's comeback, comparing him to Jason rising from the dead in Friday the 13th. The King's Speech performance, both at the box office and awards shows (it recently won the DGA award for Best Feature Directing and the SAG award for Best Ensemble), is a big win for a distributor that was near bankruptcy a year ago.

127 Hours also launched an expansion in the wake of Oscar nominations, adding another $2 million to the film's coffers. Even as most of the nominated films dropped theatres, True Grit rose 4% to $7.6 million, and The Fighter dipped just 2.6% to $4 million. Black Swan glided down 33% to $5.1 million. Blue Valentine, farther down the list, rose 33% to bring in $1.1 million.

Hispanic-targeted romantic comedy From Prada to Nada opened outside of the top ten with $1.1 million, but its per-screen average of $4,300 bested half of the releases in the top ten.

This Friday, the Super Bowl's not getting in the way of male-targeted releases. Sanctum 3D will enter the fray, hoping to get the adrenaline-fueled crowd before the big Sunday football game. Targeting teen females not interested by the game, The Roommate, starring "Gossip Girl's" Leighton Meester, will also hit theatres.

Friday, January 28, 2011

'Rite' and 'Mechanic' compete against specialty pics flush with Oscar nods

By Sarah Sluis

The action thriller The Mechanic (2,703 theatres) sounds like typical late-January B-movie fare, but critic Maitland McDonagh begs to differ. The "sleek, brutally succinct thriller" comes along with an Mechanic_jason statham stab "emotional pitch [that] lies somewhere between those of King Lear and a Roadrunner cartoon, which doesn't sound like much until you stop to seriously consider the range of most mainstream action movies." Jason Statham also turns in a praise-worthy performance, projecting an "elusive warmth."

Marketed as a horror movie, The Rite (2,985 theatres) should draw in plenty of young females. McDonagh, however, feels that the exorcism movie does not fall within the genre, and "anyone who buys in expecting levitation, Rite religious demonic apparitions and sundry other gross-out clichs will be disappointed." It's really about "the power of faith," told through "the relationship between a cynical seminarian and [an] unorthodox but devout exorcist." Warner Bros. has apparently been marketing this movie heavily to Hispanic viewers, many of whom are Catholic, and avid moviegoers to boot.

In the wake of the Oscar nominations, The King's Speech will up its screen count to 2,553 theatres, an addition of over 800 theatres. Studio head Harvey Weinstein has also reportedly talked about recutting the film to remove the F-word, and thus secure a PG-13 or PG rating. 127 Hours, which received nods for Best Picture and Best Actor for James Franco, is expanding to 916 locations. Franco is not only a nominee for Best Actor, but he's also doubling as one of the Oscar hosts, a nice increase in exposure for the movie.

Biutiful (57 theatres) reach more ticketbuyers this week, sure to benefit from its two Oscar nominations, one for Best Foreign Language Film and another for its star, Javier Bardem. While critic Biutiful javier bardem David Noh wasn't the biggest fan of the movie, he praised the "wearily weathered and better than ever" Bardem, who "proves the very heart and soul of this film."

The Sense and Sensibility-inspired From Prada to Nada (256 theatres) follows two wealthy young women who move in with their aunt after misfortune befalls their family. The romantic comedy is an attempt to woo the Latino market, which is a strong consumer of movies, especially in their first week. While few reviews are on the scene, the first-week receipts should predict whether this movie is among the likes of Prada, or nada.

On Monday, we'll return to analyze which Oscar-nominated films saw the biggest bumps over the weekend, and if The Rite and The Mechanic were able to pull in their respective audiences (apparently the Statham pic is tracking extremely well with older males).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kristen Stewart in talks for 'Snow White'

By Sarah Sluis

On the screen and off, Twilight star Kristen Stewart always looks so...well, grumpy. Is she one of those people whose mien just comes across as sour, or is she actually always in a bad mood? Given her limited range of expressions, it seems that her tenure as an actress would be limited, but instead she's carved out a niche playing moody characters.

Stewart is currently in talks to star in the action fairy tale Snow White and the Huntsman, and no, she wouldn't be playing Grumpy the dwarf. She would play Snow White--you know, the one who delighted in the seven dwarves' song "Whistle While You Work"?

This Universal reboot of the fairy tale has signed on Viggo Mortensen to play the Huntsman and Charlize Theron as the witch. Universal wanted Stewart back in December, then changed its mind and decided to pursue an unknown actress (including Sundance ingnue Felicity Jones), before returning back to Stewart.

It's a logical fit for Stewart to stay within the fantasy category. Can I point out that the book cover of Twilight has a character holding an apple, the same symbol that figures so prominently in the Snow White story? In Snow White and the Huntsman, the Huntsman character serves as a mentor and protector to Snow White, not so far from good vampire Robert Pattinson protecting Bella (Stewart) from evil vampires.

I suppose there's a danger of Stewart being typecast, but she's done plenty of films outside of the Twilight series: a rocker in The Runaways a young prostitute in Welcome to the Rileys, a teen theme-park employee in Adventureland. She can definitely break outside of the supernatural romance category, but why not sidestep into a fairy tale romance/action film? Stewart will also need a blockbuster hit outside of the Twilight series to prove she's a commercial draw(and avoid the Mark Hamill syndrome), and this project may be it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sundance Film Festival a hot market for pickups

By Sarah Sluis

Recently, all the talk has been about how slow the indie film market has been. Well, that stops with Sundance 2011. This year there has been pickup after pickup. Indie film lovers, it's time to get excited, because many of these movies will hit theatres this year.

The Details: The Weinstein Co. picked up this spiraling-out-of-control comedy, in which a couple's battle with raccoons in their home escalates, threatening their marriage and also leading to "extortion, organ donation, and murder." Elizabeth Banks, Tobey Maguire, and Laura Linney star. One of my biggest gripes is comedies that aren't funny, so if this film charmed the Sundance crowd I'm willing to bet it will give me some chuckles. Also, doesn't the dark comedy kind of sound like Election, in which Matthew Broderick's attempt to sabotage Reese Witherspoon's class president campaign ends up sabotaging everything in his own life?

Another earth Another Earth: Fox Searchlight was the recepient of this drama, which centers on a young woman who's looking up at the stars (another planet) and crashes into another car, killing a man's family. She's imprisoned, but later seeks redemption and contacts the surviving patriarch of the family. The storyline doesn't really sum up well, and sounds rather morbid in summary, but its "standing ovations" at Sundance mean this film will be one to watch (while keeping your eye on the road!).

Homework: Fox Searchlight is definitely releasing this high school comedy this year. It's about a boy who doesn't do his homework all through high school, and the girl who loves him (Emma Roberts). What more can you say, but hope that this follows in the footsteps of zeitgeist-y movies like Mean Girls and last year's well-regarded Easy A, starring Emma Stone.

Like Crazy: This romance, which will release through Paramount, has been described as a lighter Like crazy movie_ version of Blue Valentine, one of my favorite moves from 2010. A girl and boy fall in love, but she violates her visa and is trapped in England, leading to a series of just-misses and just-in-times. Star Felicity Jones has received praise along the lines of "the next Carey Mulligan," and Winter's Bone Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence and Anton Yelchin also star.

Of these four films, The Details and Homework look most like they're treading a familiar path, albeit with a fresh look at a story whose outline is somewhat familiar. Like Crazy has a little bit of a Crash/Babel feel to it by bringing visas and politics into the story (though this is hardly the kind of immigrant that inspires political debate, much like the Canadian book editor who overstayed her visa in The Proposal). Another Earth tackles mourning, not one of my favorite movie subjects, but after comparing the film to loss-of-a-child drama Rabbit Hole, critic Kirk Honeycutt also calls this movie "science fiction at its best." With young casts, and off-the-beaten-path plots, this year's Sundance pickups have me eagerly waiting for their release dates.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar snubs: A history of overlooked performances

By Kevin Lally

Ryan Gosling, Mila Kunis, Andrew Garfield and Julianne Moore, you're not alone. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a history of neglecting great performances when the five nominations in Vertigo3 each acting category are announced each year. In fact, the roll call of overlooked actors includes some of the most beloved and indelible portrayals in screen history. Here's our personal list of remarkable performanceswhich did not receiveanOscar nomination. We welcome your own additions to the Academy's (dis)honor roll.

James Stewart in Vertigo

Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter

Humphrey Bogart in Treasure of the Sierra Madre

James Cagney in White Heat

John Wayne in The Searchers

Anthony Perkins in Psycho

Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity

Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt

Teresa Wright in Shadow of a Doubt

Andy Griffith in A Face in the Crowd

Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve

Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz

Ray Bolger in The Wizard of Oz

Bert Lahr in The Wizard of Oz

Charles Chaplin in Modern Times

Toshiro Mifune in The Seven Samurai

James Mason in Bigger Than Life

Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success

Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby

Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis

Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet

Robert De Niro in Mean Streets

Myrna Loy in The Best Years of Our Lives

James Stewart in The Naked Spur

Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca

Carole Lombard in Twentieth Century

Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train

Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday

Marlene Dietrich in A Foreign Affair

River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho

Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands

Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby

Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers

Robert Preston in The Music Man

Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot

Liv Ullmann in Scenes from a Marriage

Orson Welles in Touch of Evil

Sidney Poitier in In the Heat of the Night

Clark Gable in The Misfits

Klaus Kinski in Aguirre, The Wrath of God

Paul Giamatti in Sideways

Steve Martin in All of Me

Ralph Richardson in The Fallen Idol

Spencer Tracy in Fury

Carmen Maura in Law of Desire

Gloria Grahame in The Big Heat

Claude Rains in The Invisible Man

Gary Oldman in Sid and Nancy

James Cagney in One, Two, Three

Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory

Denzel Washington in Philadelphia

Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns

Unpacking the Academy Award nominations--and snubs

By Sarah Sluis

Early this morning, the Motion Picture Academy announced its nominees. With ten movies in the Best Picture section, this category actually had the least amount of drama. The five-nominee sections actually narrowed the field, removing strong contenders who had critics rooting for them.

John hawkes winters bone The two tiniest films in the Best Picture nominee section, The Kids Are All Right and Winter's Bone, both assembled a smattering of nominations in other sections. Especially for Winter's Bone, this was a big accomplishment. John Hawkes, who hadn't received nearly as much buzz as Best Actress nominee Jennifer Lawrence, scored a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. After adding in the Ozark drama's Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, Winter's Bone scored a total of four nominations.

The Kids Are All Right had a similar scorecard: two acting nominations (Annette Bening for lead female, Mark Ruffalo for supporting male), Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. Julianne Moore, who was just as worthy as Bening in my book, was left off. Maybe it's a question of seniority? Or Moore's terrible Boston accent on "30 Rock"?

One tiny movie that barely got any love from the Academy was Blue Valentine. Michelle Williams is in the mix for Best Actress, but her co-star Ryan Gosling was left off the ballot. A bit of an indie dark horse, it's not that surprising this movie struck out at the Oscars. In all honesty, I think it skewed a little young. There was a lot more talk about Another Year, which skewed older, than Blue Valentine. It's only the fact that Valentine is distributed by Weinstein Co. that it got as far as it did. Another Year's Lesley Manville failed to get an acting nomination despite getting raves for her performance, though director Mike Leigh's script is nominated in the original screenplay category. With just one nomination each, both of these films just barely made it into the Oscars.

The Academy treated a few films very well: 127 Hours rallied with six nominations, though some in lesser categories. Director Danny Boyle didn't get a nod, but he and his co-writer (Slumdog Millionaire Oscar winner Simon Beaufoy) are nominees for the Adapted Screenplay Oscar. True Grit, which got 127 hours boyle franco completely snubbed at the Golden Globes with Z-E-R-O nominations, received an astonishing ten nominations, leading the Coens to release a statement saying "Ten seems like an awful lot...we don't want to take anyone else's."

This summer's blockbuster Inception scored eight nominations, but the only big ones were for its script and Best Picture. Director Chris Nolan has now made three Oscar-worthy films (Memento, The Dark Knight, Inception) without earning a directing nomination for himself. One thing's sure, however: Inception will bring home a lot of those more technical awards. Whatever the movie was lacking, jaw-dropping special effects and technical prowess were not among them.

The announcement of the Oscars still puts us over a month away from the big day (33 days away!). Awards fatigue has definitely set in, at least for me--I mean come on, giving out awards for 2010 three whole months after the year ends? Now that the nominations have been announced, however, there will be plenty of time to strategize Oscar picks (hint from Awards Daily: The Social Network) and win the office pool.

Monday, January 24, 2011

'No Strings Attached' reels in female audiences

By Sarah Sluis

The sex-first/romance-second comedy No Strings Attached overperformed this weekend, tipping over the twenty million mark to finish with $20.3 million. 70% of the turnout was female. Star Natalie No strings attached natalie portman ashton kutcher Portman hasn't really done anything in the romantic comedy genre, so this shows she can come across as an appealing, likeable heroine to female viewers.

In its second week, The Green Hornet dove 46% to $18.1 million. Its performance is better than last year's fanboy extravaganza Kick-Ass, and has also held onto audiences better than star Seth Rogen's stoner comedy Pineapple Express. Might there be buzz of a sequel soon?

Director Peter Weir's The Way Back drew in paltry audiences despite positive reviews and a well-known cast. With $1.4 million in receipts, the Siberian prison-escape movie finished outside of the top ten due to its meager $2,100 per-screen The way back well average.

The Weinstein Co.'s The Company Men fared better, averaging $7,300 per screen on its 106 playdates. By comparison, however, this season's heavy-hitters were averaging $20,000-$40,000 per screen before expanding, so this is not a film that's going to be in for the long haul. Count this as one strikeout in the Weinstein Co.'s rebounding batting average.

Among platform releases in the top ten, The King's Speech showed the most traction, holding onto fourth place and $9.1 million by sliding just .2% from last week while adding a conservative 137 screens for a still-small 1,637-screen run. True Grit and Black Swan both fell in the 25% range, posting $8 million and $6.2 million weekends, respectively. The Fighter followed with $6.5 million and a smaller 11% drop from the previous week.

IFC's The Housemaid brought in a strong $18,000 per screen at two locations, a sign this movie will perform well across all of IFC's platforms, including on-demand.

This Friday, Jason Statham-led action film The Mechanic will open alongside the religious-tinged horror movie The Rite. A targeted release of From Prada to Nada, a romantic comedy from Lionsgate's Latino-focused Pantelion Films, will also enter the arena.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Paramount pulling for 'No Strings Attached'

By Sarah Sluis

Leading this weekend's releases is the Ashton Kutcher/Natalie Portman romantic comedy No Strings Attached (3,012 theatres). Although there's a cute supporting flock (Mindy Kaling, Lake Bell, Greta Portman kutcher no strings attached_ Gerwig), the romance between Portman and Kutcher is "laugh deficient," and "we're really not sure we'd want to go home with this movie," critic Frank Lovece concludes. Still, there's some intrigue to seeing Portman, a recent Golden Globe winner, in her first true romantic comedy. As an added bonus, her character is no shrinking violet. Without any similar competition in the marketplace, the laugher should approach $20 million.

Director Peter Weir takes on a true story that was later revealed to be fake in The Way Back (650 theatres). The film chronicles the pre-WWII journey of seven prisoners who escape a Soviet gulag and trek to India, a British territory. Critic Rex Roberts lamented that the movie falls just short. "All the elements for an award-garnering motion picture seem in place�an accomplished cast and crew, majestic The way back peter weir landscapes to serve as stage sets, and a celebrated director whose sensibility perfectly suits the material�all except one, but one that makes all the difference: dramatic tension." The talented actors (including Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, and Saoirse Ronan) and director partially save a movie that ends up being a "curious combination of the inspiring and the tedious."

The Company Men (106 theatres) is a recession-themed drama centered on downsizing among the privileged corporate set. Director John Wells has a strong television background, but "feature film technique seems to have baffled him," critic Daniel Eagan observes. While unemployed workers should be ripe for audience empathy, "the lead characters are so distinctly unlikeable and weak that the performers can't do much with their roles, no matter how carefully they act," Eagan concludes.

Housemaid still The Korean-language remake of the country's 1960s classic The Housemaid (2 theatres) debuts at IFC theatres. Critic Doris Toumarkine faulted the suspense tale because "it doesn't advance this sub-genre in any way or uncover anything more than familiar naughty behavior." That's true. However, I count myself as one of the audience members she suspected might "get a charge out of the relatively exotic modern Korean settings," which include depictions both of Korea's upper class and underclass.

On Monday, we'll see if audiences fell for No Strings Attached and if this debut film was able to beat the second weekend of comic book hit The Green Hornet.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Will Smith and daughter Willow may remake 'Annie'

By Sarah Sluis

Will Smith is creating a family empire. Last summer, the box-office dynamo shepherded his son Jaden through his first solo starring role, the hit remake of The Karate Kid. Smith had previously starred in The Pursuit of Happyness with Jaden as his son, and now it appears he wants to take a similar route with his daughter, Willow. The ten-year-old would star with her father in a remake of Annie. She would play the titular orphan, and it's presumed Smith will take on the Daddy Warbucks role. Jay-Z, who Annie-original-Willow-Smith
famously remixed "Hard Knock Life" a decade ago, plans to collaborate on the music.

The fact that Jay-Z plans to work on the music hints that this could be a new kind of musical with rap and pop influences. The actors would be able to hold their own: Smith had several hits as a rapper, and his daughter Willow recently released an album featuring the rap/pop single "Whip My Hair." Annie is one of my favorite musicals, but I'm not a purist: I would welcome the opportunity to see the story re-framed not as a Depression-era tale but one reflecting the struggles of another impoverished environment, such as an urban ghetto. I'm sure that the orphanage could be reimagined, as could the mission of the hucksters who want to game the system and reclaim Annie as their own for personal reward. I'd actually prefer if they kept the historical distance, however, perhaps setting the movie during the nadir of urban decay in the '80s (making a rap-influenced score much more plausible).

Musicals have a hard time in the marketplace, but there are some successes that bode well for the reboot of this movie. One has been the resurgence of the musical on TV with the success of "Glee," which puts well-known songs into the hand of a high school chorus/glee club. Second has been the success of the Step Up series, which is not so much a backstage musical as a backstage dance-off, with digressive dance numbers that audiences accept and enjoy, to the point that the series has spawned two sequels with one more in the making.

Annie may not be an original idea, but a remake under the supervision of Will Smith and Jay-Z has the chance to turn the story into an emblem of another zeitgeist and infuse the songs with the sounds of a modern era and "Tomorrow."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Globes favor 'Social Network,' BAFTA likes 'King's Speech'

By Sarah Sluis

The Golden Globes have come and gone, and in their wake they've rewarded The Social Network with the highest honor, Best Motion Picture - Drama. But the race is far from over. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), whose ceremony is held closer to the Academy Awards, announced their nominations, and The King's Speech is the frontrunner with fourteen nominations.

Social network andrew garfield So, as it stands, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association rewarded the Citizen Kane-inspired close-up of the American entrepreneurial spirit, and the BAFTAs are giving a pat on the back to their former king who cured his stutter. Will the Academy Awards be about the movie, or a statement about the kind of film that should win? If it's the latter, I think The Social Network has an excellent chance, given its all-American anti-hero and embrace of the Internet. Or the statement could be more traditional: The Academy is known for being a bit of an Anglophile, and British films win in significant numbers. There's also the fact that The King's Speech has the backing of The Weinstein Co., which has a history of successfully securing both Oscar nods and wins. With The King's Speech the frontrunner for BAFTA and The Social Network the winner of the Golden Globes, I think the Best Picture race has narrowed to those two (with The Fighter the underdog, just like Micky).

Best Director:

The BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and Directors Guild of America matched four out of five nominees for Best Director: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), David Fincher (The Social Network) and Christopher Nolan (Inception). Of these four, only Fincher has been previously nominated in the directing category (Benjamin Button). With The Social Network playing so strongly in the awards season, I wouldn't be surprised if Fincher grabs the Best Director prize. Also, his 2007 film Zodiac, which was snubbed entirely during awards season, now turns up on a lot of retrospective "top ten of the Kings speech colin firth_ decade" lists, and Academy Awards are often given based on the body of work. Aronofsky and Nolan, who have both directed fine films, could also win using this logic, but their lack of nominations makes me think the Academy wouldn't mind having them wait a bit longer. As a counterpoint to that argument, Tom Hooper is a relatively fresh face on the directing scene, whose main credentials are the stunning HBO miniseries "John Adams" and the Brit-focused movie The Damned United (he's also a prolific director on British television). The DGA (Directors Guild of America) will announce their pick for Best Director on Jan. 29, and after that this category will be a near-lock, given the DGA award's correlation with the Oscar for Best Director.

The Academy Awards countdown: 39 days.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Audiences swarm for 'The Green Hornet'

By Sarah Sluis

Whoever at Sony decided to push The Green Hornet to a January release is getting a nice pat on the back right now. The post-holiday release opened better than Little Fockers and not far under action fare Green hornet seth rogen like Tron: Legacy. Though the movie won't have the high weekday earnings of the December releases, the four-day weekend gave it a chance to rack up $40 million in four days ($33.7 million came from the three-day weekend).

The marriage/adultery-themed romantic comedy The Dilemma finished in second place, laughing up $20.5 million over the four-day period. Star Vince Vaughn's previous film, Couples Retreat, earned twice as much its opening weekend, making this debut a disappointing one. Dilemma_vince vaughn

The King's Speech and Black Swan both added around 750 theatres, giving each film a boost even without the holiday factored in. Right now, The King's Speech is the up-and-comer, with its three-day gross up 43% and a per-screen average of $7,200. Black Swan, which has been out a week longer than The King's Speech, has reached its near-saturation point (2,300 theatres to King's Speech's 1,500). The ballet thriller brought in $10.3 million to the historical film's $11.1 million. In terms of cumulative gross, however, Black Swan is the winner, with a total of $75 million to date vs. The King's Speech's $48 million. Elsewhere in the top ten, The Fighter dropped theatres, falling 27% over the three-day period. The biographical film still earned another $5 million, and its decision to go big early has allowed it to accumulate $65 million in six weeks.

With the school holiday, family films dropped minimally. Yogi Bear earned $7.4 million over the four-day period and Tangled scooped up another $5.4 million, making this Disney princess tale one of the most lucrative in recent history.

This Friday, the romance-sex comedy No Strings Attached will lead the pack, with more targeted releases for The Way Back and recession drama The Company Men.

Friday, January 14, 2011

'The Green Hornet' and 'The Dilemma' shake up the box office

By Sarah Sluis

It's been three weeks since the Christmas weekend crush of wide releases, and audiences will finally have a chance to sample something new.

The Green Hornet (3,584 theatres) was originally going to release during the holiday season, but it Green hornet jay chou_ now will have a wide-open chance at bringing in audiences, especially school-age ones, during the long Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. The comic-book adaptation was helmed by Michael Gondry, known for more arty, visually playful fare like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Even with a bigger budget to work with, "Gondry keeps the movie grounded in a convincing, if ever-so-slightly skewed, reality by prizing practical effects and props over CGI and actual locations over studio soundstages," critic Ethan Alter praises. Seth Rogen, true to his comedic background, plays a "clumsy" un-hero, and the movie is "at its best when it just lets this dynamic duo [Rogen and co-star Jay Chou] blunder through their new vocation, bickering, screwing up and catching bad guys almost by accident."

Vince Vaughn plays a guy who finds out his best friend's wife (Winona Ryder) is cheating on him in The Dilemma (2,941 theatres). Critic Doris Toumarkine enjoyed director Ron Howard's "zippy journey into late yuppiedom" and the comedy's "often smart and downright funny take on issues that aging Dilemma gang moviegoers might find familiar."

On the specialty front, many of the award-bait films are expanding in advance of the Golden Globes presentation this Sunday. Blue Valentine will move into 230 theatres. Rabbit Hole, which has been drawing raves for Nicole Kidman's performance, will increase its run to 100 theatres. The King's Speech, which has been in the top ten with under 1,000 theatres, will finally go over that mark, spreading into 1,543 theatres. Finally, Black Swan will spread its wings into 2,328 theatres, 800 more theatres than its current run.

On Tuesday, I'll tabulate the results of the long weekend, which should be especially favorable to The Green Hornet because of its young-skewing subject matter.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Which trailer makes you cringe more: 'Happythankyoumoreplease' or 'A Little Bit of Heaven'?

By Sarah Sluis

Everyone knows the romantic comedy genre is in an exceptionally bleak state. The few survivors have resorted to extreme measures, such as reducing each couple's character arc to ten minutes or so, then adding more couples until the movie gets to the feature-length mark (He's Just Not That Into You, Valentine's Day, 2011's New Year's Eve). Two more of these toxic assets have just released trailers, Happythankyoumoreplease and A Little Bit of Heaven. Happythankyoumoreplease is directed by TV star Josh Radnor, A Little Bit of Heaven the Kate Hudson vehicle (but with a serious twist!). Let's go over the damage:


-Malin Akerman as a grumpy person with cancer who doesn't know how to be grateful, but eventually learns to say "thank you" and find love. Ploy to insert "serious subject matter" that just feels uncomfortable.
-A young black boy befriends a would-be writer from suburbia. Ploy to insert "class consciousness."
-Writer/actor/director Josh Radnor also plays a writer, makes jokes about Woody Allen, complains about happy childhood that deprived him of "subject matter." I'm embarrassed for him.
-The delivery of these lines: Girl: "You're a mess. I'm a mess too." Boy: "So let's clean each other up."

Why it might still be worth seeing:
-It's set in the Lower East Side. Why, I live in the Lower East Side and I want to know if they shot at my local deli (this may only apply to New Yorkers).
-Three interlocking stories, meaning each character has a 66% less chance of rising above my annoying quota
-The performances of Zoe Kazan and Kate Mara, both of whom reduce the cringe level of their lines in the trailer.

A Little Bit of Heaven

-I try to avoid romance movies with terminal illness looming on the horizon, and in this story Kate Hudson has cancer, and then falls in love with her doctor. Just say no to Love Story /A Walk to Remember plotlines.
-Yet another Kate Hudson romantic comedy.
-Hudson and Whoopi Goldberg having a talk in "heaven," as evidenced by the A+ set design involving white clothing, a background cloud painting, and a little bit of wind machine. I hope this is some kind of elaborate joke not explained in the trailer.

Why it Might Still Be Worth Seeing:
-For camp purposes? To see what kind of mess Kathy Bates, Goldberg, Hudson, and Gael Garcia Bernal got themselves into?

Verdict: Happythankyoumoreplease could possibly be better than its trailer, especially since random YouTube clips actually do the movie more justice. But A Little Bit of Heaven? This one is going straight to international audiences (though not DVD), so I don't think it will be worth anyone's time.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

IMAX rounds out its 2011 release slate

By Sarah Sluis

In 2010, nine of the top ten grossing films included a release in the IMAX format. The exception? The animated film Despicable Me, which was squeezed out of IMAX's slate by releasing just three weeks after Toy Story 3. For that reason, it's worth looking at what movies are releasing in IMAX this year. Imax They reflect not only which films studios are hyping, but which tentpoles they think will actually deliver.

Today, Paramount announced that four of the studio's films will release in the big-screen format: Super 8, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol and The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. Both Super 8 and Tintin have the involvement of Steven Spielberg, making them gimmes, but seeing the relaunch of Mission: Impossible here is more of a surprise. Though Tom Cruise will be in the movie, the main leading man will be someone younger, Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker). As for the third installment of Transformers--I can only hope it makes in the low hundreds of millions.

Other IMAX titles that could hit it big:

Sanctum: This James Cameron-produced underground cave film has some confused about the concept, but it will be more like The Descent and not like his documentary Aliens of the Deep. Caves are creepy, but whether or not the concept is pulled off depends on how involved Cameron was in the process.

I Am Number Four: I've already seen ads for this one, which focus on a teen with superpowers who must escape those who want him dead. I haven't seen a good young hero for awhile, so I think the kids will go for this one. Newcomer Alex Pettyfer could be the next Robert Pattinson if he plays his cards right.

Real Steel: A father and son construct robots for fighting matches in a futuristic world. Family dynamics + fight scenes? This one looks like a real winner among male audiences.

Mars Needs Moms: In this cute concept, a boy must rescue his mom, who has been kidnapped by mom-needing Martians. Releasing March 11th, this movie will be in the spring spot that How to Train Your Dragon took last year, grabbing spring breakers and hopefully going for a slow burn at the box office.

Sequels comprise the remainder of IMAX offerings, including Fast Five, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Cars 2, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, and Happy Feet 2. Of all these sequels, the final Harry Potter will definitely show up in the top ten and the animated sequels to Cars and Happy Feet will also be strong box-office contenders. The third Pirates of the Caribbean was the first one to gross less than its predecessor, indicating the franchise is waning, but it's been four years since we've seen Jack Sparrow so perhaps audiences will be eager to see him once again.

Some movies are missing (won't the latest Twilight open in IMAX, like Eclipse did?), but this list of films probably holds at least three-quarters of this year's top ten.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Surprise! Consumers aren't that willing to pay more for 3D

By Sarah Sluis

3D movies have been bringing in a lot of money for studios, enough to stem the tide of decreasing theatre attendance. But perhaps the studios should rethink their strategy, and charge their customers less money for more movie. At least that's what the latest study from PricewaterhouseCoopers says. According to a poll they cite, 77% of people will not pay a surcharge of $4 or more.

3D glasses I'm not surprised. Though the perks of writing about film means not having to fork over your credit card to see a movie, earlier this year I reviewed the not-so-great 3D Wes Craven movie My Soul to Take at the Regal Union Square in New York, NY, where the ticket price, including the 3D surcharge, added up to $17.50. That kind of moola is worth it for a spectacle like Avatar, but for a run-of-the-mill horror flick, which didn't even do cool things with 3D to make it worth my extra money? Nope.

If so many people are unwilling to pay for 3D, why is 50-70% of box-office revenue coming from 3D screens? Many in the movie business cite the 80-20 rule: 80% of ticket sales come from 20% of the people. Frequent moviegoers are a breed of their own, attending cinemas regularly and often being less discriminating about the content since they're seeing so many movies. Behemoths like Avatar draw in the less-frequent moviegoers, who only go to movies for special occasions. People in both of these groups can justify spending extra to see Toy Story 3 or Alice in Wonderland in 3D. However, it's unlikely that this will hold. There are forty films coming out next year in 3D, and I doubt that all of them will be worth the higher ticket price.

The report hints that 3D surcharges are untenable, but I don't agree. Sure, I'd like to see 3D movies with no surcharge (and if you're choosing between two movies you're interested in equally, wouldn't the 3D one win if it were the same price?), but I would also feel fine with a pared-down surcharge of a dollar or two.

While paying more to see a movie in 3D makes sense for big, must-see pictures, it's unlikely that the forty 3D films coming out next year will live up to their promise. As I check Fandango, tickets for The Green Hornet are going for $13, The Green Hornet 3D is going for $17.50, and The Green Hornet 3D IMAX will run you $19, before popcorn. For a family of four (2 adults, 2 children), that would run $45 for basic, $62 for 3D, and $69 for 3D IMAX, 35% more than seeing the comic book film in 2D. Once the novelty of 3D wears off, will people choose to add 3D glasses to their outing or the popcorn combo deluxe?

Monday, January 10, 2011

'True Grit' overtakes 'Little Fockers'

By Sarah Sluis

True Grit won the box-office horse race, overtaking Meet the Fockers in its third week of release. The two films' race is a lesson in the power of the long tail: True Grit dipped 38% to $15 million, while Little Fockers fell 47% to $13.7 million. Because of Little Focker's higher opening, the comedy's total take is $123 million to the Western's $110 million, but the gap could close if True Grit continues to play strong (and, fingers crossed, receives a boost from Academy Award nominations).

Nicolas cage horse season of witch_ Nicolas Cage's turn in Season of the Witch eked over the eight-figure mark, coming up with $10.7 million. Critics (and audiences) were not kind to the film, which reportedly had a $40 million budget. The supernatural action adventure/kinda comedy/historical film may have been the victim of too much genre mixing, leaving audiences confused about what kind of movie they were signing up for.

Country Strong mustered up $7.3 million in its expansion to 1,424 theatres. Though the number may be small, so was the release, and the country music drama averaged $5,126 per-screen, the third-best average in the top ten. A common complaint: star Gwyneth Paltrow looking way too nice to play an alcoholic music star. Country strong paltrow

In its second weekend, Blue Valentine went from 4 to 40 theatres and gathered $18,000 per screen. The per-screen average fell by slightly more than half from its debut, but given the rapid expansion this un-romance is in good shape. Within the top ten, specialty films rose even higher. Black Swan fared the best, descending just 6% from last week to earn $8.3 million. With fewer new releases as competition, the ballet-horror-drama rose from ninth to fifth place. The Fighter grabbed seventh place, dipping 30% to ring in $7 million. The King's Speech dropped 12% to $6.8 million. Notably, the movie is still in just 758 theatres and boasts the highest per-screen average in the top ten. Methinks this film will go big once Academy Award nominations are announced.

Mercifully for the future of children's animated movies, Tangled has trounced Yogi Bear. Though Tangled has been in release for three more weeks than Yogi Bear, the family offerings are performing neck-and-neck: Yogi Bear finished with $6.8 million this weekend and Tangled with $5.2. Tangled has $175 million in the bank, while Yogi Bear has around $75 million. This may not prevent the release of next winter's Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, but here's hoping there won't be a sequel to the cartoon adaptation our critic Ethan Alter called a "naked cash-grab."

This Friday, comic book adaptation The Green Hornet will debut alongside cheating spouse comedy The Dilemma.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Cool prospects for 'Season of the Witch'

By Sarah Sluis

In the second post-Christmas weekend at the box office, the holiday releases are expected to reign supreme. True Grit closed the gap between itself and Little Fockers last weekend, and this weekend the Coen Brothers' Western remake could rise to first place, especially since it recently started beating Fockers at the weekday box office.

Season witch ocean nic cage The only new wide release this weekend is Season of the Witch (2,816 theatres), Relativity Media's first outing as a distributor. Well, they can only go up from here. Nicolas Cage stars in this 14th century witch-hunting, witch-saving "jocular bromance," as described by critic Maitland McDonagh. The historical adventure "can by no stretch of the imagination be called a good movie," McDonagh concedes, before noting the movie is "weirdly entertaining." The guess for this film is somewhere north of $10 million.

Country Strong debuted two weeks ago for an awards-qualifying run in a couple of theatres, but this week it expands to 1,424. The awards release may have been in vain, however, considering the film's received scathing reviews (The NY Post dubbed it a "Twang Wreck") and a mere 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. According to critic Rex Roberts, the blame should rest on writer and director Shana Feste, who "smothers [Paltrow's] perfectly fine Gwyneth paltrow country strong performance with so much red-eyed gravy we can't take her or any of the characters seriously."

After an opening weekend that ended with a $48,000 per-screen average, Blue Valentine expands to ten times as many locations (40 theatres). If it can hold on to half its opening average, the drama of a fading romance will be in excellent shape. Black Swan, The Fighter, and The King's Speech, which were rounding out the top ten, have risen to spots in the top six during the week. They may have difficulty holding onto that improvement over the weekend, when more families will return to the theatres.

On Monday, I'll determine if Season of the Witch was more of a flop than Cage's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, if audiences liked Country Strong more than the critics did, and if the Oscar-seeking elite held onto their top ten positions.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Angelina Jolie as Cleopatra?

By Sarah Sluis

Making a movie version of Cleopatra is a dicey proposition. The 1963 film starring Elizabeth Taylor is famous for being an extravagant, way-over-budget flop. Could Cleopatra as a subject be cursed?

Enter Angelina Jolie, who has almost as many kids as Elizabeth Taylor had husbands (Jolie has six children, Taylor had eight marriages to seven husbands). Like Taylor, she's a larger-than-life tabloid Liz-Taylor-Angelina-Jolie-Cleopatra
figure with the kind of star persona that easily lets the public cast her in the role of a queen. Jolie's done some swords-and-sandals work before with Alexander, though this role would take her in a different, more Evelyn Salt direction: Paul Greengrass (the Bourne series) is one of many in contention for the directing spot. James Cameron reportedly expressed interest at one point, but he will be busy with the Avatar sequels unless this project is put on hold for another five years or so.

The change comes from the source material. The biography Cleopatra: A Life, written by Stacy Schiff, recasts Cleopatra as a woman who wielded her power through strategy and politics, not sex appeal. Jolie has distinguished herself by turning herself into something of an action hero through such roles as Salt, originally written for a male actor, Wanted, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and her breakout role Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. I doubt she would be interested in the part unless this Cleopatra displayed some meatiness and intelligence along with her seductiveness. The Sony project also has Scott Rudin on board as a producer, someone who's known more for arthouse award winners than big-scale action. Could Cleopatra (gasp) mix battles and political intrigue with characterization and drama? A clue: Brian Helgeland, who has written screenplays for projects both mediocre (Robin Hood, Cirque du Freak) and fantastic (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River) worked on the script. He's frequently an adapter, so if the source material is as good as everyone's saying, the project should be in good shape.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Will 'Ouija' go the 'Battleship' route?

By Sarah Sluis

In the past few years, it seems comic book adaptations have been supplanted by adaptations of brands that don't even have a story attached to them. It was as if action figures (Stretch Armstrong) led to board games (Battleship, Candy Land) which led to the technically-a-board-game adaptation Ouija, the rights to which are held by Hasbro. To my mind, the only successful non-book/play/comic book Ouija-board
adaptation wasPirates of the Caribbean. There were just a handful of references to the theme park ride, and the rest was straight-up Jack Sparrow with eyeliner. Based on what Universal's doing with Battleship, I'm not enthused about what they have in store for Ouija.

To refresh, Battleship is the two-person game involving shouting out numbers on your opponent's grid (A-7!, J-8!), and playing cat-and-mouse with your opponent until they have sunk all your battleships. With all that tension from constant evasion, it sounds like Crimson Tide all over again, right? Wrong. The Universal version is not about two boats chasing each other, but about ALIENS. An "armada" of aliens out for destruction, to be specific. It's almost as if the writer of the movie really wanted to make a sci-fi movie and just decided add some aliens. And it has pop singer Rihanna in it, a left-field choice that feels a little like a tone-deaf marketing ploy. Without a screen persona, it would have been better if she started out in something music-oriented to get audiences used to seeing her on screen.

The plot of Ouija isn't out on the Internet yet, but since it's also a Universal project I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to turn what obviously should be a horror film into a car-chase actioner or romantic comedy. In fact, after doing some more extensive Googling, I discover I'm actually on the right track. According to, "Ouija will not take the expected supernatural horror angle � strange consider Michael Bay's horror house Platinum Dunes is producing � but will follow a more Indiana Jones type journey to discovery. " I am up in arms. Universal has had one flop after another, and it's decisions like these that prevent anyone over the age of thirteen from enjoying such misguided releases.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Breaking down the Producers Guild nominees

By Sarah Sluis

Last year, the Producers Guild of America crowned The Hurt Locker as the top film of 2009. The PGA Kings speech_has correctly predicted the majority of Oscar Best Picture winners, making its nominee list a much-regarded crystal ball for the eventual Academy nominees and winners. The PGA nominates ten films, just like the Oscars, but at least a couple of movies seem unlikely to receive nods from both the PGA and the Academy.

The best film nominees:
127 Hours

Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network
The Town
Toy Story 3
True Grit

Possible Omission #1: The Town. For me, this movie wasn't anything special. Spike Lee's 2006 movie Inside Man was a much more surprising, fun bank robbery movie, and it didn't get any love in awards Inception water droplets season. The Town had some thrilling bank robbery scenes, but its Boston atmosphere didn't totally draw me and the romance felt like star-director Ben Affleck grabbing at air.

Possible Omission #2: Toy Story 3. Though this film has showed up on one top ten list after another, it's most likely that the movie will end up with a nomination in the animated category, where I hope it has tough competition from the DreamWorks Animation stunner How to Train Your Dragon.

Possible Omission #3: 127 Hours. Within the blogosphere, this movie's been taking the biggest beating, with many ruling it out because it failed to catch fire at the box office. Also, some Academy viewers were reportedly "afraid" to see the amputation scene, leading James Franco to film a video with his grandma, who wore a sweatshirt reading "I Kept My Eyes Open for 127 Hours."

What films could fill possibly end up in the Academy top ten? My votes are going to Winter's Bone and Blue Valentine. Winter's Bone is more likely to receive an acting nomination than a Best Picture one, but the movie is so affecting, I can't imagine Oscar voters not responding. Blue Valentine is much tougher to watch (and that's taking Winter's Bone's gory closing scene into account), and features a much younger, blue-collar couple--the opposite of a typical Academy voter. The seven remaining films seem highly probable nominees to me: Inception's the blockbuster everyone can get behind, The Kids Are All Right is the small indie that could, and most of the other specialty film nominees have risen into the top ten: True Grit, Black Swan, The King's Speech, and The Fighter are all earning millions of dollars a week, a pretty big change from last year, when only Up in the Air was achieving that mixture of critical and commercial success at the end-of-the-year box office. The Academy Award nominations are only three weeks away, on Jan. 25, and these nominations from the PGA have solidified the majors. Now it's up to the Academy to make some last minute substitutions in the game.

Monday, January 3, 2011

'Little Fockers' dips in a strong post-Christmas weekend

By Sarah Sluis

Only during the holiday season can seven out of the top ten films post gains over the previous weekend. The top three films all fell from their lofty heights, but the rest of the top ten increased 10-70% from last week. Little Fockers maintained its lead, but fell the furthest, 14%, to $26.3 million. Compared to Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers, this sequel both opened lower and is falling faster. Could this be the end of the Focker clan?

True grit bridges damon True Grit dipped just 1% to $24.5 million, narrowing the gap between the western remake and the comedy sequel. The Coen Brothers' latest has already exceeded the total gross of their previous western, No Country for Old Men, and it's fairly certain that True Grit will pass the $100 million mark, a first for the multi-hyphenate team.

The rest of the top ten was populated by family films and awards contenders. The broad, four-quadrant film Tron: Legacy grabbed third place with a 4% fall and another $18.3 million in the bank. Yogi Bear came next with $13 million, a 65% gain from the previous weekend, followed by The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which went up 10% to $10.5 million. Tangled, which has been out for a month and a half, posted a 55% gain and $10 million, a well-deserved bump for this top-notch animated film. Gulliver's Travels, which opened to just $7 million, got up to $9 million in its second week, but I'd still call it a flop.

Among specialty films, The Fighter filled the most seats ($10 million), followed by the kinda campy Black Swan ($8.4 million) and lively historical tale The King's Speech ($7.6 million).

After an alarmingly small debut last week (an $8,650 per-screen average), Country Strong made a rare second-week rebound, earning $21,500 per screen on its two-screen release. The drama will move into wide release this Friday, so perhaps its weak first-week finish was the result of miscalibrated marketing.

The Ryan Gosling/Michelle Williams un-romance Blue Valentine made an impressive debut with a Blue valentine $45,000 per-screen average. The high average validates the film's position as an awards contender and puts it on the path to successful expansion. Director Mike Leigh's slice-of-life tale Another Year unspooled in six locations, earning an average of $20,000 at each. Somewhere and The Illusionist, both limited releases in their second week, each improved their per-screen averages, to $17,900 and $16,900 per-screen, respectively.

This Friday, Country Strong will be joined by Season of the Witch, Nicolas Cage's second occult-themed wide release after last summer's The Sorcerer's Apprentice.