Monday, February 28, 2011

83rd Academy Awards recap: The Oscars court the next generation

By Sarah Sluis

The best way to watch any awards show is with a DVR. But it's worth noting that for this year's Oscar broadcast, I mainly used my fast forward button for the commercials, not the show. I was most impressed with Anne Hathaway as a host--she has amazing confidence, sparkles, and possesses that Academy award hosts franco hathaway chipper attitude that helps move things along. I suspect James Franco was supposed to be her laid-back, wryly humorous counterpart, but it didn't seem to work out that way. He wasn't a straight man, he was a dead fish. She hosted the show herself, and I enjoyed it. Mark me as one of those "next-generation people" the Oscars successfully won over, I'm guilty as charged.

The broadcast itself held few surprises. Most of the categories were a lock. The King's Speech was supposed to win Best Picture (along with Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor for Colin Firth), and it did. In fact, Tom Hooper even won Best Director over The Social Network's David Fincher, who has a greater body of work to support his talent. I now suspect Fincher will join the ranks of the groundbreaking directors whose work is rewarded on much, much later films: Alfred Hitchcock, who only won an honorary award, or Martin Scorsese, who was nominated six times before he won on his seventh nomination.

When The King's Speech finally won Best Picture, it seemed anticlimactic. As the producers thanked Harvey Weinstein, they cut to a shot of him with the biggest, grimacing sourpuss expression I've ever seen from someone whose movie just won something. Not even a chuckle, a smile? This year, the battle between The King's Speech and The Social Network served as a symbol of the Academy's conservative Colin firth oscar winner voting methods. Oscar prognosticators suspected that the Anglophile, feel-good story of a king would beat a movie about the motormouth underdog who founded Facebook, and they were right. Maybe if they make a movie in 2070 about the founding of Facebook, it will win.

Though most winners managed to throw in something clever, there were few tears or breakdowns this year. The award for best speech (watch it here) goes to Luke Matheny, a recent NYU grad who won for Best Live Action Short Film. In his acceptance speech, his filmmaking experience sounded like the reminiscences of an old, successful director. His mom did craft services! He forgot to get a haircut! His girlfriend composed the music! Turns out Matheny's film was rejected by Sundance and Slamdance, but now he's got the last laugh--and an Oscar.

The losing actresses didn't give convincing "happy" performances. Even though Natalie Portman was considered the strongest contender for Best Actress, Annette Bening looked disappointed when she lost. She deserves an Oscar! In the supporting actress category, Amy Adams looked sad when fellow actress Melissa Leo claimed the statuette, and her eyes betrayed a hint of moisture when she presented the short film awards later in the evening. Don't worry, Amy! You'll get your chance. As for Bening--quick, line up another awards film. Maybe the fifth nomination will be the charm?

Social shout-outs. I did in fact "two-screen" the Oscars, but only to IMDB Lena Horne and read her obituary (after Halle Berry mentioned the trailblazing actress). And play spider solitaire during slow moments. Turns out James Franco was tweeting the whole time (maybe that's why he was so stone-faced--distraction?). Besides extra content offered online at ABC, a million other websites liveblogged the Oscars.

The broadcast itself drew heavily from YouTube. The Auto-tune the News people turned Harry Potter and Twilight dialogue into ballads, and the P.S. 22 choir, a product of YouTube viral fame, sang "Over the Rainbow." A note for next year: continue to replace montages with zeitgeisty moments like these.

For those that are now in withdrawal, rest assured. Some sites are already predicting the Oscar nominees for the broadcast in 2012.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Will audiences clamor for 'Hall Pass' or 'Drive Angry'?

By Sarah Sluis

The leader of the pack this weekend is Hall Pass (2,950 theatres), which our critic Ethan Alter described as the strongest Farrelly Brothers picture in years, "marrying their familiar raunchy Hall pass trio sensibilities with a new�dare I say it?�maturity." Starring Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis, the movie centers on the week their spouses give them a "hall pass" to cheat and see what they're missing--or not. A few reviewers, including Alter, have singled out Richard Jenkins' performance as a lothario, so "hysterical" he "handily steals away the movie." Box-office predictions hem the comedy to no more than $20 million--likely lower.

Most publications haven't yet reviewed Drive Angry (2,290 theatres), the 3D vengeance-beyond-the-grave-with-a-speeding-car movie. Nicolas Cage stars in the "Cagespoitation" picture, "a whole new subgenre of filmmaking" according to one reviewer. The talented Cage has a notoriously Drive angry nicolas cage erratic track record, perhaps because he values a hefty paycheck--the large-living star is now in the throes of insolvency. Amber Heard co-stars in the movie, which bears resemblance to exploitation movies in the 70s. Expected to open below Hall Pass, there's a chance a returning film could outsell Drive Angry.

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never is trying to woo back tweeners for a repeat viewing with a "special edition" that includes 40 more minutes guaranteed to induce Bieber Fever. I pity the parents who must endure another round of begging before hauling their kids to another screening of the 3D concert film, especially because our critic David Noh found the original 105-minute version "a mite overextended."

With the Oscars on Sunday, awards films should see a boost. Many nominated films are expanding into additional theatres. The top-ten drama The King's Speech is adding 300 theatres for a total of 2,386. Movies that largely exited theatres months ago, such as Winter's Bone (+115, total of 135) and The Social Network (+156 theatres, total of 269), are getting back in the game to take advantage of Oscar publicity.

The Oscar-nominated Of Gods and Men (3 theatres) will also open, though critic Daniel Eagan didn't think too highly of the drama's "careful, non-threatening" take that "substitutes a false piety for difficult issues of faith and dogma." He cynically acknowledges that this easy-to-swallow point-of-view makes the French movie "perfect Best Foreign-language Film Oscar bait." We'll see if it wins on Sunday.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Warner Bros. remaking sacred cow 'The Bodyguard'

By Sarah Sluis

When I heard Warner Bros. was remaking The Bodyguard, the first thing I thought was "Noooo! They can't do that." The second thing I did was pull up a YouTube video of Whitney Houston singing "I Will Always Love You."

The-Bodyguard After listening to the song (as it appeared in the movie), I can concede that the movie is a bit dated. The camera circling 360 degrees around Houston and Kevin Costner as they kiss? The saxophone playing in the background of the song? The fact that Whitney Houston's latest claim of fame is admitting her crack addiction on "Oprah"? But never mind. The Bodyguard is a sentimental, feel-good movie, a modern-day take on the "love from different social classes" variety of romance. And can we talk about the fact that this movie earned over $120 million? In 1992?

But how does one remake such an iconic film and its unforgettable song? The one thing that would pique interest in a remake is star power. Warner Bros. will have to cast a charismatic songstress (perhaps with a forte in a different genre of music?) that can attract viewers interested in seeing a movie about her, not a remake of The Bodyguard. Another key draw to The Bodyguard was its "backstage" view of a celebrity. In the age of celebrity Twitter accounts, TMZ, and reality shows centered on stars, a lot has changed, and including these details would make the script stand out. Dan Lin (Sherlock Holmes) is producing, and two newbie scribes with an action comedy script under their belt are rewriting. It turns out the original Bodyguard was conceived for Diana Ross and Steve McQueen, so perhaps the Costner/Houston version isn't the only way to tell this story. Is it time for the original Bodyguard to step aside? Here's the lyrical answer: If I should stay/ I would only be in your way./ So I'll go, but I know /I'll think of you every step of the way....

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Scorsese fans rejoice, Marty's directing DiCaprio in 'The Wolf of Wall Street'

By Sarah Sluis

The spectacular crash of Wall Street's investment banks and the ensuing recession had the drama of a movie plot--but for real. As the banks were bailed out, Hollywood started mining the topic. Wall Street 2 released last year, the Oscar-nominated documentary Inside Job investigated what went wrong, and the The-Wolf-of-Wall-Street-B000W8HC8I-L Sundance feature Margin Call, which was picked up by Lionsgate, gave a look at a bank in crisis over 24 hours.

Now Martin Scorsese's next project, shooting as early as this summer, appears to be The Wolf of Wall Street. It's not merely an opportunistic decision--the movie was on track to shoot in 2007, but was sidelined after the success of The Departed. Leonardo DiCaprio, who was originally attached to the project, will star. The movie centers on Jordan Belfort, a Wall Streeter who scammed investors during the late 1980s with pump-and-dump and penny stock schemes. He later became a motivational speaker--an epilogue I doubt (but hope) will be included.

What makes this a typical Scorsese project?

One, a flawed hero. No one does this better than Scorsese--from his numerous depictions of mobsters, gangsters, and heads of organized crime, to his vigilante taxi drivers and abusive boxers, Scorsese has a knack for showing people committing pretty vile acts that are still somehow understandable or even likeable to the audience.

Two, excess.

The Reed Business review of the book states that the "main topic is the vast amount of sex, drugs and risky physical behavior Belfort managed to survive." Perfect. In addition to their criminal acts, Scorsese heroes favor nightclubs, drinking/drugs, and having a good time. There's also an element of After Hours in here--the movie will take place in New York City, Scorsese's hometown, and he's great at lending a sense of place to his movies.

Three, DiCaprio.

DiCaprio's so thoroughly escaped the fate that seemed destined by his breakout film, Titanic (that is, becoming a leading man in forgettable romances) that it's hard to imagine him doing much else than character biopics and serious dramas. Like Robert De Niro before him, DiCaprio has become a favored Scorsese lead, starring in Scorsese's past four consecutive feature films: Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, and Shutter Island. That's a lot of movies.

Scorsese latest directing effort, Hugo Cabret, will be seen this December, and DiCaprio's currently filming Clint Eastwood's biopic of famed FBI head Hoover in J. Edgar.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New strategies for theatre chains, digital movie downloads

By Sarah Sluis

Technology is a tricky beast, and changes in home entertainment technologies have caused both exhibitors and the home entertainment market to change their tune.

First up, AMC and Regal announced their plan to get into the acquisition and distribution market. Yes, exhibitors are adopting vertical integration, the same strategy that was outlawed by the 1948 U.S. vs. Red curtain Paramount case. According to this article by the L.A. Times, enforcement of the edict has become lax, and there are several instances of exhibitors also involved in production or distribution. AMC and Regal will acquire small independent films for theatrical release. What could this be a response to? The rise of the simultaneous theatrical/on-demand market. Distributors like IFC Films have offered VOD releases for amped-up prices during a film's theatrical run, or even in advance of its release. However, AMC and Regal also plan to handle video/Internet distribution, so preventing the theatrical window from disappearing isn't their whole rationale. The article also points to declining amount of movies. Even as the number of screens increased slightly, product decreased 15%. I'm more skeptical of this argument. Theatres need more quality product, not just more product--even with more films, there could still be the same percentage of duds and winners.

The market for downloadable/streaming movies is also in flux. A recent survey of people who pirate movies conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers released dismal news. Many of the piraters would only buy movies if they were cheaper, around $3. THR pointed out another comment from the survey's responders: They download because of window restrictions, wanting to watch the movie at home before it comes out on Netflix or legitimate online downloads. Because of the pressure to see content sooner, I predict the windows of availability for Blu-ray/Netflix/online rentals/downloading will continue to change. It's still being figured out. Warner Bros. is trying something new for its marquee releases Inception and The Dark Knight. A free "app edition" can be downloaded by iPhone/iPad/iPod users, which has a few short extra features and five minutes of the movie. Then, for prices ranging from $7.99-$23.99, depending on the country, users can download the full movie. The app-to-download purchase allows for flexibility between devices and could also be a way to include more bonus content, like an Inception-themed game for a mobile device, for example. But it appears that Warner Bros.' biggest reason for releasing this is to work around Apple's own shortfalls. Apple simply doesn't have iTunes stores (or ones that offer video downloads) in every country, and this could be a way to bring Warner Bros. releases to underserved territories.

With new innovations (and challenges) in the movie downloading market and AMC and Regal stepping into the independent acquisition and distribution game, the entertainment market is showing itself to be surprisingly dynamic. It already seems laughable that people used to have to wait six months to see a movie on video. What other practices will seem dated a few years from now?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Shedding light on 'Dark Shadows'

By Sarah Sluis

Like cancelled single-season shows "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared," the 1960s soap opera "Dark Shadows" was on air for just six years, but achieved a cult following that still endures. The first I heard of the show was during an episode of radio program "This American Life," which followed someone Dark_Shadows_z-thumb-550x328-29654 attending a convention for fans of the series--a sure sign of its niche popularity. Now Tim Burton, the go-to guy for dark movies, is helming a feature version that's currently in casting.

The appeal of "Dark Shadows," as I understand, is two-fold. One, it is about vampires and the supernatural, a more unusual choice for daytime soap operas. Two, it was very, very low-budget, leading to rather extraordinary gaffes, like people walking on camera when they shouldn't, and actors continuing their lines even after pieces of the set fell down around them. Burton will surely seize upon the supernatural element of the show, but will he also dare to introduce camp into the movie? A hint might come from the screenwriter, Seth Grahame-Smith, author of the book (and screenplay) Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. From a glance at the opening pages, it appears the book takes a tone of mock sincerity. "What follows, at last, is the truth," Grahame-Smith says in the introduction, purporting to have discovered lost documents revealing Lincoln was a revered vampire hunter. He's asking the readers to traverse the limits of believability to enjoy a story, the purview of comic book and talking animal movies--in other words, something not entirely unusual.

Johnny Depp will star as the vampire Barnabas, and Eva Green (The Dreamers) and Jackie Earle Haley (Watchman) have also been named to the cast. The latest (still rumored) addition is Michelle Pfeiffer, who would play a widowed recluse. Burton's longtime partner, Helena Bonham Carter, is also being considered for the role of Dr. Julia Hoffman. Between Dark Shadows and other gothic tales such as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Frankenweenie, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, it seems dark, quirky works are all the rage in Hollywood right now. But will any of them hit with audiences?

Monday, February 14, 2011

'Just Go With It' and 'Justin Bieber' finish neck-and-neck

By Sarah Sluis

After weeks of the top movies hitting the teen millions, three wide releases opened at $25 million or higher.

Aniston sandler just go with it hugging_ Just Go with It finished just ahead of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, earning $30.5 million to the tweenybopper's $29.5 million. The Adam Sandler-Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy benefited from strong performance throughout the weekend, while Bieber's picture drew its biggest audience on Friday. Though he failed to win any Grammys last night, Bieber is still hot and his 3D concert film finished just under Miley Cyrus', and significantly higher than the Jonas Brothers' 2009 movie.

Gnomeo and Juliet boasted a surprisingly high finish in an animated-starved market, accruing $25.5 million. Though it was a "minor" animated film (to use Box Office Mojo's term) with little branding or expectations behind it, it also is distributed by Gnomeo juliet grass Touchstone, a Walt Disney label. And no one has more experience marketing animated movies than Disney. In comparison, the darker 3D animated film Coraline previously held the record for a February-launched animated film, earning $16 million its opening weekend in 2009.

The Eagle had the most disappointing launch, ending up with $8.5 million. The audience skewed slightly older and attracted slightly more members under 35. Director Kevin MacDonald's (better-rated) 2006 film The Last King of Scotland still holds a spot in Netflix's Top 100 even though it earned just $17 million at the box office, so perhaps The Eagle can recoup some of its losses on DVD?

Opening in 15 theatres, Cedar Rapids was able to average $20,000 per screen, an impressive number that should bode well for future expansion. The mostly upbeat reviews (84% on Rotten Tomatoes) should turn into positive word-of-mouth that will propel this movie in coming weeks.

In the top ten, The King's Speech continued its run of minimal drops, dipping just 4% from last week for a total of $7.4 million. With a cumulative total of $93 million, it will be a week or two at most before it crosses the $100 million mark. I've seen this movie recommended heavily on Facebook in recent weeks as it's expanded into wide release, and yesterday it received an unintentionally amusing endorsement from "60 Minutes" Luddite Andy Rooney himself, who actually met King George. (I wonder what Andy Rooney would think of The Social Network...)

This Friday will also be a busy one. The sci-fi action movie I Am Number Four will open against the amnesia thriller Unknown and fat suit/cross-dressing comedy sequel Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Crowded frame this weekend, from 'Bieber' to 'Juliet'

By Sarah Sluis

After some doldrum-y winter weekends at the box office, four films will go into wide release, hitting all kinds of demographics, from families, young teens, and action hounds to rom-com lovers looking for an early Valentine's Day date.

Justin bieber never say never fans One of the more unusual offerings to take note of will be Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (3,105 theatres). Will the teen concert film end up playing more like the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour, which grossed $65 million, or Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience, which finished up with a disappointing $19 million? Surprisingly enough, critics have been receptive to the tween-oriented "complete Bieber immersion," as described by critic David Noh. The Hollywood Reporter praised the "undeniably engaging musical portrait," and Noh got a kick out of watching the "obsessed fans" and their "ecstatic reactions," but notes that enjoyment "depend[s] upon how much of a stomach you have for grade-schoolers announcing their terrifyingly serious intention to be his wife."

With Valentine's Day on Monday, romantic comedy Just Go with It (3,548 theatres) should land on top. Just go with it jennifer aniston sandler The plot, which tackles both a fake wife and fake divorce, includes plenty of moments for "chronologically adult but still smut-hungry millions of Adam Sandler fans," according to critic Shirley Sealy, but also benefits from the great chemistry between Sandler and co-star Jennifer Aniston, who are "loose and funny and simply good together."

The 3D animated movie Gnomeo & Juliet (2,994 theatres) has a bit of a musty odor to it, perhaps because it's been sitting on the shelf while its Gnomeo juliet moonlight flower "outdated shout-outs" to The Matrix, according to critic Ethan Alter, lose their comedic potency. However, the family film may benefit from the equally stale selection of animated pics. Yogi Bear and Tangled have both been out for months, and most of the families that wanted to see these movies already have.

Just the mere mention of a Roman-era swords and sandals adventure makes me tired. Were any of these films in the last decade any good besides Gladiator? Perhaps that's why critic Maitland McDonagh, who admired The Eagle's (2,296 theatres) "gritty day-to-day detail," predicted the U.S. audiences won't flock to this tale, a "shame--but not a surprise." Focus, however, Eagle the soldiers tatum had success last year with its George Clooney-led spy movie, The American, so perhaps its elite take on the swords-and-sandals genre will bring in sophisticated audiences.

"Producer Alexander Payne further establish[es] his comic brand in Cedar Rapids (15 theatres), according to critic Rex Roberts, which is led by Ed Helms of "The Office." Roberts sums up Payne's plotbook as "idiosyncratic characters on a road trip fueled by copious amounts of alcohol, ignited by unlikely assignations with feisty women, detoured by the inevitable encounter with biker types and rerouted back toward order and sanity with our antiheroes refreshed from their adventures." The 81% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes suggest that critics have been chuckling at the film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

On Monday, we'll see if the infusion of fresh films at the box office led to $10 million plus debuts for all, or if the rush of content squeezed out an unlucky film.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Oscar nominees Bening and Sorkin share common past: 'The American President'

By Sarah Sluis

I saw Annette Bening in two films last year, as a parent traumatized by loss in Mother & Child and as a wine-swilling lesbian mother in The Kids Are All Right. While Bening performed admirably in both the roles, I was reminded of how well she does comedy in her latter role. Her first post-Oscar nomination project, The Third Act, will team her up with Rob Reiner, who directed her in one of the few movies I'm guaranteed to stop on while flipping through cable channels, The American President. And it just so American President happens that Aaron Sorkin, nominated for an Oscar this year for The Social Network, wrote the screenplay.

Before this year's Oscar nomination and four years before he created "The West Wing," Sorkin made one of the best late-century romantic comedies out there. Roger Ebert admired the movie for combining romance, comedy, and politics: "It is hard to make a good love story, harder to make a good comedy and harder still to make an intelligent film about politics," he praised in his four-star review (I knew I wasn't the only one who liked this movie!). Perhaps politics was the special something that made this movie go over the top. After all, the combination of romance and comedy tends toward the unfunny and unromantic these days. Or maybe it's that Michael Douglas and Bening got along well on set, if you believe what she said about him at an AFI event.

Whatever the reason, The American President is a charming movie and it's no surprise that both Sorkin and Bening are nominated this year at the Oscars. What's more surprising is that this gem with a level of feel-good on par with The King's Speech didn't get any Oscar love. How did this movie, rated four stars by Ebert, fare at the Academy Awards? It received one nomination, for Best Original Score. As a recent post by Kevin Lally on overlooked performances shows, the Oscars have missed crowning some of the best movie moments. Let's hope both Bening and Sorkin get their due, even if it's not for whatever film will eventually be considered their best.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Adult fairy tales are the latest Hollywood movie trend

By Sarah Sluis

Hollywood's search for familiar characters and stories has led it to create movies from toys (Transformers), board games (Battleship) and self-help books (He's Just Not That Into You). Now it seems studios are going back to basics, with many getting on board amped-up fairy tale adaptations. A rundown, from the normal to the peculiar:

Beastly hudgens pettyfer Beastly: This Beauty and the Beast remake is all about cashing in on Twilight. Former "High School Musical" star Vanessa Hudgens falls in love with pretty-boy-turned-cursed-beast Alex Pettyfer (a rumored troublemaker), in what appears to be an unimaginative update. Verdict: The Clueless/Sense and Sensibility route of teen adaptations.

Red Riding Hood: This adaptation comes from the actual director of Twilight, Catherine Hardwicke, and stars Amanda Seyfried in a striking red caplet. A werewolf is terrorizing the Medieval-esque town, and she thinks she might know who the handsome predator is. No shrinking violet, she carries a knife for protection. This adaptation appears to take some liberties in its fleshing-out of the fairy tale, but it still reserves catchphrases like "What big eyes you have!" for key moments. I predict the movie will be much more appealing to those in need of a Twilight fix. Verdict: I feel like I've seen this movie before, but without such sexual overtones. Could this be like the Demi Moore adaptation of The Scarlet Letter?

Snow White and the Huntman: Kristen Stewart is in talks to play the princess, and Julia Roberts the evil queen in this "modern" adaptation of Snow White. While Internet plot reports are scattered, it seems the story centers on the bond created between the huntsman and Snow White when the woodsman refuses to obey the evil queen's orders to kill her. Verdict: With a tentpole release for summer 2012, I predict an Alice in Wonderland-type experience, with big budgets and an expanded take on a classic tale. Maleficent

Maleficent, Tink: Each of these movies takes a supporting character from the Disney empire and gives her a chance in the spotlight. Maleficent will take the same strategy with Sleeping Beauty that Wicked did with The Wizard of Oz: Cast the villain as a misunderstood victim with her own reasons for her actions. Tim Burton's directing, but this film may give him an opportunity to go darker than Alice in Wonderland. Tink will take more of a romantic comedy route, with Elizabeth Banks reported to be playing the "mischevious" fairy. Verdict: Disney doesn't like to mess with its characters, so this shows the studio's more adventurous side. The iconic status of these characters is a big draw.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters: The title really says it all, doesn't it? Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play survivors of the gingerbread house oven who parlay their witch-killing smarts into a full-time position as bounty hunters. Verdict: Weird. A fractured fairy tale in the vein of Shrek, but with promises of more action violence.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Early preview of 'Rio' reveals charming avian adventure

By Sarah Sluis

A running plot point in talking animal movies seems to be captivity--either being thrust into it or escaping from its clutches. In Finding Nemo, for example, it was utterly bizarre to see Nemo in a dentist's aquarium after spending most of the movie at sea: the two worlds were so at odds with each Rio-movie-4 other. I'm told that Madagascar tackles a similar theme, and in a way aren't the toys in Toy Story captive to their owners? Rio, the latest from Blue Sky Studios (which was behind the Ice Age films), also takes on the theme of captivity, pairing up one captive blue macaw with another raised in the wild.

Director Carlos Saldahna, who had directed or co-directed the three Ice Age films, as well as Robots, introduced short clips of the 3D animal adventure, which comes out on April 15, at a New York preview event. The movie centers on Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg, showing off his knack for speedy dialogue), a rare bird who was captured before he learned how to fly, and grew up with a loving bookstore owner in Minnesota (Leslie Mann). When it's discovered he's one of the last blue macaws on earth, Blu is transported to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, to mate with a rare female, the recently captured Jewel (Anne Hathaway).

As expected in an adventure tale, there are plenty of twists and turns and encounters with characters both dastardly and kind. The action sequences had a nice dash of comedy in them that has a surprisingly universal appeal. I also predict a run on pet stores (bet on macaw futures!) due to an opening sequence that shows the symbiotic morning routine of bird and owner (think Doc's breakfast machine in Back to the Future).

Then there's the below-the-equator setting. Saldahna, a native of Brazil, talked up how the film makes Rio-movie-Poster-01-thumb use of Rio's landmarks, music, national pastime (football) and famous festival, Carnaval. For example, the film's opening dance number involving hundreds of birds is set to a samba beat and the lyrics were originally recorded in Portuguese. The birds' movements had the feel of Carnaval performers (a bit ironic given that these performers are often clad in feathers themselves).

CG Animation has flourished under Pixar and now DreamWorks Animation, which released the Oscar-nominated How to Train Your Dragon in 2010. What I saw of Rio doesn't have quite the visual twinkle, complicated lighting, and extra polish that I've seen in Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks Animation--but it also doesn't have their kind of budgets or manpower, a fact pointed out to me by Saldahna, who also counts Dragon as one of his favorites last year. What Rio has, from what I saw, is an adventure tale with compelling characters, plot, and clear (not groundbreaking--again, that goes to those with the big budgets) visuals. And really, if you're a kid, you're going to notice the fact that a bird bounces off a woman's bikini bottom, not the texture of the fabric or the shadow reflected in the sand. With its Spring Break/pre-Easter time slot, Rio has the kind of time slot that demands blockbuster results. Food for thought: Each of the Ice Age films approached, but didn't top, $200 million domestically, but foreign grosses went up $200 million with each sequel ($206 milion, $460 million, $690 million).

Monday, February 7, 2011

Top bunk goes to 'The Roommate'

By Sarah Sluis

You have to hand it to The Roommate, which earned $15.6 million from gullible young audiences who hadn't been around for Single White Female. Dismal reviews, like that from The Hollywood Reporter, Leighton meester the roommate described the movie as a "made-for-television thriller that will appeal only to younger audiences." But though these high schoolers' ticket purchases may have been an act of youthful inexperience, they knew better than to pay attention. "In the theater where I saw it," Movieline critic Elvis Mitchell comments,"the tedium was broken only by the sound of Angry Birds being played on iPhones."

The Super Bowl caused most films to drop in the 60-70% range from Saturday to Sunday, and Sanctum, which fell 71%, was one of the sporting event's victims. The trapped-in-a-cave movie tallied up just $9.2 million, even with ticket surcharges for 3D and IMAX. Ouch. With a reported budget of $30 million, this is one film that's going to be in the Sanctum rising water hole for awhile.

The films that fell the least during Super Bowl Sunday were The King's Speech (50% drop) and Yogi Bear (44.9% drop). Though films targeted towards young females have dominated Super Bowl counterprogramming, it appears that families and those seeking specialty fare were more inclined to catch a movie instead of the game. After all, The Roommate fell 65% on Sunday, in line with most of the other top ten films.

Portland-set mumblecore crime thriller (really) Cold Weather brought in $15,000 for IFC Films, a decent one-screen debut. Waiting For Forever, however, earned just $3,000 per screen on three screens. At one point, leading lady Rachel Bilson ("The O.C.") had the cachet of Roommate star Leighton Meester ("Gossip Girl"), but this movie's lackluster performance shows how quickly one can rise and fall.

This Friday will be a crowded one, with four wide releases hitting theatres: Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, romantic comedy Just Go With It, 3D animated pick Gnomeo and Juliet, and historic action film The Eagle.

Friday, February 4, 2011

'The Roommate' and 'Sanctum' battle Super Bowl Sunday

By Sarah Sluis

Super Bowl Sunday is this weekend, which has historically led to box-office doldrums. Many studios don't want to release a big film because they know Sunday will see a steep decline in ticket sales, but recently some movies, like the Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds concert movie and romance Dear John, have hopped into the time slot as counterprogramming for a young, female audience.

This year's "Miley Cyrus" counterprogramming pick is The Roommate (2,534 theatres), which should Roommate alyson michalkaattract medium-sized hordes of young women (this demographic is already a big consumer of the horror genre, though this movie is more of a thriller). Leighton Meester ("Gossip Girl") stars as a creepy roommate in the style of Single White Female, whose possessiveness and copycat behavior quickly turn for the worse. With no advance screenings, a two-thumbs-up review is unlikely, though the lack of competing films should bring it over $10 million.

The 3D/IMAX, cave exploration movie Sanctum (2,789 theatres) will also drop into theatres. Despite the fact that the movie used the same 3D techniques as Avatar and bears the executive producer stamp Santum creepy scuba of James Cameron, I was not impressed. Critic Maitland McDonagh called out the "one-dimensional characters" and added this observation: "Anyone who can't predict the order in which the bruised and battered survivors will fall prey to the implacable forces of nature and human error doesn't spend much time at the movies." I myself became distracted from the story, debating which character would be the next addition to the body count. A $10 million plus debut should also be in order for this suspense tale.

Natalie Portman's the new owner of a Golden Globe, and her prominence in both Black Swan and No Strings Attached undoubtedly motivated IFC Films to release The Other Woman (2 The other woman natalie portman_ theatres), which stars the actress. In fact, "Portman is the only real reason to see the film," critic David Noh proclaims, faulting its "overt complexities and heavy obviousness."

On Monday, with the battle of the Steelers and Packers over, I'll give a play-by-play of this weekend's winners and losers.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Foursquare provides another tool to track moviegoers

By Sarah Sluis

Foursquare takes Facebook status updates and Twitter musings to the next level. Users with smartphones "check in" to nearby locations. Why sacrifice their privacy? For the possibility of accruing badges, showing off that they're in the next hot restaurant, the cool new film, or to see if any of their friends have checked in to nearby bars.

The nascent company recently posted a clever infographic revealing their stats for the year--including movie check-ins.


Oh, the potential! Much has been made of Twitter's ability to reflect word-of-mouth on a movie, but Foursquare reveals something simpler: admissions. Currently, Foursquare stats aren't available in aggregate to pick apart statistically, but the movie check-in data does offer some insights if you consider why people "check in" on Foursquare.

"Checking in" is an option, not a requirement. While some people check in indiscriminately, others may do so for select movies, or ones that they're proud of the fact they're seeing.

Take, for example, the spike for Iron Man 2 versus the spike for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Eclipse opened just about 20% higher than Iron Man 2, yet the spike goes twice as high. More people wanted to advertise that they were seeing Eclipse.

Foursquare also offers an insight into the moviegoing habits of a specific cross-section of viewers: Conclusions can be made about the kind of people that not only can afford smartphones, but belong to crowds where GPS broadcasting of whereabouts is a cool thing to do. Foursquare hasn't really been monetized yet, but when it does it will offer the kind of specific targeting that makes advertisers drool. Studios or theatre chains would be able to advertise a sub-section of people who have attended a movie (GPS verified!) and encourage them to come back for more.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Promising 'Bridesmaids' shows Apatow-style comedy can work for females

By Sarah Sluis

Another female-led movie about weddings? Oh dear. Though 27 Dresses had some redeeming moments, the horrible, ridiculous cat fighting that was Bride Wars (at least the trailer, I certainly wasn't going to see the movie after such an offensive preview) was enough to make me call it quits on the wedding genre. But Bridesmaids may be different.

Yesterday, the trailer for Bridesmaids hit the Internet. To sum up: This is a Judd Apatow-produced movie, and it shows. Kristen Wiig stars as a single gal whose best friend is getting married, giving her all the chores of a maid of honor. From the trailer, it seems like she's less unhappy about being single, and more unhappy about the fact that other people seem distressed about her relationship status (and the fact that they keep on mistaking the men standing next to her, however incompatible, as her beaux).

Unlike the vindictive hair dying and open fighting that was Bride Wars, Bridesmaids offers a more realistic take on how women bring each other down: Take the undermining comment about a fellow bridesmaid's outfit at a fancy party: "Did you come from work?" This is the kind of thing that "Sex and the City" was known for before it jumped the shark with SATC 2. The series succeeded because of its lightly caricatured, but hilarious, versions of people we already know (like snobby underminers).

Wigg kills it in Paul (trailer), a sci-fi comedy coming out in March, and I have similar faith in her in Bridesmaids. Wiig has more of a regular girl feel to her, much like fellow "SNL" alum Tina Fey. Wiig's co-stars include Maya Rudolph (also "SNL"), Ellie Kemper (the new secretary on "The Office"), Rose Byrne ("Damages") and Melissa McCarthy (starring in the "plus size" sitcom "Mike & Molly"). Notice something? None of these women have made careers as leading ladies, but in comedy and television, some in roles that prefer more down-to-earth looks.

I'm not expecting something on the level of The Hangover, and there were some stupid moments (e.g. a fart joke) that made it into the trailer. However, female buddy comedies are rare beasts, even as male-driven ones in the style of Judd Apatow have proliferated. As the spate of bad romantic comedies shows, Hollywood wants to create films that appeal to women, but it doesn't seem to know how. Bridesmaids has come up with one solution: Take the romance out of the comedy.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It finally happened to me: 3D sickness

By Sarah Sluis

When the house lights come down and the opening music swells, I'm normally filled with the excitement and anticipation of settling into a movie. I'm not frantically rubbing my 3D glasses and squinting, trying to figure out if there's something wrong with the image, or something wrong with me.

Obamas-3d-glasses-2216-1240976857-2 Yesterday I caught a screening of Sanctum 3D at the AMC at 34th Street in Manhattan, on one of the "smaller" IMAX screens. The executive producer is James Cameron, whose Avatar wowed me, so I was expecting a technically awesome 3D experience. Instead, I felt like I was rehashing the reviews I read of Clash of the Titans. It was not a pleasant experience, but, thankfully, the worst subsided (or my eyes adjusted) within the first twenty minutes.

Scratched glasses. IMAX recycles their glasses, which is a good thing in theory, but can also lead to scratches that impair viewing and lead to that manual polishing, a particularly difficult thing to do during sweater season, when a scratchy wool garment simply isn't an option for polishing. I had a couple of vertical scratches that would leak color/light upwards and downwards. If I looked offscreen at the ubiquitous EXIT lamp, for example, I would see red below and above the text, and it was the same onscreen as well. Some of the "extra" image I saw, however, wasn't because of the scratched glasses, but because of "ghosting."

As described in my article about 3D conversion companies, stereoscopic 3D can lead to ghosting in high-contrast areas. 3D involves combining a left-eye and right-eye image, and high-contrast images often leave a ghostly artifact of the separate images. This happened to me noticeably during one shot that occurred within the first five minutes. I could see a white outline to the left of the object that should have rendered completely to the right. I had the same problem with the white text on the black background, which blurred upwards and downwards--though I suspect this had more to do with the scratches in my glasses than ghosting.

Vertigo/queasiness with sweeping horizontal shots. Sanctum is a thriller set in a massive cave, and the movie opens with some sweeping aerial shots of the jungle and the cave. These gave me a fleeting sense of vertigo, and, at other points in the movie, a bit of stomach unease. Quick pans are a no-no for 3D movies, so either I was extra-sensitive to this shot or the filmmakers tried to move the camera too fast.

So what caused my bad experience? 3D problems can originate with 1) the glasses 2) the theatre's projection 3) the film not working within the limits of stereoscopic 3D 4) being part of the 5-10% (though I've heard as high as 30%) of people that just can't take 3D.

1) My glasses did feel off, and I've successfully seen films with IMAX glasses before as well as Dolby and RealD. I switched glasses with my viewing companion (they didn't bother him) and this seemed to help a bit, but it can't explain all the problems I had.

2) The theatre's projection. Hard to tell. I would have to see this movie again at another theatre in order to speculate, and I really think only an expert could identify exactly what's going on (e.g. if there are syncing issues).

3) The filmmakers. Again, this movie was executive produced by James Cameron so I would expect the technical details to be top-notch. I suspect the filmmakers may have put in some shots that they knew would be challenging to an above-average portion of the audience, but I don't want to indict them for more than that.

4) Me. I've successfully seen close to a dozen 3D movies, and I've overwhelmingly had a positive experience, with a few minor issues. I did feel like I was way too close to the screen, something I've never felt before (and I'm pretty sure I always pick a similar middle spot), and in the future I think I'll sit another five rows back out of caution. I ended up with a dull headache that lasted some time after the credits ended, along with a feeling of having to focus and concentrate way more than normal--it felt as if I had to "squint" the whole movie.

My consensus? I left more puzzled than totally turned off by 3D. Since it's hard to diagnose exactly what happened, I'll do what I can: double-check my glasses for scratches and sit an extra five rows back from the screen. I'm also newly grateful for the fact that movies release in both 2D and 3D for those that have problems with the images, because bad 3D can, literally, give you a headache.