Thursday, June 30, 2011

'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' trailer: Can you want to see a movie based on the music alone?

By Sarah Sluis

This week appears to be trailer week on Screener, since a number of high-profile films have released first-look teaser trailers. Today's trailer is for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which Focus is releasing stateside November 18th.

I fell in love with the trailer instantly because of its commanding, moody score. IMDB lists the composer as Johan Sderqvist, who also wrote the music for director Tomas Alfredson's 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In. Alfredson is the other reason to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. His previous film was haunting and resonant, with a masterful command of tone and suspense which made it a hit with non-horror fans. I imagine Alfredson will do a similar thing with the spy film. Based on a John Le Carr novel, the trailer looks decidedly NOT like an adaptation of a mass-market book. The feel is more The Lives of Others and less The French Connection (a.k.a. lots of chase scenes). And it's definitely not a Bourne movie.

If this movie hits, I'm sure it will pick up a lot of Oscar nods. Gary Oldman stars as a British spy who's called back from retirement to help root out a Russian mole. Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Ciarn Hinds, and Tom Hardy round out the impressive cast. Even though the movie's releasing late in the year to help position it as awards material, it looks like a perfect summer thrill ride. What I would give to see this released in July, freeing viewers from the oppression of Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Teaser 'War Horse' trailer quintessential Spielberg

By Sarah Sluis

Steven Spielberg hasn't directed a film since the meh sequel Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. His next film, War Horse, is coming out this Christmas, intent on grabbing audiences during what's often a sentimental, entertainment-heavy time of year. The teaser trailer for the movie just came out, but I wasn't immediately impressed.

The movie is based on the novel and play War Horse. I have heard nothing but raves for the play, so I was expecting the trailer to pull me in. It didn't. One key difference: The play received the most word-of-mouth praise from its incredibly life-like horse puppets. The movie uses a real-life horse, so it's hard to compare. The only hint of how the movie might give the horse humanizing attributes is at :50, when we see a close-up of a girl's reflection in the horse's eye. Gorgeous.

The trailer doesn't reveal the plot, just the settting and a loose sense of the emotional register. Since movies have been giving way too much away lately in trailers, I'm pleased that there's some mystery about the story, but at this point all we're seeing are shots of WWI and a horse. The actual story involves a boy who goes on a journey to find his horse, which is fighting in the battlefields of Europe in WWI. It's the kind of rescue mission that's implausible and melodramatic, but wasn't Saving Private Ryan founded on the same premise?

For a trailer that's based entirely on looks, it doesn't do a whole lot to draw you in. It took me a couple of viewings before I could appreciate the visuals of the trailer, my favorite being when a group of soldiers hiding in a wheat field collectively mount their horses. It made me reflect on Spielberg himself, who's always been nearly invisible in terms of style. People talk about Spielberg's frequent themes, like children of divorced parents and friendly aliens, but can't put a finger on his style. Spielberg's always followed the tenets of classical Hollywood style, as this discussion of his cutting style drives home.

Even when there are explosions (:10, 1:00), beautiful sunsets (1:35), and epic battle sequences (1:32), Spielberg has our eyes trained on the boy or the horse. It's pretty incredible. I put Spielberg with James Cameron in the category of filmmakers who are true masters of invisible filmmaking. In fact, it's enough to make me pull out my nerd hat and offer you this example, thanks to Hulu. In the T-Rex scene in his 1993 film Jurassic Park, look how clearly Spielberg establishes the space, opening with a wide shot and then moving in. Also notice how he pans to connect places. This short sequence has a half-dozen pans. Modern directors would just cut all over the place, and would also do some lame cut-ins, as if we wanted to see a close-up of a hand holding a flare when there's a T-Rex around. I'm being harsh on War Horse, but seeing the movie is a given. Even with tons of war scenes, the focus will be on the boy and the horse. It's directed by Steven Spielberg, the king of classical Hollywood style.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What we learned about Pixar's 2012 release 'Brave'

By Sarah Sluis

The past few years of Pixar movies have been a joy for adults. WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3 were visually stunning, emotionally resonant films that rekindled the taste for animation among those that had abandoned the format. This year's Cars 2 may be beautiful, but the story is more kid-focused and targeted at that machinery-obsessed demographic that includes many boys. For those that were let down by this year's Pixar movie, the trailer for Brave promises more of the brand of Pixar that adults love.

1. It may be fairy tale-inspired, but it's no Tangled. This actually made me sad. I loved the luminous look of Disney's Rapunzel tale, which was filled with color and light rendered in golden hues. Brave is going for a harsher, naturalistic look that matches its medieval setting. I'm holding out for the likelihood that there might be brighter scenes not included in the one-minute trailer.

2. Noticeable technical innovation. Hair is notoriously difficult to computer-animate, so it's always a good place to analyze the work of the animators. At :40, Princess Merida's hair bounces softly. The movement struck me as incredibly naturalistic. These are the kind of people who tap Ph.D.'s in fluid simulation to create waves, so I'm sure months of work went into creating the motion and look of Merida's prominent red curly mane.

3. The Stonehenge mystery. Some of the opening shots include rocks in a Stonehenge-like structure. The only problem is that the movie is set in Scotland while Stonehenge is in southern England. There might be a way around this: A 12th century Arthurian legend purports that Merlin remotely assembled the structure from Ireland. At least there's precedent for creative license in this manner. Now we just need to get to the bottom of what those floating blue orbs of light mean.

4. A female heroine. Princess Merida will be the first female Pixar heroine. In the trailer she's riding horses through bear-infested woods and shooting arrows. As a sidenote, what is it with young female action heroines and their graceful weapon, a bow and arrow? This year's Hanna used it to hunt, and next March's The Hunger Games will feature Katniss, whose weapon of choice is a bow and arrow. Merida appears to be no exception, perhaps following in the footsteps of Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt.

5. A Scottish lead. Reese Witherspoon was originally supposed to voice Merida, but she's been replaced with Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald ("Boardwalk Empire"). Witherspoon may have been too expensive or busy, or perhaps Pixar just wanted a real Scottish brogue. Since we don't hear her voice in the trailer, it's too soon to tell what Macdonald will bring to the table.

Brave is set for a June 22, 2012, release. Disney's website offers just a cryptic description. Merida defies tradition, causing trouble. She then goes to a witch for help, unleashing a curse that she must then fix in order to save the kingdom. The original title, The Bear and the Bow, evoked more of a fairy-tale feel, but it was also more revealing in terms of plot. We see both a bear and a bow in the trailer. I suspect that Merida's showdown with the bear is either her initial act of defiance or seals the ill-conceived wish granted by the witch. The answer is just a year away.

Monday, June 27, 2011

'Cars 2' races to first with $68 million

By Sarah Sluis

Pixar's animated sequel Cars 2 revved up the U.S. box office to the tune of $68 million. Toy Story 3 opened to $100+ million last year, but Lightning McQueen and Mater don't have quite the following of Buzz & Woody. Overseas, the movie has already earned $42.9 million while in release in about 25% of Cars 2 mater lightning mcqueen foreign markets. The first film's small town America focus alienated foreign viewers, leading to just over $200 million abroad, one of Pixar's worst international showings. The second film, with its 'round-the-world Grand Prix and spy premise, goes above and beyond to appeal to a global audience. Just 40% of U.S. audiences saw the film in 3D, a sign of the continued softening in the 3D market. The question now is if 3D will continue to decline, or if it will hold on to current audiences. When 3D was first introduced, there was a surge of interest. Of course some people who tried 3D and didn't like it or think it was worth the higher ticket price will drop out. But will everyone else opt out of 3D?

Bad Teacher had a strong $31 million opening weekend. The comedy bested the opening of Bridesmaids, but it feels more like a movie that will die out instead of propelling forward on word-of- Bad teacher to kill mockingbird mouth. According to Rotten Tomatoes, 69% of audiences liked it compared to 44% of critics. That puts the movie behind Bridesmaids' 90% critics/84% audience approval rating. Speaking of which, the Kristen Wiig-led comedy fell just 24% to $5.3 million this weekend. Now in its seventh weekend, the comedy has accomplished the rare feat of earning six times opening weekend.

Second weekends can be brutal for tentpoles, and Green Lantern was no exception. The green superhero film dove 65% to $18.3 million. That means the $200 million movie fell short of the $100 million mark, never a good move for a film that put all its chips on a big opening.

The Tree of Life showed strength in 12th place this weekend. Receipts went up 16% to $1.3 million as the movie doubled the number of locations in release. Illegal immigrant drama A Better Life made a respectable debut of $15,000 per screen at four locations. If the Summit release can reach beyond arthouse attendees and capture the attention of Hispanic moviegoers, who see movies frequently, the drama could take off, but it may be tough getting people to see a downbeat movie that's been described as a cousin of The Bicycle Thief.

On Wednesday, Transformers: Dark of the Moon will get a head start on grabbing audiences. On Friday, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts pair up for Larry Crowne, and tweens will probably freak out for a fantasy friend vacation made just for them in Monte Carlo.

Friday, June 24, 2011

'Cars 2' starts its engines

By Sarah Sluis

Pixar's summer animated movies have become draws for kids and adults alike, but adults won't find a crowd-pleaser like Up in Cars 2 (4,115 theatres). The sequel to the 2006 hit is more of a kids' movie, centering on talking cars with stereotypical characters (redneck, arrogant Italian, British spy, sultry Cars 2 paris secret agent). "That's not the Pixar adults know and cherish," critic Kevin Lally notes, but the visuals remain on the cutting edge, especially "the travelogue aspects," which Lally dubbed a "knockout, from the blazing neon colors of its Tokyo, to a Les Halles spare-parts bazaar in Paris, to an eye-poppingly beautiful Italian Mediterranean city called Porto Corsa."

Cars 2, made post-Disney/Pixar merger, also shows what happens once a movie becomes just a launching pad for everything else. Advertisements (Mater sings the State Farm jingle, a paid endorsement), both in the film and out, will make a lot of money for Disney/Pixar. In fact, the first film generated $10 billion in merchandise sales. Disney will also use its expertise to create a straight-to-video spinoff "Planes," and an attraction at its California theme park. The international locales, besides just being a story element, will also help market these films to worldwide audiences. Is it a coincidence that the blandest Pixar movie is also the best platform for tie-ins and spin-offs? Tracking suggests the animated film will bring in $50-60 million, less than the original. With 3D suffering, many eyes will be trained on the performance of 3D and IMAX screens.

R-rated counterprogramming comes in the form of Cameron Diaz as a Bad Teacher (3,049 theatres). I thought the comedy was hilarious, though not everyone warmed to the "foul-mouthed, intemperate, Bad teacher group bar conniving babe," as Diaz's character was described by critic Rex Roberts. He dismisses the comedy as a "series of skits hung on an implausible plotline," but isn't that the basis of most comedies that aim for more than a laugh a minute? I found the eye-rolling stupidity of Diaz's plot to be part of the fun, but if you're not laughing in the first fifteen minutes, it might be a good time to walk out.

If late-night TV lovers can wrest themselves off the couch, they can catch stand-up comedy documentary Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (25 theatres), which has been receiving mainly positive reviews but did not find a fan with critic David Noh. He wasn't that sympathetic for the whining millionaire, concluding that "Behind the scenes, a lot of comics ain't that comic." Paul Weitz directs a pet project about the struggles of illegal immigrants in A Better Life (4 theatres). The overwrought title of Turtle: The Incredible Journey (20 theatres) says it all in this nature documentary, which somehow manages to turn the plight of turtles into an "intrusive melodrama," according to Noh.

On Monday, we'll post the rank of Cars 2 after its first lap, and see if audiences sparked to the misdeeds of Bad Teacher.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

'Bad Teacher' vs. 'Bridesmaids'

By Sarah Sluis

Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher have a few things in common. They both star females, and their main focus is comedy, not romance. But while Bridesmaids was a runaway success, I have more modest expectations for Bad Teacher. I think the movie has more obvious appeal for men, but Cameron Diaz's comically unlikeable character could alienate some viewers, depending on their sense of humor. What follows is a rundown of the two movies' takes on the genre.

Precursor of Bridesmaids workout
Bridesmaids: The Hangover
Bad Teacher: Bad Santa

Leading Lady
Bridesmaids: Relatable loser.
Bad Teacher: That girl you hate.

Is the overweight sidekick one of the best characters?
Bridesmaids: Yes. Melissa McCarthy owns as a fierce tomboy.
Bad Teacher: Yes. Phyllis Smith plays an endearing teacher who wants to be friends with Diaz, but not if she has to break--oh no--rules.

Most awkward coupling
Bridesmaids: Unclothed.
Bad Teacher:

Does the woman ditch the loser and end up with Mr. Right (now)?
Bridesmaids: Yes, a too-nice police officer who puts up with her bad behavior and initial lack of interest.
Bad Teacher:
Yes, a too-nice gym teacher who puts up with her bad behavior and initial lack of interest.

Police are called when�
Bridesmaids: You do drugs on a plane
Bad Teacher:
You hide drugs in a false bottom of your desk

Most "guy" movie moment
Bridesmaids: Food poisoning at a bridal shop. Bad teacher
Bad Teacher: Daisy Duke outfit at the car wash.

Most "girl" movie moment
Bridesmaids: Pretty much all the one-on-one dialogue between Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph.
Bad Teacher: Seeing Diaz's red-soled Christian Louboutins scoured off due to wear. A fashion tragedy for the "Sex and the City" set.

Bridesmaids opened to $26 million and currently has over $140 million in the bank. Bad Teacher, which opens tomorrow, is aiming for a similar debut, though I doubt it will have the legs of Bridesmaids. At least from where I was sitting, both movies provided plenty of laughs for their running time, one of the most important tests for a comedy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Idris Elba lands big deal lead in 'Pacific Rim'

By Sarah Sluis

Idris Elba was so good on "The Wire," which ended in 2004 but has since been discovered by at least as many people who watched the series to begin with. As Stringer Bell, he brought a business-minded sensibility to drug dealing, which more often was run on instinct. Although Elba has had a solid run of supporting roles, he's only recently started to come into the spotlight. This May, he had a memorable Idris-elba-as-thor turn as the gatekeeper Heimdall in Thor.

Now he's been cast as the lead in the Guillermo Del Toro monster movie Pacific Rim. Given Del Toro's busy schedule and penchant for announcing projects that don't often pan out, I'll believe this when they start production. Or maybe not, given what happened with The Hobbit. The role is a big "get" for Elba, and there are some clues about what his role will be in this vaguely described monster movie.

Elba will likely play one of two pilots who don special Iron Man-like suits to combat monsters that have been wreaking havoc on Earth. They enter through a portal that sprung up some years before. The entire nation has retreated underground to escape the monsters. Warner Bros.-based Legendary Pictures is producing.

While that project gets underway, Elba will be seen strutting his star stuff in Ridley Scott's Prometheus. He's co-starring opposite Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, and Noomi Rapace. The space-set monster movie (I'm sensing a theme here) was first imagined as an Alien prequel, though now it's being billed as an original film, albeit with an Alien connection. That project is set for release in early summer 2012, where it will vie for the summer dollars. Of course, if you want to see Elba sooner, you can check out his role in next February's release Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, a sequel to the 2007 Nicolas Cage movie that I'm not placing any bets on.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pixar's 'Cars 2' uses 3D for depth behind the screen

By Sarah Sluis

At a Manhattan screening of Cars 2 last night, security distributed adult and child-sized glasses for the 3D presentation. With my glasses on, I was greeted with the familiar Pixar brand of 3D. Like Toy Story 3 Cars 2 group tokyo and Up in the two preceding summers, the movie was very conservative in popping out the image. I think the furthest the image went out into the audience was during the opening credits. At a few points in the movie I removed my 3D glasses, and discovered just how conservative Pixar was in creating their 3D images. None of the split images popped the visuals out into the audience. They were only splitting the image to create depth behind the screen.

The main characters taking up most of the screen looked exactly the same with glasses on and glasses off. The scenery behind them was rendered in duplicate, creating depth that only felt slightly more convincing than 2D depth. I respect Pixar's decision not to create a gimmicky 3D experience by breaking the fourth wall and attacking the audience with the image, but it doesn't speak much for the future of 3D. Seeing an image come at me, even slightly, is why I see a 3D movie. If Pixar, widely regarded as the most technologically innovative animation studio, won't play around with 3D, who will? So far, only James Cameron has provided effects that came out at the audience without taking them out of the story, but immersing them further in the movie world.

The depth behind objects created by stereoscopic 3D isn't that impressive. In real life, we understand distance through monocular depth cues anyway. Seeing a road get smaller as it fades into the background is just as effective as splitting the image to make it fall back. Then there's the oh-so-mild eye strain that I now experience when watching 3D films. If I were paying for my ticket, I don't think I'd pay extra for the 3D. Pixar's spending their money on making better animation, like their stunning landscapes of an Italian town perched on a cliff above a beach and a neon, vertical Tokyo. 3D adds a little, but not enough to justify the extra cost. My judgment on Cars 2: See it in 2D.

Monday, June 20, 2011

'Green Lantern' flickers to $52 million

By Sarah Sluis

Superhero fatigue is setting in. Green Lantern debuted to $52.7 million, lower than both Thor and X-Men: First Class. People turned out on Friday, but Saturday showed a 20% drop-off in business, much Green lantern alien more than either Thor or X-Men: First Class. Even for superhero movie fans, three in two months feels like too much. This reporter is not a fan of the superhero genre, save for early 1990s after-school cartoon Captain Planet (He's our hero/Going to take pollution down to ze-ro). Sadly, he is not to be confused with patriotic superhero Captain America, this summer's final, august superhero. Norse comic book demigod Thor fell out of the top ten heavens for the first time this week, adding $1.1 million to its $176 million total. X-Men: First Class dropped by half in its third week, depositing $11.5 million to its current $119 million domestic gross. These superhero movies are expensive to make, and the U.S. box office barely covers their production costs without marketing. The reality is that films make their money overseas and through merchandising.

Super 8 fell 40% to $21.2 million its second weekend. This Spielberg-influenced sci-fi tale is one of the few action-y tentpoles not to come from a comic book or other pre-sold property, so it didn't open as high. Its redemption was supposed to occur in its second week, but a 40% fall isn't word-of-mouth gold. In comparison, surprise smash Bridesmaids dipped just 20% in its second week, but most other tentpoles this summer having been diving further: 56% (X-Men: First Class), 63% (Hangover II), 56% (Pirates 4)

Mr. Popper's Penguins did better than Fox expected, tallying up $18.2 million from family audiences. Penguins jim carrey Most broad family pictures this summer have been animated, and I think the CG/live-action mix drew families interested in mixing it up.

Fox Searchlight's Sundance pickup The Art of Getting By bombed. With just a $1,100 per-screen average at 610 locations, the high school romantic comedy ended up with just $700,000. The timing of the release seems a little off, too. The core audience, high schoolers, is busy with end-of-year activities and graduation right now, leaving them with less Freddie highmore emo kid time to see a movie.

The Irish dancing documentary Jig had a foot-tapping debut of $13,000 per screen on five screens. The horse whisperer documentary Buck also opened to a cantor, averaging $16,100 on four screens. The real winners, though, are the rock star specialty releases Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life. Woody Allen's Midnight fell just 10% in its second weekend deployed at around 1,000 locations, adding another $5.2 million to its over $20 million total. The Tree of Life went up 34% to $1.1 million. The poetic film is taking it slow, doubling the number of locations for a still-tiny grand total of 114 screens.

This Friday, Pixar will unveil Cars 2, and the R-rated shock comedy Bad Teacher makes its debut.

Friday, June 17, 2011

'Green Lantern' prepares to light up box office

By Sarah Sluis

This summer appears to be the season of comic book films. Thor, X-Men: First Class, and now Green Lantern (3,816 theatres) are deluging audiences with superheroes, and Captain America: The First Avenger hasn't even come out yet. Thor skewed young, X-Men aimed for sophisticates, and 3D Green Green lantern gun Lantern is best described as "trippy," according to our kind editor Kevin Lally. The consensus is that the movie is plain bad, "assembled with off-the-shelf narrative components and no authentic soul or emotion," according to critic Frank Lovece. The New York Times' Manohla Dargis added that tone is another of the film's issues, with the comic book film unable to "[hit] the sweet spot between sincerity and self-awareness." These worries aside, Green Lantern will probably open in the $50 millions, below Thor and above the highest-rated of the bunch, X-Men: First Class. Figures.

An uptight, workaholic Dad finally relaxes and embraces his family after something crazy and magical happens. This plotline has been used again and again (including in Jim Carrey film Liar Liar), and it's been resurrected for Carrey-starring Mr. Popper's Penguins (3,388 theatres), which centers on him Jim carrey penguin dance signing for an unexpected shipment of penguins. I feel rather cool towards this premise, and apparently audiences do too. Fox is estimating a low $10 million for the movie, considerably less than Carrey's last kid-oriented studio effort, A Christmas Carol (also an underperformer). The low projections reflect Carrey's waning star power. There seems to be a caste of Hollywood A-List comedian/movie stars who made their big bucks doing PG-13 and R films, only to slowly work their way down the ladder into kid and family offerings. Eddie Murphy's just another example of the Carrey trajectory, and his "uptight Dad saved by kid magic" 2009 film Imagine That did not do well either.

Sundance darling Homework, now titled The Art of Getting By (610 theatres) has received a much cooler reception now that it's about to hit the big screen. THR's David Rooney dismissed the high school tales as a "vapid coming-of-age story" featuring "bland and pretty" couple Emma Roberts and Freddie Highmore going through that eye-rolling juvenile depression in which "standard-issue dissatisfactions Artist art of getting by are monument." The Times was more kind and clever, with A.O. Scott conceding that "if you grade on a curve you may find yourself touch, tickled, and occasionally surprised." With such a limited release, a number in the low millions will be lucky.

The specialty films to catch will be Page One: Inside the New York Times (2 theatres), a documentary about the Times' Media Desk that I praised yesterday. The real-life horse whisperer gets his own documentary in Buck (4 theatres). The "quietly captivating portrait" of Buck Brannaman shows off his "modesty" and wins over viewers.

On Monday, we'll see if Green Lantern was able to best expectations and beat Thor, if audiences flocked for Mr. Popper's Penguins, and if Fox Searchlight was able to capture the indie teen crowd for The Art of Getting By.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What to see this weekend: 'Page One: Inside the New York Times'

By Sarah Sluis

The thing about the reviews of Page One: Inside the New York Times is that they all come from within the publishing industry. It's not such a stretch of the imagination to believe that people in the newspaper/magazine/blogosphere would be bowled over by a documentary about the Gray Lady. So you'll have to trust me on this one: Page One is a documentary worth seeing, whether you're in the business Page one new york times or not.

Writer/director Andrew Rossi captures that feeling of impending doom that had settled over the industry during the recession, when newspapers and magazines were dropping like flies. Now that the number of media casualties have diminished, it's curious to be brought back to that period, when the Seattle P-I and Rocky Mountain News went under. Rossi uses these outsider examples to contextualize. The real star of the movie is the Times itself, specifically the Media Desk, which covers the changes in the industry.

For the layperson who just enjoys reading the newspaper, the doc fills in a lot of the blanks about how a newspaper operates. Rossi reveals the sort-of-obvious fact that The New York Times tends to dictate content in newspapers across the country. I've always noticed that when I read other newspapers at home or while traveling, they'll often include stories I read a few days before in the Times. Beyond just syndication, the Times' opinions carry a measure of influence that can wield real power. Rossi touches upon Judith Miller's reportage, which conveyed information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that just wasn't true. Many blame Miller for creating a quorum of support for the Iraqi War.

The real star of the documentary, however, is David Carr. The onetime drug addict turned single parent and reporter knows how to cut through the crap, a skill that he shows off to great effect. This piece that he wrote about the Tribune Company led to the resignation of its leader, Randy Michaels. He's never fawning or sycophantic with his interview subjects. When interviewing the heads of Vice Magazine (piece here), he lashes out at them after they insult the Times, an altercation that NY Mag was nice enough to transcribe (trust me, it's more forceful on film). A number of reviews mention that moment, including Film Journal's.

Our critic Erica Abeel mentions that Rossi is "overly respectful," which is true. But perhaps that's what it took to get a look inside the newspaper. In an FJI interview with Rossi, he says he was able to get the go-ahead by sitting through "six months of meetings" and by "[pitching] it as an observational doc and...[communicating] that I had no agenda." While sometimes I wanted the documentary to have a stronger point-of-view, Page One's best moments are when a reporter is on the phone with a source, and an editor is putting the finishing touches on a story.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What will it mean to have between 5-10 Best Picture Oscar nominees?

By Sarah Sluis

Just two years ago, the Academy mixed it up by announcing that it will expand the number of Best Pictures nominees from five to ten. Now it's modifying its decision, allowing for at least five but no more than ten nominees. In order to receive a nomination, the movie must be the first pick of at least 5% of Academy voters. This will change the Oscar game, primarily for the good.

1. Everyone at the table deserves a seat at the table. Looking back at the nominees for 2009 and Statuette 2010, I was pleased with the films that were nominated. Sure, there were some that weren't normally Oscar material--like District 9, teeny-tiny Winter's Bone, and 127 Hours, but for the most part that helped punch things up. Under the new rules, we'll know that any film that's nominated got at least 5% of the vote. There won't be speculation that a movie like 127 Hours, The Blind Side or even Up made it just because they needed ten nominees. I hope this means some of the smaller indies that received nominations, like A Serious Man, Winter's Bone, and The Kids Are All Right, won't entirely disappear from the running.

2. Recognizing there can be more than five good films a year. Everyone in Hollywood wants another 1939, widely considered one of the strongest movie years on record. In that year, for example, I've seen six of the ten Best Pictures nominees, compared to a couple in the years directly before and after. But even in a year of several future classics, at least a few of the films didn't endure. According to the Academy's releases, there would have been anywhere from five to nine nominees in the years 2001-2008.

3. Getting rid of "snubbed" lists. One of the recurring Oscar-time features is the list of films, actors, and actresses that turned in classic performances that went unrecognized by the Academy. This can be a little embarrassing for the organization, especially when it exposes their biases (or "preferences," if you're feeling nice) for certain types of films. Of course, this doesn't guarantee that these types of films still won't be excluded from the running.

If they are, it will be even worse, since that means less than 5% of Academy members thought highly of the film. Some of the Academy's famous snubs include a number of Alfred Hitchcock films, including Vertigo, Psycho, and North by Northwest. Films that would become calling cards for directors, like Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot, Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven, were all excluded from the Best Picture race. The greatest musical of all time, Singin' in the Rain, also didn't make the cut.

I'm impressed that the Academy has changed the rules for such a significant part of their awards. To do it two times in just three years is even more eyebrow-raising. The Academy was willing to admit that the ten-nominee system wasn't working out according to their expectations. We may be far from Oscar season, but the most exciting part of this year's Oscars may be January 24th, when we find out which films, and how many, were nominated after the Academy's tweaking.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Project spotlight: 'Lola Versus'

By Sarah Sluis

Since the successful release of Bridesmaids, everyone's expected female-driven films to start focusing on raunchy groups of women. But there's still a healthy amount of projects focusing on that traditional subject of female-targeted films, romance. Like a number of recent romantic comedies (The Break-Up, (500) Days of Summer), however, upcoming production Lola Versus skips past the falling-in-love part. It goes straight to the breakup and the aftermath. Fox Searchlight will release the film, which announced a Greta gerwig number of casting decisions as it prepares to shoot in NYC.

Greta Gerwig stars as a 29-year-old dumped three weeks before her wedding. About to be single and thirty, she "embarks on a series of desperate encounters" in the aftermath of the breakup. Her ex will be played by Joel Kinnaman, who has distinguished himself in AMC's "The Killing." The supporting cast includes Debra Winger, Hamish Linklater, and Bill Pullman. Gerwig's best friend, a struggling actress, will be played by Zoe Lister-Jones. Real life couple Lister-Jones and director Daryl Wein co-wrote the screenplay. The duo wrote, directed, and starred in the semi-autobiographical 2010 romantic comedy Breaking Upwards, which drew the eyes of a lot of important people. I'm sure they wouldn't be doing this film now if it weren't for Breaking Upwards.

While the subject, the fear of getting older without having found a match, is a familiar one, Lola Versus has a cast and crew that make me feel the movie won't revert to the same stereotypes. Lister-Jones and Wein will likely turn to their own experiences to make the script realistic, not one of those overblown fantasies with girls with perfect jobs and perfect New York City apartments. I'm also a fan of Gerwig, who has such a "regular girl" thing going for her. It's been surprising to see her both glammed up in Arthur and purposely frumpy in Greenberg. The subject itself is also a clue. The premise takes away the "happily ever after" from the main character, then forces her to go on a journey to discover what life is like without tying things together so neatly. That kind of realism isn't depressing, it's inspiring. I've enjoyed seeing break-up films offer insightful, poignant details on relationships. Traditional romantic comedies, so eager to end with a kiss and a promise, don't have time for this kind of introspection.

Monday, June 13, 2011

'Super 8' exceeds modest expectations with $37 million

By Sarah Sluis

Super 8, with its throwback, Spielberg-influenced sci-fi, kept audiences in the dark about the premise. That's a good thing for preserving the surprise in the viewing experience but a bad thing for opening weekend. Despite a $37 million weekend, which exceeded expectations, Super 8's mission is not over. Super 8 fire The real gauge of the J.J. Abrams film's success will be in coming weeks. Will the movie fade quietly or become this summer's popcorn movie of choice? Having seen the film, I feel firmly that it's destined to be the latter. Unlike last week's X-Men: First Class and other tentpoles, Super 8 performed better on Saturday than Friday. The audience members, largely over 25 and slightly skewing male, weren't driven to the theatre by a barrage of television ads giving away the plot, but mysterious ones. The hope is that they'll share their positive experience with friends and family, especially on social networking websites.

Bridesmaids had its lowest drop yet, 15%, keeping it in the eight digits with $10.1 million. Male buddy comedy The Hangover Part II tapered its fall with a 40% dip to $18.5 million. X-Men: First Class halved its gross, but the 53% drop is actually the best experienced by an X-Men film. Following the standard for animated movies, Kung Fu Panda 2 lost just 30% of its audience, finishing the weekend with $16.6 million.

The other new release of the week, Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer, contributed a quiet Judy moody jordana beatty $6.2 million. That's slightly less than last year's Ramona and Beezus, which also targeted tween girls. With a reported budget of $20 million, this movie will have to hope for a long life on DVD to make up its high cost.

Directly below Judy Moody, Woody Allen had his highest-grossing single weekend ever with Midnight in Paris. The light, comic film tallied up $6.1 million on less than a thousand screens. I've heard nothing but positive word-of-mouth for this film, which seems poised to surpass Allen's last big hit, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The Tree of Life also improved from its previous weekend, adding $875,000 to its coffers while playing on 47 screens.

No more specialty darlings will join Allen and Malick, at least this weekend. British comedy The Trip averaged a mediocre $14,100 per screen playing in six locations. Congo production Viva Riva! earned a low $3,400 per-screen. Dutch romance Bride Flight, casting a wide net with 18 locations, had a light catch of just $3,000 per screen.

This Friday, another comic book hero gets a movie in Green Lantern. Jim Carrey plays opposite Arctic birds in Mr. Popper's Penguins, and emo teens can get release in The Art of Getting By.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Will audiences discover 'Super 8'?

By Sarah Sluis

Paramount has been secretive about its new film Super 8 (3,379 theatres). The question this weekend will answer is: Have they been too secretive? According to Alterian's social media monitoring software, both last week's release X-Men: First Class and next week's Green Lantern are grabbing a larger portion Super 8 cube of the online chatter. Super 8 was barely even on the radar until Memorial Day weekend. Both Super 8 and last week's well-reviewed X-Men: First Class have 64% positive sentiment ratings, which bodes well for Super 8. Industry insiders are predicting the film will debut to around $25-$30 million, not that bad considering the movie was made for just $50 million.

Critics have called out J.J. Abrams' style for what it is: an imitation of a master. A. O. Scott of The New York Times put it this way: "The visual and emotional poetry of those films, however, never quite blossoms, despite having been copied out carefully, line by line." That doesn't mean the movie still isn't enjoyable in its own right. The story centers on a group of kids making a Super 8 movie. They witness a train crash that unleashes something that wreaks havoc (but often sentimental havoc, like lost dogs) on their town. I think the fact that the trailer didn't give away the movie will provide audiences a better experience and in turn drive positive word-of-mouth. Paramount held sneak peeks last night that they hope will give them a head start on building positive buzz.

Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer (2,524 theatres) will do lesser business, primarily attracting pre-teen girls and a parent guardian. The PG-rated film did not find a fan with David Noh, who called the movie "shrilly bright, noisome" and filled with "charmless rambunctiousness." However, the bright production design and silly humor seem guaranteed to hit the sweet spot of its target Judy moody bigfoot audience, who probably won't have qualms about its "loud special effects" and "animated sequences...which contribute...chaos."

The British comedy duo of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon team up for The Trip (6 theatres). Critic Rex Roberts praised this "exercise in comic improvisation," which really only has a plot as an excuse to pack comedy into it. His warning? "You should have a high tolerance for drollery and affectionate raillery."

A rare gem in the comedy-horror mockumentary niche, Troll Hunter pairs up beautiful views of Norwegian fjords with man-eating trolls who must be dispensed with by government-hired troll hunters.

On Monday, we'll see if audiences were curious enough to catch Super 8 and if enough pre-teen girls were able to convince their parents to take them to Judy Moody.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Is Darren Aronofsky trying to create another 'Last Temptation of Christ' with 'Noah'?

By Sarah Sluis

I'm floored. Director Darren Aronofsky is turning to the Bible for his next movie? This is a director known for films that show off the brutalization of the body. They're graphic. There's blood and guts and sex. Okay, maybe at least part of that is a little Old Testament. The director has written a script that's a "re-telling" of the saga of Noah's Ark, which New Regency has committed to co-financing. I wonder if 250px-Noahs_Ark "re-telling" means he's taking liberties with the biblical story, or if he plans to go for a more straightforward tale. Either way, he's setting himself up for a world of controversy.

If I had to place the last time the country went gung-ho over a religious movie, I'd have to go with 1956's The Ten Commandments or 1959's Ben-Hur. In recent years, any attempt at recreating biblical stories has led to huge controversies. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ came from a religious viewpoint, but it seemed Christians and Jews alike took issue with the film. Then there's Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, surely one of the most (unfairly) maligned movies. The 1988 film explored the humanity of Jesus, but people just weren't prepared to see the Son of God sleeping with a woman and sinning. I imagine Aronofsky will go with a similarly controversial take, and it will be a miracle if religious audiences spark to his depiction.

At the same time, there's no reason that religious movies should be either lightning rods of controversy or marginalized. A number of religious-themed films have broken through in recent years, but these tend to be movies about Christians or those carrying religious themes. They're not trying to depict scenes from the actual Bible. In theatres now, Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life cites passages from the Bible and explores both creation and the afterlife. The upcoming indie Higher Ground, based on a memoir, covers a woman's rising and waning fervor for religion. Then there are movies like The Blind Side and Fireproof, which have found enormous acceptance with people living by the Word. Maybe Darren Aronofsky's plan to create a film about Noah's Ark isn't so crazy after all. But I won't be surprised if a few religious groups condemn it along the way.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Alamo Drafthouse anti-texting video goes viral

By Sarah Sluis

There's nothing more annoying than seeing the flash of a bright screen as someone texts or checks their email during a movie. The worst offenders hold their phone so it's visible even if you're ten rows away, a side effect of stadium seating. Is it really that hard to wait an hour and a half to check your phone? Conversely, if the movie is that bad that you're bored and texting, LEAVE. Theatre chain Alamo Drafthouse struck a nerve with the YouTube video it posted of an angry voicemail left by a customer who was kicked out for texting. Since it was posted on June 3rd, the voicemail has received 400,000 views.

I think it's a gutsy move by Alamo Drafthouse. After all, isn't the usual mantra "The customer is always right?" The Drafthouse is betting (correctly) that every person who has ever been annoyed by movie theatre texting will be thrilled to see justice carried out on this annoying young woman. Though they mention on the blog that the woman was given two warnings before being thrown out for texting, in the video she claims she was using her phone as a flashlight. I bet she used that line on the staff before they threw her out, too.

The transcript is pretty spot-on. More Hollywood screenplays need to make use of such words in the Texan dialect as "Magnited States of America," and not all those "reglear" words.

Monday, June 6, 2011

'X-Men' reboot brings in $56 million

By Sarah Sluis

Fox gave the reins of X-Men: First Class to director Matthew Vaughn, who had a nerd-approved box-office disappointment last year with Kick-Ass. His reboot of the X-Men series had an even better reception on Rotten Tomatoes (87% positive compared to 76% positive for Kick-Ass), and performed X-men james mcavoy roughly in line with expectations, earning $56 million. Fox's take is that the movie is like Batman Begins (which opened to $46 million), an origin tale that paves the way for an award-winning blockbuster like The Dark Knight. Of course, we won't know if that story is true until a few years from now.

The Hangover and The Hangover Part II both earned $32 million in their second weekends. The difference is that the sequel dropped 62% to get to that point, while the first film dipped just 27%. Audiences had to discover the first one through word-of-mouth, but the second one had lots of built-in anticipation. The Hangover Part II might not be selling out theatres for weeks and weeks. What it has is money in the bank. Part II has amassed $182 million so far, while the first film had just $100 million at this point.

Bridesmaids dipped 27% this weekend to $12.1 million, the comedy's biggest drop to date. That's still good news for this word-of-mouth hit, which just passed the $100 million mark.

As Midnight in Paris more than doubled the amount of theatres playing the Woody Allen film, it earned $2.9 million, officially making this Allen's most successful outing since Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Focus' Beginners had the best debut of any film in the specialty circuit, averaging $27,000 per screen. Submarine yasmin page craig roberts_ The Weinstein Co.'s Toronto Film Festival acquisition, Submarine, earned $10,000 per screen on five screens. Though the British comedy earned raves on the festival circuit, there were reports that the movie wasn't screening well and CEO "Harvey Scissorhands" was retooling the film. Those numbers seem to reflect that something is being lost in translation.

This Friday, pre-teen girls have a film all to themselves, Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer. The main attraction will be director J.J. Abrams evoking his inner Spielberg for Super 8.

Friday, June 3, 2011

'X-Men: First Class' takes on 'The Hangover Part II'

By Sarah Sluis

The X-Men series is aging, so the latest film, X-Men: First Class (3,641 theatres) turns back the clock. The series goes back to the time when mutants Charles Xavier and Magneto were friends, in the 1960s during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Layer Cake) moves to big-budget films and wields a "wickedly smart X-men mutants first class_ script with a multilayered theme that never wavers...and makes each emotional motivation interlock, often shockingly playing for keeps with its characters," critic Frank Lovece raves. Lesser-known dramatic stars and up-and-comers populate the cast, including Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence and January Jones. Fox is playing it safe and predicting a $40 million opening weekend, but outsiders think the movie could top $50-60 million.

After last weekend's blockbuster opening, The Hangover Part II is expected to drop by half and settle with $40 million its second weekend. Kung Fu Panda 2 should have a stronger hold on audiences, especially since it's the only family film in the marketplace. After two weekends with Midnight in Paris killing it in per-screen averages, the Woody Allen film will expand to 147 theatres, nearly tripling the amount of locations. The Tree of Life is going a slower route, expanding to 20 locations. Roger Ebert gave the Chicago-bound film four stars, remarking that the Midwestern-set story "reflect[s] a time and place I lived in, and the boys in it are me."

The semi-autobiographical tale Beginners (5 theatres) centers on a depressed man (Ewan McGregor) Beginners father son struggling consecutively with his father's recent coming out and his death. FJI critic David Noh complains that the movie is an "overloaded soap opera...obsessed with sadness," and I can't agree more. The McGregor character needs to ditch the soap opera and watch one of "Oprah"'s gratitude episodes, because he seriously has nothing to complain about.

Also on the specialty list is the considerably less annoying emo movie Submarine (4 theatres). The British coming-of-age picture should appeal to "fans of such quirk-meisters as Wes Anderson," Submarine craig roberts according to critic Erica Abeel. She praises both the "magical debut" of director Richard Ayoade and the performance of Craig Roberts, "a sexy charmer who conveys [main character] Oliver's inner world with an intense deadpan."

On Monday, we'll see if X-Men: First Class drew the "grownup" audiences Lovece predicted, and if audiences fell for Beginners or Submarine.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Trailer breakdown: 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark'

By Sarah Sluis

Most people are either horror fans, or they aren't. But there's a certain type of creepy movie that tends to draw broader audiences. Usually they go a little lighter on the blood and guts, and they also tend to offer a story that's more than just an excuse to have a serial killer on the loose. Whatever's causing the horrific things to happen is usually interesting in its own right (The Sixth Sense, Rosemary's Baby). Director Guillermo Del Toro may be known for his lavish, elaborate worlds in Pan's Labyrinth or Hellboy, but he's also into all things creepy. The prolific creator has produced a number of movies, including the wonderful not-too-scary The Orphanage. The trailer for upcoming Don't Be Afraid of the Dark was just released, and I imagine it will hit the same notes as The Orphanage.

A few reasons why Don't Be Afraid of the Dark will be more than a typical horror movie

1. FilmDistrict is handling distribution, and they're currently riding high on the success of Insidious, a low-budget scary movie that's considered the most profitable movie of the year.

2. They get the haunted house right. The atmospheric details like a creepy heater fit well into the scary house narrative, and the demonic murals shown in the trailer take it a step further. You also have to believe that people would actually move into a dilapidated mansion, and the house looks just normal enough outside to make everything believable.

3. Katie Holmes. She may have pursued some not-quite-right films recently, but her performances are always on the mark. She's incredibly naturalistic and believable as an actor.

4. Child victim. It's always the children that are most susceptible to evil influences, and this film is no exception. There's something about a child victim that makes a horror movie that much creepier.

5. Last, and perhaps most important, is the influence of Del Toro, who re-wrote the screenplay from a 1970s TV movie and is producing. He has a real eye for the creepy, but I also think he benefits from giving ultimate directing control over to someone else. It makes for a movie with superior craftmanship but an appeal that goes beyond niche horror.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark comes out on August 26, the perfect time of year to get goosebumps from the combination of movie theatre air conditioning and a scary movie.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Rooftop Films brings fresh movies to unusual places

By Sarah Sluis

As my companions and I grumbled on our way up the last flight of stairs at New Design High School on Manhattan's Lower East Side, volunteers cheered our arrival. Our hard work was rewarded. Though I'd passed by this neighborhood high school hundreds of times before, I was astonished by the size of the venue, which could hold at least three basketball courts and 1,000 people. In the distance, the Empire State Building shined in red, white, and blue for the Memorial Day weekend. Above, a couple of planets OPENROADROOFTOP_1_3000X2000 shone their way through the light pollution.

Rooftop Films, a non-profit that emerged more than a decade ago, is as much about the venue and the community as the film itself. Even people in the neighborhood may have no idea about the "big, fantastic, or unusual space" up above, program director Dan Nuxoll states. "Part of our whole ethos is to show people those spaces... It recontextualizes the city and the films." The screening I saw, Bad Posture, had some "recontextualize" moments. During a fight, I heard the sound of sirens in the background. Were the cops arriving in the movie, or the film? (Turned out they were in real life). As the friends in the film graffitied their house, my eyes drifted to the walls of the high school, which were also decorated in spray paint sketches.

Bad Posture, which screened on May 28th at the New Design High School, is an atmospheric tale of two friends with an appetite for delinquency set in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It's the kind of film that fits squarely into Rooftop Films' selections. Nuxoll describes their programming as a focus on the "personal." A social action documentary, for example, might not make the cut if it isn't also a personal story. Nuxoll cites last year's Gasland, which went on a special tour (co-presented with help of the Fledgling Fund) to areas affected by fracking (the extraction of natural gas from rock), like Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as a documentary that brought the filmmaker's personal story into the mix.

With so many New York City events plagued by long lines, waits, and a VIP atmosphere, Rooftop Films stands apart. Live music a half-hour before the show helps set the mood and encourages people to show up early to enjoy the rooftop ambiance. After the show, there's always an afterparty, often with complimentary drinks courtesy of an alcohol brand looking for exposure. Filmmakers show up to the afterparty, but you won't find them "caged off in a VIP section," Nuxoll notes. "You can approach them. They're part of the event. We keep everything very inclusive."

Rooftop Films no longer holds screenings just on rooftops, a decision that came pretty naturally to the organization, especially when there are unique venues on the ground. While in New York City they have the ability to grow "organically," since they have centralized staff and equipment, Rooftop Films has been dipping its toe into other waters, often through co-presentations. This summer there will be screenings in Philadelphia, and they have also had discussions about holding screenings in places like Austin, Texas, San Francisco and Los Angeles, among other places. New York City has plenty of occasions to see free movies in outdoor spaces, but Rooftop Films isn't about battling crowds for a chance to kick back on your picnic blanket with a hunk of brie. Instead, Rooftop Films is about making filmgoing a neighborhoody experience. "Going to the movies can be about escaping, leaving the community," Nuxoll says. "We want to keep people interacting with the environment."