Friday, July 29, 2011

'Cowboys & Aliens' showdown against 'Smurfs' and 'Crazy, Stupid, Love'

By Sarah Sluis

With its irreverent, evocative title, Cowboys & Aliens (3,750 theatres) will attempt to lasso the top spot with an opening weekend around $40 million. In a movie both "highly derivative and refreshingly original," according to critic Rex Roberts, "the filmmakers...gleefully beg, borrow and steal from classic Cowboys and aliens 2 battle westerns and sci-fi adventures in every scene, roping together so many clichs and tropes you'll have a hard time discerning John Ford from George Lucas." Starring Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, the movie is showing strong interest among adult males, with females over 25 showing the second-highest interest. So many sci-fi/western films have fallen flat (Jonah Hex, Wild Wild West), but Cowboys & Aliens appears to finally get the genre mash-up right.

"Could it be? A summer comedy with actual sincerity, intelligence and heart?" According to critic Kevin Lally, Crazy, Stupid, Love (3,020 theatres) is the rare "ensemble movie where the pieces fit together Gosling carell crazy stupid love in gratifying ways." The multigenerational cast should drive audiences young and old to the theatre, where the film will settle somewhere slightly under or well over the $20 million mark. Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon represent the 40 to 50-something crowd, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone cover young professionals in their 20s and 30s, and Analeigh Tipton and Jonah Bobo bring in the cute hopefulness of young love to the teen set--and Crazy, Stupid, Love is rated PG-13.

Family audiences will have yet another option with The Smurfs (3,395 theatres). The unoriginal plot is just a "cynical extension" of the "popular television series, cartoons and assorted products," according to critic Marsha McCreadie. Currently, the movie has just a 21% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes--no sign of success. Four movies in the top The smurfs nyc ten (Cars 2, Winnie the Pooh, Zookeeper, Harry Potter) are rated G or PG, giving the PG-rated blue pipsqueak movie lots of competition. Despite the abundance of kid-themed product, the live action/CG hybrid could still open at $20-30 million.

Attack the Block (8 theatres) could alternatively be titled Street Gangs & Aliens. The horror movie is "brisk, witty and crackling good fun, the kind of movie genre buffs live to discover and share with their friends before it's officially dubbed a 'cult classic,'" according to critic Maitland McDonagh. Uday Hussein gets his chance at film immortality in The Devil's Double (5 theatres), a "factually murky but riveting tale of a power-crazed Iraq regime," as described by Lally. He also approves of The Guard, a "a sly cop-buddy film set in picturesque Connemara in the west of Ireland" that features Brendan Gleeson in his best role in some time. Finally, Miranda July has her follow-up to Me and You and Everyone You Know with The Future (1 theatre), a slow, slightly surreal film that keeps the audience "dancing perilously close to the edge of terminal whimsy only to be yanked back by moments of stunning emotional truth," according to critic Ethan Alter.

On Monday, we'll see if audiences fell for a romantic comedy, animated blue dwarves or irresistible fusion of western and sci-fi genres.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Stepping back in time at the drive-in

By Sarah Sluis

In the age of Netflix, on-demand, and Hulu, many people watch movies the way they watch TV: indifferently. But going to the movies can be a special, magical experience. Forget 3D and IMAX. Think al fresco. Film Journal's summer intern, Kathleen O'Donnell, reminisces about her experiences, past and present, at the drive-in.


Entrance to Mahoning Drive-in in Lehighton, Pennsylvania.

Going to the movies is a special treat. The darkness, the cool air, the smell of popcorn - all of your senses become alert and ready for an escape, a journey. What could be better than that? Well, how about packing your car with blankets, pillows, and a Holy Grail of snacks for a true movie adventure, one that doesn't take place in a theatre seat, but in the great outdoors.

Growing up in Northeast Pennsylvania, I was afforded what most city dwellers consider a luxury: the drive-in. Within about a half hour's drive from my childhood home, there are four currently-operating drive-in theatres: Mahoning Valley in Lehighton, PA; Becky's in Berlinsville; PA, Laurel in Hazleton, PA; and Shankweiler's in Orwigsburg, PA.

Shankweiler's opened in 1934 and holds the honor of being the country's oldest drive-in that's still in operation. By 1944, Pennsylvania had 50 drive-in theatres. By 1960, the number rose to 180. Despite the dramatic decline in drive-in popularity throughout the '70s and '80s, Pennsylvania remains one of the top five drive-in states, with 35 operating theatres.

Films such as Grease and The Outsiders immortalized the vintage drive-in experience for audiences all over the U.S. But as a kid of the '90s, going to the drive-in was not about hot dates and sneaking through the fences but family time and the chance to stay up late. The other stuff was for big kids, anyway.

My parents, brother, sister and I would go to the drive-in in our family's giant blue Astro van. We would spin the seats around and set up our spread of comforters and coolers. Usually, there was time for a good game of catch or Frisbee before the sun went down and a classic like Toy Story went up on the giant white screen. I specifically remember being a really confused seven-year-old watching Small Soldiers at the drive-in. If this was a movie about toys, where were Woody and Buzz?

Once I was in high school, I started going to drive-in theatres as soon as the weather turned warm. Each year, as I divided my summer vacation between working at local museums and swimming at the pool down the road, I always managed to get permission for a couple of drive-in nights. Usually, that meant my big sis was driving and we could stay out until the second feature had ended. Score!

About a year ago, while visiting high school friends back home, we were desperate for something to do in the evening. In small town USA, there's little besides bowling and movies. We opted for both, getting to the drive-in about halfway through the first feature, Toy Story 3. After all these years, I found Woody and Buzz at the drive-in again.

Since then, I've lived in New York City for almost two years. I suppose it could be hard to say that going home has something better to offer than the Big Apple, but it certainly does: First, my loving family. Second, the drive-in. This summer, the fever set in once again. How could I miss out on experiencing the final Harry Potter flick at the drive-in? I gathered my best friends, borrowed my parents' blue SUV (swapped for the Astro van), and cruised to my favorite summer getaway. If I had to sum up the drive-in experience with one word, it's this: bliss.

See the photos from my most recent drive-in adventure below!

4Friend 6Games

My friendsplaying games,dwarfedby the screen.

7Project 8Refresh

Testaments to the long historyof the drive-in: a Simplex projector and a vintagerefreshment sign.

The main feature on a beautiful July night: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Star on the rise: Emma Stone

By Sarah Sluis

Emma Stone has juicy roles in two films this summer (and a bit part in a third), and each one proves that she's a star on the rise. Yesterday I saw Crazy, Stupid, Love, which comes out on Friday. As a young law school grad looking for true love, Stone holds her own against an all-star cast that includes Steve Emma stone Carell, Julianne Moore, and Ryan Gosling's abs. Stone has a Julia Roberts-level star magnetism that can only go up. In her other film, The Help, which comes out in a few weeks, Stone mixes comedy with more serious subject matter. Even in this different environment, her trademark mix of sarcasm, determination, and a self-effacing manner remain intact. So far, every role I've seen her in has been enriched by a current running through the personality that is oh-so-distinctly Stone.

Stone has mainly stayed in a sweet spot of comedy, with other roles in movies such as Easy A, Superbad, The House Bunny, and Zombieland. But now she's being tapped for Gangster Squad, a 1940s crime drama. The movie would re-team her not only with Gosling but also with her Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer. Unlike other stars in Hollywood with difficult reputations (Katherine Heigl, for example), Stone appears to create good working relationships. How else could it be so easy for her to be cast in her most serious film to date? Stone would play a woman torn between her love for the good cop (Gosling) and the gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn).

The surest sign of Stone's success is her casting as Spider-Man's love interest Gwen Stacey in The Amazing Spider-Man, which is coming out next summer. Appearing in an action tentpole is one checkmark on the path to being an A-list star. Other young ingnues like Bryce Dallas Howard and Kirsten Dunst have occupied that role in the past, when they too were stars on the rise. Stone's charming sarcasm has put her on my must-see list. Now let's hope she continues to find good roles that utilize her strengths--and no more superhero films after Spider-Man!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

'Hangover' director Todd Phillips sets his sights on real-life stoner arms dealer tale

By Sarah Sluis

Movies like Pineapple Express and Dude, Where's My Car? have successfully combined stoner philosophy with epic, falling-out-of-control crimes and plot twists. But what if were all real? Director Todd Phillips (The Hangover) read a Rolling Stone article entitled "The Stoner Arms Dealers: How Two American Kids Became Big-Time Weapons Traders." Doesn't that title just beg for a movie adaptation? Phillips has optioned the story with an eye for directing.

I took a look at the online article by Guy Lawson and pulled out the most eye-raising passages. What Main-e1301074403627 starts out as a tale about stoned dudes in over their heads turns into a dark tale about corruption and scapegoats. There's no telling if the story will focus on the glitz and swagger of the men or the shady activities that helped them make millions. Here's a look at how the plot might shape up.

The players
David Packouz, "a skinny kid who wore a yarmulke and left his white dress shirts." He smokes so much pot in high school his parents send him to a special school in Israel, where he learns to take more drugs. His friend, who he met at their Orthodox Synagogue in Miami, Efraim Diveroli, "was the class clown, an overweight kid with a big mouth and no sense of fear."

The beginnings
Diveroli's family is in the arms business. Eventually, he recruits Packouz to help his growing business, which has the law-breaking, cutting-edge vibe of Facebook in the early days. Think: The Social Network. With guns.

The swagger:
This is how Packouz describes the holdup of a plane in Kyrgyzstan, a situation that involved pressure from the Russian KGB and prompted U.S. Defense secretary Robert Gates to head there to smooth things over.

"I didn't know anything about the situation in that part of the world. But...if our delivery didn't make it to Kabul, the entire strategy of building up the Afghanistan army was going to fail. It was totally killing my buzz."

The "regular kid" moment
Then there's what Packouz "really" wants to do. "I didn't plan on being an arms dealer forever � I was going to use the money to start a music career."

The supporting actress
Midway through, a cranky older woman provides comedy relief.

"Diveroli's aunt � a strong-willed and outspoken woman who fought constantly with her nephew � joined the two friends to provide administrative support. She didn't approve of their drug use, and she talked openly about them on the phone, as if they weren't present."

The plot thickens
In the second act, the two go to an arms convention, Eurosatory, in Paris, where they meet a James Bond type. Heinrich Thomet, a Swiss arms dealer, was "tall and suave, with movie-star looks and an impeccable sense of fashion." He becomes their middleman.

The duo wins a $298 million defense contract, a "pseudo case." The aim was to arm the Afghan Army, but without care for the weapons quality. Here's where it gets dark. "The Bush administration's ambivalence about Afghanistan had manifested itself in the terms of the contract: The soldiers of Kabul and Kandahar would not be abandoned in the field, but nor would they be given the tools to succeed."

The unraveling
The duo ends up shipping Chinese ammo from Albania to Afghanistan. It's illegal, but they look the other way until political winds change. A competing defense contractor tattles on them for something else, incriminating emails are found, newspapers start writing stories, and that's when things come to an end for the two.

Phillips will have to lighten up this story considerably if he wants it to fit with his existing oeuvre of comedy films, but maybe he's trying to go serious, with a comedy like Men Who Stare at Goats or Charlie Wilson's War. The author of the article ends by noting just how larger-than-life the young arms dealers were. "As always, the 24-year-old arms dealer [Diveroli] was the star of his own Hollywood movie. No matter what happened, he told the agent moments before his arrest, he would never leave the arms business. 'Once a gun runner,' he boasted, 'always a gun runner.'"

Monday, July 25, 2011

'Captain America' takes the lead as 'Harry Potter' plummets

By Sarah Sluis

Given Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2's record-breaking $169 million weekend, it's no wonder the highly anticipated film fell 71% to $48 million its second weekend. It's the same fate suffered by The Twilight Saga: New Moon, which also plunged 70% its second time around. While huge drops usually indicate a movie was all marketing and no substance, they also hold true for fan movies. No serious Harry Potter fan would see the movie a week after it came out. It's pretty respectable that Captain america chris evans Deathly Hallows Part 2 earned $48 million, in fact, which is more than most movies' opening weekends. If Deathly Hallows Part 2 follows Twilight's trend, it will level its fall in a few weeks and then benefit from repeat viewings and interest from casual moviegoers.

With Harry Potter plummeting, Captain America: The First Avenger easily summited the first place spot with a $65.8 million opening. Audiences appeared to have no superhero fatigue. Thor and X-Men: First Class each had a different take on the genre, so that kind of creativity has helped keep the superheroes fresh.

Friends with Benefits grabbed $18.5 million and third place. Despite better reviews, the Mila Kunis/Justin Timberlake rom com earned less than January's No Strings Attached. The audience for Friends with benefits kunis timberlake Friends with Benefits skewed less female and slightly younger than the January sex comedy. Good reviews, however, could help this movie remain a popular pick in weeks to come.

Fox Searchlight's heavily promoted indie release Another Earth earned $19,600 per screen at four locations, an auspicious start. The perennial appeal of Holocaust-era films, however, meant the film was outshone by Sarah's Key. The Kristin Scott Thomas-starring tale about a woman's investigation into her family's past averaged $23,400 per screen at five locations. In the top ten, Midnight in Paris continued its run as this summer's indie darling by accruing $1.8 million, a 2% increase from last week.

This Friday will be packed. Cowboys & Aliens will set its sights on the action/sci-fi crowd. Crazy, Stupid, Love, with an all-ages cast, will try to grab multiple generations with its romance and comedy, and The Smurfs will turn the big screen blue.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Will 'Captain America' strike down 'Harry Potter'?

By Sarah Sluis

"Old-fashioned rightness and integrity" take center stage in Captain America: The First Avenger (3,715 theatres), which received a thumbs-up from critic Frank Lovece. The "heroic achievement" of a film features "bravura action sequences, exceptional performances and core emotional truth." Just don't Captain america running chris evans see it in 3D, Lovece warns. The effects, added in post-production, are "barely noticeable."

Captain America's biggest competitor will be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which earned $169 million last weekend. Deathly Hallows Part 1 fell 60% in its second weekend. A similar drop would put Deathly Hallows Part 2 at $67 million its second weekend, slightly above the expected opening of Captain America. The superhero movie, which has the added benefit of 2,511 3D screens, is considered capable of a $55-60 million debut.

Comedy-seeking audiences will have the second opportunity this year to catch an R-rated "buddies who hook up" romantic comedy. This winter's No Strings Attached grabbed 49% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Friends with Benefits (2,926 theatres) is faring slightly better, with 65% positive Kunis timberlake friends with benefits reviews from critics. Critic Kevin Lally wasn't one of those in favor. Though "Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis make an attractive couple," the movie is way too "superficial." One extended gag involves a rom-com inside a rom-com, which didn't quite work with Lally. "If you're going to make fun of rom-com tropes, you had better make certain you're not wallowing in them yourself." Though the market has been saturated with R-rated comedies, Friends with Benefits should rack up at least $20 million.

Festival favorite Another Earth (4 theatres) uses the sci-fi genre to "mount a 'what-if' investigation of penance, redemption, and the possibility of a second chance to make a terrible act come right." Actor/writer Brit Marling is a star on the rise, making Another earth this a movie a "must see" for in-the-know indie moviegoers.

A woman's family's complicity in the Holocaust is explored in Sarah's Key (5 theatres), an adaptation of a book of the same name. Alternating between WWII and modern times, Kristin Scott Thomas plays a woman who is trying to determine what happened to the Jewish family who lived in her family's current home until 1942. Doris Toumarkine praised Scott Thomas' performance, noting that the movie puts the viewer through an emotional ringer, with "alternating wonderful, horrifying and tear-inducing moments."

On Monday, we'll see what kind of muscle Captain America wielded at the box office, and if audiences were ready for a second rom-com with the same premise as No Strings Attached.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

DreamWorks Animation finds a director for 'Monkeys of Mumbai'

By Sarah Sluis

DreamWorks Animation has shown itself to be a worthy rival of Pixar, gaining accolades for a number of films, including last year's Oscar-nominated How to Train Your Dragon. Their latest project, Monkeys of Mumbai, just acquired a director.

Kevin lima Kevin Lima (Enchanted, Tarzan, 102 Dalmatians) will direct the Bollywood-inspired animated musical. Gurinder Chadha, who IMDB listed as director, is writing the screenplay with Paul Mayeda Berges. Chadha and Berges collaborated on Indian-inflected tales Bend it Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice. The adaptation of a story in the epic Sanskrit tale The Ramayana will be told from the point of view of monkeys. The primates must prevent demons from taking over the land.

One thing DreamWorks head Jeffrey Katzenberg will make sure of is that the movie won't "suck." During a webcast interview with Fortune, the studio head criticized recent movies, saying "Let me have a show of hands of people that would say the last seven or eight months of movies is the worst lineup of movies you've experienced in the last five years of your life... They suck. It's unbelievable how bad movies have been." It's a rare candid comment, but as someone who's seen her fair share of tepid films lately, I agree.

Projects similar to Monkeys of Mumbai have had mixed success. Disney misfired when it partnered up with Yash Raj Films for the 2008 animated flop Roadside Romeo. Perhaps DreamWorks will be luckier. Like DWA's Kung Fu Panda series, there will be opportunities for the movie to draw inspiration from classic Indian styles of drawing. Movies like Blue Sky Studios' Rio attracted an international audience while focusing on a specific locale, Brazil, including song and dance numbers inspired by the region's music. Done right, Monkeys of Mumbai could easily attract the global audience that's becoming increasingly important to Hollywood's bottom line. American audiences, for their part, will get a cultural lesson from another country's story bank.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ron Howard & Brian Grazer adapt Mormon murder mystery in 'Under the Banner of Heaven'

By Sarah Sluis

Jon Krakauer is one stellar author. His nonfiction books combine gripping tales of adventure and tragedy with well-researched background information that offers incredible insight about the environment and history of his characters. They've also become movie fodder. 2007's Into the Wild, about a young man Under-the-banner-of-heaven who lived a vagabond life before dying in Alaska, was nominated for two Oscars. Into Thin Air, the more successful book, has a less successful life on film. ABC turned it into a 1997 TV movie, but the movie was more of a cultural catalyst. Programs like Discovery Channel's "Everest: Beyond the Limit" mine the same content as Krakauer's book. Now the production team of Ron Howard and Brian Grazer have set their sights on a film version of Krakauer's 2003 book Under the Banner of Heaven. But it won't be an easy book to adapt.

Under the Banner of Heaven is both an incredibly readable history of the Mormon religion as well as the story of two fundamentalist Mormon brothers who killed their younger brother's wife and infant daughter. Among Mormons (though not an official part of current, mainstream LDS religion), there is a principle called blood atonement which mandates that blood must be spilled in order to atone for certain crimes. The men believed that the brutal killing was commanded by God and would serve as atonement for the wife's "sin." Her crime? The brothers maintained that young wife's influence led the elder brother's wife to leave him when he wanted to take a second wife.

The obvious choice is for the adaptation to drop the history altogether and focus on the murder. However, in the wake of the success of the Broadway play The Book of Mormon, I wouldn't be surprised if the producing duo had something else in mind. At the very least, they will need to provide context for the principle of blood atonement.

Dustin Lance Black has been tapped to pen the screenplay, and he just might be the perfect man for the job. Professionally, his expertise is in biographical films, including Milk and the upcoming J. Edgar. He also grew up Mormon, giving him a uniquely personal insight into Mormonism's religious culture. It's no wonder that he was a writer/co-producer/director on the HBO series "Big Love."

I look forward to seeing Under the Banner of Heaven on the big screen. "Big Love" has a soap opera take on polygamy, but I hope Black turns this tale as dark as he can--I'm thinking Boys Don't Cry and Zodiac, not Fargo.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Theatre, Netflix, or TV? Netflix price hike brings to light moviegoer habits

By Sarah Sluis

Yesterday, I mentioned my occupation as a writer for a film magazine to my hair stylist. "Yeah, between cable and Netflix I don't really go to the movies anymore," he said. He's not alone. 30% of Americans don't see a single movie in a year. The remaining 70% includes two groups. A minority sees movies regularly, once a week or a few times a month. The majority sees a select few movies a year that seem Netflix worth the expense for the experience. Movies like Harry Potter, Twilight, and Avatar make the cut for these people. Others prefer to see action-filled flicks in theatres and save talky ones for home. I recently recommended Midnight in Paris to a friend. "No, I don't see those kinds of movies in theatres," he said. He prefers seeing movies like X-Men: First Class, which benefit most from monster screens and surround sound, on the big screen. Movies lost their monopoly long ago, back when television first made its way into American homes. How much of a threat is Netflix really to movie theatres? Nada.

The only company to go out of business since Netflix has been Blockbuster. That's the clearest indicator that consumers consider Netflix a replacement for movie rentals, not going to the movies or catching them on TV. Netflix has also increased the "pie," opening up entirely different patterns of viewing. Never has it been so easy to sit down and watch an entire series of a television show. It's also the subscription method of choice for young adults, many of whom can't be bothered to set up a cable connection, much less pay $100 a month for the privilege, in their transient lives. Everyone I know who doesn't have a television watches programs online with Hulu or Netflix. So much for reducing screen time by not having a TV.

What will be most interesting about Netflix is to see how consumers react to the 60% price hike announced last week. Before, streaming was just an add-on to the DVD delivery service, which could be had for $9.99 a month (one DVD + streaming). Now consumers will have to purchase a $7.99 streaming plan and/or a $7.99 DVD rental plan, a big increase for Netflix's budget-minded customers. That makes the calculus of choosing a plan a bit more difficult. Personally, I've enjoyed streaming now and then when nothing else looks good, but the content and selection isn't strong enough to justify that cost, given how little the content I stream is worth (we're talking the movies that used to be in the 99 cents rental section). Perhaps that's why Netflix decided to outbid HBO for an original series back in March. I bet the $7.99 streaming fee will soon have an added bonus: original content.

As you can see by reading through the comments on Netflix's blog, a lot of their customers are very unhappy about the price hike. People are mentioning Red Box, Blockbuster, Amazon Prime, and Hulu as competitors who can provide them movies for a lower price. Not one person said, "Well, I might as well go to the movies now." Maybe that's because a month of Netflix is still less than the price of a night at the movies for two.

Netflix is part of the changing landscape of the post-movie theatre market. But so many of these changes are just variations on existing ways Americans already find and watch movies. Netflix is like a video rental store. Streaming is like on demand or even selecting what's best from the TV guide. Movie downloads are just buying a digital DVD. And going to the movies is always going to be a more immersive experience than watching a movie at home.

Monday, July 18, 2011

'Harry Potter' levitates to the top of the box office worldwide

By Sarah Sluis

Two out of three moviegoers this weekend bought tickets for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, giving the wizarding finale $168.5 million and the record for biggest opening weekend. Abroad, the movie also broke records, including best international opening weekend: $307 million. The Harry potter group spectacular numbers backed up the general agreement that the final Potter film was more than worthwhile. Critics rated the film 97% positive, and 93% of Rotten Tomatoes audiences liked the franchise's conclusion. Longtime Hogwarts fans made sure they turned out for the final installment. Audience members over 25 comprised 55% of audiences, compared to 45% for the penultimate film. With so many people making it a priority to see Harry Potter its opening weekend, next weekend could see a dramatic fall. However, repeat viewing could bolster the film as it rides out the rest of the summer.

Tyke favorite Winnie the Pooh was no match for Harry Potter, capturing just $8 million of the weekend box office. Even 2000's The Tigger Movie opened slightly better, and that's not counting a decade of inflation. Still, this kind of property will have a long life on DVD and Blu-ray and undoubtedly boost Winnie the pooh group merchandise sales for Disney.

Literary adaptation Snow Flower and the Secret Fan debuted to a soft $5,600 per-screen average on 24 screens. Given the popularity of the book, I expected the marketing and release to approximate Memoirs of a Geisha, at least, but perhaps the marketing mavens at Fox Searchlight anticipated the 14% positive rating garnered by the movie on Rotten Tomatoes.

Documentary Tabloid grabbed a tidy $7,200 per screen at 14 locations. Director Errol Morris' latest garnered up a sizeable amount of press, and the film in turn released in an above-average amount of locations for an indie film.

This Friday, we're back to comic book superheroes with Captain America: The First Avenger. Friends with Benefits, featuring a similar plot to this spring's No Strings Attached, will also release wide.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Final 'Harry Potter' film to conjure up massive audiences

By Sarah Sluis

One decade and eight films later, the Harry Potter series is drawing to a close. The first viewers of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 caught the film at midnight, and Film Journal's intrepid intern Katie O'Donnell was at Manhattan's AMC Loews Lincoln Square to document the best costumes. Nationwide, the midnight screenings shattered the previous midnight record. With over $43 million in the coffer just from midnight screenings, the final Harry Potter is well on its way to a blockbuster weekend with more record-breaking to come.

Members of the Quidditch teams Chudley Cannons and Holyhead Harpies, complete with their Swiffer brooms.

Hogwarts students

Harry Potter casting a spell...without pants.

Now that the fun is finally coming to an end, extra crowds are expected for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which is opening in 4,375 theatres. Many cineplexes are showing the movie on multiple screens, giving the movie an overall screen count of 11,000. Over 3,000 3D screens and 274 IMAX screens will help up the movie's overall box office. Critics have responded positively to the finale, giving it a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critic Harry Haun pronounced the brisk and action-filled finale an "emotional and exhilarating end."

Those too young for Harry Potter will enjoy Winnie the Pooh (2,405 theatres). Disney's been plugging the movie as a nostalgic return to hand-drawn animation. The idea of Winnie, Tigger, Piglet, and Eeyore rendered in computer animation is unthinkable. With a demographic of parents and kids no older than kindergarten or early grade school, Winnie the Pooh will have a hard time earning even $10 million, though tracking suggests an opening similar to Mr. Popper's Penguins teen-millions. Critics have pointed out, admiringly, that this is one kid's film that doesn't try to add in-jokes for adults. The gentle film stays "faithful to the original characters and material," Doris Toumarkine writes of the "delightful, no-frills" movie.

On the specialty front, my top recommendation is Director Errol Morris' Tabloid (14 theatres), which I wrote highly about when I saw it last year at the DOCNYC fest. Sex, kidnapping, Mormons, a beauty queen, and cloned dogs populate the documentary, one of the craziest true stories you'll ever hear. The dark religious comedy Salvation Boulevard (4 theatres) has Pierce Brosnan playing a preacher, with some uneven fun and more kidnapping hijinks. The literary adaptation Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (24 theatres) should please "female art-house patrons" according to Toumarkine. The quiet film hasn't gotten nearly as much as buzz as producer Wendi Murdoch's husband's problems with News of the World. That's too bad, since the movie caps off the tale of female friendship with a "sweet, deeply affecting, tear-inducing ending."

On Monday, we'll count the records Deathly Hallows Part 2 broke, and see if tykes and their parents turned out for their favorite honey-craving bear.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Solving the mystery of a dull �Sherlock Holmes' trailer

By Sarah Sluis

Allow me to play the part of the cranky critic for a moment, but the trailer for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is so lifeless, I need to kick it to its grave. It's hard to believe that a trailer so packed with action can be so boring, but it is. I was no fan of the first film. Its tenuous hold on reality translated to weak tension and suspense. The matte work was awful, too. I kept staring at the bad special effects instead of what was going on the screen. They were that distracting. Robert Downey Jr. tried to do what Johnny Depp did in the first Pirates of the Caribbean and failed. Depp was so great in the original Pirates because he jumped into this movie that was supposed to be about Orlando Bloom saving Keira Knightly, rolled his eyes, and stole the show. It's hard for Downey to do that if he's playing the actual lead. He has to play the straight man, the one who buys the movie's premise. Which is why Sherlock Holmes is one of my least favorite movies to spawn a sequel.

Top Five Reasons Game of Shadows will be a yawn to get through

1. The trailer has three scenes of Robert Downey Jr. dressed as a woman or wearing makeup. This disguise was old five minutes before it even got put in the trailer. It made me reminisce about Some Like it Hot.

2. Showing us a really cool "crime room" with lots of webs and newspaper clippings that wouldn't be out of place in Zodiac of Seven (:59), then suggesting we're getting a war film instead with rifle fights in forests and machine guns. I like mystery films. Sherlock Holmes is a detective. Can't the movie just stick to that?

3. A set piece on a train. No more trains! At least there were no scenes of them walking on top of a the trailer, at least.

4. Ending with not-clever innuendo. This exchange actually works better on the page than the screen. Holmes: "Get that out of my face." Watson: "It's not in your face, it's in my hand." Holmes: "Get what's in your hand out of my face." Can you imagine how painful it will be to sit through an entire film of this?

5. Slow-motion explosions, gun loading, kicking. I'd like to point out that when this whole slo-mo thing was pioneered in The Matrix, the style supported the narrative. When people were inside the Matrix, time could be slowed down since the world was not real. Even in the movie, the slo-mo thing wasn't used in the "real world." Every movie that's used this technique since is just showing that it cares more about cool fighting than the story. #5 makes it pretty clear that Book of Shadows will be cool action sequences cobbled together by an excuse for a mystery.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dear Harry Potter, thanks for the memories

By Sarah Sluis

In the decade since Harry Potter first came out, I've aged from 16 to 26. There were a couple of movies lagging toward the end (including the penultimate Potter, Deathly Hallows Part I) that had me questioning my loyalty to the series. Maybe I had just outgrown it.

Rest assured, Harry Potter fans. The final film will not disappoint. Clocking in at a swift 131 minutes, the story propels swiftly the finish. Action scenes, which can be a little harder to visualize on the page, adapt to the screen in perfect form. After seven films, the eighth still manages to innovate on the existing Potter shorthand. As the series has evolved, it seemed as though we would be stuck with whatever the original set designers came up with. Instead, we get a Gringotts bank like you've never seen it before. Small changes, like the layout of the Gryffindor common room, help keep everything fresh.

Seeing Harry Potter and the evil Lord Voldemort duel for the final time adds excitement and finality to the series. Unlike earlier films, which had to omit or adapt the charming, meandering scenes that made the book so great, the final film is mostly business. The attack on Hogwarts castle is even more memorable than in the book, especially with the epic-level crowds of wizards fighting for control.

As the advance tickets sales and midnight screenings that characterized the series suggest, Harry Potter is one of those movies that demands to be seen with an audience. There are very few films that prompt audiences to clap and whoop not only after the movie, but during (I won't say when). So much of the laughter and involvement was from seeing Harry, Ron, and Hermione evolve over the decade. In flashback scenes, Harry looks so young! It's like flipping through a family photo album.


Deathly Hallows Part I
finished with just under $1 billion worldwide. Surely, the final film will attain the $1 billion mark. I hardly believe that will be the end for the series, which is something like the Star Wars of a generation. DVDs will be bought. Books will be re-read. Action figures will be purchased. The series will live on as a theme park experience.

In fact, I couldn't help but watch the Gringotts scene and think that the creators must have consulted roller coaster creators when staging the set piece (which includes a water soaking, a traditional roller coaster addendum). The just-opened, wildly successful Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction in Universal Studios has plans (indeed, a mandate) to expand and incorporate material from the final films. What better way to cap the Harry Potter experience than to take a ride through Gringotts yourself?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

'Old Boy' isn't dead after all

By Sarah Sluis

Back in college, shortly after 2005's Old Boy was released, the movie was a certifiable word-of-mouth cult hit. Recommendations for the movie passed from one freaked-out viewer to another. At that time, I had no idea that the movie was the 2004 recipient of the Grand Prize Jury Award at the Cannes Film Festival. I just knew that this odd, compelling movie that was heads and tails above most movies that ten times as many people had seen.

Oldboy460 Shortly after the Cannes triumph, there was talk of Steven Spielberg producing, and Will Smith starring, in a remake of the original. Now Mandate plans to produce the film with Spike Lee in talks to direct. Lee last directed the box-office disappointment Miracle of St. Anna in 2008, but he's also shown surprising chops at directing thriller/heist/crime fare like Clockers, The 25th Hour, and Inside Man, a far cry from the kind of film that originally gave Lee his cach, Do the Right Thing. Lee would know how to handle this action/thriller/drama.

Old Boy works because of its story as well as its style. Director Chan-wook Park awes with his creativity, especially in this long-take fight scene that's become a YouTube favorite, judging by the amount of videos that capsuled the scene. Park's most recent film, Thirst, showed a similar panache for creating an unsettling tone and striking visual landscape.

Lee, an auteur in his own right, will have to come up with his own take on Old Boy in order to match Old-Boy-Movie-Poster Park's acheivement. I hope that Will Smith is still considering the role. Mark Protosevich (I Am Legend, another Smith film) has written the adaptation of the original screenplay, based on a popular manga. The story centers on a man who is imprisoned in a hotel room without cause for fifteen years. When he's finally released, he goes on a search to find out who kidnapped and jailed him. But it turns out his enemy's revenge plot isn't finished. In this case, revenge goes deep, with punishment that wouldn't be unfamiliar to Greek playrights. Just saying. Mandate is known for its smart, quirky projects (Juno, Whip It) along with its horror fare (Drag Me to Hell, Passengers). Maybe Old Boy will be both.

Monday, July 11, 2011

'Horrible Bosses' wins the comedy match against 'Zookeeper'

By Sarah Sluis

Dueling comedies Horrible Bosses and Zookeeper were both predicted to open north of $20 million, but Bosses sprinted ahead for a $28.1 million finish. Males over twenty-five turned out in force for the Horrible bosses dudes revenge comedy, which has sitcom stars such as Charlie Day of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and Jason Bateman of "Arrested Development" in the cast. Zookeeper, with its PG rating, drew more of a family crowd, earning $21 million. A full 59% of the audience was over 25, indicating that not only moms and dads turned out for the pic, but older and loyal Kevin James fans.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon continued its reign in first place with a $47 million finish. Though Dark of the Moon started off much lower than the second film, it's regained a lot of its speed. Measured falls like this week's 52% dropoff could make the latest Transformers film the highest grossing yet.

Fans turned out in force for Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest. The music A tribe called quest documentary averaged $30,000 per screen on four screens.

Back in the top ten, Cars 2 continues to fall more than average for an animated film, dropping 42% to $15.2 million. Despite the competition of Horrible Bosses, Bad Teacher dipped a shy 38% to $9 million this week. Midnight in Paris topped the haul of Annie Hall this week as it added $2.7 million, raising its total to $38.6 million. The Woody Allen pic is still behind his highest-grossing outing, Hannah and Her Sisters, but let's not forget that these figures haven't been adjusted for inflation.

This Friday could be a record-breaking weekend, as the eighth and final Harry Potter film hits theatres. Tyke audiences will get a nod with Winnie the Pooh, a return to classic hand-drawn animation.

Friday, July 8, 2011

'Horrible Bosses' and 'Zookeeper' vie for laughs

By Sarah Sluis

In one corner, we have Zookeeper (3,482 theatres), a PG-rated Kevin James comedy that features talking animal matchmakers for laughs. In the other corner, we have Horrible Bosses (3,040 theatres), Kevin james gorilla an R-rated dark comedy about killing bosses that goes for the "satisfying, nasty and funny," according to critic David Noh. Currently, Bosses is leading on Rotten Tomatoes, earning 74% positive ratings compared to Zookeeper's 14% positive status. But when it comes to the box office, the numbers are expected to be more even, around $20 million each. If anything, critical response for these films indicates their Horrible bosses jennifer aniston intended audience. Kids under 12 are apparently very excited to see animals talking (huge surprise), while adults are more likely to laugh at seeing worker bees getting their revenge.

While Zookeeper and Horrible Bosses compete for spots two and three, Transformers: Dark of the Moon will continue its reign at the top. The machine-driven sequel should grab around $40 million in its second weekend.

The safest bet this weekend on the specialty circuit is the latest James Marsh (Man on Wire) documentary Project Nim (4 theatres), the "gripping true-life yarn," as described by critic Project nim interactions Ethan Alter, that details a project that led a chimp to make its home among a variety of science-minded humans. Fans of the eponymous hip-hop band can check out the musical documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest (4 theatres), which details the band's rise, fall, and reunion.

On Monday, we'll see if audiences flocked for digital animals or vicarious revenge on evil supervisors in the weekend recap.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

'Transformers' sets new Fourth of July record

By Sarah Sluis

Although Transformers: Dark of the Moon started out the holiday weekend well behind the prior sequel, the toy-inspired film franchise ended up debuting just 6% lower than the second film. It tallied up Transformers building $116.4 million over the weekend, for a cumulative total of $181 million. Director Michael Bay went through a special effort to encourage exhibitors to show the 3D film using the proper bulb strength, and audiences may have noticed. 60% of the box office came from 3D screens. With a performance like this, a fourth film is more likely than not.

Light, recession-themed romantic comedy Larry Crowne sputtered, earning a middling $13.1 million ($15.7 million including Monday). An extremely old-skewing audience, at least by movie theatre standards, turned out for the film: 93% of viewers were over 25, and 71% of viewers were over 50, Larry crowne diner which some observers cited as the oldest demographic they've seen in a long time. If the audience is older, however, that means the movie will likely have long legs, since older viewers tend to be less intent on seeing a movie the second it comes out.

Tween pic Monte Carlo drew even fewer viewers, likely because it only appealed to the female half of the equation. The friendship and travel-themed movie grabbed $7.4 million, $8.7 million including Monday. I'm sure this picture will be the staple of sleepovers months from now, but it appears getting the audience to the movie theatre was more difficult.

Elsewhere in the top ten, Cars 2 fell a surprising 51% to $32 million, unusual for an animated film. Super 8 finally leveled its fall, dipping just 20% to $9.5 million, and crossing the $100 million mark. Midnight in Paris squeezed into the top ten, rising 3.5% to take in another $4.3 million.

This Friday, it's comedies for all ages. PG-rated Zookeeper will open, headed by Kevin James, and R-rated ensemble comedy Horrible Bosses will attempt to capture adult audiences.

Friday, July 1, 2011

With a head start, 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' set to dominate

By Sarah Sluis

The autobots and decepticons battle for the third time in Transformers: Dark of the Moon (4,011 Transformers skyscrapertheatres). While the new film is getting better reviews than the much-maligned second, it appears audiences are tiring of the toy-based series. The Wednesday opening earned $37.3 million, the highest opening that day this year, but that puts the sequel far behind the $62 million Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen made last year. We hear the flattening of Chicago is terrific, but the franchise as a whole hews to "juvenile standards" and remains a "merchandise-driven series," according to critic Maitland McDonagh.

Adult viewers may appreciate seeing Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts paired up in Larry Crowne (2,972 theatres), but they shouldn't set their sights too high. Critic Kevin Lally deems the recession-themed Larry crowne scooter tale a "well-intentioned but low-energy comedy" that's way too "conventional." Hanks and Roberts' "warm regard for each other still shines through," but audiences may find themselves sighing as they cross the finish line of the movie, which counts a scooter as one of its greatest comic assets.

When critic David Noh channeled his inner tween, he pronounced Monte Carlo (2,472 theaters) "cotton candy." The "none-too-fresh plot" borrows from Billy Wilder-scripted Midnight and the plot of The Prince and the Pauper, but Monte carlo girls it's probably all new to the twelve-and-under set. Starring Disney workhorse Selena Gomez, "Gossip Girl's" Leighton Meester, and Hollywood royalty Katie Cassidy, the movie is sure to "delight" girls with its European travel fantasy.

Not much is releasing on the specialty circuit, but high school bullying dark comedy Terri has earned 81% positive accolades from Rotten Tomatoes critics. Noh was not one of them, calling the movie offensively quirky without anything "remotely funny or emotionally true." Ouch.

On Tuesday, we'll count the winners and losers of the four-day weekend. Make sure your viewings this weekend include some good old-fashioned fireworks.