Monday, October 31, 2011

'Puss in Boots' preens in the top spot

By Sarah Sluis

Despite early Halloween festivities and a Northeast snowstorm, Puss in Boots pounced on the first place spot this weekend with $34 million. The Shrek spinoff didn't have a blockbuster opening weekend, but what it will have is time. Happy Feet Two comes out on Nov. 18, giving Puss in Boots two more Puss in boots close upweekends to build positive word-of-mouth without competition. 82% of Rotten Tomatoes critics gave the movie a "positive" rating, and similar sentiments from families and kids will allow this CG-animated film to hold strong. A drop of more than 30% next week would be unlikely.

By releasing two weeks before Halloween, Paranormal Activity 3 should have had two blockbuster weekends before its horror material became a little less timely. Instead, the sequel fell 65% in its second outing to $18.5 million. That was still enough for the horror picture to land the second place spot, but it's surprising so see such a big drop even when the movie was placed in the traditional "scarefest" slot.

The sci-fi actioner In Time opened in line with expectations with $12 million. The modestly budgeted In time clockfeature shouldn't have a difficult time making back its investment. Despite pockets of high interest among Hunter S. Thompson fans, The Rum Diary underperformed with a $5 million weekend.

Most titles in the top ten dropped 50-60% except for Courageous. When Christian-themed movies are a hit, they tend to play for a long, long time, and Courageous is no exception. The movie dipped just 27% to add another $1.8 million to its cumulative gross, which is approaching $30 million after a month in release.

At the last minute, Sony slashed Anonymous's release to just 265 screens. Even on so few screens, not Anonymous rhys ifansmany people showed up. The Shakespeare action-drama averaged $3,700 per screen, slightly less than the debut of In Time. Could the movie have sustained that average across thousands of screens? If so, it could have ended up with closer to $10 million, but presumably with higher distribution costs and the chance the movie would be labeled a "flop" and tainted in the home entertainment market.

The Sundance pickup Like Crazy had an impressive $30,000 per-screen average at four locations. Paramount Vantage must have done their job well publicizing this stripped-down romance. Another Sundance selection, Martha Marcy May Marlene, went up 75% from last week. In 32 locations, the cult drama averaged $7,500 per location.

This Friday, the recession-tinged Tower Heist will go up against A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas, the third Harold & Kumar movie and the first in three years.

Friday, October 28, 2011

'Puss in Boots' prepares to conquer box office

By Sarah Sluis

Paramount pushed the release of Puss in Boots (3,952 theatres) forward one week, making the CG-animated feature the first so-called "holiday" movie poised to take advantage of mounting ticket sales around Thanksgiving. Though the Shrek spin-off may post lower returns opening weekend because Puss in boots close upmany kids will be celebrating Halloween in advance of the Monday holiday, prognosticators believe the movie should earn $35-39 million, with a decent chance of topping $40 million. 72% of the screens will be in 3D, apparently with good reason. In Todd McCarthy's THR review, he "enthusiastically recommended" a 3D viewing, noting that "the filmmakers have diligently applied themselves to conceiving the shots...[to] make use of 3D as a constructive tool and not just a gimmick."

Coming off its $54 million opening last week, Paranormal Activity 3 should continue to hold strong and grab the number two spot, especially as people celebrate the spooky holiday with a spine-tingling thrill ride.

The sci-fi actioner In Time (3,122 theatres) is tracking to open slightly above $10 million. Only 35% of Rotten Tomatoes critics gave positive ratings, but they may hold less sway among the under 25s who are In time formal timberlake seyfried showing the most interest in seeing the movie, which stars Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried as people living in a world where no one ages after they turn twenty-five, allowing those with money to live forever.

Fans of Hunter S. Thompson, especially college students, should turn out in force for The Rum Diary (2,272 theatres), which stars Johnny Depp. The rollicking drama, which was delayed for some time, should earn slightly over or under the $10 million mark. David Noh praised the "glamour, wit and surprising adventure," which the movie "delivers in spades."

The Shakespeare action-drama Anonymous was supposed to open wide, but Sony made an unusual last-minute decision to cut back the release to just 265 theatres. THR's Kirk Honeycutt liked the movie, but his summary is enough the count me out. "The film grabs at historical facts, mangles them into a plot worthy of a John le Carr spy novel and takes the viewer on a breathtaking ride through ye olde London," he says of the "rousing" period drama.

Like crazy overhead shotSundance pickup Like Crazy will open in four theatres. The jump cut-laden romance exudes realism and also unfolds unpredictably. Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin star in the indie, which may be worth seeing in a theatre. The crowd I saw the romance with had audible reactions to scenes, which always makes the moviegoing experience more enjoyable.

Janie Jones will open in New York and Seattle. The Tribeca Film Festival selection centers on a rock star and his teen daughter (Abigail Breslin) by a groupie. When the mother drops out of the picture, father and daughter bond.

On Monday we'll see if pre-Halloween festivities brought down the opening weekend of Puss in Boots or boosted the performance of Paranormal Activity 3.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Where are the Dr. Seuss-isms in the 'Lorax' trailer?

By Sarah Sluis

Dr. Seuss may be known for his whimsical wordplay and kindergarten rhyming patterns, but my favorite books by the author were always the ones that tackled the metaphorical. The Butter Battle Book is a metaphor for the U.S./Soviet Cold War arms race, of all things. His 1971 The Lorax tackles another topic of the age: environmentalism. In the book, colorful, poofy trees are brought to extinction by careless deforestation. I'm pretty sure we watched the 1972 video adaptation in my high school biology class.

Illumination Entertainment, the animation studio behind last year's hit Despicable Me, adapted Dr. Seuss' classic book, which will release in March next year. Universal just debuted the trailer. The animation is colorful and delightfully non-realistic. But the Dr. Seuss-isms? Gone. In the trailer the young boy refers to the missing trees, not the "Truffula Trees" as they're referred to in the book. It doesn't even make sense, since the set design has normal, green trees in the neighborhood surrounding the boy. Are those supposed to be fake trees? Nor is there mention of the Swomee-Swans, Brown Bar-ba- loots, Humming-Fishes, the Thneeds, or even the Once-ler. I understand that the characters can't talk in rhyme for ninety minutes, but I thought they would keep in more of the silly language Dr. Seuss uses.

The Lorax has another challenge on its hands. Though the trailer doesn't really hint at it, the book's plot is short and sweet. Subplots will have to be added in to bring the movie to feature-length. At least one subplot will be a teenybopper romance between the boy (voiced by Zac Efron) and a red-headed girl (voiced by Taylor Swift). March has become a popular time to release animated movies, bringing Monsters vs. Aliens (2009) How to Train Your Dragon (2010) and Rango (2011) to decent tallies for early spring titles. The Lorax could be next. Even forty years after The Lorax was initially published, the need to protect our environment has not diminished.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

'The End' cements Hollywood's apocalypse trend

By Sarah Sluis

Hollywood is a place of trends. It's not unusual to suddenly see two or three projects covering the exact same subject, like this year's "friends for sex" romantic comedies Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached, or the earlier animated fish and bug movies (Finding Nemo and Shark Tale; Antz and A Bug's Life). Dante's Peak and Volcano both conveniently chose exploding volcanoes in 1997. And that's just off the top of my head. In fact, sometimes you have to wonder if Hollywood is a haven for trends or a den of copycats and intellectual thieves.

The latest craze appears to be the apocalypse. Lars von Trier's Melancholia, coming out this December, centers on a young woman (Kirsten Dunst) having her wedding on the eve of the end of the world. Abel Earth meteorFerrara's 4:44 Last Day on Earth has Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh biding time until the final cataclysm.Steve Carell and Keira Knightley are starring in the apocalyptic romance Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, set for release next year. Carell's character's wife abandons him, forcing him to seek friendship with a neighbor (Knightley). The comedy Rapturepalooza, also planned for a 2012 release, will focus on a group's attempt to defeat the Antichrist after a religious apocalypse. What's interesting about all these apocalyptic movies is that they aren't so much concerned about the end of the world as they are with how characters will act in the face of impending doom. It's a pretty big shift from the natural disaster movies in the 1990s (like Armageddon) that were solution-oriented.

The latest addition to the apocalyptic movie trend is The End, a spec script that Warner Bros. recently acquired. The screenplay divides its time between three sets of characters: a teenage couple in Michigan, a television broadcaster in London, and a family man in Shanghai. The word is that the stories won't weave together, in the style of Crash or the more recent Contagion.

Why has Hollywood fixated on doom? The obvious answer is to link these movies to the financial crisis. With so many people facing financial devastation and long-term unemployment, perhaps writers are meditating on how people act in a crisis, and are less focused on solving the intractable mess that our financial systems have become. The skeptic's reply? There could have been just one good script going around Hollywood that everyone wanted to copy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Joss Whedon announces he's just wrapped a secret project

By Sarah Sluis

In this age of overexposure, most movies are announced well before they enter production. But Joss Whedon, who's writing and directing next year's comic book mega-movie The Avengers, appears to have shot another film on the sly. A playfully cryptic website went up Sunday, informing Whedon's fans that the principal photography had been completed for Much Ado About Nothing, "a film by Joss Whedon based on a play." The general opinion is that Whedon adapted from the Shakespeare play of the same name and shot the movie in black-and-white in his home for twelve days (Much Ado takes place on one estate, so that fits).

Joss whedonWhedon is one of the few writer/directors who has actively engaged with new media, novel forms of distribution, and low-budget Internet experiments, so he's exactly the kind of person who would decide to mount an independent production. Whedon's work on projects such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," "Firefly," "Dollhouse" and Serenity has created a rabid fan base that responds well to direct announcements (not through a news organization) and teasing amounts of information. "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" was a three-part web series distributed exclusively over the Internet, a way for Whedon to be creative during the 2007-2008 writers' strike. He created short web videos to promote Serenity, and a webcomic seemingly "just because."

Whedon is something of a rarity in that he is as much a cult figure as his shows. He's the ultimate fanboy or fangirl dream, since he's willing to create so much content that explores the geeky minutiae of a fictional universe he's developed. In the months leading up to The Avengers' release in May 2012, I'm sure Whedon will have a few such pre-release tricks up his sleeve. As for Much Ado About Nothing? There are plans to take the low-budget movie on the festival circuit.

Monday, October 24, 2011

'Paranormal Activity 3' freakishly successful with $54 million opening weekend

By Sarah Sluis

Paranormal Activity 3 was this weekend's success story, earning $54 million and the title of biggest fall weekend. The horror franchise appears to have taken the mantle from the Saw franchise, which had a Paranormal 3seven-movie run before sitting out the Halloween season this year. Rotten Tomatoes critics rated the movie 71% positive, which is high for a horror movie, and especially a horror sequel. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the directing duo behind Sundance documentary splash Catfish, which critic Maitland McDonagh called a "master class in blurring the line between fiction and documentary," applied their skills to the found footage-styled film with aplomb. The third installment will likely pass $100 million, the same as the first movie, and ensure there will be a Paranormal Activity 4 next Halloween.

Last year, Warner Bros. and Summit both had plans for a movie about the three musketeers, but Summit's Three Musketeers 3D won the game of chicken by speeding up production and shifting forward the release date to April 2011 (Well, that didn't happen). But it appears Warner Bros. and Three musketeerswould-be director Doug Liman may have the last laugh, because Summit's swashbuckling drama debuted to just $8.8 million. Overseas, audiences were more receptive, but in the U.S. the movie found support only among older male viewers.

Americans don't always get the British sense of humor, so it's no wonder the English spy comedy Johnny English Reborn fell flat in front of U.S. audiences, barely ticking up to $3.8 million. Canadians, a former colony who still share the Queen with England, were more receptive to the antics of Rowan Atkinson, showing above-average receipts.

The market for faith-based movies like Courageous and The Blind Side has been hot, but that doesn't mean every God-inflected film is a winner. The Mighty Macs, which combines faith and sports, opened with just $1.1 million. Meanwhile, Courageous finished four spots higher even though it's in its fourth week, earning $2.5 million.

Opening on the wide side for a specialty film with 56 screens, Margin Call finished with $582,000, a few times the average Wall Street bonus. The drama, which centers on a critical 24 hours early in the financial crisis, has topicality on its side.

Being elmoA movie about a cult and starring a previously unknown Olsen sister? Count me in. Sundance favorite Martha Marcy May Marlene averaged $35,000 per screen at four locations, a sign the indie will play well in coming weeks. Though it doesn't have much publicity, the documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey finished with $25,000 on its single screen, which probably would make Elmo himself shriek with glee. The movie has played very well on the festival circuit, so perhaps tiny distributor Submarine Deluxe can turn the movie's great opening weekend into a sustained, high-grossing run.

This Friday, the sci-fi offering In Time goes up against Johnny Depp in The Rum Diary and what's sure to be a CG-animated behemoth, Puss in Boots.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

'The Island President' comes to DOC NYC

By Sarah Sluis

This year's DOC NYC lineup includes The Island President, which won the People's Choice Documentary Award at the Toronto Film Festival. Audiences were undoubtedly charmed into casting their vote not just because of the film itself, but the charisma of the documentary's subject, the president of the Maldives.

President Mohamed Nasheed was imprisoned and tortured multiple times by the previous, dictatorial regime before being elected in the first fair election in thirty years. When he assumed office, he Island presidentfocused on the island nation's most pressing issue: Staying above water. The Maldives, which has a population of just under a million and takes a few hours to reach--by plane!--from India, has over 2,000 islands, many just above sea level. The citizens' constant struggle with erosion became a pressing political issue after the 2004 tsunami devastated entire islands in the archipelago, which had to be abandoned. Then the former president misappropriated over $100 million in aid in the aftermath of the natural disaster. The islands' erosion problems signify global warming. If carbon dioxide levels in the air continue to rise, the Maldives will be underwater in less than a century, a sort of canary-in-the-coal-mine for the problems that will be unleashed by global warming.

Director Jon Shenk (Lost Boys of Sudan) has remarkable access to the inner workings of the president's regime. The audience is privy to the kind of compromises, drudgery, and deal-making required of a politician, and its close trail of its subject hearkens back to 1960's documentary classic Primary. President Nasheed shows he's game to unusual PR tactics like holding a conference underwater in SCUBA gear in order to bring attention to his country's plight, so it's easy to understand why he would welcome a filmmaker's cameras.

Shenk chooses the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit as the movie's climax. Nasheed ends up being a bridge between the developed and developing countries. The biggest carbon emitters, such as the U.S. and Europe, want everyone to reduce carbon emissions, while developing nations such as India and China argue they use just a fraction of the carbon of these rich nations and need to increase carbon emissions as their nation grows. The Maldives, as a small developing nation, offers a compelling argument for developing nations to help their own. Being on the inside reveals interesting insights. "I think India wanted to be like Canada [is to the U.S.], hiding behind China," President Nasheed observes, since India is rather reluctant to make the kind of stand at the summit that China is. I can't imagine many leaders are willing to let a documentarian sit at their meetings with aides and occasionally showing the kind of political and PR legerdemain that must be used in these situations. The Island President may be aiming to be an environmental documentary, but it's actually one of the most fascinating political documentaries in recent years.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

DOC NYC brings 'Into the Abyss,' 'Scenes of a Crime'

By Sarah Sluis

Now in its second year, DOC NYC combines a curated selection of documentaries, many making the festival rounds, with panels geared toward those in the entertainment industry. Last year's selections included Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Errol Morris' spectacularly funny and bizarre Tabloid.

This year's selections at DOC NYC also promise to showcase movers-and-shakers. In advance of DOC NYC's Nov. 2-10 festival, I took a look at two documentaries focusing on the (in)justice system: Werner Herzog's Into the Abyss and Scenes of a Crime.

After seeing countless documentaries and TV shows about innocent people on death row, I expected Herzog's Into the Abyss to choose an seemingly innocent, death row-bound inmate to profile. No. Herzog believes that Michael James Perry, scheduled to die for a triple homicide, is guilty. He just doesn't believe that execution is an appropriate punishment. In typical Herzog fashion, he opens wide Into the abyssthe case and its consequences without pushing too hard in one direction. When it comes to poetic metaphors, however, he occasionally veers too far, as when he lingers on a landfill swarming with flocks of grub-seeking birds. Herzog interviews a woman who lost her brother and mother to the killings, and Perry's accomplice, Jason Burkett, who was also found guilty of homicide but sentenced to life in prison. Herzog also interviews the woman who married Burkett after he was sent to prison and is pregnant with his child.

Herzog, a native of Germany, has an outsider's eye. He picks parts of Texas' decay that American eyes have been trained to ignore. Never has a truck stop or trailer home been imbued with such desolate meaning. The triple homicide itself showed a shocking disregard for life: Three people died so a couple of boys could joyride for 72 hours in a red Camaro. Perry and Burkett seemed to commit the crime for bragging rights, but one of them grew up in such extreme poverty, it made me wonder. For him, was stealing a red Camaro the equivalent of someone else's million-dollar heist, each offering the opportunity of unimaginable wealth?

Scenes of a Crime mines the territory of Morris' classic The Thin Blue Line, laying out a miscarriage of justice, minus the reenactments. The film's primary focus is the twelve-hour, videotaped interrogation of a father of six, who police officers believe harmed his baby and led to his death. After so many hours of interrogation, the man confesses, using the exact scenario suggested by police. His defense attorneys call it a coerced confession, but it is incredibly hard to persuade a jury that someone could falsely confess to a crime. The footage is excruciating to watch, and the filmmakers focus far too much Scenes of a Crime screen time to the repetitive, painful questions. There must have been a more effective way to make the viewers feel as if they were undergoing an interrogation themselves. When they repeat the footage later on in the documentary, it feels more redundant rather than imbued with new meaning.

One bright spot is the filmmakers' choice to intercut the interrogation with a police training video laying out the Reid technique. After watching the step-by-step process, I realized I'd seen this many times on reality cop shows (like "The First 48"). Something about seeing psychological manipulation laid out so plainly had a chilling effect. Let's put it this way: If I were one of those sympathetic drug lords in "The Wire," I would make my underlings watch the video so they could figure out how to beat this technique.

By focusing so much on the footage of the interrogation, the documentary takes awhile to get to the heart of the matter. After reading a lengthy piece about medical professionals misdiagnosing shaken baby syndrome recently, I assumed that this would be the crux of the case. Instead, it becomes clear that the baby died of sepsis--though jurors did not agree and found him guilty. It's a shock to find out that this poor man is serving twenty-five years to life, and I hope the man successfully appeals his case. Though the filmmakers never bring it up, racism and discrimination undoubtedly played a part. Why else would a doctor shout out, "They murdered their baby!" when it was only one of three options on the differential diagnosis? Or a juror state that she was a human resources manager and she just thought the man was lazy, and she didn't like him? Stereotypes about black male fathers may have been the tipping point that led multiple people to assume the man was guilty, not innocent until proven guilty.

DOC NYC has much more in store, so check back for additional coverage of the documentary festival.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Anne Hathaway cast in 'Les Miserables'

By Sarah Sluis

I have a special fondness for the musical Les Misrables, which my high-school French teacher used to instruct us in the vagaries of the French language. Singing along with my fifteen-year-old classmates to Cosette's innocent rendition of "There is a Castle on a Cloud" in French ("Mon Prince est en Chemin")? Priceless. Universal Pictures has moved incredibly fast with its film adaptation of Les Misrables, Les Miz 4casting the main roles shortly after announcing the project. The musical, based on Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, was first staged in London in 1985, so it's odd that the studio is now moving with so much speed. They've already set a release date: Dec. 7, 2012.

Anne Hathaway will play Fantine, a poor working-class woman whose condition is made worse by her chronic illness and her status as a single mom. She joins Russell Crowe, who will play Javert, the police inspector who makes the lives of Fantine and Jean Valjean miserable. Valjean, a criminal turned wealthy factory owner, will be played by Hugh Jackman. Most encouragingly, the production will be helmed by newly minted Oscar winner Tom Hooper. Last year, he received the Best Director award for the critical and commercial success The King's Speech.

The stage version of Les Misrables is sung all the way through. The question of how to blend the songs with dialogue (presumably spoken, not sung) will shape whether the movie ends up being a success or a failure. Musicals are no longer the pariahs they once were, but success is still something of a gamble. Who would have thought the poppy songs in Mamma Mia! would appear to effortlessly blend onscreen, leading to a global success? With its prestige December release date, Universal is undoubtedly hoping the movie will end up more like director Rob Marshall's adaptation of Chicago ($300+ million) and less like his adaptation of Nine ($50 million). Hooper has shown he can sensitively adapt history with The King's Speech and "John Adams," but will he be suited for a musical historical epic? In little more than a year we'll find out.

Monday, October 17, 2011

'Footloose' outstepped by 'Real Steel'

By Sarah Sluis

Despite three new wide releases this weekend, last week's Real Steel narrowly won the first place spot by dipping just 40% to $16.3 million. While the robot-centered picture didn't overwhelm in its first outing, its second round has brought the expensive production to a more respectable $51 million cumulative total.

Footloose 2In second place, the reboot of Footloose debuted to $16.1 million. The inexpensive movie drew the greatest support from older females. 75% of all viewers were women, and 73% were over 18. The movie, which is set in a small town, drew the greatest support from Heartland locales, with Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City receiving the honors of being the dance film's top two markets. Former "Dancing with the Stars" regular Julianne Hough stars, so she undoubtedly helped the movie appeal to the show's older female viewers.

The sci-fi/horror remake The Thing underperformed, earning just $8.7 million. The movie joins other scary offerings that have failed to connect with viewers, including Apollo 18 and Dream House. Horror The thing 2movies are supposed to be low-budget sure things, but the misfire of The Thing shows there are more factors at work. As Halloween approaches, it will be interesting to see if Paranormal Activity 3 helps reverse this trend.

The Big Year was a big bust. The salaries of Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson were probably barely covered by the comedy's paltry $3.3 million opening. I thought making fun of but also celebrating bird watching sounded like a hoot, but audiences didn't agree and critics warned that the feature was not particularly funny.

Director Pedro Almodvar is something of a brand name on the indie circuit, so it's no surprise his latest, The Skin I Live In, earned $38,500 per screen in six locations. The movie ran in the New York Film Festival, giving the Spanish-language genre hybrid additional advance publicity for city dwellers. Such a strong per-screen average sustained over six screens (as opposed to the two often reserved for Skin i live in 2opening weekend) bodes well for the unusual drama's future.

The generic cop vs. serial killer picture Texas Killing Fields had a rote performance at the box office, averaging $3,000 per screen at three locations. Take Shelter, one of my indie favorites this year, boosted its per-screen average by $500 from last week, even as it doubled the number of theatres in its release. In 24 locations, the drama had a mean of $5,300 per location.

This Friday, Paranormal Activity 3 starts the Halloween horror deluge, Johnny English Reborn offers up British spy humor, and the swashbuckling The Three Musketeers draws its sword.

Friday, October 14, 2011

'80s remakes 'Footloose' and 'The Thing' compete at the box office

By Sarah Sluis

This weekend, remakes of 1984's Footloose and 1982's The Thing head off against the second weekend of sci-fi-with-heart picture Real Steel, which could win the box office even if it drops by half.

The remake of Footloose (3,549 theatres) has more critics tapping to the beat than not, with 74% of Footloose julianne houghreviewers giving the movie a Rotten Tomatoes positive rating. Our critic David Noh, who admits to not liking the original, calls the second an "utterly unnecessary, ham-fisted remake." Still, there's a chance the movie will gain the support of younger and possibly older women, with box-office pundits predicting a $15 million finish.

The latest incarnation of The Thing (2,997 theatres) bills itself as a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter film. Thanks to the enthusiasm of the filmmakers and "grotesquely imaginative special effects," critic Maitland McDoangh declares "there's plenty to entertain current The thing 1horror fans." The sci-fi/horror hybrid should grab around $10 million.

The comedy trio of Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson get together for The Big Year (2,150 theatres), but the results do not appear to have the spectacular plumage of the rare birds they're seeking. "A compromised comedy outfitted in fresh feathers," according to critic Harry Haun, the story chronicles three birders intent on seeing the most flying creatures they can within a single year. The well-meaning comedy hasn't taken flight among critics, who gave the movie just a 38% positive rating.

Viewers of Pedro Almodvar films know the director is no stranger to the bizarre, but The Skin I Live In (6 theatres) comes close to topping them with its thriller/horror elements. Antonio Banderas stars as a vengeful plastic surgeon, and Elena Anaya his "patient." Noh Skin i live in operating tabledismisses the movie as "pretentious pulp," but I found myself riveted by the "sense of dread and revulsion [Almodvar instills] so badly that it hurts."

Texas Killing Fields (3 theatres) is several flaws short of Seven or Zodiac, but the story of police tracking down a mysterious serial killer has enough sway to entertain on a Friday night when nothing else is going on. Perhaps this movie will do well in its native Texas, but everyone else will be better served seeing it at home.

On Monday, I'll see if Footloose was able to outdance Real Steel, if audiences turned out for The Thing, and if The Big Year is as big of a flop as some are expecting.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

'Lone Ranger' returns to the saddle with a lower budget

By Sarah Sluis

In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Pirates of the Caribbean star Johnny Depp commented on his recent trend toward starring in blockbusters. "Basically, if they're going to pay me the stupid money right now, I'm going to take it," he said. One of his next "stupid money" projects will be Lone Ranger, though the money just got a little bit less stupid.

Disney halted pre-production of the project in August when the estimated budget ballooned to over $250 Depp-Tontomillion. The re-imagined movie will have a lower, $215 budget, thanks to 20% pay cuts from Depp, Armie Hammer, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinksi. If the production goes over budget, Bruckheimer Films, not Disney, will be on the hook. Variety mentions that the screenplay itself was reworked to rein in the budget, with "some pricey f/x sequences involving supernatural elements" eliminated. What might those "supernatural elements" be, you ask? Werewolves. Apparently, this was done in all seriousness. Depp, who has some Native American heritage, will play the Lone Ranger's sidekick, Tonto, who is also Native American, and he wanted the film to honor, not stereotype, the race. The werewolves (if they're still in the film at all) would be explained as being Native American mythical creatures that turn out to be very real. The choice to adapt Lone Ranger is an unusual one. Most of the remakes currently entering Hollywood involve properties familiar to the younger generation, but this twenty-something only knows of the TV series from pop culture references. Perhaps this level of pre-awareness is enough for a green light from Disney.

Depp's over-the-top Jack Sparrow won over audiences in part because his portrayal made fun of the ridiculously over-the-top spectacle of a film he was in. Will he go for a similar performance as Tonto in the Lone Ranger? The western will be working with a similarly effects-laden story with a large budget to match. Depp has a number of projects in the works right now (including Dark Shadows and The Thin Man), but it appears he'll be free when the production shoots early next year. Most likely, the movie's December 2012 release date will be switched up for a spot in summer 2013, unless they're as fast as the Ranger's "fiery horse with the speed of light and a cloud of dust."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Nora Ephron set to adapt 'Lost in Austen'

By Sarah Sluis

The works of Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and other late 19th-century British novelists have been remade countless times. An adaptation of Jane Eyre opened just this year. In the literary world, the Austen impulse has gone toward genre mashups like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. The former is currently in feature development.

Lost in austenFor those that prefer their period romance unadulterated, the 2008 British miniseries "Lost in Austen" provided a lighter reimagining of the genre. The story centered on a modern-day woman who accidentally is transported into the plot of Pride & Prejudice, becoming Elizabeth Bennet. She finds herself falling for Mr. Darcy before she's intended to, despite her best efforts to stick to the plot. Nora Ephron has decided to write and direct a film version of the series, substituting her native New York City for the original modern London locale.

Ephron's last directorial effort, the 2008 film Julie & Julia had a similar interplay between life and fiction. The Julie in the title cooks her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, with the movie following the stories of both characters. Ephron seems like a good fit for a riff on one of the most enduring classic romantic books. Interestingly Sam Mendes (director of Revolutionary Road and the upcoming Bond 23) is making one of his first producing-only credit appearances, producing with his Neal Street Productions partner Pippa Harris, who produced Road for Mendes. Ephron's last project, a biopic of Peggy Lee starring Reese Witherspoon, still appears to be stuck in development, so hopefully production will move quicker on Lost in Austen since the script framework is already in place.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

James Cameron previews footatge of 3D 'Titanic'

By Sarah Sluis

"Are you ready to go back to Titanic?" In advance of the movie's spring re-release, director James Cameron and producer Jon Landau previewed eighteen minutes of 3D-converted footage in New York City today for journalists. Cameron is currently shepherding the film through a sixty-week, $18 million, 2D to 3D conversion process. Set to open April 7, 2012, the re-release will commemorate the hundred-year anniversary of Titanic's voyage and sinking (April 10th-14th, 2012). But what about the 3D? The answer may be that it's beside the point.

Kate winslet sinking shipAs the re-release of The Lion King in 3D has shown, audiences went to the theatres primarily to revisit a classic, beloved movie. The 3D was an afterthought, and a significant percentage of ticket-buyers opted for 2D. I think viewers will approach Titanic in 3D the same way. While I mostly enjoyed seeing the footage in 3D, what I most connected to was the movie itself. I had forgotten what an immersive, emotional experience the film was--and how much of a difference it makes to see it on the big screen. Cameron hopes the movie will be a success because of its "nostalgia component," people remembering who they saw it with at the time, "the relationships they were in," and otherwise connecting to where they were when the movie came out. He said that the teen girls who saw Titanic multiple times (that would include me and all the other girls in my 7th grade class) were in the minority, maybe "only $200 million" of the movie's $1.8 billion box office. If the movie played from "eight to eighty" the first time around, Titanic should have similar broad appeal in the re-release.

Cameron noted that increasingly, people are making choices about which movies they want to see in theatres and which ones they want to see on Netflix. It's a "contract with yourself" to see a movie in a theatre, because it means you're deciding that film deserves to be seen with your full attention and no multitasking. It's also a social experience. People saw Titanic twelve weeks in because they were making a point to see the movie with valued friends and family, and it "takes time" to coordinate schedules. I agree that Titanic played best in theatres. I myself bought the two-VHS box set but couldn't bring myself to rewatch the movie more than a few times. Each time I saw the future Oscar winner in theatres, once with a friend and a few weeks later with my Mom, the theatre was sold-out, packed with ooh-ing audiences. That kind of experience makes going to the theatre worthy.

Cameron, who has long been an advocate of 3D, also commented on the direction the medium has been taking. He was fine with Titanic queuing up behind a number of other re-releases. In early 2012, Disney tries its luck again with Beauty and the Beast 3D (Jan. 13) and George Lucas re-releases Star Wars Titanic-11424Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (Feb. 10), all before Titanic's April re-release. Cameron's in favor of 3D re-releases of library titles--they're the "only reason" to choose conversion. He lambasted "Hollywood bean counters" who would opt for an $8 million conversion over the $10 million to shoot native 3D when the first would be only "half as good." He also gave a nod to director Martin Scorsese's upcoming 3D Hugo, citing it as an example of an "auteur" who sees 3D as just another color to paint with.

Will Titanic see the same success as The Lion King? I think the movie should do at least as well. We're talking about the #6 domestic movie of all time, using adjusted box office figures. The movie will be marketed with at least as much energy as a new release, according to Cameron and Landau. The campaign will also have to correct for the vagaries of people's memories. For example, he mentioned that a lot of people remember the movie as a sappy love story (I'll put myself in that category), but the marketing will remind people of how much was at stake: This is also a disaster movie in which people die terrible deaths, freezing and drowning in the icy waters. During the clips, I was reminded of just how suspenseful the original movie was. The scene where Rose frees Jack from his handcuffs as the icy waters rise, for example, had me on the edge of my seat. During other sequeneces, I had to hold back tears--from one-minute scenes! Cameron has heartstring-pulling down to a science.

The re-release of Titanic will definitely reignite nostalgia for the movie and introduce a whole new audience to the romance-disaster epic. Some of the effects may look dated, and Kate Winslet's black-undertoned dye job looks more 1990s than 1920s, but their performances show why they're still top actors today. If Lion King could do $80 million, it would be a tragedy if Titanic's re-release reaches port before earning at least $100 million.

Monday, October 10, 2011

'Real Steel' crowned box-office champ

By Sarah Sluis

The father-son-robot boxing movie, Real Steel, trounced its competitors this weekend for a $27.3 million finish. The movie did very well for a sports drama, but only so-so for a robot movie, according Hugh jackman real steel to the insanely specific charts provided by BoxOffice Mojo. "Fanboy" males under 35 comprised the majority of the audience. Though a young, male audience usually indicates that a movie will play best its opening weekend, the futuristic movie's 'A' CinemaScore rating could keep it playing strong in coming weeks. A sizeable 12% of the weekend gross came from IMAX screens, even without the added bonus of 3D.

In the VP spot, The Ides of March finished with $10.4 million. The opening was slightly off from Clooney's last star vehichle, The American ($13.1 million), though roughly around the debuts of some of his other self-directed films, like Ides of march ryan gosling Michael Clayton, which opened to $10.3 million. Ides corralled the opposite audience of Real Steel, playing mainly to women (58%) and over-35's (60%).

The third, fourth, and fifth place finishers all had minimal dips compared to the rest of the top ten, allowing them to keep their top ranking. Dolphin Tale dove 34% to $9.1 million. Moneyball, in its third week, fell 37% to $7.5 million. Finally, cancer dramedy 50/50 fell 36% to $5.5 million.

Playing to sold-out midnight screenings The Human Centipede 2 (The Full Sequence) averaged $3,000 per screen at eighteen locations. Strand's French confection The Women on the 6th Floor had the highest average of a new specialty film, $4,300 per screen. The unsettling storm-centered drama Take Shelter, in its second week, averaged $5,000 per screen as it moved from three to eleven locations.

This Friday, bird-watching comedy The Big Year goes up against sci-fi remake The Thing and 1980s teen dance remake Footloose.

Friday, October 7, 2011

'Real Steel' set to dominate Columbus Day weekend box office

By Sarah Sluis

Family-friendly films have been doing well in recent weeks, from the G-rated re-release of The Lion King to the PG-rated Dolphin Tale. Now the PG-13-rated Real Steel (3,440 theatres) is aiming for family audiences. Hugh Jackman stars as an ex-boxer who discovers he has a ten-year-old son. They reconnect Real steel fam by training a robot boxer for the championships. Critic Frank Lovece dubbed it "a science-fiction family film in which nine-foot-tall boxing robots are greased not with oil but with schmaltz." The movie, however, is not without flaws. "Something's not quite right when the robots have more soul than the leads," Lovece concludes. The support of family audiences and higher-priced IMAX screens should earn Real Steel over $20 million this weekend. With a third of kids out of school on Monday, Columbus Day, the feel-good robot tale should also experience a fourth-day boost.

The opposing candidate is The Ides of March (2,199 theatres), which stars George Clooney as a presidential contender in a movie he also directed. The ensemble piece, adapted from the play Farragut North, also features Ryan Gosling as a whipsmart press secretary. Unfortunately, "like a good politician," Ides of march george clooney the movie "promises more than it delivers," according to critic Daniel Eagan. "Good intentions" don't make up for the "trite" moments that will create "inevitable bad word-of-mouth." Still, ticket sales from men and women over 25 should bring this movie above $10 million.

I'd rather not dwell on The Human Centipede 2 (The Full Sequence), which is opening in 18 theatres. "Strictly for fans of the original, and you know who you are," THR critic Frank Scheck warns. This is a movie so vile, just thinking Human centipede 2 about the plot description grosses me out, but it's also become something of a pop culture talking point. So just so you know: The sequel was banned in the U.K., and the first film was parodied on "South Park."

Also on the specialty front is Dirty Girl (9 theatres), which features a teen girl (Juno Temple) behaving badly and her overweight gay sidekick. Critic David Noh championed the "totally engaging road movie," but critical opinion has been less enthusiastic. Just 23% of critics gave the movie a positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

On Monday, we'll see how Real Steel fared and if audiences voted for The Ides of March.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

'Tower Heist' to be available for just $59.99 three weeks after opening

By Sarah Sluis

If most city dwellers pay at least $10 for a movie ticket, it would take six people just to equal the price of watching Tower Heist on-demand for $59.99. The fee, which is more than six months of Netflix's streaming services, is part of a test being carried out by Universal and its parent company, Comcast. For that price, viewers can watch the film three weeks after its theatrical release in the comfort of their own homes. But who's buying?

A lot of people don't even have six comfortable seats on their couch, let alone the ability to wrangle so many friends together to watch a movie and share the cost. Do executives at Universal and Comcast expect people will invite friends over to watch the movie? Will couples gather older children (the movie will be rated PG-13) around the television? Will the teens themselves hit the "buy" button to the consternation of their parents? Or will this be a status thing for the people on MTV's "Cribs" with home theatres?

Tower heist Comcast plans to test the VOD concept in two markets, Atlanta and Portland. Atlanta, with its high population of affluent black citizens and ex-pro sports players, seems like a good fit for the test, especially since Tower Heist has a couple of prominent black cast members (Eddie Murphy and Gabby Sidibe of Precious fame). Portland may be the counterpoint to that test, with a liberal, tech-savvy populace but not as much of a reputation for McMansions. Because the McMansion segment, presumably, has enough money to rent a movie for ten times what it used to cost at Blockbuster.

It's doubtful that Universal and Comcast would release the data from the test, so the best indication of this working would be if this idea of high-priced on-demand continues to flourish. So far, the exhibition industry and NATO have not spoken out on this issue. The audience for high-priced on-demands is probably small. It's hard to see the value proposition in paying so much to see a movie at home when a theatre provides more of a guarantee of good technical specs and an "event"-like experience.

Is this high-priced product intended to figure out the upper limit people will pay to watch a movie? Or is it simply a bit of a bait-and-switch? If the industry plans on offering more reasonably priced, $29.99 on-demands in the future, maybe this is just a way to gain a foothold and flout current windowing guidelines without prompting the ire of the exhibition industry.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Disney plans more 3D releases in wake of 'The Lion King'

By Sarah Sluis

The Lion King's re-release in theatres was initially considered little more than a ploy to promote the movie's upcoming Blu-ray release. The fact that the movie was in 3D didn't seem to mean much to viewers, many of whom just aren't that into 3D anymore. However, the movie landed in first place for two weeks in a row and has since extended its run and earned $80 million. Now, Disney has announced four more re-releases, but will they experience the same success as The Lion King? Probably not.

Little mermaid In late 2009, Disney had Beauty and the Beast 3D on its schedule to release Feb. 2, 2010. That never happened. The movie was pushed to a few more "TBD" release dates before being taken off the schedule completely. Now Disney has the movie back on its schedule for a Jan. 13, 2012, release. Most likely, Beauty and the Beast was taken off the schedule after the double feature of Toy Story/Toy Story 2 3D earned $30.5 million in its five-week run. That's not shabby for a re-release, but perhaps it wasn't enough for Disney. Now that Lion King is a success, it appears the studio is more optimistic. In fact, I predict that Beauty and the Beast will be one of the animated movies to do well in re-release. Many of The Lion King's viewers were nostalgic young adult/college student audiences who wanted to experience a childhood classic together. I even heard chatter online of people going and singing along to all the songs. Beauty and the Beast released three years before The Lion King, in 1991, so it's definitely going to be a sentimental pick for the same demographic. For similar reasons, I think the re-release of 1989's The Little Mermaid on Sept. 13, 2013 will perform strongly. Just look at the turnout and excitement for this Little Mermaid sing-along at a Brooklyn bar last year.

The other two new releases on Disney's schedule are from the CG animation era, and they will likely suffer the same fate as Disney's Toy Story/Toy Story 2 3D release. The re-release of Monsters Inc. on Finding nemo Jan. 18, 2013, is little more than a promotion for the upcoming Monsters University. Finding Nemo's release on Sept. 14, 2012, also seems strained--it will re-release just nine years after it first opened. I don't think that's enough time to generate nostalgia or make people wistful to see the movie on the big screen.

3D re-releases of classic 2D animated films may be an easy way for Disney to make a few extra bucks, but I don't think every movie will be a success. Older, hand-drawn animated films like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid will fare better than newer, CG-animated films. And can I have a call for a re-release of Aladdin?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Turning a TV show into a movie: 'Arrested Development' and '24'

By Sarah Sluis

At a time when movies are dealing with waning returns from the home entertainment side of the business, television shows have experienced the opposite. Thanks to Netflix, DVD sets, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon Prime, and DVRs, more people are interested in seeing series on their own time, not at 8pm on a Tuesday. They've also helped unlikely shows become hits. I never saw "Arrested Development" on television. I couldn't even tell you what time it aired. Like millions of other viewers, I discovered the show after the fact thanks to word-of-mouth. I gobbled up multiple episodes at a time, and was sad that the show was cancelled after just three seasons. The cult success of "Arrested Development" didn't keep it on the air, but it will result in a movie. It's not the only successful television show to be rewarded with a big-screen treatment. "24," which left the air last year, is also being developed as a feature.

Arrested development What's interesting about "Arrested Development" is that the series will go back on the air for a mini-season that will allow viewers to catch up with the characters (and add some publicity). Then, there will be a movie that finishes up the characters' trajectories. I think the show will have no problem attracting high Nielsen ratings on television, since viewers like me will actually watch the show live and boost the ratings beyond what the show received when it was on the air from 2003-2006. Plus, many of the stars have risen in popularity since the show ended, including Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, and Alia Shawkat (upcoming Damsels in Distress), and Jeffrey Tambor, who had a supporting role in The Hangover Part II. That kind of star power may be able to overcome the problem of getting television viewers into the theatre (as seen in the dismal returns for the last X-Files movie).

"24," which just went off the air last year, also has plans for a movie. Recently, star Kiefer Sutherland announced that the script had gone through a number of rewrites before the writers were able to find the right formula."You have to remember that we have 24 hours to explain the stories in '24' and so 24 kiefer sutherland trying to condense that into a two-hour film version has been a real shift in gear for us," Sutherland said in an interview with The Telegraph while promoting Lars von Trier's Melancholia. His role in that movie has received positive feedback from critics and could pave a way for his career post-"24." As for the film itself? Earlier this year, Imagine Entertainment had planned to shoot by the end of 2011 for a summer 2012 release. If the script is done, the movie may be on track to meet that deadline.

Both "24" and "Arrested Development" were successful television shows, but one was a ratings winner and the other a cult, after-the-fact hit. Which one will produce the more successful movie?

Monday, October 3, 2011

'Dolphin Tale' swims ahead of new releases

By Sarah Sluis

Despite four new movies opening wide, the top three spots at the box office were taken by holdovers. Dolphin Tale rose to first place, dipping just 25% to $14.2 million. The PG-rated inspirational film attracted families and faith-based audiences. Since The Lion King was billed as just a two-week run, Dolphin tale the animated 3D re-release dove 50% to $11 million as many family viewers opted for Dolphin Tale instead. The re-release of the animated classic has added nearly $80 million to the film's box office and will likely spawn more re-releases.

Moneyball finished in third with $12.5 million. As one of the few male-driven movies in the marketplace, the Brad Pitt/Jonah Hill sports stats drama should continue to hold well, as its 35% drop attests.

By a lone, un-radiated hair, the strongest new release of the bunch was 50/50, which underperformed with an $8.85 million opening. The cancer-themed comedy/drama is a tough sell, but the movie's A- CinemaScore could translate to positive word-of-mouth. Reluctant audiences may be persuaded by friends that seeing a movie about a deadly disease can actually be a touching, uplifting experience.

The fatih-based drama Courageous overperformed with $8.8 million. THR critic Frank Scheck praised the "growing expertise" of Alex and Stephen Kendrick, who together contribute to the directing, writing, Courageous cops acting, and producing credits. "These enterprising Baptist filmmakers clearly know their audience," he observed after seeing the movie in a theatre packed with faithful moviegoers. Sherwood Pictures (Fireproof, Facing the Giants) has been growing in profile with a number of successes aimed at underserved audiences. 2008's Fireproof grossed five times its opening weekend. A similar multiple could bring Courageous' cumulative total above $40 million.

If most horror movies are seen by teen girls, why would they see middle-aged Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz fear for their lives in Dream House? The ambitious film, budgeted at $50 million, finished with $8.2 million. For a horror movie, that's a particularly bad opening. Its 7% positive approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which confirms this movie is not The Shining, may have had something to do with it.

Whats your number men 2 Anna Faris is a lovely star, but she must be disappointed after What's Your Number? debuted to a paltry $5.6 million. The movie seemed like a pretty typical romantic comedy, which audiences have been shunning in recent years. Perhaps the star can strut out her comedy skills to a broader audience when she appears opposite Sacha Baron Cohen in The Dictator next year.

Take Shelter boasted an $18,700 per-screen average at three locations. The Michael Shannon/Jessica Chastain movie could results in an Oscar nomination for Shannon. Years of delay didn't help Margaret, the post-9/11 pensive drama starring Anna Paquin. The movie's $3,700 per-screen average does not bode well for Fox Searchlight's planned expansion.

This Friday, the George Clooney/Ryan Gosling political ensemble drama The Ides of March will go up against the father-son-robot bonding movie Real Steel.