Monday, December 31, 2012

'Hobbit' leads, with 'Django' and 'Les Mis' not far behind

As the holidays start wrapping up, there's plenty of good cheer to share at the box office. The top seventeen films all earned over $1 million this weekend.  Viewers have many great options to choose from and theatres are busy with people on vacation in search of entertainment. Most releases also went up from last week, a rare occasion in the modern, opening-weekend-driven box office.

After dropping by half its second weekend, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had a second wind, descending just 10% to $32 million. That gives the fantasy a $222 million domestic total to
Django unchained jamie foxxdate, along with nearly half a billion abroad. With many multi-million weekends to come, it looks like J.R.R. Tolkien's novel about Bilbo Baggins will be able to sustain a trilogy.

Debuting in second place, Django Unchained earned $34 million over the weekend and $64 million since its Christmas Day opening. The violent comic Western about a slave's revenge has been an even bigger hit with audiences (93% positive) than critics (89%) positive), and it also earned an "A-" CinemaScore. For many, this movie is a must-see.

Les Misérables had a weekend tally of $28 million, just under Django. However, its $18 million opening on Christmas Day helped propel it to a $67.4 million total, just above director
Les miserables amanda seyfried eddie redmayneQuentin Tarantino's violent antebellum picture. Les Misérables received an "A" grade from viewers. I predict Les Misérables will last slightly longer than Django at the box office, since it will likely attract more selective and older viewers who may wait to see a feature until weeks after it opens.

Parental Guidance, a comedy about the clashing parenting styles of different generations, proved a hit with the holiday crowds, earning $14.8 million over the weekend and $29.6 million since Christmas Day. Although This is 40 started out slow, its  $13.1 million total was up 13% from its debut weekend. The $37 million cumulative means the Universal picture has at least made back its reported $35 million budget. The Guilt Trip may be the big loser in the family-oriented comedy race, totaling just $6.7 million for a total of $21 million, with a reported budget that soared even higher, to $40 million.

Silver Linings Playbook, which expanded into over 700 theatres, placed twelfth while posting a per-screen average of $5,500, higher than almost all the movies that earned more than its $4.1 million weekend total. The Weinstein Co.-distributed romantic comedy has earned $27 million to
Amour emmanuelle rivadate as it slowly expands.

The highest per-screen average went to Zero Dark Thirty, which averaged $63,000 per screen while still playing in only five locations. It won't expand wide for two more weeks. A distant (but still decent) second went to Amour, the well-reviewed critics' favorite that averaged $20,000 per screen. The tear-jerker The Impossible, with an $12,300 per-screen average, posted the third-highest total of the week. That movie will expand wide this Friday along with Promised Land. The issue-based drama, which centers on fracking for natural gas and stars Matt Damon and John Krasinski, had a weak ignition, with $7,600 per screen at 25 locations. The documentary West of Memphis also opened soft, averaging $2,700 per screen in five locations.

This Friday,  Texas Chainsaw 3D will splatter horror content into movie theatres, and Promised Land and The Impossible will expand nationwide.

Monday, December 24, 2012

'Les Miserables' and 'Django Unchained' may turn box office from silent to joyful

The weekend box office was softer than usual. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey dropped 57% to lead with $36.7 million, enough to give it a first-place finish by a wide margin. The Peter Jackson-directed epic has already earned nearly $150 million, but since the fantasy adventure is not only big-budget, but the first installment in a trilogy, anything other than a smash hit could portend trouble for the remaining two movies.

Jack reacherIn second place, Jack Reacher opened to $15.6 million. The Tom Cruise-led action picture resonated with older male moviegoers, and Paramount believes that the demographic base will expand to teenage males as well. Because the holiday season usually gives releases higher multiples of opening weekend, Reacher may end up with over $60 million, at least four times its first weekend.

Judd Apatow-directed comedy about a family's mid-life crisis, This is 40 followed in third with $12.3 million. That was a lot better than Wednesday release The Guilt Trip, which only earned $5.3  million. Both films, which skewed to older females, only received "B-" CinemaScores. Pre-holiday preparations often prevent the adult demographic from showing up in force pre-Christmas, so there are still plenty of interested viewers who may not have had a chance to see the movie yet--that is, if they still plan on seeing either one if they hear mixed reviews from friends.

Monsters Inc. 3D earned a light $5 million over the weekend. Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away, playing at just noon and 7pm every day, still managed to total $2.1 million. It will up the freqency of showtimes tomorrow, now that it has an "A-" average CinemaScore from its first viewers.

Of all the specialty releases, the one with the most momentum is Zero Dark Thirty. The story of the CIA's hunt for Osama bin Laden averaged $82,000 per screen in five locations, and is picking up incredible buzz and word-of-mouth from those emerging from sold-out screenings. The
Les miserables anne hathaway heart-wrenching tale of a family that survived a tsunami, The Impossible, opened with a $9,200 per-screen average in fifteen  locations. The modestly successful opening that may pick up speed in weeks to come.

Three more wide releases will open tomorrow, on Christmas Day. A celebration of the "redeeming pleasure of musical storytelling," Les Misérables (2,808 theatres) shows all signs of being the darling of this holiday season. Sung live, instead of lip-synced on set,  the vocals sound real, immediate, and occasionally (and appropriately) ragged. Critic Wendy R. Weinstein couldn't help reflecting on the "progressive political and moral concerns" highlighted from the original text by Victor Hugo. "It’s impossible to leave this movie untroubled by the contemporary parallels," she says, all the more reason the musical may end up being both a box-office and awards-show hit.

Controversy surrounding writer-director Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained (3,010 theatres) has been light so far, but now the ultra-violent film has its first major dissenter. Spike Lee said he would not be seeing the "disrespectful" movie, which does not honor the memories of
Django unchained leo dicaprio jamie foxxhis ancestors who were enslaved. The "spaghetti western/slave vengeance mash-up," as described by critic Chris Barsanti, includes comic bits that "play well throughout," but "at the disadvantage of dulling the edge of the script’s visceral portrayal of the savagery of slavery—a problem that gets more pronounced by the film’s gory climax." Perhaps that's what Lee was intuiting, though he hasn't seen it.

Tomorrow, another family-focused comedy (after The Guilt Trip and This is 40) will enter the mix. Parental Guidance, which centers on the generational clash between touch old-school and new helicopter parenting styles, will open in 3,558 theatres. Some "nice comic points" are scored, especially courtesy of Billy Crystal, according to FJI's David Noh, but an effluence of heartwarming moments and other signs of "commercial family slop" make it less palatable.

Next Monday, we'll evaluate how the Christmas releases fared, and if last Friday's releases benefited from vacation days and positive word-of-mouth.

Friday, December 21, 2012

'Jack Reacher' and 'This is 40' add to holiday movie madness

Two more big presents are under the Christmas tree. Tom Cruise-led Jack Reacher and the comedy This is 40 will both unspool today, joining Wednesday releases The Guilt Trip and Monsters Inc. 3D.

"Action fans and Cruise junkies" will like Jack Reacher (3,352 theatres), predicts critic Daniel Eagan. The "superior genre film" is pleasing, but it also feels old-fashioned. I'm not saying I want
Jack reacherthe handheld camerawork of the Bourne films, but the plotting is more pulpy and comforting than truly thrilling or challenging. Call me spoiled by the more realistic Zero Dark Thirty, which kicked off to a $25,000 per-screen average in five theatres on Wednesday.

Judd Apatow returns to the married couple from Knocked Up in This is 40 (2,912 theatres). Leslie Mann, his real-life wife, plays a version of herself, as do their two daughters, and Paul Rudd stands in for Apatow as their father. The "foolproof comic situations mixed with some genuine emotional moments" made Eagan a fan. Some in the industry are worried that the middle-age-centered
This is 40 leslie mann paul ruddsubject matter will alienate Apatow's younger fans, while others raise a eyebrow that those who aren't as well off or on the East Coast or West Coast will even care about the elitist problems of a bourgeois L.A. family. The New York Times' A.O. Scott notes that the main characters, "cushioned by comforts that most of their fellow citizens can scarcely
imagine, nonetheless feel as if things were starting to go
pear-shaped." The flawed, funny characters have been garnering the comedy mixed reviews. It's currently tracking a perfect split, 50% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Paramount is releasing Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away with just two showtimes a day in just 840 theatres. The idea is to make the movie feel more like the live events it's recording. Using techniques like "slo-mo, close-ups
and inventive camera angles [smooths] the transition from big top
to big screen," according to THR's Megan Lehmann.

A harrowing, true-life tale of a family separated by the tsunami in Thailand, The Impossible (15 theatres) was one of my picks for the top ten films of 2012. The "extraordinary visceral
The impossible ewan mcgregorexperience," as described by Doris Toumarkine, features award-worthy performances from not only Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, but also "beautifully nuanced performances" from the child actors, directed by Juan Antonio Bayona.

One of FJI editor Kevin Lally's top ten picks for 2012, Amour (3 theatres) is "grim but incredibly poignant," according to Toumarkine. The tale of an aging couple is depressing but accomplished enough that it's one of the finalists for Best Foreign Language Film.

A long-gestating adaptation of On the Road (4 theatres) finally accelerates into theatres. The "honorable, informed attempt
to transcribe an American classic and capture youthful frenzy" fails for critic Erica Abeel. She notes that the "period detail is perfect," but a "literal-minded approach" leads to its downfall.

Another look back at decades past, via an unsuccessful rock band started by a group of New Jersey teens, is Not Fade Away (3 theatres). Directed by David Chase ("The Sopranos"), the movie succeeds as an "engaging time capsule" of the '60s, according to Lally, offering "a vivid reminder of how thoroughly the ’60s shook up the
culture, reverberations that are still felt and remain unsettled
five decades later."

On Monday, we'll check in on the Wednesday and Friday releases and weigh in on the prospects of Les Misérables, Parental Guidance and Django Unchained, which will open on Christmas Day.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

From 'Amour' to 'Zero,' Kevin Lally's top ten of 2012

Even the toughest critics are acknowledging that 2012 was an exceptional year for movies. I saw several dozen films—from satisfying escapist entertainment to more demanding arthouse fare—that were well worth my time. And my personal top ten is so varied, this year it was simply too difficult to rank them in order of preference. Here, in alphabetical order, are this editor's favorite films of 2012.

Amour: Michael Haneke's drama about an elegant, long-married French couple facing debilitating
Amour1illness is an uncompromising portrait of the inevitable challenge we all must face: our own mortality. You need to brace youself for its painful intimacy, but you'll be dazzled by the brave, breathtaking performances of its two leads, French cinema icons Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.

Argo: Yes, Virginia, Ben Affleck can direct. Although its climax breaks with the real story to ratchet up suspense, this account of the improbable scheme to rescue six Americans hiding in the residence of the Canadian ambassador during the 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis retains a vivid "You Are There" power. The plan involves a fake movie called Argo, so this nail-biting tale also includes some hilarious swipes at Hollywood.

The Avengers:  The year's best popcorn movie. Cult TV auteur Joss Whedon scored a massive blockbuster with this gathering of Marvel superheroes including Iron Man, Thor and Captain America that delivers all the thrills and sly humor a comic-book fan could want.

Les Misérables: King's Speech director Tom Hooper made the bold decision to have his cast sing
Les Miz3live in the long-awaited movie version of the beloved stage show, and the gamble pays off with an immediacy that prerecording could never deliver. Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne and newcomer Samantha Barks all have standout numbers in this handsomely produced and enthralling translation of the Victor Hugo classic.

Lincoln: Daniel Day-Lewis is the man to beat for the Best Actor Oscar for his remarkable incarnation of our 16th President. The screenplay by acclaimed playwright Tony Kushner offers a fascinating inside look at the deals, deceptions and compromises behind the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment which finally ended our country's abhorrent embrace of slavery.

Miss Bala: Based on a true story, Gerardo Naranjo's pulse-quickening drama charts the nightmarish odyssey of a naive beauty queen who has the misfortune to cross paths with a Mexican drug cartel. Her journey is harrowing, unpredictable, and streaked with moments of dark humor. This movie truly deserved a wider audience.

Moonrise Kingdom: The inimitable Wes Anderson does it again, but this time with more heart. His tale of two 12-year-old runaways experiencing first love is filled with the director's trademark quirkiness and meticulous design detail, but those determined kids gave his latest movie an accessibility that made it one of the year's top arthouse crossovers.

Searching for Sugar Man: A documentary that unfolds as a mystery story, Malik Bendjelloul's film introduces most of the world to Sixto Rodriguez, a well-reviewed folksinger who dropped out of sight after his two albums flopped in the early 1970s. But amazingly, his records became huge in South Africa, buoying the spirits of the anti-apartheid community. Sugar Man not only chronicles Rodriguez's enigmatic life, but has brought long-overdue recognition to this woefully undervalued musician. (And yes, I now own his CDs.)

Silver Linings Playbook: David O. Russell delivered the most engaging and satisfying comedy of the year, centered on an unlikely romantic duo consisting of a recently institutionalized manic-depressive and a highly volatile young widow. Bradley Cooper has his best movie role to date, and 22-year-old Jennifer Lawrence is simply a revelation as the screen's brightest new comedienne.

Zero Dark Thirty: Kathryn Bigelow follows The Hurt Locker with an even more impressive
Zero Dark2achievement, a thoroughly detailed account of the ten-year pursuit of Osama bin Laden which tells us something we didn't know: A persisent, single-minded female CIA agent was key to the discovery of his compound in Abbottabad. The film's events are so recent, it borders on documentary, and the lengthy recreation of the raid on bin Laden's hideout sure feels like the real thing.

This strong movie year demands a list of ten runners-up, and here they are: Anna Karenina, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Farewell My Queen, Flight, Hope Springs, In Darkness, Looper, Skyfall, The Well Digger's Daughter, and Wreck-It Ralph.

Sarah Sluis' Top Ten Movies of 2012

2012 has been a great year for big Hollywood films. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, my top ten lists were stocked with underdogs and the kind of specialty fare that only sometimes made it big at the box office. This year, most of the "specialty" releases I selected are destined for expansion and great play in theatres, so I'm a little light on the underdogs. The list reflects only the movies I saw in theatres this year: 70, a number many critics could easily double. In no particular order, here are my top ten:

1. Zero Dark Thirty. The biggest surprise for me was that the film's protagonist, Maya, was female, "a woman clothed, like Athena, in willful strength and intellectual armor," as described by The New Yorker's David Denby. She's the kind of female protagonist you don't realize is rare until you see her up on the screen. Beyond Maya (played expertly by Jessica Chastain), director Kathryn Bigelow lays out an incredibly detailed account of the years leading up to Bin Laden's death that feels real, immediate, and important. It's a cinematic (and partly fictional) version of reading The 9/11 Comission Report.

2. Next to Maya, Gina Carano was the second most awesome female protagonist of the year in Haywire. The lean spy actioner had some of the most riveting, realistic fighting I've ever seen. Like Zero Dark Thirty, there's a lot that director Steven Soderbergh didn't bother to explain. I like a story where a filmmaker or actor has the courage or confidence not to show something, and this movie was one of them.

3. Flight showed little restraint. The final minutes added a moralizing touch that felt old-fashioned and uncomfortable. Like the car crash scene in Adaptation, Flight has one of the best action sequences ever appearing in a drama. It stays with you for the rest of the film. Another great movie about alcoholism that didn't quite make the list, Smashed, is an interesting companion piece: substitute a plane crash for a faked pregnancy and you end up with a quite similar character arc.

4. Argo was so much fun to watch. Even though I had read the magazine article that was the source material and knew the end plane sequence didn't really happen, it managed to combine real drama with comedy in a way that so few others have. I think this is why audiences finally returned to the "box-office poison" of Middle East-set features. This one had you clapping and gasping in suspense, but it also had great laughs and didn't take itself too seriously.

5. The documentary Searching for Sugar Man centered on folk musician Rodriguez, a man so befuddling and enigmatic it was hard to wrap your mind around him. But that's why I like documentaries: They can offer character portraits that would never work in fiction films, because audiences would find them too frustrating. Some key would need to be provided to the audience to unlock his or her motivations. But we never get one for Rodriguez, whose life as both a star and an aesthete becomes a koan on character and fame for the audience to meditate on. In one forest, Rodriguez's music fell on deaf ears. In another (South Africa), it became a symbol of cultural revolution.

6. Les Misérables promises to shake up the way musicals are filmed for the screen. The live recordings of the actors strip away the distance that always seems to crop up in musicals. Sure, Les Misérables is one of my favorite musicals, but that only raises expectations. Mine were met, and then some.

7. Beasts of the Southern Wild may also change the world of indie film. I'd rather have a crop of indie imitators try to tackle a project like this than sit through another Mumblecore, but given the immense resolve required of those who soldiered through the bayou-set production, I doubt there will be too many. Beasts opened up dialogue about New Orleans and Katrina and made the experience of seeing a movie feel new again. For that, it gets a spot in the top ten.

8. I'm still not quite sure what to think about Django Unchained. I admire director Quentin Tarantino for traversing into the quicksand territory that is race relations and America's history of slavery. So far, people have only taken issue with small things, like the use of the N-word. Surely more thoughtful cultural critiques are to come. What I remember most about Django is its use of guided awe. Django (Jamie Foxx) rides into town on a horse, prompting head-turning stares from every person in town. A black person on a horse? Tarantino draws attentions to anachronisms, but the emotions of hatred and revenge never feel far removed from the present.

9. I don't ever want to see The Impossible again, but its account of a family torn apart by the tsunami in Thailand was harrowing and intimate. It was essentially a two-hour ordeal of getting choked up and holding back tears. Those in search of an emotional ravaging need to look no further.

10. Everyone seems to be hating The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey but I thought it was a nice solid Hobbit meal. Suddenly, Lord of the Rings made sense to me. With fewer deaths and a lighter tone, this is the kind of fantasy adventure that would have been a great kickoff to the film series. The Harry Potter books started off light and got darker and darker, and the same holds true for The Hobbit. This one was actually still close to the Prisoners of Azkaban-level in terms of darkness, but the movie makes my list just because it's such a relief to finally get a series I never really latched onto.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday rush begins with 'Guilt Trip,' 'Monsters, Inc.' and 'Zero Dark Thirty'

With two wide releases opening today and another three on Friday, the pre-Christmas rush is reaching its apex.

Taking advantage of the light animated offerings this season, Disney will re-release Monsters Inc.
Monsters incin 3D in 2,618 theatres. Disney has had mixed results with its re-releases when it comes to theatrical box office. The Lion King 3D was a huge hit ($94 million), but Finding Nemo 3D ($40 million) Beauty and the Beast ($47 million), the combo release of Toy Story/Toy Story 2 ($30 million) had much softer responses. But when you're talking about Disney, box office is just one slice of a very big pie. Disney expects an opening in the teen millions for the re-release, which should make theatre owners happy. Any work the studio does marketing the release will also serve as advance publicity for Monsters University, the prequel to the original which comes out in June.

Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand have nice chemistry together as son and mother in The Guilt Trip (2,431 theatres), but it ends there.  Expectations for the comedy are not high. It may only
Guilt trip barbra streisand seth rogen earn around $10 million over its five-day opening, less than the re-release of Monsters Inc. The mother-son pairing, which aims to "capture the three key demographics of 30-year-old stoners, over-40 gay males and sexagenarian moms," doesn't pay off according to Time Out's David Frear. "You’d swear you were actually watching a 95-minute pitch for a mild cross-generational cringe comedy rather the film itself, " an assessment I wholeheartedly agree with.

A frontrunner in the awards race, at least by my estimation, Zero Dark Thirty will roll out in just five theatres today. A wider release is planned for January. FJI's Chris Barsanti was a fan of director Kathryn's Bigelow creation: "a hybridized spy procedural and behind-
Zero dark thirty jessica chastainenemy-lines war film" that "inaugurates a new genre," the "war procedural." Jessica Chastain stars as a CIA agent who spends years tracking down Osama bin Laden  as her "worldview narrows down to a millimeter-wide slit." The account is "precise to a fault, verging on clinical," and culminates in a "riveting and sharply framed sequence of near-perfection" that reveals how the elite team helicoptered to the compound and finally killed bin Laden. With a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 94%, this drama is clearly a critics' favorite.

Director Michael Haneke's meditation on aging, Amour, has many critics predicting it will win the Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars. But how it plays with audiences is a different story. "Haneke is always fearless in what he presents (there’s no pampering
to the crowds) and audiences who take pleasure in great work
shouldn’t be fearful," critic Doris Toumarkine encourages, before wondering "if positive
word of mouth performs its magic, or if older mouths too close to
the material do some damage."

By Friday, the Wednesday returns should be in for this batch of new releases, and This is 40, Jack Reacher, and Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away will be added to the oven.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Prediction: 'Les Miserables' is going to be a revolutionary hit

The two hour, forty minute screen adaptation of Les Misérables is even more epic on screen than seen live in a theatre. At least the musical has an intermission, something that would have helped the bladders of some of the younger guests at the press screening last week in New York City (we let the eleven-year-old cut in line). The press for the Christmas Day release is approaching a fever
Les miserables eddie redmayne samantha barkspitch. After seeing the movie last week, I've been busy finding YouTube videos of the 25th anniversary performance and listening to the soundtrack on Spotify. Hearing the musical on other mediums made me realize just how good the screen version is.

On the screen, Les Misérables lives up to the intimate promise of movies. You can see the characters in close-up. Director Tom Hooper's decision to have the actors sing live instead of with playback makes their voices sometimes haggard and strained. For such an tragic, epic story, that realism adds poignancy and revs up the emotional impact. While the London version of Les Misérables features the cast singing in front of a microphone, which I don't particularly like, in the screen version the characters move within their environments--but not too much. It's almost the cinematic equivalent of an actor on a mike. They're shot in close-up, removed from their surroundings, with such a narrow depth of field the background is almost always blurry. Les Misérables has done the impossible: It's just as good as the musical, albeit in different ways. I can't speak for the book yet, though a copy of the thousand-plus-page tome is now downloaded on my Kindle.

While the creative choices are really what make the screen version shine, if the actors couldn't sing, it would have been for nothing. Les Misérables is also a triumph of casting. Who would have thought that so many A-listers could also sing? Anne Hathaway as Fantine and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette? Broadway veteran Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean is no surprise, but Russell Crowe as Javert? Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thenardiers? The biggest surprises, however, are the two characters who were unknowns. Samantha Barks, who was playing Eponine in the London musical, landed the role for the film. Eddie Redmayne, freckled and barely scruffy as Marius, is certainly destined for stardom. In last year's My Week with Marilyn, he played an admirer of the blonde sex symbol. With this role, he may be the heartthrob everyone is ogling. This year's Oscar race will be interesting with Les Misérables in the running. The Academy has a soft spot for musicals, but this is a year of many strong films. After a few years where the victor seemed preordained, this year there are other frontrunners: Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, and Argo.


Monday, December 17, 2012

'Hobbit' sets December record with $85 million weekend

Audiences are just beginning their trip with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The Peter Jackson-directed epic fantasy adventure opened to $84.7 million. When movies like November's The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn--Part 2 rack up $141 million in a single weekend, it can make The Hobbit's figure look low in comparison. With this movie, the debut weekend is just the start of the story--and the beginning of a trilogy. The Hobbit may have an opening as a family movie.
Hobbit richard armitage 3Besides the re-release of Monsters Inc. in 3D and the fading Rise of the Guardians, there are no animated family movies this holiday season. The Hobbit, which eschews the dark tone of Lord of the Rings, could be a huge hit with those from late elementary school onward, despite its PG-13 rating. Viewers under 18 gave the movie an "A+" CinemaScore rating. However, on opening weekend 58% of audiences were over 25 and 57% were male, indicating that fanboys were a big presence. It's up to the marketing team at Warner Bros. and word-of-mouth to move this release beyond its core fanbase and position it as a family movie.

With no other competition besides The Hobbit, returning films posted below-average drops, mostly in the 20-40% range. Specialty, arthouse-leaning fare performed best. Lincoln, in third place, dipped just 18.8% for a total of $7.2 million. Silving Linings Playbook, which ascended to tenth place, wavered just 4% from last week for a $2 million weekend. Other specialty fare posted gains, including Hitchcock, up 52% to $1 million. Hyde Park on Hudson skyrocketed 265% to $297,000, including a per-screen average of $8,200. Rust and Bone posted a small 8% gain as it went from four to six theatres, averaging $9,300 per screen.

 This week is a busy one. On Wednesday, Zero Dark Thirty will roll out into select theatres along with critics' favorite Amour. Monsters Inc. will re-release in 3D and Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen will go on The Guilt Trip. Then, on Friday, Tom Cruise plays an action hero in Jack Reacher. Judd Apatow's This is 40, sort-of sequel to Knocked Up, will provide some comedic relief. Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away will bring the legendary circus troupe's acts to the big screen.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Audiences pack bags for 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'

The incredibly anticipated The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will roll out in 4,045 theatres this weekend, including in 3D. The adventure (which clocks in at nearly three hours, especially once you factor in trailers) already earned $13 million from midnight screenings, which is impressive given the long running time. It's also a December record. Harry Potter fans may notice that The Hobbit has a lot more in common with the popular series than Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is funnier and
Hobbit ian mckellenlighter, and includes giant spiders and a wizard (Gandalf) that look suspiciously like creatures and characters (Dumbledore) in J.K. Rowling's novels. The downside is that every character looks like Hagrid--J.R.R. Tolkien has but one female character that shows up for the first installment. "Flaws and all, The Hobbit is too big, and too well-made, to
ignore," weighs in critic Daniel Eagan. I actually wish I had seen the gentler Hobbit first, and Lord of the Rings after. I'm sure a marathon trilogy session will be able to fix that.

Film geeks will definitely want to check out one of the 461 theatres showing the high-frame-rate version. Yes, there are criticisms of the format, but admire the fact that director Peter Jackson is putting himself out there.

The Hobbit will open big, but won't approach the levels of a Twilight. This is the kind of movie that's going to play well for weeks all the way through the holiday season. December actually isn't even known for huge openings. The biggest December opening was $77 million for I Am Legend. With estimates coming in for $75-95 million, and even over $100 million for the weekend, that's a record that will most likely topple.

No other big movie dares to release opposite The Hobbit, so this week the box office will be driven entirely by its performance.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Foreign Press breathes life back into some films with Golden Globe nods

The Golden Globe nominations are in. The Hollywood Foreign Press is an interesting beast, a group of 80 mainly freelance journalists who end up having tremendous sway over the second-biggest awards show.  The two big takeaways of the nominations? The Weinstein Co. is back, and the members of the foreign press have age-specific taste.

Django Unchained may have done poorly in the SAG Awards nominations, receiving no recognition, but it redeemed itself with the Hollywood Foreign Press. Django will be a contender in four categories: Best Drama, Director, Screenplay, and Supporting Actor (for both Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz). Maybe Harvey Weinstein knew he could have more of an impact by
Django unchained jamie foxx christoph waltztargeting the 80-some members of the Hollywood Foreign Press who wield power over such influential awards. Also, the slavery-revenge-Western was rushed to the finish line, limiting the number of advance screenings. I'd say that this strong showing makes it extremely likely to show up as a Best Picture nominee at the Oscars, especially with the new "up to ten" rule.

When it came to the "just-squeaked-in" movies, it helped to have a picture that appealed to an older set. If you want to take a look at the age bias among awards shows, look no further than the nominations for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen received mention both for "Best Musical or Comedy" and for both of its lead actors, Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor. Although the actors aren't as old as those in Marigold, the story was gentle and had an Old Hollywood vibe. In his FJI review, critic Kevin Lally gave praise to the old-fashioned feel, noting that "the romantic-comedy portions of Salmon
are something special, a disarming throwback to the
classic repartee of the likes of Cary Grant and Rosalind
Russell." Don't think the Foreign Press didn't notice that. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel also scored in the Best Comedy category, which was backed up with a Supporting Actress nod for Judi Dench. In comparison, the more youthful-leaning Moonrise Kingdom was recognized in the "Best Musical or Comedy" category, and nowhere else.

There were also a lot of good movies with older casts or appeal this year, like The Sessions, which
Judi dench marigold was recognized for the performances of lead actors John Hawkes and Helen Hunt. And I adore Meryl Streep, but her age and stature with the Foreign Press likely led to her nomination in the funny trifle that was Hope Springs. You could make a similar judgment about Bill Murray's acting nomination in the mostly panned Hyde Park on Hudson. However, older moviegoers are a huge part of the specialty audience these days. They have the time to see movies, and prefer good ones. That's one reason why the Golden Globe nominations are skewing older this year, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. In particular, Hollywood has always been cruel to older actresses, considering them ready for pasture once they hit middle age. A lot of these "middle agers" received recognition.

Of the fifteen female nominees for Best Female Actor in a Drama, Best Female Actor in a Musical/Comedy, and Best Supporting Female Actor, only three are thirty or under, Jennifer Lawrence (22), Emily Blunt (29), and Anne Hathaway (30). Another seven are in the 35-50 range, a group that includes Jessica Chastain (35), Marion Cotillard (37), Amy Adams (38), Rachel Weisz (42), Naomi Watts (44), Nicole Kidman (45), and Helen Hunt (49). The remaining five are retirement age:  Meryl Streep (63), Sally Field (66), Helen Mirren (67), Maggie Smith (77), and Judy Dench (78). As Oscar history suggests, it is quite easy to be nominated and win as a young woman, but it tends to thin out when you get to older actors. This year could be an unusual cluster, or it could be part of a trend, as studios target specialty fare to older viewers and populate their films with mature actors. I will say I was surprised at the ages of some of these very youthful-looking actresses, so maybe part of the wave of older actresses doesn't come from expanded minds, but advances in the age-erasing fields of dermatology and plastic surgery. That's something we'll be paying attention to as the stars walk the red carpet this January.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

'Lincoln,' 'Silver Linings,' and 'Les Miz' lead SAG award nods

Zero Dark Thirty may have won top honors from the New York Film Critics Circle, National Board of Review, New York Film Critics Online, and a number of critics organizations in smaller cities (Boston, Washington D.C.), but it emerged from the Screen Actors Guild Awards competition with just one nomination. Jessica Chastain was nominated for Female Actor in a Lead Role, for a part some think
Lincoln casthas Oscar-winner written all over it. It's a bit surprising that Zero Dark Thirty didn't get a nod in the Best Ensemble department, especially since it has so many well-known (and up-and-coming) actors in supporting roles, including James Gandolfini, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler (Super 8), Jennifer Ehle,  mumblecore vet Mark Duplass, and Chris Pratt ("Parks & Recreation"). However, they did have comparatively small, forgettable roles compared to Chastain's, and to the supporting roles in the other nominated films. Argo highlights the talent not only of Ben Affleck, but also has some meaty, comedic roles for John Goodman and Alan Arkin. Silver Linings Playbook generated buzz for three of its stars, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Bradley Cooper. Lincoln, Les Miserables, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the same deal.

Does this change the lineup for the Oscars? In short, no. Besides Zero Dark Thirty, a couple of other movies are still strongly in the running. Les Miserables is getting points for being a musical done right. Lincoln is the one appealing to the older, staid voters in the Academy, while Silver Linings Playbook has energized many critics and has a more youthful feel. Then there's Argo, which had some great early momentum but is losing out to movies that are just ramping up their buzz as they move into release. Marigold Hotel got a vote for Best Ensemble in part because of SAG's older and U.K. voters, and it does have a deeper cast than Zero Dark Thirty. However, that movie only has an outside chance of being recognized at the biggest awards ceremony, and most likely will receive a few nominations, max. The winners of the SAG Awards won't be announced until January 27, one month before the Oscars.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

'Zero Dark Thirty' is ambiguous about torture. It would have been a bad movie if it wasn't.

Just as Zero Dark Thirty is accruing awards, controversy is also accelerating over the movie's depiction of torture. New York Magazine's David Edelstein has voiced unease over the torture scenes, saying in his review "As a moral statement, Zero Dark Thirty is borderline fascistic. As a piece of cinema, it’s phenomenally gripping—an unholy masterwork." I'm with Edelstein on the "masterwork" part, but I disagree completely about the "fascistic" part. Zero Dark Thirty is carefully neutral about torture. I went into the screening against torture, and I came out against it. I think it's also possible to
Zero Dark Thirty night visiongo into the movie approving of torture, and come out also approving of torture. It's the movie's lack of evangelism for the anti-torture standpoint that has people getting nervous. When really, that's what makes director Kathryn Bigelow' and screenwriter Mark Boal's follow-up to The Hurt Locker so great.

Compare Zero Dark Thirty to the upcoming release of Promised Land, a love letter to liberal concerns over drilling for natural gas. The filmmakers are clearly against drilling, and though they try to present other opinions, those positions are only really used as more evidence to support their stance. It's baby food for liberals: bland, unchallenging, guaranteed to be safe going down. Imagine if Zero Dark Thirty had taken this approach, using the movie not to document the hunt for Bin Laden but as an indictment of torture. The entire feel of the movie would be different, and the audience would be guided into being a critic, not an observer.

I found plenty in Zero Dark Thirty to support my anti-torture position. The sequences themselves are brutal, both for the victims and those that are reduced to their basest levels by inflicting violence onto another person. The "big lead" does not come from torture but from its aftermath. CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) and her colleague (Jason Clarke) trick someone into thinking he has already confessed information under duress. He confirms what they say while gorging himself on hummus. Sure, some may think that the kindness method would only work after cruelty, but I'm not one of them.

Besides torture, there are other things that are startling about the raid on Bin Laden. How they call someone's name and shoot him when he turns to respond. The way one of the wives is killed. The fact that I didn't like the way many of the characters acted makes Zero Dark Thirty feel less like a movie and more like the "docudrama" some are calling journalist-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal's take. These are unpleasant truths. America tortured. In a raid, there is no time for those movie-style hesitations, where a character looks the other in the eye for long moment before pulling the trigger, perhaps accompanied by a speech. The things that make us feel better about right and wrong, the good guys and the bad guys. Zero Dark Thirty shows us another reality, and challenges us in our reaction. Do the ends justify the means? People are coming away with the movie with different answers to that question, a sign that Bigelow and Boal have done their job.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bond is back: 'Skyfall' makes a rare return to number one after three-week hiatus

Just like in Skyfall, Bond is back. After debuting in first place, Skyfall spent three weeks playing second fiddle to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn--Part 2. Now that steeply declining franchise finale has dropped to third with $9.2 million. Skyfall, declining just 33% from last week, rose to first place with $11 million. That gives the Daniel Craig-led movie a total of $256
Skyfall daniel craigmillion in the U.S., plus another $656 million abroad for a total of $918 million. At this point, I bet Sony's counting its pennies and trying to see if it can top the $1 billion mark. The ten-figure mark aside, the movie is close to being the studio's most successful in five years. For a franchise release that was delayed for so many years thanks to MGM's bankruptcy, this is the best possible outcome. Maybe Hollywood can learn a lesson that spacing apart franchise titles and putting together a quality script can lead to a huge payoff.

After a poor debut and a 43% drop in its second weekend, Rise of the Guardians leveled its fall with a 20% slide to $10.5 million. The DreamWorks Animation title has been something of a disappointment, but the holiday-themed tale may be able to hold onto an audience through
Playing for keeps gerard butler 2Christmas. In two weeks, it will have the 3D re-release of Monsters Inc. to contend with, but that's about it in the family entertainment department.

Playing for Keeps, the only new wide release of the week, did just about as poorly as expected, debuting with a total of $6 million. Gerard Butler's career is now in critical mode, since he also appeared in the surfing flop Chasing Mavericks. He's already filmed his next role, in 2013's Olympus Has Fallen, so he really needs that movie to be a success to help revive his career.

End of Watch had a moderately successful re-expansion into over 1,000 theatres. The goal was to break $1 million, but the cop procedural finished with $733,000. Still, considering last week the movie earned just $22,000, the increase in theatre count added a nice chunk to the total.

Hyde Park on Hudson debuted to a $20,000 per-screen average in four locations in New
Hyde park on hudson bill murray laura linney olivia williamsYork and Los Angeles. With many awards-leaning pictures opening in the $50,000 to $70,000 per-screen range, that's not good. It looks like the story of a romance between FDR and his cousin will be passed over both by critics and by audiences.

Ed Burns' Fitzgerald Family Christmas put in a $3,400 per-screen average in four locations. Burns' Irish Catholic stories have a following, but it's unclear if they all showed up opening weekend or if the opening is a launching point to nice holiday run.

This Friday, one of the most anticipated movies of the year comes out. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will release in over 4,000 locations, with many theatres showing it in 3D and select locations previewing director Peter Jackson's high-frame-rate version.

Friday, December 7, 2012

'Playing for Keeps' isn't vying for a spot in the top five

We're into the second week of post-Thanksgiving coasting. The release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey next Friday has had something of a chilling effect. Any studio that wants a movie to play strongly for a couple of weeks in a row opted out of this weekend. The only new wide release is Playing for Keeps (2,837 theatres). Currently tracking at 0% on Rotten Tomatoes,
Playing for keeps gerard butlerthings do not look good for the Gerard Butler-led romantic comedy. It's more of the same-old, the story of a retired pro soccer player who coaches his son's team, gets with all the soccer moms, and then pursues his ex-wife. FilmDistrict may hope the movie will approach $10 million, but somewhere in the $5 million range will be more likely.

Seeing a gap in the marketplace, Open Road will re-expand the release of End of Watch, which received good reviews when it first opened eleven weekends ago. While playing in 1,249 locations, it should rack up at least a million and cross the $40 million mark.

The top five films will all be close together, with receipts right in the $10 million range. Skyfall has been playing ahead of Lincoln in the weekday box offices, so there's a good chance it will maintain its lead through the weekend. Rise of the Guardians may lift a bit to approach the two leading films thanks to families attending weekend matinees. Life of Pi will also be in the mix and settle somewhere in the $10 million range. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn--Part 2 will likely finally give up its lead as its steep week-to-week drops bring it below Skyfall and Lincoln, which
Hyde park on hudson laura linneyhave descended on a slower slope.

One notable specialty release will join the awards-seeking fray, Hyde Park on Hudson, which will open in four locations. The story of the relationship between FDR (Bill Murray) and his cousin (Laura Linney) "feels creepy instead of
romantic," notes critic Daniel Eagan. "As portrayed by Linney, she's a naive, poverty-stricken
girl seduced into an affair with an abusive, serial philanderer." This is the second film to feature an actor playing King Edward, who stuttered, and The King's Speech is many times better. This is one audiences can skip in favor of the many far better similar options out there right now, including Silver Linings Playbook (better romance, better comedy), Lincoln (better historical picture), and The Sessions (better relationship between two people where one is disabled).

On Monday, we'll see which of the returning releases had the most steam, if Playing for Keeps managed to score with audiences at all, and if End of Watch's expansion strategy worked.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

'Star Trek Into Darkness' trailer offers little to set the sci-fi sequel apart

Ok, maybe I'm just jaded, but the teaser trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness was a total yawn-fest for me. A big part of the problem is the trailer itself. It uses the low horn blasts first used to such great effect in the trailer for Inception, but have since been copied in other trailers, like the one for Prometheus. In this one, the editing of the footage to the horn blasts doesn't even feel like it's timed right. Plus, where's the story? It's all just random explosions and moments of terror. Oh, and a voiceover from a villain (Benedict Cumberbatch) who vows to destroy all that is good in the world. What's new? This trailer gets a big thumbs down. The 2009 Star Trek was so great because it brought in people who weren't Trekkies. This trailer seems like it's just trying to appeal to a fanbase that will see the movie anyway. I hope the poor quality of this teaser trailer is just the marketing department or the fact that effects-laden footage just wasn't ready. Because it makes me not want to see the movie.



Compare that teaser trailer to this one for the 2009 Star Trek. By using radio-transmitted announcements and news footage, it evokes the feeling of the 1960s space race. Instead of focusing on the high-tech flight deck, they open with footage of a welder creating the Enterprise. That's the kind of trailer that made people want to see the movie. The second trailer focused on a young Kirk driving a vintage red convertible, and the third showed a grown-up Chris Pine in the desert on a motorcycle and then in a bar with a jukebox. These were images that seemed far outside of a typical sci-fi film (though the desert was a wee familiar for any Star Wars aficionados). Maybe Paramount doesn't have the luxury of including the footage of the origin story this time around, but if they plan to sell this movie on action sequences alone, they're in trouble.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Weighing in on the high-frame-rate version of 'The Hobbit'

Reactions to the high-frame-rate version of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey have been mixed. A demo at CinemaCon fell flat, with many exhibitors finding the format looked liked television. There is, of course, a reason for that. Film speed is 24 frames-per-second, while television is often projected at 30 fps or higher, depending on if you're watching, say, sports versus a prime-time drama. At last night's 3D, high-frame-rate screening at a Times Square multiplex, my reaction went from negative to neutral, and then cautiously positive. I do think the technology will
The Hobbit an Unexpected Journey 1be part of the future of filmmaking, but it will take adjustment. History has shown that some naturalistic changes to film form were at first perceived as unnatural. Most famously, Technicolor was reserved for big-budget, showy pictures, while dramas and serious movies stayed with the lower-cost black-and-white format. Perhaps in part because of the genres that used color, seeing a film in color was seen as unnatural. Now, watching a black-and-white movie, it's hard to imagine anyone finding that medium more realistic-looking. Early Technicolor was, in fact, often brighter and more saturated than real life, which may have been part of what audiences were reacting to. Now we don't even think about that. We just think color = more real.

In the opening, brightly lit scenes of The Hobbit, the high frame rate looked wrong. It was either my eyes adjusting, or (if they shot in sequence, which is doubtful), that they were just figuring out the best lighting for the high frame rate. So most likely my eyes just needed a period of time to acclimate, as my mind reconciled watching a frame rate we only see in TV with an epic movie. Because high frame rates show so much detail, they have a tendency to make sets look fake. Again, I think that's something that productions will learn to accommodate. On the flip side, you can see the actor's hair flyaways, the texture of a wool sweater, and other minute details that normally aren't captured by film. Still objects, in particular, look amazingly real. I do feel a bit sorry for the actors who now have every single pore and wrinkle showing. With an almost all-male cast of gruff-looking dwarves, that isn't a problem, but it will definitely be an issue when dealing with romances or anyone supposed to look pretty. Right now, the hazy-light filters Jackson appears to be employing in certain scenes just aren't cutting it.

One problem I often have with movies is when they quickly pan, which can look choppy and feel uncomfortable to the eye under standard frame rates. There have been many times that quick motion and pans have brought me
out of the narrative, and I internally chastised the director for
violating film's laws of motion. With The Hobbit, this isn't an issue.

I admire Peter Jackson for advocating for a new technology by actually doing it himself, and to a series worth billions of dollars, no less. It's not quite as wowing as the 3D in James Cameron's Avatar, but I also think the benefits of high frame rate will be easier to replicate. So many poor 3D movies released in the wake of Avatar, with none worth the extra ticket price. I hope that high frame rate does not command a ticket premium, but makes the theatrical moviegoing experience that much more vivid and distinct from an in-home experience. There are many films that can benefit from high frame rates, so more directors should follow Jackson's path and experiment with providing an even better experience with this technology.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

NYFCC gives 'Zero Dark Thirty' its top honors

The New York Film Critics Circle gave three cheers for Zero Dark Thirty, awarding the film a trio of honors: Best Feature, Best Director, and Best Cinematography. Director Kathryn Bigelow's follow-up to her Oscar winner The Hurt Locker is even better than that movie, in my opinion. Zero Dark Thirty is broader in scope and more harrowing. Plus, it centers on the (successful!) hunt for Osama Bin Laden. The movie was already in pre-production when Bin Laden was killed, forcing writer Mark Boal to rewrite the script last-minute. I think the fact that the movie was originally
Zero dark thirty kathryn bigelowconcieved as a story of failure makes the resulting film less hagiographic. It's just the straightforward tale of a CIA agent (Jessica Chastain) with a hunch that wherever Bin Laden's trusted courier is, Bin Laden must be there too.

This isn't the first time Bigelow has been honored by the New York Film Critics Circle. They previously gave her the Best Director honor for The Hurt Locker back in 2009. That movie, about bomb defusers in Iraq, also won Best Picture. Could this mean that Zero Dark Thirty could take top prize come Oscar time?

I still haven't seen another frontrunner, Les Miserables, but Zero Dark Thirty certainly has what it takes to win the Oscars. Gravitas tends to triumph when it comes to the staid Oscar stauettes, so that would raise the movie above another one set in the Middle East, Argo, which was more comic. However, Bigelow won just a few years ago, and under circumstances that can't be repeated. She was the first female recipient for Best Director, and the movie won Best Picture over the behemoth Avatar (which was directed by her ex, an intriguing piece of Hollywood history). However, Tom Hooper, who directed Les Miserables, won Best Director and Best Feature even more recently, for 2010's The King's Speech. There are so many potential stories of success, and deciding factors, like audience response, still in play. How will Zero Dark Thirty do at the box office, for example? Will the procedural story of a female CIA agent catch on with audiences who may have been expecting a male hero? For the moment, I'm with the NYFCC, and my money's on Bigelow.

Monday, December 3, 2012

'Breaking Dawn--Part 2' leads sluggish post-Thanksgiving weekend

The post-Thanksgiving weekend was pretty uneventful. No release crossed the $20 million mark. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn--Part 2 came the closest, falling another 60% to settle at $17.4 million. However, the top fourteen movies all earned over $1 million, a sign there are lots of quality movies in the marketplace, including some specialty releases that are gearing up.

Both new releases flopped. Killing Them Softly debuted to $7 million, under the $10 million figure many predicted. It also failed with audiences, who gave the movie a rare "F" rating in exit
Killing them softly gandolfini martinipolls. It's an especially a harsh blow for Brad Pitt, who both starred in the movie and produced through his Plan B productions. At least he has Angelina Jolie to go home to. The other new release, the hard-core horror movie The Collection, also had a soft opening, but at least this one was in line with expectations. The sequel (to a film few had heard of, The Collector) earned $3.4 million, squeaking into the last spot in the top ten.

Skyfall did drop by half, but that was enough for the James Bond movie to earn second place and $17 million, barely losing to Twilight. Steven Spielberg-directed Lincoln continued to hold strong, going down 47% to $13.5 million.

The Bollywood feature Talaash debuted to $1.9 million despite playing in just 172 locations.
Talaash kareena kapoorThat's $700,000 higher than the opening two weeks ago of another Bollywood movie, Jab Tak Hai Jaan. It looks like there is money to be made from the Indian diaspora right here in America.

In eleventh place, Silver Linings Playbook outshone its competitors by dipping just 23% for a total of $3.3 million. Right behind the Weinstein Co. release was Focus Features' Anna Karenina, which went up 148% to $2.2 million in an expansion to 384 theatres.

This Friday, the romantic comedy Playing For Keeps will attempt to charm audiences. Bill Murray plays FDR in Hyde Park on Hudson, and Weinstein Co. rolls the dice with the release of gambling picture Lay the Favorite.


Friday, November 30, 2012

'Killing Them Softly' and 'The Collection' add R-rated movies to holiday mix

If you missed any of the great releases in the past few weeks, now is the time to catch up. For the past decade, movie studios have avoided releasing any film they want to open big the weekend after Thanksgiving. The two movies opening today, both with R ratings, appeal to niche and frequent moviegoers. The Collection will satisfy horror fans while Killing Them Softly will play to adult connoisseurs of mobster and gunplay movies. Neither of these movies should inch up far past the $10 million mark, if they even get that far. The Collection, in particular, may only tally up a few million.

The lead spot this weekend will likely go to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2. Even with free-fall drops, the supernatural romance started off high enough that it could end up with just under $20 million three weeks after its blockbuster $141 million opening. In the follow-up weekend after Thanksgiving, that may be enough to boast a number-one finish. The rest of the top five should be filled with broader-playing, quality fare, including Lincoln, Life of Pi, and Skyfall, which is staying aloft thanks to great word-of-mouth. I've heard more buzz about Skyfall from friends who are infrequent moviegoers than I have for any other movie this year.

Rise of the Guardians should also play somewhere north of $10 million in its second weekend,
Killing them softly brad pittthough it will be interesting to see how much of a lead it can maintain over its much more successful animated competitor. Wreck-It Ralph has been playing just two spots below Guardians during the weekdays despite releasing three weeks earlier. 

Killing Them Softly (2,424 theatres) should open in the bottom half of the top ten, but not because it's a bad movie. Instead, the tale of a hit man (Brad Pitt) who is hired to take down a trio who robbed a mob card game, making the entire criminal world insolvent, serves as commentary on the collapse of American banks and offers the insight "that all this bottom-feeder jockeying
for position is the funhouse mirror of American politics and
business," according to critic Maitland McDonagh. As
Collection josh stewart"black comedy as its most stygian," it may alienate some viewers, but McDonagh is giving this one her endorsement thanks to its "razor-sharp edge."

An "exercise in gratuitous sadism and gore," The Collection (1,403 theatres), a sequel to the horror movie The Collector, has enough "carnage to satisfy hardcore horror fans," according to THR's Frank Scheck. Though there are moments of "tension" and successful scenes involving tarantulas and a person forced to
Talaash kareena kapoor sex worker 1break their own arm, don't check this one out unless you unequivocally say yes to all things torture porn.

The Bollywood movie Talaash will open in 172 theatres, and it could ring up some big business. Two weeks ago, the Yash Chopra-directed Jab Tak Hai Jaan, with a similarly small release, opened in the top ten with $1.2 million, and has now earned $3 million. Critic Daniel Eagan predicts the "polished and seductive" noir should "do extremely well at
the box office." The mystery covers topics seen less frequently in Indian movies, and Eagan gives it a nod for its "sympathetic but realistic view of sex workers."

On Monday, we'll see which of the Thanksgiving releases held on to their audiences, and if Killing Them Softly and The Collection were able to draw new viewers who weren't already stuffed from the holiday offerings.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tentpole watch: 'Pacific Rim' teaser and 'Avatar' update

It's hard to think of tentpoles releasing a year or two years from now when a juicy franchise like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey comes out just two Fridays from now. But today brings updates on two highly anticipated tentpoles: Pacific Rim and the Avatar sequels.

Guillermo del Toro, the original director of The Hobbit series before dropping out due to MGM's bankruptcy-related delays, turned his attention to Pacific Rim, an aliens vs. robots sci-fi movie that promises to show off del Toro's skills as a creature creator. Warner Bros. just released a viral teaser that reveals part of the plot in the form of a frantic news broadcast. The poor Golden Gate Bridge is cracked in half by an alien, who is then subdued and placed on a ship in the same manner as the T-Rex in The Lost World. When it comes to the blueprints of the robots, which were also released, I'm not quite as excited. They look like giant Iron Men or Transformers. There's not a lot of originality, at least in their form. How they perform in action may be a different story. The movie comes out next July.



The blue-hued, naturalistic aliens in Avatar will begin their CG creation late this year, according to an interview conducted with writer/director James Cameron in New Zealand, where he's hanging out and finishing up the script for the sequel. Apparently the script for Avatar wasn't finished at the time of production (normally a big no-no), leading to a lot of work for scenes that were later cut. A completed script for Avatar 2 plus working with creatures that have already been created in CG should mean the time from production to screen is shorter, though I wouldn't bet on that. Especially because Cameron imposed a new challenge for the series by setting it underwater, which should multiply the difficulty for both the CG team and the poor humans who have to spend a lot of time in water tanks. Though between Cameron's experience on The Abyss and Titanic, he's at home with the difficult filming conditions. Even with production starting late next year, it's unlikely the movie will release until 2015. By that time, the three-film series of The Hobbit will be done, and audiences will be more than eager to pick up where the 2009 Avatar left off.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nominations for Independent Spirit Awards heat up award season

Now that the Gotham Awards have come and gone, it's time to look at the Independent Spirit Award nominations, which were announced yesterday. Of course, what's great about the Spirit Awards is that they tend to reward movies that won't have a big play in the Oscar race. However, many of the nominees for the Spirit Awards have also been angling for statuettes at the Oscars.

Of the five nominees for Best Feature, both Moonrise Kingdom and Silver Linings Playbook received four other nominations for five in total, making them the most-nominated features. When it comes to the Oscars, Silver Linings Playbook is a shoo-in for the Best Picture category, while Moonrise is an outlier. Beasts of the Southern Wild grabbed four nominations, as did Keep the Lights On. However, at least according to the odds posted by GoldDerby, Beasts has a better chance for receiving the coveted Best Picture nomination come Oscar time. Rounding out the group is Bernie, which received only one other nomination, for the performance of Jack Black.

Safety Not Guaranteed, an indie comedy that parlayed word-of-mouth into a $4 million theatrical box office, received two nominations, for Best First Screenplay and Best First Feature. Whether they win or not, it seems like the screenwriters already have launched their career. Today, Variety reported that the movie's director/producer Colin Trevorrow and writer/producer Derek Connolly have been hired to write Disney's remake of the sci-fi picture Flight of the Navigator. Trevorrow may also direct. They also sold yet another project to Disney that Trevorrow is attached to direct, but it sounds like Flight of the Navigator will be up to bat first.

So while the Spirit nominations reinforce the Oscar prospects for Silver Linings Playbook, Moonrise Kingdom, and Beasts of the Southern Wild, their biggest impact may be to recognize the work of independent filmmakers and give others the exposure they need to start plying their craft at major studios.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gotham Awards favor 'Beasts of the Southern Wild,' but 'Moonrise Kingdom' wins top prize

The first awards results are in. At last night's Gotham Awards, Beasts of the Southern Wild won two prizes. Both were for director Benh Zeitlin, who won both the Breakthrough Director award and the Bingham Ray award, which comes with a check for $25,000. However, the top prize for Best Feature went to Moonrise Kingdom.

Beasts of the southern wild 1Both films have the potential to grab a Best Picture nomination in the Oscar race. On GoldDerby, Beasts of the Southern Wild appears more frequently than Moonrise Kingdom in the critics' top ten picks for the Best Picture nod. Both pictures generally appear in the last few spots, below heavyweight frontrunners like Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, Lincoln and Les Miserables. Last year's co-winner for Best Feature at the Gotham Awards, The Tree of Life, earned a Best Picture nomination, so Gotham Awards can predict what happens at the Oscars. The question is if Beasts and Moonrise will end up with a spot on the Best Picture list, or if just one will prevail.

From a story standpoint, both Anderson and Zeitlin have a narrative that fits with a nomination. Moonrise director Wes Anderson has been nominated twice before, once for "Best Animated
Moonrise kingdom 2Feature" for Fantastic Mr. Fox and a decade ago for his screenplay for The Royal Tenenbaums. His latest was a summer hit, earning $45 million and reinvigorating his reputation. What better time for the Academy to reward him? In contrast, Zeitlin made his debut feature completely outside the Hollywood system, and the result astonished critics and audiences. For Zeitlin and Beasts, a nomination would be a feel-good story about a rise to fame. But will the Academy want to embrace something done on such a shoestring budget, with no guilds or Hollywood professionals involved? For both the movie and the outside story, my money's on Beasts of the Southern Wild, not Moonrise Kingdom. But enough people disagree with me that this year's Best Picture picks will be a nail-biting surprise.

AMC reminds audiences it's movie time, not texting time

In case you haven't been to an AMC theatre lately, check out their clever new policy trailer, a graphically imaginative message to audiences that it's MOVIE time, not time for texting, chit-chatting, or even shouting "Don't go in there!" A necessary reminder to today's moviegoer that your local multiplex isn't your living room...

AMC policy trailer

Monday, November 26, 2012

Leftovers rule as 'Breaking Dawn,' 'Skyfall' and 'Lincoln' lead Thanksgiving box office

Despite three new wide releases, it was the returning films that led the Thanksgiving box office. The long holiday period still gave plenty of extra cushion to all the movies in theatres, which enjoyed five days of weekend-level returns. A thin offering  of new movies this coming weekend will allow the current releases plenty of time to run through their potential viewers.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn--Part 2 led for a second week with $43 million Friday to Sunday, giving it a total to date of $226 million. The event picture, which was the finale for the franchise, plummeted 70% from its first-week total. It will likely continue its decline next week.

In second place, Skyfall leveled its descent with $36 million, just a 12% decrease from last week. Over the five-day period, its receipts totaled $51 million. The James Bond film's three-week total is
Rise of the guardians 2$221 million, just behind Twilight. By next week, Bond will rise above the vampire romance and stay there. It's also the best-performing Bond movie of all time, well ahead of Quantum of Solace's $164 million total. Time to shake up a martini for Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes.

Lincoln went up 19% from the previous week to post a $25 million weekend. Continued strength in its week-to-week performance should bring this historical picture above $100 million. That's great for a talky movie many considered a tough sell.

Rise of the Guardians had the best opening of any of the new releases, earning $24 million over the weekend and a five-day total of $32.6 million. That's on the low side of projections for
Life of pi suraj sharma 2the CG-animated release. In comparison, Disney's Wreck-It Ralph earned $16.9 million while falling just 9% from the previous week. Wreck-It Ralph has much better reviews, and comes from a trusted brand name. That definitely hurt the debut of Guardians.

Life of Pi opened to $22 million, right on target for the Ang Lee-directed picture. Audiences turned out to see it in 3D, too, with two-thirds of ticket sales for glasses-wearing audiences. While the literary adaptation has received mixed reviews from critics, audiences gave it an "A-" in exit polls, a sign that the mildly spiritual picture will do well in word-of-mouth.

Red Dawn rallied from the three-year delay in its release to gross $14.6 million, a number that
Hitchcock 2rose to $22 million over the five-day period. FilmDistrict reported the South and military areas had the best turnout for the invasion-themed picture. However, with many other offerings in weeks to come, Red Dawn will have a quick sunset.

Specialty pictures big and small did well over the holiday. Silver Linings Playbook, expanding into 367 locations, earned a spot in the top ten, posting a $4.6 million weekend and an applause-worthy per-screen average of $12,500. Hitchcock, which centers on the making of Psycho, debuted to $301,000, and had an even higher per-screen average of $17,700. The awards hopeful Rust and Bone averaged $15,000 per screen at two
locations. The documentary The Central Park Five had a lower per-screen
average but a higher total, earning $11,300 per screen at three

This Friday, violence rules at the box office. The horror movie The Collection will go up against Killing Them Softly, which stars Brad Pitt as an enforcer tracking down a trio who robbed a Mafia-run card game.