Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Rooney Mara cast in Steven Soderbergh's 'Side Effects'

Didn't director Steven Soderbergh say he was retiring? In March he announced he was done with it all, but then in September he backtracked and said something about a sabbatical. I'm not exactly sure when that would take place. Soderbergh's one of the most prolific directors in Hollywood. Contagion came out in September, and Haywire in January--both to critical success. He has yet another film completed, Magic Mike, and now he's cast Rooney Mara in his next project, Side Effects.

Rooney maraMara will play the wife of a man who is about to be released from prison. She's taking large amounts of depression and anxiety pills to cope with her feelings surrounding his release. There's also going to be a bit of a love triangle between Mara's character, her husband, and her doctor. Mara actually replaces Blake Lively, who IMDB suggests was a second choice to begin with. I'm curious how this role will tweak Mara's star image. After playing a regular college girl in The Social Network, Mara's looks went to extremes for her role as the Swedish punk hacker in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The look has been maintained for her publicity tours. She's currently on the cover of Vanity Fair's Young Hollywood with a vampy look--a severe bob, dark lipstick, and piercing expression. I'm not sure what look she'll go for with Side Effects, but it probably will be more natural. That's a good thing. I won't miss seeing her without those weird blunt-cut, jet-black bangs.

Channing Tatum, Jude Law, and Catherine Zeta-Jones round out the cast. That means that Tatum Steven soderberghmust be the prisoner, and Law the doctor. I really can't imagine it any other way. Soderbergh's frequent collaborator, Scott Z. Burns, wrote the screenplay and will produce. Knowing Soderbergh's lightning-fast schedule, the drama will shoot this year and release the next. Maybe all that talk of retiring fired Soderbergh up, because after the uneven The Informant! he's had a couple of winners, Contagion and Haywire, at least in my book.

As for Mara, IMDB's currently ranking her #1 on its StarMeter. She's just been nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. She may be one of my favorite up-and-comers. Her lead in Side Effeccts will certainly be the first of many roles she'll be cast in as she cashes in on her success.

Monday, January 30, 2012

'The Grey' treks to first place

Is Liam Neeson the new Harrison Ford (circa Air Force One)? The 59-year-old star led Taken to success a couple of years ago, and with The Grey he's struck again. The man vs. nature survival flick earned $20 million to win the weekend, exceeding expectations. There aren't many The grey pack liam neesonconvincing older action heroes out there, but I think Neeson proves there is a contingent of people, including baby boomers, who like to see one of their own in an adrenaline-filled adventure. The 60% male audience made this a moneymaker for Open Road Films, which spent just $25 million on production.

In third place, One for the Money did surprisingly well despite the fact that many saw this Katherine Heigl pic was a stinker a mile away. It earned $11.8 million, driven by older female ticket buyers. The adaptation of Janet Evanovich's popular book "resembles a failed television pilot," THR's Frank Scheck laments. Plus, as New York Magazine outlines, Heigl is considered a toxic asset right now thanks to gossip about her ungraceful conduct on set and off. Still, the  light detective picture had a couple of One for the money dinner table heigl tricks up its sleeve. One, 11% of attendees bought discounted tickets through Groupon. 93% of them said they would not have seen the movie without the promotion. Two, Lionsgate did a decent job connecting with the movie's literary fan base. I saw prominent ads on Goodreads.com, a book-centered social networking site.

In fourth place, Man on a Ledge stumbled with $8.3 million. Summit also offered discounted tickets through Living Social, but it appeared not to pay off. When it came to man vs. ledge or man vs. nature, Neeson in Alaska fighting wolves appeared to be more appealing than a jumper who was seeking revenge, vindication, or covering for a heist, depending on which ad or review you saw.

Man on a ledge sam worthingtonIn the wake of the Oscar nominations, a number of the selected films made expansions and drew more audiences. The Descendants made its widest expansion yet, playing in 2,001 theatres, and came up with $6.5 million. It's the dramedy's second highest weekend to date. Back in November, it managed to earn $7.3 million while playing in only 390 theatres. The George Clooney starrer has earned $58 million to date, making it one of the most successful films in the running. The per-screen average, $3,200, in on par with where The King's Speech was last February.

The Artist, which earned ten nominations, added more theatres and rose 40% to grab the twelfth-place spot with $3.3 million. Hugo, which led with eleven nominations, added 50% more screens and went up 142% to $2.2 million. Still, the expensive film has earned just $58 million to date in the U.S. 

This Friday, audiences can save the whales with The Big Miracle, grab some thrills with The Woman in Black, or check out some teens with superpowers in Chronicle.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Liam Neeson's 'The Grey' expected to lead the pack

Liam Neeson scored big in 2009 with Taken, and The Grey (3,185 theatres) could be his next shot at bringing in the hyper-masculine crowd with an adrenaline-filled story. Neeson has a bit of an everyman feel to him, and in The Grey he plays the leader of several oil-riggers who survive a plane crash in Alaska. This is man vs. nature all the way. They not only need to survive against the The grey liam neesoncold and snow, but packs of wolves! Whoa. Critic Maitland McDonagh had some doubts about the movie as a whole, but all was saved by the actors. "Every performance is a low-key, high-impact marvel in a movie that's true to its ruthless self to the very end," she praises. The Grey is in good shape to survive--it cost just $25 million to produce, and some think to the flick could open strong and actually make that much this weekend, although others are giving more conservative, $10-15 million range estimates.

Critic Marsha McCreadie describes Man on a Ledge (2,998 theatres) best, complaining that "so many people end up on a hotel ledge with the hero it could be a small cocktail party." It just kills the suspense. Sam Worthington plays a disgraced cop who is trying to clear his name by Man on a ledge banks worthingtonthreatening to jump off a building, and Elizabeth Banks the negotiator trying to talk him down. With just a 22% positive Rotten Tomatoes rating compared to The Grey's 75% positive rating, I predict that audiences looking for a thrill will choose The Grey.

One for the Money (2,737 theatres) has two strikes against it. It didn't screen for critics, and it was moved from more optimistic spots on the schedule (like the summer) to a January dumping ground. Fans of Janet Evanovich's books may turn out for the One for the money hookerspicture, but it seems pretty stupid and honestly offensive. Katherine Heigl doesn't appear to be that strong of a heroine, and the blue collar characters don't feel authentic in a way that goes beyond their bad New Jersey accents. Then there's the trailer where Sherri Shepherd plays a hooker who needs "a snack" in order to give up information. Blech. Opening weekend estimates of the detective comedy indicate it would be lucky to reach $10 million.

Following star Glenn Close's Oscar nomination for Best Actress, Albert Nobbs will swoop into 246 theatres. The play adaptation, which stars Close as a woman who poses as a man in order to get by, has had mixed reactions from critics and audiences alike, with roughly half coming out in Albert nobbsfavor of the movie on Rotten Tomatoes.

After receiving five Oscar nominations, The Descendants will aggressively expand into 1,997 theatres, an addition of more than 1,000 theatres. The comedy-drama may not have earned the most nominations, but it received significant ones, including George Clooney for Best Actor, Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay.

The two most nominated pictures, Hugo and The Artist, are also adding screens. The family-friendly Hugo will go from around 600 to 995 theatres. Silent darling The Artist will add a couple hundred theatres for a total of 897 theatres. Hugo has been a bit of a disappointment, and while The Artist did extremely well in limited release, last week it seemed to falter while in release on so many screens. Will the Oscar nominations get people back into theatres to see these pictures?

On Monday, I'll report on the box office swings of the Oscar-nominated films, and see if The Grey's pack of wolves grabbed enough audiences to trounce the competition.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sundance horror flick V/H/S picked up for $1 million

I'm not sure I have the guts to watch V/H/S, a horror film currently screening at Sundance. In the grand tradition of William Castle, screenings of the film have been accompanied by reports that people were so scared, they fell ill. THR tempers its report by noting that exhaustion, dehydration, and altitude sickness were later indicated as factors, not the movie's disturbing content.

VHS movie sundancePaying somewhere over $1 million, Magnolia picked up the movie with plans for a premium VOD release followed by a theatrical release. V/H/S has quite a bit going for it. One, it's a found footage movie, which cleaves to horror's trend for mockumentary and realism, as exemplified by the successful Paranormal Activity franchise. Second, it reminds me of The Ring, another movie with "found footage" as a plot element that was the talk of my high school for weeks and weeks after it came out. Finally, it has five found footage-within-found footage segments created by various directors including horror helmers Ti West and David Bruckner.

I can't say I like very scary movies, but V/H/S sounds too creative to pass up. The framing device is a tape of a group of criminals who are hired to break into an attic and steal some videos. Each of the five videos they watch, however, uses an entirely different recording technique. One is a recorded Skype chat, another uses a secret spy camera hidden in a pair of glasses.  There are also looks at a motel security system and some teens in the woods who can only see the monster through the video camera.

Seeing filmmakers embrace new technology is thrilling. So frequently, movies lag behind new technology. For years after people switched to voicemail, answering machines were used as plot devices.  Conversely, horror movies absolutely ran the idea of "No Signal" into the ground (I love this supercut of the trope), in part because they were forced into answering the question their viewers were undoubtedly asking--why don't they just call for help? Sundance films, particularly, often release just a year or so after their conception, so they're better able to take advantage of new technology or pop-culture trends. I may need to take a deep breath and see V/H/S, if only for its embrace of new technology despite its decidedly retro name.



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fox Searchlight picks up 'Beasts,' 'Surrogate' at Sundance

For film buffs not attending the Sundance Film Festival, the hardest part is hearing the great raves for a film you might not be able to see for months, if not a year. This year's Sundance market has been hot for pickups. Fox Searchlight has picked up two high-profile films so far at the festival. Fortunately, both are set to release theatrically later this year.

Beasts of the Southern Wild. The director of this movie, Benh Zeitlin, actually graduated from my college a couple years before me. His talent was evident. His thesis film, "Egg," a Beasts of the southern wild sundancestop-motion, silent, animated recreation of Moby Dick taking place inside an egg that itself was about to be destroyed, was a sight to behold. It later won the Grand Jury Prize at Slamdance. 

Beasts reportedly has a similar fantastical bent, with Variety calling it a "stunning debut" and THR naming it "one of the most striking films ever to debut at the Sundance Film Festival." Set in New Orleans and starring a poor black girl, the movie likely offers oblique commentary on the post-Katrina landscape. Fox Searchlight paid $6 million for the pickup, a high but not record figure.

The Surrogate. John Hawkes stars as a man confined to an iron lung who wants to lose his virginity. The plot sounds sad, but THR reassures that the movie is more similar to The King's Speech than The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. In his review, Todd McCarthy characterizes the Surrogate preacher sundance1980s-set movie as a "feel-good fairytale," a "cheerful" story that "argues in favor of living a full life, whatever one’s personal constraints." Still, an iron lung sounds tougher to market than a king with a lisp, but the message could have a nice awards resonance. Searchlight is also planning a 2012 release.

I'll continue to report on the Sundance films that have been picked up to open in a theatre near you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Nine Best Picture nominees and a few surprises in Oscar nominations

This year's Oscar nominations are out. Along with the expected films, performers, and crew nominations, there are a decent amount of snubs and a few surprise inclusions.

The most nominated film was the box-office disappointment Hugo. Director Martin Scorsese's Hugo clockfeature received great critical reviews, but it's earned just $55 million compared to competing family pick Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked's $124 million. I wonder if the nominations will convince adults, with our without children, to catch it while it's still in theatres.

Even with nine films nominated for Best Picture, there was still one snub: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The David Fincher-directed picture landed four technical nods (including well-deserved ones for cinematography and editing), but only one in a "major" category. Rooney Mara received a nomination for Best Actress, no doubt in part because of the extreme changes she underwent to her physical appearance. I think Fincher is like Hitchcock--one of those directors whose genius always goes unrecognized by the Academy because of his chosen genre and subject matter.

A surprise inclusion in the Best Actor category was Demián Bichir in the little-seen A Better Life. Oscar voters love socially conscious films, and I'm sure this Los Angeles-set tale of A better life demian bichirunderclass hardship hit close to home. Undoubtedly, many of the well-heeled Academy voters have probably employed a landscaper like him at one time, so the story has special resonance.

I'm also enthused that Melissa McCarthy was recognized in the Best Supporting Actress category for Bridesmaids. She was so much fun and also underwent quite a physical transformation. In fact, most of the female acting nominees looked quite unlike themselves in their performances. Glenn Close played a man in Albert Nobbs, and Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams both had to convincingly play a famous person (Margaret Thatcher and Marilyn Monroe, respectively).

In the foreign language category, I was at least a little disappointed that Mexico's Miss Bala didn't make the cut. The fast-paced, suspenseful tale of a beauty queen who gets caught up in the drug wars brought a human face to the destruction the drug lords have wrought in the area. Maybe it just had too many machine guns?

I'm surprisingly unfamiliar with the Best Documentary contenders. Pina, a 3D dance doc, has been a critical darling and has drawn plenty of audiences since it opened in late December. It's also earned three-quarters of a million dollars, along with over $11 million abroad. The rest of the nominees aren't so lucky--yet. I caught If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front when it played on PBS this year (pretty good). When the environmental activism doc played for nine weeks this summer, it earned just $61,000. Soldier doc Hell and Back Again has played for fifteen weeks while only grossing $37,000. Undefeated won't even open properly until February 10th. Neither has Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, which will probably be seen by the most people when it plays on HBO, not in theatres.

The artist bejo dujardinOverall, Hugo leads with eleven nominations. Two-thirds of the time the most-nominated movie also wins Best Picture. There's a chance this might be the one-third of the time. The second-most nominated movie, The Artist, didn't have as much of a chance to pick up the technical nominations as Hugo. After all, who would nominate The Artist for sound editing or sound mixing? Like The Artist, The Descendants, which had just five nominations, still scored in all the major categories: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Editing (which almost always goes along with Best Director). Despite its win for Best Drama at the Golden Globes, it now seems like more of a dark horse. Most people have been predicting The Artist for Best Picture, but Hugo's multiple nominations now make me think perhaps the Scorsese picture could win for Best Picture. With its mix of snubs and surprise nominations, this year's ceremony should have plenty of suspense, and pose at least a few challenges for those looking to win their Oscar pool.

Monday, January 23, 2012

'Underworld' claims top spot with 'Red Tails' swooping in for second

Featuring leather bodysuit-clad Kate Beckinsale, Underworld: Awakening easily grabbed first place over the weekend with a $25.4 million total. The fourth installment in the action-horror franchise opened just slightly off the third, all but insuring there will be more Underworld films to Underworld awakening kate beckinsale 2come. 3D and IMAX ticket sales definitely boosted the movie's bottom line, wtih 59% of sales from 3D and 15% from IMAX. The slightly male-dominated audience loved the picture, rating it an A- in CinemaScore exit polls.

In second place, Red Tails overperformed significantly with a $19.1 million total. The historical picture, which focuses on the aerial assaults carried out by black Tuskegee airmen during WWII, drew raves from its audiences. The movie averaged an A in exit polls, with the very young and very old giving it an A+. Executive producer George Lucas had to finance and distribute the movie himself (20th Century Fox contributed nothing to the distribution) so this Red tails radiomovie's success is a big nose-thumb at the major studios, who apparently didn't trust that a movie with an all-black cast could do well.

Two spots down in fifth place, Haywire debuted to just $9 million. I thought the Steven Soderbergh-directed flick was awesome, without succumbing to all the pifalls I associate with action movies. Apparently I Haywire gina carano rooftopwas in the minority. Audiences gave the movie an astoundingly awful D+ rating in exit polls. Wow. Well, the movie was about as far as you can get from star Gina Carano's previous stint on "American Gladiators," so I suspect the negative rating had something to do with people's expectations not jiving with what they actually saw.

Post-9/11 drama Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close went wide in its fifth week and earned $10.5 million. The drama has been pretty much shut out of awards season, and some people may not be excited to buy tickets in order to revisit 9/11. It's actually the worst opening in some time for stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, though the tale really centers on a young boy, not Hanks and Bullock.

The Descendants, the Golden Globe winner for Best Drama, went up 17% to $2.4 million even as it shed 100 locations. It sounds like this George Clooney starrer is aiming for an Oscars push instead. The Artist, which won in the Best Comedy category, went from 216 to 662 locations, but it didn't soar as much as it should have. The silent picture averaged $3,500 per screen for a total of $2.3 million, finishing behind The Descendants. I wouldn't be surprised if the black-and-white movie has difficulty catching on beyond arthouse audiences.

Coriolanus, which is directed by and stars Ralph Fiennes, earned $60,000 from nine screens. The $6,700 per-screen average, however, is far behind the debut needed to launch an indie success.

This Friday, action drama The Grey will open along with the self-explanatory Man on a Ledge and Katherine Heigl detective comedy One for the Money.


Friday, January 20, 2012

'Underworld' expected to outperform 'Red Tails,' 'Haywire'

The fourth installment in the Underworld series, Underworld: Awakening (3,078 theatres) is expected to lead the weekend box office with an opening in the low $20 million range. Kate Underworld awakening kate beckinsaleBeckinsale stars as a vampire "warrioress" in the action-horror sequel, which did not screen in advance for critics.

My recommendation for female-driven action this weekend is Haywire (2,439 theatres), which will definitely be the best film I'll see in January. Mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carno stars as a contract worker for the CIA who's double-crossed by her colleagues. In the extremely realistic fight scenes, she'll literally be picked up and thrown around by her hulking male opponents, then somehow manage to overpower them. Director Steven Soderbergh really does a great job showing how she's outmatched in certain respects, but absolutely able to dominate in others. I left the theatre with a huge smile on my face, a pretty rare thing. This is definitely an action movie for those who are pretty selective about their action movies, in part thanks to the great direction by Steven Haywire beach gina caranoSoderbergh. The critical community as a whole gave the spy-action pic an 82% positive Rotten Tomatoes rating. Despite these enthusiastic responses, an opening weekend of just $8-10 million is expected. That's too bad, and I hope word-of-mouth gives this movie the number of eyes it deserves.

George Lucas shepherded Red Tails (2,512 theatres) through 23 years of development, funding it himself when Hollywood studios refused to finance a movie with an all-black cast. The WWII-set tale focuses on the Tuskegee airmen, a group of black male fighter pilots who fought the Nazis abroad and prejudice back home. Critic Doris Toumarkine admits the plotting is "formulaic," but lauds the actioner for Red tails landing gearits "solid entertainment and sensational special effects," as well as its coverage of the "civil-rights struggle" of the time. Red Tails is expected to be neck-and-neck with Haywire, with both coming close to $10 million. I think at least one of these could be a surprise overperformer.

On the heels of its Golden Globe win for Best Comedy, The Artist is expanding into 662 theatres. But will patrons demand refunds, as those in the U.K. did, claiming they didn't know the retro-styled movie was silent?

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which has quietly and successfully been in release for a month in six locations, will go wide to 2,660 theatres. Critics are divided, with exactly 50% on the positive side, and the other half giving it a thumbs-down.  67% of Rotten Tomatoes commenters liked the movie. I'm curious how the nation as a whole will respond to the post-9/11 drama.

On Monday, we'll see if audiences went with the heroine of Haywire or Underworld, if Red Tails can attract audiences of every color, and if The Artist and Extremely Loud can successfully scale their release.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

So let's talk about 'Moonrise Kingdom'

Despite some recent films that disappointed more than they charmed, the fans haven't left Wes Anderson. Since his trailer for the upcoming release Moonrise Kingdom (May 25!) was posted last week, I've seen plenty of people repost it on Facebook. People I thought would have been jaded about the director were expressing excitement. Why?


Personally, I was most charmed by Anderson's style when it was still novel. Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums are my favorite Anderson films, and the rest of them felt like rehashes of his earlier work. If it's possible to OD on irony,  an Anderson film can provide that dangerous dose. Fantastic Mr. Fox was something of a rebound for the director, but I still found myself wearied by his stylized dialogue rather than energized by its arch formality and preciousness.

Moonrise Kingdom has a couple things going for it. One, its 1970s-esque feel. Anderson's always been nostalgic, and at least this time the cast members that look like they are wearing thrifted clothing will be doing so since they're actually supposed to be part of another era.

Two, Anderson's once again returned to children. The story centers on two pre-teens who run away together, sending their small town and the staff of a summer camp on a wild chase in order to find them. At this age, children are often trying to be adults unsuccessfully, so hearing adult words put in their mouth rings true to me. The irony of their statements and actions only underscores what it's like to grow up, during that period when your adult and children parts are all jumbled together.

As a footnote, it's worth noting that Anderson has included some bigwig action stars (Bruce Willis) as well as an arthouse darling (Tilda Swinton). Swinton has one dashing scene where she bursts in and declares "Where is the boy? I am told that he has just been struck by lightning." This is quintessential Anderson, but it also reveals one of the weaknesses of his work. If a scene like this is played for comedy instead of drama, it undercuts the emotional impact of the narrative.

When I think about Rushmore, I think of the sadness and betrayal Max Fischer (played by Jason Schwartzman) experienced after he found out Bill Murray's character was having an affair with his teacher crush. The heart of The Royal Tenenbaums was Royal's (Gene Hackman) isolation after he was abandoned by his family. Though Anderson's other films had characters designed to provoke empathy, it didn't stick. In order to work for me, Moonrise Kingdom can't just charm me with its wit. It will have to make me care.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

'Bridesmaids' star Melissa McCarthy is on a roll

Melissa McCarthy's commitment to her character Megan in Bridesmaids, who dresses and acts like a hyper-masculine gym teacher, was so absolute I was shocked to see her with styled hair and a full face of makeup in "Mike and Molly" and on the red carpet. McCarthy has long been a working actor in Hollywood, but since the success of Bridesmaids she's gotten three projects off the ground.

Bridesmaids melissa mccarthyFirst, she will star in Tammy, a project she co-wrote with her husband Ben Falcone (who played the air marshal her character comes on to in Bridesmaids). She will play a woman who loses her job at Hardee's and finds out her husband has been cheating on her. Ready to escape her daily life, she goes on a road trip with her foul-mouthed, eccentric grandma. Veteran TV director Beth McCarthy-Miller (not related to Melissa) will direct the New Line project, which is in pre-production. I've seen plenty of road trip comedies, but none with this casting.

Today, two more McCarthy projects were announced. The first is more Falcone's project, but she will serve as co-executive producer of a comedy TV pilot that centers on a 37-year-old living at home with his parents.

The other project, Identity Theft, will star McCarthy as a woman who steals the identity of a man (Jason Bateman). Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) just signed on to direct, and word is Melissa mccarthy tvproduction will start in early 2012.

I'm impressed that McCarthy has been able to not only sell her own projects, but actually be cast in an existing screenplay. Perhaps the role in Identity Theft was originally written for a man? Or the joke was that the thief looks nothing like the person in the ID but somehow she's still able to pass for the guy? Everyone in Bridesmaids was funny, but McCarthy took the most risks. Hollywood gives Oscars to actors that make themselves look ugly for roles, and McCarthy did the same thing for comedy and it's made her career take off. With so many successful female-driven projects in the mix right now, I'm happy that McCarthy is among them.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

'Contraband' hijacks first place over MLK Day weekend

The long Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend was a boon to studios and exhibitors, with 2012 totals up an estimated 2-4% from last year. On Sunday, the Golden Globes provided publicity to awards darlings like The Iron Lady, The Artist, and The Descendents, all of which should see Contraband ship mark wahlbergbumps next week as audiences put these films on their must-see lists.

Opening nearly as well as surprise hit Taken, Contraband earned $28.8 million over four days. The slightly male-skewing, older audience turned out for the remake of Icelandic hit Reykjavik-Rotterdam. The action pic drew praise in exit polls, with most rating the movie an A-.

In second place, the re-release of Beauty and the Beast in 3D conjured up $23.5 million in four days. The animated classic did especially well on the Monday school holiday, which was the second-highest grossing day of the weekend. Unsurprisingly, audiences rated the 1991 movie an A+. Beuaty and the beast sheep

In fourth place, Joyful Noise called out to females over 30. The Dolly Parton-Queen Latifah gospel dramedy earned a praiseful $13.7 million. That's better than the opening of Country Strong last year and on par with Queen Latifah's previous openings.

Word got out about The Devil Inside, and the horror stinker plummeted 76% over the three-day period. Since the movie cost less than $1 million, even this weekend's $9.1 million total is all gravy to the folks at Paramount.

Moving into 800 theatres, The Iron Lady skyrocketed 3,571% to $6.4 million. Meryl Streep's Iron lady streepwin for Best Actress at the Golden Globes should make this biopic rise even further next week.

Golden Globes Best Drama winner The Descendants dipped 18% to earn another $2.5 million. The Hawaii-set tale has been shedding theatres over the past several weeks (from 878 to 660), perhaps part of a more long-range distribution plan? With its second win by George Clooney for Best Actor, this Alexander Payne-directed film seems like a prime target for further expansion.

The Artist, winner of Best Comedy on Sunday night, was directly behind The Descendants with a total of $1.4 million, a slight increase from last week. This silent, black-and-white tale has done surprisingly well given the hesitations most people usually have with watching movies in such an antiquated mode.

This Friday will be a busy one. Director Steven Soderbergh's action pic Haywire will debut, along with Red Tails, which chronicles the missions of black pilots during WWII.  Underworld Awakening, the fourth in the series, will also open. Finally, 9/11 drama Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close will go from six theatres to over 2,000.

Friday, January 13, 2012

'Beauty and the Beast 3D,' 'Contraband,' and 'Joyful Noise' vie for MLK Day audiences

91% of students have Monday off for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, and Hollywood wants everyone to go to the movies. Following up its successful release of The Lion King in 3D this fall, Disney will open Beauty and the Beast 3D in 2,625 theatres. "Princess" movies are seen as a Beauty and the beast 3d ballroomharder sell, since boys aren't as interested, so that could dampen the gross of the classic animated film. With an opening in the $20 million range, Beauty and the Beast should beat out the re-release of Toy Story in 3D but fall short of The Lion King's surprise success.

Action audiences in need of an "efficient" fix can seek out Contraband (2,863 theatres). Based on an Icelandic hit, the thriller stars Mark Wahlberg as a reformed smuggler. He has to go on one last job in order Contraband mark wahlbergto help his brother. The "fairly effective thriller," according to critic Daniel Eagan, has a "by-the-numbers plot," but "builds up just enough suspense to tide over hungry action fans until something better comes along." Forecasters predict up to $20 million for the picture.

Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah team up for Joyful Noise (2,735 theatres), which should land somewhere over or under $10 million if it effectively pulls in the country and urban followers associated with its two stars. Though it's rife with "commercial clichés," Queen latifah joyful noisecritic David Noh still couldn't help but find the gospel music-filled movie "rousing fun," helped in part by the enthusiastic writer/director Todd Graff. He reveals "a deep-grained love of music and performance." The moms in Joyful Noise's female demographic, however, may find themselves buying tickets to see Belle, Gaston, and the Beast instead.

Meryl Streep's spot-on impression of Margaret Thatcher will be seen in more theatres this weekend, as Oscar hopeful The Iron Lady expands into 802 theatres. Man on a Mission, which details Richard Garriot's $30 million trip into space, will open in one theatre. In my review, I praised the interesting story, but was frustrated with the many missed opportunities that would have made the documentary more captivating and emotionally resonant.

On Tuesday, we'll see if the four-day weekend helped attract family audiences to Beauty and the Beast 3D, and if the holiday helps pull the U.S. box office out of its slump.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

CollegeHumor joins the film biz with comedy 'Coffee Town'

By Sarah Sluis

CollegeHumor.com has been around since 1999. It was acquired by Barry Diller's interactive media company IAC seven years later, averages 7 million unique visitors a month, and has developed multiple popular video web series. Considering the popularity of their video content, it makes sense that the site wants to branch out into film.

College HumorThe site plans to develop a comedy, Coffee Town, which features a slightly older age bracket than college--loafing thirtysomethings. Of course, this demographic could very well represent a huge portion of the site's visitors. The plot goes something like this: When the coffee shop staffed by a trio of friends and workers threatens to shut down, they decide to fake a robbery in order to save their cushy jobs, which allow them to bum around doing their creative, "real" work. The friends will be played by Glenn Howerton ("It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"), Steve Little ("Eastbound & Down"), and Ben Schwartz ("House of Lies"). Brad Copeland ("Arrested Development") will direct.

Coffee Town is emblematic of the baby steps Hollywood has already taken to create a symbiotic relationship between web and film. Kevin Tancharoen (Fame) was able to get a reboot of Mortal Kombat green-lit based on the success of some YouTube videos he collaborated on that featured the characters. Will Ferrell's Funnyordie.com is often used to cross-promote films. Web series succeed because they're able to engage niche, non-mainstream audiences. Turning those types of series into films probably won't work. But College Humor has spent years figuring out what makes audiences laugh, and that will work in the movie's favor.

It won't be long before everyone finds out if Coffee Town is a hit or a miss. Production is starting in February in Los Angeles.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Director Rob Marshall ventures 'Into the Woods'

By Sarah Sluis

The familiar musical line "I wish.." will now be heard in movie theatres as well as Broadway theatres. Director Rob Marshall plans to adapt a film version of the 1980s musical Into the Woods. The movie would be his third film musical after Chicago and Nine. Like many musicals, it will have a built-in audience. With its popular junior version, Into the Woods is now a pretty standard piece for middle and high schools to adapt, especially with its friendly, fairy tale-influenced storyline. With its inclusion of 240px-Into_the_Woods_posterRed Riding Hood, Jack the Giant Killer, princes, and witches, Into the Woods actually is something of a predecessor to Shrek.

Lately, it seems as if a lot of Broadway musicals are getting the film treatment. Mamma Mia!, The Phantom of the Opera, Dreamgirls, Rent, Hairspray, and Sweeney Todd have all been made into films with mixed success. GK Films just hired John Logan (Hugo) to write the script for the 2006 musical Jersey Boys, which I actually think could do quite well in a film version.

Marshall hopes to start Into the Woods sooner rather than later, but he's also committed to directing Johnny Depp in The Thin Man, a redo of a set of 1940s films starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. He hasn't decided which film he will direct first. What's interesting about this production is that the play's creators, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, will retool the musical for the film version. Sondheim actually plans to write new songs for the film, which is pretty rare as far as I can tell. The production will move forward under Disney, with whom Marshall just signed a two-year first-look contract. With Marshall developing two different projects, the only question is when.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

DGA nominees hint at who will receive Oscar nods

By Sarah Sluis

Yesterday, the Directors Guild of America announced its five nominees for Best Director. As opposed to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Writers Guild (WGA), and Producers Guild (PGA), the DGA awards have a track record of predicting the winner of the Oscar for Best Director. Since the Best Director victor frequently helms the Best Picture, one can reasonably assume that among these five films, we have our Best Picture winner, and probably at least five of the nominees.

DGA nominees:
Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris
David Fincher for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist
Alexander Payne for The Descendants
Martin Scorsese for Hugo

The biggest shut-outs are War Horse and The Help. The DGA has already honored Steven Spielberg three times: for The Color Purple in 1985, Saving Private Ryan in 1998, and with a (preemptive, perhaps) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. Maybe they just want some new blood in the running. Spielberg has more Oscar-worthy projects in development, like a biopic of Lincoln, and War Horse was a wee sentimental.

The Help received its biggest support from the SAG, which makes sense. Director Tate Taylor has an acting background himself, meaning he has plenty of connections within the guild. It's only amplified by the large ensemble of actors who appeared in the movie. The Help will definitely receive a Best Picture nod, and certainly a few acting ones as well, but the new director slot went to Hazanavicius instead of him.

Alexander_payneWhen it comes to who actually wins the award, history matters. Both Allen and Scorsese have been honored by the DGA, both for an individual film and with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Will Hugo or Midnight in Paris merit an additional honor? As a newbie, I doubt Hazanavicius will win. I think it comes down to Payne or Fincher, neither of whom has won before. Both have great track records and each of their films exemplify the work the helmers are known for. Payne specializes in the mix between comedy and drama, with sad-sack heroes that 600full-david-finchersomehow endear themselves to the audience. Fincher is probably the most technically brilliant directors out there. None of the dark films he specializes in look like they use extensive special effects, but they do, and YouTube videos like this and this sold me on the kind of detailed planning and creative control Fincher exercises. I'm betting on Payne or Fincher.

On January 28, in less than three weeks, the DGA will announce the winner of their award--and make the outcome of the Oscars a little bit easier to divine.

Monday, January 9, 2012

'The Devil Inside' takes possession of the #1 spot

By Sarah Sluis

The success of The Devil Inside this weekend smacks of carnival hucksterism. Everyone in the industry expected the movie to earn $10 million, tops, but instead the horror film raked in $34.5 million. Audiences may have been cheated, though. 19% of viewers in exit polls gave the movie an "F" score, and word is the ending is so bad it provokes outrage among audience members. However, people came Devil inside 2because the marketing campaign and trailer for the movie were scary and enticing. If I didn't know better I might have actually thought the horror flick was worth seeing myself. Over on Variety, Paramount's marketing team attributed the success to the "fun and loose," no-stakes campaign they ran. Maybe marketing teams normally overthink too much, because Devil Inside clearly succeeded because of its pre-release ads and stunts.

In second place, Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol remained ahead of the other holiday blockbusters with a total of $20.5 million. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows followed, falling 3% more than the Tom Cruise movie to finish with $14 million. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo held on to more of its box office than the first two movies, dipping just 23% to finish with $11.3 million. Cumulatively, though, Dragon Tattoo has close to $100 million less than Mission: Impossible, which has earned $176 Dragon tattoomillion stateside to date.

Expanding into 809 theatres, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy tallied up $5.8 million, a 431% increase from last week. Overseas, the British film has earned $25 million to date, mostly in the U.K.

Both Pariah and A Separation showed increases in their second weekend. Going from four to eleven theatres, Pariah averaged $10,100 per screen, with receipts up 130% from last week. The Iranian drama A Separation went from three to six theatres, rising 62% and averaging $16,000 per screen.

This Friday, a re-release of Beauty and the Beast in 3D will try to replicate the success of The Lion King 3D. The Mark Wahlberg thriller Contraband and the Dolly Parton-Queen Latifah gospel movie Joyful Noise will round out the offerings.

Friday, January 6, 2012

'The Devil Inside' stakes a spot against holiday holdovers

By Sarah Sluis

The only new release this weekend in The Devil Inside (2,285 theatres), a documentary-style horror flick. The rather catchy marketing campaign, which shows scared audiences watching the movie inside a Devil inside 1church, borrows from Paranormal Activity. Last night I saw a commercial with night cameras trained on cast members of "Jersey Shore" frightened by the movie. While Paramount is trying its hardest to sell the movie to young moviegoers, they may be in for an unwelcome surprise. Critic Willie Waffle reports that his audience jeered through the ending, it was that bad. Horror movie lovers be warned: This movie has just a 6% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, an opening weekend of up to $10 million is expected.

The holdovers Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows should continue to reign over the box office. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy will expand into 809 theatres this week and should crack the top ten. The spy thriller has been earning close to $20,000 per screen in 55 theatres, so even a fraction of that average will give the picture millions. In the dailies, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been catching up to the two leading actioners, so this weekend could narrow the Roadie 1gap even more.

Although finding Roadie on VOD may be easy, it will be much harder to find it playing in a theatre. However, critic Doris Toumarkine's review suggests this "terrific contemporary drama" is worth seeking out. Critic Erica Abeel recommends the feature version of Murakami's book Norwegian Wood. "Fans of the director [Tran Anh Hung] and novelist won't want to miss this intriguing, if flawed, adaptation," she concludes.

On Monday, we'll see if The Devil Inside managed to bring audiences to the dark side and which holiday releases have the most holding power.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Writers Guild falls for comedies

By Sarah Sluis

Normally comedies are cast aside during awards season. Serious dramas with messages usually win out over laughs. But getting audiences to laugh is harder than it looks. This year, the Writers Guild exclusively nominated comedies in its Original Screenplay category. Even many of the Adapted Win winScreenplay films had plenty of laughs. The Descendants is a bittersweet comedy-drama, The Help mixed hearty laughs with serious moments. Moneyball had some great comedic moments, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo some sick & twisted ones.

Original Screenplay Nominees: 50/50, written by Will Reiser; Bridesmaids, written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig; Midnight in Paris, written by Woody Allen; Win Win, Screenplay by Tom McCarthy (story by Tom McCarthy & Joe Tiboni); and Young Adult, written by Diablo Cody.

What I like most about this category is the underdog factor. Midnight in Paris and Bridesmaids were both the litte films that surprised with overwhelming returns week after week after week. 50/50 and Win Win released earlier in the year with good critical reviews but neither did spectacularly at the box office. Young Adult just opened in December with an awards push but the wickedly funny film has only generated moderate returns--so far.

Adapted Screenplay Nominees: The Descendants, screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, screenplay by Steven Zaillian; The Help, screenplay by Tate Descendants george clooneyTaylor, Hugo, Screenplay by John Logan; Moneyball, screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin; story by Stan Chervin.

Although all these films have comedic elements, a win for Payne for The Descendants would be a back-to-back comedy lock. His style of film offers the most satisfying kind of comedy. They have a strong, character-driven narrative, and the laughs are just a bonus along the way. The very best movies make you laugh and cry, and the cancer comedy 50/50, The Descendants, and The Help all nearly fulfilled that purpose for me (at least some rising tears, if not actual crying), moving from extreme highs and lows. None of these movies--even the sometimes gross-out humor of Bridesmaids--kept to the lowest common denominator of humor, and that's the reason these comedies were rewarded by the Writers Guild.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Amanda Seyfried and Taylor Swift join cast of Les Miz

By Sarah Sluis

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette and Taylor Swift as Eponine are the latest additions to Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper's (The King's Speech) production of Les Misrables. The musical will shoot in March with plans to release during holiday prime time, December 7, 2012. I have mixed feelings about the casting, mainly of Swift.

Les miserablesSwift may be able to sing, but she has a fakeness to her acting that came across even during her brief role in Valentine's Day. Those who aren't fans of the country songstress may take comfort in the horrible trajectory of her character's life. She is the daughter of the Thnardier family, which took a girl, Cosette, in and abused her. Eponine was the Thnardier's true daughter, but as an adult she pines for a man who is only in love with Cosette.

Seyfried's role is much bigger than Eponine's. I've been so surprised to see Seyfried's career take off since she first played the airhead friend in Mean Girls. In Mamma Mia! she showed she can handle musicals, and Slash Film reports she's trained as an opera singer--a big plus.

Seyfried and Swift join a cast that's studded with big names and Oscar nominations. Hugh Jackman plays the beleagured Jean ValJean, Russell Crowe the hard-nosed Inspector Javert, and Anne Hathaway the pitiful Fontaine. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter will play the Thnardiers, tavern owners who mistreat Cosette but are also something of an evil caricature in the stage version (perhaps to soften the blow). Baron Cohen and Carter both have experience in these kinds of roles, so they're cast quite well. Eddie Redmayne, who plays the young man pining for Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, will provide the third point to the love triangle between Cosette, Eponine, and his character, Marius. Les Misrables is an incredibly ambitious musical to pull off on screen, but as a fan of the musical and Hooper's work, I will definitely see the film version, for better or worse.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Audiences head to the theatres over New Year's weekend

By Sarah Sluis

The top fourteen movies this week all performed better than last week. Despite these strong week-to-week holds, the box office overall was still down $8 million and 6% from last year. The national holiday on Monday made for a strong finish to the four-day weekend.

Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol showed that Tom Cruise is back. Its four-day total of $38.2 million was a 30% improvement from the previous week. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows also rose 30% to $26.5 million. The improvements for these blockbuster films were actually the weakest of the bunch.

New years eveAdding 171 theatres, War Horse moved from a cantor to a gallop, earning a whopping 155% more than last week for a $19.2 million four-day total. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo also gained traction, with a 50% increase to $19 million that shows this thriller still has audiences to tap.

The romantic comedy New Year's Eve finally benefited from its topicality, showing a 133% increase to $7.7 million. That's as good as the ensemble movie's second weekend way back in mid-December.

Steven Spielberg-directed motion capture film The Adventures of Tintin increased 54% compared to Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked's 67% improvement, proof that the high-pitched voices of the chipmunks are a siren song to youngsters.

Rising back into the top ten, The Descendants made 100% more than last week while adding another $4.2 million for a $40 million total. This indie definitely appears to be a crowd-pleaser, which could raise its profile come awards season.

The two indies posting the strongest per-screen averages were Pina and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The first, a 3D dance documentary, averaged $31,000 per screen in three locations. Tinker, the John Le Carre spy adaptation, held onto a $26,500 per screen average, even while playing in 57 locations. Finally, Warner Bros.' 9/11 drama Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close finished with a $24,800 per-screen average while playing in six locations.

The three specialty releases and awards hopefuls that squeaked in before the end of 2011 all showed Iron lady streepincredibly strong debuts. It's no surprise that Meryl Streep's portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady tallied $70,000 per screen in four locations. When was the last time Streep has done wrong? The Iranian drama A Separation earned $26,500 each in three locations, an admirable opening. Finally, Pariah made $16,300 per screen in three locations, an especially strong debut for a movie with limited visibility compared to its peers.

This Friday will be a quiet one for new releases as people continue to catch up on holiday releases. The horror release The Devil Inside will be the only new major addition to the lineup of wide releases.