Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Should 'Bully' receive a PG-13 rating?

Just a few F-words stand between the documentary Bully and its desired PG-13 rating. The Weinstein Company has been actively fighting to overturn the MPAA's R rating of the movie. It has already lost an appeal, and now the company is threatening to withdraw from the MPAA altogether.

Bully posterI saw Bully last year at the Tribeca Film Festival, which was attended by the director and some of the people featured in the documentary. It was a moving experience. I left chock-full of empathy and outrage, especially after seeing the school administrators, teachers, and bus drivers who failed to recognize the severity of the situation. Verbal abuse (including those F-words) is more prevalent than physical abuse. I can't say I counted how many F-bombs were dropped. What I was more bothered by was seeing this language and abuse directed at a student.

I think most middle school and high school students have the maturity to handle the language in the film. But I also think that parents and teachers are the ones who will err on the side of caution. Parents will probably think they're showing children something they've never seen before. Administrators and teachers will be afraid of offending parents or getting in trouble with higher-ups. It's mainly about saving face, not the actual content. If this movie were PG-13, everyone would have the excuse "but it's PG-13" to use in order to signal the movie's appropriateness. If it's hit with an R rating, parents and teachers will have to evaluate the movie's appropriateness on a case-by-case basis and risk ire from those who look at the movie's rating, not its content.

If I correctly recall from my own experience in high school, we could see R-rated movies in class with a permission slip. Of course, this high school was in a comparatively liberal area compared to the rest of the nation. Bully follows students from Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Iowa. The Oklahoma student is the target of unbelievably hateful bullying solely because she is a lesbian. Her tormentors try to run her over with their car. Ha-ha.

Bully should be shown to students, parents, teachers, and administrators. If that means bleeping out a few F-words, I honestly feel that The Weinstein Company should capitulate. How else will Bully kidstudents in conservative, Bible Belt districts see the movie? However, The Weinstein Company is right to challenge the MPAA for its stance on the "F" word. Currently, the MPAA allows one F-word in a PG-13-rated film, as long as it's not in a sexual context. Last year Weinstein Co. release The King's Speech was rated R because a character swearing was a freeing act that helped with his stuttering. Here it's used to illustrate hate speech. Shouldn't context matter? There are far more racy things in PG-13 movies than a few F-words. Exhibiting the movie with an R rating will exclude the audiences who need to see the movie most. I hope the MPAA caves. Failing that, I hope Weinstein Co. adds the few bleeps that will make this movie acceptable to wide audiences.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Griswolds schedule another family vacation

I grew up with the Griswolds. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is that film everyone ends up watching whenever it's on television. Lines from Vegas Vacation were quoted with some regularity in my family, especially when we were around dams (a memorable bit). The original, 184015__vacation_lwhen the family goes to Walley World (a.k.a. Disneyland) was also a hit. The movies' humor may have relied a little too much on the audience delighting in the father's misery, but it also felt daring. The original, penned by John Hughes of Home Alone and Breakfast Club fame, ends with the entire family discovering Walley World is closed, an ending that felt risky in its sadness. The European one was the only one no one seemed to like. I think it's missing a bit of the "common man" aspect, since not many families regularly vacation in Europe. Then it tried to make up for it with too many "Ugly American" bits that were just embarrassing.

While normally I don't like it when Hollywood remakes a perfectly good thing, I'm happy to hear that the writers of Horrible Bosses plan to script and direct a remake of National Lampoon's family vacation. This is a series with a unique sensibility and memorable characters that could easily entertain another generation. Writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein plan to center the movie on grown-up Rusty, who takes his own family on vacation. I sincerely hope Chevy Cousin eddieChase, the original patriarch, signs on for a cameo. And that his country bumpkin Cousin Eddie (played by Randy Quaid) also makes an appearance. The movie just wouldn't seem right without these two characters around to pass the baton.

One question is pressing on my mind: Where will Rusty take his family? Will his character return to Walley World? Or will the writers come up with another quintessentially American place to take a vacation? In 2013, we may find out.


Monday, February 27, 2012

'Act of Valor' shines during Academy Awards weekend

As expected, The Artist landed the Best Picture Oscar this Sunday at the Academy Awards. The silent era-set tale has earned $31.8 million to date. In comparison, the middling war-action picture Act of Valor attracted more moviegoers than expected and earned $24.7 million, an amount it Oscar best picture the artisttook The Artist three months to reach. Act of Valor's primarily male audience gave the war flick its version of a statuette--an "A" exit rating.

The disparity between art films beloved by critics and the Academy and commercial films is once again in full relief. In 2009 and 2010, the first years allowing ten Best Picture nominees (since 1943), half the movies had earned $100 million--and still others were close to that figure. This year, only The Help has topped $100 million, with $169 million in total. The next runner-up is War Horse, with a mere $79 million. Act of valor skydive

Of course, there's still time for some movies to make more money. The Artist will expand into 2,000 theatres this weekend. Still, expectations should be modest. Last year, The King's Speech had the most momentum after its nomination. It earned only 15% of its total after it actually won. Part of the reason the Academy expanded the number of Best Picture nominees was to include a mix of art films and those that performed well at the box office. It was hoped that very little and very big films might be included more frequently. This past year had no Inception, no Avatar, no The Blind Side. Without a blockbuster or crossover success in the Wanderlust guitar face offrunning, the awards don't have as much appeal to general audiences. No wonder I heard many people--casual and more serious moviegoers--complain about the irrelevance of this year's Oscars. Although the ceremony included many people from more recognizable movies--like the cast of Bridesmaids, who presented awards--the awards themselves honored movies many people didn't and/or won't see. It's too bad there wasn't a well-regarded action picture in the running. True to the Academy's safe choices, an edgy movie like Drive can only get into the contest with a roundabout nomination, like its nod in Sound Editing.

Perhaps due in part to the lower-profile Oscar ceremony, box office as a whole was up from last year. After Act of Valor, Tyler Perry's Good Deeds suffered from the absence of Madea and brought in just $16 million. Down in eighth and ninth place, Wanderlust and Gone did even worse. The Paul Rudd/Jennifer Aniston comedy tallied up just $6.6 million, despite a 60% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It may fall under the "rent it" category for many viewers.  Gone likewise didn't connect with audiences, which gave it just a C+ in exit polls. The Amanda Seyfried kidnapping thriller finished with just $5 million.

A number of Oscar nominees posted gains this weekend. Best Foreign Language Film winner A Separation went up 36% to earn $423,000. Foreign Language nominee In Darkness received a 10% boost, grossing $91,000. Bullhead, which was nominated in the same category, posted a 28% gain for a total of $41,000. My Week with Marilyn expanded slightly and posted a 58% gain to $313,000. The Artist, which earned five wins, went up 23% to $3 million.

This Friday, Oscar winner The Artist will go big in an attempt to capitalize on its win. It will be joined by Dr. Seuss adaptation The Lorax and the one-crazy-party teen comedy Project X.

Friday, February 24, 2012

'Act of Valor' aims its sights at first place

FJI critic Daniel Eagan opens his review of Act of Valor (3,039 theatres) by calling it a "feature-length recruiting ad masquerading as a movie." In fact, the movie did start out as a recruiting tool. It's widely expected that this military picture with a multicultural cast will play strongly in the heartland. It's also been advertised widely among Act of valor sunsetthose in the military. I saw some New York City firefighters show up to a screening (They parked their work vehicle right in front. Jealous.). Still, learning that the movie began as a recruitment tool reminded me of the protests over the military's use of video game centers to recruit soldiers. Eagan himself sees a similarity between the two, finding the war pic "works best if you think of it as a prototype for a shooter video game." An opening weekend in the teen millions and perhaps above $20 million is expected for the "ugly action outing."

Tyler Perry is one of the most prolific and profitable multi-hyphenates out there. Tyler Perry's Good Deeds (2,132 theatres) is his latest. It focuses on a businessman who helps out a cleaning Tyler perry thandie newton woman, only to fall for her, even though he already has a fiancée. Fewer viewers than normal rate this Perry picture as a must-see, so it may underperform. Perry's films without his Madea character tend to earn less money, and competition from Denzel Washington starrer Safe House could siphon away some of the black audience. It should finish behind Act of Valor with a teen-million sum.

Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston play a high-strung couple who end up in a hippie commune in Wanderlust (2,001 theatres). The comedy isn't expected to top Wanderlust campfire$10 million. Still, about half of critics have given the movie a positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, our David Noh among them. The "genially satiric take on yuppies thrown into the scarily holistic, vegan universe is determined to give the audience a good time and largely delivers," he declares.

Summit is betting teen girls will turn out to see Amanda Seyfried in Gone (2,186 theatres). She plays a young woman whose sister is kidnapped. She suspects her sister has been Amanda seyfried gonetaken by the same serial killer who attacked her years earlier. Like Wanderlust, the thriller will probably struggle to reach $10 million.

The Oscars are on Sunday, so films like The Descendants and The Artist may see a pre-ceremony boost. Still, the biggest rises will probably occur after the statues are handed out. On Monday I'll recap this weekend's winners and losers.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Oscar talking points: What you need to know about all the big categories

The Oscars are on Sunday. After months of lead-up awards ceremonies and over two months after the end of 2011, the Academy will finally crown its winners. Here's what you need to know in order to make your Oscar predictions and slip in a knowing comment or two.

If The Artist doesn't win Best Picture, it will be a huge upset.
Silent, black & white The Artist has wooed nearly everyone who's been convinced to see it. Critics The artisthave embraced the movie, and it has already won several major awards, including Best Picture at the Golden Globes and BAFTA. It also won Best Director for Michel Hazanavicius at the Directors Guild of America awards, a category that strongly correlates with Oscar wins. Besides Best Picture, The Artist could also pull out a win for Best Director (and by extension, Best Editing, which often goes along with Best Director). If it wins those categories, which occur earlier in the ceremony, a Best Picture win is a lock. My dark horse pick is The Descendants, which won Best Drama at the Globes.

Streep will get a "career" Oscar
Giving Meryl Streep an Oscar is a bit of a sentimental pick that rewards her for all her previous work rather than her current film. The first four times she was nominated at the Oscars, she won twice (for Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie's Choice). Since then, she's been nominated another thirteen times without winning once. Streep may have embodied Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, but the movie itself was so-so. This time, that shouldn't stop her from winning an Oscar.

Best Actor is a toss-up
Jean Dujardin is an unknown in the United States but he performed in the most lauded movie of the year. George Clooney did what he does best under the estimable direction of Alexander Payne in The Descendants. Both won in their respective comedy/drama categories for the Globes. Will star power win, or will Dujardin's silent acting in the most-lauded movie of the year win out? This category is one of the closest.

Most likely to make a teary speech: Octavia Spencer Octavia spencer golden globes
When Spencer won for her performance in The Help in the Golden Globes, her speech was the best of the night. If she wins Best Supporting Actress on Sunday, I'm sure she'll bring the house down. She's one of the few people who has only just tasted fame and will be in awe and oh-so grateful for the honor. I'll have my fingers crossed for her.

Could Woody Allen show up?
When Allen won Best Screenplay for Midnight in Paris at the Golden Globes, he didn't show. He's only attended the Oscars once, when he pleaded for producers to continue shooting movies in NYC after 9/11. It's unlikely he'll don a tux and put in an appearance, but if he does it'll be legendary. Seeing how the presenters handle his absence will also be an evaluation of their gracefulness. In the Adapted Screenplay category, I'm picking The Descendants.

Make sure you set your DVRs for the ceremony this Sunday. In case you need to print out an Oscar ballot, check out this pdf.

And to hear a podcast about the Academy Awards featuring FJI contributor Jon Frosch, click here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Summit finds a writer for book club fave 'Night Circus'

Summit has hired a writer for its adaptation of The Night Circus, a novel that has become popular on the book club scene. One might think that the failure of another historical circus-themed tale, Water for Elephants, would make a studio think twice about venturing into the big tent, but Night circus movieSummit has apparently chosen to move forward. Moira Buffini, who adapted the recent version of Jane Eyre for Focus Features along with Tamara Drewe (directed by Stephen Frears), will write the screenplay.

The Night Circus centers on two young magicians, male and female, who are pitted against each other by their fathers, who are longtime enemies. Instead, they fall in love. The novel is strong in supernatural elements and magical realism, which is considered a good extension of Summit's other supernatural success, Twilight.  Most of the novel takes place during the Victorian era, with forward flashes to the present day.

I took a look at the reviews for The Night Circus on Goodreads, a social-networking site for readers. Some reviewers praised the writing but not the plot, worrisome for books moving to the screen. Conversely, a number of people pointed out that they hated author Erin Morgenstern's use of third-person, present-tense narration, something that wouldn't be a problem with the movie. Still others talked about the intricacy of the story, which they appreciated only after a second reading. That's a good thing for fiction lovers, but it also poses challenges for screenplay adaptations, which are reductive by nature.

This makes me think of the movie O Brother Where Art Thou?, which I liked progressively after my second and third viewings. I could finally see all the subtle foreshadowing and grasp the accelerated speech. Will it be possible to fit all the plot elements of the book into the screenplay?

Finally, I saw some Goodreads critics lament that the characters weren't fully developed. Still, despite the critique of the characters and the plot, wouldn't seeing the magic of a circus translated on screen be utterly captivating? I think the scene of Reese Witherspoon gracefully taming and lying on top of a horse was the best part of the (horrible) Water for Elephants adaptation.

The Night Circus is currently #25 on The New York Times' bestseller list (hardcover fiction). That's certainly not a Twilight level of success, but it still shows a level of awareness and anticipation for what could be an enchanting adaptation.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

'Safe House' secures the top spot in its second weekend

This Presidents' Day weekend was a boon for studios and exhibitors. Box office was up 10% during the four-day weekend that brings in kids and adults alike taking advantage of a day or week-long break. What's more, the top five films earned over $20 million over the four-day period, an unusually equal split of audiences.

Safe House rose to the top spot by shedding just 40% of its audience for a $23.8 million The vow rachel mcadams tatumthree-day weekend ($28.4 million including Monday). The pair-up of Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds is something of a demographic boon: young, old, white, black. Washington's a legacy action hero and Reynolds has a bit of a heartthrob thing going for him. No wonder the actioner is generating such high returns.

The Vow, which was timed to precede Valentine's Day, dipped 43% from last week with a $23.1 million three-day/$26.2 million four-day total. The Rachel McAdams-Channing Tatum romance has already logged an $88 million cumulative total thanks to strong weekday showings. This appears to be one romance that will endure beyond the holiday for which it was intended. Ghost rider spirit of vengeance

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance debuted with $22.1 million ($25.7 million including Monday). The Nicolas Cage action sequel did not get good reviews, but performed fairly evenly throughout the weekend. Even the commercials for this movie could not hide its cheesiness, but hey--some people just can't not see something with flaming motorcycles.

When you count Monday, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island rose from fourth ($19.9 million) to third place ($26.6 million). The boost came from the many kids on holiday this week.

This means war witherspoon hardy pineSpy-action-romance flick This Means War debuted in fifth place with a $17.3 million three-day/$20.4 million four-day total. Given the worries and last-minute switcheroos done by its studio, Fox, which pulled it from a Valentine's Day opening because it didn't want to compete with The Vow, it actually performed well. Though I'm not sure "well" will cover the paychecks of Reese Witherspoon and her co-stars Tom Hardy, and Chris Pine.

The Japanese animated film The Secret World of Arrietty, redubbed for English-speaking audiences, also rose a spot when you count in Monday's totals--$6.4 million three-day versus a $8.2 million four-day total.

The Oscars are this Sunday, and The Artist noted a nice 7.8% uptick to $2.4 million this Undefeated docweekend, one of the few films below the top ten to register an increase. The Oscar-nominated documentary Undefeated opened to a $33,000 per-screen average in five locations, a powerful opening that demonstrates the football doc could reach a broad audience.

On Friday, the action movie Act of Valor, filmed using real Navy SEALS, will open. Rounding out the mix will be comedy Wanderlust, Tyler Perry's Good Deeds, and the Amanda Seyfried thriller Gone.


Friday, February 10, 2012

'The Vow' promises to woo the weekend's biggest audience

In advance of Valentine's Day this Tuesday, The Vow will make its debut in 2,958 theatres. Both Rachel McAdams (The Notebook) and Channing Tatum (Dear John) have anchored a Rachel mcadams channing tatum vowdramatic romance before, and it appears they'll lead the movie to a $30 million finish. Although certainly many couples will see the romance together, it will be equally attractive to groups of girlfriends, who were the main demographic at the advance screening I attended. McAdams stars as a woman who loses all memory of her husband (Tatum) after her car accident. She turns back to her previous life, and he tries to woo her all over again. Unlike McAdams's previous memory-loss tale, The Notebook, The Vow is nothing special, "a mash-up of hoary clichés, "as our critic David Noh says. Still, he couldn't help but be drawn in by the chemistry between the two stars and the "nigh-irresistible emotional drive."

One of the least-liked movies in the franchise, Star Wars: Episode I-- The Phantom Menace (2,655 theatres) will release in 3D, Jar-Jar Binks and all. Fox is putting a $20 million estimate on its weekend total, predicting that the sci-fi (spawn of a) classic will attract fathers and sons. That would put the 3D re-release in the "strong" category, though it would still fall short of The Lion King 3D's $30 million opening last September.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (3,470 theatres) dumped star Brendan Fraser for Journey 2 mysterious islandDwayne Johnson. Didn't a similar thing happen with the Mummy franchise?  "Even kids will be shaking their heads" at the "daffy update of the Jules Verne novel," critic Daniel Eagan reports. Though the filmmakers try to "quickly and slyly...skim over mere logic," he thinks most viewers will eventually realize all the fantastical setups "make no sense." With competition from family audiences seeing The Phantom Menace, Journey 2 will have an uphill battle. A number in the teen millions will be likely.

Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds band together for Safe House (3,118 theatres), which our critic Chris Barsanti felt was a Tony Scott knockoff. It centers on a CIA agent (Reynolds) Safe house ryan reynoldstasked with keeping a maybe-rogue agent (Washington) safe, until they both come under assault. The 'two unlikely people banding together' thing has been done dozens of times, and Barsanti also felt that the (maybe spoiler alert) idea of moles at the top of an organization was something he could see coming miles away. Universal has been targeting males for the thriller, which could earn over $20 million if everything pulls together.

For those trying to catch up on all the Oscar-nominated films, Sony Pictures Classics is releasing In Darkness (1 theatre), the Polish film In darkness 1that is one of the five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film. The Holocaust-set drama centers on Polish Jews who hide in a sewer, helped by a man whose financial motivations threaten to imperil the people he's hiding. In this story, neither the Jews nor the people who are hiding them are saints. "The characters are...wisely presented with all their flaws, passions and virtues, not idealized as victims," critic Wendy R. Weinstein praises. Like many films showing dark chapters of history, "It is not easy to watch, but it is impossible to turn away."

The films that end up on top this weekend will be well-poised to reap the benefits next weekend, which has the Monday President's Day Holiday and the prospect of weekday ticket sales among select groups of schoolchildren lucky enough to have a mid-winter break.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

'Bourne Legacy' trailer shows a Jeremy Renner you don't want to mess with

Although $1 billion proves me otherwise, I never warmed to the Bourne series. It felt so--sanitized--with none of the swagger of a Bond spy thriller or the gritty realism of a French Connection. It's true that Jason Bourne was an amnesiac, which could make someone a bit bland. That's pretty much how Matt Damon, who I like in almost any other context, played him. Jeremy Renner, the star of The Bourne Legacy, takes his character, who is a product of the same program, in an entirely new direction. He's angry.

The opening scene of the trailer, released today, shows him beat up and looking not downtrodden, but pissed off. It's in this moment that he agrees to become part of the "program." In later scenes, his foes appear to be sincerely frightened of him. It's like he's an animal who's been let loose from his cage.  The trailer, which uses some of that moody brass that became so popular with Inception, showcases Renner's flashiest spy skills. He runs down a corridor, pursued by security, then halts in his tracks and whacks the guy behind him. It's like he decided running wasn't worth the effort. He also uses a fire extinguisher to create some kind of air pellet, and appears to have his hand in blowing up a cabin and possibly using a sniper bullet to fell a small plane. I like that there's some weapons creativity along with a more emotive hero.


It's great to see Renner, who proved himself in The Hurt Locker, land himself a starring role in one of the most profitable action-spy franchises out there. I'll also give a brief nod to Edward Norton, who plays the enemy so, so well. The Bourne Legacy looks like it will inject the franchise with some real spunk. Count me in when it releases on August 3, 2012.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Conservative Christian group MovieGuide prepares to give its Faith & Values Awards--which films make the cut?

When a conservative values group releases a study saying that conservative movies earn more money than liberal movies, I can't say I find the results that trustworthy. In anticipation of its Faith & Values Awards Gala, MovieGuide announced the results of its study, which estimates the average gross of a conservative movie ($59 million) to be almost six times that of the average liberal movie ($11 million). I'm deeply skeptical of these figures. For example, small-budget, low-grossing indies often have "edgy" content, while there are only a few overtly religious indies every year, including two Faith & Values nominees this year, Seven Days in Utopia  and Courageous, which actually released through TriStar. MovieGuide is most known for its reviews aimed at evangelical Christians. They first list any and all objectionable content, with the summary and review secondary to the detailed list of the film's transgressions.

MuppetsWhat kind of films win the Faith & Values Awards? The "family" category of the Faith & Value Awards doesn't say much. In the past three years, Pixar has closed out the category, with crowd-pleasers Toy Story 3, Up, and WALL-E winning the honors. Still, not all G and PG-rated films pass muster. Happy Feet 2 earned their ire. In their review, they summarized it as a "politically correct message movie that promotes radical environmentalism, magical thinking, and even same-sex partnerships and evolution." In contrast, The Muppets (which Fox News called communist) is nominated this year and earned raves for its "very strong moral worldview extolling family and clean entertainment," though they do make note "an environmentalist undertone as the oil entrepreneur is the bad guy," "upper male nudity," and, perhaps not so bafflingly, "yoga Happy feet 2references."

The winners in the "mature" category include Secretariat, The Blind Side, and Iron Man as its recent honorees. Besides celebrating Christianity, MovieGuide also evaluates releases for patriotism, espousing capitalist, not socialist, values and whether they support conservative or liberal political issues. That explains why Iron Man, the consummate capitalist and individualist who uses his technology to defend the country, earned raves from its reviewer. Among this year's nominees are the blockbusters Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Mission Impossible--Ghost Protocol, and Captain America. The accolades given for other nominated films can be surprising. Holocaust-themed Sarah's Key was noted for its "very strong moral worldview with an anti-abortion message" and 9/11-focused Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is "pro-forgiveness, pro-family, pro-faith, and profound." They also put Terrence Malick's spiritual The Tree of Life on their list. Despite its references to dinosaurs, and "strong but non-evangelistic Christian worldview," the critic praised the movie.


Reading MovieGuide's obsessively thorough reviews, which count every single use of foul language and removes points for instances of political correctness, can be surprising. I'm pretty sure some of my subway rides in New York City would merit a couple of paragraphs of "content" in need of review. With its study proclaiming the popularity of conservative films, MovieGuide is clearly trying to insert itself into the mainstream dialogue, but its catalog of reviews tells a different story.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Are you ready for the new 'Spider-Man'?

Watching the trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man, I already feel old. It feels like just yesterday that I was watching Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man giving Kirsten Dunst that iconic upside-down kiss. Man, that background music makes that moment feel so cheesy. On second thought, maybe it is time for a new Spider-Man.

However, the fact that they're re-booting the franchise just five years after the third film starring the original cast of characters signals so much that's wrong with Hollywood. Spider-Man "4" was originally going to star Maguire and Dunst and be directed by Sam Raimi. It was only after those oft-cited "creative differences" emerged that Columbia went ahead with an all-new cast and director. The trailer shows us we'll be getting a lot more of the same-old. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have the same feel as original stars Maguire and Dunst (even though Stone plays Gwen Stacy, not the Dunst role of Mary Jane Watson). IMDB says Rhys Ifans plays "Dr. Connor/The Lizard," so that solves who the mysterious green, monstrous enemy in the trailer is right off the bat--though comic book fans undoubtedly knew that already.

One thing I'm excited about is that an entire set piece appears to take place on the Williamsburg Bridge. I live near the bridge, and last year I saw the production filming a number of times. One night, they trained high-powered lights on the bridge that lit it up from end to end. I thought that was the kind of thing that was normally done in CGI, so the time, money, and effort that went into that impressed me. I was completely charmed by director Marc Webb's (500) Days of Summer, but I wonder how much of that sensibility will translate to this big-budget, action-centered production.

Of all the superhero franchises, Spider-Man definitely skews young. There certainly isn't the kind of darkness in the Batman series that changed with each director's iteration and made the superhero have appeal beyond the youth set. If they're only going for kids, perhaps it makes sense that a reboot will occur just ten years after the original and five years after the third film in the franchise. 

I can't help feeling a little bored with it all. The Amazing Spider-Man will have to live up to something that's only ten years old in our cultural memory. When Hollywood is already remaking something that premiered in this millennium, how can they expect adults to show up? And how can original screenplays ever have a shot?

Monday, February 6, 2012

'Chronicle' and 'Woman in Black' lure teens to theatres

This year more studios were willing to place films during Super Bowl weekend, even if it meant they would plummet up to 70% on game day. Chronicle and The Woman in Black were rewarded, while Big Miracle, the only film that actually tried to capture the un-Super Bowl audience, floundered. Overall, receipts were up 36% from last year, a clear sign that Super Bowl weekend no longer signals a lackluster box office.

Chronicle alex russellThe found-footage superhero movie Chronicle skyrocketed to first place with $22 million. The low-budget production only cost half that to make, so Fox is probably already in the green. 61% of audience members were under 25, a valued demographic that hasn't been showing up in force lately. Their presence elicited a sigh of relief for the industry as a whole.

The "Harry Potter factor" helped out The Woman in Black considerably this weekend, as it soared to an estimated $21 million. Young female viewers eager to see Woman in black gate 1Harry, Daniel Radcliffe...turned out in force for the haunted house flick. CBS Films only  paid $3 million for the movie, so this definitely counts as a win for the up-and-coming distributor.

Big Miracle failed to attract audiences, earning $8.5 million and landing in fourth place, behind the second weekend of Liam Neeson-starring The Grey. However, good audience response may make the whale-saving picture a strong holder. Echoing my feelings after seeing the surprisingly charming movie, Big miracle drew barrymore john krasinskiaudiences gave the movie an A-, the highest score of any new release.

Madonna-directed W.E. debuted to $45,000 per screen in four locations. Her star power has given the historical romance plenty of publicity, though some journalists are probably less interested in her movie than in landing a Madonna interview. The star's Super Bowl halftime performance will increase awareness even further.

The leaders in Oscar nominations all showed strong holds. George Clooney-led The Descendants dipped 28% to $4.6 million, even while playing in just over 2,000 locations. The Artist, for which I've also seen an increase in television ads, had a gentle decline of 22% to $2.5 million, while playing in 1,000 locations. Hugo topped them all, dipping just 8% to $2.3 million.

This Friday will be busy. In advance of Valentine's Day, romantic weeper The Vow will release, fanboys can check out the re-release of Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace in 3D, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island will entice families, and Safe House adult males.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Theatres battle against Super Bowl with 'Big Miracle,' 'Chronicle,' and 'Woman in Black'

Apparently, Super Bowl weekend isn't the box-office ghetto it used to be. This weekend three films are vying for the top spot, and only one of them, Big Miracle, falls into the typical female/family counterprogramming slot.

Betting on big grosses Friday and Saturday, Fox is releasing the found-footage picture Chronicle (2,907 theatres). It centers on teen boys who have an encounter with an unknown thing that Chronicle dane dehaangives them superpowers. Since found-footage films usually correlate with the horror genre, this marks a creative departure. Critics have responded, giving the movie an 84% positive Rotten Tomatoes rating. Many estimate the superhero flick could earn up to $15 million this weekend.

Daniel Radcliffe plays a widowed lawyer who is closing up a household's estate in The Woman in Black (2,855 theatres), which is also expected to cross the seven-figure mark this weekend. Critic David Noh laments that the haunted house picture is "lacking in the Woman in black daniel radcliffe ciaran hindsessential element of surprise." I'll agree with that one. I'm a horror wimp but I didn't even jump once.  It's surprising the movie isn't that good given it's based on a book that has spawned a TV series, play, and radio show. While the adaptation is very cinematic, there were points when Radcliffe's character pored through long-forgotten files that I wish I could have spent time reading. I imagine the book devotes more time to unraveling the mystery through the papers left by the deceased's family.

The whale-saving, feel-good Big Miracle (2,128 theatres) is much better than the commercials Big miracle kristen bell john krasinskisuggest. Based on a 1988 news story about whales trapped under an expanse of ice in Barrow, Alaska, its Walkmans and retro costuming feel nostalgic, giving viewers a "not-so-distant look back at an era when three network anchors set the news agenda.” The PG-rated tale is a "family film adults will enjoy as much as their animal-loving kids," critic Kevin Lally concludes. On Sunday, the movie should do big business among non-football lovers, but I suspect the film won't open nearly as strongly as Dolphin Tale ($19 million) because of its muddled marketing. Its best hope will be if it can pull off something like Soul Surfer, which opened to $10 million and grossed four times that figure--though Soul Surfer had the added benefit of the faith-based W.E. darcy riseboroughaudience.

Madonna's performing in the Super Bowl halftime show this weekend, and whaddayaknow, her second directorial effort, W.E. (4 theatres), is also making its debut. Noh was one of the few advocates of the historical romance, which he declares an "entertainingly fancy bauble of an ultimate chick flick." The story centers on the romance between Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, who abdicated the British throne so he could marry the American divorcee.

On Monday, we'll find out if the Giants beat the Patriots and how much the Super Bowl made a dent in the Sunday grosses of Chronicle and its ilk.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Will Scorsese's post-'Hugo' project be the serial killer pic' Snowman?'

Martin Scorsese's currently riding the critical (but not box-office) success of Hugo, which received double-digit Oscar nominations. However, with Scorsese passed up for the Directors Guild Award in favor of The Artist's Michel Hazanavicius, it looks like Hugo won't be as much of a winner as some of the director's earlier works. For his next project he may be returning to what he does best--suspense and crime.  After receiving approval by author Jo Nesbø, Scorsese will direct The The-snowman-book-coverSnowman, an adaptation of a Scandinavian crime novel. Interestingly, the book is the seventh in the series starring this character, unusual given that most adaptations start at number one. The anti-hero at the center of it all is Norwegian detective Harry Hole. He's a smoker and drinker, and generally only put up with by his police department because he's such a brilliant detective. The case he'll solve is also quite chilling. It involves a boy who wakes up one morning to find his mother missing and her scarf wrapped around a freshly-built snowman. It turns out this incident is just one of many, but Hole's pursuit of the case may be playing directly into the serial killer's hands.

Despite having virtually no violent crime, Scandinavia has been a hotbed for thrilling books, movies, and television shows, perhaps to replace all that drama its people aren't getting in real life. The media that has crossed over to the U.S. includes The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Sweden), "The Killing," (Denmark/Sweden), Let the Right One in (Sweden), and, loosely, Reykjavik-Rotterdam (Iceland), just remade as Contraband and currently in theatres. Another adaptation of Nesbø's work, Headhunters, has become one of the most successful Norwegian films of all time. The material and movement Scorsese's working with must be good.

Matthew Michael Carnahan (World War Z) is scripting the Working Title production. Scorsese has seven directing projects listed on his IMDB page, so there's no word on whether or not it will be his next project. I doubt Scorsese will set a date for anything until after the Oscars at the end of February.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Katy Perry jumps on the 3D concert doc train

Katy Perry is in talks with Paramount to create a 3D concert documentary with behind-the-scenes backstory and biography. If Perry can lead a successful 3D concert film, she may open the field to a host of other musical acts. Currently, concert documentaries tend to focus on acts that appeal to the tween/teen crowd (Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Jonas Brothers, "Glee") and the older and legendary (Michael Jackson, U2, The Rolling Stones). Perry is in more of an in-between space. She Katy perry in concerttops the charts but she's only a couple albums into fame. Her base does include teens and tweens, but she's also fairly popular among adults.

In some ways, the announcement comes after the fact. Nanette Burstein, director of the great doc American Teen and feature Going the Distance, has already shot the 3D concert footage. The project is moving forward at lightning speed--Paramount plans to release the movie this summer, in June or July. The focus on Perry growing up should be interesting and relevant. She recently parted ways with her husband of a year or so, Russell Brand. She grew up the daughter of a minister and first tried to make it as a gospel singer before embracing her candy, bubble gum, slightly provocative look. Katy-perry-concert-paris

Paramount made $73 million with Justin Bieber: Never Say Never last year. But it will be hard for Perry to replicate that success. She'll have much more competition in the summer than on Super Bowl weekend in February, when Bieber's film released. She also doesn't have quite the rabid fanbase of Bieber. A couple of concert docs have fallen flat in recent years, including Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience ($19 million) and last year's Glee the 3D Concert Movie, which finished with a disappointing $11 million. Perry's success or failure will give the green light or red light to many other pop stars in her league. Next year we may see Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Kanye West, Beyonce, or Jay-Z on the silver screen. What's your pick?