Monday, April 30, 2012

'Think Like a Man' stays ahead of four new releases

Four new wide releases opened this weekend, but all of them underwhelmed. The winners were holdovers, especially Think Like a Man. The ensemble romantic comedy, which features a primarily black cast, dropped by half to earn $18.8 million, making it the most successful movie to open this April. Audiences' foreknowledge of comedian/author Steve Harvey probably The pirates boathelped distinguish this feature from similar offerings, and the thumbs-ups from audiences in exit polls last week likely drove their friends to the box office this week.

British animation company Aardman Entertainment has never opened a film above $20 million in the U.S. However, since it's been two months since a new animated film graced the screen, many were hoping Pirates! The Band of Misfits could open above $11.4 million. It didn't, and audiences gave the stop-motion animated 3D film a so-so "B" rating in exit polls. Still, the family-friendly feature has earned over $60 million overseas, so the totals stateside are just one piece of the pie.

The Five-Year Engagement was trounced by the holdover romantic comedy Think Like a Man, Five year engagement alison brie emily blunt 2debuting to just $11.1 million. Universal expected the Jason Segel-Emily Blunt vehicle to open close to 50% higher. While there are a lot of reasons flying around for this discrepancy, age and exit polls are the biggies. 57% of viewers were over thirty, while younger people are more avid moviegoers, indicating the plot may have turned off younger audiences. Exit polls gave the movie a "B-" rating, not surprising since it was billed as "from the producer of Bridesmaids" while being quite a bit different from that raunchy comedy.

Safe opened on the low end even for a Jason Statham movie, finishing with $7.7 million. Core Statham fans, older-skewing males, did turn out, but they were lukewarm on the action outing, giving it a "B+" CinemaScore.

The Raven, which finished with $7.2 million, generated some of the most creative critical The raven ropes 2put-downs I've seen in some time. My favorite was this Gawker headline, "I Fell Asleep 17 Times During The Raven." The only people who seemed to think this Edgar Allan Poe-tracks-down-a-serial-killer-who-quoth-his-stories tale was cool were under the age of 25. I think it’s fair to say that audiences still showing their IDs for R-rated movies are more easily wowed.

Bernie, a dark comedy starring Jack Black, opened amazingly well with a $30,000 per-screen average on three screens. Despite a lot of indie street cred, Sound of My Voice had a more tepid debut, averaging $8,000 per screen in five locations.

The Avengers will kick off the "summer" movie season this Friday. No other studio dares open a film against this superhero extravaganza, which will set the tone for summer 2012.

Friday, April 27, 2012

'Five-Year Engagement' aims for date-night audiences

By heavily marketing The Five-Year Engagement (2,936 theatres) as "from the producer of Bridesmaids," Universal hopes to draw in audiences looking for raunchy, original humor as well as traditional rom-com viewers. Writers Jason Segel (who stars) and Nicholas Stoller (who directs) guarantee at least some appeal to the male crowd, especially those who took a shine to the duo after Five year engagement jason segel emily blunt 1Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which shares many similarities with the current project. In my review, I call it a "notch above," but it's nothing more than a reasonably fun way to spend a Friday night. Plus, unlike many more stereotypical romantic comedies, you won't leave with a bad taste in your mouth. Prognosticators expect an opening at least in the teen millions.

The first animated offering in two months, The Pirates! Band of Misfits (3,358 theatres) will release in 3D. The "inspired nonsense" of a story makes for "endearing Pirates arrrr 2drollery," according to FJI critic Rex Roberts. The Aardman Entertainment production is filled with typical British humor, which could dampen grosses a bit, but the feature should still land somewhere at least in the teen millions.

A kind of mix of the revisionist fantasy The Grimm Brothers and From Hell, The Raven (2,203 theatres) follows Edgar Allan Poe as he tries to track down a murderer who is using Poe's books for inspiration. The "lamebrain The raven horse 1concept" failed to entice critic David Noh, who described the suspenser as an "endless, tireless cartoon." An opening somewhere north of $10 million is in the forecast.

"The best Jason Statham outing in some time," according to critic Daniel Eagan, Safe (2,266 theatres) promises to "[hurtle] viewers along its twisting, sordid storyline." Despite this rave from Eagan, the action thriller is expected to earn just below $10 million, though Eagan feels it could "grab a wider audience through word of mouth."

On the specialty front, indie darling Brit Marling plays a cult leader in the "taut and unnerving" Sound of My Voice (5 theatres), which critic Erica Abeel gave a thumbs-up. Jack Black is the highlight of Bernie (3 theatres), a black comedy about a man who murders an elderly woman, and is based on a true story. Finally, Elles, a sex-filled French tale about a journalist who investigates college students moonlighting as prostitutes, should excite stateside audiences, though male viewers may "[leave] the theatre disappointed that Freud’s famous question, 'What does a woman want?' remains profoundly unanswered," Roberts reflects.

On Monday, come back to see if audiences bought the "Bridesmaids spinoff" pitch and if families turned out for a fresh animated offering.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Universal gathers its stars at CinemaCon

Of the six studio product previews at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, Universal Pictures (which sat out last year's inaugural show) brought in the largest star contingent. The Thursday afternoon program, very capably and genially hosted by chairman Adam Fogelson, offered yet more proof that this is going to be a very big summer at the movies.

The session began with a smartly assembled reel marking Universal's 100th anniversary, which reminded the audience just how many iconic classics the studio has produced in the past century, from its 1930s horror legacy to the Spielberg parade of hits to the current Bourne action series. Then it was on to the first industry trailer, for Battleship, which has already made $150 million in Battleshipoverseas markets prior to its mid-May domestic premiere--an unusual release strategy. The trailer cheekily includes skeptical comments from The Hollywood Reporter, and Stephen Colbert about the board game adaptation, before establishing its action bona fides. After the clip, stars Taylor Kitsch (late of John Carter) and Brooklyn Decker came out to vouch for the film's military muscle, courtesy of our very own Armed Forces.

For my money the most entertaining celebrity to appear on the Colosseum stage was Charlize Theron, who accompanied Twilight star Kristen Stewart, director Rupert Sanders and producer Joe Roth to promote Snow White and the Huntsman. Fogelson asked her what persuaded her to play the Evil Queen, and the statuesque blonde recalled stating that if she was going to sign on, "we gotta go balls to the wall." A few risque jokes later, Theron revealed that her interpretation of the Queen was inspired by Jack Nicholson in Snow-White-And-The-HuntsmanThe Shining. That's the kind of statement, she joked, that gets you thrown out of studio casting sessions and back doing independent films "for dirt and water."

Stewart acknowledged that the phenomenal success of her Twilight series has been "really unique," and called the role of Snow White "the perfect choice for me." The combination of the cast and the vision of first-time feature director Sanders (a top talent in the world of commercials) led her to choose the project "from the gut."

Fogelson told the audience that his July 6 release Savages, Oliver Stone's gritty tale of young American marijuana dealers who must deal with a vicious Mexican cartel, is the Stone we SaVAGESknow from movies like Natural Born Killers. Stone appeared on stage with three members of his cast: Kitsch (again), Salma Hayek and John Travolta. The veteran director approached the project as more than just an action thriller (though the trailer certainly promises nasty thrills), striving for an authentic portrait of California's desire for weed clashing with Mexico's crime epidemic.

Travolta said he had wanted to work with Stone for over 25 years, and that their first project together reminds him of his 1994 triumph, Pulp Fiction.  The cast also includes Blake Lively and Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass), and Travolta found it especially gratifying working with "beautiful and decent people doing awful things."

No doubt the biggest thrill for many in the audience was the chance to see and hear from "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane. who is making his feature directing debut this summer with the R-Mark-Wahlberg-Ted-movie-image-seth-1rated comedy Ted. MacFarlane also provides the voice for the titular teddy bear who comes alive thanks to a lonely child's wish and grows to irresponsible adulthood along with his human best bud, Mark Wahlberg.

Fogelson seemed generally nervous about what might come out of MacFarlane's mouth, and indeed at one point a dare by the comic auteur threatened to take this CinemaCon ceremony into NC-17 territory. But both MacFarlane and co-star Mila Kunis (who turned up earlier in the week to promote Disney's Wizard of Oz prequel) agreed that MacFarlane's outrageous comic sensibility also possesses "a very sweet backbone."

In any event, Fogelson confided that he's never heard his boss Ron Meyer laugh so hard at a Universal picture, and the trailer for Ted had the CinemaCon audience exploding with laughter too.

The final celebrity sighting of the program was CinemaCon Male Star of the Year Jeremy Renner, who's taken over the Bourne franchise from Matt Damon. Renner professed no hesitation about succeeding Damon, mainly because he liked the material and director Tony Gilroy and there's no point trying to anticipate people's reactions. Like his Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol co-star Tom Cruise, Renner insists on doing many of his own stunts, since he feels authenticity is crucial to the Bourne series.

The Universal program generously also included first glimpses of projects that are far, far from competion: the musical Les Miserables, the Tom Cruise sci-fi thriller Oblivion, the supernatural cop comedy R.I.P.D., The Fast and the Furious 6 and a rare Universal 3D project, 47 Ronin, which Fogelson described as like "300, The Matrix and The Last Samurai picking up swords and beating the shit out of each other."

Earlier on Thursday, 20th Century Fox also previewed its upcoming slate, and though the program featured only one filmmaker, the lineup still impressed. Ridley Scott's Prometheus looks like a sensational return to the science-fiction horrors of his classic Alien; the bizarrely high-concept Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has a most tantalizing trailer; Ice Age: Continental Drift seems a sure bet to continue the huge run of that animated series; Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill appear poised to overcome the problematic title of their alien-fighting comedy Neighborhood Watch; Taken 2 looks like it has all the elements to bring out fans of Liam Neeson's previous action hit; and the Viola Davis-Maggie Gyllenhaal drama Won't Back Down, about the inequities of our school systems, seems to have real substance to go with its inspirational message. And for Christmas, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler may experience a comedy comeback, judging by the laughs for their Parental Guidance trailer.

Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chairmen Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman also ran down a list of future movies with familiar elements: A Good Day to Die Hard, Wolverine, a Percy Jackson sequel, a new Planet of the Apes chapter, Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig in a remake of the Fox chestnut The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and the return of comedy duo Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in The Internship.

The lone talent appearance was by director Ang Lee to introduce two sequences from his ambitious Life-pi-ang-lee3D production Life of Pi. Like Hugo by his fellow CinemaCon panelist Martin Scorsese, this is a big-scale fantasy film that proves 3D is being taken very seriously as an artistic tool by some of the world's leading moviemakers. The two scenes, involving a fierce storm at sea and a later onslaught of flying fish, are truly unlike any 3D imagery you've seen before--visionary depictions of Yann Martel's tale of a teenage boy trapped at sea on a small boat with a Bengal tiger. After each sequence, Lee charmingly reminded the audience, "That was unfinished," and he described his efforts to conquer "a new film language." "I hope it doesn't feel like a gimmick, but an attempt to put you in an emotional space."

Tribeca doc 'High Tech, Low Life' offers a window into little-seen areas of China

Spanning the 2008 Olympics in Beijing to the fallout of the social media-driven Arab Spring in 2011, Tribeca documentary High Tech, Low Life is a stunning, moving gem that follows the lives of two Chinese bloggers: the young , brash Zola and the established, measured Tiger Temple.

Zola is a child of the '80s who likes the fame and danger that comes with being a citizen journalist. Expert in matters of having multiple SIM cards and phones, he represents the new era of Chinese bloggers. For him, jumping over The Great Firewall, China's censorship of the Internet, requires Zola_jumpingjust a little knowledge of code and IP scramblers. He appeared at a Q&A after the screening yesterday in the East Village with director Stephen Maing. Zola was clearly thrilled at being in NYC, which he described as "awesome" with a huge smile.

The doc shows just how awesome it must be to Zola, who comes from a rural village where his parents cook food over an open fire and admonish him to find a wife and have a son. Putting on hold his parents' plans for him to be a vegetable seller, Zola travels to a small village where rumor has it the son of an official raped and murdered a teenager, throwing her body into a river. Everyone in the town seems to know what really happened, but at a press conference held a week later, they report that the son was doing push-ups on the bridge with the girl when she suddently stood up and announced she didn't want to live anymore and jumped. It's a bizarre, totally implausible cover-up that reflects the nature of Chinese bureaucracy. As Zola clarified in the Q&A, covering events like these may bring visits and monitoring from the police, but it's still legal and tolerated by the government. The most dangerous thing to write, according to Zola? Political jokes. The bloggers are in a different category from political dissidents like Ai WeiWei, but they still have their posts removed by the government. For regular Chinese citizens, these blogs provide a valuable counterpoint to the perpetually optimistic state news.

Tiger Temple, who lived through Mao's Cultural Revolution in the '60s and '70s, is in his fifties and estranged from his family. He travels by bike thousands of kilometers to rural sites. He helps out older farmers whose rivers are filled with detergent and feces from the town upstream. His readers give donations to his website to help out the homeless in Beijing. His style is calm and wise. He Tiger_cameraunderstands how Chinese bureaucracy works (a lot of it is about self-preservation), and uses it to his advantage. He's also clever, narrating a video from the point-of-view of his cat in hopes that censors won't take down a video of a talking cat. He's right.

Whereas most Americans worry about things like factory conditions in China, these bloggers focus on issues in rural areas, which many feel have been forgotten as the government focuses on its cities instead of agriculture. The recent hubbub over supposed terrible working conditions in Apple plants (as described in the play The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs and the subsequently retracted "This American Life" piece), compared to what the Chinese themselves feel are the unjust parts of their life,  shows how little Americans understand China. This documentary offers a perspective on China that will challenge American assumptions.

Maing, the director, does an excellent job of fleshing out the personalities of these two bloggers. Having them do little things like describe all their tools and equipment yields funny, interesting results (Zola takes along traveling chopsticks and a spy scanner, which he ends up never using). They aren't pushy or outraged, as many American journalists are wont to be, and their matter-of-fact manner makes the injustices they expose all the more moving.

When Zola travels to Beijing for a story, he overhears a man singing a song about the government. "I was shocked to hear someone sing that in the open," he says later. "I thought all the people in Beijing were loyal party-lovers." High Tech, Low Life offers similar revelations for its viewers, who should seek out this eye-opening view of life in China.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lasers, 3D, Scorsese and Lee highlight day 3 of CinemaCon

Day 3 at CinemaCon in Las Vegas featured two special highlights: an early look at the visual possibilities offered by a prototype of laser projection equipment, and a talk with two Oscar-winning directors about their experiences with 3D.

In a morning session, Todd Hoddick, VP of Barco's North American Entertainment Division, hosted a screening of content utilizing Barco's prototype DC 4K laser projector. The first clip was an excerpt from director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson's globe-spanning, non-China-Spectacular-2-500x375narrative documentary Samsara, which Oscilloscope Pictures releases in New York and Seattle on August 24. The footage encompassed an unidentified landscape dotted with exotic reddish-orange structures whose colors really popped on the 70-foot Harkness Unity matte white screen installed at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, sharply detailed aerial shots of skyscrapers, and time-lapse photography of pulsating traffic. The clarity and brightness of the laser technology make an ideal medium for Fricke's dazzling images. Even more awesome was RED Digital's 2K, 48-frame-per-second 3D footage of a helicopter aloft against a cityscape backdrop; one could almost believe the sharply delineated copter was hovering inside the theatre above the audience's heads.

Hoddick listed the many advantages of this evolving laser technology: improved color, higher contrast, uniformity up to the edges of the screen, unlimited dimming of 3D, low power consumption and, of course, greater brightness.  But he also expressed caution about the roadblocks ahead: removing archaic FDA restrictions on lasers, bringing down costs, and finding a business model that would make yet another expensive hardware upgrade appealing to exhibitors.

During a panel discussion immediately following the demo, Jim Reisteter, digital cinema general manager at NEC Display Solutions, assured the audience of exhibitors that this all was still in the exploratory stage and that manufacturers aren't about to pressure theatre owners who are just finishing their transition to digital projection. "Get comfortable with what you have," he urged. Michael Esch, senior director of entertainment solutions at fellow projector company Christie, concurred: "We're not trying to bombard you with technology for technology's sake."

Wim Buyens, senior VP of entertainment at Barco, said he considered it his company's "duty to come up with an upgradable solution," rather than start a laser projector from scratch. Anything else "would be disrespectful" to exhibitors, he believes.

Hoddick expects a "commercially viable" laser projector will be appearing by the end of 2013. Laser technology is yet another scary leap for the movie theatre industry, but this session proved that it can reap many tantalizing benefits (particularly on the 3D brightness front) and is well worth exploring.

The issue of 3D brightness was addressed by Martin Scorsese at a lunchtime Filmmakers Forum, moderated by Hollywood Reporter chief film critic Todd McCarthy, which also featured director Ang Lee. Scorsese warned the audience that if screens "are too dark and you can't see, why should [audiences] come back and watch another 3D film?"

Scorsese, who received the RealD Innovation in 3D Award at the lunch for his groundbreaking HUGO_movie_photo_4-535x356work on the Oscar-winning Hugo, said his interest in 3D was related to his fascination with the deep-focus shots (using wide-angle lenses) of the great cinematographer Gregg Toland of Citizen Kane fame. "In a sense, it's like 3D," he opined. Scorsese also noted that interest in 3D dates back to the early silent days, and that Russian master director Sergei Eisenstein had a book on 3D open nearby when he died in the 1940s.

Self-effacing Lee, who's preparing his first 3D film, Life of Pi, admitted that working in the format has been a difficult learning process. "It's its own thing," he said. "It's a new form of art, and we haven't gotten there yet." Lee's Pi cinematographer, Claudio Miranda, shot the 3D Tron and "he walks around like he knows," the director confided. "But we're all novices when it comes to 3D."

Before filming Hugo, Scorsese screened '50s 3D classics like House of Wax and Dial M for Murder for his crew, and decided the "stage play" look of Dial M was the way he wanted to go. His attitude toward his first 3D project was "Let's push it, let's see what happens... I kept asking for more [3D impact]."

Scorsese believes that when actors' faces lean out toward the audience in 3D, "I'm more interested in them, I'm immersed in them. It's like a moving sculpture of the actor."

The much-lauded director of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull invariably finds links to his life as an asthmatic child in New York's Little Italy. For him, 3D is like those old Viewmaster toys that "transported you to another world." Perhaps it's not so surprising after all that this enthusiastic convert to 3D finally made his first children's film.

Tribeca seeks romance with 'Your Sister's Sister' and 'Take This Waltz'

Boy loses brother. Girl offers boy summer home to recuperate. Boy meets girl's sister, sparks fly. Complications ensue. Tribeca selection Your Sister's Sister has some great moments of comedy and truth. It's also moves quickly to the "complications ensue" part. Some twists and turns you don't ever see coming, and will have your mouth hanging open.

Mark Duplass plays Jack, who is still grieving a year after the death of his brother. His friend (who was also his brother's ex), played by Emily Blunt, offers him a family home to stay in. When he gets Your sisters sisterthere, her sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) is mourning after a breakup with her longtime partner. Though she's a lesbian, the two hook up, and are totally unprepared for the other sister's arrival the next day. Did I mention Duplass' character may have a bit of chemistry with Blunt's character, even though she dated his brother and he just had sex with her sister?

One of the things I loved most about Your Sister's Sister was the setting, a beach house in the San Juan Islands, a few hours and a long ferry ride from Seattle. It's a beautiful, remote, and austere location that perfectly fits the narrative. Having been there a few times myself, I felt both sentimental and grateful for the refreshing change of pace--no Martha's Vineyard or the Hamptons! Lynn Shelton, who received accolades for 2009 film Humpday, directs.

Your Sister's Sister does have some sections that lag. The (improvised) dialogue is real, but that also means it sometimes goes in circles or off in odd directions before moving forward. Still, this one is a "recommend" for indie film lovers because of one particularly satisfying twist and its interesting ending. It's already been picked up by IFC Films and will release June 15.

Take This Waltz also employs a love triangle, but its moments of drama and romance outweigh those of comedy. Michelle Williams plays a woman who's unhappily married to Seth Rogen, and has started to feel an attraction to her neighbor (Luke Kirby). The drama had one of the oddest narrative structures I've seen in some time. I kept waiting for the movie to end, only to realize after some time that in fact I was waiting for the second act to end--we still had a third! With an incredibly lagging middle (see the "waiting for the movie to end" part), this was a film that Take this waltz 1provoked a lot of frustration but had such a sensational point to make in its ending I forgave the movie's shortcomings. Writer/director Sarah Polley (Away From Her) doesn't make it clear if Williams' character is going through the normal boredom of an established relationship or if she's truly unhappy and a bad match with her partner. Her character doesn't seem to know, and neither does the audience. But as her character pursues a new relationship, we get to see a relationship cycle repeat itself. By the end, I was in possession of a strong opinion about Williams' character.

Although it has big-name stars, Take This Waltz has huge continuity problems that drove me mad. Williams' hair changes colors and styles between scenes. I spoke to someone in the screening who didn't notice, but I was amazed that such a huge lapse could not be addressed and fixed somehow. Now I know why so many film productions make their characters wear wigs! Take This Waltz has also been picked up for a post-festival release through Magnolia on June 29.

Check back for more Tribeca updates, which will conclude early next week.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Warner Bros. and Disney host exciting previews at CinemaCon

If the goal of the CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas is to heighten anticipation for the studios' upcoming movie slates, then mission accomplished. All six major studios are represented at the show this year with product previews, and on Tuesday it was Warner Bros. and Disney's turn to show off their wares.

In 2011, Warner Bros. celebrated its third year in a row tallying $4 billion in global box office, and the upcoming movies it highlighted augur another tremendous year. First up was Tim Burton to Dark-shadows-movie-still-story-toppresent the extended trailer for Dark Shadows, which looks like an awful lot of fun. Burton recalled running home from school to watch the original supernatural daytime TV soap opera, which he blamed for "a generation of bad students" neglecting their homework. He admitted that he and eight-time collaborator Johnny Depp share "a strange love of weird cult phenomena," and then brought to the stage a reticent-looking Depp, who said all of two words: "Have fun."

Next was Dark Knight Rises writer-director Christopher Nolan, who recalled his visit to Dark knightCinemaCon predecessor ShoWest in 2010 to preview Inception, which he humbly admitted must have seemed like "high-end gibberish" at the time. Nolan's $2.5 billion track record at the worldwide box office has allowed him to "craft a large-scale conclusion" to his Batman series, and to "finish it in the biggest way possible." "We're partners in putting on a show," he told exhibitors, offering the equivalent of "many thousands of live performances." For the CinemaCon audience, Nolan prepared a montage of scenes from The Dark Knight Rises that promised a movie filled with both action and stunning visual spectacle.

Rock of Ages director Adam Shankman began his intro confessing he wanted to be Chris Nolan. "You fucker!" he marveled at the preceding montage. "That's badass shit!" Shankman then described going to the Broadway production of the hit '80s hard-rock musical and noticing that every straight man in the audience was singing along and knew all the words. He predicted Rock of Ages would be the first movie musical that straight men will take their girlfriends to see.

Jay Roach, director of the Austin Powers and Fockers franchises, is back with The Campaign, a comedy co-starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as rival candidates for U.S. Congress who get down and dirty. Judging by the raucous reaction to the trailer, this looks like a potential comedy blockbuster. The timing in this election year is perfect--perhaps too perfect. As Roach noted, during the making of the film,"we kept checking the Internet to see if we were still as funny as the real-life stuff."

Greeting the audience on tape was Baz Luhrmann, director of the new 3D version of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan. This may not be a literary adaptation for purists, but, like Luhrmann's wild take on Romeo and Juliet, it looks like a lavish, ultra-stylish treatment that fully justifies the unexpected third dimension for a romantic drama.

Warner's preview ended with a moment of movie history: ten minutes of scenes from The_Hobbit_FilmPeter Jackson's The Hobbit, the first digital 3D feature shot at 48 frames per second (versus the standard 24 frames). The New Zealand landscapes were incredibly sharp, and more intimate scenes looked hyper-real. (In fact, I overheard some viewers griping that the images looked more like high-def TV than a movie.) The 48 FPS future is nearly here: The enhanced Hobbit opens in select engagements this December.

Tim Burton was back for the Disney preview event, showing a very amusing classroom scene from Frankenweenie-trailerFrankenweenie, his 3D stop-motion feature version of his own early live-action short about a young boy who reanimates his dead pet dog a la Dr. Frankenstein. And so was Johnny Depp, accompanying producer Jerry Bruckheimer to talk up The Lone Ranger, which also re-teams them with Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski. This time, Depp had just a few more words to say, admitting that Jay Silverheels, the original actor who played the Masked Man's Indian sidekick Tonto, might not approve of Depp's interpretation.

Depp and Bruckheimer's appearance was preceded by a surprise visit from Kermit the Frog on a cardboard horse, putting in his bid to play the Lone Ranger, and Miss Piggy emerging from the opposite end of the stage to demand a role in Disney's Oz: The Great and Powerful. Disney production president Sean Bailey told them the roles were already cast, but reassured them with the official news that there will be a Muppets II.

Talking up Oz were director Sam Raimi, producer Joe Roth, and stars James Franco and Mila Kunis. Roth, a onetime Disney chairman and producer of the mega-hit Alice in Wonderland, called Oz "more Disney than any film I can remember." The prequel shows how the Wizard, the Wicked Witch and Glinda the Good Witch evolved into the characters we know from the 1939 classic, with Kunis turning bad after she's dumped by Franco's character, a con man/magician. "A woman gets her heart broken and she goes craaazy," Kunis told the crowd.

Pixar co-founder and Disney Animation chief John Lasseter took over the final portion of the program, first previewing a highly original and delightful-looking new feature from Walt Disney Animation, Wreck-It Ralph, which explores the secret lives of videogame characters. Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly (who also appeared on stage), is an 8-bit villain from the dawn of videogames who longs to break out of his designated identity and do something good and heroic. Directed by Rich Moore of "Futurama," this looks like a major crowd-pleaser.

Lasseter also gave us a first glimpse at the 3D version of Finding Nemo, which looked sensational with the added dimension--like a giant fish tank up on the big screen. The 3D trailer for Monsters University, the prequel to Monsters Inc. (also getting a 3D reboot), earned big laughs, and Lasseter revealed that Pixar's dinosaur project (due May 30, 2014) finally has a title, The Good Dinosaur, and that there's a new project in the works about the eerie Mexican holiday called Dia de los Muertes, from Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich.

As a final treat, CinemaCon got to see the first half-hour of Pixar's next release, the Scottish adventure Brave, and it's another meticulous and masterly effort from this remarkable studio. In related news, Dolby revealed that Brave will be the first feature to go out with its new, highly immersive audio format Dolby Atmos, on 15 test screens.

Morgan Spurlock's 'Mansome' a disappointing foray into male grooming

Morgan Spurlock's latest documentary, Mansome, will go down as one of the director's lesser works. Spurlock's non-fiction films are usually full of laughs and quirky insights.  At the Tribeca Film Festival screening I attended, I heard only a smattering of chuckles. Compare that to his product placement movie, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, which had me doubled over in laughter from start to finish. Mansome rarely goes beyond clichés, a real disappointment for Spurlock's fans, including myself.

Mansome 2Ostensibly about male grooming, Mansome mainly focuses on beards and mustaches, with some commentary on back hair thrown in. Spurlock also intercuts the story with a "day at the spa" sequence featuring Jason Bateman and Will Arnett joking around in facial masques. Spurlock now has the cachet to attract big stars from rock bands and famous bearded folk like Zach Galifianakis and Judd Apatow, but they don't add that much to the story. By relying on celebrities to do the heavy lifting and make jokes, Spurlock misses an opportunity to explore his subject beyond the easy punchlines. I also noticed that Ben Silverman, who Spurlock named as a tireless advocate of product placement in The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, has an executive producer credit in the film, going from being a corporate enemy to a co-producer. Perhaps he's responsible for the segment on the product "Fresh Balls," which aims to solve dampness issues in men's groins.

There's so much to say about male grooming from a cultural perspective, but Spurlock barely scratches the surface. Aside from a few comments from a sociologist, he never gets into the "whys" behind male grooming trends or delves into the social signaling behind a scruffy beard or waxed eyebrows. He also doesn't include any gay perspectives in the documentary. Certainly a segment of the gay community takes grooming very seriously. I've heard the argument before that put-together gay men have influenced straight men to step up their own approach to male grooming, but Mansome 1Spurlock doesn't address this or any other interplay between straight and gay grooming.

He does tackle one illuminating subject: male wrestlers. The epitome of a certain kind of masculinity, these pro wrestlers shave their bodies completely, tan, and focus immensely on the size and appearance of their muscular bodies. It's the kind of vain attention most men avoid admitting to, yet their manliness is never in question.

Mansome's failure to tackle subjects of gender, masculinity, and sexual orientation are only accented by the film's lack of historical perspective. Certainly male grooming was a preoccupation of the likes of Louis XIV and his contemporaries, who wore wigs and high heels. Vague, obvious references to male grooming occurring since the "beginning of time" or allusions to a long history of beard-growing do little to provide this historical perspective. The documentary jumps around without providing a thesis to tie things together. Spurlock's name recognition could give Mansome decent play on-demand or via Netflix, but it's unlikely to have more than a cursory theatrical release.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Paramount celebrates 100 years with a surprise appearance from 'The Dictator'

The National Association of Theatre Owners' second annual CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas opened Monday with special "International Day" activities underlining the increasing importance of the overseas markets to the Hollywood studios. Breakfast keynote speaker Veronika Kwan Vandenberg, president of international distribution at Warner Bros. Pictures, noted that 2011's foreign box-office tally of $13.5 billion was 30% ahead of the U.S., and pointed to the phenomenal growth in markets like Brazil, Russia and China (the latter soaring from $400 million in box-office takings to $2 billion in a mere five years, with $5 billion predicted by 2015).

International Day lunch honored Universal veteran Jack Ledwith, Hoyts Entertainment CEO Delfin Fernandez, and visionary Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov, director of the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Lincoln producer Tim Burton was on hand to introduce Bekbambetov and praise his visual imagination, declaring, "I can't think of any better director to make a movie about an American president than a Russian." Bekmambetov said receiving the honor was "a special moment for me," since he doesn't expect to win any critics' prizes. "I make movies for the audience."

The show officially kicked off on Monday night with a special program celebrating Paramount Pictures' 100th anniversary and previewing their lineup for 2012. Called "franchise Viagra" by G.I. Joe: Retaliation director Jon Chu, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson appeared to accept the Gi-joe-retaliation-rCinemaCon "Action Star of the Decade" award. That celebrity sighting was followed by Chris Rock's very enthusiastic introduction of 25 minutes from Madagascar 3, which he promised would be the biggest hit of the summer, despite competition from "crap" like The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Returns. Rock  likened the wild 3D visuals of the movie, showcased in a surreal circus production number set to Katy Perry's hit song "Firework," to the work of Salvador Dali and David LaChappelle.

Tom Cruise appeared on tape to promote his upcoming action film One Shot, based on the bestselling book series by Lee Childs. Cruise admitted he doesn't quite match the towering height of Childs' protagonist Jack Reacher, but "Lee felt I was the guy who could drive fast cars and kick the shit out of people." The two clips screened, a five-on-one fight scene and a fierce car chase, were highly effective and muscular, with Cruise persuasively filling the shoes of the kind of hardened anti-hero Clint Eastwood used to play in the '70s. It looks like the Cruise comeback in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was not a fluke.

The big surprise of the evening was Sacha Baron Cohen's march down the aisle of the Caesars Sacha-Baron-Cohen-the-Dictator-2012Palace Colosseum in his white military regalia as his newest character, The Dictator. Saying he was happy to be at "Cinnabon," Baron Cohen proceeded to make irreverent jokes at the expense of DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg ("I thought I was the only dictator in the house"), John Carter, and recently fired Disney chief Rich Ross ("In my country they just shoot the executives. Oh wait, you did.") The Dictator screened for the first time at a local Rave cinema following Paramount's after-party, so web reports should be streaming in soon whether Baron Cohen's behavior on screen is as outrageous as his antics at Caesars.

'Think Like a Man' sails to first place

Scoring a number of bests for its distributor, Screen Gems, Think Like a Man exceeded expectations with a $33 million opening, made all the more impressive by the romantic comedy's limited, 2,015-screen count. This is Screen Gems' best opening for a release targeted to black Think like a man groupaudiences. It also bested the opening of all but one of Lionsgate's Tyler Perry movies. The ensemble comedy, based on a book by Steve Harvey, earned raves from its audiences, too, who marked off the "A" rating in CinemaScore exit polls.

In second place, The Lucky One opened to $22.8 million, in line with previous Nicholas Sparks adaptations. This romantic drama will restore Zac Efron's star power, which had come into question after he followed up "High School Musical" and 17 Again with the disappointing $12 Efron little boy lucky onemillion opening of Charlie St. Cloud.  Three-quarters of the audience was female, and half were under 25.

The Hunger Games finally fell from its top spot to third with $10.2 million. Playing in just over 1,000 locations, the hit dipped just 31%, an impressive hold that brought the box-office success past the $350 million mark.

The loveable apes in Chimpanzee scored the Disneynature release its best three-day opening yet. With $10.2 million, the family- Chimpanzee hugtargeted nature documentary did well over its Earth Day release. Even with strong marks from moviegoers, which gave it an "A" CinemaScore rating, the doc's novelty may wear off, especially with plenty of nature-themed material readily available on television.

The Bob Marley documentary Marley earned $260,000. That gave the release, which opened on the stoner holiday of 4/20, a per-screen average of $6,000. The movie was simultaneously available on Facebook and on-demand, though figures for those outlets are kept under wraps.

Darling Companion, which targeted older independent moviegoers with its canine-centered tale, earned $11,000 per screen in four locations. The drama, which stars Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline, did so-so for a specialty film, especially given the stature of its two stars and the woof factor, which is usually a sure-fire way to bring in animal lovers.

This Friday, the romantic comedy The Five-Year Engagement will go up against the action-filled Safe, the thriller The Raven, and the stop-motion animated family film The Pirates! Band of Misfits.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tribeca odd couple: Robert De Niro and Judd Apatow

The Tribeca Film Festival paired up an odd couple for its Thursday afternoon salute to Universal Pictures’ 100th anniversary: Festival co-founder and screen icon Robert De Niro and top comedy auteur Judd Apatow. (The duo might have seemed less incongruous if the third announced panelist, Meryl Streep, hadn’t cancelled due to a family illness.)

Moderator Michael Fleming of Deadline Hollywood began the discussion by focusing on one of De Niro’s 12 films for Universal, 1978 Best Picture Oscar winner The Deer Hunter, leading Apatow to wonder how Fleming was going to ‘transition from Deer Hunter to Knocked Up.” “There’s no way I don’t look like a jackass,” he admitted.

Apatow made the tenuous connections between himself and De Niro a recurring comedic theme, but there was at least one wholly valid one: The sketch that helped co-creator Apatow get the green light for the early 1990s Fox series “Ben Stiller Show” was a parody of De Niro’s psychopathic turn in Cape Fear, with Stiller as Eddie Munster in “Cape Munster.”

Surveying the Universal output through the years, Apatow noted that he’s a “gigantic John Hughes fan,” and also praised De Niro’s own Midnight Run as one of the all-time great odd-couple comedies. (De Niro confirmed that a sequel is in development in which he would be paired with the son of the Charles Grodin character.)

The invariably taciturn De Niro could only respond “I just don’t know” several times when asked his feelings about the growing trend toward watching movies on laptops and smart-phones, but Apatow had a mischievous answer that won’t be welcomed by theatre owners: “Anything that allows me to watch a film while going to the bathroom is awesome.”

De Niro did surprise when queried about the fabled “golden age” of independent-minded studio films of the 1970s: “I see many more independent films now than when I started out.” The star of Raging Bull and Taxi Driver feels there may actually be more funding options and diversity in the new millennium’s indie world.

My next blog post will be from the CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas. More Tribeca coverage this week from Screener correspondent Sarah Sluis.

Friday, April 20, 2012

'The Lucky One' and 'Think Like a Man' vie for date-night audiences

Best-selling author Nicholas Sparks has a solid track record at the movie box office, and it should remain unsullied by the release of The Lucky One (3,155 theatres). Starring Zac Efron as a former ex-soldier and the newbie Taylor Schiller as the object of his affection, the romance is "good-looking but hollow," according to our critic Daniel Eagan. The "smoothly entertaining but Lucky one efron schillingeasily forgettable" love story sounds like just the kind of undemanding film suitable for a girls' night out or date night. The PG rating and presence of former tween star Efron should draw in younger audiences in particular. Experts predict an opening north of $20 million.

Although it's opening in only two-thirds of the locations of The Lucky One, Think Like a Man (2,015 theatres) could be the underdog that makes big. The "astute, contemporary romantic comedy," as described by THR's Michael Rechtshaffen, has been picking up steam. It may earn in the mid-twenty millions, surpassing the military romance many Think like  a man chris brown meagan good have seen as the front-runner. Based on Steve Harvey's book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, the comedy follows in the footsteps of other advice books-turned-movies, like He's Just Not That Into You. With a primarily black cast, the comedy should do particularly well among the same demographic, which is known for turning out on opening weekend. That could bring the release to the top spot.

A couple of films this week are taking advantage of holidays, both official and unofficial. Chimpanzee (1,563 theatres) is a Disneynature release timed to Earth Day, Chimpanzee father sonwhich is this Sunday. The first of the four Earth Day films, 2009's Oceans, opened to $8 million and earned four times that in total. Last year's African Cats opened to just $6 million and finished with just double that figure. Apes are more personable and relatable than cats, so Chimpanzee could end up doing slightly better than last year's offering. The nature docs are designed to tell family stories that appeal to kids, so "anthropomorphism can get heavy-handed, [and] the family values of teamwork and loyalty sometimes overstated," according to critic Marsha McCreadie. Parents may prefer "Planet Earth," but their kids will probably adore the Disneynature version.

Today is also 4/20, the celebrated stoner holiday, so what better day to release Marley (45 Bob marley doctheatres), a documentary about the famous reggae musician Bob Marley, who also liked to partake in Jamaica's intoxicating crop. McCreadie calls it a "benchmark" and "must-see," even though she also harbors some reservations, noting that at the end of the long movie, "you are in the paradoxical position of wanting less movie, more Marley." The Magnolia release will open day-and-date with Facebook, so the industry will be watching to see the impact that has on the doc's theatrical release.

 On Monday, we'll see if The Lucky One or Think Like a Man clinched the top spot, and if the topical Earth Day and 4/20 releases attracted their respective audiences.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Keanu Reeves’ digital-vs.-film doc is a Tribeca must-see

The 11th annual Tribeca Film Festival kicked off last night in Manhattan with the premiere of the Jason Segel-Emily Blunt comedy The Five-Year Engagement, and it will be closing with one of the summer’s most anticipated blockbusters, the Marvel Comics spectacle The Avengers. But in between, the festival gets down to more serious business, offering an eclectic showcase for independent features, foreign-language titles, and intriguing documentaries.

This year, under the guidance of a new programming team consisting of artistic director Frédéric Boyer (formerly of the Cannes Directors Fortnight), chief creative officer Geoff Gilmore and programming director Genna Terranova, the fest is screening a more selective 90 features, down from about 150 two years ago.

I’ve only seen a small sampling of Tribeca entries so far, but already I can recommend three outstanding documentaries. The Revisionaries is an intimate look at the effort by Texas social Revisionaries-3conservatives to include creationism in the state’s science textbooks, an initiative with nationwide implications because Texas is such a huge market for textbook publishers and one of the few where the state vets every purchase. A key figure in Scott Thurman’s documentary is Don McLeroy, a genial dentist who serves as chairman of the state board of education and sincerely believes that men and dinosaurs walked the Earth at the same time. After much wrangling over language, the creationists agree to a compromise that’s more of a win for their side. Then it’s on to the next battleground: Texas’ history textbooks. The eye-opening Revisionaries proves the culture wars are alive and thriving, and the classic play Inherit the Wind is as timely as ever.

While The Revisionaries may leave you outraged, Searching for Sugar Man will have you walking Searching_for_sugar_manon air—and probably humming a few of its songs. Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary is the amazing story of Sixto Rodriguez, a Detroit folksinger who released two flop albums in 1970 and ’71, never to be heard from again. Except, that is, in South Africa where, decades before social media, his music became a word-of-mouth sensation among young white liberals and his popularity rivaled that of Elvis. The film is a mystery story, a history of South African protest, and a sobering look at the vagaries of success and failure in the recording business. The saga of Rodriguez, which promises to keep evolving with Sony Pictures Classics’ July release of the film and America’s discovery of his very special music, will surely be one of the most memorable delights of this year’s Tribeca Fest.

For this website’s readers who work in motion picture production and exhibition, an absolute Tribeca must-see is Side by Side, director Chris Kenneally and producer Keanu Reeves’ Side_by_sidedocumentary on the monumental changes happening in the movie world because of digital technology. Reeves has conducted interviews with an impressive array of directors, cinematographers, editors, actors, lab specialists and executives, including Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, David Fincher, David Lynch, George Lucas, Steven Soderbergh, Danny Boyle, Andy and Lana Wachowski, Vittorio Storaro, Ellen Kuras and Vilmos Zsigmond.

Side by Side provides a great primer on how the technologies of film-based photography and digital capture differ, and how digital has impacted so many aspects of the moviemaking process, from production to post-production, editing, color correction, visual effects and presentation in cinemas. The artists run the gamut from true believers in digital like Fincher, Lucas and Soderbergh to film purists like Christopher Nolan and his DP Wally Pfister. Fincher is one of the most opinionated folks on screen, dismissing the “voodoo” of cinematographers who argue for the alchemy of film and lamenting “the betrayal of the dailies,” when it’s too late to rectify on-set mistakes. Pfister is just as militant for the other side, viewing the embrace of digital cinematography as trading “oil paints for crayons.”

John Malkovich praises the speed and flexibility of digital production: “As fast as you can get back to your position, you can go again.” But Fincher has a hilarious story about Robert Downey, Jr.’s anguish over the lengthy shooting sessions enabled by digital cameras during production of Zodiac; as a symbol of protest over filming scenes without a break, Downey left behind several mason jars of urine on the set.

Martin Scorsese seems torn. He’s excited by this “reinvention of a new medium,” but he’s also nostalgic for the days when editing pieces of celluloid literally left “blood in the film.” And shortly after James Cameron reminds us that not one foot of Avatar was shot in a real jungle, Scorsese wonders, “Is the younger generation going to believe anything is real?”

Digital is a big topic, and Side by Side also provides a brief history of how digital visual effects have evolved (with Cameron seemingly there every step of the way, from The Abyss to Avatar) and the incredible strides made by digital cameras from the days of the murky Dogme 95 films to a production like The Social Network.

Certainly, digital projection has improved the experience in cinemas, eliminating scratches, tears and jump-and-weave and providing a pristine image in the 20th week of a movie’s run. (Cameron recalls how prints of Titanic fell apart in projection booths because the movie had such a long run in cinemas.)

But not everything is rosy. What about archiving and preservation? One technician notes that, to date, there have been 80 different video formats—and most of them can’t be played on today’s equipment.

It’s not unusual for a movie to spark lively conversations, but with Side by Side (opening in cinemas in August), the post-screening debates will be all about the movies and where they’re headed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2010 Best Director nominees--where are they now?

Usually, an Oscar nomination--and especially an Oscar win--launches the honorees into a career stratosphere. The actors are cast in the next big projects, and the directors can afford to be picky about their next films. Although I've seen most of the 2010 acting nominees in a couple of movies since, only one of the 2010 directing nominees has released a new film. However, most of them are working on new projects, and two of them have films coming out this year. Let's check in: Where are they now?

Kathryn Bigelow (winner, Best Directing Oscar for The Hurt Locker). Bigelow beat her ex, James Cameron, for the Oscar and became the first female to win the directing honor. The Academy just can't pass up on creating a good story, can it? Bigelow's actually the furthest along of Kathryn Bigelowthe bunch. Her film, Zero Dark Thirty, has a release date, December 19, 2012, and a distributor, Columbia. The military actioner centers on the Navy SEALS who take down Osama Bin Laden.

James Cameron (nominee, Avatar). Cameron went deep-sea diving. He converted Titanic to 3D. However, what audiences want most--a sequel to Avatar--may not be coming anytime soon. He and producer Jon Landau also just pushed back the release date of Avatar 2 from December 2014 to sometime in the future after that. That means there will be at least a six-year lag between the first film and its sequel, a bummer for fans who want to explore more of Pandora. (Word is the second film will dive down to the planet's oceans).

Darren Aronofsky (nominee, Black Swan). Since the success of his dark ballerina thriller, Aronofsky has mulled over three different biopics. He's currently casting Noah, with Russell Crowe in the lead role, so it appears the Biblical epic will go first. He's also considered directing Get Happy, a Judy Garland biopic with Anne Hathaway attached to star. Now comes word that Paramount may acquire The General, an Unforgiven-style biopic of our nation's first president, George Washington. He's obviously trying to find the most perfect follow-up project, but I hope he Darren-Aronofskygets moving. Whatever he does, it's guaranteed to be original.

Jason Reitman (nominee, Up in the Air). Reitman is the only one of the group who has directed an original feature since his nomination. Young Adult, which came courtesy of screenwriter Diablo Cody and star Charlize Theron, was fantastic (in my opinion), but it did so-so both at the box office and at the awards circuit. I applaud Reitman for churning out projects while maintaining his sensibility--he tends to mix dark comedy with poignant moments, and I like films like that. He just cast his child lead for his next project, Labor Day. The adaptation of a novel by Joyce Maynard centers on a single mom (Kate Winslet) who gives a convict (Josh Brolin) a ride, leading to a relationship. It's filming this summer, and it will probably be out before Aronofsky's film.

Lee Daniels (nominee, Precious). Daniels' next film is The Paperboy, which IMDB lists as having a November 21, 2012, release date, but no major distributor. However, the thriller may show up at the Cannes Film Festival, and everyone will find out if it packs the wallop of Precious. The story centers on a newspaper reporter who goes to Florida to try to free an inmate on death row. Things start getting complicated when his younger brother, who is also working on the case, develops a relationship with a woman who has been corresponding with the inmate. He also has The Butler in the works, the story of a black White House butler who served eight U.S. presidents.

Each of these directors has likely had their pick of projects. Will they all deliver?


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Trayvon Martin case spurs related movie project

The investigation of the murder of Trayvon Martin may be in too early stages to be turned into a movie, but, sadly, there are plenty of other cases like his. The 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant by a police officer on the BART near San Francisco is yet another case like Trayvon's. In both instances, OscarGrant
people have argued that the shooters saw a young black male and pulled the trigger, without figuring out what was really going on.

The indie drama Fruitvale has lined up Octavia Spencer, fresh off her Oscar win, to play Grant's mother, and Michael B. Jordan (Chronicle, "Friday Night Lights") to star as Grant. The movie will follow Grant on the day of the shooting. Forest Whitaker is producing, and the newbie Ryan Coogler will earn his first feature writing and directing credit for the project.

The deal only just came together in the wake of the publicity of the Martin case, and filming will begin quickly--in just a couple of months. Certainly the press surrounding the other case must have helped the filmmakers pull the financing together and nab Spencer in the casting. This could be seen as a callous capitalization on current events, but in this case, I don't think so. Hollywood tends to shy away from the topic of race. When such issues are addressed, they're often criticized. Some of those criticisms--too soft, reductive, stereotypical-can be spot-on, but they can also have a silencing effect. No one wants to be accused of being called racist.

Fruitvale will have to succeed as a drama first, and a message film second, but the subject matter could illuminate much about race in America that is rarely shown on the silver screen.


Monday, April 16, 2012

'The Hunger Games' tops the box office for the fourth week in a row

The Hunger Games is the first movie to top the box office four weeks in a row since Avatar. Posting its strongest hold yet, the futuristic action movie dipped just 35% for a total of $21.5 million. The megahit has earned $337 million to date. That figure has already topped the lifetime domestic gross of 2010's Alice in Wonderland, another March release that showed the power of the pre-Spring Break box office placement.

Three stooges high placeDebuting in second place, The Three Stooges earned $17.1 million. Audiences under the 18 were the biggest fans of the trio's antics, giving the comedy an "A" CinemaScore. Despite a marketing campaign that urged women to send their men to see the movie, 42% of the audience was female, indicating that the marketing team may have missed the mark in viewing the humor as male-centric.

The Cabin in the Woods ended up on the high side of expectations with a $14.8 million finish. Even though the movie received a 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes from critics, and an 81% positive rating from the site's viewers, it fell flat in exit polls, receiving just a "C" rating. Marketing that didn't clarify Cabin in the woods mirrorthis was a "different" horror movie is taking the blame. Audiences expecting a normal scarefest apparently didn't like being thrown for a loop.

Titanic 3D sunk just 32% from last week for a total of $11.6 million. Abroad, it's doing even better, particularly in China. There, the film has earned an astonishing $58 million--a further sign that the nation is becoming one of the top foreign markets.

Audiences got straightforward action with Lockout, but there weren't many takers, and the Luc Besson-produced picture earned a middling $6.2 million in a ninth-place finish.

Lockout grating guy pearceThe documentary Bully averaged $3,380 per screen as it expanded into 158 theatres, for a total just over half a million dollars. That average is higher than many films in the top ten, making it a successful doc, but not a blockbuster--at least not yet.

The Raid: Redemption tried to parlay its rave reviews into a wider release. Although it earned $1 million, the action movie's per-screen average of $1,100 was extremely weak.

This Friday, the soldier-civilian romance The Lucky One will attempt to woo Zac Efron fans, Disney celebrates Earth Day with Chimpanzee, and Think Like a Man will mix romance with comedy.

Friday, April 13, 2012

'Three Stooges' and 'Cabin in the Woods' will try to top 'Hunger Games'

By releasing in relatively quiet March, which usually has room for one big blockbuster, The Hunger Games has been able to plow over the competition and keep the number one spot for three weeks in a row. Now the futuristic kids-fighting-to-the-death picture has a chance at winning for the fourth week in a row--as long as it isn't topped by The Three Stooges. The Hunger Games is on track to earn around $18 million, which is just above the estimates for the two wide releases this weekend.

Larry, Curly, and Moe bring their classic shtick to the modern age in The Three Stooges (3,477 Three stooges runningtheatres). It's hard to top the original, iconic comedic trio, and critic Maitland McDonagh feels the gags "come off as awkward imitations rather than organic reinterpretations." The Farrelly Brothers, who directed, clearly adore the comedians (Have you noticed that Jim Carrey sports Moe's haircut in the directors' hit Dumb and Dumber?) but this is a "misbegotten attempt to revive the anarchic slapstick antics of the trio," McDonagh declares. Still, if any film will beat Hunger Games, it's The Three Stooges.

The Cabin in the Woods (2,811 theatres) is one of the rare films that was shelved for three years and is actually really good, not really bad. Horror films rarely collect raves from critics, but this Joss Whedon-produced picture is currently tracking 92% positive on Rotten Tomatoes. However, genre-bending films like Kick-Ass have a record of delighting fanboys while alienating the masses. Some predict the horror flick will top out at $8-9 million, while other prognosticators think it will earn twice as much. A "wider Cabin in the woods chainaudience deserves to find The Cabin in the Woods," McDonagh declares. But will they come?

A "so-so action outing from the Luc Besson factory," Lockout (2,308 theatres) "will have trouble attracting anyone besides die-hard action fans," according to critic Daniel Eagan. That may explain why the movie's weekend estimate is hovering Lockout wahlberg gunsomewhere around $7 million. Although it melds together a couple of cool concepts--A prison in space! A kidnapped President's daughter!--"concept tops execution."

The Weinstein Co. finally capitulated and made a few edits to their documentary Bully, though they buried that information deep into their press release. The PG-13-rated film will expand to 55 locations this week. If this documentary can pick up on even a fraction of the publicity devoted to the topic, it will do quite well. Much-lauded Indonesian action flick The Raid: Redemption continues its expansion, moving into over 650 theatres.

On Monday we'll return to see if comedy, horror, or The Hunger Games ruled over the box office.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bob Marley doc 'Marley' will release day-and-date on Facebook

Don't expect a film from a major studio to release day-and-date theatrically and on-demand anytime soon. The theatrical window has strong forces protecting it, and too many people are worried that change will drive people away from theatres forever. However, small distributors, who often screen their films in independent theatres, have been pursuing day-and-date VOD releases for a few years now. IFC, particularly, has aggressively pursued the on-demand strategy. Considering the distributor also owns theatres, it can't be all bad for the exhibition side of its business.

So it makes sense that the Magnolia release Marley, a documentary about the reggae musician  Bob Bob marleyMarley, will be the first to be available for day-and-date rental on Facebook. Posters of the famous reggae musician are standard-issue in college dorms, and Facebook has a hold on the youth audience. College students are also less likely to have televisions, and be more open to streaming the film on their computer. Additionally, I bet there a few people who'd like to watch the documentary at home while imbibing in the substance for which the musician is famous--and brag about it on Facebook later. The Facebook rentals will be $6.99, compared to about $12 each for a movie ticket. For those that want to watch the movie on their television, on-demand will be an option too.

Ironically, even though such simultaneous releases shatter the theatrical window, they also profit from it. People won't pay $6.99 to rent a movie once it's on DVD, but they will pay that much to see a movie that's "only in theatres." Couldn't this system just fall apart if too many movies become available concurrently with their release? Simultaneous release can and will be destructive to the traditional theatrical model. Theatres provide something tangible--a big screen, comfy seats, a communal experience--in addition to the intangible. By seeing a movie "first," you get to be the one to talk about it to your friends first, and you won't be left out of the conversation. You also don't have to delay gratification--you can enjoy a "must-see" film right away. On-demand releases charge more because of the intangibles, not the tangibles. You can even add another intangible, "convenience," to the list as well, since parents of young children or people who live far away from movie theatres would get more value out of the experience. Simultaneous releases will only get more popular and continue to evolve. Will they be symbiotic with the theatrical model, or will they devour it?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Two competing films doing a 'Die Hard' in the White House

Die Hard had such a good premise, it's been copied countless times by Hollywood. In 1994, Speed added motion to the equation with its "Die Hard on a bus," and yet another series of films was spawned, with all manner of moving vehicles, including subways, trains, and Air Force One, becoming the sites for hostage situations. Although the 1997 Harrison Ford action film has already placed the President in a hostage situation, Hollywood appears anxious to put our nation's leader in White housejeopardy again. Now two Hollywood projects plan to inject the Die Hard premise into the White House.

NuImage/Millennium Entertainment is at work putting together Olympus Has Fallen. Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) may direct the project, and Gerard Butler is already attached to star as a secret service agent who must prevent a terrorist attack on the White House. The production company acquired the script from newbie writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt just months ago. With a competing film in the pipeline, the company hopes to begin production in June.

White House Down, from Columbia, has Roland Emmerich (who already destroyed the White House in Independence Day) in talks to direct, and a script from hot screenwriter James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, as well as upcoming projects RoboCop, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Total Recall). Columbia paid $3 million for the script. It may not have the edge on time, but the studio has a proven screenwriter and a weighty financial commitment, indicating they are unlikely to back down if Olympus beats them to the punch.

In Hollywood, having two projects with a similar premise is the norm. If you don't have a good idea, why not steal it? Of the many similar movies that have ended up releasing, I often wonder if the better film was the original, or the one that started as a copycat. That's something only a few insiders will ever know. If two projects that are too similar move forward, though, often one ends up dropping out. That's what happened to the two competing Three Musketeers projects--only Summit's version went forward. Given that Columbia bought the script for White House Down while Olympus was already in the works--and prepping to shoot--indicates that no one is going to drop out in this game of Die Hard in the White House chicken.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Disney lands Tom Hanks for Mary Poppins film 'Saving Mr. Banks'

Tom Hanks may star as Walt Disney himself in Saving Mr. Banks. The Disney-produced film (of course) would chronicle Disney's fourteen-year effort to acquire the film rights to Mary Poppins from its Australian author, P.L. Travers. Emma Thompson would play Travers, who apparently was so unhappy with the film's animated sequences, she never sold another one of her works to the studio. I'm not sure how Disney will fit that tidbit in.

Mary poppinsThe project makes sense in regards to Disney's overall strategy, which is to focus on projects that can be leveraged across all of its different areas of business. The movie could spur people to revisit Mary Poppins (both the 1964 movie and Disney’s Broadway stage production) and buy a copy of the film for their kids, nieces and nephews, etc. However, it's also eyebrow-raising to see that Disney is turning the camera lens on itself. The company is notoriously protective of its brand. Could an accurate portrayal of the relationship between Travers and Disney be compromised by Disney's need to maintain a positive image? Or will it go the friendly King's Speech route, where the worst we saw of the royal family was a tepid take on the Prince Edward scandal and the stereotypical portrayal of uptight royals and customs?

One thing that concerns me about the project is its navel-gazing. Of course Hollywood people who read the script (and probably the critics that review the eventual film) will love seeing an insider portrayal of Hollywood. But will everyone else care? The Travers character might serve as the anti-Hollywood character, an outsider who takes Disney off his high horse. John Lee Hancock, who helmed The Blind Side, has signed on to direct, and that movie was a huge success with people in areas underserved by Hollywood films. Those two elements may broaden the appeal of the project. The screenwriter herself is something of an outsider. Kelly Marcel has few credits to her name, but she's Australian just like the children's author. I, too, never liked the animated sequences in Mary Poppins, so perhaps this film will deliver more than I would expect.


Monday, April 9, 2012

'Hunger Games' outshines 'American Reunion,' 'Titanic 3D'

The Hunger Games reigned at the box office for the third week. Over Passover/Easter weekend, the young-adult adaptation dipped just 43% for a total of $33.5 million. That was enough to push its domestic total past the $300 million mark, an impressive tally for the budding franchise. Director Gary Ross is currently in negotiations to work on the sequel, which has the added wrinkle of needing to work around star Jennifer Lawrence's commitment to the next X-Men Americna reunion chris klein katrina bowdenfilm and make the sequel's release date. Catching Fire is currently planned for a Thanksgiving release next year.

Jim, Stifler, Finch, and Jim's Dad were back for American Reunion, which earned $21.5 million. Given the comedy's so-so reviews, its contrived (thirteen-year high school reunion?) nature, and the series' dilution through straight-to-DVD spin-offs, the debut was impressive. People still like these characters and the series' raunchy style of comedy. Maybe there will be a 20-year reunion film in the works.

Unlike many other 3D re-releases, Titanic 3D was not marketed as a limited engagement with a Titanic kate winslettwo or three-week run. Given that, its $17.3 million weekend total (and five-day total of $25 million) is pretty good, even if it came in on the low side of expectations. The figure was enough to push the movie past its reported $18 million conversion budget. Paramount is probably looking at the long game, too, since 3D televisions have created a home entertainment market for films that require glasses to watch.

Writer/director Whit Stillman's Damsels in Distress made a respectable debut with a $16,000 per-screen average in four locations. Italian import We Have a Pope, nicely timed to Sunday's religious holiday, came up with $10,000 per screen in three locations.

The specialty category had a number of movers and shakers. The Raid: Redemption jumped by 100% more last week as it expanded from 46 to 176 locations. The Indonesian action flick averaged $3,200 per screen for a total of $565,000. Jiro Dreams of Sushi expanded from 26 to 70 locations in its fifth week of release. The sushi-making documentary averaged $3,400 per screen, a 24% increase.

This Friday will see the release of the comedy The Three Stooges, the sci-fi actioner Lockout, and the horror flick Cabin in the Woods.