Thursday, May 31, 2012

'Piranha 3DD' to release day-and-date via VOD and Facebook

On Friday, people can see Piranha 3DD in theatres. Or they can just stay at home and stream it on Facebook, iTunes, Amazon, or through their TV with VOD. Small indie films, like those from IFC and Magnolia, have been releasing day-and-date on VOD for a few years now. Dimension Films' Piranha 3DD, however, is a follow-up to 2010's Piranha 3D, which released in over 2,000 theatres. The sequel will only open in 75 theatres, making it more of a niche release--and less likely to attract the ire of the exhibition industry. Normally, theatre chains protest if a distributor tries to quickly Piranha-3DD-facebookrelease a film on-demand. In fact, they successfully derailed a plan to make Tower Heist available on-demand for $59.99 shortly after its theatrical release in October of last year. With only 75 theatres to please, however, perhaps Dimension Films was able to find enough takers.

Does this encroach on the theatrical window, or does the very nature of a limited release make VOD less threatening? Many indie distributors have embraced the extra business they've received from VOD. They see VOD as a way to sustain the indie model.

Dimension Films' distribution plan feels like a halfway point between a straight-to-video release and a theatrical release. Piranha 3DD is kind of in the same category as those American Pie straight-to-video movies. They appeal to a young audience, and it's going to be a lot easier to rent an R movie on VOD than it will be to see one in theatres. The kitschiness of this tribute to B-movies may be better enjoyed in a home environment, where people can talk and be more rowdy than they would be (I hope) in a movie theatre.

Piranha 3DD's 3D will be available for some home markets, allowing people who have bought expensive 3D televisions to try out the 3D. There are also plans to make the film watchable in old-school 3D. People will receive instructions for how to make their own 3D glasses with one red eye window and one blue eye window.

Unfortunately for those on the outside, distributors have not been forthcoming about their revenue from on-demand. We'll all know if Piranha 3DD flops at the box office, but Dimension probably won't reveal whether they busted open a gold mine with their online/at-home distribution plan.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Anne Hathaway dreams a dream in 'Les Misérables'

Universal has high hopes for Les Misérables, which they've set for a December release. The studio just released a trailer for the musical, which will likely play before the distributor's release of Snow White and the Huntsman this Friday. Perhaps trying to reel in female fans who wanted to see Snow White for Kristen Stewart, the trailer focuses on Anne Hathaway as Fantine, a downtrodden single mother.

At my first pass on the trailer, Hathaway's voice sounded raw, with audible breathes between phrases, which is usually a no-no for singers. However, Hathaway has a history of nailing live performances, including on the Oscars and in this tribute to Meryl Streep. She also sang (a cover of Queen's "Somebody to Love," why?)in Ella Enchanted, which had a full soundtrack. She's not a bad singer. So why does she sound this way? Director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) reportedly had his actors sing live on set, which produces the less polished feel. Given how over-autotuned most songs are, especially ones sung by actors who aren't the greatest singers, I appreciate that Hooper went for live-style singing. Oddly, having more authentic, oh-so slightly flawed singing will make the experience feel more like one is part of an audience watching a live performance.


Hathaway's singing is the star of the trailer, but there are a few other glimpses of the impoverished sections of early 19th-century Paris that serves as the backdrop to the epic tale. The comically evil Thénardier couple, which will be played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, are nowhere to be found, but I kind of hope they remain out of the trailers and serve as a surprise for ticket-buyers.  Les Misérables is an ensemble piece, with Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Amanda Seyfried in the leading roles, but this first trailer makes it seem like Hathaway is the film's true star.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memorial Day weekend puts 'Men in Black 3' on top

In Hollywood, you can't win everything. Men in Black 3, the first new installment of the sci-fi comedy franchise in a decade, earned $55 million over the three-day weekend and $70 million including Monday. Still, the return fell short of some predictions, which had the Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones/Josh Brolin picture earning at least $80 million. Smith's star power is Men in black iii chinese restaurant jones smithconsidered untouchable, but the less-than-thrilling opening has slightly diminished his reputation, at least in the opinion of some in the industry. Smith hasn't even been in a movie since 2008's Seven Pounds, though he's currently filming the sci-fi picture After Earth with his son Jaden.

Low-budget horror film Chernobyl Diaries made a disappointing $7.9 million over the weekend, which rose to just $9.3 Chernobyl diaries photo opmillion including Monday. At one point, it seemed like making a horror movie guaranteed a return on investment, but for every hit like Paranormal Activity or Insidious there are also flops like Apollo 18 and The Darkest Hour. Chernobyl Diaries falls into the latter category.

Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom broke the record for per-location average (for a non-animated film), finishing with $130,000 per screen. The film played in two theatres in NYC and two in LA. Judging by the hourly showtimes, the nostalgic story of young love was playing in more than one theatre in each location. Anderson's reputation undoubtedly assured a high opening weekend, but the record-breaking numbers mean this film has already been drawing in less committed Anderson fans. The release will expand into hundreds of theatres by June, but I Moonrise kingdom binocularswonder if the exceptional opening weekend will change Focus' distribution plan.

Weinstein Co.'s The Intouchables had a strong $25,000 per-screen average over the three-day weekend. The French-language, uplifting story of two friends hits straight at many indie film sensibilities, but there are already a couple of films angling to be the "indie hit of the summer," and that list won't include The Intouchables. Bernie (which averaged $85,000 per screen its opening weekend) topped $1 million for the first time this weekend, playing in 194 theatres and averaging over $5,000 per screen. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which expanded into over 1,200 theatres over the holiday weekend, did even better. The retirement-age comedy earned $6.3 million.

This Friday, Snow White and the Huntsman will attempt to unseat MIB3, and a few smaller films will aim for niche audiences.

Friday, May 25, 2012

'Men in Black 3' on track to unseat 'The Avengers'

The Avengers has been the number one film three weeks in a row. Its reign will likely come to an end after the four-day Memorial Day weekend. Men in Black 3 (4,248 theatres) has a lot going for it. It's a family-friendly hybrid of sci-fi and comedy, it's gotten more positive reviews than negative, and it stars Will Smith, who always draws in crowds. The fact that it's a "3" is a bit of a liability, but the movie's fun, original concept, which involves time travel and Josh Brolin playing a Men in black iii will smith josh brolinyoung Tommy Lee Jones, should help quiet some of the naysayers.  FJI critic Daniel Eagan praises the sci-fi blockbuster, which is "about as idiosyncratic and rewarding as the genre gets." Insiders predict an $80 million plus opening for MIB3 domestically. Combined with overseas receipts, it could earn over $200 million. Plus, the movie is being offered in 3D, which will boost receipts even higher.

Chernobyl Diaries (2,433 theatres) comes from Paranormal Activity producer Oren Peli. The horror flick centers on a group of young people who decide to visit the still-radioactive site of Chernobyl, only to end up under attack from either mutants or ghosts (the trailers have been opaque). Early reviews from critics Chernobyl diaries power plant have been more negative than positive, but that usually doesn't have much of an impact on films in the horror genre. Commercials have been running heavily on youth outlets like MTV, but Paramount will be lucky if the horror movie cracks $20 million.

Wes Anderson fans can rejoice with Moonrise Kingdom (4 theatres), the eclectic director's latest. The tale of two 12-year-olds who fall in love and run away together on a remote East Coast island is filled with charm and is my favorite Anderson film since Moonrise kingdom jared gilman kara haywardRushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. Anderson fan and FJI critic Kevin Lally agrees, noting that the two young leads "bring real heart to Anderson’s cool, studied, hipper-than-thou universe, making this one of his most accessible and gratifying divertissements." The quirky romance will undoubtedly debut with off-the-charts per-screen averages, given Anderson's reputation. Its real test will be in weeks to come, when the well of Anderson fans dries up and it will need to "win some converts among those who’ve resisted his hermetic style," something Lally sees as a possibility.

The Intouchables (4 theatres) was a smash hit in France. The "feel-good picture of the year," according to critic Rex Roberts, centers on the relationship between a wealthy paraplegic and his Intouchables wheelchairSenegalese caretaker, both of whom are changed by their relationship with each other. Roberts declared it "an endearing testament to human resilience and empathy." The light, uplifting premise should make it an easy choice among Francophiles and other indie audiences.

Fox Searchlight, which has enjoyed an immensely successful release of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, will expand its release to 1,233 theatres this weekend, four weeks into its release.

On Tuesday, we'll see if MIB3 lived up to its expectations, and how much the films benefited from their extra day of returns.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

First look at Baz Luhrmann's 'The Great Gatsby'

The most important thing about a Baz Luhrmann movie is seeing it. Although a few cast photos circulated of Carey Mulligan in '20s gear, that's nothing compared to the visual feast that's present in the trailer for The Great Gatsby. Warner Bros. has high hopes for the adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, giving it a prime Dec. 25 release date. As a big fan of Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, it looks like there will be plenty more sumptuous costumes, extravagant party scenes, and emotionally charged moments. Though the online trailer is in 2D, the film itself will release in both 2D and 3D. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jay Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, and Carey Mulligan as Daisy.

I love how Luhrmann's vision of the '20s isn't real, but hyperreal. Times Square is covered with more neon than the actual Times Square, an achievement in itself. It's also worth noting that, in a historical nod to the Harlem jazz clubs that were so popular during Prohibition, he includes black faces in his tale--too often historical pictures are lily-white.

The Australian-born Luhrmann is coming off a flop, Australia, but that film didn't have the supercharged visuals of his previous hits, Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet. I have a feeling that this film will be a megahit--and become a popular shortcut for high school students ducking their sophomore reading list.

Here's the trailer:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Charting the similarities between 'Hyde Park on Hudson' and 'The King's Speech

Even the indie world can have copycats. The critical and, more importantly, box-office success of The King's Speech in 2010 has spawned at least one imitator: Hyde Park on Hudson. Keeping with the light, uplifting tone of The King's Speech, the project stars Bill Murray as FDR. The historical movie focuses on one weekend, during which the King of England made his first visit to America and stopped by FDR's country home, Hyde Park on Hudson.

The picture won't come out until December 7, but the trailer for the Focus release debuted yesterday. I took a look at the trailer and documented some of the similarities between the two films.

They both have King George. Americans will certainly love that in this picture, the King takes a back seat to FDR.

An outsider.  THe King's Speech had Geoffrey Rush as a speech teacher who treated the royals more casually than one might expect. Hyde Park has Laura Linney as FDR's distant cousin (and lover), who appears to do the opposite, giving a sense of reverence to the proceedings.

Gentle humor. Gentle romance. FDR tells the press not to take pictures of him and the King in their bathing suits. People think FDR and his cousin are having an affair and get caught spying out a window.

Candid moments with royals. "Can I call you Elizabeth?" A character says to the Queen, in what appears to be an uncomfortable breech of protocol.

War in the background. Same World War II, and right at the beginning of it too.

Rulers with disabilities. King George had a stutter. FDR can't walk.

Oscar bait.  The King's Speech won the four biggies: picture, director, actor, and screenplay. Bill Murray definitely wants a Best Actor statuette.


For all their similarities, and even because of them, I have Hyde Park on Hudson on my to-see list. Biopics are often sweeping, long, and drab, but The King's Speech showed that focusing on light-hearted historical snippets can create humanizing portraits of staid historical figures. The tourism industry in the Hudson Valley is already preparing for an upswing in visitors interested in checking out the area. I'll raise their bet.

Monday, May 21, 2012

'Battleship' takes a hit from 'The Avengers'

Releasing in the wake of The Avengers, Battleship earned just $25.3 million this weekend, half as much as the superhero movie. Projections had the movie earning somewhere over $30 million, so it appears that The Avengers remains the first-choice pick for most audiences. I've heard that Battleship rain rihannapeople are still showing up only to find sold-out screenings, no surprise given the movie's $55 million third weekend, which is second only to Avatar. With Memorial Day weekend coming up, The Avengers can only stand to benefit from its blockbuster status. If you're looking for an action movie to see, why settle for Battleship when you can watch the movie your friends have been raving about?

The Dictator opened to $17.4 million. Sacha Baron Cohen's portrayal of a corrupt ruler split open the U.S. cultural divide. Paramount reported that the comedy did well in the Northeast and The dictator sacha baron cohenWest but performed noticeably worse in the Midwest and South. Young males were the biggest fans of the Cohen starrer. The polarizing humor was undoubtedly responsible for its terrible "C" CinemaScore in exit polls.

The pregnancy comedy What to Expect When You're Expecting earned $10.5 million playing to a mostly female crowd (70%). Women with children often show high "intent to see" numbers but low numbers when it comes to actual attendance. I predict this life-stage movie will do much better in the What to expect cameron diazancillary markets, and could be the kind of film women pick up when they're actually pregnant themselves.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel went up another 21% from last week to finish with $3.2 million. Bernie has also been having a successful theatrical run, rising 132% in its fourth week to finish with $511,000.

Hysteria had trouble attracting audiences, finishing with an $8,000 per-screen average in five locations. The French-language Polisse averaged $17,000 per screen in three locations, a much more auspicious debut.

During the coming Memorial Day weekend, Men in Black 3 will revive a long-dormant franchise, and the first horror offering in weeks, Chernobyl Diaries, will target younger audiences. Specialty seekers will have Wes Anderson's latest, Moonrise Kingdom, along with the release of the French hit The Intouchables.

FJI contributor Jon Frosch is blogging from the rainy Cannes Film Festival for France 24. Check out his latest post here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

'Battleship' challenges 'The Avengers'

Like The Avengers, Battleship (3,690 theatres) has already released overseas. With $200 million already in the bank, the action extravaganza won't be a failure by any means, but it won't enjoy the combination of critical and box-office success enjoyed by The Avengers. "Those looking for big, loud sci-fi action will find plenty to like here," THR's Megan Lehmann reports, "as director Battleship alien rihannaPeter Berg pumps up the volume on clashing military hardware and flag-waving heroics." That doesn't mean the action-packed, warships vs. aliens premise has much of a narrative thrust. Critics agree, giving the Taylor Kitsch starrer just a 36% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A weekend total of around $35-40 million is in the cards, which would put the Hasbro adaptation short of The Avengers. Even if the superhero picture drops by half, it will end up with over $50 million. Globally, the billion-dollar success is now the sixth-most profitable movie of all time.

For audiences who prefer the screams of a baby to explosions, What to Expect When You're Expecting (3,021 theatres) offers a humorous take on pregnancy and child-rearing, with a diverse cast (young, old, black, white) that covers the gamut of experiences (planned, unplanned, adoption). FJI critic Marsha McCreadie reports that the "sitcom structure of much of the film What to expect when youre expecting chris rocksupersedes credibility," but "you won't need an epidural" to get through with the comedy, which has a "light touch." An opening just north of $20 million would undoubtedly make Lionsgate very proud of its creation.

The Dictator (3,008 theatres) opened on Wednesday to $4.1 million, and its five-day total could end up close to $25 million. Unlike star Sacha Baron Cohen's previous titles Borat and Bruno, which documented his characters' interactions with unwitting participants, this one is 100% fictional. I laughed from start to The dictator sacha baron cohen salutefinish, which made me more forgiving of the comedy's narrative flaws and occasional joke that didn't quite hit the mark. There's also a dash of social commentary in the mix, with a late-in-the-game speech that references the 1% rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street.

On the specialty scene, Maggie Gyllenhaal leads the cast in Hysteria, a "gimmicky but handsome period rom-com" about the invention of the vibrator to treat Victorian women's so-called hysteria. The film "amounts to a superficial cinematic massage," according to Doris Toumarkine. Francophiles should swoon for Polisse (3 theatres), which dramatizes the work of officers in Paris' child protection unit.

On Monday, we'll see if the wild success of The Avengers dampened the releases of Battleship and The Dictator, or if the great kickoff to the summer movie season has encouraged more repeat business.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

NCM announces partnership with Funny or Die at NYC upfront

This is “upfront” week in New York City, as the broadcast and cable TV networks unveil details of their 2012-13 seasons to current and potential advertising clients with the help of their star personalities. But a network of another kind has invaded their turf this year: NCM Media Networks, the integrated media company whose major draw is its ability to showcase advertiser content on the big screens of the three top movie theatre circuits in the country, Regal, AMC and Cinemark, plus their 30 affiliates.

NCM hosted its first-ever upfront at the AMC Lincoln Square theatre complex on the Upper West Ncmupfront-theatermarquisSide, where president of sales and marketing Cliff Marks declared that NCM ranks number seven among all networks in terms of reaching consumers aged 18 to 49, and number one on the weekends. The program cheekily opened with a fanfare for the Rock of Ages trailer presented on…a lowly smart-phone, dwarfed by the huge screen at Lincoln Square’s largest auditorium. Similar fanfares followed the trailer’s appearance on a tablet and a flat-screen TV, and finally the preview rocked out in all its Spandex glory on the cinema screen. The point was obvious, but understandably irresistible to make.

Along with that big canvas for product pitches, Marks reminded the crowd that the movie theatre offers a more focused environment, pared of the many distractions that come with home viewing (with the exception of those annoying ADD types who insist on texting or Net-surfing during the movie). “People pay for a ticket—they want to be entertained,” he noted of the distinction between home viewing and a trip to the cinema. “We watch TV, but we go to the movies.”

Also taking advantage of the contrast between the movie theatre and what’s available on cable, executive VP of sales and marketing Dave Kupiec called the cinema “the ultimate movie channel—and it’s always first-run.”

For those who still resist the notion of commercials preceding the main feature, NCM is adding more entertainment appeal to its Cinema Network preshow. The company announced three new exclusive original content deals. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s popular Funny or Die web franchise will produce customized comedy content for NCM’s “FirstLook” preshow, which will also appear on NCM’s online and mobile platforms. For the upfront, Funny or Die prepared a very droll faux history (going back to the 19th century!) of the two preshow partners. Watch it here.

For music fans, NCM is partnering with VEVO, a top music-video platform, to create sponsored music programming for both the big screen and online. And foodies will get their fix with “A Taste of the Movies”™, branded cooking segments in which celebrity chefs will show how to prepare NCMUpfront-MarioBatali,CliffMarks(NCM)great meals inspired by classic movies. Famed chef Mario Batali was on hand for the upfront and prepared a “Taste of The Godfather” lunch for all the attendees. (Batali and Cliff Marks are pictured at left.)

NCM also highlighted its new CinemaSync mobile technology, which already boasts more that 1.2 million downloads. NCM’s Movie Night Out with CinemaSync app is billed as “the premier second-screen movie app,” using image and audio recognition technology to sync with everything in the theatre environment. From movie posters and concessions to the FirstLook pre-show, CinemaSync can deliver extended content, coupons and other value-added deals directly to moviegoers on their mobile phones.

As proof that the right commercial can actually be a welcome addition to the preshow, Kupiec screened a Kia car commercial created for the Super Bowl whose high production values really popped on the Lincoln Square screen. His argument that a spot for Cascade dish detergent is also suitable for a night at the movies was less persuasive, but the stats showed impressive recall rates from both commercials’ exposure in cinemas.

Some advertisers are also making an extra effort by integrating their message with tie-ins with upcoming movies. The U.S. Army did it with X-Men: First Class, and Carter’s, the children’s clothing line, has an onscreen campaign linked with the new comedy What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Both spots were shown at the upfront.

For the finale, NCM showed advertisers what 3D can do for them, with high-gloss spots from Lexus and Fuji’s new 3D camera (followed by the action-packed trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man). Big screen? 3D? If an advertiser really wants to reach out to the public, it’s hard to imagine a better alternative.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Deal-making begins at the Cannes Film Festival

The Cannes Film Festival has just begun, and there are already a couple of notable pickups.

Sony Pictures Classics acquired Love is All You Need, a romantic comedy set in Italy. Pierce Brosnan leads the cast in the movie, which Deadline Hollywood describes as centered on "a group of people all seeking love, about passion and happiness, about jealousy and loneliness. First and foremost, it’s a story about having the courage to change your life – even when you think it’s too late." Director Susanne Bier has received plenty of acclaim for her films (including Things We Lost in the Fire and recently Oscar winner In a Better World), but this one sounds considerably more lighthearted. Given the success of older-skewing indies like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, this could resonate well with audiences seeking specialty titles.

Samuel Goldwyn Films showed it could move quickly with its pickup of Grassroots. It's dated the Grassrootsfilm for a release just six weeks from now. The politically themed feature, based on real events, centers on an unknown man who runs against the incumbent Seattle City Councilman with the help of the former writer of an alternative weekly. Goldwyn will open the film on June 22, shortly after it makes its premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival on June 10. The project sounds fun: Jason Biggs plays the writer, the lanky Joel David Moore (who played a researcher who goes Navi in Avatar) the challenger, and Cedric the Entertainer the politician. According to THR, the project is moving fast partly because of current events: this year's election and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Also hot on the Cannes news feed? The premiere of Moonrise Kingdom, the latest Wes Anderson film. Eric Kohn of IndieWire captures what most people are saying with this comment: "Those open to Anderson quirks will find a rewarding experience littered with warmth and playful humor." If people haven't been won over by Anderson already, this picture won't change their minds.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Channing Tatum to star in 'White House Down'

I still remember the awe of seeing the aliens in Independence Day blow up the White House from their ship. That's the kind of iconic image that stays with viewers. Sony's betting big on its fast-track project White House Down, which promises more money shots of rarely seen sections of the President's residence. Channing Tatum is now attached to star in the project, playing a Secret Independence day white houseService agent and single dad who must save the President. Tatum has a surprisingly diverse portfolio for a rising star. He's alternated between playing the heartthrob (The Vow, Dear John), testosterone-fueled roles (G.I. Joe, The Eagle, Haywire) and now comedy (21 Jump Street). He's the kind of rising star that can bring in audiences from different demographics.

James Vanderbilt, who scripted Sony's summer tentpole The Amazing Spider-Man (coming out in July), has been pulled away from working on the sequel in order to move this project forward. The project is being described as "Die Hard in the White House," with a paramilitary group playing the part of the villain. Even the mud on the collar of the Secret Service, thanks to their evening activities in Colombia, haven't dampened Sony's enthusiasm for this project. The studio just dated it for a Nov 1, 2013, release, the beginning of the end-of-the-year movie season.

There's another twist to White House Down--it has a competing project, Olympus Has Fallen. When I last reported on the two dueling White House films, Olympus had the edge, with a reported start date in June. However, with a star lined up, a release date, and a summer production start date, it now seems like Sony's project has the edge. Forget the action between the Secret Service and a paramilitary group, it seems like in Hollywood getting there first is half the battle.


Monday, May 14, 2012

'Avengers' dominates the box office, with a second nine-digit weekend

Dropping exactly by half, The Avengers led the pack for the second weekend in a row with an astounding $103.1 million. The super-superhero picture beat The Dark Knight for the second-week hold record for films that opened about $120 million. Returns from overseas brought The Avengers' worldwide total above $1 billion. As if there wasn't enough champagne popping already, this Avengers chris evansmarks Disney's fifth billion-dollar movie. No other studio has cracked the billion-dollar mark more than twice. Disney's $4 billion purchase of Marvel in 2009 isn't looking so outlandish now, is it? Plus, new Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man films are already on Disney's schedule, and I have a feeling a decade from now audiences will be watching The Avengers 3.

In second place, Dark Shadows underperformed to finish with $28.8 million. Most expected the gothic comedy would earn in the $30 million range, so it's Dark shadows wafflepossible the Tim Burton-directed film was hurt by the overwhelming success of The Avengers. Also, the adaptation of a '60s soap opera, a cult hit, may have resonated most with niche audiences--more like Burton's Sweeney Todd (which opened to just $9 million) than his crowd-pleasing, family-oriented Alice in Wonderland (one of Disney's $1 billion+ films). The second week in May is also considered a less-than-ideal time to open a film, yet another reason for Dark Shadows' lackluster weekend.

Think Like a Man, The Hunger Games and The Lucky One, which comprised the rest of the top five, all dropped under 25% while earning between $4-6 million, picking up the rest of the non-Avengers crowd.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel cracked the top ten with $2.6 million while playing in just 178 locations, enough to dub the film an indie success.

Girl in progress eva mendes cierra ramirez 12Lionsgate/Pantelion's Hispanic and Mother's Day-targeted Girl in Progress landed in tenth place with $1.6 million. With just over 300 locations, the coming-of-age picture had a strong per-screen average of $4,000. This is the kind of middle-of-the-road movie that could die out next week or have strong hold through word-of-mouth--but with a B+ CinemaScore, it doesn't sound like audiences are giving it a strong endorsement.

The Weinstein Co. decided to give its Oscar-winner, The Artist, one final push timed to Mother's Day. Moving from 41 to 751 theatres, it earned $161,000, its best weekend in a month. The per-screen average of $214, however, was the worst of all movies reported at

On Wednesday, Sacha Baron Cohen plays a ridiculously awful leader in The Dictator. Friday brings aliens 'n big boats picture Battleship, which will go against the comedy What to Expect When You're Expecting.

Friday, May 11, 2012

'The Avengers' on track to dominate 'Dark Shadows'

Dark Shadows overshadowed? That's exactly what this weekend is looking like. Even if The Avengers were to drop by more than half, it would still end up somewhere not too far short of $100 million--not shabby for a second weekend. The Marvel superhero picture has been doing particularly strong business during the weekdays, with daily returns in the teen millions. The giant The avengers duocrowds outside a Times Square theatre in NYC yesterday, uncharacteristic for a weekday, are one such sign that The Avengers is a must-see.. The popularity of the film will probably encourage more people to make it a priority on their "to-do" list.

Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton team up again for Dark Shadows (3,755 theatres), which will share IMAX screens with The Avengers. Based on a popular, low-budget '60s soap opera, this version has plenty of humor. Critic Daniel Eagan predicts Burton's fans will enjoy the gothic picture most, but he also notes there isn't much fresh material: "After 25 years, [Burton's] exquisite visual sense, Dark shadows group kissjaundiced take on characters and relentless pursuit of the macabre have become rote, lifeless, devoid of surprise." However, thanks to Depp's star power and Burton's ability to successfully reinterpret projects (as in Alice in Wonderland), industry estimates have the film performing in the high $30 million range, with a chance of breaking $40 million.

"A scruffily likeable coming-of-age tale," according to FJI critic David Noh, Girl in Progress (322 theatres) stars Cierra Ramirez as a teen girl being a teenager, and Girl in progress eva mendes cierra ramirez 1Eva Mendes as her mom. Groupon offered a discount to the movie yesterday (two tickets for $12), which may encourage people to see a more low-key movie while the high-octane Avengers is also in the multiplex.

Those in search on an "original" foreign film may want to seek out Where Do We Go Now?, a "fable" about a group of female villagers in Lebanon who vow to keep their men from fighting. For those that enjoyed director Nadine Labaki's first film, Caramel, critic Maria Garcia points out many continuities between the two works that may appeal to those charmed by the Lebanese director's first outing.

On Monday, we'll see how much of its audience The Avengers was able to hold onto, and if the absurdly successful film, which has earned $775 million worldwide to date, is able to cross the $1 billion mark.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Yes, 'The Avengers' spiked shawarma sales

Towards the end of The Avengers (no real spoilers here), Iron Man announces he has a powerful need for some shawarma. As the end credits roll, the Avengers gather together in a shawarma joint to dig into the spiced-meat-in-pita specialty. Los Angeles-based TMZ took it upon themselves to poll shawarma sellers to see if sales spiked in the wake of The Avengers. According to their informal poll, they have.

Yesterday I covered how drive-in double features helped earn John Carter an extra $1 million, so The Avengers effect is nothing new. If even a fraction of the popcorn buyers went out for shawarma afterwards, the world would have a shortage of spit-roasted meat. But there's more going on here. Can I say the choice of shawarma was daring, even political?

Shawarma is a Middle Eastern food. It's also not available across the country, though Iron Man mitigates this by saying he hasn't tried it before, but he's curious. Arabs and Muslims eat shawarma, and it's generally only available and well-known in urban areas or places with ethnic enclaves.

Pizza, on the other hand, is a classic American food, beloved among children and people in need of a late-night snack. It's also a bit worn-out as a food choice. Maybe because reptilian superheroes the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were so obsessed with pizza? Still, to replace an item that's available in every American town (and increasingly around the world) with shawarma? That's different. That's funny. It works.

Writer Joss Whedon went outside the box, introducing audiences in America to a delicious cuisine that also happens to come from an area that's traditionally hostile to the U.S., and vice versa. In a small way, isn't Whedon hoping that some of the viewers will seek out a shawarma sandwich, try something new, and maybe challenge their own prejudices--at least about deliciousness? Maybe, as they finish a particularly tasty bite, they may think to themselves, "Can't we all get along?"

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Drive-in movie theatres let 'John Carter' ride on the coattails of 'The Avengers'

Last weekend, The Avengers earned $207 million. John Carter earned $1.4 million. The Avengers broke the record for highest opening weekend, and John Carter went up 1,223% from last week. It turns out the two Disney releases--one a hit, the other a flop--have something in common. They were paired together for drive-in movie theatres' double features.

Over the weekend, John Carter increased from 180 theatres to 349 theatres. Most of those additional locations were drive-ins, where the average ticket goes for just $8. I suspect Disney requested that John Carter be paired with The Avengers--why not promote another one of your releases? Plus, it added $1 million to John Carter's bottom line. That may be only one-two hundredths of what The Avengers earned, but it is something.

Drive in theatre

Drive-in movies may have long passed their heyday, but they're a fun, low-tech, and cheap way to experience movies. I'm sure the multitude of special effects in The Avengers are better viewed on the most up-to-date screen and in 3D, but drive-in theatres offer the kind of intangibles that make people actually pay money for a ticket instead of catching it later at home. Something fun to do with friends. Cheap child care, or a family night out. Low-priced concessions. Even now that drive-ins have been relegated to a nostalgic rarity, they can impart important lessons about why people go to the movies.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Trailer for 'Argo' promises a smart, action-filled spy thriller

File Argo under "so crazy, it has to be real." The trailer for the audacious spy picture just released, and it looks like star/director Ben Affleck will be able to top what he did in The Town.

Set in 1979, Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA employee whose division specializes in doctoring fake identities, credentials, and all sorts of creative wizardry. When Iranian revolutionaries took embassy employees hostage that November, six managed to escape, eventually hiding out in the Canadian embassy. Mendez came up with a crazy idea--have the six people pass as members of a film crew scouting a project. An actual sci-fi script, titled Argo, was found, a production office set up, and ads announcing production were placed in The Hollywood Reporter. The ruse worked, and the recently declassified story became the subject of a thrilling 2007 "Wired" story, "How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran."

Compared to what actually happened, it appears that Argo raises the stakes. "Wired" describes the passengers calmly boarding the plane without detection. The trailer shows soldiers running through the airport in hot pursuit, and vehicles chasing after a plane as it lifts off the runway. Talk about giving away the ending.

Ben affleck argo

comes off as a real-life Ocean's Eleven or Catch Me If You Can. It's also reminiscent of previous projects from producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov, who favor wacky situations involving politics, spies, and the Middle East (epitomized by The Men Who Stare at Goats).

The trailer emphasizes the larger-than-life personalities of Hollywood producers, but there's a lot of material from the "Wired" article that's just as entertaining. Iranian government officials (successfully) hired carpet weavers to reassemble shredded documents from the embassy. Mendez's group, the Office of Technical Service, succeeded by pulling off tricks like putting microphones on cats. He also had contacts in Hollywood--most likely to help with unusual makeup or forgery--that helped him come up with the idea in the first place.

Ben affleck argo group

The Warner Bros. project looks like first-rate entertainment, full of American ingenuity and scored to Aerosmith's "Dream On." It seems like the perfect popcorn movie, but viewers will have to wait for this one until October 12.

Monday, May 7, 2012

'Avengers' shatters opening weekend record

The Avengers not only broke the record for highest opening weekend, the superhero picture did so by over $30 million, becoming the first film to cross $200 million in its first weekend, for an estimated total of $207 million. First and fastest--that's what superhero movies are all about, and this one received high marks from audiences (A+ CinemaScore) and critics (93% positive on Rotten Tomatoes). People are already estimating that the U.S. opening weekend could mean a $400-500 The avengers group captain america black widowmillion domestic total, but the real action will be abroad. Overseas, where it opened a week before the U.S., The Avengers has earned $441 million to date. With a reported production budget of $220 million, and hefty marketing costs on top of that, Disney sank a lot of money into the film. But in this case, even doubling or tripling the investment will yield hundreds of millions.

Whoever in Marvel Comics cooked up the idea of bringing together many of their comic books' biggest superheroes deserves to have their pockets stuffed full of cash. Writer/director Joss Whedon gets points too, for making the superheroes interact with each other in such an authentic way. What a way to kick off summer 2012!

Fox Searchlight astutely offered counterprogramming targeted at indie-loving, older audiences. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel earned $27,000 per screen in 27 locations, for a total of $750,000. The tale of English retirees who end up in a less-than-ideal retirement complex in India was a hit overseas, and it appears American audiences like it too. The talented ensemble Best exotic marigold hotel maggie smithTHe Acast includes Maggie Smith, who has been a hit among viewers of all ages for her sharp-tongued lines in "Downton Abbey."

The dark comedy Bernie, starring Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine, averaged $17,000 per screen in its second week. At the indie box office, older stars currently seem to be the ticket to higher returns.

The ballet competition documentary First Position was en pointe this weekend, debuting to a $10,000 per-screen average at five locations. For many American girls, ballet lessons are a rite of passage, and good reviews assured that ballet dancers past and present, as well as spectators, would enjoy this Spellbound-like doc.

Kate Hudson probably wishes the returns for her romantic melodrama A Little Bit of Heaven were kept under wraps. With an average of $891 per screen at eleven locations, this is a big box-office disappointment.

This Friday, Johnny Depp plays a vampire in Tim Burton-directed Dark Shadows.


Friday, May 4, 2012

'The Avengers' aims for a record opening weekend

There's no question The Avengers (4,349 theatres) will do well this weekend. The super-superhero movie brings together the all-stars of comic books: Iron Man, Captain America, The The avengers chris evans chris hemsworthHulk, Black Widow, Thor, and Hawkeye. Most importantly, the tentpole has already earned $281 million overseas, where it released last week. The U.S. is no longer the first market when it comes to mega-budget movies, but stateside it hasn't done much to lessen the anticipation or make audiences feel cheated. In fact, the atmosphere online indicates people are more excited to see the Joss Whedon-directed film.

Critics are often tougher to satisfy than audiences, so FJI's Frank Lovece's proclamation that "The Avengers is everything you could want in a superhero movie" indicates the picture really delivers. He praises the "larger-than-life feats" that are "believably and meaningfully executed," as well as the emotional explorations, like "the loneliness of being different," that add depth to the story. Releasing in well-done 3D, along with IMAX, the action picture could earn at least $150 million this weekend.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (27 theatres) has also released overseas already, where it has earned over $70 million. The British film centers on U.K. retirees who end up in not-quite- Best exotic marigold hotel judi denchwhat-expected retirement lodgings in India. FJI critic Shirley Sealy praised the talented cast who give the film its "charm and considerable zest for life."

Also on the menu in selected theatres this week is First Position (5 theatres), a "truly exhilarating" documentary about a ballet competition for young dancers, according to Doris Toumarkine. Kate Hudson does her free-spirited leading lady bit in A Little Bit of Heaven (11 theatres), a "tone-deaf dramedy" about her character's search to find love after a grim cancer diagnosis, as described by THR's Frank Scheck. Finally, the exact opposite of a Catholic's vision of The Perfect Family (5 theatres) is on display in the Kathleen Turner starrer. The comedy features her character trying to win "Catholic Woman of the Year"  in spite of her lesbian daughter, philandering son, and alcoholic husband.

On Monday, we'll see if The Avengers breaks the opening weekend record of $169.2 million, set by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Gary Ross may team up with Summit for 'Houdini'

After bowing out of directing the sequel to The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Gary Ross is now considering directing The Secret Life of Houdini, The Making of America's First Superhero for Summit. Summit and Hunger Games studio Lionsgate are in the process of merging operations Secret life harry houdiniright now, so he's essentially still with the same studio.

Interestingly, Francis Lawrence, the I Am Legend director who was picked to direct Catching Fire, also had a Houdini project in the works. Simply titled Houdini, the Columbia version is in the scripting stage with Scott Frank (Marley & Me, Minority Report) penning the screenplay. In Hollywood, where there's one good idea there's usually an identical second idea in the wings. That appears to be the case here.

However, Ross' potential project would be able to draw from a 600-page, exhaustive biography of Houdini by William Kalush (a magician) and Larry Sloman (a writer). The "get" in their version is suggestive evidence that Houdini was also a spy. Summit's idea was not to make a biopic, but rather to create an Indiana Jones/Sherlock Holmes-esque franchise that would put the magician on a series of spy-driven adventures.

This battle of the projects reminds me of the two 2006 magician projects, The Illusionist and The Prestige, which earned $39 million and $53 million, respectively--less than if there had only Aa_houdini_magic_1_ebeen one film?

I love the idea of a Houdini biopic, but not so much the serial, franchised version of Houdini. Sherlock Holmes the movie is about quick laughs and big action sequences. "Sherlock Holmes" the BBC television series is quieter, slower, more about character development. Houdini could actually be an interesting person to star in one of those adult television dramas populating the airwaves. That being said, Ross writes great characters, so certainly his take on the project would include some backstory and character development, instead of simply tying together a string of magical feats. Hopefully this project will have better success at the box office than Houdini himself: He started out in the movies before abandoning the industry, citing meager profits.




Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Could 'This is 40' suffer the same fate as 'Five-Year Engagement'?

The Five-Year Engagement was about as entertaining as the average romantic comedy, but it had marked differences in the treatment of its subject matter. Love was dull sometimes, complicated by the mundane, and the difficulty of balancing one's own career with the future of a relationship. Audiences, apparently, weren't so into the latter part, and the film had a disappointing debut last weekend, earning just $10.6 million when it was expected to take in 50% more.

Judd Apatow produced The Five-Year Engagement, and he returns to the director's chair with Christmas release This is 40, which he also wrote and produced. The "sort-of" sequel to Knocked Up focuses on Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann, Apatow's wife), who are dealing with a crisis: middle age. The just-released trailer has plenty of funny moments sure to appeal to parents everywhere, with a couple of potential gross-out moments for which Apatow is famous. However, part of me wondered if the humdrum sources of comedy will be a turn-off to audiences. After all, Knocked Up had a real crisis, an unplanned pregnancy, while This is 40 appears (at least in the trailer) to be about the couple's self-improvement kick.

This is 40

Ultimately, though, The Five-Year Engagement just wasn't that good of a movie. This is 40, with its prime end-of-year placement, at least has the time-slot endorsement of its studio. Universal has reaped the benefits of Apatow's productions, including last year's megahit Bridesmaids, and stood by when Funny People, Apatow's previous directorial effort, didn't quite catch on. Growing older and raising children isn't the kind of whacky premise that sold tickets to Knocked Up and Bridesmaids, but it could be a nice halfway point between those films and the didn't-quite-work identity crisis in Funny People.


Follow the Cannes Film Festival with Jon Frosch

"Away from the sun-baked Mediterranean beaches, the ultra-exclusive soirées, the red carpet and the gaggles of exuberant stargazers and dogged paparazzi that line it, Cannes is an experience lived out in the dark; the bottom line is the big, beautiful movie screen and the obsessive film lovers gazing up at it."

FJI contributor Jon Frosch will be blogging the Cannes Film Festival for Check out the rest of his first, pre-festival post here.

For more posts, check back at The Cannes Report.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tribeca 2012 recap: 'Struck By Lightning,' 'Polisse,' and 'The Playroom'

As is often the case with film festivals, my favorites at the Tribeca Film Festival this year were documentaries. Side by Side, which explains how the industry has shifted from film to digital, played like a super-entertaining film lecture. I felt like I needed a pen and paper to jot down notes. High Tech, Low Life provided a window into life in China, so different than what I see on the nightly news. The narrative films often fell into niches. I didn't see any real crowd-pleasers, but rather films that should appeal primarily to certain demographic segments.

Struck by Lightning is one such film. Starring Chris Colfer from "Glee," the dark comedy centers on a high school newspaper editor who is struck by lightning in the movie's opening moments. The film then retraces his final weeks, when he was finally able to exercise some power in Struck by lightning chris colferhis isolated existence. The movie should offer real appeal to high schoolers, especially those who feel they don't belong. It has bits of Saved! (also directed by Brian Dannelly) and But I'm a Cheerleader in it, and convincingly maintains its darkly comedic tone throughout. But it didn't have that extra oomph of something--originality, audacity, or empathy--to bring it over the top.

The French film Polisse attracted a crowd topped with white hair at the screening I attended, older Francophiles who love anything French. The long, ensemble film follows a group of co-workers in France's child protection unit, which handles child molestation, abuse, and vice cases involving children. Their cases play out quite differently than, say, "Law & Order," so there are some interesting cultural differences to tease out. Sometimes that backfires. During an interview with a teen who was manipulated into sex in order to retrieve a stolen smartphone, the officers get a case of the giggles that felt extremely inappropriate. My guess is that the girl was speaking in a Valley girl-type manner with tons of likes, that made her case seem funny, but it didn't translate with subtitles, and the audience wasn't laughing either. Some of the cases the officers covered were stomach-churning, infuriating, or sad--I saw people wiping away tears. The bleak ending, which isn't fully explained, is also typically, infuriatingly French, yet another sign this movie, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, will be a hit among stateside Francophiles.

Adults also behave badly in The Playroom, a 1970s-set story that unfolds over one evening. Three The_playroom_a_l children, aged from high school to elementary school, entertain themselves upstairs while their parents (John Hawkes and Molly Parker) drink and smoke with a neighbor couple. The drama has a surprising level of suspense. The family is quiet, but their habits are revealing: the kids come home from school first, clearing away unfinished drinks and emptying ashtrays without comment. The mother pulls eggs and bacon from an empty refrigerator in order to cook dinner. Director Julia Dyer makes finding out the nature and motivations of these characters the driving force in the narrative. Alternately uncomfortable and depressing, The Playroom can be difficult to watch but tackles a familiar subject--unloving and distant parents--in a novel way.

Of these three films, Polisse has already been picked up by Sundance Selects and will open on May 18. The other two should undoubtedly be picked up for distribution, and I think Struck by Lightning in particular could become a favorite among young, indie-seeking audiences.