Friday, June 29, 2012

R-rated 'Ted' and 'Magic Mike' aim for adult fun

Earlier this summer, just one wide release was opening every weekend. This week there are four. Each of these 2,000 to 3,000-screen releases, however, will have a hard time beating last weekend's Brave, which is in release on over 4,000 screens. The animated Pixar film opened to $66 million, so even a 50% drop will leave it above $30 million.

Ted (3,239 theatres) has the widest release of the bunch. I attended the screening with a Seth MacFarlane fan who was disappointed with the "Family Guy" creator's feature writing/directing Ted mark wahlberg beer 1debut. The fantasy concept of a foul-mouthed teddy bear and his adult best friend is pulled off with ease. The big surprise is that the comedy feels like a conventional rom-com, albeit with a talking teddy bear as the third wheel and romantic obstacle. FJI's Michael Sauter was more receptive to the "comedy, [which] wants to simultaneously shock, delight and knock you a little bit sideways," and predicts it will be a "smashing success." If its predicted opening in the high $20 millions counts, Ted may be just that.

Channing Tatum was actually a male stripper, and probably a good one too. He shows off his impressive dance skills and flips in Magic Mike (2,930 theatres). Steven Soderbergh directs the dance-fueled drama, which has received generally good notices from critics. FJI's David Noh Magic mike channing tatum 1disagrees. Except for Tatum, he wasn't intrigued by the dancers or their moves, and feels the whole movie has a "strange lack of sexiness." Cinema Blend's Katey Rich came out positively for the feature, noting that with its message "about dreams that curdle and get deferred, about how you need more money than what's stuffed in a G-string to make it in this world, but how those $1 bills can make it easier to wait" could have been "disastrous when combined," but "Soderbergh makes it look easy." During Thursday midnight screenings, Ted earned $2.6 million and Magic Mike $2.1 million, so both R-rated flicks are set to perform well over the course of the weekend.

A man finds out he has a half-sister after his father's passing in People Like Us (2,055 theatres). "Enough honest hurt pokes through to make it impossible to dismiss the film outright," FJI critic Daniel Eagan says of the "sentimental" film featuring soul-baring that's "simultaneously People like us elizabeth banks chris pine car1moving and manipulative." With a kind of generic premise and not a lot of marketing support, it could be tough for this drama to even crack $10 million.

Tyler Perry's signature funny grandma character returns in Madea's Witness Protection (2,161 theatres). Audiences have slightly tired of Perry's outings lately, but loyal fans should bring the comedy's opening above $20 million. The recession-influenced tale includes a church that was ripped off by duplicitous investors, a ripped-from-the-headlines premise that could pull in additional viewers.

Sundance prizewinner Beasts of the Southern Wild (4 theatres) opened on Wednesday, when it earned $6,700 per screen. That's not particularly high, but the weekend will be the true test for the unusual, expressionistic drama. Some are saying its box-office target will be similar to the one for Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, another Fox Searchlight release which ended up with Beasts of the southern wild quvenzhane wallis truck boat $13 million last summer.

Also in the specialty mix this weekend is Take This Waltz (2 theatres), an unwieldy exploration of a love triangle that left me with mixed feelings. I found most of the film boring but really liked the ending (when it finally happened). Moonrise Kingdom expands to 854 theatres this weekend. I've seen plenty of TV ads supporting the expansion, which I predict will unfold quite well for the strongly-performing release.

On Monday, we'll see which of the four releases broke from the pack, and if Beasts' debut adds more momentum to its critical buzz.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Jackie Chan signs up for another action-comedy

Recently, I was at the Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Festival, a Chinese-Jewish celebration in NYC that reflects the fact that the Lower East Side Eldridge Street Synagogue, is now considered to be in Chinatown thanks to that neighborhood's shifting border. For the crowds, performers trained in Chinese opera staged a comedic action sequence that involved lots of missed blows and bumbling JackieChanperformers--not to mention handstands and backflips (here's an acting class performing a similar scene--with only simple acrobatics). The kids in the audience had a serious case of the giggles, but the slo-mo performance required patience and imagination. Not exactly the thing for a video-game nation. As I finished off my egg cream, I reflected that the performance reminded me a bit of Jackie Chan. So imagine my satisfaction when I discovered that the actor was trained in Peking Opera as a child. A bit different than its European counterpart, Peking Opera requires performers to be proficient in acrobatics--the better to choreograph the fight sequences. That revelation adds to my respect of Chan as a performer.

Chan is returning to the action-comedy format that has brought him success in America. In a new English-language project, he will play a detective who is trying to track down an American who has stiffed a Macau casino. Described as a "two-hander," this means another action star with strong name recognition will play opposite Chan. But who? Chan has previously played opposite Chris Tucker in Rush Hour and Owen Wilson in Shanghai Noon. I wonder which star will step up. Currently, the newbie writer/director Jay Longino, who doesn't have the most impressive IMDB page, will direct from a script he's writing.

Because this will be a Chinese coproduction, the action-comedy will have more-than-usual profit potential. China limits the number of Hollywood films that can release in the nation each year, but has special exemptions for coproductions. That will make it that much easier for the English-language film to recoup its investment. Now, courtesy of YouTube, here's Jackie Chan singing opera.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Remembering Nora Ephron

Celebrity passings don't usually get to me, but Nora Ephron's hit me harder on two accounts: She was too young, and she made such great contributions to film history. Ephron was one of the few female commercial directors out there. When her films were good, they were very very good. I count When Harry Met Sally... as one of my favorite films, and Sleepless in Seattle, the underrated Nora-Ephron-ripYou've Got Mail, and Julie & Julia are all up there.

With her romantic comedies, Ephron pulled off an increasingly rare achievement: making the audience believe and understand why the characters weren't together...yet. So often in romantic comedies, I think 'Just get together already.' Her characters had to grow and heal as individuals before they could be together as a couple. Their initial dislike or skepticism of each other burns as a slow simmer. Ephron was a remarkable filmmaker, a funny writer (I liked I Feel Bad About My Neck even though I'm decades away from a saggy neck), and as the New York Times obituary attests, a genuinely nice person. I hear there aren't too many of those in Hollywood.

Eprhon was a writer loved by writers, so it's no wonder the Internet has seen a flurry of articles commemorating her passing. Here are a few responses from around the web.

Slate compiles three memorable clips from her movies and their writer Emily Yoffe reflects on "Growing Up with Nora Ephron." Focusing on Ephron's writing career, presents the piece "Remembering Nora Ephron, And How Her Essays Made Her Movies Better." New York Magazine talks about the Ephron-Lena Dunham connection and links to Ephron's pieces that appeared in the magazine.

There are too many great Ephron-written scenes to count, but I always think of the emotional whiplash present in the "Surrey with the Fringe on the Top" karaoke scene in When Harry Met Sally... One minute, Harry and Sally are a budding couple. The next, Harry shows himself to be still distraught over his ex, not to mention publically mortified over their bad karaoke skills. There's so much happening, but so little dialogue. Ephron may have written great back-and-forth exchanges, but she also knew when to shut up. Revisit that scene below.


Aruba Fest spotlights movies about movies

Claudio Masenza, the director of the Aruba International Film Festival, is not only a journalist and consultant to the Venice and Rome Film Festivals, he’s also the writer-director of several documentaries on Hollywood icons like Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando and Alfred Hitchcock. Which may explain why there are several documentaries in the 2012 Aruba lineup about films and filmmakers.

With Aruba’s Dutch heritage, it should come as no surprise that two of those movies center on Dutch auteurs. On Sunday night, the fest screened Anton Corbijn Inside Out, an intimate portrait of Anton-Corbijn-Inside-Out__1the photographer and pioneering music-video director who graduated to feature films with the acclaimed Control and the George Clooney thriller The American. The taciturn, introspective Corbijn opens up about his emotionally withholding parents to director Klaartje Quirlijns; for him, salvation came from rock music, and before long he was photographing iconic images of icons like Mick Jagger, Miles Davis and Iggy Pop (naked in Central Park!). The next step was striking music-videos for the likes of Nirvana, U2 and Depeche Mode, and then his logical feature debut was Control, about troubled Joy Division leader Ian Curtis (whom he once photographed). Featuring excerpts from his classic videos and appearances by U2’s Bono, Lou Reed, Metallica and Arcade Fire, Inside Out (with a great Dolby Surround mix) offers a strong case for Corbijn’s talent and influence, despite his glum onscreen persona.

A much livelier filmmaker is Holland’s Pim de la Parra, the outspoken subject of In-Soo Radstake’s Still huisentertaining doc Parradox. A true bad boy of Dutch cinema whose films often feature graphic nudity (one of his actors complains, “You were usually naked by page three”), de la Parra made an artistic breakthrough with his 1976 comedy-drama Wan Pipel (One People), also screened in a restored print at the festival and reported on in our Monday blog post. But, with its black central character and its tale of racial culture clashes in Suriname, the film was a commercial flop and coincided with money woes at de la Parra’s production company and the end of his marriage. But de la Parra pressed on, pioneering “minimal movies” done on very low budget. (“Why not? Holland is a minimal country,” he argues.)

This volatile, immodest but utterly charming filmmaker lays his life bare for director Radstake, even orchestrating a reunion with Willeke van Ammelrooy, the Dutch star of Wan Pipel who’s been brooding for decades over his cruel treatment of her during the making of that film. In a unique ploy, Radstake actually films de la Parra watching the unfinished documentary, laughing and crying in close-up—scenes that are then included in the completed documentary. Despite its warts-and-all portrait, de la Parra seemed delighted with Parradox at last night’s Aruba screening.

The Aruba schedule also includes Laurent Bouzereau’s Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir (unfortunately, the print had not arrived for yesterday’s first screening), and Hollywood Invasion, a one-hour assemblage of NBC news reports on Hollywood’s love affair with Europe, from the 1959 making of Ben-Hur through epics like Cleopatra and Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns. Though essentially cobbled together, the doc does offer rare glimpses of some movie icons in their prime, with Sophia Loren winning Miss Congeniality.

Last night also saw the first screening here of James Franco’s Sal, his recreation of the last day in Salthe life of Rebel Without a Cause star Sal Mineo, who was murdered at the age of 37 outside his apartment building in 1976. Those expecting more than a mundane slice of life will be streaming for the exits—Franco shows Mineo exercising at the gym, getting a massage, playing with his neighbor’s dog, rehearsing his play P.S. Your Cat Is Dead and making phone calls asking friends to come to opening night. But the film does have a sense of authenticity for the period and what this then-struggling gay actor’s daily routine was like, and actor Val Lauren, never off-screen, is surprisingly persuasive.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

At the Aruba Fest: Ray Liotta on acting and the making of 'GoodFellas'

“I’ve never been in a fight,” Ray Liotta confessed at an often hilariously blunt public Q&A session (and earlier press conference) at the Aruba International Film Festival yesterday, demystifying his movie tough-guy image. “The guys I knew in high school just laugh their balls off.”

Liotta was in Aruba for a special screening of his 1990 gangster classic GoodFellas, a movie he 259410hadn’t seen since it first debuted 22 years ago. The actor was proud to be accompanied by his 13-year-old daughter, who was viewing the film for the first time. “She thought it was the best movie she’d ever seen,” he beamed, “and she’s the first to say, ‘Dad, that was horrible.’”

For Liotta, memories of the making of GoodFellas are bittersweet, since his mother was dying of cancer during the shoot. To prepare for the part of mobster Henry Hill (who died last week), Liotta would drive around in his mother’s car listening to tapes Hill had made recounting his career in crime. “But he was always chewing potato chips,” the actor recalled. “It drove me nuts.”

Director Martin Scorsese discouraged Liotta from meeting Hill before the film, to avoid biasing his performance. But the actor later encountered Hill in a bowling alley in the San Fernando Valley. “He said, ‘Thanks for not making me a scumbag.’ I said, ‘Did you see the movie?’”

Many years later, Liotta saw Hill again, passed out on the lawn outside a Mexican restaurant. “He was a really messed-up guy,” his cinema alter-ego concluded. “Maybe he’s finally at peace.”

GoodFellas’ celebrated “You think I’m funny?” scene came out of a rehearsal improv, Liotta revealed, inspired by co-star Joe Pesci’s own encounter with a Mafia hothead. Liotta has recently worked with improv-loving comedy directors like Jody Hill and David Wain, but he cautioned, “Improv needs to be within a structure.”

Method acting and other navel-gazing approaches to the craft are not Liotta’s thing. “It’s all about playing pretend,” he said several times during the session. In the audience were a father and his 12-year-old aspiring-actor son who had watched GoodFellas the night before. (“You’re an irresponsible dad,” Liotta chided.) Asked to provide some acting advice for the youngster, Liotta reiterated, “All it is is pretend. Don’t let people say it’s more than what it is.” After a pause, he added, “You got that, little fucker?”

Liotta swore he never wanted to be an actor. He was a student at the University of Miami where “you just needed a pulse” to get accepted. “I took a theatre class just to fuck around,” he recalled, and he tried out for the school play (a musical, he soon learned to his horror) just to get closer to a cute co-ed. A decade later, his friendship with fellow student Steven Bauer helped him land his breakout role in Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild, which starred Bauer’s then-wife, Melanie Griffith. Liotta didn’t want to use his connections, but his dad, a politician, encouraged him to make the call to Griffith that got him his decisive audition.

Liotta has worked with such top directors as Scorsese, Demme and Ridley Scott, and he said the measure of a great filmmaker is that he’s “passionate about a make-believe situation.” Liotta never wanted to direct himself, but said he would now consider it “after a lot of half-assed directors I’ve worked with.”

Liotta said he feels bad for young actors today whose options are more limited to superhero parts and fewer films with an independent sensibility. (Indeed, when he first broke through in the late ’80s, he dismissed the idea of working in Tim Burton’s Batman with “How stupid is that?”)

The actor isn’t concerned that he’s best remembered for so many villainous or criminal roles; people tend to overlook Al Pacino and Robert De Niro’s more sympathetic performances too, he argued. “There’s something about bad guys that stands out.” Still, he admitted, “I would like to kiss a woman [onscreen] without having to choke her.”

Another Monday highlight in Aruba was a screening of a restored print of Dutch director Pim de la Parra’s 1976 film Wan Pipel (One People). When the movie was introduced as “a masterpiece of Suriname cinema,” the filmmaker immodestly (but quite justifiably) corrected his host: “It’s a masterpiece of Caribbean cinema.” This wonderful comedy-drama concerns Roy, a young black Surinamese studying economics in Amsterdam and living with a white Dutch woman, who journeys back home to see his dying mother. There, he’s invigorated by the robust culture he left behind and soon begins an affair with a lovely Hindu woman. That relationship prompts outrage from both his rigid father and the girl’s devout parents. The clashing of the black and Hindu communities, complicated further when Roy’s Dutch lover arrives in Suriname, is handled with a light comic touch that doesn’t neglect the dark undercurrents exposing the tensions that keep Suriname’s many cultures from merging into “one people.” The very vocal Aruba audience loved this 36-year-old movie, which de la Parra argued is as timely as ever. “What you see still exists,” he declared, with a downbeat addendum: “It will never change.” Here’s hoping for some North American exposure for this masterpiece of not just Caribbean but world cinema.

How over-the-top can a movie trailer be? Check out the one for 'Alex Cross'

Actor/writer/director/producer Tyler Perry is best known for his funny grandma character, Madea, but has opted for something more serious by taking on the titular role in Alex Cross, an adaptation of James Patterson's crime novel series about an FBI profiler who tracks down serial and other demented killers. Morgan Freeman played Alex Cross in 1997's Kiss the Girls and 2001's Along Came a Spider. A decade later, Perry has stepped into the role, acting in a project he neither wrote nor directed--something he hasn't done outside of a small role in 2009's Star Trek.

The trailer for the October release from Summit Entertainment just hit the Internet. To say the movie is pulpy is an understatement. The often over-the-top dialogue sounds ripped from the pages of the source material, Patterson's Cross (the twelfth book in the series). Perry's character tries to parse a serial killer's motives, leading to ominously-delivered gems such as "He's ex-military. Special forces judging by his tactics. Trying to make someone hurt. Wants somebody to pay, wants the world to suffer." This is "Law & Order" kicked up several notches.



A nice pulpy crime thriller can be exactly what people need, especially during an off month like October. It's possible Alex Cross could have the success of Taken. In that film, Liam Neeson's daughter was kidnapped. In this film, Cross' wife becomes a target for the serial killer. The Lincoln Lawyer, a legal thriller starring Matthew McConaughey, crossed the $50 million mark last year with a similarly pulpy tête-à-tête between the good guy and the bad guy. These movies are generally in that "dead zone" of budgeting, $25-75 million. They need some effects, but no monsters destroying bridges or epic car chases. They're the kind of movies that some people save for an evening in rather than an evening out. As the trailer makes perfectly clear, by giving up twists that have to be in the third act (wife may be a target! killer uses scuba gear to get into building through pipes!), you'll know exactly what you're getting when you buy your ticket to Alex Cross. For a lot of people, that's a good thing.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Island pride: Aruba Film Festival cheers local Caribbean heroes

This week, Screener has the good fortune to be blogging from the third annual Aruba International Film Festival (AIFF), where the sun is baking but the breezes from the sparkling ocean are constant. AIFF was founded in 2010 by producers Jonathan Vieira and Giuseppe Cioccarelli, and it’s already used its destination appeal to attract such talents as Richard Gere, Jonathan Demme, Patricia Clarkson, Kim Cattrall, renowned editor Thelma Schoonmaker and Babel screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga. Its chief creative force is festival director Claudio Masenza, a veteran Italian journalist, screenwriter and documentary director who has served on the selection committee of the Venice Film Festival and consultant for the Rome International Film Festival.

AIFF’s 2012 schedule of 34 features and 10 shorts is an eclectic mix of offerings from Europe, the USA, South America, Australia, Canada, Japan and Lebanon, along with its most essential program, the “Caribbean Spotlight Series.” So many films from the Caribbean never surface in the States or other world markets that AIFF provides a rare chance to see what’s happening cinema-wise in this inviting part of the globe.

After three days, the most popular feature here in Aruba is surely Children of the Wind, Daphne Tonky_airSchmon’s documentary about how the tiny Caribbean island of Bonaire (with a mere 15,000 residents and no traffic lights) emerged as a powerhouse in the competitive sport of windsurfing. The film mainly focuses on brothers Tonky and Taty Frans and their cousin Kiri Thode—all incredibly photogenic—who brought dazzling new energy to the sport with their unprecedented freestyle maneuvers that left their previously dominant European rivals with mouths agape. The boys are now among the top five freestyle windsurfers in the world and huge celebrities in their homeland, an inspiration for all young people on this island that, one native jokes, outsiders often refer to as “Bon-Where?”.

Deftly edited, Children of the Wind provides a brief history of windsurfing’s evolution (it became an Olympic sport in 1984) and how, thanks to pioneers like Elvis Martinus and Patun Saragoza, Bonaire’s fishing community became so adept at it. But this is more than just a sports movie; it’s also a tale of race, class, deprivation and determination. The irresistible smiling faces of Tonky and Taty hide some traumatic childhood experiences which filmmaker Schmon sensitively reveals.

Bonaire’s local sports heroes were at the Saturday night screening, which took on the excitement of a live arena event from the enthusiasm of the Caribbean folks in the audience. The next morning, AIFF brought the visiting press out to sea in a catamaran to watch Tonky, Taty, Kiri and their compatriots in action; it was a thrilling sight. I have no doubt that North America will soon be seeing Children of the Wind for itself, at the very least as a staple of cable sports channels. The film, by the way, just won the Caribbean Spotlight Audience Award.

Another sports movie, Ballplayer: Pelotero, shared the Caribbean Spotlight Jury Award with Jamaican drama Ghett’a Life. Ballplayer, picked up by Strand Releasing for the U.S., explores the Peloterophenomenon of the Dominican presence (some 20% of total players) in Major League Baseball. Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin and Jon Paley’s documentary focuses on two talented teenage aspirants among the thousands of mostly poor Dominicans in training camps, dreaming of that multi-million-dollar professional contract. Each seems to be on a smooth road to glory when complications set in, mainly due to MLB’s wariness over past instances of fraud. (Candidates are signed once they turn 16, but many applicants have shaved years from their resumes and even hidden their real identities.) Miguel Angel Sanó’s story is especially poignant—he’s a truly exceptional athlete but he looks awfully mature for 16, and MLB puts him through an unending battery of tests (bone scans, DNA) to certify that he really is that young.

One of the coaches likens these eager ballplayers to a harvest: “When it grows, you sell it.” This baseball-island connection goes back decades: Four outstanding Dominican players in the 1962 San Francisco Giants were signed for a total of $5,000, a pittance compared to what their American teammates were getting. Once again, it all comes down to race, class and power.

The jury gave a special mention to América, Sonia Fritz’s drama about a young woman (the America-stillcompelling Lymari Nadal in the title role) who flees her abusive lover in Vieques (the small island east of Puerto Rico that was a U.S. Navy bombing test site) for a new life with family in New York City and as a nanny for a constantly bickering upper-class couple. Her exile is even more painful because she’s left behind a 14-year-old daughter who’s run off with a boyfriend. The scenes with América’s Bronx family (including “Ugly Betty” dad Tony Plana) are especially winning and warm, and Nadal effortlessly earns our sympathy for her struggle. The melodramatic climax, after América’s volatile ex-lover tracks her down, seems to belong in another, more genre-oriented film, but to be fair, that sequence was hampered by digital projection glitches at the screening.

In a Q&A after the screening, the engaging Fritz revealed that her film was shot in 18 days, a remarkable feat for a picture this stylishly directed. América played in eight theatres in Puerto Rico for two months, and surely has enough wide audience potential for a U.S. theatrical release, especially with our growing Latino population.

A standout attraction of the Aruba Fest is its intimate Q&As with visiting celebrities. Virginia Madsen, who co-stars with Morgan Freeman in the sweet opening-night film The Magic of Belle Isle, was refreshingly candid in her conversation with “Extra” correspondent Ben Lyons. The Sideways Oscar nominee laughed about her image as a voluptuous ’80s starlet (“The ‘girls’ walked in before me” at auditions) and advised that the attitudes towards actresses “of a certain age” are always “someone else’s perception.” She also confided a harrowing story about a low point in her career when her house was about to be foreclosed on and she considered taking a role in which she would be required to jump into a swimming pool filled with rats. Seeing that as a metaphor for her career, she turned it down, and within two weeks fate offered her a lucrative TV movie opposite Tom Selleck.

Madsen, still quite beautiful, confessed to gushing over Morgan Freeman at their first meeting at his American Film Institute tribute. The two stars have a lovely rapport in Rob Reiner’s movie, a chemistry that sparked, Madsen said, from their mutual love of Frank Sinatra songs.

Oscar-winning editor Pietro Scalia’s session was more of a tutorial on his approach to film editing. He called editing “the third stage of rewriting the film,” noting that “nothing is a given” at that stage. He showed the opening scene of Gladiator and shared how the first symbolic shot of a hand gliding through a wheat field came to him during the editing process. Scalia followed with the virtuosic opening sequence of JFK (which got a big round of applause) and a helicopter raid scene from Black Hawk Down inspired by alien-invasion thrillers.

Scalia is the editor of two big summer 3D movies, Prometheus and The Amazing Spider-Man, and he offered some extremely sensible advice on editing (and directing) for 3D. You need to be conscious of how long it takes the eye to settle, he declared, and “the proper geometry of space is something you can’t cheat.” For fast-cut action scenes, he recommends adjusting the convergence so that the images are shallower, closer to 2D. Scalia’s handiwork is there for all to see in the impactful visuals of Prometheus now on worldwide screens.

The Aruba International Film Festival is also a music festival, it turns out, and the first two nights featured 100-minute outdoor concerts from Latin music superstars Juanes and Marc Anthony. As the thousands of spectators sang along to nearly every song, this New Yorker realized there really is a whole other world of pop culture out there. When I get back, I’m ordering my first Juanes CD.

'Brave' soars to $67 million, with audiences opting for 2D

Pixar continues its strong box office record with Brave, which debuted to $66.7 million. That's slightly more than the $66.1 million debut of Cars 2 last year. 66% of revenue came from 2D screenings. Since 2D has lower ticket prices, that means an even greater percentage of audiences opted for 2D. I've heard a few anecdotes from people who planned to see a movie in 2D but ended Brave bears Merida 1up paying extra to see the 3D version only because the 2D screening was sold out. The true amount of audiences who prefer 2D may even be higher. However, since audiences abroad opt for 3D, it's likely to continue to be an option for big-budget tentpoles.

Even with competition from Brave, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted only dipped 40% to $20.2 million.  It appears audiences are hungry for animated options, but they won't have another one until Ice Age 3 opens July 13.

Debuting in third place, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter netted $16.5 million. 45% of revenue for the horror-action-alternative history hybrid came from 3D, indicating that a male, fanboy audience is more keen on the format. The release earned a dismal C+ rating Abraham lincoln vampire hunter axe 2on CinemaScore, indicating this the flick already has a stake through its heart.

Steve Carell and Keira Knightley didn't entice audiences to check out Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which averaged a low $2,300 per screen for a total of $3.8 million. Perhaps the apocalyptic romantic comedy should have been even more limited to ensure a higher opening per-screen average, but calls like that are difficult to make. In comparison, Moonrise Kingdom occupied the spot below with $3.4 million in its fifth week, while still playing on only a quarter of the screens.

Woody Allen films typically open big, so it's no surprise that a five-screen release of To Rome, With Love netted $75,000 per screen, the second-highest of the year. To rome with love penelope cruz 2However, middling reviews should ensure this won't be another breakout hit like last year's Midnight in Paris.

This Friday, Seth MacFarlane of "Family Guy" voices a raunchy bear in Ted, long lost siblings reunite in People Like Us, Channing Tatum plays a male stripper in Magic Mike, and Tyler Perry returns with Madea's Witness Protection.


Friday, June 22, 2012

'Brave' draws bow at 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter'

Pixar will go the "Disney princess" route with Brave, which will release in an astounding 4,164 theatres, 2,790 of which will project the film in 3D. Though Pixar has created many all-ages animated films, Brave is more for kids than adults. Critic Chris Barsanti calls the medieval fairy tale "a feast for the eyes and ears, if not always the mind." My own screening of the film was marred by an extremely dark projection that made it difficult to make out many of the scenes with lower light. Brave bears Merida 1The plot, which follows a princess who wants to be independent instead of being married off, is pretty standard, though there's a twist or so that's unexpected. This Pixar entry is already better reviewed than last year's Cars 2. Like that film, Brave stands to make a hefty marketing dollar. I already spotted a girl wearing a Merida shirt, and I'm sure she will be a cash cow as a member of the Disney princess gang. In terms of box office, Brave should earn north of $60 million.

With a title that evokes Snakes on a Plane, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (3,106 theatres) offers just what it says--our nation's 16th president as a killer of blood-suckers. It's Abraham lincoln vampire hunter axe 1shockingly good, according to critic Maitland McDonagh, who praises the "remarkable balancing act," that fuses a "canny mix of action, horror and alternate history in what should be a bona-fide blockbuster." Despite at least some good reviews (the film is rated 36% positive on Rotten Tomatoes), it may be tough for this R-rated film to reach $20 million.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (1,618 theatres) offers a little bit of everything: romance, comedy, a road trip, and the apocalypse. Steve Carell and Keira Knightley play sad sacks who find solace in each other in the days before the world ends. Filled with "an abundance of swift, darkly amusing Seeking a friend couchgags," the movie also "turns rather tender," according to critic Kevin Lally. The "feel-good/feel-bad sensibility may limit its audience appeal, but moviegoers who don’t mind a little astringency in their romantic comedies will be glad they made the journey." With its small-scale wide release, this film should top out under $10 million.

Don't expect another Midnight in Paris. Woody Allen's tour through Europe grows stagnant with To Rome, With Love (5 theatres). Lally pronounces the "wispy collection of unrelated vignettes...a profound disappointment." The "shockingly underdeveloped" storylines resemble "fragments found in an old drawer." Allen's auteur status should make this film at least open fairly well, though his audience is the kind to take notice of reviews and respond accordingly.

On Monday, we'll see if Brave measures up to other Pixar releases and what others releases stood out in this busy weekend.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A festival grows in Brooklyn

New FJI contributor Tomris Laffly reports on the opening night of Brooklyn's BAMcinemaFest and previews what's ahead at this adventurous film festival.

BAMcinématek, one of New York City’s premier destinations for independent and alternative cinema, kicked off its fourth annual BAMcinemaFest yesterday with Mike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk with Me, the screen adaptation of his popular one-man off-Broadway play with the same title. Sleep-Walk-with-MeCo-written by Birbiglia, his brother Joe, Seth Barrish and "This American Life" creator Ira Glass, Sleepwalk With Me is a comedy (a legitimately funny one) that is based-on the real-life, hilarious and unbelievably dangerous sleepwalking adventures of Birbiglia. I saw his play a few years back at the Bleecker Street Theatre, and witnessed Birbiglia’s energy along with his natural, easy presence on stage, which captured the audience at once. Despite the material’s shortcomings as somewhat repetitive for a feature-length film, Sleepwalk with Me was still the perfect crowd-pleaser to start this festival that takes pride in its local roots. The film was shot and produced in New York (with some locations just a few blocks away from BAM, Glass proudly announced), and the crew (whom Glass and Birbiglia verbally celebrated post-screening) is also a product of NYC, mostly Brooklyn.

Before they launched into a mini-stand-up routine, Glass and Birbiglia stood by the rolling end credits and applauded the selfless efforts of everyone involved. We were all invited to join in, and we enthusiastically did. Just like we did for the after-party following the screening, where all ticket holders were welcome. With "attitude" and "pretentiousness" mandatorily checked at the door prior to entering, the opening night was a hit with audiences, setting the stage for a stellar film festival now underway.

BAMcinemaFest, which has formerly introduced important American and international indie films such as Tiny Furniture (Lena Dunham), Bronson (Nicholas Winding Refn), Weekend (Andrew Haigh) and Senna (Asif Kapadia) to New York audiences, is once again hosting a fascinating slate of indies with titles from Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, Berlin, Rotterdam, Slamdance and SXSW; and a total of 22 features showcased under its main slate (20 New York premieres and one North American premiere).

“I’m really excited about the fourth edition of BAMcinemaFest, as it may be our best yet,” says Florence Almozini, BAMcinématek’s program director. “I think we’re refining our identity as a purveyor of American independents with a strong Brooklyn and New York voice, featuring an impressive slate of works by local filmmakers.” One look at this year’s lineup backs up Almozini’s statement: BAMcinemaFest offers a coherent, hand-picked group of films by a generation of ambitious independent filmmakers, mostly from our very own city, whose films are fueled by vision and never hampered by their limited budgets. This is a lineup that eases one’s pain of not having attended this year’s Sundance. For us New Yorkers, a few trips to (or in) Brooklyn are all we need to commit to.

So let’s take a closer look at BAMcinemaFest’s fourth edition. Among the many delights it offers New York audiences to feast on is Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild (this edition’s Spotlight Screening), an indie darling that took the 2012 Sundance Film Festival by quite a storm (and won the Grand Jury Prize). Also screened with equally warm reception as the surprise closing-night film of this year’s New Directors/New Films series in Manhattan and a prize-winner in Cannes’ “Un Certain Regard section, Beasts of the Southern Wild is set in a semi-fairy-tale bayou of Southern Louisiana. It tells the story of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and the unconventional clan of people she lives amongst in a secluded oasis they call the Bathtub, which they have to protect in the face of a storm that endangers their existence. Just like all the main slate screenings of BAMcinemaFest, there will be a Q&A following the Beasts screening (with the likely awards-season contenders Wallis, director Benh Zeitlin and lead actor Dwight Henry). A not-to-be-missed event.

Other noteworthy first-week offerings of the festival’s main slate range from works of debuting filmmakers to those whose new projects have been eagerly anticipated. Francine (with the Academy Award-winning Melissa Leo), the narrative feature debut of co-directors Melanie Shatzky and Brian M. Cassidy, promises a quiet, small and personal story of finding peace in unusual places, with a strong female lead. Keith Miller’s debut feature Welcome To Pine Hill (winner of the 2012 Slamdance Grand Jury Prize) stands out among the first-week offerings with its verité style that blends fictional narrative with nonfiction filmmaking. Writer-director Ry-Russo Young’s follow-up to You Won’t Miss Me (Gotham Awards 2009 Winner of “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You”), the Sundance 2012 title Nobody Walks intrigues with a strong cast and the fact that it’s co-written by another prominent female name in independent film (and now, TV) Lena Dunham, the creator of (and one of) those “Girls” you might have heard of. A Q&A has been announced with Russo-Young and actors Olivia Thirlby and India Ennenga, and although not officially announced just yet, I am told Lena Dunham will make an appearance post-screening as well. Two other attractive titles that hail from Sundance 2012 are Bart Layton’s true-crime thriller documentary The Imposter (the story of Frédéric Bourdin, the subject of David Grann’s 2008 New Yorker profile) and Rick Alverson’s The Comedy (which will be rescreened outdoors later in the festival, co-hosted by Rooftop Films), with its darkly satirical take on the sedated generation of the current times we live in.

In its second week, BamCinemaFest’s main slate continues to impress with its diverse fare. With their second film in this year’s lineup (along with Francine), co-directors Melanie Shatzky and Brian M. Cassidy’s nonfiction feature debut The Patron Saints (from 2011’s Toronto Film Festival) is a “cine-essay on forgotten souls of a rural nursing home” and looks to be a non-traditional, poetic documentary film. V/H/S, a collaboration of David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West & Adam Wingard (the generation of filmmakers responsible for the scares of recent films such as The Innkeepers, A Horrible Way To Die and Silver Bullets) surely aims to please all thrill-seekers (including myself) with its wild genre premise: seven misfits, a mansion, a dead body and a frightening VHS compilation. So Yong Kim’s Sundance-premiered For Ellen stars Paul Dano as a struggling musician seeking redemption and is one of the high-profile titles of the second week, being the auteur’s anticipated directorial follow-up to her critically acclaimed Treeless Mountain. Detropia (from the Academy Award-nominated duo Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady), which pays a visit to the Motor City (and generations of Detroit residents), could be a discovery, while the “inspired-by-true-events” Compliance from filmmaker Craig Zobel is a must-see, if for no other reason than understanding why it provoked widely polarized reactions from both critics and audiences at Sundance 2012. The Elizabeth Olsen-starrer Liberal Arts from “How I Met Your Mother’”s Josh Radner (his second film as a writer-director after Happythankyoumoreplease) looks to be a lighthearted offering and is worth taking a look at in order to follow Olsen’s career taking shape after her breakthrough performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Among the program of short film compilations, Take Me To The Balloony Bin! (curated by the Saftie Brothers of Daddy Longlegs), looks to be the most interesting one with its classic, balloon-themed short films that complement the Safties’ latest work The Black Balloon (also screening as part of this compilation). It’s also worth mentioning that this short program is announced to be appropriate for film lovers of all ages!

Finally, there are several special events outside of this year’s main slate that will enhance the festival program with unique experiences. You’ll have the opportunity to discover Roberto Rossellini’s The Machine That Kills Bad People (once thought to be a lost work) in a North American premiere, with a digital restoration that first screened at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival; as well as Noah Baumbach’s Kicking & Screaming in a special tribute screening. Another exciting special event is certainly the screening of Lotte Reiniger’s “dreamlike homage to The Arabian Nights,” The Adventures of Prince Achmed, with live accompaniment by 3epkano and the avant-garde cellist Erik Friedlander.

BAMcinemaFest will come to a close on July 1 with a free screening of Don Letts’ documentary on photographer Bob Gruen (widely known for his legendary photo of John Lennon in shades and a NYC t-shirt): Rock 'n' Roll Exposed: The Photography of Bob Gruen.

The timing of BAMcinemaFest is ideal: Taking place at the very start of the summer when audiences are disparately seeking challenging alternatives to blockbusters, the festival is a desired destination for NYC film-lovers. Check out the full schedule below (or by visiting the BAMcinemaFest page), and mark your calendars. Wishing a happy festival to everyone!

BAMcinemaFest Schedule:

Thu, Jun 21

7pm: Spotlight screeningBeasts of the Southern Wild

9:30pm: Tchoupitoulas

Fri, Jun 22

7pm: Francine

9:15pm: Gayby

Sat, Jun 23

2pm: Take Me to the Balloony Bin!

4:30pm: Welcome to Pine Hill

6:50pm: Nobody Walks

9:30pm: The Comedy

Sun, Jun 24

2pm: Crazy and Thief

4pm: Jerry and Me + The Disorderly Orderly

7pm: The Imposter

9:30pm: The Unspeakable Act

Mon, Jun 25

7pm: The Patron Saints

9:15pm: The Machine That Kills Bad People

Tue, Jun 26

7pm: Radio UnnameableFollowed by a live performance by Simeon Coxe

9:30pm: The International Sign for Choking

Wed, Jun 27

7pm: Walk Away Renée

9pm: Outdoor screeningThe Comedy

9:30pm: Detropia

Thu, Jun 28

7pm: PavilionFollowed by a live performance by Sam Prekop & Archer Prewitt

9:15pm: For Ellen

Fri, Jun 29

7pm: Liberal Arts

9:30pm: Compliance

Sat, Jun 30

2pm: Mixed Shorts

4:30pm: All City Shorts

7pm: Kicking and Screaming

10pm: V/H/S

Sun, Jul 1

6pm: The Adventures of Prince AchmedLive accompaniment by 3epkano and Erik Friedlander

8pm: Closing NightRock ‘n’ Roll Exposed: The Photography of Bob Gruen

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pixar brings monsters, DreamWorks Animation turns to aliens

Today brings news about two upcoming animated projects. Pixar just released a trailer for 2013's Monsters University, and DreamWorks Animation announced the casting for the 2014 project Happy Smekday!

The Monsters University trailer, which presumably debuted online in advance of this Friday's Pixar offering Brave, was released in four different versions. In each, Sully (the green round one) Monsters Universitysays a different phrase in his sleep ("Dog ate my homework!" "I'm going to be class president!").  

2001's Monsters Inc. was one of the funniest Pixar movies, and I'm sure the sequel will bring plenty more of Sully and Mike's antics. Last year's Cars 2 and this year's Brave (spoiler alert) don't have the adult appeal that's the trademark of Pixar's best works, like Up and Wall-E. Monsters University should return with all-ages laughs and a few gentle lessons. Count me in next June.

DreamWorks Animation, which brought us Monsters vs. Aliens, goes much weirder in Happy Smekday!, at least if you look at the promo site for the book it's based on, The True Meaning of Smekday. After reading some reviews of the book, it appears to have a bizarre and off-the-wall humor that appeals to adults and kids alike. Set on a JLo happy smekdaypost-apocalyptic Earth, the novel documents the relationship between a child and a friendly alien she encounters. One Amazon reviewer talks of the in-jokes she now has with her son regarding the Boovs (the aliens) and the pop culture references throughout (one of the aliens is named J. Lo). Another calls it "War of the Worlds meets E.T.," and yet another calls the relationship between the girl and the alien "Huck and Jim of the 21st century." Those are strong endorsements for what seems to be an extremely creative work. Rihanna and "Big Bang Theory's" Jim Parsons will voice the leads for the DWA project, which is planned for a Q4 2014 release. With Pixar lagging a bit and DreamWorks Animation coming up with great projects like How to Train Your Dragon, this project could further even the score between the two animation studios.


Monday, June 18, 2012

'Rock of Ages' and 'That's My Boy' overshadowed by holdovers

There's plenty of room for comedies and musicals in the summer movie season. Just look at Mamma Mia! and The Hangover, which thrived amidst the big-budget explode-a-thons that are a staple of air-conditioned multiplexes. Rock of Ages and That's My Boy will not be those palate cleansers to the masses. Both of the releases underperformed. Instead, Madagascar 3 Rock of ages tom cruiseand Prometheus repeated their one-two position and Rock of Ages and That's My Boy settled for third and fifth, respectively.

An adaptation of a Broadway jukebox musical, Rock of Ages earned $15 million drawing in a majority female audience. 74% of viewers were over the age of 25. That does makes sense for a story that's set in the 1980s, but would it have been that hard to draw in younger viewers who love shows like "Glee" but are way too young to feel nostalgic for the age of  spandex and teased hair? Though figures around $20 million were predicted for the feature, it actually didn't perform that badly for a musical, recording the sixth-highest opening weekend for the genre.

When you take into account ticket inflation, That's My Boy, at $13 million, is the worst Adam Sandler debut ever. Its $15 million opening weekend put it behind last year's Jack and Jill ($25 Thats my boy sandler samberg 2million opening) and his 2000 flop Little Nicky ($16 million). Is Adam Sandler's man-boy act up? It's been seventeen years since his first big hit, Billy Madison. I wonder if some of Sandler's fans have grown tired of him. 51% of Sandler's audience was under 25, which actually feels low given his juvenile approach to humor. The R-rating of the picture likely alienated some of Sandler's audience and upped the average age of viewers. I bet he will stick to PG-13 next time.

Your Sister's Sister posted the best indie debut of the week, averaging $9,000 per screen in thirteen locations. Moonrise Kingdom, now in its fourth week, posted the highest Safety not guaranteed mark duplassper-screen average of all releases, placing ninth with $2.1 million while still only playing in just 178 locations. FilmDistrict's release of Safety Not Guaranteed, which has been enjoying a wave of postive reviews, went up 202% from its opening week, averaging $6,400 per screen in 46 locations.

This Friday, Pixar's Brave will release (read our interview with the director here). Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and a limited release of Woody Allen's To Rome with Love will round out the bunch.


Friday, June 15, 2012

'Rock of Ages' and 'That's My Boy' contend with 'Madagascar 3'

Although there are two new wide releases this week, Rock of Ages and That's My Boy, the most likely winner of the box office will be last week's release Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted. The well-reviewed film will dovetail into some families' Father's Day plans. If it drops 40%, about average for an animated feature, it will end up in the mid-$30 millions.

Tom Cruise as mega-rocker Stacee Jaxx is one of the best reasons to see Rock of Ages (3,450 theatres). The adaptation of the Broadway jukebox musical stars Julianne Hough (Footloose) and Rock of ages diego boneta julianne houghDiego Boneta as a young couple trying to follow their dreams in a rock club on LA's Sunset Boulevard. "This rock musical delivers the goods, delightfully skewering the 1987 L.A. rock-club scene and breathing fresh air into cherished genre clichés," FJI's Doris Toumarkine reports. Rock of Ages can be over the top to the point of ridiculousness, but it's likely to earn in the $20 million range and will probably extend the life of the Broadway production for years--that lovely synergy the industry strives for these days.

Adam Sandler puts on his man-child cap for That's My Boy (3,030 theatres). Sandler plays a man who fathered a son with his teacher while still a teenager. Now the son ("SNL's" Andy Samberg) is all grown up and renews his Thats my boy sandler sambergrelationship with his estranged father before he gets married--leading to some bachelor party debauchery, among other things. "Even the most diehard Adam Sandler fans will find it hard to sit through this holiday-tagged product," critic Marsha McCreadie laments, pointing out that the father-son picture is timed to this Sunday's Father's Day. Polling suggest males over 25 have the most interest in seeing the comedy, so perhaps the fathers who grew up with Sandler will treat their sons to his signature humor. The picture should also finish in the $20 million range, though most predict Rock of Ages will outdo Sandler's latest.

Your Sister's Sister (13 theatres) stars Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, and Rosemarie DeWitt in an unlikely love triangle complicated by sexual orientation, siblings alive and dead, and that old Your sisters sister mark duplass emily bluntclassic---secretly held feelings. Toumarkine praises the "savvy, emotionally rich comedy-drama," which establishes [director Lynn ]Shelton [profiled here] as a top-tier indie who delivers the quality goods that smart young audiences want to see." I thought it was a pretty good watch, with a couple of delicious turning points that make up for a few dead moments.

On Monday, we'll see if audiences sang along to Rock of Ages or chortled to Sandler's antics. Could Prometheus overperform thanks to positive word-of-mouth? Finally, in Madagascar 3's last week before Pixar's Brave comes in to compete, will the zoo adventure do enough business to greenlight a Madagascar 4?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Agatha Christie-style whodunit revived with 'Murder Mystery'

While flipping channels a while ago, I paused on a British TV series based on an Agatha Christie novel. I had forgotten how pleasurable and exceedingly mild her whodunits can be. That may or may not be the case for Murder Mystery, an Agatha Christie-style, well, murder mystery. The title says it all. Charlize Theron is in talks to star in the project, which is being written by James Agatha christie 1Vanderbilt. John Madden will direct the indie action-comedy, which will be set in the Mediterranean and feature a couple caught up in a murder investigation on their honeymoon. The casting and credits lead me to believe different things about the nature of this project. I'll take a guess at how the project will turn out based on each suspect.

Will Charlize Theron play the ice queen? Between her role as the evil queen in Snow White and the Huntsman and no-nonsense commander Vickers in Prometheus, Theron has shown she can play an uptight, reserved person like no one else. When I think Christie, I think stuffy British duchesses, so perhaps Theron will play a variation on her ice queen parts.

Will James Vanderbilt make it dark like Zodiac? If Christie makes me think of gentle murder mysteries, Vanderbilt makes me think of the complete opposite. Zodiac, which he scripted, gave me nightmares, a rare attribute for any movie seen beyond the age of twelve. Vanderbilt's since had his name attached to the scripts for upcoming projects The Amazing Spider-Man, Robocop, and White House Down---all of which are several notches above your average Christie novel.

Is John Madden the best choice to capture a Christie-like tone? Madden is currently enjoying success with the ensemble retirement comedy The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. He's also directed more high-octane pictures, like The Debt, but perhaps his best-known work was Shakespeare in Love, which won the Best Picture Oscar. He seems like the kind of director to put a light touch on his projects. The Brit has even directed old TV episodes of Sherlock Holmes adaptations. Madden won't have any problem channeling Christie as far as I'm concerned.

Another clue that the project will end up more light than dark--it's an indie action-comedy, meaning there will be a lower budget for the kind of special effects that have filled many of Vanderbilt's work. Perhaps Vanderbilt is using this project to expand his portfolio beyond the lucrative scripts-for-hire that he's been working on in recent years. This project will be a chance for him to branch out and be known for another original work. In the meantime, I may be indulging in the mild-mannered pleasures of Agatha Christie on Netflix.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Reports of trouble for summer 2013 pictures 'World War Z' and 'Lone Ranger'

The shooting of May's Men in Black 3 was reportedly a huge mess. The entire production was shut down for months in order to do rewrites, which were further complicated by all the knots and contradictions inherent in a time-traveling sequel. Now come reports that two 2013 summer blockbusters with nine-figure budgets are in trouble: World War Z and Lone Ranger.

World War Z is going to go back for seven weeks of reshoots--an astonishingly high number, but also one that may indicate that Paramount has faith that its $170 million+ production can be saved. It moved the zombie apocalypse film from December 2012 to the equally valuable real estate in World-war-z-set-photo-03-600x406June 2013. (In comparison, troubled productions 47 Ronin and G.I. Joe: Retaliation were moved from Christmas/summer timeslots for less lucrative February and March, respectively). IndieWire quotes Paramount head Adam Goodman admitting the tentpole has a bad ending but that it will be fixed.

THR cites a few problems with the production. Director Mac Forster (Quantum of Solace) wasn't trusted with all the big effects and more complicated aspects of the production, so his team was replaced with a more experienced one. But the group didn't gel, and with Forster ceding leadership in key areas, the prodcution started to go in all different directions instead of being led down a straightforward path. During the shoot in Hungary, an anti-terrorism task force seized the real assault rifles being used on the set--which violated the country's gun laws. The movie was also given inadequate prep time, a common problem in big productions these days. The most damning evidence to me is that Forster hadn't decided on how he wanted the zombies to look or act three weeks before shooting began.

Lone Ranger, a Disney project with budget estimates topping $250 million, is also running into trouble. Director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp have a history together on the Pirates of the Caribbean films, and Depp reportedly fought against Verbinski being replaced as a director when the production ran into some early trouble. Verbinski is known for big-budget additions, and in Lone_ranger_tonto_johnny_depp_a_pLone Ranger he apparently created his own vintage train locomotives from scratch. The production also ran into (insurable?) troubles with dust storms that delayed shooting and damaged sets. The script is still being rewritten, but production is set to finish in August, a manageable end date given the release date next summer. The budget troubles in this case seem like a battle between a cautious post-John Carter Disney and the go-all-out style of Verbinski, Depp, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. As the success of the Transformers franchise shows, audiences love two hours of non-stop set pieces. That's exactly what Lone Ranger sounds like.

With rushed productions landing themselves in hot water and requiring revised budgets and reshoots, it puts other directors' choices into a new context. Gary Ross, for example, dropped out of directing the sequel to his much-acclaimed Hunger Games because Lionsgate wanted to rush through pre-production due to scheduling issues with star Jennifer Lawrence. J.J. Abrams successfully fought to push back Star Trek 2's scheduled release date. If rushing leads to situations like these, then I think Ross and Abrams were all the wiser to say no to the stress and compromise of helming a rushed summer tentpole.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ruben Fleischer to produce rom-com 'Two Night Stand'

Recently, romantic comedies have started to turn a corner. There are more unusual, messy circumstances. In the end, the girl doesn't always get the guy. Those looking for "true" romantic comedies among the year's wide releases are bound to be disappointed. The romantic drama The Vow most closely hewed to the fated-to-be-together plotline that has fueled rom-coms for decades. If audiences are looking for traditional, conservative love stories these days, they're better off with a drama, preferably one from Nicholas Sparks. The Five-Year Engagement was a romantic comedy, but its tone was completely Ruben fleischerdifferent than a traditional one--and it didn't do that well at the box office. Think Like a Man used the ensemble comedy strategy, which gave it two weeks at #1. One for the Money was a detective comedy with an undercurrent of romance that completely bombed. And that's about it.

Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) is producing Two Night Stand, an indie romantic comedy. Music video director Max Nichols will make his directorial debut on the project, which was penned by Mark Hammer (who has one IMDB credit for the U.S. version of "Skins"). The story centers on a girl and guy who have a one-night stand that doesn't go so well. Due to extreme weather, the duo is stuck together for an additional night. The script won Hammer a spot on the 2011 Black List of outstanding unproduced screenplays. Of course, I also had high hopes for a 2008 Black List romantic comedy, which finally emerged last year as No Strings Attached, but that ended up being yet another blah entry in the genre. I wonder if Liz Meriwether's script started out that way.

The idea of two people who hate each other being stuck together is old-school screwball. Think of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert unwillingly traveling together in It Happened One Night, or horrible Scottish weather forcing an unlikely couple together in the lovely, under-seen I Know Where I'm Going! Still, when done poorly, these stuck-together circumstances can feel exasperating, not real, so it's all about execution. Many young actors are reportedly scrambling to be cast in the picture, which will shoot this fall.

Another thing to note about this project? The word "indie." As a Variety article today pointed out, projects budgeted between $20-60 million have a really hard time getting funded nowadays. That's exactly where a lot of romantic comedies fall. Getting two big-name stars can cost millions, bringing the production above $20 million, but romantic comedies rarely need special effects budgets up to the hilt (unless they turn into The Tourist or Mr. and Mrs. Smith). That's one reason why most of the romantic comedies theses days are indies--and often more creative for it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Audiences dazzled by 'Madagascar 3,' 'Prometheus'

The first animated release in three months, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted took advantage of pent-up demand to earn $60.3 million. The other two Madagascar films opened just above $60 million, meaning the third film held on to 96% of its audience. Many other animated sequels (Kung Fu Panda 2, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, Happy Feet 2) suffered huge Madagascar 3 circus cartdrops from the previous installment, so this shows Madagascar 3 has something special the rest of the films don't. That just might be the great reviews, marketing, and positive audience response ("A" CinemaScore in exit polls). However, the zoo-themed picture will have just one more wide-open weekend before Disney's Brave opens on June 22.

Prometheus performed comfortably above its cautious $40 million expectations, earning $50 million. The adult-minded picture offers more questions than answers, and that's created huge post-film buzz on social networks. The sci-fi prequel to Alien also enticed a sub-audience of superfans. People looking for the ultimate movie experience turned out for IMAX (18% of ticket sales) and 3D (54%, which includes all 3D-equipped IMAX screens). I think the power of social Prometheus storm 2networking will add to the film's momentum in coming weeks. I've seen more chatter about this film on Facebook and Twitter than any other release in recent memory. Its equally mature, much-hyped competition, The Dark Knight Rises, won't hit theatres until July 17.

Moonrise Kingdom made its way into the top ten with $1.5 million and a high $16,000 per-screen average. That puts the Wes Anderson film slightly behind last summer's hit, Midnight in Paris. However, Moonrise outperformed the Woody Allen film in its first two weeks, so it's still too soon to tell. Since each platform picture has expanded their release at a slightly different rate, it will be difficult to compare the two indies until they expand nationally.

Safety not guaranteed mark duplassLast week was a busy one for specialty releases. In a crowded field, our best-reviewed film triumphed. The "inspired original" Safety Not Guaranteed, as described by FJI's Michael Sauter, averaged $11,000 per screen at nine locations. That's not great, but it's better than the performance of other indies with similar assets, like the Greta Gerwig-starring Lola Versus ($8,500 per screen on four screens) or the Jane Fonda-led Peace, Love & Misunderstanding ($3,400 per screen on thirty screens).

This Friday, Adam Sandler does his man-child thing in That's My Boy and Tom Cruise plays an aging sex symbol guitarist in Broadway adaptation Rock of Ages.

Friday, June 8, 2012

'Prometheus' and 'Madagascar 3': Aliens and zoo animals take over the box office

Adults and children alike will have great options this weekend. Prometheus and Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted are tracking at 74% and 74% positive, respectively, on Rotten Tomatoes. This is popcorn fare that will leave you feeling satisfied.

A companion/prequel to the Alien franchise, Prometheus (3,394 theatres) provides tantalizing clues connecting the film to the world of Ellen Ripley while leaving a lot up to the audience's Prometheus noomi rapace 1speculation. Scary and thought-provoking, the "dazzling" sci-fi film "delivers all the visual spectacle and visceral shocks that fans of the original could want," according to critic Kevin Lally. Though R-rated movies can have a tough time at the box office, the Ridley Scott-directed feature will be in the clear if it opens above $40 million. With its tantalizing combination of ancient artifacts and alien encounters, (along with a current audience approval rating of 87%), I predict Prometheus will play well through the heat of the summer.

In Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (4,258 theatres), the zoo animals join a circus in their quest to return to their zoo in New York City. Critic Doris Toumarkine offers a familiar adjective in her endorsement of the animated feature, which she dubs "jaw-droppingly dazzling." She predicts the "deluxe 3D journey" will satisfy both kids and their parents. Although the last sequel experienced a slight drop-off in Madagascar 3 circus cartreturns, the third should open somewhere above $50 million.

This is a big week for high-profile specialty pictures, but most have mixed (or outright bad) reviews. Robert Pattinson stars as a young man who ensnares wealthy French women for his benefit in the period picture Bel Ami (15 theatres). The presence of the Twilight star will certainly draw a crowd of dedicated fans, but critic David Noh thought his casting was a "major misstep." Noh also decries the "derivative, white-bread rom-com" Lola Versus (4 theatres). Greta Gerwig stars as a dumped woman starting fresh, but the NYC-centric feature misses an opportunity to do something new in favor of "been there-done that." A mom Safety not guaranteed 1brings her kids to see their hippie grandma in Peace, Love & Misunderstanding (28 theatres). A lovely cast that includes Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener does nothing to fix the "banality" of the feature, which employs some time-worn plotting. The only positive review in the bunch? Safety Not Guaranteed (9 theatres), a time-travel comedy that offers a "quirkily offbeat, consistently funny love story," according to critic Michael Sauter.

On Monday, we'll see if audiences turned out for Prometheus and if families decided to come back for more Madagascar in its third outing. With both films releasing in 3D, this will be yet another test to see if audiences think it's worth shelling out for 3D glasses.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Disney does 'Toy Story' with video games in 'Wreck-it Ralph'

Wreck-it Ralph is a Disney film, but it isn't a Pixar film. However, the mark of Pixar is all over the November 2, 2012, release, which has its sights set on being an early holiday hit. The trailer for the family feature just hit the Internet, offering us a glimpse into what Pixar movies the film is borrowing from.

Toy Story. John C. Reilly plays Wreck-It Ralph, a villain in a video game. He's just one of many video game characters that live an alternate life when they're not being played, true to Toy Story form.

Monsters, Inc. Ralph gets sick of playing the bad guy and goes on the run, "game jumping" into other character's video games. This feels quite familiar to the "closet" concept in Monsters Inc. The monster duo in that film were able to access closets in a central, factory-like area. Here, "Game Central Station" is modeled after Grand Central Station.

The Incredibles. Ralph isn't just normal, he's super-strong, easily able to wreck entire buildings. He also takes to first-person shooter games the way a superhero does. The Incredibles also continues the Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. idea of creating everyday lives for figures the public knows as superheroes, toys, scary monsters--or video game characters.

The Pixar "all-ages" appeal.  The trailer opens with a monologue from Ralph that sounds like a ploy to reel in working parents everywhere. Ralph is framed as a corporate slave who just wants to escape and find himself. The use of the Talking Heads song "Once in a Lifetime" clinches the trailer's dad appeal. Also, as the participants in the "bad-anon" section suggest, Wreck-It Ralph includes characters from '70s arcade games onwards. Older gamers will get a nostalgia kick out of seeing their favorites in the movie.

2012 just keeps getting more interesting. Here's the trailer for Wreck-It Ralph:


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

'Justice League' to answer 'The Avengers'

Comic book naïf that I am, I thought that The Avengers was the only time superheroes from separate comic universes joined together to fight evil. I was wrong. Turns out Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, the Green Lantern, the Flash (and the lesser-known Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl) have their own crime-fighting gang, dubbed the Justice League. The comic book was Justice leagueturned into an animated series that ran on the Cartoon Network in the early aughts. Now Warner Bros., the studio behind the The Dark Knight Rises, is working on a film treatment of the Justice League. Will Beall (upcoming The Gangster Squad) will write a script that will team together the DC Comics superheroes.

Just as Disney owns Marvel Studios, Warner Bros. owns DC Comics. Both studios have been aggressively working on giving the comic book heroes their own movies. Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and The Avengers have been Disney's biggest hits, while The Dark Knight was a huge success for Warner Bros. The latter studio has also had some bad misses--like Jonah Hex (which grossed just $10 million) or the lackluster Green Lantern (a "mere" $117 million).

This isn't the first time Warner Bros. has tried to put together a Justice League film. Back in 2008, a version that was already cast fell apart due to a lack of tax breaks and the WGA strike. A couple of years ago, ScreenRant catalogued the various stages of Warner Bros.' DC Comics projects. A lot of them still aren't off the ground. Besides Justice League, it seems that audiences will be most likely to see a version of Wonder Woman or The Flash in the near future. This summer holds both The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. Through 2014, Disney has Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 lined up, but Warner Bros. doesn't have any DC Comics productions--they're putting their muscle behind a little project known as The Hobbit. Given the long production cycle and extensive special effects that go into a superhero movie, along with Warner Bros. many other big-budget films, it may be a while before Batman joins forces with his DC Comics companions.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

'Harry Potter's' Emma Watson breaks out with 'Perks of Being a Wallflower'

The actors who played Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the eight Harry Potter films have a difficult road ahead of them. Their faces instantly recall the characters they embodied over the course of their childhoods. Everyone remembers the curse of Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker and then faded away. Daniel Radcliffe has focused on stage work ("Equus," "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying") and the brooding stage-to-screen adaptation of The Woman in Black. Rupert Grint has starred in a few small (daring) films about British youth. Emma Watson made a small appearance as a romantically spurned costume designer in My Week with Marilyn. She'll have her first post-Potter leading role in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which is set for a release this fall.

Watson will play a cool outcast senior who, along with her friend, takes in a "wallflower" underclassman. The modern, occasionally daring role (at least if they stay true to the book) will help her carve a different path from her role as the uptight, book-smart Hermione, but it still shares some similarities to Potter. The coming-of-age tale will be targeted towards young adults, it's set in a school, and it does have a bit of a underdog kids vs. the world feel to it.

Whereas Radcliffe and Grint have dived into projects with nudity, drug use, a hitman, and sex, Watson's next film choice feels tamer. She may delve further into risque subject matter with Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring, which centers on a few high students who rob celebrities for their designer clothes, but she'll still be playing a student. The 22-year-old actress won't be able to play high schoolers forever, but her recent attempt to do something different fell through. She was set to play a suicidal young writer in Your Voice in My Head, but the project went on hold once Harry Potter director David Yates dropped out.


Even in the Perks of Being a Wallflower trailer, some of the jokes fall flat for me, but it also communicates a genuine and spirited tone--not too downer, raunchy, or superficial. The 1999 book by Stephen Chbosky has proven consistently popular since its publication, and it's had time to grab  a decade's worth of young adults who fell hard for the book's take on high school. That, along with Watson, may be the key to the film's box-office appeal.