Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Two L.A.-set projects gather speed, 'The Canyons' and 'Van Nuys'

One thing that's always bothered my about movies is how many are set in either New York or Los Angeles. There are 311 million people in the U.S., but only 9 million live in NYC, and 3.8 million in Los Angeles (of course, those numbers rise if you include the "metro areas" surrounding the cities, to 18 million and 13 million respectively). Even using the larger numbers, those two cities only count for 10% of the U.S. population. Yet the current top ten currently contains The Dark Knight Rises (set in "Gotham" but filmed largely in New York City), Ted, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Spider-man nycSavages, all set in or near NYC/LA. Add in The Avengers and Men in Black 3, which use Manhattan skyscrapers as their backdrop, and it seems like any picture not set in a fantasy world chooses those two cities.

The same holds for indie pictures, like last week's new release Ruby Sparks, set in L.A. Today's news brings updates on two more L.A.-set projects, The Canyons and Van Nuys. Both seem strongly rooted in place, including the cultural texture of the area. But aren't these areas movies use again and again? Although these projects probably get green-lit because they seem more instantly relatable to the studio execs and producers involved, those connections don't always hold up in the final product.  I think there's a reason last year's Oscar nominees included Hawaii-set The Descendants, Alabama-set The Help, and Oakland-set Moneyball, for example. All those L.A. and N.Y.C.-set pictures can feel like the same old, and to those living outside those metro areas, the projects can come off as insular and snobbish.

That being said, both of these L.A.-set projects have a few things in their favor. Bret Easton Ellis, who wrote that great tale of L.A. rich kid ennui Less Than Zero, penned The Canyons, an indie noir about people trying to make it in Hollywood that sounds like it will have sharp satirical teeth. The cast includes the oh-so-dependable Lindsay Lohan and adult film star James Deen, and Variety tells us today that unknown Lauren Schacher has been cast as a shallow socialite. The dark side of fame is a familiar story, but if anyone can inject some originality into this picture, it's Ellis. Paul Schrader, who wrote Living-los-angelesTaxi Driver, will direct.

Bill Murray is considering starring in Van Nuys, which made the Black List of best unproduced screenplays. He would play an anti-role model who a 12-year-old befriends in the wake of his parents' divorce. And by "anti," the filmmakers mean a retiree and war veteran who also has a fondness for gambling, drinking, and prostitutes. Relative newbie Ted Melfi will direct from his script. Murray's casting is not final, as other actors like Jack Nicholson have reportedly taken a look at the role.

Maybe The Canyons has to be set in L.A., but Van Nuys seems like it would be just as good a fit in Small Town, U.S.A. Maybe more of the city's screenwriters need to start taking sabbaticals to some of the less-filmed areas of the country, because there are plenty of stories there to be told.

Monday, July 30, 2012

'Dark Knight Rises' spends a second weekend at number one

The Dark Knight Rises led the box office this weekend, dropping 60% to finish with $64 million. Overall, the box office was 25% off from the same weekend last year, though the difference comes down to many factors, including different movies, the opening of the Olympics, and the shootings at the midnight screening of the final Batman movie last Friday. The Dark Knight fell 53% its second weekend compared to the finale's 60% drop, but that can't solely be explained by the aftereffects of last week's tragedy. Internationally, The Dark Knight Rises has earned $248 million, compared to $287 million at home. That's a half-billion dollars in just two weeks.

The Ben Stiller-led comedy The Watch stumbled with a $13 million opening. Stiller's Tower Heist also underperformed earlier this year, leading some to downgrade the actor's star rating. The

The watch bright light
'The Watch'

tale of dudes who create a neighborhood watch group that uncovers an alien invasion drew mainly males, and primarily older ones.

Attracting the exact opposite demographic--mainly females and audiences under 24--Step Up Revolution also finished with a middling result, $11.8 million. I suspect the opening of the dance film will put this franchise to bed (or turn it into a straight-to-DVD one), though the four-film run is impressive. If there's another one, it's because these movies don't cost too much, the main special effect being unknown

Step up revolution flash mob
'Step Up Revolution'

(and modestly paid) young dancers.

Fox Searchlight's indie fantasy-romance Ruby Sparks had a solid debut in thirteen theatres, with a per-screen average of $11,700. The NC-17, violent Killer Joe averaged $12,600 per screen in three locations. Meanwhile, documentary Searching for Sugar Man debuted to $9,500 per screen in three locations, a less promising debut--though I certainly expect strong word-of-mouth for this astonishing true story.

Further up in the rankings, in tenth, twelfth, and thirteenth place, are this summer's indie successes. Moonrise Kingdom placed tenth in its tenth week, earning $1.3 million and holding strong to its placement at the bottom of the top ten. It's been ninth or tenth for six of its ten weeks. In twelfth is Woody Allen's To Rome with Love, accruing another $1 million in its sixth week. Southern-set Beasts of the Southern Wild, the newbie of the bunch, grabbed $914,000 in its fifth week. It went up 19% from last week, while the other two films posted small decreases around 25%  less than last week.

This Friday, kid-friendly Diary of a Wimpy Kid 3 will go up against the remake of 1990 sci-fi favorite Total Recall.

Friday, July 27, 2012

'Dark Knight Rises' stands against 'The Watch,' 'Step Up Revolution'

This coming weekend is a melancholy one. 20-25% of people polled by research film NRG displayed some hesitation about going back to the movie theatres after James Holmes killed twelve and injured fifty-eight after opening fire during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Although the tragedy was the work of one disturbed individual, it's colored the moviegoing Dark knight rises christian baleexperience, and some fear copycat killings. Domestic returns for the Batman finale have been slightly below projections compared to robust international returns, a sign that some feel squeamish about heading to the theatres in the wake of such a horrific event.

Hollywood, often an escape from reality, has become uncomfortably close to it. Both new wide releases this week have made changes to the marketing of their films because of their similarity to current events. Step Up Revolution excised a dancing scene involving gas masks from its commercials, but not the actual movie. The comedy The Watch was retitled from Neighborhood Watch earlier this year after a teenager, Trayvon Martin, was shot and killed by a member of a community's neighborhood watch. Plus, Gangster Squad will be reshot and has been pushed back from September to January, because a climactic scene involves a shooting in a movie theatre.

The Dark Knight Rises should drop around 60% from last week and land somewhere above $50 million. However, if it were to post the same drop as its predecessor, the Christian Bale starrer would end up higher, closer to $75 million.

Step Up Revolution (2,567 theatres), the fourth in a popular dance-centered franchise, has Step up revolution vintage carsstrong support among young females as well as Latino and African-American audiences. 90% of the screens will show the film in 3D, which should easily give the release a number somewhere in the teen millions. Critic Maitland McDonagh gives her endorsement of what really counts, noting that "this third sequel features the most frequent, energetically choreographed and performed dance numbers of the series to date."

Anchored by the funny quartet of Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and up-and-comer Richard Ayoade, The Watch (3,168 theatres) involves a group's puffed-up attempts to monitor the neighborhood, which they end up defending against little green men. The comedy "consistently settles for broad, often raunchy laughs," critic Michael Sauter notes with disappointment, leading to humor that feels "computer-programmed." Critics agree, giving the comedy just a 14% positive The watch matching jacketsrating.

A kind of indie riff on Weird Science, Ruby Sparks (13 theatres) opened on Wednesday, averaging around $1,500 per screen on the day of its release. The fantastical comedy-drama centers on a young author who writes his dream girl into existence, a concept that's "charming, often funny, thoughtful, and just a little bit tedious," according to critic Wendy R. Weinstein.

"Sleazy, abhorrent stuff, but smashing good pulp," the NC-17 Killer Joe (3 theatres) has a story chock-full of violence, sex, and nudity.  It's "too twisted and cruel for most people," critic Rex Roberts warns, but a subset of people may enjoy its pulpy take and trashy characters.

The staff at Film Journal are gaga for Searching for Sugar Man. With a 93% positive critics rating and 100% positive audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, we're not alone. The documentary tells the story of a failed U.S. musician who lives his life completely unaware that he has become a huge hit in the isolated, apartheid nation of South Africa, and brings to the forefront all the what-ifs in life, as well as the vagaries of fame and fortune.

On Monday, we'll see how the box office does in light of last week's tragedy.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Today in highly anticipated films: Venice Film Festival and 'Cloud Atlas'

Today brought news of the lineup for the Venice Film Festival, and the five-minute trailer for Cloud Atlas. The best films in the Venice Film Festival probably won't arrive in U.S. theatres until next year, but Cloud Atlas is coming soon--October 28th in fact. That's on the early side for any Oscar-aspiring films, but the extremely ambitious trailer has excited many commenters.

First up, the Venice Film Festival. There are three films in particular that I'll be closely watching for critical response. Perhaps the most anticipated selection of the bunch still hasn't been confirmed or announced. Still, most people expect that Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, a profile of a fictional enigmatic leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) some have compared to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, will also be in competition.

Beyond, that I'm curious how an adaptation of the compelling, scathing book The Reluctant Fundamentalist will play. I remember the book reading more like a speech, with little narrative, so I think the adaptation will have to take a number of liberties. Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) directed, and the cast includes Kate Hudson in one of her first non-rom-com roles in some time. I bet critics will be wary of her performance, since Hudson has become synonymous with terrible rom-coms.

Director Terrence Malick's To The Wonder will be another top pick. Plus, it comes just two years after his previous film--a record. Like The Tree of Life, the movie also has spiritual themes. The story centers on a couple's unraveling after they return from their pilgrimage to a holy site in Italy. Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem star.

Finally, Cloud Atlas will beat the rush of high-caliber films with an October, not Thanksgiving or Christmas, release. The very fact that the trailer needed to last five minutes to even put together a semblance of the story means something. If you can't explain a movie in a thirty-second TV spot these days, it's tough to get a project greenlit. Perhaps the pull of the directors, Matrix creators Lana and Andy Wachowski and Run Lola Run's Tom Tykwer, gave Warner Bros. faith in the project. The sweeping sci-fi-spiritual-drama is an adaptation of an extremely ambitious book that weaves together six stories set in different times: think 18th Century schooners and futuristic dystopias, all in one film.

The casting of Tom Hanks, who gives the voiceover in the trailer, feels familiar and safe, and helps ground the out-there work. After all, Hanks is the one who told his life story on a bus stop bench in Forrest Gump, so it makes sense that he can tell stories about his multiple, reincarnated lives across time.

At first, the images don't even look like a typical Wachowski film, until pretty impressive sci-fi sets start overtaking the schooners. The fact that all these images and stories live together in one place has turned off some commenters, but more are intrigued. Plus, there's a two-hour, 44-minute running time to help sort everything out. Releasing in just three months, Cloud Atlas will be one of the first end-of-the-year films vying for an epic, must-see status.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

'Life of Pi' trailer looks (too) dreamy

Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi was published in 2003, and it became a bestseller and book club phenomenon shortly after. The story of a boy's survival on a life raft after a shipwreck had a haunting and inspiring narrative that resonated with readers. Unlike, say, The Hunger Games, I have always been doubtful that the book would make a good movie. The storyteller is an unreliable Life-of-pi01narrator. What he sees is not always reality, and audiences tend to chafe at any plotlines that end with the reveal "it was all a dream." That's a rough approximation of the ending of the book, which relies heavily on a final Sixth Sense-like twist that changes the entire 300 pages before it. The trailer for director Ang Lee's feature adaptation, which is set for a prime Thanksgiving release, just hit the Internet. The sets look like surreal compositions created on a nearby soundstage, a little too dreamy for my taste.

The scenes with the lifeboat marooned in glassy, motionless water feel the most artificial to me. I was a little reminded of director Peter Jackson's adaptation of another bestseller, The Lovely Bones. That drama was also told through the lens of a unique narrator, a murdered child. The ephemeral dreaminess of her narrative wasn't captured successfully on film. To compensate, there were scenes set in heaven that were there more for purposes of tone, not narrative, and those were the biggest red flags for me.



I certainly hope I'll be proved wrong, but I can think of very few movies that successfully show a narrator's altered reality and then follow it up with another version of reality. Even in short dream sequences, audiences often feel cheated. That explains why Oliver Stone's Savages (which has multiple endings) got a terrible C+ rating in exit polls. Or why horror movies sometimes follow up the "it was all a dream" section with another one that reveals, in fact, the monsters or whatever is plaguing the victim are in fact real. "People with distorted perspective" movies like Taxi Driver and The Shining have sometimes worked, and the dream concept is also popular in sci-fi movies like The Matrix and Inception (which at least gave a reason for their altered realities). With its stunning visual images and literary roots, Life of Pi is clearly Oscar bait. But will critics and audiences bite?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ed Helms to star as Rusty Griswold in 'Vacation' reboot

Ed Helms' characters' never catch a break, and that bad luck is likely to continue since Helms has signed on to play Clark Griswold's grown son, Rusty, in the reboot of the Vacation franchise. The casting of Helms even makes sense, age-wise. Helms is 38 and Chevy Chase, who played the original patriarch, is 68, so it's plausible they could be father and son. In this version, Rusty will continue the family tradition and take his own kids on a road trip vacation.

It's been 15 years since the underperforming Vegas Vacation released and helped put an end to the Ed Helms Vacationfranchise. I actually loved this one as a kid, and it's ten times funnier than 1985's European Vacation, which mainly trades on "Ugly American" tropes. The series classics, of course, are the original 1983 Vacation, which centered on a road trip to Wally World, and 1989's Christmas Vacation, which has that holiday movie blessing of showing up on TV every December as seasonal fare.

The thing that differentiated the Vacation series was that it had a heart. Clark wanted to spend time with his family and make them have "the best time ever," but bad luck and over-ambition usually got in the way. I hope Rusty has an iteration of his father's character, and that writer/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses) don't try to pull a 180 and make him the stereotypical Blackberry-addicted dad more prevalent today. The earnestness is key.

Helms' star image is right-on for the Vacation project. His characters often start out earnest, naive, and striving ("The Office"). In his films (The Hangover, Cedar Rapids), the characters go a step further, partying and misbehaving and then suffering way more consequences than the average Joe. That includes getting tattooed, losing teeth, or discovering you've just turned your life into shambles. Helms' comedic image is quite similar--but significantly different--than Steve Carell's, his co-star on "The Office." I wouldn't be surprised if Carell was also considered for the role. Carell tends to play timid characters who quietly come into their own (40-Year-Old Virgin, Crazy Stupid Love, and Seeking a Friend at the End of the World). If you were to have both Helms and Carell re-enact the scene in Christmas Vacation where Clark installs Christmas lights, to much frustration and some (pretty dangerous) physical comedy, I would pick Helms. If all goes according to schedule, filming for the comedy will begin next spring.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Warner Bros. plans more comic book movies after 'Dark Knight Rises'

Warner Bros.' third and purportedly final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, comes out next Friday. It may be the last film for series helmer Christopher Nolan, who has said he will not returning, but it probably won't be the end of Batman. For his other DC Comics friends, it's only the beginning.

As I reported in June, Warner Bros. is working on a feature version of Justice League, an Avengers-like group of crime-fighting superheroes that includes Batman, Wonder Woman, The

Henry Cavill on set in 'Man of Steel'

Flash, Superman, and the Green Lantern. The studio is also is developing standalone projects for two of the characters, The Flash and Wonder Woman. Next summer, Nolan is producing Zack Snyder's Superman movie Man of Steel.

When it comes to Wonder Woman, it's worth noting that a 2011 TV pilot for the character, who was supposed to be a CEO by day and superhero by night, didn't end up getting a network green light. Bloggers flew into an outrage over the character's super-sexy outfit, which led costume designers to tone down some of the latex. That's one problem with female superheroes. They seem designed for a male audience, not a female one. McG (who was going to direct/save the Wonder Woman pilot) managed to make kick-butt women work in his reboot of Charlie's Angels, but there's something about body-hugging costumes that look appropriate on Batman but objectifying in Wonder Woman. Men's costumes tend to show off muscles and abs, emphasizing their strength. Women's costumes make them look like their only tool is seduction. Anne Hathaway's Catwoman costume gets my vote for toeing the line between sexy and functional--it's probably the least provocative out of all the Catwoman costumes.

Having other platforms besides film to explore characters, look, and tone can be helpful--at least to avoid mistakes like those of the Wonder Woman project. Warner Bros.' plan for its DC Comics characters is Disney-esque, with the characters showing up in video games, comic books, action figures, an animated straight-to-DVD movie and--wait for it-- a "We Can Be Heroes" charity campaign to fight hunger in Africa. Superheroes never really die. And it doesn't seem like superhero franchises will either.



Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Philip Seymour Hoffman joins 'Catching Fire' cast

Catching Fire doesn't release until Thanksgiving of next year, way too long as far as many fans are concerned. Casting for the sequel to The Hunger Games is underway, and there have been some juicy announcements lately.

Today, Philip Seymour Hoffman joined the cast to play Plutarch Heavensbee, the replacement gamemaker, or overseer of the annual televised, fight-to-the-death games. His role is significant Philip seymour hoffman catching fireand lasts through the third book (which will be made into two movies). Hoffman's participation reminds me of how the Harry Potter films tackled casting. Both "children's" releases cast well-regarded actors in the adult roles, instead of just filling those slots with unknowns. Hoffman joins Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, and Toby Jones (who also had a role in the Potter series), all of whom are reprising their roles. Without giving too much away, Hoffman's character has a secret. Although far from the gravity of his "did-he-or-didn't-he" role in Doubt, I'm sure some of the acting skills he deployed in that movie will be at work in this role.

Jena Malone, who I still remember best from her role in Donnie Darko, has also officially joined the cast of Catching Fire. Malone plays Johanna Mason, a tough victor who is 200px-Catching_fireabsolutely ruthless but also a sad figure. People in the Capitol have killed all of her loved ones, so she has no one left. Katniss and Johanna share many scenes together. Reading the book, I thought of Johanna as being much older than Katniss, so this casting is something of a surprise for me.

There are still notable roles left to be cast in Catching Fire, including Finnick Odair, who has a bittersweet life story not dissimilar from Johanna's. Rounding out the list of notable Tributes in the second film is the scientifically inclined duo Beetee and Wiress and 80-year-old Mags. With so many talented older actresses in the film business, that's one announcement I'm particularly looking forward to.

Monday, July 9, 2012

'Amazing Spider-Man' catches audiences in its web

The relaunch of the Peter Parker franchise with The Amazing Spider-Man earned $65 million over the weekend for a six-day total of $140 million. That doesn't sound shabby to me, but within the context of other Spider-Man movies and superhero launches it's good, not sensational. While Spider-Man opened well above the relaunches of the X-Men and Batman franchises, its Amazing Spider Man Andrew Garfield spider webssix-day total was slightly lower than the 2002 Spider-Man, which grossed $114 million over its three-day weekend and about $144 million if you count the six-day period. In comparison, Batman Begins blew its previous totals out of the water, while X-Men: First Class earned slightly better than its predecessor. Comparison calculus aside, Spider-Man is a strong franchise that kept, not lost, its strength. That in itself is an accomplishment. 25% of attendees were families drawn to the comic's more optimistic view of NYC and high school-age hero. Although The Dark Knight Rises releases in just two weeks, The Amazing Spider-Man has carved out a younger niche. Its A- rating in CinemaScore exit polls rose to A among viewers under 25. While 3D returns were a slightly disappointing 44%, IMAX contributed 10% of the total. Even when 3D returns are weak, IMAX usually makes a big impact, something that should be taken into account in assessments of 3D's waning grosses.

Savages' $16.1 million was right on target with expectations. However, audiences did not care for the Oliver Stone drug drama, giving it a C+ CinemaScore rating. A surprise ending was named Savages aaron johnson taylor kitsch masksas one reason for the low grade, since audiences don't like getting something different than they bargained for. The California-set crime picture played to an audience split evenly male and female, with 70% of viewers of the R-rated film over thirty.

Earning $7.2 million over the weekend, Katy Perry: Part of Me attracted an audience of young idolizers. 80% of the audience was female, and 72% under the age of 25. The numbers are somewhat disappointing for Paramount, but the project was also produced on a fairly low budget. An "A" CinemaScore rating will help this concert doc play well in coming weeks. Unlike Katy perry part of me guitarmany other outings in the same genre, Katy Perry: Part of Me wasn't marketed as a limited engagement, so perhaps that contributed to the softer opening.

Two indie movies occupied spots in the top ten. Moonrise Kingdom was off just 5% for a total of $4.6 million. Woody Allen's To Rome With Love gathered $3.5 million while also playing on around 800 screens. After a good but not great opening weekend, Beasts of the Southern Wild played strong through its second, averaging $19,000 per screen while expanding to 19 locations, for a total of $376,000. Next week it should cross the $1 million mark, a landmark that not too many indie films reach, much less on their third week.

This Friday, Ice Age: Continental Drift will replace Brave as families' freshest animated option.


Friday, July 6, 2012

'Savages' debuts as 'Amazing Spider-Man' pulls in the money

The Amazing Spider-Man (4,318 theatres) opened on July 3 and quickly earned $58 million here and another $50 million abroad. Through the weekend, the superhero picture should end up with a six-day total of $140-150 million. No wonder Sony wanted to reboot the franchise. The studio's bet has paid off with this film, which has earned positive reviews from critics and thumbs Amazing Spider Man Andrew Garfield in suitup from fans. FJI critic Frank Lovece declares the Andrew Garfield-Emma Stone pic an "action-packed ride with top-notch acting, great effects and stunt work, and a plot with more holes than a spider web."

The latest 3D concert doc, Katy Perry: Part of Me (2,730 theatres) will provide Perry's signature song-and-costume confections to fans who may not have seen the performer in concert. As critic David Noh reports, the doc also includes Perry's reaction to her floundering marriage and interviews with her Katy perry part of me evangelist parents. Noh "came away from it with a newfound admiration and respect for this fiercely determined, highly individual, smart and funny young woman." Paramount has modest, teen-million expectations for the project, which was produced on a relatively low budget.

A summer noir with plenty of sizzle, Savages (2,627 theatres) "remains true to the book's hallucinatory mix of stoner navel-gazing and casual brutality," deems Maitland McDonagh, referring to author and co-screenwriter Don Winslow's source material. The story of two drug dealers and their mutual lover, O (Blake Lively) gets a lot of tonal help from the "slacker-savant wordplay" of O's voiceover, Savages aaron johnson taylor kitsch blake lively dinnerwhich may have viewers reaching for Winslow's novels. I thought the (violent) flick offered plenty of fun, but Universal has set a low bar for the Oliver Stone-directed film, which is expected to earn just over $10 million for the weekend. Though Savages couldn't be more different from Ted (or Magic Mike), there are a lot of R-rated features competing for adult audiences.

On Monday, we'll see if Spider-Man ended up with its nine-figure payday, if audiences turned out for Katy Perry and if Savages sops up more of the R-rated segment of the audience during these hot summer days and nights.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

U.K.'s Secret Cinema turns 'Prometheus' into an interactive experience

Spending $54 on a movie ticket is a tall order. But Secret Cinema in the U.K. has convinced people to do just that, by combining a movie screening with a pre-show of interactive theatre and a touch of a theme park ride. What's more, people sign up without knowing what movie they'll see--to add a layer of surprise to the experience. Secret Cinema typically does one-month runs of shows that may involve over one hundred cast members and intricate sets and visual effects. Lawrence of Arabia and The Third Man have previously enticed viewers. For the past month, the secret film was Prometheus. Although production costs were high, the run earned $1.1 million from 38 shows in 28 days. As this video shows, it was a pretty immersive experience. It reminds me a bit of Universal's Terminator ride in Los Angeles, or what I've heard of Sleep No More, an interactive riff on Macbeth that's been selling out $105 tickets in NYC for over a year.

Secret Cinema is planning to move to NYC this fall, so we'll have a chance to see how the production fares in the Big Apple, where there are hundreds of events each evening aiming to capture the attention of the city's residents. Fox's involvement in this Secret Cinema event is unclear. The founder, Fabien Riggall, says that other studios and distributors have come to him with ideas about partnerships, suggesting that he teamed up with the Prometheus distributor for this event. People aren't allowed to tweet or Facebook the actual name of the film featured during its run. Could that dampen Secret Cinema's potential as a way to build buzz about a movie? Or will it lead to more informal word-of-mouth recommendations and an outpouring once the run is over and the embargo is lifted?

If any film was a good fit for Secret Cinema, it was Prometheus, which is a prequel to the Alien franchise and his an intricate mythology that goes deeper than the films reveal. Still, it surprises me that a film with enough backstory to warrant what's essentially a pop-up theatre/theme park experience hasn't done better. Prometheus has earned  $118 million in the U.S. and $165 million abroad, with a reported $120 million production budget. I'm sure boxed sets and promotional tie-ins will make the sci-fi pic even more of a winner, but the current box office can be fickle when it comes to quality films.


Monday, July 2, 2012

'Ted' mines comedy gold with surprise $54 million weekend

Nearly doubling industry estimates, Ted scored big with a $54.1 million gross this weekend. In comparison, 2009's The Hangover debuted to $44 million. That means Ted has set the new record for an opening of a non-sequel, R-rated comedy. Not only did it earn a lot of money, audiences gave Ted mark wahlberg mila kunis 2it an A- CinemaScore. I'm sure Universal will want to follow up this comedy's $50 million weekend with a sequel, so there may be a Ted 2 a couple of summers from now.

For the first time ever, two R-rated comedies opened above $20 million. Magic Mike beat that figure by a lot, earning $39.1 million crumpled one-dollar bills in just three days. Channing Tatum stars as a male stripper with big dreams in this Steven Soderbergh-directed flick, which appears to have delighted both Magic mike stage 2critics (78% positive on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences. Both Ted and Magic Mike are set up for strong follow-up weekends thanks to the Fourth of July holiday.

Most expected Disney's Brave to spend a second weekend in first place, but instead the feature dropped 48%, on the high side for animated movies. That left the princess movie with $34 million over the three-day period. Still, with kids out of school this feature will perform well on weekdays. In fact, it's already earned double its opening weekend (for a total of $134 million) due to strong performance Monday through Thursday.

In fourth place, Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection grabbed $26.2 million, also on the high side of expectations. Lionsgate reported that Perry's audiences are normally 80% black, but the casting of Eugene Levy and Denise Richards made the comedy more of a crossover hit, with Madea's witness protection 1 eugene levy tyler perrythe figure plateauing at 70%. One thing remained the same. Perry's pictures are beloved by females, who represented around 70% of the audience.

Squeaking into tenth place, the family drama People Like Us earned just $4.3 million. Audiences gave it a so-so B rating in exit polls.

Critical darling Beasts of the Southern Wild averaged $42,000 per screen in four locations over the weekend, a robust start for the Louisiana-set tale.

Moonrise Kingdom, which made a national, 854-screen push, brought in $4.8 million. This made the Wes Anderson-directed film his second-highest grossing feature to date. The Royal Tenenbaums earned $52 million in 2001.

Tomorrow, The Amazing Spider-Man will get a head start on Fourth of July crowds. The 3D concert doc Katy Perry: Part of Me will follow on Thursday, and Oliver Stone's Savages will open on Friday.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Bringing art films to the island of Aruba

This Screener correspondent is now back in sweltering New York City after six days at the tropical but windswept Aruba International Film Festival. On my last day in Aruba, I spoke to AIFF director Claudio Masenza, a screenwriter, journalist and former programmer for the Venice Film Claudio-masenza-aruba-film-festivalFestival, about the challenges of launching a new film festival on an island without one art house and where the inviting beaches offer fierce competition to his eclectic movie selections.

“We try not to do much in the mornings,” Masenza admitted, “so people can go to the beach, and then come back and go to the theatres.”

Masenza confessed to some trepidation when he first helped launch the fest in 2010 about programming for a local audience unfamiliar with international cinema (apart from a certain English-speaking behemoth up north). “I was very worried. The locals have only seen American blockbusters, big-budget films from the majors—those films open exactly the same time in Aruba. They’ve never seen foreign films. So the first year I thought I’d try it and see what happens. But the audiences read the subtitles and laughed and had a great time.

“I was very nicely surprised the first year,” he recalled. “Now I’ve started to get used to it. I come from a country, Italy, where people don’t accept subtitles. My major disappointment is that I can’t stand to watch a dubbed film. It’s doesn’t matter what the language is, I want to hear [what people sound like]. But I’m one of the few.”

Along with the international pictures Masenza selects, AIFF also features a Caribbean Spotlight Series of films from or about the Caribbean islands, programmed by documentary producer Aaron Hosé. Masenza cheerfully admitted that “the locals tend to go and see those films more than the international films.”

Masenza recalled the impact of the fest’s first screening of a local production. “A young man from Aruba made a film for $11,000. And other young people said, ‘I didn’t realize it was possible to make a film on such a low budget!’ Before that, it was just frustration, a feeling that it could never happen. Now at least they have a positive attitude, something they can dream about.”

For this visitor, a major highlight of the fest is its “In Conversation With” series, which this year featured actors Virginia Madsen, Ray Liotta and Val Lauren (star of James Franco’s Sal Mineo film), director Pim de la Parra, and an insightful tutorial with Oscar-winning editor Pietro Scalia. “Every time it’s unique,” Masenza observed. “It’s not like a film that you can watch on a screener if you can’t see it here.”

The inaugural Aruba festival in 2010 got a tremendous boost when it announced the participation of Richard Gere on opening night. “Months before the beginning of the festival, Richard said he would attend,” Masenza recalled. “We have been friends for many years. I told him, ‘It’s so far away, maybe you’ll be busy then.’ He said, ‘No, don’t worry—no matter what, I’ll be there.’ Going around to distributors and producers and talent and being able to say Richard Gere is opening the festival, it made a huge difference. Because there are so many festivals everywhere.”

Masenza’s own decision to join the Aruba fest was somewhat spontaneous. “After six years in Venice, I felt it was time to change. [Festival co-founder] Jonathan Vieira called me in Venice out of the blue—I didn’t know him at all. He said, ‘Would you like to do this?’ I said, ‘I don’t know what Aruba is.’ He said,’ It’s an island.’ I said, ‘Where is it?’ Then I said, ‘Before saying yes, I have to come and see if the theatres and the hotels are okay for organizing a film festival.’ But I really did want to do something else, I needed a different landscape.

“I’m very happy that I was able to help this festival be created,” Masenza declared. “Maybe I’ll be here for another year or two, but I don’t plan to spend many, many years. Directors come and go. Hopefully, the festival will have a much longer life than my tenure. The Venice Film Festival, where I worked for many years, isn’t the festival of somebody, it’s the Venice Film Festival. Venice is Venice.” Here’s hoping the Aruba International Film Festival finds it own enduring identity.