Friday, November 30, 2012

'Killing Them Softly' and 'The Collection' add R-rated movies to holiday mix

If you missed any of the great releases in the past few weeks, now is the time to catch up. For the past decade, movie studios have avoided releasing any film they want to open big the weekend after Thanksgiving. The two movies opening today, both with R ratings, appeal to niche and frequent moviegoers. The Collection will satisfy horror fans while Killing Them Softly will play to adult connoisseurs of mobster and gunplay movies. Neither of these movies should inch up far past the $10 million mark, if they even get that far. The Collection, in particular, may only tally up a few million.

The lead spot this weekend will likely go to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2. Even with free-fall drops, the supernatural romance started off high enough that it could end up with just under $20 million three weeks after its blockbuster $141 million opening. In the follow-up weekend after Thanksgiving, that may be enough to boast a number-one finish. The rest of the top five should be filled with broader-playing, quality fare, including Lincoln, Life of Pi, and Skyfall, which is staying aloft thanks to great word-of-mouth. I've heard more buzz about Skyfall from friends who are infrequent moviegoers than I have for any other movie this year.

Rise of the Guardians should also play somewhere north of $10 million in its second weekend,
Killing them softly brad pittthough it will be interesting to see how much of a lead it can maintain over its much more successful animated competitor. Wreck-It Ralph has been playing just two spots below Guardians during the weekdays despite releasing three weeks earlier. 

Killing Them Softly (2,424 theatres) should open in the bottom half of the top ten, but not because it's a bad movie. Instead, the tale of a hit man (Brad Pitt) who is hired to take down a trio who robbed a mob card game, making the entire criminal world insolvent, serves as commentary on the collapse of American banks and offers the insight "that all this bottom-feeder jockeying
for position is the funhouse mirror of American politics and
business," according to critic Maitland McDonagh. As
Collection josh stewart"black comedy as its most stygian," it may alienate some viewers, but McDonagh is giving this one her endorsement thanks to its "razor-sharp edge."

An "exercise in gratuitous sadism and gore," The Collection (1,403 theatres), a sequel to the horror movie The Collector, has enough "carnage to satisfy hardcore horror fans," according to THR's Frank Scheck. Though there are moments of "tension" and successful scenes involving tarantulas and a person forced to
Talaash kareena kapoor sex worker 1break their own arm, don't check this one out unless you unequivocally say yes to all things torture porn.

The Bollywood movie Talaash will open in 172 theatres, and it could ring up some big business. Two weeks ago, the Yash Chopra-directed Jab Tak Hai Jaan, with a similarly small release, opened in the top ten with $1.2 million, and has now earned $3 million. Critic Daniel Eagan predicts the "polished and seductive" noir should "do extremely well at
the box office." The mystery covers topics seen less frequently in Indian movies, and Eagan gives it a nod for its "sympathetic but realistic view of sex workers."

On Monday, we'll see which of the Thanksgiving releases held on to their audiences, and if Killing Them Softly and The Collection were able to draw new viewers who weren't already stuffed from the holiday offerings.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tentpole watch: 'Pacific Rim' teaser and 'Avatar' update

It's hard to think of tentpoles releasing a year or two years from now when a juicy franchise like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey comes out just two Fridays from now. But today brings updates on two highly anticipated tentpoles: Pacific Rim and the Avatar sequels.

Guillermo del Toro, the original director of The Hobbit series before dropping out due to MGM's bankruptcy-related delays, turned his attention to Pacific Rim, an aliens vs. robots sci-fi movie that promises to show off del Toro's skills as a creature creator. Warner Bros. just released a viral teaser that reveals part of the plot in the form of a frantic news broadcast. The poor Golden Gate Bridge is cracked in half by an alien, who is then subdued and placed on a ship in the same manner as the T-Rex in The Lost World. When it comes to the blueprints of the robots, which were also released, I'm not quite as excited. They look like giant Iron Men or Transformers. There's not a lot of originality, at least in their form. How they perform in action may be a different story. The movie comes out next July.



The blue-hued, naturalistic aliens in Avatar will begin their CG creation late this year, according to an interview conducted with writer/director James Cameron in New Zealand, where he's hanging out and finishing up the script for the sequel. Apparently the script for Avatar wasn't finished at the time of production (normally a big no-no), leading to a lot of work for scenes that were later cut. A completed script for Avatar 2 plus working with creatures that have already been created in CG should mean the time from production to screen is shorter, though I wouldn't bet on that. Especially because Cameron imposed a new challenge for the series by setting it underwater, which should multiply the difficulty for both the CG team and the poor humans who have to spend a lot of time in water tanks. Though between Cameron's experience on The Abyss and Titanic, he's at home with the difficult filming conditions. Even with production starting late next year, it's unlikely the movie will release until 2015. By that time, the three-film series of The Hobbit will be done, and audiences will be more than eager to pick up where the 2009 Avatar left off.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nominations for Independent Spirit Awards heat up award season

Now that the Gotham Awards have come and gone, it's time to look at the Independent Spirit Award nominations, which were announced yesterday. Of course, what's great about the Spirit Awards is that they tend to reward movies that won't have a big play in the Oscar race. However, many of the nominees for the Spirit Awards have also been angling for statuettes at the Oscars.

Of the five nominees for Best Feature, both Moonrise Kingdom and Silver Linings Playbook received four other nominations for five in total, making them the most-nominated features. When it comes to the Oscars, Silver Linings Playbook is a shoo-in for the Best Picture category, while Moonrise is an outlier. Beasts of the Southern Wild grabbed four nominations, as did Keep the Lights On. However, at least according to the odds posted by GoldDerby, Beasts has a better chance for receiving the coveted Best Picture nomination come Oscar time. Rounding out the group is Bernie, which received only one other nomination, for the performance of Jack Black.

Safety Not Guaranteed, an indie comedy that parlayed word-of-mouth into a $4 million theatrical box office, received two nominations, for Best First Screenplay and Best First Feature. Whether they win or not, it seems like the screenwriters already have launched their career. Today, Variety reported that the movie's director/producer Colin Trevorrow and writer/producer Derek Connolly have been hired to write Disney's remake of the sci-fi picture Flight of the Navigator. Trevorrow may also direct. They also sold yet another project to Disney that Trevorrow is attached to direct, but it sounds like Flight of the Navigator will be up to bat first.

So while the Spirit nominations reinforce the Oscar prospects for Silver Linings Playbook, Moonrise Kingdom, and Beasts of the Southern Wild, their biggest impact may be to recognize the work of independent filmmakers and give others the exposure they need to start plying their craft at major studios.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gotham Awards favor 'Beasts of the Southern Wild,' but 'Moonrise Kingdom' wins top prize

The first awards results are in. At last night's Gotham Awards, Beasts of the Southern Wild won two prizes. Both were for director Benh Zeitlin, who won both the Breakthrough Director award and the Bingham Ray award, which comes with a check for $25,000. However, the top prize for Best Feature went to Moonrise Kingdom.

Beasts of the southern wild 1Both films have the potential to grab a Best Picture nomination in the Oscar race. On GoldDerby, Beasts of the Southern Wild appears more frequently than Moonrise Kingdom in the critics' top ten picks for the Best Picture nod. Both pictures generally appear in the last few spots, below heavyweight frontrunners like Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, Lincoln and Les Miserables. Last year's co-winner for Best Feature at the Gotham Awards, The Tree of Life, earned a Best Picture nomination, so Gotham Awards can predict what happens at the Oscars. The question is if Beasts and Moonrise will end up with a spot on the Best Picture list, or if just one will prevail.

From a story standpoint, both Anderson and Zeitlin have a narrative that fits with a nomination. Moonrise director Wes Anderson has been nominated twice before, once for "Best Animated
Moonrise kingdom 2Feature" for Fantastic Mr. Fox and a decade ago for his screenplay for The Royal Tenenbaums. His latest was a summer hit, earning $45 million and reinvigorating his reputation. What better time for the Academy to reward him? In contrast, Zeitlin made his debut feature completely outside the Hollywood system, and the result astonished critics and audiences. For Zeitlin and Beasts, a nomination would be a feel-good story about a rise to fame. But will the Academy want to embrace something done on such a shoestring budget, with no guilds or Hollywood professionals involved? For both the movie and the outside story, my money's on Beasts of the Southern Wild, not Moonrise Kingdom. But enough people disagree with me that this year's Best Picture picks will be a nail-biting surprise.

AMC reminds audiences it's movie time, not texting time

In case you haven't been to an AMC theatre lately, check out their clever new policy trailer, a graphically imaginative message to audiences that it's MOVIE time, not time for texting, chit-chatting, or even shouting "Don't go in there!" A necessary reminder to today's moviegoer that your local multiplex isn't your living room...

AMC policy trailer

Monday, November 26, 2012

Leftovers rule as 'Breaking Dawn,' 'Skyfall' and 'Lincoln' lead Thanksgiving box office

Despite three new wide releases, it was the returning films that led the Thanksgiving box office. The long holiday period still gave plenty of extra cushion to all the movies in theatres, which enjoyed five days of weekend-level returns. A thin offering  of new movies this coming weekend will allow the current releases plenty of time to run through their potential viewers.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn--Part 2 led for a second week with $43 million Friday to Sunday, giving it a total to date of $226 million. The event picture, which was the finale for the franchise, plummeted 70% from its first-week total. It will likely continue its decline next week.

In second place, Skyfall leveled its descent with $36 million, just a 12% decrease from last week. Over the five-day period, its receipts totaled $51 million. The James Bond film's three-week total is
Rise of the guardians 2$221 million, just behind Twilight. By next week, Bond will rise above the vampire romance and stay there. It's also the best-performing Bond movie of all time, well ahead of Quantum of Solace's $164 million total. Time to shake up a martini for Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes.

Lincoln went up 19% from the previous week to post a $25 million weekend. Continued strength in its week-to-week performance should bring this historical picture above $100 million. That's great for a talky movie many considered a tough sell.

Rise of the Guardians had the best opening of any of the new releases, earning $24 million over the weekend and a five-day total of $32.6 million. That's on the low side of projections for
Life of pi suraj sharma 2the CG-animated release. In comparison, Disney's Wreck-It Ralph earned $16.9 million while falling just 9% from the previous week. Wreck-It Ralph has much better reviews, and comes from a trusted brand name. That definitely hurt the debut of Guardians.

Life of Pi opened to $22 million, right on target for the Ang Lee-directed picture. Audiences turned out to see it in 3D, too, with two-thirds of ticket sales for glasses-wearing audiences. While the literary adaptation has received mixed reviews from critics, audiences gave it an "A-" in exit polls, a sign that the mildly spiritual picture will do well in word-of-mouth.

Red Dawn rallied from the three-year delay in its release to gross $14.6 million, a number that
Hitchcock 2rose to $22 million over the five-day period. FilmDistrict reported the South and military areas had the best turnout for the invasion-themed picture. However, with many other offerings in weeks to come, Red Dawn will have a quick sunset.

Specialty pictures big and small did well over the holiday. Silver Linings Playbook, expanding into 367 locations, earned a spot in the top ten, posting a $4.6 million weekend and an applause-worthy per-screen average of $12,500. Hitchcock, which centers on the making of Psycho, debuted to $301,000, and had an even higher per-screen average of $17,700. The awards hopeful Rust and Bone averaged $15,000 per screen at two
locations. The documentary The Central Park Five had a lower per-screen
average but a higher total, earning $11,300 per screen at three

This Friday, violence rules at the box office. The horror movie The Collection will go up against Killing Them Softly, which stars Brad Pitt as an enforcer tracking down a trio who robbed a Mafia-run card game.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

'Rise of the Guardians' and 'Life of Pi' centerpieces of holiday movie feast

Three wide releases open today in anticipation of the long weekend after Thanksgiving tomorrow. With many generations coming together, this is the time for family-friendly movies to shine.

Rise of the Guardians (3,653 theatres) will be the leading pick for families with the youngest members. A kind of Avengers for childhood characters, the movie groups together Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny on the same mission. Critic Frank Lovece was disappointed. "I
Rise of the guardians 1want to love this
film," he laments, but it "just misses being magical." Although he predicts kids will "take to this like a toy on Christmas morning," Lovece is "left with the feeling that my own inner child would rather play
with the box it came in." Rise of the Guardians will have a tough time competing with the second weekend of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, which could earn $50 million even if it drops by two-thirds. Last year, The Muppets opened to $41 million over the five-day period, and Rise of the Guardians should be near that target. The opening may not matter quite as much, because the presence of the bearded man in the red suit should have this movie playing strong until Christmas morning.

The PG-rated Life of Pi (2,902 theatres) will be a great choice for families with older kids,
Life of pi suraj sharma 1parents, and grandparents. The story of a boy floating on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger is a "superb, visually enthralling technical achievement," according to critic David Noh, but it doesn't quite overcome the "monotony" of having the characters be adrift for a long period of time. Fox is also betting that the spirituality of the work will bring together both coastal and Heartland audiences. Its opening should be half that of Rise of the Guardians, somewhere in the $20 million range. Along with Rise of the Guardians, Pi will release in the new sound format Dolby Atmos in select theatres.

Instead of Russians, North Koreans invade the U.S. in the remake of Red Dawn (2,679 theatres). The action flick is something of an individualists' dream: a high schooler, his Marine older brother, and his father help stave off the invaders from a rural outpost in Washington state. In contrast to the 1984 movie, the new one is "polished to a high
Hollywood gloss and stripped of nuance and moral ambiguity," says our critic Maitland McDonagh. Red Dawn and Life of Pi will both be landing in the $20 million range, though Life of Pi is likely to have a much more profitable run in weeks to come.

On Friday, Hitchcock (17 theatres) will makes its debut. Anthony Hopkins stars as Alfred Hitchcock in "a diverting movie nostalgia trip full of Hollywood period
atmosphere," which centers
Hitchcock 1on the director's making of Psycho. Although Hitchcock had some well-known flaws, this portrait is "more mischievous than accusatory, allowing audiences to
overlook the director’s many peccadillos and still relish this
larger-than-life figure," observes critic Kevin Lally. It also highlights the role his wife, Alma Reville, played in his success. Hitchcock will go up against a number of specialty pictures already in release, including Silver Linings Playbook, which is making an expansion to 367 theatres.

Also releasing on Friday is Rust and Bone, a melancholy French romance that does the impossible, turning the "unlikeliest of wormy subjects, characters and milieus into cinematic silk," praises critic Doris Toumarkine. A documentary sure to provoke outrage, The Central Park Five (3 theatres), will also roll out in theatres. The Ken Burns-led tale reveals the story of the five teens who were wrongly imprisoned for the rape of the Central Park jogger, a crime that turned into a lightning rod for a host of other issues plaguing New York City at the time.

On Monday, we'll see which of the movies paired best with Thanksgiving leftovers, and which releases have the strongest prospects during the frenetic period from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

DOC NYC panel 'Meet Your Distributors' shines a light on indie distribution

Everyone bemoans how Hollywood is always chasing the proven moneymakers--comic book adaptations, the Bridesmaids bandwagon, and sequels to sequels. But as it turns out, the same thing holds true for indie documentaries. At the "Meet the Distributors" panel last Thursday on the final day of New York City's DOC NYC festival, the panelists bemoaned the crush of "competition docs" that flooded the marketplace after the success of 2002's Spellbound. Docs that followed included such random topics as board game competitions and grocery store bagging, which simply copied the movie's structure with a different subject matter. "You could anticipate the beats," noted Magnolia Pictures' Eamonn Bowles with a shake of the head. The panel, moderated by Eugene Hernandez of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, featured the perspectives of Bowles, Ryan Werner (IFC Films), Nancy
Gerstman (Zeitgeist Films), Richard Lorber (Kino Lorber), Ryan Krivoshey
(Cinema Guild), and Paul Marchant (First Run Features).

DOCNYC panelAlthough the competition trend has mostly died out, there's a new buzzword for documentaries seeking success in the theatrical market. "Comfort food," Bowles quipped. Difficult topics may do well on cable, but when people go out to the theatre, they want escapism. Recent disappointments that can be attributed to this trend include How to Survive a Plague, an AIDS documentary that got great reviews but had trouble passing the leave-the-couch test, according to Werner. Dinner and a movie about an epidemic is not many people's idea of a fun night out. Content that appeals to activists, or ignites controversy, no longer draws people the way it used to.

Bowles, one of the more vocal members on the panel, also discussed the nuances of "unlocking the audience." For the documentary Food Inc., Magnolia gave it a "foodie spin," targeting people who cared about food and good eating, as opposed to an activist audience of environmentalists and animal rights proponents, which may have made it more difficult for the doc to break out to a wider group of people. The audience that is turning out to theatres isn't just craving comfort food, they tend to be older. The success of the fictional comedy The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel this year is just one example. Older people tend to have the time and money to go to the movies. Expect more content geared to baby boomers in years to come.

When it comes to topical documentaries, the best ones don't have an expiration date. Richard Lorber pointed out Kino Lorber's release 5 Broken Cameras as an example of a documentary that is "not just topical, but re-engages and gains resonance." On the day of the panel, there were reports of violence in Israel, making the story of a Palestinian farmer and his interactions with Israeli soldiers that much more impactful.

When it comes to day-and-date releases in theatres and on-demand, it's not an equal playing field, as Lorber pointed out. Magnolia and IFC are each part of companies that have stakes in both distribution and exhibition. That means that they don't have to deal with the objections of exhibitors when they want to release a movie day-and-date with on-demand. On-demand can be great for certain documentaries. Something like First Run's Pink Ribbons Inc., which appeals to a niche of people, breast cancer patients or survivors, benefits from being able to reach people all around the country, not just in the big cities. IFC Film's Buck, a successful doc about the "horse whisperer," benefited from VOD's ability to reach rural audiences in areas too isolated to have access to a theatre. However, the panelists agreed VOD is not a "panacea." With hundreds of movies in on-demand menus to choose from, differentiating from the bunch is still a challenge. When slicing the pie, "VOD is becoming significant," Gerstman notes, though DVDs still do a lot to help out a movie post-theatrical release.

The panelists noted that the rise of DIY releasing has made the relationship between distributors and filmmakers more collaborative. As a whole, documentary filmmakers are more involved in promotion than fiction filmmakers. And it can have measurable results. Bess Kargman, the director of the ballet doc First Position (which does fall into the competition genre, for what it's worth) greeted people buying tickets at Lincoln Center and was a constant presence at the theatre, according to Hernandez. Werner gave her a lot of credit for the success of the release, which earned $1.1 million, saying it would not have crossed the seven-figure mark without her help. Turns out showmanship is still an important part of the puzzle, even in the days where posters, interviews, and movie trailers take precedence.

'Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn--Part 2' tallies a $141 million opening.

With an opening several times larger than most films can dream of, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn--Part 2 celebrated its finale with an estimated $141.3 million haul for the weekend. That may be $2 million under the debut for The Twilight Saga: New Moon, but I doubt
Twilight saga breaking dawn part 2 kristen stewartanyone at Summit is complaining. What started out as the final book in the trilogy has been turned into two movies, each with an opening in the six figures. With the Twilight franchise drawing to a close, it's time to look at the heirs. The Hunger Games, which has three movies to go and opened over $150 million? Next year's The Host, which was written by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer? Or the fantastical romance Warm Bodies, which is also releasing early next year? Moving into Thanksgiving, Breaking Dawn--Part 2 may boast a below-average series drop thanks to the influx of holiday audiences, but there are a lot of other films competing for entertainment-seekers during a very busy moviegoing period.

Lincoln rallied audiences in its second-week expansion to over 1,700 theatres. The story of the 16th president's struggle to pass the 13th amendment outlawing slavery earned $21 million with a per-screen average of $11,800, indicating there were packed theatres. Moving into next weekend, there is still plenty of demand left for the movie to tap. Many worried the talky picture, with just one battle scene, would remain in the arthouse, but it appears that savvy marketing and Steven Spielberg's reputation as a director persuaded audiences to attend.

Positioning itself for a prime spot in the Oscar race, Silver Linings Playbook opened to a $28,600 per-screen average in sixteen locations, giving it a total near a half million dollars.
Silver linings playbook bradley cooperThat put the dark romantic comedy ahead of the debut of Anna Karenina. The Keira Knightley-led picture, which opened in the same number of theatres, averaged $19,700 per location. That figure is still strong and both awards hopefuls should play well in weeks to come. For Silver Linings Playbook, the test comes this Wednesday, when it expands to 420 locations. Placing above the openings of Silver Linings Playbook and Anna Karenina, The Sessions earned $900,000 in its fifth week as it expanded to 516 locations. However, that left the gentle romance-drama with a thin $1,700 per-screen average, likely lower than distributor Fox Searchlight would like.

On Wednesday, three films will get a head start on Turkey Day: family-friendly animated feature Rise of the Guardians, the (mostly) all-ages literary adaptation Life of Pi, and the remake of Red Dawn.

Friday, November 16, 2012

'The Twilight: Breaking Dawn--Part 2' prepares for record weekend

The romantic saga of Bella, Edward, and Jacob concludes with The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn--Part 2 (4,070 theatres). Because fans know this will be the last movie, turnout should be particularly high. Many expect an opening of $150 million, higher than New Moon ($142 million opening) or Breaking Dawn--Part 1 ($138 million). Also, Summit scheduled screenings not only on
Twilight saga breaking dawn part 2 kristen stewart robert pattinsonmidnight Thursday, but also at 10pm, which should bring in additional early viewers. For a series like Twilight, fans want to see the movie right away, so the opening weekend will end up being around half of the total, making that time frame's results an important figure to track. Our thoughts go out to the theatre managers who will be dealing with long lines and crazed fans this weekend.

After posting a near-record per-screen average last week, Lincoln will expand to 1,775 theatres. The adult-leaning historical biopic will have some competition from Skyfall, which has also been drawing in an adult male audience. However, the James Bond film has already been out for two weeks, so at least some portion of potential moviegoers will have already seen Skyfall, making the "which-movie-do-we-see" decision at the box office a default one for Lincoln.

With Thanksgiving on Thursday, this weekend is popular for specialty releases to get a head start
Silver linings playbook jennifer lawrence bradley cooperon the holiday crowd. The Toronto Film Festival Audience Award winner Silver Linings Playbook will open in 16 theatres before expanding into 420 theatres next Friday. Two recent Audience Award winners, Slumdog Millionaire and The King's Speech, also went on to win the Best Picture Oscar, so hopes are high for the love story between two crazy, lost souls. Star Jennifer Lawrence's increased prominence in the wake of her starring role in The Hunger Games, as well as Bradley Cooper's roles in the Hangover comedies may give the "delightful romantic comedy with unusually dark underpinnings," as described by critic Kevin Lally, a broader appeal and awareness level. "The prospects couldn’t be
Anna karenina keira knightley aaron taylor johnson embracebrighter for this immensely satisfying and surprising comedy," he predicts. A dance competition finale reminiscent of the one that was so crowd-pleasing in Little Miss Sunshine, as well as a football plotline, make this a comedy that should catch on beyond the arthouse crowd.

Much of the action in Anna Karenina (16 theatres) is set on a stage, "a statement on the highly artificial
world that the Russian aristocracy had entrapped itself in, circa
1874," and also "a device heightening the novel’s already potent
melodrama," muses critic Chris Barsanti. The unusual artistic choice may have some detractors, as indicated by the 64% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but others will be drawn in by director Joe Wright's bold choice. Keira Knightley shines in yet another costume drama, which will be angling for Oscar nominations.

On Monday, we'll see which of the 16-screen specialty releases posted the higher per-screen average, if Lincoln was able to get audiences to secede from Skyfall, and if The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 posts the highest opening for the franchise yet.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Will 'The Host' inherit the 'Twilight' audience?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 comes out this Friday in over 4,000 theatres. Before the movie, audiences will see a trailer for The Host, which recently surfaced on the Internet. Like the Twilight series, the movie is based on a romance novel by Stephenie Meyer. Unlike Twilight, the book is not part of a franchise. The release date has been pushed back a few times, and distributor Open Road now plans to open the film March 29th. I think it's a smart decision to wait until the Twilight series has concluded to release the movie. Fans may not have prioritized seeing The Host just before or after a Breaking Dawn, but come March, they will be in Twilight withdrawal and welcome another adaptation of Meyer's work.



The sci-fi romance takes place in a future where alien parasites have taken over the bodies of all humans, turning the irises of their eyes bright blue. One girl, Melanie, (Saoirse Ronan of The Lovely Bones) manages to escape implantation, falling in love with a fellow human rebel (Max Irons, the son of Jeremy Irons). However, the girl is finally taken and the soul of an alien or "Wanderer" is put into her body. It doesn't take. Both souls are still alive in the body, and there ends up being a love triangle, as both Melanie and the Wanderer share the same love for the boy.

The trailer shows off some great special effects, especially the technology that "heals" an injured Melanie. While a lot of the narrative in The Host takes place inside the head of Melanie/Wanderer, the trailer, at least, fills in the gaps with voiceover and excerpted monologues. Will aliens have the same pull as vampires? Moreover, will Open Road successfully market the film and mobilize the Twilight audience?


Monday, November 12, 2012

'Skyfall' posts best James Bond opening ever

Skyfall handily beat its franchise predecessors to post the highest opening for a James Bond film ever. Pent-up demand from the four-year wait, along with great reviews, brought the movie to an $87.8 million weekend. That's $20 million more than Quantum of Solace, which opened in 2008
Skyfall daniel craig gunto $67 million. The crowd skewed male and older, indicating that Bond's core fanbase turned out. IMAX screens did well, contributing 15% to the weekend total. With an "A" CinemaScore rating, Skyfall will do well in coming weeks, especially because the only competition this Friday could not be more different: the final Twilight, which will draw predominantly younger females.

Flight suffered in its second weekend, droping 39% to $15.1 million. The Denzel Washington drama competed with the older males that also wanted to see Skyfall. Argo also dropped more than usual, posting a 34% dip to $6.7 million.

Lincoln opened in eleven theatres and was rewarded with the second-highest per-screen average for an opening over ten screens. The $81,800 per screen was right below the opening of Precious and above Moonlight Kingdom.  It was also enough for the Steven Spielberg-directed picture to
Lincoln daniel day lewis 2earn nearly a million dollars even with such a small release. The audience skewed unusually old for Hollywood, with 67% over the age of 35. Next week, Lincoln expands and the biopic may be able to coast on the momentum of the recent presidential election. Gathering support from the general populace, however, will be an uphill battle.

Among specialty releases, the foreign costume drama A Royal Affair had a strong opening, averaging $5,700 per screen in five locations. Startlet, which stars literary spawn Dree Hemingway, also performed fairly well, averaging $2,600 per screen in six locations.

This Friday, Bella and her vampire husband continue their romance in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, the fourth and final film in the blockbuster series. Lincoln will expand into a small wide release. Awards hopefuls Anna Karenina and The Silver Linings Playbook will also make their debut in select theatres.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Bond lands in the U.S. with 'Skyfall'

When FJI critic Frank Lovece calls Skyfall (3,505 theatres) "the best Bond film since the ’60s. Period," you know it will be a success. 92% of Rotten Tomatoes critics have also given a thumbs-up to the latest installment in the franchise. The years of waiting while MGM sorted out its bankruptcy paid off, giving those involved more time to polish the script and bring the series back to what it
Skyfall daniel craig javier bardemused to be. The twenty-third Bond film has already earned $321 million overseas, so it's virtually guaranteed that Skyfall will have similar results at home. This is a "must see" feature that draws in people who rarely attend their local theatre. Expectations are cautious, and some predict that the latest Bond may not exceed the $67 million opening of 2008's Quantum of Solace. However, even if Skyfall does not open that high--but I think it will--it's already pretty clear that Bond's capers are so compelling, word-of-mouth will make this a strong player in the weeks to come. Besides the always-compelling performances of Daniel Craig as Bond and Judi Dench as M, Javier Bardem is the best Bond villain I've ever encountered. I can't think of many other actors who can play Julia Robert's love interest in Eat Pray Love, and then turn around and be an utterly creepy villain, as he has previously done in No Country for Old Men. Maybe Bardem can pull a Heath Ledger and snag an Oscar nomination for his role as the villain.

As a counterpoint to Skyfall, Steven Spielberg-directed Lincoln begins a limited release in 11 theatres. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as the sixteenth president in what's more of a political
Lincoln daniel day lewisprocedural, a "handsomely mounted civics lesson" that gives audiences a "snapshot of a turbulent point in American politics," as described by FJI critic Daniel Eagan. The historical biopic has a scene-stealing supporting character, Tommy Lee Jones as the quick-witted Thaddeus Stevens, a powerful Senate member whose belief in equality for all races is considered too extreme by most other lawmakers. Lincoln will likely open extremely high because of Spielberg's pedigree, so the real test will be next week, when the Civil War-set tale expands to 1,500 theatres and must seek approval from a more general audience.

Rounding out the specialty offerings is A Royal Affair, a Danish-language love triangle between the king, the queen, and the royal physician. Johnny Knoxville and Patton Oswalt star in Nature Calls, a "good-natured send-up of the Boy Scouts," according to THR's John DeFore. Detroit's fire epidemic is highlighted in the documentary Burn: One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit, which is opening in NYC.

On Monday, we'll see just how high Skyfall soared, and if its adult competitors Argo and Flight suffered from the release of the action and martini-fueled tentpole.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Behind the great visual effects in 'Flight'

Flight, which opened last week and started out by reeling in a hefty $25 million and great word-of-mouth, has yet another two things going for it. Not only is it a character-driven drama, it has great special effects. The harrowing plane crash scene is visceral and frightening and suspenseful. There is no way this movie will ever end up being shown as in-flight entertainment. While I was watching , I didn't pay too much attention to what was vCGI and what wasn't: It just looked so real, I wasn't even distracted by any hokey gaps in the visual effects.

This behind-the-scenes video has some great insight into how they simulated flying and a plane crash in Flight. It involved slicing up parts of a real plane and mechanically turning them upside down for the purpose of the shoot. I hope the extras playing passengers were well-compensated for having to sit in what's essentially an amusement park ride for hours, with luggage flying at them.



Another technique that the video highlights is the use of matte painting to make the weather outside look stormy. Changing the weather in the back of a shot is so commonplace, even low-budget pictures like Take Shelter can do that, though admittedly illustrating an impending storm was a necessity for that movie and was likely a priority even with limited funds. And remember the realistic "other Earth" in Another Earth? That, too, came from painting the sky differently.  When I think of visual effects, I think of things like rear projection, or its updated green screens, which help provide the views outside the plane windows in Flight. But we rarely think of weather. In the craft of filmmaking, sometimes techniques with mattes can provide shortcuts, but they also expand the power of the crew. These techniques are something of a perfectionist's dream, allowing directors to subtly re-time events and lighting, snow, and rainfall. So kudos to Flight for combining visual effects with mechanical ingenuity.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Check out the creepy trailer for 'Side Effects,' Steven Soderbergh's latest

Steven Soderbergh has directed six feature films in four years. He's also credited with a documentary during that time, served as a second unit director for The Hunger Games, and has a smattering of producer, executive producer, and "Very Special Thanks" credits on his IMDB list. No wonder the man has announced that he plans to retire. He still has at least one project that hasn't been released, Side Effects, starring Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum, Soderbergh's new muse. Tatum appeared in this year's  Magic Mike and Haywire. The trailer for Side Effects just hit YouTube, and man does it look creepy...and cryptic.


Mara plays a woman whose anxiety and fraught relationship with Tatum are helped by a new drug. Then someone gets murdered, and it's implied that she may have done the deed while under the influence of the drug, unbeknownst to her. Jude Law plays a shady drug executive, and Catherine Zeta-Jones appears to be a more skeptical peer of Law. Limitless recently explored the good (and bad) side effects of a drug, and was something of a surprise success. Side Effects certainly taps into a cultural anxiety about being altered by medication. Any number of drugs taken by millions of Americans could loosely describe the one taken by Mara, so I think Soderbergh has chosen an apt subject. But will people turn out?

The performance of Soderbergh's movies at the box office boggles me. It's easy to see why his Ocean's Eleven series was such a success, for example, but I was surprised by the performance of this year's Haywire and Magic Mike. Haywire was one of the best action movies I've seen in a long time, with interesting, realistic combat sequences and a cool female heroine. But then Magic Mike turned out to be the bigger success, pulled along by females in the Heartland--although they may have been more gaga for Dear John and The Vow star Channing Tatum than Soderbergh's auteur status as a director. At least if you're Soderbergh, a lukewarm success can be chased by a hit just months later, instead of dealing with years-long lags before your next big work.

Side Effects will open on February 8, 2013, through Open Road Films.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

'Skyfall' opens this Friday in the U.S., but it's already a smashing success abroad

James Bond is, of course, a British import, though the long-running character is on a last-name basis with most of America. The James Bond movies historically debut first in the U.K., but the latest, Skyfall, has already been open for two weeks around the world in almost every major market. That doesn't include the U.S., which won't show the movie until November 9, three weeks
Skyfall Javier Bardem Daniel Craigafter its October 24 release elsewhere. Is this going to be the new order? Will the U.S. now regularly follow other countries in releases?

The answer is both yes and no. One reason Skyfall opened in so many markets--over twenty--is because of national holidays. Many countries get All Saint's Day (Nov. 1) off, and studios like to time big releases to holidays where everyone is in search of entertainment. In Bond's homeland, the U.K., the movie has already earned $85 million and is on track to beat The Dark Knight Rises to become the highest-grossing movie of the year. That's a third of the foreign total. However, the Bond series has always been about international jaunts. Two countries that feature heavily into the plotline--China and Turkey--have yet to release the movie. China will be a big one. I personally was impressed with the aerial shots of Shanghai in Skyfall. I wouldn't be surprised if it makes many viewers add the country to their tourism wish list.

Hollywood is used to the U.S. market dictating the success of a release. When a movie performs much better abroad than domestically, it's seen as an outlier, an "overperformer." Sometimes, the movies that do best go for the lowest common denominator, making people resent the globalization of the box office. The Bond brand may, oddly enough, have a greater resemblance to Mamma Mia! or The Adventures of Tintin. All three are based on figures who are more popular abroad than in the U.S. If any movie is going to open big abroad before a U.S. release, it should be one like these three. When U.S. audiences check out Bond this weekend, they're unlikely to be resentful that people across the pond got to see the movie before them. They're more likely happy to know the movie is already a hit and their $12 movie ticket is not being wasted, but instead paying for what many are calling the best Bond movie since those in the 1960s.

Monday, November 5, 2012

‘Wreck-it Ralph’ smashes through Disney Animation records

Superstorm Sandy did have an impact at the box office, but
as hoped, it turned out to mostly be a good one. Wreck-It Ralph did
especially well on the East Coast on Friday, as cooped-up families gladly
embraced the distraction. The animated feature earned $49.1 million over the weekend,
Wreck it ralphDisney Animation’s biggest
non-holiday weekend opening. Viewers, who skewed young and slightly male,
gave the video game-themed movie an “A” rating. With two more competition-free
weekends before Rise of the Guardians
begins its pre-Thanksgiving run, Wreck-It
will be able to grab the lion’s share of the family audience.

The Denzel Washington-led Flight took off with $25 million, while only releasing on
1,900 screens. The story of a pilot who is also an alcoholic is something of a
departure from Washington’s
Flight denzel washingtonusual casting in lighter action-thrillers, but
audiences responded, giving the movie an “A” CinemaScore rating and Washington
his fifth-highest opening ever.

Argo had yet another strong weekend, dipping just 15% to $10.2 million. That’s the fourth
weekend in a row that drama finished above $10 million, which is especially
noteworthy given that it opened at just under $20 million. The word-of-mouth hit
will likely play strongly through Thanksgiving.

In fourth place, The Man with the Iron Fists opened
to $8.2 million, in line with
expectations. The predominantly male, under-30 audience did not like the
over-the-top martial arts movie, giving it just a “C+” rating. This is one that
will likely die pretty fast, though luckily the feature only cost around $15

A Late Quartet debuted on nine screens with an $8,400 per-screen average. The
Late quartet philip seymour hoffmanManhattan-set story of a string quartet likely suffered because theatres in
Lower Manhattan were closed for part of the weekend. The found-footage epidemic
flopped, averaging just $930
per screen
in 23 location. The Details also disappointed. The
black comedy earned only $1,400 per screen in fourteen locations.

In contrast, the third week of The Sessions did better
than any of the new specialty releases. The John Hawkes/Helen Hunt movie went
up 110% as it added 49 locations for a total of 69. With a per-screen average of $6,600, it racked up nearly a half-million dollars. Searching
for Sugar Man
continued to enjoy an uptick after the documentary was
featured on “60 Minutes.” The fifteen-week-old movie rose 18% to add another
$163,000 to its $2.4 million total.

This Friday, James Bond returns in Skyfall, which has already proved a smashing success overseas. Also
in the mix is Lincoln, the Steven
Spielberg-directed biopic that will begin its run in a handful of theatres.

Friday, November 2, 2012

'Wreck-It Ralph' picks up the pieces post-Sandy

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, there is some concern that the
weekend box office will be impacted. With its high ticket prices and
dense population, New York City theatres often post the highest returns
of any locationin the U.S., and are critical launching points for indie releases. In the New York metro area, twenty AMC theatres and seven Regal theatres remain out of commission,
along with other independent theatres. Number crunchers predict the
East Coast storm won't have too large of an effect on the overall box
office. In areas that were once closed and now have reopened, there may
be robust demand for the comfort of a movie.

Appealing to nostalgia-seeking adults and their video game-loving children, Wreck-It Ralph
Wreck-it ralph(3,752 theatres)
could open to over $40 million this weekend, making it Disney Animation's highest non-holiday opening. 2,911 of the locations will show the animated feature in 3D.  The "homage to classic
videogame culture wrapped in an adventurous road movie" should "sweep the family-friendly demo in the first few weeks of
the month before any significant challengers emerge," predicts THR's Justin Lowe. The story of a video game villain who decides he's sick of being the bad guy "bears a distinct Pixar DNA
signature," Lowe notes, a sign that post-acquisition of Pixar, Disney's team is either collaborating or picking up the animation studio's tricks.

Denzel Washington plays a drug-addled pilot who miraculously saves a malfunctioning plane in Flight (1,900 theatres). Washington just led Safe House to a $124 million total this February,
Flight denzel washingtonbut Flight is more challenging fare, offering a complicated and well-acted portrait of an addict. That may dissuade Washington's
fans who prefer him in more breezy action diversions. Paramount hopes
it will pick up other viewers drawn in by the pedigree of director
Robert Zemeckis, who has directed emotionally stirring crowd pleasers like Forrest Gump and Cast Away. FJI critic Doris Toumarkine dubs the release "one of the strongest adult dramas to come out of Hollywood in a long time," praising Zemeckis' move from "motion capture to emotion capture," referencing the director's previous focus on works like Polar Express.

"Hardcore action fans" will probably get the biggest rise out of The Man with the Iron Fists (1,868 theatres), predicts THR's
Todd McCarthy. "This is the sort of film where the main characters are
defined first and foremost by what type of weaponry they favor," he
says, and
Man with the irons fists 1"very few minutes go by without some sort of combat." The
stylized martial-arts mash-up can have a "concocted, secondhand feel."
There's a certain type of audience that loves these kinds of films, but unlike, say, the work of Quentin Tarantino, it will be unlikely to expand to a broader audience, so a debut in the $7-10 million range is expected.

The black comedy The Details (12 theatres), which centers on a couple's unraveling in the wake of a household pest, will lead the specialty pack this weekend, with the support of stars Tobey Maguire and Elizabeth Banks. Sean Penn plays an aging rocker in This Must Be the Place (2 theatres). It earned critic David Noh's endorsement. He praises the "compellingly unpredictable
entertainment, laced with wry humor and that essential,
all-too-rare element these days, surprise." Finally, the epidemic thriller The Bay (23 theatres) will scare you, assures critic Maitland McDonagh. With a don't-mess-with-nature message, it "pulls off the harder-than-it-looks feat of tucking food for thought inside a very scary wrapper."

On Monday, we'll see if Wreck-It Ralph held up to the aftereffects of Superstorm Sandy, and if Flight and The Man with the Iron Fists attracted the demographics they need to drive a strong debut.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Gauging the box-office impact of Superstorm Sandy

At the AMC Lincoln Square on the Upper West Side of Manhattan this afternoon, crowds of families stood in line at the reopened theatre for a matinee screening of Hotel Transylvania. An employee taking tickets reported a long, arduous, and nonsensical commute by bus, but he was still
Amc lincoln square
able to report for work. The neighborhood as a whole was virtually untouched by the Superstorm Sandy that so devastated other parts of New York City and left millions in the region without power. Schools have been cancelled for the entire week, so the screening was likely a much-needed relief for haggard parents coping with having kids unexpectedly at home.

Confusion, though, still ruled the day. "Is this theatre open?" a woman asked an attendant in the lobby of the theatre. As face-palming as that question was, she more likely was inquiring if the theatre was back to normal and running on a regular schedule. That's what the box office may be looking at this weekend. The potential upside for East Coast theatres will be the ability to entertain stir-crazy customers who may be without power, or at least without their regular routine, at home. When else can theatres truly offer refuge through escapist entertainment? The downside is that many people may not even know if their local theatre is open, especially with spotty cell service and limited battery power for surfing the Internet or calling around. Or they may not even have the gas to go to a theatre. Or, maybe their house is under water and they have other, more serious concerns.

Variety offers one figure, courtesy of Disney, that attempts to hone in on the storm's potential financial impact. The distributor reported that "roughly 24% of its most recent openings came from 10 major markets hit by the storm, including New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Montreal, Toronto and Washington, D.C. That means those regions would, under normal circumstances, contribute $9.6 million of a $40 million opening for Wreck-It Ralph." If the box office in those regions is down 10-20%, that's $1-2 million. 50% could subtract $5 million from the total. After seeing the crowd turned out for Hotel Transylvania, I think if any picture could weather the aftereffects of Superstorm Sandy, it's a family film. Parents may be grateful for the opportunity to distract their kids for a while, or simply offer them a sense of normalcy.