Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bradley Cooper and Omar Sy pair up for 'Chef'

Omar Sy starred in the French hit The Intouchables. Bradley Cooper segued from The Hangover to Silver Linings Playbook and The Place Beyond the Pines. And thanks to a fortuitous set of connections, the two will star in Chef. The Weinstein Co., which released both The Intouchables and Silver Linings Playbook, has international distribution rights to the comedy, which centers on Cooper as the disgraced chef of a Michelin-starred restaurant in France. He absconds to London, where he
Cooper_Sy_Chefopens up a new restaurant with the help of Sy. Cooper has not only played a chef before, in the sitcom "Kitchen Confidential," he speaks fluent French. That may come into play if there is a smattering of French dialogue (and I bet Cooper dubs himself), but it also may help him and Sy strike up conversations on the set.

Yet another connection ties the project together. Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine), who directed Cooper in The Place Beyond the Pines, will helm. Cianfrance has mainly focused on dramas, so the move to comedy is a surprising one. My bet is that this is the kind of movie where plot comes before comedy, my favorite kind. Right now, Cooper's the one with the busiest schedule, though Cianfrance and Sy also have projects on the table. Steven Knight (Eastern Promises) a screenwriter whose works are often set in London or involve immigration, will pen the tale--considerably lighter than his usual fare. With no set production start date, it might be a while before Chef takes off, but it has all the ingredients needed to cook up another specialty hit from the Weinsteins.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

'Spider-Man' franchise eyes more fresh-faced actresses to play romantic leads

The Spider-Man franchise appears to have a type for Peter Parker's leading lady. From Kirsten Dunst to Emma Stone and Shailene Woodley, the role opposite Spider-Man has been a sign that an actress is on the verge of making it. These actresses are also the kind who tend to favor dramas, comedies--anything but action fare. In the early-aughts franchise, Kirsten Dunst played Mary Jane. Before that role, her work spanned fare ranging from Interview with a Vampire to teen comedies like Bring It On to indie flicks like The Virgin Suicides. But she had never had an action role before--or since. Bryce Dallas Howard joined the franchise in its third installment, with a similar smattering of credits. She did one more action movie, Terminator Salavation, but is more known for roles in The Village and The Help. The relaunch of The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012
FelicityJonesintroduced  as Gwen Stacy actress Emma Stone, who had a similar background to Dunst. Stone had done teen comedies, like Easy A and The House Bunny, critical favorite The Help, and Zombieland. She was just a little light on the indies.

Now casting is underway for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and it appears the spot of Mary Jane is going to yet another young actress with plenty of momentum: Shailene Woodley, who has charmed teens and their parents in "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" (because TV is the new film anyway) and snapped up some indie roles in The Descendants and recent Sundance selection The Spectacular Now. It's safe to say Woodley is on her way to being a big star.

Apparently The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is breaking with form, however, because not only will Woodley and Stone (probably on her way out) appear in the sequel, there's a third role for a female. The latest news is that Felicity Jones (indie actress of Like Crazy) will join the cast, with Paul Giamatti also in talks to join as a villain, Rhino. Jones, Stone, and Woodley make quite the trifecta of actresses. However, the fact that the deals haven't been finalized yet may be cause for doubt.

Variety also reports today that people have the right to be suspicious of preliminary casting announcements. In this day and age, studio execs pay attention to the reaction in social media to potential casting announcements. A chorus of "yay" or "nay" may be enough to clinch one casting, while making another one fall through. Looking through tweets reporting the announcement, I didn't see any polarized reactions. I expect something like the trailer--long after casting has finished--is more likely to elicit a tweet from a fan proclaiming that a person is completely right or wrong for a role. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is set to release next May, and hopefully Jones' role won't remain a secret until then.


Monday, January 28, 2013

'Hansel & Gretel' on top while 'Parker,' 'Movie 43' struggle

This week, all it took to be at the top of the box office was $19 million. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters grabbed the top spot, but the box office as a whole was slightly dampened because of snow on the East Coast Friday night. Hansel & Gretel would have earned even less if there hadn't
Hansel gretel witch hunters 2been 3D surcharges. Fellow new releases Parker and Movie 43 also bombed with audiences, but returning features fared much better.

Parker finished fifth with $7 million. The adult-leaning actioner had plenty of R-rated competition, which made it hard for the Jason Statham-led actioner to break from the pack. It's likely many moviegoers opted for a must-see awards contender instead. In fact, it was an especially good weekend for R-rated Oscar nominees Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty, and Django Unchained. Silver Linings Playbook was off just 7% from the previous week, an impressive hold, especially given that last weekend included the MLK holiday. That gave the romantic comedy another $10 million for a $69 million cumulative total to date, not bad for a picture reported to have cost just $21 million. Zero Dark Thirty was off 38% to $9.8 million. Django Unchained also posted a dip of just 35% for a finish at $5 million--bringing it
Parker jason statham 2 just shy of a $150 million domestic total.

Jessica Chastain's other release, Mama, placed two spots higher than ZDT with $12.8 million. It was just one of two PG-13 picture in the top ten (PG-13 Les Miserables placed tenth with $3.9 million). Mama is getting a boost not only because star Chastain is an Oscar nominee, but because of the dearth of PG-13 options. Maybe Parker would have fared better if it had a more inclusive rating.

The decidedly juvenile but R-rated Movie 43 bombed with just $5 million. The collection
Movie 43 1of comedy skits featured huge names, but I'm sure all those stars' daily rates added together would cost most than the $5 million it totaled for the weekend. This may be the kind of raunchy comedy that gets more traction in the aftermarket, where kids have an easier time seeing R-rated movies--because this clearly isn't the kind of movie an adult finds funny.

This Friday, Sylvester Stallone stars in Bullet to the Head, Warm Bodies will make a grab for the Twilight audience, and Al Pacino and Christopher Walken are Stand Up Guys.

Friday, January 25, 2013

'Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters' to lead late-January releases

It's pretty unusual to have two wide releases open over the weekend with minimal advance reviews. If you want a sign that January is Hollywood's dumping ground, this is it.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (3,372 theatres), which may have the best title since Snakes on a Plane, will likely come up first this weekend, with a projected weekend gross around $20 million. Originally scheduled to release last March, the pic will benefit slightly from increased
Hansel gretel witch huntersawareness of star Jeremy Renner. Since his breakout role in The Hurt Locker, he's appeared in The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy, making him more of a draw. Gemma Arterton plays Gretel in this tale, which posits that Hansel & Gretel grew up to seek vengeance (and collect bounty) on witches. If it sounds ridiculous, that's because Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are two of the producers, after which the idea starts to make more sense. "Lots of anachronisms and tongue-in-cheek
dialogue establish the spoofy nature of this violent venture. All
that’s missing is a genuine sense of wit," THR's Stephen Farber reports.

Movie 43 (2,023 theatres) also moved around release dates a number of times before settling for the January doldrums. The cast includes dozens of big names ranging from Seth MacFarlane to
Movie 43 2 Kate Winslet, with many pitching in on writing and directing. The spoof comedy should get close to $10 million, but could be hurt by the scattered impressions of what this comedy actually is.

Parker (2,224 theatres) is the sole new wide release that screened more than a day in advance for most critics. There may be a reason for that: our critic Daniel Eagan raves that the role of Parker, a character in Donald Westlake novels, "fits action star Jason Statham like a glove." The pacing is also top-notch. "The first hour has a propulsive energy that has
been sadly missing from recent thrillers," Eagan declares, and a lag afterwards is redeemed by a "climactic heist and showdown."
Parker jason stathamHowever good Statham is in his action movies, they've been opening below $10 million lately, and a similar debut is expected for Parker.

With so many good movies from December now expanding their release, allowing viewers from all over the country to finally catch them in their hometown, there isn't much new product. However, Music Box Films will release the documentary Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, which Werner Herzog re-edited and narrated from a Russian film, and then taking a co-directing credit for his work. I recommend the movie as "a welcome antidote for coddled city dwellers who need a reminder that humanity survived before Internet connections," although I don't care if you eventually see it on Netflix instead of in a movie theatre.

 On Monday, we'll see if any of the three new wide releases exceeded their modest projections, and if any Oscar contenders picked up steam from the box office.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

David Fincher may direct lit hit 'Gone Girl'

Wait, you haven't read Gone Girl yet? The thriller by Gillian Flynn, former TV critic for Entertainment Weekly, was this summer's huge hit, a popular choice both for beach reads and book clubs. It's a genre page-turner, but a good one. It's kind of like a Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which brought in many people who don't normally pick up thrillers or mysteries. Reese Witherspoon's production company picked up rights to the book shortly after its publication, when it was at the top of the New York Times' bestseller list. Perhaps it's no surprise that the director that brought Girl with the Dragon
to the big screen, David Fincher, is also eyeing the book as his next directing project. He's long been entangled doing an adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for Disney, but it appears this complicated, big-budget project may be temporarily grinding to a halt, giving him an opportunity to jump off that ship and board a new one.

Gone Girl relies on literary sleight-of-hand in order to keep its readers guessing. It starts off being told by one narrator, the husband of a woman who has disappeared under suspicious circumstances, and then switches to her point-of-view. Movies don't have the luxury of showing a point-of-view that's completely filtered through one character's actions, which will be the biggest challenge of the adaptation. Flynn has signed on to adapt her own work. With three novels under her belt and a long history as a media critic, she certainly sounds qualified for the job.

Fincher is still attached to the sequel to Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, but that movie isn't being fast-tracked into theatres. The Swedish-language trilogy was such a success that those films appear to have cannibalized the market for the English-language version. I knew a number of fans of the book who raced to see the Swedish-language versions but were burned out on the story by the time Fincher's (great, let it be known) adaptation hit screens over Christmas last year.

There's some speculation that Witherspoon will play the lead. She hasn't taken on a role like the one in Gone Girl since the 1996 movie Fear, a teen flick about a scary relationship. I'm curious if she can manage to make her sweet persona darken when necessary. One thing's for sure--if this adaptation is shepherded by the same director who did Dragon Tattoo, Seven, and Zodiac, the movie will be just as deliciously terrifying as the book.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sundance 2013: Acquisition deals soar despite the emptying Park City

OriginalThe 2013 Sundance Film Festival, which is now on its 7th day, might be quieting down as the industry crowd starts heading back to the real world that exists outside the streets of Park City, yet from a sales standpoint, the noise remains steady as this year’s festival plays host to some of the most high-profile distribution deals in its recent history. As I was making my way to The Marc on Monday morning to attend the 8:30am screening of Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight (which is officially one of this year’s hottest titles, and surprisingly STILL without a distribution home) I was catching up with the latest tweets from prominent press, most of which were talking about Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale, a tearjerker of a US Dramatic Competition title that has had three screenings in the previous two days and sold to The Weinstein Company for over $2M. My latest opportunity to catch this unforeseen hit (which instantly became the only film that mattered to press on Twitter) was later that afternoon at a Press & Industry screening, which unfortunately clashed with my plans to see Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color (his first feature since Primer in 2004), which I was enthusiastically told to definitely not miss by a friend from the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Having scored that hot ticket, I didn’t reshuffle my schedule to fit in Fruitvale, but also learned quite quickly that in Sundance, the wind might change direction at any given moment and one should be prepared for last minute change of plans.

was one of the first major deals that continued breaking in the news later on. I am including the distribution deals I am so far aware of at the bottom of this post, but noteworthy ones are The Way, Way Back from writer/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash which was sold to Fox Searchlight for almost $10M –a rather large sum for Sundance- according to a Deadline report; Jerusha Hess’ Austenland and John Krokidas’ Kill Your Darlings, both of which Sony Pictures Classics has bought; Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Toy’s House that CBS Films closed the deal on; James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now (one of my favorites of this year among the 21 movies I saw through Tuesday) which went to A24 and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon’s Addiction that Relativity Media grabbed.
As important as it is to keep one’s finger on the pulse and to take every Harvey Weinstein spotting seriously (side note: I saw him leaving the Holiday Village Cinemas around 7pm on Monday), one should also trust his/her own instincts around which films to give priority to. I have already talked about the majority of what I saw during the initial days of the festival (check out both the day 1 recap and the weekend recap), so here is an account of everything I was able to catch on Monday and Tuesday, before my inevitable return trip hit earlier today.

Before-midnight-ethan-hawke-julie-delpyLinklater’s Before Midnight somehow and miraculously not only lived up to my unrealistically high expectations, but also exceeded them. Eight years after the trilogy’s second installment Before Sunset, the creative collaboration of Linklater, Delpy and Hawke once again results in an extraordinary, dialogue-driven film which zooms into a couple’s intimate, frank conversations while reminding the viewers about the big world which they embrace and need to exist in. The magic of this trilogy –with its latest installment being the best of the three- is in its ability to make the viewer a fly on the wall. This kind of honesty in film, conveyed through long takes, tightly written dialogues with just enough breathing room and all-around grounded performances, is a rarity and a direct product of a visibly evolved partnership and strong trust between Linklater, Delpy and Hawke (which Linklater talked about in length during the post-screening Q&A), and I for one would like to see at least a Best Original Screenplay nomination awarded to Before Midnight in the next year’s awards season. After this festival highlight, I continued to conquer my screening schedule with Carruth’s Upstream Color, a deeply experimental and abstract work of art –or rather, artifact- on human paranoia of control, captivity and animalism (well, this is one of the million ways one can look at it) that certainly got a lot of respect from me without inspiring much desire to wrestle with its many layers. Lynn Shelton’s Touchy-Feely and Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight, both of which are Dramatic competition titles I saw in the second half of Monday, marked one of the highs and lows in this year’s festival for me, respectively. With Rosemarie DeWitt’s character as a massage therapist at its center, Touchy-Feely, an honest account of a family whose members dwell on the verge of potentially life-changing transitions, is a deceptively small film that finds its balance through its increasingly empowered characters, bringing Shelton’s subtle genius to life. On the other hand, Soloway’s Afternoon Delight failed to shine (at least for me) with its confusing tonal clashes, forced humor and dark twists, as well as its overtly self-important attitude toward its minor ambitions.

SpectacularnowOn my final day at Sundance, I started with two of the crowd-pleasing titles of the Dramatic Competition. Adapted from a novel by Tim Tharp, James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now is a refreshing, beautifully-written film about a pair of high-school seniors, that is completely free of the disingenuous millennial snark and quirkiness that I started growing tired of in movies depicting this particular demographic. Both Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are likely to go far in these roles (their characters are so honest that they instantly get under your skin), and the same can be said about the film’s director Ponsoldt as well as its writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Toy’s House on the other hand, a hilarious comedy about a group of teens whose lives are turned into practical nightmares by the adults who surround them, provides a very different angle on a similar demographic. I personally would have preferred the comedic silliness to be tempered slightly, yet I still enjoyed this unique entry with all of its oddball characters.

1358951237398.cachedThe second half of the day, I fit in Sean Ellis’ World Cinema Dramatic Competition title Metro Manila, a poignant, slightly heavy-handed yet competently shot film about a family struggling to rise above the poverty line in a Philippine metropolis. And I concluded Tuesday's screenings with Greg Barker’s documentary (in US Competition) Manhunt: The Search For Osama Bin Laden (to premiere on HBO in May 2013), which made for a great way to bring Sundance to a personal end and transition back to the current film conversation which is still pre-occupied with the torture controversy around Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. Through archival footage and interviews conducted with long-time CIA analysts, director Greg Barker pulls off a responsible documentary that not only shines a light on the process of a two-decade-long manhunt (which started long before 9/11), but also challenges the approach to “war on terror”, which in his and his subjects’ opinions is currently trapped in a vicious cycle with no end in sight due to the inability and unwillingness of the public to understand the underlying reasons behind terror. In attendance during the post-screening Q&A –in addition to director Barker- were three of the film’s subjects: ex-CIA Operatives Cynthia Storer, Nada Bakos and Marty Martin, who received an enthusiastic standing ovation from the crowd. In response to my question about what each of them think regarding the controversy around the other Bin Laden movie currently in theaters, the CIA trio emphasized the complexity of the process in which a lot of techniques have helped with putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Then Marty Martin jumped in with an additional comment: “I can tell you that the film’s portrayal of Jennifer Matthews was completely inaccurate. She was a very serious woman in real life”, referring to the character played by Jennifer Ehle in Bigelow’s movie.

Following a very fun karaoke party hosted by Cavu Pictures (another Sundance lesson learned: karaoke is a popular form of late-night entertainment) where several of the filmmakers, Slamdance staff and a few prominent film critics were in attendance, it was time to call it a night, and call it a Sundance for least until the news of the next distribution deal broke.


Relativity Media

Don Jon’s Addiction (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)

Fox Searchlight

The Way, Way Back (Nat Faxon, Jim Rash)

Sony Pictures

Austenland (Jerusha Hess)

Kill Your Darlings (John Krokidas)

CBS Films

Toy’s House (Jordan Vogt-Roberts)

Weinstein Company

Fruitvale (Ryan Coogler)


Concussion (Stacie Passon)

Twenty Feet From Stardom (Morgan Neville)

Lovelace (Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman)

Inequality For All (Jacob Kornbluth)


The Spectacular Now (James Ponsoldt)

IFC Films

The Look Of Love (Michael Winterbottom)

The Summit (Nick Ryan)

Sundance Selects

Dirty Wars (Richard Rowley)

HBO Films

Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer (Mike Lerner, Maxim Pozdorovkin)

Magnolia Pictures

Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite)

Prince Avalanche (David Gordon Green)

Showtime Networks

History of the Eagles (Alison Ellwood)

eOne Distribution

We Are What We Are (Jim Mickle)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sundance 2013 weekend recap: Looking for the next breakthrough film

Escape_From_Tomorrow_review_-_SUNDANCE_article_story_main-1The first weekend of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, which
usually makes up the busiest days of its entire run, has come to an end
with most of the highly anticipated titles having been screened at least once
for film lovers and industry hopefuls who are searching for the next
breakthrough film no one has seen coming. Indeed here in Sundance, it is rarely
a movie with star attachments that takes the industry by storm in the
competition categories. On the contrary, it’s usually a small film from a
newbie. If you look at the ticketing page of the festival for advice on how to
navigate your way through sold out shows, you’ll notice these words of wisdom:
Be adventurous with last-minute film
choices! Last year’s Grand Jury Prize winner Beasts of the Southern Wild had
200 empty seats at its first screening.
” While there hasn’t necessarily been a showstopper such as Beasts of the Southern Wild yet (not
including the big premieres, here), a few titles managed to stir up some debate
and get the attention of the crowd temporarily stationed in Park City. Among
these, none of them received as consistently great reactions as Randy Moore’s Escape From Tomorrow, a title I was able
to see late yesterday night as part of the festival’s NEXT section dedicated to
finding bold and innovative works. The film follows a family of four on the
last day of their trip to Disneyland, which starts with the father Jim (Roy
Abramsohn) losing his job over a phone call he receives from his boss. Hiding
the news from his wife and young children, Jim’s final day at the theme park
takes a surreal detour, turning the “happiest place on earth” into a David
Lynch-esque nightmare for the family. Shot in black and white with a crisp,
classic look that hints a taste of the French New Wave, Escape From Tomorrow is an effective and disturbing look at our
contemporary tastes and willingness to embrace the mass-produced, coating our
individualism to make each of us one of the same. Director Moore is a newcomer,
and thus, it’s a mystery to everyone -including myself- how he managed to shoot
a feature length narrative film in Disneyland completely on the sly. Yes, he
had no permits; just a dedicated cast and crew who agreed to walk around with
cameras, posing to be tourists. “We almost get caught once”, said Moore during
the post screening Q&A, also noting that their shot list was much longer
than their script, with every single move and location intricately planned and
learned on paper.  Cinetic is
representing the film for potential distribution deals; and since it’s safe to
say that Disney is soon going to file a lawsuit against the filmmaker (and he
is aware of that), it is hard to predict if a theatrical future is in the cards
for Escape From Tomorrow. One can
only hope.

00290065-0000-0000-0000-000000000000_00000065-06d3-0000-0000-000000000000_20130119003426_Newlyweeds1Other titles I was able to fit in from the NEXT section were
Shaka King’s Newlyweeds, whose mild
humor, buried within a script as cloudy and directionless as its subjects,
failed to impress; and Chad Hartigan’s This
Is Martin Bonner,
a film that effectively depicts the loneliness of its
characters with the kind of sensitivity and humanity one would expect from Mike
Leigh. It was refreshing to see this film which speaks to mature audiences.

Casey-affleck-rooney-mara-aint-them-bodies-saintsOver at the US Dramatic Competition, many buzz-worthy titles
had their initial shots at becoming the next big prizewinner as the entire crop
has been screened at least once. I have so far seen (apart from Cherien Dabis’ May In The Summer which I already talked
about in my Day 1 recap), John Krokidas’ Kill Your Darlings,
David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies
, and Francesca Gregorini’s Emanuel and The Truth About Fishes (with
a few more coming up tomorrow and Tuesday); and among these, David Lowery’s
title easily stands out with its slowburning, lyrical Texan tale of love torn apart by
crime. Blending a western look with Malick-esque storytelling, Lowery’s
handle on the joyless lives of his characters (with pitch-perfect performances
by Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Foster) impresses and bruises. It’s the
kind of movie that will attract a lot of admiration, yet perhaps not
enthusiasm. Krokidas’ Kill Your Darlings,
which tells a story of murder in the early college years of American poet Allen
Ginsberg, is stylish in bringing back a period to life, and once again features
phenomenal performances by the entire cast (including Ben Foster, once again);
yet the film goes slightly off the rails in its 3rd act, which can
simply be salvageable through re-editing. Lastly, Francesca Gregorini’s Emanuel And The Truth About Fishes tells
a surreal, quiet story of coping, longing, letting in and letting go. Emanuel,
a sharp yet mysterious teen living with her dad and stepmother (in an initially
stagnant, yet increasingly keen performance by Kaya Scodelario) forms a bond
with the cool next door neighbor Linda (Jessica Biel) and the turn of events
brings her closer to understanding loss. Despite the gorgeous cinematography
and the interesting nuances in the film which constructs Linda’s story as the
antithesis of Emanuel’s, this title is unlikely to resonate in this category. I
am still planning on seeing Shane Carruth’s Upstream
, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Toy’s
and Lynn Shelton’s Touchy Feely;
however based on the early reviews and instant Twitter reactions of critics
attending the festival, it is safe to say that Toy’s House has a real shot at being the winner of this category.

AfterTillerIn the US Documentary Competition, I wouldn’t be
exaggerating if I said almost all titles here are creating the kind of buzz
that makes them look like potential winners. Documentaries have been enjoying a
fruitful theatrical run in 2012 continuing the trend of the previous few years,
and this year’s Sundance titles suggest that we can continue to expect
greatness from non-fiction storytellers. I have managed to fit in Martha Shane
and Lana Wilson’s After Tiller, and
Morgan Neville’s Twenty Feet From Stardom
(see my Day 1 recap) into my schedule so far –and it’s worth
mentioning not all titles have been screened in this category yet- but based on
what I’m so far hearing, the competition might be between these two. I am
personally a big fan of both titles, but would be especially pleased if After Tiller, a vital, inevitable
documentary for which “brave” doesn’t come close to being a sufficient
definition, wins this category. Following 4 doctors who perform late term/3rd
trimester abortions in the US, After
gives voice to those who stand in the extreme end of an already
controversial topic. Given the political dimension of the story, and the
expected hate it will attract, all screenings of this doc (which the doctors
themselves attended as well), were tightly monitored by a security staff. I am
still looking forward to seeing Greg Barker's Manhunt: The Search For Osama Bin
and Zachary Heinzerling’s Cutie and
The Boxer

BEFORE-MIDNIGHT_510x383Lastly, the Premieres –which are usually the most star-studded
entries of the festival- made for a colorful few days here in Park City. Park
Chan-Wook’s Stoker, which favored
style over substance in what happened to be the festival’s biggest
disappointment for me, widely divided audience reactions. In The East, Zal Batmanglij’s second
collaboration with the beautiful Brit Marling and his follow up to the
masterful Sound Of My Voice, tension
and mystery were tightly managed to the advantage of this highly entertaining film’s
pace. Among the titles I haven’t yet seen,
sex –as Robert Redford mentioned during the opening press conference- seems to
be a recurring theme in films such as Don
Jon’s Addiction
(Joseph Gordon Levitt’s directorial debut), Anne Fontaine’s
Two Mothers, and Drake Doremus’ Breathe In. I look forward to catching
more of these titles before I depart on Wednesday. When one looks at the last weekend, it is easy to see that
none of the titles have been generating as much buzz as Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, his third and final
(perhaps?) installment of the trilogy, which started out with Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. It had its first screening earlier tonight and many
critics on Twitter have already declared it a masterpiece. I am seeing it
tomorrow morning at 8:30 am and it won’t be easy, especially after tonight’s
Fox Searchlight party that was still in full swing as I was heading back to my
condo at well after midnight.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Jessica Chastain's 'Mama' and 'Zero Dark Thirty' could go 1-2 this weekend

Jessica Chastain just won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama. Now she has a standard horror genre picture coming out this weekend, though it does come courtesy of executive producer Guillermo del Toro. Still, it's unlikely that she'll be "Norbit-ed." The term refers to how Eddie Murphy, nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Dreamgirls in 2006, may have had his changes torpedoed by his starring role in the lowbrow comedy. With a 63% positive rating on Rotten
Mama jessica chastainTomatoes (compared to Norbit's 7% positive rating), it's unlikely Mama (2,647 theatres) will be an embarrassment. The PG-13 rated picture is a "throwback and a modest delight
for people who like a good scare but prefer not to be terrorized or
grossed out," observes THR's critic Todd McCarthy. "Bloodthirsty female teens" will be a prime audience for the movie, which centers on Chastain and two young girls she takes in after a traumatic experience. An opening in the high teens would put the picture ahead of Zero Dark Thirty (also starring Chastain), though they should be neck and neck. If Zero Dark Thirty loses a third of its audience, which would be a particularly good hold, it will end up around $16 million, which should be enough for second place, if not first.

Last Stand and Broken City will both compete for adult male audiences this weekend. They're
Last stand arnold schwarzeneggerexpected to do fairly similar business, with each one ending up in the low teen millions. The Last Stand (2,913 theatres) is Arnold Schwarzenegger's first leading-man role since he underwent the transition from movie star to politician, becoming a two-term governor of California. However, the action hero had much-touted cameos in the Expendables movies that many already considered his "return." Wittily self-referential, the film
particularly sends up Schwarzenegger’s age," reports FJI critic Marsha McCreadie, noting a scene where he has to don glasses to get a look at a bullet wound. The answer to the "implied question behind the film: Can
Schwarzenegger still deliver?" is yes.

A corrupt mayor (Russell Crowe) hires a P.I. (Mark Wahlberg) to find out if his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is being unfaithful in Broken City (2,620 theatres). Of course, that initial hint of betrayal spirals into something much bigger in this "noir-ish" look
Broken city 1 russell crowe mark wahlbergat New York City. The "broad, splashy pieces of easily digestible
narrative, visual and character components...provides
an easy ride into a cheesy, lazily imagined New York political
scandal," offers critic Doris Toumarkine. That might be enough to get adult males into seats this weekend, at least the ones who prefer to see power wielded cerebrally, not physically.

After spending three weeks playing in around 750 theatres, Silver Linings Playbook will open wide, into, 2,523 locations. The romantic comedy has earned $43 million to date. This weekend should add at least another $10 million to the total. All four lead actors (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver) received Oscar nominations for their performances. With a cipher of a title and a premise that's hard to reduce to a one-line plot description, this movie has sought to gain viewers primarily through word-of-mouth, which is why it has rolled out so slowly.

On Monday, we'll see which Jessica Chastain film led the box office and how many Academy Award nominees kept their spot in the top ten.



Thursday, January 17, 2013

Robert Redford salutes film as agent of change at 2013 Sundance.

2013pressConf-jtThe 2013 edition of the Sundance Film Festival kicked off yesterday
with an opening day Press Conference, where the “Sundance Kid” Robert Redford
(Founder and President of Sundance Institute), Keri Putnam (Sundance Institute
Executive Director) and John Cooper (Sundance Film Festival Director) engaged
in a conversation with the members of press, moderated by The Salt Lake Tribune
film critic and columnist Sean P. Means.

Redford’s opening remarks celebrated film as an agent of
change and took pride in Sundance’s mission to embrace and use it, giving The
New Frontier –which brings high technology and the artist together in a social
and creative space- as an example. The course of the conversation revealed
impressive first-time stats around the diversity of this year’s 190-film slate,
which includes 51 first-time filmmakers and represents 32 countries around the
globe. It also touched upon the equal divide between male and female filmmakers
in the Dramatic Competition, which is another first at Sundance. When talking
about the visible trends in this year’s slate (as well as the submissions that
didn’t make the cut), Redford and Cooper both quoted an evolved study of sex,
one that is not necessarily tied to romance but more to relations. In response
to a question from a press member, the trio also drew attention to the musically
rich offerings of this year’s program with titles such as Sound City and Twenty
Feet From Stardom
. Following a political diversion where the topic switched to
guns vs. media, the conference ended with Redford announcing that Sundance is
not going to Brooklyn (despite the false news that ran a short while ago).

13036-1Following the press conference, both films I was able to see
on the festival’s first day coincidentally align with one of the trends that
were raised earlier in the conversation. May In The Summer, directed by Cherien Dabis, is one of the dramatic competition titles from a female filmmaker.
Following her 2007 Sundance sensation Amreeka which was that year’s Grand Jury
Prize winner in Dramatic Competition, Dabis once again depicts the inner
workings of a family against a contrasting cultural backdrop and reunites with
many of the same cast members, including the great Hiam Abbass. Despite Dabis’
best intentions though, she only manages to deliver a watchable film with May
In The Summer
, that suffers from a simple-minded yet cluttered script. In portraying
the relationship of three Jordanian sisters’ with each other and their mother
(for which Dabis, who also plays one of the sisters, admittedly was inspired
by her own family), May In The Summer seems more concerned about ticking predictable
boxes around the universal troubles of females, rather than injecting a breath
of fresh air into the topic. Still, its somewhat naïve charm played reasonably
well with the crowd in a packed Eccles.

13070-1After a quick stop at Indiewire’s annual condo party, the
second film I caught, Morgan Neville’s Twenty Feet To Stardom (which competes
in the U.S. Documentary section), has the potential to become the next music
documentary hit and is already generating some potential distribution buzz. I
caught a late press screening, however got word that the film, which shines a
spotlight on five back-up singers (Merry Clayton, Darlene Love, Lisa
Fischer, Judith Hill and Tata Vega) – the unsung heroines who sang back-up
for icons such as Rolling Stones, Sting, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder- received
a standing ovation during its Eccles premiere earlier that evening, with
Clayton, Hill and Vega taking the stage at the post-screening Q&A for a
brief impromptu performance. This is an irresistible title with many
legendary/familiar tracks, including “Gimme Shelter”, which is the subject of
the film’s perhaps most spellbinding set piece that will surely leave all future
audiences speechless. Sundance Institute announced earlier this week that all five singers and
multi-platinum recording artist The Fray will perform at the annual ‘A
Celebration of Music in Film’ event on January 20; a performance which many at Sundance
look forward to attending.

Twitter Oscar Index offers social media perspective on awards race

The latest analysis of the Oscar race to join the fray, the Twitter Oscars Index measures how positively Oscar-nominated movies, actors, and directors are being talked about on Twitter. Unlike the Farsite Forecast, which is about calculating the odds of winning, the Twitter Oscar Index is more about sentiment. If there is a default rating for films or nominees, it appears to be around 80 on a scale of 100. But there are some notable exceptions.


In the Best Picture race, eight of the ten nominees are between 82 and 93 on sentiment. That means the tweets about the movies are 82% to 83% more positive than the average tweet. That makes sense, since these movies are the best of the best. Down a little lower is Amour with a score of 69. The foreign-language film was a surprise nominee, and only the fourth time a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film also showed up in the Best Picture category. But it's also considered quite depressing. Could that be affecting the score? Way, way below Amour is Zero Dark Thirty, which has been flatlining with an abysmally low score of 5.5. I guess the outcry over depictions of torture was enough to drive this score down. "Torture" is a negative sentiment, right...?


I suspect the Twitter Oscars Index may be more fun than actually useful. In the Supporting Actress category, Anne Hathaway is considered a lock for her soulful Fantine. She is also in the lead in the Twitterverse, with a sentiment score of 87.5, but there's no indication that she's considered a frontrunner. I also have no idea how Helen Hunt would be tracking so low, with a score of just 45. And how do they separate sentiments towards a celebrity from feelings about the actress in that role? After all, many of these actresses are juggling multiple films. Maybe people are just commenting on how much they loved/hated their Golden Globes dress, not the actress' performance.

Flaws aside, Twitter Oscars Index looks like a fun tool to check in on the Oscar race, now just 37 days away.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Could Farsite Forecast be to the Oscars what FiveThirtyEight was to politics?

At the Golden Globes on Sunday, nearly every movie was a winner, throwing many predictions for the Oscars askew. This year is tough for prognosticators, but one group,, claims its statistical model has an edge in predicting who will win the Academy Awards. In the vein of FiveThirtyEight, the blog run by Nate Silver that has proven to incredibly accurate in its predictions about political elections, Farsite applies predective modeling, or data science, to the Oscar race.

While Lincoln has been picked by many bloggers as most likely to win Best Picture at the Oscars, for example, it didn't win either of the Golden Globes' top honors, which went to Argo and Les
. Shouldn't that great showing raise the odds that one of these films
will win? According to, which is using data science
to track the Oscar race, the answer is no. The site is currently giving Argo just a 2.3% change of winning and Les Miserables a 1.6% chance of winning. Farsite predicts the race is between Lincoln (38.4% chance of winning) and Silver Linings Playbook (30.8% chance of winning).Since 1989's Driving Miss Daisy, no movie has won the Oscar for Best Film without also being nominated for Best Director. Since neither Argo or Les Miserables received that nomination, the odds are against them.

Other areas where Farsite Forecast predicts a toss-up, I see a clear winner. For Best Actor, they're giving Bradley Cooper and Daniel Day-Lewis nearly equal odds of winning. Personally, I think Day-Lewis underwent a more impressive transformation, but I also think Oscar voters wil want to
GRAPH-BestActorLRGreward a "serious" actor of his stature in a film that was most commended for its acting. Cooper is fresh off his roles in The Hangover series.

Cooper is fresh off
his roles in The Hangover series. In his most
critically-acclaimed role yet, could he be the latest Hollywood star to make the
often transition from action and comedy star to Oscar winner? Right now,
he's 7% less likely to win than Day-Lewis, and I think that gap will


When it comes to the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, Farsite Forecast has one race in a lock already. Anne Hathaway has an 84.4% chance of winning the Oscar. For Hathaway, it's time to start creating space on the mantle for her statuette. During the Globes, Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain both won Best Actress, in their respective comedy/drama categories. Lawrence has the edge in the Oscar race, with a 53.3% probability compared to Chastain's 34.6%.

Farsite Forecast's predictions currently match closely with bloggers' top contenders in each race. The model will continue to evolve as we get closer to the race and important guild awards are doled out. Will Farsite Forecast live up to the accuracy of similar models, like FiveThirtyEight's incredible track record at predicting political wins?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Golden Globes share the love, but 'Argo' and 'Les Miserables' win top honors

This year at the Golden Globes, no one film swept the awards. In a year of so many good films, it was great to see multiple works be recognized. Unlike the Oscars, the Globes name best pictures in two categories. Les Misérables grabbed Best Comedy/Musical, in a field that also saw Silver Linings Playbook as a strong contender. Argo, surprisingly, won Best Drama. Zero Dark Thirty
Argo Bryan Cranston Chris Messinaand Lincoln were also in the drama category, and both seemed more likely to win. Lincoln is still considered the big favorite for the Oscars, and an appearance by former president Bill Clinton to introduce the film may give the feature the extra push to win come Oscar-time. Especially when its competitor, Zero Dark Thirty, appears to have drawn mainly criticism from elected officials. Argo will also be at a disadvantage when it comes to the Oscars. Although Ben Affleck won Best Director at the Globes, he didn't even get nominated in the category at the Oscars. Best Director and Best Film nearly always track together. But if there's any year where this rule will be thrown out the window, it's this year.

The Golden Globes' double awards based on genre show that there are still some Oscar races that are up in the air. Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress in a comedy/musical for Silver Linings
Les miserables anne hathawayPlaybook
, while Jessica Chastain grabbed the honors for Best Actress in a drama. They both gave great speeches, too. This category will be a tough one to choose between, but if it's about recognizing both an actress and a a great film, my vote is for Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty. Anne Hathaway's win for Best Supporting Actress in Les Misérables only confirms she's a lock for the category.

Hugh Jackman was recognized for his work as Best Actor in a comedy/musical for  Les Misérables, but it's pretty clear that Daniel Day-Lewis, the winner in the Best Actor for a drama category for Lincoln, is the favorite for the Oscars. Christoph Waltz carried home the statue for Best Supporting Actor in Django Unchained (the fact that it's a "supporting" role is likely some Weinstein finessing). Django also won in the Best Screenplay
Zero dark thirty jessica chastian 2category. Quentin Tarantino, who also directed the picture, called the award a huge "surprise." Django is a bit more edgy than the Academy usually goes for, though they did give the violent-comic Western five nominations. I think Waltz is a more likely win than Tarantino when it comes to the Oscars. There, Tarantino will compete in the Original Screenplay category, which also includes Amour, Zero Dark Thirty, Flight, and Moonrise Kingdom.

Zero Dark Thirty has long been the horse I've been betting on, but at this point it may be just my favorite horse. It won only one of its four categories, Best Actress for Chastain, though the performer took time in her speech to personally thank director Kathryn Bigelow for the strong female character who leads the charge in the procedural thriller. When it comes to the box office, though, ZDT looks like it will be enjoying the same level of success as Argo. The "other drama about the CIA" this year opened to just under $20 million and has earned five-and-a-half times its opening weekend to date. Zero Dark Thirty finally expanded after weeks in specialty release and opened to $24 million. If it follows the trajectory of Argo, it could also be looking at a total north of $100 million.

This is a year not only of incredibly strong films, but incredibly successful ones at the box office too. Five honorees had spots in the top ten this week. Django Unchained placed fourth with $11 million, but had a 44% drop, larger than any of its previous weeks. That may be because of two new offerings, Gangster Squad and A Haunted House, that cut into its audience. Gangster Squad drew many under 35s, likely fans of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, to open to $16.7 million. One spot higher, the horror spoof A Haunted House debuted to $18.8 million. Blacks made up half the audience, and Latinos another 30%. Since Django had been playing well to black audiences, it likely lost viewers to that release.

In fifth place, Les Misérables dropped 36% to stay in the seven figures another week, finishing with $10.1 million. Lincoln, in seventh place, added 16% to earn $6.3 million. Silver Linings Playbook also had a bump of 38% to $5 million, likely thanks to the Golden Globes. The only big winner not in the top ten was Argo. In nineteenth place, it went up 57% to $1.2 million, not so bad for a movie now in theatres for three and a half months.

This Friday, the Golden Globe-honored films should continue to see strong business. Silver Linings Playbook will ride on its win to expand wide. Best Actress winner Jessica Chastain will appear in the thriller Mama, and Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe will star in the crime picture Broken City. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a presenter at last night's awards, will star in The Last Stand. As for the Oscars? They're just forty days away.

Friday, January 11, 2013

'Zero Dark Thirty' could take down 'Gangster Squad'

Since its release three weeks ago, Zero Dark Thirty has earned $5.2 million selling out the small number of theatres showing the well-reviewed feature. This weekend, the CIA procedural thriller will explode into 2,937 theatres. The buzz for this picture could not be higher. It's been the subject of many think pieces on torture, and just last night a panel convened to talk about the movie
Zero dark thirty jessica chastain 1on the PBS News Hour--and all this before it has even played to a wide audience. Adult audiences already know this is a quality film and a must-see. Especially with boomers dominating the box office, this may be enough. But Zero Dark Thirty also has the potential to draw in patriotic and military audiences, as well as fans of action thrillers--even though suspense, not gunfights, predominate. Per-screen averages for ZDT started at $80,000, went to $60,000, and
then $40,000 per screen. That's a pretty admirable hold for a film that
released in just five theatres its first two weeks, then 60 locations
last week. If the per-screen average dropped by half, to $20,000 per screen, the
movie would end up with $58 million. No one expects that will happen, but given how strongly the movie is playing, predictions around the $25-30 million
range are more than doable.

Until recently, most expected Gangster Squad (3,103 theatres) would lead this weekend, and with an estimated debut north of $20 million, it still could. Where ZDT is subtle and nuanced,
Gangster squad josh brolinGangster Squad is broad and features the splatters of gunfire people may be expecting--and not get--from Zero Dark Thirty. The movie is a heightened, unrealistic look at Los Angeles in the late '40s, "based on a true story" in a very loose way. The kind of movie where every other line out of an actor's mouth is a zinger. That may turn some viewers (including myself) off, but others may like the mindless diverson, which is kind of like an exaggerated parody of L.A. Confidential, but played straight. The "campy sheen should broaden its appeal," predicts FJI critic Chris Barsanti. Director Ruben Fleischer "blasts through to the finish, trusting in
speed, a solid cast, and the smartly polished period design to make
all the implausibilities and plot loopholes whip past agreeably

Also in the mix this weekend is a comedy from the Wayans Brothers, A Haunted House (2,160
A haunted house 1theatres)
.  The spoof of Paranormal Activity centers on a man who tries to exorcise a demon from his girlfriend. A $10-15 million weekend would be good news for this low-budget feature.

Quartet (2 theatres), "far more delicate than The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," offers an "endearing treatise on aging and music," according to FJI's David Noh. If even a fraction of the Marigold Hotel audience shows up, this movie will likely be a success. Plus it stars Maggie Smith, of current "Downton Abbey" fame, playing "one of those
difficult, doughty, dragon-lady dowagers" that appears to be her new acting sweet spot.

On Monday, we'll see how Zero Dark Thirty performed when let out of the specialty cage and given a nationwide release, or if Gangster Squad proved more alluring than the hunt for Osama bin Laden.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Oscar nominations reveal competing visions of America

What makes a film the "Best Picture" of the year? When it comes to the Oscars, it's not enough to be the most cinematically innovative or critical favorite. The movies also must be the kind those in the industry and out can look at and say, "Now this is why Hollywood movies matter." It's a rather inclusive test, but nevertheless one many films do not pass. This morning's Oscar nominations have a fair number of surprises and snubs, in a year that includes a number of incredibly strong films. They also offer competing visions of  America and Americans--even when the subject matter is foreigners. Go figure.

Lincoln led the nominations with twelve notices, including Best Director for Steven Spielberg and Best Picture. It's considered the favorite for Best Picture, but it's also the most "safe" movie. Lincoln is about showing an America everyone can be proud of. Lincoln is one of our finest presidents, and
Lincoln Daniel Day Lewisattempts by the script to humanize him only show how much he accomplished in the face of adversity and weariness. Even nearly 150 years after the Civil War, the movie's message is progressive. All men are created equal--under the eyes of the law, Thaddeus Stevens finally concedes. Even today, that vision is still short of reality.

Beasts of the Southern Wild shows us inequality, but then offers us a hopeful vision in spite of adversity. If you can look through the strained father-daughter relationship, the misguided efforts of rescue workers, and some heavy drinking, you can see that Beasts also offers a vision of America to be proud of. The world outside the movie's Louisiana Bathtub may be harsh and cruel to those inside, but the residents exemplify the characteristics we Americans hold so dear. Self-reliance, independence, vibrant
Beasts of the southern wild oscar 2culture, and strength in the face of adversity. Academy voters gave the film three important nominations: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actress for Quvenzhané Wallis, is the youngest nominee in history Along with Amour, Beasts "took" a Best Director spot away from previous winners Tom Hooper and Kathryn Bigelow, who were considered strong candidates for the nomination. Lincoln will always be a bit on a pedestal, but Beasts takes that pedestal, chops it up, and uses it to keep out hurricane winds.

Argo and Zero Dark Thirty are both about intelligence operations abroad, but they couldn't be more different. Argo champions playful ingenuity. The glitz and glamour of a Hollywood shoot just serve as a smokescreen to get trapped Americans out of Iran during the hostage crisis. There's great style, music, and a cowboy attitude prevails. The movie inspired vocal reactions among those
ARgo picturewatching in theatres, and it's hard not to leave without a gushing pride that America was clever and renegade enough to pull this off. This is a story of unequivocal pride, in the manner of Lincoln. Zero Dark Thirty is the equivalent of Beasts. It shows that terrorism begets torture. The CIA is ruthlessly efficient and technologically advanced. The battle against bin Laden is won, but this movie lets us know just how high the costs were. This wasn't just about personal sacrifice, but a sacrifice our nation made in the quest of vengeance. That's a message that hasn't sat well with everyone. After doing extremely well among critics' groups, the movie has picked up some
Zero dark thirty jessica chastain heat from politicians denouncing the movie.

impossible to leave this movie untroubled by the contemporary
parallels...[to author Victor] Hugo’s progressive political and moral concerns," noted Wendy R. Weinstein in her review of Les Misérables. Sure, maybe the movie would have been a hit nevertheless, but two of the other most successful musicals in recent years (Chicago and Dreamgirls) tackled big questions about fame and the American experience. As the country lifts from recession and questions topics like the incarceration of people of color who have committed minor drug offenses, for example, it recalls Jean Valjeans's life-ending punishment for stealing a loaf of bread. Like Lincoln, Les Misérables shows us that the search for justice and equality can be a never-ending process.

Which story will triumph when the statuettes are doled out? The film that wins Best Director nearly always wins Best Picture. This year, three frontrunners aren't even nominated: Les Misérables, Argo, and especially Zero Dark Thirty. Does this mean that Lincoln will win? In a year of films that spoke to the American experience, this one is the sturdiest and most uncontroversial. But the nominees that stand beside it share ultimately triumphant views of what it means to be an American, a human in society. When victories come, they are always qualified, and always at some cost. This isn't a year of fairy tales, but it does have the strongest slate of nominees in recent memory, one where multiple films can be heralded as examples of why movies matter.

Monday, January 7, 2013

'Texas Chainsaw 3D' slashes 'Django Unchained'

Along with New Year's Resolutions, there's one thing you can always count on in January: a horror movie. This year's Texas Chainsaw 3D played just as well as the previous franchise installment, earning $23.2 million and a spot in first place. That's not quite as good as Lionsgate's horror offering last year, the religious-themed chller The Devil Inside that opened to $33 million. The
Texas chainsaw 3D the girlrelease also proved there's a new star on the rise. A third of the younger attendees came because of cast member Trey Songz, a hip-hop star known for his song with T.I., "Two Reasons." 52% of attendees were female and 64% under the age of 25.

In second place, Django Unchained showed stronger staying power than Les Miserables, earning $20.1 million to the musical's $16.1 million. Django has attracted a broad cross-section of viewers. This is the rare film that has huge support from both black and white audiences, and seekers of critically-acclaimed movies and a violent gore-fest. Soon, the movie's cumulative total will pass that of writer/director Quentin Tarantino's previous hit, Inglourious Basterds, which topped out at $120 million.

Matt Damon-led Promised Land, which expanded into 1,676 theatres averaged a respectable $2,5000 per screen for a total of $4.3 million. Considering its so-so critical reception, this message film's performance was right on target, even though it may seem low for a drama led by such a big star.

The Impossible showed strength as it expanded into 572 theatres and tallied up a total of $2.7
The impossible naomi wattsmillion
with a $4,800 per-screen average. The nostalgic look at the 1960s from "The Sopranos" creator David Chase,  Not Fade Away, which also expanded into around 500 theatres, appears to be fading away, averaging $496 per screen for a total of $280,000. With generally good reviews (69% positive on Rotten Tomatoes), perhaps this failure was the result of poor marketing or a lack of faith in the film on part of the studio.

Zero Dark Thirty, expanding into 60 theatres, maintained a stunning $45,000 per-screen average, enough to earn it $2.7 million. That's just unheard of, especially after three weeks in release. This Friday, it expands into 2,5000 theatres, and I'll be watching to see just how much pent-up demand there is for this much-talked-about drama.

This Friday, the 40's-set crime movie Gangster Squad will open wide along with the horror comedy A Haunted House and the wide release of Zero Dark Thirty.

Friday, January 4, 2013

'Texas Chainsaw 3D' revs into box office against strong holiday releases

There hasn't been a wide horror release since Halloween, and now that the holiday movie season is over, Texas Chainsaw 3D (2,654 theatres) will try to quench any pent-up demand for a good scare-fest. There have been two recent Texas Chainsaw movies, one in 2003 that earned $80 million, and another in 2006 that earned considerably less, $40 million. Still, horror flicks tend to
Texas chainsaw 3D shotgunopen high, and there's a good chance that Texas Chainsaw 3D could land at the top of the pack if it opens around $20 million.

A few other movies are expanding their theatrical imprint now that must-see releases like Django Unchained and Les Miserables have had some time to run through viewers. Repeat moviegoers may come back for another holiday offering, like The Impossible, which is expanding into 572 theatres. Yes, the tale of a tsunami tearing a family apart is heart-wrenching, but it appears that any initial reluctance to watch a weepie is being quelled by good word-of-mouth. The drama's per-screen average went up from $9,000 per screen to $12,000 per screen in its second weekend, an excellent sign. It's also earned an impressive $80 million abroad, including $53 million in Spain. Director Juan Antonio Bayona is from Spain, and the story is based on that of a Spanish family (though the end film features a couple from English-speaking territories), which explains the interest in that country.

Promised Land will make the biggest expansion, into 1,675 theatres. While there are some great stars, like Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, and "The Office's" John Krasinski, this movie has been a failure with critics and had a tepid debut in theatre. It will probably end up with a few million and not much else. FJI critic David Noh found the "intelligent, sincere diatribe against
Promised land matt damonvenal corporate interests" "highly watchable," but I couldn't disagree more. It's uncomfortably simple, pat, and unchallenging--liberal baby food. This message drama may resonate with some, but many others will be alienated, either by virtue of their political views or the movie's reductive nature.

Not Fade Away will also be expanding into 565 theatres. Directed by David Chase, creator of "The Sopranos," the tale of New Jersey teens starting a band in the 1960s is an "engaging time capsule," according to New Jersey native and film critic Kevin Lally, and "serves as a vivid reminder of how thoroughly the ’60s shook up the
culture." Unlike The Impossible, this movie has already expanded once, from three to nineteen theatres, and saw its per-screen average drop by two-thirds. But there's still hope for this coming-of-age tale yet, and a thoughtful expansion (with more New Jersey theatres than normal) may be the trick.

Viewers in New York City can catch 56 UP, the once-every-seven-years series following a group of British children, now 56. "What's striking is how many of the children express displeasure
with the series," critic Daniel Eagan observes, their lives shaped in certain respects by how people view them through the lens of the documentary.

On Monday, we'll see if Texas Chainsaw 3D sawed through the competition and which holiday releases are still playing strong.



Thursday, January 3, 2013

PGA's popcorn movie pick is 'Skyfall'

The Producers Guild of America announced its ten nominees for Best Picture, and it's a very inclusive list. Both of the indie darlings, Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts of the Southern Wild, were among the nominees. The much-accoladed Argo, Les Miserables, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty (of course) made the list, and Life of Pi slipped in, probably because of its literary pedigree and great cinematography. Also in the mix is Django Unchained, the violent,
Skyfall daniel craigchallenging film that is a little bit like this year's version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Finally, the PGA recognized Skyfall. This year there have been a couple other great popcorn movies: The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers. But in the end, it was the one that released latest in the year--and was freshest in voters' minds--that garnered a nomination. Of all the popcorn movies, this is the one that appealed most to adults, including older males, that likely represent a sizeable amount of the PGA's members.

The PGA awards are best known for being extremely accurate predictors of the Oscar Best Picture winner. This year there is a deep selection of great movies, and there's no clear frontrunner. The latest word in the blogosphere is that Lincoln has a lead, but I sincerely hope another of the ones on my top movie list, such as Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings, Argo, or Les Misérables gets recognized instead. While Zero Dark Thirty and Les Misérables are my two favorites from this year, I think Les Misérables will eventually encounter some blowback from the singing choice. Many trained musicians have commented on social networks that the vocals make them cringe--especially those from, no surprise, Russell Crowe playing Javert. However, even its detractors acknowledge it's still a must-see, but I wonder if that may affect the Academy's voters. Will the musicians in the bunch be happy to recognize a film that relies heavily on music, or will they not be able to get past how the actors sound to a trained ear? With just under two months before the Oscar ceremony, this year's race is one of the most exciting in recent years. 


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Pixar targets Hispanics with movie about Día de los Muertos

Today, I read two articles and couldn't help but feel they should actually be side by side. The first, THR's "Box Office 2012: 5 Hard Lessons" lists number four as "Boomers & Hispanics: The New Sweet Spot," pointing to the success of films like the Hispanic-targeted End of Watch and "Latino-centered Ice Age." Hispanics are not only a growing demographic in the U.S., they watched 25% of movies while only representing 17% of the population.. So perhaps it's no surprise that the latest Pixar movie to be added to the slate is the "Untitled Pixar Movie About the Día de los Muertos," which will be directed by Lee Unkrich, the director and co-writer of Toy Story 3 and co-director of Finding Nemo. The movie was announced back in April, but the first peek at the concept art just hit the Internet.


I'm a little curious about how Pixar will approach the project and the marketing. The holiday itself, which is most associated with Mexico, at least here in the U.S, is celebrated around the world and particularly throughout Latin America. It involves hanging out at the graves of relatives, giving them food and celebrating their memory, and lots of skulls, including very delicious candy ones. To an American audience, the idea of associating graveyards with celebrations is a bit odd. I think 95% of all graveyards in movies either involve people weeping next to a casket or tombstone, being chased by zombies, or having a séance. If this is a Hispanic-targeted movie, it may be a snap to target Mexican-Americans, but it may be a marketing challenge in another respect: the parents. Open-minded kids won't be a problem, but parents may need a refresher on the ins and outs of the holiday. Día de los Muertos is generally celebrated after Halloween, on November 2 (though sometimes the 1st), so the film is likely to release in October of 2015. That's proved to be a profitable spot for animated movies, like this year's comedy Hotel Transylvania. And it may make any spookiness an easy sell.