Thursday, February 28, 2013

The VFX battle that the 'Jaws' music drowned out

It was a little weird that Jaws music interrupted the speech by the Best Visual Effects winners for Life of Pi at the Oscars on Sunday, later cutting off their microphone, but most people didn't think much of it. It was early in the evening, and many likely wrote it off as an unusually aggressive policy on the length of acceptance speeches. While the orchestra may have been hewing to the Academy's strict standards (the winners were cut off after a minute, and nominees are usually told to wrap it up within 45 seconds), this graph from the 2011 Oscars shows that the rule is inconsistently applied, with music only sometimes playing once they reach that mark. It does seem uncharacteristically severe to play music (and an ominous tune at that), and then follow up by cutting off a microphone.

Life of Pi visual effects

What the music covered up was a speech that intended to recognize that there were visual effects protesters outside who were upset over being squeezed in an industry that has unionized protection for most of its workers, including writers (WGA) and actors (SAG), but not the VFX houses. I get that political speeches about off-topic subjects, while a part of Oscar history, are often in poor taste. But this seemed like the industry closing ranks to exclude members of its own. Rhythm + Hues, which did the VFX for Life of Pi, is in fact in bankruptcy, along with the U.K. office of Hugo VFX house Pixomondo, which many are using as proof that the current model is unsustainable. Big studios like Disney, which just bought Lucasfilm and thus effects house ILM, gain efficiencies by doing their visual effects in-house. Outside those models, it seems that the savings comes from forcing workers to do unpaid overtime and other less-than-savory employment practices.

I do think that it's unfair that in an industry that gives profit participation to many members of the cast and crew, something as pivotal as visual effects doesn't pass muster. When you realize just how many shots use green screens, the scope of visual effects is stunning. People expect there to be visual effects in a movie like The Avengers; what's surprising is that TV shows and movies use them for scenes when people are walking down the street, to fill in the windows behind a house, or to show someone gazing as they walk through Times Square. Audiences don't know to look for these type of set extensions or replacements, so they don't see them. Plus, they look that good. VFX companies and artists likely have a difficult battle in front of them, but gaining the support of the public will be an important first step.



Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Netflix's 'House of Cards' turns content into a science--are movies next?

In the old days people baked cookies. Now the market is dominated by specially-formulated packaged food that's engineered to fall right into a U-shaped graph that measures bliss. Perhaps you could say the same thing about content. In the old days, people came up with movies and shows by combining great ingredients with a hunch. Now, it's scientific. I'm twelve out of thirteen episodes into Netflix's "House of Cards," drawn in by the smooth credits music, arty feel, and sordid look at political scandal. According to recent articles in the New York Times and Salon, this wasn't
House of cards kevin spacey robin wrightjust a well-put together show hitting it big, but due to an analysis of Netflix viewer habits that ensured that "House of Cards" would have the broadest appeal.

"House of Cards" is based on a 1990 BBC series (that did well on Netflix), stars Kevin Spacey (an actor who tracks well on Netflix), and has episodes directed by David Fincher (drawing in Netflix cinephiles). It's an addictive, adult-geared drama, with some episodes ending on cliffhangers that make it almost impossible not to click "next episode." That's something Netflix tracks too. In the old days, a test screening might measure the laughs and gasps of an audience, adding beats when necessary to accommodate them. Now, Netflix measures when people pause episodes, and especially when they don't return to them.

I might have taken an anti-Big Brother stance on this information, if it weren't for the fact that "House of Cards" is so good. It doesn't feel formulaic, but daring and innovative. (Unless it's just scientifically pushing those "daring" and "innovative" buttons right up to the point where it knows it will start to alienate viewers). Major networks air at least half a dozen new shows each season, and most of them fail. There's something to be said for the fact that Netflix is currently batting one for one. I'm sure there's data to parse when it come to movies too. If a movie plays better on Netflix than in theatres, what does that mean? In passing during a recent Q&A, a filmmaker mentioned that Netflix doesn't release information about how often a movie is viewed to the filmmaker or distributor. I imagine that releasing that information could eventually become a bargaining point in acquisition discussions, if it hasn't already.

Whenever a mindless superhero picture releases, people bemoan that studios are catering to the lowest common denominator, and neglecting other audiences. Maybe the studios are accurately playing to their audience, but maybe looking at a different set of data could reveal other truths. It takes a film like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, for example, for many to realize that boomers are now a huge part of the moviegoing public. What plays well on Netflix doesn't always play well in movie theatres, but within this data there is a possibility to create great television and movies that also pass the "numbers test."

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Coen Brothers to write script for Angelina Jolie-directed 'Unbroken'

I feel a little protective over Laura Hillenbrand's nonfiction tour de force, Unbroken. She works with amazing material--the endurance against all odds of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic track star who survived first in a lifeboat for 47 days and then in a Japanese POW camp--but it's what she does with that life story that makes it special. In her hands, Zamperini's story is about his will to
Zamperini_websurvive. In the face of complete and utter hopelessness, he summoned and directed that will, and that's what helped him make it through. Powerful stuff.

Angelina Jolie wouldn't be my first choice for director of this movie, but she's taken an interest in the Universal project. Even more curiously, she and her fellow producers hired Ethan and Joel Coen to write the script for the adaptation of the 496-page novel. It's a bold decision. The Coen Brothers' works often have a style that distances the work from reality (see: Raising Arizona), turning their main characters into darkly comic figures with distinctive accents. But they also have works that, absurd as they are, feel intensely real and true to their genre, like Fargo and No Country for Old Men. Although not particularly
Unbroken-cover_custom-s6-c10prominent in the book, there is plenty of ambient dark and gallows humor. How else can one survive without food on a lifeboat, or while under the thumb of fickle and cruel wardens of POW camps? I imagine that the Coen Brothers' screenplay will bring these elements to the forefront.

As adaptations go, this one has a number of major challenges. First, there's the length of the book, 496 pages. Then there's the fact that there are four distinct parts: Zamperini's childhood (likely to be elided) and time as an Olympic track star, his work in the army, his plane crash and survival in the lifeboat, and his years in the POW camp. The latter two are the most important, but couldn't be more different. It will be like watching Life of Pi and then seeing the same characters segue into Schindler's List. Seriously. Apparently, Universal has been trying to adapt the Zamperini story for decades, even before Hillenbrand's book came out. Her take on events combined with the Coen Brothers' script may be enough to finally crack this incredible tale that you would never believe if it hadn't actually, in fact, happened.


Monday, February 25, 2013

'Argo' triumphs again at 2013 Oscars

As soon as Argo won the Oscar for Film Editing, it seemed inevitable that the 1970s CIA thriller would also win Best Picture. Forget about the fact that Ben Affleck wasn't nominated for Best Director.  He had already won the DGA award that heralds a Best Picture award, and if there's any other Oscar night award that predicts Best Picture, it's the one for editing.

In a year with so many good films, it was nice to see that most of the nominees went home with Oscars. The biggest winner of the night was Life of Pi with four wins, but Argo and Les Miserables followed with three, and Lincoln and Django Unchained each grabbed two awards. Silver Linings
Argo oscars winPlaybook
scored with one major award, Jennifer Lawrence for Best Actress. Zero Dark Thirty was the only real loser of the bunch, with just one (a tie, even!) for Sound Editing. That movie deserved more--it was better than The Hurt Locker, which scooped up six Oscars, compared to ZDT's solo win. But in such a strong field of players, the awards were divided evenly, instead of the "sweeps" by one film that have dominated the Oscars in recent years.

There were a few surprises in the wins. Although I loved Christoph Waltz's performance in Django Unchained, the role was quite similar to the one that previously won him an Oscar, in Inglourious Basterds. I also think that his role was central enough that it barely skated into the "supporting" category.

In the Animated Feature category, it was Disney Pixar vs. Disney, and a bit surprising that Pixar's Brave won over Wreck-It Ralph, which had been favored to win. This was a weak year for the animated category. In years past, the top two animated films were better than all the nominees this year.

Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain both won "Best Actress" awards at the Golden Globes, but only one could win at the Oscars. Although I favored Chastain, both for the quality of the role she played, and the fact that she has a bit of seniority over Lawrence, Lawrence could not have been a
Jennifer lawrence oscars tripmore---well, not graceful, but grateful winner. Her speeches, both in front of the mike and backstage, felt so natural and effusive and funny that it was hard not to root for the star. In contrast, Anne Hathaway's "It came true" speech fell flat among many Twitter couch pundits. She was in the difficult position of being heavily favored for the win and her speech came off sounding rehearsed and fake--all the more inexcusable because she was accepting the award for Best Supporting Actress. I think her team was looking for an "Oscar moment" that just didn't quite register.

Argo was a strong, crowd-pleasing choice for Best Picture, but I wonder if some of the other eight nominees may age better than that film. Argo's victorious look at U.S. history was certainly more palatable than Zero Dark Thirty's version, but it has its own flaws. How Argo got away with its inaccuracies and dramatizations while ZDT was slammed for them remains a mystery. If anything, it shows that Argo benefited from historical distance while ZDT hurt from covering a topic that still pushes many political and moral buttons.

Now that the onslaught of awards season has come to a close, movie lovers will face the long drought before the next crop of awards contenders is ready. But in the meantime, there's plenty of spring and summer tentpoles (and some hopeful indies) that go very well with a side of popcorn.

Friday, February 22, 2013

'Identity Thief' may rise to the top as 'Snitch' and 'Dark Skies' provide weak competition

In the doldrums of late February, two new releases will hit theatres this weekend, Snitch and Dark Skies. But neither of those should go far over $10 million, making it likely a holdover like Identity Thief will return to the number one spot. This Sunday is the Oscars, so nominated films should also see a boost in ticket sales. Next week, the impact from the winners should be even higher.

Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) stars in Snitch (2,511 theatres) as a father who goes undercover to save his son from imprisonment. Critic Daniel Eagan describes the action film as unusually socially
Snitch dwayne johnson 1conscious, "[dealing] honestly with issues like peer pressure, prison
rape, broken families, limited opportunities for ex-cons—to say
nothing of the alarming statistics several characters deliver about
mandatory sentencing." That focus on the "human cost" makes this less of the mindless entertainment that fans may expect, which could potentially hurt the action offering's ratings in exit polls and word-of-mouth.

The thriller Dark Skies (2,313 theatres) will round out the new offerings this weekend. Marketing has focused on the fact that this comes from the producers of Paranormal Activity and Insidious. The trickling of reviews that have come in so far indicate that this alien abduction story doesn't have a lot going for it, so it may open
Dark skies josh hamilton 1to $10 million or so and then blow out quickly.

The Hispanic box office is much-coveted piece of the theatrical pie these days. Bless Me Ultima, an adaptation of a 1972 coming-of-age novel that has become a touchstone of Chicano literature, will have a small release in 263 theatres. That could be enough to bring the movie over $1 million if it targets theatres that usually do well with Hispanic-leaning fare.

The current top twenty includes seven of the nine Best Picture Oscar nominees: Silver Linings Playbook (5th), Zero Dark Thirty (10th), Life of Pi (12th), Argo (13th), Lincoln (15th), Django Unchained (16th), and Les Miserables (17th). These movies should continue to play strongly this week and for a month or so after the Oscars. This is one good year, where great movies are racking up great returns from the box office.

On Monday, we'll evaluate the box office and weigh in on the results of Sunday night's Oscars.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Projections for Sunday's Oscar ceremony

After months of speculation, the Oscars will finally be awarded on Sunday. So before you print out your Oscar ballot and mark your choices, take a look at Screener's picks and talking points for the leading categories..

Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway for Les
There is zero chance of an upset here.

Best Actress
My vote is for Jessica Chastain. This is the best chance for Zero Dark Thirty to get recognition.
Oscar_statueKathryn Bigelow didn't get a directing nomination, and Mark Boal will face competition from Django Unchained and Amour in the Original Screenplay category. That being said, those that favor Silver Linings Playbook may want to reward star Jennifer Lawrence in this prominent category. If voters split on that category, Emmanuelle Riva may win for Amour. The movie on aging was a favorite with the older demographic that belongs to the Academy. Riva is already the oldest nominee in the category, ever, and if she won she would be the oldest winner. If there's one thing the Academy loves, it's firsts.

Best Picture (and Best Director)
What will win: I'm betting on Argo. Ben Affleck won the Directors Guild Award, which traditionally predicts the Oscar winner for Best Picture and Best Director. The catch is that Affleck didn't even receive a nomination for Best Director at the Oscars, and Best Director and Best Picture almost always go together. My predicted split: Argo for Best Picture and Steven Spielberg for Lincoln. Argo is also the lead in the Adapted Screenplay category, though, again, it's a tough race, and both Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook have people batting in their corner.

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln. Chastain was pretty much a lone wolf in Zero Dark Thirty, but Day-Lewis had lots of help from Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones, who were also nominated for their performances. But that doesn't change the fact that Day-Lewis' performance is critical to the success of Lincoln. Great actor, great part = Oscar.

Best Supporting Actor
Some are leaning towards Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master in this category. Although I can't vouch for that performance (one of the few I missed), it has gravitas, which is something the Academy tends to like. Robert De Niro's performance as a bookie father (who cries!) in Silver Linings Playbook is also a frontrunner. Personally, I think Tommy Lee Jones' chuckle-inducing performance as Thaddeus Stevens has been woefully unheralded among the press. He provided some much-needed comic relief in a sometimes dour historical account. Seeing this social liberal compromise in order to pass the amendment was an emotional and intellectual highlight of Lincoln, and Jones is my underdog favorite.

With tight races among great films, this should make for one of the most exciting ceremonies in recent memory. There will also likely be more viewers watching. This year, seven out of the nine nominees for Best Picture have earned over $100 million, which has helped build interest compared to years dominated by micro-indies. And did we mention that Seth MacFarlane is hosting?


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

'A Good Day to Die Hard' squeaks into first as 'Identity Thief' hijacks second place

With Valentine's Day on Thursday and Presidents' Day on Monday, this was really a five-day weekend, which gave the three wide releases that opened on Thursday a real boost.

A Good Day to Die Hard placed first, earning $29.3 million over the four-day period and $37.5 million since its opening. However, the previous Die Hard movie earned $48 million over
A good day to die hard bruce willis 2its five-day holiday opening before Fourth of July in 2007. Because of the strong name recognition of the franchise, the fifth Die Hard movie should make up ground overseas, but it appears that this franchise is waning, even enough that it may be another five years before Die Hard 6. Because, really, how could there not be a Die Hard 6?

For romantics, Safe Haven was the Valentine's Day choice, inching out Die Hard on Thursday to place first before losing some steam over the weekend. It ended up third with $25.1 million, but earned a $34 million cumulative total. The Nicholas Sparks brand drew in viewers even though the stars
Safe haven josh duhamel julianne hough 2(Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel) are not necessarily household names. 71% of those that turned out were female, and 68% were under the age of 25.

Safe Haven stole a lot of thunder from Beautiful Creatures. Warner Bros. may have overestimated the appeal of the supernatural romance by placing it opposite a Nicholas Sparks-created offering. The Southern-set tale floundered, earned a quarter of Safe Haven's total on Valentine's Day and ended up with $8.9 million for the weekend, and $11.4 million cumulative total.

Alice englert beautiful creaturesWhile an East Coast blizzard dampened Identity Thief's opening weekend, the comedy was rewarded in its second week by a huge hold, which saw the Melissa McCarthy-led feature lose just a third of its audience for a total of $ million and a second-place finish. When McCarthy pairs up with Sandra Bullock for this summer's The Heat, I fully expect a Hangover-like hit now that the Bridesmaids scene-stealer has proven she can open a film.

The animated Escape from Planet Earth tallied up $21 million over the long weekend, and could do even more weekday business since many kids have Presidents' Day week off. That's a solid debut for the title, which won't be getting much help from critics (just 29% positive).

Thanks to the holiday, most of the top twenty posted below-average drops or even gains. Warm Bodies lost just 22% of its audience, earning another $10.2 million and crossing the $50 million mark. Silver Linings Playbook inched just shy of the $100 million mark by earning $7.6 million over the four-day period.

On Friday, The Rock-led movie Snitch will open wide opposite the thriller Dark Skies. On Sunday, all eyes in the movie world will be turned to the Academy Awards.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Another Academy Awards predictor joins the fray, 'Social Oscars'

The second site to try to "Nate Silver"
the Oscars is Social
. Back in mid-January, Screener reported on Farsite Forecast, which doles out each
nominee's percentage chance at winning the Oscars. Social Oscars, which social
media monitoring company Brandwatch created, takes a different route. The
company's interactive infographic compares which movies the critics think will
win to the ones that the public thinks will win. Surprisingly, the critics and
public are pretty much in agreement for most of the categories. There's rarely
more than a couple percentage points in


differences between the two, which may
not be even statistically significant since they don't mention the sample size.
However, some of their findings do back up the anecdotal feelings about races
in various categories.

In the Best Picture race, for example, more
critics (12%) are excited about Zero Dark Thirty than members of the
public (7%). Life of Pi's sentimentality played better with the public
(12%) than critics (9%). Argo has recently become the frontrunner for
Best Picture, unseating the early momentum of Zero Dark Thirty and the
solid, blue-chip choice of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. If Argo
wins, the Social Oscars will have correctly picked the winner, since 23% of the
public and 19% of critics have voted this as their favorite.

The Social Oscars is a fun tool, but it overlooks
one big fact. Who wins the Oscars usually has only a loose correlation with the
popular and critical choices. For every winner like The King's Speech,
which was the 2010 victor and supported by both critics and audiences,
there's a movie that critics were rooting for but the public did not see in
theatres in big numbers (that describes 2011 winner The Artist or 2009
winner The Hurt Locker), or a popular favorite that's just good enough
or has some kind of special hook that convinces the Academy that it deserves
recognition (Gladiator, Titanic, Forrest Gump). The Oscars can
sometimes be an exercise in game theory (see 2001 Best Picture winner A
Beautiful Mind
for a brush-up on that). Many critics distinguish between
the movies they like best and the movie that they think they will win,
sometimes developing subcategories like a movie they campaign for and want to
win, even while acknowledging another movie probably has a better shot. A
regular Joe may count nominee Django Unchained as the most enjoyable
picture of the year but feel that Argo is the better choice for a Best
Picture winner. The Social Oscars' infographic is an interesting tool to gauge
the relative popularity of the Best Picture choices, for example, but critical
and popular reaction are just one piece of the pie when it comes to the Oscars.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"I choo-choo-choose you": On Valentine's Day, 'Safe Haven' and 'A Good Day to Die Hard' compete for date-night audiences

Three of this week's wide releases are getting a jumpstart on the weekend, opening today, Valentine's Day, instead of Friday in order to capitalize on couples celebrating and singles in search of a girls' or dudes' night.

Safe Haven (3,223 theatres) is the most heart-tugging offering of the bunch. Nicholas Sparks, reigning romance specialist, devised this tale. Julianne Hough plays a woman with a past who moved to a small town and finds herself enchanted with a storekeeper and single dad (Josh
Safe haven josh duhamel julianne hough 2Duhamel). Critic David Noh predicts this "appealing,
compelling romance that will no doubt thrill the ladies, and not be
too terribly much of a chore for their menfolk to endure."

For others, nothing says Happy Valentine's Day like a bunch of guns. Those people can check out the fifth film in the Die Hard franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard (3,552 theatres). After all, wasn't the original Die Hard a love story in disguise, as John McClane walked on glass in order to save his ladder-climbing corporate wife from terrorists and
A good day to die hard bruce willis 1show her that it took a real man to get things done? Unfortunately, this outing doesn't even warrant cultural commentary. According to critic Daniel Eagan, the Russian terrorist centered plot "unfolds on a gargantuan scale, but
the stunt work and pyrotechnics can't hide how dull and pointless
this story is. In previous entries, McClane fought to free his
family; here, he's largely a bystander in a plot that makes almost
no sense." Especially when movies like Taken, which centered on Liam Neeson's daughter being kidnapped, have been such big hits, it doesn't make sense that family jeopardy would be removed from the equation. The name "Die Hard" will "muster a strong turnout followed by weak word of
mouth," Eagan predicts.

Targeted at a younger audience, Beautiful Creatures (3,000+ theatres) is the latest
Alice englert beautiful creatures 1supernatural teen romance. The film is "atmospherically shot, with two appealing leads," says FJI critic Frank Lovece, who expects that actors Alice Englert and  Alden Ehrenreich should be on everyone's radar before long. Like Safe Haven, it centers on a romance between  a girl with a dark secret and a boy, but in this case her secret is supernatural--she's a witch, or "caster." It's unlikely this will do anywhere near the business of Twilight, but a good performance could spawn a sequel.

Tomorrow, there will be the first wide animated release since Rise of the Guardians during Thanksgiving. That may be enough to secure a strong opening for Escape from Planet Earth, which will open in over 3,000 theatres. It's never a good sign when the writers or directors of a project sue their producer, but that's what happened here. Of course, long-delayed, lawsuit-ridden Margaret ended up being a pleasure, at least among select critics, but the February release date does not demonstrate much faith in the animated work.

On Tuesday, we'll see how these releases fared and if they wooed audiences out from the post-holiday slump at the box office.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Spotlight on Oscar nominee for Best Documentary, '5 Broken Cameras'

Two of the five nominees for Best Documentary at the Oscars this year center on relations between Israelis and Palestinians. Both offer very different things to their viewers. The Gatekeepers features talking-head interviews with leaders of Israeli's secret service, giving very candid opinions of their successes and failures. 5 Broken Cameras assembles footage from a Palestinian farmer's eponymous five broken cameras. Originally bought to document his fourth son's birth, the father, co-director Emad Burnat, turns his lens to his village's demonstrations and standoffs with the
5BrokenCameras_cameras1Israeli army. A fence has recently been built nearby around a recently constructed West Bank settlement, cutting off the farmers of Bil'in from their land and escalating tensions. The Israeli army, pronounced "jesh" in Arabic, is one of Burnat's son's first words, and by the end of the movie the word is pronounced enough for a non-native speaker to also commit the word to memory.

If The Gatekeepers offers more of an intellectual or political perspective, 5 Broken Cameras engenders a more emotional one. "We wanted the audience to feel despair," co-director Guy Davidi said in a post-screening Q&A at the Core Club in Manhattan last night. It's a bold thing to say, but given the somber feeling in the room after the credits rolled, utterly true. Burnat provides even-toned voice-over narration to most of the movie, forcing the audience to feel the rage and anger that he refuses to express, at least within the confines of the narrative. For Americans, the documentary can be particularly illuminating. Most experience the Israeli-Palestinian conflict only when it bubbles over into the international news: the times bombs go off, or when crowds of
5BrokenCameras_cameras3hundreds or thousands make their way into the streets. 5 Broken Cameras offers a more intimate, day-to-day view of what it's like to live in the West Bank. As Davidi confirmed in the Q&A, the atmosphere of the demonstrations can vary wildly. Sometimes, the protesters talk directly to the soldiers. A boy gives a befuddled Israeli soldier an olive branch. Other times, dozens of smoke bombs make protesters and bystanders alike double over and cough. And sometimes bullets are fired into the crowd, killing demonstrators.

The first question Davidi answered was a tough one: "How do you respond to people who say your documentary is one-sided?" "With love," he replied. Claiming that there is just one point-of-view, or presenting an argument as "balanced," as many journalists do, is not always honest, he contended. "There are many truths, many points-of-view. Choosing one is a gift." His goal was to be "unjudgmental," and to encourage the audience to feel the same way, exploring the actions of the Israelis and Palestinians in all their complexities. One woman had trouble with how Burnat exposed his children to the demonstrations. But in Davidi's reply, he mentioned that the alternative, complete sheltering, was impossible. At some point, Israeli soldiers may barge into your home (as happened to one family that made their children hide during demonstrations), and the result may be traumatizing for those who have not been inoculated and prepared for this type of encounter.

A man asked why the movie did not supply more context. "I think in every second you get context, but as life experience. It's a challenge to edit so you don't feel you are learning in that way," he responded. Indeed, there are  no graphics or historical contextualization of what is going on, and when the man appeared to start to explain what he meant by context, Davidi smiled and cut him off. "Of course it's not what you're talking about, but it's what I am talking about."

Burnat was not at the Q&A, having returned home to Israel before he travels with his family to the Oscars in a couple of weeks. "He's happy about this film because it gives meaning to his sacrifice," Davidi said of Burnat's response to the documentary's success. Davidi and Burnat will be on the red carpet (undoubtedly a bit overshadowed by whatever dresses the actress nominees are wearing) in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, the documentary is already available on outlets such as Netflix (list here), so catch this worthy nominee in time to cheer for it during the Academy Awards.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New Pixar trailer offers campus tour of 'Monsters University'

Drumroll, please. Pixar has released the first full-length trailer for Monsters University in the U.K., but thanks to YouTube, people in the U.S. can get a peek at Mike and Sully back when they were in college. This trailer gives the full rundown on the prequel. Back in the day, Mike and Sully were roommates. Who didn't like each other. But then, by working together, did. Disney had already released a teaser trailer in the U.S., and it's likely the full trailer will show up in front of an animated release soon since the film comes out June 21.

Because this is a follow-up feature, it's not so surprising that so much of the story is given away in the trailer. I still admire Pixar's famously nebulous campaign for Up, which Brave and non-Pixar release Wreck-It Ralph have also used, leaving major twists under wraps to surprise audiences. The trailer makes the movie seem
like a cut-and-dry story of rivals turned friends, but I wouldn't be
surprised if Pixar has a few tricks up their sleeve. One clip shows the young monsters on what appears to be a break-in mission, and there's also a genuinely scary monster we briefly glimpse. Perhaps those scenes will feature unexpected reversals and unusual characters?

Like Wreck-It Ralph, Monsters University will offer a strong nostalgia component to the parents accompanying their children to the theatre, which should also continue the animation house's trend of drawing in
non-family and date night audiences. Since Disney's acquisition of Pixar, it appears that both brands have changed. Disney movies have become more Pixar-like, especially Wreck-It Ralph, which seemed like an idea hatched in a Pixar think tank. Pixar went into Disney Princess territory with Brave, which had a similar feel to Disney's princess installment from just a couple of years ago, Tangled. Then there's been Cars 2, the financially successful Pixar franchise that fell flat among critics. Monsters University promises to have more heart than Cars 2, and many will welcome the chance to spend another 90 minutes in the charming world where monsters are just friendly creatures in search of scared humans.


Monday, February 11, 2013

'Identity Thief' rings up a $36 million weekend

Even with an East Coast blizzard that took an estimated 10% from the overall box office, Identity Thief spectacularly overperformed, coming up with $36.5 million over the weekend. That's a full $10 million over what must have been conservative estimates. Pent-up demand for an attention-
Identity thief jason bateman melissa mccarthy 2getting R-rated comedy helped drive up the weekend total. Though there have been plenty of R-rated actioners, the last R-rated comedy to open over $20 million was Ted, which came out over the summer. The Melissa McCarthy-Jason Bateman led comedy was a popular date-night choice and also brought in female fans of McCarthy. The fact that couples enjoyed the movie should be a positive sign this Thursday, when many dates opt for a movie to celebrate Valentine's Day.

Director Steven Soderbergh appears to have a hard time winning over both critics and audiences. Last year's spy-action genre offering, Haywire, was a critical success (80% positive on Rotten Tomatoes) that opened to just $8.4 million. Side Effects, an efficient noir, also pleased critics (85% positive) but again failed to bring in audiences. Its $10 million opening still falls
Side effects channing tatum rooney mara 2within the low range of expectations, but it's disappointing such a good film didn't have a huge audience to go with it.

Silver Linings Playbook continued another week of miniscule drops, dipping just 11% for $6.9 million. At $90 million cumulative total thirteen weeks in, it's just a matter of time before this romantic comedy tops $100 million.

Argo, which released 18 weeks ago, climbed 23% from last week to break into the top ten again with $2.5 million. This is the second weekend in a row it added theatres and upped its weekend haul. Many consider the Ben Affleck-led movie to have unseated Lincoln as the Academy favorite for Best Picture, so this will position the release well should it score at the Oscars in two weeks.

Top Gun 3D averaged $6,300 per screen at 300 locations for a total of $1.9 million. That's a nice chunk of funds. Paramount is releasing a 3D-equipped Blu-ray of Top Gun next week, so the theatrical release gave it an extra publicity boost.

Charlie Sheen-led A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III earned less in a weekend than Sheen can probably spend on one crazy night out. Two locations posted a $6,000 per-screen average, though perhaps the comedy will have better luck once it hits the Netflix crowds.

On Thursday, Valentine's Day, a trio of offerings will hit theatres: Safe Haven, a romance of Nicholas Sparks vintage, A Good Day to Die Hard for action fans, and teen supernatural romance Beautiful Creatures. The animated Escape from Planet Earth will follow on Friday.

Friday, February 8, 2013

'Identity Thief' set to steal the weekend

Melissa McCarthy's first headlining movie role, Identity Thief (3,141 theatres) should grab first place this weekend without resorting to any deception. The stars may be the best thing about this February comedy about a man whose identity is stolen by a woman. "A volcanic Melissa McCarthy
Identity thief jason bateman melissa mccarthy 1and dust-dry Jason Bateman elevate this weak-scripted but energetic comedy," our Chris Barsanti declares, but it's a qualified endorsement. The comedy "is about two-thirds
worthy of your money and one-third a waste of everybody’s time; in
other words, better than average for a major studio comedy these
days." The movie could earn in the mid-$20 millions, but the big x factor is the Northeast blizzard dubbed "Nemo" that could keep many moviegoers indoors. New York City alone counts for 8% of the U.S. box office, and a blizzard warning there that discourages travel may have a big impact.

"A crisp but low-voltage neo-noir," as described by Barsanti, Side Effects (2,605 theatres) is a great quality option for those who have already seen more of the Oscar nominees. Rooney Mara
Side effects channing tatum rooney mara 1stars as an anxious woman who turns to prescription drugs to help her when her ex-con husband (Channing Tatum) returns home from jail. It's supposedly director Steven Soderbergh's last film, at least for a while, and it serves as a "classy farewell," as well a reminder of "just how
few smart and unassuming genre films are being made these days." Side Effects should make it over $10 million, but not too far above that benchmark.

Top Gun will fire up its engines once again and release in 300 locations in 3D. The vintage Tom Cruise picture certainly has a following, but the question is if they will want to show up in theatres for a repeat viewing. Back in 1986, Film Journal International interviewed the film's producers,
Glimpse inside the mind of charles swan iiiwhich you can check out in our archives here.

Charlie Sheen plays a version of himself in A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (2 theatres), which has a surprisingly appealing cast that includes Aubrey Plaza, Bill Murray, and Jason Schwartzman. According to THR's review by Deborah Young "the TV fan base who loved him in 'Two and a Half Men' and 'Anger Management' are really the only imaginable audience for this off-the-wall comedy," so don't get your hopes up too high.

On Monday, we'll see how if Nemo the blizzard wreaked havoc on the East Coast box office, or if enthusiasm from other markets helped make up the difference.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

More 'Star Wars' films to go beyond new trilogy--but which characters will make the cut?

I want an Ewok film. After announcing that is was purchasing Lucasfilm and launching a new Star Wars trilogy, Disney has parceled out yet another piece of information. It plans to make standalone films set in the Star Wars universe. They wouldn't have any bearing on the direction of the trilogy, but would take certain characters or worlds from Star Wars and build feature films around them. This actually
Star wars ewoksisn't a new idea. Though many people's exposure to Star Wars has only been the feature films,  there have been animated series based on Star Wars as well as lower-profile features. The Ewoks have actually already appeared in the 1980s made-for-TV movies The Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: Battle for Endor, and the animated series "Star Wars: Ewoks."

Disney spent $4 billion on Lucasfilm, and a single trilogy is unlikely to recoup that sum--even with merchandise included. Disney is also planning more films as a way to hedge its bets with the trilogy. The concern now is not the trilogy's success, but timing. It may be easier to get a spinoff off the ground than a pivotal launch to a trilogy. If Star Wars: Episode VII ends up not releasing in 2015, it's likely another related movie will instead.

Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, is working with J.J. Abrams, the director of Star Wars: Episode VII, and Simon Kinberg (X-Men: The Last Stand, This Means War) on ideas that won't end up stepping on the trilogy's toes. Just as long as they don't make a spinoff featuring the most-hated Star Wars character, Jar Jar Binks, I think everyone will celebrate a Star Wars spinoff that gets the big-budget, tentpole treatment.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Assembling the cast for 'The Book Thief'

Like many kids, I was fascinated with the Holocaust and World War II growing up. Newbery Award-winning novel Number the Stars, which features a girl whose Jewish friend is threatened by Nazis, was required reading. Orphans have always been literary favorites, because these novels give their child protagonists independence that's uncharacteristic for kids. Combine that with living in a
Book thiefsecret hiding place, and the blend is absolutely thrilling--which is not to say that kids don't understand the gravity of the historical fiction or non-fiction they're reading. In recent years, enthusiasm for the genre hasn't died down. Now The Book Thief, which tops the "Amazon Best Sellers for Children's Holocaust Fiction" (yes, you read that category right, and it only covers the top 100) is being turned into a movie.

Sophie Nelisee (Anna Karenina, War Horse) will star as the title character, The Book Thief. The Munich-based foster child finds comfort and salvation in books during a time of war. Her foster parents, who will be played by Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, also take a Jewish man (Ben Schnetzer) into hiding. Tonally, the movie has the potential to be more Inglourious Basterds than The Reader. The book by Marcus Zusak is narrated by Death, and is filled with dark comedy that has drawn in adults and young readers alike. That may be enough to set this story apart from the large pack of novels covering the same topic.

Brian Percival of "Downton Abbey" is directing. Now that the leading cast is assembled, the Fox 2000 project will begin shooting next month in Berlin.

Monday, February 4, 2013

'Warm Bodies' heats up a cool weekend

At least teens had a good movie to go to this weekend. Viewers under the age of 18 gave an "A" CinemaScore rating to Warm Bodies, which debuted in line with expectations, to the tune of $19.5 million. People over the age of 18 lowered the overall score to a "B+." Much of the success of this zombie love story is owed to Summit, which has had plenty of experiencing marketing
Nicholas hoult zombie warm bodiessupernatural romances to teens thanks to the runaway success of the Twilight series. They even did late-night Thursday screenings, which inched the movie's cumulative total to $20.03 million.

For a while, aging action stars were officially a thing (see: Taken, Red, The Expendables), but it could be that the market for these pictures has cooled off, especially when the stars are playing it straight. That could explain the poor debut of Sylvester Stallone in  Bullet to the Head, which came up with just $4.5 million. Sure, there were fewer audiences on Sunday because of the Super Bowl, but this also comes just weeks after Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Last Stand also had an opening in the single
Sylvester stallone bullet to the head 2millions, $6.3 million.

Still, Bullet to the Head did just fine compared to the opening of Stand Up Guys, which had a below-top-ten debt of $1.5 million. The limited release did have a higher per-screen average ($2,200) than Bullet to the Head, ($1,800 per screen), but that's not that big of a difference. Since Stand Up Guys went a more limited route, it has more of a chance to build an audience in coming weeks, however.

The Oscar nominee box office award of the week is a...tie. Silver Linings Playbook
Stand up guys pacino arkin walken 2showed a remarkable hold, rising from fourth to third place with $8.1 million, just 15% off from last week. Argo added 300 screens and went up 16% from last week for an additional $2.1 million.

Oscar-nominated documentary The Gatekeepers got off to a decent start, averaging $22,000 per screen in two locations. Koch, the documentary about Ed Koch, the former New York City mayor who died on Friday opening day, finished with a $20,000 per screen average on two screens.

On Friday, Bridesmaids breakout star Melissa McCarthy gets a whole movie to have fun in, Identity Thief, Steven Soderbergh directs the pharmaceutical thriller Side Effects, and Top Gun unleashes those fighter jets in 3D.

Friday, February 1, 2013

'Warm Bodies' should lead during Super Bowl weekend

The Super Bowl weekend isn't as big of a movie dead zone as it used to be. Not only is there a picture targeted at female teenagers, the usual counter-programming for the football weekend, but there are also two movies aimed at adult males, though business will likely be best for those on Friday and Saturday.

Warm Bodies (3,009 theatres) follows the path tread by Twilight: a creature that should be in a horror film (vampire, zombie) is actually kind, and ends up falling in love with a teen girl. But this iteration is not just a romance, but also incorporates elements of apocalypse movies, horror/action
Warm bodies nicholas hoult touch tereas palmerfilms, and comedies. "If Twilight were funnier, had a more
proactive heroine and an uglier hero, it might be Warm
," I sum up in my review. While marketing a zombie movie that combines so many genres might have been a challenge, it appears that Summit has done a good job explaining the film and revving up interest. The Nicholas Hoult-led picture should approach the $20 million mark, a great start, especially with Valentine's Day coming up in a couple of weeks.

Sylvester Stallone "plays to his base" in a "gratifying return to the action genre," Bullet to the Head (2,404 theatres). With Sunday returns likely to be dampened by the Super Bowl, a finish in the $8-10 million range is
Sylvester stallone bullet to the head 1expected. Critic Daniel Eagan predicts fans will be happy, but younger viewers may find themselves alienated as Stallone delivers on the action checklist with an "efficiency that borders on
the impersonal."

Competing for the adult male audience, Stand Up Guys (659 theatres) stars Oscar winners Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan
Arkin. The mobster comedy offers "an entertaining yet sobering portrayal of
not-so-wise guys who do not go gently into a no-good night. THR's Duane Byrge predicts it
Stand up guys pacino arkin walken 1"should play well with older audiences with a feel for the actors
and this flavor of humor." Without a lot of support and with another film angling for the same demographic, Stand Up Guys may only round up a few million.

There will also be some new Oscar-nominated films to check out. The Gatekeepers (2 theatres) an Oscar-nominated documentary that features interviews with former leaders of Israel's secret service, Shin Bet, offers a "complicated cocktail of a film sure to send audience members out of the theatre with heads abuzz and arguments a-popping," reports FJI's Chris Barsanti. All of the Oscar-nominated shorts will play at New York City's IFC Center, including the Animated Short Films 2013, Documentary Shorts 2013, and Live Action Shorts 2013. Queue up for a marathon viewing session!

Former New York City mayor Ed Koch just passed away, and the documentary Koch (2 theatres) offers an opportunity to remember and reflect on the leader. This "comprehensive" doc is no hagiography. "Made with the former mayor's cooperation," reports THR's John DeFore, it still gives "ample screen
time to those with harsh things to say about him" Sounds like as fair a shake as a politician can get.

On Monday, we'll find out which films scored the most points with fans over the weekend (and either celebrate or commiserate on the outcome of the Ravens vs. the 49ers).