Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Is Hollywood really going too heavy on the dystopias?

Does Hollywood need more movies like Star Trek and fewer like Avatar and The Matrix? According to Silicon Valley tech investor Peter Thiel, the dystopic futures portrayed in Hollywood movies are contributing to the "deceleration" of the tech industry. I doubt that movies have that effect, but Thiel does bring up an interesting point. Are there sci-fi movies set in the future that don't make it look bad?


Turns out, there are few futuristic films that aren't dystopias. After scouring this list, this one, and this one, I didn't come up with many films. One kinda exception? Contact, which shows off some new technology but is set in the present. Thiel cites Star Trek as a rare positive example. Using that logic, Star Wars is also a positive depiction of the future, its Death Star notwithstanding, since isn't overly focused on the connection
between technology and evil. And why would they be, when they have Jedi magic? The 2011 indie
Robot & Frank was a rare humanistic sci-fi film, centering on the
relationship between an aging man and the robot entrusted to care for
him. These movies are rare examples of good movies that focus on a positive future, but there's a reason most others delve into the negative. What's the point of showing a perfect
future world? There's got to be something wrong with it to make it
interesting, or someone bad to fight, whether it's too-smart robots,
power-tripping leaders, or aliens.

Avatar 1

Dystopias tend to have Big Brotherism, an accentuated form of inequality, hedonism, or environmental ravaging, to name a few choice examples. These are all problems that already exist in society, albeit at a more manageable level. The future is an excuse to look at how new technology brings out the worst in humanity. The viewers get to gawk at the snazzy technology, and maybe connect the problems of the future to the problems of the present. Just because a society may have some problems doesn't take away from the awe of seeing people swipe virtual computer screens, ride in flying cars, or teleport. Most importantly, Thiel is forgetting about the endings. Eventually, the Terminator is killed (for the time being), the Na'vi are safe, and Wall-E starts to restore Earth's environment. Presumably, a lot of people in dystopias live happily ever after once the credits roll. The PayPal and Facebook investor should know more than anyone about the disruptive nature of technology. That's one metaphor these films address that resonates with viewers across time.


Monday, April 29, 2013

'Pain & Gain' works out to $20 million opening

Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg as bodybuilders on a crime spree helped open Pain & Gain at $20 million. The comparatively low-budget effort from Transformers director Michael Bay may not have been exactly what audiences were looking for. They gave the movie a "C+" rating, perhaps expecting to see their favorite stars in more familiar fare.

Pain and gain dwayne johnson
Even the low benchmark of $10 million proved to be too high for The Big Wedding, which opened to just $7.5 million. There was a great cast, but the marketing failed to highlight a differentiating factor that made this feature more than just another wedding movie.

Last week's number-one film, Oblivion, slid 53% to $17.4 million. The Jackie Robinson biopic 42 fared better, dipping 39% to $10.7 million and bringing its cumulative total close to $70 million. That's already a big win for this modestly budgeted feature that will likely play well post-theatrically. The Croods, which posted just a 28% decline for a total of $6.6 million,

Mud Matthew McConaughey 2showed that kids' animated films can be the box-office gift that keeps
on giving. At six weeks in, the CG-animated feature is likely not even
halfway through its run, and its $163 million total to date shows how
powerful and long-lasting these movies can be when audiences respond.

There was good news in the specialty market. Matthew McConaughey-led Mud made $2.1 million while in just 363 theatres, just barely missing the top ten. The strong $6,000 per-screen average should make this film a pick in weeks to come. Meanwhile, The Company You Keep didn't gain as much traction as the political thriller expanded into 800 theatres, finishing the week with $1.2 million and a low $1,500 per-screen average.

This Friday will be all about Iron Man 3, which will kick off blockbuster season. Overseas, it's clear that Iron Man 3 is already a hit: It's earned $195 million, on pace with The Avengers,  even though it hasn't opened yet in two big markets: Russia and China. On Friday, it will likely join the box-office elite and become the highest-performing film so far in 2013.

Friday, April 26, 2013

'Closing Doors' and 'Harmony Lessons' are among the narrative highlights at Tribeca 2013

The 2013 Tribeca Film Festival winds to a close on Sunday, and the overall quality of this year's selections makes me regret I couldn't get away more often from my day job editing Film Journal International. I've seen 16 of the nearly 100 feature films in the fest (and plan to catch more this weekend), but even that small sampling has revealed some true gems.

For me, one of the revelations of the festival was Sam Fleischner's Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, which was the runner-up to World Narrative Film Award winner The Rocket. It's the tale of an autistic boy from Rockaway Beach who, when his sister fails to pick him up at school, wanders into the New York City subway system and just keeps riding for days. Fleischner filmed roughly half the drama on subway trains, securing waivers from the real-life passengers his cameras captured. With an alert eye for unusual visual details, the director uncannily recreates the sensitive perspective of his autistic protagonist—and few films have provided such a vivid sense of the lively, ethnically diverse community of New York's underground travelers. Three-quarters into production, Hurricane Sandy arrived, forcing Fleischner to rework his script—a development which only adds to the film's power and immediacy. The director rises to the challenge of casting nonprofessional Jesus Sanchez-Velez (found on an Asperger's blog) and coaxes a moving performance from Andrea Suarez Paz as his distraught mother. This very special film deserves a life beyond the festival circuit.

Another striking fiction film was Emir Baigazin's Harmony Lessons, runner-up to Whitewash for Best New Narrative Director. Set in Kazakhstan, the drama centers on a scrawny 13-year-old farm boy who becomes the target of the school bully who shakes down students for protection money and himself answers to a network of older criminals. Elegantly shot with subtle touches of surrealism, this debut feature is like a slow-burning fuse that ultimately ignites into a disturbing study of psychological breakdown.

Along with the Elaine Stritch and Gore Vidal portraits detailed in a previous blog post, one of the most entertaining documentaries at Tribeca was I Got Somethin' to Tell You, Whoopi Goldberg's salute to pioneering African-American comedian and entertainer Jackie "Moms" Mabley. Viewers of a certain age will remember "Moms" from her appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show," sans teeth and dressed in tacky floral-print housedresses and matching cap. But they may not be familiar with her early years as a groundbreaking, highly successful performer on the black vaudeville circuit, or her daring, politically charged humor during the Civil Rights struggle. An amazing highlight of the film is a clip of Mabley sitting next to Sammy Davis, Jr. on Hugh Hefner's '60s "Playboy After Dark" TV show, in another loud housedress but surrounded by groovy young swingers, then rising to deliver an extremely moving rendition of the song "Abraham, Martin and John." Goldberg, Bill Cosby, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Joan Rivers, Robert Klein, Tommy Smothers, Jerry Stiller and Arsenio Hall all weigh in on this unique performer's influence and legacy; now that HBO has picked up the doc, even more people will rediscover the indispensable "Moms."

Other highlights from my Tribeca 2013 included Let the Fire Burn, a documentary about the tragic 1985 Philadelphia police raid on the headquarters on the militant African-American commune MOVE (comprised entirely of newscasts and courtroom footage from the period); the eye-opening The Kill Team (winner of the fest's top documentary prize), about a headline-making U.S. Army unit who murdered Afghan civilians for sport; Before Snowfall, a globe-trotting drama about a Kurdish teen determined to find and kill his older sister, who has shamed their family by fleeing an arrranged marriage and running off with another man; and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, a delightful comedy-drama from Taiwan about a closeted, married optometrist whose old sexual feelings are suddenly reawakened.

Now it's time to catch up with The Rocket, Whitewash and some of the fest's other award winners and buzzed-about titles before the final screenings Sunday night.

'Pain & Gain' and 'Big Wedding' inject comedy into the marketplace

Last week’s release of Oblivion signaled that the box office
was thawing out from winter. This week brings two more releases, the R-rated
comedies Pain & Gain and The Big Wedding. Pain & Gain should open above $20
million, and Big Wedding should scoop up half that amount.

Pain and gain 1

Michael Bay directs Pain & Gain (3,277 theatres), the tale of two ‘roided
bodybuilders who turn to a life of crime. Bay usually helms overmuscled movies, not stars,
so the story is a bit of a change of pace for him. Still, that didn’t stop
critic Daniel Eagan from observing that although the “movie does have less
helicopter footage than a typical Transformers
entry…Bay stills turn a simple shot of a detective's house into a mini-tribute
to Sergio Leone's crane work.” He praises the performances of Mark Wahlberg and
Dwayne Johnson, but notes that what  “could
have been a breakout hit… devolves into a chase story with low ambitions.”

Big wedding big cast

After multiple delays, The Big Wedding (2,633 theatres) comes to
theatres, but it has almost nothing to offer besides its all-star cast. Critic Frank Lovece faulted the barely-believable premise: divorced parents of the groom pretend they’re
still married in order to appease the conservative parents of the bride. Despite a great cast that includes Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfried, Robert De Niro, and Susan Sarandon, the comedy "fails across the board from farce to
comedy-of-manners." The well-known stars may draw some eyes to the feature, but even $10 million will be generous for this less-than-deserving comedy.

Matthew McConaughey stars (along with Reese Witherspoon, recently photographed not on the red carp but in a police station) in Mud (363 theatres). The drama centers on two boys who discover an outlaw (McConaughey) on the banks of the Mississippi River and help him get food and find his sweetheart (Witherspoon). It's a solid feature, and hopefully one that will attract the attention of cinephiles.

Mud Matthew McConaughey

"Colin Firth and Emily Blunt play dress-up" in Arthur Newman (250 theatres), a "sweet, semi-romantic road trip" according to THR's John DeFore. A rather odd plot that involves the characters taking on the identities of others seems a bit hard to market, which makes me feel this movie may end up like Blunt's well-regarded Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which made just a ripple at the box office despite a decent smattering of applause from critics. The release will also be a test of marketing chops for Cinedigm, a newbie distributor.

On Monday, we'll see if Pain & Gain and The Big Wedding made solid debuts. Then it's less than a week until Iron Man 3 kicks off the prime summer movie season.


The Future of Film Live: Expect change

Disruptive was the word of the day in the Tribeca Film
Festival panel “Future of Film Live.” Thursday’s session incorporated two
panels. The first talked about the future of the theatre experience, with an
emphasis on in-theatre dining. The panelists included representatives from AMC
Theatres, Alamo Drafthouse and the IFC Center, and the co-founder of
Snarkitecture. The moderator, Media ReDEFined owner Jason Hirschhorn, played up
his neurotic movie needs, like the anxiety of getting the best seats, finding a
kiosk that works, and having an optimal viewing experience. His questions often
forced the panelists to play defense, asserting that they indeed addressed the
ease of the moviegoing experience and have taken out those front three
“whiplash” rows.

Future of film tribeca 2
Alamo Drafthouse has both a strict no-texting, no-talking
policy designed to “create environments for the avid moviegoer,” as well as
in-theatre dining, which can be a bit of a distraction, with clanking forks and
busy servers—even ninja-like ones. Chief Development Officer Tim Reed
acknowledged that the two things can be in conflict with each other, but that
the theatre’s overall focus on the guest experience smooths things over. AMC
Entertainment is testing both in-theatre dining as well as a new “marketplace”
concept where guests can go to stations to pick up their popcorn and nachos
before paying at the end, making people feel less rushed and giving them
“freshness cues” as they see their food prepared, according to Jennifer
Douglass, AMC’s VP of Dine-In Theatre Operations. IFC Center had the opposite
perspective. They originally had a small café and bar, but they tore it out
after less than two years in order to make room for two theatres. For Jon
Vanco, SVP and GM of IFC Center, it was about redirecting focus on what the
theatre was best at: programming. In the bar-heavy Greenwich Village, where
real estate is also at a premium, it made sense to focus on the movies, not the

Tribeca film festival future of film live 1

After a break, Verge’s Joshua Topolsky had a one-on-one
conversation with co-owner of 2929 Entertainment, Todd Wagner. The entrepreneur,
who has had a toe in both the tech and entertainment worlds, was frank in his assessments
of the industry. In the future, he thinks people in the entertainment world
will need to be “bilingual,” speaking the language both of technology and
entertainment, “without a translator in the room.” He was blunt and insightful.
When the moderator asked, “Why can’t I watch The Avengers for $50 the week it came out?” Wagner smiled. “You
know why,” he said to Topolsky, who turned up stumped. “It’s NATO [National
Association of Theatre Owners.” “Aren’t you a theatre owner yourself?” Topolsky
replied, to the audience’s laughter. Wagner does have a stake in Landmark
Theatres, but he also sees change in the future.

Wagner would like to see the film rental model change, so a
title that’s on VOD one month after release, for example, would give a greater
percentage to the theatre owner than is standard. Something like a 1% stake in
ancillary markets would also acknowledge the work theatres do promoting films
and making them a success beyond the theatre. He also hinted that he has a
startup that will launch in a few months that will answer some of the
industry’s problems—but didn’t say any more. 
He emphasized that change is the only thing that is certain. Once a
technology is introduced into a marketplace, there’s no going back. That’s why
the studios couldn’t stop the VCR and why the (illegal) downloads pioneered by
Napster gave way to iTunes and VOD. For studios, the cautionary tale is the
music industry, which was decimated by technology and now has become a “singles”
business that pays 30% of its sales to iTunes, the preferred provider of
digital music files. No one wants the movie industry to have the same fate. But
if Wagner is right, there’s one certainty about the film industry a decade from
now: it will change.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tribeca Film Festival: 'Haute Cuisine' goes down easy

A delightful look at the cuisinière for French President François Mitterrand, the Tribeca Film Festival selection Haute Cuisine is a delicious meal that captivates from start to finish. Yet after leaving the theatre, you can't help but feel that something was missing. To continue the metaphor, Haute Cuisine is executed perfectly, but it chooses the wrong ingredients. Focusing purely on the professional aspects of the position, Christian Vincent's film creates high drama out of petty infighting between departments and morsels of compliments the chef received from Mitterand. In the end, that's all there is, though the presentation is so light and quick it's hard to notice until after the plates are cleared.


The movie opens with a flustered Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot) being rushed to Paris for a meeting about cooking for a top politician. That higher-up ends up being none other than Mitterand himself, and she's quickly thrown into the fast-paced environment. Turns out Mitterand prefers simple, home-cooked food, and she's all too happy to oblige, sending out sumptuous but simple dishes with an emphasis on ingredients sourced from the best regions in France--a technique sure to resonate with today's foodies.

Francophiles and arthouse film lovers tend to be an overlapping bunch, and there's plenty here to satisfy those who like observing the differences between the French and everyone else. One small gaffe is the casting of someone who speaks French-accented English as an Australian reporter, though at least she gets the Down Under pronunciation of "Australia" almost right. When Mitterand adopts a diet, or régime, on the advice of his doctor, the choice is treated in that wonderfully French way--snobbery and distaste. Hortense clearly does not believe in diets, just that French concept of moderation, animal fats and sauces be damned. She makes up for that by serving him slivered truffles on toast in a secret late-night meal.

The Weinstein Co. has acquired Haute Cuisine, with plans to release it on Aug. 16. It's certain to be at least a modest success, but it lacks the effervescence and meaning that has elevated some of their other specialty releases. I would be surprised if the feature received any awards play, but it might be nice for an afternoon at the movies in the hot summer heat.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tribeca Talks: 'Big Data and the Movies' discusses the upsides and downsides of data analysis

Is the movie industry ahead or behind the curve in terms of data? In the Tribeca Talks panel "Big Data and the Movies" on April 23, MoviePass CEO Stacy Spikes had a frank response: the industry is "a laggard." Yet data is becoming more and more a part of production, distribution, and exhibition, where it can be either a powerful tool or an obstacle to artistic process, depending on your vantage point. One reason that the industry hasn't fully embraced data is because it can be hard to procure information about viewers. The industry is a "cash, walk-up business" Spikes

Tribeca Talks Big Data at the Movies
elaborated. That means it can be hard to tease out information about the demographics of people seeing movies. Industry veterans may have a gut feeling about what it means to play well in New York City or Texas, or Fort Lauderdale but not Miami, but they can't back it up with data. Eugene Hernandez, The Film Society of Lincoln Center's director of digital strategy, acknowledged that his non-profit has advantages because it is member-based. Many of their sales are both in advance and online, allowing them to drill down into zip codes and other demographic information. As a non-profit, their goal is not to show the films that will sell out the house, but also to find ways to offer more challenging programming that appeals to a wider audience, often by sandwiching it with a talk that will raise interest.

Bill Livek, the vice chairman and CEO of Rentrak, which tracks movie ticket sales across the world, explained how globalization affects markets. If a movie opens well in Australia, which is almost a day ahead of the United States, studios may optimize their marketing budgets ahead of the release, pulling back or amping up its ad buys based on these early results. He was more skeptical of sentiment analysis, which attempts to figure out if people are saying positive or negative things about the film. "If the FDA were regulating it, it would have to have a warning label," he quipped.

Spikes jumped in to mention two counterintuitive examples where negative sentiment actually yielded positive results at the box office. When presidential candidate Bob Dole condemned Trainspotting, its box-office returns spiked. A similar strategy boosted Priest, which focused on a gay priest. Religious pundits complaining about the release were sent screeners of the film, which only amped up their outrage and brought a lot of attention to the indie movie.

What ultimately ends up mattering is not "sentiment analysis," but the old-fashioned kind that can't be accurately measured--yet. "Sentiment is everything. The heart leads with films, then we use data to connect to an audience," Hernandez emphasized. Movies that inspire strong reactions and emotions are on the path to success, even if they have a fraction of the "likes" and "tweets" of a competing release. If filmmakers are passionate advocates of their film, they can use data to find  their core audience and connect with them. While everyone in the panel embraced data in some form, they emphasized that it can't occur in a vacuum. Thoughtful analysis must be paired with knowledge of when data is a good fit for an objective. And while data can be an important tool for a filmmaker, it's their passion and belief in their art that ultimately counts.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

An 18-year romance: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater reminisce at Tribeca

"It's been one of the greatest experiences of my life," Ethan Hawke says about the romantic trilogy spanning 18 years that he, Julie Delpy and director Richard Linklater have created together. The trio appeared together in a self-conducted discussion at the Tribeca Film Festival on Monday, on the occasion of the New York premiere of the third installment in their intimate saga, Sony Pictures Classics' Before Midnight.

The series began in 1995 with Before Sunrise, about two strangers, an American named Jesse and a French woman named  Celine, who meet on a train and impulsively spend an evening together in Vienna. Nine years later they reunited in Paris in Before Sunset, as Jesse promoted a novel he wrote about their rendezvous. For that film, Hawke, Delpy and Linklater shared a screenwriting credit and earned Oscar nominations.

Another nine years later in Before Midnight, Jesse and Celine are now a couple vacationing in Greece with twin daughters—and all the baggage that a long-term relationship often entails. At the Tribeca discussion, Delpy called the new film "romantic in a different way...more down and dirty."

The three films are remarkable in that they consist almost entirely of talk yet are utterly engaging. The conversations are so natural that many viewers would be surprised to learn that nothing is improvised, everything is scripted; the seeming spontaneity is the result of weeks of rehearsal. "It's exactly like playing an instrument," Delpy explained. "You learn it like a piece of music." "It makes making other movies seem like a vacation," Hawke said of the exacting work.

There was a lot of good-natured kidding among the two star-writers and their director. Hawke took mock offense to the fact that he had to audition for the role back in 1995, but Linkater said it was a matter of "matchmaking." "I wanted the two most creative people I could find who could be real," he declared, before Hawke interjected, "...and write the fucking script!"

Delpy confessed to being convinced the movie wouldn't work, prompting Hawke to ask, "Do you remember anything you didn't panic about?"

Linklater called the second film, which takes place in real time, "the scariest leap." He recalled, "No one wanted the sequel. [Before Sunrise] is the lowest-grossing film ever to spawn a sequel... But I'm so grateful we were allowed to do it."

The success of Before Sunset and its Oscar nomination allowed Delpy to kickstart her own directing career with the art-house hit 2 Days in Paris. "I said to myself: Why don't I write something that seems like Before Sunset? I tricked [the financiers]."

Asked about their co-writing process, Hawke reflected, "We're a symbiotic unit creating Jesse and Celine." He added, "It's like a parallel life now... I love the notion of blurring the line between performer and performance."

Delpy seconded the notion: "I can't [tell] the difference between fiction and reality anymore."

Near the end of the session, Hawke hinted he might have preferred less talk and more (romantic) action: "It's been 18 years of frustration!"

Tribeca selections 'Reluctant Fundamentalist' and 'Patience Stone': Contrasting portraits of Muslim lives

The Tribeca Film Festival selections The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Patience Stone tell completely different stories, yet their shared focus on a Muslim protagonist makes for a unique festival pairing. The Reluctant Fundamentalist centers on a highly educated Pakistani man who becomes a hotshot management consultant before 9/11 changes his perspective on what it means to be an outsider in America. The Patience Stone takes place in an unnamed country in the Middle East, and centers on one woman's survival in a war-torn region. Yes, both lead characters are Muslim, but most of the similarities stop there.


Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist tries very hard to make you feel the anger of its protagonist Changez (Riz Ahmed). His dream in Pakistan is to go to America, where hard work is rewarded with success. As he makes it into the Wall Street financial elite, however, 9/11 happens. He's branded as an outsider. Even his slick suit and briefcase are not insulation enough to prevent him from being strip-searched at the airport or for his artist girlfriend (Kate Hudson) to create an offensive art installation that he feels just furthers stereotypes about Muslims. People who have read the 2007 book by Mohsin Hamid will find the movie to be a different experience. Plot elements have been changed to make the story more cinematic, although the experience of seeing the world through the eyes of one of the persecuted remains. The recent attacks at the Boston Marathon have already revived prejudices against Muslims and made many on guard about an ethnicity that hadn't even been on most people's radar. The Reluctant Fundamentalist goes a long way towards explaining how generalized prejudices and black-and-white thinking can further radicalize people on both sides.


Forgetting about larger political implications, Atiq Rahimi's The Patience Stone focuses on the struggles of one woman (the Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani) during a time of unrest in her dusty Middle Eastern neighborhood. She tends to her husband, who appears to be in a coma after a bullet struck him in the neck, by giving him IV drips. Meanwhile, competing militias fight in the streets. She can't carry her husband out of their dwelling, so she ends up going back and forth between her dangerous apartment and the safety of her aunt's house, where she has spirited her two children.

The thing is, she actually hates her unloving husband, though not enough to leave him and let him die. Instead, she unloads all her pains and the untold drama of her life.  Her reminisces often lead to flashbacks, slowly giving the viewer a more fully realized view of the woman and what she has been up against her whole life. If Reluctant Fundamentalist engenders anger, Patience Stone focuses more on the sorrow of injustice. The movie also deserves immense praise for its cinematography. Instead of feeling claustrophobic, the interiors are lit gorgeously with plenty of light coming in through the windows, recalling Vermeer's paintings of his female subjects indoors. As the woman talks and talks, she peels back layers of herself as an onion. At first glance, we're presented with a dutiful Muslim wife. By the end of movie, we fully understand the tradeoffs and sacrifices made in order to maintain that veneer.

Both The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Patience Stone will be headed to theatres soon after their stop at Tribeca. The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which was picked up by IFC Films at the Toronto Film Festival, is coming out this Friday. Also a Toronto pickup, The Patience Stone is releasing through Sony Pictures Classics on August 14.

Monday, April 22, 2013

'Oblivion' summits box office with $38 million opening

The "summer" movie season has been creeping up earlier and earlier each year. Oblivion opted to jump the gun on Iron Man 3, the first would-be blockbuster of the year, for a less competitive spot in mid-April. The placement appears to have paid off. The Tom Cruise-led sci-fi picture opened to $38 million. It will have one more wide-open week before Iron Man 3 siphons away an audience looking to see the biggest, visual effects-laden picture out there. One thing it won't have, however, is strong word-of-mouth. Viewers, which skewed male and were mostly over the age of 25, gave the movie just a "B-" rating, which won't help out the movie in coming weeks.

Oblivion Tom Cruise Olga Kurylenko 2

Specialty pick The Place Beyond the Pines tripled the amount of theatres showing the drama, but only received a boost of 23%. Still, that's consistent for small releases expanding wide. The $4.7 million weekend pushed the movie's cumulative total above $11 million, making it director Derek Cianfrance's biggest success yet.

The Jackie Robinson biopic 42 earned an "A+" rating from audiences last week, but it still dropped a bit more than would be expected given that excellent audience feedback. The $18 million weekend total reflected a 34% dip from the previous week. If the well-regarded feature continues to restrain its losses to a third or so, however, it should be in for the long haul.

This weekend turned out to be a good one for smaller releases targeted at niche audiences. The Christian-themed baseball picture Home Run earned $1.6 million and posted a $4,000 per-screen average. Filly Brown, a drama about the life of Latino street poet, earned $1.3 million off a miniscule budget. The movie played in the Sundance Film Festival last year. Rob Zombie's horror movie The Lords of Salem also played well, topping $622,000 while playing on 354 screens.

On Friday, the romantic comedy The Big Wedding will play against Pain & Gain, an action comedy about bodybuilders-turned-kidnappers.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Portraits of two legends: Elaine Stritch and Gore Vidal at Tribeca

It's hard to imagine fuller lives than those of Elaine Stritch and the late Gore Vidal, the subjects of two sensationally entertaining documentaries at the Tribeca Film Festival. Each seems to have crossed paths and/or formed friendships with some of the most legendary names of the 20th century, and each is a legend in their own right in their respective fields.

A photo of Elaine Stritch should accompany the word "irrepressible" in the dictionary; "cantankerous" and "resilient" might also apply. Director Chiemi Karasawa's Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is an extremely intimate, warts-and-all look at the 88-year-old Broadway veteran, whose credits range from Noel Coward's Sail Away and Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to Stephen Sondheim's Company and playing Alec Baldwin's mother on "30 Rock." From the moment she appears onscreen, limberly walking the streets of Manhattan in a fur coat over her trademark tights, you realize this is one quick-witted New York character. (When a fan tells her, "You've still got it," she responds in mock indignation, "Still?") She doesn't suffer fools gladly and has a healthy skepticism of the constant ego-massaging of show biz: "Everybody's lovin' everybody else just too much, for my money."

Karasawa's cameras follow Stritch at home in her suite at the Carlyle Hotel and rehearsing an all-Sondheim show for the Cafe Carlyle,  on the set of "30 Rock," and sorting through old photos to be displayed in a rehearsal room named in her honor at the Stella Adler Studio. Though she remains remarkably energetic, she is also at times quite frail, due to her longtime battle with Type 1 diabetes. (An alcoholic, she was sober for 24 years but now allows herself one drink a day.)  In one remarkably unfiltered sequence, her terror is palpable when she suffers an attack of hypoglycemia.  Stritch's health issues, which can affect her memory, are at constant war with her determination to soldier on as a performer. "It's hard enough to remember Sondheim's lines when you don't have diabetes," she laments. (I, for one, will never forget the added element of suspense when I saw Stritch struggle with her big number in the 2010 Broadway revival of A Little Night Music.) Throughout, Stritch is supported in more ways than one by her patient and devoted music director Rob Bowman, truly a candidate for sainthood.

In Stritch's younger days, John F. Kennedy tried to seduce her, but she held her ground as a proper Catholic girl. A surprising contemporary  friend is James Gandolfini, who is convinced that if they'd both met at 35,  they would have had "a torrid love affair that ended very badly." Her appeal endures to this day, as Stritch disarms the audience at New York's Town Hall in 2011 with her expertly timed rendition of "I Feel Pretty."

Throughout the doc, Stritch illustrates the famous line she quotes from Bette Davis: "Old age ain't for sissies." The veteran star prefers the phrase "growing older" to "growing old." After all, we're all on this journey together and "Why not enjoy it?"

Look up "gadfly" in the dictionary, and there should be a cross-reference to Gore Vidal. The prolific novelist, playwright, essayist, raconteur, TV celebrity and sometime political candidate is the lively subject of Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, which director Nicholas Wrathall filmed over the course of seven years. The film offers a wealth of both new and archival interviews with the outspoken, unapologetically left-wing social observer, whose bon mots here include "Every time a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies" and "Never offend an enemy in a small way."

The doc covers the early influence of Vidal's blind grandfather, an Oklahoma senator; his acclaimed literary debut at the age of 21 and the subsequent backlash to his second novel The City and The Pillar with its then-graphic depiction of gay sex; his TV and film writing career; his novels ranging from acclaimed historical works to the outrageous Myra Breckinridge; and his TV sparring matches with conservative pundit William F. Buckley, Jr. and a pugnacious Norman Mailer.

Vidal's acid wit aims at U.S. imperialism, economic inequality, the emergence of an American police state, and the corruption of our political system, and even targets a sacred cow like John F. Kennedy ("one of the most disastrous presidents... I learned never again to be taken in by anyone's charisma"). Wrathall even filmed Vidal watching Barack Obama's 2008 victory speech and smirking at his high-flying rhetoric.

You'll never find the word "modest" associated with Vidal; in a post-film Q&A, Wrathall (a friend of Vidal's nephew, the film director Burr Steers) said it wasn't difficult to secure the author's cooperation: "He loved being on camera." But, asked about his legacy, Vidal stubbornly insists, "I couldn't care less." Whatever his wishes, The United States of Amnesia is sure to burnish and grow that legacy.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Underripe 'Oblivion' offers a taste of summer movie season

Oblivion is a visual effects-heavy sci-fi movie. It's releasing in IMAX. It stars Tom Cruise. Maybe a decade ago, these things would give the movie prime placement in the summer movie season. But now Cruise is clocking well over two decades in the movie business, and he's settling for slightly less competitive spots on the release slate. Our critic Daniel Eagan likes Oblivion (3,782 theatres), but he's also quick to point out that the "sleek, good-looking
sci-fi adventure [is] haunted by the ghosts of better films," and predicts it "should make a
splash at the box office until more mainstream blockbusters take
over." Oblivion could open in the high $30 million range in the U.S. Overseas, it's already racked up $77 million, affirming the international box office's interest in tentpoles with known quantities like Cruise.

Oblivion Tom Cruise Olga Kurylenko

With no other similar competitors, 42 is expected to hold strong. Its second weekend could be off by just 25%, which would give the Jackie Robinson biopic an impressive second-week total of $20 million. Although most school holidays are wrapping up, The Croods should earn over $10 million, which will bring it over the $150 million mark domestically and make it one of DreamWorks Animation's bigger successes.

The Place Beyond the Pines will expand to 1,542 theatres in its fourth week. The Ryan Gosling-led picture expanded into over 500 screens last week and maintained a $7,000 per-screen average. The humanistic crime drama should do at least as well this week as it did last week, bolstered by strong indie cred and the supporting performances of Eva Mendes and Bradley Cooper.

Rocker/filmmaker Rob Zombie will roll out his fifth film, The Lords of Salem, in 300 theatres. "Is Rob Zombie the Woody Allen of horror auteurs?" Our critic Maitland McDonagh speculates. Not only does he assemble an impressive cast, he "has the look of a
low-budget '70s horror film down cold, and it's packed with
allusions to genre classics and cult favorites." That may be enough to make the horror flick a hit among guts-and-gore afficianados.

On Monday, we'll see if Oblivion jump-started the summer movie season and if the solitary new wide release gave the returning pictures some breathing room.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bullock, McCarthy, Stiller and Wiig tickle the audience at CinemaCon

Welcome to the comedy stylings of Melissa McCarthy, Sandra Bullock, Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig! Twentieth Century Fox tapped four of its 2013 comic talents for the Thursday morning presentation of its upcoming slate, presided over by CEO and chairman Jim Gianopulos. Bullock and McCarthy's first-time pairing, The Heat, was very well-received at the theatre owners convention Tuesday night, and the two stars' wacky, easygoing rapport was again on display on the Colosseum stage at Caesars Palace.

The-heat-trailer sandra bullock
McCarthy teased Bullock, joking that she's never cared for anyone she's worked with, but three-quarters into the shoot she realized "you're not terrible." She then compared their partnership to various movie teams, finally concluding they were most like "Tom Hanks and that volleyball." (At a later press conference, Bullock sincerely stated that the kind of instant chemistry they experienced is "a rare happening.")

Not to be outdone, later on Ben Stiller responded to Gianopulos' comparison of Stiller's imaginative direction of his The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to that of last year's Fox preview closer, Ang Lee's Life of Pi, by joking, "Yes, the two of us are constantly being compared, especially that year when he did Sense and Sensibility and I did The Cable Guy." The shtick continued: "We're both Asian and both of us were bar-mitzvahed in Israel."

Co-star Kristen Wiig interrupted Stiller's talk, claiming the actor-director told her the Fox preview was the next day and that he had tried to lock her in a closet. "She's not used to performing in front of a live audience," Stiller explained.

But seriously, folks, the footage Stiller showed from his dream project, based on the James Thurber tale of a milquetoast with an extremely active fantasy life, was quite dazzling. With its December release date, Fox is clearly positioning it as a 2013 awards contender. Stiller described it as "funny, serious, epic, small in places, kind of realistic and also a fairytale... I love a film you can't categorize." Judging by the excerpts shown, it's a major artistic leap for a director known for such zany comedies as Tropic Thunder and Zoolander.

Gianopulos' preview also included trailers from Fox's two powerhouse animation suppliers, DreamWorks and Blue Sky, who he reminded the audience are responsible for the top two franchises in animation history, Shrek and Ice Age. Also highly intriguing was the trailer from the Cormac McCarthy-penned thriller The Counselor, whose formidable cast includes Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.

In the afternoon, the Lionsgate presentation was emceed by an actual standup comic, Kevin Hart, who reminded the audience perhaps five dozen times that his new concert film, Let Me Explain, is coming out via the studio on July 3. He also honed in on the not very diverse racial makeup of the Vegas audience: "The five black people in the room, they're with me. I snuck them in."

Celebrating a year in which this "new major" topped $1 billion in box office, Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer and other execs brought out an array of talent including CinemaCon 2013 award winners Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman, Elizabeth Banks, Hailee Steinfeld and Asa Butterfield, along with Liam Hemsworth and Isla Fisher. Joss Whedon, director of last year's mammoth The Avengers, was there to drum up interest in his black-and-white, modern-dress, micro-budget version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, which has the tagline "Shakespeare knew how to throw a party." Whedon insisted that just as some people said, "I don't like superhero movies, but I liked The Avengers," folks with an aversion to Shakespeare will have a similar reaction to this "hilarious, timeless text."


Following the world premiere of the trailer for Ender's Game, the cult sci-novel that has spawned 15 sequels, Harrison Ford greeted the crowd with "Hello, my old friends" and praised his latest project as "a very strong, emotional, exciting movie." He also thanked exhibitors for upping their game in recent years and "making the movie experience more enjoyable."

Another premiere trailer was Escape Plan, a prison thriller re-teaming veteran action icons Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the latter sporting a new look—a salt-and-pepper beard.

The final trailer of the final preview event of CinemaCon 2013 was from the film voted by Fandango users as the most anticipated movie of the year: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. This time directed by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend), it looks like it delivers everything fans of the novel and the first movie are expecting. The teaser trailer will debut on May 3 with the release of Iron Man 3.



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Disney recruits Depp, Sony sends out Sandler at CinemaCon

Another day at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, another two studios previewing their lineups for 2013 and beyond. First up was Alan Horn, the genial chairman of Walt Disney Studios, who offered a film-by-film description of just about everything Disney has in the pipeline.

Inspired by its massive 2012 hit The Avengers, Disney touted "the greatest team ever assembled"—i.e, its collection of Marvel, Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks and Lucasfilm brands. Horn touched on them all, promising 14 to 15 pictures a year from the studio, with eight of them designed as tentpoles. He contrasted the different corporate cultures overseen by Disney; perhaps flashing back to his former studio Warner Bros.' 300, he likened Marvel to Sparta, populated by tough characters, while Pixar is more like Athens, a laid-back campus where "people hug each other all the time."

Horn trumpeted the projects from those two divisions: Marvel's Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America:The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and The Avengers 2, and Pixar's Monsters University, Planes, The Good Dinosaur, Finding Dory and Inside Out. Highlights from the Disney label include the animated Frozen, Saving Mr. Banks with Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, Angelina Jolie in Maleficent, Brad Bird's Tomorrowland, and yes, another Pirates of the Carribean movie. 

Before screening Pixar's Monsters University in its entirety in 2D, Horn introduced Lone Ranger producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski, who in turn brought our their stars, Johnny Depp (in cowboy-dude gear) and Armie Hammer. Depp's only words concerned the height of his co-star. "We're not short," he insisted, as Hammer tried to maneuever his legs to reduce his stature.

Disney showed two sequences from The Lone Ranger: an exciting chase atop a train and its aftermath, and a later scene in which the Ranger's life is saved by the Indian Tonto's mystical healing. The film is clearly another big-scale extravaganza in the spirit of the team's Pirates franchise, but this time applied to the origin story of two classic western characters. Verbinski, who won an Oscar for the animated western Rango, seems to be striving to make an authentic genre film here, not a campy sendup, but one with state-of-the-art visual effects that were never in John Ford or Howard Hawks' tool kits.

Later in the day, Sony Pictures worldwide distribution president Rory Bruer showcased a large assortment of trailers for the studio's roster—but not before being interrupted by trumpters in Roman dress and attendees carrying chariots containing Grown Ups 2 stars Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade and Salma Hayek. Sandler worked the crowd, urging them to "get it done" and hit the box-office bull's-eye for Grown Ups and other Sony titles he asked Bruer to list. Grown Ups 2 is a "f---ing four-quadrant movie!" he shouted.

Extended looks showed big hit potential for White House Down, Will Smith and his son Jaden in the sci-fi survival thriller After Earth, Tom Hanks in the true story of Somali pirate-fighting Captain Phillips, and Matt Damon in the class-conscious sci-fi tale Elysium from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp. Big exclusives included a first look at footage from David O. Russell's December release American Hustle, starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence, and a glimpse of George Clooney's The Monuments Men. Clooney and fellow producer Grant Heslov addressed the crowd on a location video, jokingly confusing the event with ComicCon and mixing up Sony and Warner Bros., the studio that made their Oscar-winning Argo.

Getting perhaps the biggest reception was the extended trailer for Seth Rogen's wildly profane directing debut This Is the End, in which Rogen and his comedy buddies (James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel, Michael Cera, Craig Robinson, Aziz Ansari, etc.) play themselves being confronted by the apocalypse. Forget The Hangover—this could be the most outrageous movie of the year.

Tribeca Film Festival kicks off tomorrow: Here's what to know

The Tribeca Film Festival kicks off tomorrow, April 17, and will run until Sunday, April 28. The past few years have seen the festival grow, and then contract, as it focuses on a smaller set of films--presumably raising the quality of the offerings.


'Red Obsession'


Tribeca always tends to yield a juicy documentary or two. Last year, Searching for Sugar Man (and its star, Rodriguez!) played at the festival. The Oscar-winning music documentary is still playing in theatres, 38 weeks later. In 2011, The Bully Project (later renamed Bully) debuted, getting picked up by the Weinstein Co. and bringing the hot topic of bullying into greater prominence. This year, I've had a chance to see a few documentaries in the preview screenings, and all are strong works.  

Red Obsession, which has a bit of a celebrity imprimatur thanks to a voiceover by Russell Crowe, centers on the wine produced in France's Bordeaux region. Historic, brand-name vineyards like Lafite and Petrus command a high price, but the buyers aren't French or even Americans, but the Chinese, which speaks both to the growing affluence of the nation and the need for luxury symbols to connote success. With its Sideways-like appeal and the way it uses wine as an entry point to talk about China's dramatic economic and social changes, this doc should be snapped up by a distributor.

Tribeca also tends to offer documentaries covering smaller subjects in the developing world, like a favorite of mine from last year, High Tech, Low Life. While that documentary dealt with the emerging prominence of citizen reporters using the Internet to illuminate injustices in China, Powerless focuses on an absence of infrastructure. Forget Internet, the subjects of this doc, residents of Kampur, India, just want light and power to pump water to their apartments during the rolling power outages that are the norm. Robin Hood-like men climb utility poles to help people steal electricity (or simply connect to a working power source). The documentary also looks sympathetically at the power company's general manager, who becomes the object of everyone's anger despite her efforts to turn stealing customers into paying customers, thus giving the utility the funds it needs for improvement. New Yorkers who survived days without power during Hurricane Sandy may be amazed with the resourcefulness of its residents--and grateful that such outages are extremely rare. Although Powerless is well done, its limited focus may be an obstacle to generating wide interest.




The documentary Teenage compiles both archival 8mm and 16mm footage and recreations done in the period style. Youth movements from the jitterbug craze to the Victory Girls to the Hitler Youth are tied together by what they had in common: they were emblematic of change in society. The movements were also about teens wanting independence and recognition in that in-between stage in their life. It's all summed up by Judy Garland singing "In-Between" back in 1938, a fun interlude in the doc.

In addition to its lineup of many quality documentaries, there are plenty of films on my to-see list. That includes the opening night selection Mistaken For Strangers, a musical doc filmed by the brother of one of the members of The National. Some movies already have distributors, including  The Patience Stone, Before Midnight, and At Any Price (all Sony Pictures Classics), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (IFC Films), Prince Avalanche (Magnolia) and Haute Cuisine (Weinstein Co.). That means they'll probably be worth a watch--but also will be evaluated with a less forgiving eye. Then there are a few weird options, like the Vice-produced doc Lil Bub and Friendz, which delves into the popularity of Internet cat videos. Meow.

Look Who’s Talking

Friday, exhibition history is being recorded at Prestonwood Creek in North Dallas, Texas. Universal Studios’ Oblivion
will be presented at Look Cinemas in the first auditorium built from the ground up with the revolutionary audio format in mind. The opening also marks the premiere of the very first film that was natively
rendered – or mixed and conceived from the start – in Dolby Atmos.


“We wanted
this to be the finest presentation house in the country,” explains Tom
Stephenson, founder and chief executive of Look Cinemas. “Simply put, it offers the best possible way in which to watch a movie. Everybody
gets that the theatrical experience is about the screen, digital projection,”
he adds, “but to Look Cinemas, the audio side was terribly important as well. For
us, Dolby Atmos is the best immersive, multi-dimensional sound experience ever created.”

Stephenson and his team were building their state-of-the-new-art, 11-screen,
1,900-seat complex, co-located with two top-chef restaurants that also serve
three dine-in auditoriums, from the ground up, they saw and seized upon an additional
opportunity. “We asked the Dolby tech guys how could we build the most perfect
auditorium for them. They really helped us out. The auditorium became a little
bit shorter and a little bit fatter, more of square shape,” if you will. “Everything,
including speakers on the sides and ceiling, was designed to show off Dolby
Atmos to its greatest advantage. It wasn’t just a matter of re-adapting another
room,” though this is something that Dolby has been doing with much success around
the globe
, “but
to be purposely building an auditorium for this technology.”

The process
resulted in a wider 70-foot wall-to-wall and 50-foot floor-to ceiling screen (21
by 15 m). “I literally mean that,” Stephenson keeps his finger less than 8 inches
(20 cm) apart. “Obviously one of the great things about Dolby Atmos is how pure
and great the audio is. While this is terrific in the actual auditorium,” he
laughs, “you don’t want it to end up in the next auditorium. We spent a lot
more time and money and worked with sound engineers to make sure that sound didn’t
bleed through.”

“We call
it ‘Evolution,’ and the tagline is ‘It’s Not Just a Theory,'” Stephenson
concludes his observations. “Sight, sound and screen technology have evolved
and we believe that our cinema is literally the next stage in great presention
and the next step in a long, great history of theatrical exhibition creating
better and better spaces to enjoy movies in.”

Here’s looking
at you, Tom.

Restaurant - 01 Entry View to Bar


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Universal and Warner Bros. celebrate record box office at CinemaCon

On day 2 of CinemaCon in
Las Vegas, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. both touted their box-office
performances in 2012, and each had bragging rights to a record. Adam Fogeleson,
chairman of Universal Pictures, reported the biggest year in the studio’s 100-year
history, with eight films surpassing $200 million at the worldwide box office.
This, despite the very expensive summer flop Battleship, a miscalculation from
which the studio “learned a lot,” Fogelson admitted, while taking pains to
point out that Universal is sticking with director Peter Berg for his next

Fogelson also revealed
that there would be sequels to the 2012 releases Snow White and the Huntsman
and Pitch Perfect, the latter a modest sleeper hit which Fogelson said has
become the fourth-biggest domestically downloaded movie.

At the morning
presentation, Fogelson chose to highlight Universal’s five summer releases,
with four of them seemingly competing for loudest trailer of the week.
R.I.P.D. and Kick-Ass 2 each combine comedy and frenetic action, while 2 Guns
is a variation on the mismatched-cops genre, teaming up Denzel Washington and
Mark Wahlberg, the respective stars of Universal 2012 hits Safe House and Ted. Sequences from Despicable Me 2, with those irresistible yellow minions, got a warm response from the audience; the sequel to the Illumination Entertainment animated hit adds the voices of Kristen Wiig as Steve Carell's potential love interest and Al Pacino as a villain called El Macho.

The finale paid homage to the success of the Fast & Furious franchise, which has earned $1.5 billion
Fast-furious-6for Universal and has grown exponentially with each film (due in large part to its massive social-media following). Stars Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Sung Kang and Gina Carano took to the stage. Fan favorite Rodriguez returns to the series after an absence and has a major fight scene with Carano, the mixed-martial-arts pro turned Haywire star, and Rodriguez volunteered that in real life Carano would "kick my ass." Gibson teased the handsome Walker about certain hygiene issues, while Diesel lavishly praised the studio and producers for the ethnic mix of the cast. He also revealed that there will be a Fast & Furious 7 in 2014.

Warner Bros. had even more to celebrate: a $4 billion worldwide gross in each of the past four years, and 12 consecutive years of $1 billion domestic box office. Warner Bros. Pictures president Jeff Robinov offered advance looks at a lot of the upcoming slate, with a taped introduction by Baz Luhrmann for his riotously lavish 3D The Great Gatsby and live appearances by directors Todd Phllips (The Hangover Part III), Zack Snyder (Man of Steel) and Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim).

Phillips got laughs joking about him mother's complete lack of interest in movies, before declaring that "comedies need to be seen in a theatre with groups of people who can laugh together." As for any fears of going up against Fast & Furious 6 on May 24, Phillips shrugged off the competition: "It's f---ing Vin Diesel."

Snyder presented the world premiere of the trailer for Man of Steel, and emphasized that his impressive-looking reboot of the Superman franchise was shot on film; for him, celluloid was crucial to his goal to make "a big giant movie movie."

Del Toro testified that making Pacific Rim "has changed my life," giving him the opportunity to
Pacific-Rim-Robot-Pilotsutilize "a scope and a palette I haven't tried before." The film, he said, came "from the deepest part of my being...the ten-year-old kid who is in love with giant monsters." The ever-enthusiastic del Toro said he never grew tired of watching his footage during the long production process: "Every week I was smiling like a goddamn moron."

Some brief 3D footage from Alfonso Cuarón's outer space thriller Gravity intrigued, and two other surprises emerged: The trailer for We're the Millers, starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis, got big laughs and could be a hit comedy raunch-fest. And footage from the missing-child drama Prisoners looked very promising; acclaimed Quebec director Denis Villeneuve makes his Hollywood debut with a cast including Oscar nominees Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis.

Tomorow: CinemaCon's 2012 Filmmakers Panel, with Guillermo del Toro, Sam Raimi and Oliver Stone.

Roundup of Tweets and news coming out of CinemaCon

Film Journal is blogging straight from the CinemaCon convention, but news about the industry meetup is also making waves around the web. Here's a roundup of the news coming out of CinemaCon.

The MPAA plans to revise movie ratings to give more detailed information, and urged more family-friendly films. Obviously, this horror film enthusiast was not pleased:

Perri Nemiroff  PNemiroff  on Twitter CinemaCon

(via @PNemiroff)

Distribution could go all-digital by the end of 2013, which is much faster than originally planned.

Instagram photos with minions are this year's CinemaCon souvenier. Twitter user and LA Times reporter Amy Kinla likes the minions at CinemaCon:

Photo by amykinla • Instagram

(via @AmyKinLA )

And she wasn't the only one who had thoughts on Despicable Me 2:

Twitter   Search    cinemacon
(via @slashfilm)

Universal announced that Fast & Furious 7 is coming out next July. Dwayne Johnson is in Fast & Furious 6, which is coming out this summer, and will likely be on board for the sequel too.

Twitter Dwayne Johnson
(via @TheRock)

Regal Cinemas caught some blurry footage of the stars of Star Trek Into Darkness, Chris Pine and Alice Eve.

Photo by regalmovies • Instagram

(via @RegMovies)

There's also plenty of new technology and updates coming out of CinemaCon. Our roundup of new products has everything anyone equipment-shopping would need to know, and here are a few announcements coming out of our newsroom:

Christie launches Superior Performance Xenolite lamp series

RealD introduces precision white screen technology

IMAX and Paramount Pictures strengthen partnership with five-pic pact

Follow this link for even more news coming out of CinemaCon.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Paramount previews 'Star Trek,' 'World War Z' and 'Pain & Gain' at CinemaCon

Paramount Pictures gave movie exhibitors a more than generous sampling of their next three films at the Monday opening-night event at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. Star Trek Into Darkness co-writer
Star-trek-into-darkness-zachary-quinto-chris-pine1Damon Lindelof filled in for director J.J. Abrams, who sent word that he's so immersed in post-production chores he couldn't make the trip to Vegas. (Abrams also took full credit for "Lost" in a jokey letter read by Lindelof, his collaborator on the hit ABC TV series.)

Lindelof then brought out four cast members of Into Darkness: Chris Pine (Captain Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Mr. Spock), Alice Eve (new character Dr. Carol Marcus) and John Cho (Sulu). Pine promised that Kirk would show "a lot more vulnerability" in this chapter of the rebooted series, while Quinto talked about his quest to reveal the "interior life" of his famously undemonstrative character. Eve goodnaturedly complained about on-set teasing from her more seasoned Star Trek co-stars, while Cho admitted to being pranked into believing that a laser research facility where the movie shot had made him radioactive.

Lindelof confessed that he and Abrams had been skeptical about the decision to release the movie in 3D, but called himself a convert to the immersive qualities of the technology. The proof was there onscreen, as the studio showed two exciting sequences totaling 18 minutes: a chase scene on a wild red planet that climaxes with Spock about to be toasted alive by an erupting volcano; and a marvelously nail-biting set-piece in which Kirk and new villain Benedict Cumberbatch are propelled at high speed from one spacecraft to another, not always dodging space debris along the way. Watching these clips, I was reminded how astute the casting of the reboot is, with very likeable actors capturing the spirit of the iconic 196os performers.

None other than Brad Pitt made an appearance onstage to promote three harrowing sequences from his ambitious zombie movie World War Z. Zombies are hotter than ever thanks to the cable hit "The Walking Dead," but this movie's zombies are different: They move very fast and gather in massive clusters like an army of cockroaches or soldier ants. The result is some of the most disturbing horror imagery this writer has seen for quite a while; it's definitely scary, but is it too intense for a general audience? As for Pitt, he said that he sought to make a movie his sons would want to see "before they turn 18."

Finally, Transformers director Michael Bay introduced a full screening of Pain & Gain, his $25 million change of pace from his usual action blockbusters. It's one of those movies you'd never believe if it weren't based on a true story, with both Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson in distinctly unheroic roles as bodybuilders who get caught up in half-baked kidnapping and extortion schemes. Mixing comedy and nasty violence, this kinetic "small film" may actually have some critics re-evaluating the profitable Mr, Bay.

Tomorrow at CinemaCon: product presentations from Universal Pictures and Warner Bros., and a screening of the buzzed-about Sandra Bullock-Melissa McCarthy comedy The Heat.

Friday, April 12, 2013

'42' should hit a triple while 'Scary Movie 5' may not even get on base

Finally, an adult-leaning picture that doesn't involve car chases, mobsters, or kidnapping. 42 (3,003  theatres) is one of the first dramas to release this year that aims to connect with audiences in search of quality. Baseball fans, history buffs, and African-Americans (or any
42 Chadwick Boseman main
combination of the three) should also be among the viewers turning out this weekend. The question is whether the idea of seeing Jackie Robinson on the big screen will outweigh the poor box office precedents for this picture. Recent baseball pictures (including Moneyball and Benchwarmers ) just haven't opened above $20 million. Of course, if you look way back, you have both A League of Their Own, which earned over $100 million back in 1992, and Field of Dreams, which earned $64 million in 1989. In spirit, those are closer to 42. However, the most recent story of triumph in a predominantly white space, the flying movie Red Tails, didn't even cross $50 million. It's a mixed bag out there. Many predict an opening of $20 million, but I could see the movie going even higher. 42 gives a saintly portrait of Robinson, which doesn't necessarily make for high drama, but the inspiring, feel-good story could have audiences coming back due to positive word-of-mouth. Despite its flaws, it's one of the best wide releases to come out this year, and I'm rooting for Robinson and 42.

Scary Movie 5 (3,402 theatres) is back from the dead, and this time Lindsay Lohan, Charlie
Scary movie 5 lindsay lohan charlie sheenSheen, and Ashley Tisdale are among the stars in this horror parody franchise. Scary Movie 4 came out a good six years ago, and such a long lag between sequels is dicey. It's most likely that the release will fall flat, opening under $20 million.

Two specialty releases are scaling up. After debuting last week to a $32,000 per-screen average, Trance will expand into 438 locations. The Place Beyond the Pines will go from 30 to 514 locations in its third
To the wonder ben affleck rachel mcadams 2week. Pines will likely earn at least $1 million in the expanded release, while Trance should be somewhere in the mid-six figures.

Writer/director Terence Malick, who is famous for taking years to edit films, has a surprise: another film just two years after his last, The Tree of Life. Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams star in To the Wonder (5 locations), which FJI critic Chris Barsanti describes as "a
floating beauty of a philosophical love story that can’t yank its
head out of the wispy clouds of meaning long enough to consider the
humans mucking about on terra firma." That about sums up the artistic work, which has beautiful visuals but not much of a plot.

On Monday, we'll see if 42 scored and if Scary Movie 5 revived the aging franchise.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

China now has the biggest foreign box office--but they just pulled 'Django Unchained' from theatres

Last year, China became the biggest foreign market at the box office, surpassing Japan. With a huge, upwardly mobile population, it will likely remain at number one, and widen the gap between first and second place at the global box office. But China does not have a free press, and two stories in THR highlight the challenges of working in the Chinese marketplace.

Christian Johnston and Darren Mann, the directors of State of Control, a documentary that will be

Django Unchained Jamie Foxx Christoph Waltzshown at the HotDocs festival in Toronto, wrote a piece about how they were tailed during the Beijing Olympics in 2008 while trying to make their film about tensions between Tibetans and the Chinese government. They were followed, harassed, and eventually left the country after being constantly blocked from achieving their goals at every turn. In the meantime, the people they corresponded with had their computers hacked. IP addresses traced the viruses back to China. It's worth pointing out, as the filmmakers don't, that the Chinese government was on extreme high alert during the Beijing Olympics, and very cautious about the image they presented. I wonder if the reaction to their filming would be as intense now. Last year at the Tribeca Film Festival, the documentary High Tech, Low Life explored how citizen journalists have been taking on the government in small ways, exposing instances where the government has angered peasants with issues of imminent domain. Another wrote about  a case where the rape of a girl was covered up because the perpetrator was the son of a local official. The officials would have tea with the journalists, finding out what they were doing and marking out the invisible boundaries that they could not cross. There is leeway, but not for all. A political dissident like Ai Wei Wei (who has his own doc, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry) is seen as more dangerous because he targets high-level political officials. You don't want to mess with those people.

As difficult as it can be to exercise free speech or bring injustices to light within China, it's also difficult to exhibit objectionable content. Director Quentin Tarantino's latest, Django Unchained, was pulled from theatres just as it released, because of "technical difficulties." By appearing to change its mind after approving the release, the Chinese government looks bad, and many citizens took to their version of Twitter, Weibo, to complain. My guess is that "technical difficulties" may be a euphemism for further cuts that need to be made, or mistakenly weren't made. Tarantino already noted that he de-saturated the color of blood in the movie in order to comply with Chinese standards. Perhaps the government decided it needs more of these types of cuts before they bring the film back. In the days and weeks to come, Hollywood as a whole will be watching closely to see if the release makes its way back into theatres. TheWeinstein Co. is known stateside for turning controversy into box-office dollars (like its campaign over the R rating of The Bully Project), so if Django Unchained returns to theatres, they just may be able to pique viewers' interests. Who wouldn't want to see a movie so controversial, it was temporarily pulled from theatres?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

AMC employee films Milk Duds mischief on YouTube

In a video that made its way onto Reddit and then Gawker this morning, an AMC employee working the concession stand films a prank. His manager told him to throw away some Milk Duds, but he has some other ideas about how to actually accomplish the task. As far as pranks go, this one is pretty harmless. But what can it tell us about teen employees and managing them in a movie theatre environment?

The video brings to mind concerns that Keith Wiedenkeller (an executive of AMC) often talks about in his "People Factor" columns. How do you inspire and motivate workers? And how do you deal with a teen workforce?

I think this kind of goofing off could mean a few things:

1) The teen loves his job and his workplace, and has a good boss that appreciates humor now and then.
2) His boss has no control over his employees, but goes along with the behavior because at least that way he feels like he has control.
3) The supervisor would hate the prank, but the teen likes to irritate him (in which case he was very stupid to put the video on the Internet).

The best-case scenario would be #1. In an interview with a Cinebarre manager Victoria Karol last year, she emphasized to me the importance of a fun workplace where people enjoy clocking in. Pranks can build a group identity and a sense of being part of a team. When the concessions are sold and everyone is tucked away into their theatres to enjoy the show, there just may be time to do something else besides sweep the floors. What do you think? Did the employee exercise poor judgment by putting the video on the Internet? Is the prank itself harmless or a sign of an employee who goofs off too much?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

'Elysium' footage sneak peek: 5 things to know about the follow-up from 'District 9' director Neill Blomkamp

Yesterday, Sony previewed several minutes of footage from Elysium, the Matt Damon-led sci-fi movie that's coming out on August 9. The imaginative project looks like it's on track to be a huge hit like Inception. In a market saturated by derivative content, Elysium is a rare beast: a big-budget
Elysium Matt Damonmovie derived from a completely original concept. Previously, all that was known about the movie was that Matt Damon and countless other poor people live on a ravaged Earth, while the rich live in a space station free of violence, poverty, and disease. The preview gave some more savory details about the feature, which comes courtesy of District 9 director Neill Blomkamp.

1. On Elysium, they can cure cancer. The clip showed a woman sunbathing, then going into what looks a cross between a tanning bed and the robot surgery machine in Prometheus. "Detecting trace amounts of cancer," the machine chirps. "Cancer cells--cleared!" This comes in handy later, because Damon's character gets exposed to radiation in a workplace accident and has just five days to live unless he can get into one of those cure-all machines.

2. Elysium is about a dystopia, with strong parallels to current social issues. Back to that "workplace accident." Damon is told by his boss that he will lose his job unless he goes into some dangeous machinery to fix a jammed door. He's on parole, making him already barely employable, and received a warning from his boss after his arm was broken by a robot roughing him up. He goes in to fix the problem, but it ends up nearly killing him. Surely, nothing like that ever happens in America...

3. Data can be downloaded from the brain. Hacking into someone's brain appears to be a very of-the-moment sci-fi concept. The first time I recall it happening was in The Matrix, and Inception explored the same concept in a more ethereal way. In Elysium, the plot hinges on Damon's crew downloading brain data from an important official from the space station. The information gives them details about how to break down their system and gain access to the fortress-like utopia.

4. Damon turns into a cyborg to get to Elysium. If you want to fight robots, you have to be part robot, right? Since he only has days to live anyway, Damon consents to having his body robot-ized so he can take on the robots that protect Elysium's residents and keep the Earthlings in place. POV shots show that it turns his vision into a video game, locking him into targets and flashing "reload" in the corner of his vision.

5. Paradise looks like a terrarium. Earth looks like--Detroit? The shots of the space station Elysium show a lush, verdant area with amazing views. Some opening shots of Earth show skyscrapers with crapshoot appendages sticking out the sides (I wouldn't want to live in one of those) that recall skyscraper cities in any number of sci-fi films, including Blade Runner. What's more interesting are flat, rundown warehouse-y areas that are similar to the slums in Blomkamp's District 9. The preview didn't connect the urban and suburban places together, but that will likely be clarified in the film itself.

Despite the sneak peeks, the preview left some of the biggest questions unanswered. How exactly does Damon gain access to the space station? How do the people in Elysium and Earth react to the insurrection? And how did things get so unequal to begin with?