Friday, June 28, 2013

'White House Down' and 'The Heat' fire up the box office

The summer box office is in full swing, and this weekend two more strong offerings add to the season's offerings. Although The Heat is the most likely pick for female audiences who see Melissa McCarthy's casting as an extension of Bridesmaids, White House Down has the benefit of Channing Tatum in the leading role. The star appears to do particularly well in red states, and deserves credit for the $100+ million performances of Magic Mike, The Vow, 21 Jump Street and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, where they specifically rewrote part of the sequel to include more of Tatum. Both features earn my "popcorn movie" stamp of approval, although critics have been more discerning, giving White House Down just a 49% positive rating and The Heat a 64% positive rating.

One way to tell a movie is a "silly but satisfying adventure," as encapsulated by FJI's Daniel Eagan? During the climactic moment, you burst out laughing at the ridiculousness, but that doesn't dampen your enjoyment. Jamie Foxx plays a President in peril, and Tatum the hero there to save both the leader and his daughter in White House Down (3,222 theatres). Independence Day director Roland Emmerich includes a good amount of explosions, but there's also a lot of Die Hard-style comedy that keeps the movie in popcorn territory. The action feature may open second to The Heat, but both should clear the $30 million mark. Although a similar movie, Olympus Has Fallen, opened in March, it's unlikely that White House Down's box office will be impacted.

White house down jamie foxx channing tatum
Sandra Bullock is an uptight, socially awkward FBI agent who lightens up when she encounters a rough-and-tumble Boston cop (McCarthy) in The Heat (3,181 theatres). Bridesmaids' Paul Feig directs the buddy -op comedy, which begs the question--has there ever been a female buddy-cop comedy before? Our critic Marsha McCreadie couldn't come up with any examples, noting instead the amateur detective buddy comedy Outrageous Fortune from 1987. There is the 1988 release Feds, which paired together two women in FBI training school, but that's the exception that proves that females in this genre are a a rarity. McCreadie goes on to praise Bullock and McCarthy's excellent timing, and its message about female friendship.

The heat sandra bullock melissa mccarthy
Specialty audiences can check Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar's latest, I'm So Excited. The  "lively but somewhat rote camp cabaret comedy," according to FJI's Chris Barsanti, centers on flight attendants and passengers coping with a plane's imminent emergency landing. It's a bit of a mashup between Airplane! and Almodóvar's sensibility. Barsanti encapsulates the movie's feel as a "fashion-magazine potboiler, gossipy and brash, whose attention
keeps wandering south of the waistline." Fun and different, it's a nice summery pick for indie-seekers who want to lighten the mood.

On Monday, we'll see if audiences choose Tatum in White House Down or the funny duo of Bullock and McCarthy in The Heat.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

See what 'Great Gatsby' looked like before the visual effects

Everyone knows that movies like Man of Steel or White House Down are filled with special effects. As convincing as they are, people understand they didn't blow up the Capitol building or demolish skyscrapers. I'm most entranced by the special effects in movies that don't look like they have any at all. In The Great Gatsby, I was sure that they filmed in a real mansion, and that they at least closed down some streets and made them look like they were from the 1920s. Turns out I should have known better. The visual effects supervisor behind The Great Gatsby released a four-minute demo reel (set to some Lana Del Ray music) showing just how much of the movie was smoke and mirrors. Green and blue screens abound in the reel, which also brings to mind an effects reel for HBO's Prohibition-set "Boardwalk Empire" that was floating around the Internet a while ago.

One thing I'm curious about is where they're getting the images that they fill in with the green and blue screen. I'm guessing there is compositing involved, where a mansion is combined with other background elements--they don't show the creation process for these images. It seems like using foreground foliage and a green screen in the background is a common trick to maintain the illusion of depth. And unlike the early use of rear projection, there's no line around the actor's face or body that gives away the background. For a director like Baz Luhrmann, who likes to cram as much visual pleasure into his shots as he can, effects are likely a way to achieve this kind of opulence on (something) of a budget. On the other hand, I think the ease with which people can fill a frame contributed to Luhrmann making Gatsby look a little too jam-packed with imagery, at least in my opinion. Take a peek at the visual effects reel and see what you think.

The Great Gatsby VFX from Chris Godfrey on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Indiewire polls critics on the best 50 films so far this year

2013 is almost halfway over, though it's doubtful that half of the year's best films so far have released--they'll be coming along in the last three months of 2013. Still, in the name of a check-in, Indiewire polled movie critics about their favorite movies so far this year. The list allows some lesser-known films to shine--but it also lets some more questionable fare rise to the top. I've seen half of the films in the top ten, and a smattering from the rest of the pack. My top ten, however would be much different than IndieWire's aggregate.

Before midnightIn general, the Indiewire-selected critics are daring, opting for polarizing or mixed-review films. The exception is the number-one pick, Before Midnight, which boasts both a strong box-office and critical response that back up it overwhelming lead, with a score of 458 to second-place Upstream Color's 330. I couldn't get through the screener of Upstream Color, so I'm not among the film's supporters. Like the third-place pick, Spring Breakers, both films had very polarized reactions. The glacial pace of Leviathan, the number-seven pick, made me a bit lukewarm on the documentary. I don't think I've ever seen so many critics walk out on a screening, so its high placement surprises me. Further down in the top ten, The Place Beyond the Pines and Side Effects were both films I can get behind. Pines was ambitious but flawed, while Side Effects was the kind of tight genre thriller that should win over the Takens of the world.

Within the top ten, my two favorites are Frances Ha (#4) and Mud (#6), which both delivered beyond my expectations. But my other favorites of the year barely make rank. The Act of Killing (#35) still hasn't had its theatrical release, which means the jaw-dropping documentary may not have been seen by many critics yet. But The Bling Ring (#44) and Twenty Feet from Stardom (#45) also deserve higher placement, as does The East (#50).

Indiewire Top Ten:
1. Before Midnight
2. Upstream Color
3. Spring Breakers
4. Frances Ha
5. Stories We Tell
6. Mud
7. Leviathan
8. The Place Beyond the Pines
9. Side Effects
10. Like Someone In Love

Monday, June 24, 2013

'Monsters University' and 'World War Z' both score with audiences

One prediction held true this weekend. The total box office did top $200 million, but the distribution among the top three films was markedly different than many predictions. The troubled production World War Z was given a cautious weekend estimate of $40 million. Instead, the Brad Pitt-led zombie epic earned $66 million, the second-highest second-place opening ever. After shelving plans for a trilogy when the production ran into trouble, Paramount has already announced that it is working on the next chapter in the zombie epidemic story.

World war z brad pitt daniella kertesz
In first place, Monsters University continued Pixar's number-one opening record, debuting to $82 million. Audiences gave it an "A" rating, and it will likely play much stronger than last month's animated Epic. However, the silly sequel drew fewer non-family audiences than other Pixar movies: a little over a quarter of the audience didn't come as a family, compared to around a third for Brave. The movie will face tough competition in less than two weeks from Despicable Me 2, which has promised a larger dose of its adorable minions to viewers.
Monsters University JOX rule
Man of Steel was crushed by the two new releases, particularly World War Z, which likely poached away some of its audience. The Superman relaunch dived 65% to $41 million. Still, that's not horrible for a movie that opened comfortably over $100 million, and holds the number-one spot (over WWZ) overseas.

In its second-week expansion, The Bling Ring narrowly missed placing in the top ten, cashing in with $2 million and an eleventh-place finish. Its $3,000 per-screen average was a grand off the average of fellow A24 release Spring Breakers, indicating that the movie will likely end up under that movie's $15 million cumulative to date, or that it's still in the process of building momentum. Much Ado About Nothing averaged $3,700 per screen for a total of $762,000. Its first major expansion, from 23 to 206 theatres, paid off, and the movie is outpacing other indies like The East, which earned half as much, $348,000, while playing in the same number of theatres.

This Friday will bring in two solid new releases. The action-packed White House Down will see the Presidential residence under siege, and Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock will star in the buddy-cop comedy The Heat.

Friday, June 21, 2013

'Monsters University' could outscare 'World War Z'

In a weekend filled with strong films, where the total box office should exceed $200 million, at least one may end up being squeezed out. Many in the industry expect that film to be World War Z (3,607 theatres), an expensive tentpole that may have a hard time opening above $50 million. Originally aiming for a Christmas release, Paramount scrapped the third act and did extensive reshoots to salvage the Brad Pitt-led zombie feature. Our critic Chris Barsanti found the finished product to contain traces of these problems, calling the globe-spanning movie "ambitious but confused." I found the tale of a zombie epidemic to be overhauled to my satisfaction--extremely frightening but also the kind of movie that favors more strategic zombie-killing over video game-style wholesale slaughtering. Early word-of-mouth among viewers and critics (68% of Rotten Tomatoes critics dubbed WWZ "fresh"), along with strong overseas returns, should help World War Z have stamina long after opening weekend. This weekend it will have to swim against the current, going against the second weekend of Man of Steel, which could top $50 million.

World war z brad pitt
The kids who originally saw Monsters Inc. twelve years ago are all grown up, and some of them may even be in college. So it makes some sense that the prequel to the movie, Monsters University (4,004 theatres), takes place in the halls of higher education. While Pixar movies often do well with all-ages audiences, including young adults, FJI critic Daniel Eagan predicts that "customers who
remember the studio's earlier efforts may be less impressed by a
movie so calculated and predictable." Signs of Pixar's top-dog rank are there, from a "consistently pleasant" feel to great animation, but the plot "plays out like a standard college
comedy, a cleaned-up Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell vehicle." Those looking for another Up or Wall-E may want to skip this one, but it should still open north of $70 million.

Monsters University school cap
After a strong debut weekend, The Bling Ring will expand in to 650 theatres. A24, the distributor behind another bad-teen film, Spring Breakers, is deploying a similar expansion strategy: follow a strong opening weekend with an aggressive expansion. Bling Ring will follow in Spring Breakers' footsteps, but shave 350 theatres off its second-week expansion total to compensate for its lower opening weekend.  The two movies pair an auteur director (Harmony Korine, Sofia Coppola) with a subject filled with mass appeal--teens gone wild. In this case, the teens robbed the houses of celebrities in order to don their clothes, a true-life story that Coppola uses to offer slivers of commentary on youth culture and wealth.

On Monday, we'll see if World War Z was able to gain on Monsters University's perceived lead going into the weekend, and if Bling Ring will be able to replicate the second-week success of Spring Breakers.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Does the 'Fifty Shades' director choice hint at its leading man?

Yesterday, fans of E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Gray rejoiced at one crew announcement, while still holding out for news about who will play the leading man and lady in the erotic romance. Sam Taylor-Johnson, who directed the 2009 film Nowhere Boy about the young John Lennon, will direct. She's
married to Aaron Taylor-Johnson (they met when she directed him in Nowhere Boy). Aaron is no stranger to playing a romantic lead--he was Vronsky in Anna Karenina last year and shows off his six-pack abs in the upcoming Kick-Ass 2. There is a chance that Aaron could be believable as Christian Grey, who seduces recent college graduate Anastasia Steele. In the book, Grey is described as a wealthy, successful industrialist, which most people would see as someone in his thirties or forties, but he's actually much younger: THR puts his age at 27, which is confirmed by the fan Wiki for the book. Fifty Shades was originally Twilight fan fiction, which means that Grey was an unaging vampire who was young, but had hundreds of years to build up a fortune. But in the Seattle-set romance, maybe Grey is just the latest young tech millionaire. The young industrialist would go even younger if he were played by Aaron, who is just 23. But maybe the question is beside the point. At least historically, it hasn't been great for many couples to film intimate scenes together: Kate Winslet split from director Sam Mendes not long after the emotionally raw Revolutionary Road, and Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise divorced not long after they wrapped Eyes Wide Shut together. That being said, the Taylor-Johnson relationship itself is a bit unusual: Sam is in her forties, and met Aaron when he was just 18. They married last year and have two children together. Sam is a former video artist whose projects include Crying Men, a series of photographs of celebrities in tears.

The Focus features production may not have cast its stars yet, but it's being shepherded by producers Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti, who shared an Oscar nomination for The Social Network. De Luca has also received an Oscar nomination for Moneyball. Kelly Marcel, whose picture about the clash between Walt Disney and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, Saving Mr. Banks, comes out this December, is still a bit of an unknown in terms of her screenwriting style. Still, the producing and directing team, as well as the writer, all suggest that Fifty Shades of Grey has pulled the right ingredients together--now it's just a matter of cooking it to perfection.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

BAM reveals Steinberg Screen in their 'state-of-the-art ruin' Harvey Theater

In its 109-year history, the BAM Harvey Theater in Brooklyn (originally the Majestic) has cycled between being a venue for live performances and a movie palace. Over two decades after it was restored as a showcase for live productions, BAM recently added a retractable 35-foot by 19-foot movie screen, which will allow the venue to show both movies and live performances. The renovation also included the addition of Dolby Digital 7.1 sound, as well as special acoustic panels that make the space more acoustically versatile. Before modifying the acoustics, the theatre was very reverberant, which is  great for hearing live voices but horrible for movie sound. Tonight, the theatre will break in its new screen with the opening night selection of BAMcinemafest, the Sundance-approved western Ain't Them Bodies Saints.

BAM Steinberg Screen
Just as stunning as the large, seamless Steinberg Screen is the theatre itself, especially for those who have grown up seeing movies in modern multiplexes. The 1904 vaudeville theatre, which fell on hard times in the 1960s and was closed for two decades, was stumbled upon in its decrepit state by BAM staff in the 1980s. They were enchanted by the rundown space, and a restoration completed in 1987 preserved the sense of the theatre as a grand ruin. Corinthian columns in the lobby are half-chipped away, bricks are uneven, and paint has a hundred-year patina. In her opening remarks for a preview event on Monday, BAM president Karen Brooks Hopkins said the staff refers to the Harvey as a "state-of-the art ruin," an apt description that encapsulates its combination of modern amenities and romantic dilapidated look. With 745 seats, it hearkens back to the great movie palaces and will have enough seating for BAM's larger events. The theatre is just a few blocks away from the BAM Rose Cinemas, where the theatre held all of its movie screenings before the renovation of the BAM Harvey.

Any new theatre with boast-worthy screen and sound has certain films on their must list, and the Steinberg Screen will show them in the "Big Screen Epics" series from July 3-23, which will include runs of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, and The Godfather I & II. Besides these special series, the Harvey Theater will also book theatrical runs of indies like Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, which play there starting July 26. New York City is known for its plentiful arthouse movie theatres, but the Harvey Theater's Steinberg Screen is truly a one-of-a-kind New York City moviegoing experience, one that will surely be showing up on the "best theatres" lists in months to come.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Northside Festival showcases Oscilloscope's 'A Teacher'

The up-and-coming Northside Festival, which runs from June 13-20, is reminiscent of SXSW, with arms focusing on music, film, and new technology. The music part started five years ago, with the film portion following a year later. For those wondering, the inclusive geographic designation "Northside" loosely encompasses the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. The festival itself has a neighborhood feel, attracting like-minded cinephiles and artists who mingled and greeted each other after the screenings Monday evening, including the intriguing A Teacher.

A Teacher Lindsay Burdge Will Brittain
The SXSW/Austin connections continued throughout the evening. A Teacher was filmed in Austin and also played at SXSW. Its New York premiere took place at the Nitehawk Cinema, the city's first in-theatre dining establishment that tips its hat to Texas' Alamo Drafthouse.The upcoming Oscilloscope release, which will come out just as kids go back to school, focuses on the relationship between a teacher and a student in her senior AP Lit class. Shot with muddy, expressive camerawork, the movie focuses more on the psychological implications of the affair, and less on the torrid details. The focus is not on what will happen if they get caught, but what possessed these two people to pursue an illicit relationship.

This is the kind of film that hinges on the right casting, and writer/director Hannah Fiddel, who was present at a Q&A after the screening, wrote the part of the teacher for Lindsay Burdge, a longtime friend she admired as an actor. The high school senior, Will Brittain, was a University of Texas student who showed up to the casting call in a big camo truck, while smoking a cigarette. "Little did he know, he had already gotten the part," Fiddel joked. In the movie, Brittain's character is supremely confident, taking his teacher to his family's ranch and driving her around in an expensive SUV that pales in comparison to the teacher's clunky Volvo. A Teacher doesn't embellish the backstories of their characters, but in the Q&A Fiddel said that she made the teen more well-off because she imagined that the kind of high school senior who would pursue a teacher would be the kind of boy who was always given everything he wanted. This transfixing indie will be worth a watch when it hits theatres on September 6.

Monday, June 17, 2013

DiCaprio plays another rich criminal in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

Paramount has begun building hype for Leonardo DiCaprio’s
latest project, The Wolf of Wall Street,
directed by Martin Scorsese. The first trailer for the film, slated to hit
theaters November 15, released on Sunday. The
Wolf of Wall Street
is based on Jordan Belfort’s 2007 memoir of the same
name. Belfort, a hedge fund manager, made hundreds of millions of dollars in
the 1980s and ’90s through his brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, until it was
discovered that the firm was inflating stocks and committing fraud, as well as
perpetrating other financial crimes. Belfort was arrested and spent nearly two
years in prison.

The Wolf of Wall
trailer bears several striking similarities to DiCaprio’s most
recent movie, The Great Gatsby, both
thematically and in terms of promotional materials. It’s clear that, like Gatsby, Scorsese will devote much of Wolf’s screen time to the protagonist’s
startling displays of wealth. Girls, drugs, wads of cash, luxurious
settings—all are featured prominently in the two-minute-fifteen-second Wolf trailer. The promos for both films
are also carried by a DiCaprio voiceover, explaining his character’s meteoric
rise in wealth and reputation.

Most obviously, both trailers are ushered along by a Kanye
West song—or, in Gatsby’s case, a
West-Jay-Z collaboration. “No Church in the Wild” (Gatsby) and “Black
(Wolf) both feature wild
yells, pounding drum beats, and West’s emotive, angry rapping. The songs provide
a thrilling adrenaline rush, and breathlessly shuttle viewers from shots of
over-the-top parties and all the trappings of excessive wealth, to hints of
DiCaprio’s characters’ downfall and emotional collapse. In fact, Wolf could easily be seen as the latest
in a trilogy of DiCaprio films which explore the indulgence and devastation
created when men from humble beginnings turn to crime and gain incredible
wealth, starting with 2002’s Catch Me if
You Can
and continuing with Gatsby.

Wolf looks like a
skillful and highly entertaining drama, far closer in quality to the excellent Catch Me if You Can than this year’s
disappointing Gatsby. Jonah Hill and Matthew
McConaughey (who has shown himself to be terrific in smaller comedic parts,
from Dazed and Confused through Magic Mike) also promise to deliver memorable
performances in supporting roles.

Wolf screenwriter Terence
Winter already has plenty of practice creating devious, charismatic crooks, as
a writer and executive producer on “Boardwalk Empire,” which like Gatsby, is set in the 1920s. Scorsese, of course,
built his career on depicting such characters in award-winning films like Goodfellas, The Departed, and Gangs of New York. It will be quite interesting to
see what parallels the pair draws between the white-collar criminals of the
Roaring Twenties and those of the 1990s.

‘Man of Steel’ forges $113 million weekend

Superman saved the day after all. Man
of Steel
delivered comfortably over the $100 million benchmark set by
industry insiders, finishing the weekend with $113 million and an
additional $12 million from Thursday evening shows. Consistent with many
recent blockbusters, 3D underperformed while IMAX overperformed. IMAX accounted
for 12% of overall ticket sales, while 3D (which usually includes IMAX
showings) comprised 41% of box office  For Warner Bros., this is great
news for a potential franchise. Their 2006 film Superman Returns opened
to less than half of Man of Steel, and failed to spawn any future films.
For Man of Steel, this is likely only the beginning.

Man of steel
 This is the End didn’t draw in the broad audiences that some expected,
earning $20 million over the weekend and $32.8 million since its
Wednesday opening. The stoner comedy earned decent marks in exit polls (B+), so
this Seth Rogen and James Franco-led apocalyptic comedy should play reasonably
well in weeks to come. However, it underperformed compared to Pineapple
and Tropic Thunder, similar comedies that may have benefited
from a slightly more accessible premise and broader appeal.

This is the end

 Within the top ten, the biggest
surprise was the 75% drop from The Purge. The home invasion
picture overperformed in its opening weekend, but its second-week drop was on
par with a poorly received horror movie: $8 million, from $34 million
the weekend before. Poorly reviewed After Earth fell 65% in week
three, another steep fall that put its weekend total down to $3.7 million.
The ninth-place finisher has returns of $54 million to date, but that’s with a
reported budget over $130 million. Ouch. In sixth place, The Internship
was also a loser in the top ten, falling 60% to earn just $7 million in
week two. Domestically, both of these movies aren’t even close to making back
their budget.

 Writer/director Sofia Coppola’s The
Bling Ring
averaged $42,000 per screen in five locations, an
excellent start for the conversation-starting look at privileged teens who
broke the law in pursuit of celebrities' designer gear. This Friday, the
tale of teen fashion-lovers turned burglars will expand into over 500 theatres.

Sundance pickup 20 Feet from
opened to $17,000 per screen in three locations. The
documentary about backup singers is a Radius-Weinstein Co. release, which means
the distributor will also be heavily focusing on the on-demand part of

This Friday, the zombie tentpole
World War Z
will open opposite the kid-friendly prequel Monsters

Friday, June 14, 2013

Will 'Man of Steel' have a superhero debut over $100 million?

Warner Bros. has estimated that Man of Steel (4,207 theatres) will earn around $80 million this weekend, but that conservative figure could easily be exceeded to come in line with many forecasters' predictions of a $100 million opening. That would put the superhero movie well behind the $174 million opening of Iron Man 3, but slightly ahead of the $96 million earned by
Man of steel henry cavillFast & Furious 6
. The film itself is tracking 58% positive, consistent with the mixed appraisal by our critic Chris Barsanti, who applauds the performance of Henry Cavill as Superman but faults director Zack Snyder for "[burying] him inside a drearily violent, flashback-riddled story." In comparison, Iron Man 3 earned approvals from 78% of critics, and Fast & Furious 6 had a "fresh" rating from 71% of critics. However, those two movies are established franchises, while Man of Steel relaunches one--could curiosity boost opening weekend?

A comedy filled with stars playing versions of themselves, This Is The End (3,055 theatres) is a "masterful comedy filmmaking, all the more impressive for its
loose-limbed apparent casualness," our Frank Lovece notes approvingly. Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, and James Franco
This is the end seth rogen emma watsonstar as versions of themselves who (humorously) struggle to survive an apocalypse. Rogen also co-directed and co-wrote the comedy with filmmaking partner Evan Goldberg. This Is The End opened to $7.8 million on Wednesday, and could end up in the mid-$30 million range by the weekend, which would put it in the same company as another well-regarded Rogen comedy, Pineapple Express. Good reviews for this feature will keep it running in coming weeks.

The real-life story about a group of teens who robbed celebrities for their designer bags and heels gets the Sofia Coppola treatment in The Bling Ring (5 theatres). Sure, the multiple robberies carried out by the clan are "repetitive," as explained by our critic David Noh, but I also found them
Bling ring girlsto be hypnotic. Once caught, the well-clad teens describe their foibles as "learning experiences," one reason Noh was astonished by how "little comprehension the perps show
that they've, like, violated the law. Lying seems second nature to
them, though it's unclear whether they know they're lying." This one is a recommendation for anyone who liked Queen of Versailles.

The third in an indie romantic trilogy, Before Midnight, will expand into 891 theatres. In three weekends, it's earned $1.5 million and stellar per-screen averages. Its strong performance in limited release plus the name recognition suggests this Sony Pictures Classics release could have the same good fortune as another one of their similarly titled releases, Midnight in Paris. The Woody Allen-directed light romance had a similar expansion pattern and ended up earning $56 million over several months. That movie earned $5.8 million when it expanded to 900 locations, so if Before Midnight hits that target, it should be in excellent shape.

On Monday, we'll see if Man of Steel hit Warner Bros.' opening estimates or those of outside prognosticators, if This Is The End earned the stoner comedy seal of approval from its fans, and if Before Midnight is on track to be a specialty hit on par with Midnight in Paris.



Thursday, June 13, 2013

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas make surprising predictions about the future of exhibition

Is the future of the exhibition industry a return to the past, when fewer movies released, and they played for a year at a time? At the opening of a new building at USC's School of Cinematic Arts, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg offered predictions about the future of the industry that may be surprising even for those tuned into the business. Spielberg predicted that several high-profile flops could dramatically transform the production and distribution plans of the major studios. Fewer big
films would release. Those that made the cut would play longer in theatres, with a tiered pricing structure. Films like Spielberg's Lincoln would cost less to see than a big-budget blockbuster. In the current climate, both Lucas and Spielberg said it's harder even for titans like themselves to get movies made. Meanwhile, most ideas from emerging filmmakers are too niche to catch the attention of major studios. The movie environment stands in stark contrast to cable offerings, which have turned niche-targeted programs into big money. When it comes to the movies, marketing is still about content that will hit all four quadrants of viewers.

From where Spielberg and Lucas are standing, that may be the future of exhibition, but they don't say much about what's happening on the other end of the market, where indie theatrical releases have been proliferating. In actuality, more movies are releasing in theatres than ever. Here at Film Journal, we often review fifteen movies a week. That's a lot of movies that are at least getting a cursory theatrical release. Lower-budget movies have the advantage of affordable digital cameras and tools like Final Cut Pro that truly make filmmaking affordable to more people. Before digital, the cost of film was exorbitant for even indie filmmakers, but now the cost of buying stock and post-processing has virtually disappeared. For many of these movies, a short theatrical release is used to make these projects more viable in the aftermarket. VOD, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon can be great places for a small indie to find an audience. Spielberg did praise Netflix in his remarks, but didn't offer more details about the growth in that sector. As surprising as Spielberg and Lucas' predictions are, there is likely truth to their statements: change is afoot. With all of the change going on in the indie markets, it may just be a matter of those changes trickling up to the studios. Indies don't have the heft to stay the course even in strong winds, while studios do. But eventually, the studios will be sailing in the same trade winds as everyone else.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dan Stevens of 'Downton Abbey' plays an evil charmer in 'The Guest'

The departure of Matthew, played by Dan Stevens, from "Downton Abbey," felt cruel to many fans of the popular series. After we saw the character nursed back to health (spoiler alert), Matthew dies just as his heir is born. Stevens in fact jumped ship, eager to turn his starring role in the series into a movie career.

He now has now filmed three roles in as-yet unreleased movies, and signed on for a starring role in a fourth, The Guest. The busy actor played a supporting role in The Fifth Estate, which focuses on the Wikileaks scandal. Another BBC vet, Benedict Cumberbatch of "Sherlock," stars as Julian Assange, Stevens will also appear in the Liam Neeson-led detective picture A Walk Among the Tombstones. Back in "Downton Abbey" territory, he filmed a role as one part of a love triangle in Summer in February, a period piece about an artists' colony at the turn of the century. 

Now Stevens has a starring role in The Guest, which will film this summer. He will play a man who returns from a tour of duty and befriends a family. They are unaware that he has other intentions besides just friendship--as well as a secret past. The dark role will be a nice way for Stevens to diversify his star image. He will play a charming man--but an evil one. In a recent article in The Atlantic, "The Rise and Fall of Male Charm," writer Benjamin Schwarz dissects the star image of so-called charmers like Cary Grant and George Clooney. He also highlights Orson Welles' role in the noir The Third Man. As "a man who knew just how to exploit his immense charm," Welles is enthralling when he uses his powers for evil, not good. "We...know that Welles is an evil
opportunist...Never mind, because even
as Welles charmingly, openly confirms all that, he forever wins us over." Cary Grant also played on his charming persona, using it to play shady characters in the Hitchcock movies Suspicion and Notorious. In choosing such a role, Stevens has made a wise choice tread by the many charming actors before him. With so many roles in films that have yet to be released, it's likely at least one of the performances will stick, broadening Stevens' star image beyond the soapy intrigue that is "Downton Abbey."

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Trailer for 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' offers peek at Tauriel character

Warner Bros.' Man of Steel is coming out on Friday, so it only makes sense that the distributor would release a trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug to play before showings of the tentpole. The trailer for the next Hobbit released on the web today, and it promises more of the same pleasures as the first film, while also suggesting a slight darkening in tone, as the team led by Bilbo Baggins takes on Smaug, the dragon voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch (who's also the villain in this year's Star Trek Into Darkness)

The biggest surprise in the trailer is the presence of another female character, the elf warrior Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly. J.R.R. Tolkien was a man of his times, and his books are completely devoid of female characters. The absence of an entire gender feels particularly stark when you compare it to the fantasies of a modern generation--J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones. Turns out that Tauriel is actually an invention by Peter Jackson and his wife and producing partner Fran Walsh, who take liberties with Tolkien's non-gendered reference to an "elven guard."

One of the things I liked about The Hobbit was the fact that it wasn't as dark as the Lord of the Rings
series. If anything, the lightness and child-friendly feel helped
contextualize the blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy by expanding the scope of Middle-earth. But that also seemed to be part of what left some viewers
cold--that and the dragged-out scenes that helped expand a single book
into three movies. The first Hobbit earned over $1 billion worldwide. The question for Smaug, which will come out this December, is if this middle child of a film can sustain the curiosity of viewers.

Monday, June 10, 2013

'The Purge' doubles the opening of 'The Internship'

Thanks to savvy marketing that pulled in both horror fans and those who perfer lighter thrillers, The Purge landed on top with $36 million this weekend. Horror fans liked the idea of seeing a family fend off a violent attack in their home, while others were drawn in by the fact that a futuristic government has made this kind of behavior legal--at least for 12 hours a year. Back in 2002, Panic Room, another home invasion movie that also had more of a thriller than horror vibe, opened to $30 million. The picture performed well among Hispanic audiences, which accounted for a third of ticket sales, as well as women, who bought 56% of the tickets.

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In contrast, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn couldn't excite audiences about The Internship. The comedy opened in fourth place with $18.1 million--and it cost far more than the reported $3 million for The Purge. That $18 million total is half the opening of Wedding Crashers, and it's also not a good showing for Shawn Levy, whose directing credits include the $100+ million comedy Date Night. Many critics felt uneasy with the heavy Google tie-in, which came across more like an advertisement than a lampoon, and audiences may feel the same way. In coming weeks, word-of-mouth will make this one sink quickly or coast through a bit longer.

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With major blockbusters releasing since the beginning of May, plenty of pictures put in strong holdover weekends, dropping just a third from the previous weekend. Fast & Furious 6 kept its decline to 43%, which still gave the car chase movie $19.7 million. Down 33% in its second weekend, Now You See Me closely tailed Fast & Furious, posting returns of $19.5 million. Further down the list, Epic, Star Trek Into Darkness, Iron Man 3 and The Great Gatsby all dropped in the mid-30% range. There were a couple of losers, though: After Earth plummeted 59% in its second weekend, while The Hangover Part III lost 55% of its audience.

Joss Whedon's foray into Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, averaged $36,000 per screen in five locations, for a total of $183,000. Next week, the low-budget adaptation, set in present day, will expand into a few hundred theatres. The documentary Dirty Wars, which reveals how the "Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) has been fighting a secret
war against terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan," had a strong debut, averaging $16,500 per screen in four theatres.

On Wednesday, the apocalyptic comedy This Is the End will hit theatres, followed by superman's return in Man of Steel on Friday.

Friday, June 7, 2013

'Internship' and 'Purge' fight for first in quiet summer weekend

Going into the weekend, The Internship (3,365 theatres) would seem like the frontrunner. The comedy stars Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, whose Wedding Crashers opened to $33 million in 2005. Yet the story about technologically clueless sales guys finding a niche at Google has been receiving terrible reviews, with our Nick Schager calling the movie a "fawning tribute to Google." What starts out as a fun fish-out-of-water premise, a la Legally Blonde, devolves into a boring intern competition that was a lazy, tired way to organize a script, at least from my point-of-view.  Because of the poor reviews (only a third of Rotten Tomatoes critics are coming in "fresh") and the fact that workplace comedies are often a tough sell even without the branded entertainment feel, The Internship won't be coming in first in the class--in fact, it may not exceed $20 million.

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The little speculative thriller that could, The Purge (2,536 theatres), may go over $20 million and grab first place this weekend. The premise is this: The government decides to allow a 12-hour period once a year where all crimes will go unpunished. One year, a security consultant who has profited from protecting people during the crime spree finds himself in hot water, in part because his kids don't quite understand the risks (and reasoning) behind the one-night rampage. Although The Purge has only slightly better reviews than The Internship, the picture will benefit by drawing in both horror fans and those who prefer broader suspense. It also has people in really creepy masks, the better to create goosebumps among viewers.

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Writer/director Joss Whedon goes from The Avengers to Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing (5 theatres), to which both critics and Whedon fans have alighted. "While cleaving away some of
Shakespeare’s more dragging plot points, Whedon hews to the
original text," critic Chris Barsanti reports. "This refusal to juice
the material with gimmickry pays out handsomely, as Whedon’s
crackerjack cast, drawn mainly from his troupe of TV actors, spins
as fine a web of delicate comedy as will grace movie screens this

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Also in the mix this week is Tiger Eyes (13 theatres) an adaptation of Judy Blume's novel about a teen recovering after the sudden death of her father. Directed by Blume's son Lawrence, Tiger Eyes surprisingly has some clumsy screenwriting, according to critic Marsha McCreadie, but a great message about "going home again" and a focus that is "unquestionably a film about family."

On Monday, we'll see if the novelty of The Purge won over the branded comedy of The Internship.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Carey Mulligan may play a young Hillary Rodham Clinton in 'Rodham'

I never thought I would say there was a resemblance between Carey Mulligan and Hillary Rodham Clinton, but so there is. With a strategic prosthetic or two, Mulligan could easily play the former
Secretary of State and First Lady. While deals are still in the works, Mulligan may play the young Clinton in a biopic entitled Rodham. It focuses on the lawyer's participation in a committee focused on President Richard Nixon's impeachment proceedings, as well as more personal matters--her relationship with future husband, Bill Clinton. The script by Young Il Kim made the 2012 Black List of unproduced films, with the fourth-highest number of votes. Here was the logline:

"During the height of the Watergate scandal, rising star Hillary Rodham is the
youngest lawyer chosen for the House Judiciary Committee to Impeach Nixon, but
she soon finds herself forced to choose between a destined path to the White House
and her unresolved feelings for Bill Clinton, her former boyfriend who now teaches
law in Arkansas."

Since Clinton is rumored to be in contention for the presidency in 2016, the biopic has an added relevance that it might not have otherwise. There's also a chance this movie will offer a take on the sacrifices women often make in the name of their families, a debate that's still raging--consider the response last year to the article "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" in The Atlantic, written by an advisor to Clinton. Rising director James Ponsoldt (Smashed, The Spectacular Now) has signed on to helm, and it looks like this script will join fellow 2012 Black List scripts, including Draft Day and The Judge and The Fault in Our Stars, that are moving forward into production.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley cast in 'The Imitation Game'

Anyone who grew up in the era of The History Channel's old-school, World War II-heavy programming must remember the Enigma, the coding machine that made appearances in a number of the channel's documentaries. The Enigma was a complex typewriter that transmitted coded messages without ever repeating a letter. The British mathematician Alan Turing was key in figuring out the meaning of oft-repeated phrases, like "Heil Hitler!" Even then, it took other breaks, like having Enigma materials seized on a German U-Boat, to help the Allies decode the messages and turn the tide of the war. The Imitation Game, a modestly-budgeted indie, is tackling Turing's life. Post-war, it had a sad end. He was prosecuted in the U.K. for being gay and forced to take female hormones as a form of chemical castration. He committed suicide not long after, in his 40s. This isn't the first time Turing's story has been dramatized. BBC showed "Breaking the Code," a TV movie about Turing, in 1996.

Turing cumberbatchBenedict Cumberbatch, the star of BBC's "Sherlock" and the villain in Star Trek Into Darkness, will play Turing. Keira Knightley, continuing her passion for period work, will play Turning's close companion, a woman who came from a conservative background but supported him through his physical and mental trials. Graham Moore, who wrote the script for the still-gestating adaptation of the nonfiction bestseller The Devil in the White City, will adapt the screenplay from the biography Alan Turning: The Enigma. Morten Tyldum, the director of Headhunters, will helm.

The Hollywood Reporter writes that the budget will be $15 million, which sounds like a sweet spot for a historical, socially aware indie that will try to catch fire with specialty audiences. The project sounds winning because it will combine the thrills of cryptography and wartime spying with a personal story that's particularly tragic to modern sensibilities. I doubt even socially conservative people against gay marriage would support prosecution and chemical castration for being gay. Cumberbatch has one project in pre-production in his schedule, Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak, while Knightley's projects listed on IMDB are all in post-production, so I suspect the project will shoot sometime this year.

Monday, June 3, 2013

'Now You See Me' pulls off magic trick, beats 'After Earth'

Going into the weekend, most predictions had After Earth opening above $30 million, and Now You See Me languishing in the teen-million range. But the predictions were wrong. Now You See Me exceeded expectations, landing in second place with a $28 million opening. After Earth underperformed with just $27 million over the weekend. The fact that Now You See Me wasn't a tentpole worked in its favor, as the feature drew younger audiences (52% under 30) who liked the idea of a light, magic-driven heist movie. The casting of popular star Morgan Freeman also contributed to the bottom line. In contrast, After Earth suffered from poor reviews and a tepid "B" CinemaScore. The original sci-fi concept also didn't entice audiences the way other pre-sold Will Smith and Jaden Smith properties, like MIB 3 and The Karate Kid, did.

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Bollywood movies often debut in the top twenty, but it's rare for a feature to open in the top ten. But that was the case for Yei Jawaani Hai Deewani, which landed in ninth place with $1.6 million, posting a $10,000 per-screen average. The romantic coming-of-age story stars Ranbir Kapoor, the fourth generation of an action family who have been dubbed "Bollywood royalty."

Eco-thriller The East debuted with the highest per-screen average of the week, earning $18,900 in each of its four locations. Fellow indie The Kings of Summer was right behind, averaging $14,500 per screen in its four-screen opening weekend. Before Midnight had an excellent second weekend as it expanded from five to 31 locations. The travelogue romance averaged $13,000 per screen and earned $431,000. With $800,000 in total, the Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy starrer should pass $1 million by week three.

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This Friday, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson sign up for The Internship with Google, and those in search of scares can check out the speculative thriller The Purge.