Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Film students + Google Glass = New film form, free publicity

In a sign of the growing symbiotic relationship between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, Google has announced that it will distribute Google Glasses to select film schools. Film students will get to experiment with a new filmmaking form, and Google will reap the benefits as their technology gets a creative showcase. Can I just say I called this? Back in May, I wrote "Forget piracy, could Google Glass inspire a new film aesthetic?" At the time, the film industry was worried about how movies could easily be pirated using Google Glass. I argued that they have the potential to inspire a completely new film aesthetic. With film students leading the way, I think Google Glass will be much more of an asset to the industry than a threat.

The schools participating in the program include USC, CalArts, RISD, UCLA and AFI, who each will receive three sets of the glasses. Right now, they cost $1,500, but they're expected to be priced closer to a smartphone by spring. They can make phone calls, so there is a chance the glasses will be subsidized by a phone contract, potentially costing just $200--though I wouldn't be surprised if they're at least $100 higher than that.

Time for more speculation. Cheap, high-quality digital cameras have revolutionized low-budget filmmaking. But when it comes to cell phones, video footage has been too low-quality. Instead, photos have thrived, nearly replacing the point-and-shoot camera used by the average consumer. Cell phone videos have been more useful for documentary footage--like capturing the shooting of Oscar Grant, now the subject of the dramatic film Fruitvale Station. Because Google Glass mimics a point-of-view shot, I think its cinematic potential is much greater. And now that film students have their hands on these new tech tools, it's only a matter of time before we see exactly just how cinematic Google Glass can be.

Monday, July 29, 2013

'Wolverine' has modest victory with $55 million opening

With so many big-budget tentpoles face-planting at the box office, all eyes were on the domestic performance of The Wolverine. But as it turned out, the Hugh Jackman-led superhero movie opened to $55 million. Sure, that's $30 million less than the 2009 opening of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but great overeas performance, where the film has already earned $86 million, is helping to make up for this gap.
Wolverine hugh jackman 2

Fruitvale Station entered the top ten in its third week. After expanding into over 1,000 theatres, the fact-based story of a black man who was fatally shot in tragic circumstances totaled $4.6 million. That was enough for it to beat another expanding indie, The Way, Way Back. The lighter, coming-of-age dramedy totaled $3.3 million, another good number, especially since its release was about 20% smaller.

The rest of the top ten was returning releases. Most had drops in the 30-50% range, but one exception was the buddy cop comedy The Heat. The female-driven picture dipped just 26%, its smallest decrease to date. Positive word-of-mouth is often cited as critical for movies that appeal to women, and that appears to be the case here. Its fifth-weekend total of $6.8 million brings its cumulative to $141 million.

To do list aubrey plaza homework
The To Do List
had great reviews, but a lackluster opening of $1.5 million. The weak interest in the movie is disappointing, but perhaps it will do better in aftermarkets like VOD. Even if it earns several times its opening weekend, it may not break $10 million.

Blue jasmine alec baldwin cate blanchett 2
Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine had a much stronger opening, earning an out-of-the-park $102,000 per screen for a total of $613,000. That's a few thousand over the per-screen average of Midnight in Paris, Allen's biggest recent hit. However, right now Allen is playing to his core audience in New York and L.A., so it's a bit early to know if this film will approach the $56 million earned by his vintage Paris-channeling 2011 success.

On Wednesday, The Smurfs 2 will enter a field already crowded with animated features. On Friday, Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington will team up for action flick 2 Guns.

Friday, July 26, 2013

'Wolverine' sole new wide release in indie-dominated weekend

Audiences may be suffering from box-office fatigue, with too many tentpoles hitting theatres this summer, but The Wolverine (3,924 theatres) has one thing in its favor: it's the only new wide release this weekend. Sure, two other superhero movies have released this summer, Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel, but the sixth appearance of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, although the smallest of the bunch, should top $60
Wolverine hugh jackmanmillion. The previous Wolverine installment, X-Men Origins:Wolverine in 2009, didn't get the strongest of reviews. Although this follow-up has earned positive endorsements from critics, including our Daniel Eagan, it will be an uphill battle to win over audiences. Eagan calls out the feature's "involving script, focused direction
and a powerhouse performance by Hugh Jackman," going on to note that the James Mangold-directed feature "isn't a
run-of-the-mill, effects-heavy comic-book adaptation—it's a solid
drama that's only incidentally about superheroes."

This summer has also yielded a number of strong specialty features. The To-Do List (591 theatres) is a bit in-between an indie and mainstream release. The 1993-set teen sex comedy stars Aubrey Plaza as a high school graduate anxious to get some sexual experience. The "sublimely entertaining female version of
To do list aubrey plaza popsicle
American Pie," according to our critic David Noh, "goes just as far as most male-oriented
teen sex comedies, except its raunch and gross-out humor are
actually funny and, yes, fully empowering." CBS Films is keeping the release small, which will hopefully lead to packed theatres and positive word-of-mouth. It's only expected to open to $2 million, but it could be in for a long run as word spreads, just like last year's Pitch Perfect, which earned ten times its opening weekend.

In its third weekend, Fruitvale Station will expand into 1,064 theatres. That's an aggressive expansion, given the socially conscious drama was in just 34 theatres last week. The move into wider release may also be related to the Weinstein Co.'s upcoming release The Butler, which will open in just four weeks. Both focus on social justice and America's racial issues, albeit in different ways,
Blue jasmine alec baldwin cate blanchettwhich could prove a challenge for the distributor.

The Way, Way Back will nearly triple the locations in its release for a total of 886 theatres. The comedy is so perfect for summer, you can almost feel the sand between your toes, and the casting of Steve Carell has helped bring more eyes to this coming-of-age tale. In three weeks, it's earned over $5 million, and this week should add a significant chunk to that total.

Also opening this weekend is Blue Jasmine (6 theatres). Woody Allen's features always open to sky-high per-screen averages, so his latest should open to at least $70,000 per screen. Allen's auteur status always draws his loyal crowds, but the question is whether his films will catch on with a wider audience, like Midnight in Paris did, or quietly fade out. Blue Jasmine has earned generally positive reviews (82% "Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes), and its light take on timely subject matter, via its focus on Cate Blanchett, the spurned wife of a Bernie Madoff-like character, should propel it forward through the rest of the summer.

On Monday, we'll see if The Wolverine breaks the box-office curse that has plagued many of this summer's would-be tentpoles, and which of the smaller releases shows the most promise.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Rosamund Pike joins Ben Affleck in 'Gone Girl'

The wait is over. Two weeks after announcing that Ben Affleck would play the male lead in Gone Girl, casting for the female lead was announced. Rosamund Pike, who has been seen with Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher, as well as the upcoming feature The World's End and the 2009 indie An Education, has won the coveted part. The juicy role requires the character to make quite a transformation--but I won't
Rosamund pikego any further. In the book, the story is first told through the perspective of the husband (Affleck), then moves to the perspective of the wife (Pike). Her character goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary, and her husband becomes the number-one suspect. They each see each other through completely different lenses, which hopefully these talented actors will be able to convey.

Now that the casting is in place, production is set to start in September. Author Gillian Flynn, a former TV writer for Entertainment Weekly, adapted the screenplay of her novel, which was her third published thriller. What promises to set this adaptation apart, however, is having David Fincher as a director. His 2007 crime thriller Zodiac remains one of the scariest movies I've ever seen, and there will be plenty of opportunities for him to apply those touches in Gone Girl. My one concern when it comes to the box office is that the book hinges on its twist ending--and for the millions who have read the book, that twist is forever spoiled. Fincher's version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, another literary adaptation, underperformed despite being impeccably made. That movie, however, had a double death-knell. Not only had many people already read the trilogy, spoiling part of the mystery, they were so excited to see a movie of the books, they had already gone out and seen the entire trilogy of the Swedish-language adaptation, which had a dramatically successful run at the U.S. box office. At least in this case, Fincher will be the first to adapt the work. If this is anything like Zodiac, or its cousins Se7en and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, audiences will be in for a treat.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Abigail Breslin & Arnold Schwarzenegger team up for 'Maggie'

Hollywood's zombie craze has reached a fever pitch. The most recent undead project to join the fray is Maggie. Abigail Breslin will star as a young woman infected with a "walking dead" virus in the feature, which will shoot this fall. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays her father. The original log line for the 2011 Black List script by John Scott 3 read like this: "As a “walking dead” virus spreads across
Abigail-Breslin-abigail-breslin-28388100-333-500the country, a farm family
helps their eldest daughter come to terms with her infection as she
slowly becomes a flesh-eating zombie." I can't imagine Schwarzenegger as the comforting type--he's more the kind of actor who solves problems through action--but perhaps there's more beyond the description that suits the action star's strengths.

What Maggie won't have in its favor is novelty. Zombie movies, books, and TV shows are everywhere. The shockingly good 28 Days Later a decade ago may have kick-started the trend, joined by its sequel 28 Weeks Later in 2007, Zombieland in 2009, AMC's "The Walking Dead," which premiered in 2010, and ParaNorman, The Crazies, and this year's Warm Bodies and World War Z. Then there's the still-pending works like the adaptation of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. Zombie culture has become an epidemic in itself.

This feature will start filming this fall, so this casting combination is likely set. Last May, Variety reported Chloe Moretz was circling the role, but that deal fell apart. All along, the commercials director Henry Hobson, who would make the feature debut with the zombie movie, has been attached.  Breslin has since filmed the yet-to-be-released features August: Osage County and Ender's Game, both of which will likely raise the profile of the all-grown-up Little Miss Sunshine star by the time Maggie is released.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

‘Gravity’ sequence earns positive buzz at Comic-Con

Comic-Con attendees might be running out of superlatives to
throw at Alfonso Cuarón’s upcoming deep-space thriller Gravity, after an
extended sequence was presented at the festival on Saturday. Fans took to
to call the footage—which showed leads George Clooney and Sandra
Bullock weathering an attack on a space station—“beyond intense” and “one of
the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen.” Others singled out the
“astonishing 3D” or the impressive long takes that structured the sequence, and
apparently comprise much of the film.


A panel conference with Cuarón, Bullock, and producer David
Heyman followed the showing, and helped elucidate the unusual process of making
an unusual movie. Gravity tells the story of two astronauts who are cut
off from their shuttle after a space debris collision, and are left
floating—untethered and with a dwindling supply of oxygen. Bullock and Clooney
are the only two actors shown in the film, which seems to layer even its bursts
of action with a tone of eerie minimalism.

Isolation, however, was not just a plot point, but a
technological necessity. In order to replicate the conditions of zero-gravity,
Bullock spent much of the shoot suspended in a 9x9 foot cube, surrounded by
camera-wielding robotic arms. She would often stay inside her contraption
between takes, and claimed she learned to meditate during the shoot. At other
times, a camera might rush towards her at 25 miles an hour, only to stop an
inch from her nose.


When asked about inspiration behind the project, Cuarón paid
respects to Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped, which details a war
prisoner’s plan to break out of a Nazi prison. It’s a fitting mention given Escaped’s
focus on confinement, but also because of the 1956 film’s meticulous attention
to sound—from the turn of a key to the distant footstep of a guard.  Gravity
promises similar detail. As soon as Cuarón took the stage he poked fun at the
explosions that the studios had put in the trailers; “As we know, there is no
sound in space. In the film, we don’t do that.” And Bullock credited the
specially designed music and sounds that played on her headphones between takes
for putting her in the right space.

Cuarón, who’s famous for his displays of filmmaking
prowess—especially that seven-and-a-half-minute single shot in Children of
—made sure to emphasize the human side of the story, downplaying the
importance of his virtuosic methods in favor of the film’s “emotional journey.”
And Bullock certainly included some intriguing nuggets about her character—she
tried to make herself as androgynous as possible in order to portray a woman
with a conflicted past in relation to motherhood and femininity. Then again,
who can’t be curious about the technological spectacle of it all (and a rumored
17-minute long opening take)? When asked if making a film entirely out of very
long shots was a challenge Cuarón joked, “It’s not difficult for me. It’s
difficult for everyone around me.”

Monday, July 22, 2013

Low-budget horror movie 'The Conjuring' tops expensive tentpoles

As the East Coast and Midwest endured a heat wave, the spine-chilling The Conjuring performed some magic this weekend as it opened to $41.5 million. Made for just half its opening gross, the horror feature combined great reviews with a stellar marketing campaign to coast to the top. Meanwhile, news wasn't nearly as good for the other three wide releases this weekend, which were far more expensive to make.

Turbo 2
DreamWorks Animation's Turbo opened in third with $21.5 million, with a five-day total of $31.2 million. That's a disappointment for the animation studio, which spent at least $135 million in production. Meanwhile, Despicable Me 2, which cost just $76 million to make, racked up another $25 million in its third week, easily outshining the debut of Turbo.

Red 2 posted totals of $18.5 million, a few million less than the original. Older males comprised the majority of the audience. The action feature about aging spies performed similarly to The Expendables 2, which starring aging action heroes. That sequel's opening also dropped slightly from that of the original.

The Men in Black-like supernatural buddy cop action-comedy R.I.P.D. bombed, maybe because it included just too many genres. With $12.7 million, it's slightly better than some projections, which doubted if the movie could top $10 million, but this feature will definitely lead to a big writedown at Universal.

In 353 locations, Girl Most Likely averaged $2,000 a screen for a total of $736,000. That's less than expected for the Kristen Wiig-led comedy, which unfortunately has been plagued by poor reviews. Another star-led indie, Only God Forgives, had double the per-screen average, $4,000, for a total of $315,000. Thanks to the star power of Ryan Gosling, the Radius-TWC release is expected to post strong VOD numbers. Meanwhile, The Way, Way Back continued its slow burn, going up 100% as it added locations for another $2.2 million in its third week. The indie beach comedy will expand into over 650 locations on Friday.

This Friday, Wolverine will lead the pack of new releases, while The To-Do List opens in a moderate 500 locations. Also on the menu is Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine.

Friday, July 19, 2013

'Conjuring' will levitate over 'Turbo,' 'R.I.P.D.,' 'RED 2'

In this busy weekend, four new releases will attempt to woo audiences. Turbo (3,806 theatres) jump-started the weekend by opening on Wednesday, earning $5.5 million. That's just an okay debut for the animated feature, which should earn another $25 million or so in the Friday to Sunday period. The "broad, cheerful cartoon" about a snail that wants nothing more than to be fast
TUrbo 1"is more affable
than ambitious, which might make it less-than-essential viewing for
families suffering animation fatigue," predicts our critic Daniel Eagan. Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University have more marketing muscle and buzz behind them, and their Rotten Tomatoes averages are both over 10% higher than Turbo's current 66% Fresh rating. With its mid-July release, Turbo may be overshadowed by these early, strong animated offerings. Plus, Planes will offer even more competition in coming weeks in a very crowded summer for family films.

Sometimes, it's the low-budget movies that earn the most at the box office. That's likely to be the case with The Conjuring (2,903 theatres), which has TV ads that make the release look truly frightening. Supernatural horror movies have been doing particularly well at the box office, and this haunted house movie has yet another thing going for it: verisimilitude. Ads have shown interviews with adults who are supposedly speaking out about their experience for the first time in 30 years, and that original documentary spin will give it that extra boost that helped out Paranormal Activity and, of course, the original is-this-real horror film, The Blair Witch Project. This project, which likely cost just $15 million, should open at least twice at high.

On the other end of the spectrum, R.I.P.D. (2,852 theatres) may have cost upwards of $130 million, but it's been plagued by negative buzz, and its opening may be its grave: under $10 million. Eagan says the story of undead cops protecting the world from evil spirits isn't an "epic disaster," but that doesn't mean it's good either: it "strains to
duplicate the flair and chemistry that flowed so effortlessly from
the MIB franchise."

REd 2
The cheerfully fun gang of aging spies is back in RED 2 (3,016 theatres). "With this sequel, more-is-more works—every over-the-top moment of
it," says our critic Michael Sauter. The original opened to $20 million, and the sequel should debut at least as high, and have strong subsequent weekends as the grey-topped crowd likely to turn out for this action feature doesn't rush to theatres opening weekend.

Besides four wide releases, there are two notable specialty features. Kristen Wiig stars in Girl Most Likely (353 theatres), but this comedy "shoulda been way funnier, given the talent involved," according to our critic David Noh. The feature will likely go as far as Wiig's name will take it. Ryan Gosling reteams with his Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn for Only God Forgives, but don't expect this movie to be an arthouse favorite. It has great music and visuals, but Gosling acts flatly, and there's no narrative to speak of. This indie drama will draw some interest and also fade out quickly.

On Monday, we'll chart the winners and losers in this busy, mid-summer weekend.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Is the box office really being taken over by nonfiction stories?

Would you rather see King George VI attending public events and weighing in on the brewing war in Europe, or as an anxious king who finally conquers his stutter? The box-office and critical success of 2009 Best Picture Oscar-winner The King's Speech proved that most audiences preferred the latter. As described in an article in the New York Times, recent Hollywood movies from last year's Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln to this year's Fruitvale Station and Captain Philips all
Fruitvale stationdrew from real-life happenings to compose their stories. The question is whether this constitutes a trend.

In the ranks of recent Best Picture Oscar winners, actual based-on-a-true-story movies are rare. When they do exist, they often focus on a "Great Man," like the 2002 winner A Beautiful Mind, Gandhi from 1983, The King's Speech in 2009, Schindler's List in 1993 or The Last Emperor in 1988. If there's any trend, I wouldn't say it's nonfiction, but a specific kind of nonfiction that tends to hone in on one aspect of a person's life, avoiding the downfalls of a sweeping biopic.

If you look at the "great man" theory of history, it's about exploring how single people changed the world. Now that view has fallen out of favor, both among historians and, it appears, audiences.
Captain phillipsFilmmakers are more using pathos to connect us to characters. That's what The King's Speech did with King George's speech impediment, and that's what last year's Hyde Park on Hudson failed to do with its view of FDR as a womanizer. Fruitvale Station, which just released, focuses on one day in the life of a man who is later killed, offering the tiniest glimpse of his life--and it's more powerful for it. Captain Philips, coming out in October, stars Tom Hanks as the captain of a ship taken over by Somali pirates--heroism in a small situation. Last year's Oscar nominee Argo was a funny, polished take at a corner of the Iranian hostage crisis that was inconsequential enough (and confidential enough) that its failure or success wouldn't have changed history (sorry). And George Clooney's Monuments Men, coming out this December, isn't about fighting World War II but saving art from Nazis. You can't get more tangential than that.

These days, it appears that people are more interested in the real people and small events that occurred lockstep with the events in a history book, rather than a Saving Private Ryan kind of story that immerses its characters right in the heart of one of the most pivotal battles in all of WWII, D-Day. Certainly, in this day-and-age of social media, more private glimpses of people's lives are occurring in public than ever before. We can follow celebrities on Instagram and Twitter, and politicians appear on casual late-night shows and Oprah. People aren't as interested in idolizing characters. They're more interested in empathizing with them. The small event, small man view of history is an appealing tactic that has already worked with audiences. The success or failure of this year's crop of nonfiction contenders may predict whether this trend will continue in years to come.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Reese Witherspoon will tame her image with 'Wild'

Reese Witherspoon has long been a favorite star of mine. As a teen, I followed her through her performances in Cruel Intentions, Election, and Legally Blonde. She's since won an Oscar for Walk the Line, while appearing in romantic comedies like Sweet Home Alabama. Then she got arrested for arguing with a cop while her husband was pulled over for a suspected DUI. Her star image took a bit of a hit, although compared with the Lindsay Lohans and Amanda Bynes of the world, she's barely done a thing. Back in the early days of Hollywood, studios carefully controlled a star's image, but Witherspoon's crew of handlers must be taking a cue from that era's meticulous management with her next role. It can't be a coincidence that Witherspoon will be playing a messed-up woman in search of redemption by starring in Fox Searchlight's Wild.


Wild, based on a book by Cheryl Strayed, recounts the author's trek up the Pacific Crest Trail when she was in her mid-twenties. Strayed's mother had recently passed away, she and her husband divorced after her numerous infidelities, and she had even been dallying with heroin, thanks to her drug-addicted new boyfriend. She's outdoorsy, but no hiker, which made her relatable, frank account of being sore, lost, and exhausted skyrocket to the top of the bestseller lists. For Witherspoon, it's perfect casting, mirroring (albeit in less extreme ways) the star's own need for redemption from the public.

There's one minor quibble. In the book, Strayed is just 26 when she hikes the trail. Witherspoon is 37. She does look young, and the level of drama (mother's death, divorce, drugs) in Strayed's life at 26 could easily be believable at 37, but it's worth pointing out.

Witherspoon is also producing the feature. Her team hired Nick Hornby, who wrote a number of books that have been adapted into movies, including About A Boy, and also penned the screenplay for Carey Mulligan's breakout movie, An Education, to do the adaptation. If all goes well, it looks like this movie will pick up a director sometime between now and fall, when the production will begin filming.


Monday, July 15, 2013

‘Despicable Me 2’ continues to dominate box office

Despicable me 2


As has
become the norm in Hollywood, the sequels prevailed this weekend. The biggest
grosser was Despicable Me 2, earning
the top spot for the second week in a row. Coming in at number two was Grown Ups 2, the Adam Sandler and Co.
comedy. Pacific Rim, which had been
gaining buzz due to its original monsters vs. robots concept, was left in third
place, underperforming at the box office.

Despicable Me 2 likely earned its second weekend at
number one due to great reviews and its family-friendly content (minions!),
which both children and their parents can enjoy. The film took in about $45 million
this weekend, a 46 percent drop from its opening. This is a similar decline to
the other animated feature still in major release, Monsters University, which
fell 45 percent its second week in theatres. This data puts Despicable Me 2 on track to earn a total
of around $350 million this summer, and to probably become the second-highest
earning movie of the year. The film has so far grossed about $230 million
domestically, or 91 percent of what the original, Despicable Me, earned throughout its entire run. All this success
undoubtedly means that Universal will be rolling out a Despicable Me 3 in a few years’ time.

Grown ups 2

Despite Grown Ups 2’s extremely negative
reviews—the film only scored a 7 percent critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes—the
film has exceeded expectations at the box office, coming in just $2.25 million
behind Despicable Me 2. The $42.5
three-day haul is actually better than Grown Ups’ 2010 opening weekend. These earnings can probably be
chalked up to the fact that, despite the film’s crude humor and PG-13 rating,
the opening weekend audiences were more than 50 percent female and more than 50
percent under 25, indicating that many families went to see the film together. Grown Ups 2’s successful debut (the
second highest of any of Adam Sandler’s live-action productions), indicates
that the comedian’s post-Jack and Jill
slump is officially over. Grown Ups 2
has now overtaken The Hangover Part III
to have the largest opening weekend for a comedy this year.

that leaves Pacific Rim to place
third this weekend. Despite pretty positive reviews from both critics and audience
members, the film just didn’t have enough appeal to win over a wide demographic
of viewers. With no bankable stars and a heavy reliance on CGI-created action
scenes, the film predictably drew crowds from the fanboy sector, but couldn’t
muster up nearly as many older or female audience members. The $38.3 million
opening is by no means a flop, but it is under what Warner Bros. had hoped for,
especially considering that another recent original sci-fi film, World War Z, scored $66 million its
first weekend in theaters. Of course, World
War Z
had the benefit of Brad Pitt and was based on a book with built-in
hype. It is now likely that Pacific Rim
will earn a total of about $110 million domestically, and will rely heavily on
the international market to break even on its reportedly $190 million
production budget.

The female
buddy-comedy The Heat, starring
Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, took in $14 million in its third weekend
out, putting its total gross thus far at over $112 million and keeping it on
track to become the highest-grossing comedy of the summer. Disney’s flop The Lone Ranger continues to struggle along
at fifth place in its second week in theatres. The film has only made $71
so far, or a third of its $215 million budget. It seems as though Jack
Sparrow just doesn’t translate to the Old West. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

'Pacific Rim' likely to squeak by 'Despicable Me 2' for weekend's top spot

Ariel Kay previews the weekend box office for FJI.

This weekend marks the seventh year in a row that Warner Bros. has opted to release a big-budget tentpole in mid-July. All the others (a mix of Harry Potter and Christopher Nolan films) were huge hits, and the company is hoping monster-movie Pacific Rim will reach similar box-office scores. However, Pacific Rim does not have the built-in fan base that Warner’s previous July releases
benefited from, nor does it have any big-name actors attached. Charlie Hunnam, Charlie Day and Idris Elba are all somewhat recognizable from TV (“Sons of Anarchy,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “The Wire,” respectively), but none have yet emerged as bankable film stars. Additionally, Pacific Rim (which chronicles the epic battle between giant sea monsters—Kaiju—and the robots humans have created to fight them) is quite CGI-heavy, meaning the stars are barely visible in the trailer, which consists mostly of larger-than-life battles and carnage.

Pacific Rim’s real attraction for many viewers is director Guillermo del Toro, who’s built his career on impressive, sci-fi tinged action thrillers like Hellboy and Blade II, as well as the critically acclaimed dark fairy tale Pan’s Labyrinth. Del Toro has a large fan base, though he’s not nearly as big a name as Nolan. Pacific Rim already has the sci-fi and action fanboy audience locked in, but it will need more than that to generate Harry Potter- or Dark Knight-level profits. The fact that 84 percent of the 3,275 screens on which it’s opening will be showing the film in 3D will help add to the movie’s opening weekend haul. However, up to this point, 2002’s Blade II has been del Toro’s highest grossing film, and it only made $82.3 million. Pacific Rim may earn most of its profits from the overseas box office—especially considering the Kaiju are a Japanese invention, and that the film focuses far more on action than dialogue. It will need to make at least $40 million this weekend to stay on-track for long-term earnings that would be comparable to Warner’s previous July releases.

To produce those figures, Pacific Rim will have to do battle against two sequels with tested appeal: Grown Ups 2 and Despicable Me 2 (which opened last Friday). Despicable Me, the beloved 2009 animated feature starring those adorable minions, made Universal Studios over half a billion dollars worldwide, and its sequel opened on even more screens (4,003) than the original (3,602). Despicable Me 2 grossed about $142 million over the five-day July 4 holiday period ($83 million for Friday to Sunday), up 68 percent from the original’s opening weekend total. Because Despicable Me 2 has been screening for a full week at this point, Pacific Rim may just squeak ahead of it at the box office this weekend.

That leaves Columbia’s Grown Ups 2 to finish up in third place. The Adam Sandler-led comedy, which also stars David Spade, Kevin James and Chris Rock, was a big hit the first go-around, grossing about $270 million worldwide in 2010. However, both Sandler and James were coming off a string of financial successes at that point (including Bedtime Stories and Paul Blart: Mall Cop, respectively). The situation is quite different three years later. Sandler has starred in two flops back-to-back (Jack and Jill and That’s My Boy), and James has fared even worse with bombs like Zookeeper, Here Comes the Boom and The Dilemma. Of course, other than Grown Ups, David Spade hasn’t made a successful film in decades, and Chris Rock only has a few hits to his name (though both also work extensively in television).

So a lot is riding on the success of Grown Ups 2, which includes the standard Sandler comedy staples: bathroom humor, unfunny insults and little plot. Columbia is banking on Sandler’s fans (mostly young males) to carry the film. The reviews have been so terrible, however (it earned a horrendous seven percent on Rotten Tomatoes) that even those who appreciate fart humor will probably stay away. Hollywood Reporter critic John DeFore comments, “Throughout [the film], gags are cartoonishly broad and afforded so little time for setup and delivery we seem to be watching less a story than a catalog of tossed-out material.” Grown Ups 2’s trailer highlights the best of these jokes to entice audiences, meaning that the film may still come out ahead of previous releases such as last week’s The Lone Ranger. However, there is little doubt that it will not attain the same success as the 2010 original.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ben Affleck may play the husband in 'Gone Girl'

I love good casting. After reading Gillian Flynn's bestseller and page-turner Gone Girl, I know that Ben Affleck would be great in the part as the husband, a role THR reported today the actor is seriously considering. The question now is who will play the second lead, the wife. Reese

Ben affleckWitherspoon is producing the adaptation, and sadly she's not playing the lead, which is too bad, because she's perfect for the role. Maybe after her run-in with the law earlier this year, the part of a good girl who has a dark side felt too close to home.

But back to Affleck. Without giving too much away, he plays a man whose wife goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary. He's a guy with some flaws (he may be seeing someone on the side), and the suspicions of the police quickly turn to him. But as he tries to solve the puzzle of his missing wife, some details turn up that start to put her under suspicion. Both characters have to play good and bad, which requires some excellent acting chops--and casting.

Affleck generally plays the good guy. Even when he's a criminal, like in The Town, he's a likeable character. Apparently, the stars in the running to play the wife include Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt, and Natalie Portman--who have also generally played good-natured heroines, Theron and her Monster and Young Adult roles excepting. If the casting director were to choose two stars equally known for playing nice characters, it would play nicely off the dilemma in the thriller itself--if both stars are usually good, the audience may wonder,  which one is actually bad?

David Fincher has signed on to direct the adaptation, which Flynn herself adapted. Affleck would appear in Gone Girl before he directs his next feature, Live By Night, so it seems like the 20th Century Fox production may be planned for a 2014 release.

Monday, July 8, 2013

'Despicable Me 2' takes down the 'Lone Ranger'

For the studio behind the yellow, goggle-wearing peanuts known as Minions, the five-day holiday weekend was great. Despicable Me 2 earned an astonishing $142 million over the five-day period, with its traditional three-day weekend bringing in $82.5 million of that total. People liked the original, and Universal marketed the follow-up as more of the same--but with even more of those adorable, babbling Minions. The budget for the animated feature was also just $76 million--assuredly much less than that of Disney behemoth Monsters University. Given this performance, there will definitely be a Despicable Me 3 in the works. Its $142 million opening narrowly tops the five-day opening record held by Toy Story 3, and this feature shows all signs of being the top animated feature of the summer, if not 2013.

Despicable me 2 second
The Lone Ranger had a five-day debut of $48.9 million, and a regular weekend total of $29.4 million. But for a film that likely costs over $200 million, and doesn't have global appeal, that's horrible news. THR is already speculating that Disney will take a writedown that could top $150 million for the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced feature, which was supposed to replicate the success of Pirates of the Caribbean by having Johnny Depp in a similar over-the-top role caked in makeup. Luckily, Disney has the successes of Iron Man 3 and Monsters University to bolster its bottom line, but this is a costly misfire that's only slightly better than last year's failure of John Carter.

Lone ranger johnny depp
Debuting in eighth place, Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain earned $17.4 million since its Wednesday opening, $10.1 million of which came from the regular three-day weekend. That's an excellent performance for the stand-up comedy performance, which had a budget of just $2.5 million. That's also an improvement on the $7 million total for Hart's 2011 stand-up film, Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain. The comedian's strongest following is in markets like Atlanta and Baltimore, and the film's distribution plan has saturated those markets. Hart is definitely a star on the rise, and I suspect it won't be long before he toplines a comedy feature.

The Way, Way Back opened on Friday, and earned an encouraging $575,000, which amounts to a $30,000 per-screen average, the highest of any film this week. The comedic indie, which includes performances from Steve Carell and Allison Janney, takes place at a summer beach house and is a ripe offering for the dog days of summer.

This Friday, Adam Sandler and co. return for Grown Ups 2, and manmade monsters go up against alien ones in Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Maria Conchita Alonso and Zoe Bell raise temperatures at Aruba Fest

The celebrity guests at the 2013 Aruba International Film Festival (AIFF) may not be instantly recognizable names, but they're an interesting and eclectic bunch. Along with the many young, aspiring, refreshingly friendly filmmakers here from the Caribbean and Latin America, the fest has welcomed talents ranging from Cuban-Venezuelan actress and singer Maria Conchita Alonso, who starred opposite Robin Williams, Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage and Arnold Schwarzenegger in her Hollywood heyday; Zoë Bell, the stuntwoman from "Xena" and Kill Bill who is now an actress
thanks to Quentin Tarantino casting her in a prominent role in Death Proof; Holland's most successful film director, Paul Verhoeven (see our earlier post); actors Virginia Madsen (returning for the second year in a row), Tracie Thoms and Joseph Cross; and producer Randall Emmett, whose credits include End of Watch, 16 Blocks, Narc, Broken City, the upcoming 2 Guns, Lone Survivor and Escape Plan, and Martin Scorsese's next film, Silence. Emmett was in Aruba with his crime thriller Empire State, starring Dwayne Johnson and Liam Hemsworth and directed by Dito Montiel, and participated in a frank Q&A with Hollywood Reporter executive editor Stephen Galloway.

It's tough to compete with the beaches here, so screenings don't start till 4 pm, but Arubans and visitors with a keen interest in the movie industry could enjoy earlier one-on-one interviews, panel discussions and "master classes" that combined fun anecdotes with real career advice for people from this region pondering how to break into the business.

The two women who participated in one-on-one conversations were especially entertaining. Maria Conchita Alonso, wearing a huge orange floppy hat, lime-green slacks and a green and tan shawl, was fighting a bad cold but nonetheless charmed the audience with her tales of teaching Arnold Schwarzenegger how to do a screen kiss, how dressing down lost her the chance to be a Bond girl, and the challenges facing Latina actresses in Hollywood.  ("I'll play a maid if I can also play a queen.") One of her favorite roles was in the cult Nicolas Cage movie Vampire's Kiss: "I had to play an innocent, virgin girl...which I wasn't." Alonso, who once had a number-one disco song in Venezuela called "Love Maniac," recalled how she was named on a list of celebrities with the best breasts in that country, even though she considers hers average. "But I hate bras," she confided. "I've always loved my breasts, and I still do."

Alonso was in Aruba to promote the documentary Femmes, in which she appears along with a wide range of confident women including Gloria Steinem, Marianne Williamson and Sharon Stone. She's also been involved for years (pre-The Artist) with a silent, black-and-white project, Return to Babylon, in which she plays doomed '20s and '30s film star Lupe Velez. Her most recent movie credit: The Lords of Salem, directed by horror auteur Rob Zombie. Too bad the session ended before anyone could ask about the combustible combination of Alonso and Zombie.

The irrepressible Zoë Bell, interviewed by the BBC's Emma Jones, was also great fun, reminiscing about how she got the job as stunt double for Lucy Lawless on the TV series "Xena: Warrior Princess"; how Quentin Tarantino probably wouldn't have given her the role in Death Proof if she'd had any acting experience; how her training as a gymnast prepared her for the literal hard-knock life of a stuntwoman; and the terrible accident on Kill Bill that sidelined her for a year. Bell was in Aruba to promote Raze (which she produced as well as stars in), a fantasy thriller about a group of women who are abducted and forced to fight to the death. Her promo efforts went so far as a live stunt-fighting demo at the beach, opposite co-star Tracie Thoms.

AIFF lost its government funding this year and co-founder and executive editor Jonathan Vieira invested a significant amount of his own money to keep the fest afloat. Although there were no huge marquee names at the 2013 event, the programming seemed more astute than last year's. The emphasis on films from the Southern hemisphere yielded some true discoveries. Chief among them for this writer was Edificio Royal, a darkly comic tale of a once-grand but now rundown and roach-infested apartment building in Barranquilla, Colombia, and the eccentric people who reside there. They include a demanding diva, an embalmer and his tarot card-obsessed wife, an elderly couple dealing with Alzheimer's, and a very harried superintendent. Iván Wild's film, dominated by elegantly choreographed long takes and a fractured time scheme, all takes place inside the building and casts an unsettling spell reminiscent of Roman Polanski's The Tenant. Wild is certainly a new talent to watch.

The "Caribbean Spotlight Series" Jury Award winner, Venezuela's Breach of Silence, also boasted a confident and sensuous visual style. Luis and Andrés Rodriguez's drama is the harrowing story of a deaf girl who is being abused by her stepfather and is unable to communicate her plight to the rest of her family. Then her sister is also targeted.

Oppressive lives were a frequent subject of the AIFF entries from the Southern hemisphere. Billy Raftery's Angels in Exile is a powerful and intimate look at the lives of Ariel and Zuleikia, teenage victims of abuse living on the streets in a very dangerous part of Durban, South Africa. Raftery gained the trust of his young subjects, and what his cameras capture is often shocking beyond belief. But hold tight: This documentary, against all expectations, culminates in a happy ending.

Songs of Redemption, from Spanish directors Amanda Sans and Miguel Galofré, looks at a music program that has redeemed the lives of inmates at the General Penitentiary in Kingston, Jamaica. The filmmakers found a number of charismatic subjects there, and captured a number of indelible moments, like a prisoner shedding tears over his murder of his wife, followed in the same take by a heartfelt rendition of one of his original songs.

Another prison portrait was Captive Beauty, which follows a beauty pageant inside a facility for women in Medellin, Colombia, and the diverse stories of several inmates whose hopes are either fulfilled or dashed during the course of the film. American Jared Goodman directed, and doc veteran Joe Berlinger is one of the producers.

The festival also included a gem from Australia and Laos, The Rocket, the artful and audience-pleasing tale of a Laotian boy who is considered cursed because he's a surviving twin, and the difficult path he takes to prove his worth. Kim Mordaunt's wonderful film won several top prizes at the Tribeca Film Festival and was a valuable addition to the AIFF lineup.

Finally, of special interest to our readers in exhibition is Finding Hillywood, Leah Warshawski and Chris Towey's doc about a filmmaking program that has helped the war-torn country of Rwanda to heal, and the man named Ayuub who brings those homegrown films to remote villages using an inflatable screen. Although many of the films deal with very troubling issues, the screening audiences are rapt. Yes, the power of cinema is alive and well even in Rwanda.

Friday, July 5, 2013

'Terms and Conditions': Do you really know what you're agreeing to?

Some documentaries move and inspire us with stories of courage in distant lands (Call Me Kuchu, Pray the Devil Back to Hell); others hit closer to home when they tackle subjects like climate change (An Inconvenient Truth) or gun control (Bowling for Columbine). In the latter category, and one of the top highlights of the Aruba International Film Festival, is the documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply, which Variance Films opens in New York on July 12 and takes to 12 to
15 more cities one week later. Cullen Hoback's feature is one of the most important and eye-opening films of the year, a brisk compendium of the ways the websites and web businesses we all use exploit our personal data and, even more disturbing, are making it increasingly accessible to government agencies whose definition of "suspicious activity" can sometimes be chillingly wide-ranging and inexact. (The film has just added an end-title card referencing Edward Snowden and his revelations about the National Security Agency's encroachments on our privacy.)

Terms and Conditions outlines how web giants like Google and Facebook have incrementally stripped away our presumed privacy protections in the post-9/11 climate. Those voluminous user agreements we all blithely click our assent to would seem to be intentionally daunting to discourage us from analyzing what rights we're giving away; Hoback argues that if these providers really wanted not to "be evil" (as the Google slogan goes), they'd provide clear, user-friendly bullet points for us to navigate. These sites may be "free," but as it turns out, our private information is very, very valuable, as evidenced by the billions of dollars they've amassed in the past decade.

Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer's September 2001 admonition to the public to "watch what they say" is truer than ever in 2013. Hoback demonstrates that with several examples of private postings and tweets that got people in big trouble when Big Brother intercepted them—most shockingly, the case of a young boy who was visited by the feds when he worried online that President Obama might be targeted by suicide bombers after the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden.

The most frequent argument in favor of monitoring citizens' private activity for the sake of protecting the country is that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. But, really, don't we all have embarrassing pecadillos we never want the world to know about, and haven't we all made private comments that can be completely misconstrued? As one of Hoback's interviewees observes, "You have nothing to hide—until you do."

Hoback tried with no luck to get representatives from Google and Facebook and other Internet giants to give their side of the story for his film. In frustration, he Googled the home address of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and ambushed him with his cameras outside his house. When Zuckerberg asked him to turn off his cameras (urging "Can you please not?"), he complied—but kept his glasses-cam rolling. Hoback ends his film by arguing that the public should have its own equivalent of "Can you please not?"—a clear and simple way to opt out of these unwanted incursions on our privacy.

In a post-film Q&A last night, Hoback said he believes these Internet systems can be re-thought and redesigned, though that would "go against the business models of some very powerful players." He noted that "a lot of people on Capitol Hill believe people don't care about this stuff" and urged concerned citizens to visit the pending website trackoff.us to learn how to fight back.

Terms and Conditions claims that poring through all that tedious user boilerplate on leading websites can take as much as 180 hours out of your year. But after seeing Cullen Hoback's film, you may want to sacrifice a few hours before hitting "Agree."

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Paul Verhoeven brings his moviemaking experiment to Aruba Film Fest

For the second year in a row, this editor has been invited to the Aruba International Film Festival (AIFF), which is marking its fourth edition. On Tuesday, the fest got off to a promising start with two very well-attended opening-night screenings, one of which sold out two auditoriums at the Caribbean Cinemas at Palm Beach Plaza—an encouraging sign after the sparse attendance for some of the 2012 screenings. (It's not easy to get people into theatres when beaches and other tropical pleasures beckon.)

AIFF's strategy this year is to showcase more films from the Caribbean and Latin America, a smart move since by far its most popular offerings in 2012 were of local origin (most especially the doc Children of the Wind, about champion windsurfers from Bonaire, which returns for a special encore showing on Sunday). But AIFF is also maintaining its connection with Aruba's mother country, the Netherlands. And so the biggest name attending this year is Holland's best-known director, Paul Verhoeven, the man behind RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers and the infamous Showgirls.

The fest opened with Tricked, Verhoeven's first feature since his return to Holland with 2006's
outrageous World War II thriller Black Book. What sets Tricked apart is the way it was made: Screenwriter Kim van Kooten wrote the first five minutes of a domestic tale involving a wealthy businessman, his wife, son and daughter and the other women in his life. The filmmakers then invited the Dutch public to submit script pages for the next five minutes of the story, part of a continuing process that eventually resulted in a 53-minute film. Thousands of scripts were ultimately submitted, and Verhoeven and his team cherry-picked the best ideas, while still mindful that it all had to come together as a coherent whole.

Lo and behold, this short comedy is better-constructed than many a current example of the genre. In an interview here in Aruba, the effusive, 74-year-old Verhoeven told me he was amazed that it all turned out so well, to the point that you'd never guess the unique, "crowd-sourced" way the film was devised.

Verhoeven chronicles that process in a behind-the-scenes documentary preceding the mini-feature, which pads the program out to feature length but limits it even more to a specialized audience. Indeed, as Verhoeven noted during a Q&A after the movie, if he'd known the experiment would lead to something this good, he would have planned on a longer running time.

The challenge wasn't easy: Production on each five-minute chapter would be put on hold for six to seven weeks as the team sorted through the new script submissions, so the shoot needed constant re-energizing (and it wasn't easy to corral all the actors after such long breaks). Also, as Verhoven told me, "I was worried that we were potentially adding more plot developments instead of using what was there to finish the story in 50 minutes."

No worries. Despite its unconventional origins, Tricked is quite the deceptively seamless effort. And, true to Verhoeven's irreverent spirit, the movie's best and biggest joke is a shock moment involving a pregnant woman.

The cheerfully blunt director also participated in a Wednesday afternoon public career Q&A with
Hollywood Reporter
executive editor Stephen Galloway. He defended the notorious Showgirls as "a very elegantly shot movie...with camera moves inspired by Renoir and Fellini." But, of course, its reputation as one of the all-time "so bad it's good" camp classics "made life more difficult," he admitted. The solution to a fiasco like that? "Make another movie."

Other tantalizing tidbits: Verhoeven was offered The Silence of the Lambs but thought the material was "too dark" to be a box-office success. Michael Douglas and producing studio Carolco didn't want Sharon Stone for Basic Instinct; Douglas in particular wanted a much bigger star like Michelle Pfeiffer to help share the burden of the expected controversy around the film's edgy sex scenes. Verhoeven feels the current crop of big-budget superhero movies is "not so much for me," though he does keep up with all the expensive blockbusters to see what is being done on the technological end. 

Verhoeven recently published a novel about Jesus Christ which treats him as a revolutionary along the lines of Che Guevara rather than as the literal Son of God. And at one point, Mel Brooks planned to produce a film of the book but, according to Verhoeven, withdrew after receiving "thousands of threats" from fundamentalist Christians who got wind of the project. Verhoeven is also developing two film noir scripts which could bring him back to Hollywood filmmaking after a 13-year absence. But, he admitted, it's not as easy to get financing for downbeat noirs as it used to be.

Let's not forget to mention the other opening-night film in Aruba, the one with the two sold-out houses—and no wonder. According to several sources, Abo So (Only You) is the first feature-length film produced in Aruba, and the packed house soaked in this musical about two young people who fall in love but are split apart by family prejudice. (He's of Hispanic origin, and her mother still seethes over the Latina babes who stole her husband.) Director Francisco Pardo made the film in ten days for $20,000 and the low budget shows. But it's also quite nicely photographed, the two leads are appealing and charismatic (and can sing!), and the soundtrack features lots of catchy songs written by beloved Caribbean veteran Padú del Caribe (who has a cameo and attended the screening). Sometimes a simple love story and a local connection is all it takes to make an audience happy.

'Despicable Me 2' and 'Lone Ranger' ready for fireworks

The first Despicable Me was a smashing success, and families and adults alike will be turning out this weekend to get their Minion fix in Despicable Me 2 (3,956 theatres). This summer is loaded with animated movies, but the strong reviews coming in for the feature so far means Despicable Me 2 stands a chance at being the cream of the crop, both critically and at the box office.

Despicable me 2
Blue Sky's May release, Epic, recently crossed the $100 million mark, and it's likely the weakest of the bunch. For the past two weeks, Pixar's Monsters University has held the number-one spot, even with last week's competition from The Heat and White House Down. The sequel has already earned $178 million. Still to come this summer is DreamWorks Animation's Turbo, Sony's The Smurfs 2, and Disney's Planes. Every studio doing animated movies has an offering this summer, leading to an incredibly crowded field. That's because when animated movies are done right, they're hugely successful both at the box office and, of course, through merchandising. According to FJI critic Kevin Lally, the Minion-filled tale deserves its expected $120 million gross from Wednesday through Sunday. The "boisterous, wholly
satisfying follow-up that takes the original premise in new
directions and provides memorable moments for its entire cast of
amusing characters," he extols.

Lone ranger tonto
What better way to celebrate America's independence than with a modern update to a western? Johnny Depp plays Tonto in The Lone Ranger (3,700 theatres), which our critic Frank Lovece dubs "an Old West superhero movie" that's far more entertaining than Man of Steel." However, while Man of Steel opened to $128 million over four days, Lone Ranger may end up with a more modest $70 million take over the five-day period. If audiences agree with Lovece that the movie is a "buoyantly kinetic,
full-of-heart adventure" that recalls Depp's memorable performance as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, Lone Ranger may end up higher, and play well in weeks to come.

Rounding out the offerings is a theatrical release of comedian Kevin Hart's 2012 standup performance at Madison Square Garden in Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain (876 theatres). Our critic Marsha McCreadie calls Hart an "incredibly agile and
physically gifted comic," noting the Hart fans at her screening were enthusiastic.

On Friday, The Way, Way Back (19 theatres) will join the list of releases. The coming-of-age comedy about a teen boy finding his way by taking a summer job at a water park features a great cast of adult stars including Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, and Allison Janney. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who co-wrote The Descendants, penned the screenplay and make their directing debut with the project, a similar family drama spiced with a pinch of dark humor.

On Monday, we'll be back to report on the box-office fireworks of the long holiday weekend.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Check out the trailer for Cannes Grand Prix-winner 'Inside Llewyn Davis'

The trailer for the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis just released, months after the folk music drama was awarded the Grand Prix by the jury of the Cannes Film Festival this spring, so its release is by no means a first look at the '60s-set musical drama. If anything, the trailer is a bit lackluster compared to the more enthusiastic reviews that came out of the festival.

What's most striking about the trailer isn't how the Coens' lay out the struggles of the title character (Oscar Isaac), a young folkie breaking into the Greenwich Village musical scene, but the visual choices. The movie appears to have been color corrected to give it a washed-out, vintage feel, but the palette felt off to me. Normally I like movies more after the colors have been amped up beyond their natural look, but the feature also had a soft-focus look that bothered me. That said, Variety's review mentions the feature has "playful, evocatively subjective reality," which allows the filmmakers to "[avoid] the problems endemic to most period movies." Maybe that's where the soft, washed-out cinematography comes in.

The trailer gives a nod to the major actors: Carey Mulligan, almost unrecognizable, as a dark-haired woman impregnated by Davis; recurring Coen Brothers player John Goodman; and Justin Timberlake. About a minute into the trailer, Marcus Mumford (of Mumford & Sons) sings a cover version of Bob Dylan's "Fare Thee Well." The CBS Films release comes out Dec. 6, and if its Cannes reception holds, the Coen Brothers will be making another trip to the Academy Awards in early 2014.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Cult horror film 'Jacob's Ladder' to get a 21st century update

Jacob’s Ladder, a
psychological horror film that came out in 1990, scored a respectable 70% on
Rotten Tomatoes, but grossed a dismal $26 million domestically. It has achieved
far greater success, however, in the years since its release. Since 1990, Jacob’s Ladder has developed a cult
following, spurred by a DVD release in 1998 and a Blu-ray release in 2004. The Hollywood Reporter announced Friday
that the studio LD Entertainment has agreed to finance a remake of the film.

Jacob's Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder is
now seen as one of the most influential thrillers in recent memory.
Specifically, it has been cited as a direct influence on The Sixth Sense and on the Silent
videogame series and Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill film. Ryan Murphy, the “American Horror Story: Asylum” co-creator
and showrunner, has also stated that Jacob’s
inspired parts of his hit horror miniseries.

The original Jacob’s
was directed by Adrian Lyne (Flashdance,
Fatal Attraction) and starred Tim
Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption, Mystic River) as Jacob Singer, a Vietnam
vet with severe PTSD. Jacob’s mental illness causes him to experience vivid and
increasingly horrific, violent hallucinations. The film jumps back and forth in
time and setting, switching from Jacob’s tour in Vietnam to his life before and
after he returns home. The film ends in an unforeseeable plot twist, an element
that fans often refer to as the movie’s main attraction.

The new Jacob’s Ladder
is being written by Jeff Buhler (The Midnight
Meat Train
)—who is working from an earlier draft by Jake Wade Wall (writer
of the 2006 When a Stranger Calls remake).
It is unclear at this point how Buhler will handle the twist ending,
considering that any audience member who has seen the original will know what’s
coming. Producers Michael Gaeta and Alison Rosenzweig have explained that their
Jacob’s Ladder film will be more of
an homage than a direct remake, and that the update will be set in current
times and feature new characters. Which elements of Lyne’s movie will be left
intact remains to be seen. It seems likely that the new film will make Jacob a
veteran who suffers from PTSD-caused hallucinations, as in the original, but
that the war in which he fought will be updated to Iraq or Afghanistan, rather
than Vietnam.

Gaeta and Rosenzweig have previous experience bringing older
horror films into the 21st century. The pair worked (as executive
producer and producer, respectively) on 2011’s Fright Night, a remake of Tom Holland’s 1985 vampire flick. The
2011 flop, which starred Colin Farrell, grossed just $37 million worldwide. A
direct-to-video sequel, Fright Night 2,
is expected to be out later this year, indicating that Gaeta and Rosenzweig
aren’t being blacklisted in the industry despite the film’s poor performance. Though
the Fright Night remake was seen as
artistically and critically unequal to the 1985 film, Farrell was praised for
his performance.

The producing pair, who are currently searching for a
director for Jacob’s Ladder, are also
in the process of developing yet another horror remake about a veteran with
PTSD. This project will be an updated version of Alan Parker’s 1987 film Angel Heart. Unlike Jacob’s Ladder, however, Angel
is told not from a soldier’s point of view, but through the eyes of a
detective (Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler,
Iron Man 2) who is searching for him.

Audiences may eventually become fatigued by the fad of dark
protagonists dealing with the fallout from war—the trend even made its way into
Tony Stark’s latest outing, Iron Man 3.
With the box office dominated by remakes and sequels, however, it’s a sure
thing that studios will continue to churn out updates on older films and
concepts, even after it appears the trope has overstayed its welcome.

'Heat' scorches 'White House Down'

Both The Heat and White House Down earned "A-" Cinemascores from their audiences, but one movie overperformed while the other fell short of expectations. This is summer movie season, and Monday morning results aren't always fair.

The heat sandra bullock melissa mccarthy 2

The Heat soared with $40 million. That's much better than openings for either Melissa McCarthy movies (Bridesmaids opened to $26 million, Identity Thief to $34 million) or Sandra Bullock's latest (The Blind Side and The Proposal both opened around $34 million). While Bridesmaids and The Blind Side were both word-of-mouth hits, earning six to seven times their opening weekends, audiences here already knew they were dealing with a great product featuring known stars and a specific style of comedy. Since initial awareness was so high, The Heat's subsequent weeks won't be quite as hot as Bridesmaids, but its strong rating in exit polls should stoke this comedy right up to $150 million.

White house down jamie foxx channing tatum 2

White House Down should have opened north of $30 million, but instead the action movie, the second to focus on an attack on the White House in a year, disappointed with $25.7 million. Historically, similar movies don't always lose by coming out second--meteor disaster movie Armageddon did much better than Deep Impact. But in this case, Olympus Has Fallen opened $5 million higher in March, despite a cheaper budget, a lesser-known star, and weaker reviews. White House Down should level out in coming weeks, but one of its biggest problems is the amount of competition out there. World War Z's second week earned $29.8 million, while Man of Steel, brought in $20.8 million and upcoming pictures including Lone Ranger and Pacific Rim. For star Channing Tatum, who has appeared in four $100+ million movies in the past eighteen months, this underperformance will be a slight knock to his reputation as a skyrocketing box-office star.

I'm So Excited had a strong debut, averaging $20,000 per screen in five locations. I suspect Sony Pictures Classics may have timed the release to Pride festivities this weekend. After all, Slate's Dana Stevens quipped that the Pedro Almodóvar work is "a sassy disaster-movie spoof that might as well be titled Gays on a Plane."

On Wednesday, Despicable Me 2 and The Lone Ranger will kick off the long Fourth of July weekend.