Monday, July 28, 2014

‘Hercules’ loses to ‘Lucy’

Scarlett Johansson action vehicle Lucy far outpaced The Rock’s Hercules this weekend, grossing $44 million to the latter’s $29 million. Although total box office revenue was once again down from this same frame last year, Lucy’s success offers good news for viewers. The film is this summer's third female-driven movie to surpass expectations, along with The Fault in Our Stars and Maleficent. Several fanboy offerings that should have been surefire hits, such as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 or even Transformers: Age of Extinction, which, for all its overseas success, opened behind its predecessors domestically, underperformed. Increasingly, women are asserting their power at the box office, and execs are surely taking note for future projects. Similarly heartening is the recent spate of successes enjoyed by Lucy distributor Universal. Why? Lucy is the studio’s fourth film to open at No. 1 this year, after Lone Survivor, Ride Along and Neighbors, not one of which is a sequel, prequel or spin-off. In other words, Lucy appears to embody a recent trend that could well double as an industry lesson: audiences respond to films with strong women and original premises. Who’d have thought?

The just-shy of $30 million total enjoyed by Hercules marks a solid debut for the action flick, though it doesn’t measure up to a hit like The Rock’s The Scorpion King, which bowed to $36 million over a decade ago. Where Lucy skewed female, Hercules’ audience was 58 percent male, as well as 64 percent over the age of 25. These viewers were more or less pleased with what they saw, awarding the movie a B+ CinemaScore grade. (To compare, Lucy earned a lackluster C+.) With Guardians of the Galaxy opening this weekend, Hercules is fated to suffer an imminent steep dip in sales. Total earnings of $100 million seem unlikely, but $75 million or so are well within the film’s reach.

Third and fourth place went to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and The Purge: Anarchy, respectively, with the former enduring a not-too-bad 55 percent downturn to gross $16.4 million, and the latter suffering a steeper dip of 67 percent to earn $9.9 million. Planes: Fire and Rescue swooped in for a $9.3 million fifth-place standing, while the disappointing Sex Tape limped in at No. 6 with $6 million.

The specialty box-office saw something of a hit in Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, one of the last films to feature the last Philip Seymour Hoffman. Though the movie screened in only 361 theatres, it managed to crack the Top 10, coming in just under No. 9’s Tammy ($3.4 million) with its $2.7 million gross. Rob Reiner’s And So it Goes opened a little better, taking the eighth-place slot with $4.6 million (Transformers: Age of Extinction came in at No. 7 with $6 million), but then, the film opened in considerably more theatres – 1,762, to be exact.

Finally, Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight enjoyed an OK opening, raking in $425,730 from 17 locations. As expected, the film’s debut proves it’s no Midnight in Paris or Blue Jasmine, or even Boyhood, the latest from Richard Linklater, which continued its specialty b.o. hot streak this weekend. The movie earned $1.7 million from 107 theatres. To date, Boyhood has grossed $4.1 million.

Friday, July 25, 2014

‘Lucy’ to shut down ‘Hercules’

It’s the battle of the action heroes, of the sexes, of the movie stars this weekend as Scarlett Johansson’s Lucy goes toe-to-toe with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s Hercules. As of now, and by that we mean “according to tracking reports from Fandango,” it looks as if Lucy will emerge the victor. Savvy Universal executives moved the film’s release date forward several weeks when they realized August was full of serious competition from the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Expendables 3. As Dawn of the Planet of the Apes enters its third week in theatres and its momentum slows a bit, now is a good time for a new (original!) film to claim the No. 1 spot at the box office. That Lucy boasts a female lead may also work in its favor, considering the current b.o. climate: both the femme-starring and targeted Maleficent and The Fault in Our Stars proved two of this summer’s hits, and even the poorly reviewed Tammy may total out to $90 million. Reviews of this latest from multihyphenate Luc Besson have been mixed, but the bonkers premise that so irked some critics may be just what the summer moviegoer, tired of sequels and fantasy, now seeks. Universal is projecting an opening weekend gross of $30+ million, though Fandango’s numbers suggest a higher, roughly $40 million, debut is likely.

Second place should then go to Hercules, which is also the second film this year to portray the popular Greek myth. The Rock is a bigger name than Kellan Lutz of The Legend of Hercules, but the former wrestler’s last few films, including Pain & Gain and Snitch, haven’t performed particularly well. (The former bowed to $20.2 million, while the latter debuted to $13.2 million.) Paramount believes the film will gross around $20 million.

And So It Goes boasts its own marquee draws in Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton, but Rob Reiner’s new rom-com has by all accounts missed the comedic mark by a wide margin. The film has an abysmal 14 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a fact that may significantly curtail its box-office prospects, as the older crowd for which it’s gunning tends to pay more attention to reviews than the average blockbuster-minded summer viewer. Douglas and Keaton will likely draw a measure of fans, but And So It Goes shouldn’t move past $5 million this weekend.

Lastly, there’s Woody Allen’s latest, Magic in the Moonlight, which screens in 17 theatres beginning today. Critics have been kinder to the Colin Firth and Emma Stone comedy than poor Rob Reiner’s offering, although it’s no Midnight in Paris or Blue Jasmine. It should open soft and just behind Wish I Was Here, which expands to 600 theatres and is looking at a weekend gross of $2 million or so.

Monday, July 21, 2014

‘Apes’ hold the line

For the second week in a row, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes earned the No. 1 slot at the weekend box office. The well-reviewed sequel dipped 50 percent to gross $36 million, an impressive hold that’s among the best of this summer’s blockbusters – tentpoles X-Men, Spider-Man and current worldwide behemoth Transformers: Age of Extinction all suffered downturns of 60 percent over their sophomore outings. The film has earned $139 million to date and is on track to rake in $230+ million by the time its reign/theatrical run comes to an end.

Although The Purge: Anarchy did not manage the b.o. upset many pundits believed was within its reach, the film nonetheless earned a solid second-place gross of $28.4 million. This figure is down 17 percent from the debut of the first Purge, but given the poor word-of-mouth surrounding that film, Universal can count Anarchy’s opening a success. Importantly, audiences enjoyed this second offering in the horror franchise more, awarding the movie a B CinemaScore grade to The Purge’s C. The Purge: Anarchy should end up meeting the total of its predecessor, that is, around $65 million.

Planes: Fire and Rescue also fell shy of the first film in its franchise, Planes, a spinoff of Pixar’s Cars films. Where Planes opened to $22 million last summer, its sequel grossed $18 million. Some pundits are calling Fire and Rescue’s debut surprisingly soft, given the lack of family movies currently screening in theatres. However, the Planes movies, the first of which was originally intended as a straight-to-DVD release, are really a very minor Disney property. The predominantly kid-filled audience (over 42 percent of viewers were under the age of 12) awarded the film a CinemaScore grade of an A. In all, this slight blip of a sequel should total out to $70 million or so.

More surprising than Fire and Rescue’s lackluster opening was the disappointing debut of Sex Tape, the new comedy from Bad Teacher’s Jake Kasdan starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel. Reviews  may be terrible, but many believed the combined star wattage of the film’s leads would lure a sizable viewership regardless. Not so: Tape managed just $15 million. The film fell short of not only Bad Teacher’s $31.6 million bow, but also of the debut enjoyed by Diaz’s last film, The Other Woman ($24.8 million), and the opening managed by this summer’s A Million Ways to Die in the West ($16.8 million). Audiences seemed to agree with the critics, awarding the movie a poor C+ CinemaScore grade. Tape’s not long for this world’s theatres, and should fade away quickly, to the tune of roughly $40 million.

Speaking of theatres the world over, Transformers: Age of Extinction continues its global b.o. domination. The film is the first this year to approach the $1 billion international mark. Here in the States, it added an additional $10 million to a domestic cume that currently stands at $227.2 million. It should wind up with at least $250 million in all.

Finally, the specialty division saw another round of packed screenings for Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, which, after expanding to 33 locations, grossed $1.2 million. Wish I Was Here, on the other hand, opened to a so-so $495,000 from 68 theatres. Poor reviews are likely hurting this second film from Zach Braff, though we’ll see how the dramedy fares when it expands to 600 locations this coming weekend.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Will the ‘Apes’ be ‘Purged’?

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continued to perform well this past week, boasting strong mid-week numbers that indicate the Apes sequel has a good chance of retaining its No. 1 hold on the box office.  Many of this summer’s tentpoles have dropped precipitously their second weekend in theatres, however, with X-Men, Spider-Man and Transformers all suffering sophomore downturns of 60 percent.  If Apes manages to hold just a bit better, dipping, say, around 55 percent, it could wind up with roughly $30 million, which should be enough for another b.o. victory.
The only film likely to pose much of a challenge to Caesar and co. is The Purge: Anarchy. The sequel to 2013’s The Purge is tracking well, which is surprising, given the poor word-of-mouth that plagued its predecessor. At the time of its release, The Purge enjoyed the best opening ever for an original R-rated horror film ($34 million), but disappointed fans lured by a premise that suggested more blood-sport than the film delivered. The Purge dropped a whopping 76 percent its second weekend in theatres, and only managed to gross $64.5 million in total. Happily, it seems director James DeMonaco has learned from his mistakes. Where the first film was set inside a house, Anarchy takes its drama to the streets during the titular Purge, the one day a year when the authorities look the other way and crime becomes legal. Though Anarchy does not boast, as the first Purge did with Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, any recognizable name actors, its promise of a little less home-invasion, a little more action may be ample compensation: According to Fandango, the film is currently tracking at $30+ million. Anarchy could very well displace the Apes.

Regardless of which sequel proves victorious this weekend, Sex Tape will likely earn less than both. The comedy from Bad Teacher director Jake Kasdan and starring Teacher’s Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel has received terrible reviews, currently stalling at 16 percent rotten on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, the combined star wattage of Diaz and Segel should be enough to lure a sizable audience. Pundits are predicting an opening weekend gross somewhere between Diaz’s The Other Woman, which bowed to $24.8 million, and Bad Teacher, which opened to $31.6 million.

Planes: Fire and Rescue should land in fourth place, taking advantage of the dearth of family movies to roughly match the debut of its predecessor, Planes, and gross around $20 million.

The specialty box office welcomes newcomers Persecuted and Wish I Was Here this weekend, both of which are looking to tap existing fan bases. In the case of Persecuted, those fans would be Christians, the faith-based set that has made successes of recent films God’s Not Dead and Heaven Is for Real. Screening in 736 theatres, Persecuted could well open around $2 million.

The fate of Wish I Was Here, the second movie from Zach Braff after 2004’s cult favorite Garden State, is a little more uncertain. Fans of State will likely comprise the majority of Here’s audience, although the movie’s poor reviews may keep some otherwise eager viewers away. In all likelihood the movie will ride the goodwill of Garden State to a strong opening weekend, but expect a steady if not steep dip from there on out.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Domination of ‘The Planet of the Apes’

All hail Caesar. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes bowed to a spectacular $73 million this weekend, besting by 33 percent the debut of its predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The latter’s popularity likely played a large role in Dawn’s success, as did, we can assume, the roundly favorable critical reviews: Dawn is 91 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Unsurprisingly, audiences were majority male (58 percent) and slightly older (55 percent over the age of 25). They awarded the film an “A-“ CinemaScore grade, which should translate to a fairly steady hold in the weeks ahead. Expect Dawn to tally out to north of $200 million.

Transformers: Age of Extinction suffered something of a freefall this Friday-Sunday spread, dropping 56 percent for a distant second place gross of $16.5 million. After two weeks at the top of the box office, the movie was due for a downturn, not that its fall has had much of a hobbling effect: To date, the actioner has grossed $209 million. If it continues apace, Extinction should earn around $250 million in total.

In third place, Tammy added an additional $12.9 million to a gross that now stands at $57.4 million. Despite its poor reviews, the Melissa McCarthy comedy will likely clock in at $80 million or so.

Tenacious holdovers 22 Jump Street and How to Train Your Dragon 2 landed side-by-side on the b.o. charts yet again this weekend, earning the No. 4 and 5 slots, respectively. The former enjoyed $6.7 million worth of business, while HTTYD2 raked in $5.9 million. The bonafide-success Jump Street has so far grossed $172 million to the solid, if disappointing, Dragon’s $152.1 million total.

Unfortunately, even with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ boffo opening, overall revenue was once again down (by 26 percent) from this same weekend last year. The specialty box office, however, boasted several noteworthy successes. John Carney’s Begin Again managed to crack the Top 10, clocking in at No. 6 with $2.9 million worth of earnings. The new documentary from conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, America, had a great hold, dipping only 11 percent to earn $2.5 million. Finally, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood had a fantastic opening, arguably the specialty equivalent of Dawn’s wide-release debut: The movie grossed $359,000 from five theatres in NYC and LA, which works out to a per-theatre average of $71,800. That’s the second best per-location average this year, just behind Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Week in review: 7/7 – 7/11

The week following the July 4th holiday began with a bang that, though it did not emanate from the United States, has resounding implications for our little local film industry. Transformers: Age of Extinction is now the highest grossing movie of all time in China, the world’s second largest film market. As of Monday the film had displaced previous record-holder Avatar ($221.9 million) with its $227.9 gross. Paramount took great pains to appeal to the Asian audience, ensuring parts of the feature were shot in China and casting Chinese star Li Bingbing. As viewership within the global power continues to increase, expect other studios to follow Paramount’s lead and develop films that appeal to movie fans out East. It seems so far as VFX extravaganzas are concerned, we can rest assured, or otherwise, an Age of Extinction, this is not.

Not everyone on the far side of the world is as enthralled with Hollywood, however. North Korea, for example, is supremely miffed. Today we learned the country has filed an official complaint with the United Nations, calling the forthcoming James Franco/Seth Rogen comedy The Interview “an act of war.” The movie follows Franco and Rogen as they plot to assassinate North Korean leader and frequent target of Western mockery Kim Jong-un. According to Reuters, N. Korean UN Ambassador Ban Ki-moon wrote the following: "To allow the production and distribution of such a film on the assassination of an incumbent head of a sovereign state should be regarded as the most undisguised sponsoring of terrorism as well as an act of war.” He goes on to add/threaten, "The United States authorities should take immediate and appropriate actions to ban the production and distribution of the aforementioned film; otherwise, it will be fully responsible for encouraging and sponsoring terrorism.” Further proof comedy does not travel well.

AMC is looking to mimic a popular, and frequently contentious, characteristic of airline travel with its proposed revamp of several thousand locations. The theatre chain will install fully reclining seats in roughly one third of its 5,000 sites nationwide. It’s an initiative that will cost $600 million, take five years to complete, and initiate a whole new kind of communal experience. As frequent fliers are well aware, if the person in front of you reclines, you too must recline, that is, should you count yourself among those who find cramped spaces uncomfortable. Let’s hope AMC improves on this model.

Isn’t that a funny notion, improvement? The word has grown increasingly uncanny with each refashioning of a beloved cartoon into a live-action remake. Will the new live-action spin on Dumbo “improve” upon the original? Perhaps when elephants fly.

We would be much more excited to view an adaptation of the new short story about Harry Potter and the gang author J.K. Rowling posted to the fan site Pottermore earlier this week. We’re still waiting with bated breath for the release of the Rowling-penned and Potter-themed film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but when we do inevitably exhale, we’ll be sure to courteously turn our faces away from the new behind-the-scenes book The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The geeky delight is separated into four volumes totaling 1,386 pages. It costs $750.

Here’s a piece of free geekery, should the aforementioned tome exceed your budgetary restraints. Ian McKellen as a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes in Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes:

‘Apes’ to overtake ‘Transformers’

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the only major release bowing nationwide this weekend, and should claim the No. 1 spot at the box office with little trouble. Just how much it will earn, however, is another question. The film’s predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, opened to $54.8 million. Though these returns were solid, they paled in comparison with the revenue generated by Tim Burton’s take on the original 1970s franchise: Burton’s Planet of the Apes set a July opening weekend record when it opened to $68.5 million in 2001. The movie quickly lost its good standing among fans, however, and its eccentric director was not asked to helm a sequel. Flash forward a decade, when Rise opened softer than the ’01 Planet but better pleased critics and viewers. The former have thrown their support behind Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as well (the film is 92 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes).  Fox is expecting returns comparable to Rise, that is, in the mid $50 millions. However, Fandango has the film tracking as well as World War Z, meaning Fox’s estimate could be a bit conservative: Z bowed to $66.4 million last summer. At least most everyone agrees Apes is poised to displace Transformers: Age of Extinction. The extent to which fans are suffering from summer franchise fatigue (Captain America, The Amazing Spider-Man, X-Men, and Transformers) will likely determine the success or otherwise of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

The specialty box office is looking much more interesting this weekend. Begin Again, which has earned a respectable $2 million in limited release, expands to 939 theatres today. The musical from Once’s John Carney may have a shot at cracking the top 10 and potentially doubling its revenue to date, earning around $4 million.

The deafeningly buzzy indie Boyhood also opens today, in limited release across five locations in NYC and LA. The film, which director Richard Linklater shot in increments over the course of 12 years, chronicles the maturation process of an American boy as he ages from six to 18. Boyhood has an incredible 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critical enthusiasm alone should attract a measure of viewers, while Linklater, the director behind the beloved Before trilogy starring Ethan Hawke (who also co-stars in Boyhood) and Julie Delpy, can count on a nice turnout from his own dedicated base of fans. Pundits have forecasted returns around and even north of $50,000 per theatre.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

'I Origins' and Dolby Atmos

It will likely come as small surprise to anyone who is a fan of the sci-fi indie Another Earth the film’s director, Mike Cahill, is younger brother to two neuroscientists. “Scientists are real people,” Cahill asserted during a Q&A session at the Dolby screening room in Manhattan Wednesday night. “Scientists get laid. They’re some of the most romantic, poetic, funny people. They sometimes don’t get portrayed accurately in film.” It was a wrong Cahill sought to redress in his most recent science fiction movie, I Origins, out July 18. “In the first 10 minutes I wanted to show scientists getting laid.”

Perhaps they appreciated the nobility of Cahill’s humanizing wish; or perhaps, they liked the film’s blend of such “indie” intimacy with “big” themes concerning the nature of science and spirituality. Whatever their reasons, members of The Dolby Institute were suitably impressed with Cahill’s third feature to award the director the first-ever Dolby Family Sound Fellowship. The grant allowed Cahill and his team to enhance and remix the sound of I Origins under the guidance of Academy Award-nominated sound mixer Steve Boeddeker at the Skywalker Sound facilities (a division of George Lucas' Lucas Digital motion picture group) in California.  “How I think about sound has been transformed over the past four months,” said Cahill. “I never realized to what extent it can viscerally carry an audience through a scene.”

The scenes within I Origins chart the emotional evolution of Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt). Gray is an atheist fascinated with the human eye, a scientist who has dedicated himself to the pursuit of synthetically recreating our complex “windows to the soul” in an effort to prove they are, in fact, nothing of the sort. With the help of sarcastic and erudite lab assistant Karen (Brit Marling of Another Earth), and to the dismay of his spiritual girlfriend Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), Dr. Gray is out to disprove God.

While writing the film’s screenplay, Cahill sought to answer the question, “How do we make Dawkins pray?” Dawkins refers to Richard Dawkins, the atheistic biologist and author of The God Delusion after whom Cahill modeled Dr. Gray. “How do we make Dawkins believe there’s something more?”

Throughout their collaboration, the aural idea of “more” became something with which Cahill and Boeddeker liked to toy. In the video embedded below, the two discuss their dial-down method of working. They would begin with sounds grand and loud, only to soften their way to the correct decibel. Given his surroundings, however, Cahill sometimes found it difficult to exercise restraint. “With all these guns and explosives at your disposal, you want to use them,” he said of the many Skywalker Sound effects. In one key sequence it would be reprehensible to describe in any detail beyond referring to it as “the elevator scene,” sound both expansive and limited is an integral element. “The scene is the sound,” said Cahill. “The whole room feels like an elevator.”

It did indeed inside the Dolby screening room Wednesday night. Prior to I Origins, a promo for Dolby Atmos showed in simplistic albeit entertaining terms how the system works. In a room outfitted for Dolby sound, there are speakers along either wall flanking the screen, as well as behind and above the audience.  On Wednesday, as viewers watched a cartoon helicopter fly about onscreen, speakers throughout the room activated in tandem with the aircraft’s progress: Now, the helicopter is “behind” us and to the left; now, it’s just above; now, it’s receding. Similarly, during the “elevator scene” in I Origins, the creaking of the aged conveyance sounded above and on either side of viewers. The characters’ voices echoed. Cahill and Boeddeker decided to “slant” the sound in order to achieve the necessary effects. (Speaking of effects, there are over 200 visual effects shots in I Origins. Apparently, visually enhancing the human eye is among the most difficult of VFX. “You realize how many bad ideas there are,” said Cahill. “Like contacts.”)

The filmmaker’s experience with Boeddeker and the Dolby Fellowship has affected the way he writes, he said. “I just finished a script and was so conscious of sound all the way through.” Speaking as if he were reading a directive from his latest screenplay about, naturally, aliens, “‘You hear a car – in Atmos!’”

The Dolby Atmos Sound of I Origins from Dolby Laboratories on Vimeo.

Monday, July 7, 2014

‘Transformers’ heads a slow holiday weekend

Transformers: Age of Extinction held on to the top spot at the box office this weekend, making it the second film this year, along with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, to remain at No. 1 for two weekends in a row. It dipped as severely as expected, 64 percent, to earn $36.4 million for the five days. The action flick headlined a startlingly slow (“dreadful,” in the words of some) weekend: The top 12 films grossed $118.5 million, a 47 percent downturn from the same period last year, when Despicable Me 2 and notorious misfire The Lone Ranger were the major releases bowing nationwide. Not that Extinction is feeling the pressure: The Michael Bay feature has earned $174.7 million so far, and will likely tally out to north of $250 million.

In second place, Melissa McCarthy’s Tammy earned $32.9 million. The poorly reviewed comedy’s five-day gross is less than that which McCarthy’s previous two films, The Heat and Identity Thief, earned over their three-day weekend releases. Though Tammy’s debut is nonetheless solid, the film will likely suffer a steep dip in sales over the weeks ahead: Viewers awarded it a terrible “C+” CinemaScore grade, meaning word-of-mouth will be none too laudatory.  Right now, the movie is looking at roughly $70 million in total.

Despite its dismal prospects, however, at least Tammy did not open below expectation. The same cannot be said for supernatural horror film Deliver Us From Evil, which clocked in at No. 3. The movie grossed $15 million for the five days, proving (once again) audiences are growing weary of supernatural exorcism flicks (think Devil’s Due and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, both of which also underperformed).

In fourth place, holdover 22 Jump Street continued to fill theatres. The comedy dipped 41 percent to earn $9.4 million for the weekend, bumping its total to $158.9 million. Fellow sequel How to Train Your Dragon 2 rounded out the Top 5 with its $8.8 million haul. Pundits are calling the animated feature’s gross to date, $140 million, “disappointing,” given the success of the first HTTYD.

Unfortunately, “disappointing” also characterizes the performance of new release Earth to Echo, which bowed to a weak $13.5 million for the five days. Just as exorcism fatigue may have adversely affected Deliver Us From Evil, found-footage weariness may have kept viewers from Echo. Over half of the family movie’s audience was under the age of 25, and with Planes sequel Planes: Fire and Rescue scheduled to open on the 18th, Echo will likely fade away rather quickly.

Many pundits believe the poor showing at the box office this weekend does not bode well for the rest of the season, which may be remembered as one of the slowest summers of the past 10 years. Be that as it may, the specialty box office is humming along nicely. John Carney’s musical feel-good fest Begin Again enjoyed another successful outing, grossing $1.3 million after having expanded to 175 locations. Fellow specialty release Snowpiercer also bucked the apocalyptic b.o. trend with its positive intake of $1 million.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

‘Transformers’ to top ‘Tammy’

The new Melissa McCarthy comedy, Tammy, is the only film that stands a chance at besting last week’s b.o. champion, Transformers: Age of Extinction, this holiday weekend. But its odds are slim, and not ones on which many pundits are betting. Tammy has earned roundly terrible reviews (29 percent rotten on Rotten Tomatoes). And although lead McCarthy now has a proven track record of headlining hits – The Heat grossed $159.6 million, while Identity Thief raked in $134.5 million – each of the comedian’s previous two successes saw her playing opposite a name star, Sandra Bullock (Heat) and Jason Bateman (Thief). It’s unlikely Tammy co-star Susan Sarandon has the same pull among the young audience at which this latest comedy is targeted. All that being said, however, Tammy did do $1.3 million worth of business Tuesday night, ahead of its official Wednesday premiere. That’s certainly an improvement over The Heat’s pre-premiere gross ($1 million) and that which was earned by Identity Thief ($134.5 million). Tammy could end up pulling in between $30 and $40 for the five-day spread.

Yet even if the film, which is the directorial debut of McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone, does manage to defy the critics and appeal to a large pool of viewers, a much heavier deluge is expected to flood those theatres screening Transformers: Age of Extinction. The latter grossed $121 million from its first five days in theatres, which is, very interestingly, less than what it earned in China over the same period. Extinction grossed $134.5 million in the People’s Republic. Evidently, the measures Paramount took to appeal to the Asian territory, the second largest film market in the world, were well worth the effort. (The studio cast Chinese star Li Bingbing, for instance, shot part of the movie in China, and partnered with local companies to promote and market the film.) Back here in the States, demand for the Michael Bay picture is still high. Though Extinction is expected to follow in the wake of its predecessors and dip precipitously its second weekend in theatres, it should still earn enough to once again claim the top spot at the box office. Look for returns around or north of $40 million.

It’s been over two months since a horror film last bowed in theatres, a fact that may benefit Deliver Us From Evil. Critics have not been kind (the film is 30 percent rotten on RT) but the movie has enjoyed a strong marketing push. Add the name draw of Eric Bana, and a five-day gross of $30 million isn’t unlikely.

Finally, kids’ film Earth to Echo bowed nationwide on Wednesday and will likely lay claim to the No. 4 slot. Now that both How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Maleficent are cooling off (at least domestically; Maleficent has now grossed $600 million worldwide and is the No. 1 non-sequel release of the year), Echo will be the resident family offering. Through the five days, returns should tally out to $20 million or so.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

'TFIOS' bench goes missing – who’s next?

The mystery of the day reads like a special themed edition of Clue: Was it the neighbors with crowbars, crazed fans with the brute strength of the obsessed, or city officials with whatever legitimate means are necessary to pry a metal structure loose from concrete? No one knows who took a bench featured in The Fault in Our Stars from its place along the Leidsegracht in Amsterdam, or why. But it has gone missing. Where once sat it and gave seat, now, there’s nothing but a flowerpot. No one knows who put that there, either.

"It's a bit embarrassing, because we do keep good track of them, but it's gone all right," says spokesperson Stephan van der Hoek of the missing bench . It’s possible the city of Amsterdam absconded with the popular albeit aged resting spot in order to repair it. It’s possible rabid fans of The Fault in Our Stars made off with the site of a pivotal scene in the film. It’s possible these same fans moved nearby inhabitants, tired of the increase in foot (most likely Converse-shod) traffic, to do away with the new tourist attraction altogether. Whoever the culprits, and whatever their motives, they’ve accomplished their task with admirable discretion.

But this event does lead us to wonder which innocent posterior repository could be next. If the act was in fact cinematically motivated, there’s a host of potential victims the world over that are (pardon the pun) sitting ducks. We’ve compiled an international list of five of the most famous, and therefore most vulnerable. Apparently, benches in movies is such a popular topic, there’s even a Sporcle quiz for it.

Notting Hill bench
Location: Perth, Australia*

In Bruges bench
Location: Bruges, Belgium

The Age of Innocence bench
Location: Paris, France

Manhattan bench
Location: New York, NY

And of course…
Forrest Gump bench
Location: Savannah, GA

*The scene in which the bench features was originally shot on a film set, but the bench itself was later moved to its current location in Oz.

Adapt this: 'Katherine'

In 2003, English newspaper The Guardian polled the public on its favorite British novels. Out of 100 titles, Katherine by Anya Seton was 95. Katherine refers to Katherine Swynford, mistress and later, remarkably, wife of John of Gaunt, the 14th century English monarch, younger brother of The Black Prince, uncle to King Richard II, and failed aspirant to the Castilian throne. Through their four children, Katherine and John are the progenitors of the Tudor, Lancaster and York royal lines. Katherine would survive two bouts of plague, the 100 Years’ War with France, and Wat Tyler’s Peasant’s Revolt. She was nanny to the future King Henry IV and sister-in-law to The Canterbury Tales author Geoffrey Chaucer. She spent her girlhood dependent upon the charity of others, but would die the widow of one of the most powerful men in England, and so the world. She is among the more remarkable women history has ever known, and though the latter may have failed to record her as comprehensively as others of lesser achievements, Seton’s imaginative novel yet manages a dynamic portrait.

All of which begs the question: Why hasn’t Katherine been made into a film?

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the novel’s publication. The occasion provides us with a timely excuse to call for a modern, cinematic commemoration. Much has been written about the lack of wide-release quality films for women, though the success of movies like Maleficent, which has earned over $500 million worldwide and surpassed blockbusters Godzilla and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 domestically, testifies to the earning potential of such films. Thematically, female leads in action films The Hunger Games and Divergent reflect our growing acceptance of strength as a feminine ideal, while the question of what it means to be a feminist has been much in the news. (Divergent star Shailene Woodley recently told Time magazine she does not consider herself a feminist because she likes men and has no desire to place herself above them, for instance. More tragically, the events of May’s Isla Vista shooting inspired the Twitter phenomenon #YesAllWomen, in which women shared their experiences with commonplace and extreme misogyny.) In other words, both the marketplace that traffics in dollars and cents, and the culture that traffics in trends, seem ripe for an entrant of Katherine’s make.

This “make” is comprised of three elements: The first and most important, a compelling protagonist; the second, conflict of a romantic and action-packed nature; and the third, a sweeping historical landscape that is at once escapist for being temporally remote, and resonant for touching upon issues – populist uprisings, the paradoxical nature of womanhood, even Freudian psychology – with modern parallels.

On the basis of the story itself, there’s hardly a reason not to adapt Katherine into a major release. One could argue the span of time covered within the novel, several decades, is too large to adequately depict in two hours. This would indeed be a valid argument if the book were less episodic. Happily, there are several major dramatic events, from the suspicious death of Katherine’s first husband, to Katherine and John’s  early courtship, to (our pick) the Peasant’s Revolt and Katherine’s subsequent journey of atonement, which could each sustain a feature in its own right. 

So if we are to accept Katherine’s cinematic viability, there’s fun to be had in compiling a wish-list of players. We would suggest the following:

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Known for war films like Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, Bigelow may seem an odd choice. Jane Campion, maybe, or Joe Wright, with their backgrounds in literary fare (Campion’s take on poet John Keats in Bright Star, Wright’s adaptations of Atonement and Anna Karenina), penchant for love stories, and lush visual styles, might seem better suited to a period romance of Katherine’s design. But we love the idea of bringing a gritty style to bear upon material already rife with sentiment. Imbuing the Peasant’s Revolt with the kind of tension and realism for which Bigelow is known, for instance, would make the story’s romantic elements seem that much more earned, heightening as it would our understanding of the stakes, and therefore more romantic than the softest atmospherics. We believe under Bigelow, the politics of the period would get their just due, to the dynamic benefit of the romance plot. Not to mention, she’s probably a good safeguard against a kind of The Other Boleyn Girl misstep.

Katherine: Jessica Brown Findlay, or an unknown
Findlay certainly has the right look for Katherine, a woman renowned for her beauty. Any hesitation stems from the “Downtown Abbey” star’s roles to date. We may have seen her act defiantly as Lady Sybil Crawley in “Abbey,” choosing to marry the family chauffeur over a fellow aristocrat, but never yet steely, or, better yet, intermittently unlikable. Findlay may look just right, but she seems more the gentler Katherine circa the first half of the novel, rather than the complex woman of the second. There might yet be an unknown actress who embodies both.
John of Gaunt: James McAvoy
John of Gaunt as portrayed in Seton’s novel is a Mr. Darcy figure: Many mistake his serious public demeanor for arrogance, but he inspires devotion in those who know him best, and of course, removes his hard shell for Katherine. McAvoy’s ability to convey a range of emotions, particularly tortured (see: X-Men: Days of Future Past, Atonement) in a manner suggestive of, but that does not overly emote, inner struggle, makes the actor well-suited to the role of a proud monarch with unresolved childhood fears. It’s about time the Scottish McAvoy played a royal.

Screenwriter: Abi Morgan
Morgan would seem a nice complement to the politically minded Bigelow. The writer’s diverse credits include Shame, The Iron Lady, The Invisible Woman, the upcoming Suffragette, and the dearly departed BBC TV newsroom series, “The Hour.” Her women are strong as well as flawed, and her projects character-driven but not myopically so, featuring people who interact with their social, political and historical contexts. Her previous works testify to her ability to write romances, political pieces, period films, female protagonists and men with serious psychological hangups. She’s the lynchpin in our dream construction.