Friday, June 27, 2008

Adorable robots, super assassins and an American Girl.


This is what summer is all about. New releases, good reviews, diverse appeal over lots of audience types, family movies, summer fun for kids, parents that will be charmed rather than bored and teens and adults that will find all of the shoot-em up action they could ever hope for. Add in the hits the summer has so far produced and there really is something for everyone at a movie theater this weekend. Congratulations Hollywood, these are the weeks we love during Summer Blockbuster season.

In comparison to a weekend ago, when the reviews for the new releases were very nearly toxic, the reviews for this weekend's releases are stellar. Particularly where we would expect them to be, with the masters of the art in computer animation, Pixar. The first feature release since the long overdue purchase of Pixar by Disney, Wall•e is gathering glowing reviews faster than the little character can make garbage blocks. The film will likely take the weekend, and could be the next movie this summer to make a serious play for that 300 million mark, already reached by Iron Man and about to be crossed by Indiana Jones. What all this means to the established animation favorite Kung Fu Panda remains to be seen but it's a good bet that after a spectacular run and box-office approaching 200 million domestic, Panda will begin to cool off and Wall•e will set the new pace.

Amazingly, if kids and parents are heading out to the movies this weekend, CGI isn't the only show in town. Last week's limited release Kit Kittredge, An American Girl opens wide this weekend, though we expect it may find some difficulty finding available theater screens. 

Regardless, it may be worth seeking out. Last week's performances in only five theaters netted the highest per theater take for the weekend, bringing in nearly $45,000 per screen. (To put that in perspective, Get Smart, last week's number one film, averaged just over $9,000 per screen.) Kittredge also has a built in audience of young ladies and their moms who fell for the Mattel line of dolls years ago. Add to that the generally positive critic's reviews and the overwhelming popularity of Abigail Breslin in the title role, and there's a film, though not expected to break the top three, that still offers a ton of summer fun for an audience segment that usually has to tag along to their brother's action fantasies.

We've had a soaring man of metal slam into the summer box-office like, well, a superhero. We've had the long awaited and triumphant return of Indiana Jones and we've got the Hulk still beating up cinema screens everywhere. A comedic movie star that honed his popularity on
television, remade a great TV comedy with huge success in Get Smart and the cast of a hugely popular TV show reunited to splash glamor, girl talk and cosmos onto the silver screen with Sex and the City. What we haven't had yet this summer is a crazy, frenetic, action-fantasy shoot 'em up. Well, 'til today. 

Wanted, starring the real life mom who looks coolest as a bad-ass Angelina Jolie, paired with the surprisingly diversely talented James McAvoy (and the ever present Morgan Freeman thrown in for good measure), should fill the bill. If you've seen even the trailers from 2004's Night Watch or it's sequel, 2006's Day Watch, Russian director Timur Bekmambetov's first American film is flooring the critics and will likely be irresistible to both fans of the director's previous work, or fans of the graphic novel the film is based on. This one promises to be on the level of 2005's Frank Miller's Sin City and will fill in a gap in the cinematic offerings this weekend perfectly.

So there you go. This weekend we won't be expecting anything to crash and burn except for up on the screen, as it should be. We are expecting to bid a speedy farewell to Mike Myer's Guru Pitka and we're thinking that Sandler's Zohan is just waiting to be blown dry right off the movie screen. But what's new and what's left is classic summer stuff. If there's not something in movie theaters this weekend that makes you hungry for popcorn, you either just aren't trying or it just ain't coming. But if there is something that makes you start counting you're cash and wondering about gas money, get to it this weekend 'cause July is looking like a busy month and we're only half way through the summer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Myers' failure enlightens us.

My take has always been, if someone says they have no ego, they usually have an ego that could cast a shadow across the grand canyon. The very boast that you have no ego is in itself egotistical. For an entertainer to say they have no ego is either ridiculous or delusional. It is most defintely a contradiction in terms.
The poster for Mike Myer's weekend flop sported the tagline, "His karma is huge." That turned out to be bad karma for Paramount (their first of the summer) and for Myers, who was beaten up twice for The Love Guru, first by appalled critics and then by a no-show audience. Even the most hard-core SNL/Austin Powers fans could only muster 14 million in ticket sales, making Guru Pitka less of a draw than Speed Racer, until now, the biggest flop of the summer season, which amazingly still topped The Love Guru's opening weekend performance by more than 4.5 million. The bottom line is that The Love Guru didn't exactly come up smelling like patchouli incense and anyone watching a trailer while even the least little bit sober had to have had an inkling that that would be the case.

So though I was looking for a car wreck this past weekend and got one (though it turned out to be a lame comedy concept riding on a motorized floor pillow), what's got me a bit fired up is Mr. Myers' stint on television hyping his potential flame out. I get that stars, particularly star/writers, have to hype their latest projects regardless of quality. Understood. But in all of the sh-t shoveled for The Love Guru, this star pushed the humble, creative-genius-with-a-conscience way past my BS threshold. Seemingly everywhere Myers showed up, there was some sort of self centered vibe seeking out "classic comedian" validation.

One glaringly embarrassing sideshow was TV Land's 2008 awards show that horribly trashed any respectability that's been built since the inception of the awards back in 2003. Last year, to their credit, the TV Land awards bestowed a new honor, the Legacy of Laughter award. 
In Kirstie Alley's introduction of the award's first presentation she said that the new honor was "...one of this show's most significant." She continued, "...(the award) honors a show or performer who has made us laugh beyond the original commitment, they've made us laugh for decades and they won't go away because we won't let them... we know them to be classic and timeless...".

That first award was then presented by Carol Burnett to Lucy Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. in honor of their mother Lucille Ball. The award then came to be known as the Lucille Ball Legacy of Laughter Award. This year the second recipient was named. Surprise, it wasn't Red Skelton, not Jackie Gleason or Bob Hope, not Ernie Kovacs or Milton Berle or Sid Cesar, not even Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, Danny Thomas or Carol Burnett. It was Mike Myers. Take a moment, let that sink in.

Yes, there were ads during the show for The Love Guru and yes, during the "tribute" video montage there were clips from The Love Guru, in spite of the fact that it was yet to be released. The award was presented to Mr. Myers by his film's co-star Justin Timberlake, and after a very brief thank you, the two quickly jumped back to the mic to put in the inevitable plug. Judging from the film's failure to sell tickets, that plug happily fell on deaf and perhaps offended ears.

I'm so floored by the blatant crap slung for hype in this case, that it rises to the level of disgust. The capper though is Mr. Myers himself, appearing on AMC's sometimes terrific movie interview show Shootout. The clip below is just an excerpt of Myers' false show of humility and almost sickeningly righteous "concerned artiste" con. The result of all of this, the clips, the appearance of an award presentation having been bought by a marketing department, the endless ego and the flat out lack of anything funny, suggests to me that Myers has entered into that really desperate and pathetic stage of celebrity... when the adulation has worn away and only the struggling ego is left to keep him company.  Moviedozer Dailies salutes, not you Mr. Myers, but those used-to-be fans who recognize crap when they see it, a con when they're the target and their wisdom to spend their money else where. You yourself say they're the boss. You deserve to have them put you out of work.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Watching for weekend wreckage.

Welcome to the first weekend of summer. That is, actual summer, not the movie marketing summer that exists outside celestial physics. Though this may be the first weekend of summer and the eighth weekend of Blockbuster Summer '08, it very well could be the second of what we've affectionately dubbed a "Speed Racer" weekend. That would be where anyone watching the movie business has their binoculars focused tight on the first turn to see a spectacular and high profile car wreck.

I confess, I was corner watching just two weeks ago as I watched Shyamalan's The Happening round into Friday night. As Wahlberg and company seemed to squeeze through the pack chasing only the Hulk in the Marvel car, I zoomed in on turn two. Damn, no scrapes going through Saturday night. What a drag. How could such a badly put together entry survive this far? Well, you know the story, Sunday's turn slowed things down a bit when the Dreamworks Panda car surged ahead, but the finish line on Monday morning still gave Shyamalan a third place finish. No wrecks, no crash and burn, no fun. Yes, sometimes I watch the weekend box-office hoping for a car crash.

And I will be again this weekend. Only now there's a lot more potential twisted metal in the field. On the pole in row one, the Hulk is poised for a second start and looking very strong after generally good notices and cheers from the old fans. Next to Marvel is Dreamworks' third run around a weekend track with Kung Fu Panda, who'll be looking for yet another strong finish before his competition gets an enormous dose of nitro with Pixar's championship bread Wall•e revving up for next week.

In row two, are the competitors most likely to cause a pile up. Sandler, driving what appears to be a fake foreign job in the Zohan and Shyamalan in The Happening, hoping against hope to somehow find the finish on Monday still in the top five. We'll be watching them both closely 'cause it's a real good bet that one of them is going into the wall. 

Back in row three are the new entries. Steve Carell, still kind of a rookie in the big summer races, running on retreads in Get Smart and the former champ Mike Myers driving a brand new character in The Love Guru. Myers, who's knock with his sponsors is that he just doesn't take anything seriously, may be driving a new vehicle but it looks like it's built on lots of borrowed parts. How it will hold up in the summer heat is anybody's guess, but those that have seen his test laps aren't encouraged.

So that's how it lays out. For people like me, cold and callous enough to actually root for misfortune, this weekend promises the closest thing yet to the third box-office race back at the beginning of the season. That was the weekend the Wachowski Brothers, running against Marvel's supercharged Iron Man provided one of the most stunning and spectacular wrecks of all time. Shards of technicolor pixels seemed to fly right off the screen. If you want to see a great movie wreck try to catch it in Imax. Those are the only screens big enough to capture the explosion of egos and bad ideas that was Speed Racer. With our appetites whetted and our hopes high, here's to this week's racers and to the studio marketing crews who'll be called upon to clear the smoking crumpled mess off the track.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A special effects pioneer passes.

In a week when Marvel Studios and Universal are breathing a bit easier with a 55 million dollar opening of it's special effects laden rebirth of The Incredible Hulk, it seems fitting to acknowledge the career of a special effects pioneer. Stan Winston, was one of the innovators of an industry that has become indispensable and inseparable from the concept of summer blockbuster movies. The Oscar winning special effects maven passed away this past Sunday. Winston, famous for effects in films as diverse as Jurassic Park, Terminator and Edward Scissorhands, most recently contributed to the soaring success of this year's top earner Iron Man. In the midst of transforming his Stan Winston Studio to the Winston Effects Group, it's clear that both his influence, vast experience and passionate enthusiasm will continue to drive his company and his legacy to continuing innovation and artistic milestones. We wish his family, friends and partners our condolences.



Friday, June 13, 2008

Our favorite summer poster so far.

Saw this this morning and have to admit I laughed out loud. I have to think the idea actually made the boring guys in the marketing department laugh as well. (At least I picture them as boring.) I'm sure Wall•e's got the typical Pixar touch but the poster's a classic. Take a look.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sandler sucker punches audiences, again.

Fine, don't listen to me. Go ahead and see your silly movies, what do I care? 

OK, in the realm of predictions for a slow weekend for summer movies, we blew it. This past weekend turned out to be one of the busiest so far this summer, taking in over 170 mil. Nice.

Not that I'm bitter, but what the hell were those of you who contributed ten bucks to the 40 million dollar take of Don't Mess with the Zohan thinking? I kinda get the Panda thing. First kid flick of the summer, kind of long to wait around for Wall•e, and Dreamworks has the second best track record out there when it comes to CGI animation. I get that. But Zohan? C'mon! 

Guess it's time for some true confessions. I really, strongly dislike the trend toward moronic comedies these days. Not so much for who's making them, though in my book that list encompasses a ton of wasted talent, but more for the lame and gutter level humor that pervades them. In any other form of entertainment, that practice would be akin to playing to the lowest common denominator, but in movie comedies, the practice is the new standard and seems to be encouraged. This results in not only a glut of tasteless humor, but a reenforcement of racial, gender and ethnic prejudices that find easy laughs and showcase a pathetic loss of values.

I'm not preaching that there should be any ethical standards met here. It's likely that any type of quality standard in a creative medium is as improbable as it would be stifling and destructive. What I am saying is that the lack of smart humor and clever comedies in film is at the very least an art form lost and a movie genre approaching the endangered species list. Take a look at last summer's Adam Sandler comedy, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, also directed by Zohan's Dennis Dugan. Chuck and Larry fed off gay life styles and macho stereotypes to mine some of the most unfunny and uncomfortable humor ever to fill 110 minutes of screen time. That film did just under 35 million in it's opening weekend, on it's way to a US gross of over 120 million. With Zohan's take of 40 million this past weekend, it's obvious that Sandler and Dugan's new endeavor will likely go over the 100 million mark as well.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but where's the fun in it? If we allow filmmakers the luxury of doing what's easy and still reward them with tens of millions in profits, why will they ever try harder. And in the meantime, what are we missing? Isn't the "best" a product of challenging the artist? The film industry is rift with complaints that the business is all about the corporations and nothing about the artist, the creator. Celebrities (not talents) like Sandler play right into their pockets, fully engaged in the game of opening weekend numbers rather than creative and artistic triumphs. 

For the masses (and there are millions) that flock to see the next Sandler, the next Will Ferrell, the next Apatow production, if you enjoy it, knock yourselves out. This is after all a demand driven marketplace. But if we see Mr. Sandler mugging for the camera at the Spirit awards or spouting artistic rights and creative freedom while railing against the "powers of Hollywood", first we'll find something to puke in, then we're going to rant like a banshee on the web. If there is one day a Hall of Fame for those who brought the creative expectations of the movie industry to the level of imbeciles, Mr. Sandler, your legacy is assured.

Friday, June 6, 2008

A Panda, a Moron and a Mongol. A movie weekend for catch-up.


It's weekend 6 of Blockbuster summer '08 and here's what's on the release schedule: an animated Panda Bear that blunders his way through martial arts heroics in the voice of Jack Black (even as a Panda, Black seems to be channeling Chris Farley), contrived idiocy from Adam Sandler about a former Mossad agent turned hairdresser in NY, and an historical adventure that turns beautifully photographed snow fallen landscapes into frozen fields of blood. Mmmmm, what movie magic should we take in this weekend?

Well, let's take a look at what we haven't seen yet. If you base it on the offerings this weekend, the answer would be - a good movie. OK, the kids are apt to like Black as Po, the Kung Fu Panda hero-in-training, in this Dreamworks Animation offering which has received fairly solid reviews and the least offensive marketing trailers of the bunch. Though you shouldn't be expecting "Pixar" level artwork, the story will surely carry kids. Adults should find the ride occasionally humorous and not without glints of charm.

If an animated send-up of slow motion martial arts acrobatics isn't your thing, you're about out of luck on the new release front. So if going to the movies still feels like an appealing way to spend a couple of weekend hours, we highly suggest filling in some of the gaps in your summer cinema check-list. Here are our suggestions in no particular order.

Iron Man. Adult kid-stuff like most great action hero comic book flicks. The stand-out here is Robert Downey Jr. who is a blast to watch from first frame to last. He's the reason the franchise took off with such solid numbers and the sole reason you'll be anxious for the sequel before the end credits have had time to finish.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls. The second huge hit of summer and very likely the one that will come out on top when the pollen clears. This one tracks with a little more adult appeal than Iron Man, particularly if you loved the originals. Of course Harrison Ford, in fedora and leather jacket, is the driving force and though Shia LaBeouf may make good on bringing a new generation to the adventurers of Dr. Jones, it's Karen Allen's return that makes the whole thing snap. Ultimately she's the reason to take in the adventure even if you've already seen it once. Go back, take someone who hasn't been yet, and this time find a theater where you love the popcorn.

Sex and the City. It's the second weekend of release and as such, there are two big benefits. First, the lines shouldn't be daunting and there's no chance there'll be camera crews hanging around the box-office. With all of the girl's night out parties wrapped or relocated, access to Carrie and Co. should be unencumbered. Which leads to the second reason this is a great time to see Sex, no one will know you went. Guys, I'm talking to you here. Take the girlfriends, the wives, the gay buddies, whoever and have fun. You know you want to. The truth is, the HBO series and all of those DVD sales didn't only materialize from female fans and Sex and the City has been a quality act from Season One. The weak offerings opening this weekend will have lots of fans thinking the same way and we're predicting Sex is in for a very strong second weekend at the box-office.

The Strangers. This horror thriller was number three at the box-office last week, taking in over 20 million and bumping Iron Man out of the top three for the first time since it's release. Strangers stars Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman as a young couple isolated in a vacation home when a trio of strangers decides to terrorize them, simply because they happen to be there. With wide positive reviews and an emphasis on psychological scares, The Strangers fills a gap in the variety of movie releases so far this summer that should stand it well against the competition for at least another week.

When Did You Last See Your Father?. If you live in a big city and have a theater near you that showcases limited releases, the only new film out that tweaked our interest is this one, starring Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth. You can take a look at why we're looking forward to it on our June List over at Moviedozer.com, along with the other June releases we've got our eye on.

So take our cue and grab this weekend for some catching up. Next week gets back to form with two major entries into the summer blockbuster sweepstakes. Marvel Studios takes it's second crack at amassing millions with The Incredible Hulk, starring (and written by) Edward Norton. It's also the second film of the summer to star Liv Tyler. The Happening, starring Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel will also debut, in spite of the fact that it was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan who hasn't written or directed a worthwhile project since The Sixth Sense so very many years ago. (Yes, we dislike his work that much.) Come to think of it, you may have sometime for catching up next week as well.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sarah Smile.

Just as her smile lit up the red carpet at the New York premiere, her big screen turn as Carrie Bradshaw lit up box-office and girl's night out parties all across the country. The big headline on Monday was that Sex and the City beat out Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls to take the number one slot at the box-office with more than 55 million in sales, topping some estimates by almost 100%. (Though we can't believe anyone seriously thought this movie would do less than 35 mil. in it's opener.) That achievement in sales sent a strong message to the movie industry that women as a target audience (that's women, not prepubescent girls) could indeed make a bona fide Hollywood hit.

There's also a second headline that is just as clear but seems to have garnered far less attention. That story is that Sex and the City is all about Sarah. Sarah Jessica Parker is the movie, is/was the HBO series and is the core of why and how this all happened. Sarah Jessica Parker is a movie star. It is her charm, charisma and talent that makes the cocktail dresses and shimmering back drop of New York all seem to sparkle. As Mary Tyler Moore was to a Minneapolis news room, so is Sarah to the City.

So what's a studio to do? Is there another Sex silver screen script hitting the executive desks at Warner this week? The temptation has to be seductive for movie marketeers. But what of focusing on Sarah? Is this the kismet of the perfect role and the perfect actress or is there more? Parker's career has been long and successful, but not terribly varied and there's never been that "award" role that could offer a bit of timelessness for her screen resumé. What there has been is an abundance of sheer "likability". Perhaps put on best display in Sex and the City is her ability to standout among standouts, somehow commanding the screen and our memories even when surrounded by powerful and capable actors. Her roles never get swept under larger performances and her charm can cut through the weakest of story moments.


Our prediction is that, if they haven't already taken place, feverish meetings and frenzied phone calls have the execs at Warners thinking the "S" and "F" words that are today's favorite
 touchstones of Hollywood, sequel and franchise. Whether Sex and the City returns in 2010 or 2011, or never again, Sarah Jessica Parker will be back and she's a sure bet to eclipse all that's come before. The most exciting thing about this past weekend for movie fans, men and women, is the door that just opened to the possibility that Carrie Bradshaw may become the second most memorable character of Sarah Jessica's Parker's career.