Saturday, August 30, 2008

Left spoiling in the summer heat. Part Two.

Here's part two of our megaflops of Blockbuster Summer '08 list. As these digital pixels embed themselves into memory files and we commemorate the rancid stuff of bad ideas baking in the summer sun, it's worthwhile to note that today's box-office news puts into the records one of the true achievements in filmmaking from this or any other American summer. 

Warner Brothers' The Dark Knight officially crossed the 500 million mark today to become only the second film in American box-office history to cross that milestone. The first was Titanic which past the 500 million mark in just a little over three months to land at a 600.8 total. The Dark Knight achieved it's half billion dollar take in just over 6 weeks.

So it's with the memories of  summer hits like Iron Man, The IncredibleHulk, Mamma Mia, Wall•e, and The Dark Knight, that we offer a well deserved raspberry to part two of this summer's real dreck.

X-Files: I Want to Believe. (Fox)
In pre-release publicity for this long-past-losing-interest sequel, Fox executives were fond of pointing out that this was a standalone movie that didn't require previous knowledge of the X-Files established alien mythology. Asked if they thought audiences loyal to the TV show would accept a film meant more for the masses than the fans, execs pointed to creator Chris Carter with a "who could know better than the man who created it all" confidence. That may have been the first mistake. Underwhelming comments from co-star Gillian Anderson, challenged with morphing into the icy Dana Scully six years after the end of the TV series, didn't seem to ring with excitement and some truly convoluted, b-roll looking trailers sure didn't help. Ultimately the feature release on July 25th only scored a fourth place finish, barely cracking 10 million. More embarrassing was it's trouncing by the sophomoric (aren't they all) Will Ferrell comedy Step Brothers which came in at number 2, tripling the take of X-Files. In fact, even Journey to the Center of the Earth (at the time in it's third weekend) was a threat, coming in fifth less than a third of a million off X-Files numbers. Point to Chris Carter now as "the man who knows when it's time to grab for one more big paycheck". Box-office: $20,750, 041 against an estimated $35,000.000 production budget.
Who takes it in the shorts. Fans of the show that expected and deserved way the hell more.

Swing Vote. (Disney)
Of the films I saw this summer, I hated this film almost as much as I hated Speed Racer. Who could possibly green-light a family film about the precocious daughter of a single dad who's teaching him a thing or two about life while she's also trying to get across the social responsibilities and privileges of voting, and make the father in the piece a bumbling drunkard with no more respect for his daughter than his pickup truck. Disney, that's who, trying to endear to us a character who is more taken with going for a ride in Richard Petty's race car than even showing up at his daughter's school's Parent's Day. I was so angry at the irresponsible behavior of Kevin Costner's character in this film that I rooted against him for the entire pointless plot. Even Budweiser should have had the integrity to have pulled their product placements instead of condoning this mess with ever-present cans of Bud in frame and enough Budweiser signs to shellac a football stadium. This, along with the illustrious Speed Racer were the only two films I saw this summer that required a substantial effort to sit through to the end, but this one perhaps is even more detestable. Throw in a handful of talented supporting actors who were entirely mis-cast and underused and astonishingly bad writing and this is easily the most inexcusable flops of the summer and certainly one of the year's worst. A laugh-less failure. Box-office: $15,555,204.
Who takes it in the shorts? Hopefully everyone even remotely connected to the project, but most deservedly The Walt Disney Company who allowed a total lapse of integrity and common sense.

Meet Dave. (Fox)
I keep wondering if Eddie Murphy is having a contest with his buddies on whether he can star in a bigger failure than Pluto Nash before people will stop offering him money to make movies. I will confess up front that I didn't see this movie. I will also shout to the rooftops that I didn't see this movie. No one should have. According to the box-office, very nearly no one did. You can easily base a "no-go" decision on the poster, and there are really no excuses on Earth to have gone if you've caught even mere seconds of the trailer. This is a bad idea wrapped inside an awful idea. Not unlike Mike Myers, Mr. Murphy has apparently been shown the future by his studio and his accountant and low and behold, the rumors are flying that there's a Beverly Hills Cop 4 screaming toward the near horizon. No wonder, total box-office: $11,644.000.
Who takes it in the shorts? Murphy deserves the swiftest and hardest boot in the ass. But doesn't this guy have an agent? Allow me... Eddie, screw the BHC sequels and make a hard, down and gritty cop flick. Get a little drama and a little ass kicking in of your own and quit going for laughs. You can laugh all you want after you've got your dignity back.

The Rocker. (Fox, these guys must not exactly be geniuses.)
Here's a snapshot of Hollywood genius if I've ever seen one. Let's take Rainn Wilson, the goofy guy on NBC's The Office, and make him into the next Jack Black. We can even rip off the character in School of Rock, yeah, that'll make it more mindless to write and way easier to hype. Well kids, you pay for what you don't get and clearly nobody writing, directing or even considering putting money into The Rocker gets it. Or gets anything funny for that matter. And what they also aren't going to be getting is rich off the lame idea. This was one of the summer's worst and suitably held to be one of the summer's last. Bowing on a Wednesday, looking to build box-office and word of mouth into it's opening weekend, The Rocker rocketed to a number 13 spot in the box-office which by the end of the weekend had nailed down a 5 day take of, oops, $3,686,460. The worst opening number of the summer for a major studio wide release. In 2,784 theaters, The Rocker pulled in just $947. per screen. That's over 5 days. By this past Thursday, just 9 days into it's run, The Rocker was holding steady at number 17 on box-office charts and it's per theater take was a staggeringly embarrassing 70 bucks. Total box-office to date: $5,664.559.
Who takes it in the shorts? Take your pick. Everyone who thought of it, made it, appeared in it or saw it deserves to share the blame for being part of one of the worst projects in lame comedy history. Congratulations.

And that's a wrap, thank God. There were lousy movies and movies we rooted against that did just great, so we'll tip our hat and admit to being opinionated. But that's part of the fun of summer movies. We'll also remember seeing one of the most fun filled and sparklingly silly movies of the year in Mamma Mia, one of the classiest casting decisions of the year that went pure gold with Robert Downey, Jr.'s performance as Iron Man and being there on opening weekend for The Dark Knight, a memory that will carry as much legend as having been around for the opening weekend in 1977 for Star Wars. It was a good summer, but then, right at the heart of it, aren't they all?

Next up... get ready for Hollywood back-slapping to kick back into obnoxious hype mode as Award and Festival season descends. In the meantime, get out and see a movie.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Left spoiling in the summer heat. Part One.

Summer's almost at an end and if you're like me, you're just starting to reconcile yourself with wearing socks and shoes again. As for the movies, it's the end of Saturday afternoons as hot as the buttered popcorn and new releases that can scorch the weekend box-office. It's also goodbye, for the most part and just for now, to the high concept expectations that fell into a chill deeper than the bottom of the picnic soda barrel. Like most summer seasons, there were the big hits that should have been better movies - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, the big hits that earned every seat sold - Iron Man, Wall•e, the surprise hits - Mamma Mia, Sex and the City, the hits that were pretty much a miss - Get Smart, Hancock, a miss that so deserved to be a hit - Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, and a true Summer Blockbuster - The Dark Knight.

And then there are the movies that oh so deserved to be mega flops. Some did just fine, though I have to say that as of this writing, nothing I was rooting against has managed to scramble over the 100 million mark. But some, to my great joy and satisfaction sucked hot summer wind. Here's Part One of a list of the wrecks on the release track that brought a satisfied grin to my face.

Speed Racer. (Warner Bros.)
When I first wrote up a trailer review of Speed Racer on the Trailer Takes page of, I referred to the jerky (physics? who needs your stinkin' physics?) computer animation as being less than worthy of a lousy video game. Turns out it wasn't that someone rush released the effects footage for the trailer, it was done on purpose! Done and done in. The film popped onto screens in a skittle bag explosion of color between Iron Man and Indiana Jones and established itself as a primer for screwing up every possible element of making a movie. Audiences, in a display of collective wisdom, groaned. Box-office: $43,945,000. Doesn't sound so bad until you put it against the cost of marketing and an estimated $120,000,000 production budget.
Who takes in in the shorts? Directors, the Wachowski brothers from The Matrix fame, where they very likely have disappeared for a long rehab.

The Love Guru. (Paramount)
With nothing more than some Austin Powers like buffoonish characters and a bad retread of what looks like three minute sketch material, Mike Myers let his ego dance all over his respect for his audience (which he likes to tout with sickeningly false modesty as his "bosses"), and got what he deserved, ignored. From every trailer to every unfunny and ego saturated marketing appearance, Myers collapsed completely and proved he is nowhere near the talent that his Austin Powers box-office suggests. His "bosses" smartly responded by leaving The Love Guru's theaters empty and handing Paramount their only real failure of the summer. Total domestic Box-office: $32,190,000.
Who takes it in the shorts? Mr. Myers, who is reportedly hard at work on, can you guess, Austin Powers 4.

Star Wars: Clone Wars. (Warner Bros.)
We love our nutty Uncle George. We just do. Call it a guilty pleasure but while George Lucas has been happily losing his mind, he's become a hoot to keep track of. The man, who's tomb will surely be shaped like the Millennium Falcon, has set new standards for mining material from a single source. But George, at some point the shovel just has to hit bottom. Welcome to Star Wars: Clone Wars. This Fisher Price quality, video game- looking animation flick is an extended commercial for the animated (Cartoon Network) TV series of the same name. It's stellar Jedi Knight-like feat? It even kept Star Wars fan geeks away from theaters. It's also the first bona fide Star Wars named flop and not even the Death Star can blow a hole in a dynasty that big. Total box-office so far (it's still in release): $24,999.000.
Who takes it in the shorts? Warner Bros. who had the pleasure of having picked up Lucas Film distribution from 20th Century Fox.

There's more. We'll be back next time with the 2nd half of our list of summer celluloid that satisfyingly fizzled and flopped. You've been warned.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Today's word is "whatever" as in whatever it takes.

It only makes sense that since politicians tend to be such great storytellers - go spend twenty minutes fact checking a John McCain speech for a little proof - that storytellers, the professional kind, love politicians. Directors in particular seem to like making their political point by drawing broad examples on the silver screen. The New York Times' A.O. Scott just did a Critic's Pick featuring Frank Capra's classic State of the Union from 1948 to punctuate the fact that politicians from even as far back as McCain's twelfth birthday (McCain was born in 1936) were still being pressed to say and do anything to get elected. (Wonder if this might have been where McCain first got the idea?) The point is well made so we've included the NYT piece below:

Not one to let politics so ripe for satire and criticism slip by, director Oliver Stone is about to unleash his latest soapbox stand to theaters this fall. Stone's new project is simply titled W. Taking on a president who has a tough time with words, perhaps a title with just one letter is exactly right. Though the advance poster above puts it nicely with just a picture, the poster pictured below puts it into words - the President's own words. So as we prepare for the nation's political conventions, here's a thought... should we really be considering electing a President willing to say anything right after we've had a President who can barely say anything?

Whatever side you fall on, rock the vote and go make your own political statement this November. You can check out the trailer for W. by clicking here. And you can check out a much larger picture of the poster below by clicking here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Wednesday experiment, week 2.

Last week Hollywood tried something a little new in marketing a new release, they released two days early. Both Sony Pictures and Warner Brothers decided to take a shot at grabbing a summer audience that might be bored mid-week and opened their new releases Wednesday instead of waiting for the traditional release frame on Fridays. Of course the hope was to rake in lots of extra ticket sales and build word of mouth (and hype) for big nights on Friday and Saturday. Not a bad idea and one we commended last week as being an idea obvious enough that it's a little surprising it's not already the norm through the blockbuster weeks of summer.
Both pictures, Pineapple Express from Sony starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 from Warner starring Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel, America Ferrera and Blake Lively, turned in respectable if not stellar numbers. In fact, on Wednesday, the day of release, both Express and Pants beat out The Dark Knight at the box-office with Express scoring 12 million over The Dark Knight's take of 5. Nice, but it wouldn't last and eventually The Dark Knight scored another big weekend (making it four in a row) and placed first, with Monday delivering weekend totals that put Express in the number two slot and Pants number 4 (Brendan Fraser's The Mummy sequel, still performing nicely in it's second weekend, scored the number 3 slot).

So does a Wednesday release work? The definitive answer will come this weekend with the Paramount/Dreamworks release of Ben Stiller's big budget "war movie in a satire flick" Tropic Thunder. In spite of multiple threats of boycotting from a few offended organizations, (much more on this will shortly be appearing over at our sister blog Satire is Reason), Tropic Thunder may wind up basking in the kismet of being a perfectly placed release. Not only will it have the joy to be reporting what I expect to be blockbuster 5 day numbers on Monday, I've got to go with the odds and say that Thunder will also be the flick to drop the Batman down to the number 2 weekend slot for the first time since it's release on July 18th. That extra bit of bragging rights, which most seemed to be assured would go to Pineapple Express this past weekend, and likely didn't due to the Wednesday release not building well into the weekend, will now go to Thunder which is far more likely to carry its momentum into the weekend and with it, enthusiastic word of mouth. And perhaps that's all appropriate as The Dark Knight can justly be called the best film of the summer and Tropic Thunder holds the promise of being the summer's funniest comedy.

We like the idea of Wednesday summer releases. We like the idea of Wednesdays becoming big events through the summer release schedule. Studios, theaters and audiences may find that separating big action and dopey comedy fare from more serious and adult fare between a Wednesday/Friday release pattern may even help to smooth things at the ticket counter, alleviate the trepidation adults can have for standing in long movie lines that have a decidedly young demographic and allow working adults a less crowded Friday night. It may even be a way to knock down the resistance many of us have to fighting opening weekend lines. We'll bet big time on Tropic Thunder having a strong night tonight and a great weekend. We'll also cover any bets on The Dark Knight again nailing down impressive 5th weekend numbers and in the process taking over the number 2 all-time US box-office slot from Star Wars as The Dark Knight passes the 461 million mark. It's all good and it's nice to see studios backing their releases with a little more confidence. Even in the face of misdirected boycotts and over emotional gut reactions. But that's another column on a different blog.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Pineapple Express makes an early run for homegrown green.

Today is Wednesday. Plain old middle of the week, no special holiday coming Wednesday. Yet today there's a major new movie being released. Well at least Columbia Pictures hopes it's major. So does Judd Apatow Productions and Mr. Apatow's main partner in crime, Seth Rogan. Today is the release date for Pineapple Express, arguably the most blatantly hyped "stoner" movie since the days of Cheech and Chong and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982 if you want to know).
Is the world, or at least the part of it that goes to the movies, up for an out and out doper comedy? Apatow and Rogan are betting on it and have pulled together their usual antics in the pursuit of growing some of their own green. In interviews like the one that aired on AMC's Shootout, Rogan owns up to having drawn from personal experience to write the comedy and in this he appears completely credible. Though I grew past thinking these plot lines were funny well before Tommy and Cheech called it quits (that was some very funny sh_t), if you can wrap solid comedy around anything, I'm game. For me, the element that will suck me into a theater is Gary Cole, who may be one of the best dead pan funny guys since Dabney Coleman. OK, I'll get off of the dated references. It was Coleman who floored me in Will Ferrell's Talladega Nights, but I have to admit James Franco had me laughing in the trailers here. 

Most intriguing about Pineapple Express is it's Wednesday release. I have often wondered, given that two and three week old movies usually start showing weak numbers on Wednesday and Thursdays, why new summer films wait for Fridays to release. This makes Pineapple Express a possible marketing game changer. Funny or not, if the film clicks and turns in a huge five day number over what would have only been the traditional 3 day tally by Monday, Apatow and Rogan are going to look anything but high. Though that may be an accurate description of the direction of their bank accounts. We'll watch and wait. For our ticket expenses this week we'll be doing some catch up and perhaps a revisit to The Dark Knight. And if you want to laugh your ass off at 6 middle age actors cracking each other up, by all means get out and see Mamma Mia. But if dopes on dope is your ticket, suck in and hold, this is your Wednesday.