Friday, May 29, 2009

Look Up to animated adventure or get dragged straight to Hell.

If you thought deciding between Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and Terminator Salvation last weekend was tough, you can relax. Choosing what new movie to see this weekend is going to be an easy call. Rarely has there been such a diametrically opposite offering on a summer movie weekend.

A predominance of audiences, particularly family audiences and Pixar animation fans, will be looking Up, the new Disney/Pixar animation project that earlier this month opened the Cannes Film Festival in France and has already been garnering lavish reviews. In the theater just down the hall, dating teens, horror junkies and Sam Raimi fans will feel a firm grasp on their ankles as Universal tries to yank them through the theater floor kicking and screaming "Drag Me to Hell".

With a release schedule both Disney and Universal must be thrilled over, there'll be no cross competition between theaters to catch the big new movie. And in many cases (more than 1500, the largest number since the new technology has surfaced) those moviegoers choosing Disney Pixar's UP will be easy to spot, bespectacled in chic 3D wrap-arounds. With some 400 more theaters than March's Monsters vs. Aliens could muster, Up will become the largest wide release new film produced in 3D to be actually showing in 3D theaters opening weekend. The stage is set to easily surpass the record for 3D box-office which is likely to account for 50% of Up's ticket sales even though Disney 3D equipped theaters account for less than 40% of Up's scheduled screens.

We've already mentioned that UP is getting great advance notices. The truth (though we grudgingly admit it) is that Sam Raimi is also getting slaps on the back for his return to horror after helming Spiderman 1, 2 & 3, the most successful Superhero movies made until last July's spectacular The Dark Knight. Raimi's no virgin when it comes to splashing screams onto the big screen, with writing and directing roots deep into The Evil Dead franchise. (Light-hearted horror fans will also bow down to the writer/director of the Bruce Campbell classic Army of Darkness.) Word is that the humorous touch is present throughout the blood, mud and snot seeking house flies of Drag Me to Hell. Taking the screams with a sprinkle of silliness seems appropriate for a movie whose villain looks like she stepped straight out of evil crone make-up class 101. But perhaps then, that's the point. And in the realm of counter programming to Pixar animation, Drag Me to Hell is laser point perfect.

It's the last release weekend in May, Week 5 of Blockbuster Summer and we'll reflect back a bit in our next post. In the meantime, if a house suspended from 3D balloons doesn't give you a lift and you've got no sympathy for a cursed to hell bank loan officer, no matter how sexy she looks in a mud drenched tee shirt, the best big movie of the summer is still playing everywhere you go to the movies. If you haven't already, Star Trek turns out to be the May movie that should be on your summer must-see list.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Betting on a Blockbuster Summer weekend.

Let's see, sci-fi apocalypse or space rockets blasting off inside the Smithsonian? The first face-off of the summer comes today with two big pictures squaring off for bragging rights. We know how you love when we commit, so we'll make this bet - Angels and Demons will get bumped out of the top three. Come back on Monday and leave a smart-ass comment if we're wrong but here's our run-down. (We'll say it up front. The numbers this time are going to be surprisingly close.)

At number 1 - Ben Stiller and Amy Adams with Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. We think critics are underestimating audience interest and for families, this is the big ticket until next week's release of Pixar's Up.

Number 2 - Terminator Salvation. Come Monday everyone's going to be talking about the realistic effects (because many are real, as opposed to green screens and miniatures) and the performance of Sam Worthington, not Christian Bale.

Number 3 - Star Trek. Holding on with very respectable numbers and establishing itself as THE big movie of the summer.

We'll bet on Angels and Demons holding at fourth. We're also covering bets that newcomers Dance Flick and The Skeptic don't make a noticeable ripple. That's it, get your chips down and don't touch your wager 'til the ticket wheels stop spinning on Monday morning. (Though the Holiday will follow suit and add up to one of the best Memorial Day weekends on record for the movie business. Yes, you can hold us to that bet too.)

Friday, May 15, 2009

What, no protests?

Angels and Demons opens today nationwide in wide release. The Vatican has been accused by director Ron Howard as having used back channels in Rome to hamper filming on location and filming at the actual Vatican was deemed by the Holy See as forbidden. The Vatican had their own representative attend an advance screening of the film, the powers of Hollywood and the powers of divine enlightenment were squared off for conflict, controversy and condemnation. The Vatican representative met with the press and decreed the official position of the Holy Pontiff. "We think the movie is harmless entertainment."

WHAT? Are you kidding me? There were priests getting brutally murdered! How about that high falutin' stuff about science being God and God being science? Were you out getting popcorn when they got to the part about blowing up Vatican City??? C'mon! How about a little name calling here, at the least?


OK, so wait, the Vatican guy met with the press after seeing the movie. Oh, boy Opie, now you're gonna get it... "I enjoyed the film and am very impressed at the detail and accuracy of the Vatican sets that the filmmakers created for the movie."... And that Tom Hanks fellow, seems like a good Joe.

Ugghh! What fun is going to see a movie that thumbs its nose at organized religion, Catholicism and the Pope himself, and no one even calls for a boycott? Next thing you know, Ben Stiller is going to release that Simple Jack movie from Tropic Thunder and everyone is going to slap him on the back for being able to laugh in the face of life's greatest challenges. Maybe all this Obama goodwill crap is getting too deep? Suddenly the only big budget controversy looming is Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds (spelling per Mr. Tarantino) way out in August. Jews and Nazi's, you'd think somebody oughta get offended about something. We can only hope.

So now that the Catholic conservative's new found common sense has taken all the fun out of week 3 of Blockbuster Summer '09, all we've got left to report on is a quiet but meaningful piece of movie history that took place earlier this week. Disney/Pixar's 10th release, Up, became the first animated film ever to open the Cannes Film Festival. (No, no booing or demonstrations there either.)

Rather the world press gathered in France for the event, donned their 3D glasses and laughed, shed a tear or two, then rose to warm and enthusiastic applause at the end credits. Later that night, the special guests, filmmakers and celebrities attending did the same. Disney/Pixar's Creative Guru in Chief, John Lassiter called the event the most special in his career and the industry in general bowed to allowing that Pixar's animation accomplishments have earned the animated medium an equal standing in film history.

We have always noted Pixar's genius for storytelling through animation, much done with the same passion and excellence of Walt Disney's early work in introducing audiences to feature length hand drawn animated movies. Once again, we're happy to tip our hat to Mr. Lassiter and company, in recognition of their work and their vision. And though we feel confident that there will be another opening night in Cannes for an animated feature, we do wonder if 3D glasses will ever again be considered the thing to wear at the opening night screening.

One more note to our readers. This is Moviedozer Dailies 100th post and our very appreciative thanks go out to all of you who return to our pages. We hope you'll continue to enjoy the time you spend here. Have another great weekend at the movies.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Star Trek flies high on talent.

Star Trek, that is the new Star Trek, revamped and overhauled by director J.J. Abrams with a new cast and new creative team, works. That's it. It just flat out works. On every level, in every role, in each frame of film.

Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the script team responsible for hits Mission Impossible III, 2007's Transformers and (with Ehren Kruger) this summer's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, have given J.J. Abrams a perfect combination of smart, funny and non-stop action story that resets the Star Trek saga by restarting... at the very beginning. But most critical here, and most successful, was the decision to stay true to form to existing and familiar characters. That writing decision becomes the catalyst for spot on performances from every cast member under the pitch perfect tone of J.J. Abrams direction. You could take this movie to film school for a solid example of reinvigorating old characters with a new cast. The work is nearly flawless.

To take on characters that have lived in television and on film for so long, and absolutely nail their quirks, catchlines and gestures... all while pushing them to new dynamics, greater relevance and an extraordinary sense of freshness is an achievement you should see. And not in just one role, but in them all.

There are standouts of course. Karl Urban as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, highlights scene after scene with delivery and phrasing that perfectly recalls, with tremendous fondness, the characterization by DeForest Kelly in the original role. Simon Pegg, with equal dexterity, gets all of the essentials of his role as Scotty to bring back the best of James Doohan's characterization, and yet brings his own sense of humor and comic timing to advance the character to relevance for new audiences. Solid acting flows through every part - Zoe Saldana brings out the nurturing and warmth of Uhura, Anton Yelchin personifies the wet-behind-the-ears nervousness but quick-witted Chekov and John Cho plays perfectly into the fast learning curve, can-do personality of Sulu.

But by far, the blessing bestowed upon Abrams, and Paramount, is the casting of the movie 's leads. Zacahary Quinto, as Spock seems to have been cloned from Leonard Nimoy. The idea to cast Nimoy in this film and to write his character as a key part of the story line, was wonderfully inspired. His presence offers so much more than could be written in the script. As a juxtaposition to old and new, and a way to reclaim the dignity and integrity of the original while handshaking the retooled, works beyond any Star Trek fans highest expectations. Nimoy makes it special, Quinto, quite gracefully, makes it work.

Not that every critic who has written about Star Trek isn't already saying it, but Chris Pine, in the role of Captain James T. Kirk is indeed, the "star" in Star Trek. Leonard Nimoy is said to have shed some tears at the film's premiere. William Shatner should feel the same emotion. Pine's performance in the role that Shatner will never be forgotten for, gives such a subtle yet resounding nod to Shatner's portrayal that you almost expect Shatner to bound onto the set and retake his captain's chair. The swagger, controlled cockiness, slap on the back, mischievous, fast thinking, brave, loyal... you know, all that Kirk stuff that made this character Gene Roddenberry's ultimate creation, is all there. But it's the subtleties that nail it. A nod of the head, a raised eyebrow, the delivery of a classic catch-phrase. In all of the performances, those moments ring true, and resoundingly so. But none more so than Chris Pine's recapturing of the spirit, decency and the flaws of the Star Trek's franchise one true Captain, Kirk.

Last May was saved from the squandered promise of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull by Robert Downey Jr's boisterous take on Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. This May, Star Trek is the better picture. Somewhere between Iron Man and the now classic The Dark Knight is this year's best "origin" movie, it's that good. Somewhere out there on planet Earth, even as this column is being written, Downey is sitting on a production set partly encased in metal and waiting for a shot to be lit. We're anxiously awaiting the results with the release of Iron Man 2 next year. We'll be even more excited now, knowing that with it's release will be the expectation that Star Trek's next voyage will be just one more year down the road. Set your warp drive to 2011. This Star Trek will be with us for awhile.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Star Trek B.O. is Stellar - but not cosmically so.

*Editors' Note: Since publishing this post, the box-office earnings for the opening weekend of Star Trek have been revised upward to $79.2 million, an increase of 2.7 million. The new numbers account for an opening only 5.9 million dollars behind the opening weekend for X-Men Origins: Wolverine. (revised 5.12.09)

We're heading out this afternoon to catch Star Trek and reveling in that whole summer movie thing. No, we didn't try to pad the opening weekend numbers with our personal ticket purchases. But over the weekend, you may have noticed our box-office predictions for the new J.J. Abrams release overshot reality. Not to worry, we'll start back tracking a bit right now. (Told you we would.)

Star Trek burst into theaters at just a hint less than warp speed for the weekend but stellar none the less. Let's put things in perspective. According to our favorite box-office reporting site, The Numbers, of the ten, yes ten, previous Star Trek movies, the highest box-office opening weekend was a mere 30.7 million posted by Star Trek: First Contact in November of 1996. Prior to that, the highest opening was just over 23 million (Star Trek: Generations) and the worst release was the very first, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which had an opening weekend of only 11.9 million. Through it all, the most money a Star Trek movie has ever made at the box-office in worldwide gross was 150 million (earned by Star Trek: First Contact). The original Star Trek: The Motion Picture went on from a weak opening to come in second with 139 million. But this is a movie franchise that is being seriously overhauled.

The new Star Trek, as released last Thursday night, is boldly going where no Star Trek movie has gone before, to blockbuster status, making the 76.5 million dollar take (though 8.6 million short of X-Men Origins: Wolverine's opening a week earlier), an outstanding number. While we really did think Star Trek would open over the 100 million mark, that would have meant a huge box-office weekend. Taking in all of the other current releases, those numbers were probably a bit optimistic in retrospect.

As it stands, we'll stick by our other predictions. Star Trek is the first summer movie that will have serious legs, easily breaking the 100 million mark by next Saturday and surpassing Wolverine's totals by the first of June. In the meantime, Wolverine (already down 68% in it's second weekend) will begin to fade further next weekend. Star Trek will give Angels and Demons a run for it's money for the number one spot next weekend and ultimately become the summer action blockbuster that Terminator Salvation will have to struggle to catch up to. Great word of mouth and excellent critical reviews (just the opposite of the buzz on Wolverine) will bolster this Star Trek to become the movie to remember when Blockbuster Summer '09 is a wrap and it will guarantee that Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto will be the Captain Kirk and Spock for a new generation and a new generation of sequels.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Blockbuster Summer: week 2.

Not that there's anything at stake here, it's just that we rarely go on record predicting box-office receipts. But since this may be the most competitive weekend of the entire summer, we'll throw caution to the wind and say it out loud - in print... when the numbers are in and the tallies are being written into the ledgers on Monday morning, Star Trek will have beamed into first place at the box-office, phaser-stunning last week's number one opener, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Since we're feeling cocky, we'll even make a numbers prediction - the new and reengineered Star Trek (courtesy of director J.J. Abrams) will be the first movie of the year to pull in over 100 million in its weekend bow. By necessity, that has to mean Wolverine will sink to a less than 50 million dollar weekend, we'll say somewhere in the low forties sounds about right. Still, adding it all up, this will be another fantastic weekend for Hollywood.

And we're still holding on our last column. In spite of an 87 million opening, Wolverine is still set to fade into the darkest corners of the projection booth by the time Memorial Day weekend 2009 is history. The excitement of six major films all being released this month makes remembering who came first a real chore for attention deficit movie fans and the target demographic for Wolverine is exactly that segment of the audience. So here's how we see the standings for May movies. Remember, you have to let the summer run it's course to see what the total box-office takes will be. Not that we'd take these odds to Vegas, but when the air takes back it's chill, we think May's movie slate looks like this...

#1 Star Trek - with damn near or just over 300 million.

#2 Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian - the biggest grossing comedy of 2009.

#3 Up - Disney and Pixar are no longer a given for record breakers, and we think Up may very well be the first Pixar release to miss number 1 on it's first weekend, but ultimately 3D will save the day and turn in a Wall*e -like 200 million plus.

#4 Terminator Salvation - just eclipsing Wolverine with great word of mouth helping it's overall take.

#5 X-Men Origins: Wolverine - yes, number 5, we think the most dangerous handshake on film since Edward Scissorhands lands around the 200 million mark. If its box-office legs go longer than we expect, Terminator will show some damage.

#6 Angels and Demons - we don't expect miracles, get it?, but we do expect a healthy plus 100 million. Adults will hit theaters for the first time this summer on May 15th. It's interesting to us that the Vatican is already officially laying off the indignant and offended line, calling the film a "harmless" entertainment. Meanwhile, director Ron Howard insists that the Vatican used back channels to hamper and impede filming.

And there you have it. A column you can print out and hold up to our nose this September. And there's now something else to look forward to each month, watching us backtrack, finesse and just plain make up excuses if we look like we're way off come Monday.

Have a great weekend.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Summer heat begins to build today.

Just before last year's May box-office took off with Iron Man and Indiana Jones, there was the colossal flop of the Wachowski brother's Speed Racer. Though we're not expecting anything quite so resounding as that clunk, we think you can count on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the first big summer release of 2009, releasing today, to be forgotten by the time Memorial Day weekend rolls around.

Last year it took one guy, Robert Downey, Jr., flying around in a metal suit. This May it will be a young cast in a starship. Oddly, it will also be an "origins" movie of sorts, restarting the Star Trek franchise that will dominate the first big weekends of summer. It's our bet that the reengineered and recast Star Trek will also be the first big release to reach out toward the magic 300 million mark at the box-office.

For the record, both Iron Man and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls reached over 300 million last year, two of only three to hit that high mark, the third being the mega hit The Dark Knight that wasn't released until July. Speed Racer stalled out at 43 million in the US and never reached the 100 million mark, even counting world wide receipts. OK for mere mortal films, but Racer's production budget, not to mention marketing and distribution costs, was 120 million on it's own. Tough to put a movie on your resume that would have left people richer had they never touched the project. And in the case of Speed Racer, unfortunately, that would include the audience.

By the end of the month (Memorial Day weekend), Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and Terminator Salvation (with Christian Bale starring as a battle worn John Connor) will be released, and the sumer will have its second and third 300 million mark contenders. If you don't think that that's enough to declaw Wolverine, Angels and Demons (from Ron Howard, Tom Hanks and the author of The Da Vinci Code) arrives only one week after Star Trek and Pixar's tenth animated release, Up (showing in Disney Digital 3D, by the way), will be in theaters for the last Friday release of the month. All that should make for Wolverine becoming a distant memory and the X-Men franchise falling back on a flat performance and a questionable future.

And that's just May. The very first weekend of June will present some comedic competition for Ben Stiller's Smithsonian outing with Will Ferrel venturing into the Land of the Lost. A week later Travolta and Denzel will refresh the crime action 70's flick The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, set in the New York subway system and claiming one of the most exciting trailers of the season. Take a breath and try to make up ground fast if you've missed anything because Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen will morph onto screens just two weeks later and promises a popcorn ride more sophisticated and more fun than its original from 2 years ago.

The hits keep coming.
There's Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, finally opening in July after a deliberate delay from last November. This is the sixth outing for Harry and only one story (but 2 movies) away from the end of the saga. Public Enemies, with both Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, as depression era gangster and G-man respectively, team for a re-telling of the John Dillinger story. BrĂ¼no, is the return of Sacha Baron Cohen to his personal take on broad satire, this time set in the world of fashion design (tagline: "Borat is so 2006"). Ice Age: The Age of the Dinosaurs opens in July. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra storms screens in August. Even Tarantino is back, directing Brad Pitt in Inglorious Bastards, opening August 21st.

Of course, there are smaller films too, and many of those may offer even more promise of great stories and special performances. Some titles to watch for include...

• My Sister's Keeper - with Cameron Diaz deep in drama. (June 26)
• Moon - Sci-Fi with a nearly solo performance by Sam Rockwell. (June 12)
• 500 Days of Summer - a quirky light romance with Zooey Deschanel. (July 17)
• Funny People - with Adam Sandler as a successful comedian, layering comedy with serious drama. (July )
• Julie and Julia - with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, Streep in a brilliant turn as the happily eccentric television chef Julia Child. (August 7)
• Taking Woodstock - a Woodstock music festival back story of sorts and a possible breakthrough for the marginally talented Demetri Martin. (August 14)
• The Time Traveler's Wife - from the magical Audrey Niffenegger's novel with stars Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. (August 14)

You just have to love summers at the movies. Whenever you're not holed up in a dark air conditioned theater, we hope you'll be checking back with us to follow the box-office and the new releases and let us know about what you're seeing. We'll be keeping up each month with what's new and what's worth seeing, both here and on Moviedozer.com. Enjoy the box-office heat and have a blast all summer long.