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Give ‘Em Hell Malone

Director Russell Mulcahy may be responsible for bringing the “Highlander” franchise to the big screen, but he’s fallen pretty far since working with the likes of Sean Connery. After a long stint in the music video business and some terrible sequels to other film franchises like “Resident Evil” and “The Scorpion King,” Mulcahy’s career doesn’t show any signs of improving with his latest B-movie, “Give ‘Em Hell Malone.” Thomas Jane stars as the title character, a hardboiled detective type who finds himself in hot water with the local mob boss after he fails to turn over the case he was hired to retrieve. What’s inside the case, you ask? You don’t want to know, but it’s pretty stupid considering all the crap that Malone has to go through to keep it safe. At the top of that list are the bad guys hired to take him down. Ving Rhames looks annoyed he agreed to even appear in the film, while Doug Hutchison goes a little too far over the top as a sadistic arsonist who calls himself – wait for it – Matchstick. (Did they just use a random villain name generator for that one?) Not even Jane seems completely up for it, and he’s starred in movies far worse than this, because although it’s a fun nod to the pulp noir genre, “Give ‘Em Hell Malone” is every bit deserving of being dumped direct to DVD.

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If you’re looking for a surprise at the box office…

…I suggest you got to the front of your local multiplex, remove your pants, sing “La Cucaracha” at the top of your voice, and see what happens. You certainly won’t get anything too unexpected from the weekend’s movie grosses based on what I wrote Thursday night.

Avatar

According to Box Office Mojo , once again the 3-D science fiction fable that just won’t quit, “Avatar” continues to “hold” fabulously for Fox and is down only 14.1% from last weekend for a very nice total of $30 million in its seventh week atop the box office. Jolly Carl DiOrio reminds us, however, that while James Cameron‘s previous “Titanic” record is about to be demolished in terms of raw cash, that mega-blockbuster stayed on top of the box office for an astonishing 15 weekends. (I’m glad I wasn’t writing these back in 1997-8; I might have gone insane from the repetition.) Of course, all it takes to end the record is one really sizable new hit movie to make into the high twenties or low thirties. We’ll see.

For now, that sizable new hit remains a mere phantom. This week’s silver medalist is the thriller “Edge of Darkness, starring Mel Gibson” The film managed an estimated $17.12 million in 3,066 theaters for Warners, making for an unexciting per screen average of $5,584. This is not a terrible performance, but given the film’s $80 million budget, it ain’t great. Some of you (you know who you are) may recall that, when the space opera “Serenity” opened with about $10 million some years back, it was deemed a fairly major disappointment with a budget of less than half that much. Ol’ Sugar Tits and company are going to have to hold on very well at the box office in subsequent weeks if he wants this to be seen as anything resembling the start of an acting comeback.

Kristen Bell in
Speaking of movies related to great-but-canceled television shows with high geek appeal, what does it mean that, just as I was starting to write this post, the Dandy Warhols’ “We Used to Be Friends” came on the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s Muzak? Yes, the theme to “Veronica Mars” put me in mind of the performance of the critically drubbed romantic comedy “When in Rome.” Still, the appeal of former TV teen detective Kristen Bell may have counted for enough to get the film a non-terrible estimated opening weekend of $12+ million for Disney, which might be enough, or not, depending on the budget.

There was some interesting blowback from prior weeks. Last week’s surprising situation where the killer-angel film “Legion” came in at a strong #2 with over $28 million, defeating the family appeal of Fox’s “The Tooth Fairy” was reversed this week. The PG-rated Dwayne Johnson comedy vehicle stayed in the #4 position and earned an estimated $10 million dropping a relatively very modest 28% in its second week. “Legion” from Screen Gems sank by a whopping 61.1% and came in at the #6 spot, beneath “The Book of Eli,” with only an estimated $6.8 million.

The only other news of much note is the strong performance of the slowly expanding country-music themed drama, “Crazy Heart” — featuring a multi-award-winning performance by Jeff Bridges that really seems like an Oscar lock. In 239 theaters as of this weekend, the film earned one of the weekend’s best per-screen averages ($9,414) for an estimated total of $2.25 million. That will be sweet, soulful music to the ears of the suits of Fox Searchlight.

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Awards news: Director’s Guild and Sundance

There’s some sadness hanging over the American film world this morning due to the tragic and disturbing death of highly respected 39 year-old editor Karen Schmeer, best known for her work on Errol Morris projects as “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control,” “Mr. Death,” and “The Fog of War.” (Shawn Levy of The Oregonian has much about piece her shockingly random death in a crime-related automotive accident, her work, and her early start in the documentary film business.)

Nevertheless, the awards beat goes on and today, as Nikki Finke points out, we can chalk up a big victory for female directors as Kathryn Bigelow of “The Hurt Locker” defeated a boys club of directors that included such ultimate mega-males as Quentin Tarantino and her one-time husband, James Cameron.  Bigelow, of course, has been a noted director since her early features, 1982′s “The Loveless,” which introduced Willem Dafoe, and 1987′s ahead-of-its-time vampire drama, “Near Dark” attracted the attention of genre friendly critics. Her best known film, ironically enough, is probably the silly action flick, “Point Break,” which has emerged as a culty guilty pleasure after its 1991 release.

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“The Hurt Locker” is the first time Bigelow has been associated a project to get this kind of near-universal acclaim. It’s a major departure stylistically from her often slick and superficial past work, looking at an unexploded bomb team with the same kind of dispassionate intensity as “The French Connection” examined police work. This award definitely makes Bigelow the apparent favorite for the Best Director Oscar. It also doesn’t hurt it’s chances at the Best Picture award either.

“Hurt Locker” also swept the Producers Guild award earlier this week. Similar to the DGA, that award is widely seen as a harbinger for the “Best Picture” category, in which the producer is the one who actually receives the award. Still, as Dave Karger reminds us, the DGA doesn’t make the award inevitable. Also with the nominees this year doubled to ten and a more complex voting system for “Best Picture” that category, at least, remains open to any of the four or five most frequently nominated films in my opinion.

In other awards, “The Cove” got a boost in the nevertheless very hard-to-predict documentary Oscar category with an award for its director, Louie Psihoyos. I usually don’t cover TV, but it is worth a mention that the winner of the award for direction in a TV drama series was also won by a woman. Lesli Linka Glatter was awarded for her work on the action-packed “Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency” episode of “Mad Men.” Not a bad choice.

Meanwhile, over in Park City, Utah, the Sundance Film Festival presented its awards, which offer a fairly significant peak into what are likely to be some of the most acclaimed and potentially award-winning films of the next year or so. Young people with family ties to crime seemed to be a winning theme in the dramatic categories: “Winter’s Bone,” about a young girl in search of her crystal meth manufacturing father, won the U.S. Prize; the Australian crime drama “Animal Kingdom,” about a teen boy born into a crime family in 1980s Melbourne, took the international award.

The documentary award went to one of the festival’s most high profile entries, “Restrepo.” From two-first first-time directors, journalist/author Sebastian Junger (the book, The Perfect Storm) and documentary cinematographer Tim Hetherington. The film is follows a U.S. Army platoon in Afghanistan for a year. As the offical Sundance description has it, it depicts a “surreal combination of back breaking labor, deadly firefights, and camaraderie….”  Indiewire’s Eugene Hernandez has a complete rundown.

Battle Company

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Happy birthday, Mr. Hackman

The acting great, who retired recently to write historical novels full time, turns eighty today. I ran a salute to him some time ago, but it’s time for a bit of a reprise. I don’t think there’s any doubt the Gene Hackman is one of the very best we’ve seen. Few have done as good a job of keeping things simple, and that’s about as difficult a trick as there is for any artist.

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Sundance movie moment #2

Earlier this week, Michael Winterbottom’s film version of Jim Thompson’s pulp classic, “The Killer Inside Me,” provoked an angry reaction from some in the audience during the post screening Q&A. At issue: scenes of intense violence by the sociopathic antihero of the film (Casey Affleck) against some of the female characters, including one reportedly disturbingly grisly scene featuring Jessica Alba. Today, Nikki Finke is reporting its purchase by IFC Films.

Say “Sundance movie,” and most film fans tend to think of either social issue dramas and documentaries, or low-key tales of everyday life; when I was there, one writer I talked to said he was having a hard time finding synonyms for “unlikely friendship.” Still, this is not the first time a film to premiere at Sundance caused a ruckus for its violence. In 1992, a highly touted film from a previously unknown filmmaker featured a scene that was said to cause walk-outs at every screening. According to Wikipedia, later festival walk-outs included make-up effects wizard Rick Baker and, most ironically of all, horror director Wes Craven (the original “Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes”). Of course, in our post-”torture porn” world, the “Reservoir Dogs” torture scene seems pretty restrained today. It’s still brilliant and not easy to watch — in a good way.

I was actually going to embed the scene here, but I realized at the last minute that every version is “embedding disabled by request” for whatever reason. And so, below is the film’s famed NSFW (for language) opening sequence. You can, however, see the infamous “ear scene” here.

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