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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.

Click to buy “Give ‘Em Hell Malone”

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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.

1111045_CrazyHeart_scene_03

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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.

kathryn-bigelow1

“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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Sundance Movie Moment #1

Seeing as the world famed festival is going on this week, it’s obviously an opportune time to post scenes from some of the better known and/or more influential filmmakers to have gotten their start at Bob Redford’s little shindig.

Though few would really call Kevin Smith a political filmmaker, exactly, or his debut comedy, “Clerks,” a political film, exactly, it’s not like there isn’t a touch of the Sundance spirit, with its concern for innocent victims of large and powerful forces, in his filmmaking.

Here we have one of the most famous discussions of civilian casualties in any film.

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Friday movie news dump: the first Salinger movie, the Sundance beat goes on, etc.

Hey folks. I’ve got a relatively limited amount of time today and, just to add to the drama, the usually excellent free wi-fi at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf slowed down today to a relative crawl for a time while I was researching this. Let’s see how much I can cover.

* Just as I was ready to wrap things up, we have a breaking story. As I sorta alluded to yesterday regarding J.D. Salinger, it’s inevitable his death will pave the way for some new films. It turns out I was, if anything, way behind the curve. Working screenwriter Shane Salerno — whose work, like the planned James Cameron-produced “Fantastic Voyage” remake, bends toward the geek — has been working on a documentary about the writer who became almost as famous for his escape from the public eye as for his actual work, and it’s apparently nearly completed. Mike Fleming has not only broken the news of the formerly under-wraps project, he’s seen most of the movie

* Of course, Sundance continues slogging away, and word of acquisitions by film distributors have been making their way round the usual spots. Indiewire’s Eugene Hernandez has news on the well-regarded “Blue Valentine” with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. He also gives a quick nod to such other highish profile films as “The Tilman Story” (a documentary about the late Pat Tilman), “The Kids Are Alright” (not to be confused with the old rock-doc about the Who) and “Hesher,” a not very appealing sounding film that nevertheless has Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead. The “Valentine” sale is of particular interesting as it was the troubled Weinstein Company that picked it up. Coincidentally, the company named for Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s parents, Mira and Max, has gone on the block.

miramax

Read the rest of this entry »

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Worst Cooks in America two part finale Sunday and Monday

If you blinked, you may have missed the inaugural season of Worst Cooks in America on Food Network. The show premiered January 3, and the two-part finale is set for this coming Sunday and Monday. With all of the other shows I’m covering at the moment, I couldn’t commit to watching every episode or blogging about the show regularly, but I did want to catch some of it because the premise is very intriguing.

Basically two professional chefs and Food Network personalities, Anne Burell and Beau MacMillan, have the daunting task of teaching a group of people who have zero cooking ability, to cook and to cook well. Each week a chef from each team is eliminated until there is one chef remaining under Anne and one under Beau. Those two chefs then have the task of cooking a gourmet meal for a group of restaurant critics–critics who believe that Burrell and MacMillan have cooked the meals themselves.

Not only is the reputation of each chef on the line, but the grand prize for the chef that wins is $25,000.

It’s truly incredible and at times horrifying to see the utter lack of ability in some of these folks, and I can’t even imagine what it must be like to try and teach them. But some of them learn quickly and keep advancing. So now they are down to the final four, two on each side, and that will be cut down to the final two, who will square off in the grand finale on Monday night at 10pm/9pm central.

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Pontypool

It’s no secret that the zombie genre has experienced quite the renaissance over the last decade, but with that kind of overexposure, it was only a matter of time before the well began to run dry. If you look hard enough, however, there are still a few undiscovered gems lurking about, and the Canadian horror-thriller, “Pontypool,” is proof of that. Set almost exclusively inside an abandoned church-turned-radio station, the film stars Stephen McHattie as Grant Mazzy, a former big-city shock jock who now hosts the morning show in the small town of Pontypool, Ontario. When reports start coming in of locals exhibiting strange behavior and brutal acts of violence, Grant and his fellow co-workers (Lisa Houle and Georgina Reilly) hole up in the building relaying news updates over the air. To say what is actually causing the infection would ruin the tense atmosphere that director Bruce McDonald has created, because even though it offers a unique spin on the genre, the very thing that makes the story so original is also what undoes the film in its final minutes. Audiences will still enjoy the ride thanks to some great performances from its three leads, but the clumsy ending prevents “Pontypool” from living up to its full potential.

Click to buy “Pontypool”

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Why do I even bother to write new headlines for the box office previews?

When the same frickin’ movie tops the box office office charts every single week for seven damn weeks in a row, I mean, why even bother to make movies if you’re name isn’t James Cameron? Okay, that may be taking it way too far, but jolly Carl DiOrio has once again stated that “Avatar” is once again on track to top the weekend’s box office with something in the neighborhood of $25 million. Who am I to argue?

Still, in a world where old fashioned movie star status still seemed to mean something commercially — and where Mel “Sugar Tits” Gibson (see yesterday’s post), hadn’t eroded his appeal through some bad/hypocritical behavior and an acting hiatus of several years — “Edge of Darkness” would, at least, be giving the Na’vi a run for their blue money. It’s a movie version of a BBC miniseries originally directed by busy helmer Martin Campbell, who also directed this outing and the screenplay is co-written by William Monahan, who did such a brilliant job adapting the strong but somewhat thin Hong Kong hit, “Infernal Affairs,” into the outstanding “The Departed” for Martin Scorsese.

Mel It’s worth noting, however, that in that case Monahan was allowed to flesh out a stripped down shorter script into more of an epic length tale and, in this case, he and fellow scribe Andrew Bovell are pairing down a miniseries into a vastly shorter feature length film. The reviews so far are acceptable but unexciting. It’s at 59% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes and the general vibe I’m getting is a slightly more positive than usual “meh.” Not exactly the huge comeback MSTG could really use if he wants to be a big time movie star again, rather than just a controversial director.

Now, if there’s anyone new out there who deserves to suddenly become a big time movie star, it’s Kristen Bell. However, there’s something about “When in Rome” that has critics sharpening their most negative adjectives despite their affection for Bell as TV’s “Veronica Mars,” among other terrific performances. Certainly our own David Medsker dislikes the film as much as he likes Bell, and that 10% Rotten Tomatoes rating indicates he’s not alone, and the film’s strong supporting cast doesn’t seem to have helped any. The director is Mark Steven Johnson who is really proving t be no directing genius. He made “Ghost Rider” and, though our own Jason Zingale had some kind words for it, the utterly lacking “Daredevil.” As Stan Lee would say, “’nuff said.”

Jolly Carl DiOrio predicts that both the K-Bell and Sugar Tits Gibson films will do something in the “low to mid-teen millions” though from very different audiences. Sure, why not?

K-Bell deserves better!

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