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John Cusack discusses the lasting appeal of Edgar Allen Poe

While making the rounds last week doing press for “The Raven,” Bullz-Eye’s Bob Westal had the chance to sit down with John Cusack to discuss the actor’s new film, his recent star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and other projects in development. But perhaps the most interesting tidbit in the interview is his explanation of why late American poet Edgar Allen Poe has remained so contemporary for all these years:

“I think he’s this classic sort of archetype for all of the shadow parts of ourselves that we don’t want to admit out loud or you’re not supposed to admit in polite company or society. You know, all of these terrors and fears and phobias and anguishes and torments, and also this kind of grave, deep love of language and poetry. I think he’s a genuine genius and he spoke to the language of the subconscious and he was a great poet and artist. A great storyteller; a wild creator of different genres and hybrids of genres and mash-ups of genres. He was a pretty talented man, and he was also just wired way too tight, so it was a volatile mix.”

Be sure to check out the full interview with Cusack at the Bullz-Eye Blog for more on “The Raven,” the possibility of a “Say Anything” sequel, and his upcoming role as Richard Nixon in Lee Daniel’s “The Butler.”

You can follow us on Twitter @moviebuffs and on Facebook as well.

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Box Office Recap: ‘Think Like a Man’ still on top


Despite making 46.5 percent less than it did last weekend, “Think Like a Man” remains on top of the charts, so I see no reason not to reuse this picture. After grossing nearly $34 million last weekend, “Think Like a Man” dropped to $18 million. This should be evidence enough that it was a very slow weekend at the (domestic) box office, parentheses required as “The Avengers” made its debut in 39 foreign territories, scoring $178.4 million.

Total domestic revenue dropped 30 percent as compared to a year ago, when “Fast Five” raked in $86 million. “Think Like a Man’s” $18 million is the lowest weekend gross for a number one movie since “New Year’s Eve” made $13 million in December.

Coming in second with $11.4 million was swashbuckling stop-motion comedy “The Pirates! Band of Misfits,” followed by “The Lucky One.” In fourth was “The Hunger Games,” which is still going strong in its sixth week, beating out all new releases save “Pirates!”

In fifth was “The Five-Year Engagement,” which made a disappointing $11.2 million. Heading into the weekend, the Judd Apatow-produced romantic comedy was expected to be “Think Like a Man’s” biggest competition. The film brought the writing team of Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, the same pair who wrote “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “The Muppets,” who also starred and directed, respectively. Few of Apatow’s flicks have had such poor opening weekends. Most of the Apatow films “The Five-Year Engagement” beat out are highly unremarkable (does anybody remember “Drillbit Taylor?”). The lone exception being “Walk Hard,” which was critically acclaimed but never found an audience while in theaters.

The highly predictable “Safe,” directed by Boaz Yakin (“Remember the Titans”) and starring Jason Statham (every Jason Statham movie), came in an equally predictable sixth with $7.7 million.

In seventh and last among new releases with $7.2 million was “The Raven,” which starred John Cusack as Edgar Allen Poe. Good. That’s all I have to say about that. I’m disappointed in each and every one of you who helped support this abortion.

Here are the results for this week’s top 10 at the box office:

Title/Weeks in release/Theater count, Studio/Three-day weekend total/Cume

1. Think Like a Man, 2/2,015, Sony, $18 million, $60.9 million.
2. The Pirates! Band of Misfits, 1/3,358, Sony/Aardman, $11.4 million.
3. The Lucky One, 2/3,175, Warner Bros., $11.3 million, $40 million.
4. The Hunger Games, 6/3,572, Lionsgate, $11.25 million, $372.5 million.
5. The Five-Year Engagement, 1/2,936, $11.15.
6. Safe, 1/2,266, Lionsgate/IM Global, $7.7 million.
7. The Raven, 1/2,203, Relativity/Intrepid, $7.3 million.
8. Chimpanzee, 2/1,567, Disney, $5.5 million, $19.2 million.
9. The Three Stooges, 3/3,105, $5.4 million, $37.1 million.
10. The Cabin in the Woods, 3/2,639, Lionsgate/MGM, $4.5 million, $34.7 million.

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See Thriller live

Ever since his death, many fans have been gobbling up Michael Jackson music and everything else associated with him. He’s one of the biggest entertainment icons of the 20th century, and in death he’ll be just as popular as Elvis. The sales figures since his death for his music are incredible, and his family is cleaning up.

But there’s more than just the music. You’ll start seeing all sorts of adaptations of his music. If you’re in London and looking for West End shows, you’ll see you can snap up Thriller tickets for a show which is based on Michael’s epic music video. Check out the video above for a preview.

It will be interesting to see what kinds of Hollywood movies come out of this, and whether the representatives of his estate will be licensing out his music for movie soundtracks. Michael Jackson’s music helped to define a generation, and I’m sure there’s a ton of music producers will be salivating to get his music into their movies. But, there’s always the issue of cost, and demand sets the price, so we may not see much at all as the estate has tons of options and they don’t want to over saturate the market.

In any event, get ready to see lots of Michael Jackson in the coming years.

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Hidden Netflix Gems – Red Road

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

After taking home the Best Live Action Short Film Oscar in 2005 for Wasp, Andrea Arnold made her stunningly assured feature film debut with Red Road, another grim, realistic portrait of unfortunate souls. Fair warning: this is definitely not a feel-good movie. However, if you’re in the mood for something dark, sad and challenging, you could scarcely do better.

Jackie (Kate Dickie) is a single woman working as a closed-circuit surveillance operator in Glasgow, Scotland, where there are apparently cameras on nearly every street corner. Jackie’s rather creepy and mostly dull job is to watch the monitors and report any criminal acts or emergencies to the proper authorities. For a good portion of the film’s beginning, we are thrust into the tediousness of Jackie’s everyday life with little dialogue and no exposition, a refreshing departure from the average movie’s need to explain everything right away. Red Road has rightly been compared to the work of Michael Haneke in this regard, and the element of voyeurism at work here especially recalls two of his best films – Funny Games and Cache – but Arnold has more empathy for her characters and, seemingly, less nihilism in her heart than the great and revered Austrian filmmaker.

The inciting incident of Jackie’s story comes when she glimpses the face of Clyde (Tony Curran), a man who has apparently wronged her in the past, for which mysterious act he has been imprisoned until now. After doing a bit of research, Jackie finds that Clyde has been released early and is now living on the titular “Red Road,” which houses a preponderance of ex-cons looking for a second chance. The idea of redemption for past wrongs is, in fact, the central theme of the film, along with the necessity of moving forward in life, as beautifully illustrated in the final scene.

As the film progresses, though, Arnold wisely leaves the audience guessing as to the exact nature of its protagonists’ shared history. Jackie becomes immediately obsessed with Clyde, to the point that she neglects her duties on the job in order to stalk him from afar, leading to a violent attack she might have prevented if not preoccupied. At first, the red herring we are given to believe is that perhaps Clyde raped Jackie at some point, but as they begin to actually interact in person, he shows no signs of recognizing or remembering her. This central mystery unfolds perfectly, with just the right amount of intrigue to hold the audience in suspense without ever resorting to predictable cliches.

Red Road is truly a remarkable and complex film that eschews easy black-and-white morality in favor of a more nuanced and intelligent approach to its characters and story. When Clyde’s past offense is finally revealed, it is suitably awful and impossible for Jackie to ever completely forgive, yet he is never made out to be a simple villain; likewise, while Jackie has every right to be as self-destructively angry and vengeful as she is, we are never invited to view her as a saint, or her mission as a morally righteous one. The result is a bold and uncompromising film that may not be for everyone, but is nonetheless one of the very best debut features of the past decade.

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The Nifty Fifties DVD Giveaway

The 1950s marked the introduction of cultural and technological changes (i.e. Rock ‘n Roll, TV sets) that reverberated into the themes and acting styles of this era. Many stars made their debut in the ’50s, while others continued their rise in stardom, including Sidney Poitier, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Charlton Heston, Debbie Reynolds, Robert Wagner, Marilyn Monroe and Gregory Peck. With Mill Creek Entertainment’s “The Nifty Fifties” DVD set, you can enjoy all these stars and more with over 65 hours of movies from the era.

To help get the word out about this release and Mill Creek’s many other Cheap DVD Packs, Premium Hollywood is giving one lucky winner a copy of the “The Nifty Fifties” DVD set. Additionally, we’re offering a 25% discount code that can be used on their official site. Just enter 50PACK25 when checking out before May 31, 2012 to save even more.

Click here to enter for your chance to win, and then be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates on new contests and giveaways.

CONTEST ENDS: May 16th

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Box Office Preview: The Movie that Shall Remain “Nameless here for evermore,” Jason Statham, Pirates! and the next Apatow/Stoller/Segel Comedy

The Raven

Let’s just get this out of the way, this movie looks like shit, which is unfortunate given some of the names involved. “The Raven” was directed by James McTeigue, who was an assistant director for the “Matrix” trilogy before making his directorial debut with “V for Vendetta” in 2006. The cast includes Brendan Gleeson (“Braveheart,” “Gangs of New York,” “Harry Potter”), and stars John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe.

Poe’s death is shrouded in mystery, so the filmmakers took more than a few creative liberties in this fictionalized account of the writer’s last days. When a serial killer begins using his work as the inspiration for a series of gruesome murders, police enlist Poe to help bring the assailant to justice.

Reviews have been bad, hovering around 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and not without reason. Edgar Allan Poe was a fascinating human being. In 1836, at age 27, he married his 13 year-old first cousin. The man was a great many things: author, poet, alcoholic, opium addict, and the inventor of detective fiction. He uneqivocally was not an action hero or some macabre version of Sherlock Holmes. With such an intriguing life story, there was no reason to make him into such.

“The Raven” is the 241st film or television adaptation of Poe’s work. That leaves you 240 options that might not be garbage, so pick one of those. Or, better yet, pick up some of his written work, which is in the public domain (that means it’s free).

Safe

In “Safe,” Jason Statham plays Luke Wright, “the Big Apple’s hardest cop, once up on a time.” Now, he’s a a second-rate cage fighter who drives fast, kicks ass, and always has a wry one-liner up his sleeve. That is, Jason Statham plays Jason Statham doing Jason Statham things, only he’s got an American accent (sort of). In this case, his excuse for coating the streets in blood is protecting a 12-year-old Chinese girl who’s memorized a valuable code from some Russian mobsters. Purely by coincidence, they’re the same Russian mobsters who murdered his wife.

“Safe” couldn’t have a more appropriate title. It’s another formulaic Statham action movie that’s split critics right down the middle because even though you know what’s going to happen, you can’t help but be entertained. Perhaps Aaron Hillis of The Village Voice put it best: “Safe” is a “preposterously enjoyable—or enjoyably preposterous—action-thriller.”

If “Safe” is your style, go and enjoy it, you’ll get no argument from me. But since you already know the endings anyway, you might as well rent “Snatch” or “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels” instead.

Read the rest of this entry »

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GE and Cinelan Announce Short Film Challenge at Tribeca Film Fest

GE and Cinelan, a video publishing company co-founded by Morgan Spurlock and Karol Martesko-Fenster, presented a special preview last night at 92YTribeca in Manhattan. The event was held to announce the opening of submissions for the Focus Forward $200,000 Filmmaker Challenge, and featured the world premiere of four new short films. Focus Forward’s “Short Films, Big Ideas” initiative is a series of three-minute nonfiction films centered around the idea of people or organizations whose innovative efforts in medicine, engineering and other fields of knowledge have had a significant positive impact on humanity.

Illustrating this theme were nine short films presented in the 30-minute program following a cocktail reception in 92YTribeca’s main room. Five of these were 2012 Sundance Film Festival Selections, including the extraordinary opening film, Jeremiah Zagar’s Heart Stop Beating, about the work of two doctors who managed to save a dying man by replacing his heart with a turbine engine of their own design. It was a bold choice to open the program with a film that features open heart surgery footage, but the mood was lightened by Jessica Yu’s Meet Mr. Toilet, a humorous look at the efforts of Jack “Mr. Toilet” Sim to bring proper sanitation to the large portions of the world still lacking it.

Following these first two films were a pair of world premieres: first, Nelson George’s All Hail the Beat, an all-too-brief look at the history of the Roland TR-808 drum machine, whose sounds are still in use today by artists from Kanye West to Daft Punk, despite the fact that it hasn’t actually been manufactured since 1984. Next came Katy Chevigny’s The Honor Code, the most emotionally moving film of the evening, and the only one that focuses on innovation in human thought, as opposed to technological invention. Honor Code uses stylish animation to illustrate the ideas of philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah and his efforts to end the deplorable practice of “honor killing.”

The other two world premieres were sandwiched between two more Sundance selections: Jessica Edwards and Gary Hustwit’s The Landfill, which documents a small New York landfill where trash is refined into electrical energy, and David W. Leitner’s Newtown Creek Digester Eggs: The Art of Human Waste, which examines the unusually beautiful Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The latter was the least satisfying film of the evening, mostly because it felt too rushed, with too much information crammed into its brief running time. On the other hand, the final film of the program, Phil Cox’s Hilary’s Straws, has a much more leisurely pace in its look at the innovative navigational tool that allowed a quadriplegic woman to sail across the world alone.

The final two world premieres were Steven Cantor’s The Bionic Eye, about research being done to artificially restore sight to patients suffering from degenerative blindness, and Michele Ohayon’s Solar Roadways, a very exciting look at the effort to produce solar-paneled roads and parking lots in order to cleanly and cheaply power nearby communities, as well as electric vehicles. Hopefully, the world premiere films will be available online soon; I would especially like to see The Honor Code and Solar Roadways again. In the meantime, the others are streaming on Focus Forward’s website, and if you have an idea that fits the theme, you can create your own film for the $200,000 Filmmaker Challenge, which you can read more about here.

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Review – Turn Me On, Dammit!

Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s first narrative feature Turn Me On, Dammit! sets itself apart early on with a refreshingly frank and unflinching depiction of sex itself, when it introduces its lead character, Alma (Helene Bergsholm), masturbating to the voice of phone-sex operator Stig (Per Kjerstad) on the kitchen floor of the home she shares with her single mother (Henriette Steenstrup). This is merely a hint of Alma’s lively sexual imagination, of which we continue to glimpse more and more throughout, to the point where her erotic fantasies become an integral part of the film’s language.

Alma’s best friends are two sisters, Sara (Malin Bjorhovde) and Ingrid (Beate Stofring), though Ingrid is a petulant, lip gloss-addicted bore who seemingly only hangs out with the other two by necessity of birth and geographical location. She also has a crush on Artur (Matias Myren), about whom Alma also fantasizes, which leads to further strife between the two girls when Matias drunkenly “propositions” Alma by poking her in the thigh with his erect penis at a party. When Alma tells her friends, Artur denies it, and Alma is quickly ostracized and mercilessly ridiculed by the other kids at her high school, who give her the rather obvious nickname “Dick-Alma.”

Alma’s mostly misguided struggle to regain some sort of social standing, as well as her continued exploration of her own sexuality, make up most of the rest of the film, which certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome at 76 minutes. However, Alma’s frequent retelling of the inciting incident between she and Artur becomes a bit repetitive, and the movie is at its best when it is inside Alma’s fantasy life, which is always honest and frequently very funny. There is also a promising subplot involving the rather quirky courtship between Sara and the burnout hash dealer Kjartan (Lars Nordtveit Listau) that unfortunately never reaches a really satisfying conclusion. The same is true of the central plot’s conclusion, which is so difficult to believe that it might be one of Alma’s fantasies if not for the fact that nothing about it fits with the cinematic language previously established for these sequences. All in all, though it is ultimately rather slight, Turn Me On, Dammit! is well-acted and never less than enjoyable.

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Box Office Recap: New releases beat out ‘Hunger Games’

It was widely predicted that this would be the weekend The Hunger Games would slip from the number one spot after four weeks at the top of the box office charts. The question was which movie would beat it out. Would it be ensemble romantic comedy Think Like a Man or The Lucky One, which stars Zac Efron as a Marine/internet stalker?

If you guessed Think Like a Man based on the above picture, you’d be correct. The adaptation of Steve Harvey’s relationship advice book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man grossed a surprising $33 million in its opening weekend, a great success considering its $12 million budget. The rom-com captured its target demographics, 62 percent of its audience was 30 or older and 63 percent was female.

I think this is the part where I’m supposed to compare Think Like a Man to the work of Tyler Perry and other “African-American themed films” or “urban comedies.” Let’s skip that noise.

The Lucky One, which is the seventh (that’s right, seventh) film adapted from a Nicolas Sparks novel came in second place with $22.8 million. Dear John is the only Sparks adaptation to make more in its opening weekend, grossing $30.5 million in February 2010. Now for this week’s edition of statistics that surprise no one: 76 percent of The Lucky One’s audience was female and 52 percent was less than 25 years old.

What’s interesting here is The Lucky One was released in 3,155 theaters while Think Like a Man saw only 2,015 screens. Furthermore, while the latter’s weekend earnings nearly tripled its budget, the former didn’t quite grab back the $25 million it cost to produce.

The Hunger Games toppled back to Earth, coming in third after 4 straight weeks at the top, the longest streak since Avatar’s seven weeks at #1. The adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ 2008 novel reigned in $14.5 million, bringing its cumulative domestic earnings to $357 million. It’s now in the top 20 domestic grossing films of all time.

Three top movies, three book adaptations. You might think your high school English teacher would be happy about this news. Trust me, he’s dying a little inside.

In fourth place was Disney’s latest nature documentary, Chimpanzee. Its $10 million gross is the largest opening weekend for a Disneynature film so far, beating out the $8.8 million Earth made in 2009. Disneynature will donate 20 cents per ticket sold during the film’s opening week (4/20-4/26) to the Jane Goodall Institute.

Also of note is the relative success of Magnolia Pictures’ Marley. The documentary about legendary musician Bob Marley has been “certified fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes with a rating of 93 percent. Marley saw limited release, opening in just 42 theaters, yet earned more than a quarter million dollars.

In an interview with Deadline Hollywood, Magnolia president Eamonn Bowles said Marley was #1 “in all but a handful of complexes and usually by multiples over the next highest film.”

Here are the results for this week’s top 10 at the box office:

Title/Weeks in release/Theater count, Studio/Three-day weekend total/Cume

1. Think Like a Man, 1/2,015, Sony, $33 million
2. The Lucky One, 1/3,155, Warner Bros., $22.8 million
3. The Hunger Games, 5/3,752, Lionsgate, $14.5 million, $357 million.
4. Chimpanzee, 1/1,563, Disney, $10.2 million.
5. The Three Stooges, 2/3,482, $9.2 million, $29.4 million.
6. The Cabin in the Woods, 2/2,811, Lionsgate/MGM, $7.8 million, $27 million.
7. American Reunion, 3/3,003, Universal, $5.2 million, $48.3 million.
8. Titanic 3D, 3/2,505, Paramount/Fox, $5 million, $42.8 million.
9. 21 Jump Street, 6/2,427, Sony/MGM, $4.6 million, $127.1 million.
10. Mirror Mirror, 4/2,930, Relativity, $4.1 million, $55.2 million.

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Hidden Netflix Gems – Mary and Max

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

The first feature from Australian filmmaker Adam Elliot, the main creative force behind the Oscar-winning 2003 animated short Harvie Krumpet (which is also superb), Mary and Max tells the true story of young Mary Daisy Dinkle (Bethany Whitmore) a lonely eight-year-old Australian girl who lives with her sherry-swilling, kleptomaniac mother Vera (Renee Geyer) and her taxidermy enthusiast father, a character so sad and dull we never even hear his voice. One day, she decides to pick a name out of an American phone book and write to whomever she finds in this way, in order to ask burning questions about America, such as “Are babies found in soda cans?”

The person her letter eventually reaches is 44-year-old Max Horovitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a morbidly obese, atheistic man living in New York City who, despite his atheism, was raised Jewish and still wears his yarmulke every day, “to keep my brain warm.” Sharing a love of chocolate and a sweet innocence that is far more commonplace at Mary’s age than at Max’s, they begin a 20-year friendship composed entirely of written correspondence. As Mary grows into adulthood, at which point she is voiced by Toni Collette, and Max struggles with his love of “chocolate hot dogs” (chocolate bars housed in hot dog buns) and subsequent gradual weight gain, their friendship grows and develops into something larger than themselves.

In the wrong hands, this material could have become overly sentimental, and detractors might claim that it is too “quirky” (that is, if it had actually made it into theaters and been seen by the much wider audience it deserves), but Elliot’s gorgeous, painstaking stop-motion animation and the excellent vocal work by the two leads (particularly Hoffman, who has never been more convincing) make this a truly remarkable film unlike any other feature I have seen. As in Harvie Krumpet, Elliot brilliantly balances wonderful, whimsical humor with heartbreaking poignancy and creates characters that effortlessly feel more real and alive than at least 90 percent of those found in live-action films.

Throughout the film, as Mary falls in love with her neighbor, Damien (Eric Bana), and becomes a shining star of academia, and Max struggles with his severe social anxiety and learns that he has Asperger’s Syndrome, there are moments of laughter and tears. However, the film never resorts to cheap heartstring tugging; instead, it offers true insight and brilliant poetry, both visually and in the excellent writing. The third act contains each of these in quick succession, first in a gut-wrenching visual sequence involving Mary, and then in a wonderfully narrated letter she receives from Max. The final scene brings both elements together marvelously.

Mary and Max is a treasure that I am happy to have dug out of the ground of obscurity. I highly recommend you take a chance on it as soon as possible.

 

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