Box Office Preview: ‘The Expendables 2,’ ‘ParaNorman,’ and ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’

The Expendables 2

Come on, look at all the names in this one: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Chuck Norris, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth, Jean Claude Van-Damme, John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, and of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you need me to tell you what to expect you’re nearly 40 years behind the Hollywood action scene (and have likely never voted in a California gubernatorial election).

If you saw the first “Expendables” movie, then you know what’s coming here: action, action, and more action. Seriously, watch the trailer, it’s just the names of the stars intercut with explosions, guns firing, and chase scenes. It gives literally no information relating to the plot, which tells you just about all you need to know regarding its importance to the film. Nonetheless, here’s the official synopsis:

The Expendables are back and this time it’s personal… Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren),Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) — with newest members Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) and Maggie (Yu Nan) aboard — are reunited when Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) enlists the Expendables to take on a seemingly simple job. The task looks like an easy paycheck for Barney and his band of old-school mercenaries. But when things go wrong and one of their own is viciously killed, the Expendables are compelled to seek revenge in hostile territory where the odds are stacked against them.

“The Expendables 2” has a 65 percent rating on the Tomatometer. Check it out if you’d like, just don’t expect much in the way of plot or character development.

ParaNorman

“ParaNorman” is the second feature film made by stop-motion animation studio LAIKA, the first being 2009’s “Coraline.” Both films have been met with a great deal of critical acclaim, and each has been “certified fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, with “ParaNorman” garnering an 86 percent rating on the Tomatometer and “Coraline” sitting pretty at 90 percent. Not to mention that in the year of its release, “Coraline” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. With all the accolades the two films have received, LAIKA may be the first studio that can really compete with Pixar if it can keep producing films of high enough quality that they transcend the box animated films are so often put in.

Anyway, let’s talk about “ParaNorman.” Kodi Smit-Mcphee stars as Norman Babcock, an oft-misunderstood young man with the uncanny ability to communicate with the dead, a talent that comes in handy when his small town is overrun by zombies. The official synopsis tells us “In addition to the zombies, he’ll have to take on ghosts, witches and, worst, of all, grown-ups, to save his town from a centuries-old curse. But this young ghoul whisperer may find his paranormal activities pushed to their otherworldly limits.” Smit-Mcphee’s co-stars include Casey Affleck, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

Many adults discard animated films, believing them to be childish or incapable of conveying the same emotion and character that live action films can. But like Pixar, LAIKA makes films that relay all those elements in spades, the fact that they’re animated isn’t a detractor. As such, despite its PG rating, ‘ParaNorman” is a kid’s movie that isn’t really for kids. As Bullz-Eye’s Jason Zingale put it, the film is a “journey into the weird and macabre that will likely play well with pre-teens and older, but may be too frightening for younger audiences. Though parents should use discretion when deciding whether their children can handle the scarier moments, “ParaNorman” is packed with enough comedy that it helps dampen the effect.” It seems “ParaNorman” is a film more for those who are children at heart than actual children, and deserves to be checked out.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

The last film seeing a wide release this weekend is “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.” Let’s check out the official synopsis from Disney:

Director/writer Peter Hedges brings enchantment to the screen with The Odd Life of Timothy Green, an inspiring, magical story about a happily married couple, Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton), who can’t wait to start a family but can only dream about what their child would be like. When young Timothy (CJ Adams) shows up on their doorstep one stormy night, Cindy and Jim — and their small town of Stanleyville — learn that sometimes the unexpected can bring some of life’s greatest gifts.

Given that its a Disney movie with a 41 percent rating on the Tomatometer, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” appears to be a try-hard heartwarmer that is ultimately more “style” (in the most Disneyfied sense of the word) than substance. Check it out only if you’re the overly-emotional type susceptible to that kind of drivel.

  

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Box Office Preview: Here come the ‘Men in Black,’ also ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ and another crap Hollywood horror flick


Men in Black III

The Men in Black are back, with time travel! Let me start off by saying I fucking hate sequels. And threequels? Fuggedaboutit. Speed round: name ten threequels that didn’t suck, no cheating. I’ll try, there’s “Return of the Jedi, “The Return of the King,” “Toy Story 3,” uh, uh, Jackie Chan!

So what is “Men in Black III” about? Time travel, duh, I already told you that. But seriously, the beginning of the movie has Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones still running around doing their alien-fighting thing. But suddenly, history has been rewritten and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) is somehow at the center of it, or at least that’s what the trailer told me. With K’s life and the fate of planet at stake, Agent J (Will Smith) “will have to travel back in time to put things right.” Along the way, he’ll discover “there are secrets to the universe that K never told him—secrets that will reveal themselves as he teams up with the young Agent K (Josh Brolin) to save his partner, the agency, and the future of humankind.” Also, Andy Warhol is an Agent.

Could “Men in Black III” be the rare exception that makes the rule? Or will the filmmakers wish they could go back in time and put a fat red light on this thing? The film is at a 68 percent on the Tomatometer, but no consensus has been reached yet. So as with any series, if you’re a huge fan of the first two, sure, you’ll like it. For us average folks, meh, it’ll probably be alright. However, as A.O. Scott of The New York Times points out, people will have low expectations of the movie specifically because it’s a threequel. When the bar is low, it’s easy to jump over it.

Apart from the urgent necessity of reminding us that Will Smith is a movie star (and the usual need to wring a few more dollars out of a profitable franchise), “Men in Black 3” arrives in the multiplexes of the world with no particular agenda. Which may be part of the reason that it turns out to be so much fun. You don’t need to study up on the previous installments or master a body of bogus fanboy lore to enjoy this movie for the breezy pop throwaway it is. Your expectations may be pleasantly low, and you may therefore be pleasantly surprised when they are exceeded.


Moonrise Kingdom

Well, unfortunately for my sarcastic side (which is actually both of my sides), “Moonrise Kingdom” looks really good. It’s been certified fresh on the Tomatometer with a 98 percent rating. Also, Bill Murray is in it, nothing else need be said. Shit, Wes Anderson directed and Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Bruce Willis and Jason Schwartzman are in it too? I know, fuck me right?

So “Moonrise Kingdom” is the story of two twelve year-olds who fall in love and run away together on a New England island in 1965. Much to the dismay of the local police captain (Willis), and the boy’s scout troop leaders (Norton and Schwartzman), and only slightly to the dismay of the girl’s father (Murray).

Seriously, I’m not too good at this whole “wow this should be a really good movie” thing. Most of what Hollywood churns out is mindless trash. I hate it, but it makes my life easier. What else can I say? It’s a Wes Anderson film, perhaps his best one yet, and 47 of the 48 critics listed by Rotten Tomatoes loved it. See this movie.


Chernobyl Diaries

Speaking of mindless trash, “Chernobyl Diaries,” brought to you by Oren Peli, the director of “Paranormal Activity,” will also be released this week. I don’t really have much to say about it yet, Rotten Tomatoes hasn’t posted any reviews nor could I find one in any major publication. All I’ve got to work from is the trailer and the official synopsis, which states:

The film follows a group of six young vacationers who, looking to go off the beaten path, hire an “extreme” tour guide. Ignoring warnings, he takes them into the city of Pripyat, the former home to the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, but a deserted town since the disaster more than 25 years ago. After a brief exploration of the abandoned city, however, the group soon finds themselves stranded, only to discover that they are not alone…

“Extreme tourism,” ooooo… Scary… I’ll say what I do about most movies that look like crap, if you’re into the genre or the director’s earlier work, this film could be for you. Otherwise, stay away. When you’ve got “Men in Black III,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” and “The Avengers” (for all four of you who haven’t seen it yet), there’s little to no reason to see a movie like this.

  

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The Golden Globes happened, the world continues to turn

You probably know by now that the big water cooler topic in Hollywood about last night at the Golden Globes isn’t so much the awards themselves. Yes, there were some nice surprises in the acting categories, most notably for Paul Giamatti in “Barney’s Version.” “The Social Network” remains a big Oscar favorite, and so on. (You can see a complete list of last night’s winners here, by the way). No. It appears the most criticized man in Hollywood this day is not Mel Gibson or Jeff Zucker, but one Mr. Ricky Gervais.  Here, via the Guardian, is the opening monologue for those of you who missed it or want to relive the moment.

It seems to me that there is no more thankless high-profile task in major-league Hollywood today than being a stand-up hosting an award show. Much better to be an actor doing tightly scripted song-and-dances. As a conventional host, if you’re too much of a flatterer you annoy everyone who wasn’t personally flattered, but just ask Chris Rock and Jon Stewart how even relatively tame cracks can be bandied about in the press for days as writers panic on behalf of show biz egos.

Mary McNamara‘s piece at the L.A. Times underplays the criticism that Rock received at the time for his not-too-extreme critique of Jude Law’s acting abilities compared to Hollywood greats. David Letterman was bashed for being too silly. Stewart was deemed insufficiently differential and not funny enough, though to me it was case of maybe being too honest for the room. Of course, that was the Oscars — which shouldn’t be taken all that seriously but still has a certain mythological import to it — and this was the Golden Globes, the famously drunken award show with the often bizarre nominations and sometimes strange wins.

My attitude is this: Yes, Gervais crossed the line at points — though determining where the line is isn’t always so easy. The crack about Scientology and certain allegedly closeted top stars was pretty nasty, and worse, wasn’t funny. I could understand why the head of the HFPA was angry — though if he didn’t want to have cruel jokes made about him and his job, he’s heading the wrong organization. On the other hand, Gervais was often very funny with better aimed and gentler jabs, and last night’s performance does have its fans. I thought the joke about Bruce Willis being Ashton Kutcher’s dad was funny and it looked to me like Willis maybe thought so too. Others were somewhere in between. They hired Gervais, but what they really wanted was Don Rickles. Someone who’d insult people in such a way that no one would take it seriously. That’s hard to do if you don’t happen to actually be Rickles.

I wouldn’t want to be Gervais, or Gervais’s publicist, today but I think we all take these things way too seriously, and everyone still has their careers. We spend too much time reading the tea leaves and are too quick to make Nikki Finke-style conclusions about the goodness or evil of certain figures based on pretty minimal information. The Steve Carrell “it never gets old” line and putative feud over the different versions of “The Office” struck me as more Jack Benny and Fred Allen than West Coast vs. East Coast rappers. They might well have been “joking on the square,” but they might just as easily have been nervously joking.

Anyhow, if any of you have any thoughts on the matter, feel more than free to pipe up in comments. Oh, and be nice!

  

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Weekend box office: “Saw 3D” tortures its way to the top

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Even given my low information preview Thursday night, there really weren’t any big surprises this Halloween weekend as the seventh installment in the “Saw” series, but the first in 3D and therefore logically entitled “Saw 3D,” extracted a healthy but far from huge sum from audiences. The amount was an estimated $22.5 million for Lionsgate if you believe Box Office Mojo and the Playlist, or $24.2 million if you believe Nikki Finke and Anthony D’Alessandro. D’Allesandro, as usual guest/co-blogging with Anne Thompson, also tells us that it really does appear that 3D drove this film to its modest success, with 92% of tickets being sold for “digital hubs,” which I assume translates into 3D screens.

I wonder if that means the film will pay a commensurate price in home video for at least as long as home 3D remains rare. It’s also worth noting that the $20 million budget — modest by Hollywood standards but large by horror film standards — is double that of the prior films and the take is about $10 million below the opening weekends of the series at its peak. Still, making back your budget on opening weekend is never bad.

“Saw 3D” merited a B- on Cinemascore and apparently gave series fans what they want (misery, and lots of it, I gather), though their numbers be diminishing. Now that some of them have finally seen it, what critics want, however, is for the series to end with the  film currently getting drubbed by all but one scribe on Rotten Tomatoes. EW‘s Owen Gleiberman‘s more positive review is less a good review and more a bit of a confession — even the gore hardened critic had to turn away from the screen at one point or risk becoming physically ill — and a rumination on whether it’s even appropriate to enjoy a movie that sounds so invested in human pain that it should never have been allowed anything remotely short of an NC-17. (Which should not be seen as punitive or a a box office kiss of death, but let’s not open that can of worms right now, except that I just did.)

Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis, and Morgan Freeman look relieved in Moving right along in a relatively slow weekend with competition for people’s time heavy from the holiday, the election, and maybe even Jon Stewart’s rally, last week’s much less physically aggressive horror hit, “Paranormal Activity 2,” endured a very usual second-week horror drop  of just under 60% that still left enough for an estimated $16.5 million in the #2 spot. The leggy action-comedy “RED” was #3 with an estimate of $10.8 million and change. And “#4 “Jackass 3D” is predictably sinking like a stone at $8.425 million. However, it started at such a profitable point it actually crossed the $100 million mark in its third week. There are no tears at Paramount.

In limited release, the week’s two highest per-theater takes was as art-house as art-house gets. The single theater showing “Waste Land,” a documentary about Brazilian trash-gatherer/artists, earned a hefty $11,600 estimate over it’s weekend. Meanwhile, the two venues final thriller directed by the late Claude Chabrol “Inspector Bellamy” starring Gérard Depardieu, raked in a very healthy estimated $11,200.  This one is on my list.

  

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It’s weekend box office preview time: It’s “Jackass 3D” vs. Helen Mirren with a gun.

Guess which movie I’m rooting for? As usual, however, I won’t get what I want. It’s hard to imagine that the audience for “Jackass 3D” will accept seeing the gross-out-a-thon in any other format and for that reason alone the docu-comedy is expected to outgross the very strong competition from the comic book adaptation, “RED” (as in “Retired, Extremely Dangerous”) which stars Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Mary Louise-Parker, Karl Urban, and Fred Grandy as Gopher, I think.

Helen Mirren and John Malkovich are

Both the L.A. TimesBen Fritz and THR’s ever-jolly (despite his lousy new theme music) Carl DiOrio agree that the cleverly pitched comedy thriller, putting mostly older actors in the traditionally young-skewing over-the-top action genre, should net about $25 million. The even more cleverly framed “Jackass 3D” should, however, ride those expensive tickets, the spectacle of three dimensional bodily by-products, and the tendency of young males to see movies opening weekend, to about $30 million or more. “RED” should have the longer legs, but presumably “Jackass” has the smaller budget (medical insurance bills for the cast notwithstanding). Both will do fine.

It’s a very busy weekend in limited release. Artistically speaking, the most important films of the bunch will likely turn out to be Olivier Assayas’s mega massive and hugely praised true-life political thriller, “Carlos,” about the notorious far-left terrorist of the 1970s which you can watch all 330 minutes of this weekend in a few showings at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles, and I’m tempted to. A shorter 2.5 hour cut is also available for people with less stout buttocks and/or lives to lead. On the other hand, one can never sneeze at a new movie by Clint Eastwood, and “Hereafter,” his second movie to star Matt Damon, begins to appear. This time, the octogenarian Mr. Eastwood takes on the topic of death itself.

Meanwhile, 542 theaters are going to be empty save for a few hardcore tea parties, I predict, this weekend as “I Want Your Money” opens. I’m actually sitting on an interview with director and would-be conservative answer to Michael Moore, Ray Griggs, from Comicon which will likely never see the light of day because it’s mostly quite dull and he had really nothing to say of interest to say about the movie we were actually supposed to talk about. It only got interesting when he mentioned this movie, which he dishonestly tried to pitch to me as nonpartisan. I smelled a cinema rat and, as I now know, the cast is dominated by famed Republican pols like Mike Huckabee and Newt Gringrich. However, a PR person ended the interview before I could try and figure out what the story really was.

Most conservatives would never believe me, but I don’t assume “I Want Your Money” is extremely bad because I disagree with its politics, I assume it’s extremely bad because Griggs last (apolitical) movie got a rare 0% from Rotten Tomatoes, including being slammed by the New York Post’s conservative Kyle Smith. He also couldn’t discuss “I Want Your Money” — or the other movie — with me in a straightforward fashion which doesn’t speak well for him or either movie.  To quote the old rock and roll song, sometimes bad is bad.

  

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