I’ve got your “Pride and Prejudice with Zombies” right here.

Mike Fleming has the news that they’ve just formalized the deal to have writer-actor Mike White (“School of Rock,” “Chuck and Buck”) write and direct the movie version of the hugely popular mash-up of Jane Austen and George Romero by Seth Grahame-Smith, but why wait?

First, here’s the first ten minutes or so (Part A) of the 1940 MGM version of “Pride and Prejudice,” starring Laurence Olivier and the wondrous Greer Garson and directed by Hunt Stromberg (who?). The rest appears to be available on YouTube as well. Just go on to Part B, Part C etc.

And here are the zombies, as in “Night of the Living Dead” — the complete movie all in one handy embed, in fact. (In perhaps the single the biggest rights foul-up in movie history, George Romero’s classic fell into public domain pretty much right after its release.)

Thank me. I’ve just saved you all years of anticipation and roughly $10-$22.00 (if they do it in 3D).

  

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A roundtable chat with Luke Wilson of “Middle Men”

MM-07766

It’s been nearly 15 years since producer James L. Brooks bankrolled a feature version of a short film made by some Texas youngsters, and that movie (“Bottle Rocket”) introduced the movie world to director Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson, and his brother, Luke. Since then, Dallas-born Luke Wilson’s movie-star handsome likeness has become a highly familiar to filmgoers, playing both leading men and supporting roles mostly in comedies like “Legally Blonde,” “Old School,” and Mike Judge’s criminally maltreated “Idiocracy,” as well as “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and a classic cameo in “Anchorman.” (He was the anchor who — spoiler alert — got his arm was sliced off with a sword by Tim Robbins.)

To this day, Wilson has a habit of turning up in odd and interesting places, like a series of well-known commercials for AT&T or in the uneven but entertaining “Middle Men,” in which Wilson very credibly stars as a Texas businessman who gets much more than he expected at the intersection of e-commerce and adult entertainment. He is also preparing to play the part of Laura Dern’s flaky ex-husband on “Enlightened,” a new TV series from cult writer-producer Mike White (“Chuck and Buck,” “School of Rock“) with episodes directed by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme.

At the risk of creating an embarrassing but perhaps partially correct impression of a man-crush, in person Luke Wilson is a highly charismatic guy. Behind his highly colloquial speech — I’ve left out a lot of “likes” — is an intelligence that, without giving away much of anything, dispenses with a lot of the usual show business interview platitudes. Now in his late 30s, he also appeared thinner than his slightly chunky appearance on “Middle Man” or his recent AT&T commercials. That was because Wilson had deliberately gone over his normal weight by about 25 pounds for the role of a hard-driving businessman and family guy.

What was that like?

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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Weekend box office: “Shrek Forever After” enters the 3-D fray

The combined power of family films and the inflated ticket prices of 3-D films being what it is, I don’t think there’s room for much doubt that the putative final entry in the now four film-long computer animated “Shrek” franchise will take the weekend, and probably in a reasonably major way. According to jolly Carl DiOrio, $100 million may be possible. That’s a number that, while being substantially less than past openings featuring the affable troll, may be overheated, with other experts predicting significantly lower amounts. On the one hand, DiOrio theorizes that the tracking surveys don’t properly account for the strength of family films nor the 3-D box office bonus. (He notes some theaters in NYC are charging $20.00 for 3-D showings.) Still, four movies in, people may tend to write this one off as a last ditch attempt to cash in on a once immensely popular character.

Shrek whatever

Are they right? Well, our own David Medsker, not a huge fan of the series, actually thinks “Shrek Forever After” has the most heart of any entry so far and notes that it has lowered the number of fart jokes, always a welcome change in my book. It’s also probably worth noting that Dreamworks and Paramount have chosen an animation newbie in director Miguel Arteta, whose previously been best known for such character driven, off-beat low budget indie comedies as “Chuck and Buck” and “The Good Girl,” as well as the more recent and somewhat more mainstream targeted “Youth in Revolt.” The choice of Arteta has apparently worked to some degree as the film has enjoyed a modest bump upwards in esteem from the critically unlovedShrek the Third.” Still, the marketing for the film has been hampered by title changes — previous monikers were “Shrek:  The Final Chapter” and “Shrek Goes Fourth.” Still, as long as people remember the “Shrek” part, it shouldn’t be too big a problem.

There will be competition from other just a bit less family-friendly major releases rated PG-13 for varying degrees of violence, but Marvel/Paramount’s “Iron Man 2” has been dropping by over fifty percent from its terrific but not ultra-immense opening week, and therefore is likely to come at #2. Last week’s #2, “Robin Hood,” is expected to have a pretty huge drop in its second week based on its unexciting word of mouth and will come in somewhere lower in the top five. Its a good thing for beleaguered Universal Studios that the action-adventure criticized for a marked lack of fun has nevertheless generated strong international numbers.

MacGruber
The week’s other new release has been getting a lot of ‘net coverage, and is based on a character with a lot of TV exposure. Even so, the gurus seem to agree that it won’t be a massive hit. Given that the Saturday Night Live movie brand is not exactly vibrant, though it’s always fun to read about — and was last made use of in 2000 — “MacGruber” could be seen as damaged goods from the start because it’s derived from a series of one-joke skits from the show featuring Will Forte and that PH favorite/comment generator, Kristen Wigg. No wonder that the “tracking” has not been too spectacular.

The very broad comedy, essentially an elaborate spoof of the old “MacGyver” TV series, about an incompetent would-be super-spy who isn’t nearly as good at defusing huge bombs as he thinks he is, is apparently tracking fairly poorly. On the other hand, this film is getting a entirely non-rapturous but okay critical reaction (59% “fresh” as of this writing), which indicates to me it will end up as a video guilty pleasure for many of us. The question is, will so many of the audience decide to wait for the DVD/Blu-Ray or cable version of the film that the number will really be a rather sad $8-10 million as Carl DiOrio suggests, or will enough family-film wary 17-40 year old males decide to enjoy the film’s juvenile-yet-R-rated pleasures making for the more robust $15 or even $20 million figures suggested by C. S. Stowbridge at the Numbers? I’ve been wrong before, but I’m guessing “MacGruber” will at least break double digits. I hope it does fairly well, if only so there’s a chance we’ll see Betty White reprise her SNL role as MacGruber’s (too) beloved grandma in the sequel.

There isn’t a huge amount of action this week on the limited release market, at least in terms of high-profile new movies. “Holy Rollers,” a fact-inspired tale starring Jesse Eisenberg as a young Hasidic Jew — if you don’ t know the term, just think of them as the tech-friendly, urban equivalent of the Amish — who gets caught up in trafficking Ecstasy. Apparently, its premise is more interesting than the actual movie. What a shanda.

Holy Rollers

  

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A Na’vi, some singing rodents, and Sherlock Holmes walk into a movie theater…

…And never leave.

Well, that’s the scenario provided by jolly Carl DiOrio, the only box office prognosticator I have access to now that Variety has gone behind that pay wall. I certainly have little reason to doubt that Fox’s “Avatar” will experience a fourth weekend atop the box office pile, considering how the film has most definitely emerged as one of those rare demographic-spanning productions that becomes a self-perpetuating “must see” phenomenon. It’s already the tenth biggest domestic money-maker of all time at $380 million+ and I’m almost afraid to check the international numbers.

The last movie like this was “The Dark Knight,” which also ruled the roost four weekends running, but sometime tells me that the appeal of James Cameron’s movie might actually be wider over the long run in terms of attracting an older and less gender-specific audience. I could be easily be wrong about that but, considering how excellently the film has been holding up to now, even a relatively precipitous post-holiday drop still seems to promise another very hefty payday for Cameron’s epic spectacular.

Family appeal should never be underestimated at the movies. However, I have to admit that I’m a bit stymied by the degree of success of Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.” It’s just that I can’t imagine adults wanting to see it. Still, the movie came in third in a photofinish with Warners’ “Sherlock Holmes” last week (both made $35-36 million), and both movies apparently seem set for a similar repeat. Personally, though I wouldn’t be surprised if either film experienced a bigger than expected post-holiday drop. I found the opening hour of “Holmes” pretty dull stuff, despite a lot of running around and mucking about and it’s not like moviegoers don’t have some interesting options this weekend.

Indeed, unusually for the first post-holiday weekend of the New Year, we have two rather solid-looking entertainments on tap. Hopes are reasonably high for “Daybreakers,” to be a strong #4 for Lionsgate. It appears to be a clever, horror/sci-fi/action/satiric variation on an old Monty Python sketch, in which a world dominated by vampires  must deal with dwindling supply of delectably sanguinary humans. It’s an intriguing enough conceit to draw my attention despite the film probably having too much gore for my taste and having almost certainly way too much of leaden star Ethan Hawke for my preference. Still, a second billed Willem Dafoe can go a long way toward fixing that and critics are reasonably, though not ridiculously, positive, as in type O. Top critics are a leaning a hair negative, also as in type O, though it definitely has its fans.

Finally, there’s something about “Youth in Revolt” which, despite the fact that most people, including most critics, seems to like it well enough, makes people somewhat downplay its commercial possiblities — despite being part of the ever-popular genre once dubbed by Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel as “the horny teenager movie.” The plot is also a variation on Woody Allen’s “Play It Again, Sam” (a horny adult movie and stage play), which certainly worked well in its day and has more than little appeal to the nerd within all of us. Certainly, director Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl,” “Chuck and Buck”) has a low key comic style that may not spell blockbuster though being based on a popular series of novels won’t hurt, I suppose.

Another side of Cera In any case, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Michael Cera‘s box office appeal even if he’s inevitably been the subject of something of a backlash from those who argue he’s a one-comic-trick pony, though playing a dual role as his dangerously roguish alter ego might help there. Also, Cera’s memorably named costar, Portia Doubleday, is generating her own interest. That can’t hurt. The Weinstein Company could certainly use a bit of commercial help, right now. DiOrio is calling for the film to just break double-digits, but I wouldn’t be surprised by a surprise, especially given the lack of youth-friendly films and actually funny comedies right now.

  

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Friday night movie news dump…

And, for a change, it’s barely even night here on west coast as I begin.

*  We’re seeing some major league “New Moon” girl-power at the box office, already. $26.3 million, to be specific. That’s just for midnight shows.

* Just a few days back I noted the casting of Japanese star Tadanobu Asano as Hogun in Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming “Mighty Thor” flick. As a part of Norse (i.e., Viking) mythology, Asgard is, by definition, a pretty strictly Nordic place, so I thought this casting was interesting.  Visually, the Marvel comics Hogun was based on Charles Bronson, whose face had a definite Asiatic/Mongolian-by-way-of-Lithuania cast, so going with the star of “Mongol” was a stretch worth noting, but maybe not a definite sign of completely race blind nontraditional  casting.

However, Branagh has now cast the very fine African-English actor Idris Elba of “The Wire” and several great episodes of “The Office” in the part of Heimdall, guardian of Asgard. As a commentor at the Heat Vision blog that spread the news mentioned, Branagh did something very similar when he cast Denzel Washington as an Italian warrior-prince in his version of “Much Ado About Nothing.” I’ll quote myself from the Bullz-Eye piece I did on less well known Denzel Washington performances:

As a major production featuring truly race-blind “nontraditional” casting in a key role, “Much Ado About Nothing” is something of an onscreen first. In fact, audiences and critics had no more problem accepting Washington as an Italian prince than they did accepting the extremely British, pasty-faced Branagh as a Mediterranean nobleman.

Especially in films set far away from a realistic context and where the actor has as much authority as both Washington and Elba have, I think we’re sophisticated enough about the nature of movies that this will not be a problem, even for viewers who know a little about mythology. And here’s the best part: it will piss off some white supremacists. I’ve personally heard about young Neo-Nazis who dig the comic book “Mighty Thor” and apparently are too stupid and ignorant to realize that the series was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, a.k.a., Stanley Leiber and Jacob Kurtzberg, two rather brilliant New York Jews. As always, the joke is on the hate fetishists.

Like I said before, this is not your father’s Asgard, and I’m fine with that.

800px-Asgard

* It’s thirty days before the release of “Avatar,” the movie isn’t quite done yet, and some of us insist on going about our business as if life as we have always known it was not about to be forever altered. Quick, send out Sigourney Weaver and Giovanni Ribisi to say nice things about James Cameron!

* He’s brought us everything from “School of Rock” to “Chuck and Buck”, but very talented quirk/comedy writer/actor Mike White’s next film is about Santa war, but I doubt it’ll be very violent. On the other hand, he appeared in the comically mega-violent “Zombieland,” so perhaps his thinking has evolved some. I pretty violently disagreed with his op-ed, but he gets credit for even thinking about stuff like this.

* And, now for something completely different, from OC Weekly restaurant critic Edwin Goei comes his list of the five greatest food movies. I’d steal some of his YouTube clips, but I’m starving and I’m supposed to go to the gym later, dammit. Just go see for yourselves.

  

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