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Weekend box office: The “Inception” brain caper goes according to plan; “The Sorceror’s Apprentice” gets a swat in the tuchas

Those of us speculating on the possibility of a surprise in either the high or low direction for “Inception” early on Friday (okay, that would mainly be me), have now been silenced by the weekend estimates. They appear to have come down on the highish side of what the professional prognosticators expected, even if some of them were confessing to uncertainty. (Where did I read that? It’s gone now from where I thought I read it but maybe my dreams are being manipulated by a crack team hired by a Japanese billionaire who hates Nikki Finke.)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in So, no, Christopher Nolan’s highly praised but also controversial science-fiction thriller film for Warner Brothers is officially not “too smart” or too not-franchise-associated to be a hit, if an estimated $60.4 million is enough to constitute a hit these days for a $200 million film. It’s also worth noting that it managed this without an artificial boost from inflated 3-D ticket prices. I wonder if some math whizzes out there can compare this to the “disappointing” $77 million opening for “Avatar.” Anthony D’Alessandro points out this is the strongest North American opening ever for a Leonardo DiCaprio-headlined movie, which includes “Titanic.”(That box office stinker only made about $28 million domestically it’s first weekend.)

Still, as always, the question remains “legs” and how the word-of-tweet-facebook update-txt-mouth goes. The L.A. Times reported that the film scored a B+ on Cinemascore, reportedly dividing the audience by age with under 25-ers giving it an A and us oldsters giving it a B-. So are middle-aged filmgoers more discerning or younger ones more open to real genius? (Hey, politically, I tend to agree more with under-25 years olds more than people my own age who mostly loved Ronald Reagan, who I believe peaked in “Storm Warning” with Ginger Rogers.)

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Weekend preview: Will star power and geek mega-hype translate into a box office dream for “Inception”?

Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt wisely keep their guard up in

A confession: I probably won’t even get a chance to see it for a few more weeks, but I’m already a little tired of Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster-in-waiting. Hailed as an instant classic in some quarters, including over at Bullz-Eye by our own David Medsker, the science-fiction brain-caper, “Inception,” is also reviving some rather tiresome movie geek and cinephile controversies left over from “The Dark Knight.” If you’re not aware of it and want to be know all about the cine-annoyance, Jim Emerson does a great job of boiling it down and, earlier in the week, Dennis Cozzalio did an interesting takedown one of the worst abusers over at the L.A. Times.

All I’m going to say is that it’s only a movie and we’re all allowed to react to it however we like. If you find yourself loving it beyond all reason and agree with David that it’s time to consider Nolan with the greatest directors of all time or if you think he’s nothing more than a Michael Bay with a literature degree, please do not assume that anyone who thinks differently is putting on some kind of show. No doubt, there are fools and pretentious twats aplenty in this world, but most of us come by our moviegoing opinions honestly.

Of course, all of this means almost nothing to your ordinary rank and file moviegoer — the kind who don’t care what the movie scored on Rotten Tomatoes and who don’t read posts like this one — and commercially speaking, that’s really the question here. Can a hard-to-describe premise of the Phillip K. Dick school be counterbalanced by the promise of amazing action and visuals, brain candy, and a stunning all-star cast headlined by Leonardo di Caprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy and even a part for promising newcomer Michael Caine?  Perhaps.

The Warner Brothers awareness machine is working over time on this one and there’s certainly no way this film doesn’t win the weekend.  How the movie does beyond that is pretty much up to the whims of the public. Lacking a well known marketing hook, it’s really anyone’s guess whether the film enjoys a modest reception and goes into Nolan’s “one for me” file, or whether it breaks out into becoming the kind phenomenon that will  really justify it’s no-longer-unusually-enormous $200 million budget. Checking in with jolly Carl DiOrio over at THR, he’s calling it at between $50-60 million, though I personally can see the movie making nearly half as much or twice as much as that. It just sort of depends on what people are in the mood for right now.

Nicholas Cage and Jay Baruchel in
Now, there is another movie that will be doing battle with last week’s #1 holdover for the family/tweenage, and that’s Disney’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” which has Nicholas Cage doing his eccentric-guy act as the sorcerer and Apatow-alum Jay Baruchel stepping into some literally big shoes in taking over a part originated by Mickey Mouse in the most popular episode of 1940′s “Fantasia.” Attempting to get a couple of day’s jump on the PG-13 “Inception,” Disney released “Sorcerer” on Wednesday but, as per Nikki Finke, there’s no reason to expect this film to make huge numbers and she guesses it will gross roughly $30 million for the entire five days. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if it came in at the #3 for the Friday-Sunday contest after last week’s box office winner, “Despicable Me,” given that it’s a strong family film which made $56 million and has every reason to suffer only a very modest decline in its second week.

On the limited release circuit, “Standing Ovation” will be on over 600 screens and is aimed at the same family/tween demographic that goes gaga for “High School Musical” style movies. However, lacking any big names or marketing muscle and getting very bad reviews from the few critics who’ve even bothered to see it, I don’t see how this film stands a chance. On the other hand, the two probable indie hits of the summer will be expanding significantly across the country, so stand by for Sunday for news on “The Kids Are Alright” and “Cyrus.”

John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, and Marisa Tomei whoop it up in

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“Despicable Me”: the bad guy wins big, but it’s a weekend full of winners.

Despicable Me

Complaints about summer box have evaporated with the release of well-marketed movies that people seem to actually like. Weird. Leading the pack is the PG-rated animated family comedy, “Despicable Me,” which starring voice Steve Carell has been madly promoting everywhere. The zany villain-centric tale has also benefited, as per Anthony D’Alessandro, from the usual cross-promotional synergies which are as diabolical yet effective as the words are annoying to write/read.

The 3-D animation nearly doubled the already healthy amounts that I mentioned Friday and scored a weekend estimate of over $60.1 million today according to Box Office Mojo. It’s a much needed break for troubled Universal which is launching a new animation division with the film from two French first-time feature directors.

Coming in at #2 was a quite decent second weekend for Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.” The PG-13 rated female tween-teen-young-adult attracting flick suffered an average drop of about 48% and brought home about $33.4 million worth of estimated bacon.

Adrien Brody and Alice Braga in The blood quotient rises considerably for the third genre flick in this week’s lineup, “Predators.” The action-horror pic, which according Jason Zingale, contains an unlucky character who is literally filleted, is apparently being greeted as a bloody good time for action/horror/creature-feature fans and brought in $25.3 million, just a tad higher than the higher end of expectations. That’s especially good considering the remarkably low budget by current action-film standards, $39 million, thanks to the cost-cutting genius of producer Robert Rodriguez and, one assumes, the efficient work of director Nimrod Antal.

(Some of us geeks will remember the praise Joss Whedon generated from making his space-action flick, “Serenity” for $40 million — and shooting the movie entirely in the greater Los Angeles area — back in 2005. Us “Firefly” fans would have been a whole lot happpier with $25 million  than the very disappointing $10 million it’s first weekend actually generated. Damn you people for thinking the movie had something to do with spas or adult diapers.)

Following close behind is the latest leggy smash from Pixar/Disney. “Toy Story 3” generated $22 million in its fourth week, having already earned $140 million over its admittedly enormous (but no longer unusually large) budget of $200 million. I’m sure a lot of that is largely probably due to one of the highest paid voice casts in entertainment history, considering not only the status of Tom Hanks and, to a vastly lesser extent, Tim Allen, but also the enormous success of the prior films. Also, this level of CGI animation appears to be a pricey proposition, still.

Last week’s very successful #2 film, the critically-loathed and C Cinemascore family-action pic, “The Last Airbender” dropped 57% in its second week to this week’s #5 spot. That is actually a fairly typical, though not great, drop for a genre film. Still, with a $150 million budget, critical nightmares of this TV-animation adaptation becoming a long-running live-action film series may remain the stuff of dreams.

Meanwhile, expectations are also being exceeded in limited release. “The Kids are Alright” got the best per-screen average not only of the week but of the year with a whopping per screen of over $72,000 on seven screens. Also opening this week in a very large for limited 110 theater release was the second film of Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, which is quickly emerging as something of an international Harry Potter phenom for over-educated grown-ups. “The Girl Who Played with Fire” made it to the #11 spot with $965,000 estimated despite muted reviews. “Cyrus” continues to do very well, also.

John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, and Jonah Hill as

There’s more. As usual, the details as compiled by Peter Knegt are over at Indiewire.

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Big weekend at the box office: Twi-Hards turn out; proof that young men don’t listen (to critics)

This week, most of whatever suspense there was was not at all about which movie will be #1 or, as it turns out, #2 (not quite a 100% sure thing earlier). It had to do with what actually matters when the show business rubber meets the audience road: how much cash did the movies generate from the summer’s biggest holiday weekend but amid gloomy news and gloomier punditry regarding the economy? The answer seems to be what Joel McCrea learned at the end of “Sullivan’s Travels,” people in dire straights need entertainment and fantasy more, not less. I only wish they were getting something as thoughtful as “Ants in Your Plants of 1939.”

Edward and Bella...ooooohhhhhhhhhOver the three day Friday-Sunday weekend, Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” earned an estimated $69 million according to the Box Office Mojo chart. For the broader and potentially confusing numbers covering the extended movie weekends for the two new major new releases this week, I’ll rely on Anne Thompson’s pal Anthony D’Alessandro. He tells us “Eclipse” earned an estimated $175 million and change, just a few million bucks below the similar six-day frame of 2004′s “Spiderman 2,” though not adjusted for ongoing movie-ticket inflation.

This is the point in the series ordinarily where some might wonder if interest is starting to flag, but this is a long-running movie/book soap opera and a continuing tale similar to the Harry Potter in terms of fan interest/involvement. Also, this entry overall got significantly better reviews than the second film in the series, which might indicate the film itself is more boyfriend friendly for this very female-driven franchise.

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Los Angeles Film Festival Recap: The Movies, part 3

Okay, so we’re back one more time to wrap up my series of posts covering my reactions to the movies I managed to see at the Los Angeles Film Festival. If time and my temperament permits, a special kvetching post will be forthcoming. You can see my earlier posts on the films here and here.

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* “Cane Toads: The Conquest” — I saw this the same night as I saw “Cyrus” and, while I got a bit tired towards the end, probably because it had been a long day, I couldn’t help but be delighted and impressed by this unapologetically entertaining documentary. Made in high end 3-D, writer-director Mark Lewis told the audience with some pleasure that his film has been dubbed “Avatoad” by several critical wags.  Whatever comparisons there may be to the Cameron film, this one is definitely funnier.

What it actually is a sequel to a twenty-five year old documentary (“Cane Toads: An Unnatural History”) detailing how these toads were brought to Australia to combat an agricultural pest. The amphibians utterly failed at that task, but utterly succeeding at reproducing themselves by the billion and being perceived as a pest themselves by displeased Aussies. The new film explores the various aspects of the creatures and how they interact with humans in Australia, with some making a sport of how many of the creatures they can exterminate, and others fighting to stop the slaughter or studying them, and, in the case of one little girl, making a pet of one beloved and friendly toad.

Full of invention and wit, “Cane Toads: The Conquest” is easily the funniest ecological nature documentary I’ve ever seen — it’s also, easily, the only one that could qualify as a somewhat dark comedy of sorts, a clever combo of science, silliness, and ecological awareness. As much as I liked the film, overall, I do have to admit that that was overshadowed by the fact that none other than Werner Herzog was sitting in front of me, who is said to be working on his own 3-D documentary. Exactly the guy you’d want to be sitting next to you at that kind of doc.

* “Farewell” — This blend of fiction and documentary film is the tale of the 1929 round-the-world trip of the German Graf Zeppelin as reported by its lone female passenger, a real-life English journalist/aristocrat. Written and directed by Denmark’s Ditteke Mensink, the film is mainly a fictionalized story of starcrossed love, and the real-life writer really did have a lifelong secret love affair with a married colleague. Comprised entirely of found footage, mostly from the actual historical trip, which was probably the biggest zeppelin story until the Hindenberg disaster effectively killed lighter-than-air travel, the story is told in the form of a highly emotional narration in the form of a diary.

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Although I was as wowed by the amazing footage as many critics seemed to have been, I was somewhat disappointed with the film as a whole. Lacking the informational interest of a more conventional doc, the film didn’t really work as a drama for me either. It’s bit humorless and static — especially since our male lead that our heroine is over the moon for isn’t exactly your usual dramatic leading man — and, like the zeppelin trip, the love story winds up largely where it starts.

***

And that, believe it or not, is it — for the movies, anyhow.

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Los Angeles Film Festival Recap: The Movies, part 2

Following on from last night’s post, here are some more reactions to the movies I saw at the recently wrapped Los Angeles Film Festival…

Johan Hill in * “Cyrus” — This played early in the festival and was pretty much concurrent with it’s opening in theaters. I’ve already said in passing elsewhere that I enjoyed the film quite a bit despite some flaws and, by now, you’ve probably heard something about this oddball romantic comedy of gently Oedipal horrors. It first came  up on my radar some time ago when I interviewed Mark Duplass, one half of the directing Duplass Brothers.

About the worst thing I can say about “Cyrus” is that, unlike the similarly improvised film Mark stars in, “Humpday,” which also involved a woman caught between two problematic men, the female role here is relatively under-developed. The fact that that movie was written and directed by a woman, Lynn Shelton, is, I’m sure, not entirely coincidental.

There’s also been something of a cinephile backlash to the Duplass’s camera work, among other issues, which may interest you wonks. You can read about that via Glenn Kenny, Bill Ryan (my further thoughts are in comments at his place) and Jim Emerson.

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Hey, I’m back, sort of, with weekend box office results

I’m still keeping busy and enjoying the tail end of the Los Angeles Film Festival, which wraps in just a couple of hours, but I thought I’d see how quickly I can give you all at least some of this weekend’s genuinely fascinating box office results as gleaned from both Anne Thompson and Nikki Finke.

Toy Story 3

Well, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Pixar formula — i.e., dollops of laughter and heart (what a concept!) and now a dash of 3-D ticket prices — has once again worked wonders and “Toy Story 3” took on all comers, earning an estimated $59 million for Disney in its second weekend. Meanwhile, it was also a good weekend for the eternal appeal of low humor and, it seems Adam Sandler, at least when accompanied by four other comic known quantities of varying degrees of box office hotness. It was clear that the scatological-joke loving masses were only encouraged by, I’m guessing, entirely correct godawful reviews of Sony’s “Grown-Ups.”

Perhaps also reflecting a dearth of comedy right now, the film actually was a personal box office best — not adjusted for inflation — for Sandler, earning $41 million. Personally, though I like him in actual quality films like the, I think, severely underrated “Funny People” and the brilliant “Punch Drunk Love,” I’ve never gotten the comic appeal of Sandler, going back to his SNL days, and can’t even remember gong through a phase where I found farts inherently hysterical, so I can only throw up my hands here.

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in
On the other hand, there is little joy in the five or six buildings the Church of Scientology owns on Hollywood Blvd, as the Tom Cruise (and Cameron Diaz) action comedy vehicle, “Knight and Day” earned an estimated $27.7 million. Not bad, actually, except considering Cruise’s far better past performances back in the day when stars like him could routinely “open” a film and, according to Finke, the budget for the film was either roughly $117 or $107 million, depending on whether you calculate tax breaks. In other words, Cruise’s thetans might take longer to clear.

In other news, I’m happy to say, that things are hopping on the indie scene. The new wartime documentary “Restrepo” and the Duplass Brother’s enjoyable entry into the semi-mainstream, “Cyrus,” are both doing quite well, as are other newish films.

On the other hand, the controversially violent “The Killer Inside Me” appears to be suffering, perhaps, from an older indie audience that might be turned off by the fuss, which some say has been exaggerated to a certain degree and appears to have surprised its skilled, if highly uneven, director Michael Winterbottom. Interesting how an adaptation of a once obscure fifty-eight year old pulp novel can still raise hackles. Also shows that while a perception of too-little blood and guts can harm a horror film, a perception of too much can perhaps harm even a “hard R” thriller/drama. Advice to the suits: know your audience.

As usual, Indiewire has the indie scoop.

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Happy movie Father’s Day

I’ve been keeping busy and seeing some very good films at the Los Angeles Film Festival, not to mention honoring today’s holiday, but with this week’s predictably huge new major release, “Toy Story 3” ($109 million says Nikki Finke), and the impressive early limited release success of “Cyrus (a boffo over $45,000 per screen says Box Office Mojo’s chart), both reflect on odd ways on the parental experience and this mash-up seems to bring it all together.

Best wishes to all the dads out there. Just remember this, if you find yourself cutting off your son’s hand with a laser weapon, something has gone badly wrong. For the rest of you, good work.

Also, just FYI, I did see the “Cyrus” premiere at LAFF on Friday night and, if anything, I’m even more enthusiastic about the film than Jason Zingale is in his review, especially regarding Jonah Hill‘s performance, which I think may be award-worthy. More on that to come, I imagine.

Movie posting from me will continue to be light and erratic for a bit, but nevertheless watch this space.

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Met Them at the Greek — a press day chat with Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, Rose Byrne and Nicholas Stoller of “Get Him to the Greek”

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If you saw “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” — and I hope you have as its one of the stronger comedies to be made over the last several years — you’ll likely have noticed the strong comic chemistry between British comedy sensation Russell Brand as three-quarters insane, recovering addict rock star Aldous Snow and Jonah Hill (“Superbad“) as a resort waiter and somewhat overly devoted fan of Snow’s. Well, you’re not the only one, and so we have the somewhat slapdash, sometimes brilliant, and ultimately winning new comedy, “Get Him to the Greek,” which once again brings us Brand as Aldous Snow, who, since the events of “Sarah Marshall” has suffered a failed marriage to rocker Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), had a seven-year old son, and removed the “recovering” from his addiction — kind of impressive since “Sarah Marshall” was only two years ago.

Nevertheless, having fallen headlong off the wagon, Snow needs help arriving on-time and semi-cognizant for an important TV appearance, a sound check, and a special comeback performance at L.A.’s Greek Theater. The task falls to ambitious young record company assistant Aaron Green (Hill, playing a different character than in “Sarah Marshall”), a huge fan of Snow’s in a sweet but rocky relationship with his improbably adorable doctor girlfriend (Elizabeth Moss of “Mad Men“). Frequently vomit-stained hijinks ensue as Green and Snow barely survive a number of unfortunate events, including a nearly apocalyptic visit to the set of “The Today Show,” one of the most truly mad Las Vegas sequences in film history, and the kind of freaky three-ways that would make most porn producers blanch. It’s all wrapped up with the sort of good-hearted traditional morality which reminds us that the producer is the Walt Disney of male-centric, R-rated comedies, Judd Apatow.

Since the film was set to premiere with a special screening and live concert at the Greek Theater a few days hence, it made sense to have a bunch of us entertainment-type writers show up for a series of roundtables with Brand and Hill, not to mention writer/director Nicholas Stoller and actress Rose Byrne, whose character has a special gift for singing the most obscene lyrics imaginable with the straightest possible face.

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SXSW Film 2010: Keeping Austin Reel Weird

One of the first things I heard after arriving in town for South by Southwest was “Keep Austin Weird.” It’s sort of the city’s unofficial motto, but it’s one that resonated with me over the course of my week-long trip. Though it’s hard to say whether Austin really is as weird during the rest of the year as it is during SXSW, the city exudes a certain energy that makes it the perfect place to hold such a unique event. It also helps to have some of the most passionate movie lovers in the country populating the streets, because while SXSW attracts cinephiles from all over the globe, it’s the locals (from the volunteers to the everyday attendees) who actually make you want to come back.

For anyone that followed my SXSW Blog throughout the course of the film festival, you already know that my experience was a rather positive one. In fact, of the 17 films screened during my time in Austin, there were only two that I didn’t particularly like. You’d think that would make selecting my personal favorites even more difficult, but my Top Three easily blows the rest of the competition out of the water. Here are some highlights from my reviews of those films:

micmacs

1. “Micmacs

[Jean-Pierre] Jeunet’s latest film, “Micmacs,” may just be his best yet – a whimsical crime caper that boasts his trademark visual style, a classic Max Steiner score, and an ensemble cast filled with familiar faces. Though it likely won’t have the crossover appeal of “Amelie,” “Micmacs” is one of the most enjoyable moviegoing experiences of the year… It’s all done so effortlessly, and with [Dany] Boon and his co-stars so charming throughout, that you’d have to be in a pretty sour mood not to walk out of “Micmacs” with a giant grin on your face.

2. “Kick-Ass

Director Matthew Vaughn clearly understands the world that [Mark] Millar and [John] Romita Jr. have created, and that familiarity resonates throughout, from the high-energy action scenes to the colorful performances from its cast… The end result is an entertaining blend of action and comedy that, despite falling short of its ridiculously high expectations, delivers everything that was awesome about the comic and more.

3. “Four Lions

A pitch-black satire in the same vein as “Dr. Strangelove,” [Christopher] Morris has created a film so relevant to our current political climate that many will feel guilty just for watching it, let alone laughing at all the gut-wrenching humor along the way… “Four Lions” is one of the funniest, most provocative comedies of the last decade – and one that has more to say than any of the numerous self-important war movies that Hollywood has been cranking out for years.

Of course, one of the things that makes SXSW such a great place to watch movies is the venues. The theater experience in Austin is hands down one of the best in the country – from the historic Paramount Theater to the Alamo Drafthouse. While the Paramount is typically a more star-studded affair, complete with a red carpet and the opportunity to see a movie with its director and stars sitting just a few feet away from you, the Drafthouse (both the Ritz located on 6th Street and the South Lamar, which is a short drive from downtown) is a little more intimate. Star-crazed attendees will find little in the way of celebrity sightings, but the chance of seeing a hidden gem like Best Documentary winner, “Marwencol,” more than makes up for it. Plus, midnight showings of genre films like “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” are usually more enjoyable when you’re watching it with a bunch of fellow cinephiles.

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