Box Office Preview: In the Cold Winter between two Megahits, only an Ice Age can Survive

Ice Age: Continental Drift

With “The Amazing Spider-Man” eating up more than its fair share of moviegoers (for some reason) and Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” coming out next Friday (oh, and new “Breaking Bad” on Sunday), we’re stuck in a bit of an awkward week. Studios didn’t want to compete with these sure to be giants, so the only movies coming out will be those with distinctly different demographics. This week, “Ice Age: Continental Drift” fits the bill, and, well, that’s all there is, there isn’t any more.

There isn’t a whole lot to say about the newest Ice Age film, the fourth in the series. Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary, who have been around since the first film, will reprise their roles as Manny the mammoth, Sid the sloth, and Diego the saber-toothed tiger, respectively. Do you really want to hear about the “plot”? Alright, here it is:

Scrat’s nutty pursuit of the cursed acorn, which he’s been after since the dawn of time, has world-changing consequences – a continental cataclysm that triggers the greatest adventure of all for Manny, Diego and Sid. In the wake of these upheavals, Sid reunites with his cantankerous Granny, and the herd encounters a ragtag menagerie of seafaring pirates determined to stop them from returning home.

Currently at a 51 percent on the Tomatometer, “Ice Age: Continental Drift” is exactly what it seems to be: a movie that will get the kids to stop screaming for a few hours, without really breaking any new ground for the series, and offering what little apologies and in-jokes it can for the adults along for the ride. Oh, and if the first three movies are any indication, it’ll probably drag in over $150 million while it’s at it. The first film, which was the weakest financially in the series so far, still hauled in over $176 million at the domestic box office. The more recent releases each grossed over $195 million.

Perhaps the only interesting thing about the film is the sheer number of recognizable names on that cast list. Along with the big three there’s Queen Latifah, Seann William Scott, Josh Peck, Jennifer Lopez, Peter Dinklage (who I’m very disappointed in, then again, get your golden dragons Tyrion, you’ve earned it), Wanda Sykes, Aziz Ansari, Drake, Nicki Minaj, and even Sir Patrick Stewart.

Save your money for Batman, people.

  

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Box Office Preview: Spidey like it’s 2002

The Amazing Spider-Man

Everything I’ve heard, read, and seen regarding “The Amazing Spider-Man” indicates that it’s a good, or even great movie. Or, rather, that it would be such if (more or less) the exact same film hadn’t come out just a decade ago. The idea here seems to be that Sony needed to relaunch the franchise to keep the rights to the character from reverting back to Marvel, and that kids young enough not to remember 2002 still love Spider-Man. In spite of all that, the reboot, directed by Marc Webb (of “(500) Days of Summer” fame), has been certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and set a new record for highest Tuesday gross on the day it was released.

I’m not going to tell you not to see “The Amazing Spider-Man,” because the latter fact seems to indicate that you’re going to anyway and the former that it might even be worth seeing. But before you inevitably find yourself in your theater seat, don’t think I was just being cynical when I warned you that this was the exact same movie.

Seriously, there are way more similarities here then there are differences, and the differences really aren’t all that significant. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is a tad less geeky than Tobey Maguire’s. Imagine that. The female lead isn’t Mary Jane Watson, it’s that other one, Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone. The “Spider-Man” is evil cause is championed by Gwen’s dad, police captain George Stacy (Denis Leary), rather than J. Jonah Jameson. And right before you point out that the villain is different, think again. The real bad guy here, as in Sam Raimi’s version, is OsCorp. As Bullz-eye’s Jason Zingale put it:

Peter gets bitten by a genetically-altered spider and develops superhuman strength (among other things); Uncle Ben is killed by a petty thief; Peter goes seeking revenge in the guise of a costumed vigilante; and, well, you know the rest. The first hour plays out pretty similar to Raimi’s movie, and though there are some nice changes along the way (like the return of Spider-Man’s web-shooters and the “power and responsibility” speech), it’s hard not to feel a sense of déjà vu in the repetitiveness of it all. Granted, it’s completely necessary to re-tell the origin story because of how it ties into the new characters, but it probably didn’t need to be as drawn out as it is here.

Savages

With competition from Spidey and the July 20 release of “The Dark Knight Rises,” very few big name movies, or movies with big names, are seeing release this month. “Savages” is one of just a few exceptions. Oliver Stone directs and Aaron Johnson (“Kick-Ass“) stars as one of two friends running a lucrative homegrown marijuana business in Southern California. Conflict ensues when they share a love interest (Blake Lively)… and also when a Mexican cartel headed by Elena (Selma Hayek) and Lado (Benico Del Toro) shows up and demands a partnership. A war of sorts breaks out between the cartel and the trio, with the help of a DEA agent played by John Travolta.  Those are some pretty big names, right?

Anyway, Rotten Tomatoes calls “Savages” “undeniably messy,” but also says it “finds Oliver Stone returning to dark, fearlessly lurid form.” Currently at a 60 percent on the Tomatometer, “Savages” has gotten extremely mixed reviews. I don’t think it’ll be all that good, but it’s got some recognizable faces and isn’t “The Amazing Spider-Man.” The latter attribute seems like the film’s primary draw and hints at its target demographic: people who want to see something besides “Spider-Man” this weekend.

  

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Denis Leary and Friends Present: Douchebags and Donuts

Well, this isn’t going to help Denis Leary’s reputation when it comes to stealing other people’s jokes.

Here’s a little back story: According to the biography American Scream, Leary used to do chunks of the routines of the late, great Bill Hicks. Hicks was aware of this, but since Leary played parts of the country that Hicks seldom visited, he let it go. Then Leary made No Cure for Cancer in 1992, where he committed the unpardonable sin of recording Hicks’ material, and taking credit for it. Louis C.K. later claimed that Leary’s song “Asshole” was based on a bit that he used to do. Leary has denied stealing from anyone because, well, what else is he supposed to do? Fortunately, we were able to ask Leary about Hicks directly, to which he gives a lengthy, thoughtful reply. (You can read it here.)

Now comes “Douchebags and Donuts,” a comedy show Leary organized with a few friends as a fundraiser for his charity. It’s a great cause, and it’s great that the show was a success. But the first word in that title has already invoked the ire of one Jay Louis, editor in chief of the sublimely funny site Hot Chicks with Douchebags. Louis went on a long and unusually pointed rant about Leary’s thievery, and how he’s been championing the mock of the douchebag for five years, building a mini-empire out of it. And that’s fine, but it’s not as if Louis created these goofy-haired halfwits – he was just the first to dedicate a site to mocking them, and in fact should be honored that his efforts have created such a groundswell that the phrase is slowly working its way into the pop lexicon with his definition as the #1 description. Before Jay, calling someone a douchebag just meant they were a jerk; now, it defines a very specific kind of jerk. Well done.

Having said that, Louis should have waited to see “Douchebags and Donuts” before criticizing it, since doing so makes him like those Republicans who call out movies they’ve never seen. If he had waited, he would have realized that the ‘douche signifier’ portion of Leary’s routine is pretty small, though it’s hard not to think of either Louis, Jay or C.K., when Leary performs his new song “Douchebag.” The rest of Leary’s routine is pretty tame, though, showing mug shots of Nick Nolte and James Brown and dissecting the side effects to popular medications (side effect for Viagara: Death). It’s no Cure for Cancer, or even Lock and Load, but it definitely looks better compared to the routines of his friends Lenny Clarke and Adam Ferrera, who come off like blue-rated Blue Collar guys. The star of the show, without question, is Whitney Cummings, who rips her mostly male audience to shreds while having fun with the idea of women as crazy bitches.

Some might point to the infrequency of comedy routines from Leary as an indictment that he is indeed a thief. That’s faulty reasoning, but Leary isn’t helping his case with “Douchebags and Donuts.” He’s clearly a funny guy, but one gets the sense that he was too busy with his myriad of other projects to work very hard on his own routine for this show.

Click to buy “Denis Leary and Friends Present: Douchebags and Donuts”

  

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Back from Hell: A Tribute to Sam Kinison

Originally broadcast on Comedy Central in February of this year, this one-hour show features over a dozen comics paying heartfelt tribute to one of the true comedy greats, with footage of Kinison routines both well-known and previously unreleased serving as the anchors to the topics that the comics discuss. There isn’t much here about Kinison’s life that hasn’t been covered before, but it’s still fun to watch guys like Denis Leary, Chris Rock and Ron White talk about Kinison’s influence while opening up about the differences between his on-stage persona and the off-stage teddy bear. The discuss his love of rock music (and even include the promo video and a live performance of “Wild Thing”), and how he brought the rock and comedy communities together, and even include a snippet of a religious sermon Kinison gave when he was still a preacher. The one thing they glossed over – and to be honest, we’re not at all surprised that they did this – was how much the quality of Kinison’s material dropped when the ’80s were over, when he stopped writing jokes and started screaming “Fuck You!” at the top of his lungs. It’s all right to acknowledge an artist’s decline and still love them; John Lennon was a shell of his former songwriting self when he died, but people still love him, and rightly so. It would have been nice to see these comics, and this special, do the same.

Click to buy “A Tribute to Sam Kinison”
Click to read Bullz-Eye’s induction of Kinison into their Comedy Hall of Fame
Click to read Bullz-Eye’s 2009 interview with Sam Kinison’s brother Bill Kinison

  

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Natural Born Killers: Unrated Director’s Cut

I have to admit I was a little surprised when Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” was released on Blu-ray before some of his other films, but for Warner Bros. to release another version one year later is just plain unnecessary, not to mention a pretty shitty way to treat your fans. You’d think that if Warner Bros. was going to release an unrated director’s cut, they would have done so the first time around. Instead, those that purchased the R-rated Digibook version last year are going to have an awfully tough decision to make.

Personally, I’ve always found “Natural Born Killers” to be extremely overrated. It’s not that Stone’s satirical message about the media is beyond my understanding, but rather that I think he goes about it in the wrong manner. There’s just nothing to like about the movie (except maybe Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Australian journalist Wayne Gale), and it really makes me wonder how much better it could have been if the film’s original scripter, Quentin Tarantino, had made it his way instead.

That doesn’t change the fact that “Natural Born Killers” has its share of admirers, but even if you are a fan of the film, it’s difficult to recommend this latest release. Though some people will be insistent about owning Stone’s original vision, the added violence doesn’t really add anything new to the experience. Additionally, with the exception of a new introduction by the director, the only other new extra is a 22-minute documentary on how the media would react to Mickey and Mallory’s killing spree today. Some predict they would be using social media sites like YouTube and Twitter, but I find that hard to believe. After all, wouldn’t it be pretty easy to track them down if they were posting videos and images for everyone to see?

All of the other extras from the previously released Blu-ray also appear, including an audio commentary by Stone, a retrospective documentary about the making of the film, and a handful of deleted scenes that don’t amount to much. The scene featuring Denis Leary going off on one of his trademark rants is definitely worth checking out, but unfortunately, it really has no place in the film. Then again, neither does a lot of the stuff that’s in “Natural Born Killers,” but for those that want to pretend it’s some kind of masterpiece, you’d still be better off sticking with the original Blu-ray.

  

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