Turner Classic Film Fest: A history of violence

I know, pretty dark headline for  a post about a really fun, glamor heavy film fest. All the more so because, at least for me, TCM  Fest is the kind of event that  can put you in a kind of steel bubble which the daily news can barely pierce. If another Cuban Missile Crisis happened during Comic-Con, what would happen? Maybe if it ended differently this time.

Indeed, even a momentous event  like the death of Osama Bin Laden could just barely penetrate TCM’s  mix of Hollywood fantasy and scholarship. For me, the news first came as I overheard another filmgoer during an intermission of “West Side Story,” which I had popped in on just to see how good the 70mm print was, say to another. “No, he’s really dead.” I figured it was another classic film star gone forever. George Chakiris, who played Sharks leader Bernardo, had introduced the screening, but how were Jets Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn doing?

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Weekend box office: “Megamind” stops the “Unstoppable”; “Morning Glory” rises, but doesn’t shine

All us entertainment scribes — Anthony D’Alessandro most certainly included — are busting out their train metaphors and similes. In a very mild surprise according to some, but not all, of the conventional wisdom pre-weekend, the 3D animated “Megamind” hung on with the vigor of a locomotive in its second week and beat the runaway train thriller “Unstoppable” into the money station.

According to the mighty Box Office Mojo, the supervillain tale showed the long-lasting strength of animated family comedies. “Megamind” dropped a mere 36% in its second weekend, earning a very solid estimate of $30 million and change in its second week for Paramount/Dreamworks. Meanwhile, the all-star comedy, “Morning Glory,” proved to be a one very slow moving train.

Though it was not the #1 film this week, Tony Scott’s “Unstoppable” with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine actually came in pretty much where it was expected to, with an estimated $23.5 million for Fox. The good news is that strong reviews and a somewhat older-than-usual audience may well contribute to some strong legs. The bad news is that its $100 million budget — a big chunk of that no doubt coming from the stars and director’s paychecks (Washington reportedly nearly left the project because of salary haggling) — means it’s going to have to keep chugging for a while to be profitable.

This week’s #3 film was the star-driven comedy “Due Date,” which suffered a fairly average second weekend drop of 52.5% to earn an estimated $15.5 million. Fourth place was taken by another new wide release that was, actually, off to a very decent start relative to its budget. Although nobody seems to like the science-fiction destroy L.A. tale, “Skyline,” a whole lot, the $10 million dollar film made back its budget plus a bit extra, with an estimate of just under $11.7 million.

Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford in
It was not an exciting weekend for stars Harrison Ford, Rachel McAdams, and Diane Keaton. The not so well received “Broadcast News”-esque “Morning Glory” earned just a bit over $9.6 million for Paramount, which is a long way south of its $40 million budget. Also, “the nation’s #5 movie!” is not much of a come on for audiences.

Meanwhile in limited release, the IFC-released indie comedy first feature from 20-something Lena Dunham, “Tiny Furniture,” earned the week’s biggest per-screen average of $22,450. On the other hand, it was only on one screen. Somewhat more of a test was the 22 theater run of the Danny Boyle-directed James Franco endurance vehicle and near certain Oscar-nominee, “127 Hours.” It earned the week’s second highest per screen with $20,591 on 22 screens. If you don’t have a calculate handy that translates into an estimated total of $453,000 in its second week for Fox Searchlight.

  

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Box office preview: “Unstoppable”? Perhaps

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Apparently Tony Scott and Denzel Washington enjoyed making their underground run-away train thriller, “The Taking of Pelham 123” so much, they decided to turn around and make an above-ground run-away train thriller. Not everything would be the same. This time Chris Pine would be in tow instead of John Travolta. Another difference is that, this time, the critics are majorly onboard as well, which may or may not indicate that “Unstoppable” will do better over the long haul than its sister film.

Both of my usual b.o. gurus are suggesting a low-to-mid twenties opening for the thriller from Fox, but there is still some daylight between them. Ben Fritz of the L.A. Times is expecting a tough race for the #1 spot with last week’s big winner, “Megamind,” which grossed over $46 million.  The Hollywood Reporter’s Carl DiOrio, who remains jolly even while his intro music grows oddly sinister, seems more sanguine that the amped-up train ride will do better. However, Fritz may be on to something considering that family animated films have proven to be leggy in the past and that a decline of significantly less than 50% seems very possible. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised to see “Unstoppable” overperform.

Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton, and Harrison Ford wonder: What's the story?There are two other major releases this weekend, but neither of them really seems to have much oomph behind them. True, jolly Carl is fairly high on “Morning Glory.” It’s a sort of update on “Broadcast News” minus the critical acclaim putting 32 year-old beauty Rachel McAdams alongside 60-something icons Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton. My money is on Ben Fritz’s take, which is that it’ll be fortunate to break $10 million. Exhibit A is that the comedy from Paramount actually opened yesterday and hasn’t shown much life.

Coincidentally, $10 million is the reported budget for the effects-heavy science-fiction tale being released by Rogue and Universal, “Skyline.” The few critics who’ve seen it mostly agree that all the film really has to boast of are the effects. Fritz thinks it’ll do about the same as “Morning Glory” — though obviously from a younger and more male demographic. Since that amount is also roughly its budget, however, this film may just be a success.

Debuting in a fairly aggressive 41 screen limited release is the latest documentary from Ondi Timoner, who made the excellent “DiG!” and “We Live in Public” both of which never really got much distribution. This time, however, her film is getting some critical flack, not too surprising considering it’s kind of an anti-“An Inconvenient Truth” and features a maverick scientist who isn’t exactly a climate denier and who isn’t coming from a politicized perspective, but who does insist that all the global warming fear is just plain overdone. That is no majority scientific opinion. Entitled “Cool It,” it’s so far been ignored by far-right film blog Big Hollywood, which can only be a good sign.

Another film we all might be hearing from later on is the award-winning festival-friendly first feature from Lena Dunham, “Tiny Furniture.” It’s a comedy, but I don’t find this trailer funny so much as aggressively quirky and mildly annoying, perhaps because of the deliberately flat performances of the nonprofessional cast. On the other hand, I sort of dig the look of the thing. See if you disagree.

  

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It’s your barely pre-Memorial Day weekend end of week movie news dump (updated)

And that’s only “pre” on the West coast. Anyhow, thing are going to get a lot less verbose from me over the next few days and I’m in a relatively laconic mood tonight, so enjoy the relative brevity to come.

*  “The Hobbit” remains in suspended animation because of MGM’s fiscal limbo, says Guillermo del Toro. Anne Thompson has some added details on the possible future of MGM, such as it is.

Johnny Depp in * “Alice in Wonderland” just crossed the $1 billion mark. Mike Fleming speculates that this might might make Johnny Depp — say it like Dana Carvey’s impression of Mickey Rooney now — the biggest star in the wooorld. If true, the questionable virtues of playing it artistically safe look ever more questionable.

* Interviews with remarkable men: Michael Caine and an extremely funny George Romero in Vanity Fair plugging his new “Survival of the Dead” which is a very limited release right now. Definitely read the Romero whose zombies, we must repeat, never ate brains and, since everyone else is doing it anyway, is working on his own zombie novel. And, yeah, someone is working on “Night of the Living Dead” musical for Broadway, but Romero’s smart enough to stay off of that particular gravy train.

* I’ve never seen them, and they’re not available on DVD, but the autobiographical dramas by Terrence Davies, “Distant Voices, Still Lives” and “The Long Day Closes” have an incredible reputation among critics and others. Davies is coming back with an adaptation of a play by Terrence Rattigan, “The Deep Blue Sea.”  This will be the first movie adaptation of a play by the English writer since David Mamet’s perfectly swell — and, believe it or not G-rated — 1999 version of “The Winslow Boy.”

* “Lost Boys 3” starring the late Corey Feldman doing a Batman-style raspy voice. I don’t even begin to know what to think. [Update: I obviously made a mistake here last night. Mr. Feldman is still, I’m happy to say, very much with us. See comments.]

* He didn’t make many movies, but RIP Gary Coleman anyway. Be sure and check out Will Harris’s terrific remembrance a couple of posts below this one.

* Action-meister Luc Besson is letting members of the French-speaking public become “producers” of an upcoming movie. The first ten-thousand participants will have their names in the credits. Talk about film-making by committee.

* It’s TV but this is too close to home to ignore…the cast of the upcoming HBO TV show starring Diane Keaton and directed by Bill Condon which is not about Nikki Finke just keeps getting better. Recent additions include Ellen Page and Wes Bentley.

* As part of a lame maneuver to try and do and end-run around critics on behalf of what surely seems to be a lame movie, alleged actor Ashton Kutcher is claiming that he’ll pirate and release — all on his own of course — the first ten minutes of his upcoming and pretty lame looking “Killers.” Spare me. Truly.

* If you live in the movie capital, things tend to get a bit quiet over holiday weekends like Memorial Day. It can be kind of nice. Not like the beautiful short below by Ross Ching, but not completely removed from it either. Strangely enough given the impossibility of what’s being shown, this, by the way, is one of the closer depictions of how L.A. actually looks to a native like me.

Running on Empty from Ross Ching on Vimeo.

  

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Almost midweek movie news

Some fairly big news to report tonight.

* It might be a bit meta for a lead, but I can’t help my happiness that Roger Ebert has been named person of the year by the Webby Awards people. I’ve been a big fan of his writing for a very long time and always thought he was the best straight-up writer of any of the major critics, but recently he has really emerged as an inspirational figure. He’s also been one of the most generous supporters of film writing on the web in a million different ways. It’s not really bragging when I mention that he’s thrown some small nods my way as well as some occasionally very funny e-mail responses over the years. He’s done the same for countless others.

And, if that wasn’t cool enough, the great cinephile social networking and blog site, the Auteurs also won an award. Well, done, folks.

* In actual movie news, remember that item last week when I said that Matthew Vaughn, most recently of “Kick-Ass,” was not going to be directing the next X-Men movie? If not, you can just keep right on forgetting because, it turns out, he is directing the film they’ll call “X-Men: First Class” — a prequel. I’m a big fan of Vaughn, though not so much of the X-Men films so far, so I find this intriguing. Some of you may remember, Vaughn departed from “X-Men 3” and the film that was, as per Cinema Blend, Matthew Vaughn, and I, almost definitely the worse for it.

* More really good news from my point of view, one of my favorite actors currently working, Chewitel Ejiofor, has been cast as definitely my favorite Afro-pop musician — okay, the only African musician I can think of that I’ve ever actually bought an album or CD by. Ejiofor will be starring in a biopic of the legendary maestro Fela Anikulapo Kuti in a film to be directed by Steve McQueen of “Hunger.” This film is not related, except by topic, to the musical “Fela!” which just got eleven Tony nominations. The cool part is not only that the Ejiofor, a first-generation Brit born of Nigerian parents, is the actor to play the part, he’s also apparently learning to play piano and saxophone (Kuti’s instruments, I believe) and had, we’re told,  become quite good.

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