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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An official trailer for a Thursday: Kevin Spacey is (not quite) “Casino Jack”

Not to be confused with Alex Gibney‘s documentary, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” also about the jailed conservative lobbyist Jack Abramoff, this new trailer for “Casino Jack” is slicker than ones I’ve seen before.

Something still feels off here to me, for all the snazzy editorial work. The only joke that’s actually funny is Kevin Spacey‘s spot-on Al Pacino impersonation, though even the choice of Spacey feels off. Perhaps I’m being too literal minded, but Abramoff was younger and more jockish and athletic when all of this was going down. On the other hand, the movie-obsession is correct. Abramoff is a movie buff who even co-produced an actual action film or two, including the Dolph Lundgren vehicle, “Red Scorpion.”

Still, I’m keeping an open mind. He hasn’t had gigantic luck with fiction features so far, but director George Hickenlooper (“The Big Brass Ring”) has been involved with probably two of the best all-time documentaries about outrageous show business figures, the Francis Ford Coppola-centric “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse” and the even better “Mayor of the Sunset Strip” about DJ and ultimate scenester Rodney Bingenheimer. I’m sure there’s a bit more here than meets the eye, at least I hope so

  

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Weekend box office: In which we separate the men from the boys, and women from both

The Expendables

If we are to believe the prognosticators this weekend, testosterone will rule in a weekend which could turn out to be the most exciting movie three-way showdown since the climax of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The impression is that it really does threaten to send the genders, and possibly even the generations, on their separate ways at the nation’s multiplexes.

Of course, when I speak movies of aimed at us penile-Americans, I speak of the R-rated mega-macho ultraviolent action fest, “The Expendables.” The ensemble-action flick is directed, cowritten and co-starring Sylvester Stallone and features Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, and assorted other manly men who are masculine males in supporting roles and cameos.

Cinema prognosticators Ben Fritz and good old jolly Carl DiOrio seem to think this movie will easily take the top spot for Lionsgate to the tune of about $30-35 million with its appeal to males of all ages. Critics, for the most part, aren’t overly impressed, though a sizeable enough minority are treating the film as a campy, action-packed good time. For me, Stallone’s career peaked 35 years ago with his hilarious performance in “Death Race 2000” — “Rocky” has never done much for me and “Rambo: First Blood 2” did even less — but I still might be checking this one out at some point. I do have an affection for the ensemble action film genre. If you do as well, you might want to check out the salute to the sturdy sub-genre posted over at the Bullz-Eye blog.

Julia RobertsFor the more femininely chromosomed, this week’s big draw is supposed to be “Eat Pray Love” from director Ryan Murphy, best known as the creator of TV’s “Glee” and “Nip/Tuck,” and starring an actress you may remember named Julia Roberts. It’s an adaptation of a memoir about a divorced woman going on a worldwide physical and spiritual “journey of self-realization.”  I don’t know about you but when I hear “self-realization” and especially “journey of self-realization” I check out completely. I don’t think that’ s just because I’m male.

While I haven’t seen a single episode of Murphy’s shows, I gather he is associated with a certain degree of offbeat innovation and has clearly touched a nerve on two on the small screen. That doesn’t seem to have translated into much interest from film critics, however, who are mostly kind of unimpressed. Rated PG-13, “Eat Pray Love” does seem to be doing a bit better critically than his poorly received prior adaptation of a hit memoir, “Running with Scissors.” Jolly Carl expects to film to hit the #2 spot with an amount somewhere over $20 million.

And then comes what I hope may be this weekend’s wild card. The consensus seems to be that, despite a torrent of Internet publicity and huge geek buzz, Edgar Wright’s comic book adaptation, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” will be lucky to get much over $15 million which, for a movie costing about $65 million, isn’t great. Though reviews initially looked as they might be “middling,” they are actually shaping up as rather excellent for a film that risks alienating a certain percentage of its audience with its blatantly video-game derived comic book/manga aesthetic. The consensus being that, as with the highly entertaining “Kick-Ass” before it, geek awareness and mass audience acceptance just are not the same thing and it’s entirely likely this will come in the #4 spot behind last week’s #1 film, “The Other Guys.”

I’m sure there’s a good chance this will happen. However,  “Scott Pilgrim” seems to me to be a film that, at least over the long haul, has a potentially much wider audience than some other films because of it’s unusual combination of relationship-driven and action-comedy. The fact that, as a young skewing film, it’s PG-13 but also relatively racy in its advertisements might not hurt either. Not to be put in the position of defending a film I haven’t seen and pre-release online mini-backlash notwithstanding,  there is one thing I feel sure about. In a few years, the new movie from this weekend that people will still be talking about is “Pilgrim.”

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Actually, that’s perhaps not entirely true because there’s also a very interesting new film debuting in very limited release, and this one I did see a couple of months at the L.A. Film Festival. “Animal Kingdom” is an imperfect but highly assured debut from Australian first-time writer-director David Michôd. Though a bit overly dour and slack in the middle, to the point where it very nearly lost me, it’s one of the best crime films I’ve seen in a while with a real doozy of a last act. It’s opening on just small four screens but with a couple of brilliant bad-guy-and-gal performances, this is one I think you’ll be hearing about later on.

  

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A movie for manly men who are male: “The Expendables”

Rob Bricken of Topless Robot (over)shares that this gave him an “action movie boner.” Not one to be outdone, AICN’s Merrick promises a “Mangasm.”

Whats making geek bloggers make with the Freudian/homoerotic badinage?

Well, apparently working on the logic that big male stars, including action stars, aren’t necessarily driving huge numbers into the movie theaters, Lionsgate is taking a safety-in-numbers approach. Which established and once-established super macho-stars, both super- and not-so-super, appear in “The Expendables”? It might be easier to list who doesn’t — though the bald guy and the wildly unpopular governor are cameos, I think. What weapons and forms of fighting, do they use and how many people will they kill? I didn’t see any boomerangs or gymkata in the trailer, and I’m still alive, but other than that, it’s hard to be sure. Just take a look.

I’m thinking Detective Batista from “Dexter” is going to learn he chose the wrong day to go into the power-mad Latin American dictator business.

  

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2009: A Year’s Worth of Interviews – The Top 100 Quotes

Some people think that the life of a work-at-home entertainment writer is one of the most lax jobs out there, since the perception is generally is that all you do is sit around and watch DVDs, occasionally venture out of the house to see movies or concerts, and then sit in front of the computer and write about them. Okay, it’s a fair cop. But when you throw interviews into the mix, there’s a bit more work involved. First, you’ve got to get the interview (they aren’t always handed to you on a silver platter), then you’ve got to do the research to make sure that you can ask some halfway knowledgeable questions, and after you conduct the interview, let’s not forget that you’ve got to transcribe it, too. In other words, yes, there really is work involved…and when I went back and discovered that I’d done well over 130 interviews during the course of 2009, I suddenly realized why I’m so tired all the time.

For your reading enjoyment, I’ve pulled together a list of 100 of my favorite quotes from the various interviews I conducted for Premium Hollywood, Bullz-Eye, Popdose, and The Virginian-Pilot this year, along with the links to the original pieces where available. As you can see, I had some extremely interesting conversations in 2009. Let us all keep our fingers crossed that I’m able to chat with just as many fascinating individuals in 2010…

1. Pamela Adlon: “In the first season (of ‘Californication’), when we had the threesome with the nipple clamps, I was, like, ‘I don’t get this, I don’t know how you’re gonna do it.’ And then, all of a sudden, there’s a crane with a camera hanging over our heads, and you’re, like, ‘Okayyyyyyy. But how are you gonna sell this? How are you gonna make it work?’ And they ended up shooting it brilliantly, cutting it together, and it just all ended up working without me having to compromise my own personal morals.”

2. Jonathan Ames: “After my first novel, my mother said to me, ‘Why don’t you make your writing more funny? You’re so funny in person.’ Because my first novel was rather dark. And I don’t know, but something about what she said was true. ‘Yes, why don’t I?’ Maybe I was afraid to be funny in the writing. But since then, seven books later, almost everything I’ve done has a comedic edge to it.”

3. Ed Asner: “I loved journalism until the day my journalism teacher, a man I revered, came by my desk and said, ‘Are you planning on going into journalism?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘I wouldn’t.’ I said, ‘Well, why not?’ He said, ‘You can’t make a living.’”

4. Sean Astin: “When somebody brings up a movie (of mine) that I haven’t heard about in a long time, I feel like a 70-year-old pitcher at a bar somewhere, and somebody walks in and says, ‘Oh, my God, I was in St. Louis and I saw you. You pitched a shutout.’ It’s real. I really did do that, because someone today remembers it.”

5. Darryl Bell: “The legend of ‘Homeboys in Outer Space’ has become much more incendiary than the actual show. It’s funny how I usually challenge most people who talk about how much they disliked ‘Homeboys’ to name me five episodes. Most of them can’t, because they just bought into the ‘oh, it’s awful, just the title. Oh, it’s terrible.’ What’s interesting is that I had a great conversation with Chi McBride, who was doing ‘The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer,’ which, if you want to talk about in terms of the imagery of what was wrong, that show was much more infamous than ‘Homeboys.’ Yet it’s not remembered in the same way because the title didn’t grab you in the same way. I remember Chi pulled me aside and he was, like, ‘Look, everyone who is criticizing what you’re doing would take your job from you in two seconds. All of them. So all I can tell you is that this is one blip on both of our careers, and we are moving on.’”

6. Adam Campbell: “For some reason, people always pick on the British sensibility, and we always come across as stupid, but remember: we used to run this country!”

7. Nestor Carbonell: “Let me make this perfectly clear: I do not wear make-up, and I do not wear eye-liner. This is something I’ve had to deal with my whole life. I remember I was in college in Boston, I had a commercial agent, and they sent me out for some print commercial stuff. And they called me into the office and said, ‘Look, we called you in to talk to you because we just want you to know that…well, we don’t think you need to wear eyeliner.’ And I’m, like, ‘What?’ ‘Yeah, it’s okay, you don’t have to wear it for print ads.’ ‘No, I’m not wearing eyeliner!’ And I kept dabbing my eyes and saying, ‘Look! No eyeliner! I’m not wearing any!’”

8. Elaine Cassidy: “The last two days of shooting (‘Harper’s Island’) was probably the most hardcore, the coldest anyone has ever been. It was like your head was freezing, and my motivation for most scenes was, ‘The minute this scene is over, I’m heading straight over to that heater to get warm.’”

9. Chris Cornell: “I started as a drummer, so I sort of took on singing duties by default. I had sung backgrounds and some lead vocals from behind the drums in different bands that I’d been in, and I’d gotten great responses for the songs I would sing. I really started pursuing the possibility of being a lead singer based on the fact that I was working a full-time restaurant job and then playing gigs at night, hauling drums around. One day, it just dawned on me that, ‘Hey, I could be in a band and be the singer, and it would be a lot easier!’”

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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