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An audience with the “Iron Man 2″ crowd

So, a couple of weeks back, a volcano went off in Iceland. That meant that planes in Europe couldn’t fly for several days, which meant that suddenly a London press junket was canceled and rescheduled in Los Angeles, which meant that, one recent Thursday night, I wound up seeing “Iron Man 2” at the AMC Theater in Century City instead of “A Star is Born” at Grauman’s Chinese for the TCM Classic Film Festival. (The world is getting much smaller…)

Moreover, thanks to the volcano, the next morning, instead of my Crunchy Raisin Bran and 1% milk, I was instead being buttered up by with French toast and applewood-smoked bacon buffet at the Four Seasons, a free Iron Man action figure, and a theoretical chance to ask a question of the all-star cast of “Iron Man 2″ — i.e., Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle,and soon to be super-villain of the year Mickey Rourke — not to mention director/co-star Jon Favreau, writer Justin Thoreaux, and producer Kevin Feige.

98425802MB041_Paramount_Pic

Of course, considering the 150 or so people in the room, I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get to ask any questions, but it was a pretty entertaining event. Robert Downey may have famously given up a number of vices, but being a perpetual class clown does not seem to be one of them, and it wasn’t like he was the only interesting person in the room.

The first question, about whether Favreau or he felt any pressure in terms of living up to the success of the first “Iron Man,” set the tone. Favreau admitted he had never been involved with a sequel before, unless you count his “under five” bit part as “Assistant” in Joel Schumacher’s notorious “Batman Forever.” It certainly is a change from small independent films like Favreau’s career-making acting and writing debut, “Swingers,” which he compared to throwing a party and hoping people would come.

“…[On 'Iron Man 2'] we knew that people were going to show up,” Favreau said. “We just wanted to make sure that everyone who showed up had a good time and that this was going to be as fun or more fun than the last party. So it’s a different kind of pressure.”

Downey then felt the need to start listing sequels others on the panel had been involved in, real and fictional. “Scarlet Johansson was in ‘Home Alone 3.’ Don Cheadle, 11, 12 and 13.”

That led to a question that was geeky in a way that anyone whose ever been a superhero comics fan will recognize, and which wound up being answered by producer Kevin Feige. It was about the “time-line” of the film. It turns out that, if viewers pay close attention, they can figure out that “Iron Man 2″ actually takes place before 2008′s “The Incredible Hulk.” (Having seen both movies, I have no freakin’ clue how you’d deduce that.)

The Incredible Hulk

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Weekend box office preview — how high will “Iron Man 2″ fly?

“Pretty high” is the obvious answer. As I write this, the first midnight shows are just finishing up the trailers on the East Coast, fanboys are queuing up in the Midwest, and their West Coast brethren are enjoying their pre-film burgers and Red Bull, but as far as everyone seems to be concerned, the sequel to the surprise “four quadrant” mega-blockbuster of 2008 is already a massive hit.  “Iron Man 2” has been booked into a record number of theaters, 4,380 according to Box Office Mojo.

Robert Downey Jr. in

Moreover, Nikki Finke is reporting that the film has already earned $132 million from 53 assorted countries where it has already opened. The summer solstice is more than six weeks away, but summer-time film madness is, we are informed, very much upon us. (Just btw, Anthony D’Alessandro offers a brief historical look at the outward creep of the summer movie season over the last couple of decades.)

So, the question remains, just how many millions will the second film about billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) fetch. Will it beat the record $158.4 million opening of “The Dark Knight” and crack $160 mill? Or, will it get a mere $140 million or so and send everyone to the immensely well appointed and hugely relative poor house? That seems to be the floor being offered up by the various gurus, including Ben Fritz of the L.A. Times‘ Company Town blog and THR’s jolly Carl DiOrio, who characteristically seems to be leaning slightly towards the possibility of a huge opening for Marvel and Paramount.

Nevertheless, there is a small dark cloud here and that’s the general perception, at least among us press types — who are, I remind you again, people too — that “Iron Man 2″ is, while not at all bad, also not as good as the first one. This is a rare case where I’ve actually seen the week’s big movie in advance myself and, quality wise, I’m seeing this one as a glass-half-empty. For me, the story simply fails to find a strong emotional connection between Tony Stark’s troubles and the various threats he’s facing. It all feels a bit vague and disconnected despite director Jon Favreau’s way with humor, mostly good acting, and some very decent action scenes.

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Trailer Time: “Iron Man 2″

I’ll be back shortly with a brief Oscar wrap-up, but first, this.

In case, like me, you missed it on last night’s awards, here’s the new trailer for “Iron Man 2.” Along with more of Mickey Rourke’s outrageous supervillain, we also get nice glimpses of other new cast members starting with Scarlett Johansson as a very special notary public, Don Cheadle  as “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (I’m still curious what really happened with Terrence Howard), Sam Rockwell as some untrustworthy guy (not a new role for him), and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D.

This one looks good. Rock on.

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Go ask “Alice” about weekend box office

Alice in Wonderland

Jolly Carl Diorio is saying it could make $75 million or so. Indeed, there’s no particular reason to doubt that the combination of the name recognition of director Tim Burton, star Johnny Depp, and the enduring, if eternally semi-culty, appeal of Lewis Carroll’s subversive not-at-all-just-for-children literary classic will mean some degree of big dollars at the Oscar weekend box office.

At the same time, I wouldn’t expect “Alice in Wonderland” to haven gigantic lasting power. With a few notable exceptions, weak stories have been the otherwise brilliant Burton’s Achilles heel throughout his career. Moreover, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have never really broken through in film versions in a huge way because of their chaotic, episodic structure. It took the advent of marijuana, LSD, and the Jefferson Airplane to make Disney’s “Alice” a theatrical hit in 1974, 23 years after it’s original release. 3-D is the closest thing our more abstemious age has.

Of course, the new film as written by Linda Woolverton is technically a sequel to original stories and attempts to lay a more coherent structure over Charles Dodgson’s chaotic classics but, judging from the reaction of our own David Medsker and critics overall, the results are mixed. Audiences will come for Burton’s visuals, Depp’s appeal, and the 3-D, but what will they stay for on the second weekend? Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter as dramatic queens won’t hurt, but still.

Don Cheadle and Wesley Snipes are not rural in The fiscal prospect of the week’s other new major release, “Brooklyn’s Finest” seems considerably more modest, though with Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Wesley Snipes and Ethan Hawke in the cast it has its share of big name stars. Reportedly filled to overflowing with cop-movie cliches, the R-rated film from director Antoine Fuqua of “Training Day” has left critics unimpressed and jovial Mr. DiOrio doesn’t expect it to break double-digit millions, noting it “tracks best in urban demos” — which I guess either means that African-American filmgoers are somewhat more kindly disposed towards it than, say, Armenian-American filmgoers, or that filmgoers in farming communities aren’t up for it.

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Friday movie news dump: Critic’s Choice Awards; Hollywood helping Haiti (updated)

I’m getting off to a late start tonight, so let’s get on with it.

* Via Roger Ebert’s tweet, we have the news on the Critic’s Choice awards, which are voted on by broadcast and some internet critics. “The Hurt Locker” won best picture, and best director for Kathryn Bigelow. “Inglourious Basterds” also had an extremely good night, as did Jeff Bridges. There was a tie for best actress between Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep. Good ol’ Nathaniel R. liveblogged the proceedings.

Christoph Waltz in And, if I was a betting man (and I sorta kinda am), I’d be tempted to head up to Vegas and bet the farm on basterd Christoph Waltz and Mo’Nique of “Precious” for the supporting role categories at the Oscars.

UPDATE: I failed to note  earlier that “Avatar” managed a near clean-sweep of the more production/technical oriented awards, though the Best Make-Up award went to “District 9.”

* In light of what’s been going in Haiti, I’ve been feeling a bit guilty on not mentioning it and focusing on what is, after all, a business that is all about diversion and distraction. So, I’m glad to be able to make tonight’s longest item a mention of the massive fundraising telethon George Clooney is organizing and cohosting, along with Wyclef Jean and Anderson Cooper, on January 22nd. Nikki Finke is also reporting that Not On Our Watch, an “international advocacy and grantmaking organization” founded by Clooney and friends Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Brad Pitt, and others has donated $1 million to emergency medical care. The super-cool Anne Thompson has some more details and links to places where you can give, and also has some additional news on good works done by show biz folks.

It’s also nice to report that the interwebs have been doing a fabulous job of fundraising but, of course, this is a really massive disaster and more will be needed for a nation that has already been long on the ropes. On the political net, DailyKos diarists are posting new rundowns of places to help each day. The Huffington Post and Rachel Maddow‘s sites have an excellent rundown of organizations that need your help. If those links are a bit too latte-sipping Blue State for your tastes, conservative blogger the Anchoress has also posted a list of many of the same organizations. I’d also like to put in a plug for the excellent Oxfam America which is already on the the ground in Haiti and has been especially active in terms of providing water and sanitation, which is going to be absolutely vital. Please click on any of these links and, especially if you can afford to an haven’t already given something, do what you can.

* The bidding, or whatever it is, on MGM is underway.

* I should probably have mentioned yesterday how Nikkie Finke’s “Toldja!” yesterday was that Disney has a new production chief with a quite interesting creative background that includes the upcoming “Tron: Legacy” and Project Greenlight. Following up on yesterday’s news, Finke points out an apparent irony.

* The extremely smart Jonah Hill to turn producer for…”21 Jump Street” with the directors of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs“? Sure, why not?

jonah-hill-transformers-2

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“Iron Man 2″ trailer arrives just in time for Hanukkah

Also, just in time to distract us from all the year end awards buzz, “Avatar” and all the rest, the trailer all you fanboys have been waiting for. Enjoy.

It was a bit frantic for my taste, but not bad. Downey’s cocky; Mickey Rourke is scary; Gwenyth Paltrow is adorable; Gary Shandling is pompous and funny; and Don Cheadle doesn’t look all that much like Terrence Howard, does he? What do you think?

P.S. Here’s the direct link to the trailer at Apple.com.

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Anyone else confused by the ending of “Traitor”?

All in all, I enjoyed “Traitor,” which stars Don Cheadle as a former military man who may or may not be working with a terrorist organization. It reminded me of the Showtime series, “Sleeper Cell,” and fans of one should check the other out.

But I was a little perplexed by the ending of “Traitor.” (I should go ahead and warn anyone that still hasn’t seen the film that there are MAJOR spoilers ahead.)

So Cheadle’s character — Samir Horn — is working deep cover with an intelligence agency to infiltrate a terrorist organization that strongly resembles Al-Qaeda. Throughout the entire film, I was confused about Samir’s endgame. Was his task to stop a terrorist attack? Or was it to capture the organizers? At the direction of his handler, Samir distributed live bombs to 30 different sleeper agents who were to detonate those bombs on 30 different buses at the same time. He was conflicted about giving these terrorists the ammunition to strike such a major blow, but the implication was that it was something he had to do, presumably to gain access (again) to the operation’s organizer, Nathir. I thought his mission was to capture Nathir so the intelligence community could interrogate him and bring him to justice, but he ends up shooting the unarmed terrorist in the head. Meanwhile, he set it up so that all 30 “martyrs” got on the same bus, which made for a very dramatic scene when it came time to detonate the bombs.

Anyway, why distribute live bombs? Since he made them himself, couldn’t he have disabled them somehow? Even if that wasn’t possible, why didn’t he find a way to get the names of the 30 terrorists to his contact at the FBI? He had plenty of “alone time” during the distribution portion of the mission that would have allowed for this.

He was responsible for a bus blowing up — a bus that must have had at least a few innocent civilians on it — and he ended up killing the mastermind instead of capturing him. If that was his endgame, he could have killed the guy when they met for the first time in Toronto.

Like I said, the ending was gut-wrenching and dramatic, but it seemed forced — just to have the visual of a bus blowing up on American soil.

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TCA Tour, Jan. 2009: NBC newsflash

Angela Bromstad, President of Primetime Entertainment, and Paul Telegdy, Executive Vice President of Alternative Programming, just popped up on stage to offer the following tidbits of information, some of which were announced awhile ago but which we haven’t yet covered on Premium Hollywood:

* “Southland,” the new drama from John Wells (which was formerly known as “Police”), will premiere on April 9th, Thursday at 10 PM.

From Emmy Award winners John Wells, Ann Biderman and Chris Chulack comes a raw and authentic look at the police unit in Los Angeles. From the beaches of Malibu to the streets of East Los Angeles, “Southland” is a fast-moving drama that will take viewers inside the lives of cops, criminals, victims and their families. Michael Cudlitz plays John Cooper a seasoned Los Angeles cop assigned to train young rookie Ben Sherman. Cooper’s honest, no-nonsense approach to the job leaves Sherman questioning whether or not he has what it takes to become a police officer. Cudlitz and McKenzie are joined by other cast members including Regina King who plays Detective Lydia Adams. Adams lives with and is the primary caregiver of her mother. Her partner, Detective Russell Clarke (Tom Everett Scott) is an unhappily married father of three. Michael McGrady plays Detective Daniel “Sal” Salinger. Sal oversees fellow gang detectives Nate Moretta (Kevin Alejandro) and Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy). Arija Bareikis plays as patrol officer Chickie Brown, a single mom who dreams of being the first woman accepted into SWAT.

* They have ordered 3 more episodes of “ER,” bringing the season total to 23. The series finale will now air on April 2nd, with a one-hour retrospective preceding the two-hour finale. Why the additional episodes? “Why not?” asked Bromstad. She then clarified, however, that it allows John Wells time to get “Southland” ready.

* They have officially signed on for additional seasons of “The Office” and “The Rock”

* NBC has signed Don Cheadle and his company, Crescendo Productions, to a two-year, first-look television development deal.

* Due to its success up against “American Idol,” they will indeed be picking up another season of “Biggest Loser” for next season.

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