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Box Office Preview: The Movie that Shall Remain “Nameless here for evermore,” Jason Statham, Pirates! and the next Apatow/Stoller/Segel Comedy

The Raven

Let’s just get this out of the way, this movie looks like shit, which is unfortunate given some of the names involved. “The Raven” was directed by James McTeigue, who was an assistant director for the “Matrix” trilogy before making his directorial debut with “V for Vendetta” in 2006. The cast includes Brendan Gleeson (“Braveheart,” “Gangs of New York,” “Harry Potter”), and stars John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe.

Poe’s death is shrouded in mystery, so the filmmakers took more than a few creative liberties in this fictionalized account of the writer’s last days. When a serial killer begins using his work as the inspiration for a series of gruesome murders, police enlist Poe to help bring the assailant to justice.

Reviews have been bad, hovering around 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and not without reason. Edgar Allan Poe was a fascinating human being. In 1836, at age 27, he married his 13 year-old first cousin. The man was a great many things: author, poet, alcoholic, opium addict, and the inventor of detective fiction. He uneqivocally was not an action hero or some macabre version of Sherlock Holmes. With such an intriguing life story, there was no reason to make him into such.

“The Raven” is the 241st film or television adaptation of Poe’s work. That leaves you 240 options that might not be garbage, so pick one of those. Or, better yet, pick up some of his written work, which is in the public domain (that means it’s free).

Safe

In “Safe,” Jason Statham plays Luke Wright, “the Big Apple’s hardest cop, once up on a time.” Now, he’s a a second-rate cage fighter who drives fast, kicks ass, and always has a wry one-liner up his sleeve. That is, Jason Statham plays Jason Statham doing Jason Statham things, only he’s got an American accent (sort of). In this case, his excuse for coating the streets in blood is protecting a 12-year-old Chinese girl who’s memorized a valuable code from some Russian mobsters. Purely by coincidence, they’re the same Russian mobsters who murdered his wife.

“Safe” couldn’t have a more appropriate title. It’s another formulaic Statham action movie that’s split critics right down the middle because even though you know what’s going to happen, you can’t help but be entertained. Perhaps Aaron Hillis of The Village Voice put it best: “Safe” is a “preposterously enjoyable—or enjoyably preposterous—action-thriller.”

If “Safe” is your style, go and enjoy it, you’ll get no argument from me. But since you already know the endings anyway, you might as well rent “Snatch” or “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels” instead.

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Box office preview: Will “Just Go With It” flow well? Will “Never Say Never” make Bieliebers of us all?

This is the first weekend in some time when we have more than a couple of new movies opening wide and it’s a weird one. We’ve got a powerhouse team of A-listers vying for first place against a 16 year-old musical phenom whose talent is, as least in the opinion of most adults and nearly all males, vastly less than phenomenal. Gotta love show biz.

If you’re betting on this weekend, you should probably demand some odds if your choice for the #1 spot is not “Just Go With It.” At least on paper, this is a smartly designed movie in terms of attracting a mass audience. To be stereotypical about it, there’s a little romance for the women, and little raunchy comedy for the men and a slightly unusual pairing of rom-com reliable Jennifer Aniston and raunch-com superstar Adam Sandler.

Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston in

The cinematic seers and soothsayers referenced over at the L.A. Times and THR differ only very slightly in suggesting that the comedy from Sony/Columbia, will do something in the neighborhood of $30 million, or perhaps a bit more. Neither Aniston nor Sandler have ever been critical darlings and their latest outing isn’t changing that.

The strange aspect of this is that the film is an unheralded remake of 1969′s “Cactus Flower,” which had a screenplay adapted by the later-career collaborator of Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, and starred Walter Matthau and my hugest crush ever, Ingrid Bergman, in the roles now inhabited by Sandler and Anniston. I’ve liked both Sandler and Anniston in movies from time to time but, my God, talk about devolution. I’ve never seen model-turned-actress Brooklyn Decker in anything, so I’ll spare her the comparison to Goldie Hawn, who won an Oscar for her role.

Meanwhile, there’s more than a little mystery about just how much Paramount’s “Justin Beiber: Never Say Never” will make. Apparently, Beiber’s very young, very female fan base is defying marketers’ ability to measure and predict the results for this 3D docu-concert flick. The really weird part of all this is that, of all four movies being released this week, the biographical documentary has the best reviews with a respectable enough 64% Fresh rating over a Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. A sad commentary, perhaps, or just another sign of the show biz apocalypse. Could this film actually top the week’s box office? Probably not, but never say “never.”

Gnomeo and JulietNext is the 3D animated comedy, “Gnomeo and Juliet.” Disney apparently wanted to keep this one at arm’s length and is releasing it through Touchstone, usually reserved for racier properties, despite the film’s G-rating. My hunch is that animation chief John Lasseter felt the rom-com suitable for the very young wasn’t quite up to snuff all around. The reviews, however, are not completely awful and the voice cast — which includes James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Sir Michael Caine, Dame Maggie Smith and, in a voice-acting debut, Jason Statham — is beyond first rate. It also boasts music by Elton John and parents can also feel like they’re prepping their kids for Shakespeare even if this is comedy and not tragedy. So, the guess of $15-20 million seems reasonable enough to me.

Finally, we’ve got swords, sandals, Channing Tatum, and Jamie Bell in “The Eagle.” No one seems very excited about this costume actioner and that non-excitement seems to be communicating itself through some underwhelming box office guesses to match its deeply “meh” notices.

In limited release in some 16 theaters according to Box Office Mojo, the world always needs a good, or half-way decent, comedy and the large majority of critics seem to agree that “Cedar Rapids” is just that. With a cast of tip-top comedy veterans including Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, and Anne Heche, among others, it’s hard not to have an upbeat attitude about this one.

Ed Helms and Anne Heche are in

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Guaranteed to make English teachers weep

I know that’s how I feel. Take a look, at this trailer for the latest version of Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” featuring Jack Black, Amanda Peet, Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, just don’t expect to laugh.

I honestly wish I could tell you that this new trailer for the latest version of Jonathan Swift’s classic has something, anything going for it. However, based on the evidence of this trailer, I really can’t. Nothing funny here. Nothing good here. Nothing.

I’m a bit shocked to learn that this was actually cowritten by Nicholas Stoller of the really fun “Get Him to the Greek” and the outstanding “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” How could it have gone this wrong? Could it be there’s actually something worthwhile in the movie and this is just the worst trailer ever? I don’t remember the last one being much better, but still. Man, between him and the cast, what a waste of real talent.

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Your trailer for the day: “The Adjustment Bureau”

The list of Phillip K. Dick adaptations gets one movie longer. This one has a more romantic than usual feeling to it, and also has a stronger-than-usual cast, including Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, the great Terrence Stamp (kneel before him), and John Slattery (“Mad Men” and Tony Stark’s deceased dad in “Iron Man 2“) who is suddenly everywhere these days.

H/t Drew McWeeny.

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Your post-Good Friday movie news dump

A few remaining items worth mentioning this late evening/early morn…

* RIP John Forsythe. The watchably stolid actor with a nice touch at both melodrama and low-key comedy and a memorable voice passed away at 92 late Thursday. He worked a great deal on stage and in kept his hand in at the movies, but he’s did most of his work in multiple television series and, ironically, is probably best known today as the disembodied voice of Charlie from “Charlie’s Angels.” Still, he was a strong presence in a number of notable movies, including playing opposite a very young and very adorable Shirley Maclaine in Alfred Hitchcock‘s black comedy, “The Trouble with Harry” and as a vicious judge taunting a youngish but far less adorable Al Pacino in Norman Jewison’s “And Justice for All…” He also dealt with a murderous Robert Blake in “In Cold Blood” and fended off a nasty, nasty Ann Margaret in, yes, “Kitten with a Whip.”

* Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg — the Jewish-American twosome who struck a blow for the depiction of Asian-Americans as actual human beings, albeit hilariously stoned ones, by creating “Harold and Kumar” — are set to reboot the “American Pie” franchise with a film that is also a sequel. Also, the third go-round with ‘Roldy and Kumar is in motion, even if Kal Penn is currently employed outside of Hollywood. I mean, good roles for Asian American males should not so rare that they are all forced to go to work at the White House.

* The lovely and talented Emily Blunt will not be romancing “Captain America,” according to the Playlist’s Edward Davis. I’m not sure why he’s so convinced it won’t be a very good movie except for the fact that, of course, most movies aren’t very good and the bigger the budget, the more often that turns out to be true. But even so, I don’t quite get it.

On the other hand, I completely agree with the premise of another post by Davis: Yes, the thought of Tom Cruise uglying himself up in a major way to play Phil Spector really does have some demented genius to it. I’m not Cruise’s biggest fan but, well cast, he can be brilliant and playing lunatics seems to work for him. I have no idea why that might be the case.

And, yes, I like a third Davis post about a long-delayed movie being labored over by Cameron Crowe about the equally great and equally demented Marvin Gaye. Re: casting, I’m rooting for Jesse L. Martin of “Law & Order” — a terrific actor and the physical resemblance is pretty eerie.

* Another comic book adaptation for Ryan Reynolds.

* Don’cha just hate it when a star and director team up, get plenty of compliments, and then just repeat themselves? Well, fresh off their mostly good reviews and general decent business on “Greenberg,” about the personal travails of a bitter forty-something musician-cum-carpenter,  the two are simply rehashing the same basic premise with “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” Oh, wait…

* From a couple of days back, Anne Thompson nicely summarizes the spreading conventional movie-geek wisdom on the making and consumption of 3-D films. Shorter version: really, not every movie should be in it, it’s worth a little extra to see movies actually shot in 3-D in 3-D, but the conversions from 2-D to 3-D are pretty much best ignored and may even end up ruining the fun.

* Sharon Waxman writes that a mystery bidder has entered the fray to purchase the studio original named for the Weinsteins’s parents, Mira and Max. Could it be Harvey and Bob W.’s long lost older brother, Mogul X, who fled in shame after his first producing effort sold exactly three tickets at Sundance, and vowed only to return only after he had become the world’s greatest movie executive? It’s a thought.

racer_x

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Hearts and flowers to lead double-holiday weekend?

He’s been wrong very recently, but that’s what jolly Carl DiOrio confidently predicts over at The Hollywood Reporter.  A fiscally very big weekend at the movies is expected overall because we have three new high profile, high-concept films debuting in over 3,000 theaters each according to Box Office Mojo. Moreover, it’s all happening over a President’s Day weekend which also includes Valentine’s Day on Sunday.

Julia Roberts and some guy in

Everyone’s going to either try to get closer to their special someone, forget that they don’t have a special someone, or perhaps try to forget that they have to pretend like they’re want to get closer to that special someone when they really would rather be in a far away foreign land of fantasy. Movies aren’t a bad prescription in any of those cases.

Garry Marshall’s multi-stor, all-star rom-com, Valentine’s Day,” is the worst reviewed of the three critically unloved films coming out this weekend, but since when does something like a seriously lacking 14% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes stop filmgoers bent on lightly sentimental entertainment? With Julia Roberts on board and Garry Marshall’s brand of uber-schmaltz on offer, a lot of mostly female folks will be interested and their partners better be alongside them. DiOrio is expecting as much as $45 million for Warner Brothers for this one. “Avatar” shchmavatar, I guess.

Director Chris Columbus is, if anything, even less of a critical darling than Garry Marshall. (He’s absolutely no darling of this critic, I can tell you that.) Still, the latest entry in the “Precious: Based on the Noel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” ungainly title sweepstakes is Columbus and Fox’s version of “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief.” It may look like a teen-Harry Potter knock-off to the uninterested observer, but critics are being a bit less harsh on this entry, allowing it a mixed 48% “Fresh” rating, It’s worth noting that that the Greek mythological background might make things a bit easier for English teachers the world over. DiOrio is expecting something over $30 million. Sure, I guess.

Expected to come in at the #3 spot or thereabouts is the monstrous semi-remake of “The Wolfman,” with Benecio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins stepping in for Lon Chaney, Jr. and Claude Reins in a much bloodier and more elaborate period tale. Del Toro may be the best actor to play the part so far. Still, many critics, including our own Will Harris, are only about 31% impressed with either his acting this time around or the movie as a whole.

http://www.bullz-eye.com/mguide/review_images/2010/the_wolfman/the_wolfman_5.jpgKind words mostly seem to be mostly reserved for the striking atmospherics from director Joe Johnston’s effects team including make-up genius Rick Baker, which have been getting us fanboys so riled about this long-delayed production for low these many moons. Horror and monster lovers (in a platonic way, I mean) haven’t hard much to work with lately, so that sounds about right to me. I guess.

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Either “Avatar” takes the weekend box office, or we’re all in big trouble

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in

Variety has gone behind a pay wall. Jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter is either taking a night off or filing later. Still, this is one week when, if I may paraphrase Bob Dylan, I don’t need a weatherman to tell me which way the wind’s blowing. As a science-fiction adventure sure-to-be blockbuster, James Cameron‘s “Avatar” has pretty much everything going for: huge ballyhoo, much of its centered on its groundbreaking use on “performance capture” (not mere motion capture) and what everyone seems to be describing as a new and more immersive 3-D, strong advance sales (skewing male as of right now), and solid reviews.  Sure, it’s actors aren’t precisely A-listers, but we all know what good stars are these days. I’m sure people will eventually remember that Sam  Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver were in there some place.

The latest from James Cameron at this point has racked up an 82% “fresh” on the Tomatometer and a whopping 96% from the usually harder to please “top critics,” with only Village Voice‘s exacting J. Hoberman submitting a mildly negative review that is actually about as positive as a bad review can be.

Our own Jamey Codding is positive, but not quite ecstatic. Ken Turan, a critic I respect but often disagree with for his rather schoolmarmish tastes — don’t get him started on Tarantino — waxes poetic and compares the technical breakthroughs to “The Jazz Singer.” I personally hope that isn’t quite the case. 3-D is cool as an occasional treat, but I just don’t see how it’s necessary for every movie. Of course, there were people who said that about sound movies too, but don’t laugh too much because there are still people who thought they were right! (Not me. Being a word guy, I like talkies. My fogeyosity has limits) In any case, Roger Ebert might be summing things up nicely when he writes:

There is still at least one man in Hollywood who knows how to spend $250 million, or was it $300 million, wisely.

Sam Worthington in So, we know that “Avatar” will, baring apocalypse or a mass, blindness-inducing plague, win the weekend. The real question is, by how much? Well, considering it’s opening in 3,453 theaters and probably taking up nearly every higher priced regular size and Imax 3-D screen in the country, I’d say the sky is the limit for the moment. Beyond that, I really don’t have the kind of information to make these kind of assertions, but fortunately there is Daniel Frankel of The Wrap who says that the gurus have agreed the Fox film will do over $60 million at least and possibly as much as $90 or $100 million.

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“The Wolf Man” trailer

A really strong trailer has just come out on what looks like a fairly loose remake of the 1941 Universal monster/horror classic which originally starred Claude Reins and, in the title role, Lon Chaney, Jr. The new version has Benecio del Toro as the unfortunate Lawrence Talbot and Anthony Hopkins as his concerned pop, as well as Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving.

All I can say is that this version looks top notch. I thought director Joe Johnston’s “The Rocketeer” was very fun and pretty underrated, and this looks to have the potential to be even better. One thing’s for sure, considering the best known movie wolf men so far have been ex-Dr. Pepper song-and-dance guy David Naughton (“An American Werewolf in London”) and Chaney, Jr., who had some moments but was not nearly the actor his legendary dad was, it’s safe to say that del Toro will be by far the best actor to inhabit’s the wolf man’s hairy skin. Check it out.

And remember….

Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night,
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.

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TCA Tour, Jan. 2009: “The Simpsons”

Now that I’m back from Los Angeles and have begun to recover from the nasty ear infection and sore throat which gripped me almost immediately after getting off the plane in Virginia, I’m finally able to get back to writing up the remainder of the panels I attended during the TCA Press Tour. Sorry for the delay, but I just naturally presumed you were more concerned about my health than in getting these updates. (And if I’m wrong, I don’t want to know about it.)

When we last left the tour, I had finished up my coverage of upcoming PBS programming and the various new and returning cable series, so now it’s time to move onward to the broadcast networks. We’ll start with Fox, which started their day off in a very fun way by offering up a “Simpsons” breakfast, complete with Bart, Lisa, Homer, and Marge – who was holding Maggie – wandering around and greeting us all.

Also on hand were a couple of real people involved with the show, most notably producer Al Jean, who was able to spare me a few minutes to provide a few tidbits about what we can expect from the show, which is now entering an almost-inconceivable 20th year on the air.

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