Box Office Preview: ‘Avengers’ and Something About a Hotel


The Avengers

As I discussed over at Real Men Read Comics, Marvel has been building towards this one for a long time. After a long wait and perhaps too many attempts to connect the dots, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the gang are coming together on the big screen.

I’ve actually got something nice to say about a new release, maybe even a few nice things. This is groundbreaking territory.

“The Avengers” was written and directed by Joss Whedon. This is the dude who brought us “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” and “Firefly.” If you don’t know what “Firefly” is, you need to find out. It’s on Netflix instant, so go on, get. I’ll even give you the link. Like his projects, Whedon has built up quite the cult following over the years. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, he co-wrote “Toy Story,” for which he was nominated for an Oscar. That’s right folks, motherfucking “Toy Story.”

“The Avengers” has all most of the stars of the individual films back in their roles. We’ve got Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America, and most importantly, Robert Downey Jr. in his perfectly sardonic portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man. Now, Mark Ruffalo may have replaced Eric Bana, er, Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk, but that’s probably a good thing. If you’re sick of all these different Bruce Banners flying your way, don’t worry, Ruffalo recently signed a six-picture deal to play The Hulk.

Let’s not forget about the supporting cast, rounding out the team are Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. But wait, there’s more, Tom Hiddleston will reprise his role from “Thor” as Loki, the film’s main villain. Hiddleston also played a brilliant F. Scott Fitzgerald in “Midnight in Paris.”

One of the ways you know a superhero movie, is great is when the dialogue is better than the action sequences. This is what we got in “Iron Man,” when oftentimes Tony Stark was more gripping with his super suit off than on. You should expect no less from Whedon, and according to Bullz-eye’s David Medsker, the Joss has delievered:

Once Whedon gets the cast in the same room and gives them the chance to interact as people rather than superheroes, the movie blossoms in a strangely wonderful way, one where it’s easy to wish that they would keep talking, rather than ramping up for the butt-kicking that is just around the corner. Indeed, until the climactic battle sequence, the action plays second fiddle to the talking, and as odd as that sounds for a superhero movie, it’s the right call.

If all this wasn’t enough, “The Avengers” has been certified fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, sitting at a 93 on the Tomatometer. For once, I’m actually excited.


The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The only other film getting a wide release this weekend is “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Believe it or not, John Madden was actually able to direct a film that doesn’t star Brett Favre. Hold on. I’m getting word that it’s a different John Madden, the “Shakespeare in Love” John Madden. Oh, well things make more sense now.

Kidding aside, this is a film about a group of British seniors, including Academy Award-winners Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, who decide to “outsource” their retirement to cheaper and seemingly exotic India. When they get there, the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel doesn’t look quite as it did in the brochures so both hilarity and drama ensue. The film also stars Penelope Winton, whose interactions with Maggie Smith in “Downton Abbey” are fantastic, so hopefully we get some of that here.

There’s a reason no other movies are being released this weekend, studios were scared of “The Avengers,” and rightly so. But it’s pretty clear that “Hotel” is “The Avengers'” antithesis, and so too is its target audience. That said, with its award-winning cast and 78 rating on the Tomatometer, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” seems to be well worth seeing in its own right.

  

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Hidden Netflix Gems – Mary and Max

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

The first feature from Australian filmmaker Adam Elliot, the main creative force behind the Oscar-winning 2003 animated short Harvie Krumpet (which is also superb), Mary and Max tells the true story of young Mary Daisy Dinkle (Bethany Whitmore) a lonely eight-year-old Australian girl who lives with her sherry-swilling, kleptomaniac mother Vera (Renee Geyer) and her taxidermy enthusiast father, a character so sad and dull we never even hear his voice. One day, she decides to pick a name out of an American phone book and write to whomever she finds in this way, in order to ask burning questions about America, such as “Are babies found in soda cans?”

The person her letter eventually reaches is 44-year-old Max Horovitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a morbidly obese, atheistic man living in New York City who, despite his atheism, was raised Jewish and still wears his yarmulke every day, “to keep my brain warm.” Sharing a love of chocolate and a sweet innocence that is far more commonplace at Mary’s age than at Max’s, they begin a 20-year friendship composed entirely of written correspondence. As Mary grows into adulthood, at which point she is voiced by Toni Collette, and Max struggles with his love of “chocolate hot dogs” (chocolate bars housed in hot dog buns) and subsequent gradual weight gain, their friendship grows and develops into something larger than themselves.

In the wrong hands, this material could have become overly sentimental, and detractors might claim that it is too “quirky” (that is, if it had actually made it into theaters and been seen by the much wider audience it deserves), but Elliot’s gorgeous, painstaking stop-motion animation and the excellent vocal work by the two leads (particularly Hoffman, who has never been more convincing) make this a truly remarkable film unlike any other feature I have seen. As in Harvie Krumpet, Elliot brilliantly balances wonderful, whimsical humor with heartbreaking poignancy and creates characters that effortlessly feel more real and alive than at least 90 percent of those found in live-action films.

Throughout the film, as Mary falls in love with her neighbor, Damien (Eric Bana), and becomes a shining star of academia, and Max struggles with his severe social anxiety and learns that he has Asperger’s Syndrome, there are moments of laughter and tears. However, the film never resorts to cheap heartstring tugging; instead, it offers true insight and brilliant poetry, both visually and in the excellent writing. The third act contains each of these in quick succession, first in a gut-wrenching visual sequence involving Mary, and then in a wonderfully narrated letter she receives from Max. The final scene brings both elements together marvelously.

Mary and Max is a treasure that I am happy to have dug out of the ground of obscurity. I highly recommend you take a chance on it as soon as possible.

 

  

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Monday night trailer: “Hanna,” the teenaged assassin

Director Joe Wright switches gears from his solid Brit-lit adaptations (“Atonement,” “Pride and Prejudice“) and the ill-fated “The Soloist” and gives us a bit of Luc Besson (I hope less thin than “La Femme Nikita” and “The Professional”), a bit of fairy tale and “Kasper Hauser,” a probably coincidental resemblance to a certain aspect of “Kick-Ass,” a bit of Bourne, and, I hope, a bit of Le Carre, Green and, and other classic spy writers, because we need more of that right now. Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, and Cate Blanchett star and the always wondrous Olivia Williams is also on board. Interesting cast for an action flick. This one is interesting.


‘focus’ Hanna – Trailer 1 @ Yahoo! Video

H/t Cinematical.

  

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The strange weekend of five

This is one interesting movie August we’re in. In fact, if you go to a mutliplex this weekend and can’t find anything that interests you, then you probably don’t belong anywhere near a contemporary movie theater. At this point in film history, things just don’t get that much more diverse, and more interesting, than the new films on offer this weekend.

* Anyone with a geek bone in their body has heard and/or seen a fair amount about the movie box office prognosticators expect to end the reign of “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” By most accounts a thoughtful yet violent/bloody R-rated science fiction actioner from first-time feature director Neill Blomkamp, “District 9” benefits from a lot of really good buzz, truly outstanding reviews, and a very high-profile variant of a viral campaign; the “humans only” signs have been up at bus-stops in Los Angeles for what seems like years and the film’s association with executive producer Peter Jackson won’t hurt. (Just like the filmgoers who probably still believe that Quentin Tarantino directed “Hostel” and have no clue who Eli Roth is, many casual movie fans will give Jackson the credit/blame on this.)

On the possible downside: there are no stars or recognizable faces and the film’s setting of South Africa might put off some people. We Americans, I fear, can be an obnoxiously xenophobic bunch at times. However, this is a new age we’re in (I think) and certainly this film, about space aliens being oppressed by us literally xenophobic humans, has a much easier to grasp premise than “Serenity,” the last star-free but excitement-heavy, well-reviewed science fiction film to rely on viral marketing, and the virus is far more virulent this time. So, the projections of a take of somewhere in the $20 millions or more for Sony offered both by Variety‘s Pamela McClintock and The Hollywood Reporter‘s ever-jolly Carl DiOrio, who guesses it at at least $25 million, make some sense.

Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams
* Unless they’re seeing someone very special and very insistent, the young males who will be flocking to “District 9” likely won’t be seeing this week’s promising box office hopeful, even though it’s also science fiction, though obviously of a very different sort. Warner’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is unusual for the movies I write about here in that I’ve actually seen this one before its release date, and you can read all about my opinion of the film over at the link. Suffice it to say that fantastical romantic melodrama is not generating a whole bunch of critical excitement, though that underwhelming 37% RT rating is not so much a collective groan as a chorus of “meh.”

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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