Hard days at the office #5: Business language and Ms. Brockovich

I could have gone in a lot of different and rather obvious directions for the last entry in this series of clips from work-related movies, “Office Space” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” being but two of the more obvious possibilities. However, when it comes to productions that really capture the feeling of struggling to get a job in the real world, and then keeping it and balancing it with other commitments, Steven Soderbergh’s deceptively modest “Erin Brockovich” is one of the very few that really seems to get it.

I would have edited this series of clips a lot differently, but it does give a feeling for the movie. (If you remember “Erin Brockovich” at all you’ll know this is NSFW. Actually, if you put up a camera in most offices and then ran it on YouTube, it would probably be NSFW.)

A bonus and a bit more commentary after the flip.

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Zzzzz….”Avatar”…zzzz

We’re deep, deep into the January doldrums this week with the studios putting out three new movies that will be lucky to be fodder for late night cable or very hard trivia questions after a few weeks. We also, of course, have one true-blue blockbuster dominating the box office for the sixth week in a row.

Sam Worthington in And so THR’s jolly Carl DiOrio is beyond certain that James Cameron will, by Sunday, not only be the director of the #1 and #2 moneymakers of all time (not adjusted for inflation) but also will be matching his own “Titanic” record of six consecutive #1 showings at the U.S. box office. He also says “Avatar” will make roughly $25 million. That sounds about right to me, but all I can really say for sure is that it does seem reasonably sure to wipe the floor with the three fairly lackluster looking films on tap for this weekend.

The Tooth Fairy,” at least, benefits from a quickly understandable premise which has some comic potential, as well as a very strong supporting cast. Dwayne “no longer ‘the Rock'” Johnson is an unpleasant hockey star forced to become the winged pixie of everyone’s childhood. Playing M to his emasculated James Bond is a slightly stern Julie Andrews, with Billy Crystal and Stephen Merchant of “Extras” as his Q branch operatives, while Ashley Judd performs love interest duties. The consensus on this one is that, while  it’s the very rare critic who will go so far as to admit to actually liking the thing — it has a lousy 11% “fresh” Rotten Tomatoes reading — it could have been worse. Talk about faint praise. The trailer isn’t exactly huge on laughs, but Crystal variation on his old Miracle Max shtick got a chuckle out of me. Considering the family factor and Johnson’s appeal, I suspect this Fox comedy will stand up nicely to the weak competition of the other new releases.

Speaking of weak competition, every review I glanced at, including the one from our own David Medsker, compared “Extraordinary Measures” to a TV movie. This fact-inspired maiden voyage for the newly formed CBS Films stars Brendan Fraser as a corporate executive with two children suffering from a rare disease who joins forces with Harrison Ford‘s curmudgeonly scientist to find a cure while battling the medical and corporate establishment.

Brendan Frasher and Harrison Ford take

This type of material can work in theatrical films as was proven by both Steven Soderbergh with “Erin Brockovich” and, before that, George Miller with the underrated “Lorenzo’s Oil.” (Nick Nolte’s Italian accent wasn’t all that bad, besides, he got the emotions right.) The consensus here, however, is that pedestrian execution destines this film to fairly instant obscurity — a familiar face and an aging superstar won’t be enough to attract major audiences to a film that really could have used a few some good reviews. Instead, it got only 23% percent of critics at Rotten Tomatoes admitting to even a mild liking for the film.

Only one critic we know of has even seen “Legion.” Released by Sony and made by a first time director with a background in effects work, this one sounds to me like an action/horror remake of Kevin Smith’s “Dogma” or “Wings of Desire” gone very, very wrong. The film has very literal killer angels besieging a diner — because hashhouses are always the best place to start an apocalypse. Starring Paul Bettany as the week’s second ass-kicking winged mythological being and Dennis Quaid as a sick looking middle-aged guy, DiOrio says this is “tracking best among young males” and I can’t imagine who else would see this one. Judging by Mr. One Critic’s ultra-harsh review, even they may find better better things to do. As for what religious people will make of a film which has angels wielding machine guns, I can only imagine.

  

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Food to defeat flesh at the box office

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

It’s going to be a messy weekend at multiplexes this weekend. Raining food items in 3-D are likely to rule the weekend against a sex-heavy horror comedy with a literally man-eating lead, a food-industry investigation gone badly awry, and the semi-obligatory poorly reviewed rom-com and/or rom-drom.

Redefining the term “splatter” for an all-ages audience is “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” The Sony-made entry looks to combine the proven appeal of family-friendly animated comedies, 3-D (and 3-D Imax), and adaptations of popular books to make what THR‘s Carl DiOrio guesses will be roughly $25-30 million. Add to that the film’s fairly stellar critical appeal, with most critics echoing the sunny assessment of our own David Medsker with an 89% Rotten Tomatoes “Fresh” rating, and you get a feature with extremely wide appeal. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one go well over the $30 million mark. (I should add, however, that the “Top Critics” rating is a considerably more modest, but still good, 71% as of this writing. However, with only seven reviews included, that seems like a less a fair sampling.)

Likely to come in a distant second is the R-rated, youth oriented sexy horror comedy from Fox, “Jennifer’s Body.” Variety doesn’t hazard a guess this week, but THR/DiOrio is saying to expect a gross in the “low-teen millions” and that seems reasonable. Though for whatever sick reason audiences have been turning up their noses even at very strong horror films inflected with humor like “Drag Me to Hell,” this film benefits from the current”Transformers”-based star power of flavor of the month Megan Fox. Directed by Karyn Kusama and written by the ballyhoed Diablo Cody, this mixture of blood, sex, and quips is generating little “Juno“-based critical afterglow and some anti-Cody backlash with a mere 33% “fresh” rating. That’s not so surprising given that a lot of critics already had mixed feelings about former exotic dancer’s sometimes cutesy dialogue in last year’s sleeper hit. Given the cussedness of young audiences lately, I wouldn’t be surprised if this would be the film to overcome the horror-comedy jinx and over-perform by a few million this weekend. I think the youngsters enjoy driving critics mad.

Matt Damon in
And then we have this week’s token major release for discerning grown-ups, “The Informant!“.  A fact-based comedy about a borderline delusional executive who threw a huge monkey wrench into an FBI price-fixing investigation of food giant Archer Daniels Midland, it’s the latest from the very prolific Steven Soderbergh. In the past, the onetime “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” wunderkind has had success with fact based material with the unassuming 2000 box office hit, “Erin Brockovich.” This film is similarly star-driven, though it remains to be seen if a pudged-up Matt Damon wearing a doofy mustache will have the same appeal as Julia Roberts in a push-up bra.

With an okay 67% RT rating, the critical chorus here is marked by notes of disharmony. Sometimes that’s actually the sign of a truly interesting movie, but rarely is it the mark of an instant hit, though the hope is still for a double-digit millions opening weekend and some “legs.” Damon is getting very good reviews for his lead performance, so a Best Actor Oscar nomination is definitely not out of the question, which could help this movie get some kind of second life if it does disappoint this weekend.

Bringing up the rear is “Love Happens,” which has one of those titles that pretty much dares critics to come up with clever and, in this case, potentially scatological, insults. I didn’t see anyone actually take the bait this time, though the film did receive a not unfecal 20% RT rating. Also, there seems to be some genuine disagreement about whether or not this film is really a comedy or more of a soapy drama, which is usually not a good sign. The appeal of Aaron Eckhardt — still an underrated actor — and Jennifer Aniston, not my choice for the actress of her generation, can only do so much. Fortunately for the producers, the film had a low enough budget that even a single digit opening weekend can mean they’ll eventually recoup their money and perhaps make a profit. Maybe.

Finally, as Oscar season approaches, we’re starting to see more limited releases of interest. This one to watch this week is the new film from writer-director Jane Campion of “The Piano.” Featuring Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw, “Bright Star” is a well-reviewed romantic period drama/biopic about poet John Keats and the literal girl next door. Not that it’s a huge category, but I’m betting this will be the big date movie for English majors of 2009. All that, and no naked Harvey Keitel. Yay.

  

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Old dogs, new tricks, and Matt!

Matt Damon in

You’re pre-weekend box-offfice preview will be up bright and early tomorrow morning, but first I have a couple of what Rachel Maddow calls “Holy Mackeral stories.” Both of them involve old movie reliables trying new stuff, and somehow Matt Damon is involved in both movies.

* Back in 1955, Clint Eastwood had uncredited bit parts in two sci-fi monster/horror flicks from director Jack Arnold, “Revenge of the Creature” (the sequel to the 3-D hit, “Creature from the Black Lagoon”) and “Tarantula.” Since then, he’s somehow managed to steer clear of anything remotely fantastical either as an actor or a director — until now. “Hereafter” is being kept under wraps but the story is said to be in the same general ballpark as “The Sixth Sense.” It’s being written by Peter Morgan, also a first-timer in tales of the supernatural, though the playwright/screenwriter of “Frost/Nixon” and “The Queen” is also branching out genre wise with the 23rd James Bond movie. As suggested above, the star will be Matt Damon, who has been around the supernatural before. However, I suspect this film won’t have a whole lot in common either with Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated “The Brothers Grimm” or Kevin Smith’s “Dogma.”

All of this is not to say that director Eastwood can’t do scary. His 1971 directorial debut, the witty and suspenseful “Play Misty for Me,” was pretty thoroughly grounded in our reality but had some definite terror elements.

* Now, Michael Douglas found himself in a pretty similar predicament to Eastwood’s “Misty,” character in the 1987 hit, “Fatal Attraction,” but there’s pretty much no similarities in anything he’s done before with his next project. I don’t know how I’ve missed it, but the actor commonly associated with such super-macho characters as Gordan Gekko (soon to be reprised in the upcoming “Wall Street” sequel) and ultra-horny cop Nick Curran of “Basic Instinct” will be playing Liberace, the glitzy pop-classical concert pianist for whom the word “flamboyant” might have been coined. Directing the film will be Steven Soderbergh, returning to his nonfiction well that earned him one of his biggest commercial successes with “Erin Brokovich” and, he hopes again, with this week’s wide release of the fact-based comedy, “The Informant.”

Just to tie things up in a nice ribbon, as reported by People — who somehow found a picture of Michael Douglas looking oddly like Liberace might have looked later in life — “Informant” star Matt Damon will play Liberace’s longtime partner who ultimately sued the Las Vegas star in a palimony suit. I’m not sure it’s fair to say he “outed” Liberace. This will not, of course, be the first time that Matt Damon has played a gay character. That would be “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”

And, now, a moment of vintage Liberace. Definitely not with Matt Damon.

  

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Dude, Where’s My Oscar? Bullz-Eye revisits recent Academy Award “mistakes”

Dude, Where's My Oscar?

There are times when we swear that “Entertainment Weekly” has either bugged our office or is tapping into our conference calls. Numerous pieces of ours wind up on their pages at almost the exact same time, be it a list of the best sequels, cinematic stoners, or our long-gestating piece on the Bullz-Eye Fantasy Band Draft, which will drop later this year. They’ve even named their hot/not meter “The Bullseye.” Hmmm.

And sure enough, they scooped us once again, when they put the top awards from various Academy Awards results to a new vote, to see how the current Academy would fix the previous generation’s “mistakes.” We’ve been throwing that idea around for over a year, and just when we begin to put pen to paper: boom! — they beat us to the punch. We’re not at all surprised that they saw the appeal in such a topic; every year there is at least one head-scratching moment, one that usually owes more to awarding a long-overdue actor for their overall body of work than for the performance at hand (ahem, Al Pacino, “Scent of a Woman”). Enter Bullz-Eye, Mighty Mouse-style, to save the day and make sure justice is served. We’ve examined recent Academy Award winners and their competitors, and we found a few, um, irregularities. Revisionist history begins now.

Oscar Snubs

Elaine Benes summed up our feelings for “The English Patient” as well as anyone. Actually, that’s a tad unfair; we didn’t think “Patient” was awful, just long and, in the end, anti-climactic. Without Juliette Binoche carrying her co-stars from start to finish (her Oscar, unlike this one, was well deserved), we wonder if “Patient” would have received half the praise that it did. Then there’s “Fargo,” which featured invaluable contributions from its leads, the supporting cast, and even the characters who were only in a scene or two (Marge Gunderson’s Japanese high school classmate had us in tears). It’s funny, shocking, coy, and best of all, normal, an expertly crafted movie all the way around. Guess the Academy wasn’t quite ready for the Coen brothers yet.

Oscar Snubs

To be fair, this one isn’t a staff pick; it’s mine and mine alone. My colleague Jason Zingale loved “Crash,” as did most people. I, however, loathed it like no movie I’ve seen since “Shrek.” The manner in which people would instantly spew the most hateful, ignorant nonsense in scene after scene was just unbearable, and I wanted to throttle Sandra Bullock’s ridiculously underwritten shrew of a character. Granted, “Brokeback Mountain” is not a perfect movie by any stretch, but I’ll take it over “Crash” any day of the week and twice on Sunday for the sheer fact that it didn’t try to beat me into a coma about what a racist pig I am. Fuck you, Paul Haggis.

Click here to read the rest of Dude, Where’s My Oscar? Bullz-Eye revisits recent Academy Award “mistakes”

  

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