Weekend box office: Coal in Hollywood’s stocking as “Little Fockers” underperforms and bloated tentpoles tank; Santa smiles on the Coens

Misguided movie populists who say that critics are somehow less relevant than they were 20 years ago and that their reaction in no way tracks the reaction of other human beings should really take a close look at this weekend’s results. It’s an eternal truth that audiences and critics often differ — seeing a lot of movies does tend to make a person somewhat harder to please — but to say that there’s zero correlation between what most critics hate or love and what most audiences members hate or love is not the case. It is true that critics hated, hated, hated this weekend’s #1 film, but that clearly isn’t the entire story.

Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner don't look happyAs I recounted prior to the start of the long Christmas holiday frame last Tuesday, the oracles of the box office were predicting a reaction to “Little Fockers” somewhat in line with the 2004 performance of “Meet the Fockers.” Specifically, the numbers being bandied about were in the $60 or $70 million range for the entire five day period. The total gross instead appears to be roughly $48.3 million for Universal. That is only a couple of million higher than what “Meet the Fockers” earned over a three day period on its Christmas opening in 2004. Remember, movie ticket prices have gone up a few bucks since ’04.

Nikki Finke recounts how the megastar-laden film’s difficult and expensive $100 million production, helmed by the currently luck-challenged Chris Weitz, provided a windfall for Dustin Hoffman and, I understand, allowed him to almost literally phone-in large portions of his performance. Finke estimates that the lastest “Fockers” movie is earning only about 75% of what the prior comedy made. As for the critics, while “Meet the Fockers” left critics unhappy — as opposed to the very well reviewed original smash-hit, “Meet the Parents” — it was a regular success d’estime compared to the woeful reviews of the third film in what critics are praying will remain a trilogy. Strangely enough, this seems to correlate with diminishing returns for the series.

Overall, things weren’t any better, with Sony’s two expensive, poorly reviewed, star-laden turkeys  — “How Do You Know” and “The Tourist — being slaughtered in their second and third weeks, respectively. (To be fair, since it stars literally the two most famous people in the world right now not named “Obama” or “Oprah” or “Palin” or “Assange,” “The Tourist” is doing significantly better than the latest from James Brooks, but both films are money losers right now.) The extremely un-promising and critically derided “Gulliver’s Travels” was all but thrown to the wolves by Fox and its release was delayed until Friday. It opened in 7th place for the weekend with a Lilliputian estimate of $7.2 million.

Anne Thompson notes that this three-day weekend at the movies was 44% lower than last year, and had some choice words on the drop:

Little Fockers repped the widest-appeal offering among the weakest bunch of holiday releases in recent memory. At a time when studios usually try to maximize returns on their strongest pictures, they instead offered audiences a menu of costly, tame, MOR fare—and moviegoers stayed away in droves.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon happily calculate their back-end deals 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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It’s time for midweek movie news

I used to be disgusted, now I try to stay bemused…

* Yes, they weren’t kidding. Ben Stiller and Tom Cruise are teaming up to make a Les Grossman movie, declares Nikki Finke. I try never to prejudge films, and I really did think Cruise was hilarious in “Tropic Thunder.” However, I think writer Michael Bacall, Ben Stiller, and whoever winds up directing really have their work cut out for them in terms of this not turning into some kind of inverted ego-fest (“look at me — I’m willing to act all crazy!”) like what we saw on MTV a few nights back.

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* A new James L. Brooks romantic comedy by any name will probably be worth a look, and maybe better than that.

* It’s always seemed to me that the best part of the guilty pleasure appeal of “Entourage” — aside from Ari, Lloyd, and Johnny Drama, anyway — is the lightning fast pacing that nearly always leaves fans wanting more. Now, producer Mark Wahlberg is determined to give us more in the form of a movie to follow up from the conclusion of the television show. I’m concerned about whether he gets the concept of why you want to always leave an audience wanting more. If not, “Entourage”  could become the male equivalent of “Sex and the City” in theaters as well as the small screen.

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A Chat with Chris O’Dowd (“The IT Crowd”)

You lot over the UK may have been well familiar with “The IT Crowd” for quite some time now, but here the States, we’ve only just recently gotten the opportunity to be introduced to it. First, we had the Independent Film Channel (IFC) to thank, and now MPI Home Video has released Season 1 of the series onto DVD. Actually, there had been talk that the set would be released quite some time ago, but, then, that was back when NBC was still threatening to give us an Americanized version of the show. After those plans were canceled, so was the release of the set…’til now. We had a chance to chat with Chris O’Dowd, who plays Roy on “The IT Crowd,” about his experiences on the show, and we took the opportunity to quiz him a bit about a couple of upcoming film roles, including the re-telling of “Gulliver’s Travels,” starring Jack Black and Jason Segel.

Stay tuned for…

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“Gulliver’s Travels”: still animated, but forgotten no more!

Right about this time last year, Bullz-Eye pulled together a feature entitled “Animated and Forgotten,” where we shined the spotlight on some of our favorite animated films that hadn’t gotten nearly as much love as we thought they deserved. The piece opened with a look at Max and Dave Fleischer’s 1939 take on Jonathan Swift’s “Gullliver’s Travels,” about which our man Bob Westal wrote…

After Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” became the top grossing picture of 1938, Paramount Pictures turned to Disney’s best known competitor, Max Fleischer (animator of the hugely popular Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons) for an animated feature of its own. That was the good news for Fleischer. The bad news was the studio wanted it in less than a year, and “Snow White” had taken three years to complete. Turning to Irish satirist Jonathan Swift’s fantasy classic — which, strangely enough, had already been transformed into a pro-Communist parable by stop-motion animators in the Soviet Union — Max and brother Dave Fleischer discarded their original concept of using Popeye as their Gulliver. Instead, they went with a conventionally heroic characterization, relying on timesaving rotoscopes of actor Sam Parker. (If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, rotoscoping was an animation process invented by Max Fleischer that involved tracing over filmed images.) The rushed production was marked by innumerable problems, including a bitter feud between west coast and east coast animators. While no gunplay resulted from the cartoony clash, it didn’t help the final result. When the film was released at Christmas, critics were unimpressed, but the Fleischer shop’s visual invention and broad comedy was enough to make the film a hit; animated features were still very much a novelty and Paramount’s gamble actually paid off. A follow-up film, the fanciful musical bug fable, “Hoppity Goes to Town” might have done as well. But it was released on Dec. 9, 1941 — two days after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Ouch.

Fortunately for you, however, E1 Entertainment has released “Gulliver’s Travels” on DVD and Blu-ray…and unlike the cheap-ass versions that are regularly popping up in Only-A-Dollar stores, this time it’s been digitally restored and re-mastered. Investigate it a bit more with the widget below:

  

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