Warners gives “Potter” fans extras actually worth watching

Poring through bonus features to DVDs may sound like easy work, but it gets pretty tedious after a while. We get it, you’ve just made the greatest movie of all time. Now please get in line with everyone else, because so did they.

Props, then, to the people behind the “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” for coming up with a slew of extras that will be fun for the kids and give their parents something to chew on as well. Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom) and Alfie Enouch (Dean Thomas) host a series of clips where the child actors meet with various behind-the-scenes personnel, discussing editing, makeup, costumes, special effects, and even owl training. Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), meanwhile, plays a fun game called “What’s on Your Mind?” with the cast, asking questions about their favorite food, people and places. It’s completely fluffy and light, but fun.

There are several deleted scenes, including one involving clouds gathering over Hogwarts that should have made the final cut. On the self-promotion front, there is a featurette dedicated to the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Islands of Adventure in Orlando. The biggest surprise, though, is the 50-minute film (!) “J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life,” a rather sobering documentary about her upbringing and the parallels between her life and the Potter universe. Good stuff, Warners.

  

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Is the “Funny People” box office take half full or half empty?

Like so many things in life, the meaning of the weekend gross for the Judd Apatow/Adam Sandler “serious comedy,” “Funny People,” is a matter of perspective. On the more cheerful side, we have the trades, which typically enough are accentuating the positive, noting that the somewhat risky project, at least by modern mainstream film standards, was actually #1 at the box office, even if the amount it took the lead by was less than mega-spectacular.

The Hollywood Reporter (actually the AP as carried by THR) thinks that Judd Apatow is living in the best of all possible box office worlds:

Movie audiences have taken a liking to Adam Sandler’s more serious side…[“Funny People”] grabbed the top spot at the weekend boxoffice with a $23.4 million debut.

Variety takes a more measured, but still somewhat upbeat, tone:

Adam Sandler’s “Funny People” has topped a moderate weekend box office with $23.4 million at 3,008 playdates.

Nikki Finke, however, has a different way of seeing things. Here’s her headline:

‘Funny People’ No Laughing Matter; Opens To Lousy $8.6M Fri And Worse $7.4M Sat For Disappointing $23.4M Weekend

La Finke goes on to point out that Universal has been lowering expectations from Sandler’s usual $30-$40 million openers to a more modest $25 million, and fell a bit short of that.

Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, and Adam Sandler kvetch over turkey It really does come down to your frame of reference. In my weekend preview post, I mentioned the Sally Field/Tom Hanks starring “Punchline,” which I think is a better point of comparison than any particular Apatow or Adam Sandler film, including 2002’s “Punch-Drunk Love,” simply because of the subject matter, the more-serious-than-you-might-expect approach, and the level of star power. That movie got similarly mixed reviews but was one of 1988’s lowest grossing films, despite the presence of two bankable stars. Two small differences: one had laughs, the other doesn’t, and Sally Field was not ever thought of as a great comedian, “The Flying Nun” notwithstanding.

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Harry Potter and the rodents of surprising popularity

I’m still very much at at Comic-Con so I’m going to be keeping this one simple.

As usual, my Thursday preview was wrong, wrong, wrong.  “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” only managed an estimated $30 million, somewhat below the $31 million Carl DiOrio suggested as a kind of “floor.”

Meanwhile, the poorly reviewed but family-friendly guinea pigs of “G-Force” showed extra strength and became the highest grossing film with a weekend take of somewhere in the neighborhood of $32.2  million. That marks a new success for producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who certainly has a history of high profitability, medium-to-low quality hits like the “Pirates of the Carribbean” and the “CSI” franchise, to name only two of the more recent examples.

Harry and Hermione ponder the impermanence of the #1 spotIt’s possible that the progression of the Potter story arc makes the films extremely safe bets but somewhat self-limiting to those who are not up to speed on the Potter epic. I hope it isn’t true that stronger than usual reviews somehow damage the sixth Potter film. Still, the news wasn’t all bad for the kid from Hogwarts, as the latest chapter in the story did win the international derby with $84.4 million.

The number 3 spot went to the film that many thought would take second. The R-rated rom-com, “The Ugly Truth,” seduced enough audience members to earn an estimated $27 million, which is not bad at all. “Orphan,” however, turned out to be the red-headed stepchild at the nation’s cinemas with a relatively forlorn $12.8 million, making it a somewhat disappointing weekend for movies involving young people from Warner Brothers.

  

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“The Ugly Truth” is that no one will beat “Harry”

A slightly rushed Comic-Con box office preview….

This week sees the release of three movies with a certain degree of box office potential, middling-to-awful reviews, and little hope of outdoing the projected $31 million-floor for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” The most likely runner-up, says THR‘s Carl DiOrio, is “The Ugly Truth,” which got a facially challenged 08% “fresh” rating from Rotten Tomatoes. DiOrio says the tracking augers about $20 million worth for the R-rated comedy featuring beefcake Gerard Butler and beauty Katherine Heigl.

Guinea PigAlso hitting theaters is the 3-D CGI animated “G-Force,” a critically derided action-comedy focusing on what Jason Zingale terms “the goldfish of the rodent world.” This one, of course, has the benefit of family appeal, and 3-D doesn’t seem to be hurting movies these days. Variety is calling $20-30 million, and I personally wouldn’t be surprised to see either a photo finish or a minor upset here with “The Ugly Truth.”

Orphan” has aroused some minor controversy and outright disdain with its horror variation on the old “Bad Seed” storyline, but apparently its tracking (whatever that is, I’m still trying to figure) isn’t showing all that strongly. Ironically. This is actually by far the best reviewed of the three new releases, with a not-even-close-to-steller 50% “fresh” RT rating. Everything is relative.

Finally, a couple of smaller films are continuing to gradually grow wider as they show some promise of breaking through. Kathryn Bigelow’s highly acclaimed and buzz-heavy “The Hurt Locker” continues to roll on to what I’m guessing is a more than possible “Best Picture” nomination given the doubled number of slots this year. “(500) Days of Summer” is already experiencing what may be the start of a small critical backlash, which is seemingly inevitable with successful indie comedies. Given the track record of “Juno,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” etc., this is probably a good sign, commercially speaking.

  

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The geek overload continues! (updated)

With the completely and utterly sold-out Comic-Con starting mid-week, Hollywood publicists seem to be working overtime to fulfill your no doubt insatiable need for geek news. I could probably write seven or eight posts catering to nerd proclivities. But you’re getting just one today, (and, with the help of few snafus, this one took much longer than it should have). A few highlights

* Leonardo DiCaprio’s company has signed writer Rand Ravich (“The Astronaut’s Wife,” the TV series “Life”) to do a new film somehow tied to Rod Serling’s classic anthology science-fiction/fantasy TV series, “The Twilight Zone.” Many of you will remember the 1983 film, which utilized multiple writers and directors and consisted of three adaptations of well known episodes from the original series, one tale loosely drawn from a pair of episodes (sadly infamous due to the accident which killed actor Vic Morrow and two illegally hired children, very nearly ending the career of director John Landis), and a framing story featuring Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd. No word on what form this new film would take — a single tale would be missing the entire point of “The Twilight Zone,” IMO — and I’m unfamiliar with Ravich’s work. So, it’ll be interesting to watch this one move further along the pipeline.

[Update: Apparently, one year ago at least, the idea was to make a single film drawn from an episode of the series. Why, I have no idea. I learned this via Monika Bartyzel, you can read her post and my messed up comments here.

* The word on the overseas grosses for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” are in and they’re a new worldwide five day record of $297 million. Blimey.

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