It’s your extremely abbreviated end of the week movie news dump

I’ve got just a little less than an hour to write this up tonight, but let’s see how much we can get through.

* RIP Jill Clayburgh. I’ll have more in remembrance of this very fine actress tomorrow. She passed on from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, an illness she’d been dealing with for more than 20 years.

* This makes me feel a bit old since I remember him before he was President of the United States in “The West Wing” and even before he was a very bad possible future U.S. President in “The Dead Zone,” Martin Sheen will be Peter Parker’s oh-so-doomed old Uncle Ben in the Marc Webb “Spiderman” reboot. Making me feel even a bit older, Sally Field is looking like a likelihood as Aunt May, who was always drawn by artists like Steve Ditko and John Romita as if she were about 99 years old. Of course, these days we mainly see her selling hawking Boniva for bone health, so I guess should just adjust to the new reality that Sister Bertrille (aka “The Flying Nun”)/Sybil/Norma Rae isn’t a baby anymore. And I really do like her. I really do.

* The very interesting, talented, and occasionally irritating (when he writes op-eds about with premises about the impact of movie violence I disagree with) Mike White has been offered the gauntlet of “Pride and Prejudice with Zombies” recently dropped by the equally interesting but more experienced David O. Russell. White is best known as a writer and actor. His most fiscally successful screenplay — in which he also acted — was the terrific “School of Rock.” In quirkier times, he starred in and wrote 2000’s “Chuck and Buck” as well as “The Good Girl.” This will be his second directorial outing, the first being…I don’t remember the name and you don’t either. It’s a bold and interesting choice, I will say that.

* A lot of people thought his “Hot Tub Time Machine” was kind of toxic (others thought it funny; I thought it not seen by me…I’ll get to it someday), so I guess it makes sense that Steve Pink’s next project will apparently be a remake of “The Toxic Avenger.” Gross-out franchise, here he comes.

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* Boy, that Lars von Trier is so f*cking suave.

* AFM, the American Film Market, has been going all week. It’s an event where lots of smaller films find distribution and foreign deals are made. Deadline has some interesting deals today. “The Giant Mechanical Man” might sound like one quirky rom-com too many, but any film with Jenna Fischer and Topher Grace in the lead has my attention. Starting up also is the AFI Film Festival, which I’ll be checking out some over the weekend and there may be some quickie off-the-cuff impressions of the movies there coming from there.

* And finally, I’ve been guilty of ignoring the MGM bankruptcy this week, and I’m writing this directly across the street from the Sony lot, the home of Leo the Lion in his prime and for many years past that. Anyhow, the Wall Street Journal summarizes the situation numerically. Reminding us that, adjusted for inflation, “Gone With the Wind has made $1.6 billion. On the other hand, the studio only had one movie in the top 50 this year. What was it? The aforementioned “Hot Tub Time Machine.”

  

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It’s box office preview time: Carrell and Fey to clash with “Titans”

Tina Fey, Steve Carrell, and Mark Wahlberg commisserate in

Commercially speaking, the premise of Fox’s PG-13 rated “‘Date Night” seems right on the money. NBC Thursday night comedy dream team Steve Carrell and Tina Fey are a married couple with children in a humdrum relationship rut who, through a case of mistaken identity, wind up fleeing from criminals and repeatedly running into a perpetually unshirted Mark Wahlberg and other dangerous obstacles to their peace of mind.

It’s been some time since a true wide appeal mainstream comedy aimed at adults and also possibly younger comedy fans of both genders has hit the theaters. “Hot Tub Time Machine” obviously skews more than a little male and more recent films, like “She’s Out of My League,” are clearly aimed at a somewhat younger demographic. On paper, the thing seems destined to do extremely well with a potential to elicit the three words sweetest to a studio suit’s ear “four quadrant picture.”

Still, not everyone is thriller. Our own Jamey Codding found the movie a lot more entertaining in principle than in reality. Director Shawn Levy of the “Night at the Museum” franchise is getting by far the best reviews of his career over in  Rotten Tomato land, but that is not as impressive as it could be given his rather rotten critical track record and many of the critics seem to be simply praising the considerable comic skills more than the movie as a whole. As for the box office gurus, a solid but not super-dramatic opening somewhere significantly south of $30 million but probably north of $20 million is predicted by the mysterious voices in Jolly Carl DiOrio‘s ear.

Sam Worthing girds his loins for battle in Of course, the comedy faces some fierce battles ahead with more grim-faced previously released films, most especially last weekend’s top picture, Warner’s “Clash of the Titans.” Like many poorly reviewed genre pictures, it’s expected to drop off by as much as 60%. Moreover, the catcalls from a geek-heavy audience made newly picky about 3-D thanks to James Cameron‘s innovations appear to be depressing turn-out at the pricey 3-D screens. Still, even with a really big sophomore drop off, it still has a very good shot a winning a second weekend in a row, though the win could well be as ugly as Medusa herself.

Also debuting this week is a Christian-themed heart-tugger, Vivendi’s  “Letters to God.” It’s somewhere between a large limited release and a very small major release as it will be in just under 900 theaters this weekend, according to the mighty Box Office Mojo theater count. No reviews are out yet to speak of, but I noticed even the Christian user reviews on IMDb are a bit muted, noting that the acting is in a bit better than on prior films from the same team and the movie is “professional.” High praise.

Not to be glib — which is a way of me preparing you for the glibness ahead — but with the usual church-based marketing push, this one should do okay preaching to the converted. I guess, as a secular Jew, I sort of feel like I see an awful lot of essentially Christian movies, they’re just not marketed that way or noticed because about 95% of Americans are actually Christian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Despite an atmospheric and a mega-creepy trailer that I love and strong trio of lead actors — Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, and Justin Long — the death-obsessed, R-rated horror thriller from Anchor Bay, “After.Life,” is leaving the large majority of critics as cold as the grave. With only 41 screens for a film which should have a wide appeal for horror fans, an early demise seems likely for this morbid but apparently non-gory tale. I personally hope Ricci, a terrific actress who I haven’t seen in a while in anything, has better luck soon.

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“How to Train Your Dragon” wins the box office race; “Hot Tub Time Machine” is all wet compared to “Alice”

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Yes, no gigantic surprises as the combination of family appeal, outstanding reviews, good word of mouth, the 3-D inflationary spiral, and a sufficient number of theaters in which to milk it, made for a solid opening for the weekend’s most high profile new release. To be specific, as per Box Office Mojo‘s handy dandy weekend chart, the 3-D animated “How to Train Your Dragon,” netted an estimate of $43.3 million for Dreamworks/Paramount and enjoyed the highest per-screen average of any film released this week on more than one screen, and it was on 4,055 of them. It’s a result not far from what was expected earlier.

Some may find this a slightly below-par opening. True to form in the ever-spinning world of Hollywood PR, some executive for a rival studio complimented the film but told Nikki Finke it tracked badly — and some day I’m going to learn exactly what that means — because it “lacked comedy,” which confuses me deeply. I mean, the trailer made me laugh. I guess he means it lacked a poop-eating joke or something. Anyhow, Ms. Finke is quite correct that, given the good word of mouth and the coming school holidays it should enjoy “good multiples.”

Meanwhile, Anthony D’Alessandro, Anne Thompson’s resident box office guru, has this to add:

While some box office analysts are crying foul that this figure reps a paltry opening weekend, particularly for a 3D film saddled with an estimated $165-million budget, these claims overlook the fact that animation films are a different breed at the box office than run-of-the-mill features.  Toons have longer legs, making anywhere from 30-35% of their total domestic haul in their opening weekend, whereas the average bow reps 50%.

In other words, do not cry for the filmmakers or Dreamworks. They’re going to do fine.

And, though their film is out of the top spot, neither should you shed a tear for Disney or Tim Burton even if “Alice in Wonderland” is out of the #1 spot. They had a terrific three week run at the top spot and this week’s second place estimate of $17.3 million is not too shabby either.

John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Lizzy Caplan, and Clarke Duke suffer past shock in On the other hand, the melancholy clowns of “Hot Tub Time Machine” led by John Cusack, Rob Cordry, the always hilarious Craig Robinson, and Clarke Duke, could perhaps benefit from a bit of sympathy. The comedy from MGM, currently on the auctioneer’s block, earned an estimated $13.65 million.

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Now, if we could only get the dragon into the hot tub…

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We’re getting off to a late start on this week’s box office preview, but it’s not like there’s a huge amount of suspense over what movie will rule the box office this early Spring weekend. Still, it’s not all skittles and beer out there.

America’s theater owners have decided to do a solid for the home entertainment business by trying to take advantage of the current 3-D mania by raising already inflated ticket prices during a still very rough economy/”jobless recovery.” I’m betting that whatever gains the owners see from this will be short term — especially as 3-D films become common as dirt with 3-D retrofits lowering the perception of quality — but that’s a rant for another day. However, one more thing, can someone explain to me how all the major chains increasing their prices over the same weekend doesn’t sound suspiciously like collusion, and if I’m right, how that can be legal?

In any case, the movie which will be generating a rude surprise at the box office for families nationwide is Paramount/Dreamworks digitally animated family fantasy-comedy, “How to Train Your Dragon.” The Hollywood Reporter‘s Greg Kilday is reporting that interest is increasing and as much as $40 million seems possible. Especially considering those extra inflated ticket prices and we know that once the family is at the box office, it’s far too late to turn back, I wouldn’t it expect it to go higher. Moreover, it sounds like people will be getting a dandy movie for their (too much) money. The reviews for this one are darn near Pixar-esque — in other words hugely positive — at least in terms of the Rotten Tomatoes numbers and when that many critics like a mass audience film, believe it not, most people will like it too.

With all due huge respect to Roger Ebert, who is predicting the film will come in at #2 based on his site traffic  (he gave it only the mildest possible positive review and unlike others was not wowed by its 3-D either, it appears), this seems like the closest thing there is to surefire hit. Moreover, my spies in the family world tell me child interest has been high for weeks.

Hot Tub Time Machine
Still, I wouldn’t bet against a healthy showing for the film Mr. Ebert expects to be top new release this week, “Hot Tub Time Machine.” My spies in the middle-aged-overgrown-child-world (primarily: me, myself, I) tell me that interest in this raunchy but (I’m hoping) clever farce with a strong comedy cast and a instantly get-able premise has also been high for some time.

On the other hand, while some may be whispering of a coup along the lines of “The Hangover, my gut tells me it’s simply not the same kind of film and I don’t see this having the same kind of wide appeal. For all its guy-humor, “The Hangover” was a surprisingly sweet-tempered and almost low-key film by modern comedy standards, “Hot Tub Time Machine” seems to be more in the “Harold & Kumar” range of low-comedy that works for (relatively) high IQs. Anyhow, the film benefits from probably better than average reviews for this kind of comedy (62% “Fresh”).  Kilday is talking in the high teens. I suspect it’ll do well and perhaps more than that, but not shockingly so.

In any case, it generated the best RT pull quote I’ve seen in awhile, courtesy of A.O. Scott, who finds an undercurrent of melancholy amidst the low comedy:

It’s fun, it’s sad, and it’s kind of sad that it’s so much fun.

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Midweek movie bits

I’m going to be taking a day off from the blogging grind, but there’s plenty going on this late evening in the world’s cinema capital. Starting with…

* Team Coco, the movie! Okay, it’s a documentary about Conan O’Brien’s upcoming live tour and it’s still only in the “early talks” stage according to Mike Fleming’s exclusive. It’s apparently in compliance with his severance deal, even though most people will probably end up watching it on television sets anyhow.

* Speaking of documentaries and comedy, A.J. Schnack rounds up some of the SXSW reaction to James Franco’s SNL documentary.

* At the risk certainty of being repetitious, speaking of comedies connected to SNL, Pete Sciretta rounds up the SXSW reaction to”MacGruber.” We also have reaction direct from Jason Zingale at the big Austin fest just a few posts below.

* In the wake of the sale of Miramax, go-to producer Scott Rudin is negotiating to leave Disney, writes Claudia Eller.

* Okay, even if I might not be a fan of all the movies, I confess to enjoying the idea of having the stars of past Marvel films recreate their roles in the long-discussed “Avengers” film and Edward Norton appears possibly willing to play along by returning as the Hulk, maybe. Whatever else may be true, Norton is a very interesting guy.

* Does a serious version of the Black Knight sequence from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” sound like your kind of film? If so, Anne Thompson thinks you might like “Centurion.”

* I think all the entertainment reporters should just take the month off and let Mike Fleming do all the reporting of stories like the one that Jeremy Renner may be joining Paul Thomas Anderson’s not-about-Scientology movie which will star Philip Seymour Hoffman as not-L. Ron Hubbard. Though it’s relatively modest $35 million budget may be a bit high for the finance folks at Universal, other backers may have been found.

That’s hardly all. Fleming also brings us the one about “Hit Girl” Chloe Moretz joining the cast of Scorsese’s lastest and that Tobey Maguire confirmed to be playing Bobby Fisher.

And one two more from Mr. Fleming…If you think Spike Lee has been working as much as he should after the success of “Inside Man” and his acclaimed Katrina documentary, you’re apparently not alone. He’s switched agencies.

And, oh yeah, another beefcake “Captain America” potential. At least the names for the female lead have a bit of spark to them, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Keira Knightley or Emily Blunt hanging around a Marvel movie.

* Jeffrey Welles is nutso for “Hot Tub Time Machine,” for what it’s worth.

* I often say that the best movies these days are long-form television. So why shouldn’t Martin Scorsese be getting involved? However, does everything crime and Scorsese oriented have to have Rolling Stones music in the background? Unless I’m misidentifying that anachronistic music in the “Boardwalk Empire,” trailer, I guess it really does. Still, yeah, it is Steve Buscemi’s time to play a big bad boss.

* If it’s not news that Jason Segal will be costarring with muppets, why are we talking about  it? Still, based on his obvious love for puppetry as portrayed in the rather brilliant “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” I think it may turn out okay.

  

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