This Weekend’s Box Office: A Test of Star Power (Updated)

I’m trying to get out of the house this evening for a change, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I jump the gun slightly on this week’s b.o. preview. That means we won’t be hearing from Bullz-Eye critics this week or some of my other usual suspects, though updates are not impossible if something earth shattering grabs my attention.

Anyhow, we’ve got an interesting weekend shaping up as two superstar vehicles, starring a total of three veteran megastars, do battle with yet another ultra-powerful Pixar/Disney feature, “Up,” and a genuine sleeper, “The Hangover.” In fact, the modest, no-star, R-rated comedy surprised almost everyone last week by narrowly defeating the wildly popular PG Pixar film.

The HangoverAs the Hollywood Reporter‘s Carl DiOrio reminds us, the well-received comedy did about twice as well as it was expected to do (and it was already expected to do quite well), grabbing $45 million on its opening weekend and additionally doing strong business during the week, when some of us adults decide to hit the movies. Variety says largely the same thing.

Still, there is one potential powerhouse this week in what, again per DiOrio, turns out to be the third version of the NYC subway thriller, “The Taking of Pelham 123,” first seen in 1974 with Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, and then again in a 1998 TV movie with Edward James Olmos and Vincent D’Onofrio. This a fifty-something superstar two-for-one package in which Denzel Washington’s transit nerd will face off against badass hijacker John Travolta, backed up by a very strong supporting cast led by James Gandolfini, who seems to be getting the best reviews of anyone connected with the film.

Indeed, the critical consensus on this one is not especially kind, perhaps hurt by the recent resurgence of interest/respect for the original film by those of us in the Filmgeek-American community. Critics can’t help comparing it to the compelling and blackly humorous original. The Onion‘s always interesting Nathan Rabin has hard words for “L.A. Confidential” screenwriter Brian Helgeland (stepping into the shoes of Peter Stone, one of the wittiest screen-scribes of his day), hyper-maximalist director Tony Scott, and especially the former Vinnie Barbarino:

John Travolta’s wildly successful post-comeback crusade to become synonymous with crap continues with…Tony Scott’s bracingly awful remake/desecration of the classic ‘70s thriller. The miscalculations begin with Travolta’s distractingly Tetris-shaped facial hair—long rectangular sideburns paired with a geometric Fu Manchu—and extend to every facet of the production. Cursed with following in the outsized footsteps of world-class heavy Robert Shaw, Travolta devours the scenery; his performance is 0% inspiration, 100% perspiration.

Nevertheless, a picture like this is not made or broken by reviews, though word of mouth (or word of Blackberry and text message or cell phone) is another story. It’s expected to do well, and possibly hit the #2 spot, but I wouldn’t bet on it doing any better.  On the other hand, it’s got Denzel Washington, who should never be discounted. (And, for pity’s sake, read my new Bullz-Eye feature on the actor’s back catalog: “Washington Insiders.” Plug, plug, plug.)

Expectations are more modest for a new family vehicle for Eddie Murphy from Nickelodeon, “Imagine That.” The film pairs Murphy in a comedic father-daughter situation with young Yara Shahidi. Between a rather soft premise and that Nickelodeon imprimatur, especially with a sub-meh 36% on RT, it’s hard to imagine this one having much appeal outside of pre-tween girls, die-hard Eddie fans, and families who’ve already seen “Up” five times. Still, the family mojo is always good for something. Let’s see if our nation’s dutiful parents push this one into the top five or six… [Update: I also note, via our own now-linked to review by David Medsker, that the premise is somewhat simliar to both “Up” (which I haven’t seen yet) and the Adam Sandler vehicle “Bedtime Stories” (which I will likely never see, not matter how accurate Dave is when he says that Keri Russell “oozes cuteness”…if she oozes anything, that would be it). Though Dave has some mild kind words for the Murphy film, I don’t think that it helps with its’ appeal much, either.]

That’s pretty much it except for three interesting films in limited release. For starters, we have a well-reviewed (though not ecstatically so), moody science fiction film called “Moon” from Duncan Jones — who can’t escape being David Bowie‘s son — with Sam Rockwell as a cloned astronaut and Kevin Spacey as the voice of a HAL-9000/Marvin-the-Paranoid-Android-esque ship’s computer. Film geeks will also be curious about a new film from filmic godfather Francis Ford Coppola, “Tetro” which has been getting a mixed response. (Currently 50% at RT — that’s pretty precisely mixed.) It’s opening just on the coasts.

It’s also only opening in L.A. and New York, but look to be hearing more about the new RT 95 percenter documentary “Food, Inc.“, on the hot topic of the politics of what we’re all eating, as the year wears on. It’s also got a great trailer — the notional tomatoes are on me.

  

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Anna Chlumsky is all grown up and “In the Loop”

Anna ChlumskyHey, what the hell has former “My Girl” star Anna Chlumsky been up to for the last 15 years? Judging from the just-released trailer for “In the Loop,” she’s been getting ready to star in a political comedy opposite James Gandolfini — which really isn’t as strange a prospect as it might seem.

Headed for theatrical release on July 24th, “In the Loop” is described in its official synopsis as “a smart comedy with razor-sharp, truly laugh-out-loud dialogue that pokes fun at the absurdity and ineptitude of our highest leaders. With everyone looking out for number one, and the fate of the free world at stake (but apparently incidental), the hilarious ensemble cast of characters bumbles its way through Machiavellian political dealings, across continents, and toward comic resolutions that are unforeseeable.” Ready to see more? Watch the trailer below!

IN THE LOOP Trailer Premiere Starring James Gandolfini – watch more funny videos
  

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“We decapitate and do business with whatever’s left”

The Sopranos Sil

There’s a part of me that doesn’t even want to blog about this episode. I don’t want to ruin it. I don’t want to overanalyze it. I don’t want to pick it apart. It was a brilliant 50-plus minutes of television, setting things up for what looks to be one helluva memorable finale next week, and that’s really all that needs to be said. The episode speaks for itself.

But what kind of blog would this be if we didn’t actually blog? So let’s start by saying: Here we go. Seems the bloody, shoot-em-up ending that so many viewers wanted has come to be. That early scene with Phil and his two cronies was one of the best scenes of the season, maybe the series. “The Sopranos are nothing more than a glorified crew,” Phil says, quoting Carmine. “We decapitate and do business with whatever’s left.” Seems Phil doesn’t think all that much of his NJ counterparts, or at least, that’s what I gathered when he called them a “Pigmy tribe.” He wants the top three guys gone: Sil, Bobby and, of course, Tony.

A couple of interesting notes here, the first coming from one of the guys from the NY group. Bobby is Tony’s #3. We’ve kinda known it for a while but, as the NY guy pointed out, Bobby used to be Junior’s driver. Then he marries Janice and a couple years later he’s T’s #3? That always seemed strange to me. Turns out they promote everybody, as Phil says, and Bobby’s a very large piece of evidence. But would Bobby be in that position if Chris had still been around? Probably not. Or, at least, you can bet Phil would’ve made Chris a priority over Bobby because he understood that Chris would’ve hurt T more. But Tony gives Chris a friendly push toward his dirt nap a few episodes ago and poor Bobby pays for it. In a hobby store buying an $8,000 train, no less.

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“Where did I lose this kid?”

Jamey is on a much-deserved vacation this week, so he asked me to step in and cover the blog. I’ll do my best to fill his considerable shoes.

I was hoping for a barnburner tonight, the kind of episode where the blog would pretty much write itself, but instead a good 35-40 minutes were devoted to AJ, my least favorite character on the show (save for Livia, but she’s been gone a while now). Normally, he’s just a whiny, spoiled kid, but now that he’s doing some of that fancy book learnin’, he’s a whiny, spoiled, depressed kid. Tony’s reaction to AJ’s spiel about the virus spray on the meat underlined his own inner conflict about his son’s future. On one hand, he has always said he doesn’t want AJ to turn out like him, but when the kid tries to branch out, he threatens to put his head through the wall.

“Twenty years, he won’t crack a book. All of a sudden he’s the world’s foremost authority.”

AJ Soprano suicideDid anyone really think that AJ’s suicide attempt would be successful? Since we lost Chris last week, the odds were against another main character dying so quickly, and honestly, AJ hasn’t been able to follow through on anything. Once the cement block hit the pool floor, he freaked out, and it looked for a moment that he might somehow die accidentally at his own suicide attempt. Tony’s just-in-time arrival made for a very powerful scene. It’s obvious that he loves his kid, but at the same time AJ’s troubles are a giant pain in his ass, both at home and on the job.

How will the suicide attempt affect Tony’s work? It can only be seen as another sign of weakness (in what has become a pretty long line). Pauley’s take was priceless:

“Ask me, it’s all these toxins they’re exposed to. It fucks with their brains. Between the mercury in the fish alone it’s a wonder more kids aren’t jumping off bridges.”

Between the mercury in the fish alone“? Fucking Pauley is fantastic.

Tony talks to Melfi about the suicide attempt and she suggests that it might have been a cry for help – that subconsciously he knew that the rope was too long to keep him submerged. Tony’s reply was classic:

“Or he could just be a fucking idiot. Historically, that’s been the case.”

Regardless, Tony understands that his cursed genes have a large part to do with AJ’s troubles, so he’s empathetic to a certain point, but that doesn’t stop him from getting into it with Carmella once AJ is committed. Is it just me or does it seem like their marriage is once again holding on by a thread? I had to laugh when Tony gave her a watch (out of guilt?) after he took care of Chris’ “business affairs” in Las Vegas. Business, Carm? You sure are a trusting soul. (Or more likely, you’d simply prefer not to think about it.)

Later, in therapy, Tony starts talking about how mothers are buses and all we want to do as children is get back on the bus, but it can never happen. After Melfi says that the theory is insightful, Tony quips, “Jesus, don’t act so surprised.” It’s clear that Tony wants Carmella to accept some of the blame for how his son turned out, and this might be his way of disowning the kid. When Melfi asks if he’s ashamed of AJ, Tony replies, “Yeah, I am. Coward’s way out, right?”

Aside from this week’s depressing depression, the brewing conflict between Tony and Phil finally kicked into high gear. Once Phil rejected Tony’s asbestos-related offer, it led to T pulling a couple of jobs that were designated for Phil’s men and then to that idiot Coco accosting Meadow while she was having dessert in Little Italy. It was funny to watch Tony try to calm his daughter and wife down when you just knew that underneath the surface his blood was boiling and that Coco was about to get one serious beatdown. I wasn’t expecting Tony to go all “American History X” in the restaurant, but it was even more surprising that Coco survived the attack.

It’s clear now that Carmine’s failed peace accord will lead to further escalation, though I think his line to T – “you’re at the precipice of an enormous crossroad” – had more than one meaning. It was strange to hear Phil spouting his obscenities from the safety of his ivory tower. It’s doubtful that he’d be so bold if he were standing face to face with Tony, but even so, you could see from the look in T’s eyes that there is no going back.

With just two episodes left, there are still a number of unanswered questions: Will Tony once again hear from the two suspected terrorists? Will AJ’s stint in the hospital do anything for his outlook on life? Will Tony continue on his existential journey and finally find happiness? Will his marriage survive? And most importantly, will he survive the coming war with Phil?

Game on.

  

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Another one bites the dust

The Sopranos Chris

Well…I guess Chris wound up flipping after all.

Okay, I know – bad taste. But come on, how else would I lead this blog entry off? There have been plenty of shocking moments in TV history, but I was utterly speechless for a good five minutes tonight after Tony suffocated Chris following their car accident. The buildup surrounding Chris’ character in general and his relationship with Tony in particular had been going on for years, and it accelerated the past few episodes, so to see it all end like that was…to be honest…a little disappointing. Sure, it’s one of the biggest moments in the show’s history, but with everything that had been going on – the tension between T and Chris, the possibility that Chris was going to talk to the feds, Carmella suspecting Chris of killing Adrianna, and the ongoing feud between Chris and Paulie – this was just about the most anticlimactic way to wrap up his arc. I thought somehow, some way, that Chris was going to be right in the middle of whatever went down in the final moments of the series, but that’s obviously not the case now. Bummer.

At first, I couldn’t tell why Tony killed Chris…or helped him die, if you prefer to look at it that way. Did he think he was doing Chris a favor since he was high and would therefore lose his license? Well, I suppose it’d be better to be alive and without wheels than six feet under, so probably not. Did he think Chris was a goner anyway? He sure was messed up, coughing up blood and barely able to keep his eyes open, so that may very well have had something to do with it. But the overriding factor, we later learned, was that Tony just wanted Chris dead. And this way he didn’t even have to do the dirty work. Hell, he didn’t even need to plan anything or set it all up; just hold the guy’s nose for a few seconds and let him choke on his own blood. Problem solved.

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