Weekend box office: The “Inception” brain caper goes according to plan; “The Sorceror’s Apprentice” gets a swat in the tuchas

Those of us speculating on the possibility of a surprise in either the high or low direction for “Inception” early on Friday (okay, that would mainly be me), have now been silenced by the weekend estimates. They appear to have come down on the highish side of what the professional prognosticators expected, even if some of them were confessing to uncertainty. (Where did I read that? It’s gone now from where I thought I read it but maybe my dreams are being manipulated by a crack team hired by a Japanese billionaire who hates Nikki Finke.)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in So, no, Christopher Nolan’s highly praised but also controversial science-fiction thriller film for Warner Brothers is officially not “too smart” or too not-franchise-associated to be a hit, if an estimated $60.4 million is enough to constitute a hit these days for a $200 million film. It’s also worth noting that it managed this without an artificial boost from inflated 3-D ticket prices. I wonder if some math whizzes out there can compare this to the “disappointing” $77 million opening for “Avatar.” Anthony D’Alessandro points out this is the strongest North American opening ever for a Leonardo DiCaprio-headlined movie, which includes “Titanic.”(That box office stinker only made about $28 million domestically it’s first weekend.)

Still, as always, the question remains “legs” and how the word-of-tweet-facebook update-txt-mouth goes. The L.A. Times reported that the film scored a B+ on Cinemascore, reportedly dividing the audience by age with under 25-ers giving it an A and us oldsters giving it a B-. So are middle-aged filmgoers more discerning or younger ones more open to real genius? (Hey, politically, I tend to agree more with under-25 years olds more than people my own age who mostly loved Ronald Reagan, who I believe peaked in “Storm Warning” with Ginger Rogers.)

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SXSW 2010: Cyrus

As perhaps the most recognizable names behind the mumblecore movement, directors Mark and Jay Duplass have earned a small following over the years with festival favorites like “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead.” Their newest film is a minor departure from the genre that put them on the map, but even though it has the backing of a major studio and features an A-list cast, “Cyrus retains the low-budget, independent spirit of their other movies. Mostly unscripted but not quite mumblecore, “Cyrus” may drive some longtime fans away, but this darkly comical look at the human condition is guaranteed to earn the Duplass brothers an entirely new audience.

John C. Reilly stars as John, a freelance editor who’s still getting over the divorce from his first wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener), even though it’s been seven years since they separated. Jamie is now engaged to her new boyfriend (Matt Walsh), but she’s remained friends with John over the years and invites him to a party one night in order to meet someone new. John begrudgingly agrees, and though the night doesn’t get off to a great start, he’s eventually approached by Molly (Marisa Tomei), a beautiful single who’s totally out of his league. Nevertheless, the two hit it off immediately and start a romance, but when John worries that Molly is hiding something from him, he follows her back home to find that there’s another man in her life – her 21-year-old son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill). Though Cyrus appears friendly enough at first, John soon realizes that the overly-attached mama’s body will do whatever it takes to break them up and keep Molly all to himself.

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It’s a relationship that could have easily come across as creepy if the material didn’t have such a genuine quality to it. Granted, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still hard to swallow at times, but the cast does a pretty good job of not focusing too much on the somewhat taboo nature of their bond by keeping the story flowing – particularly since all the dialogue is improvised. Marisa Tomei is easily the best actor of the bunch, but she’s a little out of her element here, relying mostly on her co-stars to guide her through each scene. John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill, on the other hand, have a real knack for comic improvisation, and it shows in their ability to constantly up the ante. Reilly is solid in his best role in years, delivering a performance that’s both funny and sweet, but it’s Hill’s semi-serious turn as the title character that will likely steal most of the limelight. It’s hardly worth all the fuss (he’s good, but not that good), but it’s still an interesting career move for an actor best known for comedies like “Superbad” and “Knocked Up.”

Even with its marquee talent, “Cyrus” is still very much a Duplass brothers film. Though it’s difficult to gauge how much they actually contributed to the story apart from writing the outline, their fingerprints are all over the final product – particularly the way in which it was shot, as if some of the more intimate moments are being recorded by a third party for some kind of bizarre documentary on Oedipus complex. These dramatic scenes are handled nicely by all involved, but without its dark, comedic undercurrent, “Cyrus” wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable. And if the Duplass brothers can figure out a way to strike this perfect balance between drama and comedy (and to a lesser note, indie and mainstream) in every one of their films, their futures are going to be bright.

  

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While I was out…

If anyone out there has noticed my absence over the last few few days, suffice it to say I’ve been dealing with a family emergency and posting by me may remain a bit sporadic over the next several days. However, I’m hoping to keep things close to normal as, fortunately, things seem to be stabilizing somewhat.

Of course, it just so happens that I’ve been pretty seriously distracted just as Sundance was underway and there’s undoubtedly much I’ve missed. Here are just a few items that have caught my attention.

* Our very own Will Harris has been very much on top of story behind an upcoming television adaptation of work by highly regarded comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis. Now, add to that this revelation from Mike Fleming that another Bendis piece will be one of two vehicles that Zac Efron hopes will help him in his quest to perform a Johnny Depp-like -transition from Tiger Beat-style teen fave to respected A-list actor.

* There’s nothing like a bit of controversy to liven things up at a film festival, and this year Sundance is getting a shot of that from, of all things, an adaptation of a classic fifty-eight year old pulp novel. Michael Winterbottom’s reportedly very faithful version of grimness specialist Jim Thompson’s “The Killer Inside Me” was reportedly all too faithful for some. The film apparently features some very brutal beatings of the women in the life of the sociopathic title character played by Casey Affleck. It probably adds to the shock factor that the victims are played by Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson. The Auteurs and Anne Thompson summarize the issues.

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* On a much lighter note, I take a personal interest in the film “Cyrus” because — back before it even had a name — co-director Mark Duplass discussed it with me right here, when I interviewed him behind his co-starring role in the very funny “Humpday.” The film stars Jonah Hill in what is being touted as something of a breakthrough performance, alongside Marisa Tomei and John C. Reilly. Once again, Anne Thompson is on top of things and has an interview with Mark and his brother Jay, which I promise to watch when I get a moment. (Hey, I haven’t even watched the State of the Union speech yet.)

* I’ve got a solution to this whole question of whether or not we should forgive Mel Gibson. I say everyone who is offended by Mel Gibson’s past statements, etc., should see his movies if they want to, but they should refer to him only as “Sugar Tits.” Indeed, For long as I remember to do it, in these posts, from this point forward, he’ll be Mel “Sugar Tits” Gibson or MSTG, for short. Seems fair to me.

  

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A chat with Mark Duplass of “Humpday”

Mark DuplassMark Duplass, along with Joshua Leonard (“The Blair Witch Project”), is one of the two stars of one of the funniest and just plain nicest movies I’ve seen in awhile. If you haven’t yet read my review, writer-director Lynn Shelton’s Indie Spirit award-nominated “Humpday” is a really funny comedy about two completely heterosexual best friends who become possessed by the idea of making an art-porno in which the two of them take their bromance to its highly illogical extreme.

Duplass may be best known as one half of the film-making Duplass Brothers, who had a big indie/festival hit with “The Puffy Chair,” one of the most acclaimed films in the so-called “mumblecore” movement — improvised, usually comic, films in which no one actually mumbles much but in which the dialogue is largely improvised. While the “mumblecore” tag has become more than a little dated, the Brothers D are currently completing their first movie with big-name stars (specifically, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, and John C. Reilly), which was without a title when this interview was conducted but we’ve just learned via Anne Thompson is going to be named “Cyrus.”

“Humpday” technically could be considered mumblecore because, while it was for the most part tightly plotted, the dialogue was improvised. It’s a technique Duplass was clearly comfortable with as he has acted in the films he has been making with his brother, Jay Duplass, for over a decade, as well as in such other ‘core hits as “Hannah Takes the Stairs.” We caught up with Mark via phone a bit early in the day (my time), one recent Friday morning…

PH: Just before I saw “Humpday,” I reviewed the DVD of “The Odd Couple.” I was just thinking, now that you’ve had time to think about the movie and everything, and we have this recently coined word “bromance,” which this movie obviously deals with – how do you think “Humpday” fits in with all these other movies that have been out there?

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