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Box Office Preview: The Movie that Shall Remain “Nameless here for evermore,” Jason Statham, Pirates! and the next Apatow/Stoller/Segel Comedy

The Raven

Let’s just get this out of the way, this movie looks like shit, which is unfortunate given some of the names involved. “The Raven” was directed by James McTeigue, who was an assistant director for the “Matrix” trilogy before making his directorial debut with “V for Vendetta” in 2006. The cast includes Brendan Gleeson (“Braveheart,” “Gangs of New York,” “Harry Potter”), and stars John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe.

Poe’s death is shrouded in mystery, so the filmmakers took more than a few creative liberties in this fictionalized account of the writer’s last days. When a serial killer begins using his work as the inspiration for a series of gruesome murders, police enlist Poe to help bring the assailant to justice.

Reviews have been bad, hovering around 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and not without reason. Edgar Allan Poe was a fascinating human being. In 1836, at age 27, he married his 13 year-old first cousin. The man was a great many things: author, poet, alcoholic, opium addict, and the inventor of detective fiction. He uneqivocally was not an action hero or some macabre version of Sherlock Holmes. With such an intriguing life story, there was no reason to make him into such.

“The Raven” is the 241st film or television adaptation of Poe’s work. That leaves you 240 options that might not be garbage, so pick one of those. Or, better yet, pick up some of his written work, which is in the public domain (that means it’s free).

Safe

In “Safe,” Jason Statham plays Luke Wright, “the Big Apple’s hardest cop, once up on a time.” Now, he’s a a second-rate cage fighter who drives fast, kicks ass, and always has a wry one-liner up his sleeve. That is, Jason Statham plays Jason Statham doing Jason Statham things, only he’s got an American accent (sort of). In this case, his excuse for coating the streets in blood is protecting a 12-year-old Chinese girl who’s memorized a valuable code from some Russian mobsters. Purely by coincidence, they’re the same Russian mobsters who murdered his wife.

“Safe” couldn’t have a more appropriate title. It’s another formulaic Statham action movie that’s split critics right down the middle because even though you know what’s going to happen, you can’t help but be entertained. Perhaps Aaron Hillis of The Village Voice put it best: “Safe” is a “preposterously enjoyable—or enjoyably preposterous—action-thriller.”

If “Safe” is your style, go and enjoy it, you’ll get no argument from me. But since you already know the endings anyway, you might as well rent “Snatch” or “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels” instead.

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Midweek movie news of the world

I’m getting a very, very late start tonight/this morning so let’s see how efficient and brief I can be. Also, we’ll see how many utterly huge stories I’ll miss.

Mark Ruffalo in *  I suppose the big news today is that it really appears as if there’s already an Edward Norton replacement after his departure as the Hulk from “The Avengers” was egregiously mishandled by Marvel’s Kevin Feige. The choice appears to not be Joaquin Phoenix but the first-rate, not nearly famous enough Mark Ruffalo. He is the deceptively low-key actor I’ve been rooting for since catching him in “You Can Count On Me” back in 2000. (It was my favorite movie of that year and also made me a life-long fan of Laura Linney.) Ruffalo is currently in the year’s probable indie-smash, “The Kids Are Alright.” As sussed out from various reports by Kevin Jagernauth of the Playlist, it appears he’s still in some pretty serious negotiations that are not yet really anything like a done deal. He’s a shrewd choice for Marvel and this would be a good way to salvage a thoroughly unfortunate situation.

* Joaquin Phoenix might not be the Hulk, but the probable mockumentary (or not) about him made by his brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, has been picked up by Magnolia. I’m not looking forward to the already infamous “Cleveland steamer” scene. Just FYI, much as I admire John Waters, “Pink Flamingos” is on my short “never see” list, but that infamous final scene is a lot worse, I suppose. I get ill just thinking about it.

* The fascinating outlandish career of arthouse poet turned stoner-action-comedy specialist David Gordon Green may take another fascinating turn if he really does remake Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” — which, I somehow managed to sit through some fifteen years or so back despite my squeamish/scaredy cat ways, because, among other reasons, it’s so freaking beautiful. Also, I’ve always had the hots for Jessica Harper.

Suspiria4

* If you want to know who the best, most essential, and most thoughtfully cinephilish bloggers and blogs are, check out the terrific blogroll from the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Congrats to my old bloggy compadres Dennis Cozzalio, Kimberly Lindbergs, Farran Smith Nehme, and Greg Ferrera, among others, for making the prestigious list.

* Nathaniel Rogers didn’t get a mention, though he certainly deserves it. The openly actresexual blogger did, however, get a very nice interview with his idol, Julianne Moore, who I kind of idolize myself. More congratulations are in order.

* I suspect that those old Steve Reeves Hercules movies will wind up being a lot more watchable than whatever Brett Ratner makes of the mythical strongman. I’m sure he can’t top the Disney animated film, even if it wasn’t the greatest of the studio’s nineties animation output. Cue the “do you like to watch gladiator movies”  jokes.

* If you’re wondering why the post two posts below this one has no video, here’s why. Somebody let me know if there’s a new version up, since the whole thing is a bit of a legalish technicality.

* Note to my friend, Zayne: Yeah, I missed this reconstruction of a lost ultra-obscure exploitation gangster film tonight about kidnapping the Pope (and asking for a $1.00 from every Catholic in the world — though  these days I doubt they’d pony up). I’m therefore bummed.

* Alison Nastasi has an interesting response to a fairly thoughtful rant by Dustin Rowles on the controversy around the new cover art for the remake of another film on my probably never-see list, “I Spit On Your Grave.” The poster is obviously in horrible taste, but isn’t that kind of the point?

* Now that a fourth tape is out, I wonder if Mel Gibson will get the message and give up the drunk dialing.

* I’m confused. If the planned film with Jeremy Piven and Thomas Jane is in any way actually closely modeled on John Cassavettes’ “Husbands,’” as director Mark Pellington seems to say, then I don’t think it should be called a “thriller.”

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The Cove

I might be a liberal native Californian, but I’m no vegan and no fan of the animal rights absolutists at PETA. On the other hand, I make an exception when it comes to eating or capturing animals that might be self-aware. “The Cove,” from National Geographic photographer and first-time director Louie Psihoyos, exposes a crime that is arguably the moral equivalent of genocide, but that’s only the beginning. This likely documentary Oscar nominee chronicles the efforts of a diverse group of activists, including onetime “Flipper” trainer Rick O’Barry, to videotape the secret mass killing of dolphins by Japanese fishing interests. Much has been made of the “caper” aspects of “The Cove” in chronicling how the footage was illegally obtained. It’s strengths, however, lie in the clear line it draws between the slaughter of animals who might be our intellectual equals — there but for the lack of an opposable thumb go we — and the ecological horror behind it. The dolphins are not being killed primarily for their meat, which is so mercury laden you’d be far better off consuming Jeremy Piven, but was nevertheless criminally forced on local schoolchildren. The true motive for the crime turns out to be to eliminate a competitor for the dwindling supplies of seafood, a key source of our increasingly hungry world’s supply of protein. Despite all this, the dolphin is not yet an official endangered species, but then, neither are we.

Click to buy “The Cove”

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The Goods

You know that a movie isn’t very good when the studio comes running to you with an interview opportunity after opening weekend (speaking of which, check out Will Harris’ chat with producer Adam McKay), but although “The Goods” may not be very funny, it’s still a better-than-expected comedy thanks to its ensemble cast. Jeremy Piven stars as Don Ready, a smooth-talking car salesman who’s made a living by conning his way to the next big sale. But when his traveling team of liquidating specialists (including Ving Rhames, David Koechner and Kathryn Hahn) is hired to save a flailing dealership by selling every car on the lot, Don discovers that the job might be too big even for him. Though the idea is ripe for some pretty funny material, the story feels a little too safe compared to the crude humor that appears throughout. Thankfully, director Neal Brennan is completely unforgiving of the film’s vulgar tone, and it ends up working to its benefit. Piven’s confident, fast-talking schtick is tailor-made for the lead role, but it’s character actors likes Ken Jeong, Rob Riggle (playing a 10-year-old boy with a pituitary disorder), and Craig Robinson who end up stealing the show. “The Goods” isn’t for everyone, but for fans of the comedians involved, it’s probably worth checking out.

Click to buy “The Goods”

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Entourage 6.12 – Give a Little Bit

After five seasons, “Entourage” finally lived up to its name this fall. While E, Turtle and Drama each enjoyed meatier storylines than normal this season, Vince’s role in the proceedings essentially amounted to an imaginary stalker and a random fuck scene of the week. But Vince’s marginalized contributions led to one of the strongest seasons of “Entourage” in a long time, culminating in one hell of a finale tonight.

Let’s hit the main arcs from least to most interesting, beginning with the saga of Turtle and Jamie-Lynn. I recently wrote in a comment on a different episode that Turtle’s UCLA co-ed was hotter than Jamie-Lynn, and I saw nothing tonight to make me alter that stance. I mean…good, GOD. And while it was nice to see Turtle resist her advances in the name of true love, I’m fairly confident that scene would have played out far differently in real life. Girls like that don’t get turned down that often, not by guys like Turtle, and especially not when they’re wearing outfits like that. I found it hilarious that they didn’t even bother to completely shut the vertical blinds in the room, but the topper was when Turtle offered his condolences for leaving after getting her worked up by asking, “You want me to go down on you or something?” Hey, Turtle is nothing if not generous. He’s also single now, after getting dumped right before his plane to New Zealand took off. May as well hop on over to Rome then, right?

I’ll lump Drama and Vince together here, if only because Vince’s auxiliary storyline couldn’t carry a paragraph by itself. Who would’ve thought that Turtle of all people would inspire Drama to figure out what’s truly important to him? You knew he wasn’t going to give up acting for good, but would he change his mind before the credits rolled tonight? Would it be too late? Turns out he killed at his “Melrose Place” audition but the network wants to go younger with the cast. I’ve got to say that the thought of building a show around Drama makes me chuckle. I just hope we get to see some of it next season. Of course, even better is that now Drama is free to go to Italy with Vince. Ah, but not before Matt Damon and his buddy LeBron James (um…what was with the glasses, LBJ?) railroad Vince into giving a bunch of hungry children $150,000. Actually, there were three great cameos tonight, if you include Bono showing up on Damon’s laptop. There were several classic lines in tonight’s episode, but one of the finest was when Damon bullied Drama into handing the phone to Vince. “Sorry, he Jason Bourne’d me,” Drama explained to Vince. Sounds reasonable to me.

I was tempted to rank Drama ahead of E but that would be underestimating just how shocked I was when E proposed to Sloan. In hindsight, maybe I should have expected it – I mean, what was so special about a lunch date at a restaurant the two of them used to go to? – but right up until E mentioned making a commitment to Sloan, I was oblivious. It was actually a pretty cool scene, capped by Sloan’s very believable reaction to the proposal. I feel almost embarrassed about the fact that I thought it was even remotely possible that they’d leave us hanging on Sloan’s answer until next season. I can’t remember an “Entourage” finale that didn’t have all the loose threads sewn up by the end of the episode, and tonight was certainly no different.

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Adam McKay has “The Goods”

You may not know Adam McKay by name, but you’ve almost certainly seen his work: the former “Saturday Night Live” writer has been virtually inseperable from Will Ferrell since the latter ankled “SNL” for a future in feature films, directing such comedy classics as “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights,” and “Step Brothers.” And that isn’t all — McKay and Ferrell’s production company, Gary Sanchez Productions, is responsible for a long list of films and television shows, including “Eastbound and Down,” “The Foot Fist Way,” and, most recently, “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.” It’s that last project that has McKay making the publicity rounds these days, discussing the Sanchez-produced, Jeremy Piven-led comedy about a legendary car salesman.

Of course, with a resume — and list of upcoming projects — as intriguing as McKay’s, “The Goods” isn’t the only thing worth talking about, and during his recent chat with McKay, Bullz-Eye’s Will Harris made sure to pick his brain about a variety of topics, from how he and Ferrell met to the second season of “Eastbound and Down” to that oft-rumored “Anchorman” sequel. Which, McKay tells us, will happen…eventually:

We have a very clear idea for it, we want to do it, and we’ve talked to everyone, and everyone has said that they’re in, but everyone has schedules. Sadly, the second part after I say, ‘We’ll do it,’ is that it could be two or three years away.

With eight more episodes of “Eastbound and Down” on the way, it’s only natural to wonder how much McKay can spill about where the next season will take us — and just as natural for McKay to play it close to the vest:

Let’s see if I can give a clue without wrecking anything. I’d say the question for this season is, “Will Kenny return?” I don’t know, I don’t want to say anything. I don’t want to wreck it, because they have some cool ideas.

And that’s just scratching the surface of the interview. To read about McKay’s thoughts on the “SNL” years, his feelings about the impending DVD release of “You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush,” what to expect from Jon Heder’s upcoming sitcom, and more, click on the image above or follow this link!

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Adam McKay talks “The Goods,” “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”

Anyone who’s a fan of Will Ferrell’s work will recognize the name of Adam McKay. The two have been in cahoots virtually since the day they met…which, as it happens, was the day they were both hired for “Saturday Night Live” (along with David Koechner, Cheri Oteri, and writer Tom Gianis)…and they’ve turned their collaboration on sketches like “Neil Diamond: Storytellers” and the ongoing saga of Bill Brasky into an partnership which has found McKay directing Ferrell in “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights,” and “Step Brothers.” It’s also led to a successful production company – Gary Sanchez Productions – which has brought us HBO’s “Eastbound and Down,” “The Foot Fist Way,” and, most recently, the used-car comedy, “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.”

“The Goods” was kinda sorta buried at the box office by the competition, but Roger Ebert describes it as a “cheerfully energetically and very vulgar comedy,” adding, “If you’re okay with that, you may be okay with this film, which contains a lot of laughs and has studied Political Correctness only enough to make a list of groups to offend.” Hey, sounds good to me…and although McKay was doing the press rounds this week in what one presumes was an attempt by Paramount to kick up the buzz for the film a little more, he seems pretty comfortable no matter what the resulting numbers are this weekend.

“Regardless, we’re either gonna be a small little box office surprise or we’re gonna be a cult cable hit,” he said, with a laugh. “It’ll be one way or the other. But it certainly makes us laugh, so we’re happy about that.”

Producer Kevin Messick came to McKay and Ferrell with the script for “The Goods” with star Jeremy Piven already attached, and after giving it a read, McKay couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about the actor’s involvement.

“Oh, my God, if there’s ever a role that you’re going to have him play coming off the success he’s had as Ari Gold (in ‘Entourage’), it’s this role,” said McKay. “And we thought, ‘Well, we can do a rewrite on this, kind of gussy this up, get people we like in it, and sort of approach it through improv.’ Will and I had written a car-salesman script about five or six years before that, which Lorne Michaels tried to get made at Paramount, but it was a weird time over there, and we couldn’t get it made, and it was very frustrating. So we saw this script come through, and we thought, ‘Well, this is perfect.’”

Some may hear about the concept of this film and think, “Didn’t they already do this with ‘Used Cars’?” Although McKay is a fan of the classic 1980 Robert Zemeckis comedy and admits that it’s one of the reasons that the idea of the movie was so attractive to him, he estimates that 8 out of 10 people don’t even remember the film.

“It’s a film-fan movie,” he said. “I love it, of course, but it was so long ago. It’s kind of amazing that there really haven’t been many car-salesman movies since then. There was ‘Cadillac Man,’ but that wasn’t really about car sales. My favorite salesman movies are ‘Tin Men’ and ‘Glengarry Glen Ross,’ and that’s really what got us excited about it. If anything, ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ was a huge influence on this movie. Even though this movie’s raunchy and absurd and silly, that vibe is still very funny to us.”

And so, by many folks’ estimations, is “The Goods,” although – appropriately, given the subject of the film – your mileage may vary.

McKay is currently in pre-production for his next directorial effort, “The Other Guys,” but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have his eye on what project will be next on the horizon. He’s excited at the prospect of branching out beyond his usual realm, and in addition to the sci-fi satire, “Channel Three Billion,” he’s particularly chomping at the bit to get the ball rolling on the intriguingly-titled “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” from writer/director Tommy Wirkola.

“I love that movie,” said McKay. “That’s exactly the kind of shit where, like, it almost veers a little more toward Sam Raimi Land. Yeah, our production company, Gary Sanchez, is producing that. We saw ‘Dead Snow,’ the movie that Tommy did first, and Kevin Messick had Tommy come in, and he told us about this ‘Hansel & Gretel’ idea, and we were instantly, like, ‘Oh, my God, we’re doing that.’ And then he wrote an amazing script, so I’m as excited about that as anything we’re doing.”

Be sure to head over to Bullz-Eye.com next week for the full interview with McKay, where discusses the history of his collaboration with Ferrell, the status of “Anchorman 2,” and what we can expect from the second season of “Eastbound and Down.”

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“District 9″ inspires some box office awe (updated)

Shout it from the rooftops. The trades have revealed that an essentially South African film with a previously unknown, first-time feature director, a cast of complete unknowns, and an R-rating is not only #1 at this week’s highly competitive box office, it significantly over-performed even the highest expectations I mentioned last time. Forget those more optimistic numbers of $25 million+, it has earned an extra-profitable estimated $37 million.

As Nikki Finke points out, the outstanding showing of “District 9” is especially mighty considering that the film’s budget was only an extremely modest by sci-fi action standards $30 million, not including its no doubt pricey viral and not-so-viral marketing campaign. Oh, and it got excellent reviews, too and that’s supposed to be box office poison because movie goers hate writers or something. Weird. I don’t think Peter Jackson’s name in the credits alone can do that alone, though I’m sure it didn’t hurt.

Meanwhile, wither “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra“? Stephen Sommers PG-13 sci-fi actioner with a budget of $170 million, not including its no doubt expensive damage-control oriented marketing campaign, met its expectations with an estimated $22.5 million, dropping 59% — fairly typical for this kind of Hollywood product. It should be noted, however that “Joe” was on 4,007 screens, while “District 9″ was at 3,049. In terms of per screen averages, it amounts to a real trouncing with Blomkamp’s film netting a huge $12,135 per screen as compared to the unofficial “Team America” remake’s merely solid $5,615 average. (Okay, I admit it. It’s not right, but I haven’t even seen this movie and I really have it in for it; I was provoked.)

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The strange weekend of five

This is one interesting movie August we’re in. In fact, if you go to a mutliplex this weekend and can’t find anything that interests you, then you probably don’t belong anywhere near a contemporary movie theater. At this point in film history, things just don’t get that much more diverse, and more interesting, than the new films on offer this weekend.

* Anyone with a geek bone in their body has heard and/or seen a fair amount about the movie box office prognosticators expect to end the reign of “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” By most accounts a thoughtful yet violent/bloody R-rated science fiction actioner from first-time feature director Neill Blomkamp, “District 9” benefits from a lot of really good buzz, truly outstanding reviews, and a very high-profile variant of a viral campaign; the “humans only” signs have been up at bus-stops in Los Angeles for what seems like years and the film’s association with executive producer Peter Jackson won’t hurt. (Just like the filmgoers who probably still believe that Quentin Tarantino directed “Hostel” and have no clue who Eli Roth is, many casual movie fans will give Jackson the credit/blame on this.)

On the possible downside: there are no stars or recognizable faces and the film’s setting of South Africa might put off some people. We Americans, I fear, can be an obnoxiously xenophobic bunch at times. However, this is a new age we’re in (I think) and certainly this film, about space aliens being oppressed by us literally xenophobic humans, has a much easier to grasp premise than “Serenity,” the last star-free but excitement-heavy, well-reviewed science fiction film to rely on viral marketing, and the virus is far more virulent this time. So, the projections of a take of somewhere in the $20 millions or more for Sony offered both by Variety‘s Pamela McClintock and The Hollywood Reporter‘s ever-jolly Carl DiOrio, who guesses it at at least $25 million, make some sense.

Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams
* Unless they’re seeing someone very special and very insistent, the young males who will be flocking to “District 9″ likely won’t be seeing this week’s promising box office hopeful, even though it’s also science fiction, though obviously of a very different sort. Warner’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is unusual for the movies I write about here in that I’ve actually seen this one before its release date, and you can read all about my opinion of the film over at the link. Suffice it to say that fantastical romantic melodrama is not generating a whole bunch of critical excitement, though that underwhelming 37% RT rating is not so much a collective groan as a chorus of “meh.”

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Entourage 6.5 – Fore!

There are good filler episodes, and then there are bad filler episodes. Last week definitely fell into the former category, and although I assumed that this week’s show would belong to the latter, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. There wasn’t a whole lot going on tonight with everyone involved in the charity golf tournament in some form, but it was the hardest I’ve laughed at an episode of “Entourage” in quite awhile.

Since there was only a little bit of actual plot development this time around, let’s get that out of the way first. Eric may be the only character this season who’s actually getting a proper story arc, but it’s been entertaining thus far. Now that he’s dating Ashley, Eric is a little weirded out about seeing Sloan at the tournament, but when she informs him that he’s been paired with Hollywood bigwig Maury Barrinson at his request, Eric’s interest is perked. As it turns out, Maury is actually scouting Eric to come work for his company, and though it sounds like a promising opportunity, he turns it down when he learns that it was Sloan’s idea. For some reason, Eric believes that he’s being treated like a charity case, and while I understand where he’s coming from, he should know by the now that she’s only doing it as a friend. Unfortunately, Eric still sees her as an ex-girlfriend, which only means one thing: these two are going to get back together real soon. Sorry Ashley, but this was never a battle you were going to win.

Meanwhile, Vince and Drama are paired up with Mark Wahlberg and Tom Brady, and Wahlberg is having a field day teasing Drama about his surprisingly high handicap. Drama, looking for a little retribution, suggests a friendly little bet between them, only to slice his first drive into the trees. Drama’s day doesn’t get any better from there, either, and he eventually breaks Brady’s driver (which the Super Bowl MVP had just let him borrow) in a fit of rage. You’d think Turtle would be crying in joy after declaring his hatred for Brady (he even plans to tell the Patriots quarterback that he sucks balls, much to the behest of Jamie-Lynn), but that was before Brady invited Turtle over to his house to have dinner with Giselle. You can call him a sellout if you like, but you know you’d do the exact same thing.

By far the funniest pairing of the night, however, was Ari and Jeffrey Tambor – and for once, it wasn’t because of Jeremy Piven. Tambor was absolutely hilarious in his second guest spot to date as he cheated every chance he got in an attempt to impress his kids. Just watching him cut up the green was funny – especially while Ari was busy stressing out about his wife’s unhappy reaction to him keeping knowledge of Andrew’s affair from her. Of course, there’s no way this argument is over yet, despite Ari buying her a brand new Maserati. Still, for as much as Piven has proven the show’s savior these last few weeks, Tambor single-handedly stole the show in his response to his kids’ explicit-laced complaints about being bored: “Hey, this is a family day. So shut the fuck up and hit the ball.”

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