Box Office Preview: ‘The Expendables 2,’ ‘ParaNorman,’ and ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’

The Expendables 2

Come on, look at all the names in this one: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Chuck Norris, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth, Jean Claude Van-Damme, John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, and of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you need me to tell you what to expect you’re nearly 40 years behind the Hollywood action scene (and have likely never voted in a California gubernatorial election).

If you saw the first “Expendables” movie, then you know what’s coming here: action, action, and more action. Seriously, watch the trailer, it’s just the names of the stars intercut with explosions, guns firing, and chase scenes. It gives literally no information relating to the plot, which tells you just about all you need to know regarding its importance to the film. Nonetheless, here’s the official synopsis:

The Expendables are back and this time it’s personal… Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren),Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) — with newest members Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) and Maggie (Yu Nan) aboard — are reunited when Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) enlists the Expendables to take on a seemingly simple job. The task looks like an easy paycheck for Barney and his band of old-school mercenaries. But when things go wrong and one of their own is viciously killed, the Expendables are compelled to seek revenge in hostile territory where the odds are stacked against them.

“The Expendables 2” has a 65 percent rating on the Tomatometer. Check it out if you’d like, just don’t expect much in the way of plot or character development.

ParaNorman

“ParaNorman” is the second feature film made by stop-motion animation studio LAIKA, the first being 2009’s “Coraline.” Both films have been met with a great deal of critical acclaim, and each has been “certified fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, with “ParaNorman” garnering an 86 percent rating on the Tomatometer and “Coraline” sitting pretty at 90 percent. Not to mention that in the year of its release, “Coraline” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. With all the accolades the two films have received, LAIKA may be the first studio that can really compete with Pixar if it can keep producing films of high enough quality that they transcend the box animated films are so often put in.

Anyway, let’s talk about “ParaNorman.” Kodi Smit-Mcphee stars as Norman Babcock, an oft-misunderstood young man with the uncanny ability to communicate with the dead, a talent that comes in handy when his small town is overrun by zombies. The official synopsis tells us “In addition to the zombies, he’ll have to take on ghosts, witches and, worst, of all, grown-ups, to save his town from a centuries-old curse. But this young ghoul whisperer may find his paranormal activities pushed to their otherworldly limits.” Smit-Mcphee’s co-stars include Casey Affleck, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

Many adults discard animated films, believing them to be childish or incapable of conveying the same emotion and character that live action films can. But like Pixar, LAIKA makes films that relay all those elements in spades, the fact that they’re animated isn’t a detractor. As such, despite its PG rating, ‘ParaNorman” is a kid’s movie that isn’t really for kids. As Bullz-Eye’s Jason Zingale put it, the film is a “journey into the weird and macabre that will likely play well with pre-teens and older, but may be too frightening for younger audiences. Though parents should use discretion when deciding whether their children can handle the scarier moments, “ParaNorman” is packed with enough comedy that it helps dampen the effect.” It seems “ParaNorman” is a film more for those who are children at heart than actual children, and deserves to be checked out.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

The last film seeing a wide release this weekend is “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.” Let’s check out the official synopsis from Disney:

Director/writer Peter Hedges brings enchantment to the screen with The Odd Life of Timothy Green, an inspiring, magical story about a happily married couple, Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton), who can’t wait to start a family but can only dream about what their child would be like. When young Timothy (CJ Adams) shows up on their doorstep one stormy night, Cindy and Jim — and their small town of Stanleyville — learn that sometimes the unexpected can bring some of life’s greatest gifts.

Given that its a Disney movie with a 41 percent rating on the Tomatometer, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” appears to be a try-hard heartwarmer that is ultimately more “style” (in the most Disneyfied sense of the word) than substance. Check it out only if you’re the overly-emotional type susceptible to that kind of drivel.

  

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Box Office Preview: Spidey like it’s 2002

The Amazing Spider-Man

Everything I’ve heard, read, and seen regarding “The Amazing Spider-Man” indicates that it’s a good, or even great movie. Or, rather, that it would be such if (more or less) the exact same film hadn’t come out just a decade ago. The idea here seems to be that Sony needed to relaunch the franchise to keep the rights to the character from reverting back to Marvel, and that kids young enough not to remember 2002 still love Spider-Man. In spite of all that, the reboot, directed by Marc Webb (of “(500) Days of Summer” fame), has been certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and set a new record for highest Tuesday gross on the day it was released.

I’m not going to tell you not to see “The Amazing Spider-Man,” because the latter fact seems to indicate that you’re going to anyway and the former that it might even be worth seeing. But before you inevitably find yourself in your theater seat, don’t think I was just being cynical when I warned you that this was the exact same movie.

Seriously, there are way more similarities here then there are differences, and the differences really aren’t all that significant. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is a tad less geeky than Tobey Maguire’s. Imagine that. The female lead isn’t Mary Jane Watson, it’s that other one, Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone. The “Spider-Man” is evil cause is championed by Gwen’s dad, police captain George Stacy (Denis Leary), rather than J. Jonah Jameson. And right before you point out that the villain is different, think again. The real bad guy here, as in Sam Raimi’s version, is OsCorp. As Bullz-eye’s Jason Zingale put it:

Peter gets bitten by a genetically-altered spider and develops superhuman strength (among other things); Uncle Ben is killed by a petty thief; Peter goes seeking revenge in the guise of a costumed vigilante; and, well, you know the rest. The first hour plays out pretty similar to Raimi’s movie, and though there are some nice changes along the way (like the return of Spider-Man’s web-shooters and the “power and responsibility” speech), it’s hard not to feel a sense of déjà vu in the repetitiveness of it all. Granted, it’s completely necessary to re-tell the origin story because of how it ties into the new characters, but it probably didn’t need to be as drawn out as it is here.

Savages

With competition from Spidey and the July 20 release of “The Dark Knight Rises,” very few big name movies, or movies with big names, are seeing release this month. “Savages” is one of just a few exceptions. Oliver Stone directs and Aaron Johnson (“Kick-Ass“) stars as one of two friends running a lucrative homegrown marijuana business in Southern California. Conflict ensues when they share a love interest (Blake Lively)… and also when a Mexican cartel headed by Elena (Selma Hayek) and Lado (Benico Del Toro) shows up and demands a partnership. A war of sorts breaks out between the cartel and the trio, with the help of a DEA agent played by John Travolta.  Those are some pretty big names, right?

Anyway, Rotten Tomatoes calls “Savages” “undeniably messy,” but also says it “finds Oliver Stone returning to dark, fearlessly lurid form.” Currently at a 60 percent on the Tomatometer, “Savages” has gotten extremely mixed reviews. I don’t think it’ll be all that good, but it’s got some recognizable faces and isn’t “The Amazing Spider-Man.” The latter attribute seems like the film’s primary draw and hints at its target demographic: people who want to see something besides “Spider-Man” this weekend.

  

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Box office preview: “Unstoppable”? Perhaps

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Apparently Tony Scott and Denzel Washington enjoyed making their underground run-away train thriller, “The Taking of Pelham 123” so much, they decided to turn around and make an above-ground run-away train thriller. Not everything would be the same. This time Chris Pine would be in tow instead of John Travolta. Another difference is that, this time, the critics are majorly onboard as well, which may or may not indicate that “Unstoppable” will do better over the long haul than its sister film.

Both of my usual b.o. gurus are suggesting a low-to-mid twenties opening for the thriller from Fox, but there is still some daylight between them. Ben Fritz of the L.A. Times is expecting a tough race for the #1 spot with last week’s big winner, “Megamind,” which grossed over $46 million.  The Hollywood Reporter’s Carl DiOrio, who remains jolly even while his intro music grows oddly sinister, seems more sanguine that the amped-up train ride will do better. However, Fritz may be on to something considering that family animated films have proven to be leggy in the past and that a decline of significantly less than 50% seems very possible. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised to see “Unstoppable” overperform.

Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton, and Harrison Ford wonder: What's the story?There are two other major releases this weekend, but neither of them really seems to have much oomph behind them. True, jolly Carl is fairly high on “Morning Glory.” It’s a sort of update on “Broadcast News” minus the critical acclaim putting 32 year-old beauty Rachel McAdams alongside 60-something icons Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton. My money is on Ben Fritz’s take, which is that it’ll be fortunate to break $10 million. Exhibit A is that the comedy from Paramount actually opened yesterday and hasn’t shown much life.

Coincidentally, $10 million is the reported budget for the effects-heavy science-fiction tale being released by Rogue and Universal, “Skyline.” The few critics who’ve seen it mostly agree that all the film really has to boast of are the effects. Fritz thinks it’ll do about the same as “Morning Glory” — though obviously from a younger and more male demographic. Since that amount is also roughly its budget, however, this film may just be a success.

Debuting in a fairly aggressive 41 screen limited release is the latest documentary from Ondi Timoner, who made the excellent “DiG!” and “We Live in Public” both of which never really got much distribution. This time, however, her film is getting some critical flack, not too surprising considering it’s kind of an anti-“An Inconvenient Truth” and features a maverick scientist who isn’t exactly a climate denier and who isn’t coming from a politicized perspective, but who does insist that all the global warming fear is just plain overdone. That is no majority scientific opinion. Entitled “Cool It,” it’s so far been ignored by far-right film blog Big Hollywood, which can only be a good sign.

Another film we all might be hearing from later on is the award-winning festival-friendly first feature from Lena Dunham, “Tiny Furniture.” It’s a comedy, but I don’t find this trailer funny so much as aggressively quirky and mildly annoying, perhaps because of the deliberately flat performances of the nonprofessional cast. On the other hand, I sort of dig the look of the thing. See if you disagree.

  

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Miramax movie moment #1

As I wrote Friday, things are looking bad for the studio founded by the Weinstein brothers, which is now officially being sold Disney. So, consider this the start of an online mini-wake for the greatest of the mini-majors.

  

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It’s your end of week movie news dump…

And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

* Champion poker player Chris Ferguson is making movies, writes Mike Fleming. He’s probably as well prepared for the business as anyone could be.

* I can’t help but think that this Anne Thompson item about two sets of brothers bidding for Miramax — one pair of them being Mira and Max’s sons, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, and the other being the wealthy Tom and Alec Gores — is somehow related to an odd claim by actor Michael Madsen. In a radio interview, the voluble and consistently amusing Madsen stated that Quentin Tarantino‘s long shelved concept for a combined “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservoir Dogs” prequel about his and John Travolta‘s characters has been revived. How? Well, it will now be a sequel and…well, you have to go over to Peter Hall’s post at Cinematical, but it also involves two pairs of siblings.

quentin-tarantino-characters-mr-blonde1

Do I buy this? Well, it does sounds like Tarantino in that it’s kind of a doubling up of a gimmick used by a favorite director of his to overcome a similar sequel obstacle.  (If anyone out there has seen John Woo’s great 1980’s Hong Kong pistol operas, “A Better Tomorrow” and “A Better Tomorrow II,” they’ll know what I’m getting at.) Still, the whole thing has a shaggy dog story vibe to it that I suspect means we’ll never, ever see a “Vega Brothers” movie of any sort. I also get the vague feeling that it’s just possible Mr. Madsen and/or Tarantino is having us all on, as the Brits say. Still, I’m sure Mr. Tarantino’s trips to Tijuana can have a way of stimulating the imagination.

* Anne Thompson also brings up a very real issue that we Angelenos will recognize regarding the move of the Los Angeles Film Festival to Downtown L.A. L.A.’s downtown is in the middle of, I guess, a rebirth of sorts, but the issues associated with setting it there are legion. We’ll start with the exorbitant cost of parking.

* The porno “Big Lebowski” is upon us. Great production values for porn but, otherwise, I can’t say the (sex free) trailer looks in any way “good,” though I guess Tom Byron does qualify as the Jeff Bridges of the porn world. (Ron Jeremy is it’s Pacino/De Niro, I suppose.) Also, spoofs of comedies almost never work. Still, kind of gives a whole new meaning to “Achievers.”

* I’ve never heard anyone say they miss Michael Ovitz and his noxious effect on Hollywood back in the eighties and nineties. However, Nikki Finke’s lingering venom towards him fifteen years after his departure from the scene is utterly pointless.

* Could it be? An Asian-American comic headlining his own comedy and his character is named neither “Harold” nor “Kumar”? Yes, maybe. The very funny Indian-American stand-up/actor Aziz Ansari, who first came on my radar screen championing the cause of movie consumer rights, could be in the new comedy from “Zombieland” director Ruben Fleischer, writes Jeff Schneider of the Wrap.

* RIP Meinhart Raabe who has passed on at age 94. He was the Coroner of Munchkin City, so I’m not sure who’ll confirm his passing. (I’m so sorry for that, really, but I’m sure the late Mr. Raabe had a sense of humor about that kind of thing, assuming that what I wrote qualifies as something resembling humor.)

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