Weekend box office: poor, poor “Iron Man 2″…

“It broke no records” seems to be the fairly silly refrain. According to Box Office Mojo, “Iron Man 2” made only an estimated $133.6 million Paramount and Marvel Productions. Why, that’s not even enough money to buy a pound of Kobe beef for the entire state of Hawaii! Of course, at $163,193,428.00 they’ll hit that milestone shortly. (Yes, I did the math, based on the $380.00 it costs to buy four pounds of Kobe New York steaks via mail order from Neiman-Marcus.).  That’s the problem with all this bar setting, it makes massive success look like failure.

I personally succumbed to that mania partially on Thursday. I did that mostly in deference to the gurus who generated the mania, even knowing that, while it’s not a bad movie, almost everyone seems to agree it’s some level of let down from the first film — the only real disagreement is how much. (There are people out there who didn’t even care for the first film for perfectly legitimate reasons, shocking as that might be to some of you.)

Jon Favreau has made some charming movies — I love “Elf” — but “The Dark Knight,” this ain’t. However, Anthony D’Alessandro points out some good reasons why, in terms of box office at least, that might be an unfair comparison. He also mentions that it pulled a 31% improvement over the original’s opening, which is “well within the perameters [sic] for most sequels.” It’s worth noting that the movie more than justified the one record it really did break — the number of theaters it was booked into. It’s 4,380 screens enjoyed by far the week’s best per screen average (which usually goes to a limited release film) with a terrific per-screen average of $30,502.00.  Still, I can’t help wondering if Favreau’s improvisational approach, which he discussed in some detail at the film’s press conference, might have limited the power of the film’s story and hence it’s long-term appeal. We’ll see.

In any case, given the film’s international take of $194 million so far according to Nikki Finke, it’s already significantly exceeding its $200 million production budget by roughly $127 million. That is not shabby. ($200 million is now considered low for this kind of movie, I guess. Marvel is the stingy maker of efx laden epics. I guess there are a number of big salaries to pay.)

Freddy contemplates his rapidly dropping grosses in despairComing in a very poor second indeed is the latest horror remake, “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” It dropped a gigantic 72% in its second week, obviously not generating a whole lot of excitement in terms of word of mouth and also probably sharing a big part of its youngish audience with “Iron Man 2.” Coming in third place is Warner’s extremely strong “How to Train Your Dragon” which is leggy as all get out and made $6.76 million in its seventh week. It cracked the $200 million mark this week, though it’s $165 million budget shows just how risky a gamble this kind of movie can still be. However, if you can make a family picture that parents truly enjoy, you can be reasonably sure the world will beat a path to your door.

It’s also important to remind everyone that Sunday hasn’t actually happened yet as I write this and I’m not sure the Mom’s day factor is all that easily predictable. One movie that could benefit from a Sunday surge is the “awww” generating documentary, “Babies,” which did okay in it’s 534 theater release, earning $1.575 million and a per-screen average of $2,949.00. The week’s second highest per-screen according to Box Office Mojo (which is missing several key movies on its list) also benefits from a mom’s day tie-in as its title, “Mother and Child,” makes clear. It earned about $11,000 per screen at four theaters for Sony Classics. According to Indiewire, that figure was nearly matched by a movie that is just a few years younger than Betty White, Fritz Lang’s once-again re-restored “Metropolis” which — visually, anyhow — blew me away at the TCM Classic Film Festival just a weekend or two ago.

Actually, there’s much more going on regarding limited releases than I have time to discuss, including strong business for “Please Give” and “Exit Through the Gift Shop” as well as not-bad biz for “Harry Brown” and perhaps some spectacular showings on individual screenings for that horror movie I’m not talking about. The above-linked Indiewire is the place to go for such information.

Do not f*ck with Michael Caine. Trust me.

  

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An audience with the “Iron Man 2” crowd

So, a couple of weeks back, a volcano went off in Iceland. That meant that planes in Europe couldn’t fly for several days, which meant that suddenly a London press junket was canceled and rescheduled in Los Angeles, which meant that, one recent Thursday night, I wound up seeing “Iron Man 2” at the AMC Theater in Century City instead of “A Star is Born” at Grauman’s Chinese for the TCM Classic Film Festival. (The world is getting much smaller…)

Moreover, thanks to the volcano, the next morning, instead of my Crunchy Raisin Bran and 1% milk, I was instead being buttered up by with French toast and applewood-smoked bacon buffet at the Four Seasons, a free Iron Man action figure, and a theoretical chance to ask a question of the all-star cast of “Iron Man 2” — i.e., Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle,and soon to be super-villain of the year Mickey Rourke — not to mention director/co-star Jon Favreau, writer Justin Thoreaux, and producer Kevin Feige.

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Of course, considering the 150 or so people in the room, I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get to ask any questions, but it was a pretty entertaining event. Robert Downey may have famously given up a number of vices, but being a perpetual class clown does not seem to be one of them, and it wasn’t like he was the only interesting person in the room.

The first question, about whether Favreau or he felt any pressure in terms of living up to the success of the first “Iron Man,” set the tone. Favreau admitted he had never been involved with a sequel before, unless you count his “under five” bit part as “Assistant” in Joel Schumacher’s notorious “Batman Forever.” It certainly is a change from small independent films like Favreau’s career-making acting and writing debut, “Swingers,” which he compared to throwing a party and hoping people would come.

“…[On ‘Iron Man 2’] we knew that people were going to show up,” Favreau said. “We just wanted to make sure that everyone who showed up had a good time and that this was going to be as fun or more fun than the last party. So it’s a different kind of pressure.”

Downey then felt the need to start listing sequels others on the panel had been involved in, real and fictional. “Scarlet Johansson was in ‘Home Alone 3.’ Don Cheadle, 11, 12 and 13.”

That led to a question that was geeky in a way that anyone whose ever been a superhero comics fan will recognize, and which wound up being answered by producer Kevin Feige. It was about the “time-line” of the film. It turns out that, if viewers pay close attention, they can figure out that “Iron Man 2” actually takes place before 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk.” (Having seen both movies, I have no freakin’ clue how you’d deduce that.)

The Incredible Hulk

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What kind of director is best for a comic book movie?

I was reading a profile of Jon Favreau in the May issue of Maxim — I know, I don’t have a subscription anymore, it just keeps showing up in my mailbox — and I ran across an interesting bit where the head of Marvel Studios discusses why he tabbed Favreau (whose biggest directing credit to that point was Elf) to lead the way on Iron Man:

For years Marvel had been making left-field directing choices, tabbing Evil Dead‘s Sam Raimi to do Spider-Man and The Usual Suspects‘ Bryan Singer to lead the X-Men franchise. But Favreau still seemed like an odd selection to head the studio’s first tent-pole picture for its new alliance with Paramount. “We have the technicians who know how to blow up the cars,” says Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios. “What you want in a director isn’t necessarily technical expertise. It’s taste, and it’s tone, and Elf is a triumph of taste and tone. There’s a reason everyone watches it every Christmas.”

This strikes me as a great way to approach that decision. At the time, it was a little strange that they’d hire Favreau to direct Iron Man, but funny is funny, and a sense of humor is typically what makes a comic book adaptation great. Of course they can find someone to blow things up — why does the director need to be an expert in demolition?

Then I thought about a couple of comic book adaptations that were critically panned, and Daredevil and Ghost Rider immediately sprung to mind. It turns out they were both directed by Mark Steven Johnson, whose first directing credit was Simon Birch (45% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes). (He also wrote Electra, by the way.)

Fantastic Four director Tim Story got the gig after finishing Barbershop and the Queen Latifah/Jimmy Fallon-vehicle Taxi. Joel Schumacher had a series of good dramatic credits (including St. Elmo’s Fire and Falling Down) before helming Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, though The Lost Boys did have a sense of humor, albeit eight years earlier.

On the flip side, Christopher Nolan got the keys to the Batman reboot after two good thrillers, Memento and Insomnia, while Guillermo del Toro got to direct the very funny Hellboy on the heels of Mimic and Blade 2.

The bottom line is that it’s probably better to hire someone who has proven that they can coax good performances and humor out of their actors on a smaller scale than hiring a director just because he knows how to blow stuff up.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

  

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Monday night at the movies, the post TCM Fest edition.

I’m recovering from the fest and doing other stuff as well, so I’m going to try and keep things fairly short tonight.

* The non-extra initial Blu-Ray/DVD release of “Avatar” has, guess what, done very, very well.

* Thanks, Hef! He saves the world for heavily retouched naked women, pays writers more than just about anybody, and now he ponies up the missing funds to save the Hollywood sign.

* One item I don’t actually have to link to report on is that the TCM Classic Film Festival is going to be back next year, with the idea of being an annual event. I can do that because I was present at last night’s big screening of “Metropolis” where none other than Robert Osborne announced it to the assembled multitudes at the more beautiful than ever Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

What was interesting about the way this festival was marketed is that people who live in Los Angeles were clearly not the primary target. Individual ticket prices were roughly double what film geeks like myself are used to paying to see similar presentations — actually more than double when you consider that most repertory programs are actually double bills. With the exception of fellow press and a USC film student who had picked up one of thirty free tickets that has been donated, everyone I spoke to was from elsewhere, and usually a place where the opportunity to see such frequently revived cinematic warhorses as “Casablanca” and “Some Like it Hot” on the big screen are nevertheless beyond rare.

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Joss Whedon is (probably) the Avengers’ master now

I personally won’t be utterly sure it’s real until the man himself writes about it over at Whedonesque, but news today came via both Mike Fleming and (unlinkable/unreadable w/o subscription) Variety that mega-culty writer-producer-director Joss Whedon will be directing “The Avengers” as well as reworking the screenplay already written by Zak Penn.

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It’s important to note that no one’s saying it’s yet a 100% done deal, just that Whedon and Marvel Studios are in “final negotiations.” I imagine that could mean anything from lawyerly due diligence, to the movieland equivalent of leaving a real estate transaction in escrow, to quibbling over whether craft services on the film will provide marshmallows along with the hot chocolate. Still, there is certainly some truth to the story, and not only because Fleming and Variety are highly reliable sources, but also that, if there were not, Whedon himself would almost certainly have piped up about it by now. He’s known for staying in touch with his fans and has quickly squelched many a baseless, “squee!”-generating rumor.

As a confessed Whedonite, I’m sure I’m biased, but I love this idea. When I first got seriously hooked on Whedon’s “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” TV series, it was because I felt something of the same sense of involvement in the characters and backstory I had when I had become involved in the often soapy plot complications of Silver Age Marvel comics. When Whedon cites Charles Dickens and Stan Lee as his two favorite authors, it makes perfect sense to me.

More objectively, I’m not really that surprised that Marvel choose him and I think he’s a shrewd pick from their point of view. Some commenters have argued that Whedon is not an experienced action film-maker. I don’t think they’ve been paying attention. He’s supervised four action-heavy television series (“Buffy,” “Angel,” “Firefly,” and “Dollhouse“) and has directed one very strong action-packed movie space opera (“Serenity“) complete with space-car chases, martial arts, and even a bit of sword play mixed with down-and-dirty street fighting. I think he’s got that ground covered.

Joss WhedonMoreover, he brought the film in with what is, by current standards, an impossibly tiny budget for a movie with copious effects and action ($40 million) and, in my book at least, he did so with plenty of cinematic style. That has to please the notoriously tight-fisted Marvel Studio heads and probably puts them somewhat in mind of their other “risky” choice of “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau, who prior to making “Zathura” had pretty much no experience with action or effects. More or less like “Serenity,” that film garnered good reviews but did kind of badly at the box office.  At $65 million, it was a somewhat higher budgeted box office disappointment, however.

“Serenity” fared poorly because it was a based on a TV show (“Firefly”) that most people had never seen, and was cursed with a premise and background that was very difficult to explain. Moreover, the title reminded people of very non-action-movie things like meditation, spas, and adult diapers. Worse, Universal was not really prepared to risk extra money on a months-long publicity campaign to try and bring the audience up to speed on what Whedon’s “verse” was all about. “”The Avengers” will not have that problem. It’s about a group of superheros doing superheroic stuff together. People will get it.

As a fan, I do have one concern — well, not a concern, but more a point of curiosity. Whedon has had, for the most part, rather fabulous luck with acting ensembles comprised mostly of unknowns, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do with actual superstars like Robert Downey, Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson. This is, however, also the first time he’s not chosen his own cast but been given a ready-made ensemble, and it’s not like he can really make any major changes if he’s not happy with the way things are jelling. It’s just one of many aspects of this production that should be interesting to follow.

  

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