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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Advice for directors of new musicals in a wicked little town

So, earlier tonight I went off on a bit of rant inspired by a really strange sounding remark made by show-biz reporter-pundit Nikki Finke to the effect that she thinks “Nine” failed at the box office not because it’s a fairly poorly received film with a vague premise, but because it wasn’t gay friendly enough. No need to repeat my snark-laden commentary, but I thought I’d present the piece below as a bit of food for movie thought.

I debated whether or not to include this sequence in my recent look at musical films of the 2000s, but opted to include another scene from John Cameron Mitchell’s amazing “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” easily my choice for one of the two or three best musicals made over the last decade or so. Now it seems apt.

Given the storyline, this movie — and this scene — certainly does not lack for the LGBT awarness Finke seems to demand of a modern musical. However, the reason I’m including it here is that, despite my personal opinion that Kate Hudson is way cuter than anyone you’re about to look at (sorry, Kwahng-Yi, et al), I think Mitchell’s approach to filming a musical sequence is pretty vastly superior to Marshall’s — though they are both disciples of Bob Fosse.

Sometimes all you need to do is to keep things simple. So far, I’ve never seen Marshall try that approach. Maybe he’ll give it a shot sometime.

  

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“Avatar” tops a weekend of holiday box office bounty

If you’ve been following the horse-race over at Nikki Finke’s place, you’ll know it’s been a very long holiday weekend of box office ups and down. However, for those of us who can wait a day or two for the results, it’s actually somewhat simple.

Avatar movie image (3)

James Cameron‘s super-expensive 3-D extravaganza for Fox, “Avatar,” emerged as the victor of a three-way battle for the top prize with an outstanding second-weekend estimated take of $75 million and an absolutely minuscule drop from it’s first weekend of 2.6%, according to Box-Office Mojo. The Hollywood conventional wisdom has it that most science fiction films drop by at least 50% on their second weekend. Clearly, this is not most science fiction films and the fact that people are waiting to see this one in 3D and paying extra for the privilege is not hurting. So, as I’ve alluded to often enough, the word of mouth on this thing is something else. However, as always, I await the backlash as some folks plunk down their extra-heavy 3D ticket price and fail to have a religious experience.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson, or some version thereofSecond place, of course, was Guy Ritchie’s unorthodox action-comedy take on probably the oldest genre franchise in the biz, “Sherlock Holmes.” The Robert Downey, Jr./Jude Law team-up loosely drawn from the late 19th/early 20th century works of Arthur Conan Doyle defeated “Avatar” and all-comers on its record setting Christmas opening. It then fell a bit and earned a still whopping estimated $65.38 for Warner Brothers, a company that certainly has some experience with franchises. Better yet, this one is in the public domain, which means fewer folks get a share in the wealth.

Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” actually beat “Avatar” by a couple of million on its early opening day last Wednesday, but fell sharply on Christmas Eve and rebounded the rest of the weekend, for a very healthy estimated third place showing of $50.2 million. Critics may detest it; parents may barely tolerate it, but, to paraphrase the old blues song, the little kids understand (or don’t know any better). The film’s total estimated take starting from its early opening is just a tad over $77 million.

Considering it’s a Golden Globe-nominated sex comedy presumably aimed at a very grown-up audience — not only because of the average age of its stars but also because it’s R-rated, Universal’s “It’s Complicated” has generated the critical equivalent of a shrug, with our own David Medsker coming down on the very much negative side. That doesn’t bode extremely well for this sort of movie, which can use all the critical and awards help it can get.

Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin in Still, this weekend’s rising tide managed to lift this boat to the tune of an estimated $22 million or so, which is really not bad for this kind of film. Or, it wouldn’t be because Nikki Finke claims the budget was $80 million, which is way high for this kind of movieĀ  and suggests to me that it’s possible stars Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin let their agents negotiate extra-hard for a big pay-day because they were perhaps less than wowed by the film artistically. Universal just doesn’t seem to be cutting itself any breaks lately.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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Christmas mish-mosh at the box office

I have to keep this fairly short tonight, but suffice to say that things are going to be very busy over this long Christmas holiday weekend and just how it will shake out is anyone’s guess. I’m certainly not going to try, though I think it’s safe to say the battle for the #1 spot will be between the second weekend of the Fox-released “Avatar” and Guy Ritchie’s action/comedy oriented “Sherlock Holmes” starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Dr. Watson. It’s getting pretty decent reviews as well, though the Rotten Tomatoes “Top Critics” are split down the middle. Not that that’s likely to mean one less dollar in Warner Brothers’ coffers.

There is another strong commercial contender, it actually opened today, and it’s reviews are anything but decent. I speak of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” from Fox, which was excoriated by our own David Medsker and 75% of critics in general. Still, La Finke reports that online sales are unusually strong and one should never underestimate the power of kiddie appeal. At the same time, it goes a lot better when parents don’t leave the theater angry and making a mental note to keep up with their birth control regimen — and Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” is still relatively fresh and it seems a lot more parent-friendly.

Also, there’s plenty of action in grown-up/awards-movie-ville. Nancy Myers’ rom-com, “It’s Complicated” with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin, might get a boost from older moviegoers, particularly women, happy to see folks their own age actually still having sex and stuff in movies. However, the Golden Globe nominations it garnered may be a flash in the pan as the critics are not especially impressed. This looks like a case of the Globes living up to their rep and being notably star-struck.

In somewhat fewer theaters, major Oscar contender “Up in the Air,” finally goes into the releasing big leagues for Paramount, expanding into 1,895 theaters according to Box Office Mojo. The Rob Marshall-directed “Nine” is going into 1,412 theaters. The flashy Broadway musical adaptation with a cast that includes Daniel Day Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, the eternal sex goddess/great actress Sophia Loren and, for all I know, the reanimated corpses of Greta Garbo and Clara Bow, has long been touted as an Oscar contender but, looking at the disappointed reviews, I seriously have to wonder. A poorly reviewed musical hasn’t been a hit at the Oscars since the badly bloated “Oliver!” and “Hello Dolly!” were released in 1968 and 1969. “Nine” might do okay because of its sexy/smart ad campaign and star power, but it’s hard to imagine a critically unloved Fellini-derived musical having any kind of staying power at the box office and even harder to imagine it having a more than token showing at the Oscars — but then I’m forgetting those ten best picture slots.

Fashion designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut, “A Single Man” starring Colin Firth, has been racking up a lot of acclaim and awards heat, and is opening in 46 theaters. It’s a probable art house hit, and Firth is one of those actors who just keeps getting more interesting.

Finally, Box Office Mojo isn’t saying how many theaters it’s opening in, but Terry Gilliam’s semi-surrealist fantasy, “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” is coming out this Friday; it’s the film Heath Ledger was midway through production on when he died suddenly in early 2008, but which was completed by casting the late actor’s friends Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell to play aspects of his character. My review of it is forthcoming so I’ll keep my opinion to myself for now, though it has scored an RT rating of 62%. I understand it’s done okay in Europe, but my strong hunch is that commercially it’s a non-factor here.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/sherlock_holmes_2009/?critic=creamcr
  

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Kate Hudson sings “Cinema Italiano” + actual Italian cinema

Via Popbytes, The new trailer for “Nine

I gotta say, the first one isn’t all bad, but I like the second one better. The music is, very definitely, immensely better. But, then, when it comes to sheer arresting imagery and great movie melodies, just try and compete with Federico Fellini and Nino Rota.

  

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