Box office preview: Will “Saw 3D” bloody “Paranormal Activity 2”?

I have no bloody idea, actually, because the entire box office prognostication community — all two members of it that I rely on, anyhow — seem to be taking a break. I know for a fact that both the L.A. Times‘ Ben Fritz and THR‘s ever jolly Carl Diorio are writing stuff, they’re just not venturing any guesses or passing along the usual tracking rumors about this coming weekend. I guess with only major new release, it just didn’t seem worth it. Mr. DiOrio did, however, write a piece yesterday, which is not visible on THR but is via Reuters, explaining why, beyond the fact of Halloween, there actually are a number of reasons why horror pictures tend to come out when the leaves turn orange and the breezes turn chilly. Interesting, but not what I need to get me out of this predicament.

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Indeed, I don’t even have any reviews of “Saw 3D” to mention, because we all know that critics can’t really help, and just might hurt, a picture like this. For you “Saw” fans, however, I can pass along some roundtable interviews our own Will Harris posted a bit earlier today as well as David Medsker’s Bullz-Eye compilation of the most beloved “Saw” series deaths and near-misses. Honestly, though, I’m at a loss, especially I’m too squeamish to have ever seen a single entry in the series.

Regardless, the gory horror tale will be facing some serious competition from the second week of the so-far over-performing ($40 million worth) non-gore driven scare follow-up, “Paranormal Activity 2.” On the other hand, there’s no particular reason to think it won’t suffer something like the typical horror-flick second week drop of 50% or over. That shouldn’t be too hard for the 3D sado-splatter film to beat, but you never know. We’ll see whether the ticket-price raising format can ameliorate the fatigue the “Saw” series has shown on past sequel go-rounds.

In terms of limited releases, we have the final film in the “Millennium Trilogy,” Swedish edition. “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” which isn’t overly exciting critics opening in 123 theaters according Box Office Mojo’s theater counts. Though an internationally huge franchise like this should, in theory, be critic-proof, this is the art-house trade we’re talking about and some might decide to wait for home video or, like me, who enjoyed the first film but haven’t read any of the books yet and skipped the last film, might decide to simply catch up with the books at some point instead. On the other hand, the even-growing fame of the “girl” herself, Noomi Rapace, might help things out a bit.

Also suffering the slings and arrows of often unimpressed critics is “Welcome to the Rileys” a festival drama starring James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo, and Kristen Stewart. Directed by Jake Scott, son of Ridley, the film has generated a little attention but I fear that may be over now given its decidedly “meh” critical reception.

Doing a little better with critics, including my esteemed colleague Jason Zingale, is Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters,” a very unusual monster flick arriving just in time for the holiday. It’s generated a lot of online attention and you absolutely have to give it props for its visual power — accomplished on a truly miniscule budget by is special effects trained director — and for its good intentions in attempting a character driven romantic tale with, yes, actual monsters and some genuinely clever chilling moments. Still, like 37% of Rotten Tomatoes critics, I was kind of let down by it and I blame the fact that the film was made with only a story outline and no formal screenplay. On the other hand, it’s easily the most visually striking monster flick that I can think of not directed by Guillermo del Toro.

Whitney Able in

  

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Midnight at the movies

Not quite a movie news dump, more of a movie news sampler…

* The various Deadline folks have a lot of reporting going on tonight, starting with the news from Mike Fleming that Robert Downey Jr. is negotiating to possibly star in a new science fiction film Alfonso Cuaron wrote with his son. He also reports on the somewhat delayed sale of a hot Sundance feature staring “Twilight” fave Kristen Stewart, James Gandolfini, and Melissa Leo. In addition, there’s word from the London office that 72 year-old Dustin Hoffman is finally graduating to directing with an upcoming project with BBC Films.

* Todd Gilchrist has the closest thing yet to an official review I’ve seen of “Kick-Ass” and it’s…mixed. Could the film already be a victim of its already amazingly effective hype? Or is it that Gilchrist is, after all, just one guy? Of course, there’s always the possibility that it’s simply not as good as we all seem to be expecting. If so, shoot me now, I say!

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* The Red Skull has always been one of my favorite supervillians — just pure evil and nothing but. I think casting  Hugo Weaving to play him in the upcoming Captain America flick is probably about as good a choice as they could make. If anyone can act without skin, it’s Weaving.

* Quentin Tarantino will not be smurfing around, after all. He did, however, accept an award at SXSW, which is just getting started and where our own Mr. Jason Zingale is hanging out.

* Patrick Goldstein doesn’t approve when Tom Hanks has the temerity to voice a strong opinion because it annoys rightwingers and that’s just the worst thing ever.  Yes, it’s a celebrity’s job to play it safe at all times. Good to know. I wonder if he’ll hold rightwing actors to the same standard when they say something controversial. It’s a true fact that many journos who probably themselves vote Democrat wind up carrying the water of the far-right through their obsession with being even-handed at all costs at all times and regardless of the merits. The American rightwing really did a number on the press during the late 20th century, and it doesn’t look like they’ll ever recover.

* I hate to see any creative person lose their job, especially in this economy, but I hope this item means there’ll be some kind of shift in the creative direction of Robert Zemeckis’s future animated/motion-capture projects. How anyone can think that style of animation is  anything other than creepy — and not in a good way — is beyond me.

  

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SAG Members Vote “Yes” on New Contract, 78% to 22%

As reported by Variety and Nikki Finke, the acrimonious battle between factions of the Screen Actor’s Guild ended in a huge victory for the more status quo forces backed by Adam Arkin, Tom Hanks, George Clooney, and Sally Field, as opposed to what I guess I have to call the more radical, or perhaps, activist wing of the guild as embodied by Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Melissa Leo and, in certain interviews, a very acrimonious Ed Asner.

Alan RosenbergIn what has to be a huge defeat for embattled guild president Alan Rosenberg, 78% of the 30% percent who voted sided against him and for the plan. He nevertheless says he will run again and I’m sure he’s not wrong when he cites the economy as a major factor in the vote. (You can see videos from both sides of the dispute from a past PH post here.)

Especially now that the outspoken Nikki Finke herself is aware of our existence, I’m terrified of saying something stupid about a topic I barely understand. (A little sad to have even less of a head for nuts-and-bolts business matters than actors, but there you go. Also, I’m jumping on this particular news train very late in the story.)

I will say, however, that as a resident of Southern California, residing in Anaheim South Hollywood, I am a little relieved. I’m sure there was a case to be made by the “No” side, but, for the rest of us, a major strike is not what we need out here, at least in the short term. At the very least, we’ve also been spared a catastrophic run on Two Buck Chuck in the wine section at Trader Joe’s.

  

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Academy Awards recap: Oscar loves Nazis, hates robots, superheroes

Wow. Just…wow. Do you ever wonder just what movies the Academy voters are watching, and if they’re seeing the same movies the rest of us are? I certainly had that thought after scouring through the list of nominees for the 81st Academy Awards, when I saw that most of my favorite movies – one of which made over half a billion dollars – were discarded in favor of an overripe Nazi legal drama. And, just to have some fun with how far off some of these selections are, I’m going to include the Rotten Tomatoes freshness ratings. Let’s start at the top:

Best Picture
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (72%)
Frost/Nixon (91%)
Milk (92%)
The Reader (60%)
Slumdog Millionaire (95%)

Now, fellow BE movie critic Jason Zingale and I admit that we are in the minority on “Milk” – it’s a fine movie, but neither of us understands what people think is so wonderful about it – but I’m not surprised to see it here. It’s about a gay California poilitician in the year that Prop 8 passed. Of course Hollywood’s going to get behind this one. But “The Reader” for Best Picture? You have got to be kidding me. Look again at that freshness rating. Sixty percent, which means only three out of every five people liked it. Granted, “Benjamin Button” isn’t rated much higher, but movies with that kind of scope and reach always have their detractors. (Indeed, in our local film critics’ poll, “Benjamin Button” finished ninth.) Simply put, “The Reader” has no business whatsoever being nominated for Best Picture, not in the same year that saw the release of “The Dark Knight” (94%) and “WALL-E” (96%).

So why is it here? My personal theory: because Hollywood’s liberal populace sees Kate Winslet’s character getting tried for war crimes, and fantasizes about doing the same to George W. Bush. Get over yourselves, people. “The Reader” isn’t about you, or us, or now. It’s overdone melodrama, nothing more.

Best Actor
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Man, I’m torn here. On the one hand, I’m thrilled for Richard Jenkins that he finally got a lead role, and earned an Oscar nomination for his efforts. On the other hand, Clint freaking Eastwood just gave his final acting performance, and it was unforgettable. Again, I don’t think Sean Penn belongs here, but I’m starting to think Jason is right when he says he’s going to win. Damn. I’m totally pulling for Mickey Rourke.

Best Actress
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader

Kate was far better in “Revolutionary Road,” for my money, and for the life of me I can’t understand why the Academy is throwing that movie under the bus. This is not a strong list of nominees, if you ask me. My money’s on Melissa Leo to surprise the world.

Best Supporting Actor
Please. Does it even matter who else is nominated here? This is Heath Ledger’s to lose, and he’s not going to lose. Bonus points for nominating Robert Downey Jr. for “Tropic Thunder,” though.

Best Supporting Actress
Both Amy Adams and Viola Davis from “Doubt” were nominated, and will surely split the vote. I’d like to see Marisa Tomei (“The Wrestler”) or Taraji P. Henson (“Benjamin Button”) win, but my gut tells me Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) will be the winner.

Best Director
Danny Boyle, Danny Boyle, Danny Boyle. Again, Stephen Daldry is here for “The Reader,” while Christopher Nolan (“Dark Knight”) and Andrew Stanton (“WALL-E”) watch from the cheap seats. Absurd.

Best Animated Feature
Here’s your bone, “WALL-E.”

Best Foreign Language Film
Where the hell is “Let the Right One In”? Inexcusable oversight, that.

Best Song
Where the hell is “The Wrestler”? They know that Springsteen wrote it, right? Wouldn’t that alone guarantee it a nod? Ugh.

Best Documentary
God help them if something other than “Man on Wire” wins this.

Come Oscar night, I’m going to make sure I don’t have anything heavy in my hands when they announce the Best Picture winner. Because, if for some ungodly reason “The Reader” wins, I will kill my television, then fly to Hollywood and burn the place to the ground. Academy, you’ve been warned. Do the right thing.

  

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