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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Hidden Netflix Gems – Project X

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

The 1987 film Project X (not to be confused with this year’s raunchy, over-the-top party comedy of the same name) is a strange but charming little oddity of a movie. Directed by Jonathan Kaplan, who is known for socially conscious films such as The Accused and Brokedown Palace, as well as more conventional genre fare such as Unlawful Entry and Bad Girls, Project X is a blend of these two types of filmmaking. It is a comedic science fiction movie that ultimately becomes a sort of political thriller, taking a stance against cruelty to animals in the name of science. It is also a movie for the Homer Simpson in all of us, because who doesn’t enjoy watching chimpanzees behave like human beings?

Jimmy Garrett (Matthew Broderick) is an Air Force pilot assigned to an experimental project as punishment for illegally bringing a date into the cockpit of a government plane. It turns out that the project involves using chimpanzees in simulated flight scenarios, and that one of the chimps, Virgil (Willie), knows sign language, which he was taught by his beloved trainer, Teri (Helen Hunt). Jimmy is impressed by Virgil’s abilities, but his hard-ass superior, Dr. Carroll (Bill Sadler) doesn’t seem to care. As Jimmy eventually finds out to his horror, this is because the chimps in the experiment are being killed y radiation poisoning, in an effort to determine how long a pilot could survive a nuclear exchange known as the “second-strike scenario.” Jimmy manages to contact Teri, and they team up to try and save Virgil and the other chimps who haven’t been killed yet.

The coolest thing about Project X is how much the chimps themselves become the true stars of the movie. In fact, they are listed first on the film’s IMDb page, with Broderick in a distant 11th place. They each have distinct personalities, too, like a sort of simian wild bunch, with Virgil as the leader and hero, Goofy (Okko) as the comic relief, and Goliath (Karanja) as the grizzled old bad-ass, the type of role Mickey Rourke might play in a movie entirely cast with human actors. This successfully makes the audience root for Jimmy, Teri and their primate friends over the mean old military scientist baddies, and the film’s climax is a triumphant, feel-good adventure sequence made all the more joyful by the aforementioned Homer Simpson factor.

 

  

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Mickey Rourke confirms what everybody else was already thinking

When you interview a guy like Mickey Rourke, you can be sure that you’re going to walk away with at least one or two tasty pull quotes, which is exactly what the actor delivered when Bob Westal sat down to talk to him about his new film, “Immortals.” But while he chatted extensively about working on the Tarsem Singh action fantasy, it was in a discussion about an earlier projects — the 1986 film “9 1/2 Weeks” — that made our day:

I never watched that movie until about five years ago… I saw it [again] about a year or so ago, like little pieces of it, and I said, “That fuckin’ Kim [Basinger] was hot as shit!” I used to go home with a boner every night. Really. That was no fun…

Head over to the Bullz-Eye Blog to read the full interview, including more about “Immortals,” his experience working with directors Darren Aronofsky and Francis Ford Coppola, and how he feels about some of the newer technological advances in film.

  

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It’s a brand new week and never too early for movie news!

* Sofia Coppola’s latest, “Somewhere,” won the highly prized Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. The problem, if there is one, is that she is a current friend and former flame of Jury President Quentin Tarantino. I have to admit that I had forgotten they’d ever been a “thing,” but many do remember and there’s been some grumbling to the effect that the movie isn’t all that “fucking great.” It ain’t the crime of the century, but I guess Tarantino should have recused himself. Speaking for myself only, I find that I tend to be either more harsh or more enthusiastic about friends’ work.  As for Monte Hellman, Tarantino’s hardly alone in praising the maverick writer and director.

* Someone took Stanley Kubrick’s ultimate trip with way too much chemical enhancement over the weekend at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. I have a story about that I’ll tell you sometime. In the meantime, protective measures may be in order.

2001-a-space-odyssey-ape

* So, if Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Robert DeNiro are going to be in a film by Martin Scorsese, naturally it’s called “The Irishman.” Daniel Day Lewis, Brendan Gleeson, and Pierce Brosnan need to make a film called “The Italian” with Neil Jordan directing.

* Good. L.A. needs all the love letters, cinematic and otherwise, it can get. Naturally, all the lead actors are from foreign lands (Christopher Plummer is Canadian, but he feels like he’s from actual overseas), though I’m not sure about the characters. One of the things I loved about “A Single Man” was the way it depicted the European’s love affair with a town that U.S. natives mostly don’t seem to get.

* Woody Allen has stepped in to a long-running rumor-created fracas. France’s acting first lady, Carla Bruni Sarkozy, apparently did just fine in “Midnight in Paris.”

Mickey Rourke scares small children * Mickey Rourke’s latest gig appears to be playing notorious mob killer Richard “the Ice Man” Kuklinski. I think this is a close to making a true family film as Rourke may ever get, next to “Iron Man 2.” The man’s face doesn’t only scare small children, it scares me.

  

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Weekend box office: In which we separate the men from the boys, and women from both

The Expendables

If we are to believe the prognosticators this weekend, testosterone will rule in a weekend which could turn out to be the most exciting movie three-way showdown since the climax of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The impression is that it really does threaten to send the genders, and possibly even the generations, on their separate ways at the nation’s multiplexes.

Of course, when I speak movies of aimed at us penile-Americans, I speak of the R-rated mega-macho ultraviolent action fest, “The Expendables.” The ensemble-action flick is directed, cowritten and co-starring Sylvester Stallone and features Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, and assorted other manly men who are masculine males in supporting roles and cameos.

Cinema prognosticators Ben Fritz and good old jolly Carl DiOrio seem to think this movie will easily take the top spot for Lionsgate to the tune of about $30-35 million with its appeal to males of all ages. Critics, for the most part, aren’t overly impressed, though a sizeable enough minority are treating the film as a campy, action-packed good time. For me, Stallone’s career peaked 35 years ago with his hilarious performance in “Death Race 2000” — “Rocky” has never done much for me and “Rambo: First Blood 2” did even less — but I still might be checking this one out at some point. I do have an affection for the ensemble action film genre. If you do as well, you might want to check out the salute to the sturdy sub-genre posted over at the Bullz-Eye blog.

Julia RobertsFor the more femininely chromosomed, this week’s big draw is supposed to be “Eat Pray Love” from director Ryan Murphy, best known as the creator of TV’s “Glee” and “Nip/Tuck,” and starring an actress you may remember named Julia Roberts. It’s an adaptation of a memoir about a divorced woman going on a worldwide physical and spiritual “journey of self-realization.”  I don’t know about you but when I hear “self-realization” and especially “journey of self-realization” I check out completely. I don’t think that’ s just because I’m male.

While I haven’t seen a single episode of Murphy’s shows, I gather he is associated with a certain degree of offbeat innovation and has clearly touched a nerve on two on the small screen. That doesn’t seem to have translated into much interest from film critics, however, who are mostly kind of unimpressed. Rated PG-13, “Eat Pray Love” does seem to be doing a bit better critically than his poorly received prior adaptation of a hit memoir, “Running with Scissors.” Jolly Carl expects to film to hit the #2 spot with an amount somewhere over $20 million.

And then comes what I hope may be this weekend’s wild card. The consensus seems to be that, despite a torrent of Internet publicity and huge geek buzz, Edgar Wright’s comic book adaptation, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” will be lucky to get much over $15 million which, for a movie costing about $65 million, isn’t great. Though reviews initially looked as they might be “middling,” they are actually shaping up as rather excellent for a film that risks alienating a certain percentage of its audience with its blatantly video-game derived comic book/manga aesthetic. The consensus being that, as with the highly entertaining “Kick-Ass” before it, geek awareness and mass audience acceptance just are not the same thing and it’s entirely likely this will come in the #4 spot behind last week’s #1 film, “The Other Guys.”

I’m sure there’s a good chance this will happen. However,  “Scott Pilgrim” seems to me to be a film that, at least over the long haul, has a potentially much wider audience than some other films because of it’s unusual combination of relationship-driven and action-comedy. The fact that, as a young skewing film, it’s PG-13 but also relatively racy in its advertisements might not hurt either. Not to be put in the position of defending a film I haven’t seen and pre-release online mini-backlash notwithstanding,  there is one thing I feel sure about. In a few years, the new movie from this weekend that people will still be talking about is “Pilgrim.”

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Actually, that’s perhaps not entirely true because there’s also a very interesting new film debuting in very limited release, and this one I did see a couple of months at the L.A. Film Festival. “Animal Kingdom” is an imperfect but highly assured debut from Australian first-time writer-director David Michôd. Though a bit overly dour and slack in the middle, to the point where it very nearly lost me, it’s one of the best crime films I’ve seen in a while with a real doozy of a last act. It’s opening on just small four screens but with a couple of brilliant bad-guy-and-gal performances, this is one I think you’ll be hearing about later on.

  

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