It’s another end of week movie news dump

It’s oh so tempting to slack off with more trailers and videos, but a few items too interesting to ignore…

* Regular readers, both of you, may remember a number of interview pieces here and elsewhere by me dealing with a film called “Middle Men.” Well, my interview with the film’s producer and presumed model for the lead character, Christopher Mallick, has become a lot more interesting over the last few days. It has drawn some unusually strong comments from netizens, and not for no reason. The Wrap’s Johnnie L. Roberts sums up how funds deposited by Mallick’s current company, ePassporte, have been effectively frozen — leaving some people truly in the lurch — and also that this isn’t the first arguably suspicious crisis that Mallick has weathered.

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I will say that if you have over $240,000 pre-loaded on a card which I gather is mainly for use on porn sites these days (not online poker as I once assumed) — I’m no one to judge on this matter, but I think you’ve got a bit of a problem.

* A much more positive story, especially for hardcore movie fans, is Roger Ebert’s announcement that he is returning the format he and Gene Siskel perfected back to its original PBS home, with a few interesting new twists including the presence of the one of the universe’s more photogenic of cinephile bloggers, Kim Morgan of Sunset Gun, alongside headliners Christy Lemire and Elvis Mitchell, Omar Moore and Ebert himself.  Nikki Finke, via TV Deadliner Nellie Andreeva, provides the turd in the punchbowl. (Please, Mr. Mitchell — don’t give Ms. Finke the pleasure of a “Toldja!” here.)

* Speaking of the amazing Mr. Ebert, be sure to check out his TIFF swag.

* William Monahan, who did such a great job turning the engaging-but-slender Hong Kong thriller, “Infernal Affairs,” into a full-bodied near masterpiece for Martin Scorsese in “The Departedwill be working with “Tron: Legacy” director Joseph Kosinski on something called “Oblivion” for Disney.

* Alamo Drafthouse will be getting into the film distribution game with a bang in more senses than one with their release of the ingenious, ultra-dark British comedy, “Four Lions,” which really does do for terrorism what “In the Loop” did for needless wars. A parking snafu created by the organizers of the Los Angeles Film Festival caused me to be 20 minutes later for the screening but, even so, I can’t imagine that the film will be anything less than one of the year’s best, even if its premise scares many away.

  

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A roundtable chat with Luke Wilson of “Middle Men”

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It’s been nearly 15 years since producer James L. Brooks bankrolled a feature version of a short film made by some Texas youngsters, and that movie (“Bottle Rocket”) introduced the movie world to director Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson, and his brother, Luke. Since then, Dallas-born Luke Wilson’s movie-star handsome likeness has become a highly familiar to filmgoers, playing both leading men and supporting roles mostly in comedies like “Legally Blonde,” “Old School,” and Mike Judge’s criminally maltreated “Idiocracy,” as well as “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and a classic cameo in “Anchorman.” (He was the anchor who — spoiler alert — got his arm was sliced off with a sword by Tim Robbins.)

To this day, Wilson has a habit of turning up in odd and interesting places, like a series of well-known commercials for AT&T or in the uneven but entertaining “Middle Men,” in which Wilson very credibly stars as a Texas businessman who gets much more than he expected at the intersection of e-commerce and adult entertainment. He is also preparing to play the part of Laura Dern’s flaky ex-husband on “Enlightened,” a new TV series from cult writer-producer Mike White (“Chuck and Buck,” “School of Rock“) with episodes directed by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme.

At the risk of creating an embarrassing but perhaps partially correct impression of a man-crush, in person Luke Wilson is a highly charismatic guy. Behind his highly colloquial speech — I’ve left out a lot of “likes” — is an intelligence that, without giving away much of anything, dispenses with a lot of the usual show business interview platitudes. Now in his late 30s, he also appeared thinner than his slightly chunky appearance on “Middle Man” or his recent AT&T commercials. That was because Wilson had deliberately gone over his normal weight by about 25 pounds for the role of a hard-driving businessman and family guy.

What was that like?

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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No surprises in tame weekend box office: “The Other Guys” hits #1

Just as was predicted by nearly everyone as the weekend began, Will Ferrell — with a little help from a few other A and A- listers and broad critical agreement that the movie is no classic but is, in fact, funny — is back on top of the nation’s box office with a very healthy estimated take of $35.6 million for “The Other Guys.” That number from Box Office Mojo is exactly .6 north of the higher end of what was predicted previously by most prognosticators. It’s also a healthy chunk of what Nikki Finke says was a $90 million budget for the very broad action-comedy directed by Ferrell cohort Adam McKay. Ferrell and company also seem to be doing a good job of holding on to their core audience of young males. Considering that Ferrell’s been on top for a while now, you might expect his audience to be aging with him but, as the song says about the young at heart, fairy tales can come true.

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg in Also, as Anthony d’Allesandro reminds us, Sony must be young at heart as well as they seem to having a consistently strong summer. Personally, I’d like to think there’s a bit of Louis B. Mayer mojo still lingering at the company’s Culver City grounds, which belonged to MGM until the mid-eighties. It is important to remember that Ferrell is, however, not a huge draw internationally, probably because a lot of his humor is verbal and plays off quirks of North American culture that might be obscure elsewhere. I mean, what is a Singaporean or Austrian to make of “Stay classy, San Diego!”?

#2 was, of course, “Inception,” which finally left the top spot in week 4 and dropped a modest 32.3% in its fifth weekend. The science fiction caper earned a tidy $18.6 million, which gets it to over $227.7 million so far, or thereabouts and, I’d say, well on its way to the $300 million mark. My skepticism that “Step Up 3D” could exceed earnings over the prior two films in the series was well earned. However, it did sufficiently well for Summit and Disney, hitting the better side of studio projections, Allesandro says, with an estimated $15.5 million. Apparently, given the mixed critical consensus cited, which is practically a rave for this kind of a tween-skiewing film, it doesn’t suck nearly as much as it could have, and that probably helps. Indeed, many of the critics are citing the dance numbers strongly enough to attract my curiosity. (I’m a sucker for a good dance number — emphasis on “good.”)

Moving down the charts,  Sony’s “Salt” continued to hold decently at an estimate of $11.1 million. Last weekend’s #2 picture, Paramount/Dreamworks’ “Dinner for Schmucks,” had a rather large drop of over 55% percent in it’s second weekend, dropping three places to the #5 spot. In a funny way, while few are arguing it’s particularly great, this film really seems to be dividing people over the question of whether it’s funny or unfunny, mean or nice. (David Medsker came down on the negative side, I came down on the positive — and I’m usually the tough-guy around here.)

Still, things are looking fairly rosy for Steve Carrel as he seamlessly transitions from television to movie star. His other hit comedy, albeit one only featuring his heavily accented voice, “Despicable Me,” is now at over $209 million and was very inexpensive by CG animation standards with only a $69 million budget. That must be music to the ears of the folks over at Universal, who really needed a hit.

Despicable Me

As for limited releases, there’s actually too much interesting stuff happening for me to go into. However, as one might have guessed, Joel Schumacher’s “12” did the worst business of anything. In the critic-driven world of the arthouse, Mr. Schumacher has the cards seriously stacked against and this one was getting some of the worst reviews of his career, which is saying something. As always, you can read a lot more about it and many vastly better received movies over at Indiewire. Also, I had to look hard to find out how “Middle Men” did. Suffice it to say that, while I had mixed feelings about the movie, I think it deserved better and the folks at Paramount have been awfully nice to us on this film, which shouldn’t make a difference in how I root, but I’m human and it kind of does. At least, it beat the crap out of “12.”

  

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A Chat With Producer and E-Commerce Pioneer Christopher Mallick of “Middle Men”

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He’s definitely not a household name, but if you’ve ever bought anything over the Internet, Christopher Mallick has had an impact on your household. If your purchases include an occasional picture of illicit sex or gratuitously naked people, that goes double.

Mallick is the producer and inspiration for the highly fictionalized new film, “Middle Men,” which covers the early days of Internet porn as seen through the eyes of businessman Jack Harris (Luke Wilson). Harris makes millions and gets in way over his head after meeting up with a couple of drug addled fools and geniuses (Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht), who, in the process of selling dirty pictures, have developed a way to safely and securely collect credit card numbers over the Internet so they can sell dirty pictures.

In real life, the one-time chief executive of Paycom pioneered the technology that makes buying anything from a DVD to a raincoat to a monthly membership in ButtBusters.com easy, safe, and more or less confidential. He is said to have many outrageous and hilarious behind-the-scenes tales that provided background for the fictional film.

“Middle Men” is actually just the start as Mallick appears to be very serious about the film industry. He’s got more projects coming along the way including films with writer/director George Gallo and a documentary about former porn people, “Exxxit: Life After Porn,” directed by Bryce Wagoner and written and produced by “Middle Men” co-writer Andy Weiss.

Christopher MallickI met Mallick during a recent press day at the L.A. Four Seasons. There was a last minute change in the planned location of the room, from the second floor to the first floor, where we were to talk. When I arrived, I found Mallick — who is apparently slightly camera shy (that little picture to the right is it as far as available online photos are concerned) — in a wheel chair, wearing a leg brace, and, I am told, the company of a bodyguard, who apparently was so good at his job I didn’t even notice he was there.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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Weekend box office preview: “Inception” to meet its match in “The Other Guys”

Christopher Nolan’s science fiction thriller continues to hold audiences to the tune of over $200 million as it enters its fourth week.  It still will likely be no match for the projected $30-$35 million or maybe a bit more being bandied about by box office prognosticators like Ben Fritz and, more optimistically, jolly Carl DiOrio for the new buddy-cop cop parody/homage from Sony starring Will Ferrell, “The Other Guys.” Of course, having Ferrell in a movie is not an instant ticket to box office glory as the experience of “Land of the Lost” taught us not so long ago. “Inception” will nevertheless go to the #2 spot, it appears.

The Other Guys and friend

This time, Ferrell’s got what looks to be very strong support from the increasingly funny Mark Wahlberg not to mention supporting performances by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson as the supercops who would ordinarily be the leads in a buddy-cop flick. It’s even got very decent reviews, which are not a requirement for Ferrell to have a hit but they indicate the movie might be okay. That always helps, though there’s general agreement that the film from Sony is creatively not in anywhere near the ballpark of something like the similarly themed “Hot Fuzz.”

Aimed at a very different audience of young girls, the prospects are less promising for Disney’s “Step Up: 3D.” As the third film in a series that was actually declining, the conventional wisdom is that the only reason it was even made was to cash in on the three-dimensional craze. I’m thinking that craze has already peaked, at least for the present. Nevertheless, DiOrio says that its tracking indicates it might actually beat the $18.9 million opening of the prior entry. I’ll believe that when I see it, though admittedly there really isn’t a strong film for female tweens right now, so counterprogramming could be the film’s salvation. Though with “3D” actually in the title, I’d be worried if I was the executive who greenlit this one.

Luke Wilson and Friends in This week also sees two films opening in over two hundred theaters, making them larger than usual limited releases. As per Box Office Mojo, “Middle Men” from Paramount will be opening in 252 theaters, including the multiscreen drive-in theater about thirty miles east of L.A. where I’ll likely be attending an informal gathering at this weekend.  The movie is getting mixed reviews, which is about right in my view. It’s an attempt to make a Scorsese-style quality film about a major turning point both in the history of porn and e-commerce that fails simply because it tries to tell a miniseries story in the length of an ordinary 100 minute release. Still, it’s an interesting movie with a lot of good moments and some very good acting, including from star Luke Wilson. We’ve been covering it a lot at Bullz-Eye with interviews by me with co-stars Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht and there’s more to come here at Premium Hollywood.

Being released in 231 theaters is Joel Schumacher’s latest attempt at artistic respectability, “12.” Named after a fictitious designer drug, it’s getting predictably uniform bad reviews and is evoking mentions of Larry Clark’s infamous “Kids.”  On 45 screens is kind of the flip side of that, a sentimental comedy-drama of puppy love that sounds a little bit like a very wholesome “Let the Right One,” minus (obviously) the vampires, called “Flipped.” What’s weird here is not that its reviews so far aren’t so good, but that there are only four of them. Even at his best, Reiner was never a huge favorite of mine, though he sometimes chose great material. (No, “When Harry Met Sally” is not really great material in my view.). Still, only getting four reviews is just sad.

  

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