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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Nip/Tuck: The Sixth and Final Season

Only on “Nip/Tuck” can a character utter a line like “Dildo sales are down. It’s the goddamn economy,” and make it sound a perfectly reasonable thing to say. There are aspects I will miss about “Nip/Tuck,” and one of them is its ability to take the most outlandishly offensive situation and make it seem relatively normal, at least within the context of the show. But all good and bad things must come to an end, and “Nip/Tuck,” from Season Three onwards, was equal parts of both. The Sixth Season aired in two parts (with a month break in the middle), which at the time were marketed as Seasons Six and Seven. There is no Season Seven, but there is a 19-episode sixth season, and all those episodes are collected in this set. Through watching this block, however, it certainly seems like two different seasons. Confused? Annoyed? Allow me to elaborate and pontificate.

The first ten episodes are all but unwatchable in their awfulness. Not merely content to disturb viewers, these episodes largely depress as well, although it seems unlikely that was the goal. The flaccid economy, and its effect on the plastic surgery business, is stressed in the first episode, but what does it say about a show when such a topic is one of the bright spots? Sean (Dylan Walsh) is still dating anesthesiologist Teddy Rowe, who used to be played by Katee Sackhoff, but now resides in the body of Rose McGowan, which is a true “what the fuck?” soap opera switch, given that it’s hard to think of two actresses that are any less alike in both their method and appearance. Teddy slowly begins revealing her true, black widow colors as the narrative progresses, and on the camping trip from hell, Teddy’s shit hits the fan and splatters all over the place.

Meanwhile, Christian (Julian McMahon), who is not dying of cancer after all, must contend with a seriously pissed off Liz (Roma Maffia), since now that he’s not dying he doesn’t want to stay married to her. Liz’s reaction is understandable, but that doesn’t make her character arc any more palatable, since Liz is the only person on the show we’ve come to believe is truly decent. Kimber (Kelly Carlson) begins dating Dr. Mike Hamoui (Mario Lopez), a development nobody was asking to see, and if ever you wanted to see Lopez dressed in a corset, garter belt, and stockings, well, now’s your chance. Stills from the episode in which Christian talks him into this get-up are bound to haunt Lopez for the rest of his life, which amuses me to no end. Maybe he can put the scene on his reel should the “Rocky Horror” remake ever get off the ground?

Matt (John Hensley) has taken up miming, only to discover there’s more money to be found in robbing convenience stores in whiteface. As per usual with Matt, things go south with his plans, but never as far as here, where he ends up going to prison, and the episode “Alexis Stone II” is surely one of the most self-loathing episodes of any TV series, ever. And Julia (Joely Richardson)? Well, I think she’s in there somewhere, but as has been par for the course in recent times, Richardson’s mind is obviously anywhere but on her character. The patient storylines, too, are revolting. Characters like The Enigma, Jenny Juggs, and Lola Wlodkowski are amongst the most tasteless the show has ever showcased (which is saying something), and the aforementioned Alexis Stone, who manages a two-episode arc, simply gives transgendered people a bad name. It’s a credit to the series that they didn’t have her whip out a knife and slit Christian’s throat at the end of her tale. These ten episodes are some of the worst the show has ever unleashed, and as tough as it was watching them on broadcast, it was twice as tough sitting through them a second time on DVD. Even the most die-hard fans of the show surely knew that it was time to close up shop when these aired last year.

And one must wonder how many viewers the show lost in that block. How many people failed to come back to the show in January for the final nine episodes? I’m willing to bet plenty, which is a shame because, believe it or not, after years of excess, “Nip/Tuck” managed to deliver a nicely restrained, oftentimes poignant batch of episodes to close out the series. The story picks up a few months after the first ten in the set, and Sean and Christian are going to pick up a lifetime achievement award. Only after they receive the award does Sean discover that Christian bought it via a hefty donation, at which point Sean goes ballistic. And from there, the season peels one layer of the onion away after the next, dissecting McNamara and Troy’s friendship and partnership, all while providing endings for every other character on the show as well (most are surprisingly happy, some a little warped, and in one case we lose a character altogether).

One excellent episode, “Dr. Griffin,” is set almost entirely in a psychiatrist’s office, with Sean and Christian unloading their grievances on one another. Even the patient stories have a great deal of heft to them, and take viewers back to a time when the show was as much about the surgeries as it was the main characters. And then there’s fan favorite villainess Ava Moore (Famke Janssen), who returns to wreak some havoc one last time, for the final two episodes of the series.

I once wrote that when “Nip/Tuck” ended, I wanted to have to “scrape my jaw up off the floor and make an appointment for some reconstructive surgery.” I can’t honestly say that happens here, but I wrote that way back when this show and I were still doing a lovely little dance together week in and out. That dance ended some time ago, and yet I was pretty bowled over by the mature series of notes the show went out on. I think that’s how it needed to be, given that it’s been mercilessly and vacuously titillating viewers for far too long now. Given how controversial many series finales are these days, perhaps the biggest surprise “Nip/Tuck” could’ve given us is a finale that wasn’t controversial at all. Well, mostly not. There is that one last thing with Ava and Matt that might just make your blood boil, but I thought it was just right.

The three stars given to this set are merely an average: Two stars for the first ten episodes, and four stars for the last nine. I don’t know exactly how to tell people to avoid one half of a season box set, whilst highly recommending its second half. You’ll have to figure the rest out on your own.

Special Features: There’s just one measly featurette entitled “Tell Me What You Don’t Like About Yourself: The Psychology Behind Plastic Surgery,” which is just as throwaway as it sounds. No celebration for the end of the show, no commentaries, no deleted scenes, no nothing.

  

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Kelly Carlson talks about the end of Kimber Henry and “Nip/Tuck”

It’s happened many times in the past: a character is introduced to a television series as a one-off, but because of either fan interest of a burst of creativity from the show’s writers, they’re brought back. Sometimes they become a recurring character, but in some cases, they go on to become a full-fledged series regular. Such was the case with Kimber Henry, Kelly Carlson’s character on the long-running FX series “Nip/Tuck.” Kimber made her debut in the show’s pilot episode, but by Season 3, she was officially considered to be part of the main cast right up until the show’s final season, when she bowed out, so to speak. Now that “Nip/Tuck” is wrapping up, Bullz-Eye was able to chat with Carlson about her character’s legacy, including how Kimber grew in prominence, the way she came to her end, and, of course, all the sordid stuff that went on in between.

* On Kimber’s evolution from the pilot: “When you take a character like that, with not much background and history, it starts in the eyes, you know what I mean? And that’s simply what I just tried to do: to try and bring some depth to her, and some emotion, for the audience to connect with. Otherwise it’s boring. ‘Cute girl, yeah, who cares,’ you know? That’s not how you get your female fans. I wanted to bring some layers to her that everyone could relate to or understand.”

* On sex scenes: “Julian (McMahon), in the pilot, totally broke the ice with me the first day. The pilot was so graphic, and it was our first day working together…I mean, it was brutal. It was really an uncomfortable situation for both of us, and I had never done a love scene, but he is a funny, funny guy, and he broke the ice for us. After that, the recurring characters were much more nervous than I was. After awhile, it just became routine for me, like I was a broodmare or something!”

* On Kimber’s death: “I wouldn’t have wanted a happy sendoff for her, because it wouldn’t have fit her character at all. It just wouldn’t have. But I have mixed feelings about it. I don’t mind that she died at all. I think that’s absolutely appropriate. But I thought it was fairly quick. I don’t know. Visually, it wasn’t that stimulating for me to watch, so I’m lukewarm on that.”

You can check out the rest of the interview with the gorgeous Ms. Carlson by clicking on the above graphic. I mean, you could click right here, but, y’know, if you’ve got a chance to click Kelly Carlson directly, why wouldn’t you take it?

  

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TV in the 2000s: The Shows that Defined the Decade

A recent issue of Time magazine has the phrase “The Decade from Hell” emblazoned across its front cover. It’s referring to everything America has gone through in the past ten years, and it’s difficult to argue such an assertion: it’s been a shitty decade on a national level. During such times of stress, people inevitably turn to entertainment as a form of release, and although the methods in which we’ve distracted ourselves over the last ten years have unquestionably diversified, television remains the most easily accessible outlet for most Americans.

Within the format itself, the whole concept of reality TV must surely have been the biggest revolution of the decade. It’s really easy to bag on reality TV – mostly because the bulk of it is so damned unreal – but anybody who spends any time in front of the tube has surely had at least a couple of reality series they consider appointment TV. The two concepts that paved the way for everything else are undoubtedly “Survivor” and “American Idol.” The former, of course, opened the floodgates for the genre, and while it’s seen a considerable dip in the ratings department over the years, 12 million viewers isn’t a viewing figure to sneeze at. The latter, despite all the bitching and moaning and cries of “it’s not as good as it used to be” that accompany each new season, remains one of the most watched shows on the tube, likely due to the fact that it’s strictly a talent competition.

On “American Idol,” the only backstabbers are the judges, and since they aren’t part of the competition, their amusing duplicity is championed. The contestants, on the other hand, are innocents, and once the competition is underway, we’re given no peek into any possible backstage drama, which is a good thing, because by the time the audition rounds are over, we’ve had enough drama to last the whole season. Everything that comes after is all about who can best transfix us for three minutes a week via one pop ditty. It actually says something positive about the U.S. that “American Idol” remains our #1 form of reality entertainment, even if the actual reality is that the vast majority of Americans couldn’t care less about buying the winner’s album six months after they’re crowned.

You might think reality TV is a bunch of crap, and in most cases you’d be right, but the whole idea of it, to my mind, led to an important revolution, and that is serialized nighttime television (the classic “soap” formula notwithstanding). Reality shows taught viewers how to become invested in characters, how to be concerned for their eventual fate, and, most importantly, how to pay attention to an ongoing storyline, and the need to tune in every week. It didn’t take long for the networks to figure out that there was an audience for shows that didn’t continually hit the reset button. “24” must have been the first successful show of the decade to embrace the serial formula, and it embraced it whole hog. It required you to tune in for every episode, because each installment was another hour of a single day in the life of Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. That “24” premiered less than two months after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was pure happenstance. That it became enormously popular with viewers? Probably not so much. America needed some fictitious reassurance that there were folks on the job who could get shit done, and “24” filled the prescription.

Strangely, “24” didn’t open the network floodgates for more such programming right away. It took a few years, and then “Lost” made its mark. The number of “Lost” episodes I’ve seen could be counted on two hands, but that’s not because I didn’t like it, but because real life got in the way of it being appointment TV. Yet I viewed the pilot for “Lost” several months before its 2004 premiere, and when it ended I was convinced that I’d seen the second best TV pilot ever made. (“Twin Peaks” stills sits at #1.) The fact that a show as intricate as “Lost” still has a hardcore, central audience is perhaps a testament to that pilot. “24” started a new story with each new season; “Lost” required that you tune in for every episode of every season.

Another sci-fi series that did just that was “Battlestar Galactica,” a show that, due it being on a niche network (Syfy), never amassed a huge audience yet snagged boatloads of publicity and awareness nonetheless. It was no small feat to take an utterly laughable short-lived series from the late ‘70s and re-envision it for modern audiences, but Ron Moore and company did just that…and they did it far more successfully that anyone ever guessed possible. Most amazingly, the show taught us a lot about ourselves, by thoroughly defining what it means to be human, and as the damaged ‘00s dragged on, there may not have been a more important lesson to be learned.

On the same day I saw the “Lost” pilot, I saw another pilot for a completely different kind of series. While I didn’t rank it as one of the greats, there was one thing I was sure of: it would be a massive hit…and it was. “Desperate Housewives” was precisely the sort of vapid, soapy fare that had been absent for far too long on American TV. It clued into the seemingly bland suburban construct which surrounds so many Americans, via the Lynchian notion that “all is not what it seems.” Most anyone who lives a suburban life can no doubt relate to that idea, because wherever there are groups of people, there are bound to be some of them that are fucked up. “Housewives” is littered with fucked up suburbanites of all shapes, sizes and types, but they’re kooky and funny and there’s always some twinkly music playing in the background that in the end makes everything OK. It is not great television, but over the years it has, for the most part, been immensely watchable in the most disposable sort of way.

Around the same time period as “Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” made some major waves. It’s a series I have never watched and never plan to, but I’d be foolish to omit it from discussion since it brought two annoyingly obnoxious terms to the TV table: McDreamy and McSteamy. I haven’t heard either in a few years, but there was a time when they seemed to define everything that was wrong with television. I assume “Grey’s” fans have grown out of it…or maybe the show killed one of those guys off? I’ve no idea and can’t be motivated to investigate. Presently, there’s a brand new version of it going around, through cinema, via Camp Edward and Camp Nimrod. People can be so easily distracted it makes you wonder why some shows actually try harder.

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Late Friday night news dump

A few more items than usual may be slipping through the cracks this week as my iMac has let me know in no uncertain terms that it’s hard drive is ready to be sent off to the digital happy hunting grounds and has been temporarily mothballed.  In the meantime, I am writing to you now, dear reader, via my trusty, if Vista-laden lap top and minus a few links I’ve been saving up over the last couple of days.

But enough about me and my choice of blogging weapon, what’s going on as Hollywood’s denizens ready for the weekend by hit the bars and/or gyms?

* MGM is officially on the auction block, and the secret word to protect against bankruptcy, writes Sharon Waxman, is “forebearance.”

* I’ve never watched “Nip/Tuck” and I couldn’t get past the first twenty minutes or so of “Fantastic Four,” so Julian McMahon is a new name/face to me. Nevertheless, Heat Vision blog wants us to know that he’s in negotiations alongside Richard Dreyfuss and 92 year-old Ernest Borgnine to join an already very impressive cast on the action-espionage comic book adaptation, “Red,” which includes Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John C. Reilly, and Mary Louise Parker. Considering whose on board, director Robert Schwentke of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” really needs to step up his game. (H/t CHUD.)

* “Paranormal Activity” has past $100 million in grosses. I think Anne Thompson is correct that there are lessons here for other films. It’s true the movie is a one-off creatively speaking, but the slow roll-out and “by popular demand” tactics can definitely be transferred to all kinds of movies. It’s also silly to argue that the success of the movie was all the result of some kind of wide belief that it was “real.” In general, I’m a proponent of slow releases, except that there’s a problem — it works better with movies that are actually entertaining.

On a different note entirely, be sure to check out Ms. Thompson’s three part video interview with Michael Stuhlberg, the heretofore unknown star of  “A Serious Man.”

*Word has it that Nicolas Cage’s crappy streak appears to be ending in a big way with Werner Herzog’s “Bad Lieutanent: Port of Call New Orleans” which I’m really starting to looking forward to despite, or perhaps because, I was not a fan of the original film, much as I love Harvey Keitel. Via The Auteurs Daily, Manohla Dargis considers Cage’s career ups and downs. Good stuff, but, well, since Ms. Dargis mentions it, I can’t resist indulging in, well, you know….

  

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