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Monday night trailer: It’s “Insidious”

About six or seven years back, James Wan and his writing collaborator, Leigh Whannell, cooked up the “Saw” franchise and, I suppose, bear some responsibility for the whole trend of horror films that were more about trauma and less about fun — or at least my idea of fun. I can’t talk too much because my infamous squeamishness has prevented me from actually seeing “Saw,” but Wan and Whannell appear to be headed back toward the kinder, gentler and, I understand, even a bit funnier spook flicks that were once the standard.

Kevin Jagernauth may be a skeptic, but as of now I’m looking forward to “Insidious,” which really does look like my kind of horror flick. This trailer indulges in some trendy trickery to pump up the scare-factor, but I can see it’s beating B-movie heart. Oren Peli is one of the producers, hence the “Paranormal Activity” connection.

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Friday trailer #2: “Atrocious,” the found footage horror subgenre beat goes on

With a title like “Atrocious,” you’ve got to admire the filmmakers’ confidence in regards to us nasty critic types. In any case, this muy creepy trailer from Mexican first-timer Fernando Barreda Luna promises a more violent experience than “The Blair Witch Project,” or “Paranormal Activity.” This time, those meddling kids get in way too deep with a serial killer, or something. Via Cinematical, which has a NSFW warning for language (the word “shit” is used once, not too shocking these days). I guess it’s apposite  if your boss doesn’t like you wasting your time watching scary trailers at work, though.

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Box office preview: Can the ghostly demons of “Paranormal Activity 2″ defeat the ghastly pranksters of “Jackass 3D”?

My Ouija board and jolly Carl DiOrio both agree that, yeah, Paramount’s “Paranormal Activity 2″ has a very decent chance at unseating last weekend’s record setting debut of it’s “Jackass 3D.” While it may seem like an impossible-to-replicate one-off, apparently some care has been taken to avoid the kind of pitfalls that befell such unfortunate sequels as the non-mock-doc “Blair Witch 2.”

LA la-et-paranormal2.jpg

Even more shockingly, 17 of the 21 Rotten Tomatoes critics that have so far reviewed this seemingly destined to (creatively) fail sequel are saying quite the opposite, praising the film for a reportedly clever set-up that ups the ante and even somehow manages the return of Katie Featherston from the original “Paranormal Activity.” Given they’re competing with themselves on two unconventional, low budget projects, it seems like a sure bet Paramount will have a very good weekend and there will be smiling faces on Melrose Monday morning. That’s especially so considering the $1 million reported budget for the horror sequel — which is huge compared to the $15,000 originally spent on Oren Peli’s smash, but tiny in a world where $20 million films are considered to be low-budget. The profits will come very quickly for this one.

“Jackass 3D” should suffer a significant drop as it’s the kind of movie that tends to blow it’s b.o. wad (boy, that sounds gross) on the first weekend. Still, given it’s $50 million opening weekend, that means that “Paranormal Activity 2″ will have to get something well over $20 million to top it, assuming the drop isn’t truly catastrophic. A photo-finish — or in this case a creepy security camera finish — is far from impossible.

Matt Damon seeks out the Also dealing with otherworldly matters is Clint Eastwood‘s “Hereafter” from, as always, Warner Brothers. With Matt Damon leading an ensemble cast in another multi-story drama, the film is expanding from a very limited run last weekend to a wide 2000+ theater release. In a bit of critical topsy-turvy, the movie is not getting anyway near the critical goodwill of this week’s quickie horror sequel. It’s dividing reviewers, with “top critics” from major publications being significantly more friendly to the film. A good example would be Roger Ebert, whose written quite skeptically on his blog about an afterlife, a topic that’s he’s obviously been forced to deal with in the most personal way by real-life events. His conclusion about Eastwood’s movie, written by Peter Morgan of “The Queen” and the hugely underrated, “The Damned United,” are almost opposite to our own Jason Zingale and he’s given the film an outright rave review.

Things movie-wise are otherwise slow, with most of the activity this week in limited releases being in expanding films that have already been out for awhile. Among the movies adding scores of theaters nationwide are the very hot documentaries and meh-ish reviewed drama with a whiff of made-for-basic-cable to it, “Conviction.”

Sam Rockwel and Hillary Swank have

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It’s October and that must mean…

There’ll be days when you forget there are genres other than horror over these next 31 days. Naturally, we kick things off with inevitable “Paranormal Activity 2″ trailer, attempting to repeat the unrepeatable.

I really don’t know how having a family being terrorized by the scary whatsit from “Paranormal Activity” will be enough to not make this feel like the quickie retread it undeniably is, even if it’s brilliant, but anything is possible. Anyhow, original writer and director Oren Pelli’s house may still be the star of the movie, but he’s only on board as a producer this time. Smart guy, I’d say. Let someone else do the impossible.

H/t /Film.

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The “Paranormal Activity 2″ trailer: This time, there’s a dog and a baby! (updated)

Uhm, I really don’t think that’s going to do it, guys. Even as a teaser, this doesn’t even hint at raising the stakes or going into some new area that was unexplored in the first non-film film. Back to the drawing board, maybe?

I was scared by and impressed with “Paranormal Activity,” but let’s agree that, like “The Blair Witch Project,” it was more of an entertaining stunt than an actual film in the traditional sense, and therefore extremely difficult to repeat or top. On the other hand, the budget for this kind of thing is so low that I suppose a nice profit is guaranteed, so go for it, Paramount.

UPDATE: Nikki Finke reports that this trailer was pulled from Cinemark theaters because of complaints in Texas that it was too scary. And I thought I was a scaredy cat. Jiminy.

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Thursday night movie news dump

I usually do this on Friday, but the interesting film related stories have been coming fairly hot and heavy all week and it’s time to play catch up. I’m telling you right now, as long as this post is, whatever the most important and interesting story from this eventful week turns out to be, it’ll be the one I skip.

* When I first heard about the project a week or so back, I was taken by the prospect of screenwriter Dustin Lance Black segueing from a biopic about the first openly gay U.S. politician in “Milk” to one about by far the most powerful closeted gay man in American history, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover was the first director of the FBI starting in 1935 and, in a real blow to our democracy, intimidated several presidents into keeping him in the position until his death in 1972, a shocking 37 years later.

An already interesting project got even more interesting, however, a couple of days back when word got out that none other than Clint Eastwood, who will be joining the very smal club of octogenerian directors this May, might choose to helm it. (The Playlist broke the news on the 10th that Eastwood was “set” to direct; yesterday Borys Kit of The Hollywood Reporter wrote that he was merely “eying” the project.).

Taken together with “Invictus,” this would be the second time the right leaning but independent-minded Republican would be taking on subject matter that deals obliquely with a significant moral failure of American conservatism. Nearly all well-known conservatives tacitly supported both the racist and fascist pre-Mandela South African regime and Hoover’s uninterrupted reign.

In the case of “Invictus,” the idea of him doing it turned out to be more interesting than the film. However, for the man who embodied “get tough” law enforcement concepts as Dirty Harry to take on a law enforcement figure who enjoyed getting tough with anyone who dared to espouse politics he deemed radical — but not the mafia — that’s a horse of a potentially very different color. One to watch.

Clint Eastwood will take your question later

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“Avatar” off to a slightly snowbound $73 million start

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana, embellished, in Thursday night, I tried to imply that only the apocalypse itself could prevent “Avatar” from winning the weekend. And, while 2012 is still a few years away, Nikki Finke reports that a big East coast snow storm is being blamed for the film earning a below-expectations estimate of $73 million for Fox — $12 million less than the the $85 million figure that was being bandied about previously. Regardless, $73 million ain’t chicken feed, though with a ginormous budget ($300 million??) comes ginormous responsibility to rake in the megabucks.

If I were James Cameron, I wouldn’t worry too much, however. Finke is trumpeting the numbers for the more expensive 3-D and 3-D Imax screens and the worldwide take was a record setter, if you leave out all “franchise” films. In other word $159.2 million worldwide is the worldwide record for a film with no previously known characters and not a sequel to some prior hit.

More important, as I suggested on Thursday, the science-fiction spectacular’s strong reviews will likely be reflected in word of mouth among cinema civilians. Finke says that the audience approval surveys from Cinemascore gave the film an “A” across every “quadrant” — i.e., people of all age and gender groups seems to like it. With the Christmas vacation period just getting started and a few Oscar nominations almost certain, I think it’s safe to say that “Avatar” is in better than good shape, especially if a movie like “2012,” which lots of people saw but which I gather very few loved, could still be profitable with a production budget of $200 million. I’d like to think that, sometimes, movies that people actually like do better than movies they merely tolerate. Humor me.

As for the rest of the weekend box office, there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement. Taking a look at the ever-handy Box Office Mojo chart once again, the #2 and the #3 spot went to Disney’s hand-drawn “The Princess and the Frog,” which earned an estimated $12,224,000, and this year’s unrivaled sleeper hit from Warner Brothers, “The Blind Side.” The feel-good sports drama made an estimate $10,030,000 this weekend for a rough total so far of $164,734,000. Considering it’s $29 million budget and the possibility of a box office life-extending Best Actress nomination for Sandra Bullock, I’m guessing this has to wind up as one the year’s most profitable films, perhaps rivaled only by the sub-micro budgeted phenomenon, “Paranormal Activity,” and assorted mega-hits I don’t feel like mentioning/researching.

While Oscar-hopeful “Nine” was the week’s winner in terms of per screen average with $61,750 in four theaters (“Avatar” average of $21,147 was the second placer in per-screen), the week’s other major new release performed in predictably uninspiring fashion. Sony’s critically drubbed star-driven attempt at romantic comedy, “Did You Hear About the Morgans?,” dipped below its extremely modest expectations to earn an estimated $7 million, about  $1 million less than predicted — the snow again, I’m sure. Nevertheless, it appears that if people did hear the Morgans, they mostly decided to ignore them.

Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker in

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A chat with Joshua Leonard of “Humpday”

Joshua LeonardWhen you’re dealing with the press, what topic could possibly overshadow your new, Indie Spirit award-nominated and generally very well received comedy about two more or less ordinary straight dudes who decide to make a porno of themselves having sex…with each other? Well, “Humpday” star Joshua Leonard has had to deal with one of those “be careful what you wish you” show business situations in that the second film he was in about ten years back was an enormously profitable, zero-budget worldwide hit and horror pop-culture phenomenon – one that happens to be referenced in nearly every review of a certain recent zero-budget DIY horror hit.

Still, as one of the three actors/cum camera people/cum screenwriters who endured a deliberately scary and uncomfortable shoot in “The Blair Witch Project,” Leonard has leveraged his decade old flavor-of-the-month status into a solid career as a working actor with scores of credits ranging from the HBO movie “Live from Baghdad” to recent episodes of the new TV series, “Hung,” also on HBO. He’s also become a director. “Beautiful Losers,” a documentary he co-directed, is just hitting home video after a run on the festival circuit, and he recently completed shooting his dramatic feature debut as a writer-director, “The Lie.”

Still, he’s clearly very proud of his involvement in writer-director Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday” alongside costar and previously interviewed fellow film-maker Mark Duplass – now a very close real-life buddy — and happy to have contributed to a new tightly-plotted but improvised movie where there was absolutely no attempt made to convince the world he was dead. His portrayal of Andrew – puppyish Peter Pan, would-be artiste and compulsive traveler/bohemian – remains the extremely funny heart of the film. He’s also, I was happy to find, a really fun guy to talk to. He’s obviously a lot more smarter and 10,000 times more mature than his movie alter-ego, but he’s every bit as easy to hang out with – even on a twenty-minute phone call set up by a publicist.

PH: I don’t always say this, but I really did like “Humpday.” I thought you guys were great.

JL: Thanks, man. What have you hated recently?

PH: [Laughs] I’m a critic, we could blow out entire time talking about that.

JL: [Laughs] That’s what I want to know.

PH: Fortunately, nothing of yours. Okay, so I’m going to ask everyone I talk to on the movie this question….

Just before I saw the movie at the L.A. Film Festival, I had reviewed the DVD for “The Odd Couple.” It was kind of interesting because it was sort of two of the poles of the male bonding thing and of course the whole idea of “bromance” has been  out now. I was just wondering how you thought “Humpday” fit in with all these movies that have been out there on this general topic.

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Live from various parts of West L.A.!

I was at a screening at Sony (it’ll always be the MGM lot to me) earlier tonight, so to avoid traffic and strike while the iron is hot, tonight’s post comes to you directly from various branches of the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. (As one closed, I was forced to migrate…)

* A little detail everyone seemed to miss yesterday: the possibly upcoming “Vlad” that I discussed last night is technically a movie about Dracula but is not, in fact, a vampire movie. It’s a tale that will to some degree hew to the historical reality of the not-quite-literally bloodthirsty Romanian ruler Vlad Dracul, it turns out. Via The Playlist, there’s an informative Entertainment Weekly interview with the screenwriter.

Another detail I personally missed last night: writer Charlie Hunnam is one of the stars of FX’s “Sons of Anarchy,” which I’ve never seen but have been hearing great things about and which, of course, our own Jason Zingale has been blogging right here at PH. “Vlad” is being compared to both “300” and “Braveheart” — two movies I personally strongly disliked partly because they both offend my sense of morality, but I’m still curious to see if this one pans out.

* “Paranormal Activityhit it in France and the UK, but not in Germany. I’m imagining a guy in a turtle neck with a look of disdain. “Your pretense at being haunted by demons grows tiresome!”

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A scary Tuesday night at the movies

*  The rep of PG-rated horror these days couldn’t be much worse. So, I have no problem believing CHUDster Devin Faraci that a publicist sent out a blast e-mail crowing about the R-rating given to “The Wolf Man” for “‘bloody horror, violence and gore.”

The-Wolf-Man1

I’m excited enough about what appears to be a nicely movie-movie stylized general approach to the movie from director Joe Johnston, of the underrated “The Rocketeer” among other movies, to still be looking forward to seeing this, I think. Moreover, I am a fan of the fairly sanguinary (and, to me, truly freaking scary in more or less the best way possible) “An American Werewolf in London,” but I’m still a bit nonplussed. I realize I’m a bit of wuss about too much gore, certainly compared to the typical horror fan.

Nevertheless, I can’t help finding the attitude of AICN’s Quint a little Stephen Colbertesque in its equation of blood and gore to “nards” (Colbert would just come right out and call it “balls”). I also think making a tough, scary film really doesn’t have that much to do with how much colored corn syrup you throw around. But then who listens to a guy who likes musicals?

* The most disconcerting news about “The Wolf Man” is not the above, but the news last month about the decision to apparently drop a mostly completed score by Danny Elfman. Yesterday, Jon Burlingame of Variety wrote an even more disconcerting piece arguing that film composers are being devalued. Here’s the article ending quote from respected composer James Horner (not my personal favorite, as it happens, though he’s certainly worked on plenty of good movies and I’m perhaps not giving him enough credit):

“No one just says, ‘What do you think of my picture? I want you to write what’s in your heart.’ I haven’t heard that in years. That simple concept does not exist anymore.”

Michael Stuhlberg in Apparently, though, it does for some composers, when they’re working with really good directors. Michael Stuhlberg’s interview with Anne Thompson a while back indicates the Carter Burwell’s music may have changed the tone of Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man” considerably and that he was given considerable latitude. Real filmmakers apparently still realize that musical choices — when and how to use it, or not use it –  are absolutely crucial.

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