A roundtable chat with Luke Evans and Dominic Cooper

Tamara Drewe,” the latest from the brilliantly versatile non-auteur directing genius Stephen Frears, is a relationship comedy with tragic overtones based on Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel of the same name, in turn inspired by Thomas Hardy’s 18th century novel, Far From the Madding Crowd. The film pits three not-quite-alpha males against each other for the attention of its mercurial and not always lovable title character, played by the beautiful Gemma Arterton. Two of them, fast rising up-and-comers Luke Evans and Dominic Cooper, were set to meet at L.A.’s Four Seasons with a dozen or so entertainment journalists.

It was therefore more than a little bit amusing when the two fictionally competitive actors entered wearing near identical high-end v-neck fashion undershirts and tight-fitting low-rise pants. It was an apparent complete coincidence or perhaps not so random given the popularity of this ultra-casual look among today’s mod set. In any case, Cooper compared their combined look to “a boy band.”

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Dominic Cooper made his first big splash in Alan Bennett’s Tony winning, “The History Boys,” starring in both the London and Broadway productions in 2004 and 2005. His film career, however, goes as far back as a bit part in another adaptation of a British graphic novel: the Hughes Brothers’ 2001 version of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s “From Hell.” Other key parts include a memorable role as disreputable Peter Saarsgard’s business partner/buddy in “An Education” and the lovestruck movie fiance to former real-life girlfriend Amanda Seyfried in “Mamma Mia!” Notable upcoming roles include playing the part of Howard Stark (Tony’s future dad) in the largely World War II-set “Captain America: The First Avenger.” In “Tamara Drewe,” Cooper plays self-involved rock drummer Ben Sergeant of the band Swipe, with whom the gorgeous protagonist dallies for large portions of the film.

With a background in such musicals as “Avenue Q” and the “remixed” “Rent” on the London stage, Luke Evans, who plays all-around good guy and potential once-and-future Tamara Drewe paramour Andy Cobb, has found his way into a number of big budget films, including playing Apollo in “Clash of the Titans” and an upcoming role as no-less than Zeus in Tarsem Singh’s “Immortals.” He also recently completed the role of Aramis in Paul W.S. Anderson’s 3-D version of the oft-filmed “The Three Musketeers.”

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“Resident Evil: Afterlife” reaps goodness at box office

It’s been a hard day and I’m going going to keep it short and sweet. And how sweet it is for the husband-and-wife team of star Milla Jovovich and director Paul W.S. Anderson. Aided by those premium ticket prices for 3D movies and — as pointed out by Nikki Finke — using footage actually shot in 3D, the film easily won the weekend as indicated earlier and sailed to a record gross for the action-horror franchise. Specifically, the estimate for the weekend was $27.7 million for Screen Gems/Sony according to Box Office Mojo. It’ll likely drop off in significantly next week, but the damage is already done.

Elsewhere, there wasn’t that much box office love going around on this traditionally weak weekend. “Takers” came in at #2 and showed some relative legs with $6.1 million, again for Screen Gems/Sony, which is having a decent month. Meanwhile, both of last week’s toppers suffered significant second week declines. “The American,” from Focus Features, really did seem to suffer from some poor word of mouth and netted only a bit under $5.9 million.

Last week’s silver medalist, “Machete,” with two sequels announced in its end credits, suffered the geek second week curse and dropped by over 63% netting only 4.2% million. On the other hand, after seeing the film myself this weekend I heard some highly informal Hollywood scuttlebutt indicating the budget was significantly lower than $20 million figure we’ve heard for the very funny, but awfully slack, straight-faced tongue-in-cheek homage. So, it’s still possible Danny Trejo as Machete may kill again, if so, I’m guessing Fox will keep him on a tight budget.

  

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Weekend box office preview: “Resident Evil: Afterlife” moves in

We’re in a bit of a post-summer season lull here until the more adult oriented award season films kick in, and so this week sees only one new major release. The fourth entry in the series of video game-based science-fiction-horror-action films starring Milla Jovovich,  Screen Gems’ “Resident Evil: Afterlife,” is the first 3D entry in the increasingly successful and 100% critic proof series and marks the return of geek whipping boy Paul W.S. Anderson to the helm. This one isn’t being screened for critics, not that it matters either way.

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My go-to prognosticators Ben Fritz of the Los Angeles Times and Jolly Carl DiOrio of THR, both expect the film to easily top the weekend with about $25 million or so, bolstered by those high 3D ticket prices. Fritz also reminds us that the post-Labor Day weekend is traditionally the weakest movie going weekend of the year. If you hate crowds, here’s your chance.

Of course, that leaves a lot of room for jockeying between last weekend’s somewhat successful new releases, the #1 “The American” and the #2 “Machete.” Both films are quite modestly budgeted at $20 million according to Box Office Mojo’s chart, so they’ll both be profitable. Both also have issues with legs — “Machete” because it’s in a heavy-duty genre film and they are noted for huge second-weekend drop-offs and “The American” because it got truly terrible ratings from the people who answered the Cinemascore survey. Jolly Carl believes the way the film, which opened two days early last week, performed indicates that the word of mouth on the film isn’t nearly as bad as that D- would indicate. If the film proves as leggy as most adult-oriented film tend to be, that will a pretty serious black-eye for the polling firm.

Otherwise, there is a major reissue this week of “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” to give Twi-hards one last chance to route for their favorite monster boy-toys. Also there’s going to be a series of what amounts to sneak previews of the upcoming horny teenager mockumentary, ‘The Virginity Hit.” And, finally, the much discussed Joaquin Phoenix documentary that might not be a documentary, “I’m Still Here,” will be opening in about 19 theaters.  More about that a couple of posts down.

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Kinda midweekish movie news

Again, plenty to do so I’ll try to keep things efficient this evening as I go over a few stories. Some of them, I must admit, are left overs from last night. Still, just like the way cold chicken can be even better after sitting in the fridge, maybe this news will have improved slightly with time.

* If we can believe the Wall Street Journal, it appears that the Weinstein/Burkle deal to kinda-sort retake Miramax is off, writes Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical.  Since the company is actually named after the parents of Harvey and Bob Weinstein, I imagine this might hurt a little.

Dominic Cooper in * John Slattery of “Mad Men” was one of the more pleasant surprises of “Iron Man 2” as a middle-aged (actually long-deceased) Howard Stark. Now, we know who’ll be playing Stark as a young man in “Captain America: The First Avenger.” It’s Dominic Cooper, the male ingenue of “Mamma Mia,” whose other recent parts includes playing Uday Hussein, so he’s definitely running the gamut.

* Jesse Eisenberg, who had a rather good weekend with two films in limited release, is reteaming with his “Zombieland” director, Ruben Fleischer. The picture sounds like a pretty fun black comedy about a bizarre bank robbery. Aziz Ansari is also in the film as a middle-school teacher which, right off the bat makes me laugh.

* Sam Rockwell as…Joe Christ?

* There’s very little reason to expect the Paul W.S. Anderson 3-D version “The Three Musketeers” is going to be anywhere near one of the better versions of the oft-filmed adventure tale, but I actually like the idea of elf-to-punching-bag actor Orlando Bloom as a bad ass villain. I’ve missed most of his non-elven performances, so I’m not yet a Bloom-hater. Anyhow, it’s good for actors to stretch a bit.

*  I might have been tempted to run clips from the ongoing “Star Wars” spoofery going on at “The Family Guy” only I have this strange, yet deep, inner conviction that Seth MacFarlane should in no way be confused with someone who makes funny shows. The clip from a table read embedded on a  post by Geoff Boucher only strengthens that conviction. I seriously do not understand what those people are laughing at. I’ve asked this question before and have never received a good answer: is the “joke” of his shows that all the jokes are bad?

* If the movie adventures of young Jack London get more kids to actually read Jack London, I think that’ll be great. Confession time: I’ve only read The Sea Wolf. The movie, despite having Edward G. Robinson, John Garfield, and Ida Lupino in it, didn’t begin to do it justice. Steling Hayden or Robert Ryan were the only men ever born to play the half-insane, ultra-macho, pseudo-intellectual control freak Wolf Larsen. Actually, Russell Crowe could not only play Wolf Larson, I suspect he is Wolf Larsen.

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Monday night at the movies

* We’ve been pretty enthusiastic here about both trailers for “The Wolfman.” Still, there’s been some disconcerting news about the promising looking remake of the 1941 Universal monster classic. Composer Danny Elfman, who has a terrific way with slightly over-the-top genre material going back to his earliest work with Tim Burton on “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” has left the project due to “scheduling conflicts.” Word that a score has actually been composed makes it seem even a bit odder. It’s true that there’s a lot more to scoring a film than composing the music, but there is more than one way to deal with that short of dumping a largely finished score if all there really is is a time problem, I’d guess.

More worrisome is Elfman’s replacement, Paul Haslinger, whose resume includes the rock scores for two of the “Underworld” films Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Death Race.” To be fair, Haslinger was a member of synth group Tangerine Dream from 1986 to 1992 and participated in the scores to films like “Near Dark.” However, I’m usually of the opinion that a period picture requires a period sound and the vague Euro-synth of the “Underworld” music does not inspire me. Hopefully, he’ll go for more of an orchestral sound.

Even more worrisome still, Renn Brown over at CHUD makes a strong case that this is a generally troubled production. At the same time, movie history is filled with troubled productions that turned out great and fun-to-make films that turned out to be horrible-to-watch. We’ll see when we see.

* New York film critic David Ansen will be artistic director of the Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF), writes Anne Thompson.

* Alex Ben Block declares Peter Jackson producer of the year. His methods and approach sound almost Pixar-like in his openness to collaboration. It’s a complicated method: hire good people and listen to them.

* Apparently, Jackson lost all a bunch of weight a few years back simply by swearing off junk food while maintaining a punishing work scheduled during the making of “King Kong,” and he’s kept it off since. Good for him. Judging from the picture in today’s Variety, however, Winona Ryder might consider a regime that includes the occasional milkshake and order of chili cheese fries. Okay, none of our business and, in any case,  the role she is “circling” in Darren Aronofsky’s all-star oddball thriller, “Black Swan,” calls for her to play a veteran dancer, but, my god, those protuberant cheek bones. Part of me just wants her to mainline my mom’s brisket or something.

As for the movie itself, what I’m hearing reminds of just a little bit of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s “The Red Shoes,” and not just because of the ballet setting. There’s also the underlying psychoses.

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