A somewhat creepy, very late night end of week movie news dump

It’s late, so I’ll keep it brief tonight/this morning.

* Given the wave of movie science fiction we’ve had since the release of “Star Wars” back in 1977, it’s always been a disappointment to me how few of the most respected SF novels (“sci-fi” isn’t a term literary science fiction geeks approved of back in my day) have been made into movies. So, even though the book kind of baffled me when I read it not too long after it’s original release in 1984, it’s nice to see that a film version of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the novel which is the original source of the word “cyberspace” — whatever that means. Vincenzo Natali (“Cube”) appears to be the helmer.

* It’s looking like “Iron Man 2” will not be a huge record breaker after all and may make (horrors!) significantly less than the $140 million “floor” we were originally given.

* The RZA (pronounced “The Ri-zuh”) is joining the select club of successful pop musicians turned movie directors that includes Prince, David Byrne, Rob Zombie, Paul McCartney (on the ill-fated telefilm, “Magical Mystery Tour”) and I’m sure some others I’m forgetting. Not surprisingly for the Kung-fu loving Wu-Tang Clan founder who worked on part of the “Kill Bill, Volume 1” score, it’s a stylized martial arts epic co-written with fellow Tarantino associate Eli Roth.

* Speaking of Paul McCartney, the one time Beatle, an outspoken vegetarian in real life, may be going in a very different entirely unauthorized and fictional direction as a brain-eating mop-topped zombie in a possible film version of yet another comic zombies-in-history novel, “Paul is Undead” which envisions a zombified fab four.  Sure, why not.

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Halloween II

Rob Zombie promised he would never make a sequel to his disastrously bad remake of John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” so why couldn’t he just keep his word? Zombie picks up the story where the last one left off, with Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) shot dead by his long-lost baby sister, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton). Apparently, death didn’t suit him, because Myers somehow survives, and after two years wandering the great outdoors as a hobo, he returns to Haddonfield to finish the job. There’s really no explanation as to how Myers was able to walk away with no apparent injuries after a coroner pronounced him dead, but Zombie’s first film didn’t make a whole lot of sense either. In fact, Myers isn’t just invincible, he’s also a trained ninja who’s capable of walking around a creaky old house without making any noise. Either that or he’s received the power of teleportation from his ghost mommy (Sherri Moon Zombie), who appears in a series of dream sequences seemingly designed to allow Zombie’s wife to reprise her role. The whole charade is not only incredibly lame, but quite boring as well, especially now that Laurie is supposed to be this devil-may-care anarchist with her own psychological issues. She’s probably the most unlikeable lead protagonist to ever grace a horror film, but “Halloween II” is such a bloody mess that it’s the least of its problems.

Click to buy “Halloween II”

  

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Whatever you don’t, don’t watch this while carving the turkey!

Now, embedding this particular video today might be in slightly poor taste…okay, it’s actually and definitely in deliriously bad taste…but if I’m going to post Eli Roth’s hysterically disturbing fake trailer for a thankfully non-existent seventies slasher flick called, “Thanksgiving,” what better day is there to post it? You’re probably not at work, but FYI, NSFW. Slasher violence, culinary gore, gratuitous grainy film stock, and gruesomely brief sex and nudity follows.

And here’s a brief but fun little promotional film covering the fake trailers shot for Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s “Grindhouse” by Roth, Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead“), and Rob Zombie (“The Devil’s Rejects,”). Shame the damn thing didn’t make any money.

Mr. Roth and I are of similar ethnic/religious background and, though I’d probably be too squeamish to see an actual Eli Roth horror film based on the holiday that kicks off the Days of Atonement  — and I’d definitely be too chicken to cross the ADL picket lines that would be set up in front of every movie theater and video store that dared to feature it — but I love his idea for a Rosh Hoshannah-based slasher flick. I even have a tag line ready: “May you be inscribed in the book  of…death!” All I need to do know is to figure out the Yiddish for “bwa-ha-ha-ha” and I think we’re halfway to another trailer.

  

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3-D “Final Destination” wins horror franchise battle

The Final Destination

Apparently the lure of bizarre deaths in 3-D was somewhat stronger than more traditional forms of slaughter this weekend. “The Final Destination” won the violent, R-dominated movie derby this weekend and died its way to an estimated $28.3 million for New Line. So says THR/Reuters and Nikki Finke, with Ms. Finke mentioning those 3-D ticket prices as its main advantage against  The Weinstein Company’s latest return to the Michael Myers well, “Halloween 2.” The slasher flick came in at the #3 spot with an estimate of $17.4 million, which actually could have been a lot worse. Judging by the post-release reviews that are trickling in at Rotten Tomatoes, the good will Zombie earned from gore-friendly horror fans on “The Devil’s Rejects” seems to have largely dissipated with this entry. Moreover, Finke’s post and comments are full of remarks on the oddness of facing off two scare-franchises on the same weekend when many students start returning to school. And there’s also the matter of the Weinsteins competing against themselves.

Melanie Laurent
And that brings us to “Inglourious Basterds,” which held well at $20 million on its second weekend, dipping a better-than-average 47% according to Pamela McClintock of Variety, which will no doubt be assuaging whatever disappointment Harvey Weinstein may feel re: “Halloween 2.”  The performance of “Basterds” is pretty magnificent considering last week La Finke and her sources were talking about a huge 70% drop because of the perhaps overestimated returning-to-college factor and, I’m guessing, their prejudice that “Inglourious Basterds” simply can’t possibly be an ongoing moneymaker in the U.S. market.

I caught up with “Basterds” yesterday. I guess it’s no surprise that a Tarantino-positive cinegeek with a heavy retro tendency like myself would hugely enjoy this borderline surrealist World War II opus.  However, it really was something to be in the presence of a very mainstream, semi-surburban cineplex audience rapt with attention during long stretches of subtitled dialogue in a film full of the kind of homages and film references that are supposed to ruin a movie’s chances. Proving, I suppose, the power of stories and characterization to overcome an audience’s prejudices, if not the cynical preconceptions of those inside the Hollywood bubble. Of course, it’s just easier to blow things up to please a young and male audience, and Tarantino does that, too. So there’s your formula. The other well-reviewed violent genre actioner, “District 9,” held on as well in its fourth week with an estimated $10.7 million.

Taking Woodstock Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” was pretty much a bust. It did even less well than I guessed Friday and made only an approximate $3.7 million, though in fewer theaters than the other major releases. To echo myself, fare aimed at older audiences needs favorable reviews and/or buzz to really succeed, and the mild reaction to this fact-based comedy apparently wasn’t cutting it. Even so, this film probably should have started out with an arthouse release.

Speaking of the arthouse circuit, as often happens specialty fare hosted the biggest per screen averages of the week. The documentary “The September Issue” featuring Vogue editor Anna Wintour did smashing business in its first weekend in six New York theaters, with some $40,000 per screen according to Box Office Mojo. Presumably every fashionista in the area turned up to see what I guess might be marketed as the real life version of “The Devil Wears Prada.” Not quite as great, but still at least as strong as a stocky sports geek’s headbutt, was the Bullz-Eye/PH approved “Big Fan,” which did a healthy $13,000 on each of its two coastal screens this weekend.

Patton Oswalt and Kevin Corrigan in

  

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Recycled horrors and boomer-bait form box office threesome

It’s an odd duck of a weekend coming up, movie-wise. Our new releases include two films seeking to squeeze just a few more dollars from some long-running horror franchises and a historical prestige comedy which isn’t generating a huge amount of prestige.

Though it’s not quite a given, the prognosticators assume that one of the horror franchises — neither of which has been screened for critics — will top the weekend box office. I think you’d have to give the edge to Warner/New Line’s “The Final Destination,” mainly because it’s in 3-D. The format may gin up interest in the fifth installment of the nearly decade old series highlighting elaborately gruesome deaths and definitely will gin up ticket prices at the nearly 1,700 venues showing it in that format. The other horror flick, The Weinstein Company’s “Halloween II,” is not only a sequel, but a sequel to a reboot/remake. The cachet of director Rob Zombie has probably helped give this thing some steam and apparently both horror films are doing the “tracking” thing well, says THR‘s Carl DiOrio. Still, splitting the fright ticket here seems almost inevitable as the films appeal to largely the same audience.

The numbers being bandied about for both films seem to top out at no higher than $20 million or so, with significantly lower amounts for one or both likely. Of course, that mean’s it’s far from impossible that neither film will win the weekend, and Quentin Tarantino‘s verifiable hit “Inglourious Basterds” might just walk away with its second #1 slot to go with its strong weekday performance. Of course, with Hollywood concerned for the fate of Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s new company, the performance of both the Tarantino and Zombie productions will be very closely scrutinized.

Taking WoodstockLikely to come in fourth place is something completely different. Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock,” a fact-based comedy about the young entrepreneur who found himself inside a musical/historical whirlwind when he set up the epoch-making music festival at Max Yasgur’s farm. Though Lee is thought of as a rather heavy-duty director these days in the wake of “Brokeback Mountain,” humor has always been a strong suit going back to his early Taiwan-centric international hits, “The Wedding Banquet” and “Eat Drink Man Woman” (which had nothing to do with cannibalism). Even the downbeat “The Ice Storm” is far more darkly funny that it’s usually given credit for.

That, however, was then. Our own David Medsker apparently reflects critics as a whole in his split decision on the film, and that doesn’t bode well because this isn’t a teenager-centric horror flick. Movies appealing to boomers are helped by good reviews; movies by arthouse-fave directors like Lee need good reviews; movie starring culty stand-ups like Demetri Martin in their first starring role might benefit from good reviews, too. So, a meh-by-definition 51% Rotten Tomatoes rating doesn’t really cut it and I will expect this one to do moderate business at best once the general apathy sets in. Still, that might be ameliorated somewhat by the ongoing interest in all things baby-boomer and to a lesser extent by the absurdly young looking Demetri Martin’s cable TV fame. (Martin, by the way, is 36, despite having a near identical hairstyle to me at age 12. Funny guy, however.) The presence of Emile Hersch, Liev Schreiber, and Eugene Levy in the Greco-Jewish dominated cast might not hurt, either. At least it gives violence-averse aging hippies and ultra-PC liberals (and I’ve known a few) some appropriate entertainment.

Patton Oswalt in That pretty much covers the new releases. However, film geeks in L.A. and New York will have the chance to see a frequently hilarious nightmare version of a sports geek via the acclaimed tragicomedy, “Big Fan,” from Robert Siegel, the very talented writer of “The Wrestler.” Our sports-loving compatriot Mike Farley digs it, and I very much admired it, in a bummed out sort of way, as well when I saw it at the Los Angeles Film Festival several weeks back. The mass of critics agree, too. Patton Oswalt might not look much like Robert DeNiro did during his “Taxi Driver” days, but in every other way, he gives Bobby D. a run for his money.

  

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