If you’re looking for a surprise at the box office…

…I suggest you got to the front of your local multiplex, remove your pants, sing “La Cucaracha” at the top of your voice, and see what happens. You certainly won’t get anything too unexpected from the weekend’s movie grosses based on what I wrote Thursday night.

Avatar

According to Box Office Mojo , once again the 3-D science fiction fable that just won’t quit, “Avatar” continues to “hold” fabulously for Fox and is down only 14.1% from last weekend for a very nice total of $30 million in its seventh week atop the box office. Jolly Carl DiOrio reminds us, however, that while James Cameron‘s previous “Titanic” record is about to be demolished in terms of raw cash, that mega-blockbuster stayed on top of the box office for an astonishing 15 weekends. (I’m glad I wasn’t writing these back in 1997-8; I might have gone insane from the repetition.) Of course, all it takes to end the record is one really sizable new hit movie to make into the high twenties or low thirties. We’ll see.

For now, that sizable new hit remains a mere phantom. This week’s silver medalist is the thriller “Edge of Darkness, starring Mel Gibson” The film managed an estimated $17.12 million in 3,066 theaters for Warners, making for an unexciting per screen average of $5,584. This is not a terrible performance, but given the film’s $80 million budget, it ain’t great. Some of you (you know who you are) may recall that, when the space opera “Serenity” opened with about $10 million some years back, it was deemed a fairly major disappointment with a budget of less than half that much. Ol’ Sugar Tits and company are going to have to hold on very well at the box office in subsequent weeks if he wants this to be seen as anything resembling the start of an acting comeback.

Kristen Bell in
Speaking of movies related to great-but-canceled television shows with high geek appeal, what does it mean that, just as I was starting to write this post, the Dandy Warhols’ “We Used to Be Friends” came on the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s Muzak? Yes, the theme to “Veronica Mars” put me in mind of the performance of the critically drubbed romantic comedy “When in Rome.” Still, the appeal of former TV teen detective Kristen Bell may have counted for enough to get the film a non-terrible estimated opening weekend of $12+ million for Disney, which might be enough, or not, depending on the budget.

There was some interesting blowback from prior weeks. Last week’s surprising situation where the killer-angel film “Legion” came in at a strong #2 with over $28 million, defeating the family appeal of Fox’s “The Tooth Fairy” was reversed this week. The PG-rated Dwayne Johnson comedy vehicle stayed in the #4 position and earned an estimated $10 million dropping a relatively very modest 28% in its second week. “Legion” from Screen Gems sank by a whopping 61.1% and came in at the #6 spot, beneath “The Book of Eli,” with only an estimated $6.8 million.

The only other news of much note is the strong performance of the slowly expanding country-music themed drama, “Crazy Heart” — featuring a multi-award-winning performance by Jeff Bridges that really seems like an Oscar lock. In 239 theaters as of this weekend, the film earned one of the weekend’s best per-screen averages ($9,414) for an estimated total of $2.25 million. That will be sweet, soulful music to the ears of the suits of Fox Searchlight.

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TV in the 2000s: The Decade in Whedonism – 10 Small Screen Masterpieces from Joss Whedon

Like an awful lot of film and TV geeks, and just plain geeks, I’m a pretty big Joss Whedon fan. In fact, my devotion to his unique blend of fantasy and science fiction melodrama, sometimes arch old-school movie-style witty dialogue blended with Marvel comics repartee, strong characterization, and often somewhat silly plots has at times gotten almost embarrassing. A few years back some of my very adult friends were suggesting in concerned tones that I should really marry the man if I love him so much.

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More recently, I thought my fandom was under relative control. But now, I’ve been asked my opinion on the ten best examples of small-screen work in this decade from the creator and guiding force of “Angel,” “Firefly,” the already canceled “Dollhouse,” and, of course, “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.” I only have to be thankful for the fact that first four seasons of “Buffy,” which contain most of that show’s greatest episodes, are disqualified because they appeared on TV sets before 2000. We take our mercies where we find them. (And, yes, if you’re about to catch up with these on DVD, there are a fair number of spoilers below for the various series, though I’ve tried to keep a few secrets.) One word of warning: my relative ranking of these shows is a matter of mood and borders on the random. In other words — don’t hold me to these choices!

Out of competition:

BTVS, “The Body” (“Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”) – This episode usually ranks extremely high when people make these kind of lists. Entertainment Weekly named it as pretty much the best thing Joss Whedon has ever done and maybe the best TV thing ever. The truth of the matter is that, yes, the episode where Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Geller) discovers the already cold body of her mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland, a wonderful asset to the show for the five previous years), dead from an entirely natural brain tumor, was probably one of the most remarkable episodes of television ever shown, and probably the only thing I’ve seen that comes close to capturing the essence of what it feels like when someone dies unexpectedly. The problem was, I didn’t find it depressing; I found it real. I didn’t feel any more like repeating the experience than I would the death of an actual loved one.

Whedon – who wrote and directed the episode himself – deserves all the credit in the world for the brave choices he made, including shooting the episode in close to “real time” and not using any music. If I have one complaint with Whedon, it’s his tendency to close emotional episodes with, dare I say it, somewhat drippy montages. His choice to eliminate music from the kind of “very special” show where other creators would lay in with three or four montages of Joyce frolicking in the woods or what have you, shows Whedon is, at heart, an outstanding filmmaker. I’ve never had a problem with his much-noted tendency to kill off sympathetic and/or popular characters. It might anger some fans, but especially if you’re dealing with inherently violent material, there’s something morally wrong about not dealing with the fact that good people are just as mortal as bad people. Still, I don’t enjoy watching this episode. If this were a movie, maybe I’d be more in awe or eager for profundity. However, if I’m going to be honest, I can’t call “The Body” a favorite and I can’t be sure it’s one of the “best.”

#10, Shiny Happy People (“Angel”) – Fans of the spin-off about Buffy’s ex, the vampire-with-a-soul detective (David Boreanaz), and various assembled demon-hunters and occasionally friendly demons, will be scratching their heads at this choice. It’s an unpopular episode from a widely and justly derided storyline involving a very weird affair between Angel’s unbalanced super-powered teenage son from another dimension, Connor (Vincent Kartheiser, now of “Mad Men“), and a suddenly evil Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), a former high school mean girl turned lovably complex grown-up foil for her vampire boss. And, yeah, it was a little freaky for Cordy to give birth to a fully grown creature called Jasmine.

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However, as played by the wondrous Gina Torres of the then recently-canceled “Firefly,” Jasmine was freaky in a good way. A being whose god-like ability to create an instant sense of peace, happiness, and complete obedience, is somewhat set off by the fact that she’s actually a deformed and decaying, if not entirely evil, monster who must consume people to live, she was every charismatic leader and every great screen beauty rolled into one monstrous ball. More than anything else, “Shiny Happy People” reminded me of Don Siegel’s 1956 film verson of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” It was another believable demonstration of how we humans are only too willing to surrender our our humanity to the first apparently completely beauteous and 100% wise being who comes along. You know, like Oprah, only less powerful.

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Possibly the most lax “movie moment,” ever (Updated)

[UPDATE: As I wrote this, I somehow mistook a nearly 2.5 year old post for one written yesterday morning. I guess I was more punchy than I ever realized….a lax post, indeed!]

So, yesterday one morning in April of 2007, Will Harris wrote about this rather relaxed “WKRP in Cincinnatifan blog — so much so the writer forgot about the release of the second season DVD until it had been out for two days. Actually, though, I can relate. For one thing, it’s hard to get excited about a DVD where they couldn’t even get musical clearance for a few notes of “Fly Me to the Moon” to preserve one of the show’s signature gags. And I, too, have let certain of my fandoms slide over the years.

There were other aspects of the blog Will mentioned, however, including a seemingly random discussion of the relative cuteness/hotness of “girl next door” characters, radio producer Baily Quarters (Jan Smithers) and Kaylee (Jewel Staite), the adorable, sex-positive space-freighter engineer on the entirely unrelated space opera, “Firefly,” and then in its movie continuation, “Serenity.” As I wrote in comments, it’s a tough call for me — both Bailey and Kaylee (both names end in “e” sounds!) are entirely my “type.” On the other hand, there was never a “WKRP” movie, so that leaves only one choice in terms of clips.

I’m feeling pretty lax myself right now. Here’s tonight’s movie moment. All ten seconds of it.

  

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The strange weekend of five

This is one interesting movie August we’re in. In fact, if you go to a mutliplex this weekend and can’t find anything that interests you, then you probably don’t belong anywhere near a contemporary movie theater. At this point in film history, things just don’t get that much more diverse, and more interesting, than the new films on offer this weekend.

* Anyone with a geek bone in their body has heard and/or seen a fair amount about the movie box office prognosticators expect to end the reign of “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” By most accounts a thoughtful yet violent/bloody R-rated science fiction actioner from first-time feature director Neill Blomkamp, “District 9” benefits from a lot of really good buzz, truly outstanding reviews, and a very high-profile variant of a viral campaign; the “humans only” signs have been up at bus-stops in Los Angeles for what seems like years and the film’s association with executive producer Peter Jackson won’t hurt. (Just like the filmgoers who probably still believe that Quentin Tarantino directed “Hostel” and have no clue who Eli Roth is, many casual movie fans will give Jackson the credit/blame on this.)

On the possible downside: there are no stars or recognizable faces and the film’s setting of South Africa might put off some people. We Americans, I fear, can be an obnoxiously xenophobic bunch at times. However, this is a new age we’re in (I think) and certainly this film, about space aliens being oppressed by us literally xenophobic humans, has a much easier to grasp premise than “Serenity,” the last star-free but excitement-heavy, well-reviewed science fiction film to rely on viral marketing, and the virus is far more virulent this time. So, the projections of a take of somewhere in the $20 millions or more for Sony offered both by Variety‘s Pamela McClintock and The Hollywood Reporter‘s ever-jolly Carl DiOrio, who guesses it at at least $25 million, make some sense.

Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams
* Unless they’re seeing someone very special and very insistent, the young males who will be flocking to “District 9” likely won’t be seeing this week’s promising box office hopeful, even though it’s also science fiction, though obviously of a very different sort. Warner’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is unusual for the movies I write about here in that I’ve actually seen this one before its release date, and you can read all about my opinion of the film over at the link. Suffice it to say that fantastical romantic melodrama is not generating a whole bunch of critical excitement, though that underwhelming 37% RT rating is not so much a collective groan as a chorus of “meh.”

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Buffy, We’ll Hardly Know Ye (Updated)

A veritable geek storm has erupted over an item at the Hollywood Reporter reporting a Star Trek and Twilight inspired reboot, or something, of the Buffy, the Vampire Slayer franchise, only without Buffy creator Joss Whedon, sans Buffy’s erstwhile “scooby” friends (no Willow!!!! Aaaagh!!!!!!), and, if I read it right, without Buffy.

A bit of backstory: Fran Rubel Kuzui, director of the original, pleasantly mediocre, movie version of the franchise once upon a time fashioned a perfectly respectable, pleasantly lightweight autobiographical indie romantic comedy, Tokyo Pop (or that’s how I remember it…I haven’t seen it since it’s 1988 release, when I was but a highly precocious toddler). In typical Hollywood fashion, on her second (and, so far, final) feature as a director, most accounts hold that Rubel and company seriously refashioned Whedon’s original screenplay from a serio-comic actioner to an out and out teen comedy with random changes made to the screenplay from a number of sources, including, according to Whedon, co-star Donald Sutherland (who you will never see in any other Whedon project, it’s safe to say).

Since then, Rubel Kazui has held on to some of the rights, and fans of the Buffy TV show saw her name at the front of every episode…and heard nothing else from her, ever.  It’s safe to assume that she had zero input on the television show and received the credit as part of her compensation for the rights. Now, as most of you probably know, a major plot thread of the TV show was Buffy’s trouble-plagued romance with a (mostly) good guy vampire named Angel, setting the hearts of fans of Sarah Michelle Geller and David Boreanaz seriously aflutter. Hence, the Twilight connection — though lips that touched blood never touched those belonging to movie-Buffy Kristy Swanson.

So, with those Trek and Twilight grosses pointing the way, Kuzui and Vertigo Entertainment, which usually specializes in remaking Asian films for the American market, are trying to restart the franchise, apparently using a loophole from the original concept of there being a new slayer in every generation. As a fan of the show, trust me when I say this is nowhere near as clever as the loophole J.J. Abrams and company came up with to stay on (most) Trekkies’ good sides. Overall, this idea strikes me as if the Coca-Cola company had put out New Coke as a non-carbonated non-cola. Buffy without Buffy Summers, and the Whedonverse, without Whedon = box office gold?!? Nah.

Assuming it ever happens, of course. Whedon is an extremely savvy third-generation show biz writer who has already pulled off the unheard of feats of retrieving a lost screenplay concept and remaking it as his own TV show, and then turning another quickly-canceled television show into a major, if not immediately profitable, Hollywood film (Serenity). He is usually protective of his properties, to the extent that he has any control. I’m guessing that this one is almost certain to generate very interesting behind-the-scenes maneuvers.

As always, on Whedon-related matters Whedonesque is very much on top of the story.

UPDATE: Michael Ausiello has managed to elicit a four word response from Joss Whedon, whose currently working on his horror film collaboration with Drew Goddard, “The Cabin in the Woods.” Those four words are:

I hope it’s cool.

H/t Whedonesque.

  

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