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Wednesday night trailer: “Cedar Rapids” is excitement central

A new guy-centric comedy that’ll be premiering at Sundance (!) directed by Miguel Arteta. Ed Helms and John C. Reilly head a very interesting cast that also includes Anne Heche and the eternally underrated Stephen Root. (Sigourney Weaver is actually supposed to be in this movie, but you’d never know it from the trailer.)

This one made me laugh but it was much funnier the first time I watched than the second, and that’s not always the case with me. Anyhow, John C. Reilly has pretty much a direct route to my funnybone, but what is it about Ed Helms and befriending hookers in these movies?

H/t Mike Fleming.

You can follow us on Twitter @moviebuffs and on Facebook as well.

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Weekend box office: greed is still pretty good

Things turned out at this weekend’s box office more or less as predicted on Thursday. “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” came in on top at an estimated $19 million for Fox, according to the Box Office Mojo chart, about a million or two shy of the figures being bandied about, but close enough for an adult skewing film expected to have decent legs. Nikki Finke thinks it may have missed it’s moment in terms of being a topical must-see and also avoiding some bad press provided by the mouthy Oliver Stone. Maybe. She also points out that Fox hasn’t exactly been on a hot streak this summer. Still, this is actually a career high, raw cash wise, for Stone and not too bad a showing for the longest break between an original and a sequel since Martin Scorsese and Paul Newman dared to follow-up the genuine classic, “The Hustler,” with his underrated non-classic, “The Color of Money,” a quarter century after the fact.

Following not so far behind, really, is Warners’ “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” which earned an estimated $16.3 million. Anthony D’Allesandro is calling the film a “bomb” along the lines of the recent “Cats and Dogs” sequel. That may be accurate compared to what family films like this usually make and in light an as yet unspecified large budget but it’s still within a couple of million of this weekend’s $50-70 million live-action hit.

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While the books might have had an audience, something just seemed generally awry and the film lacked a clear premise for non-fans other than “owls fighting.” Whether or not Zack Snyder, whose early hits are receding in the memory of Hollywood, no doubt, gets to remain in the high end movie big leagues may now be largely dependent on what happens when his strange and zany looking action fantasy, “Sucker Punch,” comes out on 3/25/11.

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Amanda Seyfried, Erin Cressida Wilson, and Atom Egoyan on “Chloe”

Movies involve looking at people. Sometimes those people are doing some pretty intimate things, too. No wonder then that voyeurism remains about the single most pervasive and discussed theme in the movies and, no matter how often the particularly cinematic obsession of voyeurism has been recycled, there’s always room for a new angle.

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In the case of “Chloe,” which is hitting about three hundred theaters nationwide today, voyeurism in the form of morbid curiosity threatens not only the desiccated relationship of an affluent middle-aged couple played by Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson, but also the woman’s familial ties with her son (Max Theiriot) and possibly her entire life. The vehicle for all of this is a young woman Dr. Catherine Stewart bumps into who turns out to be a high-end sex worker named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried). The sex work in question here is that Dr. Stewart has some pretty good reasons to worry that her professor husband may be cheating, and so she asks Chloe to test her husband’s fidelity in the most direct way possible.

As for the results, all you really need to know right now is that this is an erotic thriller, that it’s directed by the elliptical art-house master Atom Egoyan at his most Hitchcockian, and adapted with some definite cunning by writer Erin Cressida Wilson from a relatively banal French import (2003′s “Nathalie”). Interestingly, “Chloe” is also produced by Ivan Reitman. Reitman is, of course, the famed director and producer far better known for broad comedies like “Meatballs” and “Ghostbusters” than for stylish melodramas. These days, he’s perhaps even better known as the father of “Up in the Air” co-writer and director Jason Reitman.

Sadly, “Chloe” will likely also be remembered as the movie that was interrupted when leading man Liam Neeson got the horrific news that his wife, Natasha Richardson, had died as the result of what appeared to be a minor skiing accident. Even a year later, it’s obviously a sensitive topic that was not broached at the first of two press days I attended at the L.A. Four Seasons to promote the film with Amanda Seyfried, a burgeoning film star after the success of such films as “Dear John” and “Momma Mia!,” and Erin Cressida Wilson, who is probably best known for her screenplay for the kinky romantic comedy-drama, “Secretary” starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader.

Things got off to what I suppose is an appropriate start given the kind of movie “Chloe” is. Asked about a word tattooed on her ankle, Seyfried volunteered it was crude British slang word for “vagina” — it’s apparently a kind of joking term of endearment used by her and friends. And then there was the European journalist who was clearly tasked with getting material as gossip-rich as he could manage. As the inevitably top-of-mind topic of the film’s somewhat explicit nude sex scenes came up, as well as the inherent difficulty of doing those scenes, his felt the need to ask which of the cast members was the best kisser. Seyfried, somewhat outspoken and girlish, but also clearly a pro at 24 years of age, sidestepped the icky question. Fortunately, someone came up a query that was more germane if no less sensational: Did she meet with any real-life prostitutes to research the role?

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“No. Atom actually met with some working ladies in New York and I believe in Toronto as well…It was interesting what he had to say and how he approached it. He was very open about the information that he needed and they were very willing to share. And that’s the same with Chloe; she’s very willing to share that part of her life because she feels like it and in a way it’s being justified by [the fact that] someone’s asking you about your job.”

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Either “Avatar” takes the weekend box office, or we’re all in big trouble

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in

Variety has gone behind a pay wall. Jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter is either taking a night off or filing later. Still, this is one week when, if I may paraphrase Bob Dylan, I don’t need a weatherman to tell me which way the wind’s blowing. As a science-fiction adventure sure-to-be blockbuster, James Cameron‘s “Avatar” has pretty much everything going for: huge ballyhoo, much of its centered on its groundbreaking use on “performance capture” (not mere motion capture) and what everyone seems to be describing as a new and more immersive 3-D, strong advance sales (skewing male as of right now), and solid reviews.  Sure, it’s actors aren’t precisely A-listers, but we all know what good stars are these days. I’m sure people will eventually remember that Sam  Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver were in there some place.

The latest from James Cameron at this point has racked up an 82% “fresh” on the Tomatometer and a whopping 96% from the usually harder to please “top critics,” with only Village Voice‘s exacting J. Hoberman submitting a mildly negative review that is actually about as positive as a bad review can be.

Our own Jamey Codding is positive, but not quite ecstatic. Ken Turan, a critic I respect but often disagree with for his rather schoolmarmish tastes — don’t get him started on Tarantino — waxes poetic and compares the technical breakthroughs to “The Jazz Singer.” I personally hope that isn’t quite the case. 3-D is cool as an occasional treat, but I just don’t see how it’s necessary for every movie. Of course, there were people who said that about sound movies too, but don’t laugh too much because there are still people who thought they were right! (Not me. Being a word guy, I like talkies. My fogeyosity has limits) In any case, Roger Ebert might be summing things up nicely when he writes:

There is still at least one man in Hollywood who knows how to spend $250 million, or was it $300 million, wisely.

Sam Worthington in So, we know that “Avatar” will, baring apocalypse or a mass, blindness-inducing plague, win the weekend. The real question is, by how much? Well, considering it’s opening in 3,453 theaters and probably taking up nearly every higher priced regular size and Imax 3-D screen in the country, I’d say the sky is the limit for the moment. Beyond that, I really don’t have the kind of information to make these kind of assertions, but fortunately there is Daniel Frankel of The Wrap who says that the gurus have agreed the Fox film will do over $60 million at least and possibly as much as $90 or $100 million.

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Yet another Friday night movie news dump

Really not that much to say, except…

* Summit has acquired the North American rights to distribute “The Ghost Writer,” a political thriller starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan. And why is this the top item? The director is Roman Polanski. Wait for this film to benefit from a lot of free publicity generated by people who think it’s wrong to see any movie in which someone involved with it once did a very bad thing. If you follow that rule, you’ll miss a lot of movies.

* Not too surprisingly, that report I mentioned on Wednesday that James Cameron‘s next movie is going to be an outer space redo or homage or what have you of The Seven Samurai was all wet. Instead, quoth the Playlist, he’s producing, but not directing, a remake of the not-so-great (at least as far as I can remember it) sixties sci-fi hit, “Fantastic Voyage.” It could work and will probably be at least a little bit fun in 3-D.

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* Speaking of Cameron, it’s a bit weighted towards the geek press at this moment, but reviews have been leaking all over the place for “Avatar” and, guess what, the critics seem to think there’s something to the hype. At the very least the film is guaranteed to get a bunch of technical nominations and probably win them. Throw some Oscars into the marketing mix of James Cameron’s latest, and a genuinely gigantic hit with massive legs could brewing.

How long before the inevitable backlash? Well, Michael Phillips‘ review encompasses both frontlash and backlash. Putting on her critic hat, Anne Thompson writes a prose poem. She says all us cinephiles are going to have to see it multiple times. Well, I’m sure some of us will disagree there. Contrarians, skeptics, and extra-tough critics, start your engines.

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Friday night movie news dump…

And, for a change, it’s barely even night here on west coast as I begin.

*  We’re seeing some major league “New Moon” girl-power at the box office, already. $26.3 million, to be specific. That’s just for midnight shows.

* Just a few days back I noted the casting of Japanese star Tadanobu Asano as Hogun in Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming “Mighty Thor” flick. As a part of Norse (i.e., Viking) mythology, Asgard is, by definition, a pretty strictly Nordic place, so I thought this casting was interesting.  Visually, the Marvel comics Hogun was based on Charles Bronson, whose face had a definite Asiatic/Mongolian-by-way-of-Lithuania cast, so going with the star of “Mongol” was a stretch worth noting, but maybe not a definite sign of completely race blind nontraditional  casting.

However, Branagh has now cast the very fine African-English actor Idris Elba of “The Wire” and several great episodes of “The Office” in the part of Heimdall, guardian of Asgard. As a commentor at the Heat Vision blog that spread the news mentioned, Branagh did something very similar when he cast Denzel Washington as an Italian warrior-prince in his version of “Much Ado About Nothing.” I’ll quote myself from the Bullz-Eye piece I did on less well known Denzel Washington performances:

As a major production featuring truly race-blind “nontraditional” casting in a key role, “Much Ado About Nothing” is something of an onscreen first. In fact, audiences and critics had no more problem accepting Washington as an Italian prince than they did accepting the extremely British, pasty-faced Branagh as a Mediterranean nobleman.

Especially in films set far away from a realistic context and where the actor has as much authority as both Washington and Elba have, I think we’re sophisticated enough about the nature of movies that this will not be a problem, even for viewers who know a little about mythology. And here’s the best part: it will piss off some white supremacists. I’ve personally heard about young Neo-Nazis who dig the comic book “Mighty Thor” and apparently are too stupid and ignorant to realize that the series was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, a.k.a., Stanley Leiber and Jacob Kurtzberg, two rather brilliant New York Jews. As always, the joke is on the hate fetishists.

Like I said before, this is not your father’s Asgard, and I’m fine with that.

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* It’s thirty days before the release of “Avatar,” the movie isn’t quite done yet, and some of us insist on going about our business as if life as we have always known it was not about to be forever altered. Quick, send out Sigourney Weaver and Giovanni Ribisi to say nice things about James Cameron!

* He’s brought us everything from “School of Rock” to “Chuck and Buck”, but very talented quirk/comedy writer/actor Mike White’s next film is about Santa war, but I doubt it’ll be very violent. On the other hand, he appeared in the comically mega-violent “Zombieland,” so perhaps his thinking has evolved some. I pretty violently disagreed with his op-ed, but he gets credit for even thinking about stuff like this.

* And, now for something completely different, from OC Weekly restaurant critic Edwin Goei comes his list of the five greatest food movies. I’d steal some of his YouTube clips, but I’m starving and I’m supposed to go to the gym later, dammit. Just go see for yourselves.

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Forever Typecast: 15 Actors Who Can’t Escape Their Characters

We here at Bullz-Eye always knew that we wanted to run a piece in conjunction with the release of “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince,” but what we didn’t know was what kind of piece it would be. We considered the matter, and we came to the conclusion that it would’ve been a little too easy to whip up a list of our favorite Hollywood wizards. In the midst of the discussion, however, an observation was raised about the film itself: what’s going to happen to these kids – Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson – after the last of the “Harry Potter” books has been adapted for the silver screen? Will they be able to rise above their roles and find work elsewhere, or are they destined to be remembered solely as Harry, Ron and Hermione? From there, we quickly began to bandy about the names of other folks who have and haven’t been able to score success in other cinematic identities, and the piece began to write itself. Ultimately, only one of our selections seemed impossible to pigeonhole as either “Forever Typecast” or “Escaped Typecasting,” and when you see that actor’s name, we think you’ll nod your head knowingly and understand exactly why we had that problem.

Here’s a sample of the piece, to hopefully tempt you into checking out the whole thing:

Mark Hamill, AKA Luke Skywalker:

Mark Hamill may not have had much in the way of cinematic credits when he was introduced to the world as Luke Skywalker, future Jedi, in “Star Wars,” but he’d sure as heck done his time on the TV circuit, appearing on everything from “The Partridge Family” to “The Streets of San Francisco,” even playing a guy named Doobie Wheeler on “The Texas Wheelers.” But when you’re the star of the greatest space opera of all time ,you’ve got to expect a certain amount of blowback, and Hamill got it in spades. Despite starring in the fondly remembered “Corvette Summer” with Annie Potts and being directed by Samuel Fuller in the critically acclaimed “The Big Red One,” things just weren’t happening for the guy outside of the “Star Wars” universe…well, unless you consider being third-billed to Kristy McNichol and Dennis Quaid in “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” to be happening, that is. Post- “Return of the Jedi,” Hamill did a few straight-to-video features before realizing that he might well find more luck off the camera and in the recording booth. Having already worked for Hanna-Barbera in the early ’70s, it was a quick transition for Hamill to return to the world of voiceover acting, and it was a move that paid off in a big way. Whether you’ve known it or not, you’ve heard his dulcet tones providing voices for “The Adventures of Batman & Robin” (The Joker), “Spider-Man” (Hobgoblin), “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (Ozai), and “Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!” (The Skeleton King), among dozens of others. Good for him, we say. But the truth of the matter remains: when you see his face, Mark Hamill is still Luke Skywalker.

Got the idea? Great! To see the rest of the feature, either click right here or on the big ol’ image below:

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Box office preview: The comedy calm before the “Transformers” storm?

Awaiting the coming midweek arrival of the next big fanboy franchise entry, “Transformers: Revenge of the Carniverous Unicorns” or whatever it’s called, a couple of high concept comedies with theoretically strong potential sail into the nation’s multiplexes this weekend. While both should do okay business, the “meh” to “Cathy”-style “ack!” reactions from critics (I know we don’t really count but, hey, if you tickle us, do we not chuckle?) might indicate somewhat limited potential against the ongoing one-two punch of “The Hangover” and “Up.” I expect a close one. But then, I’m always wrong.

Of the two new comedies, “The Proposal,” starring Ryan Reynolds as a put-upon assistant cajoled into a sham marriage with his you-know-what-on-wheels boss played by Sandra Bullock, appears to be the somewhat stronger contender. This initially struck me as something of a gender-reversed redo of Mike Nichols’ similarly high-concept 1988 Melanie Griffith vehicle, “Working Girl,” with the executives originally played by Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver mushed into Bullock’s publishing bigwig. However, the reviews indicate something darker at times, but probably less entertaining for a mass audience. With a 44% “fresh” at Rotten Tomatoes, mirrored by our own David Medsker’s split critical decision, critics are turning no cartwheels. The Hollywood Reporter however suggests that the film has some pretty serious date-movie appeal and that might be enough for $20 million or so, which might be enough to hit the #1 spot. Certainly many women may feel that, to paraphrase Griffith 21 years back, Reynolds has a mind for comedy and a body for sin. It’s therefore a good bet they subtly encourage their significant others to attend with them, who themselves might not mind looking at the adorable, if now fully adult, Ms. Bullock for a couple of hours themselves. We shall see.

Jack Black and Michael Cera react to  reviews of If critics were unconvinced by “The Proposal,” they were hurling ancient curses at what sure seemed to me like a promising comedy concept but, then, there’s the me-always-being-wrong thing. I speaketh of the hunter-gatherers-go-biblical “Year One,” directed by comedy veteran multi-hyphenate Harold “Egon Spengler” Ramis. The critics seem to agree that this vehicle for two of the best known names in youth-targeted comedy, Jack Black and the gifted savior of dry humor among the young, Michael Cera, is a million miles away from being Ramis’s best work. (That would include probably one of the beloved films of the last twenty years, “Groundhog Day” as well as the frat-boy touchstone, “Caddyshack.”) On the other hand, Variety offers the thought that it’s “tracking” is improving. I’m still trying to figure out what “tracking” actually means, but I guess that’s supposed to be a good thing.

Nevertheless, our own Jason Zingale heaps some pretty serious 1.5 star scorn on a film which mixes some fairly extreme-sounding scatological humor with some pretty big comic prey in taking on some of the best known characters from the ever-popular first half of Jehovah’s bestselling two-part epic. He’s hardly alone, as only 19% of the RT gang saw much of worth in it and some saw the opportunity to hurl a few would-be comic zingers of their own. CHUD’s Devin Faraci commenteth:

Year One is so dedicated to being historically accurate that it only uses jokes that are at least two thousand years old.

Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Glieberman went the contrarian root and actually awarded the film a relative rave with a B- rating, and appears to be one of the few (only?) critics to heap praise on Jack Black’s performance while attacking the dryness of Cera. He also offers what the film’s many detractors will take as a terrifying thought:

Every era gets the prehistoric comedy it deserves.

Meanwhile in arthouse land: The would-be prestige comedy “Away We Go” widens to 132 screens this weekend. Also, the week’s new limited release is yet another promising sounding attempt at America’s funnybone, the latest from Woody Allen (though apparently the original script dates back to the seventies), “Whatever Works” starring HBO’s own Larry David. Allen’s films are almost the definition of review-driven hits-or-misses and this one has engendered what is at best a split decision with 53% (only 9% among “top critics”!) at RT. That’s low enough to (forgive me, Lord, for what I’m about to say) curb filmgoer enthusiasm.

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Expansions

Just a couple of items where some more information might be of interest.

* I linked yesterday to a Variety story reporting that James Cameron had signed with mega-agency CAA. Last night, however, ace gadfly muckraker Nikki Finke reported that it was merely a new camera technology developed for Cameron’s upcoming “Avatar” 3-D extravaganza, not Cameron himself, that the agency will be repping. In true Finkean style, she can’t resist taking a swipe at Variety in the process, though I guess it might be earned in this case.

Sigourney Weaver* On a more pleasant and actually interesting note, we have some news about Sigourney Weaver‘s upcoming projects, after discussing her — well, actually, Ellen Ripley — topping Total Sci-Fi’s list of female science fiction icons yesterday. For one thing, I didn’t realize until now Ms. Weaver is one of the stars of the aforementioned “Avatar” (as is Will Harris’s talented Facebook buddy Dileep Rao).

But that’s far from all, JA at The Film Experience is waxing enthusiastic over her possible casting (it’s not truly confirmed yet, I gather) in another sci-fi film, of sorts. “Paul” is to be directed by Greg Mottola of “Superbad” and “Adventureland” and written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost of “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” and “Spaced” fame. Apparently the film has something to do with a couple of British comic book geeks (Pegg and Frost) traveling cross-country from Comic-Con who meet up with Seth Rogen — I gather possibly animated or CGI’d or something — as an alien named, naturally, Paul at Nevada’s Area 51 (at least that’s how SlashFilm’s Paul Sciretta has it). It will also feature Bill Hader, Jane Lynch, Jason Bateman and Kristen Wiig.

Sounds pretty good, but JA was also good enough to mention another comedy casting for Ms. Weaver, this in “You Again,” which will star Kristin Bell, a particular favorite over here. As JA points out, it will re-team the high talented, geek-friendly Bell with director Andy Fickman, who elicited one of her most interesting performances in “Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical” back in 2005. At the risk of going off on a bit of tangent (and, by the way, just happening to mention my lengthy 2007 blog post on Fickman’s entertaining, though highly imperfect, movie), did you know that the former Veronica Mars can, as the Western codgers say, sing purty?

Don’t worry, she gets a lot less wholesome later on

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BadAzz Mofo Geeky Quick Hits

Other than the very sad and disturbing passing of David Carradine, very well noted by Will Harris a bit earlier (I’ve got more at my own bloggy digs, Forward to Yesterday), it’s kind of a slow news day in the movie world…

* In a bit of very inside baseball, with his upcoming “Avatar” 3-D extravaganza already getting a lot of ink many months before its X-Mas release, James Cameron has broken with his past practice and has signed with an agency. And not just any agency, but the mighty CAA. I know, your life will never be the same. Variety has the scoop, such as it is.

* 79-year-old lifelong cinema enfant terrible Jean-Luc Godard (“Breathless,” “Contempt” — a great film you really ought to see) is looking to do a film inspired by a Holocaust memoir, says THR. I know, your life will really never be the same, but this is interesting. Godard, a truly radical leftist, criticized Israel implicitly in his 1967 comic masterpiece, “Weekend,” when the middle-east nation’s battles were still very much a liberal cause. I’m not at all one to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, but the film itself, and the worldwide response from Jewish groups, should be worth watching for those of us interested in this kind of thing.

* And finally, Nikki Finke devoted all of 24 words this morning to the passing of David Carradine (and turned off comments for some reason), but after adding that she doesn’t “do geek,” she did find time to devote some space to covering Total Sci-Fi‘s “25 Women Who Shook Sci-Fi” list, with a definite emphasis on bad-ass mofo type females. It was topped by Sigourney Weaver‘s Ripley from the “Alien” franchise (including “Aliens” from the aforementioned J. Cameron). The list also covered fantasy for whatever reason and #2 on the list was Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Geller) of “Buffy” fame. (My personal Buffsession, Willow Rosenberg, aka Alyson Hannigan, came in at #21.) With the possible exception of the first choice, which I really can’t argue with as long as you’re talking about actresses and not, say, writers, my list would be entirely different — if I didn’t tend to avoid lists. Since we really do “do geek” here at Premium Hollywood, allow me to link to fan site Whedonesque‘s comment thread on the topic, where the discussion eventually includes the terrific SF (not “sci-fi”!) writer, Roger Zelazny. Now that’s geek.

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