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“District 9″ inspires some box office awe (updated)

Shout it from the rooftops. The trades have revealed that an essentially South African film with a previously unknown, first-time feature director, a cast of complete unknowns, and an R-rating is not only #1 at this week’s highly competitive box office, it significantly over-performed even the highest expectations I mentioned last time. Forget those more optimistic numbers of $25 million+, it has earned an extra-profitable estimated $37 million.

As Nikki Finke points out, the outstanding showing of “District 9” is especially mighty considering that the film’s budget was only an extremely modest by sci-fi action standards $30 million, not including its no doubt pricey viral and not-so-viral marketing campaign. Oh, and it got excellent reviews, too and that’s supposed to be box office poison because movie goers hate writers or something. Weird. I don’t think Peter Jackson’s name in the credits alone can do that alone, though I’m sure it didn’t hurt.

Meanwhile, wither “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra“? Stephen Sommers PG-13 sci-fi actioner with a budget of $170 million, not including its no doubt expensive damage-control oriented marketing campaign, met its expectations with an estimated $22.5 million, dropping 59% — fairly typical for this kind of Hollywood product. It should be noted, however that “Joe” was on 4,007 screens, while “District 9″ was at 3,049. In terms of per screen averages, it amounts to a real trouncing with Blomkamp’s film netting a huge $12,135 per screen as compared to the unofficial “Team America” remake’s merely solid $5,615 average. (Okay, I admit it. It’s not right, but I haven’t even seen this movie and I really have it in for it; I was provoked.)

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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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Sticks and stones

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” director Stephen Sommers, from an interview with Michael Fleming:

I don’t think the mainstream critics are relevant here, they have criticized themselves into irrelevancy.

I make the kind of movies critics love to hate. They love dark and depressing movies…All the internet movie haters love this movie.

These critics have become a dying breed, and part of it is how much more vicious and personal they’ve become. They attack the directors, personally.

Glenn Kenny has some wise words on the whole “wither the critics/wither the kids” thing.

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Department of Retractions…Of Other People’s Mistakes

One benefit of being the kind of blogger who in no way makes news, but merely repeats and expands/bloviates upon it is that, as long as I get my ducks in a row through my links and don’t confabulate anything, if somebody reports something false, it’s theoretically not my fault. Of course, if I don’t follow-up and mention the correction, I suppose I am guilty of spreading a false rumor.

So, anyhow, according to Variety, the rumors I discussed on Friday about a supposed disastrous screening of “G.I. Joe” and some kind of firing or demotion of director Stephen Sommers are false. Of course, for all I know, Variety could be wrong, too.

In any event, I’m still expecting this one to kind of stink up the universe. Let’s call it a hunch.

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When a Double-0 Does It, It is Not Illegal + “G.I. Joe,” F**k No!

A couple of items hot off the action film presses…

* As per Cinematical, writer Peter Morgan has been hired to work on the as-yet-untitled 23rd (!) James Bond film. If the name rings a bell, he’s the playwright and screenwriter best known for the slam-bang action fests “Frost/Nixon” and “The Queen.” (Yeah, I know, but they cut out the lengthy sequence where Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II dons a cat suit and tears a bunch of foreign agents limb from limb as she foils a plot to blow up Buckingham Palace before tea and crumpets with the French premier.)

It’s actually not a big change in strategy. Both “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” were written by the team of Robert Wade and Neal Purvis with a “polish” from Oscar-winning veteran scribe Paul Haggis (“Crash“, “Million Dollar Baby“). After what many perceived as a bit of a let down on “Quantum” both in terms of story and direction, apparently the idea was to get a fresh Oscar-nominated, if not actually Oscar-winning, writer on board. So, no need to worry that “Bond 23″ will be an earnest examination of the legal and ethical issues created by giving random blokes a license to kill people — though I’d pay to see that. As usual, interesting choices are being bandied about for the Bondian director’s chair, but in 22 films, for better or worse, a director with a strong personal vision has yet to be hired, so no reason to think the Bond producers will break the pattern now.

* Rumors have been flying all over the place about a supposed disastrous screening of “G.I. Joe” — a movie that wasn’t exactly being awaited with baited breath at least in my corner of the geeksphere. Anyhow, the upshot is that helmer Stephen Sommers, best known as the writer-director behind the Mummy films, or other heads may or may not roll or be diminished creatively.

For insight, I hereby direct you to Anne Thompson‘s refreshingly FACT-ual approach to the matter. Looking at the trailer, I can’t help thinking that this movie has somehow already been made….


Team America Trailer
Uploaded by ijeannie.

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Could “G.I. Joe” actually be good?

Go ahead and file this under Extremely Late to the Party, but after catching Paramount’s “G.I. Joe” trailer during the Super Bowl, I couldn’t help but think “is it possible that the movie won’t completely suck?” It sure looks a helluva lot better than what the first batch of promotional images suggested, but keep a few things in mind:

1) It’s based on a toy line. Sure, “Transformers” kicked some serious ass, but it was also directed by Michael Bay, who’s been known to make a good action film in his time. Which brings me to my next point…

2) It’s directed by Stephen Sommers. As in “The Mummy Returns” and “Van Helsing” Stephen Sommers. The CGI showcased in the trailer already looks far better than anything that appeared in either of those films, but that hardly means the story won’t feel like a six-year-old wrote it. Plus…

3) The trailer is only 30 seconds long. It’s not very difficult to find 30 seconds worth of good footage from a two hour movie, even if you’re a hack like Stephen Sommers.

With that said, however, the film doesn’t look quite as bad as most fanboys imagined. Sienna Miller looks great as The Baroness, and that short glimpse of Snake Eyes facing off against Storm Shadow promises at least some good action. Still, Destro looks pretty dumb without his trademark helmet (though he might look ever worse with it on), and why is Cobra Commander being kept such a big secret? Check out the trailer below and then head over to Bullz-Eye.com to see more movie trailers.

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