Midweek movie news

Big movies are in the news today.

* James Cameron apparently won’t be directing the latest iteration of legend of Egyptian queen Cleopatra. Instead, he’ll spend the next few years doing the inevitable: “Avatar 2” and “Avatar 3.” Apparently, the commitment now is partially in return for Fox making a large donation to green causes Cameron supports.

* Christopher Nolan gave Geoff Boucher the title of the next Batman installment “The Dark Knight Rises” — not very inspiring. Having previously eliminated Mr. Freeze as the film’s big bad, he also eliminated the Riddler. That leaves Catwoman, the Penguin, and…Man-Bat?

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Box office preview: Can the ghostly demons of “Paranormal Activity 2” defeat the ghastly pranksters of “Jackass 3D”?

My Ouija board and jolly Carl DiOrio both agree that, yeah, Paramount’s “Paranormal Activity 2” has a very decent chance at unseating last weekend’s record setting debut of it’s “Jackass 3D.” While it may seem like an impossible-to-replicate one-off, apparently some care has been taken to avoid the kind of pitfalls that befell such unfortunate sequels as the non-mock-doc “Blair Witch 2.”

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Even more shockingly, 17 of the 21 Rotten Tomatoes critics that have so far reviewed this seemingly destined to (creatively) fail sequel are saying quite the opposite, praising the film for a reportedly clever set-up that ups the ante and even somehow manages the return of Katie Featherston from the original “Paranormal Activity.” Given they’re competing with themselves on two unconventional, low budget projects, it seems like a sure bet Paramount will have a very good weekend and there will be smiling faces on Melrose Monday morning. That’s especially so considering the $1 million reported budget for the horror sequel — which is huge compared to the $15,000 originally spent on Oren Peli’s smash, but tiny in a world where $20 million films are considered to be low-budget. The profits will come very quickly for this one.

“Jackass 3D” should suffer a significant drop as it’s the kind of movie that tends to blow it’s b.o. wad (boy, that sounds gross) on the first weekend. Still, given it’s $50 million opening weekend, that means that “Paranormal Activity 2” will have to get something well over $20 million to top it, assuming the drop isn’t truly catastrophic. A photo-finish — or in this case a creepy security camera finish — is far from impossible.

Matt Damon seeks out the Also dealing with otherworldly matters is Clint Eastwood‘s “Hereafter” from, as always, Warner Brothers. With Matt Damon leading an ensemble cast in another multi-story drama, the film is expanding from a very limited run last weekend to a wide 2000+ theater release. In a bit of critical topsy-turvy, the movie is not getting anyway near the critical goodwill of this week’s quickie horror sequel. It’s dividing reviewers, with “top critics” from major publications being significantly more friendly to the film. A good example would be Roger Ebert, whose written quite skeptically on his blog about an afterlife, a topic that’s he’s obviously been forced to deal with in the most personal way by real-life events. His conclusion about Eastwood’s movie, written by Peter Morgan of “The Queen” and the hugely underrated, “The Damned United,” are almost opposite to our own Jason Zingale and he’s given the film an outright rave review.

Things movie-wise are otherwise slow, with most of the activity this week in limited releases being in expanding films that have already been out for awhile. Among the movies adding scores of theaters nationwide are the very hot documentaries and meh-ish reviewed drama with a whiff of made-for-basic-cable to it, “Conviction.”

Sam Rockwel and Hillary Swank have

  

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An action-packed movie Monday

Lots going on…

* Via Merrick at THR.

New Line has picked up a pitch from Darren Lemke, the writer behind the studio’s Bryan Singer project “Jack the Giant Killer,” that reimagines the classic tale of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” as an action-adventure movie.

I’m thinking Steven Seagall for the lead, with Jet Li as Kato, though I’m not sure how either of them are at dancing to the music of Tchaikovsky. Okay, actually, this version won’t be a ballet  (obviously) and they’re going for more of a “Chronicles of Narnia” vibe.

* Brad Pitt will be producing, but not playing the lead, in an action-oriented flick about the young Vlad Dracul (his buddies call him “the Impaler”). I’d prefer if they would be honest and call this “Dracula Begins,” but the actual title is “Vlad.” The studio will be the “Twilight” driven Summit. How much you wanna bet this vampire-to-be has a tortured love-life?

* Hand drawn animation appears to be coming back to Disney in a big way. Yay. Film-maker Brendon Connolly has some interesting hints.

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* And one more item from THR/Heat Vision that I can’t really ignore. Cowriter-producer Peter Jackson has announced that auditions for “The Hobbit” have begun and the only role that’s precast is Ian McKellan as Gandalf. So, actors, if you’ve got a snub nose, a pasty complexion, are never chosen first for basketball, and have hairy feet, I suggest you get into gear. They are denying rumors that James McAvoy could be in the running for Bilbo, though he does have an overall Baggins thing going on, I think. Another actor who screams “hobbit!” to me is writer Peter Morgan’s favorite star, Michael Sheen of “Frost/Nixon,” “The Queen,” and “The Damned United.” Of course, whoever it is, I guess it will have to believable that he’ll look like Ian Holm when he gets on in years.

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