The “Tangled” trailer asks an old question…

Just because you can do something, should you? In this case, the latest non-Pixar Disney CGI animation is “Tangled,” a renamed action-comedy version of “Rapunzel.” I don’t know how I missed this earlier in the week, but here it is now. My reactions are below the embed.

Okay, so its heroic leads are very much in the tradition of 2D animated princesses and princes and it thereby avoids the dreaded “Polar Express” uncanny valley most, but not all, of the time. On the other hand, I can’t think of a single thing this gains by being in CGI, except for the perception of greater commercial credibility.  (I’m still far from convinced that audiences really care that much whether a movie is in traditional or CGI animation, as long as they like the way it looks.) Sure, the more traditionally cartoony characters look very good, but wouldn’t they perhaps look even better as traditional cartoons?

Tell me, anyone reading, one single thing in the trailer below that was in any way not slightly degraded by being in this style of animation and one single thing — other than throwing stuff at the audience — that couldn’t be down with hand-drawn animation? It’s great that they were able to do this while mostly avoiding the uncanny valley but, with this kind of material, why not just bypass it completely? I’d really like an answer other than “audiences expect CGI now.” That simply is not a good enough reason and I truly hope that regular moviegoers aren’t that shallow and set in their ways.  In any case, it’ll be interesting to compare the grosses of this to “The Princess and the Frog.”

  

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Traditional Oscar bait takes a back seat at 2010 Academy Award nominations

Or at least that’s how I read the nominations that were announced this morning at the unholy hour of 5:38 by Anne Hathaway and some guy you never heard of — actually Academy president Tom Sherak. The short version of what happened was that there no huge surprises. “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker” both got nine nominations, with “Inglourious Basterds” netting eight, and “Precious” and “Up in the Air” getting six apiece. You can see a complete list of the nominations courtesy of Indiewire/Eugene Hernandez, but Nikki Finke was kind enough to perform a handy count-up of the nominations.

“Avatar” 9, “The Hurt Locker” 9, “Inglourious Basterds” 8, “Precious” 6, “Up in the Air” 6, “Up” 5, “District 9” 4, “Nine” 4, “Star Trek” 4, “Crazy Heart” 3, “An Education” 3, “The Princess and the Frog” 3, “The Young Victoria” 3, “The Blind Side” 2, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” 2, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” 2, “Invictus” 2, “The Last Station” 2, “The Messenger” 2, “A Serious Man” 2, “Sherlock Holmes” 2, “The White Ribbon” 2.

Without going into a lengthy dissertation on what makes for high quality Oscar bait, let’s just say that in many prior Oscar races the fact that “Avatar” is an effects driven space opera and “The Hurt Locker” a rather grim, eye-level, and uncompromising look at men doing an unpleasant job, would have all but eliminated both films. Admittedly, both films, however, benefit from certain features which have helped numerous other films: a certain degree of social consciousness never hurts with Oscar. Of course, really strong political statements are more problematic, but “The Hurt Locker” is simply honest about the psychological effects of war and hard to argue with from any political position, I hope — it could have been made about any war and been equally valid. “Avatar” is considerably more pointed and arguably even partisan, as our conservative friends love to point out, but the protective coloration of science fiction makes it all go down a bit easier.

OscarsOnRedCarpet

As for “Inglourious Basterds,” Quentin Tarantino‘s entire body of work is a poke in the eye to the earnest, highly digestible “socially positive” values and traditionalist presentation preferred by Oscar. The fact that he even gets nominated as much as he does is testament to his unquestionable talent and appeal. “Up in the Air,” which beat “Basterds” in the screenplay category at the Golden Globes, seems like much more like the kind of film that Oscar traditionally favors. It’s non-polarizing nature might also help it with this year’s odd voting system for Best Picture. (Voters rate the films by preference, rather than simply voting for one film.) Still, with ten nominations breaking up the usual demographic voting blocks — with younger voters and older voters sometimes having very different views of the award-worthy nature of genre films, for example — I really think that about half of the films in this category have a pretty serious shot at winning the award.

Now, let’s take a look at the this year’s expanded list of ten Best Picture nominees as provided by Indiewire, doubled to ten this year from the usual five:

“Avatar”, James Cameron and Jon Landau, Producers
“The Blind Side”, Nominees to be determined
“District 9”, Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, Producers
“An Education”, Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Producers
“The Hurt Locker”, Nominees to be determined
“Inglourious Basterds”, Lawrence Bender, Producer
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”, Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, Producers
“A Serious Man”, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Producers
“Up”, Jonas Rivera, Producer
“Up in the Air”, Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman, Producers

Among the dark horses — the films I would be truly surprised to see win best picture — we have the very non-Oscar-baity “A Serious Man” which apparently beat out Tom Ford’s highly acclaimed “A Single Man” in the divisive sub-sub-sub category of minority-group driven movies whose title is “A (S-word) Man.” The Coen Brothers film is a scabrous comedy and also grim in a not obviously socially redeeming way. Disney/Pixar’s “Up”  and Neil Blomkamp’s science-fiction “District 9” are similar to “Avatar” in that they would be more Oscar friendly for certain of their elements (poignant comedy/smart political parable) if they were in non-animated and/or non-sci-fi but, unlike “Avatar,” they haven’t been sweeping up awards anyway.

Oddly enough, the two most traditionally Oscar-friendly films on the list, “The Blind Side” and “An Education,” are both fairly large dark horses in most categories simply because they haven’t won that many awards up to now, the exception being best actress where Sandra Bullock seems to be running neck and neck for Best Actress with Meryl Streep in “Julie and Julia.” “An Education” and “A Serious Man” have the further downside in what I see as fairly ridiculous charges of antisemitism against both films (covered really nicely in this piece from The Jewish Journal). As a person of Jewish ethnicity myself, I think people who feel this way are really missing the point. Still, some of them may be Academy voters.

<a href=”http://cuzoogle.com/2009/02/20/bet-on-the-oscars-and-prove-to-all-you-have-a-problem/”><img class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-19855″ title=”OscarsOnRedCarpet” src=”http://www.premiumhollywood.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/OscarsOnRedCarpet.jpg” alt=”OscarsOnRedCarpet” width=”477″ height=”318″ /></a>
  

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Christmas mish-mosh at the box office

I have to keep this fairly short tonight, but suffice to say that things are going to be very busy over this long Christmas holiday weekend and just how it will shake out is anyone’s guess. I’m certainly not going to try, though I think it’s safe to say the battle for the #1 spot will be between the second weekend of the Fox-released “Avatar” and Guy Ritchie’s action/comedy oriented “Sherlock Holmes” starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Dr. Watson. It’s getting pretty decent reviews as well, though the Rotten Tomatoes “Top Critics” are split down the middle. Not that that’s likely to mean one less dollar in Warner Brothers’ coffers.

There is another strong commercial contender, it actually opened today, and it’s reviews are anything but decent. I speak of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” from Fox, which was excoriated by our own David Medsker and 75% of critics in general. Still, La Finke reports that online sales are unusually strong and one should never underestimate the power of kiddie appeal. At the same time, it goes a lot better when parents don’t leave the theater angry and making a mental note to keep up with their birth control regimen — and Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” is still relatively fresh and it seems a lot more parent-friendly.

Also, there’s plenty of action in grown-up/awards-movie-ville. Nancy Myers’ rom-com, “It’s Complicated” with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin, might get a boost from older moviegoers, particularly women, happy to see folks their own age actually still having sex and stuff in movies. However, the Golden Globe nominations it garnered may be a flash in the pan as the critics are not especially impressed. This looks like a case of the Globes living up to their rep and being notably star-struck.

In somewhat fewer theaters, major Oscar contender “Up in the Air,” finally goes into the releasing big leagues for Paramount, expanding into 1,895 theaters according to Box Office Mojo. The Rob Marshall-directed “Nine” is going into 1,412 theaters. The flashy Broadway musical adaptation with a cast that includes Daniel Day Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, the eternal sex goddess/great actress Sophia Loren and, for all I know, the reanimated corpses of Greta Garbo and Clara Bow, has long been touted as an Oscar contender but, looking at the disappointed reviews, I seriously have to wonder. A poorly reviewed musical hasn’t been a hit at the Oscars since the badly bloated “Oliver!” and “Hello Dolly!” were released in 1968 and 1969. “Nine” might do okay because of its sexy/smart ad campaign and star power, but it’s hard to imagine a critically unloved Fellini-derived musical having any kind of staying power at the box office and even harder to imagine it having a more than token showing at the Oscars — but then I’m forgetting those ten best picture slots.

Fashion designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut, “A Single Man” starring Colin Firth, has been racking up a lot of acclaim and awards heat, and is opening in 46 theaters. It’s a probable art house hit, and Firth is one of those actors who just keeps getting more interesting.

Finally, Box Office Mojo isn’t saying how many theaters it’s opening in, but Terry Gilliam’s semi-surrealist fantasy, “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” is coming out this Friday; it’s the film Heath Ledger was midway through production on when he died suddenly in early 2008, but which was completed by casting the late actor’s friends Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell to play aspects of his character. My review of it is forthcoming so I’ll keep my opinion to myself for now, though it has scored an RT rating of 62%. I understand it’s done okay in Europe, but my strong hunch is that commercially it’s a non-factor here.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/sherlock_holmes_2009/?critic=creamcr
  

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“Avatar” off to a slightly snowbound $73 million start

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana, embellished, in Thursday night, I tried to imply that only the apocalypse itself could prevent “Avatar” from winning the weekend. And, while 2012 is still a few years away, Nikki Finke reports that a big East coast snow storm is being blamed for the film earning a below-expectations estimate of $73 million for Fox — $12 million less than the the $85 million figure that was being bandied about previously. Regardless, $73 million ain’t chicken feed, though with a ginormous budget ($300 million??) comes ginormous responsibility to rake in the megabucks.

If I were James Cameron, I wouldn’t worry too much, however. Finke is trumpeting the numbers for the more expensive 3-D and 3-D Imax screens and the worldwide take was a record setter, if you leave out all “franchise” films. In other word $159.2 million worldwide is the worldwide record for a film with no previously known characters and not a sequel to some prior hit.

More important, as I suggested on Thursday, the science-fiction spectacular’s strong reviews will likely be reflected in word of mouth among cinema civilians. Finke says that the audience approval surveys from Cinemascore gave the film an “A” across every “quadrant” — i.e., people of all age and gender groups seems to like it. With the Christmas vacation period just getting started and a few Oscar nominations almost certain, I think it’s safe to say that “Avatar” is in better than good shape, especially if a movie like “2012,” which lots of people saw but which I gather very few loved, could still be profitable with a production budget of $200 million. I’d like to think that, sometimes, movies that people actually like do better than movies they merely tolerate. Humor me.

As for the rest of the weekend box office, there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement. Taking a look at the ever-handy Box Office Mojo chart once again, the #2 and the #3 spot went to Disney’s hand-drawn “The Princess and the Frog,” which earned an estimated $12,224,000, and this year’s unrivaled sleeper hit from Warner Brothers, “The Blind Side.” The feel-good sports drama made an estimate $10,030,000 this weekend for a rough total so far of $164,734,000. Considering it’s $29 million budget and the possibility of a box office life-extending Best Actress nomination for Sandra Bullock, I’m guessing this has to wind up as one the year’s most profitable films, perhaps rivaled only by the sub-micro budgeted phenomenon, “Paranormal Activity,” and assorted mega-hits I don’t feel like mentioning/researching.

While Oscar-hopeful “Nine” was the week’s winner in terms of per screen average with $61,750 in four theaters (“Avatar” average of $21,147 was the second placer in per-screen), the week’s other major new release performed in predictably uninspiring fashion. Sony’s critically drubbed star-driven attempt at romantic comedy, “Did You Hear About the Morgans?,” dipped below its extremely modest expectations to earn an estimated $7 million, about  $1 million less than predicted — the snow again, I’m sure. Nevertheless, it appears that if people did hear the Morgans, they mostly decided to ignore them.

Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker in

  

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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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