Box Office Preview: ‘Avengers’ and Something About a Hotel


The Avengers

As I discussed over at Real Men Read Comics, Marvel has been building towards this one for a long time. After a long wait and perhaps too many attempts to connect the dots, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the gang are coming together on the big screen.

I’ve actually got something nice to say about a new release, maybe even a few nice things. This is groundbreaking territory.

“The Avengers” was written and directed by Joss Whedon. This is the dude who brought us “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” and “Firefly.” If you don’t know what “Firefly” is, you need to find out. It’s on Netflix instant, so go on, get. I’ll even give you the link. Like his projects, Whedon has built up quite the cult following over the years. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, he co-wrote “Toy Story,” for which he was nominated for an Oscar. That’s right folks, motherfucking “Toy Story.”

“The Avengers” has all most of the stars of the individual films back in their roles. We’ve got Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America, and most importantly, Robert Downey Jr. in his perfectly sardonic portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man. Now, Mark Ruffalo may have replaced Eric Bana, er, Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk, but that’s probably a good thing. If you’re sick of all these different Bruce Banners flying your way, don’t worry, Ruffalo recently signed a six-picture deal to play The Hulk.

Let’s not forget about the supporting cast, rounding out the team are Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. But wait, there’s more, Tom Hiddleston will reprise his role from “Thor” as Loki, the film’s main villain. Hiddleston also played a brilliant F. Scott Fitzgerald in “Midnight in Paris.”

One of the ways you know a superhero movie, is great is when the dialogue is better than the action sequences. This is what we got in “Iron Man,” when oftentimes Tony Stark was more gripping with his super suit off than on. You should expect no less from Whedon, and according to Bullz-eye’s David Medsker, the Joss has delievered:

Once Whedon gets the cast in the same room and gives them the chance to interact as people rather than superheroes, the movie blossoms in a strangely wonderful way, one where it’s easy to wish that they would keep talking, rather than ramping up for the butt-kicking that is just around the corner. Indeed, until the climactic battle sequence, the action plays second fiddle to the talking, and as odd as that sounds for a superhero movie, it’s the right call.

If all this wasn’t enough, “The Avengers” has been certified fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, sitting at a 93 on the Tomatometer. For once, I’m actually excited.


The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The only other film getting a wide release this weekend is “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Believe it or not, John Madden was actually able to direct a film that doesn’t star Brett Favre. Hold on. I’m getting word that it’s a different John Madden, the “Shakespeare in Love” John Madden. Oh, well things make more sense now.

Kidding aside, this is a film about a group of British seniors, including Academy Award-winners Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, who decide to “outsource” their retirement to cheaper and seemingly exotic India. When they get there, the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel doesn’t look quite as it did in the brochures so both hilarity and drama ensue. The film also stars Penelope Winton, whose interactions with Maggie Smith in “Downton Abbey” are fantastic, so hopefully we get some of that here.

There’s a reason no other movies are being released this weekend, studios were scared of “The Avengers,” and rightly so. But it’s pretty clear that “Hotel” is “The Avengers'” antithesis, and so too is its target audience. That said, with its award-winning cast and 78 rating on the Tomatometer, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” seems to be well worth seeing in its own right.

  

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Red Carpet Chatter: Mike Nichols Gets His AFI Lifetime Achievement Award

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Born in 1931 in what was very soon to become Hitler’s Germany, young Michael Peschkowsky was living in Manhattan by 1939. It was great luck both for the future Mike Nichols and for the country that accepted him.

Nichols is, of course, one of the most respected directors in Hollywood, and for good reason. He’s the original, craftsmanlike, and emotionally astute directorial voice responsible for such sixties and seventies classics as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,”  “Carnal Knowledge” and, of course, “The Graduate” (the source of his only directorial Oscar so far) as well as such eighties, nineties, and oughts successes as “Silkwood,” “Working Girl,” “The Birdcage,” and “Closer.” Even if some of the later films are not on the same level of quality as his earlier films — and several, especially his 1988 box office hit, “Working Girl,” stray into mediocrity — it’s still one of the most impressive and diverse careers of any living director in Hollywood.

That’s just on the big screen. On television, Nichols has rebounded in the eyes of many critics, directing two of the most acclaimed television productions of the last decade, 2001’s “Wit” with Emma Thompson, and the outstanding 2005 miniseries adaptation of Tony Kushner’s brilliant and mammoth epic play, “Angels in America.” With his 80th birthday just a year and a half away, he’s still working hard with two thrillers movies planned, including an I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low” currently being rewritten by the decidedly counter-intuitive choice of Chris Rock.

Before he directed his first foot of film, Mike Nichols was a noted theater director. That in itself is not so unusual a root for directors to travel. What is different is that, before he was a noted theater director, he was half of one of the most influential comedy teams in show business history, Nichols and May. (His comedy partner, Elaine May, went on to become an important, if less commercially successful, writer and director in her own right.)

Still, from the moment he directed his first major play, Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” Nichols mostly abandoned performing. Today, his highly regarded early work is mostly known only to fairly hardcore comedy aficionados.

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What Else Ya Got? “Toy Story” & “Toy Story 2”

Conveniently timed Blu-ray reissues bring out the cynic in us, especially when it comes to a title that has already received the Special Edition treatment in the previous format of choice. But we must give credit where credit is due: the Blu-ray releases of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” are so well worth the upgrade that we kind of hate them for it. Fine, damn it, take our money. Again.

The best thing about these Blu-ray/DVD combo sets is a small thing, but an important one: All of the new bonus features appear on both types of media. Some studios only give the goods to the Blu-ray converts, but Disney clearly realizes that for many families, buying the latest technology is not their top priority, so good for them for making all of the new extras available on both formats.

And man, are those extras fun. There are two new features created for these sets. “Paths to Pixar” highlights the efforts of people on the technical side and what it was that led them to doing what they do for a living, but the “Studio Stories” bits are the crown jewels. Various Pixar staffers tell stories about the studio’s early days (our favorite is the one involving the scooter races), put to simple but highly amusing black & white animation. Each movie also has its own sneak peek into the upcoming “Toy Story 3,” though the feature on the “Toy Story 2” set which highlights the new characters is the superior of the two.

Both sets feature newly recorded audio commentaries. The commentary for “Toy Story” features the Pixar All-Stars, namely John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter (Oscar winners all). The commentary for “Toy Story 2” includes Lasseter, Stanton and Lee Unkrich, who makes his directorial debut with “Toy Story 3.” There is a heartbreaking piece dedicated to Joe Ranft, who passed away during the production of “Cars” in 2005, but the one extra that will have people buzzing is the Black Friday piece, where Lasseter introduces the rough version of “Toy Story” that nearly killed Pixar. It’s fascinating to watch because, well, there’s no other way of saying it: it’s mean.

Lastly, the Blu-ray editions include all of the DVD extras from the 2005 reissue of the “Toy Story” movies, so anyone who bought those versions does not need to keep them. These sets were thoughtfully considered and well done, but that’s what one would expect from the best movie studio in Hollywood.

  

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“Toy Story 3” trailer + supplementary reading!

If you’re feeling a bit Pixarish after maybe getting a chance to see the new 3-D version of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” wrapping up their two week run in theaters this week, you’re in luck. First of all, The House Next Door, something of a gold standard among brainy cinephile blogs, has just wrapped up Pixar Week, with some of the smartest cinegeeks around exploring the ins and outs of  the studio’s unprecedented run of ongoing artistic and commercial success. Bob says check it out.

That’s not all, the trailer for “Toy Story 3” has been making the rounds today, and we’ve got it. Like many of the folks highlighted by Christopher Campbell, I got a bit verklempt watching this. It’s also, of course, very funny. The usual Pixar one-two punch — works every time (apparently).
Toy Story 3 Trailer in HD

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Weekend box office: “Zombieland” to lift horror comedy curse, apparently

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There was a time — I think it was, I don’t know, two weeks ago — when horror comedies were supposed to be, now and forever, box office poison. “Too funny to be scary and too scary to be funny” was the not so intelligent line. Such was the Hollywood conventional wisdom, until someone went and made a horror comedy that struck a chord.

So, apparently the peanut butter of horror can be blended with the chocolate of comedy if you have lots of action and sufficient gore, the trailer for the movie in question is funny enough that audiences will be sold on it as a more or less straight comedy…and, oh yeah, almost everybody who can stomach seems to love it. Such certainly seems to be the case with “Zombieland.” The flick, which features indie stars Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin, is eliciting excitement both from industry types and critics who have graced it with an 89% “Fresh” Rotten Tomatoes rating (just two points shy of 2004’s instant zombie comedy classic, “Shaun of the Dead.”)

Still, for yours truly who loves comedy horror but has a well documented issue with gore, particularly of the zombie variety, this means a probable long period of movie procrastination followed by a small bonanza for our nation’s distillers. For top-billed costar Woody Harrelson, though, it means a comeback. Jolly Carl DiOrio of THR and Andrew Stewart of Variety guess that it will gross somewhere around $20-$25 million or perhaps further north in over 3,000 theaters. If it wasn’t such a busy weekend, I might think it could do even better.

As for the number two spot, I gather most of the prognosticators expect yet another very good weekend for the animated family hit, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” but after that, the playing field gets a bit crowded. For one thing, Pixar is making things interesting with 3-D redoes of “Toy Story,” and “Toy Story 2” being released as a double feature. It’s a pretty awesome package of family entertainment and I could see it cutting into this weekend’s “Meatballs” take.

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