Box office preview: “Unstoppable”? Perhaps

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Apparently Tony Scott and Denzel Washington enjoyed making their underground run-away train thriller, “The Taking of Pelham 123” so much, they decided to turn around and make an above-ground run-away train thriller. Not everything would be the same. This time Chris Pine would be in tow instead of John Travolta. Another difference is that, this time, the critics are majorly onboard as well, which may or may not indicate that “Unstoppable” will do better over the long haul than its sister film.

Both of my usual b.o. gurus are suggesting a low-to-mid twenties opening for the thriller from Fox, but there is still some daylight between them. Ben Fritz of the L.A. Times is expecting a tough race for the #1 spot with last week’s big winner, “Megamind,” which grossed over $46 million.  The Hollywood Reporter’s Carl DiOrio, who remains jolly even while his intro music grows oddly sinister, seems more sanguine that the amped-up train ride will do better. However, Fritz may be on to something considering that family animated films have proven to be leggy in the past and that a decline of significantly less than 50% seems very possible. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised to see “Unstoppable” overperform.

Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton, and Harrison Ford wonder: What's the story?There are two other major releases this weekend, but neither of them really seems to have much oomph behind them. True, jolly Carl is fairly high on “Morning Glory.” It’s a sort of update on “Broadcast News” minus the critical acclaim putting 32 year-old beauty Rachel McAdams alongside 60-something icons Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton. My money is on Ben Fritz’s take, which is that it’ll be fortunate to break $10 million. Exhibit A is that the comedy from Paramount actually opened yesterday and hasn’t shown much life.

Coincidentally, $10 million is the reported budget for the effects-heavy science-fiction tale being released by Rogue and Universal, “Skyline.” The few critics who’ve seen it mostly agree that all the film really has to boast of are the effects. Fritz thinks it’ll do about the same as “Morning Glory” — though obviously from a younger and more male demographic. Since that amount is also roughly its budget, however, this film may just be a success.

Debuting in a fairly aggressive 41 screen limited release is the latest documentary from Ondi Timoner, who made the excellent “DiG!” and “We Live in Public” both of which never really got much distribution. This time, however, her film is getting some critical flack, not too surprising considering it’s kind of an anti-“An Inconvenient Truth” and features a maverick scientist who isn’t exactly a climate denier and who isn’t coming from a politicized perspective, but who does insist that all the global warming fear is just plain overdone. That is no majority scientific opinion. Entitled “Cool It,” it’s so far been ignored by far-right film blog Big Hollywood, which can only be a good sign.

Another film we all might be hearing from later on is the award-winning festival-friendly first feature from Lena Dunham, “Tiny Furniture.” It’s a comedy, but I don’t find this trailer funny so much as aggressively quirky and mildly annoying, perhaps because of the deliberately flat performances of the nonprofessional cast. On the other hand, I sort of dig the look of the thing. See if you disagree.

  

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Same movie news, different movie blog

Seems like today, everyone’s talking about the same few news items. I’d hate to be left out.

* Adding to the endless speculation over who will be cast as whom in “Spiderman 4,” Nikki Finke enters the more or less pointless but, I suppose, fun fray by naming Anne Hathaway as having been “approached” for a role which her readers have decreed to be the Black Cat.

* The Academy has come up with a short-list of nominees-to-be-nominees in the Best Documentary category. Everyone is making a big deal about the absence of Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” and then naming any one of a number of highly regarded documentaries that didn’t make the cut, including the rather predictably ignored “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” (looks like too much fun) and James Toback’s look at Mike Tyson (to, er, biting?). I’m personally not thrilled that “We Live in Public,” which I still think might be the most important movie made this year, is out of the running, but then I’m obviously somewhat personally invested. Anne Thompson is right, however, that the doc category is growing ever more interesting and crowded.

* The Oscars have an alliterative director. Will he win an Emmy?

* “New Moon” mania breaks out with news of huge early ticket sales. If you have more time on your hands than me, you can read this very lengthy interview and I’m sure pretty interesting interview with director Paul Weitz. I could barely skim it right now, but here’s a quote that leapt out at me:

I have been kind of hazed into the world of VFX, so I understand how to do that — or at least who to trust — and I get what it is that they’re trying to do. I think that with the right visual effects supervisor, I can direct animators who are animating creatures, who are like actors in that sense. It’s just that their performances are being done over the course of months. Each five-second shot takes months to develop. That stuff I like very much, but I wouldn’t say that I’m either an expert or kind of a savant as far as that goes. That’s Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro and Sam Raimi. That’s not me.

  

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Zombies, Ondie, Polanski, and a neglected cell phone

Movieland abides.

* Anne Thompson thinks “Zombieland” just may break the horror comedy curse — given the success of “Shaun of the Dead,” there may be something about zombies that just somehow outweigh today’s horror fans’ fear of anything remotely humorous. Anyhow, the short clip and others (Ms. Thompson has some more) looks good. Still, as Mr. Squeamish guy who had to get dead drunk to watch the original “Dawn of the Dead,” every time a movie with a certain amount of gore gets good enough word-of-mouth/reviews, I get conflicted. Not easy being me. Right now, though, I’m thinking this one might be worth sneaking the contents of my bar into the theater for, even if I’m already concerned the “nut up or shut up” catchphrase could get very old very quick.

* Ondie Timoner’s terrific and ominous new documentary, “We Live in Public,” opened in L.A. last week. I wrote a mammoth interview post on it, it did good business this weekend according to Box Office Mojo and, dang it, I’m claiming I gave it the PH bump! (If it’s good enough for Colbert….) Anyhow, you still have time to check it out before the run ends Thursday.  With some decent luck, many more engagements all over the country may follow.

* If you’re a member of the “lock ’em up now and show no quarter” side of the Roman Polanski debate, you’ll be happy to know that the 76 year-old director is likely to be in a Swiss jail for a period of weeks as he fights extradition.

* The video of Hugh Jackman skillfully dealing with the incessant ringing of some fool’s cell phone during a live performance as co-star Daniel Craig waits patiently has been everywhere. Since “here” is part of “everywhere,” here it is, via Cinematical.

  

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Movie moments for me #1

I’ve worked pretty hard this week, especially on my piece on the fascinating documentary, “We Live in Public,” which I hope people actually read. In any case, I thought I’d permit myself the luxury this weekend of posting clips for no other reason than I love them. (Not that I don’t often sometimes find interesting excuses for doing just that.)

The scene below is from Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” — a lovely, sweet moment from a rather dark, though highly entertaining, movie.

By the way, it’s hardly a secret that Fosse is one of my favorite directors. If you’d like to know more about the man behind “All That Jazz,” “Cabaret,” “Lenny,” and my personal cinematic hobby horse, “Sweet Charity,” etc., you might want to take a look at the Fossethon I put together some time ago at my personal blog, Forward to Yesterday. Also, thanks to Damian Arlyn who reminded of this clip by posting it on Facebook yesterday.

  

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Hanging with the new flesh

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“Your reality is already half video hallucination. If you’re not careful, it will become total hallucination. You’ll have to learn to live in a very strange new world.” – Media philosopher Brian O’Blivion in David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” (1983)

So far, the bulk of gifted documentarian Ondi Timoner’s work has dealt with the forces that persuade human beings to give up some part of themselves, whether it be in pursuit of creative growth, God, or fame. Her latest film, takes that as far as it can possibly go. Unlike her remarkable “DiG!,” about the cultish neo-psychedelic rock band, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, or “Join Us,” about an actual religious cult, this time the cult is not just a few fanatics, it’s you and me.

I first praised the Sundance Grand Jury prize-winning “We Live in Public,” opening Friday at L.A.’s Nuart Theater (with special Q&As Friday and Saturday nights), back in June when I saw it at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The screening was capped off with the then somewhat surprising appearance by the documentary’s antihero, Internet entrepreneur and self-styled conceptual artist Josh Harris. Having returned from an idyll in Ethiopia, he said that his next project was something he called “the Wired City” and that, in his view, a typical human’s life in the future is going to be something like the present day existence of “a Purdue chicken.” He also said he hadn’t seen the movie and wasn’t sure when he would.

Back in the 1990’s, Harris made a large fortune largely by being one of the first to see the full communications potential of the web and was a dot-com era sensation via his groundbreaking web entertainment company, Pseudo. Leaving that when his eccentric and creative side grew to be too artsy and weird for the corporate room, he then spent a good chunk of that fortune on two highly provocative experiments/art projects.

We Live in PublicFirst came “Quiet” – basically a month-long party/community in an underground compound on the west side of New York with overt fascistic overtones. Harris recruited roughly 100 artists and creative types to live there 24/7 for an indefinite period (it turned out to be a month). He would provide all the food, (legal) party favors, a firing range and plenty of weaponry (blanks only, I’m told), as well as a fake church and real interrogation tactics borrowed from the Cold War-era East German secret police.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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