Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Les Miserables teaser trailer

The best thing about the teaser to the eager anticipated film version of the enormously successful musical, Les Miserables is that for once, it's a movie musical, unashamed to advertise its music.  That's enough to celebrate; Anne Hathaway's wonderful vocals for "I Dreamed a Dream," one of the many iconic songs in the play, is another.  Tom Hopper (The King's Speech) appears to have mounted a sweeping and stately grand affair.  Hugh Jackman stars as Jean Valjean.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Cannes Film Featival Winners

Amour- Michael Haneke-  Haneke joined the prestigious ranks of The Dardenne Brothers and Francis Ford Coppola winning his second (and consecutive) top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.  He previously won top honors for 2009's The White Ribbon.  Ironically, the second place finisher at the 2009 fest was A Prophet by director Jacques Audiard who was up again for the acclaimed Rust & Bone with Marion Cotilllard this year...the jury (headed by Nanni Moretti) didn't give that film a prize.

GRAND PRIX (2nd Place)
Reality- Italian film directed by Matteo Garrone, who won the same prize in 2008 for the acclaimed mobster saga Gomorrah.

JURY PRIZE (3rd Place)
The Angel's Share- directed by Ken Loach, winner of the Palme D'Or in 2005 for The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

Carlos Reygades, Post Tenebras Lux

Mads Mikkelsen, The Hunt

Cosmina Straton & Christina Flutor, Beyond the Hills

Beyond the Hills- Cristian Mungai- This is Mungai's follow-up the the amazing the 2007 Palme D'Or winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

CAMERA D'OR (Best First Feature)
Beasts of the Southern Wild- winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance earlier.  Will be released next month by Fox Searchlight.

Last year the Cannes Film Festival was strikingly relevant to the Oscars with top winner The Tree of Life winning the Palme D'Or and The Artist and Midnight in Paris debuting to great acclaim.  I doubt this year will have much influence, despite a heavy number of American films that debuted in competition (Moonrise Kingdom, Lawless, Mud, The Paperboy, Killing Them Softly), none of them won any prizes.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

G.I. Retaliation was slated open June 29, but has moved out of its prime summertime slot in order to retrofit the film into 3-D.  While the first film was a modest hit when it premiered back in 2009, I'm sure no one was exactly clamoring for a sequel, and the cynic in me rises a thought.  Was this sudden transition, a mere month before its impending release a calculated strategy to milk every single 3-D-inflated dollar out of an inferior product, or perhaps a studio head getting ideas after an early screening.  Either way, this doesn't appear a story that ends well creatively, more like a studio craving hard to earn coin in markets where 3-D hasn't been totally dismissed...the US box office is likely more irrelevant now than ever before.

In a swift movie, Universal's R-rated Ted, written and directed by Family Guy's Seth MacFarland swiftly moved into G.I. Joe's slot to take advantage of the pre-Fourth of July slot.  Still even in Hollywood's movie making, this marks a fairly significant change of gears, especially considering the top money spent by Paramount (including a pricy Super Bowl commercial) spent by Paramount.  Perhaps the bad taste left by Battleship's middling opening numbers made Hasbro want to create some distance.  G.I. Joe: Retaliation is now slated for bow next March.

Top 5 Films of 2012 so far...

There's slight comfort as we enter the bombastic tales of the summer movie season; a few films have proven their weight dramatically and culturally.  Here's my picks for the top 5 of the year as we near the halfway point:

5) THE CABIN IN THE WOODS- A daffy and effectively scary uprising of the horror genre, courtesy of director Drew Goddard, writer of Cloverfield who earned his stripes while working TV duties with J.J. Abrams and co-writer Joss Whedon.  The meta-coolness behind the film was enough to give it a cool indie credibility, but there's a chilly and wonderfully seductive touch to the film as it plods through in its dissection of the genre in whole.  For whomever might gripe that the characters are merely ciphers, the magicians at the work are fully aware and play with the idea of archetypal horror movie characters in a way that feel more revelatory than the first Scream did back in 1996.  The Cabin in the Woods sat on the shelf for several years due to distributor MGM's financial woes, as well as a brief flirt with a 3-D conversion; happily for the audience that came out (and a decent $40 million gross hints that many did) saw a special scary movie carved out for those long in need of a smart, fun spooky film.  Let the Buffy alums collaborate again soon...

4) BULLY- Likely the most important film to come so far in 2012, Lee Hirsch's thoughtful, emotionally avid documentary set around the concept of teen bullying in schools has incensed many (including the MPAA, who in an act of graciousness changed their initial ruling), as this is a film that demands to be seen be not merely by every student, but by their parents, and every school administrator.  While not the most artful of muckraking projects, it packs an emotional wallop that would be hard pressed not to turn any person into rethinking their ways, or recalling back to less than stellar youthful times.  Bully is a hard, but necessary film that stands as an important piece of filmmaking for any child who has felt less than, and every grown-up who looked the other way.

3) THE HUNGER GAMES- Shockingly, the spring sensation, the same one that broke all those box office records, and had such super-bolic hype also happened to be that rare, imperfect slice of franchise filmmaking that was about something.  Whether viewed as an unlikely mash-up of Battle Royale and 1984 or merely as a cynical Hollywood attempt to capitalize on yet another teen-lit phenomenon, The Hunger Games, smoothly and articulately directed by Gary Ross, is a rare blockbuster friendly franchise that was full of ideas.  Sad, myopic ideas of civilization and worlds gone far astray as kids compete to the death so an all-encompassing set of leaders can retain control.  The Hunger Games is sci-fi in the better sense where the characters advance the story, rather than the props and futuristic gagdetry.  I think somewhere, Phillip K. Dick might be proud.

2) THE KID WITH THE BIKE- The latest slice of humanistic slice of life, brought to the screen from the masters of such, The Dardenne Brothers delivered with their latest, which had its award winning premiere at last years Cannes Film Festival.  Centering their latest around a wayward youth trying to find a sense of home after his father unapologetically casts him aside, there's something slightly daring and beautiful with The Kid With the Bike that hits emotionally without overt sentimentality or preaching.  It's a small gem of a film.

1) JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME- As one who has never quite warmed to the indie-cool sensibilities of the Duplass Brothers before, with their mumblecore indie hits Cyrus and The Puffy Chair, it's a welcome surprise that their latest, about a slacker thirtysomething (played effortless by Jason Segal) works as well as it does.  A small, but passionate piece of American filmmaking, unjustly ignored in it's initial springtime release, I hope this weird, funny, warm family dramedy finds new life in the realms of the home viewing because it's almost the indie slacker version of Homer's Odyssey.

What are your favorite films of 2012 so far?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Great Gatsby teaser

Baz Luhrmann returns this Christmas with his adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan in 3-D.  If he can turn his Moulin Rouge! magic on here, than Baz will rue all the talk that this can't work...

Until then, I remain skeptical.

Men in Black III

Maybe they just needed to go back in time after all.  Men in Black III is a loose and mostly agreeable chapter in the unnecessary summer sequel hall of chambers, and serves as a brisk lesson on the right way to proceed on a movie series long ago felt dormant.  The action begins as an aggressive alien named Boris the Animal (played with hammy brio by Flight of the Conchords Jermaine Clement), a baddie that Ray-Ban wearing g-man Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) caught and imprisoned back in 1969, breaks of his intergalactic prison, goes back in time and defeats his foe, causing a ripple in the time-space continuum, and a fear for Earth as a whole.  Agent J (Will Smith) must travel back in time, save his partner and the world, while meeting all kinds of new strangeness in the different world of the late-1960s.  What sounds like pure desperate gimmickry, actually saves the Men in Black series, not just from the diminishing returns from the sequel released ten years ago, but from franchise filmmaking getting back its popcorn roots and craving to entertain its audience.

Something seems different right from the start; there's something about the rapport between a more with it Jones and Smith that feels sharper, funnier and more in control.  There's a sense they both want to be here, not just the usual coasting for a lofty paycheck sort of deal.  Jones' Agent K seems even crustier; Smith's Agent J ever more blathering from the mouth-- I intend both as compliments, as the relationship between the two neutralizing alien crushes grows stronger, and surprisingly more poignant towards the films finish.  Director Barry Sonnenfeld (who directed the two first films) and screenwriter Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder) do exactly what should be done for franchises long in the tooth-- they keep the pacing brisk, the timing sharp and hold the chemistry of their actors above the onslaught of visual effects.  Bonus points for bringing along Emma Thompson, as MiB's chief, Agent O as her wondrous comedic timing, along for the ride.  Even more bonus points for making a seemingly desperate plot contrivance the prick the series needed.

For once Agent J is back in 1969 (the moon landing plays a part in the story), there's a fresher angle in store than first thought.  The first grand notion was the introduction of younger Agent K played by Josh Brolin, in a delightful performance that not only greatly mimes Jones, but opens the character...albeit softly.  Agent K, it appears, was always a bit stodgy, but Brolin is granted to free the character and the film applies a nicely balanced before and after that informs the character and his relationship with Agent J.  That's hardly the point-- this is popcorn candy summertime fun, and the film does a good job of handling the mixed bag of comedy and science fiction in a way that harkens back to the glory days of Ghostbusters-- there's a nice nod to the counterculture as Agent J walks into Andy Warhol's Factory not knowing exactly who the aliens and humans are; an even niftier turn in a stalwart cameo by Bill Hader.  There's an even sweeter addition in the character of Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), a soothsayer who can predict the outcome to millions of possibilities of the future.  His gift, or curse, gives slight weight, but mostly adventure as Men in Black III heads to his Cape Canaveral finale.

Whatever the case may be-- low expectations jelled by a sprightly script and engaging interplay of actors, or Men in Black III caught me on a good day-- I enjoyed the outing, and maybe, just maybe there's still another adventure left for them.  B

Monday, May 21, 2012

Hyde Park on Hudson

The trailer for Hyde Park on Hudson looks like choice middlebrow Oscar fodder with Bill Murray in the lead role as FDR.  What do you think?

Weekend Box Office

Hulk continued to smash, as for the third weekend in a row, The Avengers is continuing to smash records and every other film that dares to challenge its supremacy.  A good thing for the films writer\director Joss Whedon, a great talent (just a thought however, why couldn't this level of popularity of been afforded when he was shepherding the brilliant TV series Buffy, the Vampire Slayer?), but onward with the Avengers onslaught, plus co-penning the springs horror hit The Cabin in the Woods, it's safe to safe Whedon can do whatever the hell he pleases for a while which is great news for all, even if...gulp, The Avengers itself isn't the greatest superhero film ever made...I shield from potentially dismaying comments.

  1. THE AVENGERS- $55 million \ $457 million total
  2. BATTLESHIP- $25.3 million total- the mash-up of Transformers and Battle: Los Angeles got slugged around in much the same sense the Hulk tossed around Loki-- good news for modern filmmaking; bad news for Hasboro stock.
  3. THE DICTATOR- $17.4 million \ $24.4 million total- Sasha Baron Cohen's latest was a far cry from Bruno's $30 million opening weekend, but all things considered, this isn't a bad start for the racy provocateur coming off a badly received film.
  4. DARK SHADOWS- $12.7 million \ $50.9 million total- Tim Burton's take on the '60s soap opera will hurt given its $150 million production cost; I would like to stand on record that this is a sign both Burton and muse Johnny Depp should take a badly needed break to recharge their once formidable batteries.
  5. WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING- $10.5 million total- Not horrible considering the product.
  6. THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL- $3.2 million \ $8.2 million total- Fox Searchlight should be placed their senior indie is picking up major steam...landing in the top six on only 356 screens.  Judi Dench is clearly the Hulk of the over fifty crowd.
  7. THE HUNGER GAMES- $3 million \ $391 million- Sure, some of its clout has been somewhat diminished with the onslaught of The Avengers, but this film is still on a hell of a ride, down an scant 33% in its 9th weekend of release...should coast by the $400 million mark soon.
  8. THINK LIKE A MAN- $2.7 million \ $85 million total
  9. THE LUCKY ONE- $1.7 million \ $56 million total- Far more interested in Zac Efron's next film, The Paperboy, debuting at Cannes next week with Nicole Kidman...anyone?
  10. THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS- $1.4 million \ $24 million total- I saw this picture two weeks ago; I should probably write about it...I liked it.

  • BERNIE- Richard Linklater's latest starring Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine is quietly becoming an indie champion averaging $5,000 on 95 screens in 4 weeks of play for a total of $1.1 million so far.
  • HYSTERIA- Victorian-era period piece about the invention of the vibrator debuted modestly at $8,000 per-screen on 5 screens for a $40,000 cum so far.  Stars Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
  • VIRGINIA- Dustin Lance Black's directorial debut, starring Jennifer Connelly and Ed Harris, was butchered when it debuted at the Toronto Film Festival last fall, and promptly earned a limp $6,000 on 5 screens.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

What to Expect When You're Expecting

In no small way, What to Expect When You're Expecting is representative of many of things wrong with contemporary filmmaking.  Firstly, take a well-known property-- in this case Heidi Murkoff's incredibly successful volume of self-help books (a route sadly being pillaged by movie producers all over after the successes of 2009's He's Just Not That Into You and this spring's Think Like a Man)-- littering it with a glittery, starry ensemble, clumsily sewing messy side stories into an uneven whole, mix, bake and release without a care in the world of characters, story or tonal consistency.  It's a snap in the face for grown-up stories about grown-ups, or for those you believe filmmaking (even it's most facile forms) should contain a nugget of substance, or resemble something other than a shrill opportunity to cash in on a name brand.  While What to Expect seems to long to be the pregnancy tome for moviegoers, it's more a cynical marketing tool for the decline of originality in films for older, specifically female crowds, a sad thought a mere year after it appeared Bridesmaids had opened a few doors.  And while the characters end up bringing lives into the world, this is one of those films that may well wish most of its audience makes a swift choice in ending their own, if only to get away from the shrill, shrewish cartoons that make up this most unpleasant movie.

Directed by Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine) and written by Shauna Cross (Whip It) and Heather Hach (Freaky Friday), What to Expect tells five different stories of differing lifestyles coping with the before and during of the blissful pregnancy thing.  Strewn together, with shapeless overlap, and filmed seemingly in a sense to accommodate the various schedules of the talent involved, What to Expect haphazardly, and lazily chronicles the ups and downs; most of the sickness is relegated to those in the movie theater.  The first sequence sums up the skin-deep and slightly sexist nature as we meet Jules (Cameron Diaz), a fitness guru with her one Biggest Loser-like reality show, you finds out about her impending condition while performing on a Dancing With the Stars rip-off with her hook-up\dance partner Evan (Matthew Morrison) by promptly throwing up after her victory.  There's quite a lot of that going on; scatological humor and cheap jokes seemingly made at the expense of expectant mothers instead of humorously displayed affection for soon-to-be mothers.  Jules and Evan's storyline is one of the limpest in the film, that passes the more substantiated storyline of an older woman giving birth, and instead chugs along as a pissing contest between two beautiful and successful mid-line celebrities trying to one-up and out type-A each other.  A proven point of the superficiality and ugliness of the movie as a whole.

There's but two small passing qualities that quietly transcend What to Expect from the trashiest of trash and instead just a bad idea, horribly processed from the start, and those belong to natural, easy-going performances of Jennifer Lopez and Elizabeth Banks.  Given characters more narratively fertile than the rest and a chance to breathe in a film that cares little for characters themselves, they represent two slices of realistic struggles on the road to parenthood.  Lopez plays Holly, a struggling photographer, who with husband Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) are seeking adoption due to failing reproductive tools of their own.  There's a small sliver of something going on, of which, the movie prevents from becoming actually genuine, of the nervous, queasy feelings and tensions of a family struggling to become emotionally ready.  Thankfully, and truly a disservice to the film, director Jones and team dart away before anything becomes real.  Lopez does do small justice to a sadly and tritely written monologue on the anguish expressed for her faulty equipment.  Banks, has the more challenging part, one that's likely very relatable to some, but also a bit more over-the-top as Wendy a soon-to-be mom, who has made a career in prepping for motherhood.  She's experiencing hell from all sides of her body, reveling in jealousy by the pain-free pregnant adventures of her trophy "mother-in-law" Skylar (Brooklyn Decker), expecting twins after marrying Wendy's husband Gary (Ben Falcone) obnoxious race-car driver dad Ramsey (Dennis Quaid.)  That Banks, a charming and very funny performer, can transcend such shrill and obnoxious material and rise above it is a small miracle in it of itself; the same unfortunately cannot be said of Quaid and Decker, whose plot line simply reeks-- Wendy has every reason to to hate the trophy wife-- she's seven months pregnant walking around in 6-inch heals for heavens sake.  The fifth and klutziest side story involves two rival food truck vendors, played by Chace Crawford and Anna Kendrick (possibly in a small way of seeking the Gossip Girl/Twilight crowd) who are forced to deal with the repercussions of a one night stand.

There's a shriller piece of seemingly focused group to death piece to What to Expect, when Holly enlists Alex to pal around with a pathetic group of Dad Dudes in hopes of preparing for impending fatherhood, perhaps in a marketable sense to reach out to the Apatow crowd.  It's in these embarrassing sections where whipped fathers, headed by Chris Rock and Reno 911's Thomas Lennon, What to Expect grows even more tiresome, lamely fashioning a all boys club of men who extol the depressing nature of parenthood, while secretly adoring it; for greater measure the Dudes in a stroke of bromantic glee all perk up at the sight of a single, muscle beach park dweller, played by Joe Manganiello, for little other reason than, I suppose, to rouse female interest at the sight of him without a shirt-- there's conflicting viewpoints in those shoddily executed scenes.  The points rises more so, I think, is this the place grown-up comedies are at now?  If so, Hollywood should take a cue from Lopez and Banks, who signify shades of pregnancy gracefully in tonally ungraceful appearances, only to be sidelined and sacked for disparate marketing devices thrown out in hopes of reaching audiences, who in all seriousness would likely never be caught dead in a film titled What to Expect When You're Expecting.  Popcorn is a cool, low-nutrient food choice, but adding unnecessary sugar on top is not only unhealthy, but bad for modern filmmaking in need of a diet.  D 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dark Shadows

As a child growing up in awe of Edward Scissorhands, in all its strange, gothic charm, further lead down into a path where imagery from The Nightmare Before Christmas and Ed Wood continue to delight and wallpaper my memories, it's difficult in any fairness at this point to feel nothing for Tim Burton but a sense of regret and near embarrassment.  Whatever happened to his imagination that encompassed grandeur and offbeat humor and child-like innocence, now reduced to wannabe franchise mediocrity featuring fleeting bits of the idiosyncrasies that made him such a worthy and strange talent.  That sense of pity, foreshadowed in 2010's Alice in Wonderland hits it's till with Burton's adaptation of the 60s vampire soap opera Dark Shadows, a wan, tonally discordant, glacier paced piece of opulent production design in search of a script, story and direction of any kind.  There's passing moments that perk up the drab affair, and a few facets that point to a decent idea, but Dark Shadows mostly wanders, and coasts on the formidable relationship between director and his muse, Johnny Depp as its sole reason in existing in the first place, and the only discernible cause for moviegoers to shell out buckets of money to see it.

The Collins family, originally immigrants from Liverpool, established a massively successful fishing company in a small burb of Maine in the late 1700s.  Living richly, the town itself was named after their lineage, and Barnabas Collins (Depp) was the token part of that heritage.  His weakness was for women, falling madly for a comely lady named Josette, while having sideline fun with a fair lower class servant (Eva Green.)  Problem was that the help was madly in love with Barnabas, and quite mad herself-- she's a witch who cursed Barnabas into a hellish immortality by turning him into a vampire, and brandishing him to the town, who revolted in burying him.  Some 200 years later, Barnabas is dug up in 1972, where his descendants have fallen hard financially and mentally-- having a descendant that's cast aside for growing fangs has a toll on a family's reputation, I suppose.  But Barnabas, still in Victorian garb and refined British accent comes back to his estate to help salvage his doomed family.  There's a slight giddy thrill when Johnny Depp tackles a character, meant in great harmony and silliness, where his cartoonish tendencies are an asset, and his coiled, beatific speak has a charm and anachronistic spunk to it at the beginning, but that grows tiring and draining as Dark Shadows plods along.

There's a surprise as the witch who cursed him to begin with is still toiling around town, a bleached-blonde executrix now under the name Angelique Bouchard, who for two centuries has plotted to destroy the Collins name and family.  She's established a fishing company that's taken over the northeastern seas, and is jolted by the newly awoken return of her long lost love.  The spark of Dark Shadows, and there is truly only one, is the nearly transcendent performance of Eva Green.  The brunette beauty, who emerged as art-house hottie in Bernardo Bertulucci's The Dreamers (2003), breathes a freshness, a light but menacing sense of play, balancing the kitsch and camp with such a rare evocation, one only wished the rest of the production were at her speed.  She flirts and haunts, but nearly every one of line readings (some of which, as written, are terribly banal), she maintains the right sense of playful cartoonishness.  The problem is that Burton pulls away from that more often than not-- this isn't serious; nor should it drag.

The biggest drag is the character of Barnabas himself, who speaks in poetic rhythms but also is an undeniable danger due to the whole fang thing.  There's too much back and forth inconsistency on how to feel about him, which might be an interesting take had this been Ingmar Bergman's Dark Shadows, but moral complexity is out of reach in this script written by John Logan and Seth Grahame-Smith.  There's more of an sense that, oh well Johnny Depp will bring to it what he chooses, rather than much thought on conception.  This ambiguity grows especially tiring was Barnabas grows a fondness for the Collins' governess Victoria, played by a Bella Swan-inspired Bella Heathcote.  One passing joke that grows more and more tiresome is Barnabas' anger that she lets anyone call his crush by the oh-so-low class Vicky.  Their relationship has a bit more heft to it, but Burton and team give it so little attention, it hardly seems one should care a whip.  Instead, the production design, and costumes are fitting and continue the brand that this filmmaker has long established.  Longtime collaborators Rich Heinrichs and Colleen Atwood do a marvelous job as always, but that embarrassment comes in again, as they appear to again be creating things they have long ago mastered.  The story itself seems mostly jettisoned by its period soundtrack.

That embarrassment thing hits its reach in a sex scene between Barnabas and Angelique, who after a meeting of trading insults engage in gymnastics sex that's so awkward to watch, one feels sad for the furniture that was built, only to be destroyed for the couples kinkiness.  That scene especially, but others also establish a near auto-pilot response from Burton, once a conjurer of imagination, now a mere cog in a the movie making world of excess and dollar signs.  His cast includes talents like Michelle Pfeiffer (who was such a memorable part of his Batman Returns) as the Collins' matriarch who poses imperiousness well, but is largely ignored, his wife Helena Bonham Carter as the Collins' live-in psychiatrist, whose along for hubby, but saddled with a ridiculous side story, Jackie Earle Haley as the family's butler, who appears bored, and Chloe Grace Moretiz as the family's rebellious daughter, who scowls, per normal.  There's ingredients that make Dark Shadows appear that it might be the campy, bad in a good way fun like Burton's Mars Attacks, but Burton himself seems uninterested, as does, sadly, his once faithful audience.  C 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Weekend Box Office Avenged!!!

Joss Whedon's The Avengers destroyed nearly every opening weekend record blasting off with an estimated $200 million in its first three days of release.  The assemblage of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America was destined to be huge, but it's number is way above any rational thinking.  The film made more in its first weekend than Hulk, Thor or Captain America made in their entire runs, and will destroy both Iron Mans come next weekend.  It's worth noting that ten years ago in the same first weekend of May, the first Spider-man kick-started the superhero rebirth and made a then-astounding record breaking $100+ million, a number that feels wimpy in the age of 3-D, plus a decades-worth of ticket inflation.  The film, widely critically accepted and with that kind of crushing hype behind it that make The Hunger Games take of $150 million back in March seem not quite as extraordinary, will just make it harder for the rest of the would-be blockbusters of the summer to come.  It's quite remarkable, however, like every other Hollywood anomaly, will hopefully be rightfully considered the exception, not the rule.

  1. MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS- $200.3 million
  2. THINK LIKE A MAN- $8 million/$73 million
  3. THE HUNGER GAMES- $5.7 million/$380 million
  4. THE LUCKY ONE- $5.5 million/$47 million total
  5. THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS- $5.4 million/$18.5 million
  6. THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT- $5.1 million/$19 million
  7. THE RAVEN- $2.5 million/$12 million
  8. SAFE- $2.4 million/$12.8 million 
  9. CHIMPANZEE- $2.3 million/$23 million
  10. THE THREE STOOGES- $$1.8 million/$39 million
  11. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS- $1.5 million/$38 million
  12. JOHN CARTER- $1.3 million/$70.5 million
  13. 21 JUMP STREET- $1 million/$133 million
  14. AMERICAN REUNION- $0.8/$55 million
Also impressive was the debut of the dame-heavy The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which managed to bring in the biggest opening of the 2012 for a limited film.  The film, directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) and starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith has already been a huge hit in the UK (where it's scored an impressive $70 million) as was good counterprogramming on the part of Fox Searchlight for a senior alternative to the comic\superhero crowd.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Lola Versus

In the twee art house romantic comedy Lola Versus, a late-twenties drifter named Lola (Greta Gerwig) combats her relationships, friendships, and ultimately herself after being dumped by her fiance shortly before their wedding.  There's a genuine fascination to Gerwig herself, a skillful, if overly specific, actress who in films like Greenberg and this springs Damsels in Distress has a particular way of selling a line, and a killer deadpan delivery.  She seems to bring a almost unknowable kind of intelligence and introspection to her characters, one that makes you invested and rooted in trying to understand them better.  However, she's also clearly never going to be a girl-next-door type of leading lady, and nor should she try to be packaged as such.  In Daryl Wein's ode to near-thirties malaise, there's an irritatingly high-minded hipster conceit at the very start of Lola Versus, one that seems to shout that this is a film to speak for a generation of lost (albeit very pretty) young adults in various stages of arrested development.  Lola's plight should feel earned to those of Benjamin Bradock's or the ironically tuned Reality Bites kids.  Not quite, the lost person trying to find themselves act can only really ring true when the characters are given a chance to do so; also it helps when the characters surrounding them don't read like silly non-sequitors seemingly appearing in their own films.

In a lengthy prologue we meet Lola, a happy ironic, nearly bohemian type in love with her dreamy long time boyfriend (Joel Kinnaman.)  The two enjoy healthy sex and cutesy, idiosyncratic breakfast foods in their quaint Manhattan loft-- for extra arty pretension, he's a budding painter and she's earning her PhD.  The couple gets engaged, when suddenly, after a cuddly montage of happy pre-wedding moments, he calls it quits and Lola is upended.  Whatever is Lola going to do?  The film almost devolves into a five stages of guilt evolution as the character goes from near martyr to a grown adult.  The steps to get there, while at times, slightly humorous, also play long in the tooth, because of the meandering and self indulgent (not to mention overly familiar) beats Lola Versus charts.  Feeling lost and off center is certainly a common cinematic road, and it works often because everyone feels that way every once in a while, but must it also be a drag as well.  Gerwig slumps and cries and as her Damsels in Distress character might say is going through a "tailspin," but there's such a half-hearted unevenness in the missteps Lola takes before the eventual self-redemptive final act.

The steps Lola takes to finding herself include sleeping around, destructive meetings with the man who broke her heart, and a half-assed affair with one of her best friends, played by go-to arthouse nerd\romantic Hanish Linklater (The Future.)  Lola Versus is clearly modeled in the (500) Days of Summer-type of indie isn't it romantic, but not quite dynamic defined by quirk and characterizations just left of normal human behavior, but while that film that a near romantic charm mostly attributed to it's interesting non-linear pacing, Lola Versus devolves into a small-scaled story of a lost girl who in the end doesn't appear too likable.  Gerwig challenges this with her sometimes insightful introspection and disarming, so ironic-it's-not stance, but there's a lack of pull to the center of her story.  Her parents in the film are played by Debra Winger and Bill Pullman in almost desperate acts of older generation performers trying to earn cool points.

There's an even more ugly summation to be associated with Lola Versus, a nearly sweet R-rated romantic comedy of sorts where all the R-rated parts fell like sub-Apatow like attempts at trying to win over the raunchy comedy crowd, a la Bridesmaids.  There's really no need for her best friend, an avante-garde off-Broadway actress to be so vulgar, nor a plot point designated to one of Lola's sex buddies be extended to the size of his penis.  We saw a similar thing earlier this year with another grown up arthouse draw that used unneeded vulgarity as more a desperate marketing tool than a firmer shaper of story with Friends With Kids.  Perhaps if Wein had a smarter sense to tell a smaller, more honest portrait of a young woman learning to find self-fulfillment, Lola Versus would have less trouble fighting its audiences better instincts.  C

The Avengers Assemble

The kick-off to the bombastic summer movie season is off a fighting start with the stellar $18.7 million The Avengers earned solely from Thursday midnight sales.  The question of the weekend is how high will it go-- or better yet, do it off a shot at besting the three-day opening weekend set by last summers Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (which earned $168 million in July of last year.)  The midnight performance was the eighth biggest midnight seller of all time (falling short of the Harry Potter and Twilight films) but ahead of The Dark Knight (just barely, which earned $18.5 in July of 2008) and the biggest superhero midnight earner ever.  Whatever happens, the Joss Whedon-helmed tale, that which took five films (highly expensive ads) to kick start it, earns the top summer crown...for now.

It's all gravy...The Avengers has already amassed over $300 million overseas.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Lost in the shuffle in mid March and released without any seeming confidence by Paramount's struggling indie arm, Paramount Vantage, Jeff, Who Lives at Home kind of just came and went.  The sad part is that the film directed by brothers Jay and Mark Duplass (Cyrus, The Puffy Chair) is an affectionate and humane day in the life bittersweet film whose greatest achievement is that of nearly unfathomable surprise.  That the quirky, mumblecore filmmakers-- divisive for sure-- created their richest, smartest and most tenderly conceived characters studies, that of surprisingly substantial emotional impact devoid of sentimental tics, and for it not to be more celebrated feels like a small crime of modern American independent filmmaking.  Perhaps that's over stepping a bit, but there's a wonder and near gracefulness in this sad tale of detachment.  There's also a refreshing and interesting turn related to its performers, all of whom are given something different, and rise to the occasion is such a confounding way.

The Jeff in question is played by Jason Segal, a ne'er do well, 30-year-old man child living in his safe confounds of his mothers basement.  In between bong loads, he starts thinking and obsessing with destiny and the meaning of "it all."  While the nearly flaky archetype of a grown man resisting a normal adult life, pondering and philosophizing the interconnectedness of the universe might appear arch and a bit silly...and truthfully, many of Jeff's ideas are nutty, there's a difference and a subtle humanity to Segal's performance that is never made the butt of a joke, nor defined by only-in-the-arthouse-film-world quirks.  He's a depressed lost loner, and never sought to be a stand-in for a generational divide, merely a sad young man looking to grow.  He's the direct contract to his older brother Pat (Ed Helms), a middling corporate goon who forgot honest communication long ago, replacing it with possessions (his latest prize, a Porshe), while neglecting his wife Linda (Judy Greer.)  Jeff, Who Lives at Home comes full familial circle with Susan Sarandon as the boys mother, a similarly disconnected woman struggling with ambivalence over her sons differences, who gets recharged by a secret office crush. 

To describe the plot of Jeff, Who Lives at Home is almost besides the point.  It reads more often not as though not much happens, but it leads to an honest emotional catharsis, if one is willing to take the leap of bounds of the third act.  Instead it's really a chronicling of a day's adventures in hopes of connecting the disconnected, and the surprising depths of the performers make that possible.  It's almost profound the way that goofy comics like Segal and Helms hold it all back in such a realistic and believable fashion.  It's also nice to see Sarandon rejoice in a role worthy of her superior talents.  What's most surprising, especially coming from a non-fan of Cyrus or The Puffy Chair is the quiet, bittersweet poignancy and restraint the Duplass Brothers bring to Jeff, Who Lives at Home, while keeping their singular brand for the most part in tact; they bring an almost melancholic European art-house sensibility, showcasing a strong degree of wit and happenstance coupled with hard felt emotion, with nary a hint of melodrama or proselytizing.  B+
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