For the past year or so I've written about "Top Cat - The Movie", which has already been released and has become a hit in several foreign countries, including Mexico and the UK. There's been this on-going mystery as to whether the film would ever come to the US. In May, numerous websites reported that Viva Pictures bought the rights from Warner Bros. to distribute "Top Cat - The Movie" in the US and that the film would hit theaters beginning August 2nd.
However, no one could learn anything beyond that - until now. I've been able to contact Viva Pictures president Victor Elizalde and he told me that the film is currently playing in 15 US markets, including Houston, LA and cities in Michigan and Wisconsin. He also said, "Because of a waver...we're not charging admission. We're giving away promotional tickets to various groups". They include the Boys & Girls Clubs and the Boys and Girl Scouts.
The question still to be answered: Will "Top Cat - The Movie" debut on VOD later this August and be out on DVD on September 3rd, as has been rumored. When I get those answers I'll be sure to pass them right along.
To preview the anticipated release of the film I recently spoke with the star of "Top Cat", voice actor Jason Harris. In this LCJ Interview, Harris discusses bringing back and updating the iconic Hanna-Barbera cartoon, an animated Yankess film he's also working on, and his days hosting the Nickelodeon game show "Double Dare 2000".
"The Smurfs" grossed over $560 million worldwide two years ago, so it wasn't a huge surprise when a sequel was immediately announced. The iconic animated characters have to face-off against arch-enemy Gargamel once again in "The Smurfs 2", which is now in theaters.
Raja Gosnell is best known for directing family films, including "Scooby Doo", "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" and the original "Smurfs". He's back behind the camera for the highly-anticipated second installment. In this LCJ Interview, Gosnell goes back to his editing days, reminiscences about shooting this sequel in Paris, working with the late Jonathan Winters (who voices Papa Smurf), and breaks exclusive news about "The Smurfs 3".
Last summer, Regal Entertainment Group showed an exclusive five-minute behind-the-scenes look at the making of "Les Miserables" prior to the films shown in all their theaters nationwide. This new marketing strategy was a big hit. Since then, several studios have tried their hand at duplicating that success by making their own "extended previews" of upcoming releases. But now it's just gone too far.
The "Les Mis" piece had a purpose: to showcase the "singing live" aspect of the film. It wasn't just an extra-long trailer with a few interviews thrown in. Unfortunately the piece didn't get director Tom Hooper the Oscar nomination he deserved, however millions (myself included) were captivated watching it, even multiple times. Hearing Anne Hathaway sing part of "I Dreamed a Dream" made it a must-watch. Yet, it didn't spoil the film by giving too much away.
That's exactly the OPPOSITE of what's happening now. Everybody is now producing "extended previews" of upcoming films. Before "The Wolverine" there were not one, but two of these. The first was for Matt Damon's sci-fi film "Elysium". While I laughed at co-star Sharlto Copley introducing himself as "that guy from "District 9"', I covered my eyes and ears as best as I could for the rest of it (at least three minutes) because the piece showed way too much of the movie. Having trailers give away storylines and plot points is bad enough. Now we've got to deal with these preview features spoiling films.
Next came The Simon Pegg/Nick Frost comedy "The World's End". At least this feature was shorter. But even brief interviews with the actors explaining the plot is more than I want to see when I'm attending another film.
And there's clearly no one paying attention to when this extended previews are running. "The Great Gatsby" piece was shown up to the week before its release. And when Walmart did their special "Man of Steel" screening promotion, the preview feature ran right before the film itself. So audiences had to hear director Zack Snyder describing scenes from the film TWO MINUTES BEFORE IT WAS ABOUT TO START!
I think you can tell that this new trend is driving me INSANE. It's clearly a case of copying something that worked (with "Les Mis") but not doing it the right way. The "Les Mis" feature was special. Everything that's come since has been worthless. And I haven't even mentioned the extra time these features add to a night at the theater. If complaining to theater GMs or the studios will help end this madness then let's start complaining.
Thanks to one of my favorite websites: BoxOffice.com, I stumbled upon a new South Korea/China sports comedy called "Mr. Go". It's out in theaters in both of those countries right now and is quickly becoming a huge hit. In fact it's grossed close to $10 million in its first four days in China. Why is this film doing so well? Because it's about a gorilla who plays professional baseball. And while that concept may seem a little out there for many, after watching the trailer it's clear to me that we need to bring "Mr. Go" to American theaters.
It's not as if U.S. audiences haven't embraced wacky animal movies in the past ("Babe", "Stuart Little", "Scooby Doo", "Yogi Bear", "Alvin and the Chipmunks"). And films starring primates ("King Kong", the "Planet of the Apes" series, "Gorillas in the Mist", "Space Chimps" and the Disneynature documentary "Chimpanzee"). And baseball movies don't always hit home runs at the box office, but that doesn't stop studios from churning them out ("Moneyball", "Trouble With the Curve" and "42" are recent examples).
And the combination has been done before: 1996's "Ed" featured a baseball playing chimpanzee (and Matt LeBlanc) and "M.V.P: Most Valuable Primate" centered around a chimp who played hockey. What makes "Mr. Go" different and why do we need him here in America? First of all the technology is amazing. And the trailer shows that this isn't simply a goofy sports/animal movie. There's a dramatic element to "Mr. Go" that compels you to watch him in action over and over again. This is a national phenomenon just ready to explode.
All we need is someone to obtain the rights to the film, add English subtitles and let it loose upon the American public. So here's my official pitch: I am calling for all US movie studios to pursue "Mr. Go". This film is just over two hours, so it fits right in with that current US trend. And it can be great way for American kids to be introduced to watching movies in subtitles. Plus it's in 3D, which could bring that struggling format back to life.
In the meantime, I'm pondering an important question: Does "Mr. Go" have a shot at a Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar nomination? See for yourself by watching the official trailer.
I was afraid of this. When four BIG movies open on the same weekend, you know only one or two will be successful at the box office and the others will flat out bomb. And the current glut of quality carryover films only make things more difficult for the newcomers.
DreamWorks Animation is probably regretting opening "Turbo" on both a Wednesday and in the middle of the most jam-packed summer of animated releases in modern movie history. While "Monsters University" isn't drawing big crowds anymore, "Despicable Me 2" is still a force to be reckoned with. "Turbo" is a nice, sweet, original film that families should go see, especially those who have invested in Mike and Sully and the Minions once (or twice) already. But "Turbo" only made $31 million over its first five days. It could end-up being an even bigger disappointment for DWA than last year's "Rise of the Guardians", which was released on a crowded Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
"Red" opened in October 2010 to $21.8 million, #2 only to "Jackass 3D"'s $50M take. It appears "Red 2" will not perform quite as well. It was originally slated to open on August 2nd, but was pushed-up to July 19, even though that move put it up against three other movies instead of only "2 Guns", had it stayed in August. Instead, maybe Lionsgate should've moved it to the 26th. While it would've obviously suffered defeat at the hands of "The Wolverine", the older crowd (and non-comic book fans) might've gone for it. "Red 2" will have a hard time equaling its predecessor's $90M domestic total.
And then there's "R.I.P.D.". Also based on a comic, Universal's Jeff Bridges/Ryan Reynolds sci-fi action comedy has been hammered by critics and barely crossed the $10 million mark on its opening weekend. This is a disaster for a studio that's been having a very impressive summer so far ("Fast & Furious 6", "The Purge", "DM2"). Keep in mind that the film's budget was $130 million.
So who wins? These days, it seems like the horror film always does. "The Conjuring" made over $40 million in nearly 1,000 fewer theaters than "Turbo". Of course it will drop dramatically next weekend (as the horror flicks always do). With "The Wolverine" being the only new powerhouse (expect a $100M+ opening), "Turbo" could actually get back into the race next weekend. And even "Red 2" might get a bounce. As for "R.I.P.D." - it was D.O.A. so not even a miracle could bring it back to life.
Here are five more of the Top 10 films you should be watching out for this Awards Season:
12 YEARS A SLAVE - Director Steve McQueen re-teams with "Shame" star Michael Fassbender for this historical drama set in the pre-Civil War. Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Salt") are also part of the ensemble. October 18 (Limited Release)
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY - Meryl Streep is going for her 18th nomination and fourth Oscar with this adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play. Streep leads an impressive cast which also includes Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Durmet Mulroney, Abigail Breslin and Benedict Cumberbatch ("Star Trek Into Darkness"). Opens in Limited Release on December 25.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS - This latest film from the Coen Brothers stars Oscar Isaac as a 1960's singer/songwriter. Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Garett Hedlund ("TRON: Legacy") and John Goodman co-star. With the exception of TIME and Entertainment Weekly, the film received great reviews from it's premiere at Cannes. Opens in Limited Release on December 6 and expands on December 20.
NEBRASKA - Alexander Payne ("The Descendants") directs this dramedy about a father-and-son road trip to the Cornhusker state. Bruce Dern and "SNL"'s Will Forte star. From the images we've seen so far, at least some of the film appears to be in Black-and-White. Opens in Limited Release on November 22.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET - Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese together again. This is a crime drama about an obsessed stockbroker. Co-stars Oscar nominee Jonah Hill ("Moneyball") and Matthew McConaughey. The first trailer is not very good, but this could be a surprise success. November 15
Also keep an eye out for these "performance-driven" contenders:
"The Butler" (Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey) - Aug. 16
"Prisoners" (Hugh Jackman) - Sept. 20
"Rush" (Chris Hemsworth) - Sept. 27
"Captain Phillips" (Tom Hanks) - Oct. 11
"The Counselor" (M. Fassbender, B. Pitt) - Oct. 25
"The Book Thief" (Geoffrey Rush) - Nov. 15
"Her" (Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams) - Nov. 20 (limited release)
"Black Nativity" (Jennifer Hudson) - Nov. 27
"Grace of Monaco" (Nicole Kidman) - Nov. 27 (limited release)
"Out of the Furnace" (Christian Bale) - Nov. 27 (limited release), Dec. 6 (expansion)
"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" (Idris Elba) - Nov. 29 (limited release)
"Dallas Buyers Club" (M. McConaughey) - Dec. 6 (limited release)
"Labor Day" (Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet) - Dec. 25 (limited release), Jan. 31 (nationwide)
"Lone Survivor" (Mark Wahlberg) - Dec. 27 (limited release), Jan. 10 (nationwide)
Since we're now into the second half of 2013, everyone seems to be making lists of either films from the first half that could be Awards Season contenders at the end of the year, or second half releases that could dominate the ballots. With SO many films in contention this Awards Season, the field should be more crowded than ever. Here are five of my Top 10 films you should be watching out for:
"AMERICAN HUSTLE" - One year after Jennifer Lawrence took home Best Actress, she and "Silver Linings Playbook" co-stars Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro re-team with director David O. Russell for this drama about crime and politics. "The Fighter"'s Christian Bale and Amy Adams also reunite, and Jeremy Renner and Louis C.K. round-out an incredible cast! Opens in Limited Release on December 13 and expands Nationwide on Christmas Day.
"GRAVITY" - Originally scheduled as a 2012 release, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as astronauts who become adrift in space after debris crashes into their spacecraft. Looks intense and visually stunning. October 4
"MONUMENTS MEN" - Clooney's last film that he directed, 2011's "The Ides of March" was almost completely shut out by the Academy. He could bounce back with this based on a true story about recapturing stolen artworks during WWII. Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman and "The Artist"'s Jean Dujardin co-star. December 18
"SAVING MR. BANKS" - The untold story of the making of "Mary Poppins". Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney and Emma Thompson is "Poppins" author P.L. Travers. If it's as good as the three-minute trailer the film should get multiple nominations - for both leads, as well as Adapted Screenplay and Picture. Opens in Limited Release on December 13 and expands Nationwide on December 20.
"THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY" - Director and star Ben Stiller's remake of the 1947 classic, (and adaptation of the novel), is already receiving positive reviews from early test footage. Last year, "Silver Linings" was the dramedy darling. "Mitty" has a chance to be that film this year. December 25.
"Despicable Me 2" set some positive box office records over the 4th of July holiday weekend. But the animated hit also set a new all-time record for the lowest percentage of 3D tickets sold. Entertainment Weekly is reporting that only 27% of ticket sales for "DM2" over the 5-Day Fourth of July weekend were for 3D showings (about $37 million).
There's no denying the recent decline in interest in 3D. Ticket sales are down. Showings per theater are down (often 3D is not getting primetime slots). This summer "Monsters University" only had 31% of its opening weekend sales for 3D. "World War Z", which faced "MU", did slightly better with 34% 3D $$$. Only 1/3 of "The Great Gatsby"'s $50M open was 3D sales. And blockbuster action films, such as "Iron Man 3" and "Star Trek Into Darkness" saw more than half of audiences choosing 2D over 3D.
These are staggeringly low numbers compared to just a few years ago when 3D was REALLY hot. Films like "Avatar", "Alice in Wonderland", and even "Tron: Legacy" scored big with the 3D technology. "Tron" was able to get 82% of its opening weekend crowds to see it in either regular 3D or IMAX 3D.
Back at the start of this recent 3D comeback I predicted (on "The Tonight Show") that 3D was a gimmick that would run its course and disappear again in the near future. Maybe that time is close. James Cameron, "Mr. 3D" even admits, "I don't think Hollywood is using 3D properly". I agree with him that films like "Man of Steel", "Iron Man 3", or most action films for that matter, don't necessarily have to be in 3D. The 2D digital technology is good enough to provide audiences with an incredible visual experience.
Clearly most movie fans don't see any advantage to watching a film in 3D. Ticket prices are already high enough. Does 3D add to the enjoyment of certain films? Absolutely ("DM2" is a perfect example). But you can still have a great time without having to shell out the extra bucks.
If this anti-3D trend continues, and I think it will, it won't be long before the current 3D glasses will become collectors items, like the old fashioned versions with the red and blue lenses.
Johnny Depp currently stars as Tonto in Disney's "The Lone Ranger", which made just under $50 million over the 5-Day 4th of July weekend - flat-out AWFUL compared to "Despicable Me 2"'s $142.1 million. "Ranger" is this year's "John Carter" for Disney. And while it should do better than that film's $73M total when it disappears from theaters in a few weeks, "LR" will certainly not make back its $250 million budget, at least in the US.
"The Lone Ranger" is also Depp's fifth straight box office disappointment. The three-time Oscar nominee's last legit hit was 2010's "Alice In Wonderland", directed by Tim Burton. When that film was released, 3D was really hot, so the high ticket prices helped "Alice"gross $334 million.
Later that year, Depp teamed with Angelina Jolie for the film that host Ricky Gervais (and Depp himself) made fun of at the Golden Globes for two years in a row, "The Tourist". While the trailers actually made the film look pretty good, it was panned by critics and grossed a mere $67 million.
2011 didn't start much better. I'm not counting the animated "Rango" in this list of recent Depp stumbles, though that also under-performed. The highly-anticipated "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" was released during the jam-packed summer season. It made $90 million in a decent opening weekend, but "Tides" went-on to become the lowest-grossing "Pirates" installment in the franchise.
And "The Rum Diary" was a Halloween weekend nightmare. Practically NOBODY saw this movie: $5M open, $13M total. Ouch!
Depp's cameo in last year's film version of "21 Jump Street" was well-received, but the TV-show adaptation that he starred in a few months later BOMBED. "Dark Shadows" was destroyed by "Marvel's The Avengers" opening weekend and was never able to find an audience. Depp and Burton's eighth collaboration was a weird mix of comedy and family drama that didn't work well together, though the film did have a great look.
And now, riding to the rescue, "The Lone Ranger". Well, not exactly. Disney designed this movie to be a star vehicle for Depp, even though he plays the sidekick. He can't take all the blame for what could become one of the biggest disasters in Hollywood history, but he has to take some.
So, will Johnny Depp be able to recover from this slump and, if so, when? Probably. We'll have to wait nine months to find out. His next film, the sci-fi action drama "Transcendence", doesn't open until next April. And Depp is reportedly part of the ensemble in Disney's musical "Into the Woods", due out Christmas 2014. He was cast just before "Ranger" opened in theaters. We'll see if either side has any second thoughts.
Two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks could receive a double Oscar nomination this year for his upcoming roles as Captain Phillips in "Captain Phillips" and Walt Disney in the making-of "Mary Poppins" movie "Saving Mr. Banks". He also just ended his Tony-nominated run on Broadway in the play "Lucky Guy".
This past weekend I was able to see one of Hanks' final performances - and really became a "lucky guy" after the show. Getting to go backstage following a Broadway play is always a thrill. Thanks to a friend I was able to meet and talk with actor Courtney B. Vance, who won a Tony this year for his fantastic work in the play. He shared with me that it took a while for the chemistry between all the actors in this very fast-moving and complicated production to perfectly mesh. By the end they certainly had it all worked out.
Following that conversation and getting reading to head out into the street I hear a familiar voice. And coming down the stairs is none other than Mr. Tom Hanks himself. He was saying goodbye to some of his VIP guests and turning to head into another room where longtime friend Peter Scolari (who's also in the cast) had some visitors. But first, he spotted me, walked over with hand held out and, with a wide smile, asked, "Who are you?"
After introducing myself I told him what a great job he did in the show. "Lucky Guy" was written by the late Nora Ephron ("When Harry Met Sally", "Julie & Julia"). She also wrote the screenplays for the Hanks-Meg Ryan collaborations "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail". Ephron's play is fast-paced, funny, fascinating and consistently emotional. The set design is also incredible.
The following is how I best recall the remainder of our conversation. But please bare with me because, afterall, I was having an unexpected conversation with Tom "freakin'" Hanks, so I may not be completely accurate with every word:
LCJ: You've got two big movies coming out.
TH: I do!
Now, much like I had the dream to sing part of the soliloquy from "Les Miserables" with Hugh Jackman (and got to at the Critics Choice Awards) there was something I told myself I needed to ask Tom Hanks if I ever had the chance:
There's a scene towards the beginning of "Monsters University" in which young Mike goes through one of the doors at Monsters, Inc. and encounters a human child. When he hears the child's parents come in, Mike hides. As the parents open the door, the mother makes a comment, and then so does the father. And, to me, the dad character sounded like it could have been Hanks. He's not credited at all but everyone know how Pixar loves to add special, surprises touches to their films. And since Hanks has been the voice of iconic star Woody in all the "Toy Story" films, shorts, and upcoming TV specials I didn't think it was too big of a stretch. So I asked him:
LCJ: I've got a quick question for you.
LCJ: Do you have a cameo in "Monsters University"?
TH: No. I don't think so. Why?
LCJ: I swear I heard your voice in the movie.
TH: (pauses and leans up against the wall) Wait a minute. I might have. They (Pixar) call you up to these things...
TH: So I might've gone in one day and they might've said, "Hey could you do this line?" Now I'll have to go see the movie and find out!"
I've done much longer interviews and more important interviews but this surprise, two-minute Q&A with Tom Hanks ranks up right up there with the most exciting I've ever been a part of. And I plan on following-up with him in January at the Critics Choice Awards (chances are good he'll be there for one of his major roles) to see if he found out if that is actually is his voice in "Monsters University".
Supervillain turned Superdad Gru (Steve Carell), his little yellow assistants, the Minions, and his delightful daughters are all back in the animated sequel "Despicable Me 2". The 2010 original made over $250 million in the US, ranking #10 on the highest-grossing animated films list. It also received Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for Best Animated Feature and was one of my favorite films of the year.
In "DM2", Gru's middle daughter, Edith, is once again voiced by singer and actress Dana Gaier. Dana told me in this LCJ Interview about re-auditioning for the role, the film's Hollywood premiere, next year's "Minions" spin-off movie and more!
We've reached the halfway point of 2013. That means it's time for my annual Mid-Year Movie Awards:
"Fast & Furious 6"
"Star Trek Into Darkness"
"World War Z"
J.J. Abrams - "Star Trek Into Darkness"
Marc Forster - "World War Z"
Justin Lin - "Fast & Furious 6"
Richard Linklater - "Before Midnight"
Baz Luhrmann - "The Great Gatsby"
Chadwick Boseman - "42"
Bradley Cooper - "The Place Beyond the Pines"
Leonardo DiCaprio - "The Great Gatsby"
Chris O'Dowd - "The Sapphires"
Brad Pitt - "World War Z"
Julie Delpy - "Before Midnight"
Tina Fey - "Admission"
Carey Mulligan - "The Great Gatsby"
Gwyneth Paltrow - "Iron Man 3"
Michelle Williams - "Oz: The Great and Powerful"
Best Supporting Actor
Kevin Costner - "Man of Steel"
Benedict Cumberbatch - "Star Trek Into Darkness"
Harrison Ford - "42"
Ryan Gosling - "The Place Beyond the Pines"
James Woods - "White House Down"
Best Supporting Actress
Rose Byrne - "The Internship"
Alice Eve - "Star Trek Into Darkness"
Rebecca Hall - "Iron Man 3"
Diane Lane - "Man of Steel"
Zoe Saldana - "Star Trek Into Darkness"
"Fast & Furious 6"
"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"
"Man of Steel"
"Now You See Me"
"Star Trek Into Darkness"
David Copperfield - "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"
Leonard Nimoy - "Star Trek Into Darkness"
John Ratzenburger - "Monsters University"
Mark Ruffalo - "Iron Man 3"
Jason Statham - "Fast & Furious 6"
Best Action Film
"Fast & Furious 6"
"Iron Man 3"
"Star Trek Into Darkness"
"White House Down"
"World War Z"
Best Animated Feature
"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"
"This Is The End"
"The Great Gatsby"
"The Place Beyond the Pines"
Best Family Film
"Oz: The Great and Powerful"
The Roger Ebert Award for Best Screenplay
"Oz: The Great and Powerful"
Makeup and Hairstyling
"The Great Gatsby"
"Star Trek Into Darkness"
"To the Wonder"
"World War Z"
"Behind the Candelabra"
With "Monsters University" now in theaters, everyone seems to be updating their lists of favorite Pixar movies. So here's mine:
14. "WALL-E" (2008)
The world seemed to fall in love with a robot who...falls in love with a female robot. I didn't. The opening section with no dialogue was...different. But it lost me soon after. Hardly remember anything other than "Hello, Dolly". Found more emotion in Brad Bird's "The Iron Giant" (his two Pixar films will appear much later on this list.
13. "A BUG'S LIFE" (1998)
Nice, simple, fun. Not extraordinary.
12. "TOY STORY" (1995)
I know what you're thinking: "It's the first one! It's still the best! How is it so low?" While it may have been groundbreaking when released in 1995, the first Woody and Buzz story is somewhat weak compared to most of Pixar's films to follow.
11. "BRAVE" (2012)
The first half-hour showcases Pixar's talents. This is a beautiful film to look at and is occasionally funny. But the script is a little too Disney and a little too predictable. It didn't deserve the Oscar, but at least it prevented "Wreck-It Ralph" from winning.
10. "FINDING NEMO" (2003)
Yes, I cried the first time I saw it.
9. "MONSTERS UNIVERSITY" (2013)
Charming, effective and honest. Not groundbreaking, but successful in its own ways.
8. "MONSTERS, INC." (2001)
Mike and Sulley are one of the studio's best duos. Works emotionally as you get invested in little Boo. And that door sequence is incredible.
7. "TOY STORY 2" (1999)
The rare sequel that is better than its predecessor. Who can forget the introductions of: Zurg, Jessie, Bullseye, Stinky Pete and the adventures at Al's Toy Barn?
6. "UP" (2009)
Takes some emotional risks that pay-off, and has a perfect, Oscar-winning score.
5. "CARS 2" (2011)
If you take this film for what it is (an animated spy caper) it's a lot of fun to watch.
4. "THE INCREDIBLES" (2004)
A serious superhero movie that works on so many different levels.
3. "TOY STORY 3" (2010)
The final few scenes are unforgettable. Deserved to win Best Picture.
2. "RATATOUILLE" (2007)
One of the most underappreciated of the Pixars. So well written.
1. "CARS" (2006)
A film I could watch over and over and over again and never get sick of. The story of hotshot racecar Lightning McQueen and his travels to the small town of Radiator Springs is completely engaging. Full of colorful characters. Doc Hudson will be remembered as one of Paul Newman's best roles. And who doesn't love Mater? It's a comedy, romance, sports film and underdog story all rapped-up into one, with great messages and a lot of heart. Those who simply continue to see "Cars" as one, long marketing ploy to sell merchandise missed the film entirely.
Even though the calendar says summer just started, the second half of the Summer Movie Season is right around the corner. And with it come five sequels that share one common element in their titles: the number "2".
In July, there's the highly-anticipated animated "Despicable Me 2" that's expected to dominate the box office over the 4th of July holiday weekend. On the 12th we get Adam Sandler's "Grown Ups 2", the follow-up to his 2010 comedy (that I disliked immensely) Hopefully Shaq and a few other new additions can make this at least tollerable.
The following weekend includes "Red 2". This is the sequel to the 2010 surprise hit starring actors a little past their prime who can still kick butt. While it had its moments, I didn't love "Red", but the additions of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins may help make "Red 2" more entertaining. And on Wednesday the 31st, the little blue guys only 3 apples high return in "The Smurfs 2". The 2011 original was clever. Hopefully this follow-up won't suffer the sequel syndrome by including some new, fun elements.
The month of August also features a few sequels. "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" is the second in the franchise of books turned movies, but, thankfully, doesn't use the "2" in its title. The same can't be said for "Kick-Ass 2". The original came-out so long ago (April 2010) that new cast member Jim Carrey alone may not be enough to get fans excited. Universal's decision to delay the release from June to August is not a good sign.
Summer 2013's only film that uses "2" in a creative way isn't even a sequel! It's Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg's "2 Guns", opening (appropriately) on August 2nd. With a solid trailer, obvious star power and "Smurfs 2" as its only main competition, "2 Guns" has a great chance to be a big shot at the box office that weekend.
For a while now, studios have been setting release dates for their upcoming films YEARS in advance. However a new trend in Hollywood is taking this practice to a ridiculous level. Studios are "grabbing the date" by announcing untitled projects (often ones that haven't even been discussed) with openings way in the future. For animation giants such as Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Blue Sky and Sony Pictures Animation that means setting release dates as far out as Christmas 2018!
This is INSANE! But there is a pattern: SPA found success last year with the late-September release of "Hotel Transylvania" and several of their upcoming releases (including "Hotel Transylvania 2" and this year's "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2") will open that weekend.
DreamWorks was originally set to release three animated films this year (as they did in 2010), but "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" was pushed to next March. This July's "Turbo" will be their final film of 2013. However, they're going to try to make-up for lost time with multiple releases in 2014 and 2015.
Since 20th Century Fox now distributes both DreamWorks and Blue Sky animated films, they have decided to go crazy and secure 10 prime dates on the 2017 and 2018 calendar for "Untitled Fox/DWA/Blue Sky" films. They don't even know what films are going where or when. They just want the space! What's even more interesting is that Blue Sky has never released more than one film a year, and the studio already has other projects in the works.
And yes, Disney and Pixar are taking part as well. While it's more interesting to guess if any of Pixar's projects are anticipated sequels or prequels ("Incredibles 2", "Toy Story 4"?), this trend has really gotten out of hand. Does it really mean anything to anyone that there's going to be animated movies opening on dates such as November 23, 2016, March 10, 2017, and December 21, 2018? It's hard enough just to keep track of this year's schedule let alone one in five years!
So what if Pixar and DreamWorks going head-to-head on June 17, 2016 with an untitled film and "How to Train Your Dragon 3"? You can't take any of this seriously because almost all of the dates and films are going to get changed between now and 2018.
It would be much more fun if things went back to the way they used to be: studios developing films years in advance (in secret) and then surprising fans with announcements (like Pixar sorta did with 2015's "Finding Dory"). But the competition for dates and box office dollars has gotten so hot that booking dates five years in advance is probably the norm from here on. But, with more and more animated films coming-out (because of their potential to be big money makers) the potential for some getting lost in the shuffle is greater than ever.
Walt Disney Pictures is out with some interesting date changes and announcements:
First of all, "Saving Mr. Banks" will now open in limited release on December 13th before going wide on a crowded December 20th. This is the "making of Mary Poppins" drama in which Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney and Emma Thompson is author P.L. Travers. It has already been rated PG-13 by the MPAA. With this early limited opening, Disney clearly is focussing on making this an Oscar contender.
"The Muppets" was a success at the box office in 2011, but not as big as I (or likely the studio) had expected. Nonetheless, a sequel was announced almost immediately. Its title has gone from "The Muppets 2" to "The Muppets...AGAIN!" and now, I think, to a more suitable title: "Muppets Most Wanted". According to the release, the Kermit and the gang go on a global tour and get caught-up in an international crime caper. Ricky Gervais heads the human cast. The film keeps its March 21, 2014 date.
What may be the most interesting new info from the studio this week is the announcement of a sequel to this Summer's "Planes". "Planes 2: Fire and Rescue" will hit theaters on July 18, 2014 (going up against "X-Men: Days of Future Past"). Even though "Planes" doesn't open until August 9, it appears that Disney is already confident enough that it will be a big hit. If you remember, "Planes" was originally going to be a Direct-to-DVD release.
Other new Mouse news includes Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner's "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" (based on the book and due out October 10, 2014); Brad Bird and George Clooney's "Tomorrowland" being moved-up a week to December 12, 2014, and the musical "Into the Woods" set for Christmas Day 2014. While we've heard rumors of actors such as Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt being as part of the cast, no one has been confirmed. Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey are producing a drama for DreamWorks called "The Hundred Foot Journey" (8/8/14) and Untitled Marvel Studios films will officially kick-off the 2016 and 2017 Summer Movie Seasons, in case you want to plan that far ahead.
The one casualty of all of this would seem to be the movie version of "Phineas and Ferb", which has already been on hold for a while now. It was originally scheduled to open this July 26th, but has had a TBD 2014 release date for about a year. With all these new spots now taken, it doesn't seem likely that the boy inventors will be making it to the big screen anytime soon.
There are a lot of streaming video services out there, but only one that has the right to call itself - "Netflix for Family Films".
SpiritClips is a subscriber-based service that offers well known theatrical releases, documentaries, shorts and animated films, along with their own original programming. But what makes it different from the other online movie/video providers is that all of their content is appropriate for the entire family.
Normally, when you hear that something is good "for the entire family", it means that it's designed primarily for little kids. But that's not the case with SpiritClips. The concept is that these movies and videos can be watched and enjoyed by all ages, without concern for inappropriate content. And also (and this, in my opinion, is the best part) that all the films have a strong, positive message - as their website says: "films that inspire and entertain audiences of all ages." Current Hollywood classics available on SpiritClips include "A League of their Own", "Hope and Glory" and Academy Award winners "Good Will Hunting" and "Life is Beautiful". SpiritClips is directly associated with Hallmark, and so all of the Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movies are available as well.
Another thing that separates SpiritClips from their online competition is the availability of animated shorts (one of my favorite movie genres). If you don't have time to watch an entire movie, there are dozens of shorts to choose from, and each one has it's own, special charm. If SpiritClips has a signature video I would say this is it: "The Little Frog".
As for their Original Programming, the company just wrapped-up their series called "InspireWire", in which the two hosts showcase web videos of people doing amazing things. You might say it's an inspirational version of "America's Funniest Home Videos". And in this episode about Overcoming Fear hosts Iris and Jeff do something amazing themselves: Skydive. They have nice chemistry together and the show is fun and very well produced.
It's a competitive world out there in the business of online video streaming. But there's definitely an audience for SpiritClips from Hallmark. The monthly subscription rate is $4.99 (the one year discount price is only $35.99) and videos can be streamed to iPhones, iPads, etc.
The Summer Movie Season will kick back into high gear next weekend with the highly-anticipated release of "Man of Steel" - the Superman film millions have been waiting for. While director Zach Snyder's previous films (2010's animated "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" and the 2011 flop "Sucker Punch") underperformed, "Man of Steel" has so much buzz surrounding it that it should be one of the Top 5 moneymakers of the year.
Some analists are predicting an $85-$90 million open. Even with all the advance screenings that Walmart is doing the night before its release (one of which I will be attending), I don't see how "Man of Steel" won't make $100 or even closer to $120 million it's first weekend.
The following weekend, however, is when things get interesting. There will be two more BIG releases: the animated Pixar prequel "Monsters University" and Brad Pitt's Zombie Apocalypse thriller "World War Z". The who wins that battle?
You might think the easy answer is "MU", since Pixar has had 13 straight #1 opens. And it's the family film and the first animated film since the kids are out of school. A $62M+ box office (Pixar's average) should be enough to scare-off the competition - right?
BUT: What if "Man of Steel" opens to, say, $120-$140 million - which I don't think is impossible. Big action films tend to drop 50-60% in their second weekend, so "Man of Steel" could rake-in $60-$70 million. Plus, while "MU" has the family advantage, both Disney and Paramount (the studio behind "World War Z") are going after the college kid demographic. Disney has been pitching that group hard because of the "MU" storyline and the fact that these students grew up watching "Monsters Inc." 10 years ago). "World War Z" will naturally grab a hugh chunk of that audience because of Pitt and the fact that it's a movie about zombies taking over the world.
Pixar thought they were taking a huge chance last year with "Brave" (first female lead character) and it ended-up as 2012's highest-grossing animated film. "Monsters University" has to be considered one of the studio's riskiest releases yet.
So who will be crowned the champ on Sunday June 23rd? A lot will depend on how "Man of Steel" does next week, because as of right now, it's too close to call.
Along with continuing to review films one of the things I want to do someday is host a game show. What could be more fun and exciting that that?!
Last week I had the chance to meet and interview Todd Newton, who hosts the traveling show, "The Price is Right Live" (when he's not hosting "Family Game Night" on The Hub, for which he won an Emmy last year). This stage version of "The Price is Right" has been touring the country for 10 years, providing all the thrills and prizes of the TV show for million of fans. (click here for my Behind the Scenes story).
After talking with Todd (who's a great guy) I started thinking of the other celebrity hosts who I've had the chance to meet. And the list is longer than I expected:
- Regis Philbin. Of course, Regis has to be at the top. Most people don't immediately think of him as a game show host, but he helped to bring the genre back to life in 1999 with "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" (and won an Emmy for it in 2001). He also hosted "Million Dollar Password" from '08-'09.
- Meredith Vieira. I had the chance to meet Regis' syndicated "Millionaire" successor when we were both guests on "The Tonight Show" last year and she couldn't have been nicer. Her calm, personable style has helped keep "Millionaire" popular 15 years after it's debut. Sorry to see her leave the show.
- Chuck Woolery. One of the all-time greats. I got to see him in action when he was touring with "Chuck Woolery's Game Show Marathon" back in 2006. And he was a master. And a really nice guy who, since I was only 8 at the time, couldn't believe I knew who he was. I told him he helped me learn how to read as the host of "Lingo" on GSN back when I was only 4.
- Pat Sajak and Vanna White. During a trip to California in 2009 I went to a taping of "Wheel of Fortune" and got to see this famous in pair in action. Unfortunately I didn't get to meet them. Hope to some day.
- Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall. Met both of these guys, briefly, when they barged-in while I was interviewing their buddy Larry the Cable Guy a few years ago when the trio was in town with their comedy show. And they couldn't have been funnier. Along with their comedy careers they've both made a name for themselves as game show hosts: Jeff with "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader"? and "The American Bible Challenge" and Bill with the re-launch of "Lingo" on GSN in 2011.
- Jane Lynch. She'll be hosting "Hollywood Game Night" on NBC this summer. I had the pleasure of meeting her back in 2010 when she was in town to appear on a local telethon. She was actually one of my first professional interviews, and was incredibly funny.
- Lara Spencer. The "Good Morning America" star is also the host of "Flea Market Flip" on HGTV, and she does a great job. I was lucky enough to meet her twice: once on the streets on NYC as she was leaving GMA and then after attending "Good Afternoon America" last summer.
Which current game show host would I like to meet next? That's easy - Steve Harvey, who has made "Family Feud" must-watch TV once again. Of course he also hosts his own talk show, and has made history this year by picking-up Emmy nominations for both Best Talk Show Host and Best Game Show Host. I'm pulling for him to win both.
UPDATE: "After Earth" opens to just $27 million in a stunning loss to "Now You See Me", which raked-in $28.1 million in 500 fewer theaters.
Practically from his first regular appearance on screen (as TV's "Fresh Prince of Bel Air") Will Smith has been guarenteed money. And that includes his music videos. Movies? Smith has been most bankable stars in Hollywood from the start of his big screen career. And it seems there are very few summers when Smith isn't part of a major box office hit.
Well, the Summer of 2013 may just change that. Early indications are that Smith's "After Earth", in which he stars with son Jaden, is headed for major BOMB status. The sci-fi action film is out in over 34-hundred theaters and cost nearly $130 million to make. Yet it's projected to barely make $25M opening weekend and could actually do worse than that, as the early reviews have not been good.
Will Smith blockbusters (which this one could be classified as) always gross well over $100M. And even his "smaller" films, such as "Seven Pounds" ($70M), "The Pursuit of Happiness" ($163.6) and "Ali" ($58.2) attract an audience. His only true bomb so far is probably 2000's "The Legend of Bagger Vance", directed by Robert Redford, which only made $30.9M.
In a summer filled with high powered sci-fi ("Iron man 3", "Star Trek Into Darkness", "Man of Steel") and loads of apocalyptic-themed movies, "After Earth", which is being promoted as more of a star vehicle for Jaden Smith than Will, could be completely ignored.
It will be interesting to see where the blame goes. My guess is that it will directed at director M. Night Shaymalan, once a darling of fans and most critics who has completely self-destructed with his last several films. Smith's credibility as box office gold might be bruised a bit, but nothing that a new hit won't cure.
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