This is my first official year as a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association which means I will be voting for this year's Critics Choice Movie Awards. And it also means that I will get getting screeners - a lot of screeners. In fact a few have already arrived, including Sony Pictures Classics' documentary "Searching for Sugar Man", which I haven't been able to see on the big screen. I'll now be watching it on my smaller screen.
Last year, I only watched one of the big award-season releases as a screener. It was "The Artist", which, of course, was nominated for and won the Best Picture Oscar. It was certainly a different experience watching a major film in the comforts of my own home. Luckily the phone didn't ring and nobody came to the door while the film was playing. And, since it's a great movie (my favorite of 2011) I wasn't tempted to grab the remote and turn it off (a temptation I may have to fight when screening bad movies).
I'm really looking forward to getting more screeners, especially of the major movies that will only be out in limited release (or not at all) before I have to fill-out my nomination ballot in early December. I've been watching the Critics Choice Movie Awards for years and haven't always agreed with the winners so it will be fun to add my opinion as to who should be honored. And if I happen to vote for an actor or film that ends-up tied with another, I can proudly say: "If it weren't for me there wouldn't have been a tie and you wouldn't be holding that statue."
As for watching all these important films at home - well, my bed is a lot more comfortable than any theater seat I've ever sat in and this may be the perfect reason to get a bigger TV.
My thoughts on some news-worthy events of the week:
The MPAA has rated "Fun Size" PG-13 for crude and suggestive material, partying and language. This is only Nickelodeon's second movie to be rated PG-13 (the first was "Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging", which was only released on DVD here in the US). That makes "Fun Size" Nick's first PG-13 in US theaters. Very interesting since the film stars Nickelodeon's own Victoria Justice, who's seen as a role model to young girls. We'll see if this has an affect on the box office, when it opens on 10/26.
Earlier this year, the Weinstein Company announced that they would be releasing four animated movies in 2013: "Escape from Planet Earth" (Feb. 14), "Leo the Lion" (Aug. 30), "The Trick or Treaters" (Oct. 25) and "Santapprentice" (Dec. 6). Weinstein isn't known for their animated films ("Hoodwinked!" is their only successful release). I mentioned at the time that four seemed like a lot for them. Well, now the studio has decided to change the last three to "undetermined 2013 release dates". "Planet Earth" will still open on Valentine's Day.
It seems like the studio just wasn't ready to handle four movies in a year. And if rushed each of them could have turned out badly. We could still see new release dates for these films sometime in the future: "Hoodwinked Too!", you may remember, was supposed to open in 2010, but didn't come out until last year. It bombed at the box office, but partly because of the problems with the release schedule.
And Joss Whedon has asked Clark Gregg, who played Agent Coulson in "The Avengers", to reprise his role on the TV series "S.H.I.E.L.D.". Gregg also starred alongside Julia-Louis Dreyfuss on the comedy "The New Adventures of Old Christine". I like this decision, especially since Gregg is getting a chance to return to the Marvel universe, even though his character...(well, you know) in "The Avengers". The show is currently in development for ABC.
The "Peanuts" gang is returning to the Big Screen! Not even Charlie Brown himself could say "Good Grief" to that news.
The announcement on Tuesday of a new, full-length feature set for a Nov. 25, 2015 release has spread excitement throughout the animation world. 2015 will mark the 65th anniversary of Charles Schultz' iconic characters and so it makes sense that his family would want to do something big (his son Craig and grandson Byran helped write the screenplay and are producing the film). But there are so many questions that don't have answers right now:
- 2015 is the 50th Annivesary of "A Charlie Brown Christmas". Because the new film is going to be a holiday release could it be a remake, prequel or sequel to that classic TV special?
- If not, what's the story?
- Since Blue Sky Studios is producing the film, will the charatcers be CGI? Blue Sky has never done a hand-drawn animated feature.
- What does Blue Sky/20th Century Fox do with the "Ice Age" franchise? "Ice Age 5" would have likely been scheduled for 2015.
- Even though Snoopy and his friends are some of the most popular animated characters of all-time, and their TV specials are loved by billions, they haven't been a big hit in theaters. The previous 4 Peanuts movies are:
"A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), "Snoopy, Come Home" (1972), "Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown" (1977), Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don't Come Back!!)" (1980) and none were box office successes.
Will fans rush to theaters to see this new Charlie Brown film? We'll have a better answer to that question when we learn more about the project, but I know I will.
UPDATE: "Hotel Transylvania" drops to 2nd place (behind "Taken 2") at the weekend box office, with $26.3M (I was only off by $300k). "Frankenweenie" opened to a lesser than expected $11.5M. "Corpse Bride"'s wide-release opening weekend gross in 2005 was just over $19 million, so "Frankenweenie"'s gross is quite lower, especially considering that "Corpse" wasn't in 3D or IMAX 3D. However, stop-motion animated films usually open between $10M and $15M. Hopefully the strong word of mouth and Oscar buzz will make people who missed out this weekend go see it next weekend.
Sony Pictures Animation's "Hotel Transylvania" has dominated the box office since it opened last Friday. But another animated movie is opening this weekend and it could steal some of its thunder: Disney/Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie". You might think it's unusual that two major studios would release two major animated films back-to-back, but it has been done before:
"The Incredibles" opened to $70 million on November 5th. "The Polar Express" came-out 5 days later, and grossed a 5-day total of $30 million - #2 for the weekend, behind "Incredibles". On the 19th, "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" was released and took in $32 million and was crowned top animated film of the weekend (barely losing the overall top spot to "National Treasure").
On July 21st, the Oscar-nominated "Monster House" came in at #2 with $22 million. The next weekend, WB's "The Ant Bully" bombed, making just $8 million (behind "Monster"). One week later, Nick's "Barnyard: The Original Party Animals" was released and grossed $16 million to come in second behind the Will Ferrell comedy "Talladega Nights".
"9" was released appropriately on 9/9/09. But because of the film's PG-13 rating, it only made $15 million in its first five days. On the 18th, Sony's "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" tore-up the box office with $30 million, and another $25 million the next weekend.
A couple months later, "Planet 51" (starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) was released by Sony partner Tri-Star. The film immediatly struggled by going up against "New Moon" and "The Blind Side", only managing $12 million. Five days later, the Oscar nominee "Fantastic Mr. Fox" opened in wide release. but making just $9.5 million over the long Thanksgiving weekend.
Lionsgate's "Alpha and Omega" (featuring the voice of the late Dennis Hopper) grossed just over $9 million on the weekend of September 17. "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" opened the next week to $16 million, losing to "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps".
"Happy Feet Two" went up against "Breaking Dawn Part 1", and only grossed 1/3 of the original's open this past November. Thanksgiving weekend brought three new family films: "The Muppets", "Hugo" and the underrated "Arthur Christmas". Because of the season's huge competitors, "Arthur" only made $16 million in the first five days, but only losing to "Happy Feet Two" by $2 million.
WHAT HISTORY HAS TAUGHT US:
1) A lot of animated films are released over the Thanksgiving weekend (or on a Wednesday), and they never do as well as the previous week's animated films.
2) Triple-headers are tough on studios, that's why there hasn't been one since 2006.
3) The first of the two films doesn't always open the strongest; PG-13 animated films don't have mass appeal (aside from "The Simpsons Movie").
WEEKEND PREDICTIONS ARE BASED ON:
1) "Hotel Transylvania" and "Frankenweenie" are both similar in genre: animated horror comedy.
2) Stop-motion animated films don't open huge: This year's "The Pirates!" - only $11M; "ParaNorman" only $14M. But "Corpse Bride" (Burton's last stop-motion film) made $20M in 2005.
3) Even if "Transylvania" dropped a incredible 50% in its second weekend, it would still make over $20M.
4) "Frankenweenie" is opening in 300+ fewer theaters than "Transylvania"; both films are in 3D.
1. "Hotel Transylvania" - $26M
2. "Frankenweenie" - $15M
14 year-old Atticus Schaffer has enjoyed a great deal of success in his young acting career. He first got our attention back in 2008 when he beat-up Will Smith in "Hancock". A few years later Schaffer began creating one of the most entertaining characters on TV today - Brick Heck, on ABC's "The Middle." This weekend Schaffer makes his big screen voice-acting debut in Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie". I recently had the chance to talk with Atticus about working with Burton, what's coming-up this season on "The Middle" and what it's was like to punch one of the most powerful guys in Hollywood.
Fran Drescher is best known for playing TV's "The Nanny". Currently, she's starring on the TV Land sitcom "Happily Divorced", and lends her iconic voice to Frankenstein's wife Eunice in the animated "Hotel Transylvania". Fran talks about working on "Transylvania" and reflects on 20 years since "The Nanny":
LCJ: You have one of the most distinctive voices in the history of show business.
Fran Drescher: I really wanted to be an actress, and I was actually told by some of my acting teachers that I would have difficulty making it with my voice.
LCJ: Certainly because of your incredible voice you've gotten to do a lot of animated voice work. Overall, how much fun was it doing "Hotel Transylvania"?
FD: I really enjoyed it. I loved looking at my character and then breathing life into her. And I loved going to the Toronto Film Festival and being with all the other cast members. I'm going to have Molly Shannon guest star on "Happily Divorced" this season. It's a very fun group of comic actors that I'm very proud to be a part of.
LCJ: I spoke with one of the producers of "Transylvania", Michelle Murdocca, and she said there were some voice sessions where a lot of actors were in the studio doing their lines at the same time. Were you in a room with Adam Sandler, and Kevin James?
FD: No. Actually, I was always in a room by myself, as was Selena Gomez. I'm not sure why that was. But I think the SNL guys decided they would do a lot of the group and filler scenes. I've had so much going on between the series and the movie, and my organization "Cancer Schmancer", and supporting our President in his re-election. It was all I could do to get there, lay down my work and get out.
LCJ: Are you a huge fan of the classic monster movies?
FD: I can't say that I really am. I grew up watching a lot of the black and white movies and reruns. But I don't like getting scared. What I like about this movie is that it's not really scary - it's family entertainment.
LCJ: Of course you're still best known for "The Nanny", which is actually coming-up on its 20th anniversary. Does it seem that long ago that you began the series?
FD: Nothing seems like the numbers, so it's kind of hard to tell. You think, yeah - it was twenty years ago when we started. So maybe, because so much has happened since then, that it would have to take twenty years to fill it all. But it seems like an eternity. I don't think that numbers quite call with me the way they do for other people. I can't even fathom dates, age, all of that. It's kind of bizarre to me.
LCJ: Back to "Transylvania", what do you think of the movie?
FD: I thought it was absolutely delightful. It made me laugh out loud. I think the 3D animation is great. All the voices were funny and fun. And I loved the ingenue couple between the vampire and the human. I think Adam Sandler is hysterical, and the movie has a really good message.
LCJ: Are you planning on doing any more animated movies in the near future?
FD: If I'm asked, I will do them. I would love to.
We're starting to see pre- pre- pre-Oscar nomination predictions. Of course this early it's all about guessing, especially since most of the films/performances haven't been seen by anyone, even the critics.
But that doesn't mean, with a little research, logic and following the buzz, you can't come-up with a solid list of possible contenders in the major categories. The most competitive category, at least right now, seems to be Best Actor. Now that it's pretty clear that Clint Eastwood won't be making an appearance for "Trouble with the Curve", here's my list of the actors who have the best chance to make the cut in the Best Actor category:
Daniel Day-Lewis - "Lincoln"
Bill Murray - "Hyde Park on Hudson"
Joaquin Phoenix - "The Master"
Phillip Seymour Hoffman - "The Master"
Anthony Hopkins - "Hitchcock"
Hugh Jackman - "Les Miserables"
Russell Crowe - "Les Miserables"
Jamie Foxx - "Django Unchained"
Ben Affleck - "Argo"
Denzel Washington - "Flight"
Brad Pitt - "Killing Them Softly"
Tom Hanks - "Cloud Atlas"
Bradley Cooper - "Silver Linings Playbook"
John Hawkes - "The Sessions"
Matt Damon - Promised Land"
Ewan McGregor - "The Impossible"
An impressive list to say the least. Are all 5/6 nominees in there? Maybe. It's going to be quite a battle if most of these performances turn out ot be as good as expected.
That's NOT all, folks! The Looney Tunes will be making a comeback on the big screen.
CinemaBlend.com is reporting that as project involving all the favorite Looney Tunes characters is in the works. Former SNL comedian Jenny Slate will write the script and the producers include David Heyman and Jeffrey Clifford ("Harry Potter").
This'll be the first time since 2003 ("Looney Tunes: Back in Action") that Bugs, Daffy and company will be in a full-length feature film. There have been a few Looney Tunes shorts in theaters the past few years.
The film will be a live-action/CG combo. Slate worked on "Alvin and the Chipmunks 3" so she should be familiar with the genre. No details as yet on the script, the human cast the story or possible directors.
It'll be interesting to see if the Looney Tunes characters can catch-on again with a new audience. "Space Jam" is the most popular Looney Tunes film, but that was 16 years ago and most kids aren't too familiar with Bugs, Sylvester and Tweety Bird. The success of the film will rest on the script (of course) and the cast. It better have a great story and be packed with stars, like "The Muppets".
Matthew Lillard has been a solid and successful actor in Hollywood for a lot of years. But at no point in the 42 year old Lillard's career has he been hotter than right now. Coming-off his co-starring role in last year's Oscar winner and Best Picture nominee, "The Descendants" with George Clooney, Lillard is co-starring with Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake in "Trouble with the Curve", opening next week.
But Lillard's breakthrough performance this year has really come "behind the camera". He directed the independent film, "Fat Kid Rules the World", which won the Audience Award at the SXSW Film Festival and has received positive reviews. As a first-time director Lillard does an outstanding job bringing this popular young adult novel about an overweight and lonely high school student who discovers punk rock to the big screen. And he gets great performances from his cast, including Jacob Wysocki, Matt O'Leary and Billy Campbell.
I recently interviewed Lillard and he told me "Fat Kid" is "the single greatest achievement of my creative career." The film is being screened around the country right now via Tugg and it will open in NYC and LA in October and premiere on VOD at the end of next month. Find it and see it if you can. Not only is it an entertaining film but it's also a showcase for one of the industry's promising new directors.
"Indiana Jones" is back on the big screen. No, Harrison Ford is not starring in a fifth "Indy" movie called "Indiana Jones and We're Not Really Sure if This IS His Last Crusade". Instead, Paramount and director Steven Spielberg have decided to re-release the original "Raiders of the Lost Ark" for one week only, exclusively in IMAX. It's timely because all four "Indy" films are coming-out in a Blu-ray box set on September 18.
While this isn't the most gorgeous IMAX movie you'll ever watch, overall the digital re-mastering and IMAX conversion of "Raiders" does look good. Yes, the wide landscape shots are a bit blurry (those are tougher to do), and the film is still grainy (it was made over 30 years ago!) However, the close-ups are sharp, and you're able to pick-up on a few unintentionally funny moments (including one late in the film involving a fly) by seeing "Indy" on such a large screen.
One thing that surprised me from seeing "Raiders" again (and it may you as well) is the iconic boulder scene. This is the classic clip we always get when any entertainment show is referring to "Indiana Jones". For some reason I thought the scene lasted a lot longer than it actually does, which turns out to be only a few seconds. If that scene was shot today it would go on for a minute and a half.
"Raiders" was rated PG in '81 (the proof comes after the credits with the old-fashioned ratings screen), but it's a modern-day PG-13. However, if anyone 10 and up hasn't seen this classic yet, this is the perfect opportunity to take them to see Indy in his prime...and on the big screen!
It's been a very busy summer at the movies. I've seen nearly 40 films and reviewed most of them on TV, in the newspaper and/or on this site. But some movies simply fell through the cracks - and I wasn't able to give them my full attention at the time I screened them. Here are mini-reviews of five such films:
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" (PG-13) Young Quvenzhane Wallis plays Hushpuppy. She's determined to do right as she goes along on this fantasy journey about life in a flooded community in Southern Louisiana. Her narration throughout the film includes vocabulary and adult phrases that a six-year-old would not use and hurts the story, which is simple, with a little depth. Not sure what the film is trying to say. B-
"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (PG-13) Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith are among the older actors who decide to travel to India and stay at this hotel, which isn't what they were expecting. The owner (played by "Slumdog Millionaire"'s Dev Patel) is desperate to become successful, so he can marry the girl of his dreams. His character is played way over-the-top and ruins the main focus of the movie, which is about these seniors on the last great adventure of their lives. The performances are solid, but the script doesn't provide the emotional impact that was intended. C+
"Hope Springs" (PG-13) - Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones star in this cheesy romantic dramedy co-starring Steve Carell in a one-note role. This film is incredibly simple and predictable, and contains only a few genuine laughs. Technically there are too many close-ups and the music is sappy and overpowering. Jones overacts and I was embarrassed for Streep several times during ther film. Utterly forgettable. D+
"Ted" (R) I'm not a huge fan of Seth McFarlane's animated TV shows. But his first feature film is hysterically funny. Ted, the walking/talking toy bear is one of the funniest and sharpest comic characters in years. He provides some memorable wisecracks and gags. Unfortunately Ted's the only funny character in the film so things slow way down when he's not around. But the story works for the most part and it's a real crowd-pleaser. B
"Your Sister's Sister" (R) Emily Blunt stars along with Rosemarie Dewitt and Mark Duplass in this love triangle drama, that is basically a three person off-Broadway play on the big screen. The performances are solid, but the story isn't deep enough and doesn't include any twists and only one surprise, which comes to late to save things. In the end you really don't care who ends up with who or if they'll live happily-ever-after. C+
"Space Jam" was the 1996 basketball comedy starring sports legend Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes. It was a groundbreaking achievement for its time by combining live-action and animation. Now, of course, that's combo common is pretty common, especially with family films ("The Smurfs" and the "Alvin and the Chipmunks" series two recent examples). So talk of a "Space Jam" sequel shouldn't comes as much of a surprise.
What is surprising about the buzz surrounding a "Space Jam 2" is the sourse. The talk is not coming from WB (the studio behind the original) or even Bugs Bunny (the other star of the original), but from NBA player LeBron James, who says he wants to star in "Space Jam 2". Could this movie be made? Sure. The Looney Tunes need to return to the big screen (after 2003's "Back in Action" bombed). And the technology is so much better that the film could look great.
Here's the biggest problem: LeBron James is no Michael Jordan. James isn't close to being as popular as MJ was during his playing days (in fact millions of basketball fans hate "King" James). On way they're going to this movie. ESPN.com has their own list of sequels LeBron really should star in. They include: "Avatar 2", "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 2" (in which he'd play Snow White), and "ET 2" (he'd play Elliot, Chris Bosh would play the Alien).
Basketball superstars trying to make it big on the big screen is nothing new. The newest is Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder who just starred in his own family film called "Thunderstruck" (currently playing in a select number of states). And who can forget Shaquille O'Neal's movie career (though he may want to - Shaq was actually nominated for two Razzie Awards - "Blue Chips" and "Steel").
But his most memorable performance had to be as the title character in "Kazaam", in which he played a genie. The movie (released in 1996) was a bomb, and only has a 4% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Hard to believe he wasn't nominated for a Razzie for that performance as well.
I'd like to see a remake of "Kazaam", with Shaq reprising his role. He's become a much better actor since then, with roles in "Jack and Jill" and the upcoming "Grown Ups 2", along with that Buick commercial in which he makes that joke that he's got shoes bigger than most cars and points to the camera. I've seen that ad dozens of times and I laugh every time.
20th Century Fox has finalized a deal to distribute all DreamWorks Animation movies beginning next year. DWA is ending its distribution deal with Paramount (which had been going since 2006) at the end of the year with "Rise of the Guardians".
DreamWorks's upcoming movies include "The Croods" (opening in March - the first to now be distributed by Fox), "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" (opening November 8, 2013) and "How to Train Your Dragon 2" (2014). According to EW.com, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said that even though Paramount distributed the first "Dragon" in 2010, that movie, and other future sequels, will not be hampered by the change.
They've announced a release date for an untitled project - Nov. 6, 2015. This is likely the "Penguins of Madagascar" film.
This isn't an earth-shattering move by DWA. It's not as if Fox will have a role in the production of these animated movies. But there are a couple of things to point out: Fox already distributes Blue Sky Animation studio releases (such as the "Ice Age" franchise). So how are these two rival animation studios, now under the same distribution roof, going to deal with conflicts over release dates?
As of now, DWA has three releases in 2013, Blue Sky just one ("Epic" in May). There are no conflicts as of now in 2014 either, so at least this should be a problem for the near future.
Also, Paramount is the big loser here, especially short-term. Paramount Animation's first movie (which may be "The SpongeBob SquarePants 2") won't open until 2014, meaning the studio will have no animated film to attach it's name to next year. And Paramount will now only have FIVE films total in 2013 compared to 14 for Fox.
Since I started as a film critic Paramount has always been attached to DreamWorks Animation's movies and trailers. It's now going to be pretty weird seeing the famous 20th Century Fox intro before the boy on the moon appears.
Universal has decided to skip plans for a sequel to "Snow White & The Huntsman" and instead make a film that mainly focusses on the Huntsman. This means that Chris Hemsworth is now the star of not one, not two, but THREE major movie franchises. He'll be reprising his role as Thor in "Thor 2" (out Nov. 2013) and most likely in "The Avengers 2" (tentative release of May 2015).
According to The Hollywood Reporter, several key factors played into this decision, including Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson's recent break-up (Stewart cheated on Pattinson with "Snow White" director Rupert Sanders). Plus, screenwriter David Koepp (who also wrote "Premium Rush", opening next week) dropped out of writing the next chapter in this series. However, there's a rumor that Sanders is still in line to direct the "Huntsman" movie.
But does this spin-off even need to be made? While "Snow White & The Hunstman" is one of the best action films of the year, it underperformed at the US box office, grossing only $155M (with a $170M budget). The film's worldwide total is just under $390M. While that may seem like a lot of money, the film is not in the top 150 of the highest grossing worldwide films (surprisingly, Universal doesn't have a movie in the Top 20).
Initial reports stated that Universal first wanted to make another "Snow White" film starring Stewart and then a "Huntsman" movie. All I'm hoping for is that Charlize Theron can return as the Evil Queen. Sure, she may have died in the original, but I'm sure she can find a way to make a comeback.
Warner Bros.' recent decision to move "The Great Gatsby" from Christmas Day 2012 to Summer 2013 was a surprise for movie fans, especially considering that there was plenty of buzz for the film as a possible Best Picture Oscar contender. So now that "Gatsby" is out of the picture who are the new Oscar favorites? Here's my list of ten movies, in order of release date:
"Trouble with the Curve" - Clint Eastwood stars in this year's Baseball drama. In fact, it opens right around when "Moneyball" opened last year. Co-stars three-time nominee Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, Matthew Lillard and John Goodman. (Sept. 21)
"Won't Back Down" - Past nominees Viola Davis and Maggie Ghyllenhaal team-up as to mothers who want to take over their children's school system. Possible nominations for both actresses, and Oscar winner Holly Hunter co-stars. (Sept. 28)
"Argo" - Ben Affleck directs and stars in this drama based on a true story about a group of men who plan a fake movie in order to rescue six Americans kidnapped in Iran in 1979. Goodman also co-stars in this film (like he did last year with nominee "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" and winner "The Artist"). Alan Arkin and the go-to guy of 2012 Bryan Cranston are also in the cast. (Oct. 12)
"Flight" - Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump", "Cast Away") is the director, and two-time winner Denzel Washington stars as an airplane pilot caught up in a scandal. 2010 Sup. Actress winner Melissa Leo, Don Cheadle and yes, John Goodman again...co-star (Nov. 2)
"Lincoln" - It's a Steven Spielberg movie with "There Will Be Blood" winner Daniel Day-Lewis as our 16th President. That sounds like a winning combo. (Nov. 9)
"Life of Pi" - "Brokeback Mountain" winner Ang Lee directs this epic adventure based on the popular book. Could be this year's "Slumdog Millionaire". (Nov. 21)
"Hyde Park on Hudson" - If he's great, Bill Murray is sure to get a Best Actor nomination as Franklin D. Roosevelt. Another possible nom for Laura Linney. Director Roger Michell's credits include "Notting Hill" and one of my favorite comedies in recent years, "Morning Glory". (Dec. 7)
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" - People are already concerned about watching the film at 48 frames per second instead of 24, and that this is just the first of THREE in the series. (Dec. 14)
"Les Miserables" - This dramatic musical adaptation of the Broadway smash stars Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway (all three no strangers to the Oscars). After seeing the teaser trailer, it looks like the perfect film for the Academy to embrace. (Dec. 14)
"Django Unchained" - Quentin Tarantino's latest stars Jamie Foxx and "Gatsby" star Leonardo DiCaprio. A good ol' fashoned Western from a director whose previous film ("Inglorious Basterds") won Christoph Waltz the Sup. Actor Oscar. (Dec. 25)
OTHER POSSIBILITIES: "Zero Dark Thirty", "Killing Them Softly", "Cloud Atlas", "The Dark Knight Rises", "The Master"
WILD CARDS: "Marvel's The Avengers", "Moonrise Kingdom", "The Words"
In between all of the new releases this hot Summer I've had the chance to squeeze-in some of Hollywood's greatest films. Here are my thoughts on three of the of the all-time classic:
"The Birds" - Alfred Hitchcock's thriller about birds gone wild is an incredible film. The suspense level builds perfectly and the balance of story, dialogue and attack scenes is masterful. Set and costume design are outstanding and the ending may just be the most surprising of any movie I've ever seen. The DVD I watch provided a bonus feature with the original, extended ending, but I like it the way it is. This is a memorable movie.
"Citizen Kane" - Recently the British Film Institute removed it from the top spot of "The Greatest Movies of All-time", knocking it down to #2 (replaced by Hitchcock's "Vertigo"). While I wouldn't have it on the top of my list either, it's a very engaging story with incredibly sharp and sophisticated dialogue. Orson Welles' performance is outstanding, and he actually looks old as Kanes gets old. How come he could do that back then and make-up artists today can't pull this off?
"Singin' in the Rain" - Considered the best musical of all-time, this film has several classic numbers including "Make 'Em Laugh" and "Good Morning". And of course who can forget the great Gene Kelly singing and dancing the title song. I was lucky enough to see this in a theater - the Fathom Events/Turner Classic Movies 60th anniversary screening. Great story, nice, light touches of humor. And I enjoyed the similiarities with "The Artist", though both films are very unique and original.
August is normally a bare month for quality movies. This is traditionally when studios decide to release all the movies they're not confident in or don't think have a home at the other times of the year. But, for some reason, this year is different. For the first time in a long time, August '12 is jammed with big-budget films, many which look promising and could make some big money at the box office:
Fri Aug. 3
"Total Recall" (PG-13) - Colin Farrell stars in this remake of the 1990 Arnold Shwartzenegger action film about a man whose memory is replaced. Co-stars Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale. The effects look good. Hopefully the story isn't too overdramatic. Opening Weekend Prediction: $45M; Total Gross Prediction: $145M
"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" (PG) - Why did we need another "Wimpy Kid"? The first one was awful, the second one was a mess, and, not surprisingly, this one doesn't look any better. With the same cast and studio I have very little hope for "Dog Days". OWP: $25M; TGP: $65M
Wed Aug. 8
"Hope Springs" (PG-13) - Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones star in this adult romantic comedy about an older couple who wants to get the spark back in their marriage. Steve Carell co-stars as their therapist. As usual the trailer gives too much away, but it still looks predictable. And it's surprising that it's not R considering the subject matter. OWP: $17M (5-Day: $25M); TGP: $80M
Fri Aug. 10
"The Bourne Legacy" (PG-13) - Jeremy Renner stars not as Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), but the NEXT Jason Bourne, even tougher. Even though he's been nominated twice for an Oscar, I don't think Renner has the starpower yet to draw large audiences to a movie, but this one could prove me wrong. OWP: $40M; TGP: $120M
"The Campaign" (R) - Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis play two rivals in a congressional election. Ferrell's comedies usually do very well at the box office, except for the R-rated ones. And "The Campaign" is R. OWP: $30M; TGP: $100M
Wed Aug. 15
"The Odd Life of Timothy Green" (PG) - Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton star in this Disney family drama about a couple who can't have a child, but a boy named Timothy magically appears at their house. It's an offbeat story, but could be emotional and inspiring. OWP: $15M (5-Day: $20M); TGP: $70M
Fri Aug. 17
"ParaNorman" (PG) - From the makers of "Coraline" comes this stop-motion animation adventure about a boy who has to save his town from zombies and an evil curse. I've already seen it and I expect it should do pretty well with audiences. OWP: $20M; TGP: $80M
"Sparkle" (PG-13) - Whitney Houston's final movie is a musical remake that co-stars American Idol winner Jordan Sparks. Should be a financial success considering the circumstances, and if Houston's performance is as good as we're hearing, I wouldn't be surprised if she gets some Oscar buzz. OWP: $30M; TGP: $110M
"The Expendables 2" (R) - This sequel to the 2010 surprise hit returns a veteran, all-star cast, with expanded roles for A. Shwartzenegger and B. Willis. Really enjoyed the first one. This looks like another good ol' fun action film, and another box office smash. OWP: $40M; TGP: $120M
Also opening in August: "Premium Rush" (Aug. 24) and "Lawless" (Aug. 29) along with a couple of horror films...AHH!
"Despicable Me" is one of the funniest and most original animated movies of the past decade thanks, in large part, to the Minions. In case you don't know, they're the little yellow creatures who assist scientist Gru (Steve Carell) in his lab and help him to try to stealing the moon. They pull a lot of pranks on each other and speak a funny language all their own. They were, as I wrote in my review of the film, the break-out stars of the movie.
"Despicable Me 2" is the next movie for Illumination Entertainment (who also made "Hop" and "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax"). Carell will return as Gru along with most of the original cast, and Al Pacino and Steve Coogan are among the newcomers. "ME2" opens July 3rd, 2013.
And now Illumination has announced that there will be a Minions Movie, scheduled for release in 2014. While it isn't a surprise that the studio would want to showcase these guys in their own film, I'm wondering why so soon after "ME2"?
Illumination has had many projects on their plate for the past several years, including a stop-motion "Addams Family" (possibly being directed by Tim Burton), live-action/animated reboots of "Curious George" and "Clifford The Big Red Dog", a CGI reboot of "Woody Woodpecker", a new CGI "Cat in the Hat" (due to the success of "The Lorax"), and a biopic on Dr. Seuss (possibly starring Johnny Depp).
I would rather see some of those films get into the production pipe-line and make it onto the big screen (to show more diversity in Illumination Entertainment) before a Minion Movie only a year after "Despicable Me 2". Clearly they want to load-up and really build this franchise while these characters are popular, but could this be a case of a studio putting all it's minions in one basket? Come to think of it - that would be fun to see!
Pixar's sequels have been pretty successful at the box office and so far they've been very good films that stand on their own: "Toy Story 2", "Toy Story 3" and "Cars 2". This streak will be tested next year with the prequel - "Monsters University".
And now comes the news is that Pixar is planning "Finding Nemo 2" - almost a decade after the original was released.
Andrew Stanton, who directed "Nemo", "WALL-E" and Disney's 2012 disappointment "John Carter", will be looking to bounce back from his first venture into live action by directing the sequel to the 2003 Oscar winner. He's pitched an idea to the studio that they've "embraced", so it looks like the movie is in the Pixar pipeline for 2016 (though the studio has yet to make it official).
Some fans think Pixar's already overdone it with the sequels (most weren't happy about "Cars 2") and I've read the criticism that the studio isn't doing enough original projects. But that arguement doesn't work - Pixar's next three movies after "University" will all be originals: "The Good Dinosaur" (2014) and two in 2015 - an untitled film about mind exploration and the other related to "The Day of the Dead".
"Finding Nemo" is a great movie, but it's not one of my all-time favorite Pixar films. The better choice for a Pixar sequel would be "The Incredibles". Many people, especially adults, have this as their favorite because the charcaters are human (and therefore more relatable) and it's the most "adult", serious and action-packed Pixar film. I like it for its off-beat humor as well.
Fan have been waiting for an "Incredibles 2" because we want to see these superheroes battle another villain (hopefully John Ratzenburger's "Underminer" who appears at the end of the original). That film left you wanting more, and with the clear feeling that story of this amazing family wasn't over. But it's been eight years, guys - time to get this project going!
"Toy Story 3" was a perfect way to end that series. I still love Lightning McQueen and Mater, so I'd support the idea of a "Cars 3", but "Cars 2" made $50M less than the original domestically, so that probably won't happen.
"A Bug's Life", "Ratatouille" and "Up" all ended nicely and absolutely don't need sequels. And I'm not a "WALL-E" fan, so I don't think we ever need to see him back on the big screen.
So the question remains - is a sequel to "Finding Nemo" what we really want to see? In my opinion - No. "Finding Nemo" also had a memorable, emotional story and a fine ending. Why mess with something that already worked so well the first time.
"Finding Nemo" is being re-released in 3D on September 14. Pixar will likely officially announce "FN2" during or after that run.
It's a small, independent documentary about inter-city playground basketball. And it was shot in Albany, NY, not far from where I live. But "Ballin' at the Graveyard" is much more than simply a sports film. It's an honest look at the men who spend every weekend a local park to play, most of them for years, and how the game and the relationships they've developed, have impacted, especially off the court.
The first part of the film is all about the game. We learn the rules these guys play by, see the physical action and hear some real, R-rated dialogue. This is a slice urban life that most people who watch this film will not have experienced before. The interaction between the players and the strong desire to win comes through clearly. Newcomers to the court are welcome (including white players) but they will be tested and have to earn their chance to play. And once you get into a game you better win because one of the reasons they called this court (in Albany's Washington Park) The Graveyard is because once your team loses you might as well be dead because you're not getting another shot to play that day.
The middle portion of the movie is the strongest. After getting to know about the key characters and their on-court personalities in the first half, the film turns personal - with one and one interviews in which we hear of their struggles growing-up - poverty, loss of parents, criminal activity - and how they overcame these challenges to become productive and successful memebrs of their communities. We also learn how their dreams of playing big-time basketball never came true, but how the game still means everything to them.
The authentic interviews are inspiring, and the end of the film we see how each of these men spend their Monday-Fridays - doing their best to be leaders for the next generation, again, both on and off the court.
"Ballin' at the Graveyard" is directed by Basil Anastassiou and Paul Kentoffio. Basil is also the interviewer and we hear from him often throughout. The stories are well told and the film is mostly well shot and edited. You do not have to live in Upstate NY or be a diehard basketball fan (or a basketball fan at all), to be impacted by this film.
So far, "Ballin' at the Graveyard" is only being shown in Albany, but hopefully it will expand wider soon, so that more people get the chance to experience this simple, but affective documentary.
You can learn more about the film and get info on screenings at: ballinatthegraveyard.com
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