The Hot Blog Archive for April, 2012
Avengers is tracking through the roof… but they are still giving away one of the strongest action sequences online. Huh?
Is it just habitual now? Are they going to show us the movie before we get there and then make us pay to get out?
It’s mighty… mediocre.
There isn’t anything BAD about the film. On the flip side, the only thing I took away as remotely memorable was Joss Whedon’s rendition of The Hulk.
Downey does his Iron schtick. Thor is a little looser, but still a bit of a stiff. Sam Jackson has never really been this uninteresting. Paltrow, in brief appearances, is better as the cat who has already eaten the canary. And the earth-bound Avengers, Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye are really stranded through much of the film, victims of bringing dull knives to a CG gun fight.
The opening sequence with Natasha Romanoff is meant to be edgy and dark and non-CG-surprising in a heavily CG movie, but we’ve seen this scene literally hundreds of times, 95% of the time shot better. Of course, the fantasy of it being Scarlett Johansson letting herself being smacked around before giving it back 10x harder… well, I guess that is a geek orgasm. (I prefer thinking it was just spilled Coke on the floor.)
But hey… it was fine. Whedon remains a much better writer than a director, though this film has endless passages of talking that seem to do nothing but fill the running time with the cheap content of actors talking on a set. And I have no idea what Marvel obsession there is with massive ships that fly over cities and have little value to the story until the countdown to a crash begins. But, whatever.
For me, the ONLY thing I feel any compulsion to see again in this film is Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner and, again, Whedon’s take on The Hulk… basically the take that this comic book loving kid felt was the most natural I’ve seen on film. Perhaps it was only a real option because The Hulk was not counted on to move the story, but I would happily pay to see Whedon’s Hulk movie with Ruffalo. The understanding of power and rage and intellect really, really works.
On the other hand, the adversaries in this film really, really suck. It’s petty motivation and not well defined and in the end, it’s another endless storm of faceless, characterless machines (or whatever the hell they were) wreaking havoc.
It was fun to recognize Powers Booth and Jenny Agutter in little roles. It was fun to see director Jerzy Skolimowski (here in a DP/30) hamming it up. It was amusing to see Cobie Smulders in Sue Richards’ uniform from Fantastic Four, her primary superpower seemingly the ability to stay incredibly skinny. And honestly, the great Harry Dean Stanton turning up was a little painful. He didn’t seem well.
All that said… it was okay. It’s probably the best of the Marvel-made Marvel movies, though I prefer Captain America up until the very end (which, after messing up that ending, is not really in this film as it is in CA, as I recall it) and I get why Iron Man is so beloved, even if I was turned off by some bad directing and the shocking lack of a character arc. But Whedon does deliver the Marvel Universe and it feels fresh enough.
Very much defining this movie is the Captain America character, who remains strong and focused in spite of mocking by Stark… Evans is really quite good in the role. But… so what? In the end, this is a movie about the mechanics. Cool suit, cool hammer, big green. Lots of stuff to break. I’d be interested in the Xavier/Magneto relationship of ideas between Stark and Rogers… but there is only time to glimpse it here. I’d be interested in S.H.I.E.L.D. as a player… but only a glimpse of it here. Johnasson is actually quite good in her role… but it is just not that much of a role.
The only thing that stuck, for me, was Hulk. And really, because it was the first time we’ve seen a CG Hulk that had a little joy to him. And Ruffalo is a great brooder, so getting into the levels of emotion around that character, with Whedon writing, could be a joy. Meanwhile, the pure pleasure of id displayed here is very quick to stick.
The one other action sequence that should have been great was not because the motivations made no sense…. when Iron Man and Thor go at it.
So I’m not calling out everyone giving it a pass. Some of the enthusiasm seems a little ratcheted up by all the hype and the Whedon lust (welcome to his first hit movie), but I’d have to go red on the Tomato rating too. It’s fine. It is what it appears to be.
I just wish it was actually a really good, memorable summer Movie Movie. And it’s not. It doesn’t suck, but it’s not One Of Those.
In the world of mega-movies, we have five more shots this summer. Battleship, Men in Black 3, Prometheus, Amazing Spidey, and TDKR. If 2 of them are great Movie Movies, I will be very, very happy.
It’s like being in Southern Illinois!
It’s been an odd week of not writing. I kinda feel like I’ve explained most of what’s been going on in the movie news cycle for years, ad nauseum.
So you probably already understand that Netflix’s problems didn’t start or end with the announcement about spinning off the DVD segment of the company… you understand that Bob Iger’s vision for Disney was branded sections for which Disney didn’t fund movies and that Rich Ross was left holding the bag for that bad idea and that the firing and the need for stories to run about how hard finding a replacement is are all about the May 8 stockholders event… you know that neither Lionsgate nor Summit really know what they will look like beyond TwiHunger GamesLight… that theatrical is fine, thanks…
I tried to get to 5 Year Engagement for review, but in spite of showing it at SXSW, Universal didn’t want to show it to me before this week and family won over the one opportunity in Chicago.
Nothing new here at EbertFest. I really liked, to my surprise, a doc called Phunny Business about a game-changing black comedy club called All Jokes Aside in Chicago about which you’ve probably never heard. Really enjoyed Terri, which it took me 15 months to see for some reason (perhaps why it got a weak release… it’s not the movie’s fault).
I’ll be back to a regular schedule on Monday.
Heading to Ebertfest tomorrow. In the meanwhile, trying not to worry too much about Netflix or CBS Films. Klady won’t be at CinemaCon. Dretzka will.
Here is a look at NATO’s newest numbers…
Apologies, but my flight is about to take off and Team MCN is scattered to the winds this morning. So this is all there is until later today.
Sometimes, the numbers are interesting… and yet boring as hell. This is one of those weekends.
Think Like A Man is right in between Screen Gems two 2012 releases, The Vow and Underworld Awakening. It’s a big opening for a – yes, I’m going to say it – Black movie. The studio’s never opened one to over $20m before, though it feels like they found crossover, making it more about men & women than about black & white. This one may even outdo the Barbershop films.
The Lucky One is no The Vow… but it’s a clearer pitch than Charlie St. Cloud. This is right out of the playbook that has sold like hotcakes since The Notebook revived the Love Story thing.
The Hunger Games will hit $350 million domestic today in its 30th day of release. Slowing down after a stunning run… still stunning really. But $400 million domestic is now looking unlikely. Worldwide will top $550m after this weekend. The question is, can the film, which has passed all the Twilights domestically, close in on that franchise’s international numbers?
And Chimpanzee is DisneyEarth’s best launch to date. Still, no penguins.
Sorry… hate to be out here thinking past the Q2 writedown on John Carter, the amount of which is likely to leak out before the May 8 shareholder’s meeting. But Rich Ross’ role at Disney wasn’t quite that simple.
Bob Iger fully took over at Disney in mid-2005. Dick Cook was top dog at the motion picture group. Nina Jacobson was the head of production. Oren Aviv was the head of marketing.
Under Cook, Jacobson was making a wide array of pictures in many genres. Some were hits. Some were misses. But the big successes were still family films, mostly animation… and Pirates.
Iger’s Disney bought Pixar in January 2006 for a price that Eisner had balked at in previous years. Pixar was coming off a no-film year in 2005, which followed the success of The Incredibles in Nov 2004. Disney had tried a new Pooh film and an animated pick-up (Valiant) in 2005 and both flopped. Chicken Little didn’t flop… but it was not the breakout for Disney Animation for which they had been hoped, grossing more than $200m less than DWA’s Madagascar worldwide.
Six months later, 10 days after the massive franchise launch of the second Pirates film, Jacobson was fired. Oren Aviv, who had also been one of the creators of the National Treasure franchise, took over, still under Cook. Jim Gallagher, who was running creative services, took over the marketing chair.
Cook & Aviv pushed forward with a strategy of completely eliminating R-rated films and focusing on the Disney family brand.
This would Uncle Bob’s I-Disney 1.0.
2007’s Enchanted would be prototypical film in this era, made for families, somewhat self-referential, and successful.
But under this policy, 2008 was the first year since 2005 without a billion dollars in domestic grosses. Eight films of thirteen grossed over $50m domestic. At the top, Pixar’s Wall-E, Narnia 2, Disney Animation’s Bolt, and Bedtime Stories. Animation was John Lasseter’s place. Narnia was a movie paid for mostly by Phil Anschutz and Bedtime Stories was so expensive that even a $212m worldwide gross was not considered a win for the company.
But the next tier was Beverly Hills Chihuahua, High School Musical 3, the Hannah/Miley concert film, Step Up 2, and College Road Trip.
So of the top eight films at the studio, 2 animated, 1 financially underwhelming, 1 just an output deal, 1 a sequel from Jacobson’s regime, 1 genuine hit (BHC), and 3, count ’em, 3 from Disney TV… where Rich Ross ran the show.
At the bottom for Disney, Miracle of St. Anna and Swing Vote both were family-safe, but more adult focused films which flopped badly.
2009 began with a Bruckheimer flop (Shopaholic), a Jonas Bros concert film, a Witch Mountain sequel/reboot, the Hannah Montana movie, Earth, and Pixar’s Up.
The summer would then be balanced out by The Proposal, another legit Cook/Aviv hit. and G-Force, a somewhat surprisingly potent ($292m ww) anthropomorphic gerbil movie that cost so much that the studio still took a small writedown on it.
Meanwhile, unexpected choices were being made over Dick Cook’s head. The family-only/Disney-only strategy was pushed aside for a distribution/marketing-only deal with DreamWorks in February 2009.
Further, Disney purchased Marvel for a massive $4 billion at the end of August 2009… another brand that was self-funded.
This would be the start of Uncle Bob’s I-Disney 2.0.
Less than 3 weeks after the DW deal (and about 2 months after Pirates 4 was set), Dick Cook’s long marriage with Disney was over. Less than 3 weeks after that, Rich Ross was given the reins over the movie division. His strengths? Branding and television, having had great success with Disney Channel, which was already feeding the movie side.
The new conceit? Disney would be the home base/distributor-marketer of strong brands and the only production investment would be for animation and Disney Channel-related features.
Paramount had already gone this route, to some degree, with DreamWorks as their primary in-house content supplier, and in 2009 was rebuilding their production infrastructure. The rebuild started paying dividends last year (2011), as the studio made a majority of their product in-house for the first time in years.
Soon – long enough to take blame for the writedown on Bob Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol – Jim Gallagher was gone… and not much after that, Oren Aviv.
In classic post-big-firing style, Disney would score 2 of their 3 highest grossing films of all time in the next six months, Alice in Wonderland and Toy Story 3.
Industry insider Sean Bailey – also a producer of the then-upcoming Tron:Legacy – took on the movie production side and industry outsider MT Carney came in to handle marketing and But the greater pressure was on Carney, as Disney had offered itself up as the marketing machine for DreamWorks/Marvel/Pixar/Bruckheimer/Disney.
Many considered Prince of Persia the first real marketing test. Mediocre here… pretty good overseas. Carney herself took credit for the campaign for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (a Jerry Bruckheimer production)… and it flopped. Step Up 3D underperformed domestically, but did well overseas.. Secretariat underperformed. You Again flopped. But then light… Tangled outperformed the recent history of Disney animated films. And Tron: Legacy, while not a game-changing sensation, did a very solid $400m worldwide, including $172m domestic. When Gnomeo & Juliet did $100m domestic, the team seemed to be on a roll.
But that would be amongst the last happy news of 2011. By the time DreamWorks had their first release through Disney, a marketing team specific to DreamWorks had already been built inside of Disney to mitigate concerns about Carney. Same with Bruckheimer, whose 4th Pirates landed that summer. Lasseter was also used to having a heavy hand on his films’ marketing ship.
With 8 of 14 BV releases under these three self-managers, Carney was left in real charge of African Cats, Prom, the Lion King 3D re-release, and The Muppets. The re-release was a big hit and The Muppets, a modest one.
But the pitchforks were out for Carney and with the first Marvel movie released through Disney coming, just two DreamWorks films, 6 animated films, a chimp, Timothy Green, and the scary prospects for John Carter, Carney was out before the first week of the year ended.
And now, Ross.
The elephant everyone sees in the room is John Carter. But the real angle has to be Uncle Bob’s I-Disney 3.0.
It will be ugly no matter what. But John Carter was survivable for Rich Ross, even without pointing fingers at Team Pixar and trying to throw them – The Uncrushable – under the bus. That is, if Iger’s Disney 2.0 was working. But it was not.
Ross has had his team in place for just over two years. And what is Disney looking forward to in the next 18 months? Two live-action films that aren’t from Dreamworks or Marvel (Oz & Lone Ranger). Both cost over $200 million. The one that is now is post went significantly over-budget and over-schedule. How is The Lone Ranger doing, a few weeks into production?
Meanwhile, on their other high-profile live-action film, Robopocalypse, Fox has the international, which is likely to dwarf the domestic on a film like this.
Disney is reliant (no pun intended) on DreamWorks putting out six movies a year… and that isn’t happening. Disney was looking to have Jerry Bruckheimer self-fund… and that isn’t happening. Disney is doing well with Marvel and Pixar, but they paid a boatload for both, so well as things are going, it’s no gift.
I-Disney 2.0 just isn’t working. They aren’t filling the home entertainment shelves. Because production has ramped down and they are only making truly cheap films or insanely expensive ones, Disney is not an early stop for producers. (Even on The Muppets, one of the few recent in-house hits, it’s a business they are invested in and the producer is David Hoberman, who has spent much of his career on that lot.)
The economies of scale just don’t work for studios that are half out of the game. Meanwhile, they are paying multiple marketing departments to operate on top of one another, when the whole point was to create a savings by being a one-stop distribution and marketing house.
So what will I-Disney 3.0 look like?
I have 3 versions I can imagine.
1. They hand it over to Kevin Feige, from Marvel, and double down on being a pop studio. You will find a lot of people think this is possible and few who think it’s a good idea.
2. They find an out-of-work, established name to take over. (Hard to imagine Aviv going back… but it would make perverse sense.) The problem with this is, who? Who has a name and a vision beyond the same old, same old? And even if you want the comfort of the same old, who can deliver it with a high percentage of certainty?
3. They hire The Next Great Studio Chief and really gamble, with the safety net of Marvel and Pixar, as well as DreamWorks. What would a really smart person with $600 million a year do? It could be wonderful or an utter disaster. And who would market it? (Maybe the guy who currently has the job, Ricky Strauss, can be that answer.)
But the idea of the person in charge of a movie studio being little more than a caretaker on the movie side and a brand strategist as the primary goal… not going to fly.
Ironically, it reminds me – though circumstances are very different – of Disney when Eisner, Wells, and Katzenberg arrived in 1984. Ron Miller had some success (Splash) and was responsible for lighting the wick on both Tron and Roger Rabbit. But Disney wasn’t working as a studio. It was half-alive and half-dead… which is almost worse than all dead.
I think Iger was pointing to the stands, calling the location of his home run when he went with Rich Ross. But Iger’s ideas about the movie business, in terms of a future vision, have not been well-founded. He has been very, very aggressive about seeking the future, but has not been able to make a reality out of his vision outside of a relationship with Apple. Where is DisneyGo? Where have the grand format crossover experiments been? Where is the big change generated by Disney’s leadership? It’s been there at ESPN. Not at the movie studio.
Of course, Disney is a much bigger company that The Walt Disney Studios now. That is Eisner and Wells’ legacy. Here’s hoping Uncle Bob picks wisely this third time and can leave a similar legacy of innovation. He only has 3 more years before his announced retirement. So win or lose, this is the last shot at it.
Really interesting look at a long career in writing, directing, and being a family.
As regular readers know, I don’t do Cannes.
My feelings about the festival’s role on the domestic stage have not changed. However, as my focus on DP/30 continues to grow, the opportunity to dig into such a rich buffet makes a lot of sense for that purpose. And I certainly enjoy the notion of getting to some of these films first, to establish my own feelings, before they become part of what seems to be a worse case of altitude sickness on the part of media than any other fest in the world.
About half of the directors of competition films have already been captured in DP/30s. I look forward to talking to as many of them as possible again. Return engagements have become a great joy of this process. (The biggest negative response to an interview with Haneke, who I really liked a lot, was that I didn’t speak German and should have learned it to speak to the great man… and that I asked him about his early days in TV, which I found fascinating. I’ll try to do better this time.)
The Weinsteins bring utter insanity to Cannes this year in the form of Brad Pitt. They have Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, which stars Pitt as an “enforcer”… which is the kind of role one would expect audiences to get very excited about. Also on their docket is the renamed Lawless (formerly The Wettest County In the World), from John Hillcoat, with a killer cast including Hardy, Pearce, Oldman, LaBeouf, Chastain, and Wasikowska.
Jeff Nichols, who will be at Ebertfest next week with Take Shelter (and Mike Shannon), comes to Cannes with an unsold film, Mud, starring McConaughey and Witherspoon, but apparently led by two teen unknowns.
Getting the shots of Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson together will be the #1 non-Pitt priority at the festival this year. He is the lead in the still-unsold Cosmopolis, from David Cronenberg, in what looks like it could be his ticket to a future past Twilight. And K-Stew is in the lovely and talented Walter Salles’ On the Road, also without US distribution. (This one is crazy loaded with former DP/30 interviewees, four of them multiple interviewees.) The commercial “problem” may well be that the leads, Sam Riley (who blew up in Control) and Garrett Hedlund (who led Tron: Legacy in late 2010) are the leads and even though both are beautiful actors, in a tough market for indies these days, distributors would be selling the supporting cast first. Salles also made the terrific The Motorcycle Diaries… which underperformed domestically. So… we shall see. (Hedlund stays in the 60s with the Coen Bros next film as well.)
Perhaps the biggest US surprise in the festival is The Paperboy. Lee Daniels, in his first post-Oscar-nomination film (and his second Cannes festival screening), leads with Zac Efron… yes, that Zac Efron. Great cast behind him… McConaughey (with multiple Cannes entries), Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, and Scott Glenn. It’s a Millennium/Nu Image, which to be honest, taints it a little. And you won’t need to read reviews to see how this film does. If it gets picked up at the fest, it’s probably quite good. If it ends up being distributed by the producer in the US, it’s probably not.
Of course, what really drives Cannes is the European film market and, increasingly, the high end of the Asian art cinema.
Audiard, Carax, Garrone, Loach, Renais, Reygadas, and Seidl are all familiar names on the continent. Kiarostami is a deity in this arena. South Koreans Im Sang-soo and Hong Sang-soo were both at Cannes in 2010. Sergei Loznitsa returns with his second non-doc feature, In The Fog. Cristian Mungiu (4/3/2) has had every feature he’s made at Cannes. Egyptian Yousry Nasrallah has had multiple films at the fest. And of course, Vinterberg and Dogma 95 was celebrated with The Celebration at Cannes, though this is his first time back in competition in the 14 years since then. And closer Claude Miller is back for the first time in 9 years.
But not a drop of truly new blood in competition this year.
I guess that’s the provenance of Un Certain Regard. But more on that later…
16 weeks… 36 films.
(For the purposes of this exercise, I am including only titles that I think can realistically hit $20m or more domestically.)
There are only 8 direct sequels (Batman, MiB, Ice Age, Madagascar, Wimpy Kid, Expendables, Piranha, Madea). But there are another 8 films that are either reboots (Spidey, Total Recall, ) re-casts (Bourne, GI: Joe), or reconsiderations of well-worn material (Avengers, Prometheus, Snow White, Dark Shadows).
Warner Bros has the most unexpected line-up. Nolan’s Batman swan song is the 800 pound gorilla, but after that, it’s five odd titles. One is a Burton/Depp kitsch combo, but while Burton’s 2 biggest hits were kitschy and Depp-y, they were family films with long histories (Alice & Charlie). The less specific films, while often brilliant, linger on the bottom half of Burton’s career gross chart.
The rest of the titles all seem to be at the wrong studio. Rock of Ages could be this summer’s Mamma Mia!… but not at Universal. Hmmm. WB will try to turn the Paramount Insurge trick with Chernobyl Diaries. The Campaign is a Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakis comedy from Jay Roach. Hard to tell what’s coming, but it is Ferrell’s first film at WB, aside from a supporting role in Starsky & Hutch. And Soderbergh’s Magic Mike sounds like another indie-style piece, like The Informant!, which the studio just couldn’t figure out. It just screams New Line or as still-operating studios go, Sony… maybe Paramount. But WB? Hmmm…
So it could be a massively successful summer all around. Ferrell & ZcG could kill it. Male strippers could be ready for their big movie moment. Tom Cruise could be the King of Summer Fun, as he was the King of Christmas fun with M:I4 last December. And Oren Peli could birth another major geek event. Moreover, with Burton, Soderbergh, Roach, and Nolan, Warner Bros status as a director’s studio is through the roof.
But still… an odd list of films for big star WB.
Sony is the Back To The Future studio of the summer, with the Spider-Man relaunch, the return of Men in Black, Total Recall through the eyes of their Underworld creator, a remake of Sparkle, and even the Sandler movie sounds like an old Bob Hope film, That’s My Boy. David Frankel lands at Sony after a run at Fox, but Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as a couple trying to make it work, with laughs, feels very Sony familiar.
Universal is either going to rock the box office or get everyone fired. Battleship and Bourne are the big machine movies, with huge expectations attached. Snow White & The Huntsman looks like it will be the easy winner of the 7 dwarfs sweepstake this year, but what will the box office make of back-to-back Charlize weeks? And their other two films, Ted and Savages could well be the surprise hit and the (not so much of a) surprise flop of the summer. Of course, Universal has had a few Teds before… really good films… that The Kids just didn’t get interested in. The trailer for Ted is great… but so were some of the others. Still, bottom line, as Battleship and Bourne go, so goes Universal’s summer.
Disney gets Marvel, has Pixar… and some other stuff. Things are still shaking over there, but once July arrives, there will be plenty of time to rethink as much as they like. But the two big films should be BIG.
It’s a big change of season for Paramount, who had five big ass movies to open last summer… and have just 3 this entire summer. Madagascar 3 could be very strong, but not a huge challenge anymore. Like Ice Age 4, either they are going to come or not. The GI: Joe reboot with The Rock and Bruce Willis is more like launching something brand new. And The Dictator, whose Oscar red carpet stunt turned out to be part of the movie’s production, not promotion, could well be the unstoppable shrinkage of the Sasha Baron Cohen gag.
And Fox could have a summer that will really piss of the media that likes to kick the studio. Prometheus looks like the unexpected monster hit of the summer, though if it is, media will shrug it off as though it was expected. Ice Age: Continental Drift may slow domestically, but if it’s anything like the last one internationally, it’s a monster. Wimpy Kid is a modest programmer that works. Abe Lincoln Meets The Twilight Kids could be $80m huge or a complete miss. Just impossible to tell what the mood of that moment will be like. It’s going to be hard for the film to keep screens against a lot of big films and it feels like a movie that will take time. And I guess Tom Rothman finally got Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn to work for a price he liked and Neighborhood Watch feels like it could be a nice “surprise” like Dodgeball was.
The record for $200m domestic grossers in a summer is six. We should see that matched, if not surpassed, this summer. We could certainly see the first year ever with two $400m domestic grossers. And it looks like you’ll be able to count the real bombs – not considering cost – on one hand.
On the other hand, I count seven films with production budgets at or over $200 million, which is a sharp contrast from last year’s more modestly budgeted summer. Foreign is not going to be icing on the cake. It is now expected.
The real definition of this summer will not come from the blockbusters, but from the middle-r movies… the Snow Whites and the Total Recalls and the GI Joes and the Neighborhood Watches and the Teds and the Dark Shadows. Those are the films where the $20m losses or the $75m wins will add up. Even a movie like Prometheus… if it does $500m worldwide, it will be the biggest grosser in Ridley Scott’s illustrious career.
So don’t get distracted by the monsters. There could be a couple billion dollar worldwiders in there. But the story lurks in the folds.
Just to make sure there is something to be held over my head for years to come, I will be doing my annual chart again… soon…