The Hot Blog Archive for December, 2013

Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (spoiler-free)

wolf-review-image

Veronica Lake could certainly have been Margot Robbie, drinking with a straw to keep her lipstick perfect, saying “We aren’t gonna be friends,” and then sucking in her prey by giving him what he can’t imagine a way to get.

Even in 1944, Trudy Kockenlocker—say the name again in your head—was the girl in the office who was with so many that no one could keep track.

Jonah Hill would fit right in with the Ale & Quail Hunting Club (as seen in The Palm Beach Story).

This film isn’t “an Ionescoesque tour-de-force” or “compelling diagnosis of the terminal pathology that afflicts us” or “taking cues from gangster pictures.”

It’s a freakin’ Preston Sturges movie set in the early 1990s which morphs into being a Billy Wilder movie set in the mid-90s and is, finally, a pure Martin Scorsese movie in the late 90s.

Actually, the film may be all of the things I mention above, written by critics who, in my opinion, are taking the film too seriously because it’s been made by Scorsese. They seem to be looking at it as a classic Scorsese movie. But it’s clearly not… any more than Cape Fear was. It’s homage, redefined by 50 years of evolved bad behavior. And it’s not one clear, defined homage. Each act brings a quite different voice.

The first act is the wacky comedy of an ambitious con man who really doesn’t have any fear. It’s sheer joy. And the character spectrum is pure Sturges. True, it’s also reflective of the voiced-over lug line-up in Goodfellas at moments. But the tone is different. Those guys are established members of the community into which Henry Hill is growing. For Jordan Belfort, they are a bumbling group of idiots who will all rely on and follow him.

Scene after scene, it’s gags without consequence. There is a charm in Belfort’s blind relentlessness. Grown people having sex and doing drugs is hard to see as childlike… but really, that is what the movie is. The sexuality is so childish that it’s hard to read it any other way, however disgusting. And yes, that has pushed a number of people away from the film.

I get it. I do. The “bad behaver” is front and center and in your face… way too appealing for anyone’s own good.

But then I refer back to Sturges, 60 years ago. Nowadays an unattached woman pregnant and unsure of who the father is seems like reasonable fodder for a comedy. In 1944, many years before Lucy & Ricky slept in separate beds and couldn’t use the word “pregnant,” it was as controversial a comedy premise as Wolf is today. Two sets of twins romantically co-mingling? A returning war flop pretending to be a hero, deceiving his community to his own benefit, and being the protagonist?

What Sturges really did was to pervert Capra. He made movies about the American Dream, turned on their side and shaken until funny. His characters did real damage. The side characters were gamblers and screw-ups and victims waiting to happen and thugs who may or may not be mart enough to roll them.

Add cocaine, Quaaludes, and modern Wall Street ideas of financial greed and mostly paid-for promiscuity, and you have the first act of Wolf.

Many of those who are dismissing the film seem to have stopped considering what Scorsese & Co were up for at that point. But if the disconnect didn’t happen in the lavish joy of grotesquerie in the 1st act, I think those same people would find the moral comeuppance in the third act… the Scorsese act… which is really not funny at all. That said, there is a distinct shift in tone in the 2nd act, once Belfort has acquired his dream.

That is when the film becomes a Billy Wilder movie. And not just a Wilder comedy. The difference between the two filmmakers, who share a lot, is that Wilder wasn’t big on youthful ambition. His characters almost always knew exactly what they were doing. Joe Gillis, Chuck Tatum, Walter Neff, The Larrabee Brothers… they were all hip to the room. There was real edge. They didn’t make mistakes of enthusiasm. They just ran into the unexpected. Even Wilder’s house “innocent,” Jack Lemmon, was in his mid-30s when it started in Some Like It Hot. He wasn’t innocent. He chose naïveté in the Wilder roles. C.C. Baxter is “the good guy” in The Apartment, but he’s not really a good guy. He’s the better guy, with potential for becoming good.

Act Two of The Wolf of Wall Street is about a guy who, while still pretty young, knows the turf and has a lot to lose. There is none of the youthful, “innocent” aggression of the first act. There is still terrible, terrible behavior. But everyone is now working on maintaining… and maintaining still inspires fierce ambition.

It’s during the second act that the shady turns into clear illegality. It’s during the second act when the characters around Jordan Belfort start coming up with plans of their own. It’s during the second act when our protagonist really acquires his antagonist.

Who but the man who put Marilyn Monroe on the grate would have his female lead, legs spread, panties off, torturing her husband with the power of her sex only to turn the tables in an instant? Who would be better in a scene like the conversation between Belfort and his FBI tormentor than young, strapping William Holden? What other writer/director would have the distance to take characters from thinking they are living the American Dream to cursing their country?

And then… the third act. The Scorsese act.

I’d say it starts when he and his group leave the United States. There are still laughs, but most of them are rolling with the previous 2 hours 15 minutes of comedy. And that slowly dissolves. I don’t want to spoil anything, but as events continue, the audience may think they are experiencing something meant to be funny… but the film gets more and more brutal… more and more like Scorsese’s dramas.

The performances are pretty spectacular. Leonardo DiCaprio is fearless in this film. Each person will decide if this is to their taste, but one has to make these performance shifts with Scorsese and screenwriter Terrence Winters’ shifts. It’s easy to not realize just how much he is doing. Jonah Hill has a little bit less range to cover, but wow… what a performance. And not as Jonah Hill. This is a fully formed character who is not just Jonah, who is a very funny guy. He breathes Donnie. Margot Robbie is impeccable.

Matthew McConaughey gives the next great Alec Baldwin-in-Glengarry performance. Just magnificent. Poetic. Brilliantly comedic. And horrifyingly honest. If you want to know if Wolf can win Best Picture at the Oscars, look and see whether Matthew McConaughey gets a shock nomination for his 5-minute role. It would be deserved… and would make it 100% clear how onboard the actors are. It could happen.

This is about the least complex or breakthrough piece of film editing from Scorsese and Schoonmaker in a while. This was one of the puzzles for me as a viewer. Why wasn’t it more “clever?” I think the truth is that the film’s homage simply didn’t leave room for it. Both Wilder and Sturges were straightforward as directors when it came to the editing. Scorsese relied more on his cameraman, the great Rodrigo Prieto, than on post this time out. His shooters have always made beautiful images with him, don’t get me wrong. But a lot of more of this film felt like it was “just” cut out of the camera than most.

I do not carry the animosity that some seem to about people who do not connect with this movie. And I’m not ready to call it the greatest film since whenever. The conversation about what a film like this means when it isn’t a rom-com or a dramatic thriller is just starting. And I don’t know that this film is “IMPORTANT.” I love “The Sopranos,” but don’t see it as “IMPORTANT” either. I’m not sure that any Scorsese movie will ever be important, except, really, for Taxi Driver, which still stands as one of the great pieces on the soul of men who act out in the world. I learn from that film, almost more so from the pieces that I have never completely rationalized, but only feel.

But as the whole film laid out before me in my most recent viewing, and the extreme moments jumped out at me less aggressively, I quite loved the ride.

And one last note. Quaaludes were made illegal in the United States in the 80s. This movie takes place in the 90s. And I don’t really care.

SIDE NOTE: It’s taken me a while to get to this sense of the film. I saw the film 3 times before I clicked in, but it’s not quite what it sounds like.

I returned to Los Angeles from Morocco a few weeks ago—a 32-hour trip, as it turned out—and the first thing I wanted to do after seeing my wife and child was to see The Wolf of Wall Street. So I did one night. And my jetlag caused me to fade in and out a bit. So I went again. And even at an afternoon screening, I could not stay awake. I did not blame the film at all. I was just waking up at 4am and my body clock was to blame.

Anyway… I explain all this because it is misleading when I say that I became clear on the film after 3 viewings. But it would also be misleading to not acknowledge the earlier viewings which perhaps softened some of the things that are upsetting some people.

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Weekend Estimates by Still Smaugin’ Klady

wknd estimates (corr) 2013-12-29 at 12.06.31 PM

As noted yesterday, the holiday period is a bit of a mystery every year, if you try to analyze it day by day. We know that Christmas Eve is weak and Christmas Day is strong, but aside from that, it can be a bit of a guessing game… which is also why today’s estimates may turn out to be wrong by a bit as well.

For instance, neither Smaug or Froz is estimating 3x Friday for the weekend. That’s less surprising for Hobbit than for the animated film. But welcome to late December.

Moving down the chart, there is a more aggressive estimate for American Hustle than for The Wolf of Wall Street. They were separated by estimate by only $200k. In today’s estimate, $1.1 million. (And Sony’s released estimate rounds up to another 100k higher than our estimate.) No reason why that can’t be dead on… or off a little… or completely reversed. There is absolutely no importance to the slotting. Utterly meaningless, childish boy posturing. But different studios have different ways of estimating and egos do come into play.

Not a lot else to look at of great interest. Here is the list of awards hopefuls

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 11.28.15 AM

Not any real surprises at the top half of the bottom half of this list. The Wolf of Wall Street will pass Saving Mr Banks on the list this week. You really have to go down to the exclusive or limited releases to find titles with much gas left in the tank (Nebraska, Llewyn, Her, Osage), though I don’t think any of them can be expected to do over $50 million even with Oscar nominations aplenty.

Like it or not, the history of Oscar (even recent history) suggests that either 6 or 7 of the Best Picture nominees will come from the top 7 grossers as of today (noting that the grosses of two of these will double before nomination voting closes in just 10 days). Two or three or four nominees will come from the rest of the list. And there is no time to recover in terms of gross.

Narrowing that group of Realistically Fighting To Get In, it’s Philomena, All Is Lost, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, and August: Osage County.

The Oscar nomination fates of these films have really already been set. Yes, there are some more days for voters to see these films and to make their minds up. And the fight to get people to see these films will and should continue. But it won’t be marketing or publicity or box office or any outside influencers really changing the game for any of them at this point. Of this group, I would say that Nebraska and Inside Llewyn Davis planted their flags higher and harder than the rest. We’ll soon find how that plays out.

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Why I’m Not Going To Sundance This Year

It’s pretty simple, really.

I have been covering Sundance aggressively for all but 2 years of the last 17. (The exceptions were running another festival that launched shortly after Sundance and the birth of my son.) I took people up to work with me and write and more recently, produce video interviews, for most of those years, even when I really wasn’t budgeted for this. Back in 2000 and 2001, we produced daily print editions (for Slamdance too) and in that second year, we had a staff of 15 in Utah to cover. In the last 5 years, I have averaged 27 half-hour interviews, mostly shot in 4 days, each year. (The schedule is mostly because Sundance is so front-loaded. I wish it were otherwise. We’d shoot more and more effectively.)

I have spent a ton of time, money, and effort covering this festival.

There have been Express Passes for years, traditionally handed out to the largest media outlets and media friends of the festival. There have been moments where I fronted the biggest internet outlets of those times, but not anymore. But I do retain a certain sway.

In the last few years, Sundance has gotten a bit looser with the Express Passes. Others have mentioned to me that this person or that new-ish outlet or whomever was bequeathed with one or more and that I should be upset about this. But I never complained. After all, even though I needed access to the first screenings of many of the films I was covering—because the timing of access depended on it—publicists made sure that I got where I wanted and needed to go. And in spite of the perception that some have of me, I am not a big demander (unless I feel I am being disrespected… that makes me cranky).

So after a few years of this, standing side-by-side with colleagues who got to walk into the theater long before I did, free to hang out and chat because, really, their schedules aren’t so demanding and they don’t have to do the ticket dance… a few years of publicists seeming astonished that I didn’t have an Express Pass… a few years of standing in parking lots for midnight shows trying to retrieve a publicist to come down and get me into a theater at the last second so I could do an interview with their talent at 9am… and honestly, a few years of spending too much of my time giving the issue a second thought during my 18-hour days of work (without dinners, parties, or swag), I asked for an Express Pass.

And I was given the boilerplate answers… all of which indicated to me that I would not be getting one. No personal explanation or excuses. Same old stuff, albeit directly from someone who I thought I was a little friendly with.

And indeed, there was none forthcoming.

So… I could have just soldiered through, dropping another $20k+ on another year of covering a festival that doesn’t really much care whether I am there or not. Or I could skip it.

I know that many people—who go to Sundance and who do not—would love to be in my advantaged position as it stands. I am very fortunate. And I work my ass off and my business spends quite a lot of money every year to live that advantage. I have asked virtually nothing of Sundance in all of these years, except for a press badge worn by me and thousands of other journalists. And perhaps that’s the problem. I haven’t buddied up to the right people, hung out at parties with the programmers, or sponsored something. But that is not my way. I have no disrespect for those who cover festivals this way… but all-in-all, I would rather see another movie than spend a couple of hours having dinner (at least before Day 6 or 7).

My other reality is that having shot over 220 half-hours this year (2013), I am quite aware that I could have shot everything I shot at Sundance last year after Sundance. As it is, for instance, I shot 5 of the Oscar doc shortlist films that premiered at Sundance at Sundance last year… and the 6 others since… and 1 of them 2 additional times after Sundance (Blackfish). My responsibility as a journalist will not be diminished by not shooting at Sundance this year.

But it won’t be as fun. It won’t capture the moment of excitement that many filmmakers have at Sundance. It won’t be as breathless.

I have spent a lot of years seeing new talent develop right before my eyes at Sundance. That’s thrilling… and a privilege.

I am profoundly sad about this choice. But I don’t feel like I have a choice. I don’t think I deserve to be taken for granted. Certainly not at these prices. I know what the boundaries are meant to be. I don’t expect a white pass or a lot of interview time in Cannes. I don’t chase movie stars very much in Toronto. I never put on my tuxedo in Marrakech. And if I go to Berlin for the first time in February, I will be subject to the whims of that festival. But being a cuckold in Park City? No thanks.

Anyway… this too shall pass.

(If you are looking for a great 4-bedroom house, right next to The Library during the festival, my long-time landlord is still looking for a tenant. Drop me a line and I’ll give you his e-mail address.)

I just wanted to get this on the record. I am not asking anyone to care or discuss it or speak to the authorities on my behalf. I am aware that there will be jeers. But I have answered the question a number of times already and am saddened by explaining.

And as it turns out, there may be a couple of writers from MCN at Sundance 2013 anyway. Funny world.

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Friday Estimates by Ho’ed Ho’ed Ho’ed Klady

Friday Est (corr2)2013-12-28 at 10.47.52 AM
(ED NOTE: Apologies for the 2 errors on this chart when first posted. Now corrected.)

Christmas Week is a box office analysis rabbit hole. There is so much volume – in ticket sales, in a short time – and the “rules” about what day of the week means something specific, that every notion that you chase on any given box office day, you end up popping up out of the dirt somewhere unexpected.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has been out ahead of Frozen all week, but as much as $3 million on Christmas Day. But on Friday, Frozen stepped past the fiery dragon and will likely extend that lead today and tomorrow. Or will it? Maybe Friday was The Saturday of this week. But wait… kids have another full 9 days off of school. Will parents start taking younger kids to Smaug? Will they start taking older kids to Frozen? Will there be repeat viewings? After all, this remains The December That Forgot Families.

Of course, this time of year, it’s best to hang on to the long view. Both films will add at least $70 million and as much as $100 million to their domestic totals by the end of the holiday. Smaug can be expected to add another $30m – $40 million after that. Frozen, which is pretty certain to become the #1 non-summer animated grosser of all-time, would be expected to slow and add less than $10 million after the holiday… but with this film, who knows?

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, which, quite oddly, only faces niche competition from Martin Scorsese, is strong. It’s should be past $125 million before the holiday ends. December released comedies are a weird niche. And Ferrell & Co make it even odder. So… I hate most of the comparisons. Either they are too old or not really the same audience (see: anything by Nancy Meyers) or sequels that were in a bigger groove to start with (Fockers) or something that just doesn’t match. All that said, strong run for a sequel that Paramount did not want to make and held off for years. (Don’t tell Brooks Barnes… he believes that this was genius strategy by Paramount, not a dumb mistake.)

This brings me to another big picture notion.

There has only been one December with as many as 4 $120m+ domestic releases. After many years of 2 $120m+ releases being the norm, we have had 3 in each of the last 4 Decembers. Right now, it looks like we will have 3 such films… though The Wolf of Wall Street could get there if it trends up in award season. Yet, it doesn’t feel like a great December. Why? Well, this kind of happened last December too, when 2 of the 3 $120m+ December releases were award chasers. December (and in many ways, January) hasn’t relied on those awards movies to power December box office int he past.

While there was talk about product overload this month, it was not well considered. If you look at the actual films in release, there is a ton of room for box office elasticity of which advantage is not being taken.

As I have noted repeatedly, there is no clear “all family” film in the market aside from Frozen. One could argue that Saving Mr. Banks and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty qualify, but aside from the Disney emphasis on Banks that has confused many people I have spoken to about the film’s target market – they think it’s for kids… it’s not offensive for kids, but it ain’t a film for kids – both films are really for audiences over 15. Two of the top five films on Friday are R-rated. In fact, there are 7 R-rated films that opened wide or will expand wide this month out of 16 total wide/will-be-wide releases this month. Every single 1 of those 7 is an awards hopeful… which means odd release strategies and a glass ceiling.

Anchorman 2 and 47 Ronin, may be PG-13, but clearly scan high school and older.

So what does that leave?

The Blockbuster: Smaug

The Kids Films: Dinosaurs, Beliebe

The Middle-Aged Nostalgia Awards-Hopeful Films: Grudge, Mitty, Banks

The “Urban” Film: Medea

As you might quickly note, none of the films that kind of hook into nostalgia are doing terribly well. The kids films… the same. Even the “urban” film is a bit of a disappointment for Mr. Perry.

This is not just a function of quality. And though it leans more in that direction, it’s not just marketing mistakes either.

There is only 1 wannabe blockbuster. There are no kids films that reach up into being movies that the whole family wants to see, 8-80.

So we have nostalgia, which is not really taking. We have a surefire flop in 47 Ronin (no idea whether it deserves that status or not… haven’t seen it… ). We have the blockbuster that is doing the expected blockbuster business. What have just 1 straight-out comedy (Anc2). And we have… 7 Oscar movies. And of those 7 Oscar movies, 4 are staying in limited or exclusive through the 1st of the year… 2 are doing strong business… and 1 already burned out.

In my opinion, this period would have been wide open for another blockbuster, another PG-13 (or maybe an R) comedy, and certainly another 8 – 80 style family film.

Back to this Friday…

Three years ago, Justin Bieber had the third highest-grossing doc of all-time with a concert doc. This week, he’s opening to $2k per screen on 1037. Meh.

August: Osage County is the strongest opener of the new exclusives with a about $30k per on 5 screens for the weekend. Not a car wreck, but The Iron Lady did better… without Julia Roberts as Denis Thatcher.

Lone Survivor will do $40k+ per screen on just 2 screens. Survivor has done a great job with publicizing/marketing to blue collar and military viewers, but won’t take advantage of that until its national expansion on January 10. This opening lets the air out of the balloon a little, but when Universal takes this film to the people, coastal media won’t mean much of anything. This should be more like a Christian-themed film or serious military movies, like Act of Valor, which had no stars and grossed $70 million for Relativity in early 2012 (1 of only 4 films the young distributors has crossed the $70m border with). I could actually see this film doing $100 million domestic, mostly outside of the big cities.

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Still My Favorite Musical Christmas Moment

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‘Twas The Night Before Christmas 2013

ribbon
(as always, with apologies to the author)

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the ‘wood
Not an exec was sleeping, not even on 20,000 thread count sheets made by virgins;
The movies were sold to the audience with care,
In hopes that 800 million would be there;

The quarterlies were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of rev’nue-streams danced in their heads;
And mamma on Netflix, and I on the fringe,
Had just settled on streaming for a long evening’s binge,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my couch to see what was the matter.
Away to the window monitor I clicked like a flash,
Tore open the app and threw in my pass.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen toys,
Gave a lustre of IPOs to objects of boys,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a new funding group with a billion to spare,

With a young studly driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be a dick.
More vapid than drunkards his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

“Now, Franchise! now, Remake! now Reboot and Proven!
On, Teen Girls! on, Teen Boys! on, CG and Wooden!
To the top of the chart! to the summer and fall!
Now gross away! gross away! gross away all!”

As cash that before the wild Avengers fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the chart top the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of crap, and the help of some Jews —

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The strong-jawed funder being crushed by a hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Real Art came with a bound.

He was dressed all in tatters, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of VHSes flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes—how they winced! his dimples, how scary!
His cheeks were like sinkholes, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the coke on his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a joint he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he talked film, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was skinny and ill, a once jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all media platforms; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose, (SNORT)
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to full strength, to the world gave a whistle,
And reminded us that for greatness, away we must chisel.
Then I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Stop whining, you punks, see a great movie tonight!”

No Comments »

10 Things No One Should Have To Do To Commit Acts of Quality Journalism

Make lists

Yell more than twice a week

Take pretty pictures of subjects.

Sell my subject’s perspective as fact

Work for an institution that spends more time and effort selling ads than doing stories

Treat gossip as hard news

Be unable to pay the rent and car payment and insurance and food.

Put A Question Mark At The End Of A Headline

Feel compelled to put “EXCLUSIVE” on anything, much less everything, much less on things that are not really exclusive or even news.

As a film journalist, to write up anything that simply detracts from the filmic arts with no significant purpose, positive or negative.

2 Comments »

Weekend Estimates by Klady: The Anchorhobbit

Weekend Estimates 2013-12-22 at 9.13.03 AM

Not a ton to add today.

Hobbit 2 may have to settle for a domestic gross in the $275 million range. Anchorman 2 solid, but not overwhelming. American Hustle expands well, a step behind another Oscar-time Megan Ellison project, True Grit. Still looks like a $100m+ domestic grosser. Frozen is icy hot and should pass Walt Disney Animation’s top domestic gross ($200m for Tangled) by this next Friday or Saturday. Could well be at $230m or more by the end of the holiday… $250m domestic total seems a sure bet. As noted before, it’s Tangled‘s $390 international that is the bigger hump at this point… with a lot of world to still open.

A decent expansion for Saving Mr. Banks, but nothing to dance with penguins over. Can Disney warm this one up at this late date? Huge challenge.

Walking With Dinosaurs looks even worse after 3 days. No real Saturday bump. In other words, their strongest demo play is flopping too.

Inside Llewyn Davis clearly has some interest out there… but at 148 screens, these numbers are truly tea leaves. I suspect that CBS, which has been all-publicity-all-the-time on this film for months will be waiting on Oscar nominations to really lift the box office boat. (Of course, The Coens already have a Best Picture nomination for the second lowest grossing BP nominee in modern history… under $10 million for A Serious Man. So the rules of gross mattering to many pictures may not be relevant in analyzing their Oscar chances.)

78 Comments »

Friday Estimates by Still Smaugy Klady

Friday Estimates (corrected) 2013-12-21 at 8.54.22 AM

Hobbit 2 is behind Hobbit 1 by $19 million domestic after 9 days. Amazingly, the spread between Rings 1 and Rings 2 after 8 days was $22 million. Given the scope of the numbers, quite close. It is true. We have seen Hunger Games 2 out $45 million ahead of Hunger 1 in 8 days this year, so there can be an uptick with a second film, but the slight drop is pretty normal (see also: Harry Potter 2 off $35m domestic as of Day 8).

In other words, massive hit… relax… all is well.

A good start for Anchorman 2, though again, not as good as the original ($10.8m opening day). And again, December is a major factor. The first Anchorman opening in July, where opening numbers are much bigger in general. Of the Top 3 December comedies, the two that are Fockers films opened on a Wednesday. The first sequel to Meet The Parents, Meet The Fockers, was about $10 million ahead of Anchorman 2 as of Friday. The second sequel, Little Fockers, was about $2.6 million behind A2. That one went to $148 million domestic. And the word of mouth on Anchorman 2 is considerably better than on Li’l Fockers. So…

Also… I love the new Oscar campaign logo from Paramount for Anchorman 2

academy-logo-250w

Not a beautiful picture for Walking With Dinosaurs. In terms of the box office chart, this young-demo film may well move up into the Top 5 by the end of the weekend. Of course, box office rank is the perhaps the single most inaccurate analysis of success that there is, so who cares? Even if they get to a $10 million weekend, it’s not a happy number for Fox. Just two words…. Fat Albert. Two more… the movie.

Strong expansion for American Hustle, given that it isn’t a straight opening play, but an awards play… meaning that it has some natural strengtheners coming up that a straight December release does not.

Much less happy will be Team Saving Mr. Banks, which has revved its engines loudly for a month to get a rather soft opening versus hopes. Ironically, the same numbers for Inside Llewyn Davis—which should have been on today’s chart because it was expanding to 148 screens and is estimated to have done about $300k by Box Office Mojo)—would be seen as a success by many. Perception is a harsh mistress.

Thor 2 will hit $200m domestic today.

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DP/30: David O. Russell does American Hustle

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Look Closer: American Hustle Image

Christian Bale;Jeremy Renner;Bradley Cooper

I was looking at this rather ubiquitous American Hustle image earlier today and thinking about how it seems to mislead about the movie. It reads, from a distance, as the 5 lead characters having a good ol’ time together.

But look closer (and you can click on the image for a much larger size if you like).

Only Bale’s Irving Rosenfeld and Renner’s Carmine Polito are really in that moment together. And Irving is working.

Bradley Cooper’s Richie DiMaso is keeping an eye out on something, looking every bit the undercover cop. Amy Adams’ Sydney Prosser is keeping an eye on Richie. And Jennifer Lawrence’s Rosalyn is playing to someone outside the frame, the center of attention without any real concern about the center she is in.

I don’t want to overstate it… but now I quite adore this photo. I don’t even know how intentional the choices I am perceiving in it are. But that’s art, right?

3 Comments »

Weekend Estimates by The Kladyation of Box Office

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The worst domestic gross for a December movie opening within $10m, more or less, of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, is $256 million. So please keep it in your pants, headline writers.

Not a whole lot to add since yesterday. 12 Years A Slave nearing $40m pre-Oscar noms is worthy of stories that are not being written. Lots of nice small runs going on for awards movies. Homefront is going to be one of those movies that people discover on cable and adore.

Next weekend’s box office SHOCKER could be Walking With Dinosaurs, the only new family film this month. Fox has a habit of doing way better than expected business in December with family movies that simply fill a void, good or bad.

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Friday Box Office Estimates by Smaugy

Friday Estimates 2013-12-14 at 8.58.06 AM

What the HELL were Lionsgate and Tyler Perry thinking? A Madea Christmas is the 6th Madea movie. 5 releases… 5 hits. February, February, April, April, June. So when do you release #6? December. Huh?

Now, of course, it is a Christmas movie. And Black Nativity opened over Thanksgiving, so naturally, Tyler Perry would avoid… (record scratch) You’re Tyler f-ing Perry. You resurrected commercial black cinema on that back of a giant drag granny. You are releasing a movie that should… I say, should… be a perennial Christmas movie for your audience. And you decide to release it on the second weekend of December?

There have been 16 Christmas-themed movies in movie history that have grossed over $50 million domestic (as, coincidentally, all the Madea movie have). How many of them were released in December? ZERO.

Denzel Washington and a then-hot Whitney Houston couldn’t get $50m out of The Preacher’s Wife off of a December release. The Nativity Story just barely got into December (12/1), but not up to $38 million domestic. Jack Frost didn’t quite get to $35 million. The Muppets worst showing in the last 25 years was A Muppets Christmas Carol, opened 12/11. And those are the 4 BEST grossers with Christmas themes opening in December.

Now, Tyler Perry may well become the king of Christmas movies opening in December. The bar is at $48.3 million. And the season is on his side for a leggier than normal run. But just barely. And just a mediocre result for a Madea movie.

As noted above, making a Christmas perennial is something dreamed of by artists everywhere (mostly musical ones). But this was such a unique opportunity and this date choice was just awful and completely predictable.

Speaking of early dates, this is the 6th Peter Jackson opening in December and the earliest (if only by a day in 2 cases). But The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has a bit of an audience built in to the release. The must-see crowd will come to it… it doesn’t need to go looking for them (like a bunch of frickin’ hobbits).

Meanwhile, Smaug is the classic trip wire for fresh-faced (or old faced/newly placed) box office analysts. On Friday alone, Smaug is the 22nd best opening weekend in the history of the month of December. How can that be? Well, December is different. Always has been. Avatar opened to a not-December-record-breaking $77 million before becoming the highest grosser in domestic and worldwide history by a billion dollar margin.

So now we have negative headlines about the third best opening day in the history of December, $6.5m off the record for the day, but still suggesting the 2nd highest opening in the history of movie Decembers.

All I can say is, “Calm the f*** down.”

Frozen looks like it will have little trouble becoming the #1 film from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Disney’s in-house animation division under the supervision of John Lasseter for 7/8 years now. It will hit about $160 million this weekend, putting it a good $30m ahead of where Tangled, the current top WDAS film, was at about the same time in its run, as well as having a better Weekend 3 gross. The real challenge for Frozen comes internationally, where Tangled did an astounding $390 million. But we won’t know about that for a few months, as these animated films are not rolled out worldwide at this time of year, accelerating in January and February.

Will The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 1 be moved to March 2015 by Summitsgate? The next few weeks should tell. Catching Fire is running a bit slower than the first THG at this point in the run, but is still ahead by $25m or so domestically. If that trend continues – and there was about $90m domestic in the THG tank at this point – and Catching Fire ends up undergrossing THG domestically, you could see a flip on release dates.

Of course, the punchline is that Catching Fire will pass the total worldwide gross of THG this weekend. And Summit had the experience with the Twilight series of moving the domestic release to the more lucrative summer slot and seeing the foreign – where the big money is – drop a bit. Then again, there was a much bigger domestic leap with movie 2 for Twilight than we’re seeing here with THG. So… time will tell…

On the same world beat, Thor 2 will end about 10% higher domestically than the first… and about 50% higher worldwide.

Love American Hustle, but $105k or so on 6 screens for a movie being sold as a wide release is not a major box office event. It’s not nothing… but it ain’t anything. The real magic about American Hustle is that will all the firepower on top of the hood, it’s a pretty inexpensive movie. And it should do some killer numbers overseas, where the word “American” is not a big seller, but the cast and themes should make it a big hit.

Saving Mr. Banks and $22k per-screen on 15 is not as impressive and will be unfairly compared all weekend. Banks has become the media’s favorite target lately for some reason. Overkill. Would they rather have Hustle’s numbers? Absolutely. Are Hustle’s numbers more encouraging? Absolutely. But it is really easy to overstate the significance of exclusive release numbers. I recall just a year ago when a movie opened to $27k per on 16 and was written off by some people. The movie was, ironically, David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, which went on to gross $132m domestic and $236m worldwide. And that was without Batman or Lois Lane’s help.

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Teaser (Heavy On The Tease): Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar

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The Marrakech International Film Festival

There is a lot to learn about putting on a film festival in Marrakech.

There is plenty to criticize as well. But seriously… any festival looking to play on the world stage should send a delegation to Morocco to see how they handle things there. Make no mistake, there is a huge advantage to being the assured big fish in a relatively small town, “UNDER THE HIGH PATRONAGE OF HIS MAJESTY KING MOHAMMED VI.” Mel Brooks was right when he said that it was good to be the king. And King Mohammed VI puts up a heckuva nice spread for his annual movie embrace.

Every city does streetlamp banners for their big film festivals. Of course, the festival is usually one of 3 or 4 events being promoted this way. And in Marrakech, there was also competition. But banners were ubiquitous. So were stand-up three-sided kiosks with not only the imagery of the festival, but easily accessible schedules for all five theaters and all the screenings. They also had wonderful standees all over town with actual images of the films, filmmakers, jury members, honorees, etc, with interesting, detailed information about the films and the filmmakers. I guess in the politics of a festival like NYFF, someone would be out counting how many times Movie B got promoted versus Movie C, but still, it created a sense of movie love in the streets of a city that one rarely sees. In Cannes or San Sebastian, there are distributors paying for big images everywhere… but this feels different.

Once inside a venue, the festival ran a very simple, but very effective visual representation of the festival program, with images and descriptions from each of the nodes of the fest. I think these could have actually been a little more complex, but you had a clear sense by the end of one day attending movies of how big the competition group was, who was being honored, who was on the jury, who was doing masterclasses, etc. And them when a film was ready to be show, there was a screen image projected for a minute or two that looked a bit like a page from a program book… but was a surprisingly nice, simple way of setting up what you were about to see… taking you out of the headspace of getting to the venue, picking seats, chatting with friends or strangers, and generally settling in. In the main theater, there was the Cannes-like formality of introducing the director and/or cast and crew, but even outside of that setting, there was something nice about the vibe of “and now we present…”

Speaking of the talent in the first balcony, if there was one thing about Marrakech that I really didn’t like, it was that it felt very segregated. I was told by other journalists in attendance that it wasn’t always this way… even last year. But the festival keeps growing and the sense of community that I know that I am afforded at other festivals was not in play here. I acknowledge that as a journalist at a film festival, there is a built-in sense of entitlement. But as a guest who has flown 18 hours to attend this event, presumably to promote the glories and pleasures of the films and the festival itself, I presumed that I might run into a juror or a filmmaker at breakfast now and again. And given that I have interviewed or chatted up most of the non-Moroccan talent at the festival sometime in the last couple of years, we might chat in a relaxed way, aside from whatever the press office was—or was not—able to arrange. But I didn’t see a single filmmaker or jury member in our 5-star hotel… ever. Nor were I or my brethren invited to engage in any way, aside from in a set-up interview. So… the anti-Telluride, really. And given what Marrakech is and is not in the movie universe, that seemed a misstep.

Thing is, I can’t blame the festival for managing growth clumsily. The same can be said for some of the major festivals on this continent. But there are checks & balances in the form of the distributors at those festivals, who are actively selling or promoting upcoming releases for their films. Harvey Weinstein did show up the day after Mandela’s death to present One Chance, but I would assume that exhausting effort was made for reasons of long-term funding opportunity for The Weinstein Company, not traditional festival courtesy.

In any case, it is not for me to define the goals of the Marrakech Film Festival or the King. But at the risk of sounding arrogant, I can read the intentions and the boundaries of pretty much every film festival I have ever attended within 24 hours of my arrival. It’s apparent in the programing, the guest relations, the talent on hand, the venues, the press opportunities, etc. in Morocco, after a week, not so much.

It is clear that bringing in a buttload of talent is a big focus of the festival. There were so many major filmmakers in Morocco over the 10 day run of the festival that when some dropped out at the last second—like Kiarostami—it didn’t slow the event down much.

And what is apparent is that local perspective may be more important than anything else at the festival. Jurors spent time with and taught local aspiring artists. There was an unapologetically heavy dose of local talent in all the competitions of the festival. And there seemed to be a lot more interest from the festival’s media relations desk on local radio and than in international press. That is unusual… but being different—or to my disadvantage—doesn’t make it wrong.

What was left, for me, was a free trip to Marrakech… more chance to do print interviews than taped (which is pretty much all I do now)… some exceptional talent doing some interesting, but underfed things, and a mediocre film festival. Part of that mediocrity was that if a film wasn’t playing for the jury, there was a good chance that there would be no English subtitles. So, once I realized that I wasn’t doing anything interview-wise for days, my default of trying to see a lot of movies—I saw 4 on the first day—was a bit of a flop too.

There was a great big Scandinavian sidebar… most of which had no English subtitles… and most of the films that did, I had already seen elsewhere. There were high quality leftovers from other festivals (fourth time trying to see Blue Ruin was the charm). And there was a lot of energetic, aggressive filmmaking that can best be described as… young. A lot of rape and drugs and parental threat at this festival.

Marrakech is a fascinating city. In many ways, it is not much different than many of the aggressively moneyed towns being built in the middle of formerly 3rd world cities. There is a ton of construction going on. There are a lot of empty buildings all over the place. You can be on a block with all of the world’s most fashionable brands with their own stores and then walk 6 blocks away onto a dirt street. There is a 5,000-Euro-a-night hotel a few blocks from the souks, which glow a beige light at night between the underlit streets.

People were very nice. There is a very low crime rate, apparently, so while women may get hassled by people wanting to sell them things on the streets more than the guys, there is not a lot of fearful tension. But there are guards in front of every hotel I saw, keeping the locals at a distance.

Pretty much every other journalist I spoke to was hoping to come back to Marrakech next year. I enjoyed it as well, both the festival and the city. But not quite enough for 48 hours in airplanes and airports. And certainly not with the working mindset I brought there. I would love to know how the festival—and the American press reps did a great job, but they are not running the festival—sees itself and what it really wants from an American journalist. I felt, going in, that a half-dozen or more top talent interviews at the festival would have given an impression that the festival was aiming at not only being world-class, but at being on the high end of specialty festivals. But I ended up shooting one excellent director… at the end of the festival… who I was meant to shoot in Toronto, but couldn’t fit into the schedule. Bless her… terrific interview… but…

And now, after the jump, photos and video from the press day to Ouarzazate… which turned out to be about 60 of our closest media friends heading about 150 miles from Marrakech to the desert studios where lots of desert movies have been shot.

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“I don’t really believe in guilty pleasures. I like to subscribe to Susan Sontag’s thought of no highs and lows. I think dismissing popular culture and popular films can be really dangerous because they may seem innocuous, but some are works of art and even when they’re not they can say so much about the culture that they’re reflecting. This also gets into the idea of canon. What is good and isn’t good? Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about that. Specifically, who writes these canons? Mainly, straight white guys — which basically rigs the system. So, if you have a knowledge of female filmmakers, queer filmmakers, African or Asian filmmakers, some people won’t give them the same culture capital. They’ll say, “Oh, that’s nice niche knowledge.” No, it’s not. You’re just seeing it through the prism of something white and male. Like Shonda Rhimes’ ‘Scandal.’ I love that show, but is it a guilty pleasure because it’s a soap on TV? No. I think it has incredible writing, incredible thought and characters, so we should take it seriously. That’s a long-winded answer to say, “Yes, I love Titanic.” I was 10 years old when it came out and my mom took me to see it three times. I was so obsessed with it. A big thanks to my mom who’ll never get those nine hours of her life back.”
~ Toronto Int’l Programmer and Critic Kiva Reardon

“A lot of us felt blindsided,” Van Vliet told me. In the seventies, Van Vliet was drafted out of film school by Industrial Light & Magic, where he worked on The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now 62 and semi-retired, he said, “Once you get into your fifties, you’re pretty disposable.” Van Vliet was in the middle of reviewing DVD screeners before casting his Oscar votes, a process he estimated would take a hundred and twenty hours. “The Academy is essentially asking us to give them three weeks of labor, and then they’re going to take our results, put them into a ceremony, and sell it,” he said, referring to the seventy-five million dollars that the organization earns from the television broadcast. “Then they’re turning around and kicking us in the teeth.”
~ “Shakeup At The Oscars”