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Hollywood’s Best at Last?

November 10th, 2010 No comments

Earlier this year, I wrote in For Bards Blog about Joe Queenan’s contention that 2010 was the worst year for movies ever. While For Bards Blog took a more cautious approach, citing box office champs “Inception” and “Toy Story 3” as quality successes, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Queenan may have had a point. Despite the successes of a few films, quality pickings at the local multiplex or arthouse cinema have been few and far between. For every thought-provoking and poignant independent film like “Never Let Me Go,” or pedigreed Hollywood release like “The Social Network,” there are multiple go-for-the-quick-money, Hollywood-factory releases like “Salt,” “Jackass 3-D,” “The Sorceror’s Apprentice,” or “Robin Hood.” And it’s no accident that so many kids’ movies are released in 3-D, since 3-D simply increases ticket prices, strengthening the studio’s bottom lines.

But there may be a glimmer of hope for serious filmgoers. The holiday film season is upon us, and with it comes a lot of big-budget and high-profile fare, including a 3-D sequel to Disney’s 1982 classic “Tron,” “Tron: Legacy,” along with Danny Boyle’s follow-up to last year’s Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire,” the harrowing “127 Hours.” Action films are represented by Twentieth Century Fox’s “Unstoppable,” which goes head-to-head with Universal Pictures’ “Skyline,” in mid-November, but one week later the first part of the final Harry Potter adventure bows; “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1)” faces the latest Russell Crowe adventure, “The Next Three Days,” in which Crowe attempts to break his wrongly-accused wife out of prison. In December, the final film based on C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” will open opposite a Ben AffleckChris Cooper dramatic comedy about corporate downsizing, “The Company Men.” Also opening the same week is “The Tempest,” a gender-bender version of William Shakespeare’s play, directed by Julie Taymor (“Across the Universe”), starring Helen Mirren. Another opener that week is the Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie starrer “The Tourist,” which combines Oscar-winning director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others”) with equally-honored scribes Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”) and Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects.”)

As Christmas nears, the mood lightens, and comedies enter the fray. The week of December 22, a 3-D retelling of Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” opens with Jack Black in the title role, along with “Little Fockers,” the third go-round in the “Meet the Parents” series, featuring Oscar winners Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand as well as Oscar nominee Harvey Keitel. Also opening just before Christmas is “Somewhere,” writer-director Sofia Coppola’s insider Hollywood drama. Also, Paramount has  announced it is moving “True Grit,” the Joel and Ethan Coen re-telling of the Charles Portis novel, forward a few days from its originally-scheduled Christmas release date. Evidently the feeling at Paramount is that they’ve got a strong contender on their hands with last year’s Oscar-winning actor, Jeff Bridges, in the Rooster Cogburn role, (which won the original film’s Cogburn, John Wayne, his only Oscar) and hopes are a few extra days will help fuel Oscar buzz and the film’s bottom line.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg… There’s a new James L. Brooks film, “How Do You Know,” coming out in mid-December, featuring Brooks’ good-luck charm Jack Nicholson in a cast that includes Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd. For the serious moviegoer, there’s “Rabbit Hole,” a marital drama starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart about the aftermath of a traumatic loss. And let’s not forget “I Love You, Phillip Morris,” a love-tale between prison convicts Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, or David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, “Fair Game” with Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, “For Colored Girls,” “Black Swan,” starring Natalie Portman and “Love and other Drugs,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, in which a pharmaceutical rep falls for a Parkinson’s patient.

This doesn’t even touch the vast number of independent and ‘art’ films that will fill the theaters late this year. So – was 2010 the ‘worst movie year ever?’ It’s impossible to tell – let’s see what it still has to offer…

Finally, “Casino Jack,” the last film by director George Hickenlooper, who died last week at the age of 47, will open December 17. Based on the twisted tale of crooked lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the film is highly regarded by those who have already seen it, and only underscores the loss of director Hickenlooper at such a young age. More will follow about Hickenlooper, who I first wrote about 30 years ago when he was a student at Yale, soon in For Bards Blog.

Amicable Splits, Miraculous Revivals and Movie Piracy!

June 14th, 2010 No comments

Notable in Hollywood news this week: verification of a long-rumored split, confirmation of a sudden (but friendly) departure, the resurrection of two franchises and the reinstatement of movie piracy, at least for the purposes of gathering theatergoer coin…

Amicable Split: Part 1

“Twilight” series fans, rejoice! Summit Entertainment, the film company behind “Breaking Dawn,” the adaptation of the fourth (and final) book in Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ saga, announced on Friday that “Breaking Dawn” will be split into two films, with the first of the pair to be released on November 18, 2011. Set to be directed by Bill Condon, (“Dreamgirls“), production on “Breaking Dawn” will start this fall; all of its stars and supporting cast are returning for another go-round. The third film in the “Twilight” series, “Eclipse,” directed by David Slade, (“Hard Candy,” “30 Days of Night”), opens later this month, on June 30th.

It’s long been rumored that the final tome in Stephenie Meyer’s wildly-successful ‘vampires and werewolves chaste love triangle’ series would be split into two films, a la the last two “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels, which, coincidentally, are about to be followed up by a fourth ‘Pirates’ franchise picture (see below for more…)

Amicable Split: Part 2

News leaked out quietly this week that longtime Sony executive Peter Schlessel, whose title as “President of Worldwide Affairs” had to be one of the coolest studio titles ever, is leaving the studio after 21 years of involvement as a senior dealmaker, advisor and, as the local trades described him, consigliere. It’s not like he’s going far: he’ll be joining Graham King (“Gangs of New York,” “The Young Victoria,” “The Departed”) as President of GK Films; Schlessel was instrumental in bringing the successful British producer into the Sony fold via a distribution deal that will see the studio releasing GK product like the upcoming Johnny DeppAngelina Jolie starrer “The Tourist,” as well as Martin Scorsese’s planned 3-D adaptation of the best-selling youth novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”

 A former president of Columbia Pictures and successful producer in his own right, Schlessel most recently ran Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group, which acquired Sony’s only 2009 Best Picture Academy Award nominee, “District 9,” oversaw the “This Is It” Michael Jackson documentary and engineered a DVD output deal with the Weinstein Company. His ability to move upward in Sony was capped by the presence of studio co-chairs Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal, so Schlessel made himself into a ‘free agent,’ to employ a sports analogy, and joined one of the hottest teams in the league. In the interest of full disclosure, I have met Mr. Schlessel, and found him to be bright and personable. His career success speaks for itself, as do the many kudos he’s received since word leaked out of his departure from Sony.   

Back From the Dead (or Dead Drunk)!

Two Hollywood franchises were resurrected recently: Russell Brand has been re-Branded as “Arthur,” the lovable drunk made popular in Steve  Gordon’s 1981 Oscar-winning film (and its less successful sequel). He’ll be joined by Greta Gerwig and Jennifer Garner as his love interests, along with supporting veterans Helen Mirren and Nick Nolte. The new script was written by Peter Baynham, (“Bruno”), who re-wrote “Arthur” as a vehicle for his pal Brand.

Bourne-again?!

And if you though Jason Bourne was a distant memory, forget it… Universal has revived its moneymaking Bourne franchise despite the fact that star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass, who directed the last two of the three ‘Bourne’ big screen entires, will not be returning to the series. A treatment  for the fourth intallment in the series, “The Bourne Legacy,” will be written by the screenwriter of the three previous films, Tony Gilroy, (“Michael Clayton,” “State of Play”), who will also write a ‘bible’ for the ‘Bourne’ franchise, suggesting that the studio sees additional spin-off or sequel opportunities in the world of shadowy spy Jason Bourne. Oddly, although series creator Robert Ludlum died in 2001, his work has never been hotter, with half-a-dozen properties in varying stages of development; even odder is the fact that the latest film takes its title from a ‘Bourne’ novel written by authorized Ludlum successor Eric Lustbader, but will not take its plot: Gilroy will provide that.  

Hollywood Hearts Pirates

In another demonstration that nothing succeeds like success (or, in this case, excess), Disney has announced that Jerry Bruckheimer’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean” series’ latest entry, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” has cast Geoffrey Rush for a fourth go-round as Captain Hector Barbossa opposite Johnny Depp, who committed to another ‘Pirates’ film after the stellar box office success of the first three entries. Both Depp and Rush join a largely-new cast, including new director Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) who took over from the previous films’ Gore Verbinski, along with new leading lady Penelope Cruz and new villain Ian McShane. In addition to its two returning stars and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, also returning to the franchise are screewriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, who penned the previous three ‘Pirates’ films.

Is that a Tentpole in your pocket? (Or are you just shoring-up your slate?)

May 10th, 2010 No comments

Here’s a number for you: 133,600,000. That’s the amount of money, in dollars, “Iron Man 2” made in the U.S. over its opening weekend, putting it in first place (and fifth among all-time 3-day opening weekends).

Here’s another number: 14.5. That’s how many times greater “Iron Man 2″‘s B.O. take is than the #2 grossing film of the week, the rebooted “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” which couldn’t crack $10 million – it made $9.2 million. As a matter of fact, the “Iron Man” sequel brought in three and a half times as much money as the rest of the weekend’s remaining ‘top ten’ combined. And worldwide, the film has already topped $325 million.

All this preoccupation with numbers and large box office opening weekends can only mean one thing: the summer movie tentpole season is here.

So, what IS a tentpole? There are varying definitions, but it basically boils down to one thing (doesn’t everything?): money. A tentpole film is a ‘property’ whose commercial potential a studio feels so strongly about that it throws money at the production (and subsequent marketing, advertising, publicity, and so on) and counts on its box office results to line studio coffers and reinforce the studio’s other releases, some of which may be mere ‘filler,’ like B-movie ‘programmers’ of old. In other words, a tentpole props up the studio bottom line, and it is part of a strategy the majors have grown increasingly dependent upon for nearly the last two decades.

“Iron Man 2” is the first of the summer tentpoles, but it will soon be followed by a flood of contenders for box office supremacy, from Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe’s reteaming in the testosterized version of “Robin Hood” to the gynocentric “Sex and the City 2.” Along the way, there will be a video game brought to the big screen – Disney’s “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” a couple of the summer’s few remaining 3-D films, “Shrek – The Final Chapter” and “Toy Story 3” from Disney. There’s also a retooling of “The Karate Kid” starring Jackie Chan alongside Will Smith’s son Jaden, and other big-budget entries like “The A-Team,” Tom CruiseCameron Diaz starrer “Knight and Day,” and M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender.” And that’s just the half of it.

 Sony will release “Grown Ups,” starring Adam Sandler and his pals Kevin James, David Spade, Chris Rock and Rob Schneider. There’s another episode in the ‘Twilight’ saga, “Eclipse,” opening June 30th, and Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, will come out July 16. “Inception” has already garnered ‘industry buzz’ because of the secrecy surrounding the project, its large budget and rumors that the final result is mind-bendingly inaccessible. Angelina Jolie returns to big screen action in the spy drama “Salt” in late July. One week later, Matt Damon-starrer “The Adjustment Bureau” opens, just before a last 3-D summer entry, Disney’s “Step Up” three-quel “Step Up 3-D.” Though probably not technically considered a ‘tentpole’ picture, it’s important to note that Julia Roberts will return to the screen after a protracted absence in the film version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir “Eat, Pray, Love” on August 13.

This is the time of year the studios depend on to bring in the ‘big bucks,’ and they’re throwing everything they can into their efforts to ensure their tentpole films are successful. Watch for lots of TV advertising, viral marketing, and commercial tie-ins, not to mention talk-show appearances and other promotional efforts. It’s Hollywood’s high season, and every studio will do anything they can to get you into THEIR tent – as they hope their tentpoles can help keep them covered…