Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Transformers: Dark of The Moon Review

Prepare to have you mind blown... to smithereens! That's always the case when it comes to the action in a Michael Bay film but believe it or not, the storyline for Transformers: Dark of The Moon was pretty damn good as well and made this installment of the franchise the best one yet.

I guess after Revenge of The Fallen, you can only go up from there... or can you? Many were wondering whether or not Dark of The Moon would be a step up from the previous film which was bashed by critics and fans alike but I'm here to assure you that Bay did everything in his power to redeem himself. Redemption achieved! For starters the caliber of actors that came on board for this, the last film for both Michael Bay and series star Shia LaBeouf were excellent from top to bottom. John Malkovich, who is a top notch Hollywood actor came on board in a supporting role and showed his comedic skills while adding just a little extra to the film in the process. Frances McDormand and Patrick Dempsey joined the cast for this installment as well, the latter having a bigger role than I originally thought and showed me a different side to the actor which I haven't seen before. More additions to an already stellar (for an action film) cast that already included the likes of Josh Duhamel, John Turturro and Tyrese Gibson. But the most noticeable and surprisingly good acting performance in the entire film belonged to that of newcomer Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

In her first acting role, Huntington-Whiteley was a standout and proved that she has some acting chops to go along with her sexy appeal. As we all very well know, she took over for Megan Fox who was fired at the behest of Executive Producer Steven Spielberg. That pressure alone could have easily been used as an excuse to under-perform or for the Victoria Secret model to let her assets do the talking but instead she did a hell of a job with what dialogue she was given and made a name for herself in the process. Let me just say that yes Megan Fox was in the first two films and it would have been nice to see her reprise her role in Dark of The Moon as well but was she missed, not at all. Huntington-Whiteley made up for whatever it is that Fox brought to the table... and more! It's not a diss either because I liked Megan Fox in her designated role in the first two films but I just think Huntington-Whiteley brought just a little more to her character in this one. The word acting doesn't usually present itself when it comes to a Transformers movie but it goes to show you that Michael Bay wanted to make a complete film this time around. I have to give a nod to Shia LaBeouf as well who stepped his acting game up in some of the more intense and emotional scenes the film had to offer.

Now as for that storyline I was talking about. Dark of The Moon can be told as a tale of two movies. During the early stages of the film, Bay went for that storyline, setting us up for what was to come, an all out war that took up most of the film thereafter.

We start off with a prologue that gives us some history of how the war for Cybertron began and the real reason behind the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s. Fast forward to present day where Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) tries to find a job post-college while the NEST Team work in tandem with the Autobots to take out the remaining Decepticons around the world. However, the Decepticons eventually get the upper hand and begin an all out invasion to conquer Earth, with Chicago playing as Ground Zero in this final war between good and evil! You get a sense that Bay learned from his "mistakes" with Revenge of The Fallen and instead of a nonexistent storyline full of action, he took time to wedge out a story that was simplistic and somewhat believable. The over all tone of the movie was a lot darker as well which you could probably tell from the various trailers that were shown. I'm sure that was done purposely not only to show the growth of LaBeouf's character but to show an overall growth of the franchise.

But this is a Michael Bay film after all which comes with three things: hilarious but sometimes unnecessary dialogue, pretty neat camera work and lots and lots of action! He likes to blow shit up! And blow shit up he did! The war which took place in the movie seemed like it went on forever but the action was hard and the suspense was equally impressive as Michael Bay did what he does best! You had your classic Transformers scenes with LaBeouf's character running for dear life. He does a lot of running in all of the films but not as much in Dark of The Moon as in previous films. There were new and old Transformers alike who all took turns kicking ass but I always wonder why Optimus Prime doesn't have more of an over all role in the films when it comes to the main action! He is easily the most popular and recognizable Autobot there is but for long stretches of the film, which was the case in Revenge of The fallen, he seems to disappear. But what I will say is when he does get the opportunity to open up a can, he does so better than anyone else! As for the city where all the mayhem and destruction takes place, Chicago was completely destroyed in the film! Massively overtaken by military and  Decepticon forces to the point where it almost seemed like Michael Bay had some personal vendetta against the windy city! Destruction like you wouldn't believe but this is a Michael Bay film we are talking about here!

Now I had chance to see the film both in regular 2D and in 3D as well and let me tell you, visually the 3D used in this film is amazing. Michael Bay is always a genius with the camera and the way he films his scenes but with the 3D technology he used in this Dark of The Moon it just took the overall action over the top! Great use of 3D in this film! There were scenes that stood out more than others, most of which naturally occurred during the action sequences but the way the Transformers themselves were shown in the film and the way they looked visually were hella impressive and fun to watch as well.

Overall Transformers is a great ride once the action gets going. Are there better films out there, yes but if you want to be entertained for two-hours just throw all your inhibitions out the window and enjoy this blockbuster because it's a real summer treat. If this is in fact that last Transformers film for director Michael Bay then he went out with a bang! And a very impressive one at that!

4 1/2 stars out of 5

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Weekend Box Office Analysis: June 24-26

The weekend was very kind to both new releases as Cars 2 and Bad Teacher had very impressive debuts. The same can't be said for last weekend's holdover Green Lantern which decreased 66% from it's opening week total.

While the tracking for Disney/Pixar's "Cars 2" had the film only bringing in $50M this weekend, the toon actually exceeded expectations on its way to racking up $67M in it's first 3 days of release, easily making it the No.1 movie in the country! Its 4,115 theaters comprised of 2,508 3D locations, including 120 IMAX venues so that obviously had an affect on the family films weekend gross. Other studios however thought the Cars 2 would gross between $71.5M-$75M for the weekend, but Disney was right to stay conservative with its projections. Cars 2's debut is a big bump up from the original's $60.1M opening weekend despite far less favorable reviews. Audiences gave Cars 2 an 'A-' CinemaScore which was on par with the first Cars back in 2006. Critics however called the sequel Pixar's worst movie ever because of the espionage type story line and its over-use of Larry The Cable Guy. All in all this will go down as one of Pixar's most profitable films so they will consider this a win!

This weekend's other new release, the R-rated comedy "Bad Teacher" had an impressive weekend of it's own grossing $31M in it's first 3 days, coming in a No. 2! Welcome to the brave new movie-making world of Bad Girls and raunchy R-rated comedy's starring women because obviously they work! Sony had been expecting $20M+ for the weekend but the comedy wildly outperformed that figure. Exit polling showed the pic attracted 63% female and 37% male audiences, while 57% were over age 25 and 43% were under age 25. Even though audiences gave the comedy a 'C+' CinemaScore, it played equally well among both men and female demographics.With only a $20M budget, the Cameron Diaz-led film is on it's way to Bridesmaids like success which can be considered the breakout hit of the summer! Bad Teacher opened first in the UK where it has done very well, taking in nearly $4M in its first week of play there and holding onto a strong figure this weekend as well. Given the mega-success of Bridesmaids and now Bad Teacher, expect a lot of clones coming to the megaplex near you.

As for last weekend's holdover Green Lantern, the superhero flick fell apart its second weekend only grossing $18M to claim third place. That's down 66% from it's opening debut of $53M. The reviews have been poor but I thought throughout the week word of mouth would have increased the overall view of the film (which I thought was pretty good) but apparently not. But of course take into consideration the other two new released that hit theaters this weekend and may have appealed to more audiences than the superhero flick had. But if you are wondering if there will be a sequel to the DC Comic then I have good news for you. It was announced today that Warner Bros. is still planning a follow up to the Ryan Reynolds-led film despite the film’s soft performance at the box office. Sources say Warners still believes in the franchise, even if the studio is "somewhat disappointed" with Green Lantern’s result.

Regardless of any weak spots, domestic box office revenues were up an estimated 10% over last year. And with Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 getting ready to launch, the lingering year-over-year decline in revenues should continue to narrow.

Now a quick rundown of the rest of the Top 10:

Paramount Pictures' Super 8 added $12.1M to it's third weekend total to take fourth place and pushed its domestic cume $95.2M. The J.J. Abrams film cost about $50M to make so you can mark this down as a win as well for Paramount!

Mr. Popper's Penguins rounded out the top five with $10.3M. The Jim Carrey-led family comedy, released by Fox, has earned $39.4M with a reported budget of $55M.

Fox's X-Men: First Class took sixth with $6.6M and has earned $132.8M domestically after four weeks. The comic book adaptation cost $160M to produce.

In seventh place, The Hangover Part II added $5.9M for a total of $243.9M after five weeks.,

Bridesmaids received another $5.4M to take its seven-week total to $147M.

In the ninth spot, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides brought in $4.7M and has earned $229.1M after six weeks.

Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris was in tenth place with $4.5M from 951 theaters. The romantic comedy is up to $28.6M after six weeks in theaters.

Weekend Box Office Totals:

1. Cars 2 3D (Pixar/Disney) NEW [4,115 Theaters]
Friday $25.7M, Saturday $23.3M, Weekend $68M

2. Bad Teacher (Sony) NEW [3,049 Theaters]
Friday $12.1M, Saturday $10.9M, Weekend $31M

3. Green Lantern 3D (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,816 Theaters]
Friday $6M, Saturday $7.1M, Weekend $18M (-66%), Cume $89M

4. Super 8 (Paramount) Week 3 [3,424 Theaters]
Friday $3.7M, Saturday $4.7M, Weekend $12.1M, Cume $95.1M

5. Mr. Popper’s Penguins (Fox) Week 2 [3,342 Theaters]
Friday $3.6M, Saturday $3.7M, Weekend $10.3M (-41%), Cume $39.4M

6. X-Men: First Class (Fox) Week 4 [2,633 Theaters]
Friday $2M, Saturday $2.6M, Weekend $6.6M, Cume $132.8M

7. The Hangover Part II (Legendary/Warner Bros) Week 5 [2,755 Theaters]
Friday $1.9M, Saturday $2.5M, Weekend $5.8M, Cume $244M

8. Bridesmaids (Universal) Week 7 [2,031 Theaters]
Friday $1.8M, Saturday $2.3M, Weekend $5.5M, Cume $146.8M

9. Pirates Of The Caribbean 4 3D (Disney) Week 6 [2,244 Theaters]
Friday $1.5M, Saturday $1.9M, Weekend $4.7M, Cume $229M

10. Midnight In Paris (Sony Classics) Week 6 [1,038 Theaters]
Friday $1.2M, Saturday $1.7M, Weekend $4.2M, Cume $28.3M

Next Weekend's only new release will be that of "Transformers: Dark of The Moon which will surely make a splash at the box office. Until next weekend...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Quarantine 2: The Terminal Review

After initially being scheduled for a straight-to-DVD release, Quarantine 2: The Terminal was granted a limited theatrical release a couple of weeks ago and hit theaters on June 17th. After hearing the news and checking out the trailer, I really didn't get why a theatrical release was granted but after watching the movie my mind was quickly changed! It's no [Rec] or [Rec]2 but Quarantine 2 surprised me in a lot of different ways. Given my expectations weren't that high going in, the sequel to the U.S. remake Quarantine, far exceeded my initials thoughts on the film and was a very entertaining horror flick from start from finish.

For those unfamiliar with the first film in the U.S. series, Quarantine takes place in an apartment building where a virus has spread and the residents within the apartment building have been quarantined off from the rest of the outside world. The inspector tells the residents that this unknown disease is infecting people and causing them to turn into bloodthirsty savages. A health inspector who works for the CDC reveals that the previous day, a dog was taken to a local veterinarian. The dog became violent and killed or infected the other pets at the clinic, causing them to be euthanized. The CDC traced the dog back to the apartment building. The disease is transmitted through bites acting as human rabies. The events that followed are what leads us to the sequel where it picks up later that night at LAX, as passengers board a flight to Nashville. Aboard the plane, one of the passengers gets bitten by a hamster which immediately leads to infection and an emergency landing takes place. They are dropped at a terminal which has already been closed off due to their arrival and similar events begin to take place.

Now with no noticeable stars in the film, you would expect the acting to be bad like most cheesy, low budget, under the radar horror movies but to be honest it wasn't half bad. Or maybe it was the scares and the suspense that took all the focus away from it because Quarantine 2 had it's fare share of both. Early in the film there was an immediate tie in to the original but brief enough that it made you wonder if there would be anymore nods to the first film. One thing that the original failed to explain was the cause of the infection. We know how the virus was spread and we saw how vicious it could be but in the sequel, there is actually an explanation as to how the virus manifested itself. There was also mention (MINOR SPOILER) of a survivor from the first film but it wasn't as clear on the subject as I would have hoped so it's all about how you take it and how close you pay attention.

What I liked most about the sequel was the fact that it got straight to the point! The horror and the gore and the suspense came early and often and always kept you on your toes. The bullet points behind the virus were already explained in the first film so with that out of the way filmmakers were able to solely focus on the scares and making a really good horror flick and they succeeded. This film will clearly get overlooked because of the poor promotion the film has received thus far, the comparisons to the Spanish series of films and the fact that the word REMAKE is close to blasphemy in this era of movie-making. But what I would say is to that is look at the Quarantine films as their own separate entity because that's what they are, completely different from the Spanish versions of the film. I tend to always look for that one horror film that is a diamond-in-the-ruff and with Quarantine 2: The Terminal, I think I found it!

Quarantine 2: The Terminal hit theaters in limited release in June 17th and will be available on DVD later this fall.

Monday, June 20, 2011

First Impressions: Falling Skies

Since the initial rumblings about TNT’s new series Falling Skies and the upcoming Terra Nova, I’d been mixing them up until last night’s premier. Not having an opinion one way or the other (mostly because I couldn’t remember which one it was), the show captivated me within the first few minutes with it’s quick pace, generous budget, and befitting soundtrack that keep the momentum up and going through the two-hour pilot. The Steven Spielberg-produced project centers around the human aspect of life after an alien invasion, following the story of a history professor turned resistance fighter, Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), working to be taken seriously by the other fighters, and rescue his captured son.

It comes on strong, with an engaging set-up, as the few remaining children of the colony recall what happened to the world, and families both before and after the invasion. Then quickly jumping into the adult perspective, the 2nd Massachusetts Resistance is introduced while making a supply run through a gauntlet of aliens, and army of robot enforcers. The motives and intelligence of the invading menace are lightly debated, but remain unclear to the survivors. What is known, is massive ships occupy the world’s largest cities, and the invaders are exterminating the human populous, sparing some but “harnessing” them for purposes not yet defined.

With welcomed attention to detail, the story follows a believable template of post-apocalyptic living, where the members of the colony are trying to survive while facing the lack of power, fresh water, and resources, even touching on the inclusion of teens as young as 13 as resistance fighters. In a humanizing touch, the characters live in an aura of near-cluelessness, fighting without knowing why or how, and seeming to share the belief that at some point, it will all just end, and sanity will be restored. Having started their journey in Massachusetts, the main group of characters has gotten as far as central Ohio, and quickly find there’s no sign of sanity there either.

The pilot is seemingly full of guilty pleasures for Sci-Fi nerds, and movie fans alike. From the concept to the final credits, it embodied elements of the best of ‘80’s filmmaking, frequently conjuring images reminiscent of Platoon and Red Dawn, (even the school in the final scenes looked almost identical to the schoolroom seen in the opening scenes of Red Dawn), and a quarter of the way through part two, there was even a slow-motion “Awesome Walk” as the crew headed out for a mission. The allusions didn’t stop there either, elements of classic war movies, like A Bridge Too Far and Play Dirty, mixed with modern Sci-Fi epics like Independence Day, created a distinct since of duality to the story, almost as if the characters were taking their cues from what they had seen in such films.

For the most part captivating and enjoyable, I could find only a couple of small problems. First, although conveniently forcing focus on the human characters, the CGI aliens and robots are not quite up to par. They make excellent use of sets, extras, and digital background environments, but the low-quality alien images come off as more of a distraction. I hope to see the series either cut back their role visually, or allow for more improved graphics.

I would have also liked to see some more familiar faces in the cast. It’s nice to see Noah Wyle back on tv again, and doing something for grown ups at that, (Three The Librarian movies, WTF?), but putting the entire series on his shoulders could prove disastrous. The preview for upcoming episodes did promise a hopefully regular appearance by Steven Webber, a “Where’s Waldo” of the tv world in his own right, so that’s something to look forward to.

The plot did seem stretched out, and at pilot’s end it was not yet clear where the story was going, if it was going to be a day-to-day survival scenario for 5 seasons, or if they would be building towards some kind of conclusion. If and how the cells of character interconnect is also something of a question mark at this point, but that being said, the series really stands on it’s own, which is not something that can often be expected by a Sci-Fi series.

Based on the strong debut, Falling Skies has a very sustainable future, and I am looking forward to seeing where it goes over the coming weeks and seasons. It has the over-all quality and interest to keep audiences coming back for more, especially as some of the questions begin to get answered, and the role of the characters becomes more defined. If the series doesn’t stray too far from the tone of the pilot, and can retain some of the quirky, fanboy spin added to an otherwise hackneyed premise, this series could be a fixture on tv screens for many years to come.

♥ ♥ ♥

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Weekend Box Office Analysis: June 10-12

Well after several weeks of 2011 beating 2010, this weekend we revert back to getting beat off last years box office. Weeks ago, everyone thought Super 8 would clean up at the box office. J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg doing what they do best -- a sci-fi monster movie. After all, Cloverfield opened to $40M so Super 8 was certainly going to better that. Right??? Well....actually, no!

This weekend, Super 8 took: Friday $12.2M, Saturday $14M, and its estimated Weekend total is looking like $37M (plus $1M of Thursday previews = $38M). And actually, that aint half bad considering the secretive marketing campaign that has surrounded this project. Up until last week, tracking put this at doing $25M for the three day weekend. But Paramount clearly decided they wanted a bit more money coming in. So they leaked a bit more footage which really caught peoples attention. While the studio and brain-trust behind the film were saying the budget is at $50M, everyone else has said that is rubbish! Most industry experts conclude the budget to be closer to $80M - not including marketing. But all in all it's encouraging to see an original summer movie overperforming at the North American box office, especially after Hollywood has spent the past month relentlessly beating up on not just the secretive marketing campaign but also what it's been deriding as a throwback to E.T. meets Close Encounters meets Jurassic Park.

Super 8 received an overall B+ CinemaScore - equal to X-Men: First Class but lower than Fast Five's 'A' grade. A few things that will go agsinst this movie: next week Warner Bros. releases Green Lantern which really has been tracking off the charts. Lantern could turn out to be the surprise smash of the summer. So look for Super 8 to take a big hit next weekend. So all in all it was very important for the sci-fi flick to have a big opening weekend. Also in recent weeks studios have released their movies at the same time worldwide, meaning we report a big overall total on the first weekend - domestic and international combined. Paramount though are holding back its international release for now!! Why?? No one knows, but expect this to be downloaded illegally around the world which will have a negative effect on its overall worldwide takings.

Dropping from 1st to 2nd is the critically acclaimed Fox/Marvel reboot, X-Men: First Class. The superhero movie had a solid opening last week ($56M at domestic, $60M international). Fox were quite happy with that but the big question is, does this have legs? And the answer is yes. Dropping only 55% X-Men is on track for a $25M weekend ($98M domestic total), which would make it just shy of $100M - it will hit that on Monday. By the end of this weekend it will have done about $200M worldwide following a similar path to Thor but remember, this film has no 3D to boost ticket sales. So all in all, Fox should be very happy with this and with no big event movie opening on the international locations, X-Men should have a good second weekend everywhere. Sequel? I think so.

Third Place goes to the Todd Phillips directed sequel, The Hangover Part II, which had a weekend like this: Friday $5.7M, Estimated Weekend $17.5M, Estimated Cume $215.3M. Part II has now grossed over $200M in its first 16 days of release for bragging rights as the largest grossing film of 2011 at the U.S. box office, internationally though business is not as good. It certainly hasn't broken any records. But a $300M worldwide total is for sure. Fourth place this weekend is Kung Fu Panda 2: Friday $4.6M, Estimated Weekend $17.5M, Estimated Cume $128M. While this is a respectable total thus far, many Dreamworks execs are very upset that the Panda sequel has not done better. This has led many industry personel to question the importance of 3D and if in fact it is a good move for the industry. Expectations were that Dreamworks was going to be seeing alot more money by now for this movie. A third Panda flick is unlikely.

Rounding out the top 5 is Johnny Depp's Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: Friday $3.1M, Estimated Weekend $11.5M, Estimated Cume $209.3M. While this figure is not to be sniffed at, many at Disney were expecting a higher domestic box office return on this. It is really the international box office that has powered this to being the highest grossing movie of 2011 so far. And will no doubt cross the $1B mark at some point. Look for a 5th and 6th movie to be released later down the line.

The rest of the top 10 looks like this:
6. Bridesmaids: Friday $3.1M, Estimated Weekend $10.5M, Estimated Cume $124M
7. Judy Moody: Friday $2.2M, Estimated Weekend $6.2M
8. Midnight In Paris: Weekend $6.1M Estimated Cume $14.2M
9. Thor: Friday $700K, Estimated Cume $2M, Estimated Cume $173.3M
10. Fast Five: Friday $550K, Estimated Cume $1.8M, Estimated Cume $205.2M

Next week look for Green Lantern to dominate worldwide. My early predicton is the Ryan Reynolds comic book movie will do somewhere around $75M - $80M.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Super 8 Review

In all honesty can you really go wrong with the pairing of J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg? One gave us some of the greatest movies of all time and the other is an up and coming director trying to make a name for himself. With Super 8 -- J.J. Abrams did just that!

Super 8 is one of those films that makes you remember what it's like to be a kid again. The spirit of imagination that took place when you were a child was there in full force. That's the way I felt every time I watch a Spielberg flick. Whether it be Jurassic Park or E.T., he always puts you in the mindset of a child, reminding you that anything is possible. J.J. Abrams has learned that very same trait from his predecessor and has done so rather nicely with Super 8. The film takes place in 1979 and tells the story of a small town in Ohio where a group of teens are filming a movie, using a Super 8 film camera nonetheless. While filming, they witness a massive train crash which is one of the best train crashes I've ever seen in a film by the way, and actually manage to escape scott-free and in the process capture some footage of that very accident. The military quickly takes over and what was once thought of as a simple (for lack of a better word) train derailment immediately escalates into an on-going investigation by the deputy as to why there presence was needed in the first place.

Every great movie needs two things. A great story line and great acting. This movie had both! And a lot of it! J.J. Abrams only has a short resume of films he has directed but with everything he touches, a great idea and a great story line is sure to follow. The mystery of the creature, the intriguing family dynamics between the characters and the overall feel the movie had was all very good. You could see a great director developing before your eyes. At times I felt like Spielberg crawled into the body of Abrams and took the reins as director but in fact it was Abrams coming along as a director and it was an amazing thing to watch. Equally amazing was the performances in the film. You had the likes of Kyle Chandler, who is best known for his role on the TV series Friday Night Lights, play a central but under-the-radar role as the deputy in Super 8. Noah Emmerich played Colonel Nelec in the film and he's been in tons of movies such as The Truman Show, Cop Land and Frequency. And then there's Glynn Turman, a tremendous television actor in his own right who's best know for his roles in A Different World and The Wire. But they all took a backseat to the brilliant acting by the young teenage cast this movie had to offer led by Riley Griffiths, Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning. They honestly stole the show and put on performances that truly out-shined everything else in the film. Including the creature. Performances you will remember for sure! Speaking of -- THE CREATURE!

Now after seeing Cloverfield, one could assume that since J.J. Abrams acted as producer for that film, the creatures in both would have some similarities. And I would have to agree! Both creatures features were a lot alike but Super 8's menacing monster was a lot scarier in my opinion. Especially if you see the way it attacked everything, and I mean EVERYTHING that was in it's path. Even the kids. The monster itself is shown throughout the film but teasing you as the movie roles along, not giving away to much until the final build up. A build up in which I have to say matched my expectations in every way. This movie, although it seemed as though it would be all about the creature and figuring out a way to contain it quickly turned into a story about the relationships between the characters and how certain events can alter your opinion of one another. I liked that aspect of the movie because it felt real. That led to a more believable creature and with that unique of a story line, that made for a better overall movie.

Super 8 reminded me that with imagination anything is possible. I know I said that already but it's the truth and once you see this film you will think the exact same thing. Abrams out mystery and adventure back on the market and everything about this movie will send everyone into a feeding frenzy for sure! I wish more film makers would take the simple approach of taking good story and making one hell of a movie out if it! Abrams did that and it made him a better director for it!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Virtual Acting and The Future of The Past of Cinema

What if you could see John Wayne foil an international terrorist plot, or Steve McQueen race through neon-lit city streets in a 2011 Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, Marilyn Monroe play temptress to George Clooney, Elvis cover "Born to Run", James Dean give teenage vampires something to cry about or John Lennon once more give peace a chance? With films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Avatar (2009), and Tron: Legacy (2010), virtual acting is fast becoming a reality--sort of.

Both a long-standing dream and hot topic issue, CGI, and Motion Capture technologies have begun to catch up to the collective imagination of filmmakers and film-lovers alike with the ability to resurrect deceased actors, entertainers, and musicians. A major enthusiast of this concept, I’ve had my ear to the ground for nearly 20 years, wondering what could and would be if beloved, deceased stars were once again headlining films. As I’m not particularly technical-minded, I’ve looked at it from the scope of a filmmaker and screenwriter, and the possibilities are so vast, it’s overwhelming.

So with these limitless possibilities for the living and the dead, what does virtual acting really mean, and how does it influence the future of cinema? Answer: in just about all facets of modern filmmaking. The term its self is broad, covering everything from placing a live actor on a digital background, to creating photo-realistic animation of characters, as with the N’avi of Avatar, or the incredible aging process displayed in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In terms of how it’s going to effect the course of film, it means we are now on the horizon of the next big paradigm shift of human consciousness. The timeline of film and it’s stars no longer traveling in a strait line, but a circle, the past meeting the present and the future.

There have been several attempts over the years to find the best way of making this notion a reality, the most notably being the work of living actors, including Tom Hanks filling of nearly every role in The Polar Express, Bill Nighy’s tentacle-faced Davy Jones in Disney’s Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and Johnny Depp’s Rango, where the actors movements are tracked, and correspond with the digital analogue. As expected however, the situation becomes much stickier when applying these processes to actors who have already passed on to that great production studio in the sky.

One of the first, and most stand-out uses of image manipulation of dead celebrities was in the film Forest Gump (1995), where existing film was altered to fit the scenes as Forest passed through them. Now the alterations are archaic and obvious, but at the time, it was exciting and cutting-edge, and made for a movie that other movies should aspire to be. Fast-forward a few years to the almost entirely digital Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow (2004), where master thespian Lawrence Olivier was actually billed in the credits.

For anyone unlike myself who rented the movie solely for this brief and unimpressive cameo, said brief and unimpressive cameo was nonetheless an important milestone in the world of virtual acting. Daring to go where few other films or filmmakers had, the combination of archival footage and digital animation of Olivier’s face brought the argument back into focus, reminding audiences what it would be like to see an actor return to the screen 15 years after his death. And this brings us up to the present, where we’ve recently seen a race of life-like alien creatures, an aged Brad Pitt and a young Jeff Bridges light up our imaginations, yet this is only scratching the surface of what really lies ahead for the future of film.

Even with all of these developments and plans on the horizon, it’s still light years away in terms of theatrical releases. You will still have to wait to see any of these faces in a theater near you anytime soon. What you can expect however, is a rise of new chapters of classic films and series, putting John McClain, Indiana Jones, The Terminator, and James Dalton back into action once more. The days of replacements having to be found to play the classic characters, where no one is ever satisfied, are coming to a fortunate end. The technology can allow our cherished living celebs who are past their prime to reanimate the characters they played when they were 30, giving fans and new recruits the opportunity to experience spirited new adventures at the hands of trusted filmmakers like James Cameron and Stephen Spielberg. People will even be able to star in their own biopics, all stages of their lives digitally remastered.

It’s true that the technology is not perfect, and could never be, in the end, no matter how visually-realistic the performance is, it still comes down to a rendering, created by a body double model, and a team of artists and writers, interpreting who that person was, and how they would have handled the role. With enough time, experience, and the right attention paid to the detail of the person, that interpretation could still turn out indisputably close to real life, which is the ultimate goal. As an added bonus, when this idea really catches fire and celebrity images are put into regular use, the appalling trend of remakes and reboots, will actually become acceptable and encouraged, as stories can get cast again and again in different settings. The concept of using CGI characters and sets will just be another way films are made, another way to push the boundaries of consciousness and imagination.

If this all sounds too speculative for your tastes, consider that as you’re reading my projections, meanwhile, back at the ranch, George Lucas and company have been quietly acquiring the rights to these silver-gilded legends with no outlined purposes, or official announcements on how the images are intended to be used. Although the claim has been met with much static, this is by no means a bad thing, but something all film-lovers should get behind.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely, come-what-may, gung-ho that this technology being implemented, there are far too many ways for it to fall into the wrong hands, and the images of cherished celebs become forever tarnished by carelessness. Obviously, no one wants to see Humphrey Bogart in a pornography, the Cartwrights starting a mob war, or Charlie Chaplin selling tampons, so it’s incredibly important that laws and regulations about image usage be written and enacted now. Like it or not, we live in the future, and are making discoveries, inventions, and developments at a more rapid rate than ever before, and actors and actresses of today need to consider making provisions on how or if their image is to be used after their death, even if ownership of that image changes hands.

A major opponent of virtual acting is the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG), looking not just at the potential misuse of the deceased’s images, but the movement towards virtual acting taking away jobs from living actors. Problem is, this argument doesn’t actually hold up to scrutiny. What SAG and other opponents fail to realize, is that the use of virtual acting is expanding what can be done with the medium, and could in no way replace organic filmmaking with actors, writers, technicians and a director. As with all major shifts in technological acceptance, it’s simply another way to implement the impossible, and reinvigorate an industry that has long abandoned fanship and quality. With audience support, this trend can take flight, and create an entire new way to experience the movies.

Let it be known that I miss the days of giant handmade sets, and thousands of extras in front of and behind the camera just like everyone else, but at some point, we as an audience have to acknowledge that some things are meant to be appreciated for what they were, and others meant to be resurrected like zombies from the grave, and ogled by future generations.

♥ ♥ ♥

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Weekend Box Office Analysis: June 3-5

With last week's record breaking 5 Day Memorial Day weekend, it was obvious that no matter which movie(s) opened this weekend, they couldn't compare to The Hangover Part II's monstrous box office total. The only big wide release this weekend was Fox and Marvel studio's X-Men: First Class, strangely enough opening in less screens than any previous X-Men film.

Tracking over the last few months had been terrible. Fox had done a horrible job with its marketing, what with those dodgy pics being leaked early and an over-saturation of everything and anything X-Men over the last two weeks. Initially, the industry only expected this to hit $40M, but more recently Fox has targeted its core audience and got its marketing house in order which led to a surge in tracking these last 10 days. The fantastic reviews have helped out a lot as well. Looking at a 2010 VS. 2011 comparison, this week looks like another surge in profits as we should be looking at a $160M weekend which is up more than +24% from last year. Critically, X-Men has earned rave reviews from critics and the fanboys, but it only averaged a "B+" CinemaScore which would indicate the average movie fan wasn't as impressed (Fast Five earned an 'A').

First Class started off by opening with a midnight gross of $3.3M. That edged out Marvel title Thor's $3.25M midnight opening but trailed X-Men Origins: Wolverine's $5M midnight start. Wolverine's $85M opening weekend also swamped X-Men: First Class' debut -- Friday's total North American gross was $56M for the weekend. This will be the lowest opening of a Marvel-branded movie in a long time -- not to mention less than the $60M opening which Hollywood expected. Internationally, X-Men: First Class has already opened in France and Australia but broke no records and will roll out in 75 international territories this weekend. A gross of $64M is estimated to have been taken in foreign box office, beating the Hangover 2, which only managed $58M from international locations last weekend. While the industry had wanted a $60M plus opening, Fox had publicly made clear that a $53M opening would be good enough for them - it seems they got what they wanted and a bit more. However, it's important to note that First Class was only in 2D, which means that they couldn't rely on inflated 3D ticket prices like Thor did. Had X-Men been in 3D, its weekend total would have passed the $60M mark easily.

And lets also remember that several years ago a rebooted franchise featuring a certain Dark Knight opened to $47M, that was Batman Begins, which led to strong word of mouth which gave it a solid worldwide total and then onto a record breaking sequel. Can history repeat itself? I'm still willing to bet a sequel is greenlit soon. And the road ahead looks good for the Matthew Vaughn directed film, with Super 8 being the main competition next weekend. Tracking for the J.J. Abrams directed film has been all over the place with many people having heard of it but really not knowing what its about. This could bode well for the mutant reboot on its way to a very solid second weekend. All in all, this is a good opening weekend for a potentially new franchise. This is how X-Men looked over the weekend: Friday $23M, Saturday $22.9M, Weekend estimated $54M.

In second place was The Hangover Part II and after its huge 5 day total of just under $140M last weekend, the comedy also did well on Tuesday-Thursday. Its weekend went as follows: Friday $10.5M, Saturday $13.5M, Weekend $32.4M (-61%), Estimated Cume $188M. Considering the success of this second movie, it's not any suprise a third movie is in the works. While none of the major players have signed on, it would be madness if they didn't. In third this week was the Dreamworks animated sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2 3D. Down a respectful 47% from last weekend, the Jack Black voiced comedy took in an estimated $25M over the weekend. Interestingly though, a number of Wall Street investors suggested a "sell" should be applied to Dreamworks stock as they believed Panda under-performed and that the 3D revolution in fact wont happen.

In fourth this weekend was Disneys Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Its weekend went like this: Friday $5M, Saturday $7.9M, Weekend $19M, Cume $191.2M. The fourquel is heading to $240M domestic and has crossed $700M globally, making this Disney's 6th title internationally to cross the $500M mark. It will also conclude its Box Office business as the most successful Pirates movie, making a fifth and sixth movie in the series a dead cert. Universal's Bridesmaids, in its fourth week took in an estimated $12.5M this weekend bringing its total to $107M. Given that industry big wigs never saw this crossing the $50M line, the female centred comedy has more than doubled expectations and hasn't opened in many international locations yet. Expect a final $200M worldwide total and look for a sequel in 2013.

The rest of the top 10 looks like this:
6. Thor Friday $1.3M, Saturday $1.8M, Weekend $4.2M, Cume $169.1M (while I think the $200M mark is out of reach, a $180M domestic total is likely)
7. Fast Five Friday $975K, Saturday $1.4M, Weekend $3.2M Cume $202.1M
8. Midnight In Paris Friday $700K, Saturday $1.2M, Weekend $2.8M, Cume $6.8M
9. Something Borrowed Friday $250K, Saturday $475K, Weekend $865K Cume $36.8M
10. Jumping The Broom Friday $240K, Saturday $330K, Weekend $835K Cume $35.8M

Saturday, June 4, 2011

X-Men: First Class Review

Let me start off by saying I am NOT going to compare X-Men: First Class to any of the previous X-Men films! What I will say is that Matthew Vaughn just directed the BEST X-Men film in the franchise and everyone should know it!

Wow what can I say about this film that won't make me sound like a teenage boy who just reached puberty! First Class not only had everything you looked for in a comic book adaptation BUT it also has everything you look for in an action film with every single category of a great film covered. Great acting... CHECK! Great storyline... CHECK! Great directing... CHECK! To be fair I think every comic book movie made after The Dark Knight knows that it has to step it's game up but Vaughn still did a great job telling an already known story and making it his own. Kudos.

So for those who are unaware of the "First Class" of X-Men like I was prior to doing some research and seeing this film, they were the very first class of mutants that were known in the world and Professor X, played by James McAvoy took them in, trained them and taught them all how to use their powers. Even his frienemy, Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender took a few lessons from the professor while learning to better control his powers. The movie took place in a time of war when the the Russians and Americans were bitter enemies but in large part due to Sebastian Shaw, played by Kevin Bacon who tired even harder to pit the two sides against one another. That's where the X-Men come in. Learning of the plot through Professor X's means of finding out information, he and Magneto, along with the help of the CIA try to stop Shaw from creating a third World War!

Every side, both good and evil has it's cast of sidekicks and the star power here was equally impressive. By Shaw's side he had Emma Frost, played by the lovely January Jones, Riptide who didn't speak a single word in the film but was pretty cool, played by Álex González, the teleporting mutant Azazel, played by Jason Flemyng and Angel, played by Zoë Kravitz. Then you had Xavier's X-Men who were led by Mystique, played by the talented and crush worthy Jennifer Lawrence, Beast, played by Nicholas Hoult, Dr. Moira MacTagger (who I guess wasn't technically an X-Man but...), played Rose Byrne, Havok, played by Lucas Till and Banshee, played by Caleb Landry Jones.

Like I said previously, Matthew Vaughn did a hell of a job telling his own X-Story and combined both the action and the dialogue filled scenes together well enough that neither faltered. I know people have mentioned the effects in the film not being up to par with what they have seen in previous X-Films specifically Beast and Mystique but to me the makeup for both were pretty damn good! That was something I paid close attention to and I honestly didn't see a problem with it! I also think that with there being so may singular mutant characters in the film, they all maintained a presence in the movie which made them relevant throughout. Without giving away to much of the surprises that were to come about in the film, X-Men: First Class was a complete film, one in which I instantly wanted to see again and one that I hope will get the recognition if deserves once more people get a chance to see it. Trust me, you won't be disappointed!