Box Office: “Guardians” wins final weekend, and the summer…the worst summer since ’97

boxMuch has been made about “Guardians of the Galaxy” failing to reach $300 million at the US box office this summer. But that’s merely a consequence of marketing. If it had opened a week earlier, it might have hit $300 by Labor Day. It would have been the only film this summer to manage that.

More important is it being the best of a bad lot this year, how it rallied a box office that was 20% below last year most of the summer, 30% below for July. The early May-Labor Day numbers are just short of $4 billion, WAY below the numbers from 2013. But it’s not as bad as it might have been, only a 15% drop off, rather than the 20-30% that seemed likely in July.

“Guardians” will win a weak Labor Day weekend with a $15-16 million take, based on Friday’s numbers. 

That will leave it in the $275 range. As I say, if it had opened a weekend earlier it could have hit $300. But tons of movies made $100 (“Edge of Tomorrow” cleared that mark Friday), more than a few made well over $200. So, a bad situation, not the end of the world. Yet.

“Turtles” and “If I Stay” are doing respectable numbers in second and third place.

The new release “As Above, So Below” is earning poor early marks from audiences, following bad reviews from critics, and will be lucky to open in the top five. “November Man” was wisely opened on Wed., as it, “Let’s Be Cops” and “As Above, So Below” are all in the $8-10 million range for the weekend, too close to call for top five standings, as of now. “November” will have earned $13 or so since Wed. by Monday night.

The unpreviewed “Cantinflas” biopic (great Mexican entertainer/film star of the ’50s) is doing very well on a small number of screens. I will have to find a theater showing here in La Florida as it looks to best “Sin City” this weekend. It’s not opened in Greater Orlando, apparently. “Sin City,” with a Mexican-American director, plummeted to 14th place this weekend. Biggest flop of the summer? Yup.

“Ghostbusters” re-opened in theaters, to a couple of million, tops, and “Chef” added enough theaters to finally clear $30 million.

The summer is finishing as it began, with a whimper — down 15% in the US from 2013, the worst showing since 1997. Ticket sales look even worse than the cash take.

Considering the overload of sequels, comic book adaptations and generally repetitious fare, Hollywood should take this as a wake up call. Several comedies flopped, only “22 Jump Street” performed.

But next summer’s “impressive” line up has even more comic book adaptations and sequels set up. Golly.

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Summer goes out with a whimper, a weekend full of newly-released dogs

nov“As Above, So Below” takes forever to go below. It takes even longer to attempt to be scary. A tale of catacombs and the creatures one might find down there, it’s mostly an “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” or “”Angels and Demons” ripoff, with horror elements. Dull, claustrophobic, but the shaky camera style wears itself out with this one. It gave me a headache. Poor reviews for this last major release of the summer. Will it earn a dime? Hard to say. Box Office Guru figures $9 million. Maybe.
“The November Man” is Pierce Brosnan’ shot at reviving his Bond fortunes, a muddled spy thriller with some interesting elements but which wears its budget and cast-cheap-models as every scene’s extras. His co-star/rival, Luke Bracey, brings nothing to the movie. Olga Kurylenko shows some leg and a few others show some skin. Yeah, it’s that cynical.  It opened Wed. to poor reviews and won’t make more than a few million by Monday night, so all Pierce’s talk show chatter about a series of films is just that — talk.

“The Last of Robin Hood” is a limited release bio-drama about the last “love” of Errol Flynn’s life, an underage paramour played by Dakota Fanning. You see the problem right there. Kevin Kline is Flynn, Susan Sarandon is the mother who lets her daughter take up with an infamous movie star. But Fanning kills the movie. Kills it. Go to college, dear. Make something of yourself. Train to become Elle Fanning’s agent/manager.

The Elmore Leonard adaptation “Life of Crime” is earning mixed notices. A ’70s kidnapping dramedy, it stars Mos Def and John Hawkes as the reasonably clever kidnappers who bring in a doltish weak link to help kidnap Jennifer Aniston. She’s married to the brutish, crooked drunk played by Tim Robbins, who has run off to the Bahamas to be with his wily paramour (Isla Fisher). Decent casting, funny bits, it works well enough. Aniston is the movie’s weakest link, though. She just doesn’t have it, whatever “it” was in terms of something she can bring to the party.

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Movie Review: “As Above, So Below” is a real shaky-camera headache

aboveThey’re going to have to start issuing licenses to all these filmmakers who insist on shooting their movies in the shaky-cam “found footage” format. Maybe have the “Blair Witch” guys and Oren “Paranormal” Pelli sign those licenses. Because something needs to be done to limit this explosion of cell-cam/security cam/nanny cam and GoPro footage that’s dominating the Horror Hit Parade.

Those “Quarantine” and “Poughkeepsie Tapes” Minnesotans, the Dowdle Brothers, overuse and abuse hand-held cameras for “As Above, So Below,” a thriller about what might come after you in the Catacombs beneath Paris. It’s a modest marriage of “Indiana Jones” and “Da Vinci Code” archaeological puzzle solving with the denizens of “The Descent,” supernaturally attached, almost as an afterthought. And for all the paranoia that climbing through dark caves beneath Paris promises, the Dowdles insist on a headache-inducing orgy of bouncing, tumbling cameras to seal the deal.

In a “Last Crusade” prologue, “urban archaeologist Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) videos herself sneaking into Iran in an attempt to poke around some caves before the superstitious government blows up some priceless piece of human history.

Her Iranian contact warns her not to follow her late archaeologist dad’s footsteps.

“His quest was a path to madness.”

But she is nothing if not single-minded. She finds evidence of this “Philosopher’s Stone” talisman he was looking for, and surviving the demolition of the caves (shaky/dusty cam), sets out to Paris to finish his search for the alchemist’s ultimate prize — a magic rock.

She picks up a videographer who wants to make a documentary about her , Benjy (Edwin Hodge), her old translator pal George (Ben Feldman) and a trio of French spelunking punks, let by a guy who calls himself Papillion (butterfly), played by Francois Civil.

Scarlett puts on her best French weave see-through off-the-shoulder sweater, and they’re off, with Papillon leading them to the unknown corner of the ancient French burial chambers, where six million dead Frenchfolk are entombed.

“As Above” takes forever to go below, and once there, another long while passes before supernatural stuff starts troubling their trek. Papillon warns the bloody tourists, at every turn, to avoid passing through the wrong Catacombs.

“Which ones have filled with water? Which have collapsed? Which are EVIL?”

Scarlett an intrepid Brit, is heedless. George, afraid of caves and Benjy, not thrilled to be amongst all those bones. are dragged along by her force of will. And then its “This is WRONG” and “This is a BAD idea” as cadaverous faces are glimpsed and other inexplicable things happen, which they don’t stop to explicate.

The performances are perfunctory, the rising tide of fear they should all be feeling is limited to Benjy’s single claustrophobic panic attack. That’s the only compelling, human moment the players manage in all this.

It’s more unpleasant than scary, and ever so slow in getting up to speed. The Dowdles’ “Quarantine” was one of the better films of the “Found Footage” era. But they made that six years ago, long before this format had been beaten and shaken to death. With “So Below,” their license to jiggle, toss and turn the camera should be suspended.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence/terror, and language throughout

Cast: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil

Credits: Directed by John Erick Dowdle, screenplay by Drew Dowdle and John Erick Dowdle. A ime: 1:33

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Tonight’s screening: “As Above So Below”

Well, they’re showing it after print deadlines, after the last minute and in some sort of effort to control the buzz “As Above So Below” generates.

Which generally means POS.

The trailer is reasonably compelling — pretty young British “urban archeologist” leads a youthful team into the catacombs of Paris, where TERROR strikes.

But again, studios never hide products they’re proud of by not previewing those products to critics and buzz-building audiences. And studios never roll out films they have high hopes for on Labor Day weekend. Never.

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Next Screening: ’50s-70s pop mirrored in the tale of “The Identical”

 

Blake Rayne is the ’50s rocker followed into his Elvis-on-the-toilet dotage in this period piece about rock, then and now. Ashley Judd, Ray Liotta and Seth Green also show up.

“The Identical” opens Sept. 5.

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Movie Review: Dakota Fanning, miscast again in “The Last of Robin Hood”

dakotarA Kevin Kline performance in a role he was born to play is pretty much wasted
in “The Last of Robin Hood,” a tepidly sordid account of screen swashbuckler
Errol Flynn’s last love affair with an underage girl, and his final days.
Co-written and directed by the “Quinceanera” team, and produced by famed
indie producer Christine Vachon (“Boys Don’t Cry”, “I’m Not There”), you’d
expect more from this tale of a transgressive romance, and its fallout, than
“Robin Hood” delivers.
What it becomes is yet another awkward, clumsily sexual Dakota Fanning
vehicle.
The film opens with the scandal at Flynn’s death, a humiliated girl (Fanning)
hounded by the tabloids, with a mother (Susan Sarandon) all too eager to tell
all.
He was “her first love,” Mom coos, “and his last.” Their affair was
“predestined.”
Beverly Aadland (Fanning) was a veteran child actress and aspiring chorine
when the 50ish Flynn eyed her on a studio lot in the late 1950s. He was smitten,
and she was hopeful he could help her career.
Not nearly as hopeful, it turns out, as her stage mother, Florence. When
Flynn wants to “rehearse” with Beverly, try her out for a play he’s to be in,
mom is all too eager to send her older-than-she-looks little girl “up to the
lodge.” That’s where the aging star of “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Captain
Blood” and a run of other action hits of a generation before gets the girl drunk
and seduces her.
Flynn plays up his plummy and posh screen accent to this “exquisite
creature,” all oily charm as he nicknames Beverly “Woodsie,” because she is like
a woodland nymph.
Beverly hides the statutory rape from her mother, and never looks more
girlish than when she strains to act older even as she weeps in humiliation.
Mother Flo has issues galore, which is used to explain the blind eye she
turns to what is happening to her only child. She “chaperones” dates and trips
to New York with Flynn and his “protegee.”
But Beverly falls for Flynn’s charm, his turtlenecks and ascots, the
post-coital quoting of Shakespeare.
“The desire is boundless, and the act a slave to limit!”
There’s a little spark to Kline’s performance, though one can feel judgement
sneaking in, here and there. His Flynn is all surface charm and studied excess.
He knows what it means to be “In Like Flynn,” and is never creepier than when
he’s fretting about keeping up appearances.
“I don’t want our lives turned from an A-picture into a B-movie.”
But that’s exactly what his life and career were in the later ’50s –
supporting parts, a dalliance with Castro in Cuba where he directed “Cuban Rebel
Girls” (starring Beverly Aadland). The one big revelation here has to do with a
film Flynn wanted to do with Stanley Kubrick (Max Casella, perfectly cast), a
huge break, had it happened.
Fanning’s Beverly seems like another over-reach in her efforts to transition
from child star to adulthood. She’s a dull performer. The camera never captures
any inner life.
The script makes the mistake of being desultory from the beginning, giving us
no highs followed by lows. Even Sarandon’s villainous mother is more glum than
hate-able.
The entire affair feels malnourished, under-rehearsed and starved of energy.
The couple was together on the set of John Huston’s “Roots of Heaven” in Africa,
but that all takes place off camera.
If co-writers/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland filmed scenes
set there, how weak must they have been to warrant leaving them out, judging
from the listless footage that actually made the final cut of “The Last of Robin
Hood”?

1half-star
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality and language
Cast: Kevin Kline, Dakota Fanning, Susan Sarandon
Credits: Written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. A
Samuel Goldwyn release.
Running time: 1:30

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Book Review: The “Real” Judy Greer speaks up in “I Don’t Know What You Know Me From”

greer1Judy Greer was born Judith Therese Evans in Detroit in 1975, and is quick to point out how long the Internet Movie Database (IMDb.com) had her middle name incorrect in its extensive listing of her career and credits.

And there are a lot of those — credits, I mean. She’s played “the best friend” (“13 Going on 30,” “27 Dresses”) or the “wife of a cheater or wife who might cheat” (“The Descendents”, “Jeff, Who Lives At Home”) in dozens of films. She’s had recurring, quirky-funny roles on “Mad Love” and “Two and a Half Men,” “Arrested Development” and her own series, “Miss Guided.”

She’s almost famous, so the joke goes. You recognize her. Which is why she titled her adorable semi-autobiography “I Don’t Know Where You Know Me From — Judy Greer: Confessions of a Co-Star.”

That’s actually a long title, longer than some of her roles. But she never, ever fails to make an impression, in “Love & Other Drugs” or “Elizabethtown,” “The TV Set” or a one-off sex crazed scientist in “The Big Bang Theory.”

I interviewed her when she came to the Florida Film Festival to be honored and to promote “The TV Set,” and the person you see on the screen is the voice you get when you stumble into her at Starbucks. Offbeat, funny, girl next door insecure capable of potty-mouthed tirades, played for shock value. Nice. Sweet.

And that’s the voice that comes through in the book, dishing about her form of celebrity, sort of down-market — Kathy Griffin territory (somebody she says she’s mistaken for, even though she’s much prettier). She recounts the one time she attended the Oscars, stag, her dress started to disintegrate and she had to peel it off when she went to the bathroom. Yes, she took a selfie — of the dress, hanging in the toilet — to mark the occasion.

Speaking of toilets, she finds delight in the famous players she’s “peed next to” on sets from Louisiana to Wisconsin and all points in between. No DEEP dish, just sweet nothings about Liv Tyler, Katie Holmes, et al. Matthew McConaughey loaned her cash to bail her car out of valet parking when she auditioned for “The Wedding Planner.” Ashton Kutcher produced her short-lived sitcom, “Miss Guided,” and gave her dad a Harley when the show was picked up for broadcast.

Greer gets seriously sentimental when talking about her ever-supportive dad, the one who bought her a fucsia (OK, pink) Ford Escort for graduation, and custom painted a “*2 Be” license plate, which she kept on the car as long as she owned it.

She advises us on the horrors of “Spanx,” the most tactful ways to approach somebody you recognize from film and TV but cannot place, the rude questions she fields from reporters and other strangers, she gives tourist suggestions for how to handle Los Angeles (Don’t rent a convertible, only “tourists” are dumb enough to do that). She talks about her big breaks and her niche, quite candidly. As character players go, she’s one of the best, a delightful presence. But she’s right to be a little afraid about her shelf life. How long can you play the “best friend” when the leading ladies keep getting younger and you’re headed for 40 next year?

A quick check of her coming credits, from the “Jurassic Park” reboot (she was in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), “Tomorrowland” and “Ant-Man,” removes any doubt that the work will keep coming. Even if the star doesn’t need a best friend.

greer2

 

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Movie Review: Aniston tries her hand in Elmore Leonard Land in “Life of Crime”

aniston

When it comes to gritty crime comedies, there’s no such thing as a bad Elmore
Leonard adaptation. Not every film based on one of his books is a “Get Shorty,”
but even lesser Leonard has fascinating characters, hard-boiled dialogue and
criminal plans that never quite go the way we, or the crooks, expect them.

“Life of Crime” is lesser-Leonard, an all-star kidnapping comedy that manages
to “Be Cool” even if the filmmaker never quite finds the grim faced grins that
the best Elmore noirs boast.

Ordell (Mos Def) and Louis (John Hawkes) are two career crooks who learn of a
rich guy who is hiding his riches from the state, the Feds, his wife and
everybody else. It’s 1978, and Frank (Tim Robbins) does what people did back
then — he plays golf, pushes his son into tennis “at the club” and stashes his
cash in the Bahamas.

Ordell is the smart alecky brains of the outfit. Louis is game for any caper,
including one that has them kidnapping the rich guy’s wife, Mickey.

But Mickey is played by Jennifer Aniston, so we see one problem right there.
She’s stuck in a bad marriage to a bullying drunk whom their son hates as much
as she does. She’s gorgeous and she has a hint of cunning vulnerability about
her. Louis is smitten before they even stuff her in the truck.

Another possible wrinkle is their other accomplice. Richard, played by Mark
Boone Jr., sells guns out of a house decorated with swastikas and stuffed with
Nazi memorabilia.

“Your dad was in the war, right?”

“Yeah. Tank gunner.”

“You, but which SIDE was he on?”

Richard is an anti-Semite, a loner whose wife just left him and the guy who
boards up the windows in his house so they can stash the victim until they talk
Frank out of the money. Bad idea.

Another complication crops up the day Frank leaves town for “a meeting.” He’s
actually jetting over to the Bahamas, meeting his mistress, Melanie (Isla
Fisher). Maybe he doesn’t WANT the wife.

And then there’s the guy who does want Mickey. Marshall interrupts the
kidnapping, thinking he can con Mickey into an assignation. He’s played by Will
Forte, so naturally the kidnappers gamble that this wuss won’t call the cops,
even if he sees what they’re up to before they knock him in the head.

The tale has a few nice twists and turns, allegiances shift and scheming
ensues. Aniston nicely suggests the sort of victim who might, after the shock
wears off, assert herself with the one kidnapper under her spell.

Mainly, though, “Life of Crime” is a blown opportunity. The double-crosses
rarely reach the level of delight, and Robbins and Mos Def play their guys a
little too close to the vest. Ordell’s quiet cunning hides a wicked sense of
humor. He messes with racist Richard’s head, but it’s the only time he’s ever an
amusing hoodlum.

Nobody here is drawn or played as broadly as Leonard makes his most
unforgettable characters, and that robs the comedy of its kick. Those laughs are
necessary, because the tale threatens to turn ultra dark.

“Life of Crime” was never going to be another “Get Shorty,” but it might have
managed a “Rum Punch.” In the hands of green director Daniel Schecter, the
promising early scenes lead us straight down the road to a mere misdemeanor.

 

 

MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexual content and violence

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Tim Robbins, Mos Def, John Hawkes, Isla Fisher

Credits: Written and directed by Daniel Schecter, based on an Elmore Leonard
novel. A Roadside Attractions release.

Running time: 1:40

2

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Movie Review: “The November Man”

novPierce Brosnan’s perfect hair barely budges in the breeze, he fixes his eyes in that narrowed, steely stare and you remember yes, he was a pretty good James Bond.
But he’s not Bond, not at 61. He’s this fellow named Devereaux, and back in the day, when he showed up for an assignment it was like winter had hit. Everything was dead. That’s why they called Devereaux “The November Man.”
Here’s a humorless, muddled, bloody and generally unpleasant thriller about an ex-agent sucked back into The Business because somebody needs his help. Or somebody knows something. Or some protege has gone stone-cold-killer.
That’s one of the problems with this Roger “No Way Out” Donaldson film. It leaves us with no clear sense of who to root for, or what. Is the CIA out to get Devereaux and his lady friend? The Russians? Some rogue amalgam of the two?
About all we’re sure of is that the body count, built on bullets and sharp, bloody blades, piles up — first scene to last.
Devereaux trained Mason, played by Luke Bracey of the last “G.I. Joe” movie. They were fellow agents, experts on “threat analysis,” and how to put a bullet in that threat. Years later, a retired Devereaux is summoned by the old boss (Bill Smitrovich) to fetch a woman out of Russia, an agent who has “a name.” That name could be the downfall of Russia’s next leader.
Things go haywire in fetching the woman and in the movie, as triggers are pulled too quickly and Devereaux shoots all manner of folks, with and without Slavic accents. Mason is after him. Spirited chases through Moscow, guns blazing and tires screeching, give one a whole new appreciation for the place.
Eventually, teacher and pupil and quarry (Olga Kurylenko) and CIA hunters (Will Patton, Caterina Scorsone) and a Russian pony tailed ballerina-turned-assassin (Amila Terzimehic) all wind up in Belgrade, which apparently is where the money men and women decided was cheapest place to film “The November Man.”
This late August cast-off is what one can easily spy as a “producers-on-the-make” movie. It has the obligatory strip-club scene, with lithe and willing nude dancers. It has a spirited, nude sex scene. And in every shot, indoors or out, we see the best looking extras this side of “America’s Next Top Model.” Skinny anonymous women sashay into the frame, making you wonder what promise was made when “I will put you in the movie” crossed someone’s lips.
Those elements don’t do anything for the plot, the action or anything else. But they have a leering “value” to some in the audience and, more likely in the production office.
Through it all, in between Kurylenko’s sexy costume changes and the sometimes visits of Alexa, the unusually flexible killer (Terzimehic) and flat afterthought of a performance by Bracey, Brosnan keeps his cool and delivers his lines as an older if not over the hill James Bond “type.”
“You feel the need for a relationship,” he growls, “get a dog.”
But a few pithy lines, seriously stunt-doubled fights and the odd blast of blood don’t give the story clarity or the characters a compelling reason for us to engage in their dilemma. That makes “November Man” another sad refugee of August, the dumping ground of movies that don’t quite move anybody.
1half-star
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Olga Kurylenko, Luke Bracey, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton, Caterina Scorsone
Credits: Directed by Roger Donaldson, screenplay by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek based on a novel by Bill Granger.
Running time: 1:48

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Box Office: It’s “Guardians,” “Turtles” then “If I Stay” in a tight race, “Sin City” sinks

“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” came nine years too late to cash in on the heat of “Sin City,” was basically the same movie and thus, managed only half of the low end of predictions for what it was supposed to do at the box office. Not even $7 million. A $70 million movie that will turn out to be one of the biggest busts of the summer, if not the year. Ouch.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” has been making more money during the week than the more recent “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” only to surrender that advantage to the newer, inferior comic book effects blockbuster on the weekends. Kids, you know. This weekend, it moved back on top, over $17 million.

“Turtles” did nearly $17, and the teen weeper “If I Stay” opened just behind it, $300-400,000 difference.

“Sin City” opened behind the feeble faith-based football drama “When the Game Stands Tall,” which opened at its predicted $9 million mark, and could stick around, depending on how that audience props it up.

As with all of August, the box office take was higher this weekend than last year, eating deeply into the summer season’s huge fall off in May, June and July.

“Boyhood” started to fade, as it loses theaters, it’ll hit $20, when all is said and done. “Magic in the Moonlight,” which never caught fire in the first place. Woody’s looking at his last hit in the distant rear view mirror. “Magic” won’t even reach $10.

 

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