Box Office: “Ouija” falls off, “John Wick” isn’t a Keanu comeback after all

boxThose heady late Thursday and all day Friday numbers for “Ouija” and
“John Wick” were a mirage, it turns out.

“Ouija” nows looks like it will hit $20 million, no more. Poor word of mouth? Bad reviews finally sinking in? Who could have predicted that? Without a Ouija board?

“John Wick” was looking like it could flirt with the upper $teens and maybe give Universal’s crappy horror cheapo a run for its money. But no. Keanu is pushing 50, kids don’t care. So it now seems more likely to hit $14. Weak.

“St. Vincent” cracked the top six and may turn into a bonafide Bill Murray hit, something he really hasn’t seen since he made the move to indie films.

The per screen average for “Birdman,” in expanded release, is a staggering $29,000. That’s not 4 screens just in NY and LA. That’s 50 screens, scattered across the country. This thing goes up to 4-500 screens, it could do “Boyhood” numbers. Nice. People remember Michael Keaton.

“Fury” fell off more than “Book of Life,” but neither is looking like a world beater.

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“Interstellar” — are they hiding it for good reasons, or bad ones?

“Interstellar” promises to be high end, brainy sci-fi with a lot of sentiment (judging from the trailers) and a trio of empathetic Oscar winners (McConaughey, Hathaway, Caine) bringing it all home.

And since it’s a Christopher “Inception” Nolan film, expectations for it are insanely high. We expect no less than an out-of-body experience. We expect Michael Caine to get choked up. We expect the space flight and space scenes to make “Gravity” red from embarrassment.

We expect it to be smart, with some heart. And “Dark Night” dark. “Memento” cryptic. Cautionary, about a planet in peril. Pity it’s coming out after Election Day.

And the studio, Paramount, is not showing it to critics until the Monday before its Wed. opening.

There’s something to be said for preserving the surprise, the magic of a film. But studios almost NEVER set out to do that when they hold a movie back this long. They don’t hide what they’re proud of.

A lot’s riding on it, expectations are a bear to contend with. And yet, the movie could use the buffering of glowing reviews. If indeed it is worthy of them.

The trailers don’t give enough away to make me swoon. How about you? I just started to wonder about the whole hold-it-to-the-last minute strategy, which smells more like “Da Vinci Code” than any “zero spoilers” impulse.

And for those a little light on their cinema history, here’s a reminder. John Ford and Hitchcock, Scorsese, Woody and David Lean all had their bad outings, movies that overreached or under-reached by pandering.

Nolan is may or may not be in their league, and he is overdue for a stumble.

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Next Screening: Disney’s “Big Hero 6″

So here we have The Mouse taking its shot at creating its own CG animation anime project, perhaps a Franchise.

Japanese-American characters, cuddly, sentimental (a dead big hero brother, from the looks of the trailer), supervillains, puberty jokes.

The second trailer gets more of what it’s about on the screen. But we’ll see. “Big Hero 6″ opens the first week in Nov.

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Box Office: “Ouija” scares off Keanu, Murray’s “Saint” takes flight

ouijUniversal’s low-budget/no-budget horror strategy is paying dividends this fall, as they’re set to break even on “Ouija” within days of opening. Deadline.com figures that, based on Friday’s $8 million+ take, it’ll manage about $19 million.

Unless Friday’s filmgoers warn off those planning on catching it Saturday. Dreadfully acted horror film with nary a fright in it.

“John Wick” almost constitutes a comeback for Keanu Reeves. A hitman thriller in the “Sin City” vein, a complete world of mobsters, hitmen, Hitmen Hotels and the like, it shows the mellow man in action and makes great use of him. It is headed towards a $15 million opening. The reviews are a bit over the top, decent film, mostly good performance by the lead, GREAT villain and nice support work by Willem Dafoe and Adrienne Paliki.

“Fury” fell off, “Gone Girl” is well over $120, “The Book of Life” is holding audience but underperforming, still.  It will be lucky to hit $50. Bad year for animation. Even when the quality is there, as with this one and “Boxtrolls,” parents aren’t shelling out the cash to 3D their kids into these films.

And Bill Murray’s cutesie little star vehicle, “St. Vincent,” is opening HUGE as it goes wide.  For a boutique studio film, anyway. It will settle in at number 6, and manage $8-9 million. Murray is set up now as a resident of “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 3″ when that comes around. Adorable in his dotage.

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Movie Review: “Ouija”

ouij

“Ouija” is a dead teenager movie aimed squarely at a teen audience.
Universal’s effort to reclaim its place as the Home for Horror takes a step backward with this duller-than-dull 89 minutes of your life you’ll never get back. Frankly, the board game is scarier, but only if you break the rules.
“Never play alone…never play in a graveyard…always say ‘Good-bye.'”
As kids, Debbie (Shelley Hennig) and Lainie (Olivia Cooke) knew that. But as a teen, Debbie’s picked up a board, toyed with the magical “unseen hand” planchette, with its eye hole for spying ghosts. Next thing you know, she’s hung herself.
Lainie is beside herself. Well, not exactly. Ms. Cooke, the star of this cast of pretty bland young things, rarely suggests much emotion at all. And the others take their lead from her.
Because of course there are others. Lainie wants some closure, so she picks up Debbie’s board, rounds up her boyfriend (Daren Kagasoff), her Goth-brat sister (Ana Coto), the dead girl’s beau (Douglas Smith) and the exotic Isabelle (Bianca A. Santos) for a little seance.
When they chat, “As friends we gather, hearts are true, spirits near, we call to you,” and doors creak open and chairs slide away from the table, kids being kids, they don’t take the hint.
Lainie’s housekeeper, Nona (Vivis Colombetti) adds a warning.
“Do not go seeking answers from the dead.”
Death and terror ensue.
Three horror movies (she was in “The Signal,” “The Quiet Ones”) and one horror TV series (“Bates Motel”) into her career, and poor Ms. Cooke still doesn’t show any sign that she has what it takes to become a Scream Queen. She treats the supernatural goings on, the shock of seeing friends die and the lack of adults aware of what the kids are going through with little more than a pert little shrug.
Nobody else makes much of an impression, even horror vet and studio chief sibling Lin Shaye (“2001 Maniacs”).
The effects are generally as simple as the far superior ghost story “Annabelle,” which looks like “Psycho” when compared to “Ouija,” a cynical attempt to spend almost no money and cash in on board game sales.
But seriously, who’d buy that game after this? And after “Ouija” and “Dracula Untold,” who will buy Universal as a serious home for horror? Tod Browning and Bela Lugosi are rolling in their graves.

1star6

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing violent content, frightening horror images, and thematic material
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Lin Shaye, Bianca A. Santos, Shelley Hennig
Credits: Directed by Stiles White, written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White. A Universal release.
Running time: 1:29

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Movie Review: “Camp X-Ray”

xRAYMuch respect for Kristen Stewart, the “Twilight” star who could have contented herself with “Snow White” films or globe trotting, nibbling on bonbons and dating the rich and the beautiful for the rest of her life.
Instead, she’s doing daring indie fare like “Camp X-Ray,” an inside Guantanamo melodrama about a soldier, an Islamic inmate and the claustrophobic space they share, isolated from the world at America’s military prison for “enemy noncombatants.”
For Private Cole (Stewart), the first day at “Gitmo” is a chance to prove she belongs, to fit in with the men. It’s not combat duty, her comrades reassure each other. Left unsaid is the stress, boredom and the psychological toll this prison guard job takes.
The various Muslim men in her block are “detainees, NOT ‘prisoners of war.'” That distinction lingers, the U.S. government’s way of avoiding the Geneva Convention terms on treatment of prisoners of war. So uncooperative detainees can be sleep deprived, an exquisitely civilized form of torture.
The soldiers are not there to prevent escapes. Where could they go?
“You are here to prevent them from dying.”
Suicide watch, lights on 24 hours a day, daily exercise outside in a tiny cage. If these men weren’t wild-eyed, bearded caricatures of terrorists when they were captured, they certainly are now.
“They will test you and they will BEST you,” thick-necked Corporal Ransdell barks. The prisoners stay put, know the routine and vent their rage at their captors in the few ways open to them. Because the soldiers are rotated through frequently, contact is limited. Their maddening duty only lasts for short stretches.
Cole is small-boned, thin, sensitive and over-matched. Within minutes, she has a bloody lip. Within hours, she has feces flung on her. She won’t let them beat her.
But one prisoner, number 471, named “Ali” is on her case. He has a beef with the prison library.
“I think you guys don’t have last Harry Potter book ON PURPOSE!” he fumes. Their trick won’t work. “I am NOT going crazy!”
Cole sticks her head in windows every three minutes, making her circuit, and with each glance, this woman staring at them humiliates the Muslim men. But Ali (Peyman Moaadi, riveting to watch) tries to engage her. Where is she from? What is her name (name tags are removed on the block)?
“Cut the Hannibal Lecter (bleep),” she says.
“Who is this Hannibal Lecter?”
“He’s a guy in a movie who TALKS too much.”
First-time writer/director Peter Sattler finds a few surprises to throw at us in this somewhat conventional “Stockholm Syndrome” story. There’s in-unit sexual tension, bullying, chain of command friction (John Carroll Lynch is Cole’s commanding officer), the mom (Julia Duffy) who cannot understand why her pretty daughter chose the Army.
The novelty is the inside view of this prison and Sattler’s ability to take us there and make us appreciate this sort of isolated incarceration. Limited human contact, sensory deprivation, media deprivation and no hope for this ever changing would drive anyone mad.
And the ever-engaging Stewart, by her presence, got the movie made and builds empathy, both for the soldiers doing this thankless job, and the detainees, who don’t even have the hope of a quick death as an escape.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: R for language and brief nude images
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Peyman Moaadi, Lane Garrison, John Carroll Lynch, Julia Duffy,
Credits: Written and directed by Peter Sattler. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:52

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Movie Review: “John Wick”

wickish

A single uniformed cop shows up in the hitman-out-for-revenge thriller “John Wick.” He sees blood on the title character’s face and hands.
“Evening John,” he says, all friendly even though there have been “some noise complaints.” Then he leans over to see inside the man’s Architectural Digest home and spies a body.
“You, uh, working again?”
A non-denial denial.
“I’ll uh, leave you TO it then.”
That’s the world screenwriter Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski have created. There’s a fraternity (and sorority) of hitmen and women. They all stay at the swank Continental Hotel when visiting Manhattan. The silky and discreet concierge (Lance Reddick, perfect) knows them by name and anticipates their every need. The owner (Ian McShane, spot-on) keeps them up to code.
And everybody who sees John Wick wants to “leave you TO it, then.”
The hitwoman (Adrianne Palicki) and men pay for everything with single gold coins — contracts, the services of a mob surgeon or the “cleaner” crew which hauls away the bodies and wipes up the blood.
And there’s a lot of it. Because John Wick is another one of those guys with “particular skills” the movies seem overrun with these days.
Keanu Reeves is Wick, whom we meet — bloodied — as he crashes an SUV into a loading dock. A five minute, almost dialogue-free flashback shows us the love of his life (Bridget Moynihan) and her untimely death. Condolences come from the only colleague (Willem Dafoe) to show up at her funeral.
Everybody knows John Wick. As in a Western, a bloody-minded young punk (Alfie Allen) messes with the “retired” man of violence. As in a Western, the punk crosses the link when he “shuts up” Wick’s puppy.
And anybody who ever saw a John Wayne movie knows what happens when you mess with a man’s dog.
Mayhem ensues, which is fitting because one of the supporting players is Dean Winters, a certain insurance company’s “Mr. Mayhem,” cast here as the sidekick to an alarmingly good, wonderfully expressive villain.
Michael Nyqvist of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has his best Hollywood role, as Viggo, the Russian mobster who son just crossed the wrong ex-employee.
“I once saw him kill EIGHT men in a bar…with only a PENCIL!”
“Babay,” Viggo calls Wick. Not just “The Bogeyman,” but “the guy you call to KILL the bogeyman.”
What ensues is pure, unadulterated slaughter, delivered in a style similar to Luc “The Transporter” Besson’s action films, with a touch of John “The Killer” Woo. Reeves is a bit rough in a few moments where he has to make a speech, but convincingly enraged in others. And fight choreographer Jonathan Eusebio makes great use of him in action. Watch how Reeves holds a gun — two hands, head-high, elbows bent. Notice how he flicks through every clip-change, how he finishes off a mobster with a cursory head-shot. The fights grow bloodier and more personal as the vengeance is dealt.
As fodder for fiction, this is strictly C-movie material. But Reeves animates the action and the filmmakers surround him with wonderful co-stars; the quietly menacing McShane, the chop shop operator (John Leguizamo), the dapper “cleaner” (David Patrick Kelly of “The Warriors”) and the spitting, hissing Nyqvist. Listen to the way the Swede sputters about having his treasure hoard trashed.
“Peee-RICE—LESS!”
Swedes playing Russians make the best bad guys. Everybody knows that, just as surely as everybody in this world knows John Wick and the slaughter that’s coming. Because everybody knows that you don’t mess with a hitman’s dog.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Bridget Moynihan, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Lance Reddick, Daniel Patrick Kelly
Credits: Directed by Chad Stahelski, written by Derek Kolstad . A Summit release.
Running time: 1:40

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Movie Review: “Laggies”

laggiesfilm

Call them slackers or adults with or “arrested development” issues. Or call them “Laggies.”
As the new comedy “Laggies” suggests, some of us are just a little late growing up. Even after we’ve taken those tentative steps into adulthood, we’re hearing the sirens’ call of our irresponsible teens-to-early-20s.
That’s what Megan realizes when she buys some “cool” teens booze they’re too young to purchase themselves. Annika (Chloe) asked so sweetly. And the pushing-30 Megan (Keira Knightley) was having such a bad day.
She has college degrees that she doesn’t use. She just helps daddy’s accounting firm by sexily spinning a sign on a street corner during tax season.
Her reliable, dull live-in-lover (Mark Webber) is ready to pop the question. Her dad (Jeff Garlin) is cheating on her mom. Her peers are married, mommies who have started to roll their eyes at her jokes. She is alone in her irony, because her girlfriends have abandoned it.
“Maybe actually,” she wonders, “they’re the ones telling the jokes and I’m the one who’s missing them.”
She flees that world when she hooks up with Annika and her crew. One kid’s parents are divorcing, but all their concerns are teen concerns. Megan could use a few of those. She can handle them now. Annika needs her to impersonate her mother a meeting with the school guidance counselor? Sure.
That leads to a sleepover and that becomes something more permanent, right under the nose of Annika’s single-parent (Sam Rockwell), a “cool” dad, a smart-aleck divorce lawyer who’s a little disconnected from the kid’s life. He’s troubled by the presence of this odd influence on his daughter living under his roof.
“Please don’t let this decision become bad parenting on my part.”
Whatever “Laggies” had going for it up to that moment, it becomes a better movie when Rockwell’s character Craig steps into it. The banter turns sharper, the observations about adulthood, parenting and neglected kids more pointed and spot on. There’s a romantic spark, a greater potential for hurt, betrayal and a possible parenting disaster.
Is Megan cut out for motherhood, foster motherhood or even being a godmother to her girlfriend’s new baby?
“There’s no such thing as ‘The Cool Mom.’ Cool Mom’s really just a bad mom, or the mom that’s become a joke.”
“Laggies” covers familiar ground — kids trying to grow up too fast, adults trying to put it off — with just enough wit and warmth to make us push thoughts of how inappropriate everyone is behaving into the background. Moretz is as real as ever, and Knightley manages Megan’s transition from annoyingly naive to adorably confused. But for that she has help, and for that she and we should thank Rockwell. In this case, the actor most accomplished at playing slackers is the one who gets everybody — and the movie — to grow up.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexual material and teen partying
Cast: Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell
Credits: Directed by Lynn Shelton, screenplay by Andrea Seigel. An A24 release.
Running time: 1:39

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Movie Review: “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me”

glen

“Cheerful” and “triumphant” aren’t words that come to mind when you think of Alzheimer’s, the debilitating illness that destroys memory, mind and body. But darned if country star Glen Campbell doesn’t manage that in “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me.”
It’s a moving documentary that follows him through the last halfway good year or so of his life. He was diagnosed in the spring of 2011. He hit the road later that year, a decision with the potential to tarnish his legacy.
When actor-turned-director James Keach film Campbell and his wife, Kim, on the sofa for a session of home movies viewing, he blurts out “Who IS that?” at every face that pops up.
“That’s you, honey.”
And what’re they’re doing with all these cameras?
“It’s a movie abut you.”
“No kidding!” he grins. Reflexively, a joke comes to mind. “I’ll be me!”
Keach sums up Campbell’s career through clips of his concerts, his old TV show and his guest shots on “The Tonight Show” and interviews scores of performers who put the 70something legend on a pedestal. He follows Campbell from his doctor’s office to the Mayo Clinic. And Keach captures a 100+ date farewell tour that was both a victory lap and an object lesson in the progression of Alzheimer’s.
Those performances — filled with happy accidents, meandering, complaining monologues and still-stunning musicianship, are where the “triumphant” kicks in. He may not be able to remember the names of his three good-looking, musically-adept kids, who play in his band. But for much of this 2011-2012 tour, Campbell was in tune and teleprompter sharp.
Even when that teleprompter tells him, “Glen play a long guitar solo here,” which he reads out, mid-song, he delivers. And tearing through an improvisation on electric or acoustic guitar or battling his banjo-playing daughter Ashley in “Dueling Banjos,” he reminds us that the one-time Beach Boy, one of Hollywood’s greatest session musicians, was a picker par excellence and still is.
His doctor says “the music is the last thing to go.” So even with all the off-camera obsessing over something stuck in his teeth, or names and faces that he’s forgotten, lyrics he cannot recall without prompting and mild tantrums over the memories he’s lost, the shows themselves come off.
Keach’s film relies most heavily on Kim, Campbell’s fourth and final wife, a stunning blond who is Campbell’s voice for the film, explaining the decision to let him tour, the various issues with his illness and its treatment, the symptoms we see onstage and off. The most touching moment comes when Ashley breaks down in tears, testifying with Dad before Congress, trying to get money for more Alzheimer’s research.
But Campbell himself is just inspiring. The public may have wearied of him 30 years ago, a hard-drinking womanizer who never measured up to the corny, wholesome “gee whiz “image, something the film barely mentions. But onstage, laughing at the miscues he doesn’t realize he’s made, losing track of what he’s supposed to be singing or doing, and then getting it back through his firmest memories — his songs — is amazing to see.
The tunes — “Gentle On My Mind,” “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Try a Little Kindness” — hold up. And from Springsteen to Paisley, The Edge to Sheryl Crow, his peers sit in awe.
Keach wisely saves some surprises for us, ones beyond “The Last Show” and a trip to the studio to record “The Last Song.” Those come from the peers who reveal how their lives have also been touched by the disease.
And through it all, for as long as he can manage it, the Rhinestone Cowboy croons, picks and grins and works the audience, just an old pro putting on a show, the last memory he has to share with us.
3stars2
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and brief language
Cast: Glen Campbell, Kim Campbell, Ashley Campbell, Bruce Springsteen, Brad Paisley, Steve Martin, Bill Clinton, Keith Urban
Credits: Directed by James Keach. A PCH Films release.
Running time: 1:44

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Movie Review: “Exists”

exists1

2stars1It comes as no surprise that some of the folks who made “The Blair Witch Project”, the definitive “found footage” horror film, do a solid job with “Exists,” a found footage bigfoot thriller.
But in the decade and a half since the much-imitated “Blair Witch,” cellphone cameras and the nearly as ubiquitous GoPro sports video camera have made the idea of “finding” a movie in footage people have shot less far-fetched. A GoPro — attached to a helmet, a car windshield, a bike’s handlebars, set up as an impromptu security camera — is going to give you something that’s polished and yet realistic.
That’s why Brian (Chris Osborn) has packed a few GoPros for a trip to the wilds of East Texas. He’s the obligatory “video nerd” in a group of five college-age friends headed off to a “cabin in the woods.”
Like most horror movie victims, they’ve apparently never heard of the beach.
With Dora (Dora Madison Burge) and Brian’s brother Matt (Samuel Davis), and another couple, Todd (Roger Edwards) and Elizabeth (Denise Williamson), and their mountain bikes, stoner Brian hopes to make “the best Youtube video ever!”
Then they hit something with their truck in the dark. They don’t see anything, but they hear mournful, otherworldly yowls from the woods.
“It sounds like it’s crying.”
When they finally get to the cabin — “It’s like a love-making palace up in here!” — they won’t have time to christen this “palace.” They’ll be too busy barring the doors, covering the windows and cowering. Something’s out to get them.
“Blair Witch” co-director Eduardo Sanchez throws a lot of tricks at us to maintain the tension in a seriously recycled script. Writer Jamie Nash, a frequent Sanchez collaborator (“Seventh Moon” was their best) works in the occasional joke between the by-the-book shocks.
“Do you even KNOW how to use a gun?”
“I play PAINTball!”
Mostly, though, this is a subgenre genre piece, full of stock characters yelling “Don’t go OVER there” and other stock lines. People get scared, but not as freaked out as you’d think they’d be over the idea that bigfoot “Exists,” and that he or she wants revenge.
Convincing shaky cam or not, in the end all we’re left with is what we started with, just another bigfoot movie.

MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some violence, sexual content and drug use
Cast: Dora Madison Burge, Denise Williamson, Samuel Davis, Roger Edwards, Chris Osborn
Credits: Directed by Eduardo Sanchez, written by Jamie Nash. A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:40

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