24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: 20th Century Fox

Should 'X-Men: First Class' be considered a hit?

June 6, 2011 |  5:30 am

The box-office numbers for every new release presents arguments for and against labeling the movie a hit. Some of these debates are lopsided -- "Mars Needs Moms" was inarguably a flop, and "Fast Five" an unmitigated success -- but other cases are more ambiguous. Among the trickier ones to come along this year is "X-Men: First Class," Fox's superhero action-adventure starring James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender.

Upon opening this weekend, the film took in $56 million in the U.S. and an additional $64 million in 74 markets overseas, according to estimates from the studio. Those would seem to be, as my colleague Amy Kaufman described in her post on our sister blog Company Town,  "a pretty good but not great start" for a film that was, among other things, collecting only 2-D ticket prices.

An in-depth analysis, however, proves trickier. As Kaufman writes, the film had the lowest opening-weekend total of the three "X-Men" films that immediately preceded it, besting only the $54.5 million of the first movie.  (The previous three editions tallied $85 million, $103 million and $86 million dating back to 2003.) That would seem to indicate a fall-off. But should the new movie be compared to those films and thus be deemed lacking, as some box-office pundits have it?

Or should "First Class" be seen as an entirely new beast, a la the first "X-Men," and regarded as a success, as the studio would no doubt prefer? As Fox senior vice president of distribution Chris Aronson told Kaufman, "I don't think [the fall-off from the recent films] is significant. It exceeded the first 'X-Men,' and this movie has an ensemble of actors who are not known. They are all incredibly talented, and they will now be known after this movie."

The problem with drawing comparisons -- and, indeed, with gauging the overall success of "X-Men: First Class" -- lies with how much we should define the movie as something new in the first place. And that's not an easy question.
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'X-Men First Class': Will superhero fans go for an idea-driven period piece?

June 3, 2011 |  9:16 pm

It worked for "Zelig," and helped make "Forrest Gump" a classic. But can the blending of 20th-century history with movie mythology do something similar for "X-Men: First Class"?

As it seeks to lure filmgoers this weekend, that's just one of the questions facing Matthew Vaughn's comic book movie, which among other things offers an alternate history of the Cuban missile crisis. (Check out the image above, from a Fox  promotional tie-in; all that's missing is McAvoy's Charles Xavier telling JFK he had one too many Dr Peppers.) After all, many in its target audience weren't glints in the eyes of their baby-boomer parents when President Kennedy took to the airwaves to warn of  impending nuclear threats.

As we explore in a print piece in The Times, "X-Men: First Class" may seem like ordinary summer entertainment. But like many of its characters, it conceals some significant quirks.

For starters, the  Xavier-Magneto film is an origin story but not a full-fledged prequel (since it covers some of the same territory alluded to in Bryan Singer's 2000 "X-Men"), a reboot that's also, but not totally, kind of a spin-off. As Fox production president Emma Watts says, "It's so funny that everybody wants to define movies these days -- a prequel, a reboot, an origin story. But every situation is unique. I wish I could give this a clear definition."

It also contains debates about the ethics of revenge not commonly found in a summer entertainment -- or, for that matter, in Vaughn's previous "Kick-Ass."

And it's a film that's trying to live within an existing superhero world while jumpstarting a new franchise, much as Christopher Nolan did with Batman back in 2005. "There's a lot in 'First Class' that harks back to early 'X-Men' films, but also has an energy that's new," said producer Bryan Singer, who came up with the concept for the new film. "You don't want to alter the essence, but you can alter the history."

The movie also has to make do without the leading-man presence of Hugh Jackman and instead try to attract filmgoers with acclaimed but less established actors such as McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender. And it marshals them in the hope of achieving the formidable task of washing out the sour taste left in fans' mouths with the last pure 'X-Men" film, Brett Ratner's "X-Men: Last Stand" in 2006.

Still, the reviews thus far have been solid and the early box-office numbers are good.  A sprinkling of history and some morality debates may be, in the end, just what we want with our superheroes.

-- Steven Zeitchik



Critical Mass: X-Men First Class graduates with most critics' honors

With X-Men First Class, Fox tries a new mutation

Photo: A digitally altered image of McAvoy's Charles Xavier and John F. Kennedy from an "X-Men" app promotion. Credit: 20th Century Fox

With 'Glee' 3-D concert movie, Lea Michele will sing on the big screen

May 4, 2011 |  1:34 pm

Justin Bieber's concerts became a movie-theater phenomenon this winter. Now "Glee" performances will look to become a summer one. 20th Century Fox announced Wednesday that it would film the upcoming exclamatory "Glee Live! In Concert!" tour and cut it into a 3-D film for release on Aug. 12.

Newer numbers from the television musical series, such as “I’m a Slave 4 U" and “Teenage Dream” will appear in the film, along with older songs such as “Loser Like Me" and “Don’t Stop Believin’."

Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Amber Riley and most of the high-school stars will appear both on the concert tour and in the movie; older cast members such as Jane Lynch and Matthew Morrison were not announced as part of the movie. (Lynch and Morrison made only select appearances on the original 2010 tour.)

A Fox spokesman said that there will be narrative footage in the movie as well, all taken from this year's tour, which begins May 21 in Las Vegas and wraps June 18 in New York. (The tour comes to L.A.'s Staples Center on May 28.)

The film is being called a "limited two-week engagement," though limited engagements tend to get extended if people are coming out to theaters (see: Michael Jackson's "This Is It").

The film will be directed by “Fame” helmer Kevin Tancharoen and produced by the show's creator, Ryan Murphy.

The "Glee" film moves the theater business closer to the screening of live or live-to-tape events that some multiplex owners have urged, arguing that it’s a relatively inexpensive way to offer audiences an experience they can't get at home.

The timing of the "Glee" movie should satisfy fans waiting for the show's fall return to television and has the advantage of coming during a period, mid- to late August, that typically is not especially competitive. Without the more adult storylines that pepper the Fox TV series, the film is also expected to appeal to younger viewers.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: The cast of "Glee" performs in a 2010 episode. Credit: Carin Baer/Fox

With new movie, Zorro heads to the future

April 26, 2011 |  4:31 pm

It’s been six years since the iconic swashbuckler Zorro was last seen on the screen, courtesy of Antonio Banderas and James Bond director Martin Campbell, in the period action piece "The Legend of Zorro."

But the character could be on his way back, sans swashbuckling -- and, in fact, sans the past entirely.

A reboot titled "Zorro Reborn" is being developed at Fox that will remove the character from his historical California or Mexico setting.

Unlike many of the previous Zorros (real name: Don Diego de la Vega) brandishing whips and swords, the hero of the new installment will live in the future -- specifically a desolate and post-apocalyptic one, according to a person familiar with the film who asked not to be identified. A Fox spokeswoman declined to comment.

In this version, Zorro will be less a caped crusader for justice than a one-man vigilante force bent on revenge, in a western story that has echoes of both Sergio Leone and "No Country for Old Men."

The movie will be directed by Rpin Suwannath, a previsualization specialist who worked on a number of the "X-Men," "Matrix" and "Chronicles of Narnia" movies. (Previsualiation is the Hollywood art of conceiving and generating images, usually for an effects-driven movie, before filming has begun. Visual-effects specialists are hot generally, with Fox recently setting the viz kid Tim Miller to direct "Deadpool.") The project, a person close to it cautioned, is in early development.

The "Zorro Reborn" script has been written by Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy, the screenwriters behind the Dracula reboot "Harker" at Warner Bros. The Zorro film is expected to provide a juicy lead role for a young actor.

Johnston McCulley's pulp Zorro stories have served as the basis for dozens of films, starting with Douglas Fairbanks' caped-hero films of the 1920s, and then later film serials, features culled from a Guy Williams television series, a 1975 Italian-made version with spaghetti western overtones and the Banderas iterations.

In the first of those, 1998's "The Mask of Zorro," Anthony Hopkins plays an aging Don Diego de la Vega who passes the baton (or whip) to a young misfit (Banderas), who in turn becomes the new Zorro. The 2005 film, which like the first featured Catherine Zeta-Jones as Zorro's wife, Elena, followed. Both  movies, made by Sony, were set in an outlaw mid-19th century California. The sequel saw a fall-off at the box office.

Dark reinventions of heroic icons have been popular in Hollywood since Christopher Nolan did just that with Batman. A "Zorro" reboot would need to contend with a new version of "The Lone Ranger," which Johnny Depp and his "Pirates of the Caribbean" director Gore Verbinski have been developing.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "The Mask of Zorro." Credit: Rico Torres/Tristar Pictures

Oscars: 'Inside Job' wins documentary

February 27, 2011 |  7:38 pm

Inside job Wow! Someone said something worth remembering. Charles Ferguson, director of the winning "Inside Job," who began his acceptance speech by noting that three years after the worst financial meltdown in our history, the subject of "Inside Job," "not a single financial executive has gone to jail."

The subject was a tough one. Most of us are so exhausted by the financial crisis, meltdown, implosion, that the idea of sitting through a serious look at the whys and the hows was not exactly appealing. And yet it was. Ferguson and the writers did a masterful job of creating tension and handing us the facts to back up all that anger. It was OK, it turns out, to be as "mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore' " (Peter Finch, "Network," 1976).


Red carpet photos

Oscar scorecard

Complete coverage: The Oscars

--Betsy Sharkey

Photo: "Inside Job's" Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs accept the award for documentary feature. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times


Did Disney pick a bad time to promote Johnny Depp's 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides?'

December 10, 2010 |  8:46 am

On the surface it must have made a lot of sense to pair the release of these new "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" images with the release of "The Tourist." Johnny Depp has been relatively available on the talk-show circuit promoting his new Angelina Jolie thriller, and so Disney must have figured this was as good a time as any to remind people about the star's spring fourquel.

It's a reasonable strategy, but it may well backfire. The reviews for "Tourist" have been so atrocious -- here's The Times Kenneth Turan, calling it "a not particularly thrilling thriller...so lacking in pace, involvement and excitement;" Todd McCarthy at the Hollywood Reporter had this memorably vitriolic take -- that "Pirates" almost looks bad by association. Far from piggybacking on goodwill for Depp, the images of a Jack Sparrow character that the actor could do in his sleep looks more likely to become part of a larger what-is-Johnny-Depp-doing conversation.

Maybe Disney felt that the negative vibes around "Tourist" could actually help its movie, throwing into relief how beloved the actor was in other surroundings. But that would only work if the studio were releasing images for something new and exciting, and a fourth "Pirates" movie is neither of those things.

Depp was once the most promising actor of his generation. He's still arguably the most talented, but he's choosing an odd way to show it  lately, what with these action spectacles that feel shopworn, or Tim Burton pairings that aren't much more inspired. That's an issue no amount of savvy marketing can solve -- only Depp himself.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Johnny Depp in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides." Credit: Disney


Hero Complex: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides first look photos

Movie review: The Tourist


Around town: Cowboys, gangsters and groupies on the big screen

December 9, 2010 |  5:00 am

It's hard to believe it's been five years since "Brokeback Mountain" was released. The film, which won Oscars for director Ang Lee, screenplay adaptation and musical score, tells the poignant, tragic story of the secretive love affair between two cowboys (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) over the years.

This Saturday, the Autry National Center will celebrate the film with a day of, according to the Autry, "programs and reflection." The movie will screen at 11:30 a.m. and at 3 p.m. there will be a staged reading, by Gregory Hinton, based on the book "Beyond Brokeback." The shirts featured so prominently in the movie are also on display at the Autry. http://www.theautry.org/programs/brokeback-mountain

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art presents the U.S. premiere Saturday of the new 35mm restoration by the Academy Film Archive of legendary Indian director Satyajit Ray's 1977 color production, "The Chess Players." The film is presented in conjunction with the exhibition "India's Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow."

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Alvin and the Chipmunks closes in on its ringleader

October 26, 2010 |  6:52 pm

EXCLUSIVE: The third Alvin & the Chipmunks film may wind up looking a little like the fourth Shrek movie.

That's because Mike Mitchell, the filmmaker behind "Shrek Forever After," is now in negotiations to direct the new installment in the live-action / animated franchise, according to several sources familiar with the project.

With a production start date just 10 weeks away, the third movie in the cartoon-creature franchise has been hurriedly searching for a director ever since "Private Parts" filmmaker Betty Thomas passed on the job. Mitchell, in addition to "Shrek," also worked on "Monsters vs. Aliens" and "Kung Fu Panda." Fox could not immediately be reached for comment.

The new Chipmunks movie, set for release next December, may or may not be shot in 3-D. It is, however, expected to involve the chipmunks getting shipwrecked, and its let's-fast-forward-the-tape-recorder songs are sure to once again enchant your kids while driving you crazy.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: 'Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.' Credit: 20th Century Fox


'Alvin and the Chipmunks' sequel tries to avoid a high-pitched problem

October 14, 2010 |  2:01 pm

EXCLUSIVE: The "Alvin and the Chipmunks" franchise has proved a reliable fan favorite, if not exactly a critics' darling, since it was reborn on the big screen in 2007. But the planned third movie, which is scheduled to come out next holiday season, might be having some trouble -- and not the good kind of trouble that Alvin gets into.

The movie is set to go into production in about 11 weeks for a release on Dec. 16, 2011. But the filmmaker who had been expected to take the reins, Betty Thomas, has decided not to direct the project, prompting Fox to hurriedly begin the search for a new director, according to sources familiar with the project.

A Fox spokesman declined to comment.

Thomas, best known for directing the Howard Stern biopic "Private Parts" and the Eddie Murphy movie "Doctor Dolittle," helmed the second film in the rebooted "Chipmunks" franchise. The much-punned upon "Squeakquel" grossed an extremely rich $443 million worldwide.

The new movie is expected to shoot in a seaside location, possibly Hawaii, with the plot centering on the chipmunks getting shipwrecked. At one point the film was reported to be conceived as a 3-D film. While Fox had discussions about shooting it in 3-D, sources say the studio is now leaning toward a 2-D production and release, though the new director could influence that decision.

There have been problems gnawing at the franchise since last spring, when the Bagdasarian family that controls the rights to the hit cartoon and "Squeakquel" writer Janice Karman sued Fox, claiming they're owed half the profits from the film. At the time, Fox said the lawsuit was frivolous and that it wouldn't affect the future of the franchise.

The news of an open director's chair comes amid a generally cloudy future for live action-cartoon hybrids. "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" wasn't a hit this summer, and the early reaction to the trailers for "Yogi Bear" has been lukewarm.

Shipwrecks aside, it remains to be seen in what direction the new film about the singing trio and its human caretaker goes. Filmmakers, after all, already added the requisite rivalry with a set of female chipmunks the last time around. Maybe a plotline about trying to get an entertainment franchise moving on schedule would be in order?

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel." Credit: 20th Century Fox

Olivia Wilde will be Justin Timberlake's...mother?

October 1, 2010 |  7:40 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Fans of Olivia Wilde, she of "House" fame, are about to get a hospital-size helping of the actress on the big screen.

Wilde Wilde dons the rubber and latex and struts her techno-chic in December's futurist adventure "Tron: Legacy," in which she plays female lead Quorra.  Wilde will also be seen this fall as the female lead in the murder-thriller "The Next Three Days" opposite Russell Crowe.

Now sources familiar with the production say she's been cast in Andrew Niccol's new untitled thriller at New Regency/Fox, where she'll play opposite Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried.

 The "Gattaca" writer-director tells a story set in a society where aging stops at 25. (People live beyond that; they just treat time as currency -- i.e., the rich have too much of it, and the poor are forced to scrounge or steal it). Wilde will actually play the mother of Timberlake's character. In reality, the 26-year-old Wilde is three years younger than Timberlake, but such is the magic of science-fiction premises.

Wilde -- a member of the Cockburn family of journalists, so kind of one of our own -- will then keep the screen time going with another lead performance as a tough frontierswoman in next year's "Cowboys and Aliens," as well as parts in quirky dramedy "Butter" and the lead in Ryan Reynolds body switch comedy "The Change-Up."  With this new turn in the Niccol picture, we can only imagine what character she'll play after that. Maybe Nick Lachey's great-aunt.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Olivia Wilde. Credit: Paul Buck/EPA


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