24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: John Horn

Mel Gibson's 'Get the Gringo' has a one-night theatrical run

April 19, 2012 |  6:47 am

Mel Gibson in "Get the Gringo"
Mel Gibson’s new movie, “Get the Gringo,” rolled into a handful of theaters Wednesday night for what is certain to be the shortest theatrical run in the actor’s history: one night.

That’s because Gibson’s latest self-financed film, a $20-million, south-of-the-border crime drama set in a Mexican prison, won’t appear in theaters beyond Wednesday’s premiere in Austin, Texas, which was simulcast into a few auditoriums around the country. Instead, “Get the Gringo” will skip a theatrical run entirely and debut on the satellite service DirecTV on May 1 in one of the boldest bets on video-on-demand programming.

VOD transactions surged by 1 billion to 8.8 billion in 2011, according to a new study by Rentrak, but most of the movies released directly in the format have been low-budget art house fare like “Margin Call.” But Gibson’s movie, which the actor stars in, co-wrote and produced, is a relatively lavish action film that theoretically could have enjoyed a wide release at the multiplex.

But Gibson, in addition to all of his legal problems, has struggled at the box office recently. Last year, "The Beaver" failed to gross even $1 million, and the year before his $80-million drama "Edge of Darkness" sold just $43.3 million in tickets domestically.

“We’re just in a different era,” Gibson said at an Austin theater following the film’s premiere, with the actor’s interview by blogger Harry Knowles beamed into satellite screenings in cities such as Atlanta, Minneapolis and Los Angeles. “Many people just like to see things in their homes. It’s just another way to do it and a better way to do it. I think it’s the future.”

Once known as “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” the violent film was directed and co-written by Adrian Grunberg, who was Gibson’s first assistant director on “Apocalypto.” In “Get the Gringo,” Gibson plays a character known as Driver, a veteran criminal thrown into a squalid Mexican prison. The film’s jail is patterned after El Pueblito, a notorious correctional facility in Tijuana that operated as its own city, with guns, drugs and prostitution readily available. “You can buy anything,” one character says in the film, “except your way out.”

Knowles declined to ask Gibson about his recent, nasty feud with screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, who was writing a screenplay about the Jewish warrior Judah Maccabee for Gibson to produce and potentially direct. Eszterhas in a long letter called Gibson an anti-Semite who "hates Jews" after Warner Bros. put the project on hold, while Gibson responded with his own letter, calling the “Basic Instinct” screenwriter incompetent.

Gibson said in the Austin interview that he is finishing writing a movie about the Vikings with his “Braveheart” screenwriter Randall Wallace. “It’s phenomenal,” Gisbon said. “I can’t wait to get my claws on it.”

He also said he had been meeting with writer-director Robert Rodriguez about a possible sequel to “Machete” called "Machete Kills."

“It sounds fun,” Gibson said.

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--John Horn

Photo: Mel Gibson in "Get the Gringo." Credit: Icon Productions.


'Woman Thou Art Loosed' off to strong box-office start

April 16, 2012 | 11:54 am

"Woman Thou Art Loosed"
Codeblack Entertainment predicted last week that its “Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day” would open to strong returns in a limited national release. But the African American drama starring Blair Underwood, Sharon Leal and Nicole Beharie performed even better than its makers expected.

Playing in 102 theaters, “Woman Thou Art Loosed” grossed an estimated $650,319, or $6,376 per screen. That’s more than first-place “The Hunger Games” generated per screen in its fourth weekend in wide release in 3,916 locations and better than any other film tracked last weekend by hollywood.com.

The film was booked exclusively into AMC theaters under the exhibitor’s AMCi initiative for independent film. Because AMC theaters are not in optimum locations for African American moviegoers in Los Angeles, the bulk of the “Woman Thou Art Loosed” came from other big cities.

“If you provide the right films in the right markets at the right times, the films will perform,” said Jeff Clanagan, Codeblack’s chief executive officer. The Universal City-based company financed the film's production and distribution.

At the AMC Southlake 24 in Morrow, Ga., “Woman Thou Art Loosed” grossed about $12,000 per screen, about the same steady business it generated at the AMC Loews Country Club Hills 16, in Country Club Hills, Ill. Two of the film’s highest-grossing theaters were the AMC The Parks at Arlington 18 in Arlington, Texas, and the AMC Hoffman Center 22 in Alexandria, Va., where the film grossed about $18,000 at each theater over the weekend.

Clanagan said the $1.5-million film, supported with a thrifty $750,000 advertising budget focused on social media promotions, will not expand this weekend since it faces strong competition for African American moviegoers from Screen Gems’ new comedy “Think Like a Man,” which stars Chris Brown and Kevin Hart.

But "Woman Thou Art Loosed," whose audience was estimated to be about 75% female, is set to expand its release the weekend of April 27-29. Clanagan expects that “Woman Thou Art Loosed,” whose producers include Texas minister T.D. Jakes, ultimately could gross as much as $3 million, Clanagan said.

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-- John Horn

Photo: Scene from "Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day." Credit: Codeblack Entertainment.


Zac Efron's 'Lucky One' could unseat 'Hunger Games'

April 16, 2012 | 10:21 am

Zac Efron's "The Lucky One" could beat "The Hunger Games" at the box office next weekend. Unless "Think Like a Man, "the movie based on the Steve Harvey book, does it
Zac Efron has some news for "The Hunger Games": Your reign in first place is about to end.

But it could be Steve Harvey claiming the title as the new top dog.

Efron's "The Lucky One," a tear-jerker romance adapted from author Nicholas Sparks' novel of the same name, looks likely to claim the No. 1 spot at the multiplex this weekend, which would knock "The Hunger Games" from the top spot.

But if the Warner Bros. film can't close the deal, look for Harvey's comedy "Think Like a Man" to premiere in first place.

"The Hunger Games" has been the nation's most popular film four consecutive weeks, and has grossed more than $337 million in domestic theaters to date. It is thus far 2012's top release, far ahead of "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax," with $204.5 million so far.

If "The Lucky One" isn't lucky enough to unseat “The Hunger Games,” the honor may go to Screen Gems' "Think Like a Man." If the audience tracking surveys are accurate, each film could gross $20 million or more in its debut, which should be more than enough for the top spot. Last weekend, "The Hunger Games" grossed an estimated $21.5 million, but should fall to about $15 million next weekend.

"The Lucky One," in which Efron plays a soldier who appears to be protected by the photograph of a woman he doesn't know, is appealing to younger women, the tracking surveys suggest. Men will either not attend or only go at gunpoint.

"Think Like a Man," adapted from Harvey's bestselling book, "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man," is a relationship comedy starring Chris Brown, Kevin Hart and Regina Hall. Its core audience is older African American women, the surveys indicate, but it has broad support from younger black women and a good percentage of men.

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-- John Horn

Photo: Zac Efron in “The Lucky One.” Credit: Alan Markfield / Warner Bros.


'Unraveled' offers candid profile of high-flying con man

April 12, 2012 |  4:34 pm

Unraveled
Marc Simon was building a successful entertainment practice within the New York law firm Dreier LLP when his world collapsed in late 2008.

The firm’s head, Marc Dreier, was caught running a $700-million fraud scheme, and in a heartbeat the firm closed, taking hundreds of employees with it.

Simon, an associate in the firm, was owed tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid expenses and far more in deferred compensation. “It was a real hit,” Simon said. “I was really financially damaged.”

But even as Simon scrambled to keep his head above water, he had an equally pressing concern — could he turn the high-living Dreier’s downfall into a documentary? “I immediately said to myself, ‘There’s a movie in this.’ And other people agreed.”

The resulting film, “Unraveled,” arrives in theaters and on video-on-demand this weekend. The documentary, which will also play on Showtime and CNBC this year, is an unusual portrait of a criminal, something of an extended monologue in which Dreier attempts to explain himself and his crimes, which included selling fake promissory notes to hedge funds and other investors.

Simon spent weeks with Dreier while he was under house arrest in his cavernous Manhattan apartment after entering a guilty plea but before he was sentenced to prison by a federal judge. Because his victims and former law colleagues were reluctant to talk about Dreier, Simon filled the movie with archival film and original graphic illustrations.

“He trusted me and believed this was not going to be a tabloid opportunity — that it would be balanced,” said Simon, who in addition to representing filmmakers as a transactional lawyer (his movie deals include “Winter’s Bone” and “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”) directed the 2008 documentary “Nursery University.”

Unlike Bernie Madoff, who has shared little about his Ponzi scheme motivations and personal regrets, Dreier welcomed Simon’s camera, even if some of his rationalizations stretch credulity, such as arguing that he was more a victim of bad luck than bad motives.

Simon said he was struck by Dreier’s demeanor — “He was like a caged rat, he was cornered and desperate” — and by some of his justifications. “I certainly think there is intellectual remorse,” said Simon, who soon after the Dreier firm imploded set up shop at the firm Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard. “But I don’t think he has connected viscerally to the damage he has caused.” Dreier, who loved buying expensive homes, cars and art, has no guilt whatsoever, Simon said, of the roughly 800 people who lost their jobs when the scheme was uncovered.

The film will play in just a handful of theaters, the first weekend focused on New York and Los Angeles, where Dreier’s firm had an office. “Documentaries are a challenge in and of themselves,” said Miranda Bailey, whose Ambush Entertainment was one of “Unraveled’s” production companies.

Simon believes his film is a “cautionary tale” about “what happens when we forget about our morals, about what happens when we forget about our values. This guy is symbolic of the times we are living in.”

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— John Horn

Photo: Marc Dreier in "Unraveled." Credit: Unraveled Productions LLC.

 


Mel Gibson to Joe Eszterhas: Your writing is 'a waste of time'

April 11, 2012 |  7:38 pm

Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson has fired a return volley toward Joe Eszterhas in the jousting over why Warner Bros. rejected the screenwriter's screenplay for a proposed movie about Jewish warrior Judah Maccabee.

The studio said Wednesday that it was not proceeding with Eszterhas' script and was "analyzing what to do with the project."

The news prompted the "Basic Instinct" writer to allege in a letter posted by the Wrap that Gibson, who was to produce and possibly direct the film, never wanted to make it because, as Eszterhas said of Gibson, "You hate Jews."

The actor and filmmaker, in response, sent Eszterhas a letter of his own, also sent to The Times, alleging that Eszterhas' script was "substandard" and "a waste of time."

The full text of the letter follows.

Joe,

I have your letter.   I am not going to respond to it line by line, but I will say that the great majority of the facts as well as the statements and actions attributed to me in your letter are utter fabrications.  I would have thought that a man of principle, as you purport to be, would have withdrawn from the project regardless of the money if you truly believed me to be the person you describe in your letter.   I guess you only had a problem with me after Warner Brothers rejected your script.

I will acknowledge like most creative people I am passionate and intense.  I was very frustrated that when you arrived at my home at the expense of both Warner Brothers and myself you hadn’t written a single word of a script or even an outline after 15 months of research, meetings, discussions and the outpouring of my heartfelt vision for this story.  I did react  more strongly than I should have.  I promptly sent you a written apology, the colorful words of which you apparently now find offensive. Let me now clearly apologize to you and your family in the simplest of terms.          

Contrary to your assertion that I was only developing Maccabees to burnish my tarnished reputation, I have been working on this project for over 10 years and it was publicly announced 8 years ago.  I absolutely want to make this movie; it’s just that neither  Warner Brothers nor I want to make this movie based on your script.

Honestly, Joe, not only was the script delivered later than you promised, both Warner Brothers and I were extraordinarily disappointed with the draft.  In 25 years of script development I have never seen a more substandard first draft or a more significant waste of time.  The decision not to proceed with you was based on the quality of your script, not on any other factor. 

 I think that we can agree that this should be our last communication.  

 Mel

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— John Horn

Photo: Mel Gibson. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times.


 

 


Mel Gibson's 'Maccabee' movie put on hold [updated]

April 11, 2012 |  5:28 pm

Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson's planned collaboration with "Basic Instinct" screenwriter Joe Eszterhas on a historical drama about Jewish warrior Judah Maccabee has been put on hold after Warner Bros. decided it was not ready to film the current script, the studio said Wednesday.

Gibson, who went on an anti-semitic rant when he was arrested for driving under the influence in 2006 and was criticized for depicting Jews negatively in 2004's "The Passion of the Christ," was to produce and potentially direct but not star in the Maccabee film. He will likely instead direct but not star in a movie about the Vikings written by Randall Wallace, who wrote Gibson's Oscar-winning "Braveheart" in 1995, a spokesman for the actor said.

A Warner Bros. spokesman said the studio was "analyzing what to do with the project" after the latest Eszterhas script was rejected. Gibson's involvement in the film had been criticized by Jewish leaders, with the Anti-Defamation League saying it "would be a travesty to have the story of the Maccabees told by one who has no respect and sensitivity for other people’s religious views."

Warner Bros.' options include hiring a new writer or shelving the project. Maccabee led a revolt against the Seleucid Empire around 160 BC and is considered one of the greatest Jewish warriors of all time and his accomplishments are celebrated on Hanukkah. News of the film's status was first reported by the website the Wrap.

[UPDATE, 5:20 p.m.: The Wrap subsequently posted a letter from Eszterhas to Gibson dated April 8 saying that the actor never intended to make the movie because "You hate Jews." The spokesman for Gibson told 24 Frames the actor planned to issue a "letter of response." A manager for Eszterhas did not immediately reply to an e-mail seeking comment.]

RELATED:

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— John Horn

Photo: Mel Gibson. Credit: Kirk McKoy.

 

 

 

 


Two new independent films court African American ticket buyers

April 11, 2012 |  5:03 pm

 

Blair Underwood in "Woman Thou Art Loosed"


Movies aimed at African American moviegoers are typically the province of bigger-budget comedies and dramas — the kinds of stories told by Tyler Perry or produced by Screen Gems. But this weekend, two independently financed productions are courting that same audience.

The two films — “Life, Love, Soul” and “Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day” — couldn’t be more dissimilar.

The first film is a small, self-distributed drama about fatherhood and family, a passion project from first-time filmmaker Noel Calloway with a cast of newcomers. The second movie, a kidnapping drama starring Blair Underwood, was produced and is being released by Codeblack Entertainment, the company behind last year’s Kevin Hart concert movie, “Laugh at My Pain,” which grossed more than $7.7 million in domestic release.

Yet the two productions both hope to draw moviegoers that their filmmakers feel are hungry for content and can be reached without expensive national television advertising.

“It is a very, very underserved audience,” Jeff Clanagan, the president and chief executive of Codeblack, said of African American patrons, whom he estimated would make up more than 90% of the film's audience.

Calloway’s path to the screen was not easy.

He wrote the “Life, Love, Soul” script in 1997, soon after graduating from high school in Harlem. “At my graduation, I looked out at the audience and saw mostly mothers and grandmothers,” Calloway said. He struggled raising money to finance his tale of a young man raised by a single mother who has to move in with his estranged father, and his lead investor pulled out halfway through filming in 2007. Calloway, who himself was raised by a single mother, wasn’t able to resume production for two years and only now has brought the movie to theaters; the film is opening in a handful of markets across the country.

“Woman Thou Art Loosed” is a sequel of sorts to the 2004 movie of the same name, based on the novel by Dallas minister T.D. Jakes, who serves as an executive producer on the new film. The movie will premiere in about 100 screens in more than a dozen cities nationally.

While Clanagan said the film could struggle generating big returns in some markets, he was optimistic “Woman Thou Art Loosed” will do well in Atlanta, Baltimore and Washington. “Our target audience is not going to see ‘The Three Stooges,’” he said of 20th Century Fox’s wide-release comedy.

Like “Life, Love, Soul,” Clanagan is using very targeted marketing to reach African American ticket buyers, relying heavily on word-of-mouth screenings and social media. “We’re not buying a lot of network television shows, but we did buy ads on VH1’s ‘Basketball Wives,’” Clanagan said of the cable television reality series.

Calloway hopes his film can find a broader audience. “It isn’t a black story,” the filmmaker said. “It’s about people, it’s about family, it’s about overcoming challenges.”

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— John Horn

Photo: Blair Underwood in "Woman Thou Art Loosed." Credit: Codeblack Entertainment.


Word of Mouth: 'Wrath' tries to right 'Clash's' 3-D wrongs

March 29, 2012 |  4:18 pm

"Wrath of the Titans"

The Hollywood gods spoke. And they did not approve of "Clash of the Titans."

Even though 2010's sword and sandals was a global blockbuster -- its nearly $500 million worldwide haul made it the year's 11th highest-grossing release -- its industry critics made a lot more noise than the ticket buyers. The focus of their ire? The hasty "Clash of the Titans" 3-D conversion, undertaken at the last minute to take advantage of higher 3-D ticket prices.

While James Cameron is spending more than a year turning his 1997 smash "Titanic" into a 3-D presentation for its April 4 re-release, the makers of "Clash of the Titans" spent a mere six weeks hurriedly converting the mythological spectacle into 3-D.

DreamWorks Animation's Jeffrey Katzenberg said the film's makeover "snookered" ticket buyers, while "Avatar" creator Cameron said of the conversion, "There was no artistry to it whatsoever."

Arriving on Friday, the "Clash of the Titans" sequel, called "Wrath of the Titans," attempts to atone for the first film's shortcomings.

Although the new, $150-million "Titans" film also was converted from 2-D into 3-D, any number of shots and visual effects sequences were designed from the very beginning for stereoscopic presentation. What's more, the filmmakers spent a year on the 3-D upgrade, working hard to ensure that the conversion was done as well as possible.

Even if "Wrath of the Titans," which stars "Avatar's" Sam Worthington, silences its 3-D critics, it will have a hard time making a big splash at the box office, as it must fend off "The Hunger Games" juggernaut. The reviews for the film have been better than they were for "Clash of the Titans," but the "Wrath" notices are still mixed to negative.

In this week's Word of Mouth column, John Horn looks at the sequel's prospects, and previews his report in this video:

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Photo: Danny Huston, left, and Sam Worthington in "Wrath of the Titans." Credit: Jay Maidment / MCT


Makers of 'October Baby' look to build on its success

March 27, 2012 |  4:37 pm

Rachel Hendrix in 'October Baby'

The makers of “October Baby” always believed their anti-abortion movie would play well in the Bible Belt. But in its debut weekend of limited national release, the drama generated solid box-office business in Hawaii, New York, Nebraska and Montana. Those returns have given fresh momentum to — and brought some unexpected donations for — “October Baby’s” planned expansion.

Premiering in 390 theaters last weekend, “October Baby” grossed $1.7 million for eighth place overall, a good start for a self-financed film supported by a paltry marketing budget of just $3 million. While the bulk of the film’s revenue came from theaters in the southeastern United States, “October Baby” played in crowded auditoriums in cities such as Honolulu and Omaha.

“We’re really pleased with the numbers, especially given the competition,” Andy Erwin, who directed and wrote the $800,000 drama with his brother, Jon, said of opening against “The Hunger Games.” Said Jon: “I had no idea we’d even be in the top 10.”

The movie, which is being released by the Samuel Goldwyn Co., is expected to expand into 100 or more new locations on April 13. “And the good news is that we have retained all of our theaters” from the first weekend, said Meyer Gottlieb, Goldwyn’s president. "October Baby" is on pace to equal the revenues generated by Christian football drama "Facing the Giants," which took in more than $10 million in 2006, Gottlieb said.

“October Baby” tells the story of a young woman named Hannah, played by newcomer Rachel Hendrix, who discovers early in the film that her mother tried but failed to abort her late in her pregnancy. She was subsequently adopted and spends much of the movie looking for her birth mother. Costarring John Schneider and Jasmine Guy, “October Baby” received a token release last October, bringing its cumulative returns to $1.9 million.

The film has collected mixed to negative reviews, scoring just 24% on Rotten Tomatoes. But the aggregation site reports that 93% of audiences liked the film, a better score than the widely praised blockbuster “The Hunger Games,” which earned an audience approval score of 87%, a bit better than its critical score of 85%.

The “October Baby” filmmakers believe the gulf between the reviewer and the ticket buyer scores dramatizes a rift between critics and conservative moviegoers. “What it tells me is that there’s a gap in values,” Jon Erwin said. “There’s a large group of people who don’t see their values reflected in most movies.”

Even though the brothers received unexpected donations of some $300,000 this week toward expanding “October Baby,” the movie’s release will still grow slowly. “We’re going to take it as wide as we can,” Jon Erwin said, “but one day at a time.”

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-- John Horn

Photo: Rachel Hendrix in "October Baby." Credit: Samuel Goldwyn Films


How would you change the MPAA's movie ratings? [Poll]

March 23, 2012 | 11:48 am

Bully
The ratings board of the Motion Picture Assn. of America has had better months.

Following its assigning of an R rating for the documentary "Bully," the MPAA has been attacked from all quarters.

Harvey Weinstein, the film's distributor, and "Bully" director Lee Hirsch claim the MPAA's rating is not only hypocritical and inconsistent (the more expletive-laden documentary "Gunner Palace" was rated PG-13) but also keeps the film from its intended audience of middle school kids. (Their appeal of the R rating was defeated by a single vote.)

Katy Butler, a Michigan high school student, started an online petition aimed at overturning the R rating and has collected more than 400,000 signatures. A number of celebrities, including Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep, and members of Congress have joined the chorus asking that "Bully's" rating be revised to PG-13.

The Parents Television Council, which supports the MPAA's rating for "Bully," says movies such as the dystopian drama "The Hunger Games," in which a number of teenagers kill each other, should be rated R, not PG-13.

What do you think?

Take our poll, and give as many as three answers.

 

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— John Horn

Photo: A scene from "Bully." Credit: The Weinstein Co.


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