24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Lionsgate

Stallone: I'm contemplating an 'Expendables' sequel

August 10, 2010 |  5:10 pm

Expendables With pre-release surveys for "The Expendables" indicating huge levels of excitement among male filmgoers, director Sylvester Stallone says he's ready to roll on a sequel if investors are willing.

"If this does perform, I think it will open a little more liquidity in funding the sequel," he said. "I have an idea ready to go. People think doing a sequel is easy, but it's not because you need the element of surprise. I'm going to try to do something that's quite radical."

Stallone offered few specifics on what that radical idea might be, but the hyphenate isn't shy about what "Expendables," which is poised to open north of $30 million this weekend, means for his career. In an interview for a story that ran in today's Times, Stallone said he first pitched the movie, which he also co-wrote, at the American Film Market more than two years ago. AFM, held in Santa Monica each November, is traditionally a bazaar of sorts for movies starring actors a little past their prime domestically but well known overseas. But Stallone, who still has plenty of cachet internationally, initially couldn't find investors for "The Expendables."

It was only later in 2008 that independent financier Avi Lerner stepped up to cover the movie's $82-million budget, most through foreign presales. In addition, Lionsgate paid nearly $20 million for rights to distribute the movie -- which co-stars action names such as Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Jason Statham and Jet Li (and features cameos from classic action heroes Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger) -- in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain.

Of course, big expectations don't always result in big results at the box office, as Lionsgate learned the hard way with "Kick-Ass." But Stallone, who admits he's as nervous as he has ever been before a movie opened, said his fears are eased a bit when he remembers that he broke his neck doing stunts on the set of "The Expendables."

"It's a good omen," he explained. "I didn't get a hangnail on the set of 'Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.' "

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren and Sylvester Stallone in "The Expendables." Credit: Karen Ballard / Lionsgate


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Why 'Kick-Ass' failed (and did it really?)

April 19, 2010 |  9:32 am


It seems a little wrong for us to evaluate the disappointing $19.8-million take of "Kick-Ass" this weekend when we (and many others) were, prior to its release, touting a possible runaway success.  But quarterbacks wake up on Monday too, and so it seems only right to take a look at what went wrong with Matthew Vaughn's stylishly bloody kid-superhero picture, based on Mark Millar's equally stylish and smart graphic novel. Here are a number of misconceptions held by us (and others) that were disproved this weekend (to go along with our belief that this movie could well pick up a little momentum and perform nicely in the coming weeks).

Many young people in this country are ready to embrace the shocking.
Tolerance for violence in youth-oriented movies has been growing for years, and even movies aimed at young people that land an R rating can become hits ("Borat" comes to mind). So apart from the 16-and-under crowd that couldn't (officially) get in -- and we all knew about that problem before -- the envelope-pushing of "Kick-Ass" wasn't going to deter any film-goers. But it turns out that large swaths of the country may not crave the shock-worthy, at least not the overt kind. Package those shocks in innocuous wrapping -- like a mustachioed Eastern European man and a harmlessly funny title -- and you're fine. But put them front-and-center and you're in trouble. All we needed to know about Middle America's discomfort with the film came when we saw a theater marquee in western North Carolina, where we're writing this; the theater wouldn't even use the second word of the title, preferring dashes instead. That's never a good indicator.

The mainstream is tired of the straight superhero story and wants something that subverts the form.

No matter how some try to categorize it, "Kick-Ass" isn't really a movie about superheroes. The character has as many powers as a house rabbit. The person who saves everyone is an 11-year-old in a purple wig. The characters in the film are, for one of the first time in movie history, just as slyly knowing of the tropes and conventions of superhero films as those watching it. "Kick-Ass" isn't so much a superhero movie as it is a post-superhero movie. In the era of "The Dark Knight" and Robert Downey Jr.'s "Iron Man," this is what we want, right?

Not exactly. Sure, "Dark Knight" raised the levels of darkness and complexity. And Downey in "Iron Man" makes self-effacing jokes about invincibility and freakish powers. But those films are ultimately still superhero movies. They improve the genre; they don't subvert it. And parts of the American audience, for whatever reason, don't want subversion when it comes to superhero movies. The only other big commercial film that really tried this before? "Watchmen." Exactly.

Kickass Controversy will sell tickets.

That's true -- but only if the right people object. They didn't here. Parents groups weren't debating "Kick-Ass" before the film was released-- critics were. And if critics matter less at the box office when recommending a movie, they matter less when objecting to it. That said, Lionsgate should have seized on the unrest. See how the CW turns the protestations over "Gossip Girl" to its marketing advantage by incorporating them into its campaigns? That could have worked nicely here too.

Internet buzz means robust ticket sales.
Actually, this one we believe. Yes, there's always a "Snakes on a Plane" that proves the exception. But that film was largely embraced as a goof, and goofy doesn't sell tickets. On fan sites and on Twitter, the Internet masses sincerely embraced "Kick-Ass." It's just that those masses were only large enough to sell a certain amount of tickets (and we still maintain that the movie will hold rather well in the coming weeks anyway, thanks in part to said buzz).

An abstract marketing campaign is almost foolproof.

If "Paranormal Activity" and other films can become mega-hits with marketers carefully withholding information about a movie's content, this film will too.  But simply throwing up some posters that obscures a movie's plot and themes, as Lionsgate did here, isn't enough. You have to give people a reason to care about what you're not telling them. And the studio didn't sufficiently do that.

Finally, after saying all this, we're not convinced that "Kick-Ass" is indeed a failure. That's not just because to negate that designation is to avoid buying co-workers lunch (or at least eating less crow when we do). There's a genuine success story lurking beneath "Kick-Ass," and not just for Lionsgate, which only bought the movie in August and will earn back its investment. This is a film that no studio wanted to make, one that Vaughn produced, financed and even promoted himself, in a time when it's harder than ever to do those things on your own.

And how did it work out? Last year, "Kick-Ass" became one of the only movies in Comic-con history to generate significant buzz despite the absence of studio backing. And just eight months later it will turn a tidy $40-$50 million at the domestic box office, a number well higher than its production budget. Do that at Sundance and you're a legend. Vaughn may not be that, but he's no slouch either.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Upper photo: Chloe Moretz in "Kick-Ass."  Credit: Lionsgate

Lower photo: A poster for "Kick-Ass." Credit: Lionsgate


Preview review: Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl in 'Killers'

February 11, 2010 |  2:43 pm


Last April, Ashton Kutcher bombarded his Twitter followers with a series of messages and pictures while filming his movie "Killers" in the scenic French Riviera. He posted shots of the beautiful views. The nice restaurants. And look! Demi finally came to visit.

Months later, a trailer for the Lionsgate film has finally been released, revealing the picturesque setting that Kutcher previewed last spring. In the film, he stars alongside Katherine Heigl -- who is stunningly beautiful and blond but again somehow woefully single -- playing a woman named Jen who is on vacation with her family in Nice, France. Her parents are played by Tom Selleck, who of course is rocking an excellent mustache, and the often funny (but sometimes not-so-funny) Catherine O'Hara.

Enter a shirtless Kutcher, who immediately greets Jen with a rather creepy "Bonjour." (No, we don't think his character, Spencer, is French.) Spencer sweeps Jen off her feet -- cue the series of romantic vignettes. He kisses her neck, meets her parents, and ditches his buddies to take her out on romantic dates.

But wait! He isn't who she really thinks he is. And this isn't a romantic comedy -- it's a romantic-comedy actioner (Is there a shorthand for that? Romcomtioner?). Spencer is actually some type of undercover, gun-wielding, fast-car-driving agent -- and Jen gets roped into his madness.

Sure, the trailer feels like it gives away the entire movie. But certain questions persist. Such as: Do you think Heigl will be able to segue away from romantic comedies into a slightly different genre someday? Will audiences be able to handle this much topless, karate-kicking Kutcher? Discuss in the comments and vote in our poll below.

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo:f Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher in "Killers." Credit: Lionsgate.


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