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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: June 2010

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Can 'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse' bring new fans into the fold?

June 30, 2010 | 10:53 pm


Two rules are axiomatic in the slippery business of Hollywood franchises:

A) The second movie in a franchise usually grosses more than the first, even when that second film is clearly inferior (see under: "The Matrix Reloaded").

B) The third movie then dips down again (see under: "Spider Man 3," "Pirates of the Caribbean 3" and many others).

The idea is that a movie gains fans as it moves between the first and second installments, as people who missed it in theaters hear about it, rent it and grow their enthusiasm. But if someone hasn't discovered it by No 2., they probably aren't going to find it by the time a third movie comes around -- while, at the same time, some of the diehards naturally get distracted and lose interest between the second and third films. Think of a bell curve, with the second movie sitting at the top.

But as with many other things this summer (like quality), Rule A has been turned on its head. "Iron Man 2"  and "Sex and the City 2" will actually wind up earning less than their original installments (in the case of "Sex and the City," much less). People got tired of these properties a lot sooner than they usually do, and they certainly weren't willing to put up with a lesser movie, even for a familiar brand.

In light of the first axiom being upended, it's fair to ask if "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" can disprove the second axiom: Namely, can its third installment actually earn more than the second? The magic number to hit in the United States is $297 million -- a high bar, but one that's not impossible. It's already off to a strong start. As my colleague Ben Fritz writes, midnight showings of the Kristen Stewart-Rob Pattinson film on Wednesday topped $30 million, and the film will pick up steam as it heads into the weekend. The $297 million number is within reach.

One factor in favor of the movie pulling it off? Only seven months have passed since the last movie. That's not a lot of time for people to get tired or see their attention drift. So there won't be much audience bleeding.

But will there be an infusion of new fans? In talking about the prospects for "Eclipse," some will point to the fact that David Slade's take on the vampires and werewolves is (slightly) better than Chris Weitz's "New Moon." That may be so, but it doesn't necessarily mean more fans -- it's hard to imagine someone who likes the Stephenie Meyer novels sitting out "New Moon" because the buzz is bad but coming back for "Eclipse." With this kind of franchise, once you're in, you're in. You don't drift out for one film and then come back.

Even without a burst of new people though, this movie could still end up earning more than "New Moon," for a simple reason: repeat viewing. That factor has always been key to the success of "Twilight" and tween franchises in general. And with perhaps a (slightly) better movie this time around -- and the fact that, with this one, teenagers are off from school and have more time on their hands -- there may be an uptick in the number of people who go again.

It may well be impossible for more people on God's green earth to love this franchise. But it may turn out that it's somehow possible for the same people to love it even more.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Rob Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner in "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse." Credit: Summit


'Eclipse' breaks 'New Moon's' record for midnight sales

'Eclipse' headed for $180 million by Monday

'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse' teaser

Wait, there's another 'Twilight Saga: Eclipse' trailer?

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Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week: 'Restrepo'

June 30, 2010 |  1:53 pm


Memo to all the fine-art film fans out there who have been resisting movies about Middle East war zones — yes, you “Hurt Locker” rejectors,  I mean you. Please don’t make the same mistake and overlook “Restrepo" and watch it get an Oscar nomination without you.

This excellent documentary chronicling a single U.S. platoon on deployment in Afghanistan in 2007-2008 is as insightful as it is visceral, and it could not be more timely given the contretemps over Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's harsh criticisms of the Obama administration’s Afghan ministrations and the general’s subsequent dismissal by the commander in chief.

Instead, “Restrepo” comes as something of a relief, told as it is from the point of view of the soldiers on the ground. Filmmakers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger (best known as the author of “The Perfect Storm"), both veterans of covering other wars and working for Vanity Fair and ABC News for this one, worked side by side with the troops as they fought, in all spending five months in the deadly Korengal Valley over the course of the deployment, and the result is true cinema verite, sometimes a little too verite for comfort.

But ultimately the power of "Restrepo" comes from its namesake, Juan S. Restrepo, an Army private with swagger, shades and an infectious smile, mugging for the camera in the early scenes of the documentary. Restrepo is also the desolate outpost in Korengal Valley named after him. He was 20 when he was killed in a firefight not long after his company arrived in the summer of 2007, and the others did not want to forget. We should not either.

— Betsy Sharkey, Times film critic

Photo: Spc. Kyle Steiner of 2nd Platoon, Battle Company, 173rd U.S. Airborne at Outpost Restrepo in Afghanistan. Credit: Outpost Films.

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'Paranormal Activity 2' trailer shows ... little activity

June 30, 2010 | 11:42 am

Paramount did a brilliant job with its "You Demanded It" campaign on "Paranormal Activity," creating demand as much as exposing it. The trailer for the sequel -- which is being directed by the young Kip Williams and is still set for release this Halloween -- brings us back to where we left off: namely, with Paramount reminding us that we demanded it.

There's a hint of some new information in the minute-plus clip -- which, in a bid to ensure that women keep coming, plays ahead of "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" this weekend. The marketing material shows a baby crib, suggesting that possessed protagonist Katie is now a mother (though who she's with remains a mystery; boyfriend Micah is presumably dead after the first film). And it shows a dog barking. So there's that.

But it's mostly a reminder that there was a film about eight months ago, and that this will be set in a similar locale of a possessed home, shot with a similarly grainy feel. Apart from that, we'll have to wait for more trailers. Or, um, demand them.

-- Steven Zeitchik



The haunted history of 'Paranormal Activity'

Possible directors on 'Paranormal Activity 2'

Dimension looks to engage in its own 'Paranormal Activity'

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Just how did Adam Sandler's 'Grown Ups' become a hit?

June 29, 2010 |  4:51 pm

Hollywood, as cheerleaders for "Toy Story 3" and other animated movies constantly note, is with increasing success making movies that are about kids but that contain adult themes and humor.

But it turns out that Hollywood is also pretty adroit at making movies that are about adults but that contain kid themes and humor.

Sony's Adam Sandler laugh riot "Grown Ups" should have been part of the Great Retread Recession of 2010. After all, nearly every new release of the last few months that has tried to recycle an old idea ("The A-Team," "Sex and the City 2" "Iron Man 2")  has disappointed. And there's nothing that deserves the label of retread more than the reunion comedy of "Grown Ups" -- starring Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade, Rob Schneider and Chris Rock as 40-ish-year-old friends who get together to catch up on old times and make a few fat jokes -- which trots out Sandler's puerile comedy for yet another go-round.

Yet that Retread Recession rule hasn't applied to "Grown Ups." The low-brow subgenre to which the movie belongs was shown to be as vibrant as ever this weekend with a $41 million opening -- good enough for the fifth-highest opening of the summer and the highest Sandler opening among his last seven pictures (and ahead of all-time Sandler hits such as "50 First Dates" and "The Waterboy"). The box-office total means about 5 million Americans bought tickets this weekend to see "Grown Ups" -- though to paraphrase Rock's old joke about Spice Girls album sales, I can't find a single person who'll admit it.

So, in a time when audiences are saying enough is enough to old ideas, how did this movie buck the trend?

We spoke with a few distribution experts and movie veterans, and they offered numerous theories. There's the one that Sandler is back in a comedy that's recognizably him (apparently, "Funny People" reminded these filmgoers that they liked Sandler, but not enough for them to like the movie).

Or the theory that many of the men who went to see "Grown Ups" recognized some of themselves  in it. These would be the thirty- and fortysometings who look back fondly, with no small amount of gross-out pleasure, on their adolescence, and at Sandler, the living embodiment of it. (These are, incidentally, the same men who propelled the gross-out nostalgia of "Hot Tub Time Machine" to a not terrible opening.) Bolstering this theory is Sony's data that nearly half the "Grown Ups" audience was over age 25.

"Grown Ups" is also a comedy in a summer that's been bereft of them -- there's no "Hangover" this season, and only one modest entry from the prolific Judd Apatow machine, "Get Him to the Greek." Some of the success may also be due to the film's marketing, which has hammered home the idea that if you come to see this movie, you are getting a boatload of likable stars for one ticket, as good a discount as there is in a time when moviegoers feel they've been throwing away their money.

But the most interesting  explanation may lie with a surprising Sony number: More women saw the movie than men (about 52% to 48%, according to the studio). On its face, that one's a head-scratcher. You wouldn't think that women would see themselves in the male characters or, for that matter, in the characters of the one-dimensional wives and girlfriends.

But several of the characters in the film have young families, a point the campaign smartly hit on  by showing children asking naive questions ("Daddy, what's wasted?"). Those are easy and broad jokes, but they're relatable -- and it just might have convinced women and mothers of young children that this was a movie worth seeing, or at least tolerating.

Summer 2010 isn't going to be remembered for many great movies. After "Grown Ups," it won't even be remembered for many middling ones. But in a time when very modest creative effort can lead to respectable box office results, Sandler proves, once again, that he is a man of the zeitgeist.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Sony Pictures

Find more middlebrow analysis of lowbrow pop-culture at http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT


Toy Story 3 remains No. 1

Movie review: Grown Ups

Sony will open the doors on Adam Sandler's 'Zookeeper' nine months later

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Warner Bros. goes gangster

June 29, 2010 | 11:35 am

Those hankering for more "Departed"-like movies from Hollywood -- original movies with well-paced action, a strong sense of place and a cross-section of colorful characters -- will probably get their itch tickled when "The Town," Ben Affleck's Boston-set crime drama, hits in the fall.

Now it looks as if they could be getting another scratch as "Tales from the Gangster Squad," an action movie conceived as an ensemble piece for a group of top-level actors, picks up momentum.

The film, based on a series of 2008 articles in the Los Angeles Times by Paul Lieberman, examines an LAPD unit that's set up in the 1940s to fend off the growing influence of the East Coast Mafia in the city. Of course the police group becomes very powerful, the battles with the Mafia escalate, and mayhem and betrayals ensue. (You can read Lieberman's series here.)

Sources say that Will Beall, an up-and-coming writer (he wrote a novel called "L.A. Rex" that Scott Rudin optioned, and which Beall then adapted for Rudin) was hired as the "Gangster Squad" screenwriter and has just completed his draft of the script. The film has a strong pedigree: it's set up at Warner Bros., which has made a cottage industry out of textured gangster pictures with both "Departed" and "The Town," and is being produced by Dan Lin and Kevin McCormick (who as Warners studio executives worked on "The Departed").[UPDATE -- Yes, "The Departed" is a remake of a Hong Kong movie. We saw that film, 'Infernal Affairs.' We liked it a lot. But Scorsese's version was still original by many definitions of the term -- it's not a remake of anything the great majority of its audience saw or were previously familiar with, as many Hollywood blockbusters are (and which was very clearly the movies we were contrasting it  with here). And the director's take, as well as Bill Monaghan's script, offered much of its own spin and interpretation. As did the actors. So yes, it's based on an obscure film. And it's an original.]

"Gangster Squad" is conceived as a vehicle with big stars a la "The Departed," though for non-remake movies at the studios these days budget is always a priority, so it's an open question how many high-priced types will be able to come on, and at what price. Look for a well-known director to come on board too (no names yet, but filmmakers and their representatives are beginning to get wind of it).

A year ago this week brought the last entry in the big-budget studio gangster movie, Michael Mann's "Public Enemies," a movie that was a creative disappointment and also didn't earn back its hefty budget. But that was more of a character piece than an action movie. At the right budget and with a healthy amount of thrills and action, "Gangster Squad," mob pictures in general and even the anti-remake boomlet could be back on the streets.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: LAPD officers inspecting the scene after a drive-by shooting. Credit: Los Angeles Times file photo


Ben Affleck hits The Town

The Gangster Squad sells to WB

Crusaders in the Underworld: The L.A.P.D. takes on organized crime

The Departed Arrives

Michael Mann and Johnny Depp make art of Dillinger
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Why Kristen Stewart connected with 'Rileys' more than 'Twilight'

June 29, 2010 | 10:24 am


The day after the mega-premiere of "Twilight: Eclipse" last week, Kristen Stewart was back at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Friday night for a decidedly more low-key event, supporting the film "Welcome to the Rileys" alongside cast members Melissa Leo and James Gandolfini. The film premiered earlier this year at Sundance and was recently picked up by Samuel Goldwyn Films for a planned fall release.

Writer Ken Hixon and producer Michael Costigan -- director Jake Scott was not in attendance -- first fielded a few questions after the screening. It was hard, however, not to feel that much of the room was simply waiting on Stewart, dressed in a short, simple black dress but having traded in the high heels of her arrival photos for a pair of low-top Converse sneakers. The first few rows of the audience seemed to skew more strictly female and decidedly younger than the larger audience, and the constant photo-taking revealed them as likely "Twi-hards."

It can be difficult, amidst the "Twilight" hubbub, to keep in mind that Stewart is a gifted actress and "Welcome to the Rileys" plays first and foremost as an actors' piece, allowing Stewart, Gandolfini and Leo to turn in three layered, deeply felt performances that seem natural and human even as the film's story takes some unlikely turns. Gandolfini plays a Midwestern businessman who goes to New Orleans on a business trip and meets a teenage stripper/prostitute played by Stewart. The two strike up an uneasy alliance; not a romance but maybe not always a pure friendship either, with each looking for something from the other. When Leo arrives, as Gandolfini's wife, the dynamics adjust again.

Rebecca Yeldham, LAFF director, moderated the discussion and first asked Stewart if she consciously chose parts "that couldn't be further from Bella" when taking roles outside the smash supernatural romance series that has made her an international sensation.

Continue reading »

The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and several of his affected relatives

June 28, 2010 |  5:13 pm

Fans of the 1960s television series "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." were buoyed when, several months ago, a long-gestating  big-screen version of the show gained some  momentum at Warner Bros.

To update the playfully droll Cold War program about a Russian and an American agent who work together to fight an evil agency, the studio had brought on a new writer (an up-and-comer named Max Borenstein) and, according to numerous reports, also had a director on board (David Dobkin, best known as the filmmaker behind "Wedding Crashers" and, at one point in its development, the director of "Cop Out").

Now, "U.N.C.L.E." is picking up more speed -- of a sort. Borenstein has turned in his script (which is said to be a commercial action thriller with some comedic touches, but not the other way around) and the studio likes it and wants to move forward, according to sources. But Dobkin, it turns out, will only produce, not direct, which has led the studio to intensify its search for a director.

The company recently went out to Doug Liman to direct "U.N.C.L.E.," with the idea that the director of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" would be a good candidate to take on another action thriller with lighthearted moments, as the new U.N.C.L.E. reads. Warner Bros. has long been high on Liman, who already has a packed schedule at the studio -- he's on the company's new "Three Musketeers" movie (probably on the backburner) and the hot graphic novel adaptation "All You Need Is Kill" (very much on the frontburner). But sources say that the studio and producers liked him just the same for "U.N.C.L.E." and that Liman, in turn, was intrigued by the idea -- but decided he probably wouldn't take the gig.

So now the studio needs a director again. Given that there are several filmmakers in the Liman mold -- directors who can handle big scenes with a comedic touch --  you wouldn't necessarily think it would be hard to find a worthy candidate. And given how interested they are in making this one, it may not be that long before they hire him. After the sputtering of lighthearted action movies such as "Killers" and "Knight and Day," though, that person may just want to stay out of romantic territory.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Credit: NBC

Cannes 2010:  'Fair Game's' fair response

Can someone please shoot the interracial buddy comedy

Dueling 'Three Musketeers' projects sharpen their blades

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World Cup host South Africa gets a (different kind of) cinematic close-up

June 28, 2010 | 12:49 pm

If the sounds of the vuvuzelas isn't still ringing in our ears months after the World Cup ends, South Africa might find another way into our consciousness. Sony Pictures Classics said Monday morning that it has bought distribution rights to "Life, Above All," Oliver Schmitz's South Africa-set movie that played Cannes last month, and would release the film in the U.S.

The movie, which we saw on the Croisette, focuses on a teenage girl beset by a host of problems (a series of father figures who've abandoned her, a mother who may be dying) while she must simultaneously care for her younger siblings. The film's got a bit of a "Winter's Bone" feel to it -- there's a strong, wise-beyond-her-years teenage girl fighting the odds in a poor rural area, protecting children even as she is, in many ways, still a child herself (though the film is not the tour de force that "Winter's Bone" is).

LifeOur Cannes viewing had actually made us wonder, given all the ways South Africa is in the news, if a major American company might take a flier on it. If the ESPN telecasts and other news coverage awaken a larger curiosity about country, this is a movie that satisfies it; "Life" is much more of a foray into social realism than many more politically minded South African films have been.

Still, there's an unavoidable problem with putting out this movie. The film's portrayal of rural and working-class parts of the country is hardly glowing; many of the adults are downright harsh or so preoccupied with their own survival that they have no time for the children. Schmitz, who based the film on a popular young-adult novel, also casts a depressing light on the powerful specter of AIDS among the country's poor.

All that grittiness makes it a more interesting film, but it could also present a marketing incompatibility, flying in the face of the feel-good aura hovering over South Africa, literalized by those incessant notes of harmonic folk music accompanying all showings of the World Cup logo.

("District 9," of course, became a big hit despite hardly being a Chamber of Commerce-approved piece of work, but that movie came out well before the World Cup and put many of the social issues behind a genre cloak anyway.)

Sony Classics hasn't committed to a release date for "Life" yet. That may be simply because it needs to find a place for it on the always-crowded specialty-release calendar. But it could also be wise not to push a film about the unseen problems in South Africa when everyone is still hearing the World Cup music.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Life, Above All." Credit: Cannes Film Festival.


Cannes 2010: America braces for an auteur attack

Nike's World Cup commercial shows Inarritu's filmmaking flair

Thai upstart Uncle Boonmee takes the Palme d'Or at Cannes

Why is there no great Hollywood soccer movie?

LAFF 2010: 'A Family' and 'Make Believe' take top awards

June 26, 2010 | 10:14 pm

The Los Angeles Film Festival on Saturday handed Danish domestic drama "A Family," directed by Pernille Fischer Christensen, its narrative award, and teen-magician documentary "Make Believe," directed by J. Clay Tweel, the documentary award.

As actress Gena Rowlands took the podium in the upscale environs of the Chaya Downtown restaurant to announce the event's final winners, the assembled audience, mostly filmmakers from the competition and assorted guests, rose to their feet for a standing ovation. Christensen was not in attendance but sent a short message, read by Rowlands, that concluded, "Have you given your family a hug today?" In accepting his award, Tweel sputtered, "I have no idea what to say; I did not even think about this happening," before turning the microphone over to his producer Steven Klein.

Both awards come with cash prizes of $50,000. At the close of the awards brunch, festival director Rebecca Yeldham announced that although in previous years the cash prize had been underwritten by a corporate sponsor, this year the money came straight from the coffers of the festival's organizer, Film Independent.

A few other prizes were announced at the ceremony, including best ensemble performance in the narrative competition to Sabrina Lloyd, James Urbaniak, Lynn Cohen, Harry Chase, Nate Smith and Kamel Boutros for their work in Adam Reid's "Hello Lonesome." The short film awards went to Pablo Larcuen's "My Invisible Friend" for best narrative short film, Tomasz Wolski for "The Lucky Ones" for best documentary short film and Beomsik Shimbe Shim's "Wonder Hospital" for best animated short film.

Audience awards were announced Sunday before the closing-night, world-premiere screening of the animated film "Despicable Me." The British comedy "Four Lions," directed by Chris Morris, won the prize for narrative feature, while Mark Landsman's "Thunder Soul," about a 1970s Houston high school jazz band and its recent reunion, won the documentary award.

“Presumed Guilty,” a documentary looking at Mexico’s justice system, won the prize for international feature; Roberto Hernández and Geoffrey Smith directed. James Blagden’s “Dock Ellis & the LSD No-No” won for best short film, while “This Too Shall Pass,” directed by James Frost, OK Go and Syyn Labs, won for best music video.

There had been much speculation before the festival, which is sponsored by The Times, about how the move this year to venues downtown from the event's more recent home in Westwood would affect attendance.

"All we know is it's up," said Yeldham after the ceremony, "and it's up considerably from last year in terms of the numbers and also the attendance. It's going to take a few weeks before we tabulate everything."

Asked if she felt the move had altered the makeup of those attending the festival, Yeldham said, "It felt different."

"It certainly felt more diverse," she continued, "and it certainly felt a little bit younger."

This year also marked the first as artistic director for David Ansen, longtime film critic for Newsweek.

"I'm very happy with the awards," Ansen said of the juries' decisions this year. "I sat in on the end of the deliberations, and I know how hard they struggled and how long it took them to come to a winner. I mean, it's a sign of a good festival when they have a hard time."

-- Mark Olsen

Photo: "A Family." Credit: Los Angeles Film Festival

Fox Searchlight takes another Mulligan

June 25, 2010 | 11:50 am

Mulligan EXCLUSIVE: Fox Searchlight has what appears to be a fruitful collaboration with Carey Mulligan in the upcoming "Never Let Me Go." Now it appears the specialty division won't let her go.

The company of "Juno" and "Little Miss Sunshine" is developing a new movie titled "Stoker," with Mulligan in talks to star. The kicker? The project is written by "Prison Break" star Wentworth Miller.

"Stoker" tells of an eccentric teenager whose enigmatic and estranged uncle returns to the family after the death of the girl's father. And the company is adding some more boldfaced names from across the pond: Ridley and Tony Scott's Scott Free Productions is in talks to produce. Searchlight is also in talks with Jodie Foster to costar with Mulligan.

It's rare for a commercial powerhouse such as Scott Free to develop boutique films (though they did work with Searchlight on the current relationship comedy "Cyrus"). And Foster has only recently taken a turn to the lower-budget (she directed and costars in upcoming quirky dramedy "The Beaver"). But Searchlight has honed populist specialty films to an art form and, apparently, Hollywood's most commercial names don't want to let it go either.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Carey Mulligan. Credit: Paul Buck / European Pressphoto Agency.

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