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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Mission: Impossible IV

Box Office: 'The Devil Inside' is a surprise No. 1 [Video]

January 9, 2012 | 11:15 am

The Devil Inside was the No 1 film at the box office this weekend
After two weekends atop the box office, Tom Cruise's latest film has tumbled to the runner-up position,  thanks to a low-budget horror flick that was a surprise No. 1 pick.

"The Devil Inside," which Paramount Pictures acquired for a mere $1 million, was the weekend winner with a studio-estimated take of $34.5 million. Pre-release audience polling had indicated that the movie would make no more than $15 million upon its debut. Instead, it easily beat the fourth installment in the "Mission: Impossible" franchise, which collected $20.5 million, lifting its overall total to around $170 million.

As a result of the strong ticket sales, the weekend was up 29% compared to the same period in 2011. That was good news for the movie business, which saw receipts fall 3% last year.

For more on the weekend's results, check out this week's box office video report.


Box office: 'Devil Inside' bests 'Ghost Protocol'

Does 'Devil Inside' suggest a new studio-filmmaker relationship?

'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' leaves art house, to box office success

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Simon Quarterman and Isabella Rossi star in "The Devil Inside." Credit: Paramount Pictures

Are Tom Cruise and Matt Damon starting to switch places?

December 28, 2011 |  7:00 am

Matt Damon in "We Bought a Zoo."
Four years ago, you would had to have been as crazy as, well, Tom Cruise on Oprah's couch to bet against Matt Damon. The Massachusetts-born actor was coming off one of the biggest movies of the year in "The Bourne Ultimatum" and was part of the reason for the blockbuster success of "Ocean's 13."

Damon pretty much had his pick of directors, and in the years that followed, he made good on that capital. He reunited with Steven Soderbergh and Paul Greengrass, this time in less commercial films, and also did turns with Clint Eastwood, the Coen Bros. and Cameron Crowe.

After all those prestige bids, it's not a stretch to say that Damon has solidified his place as one of the best actors in his peer group. But even his most ardent supporters would have trouble saying he's a commercial draw. A-listers take nondescript movies and elevate them into hits. Damon seems to forever be stuck in a middling midrange. If that.

Many of his movies over the past four years have been disappointments — "Invictus," "Hereafter," "The Informant!" and "Green Zone." And now "We Bought a Zoo" has struggled in its early days of release. We won't even get into "Margaret."

Of this recent burst, Damon had only three movies that could be reasonably called successes — and two of those ( ("The Adjustment Bureau" and "Contagion") only modest ones. A third film, "True Grit," was a mega-hit, but for all the appeal of his dandyish LaBoeuf character, Damon seemed to be riding the coattails of Jeff Bridges and the Coens.

Contrast that with Cruise. Four years ago, he couldn't have been colder. He had acrimoniously split with Paramount, then got himself involved in some Nazi-eyepatch mockery while shooting "Valkyrie." He tried going his own way when he starred as a snaky politician in  "Lions for Lambs" (a domestic debacle), and was generally seen as taking himself way too seriously, even for a messiah-esque action star. 

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'Mission: Impossible': A Dubai landmark aims for film history

December 21, 2011 |  3:47 pm

In “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” Tom Cruise's super spy Ethan Hunt scampers up the facade of the Burj Khalifa, the needle-like structure that punctures the clouds high above Dubai.

Audiences have been delighted by Cruise's stunts, which he performed himself — the A-lister swings from a high point on the 240-story structure, the tallest building in the world, and even kicks in a few windows.

But as cinematic symbols go, the Burj is an oddity. Most action sequences set astride modern skyscrapers happen considerably west of here. Superman flew up the Eiffel Tower. Godzilla palmed the Empire State Building. And in “Independence Day,” aliens blew up the U.S. Bank Tower.

The Burj is trying to, well, top them all.

Opened only last year, the 2,717-foot-tall building was designed by the American architect behind Chicago's Trump Tower and is named after Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a ruler of neighboring Abu Dhabi who supported the project. The leaders of this glitzy and monied Emirate and the real-estate giant Emaar Properties built the Burj (which means “tower”)  to attract attention and tourism--and, as this is Dubai, because they could.

Their idea was to give this city a signature structure, as well as a large-scale home for hotels, offices and residences (though the little secret is that the 2008 financial crisis has resulted in a high vacancy rate, leading some wags to proclaim that the Burj Khalifa is not only the world's tallest building but also its emptiest).

Viewed from the outside, the Burj is impressive, a collection of overlapping cylinders that resembles a cross between a rocket ship and a collection of ultra-modern smokestacks. Its slender sleekness has the effect of making it seem even taller. But can it take its place among cinema's enduring icons?

Some of this city's residents think so. On a recent Thursday, a man who identified himself as Moaz was standing at its base marveling at the “M:I” connection. “The movie is good for Dubai. It helps a lot of people know about the city, and the building.” (Filmmakers decided to shoot at the Burj because of the conduciveness to big stunts, the novelty factor and, less officially, the marketing appeal it gives the movie in this part of the word.)

The people who operate the Burj Khalifa are not shy about the Cruise connection. In the building's lobby entrance, a corner has been cordoned off as a sort of “M:I” shrine. Behind a velvet rope sits Brad Bird's director's chair and a photo of Cruise at the building. The actor inscribed the photo to Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai whose face is omnipresent in this coastal city.

“Thank you for making the impossible possible,” Cruise wrote. No matter how much money you have or how many people you rule, there's no credibility like movie-star credibility.

One local, however, was less inclined to see things that way. “The building is good for Tom Cruise,” said the man, who was dressed in a traditional kandura and gave his name as Abdullah. “Not the other way around.”

Though striking to look at, the experience of entering the Burj is more prosaic. Visitors access the building through the Dubai Mall in a non-descript storefront entrance across from a Subway sandwich shop and a Mrs. Fields cookie outlet. It costs about $28 — nearly the same price as three “M:I” tickets — and requires advance booking of several days for a ticket to the observation deck.

After passing through security, it takes some time to reach the elevator that will whisk you high above the city. You're led, to a soundtrack of New Age music, through winding corridors adorned with grand proclamations of the Burj's greatness. “It is an unparalleled accomplishment in the history of mankind,” reads one sign.

Still, the view from the observation deck of the 124th floor lives up to some of the hype. Looking down (sans stunt harness), it's hard not be struck by how high up you are, not only above the ground — people look like action figures, cars like Hess trucks — but above the other buildings, as though you're standing on the wing of an airborne plane.

Much like the experience of watching a Tom Cruise movie, to peer down from the top of the Burj Khalifa is to find yourself asking life's big questions. What is our place in this vast world? What are the limits of man's ability to conquer his physical domain? And is wearing a keffiyeh on a skyscraper's windy observation deck really a good idea?

Riding down after witnessing the world from such a vantage point, it's easy to continue to ponder the rich mysteries of the universe. And, maybe, more Dubai-centric matters too — video ads in the elevator promote apartment rentals in the tower.


Movie Review: 'Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol'

Rock of Ages: Tom Cruise tries something scary — singing

'Mission: Impossible': Stars get spousal support at premiere

--Steven Zeitchik in Dubai, United Arab Emirates


Photo: The Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Credit: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

Box Office: 'Sherlock,' 'Chipmunks' sequels underperform [Video]

December 19, 2011 | 12:32 pm

Sherlock Holmes was the No 1 film at the box office this weekend
There wasn't much holiday cheer at the box office this weekend, as two big-budget sequels came in far below industry expectations.

"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" was the No. 1 film with about $40 million in ticket sales, far short of the $62.9 million the first film raked in back in 2009 -- though the original did open over the busier Christmas weekend. "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked," the third picture in the animated series, also fell short of its predecessors, with around $23.5 million. The previous two installments each collected more than $40 million on their first weekends in theaters.

One bright spot was the performance of "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol," the fourth Tom Cruise action flick, which Paramount Pictures previewed on more than 400 Imax and large-format screens. In limited release, the film grossed $13 million -- a tally that may have been boosted by a six-minute prologue to next summer's "The Dark Knight Rises," which played in front of the movie in some locations.

What do this weekend's numbers mean for the holiday season at the box office? Check out this week's box office video report for details.


Photos: Top 10 movies at the box office

A 'Batman' bounce for 'Mission: Impossible'

A weak weekend for 'Sherlock Holmes,' 'Chipmunks'

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: Noomi Rapace stars with Robert Downey Jr. in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows." Credit: Warner Bros.

Brad Bird: Tom Cruise has ruined me for other actors

September 28, 2011 |  2:05 pm

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol

Fans might run hot and cold on Tom Cruise these days, but on the set, every filmmaker seems to adore him. Brad Bird, director of Paramount's upcoming "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol," is no different.

"He's ruined me for everyone else," says Bird, who makes his live-action directorial debut in December after minting a major Hollywood profile with animation powerhouse Pixar. "I'm not going to understand after this point why any actor doesn't want to do all of their own stunts and hang off of a mile-high building. He truly loves the movies and the movie-making process, and he knows a ton about it but is incredibly polite and shows up on time and has done all of his homework."

Bird and Paramount Pictures are taking an unprecedented approach with "Ghost Protocol" by releasing it five days earlier than its Dec. 21 opening date at more than 200 Imax theaters, as reported over at our sister blog Hero Complex. But it's not clear if a franchise that has been away for nearly six years is up to the assignment it has chosen to accept.

A major centerpiece of the film, which stars Cruise as Ethan Hunt and features an ensemble cast that includes Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton and Simon Pegg, is the tense action sequence filmed at the top of the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai skyscraper that stands as the world's tallest building.

Cruise risked life and limb doing the stunt work, and Bird said the veteran actor was both a resource and raconteur on the set, which was valuable considering the tight shooting schedule for the film.

"He's made for movies the way Michael Phelps is built for swimming," two-time Oscar winner Bird said. "You look at the directors he's worked with too, it's a who's who. Scorsese and Kubrick and Spielberg and Oliver Stone — when Oliver Stone was making better movies — and Michael Mann and Sydney Pollack and on and on and on. It's kind of stunning. Not every one of them was a great movie, but he's worked with great directors over and over again, and you can engage him in those conversations."


Brad Bird: 'Mission: Impossible' opening early at IMAX

Why can't Tom Cruise escape himself?

'Ghost Protocol' looks for acceptance

-- Geoff Boucher

Photo: Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt, left, Paula Patton plays Jane, Simon Pegg plays Benji and Jeremy Renner plays Brandt, right, in a scene from "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol." Credit: Paramount.

'Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol' begins to look for acceptance [Trailer]

June 29, 2011 |  2:18 pm

The new trailer for Tom Cruise's "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" opens with some highly specific plot setup: An attempt to blow up the Kremlin has resulted in the U.S. government disassociating from all members of the Impossible Mission Forces espionage agency. The team will get framed for it, but then be given a chance to escape.

It's an intriguing premise, and almost makes up for the moments that follow, a quick succession of fade-outs that seem cut to both maximize style points and headaches. There are some cool shots, particularly one involving Dubai's Burj Khalifa skyscraper, and a welcome first  glimpse of Jeremy Renner (as a possible rival, not successor, to Cruise's Ethan Hunt). The trailer also gets an extra dose of street cred, courtesy of the Eminem-Pink collaboration "Won't Back Down." But it's mostly a cursory collection of explosions and chases.

Animation guru Brad Bird ("The Incredibles") makes his live-action debut with the latest "MI" film, which opens over Christmas after a nearly six-year hiatus for the franchise.


Why can't Tom Cruise escape himself?

--Steven Zeitchik


Why can't Tom Cruise escape himself?

February 9, 2010 |  6:47 pm

Tom Cruise

In the summer of 2008, Tom Cruise fell out of the big action thriller "Salt," a move that roughly followed him falling out of the big action thriller "28th Amendment" (and that was then followed by his big action thriller "The Matarese Circle" getting backburnered).

At the time it looked like the world's most famous working actor might take a break from the motorcycle-flipping and warehouse-exploding; he was, after all, shooting at about the same time the more prestige-minded (er, attempted prestige-minded?) "Lions for Lambs" and "Valkyrie," and was trying to build an entire boutique label in United Artists to boot.

But the news today, first reported by Deadline Hollywood, that Cruise will next shoot "Mission: Impossible IV" shows that you can take the actor out of the action, but not the action out of the actor. Cruise has migrated from the world of big franchises before. But somehow he always finds his way back.

With each "M:I" film there has been a marked, almost pointed, detour away from those star-showcasing, man-saving-the-world-from-catastrophe crowd pleasers. Hollywood stars routinely alternate between smaller movies and bigger action films. But something different has gone on here. George Clooney, Brad Pitt and other top stars practice (as much as a franchise-hungry studio system  allows) a one-for-us/one-for-them approach. The arc of Cruise's career has had a far more scattershot quality -- a burst of action films, followed by a substantial hiatus (and, judging by his falling out of the action films, a reluctance to star in them in the first place) -- followed by the inevitable return to his action sanctuary.

After the first installment of the Ethan Hunt chronicles nearly 15 years ago, Cruise appeared in three consecutive passion projects ("Jerry Maguire," "Eyes Wide Shut" and "Magnolia") before starring in the second "M:I" film.  Then the cycle repeated itself. After the second "M:I" film, he took an art-house plunge with a Cameron Crowe remake of a quirky Spanish film ("Vanilla Sky") and a Michael Mann mid-budget character piece ("Collateral") -- before going hard back to the action with "War of the Worlds" and the next "M:I" flick. ("Minority Report" was in there too, however you want to categorize that one).

And now, four years later, here we are again -- a man who veers off to be an actor but -- to the detriment of the acting world but the enrichment of studio coffers -- always comes back to being a movie star.

Of course, equally important as the question of how Cruise wants to show himself to audiences is how audiences want to see him (and whether they still will when this next "M:I" picture hits in May 2011). The world views movie stars, and Cruise in particular, a lot differently than they did in 1996, when the first "M:I" movie came out; there's little of the celebrity reverence that once drove people to see and love star-driven movies.

Then again, even in this TMZ-ized world, the worst of that Cruise backlash is over. The actor is not that polarizing a figure anymore, and certainly not the object of the tabloid and late-night target practice. Which means that as Cruise comes back, as he inevitably does, to his crowd pleasers, the crowds could inevitably come back to him. And the cycle continues...

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Tom Cruise. Credit: Paul Buck/EPA


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