April 23, 2014

Articles By: Pete Hammond

Pete Hammond is a writer, producer, movie critic and film expert whose commentary on the entertainment industry has appeared in numerous publications and on air interviews including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, OK Magazine, NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, Evening News With Brian Williams on MSNBC, the CBC, BBC, Bravo, E!, AMC, Canada AM and the KTLA Morning Show.

This Week In Movies By Pete Hammond – “Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1″

By Pete Hammond
HollywoodNews.com: Of COURSE the big news in movies this week is all Twilight, Twilight , Twilight which, with nearly $140 million performed at the top of expectations. So this Part one of the grand finale, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 brought out the females in droves but will Hollywood get the message? This segment of the audience is woefully underserved and when they are it is usually with substandard romcom crap. But they have proven time and time again that when there is something they really want to see they will turn out in force. On the other hand the young male contingent that Hollywood traditionally caters to has been spotty at best in returning the loyalty and increasingly stays away. So thanks to the ladies this week for giving Hollywood a giant boxoffice boost and some real hope for a happy holiday season at the ticket window.
With Thanksgiving looming it is expected Breaking Dawn will continue to draw as its audience has frequently shown ‘once is not enough’ when it comes to following the soap opera that author Stephanie Meyer has wrought. But the real battle royal is going to be for the family bucks. There is an unprecendented traffic jam of 3D family fare and non-3D family fare hitting the multi-plexes in one big swoosh starting Wednesday. Already Puss In Boots is holding strong and is well over $100 million so that is going to remain a major factor as it is joined by the 2D The Muppets from Disney as well as Martin Scorsese’s first 3D family effort , Hugo and Sony and Aardman’s holiday themed ‘toon, Arthur Christmas , also in 3D. Is there enough kid business out there to support all of these films? It would be a shame if they end up cannibalizing each other because all of them are really good fun and in a less-crowded corridor for the same family dollars would all be able to find a sizable audience. My guess is Muppets will prevail. It’s a total delight, does not rely on hiked 3D ticket prices, and also has a Toy Story ‘Toon attached to it as an added attraction. The one that could be in the most trouble is the brilliant Hugo which might actually have more adult appeal than the others, and with its early cinema history lesson [...]

This Week In Movies By Pete Hammond – “Immortals”

By Pete Hammond
HollywoodNews.com: The state of mainstream Hollywood cinema can be downright depressing sometimes. Witness the number one and number two movies of the week. In first place with a decent, if underwhelming $32 million is Relativity’s ripoff of 300 called Immortals. With ‘Superman’ in waiting Henry Cavill in the lead the film is a 3D sword and sandal beefcake epic that has no substance and no reason for being except for the fact that it wants to make money. It’s ‘B’ Cinemascore rating of audience satisfaction indicates the crowds that showed up were not too impressed and word of mouth must have been fairly lethal from Friday to Saturday as there was a large percentage drop between the two days. Of course 300 which starred Gerard Butler was a huge worldwide hit and did lots for bare ass warriors. It grossed somewhere in the vicinity of $70 in its first weekend just in the U.S. Plus it wasn’t in the higher-priced 3D like this film. The 3D conversion is fairly weak here and it is not necessary to sit thru this thing with glasses on to get the full effect. 2D ,in other words is just fine.
As for the number two film, Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill in which the star takes on the hoary old cross dressing routine and plays his own sister, it is disheartening to see that it could even make as much as the estimated $26 million that it did. When are audiences gonna sour on these low common denominator comedies Sandler keeps churning out to great success. His earlier trifle this year, Just Go With It, actually managed to make over $100 million. The abysmal film he produced but didn’t star in, Bucky Larson Wants to be a Star came and went quickly in early September thank god. It is truly my candidate for Worst movie of 2011 and I don’t see a prayer of anything coming along to beat it, but I have to say Jack and Jill is a strong contender for the crown. You could see where this film was going just from the billboards with the ugly mug of Sandler in drag. It’s sad that Sandler keeps going for this schtick. He has proven on occasion he can be very good in the right hands and given smarter [...]

This Week In Movies by Pete Hammond – Tower Heist, Puss In Boots

By Pete Hammond
HollywoodNews.com: The Best laid plans.
This was supposed to be the weekend that Tower Heist would rule the boxoffice roost and easily claim the number one spot while in resurrecting Eddie Murphy’s languishing career in the process. Instead that conniving little latino cat, Puss In Boots was the one who pulled off the heist, stealing the primo spot away after initially trailing on Friday night. In the end it was no contest. Puss took it away by more than $8 million leading Eddie, Ben Stiller and friends $33 million to $25 million, that was only a 10% week one to week two drop for the Dreamworks ‘toon but a $10 million shortfall for Heist, at least according to analysts projections. Like I said, ‘the best laid plans’. When I spoke to Dreamworks Animation honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg Saturday night he seemed more than relieved at the strong hold and continued business for Puss In Boots. “This is best second week for a movie in 15 years,” he told me. That ought to calm Wall Street which was concerned about the film’s performance , even though it easily opened in first place. Last week heavy snows on the east coast killed a lot of potential business but this week’s sunnier results more than made up for the shortfall.
As for Tower Heist this should have done better. It’s just a terrific caper film in the tradition of Ocean’s 11 and The Hot Rock. In fact it all started with Murphy who had an idea to do an all-black cast Ocean’s style heist movie , but as things often happen in this business that morphed into something quite different although I still think Murphy’s original idea had merit. Surprisingly audiences were lukewarm on this version even though it is a lot of fun and critics seemed to like it for the most part. ‘Heist’ got a 68% fresh score at Rotten Tomatoes but only a middling ‘B’ cinemascore audience satisfaction rating. That doesn’t bode well for great word of mouth for a comedy that deserves better than it is getting here. A few months ago director Brett Ratner told me he fully expected this film to spawn a brand new film franchise along the lines of his wildly successful Rush Hour series but that would seem to be in doubt unless the [...]

This Week In Movies By Pete Hammond – “Puss In Boots”

By Pete Hammond
Hollywoodnews.com: This cat may have the Halloween record in his hat. Despite the East Coast early snows and massive power outtages , Puss In Boots, Dreamworks Animation’s first spinoff of their cash-cow Shrek franchise is meeting DWA boss Jeffrey Katzenberg’s highest expectations with an estimated $34 million for the opening weekend. If it holds on Monday that would be enough to best Saw III’s $33.6 million by just a hair (or whisker if you’re up for puns today). Audience and critics certainly liked what they saw. The sharply-written and animated ‘toon got a nice A- Cinemascore audience satisfaction rating and has scored a Rotten Tomato meter friendly 81% fresh ranking (86% among top critics). Does it deserve the love? Absolutely. Ever since his debut in Shrek 2 in 2004 as a supporting player this sly character voiced brilliantly by Antonio Banderas has proved no pussy. But sometimes when an under-the-title player graduates to starring status the whole delicate soufflé can fall apart. Not this time. Director Chris Miller has made sure this feature is true to the Boots roots. Plus Salma Hayek is a great addition as the declawed but deviously clever Kitty Softpaws and Zach Galifianakis is a joy as the conniving but doomed Humpty Alexander Dumpty.
I’m not sure why there wasn’t more anticipation for this flick when it was first announced but the hip quotient and execution of it certainly seems to have caught critics by pleasant surprise. Banderas does Puss proud by basically sending up his own image in movies like The Mask Of Zorro and there’s a great recurring bit in the film with an interstitial cat whose hand-to-mouth reactions to the proceedings is just priceless comedy. When I spoke to him about three weeks ago Banderas told me he was about to take off on a massive worldwide tour promoting the movie which has the family audience all to itself for another few weeks in the U.S. but will be clawing it out with the likes of Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin in many overseas markets. Banderas is no fool. He knows this Puss has upped his financial booty considerably and reps a career highlight for him as does his current reunion with Pedro Almodovar in The Skin I Live In.
On the opposite end of the scale, Johnny Depp’s [...]

This Week in Movies By Pete Hammond – “Paranormal Activity”

By Pete Hammond
HollywoodNews.com: It’s rare that a third edition of a horror movie franchise could not only actually outperform its predecesors at the boxoffice but actually get good reviews in the process. Paramount’s latest annual installment of the Paranormal Activity series of creep-you-out genuine spookiness “home movies” did just that earning a way over-performing estimated total of $54 million and 72% positive reviews on the aggregated Rotten Tomatoes site.
Overall the film which only cost around $5 million to make is seemingly already in profit. Of course that $5 million total is gargantuan compared to the original cost of the first PA film which was reportedly made for $11,000 before Paramount acquired it for release in 2007. Since then they have kept the series going with back to back installments last Fall and now. It’s a tricky concept to keep pushing since the surprise element that made it work so well is by now a formula. Without giving too much away PA3 stretches that formula to the limit. Still at its heart this is one of those films, like Blair Witch Project that works because it touches the core of our fears, things that go bump in the night in our own homes. I would say it is also the anti-horror movie , at least of the sort like the ever-so-bloody Saw franchise that wore out its welcome long ago. Whether Paramount can figure out a way to keep this thing going throughout this decade like their Friday The 13th franchise managed to do in its own time is another question. Signs of viewer fatigue may already be creeping in if you go by the mediocre C+ Cinemascore rating of audience satisfaction this one got and the perilous 30%+ drop the film experienced from Friday’s blazing boxoffice to Saturday’s numbers. Actually you have to wonder what the deal is when a supposedly crowd-pleasing horror movie pleases the critics more than the “crowd”.
Proving no competition at the box office at all was the latest attempt to turn the time-honored tale of The Three Musketeers into gold at the ticket window. This souped-up 3D version of the classic tale earned only an estimated $8.8 million , good for an underachieving 4th place. Was it the marketing? Even its star, Milla Jovavich went public via [...]

This Week in Movies By Pete Hammond – “Footloose,” “Real Steel”

By Pete Hammond
hollywoodnews.com:Three new wide release movies with built –in marketing elements “guaranteed” to draw audiences all failed on one level or another this week in movies. In fact it is Dreamworks and Disney’s Real Steel that continues to rule at number one for a second week just barely squeaking by Paramount’s reboot of Footloose, $16.3 million to $16.1 million. So what went wrong? Hollywood seems to be creatively drifting as this week so pales in comparison to last year when Jackass 3D opened to over $50 million. Of course you can build an industry on Jackasses although many have been before. But the sad fact is the town awaits next week’s third Paranormal Activities movie in as many years to give it an infusion of cash from entertainment-starved filmgoers. Certainly on paper this week’s films probably looked really good to the committees that made them. The Footloose reincarnation went through many different creative bumps including one-time stars Zac Efron and Chace Crawford (who both dropped out) before settling on a pair of real dancers , Dancing With The Stars’ Julianne Hough and Kenny Wormald (like, WHO?) to carry it though. Of course the name itself , Footloose (based on the 1984 original with Kevin Bacon) is the pre-sold marketing hook but it wasn’t enough to carry it over the top to the expected number one spot, at least based on these studio estimates. Audiences gave it a promising ‘A’ Cinemascore rating so maybe word of mouth will be good but the boxoffice should have been more.
Still it’s not as bad as Universal’s attempt to market The Thing again. This “prequel” to the 1982 John Carpenter remake of the 1951 original, The Thing From Another World made only an estimated $8.7 million for third place even though a pre-Halloween horror type picture would seem to be the recipe for much larger success. Not to be. Clearly audiences were looking for some-THING else. The pre-sold title didn’t live up to its reputation, another lesson for studios looking for easy hooks based on early 80’s movies.
The same rationale can’t be said for the week’s other wide release, The Big Year, a comedy about “birders” or guys who just can’t have enough birdwatching in their lives. Now THAT’S an original idea and the studio , 20th Century Fox, populated it major comedy [...]

This Week in Movies by Pete Hammond – “Real Steel”

By Pete Hammond
hollywoodnews.com:With an estimated $27.3 million for its opening weekend and an impressive ‘A’ audience satisfaction rating from Cinemascore Dreamworks’ robo ‘Rocky’ boxing film, Real Steel easily took number one at the boxoffice continuing the month-long streak of family film success in the top spot (after Lion King and Dolphin Tale). But the real reason ‘Real’ did so well lies in the heart of the movie which is ultimately about second chances, family and a father-son relationship even though those boxing robots, particularly lead robot Atom, are irresistible too. Early marketing suggested this film might be aspiring to be more of a ‘Transformers’ ripoff (the studio wanted to first reach out to its “base” of young male and male filmgoers) but any notions of that were quickly dispelled from early screening reaction to what is oddly, a very human story at its core and even female viewers responded especially strongly. It doesn’t hurt that Hugh Jackman, in a tricky role in which he is not always sympathetic, is at his most appealing as a down-on-his-luck one-time heavyweight contender, now a wannabe fight promoter hawking run-of-the-steel mill robots who have taken over the sport of prize fighting. The real plot kicks in when his estranged 11 year old son Max played by Toronto discovery Dakota Goyo comes into his life complicating matters.
Earlier this week I sat down for lunch with the film’s director Shawn Levy who has had great success with big studio comedies like Date Night, Cheaper By The Dozen and Night At The Museum, the latter two both producing successful sequels and making Levy a go-to name for this kind of family entertainment. But he says ‘Steel’ is a turning point for him as a filmmaker. His executive producer Steven Spielberg would seem to agree. Although Spielberg told him he’s made a lot of good movies in the past, this is his first film. And in fact it was what he saw as the human elements of the story that made him agree to do it in the first place. He points out past film inspirations set around kids like Justin Henry in Kramer Vs. Kramer, Henry Thomas in E.T. and Ricky Schroeder in The Champ as templates for what they were trying to achieve here but I told the film most reminded me of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1973 charmer, Paper Moon [...]

This Week in Movies – Pete Hammond – The Dolphin Tale

By Pete Hammond
hollywoodnews.com: That rare A+ Cinemascore rating that Warner Bros. and Alcon Entertainment’s Dolphin Tale got last week was a definite sign word of mouth on this sweet little family film was going to be major. And it apparently was. Dolphin Tale has managed the rare feat of leapfrogging from number 3 last week in its first go-round to number one this week switching places with two week number one phenomenon, Disney’s 3D re-release of The Lion King. Apparently tailess dolphins and 17 year old cartoon lions are all the rage. Even though school is in session and summer’s long gone family films rule. This is the second time in as many months that a movie which did not open at number one shot up there in its second week.
The Help, another A+ cinemascorer managed the same trick although it crept up there from number two. Dolphin Tale’s ascent to the peak is even more impressive since it got there from the third spot and dropped only a measly 26% from its opening numbers to collect another $14.2 million and an overall total of $37.5 million. Count this as another winner for the Alcon folks who also scored big with their equally inspiring The Blind Side two Autumns ago. And with Brad Pitt’s durable Moneyball hanging on to its number two spot again this week, the top three spots have another rare distinction: they are all holdovers in a week in which four new movies had wide , or relatively wide openings. What does that say? Either the marketing for the newbies just didn’t connect , the film release landscape is overcrowded with nothing of distinction able to break through the clutter, or people are just so distracted this early Fall season that they are in a position of playing catch-up and waiting for word of mouth to spread before plunking down hard earned bucks on unknown quantities.
The number four thru number six positions are occupied by new films that are bunched so closely together that only $700,000 separates them . The highest grosser of that group, Summit’s “cancer comedy” 50/50 starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen is running an estimated $100,000 higher than current fifth place, Courageous, a Christian-themed film that actually should be given more credit since it is playing on only 1161 screens less [...]

This Week In Movies By Pete Hammond – The Lion King

By Pete Hammond
hollywoodnews.com: I am not sure what it says about the film business that a 17 year old animated Disney movie in its 2nd weekend again comes out on top and defeats a much-awaited new film starring Brad Pitt and a brand new heart tugging 3D family movie in more theatres than anything else. But again The Lion King showed who is king of the movie jungle by squeaking out another first place win with $22 million on its way to the blu ray DVD shelves. Disney had only announced this as a two week run to begin with but I can’t imagine that it won’t be extended now that it’s showing such remarkable ‘legs’ as they say in the trade. The ever-growing trend of releasing older movies back into theatres seems to be spreading now with Sony’s announcement they plan to bring Ghostbusters back next month and of course the early 2012 re-release in 3D of the Oscar winning Titanic (a tie-in with the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking).
Getting back to new films ( you remember those, right?), it was an impressive opening for the baseball-themed Moneyball at just over $20 million for the weekend. Considering the film had a tortured history getting to the screen Sony should be relieved to get that number and so should Brad Pitt whose star credentials are further enhanced by the box office performance and sterling reviews (97% fresh among top critics at Rotten Tomatoes). The movie also seemed to please audiences who gave it a solid ‘A’ Cinemascore rating. Co-Producer Rachel Horovitz who first had the idea of turning the book into a film only to meet resistance at every step of the way has told me she’s thrilled that it got to the screen with its integrity intact. At one time Steven Soderbergh was going to direct but lost the gig in a creative dispute with Sony just three days before production was to commence. Capote’s Bennett Miller rode to the rescue and did a great job, eliciting career-best performances from Pitt and co-star Jonah Hill . With baseball’ playoff season ramping up this one should continue to play well throughout the fall.
It was nearly overtaken by the number three film, Dolphin Tale showing in both 3D and 2D formats. This inspirational tale of a dolphin who loses [...]

THE ‘LION’ ROARS AGAIN BUT THE ‘DOGS’ HAVE NO BARK – This Week In Movies By Pete Hammond

By Pete Hammond
HollywoodNews.com:Well, apparently Hollywood found the secret for late summer success at the boxoffice. Forget the slew of cut-rate , unimaginative movies and just go into the vault for a real audience pleaser. That’s exactly what Disney did with their “special two week engagement” of The Lion King 3D , the 17 year old blockbuster that has now been converted into the pricier 3D format and grossed a terrific estimated total of $29.3 million to easily lead the box office this last official weekend of Summer 2011. The reissue was so successful that according to the Los Angeles Times, even rival The Weinstein Company was blaming it in part for their subpar debut of the Sarah Jessica Parker romcom, I Don’t Know How She Does It (apparently no one cared how she does it) which opened out of the top five with a sixth place $4.5 million. The blame is being put on mothers who had to take their kids to Lion King instead of indulging in the Parker chickflick.
But back to ‘Lion King’. It’s Blu Ray home video debut comes October 4th but the power of the film is clearly remarkable as cash-starpped parents are forced to pay higher 3D prices for a movie that was widely seen (it made a three quarters of a billion in its original theatrical run) and will be coming out again in two weeks on the home video format (where it has been AWOL since 2004). Nostalgic adults and a new audience of young kids make up the reason for the overperformance. It harkens back to the original Walt Disney theatrical release formula that was practiced by the studio in the years before videotape. They would reissue their classic animated films to theatres every seven years to capture a brand new audience. They have been following the plan with home video too by removing titles from the market and then re-introducing them in a spiffy repackaged, remastered format several years later. That’s the plan for Lion King but even Disney executives must be surprised at how well this interim theatrical stop is doing.
Steven Soderbergh’s global disease thriller, Contagion also had much to cheer about with a slight drop week to week of under 40% (the estimate is actually 36%) , a very good hold to bring its ten [...]

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