April 23, 2014

Articles By: Scott Mendelson

Mendelson’s Memos: The basics – 30 years old, married with one child, currently residing in Woodland Hills, CA. I am simply a longtime film critic and pundit of sorts, especially in the realm of box office. The main content will be film reviews, trailer reviews, essays, and box office analysis and comparison. I also syndicate myself at The Huffington Post and Open Salon. I will update as often as my schedule allows. Yes, I’m on Facebook/Twitter/LinkIn, so feel free to find me there. All comments are appreciated, just be civil and try to keep a level discourse, as I will make every effort to do the same. Read more at Mendelson’s Memos:

“Spring Breakers” Amuses – Weekend Box Office

No matter what you think of the film, the $30.5 million debut of Olympus Has Fallen this weekend is very good news for those who want their action films to be R-rated.
With Arnold, Sly, and Jason all flaming out and only the terrible A Good Day To Die Hard opening well, we needed an original R-rated action film to reestablish their viability. I may be forgetting something, but this this is among the top R-rated action openings for a non-sequel since the $50 million debut of Wanted back in June 2008 (possible exceptions: Inglorious Basterds which opened with $37 million in August 2009 and the sci-fi drama The Book of Eli which debuted with $32 million in early 2010).
The film is easily Film District’s biggest debut ever, with a solid A- from Cinemascore and a strong 3.0x weekend multiplier. The concept is a pretty obvious winner, so obvious that I’m amazed it hasn’t been done before (yet it’s only the first of two, with White House Down opening this summer). The obvious appeal of the narrative plus a game cast of recognizable players (Gerald Butler, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, etc.).
It’ll take a hit next weekend from G.I. Joe: Retaliation, but it should recover due to the fact that it’s one of the most insanely violent R-rated action films this side of Starship Troopers and thus will provide the kind of carnage that a PG-13 G.I. Joe movie cannot. Hopefully this finally gets the undervalued Antoine Fuqua onto the various ‘hot lists’ next time a studio goes hunting for a tent pole director.
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“Justice League” Just Focus on Heros

So here’s the $250 million question… Even if Warner Bros. eventually gets its proverbial act together and finds a decent script and a willing director how exactly do they make Justice League more than just ‘the one that came second’?
Warner Bros. is now in the unenviable position of trying to follow up what is basically the superhero team-up film that everyone always wanted to see. Oh sure, you can argue that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are bigger and more iconic characters than Thor or Iron Man, but Marvel did the work and kudos to them for herding the necessary cats in order to make it happen.
The irony is of course that Warner Bros. and DC Comics already have the ingredients to make Justice League matter in a movie world that has already seen The Avengers. They have the ingredients, and the manner in which they mix them will potentially allow Justice League to be different enough and unique enough to stand on its own. They just have to be willing to do what Marvel has so far been unwilling to do, which is to focus on heroes that aren’t quite the ones you’d expect to take center stage.
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Watch the New Star Trek Into Darkness International Trailer

Isn’t Star Trek supposed to be about star trekking? Ya know, exploring strange new worlds, seeking new life and new civilizations, and possibly going where no man has gone before?
This may look like a decent action thriller, but it also feels like a painfully generic adventure that happens to be painted in Star Trek paint. Benadict Cumberbatch shows up, Cumberbatch commits several acts of terrorism, Kirk goes after Cumberbatch.

I sincerely hope there is more to the story than that and there may very well be. But what we’ve seen so far suggests the film boldly going where any number of sequels have gone before. And, if I may, why oh why couldn’t Paramount wait until next weekend to debut this with G.I. Joe: Retaliation? Anyway, Star Trek Into Darkness opens May 15th in IMAX 3D and May 17th elsewhere domestically. As always, we’ll see…

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Underestimating the box office potential of films featuring actors of color – ‘The Call’ Halle Berry

There is an amusing phenomenon, going back at least as long as I can remember, to underestimate the box office potential of films featuring actors of color. We don’t see it coming, we’re shocked when it happens, and then studios don’t actually factor this new information into their production slate.
Anyway, The Call was the top new release of the weekend, earning $17.2 million. Yes the film played strongly among African Americans, at least partially because the movie bothered to feature a few (Halle Berry and Morris Chestnut among many others) in more than just token roles. Tracking this debut compared to Berry’s previous efforts is tough because she has had co-starring roles in stuff like Die Another Day ($47 million debut), The Flintstones ($29 million), and the X-Men trilogy ($54m, $85m, and $102m).
In terms of starring vehicles, this is bigger than the likes of Catwoman ($16 million), and A Perfect Stranger ($11 million), but below Gothica ($19 million). The marketing smartly highlighted that it was a film about one woman rescuing another woman from peril, with no clear male lead. It played 61% female and 53% over-30. The picture cost just WWE just $13 million before selling the rights to Sony and earned a B+ from Cinemascore, so it may just have legs. Even if its appeal is about “black audiences have nothing for them right now”, Warner Bros’ Jackie Robinson biopic 42 doesn’t open until April 12th.
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Is ‘The Call,” a new B-movie classic?

For the first hour or so of The Call, you’ll think you’re watching a new B-movie classic.
The picture is staged as a typical ‘special location’ thriller. We get a solid prologue, a decent chunk of the movie set during the actual situation we paid to see, and then, as must always be a the case, a finale set away from the prime location.
Speed had to eventually leave the bus, Shoot to Kill had to eventually get out of the mountains, and Red Eye couldn’t just end on that plane. It’s how a film like this handles the eventual disembarking that determines its overall success. Sadly, The Call blows the dismount by a considerable margin, trading plausible real-world tension for generic genre cliches. But up until that time, it is a superior thriller, and a successful return to the somewhat lost art of what Roger Ebert liked to call the bruised-forearm movie.
For the first 2/3, The Call is a nearly perfect example of what it’s trying to be.
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Veronica Mars Film Coming Next Summer

30,000 people donated an average of $64 during a several hour period yesterday, and thus we will be getting a Veronica Mars movie sometime next summer.
Creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell used Kickstarter to basically prove to Warner Bros. that there is indeed an interest in a continuation of the cult detective drama that ran for three low-rated seasons on the CW back in 2004-2007.
The deal was basically to raise $2 million in a month and Warner Bros. would agree to distribute and market the film, giving it a limited theatrical release and the various home-viewing options. They hit their target at 5:55 pm this evening. I made a bitchy joke earlier in the day about raising money to find domestic ‘food insecurity’ among American children by calling such an initiative ‘Save Firefly!’ or something to that effect. My first instincts were ones of priorities and what this said about our ‘entitlement culture’. Upon reflection (I purposely didn’t write anything immediately), I’m still not sure how I feel about this. This is indeed very interesting, it may even be *news*. But is it good news overall.
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The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is an inexplicable missed opportunity

Among its many other faults, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone makes a solid case for the old ‘television is better than the movies’ argument.
The film is written by four different screenwriters all swimming in television writing experience and directed by a man who has directed almost nothing but television since 1990 and all of their various television projects are likely, by default, better than this film.
It features two actresses (Olivia Wilde and Gillian Jacobs) who did shine or are currently shining in well-developed three-dimensional roles on episodic television and uses them here merely as props for the boys to screw or ogle. It contains a script seemingly written by committee that features less wit and smarts than any one of the 38 episodes of 30 Rock by director Don Scardino. But putting aside the film vs.
TV debate, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is an inexplicable missed opportunity, showcasing subject matter that isn’t the least bit timely and highlighting the unmerited ‘redemption’ of a pointlessly horrible human being whose downfall is completely his own fault. More importantly, save for Jim Carrey’s supporting turn and a few grace notes along the way, it isn’t very funny.
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‘Oz: The Great and Powerful’ wins the weekend box office with $80 million

I’ve said this before, but one of the problems with modern box office analysis is that it treats studio tracking numbers, which are supposed to be internal figures that can be used to adjust marketing in the run up to release, as ironclad box office predictions.
More often than not, pundits use tracking in a way that creates a preemptive doom-and-gloom scenario where a new release is painted as a box office turkey before it even opens *or* its used to give unrealistic expectations to a new release so that studios are then forced to defend what is actually a solid debut. Such is the case with Oz: The Great and Powerful (trailer/posters).
The $215 million Disney prequel debuted with a strong $80.3 million this weekend. Alas, due to rumblings and arbitrary presumptions that the film would open with as much as $100 million over the weekend, mostly due to the project’s token similarities with Alice In Wonderland, Disney may now be forced to defend what is easily the biggest opening of 2013 by more than double and the third-biggest March debut ever behind Alice In Wonderland ($116 million) and The Hunger Games ($153 million).
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‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ breezy action-packed trailer

The only spoiler bit is at around 1:02, where Captain Pike has some facial scars that I don’t recall him having at the end of the first Star Trek (he was of course seriously injured, but I don’t recall scarring).
Perhaps Pike gets those scars when Cumberbatch escapes from his glass prison at the halfway mark, because “He planned to get caught the whole time!”. Otherwise, this is a quick (78 seconds) and breezy action-packed trailer.
It’s nice that they aren’t focusing as much on Benedict Cumberbatch’s mystery villain (I have a theory on that, broached by a friend of mine and backed up by what we’ve seen thus far, but I’m not sharing in case I’m right) and also showing off that the film isn’t all gloom and misery this time around. The initial trailers tried to sell the film as a generic ‘dark sequel’ or The Dark Knight meets Skyfall meets Revenge of the Sith.
This new trailer plays in the Return of the Jedi/Tron sandbox with phasers set for swashbuckling adventure.

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The un-feminist female characters in ‘Oz: The Great and Powerful’

Unfortunately pretty much everything I feared about Oz: The Great and Powerful turned out to be true, at least from a gender perspective. It is indeed about three seemingly powerful women sitting around and waiting for a random man who fell out of the sky to not only attempt to save Oz but, more importantly, shape all three of their respective destinies.
Full-on spoiler warning…
The film also equates beauty with virtue in a rather explicit fashion, with somewhat laughable scenes of Rachel Weisz’s Evanora complaining of jealousy over Michelle Williams ‘pretty face’ seemingly oblivious to the fact that said evil witch is played by *Rachel Weisz* (spoiler: Rachel Weisz is insanely hot). It’s not just that Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams play seemingly strong female characters who constantly yap about needing some prophesied male wizard to swoop down and save their asses. The biggest problem in the film is that it allows its feeble and somewhat selfish male hero to basically define them and their actions.
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