April 16, 2014

Tag Archives: John Carter

“Jack the Giant Slayer” bombs!

Pretty much everything I said last March about John Carter applies to Jack the Giant Slayer. There are a few differences.
Jack and the Beanstalk is technically a well-known property and Bryan Singer had the live-action track record that Andrew Stanton did not. But otherwise it is pretty much the same fallacy with pretty much the same result: $200 million cost plus who knows how much in marketing for $27.9 million on opening weekend. No stars, source material no one really cared to see onscreen, marketing that didn’t convince them that they should, a release date that put them within one week of a likely juggernaut, and mixed reviews.
Like John Carter and Battleship, Jack the Giant Slayer was basically a $200 million variation on ‘Generic Blockbuster: The Movie’. Unlike Disney and Universal respectively, Warner Bros. seemed to see this one coming well in advance. They changed the release date from June 2012 to this weekend and changed the title from Jack the Giant Killer to ‘appeal to families’. Yet they still spent $200 million on a would-be family film that I can’t take my daughter to because it’s PG-13 and (allegedly) features slightly toned down Lord of the Rings type violence.
To be fair, some of that $200 million cost was due to reshoots and the date change, but why bother? Warner spent untold extra millions to get the exact same terrible result they got this weekend. And really the film’s cost is as usual the prime offender.
To read more go to Mendelson’s Memos
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“Prometheus” – Finish the first film if you want us to see the sequel!

HollywoodNews.com: Corey Atad wrote a great ‘wish I had gotten around to writing it first’ piece on Friday. It’s about well, it’s called “Prometheus; or Stop Trying to Set Up Sequels!”. I’ve whined about this in brief or in the context of something else from time to time, but the whole ‘everything’s a trilogy’ mindset has been quite harmful to any number of pictures over the last decade. When you go back and look at the films that spawned successful franchises, they generally began with mostly close-ended installments.
Star Wars stands on its own, as does The Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Batman Begins (heck, over the last four years I’ve come to admire how The Dark Knight begins and finishes its Harvey Dent business within its own 152 minute running time). Even the first Back to the Future ended its specific narrative before offering a comedic cliffhanger that didn’t necessarily need to be revolved (the producers always say they sure as hell wouldn’t have had a flying car at the epilogue if they knew they were going to have to do expensive FX for a flying car all throughout a sequel). Even Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had a relatively self-contained story that didn’t necessarily require a sequel to complete its narrative.
But these days there is a certain thinking that one must intentionally leave your story unresolved in order to justify a sequel, as opposed to merely making one successful film and hoping the audience wants more. Personified by John Carter, Dark Shadows, and Prometheus this year, and films like Night Watch, Robin Hood, and The Golden Compass in years past (yes the latter is actually less cliffhanger-ish than the book), there is indeed a min-trend of intentionally leaving your primary story open-ended in the egocentric presumption that parts 2 and 3 are merely a good opening weekend away. Arguably the first explicit ‘to be continued’ wasn’t even Lord of the Rings, but rather Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers back in November 1997. I remember being genuinely shocked that the film ended without the primary conflict being resolved, even as the film still felt like a complete story for the main characters. But my favorite sequel tease remains the finale of Bryan Singer’s X-Men. Even when I first saw the film back in July 2000, it struck me as [...]

“The Avengers” sunk “Battleship” at the Box Office

HollywoodNews.com: Most box office write-ups written today or tomorrow will exclaim that ‘The Avengers sunk Battleship!’. The truth is that Battleship (review) sunk itself. The film was terrible, a mishmash of a thousand prior blockbuster films all meshed into a generic template that seemed like producers checking off a list of ingredients on a scientific formula.
More importantly, the marketing accurately conveyed this and audiences decided to either stay home or see something else. The assumption of global success, based on an arbitrary connection to a board game and $220 million worth of special effects surrounded by a stale concoction of used parts, was cynicism of the highest order. The fact domestic audiences soundly rejected it has to be cause for optimism. With John Carter and now Battleship (pity Taylor Kitsch, who stars in both but bears little responsibility), it appears that movie studios run the risk of indeed going broke underestimating the taste of the American public.
To read more go to Mendelson’s Memos
Photo courtesy Universal Picturs
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“The Hunger Games” stays strong and tops $350m Weekend Box Office

HollywoodNews.com: It was an ‘everybody wins’ weekend at the box office as all three openers outperformed even the most optimistic expectations. The number one film of the weekend was not The Hunger Games but rather Think Like A Man. The all-star romantic comedy based off of Steve Harvey’s best-selling relationship self-help book grossed a somewhat surprising $33 million on just over 2000 screens. The Screen Gems film was notable in that the small studio made a real effort to market the African-American-centric rom-com both to black males and white audiences (Vulture has a detailed article about the marketing campaign). Racial demographics aren’t available yet, but the film played 63% female and 62% over 30. For what it’s worth, it earned an A from Cinemascore, including an A+ from audiences under 25. Even more impressive is that the film achieved a near-3x, including a token increase on Saturday (from $12 million to $13 million). The film has a ton of ‘would probably be a bigger star in a color-blind society’ actors, including Gabrielle Union, Meagan Good, Michael Ealy, Steve Harvey, and Taraji P. Henson. But the secret weapon may have been comedian Kevin Hart, who powered his stand-up concert film, Laugh At My Pain to $7 million last September despite playing on less than 300 screens. Pay no attention to this large opening folks, nothing to see about an under-served audience demographic delivering near-blockbuster numbers on a $13 million budget. Just move along and keep putting Anthony Mackie in fourth-billed supporting roles.
There will be lots of talk comparing this film to the Tyler Perry cannon, but know this: If the estimates hold up, Tim Story’s decidely secular romantic comedy will have opened higher than every Perry feature save the $41 million debut of Madea Goes To Jail. In fact, aside from that Perry release, I can’t think of another African-American comedy or drama that opened as high as this one perhaps ever. How well the film holds up over the long haul is an open question, and arguably *that’s* where the attempt at cross-racial outreach come into play. If Screen Gems can convince white audiences that this isn’t so much a ‘black film’ as much as it’s a Valentine’s Day-type ensemble piece that happens to star actors of color, it may have strong legs as its sampled by general [...]

21 Jump Street topped the box office this weekend with a whopping estimated $35 million

By Scott Mendelson
HollywoodNews.com: There isn’t anything too surprising about a well-marketed and well-reviewed mainstream comedy opening well on its debut weekend, especially when there are no new releases to compete against. Still, 21 Jump Street topped the box office this weekend with a whopping estimated $35 million. If that number holds up, it will be the seventh-biggest debut for an R-rated comedy ever, as well as the fifth-biggest R-rated comedy debut for a non-sequel and the largest such debut outside of summer. Sony knew they had a winner on their hands, as the $42 million-budgeted film was as much a commentary on the current trend of recycling brand names as an example of such. They’ve been screening it out the wazoo, building solid buzz and strong word-of-mouth, for months on end. Oddly enough, the film earned just a ‘B’ from Cinemascore, and I’m frankly puzzled by that. Yes, audiences under 25 gave it an A, but it’s such a winning film that I’m shocked it’s not playing well across the board (my 61-year old father-in-law laughed his butt off at the press screening). It’s a terrifically funny and uncommonly warm and sweet (for an R-rated action comedy) picture, so one would presume that it will have legs in the coming weeks. Hopefully Sony will focus its second round of advertising on getting females into the theater (although it played 47% female and 50% over/under 25 years old) by emphasizing how *not* sexist and/or homophobic the picture is. It faces no direct competition (aside from the all-consuming hurricane that is The Hunger Games next weekend) until April 6th, when Universal debuts American Reunion. This is another big win for Channing Tatum. This is his third-biggest debut behind The Vow ($40 million) and GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra ($54 million). He also has a second GI Joe movie as well as a Steven Soderbergh reunion in Magic Mike both opening on June 29th. This is Jonah Hill’s second biggest live-action debut behind the $54 million opening of Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.
Following last week’s semi-wide release of Friends With Kids (which expanded to 640 screens this weekend and grossed another $1.5 million, dropping 25%), we have three more theoretically mainstream films that have been relegated to the arthouse circuit. Will Ferrell’s telanoleva satire Casa [...]

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part II trailer with The Hunger Games

By Scott Mendelson
HollywoodNews.com: Yes, as expected by everyone and their cat, Lionsgate will indeed unleash the first trailer for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part II two weeks from tomorrow, attached exclusively to prints of The Hunger Games. It’s an obvious move, using one massively popular franchise to prop up a new franchise that shares at least some core demographics. But what is most heartening about the move is that Lionsgate will in fact be keeping the trailer offline that entire opening weekend. That’s right, Twi-hards, there may be crummy YouTube bootlegs popping up online on Friday morning, but if you want to see a quality copy before Monday, March 26th (at 3:00am PST… really guys?), you actually have to buy a ticket to The Hunger Games over its opening weekend. What a novel concept!
It seems like a pretty obvious concept, actually debuting big movie trailers in theaters, preferably attached to new movies that share audience demographics (and theoretically giving the new movie a small boost over opening weekend). But, with the exception of Warner Bros’ advertising with the last two Batman pictures, no other studio seems to have the good sense to do this. As you of course recall, Warner Bros. kept official versions of most of the various Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises teasers and trailers offline during the opening weekend of the Warner Bros films they were attached to. If you wanted to see the first teaser for The Dark Knight Rises, you had to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II in theaters over its opening weekend. Ditto for The Dark Knight, which debuted its first trailer with I Am Legend. Eleven years ago, New Line Cinema famously debuted the first teaser for the Lord of the Rings trilogy with prints of Thirteen Days. We can debate whether the Cuban Missile Crisis drama got a boost, but I distinctly remember seeing signs at my theater warning patrons that they could not buy a ticket to Thirteen Days and then get a refund after the Lord of the Rings teaser played.
You’d think that more studios would do this, exclusively attaching anticipated trailers to their own films and using that exclusivity as a carrot to get fans into theaters on opening weekend. You’d think Disney would have had the [...]

Not Good News for John Carter Midnight Box Office

By Scott Mendelson
HollywoodNews.com: It’s been awhile since we had a movie that justified running the ‘midnight math’, so let’s make this quick. John Carter grossed $500,000 worth of 12:01am shows last night. That’s quite a bit under the $3-5 million that most of last summer’s tent-pole films were pulling in. Moreover, it’s $3.1 million less than the midnight gross for Tron: Legacy just over a year ago. While one may argue that school is in session so it may not be fair to compare, any number of major summer releases that debut in May or early June have to worry about kids still in school, to say nothing of the boffo $3.7 million midnight debut for Fast Five last April. But, in the name of mercy, let’s give a bit of leeway. Generally speaking, unless the film has hugely positive word of mouth (not likely), the amped-up audience just doesn’t *need* to see it at midnight (probable), or is insanely front-loaded (let’s hope not…) a genre film like this usually pulls in between 4.5% and 6.5% of its money via midnight shows. So under those circumstances, we’d be looking at a probable opening weekend for John Carter of between $7.7 million and $11.1 million. I honestly don’t think that the opening weekend is going to be that bad, so let’s play absolute best case scenario and assume that only the absolute hard-cores went last night. If we presume that the midnight showings made up between 1.5% and 2.5% of the weekend total, then that leaves John Carter between $20 million and $33 million for its opening weekend (or, optimistically, about what Prince of Persia did with its $500,000 midnight opening and $30 million Fri-Sun weekend back in May 2010). Still, if the midnight figures mean anything at all in calculating the opening weekend, and if John Carter’s midnight scores are in any way ‘normal’ for a big-budget fantasy tentpole, then Disney is in deep trouble…
Photos by Walt Disney Studios
To read more go to Mendelson’s Memo
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John Carter’s Director Andrew Stanton Talks

HollywoodNews.com: Newly released talk from JOHN CARTER Director Andrew Stanton discussing his life in story last week in Long Beach, CA.
Andrew Stanton is the writer behind the three hugely successful Pixar Toy Story movies as well as the writer and director of WALL-E, the opening sequence of which will go down in, well, my personal history as being one of the most beautiful animation pieces of all time. His new live action movie, John Carter, comes out in March. He takes to the TED2012 stage and starts with a bang: telling a long-winded, accent-strewn, expletive-filled joke that promptly sets the crowd on fire. Storytelling, you see, is joke-telling. And now he continues to challenge himself to see if he can accord his own greatest storytelling commandment–”make me care”–by telling us his own life story … backwards.
“And that’s what ultimately led me to talking about story here at TED.” Two big laughs in a row; Stanton really is a comedian, as well as everything else!
So the story, naturally, starts with John Carter, based on a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, of which Burroughs is the narrator. “The book is fundamentally making a promise; this story will lead somewhere worth time,” he says. “A well told promise is like a pebble being pulled back in a slingshot that propels you through the story to the end.”
2008
After showing us a clip from Wall-E, Stanton says he used everything he had, wanting to experiment with the idea that storytelling without dialogue was the purest form of cinematic storytelling. That led to another realization: “We all want to work for our meal when we watch a movie; we just don’t want to know that we’re doing it.”
2002
When Stanton worked with Bob Peterson on Finding Nemo, their unifying theory was 2+2. The twist; to make the audience put things together. “Don’t give them 4. Give them 2+2.” No, it’s not an exact science. Stories, he says, are not a widget. “Stories are inevitable if they’re good but they’re not predictable.”
2001
Stanton took an acting seminar with Judith Weston and learned that all well-drawn characters have a spine. ”They have a dominant unconcsious goal that they’re striving for, an itch they can never scratch.” This was a huge moment for Stanton, who took this on as a dominant theme for his own storytelling.
1998
Hooked on storytelling, he read everything he could, and found the phrase by William Archer: “Drama [...]

John Carter is sci-fi fantasy done wrong

By Scott Mendelson
HollywoodNews.com: I understood Brian DePalma’s Mission: Impossible the first time I saw it in theaters. I had no trouble following Chris Nolan’s brain-twister thrillers (Memento, The Prestige, Inception). It was work, but I more-or-less ‘got’ the core narrative beats of LA Confidential and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. But by golly John Carter is a confusing muddle of a movie. There has been all kinds of hand-wringing about the film’s rather large budget and its lousy marketing campaign.

I’ve taken the film to task for representing Disney’s obsessive desire to ditch their core female audience while spending untold millions on boy-friendly franchises that don’t pay off (HERE). But putting all of that aside, Andrew Stanton’s visually ambitious and cheerfully innocent boys’ adventure film does indeed have a few moments of visual splendor and gee-whiz action. But it is saddled by a needlessly convoluted narrative that goes nowhere slowly, and that further strains patience by telling its story through cryptic exposition as well as inexplicable casting and costuming choices that renders a large chunk of the supporting cast indistinguishable from each other at key junctures.
The plot, such as it is, concerns John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a bereaved Confederate soldier who ends up transported to Mars through sci-fi happenstance and ends up embroiled in a civil war. That’s the gist of the story, but the film spends nearly an entire act getting him to Mars and much of the film establishing and then explaining the various complications that I’m sure were in the original novel but feel like needless padding in the cinematic adaptation. It may not be fair to compare John Carter with other recent fantasy franchises, especially as the Edgar Rice Burroughs 1912 novel is seen as a major influence on the last 100 years of genre storytelling, but Stanton and his team make a key mistake in the construction of this film. In short, instead of giving us complex and/or nuanced characters in a relatively simple (but engaging) story, they give us simple and visually confusing characters in a needlessly overwrought and distracted narrative that spends most of its time merely establishing the ‘scientific proof’ of what we saw before our eyes in the opening reel. Yes, John Carter is from Earth and yes some weird otherworldly force (represented by the always villainous Mark Strong) has given one [...]

Movie Bloggers Stop Spoiling Unreleased Films

By Scott Mendelson
HollywoodNews.com: I don’t mean to keep picking on John Carter, I really don’t. In fact, if nothing else, this article gives me an excuse to embed the above fan-made trailer (that Devin Faraci brought to my attention) which is not only a much better trailer than any of the official ones cut by Disney, but actually makes the movie look somewhat impressive. But I am again discussing John Carter because I happened to scan the headline for an interview with an actor who stars in the picture. I’m not going to name the actor/actress, but I will link to the piece out of fairness to the original writers over at the otherwise esteemed The Playlist. Said headline (and article) contains what would arguably be considered a massive spoiler. What does said actor reveal in the interview? Well, merely that said thespian is indeed signed for a sequel or two to John Carter should the film’s box office performance merit a sequel. So, purely from the basis on that statement, we know that at least one of the major characters in John Carter does indeed live to see a sequel.
This is a minor pet peeve, albeit one that has intensified as mainstream Hollywood has gotten more and more franchise-happy over the last several years. In an action-fantasy film like John Carter or any of the various comic book adaptations, what suspense exists generally concerns what will or won’t happen to the major supporting characters. Obviously we all know John Carter is probably not going to die in the first John Carter film. And we know that Jake Sully will probably survive the first Avatar adventure. But what about any number of other supporting characters, be they good or evil? If you were walking into last summer’s Thor unspoiled, you may have wondered about the ultimate fate of the villainous Loki. But if you had read the countless online blurbs confirming that Tom Hiddleston’s Loki would be the primary antagonist for The Avengers, you were probably watched the film with quite a bit less anticipation over who would survive the final confrontation. Moreover, assuming you knew what was coming next, the climactic ‘death’ of Loki would not have nearly the emotional punch as it would have without said prior knowledge (even if Loki’s survival was [...]

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