Thursday, March 31, 2011

Seinfeld writers still hard at work

Death Blow.

Cry, Cry Again.

Rochelle Rochelle.

Agent Zero.

Brown-Eyed Girl.

Source Code?

Yes, I think so.

Seinfeld went off the air in 1998, but the spirit of a good Seinfeld fake movie title is alive and well in this week's new thriller.

I can't put my finger on it, but there's something so wonderfully ersatz about the title Source Code. It could be because you can easily imagine someone saying it in the excited, earnest fashion of a trailer voiceover guy: "Source Code!" That tone that's so urgent, it practically mocks itself.

But if you break it down further, it's got all the ingredients of a fake thriller title. It's got two short words that roll off the tongue quickly. It's technobabble. It's a phrase that's familiar to you, but not so familiar that it doesn't carry an air of mystery. And it's easy to imagine Jerry Seinfeld saying it, half in mockery, half in genuine excitement about the cheesy thriller pleasures that lie within.

And it's not the first time I've thought a real movie title sounded like it should have appeared on Seinfeld's eponymous sitcom. The first time I consciously remember that was with Suspect Zero, E. Elias Merhige's Silence of the Lambs ripoff from 2004. However, that connection was more overt -- one of the fake movies Kramer recites when he's impersonating the Moviefone guy is the aforementioned Agent Zero.

Well, the fact that I giggle a little bit when I say it doesn't prevent me from wanting to see Source Code. In fact, I've got a tentative plan to see it Saturday night. I don't necessarily expect it to be better than a string of recent films I wanted to see until they were tepidly reviewed, but I've got to see something -- I can't let every review sap my enthusiasm to get out to the theater. It's been since Red Riding Hood on March 13th that I've seen a movie in the theater. So I'm due.

Besides, if director Duncan Jones can make this script half as good as he made his own script for Moon, he's got my attention and then some.

So not the last one

Over the years since 2004, when the first Saw was released, I have come to acknowledge that I am a Saw completist.

I knew after the execrable second Saw and the ridiculous fourth Saw couldn't turn me away, I'd be sure to see them all, eventually -- usually before the next one hit theaters. In fact, always before the next one hit theaters, if memory serves.

But because the movies have been so ludicrous, it was with some amount of relief that I greeted the arrival of Saw 3D -- later redubbed Saw: The Final Chapter for its DVD release -- last October. Okay, I can finally be done, I thought.

On Sunday I went to the local Redbox machine in "celebration" of having won my college basketball pool -- with so many upsets this year, we didn't even need to go to the final weekend to determine a winner. I'd been searching for something cheesy-bad, with Skyline as my target. But it looks like Skyline is still within its 28-day window where Redbox doesn't yet carry it, so Saw: The Final Chapter jumped out as my next logical contender. Celebrate the end of the basketball pool (and winnings of $170) with the end of the Saw series.

Not so fast.

Never have I seen a "last" movie have so many loose ends. In fact, except for the death of a character who's been around for the last couple installments, and the return of another who'd been gone a lot longer than that, there's nothing about the "final" Saw that's really different than the other six Saws that came before it.

Stop reading now if you really don't want me to reveal any spoilers about Saw VII. (Maybe I'll just call it that from here on out, since neither Saw 3D nor Saw: The Final Chapter seems exactly accurate anymore.)

Okay, so for the last four installments or so we've know that the life's work of Jigsaw has been picked up by a detective named Rick Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). See, Jigsaw has now been dead for more Saw sequels than he was alive -- he died at the end of the third. I think it was at the end of the fourth that we learned about Hoffman's involvement, though they all tend to bleed together (pun intended) at this point.

At the end of the sixth, Hoffman looks like he'd had the tables turned on him by another insider -- Jill Kramer (Betsy Russell), Jigsaw's ex-wife (or is it widow? I can't remember). I can't remember how she did it, but she got him into the trap that has appeared most regularly in the Saw movies: the device that goes around your head and will rip your face open if you don't stop it within 60 seconds. Early in Saw VII, though, we learn that Hoffman escaped that trap with only a torn cheek, and now is out for Jill's blood. She goes to the police in hopes of being protected in exchange for her testimony.

Suffice it to say it doesn't go that way. Hoffman spends the movie systematically breaking into the station where Jill is being held and killing off all the people who would be guarding her, all the while luring a large contingent of other officers away from the station on a goose chase to catch him -- which also dooms them. Yeah, it's a bloodbath -- police are dying left and right in this movie. This is to say nothing of all the people getting killed in the movie's featured "long trap," which involves a fraudulent survivor (Sean Patrick Flanery), who wrote a book about surviving a Jigsaw trap that never happened, going through a series of tests to try to reach his wife before she's killed at the end of the hour. At each step of the way one of his co-conspirators buys it. Then there are also a couple isolated traps that have nothing to do with either of these narratives, except that they were set by Hoffman (or so we believe). They've upped the death quotient in this one, if nothing else.

Hoffman succeeds at killing everyone, and then, fairly anticlimactically, straps the same device to Jill's head. Sixty seconds usually take about three minutes of screen time to transpire in a Saw movie, but here, Jill just sits there for a minute that lasts about ten seconds, and then her head explodes. If we're real romantics we could say that now she's reunited with her dead ex-husband.

As Hoffman leaves the station following this massive slaughter, he's approached by three figures in cloaks and animal masks -- or, I should say, "animal heads," because their entire heads are covered. We've seen these figures kidnapping future victims in past Saw movies. They inject him with something to put him to sleep. One removes his mask, and it's Dr. Gordon (Cary Elwes) -- the man who cuts off his own foot to survive the original Saw, eons ago now. This is not as shocking as we might think, since the movie opened with a flashback to Gordon's torment, and he's later seen at a survivor's meeting, where he has some cryptic words for Flanery's faux survivor. It turns out Gordon has been Jigsaw's other assistant all these years. It's a bit facile -- like anything we see in a Saw movie isn't facile -- because they already used that same gimmick in Saw II and III, where Shawnee Smith survived a trap and then became a Jigsaw disciple. But whatever.

Okay, so Gordon leaves Hoffman chained to the same pipe he was chained to, way back in the first Saw. There are still at least two dead bodies lying in this location, nothing more than skeletons by this point. I guess that's chilling, because it means that in all this time, the police still haven't found this location -- it must be pretty remote. And then the movie ends with Hoffman panicking and Gordon saying "Game over!" to him as he closes the sliding door, leaving Hoffman there in the dark. That's at least the third Saw movie that's ended with this door being closed on somebody.

Okay, so what have we really "resolved"? Not much. Jill Kramer is dead, but she was always a pretty passive character -- things were always happening to her, and that's no different in this movie, where she spends most of the time cowering in a jail cell. Hoffman is not dead, and the situation he finds himself in is not by any means a death sentence. You'd think he was worse off at the end of Saw VI, when he had the head-exploder strapped around his melon. A bunch of police are dead, but that doesn't matter because they were only just introduced to us. Gordon is not dead, and in fact, even with only one good foot, he makes a pretty good candidate to continue Jigsaw's legacy. And who are those other two people who never took off their animal masks? Then there's the faux survivor, Bobby, who didn't save his wife (she got heated up to the boiling point inside some kind of cauldron), but didn't die either. In fact, there was a peculiar lack of resolution to his storyline, even though it just began in this installment.

No Saw VIII? Really?

Okay, so if there is going to be a Saw VIII, at least it's not coming out this October. I looked up Tobin Bell, the only actor who figures to definitely return for another Saw (who has appeared in flashback in the last four movies now), on IMDB, and Saw VIII is not his next project. If it were coming out in October, we'd know about it.

But I had a bit of a scare when I googled "Saw 8" and came up with a bunch of entries, one of which included the following poster art:

Granted, it doesn't look ready for primetime and was likely made on somebody's home computer, but just for a second, I thought "REALLY??" History is full of examples of series that continued on past what was supposed to be the "last" installment, but I thought it would be particularly disingenuous to say that it's the last one, and then not even miss one Halloween before putting out the next.

So we will indeed have Halloween 2011 off from Saw movies, but I wouldn't be so sure about 2012. If there's one thing the legion of scribes who've written Saw movies have shown, it's a commitment to the series' warped sense of cohesiveness. You may think they've just kept making movies that involved some variation on the iconic killing devices we've seen in these movies, but they've done more than that -- they've tried to keep the storyline internally consistent and plausible. Usually they've failed stupendously in this regard, but even the attempt to maintain a comprehensible narrative throughline is commendable in its sheer sense of crazy ambitiousness.

So expect those dangling threads at the end of Saw VII to be resolved at some point. Maybe not this year, maybe not next, but by 2013 at the latest.

If legends never die, as the fake Saw VIII poster suggests, neither do successful movie franchises.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Wimpy sequel despite a wimpy box office

I don't know much about the Diary of a Wimpy Kid phenomenon, if it even rises to the level of a phenomenon. I'm too old to read the books, and my child is not yet old enough. (He's not old enough to read anything -- during story time, he just slaps his hand against the pages.)

But I do know that the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie did not light the world on fire when it was released last March. It made a certainly decent $64 million domestically, according to IMDB, including $22 million in its opening weekend -- pretty impressive for March, I guess. And I also acknowledge that the profitability of a film is a function of its budget, not its ticket sales in an absolute sense. Since Diary of a Wimpy Kid cost $15 million to make, it made a healthy 50 million bucks. And that's just here in the U.S., although I doubt a movie like this does gangbuster business overseas.

However, I don't think you can argue that $64 million is enough to call it an unqualified hit. There are certain people out there who take their kids to every single movie that's both available and suitable, just to give them something to do for 90 minutes on a weekend. Considering that, and considering the staggering box office totals of some other brand-name kids franchises, $64 million seems fairly modest.

So I was a little surprised to see a theatrical sequel to Diary of a Wimpy Kid materialize only a year later. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules comes out today, and I guess they're trying to get slightly older demographics involved -- Ke$ha's "Tik Tok" plays during the ads I've seen on TV this week.

Whether or not there should be a Diary of a Wimpy Kid sequel is not really why I'm writing today. I'm actually writing to discuss the phenomenon of committing yourself to a franchise, come hell or high water. Once you've started turning a popular book series into a potential franchise, at what costs do you keep it going?

The most relevant example here is probably the Chronicles of Narnia movies, which I seem to keep coming back to on my blog. There are seven Narnia books, and you better bet Walden Media wanted to make them all into movies when they started out. After all, having what will ultimately be eight Harry Potter movies didn't prove too difficult for Warner Brothers, as people kept on ponying up the money to see those.

But the box office totals have gotten consistently less satisfying with each new installment, ever since The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was considered an unqualified hit, turning an estimated $180 million budget into a $291 million domestic gross. (To say nothing of the overseas grosses, but if you know me you know I like taking a United States-centric view on things like this -- if only because I have historically been interested in domestic gross figures, as something I find easier to comprehend, compare and contrast.)

However, after the third installment, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, earned only $104 million on an estimated $155 million budget (figures from IMDB), it had to give them pause. About as much pause as the fairly unmarketable names of the next two books, The Silver Chair and The Horse and His Boy.

If you lose $50 million on a movie, clearly you stop, right? But it's not that simple. The Chronicles of Narnia is one of the most well-known brand names in all of fantasy literature. Setting out to make seven movies, and ultimately making only three, damages the brand on the whole. It's most likely that financial considerations would take precedence, but still -- I'd argue that Walden Media would be a lot more likely to press onward, despite the uphill battle, just for the purposes of bringing the endeavor in to the finish line, its grace and pride still intact.

Well, here's to writing blog posts in real time rather than planning them out first. I just checked and found that there are plans for a fourth Narnia movie -- but it will be the sixth Narnia novel. Apparently, they're jumping past those two awkwardly named books and going straight to another one with a good marketing hook: The Magician's Nephew. (Let's just hope people don't associate it too closely with last summer's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, which didn't light the world on fire either.) In fact, according to wikipedia, this decision was just officially announced on Tuesday.

Seems like a good way to save face. Instead of making seven movies, make five. Because once they make The Magician's Nephew, they'll have to finish off with The Last Battle, right? It's got a marquee-friendly name, and it would conclude the series. It's much harder to stop 80% of the way there than 40%.

Another good movie to discuss in this context is The Golden Compass, the only movie from what was supposed to be a franchise based on Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials novels. I liked that movie, but I guess a lot of people didn't -- and not only the religious folks who protested its apparently pagan undertones. (Which only made me root harder for it to succeed.) It was pretty clear there would be no other movies made, and getting out after only one just means that it was a theatrical non-starter, and that was that. It wasn't that famous of a property to begin with.

I think the dilemma faced by Walden Media is a bit more tough. If they had made The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and it had only done okay, they could have just stopped there without it seeming too awkward. Sure, many of us would have guessed that they planned to continue onward and make all the novels, but the story is pretty self-contained, so it could have stood on its own without there being too much egg on anyone's face. I think when you get started with a long project and then you have to stop, that's when the stink of failure starts to attach itself.

So what does all this have to do with a modest sequel to a modest movie about a modest elementary school student?

Let me know if you figure it out.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Movies supplanted by sports

Many of you reading this are not sports fans.

In fact, an argument could be made that you're movie fans because you're not sports fans, although that would get into questionable territory -- why attribute a beautiful passion to an absence elsewhere in your life? I'm sure some of you never wanted to be sports fans in the first place.

I, however, go both ways. I love movies and I love sports.

And right now, it's time for sports.

Every March, my cinematic focus wanders. In part, that has to do with a natural lull in the movie schedule. The Oscars are done, but the new movie year hasn't really ramped up yet. Sure, there have been one or two new releases worth watching, but on the whole, it's a quiet time of the year for movies.

That works out well, because I'm very focused on baseball and basketball right now. In fact, you could say, obsessively focused.

Which is why I am illustrating this post with a poster for a movie I hate. Even though I think it's a piss-poor movie, Fever Pitch is a pretty good visual representation of the sports-related fever I've got right now. (And yes, it kills me to say such negative things about Fever Pitch, because I'm a Boston Red Sox fan. Shoulda made a better movie, Farrellys.)

Only two-thirds of that fever is related to the upcoming baseball season, however. Here's a complete breakdown of where I'm devoting my mind at the moment:

1) Agonizing over my picks in college basketball's annual tournament, known as March Madness. The first four days of action concluded on Sunday night. I'm still in contention in my pool. A lot of things have to break right for me, but I'm still in it. And oh yeah, I'm also running the pool. So that involved a lot of collecting of money and other logistics.

2) Prepping for my fantasy baseball draft, which begins online at 4 o'clock my time on Thursday. In fact, I'm coming in an hour early that day, just so I can get off by 2:30 and have plenty of time to get ready. In the meantime, I'm scouring baseball websites and reading fantasy baseball magazines.

3) Researching my team for other fantasy baseball league, which is called the Home Run Derby. This involves compiling a team of ten baseball players, according to certain criteria, and following their home run exploits over the course of the season, to put it in its simplest terms. I actually run the thing, so not only am I brainstorming my own lineup, but I'm sending regular communications to the rest of the league, and collecting money here as well. And since this could involve some 80 participants, it's a big job.

So yeah. The little part of my brain that's usually devoted to thinking up blog posts is now devoted to three-pointers, earned run averages and stolen bases. And will be for a bit longer. In fact, throw in the NBA playoffs (which begin in about a month), and my sports focus will remain fairly intense until at least mid-June. Not as intense as now, but still intense.

So if my posting frequency slips from regular to sporadic until early April, you know why. My brain's storms are devoted to sports right now, not to movies.

And on that note ... back to sports.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Spaced team faces its toughest challenge

Before they were the team of collaborators that brought us Shaun of the Dead, one of the most beloved zombie movies of all time, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost collaborated on a little British TV show called Spaced. It was about a guy (Pegg) who'd been dumped by his girlfriend, who moves in with a different girl (Jessica Hynes) -- merely platonically, or so it starts. It's the story of their lives and the lives of their goofy neighbors and friends -- and it was funny as hell. My wife and I watched both seasons a couple years ago.

Of course, after Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, the trio collaborated on Hot Fuzz in 2007, again coming away with a decent-sized hit -- even though it runs on arguably a half-hour too long.

Their fourth collaboration -- or fifth, if you want to include Frost and Pegg participating in Wright's Grindhouse trailer, Don't -- comes out today. It's Paul, and it's one of those movies some of us tell people we want to see, even though we're not really sure we actually do want to see it.

As you probably know, Paul is a movie about an alien with the speech mannerisms of Seth Rogen -- because it's Seth Rogen doing the voice -- and the two dimwits who hook up with him, played by Pegg and Frost. If anyone else's names were on this movie other than Pegg, Frost and Wright, we'd be running from it at full speed. However, since it's them, we're willing to give it a shot.

I should say that Wright is only the executive producer of this film -- one of five -- and not its director. And here's where a big warning flag goes up for me. Paul is directed by Greg Mottola, who directed Superbad. For most people, this is a good thing -- in fact, the ad campaign focuses almost exclusively on the Superbad connection, not on anything the Spaced team has done. For me, however, I found Superbad overrated -- perhaps grossly overrated. I don't give it a thumbs down, but I'm pretty wary of it. I'm even more wary of the film Mottola made in between Superbad and Paul, which is Adventureland. It had some of the same tonal problems I detected in Superbad, only it made them a lot meaner. I do like Mottola's first film, The Daytrippers, but that was a lifetime ago, back in 1996.

However, I will say that the best part of Superbad was the cops behaving badly with their sidekick, McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). One of those cops was played by Rogen, who does the voice of the title character here. But I think Rogen is on the downswing of his likability as a performer right now. He'd be there even if The Green Hornet hadn't been a disaster, but it was -- and probably the worst thing about it was how unlikable he was. Now, I liked Rogen voicing a monster in Monsters vs. Aliens. I just don't know if I'll like Rogen voicing an alien in Paul.

There's an X factor here that throws out of whack our ability to forecast the movie's quality. The fact that it was written by Pegg is not such a surprise -- he's been credited as a writer on all of his collaborations with Frost and Wright (he and Wright created Spaced together). However, this time Frost is also credited as a writer -- his first writing credit on a feature. My guess is that Pegg did most of the heavy lifting and threw his buddy a bone, but it's hard to say for sure. I'd be inclined to view their involvement with the script as a positive, but it's not quite so cut-and-dried as that. After all, Pegg also wrote the screenplay for Run Fat Boy Run, which I thought was loathsome. Maybe we can blame Michael Ian Black, who has the "story by" credit as well as a co-screenwriter credit, for that one.

Anyway you slice it, a movie about two stoners hanging out with a refugee from Area 51 is a tough sell -- or could be, anyway. You're relying on "smart stoners" to watch it -- intellectuals who like a good laugh (and like to toke up), who were really the ones who gave Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz their large cult followings. The problem with "smart stoners" is that they tend to call bullshit at a certain point. Whether Paul is an instance of that or not remains to be seen.

But not seen by me -- at least, not this weekend. I should be honest and say that I plan to devote much of my free time to watching college basketball this weekend. But even if I didn't, I'd see Limitless, not Paul.

So, why didn't I write about Limitless today? Simple: Couldn't think of anything to say. Sometimes, that's all that goes into it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Just begging for some British accents

As I was watching Red Riding Hood this weekend -- not at the drive-in, as originally planned, but in a dumpy theater in Marina del Rey -- I became acutely aware of the need for fake British accents in films set at some point in the nebulous past.

Without them, you are even more aware of the fact that people are just parading around in costumes.

We tend to tease movies set in times of antiquity for their reliance on generic British accents, even when the action is not set anywhere near England or its colonies. As an extreme example of that, I laughed at the fake British accents in 10,000 B.C. -- not only was there no English language at the time, but there was probably no language, period. We tend to think of those people as communicating via pre-linguistic grunts. Then again, we also tend not to think of them as fighting with woolly mammoths, so that was not the film's only problem.

But the alternative is not usually what Mel Gibson did in The Passion of the Christ or Apocalypto, where the language genuinely spoken by the characters was the language used. Sometimes the alternative is to speak with an accent appropriate to whatever region of the world it is, but that can be really hokey if the actors can't pull it off. (And tends to seem racist if the action is set in Asia, for example.) The more common alternative is to just strip away all artifice and let the actors speak in their own regular voices.

Which is what Catherine Hardwicke decided to do in Red Riding Hood. Many of the actors in this movie are Americans -- notably excepting Julie Christie -- and they talk like Americans. Like modern-day Americans. This leads to a number of problems, not the least of which is that it reminds everyone that this is frivolous teen fare -- not unlike Hardwicke's own Twilight.

Surely, part of why most things in Red Riding Hood seem frivolous has to do with Hardwicke's direction. I'm not usually one to single out the directing in a film, such that I say a film was "badly directed" --- that may certainly be the case, but I tend to blame the director for the overall failure, not for "directing badly," per se. But this film was the exception, where I watched the stultifying acting and thought "This movie is badly directed."

But part of it has to do with those American accents for sure. They seem anachronistic, because they remind us that there was no country called the United States when the events of Red Riding Hood would have transpired. England, on the other hand, has been around since -- well, since 10,000 B.C., it would seem. So British accents never seem anachronistic, even in a movie about cavemen. Sure, they're ridiculous if you think about it -- but most people who watched 10,000 B.C. did not think about it, and the accents just sounded right.

American accents do not sound right in a movie like Red Riding Hood. Surely, with higher caliber actors and a better director, they'd sound more right. But they are ultimately hamstrung by how modern they sound. Which just leads a person like me, who watched the movie for some good art direction and possibly a creepy wolf-on-girl sexual encounter, to think all the more about a teen-oriented contraption like Twilight.

I don't have anything more to say on the subject, but I thought I'd leave you with a little personal anecdote from the experience of seeing Red Riding Hood. You may remember that back in January, I lost my wallet at an illegal double feature of The Green Hornet and Blue Valentine -- illegal in the sense that I paid for the first and snuck in to the second. (How could you not remember it, I keep making reference to it.) My wallet was ultimately found by the janitorial staff and turned in to their lost and found.

Well, this past Sunday I got to return the favor. As I was walking in to the bathroom to relieve myself before the movie started, I saw a wallet sitting on top of one of the urinals. You men will be familiar with the spot -- it's that area atop the flushing mechanism, where you sometimes rest things when you don't have any available pocket space, and you need your hands free to do your business. I was immediate struck by the appropriateness of finding this wallet, scooped it up, and brought it to one of the ushers.

It gives me an intense feeling of satisfaction any time I find a lost item, because I know I'll do right by it. I know that if I lost something, I'd want me to find. I love being the link in the chain that helps this person get their property back, that helps put a little spring in their step that day. Because if you've lost something important and then found it again, you know that the feeling is so good, you're happier than if you'd never lost it in the first place. Which can most certainly be a life-affirming sensation.

However, when I posted about it on Facebook, someone did make a comment that got me thinking, and I'm curious about your opinion. In this scenario, would you have turned it in to the theater staff, or tried to reach the wallet's owner directly? My commenter suggested that the person might have gotten the wallet back faster if I'd done the latter. I momentarily wondered about that, and realized that it's true -- either the theater staff could botch the return of the wallet, or the person who lost it might not realize that the theater was where they lost it. And even if there was no way for me to call the person, I'd have their address on their driver's license, and could probably find them on Facebook to send them a message.

But I ultimately decided that the course of action I took was the correct one. I thought the most likely outcome would be that the person would realize they'd lost the wallet before they even left the theater, and would know they had it coming in, because they used it to pay for their tickets. They'd go straight to the lost and found and would get it straight back. And I'd save them at least an hour or two of panicked retracing of their steps, before they'd have a chance to check Facebook for their message from me.

What would you have done?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Something went wrong at the drive-in

I hate it when one of my perfect little (against-the-rules) schemes fails to come together.

Even when it was decidedly imperfect, like Saturday night's scheme.

It's happened twice now in 2011. Do I have to rethink my schemes?

First it was losing my wallet at the movie theater two months ago, when I snuck into a second movie after paying for the first. I still haven't gotten caught doing that, but this time I did pay for it in the form of losing my wallet. (I did get the wallet back about three weeks later, when I was finally notified by the theater that they had it in their lost and found -- but I'd already paid for a new driver's license by then.)

Then this past weekend, it was a snafu at the drive-in -- where you're not supposed to switch theaters between movies, but they don't usually enforce it. Usually.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Saturday night's plan was decidedly imperfect from the get-go, because it involved bringing our six-month-old son with us. Sure, it's a lot easier to bring your baby to a drive-in than to the regular theater -- optimistically, you think he'll just sleep in the back seat while you enjoy your movies in the front. But it's still pretty bold and carries a high level of risk -- both for your enjoyment of the double feature you're supposed to see, and for his sleep over the next couple nights. But given that there were a couple new releases we were interested in this weekend (Battle: Los Angeles and Red Riding Hood), and that we usually see crap at the drive-in because we tend to go based on our availability, not based on what's playing, we decided to take this opportunity of our availability lining up with movies we actually wanted to see. The optimistic plan was to see Battle: Los Angeles and Hall Pass, and then stay for the second screening of Red Riding Hood (since each opening feature plays a second time after the second feature, to accommodate the late-arriving crowd). The realistic plan was to see Battle: Los Angeles and Hall Pass, and then go home.

We did take precautionary measures to ensure our son stayed asleep, by using walkmen rather than letting the sound play out loud in the car. I dusted off my old cassette player walkman, which still works, and which I still use about once a year to listen to a baseball game while I'm rollerblading. For my wife, I found a radio-only walkman (they don't call them that anymore, of course) at Rite Aid for $10. This after finding an FM device that worked on scan-only at the 99 Cents Store. If we'd needed to rely on this device, it would mean we couldn't tune to the actual radio station playing the audio for the movie, but we should be able to find it on scan. They were so cheap that I actually bought two of them that were slightly different models, in case one didn't work. But we never needed them.

The first obstacle was that despite leaving in plenty of time, we were still cutting it fine when we got there, because the line to get in was longer than we expected for a late-winter weekend. (You're probably even surprised to hear that they're open year-round. This is the earliest we've ever been, with our three previous drive-in experiences all coming in July or August.) As the line slowly slogged along, we couldn't believe we were going to have to rush when we got to our screen. It was a comical scene as we each stood outside the car, fumbling with walkmen whose headphones had become tangled in one another, using the available light from my cell phone to try to tune to the correct station. I got there just before the movie started -- my wife, about 30 seconds to a minute in. This was followed by having to figure out where in the car the various foodstuffs we wanted were, without waking our sleeping boy in the back seat. I settled for locating my sandwich and the drink I'd already been drinking, even if I sort of wanted a different drink and some chips to accompany my meal.

The viewing of Battle: Los Angeles went reasonably well, all told. My wife ended up spending a good 20 minutes in the back seat, craning to see the screen while nursing our son back to sleep. However, this was a situation entirely of her own creation. He was actually sleeping very deeply, not fussing at all. But in trying to ascertain some proof of life, like a little movement of his hand or something, she had to unintentionally disturb him, and he was a bit restless from that point on. I spent about the last 15 minutes of the movie holding him on my lap in the front seat. He wasn't asleep -- and since it was about 9:15 by this point, that was unfortunate -- but at least he wasn't requiring anyone's specific attention. He looked out the window with wide eyes -- yet another sight he'd never seen before. It was about this point that I discovered we hadn't actually needed the walkmen, as the sound playing from other cars was basically loud enough to serve as our own soundtrack to the movie.

However, I started to stress out as Battle: Los Angeles winded down, for reasons that had nothing to do with the non-sleeping baby on my lap. I knew that Red Riding Hood, the feature that played before Hall Pass on the neighboring screen, was shorter than Battle: Los Angeles. Not significantly shorter, but enough shorter that Hall Pass would be starting before the Battle: LA credits finished. So as soon as the director's name came up on the screen of our movie, I turned the car on and started driving. According to the theater's rules, we were supposed to stay on this screen and watch The Green Hornet. But that was never part of the plan. Besides, I've already seen The Green Hornet, and am not particularly interested in a second viewing.

The thing is, my wife's bladder was about to burst. So she asked me to drop her off at the bathrooms, and she'd come find me in Hall Pass if I agreed to park in about the same spot we'd been in for Battle: LA. This worried me, since, as discussed here, I hate it when my wife misses parts of movies. But I didn't have much choice, since there was no arguing with her bladder. We knew before going in that it would be a close call on getting the start of Hall Pass, but were willing to accept that as one of the sacrifices of the imperfect experience of seeing a movie at the drive-in. Plus, neither of us was really that interested in it -- we were just using it as a bridge to potentially get to Red Riding Hood, if we decided to stay for the third movie.

However, I was determined to miss as little of it as possible myself. And right after I let her off, I looked up to discover that it was already starting. Since my son was still basically awake in the back seat, I just let Owen Wilson's voice fill the interior of our car as I was driving over. I couldn't see all the images or maybe hear all the words, but the idea was for most of it to seep in.

The real problem was in getting to the other theater. At this particular drive-in, they funnel you down these different pathways to get you to the various theaters, rather than having kind of the open floor plan that the other drive-in has (we frequent two different drive-ins that are about ten miles apart from each other). This means that to get to one of the other ones, you have to go back against the flow of traffic, although none of this is marked very well so it's all kind of vague. Since most of the cars are settled in their spots, this maneuver isn't dangerous.

But it does tend to call intention to what you're doing -- precisely because you're one of the only cars in motion at the time. And so it was that I looked off to my left and saw a golf cart pacing me on the opposite side of a mesh fence. When I turned in to Hall Pass, they turned in behind me. For a moment I tried to convince myself that I was not being followed, but it was useless. The golf cart flashed its headlight the way a police car would flash its rooftop lights. Yep -- I was being pulled over by drive-in security.

It was an older guy who looked kind of like an aged hippie, with a dark black beard, and a younger, clean-cut guy in his mid-20s. "Hello there," one of them said.

"Hi, I went into the wrong theater."

"Can I see your ticket please sir?"

"Are you serious?"

"Yes sir."

"Man, it's in here somewhere." It's true that I didn't know where the ticket was, but I also knew that the ticket would not help me.

"Did you just get here, sir?"

"Yes." Neither of us said anything. I suddenly knew I had no play other than the truth. "Okay, no, I just went to another movie. Can't I go to this one?"

"No sir."

Another moment of silence. And then defeat.

"Okay, but my wife is in the bathroom, I need to go pick her up."

"Okay, you can just flip a bitch right here and go back the way you came." It was the first time I had heard someone use the phrase "flip a bitch" in years.

I did just that. At this point, it certainly seemed as though Hall Pass was toast. Its audio was still playing on the radio, but the movie was slipping further and further into oblivion in terms of our ability to come in late. It's not that we'd be confused by what was happening, but missing that much of a movie just kills it for me.

I hadn't given up on the idea of other options, though. I noticed the screen that was playing The Adjustment Bureau followed by Unknown was still in the trailers prior to Unknown. But I also noticed that the Golf Cart Nazis were still observing me from a distance of about 100 feet away.

I pulled up into this no man's land by the bathroom and called my wife. Four rings and then voicemail. Left a message explaining our predicament. Called her again. Straight to voicemail. And again. Voicemail again. Now I was starting to worry that she'd already finished her business and was walking out among the cars in Hall Pass, looking for her car, not hearing her phone. And every moment that passed without her coming, I worried that the Golf Cart Nazis were doubting the validity of my story, and considering whether to interface with me again.

In another couple moments she materialized from the bathroom and got in the car. I started instinctively heading back toward where Hall Pass was -- not because I intended to try my luck again, but because I didn't know where else to go. For a moment we discussed whether to make a bee-line into Unknown. But then I noticed that the golf cart was still positioned strategically where it could observe what we were doing. You can violate theater rules once, without any consequences. A second violation, and they may try to get the police involved, or at the very least, brusquely escort you out. And that could carry consequences like them taking my wife's license plate number and banning us from the theater. Doubtful, but possible. (We'd just take my car next time. If there is a next time. More likely, we'll just go to the other drive-in, even if it's more ghetto. Or, we'll just realize we have to start out with two movies on the same screen, and then switch to another screen if we want to go to a third, since most of the cars will be in motion at that time, and we'll blend in to the general departure.)

Flustered, I drove back toward the golf cart and asked them where the exit was. They pointed me toward it. We left.

So the night that could have involved three movies involved only one. So we paid $7 apiece for one movie -- which is still cheaper than theatrical prices, but not when you consider the gas required to get us to this theater, some 40 miles from our house.

I was in an unshakable funk for the next 15 minutes. Any time you get busted doing something wrong, it puts you in a funk. I was as much frustrated by their attempts to enforce a stupid rule (once you pay, who cares which two movies you see?) as by the fact that we wouldn't be seeing a second movie. When you come right down to it, the tightness of our schedule meant that our second movie would be compromised anyway. So instead of seeing the movie we wanted to see and missing the first ten minutes of a movie we didn't want to see, we only saw the first movie. Not that big a difference, all told.

Plus, my wife pointed out a couple things: Now we'd be home sooner, where we could put our son into his proper bed and watch the second half of our double feature in our own controlled environment, without scrounging around in the dark for the food we wanted. Not only that, but this was the first time we'd been out to the movies together since we saw The Town back in October. Even getting to see one movie together was a treat. And getting home sooner was especially useful this past weekend, what with losing an hour to daylight savings and all. After initially discussing watching something funny, to take the place of Hall Pass, we then decided on War of the Worlds, since Battle: Los Angeles had whetted our appetite for that kind of movie. (You might say, we wanted to see a superior version of that kind of movie, having just seen a merely decent version.)

I'd like to say we segued perfectly into that second movie when we got home, but the challenges of the evening stuck with us. First my wife stepped in cat poop on our lawn, which had been hidden by the darkness. Fortunately, she discovered it before she got into the house, but it necessitated bringing out the hose at 11 p.m. And then of course our son wouldn't settle. We'd kind of broken him by throwing off his sleep schedule so much, and he was inconsolable. And then our speakers were giving us problems, emitting loud feedback rather than the sounds of the movie, so we had to watch the movie with only the sound from the TV. It was nearly 2 a.m. -- which was really 3 a.m. -- before we even got to the Tim Robbins scene. We decided to turn it off then and just continue the next day. Even fans of the movie will probably understand why.

So it was definitely an imperfect trip to the drive-in. But in another way, it was a perfect story, more memorable than if we had sailed through smoothly. "It's a funny story we'll tell people," she said, when she could tell I felt like a failure for having gotten busted.

And she's right -- you're people, and I just told it to you.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Is naked the same as nude?

So I joked on Thursday about "dirty old men" being one of the intended demographics for Red Riding Hood. That may have been a somewhat subjective assessment of the film, and it may be closer to the truth than I'd like to admit. (Most good jokes are, aren't they?)

You see, I seem to have developed something of a fascination with Amanda Seyfried. There's just something unique about her. She's beautiful, there's no doubt about that -- but she's not cookie-cutter beautiful. Her big, round eyes set her apart, and there's something girl-next-doorish about her. I guess you'd describe it as an unconventional type of beauty, but that's not exactly it either, because unconventional beauty is not traditionally agreed upon by everyone -- and I think almost everyone can see the beauty in Ms. Seyfried. (Sigh-fred, not Say-freed, as I've learned just this past week.)

And so I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the promise of Ms. Sigh-fred appearing nude in Chloe was one of the reasons I prioritized watching it. Fortunately, since I am also a follower of the career of director Atom Egoyan and have seen most of his movies, that wasn't the only reason. But I try to be honest with you, my dear readers, and I know you won't hold it against me if I admit that I wanted to see what Ms. Sigh-fred's boobs look like. (She's 25 years old, or only 12 years younger than me, so it really doesn't make me that dirty.)

Only I didn't get to see them, or I didn't really. I never got what you would call a clear look at them.

And that made me ponder the difference between "appearing naked" and "nudity."

Seyfried is definitely naked, a couple times, in Chloe. But I wouldn't say she's ever actually "nude." And that's because there are lots of ways to film/photograph people being naked, without showing "the good parts." It's why celebrities appear "naked" on the front of countless respectable magazines, but never appear "nude."

In order to have actual nudity, you have to have show one of the following:

1) The right nipple;

2) The left nipple;

3) Public hair;

4) A penis (men only, ha ha).

And if it's male nudity, only the fourth one really counts -- male pubic hair is not real nudity.

This introduces a lot of paradoxes. It means you can spend an entire movie without a stitch of clothing on, and never once actually be "nude," depending on how cleverly you're shot. It also means that you can have all your clothes on, and still be "nude," if the action calls for one of your nipples poking out of your shirt (and only if you're a woman; male nipples, of course, are not nudity).

Another paradox is that showing your butt is no longer considered nudity. It was at one time. But possibly around the time Dennis Franz showed his butt on NYPD Blue (which was probably 20 years ago now), the derriere was officially no longer nudity. This is why when we saw Jennifer Aniston's butt in The Break-Up, no one really got all that excited about it. Yeah, there was talk about how Aniston was showing her butt, but it couldn't properly be characterized as a "nude scene" -- even though Aniston was naked in the scene, and she showed her butt. Nor could it be characterized as a risk on Aniston's part -- it was just keeping with her career-long attitudes toward showing her goods.

And so yeah, not much that you could characterize as actual nudity on Seyfried's part in Chloe. A lot of butt. A lot of back and legs. A lot of "side boob" -- another kind of one-time nudity that has since been de-classified as such. Even one shot from the front that's so brief and so obscured that it doesn't really qualify. You couldn't walk away from Chloe saying that Seyfried wasn't naked -- she most certainly was. But nude? Not really.

You do get nudity in Chloe, but it's all courtesy of Julianne Moore, who practically has a clause in her contract requiring nudity. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Moore has appeared nude in a third of her films, and at least half the films she appeared in that had an R rating. In fact, one of the most famous bottomless scenes in movie history is from Robert Altman's Short Cuts, when Moore has something like a five-minute argument on screen, all the time completely naked from the waist down.

And this brings up another interesting thing about nudity, something I am certainly not the first person to observe. Why is female pubic hair considered the Holy Grail of nudity? Again I am not the first to say this, but it's just hair. There shouldn't be anything inherently titillating about hair. Yet when a woman goes nude below the waist in a movie, it doubles or triples our notion of how daring she is, how much she's willing to expose herself. And of course it sends ratings boards into a tizzy. Just from a little hair.

In an era where a bikini can be shown on TV as long as there are teeny, tiny patches of fabric covering the nipples and the pubic hair, it makes me wonder if the societal opposition to nudity will one day fall entirely, just as the word "fuck" may one day be permitted to play on TV. I guess I have to say I doubt it. The political groups on both sides of the aisle who oppose indecency, for different reasons, may have less and less of a leg to stand on, but it'll be a long time before they allow themselves to be legless.

But here's the real thing about nudity -- it's not even really what we're looking for, per se, when we watch a movie that's meant to titillate us. One of the sexiest performances I can think of in a mainstream film is the performance submitted by Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive. As far as I recall, Watts is neither naked nor nude at any point during the film, though she's done both things since then. And she does have a famous scene of masturbation in Mulholland Drive, but that's not even what I'm talking about when I say her performance is sexy -- that scene has more to do with a weird kind of violence against herself. No, I'm thinking of the scene where she's on that audition, and she's involved in a kiss with one of the other auditioning actors -- who I think may also be one of the producers or something, creating a weird power dynamic during the kiss. I saw the movie only once, ten years ago, and frankly, did not like it very much. But that scene sticks with me because of how hot Watts made it, and probably always will.

So, Chloe. It had some of what made Mulholland Drive sexy, but it also ended up feeling fairly banal to me in many other respects. It's what I'd heard about Chloe, with one exception -- another blogger whose opinion I trust. Well, if you're reading this, sorry -- I just didn't see it. Mild thumbs down for me.

But it was fun to see Amanda Seyfried's side-boob. ;-)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Posters of the apocalypse

We love movies about the end of the world, don't we?

Even if we know there's a high likelihood they will suck, our excitement overwhelms us -- doesn't it?

But I'm wondering if that phenomenon wouldn't be half as powerful without a tradition of truly captivating posters ... which, a lot of times, were for movies that really sucked.

It remains to be seen what we'll think of Battle: Los Angeles, but I can tell you that the poster you see above absolutely thrilled me. It perfectly accomplishes what posters for apocalyptic movies set out to do -- it provides a single-image encapsulation of the idea of normal life supplanted by chaos. What better way to indicate "business as usual" turned upside down, than surfers waiting for the next big wave as aliens rain the heavens with artillery fire?

It's that mixture of everyday things we recognize and exotic things we don't recognize that makes the image so powerful. And that's why I think the poster for Battle: LA you see below is not as effective:

Sure, there's a basic impressiveness here: A single soldier stands and looks at ... something. We don't know what. And that's part of the problem. Is it an alien craft? Is it a chunk of land turned up on its side, and the spiky objects we're seeing are buildings or other parts of the industrial landscape? We can't really tell. It still makes me want to see the movie, but not the way the surfing poster makes me want to see the movie.

So I thought today it would be fun to go back and look at other posters of the apocalypse, and to dissect how they used familiar images to whet our appetite for the movie in question ... and whether that whetted appetite ended up resulting in a satisfying movie.

Let's start with the most recent obvious example, which also has a whole series of posters associated with it:

2012 (2009, Roland Emmerich)

These posters are, frankly, perfect. They are ludicrous at the same time that they are somehow deliciously plausible. Waves crashing over the Himalayas? Not on your life would that ever happen. But would I like to see a movie where it happens? Yup, I think so. Emmerich et al were also smart to use the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, since it has a basic awesomeness that is enhanced by collapsing under the weight of a tidal wave. The final image is interesting to me, referencing the most orgiastic destruction depicted in the movie, when plate tectonics rip apart the west side of Los Angeles. It's interesting because there's a billboard for Battle: Los Angeles that features the same section of town, with those artillery blasts from the surfing poster above -- I'm wondering if that's an intentional allusion (or else direct theft) from the 2012 advertising campaign.

Was it worth it? I thought so, yes. The destruction was great on its own terms, and just removed enough that you didn't have to ponder the billions of people who were dying. Some criticized the movie for that very reason, and for dozens of other reasons, not the least of which is that they have a knee-jerk hatred for everything made by Roland Emmerich. I did previously as well, but this one really worked for me. And speaking of Emmerich ...

The Day After Tomorrow (2004, Roland Emmerich)

Emmerich tried to capitalize on our fears of climate change with The Day After Tomorrow, and this poster was a good start. The Statue of Liberty, up to her nose in snow? My God! AND IT MAY BE HAPPENING AS SOON AS TWO DAYS FROM NOW!

Was it worth it? Not really. The Day After Tomorrow was silly. I was able to appreciate it only on the level of seeing some of the special effects, but to be honest, the catastrophic phenomenon depicted here does not lend itself to effects the way some of his other phenomena do. In fact, the scene I remember most was where tornadoes were ripping apart Los Angeles, which doesn't even really jive with the rest of the movie. Emmerich basically threw it in there because he could. And speaking of uses of the Statue of Liberty ...

Cloverfield (2008, Matt Reeves)

The Day After Tomorrow poster shows only the statue's head, while this poster shows only the statue's body -- because the head has been ripped off its shoulders by a giant reptilian alien. The smart thing about the Cloverfield poster is that it reminds everyone of their first exposure to the movie, which was that great teaser trailer that went viral in late 2007, in which the final shot is the statue's head coming to a rest in the street somewhere, uptown from Liberty Island. The events depicted in Cloverfield may not lead to the end of the world, but who knows ... they may.

Was it worth it? HELLS yes. Cloverfield was awesome. I got it on BluRay for Christmas and am looking forward to my third viewing. And speaking of the Statue of Liberty again ...

Planet of the Apes (1968, Franklin J. Schaffner)

Of course, all these other movies' usages of the Statue of Liberty owe a debt to how it was used as a gut punch at the end of Planet of the Apes. Having this iconic image sunken into the sand just killed us -- and by "us," I mean people who saw it in the theater, which does not include me, as I was not born for another five years.

Was it worth it? Well, duh -- Planet of the Apes is a classic. However, I have to wonder if this poster was used to advertise it at the time, or only in retrospect. I'm thinking retrospect. Given that it was a highly guarded secret that this ape planet was Earth, intended to Shyamalan us 30 years before Shyamalan, I doubt they would have revealed it in the original advertising campaign. But back to Roland Emmerich ...

Independence Day (1996, Roland Emmerich)

Emmerich first started blowing up the world back in 1996, with Independence Day. Talk about making it personal for us -- the White House getting blasted by an alien laser beam became the signature image of the film. And there's something about when you get to the president, who should be untouchable, that really strikes a chord with us. In fact, you could say that the White House bit worked so well, Emmerich intentionally alluded to it in 2012 with the scene where the capsized battleship flattens the White House, after riding on the crest of a tidal wave. That one scene is like every exciting thing from every disaster movie, rolled into one. (The Empire State building poster looks nicer and is good, too -- and certainly wouldn't have been possible post-9/11).

Was it worth it? I am not a fan of Independence Day. But I did like those few scenes with maximum possible destruction. They lived up to what I was expecting. And speaking of tidal waves ...

Deep Impact (1998, Mimi Leder)

Both asteroid movies that came out in 1998 were all about the tidal wave that was going to destroy the world, but only Deep Impact emphasized these in the ad campaign, while Armageddon focused more on the heroic and patriotic oil riggers-turned-astronauts. Although this poster cheeses it up a bit by showing the human drama implied by the world's coastal regions being violently drenched, the sight of the wave bearing down on New York City captures the situation pretty well.

Was it worth it? Yeah, I really liked Deep Impact -- in part because of the human drama I just poked fun at a minute ago. What can I say, I'm a sap. I should probably see it again to be sure, but I really liked it.

Okay, this post is getting long, so let's hurry through these last couple:

The Core (2003, Jon Amiel)

Talk about preposterous ... the idea behind The Core was that the Earth's core had stopped, and some scientists/adventurers had to drill into it to jump-start it. This presented all kinds of visual problems about how to represent the threat, and what they ended up with was merely adequate. Not only is the part of the Earth's surface shown in this image too abstract to make out, making the threat abstract as well, but the deep fissure depicted here is not actually the outcome of the threat -- more than anything else, it shows the hole they'd have to burrow to get down to the core.

Was it worth it? Hopefully the abstract advertisements kept people away, because this movie was not good. However, not knowing exactly where the threat is did not matter here ...

The Day After (1986, Nicholas Meyer)

This is cheating a little bit -- The Day After was a TV movie rather than a theatrical release, so our appetite for it was not whetted by a poster. In fact, this image probably accompanied the eventual video release. But the nuclear blast in the middle of an American city is so effective that it doesn't really matter which city it is -- though I believe the action was set around Kansas City.

Was it worth it? To this day I still identify The Day After with all my fears of nuclear annihilation. It was damn effective.

I had a couple more I was going to do, but all the image files attached to this post were causing Blogger to act funny -- images disappearing (possibly being "behind" other images), etc. So I'll just leave off there. You've had enough. I'll let you off the hook.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Busiest release date ... ever?

If there's one governing principle we should all know about release dates, it's that they amount to one big game of chicken.

If two movies with ambitions to win the weekend are announced as scheduled for the same release date, and they appeal to a similar demographic, it's a battle of wills to see which will yield. One always does -- this is why you don't ever see two superhero movies released on the same date.

The conventional wisdom is that the movie that yields is the lesser commodity, but it doesn't always work out that way. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip got all the buzz when it debuted in the fall of 2006. Meanwhile, everyone expected Tina Fey's dopey little sitcom -- 30 Rock, which debuted about three weeks later -- to get left in the dust. Needless to say, it didn't work out that way. (How's that for a loose analogy? Especially since it's about TV rather than the movies, when "release dates" are not really relevant, but especially since both shows were the property of NBC?)

But even when the demographics targeted are not the same, movies with high expectations will still try to avoid direct competition with one another, especially on a weekend when something hot is coming out. Hot is hot, regardless of who it's intended for.

And so it is that a release date like tomorrow is quite unusual. None of the four major films being released this Friday are targeting the exact same audience, but they are all prominent enough in some way to be considered "hot." Whether they will cannibalize each other, or whether a victor will rise to the top, remains uncertain. What is pretty likely is that someone's going to go home unhappy.

Shall we take a look?

Red Riding Hood
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
Targeting: Teenage girls and dirty old men
Comment: Don't discount those dirty old men, who are just waiting for that moment of bodice-ripping by star Amanda Seyfried. (The ads make the movie look pretty sultry, and don't tell me there isn't something sexual about those thorns "penetrating" Seyfried in this poster.) This is clearly aimed at Twilight's audience -- I mean, Hardwicke even directed the original Twilight -- but don't be surprised to see it do better than your average movie that tries to ride the Twilight coattails. It's getting some interest outside its demographic, including from me. (Let's not ponder too closely whether I belong in that "dirty old men" group.)
Prediction for weekend box office: Third

Jane Eyre
Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Targeting: Intelligent teenage girls and intellectuals of all ages
Comment: I'd like to think this will do better than it will actually do. Even with two pretty hot properties in the central roles -- Alice in Wonderland's Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender -- my thinking is that this outside-the-box version of Jane Eyre will not be seen by as many people as I'd hope. That's too bad, because it's got an exciting director: Cary Fukunaga, who directed the excellent Sin Nombre two years ago.
Prediction for weekend box office: Seventh

Battle: Los Angeles
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Targeting: Fourteen-year-old boys and Republicans
Comment: Aliens, explosions, end of the world ... it's a winning formula at the box office. Especially this one, which seems like it could be the first film to really benefit from the success of District 9. Like Neill Blomkamp's film, Battle: Los Angeles is shot like a documentary, giving it a gritty realism that viewers really want from their effects-laden action movies. (The documentary form has the effect of making the effects seem almost hyper-real.)
Prediction for weekend box office: First

Mars Needs Moms
Directed by: Simon Wells
Targeting: Children and stoners
Comment: As much as animation tends to do well, I'm not sure if this particular animated film will find great success. It hasn't been advertised very well, and space can be a tough fit for animated movies ... perhaps especially when there is another movie featuring aliens (Battle: Los Angeles) being released on the same day. Not only that, but Mars Needs Moms has to contend with Rango, which should be getting most of the kids who didn't see it the first weekend. (Even if Mars Needs Moms will probably be more appropriate for young kids than Rango.)
Prediction for weekend box office: Fourth

Other two top-five box office spots not yet mentioned: Second (Rango), Fifth (The Adjustment Bureau)

I don't do a lot of box office predicting on this blog, but I'll be curious to see how this one turns out. And really tearing my hear out deciding which one to see ... though, let's be honest, the 14-year-old boy in me will be standing in line for Battle: LA. (Leaving the dirty old man on the outside looking in.)