Thursday, March 22, 2007

Box Office Predictions

OK .. so this weekend's new movies is quite varied. Like those plastic-wrapped sets of 8 small single-serving cereal boxes, this weekend holds something of interest for most movie fans.
For the action shoot-em-up fans, there's Mark Wahlberg's "Shooter"...

for fans of more serious subject matter, there's Adam Sandler's 'I'm not just a movie star, I'm an actor!' turn in "Reign Over Me" ...

There's also "Pride," the inspiring, based-on-true-events flick starring Terrence Howard, who is so good, he even made to a pimp seem noble in "Hustle & Flow." Haven't seen it yet but I'm curious to see if swimming can pump up an audience like Boxing or Baseball.

For the kids, you have "TMNT," the rebirth of the Turtles franchise ... and "The Last Mimzy."
Now, while New Line Cinema's marketing department will do their darndest to make sure 'Mimzy' is the big winner this weekend (because their boss, studio chief Bob Shaye -- the guy who FIRED PETER JACKSON FROM THE HOBBIT -- directed it, so money is no object when it comes to preventing this film to bomb), I think the Turtles will be the big winner. Just a hunch but it looks like something kids will really get excited for.

Here's how I think the new movies will do this weekend:

1. TMNT - $35M

2. Shooter - $30M

3. Reign Over Me - $18M

4. The Last Mimzy - $10M

5. Pride - $7.5M

BTW, most of you reading this (anyone? ANYONE? Bueller??) don't know this but I produce LYONS & BAILES REEL TALK, NBC's national movie show which airs weekends on NBC stations around the country (Check your local listings). Its good stuff. Our critics, Jeffrey Lyons and Alison Bailes, review the new films, do interviews with the stars, check out new dvds, industry features and also share a weekly commentary called Final Takes. Click here to for more Reel Talk

OK, shameless plug is over. Enjoy the movies this weekend. What are you planning to see?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Shell Game

This weekend, what could be the best test yet of how strong a pull nostalgia has on the 80s Generation will take place. If successful, it could open the floodgates for a pop culture blast of retro-activity that will shake you down to your Pac-Man socks. On the other hand, if it fails ... we may wave bye-bye to rebirths from that gloriously geeky decade for good.

I'm talking about the cinematic return of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This time out, its called "TMNT" and CGI animation replaces the rubbery costumes of the original trilogy of Turtle flicks that unspooled in theaters starting in 1990. Most people may think this movie's coming out of nowhere. I mean, the Turtles haven't been spotted on the pop cult radar for years. But their return has been a few years in the making, with a new animated tv series, new comic books .. plus, the slow release of the classic 80s cartoon on DVD, which is the easiest way to stir those warm, fuzzy feelings of 'the good old days' that tend to lead to projects like this happening.

I'm actually surprised it took this long to for a new Turtles project to drop. You have to keep in mind, for most kids who grew up in the 80s, the names Michaelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo and Ralphael don't recall the great masters of Art. They're Turtles, dude!

I mean, these guys were huge -- SpongeBob huge, a billion-dollar franchise when that number still meant a BILLION DOLLARS!! And they were multi-platform. They began as an indie comic book, then came the cartoon series (which is what really launched Turtle-Mania), then the merchandise, THEN the films. After awhile, like every other pop phenom, after it was milked dry by the string-pullers behind the scenes, it faded away, stored away like old blankets in the attics of the minds of its maturing fan base.

But with comic book movies so big in Hollywood lately, this makes perfect sense. I haven't seen the film yet, but I must admit I'm curious. I was a casual Turtles fan -- I was in Junior High when they first broke so the cartoons were what I enjoyed when I took the occasional break from my juvenile delinquency -- but I'm always interested in seeing how comic book characters are translated to the screen. As long as they stay true to the wise-cracking, brothers-in-arms personalities the Turtles are known for, I think this could do OK.

What will be very interesting will be who turns out for the film. Will it just be aging fanboys looking to see their 80s favorites again? There's still a very strong collectors market for Turtles stuff - check out what this eBay auction for the original art from the first Turtles comic is going for.

But will the original Turtle fans come alone or with their kids? If I were the studio execs behind this project, I would hope younger kids turn out for it. If the crowds are full of overweight, toy-collecting moviegoers, that won't bode well for the rebuilding of a once-lucrative franchise. Because once they've had their nostalgic fill, those fans will lose interest and wait for the next blast from the past (which is coming in July with the Transformers movie, BTW).

And that's why TMNT's opening is crucial. Whether it does well at the box office is one thing. WHO turns out to see it could help determine if 80s nostalgia is a rich mine with much more left to be tapped, or if its running dry. So if you still have dreams of seeing the 21st Century reboot of the Smurfs like I do, keep your fingers crossed and hope lots of kids go Cowabunga at the theater this weekend.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Critic-al Juncture??

So perusing the box office totals for the weekend, it seems "300" used its superior fanboy-powered momentum to score a 2nd straight win. This is great news for fans of adrenaline-rush movies with some teeth and comic/graphic novel adaptations in general (I fall into both groups) because Hollywood being Hollywood, there will no doubt be many more movies of this nature hitting theaters in the next year or so as studios try to squeeze this particular lemon dry.
That's probably more good than bad. I'm sure there's already a script on some studio exec's desk about the legendary battle of Roman farmers who stood up and rebelled against the tyrannical produce price-fixers of ancient Rome. I can see the tag-line on the poster already - "Farmers, prepare to plant!"

Anyway, I also came across an interesting article from Variety's Peter Bart about an interesting effect 300's success could have. [check out the full article here]

Bart looks at the growing disparity between critical reviews and a film's box-office performance -- in the case of 300, mostly negative reviews had ABSOLUTELY NO impact on the movie's record-breaking opening. Same thing for 2007's other big box-office winners, Ghost Rider, Wild Hogs and Norbit. All 3 were raked over the critical coals but that didn't stop audiences from flocking to see them. GR's already over $100M and Wild Hogs will clear that hurdle by next week.

Using two print critics as examples, A.O. Scott of the NY Times & Kenneth Turan of the LA Times .. Bart illustrates how many critics today share no common ground with the average moviegoer. Scott trashed 300 and said its was on its way to camp movie infamy. That sounded silly to me when I read it on 300's opening day, and it sounds downright moronic now that it appears the film could usher in a new wave of filmmaking.

Studios no longer kowtow to critics like the old days. The fact of the matter is, they don't need to. Good reviews simply don't impact box office numbers outside of the more prestigious releases during the awards season.

Take horror movies. That genre rarely screens before opening day for critics because studios know that the teenage crowd they're going after with slasher films doesn't care what critics think of the film. As long as the blood runs deep and there's a high body count, they're happy.

I think the problem is that too many critics still view every movie from the same perspective. You can't critique a movie like 300 or Ghost Rider the same way you would Pans Labyrinth or Letters From Iwo Jima. The goal of the films is different, and so should the way they're analyzed.

Ghost Rider for example, wasn't out to win Oscar consideration. It was a popcorn flick aimed squarely at fans of the comic book (and starring a self-avowed fan, Nic Cage, who really got into his role as Johnny Blaze) and judging by the numbers, they were happy with it.

Judging by many of the reviews I scanned when the film first opened, few (if any) critics bothered to research the comic book before seeing the film. So how could they determine if it was faithful to the source material?

One of the first complaints about any movie adaptation of a book is its not true to the original story. The same should be held for pictures based on graphic novels or comic books. And since this genre is so important to Hollywood these days, critics need to pay closer attention.

The same for a movie like the Transformers or TMNT, both based on popular 80s cartoons. Movie critics would do well to do some research and try to understand why studios are so anxious to tap into the deep nostalgia properties like this spark in (mostly) 30-something men who grew up watching them. How can that NOT help them gain a better understanding of the film they're reviewing?

Knowing the intended audience of a movie is more important than ever. Its one thing for a critic to generate anger and frustration among its readers/viewers. But more and more, we're seeing something far more troubling -- indifference.

If you don't believe me, look at the box office numbers so far in 2007. They speak for themselves.

In a nutshell, sometimes a bad movie is a bad movie that deserves a drubbing. Norbit's a great example (or bad .. or .. er, forget it).

Other times, a movie's strengths need to be inspected from a more 'generous' vantage point. I'm not saying don't criticize a movie for fear of alienating its audience (and in return, your audience). But having a deeper appreciation for the movie and its source material could pay unexpected dividends.

Its like the difference between your parents (who listen to the lite rock radio station) and your friend's parents -- the ones who still listen to rock music and know who Fall Out Boy and the Tragically Hip. Whose opinion would you seek out to talk music?

If movie critics of any medium -- TV, print or Internet -- want to maintain their relevance, I think its time to draw up a new game plan. And quickly. The summer blockbuster season's just around the corner!