Saturday, July 29, 2006

Disney Makes Return to 2-D Animation with The Frog Princess


Variety reports that Walt Disney Feature Animation is developing The Frog Princess, with plans to produce it in traditional 2-D style, rather than the 3-D CGI method that has become ubiquitous recently.

The film is being developed by writer-directors Ron Clements and John Musker (Treasure Planet, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid), who recently rejoined the studio after Ed Catmull and John Lasseter became WDFA president and chief creative officer, respectively, following the Pixar acquisition.

Lasseter has given the go-ahead for the project to be made in 2-D should it get the green light. He has previously said he would like to see Disney use 2-D visuals for the right projects.

The last time Disney made a 2-D feature was 2004's Home on the Range.

Disney's longtime composer Alan Menken is working on music for The Frog Princess.

Disney/Pixar's Ratatouille Voice Cast

Source: has confirmed that Patton Oswalt, Brian Dennehy, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, Ian Holm and John Ratzenberger will voice Disney/Pixar's animated-adventure Ratatouille, opening June 29, 2007.

In the film, a rat named Remy dreams of becoming a great French chef despite his family's wishes and the obvious problem of being a rat in a decidedly rodent-phobic profession. When fate places Remy in the sewers of Paris, he finds himself ideally situated beneath a restaurant made famous by his culinary hero, Auguste Gusteau. Despite the apparent dangers of being an unlikely - and certainly unwanted - visitor in the kitchen of a fine French restaurant, Remy's passion for cooking soon sets into motion a hilarious and exciting rat race that turns the culinary world of Paris upside down.

Remy finds himself torn between his calling and passion in life or returning forever to his previous existence as a rat. He learns the truth about friendship, family and having no choice but to be who he really is, a rat who wants to be a chef.

Ratatouille is directed by Academy Award®-winning Brad Bird (The Incredibles) and co-directed by Academy Award®-winning Jan Pinkava (Geri's Game).

The Departed Trailer Online

The trailer for director Martin Scorsese’s latest drama, The Departed, starring Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Mark Wahlberg, is now available online.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Trailer for Employee of the Month Online

The trailer for Employee of the Month starring Dane Cook and Jessica Simpson is now available online.

One-Sheet Teaser for Iron Man

One-Sheet Teaser for Pan's Labyrinth

One-Sheet for The Santa Clause 3

(Another) One-Sheet Teaser for Saw III

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Another Spider-Man 3 Teaser Poster

Monday, July 24, 2006

Pirates on Top a Third Straight Weekend


Walt Disney Pictures' summer blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest took the top spot at the box office for a third-straight weekend with an estimated $35 million, a drop of 43.8% in ticket sales, for a total of $321.7 million. The last time a summer film was in first place for three straight weekends was American Pie 2 in 2001. Dead Man's Chest crossed the $300 million mark domestically on Saturday, it's 16th day, setting a new record. The previous record was held by Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, which crossed the mark in 17 days. The second installment has also passed the $305 million domestic total that its predecessor, 2003's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, earned during its entire run. Within a week, the film is expected to top the $339.7 million domestic take of Finding Nemo to become Disney's top-grossing movie. Dead Man's Chest has also climbed to the 16th spot on the all-time domestic list. The "Pirates" sequel has reached $539 million worldwide, which puts it 37th on the all-time worldwide list with still a long time to go.

Sony Pictures' animated-comedy Monster House opened in the second spot with $23 million from 3,553 theaters. The performance capture adventure was executive produced by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg. It opened in Digital 3D in select theaters as well.

M. Night Shyamalan's new fantasy-thriller Lady in the Water, starring Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard, flopped in the third spot, making just $18.2 million from 3,235 theaters. His last movie, The Village, opened to $50 million and went on to earn $114 million.

In their second weekends, Universal comedy You, Me and Dupree earned $12.8 million for a total of $45.3 million, while Sony comedy Little Man made $11 million for a sum of $40.6 million. The two cost $54 million and $64 million to make, respectively.

Kevin Smith's Clerk II debuted in sixth place with $9.6 million in 2,150 locations. Not bad for a film that only cost $5 million to make.

On the other hand, Fox's My Super Ex-Girlfriend, starring Uma Thurman and Luke Wilson, collected just $8.7 million from 2,702 sites. The studio had hoped for an opening in the mid-teens.

In their fourth weekends, Warner Bros.' Superman Returns added $7.46 million for a total of $178.4 million and Fox's The Devil Wears Prada took in $7.425 for a total of $97.6 million.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

First Pic (sort of) of Venom from Spider-Man 3

Teaser One-Sheet for Star Trek XI

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Allen and Hanks Back for Toy Story 3


Columnists Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith caught up with Zoom star Tim Allen who said that he and Tom Hanks will reprise their voices of Buzz Lightyear and Woody, respectively, in Disney/Pixar's Toy Story 3.

"It's going to be great," said Allen. "We have John Lasseter, the original director, and I believe Tom is on board." Allen added that the new version of the story is "stronger" than the previous one.

Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger revealed in May that the studio had started production on the third film. After Disney acquired Pixar, Pixar took over production of Toy Story 3, which Disney's in-house animators had been working on.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Trailer for The Fountain Online

The trailer for The Fountain starring Hugh Jackman and Rachael Weisz is now online.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Teaser Trailer for TMNT Online

The teaser trailer for the computer-animated adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is now online. Expect the film to debut in March 2007.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Film Review - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

The North American box office must be in serious jeopardy if it is now having to rely solely on the pirate genre, a one time perennial box office poison, to jump-start the summer season which to put it gently (because frankly it has been kicked around enough as it is) has been disappointing. Nearly every new entry in the past two months including Mission: Impossible III, Disney/Pixar’s Cars (although it has managed to scrape its way past the two-hundred million dollar mark domestically), comedian Adam Sandler’s Click, and, surprisingly, Superman Returns (X-Men: The Last Stand being the sole exception to the rule this season) has underperformed at the box office in its opening weekend. What’s more is that less then three years ago box office as well as Wall Street analysts, not to mention a few out of touch studio executives at the Walt Disney Company, waited in anticipation for Jerry Bruckheimer’s pirate epic, a period piece mind you, to fall flat on its face only to be sorely disappointed and astonished at its success. It is truly amazing what three years and six-hundred and fifty-three million dollars world-wide, three-hundred and five million dollars domestically and three-hundred and forty-eight million in overseas sales, can do. And that’s not even including the hundreds of millions of dollars, possibly chartering into the billions, the Walt Disney Corporation has made off of DVD and merchandise sales as well as the recently revamped theme park attractions in Florida and California. Yes, a healthy dose of Captain Jack Sparrow may be exactly what the doctor ordered.

The story for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is far more complex and intricate then the original was three years ago, attempting to seamlessly weave together a variety of individual storylines – the enduring romance between Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, Will’s impromptu reunion with his father aboard the Flying Dutchman, Captain Jack Sparrow’s search for the Dead Man’s Chest, etc. – and at times it feels a bit overloaded even at an exhaustive pace of two hours and thirty-one minutes. But because it continually switches gears from one subplot to the other, the film never feels long. It was perhaps foolhardy on the part of the filmmakers to have not one but three villains in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (Davy Jones, Admiral James Norrington, and Lord Cutler Beckett). Little time is devoted to background information regarding either the phantasmal Davy Jones or Lord Cutler Beckett. For instance, if you did not read the official premise for the movie you probably would not be aware that Lord Beckett is a pirate hunter which would explain his interest in Jack Sparrow and more importantly the chest of Davy Jones. As for Davy Jones, audiences are left with more questions then answers. How did he become ruler of the Seven Seas? Who is the woman he fell in love with and who ultimately broke his heart? More may be elaborated on in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End but more likely it will concentrate on Jack Sparrow’s fate then anything else.

Acting legend Johnny Depp returns in top form, as if audiences could have expected anything less from him, in the role that brought him the most publicity and acclaim in his embracive thirty-plus filmmaking career, Captain Jack Sparrow. Not only is there a far darker tone to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest in comparison to the original and to the franchise overall but also to the character development of Captain Jack as well. Audience for the most part may have sided with him in the first installment of the series but his underhanded and narcissistic actions in the second movie will leave them a little more open-ended in terms of their alliances to the characters. Captain Jack’s philosophy (if you want to call it that) as he stated in the first movie is simple – there’s what a man can do and what a man can’t do. This of course leaves a lot of leg room for moral ambiguity. As a pirate he is viewed as the total manifestation of anarchy and freedom – opposition to government, rules, authority, and moral guidelines. And while this grants him the freedom to not be tied down or obligated to anyone, it in turn prevents him from forming alliances or relationships with anyone other then himself. This of course includes Will and Elizabeth. It may not be the side of Captain Jack Sparrow everyone, especially his fans, want to see but it is certainly hard to argue with the fact that it is in tune with his character. Captain Jack Sparrow has always walked a thin line between heroism and anti-heroism. Despite being a pirate, he has never been a pure villain as much as he tries to portray himself as. He struggles with his identity all the way to the bitter end where he comes to grips with who he is, smiles, takes up his sword and meets his ultimate fate with the Kraken.

Keira Knightly is nothing short of stunning in this movie, possibly more so then she was in the first installment of the series. Elizabeth Swann undergoes a considerable amount of character development in Dead Man’s Chest which will leave audiences dumbfounded. The passionate kiss she shares with Captain Jack Sparrow near the end of the film, witnessed briefly by Will Turner, as he and the crew jump ship to escape the wrath of the Kraken, is an intriguing plot twist. It shares more then a striking resemblance to the supposed love-triangle between Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. Whether it will end in the same result or not has yet to be seen. An added bonus is the chase scene in the last thirty minutes of the movie in which an exasperate Elizabeth yells at Will, Jack, and former-Commodore Norrington who are crossing swords with each other for possession of the key to the Dead Man’s Chest, “Let's just pull out our swords and start banging away at each other … I've had it! I've had it with wobbly-legged, rum soaked pirates!”

Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner is pushed to the background as the story shies away from his romance with Keira Knightly’s Elizabeth (they barely appear together accept for the beginning and near the end of the movie) and more toward the fate of Captain Jack Sparrow. Even the subplot with his long thought dead father, Bootstrap Bill Turner, who reappears having joined Davy Jones’s crew aboard the Flying Dutchman is only slightly touched upon. This however is likely to change next summer with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. In the meantime Bloom has approved as an actor since his appearance in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and does a wonderful job bringing out the heroic nature of Will Turner, an improvement from the original.

Captain Davy Jones, played with phenomenal gusto by British actor Bill Nighy, is a spectacular addition to the action-adventure series. He is a masterful blend of ingenious acting prowess and truly representational computer-animated special effects. The tentacles on Jones’s face twitch and contort with his constantly changing moods. Smoke even blows out the side of his face. While his octopus-like appearance was achieved by applying computer generated special effects to a motion-capture suit worn by the actor, it is so realistic, particularly scenes shot in the daylight, it is easy to confuse it with a prosthetic mask. Jones himself is an especially licentious piece of work, snapping at a sailor who witnessed a fellow shipmate have his throat slit, “Life is cruel. Why should the afterlife be any different?” He is what truly brings out the sinister nature of the sequel.

Overall, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest does the franchise and the theme park attraction on which it is based justice. It stands alone as the best movie of the summer season, if not the entire year so far, and comes closer then most highly anticipated sequels like it to living up to the extraordinarily high expectations set upon it by the original. That said however there are at the very least a few issues to be raised. One of the dilemmas the film runs into is that unlike the original Curse of the Black Pearl three years ago, Dead Man’s Chest is not a film which stands on its own. Even though the original Star Wars movies and The Lord of the Rings projects were part of successful trilogies, they were each able to hold their own and distinguish themselves from one another. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise on the other hand plays more like The Matrix trilogy with only the first entry able to differentiate itself from the other two and the second, much like The Matrix Reloaded, ending in a cliff-hanger, practically begging the audience to come back a year later and see the third installment. Dead Man’s Chest’s two-hours and thirty-one minute running time is more of a side-note then an actual complaint. It’s a Jerry Bruckheimer production, so it is expected that his blockbuster dramas are to be quite lengthy. Additionally, if the original was able to make over three-hundred million dollars domestically in spite of its rather excessive time length given that it is a Walt Disney Pictures project, a film intended for family audiences, then it should not be an issue this time around. And while a vast majority of the computer-animated special effect sequences for the film were remarkably well-done, some of the scenes featuring the Kraken, the mythological squid-like creature which brings sea-faring ships to their doom, were not as effective as they could have been. The realism of some of the tentacles was not as consistent as the others, some particularly coming off as rather fraudulent in appearance. In any event, Dead Man’s Chest is a riveting action-adventure drama that’s nearly as fun as the original was three years ago, raising the original from a mere cult status to that of a cinematic phenomenon. The striking thing about the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is how it is able to routinely walk the thin-line between melodrama, comedy, horror, and history without alienating any particular audience demographic. It dabbles in each one just enough that it keeps the audience guessing as to what is to come next but not so much that it becomes dull, water-downed, or even preachy. Dead Man’s Chest is a bit more earnest in its approach to piracy and life and death then Curse of the Black Pearl was, so parents might be advised not to bring the younger ones to this film. If they insist on seeing the film, please forewarn them about the rather serious nature of the subject matter discussed in the movie.

And while the cliff-hanger as the end of Dead Man’s Chest may come as a bit of a surprise to some people, if you pay close attention to some of the details in the movie it will not come as a complete shock at least. It is a lot easier to catch these specifics the second time around then during the initial screening. Pay close attention to the scene where Captain Jack Sparrow pays a visit to Tia Delma, the gypsy queen, and receives from her a jar of dirt to protect him from Davy Jones. When Jack the monkey escapes from his cage, watch where he goes. When Tia Delma goes into the back room to retrieve the jar of dirt for Jack Sparrow, the monkey is sitting on a pair of familiar looking boots. Also, pay particularly close attention to the hat Captain Jack Sparrow is handling in the scene as well. He examines it as if he has seen it before which would be correct.

My Rating: **** ½ out of 5 (Grade: A)

Clash of the Colossal Comedies


Following a week that broke most of the box office records, Walt Disney Pictures' Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, starring Johnny Depp et all, came back down to earth with a second weekend gross of $62.2 million, a drop of 54% from its opening weekend. While it's only the third highest grossing second weekend after Spider-Man and Shrek 2, its current gross of $258 million in a mere ten days puts it ahead of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith for that record, as well as making it the highest grossing movie of '06. It's already taken the record for the fastest movie to gross $200 million, and the way things are going, it will likely be the fastest to gross $300 million, which it should make by next Saturday. Dead Man's Chest also earned an additional $58 million internationally, pushing its overseas total to $125 million. It has collected $383.2 million worldwide.

The real story of the weekend though was the tight race between two critically-panned comedies, both which apparently hoped to capitalize on the succcess of other dumb comedies this year.

Kenan Ivory Wayans and the Wayans Brood returned with Little Man, released by Sony Pictures into just over 2,500 theatres, where it grossed $21.7 million, an average of $8,566 per theatre. By comparison, Universal's comedy alternative, You, Me and Dupree, a third wheel "home intruder" comedy with Owen Wilson, Kate Hudson and Matt Dillon, made $21.3 million in over 500 more theatres, averaging $6,815. It might come down to the actual weekend grosses, reported on Monday afternoon, to see whether the Wayans are able to hold off Wilson, although the fact that both movies made more than $21 million is a good sign for the strength of comedies at the box office. Then again, the release of two more comedies this coming Friday might put an end to the current trend.

Bryan Singer and Warner Bros' Superman Returns took a smaller hit in its third weekend as it dropped down to fourth place, earning $11.6 million and bringing its total gross to $163.6 million. It has earned slightly more than the WB's Batman Begins in the same period, but it still has quite a bit to go if it wants to be considered profitable, since it cost so much more to make.

20th Century Fox's fashionable comedy The Devil Wears Prada, starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, continues to do well, and a third weekend drop-off of 30% is showing that it has definite legs. Grossing $10.5 million in its third weekend brings its total gross to $83.5 million, more than twice its $35 million production budget, making it one of the more profitable summer releases.

The Disney/Pixar animated-comedy Cars, also featuring the voice of Owen Wilson, made an additional $7.5 million in its sixth weekend in theatres, pulling ahead of Adam Sandler's Click while dropping to sixth place. Cars' total gross of just under $220 million currently makes it the third highest grossing movie of 2006 with a chance of pulling ahead of X-Men: The Last Stand by summer's end, though it faces three back-to-back animated comedies in the coming weeks. Click added another $7 million to its box office take of $119.7 million, dropping from fourth down to seventh this weekend with the introduction of the new comedies.

The only other significant move in the Top 10 is the romantic drama The Lake House with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock pulling ahead of Jack Black's Nacho Libre in their respective fifth weekends. The latter made nearly twice as much as the former their opening weekend.

Richard Linklater's animated adaptation of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly expanded into 217 theatres, allowing it to enter the Top 10 with $1.18 million, an average of $5,846 per theatre.

Meanwhile, Al Gore's environmental doc An Inconvenient Truth added another $1.1 million to its box office take of just under $17 million, keeping it in the Top 12 for an eighth week. The former Vice President's cover story in the new Entertainment Weekly should continue the movie's impressive run.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

One-Sheet for Night at the Museum

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Two Brand New POTC: Dead Man's Chest TV Spots

Clearly wasting no time, Walt Disney Pictures is quickly promoting the news that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest has grossed one-hundred and ninety-six million dollars in its first week at the domestic box office alone. With this announcement come two brand new television spots:

Exclusive Television Spot #1

Exclusive Television Spot #2

Friday, July 14, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean 3 Script

If you do not care for spoilers then you won’t want to check out this fifty-six pages of the script for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.

One-Sheet for The Fountain

The Prestige Trailer Online

Check out the trailer for The Prestige, the latest thriller from director Christopher Nolan who brought us Memento and last summer’s critically acclaimed Batman Begins.

Disney to Cut Back on Films & Personnel


While Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest set another record on Monday, grossing $18.1 million to beat the previous nonholiday Monday benchmark of $14.4 million set by Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, Disney is tightening its belt.

According to Variety, Walt Disney Pictures will announce within the next 10 days that it's cutting back on the number of films it makes to around eight per year -- it currently releases around 18 -- and will substantially reduce its workforce. All movies will be Disney-branded, meaning companies like Touchstone could be vastly diminished.

The cutbacks will be far greater than many anticipated, as studio chairman Dick Cook looks to reinvent the architecture of his studio. The move reflects an effort to improve the studio's return on investment and get infrastructure back into line.

While Disney's having a grand summer with Pirates and with Pixar's Cars, this year has seen some major misfires: Stick It, Annapolis, Stay Alive and especially The Wild.

One-Sheet Teaser Poster for Spider-Man 3

Thursday, July 13, 2006

One-Sheet for The Descent

One-Sheet for Beerfest

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Trailer for Rocky Balboa Online

The trailer for Rocky Balboa, the sixth movie in the Rocky series, has debuted online. The movie itself opens this December.

Dracula Year Zero Rises at Universal


Universal Pictures has acquired the spec script Dracula Year Zero by new screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless and set it up with Michael De Luca to produce via his De Luca Productions, says Variety.

The story explores the origin of Dracula, weaving vampire mythology with the true history of Prince Vlad the Impaler, depicting Dracula as a flawed hero in a tragic love story set in a dark age of magic and war.

Alissa Phillips of De Luca Productions, who brought the project in, will serve as co-producer. Donna Langley, president of production, and Jeffrey Kirschenbaum will oversee the project.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Pirates Breaks Opening Weekend Record!


Walt Disney Pictures' highly-anticipated Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Bill Nighy, broke Spider-Man's ($114.8 million) four-year-old opening weekend record with a massive $132 million from 4,133 theaters, the fourth-widest release ever. The movie made $55.5 million on Friday (the biggest single day and opening day in box office history, surpassing Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith ($50 million)), $44.7 million on Saturday (the fifth-biggest single day) and $31.8 million on Sunday, for an average of $31,944 per theater for the weekend. If estimates hold, this means that Dead Man's Chest crossed the $100 million mark in two days, which has never been done before - the previous fastest time was three days. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Gore Verbinski, the movie cost about $225 million to make. The third installment, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, hits theaters on May 25, 2007.

The big opening for Pirates caused Warner Bros.' Superman Returns to drop 58.4% in ticket sales, for a second weekend take of $21.9 million. The Bryan Singer-directed comic book adaptation, made for $260 million, has reached $141.7 million in 12 days.

In third place, 20th Century Fox's The Devil Wears Prada earned another impressive $15.6 million in its second weekend, pushing its total to $63.7 million in just two weeks. The comedy, starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, cost $35 million to make.

Adam Sandler comedy Click collected $12 million for the fourth spot and has earned a total of $105.9 million in three weeks.

Disney/Pixar's animated-comedy Cars held up well in its fifth week, earning $10.3 million for a total of $205.5 million.

In limited release, Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly, with Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson, garnered $406,000 from just 17 theaters, for an average of $23,882 per location.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Pirates Breaks Opening Day Record!!


According to estimates from Box Office Mojo, Disney's sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest has broken the opening day and highest-grossing day box office records of 2005's Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith ($50 million), earning an estimated $55.5 million on its first Friday.

The way things are going for it, it's almost guaranteed to break Spider-Man's three-day opening weekend record of $114.84 million from 2002.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Film Review - Superman Returns

Does the world need a Superman? That is precisely the very question executives at Warner Brothers studios and X-Men director Bryan Singer are trying to answer this summer with the release of the highly-anticipated Superman Returns which they hope will be received with a resounding ‘Yes’ from the American public. Fans of the ‘Man of Steel’ have for years clamored for the world’s greatest superhero to make a triumphant return to the silver screen in light of the shameful Superman IV: The Quest for Peace which was both a critical as well as a public failure for Warner Brothers. And although producer Alexander Salkind diligently tried in vain to resurrect the film franchise with Superman: The New Movie, using the Superboy television series to get the proposal off the ground, nothing came to fruition. Warner Brothers spent fifty-million dollars in pre-production alone and went through as many as three directors including Batman director Tim Burton, Charlie’s Angels director McG and Rush Hour director Brett Ratner. Ironically enough it was Ratner who departed the Superman Returns project to take up X-Men: The Last Stand, a sequel to the successful X-Men film franchise Bryan Singer abandoned for Superman Returns. Among the nine writers tapped to pen the screenplay for the fifth installment in the Superman series, Clerks director Kevin Smith who used ‘The Death and Life of Superman’ storyline for his screenplay and Alias and Lost creator/producer J.J. Abrams who despite a preemptive drubbing of his screenplay by Ain’t Cool News’ a movie gossip website, is responsible for suggesting that critical elements of the Superman mythology be reintroduced to a new generation, not to mention whose screenplay cancelled out the disastrous Batman v. Superman project, are the better known ones. With an astronomical production budget of over two-hundred million dollars (this figure has since been greatly disputed by numerous sources and more likely the actual figure stands at an estimated one-hundred and fifty million dollars), a lot of pressure has been placed on the shoulders of Bryan Singer, more even then what was placed on him for the X-Men franchise, to make Superman Returns a success.

The story for Superman Returns is unequivocally the most intricate aspect of this movie to pinpoint and thoroughly analyze. First off, it is far from what some, namely aging movie critic Roger Ebert, would describe as being a complete and utter disaster. At the same time however the script does fail to invoke the sense of enthusiasm and grandeur seventeen years of bent up fan anticipation, not to mention the prodigious marketing force behind the project, would lead us to believe. It may be that it relies too heavily on the principal elements of the original Superman movie. This is not however necessarily a bad thing as it was writer/producer J.J. Abrams who intended to revisit these exact components in his draft of the Superman screenplay so that they might be reintroduced to a new generation unfamiliar with the entire Superman mythology. Warner Brothers’ marketing team did too good of a job promoting Superman Returns, creating exorbitant expectations that could never realistically be met, at least as far as the first film is concerned. Superman Returns, in the same vein as the original Spider-Man and X-Men films, is merely the stepping stone which sets the stage for its characters and future storylines they’ll follow. At the very least it can be described as disappointing.

It is unfair to compare Brandon Routh’s performance as the ‘Man of Steel’ to the late-actor Christopher Reeve. Even before his untimely death due to a heart attack his performance as Superman in the 1978 original was viewed as iconic in cinematic history, a far cry to be sure from the Batman franchise with the sole exception being Michael Keaton which would still be a matter of some debate. Routh succeeds in making the role his own and not relying too heavily on Reeve’s example to affect his performance onscreen. Routh has charm and charisma that’s for sure but it felt as though the audience was left a little short changed when it came to Superman himself.

Kate Bosworth is easily the greatest miscast of the film in the role of Superman’s love interest Lois Lane. The astringent lack of credentials in her relatively short filmmaking career work against her in this pivotal role. The sole exception of course being Beyond the Sea directed by co-star Kevin Spacey who recommended the young actress to director Bryan Singer when he was cast as Lex Luthor. It is difficult to put a finger on the problem precisely but there is just something about her that doesn’t quite feel right. In addition to her hair color, her whole performance comes off as artificial.

Kevin Spacey is exquisitely sadistic yet still charming as Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor. He truly appears as though he had a lot of fun in this role. This works to both the benefit of Spacey’s overall performance and the audience’s viewing experience. For example, when Lois Lane argues with Lex Luthor that his plan to use the crystals from Superman’s lair to create an entirely new continent and in the process destroy all of North America will kill millions of people, Luthor callously interjects, “Billions! Once again, the press underestimates me”. This is one of the rare instances in which Superman Returns surpasses the expectations laid down by the original Superman movie. Spacey brings to the role of Lex Luthor a level of enthusiasm that vastly exceeds Gene Hackman’s performance thirty years ago.

Kal Penn, best remembered for his comedic performances in National Lampoon’s Van Wilder and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, is highly underutilized in this film as Stanford, one of Lex Luthor’s goons. He’s easily recognizable among teenagers and young adults so his one-line performance which is said off-screen seems a tad off.

Overall, Superman Returns, while not the movie of the year, let alone of the summer season, as all the fan boy hype and studio marketing power made it out to be, marks a brilliant and long overdue reemergence for this once faltering franchise. That said however it does have its shortcomings. There are lapses in conventional logic as with any comic book movie but nothing to be finicky about. What is rather difficult for anyone, let alone a hardcore comic book ‘geek’, to swallow is the idea of Superman leaving Earth for five years, saying goodbye to Lois Lane or not, and all because some group of scientists claimed they found remnants of a planet called Krypton, the Man of Steel’s home planet. If Superman knows that his planet was destroyed, why investigate? And why did it take him five years? It has been seventeen years since the last Superman movie. Furthermore, considering Alias creator/producer J.J. Abrams original draft for the fifth Superman project was rejected by Bryan Singer on the basis that it was too controversial among fans of the comic book series, it is therefore a bit perplexing to say the least that there has been so little fan uproar over the concept of Superman and Lois Lane having a son. With Superman seen as a Christ-like figure it is essentially sacrilege (a page taken from The Da Vinci Code controversy) for him to have a child. Even if this is the extreme in describing the scenario it shouldn’t sit right with fans. And while the flashback of a young Clark Kent discovering his abnormal abilities (lightening fast speed, flying, etc.) is a joy to behold, it does nothing to advance the plot and would have been better spent left on the cutting room floor. One-hundred and fifty-four minutes is to say the least a tad excessive even when resurrecting a superhero franchise but according to sources (a current roommate who is friends with the Man of Steel Brandon Routh) a lot was cut from the film so it could have been a lot longer. Regardless, there is very little to complain about. The computer-generated special effects are simply astonishing, most of all the remarkable Boeing 747 sequence, with none of them feeling out of place or incomplete. While Metropolis may be a fictional place set within the confines of the DC comic book universe, director Bryan Singer successfully brings it to life, projecting a sense of realism onto the audience and yet still keeping it staunchly within the realm of romanticism and grandeur. But most importantly of all the sequences of dialogue, manipulated by computer-effects wizards behind the scenes, with the late-actor Marlon Brando, scenes that were shot originally for Superman II, are what make this movie great. As you are watching the movie you begin to ask yourself, with Superman as Earth’s disposal so to speak, why do we still have to worry about Osama Bin Laden, North Korea, or Iran? As Jor-El explains as we see Superman hovering above the Earth, floating in space, Kal-El (Superman) can be a savior for man kind but he can’t do everything. There are issues such as Islamic terrorism, international conflicts, geopolitical disasters etc. that humanity itself has to deal with on its own. While it would be easier for a Superman to resolve it for us, we as a collective would not gain anything from that. At the core of humanity there is the capacity to do good, we only lack the light now and then to show us the way. That is Superman’s true purpose. On the surface Superman Returns is an often long-winded, heavily character driven superhero drama, but given time beyond the first film, remember – Spider-Man and X-Men were the same when they first started out, it can be capable of great things.

My Rating: **** ½ out of 5 (Grade: A-)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Man of Steel Faces the Woman of Prada


The first half of the summer of '06 ended with a bang as the pre-4th of July weekend saw two very different adaptations bring a large and diverse audience of moviegoers into theatres. Although the week began with everyone talking about Bryan Singer's Superman Returns, 20th Century Fox's attempt at counterprogramming certainly had a lot more tongues wagging over the weekend.

After grossing over $32 million on Wednesday and Thursday, Warner Bros' Superman Returns was able to top the weekend with approximately $52.1 million in over 4,000 theatres, an average of $12,829 per theatres. Its total of $84.3 million in five days exceeded that of Batman Begins and Peter Jackson's King Kong in their first five days, but it's pretty disappointing compared to the $200 million plus price tag it cost to tell the Man of Steel's latest adventure. It wil hope to build on any word-of-mouth in the next few days before Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest takes over next weekend.

Based on the bestselling novel by Lauren Weisberger, 20th Century Fox's The Devil Wears Prada paired Anne "The Princess Diaries" Hathaway with Meryl Streep for a comedy set in the world of fashion. Women flocked to it in droves this weekend, allowing it to make roughly $27 million in roughly 1,200 fewer theatres than Superman, averaging $9,483 per theatre. It's safe to assume that the stronger choice kept women away from the superhero movie, despite WB's attempts to sell them on the romance and relationship between Superman and Lois Lane.

With two dominant forces entering the box office, many of the returning movies lost screens and took substantial hits this weekend.

Dropping down to third place, Adam Sandler's new comedy Click, which opened at #1 last weekend with $40 million, made less than half that in its second frame, grossing another $19.4 million to bring its total just under $78 million.

Disney/Pixar's animated comedy Cars also dropped down two places to 4th with roughly $14 million, having accumulated $182 million in its first four weeks in theatres.

In fifth place, the Paramount/Nickelodeon comedy Nacho Libre, starring Jack Black, also dropped 51%, making $6.2 million in its third weekend with its total gross nearing $65 million.

Despite the stronger "chick flick" entering theatres, Warner Bros' romantic drama The Lake House, reuniting Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, held up better than other movies, dropping less than 50% with an additional $4.5 million, its box office take reaching $38.7 million.

Also in its third weekend, Univeral's threequel The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift dropped three places to 7th, where it grossed another $4.4 million, bringing its total box office up to $51.7 million.

Tyrese Gibson's urban gangster drama, Waist Deep, took the biggest plunge in the Top 10, with $3.3 million, 65% less than its opening weekend take, and also dropping three positions.

The Jennifer Aniston-Vince Vaughn comedy The Break-Up made another $2.8 million this weekend. Its $110 million gross makes it the top non-animated comedy of the summer.

Sony's The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks, held onto its place in the Top 10 with another $2.3 million and a total gross of $209.7 million.

Two Fox sequels rounded out the Top 12 with X-Men: The Last Stand making $2 million and Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties making slightly less after each of them lost over 800 theatres this weekend. X-Men has grossed $228.5 million compared to Garfield's $21.5 million.

THINKFilm's Strangers With Candy, based on the Comedy Central show of the same name, opened in two locations in New York City on Wednesday, where it earned $70.6 thousand, while the Sony Classics environmental doc Who Killed the Electric Car? made less than that in four times as many theatres.

The roughly $136 million earned by the Top 10 was more than the same weekend last year where Tom Cruise and Stephen Spielberg's War of the Worlds dominated with just under $65 million on the 4th of July weekend.