It was the trickle of pee heard around the world. Cannes attendees were aghast and/or amused an infamous scene from The Paperboy that shows Nicole Kidman urinating on Zac Efron; this is apparently a great salve for jellyfish burns which were covering our Ken Doll-like protagonist. (In fact the term protagonist should be used very loosely for Efron's character Jack who is mostly acted upon than active throughout.)
Lurid! Sexy! Perverse! Trashy! Whether or not it's actually effective is overshadowed by all the hubbub that's attached itself to the movie for better or worse. In fact the movie is all of these things — but that's actually not a compliment. What could have become somethingmemorable is jaw-droppingly bad (when it's not hilarious). Director Lee Daniels uses a few different visual styles throughout from a stark black and white palette for a crime scene recreation at the beginning to a '70s porno aesthetic that oscillates between psychedelic and straight-up sweaty with an emphasis on Efron's tighty-whiteys. This only enhances the sloppiness of the script which uses lines like narrator/housekeeper/nanny Anita's (Macy Gray) "You ain't tired enough to be retired " to conjure up the down-home wisdom of the South. Despite Gray's musical talents she is not a good choice for a narrator or an actor for that matter. In a way — insofar as they're perhaps the only female characters given a chunk of screen time — her foil is Charlotte Bless Nicole Kidman's character. Anita is the mother figure who wears as we see in an early scene control-top pantyhose whereas Charlotte is all clam diggers and Barbie doll make-up. Or as Anita puts it "an oversexed Barbie doll."
The slapdash plot is that Jack's older brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) comes back to town with his colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) to investigate the case of a death row criminal named Hillary Van Wetter. Yardley is black and British which seems to confuse many of the people he meets in this backwoods town. Hillary (John Cusack) hidden under a mop of greasy black hair) is a slack-jawed yokel who could care less if he's going to be killed for a crime he might or might not have committed. He is way more interested in his bride-to-be Charlotte who has fallen in love with him through letters — this is her thing apparently writing letters and falling in love with inmates — and has rushed to help Ward and Yardley free her man. In the meantime we're subjected to at least one simulated sex scene that will haunt your dreams forever. Besides Hillary's shortcomings as a character that could rustle up any sort of empathy the case itself is so boring it begs the question why a respected journalist would be interested enough to pursue it.
The rest of the movie is filled with longing an attempt to place any the story in some sort of social context via class and race even more Zac Efron's underwear sexual violence alligator innards swamp people in comically ramshackle homes and a glimpse of one glistening McConaughey 'tock. Harmony Korine called and he wants his Gummo back.
It's probably tantalizing for this cast to take on "serious" "edgy" work by an Oscar-nominated director. Cusack ditched his boombox blasting "In Your Eyes" long ago and Efron's been trying to shed his squeaky clean image for so long that he finally dropped a condom on the red carpet for The Lorax so we'd know he's not smooth like a Ken doll despite how he was filmed by Daniels. On the other hand Nicole Kidman has been making interesting and varied career choices for years so it's confounding why she'd be interested in a one-dimensional character like Charlotte. McConaughey's on a roll and like the rest of the cast he's got plenty of interesting projects worth watching so this probably won't slow him down. Even Daniels is already shooting a new film The Butler as we can see from Oprah's dazzling Instagram feed. It's as if they all want to put The Paperboy behind them as soon as possible. It's hard to blame them.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
An Easter parade of moviegoers kicked Panic Room off in style to $30.2 million, a new record for the holiday weekend.
Ice Age remained frozen in second place with a still steaming $18.6 million. The Rookie opened on third base with a solid $15.8 million line drive.
Rounding out the top five were Blade 2, finishing fourth with a less sharp $13.2 million, and Clockstoppers, ticking slowly with a $10.1 million fifth place launch.
For the third consecutive weekend, key films--those grossing $500,000 or more--enjoyed summer size ticket sales. The Easter weekend's $126.3 million total was 37 percent ahead of $92 million for the comparable weekend last year. It also was up 48 percent from Easter 2001 (Apr. 13-15) when key films grossed $85.3 million.
THE TOP TEN
Columbia's opening of its R rated thriller Panic Room opened atop the chart to a record setting ESTIMATED $30.2 million at 3,053 theaters ($9,892 per theater).
Panic's average per theater was the highest for any film playing this weekend.
Directed by David Fincher, it stars Jodie Foster.
"It's the biggest Easter opening ever, beating Matrix, which isn't a bad one to beat," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "Matrix opened Apr. 2, 1999--Easter Weekend was Apr. 2-4 and it actually opened on Wednesday, Mar. 31. It did $27.8 million for the three-day portion [of the holiday weekend]. It went on to gross $171.4 million. I'd say that's a little ambitious, but it's obviously a great start when you're talking about the biggest Easter opening ever and beating a film of that high profile.
"It's also Jodie Foster's biggest [opening], beating Contact, which was July 11-13, 1997 at $20.6 million. Again, you're talking about somebody with a great portfolio of films, including Maverick and Silence of the Lambs, all $100 million-plus movies. So it's nice that this is her biggest opening."
Focusing on who went to see Panic, Blake noted, "What we got was a good mix of younger and older adults. I think it really appeared, as it is, to be a 'full meal movie' as opposed to something specifically for kids or something specifically for science fiction fans or some of the more segmented [audience] movies that have done very well but have been appealing to less of a broadly adult audience. I think we're really the first broadly adult film in a while that has had equal appeal to young adults as well as older adults and very equal between male and female.
"Our audience was largely 25 and older and was almost equally split between men and women. It clearly was a 'full meal movie' that several adult audiences would enjoy. It's a $48 million negative, so that puts us in a real nice position [to see profits and] especially for a picture of this quality."
20th Century Fox's PG rated animated feature Ice Age held on to second place and was still sizzling in its third week with an ESTIMATED $18.58 million (-38%) at 3,333 theaters (-12 theaters; $5,575 per theater). Its cume is approximately $117.3 million, heading for $150-175 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Chris Wedge, it features the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.
"People love it," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning, addressing the film's success. "It has just caught the public's fancy."
Reflecting on the strong March marketplace, Snyder pointed out, "It's the movies. It keeps expanding every time another quality picture's put in the marketplace."
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated family appeal baseball drama The Rookie opened in third place to a rousing ESTIMATED $15.8 million at 2,511 theaters ($6,283 per theater).
Directed by John Lee Hancock, it stars Dennis Quaid.
"I'm so pleased," Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning. "The filmmakers and Dennis Quaid have been so committed and have worked so hard on this movie. As you can see by the CinemaScores and [the grosses], the picture has played great. The word of mouth is terrific."
Focusing on the strong opening, Viane noted, "We've gotten Dennis the highest opening Dennis has ever had. And I don't think there's been a baseball movie that's ever done this kind of business."
Baseball doesn't typically hit a home run at the box office, Viane observed, but, "This one sure looks like we're going to get an inside the park one. It looks to me like we're going to have legs beyond belief. The CinemaScore numbers in all three [age] categories gave an A for the guys and for females it was A+ under-21, 21-34 was an A and 35-and-up was an A+. Those are very, very terrific responses from the public."
Buena Vista held 1,151 well-attended sneak previews of Rookie the weekend of Mar. 15-17. "I really believe that the impetus to having this kind of opening was to get the very positive word of mouth out there [through the sneaks]," Viane said.
"The picture scored one point higher with the public on opening weekend [than at the sneaks[, which means their anticipation was relatively high and we delivered on it. But, again, I don't think we'd get there without Dennis Quaid doing all that hard work [promoting the film]. To have a movie star so committed to going out and doing all the events is just terrific."
Asked what accounts for the strength the box office has shown the past three weekends, all of which have been in the $125-135 million range, Viane said, "I honestly think there's just a whole lot of really good movies out there right now. It is [a product driven business] and, obviously, the success of this particular time should spur the summer because everybody's seeing all those terrific new trailers for the summer product."
New Line Cinema's R rated vampire thriller Blade 2 slid three pegs to fourth place in its second week with a less thrilling ESTIMATED $13.18 million (-59%) at 2,707 theaters (theater count unchanged; $4,867 per theater). Its cume is approximately $54.9 million, heading for $75 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, it stars Wesley Snipes.
Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' PG rated time travel adventure Clockstoppers kicked off in fifth place to a slow paced ESTIMATED $10.1 million at 2,540 theaters ($3,976 per theater).
Directed by Jonathan Frakes, it stars Jesse Bradford, Paula Garces, French Stewart, Michael Biehn and Robin Thomas.
"It's on the low side of where I thought it would be, frankly," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "I think Rookie did more business than we anticipated. Our picture is playing a little younger than we had anticipated. But this genre of film normally will play to a higher multiple because it stays in the marketplace a lot longer. It does matinee business and weekend business [that] sort of extends the life of the film, if you will."
Asked why business this March is so good, Lewellen replied, "I assume that it's just the product that's coming into the marketplace. Certainly, pictures like Ice Age that has broad family appeal has really pumped up (business). I think Rookie is of that same kind of genre. I think the quality of the product in the end probably is always the key to [strong ticket sales].
"But it could be that the country's in a mood to go to the movies or a combination of the two. Usually, that's what it is. There's no one dramatic thing that says this is why they're coming to the movies. You don't have a Titanic, if you will, driving the whole market."
Universal's 20th anniversary reissue of its PG rated sci-fi fantasy drama E.T. dropped three notches to sixth place with a slow ESTIMATED $6.13 million (-57%) at 3,007 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,040 per theater). Its reissue cume is approximately $24.3 million.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, it stars Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas.
Warner Bros.' R rated black comedy Death to Smoochy opened uneventfully in seventh place to an ESTIMATED $4.29 million at 2,164 theaters ($1,980 per theater).
Directed by Danny DeVito, it stars Robin Williams, Edward Norton and Catherine Keener.
Universal, DreamWorks and Imagine Entertainment's PG-13 rated drama A Beautiful Mind--which won four Oscars, including Best Picture--rose one peg in its 15th week to eighth place with a still beautiful ESTIMATED $4.04 million (-1%) at 1,560 theaters (+105 theaters; $2,590 per theater). Its cume is approximately $161.0 million.
Directed by Ron Howard, the Brian Grazer production stars Russell Crowe, Ed Harris and Jennifer Connelly.
Paramount and Icon Productions' R rated Vietnam war drama We Were Soldiers, which was sixth last weekend, tied for ninth place in its fifth week with a calm ESTIMATED $3.53 million (-38%) at 2,046 theaters (-813 theaters; $1,723 per theater). Its cume is approximately $67.4 million, heading for $75 million in domestic theaters.
Written and directed by Randall Wallace, it stars Mel Gibson.
Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated action comedy Showtime from Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment dropped five rungs to tie for ninth place in its third week with a dull ESTIMATED $3.51 million (-57%) at 2,321 theaters (-596 theaters; $1,510 per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.3 million.
Directed by Tom Dey, it stars Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy and Rene Russo.
This weekend also saw the arrival via MGM of United Artists' R rated drama No Such Thing to a quiet ESTIMATED $0.029 million at 9 theaters in six markets ($3,196 per theater).
Written and directed by Hal Hartley, it stars Sarah Polley, Robert John Burke, Helen Mirren and Julie Christie.
Artisan Entertainment held sneak previews Saturday night of its R rated youth appeal comedy National Lampoon's Van Wilder.
Directed by Walt Becker, it stars Ryan Reynolds and Tara Reid.
No details were available from Artisan. Van Wilder opens wide this Friday (Apr. 5).
On the expansion front this weekend Lions Gate Films' R rated drama Monster's Ball went wider in its 14th week following Halle Berry's Best Actress Oscar victory with an OK ESTIMATED $2.03 million at 676 theaters (+133 theaters; $2,995 per theater). Its cume is approximately $22.9 million.
Directed by Marc Forster, it stars Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Heath Ledger and Peter Boyle.
USA Films' R rated romantic comedy Monsoon Wedding added theaters in its sixth week with a still spicy ESTIMATED $0.78 million (+4%) at 140 theaters (+12 theaters; $5,560 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.3 million.
Directed by Mira Nair, it was produced by Nair and Caroline Baron.
Fox Searchlight Pictures' R rated romantic comedy Kissing Jessica Stein expanded in its third week to a still arousing ESTIMATED $0.71 million (+39%) at 131 theaters (+65 theaters; $5,420 per theater). Its cume is approximately $2.0 million.
Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, it stars Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen.
"We're very pleased," Fox Searchlight distribution president Stephen Gilula said Sunday morning. "We expanded into many more regional markets this week with a lot of good results. We're pleased with how it's playing. It's variable. It obviously is better in some [markets] than others. We're expanding again next week to more than 300 theaters. We're looking forward to a good long and smooth run."
In the greater New York area, Gilula added, "the film is very, very strong. That's where it was made. The suburban runs in New York are quite strong. We expanded last Friday into the greater metropolitan area around New York City in a lot of suburban areas around New York in northern New Jersey and southern Connecticut with very good results."
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $126.25 million, up about 37.14 percent from last year when they totaled $92.06 million. Last year Easter weekend was Apr. 13-15 when key films took in $85.3 million, putting this Easter 48.01% ahead of last year.
Key films this weekend were down a modest 2.26 percent from the previous weekend of this year's total of $129.17 million.
Last year, Dimension Films' opening week of Spy Kids was first with $26.55 million at 3,104 theaters ($8,552 per theater); and 20th Century Fox's opening week of Someone Like You was second with $10.01 million at 2,345 theaters ($4,269 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $36.5 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $48.8 million.