To those only vaguely familiar with The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel about a murdered teen who observes her family — and tracks her killer — from beyond Peter Jackson might seem like an odd choice to direct the film adaptation. Why would the visual effects maestro who orchestrated such grand spectacle in films like King Kong and the Lord of the Rings trilogy be attracted to Bones’ somber reflective subject matter wherein nary an orc or a goblin can be found?
Shortly after the film's opening moments Jackson’s definitive answer arrives in the form of the “in-between place ” a breathtaking limbo where our wide-eyed heroine 14-year-old Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) arrives after her life is cruelly cut short by a next-door neighbor and closet predator named ominously enough Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci). Susie’s experience of the afterlife as a sort of spiritual way-station featuring elements of both heaven and hell (but mostly heaven) is a veritable CGI playground for Jackson one in which he can employ all of the digital tools in his vast arsenal in the service of a powerful affecting story.
And what a gorgeous playground it is. As Susie journeys through her wondrous netherworld — sometimes alone sometimes accompanied by a perky young spirit guide named Holly (Nikki SooHoo) — Jackson serves up a succession of exquisitely rendered landscapes for her to explore from placid spring meadows to boundless Alpine slopes to lush green forests. Jackson knows all too well that the issue of life after death especially when considered in regards to those who left us too soon is fertile emotional ground. With the help of an irresistibly expressive Ronan he mines it shrewdly.
Back on Earth unfortunately The Lovely Bones takes the form of a poorly-constructed deeply unsatisfying police procedural. Frustrated by the authorities’ inability to find the killer Susie's anguished father (Mark Wahlberg) mounts an investigation of his own aided occasionally in Ghost-like fashion by his daughter’s unseen hand. Tension rises as the mystery unravels — Jackson having drawn us in with his shamelessly manipulative handiwork has us by the emotional short-hairs so much so that we’re willing to overlook the film’s gap-laden storyline redundant narration underdeveloped supporting characters and a generally underwhelming Wahlberg. We just want payback damnit.
But when The Lovely Bones’ moment of truth arrives Susie abruptly changes her mind effectively turning almost every preceding plot point into an infuriating red herring and depriving us of the emotional release Jackson so steadfastly prepared us for. What we’re left with ultimately is an experience akin to taking a shot of morphine and watching someone play the videogame Myst for two hours (a span that might very well be reduced to 45 minutes if the film’s copious slow-motion shots were all played at normal speed). And once the anodyne buzz wears off the comedown is agonizing.
Former cellmates Michael (Russell) and Murphy (Costner) are leaders of a posse that plans to pull off the heist of a lifetime: robbing the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas during International Elvis Week. This means of course adopting full-on spangled jumpsuits sunglasses and "thank yuh thank yuh vurry much"-es. But when Murphy turns against the crew to keep all the loot for himself Michael escapes with it instead and heads for the border to launder it. He's sidelined along the way by a dalliance with a grifter (Courteney Cox) and her young son. Meanwhile Murphy's hot on his trail.
Costner turned down the chance to play Russell's part to take on the villain instead - and he looks like he's having the time of his life. Less filled out but more amoral than his baddie in the underrated "A Perfect World " Costner bats well as a foil to Russell who shows a barely visible vulnerability under the necessary roughness. Cox to her credit does a complete 180 from her uptight role on "Friends" as the sexually aggressive con-chick Cybil. Christian Slater David Arquette and Bokeem Woodbine make small appearances as part of the Elvis crew Howie Long and Ice-T kick some tail and Kevin Pollak and the long-absent Thomas Haden Church ("Wings") provide comic relief as bumbling lawmen.
"3000 Miles to Graceland" may seem like a caper reminiscent of last month's "Snatch " except there's a lot of bloodshed particularly during the casino robbery where machine gun blasts fling people across the room to land on cha-ching!-ing slot machines. Novice director Demian Lichtenstein's music video background is evident in his Guy Ritchie-esque cuts zooms and a way-bizarre computerized scorpion fight that kicks off the movie (what was that about?). His style and the Vegas ambience give the film a kitschy edge that disappears once the guys shed their Elvis garb. Stay for the credits - you'll see a costumed Russell lip-synching in his own music video as Costner Cox and crew dance about.
Top Story: Disney Blocks Moore Documentary
The Walt Disney Co. has moved to stop its Miramax Films subsidiary from distributing Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore's upcoming documentary Fahrenheit 911. The documentary touches on the personal relationship between President George H. W. Bush and Osama bin Laden's family as well as the events that led Bush and bin Laden to become enemies. According to a report Wednesday in the New York Times, Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, said Disney CEO Michael Eisner expressed concern the release of the film would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park and hotels in Florida, where President Bush's brother, Jeb Bush, is governor. But one Disney executive denied that allegation, telling the Times the company did not want to be seen taking sides in the election and risk alienating customers of different political views. In a statement, Moore said: "I would have hoped by now that I would be able to put my work out to the public without having to experience the profound censorship obstacles I often seem to encounter. The whole story behind this (and other attempts) to kill our movie will be told in more detail as the days and weeks go on. All I can say is, thank God for [Miramax Chairman] Harvey Weinstein and Miramax, who have stood by me during the entire production of this movie." Fahrenheit 911, which was slated for release in July, will still premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival this month.
Idol Finalists Hit the Road
In what has become a sort of tradition, the top 10 finalists from Fox's third American Idol season have made plans for a summer North American tour. The finalists include Fantasia Barrino, Diana DeGarmo, George Huff, Jasmine Trias and La Toya London as well as the already voted out Amy Adams, Camile Velasco, Jennifer Hudson, John Stevens and Jon Peter Lewis. Reuters reports the 48-city tour will kick off July 14 in Salt Lake City and end Sept. 26 in San Jose, Calif. The two-hour American Idol season finale is scheduled for May 26.
Anna Nicole Launches Clothing Line
Former Guess? model and Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith is planning to create a clothing line with the trendy outfitter Von Dutch, Extra reports. Smith, whose real name is Vickie Lynn Hogan, is currently on a world tour promoting the weight loss company Trim Spa, to which she credits having lost 69 pounds. The 36-year-old entertainer's reality TV series The Anna Nicole Show, which followed her daily misadventures, was canceled after ratings slipped from their all-time high in August 2002 when the series debuted.
Madonna Kicks Up Privacy Efforts
Madonna, meanwhile, is kicking the fight to keep hikers off her $16 million English country estate up a notch. Reuters reports a public inquiry opened Wednesday to look into whether English walkers, known across the pond as "ramblers," can saunter through Madonna and Guy Ritchie's 1,200 acre Ashcombe House estate in Dorset, southwest England--of which 100 acres has been defined as open country and therefore open to the public. The couple argues the land should be reclassified as "semi-improved" grassland because it is used for shooting game, which would define it as agricultural land and exclude it from public access. The inquiry is expected to last five days, with a verdict due this summer.
Usher Misses Chilli
R&B singer Usher recently told Rolling Stone magazine that every once in a while he thinks about calling his ex, TLC's Chilli. The two ended their highly publicized relationship earlier this year. "Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I did call [Chilli]," he said. "Would it become a good thing or would it become a bad thing? I think it's best that I don't call." The couple and Chilli's son lived in Usher's Atlanta home before the split. Chilli is now reportedly dating Baltimore Ravens football star Ray Lewis.
Emmys Test Online Voting
The Emmys will become the first major award show to offering online voting, Variety reports. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has sanctioned online voting for its interactive television Emmy and is pegging it as a test run for a system that may be expanded to the rest of its awards. "The technology is here, and it is only fitting that the Interactive Media Peer Group sets the precedent for online voting with this particular Emmy Award," ATAS chairman Dick Askin told Variety. "We hope it is a process that will be extended in the future to other Emmy Award categories."
Frasier May Live On
Could another incarnation of Frasier be in the works? As the long-running series comes to an end this year, Variety reports that according to industry insiders, Paramount topper Garry Hart met with NBC execs to discuss possibly extending the Frasier franchise, chronicling the next phase in Dr. Frasier Crane's life. All parties involved are declining comment, but industry insiders told Variety NBC opted against continuing the franchise, giving Paramount free reign to shop a new Frasier show to another network. It's unclear if star Kelsey Grammer would continue his Frasier character in a third series, but Grammer, who has played Frasier Crane for 20 years, has made it clear that he wouldn't have minded if Frasier continued on.
Another HIV Case Hits CA Porn Industry
A fourth adult film performer, a transsexual actress who goes by the stage name Jennifer, has tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS but the case is unrelated to an outbreak that virtually shut down pornography production last month, an industry health care official told Reuters on Tuesday. The performer had last performed a sex scene on Feb. 27 with two male actors who have since tested negative, according to Sharon Mitchell of the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation. "This is an open-and-shut case of genealogy," she told Reuters. "We think it's contained."
Role Call: Amityville Horror Revisited
British commercial director Andrew Douglas will make his feature film debut with an update of the 1979 thriller The Amityville Horror. The original, starring James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Rod Steiger, centered on a newlywed couple who move into a mysterious house where all sorts of strange things happen.
Kit Bowen contributed to this report.
Warner Bros. "The Whole Nine Yards" easily held on to first place despite tracking studies that had projected Dimension Films' opening of "Reindeer Games" would be the weekend's big winner.
"Reindeer Games " Although the tracking data had pointed to an opening of $10 million to $12 million for "Reindeer," no film managed to crack double digits last weekend. "Reindeer" wound up an embarrassed No. 3 for the weekend with a red face and nose. The weekend's only other wide opening, Paramount's "Wonder Boys," lived up to tracking expectations, finishing out of the Top Five, in seventh place, with a grim estimated $5.85 million.
The best-performing film of the bunch continued to be "Yards," Morgan Creek and Franchise Pictures' R-rated comedy. "Yards" continued laughing atop the chart in its second weekend with an estimated $9.61 million (-30%) at 2,910 theaters (theater count unchanged, $3,301 per theater). Its total is approximately $28.5 million.
(All of today's estimates are for the three-day weekend. Percentage comparisons are against the Friday through Sunday portion of the previous four-day Presidents Day weekend.)
Directed by Jonathan Lynn, "Yards" stars Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry.
"Well, there's no contest this weekend," Warner Bros. Distribution President Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "It's probably one of the best-holding films of all time after Presidents Weekend. I've been tracking these dates, and usually they drop 37-43%. But we have a movie on which the word of mouth is just terrific."
"The Whole Nine Yards" Fellman applauds director Lynn and Franchise Pictures' head Elie Samaha, who executive produced the film with Andrew Stevens, for delivering a movie that audiences are clearly enjoying.
"The screenings we had -- from our sneak previews all the way through opening weekend -- continued to get stronger (in terms of exit poll scores)," Fellman said. "We seem to be getting younger (moviegoers), so the movie's moving into a broader audience, which is wonderful."
Where is it heading? "You're talking north of $50 million," said Fellman. "Each week now depends on how well we hold. After this week is over, we'll end up with $31-32 million. If we take a 35% drop next week, that will still give us another $8 million and bring us to $40 million. Whether it's $50 million or $60 million (remains to be seen), but it's north of $50 million."
Focusing on Franchise Pictures, Fellman said, "Coming out with your first movie at No. 1, and the second week having it No. 1 again, (is a fabulous way to start out)."
Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' PG-rated comedy "Snow Day" rose one peg to second place in its third weekend with a still-hot estimated $8.50 million (-26%) at 2,709 theaters (+7 theaters, $3,138 per theater). Its total is approximately $43.3 million.
Directed by Chris Koch, it stars Chevy Chase.
"I think it will make $60 million-plus," Paramount Distribution President Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "I did a high-low projection earlier in the week, and we had it at $50 million on the low side and $63 million on the high side. Certainly, this is a better hold than we expected. I think it'll be in the low $60 millions."
Why is it performing so well?
"You can't really say, 'There's nothing else out there for the kids,' because there is 'The Tigger Movie,'" said Lewellen. "But I think that's so much younger (in its appeal). Certainly, ('Snow') is satisfying the (family) audience it's intended for.
"I think Chevy Chase brought more to the table here than they realized. Parents are going because they think there may be something there for them, too (with Chase starring). He's funny and he's been funny in the past, so they think, 'Well, I'll go to that one (with my kids because I'll probably enjoy it myself).'"
"Snow's" production cost reportedly was only about $15 million, which should make it nicely profitable.
Dimension Films' launch of its R-rated thriller "Reindeer Games" finished third, looking far less lively than industry tracking studies had suggested it would. Hollywood insiders had said "Reindeer" was the only film likely to do double-digit business this weekend.
"Reindeer" wound up with a calm estimated $8 million at 2,204 theaters ($3,629 per theater).
Directed by John Frankenheimer, it stars Ben Affleck, Gary Sinise, and Charlize Theron.
"Kind of a downbeat weekend," was how one competing distribution executive summed things up Sunday morning. "Right now, 'The Whole Nine Yards' is overperforming the tracking, clearly, and there's no question 'Reindeer Games' underperformed."
Distributors make a point of saying about tracking, as one did in our projection report for the weekend, "If you're looking for science, there isn't any. That's why nobody can make (accurate) predictions." While tracking data is often reliable, there are times when moviegoers simply do something different from what they said they were going to do.
Columbia's PG-13-rated comedy "Hanging Up" saw moviegoers start to disconnect with it in its second weekend, sliding two rungs to fourth place with a less talkative estimated $7.50 million (-45%) at 2,618 theaters (theater count unchanged, $2,865 per theater). Its total is approximately $26.1 million.
Directed by Diane Keaton, it stars Meg Ryan, Keaton, Lisa Kudrow, and Walter Matthau.
"I think it'll pretty predictably make in the mid-$40s to $50 million range and end up making us a profit," said Sony Pictures Releasing President Jeff Blake Sunday morning.
USA Films' R-rated sci-fi thriller "Pitch Black" dropped one orbit to fifth place in its second weekend with an OK estimated $7.05 million (-39%) at 1,930 theaters (+98 theaters, $3,654 per theater). Its total is approximately $22.8 million.
Directed by David Twohy, it stars Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, and Keith David.
Disney's G-rated "The Tigger Movie" took a one-peg skid to sixth place in its third weekend, still holding well with an estimated $6.30 million (-21%) at 2,818 theaters (+63 theaters, $2,236 per theater). Its total is approximately $30.6 million.
The film is the animated adventures of the eponymous "Winnie the Pooh" character and his cast of animal friends.
Paramount's R-rated comedy drama "Wonder Boys" lived up to its mediocre tracking scores, opening in seventh place to a less than wonderful estimated $5.85 million at 1,253 theatres ($4,669 per theater).
However, its per-theater average was the highest for any film playing in wide release over the weekend.
Directed by Curtis Hanson, "Boys" stars Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Katie Holmes, Rip Torn and Robert Downey Jr.
"A lot of critics have mentioned that his (Douglas') performance is very good and, in fact, I think it is," said Paramount's Lewellen on Sunday morning. "We opened (Wednesday) in New York, L.A. and Chicago. Obviously, with a film like this, you have to depend on good reviews. We got that, for the most part, with the exception of The New York Times. Virtually everywhere else in the country, (we got) good to rave reviews.
"This is one of those (films) that can hang around a while if word of mouth is good on the picture."
With that in mind, Lewellen said, Paramount is committed to going wider with "Wonder Boys" next weekend.
"We're bringing in another 250 runs next week in smaller markets," he said. "Hopefully, it will give an opportunity for the reviews and good word of mouth to get out there and into the smaller markets."
"Boys" five-day total is $5.9 million.
Dimension Films' R-rated thriller "Scream 3" continued slipping in its fourth weekend, down two pegs to eighth place with a less scary estimated $5 million at 3,099 theaters (-269 theaters, $1,613 per theater). Its total is approximately $78.1 million.
Directed by Wes Craven, "Scream 3" stars David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox Arquette, and Parker Posey.
DreamWorks' R-rated drama "American Beauty," a major Oscar contender with eight nominations, including Best Picture, held on to ninth place in its 24th week with a still promising estimated $4.73 million (-15%) at 1,323 theatres (+36 theaters, $3,578 per theater). Its total is approximately $87.7 million.
Directed by Sam Mendes, it stars Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening.
"It's down 15%, (which is) fantastic," DreamWorks distribution head Jim Tharp said Sunday morning.
What effect has the film's awards success had?
"Well, it's had to be extremely positive," said Tharp. "Probably, the Golden Globes awards as well as the (Oscar) nominations contributed to that (Academy run) opening last week, which was $5.6 million for the three days. I think right now the movie's playing like it did when it was first-run.
"It continues to hold very, very well. It's a combination of people that have never seen the movie and, then, people seeing it again."
Rounding out the Top 10 was Miramax's PG-13-rated drama "The Cider House Rules," also a top contender for Oscars with seven nominations, including Best Picture. "Cider" expanded in its 12th week, pulling in an OK estimated $4.10 million at 1,346 theaters (+489 theaters, $3,046 per theater). Its total is approximately $32 million.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, it stars Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo, Erykah Badu, Paul Rudd and Michael Caine.
Last weekend saw the arrival of Fox Searchlight Pictures' PG-13-rated dramatic comedy "The Closer You Get," placing 30th with a quiet estimated $0.045 million at 10 theaters ($4,500 per theater).
Directed by Aileen Ritchie, it stars Ian Hart, Sean McGinley, Niamh Cusack and Ruth McCabe.
Last weekend saw Columbia hold 800 sneak previews of its comedy "What Planet Are You From?".
Directed by Mike Nichols, it stars Garry Shandling, Annette Bening, Greg Kinnear, Ben Kingsley, Linda Fiorentino and John Goodman.
"They were generally well-attended, particularly in big cities," Sony Pictures' Blake said Sunday morning. "They were less well-attended in the smaller cities in the South and the Midwest. Overall, the reaction was very good. Clearly, it's a picture I think people are going to find out about and tell their friends. It opens Friday (March 3) in about 2,200 runs."
On the expansion front, last weekend saw Buena Vista/Touchstone expand its R-rated drama "The Insider," a top contender for Oscars with seven nominations, including Best Picture, in its 17th week, placing 21st with a dull estimated $0.49 million at 651 theaters (+519 theaters, $753 per theater). Its total is approximately $27.5 million.
Directed by Michael Mann, it stars Russell Crowe, Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer.
USA Films' reissue of the PG-rated suspense drama "Rear Window" widened in its sixth week, placing 26th with an OK estimated $0.13 million at 22 theaters (+4 theaters, $5,955 per theater). Its total is approximately $0.9 million.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it stars James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Robert Harris and James Katz restored the 1954 film classic.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 for the weekend - took in approximately $83.21 million, up about 13.50% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $73.31 million.
This weekend's key film gross cannot be compared with this year's previous weekend, the four-day Presidents Day holiday weekend.
Last year, Sony's opening week of "8MM" was first with $14.25 million at 2,370 theaters ($6,014 per theater) and Paramount's fourth week of "Payback" was second with $6.79 million at 2,852 theaters ($2,380 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $21.1 million. This year, the top two films grossed an estimated $18.1 million.
STUDIO MARKET SHARES
Based on business by key films, last weekend's top six distributors were the following: Miramax (Miramax, Dimension) was first with three films ("Reindeer Games," "Scream 3" and "The Cider House Rules") grossing an estimated $17.10 million or 20.6% of the market.
Paramount was second with two films ("Snow Day" and "Wonder Boys") grossing an estimated $14.35 million or 17.2% of the market.
Warner Bros. was third with two films ("The Green Mile" and "The Whole Nine Yards") grossing an estimated $11.64 million or 14% of the market.
Buena Vista (Touchstone and Disney) was fourth with four films ("The Tigger Movie," "Toy Story 2," "The Sixth Sense" and "Fantasia 2000") grossing an estimated $10 million or 12% of the market.
Sony Pictures Entertainment (Columbia, TriStar) was fifth with two films ("Hanging Up" and "Stuart Little") grossing an estimated $8.55 million or 10.3% of the market.
USA Films was sixth with one film ("Pitch Black") grossing an estimated $7.05 million or 8.5% of the market.
(11) "The Beach"/Fox Theaters: 2,517 (-70) Gross: $3.50 million (-51%) Average per theater: $1,391 Total: $33.9 million
(12) "Boiler Room"/New Line Theaters: 1,335 (0) Gross: $3.10 million (-46%) Average per theater: $2,322 Total: $11.1 million
(13) "The Green Mile"/Castle Rock/Warner Bros. Theaters: 1,746 (-356) Gross: $2.03 million (-29%) Average per theater: $1,167 Total: $131.2 million
(14) "The Sixth Sense"/BV/Touchstone Theaters: 992 (+98) Gross: $1.60 million (-19%) (tie) Average per theater: $1,568 Total: $284 million
(14) "Fantasia 2000"/BV/Disney Theaters: 54 (0) (all IMAX) Gross: $1.60 million (worldwide) (-32%) (tie) Average per theater: $29,153 Total: $34.5 million (worldwide)
(16) "The Hurricane"/Universal Theaters: 1,346 (-365) Gross: $1.31 million (-45%) Average per theater: $970 Total: $48.2 million
(17) "Next Friday"/New Line Theaters: 1,038 (-171) Gross: $1.13 million (-38%) Average per theater: $1,084 Total: $54.1 million
(18) "Stuart Little"/Columbia Theaters: 1,300 (-414) Gross: $1.05 million (-33%) Average per theater: $808 Total: $136.2 million
(19) "Galaxy Quest"/DreamWorks Theaters: 817 (-369) Gross: $0.75 million (-39%) Average per theater: $920 Total: $69.0 million
(20) "Toy Story 2"/BV/Disney Theaters: 581 (-183) Gross: $0.50 million (-48%) Average per theater: $863 Total: $240.6 million
(21) "The Insider"/BV/Touchstone (see EXPANSIONS above)
(22) "The Talented Mr. Ripley"/Paramount/Miramax Theaters: 626 (-519) Gross: $0.37 million (-56%) Average per theater: $694 Total: $80 million
(23) "Angela's Ashes"/Paramount Theaters: 584 (-30) Gross: $0.36 million (-42%) Average per theater: $616 Total: $11.9 million
(24) "Being John Malkovich"/USA Films Theaters: 134 (-31) Gross: $0.13 million (-34%) Average per theater: $995 Total: $22 million
(25) "Snow Falling on Cedars"/Universal Theaters: 299 (+11) Gross: $0.13 million (-17%) Average per theater: $440 Total: $14.1 million
(26) "Rear Window"/USA (see EXPANSIONS above)
(27) "End of Days"/Universal Theaters: 197 (-43) Gross: $0.10 million (-36%) Average per theater: $460 Total: $66.7 million (28) "The Bone Collector"/Universal: Theaters: 217
(-28) Gross: $0.10 million (-36%) Average per theater: $415 Total: $66.4 million
(29) "My Dog Skip"/Warner Bros. Theaters: 21 (-4) Gross: $0.056 million (-15%) Average per theater: $2,660 Total: $0.7 million
(30) "The Closer You Get"/Fox Searchlight: (see OTHER OPENINGS above)