After garnering widespread praise (and an Oscar nomination for screenwriting) for his 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me Kenneth Lonergan was in-demand. In September 2005 the writer/director began production on a follow-up feature: Margaret which touted Anna Paquin Matt Damon Mark Ruffalo Matthew Broderick Allison Janney as well as legendary filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) as producers. The movie wrapped production in a few months time. The buzz was already growing.
Now six years later the movie is finally hitting theaters. So…what took so long?
The journey to this point hasn't been an easy one and it shows. If a film's shot footage is a block of granite and the editing process is the careful carving that turns it into a statuesque work of art Margaret feels like it was attacked by a blind man with a jackhammer. The film is a cinematic disaster a mishmash of shallow characters overwrought politics and sporadic tones. The story follows Lisa Coen (Paquin) a New York teenager who finds herself drowning in chaos after distracting a bus driver (Ruffalo) causing him to hit and kill a pedestrian (Janney). Initially Lisa tells the police it was all an accident but as time passes regret takes hold and the girl embarks on a mission to take down the man she now regards as a culprit. That's just the tip of the iceberg–along the way Lisa deals with everyday teen stuff: falling for her geometry teacher (Damon) combating her anxiety-ridden actress mother losing her virginity dabbling in drugs debating 9/11 and the Iraq War cultivating a relationship with her father in LA and more. There are about eight seasons of television stuffed into Margaret but even a two and a half hour run time can't make it all click.
For more on Margaret check out Indie Seen: Margaret the Long Lost Anna Paquin/Matt Damon Movie
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.
The Expendables is being sold as the ultimate action flick: the alpha and omega of explosions, the Ur-muscle flick, the action film to end all action films. It has all the stars, all the cliches, and all the genre trappings - from the bandoliers of bullets to the the scantly-clad, vaguely ethnic love interest. Sylvester Stallone's movie is poised to take off, and when it does, you know it’s only a matter of time before rival producers, directors, production companies and distributors jump on the “ultimate film” band wagon. After all, why make five formulaic, derivative romantic comedies when you could mash them into one (just think of the money they’ll save on writers!)? In honor of The Expendables' approach to filmmaking, we’re bringing you pitches for ultimate Horror films, Rom-Com chick flicks, and Oscar-Bait tearjerkers. If you happen to be the head of a major production company and are reading this, feel free to give us a call.
The Horrifying Horror Flick
This April, you're only a fool if you're not afraid. From legendary horror directors John Carpenter and Wes Craven comes April Fools, the harrowing tale of a prank gone wrong and one man's psychotic reign of terror…
Jonestown, Iowa: April Fools Day, 1990. When brilliant but misunderstood Malachai Lester's (Paul Dano) beloved girlfriend Mira Lowen (Ashley Greene) accidentally decapitates herself on April Fools Day attempting a harmless prank, Lester is blamed for her gruesome death and chased to the outskirts of town by a mob led by Mira's aggrieved father, the Reverend Tim Lowen (Bill Moseley). Though Lester manages to hide in the old abandoned psychiatric ward, Hollen Asylum, the deranged preacher incites the mob to set fire to the building, despite the protestations of his son, Abel. Consumed by the flames and the town's thoughtless hatred, Lester is scarred beyond all recognition but somehow fails to die.
Twenty Years pass. Surviving on the meat of rats caught in his twisted, elaborate deathtraps, and kept alive by his crazed desire for revenge, Lester (Crispin Glover) emerges from the wreckage of the asylum prepared to play a series of nightmarish April Fools jokes on the children of Jonestown.
Zeke Carlson (Ving Rhames)'s son Trip (Bow Wow) is the first to be found dead, followed shortly by blonde cheerleader Kate (Hayden Panettiere), the daughter of Jonestown supermarket magnate Don Coleman (Robert Englund) and wife Laura (Jamie Lee Curtis). But Lester is only warming up, and he's saving his best prank for last.
As Jonestown's murder toll rises, the clues begin to come together for grizzled but warm-hearted divorcee Sheriff Abel Lowen (Timothy Olyphant), who believes he recognizes a pattern in the deaths of the children of Lester's old assailants. But the lynching of Malachai Lester remains a stain on Jonestown's collective memory, and the town's elders still refuse to mention his name. Only Lester's former psychologist, the eccentric Rube Rosenberg (Jeff Goldblum), is willing to help the Sheriff as they come to the harrowing conclusion that there remains only one way to stop The April Fools Killer before his psychopathic reign of terror reaches its terrifying, final conclusion…
The Rosy Rom-Com
This September, Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant star in Love Knows, the heartwarming romantic comedy from Rob Reiner that critics are saying "will make you believe in true love again”.
Beautiful but controlling, career-oriented Kate Cartwright (Bullock) works as an editor at a prestigious, family-owned magazine, where she works under the fatherly direction of her editor-in-chief (Ted Danson). Unfortunately, her personal life is falling apart: while she has the support of her three best friends (Lizzy Caplan, Jennifer Hudson, and Ethan Embry), her former model boyfriend Ryan (Orlando Bloom) dumps her and runs off with a much younger woman. Meanwhile, brash, attractive and slightly misogynistic freelance journalist Sean Falco (Grant) gets a big break from the spiteful editor of a successful blog (Stanley Tucci) when he’s given the opportunity to write the site's biggest feature yet, an article on the decline and fall of print journalism. In order to get a new angle on the piece, Sean decides to ingratiate himself with Kate by taking work at her magazine. Though the two are initially repulsed by each other and hate working together, they bond when they try to cover a prestigious political function but instead get stuck outside in the rain. Despite their differences, the sexual chemistry becomes too much to deny.
Against the counsel of his two immature best friends - the loud, obnoxious Brad (Matt Dillon) and the awkward, nerdy Renton (Jason Segel) - Sean begins to pursue a serious relationship with Kate. But tragedy strikes when Kate learns about Sean’s article, and believes their entire relationship to be a ruse. After she dumps him, Sean tries to get back to his womanizing ways, but realizes that his feelings for Kate run deeper than he had known. Can Sean ever convince Kate to take him back? Is there some sort of grand gesture that can save their relationship?
This September, only Love Knows...
The Dramatic Oscar Contender
Based on a compelling true story, Daniel Day-Lewis and Ed Norton star in Cole’s Mine, a heartrending tale of love and redemption that critics are calling a “triumph of the human spirit.”
Cole Danwoods (Day-Lewis) is a teacher at a prestigious New York City prep school in 1954, who has struggled for years to distance himself from his roots in rural coal-mining West Virginia. But after the death of his father, a tough-as-nails yet caring patriarch (Robert Duvall), who could never truly express his love for his sons, Cole must return home to care for his family. he returns to the hostility of his younger brother, Leopold (Norton), who has followed his father’s sooty footsteps into the mines; his tough-as-nails yet caring mother, Mary (Dame Judi Dench), who is secretly dying of cancer; and his older brother, Kenneth (Sean Penn), who was tragically mangled rescuing a canary from a collapsing mine, and now has the intellectual capacity of a 8-year-old.
Cole settles in to life in West Virginia by taking a job at the local school, where he tries to reach a group of tough, underprivileged mountain children with his unorthodox teaching methods, like using puppets constructed from common household implements to explain complex mathematical theory. He also reconnects with his tough-as-nails, yet caring high school sweetheart, Jolene (Meryl Streep) whose daughter is one of his students. The pair slowly rekindle their romance, though Jolene is trapped in an unloving marriage with an abusive bootlegger (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
While Cole tries to rebuild his relationship with his brothers, Leopold must struggle to reconcile his love of mining with his love of his supervisor, Larry (Paul Giamatti). But when tragedy strikes and the pair are trapped in a cave-in, Cole must rally the community together and return to his coal-mining roots to free them from a sooty grave.
This December, you’ll learn that love burns brightly even in the darkest of places...
Samuel L. Jackson has opened at the top of the box office for a second time in 2008. His racially-charged, crooked-cop flick Lakeview Terrace (Sony) has opened at No. 1, as I first reported Friday night, with a $15.6M opening. The movie clearly "clicked" with audiences, surging almost 26 percent on Saturday from Friday's $5.1M opening day, and Sony is anticipating $3.92M today. The three-day for Lakeview Terrace is about 15 percent higher than the $13.5M that I projected Friday night.
Jackson opened at No. 1 back in February with Jumper ($27.3M), but still Lakeview Lakeview Terrace represents only the all-time 13th-best opening for him, about on par with 2000's Rules of Engagement ($15M). It is easily the biggest opening for playwright-turned-director Neil LaBute, surpassing his dreadful remake of The Wicker Man ($9.6M). The playwright-turned-director became friends with budding superstar Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) while attending BYU, and the square-jawed actor starred in LaBute’s first 2 features--Sundance winner In the Company of Men ($2.8M cume) and Your Friends and Neighbors ($4.7M). Unfortunately, he has drifted from edgy, cynical arthouse fare to lesser commercial projects as evidenced by the 43 percent Fresh score for Lakeview Terrace on Rotten Tomatoes (still better than the 15 percent Fresh registered by The Wicker Man).
Actor Patrick Wilson's star continues to rise quickly. He opened to excellent reviews on Broadway in All My Sons, also starring John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest and Katie Holmes on Thursday night in New York City. Wilson, a Golden Globe nominee for HBO’s Angels in America and the star of Todd Field’s excellent Little Children. Lakeview Terrace is by far his most commercial film, and, with Passengers (Sony) and Valkyrie (MGM/UA) due by the end of the year and Zack Snyder’s hyper-buzzed Watchmen (Warner Bros) set for March, it is probably just a next step to super-stardom.
Lakeview Terrace is yet another great little hit for Sony. The movie was made for just $20M, and it follows the modestly budgeted hits Pineapple Express and The House Bunny. Both movies were made inexpensively and will finish their runs as wildly profitable projects, and now it appears that Lakeview Terrace will follow suit.
The Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading (Focus) will finish the weekend at No. 2 in exactly the range I called for Friday night. The studio-estimated $11.29M for the goofy spy comedy was down just 41 percent from opening weekend, and Burn is already the all-time fourth-best grossing movie from Joel and Ethan Coen, trailing only last year’s Oscar winner No Country For Old Men ($74.2M cume) and The Ladykillers ($39.8M).
The new Dane Cook R-rated comedy My Best Friend's Girl (Lionsgate) may put a cramp in the stand up-comic-turned-actor's film career. With an opening of $8.3M and third place finish, the movie is only the comic’s fifth-best opening as a lead, behind Good Luck Chuck ($13.6M), Dan in Real Life ($11.8M), Employee of the Month ($11.4M) and Mr. Brooks ($10M). This movie is comparable to his first film vehicle Waiting ($6M opening), and it is hard to see how this one will push past $20M domestic. The movie, also starring Kate Hudson, scrounged up just $2.85M in opening day ticket sales on its way to a likely three-day of just $7.7M.
Igor (MGM), the new low budget animated family film received a much larger-than-expected 64 percent bounce, and that has translated to an estimated $8M and a No. 4 finish. Meanwhile, Righteous Kill (Overture) appears to have nosed out Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys (Lionsgate) for the weekend $7.7M-$7.5M.
The other new wide release, Ghost Town (Dreamworks/Paramount) starring Ricky Gervais (HBO’s Extras), has stumbled out of the gate with just $5.17M. Written and directed by Steven Spielberg pal David Koepp was on a limited number of screens concentrated on the east and west coasts, but its $3,436 Per Theatre Average was still very soft.
The Duchess (Paramount Vantage) was the biggest success among specialty releases. The Keira Knightley/Ralph Fiennes period costume drama posted a $29,000 PTA at 7 locations. Appaloosa (Warner Bros), directed by Ed Harris and starring Viggo Mortensen and Renee Zellweger, scored the No. 2 PTA of $18,429 at 14 playdates.
THREE-DAY STUDIO ESTIMATES
1. NEW - Lakeview Terrace (Sony) - $15.6M, $6,331 PTA, $15.6M cume
2. Burn After Reading (Focus) - $11.29M, $4,251 PTA, $36.4M cume
3. NEW - My Best Friend's Girl (Lionsgate) - $8.3M, $3,187 PTA, $8.3M cume
4. NEW - Igor (MGM) - $8M, $3,425 PTA, $8M cume
5. Righteous Kill (Overture) - $7.7M, $2,443 PTA, $28.8M cume
6. Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys (Lionsgate) - $7.5M, $3,623 PTA, $28.35M cumez
7. The Women (Picturehouse) - $5.3M, $1,772 PTA, $19.2M cume
8. NEW - Ghost Town (Dreamworks/Paramount) - $5.17M, $3,436 PTA, $5.17M cume
9. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros) - $2.95M, $1,549 PTA, $521.92M cume
10. The House Bunny (Sony) - $2.8M, $1,047 PTA, $45.72M cume