The basic premise of most crime revenge dramas is how much of our humanity we're willing to trade to get back what the other people — the ostensible baddies — have taken from us. Oliver Stone returns to this familiar stomping ground with Savages a splashy adaptation of Don Winslow's novel about a unique love affair a major marijuana-dealing business and an increasingly violent pissing match between two SoCal growers and the Baja Cartel.
Stone's frenetic visual style is in full swing but even this Oscar-winning auteur can't quite raise the film from mediocrity. It's hard to care whether or not Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) rescue their gorgeous mutual girlfriend O (Blake Lively) from the cartel if O isn't engaging enough to persuade us she's worth the bloodshed. O (short for Ophelia — an allusion to her earthshaking climaxes) is not a well-written character to begin with but she's even less engaging as played by Lively. Johnson is unconvincing as the bleeding heart Ben and the details his character is given — extra earrings a shoddy-looking tattoo on his neck even white boy dreads at one point — undercut his believability even more. Kitsch is given a few prominent scars and a mean squint but he doesn't quite bring the weird slightly empty vibe of Chon to life.
On the villain side Benicio Del Toro chews every inch of scenery from Laguna Beach to Tijuana as Lado. He's rocking an intense moustache that he strokes when he's lying or being a creep (which is most of the time) a vaguely mullet-like wig and a fondness for torture. Salma Hayek takes no prisoners as the head of the cartel nicknamed Elena la Reina who is both a frustrated mom whose college-age daughter is blowing her off (aw!) and a brutally tough woman in a man's world. John Travolta definitely enjoys a bit of Pulp Fiction ridiculousness as Dennis a DEA official who's in Ben and Chon's pocket. It's hard to tell just how funny Savages is aiming to be. Lado Elena and Dennis are cartoonish but Ben Chon and O are earnest — which is to say a little bit boring.
The double- and triple-crossing is practically moot as is the wacky technology that Ben and Chon employ; it's like The Social Network meets surfers. The real meat of the movie is the flash and violence but it's not the kind of thing that stays with you like Stone's Natural Born Killers. Savages doesn't have the same lingering aftertaste. It's not that a movie needs to have some sort of message with its pointed commentary on the media's bloodlust but the gist of Savages — that we're all savages at heart or that we can easily become a savage given the right circumstances — is not that interesting or unique.
Oddly enough Savages pulls a few punches when it comes to its source material (hard to believe when the movie kicks off with a glimpse of an abattoir-like enclosure and close-ups of men begging for their lives just as a chainsaw revs in the background). Winslow's book is a quick enjoyable read with an interesting on-page style that's hard to replicate verbally. It has a sort of ADD-addled feel that the movie tries to but doesn't quite capture. While it's not always fair to compare an adaptation to the book it's based on Winslow is both the author and one of the screenplay writers so some of the choices made behind the scenes don't quite add up. Cut are significant and menacing back story for Lado and all of the zestiness out of O. Why add in certain plot points and take out others unless it was to give one of its big name stars more screen time? The most interesting part of the story the love story is treated like a wink wink homoerotic thing than an actual relationship between three people who adore each other which is how it's portrayed in the book. It's hard not to be a little disappointed especially given Stone's no-f**ks-given attitude. (Or as O would say baditude.)
That said it is a somewhat entertaining diversion and a nice tour of lifestyles of the rich and criminal. Lively is all tangled tan limbs and luxurious hippie clothes and the homes they frequent whether on Laguna Beach or a desert compound are meticulously decorated with exquisite expensive taste. Santa Muerte imagery also figures heavily in the background of many scenes. The scenery is gorgeous — even the marijuana looks amazing. It's good for adults to have another R-rated choice in what's usually a season dominated by blockbusters but in years to come you'll more likely to reach for your old True Romance DVD than Savages.
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 Musketeer stormed this weekend's box office, capturing first place with nearly $11 million.
The independently made PG-13 rated action adventure, whose acquisition costs were shared by Universal and Miramax, is being distributed in North America by Universal and in the U.K. by Miramax. The Universal and Miramax presentation is a production from D'Artagnan Productions Ltd., Apollomedia, Q&Q Media and Carousel Picture Company.
Musketeer topped the chart with an ESTIMATED $10.7 million at 2,438 theaters ($4,390 per theater), an energetic showing for the traditionally quiet first weekend after Labor Day and the end of summer.
Directed by Peter Hyams, it stars Catherine Deneuve, Mena Suvari, Stephen Rea, Tim Roth and Justin Chambers. The film was produced by Moshe Diamant and executive produced by Mark Damon, Steven Paul, Rudy Cohen, Frank Hubner and Romain Schroeder.
Driven by Musketeer, ticket sales for key films--those grossing $500,000 or more for the weekend--were approximately $69.8 million, up nearly 29 percent from last year's post-Labor Day weekend total of $54.1 million.
"We're pleased," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "Strategically, when we made the deal with Miramax as a partner on Musketeer--they're going to release it in the U.K. and we have North American rights--knowing that we were successful with The Watcher last year on the same weekend we saw an opportunity here believing that Rock Star and Two Can Play That Game were (aimed) at different targets.
"We had a magnificent trailer on Musketeer that made it look very different from all the (other movies about the Musketeers). Taking the opportunity to play this incredible trailer with American Pie 2 gave it a lot of visibility. This is the end result. American Pie 2 has done over $131 million worth of business."
Focusing on the acquisition of Musketeer, Rocco pointed out, "Universal's share was $3.75 million. It's a very profitable thing for us. We were very strategic about how we did it. We wanted to be away from all of the high profile (summer) films. This is the weekend last year that we opened another acquisition, The Watcher, to $9.1 million. It was the number one film and made money for us, grossing (about) $29 million (in domestic theaters)."
Sony's Screen Gems label opened its R rated urban appeal romantic comedy Two Can Play That Game to a sexy ESTIMATED $8.3 million at 1,297 theaters ($6,400 per theater).
Game's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
Written and directed by Mark Brown, it stars Vivica Fox and Anthony Anderson.
"It's a $6 million negative (in terms of Sony's cost) and we certainly hope we're headed to at least the mid-$20 millions," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
"A very profitable Screen Gems release. Another low cost, highly focused entertaining release that I think really was handled very nicely by the team at Screen Gems--similar to The Brothers, which came out earlier this year and opened to $10.3 million (the weekend of Mar. 23-25 at 1,378 theaters, averaging $7,477 per theater), but was in a tougher period and dropped off pretty dramatically. This one in the fall, hopefully, will hold on a little bit and end up with similar results. Brothers ended up with about $28 million."
Blake added that he feels Screen Gems is "doing a very nice job with highly focused pictures that have great appeal to a segment of the audience. And they're doing a nice job getting the word out to them at a pretty reasonable price."
Bel-Air Entertainment's R rated drama Rock Star opened quietly via Warner Bros. in a tie for third place to an ESTIMATED $6.18 million at 2,525 theaters ($2,446 per theater). The film was financed by Bel-Air and is being released by Warners.
Directed by Stephen Herek, it stars Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston.
"It's a little disappointing, obviously, but our exits were pretty good," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "It was about 50-50 male-female and primarily 18-35. The one thing that stood out in the exits was that everybody liked a href="/celebrities/197412/Mark_Wahlberg" >Mark Wahlberg's performance in the movie. The best markets we had, not surprisingly, were college towns--like Boston was big. We're hoping to just hang in there through the fall and maybe we won't take these big drops that everybody's been taking in the summer."
MGM's Jeepers Creepers, the R rated horror film from the studio's United Artists label, which was first last week, tied for third place in its second week with a less scary ESTIMATED $6.17 million (-53%) at 2,944 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,095 per theater). Its cume is approximately $24.3 million.
Written and directed by Victor Salva, it stars Gina Phillips, Justin Long, Jonathan Breck and Eileen Brennan.
(NOTE: Percentage comparisons indicated today are against the Friday through Sunday portion of the previous weekend, the four day Labor Day weekend.)
Dimension Films' PG-13 thriller The Others fell one rung to fifth in its fifth week, still showing good legs with an ESTIMATED $6.1 million (-25%) at 2,737 theaters (+21 theaters; $2,228 per theater). The Others, which cost only $17 million to make, has a cume of approximately $67.6 million, heading for $75-80 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Alejandro Amenabar, it stars Nicole Kidman.
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated action comedy blockbuster sequel Rush Hour 2 dropped four notches in its sixth week with an okay ESTIMATED $5.85 million (-37%) at 2,546 theaters (-279 theaters; $2,298 per theater). Its cume is approximately $206.1 million, heading for $210-215 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Brett Ratner, it stars Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.
"It's the highest grossing film in New Line history," New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning. "It's the number two picture of the year and of the summer. The little movie that could!"
Asked why the film worked so well, Tuckerman replied, "It's basically give the public what they want to see and they will come. That's the bottom line. The movie was funnier than the first. It delivered. And the public wanted to see more of what the first one was--and they got it."
Universal's R rated youth appeal comedy hit sequel American Pie 2 slid three pegs to seventh place in its fifth week with a less tempting ESTIMATED $4.74 million (-47%) at 2,777 theaters (-337 theaters; $1,705 per theater). Pie 2, which cost about $30 million to make, has a cume of approximately $131.2 million, heading for $140 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by J.B. Rogers, it stars Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Natasha Lyonne, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Seann William Scott, Mena Suvari, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Eugene Levy.
Paramount's PG-13 comedy Rat Race fell three rungs to eighth place in its fourth week with an unexciting ESTIMATED $4.4 million (-39%) at 2,551 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,725 per theater). Its cume is approximately $43.2 million.
Directed by Jerry Zucker, it stars Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Seth Green, Jon Lovitz, Breckin Meyer and Amy Smart.
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated family comedy hit The Princess Diaries dropped three notches to ninth place in its sixth week with a less royal ESTIMATED $3.4 million (-40%) at 2,410 theaters (-280 theaters; $1,420 per theater). Its cume is approximately $97.1 million, heading for $100 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Garry Marshall, it stars Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Lions Gate Films' controversial R rated high school set violent drama O, down three pegs with a soft ESTIMATED $2.7 million (-53%) at 1,445 theaters (+11 theaters; $1,869 per theater). Its cume is approximately $10.8 million.
Directed by Tim Blake Nelson, it stars Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett and Julia Stiles.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Artisan Entertainment's PG-13 rated youth appeal thriller Soul Survivors to a deadly ESTIMATED $1.1 million at 601 theaters ($1,765 per theater).
Written and directed by Steve Carpenter, it stars Casey Affleck and Wes Bentley.
Paramount Classics' R rated drama Our Lady of the Assassins kicked off to a hopeful ESTIMATED $0.056 million at 4 theaters ($13,886 per theater).
Directed by Barbet Schroeder, it stars German Jaramillo and Anderson Ballesteros.
This weekend saw Paramount hold sneak previews Saturday night of its PG-13 rated baseball drama Hardball.
Directed by Brian Robbins, it stars Keanu Reeves and Diane Lane.
"Hardball went very well," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "It played to 59 percent capacity. The reactions were 59 percent excellent and 37 percent good and very good and 4 percent fair (in Paramount's exit polls). 96 percent in the Top Two boxes. The audience was a little older, primarily 20-plus with families. So there's a mix of older-with-families."
Hardball opens Friday (Sept. 14) at about 2,100 theaters.
On the expansion front, this weekend saw Fox Searchlight Pictures R rated hit thriller The Deep End go wider in its fifth week with a still encouraging ESTIMATED $0.9 million (-35%) at 401 theaters (+75 theaters; $2,254 per theater). Its cume is approximately $5.8 million.
Written produced and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, it stars Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic and Jonathan Tucker.
MGM's release of United Artists' R rated youth appeal comedy Ghost World continued to widen in its eighth week with an okay ESTIMATED $0.39 million (-12%) at 91 theaters (+10 theaters; $4,246 per theater). Its cume is approximately $3.7 million.
Directed by Terry Swigoff, it stars Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas and Steve Buscemi.
Miramax's R rated Apocalypse Now Redux widened in its sixth week with a still promising ESTIMATED $0.29 million (-35%) at 92 theaters (+11 theaters; $3,097 per theater). Its cume is approximately $3.2 million.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, it stars Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper and Harrison Ford.
On the international front, Universal reported that its domestic blockbuster The Fast and the Furious had its first major international release this weekend in Mexico with a strong ESTIMATED $0.75 million at 237 theaters, putting it number one in the market. Over the next three months Fast will open around the world, including this Friday (Sept. 14) in the U.K. and Sept. 20 in Australia.
Domestically, Fast is winding down its theatrical run after 12 weeks with a cume of $142.5 million.
Universal also said Sunday morning that its international release of Jurassic Park III has now hit $160 million with eight countries yet to open. Domestically, JP III has a cume of $177 million, giving it a worldwide cume to date of about $337 million.
Bridget Jones's Diary, which Universal and Miramax co-financed, has done about $122 million in its international release via Universal and still has 12 countries to open.
Universal said that in its third weekend in Germany Bridget moved up to first place with a $2.1 million gross that was up 1 percent from the previous weekend and up 43 percent from its opening weekend. Its cume in Germany is now $8.2 million.
In its third weekend in Austria, Bridget moved back to first place, grossing $265,000 at 65 theaters with a cume of $1.3 million.
Bridget opened in Hong Kong this weekend to very strong ticket sales of $238,000 at 24 theaters. Universal said its gross was 155 percent bigger than the opening for Billy Elliot, 55 percent ahead of Shakespeare in Love and 20 percent better than Liar, Liar.
Final top ten list for summer of 2001
Based on their actual cumes through Labor Day (Sept. 3), this summer's top ten grossing films were:
(1) Shrek (DreamWorks)- $262,908,727
(2) The Mummy Returns (Universal) - $201,707,090
(3) Rush Hour 2 (New Line) - $198,892,734
(4) Pearl Harbor (BV/Touchstone) - $196,656,492
(5) Jurassic Park III (Universal) - $175,832,085
(6) Planet of the Apes (Fox) - $173,069,748
(7) The Fast and the Furious (Universal) - $142,028,935
(8) Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Paramount) - $130,722,949
(9) American Pie 2 (Universal) - $124,928,149
(10) Dr. Dolittle 2 (Fox) - $111,484,392
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $69.77 million, up about 28.97 per cent from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $54.1 million.
This weekend's key film gross cannot be compared to last weekend of this year, which was a four day holiday weekend.
Last year, Universal's opening week of The Watcher was first with $9.06 million at 2,742 theaters ($3,305 per theater); and USA Films' opening week of Nurse Betty was second with $7.15 million at 1,459 theaters ($4,898 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $16.2 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $19.0 million.