Lionsgate via Everett Collection
If Battle Creek, Michigan is known at all, it's for being the home of Kellogg's, the country's largest cereal manufacturer. If Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has anything to say about it, however, that's all about to change. Gilligan, along with former House executive producer David Shore, has the crime drama Battle Creek premiering on CBS in the fall. The show follows Josh Duhamel as an FBI agent dispatched from Detroit to the Southwestern Michigan city to set up a new field office, who has to work with a local detective, played by Dean Winters (Law & Order: SVU). It's a high powered affair with X-Men: Days of Future Past director Bryan Singer helming the first episode and serving as one of the show's producers.
In Breaking Bad, Gilligan charted the rise of Walter White, an unlikely drug kingpin in the semi-odd location of Albuquerque, New Mexico. While that locale was strictly chosen for financial considerations — the cost to shoot there was cheaper than California — this time the show's setting was done with a purpose.
By placing the show in a small, economically depressed city — especially one surrounded largely by rural areas and tied to the rest of the world by the interstate that runs through it connecting Detroit with Chicago — Gilligan has set his story up to deal with issues that we don’t normally see a big city crime drama delve into. The detectives on the show will be working with basically no budget and without much support. Unlike, say, the detectives on Castle, a show where there is a seemingly neverending supply of resources, Battle Creek's law enforcement will be forced to work with the outdated technology and Duhamel's earnest FBI agent won't be getting a warm reception from the locals (who also include Kal Penn and Janet McTeer).
Settling in a Midwestern city, where there's a stark racial disparity between the population within the city limits and the population just outside, gives Gilligan and his writers an opportunity to address social issues that frequently get ignored these days by most police dramas... namely the rifts that still exist throughout much of the nation along both racial and socioeconomic lines. In a nod to Breaking Bad — and given the actual level of the crime in the actual Battle Creek — expect to see some storylines that deal with crystal meth producers.
Unlike some other crime shows that have been set off the beaten path — such as Twin Peaks or Justified — the feel of Battle Creek isn't meant to come off as unique or quirky. The real Battle Creek is a mix of urban decay, Midwestern values and apathy brought on by the steady decrease in the area's industry and economy (full disclosure: I grew up in the area and still pass through on a semi-regular basis). It's a situation that is germane to a lot of small cities that once had a wealth of manufacturing that helped it grow but then did not have anything to replace the jobs or money when those companies moved or closed.
Gilligan originally tried to sell his pilot script about 10 years ago at the onset of the country's economic downturn. Years later, the situation hasn't changed markedly for Battle Creek and dozens of cities exactly like it. Deciding to tell a police story amidst that reality is an interesting choice… what Gilligan and his team decide to do with it will be fascinating to watch.
Escape Plan is the newest film that tries to turn up the '80s nostalgia. It brings together Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone for a prison escape movie that manages to be a mildly entertaining call-back to the fun actioners of a bygone era, but it never manages to achieve anything beyond that.
Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a man who specializes in breaking out of the country's toughest prisons, always seeming to have a thick deck of Deus ex Machinas on hand whenever he needs to devise an escape attempt. Ray is approached for one last job, to break out of a secret, high tech facility called "The Tomb," which has been deemed impossible to escape from. Even though everything about the offer feels as shady as can be, Breslin agrees but quickly finds that someone is interested in keeping him locked up for good. He then enlists fellow inmate Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger) to help him plan the impossible escape.
Stallone is a serviceable lead but he's surrounded by a cast that seems to be having a lot more fun than he is, including Schwarzenegger, who plays inmate Rottmayer with fun sense of sarcasm and the glut of the film's best one-liners. Jim Caviezel also impresses as warden Hobbs, a quirkily evil man in a finely crafted suit. He possesses the menacing charm of a man who has all aspects of his life under expertly tailored control. This is his castle and he dares you to break out of it. Stallone's seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of every single fact in existence leads to an escape attempt that is somehow preposterous and predictable at the same time. Months of planning lead up to an escape attempt that you could have thought of in about five minutes, but that you wouldn't ever try it because you'd get caught right away. We've definitely seen it before, but that's not necessarily a terrible thing. The film still manages to be entertaining thanks to the cast.
Escape Plan manages to outdo other films like The Expendables by keeping its focus small. It centers around two main characters, and feels less contrived and manufactured than The Expendables, which just gathered up as many aging action stars and wrote the thin wisps of a plot to hold itself together in a bloated mess of adrenaline. Escape Plan feels more like a movie than a publicity stunt and it actually emulates a decent blood-soaked product of the Reagan era… for better or worse.
But Escape Plan could never be great movie because its ambitions are aimed too low. It simply wants to emulate the great 80’s action movies and do nothing more. While it feels like a somewhat close recreation, cinema has moved on a long time ago. The film doesn’t try to turn the genre on its head, or do anything other than copy what came before it. There are moments where the film excites and thrills, but those moments are mostly callbacks to older and better movies, where the actors were younger, and could carry off the action more convincingly. This also begs the question of just how old are we supposed to think the two leads are?
Everyone’s age is showing, and with each cinematic romp through 80’s action clichés, it becomes a little less believable that these guys could perform the kinds of action scenes were supposed to believe they’re preforming. Stallone’s gait looks stiff and ragged, and it is at times impossible to believe that Arnold is a prison tough guy that can dispatch dozens of muscle-bound criminals without breaking a sweat. The suspension of disbelief is stretched paper-thin; instead of feeling like a triumphant return to the past, which it only manages to be at points, Escape Plan feels like a showcase of actors well past their prime struggling to hold on to the poses and personas that made them famous as their bodies slowly betray them.
The best aspect of Escape Plan is that it's a horrendously stupid movie that knows just how horrendously stupid it is, and it revels in that fact. It follows every tenet of dumb action movie logic to a T, but it does so with confidence and cheek. Even as you're sitting three steps ahead of the movie, you're waiting for it to catch up with a slight nostalgic smile, rather than sitting there bored. The problem is that it never becomes anything more than a traced copy of what came before it. The two aging leads bring everything they have to the table, but everything they have is looking weathered and starting to fray at the edges.
Isla Fisher and Dave Franco, who play heist-minded magicians in Now You See Me are well aware that top-hatted conjurers haven't exactly been considered sexy in the past. Of course, the fact that they use their sleight-of-hand skills to rob banks and drown in rivers of cash breaks them out of goofy Burt Wonderstone territory.
So do Fisher's fetching leather gloves, the key style component of a female magician character she calls "anarchist, fierce, and sexy," even though Fisher also says "I don't see myself with any of those traits." Dave Franco's Jack Wilder even says in the movie, "We're going to be the first magicians to ever get laid!" So how did they go about making magicians sexy? Check out what Fisher and Franco had to say!
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Blame it on the Oscars commanding Hollywood's attention, but even a star as powerful as The Rock didn't have the muscles to knock comedic juggernaut Identity Thief off the box office mountain this weekend.
The actor's latest vehicle Snitch packed less of the straight up goon-smashing and explosions common in his previous movies, spotlighting Mr. Johnson's better-than-expected dramatic abilities. The masses clearly wasn't hooked, with the movie bringing in a decent $13 million.
That's just a little less than the holdover competition, Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman's madcap comedy, Identity Thief. The movie brought in another 14.06 million this weekend, bringing its total to $93.67 million. If (or when, judging from the numbers) Identity Thief crosses the $100 million domestic mark, it will be the first film of 2013 to reach the milestone.
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The weekend's other newcomer had even worse luck against the powers of broad comedy and deafening lead-in to the Academy Awards. Dark Skies, starring Keri Russell and produced by the people who brought us Paranormal Activity, managed a meager 8.85 million for a sixth place slot in the top ten. Even with surprisingly positive reviews, the sci-fi/horror movie couldn't abduct enough moviegoers to contend with the crowded slate.
Giving Snitch and Dark Skies a literal run for the money, was the animated Escape from Planet Earth, which took 11.01 million for a $35.14 million total gross, the Nicholas Sparks romance Safe Haven, grossing 10.6 million for $48.06 million to date, and the other February action blockbuster, A Good Day to Die Hard, which wrangled $10 million for a $51.8 million total. All three are in their second weeks of release.
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Continuing to siphon money after 15 weeks in theaters is Silver Linings Playbook. Another Weinstein Company success story, the film starring Oscar-nominees Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence slowly gained momentum leading up to the Academy Award nominations where its grosses carried it to full on "hit" status. This weekend Silver Linings picked up another $6.05 million for a domestic gross of $107.48 million.
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Oscar weekend is upon us, which means all eyes will be on Hollywood's version of the Super Bowl with Oscar contenders making a final stand at the box office before the telecast on Sunday night. Dwayne Johsnon will also see the debut of his action crime drama Snitch, and Keri Russell appears in the horror entry Dark Skies.
Fortunately for Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman, Identity Thief is not held up to Academy Award standards but rather the popular vote, which gave the R-rated comedy a number one debut two weeks ago and a President's Day weekend near-upset over A Good Day to Die Hard. The comedy enters its third weekend with close to $80 million in the bank and ranks as the highest-grossing film released this year. A trip back to the number one spot could be in the cards this weekend with an expected gross in the high teens and total domestic gross of more than $90 million by Sunday night.
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But hold on a minute: Bruce Willis ruled President's Day weekend smashing up about $36.9 million in A Good Day To Die Hard's first five days. This weekend the latest Die Hard installment will tangle with Thief and make a run at the top spot with a mid-to-high-teen gross. The action film will pass the $50 million mark by the end of the weekend and thus become the highest grossing R-rated action flick released in 2013 thus far.
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As one of two wide release newcomers, Snitch will debut in 2,511 theaters on Friday. Starring Dwayne Johnson in another kickass, take no prisoners role, Snitch follows a father whose teenage son is wrongly accused of drug trafficking, forcing him to infiltrate a drug cartel to get his boy off the hook. Co-starring Susan Sarandon and Benjamin Bratt, the PG-13 action crime drama is expected to gross in the $10 million to $12 million range.
The other wide release newcomer is Dark Skies, the PG-13 rated horror sci-fi thriller starring Keri Russell as woman affected by disturbing events in her once-peaceful suburban existence. The film co-stars Josh Hamilton and will try to capitalize on being the only new horror movie in the marketplace since the hit Mama debuted back in mid-January. It should wind up with a gross in the high single digits or potentially a bit higher.
Looking for love this Oscar weekend will be the Nicholas Sparks big screen adaptation of Safe Haven, which opened at number one on Valentine's Day and made a solid showing, placing third over President's Day weekend with $24.5 million and $33.3 million in its first 5 days. In this, its second weekend, a gross in the $10 million range will give a shot at a spot in the top 6.
Now on to the Best Picture nominees that will be making their mark this weekend: Silver Linings Playbook (no. 7 last weekend - $100.87M thru 2-20), Zero Dark Thirty (no. 10 last weekend - $89.0M thru 2-20), Argo (no. 12 last weekend - $127.6M thru 2-20), Life of Pi (no. 13 last weekend - $111.7M thru 2-20), Lincoln (no. 14 last weekend - $176.96M thru 2-20), Django Unchained (no. 15 last weekend - $157.65M thru 2-20), Les Miserables (no. 19 last weekend - $145.96M thru 2-20), Amour (no. 20 last weekend - $4.27M thru 2-20) and Beasts of the Southern Wild (no. 31 last weekend - $12.34M thru 2-20).
If not for the strong performance of this year's crop of Oscar-nominated films, we would be looking at a much bigger year over year deficit than the 7 percent we are currently experiencing. Notably the North American box office total for all nine Best Pic conteners is a whopping $926,518,816, and this weekend should see all of them getting a nice lift as people scurry out to catch up on their moviegoing before Sunday's awards are handed out.
[Photo Credit: Universal Pictures]
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