The Theory of Chaos

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day Weekend - I guess those silly billboards that looked like jeans ads worked

Full top 10 behind the jump

This is the big one, folks. And I’m not just talking about the banner weekend for X-Men: The Last Stand, I’m talking about the weekend as a whole. Memorial Day Weekend is an essential part of the movie industry’s diet, what elevates them from an ordinary bloated heathen to the gargantuan tub of sloth and vice we all so aspire to emulate.

With that extra day of no work and no school, with those college kids starting to trickle home with smelly laundry and nothing to do for three months, this is the weekend, along with the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and the last week of the year, that we as Americans have a sacred duty to plow through the turnstiles and keep these hard-working multinational execs in blow for another few months.

In that combination of Indian poker and drunken jig known as movie scheduling, this is a weekend where you have to stake out your territory in advance. It is such a monumental accumulation of fear that it passes a kind of anxiety event horizon and transforms into a kind of gentleman’s etiquette – once one movie is firmly established as the wide opener for Memorial Day, the other studios stay back and allow it to do its magic. And the X-Men delivered.

1. X-Men: The Last Stand

Weekend Take: $120.1M
Current Domestic Total: $120.1M

First, as a personal rant – after keeping the budget thumbscrews so tight on Bryan Singer (one of those “talented filmmakers” you hear about sometimes) for the first two editions in this franchise (the first was delivered for a downright flinty $75M or so), why in God’s name does 20th Century Fox give over $200M to Brett Ratner, filmmaking’s equivalent of a birthday party magician?

Realize – the $45.5M penciled in as an estimate for Friday’s gross is the third biggest day for any movie at the domestic box office. Ever. Sure, that doesn’t take inflation into account, but it’s an impressive number no matter how you filter it. But on a budget of over $200M, this extraordinary weekend still might not be enough to provide a comfortable profit margin. Doesn’t that sound…what’s that word…stupid?

I’m not trying to deny reality – the third X-Men movie busted the box office wide open, absolutely punking The Da Vinci Code in the process. And with the mixed-to-positive reviews and the added incentive of a decisive trilogy ending preceding the launch of individual character spin-offs, they’re likely to have enough momentum to get into some acceptably rarefied air. But every year the math is plain but somehow unavoiadble – the most expensive movies have climbed to such dizzying cost, and continue to climb further, that they literally must become one of the biggest hits in the history of the business just to avoid failure. If you had withheld $30M from X-Men: The Last Stane, not only would it still have had a higher budget available than the Poseidon re-make, you could have also afforded to produce a Brokeback Mountain, two Lost in Translation-s, a Fargo and still had enough left over to make a Saw for the kids. And doesn’t that sound, from an investment standpoint, hell, a taste standpoint, like a smarter, more diversified way of spending your money?

2. The Da Vinci Code
Weekend Take: $43M
Current Domestic Total: $145.5M

One of the side effects of the Memorial Day Weekend – with its inclusion of Monday’s tally plus the general rising-tide-lifts-all-boats phenomenon – is that the usual rules for drop-offs don’t apply. Which is a sigh of relief for the makers of The Da Vinci Code, because those artificial boosts, and the attention paid to X-Men’s gargantuan numbers, help to obscure its unsettling downward momentum.

What these numbers say is that the audience is less reliable than they were hoping, more affected by the negative critical response and bring-on-the-next-bauble mentality of the summer movie season. These will not be the faithful, discriminating viewers that sustain it at the multiplexes through those hot and heavily-contested months. This movie’s being chucked down the well. Thankfully, they grabbed enough cash up front to cushion the fall. Breaking $200M domestic is a long shot but not inconceivable, and there’s a particularly robust contribution from our friends overseas for this one.

3. Over the Hedge

Weekend Take: $35.3M
Current Domestic Total: $84.4M

What last week was a worrisome soft open turns, this week, into an ingenious stroke of counter-programming. Anyone who didn’t feel like squeezing in for the mutant smackdown had a gentle and appealing family product to turn to. Even just looking at the 3-Day numbers, this critter’s demonstrating legs, enough to allay the fears I mentioned last week of audiences losing faith with the Dreamworks Animation shop.

4. Mission: Impossible III

Weekend Take: $8.6M
Current Domestic Total: $115.8M

Against my expectations, MI: III is clinging to enough of an audience that it might yet heave itself, gasping, through the $122M over/under barrier I set a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure this is a tremendous relief to Tom Cruise – wait, I forgot, OT-7’s don’t actually worry about anything, since they can manipulate time and space with their will alone. This movie has flopped because he wanted it to. Only he, and L. Ron, can understand the fiendish genius behind this.

5. Poseidon

Weekend Take: $7.0M
Current Domestic Total: $46.6M

Poseidon shared MI: III’s softer descent this weekend, which still fails to be good news. But with a disaster like this, you take all the not-quite-as-cataclysmic-as-it-could-have-been news that you can get. Not to mention, all the people responsible for making this lousy movie will work again and be very well paid for it, and how often in corporate America can you spend $160 Million on a failed initiative and enjoy that result? Actually, don’t answer that, I’m likely to be disappointed, aren’t I?

6. RV

Weekend Take: $5.3M
Current Domestic Total: $57.2M

Our lesson for the week – audiences clearly see Robin Williams with a family as being a more compelling disaster than whole heaps of movie stars on a sinking ship.

7. See No Evil

Weekend Take: $3.2M
Current Domestic Total: $9.2M

Just like the release window for horror movies has, through sheer ubiquity, become basically immune to season, so has their usual quick-burn box office trajectory. The attention deficit crowd is in the process of moving on, the filmmakers have their money, and everyone’s happy except the actors whose characters didn’t survive for a sequel.

8. Just My Luck

Weekend Take: $2.3M
Current Domestic Total: $13.9M

This movie has performed so badly – if only it had a title that lent itself to jokes about its own disastrous ineptitude. It would make my job as a non-professional rude blogging jerk commentator so much simpler.

9. United 93

Weekend Take: $1.1M
Current Domestic Total: $29.9M

It would have been crass to expect Universal to try and lure audiences into theatres for this project on Memorial Day Weekend. But perhaps more importantly, it would have been a serious misjudgment about how Americans like to spend this holiday – Honoring our Nation’s Saintly Dead by getting ripped to the tits and watching Indy Cars crash into walls.

10. An American Haunting

Weekend Take: $0.9M
Current Domestic Total: $14.9M

It’s a stark sign of how limited the movie-going appetite is on this weekend to see just how few dollars it takes to come in at number 10. You might see a number like this in January, but on a four-day weekend in May? People wanted entertainment, and thus concentrated their money with great intensity on those few titles that would provide.

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Friday, May 26, 2006


Yesterday morning I woke up thinking the world was coming to an end, or I had been transported to the Mirror Universe where Hollywood has remained a violent slum instead of the artsy and genteel slum it is now. The power was out, and I heard heavy footsteps and panicked voices and the squawk of walkie-talkies outside my door. Ugly drips of yellowed water fell from my ceiling, and there was a frantic knock at my door.

My head was still half-dreaming, so I was considering the full range of possibilities from earthquake to zombie plague. A young woman was there, urgently asking: “Are you the manager? ARE YOU THE MANAGER?!


My car’s blocked in! I can’t get out!

She rushed off. I changed out of my pajama punts and stumbled down the back stairwell, admiring the emergency lights. A team of firefighters was in the lobby, trying to pry open the elevator door.

All of this has a simple explanation. There was a power outage in the neighborhood, which trapped people in the elevator and froze the parking garage gates on what happened to be finals day over at USC. And somewhere up on the fifth floor, someone’s fish tank broke, leaking water out of the filter into the floor, where it wended a lonely wandering path down towards my light fixtures.

This meant the amount of water was finite, even though it started dripping again at 4:30 last night, forcing me to stir from a Xanax-haze and perform a rubber-legged silent comedy walk to drag the trash can back under it. A pool of it’s still sitting on the cheap plastic under my bathroom fluorescents – I warned the maintenance man about it, since as of this weekend it’s not my problem anymore.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say the building was trying to get rid of me. In a way it’s a rather elegant conclusion, paralleling my first week here – when the power was off and my parking space blocked and I couldn’t find the manager either. And what would be a last fling in this pad without firemen lumbering around? Not a month’s gone by without one of those delightful false alarms.

Still, even as I pack and stack and pull nails and heave out Hefty bags of old files and obsolete scripts drafts, I’ve started feeling like a screenwriter again in the last couple of days. I’ve finally wrapped up and delivered a new set of comedy pitches to my agent and a manager I’ve been doing a tentative mating dance with. That’s one roadblock out of the way of the tasks I’ve wanted to get to – i.e. finishing the new script, revising an old one I’m going to need as a sample soon, and whipping that treatment into shape while people are still enthusiastic about it. I’m not sure yet how I’m going to be keeping my hours in this new arrangement (my friends know what I’m talking about), but it’s always a boost to remind yourself that your goals are concrete and compartmentable, not just a terrifying smoke-mass of Responsibilities. You might think you’re in the Great Breakdown – but it’s really just a blown transformer and a bad aquarium gasket, and none of it can really stand in the way of what you want to do. Or must do.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW - Over the Hedge

Full review behind the jump

Over the Hedge
: Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick
Writers: Characters by Michael Fry and T. Lewis, Screenplay by Len Blum and Lorne Cameron & David Hoselton and Karey Kirkpatrick
Producer: Bonnie Arnold
Featuring the vocal talents of: Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, Wanda Sykes, William Shatner, Nick Nolte, Thomas Haden Church, Allison Janney, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Avril Lavigne

Simpsons creator Matt Groening has said that one of his rules of thumb for the design of a cartoon character is – would you recognize them by their silhouette? And you could certainly pick Bart Simpson’s grocery bag hairdo or Mr. Burns’ predatory stoop off of lines alone, so let it not be said the man doesn’t practice what he preaches.

I was thinking of this wisdom while watching Over the Hedge – a new comedy from Dreamworks Animation which is charming enough in its own right. But unlike with the inimitably-shaped Shrek, if you were to put its hero in silhouette, I wouldn’t think: “Hey, it’s RJ!” I’d think – “That looks like a cartoon raccoon”. And the turtle looks like a cartoon turtle and the possums look like cartoon possums – although in deference to Le Pew’s Law of Cartoon Mammal Coloring, the skunk can pass for a cat when you cover up its stripe.

I can see broad types in the body shapes and facial expressions of our critter heroes, but I don’t see a high standard of individuality. I don’t see a truly loving level of detail. I don’t see character, and that flaw permeates the whole picture, forcing the other elements to work harder to entertain. A talented voice cast and smartly-timed direction makes this a worthwhile amusement, but it is held back from being more.

The story, too, is an exercise in function over form – it frustrates me when filmmakers treat children like miniature development executives, as if they need to be provided a letter-perfect checklist of emotional character arcs and ticking clock deadlines, pitched at the lowest threshold of comprehension and with all surprise surgically-removed. RJ (Bruce Willis), a resourceful loner of a raccoon, accidentally destroys the hibernation food stash of surly bear Vincent – Nick Nolte voices Vincent and sounds rather marvelously like he’s gargling a mix of molasses and sharp rocks. So RJ has exactly one week to replace Vincent’s food to avoid becoming the replacement himself. While he’s a savvy scavenger with an enlightened understanding of the human animal as a food source, and has trumped Darwin by mastering the use of tools without opposable thumbs, he’s lacking in manpower to get the job done by his deadline.

Enter a little family of “foragers” led by the steady worry-wart turtle Vern (Garry Shandling). While they slept through the winter, their woods were bulldozed in the name of suburban sprawl, and now a tall, intimidating hedge cuts off their tiny green space from a flat expanse of McMansions and SUVs.

Vern sees doom, and wants to ignore it and set to work gathering this year’s store of bark and nuts and berries. RJ sees opportunity, and sells them on the quick-fix pleasures of human-made junk food. Hammy (Steve Carrell), a squirrel already on a perpetual sugar high, is particularly persuaded. Of course, their increasingly-bold expeditions into Yuppie territory attract some unwanted attention, including a pest-control expert with a truck full of lethal gadgets who calls himself The Verminator (Thomas Haden Church).

I could go on about the point where RJ has second thoughts about abusing the help of his new friends, or about Vern’s sense of being supplanted as the parent figure of the group, but you can really sketch it all in for yourselves. The success or failure of Over the Hedge is fixed on the amount of wit and flair can be glopped onto the well-sanded edges of its perfunctory plot. And there’s enough of both to go around, Carrell’s calibrated mix of high-speed shouting and desperate whimpers is a constant source of smiles; and William Shatner, in what amounts to a clever bit of stunt casting, voices a possum who takes the art of playing dead to scenery-chewing extremes.

And there’s jokes a-plenty about the dire chemical contents of our snack staples, and our dependence on sugar and caffeine and our culture of conspicuous consumption. Over the Hedge seems afraid to go the distance, though, and actually say the stuff is bad for us, because we can’t be offending promotional partners, can we? No, nobody ever really sticks up for Vern and his dull old nuts and berries, those cans of potato-product chips are just too addictively-scrumptious!

I don’t want to damn with faint praise, but what else can I do with descriptors like “pleasant” and “likeable”? As contrast, note your emotional reaction to First Flight, an absolutely enchanting short written and directed by Cameron Hood and Kyle Jefferson that’s running in front of the main feature. With no spoken dialogue and animation that’s comfortably removed from the bleeding edge of technology, it tells a brief and simple story about a little bird that brightens the life of a depressed businessman, and shows how effortlessly something with heart and imagination can still summon laughter and tears in mere seconds. Does Over the Hedge do the same at ten times the length? It’ll be fun for the kids and enjoyable enough for the grown-ups, but the answer is no.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

They always want to talk to me

She’s wearing hospital slippers and a stocking cap and has about three miles of white hair. Her face is sun-toasted and she walks with a shuffle. There’s a half-dozen other customers waiting in this Chinese take-out place, but there’s never a moment’s doubt – she’s coming to talk to me.

She shows me her cup. She shows me her Ziploc bag that holds dark yarn and a pink sandal she found in the garbage. She shows me an empty Coca-Cola Zero bottle that she’s taped pictures of the Blue Man Group to. She says one of them’s her son. She points at the “Zero” on the label and tries to win me over to her point of view that One is better than Zero.

She tells me all about the room she lives in, which is very clean, and the house where it is – which is her mother’s house. Only not really, she confides, it’s actually Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mother’s house.

I might not have been so polite or attentive, except that she started the conversation by railing that there’s too many people in this world, and I couldn’t tell what else she had buried in that big bag of hers.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW - The Da Vinci Code

Full review behind the jump

The Da Vinci Code
: Ron Howard
Writer: Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Dan Brown
Producers: John Calley, Brian Grazer
Stars: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina

The Da Vinci Code is an exercise in overkill. Plodding self-seriously through this adaptation of Dan Brown’s bajillion-selling novel, some of Hollywood’s most beloved craftsmen lavish all their boldly middlebrow attentions on it, begging for our approval. Rarely has more love been put towards the task of getting an “A” for effort.

But the final product is just so much overwrought hooey, which should only impress people who’ve never before conceived of a story in which an innocent man might have to go on the run and solve a mystery; or, more shocking still, in which a major character turns out to be not whom he/she seemed! For the rest of the moviegoing masses, we find only a bloated progression of run-and-deduce calisthenics that masks what is essentially a game of ecclesiastical Trivial Pursuit.

This is beneath the talents of so many of its participants, and yet the smell of a box office “sure thing” brings them all to the set, where they determine to furrow their brows and convince us that they don’t find the premise, the characters, or the convolutions of plot to be at all silly. Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina – these are all creative people who’ve made smashingly good films. But, try though they might, they just can’t put this one over.

The plot – just in case you haven’t heard yet – involves a race to find The Holy Grail. Only it’s not the traditional Grail as cup, but rather the Grail as a metaphor for something else entirely. Robert Langdon (Hanks) deals in metaphors as an expert in religious symbology: an amalgam of history, sociology and puzzle-solving that seeks the root message in hallowed squiggles the world over. He is summoned while giving a lecture in Paris to examine a rather elaborately-decorated corpse sullying the polished floors of the Louvre Museum. The deceased (Jean-Pierre Marielle) was an acquaintance of Langdon’s, and after he was shot in the belly by an albino monk (Paul Bettany) – yes, an albino monk, we’ll deal with him in due time – he used his last few minutes on this Earth to arrange a cryptic message.

And so we have the first of many tests this movie will subject you to – can you countenance the image of an octogenarian, bleeding from the gut, dragging himself around the Museum, planting clues, leaving messages in invisible ink, and finally splaying himself naked on the floor and, with his last breaths, painting religious symbols all over his body? If the image of that never once tugged upward at the side of your mouth, reader, you might just survive this film.

This dead man wanted to show Langdon a path to a grave secret, one that he was murdered over. But the lead investigator, Fache (Jean Reno) is convinced that Langdon himself is the killer. Never mind that, through the magic of cross-cutting, it appears to us that Langdon was giving a speech in front of hundreds of witnesses when the murder occurred. Fache’s suspicion sends Langdon on the lam, with only the aid of young “police cryptographer” Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), the deceased’s granddaughter.

And in the course of the next 24 hours there will be car chases, narrow escapes, a visit to a bank of the most supreme discretion, and the revelation of an earth-shattering cover-up so cunningly guarded by the forces of history that Langdon and Sophie must go all the way to Ian McKellen’s country house to have it explained to them over tea.

McKellen (who adds some dearly-needed insouciance) plays Sir Leigh Teabing, an eccentric historian who, with Gnostic texts, fancy computers and a fair dollop of wishful thinking, has concocted a provocative alternate theory about the life and doings of Jesus Christ, and the fallibility of the Church founded by Men in His name. Although he might have skipped all of his research and just Netflixed Kevin Smith’s Dogma, which posits the same theory and has dick jokes, to boot.

Many of the secrets are connected to or conveyed via the art of Leonardo Da Vinci, who is said to have been a member of a secret organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the Grail until the time is right for its revelation. We first learn this when Langdon realizes that a phrase left by his friend the corpse unscrambles into the artist’s name. The other characters are agog at this cognitive feat, as though none of them ever attempted a Jumble in the Sunday paper.

Howard dips once again into the bag of superfluous special effects as he did in A Beautiful Mind – trying to illustrate our hero’s thought process by lighting up letters and painting images into empty spaces. At one point, as our heroes enter a church, the entire landscape around them changes and crowds of people in period dress swirl into existence. The point of these and other re-enactments along the way is primarily to make the movie more expensive and give us something else to look at. It does not serve to make proceedings any more exciting or enlightening.

There is a little action in the course of an exhausting two-and-a-half hours, much of it unnecessarily goofy. It’s usually instigated by Silas, the afore-mentioned albino monk. He works as a psychotic form of muscle for a Bishop (Alfred Molina) who is trying to snuff out the Grail and all its followers. He is, at least, too conspicuous by half as assassins go, given his pallor and the expression of divine agony he wears all the time. Plus his habit of wrapping barbs around his legs and whipping himself after each kill makes him less agile than you might want. Bettany may have cursed this role by playing it too earnestly, thus exposing its naked ridiculousness.

I have not read the book, so I cannot say how faithfully screenwriter Akiva Goldsman – who never met a yarn he couldn’t lop 30 IQ points off of – has adapted it. If this is genuinely what all the fuss has been about, I can see that there’s a combination of pulp and clearly-explicated arcana that might in book form make, not great literature, but bracing distraction. The Da Vinci Code might be a victim of its own success, binding the filmmakers to an ultimately destructive fidelity. Surely someone along the way heard a little voice in their head whispering – “they’re going to laugh you out of the theatre for that one.” They should have listened.

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May 19-21: Making museums cool again

Full top 10 examination behind the jump

The summer movie season is finally upon us, and it only would have been an enormous surprise if The Da Vinci Code hadn’t provided that decisive mass burst through the turnstiles. Sony can be particularly proud that, in the face of blistering reviews, with a movie that was neither animated nor spawned by a comic book, they still rang up a monster of an opening weekend. Of course, it’s not like they spared the ammo, considering Ron Howard behind the camera, Tom Hanks in front of it, and the most popular/controversial novel of the last bajillion years on the marquee.

The corollary to the story is the wrecking ball effect the two big openers of the week had on the rest of the field. Box office holdovers suffered vertiginous plunges from their numbers of the previous week, some as much as 60-70%, which is the multiplex equivalent of terminal velocity. The results were not pretty, as Ice Age: The Meltdown, Stick It, Goal! The Dream Begins, Scary Movie 4, Silent Hill and Hoot (with a particularly terrifying 81.5% drop) all got fitted for cement shoes by the kingpin Da Vinci.

1. The Da Vinci Code

Weekend Take: $77.1M
Current Domestic Total: $77.1M

An opening like this is essentially critic-proof. On Da Vinci’s budget, Sony is all but guaranteed to hit the sort of numbers that would normally spell profitability. I stress “normally”. What remains to be seen is what effect the poisonous word-of-mouth and critical response has on audience degradation in the next two weeks. Normally the demographic appeal of this movie would promise a longer life, but the summer season is not forgiving, and the rush of enthusiasm that created this weekend’s victory may prove to represent more of this movie’s total audience than the bean counters would hope. Between Howard, Hanks, producer Brian Grazer and writer Akiva Goldsman, you’ve got a whole cage full of 800-pound gorillas who will get their gross profit participation. This sets the comfort level for domestic gross much higher than normal.

Today the bosses are happy. They couldn’t have asked for much better. Tomorrow they’ll start to sweat all over again.

2. Over the Hedge
Weekend Take: $38.5M
Current Domestic Total: $38.5M

Dreamworks Animation has grown itself with speed and ambition and can now effectively release two major movies to theatres each year. Although they might now be comparing these numbers to the opening numbers of last year’s Madagascar ($47.2M, for those who don’t want to chase it down), and wondering if it wasn’t too much talent dilution too soon. It’s devilishly hard to keep introducing new franchises and make each one’s characters and premise distinct and appealing enough. Witness the creative and financial flameout Disney Animation suffered when it graduated to annual releases of more careless product; and by contrast, the far more measured growth of Pixar as an animation franchise, and how memorable each new arrival from their factory is. Dreamworks may be leaning too far the Disney way.

It’s harder still when you continue banking on the ephemeral drawing power of celebrity voices. This is still a solid number, and with the usual trajectory of a family movie of this size they should have a respectable hit on their hands when the last chips are counted. Plus, they had heavy competition this week, so I’m anticipating soft drops in the next couple of weekends. But the trends are certainly moving in the wrong direction for the company. That next Shrek movie will come along at just the right time.

3. Mission: Impossible III

Weekend Take: $11.3M
Current Domestic Total: $103.5M

Although the money’s still good enough for third place, what you’re seeing now is a franchise bleeding out. M:I-III couldn’t hold its ground in the wake of Da Vinci’s arrival, and was flung aside like Tom Cruise was by that missile in all those expensive but fruitless trailers. It’s about time to place your “under” bets for my over/under prediction of $122M domestic from last week.

4. Poseidon

Weekend Take: $9.2M
Current Domestic Total: $36.8M

Just like there’s no nice way to spin a sucking chest wound, there’s no way to put a smile on a 58.4% second weekend drop. It’s worse when your first weekend was such a dog. Poseidon is a big enough disaster that it might even distract people from writing about the financial failure of Mission: Impossible III. But do you think this will stop the re-make chuck wagon from continuing to roll through town? It won’t even slow down.

5. RV

Weekend Take: $5.0M
Current Domestic Total: $50.3M

R.V. brought in enough money in its first month that this shedding of business comes too late to cause real alarm. It should come in for a soft landing out of the top 10 in a couple more weeks, its quiet and sane path to box office success a lesson studio heads are sure to ignore completely.

6. See No Evil

Weekend Take: $4.6M
Current Domestic Total: $4.6M

Vince McMahon’s new WWE Films label stuck with a safe bet for their first time flying solo, putting one of their glowering man-mountains into a horror movie with a bunch of teens. Opening that’s as close to a no-brainer as this town offers. It didn’t break out of the genre box a la Saw but it will turn a profit and build brand awareness for their next effort to groom a steady supply of movie stars in the ring. When your budget is only $8M this is what success looks like.

7. Just My Luck

Weekend Take: $3.4M
Current Domestic Total: $10.5M

Without a similar movie opening this weekend, Lindsay Lohan’s comedy suffered far less of the audience erosion that punished her companions on the top 10. That’s paltry consolation considering how much the studio unwisely spent on providing a grown-up vehicle for her. Some movies just don’t make sense past a certain price point. The $45M budget listed on IMDB, if even close to accurate, is far, far beyond that point.

8. An American Haunting

Weekend Take: $1.5M
Current Domestic Total: $13.4M

Freestyle Releasing now knows what it’s like to bring in wide distribution dollars, and it also knows the speed at which those numbers dissipate. Their risk to open this movie big (perhaps sneaking it to the audience before reviews could hamper them) has paid off; not handsomely necessarily, but they didn’t get stripped and left for dead in the exhibitor’s desert, which was all too possible.

9. United 93

Weekend Take: $1.4M
Current Domestic Total: $28.3M

United 93 should break $30M domestically, which is more than a comfortable number at their budget level, and enough to bear out the wisdom of containing the investment on a project this daring. They suited creative intent to format to business needs in a way that you wished filmmakers and studio heads could emulate more often.

10. Akeelah and the Bee

Weekend Take: $1.0M
Current Domestic Total: $15.7M

The end of this movie’s major presence in theatres was not quite graceful, but it made enough noise along the way to make its producers happy. Anytime a movie with this combination of elements – tricky title, complex emotions within the story, sub-marquee cast names – sees success off the appeal of the final product, it’s a victory for people who still believe that moviegoers will come to a good product if it’s provided them, all Da Vinci-related evidence notwithstanding.

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Friday, May 19, 2006


Full review behind the jump

: Wolfgang Petersen
Writer: Mark Protosevich, based on the novel by Paul Gallico
Producers: Mike Fleiss, Akiva Goldsman, Duncan Henderson, Wolfgang Petersen
Stars: Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss, Emmy Rossum, Jacinda Barrett, Jimmy Bennett, Mike Vogel, Mía Maestro, Andre Braugher, Kevin Dillon

I’m trying for the life of me to figure out where the money went. Normally I don’t make a movie’s budget part of the critical formula, but the only apparent purpose behind Poseidon, a remake of the seminal disaster movie The Poseidon Adventure, is to spend a great deal of money. I’ve seen reports of a budget ranging from $150M to $165M, and if a studio’s going to lie about a budget it will be to pretend it cost less than it actually did, not more.

So what did they spend it on? The movie is shot entirely on soundstages in Los Angeles, which are admittedly elaborate in that they must be duplicated as upside-down, floodable versions of themselves. And the titular ocean liner, constructed in a computer for sweeping camera shots, looks terrible. We get a long time to scrutinize its fakery. They even skimped on an orchestra, hiring composer Klaus Badelt to provide one of those too-in-vogue wall-of-synthesizer musical scores scrubbed free of any troubling human touch or warmth.

Titanic, for all its Tiger Beat-frippery in the story department, actually went and built a full scale mock-up of the damned ship in question, and gave you three hours of spectacle for your ticket. By contrast, Poseidon is stunningly short as your star-studded “A” picture goes, barely 95 minutes before the credits start to roll. It might sound like contradiction to be demanding more of a movie that doesn’t pass muster even at its current length, but we might have had time then for something other than an eventually-dull parade of one reel of flaming peril after another.

Our characters don’t really have emotional lives, they have backstories which they occasionally stop to talk about. Perhaps as compensation, their backstories are almost grotesquely convoluted. Take Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell), whom everyone in the movie recognizes. He was a New York fireman who achieved fame rescuing people from a tragedy which remains nameless, and was subsequently elected Mayor of the city, and then left that post for reasons which I think have something to do with why his wife isn’t around anymore. The other characters are too polite to be clear on this point.

And what does any of that have to do with anything when a “rogue wave”, a moon-eclipsing giant tide of fake digital-water, capsizes the luxury ship and leaves it upside-down, exploding, and sinking all at once? From that point on what is required of Russell is to a) be rugged and heroic, b) look after his daughter (Emmy Rossum), while learning to trust her independence and not be so threatened by her boyfriend (Mike Vogel), and c) nod knowingly whenever the conversation turns to fires. The movie has no time for reflection or growth, all crucial emotional moments are handled by anguished facial expressions and, if they can spare the time, one line of dialogue.

Now you’ve got Richard Dreyfuss on board, playing a fussy architect in a suicidal funk over being abandoned by his longtime male lover, and he’s got an Academy Award in his trophy case so you know they will be quality anguished facial expressions. But how much good can he do with deathless dialogue like: “I’m an architect, these boats aren’t built to float upside-down!”? I kept waiting for him to punctuate it with: “I learned that in architect school!

After the initial catastrophe, the Captain (Andre Braugher) orders everyone to stay put in the ballroom and wait for help. Well, it doesn’t take an architect to see the flaws in this plan – namely the giant glass windows everywhere. Still, only our small band of movie stars, with a few disposable supporting characters in tow, rebel against his instructions and begin climbing towards what used to be the lowest bowels of the ship, seeking air and an exit. Providing the daredevil Ying to Ramsey’s stoic Yang is Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas), who used to serve on submarines in the Navy but is now a professional poker shark. Somehow, this combination of elements makes him a Zen Master at survival dilemmas, from the beginning he looks and acts like a man who gets into these sorts of scrapes all the time. It bears thinking just how weird that is.

Dylan is protecting a single mother (Jacinda Barrett) he’s probably wishing he hadn’t hit on, and her little sprite Conor. Conor is played by Jimmy Bennett; who, having already been kidnapped in both last year’s Hostage and this year’s Firewall now easily qualifies as this generation’s Most Imperiled Movie Tyke.

And they all climb and swim and gulp for air and scream and dodge fire and climb some more. Screenwriter Mark Protosevich serves up a balanced menu of breathless set pieces. Some are imaginative enough, as when our party is trapped inside a vertical air shaft with water rising beneath and an inconveniently screwed-in grate above. Or when they’re in a giant ballast chamber which they can only escape by flooding. But these are little more than cinematic Rube Goldberg contraptions, and it’s usually absurdly simple to predict who’s going to come out the other end alive and who’s going to suffer a noble, tragic, or karmically-justified death in between.

And I still don’t know where they spent all the money. It must have been the catering.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW - The Notorious Bettie Page

Full review behind the jump

The Notorious Bettie Page
: Mary Harron
Writers: Mary Harron & Guinevere Turner
Producers: Pamela Koffler, Katie Roumel, Christine Vachon
Stars: Gretchen Mol, Chris Bauer, Jared Harris, Sarah Paulson, Cara Seymour, David Strathairn, Lili Taylor

Bettie Page lit up in front of a camera, and The Notorious Bettie Page, a keenly-observed dramatization of her brief and scandalous career as a pin-up queen and bondage icon, has the same virtue. It has matched part to player sublimely in the person of Gretchen Mol – a confident, beautiful woman placing her healthy body on display without shame or fear. And when she poses and struts and flashes her smile, the movie is all it should be: naughty but somehow nice; sexy, but somehow innocent.

Some actors seem to make a spiritual connection to the real-life figures they depict, and Mol’s kaleidoscope of expression flawlessly duplicates that unique combination of hormonal appeal and disarming exuberance – Page’s ability to be, as one photographer puts it, “nude, but not naked”.

It’s in the rest of the movie that co-writer/director Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol, American Psycho) fails to find her footing. She has put the all the proper ingredients on the screen, but when those central elements – Page and a camera – are not together, the movie deflates a crucial little bit.

Its inference is clear as can be – that Page, abused by one man or another from the moment her adult body blossomed, had an unusual appreciation for the parameters of modeling. In the film she seems to see it as a form of politeness – men will continue to take pleasure from the fact of her womanhood, only this time they will at least ask her permission, keep their hands off her and give her thanks and compensation. She takes classes in Method Acting technique simultaneously – to her they are interchangeable forms of play and make-believe.

Harron doesn’t over-indulge in the worst pains of Bettie’s life, she lets our imaginations do most of the work and that’s smart. But the hints we’re given, by and large, fail to summon the dread you’d expect. We’re watching a timeline, an explanation of the powerless position a women could find herself in, but rarely do we make a connection with her immediate feelings. Throughout the movie, facts and places and events come to us as awkward trivia, the curse of any biopic and a disappointing contrast to the vibrant joy of the modeling sessions.

The decision to shoot largely in black-and-white, while a tribute to the agility of cinematographer Mott Hupfel (see how he replicates the color schemes imprinted on us as representing the Technicolor “reality” of the 50’s), costs us some intimacy. The dialogue feels almost purposely flat in these danger sequences as well, as if trying to do a somersault bounce off the squeaky-clean cliché image of America’s Leave it to Beaver years. Such trickery is not the way to the hearts or guts of moviegoers.

It does provide a funny and stark contrast to today’s world, where hardcore pornography is a phone line and two mouse clicks away. This is still the time when men slink in to dingy storefronts with their trenchcoat lapels pulled up to hide their face, seeking stimulation. And some had the money and influence to request particular satisfactions. By the inviolate laws of economics, supply materialized to meet that demand. A woman with Bettie’s sense of freedom could have power, and a kind of awe, accorded her.

The movie excels at observing her relationship to her actions, how at times she seems to be standing outside and wondering at the peculiarity of it all. Perhaps, also, how lucky she is, given what was done to her back in Tennessee, that some men will pay just to see her wearing leather boots. She even has a spiritual theory about it, and tries to balance Jesus’ awareness of her sins with his desire to have her use the talent she’s been given. How marvelous that she could share this theory while a man (Jared Harris) is fitting her with ropes and a ball gag.

You can tell that Irving (Chris Bauer) and Paula Klaw (Lili Taylor) know almost immediately that they’ve found someone special. They run a private studio that creates photos and short films to send high-paying customers through the mail. Bettie is so agreeable and playful with even their weirdest ideas that the biggest challenge is getting her to look stern when she’s holding the riding crop.

The Klaws are a joy to watch as both a couple and a team – protective of “their” girls, impressed by the status of their most fervent customers, always functioning as one. When legal troubles flare up, resulting in a Congressional Committee headed by an unctuous Senator (David Strathairn), poor Irving can’t seem to understand it at all. In his mind, if the New York Times can run a picture of a spanking next to a review of a Broadway musical, how is he doing anything wrong? Not to mention the fact that the people condemning him now are the same elites he was so proud to cater to.

The hypocrisy and squareness of the authority figures, abusers, and the generally sanctimonious, combine to fade them into the background. It’s only people like the Klaws, and fellow photographers like John Willie (Jared Harris) and Bunny Yeager (Sarah Paulson) who seem to have a pulse, and Bettie above them all living a full and fearless life. I like what The Notorious Bettie Page has to say but am dismayed at the elementary stumbles that cloud its many qualities. It’s as if the movie nails the hardest maneuver of its genre, then stubs its toe while walking.

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Just a little touch-up

I can tell you with authority, because it happened to me this morning, that it is possible in the movie business for someone to really like your 126-page screenplay, but suggest that you consider throwing out the last 120 pages and trying something different.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Kauai, Part II: A Very Touristy Day

Long post with heavy pictures behind the cut

I love travel but I hate tourists. I’ve grappled with how to reconcile this, and have thrown up my hands and gone for the old “I am large/I contain multitudes” cop-out. How can I hate what I so enjoy being? Maybe it’s a kind of shame by association: seeing all the crude and obnoxious tourists; that mob with belt packs and visors trundling the Earth, breathing with open mouths, gaping at Paradise through a Handycam viewfinder, expecting every local to serve their most asinine requests in perfect English and wondering where the nearest McDonald’s is. The ones who either seem confused or miffed or snippy; never happy. The ones who walk around like they bought and paid for the whole place and no one actually has to work or live here, it’s just all giant make-believe like one of those World Showcase Pavilions at Epcot that reduces every beautiful and complex culture on Earth to a restaurant with a kids’ menu and a gift shop.

I know I’m running with that herd, but every fiber in me makes a silent cry to the people who live where I travel – I want them to understand, I get it. I’m not like all these people. You can relax.

Maybe I succeed sometimes. Maybe most of the time I look like just as much of a yutz as the rest.

Monkeygirl and I had a conversation about this in Kauai – it seemed alien to her that I could have such strongly negative feelings towards any class of people. Darling that she is, she doesn’t think I have it in me:

But you seem to like people.”

Do I?

You’re more likely to talk to strangers than I am.

I don’t think that I go out of my way. People just seem to want to talk to me and I try to be polite. The crazier they are, the more likely they’ll find me.

Well, there is something inviting about you.

She always knows what to say.

Our guide for today’s van tour is named Damien. He looks like a slender Wayne Newton without all the unfortunate cosmetic work, and he has a single thumbnail grown out so far it curls inward. I remember the cab driver from the ride in and wonder if it’s an island tradition to use extreme grooming attributes as distinguishing characteristics.

To Damien, all flora and fauna are divided into two very important categories, they are either “indigenous”, born to this beautiful island and thus part of its blessed harmony, or “Goodfa NATHING!”, meaning the honkeys brought it and it’s running amok and ruining everything. He has a bottomless supply of possibly-true facts and anecdotes about the living and growing things that we cruise by in our mini-coach, and which category they belong to; particularly the cursed cattle egret, which eats bugs off cows in Florida and was imported to serve the same function, only there weren’t many of the right bugs on the Hawaiian cows to begin with so the egrets took to eating all the bugs on the ground, which the other animals were sort of counting on for their next meal. Every time we see a cattle egret near the road, Damien growls and swerves to try and run it over. It is the only time he strays from an inexhaustibly effusive manner.

He never mentions the picky fact that the cows themselves probably didn’t evolve here naturally. And thus I am alerted to the existence of the secret third category – the living things that have proven relatively useful despite not being indigenous.

Like her parents, Monkeygirl won’t get up early for much, but they’re making an exception this time

First we’ll stop at a vista designed to set cameras clicking, then we’ll proceed to a gift shops where we can stretch our legs, tidy up and spend a few dollars convincing our loved ones we were thinking of them. Gift shop employees are another class of people I’m always trying to psychically communicate with. I want them to know they don’t have to play the ruse with me, that I know this cheap crap doesn’t really represent what they’re capable of; that it reduces, confines. I’m here for the good and the real, and just possibly if I can find it, the immortally-weird.

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you, and there’s nothing wrong with you for seeing what you see

As we alternate between these two extremes, Damien tells us about papaya trees, and noni, the plant that can cure everything, and the difference between Chinese bananas and Hawaiian apple bananas, about “tourist pineapples” that trick the uninformed into thinking they grow on trees. The trouble is, he often neglects to point at which specific tree of the many around us possesses the unusual qualities he’s describing.

We pass the point where Captain Cook first landed, and was worshipped as the god Lono. Damien’s frequent references to “the great explorer, Captain James Cook” get subconsciously re-written in my brain, and this reminds me of what a flaming nerd I am.


The Hawaiian language only requires a twelve-letter alphabet to transcribe, which is kind of inspiring, as it suggests the argot of a life too simple and serene to require any more. “Wai” means water. If you’ve got water, you can grow taro, the main food and the basic ingredient in poi, so “Wai wai” means “wealthy”. A mile-high mountain peak at the center of the island, where there’s an annual rainfall of about 460 inches, making it a regular finalist for wettest place on the planet, is called “Wai’ale’ale”: rippling waters. And that all makes a lovely sort of sense, you can practically see the hula dancer making an ale’ale motion with her gentle hand.

At an overlook for Waimea Canyon, far more expansive and detailed than my little digital camera could truly do justice to, Papa Monkeygirl falls into dizzying love with a fresh coconut, the kind where they whack off the top with a machete and stick a straw in right in front of you. You can always spot a man in taste delirium – because first he offers to share, wanting to know someone else feels the nirvana he now knows, then he suspiciously eyes how much of it you’re taking for yourself. But Monkeygirl and I get enough of the sweet water and the pulpy meat to sate us until lunch.

This is Spouting Horn, a blowhole which also has a separate nearby hole that funnels air, creating a full-bodied groaning sound. The superstitious explanation holds that inside the lava tube a giant lizard called a mo’o lies trapped. She was tricked in there by a fisherman and now wails in hunger and fury forever.

Lunch is at a golf club on the dry side of the island. Kauai fits a rather extraordinary variety of weather patterns for such a small bit of earth due to its position in the flow of the tradewinds. Over on the wet half, it’s likely to rain at least three or four times on any given day, usually just a few minutes of fresh cooling sprinkle – God’s version of a grocery store veggie mister, if I can be insultingly reductive. It gets to where you hardly mind being out in it, since you know it’s more likely than not to pass soon. Winds vary wildly, clouds practically tumble across the sky, changing you from overcast to brilliant sun hour by hour.

It keeps everything green, that’s for sure.

The tour is going on much longer than expected. We’d paid for the 5-hour version, but we’re getting a 7-hour version whether we like it or not. It’s testing the endurance of all of us, although Mama and Papa Monkeygirl are the more vocal about it. Papa Monkeygirl tries to bribe Damien to take an early detour back to our condo. We were up early and we’ve still got a luau to get ready for, which leaves us hardly any time at all for the very important business of laying by the pool.

Little wisps of sea foam would drift up the rocks like liquid tumbleweeds

The monk seal is an endangered species, when you see one you’re supposed to notify wildlife authorities. You are not to touch it, and you especially are not to disturb its sleep, no matter where it feels like napping. And these things sleep a lot. Which may explain the Darwinian bind they find themselves in.

The last stop is one of the many waterfalls we’ll see this week. Water runs off Kauai, from Mt. Wai’ale’ale down, as if poured from a bucket, spidering out from the peak through canyons and over falls into the rivers that connect them to the ocean. It is constant, it is clean, it is beautiful.

See that house on top? If a guy lives up there, I’d wager $10,000 that he’s taken a leak over the falls*

There are a few pictures of Monkeygirl and I at these beautiful sites, but I look fat in all of them and that ain’t what you’re here to see, is it, Jimmy?


Hawaiians have a lot of practice at luaus now, and as smoothly as the process of slaughtering a pig and burying it in an underground oven must go for them by now, they’re even better at herding the tourists through. Monkeygirl has a compelling theory about how the food at these occasions can’t, by its nature, be too good, because the luau isn’t Hawaii. It’s like Hawaii: the Drive-Through Experience – a little song and dance, a little fashion show, some drinks, a language lesson and that little saucer of poi you try a bit of and then wonder why anyone would think it does anything to food but make it more slimy and purple (the need for said qualities never having been noted for any dish produced by our Immaculate Western Civilization.)

As they go, the Hiva Pasefika Luau is entertaining enough, confined as it is to a covered open-air hall of long tables and uncomfortable chairs. The food is acceptable and they don’t rush to cut off the buffet, the free booze isn’t too watery and by the time you move up to the stuff you have to pay for you don’t mind the cheap mixes too much. The host has a gentle singing voice and an impenetrable helmet of hair.

A few tourists are coaxed on stage so we can laugh at their amateur dancing style, and the hula girls do the basic routines well. I can’t imagine the muscles built up by hours of that fluid pedaling heel-toe motion. Monkeygirl asks me which ones’ calves I like the most. You truly can’t have hula hips without actual meat on your bones, and there’s something mesmerizing about those soft, fleshy, curves and the buttery skin. You see them and you think about this place of plenty which has found healthy balance with itself and is filled with life and joy. And you get horny.

Much as I’d like to take credit for this picture, it’s all Monkeygirl’s doing

We do a sing-a-long. There’s a fire twirler who brings the house down, the hardest five minutes that ever constituted a person’s day job. A little girl comes out to give a sort of one-person junior showcase, not prodigious by any stretch of the imagination but studied and confident, so everyone can be impressed and wonder why their own children don’t have any damned talent yet. There’s a glitch and the lights drop off, and she soldiers on in total blackness without a flinch. Maybe half of her routine is lost, but she’s a trouper and that’s to be admired.

I’ve reached total language overload. That charm for the lingo I felt earlier has been smothered by so many complex vowel constructions that they could be just making it all up and I would never be cognizant enough to call shenanigans. I’m sure this has happened: Yes, this is what we call the Ha’lonikiwala Uhi, which means “Cash Bar Only”.

It was healthy, I think, for us to get this stuff out of the way early, so we can be briefed enough to proceed to more in-depth appreciations. But this has been a long day, and when you’ve seen a middle-aged guy three mai tai’s in the bag wearing large-rimmed glasses, a tucked-in polo shirt and a cell phone in a belt pouch holding fake grass pom-poms and shaking his moneymaker, I’ve passed my endurance point with the tourist horde. Time for bed, and time to start moving in smaller packs to more specific destinations. Time to get past all that first date pretense and really get to know Kauai.

(*Note – Any and all wagers made on this blog, if accepted, will be paid in crinkled Monopoly money.)

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

May 12-14, 2006: Another ship proves, sadly, all too sinkable

It was a soft, cushioned fall for most movies at the box office this weekend – Cinco de Mayo and Mother’s Day clearly inspire similar numbers of stay-at-homes. And we still haven’t had the true explosive opening of the summer 2006 movie season, so eyes turn now to next week, which carries a double bill of The DaVinci Code and Over the Hedge. Both should have drastic impact on the fortunes of this weekend’s contenders, and either could potentially bring out that audience that’s been pining for the popcorn season.

But this weekend the new wide releases, without exception, failed to turn out the masses, which is particularly damaging to the backers of the $160 million-budgeted Poseidon. Stop, for a moment, to consider that for director Wolfgang Peterson, who once made the beguiling Neverending Story and the devilishly ingenious Das Boot on such small budgets, this is actually cheaper than his most recent picture, Troy.

But for once the egos behind Mission: Impossible III have something to gloat about – this time of year, winning two weekends in a row is a rare feat indeed. And so that’s where we begin.

1. Mission: Impossible III

Weekend Take: $24.5M
Current Domestic Total: $84.6M

This is more victory by default, than anything. These numbers are merely estimates, but if they hold up they indicate a 48.7% drop from the previous weekend, which is an enormous relief considering the dire possibilities I talked about last week. This could be a response to the belated spread of the word that – you know, this movie isn’t really that bad, its space-cadet star notwithstanding. But the less-than-inspiring midweek numbers show that this is too-little, too-late, and Mission: Impossible III seems destined to finish as that new and peculiar breed of Hollywood bird: the “blockbuster” that surpasses $100M and is still perceived a failure. I’d put the over-under for its final domestic gross at about $122M right now. Not nearly enough.

The rest of the top 10 behind the jump.

2. Poseidon
Weekend Take: $20.3M
Current Domestic Total: $20.3M

Warner Brothers was lowering expectations like a campaign handler before the big debate on this one, and there is a grain of truth in its argument that the target audience for a movie like this skews older, and therefore doesn’t just dash out on opening day. They bide their time and consider the critical reaction, which isn’t a good portent in this case. Between the reviews and the likelihood of grown-up moviegoers flocking to The DaVinci Code next weekend, Poseidon is in big, big trouble.

So what happened? Some of it you might chalk up to confusion, since NBC produced a TV adaptation of the very same novel as a sweeps event last November. Both were remakes of an original that was already a well-known hit; Warner Brothers did not do quite a good enough job making the case that there was any good reason to re-re-tell the story, except that special effects have advanced beyond the old models-in-the-swimming-pool phase, and thinking up new things is hard.

I also wonder if American audiences have given up on these goofy disaster scenarios that we’re supposed to treat with gravitas. We live in a world where an almost numbing streak of horrendous real-life disasters have altered their potential for escapism – we’ve all watched too much of the evening news to think anymore that problems like these only happen to pretty movie stars.

3. RV

Weekend Take: $9.5M
Current Domestic Total: $42.8M

A frankly stunning 13.5% drop-off is a sign that this movie essentially has the family comedy audience to itself for another week; smart calendar positioning for Sony. Releasing this in the height of summer, which might be the first impulse with a star like Robin Williams in this genre, would likely have caused it to get lost in the crowd. Now they’ve got a safe mid-range performer under their belt heading into this weekend’s big DaVinci tentpole release.

4. Just My Luck

Weekend Take: $5.5M
Current Domestic Total: $5.5

Yet another exhibit in the sad finding that being famous doesn’t necessarily make you popular, Lohan’s debut as a grown-up romantic comedy lead proves the fickleness of the teen-and-tween girl audience which has so far paid for all her fancy clothes. Three years ago, this number for a $10M high school comedy would have been fine and dandy, but her star power was put to a higher test here and failed. Before she turned into the feud-starting, album-recording, Fez-snogging party girl, there were glimpses of real talent and charisma. Her next release is a range-widening effort in the ensemble of Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion, perhaps it will have a rehabilitative effect.

5. An American Haunting

Weekend Take: $3.7M
Current Domestic Total: $10.9M

The relatively small drop-off is good news for director Courtney Solomon, whose last movie was the unintentional comedy masterpiece Dungeons & Dragons. Reactions to this new effort of his have been mixed to say the least but enough of the curious are coming out, my guess is from that undernourished “Gimme That Old Time Religion” crowd responding to the exorcism content and its angle of being based on a supposedly-true story. This will end up a minor success financially but an enormous boon for its distributor.

6. United 93

Weekend Take: $3.6M
Current Domestic Total: $25.6M

A solid hold for a risky project, Universal took that first tentative step into the marketplace with a 9-11 story; they did it smartly and without sensation and they’re now reaping the benefit of it. Whether the forthcoming big-budget Oliver Stone piece has the same future remains to be seen. Did I say “without sensation”? Aye, there’s the rub.

7. Stick It

Weekend Take: $3.2M
Current Domestic Total: $22.2M

Stick It is leaving the top ten with a relative whimper, never having made much noise at the multiplex to begin with. It can look forward to profitability without having ever really roused the masses.

8. Ice Age: The Meltdown

Weekend Take: $3.0M
Current Domestic Total: $187.4M

This is the last weekend that Ice Age gets to hoard the kiddie crowd, and it made the most of it, taking another healthy bite from the trough in spite of shedding a number of its screens. When it steps aside for Over the Hedge, it will damn near be courteous. The only possible thorn in Fox’s side is that breaching the $200M barrier, which often triggers bonuses and higher home video pre-buys up and down the board, is now only a remote possibility.

9. Silent Hill

Weekend Take: $2.2M
Current Domestic Total: $44.5M

There are a finite number of screens in America, and with new wide releases every week exhibitors must pick and choose among the older movies in order to make room. They’ve waved the white flag on Silent Hill, pulling it off 700 of its almost 2,500 screens in its fourth weekend, with more to come this weekend. Formerly this would be a sign of meltdown, in today’s Hollywood it’s practically business as usual, and we can look forward to this movie easing into the black via 5,000 airings on the Sci-Fi Channel.

10. Hoot

Weekend Take: $2.1M
Current Domestic Total: $6.2M

A soft drop is a help to Hoot, but not its savior. This is little more than a toe stub to Walden Media, still fat from Narnia dollars, and the movie should have a long ancillary life among fans of the book if handled properly.

12. Goal! The Dream Begins
Weekend Take: $2.0M
Current Domestic Total: $2.0M

We’re dipping out of the top ten to mention this other wide release for the weekend. Now, conventional wisdom would hold that a $2M opening for a movie with a $30M budget is a nightmare in the making, but that disregards the international flavor of this piece, which is positioned to capitalize on overseas soccer-mania and the forthcoming World Cup tournament. The producers will not be relying on the domestic take for make-or-break solvency here; it’s a loss, but it’s also a sacrifice to get some experience catering to the growing Latino audience. It remains to be seen if this will affect plans for the other two episodes in a planned trilogy.

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Friday, May 12, 2006


I guess this means I don’t count as a “hardcore gamer” – maybe I never really did. But as the bloops and yelps of E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo, annual Uber-Orgasm of the video game world, for you non-geeks) radiate across the landscape, crowing about the awesome graphical prowess of the next generation of video gaming hardware, I’m just not as impressed. When I was young, there was a simple and easily-grasped distinction between what the 8-Bit Nintendo Entertainment System could do and the 16-Bit Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo could do. The visual and audible leap was dramatic. And just one number to track. Simple!

Now Sony and Microsoft are in a kind of technobabble arms race, publishing thicker and thicker sheafs of impenetrable numbers in an effort to prove that their little miracle box will have, I don’t know, 2 billion more…somethings, than the other guy, and somehow this will make the games awesome.

Except, we’ve really learned that lesson too many times now, haven’t we? How many times are gamers going to be suckered by shiny technology? Tetris was programmed on a Russian clone of a PDP-1 mainframe, and Night Trap still sucks. You can’t buy fun with processing power.

I was having dinner with some friends one night – one an agent a few years older, one a teacher old enough to be our father, he wanted to know more about which system he should look into. I tried to break it down cleanly – Sony gets you the most games, especially with their library backwards-compatible to PS1, while Nintendo has the exclusive franchises that are always high-quality, along with the indefinable fun factor.

The agent next to me puffed up in his seat: “Me…I like power. I’ve got an X-Box. It’s got the most power. Best graphics.

And I thought to myself – wow, you’ve got a wife and a kid and a house and a six-figure income, and your ego still needs that, doesn’t it? I guess there’s more out there like him.

I knew I was a hopeless rube doomed to have less gigaflops than the other guys on the block when I saw the presentation trailer for Nintendo’s Wii (formerly code-named the revolution). Graphically it’ll be behind the curve, no one’s pretending otherwise, but when I watched it, I understood it, and it looked like fun. The new motion-sensing controller looks fun. Using it as a sword or a gun or a tennis racket or a drum stick or a steering wheel looks fun. Having a new Zelda game, a new Mario game, a new Super Smash Bros. game (with Solid Snake and friggin’ Kid Icarus!?), a new Metroid game – we’re talking about the greatest fun franchises in videogaming, and they won’t be on PS3 or X-Box 360, and as long as that’s so, Nintendo will always have a foothold in the business. And, to top it off, to be able to download and play games from the Sega Genesis, Turbografx, and every previous Nintendo console ever made?

I’m sold. You can keep your bleeding edge anti-aliasing techniques and cloth physics. I’ma get a Wii, and I’ma going to have fun with it.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The importance of a sense of humor in your golden years

As I've said, my present temp assignment is for the Jewish Home for the Aging, which for all I can tell is quite a lovely facility. Today was the first day I've been able to work since last Wednesday, and the first full day since last Tuesday. I think I'm finally beating back this throat infection. Probably a blessing on all the residents that I stayed home.

Anyway, much of today's job involved typing data from admissions forms into a spreadsheet. One of the pages of the form requires prospective residents to provide an estimate of the amount and sources of any income they might have - Social Security, IRA, etc.

One heading is titled "Support From Children". In the space provided, one applicant wrote "Are You Kidding?"

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Kauai, Part I: Settling into an island groove

Hawaii is the hang loose state, the great American anomaly. The place seems constructed by the Almighty for the sole purpose of relaxation and joy. The fruits are sweet, the animals are tender, the temperature rarely drops below the sixties, even at night in winter. Hell, the place doesn’t even have poison ivy. You can fall victim to mosquitoes in the wrong places, but even they aren’t local. They came as tourists and liked the place.

The sun is not too harsh, the water is mild and blue – it’s almost obscene, really, that a place like this exists, and people are enjoying it day after day while you live somewhere else. And yet it’s also somehow a miracle that fat cats and their harlot mistresses haven’t walled the whole place off for their private hunting and fucking pleasure. For the price of a ticket, you can still have your own Hawaii experience.

Kauai is the hang loose island of the hang loose state: 555 square miles, the vast majority of it inaccessible by automobile. Almost half of the shoreline is beach. About 56,000 permanent residents, nearly all of them somehow connected either to agriculture or tourism. You don’t see a lot of people putting on ties to go to the office. You don’t see a lot of offices. There’s a single main highway that circles about ¾ of the island and doesn’t connect with itself; every trip is either going to take you clockwise or counter-clockwise, but unless there’s a traffic light out somewhere it’s never going to take more than about two hours to drive from one extreme end to any other point on the island.

This is where you go to slow down, to abandon plans, to breathe and bake and soak and drink and let light showers pelt your face a few times a day. Within 555 square miles you find beaches, swamps, mountains, canyons, breathtaking cliffs, forests, grassy plains, gentle rivers, dirt trails, fresh produce, insects of shocking color, bikinis, resorts, luaus, buffets that have shredded pork for every meal, guided tours, mixed drinks, everyone wearing sandals at night, charter boats, charter helicopters, charter hang-gliders and two bazillion loud button-up shirts made of soft fabric. And it never feels crowded, and it’s all available, at a healthy mark-up, sure, but not so much that it’s out of Average Joe’s reach.

Sadly, until they perfect that matter teleportation device and eliminate those fly-mutation kinks, you don’t get to just wish for Kauai and appear there.

You’ve got to get on a plane.

More below the Jump!


My expedition to Hawaii is really a gift from the generous parents of the one and only Monkeygirl. Originally, they aligned their planned holiday so I could tag along and skip over to Maui for a couple of days for Princess Layla’s wedding. Then, the weather forced a delay and I missed the ceremony. Thankfully, even though my excuse for going was past, they weren’t about to withdraw their invite. So Monkeygirl, her Mama and Papa and myself packed our bags and sunscreen and camera and headed for the airport. At about 5:30 in the morning.

You can see the contrast helping later on. That gray, miserable morning light and the gray, miserable people standing outside in the check-in line, heavy with luggage and queasy from the unnatural hour; sure it would all be over soon, but that’s never a comfort in the moment. Hawaiian Airlines provides a trio to sing pop oldies a capella outside the terminal, but the surly don’t react well to the preternaturally cheerful at sun-up. No way, Jimmy.

On the plane there’s a kid screaming holy Hell in the row behind us by the window. Monkeygirl and her Mama want to throw chunks of Xanax at his mouth – even if they miss, there’s a chance one will land in his vicinity and he’ll get curious.

Every attendant on the flight could be on Xanax – they’ve got that same soft glow in their eyes, the same buoyant grin. But they don’t need the chemical replica, they get to mainline the real deal. Hawaii should be renamed “Xanax”.

They do their best to get us in the spirit, and that includes a generous beverage cart. I can’t even wait to hit terra firma before having my first mai tai. Besides, the lunch is terrible.


We have a long layover in Oahu, which includes a second effort at lunch in the terminal. Papa Monkeygirl loves the Hawaiian language, and he expresses his love by fixating on either real Hawaiian words or authentic-sounding gibberish, then substituting those words for everything. He’s half-Cuban and has a tendency to use Spanish and English interchangeably, so under the best circumstances I have a hard time following him.

Today’s word is “Poipu” – the name of a town in Southwestern Kauai. When our waitress comes by and greets us, he cocks his head and queries – “Poipu?” Later, when she checks if we need re-fills, he points at his glass and nods with a hearty and assertive “Poi-PU!” So far, as much as I can tell, spirits are high. Monkeygirl has warned me there is insanity ahead, and that we are due to discover much about our relationship in the next 10 days and nights.

I’m fine with that if it comes. But what I care most about is, in those 10 days and 10 nights, I get a thorough and well-rounded Kauai experience. I want to get up in this island’s grill.


Our taxi driver has a fantastic mole. Really just extraordinary. Our rental car is a Chrysler Sebring Convertible; just like the 20,000 other rentable Chrysler Sebring Convertibles on Kauai. There’s not enough room for four bodies and all the luggage. So Monkeygirl and I go separately in a cab. The driver is almost unintelligible, and it’s harder still when all you can focus on is….that…thing…on…his…face!

Hairs are spiking out of it. Long, gray ones, splayed like squid legs, one of them at least nine inches long. Either this man has not seen a mirror in forty years, in which case he shouldn’t be driving a cab, or he is at peace with his astonishing growth, even proud of it.

You can make peace with a lot on this island.


Where we’re staying is technically a “condo”. By all observations I would have pegged it as a hotel, since there’s an ice machine and free towels for the pool and a maid who always knocks at the least appropriate time. But there’s some legal distinction I’m unaware of that means, since this is a “condo”, that we’re paying a lot less than if we went to a “hotel” for exactly the same accommodations. I’m not one to question the arrangement.

Getting a good picture of this ruined one of my most comfortable pairs of dirt cheap shoes

The ocean is so very close. The sound of it washes over everything else on its way to our balcony screen door. Soft breezes rustle our curtains, and if we’re not very, very careful, Monkeygirl and I are going to relax too much and forget to shut them when the island atmosphere creates a need for privacy.

After unpacking and unwinding, the family meets in the courtyard, meanders along the beach, talks about dinner plans. Thanks to a friend I’m in possession of this rather stupendous little book, and in the days to come it does not let us down once when it comes to a good restaurant.

Tonight’s repast is at
Scotty’s Beachside BBQ, actually opened by the writers of the above guidebook, since they’d judged Kauai’s only demerit to be the lack of a good BBQ place. Problem solved. We feast to bulging, and then get dessert on top of that – because when you’ve spent your whole meal watching parties at the other tables getting little portable fires to roast S’mores over, you’re by God going to order dessert no matter how much meat you’ve crammed down your gullet.


The next day is about orientation, plans, supplies. It is very, very important to Papa and Mama Monkeygirl that they locate the Target on the island. We need those disposable things that take up too much room to pack – beach towels and safe food (Mama Monkeygirl is not too adventurous, and Papa Monkeygirl can’t eat dairy). Monkeygirl and I intend to book some adventures.

There’s a shopping center right next door to the condo, and their breakfast café has a plate of banana pancakes with coconut syrup that will give you religion. While we’re waiting for our table Monkeygirl, Papa Monkeygirl and I explore the one kiosk that’s actually open (we’ll talk about “island hours” more later). The shopkeeper’s named Paula – she’s amiable, enthusiastic, makes jewelry out of cut glass. Every piece is unique and hand-fired. She used to ship to stores all over, but demand was too high for her to do it all herself, so now her little kiosk is the only place that sells her stuff.

Look at one necklace and she’ll take it out of the case and insist you look at it in the sun – to see how it flashes and leaps into 3-D. Then she’ll bring out four more that she thinks are suitable. Before you know it, you’re convinced that somewhere in that display is the one that was meant for you. If you’re into necklaces, that is.

Monkeygirl is into necklaces. We’re going to be back to this place before the trip’s over, and we’re going to be bringing Mama Monkeygirl, too. Standing patiently for this is how men pay women back for sports.

Decisions, decisions


After breakfast Monkeygirl and I borrow the car and drive north into Kapa’a, the nearest town, to make some inquiries at a tour booking service. I’ve got my own thick sheaf of suggestions gathered from the web and guidebooks on the lead-up to the trip, now we’re going to cross-reference them with the dozen brochures I grabbed at the airport and a little human intel and decide just what we want to do with our time, and how much can we conceivably drag her parents along for.

Jayne is our helper. It’s pronounced Jay-nee. Jay-nee stands proudly on the wrong side of the line between boundlessly optimistic and bonkers. She thanks us profusely for every single thing we do, and rains compliments down on our heads like rice at the most beautiful wedding in the world.

When we thank her for locating a particular van tour for us, she’ll say something like: “(Gasp!) Thank youuuuuuuuu! Look at how polite you are! Okay, just a minute and I’ll call to see if they’re available.” There’s a pause as she picks up the phone and dials, as it rings she gasps and says “Thank youuuuu!” quietly a second time.

The consensus is that we’re going to book a half-day van tour for tomorrow, which will cover a lot of ground, show us some of the major tourist-y spots, and get us used to the layout of the island while providing us some trivia to enrich the rest of the trip. Since it will be done in the middle of the afternoon, we’re also planning to book a luau for the evening, and thus handle all the square, conventional stuff up front, leaving the rest of the week for more thorough exploration.

Jay-nee is delighted to help with all of this.

It’s only four hours since we first visited Paula at her jewelry store, and already we’re back. There was no resisting it. We make an exhaustive search, and through deep examination determine the inherent color schemes of Monkeygirl and Mama Monkeygirl.

And it just so happens that Monkeygirl’s perfect necklace goes perfectly with a particular set of earrings. And it is perfect for me to seize on these items as a gallant present for her, since they’re about all I’m going to be allowed to pay for myself on this whole expedition.


The afternoon is awkward. With only one car, it’s easy for goals to collide with one another, and a jaunt into town for a burger can mutate without warning into a 3-hour miasma of forgotten directions, shopping and drunken angst. Monkeygirl and I are hungry. Mama and Papa Monkeygirl want to buy pants and shoes – these goals prove difficult to reconcile.

Eventually us young-un’s are dropped off in Nawiliwili near the harbor, where cruise ships the size of knocked-over skyscrapers drift in every Monday and Thursday, spilling an ant swarm of tourists out over the docks to filter throughout the island for a day, then gradually get sucked back on to the boat – a little more sunburned and a little more broke.

We chow down on burgers at a little two-story shack by the road that tourists didn’t used to know about, until the stupendous little book I linked to above. I get a buffalo burger, which is not too much different from cow but seems more tender and flavorful.

Mama and Papa Monkeygirl are still on their quest for Target goods, so Monkeygirl and I wander nearer to shore to J.J.’s Broiler, a restaurant that sort of has it’s own eco-system.

I will explain.

Kauai has a rooster problem. Aside from the many birds kept by farmers, there’s a popular cockfighting underground within the Filipino community, so there’s always been a lot of fowl on the island. But on September 11, 1992, the Category 4 storm Hurricane Iniki passed directly over the island, destroying 1,400 homes and wiping out electricity for the entire island for weeks, months for many residents. It also wrecked the famous Coco Palms Resort Hotel, a favorite of Frank Sinatra and the place where Elvis got married in
Blue Hawaii. Miraculously, due to warnings and preparation, there were only a half-dozen deaths. But rooster fences? Gone with the wind.

The roosters – especially the aggressive, fighting-bred strains, have now multiplied and filtered into every corner of the island. Anywhere you go you can expect to hear crowing. Kauai also has a number of stray cats – the roosters beat the crap out of them, and you have to imagine the cats thinking there is something seriously wrong with the universe, dreaming of a place known only to their dim ancestral memory, a place where the birds don’t win.

Local restaurants, particularly the ones with outdoor seating, have a habit of making jokes about how fresh their chicken menu is.

At J.J.’s, roosters will wander inside and sleep in the corner by the bar when it’s raining. If you give off too passive a vibe they might hop on your table for a closer look at your food. It’s a queer sight to watch them trotting along the top of a hedge, poking around for nits and bugs, while tiny finches do the same nearby. You can imagine the little birds thinking – “What have you been eating, friend?

The roosters would eat the geckos, but the geckos have learned to only emerge at night. So when the sun starts setting, they’ll come scuttling, looking for sweet things. Our waitress tells stories about them slipping into Piña Coladas, clinging upside-down inside the glass with their little suction feet, or just diving into a slice of cheesecake and eating out a little hole for themselves.

I hope you’re all taking note of the fabulous earrings


Monkeygirl is convinced her Papa is sneaking cigarettes. The three of them all made the painful pledge to quit together this year, and she and Mama Monkeygirl have made cold turkey stick. They’ve gone through the bad moods and cravings, Monkeygirl still stands near smokers and wafts, once in awhile, but overall they’ve survived. Monkeygirl’s even gaining weight. She cleared 100 pounds. I call her Fatass now. She’s happy.

But she’s sure Papa is cheating, because he makes silly excuses to slip away and go to the car. He’s lacing up to go for a walk, but when we ask for the car keys he suddenly says that first he needs to go shopping and find some pants he likes. Monkeygirl bets he’s got them in the glove compartment.

We walk back to the marketplace, which has a little bar in the middle. And it’s karaoke night. Monkeygirl absolutely, positively does not believe I didn’t know about this in advance. Since we’re in another state three time zones away, and these people will never see me again, I go for the gusto. I request American Pie. I ask if it’s the full version, since most places cut it short. The host, a great round island man, gives me a dubious head tilt – “I got the full version if you want it.

I survive all six verses, and get some love in return. Two older women at the bar ask me to sing something else, I make a panicked gesture at my aching throat and go back to my drink. That song takes it out of you.

Tomorrow is an early call for our tour. In a way we’re thwarting the time zone effect – by going to sleep three hours earlier than normal so we can wake up three hours earlier than normal, we’re staying defiantly in our routines while the globe reorients itself. This is an ideal arrangement, and very cooperative of Hawaii. It knows so many other ways to make you feel welcome. Why not this as well?

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

May 5-7: America disavows "M:I3"'s existence

So, sports fans, I don’t know if you have any particular interest in the box office horse race, but I’m trying this once and I’m curious to know whether you’d enjoy seeing it every week. I want to provide a little bit of extremely opinionated and mostly uninformed analysis of the numbers, what they mean for the players involved and why audiences came out in these particular sizes.

The best source I know for the lay public to get at these figures quickly is Box Office Mojo. The snarky commentary is my own.

1. Mission: Impossible III
Weekend Take: $48M
Current Domestic Total: $48M

Paramount will try, but I don’t think they can spin this as anything but a huge disaster. Now, $48 million is a lot of scratch. Hell, it would keep me in Pop-Tarts until the Rapture at least. But while by that old fuddy-duddy calendar we’re still only halfway through “Spring”, the first weekend of May has sort of coalesced for this era of Hollywood as the opening of the “Summer Movie Season”.

Every year there’s one movie that busts the box office wide open, almost like audiences across America are done with the January turds and Oscar-winning prestige pieces, they’re ready to buy their popcorn and go to the god-damned MOVIES again. That movie comes out in May, usually on the first weekend. This weekend is when you see numbers like $68.1M for The Mummy Returns, $85.6M for X2: X-Men United, or the gob-smacking $114.8M for Spider-Man 2.

That $48M doesn’t seem so mighty now, does it?

On top of this, the rule of thumb is that sequels open bigger and fade faster than their predecessors. Mission: Impossible II opened at $57.8M, and that was six years ago, so by today’s ticket prices the figure would crunch to more like $68.6M.

Are we starting to see the problem?

Dirty details below the jump

Part of the disappointment I think you can chalk up to timing. There’s a window during which audiences are still excited about the idea of a sequel. After that, as they go on with their lives, they realize they didn’t miss it that much after all. Enthusiasm dims. If your movie is genuinely beloved enough, you can work a kind of jujitsu and stoke the latent affection into much bigger numbers. But after four years that’s a hard trick to pull, and this sequel took six years. This franchise has never thrived on forging an emotional bond with its viewers, it’s all about the sweat and stimulation. It’s hard to keep an audience loyal to that with so many other parties out there fighting to stimulate them.

And then there’s the star, and the dramatic shift in the public’s perception of him since he starting bounding on couches. His membership in the Church of Scientology was never a secret, but it was sort of politely ignored as a mostly harmless quirk, one of those things celebrities do like writing children’s books and giving their babies stupid names. But, thanks to South Park and Cruise’s nosy comments about Brooke Shields and the psychiatric profession, there’s a lot more knowledge out there about the batty dark side of L. Ron Hubbard’s cult, and the courtship of Katie Holmes has not played with the public the way Tom’s “people” must have hoped. His image has suffered, and I think a lot of executives around Hollywood will only today realize just how dramatically.

The reported production budget for this movie is around $150M. Another good rule of thumb is that if a movie meets its budget figure in domestic take, then once you add in international ducats and home video you’ve usually got a profitable movie. It’s harder still for Mission: Impossible III, given its enormous advertising budget and the profit participation of Tom Cruise as producer/star. I think Paramount’s real magic number is more like $180-200M. But we’ll be easy on them. Granting that this number is somewhere near the true cost of the film – and given its production history that’s a gift – can it catapult off this weekend to reach $150M?

I don’t like the odds. All the equations change in the summer season. Any other time in the year, a 50% second weekend drop-off is a near calamity. But between May and August, when every weekend a new 9-figure behemoth is trundling into the multiplexes, 50% is almost a relief. At 50%, you can end up with between double and triple your opening weekend as a final figure. 60% and even 70% drops are now, frighteningly, no longer total anomalies – you’ll see a couple each year. So every bean-counter at Paramount is now doing strong voodoo in the hopes of a less than 50% drop, because it’s the only hope of this movie becoming a genuine hit.

What keeps the drop small?

Audience approval: The hype has ended and now critical response and word-of-mouth takes over. These are the “legs” the gurus refer to. Critical response has been mixed-to-positive and the movie does deliver on action and humor. This breaks in favor of the movie, though not strongly.

Lack of competition: Here’s where the trouble lies. Poseidon opens next weekend, which is going to peel off both the older demographics and all those young women who still like Tom’s biceps, leaving only the young male adrenaline crowd, which is loyal with their money but not big enough for the kind of breakout numbers you need. I think Cruise’s star power at this point is more tenuous than the studios would like to admit, if enough women have been weirded out by his antics of the last year to abandon ship next weekend, expect the stench of panic in the air to ripen.

Repeat viewing potential: As I said above, this isn’t the sort of movie that turns on making an emotional connection, it’s about pure sensation. The segment of the audience that would pay for a second viewing, especially with DVD releases coming so quickly these days, is small, and not likely to keep this movie afloat. It will consist only of adolescents who were rocked hard enough.

This was Paramount’s big ticket for 2006, and it’s had the kind of weekend people get fired over. I think it will have a long ancillary life and Paramount won’t actually lose money on the thing when the final accounting is done, but in a town that thrives on ego no one from the Mountain is going to be strutting around with their dick hanging out this week. Now they’ll have to hope for a huge breakout from the likes of Nacho Libre and Jackass Two. Recently-acquired Dreamworks Animation’s Over the Hedge is a likely hit, though not one Paramount will reap as much benefit from as they’d like.

2. RV
Weekend Take: $11.1M
Current Domestic Total: $31M

A family comedy with our leading family comedian continues its steady progress towards solid lead-off single status. A promising audience holder, it lost only 32.4% of its opening weekend audience, and the schedule for next weekend is clear of direct competition. It’s these market-targeted mid-budget performers that keep the cash flowing, it’s not a breakout but Sony, which spent more money than it should have on it but will make enough to cover it, will happily ride it home.

3. An American Haunting
Weekend Take: $6.4M
Current Domestic Total: $6.4M

By normal standards this would be something of a wash; horror movies fade quickly as a rule, which would definitely imperil this movie’s profitability. Add to it the movie’s period setting and lack of marquee names. But this is sort of a coming-out party for the relatively-new distributor Freestyle Releasing, it’s their widest release ever and within the first 24 hours they surpassed the box office take of all their previous films. With the risk spread among European co-financing partners, producers should be well-satisfied by their market penetration even if the profit margin will be slim.

4. Stick It
Weekend Take: $5.5M
Current Domestic Total: $18M

I think Disney was hoping for more of a breakout than this – a vague marketing campaign didn’t help. Its fall from the charts will only accelerate, but this was a low-risk project to begin with, which mitigates the pain somewhat.

5. United 93
Weekend Take: $5.2M
Current Domestic Total: $20.1M

This is one of those movies that defied conventional prognostication, which had to make Universal sweat. But a strong critical response; plus a well-orchestrated “controversy” about whether “America” was ready to see this movie – many stories of which just so happened to come out of Universal’s sister company NBC – has assuaged their worries. Enough of an audience has come. Add a smartly-contained budget and you not only have a winner financially, but a potential awards contender and the kind of movie people remember and revisit – on ever-so-profitable DVD.

6. Ice Age: The Meltdown
Weekend Take: $4M
Current Domestic Total: $183.3M

From here on out it’s all gravy for the Ice Age brand – the sequel has outgrossed its progenitor and solidified it as a franchise. An unqualified hit. Many toys and DVDs to follow, and Fox-based Blue Sky Animation holds on to its corner of the animation market after last year’s respectable results for Robots.

7. Silent Hill
Weekend Take: $3.9M
Current Domestic Total: $40.8M

There’s more strong drop-offs ahead for this video game adaptation, whose genre and fan base should give it a long after-box-office life, but the producers must have hoped they’d break further out of the game-audience ghetto than this. Sometimes it costs more to make the movie properly than its target audience can recover, the lavishly-produced Silent Hill looks to have fallen victim to that calculus.

8. Scary Movie 4
Weekend Take: $3.8M
Current Domestic Total: $83.7M

This brand will never run out of parody material as long as Hollywood keeps churning out the horror/sci-fi movies, so if they don’t milk the name too quickly, or see their audience too diluted by Date Movie and other imitators, they should see profits through at least Scary Movie 5. Not the sort of thing you do for artistic satisfaction, but a hell of a smart investment.

9t. Hoot
Weekend Take: $3.4M
Current Domestic Total: $3.4M

New Line must have been hoping for Holes-sized numbers, but they certainly didn’t get them. They kept their risk low by letting the deep pockets of Walden Media fund much of the $15M budget, but this is a disappointment to say the least.

9t. Akeelah and the Bee
Weekend Take: $3.4M
Current Domestic Total: $10.7

I wonder if it was a miscalculation by Lionsgate to give this the saturation-release treatment. This is the sort of uplifting movie you want to hang around in theatres for people to discover and spread the word about, but by blocking out 2,000 screens for it from the word go you all but guarantee it’s going to quickly be silenced and swallowed as bigger movies shove them off those screens. It should still be profitable, but I think they missed out on making a better impression both financially and in the hearts/minds of moviegoers.

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