October 2009 Archives

‘Drag Me to Hell’ has expert touches (the handkerchief/car bit) but Raimi mostly revels in fun, repulsive, throwaway visual/aural aggression

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wild-things.jpgShould we consider Spike Jonze’s and Dave Eggers’ adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are a disappointment?

It is certainly not a miserable failure. It received good reviews, won the box office when it debuted, and also topped the Box Office Power Rankings in its opening weekend.

But its gross dropped 57 percent its second weekend. Thirty-five movies have opened in wide release atop the box-office top 10 this year, and 20 lost a lower percentage of revenue than Wild Things:

Movie: Debut weekend, Second weekend, Drop
Gran Torino: $29.5M, $25.6M, 13.2%
Taken: $24.7M, $20.5M, 16.9%
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs: $30.3M, $25M, 17.4%
He’s Just Not That Into You: $27.8M, $22.3M, 19.6%
The Hangover: $45M, $32.8M, 27.1%
Up: $68.1M, $44.1M, 35.2%
Zombieland: $24.7M, $14.8M, 40.2%
Knowing: $24.6M, $14.7M, 40.2%
Angels and Demons: $46.2M, $27.4M, 40.7%
Star Trek: $75.2M, $43M, 42.8%
The Final Destination: $27.4M, $15.3M, 44.2%
The Proposal: $33.6M, $18.6M, 44.8%
G-Force: $31.7M, $17.5M, 44.8%
Paul Blart: Mall Cop: $39.2M, $21.6M, 44.9%
Monsters Vs. Aliens: $59.3M, $32.6M, 45.0%
Race to Witch Mountain: $24.4M, $12.8M, 47.6%
Inglourious Basterds: $38.1M, $19.3M, 49.3%
Couples Retreat: $34.3M, $17.2M, 49.8%
District 9: $37.4M, $18.2M, 51.2%
17 Again: $23.7M, $11.5M, 51.4%
Where the Wild Things Are: $32.7M, $14M, 57.1%
Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself: $23.4M, $9.9M, 57.9%
Obsessed: $28.6M, $12.1M, 57.9%
Hannah Montana: The Movie: $32.3M, $13.4M, 58.5%
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: $54.7M, $22.3M, 59.2%
Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail: $41M, $16.2M, 60.6%
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: $109M, $42.3M, 61.2%
Fast and Furious: $71M, $27.2M, 61.6%
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: $77.8M, $29.5M, 62.1%
Funny People: $22.7M, $8M, 64.8%
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian: $70.1M, $24.4M, 65.2%
Watchmen: $55.2M, $17.8M, 67.7%
X-Men Origins: Wolverine: $85.1M, $26.4M, 69.0%
Bruno: $30.6M, $8.3M, 72.8%
Friday the 13th: $43.6M, $7.9M, 81.8%

Perusing the list, there’s no obvious correlation between second-weekend performance and a movie’s critical reception. There are poorly received movies that did better than Wild Things (Paul Blart and Couples Retreat, for example). And there are well reviewed titles that did worse (such as Funny People and Harry Potter).

But there is possibly a relationship: Above Wild Things, the average combined score from Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritc is 115, and the median is 105. Below Wild Things, the average score is 90, and the median is 83.

The circumstances of each movie’s release are unique, and it’s dangerous to read too much into box-office numbers. But speaking generally, those steep drop-offs usually happen to disposable one-weekend movies (Friday the 13th) and first-weekend movies — those for which there is fervent anticipation (Harry Potter, Watchmen). First-weekend movies are often considered successes; one-weekend movies are successes only if they were cheap to make.

Surely, Where the Wild Things Are was a first-weekend movie: It is drawn from a book beloved by millions, it was not directed by Ron Howard, it does not star Jim Carrey or Mike Meyers, and it has the hipster cachet of Jones and Eggers.

Yet I think it’s also a bit of a one-weekend movie. If audiences felt the film is, as Jim Emerson argued, about “the misery of being a kid,” then they probably spoke of it with ambivalence at best. And that’s precisely the sort of word-of-mouth that keeps folks away after the first weekend.

As for the other champion in this edition of our rankings, I offer an updated box-office comparison, with the additional context that the numbers are not adjusted for inflation.

The Blair Witch Project after five weekends: 5,713 theater weeks (the sum of all weekends’ theater counts), $71.5 million gross (weekends only), $12,515 per theater.

Paranormal Activity after five weekends: 5,312 theater weeks, $49.2 million gross (weekends only), $9,264 per theater.

Continue reading for the full rankings and methodology.

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Monster Mash

picnic.jpgInstead of generating yet another list of 20 or 50 or 100 great horror movies for Halloween-viewing consideration, I tried to approach the task a little differently.

My original plan was to present many movies in various horror subgenres with different labels (“under the radar,” “fashionable but worthy,” “classic,” and “could do without”), but I realized I was mostly repeating myself.

So instead, I offer one movie in each of 10 horror divisions, with some effort to avoid the obvious, everybody’s-seen-them choices. A director can only appear once on the list.

The goal: Describe your personal, hopefully idiosyncratic taste in horror in only 10 selections. With the same rules and the same subgenres, what does your list look like?

Stripping the vampire flick of baroque affectations, del Toro’s ‘Cronos’ is simple but rich, concerned with addiction, corruption, and aging

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paranormal.jpgOver the past seven weekends, Culture Snob’s Box Office Power Rankings were won by Quentin Tarantino (twice), Tyler Perry, Meatballs (twice), and zombies (twice). No one could have possibly known that until now, however, because apparently I’ve been in a coma.

What did I miss? Well, there was a flood of new releases, with 24 movies debuting in the box-office top 10 over the seven weeks. Thankfully if inexplicably, only Couples Retreat opened wide this past weekend, allowing Paranormal Activity to grab the spotlight, earning almost $8 million at a mere 160 theaters.

The homemade, low-budget horror movie has drawn a lot of comparisons to The Blair Witch Project 10 years ago, and with good reason.

The Blair Witch Project: initial budget of between $20,000 and $25,000; Rotten Tomatoes score of 85; Metacritic score of 81.

Paranormal Activity: initial budget of $11,000; Rotten Tomatoes score of 86; Metacritic score of 68.

Blair Witch’s rollout started at 27 theaters and increased to 2,142 by its fourth weekend, generating $11,000 per site by the time of that wide release. (Over the past seven weeks, only two top-10 movies had weekends with a per-theater average of more than $10,000.) Paranormal Activity’s release is more gradual, with 760 sites this coming weekend — its fourth.

A key difference, though, is when each movie generated its buzz. Blair Witch’s per-theater averages were $56,000, $64,000, $27,000, and then $11,000. In other words, anticipation was there before the movie opened anywhere. Paranormal has presumably built excitement more through word-of-mouth, with per-theater averages of $6,000 and $16,000 before last weekend’s $49,000.

Continue reading for the full rankings and methodology.

Best Left Unsolved

tell-no-one-3.jpgWhile I still don’t really understand the Twitter phenomenon, I’ve loved using the 140-character limit for extreme forced concision. The aim is always to pack these ridiculously short reviews with enough meaning that I don’t feel guilty about never writing more about a particular movie or television show. I would never say that 140 characters is sufficient to discuss much of anything — let alone a feature film — but it’s a great if arbitrary writing exercise: How much can you say within Twitter’s confines?

For the most part, I’ve been happy with the results. But with Tell No One, I feel that I need to explain myself.

‘Duplicity’ revels in triviality. Corporate intrigue in movies is serious business, but here everything is light, and romance fits right in.

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Zombie’s ‘Halloween’ purveys trite backstory, poorly mimics iconic moments, and jacks up the T&A, but it finds in its final moments a voice.

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“He braced himself for this big fucking scream.”

ellroy.jpgThat’s the final sentence of James Ellroy’s American Tabloid, the first book in the “Underwold USA” trilogy that concluded with the release of Blood’s a Rover last week. It’s hard to believe that more than 14 years passed between these novels, because the memory of reading that line the first time feels a lot fresher than 1995. It’s nearly seared into my brain.

It’s easy to dismiss Ellroy for being lurid, coarse, and florid in his subjects and in his rhythmic, peculiarly pretty shards-of-glass prose, and for being an egomaniacal braggart in interviews. (I think it’s an act, but that makes it only more annoying.) It’s understandable to want a reprieve from his characters’ black souls and the incessant violence, sex, and drugs. And it’s only human to wish the guy some peace, even as each novel continues to reflect a man tortured by the personal history detailed in My Dark Places, about the murder of his mother.

Yet all that is essential Ellroy and given, and focusing on those things means we ignore his larger brilliance: how his style simultaneously beats and hypnotizes the reader into trance-like immersion; how that submission to the author forces the reader to accept the (frequently) ridiculous, and makes his alternative history more than plausible; and how he quietly manages a story underneath all that complicated verbal jazz, with chaotic, wide-ranging narratives converging beautifully, naturally, and correctly.

American Tabloid’s closing sentence hints at all of that. By itself, it’s an unremarkable collection of words, but it carries an almost agonizing anticipation. The whole novel has been building to this event — the book concludes in 1963, by the way — and in the final rush of pages, the reader wonders how it’s going to go down.

And Ellroy, with what only seems like uncharacteristic restraint, pulls up just short, and leaves us on the sidelines, and lets it hang. There is a horror here, not in seeing, but in knowing what’s about to happen. It’s a great ending, and I smile every time I think about it.

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