The Aisle Seat’s Holiday Movie Preview
by Andy Dursin
*THOUGHTS ON THE BOX-OFFICE
I usually hate to pay much attention to box-office figures, but it IS an interesting measure of what the public is going for–and how studio campaigns can affect a film’s overall performance. This past weekend, New Line opened a movie that wasn’t screened for critics, and wasn’t advertised heavily–I am speaking, of course, about MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION. Even though many had thought the video-game craze had ended for this franchise long ago, the movie made a robust $17.5 million, almost exclusively from the 15 year-old audience (“the acne crowd”) who went to see the PG-13 film. While that movie is a surprising success, Fox also hit financial gold with their well-received, $53 million-budgeted animated film ANASTASIA. The movie grossed a very strong $15 million–consider the amount of half-price tickets sold to the kids in the audience, and that’s an outstanding debut indeed for a non-Disney animated film.
Conversely, Tri-Star has a huge disappointment on its hands with STARSHIP TROOPERS, which after opening modestly, has dropped off like a scud missile the last two weeks. Box-office success is measured by how a film opens and how much it drops off percentage-wise the following week(s); when a movie loses upwards of 40-45% of its audience after its first weekend, it’s not generally a good sign. For TROOPERS, the film dropped off 57% after its first weekend, and another 53% this past weekend. Bottom line? The movie, considering its cost and expectations, is one of the year’s biggest financial disappointments. (It has taken in $43 million and probably will not exceed much beyond the $60 million mark, which is bad for a movie that cost in the $100 million range). I guess it just goes to show that when you go out and make what amounts to a teenybopper sci-fi epic, you’d better get a rating that’s aimed at that audience. STARSHIP, of course, is a Paul Verhoeven movie, and while I enjoyed the naked bodies and blood, the film’s R rating killed it. Women and “older” audiences (i.e. over 25 years old) didn’t go for it, meaning the film will need the overseas market to recoup its budget. Had the movie been PG-13, you arguably could have doubled its domestic box-office…not to mention sold a few of those toys that will undoubtedly be accumulating as much dust as the DUNE sandworms on store shelves over the next few years.
*HOLIDAY MOVIE PREVIEW
Well, I couldn’t get out to THE RAINMAKER in time, so without anything new to review, I thought I’d take a look at movies slated to open over the next few weeks, those being the big crop of Holiday Releases Hollywood will be sending our way. My “best guess” as to how these movies will turn out is, of course, really just a shot in the dark, though I’ve used the always-reliable indicators of movie trailers, early reviews, and my undefinable “must-see” index in determining just how much we should be anticipating these big movies over the next month or so. So, without further ado…
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 26th
ALIEN RESURRECTION (R): Word is highly mixed on this, the fourth ALIEN film and Fox’s attempt at reinventing the franchise after David Fincher and a slew of screenwriters cooked up an unwiedly brew with ALIEN-cubed. Sigourney is back–sort of–and Winona Ryder co-stars under the direction of CITY OF LOST CHILDREN/DELICATESSEN filmmaker Jean-Peirre Jeunet, which has resulted (at least according to Variety) in a mix of James Cameron-esque action and truly grotesque “European” touches. Joss Whedon, who has done a superb job with the WB’s great BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER TV series, wrote the script, which apparently was rewritten at several points to reflect the director’s vision–and to add an ending which could lead into another sequel. (I heard from a reliable source that Fox has booked a studio in London to start filming ANOTHER “Alien” movie as early as next Spring–SHOULD this film make $100 million or so). So, I’m there whatever the reviews may be, though let’s all hope the finished film is better than John Frizzell’s utterly undistinguished, downright boring score. ANDY’S MUST-SEE INDEX (from 1-to-10): 8
FLUBBER: Robin Williams is back working for Disney (guess we’ll forget the whole mess with ALADDIN) in this re-do of THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR. This time, John Hughes gets to update the old Fred MacMurray farce after having tuned 101 DALMATIONS into a modern-day Disney hit (which I still haven’t seen, and still really don’t want to). Big ILM special effects, Danny Elfman score…and a running time of 93 minutes. Is there a Roger Rabbit short tagged on with this? Doesn’t sound all that promising, but hey, you never know. ANDY’S MUST-SEE INDEX: 5
AMISTAD: Filmed extensively in southern New England, with a great deal of shooting happening right here in the Ocean State (Newport and Providence, RI), AMISTAD is Steven Spielberg’s plea for us to forgive him for THE LOST WORLD. One of Steven’s “serious” films, this true-life story sports an excellent cast (Anthony Hopkins, Matthew McConaughey, Morgan Freeman, Nigel Hawthorne), a sure-fire John Williams score (or so I’ve heard), and a politically-conscious message that ought to appeal to Oscar voters everywhere. There’s a law suit going on in regards to the script having been modeled on a novel from ten years ago, but that won’t have any bearing on the on-screen action, which has been getting good reviews all around. And the fact that it doesn’t star Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Richard Attenborough, and a dinosaur running under a gas station overhang is reason enough to check it out. MUST-SEE INDEX: 9
SCREAM 2: It doesn’t matter how many bad reviews it might receive, or how awful it actually may be, because in the last year, we’ve seen horror completely revitalized, at least not aesthetically than financially. SCREAM was a superior genre satire, and grossed over $100 million; I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, a cut-rate horror cheapie, was thoroughly awful and still made something along the lines of $70+ million. Both movies were written by Kevin Williamson, so we all know what he’s capable of. This sequel brings back all of the still-living principals from the original, as well as Wes Craven behind the camera, so it should be a lot of fun. Either way, it will still make tons of dough. ANDY’S MUST SEE INDEX: 7
TITANIC: The seas will be kinder to this long-awaited movie than they were to CUTTHROAT ISLAND and WATERWORLD, despite all the behind-the-scenes panic about budget overruns and food poisoning. James Cameron turns out a quality piece of work each time out (we’ll spare him PIRANHA 2:THE SPAWNING, since he had some troubles behind the scenes), so I have little doubt–from seeing the trailer, the early reviews, or hearing James Horner’s eloquent score–that this movie will deliver, at the very least technically. The effects are said to be thoroughly unbelievable, and with a solid cast all around, this has the makings of a classic. As far as Cameron not being a decent screenwriter and being interested only in technical hardware, I tell the naysayers to watch THE ABYSS, since the relationship between Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is, by turns, poignant, believable, and developed on all counts. He succeeded with the romance in that film, so why can’t it work between Leonardo DiCaprio and the lovely Kate Winslet here? And even if that DOESN’T work, the craftsmanship of the final hour will still make it worth the price of admission. ANDY’S MUST-SEE INDEX: 10
TOMORROW NEVER DIES: Pierce Brosnan was D.O.A. as James Bond in GOLDENEYE, which, to this James Bond fan, was one of the weakest 007 adventures ever placed on celluloid. Thankfully, Brosnan says that he–and the movie–are livelier in this follow-up, directed by Roger Spottiswoode, a filmmaker who directed UNDER FIRE in 1983 and some less-than-stellar comedies since (try TURNER AND HOOCH and STOP OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT). Teri Hatcher’s role was apparently cut down significantly in the editing room, but that’s probably a good thing, as is having Michelle Yeoh as the real female lead, Jonathan Pryce as the villain, and David Arnold doing the score. All I’m asking is that it’s better than GOLDENEYE, and there’s at least a good shot of that happening, from what the early reviews have said. ANDY’S MUST-SEE INDEX: 7
HOME ALONE 3: No Mac Culkin, no Joe Pesci or Daniel Stern, and no John Williams. But otherwise, hey, it’s the same old song, even with John Hughes returning for a stint as writer-producer (he was under contract) and many of the other behind-the-scenes crew members coming back as well. Alex Linz is the kid, I have no idea who the other actors are, but if it’s funny, I’ll give Hughes credit for milking it for all it’s worth and scoring another box-office hit. Heck, if it’s good, I may even see it….but that seems to be a big “IF” at this point in time. ANDY’S MUST-SEE INDEX: 3
MOUSE HUNT: Dreamworks moved up the release of this odd-looking comedy about two brothers, a house, and a mouse that lives within it, probably because it looks like HOME ALONE with an animatronic critter instead of Macaulay Culkin (and also to compete with the Culkin-less second sequel opening on the same day). But at least the cast is more interesting, with Nathan Lane starring and Christopher Walken (who will now do ANYTHING for a check) in John Goodman’s role from ARACHNOPHOBIA. Alan Silvestri scores. Sort of looks like it all could be either charming or charmless. Only time will tell. ANDY’S MUST-SEE INDEX: 6
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS: Filmmaker Anthony Waller last made MUTE WITNESS, a movie that had an amazingly suspenseful first-quarter and then settled into an utterly routine “killer on the loose” thriller. This time, Waller follows on the footsteps of John Landis’s immortal 1981 horror-comedy AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (still a laugh riot) by having Julie Delpy play the cursed daughter of Jenny Agutter from the original. Tom Everett Scott, who made a strong debut in Tom Hanks’s engaging THAT THING YOU DO!, co-stars in this Gen-X rendition of old werewolf cliches, and while the early digital effects work apparently left much to be desired, there have been some encouraging reviews over the past few weeks (and many not-so-positive reviews over the months when the film was being tweaked in the editing room). It could be fun, and if Waller sticks to what made the opening of MUTE WITNESS so compelling, it might be a bit more. ANDY’S MUST-SEE INDEX: 6
THE POSTMAN: You have probably seen the trailers by now, which have flooded our broadcast airwaves almost non-stop in primetime since last week. Kevin Costner’s first directorial effort since DANCES WITH WOLVES (as the ads are more than happy to point out), this really does look like WATERWORLD on land–with some more ambition, if not artistic pretensions. Yet another “bleak future” world where civilization is apparently destroyed and all the good people sit around needing food and water while the bad people have all the gasoline and fast cars, THE POSTMAN has Costner assuming the title role, fighting the bad guys, paving the way for justice to prevail…haven’t we seen this all before? The ad attempts to sell the movie as a drama as much as it shows the GETTYSBURG-modeled battle sequences and “human” elements, all to the strains of Randy Edelman’s score from that 1993 film. The early word has been anything but kind to this movie (a mix of styles and no uniform tone), but I’m willing to give it a shot, provided it doesn’t run over three hours (as the early rough cuts did). Why he decided to make this movie is another matter, however…doesn’t sound like Oscar material to me, or anything new from this actor-filmmaker, either. ANDY’S MUST-SEE INDEX: 5 *BONUS THANKSGIVING VIDEO PICK
LOVE AT STAKE (***): This wacky lampoon of the Salem Witch trials opened in 1988 and has become something of a video sleeper since its release. Patrick Cassidy and Kelly Preston are the young lovers who get mixed up in an off-the-wall comic take on Puritanism, with excellent character work from Bud Cort, David Graf, Barbara Carrera, and other comic actors. Plenty of hilarious moments, low-brow laughs, and misfired gags all combine to make a giggle-inducing goodtime. Check it out after you’ve cleaned out the leftovers on Thanksgiving. Have a good one!