25 November 2011

The Battle of the Snow Whites

Last week, two new trailers have caught my attention. They are for two new, vastly different, adaptations of the classic tale of Snow White. This reminds me of 1998 when we saw a handful of double-takes on the same type of film.

Back in 1998, Paramount released their asteroid destruction movie Deep Impact on May 8. Then, Touchstone unleashed Michael Bay’s Armageddon on July 1. Let’s break it down:

-Deep impact opened strong, finished with just north of $140 million domestic (good for 8th overall for the year) and $349 million worldwide on a budget of $75 million. It currently stands with an IMDB rating of 6.0.

-Armageddon opened stronger (likely due to a better release date), finished with a domestic take just over $201.5 million (2nd highest for the year) and a worldwide take of over $553 million on a $140 million dollar budget. Its IMDB rating is 6.2.

So, to give it to Armageddon is a lock, especially when you factor in its 4 Academy Award nominations (all technical nominations and Best Original Song) and a Criterion Collection DVD release.

Later in the year, Dreamworks went toe-to-toe with Pixar in the animated ant films, pitting Antz against the animation juggernaut’s A Bug’s Life. Here’s how it shook out:

-Antz had a decent opening on October 2, finished with a domestic take of $90 million (21st for the year) and worldwide gross of close to $172 million. It has an IMDB rating of 6.8.

-A Bug’s Life opened wide on November 27 strong and finished with $162 million domestic (4th for the year), and added an additional $200 million internationally. It also picked up an Oscar nod for Original Song. It stands with an IMDB rating of 7.2.

I think it is clear that Pixar’s ants were stronger than Dreamworks’. I, however, like Antz better. But then, who am I?

While this battle was raging on the animated insect front, Miramax and Gramercy both released Elizabethan films. Gramercy went in the historical drama direction with Elizabeth, opening November 6. Miramax went the romantic comedy route with Shakespeare in Love, opening in limited release on December 11, and then opened wide in January. Here’s how the Shakespeare battle panned out:

-Elizabeth finished just above its $30 million budget domestically (65th for 1998), and barely broke $50 million worldwide. It won one of its seven Oscar nominations and holds a 7.6 IMDB rating.

-Shakespeare in Love quadrupled its $25 million budget domestically (18th for the year), and almost doubled that worldwide, with a final tally just shy $190 million. Then, it went on to win seven of its thirteen nominations, picking up Best Actress and Best Picture. On the down side, it sits at only 7.3 on IMBD.

Shakespeare in Love wins this 16th century battle handily. Its win for Best Picture, however, still causes controversy every year at Oscar time. I love Shakespeare in Love, but Saving Private Ryan is by far a better film.

That brings us to the fourth war, pun intended, between Dreamworks’ World War II epic, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Fox’s World War II “epic,” Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line. This war was not fought simultaneously as the first three were. Saving Private Ryan opened in July, while The Thin Red Line opened on Christmas. Let’s see how these two 170 minute films compare:

-Spielberg’s war drama opened strong and had the legs to carry to the top grossing spot of the year with $216 million, easily exceeding its $70 million budget. For good measure, it added in another $265 internationally. It picked up five of its eleven nominations at the Oscars, including the second Best Director statue for Spielberg. It has an amazing 8.5 IMDB rating, and is ranked 42nd in the Top 250 films on the site.

-Terrence Malick’s war drama focused on the effects of war on the human psyche. Its huge cast could not save its domestic gross from falling short of its $52 million budget. Its $36 million take was good for 59th on the year. It did add an additional $60 million internationally to help the film break even. The Thin Red Line batted zero for seven on awards night. Its IMDB rating stands at 7.6.

Winner: Saving Private Ryan. Its upset loss to Shakespeare in Love will live in infamy. Even though The Thin Red Line was not a box office sensation, it is worth noting that it is Malick’s highest grossing film by almost $40 million.

There you have it. These four similar film battles gave us four of the five Best Picture nominations, three of the top five grossing films, and made Hollywood look like they were just stealing ideas from each other all year long.

In 2012, Relativity Media will release its "Snow White" film, Mirror, Mirror on March 16. It boasts a large cast including Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman), Sean Bean (Game of Thrones), Lily Collins (The Blind Side), Nathan Lane (The Bird Cage), Armie Hammer (The Social Network) and actual midgets and dwarfs. It seems to be more of a fantasy picture in the same vein as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. It is directed by Tarsem Singh (Immortals). The trailer does not make this film look very appetizing.

On the other side of the coin, Universal will release their own take on the classic fairy tale in the form of Snow White and the Huntsman on June 1. It, too, boasts a large cast. It includes Charlize Theron (Monster), Chirs Hemsworth (Thor), Kristin Sterwart (Twilight), Ian McShane (Deadwood) and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) among others. This version will be set against a medieval backdrop as opposed to the fantasy world. It is directed by Rupert Sanders, who will be making his directorial debut. While its trailer is better than Mirror, Mirror, I cannot say that I am completely sold on it either. A quick fact: Both Evil Queens are being played by Academy Awards winning Best Actresses.

If the parings of 1998 can be telling, the early bird does not usually get the worm. Only Saving Private Ryan opened first and won its battle. With a weaker release date, Mirror, Mirror may have a hard time trumping its successor. I do not see either of these Snow White adaptations picking up any Best Picture nominations come early 2013. I would be surprised if they picked up more than two combined. It would also be shocking to see either of them in the top five grossing films of 2012.

22 November 2011


When it comes to hockey movies, there is really only Slap Shot, Miracle, and The Mighty Ducks trilogy. Sure, there is also Youngblood, The Tooth Fairy and two direct-to-video Slap Shot sequels. Who wants to remember those? Who wants to remember the two Mighty Ducks sequels either? Hockey is not baseball, football, or basketball; it’s a fast paced sport without a ball. The rules are as hard to explain to a layman as soccer’s. Yet, hockey has one thing the other sports don’t: FIGHTING.

Goon celebrates the unsung enforcer: the guy on the team whose job is to protect his teammates. To fight for this team. To bleed for his team. The St. Louis Blues had Tony Twist back in the mid-to-late nineties in that role. I was disappointed that I didn’t see Twist at the St. Louis International Film Festival screening of Goon.

Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott, American Pie) is a simple minded bouncer at a local pub. His brother (David Paetkau, AVP: Requiem) and father (Eugene Levy, American Pie) are both respected surgeons, making Doug the black sheep of the family. Doug and his best friend Ryan (Jay Baruchel, Knocked Up) go watch the local amateur hockey team do what they do best: suck. While an opposing player is in the penalty box, Ryan makes rude gestures and yells vulgar things at him. The player climbs over the penalty box walls and makes his way to the scrawny and still taunting Ryan. Doug steps in and beats the living Hell out of the player. The coach notices and calls into Ryan’s hockey talk show the next day and he offers Doug a spot on the team.

Through the use of my favorite film device, a montage, Doug learns to skate and to fight while on skates. He is then unleashed on the ice to do what he does best: fight. And that he does. He becomes known for that. The coach’s brother coaches a minor league hockey team and Doug is offered a spot on that team. Doug accepts and is sent to play for the Halifax Highlanders. Coach Ronnie Hortense (Kim Coates, Sons of Anarchy) tells Doug that he is to protect the team protégé, Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin). Laflamme took a hit from the infamous enforcer Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber, Wolverine) three years ago, and has not been the same since. So, Doug and his new team of misfits learn to play as a team, trust each other, and make a run at the playoffs.

In the meantime, Ross Rhea has been suspended and sent back down to finish his contract and career in the minor league. This pits the two most fearsome enforcers against each other. Along the way, Doug meets Eva (Alison Pill, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). She is a very complicated, messed up woman and Doug can’t help but to fall in love with her. The movie then poses two questions: Will Doug beat Rhea in the inevitable showdown fight? Will Doug get the girl?

Jay Baruchel, who is a huge hockey fan, wrote the script with Evan Goldberg (Superbad). It is based on the exploits of Doug Smith which inspired a book titled Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith. I tried to find the book, but it is out of print. The script is solid, but according to the director Michael Dowse, in a Q & A following the screening at SLIFF, a lot of the lines became ad-libbed. Dowse is also a huge hockey fan and he wanted to make a movie about hockey for hockey fans. I believe he achieved this goal. He put the camera in the middle of the action. Heed that warning if you get sick from camera movement. I did have the pleasure of viewing this film at the St. Louis International Film Festival on Saturday, November 12. Magnet Releasing has Goon slated for a Video-On-Demand release in late February and a theatrical release in late March. This is one I’m looking forward to catching a second time – you shouldn’t miss it either.

RATING: 8/10

14 November 2011

SLIFF: Coriolanus

When it comes to Shakespeare, there is no equal. His plays have been adapted countless times since he wrote them. I am a huge fan of Shakespeare’s plays. During the summer, there is a program called “Shakespeare Festival” in Forest Park, where an acting troop puts on a stage production of a play. The Wife and I have attended the last two years, despite the heat and humidity. Earlier this year, Gnomeo & Juliet hit theaters, and I made sure to see that. I have dabbled in screenwriting, and have started work on an adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays. About three weeks into my work, I heard that Ralph Fiennes just finished directing and starring in a movie adaptation of a Shakespeare play. As it turns out, Voldemort made his directorial debut adapting the same play I was working on, Coriolanus.

Coriolanus tells the story of Caius Martius (Fiennes). He is a general in the Roman army, and a very good one at that. The people of Rome are mad at the Roman government for hording and rationing out the corn supply to the commoners and they blame Martius. In the meantime, the Volscian army, lead by Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), prepares to attack Rome. When Martius learns of this attack, he leads his troops against the Volcians. They meet in the city of Corioles., where, Martius and Aufidius face each other again. Neither is killed, but the Romans win the battle.

Back in Rome, Martius’s mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) and his wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain) learn of his return and heroics. For this, Martius receives the surname Coriolanus. The people or Rome turn against Coriolanus, and he is banished. Coriolanus finds shelter with the Volscian army and Aufidius, where he leads them to victories over the Roman Army. This makes Coriolanus popular among the Volsces, and Aufidius begins to get jealous. As the Volscians make their way to Rome, many are sent to try and plead with Coriolanus to not attack Rome.

Coriolanus is a tragedy, but I will not tell you who lives and who dies. For that, you will have to see the movie, or read the play. This is the first cinematic adaptation of Coriolanus. The writer John Logan (Gladiator) chose to keep the Elizabethan English from the original play and to stick with the dialog from the original play. In place of omitted scenes and lines of dialog, Logan cleverly used news reports with headlines that told the missing parts. I thought this move was genius device. Scenes that are not in the play, but added in the movie had no dialog. This added a lot to the characters but did not violate the original text.

As for the directing, Fiennes really has some growing to do. He handled some scenes perfectly, while others fell flat. The score by Ilan Eskeri (Kick-Ass, Layer Cake) was decent, and helped set the mood when the direction faltered. The acting is where Coriolanus shines. Ralph Fiennes was great as Caius Martius Coriolanus, and had no problems with the Elizabethan English. Jessica Chastain shines again this year. She was also great in The Help earlier this year. Vanessa Redgrave puts in a powerful performance as Volumnia. I would not be surprised to see her pick up a Supporting Actress nomination. Brian Cox, who I would never have guessed, really owns his role, and does a phenomenal job. Then, there is Gerard Butler, who seems to be was chewing his lines. Nothing sounded natural from him. It just seemed that he was fighting to spit out most of his lines. It could be that he was just out performed, but he was the weakest link in this film.

I have not given up hope for my adaptation of Coriolanus, but Logan and Fiennes have set the bar high. I saw this at the St. Louis International Film Festival, but it will not be released until January 20. If you are a fan of Shakespeare or great acting, this is a must see. I cannot wait to have the opportunity to see it again. Hopefully, the second time I see it, I will not have an annoying old lady talking through the whole movie next to me. Who does that?

RATING 8.5/10

11 November 2011

01 November 2011