Jason Bateman has signed on to topline the new comedy from Beavis and Butt-Head and Office Space creator Mike Judge, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Entitled Extract, the film centers around a flower extract plant owner dealing with workplace issues and a stream of bad luck, including his wife’s affair with a gigolo (hopefully not portrayed by Rob Schneider). North American distribution rights have been snapped up by Miramax, which has a notoriously deep shelf, even post-Weinsteins; hopefully the movie gets treated better than Judge’s Idiocracy, which saw a corporate-snuffed micro-release from 20th Century Fox in 2006.
The one-minute teaser trailer for Miss Conception, releasing theatrically June 6 from First Look and starring Heather Graham as a woman in the throes of a freaky early menopause, last-ovulation, ticking-biological-clock crisis, doesn’t inspire much amusement or hope, though I guess there hasn’t really been hope attached to a Graham-fronted project in some time. The British accents can’t (or at least don’t, here) mask the lack of wit, and while slapstick-y physical bits and yoga-sex positions are all fine and dandy, unless this movie gives it up with an R rating, and/or somehow ends with Graham and costar Mia Kirshner involved in a hot threesome, it doesn’t hold much appeal. It’ll also suffer from postpartum comparison to Baby Mama, no doubt, though I gather Miss Conception will be a fairly limited release anyway, before a quickie DVD roll-out.
A slickly attractive, well cast and solidly constructed piece of mainstream, action-adventure entertainment, Iron Man represents the latest Marvel comic property to go legit, and would seem, based on its top-shelf execution, to have all the ingredients of another successful franchise-in-waiting. Anchored by an enjoyably charismatic performance from Robert Downey, Jr., and serving as the logical extension of Jon Favreau’s directing skill, the movie should represent a positive kick-off to the summer box office season for distributor Paramount.
Occupying the same early-May slot that has typically been reserved for sequels like Spider-Man 3 and Mission: Impossible III the last couple years, Iron Man should have no problem turning out Marvel’s devoted fan base. With a forward-leaning protagonist seeking a more moral interaction with the world, the film also seems to have the potential to expand on its core audience. While it’s not an ensemble hero piece like the X-Men series, the rest of the cast are involved enough in the story to give it a broader sense of moorings, and one can easily envision a grander series blooming from this origin story.
The absence of a hugely marketable action star, and relative stature of the comic book title, may somewhat suppress international turnout when compared to other superhero adaptations, but positive word-of-mouth and critical reaction should push Iron Man close to an even split with domestic returns. Ancillary marketplace value will be additionally robust, with extensive excised scenes, presumably re-included, driving DVD sales.
Downey, Jr. stars as billionaire industrialist and genius inventor Tony Stark, the second-generation CEO of the government’s top weapons contractor. A rascally charmer derided as being constitutionally incapable of responsibility, Stark has achieved political-celebrity status by protecting American interests around the globe for decades, and enjoying himself while doing it. This embrace of the limelight costs him, though; following an overseas weapons test, Stark’s convoy is attacked. Injured by shrapnel embedded near his heart, Stark is tasked with building a weapon, but instead builds a suit of armor to escape captivity.
Upon his return to America, this erstwhile lord of war is transformed, and vows to take his company in a new direction. Despite resistance from long-time aide Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges, below right), Stark secretly sets about personally developing a cybernetically controlled suit of armor that, with its proprietary repulsor-ray technology, gives him superhuman strength and the ability to fly. Distraught by his company’s complicity in a tangled case of arms double-dealing with global implications, Stark sets out, with the help of his devoted assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and trusted friend and military liaison Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard), to right past wrongs.
Some of the seams of Iron Man‘s screenplay — the first draft of which was penned by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, then punched up by Children of Men co-writers Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby — show, given the lengths to which the movie goes to establish the multi-ethnicity of its terrorist bad guys. These bits, and swathes of its third act action finale, sometimes feel like an exercise in obligation, albeit dazzling in their technical execution.
Still, there’s a playfulness to many especially introductory scenes that benefits Iron Man, and informs the crusading yet wryly self-effacing spirit of its protagonist. The true test of a superhero movie, especially a series debut, is whether it could survive without any of the action scenes, and Iron Man definitely could. Favreau exhibits great care and investment in establishing the relationships of all the characters, and the latent exasperation many feel for Stark; his gift with actors is evident in carefully attuned supporting performances from Bridges, Paltrow and Howard.
Also, while he previously proved his talent at juggling fantasy action elements — albeit on a much different scale, in the under-regarded kids’ flick Zathura — Favreau here shows himself skilled as a cinematic constructor, a master of attention to the component parts of filmmaking. He’s abetted by fantastic, sleek work from Industrial Light & Magic. The different iterations of the Iron Man suit are all interesting, as is the giant Iron Monger suit — resembling a marauding version of the title creature from 1999 animated flick The Iron Giant, from Brad Bird — that Obadiah Stane uses to battle Stark late in the movie. Other technical credits are equally top-notch.
Stark possesses intellect, ingenuity, rakishness and more than a little self-destructive single-mindedness, and Downey wonderfully captures all of those aspects of his personality. Owing to Downey’s dramatic chops, there’s also a glimpse of the deep reservoir of pain that comes through, effectively shading the material without explicitly dwelling on many of the darker elements present in the comics, namely Stark’s alcoholism. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here.
The Hollywood Reporter has completed and relaunched a wholesale overhaul of its iconic brand today, including a redesigned look and format for its print and digital publications, a revised editorial approach, and expanded coverage, analysis and new industry data exclusive to THR-parent The Nielsen Company. “Today is a new day at The Hollywood Reporter, and one of the most exciting times in its 78-year history,” said publisher Eric Mika. “This brand redesign is the result of our ongoing efforts to create a new Reporter, one that is more relevant, accessible and impactful for our global audiences on every platform,” adds editor Elizabeth Guider. “Our new design and editorial approach will make it easier for print and online audiences to access the data, information and insight they rely upon each day for mission-critical decision making.”
Some of the touted new features include more seamless and contiguous copy flow; more clearly defined sections; chart data exclusive to The Nielsen Company, including weekly Top 40 Box office data and other entertainment consumption trends, complemented by expert external and internal analysis; and region-specific content and supplementary digital coverage, along with more than 250 special issues throughout the year. Wait… 250 special issues?! Sweet Christ, as a former editor, I can tell you these spin-offs are little to nothing except a boon for the advertising folks. It’s the way (errr… one of the ways) publishers hold a gun to editors’ heads. But great, I guess this means more special Raven-Symoné tributes…
Baby Mama, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, owned the top spot at the box office
this weekend, delivering $18.3 million for distributor Universal, on the heels of its triumph last weekend with romantic disaster flick Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Fellow laffer Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, placed second for the weekend, debuting to $14.7 million, and presumably inspiring lots of concession sales to patrons stricken with mysteriously sudden hunger pangs. The only other new wide release was 20th Century Fox’s Deception, which bowed at just over 2,000 theaters and placed tenth for the weekend, with $2.2 million earned.
The Forbidden Kingdom, starring Jet Li, Jackie Chan
and that noodle-armed kid whose last name sounds like a disease, slipped to third place, adding $11.2 million to its coffers, for a $38.3 million total haul so far in less than two weeks of release. Starring Jason Segel, Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis, Forgetting Sarah Marshall dropped only 38 percent, placing fourth, with just over $11 million.
Rounding out the weekend’s top 10 were nicely crafted family flick Nim’s Island, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin ($4.5 million, $39 million total); the critically maligned Prom Night,
featuring Brittany Snow
($4.4 million, $38.1 million total); ensemble blackjack flick 21 ($4 million, $75.8 million cumulatively); Al Pacino’s 88 Minutes ($3.6 million, $12.6 million total); Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who ($2.4 million, $147.9 million in its now seventh week of release); and the aforementioned Deception. Falling out of the top 10 were Keanu Reeves‘ testosteronized urban cop thriller Street Kings, George Clooney’s period piece football comedy Leatherheads, and Ben Stein’s anti-evolution doc Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.
It’s been an astonishing decade-plus since Cuba Gooding, Jr. picked up his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Jerry Maguire. Since then, he’s starred in a handful of quasi-honorable films that didn’t catch on (What Dreams May Come, Instinct, Men of Honor) and made some dubious-to-say-the-least commercial choices (Chill Factor, Snow Dogs, Boat Trip), all before tripping headlong into misguided, “bold” indie fare (Shadowboxer, Dirty) in an effort to recapture his mojo. (We won’t even dote on the faux-Oscar bait embarrassment of Radio.) Now — an entirely decent, if small and begged-for supporting role in American Gangster notwithstanding — Gooding has arrived at straight-to-video-ville, with flicks like End Game, The Land Before Time XIII and his latest muddy action drama, Hero Wanted.
Written by brothers Evan and Chad Law, and helmed by stunt coordinator
and second unit director turned first-time feature filmmaker Brian
Smrz, Hero Wanted centers on a widowed, small town trash collector, Liam Case (Gooding), who we see rescue a little girl from a car accident while his co-worker Swain (Norman Reedus) stands on. Years later, Liam finds himself caught up in the middle of a bank robbery in which teller Kayla (Christa Campbell) is shot, and slips into a coma.
It’s soon revealed that Liam not only knows the group responsible for the shooting — a group that is led by Skinner McGraw (Kim Coates), and includes Swain — but in fact wanted to stage the robbery in order to impress Kayla, whom he had admired from afar. Naturally, this perfectly nutty plan now FUBAR, a bloody trail of revenge and cover-up ensues, with Liam trying to maintain a respectful relationship with Kayla’s mother, Melanie (Jean Smart, delivering a few good scenes), while also cutting down those he views as responsible. Oh, and did I mention Liam seeking both absolution and gun training from a Vietnam vet friend of his deceased father, Cosmo Jackson (Ben Cross)? Or spurning the confused, romantic advances of 12-year-old Marley (Sammi Hanratty), the girl he saved in the aforementioned auto accident? No, because those would seem like weird, potentially forced inclusions, right? Sigh…
Ray Liotta also shows up to pick up a paycheck, as Detective Terry Subcott, the requisite lawman slowly piecing things together as he finds dead body after dead body of criminal lowlifes. He’s essentially the third or fourth male lead, and his role is hardly well integrated into the movie, though — coincidence places Terry at the same bar as Liam, where he can then recollect Liam’s previous heroics, and somehow surmise his potential complicity in this latest chain of events. Tommy Flanagan (Smokin’ Aces), Steve Kozlowski and Todd Jensen also co-star, meanwhile.
The brothers Law don’t have a firm sense of where they want to take this story, so they employ the kitchen-sink strategy of stylistic and narrative devices, throwing out jumps back and forth in time, flashbacks and, most damningly, some awful, awful narration. Gooding needs to escape movies requiring this sort of voiceover work from him, especially when it involves on-the-nose reminiscences about his character’s “obligatory father figure,” or when it opens a movie thusly: “I really wish we hadn’t started here… it’s too easy to get the wrong idea about me.” Oh brother, is it. Look, the problem here isn’t necessarily Gooding’s performance; he trots out the usual welling-tears thing he does so well, and gives it a pretty game effort, all things considered. No, the problem is that the script here is an awful, careening mess, and the movie is both hamstrung by limited means and also just not that well cast and directed. Coates, and Kozlowski, as his little brother, are each sneeringly over-the-top, and Hero Wanted never locates a satisfying, or convincing, tone.
The movie’s DVD releases comes presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby digital 5.1 audio tracks in both English and French, and optional subtitles in English, French and Chinese. Distributor Sony seems to understand that it faces a tough sell with Hero Wanted, so it’s tricked out in smoke-and-mirrors fashion with a couple things designed to elicit the inner myna bird in consumers — namely a lenticular, 3-D cover with Gooding and Liotta’s mugs transposed over a giant explosion that doesn’t occur in the film, as well as a huge sticker boasting a “bonus digital copy” of the movie.
Proper DVD special features include only an amiable, relatively congratulatory audio commentary track with Gooding, director Smrz and co-writer Chad Law, in which the three discuss homesickness brought about by the movie’s Bulgaria shoot, as well as other production anecdotes. Smrz also lets slip that Liotta dictated the reinsertion of at least one scene involving his character. As mentioned, there’s also a free digital copy of the film, which purchasers can transfer to their PC, PlayStation 3 or PSP (PlayStation Portable) system, pending minimal memory requirements. That’s a plus for some, I guess, who favor portability over all else. But an extra version of something so utterly shrug-inducing is, to me, no great shakes. To purchase the movie via Amazon, however, click here. To view its trailer, click here; to view a scene between Gooding and Liotta, click here. D (Movie) C- (Disc)
It’s a happy birthday to Jessica Alba, who turns 27 today. By mutual agreement (my suggestion, her silent consent), we’ve agreed not to discuss Good Luck Chuck, and to go ahead and pretend The Love Guru doesn’t exist.
The way she’s clinging to those bed sheets, you’d think she was doing her impression of a Pennsylvania Democratic primary voter… what?
Yeah, I said it.