BARD'S EYE VIEW: Johnny and Tim are Together Again but Hil the Thrill Might Be a Better Moguls Bet in Her First Romantic Comedy
Good day one and all, and welcome to the latest chapter of the ever-increasing volume that is Bard's Eye View, where I, your neophyte Nostradamus, nibble at the nuggets of knowledge, nourish the nepenthe of neutrality, and gnaw on the Nestle bar of nonsense (with nuts). Whether you are a regular devotee of this particular column, or whether you are a first-time viewer standing agog at this nattering, narcissistic nincompoop with nary a normal thought nancying about in his noggin, I bid you welcome. And before I go into alliteration overload, let me just say that my newly-created network of noony noony neep neep blurb phhhhhttt (cough, gasp) ... oops, sorry, the Babel fish in my ear just expired. (Wink.)
The December-February leagues are forming as we speak, and I don't know about you, but I've always found this particular three-month stretch rather fascinating. Think of it: you're starting out with perhaps one of the most concentrated months of the year, complete with big-budget blockbusters to glean all the holiday bucks, as well as many Oscar hopefuls gasping for recognition and the last few PTA points of the year. And then, one month later, you have January, pretty much the exact opposite, where box office business drops by an order of magnitude, and where, along with April and September, most studios tend to send their most wayward projects in search of an audience. (There are exceptions, of course, but we'll get to that in coming weeks.) And finally, you have February, where the winter blues are wearing off and some quality is starting to return to the nation's movie houses. How is one to plan one's slate? Short answer: very, very carefully.
You already know my opinions on The Golden Compass, I Am Legend and National Treasure: Book of Secrets, which, along with Cloverfield, constitute the New York strip steak of a menu that looks like mostly hamburger, especially for the first two-thirds of the league. You're probably going to want to take the plunge on one of these films for your Ultimate slates, and most definitely one or two on your Box Office slates. But you'll need some supporting players, lest your cleanup hitters find themselves in a slump, and I've got three films for you today that might fill that role. They are all coming out on the weekend of Dec. 21, and will vie for the scraps left over while the December titans are duking it out.
Has anyone had a hotter year than Judd Apatow? I mean, he was the brains behind two of the biggest comedies of 2007 (Knocked Up and Superbad), and by now anyone who didn't already know his name from The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Talladega Nights is up to speed. He's got no less than four comedies scheduled for 2008: The Pineapple Express (with Seth Rogen), Drillbit Taylor (with Owen Wilson), Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Step Brothers (re-teaming the Talladega twosome of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly). He's also writing the script for Adam Sandler's next big summer comedy, You Don't Mess With the Zohan. Everything, indeed, is coming up roses for Mr. Apatow.
The aforementioned Reilly takes center stage, literally, as a fictional rock superstar in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which seems to be a mockumentary, a spoof of inspirational musical biopics (especially Walk the Line) and a Waiting For Guffman-like satire all rolled into one silly ball. Certain to be rude, risqué and roaringly funny, this film will chronicle the life of Reilly (okay, Cox) from his humble, farmboy beginnings to his meteoric rise to fame alongside the likes of Elvis Presley and the Beatles ... before his vices trigger a downward spiral that should be even more raucous to witness. And if that wasn't enough, there are star-studded cameos aplenty: Paul Rudd, Jack Black, Justin Long and Jason Schwartzman channel the Fab Four, The White Stripes's Jack White takes a turn as the King, and The Office's Jenna Fischer gets her best Witherspoon on as Cox's main squeeze.
Since this is not an out-and-out spoof movie, I'm betting it won't be received with the same vitriol and/or indifference that The Comebacks and Epic Movie were; in fact, I'm almost certain that the pedigree of Apatow and Reilly will push Dewey well past the $39 million box office that Fantasy Moguls has predicted. Top 5 points are more problematic; it probably won't finish higher than No. 3 on its opening weekend, and with three more fairly sizable Christmas releases coming four days later, it'll be hard-pressed to stay there. Don't expect high ratings or any PTA, either. I will say, however, that for $9 (or $12 in Box Office), you could do a lot worse.
While I was preparing to write about P.S. I Love You, I was surprised to note that its star, Hilary Swank, had not really done a film of this sort before. Almost everyone recognizes her from her Oscar-winning dramatic turns in Million Dollar Baby and Boys Don't Cry. She's also done a crime drama (Insomnia), a sci-fi/disaster film (The Core), film-noir (The Black Dahlia, which was also a disaster film of a sort), an uplifting "teacher" flick (Freedom Writers), a horror movie (The Reaping), a costume drama/period adventure (The Affair of the Necklace) and even a teen hero franchise flick (The Next Karate Kid). Suffice it to say that romance and comedy are not the first things that comes to mind when you think of Ms. Swank.
But she's touching down on the shores of Tearjerker Beach (yeah, I know, that's a terrible metaphor, sorry) with her latest offering, which just happens to have the distinction of being 2007's last big "chick flick." Swank plays Holly, a woman whose perfect marriage is tragically cut short when her beloved husband Gerry (300's Gerard Butler) is struck down by an illness. However, it turns out that before he died, Gerry arranged for a series of letters and videotapes to be sent to Holly, to help her get over her grief and move on with her life. What follows is "an exciting and often hilarious journey of rediscovery," according to the plot summary.
This is director/screenwriter Richard LaGravenese's third major project, following 1998's Living Out Loud and the aforementioned Freedom Writers, which also starred Swank and which did fairly well for a January release ($36.5 million in box office and a 7.6 User Rating). The supporting cast includes Kathy Bates (who is having one hella busy winter, I gotta say), Gina Gershon, Harry Connick Jr. and Lisa Kudrow.
Fantasy Moguls has this film earning four Top 5 points, one PTA point, $48 million in revenues and a 6.6 Rating. Honestly, you just never can tell with chick flicks; they can look really sweet on the surface, but end up either being too sappy (Catch and Release), too melodramatic (Because I Said So) or just too damn bitchy (Georgia Rule). P.S. I Love You, if it can avoid those pitfalls and come away with a few solid reviews, might have a chance to stand out. It might have up to a month of solid drawing power, but I honestly think it'll top out at around $40 million. $15 is ... maybe just barely too much to spend. No Reservations ended up squarely in the middle of the road, and I think this film will end up there too.
I'm not sure what the record is for the number of wide-release films involving one particular director working with one particular lead actor, but I doubt there's been a more prolific director/actor combination in the last 20 years than Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. Since 1990, they have redefined macabre weirdness, making outcasts and eccentrics seem wickedly cool. Go through the list: Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Burton's ghoulish and eerie touch has practically redefined a genre, and Depp's incredibly wide range and eclectic charm has been able to throw some of Burton's (and filmdom's) most intriguing characters into sharp relief.
So it is not without a certain amount of relish that we bring the curtain up on Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the sixth joint venture for these two singular individuals. Based on Stephen Sondheim's hit Broadway musical, Sweeney tells the story of Benjamin Barker, a man taken away from his family by a villainous judge (along with the help of a myriad of conspirators). Years later, he returns to London a different man, mad as a hatter and hell-bent on revenge. He sets up a barber shop on (you guessed it) Fleet Street, and plots the demise of the people who destroyed his life, all to a very catchy soundtrack. Joining Sweeney in his quest for retribution is Mrs. Lovett (played by Helena Bonham Carter, in her third film with Depp/Burton), who owns the meat pie shop below the barber's. Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall and yes, Borat himself, Sacha Baron Cohen are featured members of a cast that should prove most dramatic and whimsical for this, the season of Victorian-era Christmas stories.
I'm not entirely sure what the release platform is for this film ... IMDb seems to think that Sweeney will be given a limited release before expanding into a wide-release film in the following weeks, and Fantasy Moguls's prediction that this film will earn a whopping eight PTA points would seem to bear that out. However, Box Office Mojo states that it will be given a wide berth right off the bat and, given the popularity of Depp and Burton, six Top 5 points should be a shoo-in if that is the case. Now, $88 million in predicted output is, I think, stretching it just a bit ... I mean, yes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory earned decent dough, but let's remember that it was given a summer release. And if you look at the numbers, none of their other collaborations have really been bank-breakers at the ticket counter.
Plus, this film has a LOT of competition this month, in virtually every genre, and my instincts are telling me that an R-rated musical is not going to make a splash anywhere close to blockbuster status, no matter how novel it may be. (Of course, remember that I said exactly the same thing about Hairspray five months ago, and we all know how that story ended. Sigh.) I will predict $65 million for this picture, which in no way justifies spending $33 on it for your December Ultimate league (or $27 for Box Office). Unless this film is given a fantastically wide release, look for this film to do moderately well, but that's about it. Then it will join all the other Depp/Burton ventures as "cult classics" on DVD.
Props Department: Congratulations to helfy91782, who, in his debut performance as a "Regular" in September's Regulars Ultimate League, Royale with Cheese, emerged as the victor, by a fairly healthy margin. With a lineup of American Gangster, The Game Plan, 3:10 to Yuma, Enchanted, Dan in Real Life, The Darjeeling Limited, Control and Finishing the Game, he was able to finish in the Top 5 in all four categories. Way to go, squire! Kudos also to d0nnie dark0, who walloped all comers in the just-completed September Box Office league, Taking Falls, beating out seasoned pros Chienfantome and numbersix_99 in the process. (I finished a disappointing ninth, dagnabbit.)
Announcement: I have just finished up a formalized version of the "Rules and Timetable" for the upcoming Super Leagues. For anyone who wants to know just how these leagues are going to work, i.e., how to get in, how to play, etc., that can be found on the Fantasy Moguls Message Boards under the heading "Super Leagues Rules and Timetable." There are still a few details to be ironed out, but I think we have a working blueprint for success. We have nearly 60 entrants for the Super Ultimate tournament so far, and nearly 40 for the Super Box Office, but I would love to get both of those numbers up in the 80-100 range by the end of December. Again, please e-mail me with your username, e-mail address and league preference(s) at the address listed below if you want in, or even if you just have a question or a comment.
Well, that about does it for this week. Please return next week, when I will be closing out 2007 by discussing five movies sliding down theaters' chimneys on Christmas Day: Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts orchestrate a covert operation to arm the Afghans against the invading Soviets in Charlie Wilson's War; and speaking of war, two of the most fearsome species in film history bring their little fracas to Earth (again) in Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem; a Scottish boy finds and adopts a baby Nessie in The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep; loveable, terminally ill old codgers (Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman) go on one last crusade for adventure in The Bucket List; and Denzel Washington plays the dual role of actor and director in The Great Debaters, in which an African-American college's debate team is challenged by Harvard for supremacy in the racially turbulent 1930's.
Shrykespeare is going to become a demon manicurist on Penny Lane and ruin the cuticles of everyone who's ever beaten him in a Fantasy Moguls league. So chew on THAT all of you "regulars" wannabes. And please direct all correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org.