Today is Halloween, traditionally a big day for horror movies, but for 2008, this long standing tradition has been usurped by the return of a bigger, better, badder and more British institution. Today sees the release of Bond 22. Daniel Craig returns in his sophomore outing as Commander James Bond of Her Majesty’s Secret Service in Quantum Of Solace, but what did the critics have to say?

Quantum Of Solace is the first true ‘sequel’ of the James Bond franchise, and picks up the story mere moments after the end of Casino Royale, with Bond pursuing the shadowy organisation responsible for the death of his love interest from Casino, Vesper Lynd, with revenge on his agenda.

When producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided to reboot the Bond franchise after the much derided Die Another Day (a surprisingly middling 60% on the Tomatometer), they took a bold move by taking Bond back to his brutal roots, ditching the gadgets and quippery so prevalent in Pierce Brosnan’s era, for a more hard hitting and modern take with a much tougher earthier lead in Daniel Craig. The big gamble paid off and Casino Royale, which went on to break Bond records left right and centre, was a huge critical success at 94% on the Tomatometer. So the standard was set; Daniel Craig signed on for another movie, the producers recruited Marc Forster, a ‘serious’ director with Monsters Ball, Finding Neverland and The Kite Runner – all critical successes – under his belt, a bewilderingly cerebral title was announced, and then we waited. But was it worth the wait?

Well, currently standing at 79% on the Tomatometer, the figures seem to speak for themselves, namely that QOS is better than Die Another Day, but not as good as Casino Royale.

All the critics were universal in their praise for Daniel Craig’s portrayal of James Bond, agreeing that he has made the role his own, a tricky task considering the rough ride given to all previous actors in the role (including Sean Connery, dismissed by Ian Fleming himself as ‘an overgrown stuntman’).

“I doubt that there’s a better actor at bottling rage than Daniel Craig. All muscles, he has defined himself as a darker and more bare-knuckle Bond than any of his elegant predecessors” James Christopher, The Times.

“Daniel Craig has really settled into the role of Bond, making it completely his own and even bringing a slightly softer side that previous Bonds have lacked.” Matthew Turner, ViewLondon.

Craig puts in another powerhouse performance.” David Edwards, Daily Mirror.

The supporting performances were rightly praised too.

“The French Mathieu Amalric makes the smarmy fake environmentalist Greene a suitably loathsome character” Kim Newman, Empire.

Gemma Arterton is superb in her brief role as an agent whom Bond encounters in Bolivia, cementing her position as one of cinema’s brightest young stars.” Lizo Mzimba, BBC.

“The ridiculously beautiful Olga Kurylenko is a kind of counter-point to 007. She excels as another damaged secret service agent who is similarly motivated by revenge” Orlando Parfitt, IGN UK.

The critics also enjoyed the breathless pace, crunching action and impressive set-pieces, as well as the more tender, thoughtful and emotional moments that Forster has brought to the film.

“Frenetic, full of chase sequences and sudden switches in location, the film has a demented energy about it, as if it’s taking his feverish tempo from Bond himself.” Geoffrey McNab, The Independent.

Some griped at the film’s dark and brutal tone and nature, however, with many asking where Bonds sense of humour had gone.

“The gags have gone, along with the gadgets. Wit and fun have deserted the franchise.” Christopher Tookey, The Daily Mail.

“There are times during this grey, not very sexy and rather humourless new 007 epic when you actually wish for a sighting of Roger Moore’s suave and insouciant version of Bond.” Derek Malcolm, Evening Standard.

Some also felt that the actions scenes were a little untidy, suggesting Forster may be more suited to the dramatic side of things.

“Fashionable fast-cut editing will play well to videogame fans. Anyone else may be left wondering who’s doing what to whom in the carnage of Aston Martins.” Victor Oliver, Teletext.

“The drawback to the frenetic approach is that the chases risk merging into one another.” Geoffrey McNab, The Independent.

Overall, whilst most felt the film underwhelming in comparison to the superior Casino Royale, QOS‘s slender running time (at 106 minutes the shortest in the franchises history), makes for a hard hitting and brutal entry to the Bond canon. With Daniel Craig set to return in Bond 23, all eyes will again be on the nations favourite secret agent to see whether 007s recent one-two will result in a killer knock out third movie.

Ample scares abound this week with
Frank Darabont‘s
latest adaptation of a
Stephen King
tome, The Mist. The big-screen version of bestselling novel
The Kite Runner


also comes to DVD, keeping good company with black romantic comedy

Wristcutters: A Love Story
,
Jonathan Demme‘s
celebrated documentary
Jimmy Carter Man From
Plains
, and more.


Stephen
King’s The Mist


Tomatometer:
69%

Frank Darabont
has twice before adapted Stephen King to critical acclaim (The
Shawshank Redemption
,
The Green Mile
)
but this time around he may have picked the wrong story. Set in a small town in
Maine, The Mist finds a group of townspeople trapped in a grocery store
enveloped by a thick, mysterious fog — vapors that conceal terribly hungry
monsters that may or may not be punishments from God. Critics were split on the
flick, which stars
Thomas Jane and Marcia
Gay Harden
; while perfectly fine as a creature feature, some thought
Darabont failed to seamlessly merge horror pic with message movie. A director
commentary, eight deleted scenes, and a Stephen King — Frank Darabont featurette
appear on the standard DVD release; five more featurettes and a black and white
version of the film comprise a 2-Disc Special Edition.


The Kite Runner


Tomatometer:
67%

Marc Forster‘s
The Kite Runner has nearly as compelling a production story as the
fictional lives of its protagonists, two childhood friends from Afghanistan.
Well-to-do Amir is best friends with Hassan, the son of his family’s servant,
but their friendship is shattered by one pivotal traumatic event. Years later,
Amir must come to terms with his childhood act of cowardice and return to Kabul
to set things right. Critics gave credit to Runner‘s strong performances,
though at two hours (and with the best of intentions) the film may feel
plodding. The filmmakers’ decision to film partially in the native Dari language
and to evacuate the child actors and their families from Afghanistan were bold
choices that make this film all the more intriguing.




Wristcutters: A Love Story


Tomatometer:
66%

Patrick Fugit,
Shannyn
Sossamon
, and
Tom Waits
(in a supporting role) star in this indie black comedy about
suicide victims still searching for answers after death. Lovelorn Zia (Fugit)
wakes up to find the afterlife is a vast alternate world of unhappiness (quite
like our own), setting off on a road trip when he hears his ex-girlfriend has
also arrived. Absurdist and artful — what
Roger Ebert slyly
terms “the birth of the Post-Slasher movie” — Wristcutters tackles a difficult
subject but does so bittersweetly. Music by
Gogol Bordello
perfectly compliments the feeling. A filmmaker commentary, storyboards,
making-of, deleted scenes and Fugit’s own on-set photo gallery round out the
release.


Jimmy Carter Man From
Plains



Tomatometer: 78%

What exactly do presidents do when their four years are up? Some of them, like
39th United States President
Jimmy Carter,
turn to public service with seemingly more gusto and more freedom then they did
while in the Oval Office. The peanut-farming, best-selling author and Nobel
Peace Prize winning Carter — who hails from Plains, Georgia — only served a
single term (1977-1981) as America’s leader, but has devoted his
post-Presidential life to humanitarian work. Director
Jonathan Demme,
who went from his directorial debut,
Caged Heat
, to
winning an Oscar for
Silence of the
Lambs
, followed Carter on a book tour for three months to make this
documentary, resulting in an intriguing and candid portrait of the former
president.


Bonnie and Clyde
Ultimate Collector’s Edition



Tomatometer: 93%

Arthur Penn‘s
seminal 1967 classic about real-life criminal couple Bonnie Parker and Clyde
Barrow enjoys a much deserved spot in the annals of film history; now the newly
re-mastered cut can enjoy a much deserved spot in your DVD library!
Faye Dunaway
and Warren
Beatty
star in the revisionist tale of Depression-era criminals Bonnie and
Clyde, who shot and robbed their way across America in the 1930s. Penn’s comic
touch and grisly violence broke new ground in American cinema and influenced
generations of filmmakers. Pick up the 2-Disc Special Edition with over two
hours of bonus material like a History Channel documentary about Bonnie and
Clyde, a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, Beatty’s wardrobe tests, and a
theatrical trailer; a hardcover collectible photo book and the 1967 original
press book come in a separate Collector’s Edition.


Sliders:
The Fourth Season



Tomatometer: N/A

Ah, Sliders. Watching Quinn Mallory (Jerry
O’Connell
) jump between parallel worlds with a homemade but undependable
“timer” made for some fun television back in 1995. Cancelled by Fox after its
first season, the show was revived thanks to fan intervention; eventually the
show would fire
Jonathan
Rhys-Davies
, lose original token girl Wade (Sabrina
Lloyd)
to an actress-on-actress spat, and inexplicably replace O’Connell
with his own brother, Charlie O’Connell (playing Quinn’s brother, Colin). But
before Sliders lost the original O’Connell — right when the storylines
turned to the awkward Kromagg war — there was Season Four, out this week on
DVD. Re-watch the last starring season of the apex of Jerry O’Connell’s career
once more!


The clock hasn’t stopped ticking on the format, but HD DVD consumers can look forward to seeing new films on store shelves — for at least the next few months, anyway.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, one of Warner Bros.’ final HD DVD titles, a two-disc special edition of Twister, will be released May 27; meanwhile, Paramount “is expected to announce a full slate of HD DVD titles for the first quarter Thursday.”

Paramount was supposed to announce those releases at CES, but the news of Warner Bros. abandoning the format led the HD DVD Promotional Group to withdraw from the show and declare a “quiet period.” The Reporter article lists a number of expected titles, however, including Into the Wild, Things We Lost in the Fire, Bee Movie, The Kite Runner, American Gangster, and The Jack Ryan Collection, which bundles The Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games, and The Sum of All Fears.

Still, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before the last few drops of HD DVD’s market share go swirling down the drain — according to the Reporter, people have pretty much quit buying ’em:

Net HD DVD sales, according to Nielsen, constituted only 15% of hi-def disc sales last week. And the top HD DVD seller, “The Kingdom,” sold just 10% as many copies as the top Blu-ray Disc release, “3:10 to Yuma.”

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

This week
at the movies, we’ve got two wild and
crazy guys (The Bucket
List
, starring
Jack Nicholson
and Morgan Freeman),
pious crooks (First Sunday, starring
Ice Cube and
Tracy Morgan), botanical
buccaneers (The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A Veggietales Movie),
haunted expatriates (The
Kite Runner
), tormented mothers (The
Orphanage
), and Uwe Boll (In
the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
, starring
Jason Statham
and Burt
Reynolds
). What do the critics have to say?

How can a
movie directed by Rob Reiner and starring
Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman
possibly fail? If, say critics, it has a really contrived, sappy script, which
is the problem with
The Bucket List
.
Nicholson and Freeman star as a couple of sixtysomethings who, after discovering they each have terminal
illnesses, team up to do all the living they can in the time they have left —
in the form of skydiving and tattoo-getting, among other things. Pundits say the
two stars give it their all, but they’re undercut by a predictable plot that
overdoses on schmaltz. At 44 percent on the Tomatometer, Bucket probably
shouldn’t top your list.




"I never would’ve put strip solitaire on my list."


Ice Cube

and

Tracy Morgan
are talented people. Unfortunately, critics say their despite
their combined ability to generate intermittent chuckles, they’re unable to save

First Sunday. The film is a tale of two incompetent crooks who contrive a
plot to rob the local house of worship. However, their plan goes awry rather
quickly, and the pair has a crisis of faith. Pundits say First Sunday has
its moments, but it’s ultimately undone by a script that lacks nuance and
consistency; others aren’t buying the sentimentality of the last act. At 25
percent on the Tomatometer, First Sunday might need to do penance.




Ice Cube in the first Sunday the Friday after next.

Fear not,
parents:

The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A Veggietales Movie
contains
no plank-walking, keel-hauling, or bottles of rum. But guess what? Critics say
it’s clever enough to keep you entertained. The latest in Christian animation’s
most venerable franchise since
Davey and Goliath
, Pirates follows
the comic misadventures of Larry the Cucumber, Mr.
Lunt and Pa Grape, as they are transported from their humdrum lives back in time
to the days of William Kidd — and trouble on the high seas. Pundits say while Pirates,
may be several cuts below
Ratatouille
, it’s sweet and inoffensive, with a
positive message and some good laughs.
At 67 percent on the Tomatometer,
this Pirates‘ life may not be for everyone, but at least it won’t make
you want to mutiny.




"We’re off to see the Eggplant Wizard!"



Khaled Hosseini
‘s novel

The


Kite Runner
drew widespread praise for its tale of
youngsters living through a tumultuous period in Afghani history. And critics
say Marc Forster’s big-screen adaptation does a reasonably good job of
translating the book’s sweep — while still taking some liberties. Kite
stars Zekiria Ebrahimi and
Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada as two youngsters who survive both the Soviet invasion and the rise
of the Taliban — albeit with some pretty heavy emotional baggage. The scribes
say Forster gets some great performances from his child actors, and captures the
visual beauty of the war-torn land. But some say the film doesn’t quite have the
same impact as the novel, dialing up some of the big emotions while skimping on
nuance. Still, at 65 percent on the Tomatometer, this Kite flies
reasonably high. (Check out our interviews
here and
here.)




"Take dictation, please. Possible candidates for kite flying
society…"

If you
feel the fine art of cinematic suspense has drowned in a sea of gore, critics
say you’re in for a treat with

The Orphanage
. Produced by
Pan’s
Labyrinth
helmer
Guillermo del Toro, The Orphanage follows Laura (Belén
Rueda
) and Carlos (Fernando Cayo) , the adoptive parents of Simon (Roger
Príncep), an orphan suffering from HIV. The boy has a host of imaginary friends,
and what he says about them starts sounding pretty sinister. The scribes say
Juan Antonio Bayona‘s film is loaded with dread and spooky atmospherics, but it
also succeeds as a heart-wrenching psychological portrait. At 85 percent on the
Tomatometer, The Orphanage is Certified Fresh. (Check out our interview
with Bayona and screenwriter Sergio Sanchez
here and our review from Cannes
here.)




"Oh, crap, I didn’t mean to screen Manos, the Hands of
Fate
."

Yes, Uwe
Boll, everyone’s favorite critical pariah, has a new movie out:



In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
. No it wasn’t screened for critics. But
what did you expect, given the fact that the man’s career Tomatometer is at five
percent? Critics don’t really dig him, especially the one he knocked out. Dungeon
Siege
stars

Jason Statham
,
Ray Liotta,
Leelee Sobieski,

Burt
Reynolds
, and
Matthew Lillard in a tale of a regular guy who must do battle with beasts
conjured by an evil sorcerer; swordplay no doubt ensues. Hey kids, stop laying
siege to that dungeon and guess the Tomatometer! (And read our [qualified]
defense of Mr. Boll’s work in this week’s Total Recall.)




Just pretend it’s your agent, Jason.

Also
opening this week in limited release:


  • Liberty Kid
    , a drama about the
    after-effects of 9/11 on several blue-collar New Yorkers, is at 100 percent on
    the Tomatometer.

  • Hong Sang-soo‘s
    Woman on the Beach
    , a subtle rom-com
    about a filmmaker with writer’s block, is at 94 percent.


  • The Business of
    Being Born
    , a documentary about several couples and their experiences with
    childbirth, is at 71 percent.

  • The Turkish import
    Times and Winds
    ,
    a deceptively simple tale of three youngsters coming of age in a small village,
    is at 73 percent.




It looks like Anne Geddes is going in a more avant garde direction.

Finally,
props to
tabascoman77, both for boldly announcing that
One Missed Call

would end up at zero percent on the Tomatometer, and for his excellent taste in
hot sauce. Personally, I like the garlic Tabasco, but that’s just me.

Recent
Morgan Freeman Movies:
—————————————
93% — Gone Baby Gone (2007)
42% — Feast of Love (2007)
24% — Evan Almighty (2007)
62% — 10 Items or Less (2006)
52% — Lucky # Slevin (2006) 

Uwe Boll
Movies:
————————
4% — BloodRayne (2006)
1% — Alone in the Dark (2005)
4% — House of the Dead (2003)
11% — Blackwoods (2002)

In what seems destined to go down as one of the season’s few strike-free awards shows, the Critics’ Choice Awards were held on Monday.

No Country for Old Men was the evening’s big prizewinner at three awards, followed closely behind by Juno and There Will Be Blood at two apiece. Photographers were the biggest beneficiaries of the night, however; the lack of picket lines meant that the Santa Monica Civic Center was appropriately stuffed with celebrities. The strike wasn’t far from the attendees’ thoughts, however, and the mood of the evening was perhaps summed up best by George Clooney, who remarked:

“This is a one-industry town. And when a strike happens, it’s not just writers or actors, it’s restaurants and hotels and agencies. And our hope is that all of the players involved will lock themselves in a room and not come out until they finish. We want this to be done. That’s the most important thing. It matters to all of us.”

A list of winners follows below, with Tomatometers in parentheses:

Best picture: No Country for Old Men (95 percent)
Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood (89 percent)
Actress: Julie Christie, Away From Her (95 percent)
Supporting actor: Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Supporting actress: Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone (93 percent)
Ensemble: Hairspray (92 percent)
Director: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Writer: Diablo Cody, Juno (93 percent)
Animated feature: Ratatouille (96 percent)
Young actor: Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada, The Kite Runner (65 percent)
Young actress: Nikki Blonsky, Hairspray
Comedy movie: Juno
Family film (live action): Enchanted (93 percent)
Made-for-TV movie: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
Foreign language: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (93 percent)
Song: Falling Slowly, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, from Once (98 percent)
Composer: Jonny Greenwood, There Will Be Blood
Documentary: Sicko (93 percent)

Source: USA Today

Gavin Hood may be trying to justify directing Wolverine with his explanations of its existential metaphors, but screenwriter David Benioff just wanted to write a fun movie. Coming off The Kite Runner, Wolverine expressed other facets of his filmmaking personality.

“I don’t know what the social importance is,” said Benioff. “I think sometimes there’s a real benefit in just going to see a movie and not having to worry about the real world for a while. For two hours, you can go and just have fun. I love movies like that. A movie like this [The Kite Runner] is sometimes what I want to see, and sometimes I just want to go and watch Hugh Jackman with claws fighting some other guy. I think they both have their place. Hopefully, that will have no social relevance whatsoever.”

Whatever Hood intends to do with it is out of Benioff’s hands: “I have never met him, actually.”

Benioff knew he was writing for fans of the comics, though, and was sure to do his research. “I grew up a big Wolverine fan. I’ve been reading comic books since I was a little kid, and Wolverine was always my favorite comic book hero. I consider myself just as much of a fan as anyone else. I’m hopeful that that movie will make the fans happy.”

This week at the movies, we’ve got the last man on earth
(I Am Legend, starring
Will Smith), Alvin, Simon,
and Theodore (Alvin and the Chipmunks, starring
Jason Lee),
and mommy kissing Santa Claus (The Perfect Holiday, starring
Gabrielle
Union
and Morris Chestnut). What do the critics have to say?

The hotly-anticipated
I Am Legend
stars box office champ
Will Smith as
a man who finds he’s the last of the human race. It’s an intriguing premise, but
critics say the film is something of a mixed bag. Smith plays scientist Robert
Neville, the only survivor of a worldwide plague. As he roams the abandoned
streets of New York City, he slowly comes to the realization that he’s not
alone: a band of bloodthirsty quasi-humans have been watching him. Critics say
the film features outstanding work from Will Smith; they also
note the film’s excellent production design and interesting philosophical
questions about the nature of humanity. But there’s also the feeling from many
pundits that while the movie starts out contemplative and intriguing, it heads
into schlocky B-movie territory as it goes along, jettisoning the elements that
made the setup so intriguing. At 57 percent on the Tomatometer, this one isn’t
quite legendary. (Check
here for
our Total Recall feature on I Am Legend author Richard Matheson.)




"You guys don’t super size meals anymore?"

It appears the big-screen version of
Alvin and the Chipmunks
gives lie to the theme song of the group’s Saturday
morning incarnation, which said Alvin, Simon, and Theodore were "coming on
stronger than ever before." In fact, critics say this may be the weakest
vehicle for the helium-voiced rodents yet.
Jason Lee stars as David Seville,
the impresario behind the famed band of singing, anthropomorphic woodland
creatures, who run afoul of the record industry. The pundits say despite a few laughs, this is pretty bland stuff: dated, weakly constructed, and lacking in three-dimensional characters of the human or CGI variety. Kids, sing along!
"Twenty-eight-percent Tomatometer-time is here/time for toys, and time for
cheer…."




The Chipmunks rehearsing their cover of "Pink Moon."

Another week, another ribald-but-sentimental
holiday comedy. The latest entry in the subgenre is
The Perfect Holiday
, a film critics say is inaccurately
titled. Holiday tells the story of a single parent (Gabrielle
Union
) who takes her kids to see Santa (Morris Chestnut) at the local mall, and
starts thinking she might like to be Mrs. Claus. The critics say the film
squanders an excellent cast that also includes the likes of
Queen Latifah,
Terrance
Howard
, and
Charlie Murphy (oops, I mean "Chaaahhlllie
Murphaaaay") on a shopworn script that delivers few laughs and less cheer.
At 20 percent on the Tomatometer, you may want to skip this
Holiday.




Queen Latifah ignores the elephant in the room.

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • Nanking, a documentary about the Japanese invasion of China
    in the early days of World War II, is at 95 percent on the Tomatometer.

  • The
    Kurdish drama Half Moon, about a family band journeying to
    Iraq to play a concert celebrating Saddam’s fall, is at 100 percent.

  • The Kite Runner, which
    tells the story of the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan from the perspective
    of a family, is at 63 percent. (Click
    here for
    our interview with writer David Benioff,
    here for
    author Khaled Hosseini, or maybe even
    here for our
    chat with Khalid Abdalla.)

  • Look, a drama shot on security cameras that ties together
    several storylines, is at 58 percent.

  • Goodbye
    Bafana
    , a drama about a prison guard who befriends Nelson Mandella,
    is at 44 percent.

  • Francis Ford Coppola‘s
    Youth Without
    Youth
    , starring
    Tim Roth as a writer who ages in reverse after being
    struck by lightning, is at 34 percent. (Check out our interview with editor
    Walter Murch
    here.)




    Tim Roth doing his best Lady from Shanghai impression.

Recent Will Smith Movies:
———————————
66% — The Pursuit of Happyness
(2006)
69% — Hitch (2005)
34% — Shark Tale (2004)
59% — I, Robot (2004)
24% — Bad Boys II (2003)

Recent Queen Latifah Movies:
————————————-
93% — Hairspray (2007)
61% — Arctic Tale (2007)
73% — Stranger than Fiction
(2006)
55% — Last Holiday (2006)
56% — Ice Age: The Meltdown
(2006)

A wave of new product hits the marketplace at a time when exciting films are desperately needed to end the current box office funk. The science fiction thriller I Am Legend leads the way but will be joined by the family comedy Alvin and the Chipmunks and the romantic comedy The Perfect Holiday. For only the second time all year, just two films managed grosses of more than $5M last weekend. Hollywood critically needs this weekend to turn things around if it wants to end the year on a happy note.

Gunning for his seventh consecutive number one opening, Will Smith headlines the sci-fi thriller I Am Legend, the latest Hollywood film based on the classic 1954 novel of the same name. The PG-13 entry finds the superstar playing the last man alive on Earth after a virus wipes out the entire human population in the not-so-distant future. Legend could prove to be Smith’s greatest box office challenge to date since there are no famous co-stars, no big director, and the novel it is based on is not exactly a hot item in today’s era. This film is Will’s to make or break.

But for millions of movie fans, the former Fresh Prince plus action equals a definite trip to the local multiplex. The actor is right at the top of the current A list and is arguably the most bankable star alive consistently drawing in audiences that cut across all race, gender, and age barriers. Will Smith can bring out paying audiences for sci-fi (I, Robot), comedy (Hitch), drama (The Pursuit of Happyness), action (Bad Boys II), and animation (Shark Tale). With Legend he now flirts with the boundaries of horror as battling killer zombies that attack at night is a far cry from being a date doctor.

Warner Bros. has good timing for I Am Legend. The marketplace has been about as dead as the world depicted in the film and audiences are hungry for an event film to get them back into the habit of moviegoing. Competition will not be much of a factor and business will be coming in from many directions with teens and young adults leading the way and fans of sci-fi and action delivering a big bang too. The studio’s massive marketing push will do the trick and adding more bite will be the simultaneous Imax release where higher ticket prices ($16 in New York City) will give the grosses a boost. Plus the strategic move of playing the new prologue for next summer’s much-anticipated Batman flick The Dark Knight with the Imax release of I Am Legend just fuels more excitement and guarantees more asses in the seats.

Will Smith is looking to score one of the biggest December openings ever for a non-Peter Jackson flick. A big drop next weekend is likely, but for now consumers are keeping all eyes on I Am Legend which attacks 3,606 theaters on Friday. An opening weekend gross of about $50M could result.


Will Smith and friend in I Am Legend

Some younger moviegoers may not be in the mood for flesh-eating mutants. Luckily, Fox had the bright idea of getting jiggy with its new kidpic Alvin and the Chipmunks which will give parents and smaller children some harmless fun for the holidays. The PG-rated film is the latest big-screen treatment of a popular kids property from yesterday that gets a makeover for today’s sensibilities. When done right, ticket sales pour in from multiple generations. But when done wrong, you get disasters like The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Competition should not be too bad since Enchanted which is going into its fourth session is the only family film generating any decent dough right now. Instead, holiday shopping may be the real threat as many parents will wait until a little later before heading to the cinemas for this one. The property is not popular enough to create any true sense of urgency. But this is common in mid December. Last year, Charlotte’s Web got off to a slow start with a $11.5M bow but went on to make seven times that amount with a final tally of $82.6M. Fox’s marketing push has been aggressively targeting young kids and the studio knows that little success lies with teens and young adults. Going very wide with 3,476 playdates on Friday, Alvin and the Chipmunks could gross about $15M this weekend but hold on well over the holidays.


Alvin, Simon and Theodore

Christmas fun hits the multiplexes in another package with The Perfect Holiday from Yari Film Group. Morris Chestnut and Gabrielle Union star as single folks whose love lives cross while Queen Latifah and Terrence Howard play naughty and nice spirits along for the ride. The PG-rated film will play primarily to an African American audience which will make it a tricky sell at this moment in time. Though a very different film, Legend will steal away many in the target demographic and others who just saw This Christmas may not be looking for another story from the same category so soon. Poor reviews will also cause some box office headaches. Opening Wednesday in 1,306 locations, The Perfect Holiday could bow to about $7M over three days and $9M over five days.


The Perfect Holiday

Adding to the end-of-year frenzy that arthouse films find themselves in during awards season, Paramount Vantage’s The Kite Runner opens in 35 theaters in selected cities on Friday hoping to appeal to fans of the best-selling novel. The R-rated film in English and Dari tells of two young boys in Afghanistan whose lives take two very different paths after a violent incident right before the Soviet invasion of the country. Kite Runner has been included on some recent ten-best lists and scored two Golden Globe nominations. Reviews have been generally positive.


The Kite Runner

Following its not-so-explosive debut, The Golden Compass will have tough work cut out for it during the sophomore frame. The New Line adventure will see the sci-fi audience abandon ship and line up for Will Smith while parents looking for some fun for their kids will have some talking chipmunks to consider. A 50% drop could be in order for Compass which would give it about $13M for the weekend and a ten-day tally of $45M.

Disney’s Enchanted, which earned a pair of Golden Globe nominations, is slowly but surely making its way towards the $100M mark. Another moderate 35% decline would give the fairy tale pic around $7M which would push the sum up to $93M. Sony’s This Christmas will face direct competition from The Perfect Holiday so a 40% dip may result giving the pic $3M and $47M to date.

LAST YEAR: The man in black beat out some tough competition to conquer the box office. Will Smith’s The Pursuit of Happyness led a wave of new releases with its top spot debut grossing $26.5M for Sony. The feel-good smash played well over the holiday season surging to $162.6M domestically and $294M worldwide – an impressive sum for a Smith vehicle not driven by guns or special effects. Fox’s fantasy actioner Eragon bowed close behind in second with $23.2M on its way to $75M from North America representing only 30% of the global take. Overseas the numbers were much stronger with $175M in ticket sales for a powerful $250M tally worldwide. Third place also featured a new release. Paramount’s family film Charlotte’s Web debuted to the tune of $11.5M but reached a solid $82.6M by the end of the run. Rounding out the top five were the penguin toon Happy Feet with $8.4M and the romantic comedy The Holiday with $8M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com


Since
David Benioff‘s
intriguing screenwriting debut (adapting his novel
25th Hour
,
eventually directed by
Spike Lee in
2002), the New York-raised writer has been bouncing back and forth in Hollywood
between studio-event blockbusters (Troy,
the upcoming X-Men
Origins: Wolverine
) and character-driven dramas (Stay).
His latest project fits mostly in the former category. It’s an adaptation of
The Kite Runner

(directed by Stay‘s Marc Forster), a multi-generational story of
Afghanistan, class conflict, and atonement.

In our final Kite Runner interview — click
here to
read our interview with lead actor Khalid Abdalla, and
here for
our author Khaled Hosseini interview — we speak with Benioff in San Francisco
about the challenges of adapting a 400-page book, excessively long movies, and
how

Amanda Peet
‘s pregnancy affected his travel schedule.

How did you take on the task of taking a book that’s about 400 pages and spans over 30 years and adapting it into a screenplay that would work?

David Benioff: Ruthlessly. I don’t like extremely long movies. I tend to get a bit impatient. There are definitely exceptions, like Lawrence of Arabia, but for the most part I feel that movies should usually be shorter and not longer. I went into it knowing I wanted the movie to be about two hours. The funny thing is that people at the studio talk about it like it’s a little movie with kids speaking Dari, but it’s not a little movie. I understand it’s not going to be Spider-Man 3. It’s not going to be this massive blockbuster. But it is an epic.

The real trick was trying to figure out what to cut. The first time I read the book, I read it like anyone else and fell in love with it. The second time reading it was after I got the job and was trying to figure out what’s the skeleton that will hold this movie together, because I had to cut away so much of the fat and the muscle and I needed to find the bones that keep the story standing. So there were a lot of things that were cut, a lot of things I loved from the book.

For instance, the whole sequence with Hassan’s harelip where Baba brings in a plastic surgeon from India to repair it; that was one of my favorite sequences in the book and it was in the early drafts of the script, but we knew ultimately that things would have to be cut. Eventually, I had to choose to cut things that wouldn’t hurt the story or our knowledge of the characters.

Luckily I was working with a director and an editor who both share my impatience for things that become too long and lugubrious and we finally got the script to where it needed to be.

Part of it was also knowing that the book is always going to be there. The book is on my shelf and those scenes will always be in there. It’s not like I’m ripping pages out of the book. I knew the film had to stand on its own and work for people who have never read the book. It’s definitely a frightening one to take on because so many people love it so much, but you can’t write in fear.

How closely did you work with Khaled Hosseini?

DB: He was wonderful. I’ve been lucky, but I have friends who have adapted books and often the relationship between the screenwriter and the novelist can be tense. I’ve heard some horror stories. In this case, Khaled was very supportive from the beginning. Not only of what we were trying to do but also of understanding that the film was going to be different from the book in some respects. I think he had faith. He knew we all loved the book and wanted to tell the story properly. Once he met us and knew how passionate we were about it, I think he probably relaxed a bit. Going forward, when I was actually working on the script, he was a great resource. I’m not Muslim and I didn’t grow up in Afghanistan, so I had many questions about different aspects of the story. I could always call or email Khaled and get a detailed response back within an hour.

The best part for me, the nicest thing I heard throughout the whole process was when we were recording the DVD audio commentary at Skywalker Ranch. It was really cool just to be at Skywalker Ranch. But at one point, Marc Forster said, “That’s a really nice line, was that in the book?” Then Khaled said that at this point, he couldn’t remember who had written it. To hear that from the author was incredible.

I was relieved to see that the film wasn’t completely in English. Was it always the intent to have the film be primarily in Dari?

DB: It was always clear that it was the only way to do it properly, but I never thought it would happen, because it was a huge money-losing proposition. Movies that are subtitled don’t usually do as well in American theatres. Honestly, the hero in the whole situation was Marc Forster, who said that he wouldn’t do it unless it was in Dari. Who was responsible for the casting of the young actors?

DB: The nice thing about working with Marc is that he’s so good at casting, especially kids. If you look at Finding Neverland, Marc cast Freddie Highmore, who’s a huge child star right now. I always felt confident he would find the right kids. It’s an interesting story because they went all over the world. It was a global casting call, and finally he went to Kabul which is where they found the kids.

How did the translation process work?

DB: I just learned Dari. [Laughs.]. It was a smaller movie, it was kind of all in the family and Khaled’s father ended up being the one who translated the English screenplay into Dari for the actors. Then I translated it back during post-production for the subtitles. Most of the time, it was from the original script. Sometimes I wrote one thing and then it got translated and I was sitting there with an Afghan woman who would tell me what the literal translation was, and sometimes it was very different from what the original screenplay said. Every now and then it was a lot better, but other times I could write my line. It was nice because usually as the writer, the actors take the lines and play with them and it’s out of your hands. This was the first time I could sort of reassert control over that.

Much of the book is internal. How did you deal with that challenge?

DB: That was one of the toughest challenges of the adaptation. I love reading novels and I love going to movies, but I kind of hate going to an adaptation of a novel and it starts off with a voiceover. To me it seems like the lazy way of adapting a book and I didn’t want to do it. One of the things I loved about this book is that it’s incredibly visual in terms of the landscapes. The kites in the sky, the clothes — there are so many pictures in your head when reading the book and I wanted the story to be told with the pictures and the dialogue. I didn’t feel that it needed narration, the story Khaled created could be told without having to have someone explaining it to you. We just had to adjust scenes to tell the story.

The last few scenes of the film are very similar to the book, almost word for word.

DB: It’s always easiest for me as a writer if I know I have a great ending. It can make everything else work. If you don’t have a good ending, it’s the hardest things in the world to come up with one. I always loved the ending of The Kite Runner and the scenes that are most faithful to the book are the last few scenes. I’m so biased, but I love the movie. I feel like we didn’t screw it up.

Were you able to travel to the set?

DB: Only to China for one week. My wife [Peet] was really pregnant so I didn’t want to take more than one week because she was about to pop. I went to Beijing, because it’s easier to get to than Kashgar. To get to Kashgar is a flight to Beijing, then an eight hour flight to Kashgar, and a six hour drive to where they were filming. So I went for a week and it was incredible. This movie is based on a novel by an Afghan-American, directed by a Swiss-German, produced by an Australian and a bunch of Americans. And the cast is Afghan, Iranian, English, French and American, with a screenplay by a New Yorker. It could not have been more global. It’s like a U.N. movie — bizarre and very cool. It seems appropriate for this movie, based on a book that has captured the imagination of the world. It was a special place to watch it coming together, even for the brief time I was there, it was surreal.

The nominations for the 65th annual Golden Globe Awards were announced this morning. Did your favorite films, stars, and songs make the cut?

The nominees were read at the Beverly Hilton by a surreal panel consisting of Dane Cook, Hayden Panettiere, Ryan Reynolds, and Quentin Tarantino. The film nominations follow below, with Tomatometers in parentheses:

Picture, Drama:

American Gangster (79 percent)
Atonement (85 percent)
Eastern Promises (88 percent)
The Great Debaters
Michael Clayton (90 percent)
No Country for Old Men (95 percent)
There Will Be Blood (100 percent)

Actress, Drama:
Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age (34 percent)
Julie Christie, Away From Her (95 percent)
Jodie Foster, The Brave One (45 percent)
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart (77 percent)
Keira Knightley, Atonement

Actor, Drama:
George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
James McAvoy, Atonement
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
Denzel Washington, American Gangster

Picture, Musical or Comedy:
Across the Universe (52 percent)
Charlie Wilson’s War (92 percent)
Hairspray (92 percent)
Juno (92 percent)
Sweeney Todd (92 percent)

Actress, Musical or Comedy:

Amy Adams, Enchanted (94 percent)
Nikki Blonsky, Hairspray
Helena Bonham Carter, Sweeney Todd
Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose (74 percent)
Ellen Page, Juno

Actor, Musical or Comedy:

Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd
Ryan Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl (78 percent)
Tom Hanks, Charlie Wilson’s War
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages (89 percent)
John C. Reilly, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Supporting Actress:
Cate Blanchett, I’m Not There (80 percent)
Julia Roberts, Charlie Wilson’s War
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone (93 percent)
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Supporting Actor:
Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (75 percent)
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War
John Travolta, Hairspray
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Director:
Tim Burton, Sweeney Todd
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (94 percent)
Ridley Scott, American Gangster
Joe Wright, Atonement

Screenplay:
Diablo Cody, Juno
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men
Christopher Hampton, Atonement
Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Aaron Sorkin, Charlie Wilson’s War

Foreign Language:
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Romania (96 percent)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, France and U.S.
The Kite Runner, U.S. (65 percent)
Lust, Caution, Taiwan (64 percent)
Persepolis, France (100 percent)

Animated Film:
Bee Movie (52 percent)
Ratatouille (97 percent)
The Simpsons Movie (88 percent)

Original Score:
Michael Brook, Kaki King, Eddie Vedder, Into the Wild (82 percent)
Clint Eastwood, Grace Is Gone (70 percent)
Alberto Iglesias, The Kite Runner
Dario Marianelli, Atonement
Howard Shore, Eastern Promises

Original Song: Despedida from Love in the Time of Cholera (28 percent)
Grace Is Gone from Grace Is Gone
Guaranteed from Into the Wild
That’s How You Know from Enchanted

Walk Hard from Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Source: Associated Press
Source: Golden Globes

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