Roger Ebert (#110 of 75)

Box Office Rap The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex

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Box Office Rap: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex
Box Office Rap: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex

Confession: I don't like The Lord of the Rings films. All of them. Well, at least the first three, as I skipped The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey because of my disdain for its predecessors, and needless to say, I'll be skipping The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as well. Of course, millions of others will not be skipping the film this weekend, as it tries to land somewhere in the $80-90 million range, matching the previous film's performance. For me, director Peter Jackson's initial trilogy operates on bloated runtimes meant to appease fanboy OCD, including Jackson's own. The apex of contemporary pop-cultural obsession-as-sickness is no better embodied than by these films, which edify young moviegoers to view film culture as narrative/character/imaginary playtime rather than a mindful and serious medium for artistic expression.

However, rather than further lambast The Hobbit, Jackson, and Warner Bros. for their transparent, masturbatory decisions to turn one novel into three films for means of tripling profits, of more importance this week is examining how critics are responding to The Desolation of Smaug, and the sorts of qualities being sought after in their evaluations of Jackson's latest. The film currently boasts a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 75%—a full 10% higher than the first installment, though the middling reviews did not negatively affect its box office, as The Unexpected Journey had the highest-grossing opening weekend of any films in the entire franchise. Critic proof, like most franchises, but it nevertheless remains the critic's role to instruct attentive filmgoers to the qualities worthy of contemplation.

Box Office Rap Out of the Furnace and Christian Bale’s Body (of Work)

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Box Office Rap: Out of the Furnace and Christian Bale’s Body (of Work)
Box Office Rap: Out of the Furnace and Christian Bale’s Body (of Work)

As Bane raises Batman above his head and prepares to snap his back in The Dark Knight Rises, Bane postulates, “I was wondering what would break first: your spirit or your body!” The scene is faithful to the comic books for its “krakt” intensity, but also reflexive insofar as it speaks to Christian Bale's acting career, which has been founded on consistent bodily transformation and, before donning the cape for Christopher Nolan's franchise, a lack of commercial success that could have easily broken the actor's spirit in becoming an A-list star. Yet, even after the Batman films, Bale's financial viability removed from franchise confines remains questionable, and one wonders with Out of the Furnace opening this weekend if Bale's name alone is enough to guarantee a $10 million opening.

Bale's career began as a child actor in films like Empire of the Sun and Newsies, but it wasn't until 2000's American Psycho that he found a leading role that began to define his star persona. As Patrick Bateman, Bale's slender, muscular body and strikingly handsome face were apparent enough, but perhaps more surprising was the ease with which the actor seemed to project Bateman's affability-masking-psychopathy lifestyle, wielding an ax with the same quotidian detachment as when he visits the tanning salon. Roger Ebert said in his review of the film that “Bale is heroic in the way he allows the character to leap joyfully into despicability; there is no instinct for self-preservation here, and that is one mark of a good actor.” Audiences generally agreed, as the $7 million film grossed just over $15 million domestically.

Box Office Rap 12 Years a Slave and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Oscar Screening

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Box Office Rap: 12 Years a Slave and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Oscar Screening
Box Office Rap: 12 Years a Slave and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Oscar Screening

This week's column was originally intended to discuss the box-office viability of Carrie, notable as both a remake of Brian De Palma's classic and Kimberly Peirce's first feature film since 2008's Stop-Loss, but then I read Peirce calling Brian De Palma's film “semicampy” in an otherwise fascinating and spot-on New York Times article, which rubbed me the wrong way. Moreover, giving more ink to yet another cash-in remake of an all-time great horror film would find us caught within the cogs of the Hollywood machine—something this column is actively opposed to.

A more pressing issue than Carrie's potential box office has presented itself with 12 Years a Slave, opening in limited release this Friday (but even so, it stands a considerable chance at cracking the Top 10), though screened for the first time to Oscar voters on Sunday night. In an excellent, if depressing, Los Angeles Times recap from Glenn Whipp, AMPAS members couldn't even fill the auditorium for Steve McQueen's latest, even though the film has been riding a tidal wave of good reviews from festivals and is being called the Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture by many prominent prognosticators, such as Sasha Stone of Awards Daily. This comes after the previous weekend, where Academy members were turned away from a screening of Gravity, with the Samuel Goldwyn Theater packed to the brim, much like the rest of North American theaters.

Box Office Rap The Wizard of Oz and the IMAX Cancer

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Box Office Rap: The Wizard of Oz and the IMAX Cancer
Box Office Rap: The Wizard of Oz and the IMAX Cancer

“The last time I checked, I owned the films that we're in the process of colorizing…I can do whatever I want with them, and if they're going to be shown on television, they're going to be in color.” These are words spoken by media mogul Ted Turner in 1986, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, defending his decision to colorize classic black-and-white films for television airwaves, most famously Casablanca, leading Roger Ebert to call its colorized airing “one of the saddest days in the history of movies.” That sadness, Ebert claimed, comes from knowing that even the most beloved classics aren't safe from “computerized graffiti gangs.” Well, this weekend, The Wizard of Oz boots Riddick from IMAX theaters, coming at viewers not only in the format's scale-oriented excesses, but also in 3D. Thus, though we may still refer to the film as The Wizard of Oz, Warner Bros. is going with The Wizard of Oz: An IMAX 3D Experience. So, a question becomes pertinent: How is turning a 1939 Technicolor film into a 2013 IMAX 3D “experience” any different from Ted Turner colorizing Casablanca?

Box Office Rap Riddick and the Passion of Brian De Palma

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Box Office Rap: Riddick and the Passion of Brian De Palma
Box Office Rap: Riddick and the Passion of Brian De Palma

On May 22, 1996, Mission: Impossible opened in 3,012 North American movie theaters. That weekend, it made $45.4 million and marked the highest opening weekend ever for a Tom Cruise starrer, a record that would stand until Mission: Impossible II opened in May 2000. Cruise has since used that franchise as a staple for his box-office résumé, allowing him collaborations with the likes of J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird, with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol marking the highest-grossing film of Cruise's career with a whopping $694 million in global receipts.

But back to 1996. Then, that $45.4 million also marked the highest opening-weekend gross for director Brian De Palma; in fact, with the exclusion of The Untouchables, no prior De Palma film had made as much in its entire run as Mission: Impossible managed in just its first three days. The film was considered a critical success as well, receiving “two thumbs up” from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, though they, like several other critics, reserved most of their praise for Cruise's performance and were skeptical of the film's [sic] convoluted going's on. Even in commercial success, De Palma's fervid formal artistry has few boosters—an unfortunate trait that has inexplicably followed the great filmmaker's entire career.