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White House Down (#110 of 8)

Box Office Rap Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster

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Box Office Rap: Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster
Box Office Rap: Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster

Although Thor: The Dark World doesn’t hit North American theaters until this Friday, it’s already amassed $109.4 million from 29 overseas territories in just its first weekend. Opening Hollywood films internationally before debuting them stateside is a trend that’s existed in some capacity for a number of decades, but it’s only become a more common practice in the last few years, beginning with Iron Man 2 in 2010, which saw release in nearly 70 foreign territories weeks before domestic theaters.

The prevalence of American films in foreign markets has existed essentially since the start of World War I; as film scholar David Cook tells it, European studios were forced to shut down production since the same chemicals being used to manufacture celluloid film were needed to make gunpowder, while the American film industry faced no such problems, making over 90% of the world’s motion pictures by 1918. Nearly a century later, little has changed, with mega-budget, Hollywood actioners now dominating the global marketplace. Lynda Obst discusses these trends in her recent book Sleepless in Hollywood with what she calls the “New Abnormal,” where Hollywood studios are heavily reliant on foreign markets to see profits and now produce content with dozens of marketplaces in mind. Thus, international casts in spectacle-driven vehicles are preferred, while U.S.-specific blockbusters are becoming a rare breed (look to White House Down, The Lone Ranger, and R.I.P.D. for recent failings on this front).

Box Office Rap Baggage Claim and the Lost Women of September

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Box Office Rap: Baggage Claim and the Lost Women of September
Box Office Rap: Baggage Claim and the Lost Women of September

As the series finale of Breaking Bad nears, and with Walter White set to confront Todd, Uncle Jack, and (potentially) rescue Jesse Pinkman, Americans may pass the time this Friday by heading to the multiplex. Opening, and expected to take the weekend with ease, is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, though it’s unlikely that members of #teamwalt will be interested in that, unless they have kids of their own (“a scary thought”). No, they’ll most likely see one of the other three primary offerings, all with hyper-masculine protagonists. There’s Rush, director Ron Howard’s racing period piece. If not that, perhaps Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut about a guy from Joisey with a porn addiction. If neither of those strike a chord, there’s always the macho spectacle of Metallica: Through the Never, which bumps Dorothy and Toto from IMAX theaters on Friday.

Box Office Rap One Direction: This Is Us and the Box-Office Horizon

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Box Office Rap: One Direction: This Is Us and the Box-Office Horizon
Box Office Rap: One Direction: This Is Us and the Box-Office Horizon

The end of summer is officially upon us. Okay, technically that isn’t until September 21st, but as far as Hollywood is concerned, the summer box-office receipts have been tallied, with the winners and losers already determined. What have we learned? For starters, that Brian De Palma wanted to see The Lone Ranger, but it was gone from theaters before he had a chance to; that lower-budget horror films can stand their own against big-budget blockbusters, though audiences prefer their horror either slovenly supernatural (The Conjuring) or strictly high-concept (The Purge), as proved by the weak opening this past weekend of the excellent, reflexive You’re Next; and that Hollywood is still capable of producing mega-bombs, as demonstrated by the alarming disappearing acts performed by films such as White House Down, R.I.P.D., and Paranoia. Finally, we’ve learned that, all in all, not much has truly changed in the box-office landscape over the past 30 years, as summers continue to be ruled by sequels and commercially driven pap, with the occasional indie (like Fruitvale Station, The Way, Way Back, and Blue Jasmine) lucky enough to make a drop in the bucket.

Box Office Rap You’re Next and the Rise of Horror Cinema

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Box Office Rap: You’re Next and the Rise of Horror Cinema
Box Office Rap: You’re Next and the Rise of Horror Cinema

This past week, Kyle Buchanan wrote an insightful, mostly spot-on piece for the Vulture about this summer’s box-office, and the overall takeaway is that, because of the “belly-flops” incurred by several original titles, combined with the highly profitable success of numerous sequels and franchise entries, studios will only be driven to make bigger budgeted films, almost all of them sequels, leaving little to no room for any kind of original, non-franchise venture. While Buchanan’s logic with regard to the summer tent pole is sound, there’s one glaring omission from his article: the outstanding box-office performances of The Purge and The Conjuring, two original works, both horror films. Not only did they debut at number one, each blazed past a $30 million opening. Several high-profile films failed to achieve such an opening this summer, including After Earth, The Internship, This Is the End, White House Down, The Lone Ranger, 2 Guns, and Elysium. Furthermore, The Conjuring is on pace to have a higher domestic gross than The Wolverine! Compare The Conjuring’s $20 million budget to The Wolverine’s $120 million, and suddenly sequelitis seems an equally dangerous proposition for Hollywood.

Understanding Screenwriting #113: The Bling Ring, The Heat, White House Down, Monsters University, & Unfaithfully Yours

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Understanding Screenwriting #113: <em>The Bling Ring</em>, <em>The Heat</em>, <em>White House Down</em>, <em>Monsters University</em>, & <em>Unfaithfully Yours</em>
Understanding Screenwriting #113: <em>The Bling Ring</em>, <em>The Heat</em>, <em>White House Down</em>, <em>Monsters University</em>, & <em>Unfaithfully Yours</em>

Coming Up In This Column: The Bling Ring, The Heat, White House Down, Monsters University, Unfaithfully Yours, but first…

Moving on: This is going to be my last Understanding Screenwriting column for The House Next Door. Don’t worry, it’s not going away for good, just moving to a new location. Earlier this year, I got an announcement from Erik Bauer, founder, publisher, and editor of Creative Screenwriting magazine. In addition to writing for the magazine, I was on the editorial board from 1994 to 2008, when the board was dissolved. Erik had sold the magazine and the Creative Screenwriting empire (website, screenwriting expo, etc.) to another man in 2007. Unfortunately, the recession came along the next year, and the magazine closed down in 2011. This spring Erik had what he called a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to buy back the Creative Screenwriting empire, and his announcement said that he’s intending to revive the magazine, beginning in 2014. In the meantime, he’s reviving the Creative Screenwriting website in August, and my Understanding Screenwriting column will be moving to it then. The new address will be www.creativescreenwriting.com, and he hopes to have the new website up the first week in August. I trust you will all come and visit and leave the kind of intelligent comments you’ve spoiled me with for the last five years. And I must finish my work here at the House with a great big “thank you” to both Keith and Ed for their support over the years.

Fan Mail: “shazwagon” raised the question in regard to the close-up of Jesse at the end of the opening scene in Before Midnight: “How do you know that it was the writer’s decision to show the close-up later?” That’s an easy case; since both the actor involved and the director were also the writers, we can pretty much be sure it came from them. In other cases, it can be a tricky question. Generally writers will make an effort to write in reactions for the characters (but not camera directions, since directors pay no attention at all to writers’ suggestions in that area). If, as in the close-up in Before Midnight, the reaction is related to everything else going on in the scene (here the counterpoint to the dramatic action with Jesse and Henry), then it almost certainly comes from the writers. If actors and directors in general are at the top of their form, you feel that the moment is happening now right in front of your eyes. Look at Jeff’s (James Stewart) reaction to the itch in an early scene in Rear Window. It seems the camera just happened to catch him when the itch did. Not so; it’s all laid out in John Michael Hayes’s great script.

David Ehrenstein is back to disagreeing with me and all’s right with the world. He thought Behind the Candelabra was better than I did. He especially liked the performances by Matt Damon and Michael Douglas. I liked the performances, but felt the script didn’t give them as much to work with as it could have.

The Bling Ring (2013; written by Sofia Coppola; based on the Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” by Nancy Jo Sales; 90 minutes.)

Sofia Coppola, meet W.E. Burnett and John Huston. You may remember that, in US#68, I found Coppola’s Somewhere very disappointing, but I also said we shouldn’t give up on Coppola. The Bling Ring shows why, and it’s one of her best films yet. Never give up on talent. Here Coppola’s minimalist style, which was a little too minimalist in Somewhere, is perfect for the subject.

Poster Lab: White House Down

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Poster Lab: <em>White House Down</em>
Poster Lab: <em>White House Down</em>

After a brief excursion into Shakespearean salaciousness with Anonymous, Roland Emmerich is back to doing what he (arguably) does best: blowing iconic landmarks to smithereens. His latest, White House Down, concerns a paramilitary group that takes over the White House, and leaves a wannabe Secret Service agent (Channing Tatum) on a quest to save the president (Jamie Foxx). Yes, it all sounds very much like Olympus Has Fallen, and viewers can draw their own conclusions about what these movies mean about government dissatisfaction. For Emmerich, it’s just another day at the office, an office that’s probably lined with maps, dartboards, and other means of arbitrarily deciding what disaster to unleash next. Emmerich is a professional sadist—a hack director who gets his jollies by seeing how many mass quantities of people he can murder.

In 2012, his idea of a nyuk-nyuk gag was seeing two old ladies get swallowed by the earth in their station wagon, while countless thousands screamed out their last breaths. However superficially handsome the new White House Down posters may be, with variations that include a young girl, some picnickers on the lawn of the Capitol, and a crowd of tourists near the Washington Monument, their eerie, all-is-well nature make them more sadistic than anything to herald a previous Emmerich picture. The maestro of indiscriminate slaughter has upped his game: “Let’s not show things being destroyed, let’s tease what’s about to be destroyed, and flaunt the handsome, unsuspecting people whose lives we’re about to not just ruin, but, hopefully, take!”