Mar 12, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon -- Film Review

Cast and Crew
Producer: Bonnie Arnold
Director: Christopher Sanders
Director: Dean DeBlois
Screen Writer: William Davies
Screen Writer: Peter Tolan
Screen Writer: Christopher Sanders
Screen Writer: Dean DeBlois
Editor: John Carr
Cast: Jay Baruchel (Voice of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third), Gerard Butler (Voice of Stoick the Vast), America Ferrera (Voice of Astrid), Jonah Hill (Voice of Snotlout), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Voice of Fishlegs)
Bottom Line: A lively though disjointed 3D cartoon that never quite entices an audience to invest emotionally in its fantasy world.
"How to Train Your Dragon" pits dragons against Vikings with one small child standing between them crying, "Why can't we all just get along?" The Vikings are all brawn and matted, bushy hair -- and there's an implication of not much brains -- while the dragons are a menagerie of fierce flying, fire-belching, multitasking creatures that fear and are feared in equal measure. From this, DreamWorks Animation tries to fashion a 3D movie that will intrigue kids and adults alike but might play raggedly in both camps.

Despite its jocular title, the film contains intense action scenes and violence, enough so that small children supplied a background of cries at one recent screening. Nonetheless, opening week should find long lines in front of cinemas. How favorably youngsters respond to the dragons might determine what kind of legs the cartoon eventually will achieve.

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The film is directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, who did the marvelous "Lilo & Stitch." In many ways, it's the same movie: A child adopts, then tames a lethal creature.

But the intimacy and pop culture references of the "Lilo & Stitch" story are jettisoned in favor of ancient warriors and mythical creatures that feel remote. It's hard to form a rooting interest in either Vikings or dragons.

More curious from an animation standpoint are the dull human characters. They are plastic creatures that look like ads for children's dolls. Most of the male Vikings come off as no-neck athletes on steroids. The youngsters look closer to cartoon humans, and at least they come in different sizes, with our protagonist and a valiant young Viking girl who catches his eye being downright skinny. What are they eating that everyone else is not?

The centerpiece of the movie is a developing friendship between a Viking boy, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), and a dragon nicknamed Toothless. By befriending rather than killing a wounded dragon -- as tradition and genes should dictate -- Hiccup realizes that everything his elders know about dragons is wrong.

Dragons are trainable, peaceable and affectionate. But try telling that to tribal elders or your father (Gerard Butler) -- who just happens to be the chief -- or even that friendly dragon master (Craig Ferguson, thickening that Scottish brogue even more if such a thing were possible).

There are side issues here for the young protagonist, who tries to win over his dad and a young Viking girl (America Ferrera) while not embarrassing himself in front of other Viking teens. It's all standard-issue coming-of-age stuff. Recasting the formula in a Nordic neverland doesn't freshen things up much.

The film's calling card is action. The extended battles and flying sequences -- Hiccup trains Toothless to allow the boy to ride him with a saddle -- provide plenty of thrills. Indeed, the directors and their animation team really seem to perk up during these bravado sequences.

Otherwise, the visual element is disappointing. Beyond the plasticity of the humans, the world of the story feels sketchy at best. The cold, glum Norse Isle of Berk, where everyone lives -- borrowed from a book series by British author Cressida Cowell -- grows wearisome, and its other world, that of the dinosaurs, never comes to life.

There is a wide array of dragons flying through the air, but the film introduces them so quickly that you never know one from the other. The film treats them with ambivalence as the animators can't decide between ferocity or cuddliness. Toothless has a kind of feline look, and the others look like they belong in a Chinatown parade.

"Dragon" reps a solid effort from DreamWorks, but the audience perhaps feels the effort more than it should.

Opens: Friday, March 26 (Paramount)

'Alice in Wonderland' to repeat atop weekend boxoffice

Disney's 3D fantasy "Alice in Wonderland" is sure to repeat atop the domestic boxoffice this weekend despite four wide releases hitting theaters Friday.

Tim Burton's latest Johnny Depp starrer opened with $116 million last weekend, so even a 60% drop would give "Alice" a $46 million sophomore session. That scenario, though, probably is overly pessimistic.

Sunday's grosses were pinched a bit by preoccupation with the Oscar telecast, so the frame represents an easy comparison. That has some predicting that "Alice" will fall 50% or less in its second weekend. As a result, the motion-capture/live-action hybrid might climb above $200 million through its first 10 days.

Meanwhile, Universal's Matt Damon-toplined "Green Zone" appears the strongest of the weekend's market debutants.

Directed by Paul Greengrass ("The Bourne Ultimatum"), the Iraq War thriller is tracking well with a broad range of demos and could open with $14 million-$16 million. But with negative costs of at least $100 million, "Green" will have to take in plenty of green for at least a few frames if the R-rated pic is to enter the profit zone.

A recent surplus of R-rated releases doesn't help its weekend prospects, and early reviews have been mixed. So favorable word-of-mouth among opening audiences will be needed to stoke momentum for future frames.

Elsewhere, Fox Searchlight bows the Forest Whitaker starrer "Our Family Wedding," targeting urban demos. Rated PG-13, "Wedding" could stuff $11 million or more in its gift pouch. Summit Entertainment sends out Robert Pattinson starrer "Remember Me," a youth-seeking PG romantic drama, with prospects of fetching a similar sum.

Paramount opens the R-rated romantic comedy "She's Out of My League," which boasts a youthful cast and is likely to register only $8 million or so through Sunday.

Also today, Summit and Canadian partner Maple re-expand "The Hurt Locker" to 348 domestic playdates -- up from 275 last weekend -- following its big success at the Academy Awards.

But despite a victory in the oft-lucrative best picture category, "Locker" is unlikely to reap dramatic new business theatrically as the Iraq War thriller already is out on home video. The film's cume is approaching $15 million at the cusp of the frame.

Fox Searchlight's "Crazy Heart," for which topliner Jeff Bridges copped the best actor statuette Sunday, is set for roughly 1,500 engagements in an expansion from last weekend's 1,274.

Industrywide, the weekend will be compared with a $101 million 2009 frame topped by the $24.4 million bow of Disney family adventure "Race to Witch Mountain."

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Fox mulling 'Avatar' summer re-release

James Cameron and Fox are in discussions about rereleasing "Avatar," primarily in 3D theaters, in late summer -- and, tantalizingly, with additional scenes that had been left on the cutting-room floor in the rush to ready the epic for its Dec. 18 release.

The impetus for a rerelease is the feeling that, even though "Avatar" is the highest-grossing movie of all time, producers could have raked in even more money had they been able to hold on to the digital and Imax 3D screens that were lost when Disney opened "Alice in Wonderland" in 3D on March 5.

As for how much additional footage Cameron might add to "Avatar," the guessing began early Thursday when Imax CEO Richard Gelfond said during a Gabelli & Co. investor conference in New York that Cameron had about 40 minutes of additional material that didn't make the theatrical cut. He also predicted a rerelease, which he said probably would occur in the fall.

Cameron had said that he had 10-12 minutes of extra scenes that he cut and could quickly put through postproduction and have ready to add to a director's cut for a theatrical reissue or as an extra on the DVD release. One scene has to do with Jake Sully's avatar proving himself to the Na'vi people; the other involves a native festival during which tribe member Tsu'tey gets drunk.

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The maximum length a movie can be released in analog Imax theaters is 170 minutes -- a number Cameron was aware of when he made his original edit -- so he could add about 10 minutes to the 160-minute current run time and still be in all Imax locations. That seems more likely than trying to add as much as 40 minutes.

The week before "Alice" arrived, Fox's movie still was minting millions in 4,215 North American theaters, including 179 Imax sites. This week, it dropped to a theater count of 667, including eight Imax 3D locations, resulting in a 41% week-over-week drop in grosses.

Through March 4, "Avatar" had grossed $127.1 million of its $712.5 million domestic haul in Imax theaters; this week's giant-screen take was $175,884.

"Avatar" has done more than 80% of its domestic business in 3D theaters, which represented fewer than half of its runs.

The film also has grossed $1.9 billion outside North America for a total of about $2.6 billion. It has helped expand 3D globally and broken records worldwide.

When "Avatar" was forced off Imax screens -- after the longest and most lucrative run in Imax history -- to accommodate "Alice," Fox saw increased grosses on nearby digital 3D screens, an indication that demand remains.

How much did the film leave behind? Cameron was in New York this week for a demonstration of 3D TV and told USA Today, "The word we're getting back from exhibitors is we probably left a couple hundred million dollars on the table as a result."

The summer rerelease would follow a home video premiere in 2D form, which will happen as soon as next month and no later than May.

Cameron told USA Today there might be a Blu-ray Disc release of the 3D version for home use as early as the fall, but Fox studio sources indicate that is unlikely. They believe there won't be enough of an installed base of 3D TV sets to make that worthwhile and said it is more likely to come next year.

Cameron and Fox also are in discussions about one or two sequels to "Avatar" that would use many of the digital "assets" that were created for the original. There is no script or deal in place, but the filmmaker and studio have indicated that it is something they would like to do.

Trio cast in 'Horrible Way to Die' film

A.J. Bowen, known for his horror-movie performances in such pics as "Creepshow 3" and "The House of the Devil," is starring with mumblecore actors Amy Seimetz and Joe Swanberg in "A Horrible Way to Die."

Adam Wingard is directing the thriller, which is shooting in Columbia, Mo. Mike Strain of Fantasy Creations FX is handling special effects and makeup.

Travis Stevens, Simon Barrett and Kim Sherman are producing; Bradley Miska of is associate producing with Joe McKelheer.

Written by Simon Barrett ("Dead Birds"), the script centers on an escaped murderer (Bowen) in pursuit of his ex-girlfriend (Seimetz), who has fled to start a new life in a small town. Swanberg plays her budding boyfriend.

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Scream 4 will start shooting in May

The fourth film in the hit Scream series will go before the cameras in May, according to The Los Angeles Times. Original scribe Kevin Williamson wrote the new movie, intended to be the first in another trilogy. Once again Wes Craven will direct. Williamson dished the gossip in recent interview with the rag:

Craven recently finished “My Soul to Take,” which is scheduled for release sometime this year. And in May, he starts on “Scream 4.” And after that?

Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette are all returning for a new slasher adventure according to the newspaper.

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Remember Me

Director: Allen Coulter
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Emilie de Ravin (Full Cast)
Studio: Summit Entertainment

The Plot: A romantic drama centered on two new lovers: Tyler (Pattinson), whose parents have split in the wake of his brother's suicide, and Ally (de Ravin), who lives each day to the fullest since witnessing her mother's murder.

THE BUZZ: You know, RPattz's Little Ashes performed well given its subject matter and lack of major-studio muscle. It's quite possible a romantic story with a relatable premise (sorry, How to Be) from the studio that brought us Edward Cullen could lure plenty of the Twilight audience into theaters over this weekend and beyond. Good thing there was a seasoned cast and crew on what was widely reported as a difficult NYC shoot, given the thousands of fans who tracked R.P.'s every move. This is the first screenplay from Will Fetters, who currently is tinkering on A Star Is Born for Warner Bros. and director Nick Cassavetes (rumored to feature Russell Crowe and ... are you ready for this? ... Beyonce).

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Director: Paul Greengrass
Stars: Matt Damon, Jason Isaacs, Greg Kinnear (Full Cast)
Studio: Universal Pictures

The Plot: Discovering covert and faulty intelligence causes a U.S. Army officer (Damon) to go rogue as he hunts for Weapons on Mass Destruction in an unstable region.

Green Zone

THE BUZZ: Entertainment writers are worked up about (1) Universal's box-office slump and (2) the studio's decision to move Green Zone out of the 2009 Oscar zone. To me, this is a sign that the movie actually might be entertaining and not some bore, a la most every other recent Iraq War picture aside from the most recent Best Picture winner. Meanwhile, we're wondering if Jason Bourne's fans will accept Matt Damon as a solider, especially since the proposed fourth Bourne adventure isn't a signed deal at this stage.

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