BOP 25 of Summer 2009: 15-6

April 30, 2009

Rejected storyboard from Fast and Furious 15) Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

There have been 11 films since the start of 2006 that earned at least $250 million. Out of thousands of movies made in this time, these are the true heavyweights. The group includes obvious winners such as The Dark Knight, Transformers, and a couple of Pirates of the Caribbean films. The one that stumps even the best box office analysts, however, is Night at the Museum, a December of 2006 release that proved itself to be the ultimate sleeper hit. After a modest $30.4 million debut, Night at the Museum took advantage of December holiday box office inflation to a degree that hadn't been seen in several years. Its second weekend of box office was $36.8 million, an increase of 21% from its debut. That doesn't happen often and the exemplary display of legs didn't stop there. After 17 days of release, the $30 million opener had swelled to $163.8 million worth of box office and broke $200 million within its first full month in theaters. It was a blockbuster in every sense of the word but because its debut was so modest and the holiday period saw it expand so quickly, this marvelous performance was largely ignored. Night at the Museum is one of the least appreciated blockbusters of the 2000s.

BOP noticed, though. We celebrated the film's daily success over the holidays and our staff lavished praise on the movie itself, the rare CGI-intensive family blockbuster that didn't disappoint. By the time the movie ended with Earth, Wind & Fire's September, we were all bopping along (pardon the pun) with this feel-good film. It was a clever idea that was well implemented and happily received by its target audience. Attempting to capitalize on that success, a lot of good thought was put into what was needed to make a sequel special. Eventually, a setting at The Smithsonian was settled upon. This is a big deal in that the handlers of America's most popular and respected museum generally turned their noses up at Hollywood's overtures. This time, they went the other direction by stamping off Night at the Museum to the point that they even allowed their name to be mentioned in the title. Their support cannot be overstated in terms of what this means to the box office of the film, but it also means everything to the movie's ability to overcome the usual sequel issues. With the branding and storyline built right into the title, this one strikes us as one of the most certain winners in terms of box office AND quality on the summer schedule. (David Mumpower/BOP)
I'm not leaving until you guys sing Under the Sea 14) Ponyo

If you have never heard of Hayao Miyazaki or seen one of his movies, you are missing out. The Japanese master of animation started in the business in the 1960s as he worked in smaller roles on a number of productions before becoming involved on the director level with the series Lupin III. That project ultimately led to his first feature film, The Castle of Cagliostro, which featured the Lupin characters in an extended storyline.

Since that time, Miyazaki's resume is littered with masterpieces. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke and Howl's Moving Castle can all be considered masterpieces in their own right. But perhaps his biggest success, both critically and financially, was Spirited Away, which earned the equivalent of more than $300 million in US currency and ultimately won an Academy Award for Best Animated Film. Why is he so successful? Miyazaki is known for exquisite story details that capture the imagination, and stunning visuals that are still grounded in the world of 2-D animation (though some CGI is added for effect from time to time).

His newest film is Ponyo on the Cliff by the Shore, shortened to Ponyo for its US release (at least so far). This movie skews somewhat younger than a typical Miyazaki film, and probably has its closest comparison in his previous movie, My Neighbor Totoro, which was similarly youth-oriented. The story centers on a mermaid who runs away from her home in the sea, and is rescued by a five-year-old boy after she becomes stranded. Naturally, lots of awesome and amazing adventures ensue.

The movie opened in Japan already, and has earned the equivalent of $153 million in that country. For the North American release, things are being handled by John Lasseter, a big fan and supporter of Miyazaki as well as Chief Creative Officer at Pixar and Disney. He's doing what he can to make the release friendly to kids here, including bringing on voices like Noah Cyrus (Miley's younger brother), Frankie Jonas (a younger Jonas), Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Liam Neeson and Cate Blanchett. It's not likely to receive a super wide release, and we'll be anxiously awaiting its arrival in our town. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
Wait.  You're not Clive Owen? 13) The Time Traveler's Wife

People don't usually think of time travel and romance in the same sentence. Yet, with Audrey Niffenegger's novel The Time Traveler's Wife, these two elements are effortlessly combined to make a story that has been beloved by almost anyone who has ever read the book. With a large fanbase, memorable characters and a singular story line, it was a tale that really begged to be adapted to the big screen.

The story focuses on two people whose lives intersect over the years as he travels through time, meeting her at various stages in her life. Henry DeTamble is a librarian who actually has a gene that causes him to time travel. Over and over again, he encounters Claire, who he sees at various stages as little girl, teenager, young woman, and eventually, his wife. Since Claire has essentially knows Henry her entire life, it's a very unconventional love story and could potentially even be a little creepy, but it doesn't come across that way at all. In fact, it has moments where it's quite devastating, especially in the ways that things become complicated as Henry's time travels create bigger and more difficult issues.

The stars of the film are Rachel McAdams, who has certainly seen success in the romance genre previously with The Notebook. Her co-star is Eric Bana, who we're a little concerned might not have the chops to go the distance with the character of Henry. Still, the book has been truly beloved by a number of members of our staff, and we're excited to see if the movie can approach the lofty expectations we have of it. (Kim Hollis/BOP)

Guess who forgot to feed the meter? 12) Angels & Demons

When is a sequel a prequel and a prequel a sequel? You will have to ask Dan Brown, a man whose writing apparently exists outside the arch of time. How else is he to explain the fact that Angels & Demons rather than The Da Vinci Code is the novel that introduces the character of Robert Langdon? Given the fact that we consider time to move in linear fashion rather than in reverse, it makes no sense that the first popular novel by Brown is being made into a movie that is set after The Da Vinci Code. Calendars must offend the guy or something.

Despite this one minor time-sensitive quibble with Angels & Demons and our major quibble with The Da Vinci Code, the fact that it was a terrible movie, we still are excited by this film. The ominous presence of the Illuminati as potential destroyers of Vatican City is tantalizing; furthermore, most people who have read both of these Dan Brown works agree that while The Da Vinci Code is more populist, Angels & Demons is a better story. Robert Langdon is forced to follow all of the secret clues left behind in a bygone era in order to become a "member" himself. Only by following the Path of Illumination can he uncover whether it is the Illuminati or someone framing them who is responsible for the threat to the Catholic home base.

The Da Vinci Code broke our hearts with its lack of quality, but director Ron Howard and heterosexual life partner Brian Grazer sound like they know where that film went wrong. Having learned from that experience, it is our hope that they will be much more successful with their second Dan Brown adaptation. Of course, not having Audrey Tautou return is an unwelcome turn of events but this Ayelet Zurer is none too shabby. Plus, BOP is a fan of any movie that might educate people on what an ambigram is. (David Mumpower/BOP)
Great.  Who invited Paulie Shore? 11) I Love You, Beth Cooper

Almost all of us, young or old, straight or gay, have had our fair share of unrequited love. For many of us, this dates back to high school, a time when our naïve heads were ruled by our innocent hearts and our...evolving lower mid-sections. Stuck (some would argue jailed) in closed quarters with a few others, we found ourselves daydreaming about our crush of the moment. In those fantasies, the person would be placed on a pedestal of impeccable virtue yet they would frequently be all too willing to engage in irredeemable acts of lust with us. Such is the beauty of the mind's eye and such is the curse of experiencing puberty in front of hundreds of other teenagers.

Larry Doyle, a writer for The Simpsons, crafted a novel based on just this premise. Suffice it to say our staff loved it. This is not an exaggeration. Over the past couple of years, it's been a running joke among our group that someone new would discover the novel every quarter. For me, that came at the end of last year. There have been a couple of us since then, but we all agree on the point. I Love You, Beth Cooper is a hilarious story that offer a perfect blend of witty pose and pop culture takes on the difficulty of being a foolish teenager in love.

The simple premise is that the school valedictorian, Denis Cooverman, chooses his graduation speech to announce his love of the titular Beth Cooper. The fact that Denis has loved her from afar so much that she doesn't even know his name is irrelevant. In his mind, she has been built up to the point that she is the local answer to Helen of Troy. Bemused by his actions, Beth takes it upon herself to show Denis a night he will never forget. Little does he know that on this night, his body will absorb the type of beating the world hasn't known since Mike Tyson went nuts and lost his mojo. Denis finds out sooner rather than later that Beth's boyfriend, a 20-something guy recently returned from a tour of duty in the Middle East, doesn't like the idea of other guys announcing their love for his girl.

For her part, Beth cannot help but enjoy the idea of one last celebration of her time as the queen of high school before her fading glory ends and she becomes just another local burnout 20-something who barely graduated high school. The end result is one of those wild and crazy nights that have become a staple of teen comedies such as Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Before Sunrise and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, the most recent entry. While the trailer for this is wildly disappointing and our staff is braced for heartbreak, we hold out hope that the film is much better than is being demonstrated in the commercials. After all, Larry Doyle also handled the screenplay, so it's hard for us to imagine all of the wit and merciless honest of the novel not translating to the movie. Also, Hayden Panettiere strikes us as masterful casting, at least on paper. (David Mumpower/BOP)
That's....not a flux capacitor 10) Away We Go

There are so many things to like about Away We Go that it's hard to know where to begin. But let's start with the fresh, charming trailer that makes us laugh and tugs at the heartstrings. If the movie is anything close to what that small bit of packaged footage would indicate, we should have a real winner on our hands.

Then there's the cast. Jon Krasinksi has been capturing our hearts for a few years now as Jim Halpert in The Office, and it looks like his role in Away We Go is perfectly suited to him. Maya Rudolph is a bit more of an untried talent, but she appears to be the ideal choice for his counterpart in romance and couplehood. Supporting players include Jeff Daniels, the very funny Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Catherine O'Hara and Jim Gaffigan (of My Boys, a great show that you should be watching). All of this talent is brought together courtesy of director Sam Mendes, who has consistently delivered quality films in American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead and Revolutionary Road. And the screenplay comes from the husband/wife team of Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. For those unfamiliar with the literary world, Eggers is the author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and What Is the What, not to mention that he is the founder of McSweeney's. Vida, his wife, wrote a wonderful little novel called Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name and is the editor of The Believer, a magazine that is all but impossible to describe but is something I read cover to cover every time it arrives in my mailbox.

Of course, the story feels very poignant and relevant as well. As a number of our staff members grow up and start families, we can relate to the story of Burt and Verona, who are looking for the perfect place to start their family as they await the birth of their first child. This looks like a movie with the potential to surprise with regard to its staying power, and we'll be in the theater on opening night to get it jump started. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
He's one mean mylar balloon popping machine 9) X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Technically, there are hundreds of X-Men. I'm not even joking. You can check Wikipedia or Marvel for the full list, but it's outrageously large. Have you ever heard of Karma, Legion or Sunpyre? Yeah, me neither, but they're all X-Men. It's similar to naming all of the New York Yankees. You can list Sterling Hitchcock, Mike Gallego or Danny Tartabull if you want, but most people are going to start their list with Babe Ruth, Derek Jeter and Lou Gehrig. It's the same with the X-Men. The roster may contain hundreds of names, but the one who matters most is Wolverine.

The producers of the X-Men franchise are well aware of this, presumably because he was the anchor of three previous films that earned over $600 million domestically and almost $1.2 billion worldwide. If there were to be a Marvel spin-off story that eliminated all of the established core members of the X-Men (and their Halle Berry-sized salaries), Wolverine was the obvious choice. And given what Brett Ratner did to the franchise with his financially successful ($460 million worldwide) but fanboy-scorned X-Men: The Last Stand, this was probably the right call.

Anyone interested in the film already knows its story by now. This will be an exploration of Wolverine's life prior to joining the X-Men, the one he had forgotten due to the psychological trauma inflicted by his adamantium surgery. Of course, the movie is still going to be an opportunity for Marvel (and distributor Fox) to debut several popular characters from the X-Men. Particularly noteworthy are Cajun gambler Gambit and exotic bombshell Emma Frost. The former character enjoys a love/hate relationship with most fanboys and is thereby given the role of flipping between face and heel on a frequent basis in the comics. Conversely, Frost had been one of the most malevolent enemies of the group prior to falling for its leader, Cyclops, and joining the good guys. It's unknown at this time whether either of them has a big role in this film (no, none of BOP's staff were willing to download that pirated copy off the net to find out) or whether they will be wasted as was the case with so many characters such as Callisto and Juggernaut in the third film. With Brett Ratner not involved, we're hopeful that this one will be much more in line with X2: X-Men United, one of the best comic book movies to date, rather than the first or the third one, both of which were lackluster (at best) in quality. (David Mumpower/BOP)
Kablammo! 8) Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

This one doesn't need a lot of explanation. We're not even two years removed from Transformers, the Michael Bay adaptation that shocked the world by not sucking as much as most of his films. The civilized world seemed to agree on this point, as it earned almost $320 million domestically and over $700 million worldwide. Hot bot-on-bot action has global appeal, it seems.

The news that a second film was quickly started is welcome. Sure, there is always Sequel Fear, but the first Transformers movie spent a significant amount of time focusing upon human characters and Megan Fox's various tattoos. The actual Transformers/Decepticons match-ups were largely saved for the end of the movie, meaning that there is still a lot of breathing room for creativity on the action side of things. Also, we're all still a bit vague on exactly what happened to Starscream there at the end.

I know Megatron has been hard on him in the past for his unreliability, but just randomly flying off into space during the climactic fight with one's sworn enemies is Manny Ramirez-esque. There has to be some explanation for these actions and Megatron simply has to berate him quite a bit for his failings in order to make this right for those of us who grew up in the 1980s with those two as our animated answer to Ike and Tina Turner. Closure is needed here, Bay.

I could pretend like story matters here and describe what the explanation is for the Revenge of the Fallen title, but what's the point? We all want to see another Transformers movie, because the first one was so shiny and the sequel promises more of the same. BOP likes shiny. And Megan Fox tattoos. (David Mumpower/BOP)
Nobody's leaving until somebody says something funny 7) Funny People

By now, you must know that the majority of the BOP staff likes Judd Apatow a little bit. Even when he's reaching saturation levels in theaters, a new movie both written and directed by him is cause for excitement. Despite the fact that it feels like he's attached to every little comedy that passes through theaters, his connection to most of them has been loose. In fact, the only movies he has actually directed have been The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Now, with Funny People, we'll have a chance to see how Apatow has grown creatively.

The normal stable of Apatow Players is present for Funny People, including Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Leslie Mann. Headlining star Adam Sandler has also worked with the director previously on You Don't Mess With the Zohan, on which Apatow has a co-writing credit. Jason Schwartzman, who had a guest role on Apatow's well-loved TV series Freaks and Geeks, is also along for the ride. It's a fine cast that has been assembled, particularly for a movie called Funny People, but can it be as good as Knocked Up and The 40 Year-Old Virgin?

If the trailer is any indication at all, the answer has to be a resounding yes. Funny People looks nothing short of terrific, and the preview actually has a bit of a Cameron Crowe feel to it. The movie focuses on Sandler, who plays a comedian who learns that he has a terminal health condition, and decides that he wants to form a meaningful friendship. This causes him to take a younger comedian (Rogen) under his wing. It doesn't sound like much to go on, and yet, there's a lot of emotional heft right alongside a healthy dosage of humor. Apatow has proven more than capable at balancing sweet stories alongside some frequently raunchy humor, and it works. We think that Funny People will be another highlight for Apatow's resume. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
Walk softly and carry an armored tank division, I always say... 6) Public Enemies

Johnny Depp? Check. Christian Bale? Check. Billy Crudup? Check. Michael Mann? Check. That's a lot of things crossed off our list in the "things that have the potential to make a movie really good" category.

Public Enemies is a fictionalized, romanticized account of the life of John Dillinger. Of course, before we can call an account of Dillinger "romanticized", it's important to keep in mind that a lot of people around when the gangster was actually alive believed he was pretty hot. Some called him a modern-day Robin Hood, and his exploits were celebrated for the style and panache he exhibited. Even his death was pretty flashy. He was shot to death outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago after being given up to cops by a brothel madam who had been threatened about her illegal alien status in the country.

It's certainly true that Dillinger is a fascinating character, so who better than Johnny Depp to take on the role? He's one of the most talented actors in Hollywood, and having him star as Dillinger is a masterstroke that not only promises to deliver box office, but likely also positive reviews. It also makes some sense to have Christian Bale as his FBI do-gooder counterpart, Melvin Purvis. In some ways, this is actually very similar to Bale taking on Heath Ledger as the Joker.

The movie is sure to have a large dose of flash and style thanks to Michael Mann being at the helm. We know that the man can put together a top-notch crime film. We've seen it in Collateral and we've seen it in Heat. In fact, since a lot of people compared The Dark Knight to Heat, perhaps we've come full circle, since I'm comparing Public Enemies to The Dark Knight.

No matter which movie is most like the other one, we're certain that Public Enemies has a hot trailer and a lot of reason for optimism. This might be a film that makes you root for the bad guy, but when it's Depp playing that bad guy, it's somehow just a little bit more acceptable than it is the rest of the time. (Kim Hollis/BOP)

BOP 25 of Summer Selections 25-16
BOP 25 of Summer Selections 5-1



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