Inside Pulse » Contraband A pop culture mega-site with Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games coverage for diehards, including news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary. Thu, 23 Oct 2014 01:30:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A pop culture mega-site with Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games coverage for diehards, including news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary. Inside Pulse no A pop culture mega-site with Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games coverage for diehards, including news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary. Inside Pulse » Contraband Funky to Fuzzy: The Evolution of Mark Wahlberg Thu, 28 Jun 2012 15:00:33 +0000

Tomorrow the feature-length debut from Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, Ted, will hit theaters. Mark Wahlberg stars as a working-class Bostonian who shares an apartment with a talking teddy bear named Ted (voiced by MacFarlane). But Ted does more than say a few phrases a la that other Ted, Teddy Ruxpin. He smokes pot, tokes on a bong and even brings over the occasional hooker, or two, or three – okay, four.

The movie’s concept looks derivative – childhood wish sees inanimate bear come to life – but the comedy is shaping up to be one of the better mainstream offerings this summer. Seth MacFarlane’s Ted character may be the selling point, but don’t sell Wahlberg short – the guy is funny.

Actually, it is with the arrival of Ted that made me want to go back and see how Mark Wahlberg got to this point. Not just working alongside a talking bear, but his status as a leading man. It was back in January with the release of Contraband that I started to see his name get attached to a number of high-profile projects, which include starring alongside Russell Crowe (Broken City), Dwayne Johnson (Pain and Gain), and Denzel Washington (2 Guns) in the coming years.

To think, it was a little more than twenty years ago that he was telling everyone to “feel the vibration” when he led the hip-hop group Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Now he’s working with Maximus, The Rock, and Malcolm X.

Three years after the number one hit single “Good Vibrations” and dropping his pants for Calvin Klein, Wahlberg made his feature film debut in Renaissance Man, directed by Penny Marshall. It was one of those mild comedy/inspirational teacher movies in the vein of Stand and Deliver. Only instead of Wahlberg having to pass an AP Calculus exam, he was delivering lines of Shakespeare while playing a low achieving private in the U.S. Army. Hey, if Keanu Reeves can be in a Kenneth Branagh adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, why not have Wahlberg play King Claudius? A year later he gained the attention of critics as Leonardo DiCaprio’s best friend, Mickey, in The Basketball Diaries. It was a small supporting role but one that caught the attention of a young filmmaker named Paul Thomas Anderson.

With one film under his belt (Sydney aka Hard Eight), P.T. Anderson’s next feature would be a 1970s period drama centered on the porn industry. Boogie Nights is considered Wahlberg’s breakthrough performance as an actor and for good reason: Anderson makes him into a star, a star, a star. A big, bright shining star. From nightclub dishwasher to porno idol, the film chronicles Dirk Diggler’s (Wahlberg) rise and fall during the Golden Age of Porn. At the time of its release Boogie Nights just didn’t click for me. Then I watched it again and had a fresh perspective. A steady diet of Robert Altman films beforehand probably helped, but also realizing the film followed the construct of a soap opera with its multiple storylines and character arcs. Plus the world is a much better place for having Wahlberg do a cover of Stan Bush’s “The Touch.”   

With the breakthrough push Wahlberg’s visibility would grow over the next few years, working with Hong Kong star Chow Yun-Fat (The Corrupter) and George Clooney (The Perfect Storm), and directors such as James Gray (The Yards) and David O. Russell (Three Kings). It was during Wahlberg’s and Russell’s first pairing that they would form an actor-director relationship bond that would help bolster both careers a decade later. But before that could happen, Wahlberg would have to pay his dues and take on roles that did little to help his career as a star.

This included the headlining role for Planet of the Apes – a headscratcher if you ask me. The film would signal Tim Burton’s downward trend as a filmmaker. There was a time when he was one of the most exciting directors in Hollywood, taking Pee-Wee Herman on a Big Adventure; making us consider hiring a bio-exorcist (Beetlejuice); and why one should never let a guy with scissors for hands sleep on a water bed (Edward Scissorhands). Wahlberg’s decision to headline Apes instead of working with Clooney again on Ocean’s Eleven would be a costly one as the actor would have to watch Matt Damon take his supporting role and be part of two successful franchises (the other being the Jason Bourne series).

Undaunted, Wahlberg would go on to star in the remake of 1969 British film The Italian Job. The 2003 heist film would go on to gross over $100 million, making it the second Wahlberg-starring release to eclipse that mark. The other was the maligned Planet of the Apes, a film that, despite grossing more than $360 million worldwide, did not get the go ahead for a sequel. The Italian Job arrived during a period where caper and con artist films were popular for a stretch. The success of the Wahlberg-less Ocean’s Eleven was a major reason why. Its success gave us such films as Catch Me If You Can, Matchstick Men, Confidence, and The Good Thief.

The Italian Job was the first starring vehicle where it felt like Wahlberg was actually comfortable as a leading man. Maybe it’s because there wasn’t any heightened expectation, especially after a pair of dismal failures (Rock Star and The Truth About Charlie). Here he got to work with a talented ensemble. Edward Norton may have been phoning in his villainous performance, but Wahlberg showed a commanding presence alongside Charlize Theron (who later that year would win an Oscar for her lead performance in Monster), Jason Statham, Mos Def and Seth Green.

The following year, Wahlberg would resign himself to supporting duties as he re-teamed with director David O. Russell on I Heart Huckabees. The philosophical comedy was a mixed bag with critics but most agreed that Wahlberg was one of the acting standouts in the film. He plays Tommy Corn, an obsessively anti-petroleum firefighter, who tries to work out the meaning of his existence with help from a pair of existential detectives (played by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin).

2004 would also be an important year for Wahlberg on the small screen. That summer Entourage debuted on HBO. Loosely based on his experiences as an up-and-coming film star, the comedy would include many celebrity cameos over its eight-year run and also see Jeremy Piven go from being that guy in a lot of John Cusack movies to winning a number of supporting actor awards for his movie agent character Ari Gold. The series was Wahlberg’s first major producing credit and he would follow that up with executive producer credits on three more HBO series: In Treatment, How to Make It in America and Boardwalk Empire.

We are a decade into Mark Wahlberg’s career and his top three moments thus far have been 1) Boogie Nights, 2) his relationship with director David O. Russell, and 3) the success of HBO’s Entourage.

In 2005, he would go back to being a headliner in John Singleton’s crime-revenge flick Four Brothers. Inspired by the western The Sons of Katie Elder starring John Wayne and Dean Martin, the film was transplanted from its western setting to frigid Detroit. It also offered Wahlberg a form of payback; Matt Damon was originally offered the role that he would play. A year later he would star in Invincible, a sports drama based on the story of Vince Papale, a 30-year-old bartender from South Philadelphia who overcame long odds to play for coach Dick Vermeil and the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976. It may not be Rudy, but the film continued Buena Vista’s streak of well-performing sports dramas (including Remember the Titans, The Rookie, and Miracle).

Moving to October 2006 sees the release of a film that would help Mark Wahlberg break through that glass ceiling as a Hollywood star. The film was Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. Based on the 2002 Hong Kong release Infernal Affairs, the film’s setting has been relocated to Boston and now involves the Irish Mob. With an all-star cast that includes Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Matt Damon – finally the two appear in the same movie together – the film would see Wahlberg score his first Oscar nomination. He was the only member of the cast to get nominated for an Academy Award. Martin Scorsese would finally get that Best Director trophy that has eluded him ever since he received his first nomination back in 1980 for Raging Bull. Even with the likes of DiCaprio and Damon, Wahlberg was a scene-stealer, verbally upstaging both of them with his didn’t-meet-a-cussword-he-didn’t-like Boston brogue.

Though he would ultimately lose the Oscar to Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), the nomination was good enough to fill his inbox with movie offers. Regrettably, he didn’t pick the best of scripts. To his credit, though, he didn’t suffer an Oscar hangover like Cuba Gooding Jr., who went from Jerry Maguire to finding himself on a “gays only” cruise liner in Boat Trip. No, Wahlberg made decisions that would help bolster his status as an action lead, starring in Antoine Fuqua’s Shooter and the videogame adaptation Max Payne. But in between those features he starred in a film billed as M. Night Shyamalan’s first Rated-R movie, with a tagline that read, “We’ve Sensed It. We’ve Seen The Signs. Now… It’s Happening.” The Happening was more than just Wahlberg being miscast as a high school science teacher; Shyamalan’s writing was horrible with little emotional resonance. He had an interesting idea, about plants getting back at the human populace of Earth by releasing a neurotoxin that when inhaled causes people to kill themselves, but failed at being scary, or entertaining for that matter. And the acting ranged from “Fire my agent!” to wondering “Was Nicolas Cage not available?” Shyamalan’s attempt at making a B-movie misfired horribly and his career has yet to recover. A few years later he would make The Last Airbender and produce Devil, the latter of which forced the studio to remove his credit from the advertisements to quiet the groans of audiences.

Mark Wahlberg was able to walk away from the project pretty much unscathed, with critics sacking Shyamalan foremost. Actually, Wahlberg must be made of Teflon, as he has been able to withstand starring in some not-so-great features and still see his career progress. It may have taken longer, with a new set of obstacles in his way, yet a majority of his films seem to become bigger hits on home video – and studios notice that, always thinking about their bottom line.

On the heels of The Happening the actor would work with renowned director Peter Jackson on a film adaptation of the best-selling novel The Lovely Bones. Ultimately getting a part that was originally going to be played by Ryan Gosling, Wahlberg starred as Jack Salmon, the bereaved father of Susie Salmon (played by Saoirse Ronan), who now obsesses over just who killed his daughter. It was an interesting role for the actor who had been in action-mode (mostly) since his Oscar nomination. But Jackson’s adaptation of the Alice Sebold novel was a failure from the filmmaker perspective; the acting overall is solid, especially from Ronan and supporting star Stanley Tucci.

2010 would be a banner year for Wahlberg. He would appear in three films that year that would gross over $100 million each. The first was a small supporting role in Date Night starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey. Despite having less than fifteen minutes of screen time, Wahlberg once again upstages his co-stars. It was his first legit mainstream comedy, and his first of any kind since 2004’s I Heart Huckabees. He would follow that with another comedy, The Other Guys, the latest from Adam McKay and Will Ferrell. If I had to guess what convinced him to want to team with Ferrell on a comedy that spoofs the buddy-cop genre, I’m sure it was the scene early on where his Terry Hoitz character accidentally shoots Derek Jeter in the leg. With Wahlberg being from Boston and Jeter being a Yankee, his actions get him that much closer to being blessed as a Red Sox deity.

In December he would see his passion project The Fighter get released. The film once again paired the actor with director David O. Russell. Wahlberg had signed on to the project as far back as 2005, due to his friendship with boxer “Irish” Micky Ward, and production was going to start during summer 2007. Darren Aronofsky was originally going to direct but bowed out to work on a RoboCop remake that went nowhere before making Black Swan. Brad Pitt was slated to play Mickey’s older brother, Dick “Dicky” Eklund, but had to drop out because of schedule conflicts. Enter Christian Bale, who goes “full Dicky,” in his dedication in getting to know all he can about the real Dicky Eklund. The film was well received by critics and audiences alike, and would go on to be nominated for seven Oscars, winning two for Supporting Actor (Bale) and Supporting Actress (Melissa Leo). Wahlberg also picked up his second nomination, but it wasn’t for his portrayal as Micky Ward; it was for his work behind the camera as one of the producers.

The success of The Fighter both financially and prestige-wise further cemented Mark Wahlberg’s status as an actor. He’s now one of Hollywood’s elite leading men, on a list that also includes his Departed co-stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. He’s also succeeded in producing movie vehicles that he would headline. This year’s Contraband was again another success, even though in my review I wrote, “it doesn’t carry nearly enough thrills or excitement to compensate for its 110-minute run time.”

It’s been an amazing twenty years for Mark Wahlberg. From having a number one record and selling underwear for Calvin Klein to picking up two Oscar nominations and making Forbes list of highest paid actors, Wahlberg has found himself in a very lucrative position. And he doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. Ted looks to be THE raunchy comedy of summer (unlike Adam Sandler’s abysmal That’s My Boy) and his projects in the coming years show a lot of potential. I guess you could say that Mark Wahlberg’s red-not career is a lot like that Timbuk 3 song. His future’s so bright, he’s gotta wear shades.×120.jpg

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Scott Weiland Thinks He’s Rejoining Velvet Revolver, Velvet Revolver Disagrees Mon, 14 May 2012 23:21:59 +0000 In an interview with a radio station, Scott Weiland claimed that he is rejoining Velvet Revolver after getting fired in 2008.  Slash, the guy who would probably be best informed on the subject, has instead said that the band isn’t about “going backwards” and will not in fact be hiring Weiland back again.  Given that they haven’t been able to find a new singer in four years, you’d think they’d be a little more open to going backwards, but obviously that’s why I’m in not in charge of the band.×120.gif

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Weekend Box Office: The Grey Tops The Weekend; One For The Money Was Three With The Money Mon, 30 Jan 2012 13:00:11 +0000

January finishes strong as The Grey continues streak of restricted films opening in first place.

A better transformation than a certain Hasbro toy, Liam Neeson has gone from playing a “dark man” to being a complete badass. This is the same guy who at one point in his career played Patrick Swayze’s brother in Next of Kin. Now he has become a major force starring in knock-down-drag-outs. Scoring another early-year hit, after Taken and Unknown, his film The Grey topped the weekend with $20 million. That’s a good number considering it was from mini distributor Open Road and it’s not manufactured to be a commercial juggernaut. Besides, when it comes to man vs. wilderness tales, there are few that have the gravitas that Neeson has to pull it off. I mean you would much rather have him lead you out of the wilderness than Dane Cook.

The success of The Grey makes up for Open Road’s debut release, last fall’s Killer Elite. That film had half the opening numbers that Liam Neeson’s wolfpunching tale did. Now Joe Carnahan will look to put his fun, albeit soft release, The A-Team behind him and be relevant again. The Grey‘s #1 opening also continued a streak of Rated R films opening in the top spot for January (the others are The Devil Inside, Contraband, and Underworld: Awakening).

And what about the latest Vampire/Lycan tale. Well it lost half its first-week audience. But it’s a good hold for the series, overall. Much of that has to deal with the added 3D surcharge. In the weeks that follow the film will likely overtake Underworld: Evolution as the most profitable in the series. And when you consider its $70 million price tag (not including P&A costs) it’s going to need those profits before the already-setup sequel goes forward.

In a strategy that worked for Lionsgate with the release of The Lincoln Lawyer, the studio once again teamed with GroupOn to offer tickets to the Katherine Heigl-starring One for the Money at a discount. The promotion worked as the cheaper tickets were an enticer for those wanting to see the movie based off Janet Evanovich’s bestselling series and not pay full price. But considering weak word of mouth and a critical drubbing (3% on RT with only 29 critiques – 1 positive) it looks like it might be a one and done for Katherine Heigl wanting to produce and star in a lucrative film series.

27 Dresses, which opened to strong numbers for Heigl four years ago, almost seems like a distant memory. And it’s been one bad script pick after another with The Ugly Truth, Killers, and Life As We Know It. Maybe she’ll do better as part of an ensemble with this fall’s The Wedding. Instead of having the weight of a picture fall on her shoulders, she’ll have Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, Topher Grace, Amanda Seyfried, and David “Sledge Hammer” Rasche to help her out.

Red Tails fights another day as it holds steady for fourth place. A good hold its second weekend and cross-section appeal is likely to net a decent return. Mid-$50s to $60 million is the likely target. Though I wonder how it will play in Germany?

Summit Entertainment, which was recently acquired by Lionsgate, also did the discount ticket deal with its release of Man on a Ledge. Living Social offered discounted ads, but the ads and premise was tough to illicit excitement from potential customers. And if you read my review earlier in the weekend, then you know that it is destined for endless airings on TNT in between blocks of Law & Order. Honestly, if Sam Worthington isn’t clashing with Titans or disguised in CG, audiences aren’t inclined to rush out and see his non-tentpole releases. The dude is a B-level talent who will forever be linked to the megahit that was Avatar.

Looking at movies that got a boost thanks to Oscar nominations, you have Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (more like Extremely Grateful & Incredibly Shocked To Get Oscar Nominations) and Fox Searchlight’s The Descendants. After six weeks EL&IC has done $21 million – better since its wide expansion a week ago. Alexander Payne’s return to cinema after 2004’s Oscar-winning Sideways continues to play well. Searchlight’s platform release plan has netted the George Clooney starrer nearly $60 million in eleven weeks. Not in the top ten but worth discussion are the leaders of the Oscar nomination pack with eleven each, The Artist and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. The former added 235 new locations, while Scorsese’s family film-cum-film preservation conversation starter had a 142% audience increase with 315 new locations. Strangely enough, both have been in theaters for ten weeks with Hugo getting a big release and falling back versus The Artist‘s slowburn release strategy by The Weinstein Company.

Contraband is nearing its run in the top ten and should finish with around $70 million domestic. Beauty and the Beast 3D has crossed $40 million in three weeks, but look for this one to be irrelevant with the release of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island on February 10th. The last spot goes to Haywire which lost ground against Kate Beckinsale in black leather and couldn’t recover.

Also worth noting is the success of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Though not in the top ten, Tom Cruise’s fourth impossible mission has crossed $200 million and has made $571 million worldwide. That’s right. Maverick is still putting butts in seats.

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Weekend Box Office: Underworld: Awakening Tops The Weekend; Red Tails Has Strong Second-Place Finish Mon, 23 Jan 2012 13:00:17 +0000

This past weekend saw something that isn’t all that surprising. It was a weekend where audiences decided that they didn’t care what the critics wrote, they were going to see movies about vampires regardless. Certain reader commentary I’ve read on this site would have you believe that “reviewers are idiots” because the reader didn’t like a negative viewpoint on Underworld: Awakening the third sequel in an eleven-year-old franchise. It could be the fact that the vampire vs. werewolves franchise has seen its stock drop as a result of sequels after an entertaining original. For Underworld: Awakening, it opened a little above $25 million, which makes it the fourth in the series to open above $20 million. However, the return of Kate Beckinsale wasn’t enough to outperform the first weekend earnings of the second installment.

Having watched it this past weekend, the only comparison I can make about the success of the series is to that of Resident Evil. Prior to the film’s start was a trailer to Resident Evil: Retribution (yes, this will be the fifth one in the series). The success of last Resident Evil (with the sounds-like-this-is-the-last-one subtitle “Afterlife”) saw its overseas profits skyrocket to $236 million thanks to 3D surcharges – and viewers who still support the franchise – versus the $60 million grossed domestically. Personally, I’m apathetic to the release of sequels, especially in today’s Hollywood environment. Unless the sequel comes from a filmmaker that can expand on the original (see James Cameron’s Aliens as an example – hell it even has one of the best names for a sequel), I will maintain a wait-and-see approach. For Awakening, it basically goes back to its roots (the third release, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, served as a prequel since it was without star Kate Beckinsale) in its attempts to rejuvenate the franchise so that Screen Gems can look at making more Underworlds and Resident Evils in the coming years to help bolster its bottom line (while still trying to make back the millions it lost on producing Burlesque). Though, I have to commend Kate Beckinsale for being able to open three films north of $20 million. If only she could do that without the help of skin-tight black leather.

Placing second with an estimated $19 million was a passion project of George Lucas. It may have taken 23 years to get made, but Lucas finally succeeded in bringing the story of the Tuskegee Airmen to the big screen with Red Tails. Ambitious as it was, the independently produced venture from Lucasfilm was also cut to shreds by a majority of critics. Starring half of the cast of The Wire and co-written by the creator of The Boondocks, the WWII fighter pilot drama was at its worst when it was grounded and at its best when it was up in the air. Costing a reported $60 million, studio 20th Century Fox isn’t fretting too much. Still, this film of true heroism at a time when our way of life was threatened should have had a better crop of stars as well as a better script. Cliches matched with remarkable story don’t play well with one another.

On the heels of Mark Wahlberg’s asinine statement that he could have prevented 9/11, his thriller Contraband dropped from first to third. But it is holding steady, as compared to other Wahlberg starring vehicles (Shooter, anyone?). The film may have starred the once leader of the Funky Bunch, but let’s not forget about Kate Beckinsale, who was totally ignored in the advertising. So, technically, she’s the star of two straight #1 releases. If certain aggregate sites want us to believe that the hero trio of the Harry Potter series are the presiding factor on why their movies have grossed so much money, then I can include Beckinsale as being part of the success of Contraband.

The wide expansion of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was met with an underperforming per-screen average, having played on the arthouse circuit for four weeks. Having read varying opinions on the film – my thoughts don’t mesh with those of our Jenny Rebekah – it’s easy to see why audiences were hesitant to want to catch this one in theaters. Regardless of its basis, my biggest gripes wasn’t as much as the backdrop of 9/11 but with the aggravating performance by newcomer/Jeopardy wunderkind Thomas Horn.

Despite no new family releases this weekend audiences declined the invite to be Disney’s guest for Beauty and the Beast 3D. It hasn’t had nearly the opening or the success of The Lion King re-release. This is sad considering that Beast is the only film to have been nominated for Best Picture when there wasn’t a separate animation category for feature films. It may not be as popular as Lion King or Finding Nemo (it gets the 3D treatment this fall), but the film is a marvel to revisit in three dimensions. The ballroom dance with the sweeping tilt from the chandelier to the marble floor still astounds.

Relativity was hoping Haywire would catch fire like Taken did a few years ago. However, poor marketing without a name talent made it hard for audiences to fork over money to see it. Opening opposite another well-established female ass-kicker with a built-in audience wasn’t the best move either. Critics were supportive of Steven Soderbergh’s actioneer (currently 82% on RT), but audiences weren’t as kind. They gave it a D+ CinemaScore (hey at least it wasn’t an ‘F’, right?). Look for this to do much better overseas, where they feast on action movies.

Joyful Noise is still in the top 10. So are December holdovers Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. The first will reach $200 million, but Holmes and Watson will fall just short of that number on the domestic end. As for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, she will break nine figures by next weekend and receive a new tattoo as a result.

New releases on the indie circuit include Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut, Coriolanus, a Shakespeare adaptation. Opening in nine locations it earned $60k. The documentary Crazy Horse opened in New York on a single screen but grossed $10k. Best Foreign Film contender A Separation grossed $183k on thirteen screens, with a very impressive $14k average its fourth week in release. We Need To Talk About Kevin, highlighted by Tilda Swinton’s award-worthy performance, grossed $77k at seven theaters.

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Just Seen It Movie Review: Contraband [Video] Wed, 18 Jan 2012 07:02:27 +0000 Chris, a former expert smuggler, now leads a clean life with a family and business of his own. But when his brother-in-law fails to complete a drug delivery, Chris is forced to plan a new smuggling operation. When he discovers he’s been double-crossed, Chris must fight for his life and protect his family. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Giovanni Ribisi and Kate Beckinsale. Directed by Baltasar Kormakur. Written by Aaron Guzikowski, Arnaldur Indriðason. Produced by Tim Bevan. Genre: Action Thriller.

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Weekend Box Office: Contraband Steals One; The Devil Inside Dies A Quick Death Mon, 16 Jan 2012 13:00:15 +0000

So where’s the silver lining with the recent trend at the box office? Theater attendance dropped dramatically last year – the lowest attendance numbers seen in sixteen years – so you know the studios are looking for a success story when they can find it. Last week it was The Devil Inside and its $34 million opening. But because of a bad CinemaScore (it got an “F”) and badder word of mouth, this found footage exorcism movie saw its box office receipts wither away as its percentage change in attendance was -77%.

With The Devil Inside bumped from the top spot that left the Mark Wahlberg heist vehicle Contraband to contend with Disney’s revival of Beauty and the Beast in three dimensions. The Dolly Parton/Queen Latifah gleeful Christian reprise, Joyful Noise didn’t have a chance. In the end, the victor was Universal and Mark Wahlberg. A solid $24.1 million opening versus $40 million to produce is a win for the studio. Wahlberg, though a tough sell on certain films, is absolute money when it comes to making mid-level budget films and getting a return on investment. However the once underwear model’s biggest success as a lead came at killing the lucrative Planet of the Apes franchise directed by Tim Burton.

Beauty and the Beast 3D, which had exhibitors whining last week because the film’s Blu-ray 3D came out last October, opened lower than The Lion King but don’t blame those who have a 3-D ready TV with Blu-ray 3D player. An almost $19 million opening for a twenty-year-old film isn’t nothing to sneeze at. It only ensures that there is a market for mainstream revival releases in the marketplace. Other studios would love to replicate Disney’s success with re-releasing catalog titles in 3-D. Why else do you think we’re getting Star Wars: Episode 1, Titanic and Finding Nemo in 3D this year. With DVD purchases dwindling, studios need to do find ways to make good use of their catalog. Currently, 3D is it.

Taking third for the weekend was Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol which has passed the original film’s domestic gross. Now it has its aiming to outgross the worldwide total of the second film in the series. The question remains on what will it take Paramount to get Tom Cruise back to do a fifth installment. He’s already lining up productions for the next few years. If he gets any older and he’ll be one reading off the “Your mission if you choose to accept it” messages.

Part Glee, part Christian musical, Joyful Noise did better than it probably should. Parton hasn’t been truly relevant in movies since 1992’s Straight Talk. And for Latifah, outside of Bringing Down the House and Last Holiday and her vocal work in the Ice Age movies, she hasn’t really had any leading role successes of note.

Following the Latifah-Parton joint was Sherlock Holmes 2. Benefiting from not much competition in the marketplace, the sequel should finish in the range of its predecessor domestically, but be an even bigger hit on the international level. And despite early concerns that it would catch on with viewers, Sony Pictures’ American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is getting up there and could cross $100 million in a few weeks. It’s early returns overseas is a good sign, too.

Fox cuts close to 600 screen for Alvin and the Chipmunks signaling that it has run its course theatrically, much to the delight of parents everywhere. War Horse has spent four weeks in the top ten and has only amassed figures in the mid-$60s. Not exactly a breakout success, but it is still attracting eyes. Finally, rounding out the list is a title that is likely going to be take it or leave it offering. The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep is getting serious Oscar buzz for her performance, but the film is a hard sell. Thanks to solid expansion, though, it netted a decent per-screen despite playing on only 802 screens.

In limited release, we had expansions for The Artist, Carnage and A Dangerous Method. Of those, Method is still seeing a nice $5k per-screen return in its eighth week of release. The Weinstein Company’s silent film homage netted $1.1 million from 216 locations, while SPC’s Carnage made $786k. Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey collected $40k from 18 locations, and another Oscar hopeful, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close saw only $88k earned from six screens. Keep tabs on what’s playing at your closest arthouse. You might find something that surprises you.

1. Contraband – $24.1 million

2. Beauty And The Beast 3D – $18.5 million

3. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – $11.5 million ($506.7 million worldwide)

4. Joyful Noise – $11.3 million

5. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – $8.4 million ($392 million worldwide)

6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – $8.3 million ($88 million)

7. The Devil Inside – $7.9 million ($46 million)

8. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked – $5.8 million ($119 million)

9. War Horse – $5.6 million ($66 million)

10. The Iron Lady – $5.4 million ($6 million)

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Contraband – Review (2) Sun, 15 Jan 2012 13:00:28 +0000
A stripped-down “Takers” without any “Heat”

I’m convinced there are two Mark Wahlbergs on this planet. There’s the Mark Wahlberg who has shown his potential with his collaborations with director David O. Russell – I Heart Huckabees to be specific – plus being able to upstage comics Steve Carell and Tina Fey with his supporting role in Date Night. Then there’s the Mark Wahlberg that cashes in on his success by appearing in films like Max Payne and The Happening. Can’t fault a guy for wanting to make a living as something other than an underwear model and leader of the “Funky Bunch”. However his latest film, Contraband, while it may look good as a two-minute trailer, it doesn’t carry nearly enough thrills or excitement to compensate for its 110-minute run time.

The plot revolves around the need to smuggle $750,000 worth of counterfeit bills from Panama City to New Orleans. Mark Wahlberg plays experienced smuggler Chris Farraday. Chris has put his smuggling days behind him to settle down with a family and his own legit small business. Unfortunately for him, his lovely wife (Kate Beckinsale) has a turnip-brained kid brother who has put the entire family in danger due to a botched smuggling operation. So it’s up to Chris to do “one last job.” He relies on best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster) to look after his family while he boards a freighter bound to Panama to make things square with Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), the New Orleans hood whose intimidation stems from having colorful tattoos and a crackling voice, instead of an imposing presence. At no point does Wahlberg’s character feel the least bit threatened by Briggs. The same can’t be said for Beckingsale. Feeling shoehorned into the role of the dutiful wife who is well aware of her husband’s smuggling ways, she goes from dutiful to frightful to being a poorly conceived plot device in the last act.

What works against Contraband the most is its halfhearted structure – everything is too coincidental. Aside from Wahlberg’s introduction, where we get an understanding of his character without much exposition needed, and Ribisi’s character – inspired by several prison documentaries including one on Danny Trejo – the rest of the cast appears to go through the motions. The screenplay includes surprises that fail to surprise and more than a few plot holes. And the ending is too happy-go-lucky for a flick that aims to achieve the same atmospheric tones as crime thrillers set in Boston or New York.

Still, to be fair, the movie accomplishes what it sets out to do for a January release. It is absurd and enjoyable at times. And it is because of its absurdness that it becomes enjoyable. That may sound like a cop out, but it’s the truth.

Originally an Icelandic film titled Reykjavik-Rotterdam, Contraband doesn’t seem to require the East European setting unlike the recent Girl with the Dragon Tattoo adaptation. Baltasar Kormakur, who produced and starred in the original, serves as director. While he may have had a strong sense of what the movie was he couldn’t portray that on screen. He utilizes aerial shots way more than necessary to the point it’s easy to mistake the film for an episode of CSI: Bourbon Street. Kormakur’s action sequences lack impression or threat of danger. The overall sense of urgency tends to be absent until a mitigating circumstance springs up reminding everyone what’s at stake. Face it: Contraband borrows much from the crime film genre playbook of bad clichés and alters a few facets to suit the job at hand.

Working in a producing capacity, Mark Wahlberg definitely got the type of movie he wanted. He assembled some good working actors – J.K. Simmons chews the scenery as the captain of the freighter – for what looked to be an intriguing thriller about running contraband. The movie also continues to prove that Wahlberg seems to be stuck in neutral when it comes to heroics, emblematic of the ‘80s action icon with nary the gravitas. Ben Foster’s screen time is limited but his character probably has the greatest arc. And Giovanni Ribisi has come a long way from when I first noticed him – on an episode of The X-Files back in 1995. His Tim Briggs character is white trash and not the least bit intimidating, but he easily usurps the scenes he shares with Wahlberg.

Contraband is a crime genre filler that’s easy to forget after a single viewing. But that won’t matter to those viewers wanting to see something beyond holiday holdovers and Oscar hopefuls. If Takers was a poor man’s Heat, then Contraband is a poorer man’s Takers. Sadly, the title would have been better served for a mockumentary about an ‘80s cover band whose life revolves around that Nintendo game Contra. Imagine the possibilities.

Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Notable Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster, J.K. Simmons, Lukas Haas, Diego Luna, Caleb Landry Jones
Writer(s): Aaron Guzikowski, based on Reykjavik-Rotterdam by Arnaldur Indrioason and Oskar Jonasson×120.jpg

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Friday Box Office: Contraband Out In First, Beauty And The Beast Close Behind Sat, 14 Jan 2012 13:00:37 +0000 With new releases Contraband and Joyful Noise signaling out specific audiences and a revival of Disney’s famed animated classic, Beauty and the Beast in 3D, this Martin Luther King 4-day holiday weekend looks to be in pretty good shape as far as diversity is concerned. The Mark Wahlberg starring action thriller Contraband has taken an early lead with a first day gross of $7.7 million, followed by Beauty and the Beast with $5.5 million. Placing third on Friday was the Dolly Parton/Queen Latifah church choir comedy Joyful Noise. Last week’s number one The Devil Inside looks to take a nosedive after its ‘F’ CinemaScore and bad word of mouth. Estimates have it losing close to 80% of its opening weekend gross. Ouch. If that sticks we could be looking at this year’s record for steepest second-week drop.

Look for our full wrap up of the three-day weekend box office Monday morning.

1. Contraband (Universal) NEW [2,863 Theaters]
Friday $7.7M, 3-Day Weekend $22.9M, 4-Day Holiday $28M

2. Beauty And The Beast 3D (Disney) NEW [2,625 Theaters]
Friday $5.5M, 3-Day Weekend $18.5M, 4-Day Holiday $25.6M

3. Joyful Noise (Warner Bros) NEW [2,863 Theaters]
Friday $3.7M, 3-Day Weekend $12.3M, 4-Day Holiday $14.8M

4. Mission: Impossible 4 (Paramount) Week 5 [3,346 Theaters]
Friday $3.5M, 3-Day Weekend $12.1M, 4-Day Holiday $14.6M, Est Cume $189.9M

5. Sherlock Holmes 2 (Warner Bros) Week 5 [3,155 Theaters]
Friday $2.5M, 3-Day Weekend $8.8M, 4-Day Holiday $10.6M, Est Cume $172.2M

6. The Devil Inside (Paramount) Week 2 [2,551 Theaters]

Friday $2.1M, 3-Day Weekend $7.5M (-78%), 4-Day Holiday $8.7M×120.jpg

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Contraband – Review Sat, 14 Jan 2012 13:00:15 +0000
Perfectly acceptable action film

In another era Mark Wahlberg would be the biggest action star of them all. With good looks and physique to match, Wahlberg looks to be the kind of action star that followed the muscled up era of Schwarzenegger and Stallone following Die Hard. But the problem is that he’s never really had a film that really capitalized on it. Shooter was interesting but remarkably flawed and his most noteworthy films are those away from the genre. And unfortunately Contraband doesn’t do anything to buck the trend.

Chris (Wahlberg) is a world class smuggler who has left that world behind him. With a beautiful wife (Kate Beckinsale) and two children to supplement a legitimate lifestyle, he’s lured back in when his brother in law (Caleb Landry Jones) screws up a job. In debt to a bad man (Giovanni Ribisi), Chris is lured back into the world of the smuggler for one last job to pay off his brother in law’s debt. But it’s not without problems and Chris winds up in a much deeper hole from which he started.

The problems begin because the film is a collection of parts from other, better films and not done all that well. Baltasar Kormakur has remade his own film for this, having helmed and starred in Reykjavik-Rotterdam, has adapted his film into English but hasn’t done anything to make it interesting. His original had the same hangup as well; this isn’t a film that’s engaging and intriguing but the original wasn’t either. There are plenty of moments in the film reminiscent from other, better films and it shows in small things like the film’s cinematography and certain moments of score. It’s as if Kormakur studied up on other, more successful films in the genre and has almost directly copied moments from them for this film. They’re competently put together and the film lands in mediocre territory mainly because the characters are paper thin and the acting isn’t good enough to overcome them.

Wahlberg is perfectly acceptable in the film. He doesn’t have much of a character to work with but what he’s lacking in character he makes up for in intensity. We may not know much about Chris the person but Wahlberg brings plenty of intensity to make up for the thinness of the character. There isn’t much to do besides snarl on many occasions but Wahlberg gives us just enough to make us care about Chris. Kate Beckinsale is given less as his wife. It’s shocking how little she’s given with how prominent of an actress she is and it reflects in her performance. It’s acceptable for the genre but is certainly not going to be on her acting reel anytime in the near future.

Giovanni Ribisi is given the only character of note as the chief villain but it’s more of him over-acting in an attempt to make the film interesting as opposed to having an interesting villain to play. Armed with an amusing accent and clothing, it would be easy for him to just mail it in. Ribisi has some fun with it, chewing scenery even when the scene doesn’t demand it. It certainly makes the film more interesting on occasion but it doesn’t make it better.

With any other star, Contraband goes direct to video instead of getting a January release and a chance at finding box office success. Wahlberg is big enough to get a film like this into theatres but not good enough to make it anything but mediocre.

Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Notable Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster, J.K. Simmons, Lukas Haas, Diego Luna, Caleb Landry Jones
Writer(s): Aaron Guzikowski, based on Reykjavik-Rotterdam by Arnaldur Indrioason and Oskar Jonasson×120.jpg

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Monday Morning Critic – 1.9.11 – James Cagney – Mark Wahlberg, Contraband and Gettin’ Dat Paper Mon, 09 Jan 2012 14:00:11 +0000 Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

One of the more amusing things about the upcoming weekend in new releases is that of Mark Wahlberg seemingly officially giving up and cashing in on his post Departed Oscar nomination. How so? He’s officially reached the point in his career, like many actors, where he chooses to GDP over anything else. What’s “GDP” mean? I first heard then it attributed to something then Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal” would say by Ben Fowlkes of MMA

I found a song to help better explain it, for those unfamiliar with the general concept.

In other words … Marky Mark is off to “Get Dat Paper” over anything else now that he has his Oscar nomination.

I realize as being both white and lame that using urban vernacular is unbecoming in many ways; it only accentuates my whiteness as opposed to giving me some sort of credibility amongst the street population I will never achieve because of both my whiteness and my lameness. However, it’s the only way I know of to express this particular moment in Wahlberg’s career. And considering he used to be a rapper, way back when anyone with a good beat and some attractive women could have a hit song and video, it feels appropriate in this odd context.

Sometimes an actor has achieved a certain amount of prestige and visibility in their career they never thought they would have. At this point, once a certain amount of fame and respect from your peers and the movie-going audience has been achieved, there’s only one thing left to do: make as much money as possible to retire early. And I can see why an actor would want this; being a full time, working actor is tough and few can do it and be genuinely successful at. It’s also the one most critiqued, as well, and there’s only so much one can do in film before reaching a certain point.

Sometimes it’s more important to be comfortable than it is to be challenged; to be content is often more important than to be happy. And I get why someone like Wahlberg would take a film like Contraband: five years ago he hit that point where getting paid became more important than the respect of his peers. Once the bonafides sank in for his Oscar nominated turn in The Departed sank in, and that no matter what he can always refer to himself as “Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg.” There comes a point when the bulk of the work you want to do helps maintain a lifestyle and gets you nice stuff.

Some actors and directors, et al, never reach this point. Look at someone like Paul Dano; the guy is in tons of films, mainly working the indies of the world, for good and challenging parts obviously not paying him remarkably well. He takes a studio film every now and again to get a big enough paycheck to allow him to continue this lifestyle. It’s respectable in a way. He values his tradecraft to the point that taking roles off the beaten path to continue to become better at it is more important for him than it is to get the biggest check per film.

Dano might end up at a point sometime in the future when the dollar signs overwhelm script quality, etc, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising. Sometimes the perks of a studio film, including the better pay and treatment, become more important than the project itself. I imagine that there comes a point when someone shows you “eff you” money for a handful of projects that sometime you’ll wind up deciding to take it. The big bank account and high net worth can be worth it, especially in the entertainment field where big money offers aren’t around forever.

Mark Wahlberg – Shooter, We Own the Night, The Happening, Max Payne and Contraband aren’t the recent calling card of an actor looking for awards, honestly. The Fighter is an outlier, mainly because it was a passion project, but it’s not like he was all that good in it. I think everyone in that film besides him got nominated for an Oscar. It was like “Extra #2, step forward to get your nomination. Not so fast Mark.” It’s like ever since he got his Oscar nomination he said “I peaked, time to make some money” and thought that challenging Jason Statham for action hero status was more lucrative.

Ben Kingsley – After House of Sand and Fog, look at the massive amounts of films that clog his resume. Thunderbirds, A Sound of Thunder, Bloodrayne, The Last Legion, The Love Guru and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. He has enough quality to make you overlook the volume of crap, but you have to think sometimes that when Kingsley isn’t doing an indie he doesn’t read scripts. He looks at how big of a check he’ll get, which is taped over the script title, and decides from there. Yeah he can hold his head because of films like Hugo but let’s be honest; nothing about The Love Guru screams of anything but Ben Kingsley going “How much did they offer? No way. I’m in.”

Nicolas Cage – Is there anything this guy won’t do for money? Honestly … I think Cage isn’t sent scripts anymore. He’s sent hairpieces with checks attached to them. He goes through them, figures out which one he wants to wear, and then compares it with the salary he’ll get for wearing it, then makes his choice. Honestly, look at his resume in the last decade. Outside of a trio of solid films (Kick Ass, World Trade Center and Lord of War) and National Treasure, everything since Matchstick Men has been schlock to the highest degree. Some of it has been entertaining, some of it not bad, but one thing you can’t say about a guy who does the American remake of Bangkok Dangerous is that it’s not exactly the first choice material for an Oscar winner. It’s the first choice of an Oscar winner going “show me the money.”

Kate Hudson – She had her big moment in Almost Famous where she crushed it. You can’t top what she did in Almost Famous in some aspects: she created one of the more memorable characters in film of the first decade of the 2000s and gave my favorite performance of the decade of any actor or actress. And what did she do after this moment, this singular film that could’ve established her as the next great actress of her generation? Romantic comedies nearly every year, almost like clockwork. When Bride Wars and Something Borrowed, perhaps the two peaks films of her post Famous career. Kate Hudson immediately thereafter went out and Got Dat Paper, for sure.

Anthony Hopkins – Since 1997 or so, Sir Anthony Hopkins has kind of gone the Marlon Brando/Orson Welles route. Instead of humiliating himself, though, he’s managed to not be embarrassing despite being in a truckload of horrid films. There’s no other way to describe Bad Company, Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon , a Zorro film, Fracture, The Rite and The Wolfman. He has a handful of films to his credit aimed for the prestige audience but let’s be honest; the CBE holder has opted to cash checks much more often than he has taken challenging roles.

That’s all I can think of for now. Anyone else care to offer up someone who’s at the Gettin’ Dat Paper stage in their career?

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – White Heat

One of the downsides of gift certificates is that sometimes it’s not to stores I’m likely to frequent. Barnes & Noble is one of them; I love their book section but I have more books than movies to catch up on and as such haven’t bought a book in eons. Movies, though, are an entirely other beast and as such I have no problem getting more despite the entire DVD rack devoted to just stuff I haven’t watched yet. The time commitment for a film is way easier than that of a book as well; I can mow down a book while I’m waiting at the car dealership but the two hours to watch a film is easier to find than more than that to read a book. Plus Barnes & Noble has a crappy DVD selection that’s insanely overpriced; $25 there doesn’t go as far as it does on Amazon. But I was fortunate enough for one thing when I opted to use it the Monday after New Year’s.

Post holiday sales.

Thus I was able to pick up White Heat and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf for the gift cert, the remaining amount on one of those Visa check cards and a couple bucks in cash. Not a bad deal considering I’ve wanted to pick up White Heat for a while and Woolf demands a home on every film buff’s shelf.

White Heat stars James Cagney as Cody, the mastermind behind a train heist of spectacular portions. With Cody taking the rap for a crime in Illinois to get out of shooting a federal agent after him, and killing a member of his own crew sealing up a date with the gas chamber for him. As he goes in and out of jail until the big blood-soaked finale, it becomes an interesting character study about a violent sociopath with a soft spot for his mother.

Heat is an interesting film, historically, in that it’s not the most influential one of Cagney’s career but certainly the most famous. You could argue that Public Enemy and Angels with Dirty Faces were more influential to the genre but White Heat is the most famous of the immense number of gangster films Cagney did.

It’s also one of the films whose influence you can still see in both character and story. It’s one of the quintessential Cagney films for understanding how he influenced genre acting on a historical level. Cody is a despicable villain, and the film follows him throughout the end game of his life. It’s a film that gives you the best lines for any Jimmy Cagney impression, as well.

Strongest recommendation.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Beauty and the Beast (3D) – A beast kidnaps a hot chick, shenanigans ensue … IN 3D!

See It – It’s a Disney animated film and much like The Lion King it’s an opportunity for parents to share their love of this film with their kids.

Contraband – Marky Mark has to run something illegal for Giovanni Ribisi or else his wife (Kate Beckinsale) will die.

Skip It – Looks solid but it is January, after all. Add this to the serviceably bad action library Wahlberg is slowly accumulating.

Joyful Noise – Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah engage in wacky shenanigans as they both try to lead a choir to win a national competition.

Skip It – Queen Latifah’s record of success of films she headlines isn’t all that good. Don’t expect it to get better anytime soon.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.×120.jpg

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