Sunday, April 29, 2007

Weekend box office estimates:

1. Disturbia - $9,100,000
2. The Invisible - $7,606,000
3. Next - $7,200,000
4. Fracture - $7,075,000
5. Blades of Glory - $5,200,000
6. Meet the Robinsons - $4,842,000
7. Hot Fuzz - $4,780,000
8. Vacancy - $4,200,000
9. The Condemned - $4,000,000
10. Are We Done Yet? - $3,400,000

Source: Box Office Mojo

This weekend was the calm before the storm as Disturbia claimed the #1 spot at the box office for the third weekend in a row, easily fending off new releases The Invisible (#2) and Next (#3), who only grossed a paltry $7,606,000 and $7,200,000 respectively.

It was a relatively quiet weekend at the box office, with the #1 film grossing less that $10,000,000 - a rare occurence.

However, next weekend sees the release of Spider-Man 3, which is geared up to be a blockbuster of massive proportions. It pretty much goes without saying that Disturbia's 3 week reign will be put to an end on May 4 as Spidey swings into theaters.

Friday, April 27, 2007

From Variety:

Jack Valenti, the colorful, charismatic head of the Motion Picture Assn. of America for almost four decades and the prime mover behind the movie ratings system, died Thursday. He was 85. Valenti had checked out of Johns Hopkins U. Medical Center on Wednesday. He had been hospitalized after suffering a stroke.

A private mass celebrating Valenti's life will be held in Washington. The family will announce details in the coming days.

The highly articulate and pugnacious Valenti, a former aide to President Lyndon Johnson who served as the industry's Washington, D.C., liaison from 1966-2004, was among the most visible lobbyists in the country, as comfortable testifying at a government hearing as he was appearing on the Academy Awards.
Click here to read the full story.

Valenti was the man who gave us the movie rating system as we know it today, effectively bringing an end to the Production Code that governed Hollywood films for decades. While the rating system has become a joke in recent years, Valenti's original concept struck a blow against censorship, and ushered in a new era of artistic expression in American film.

He may have been a somewhat controversial figure, but one thing is for sure. Today was the end of an era in Hollywood.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Thanks to Sasha Stone over at Oscarwatch for posting this.

From the official Screen Actors Guild press release:

Los Angeles, California - Screen Actors Guild will honor this year’s outstanding performances by film and television stunt ensembles, it was announced today by Yale Summers, chair of the Screen Actors Guild Awards® Committee. Honorees will be announced on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008, prior to the televised 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards® ceremonies.

The honors will commend work within the stunt community and will recognize stunt performers and coordinators.

Nominees for Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture and Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Television Series will be chosen by their respective SAG Awards™ film and television nominating committees, each comprised of 2,100 SAG members from across the United States, randomly selected on April 25, 2007.

They've been lobbying for this from the Academy for a while now. Are the Oscars next? Probably not. The Oscars still haven't added that ensemble cast category that they should have a long time ago.
Film critic Roger Ebert is returning to the movie scene after a long absence to battle cancer of the salivary gland.

Says Ebert of his ordeal:
I have received a lot of advice that I should not attend the festival. I’m told that paparazzi will take unflattering pictures, people will be unkind, etc.

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. As a journalist I can take it as well as dish it out.

So let’s talk turkey. What will I look like? To paraphrase a line from “Raging Bull,” I ain’t a pretty boy no more. (Not that I ever was. The original appeal of “Siskel & Ebert” was that we didn’t look like we belonged on TV.)

What happened was, cancer of the salivary gland spread to my right lower jaw. A segment of the mandible was removed. Two operations to replace the missing segment were unsuccessful, both leading to unanticipated bleeding.

A tracheostomy was necessary so, for the time being, I cannot speak. I make do with written notes and a lot of hand waving and eye-rolling. The doctors now plan an approach that does not involve the risk of unplanned bleeding. If all goes well, my speech will be restored.
Ebert's determination is to be greatly admired here. His love of movies and unwillingness to let his illness get him down (or the paparazzi for that matter), is stunning.

It's good to have him back in business. The movie world just hasn't been the same without him. Welcome back Mr. Ebert. We missed you.

You will always get two thumbs up from me.

I read this article in Variety last night, but was too tired to try to put together any kind of coherent thoughts about it.

According to the article:
On April 12, the Federal Trade Commission encouraged studios and the MPAA to consider whether these discs undermined its rating system, calling the "prevalence of marketing unrated DVDs containing content that might warrant an NC-17 rating" a particular cause for concern.

This report came one month after National Assn. of Theater Owners topper John Fithian used his ShoWest keynote speech to urge studios to stop releasing unrated versions of their movies on disc; he termed unrated discs a cheap shot at the ratings system.
Now, I'm not a big fan of unrated versions of previously rated movies being released on DVD. I think it's a silly marketing ploy. And the new footage usually adds nothing to the film, and in some cases (such as Anchorman), the new footage is so bad it actually detracts from the original picture. Lets face it, Lord of the Rings aside, most extended cuts are pretty pointless. Most deleted scenes were deleted for a reason, and should remain that way.

However, for the FTC to be breathing down the necks of studios over this is just ludicrous. It amounts to nothing more than a case of attempted government censorship. I have a bad feeling that this is going to become an election year issue. This is the kind of frivolous non-issue that politicians on the right AND the left tend to jump own to fill their "family values" quota.

The bottom line is, unrated discs sell better. I don't usually buy them. When I go buy a movie, I want to see the version I saw in theaters. But the promise of added sex and violence tends to appeal to people, even if the movie is not that much more explicit, which is usually the case. Studios add in another five or six minutes into the film, don't send it to the ratings board, and voila, instant unrated version, complete with totally unwarranted raunchy mystique.

Apparently, the example cited by the FTC is the unrated version of Hostel, which proclaimed that it was more "sick and twisted" on the cover art. Yeah, so? It's just another silly marketing trick. I saw the unrated version of Hostel and was thoroughly unimpressed. Would it have warranted an NC-17? Doubtful. I've seen R-rated films that were worse.

As for them being a "cheap shot at the ratings system," well...the ratings system is pretty much a joke anyway. And it's not like the MPAA has any real authority, or for that matter any real credibility in this department. The ratings system would probably be better off if it were abolished altogether - as it has just become another arm of the studio marketing machines.

I like what Matt Lesora, New Line Home Video exec VP of marketing, had to say about the situation: "It's up to people to police on their own. When you bring a DVD home, that's where the moderating begins."

Amen. The FTC has no business here.

Thanks to Nikki Fenke for posting the official poster for the 60th Annual Cannes Film Festival on her Deadline Hollywood Daily blog.

Pictured are: Penelope Cruz, Wong Kar Wai, Juliette Binoche, Jane Campion, Gerard Depardieu, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and Pedro Almodovar. That's quite an impressive gathering of talent.

Click here to see the official Cannes film lineup.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

From The Hollywood Reporter:

PARIS -- French actor Jean-Pierre Cassel died Thursday in Paris after a long illness. He was 74.

"I honor the memory of a man who, with a subtle and ironic sophistication, left a unique imprint on the history of cinema, theater and television," Veronique Cayla, head of French national film body the CNC, said in a statement Friday.

Cassel got his break when he was discovered by Gene Kelly, who cast him in "The Happy Road" in 1957, and subsequently rose to fame starring in film comedies in the 1960s.He went on to work with such major directors as Robert Altman, Luis Bunuel, Jean Renoir, Sidney Lumet, Claude Chabrol and Richard Attenborough.

The actor starred in more than 110 movies during his career and earned the onscreen affections of Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, Stephane Audran and Marie Dubois among others. Cassel, who once cited Fred Astaire as a source of inspiration, was famous for his role as the ungainly King Louis XIII in Richard Lester's pair of early 1970s films "The Three Musketeers" and "The Four Musketeers."

His latest roles include Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," In Competition at May's Festival de Cannes, in addition to the soon-to-be-released animated movie "Asterix at the Olympic Games." Cassel is survived by his three children, including son Vincent, who also has made a big name for himself stateside with roles in the recent "Ocean's Twelve" and "Derailed."

I read an interesting article by Joe Queenan in today's New York Times - the basic point being that most college campuses are showing mostly low brow new releases instead of high art films.

He writes:
In olden days — say, from the morning the Sorbonne was founded until the night MTV made its debut — the traditional purpose of the university was to provide some sort of sanctuary from the world of Mammon. The idea was to erect an island of intellectual freedom where young people could probe and question and develop their own ideas before reality closed in and everybody went to work for a private equity firm. Part of this nurturing process was to expose young people to great books, great music and great films.

This was not to denigrate mainstream pop culture; saucy comedies about grown men cavorting in diapers have always had an important role to play in our society, and always will. Still, there did once reign a belief that because generic Hollywood fare was widely available elsewhere in a way that films by Eric Rohmer were not, it might be nice to apprise students of the world of cinema beyond Jack Black and Adam Sandler.
While I agree with the basic point of what Queenan is saying, his argument is inherently flawed. The example he keeps coming back to is Saw III, saying at one point:
Since “Saw III” contains graphic scenes in which naked or near-naked women are tortured to death, fussbudgets might pose the age-old in loco parentis question: Who’s monitoring these programs to make sure my daughter doesn’t wander into somebody’s dorm room and see a bunch of naked women being defiled?
We're talking about colleges here, not high schools - adults who are able to make their own decisions about what kind of films they will watch. No one needs to be there to "protect" them from anything. R-rated fare is perfectly acceptable on a college campus where everyone is over the age of 17.

This kind of thought makes his argument sound dangerously like a prudish, knee-jerk conservative, wringing their hands over "what our children are watching."

Yes I had a problem with Saw III (pictured above), and yes I voiced it rather loudly. But his argument about the innocent ears of college students doesn't ring true at all, and I think hurts his point.

Which is that colleges aren't showing intellectually stimulating movies. They're showing Saw III and Napoleon Dynamite and movies of that ilk.

Which is true. I am a college student who lives on a college campus. We have two theaters here on my campus. One, which shows the latest second run current films, and another which shows classic films. In between there are various screenings of independent and foreign films that are a part of film series sponsored by different campus organizations.

This weekend alone the three films playing on campus were Smokin' Aces, the classic Steve McQueen starrer The Great Escape, and Duck Season, a Mexican coming of age tale.

That's quite a variation. And for my film class there have been screenings of films by Jean-Luc Godard going on all semester - Breathless, Le Petit Soldat, Vivre sa Vie, Bande á part, Masculin Feminin, Week End...the list goes on.

The issue here is that campus film programmers have to show the latest blockbusters so they can make enough money to show the more intellectually challenging films, because the sad truth is that not many people are going to go see them. I watched the first Saw movie in a campus theater with a packed house. I saw The Motorcycle Diaries play to a nearly empty house.

Our film programming society here does a pretty good job of alternating between populist picks and more critically acclaimed fare. This semester we've shown everything from Borat to Babel to Dreamgirls to Marie Antoinette to The Departed to The Holiday to Stranger than Fiction. Not a bad mix overall, showcasing films that appeal to a wide range of people.

The sad fact of it is The House of Sand just isn't going to pull in huge audiences. Ditto the classic films Queenan mentioned like The Seventh Seal (pictured below), The 400 Blows, or Citizen Kane (which actually screened on campus here this year).

All three films are available in our library, but drawing a huge crowd with them is hard to do. Which is what most of these campus programming organizations need to do to survive.

I can't speak for all colleges, but I believe mine has a pretty good variety. And we're not a huge school - around 14,000 students or so. The problem really isn't with the programmers, or the colleges, but with the students themselves, and the overall devolution of taste prevalent in today's culture. Audiences want big, dumb laughs and pointless violence. And until more intelligent filmmaking gets wider distribution and more targeting toward mass audiences, the problem won't be fixed.

But the films are there. Sometimes you just have to know where to look.
Weekend box office estimates:

1. Disturbia - $13,460,000
2. Fracture - $11,175,000
3. Blades of Glory - $7,808,000
4. Vacancy - $7,600,000
5. Meet the Robinsons - $7,088,000
6. Hot Fuzz - $5,837,000
7. Are We Done Yet? - $5,200,000
8. In the Land of Women - $4,915,000
9. Perfect Stranger - $4,100,000
10. Wild Hogs - $2,872,000

Source: Box Office Mojo.

Disturbia held on to its crown as king of the box office this weekend, earning $13,460,000, bringing its total box office gross to $40,654,000. As it's only new release competition, the Anthony Hopkins/Ryan Gosling starrer, Fracture, opened at #2. Other new releases Vacancy and In the Land of Women opened at a dismal #4 and #8, respectively.

Grindhouse continued its plunge, falling out of the top 10 to #14 in its 3rd weekend of release.

Meanwhile, audiences continue to ignore Lasse Hallström's fabulous The Hoax, which came in at #16 with only $1,300,000 in its first week of wide release, while Wild Hogs is still in the top 10 after 8 weeks of release. Sad.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

TV Guide is famous for its annual list of the "Best Shows You're Not Watching," which details quality shows with small audiences. It seems only fair that the same should be done for films.

It's one of the great sorrows of being a critic, discovering films you love, and watching as the disappear without a trace at the box office. How many moviegoers last year found a theater showing The House of Sand, Sweet Land, or Shortbus, or for that matter, even heard of the films at all? Not many, I imagine. But they were three of my favorite films of last year, and yet no one went to see them.

Not that the studio had the confidence to give them very wide releases. So it's just as painful, if not more so, if a film is playing in lots of theaters, and yet still no one is going. That is happening right now to the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double feature Grindhouse, which has bombed at the box office.

But another film is struggling as well, one much more worthy of attention. In my opinion, it is the best English language film of the year so far.

I am talking about Lasse Hallström's remarkable, endlessly compelling, The Hoax.

Telling the story of Clifford Irving, the author who fabricated an "autobiography" of infamous billionaire Howard Hughes, features career best performances from both Richard Gere as Irving, and Alfred Molina as his research partner Dick Susskind.

From my review (to be published on Thursday):
Gere, with his fake nose and used-car salesman smile and sideburns, is a marvel, but the real scene stealer is always reliable character actor Alfred Molina (“Spider-Man 2,” “The Da Vinci Code”) as Irving’s reluctant partner in crime, Dick Susskind. Molina’s portrayal of a good man hopelessly in over his head is every bit as compelling as Gere’s emulation of a slow descent into madness fueled by his own lies. Molina wears the initial giddiness and the petrified desperation of a man who realizes he is in way too deep with the assuredness of a master thespian.
These are the kind of layered, deeply felt portrayals, at once witty, funny, and poignant, that get Oscar nominations - and if this film had been released later in the year, it would be almost guaranteed. Being a mid-April release, it's the longest of long shots. And not just because of the release date. The film just isn't getting the kind of heat it deserves, from audiences or critics.

It has been quietly racking up good reviews (it currently has an 86% positive score on Rotten Tomatoes, and a respectable 70 on Metacritic), but not the kind of passion I would expect from a film of this quality. It is even better than David Fincher's excellent Zodiac, which has been heaped with praise, and Mike Binder's tender gem Reign Over Me, which didn't get the universal acclaim of Zodiac, but does have its zealous supporters (namely Jeffrey Wells over at Hollywood Elsewhere).

Films like The Hoax are something to be treasured - a mature, entertaining, finely crafted film released early in the year when most studios are mainly churning out junk.

öm is no stranger to the Oscars. His films The Cider House Rules and Chocolat scored back to back Best Picture nominations in 1999 and 2000. And The Hoax is certainly better than those two films (even though I love Chocolat). I don't know if I would go so far as to call it Best Pic material yet, but it most definitely deserves attention if for no other reason than the performances of Gere and Molina alone.

Oscar material in April? You bet. You heard it here first.
From Yahoo! News:

NEW DELHI - Angry crowds in several Indian cities burned effigies of Richard Gere on Monday after he swept a popular Bollywood actress into his arms and kissed her several times during an HIV/AIDS awareness event in New Delhi were splashed across Monday's front pages in India — a country where sex and public displays of affection are largely taboo.

In Mumbai, members of the right-wing Hindu nationalist group Shiv Sena beat burning effigies of Gere with sticks and set fire to glamorous shots of Shetty.

Similar protests broke out in other cities, including Varanasi, Hinduism's holiest city, and in the northern town of Meerut, where crowds chanted "Down with Shilpa Shetty!"

Click here to read the full story.

Damn. And I thought fundamentalist Christians got upset over The Da Vinci Code...

Reuters is reporting that Edward Norton will take over for Eric Bana as Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk in the upcoming franchise "restart," which is set to be released in June 2008.

The first Hulk film, directed by Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) was widely panned and considered a failure by fans and critics alike. For the new film, The Incredible Hulk, will be directed by Louis Leterrier (The Transporter), and will go on as if the first film never happened.

Monday, April 16, 2007

From Filmmaker Magazine:
Jim Lyons died on Thursday in New York.

If you didn’t know Jim personally and just recognize his name from movie credits, then you most probably remember him as an editor. His credits include four films by Todd Haynes – Poison, Safe, Velvet Goldmine and Far from Heaven – as well as Spring Forward, The Virgin Suicides, Silver Lake Life, and, most recently, A Walk into the Sea: The Danny Williams Story. The latter, a documentary by Esther Robinson about her uncle’s relationship with Andy Warhol and The Factory, won the Teddy at Berlin this year and receives its U.S. premiere at Tribeca this month. He was also an AIDS activist and educator.

But Jim did many other things – he wrote, acted and had plans to direct – and his great contribution to our world of film lay in his contributions not to any one of these fields but rather across them. Jim was always an artist, even when he was editing someone else’s material, and he brought an artist’s sensibility, temperament and questioning to everything he did. Whether it was playing the artist David Wojnarowicz in Steve McLean’s Postcards from America or Billy Name in Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol, or co-writing the story for Velvet Goldmine, Jim's work questioned the social codes and roles that act to define us while also finding the elements of beauty in the spaces in between.
Click here to read the full article.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Weekend box office estimates:

1. Disturbia - $23,025,000
2. Blades of Glory - $14,065,000
3. Meet the Robinsons - $12,103,000
4. Perfect Stranger - $11,500,000
5. Are We Done Yet? - $9,200,000
6. Pathfinder - $4,800,000
7. Wild Hogs - $4,639,000
8. The Reaping - $4,565,000
9. 300 - $4,315,000
10. Grindhouse - $4,239,000

Source: Box Office Mojo

The teen targeted Rear Window rip-off Disturbia was number one at the box office this weekend, beating out it's closest newcomer competition, the Halle Berry-Bruce Willis vehicle Perfect Stranger, which debuted in a weak 4th place.

Grindhouse, regrettably, continues to bomb, falling to 10th place, with a cumulative gross of $19,700,000. Apparently the concept was lost on the majority of Americans.

Miramax's excellent The Hoax is in 16th place with a rather peaked $1,652,000 in just 413 theaters in its first week out of expansion, although the $4,000 per-screen average isn't bad. But as the best English language feature I have had the pleasure of seeking this year (and the first with truly Oscar-worthy performances), it really deserves more. But more on that later.

Friday, April 13, 2007

From Variety:
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas used the April 13 release of Shia LaBeouf starrer "Disturbia" to officially confirm LaBeouf's deal to star in "Indiana Jones 4" (Daily Variety, March 8).

They also wanted to make the announcement before LaBeouf hosted "Saturday Night Live" April 14.

Lucas and Spielberg are keeping a tight lock on info about the project, which returns Harrison Ford to the bigscreen as Indiana Jones. The exact storyline isn't know, although rumors suggest that LaBeouf will play Indiana Jones' son.

Cate Blanchett and Ray Winstone also are expected to star, although their deals aren't official.

Par is also wooing Sean Connery to reprise his role.

Spielberg is set to begin lensing in June in L.A. and other locations around the globe. Paramount Pictures releases the film May 22, 2008.

Click here to read the full story

Thursday, April 12, 2007

From Variety:
Kurt Vonnegut Jr., writer of dark comic novels including "Slaughterhouse-Five," died Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 84. Vonnegut suffered brain injuries as a result of a fall several weeks ago.

His novels became classics, particularly among young readers in the 1960s and '70s.

His 14 novels included races he invented, impossible sci-fi phenomena and outlandish religions. While several were adapted for films, his vivid imagination sometimes proved difficult to translate to the screen, with George Roy Hill's "Slaughterhouse-Five" one of the more successful attempts. Other adaptations, such as Alan Rudolph's "Breakfast for Champions" and "Slapstick (of Another Kind)" were less successful.

Vonnegut was a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany when he witnessed the firebombing by Allied forces, a brutal event which left a lasting influence on his work. "Slaughterhouse-Five," published in 1969 during the Vietnam war, was based on his WWII experiences.

His novels combined fiction and autobiography in a freewheeling style which took liberties with structure and punctuation, yet Graham Greene called him "one of the most able of living American writers."

Click here to read the full story.

I wasn't going to post this because it doesn't directly involve film, but actually it does. It involves the entire art world. Vonnegut was one of the greats, and his work has been an inspiration to artists everywhere, in the film world and beyond.

I want to share with you this Vonnegut quote, sent out by composer Clint Mansell (The Fountain) via a bulletin he posted on MySpace:
"When the last living thing
has died on account of us,

how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,

in a voice floating up

from the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
"It is done."

People did not like it here."
Farewell Kurt. You will be missed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

This is my favorite of the faux trailers that show in between the features of Grindhouse. It's so gleefully sick. It was the part of Grindhouse that had to be trimmed the most to avoid getting an NC-17 rating. Which makes me wonder...just how twisted was the original cut? Apparently a lot was cut out of it.

And yes, it's supposed to be's ok to laugh.

Warning: this is not for the squeamish.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Weekend box office estimates:

1. Blades of Glory - $23,000,000
2. Meet the Robinsons - $17,004,000
3. Are We Done Yet? - $15,000,000
4. Grindhouse - $11,591,000
5. The Reaping - $10,080,000
6. 300 - $8,825,000
7. Wild Hogs - $6,838,000
8. Shooter - $5,800,000
9. TMNT - $4,935,000
10. Firehouse Dog - $4,000,000

Source: Box Office Mojo

It looks like the Rodriguez/Tarantino double feature, Grindhouse, was too hip for the room as audiences chose the safe route with the Will Ferrell/John Heder comedy vehicle Blades of Glory for a second weekend in a row. Even Are We Done Yet?, the sequel to the insipid Are We There Yet?, one of the worst films of the decade, managed to do better than the slam-bang thrill ride that is Grindhouse.

I guess a 3 hour plus, R-rated double feature is a tough sell, especially one that requires some basic knowledge of cinema history (which the average moviegoer lacks) is a tough sell. Maybe it was a bit too insider-y, who knows. Anyway, once again the good film loses out. I don't know why this surprises me anymore.
Why won't people listen to me? I've been shouting from the rooftops that The Last Mimzy is one of the best live action family film in years, and no one is going to see it. Even people I know.


To quote my original review: "It's a small wonder that [director Bob] Shaye accidentally made such a good movie, considering that the film has more problems than I care to list, but its charm and innocence carry it through anyway, with a little help from the child in all of us, staring in wide-eyed wonder at something born out of a dream. It features moments both ridiculous and sublime, contrived and inspired, and somewhere in between something truly magical happens - "The Last Mimzy" steals our hearts."

With such a lack of quality family entertainment out there, it's a shame that the best of its genre in a good long time is not finding an audience. This is one children's film that doesn't deserve to wither on the vine. Go see it. And take your kids.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Studio estimates for March 30 - April 1:

1. Blades of Glory - $33,000,000
2. Meet the Robinsons - $25,056,000
3. 300 - $11,155,000
4. TMNT - $9,160,000
5. Wild Hogs - $8,389,000
6. Shooter - $8,000,000
7. Premonition - $5,100,000
8. The Last Mimzy - $4,000,000
9. The Hills Have Eyes 2 - $3,925,000
10. Reign Over Me - $3,700,000

Source: Box Office Mojo