Posts Tagged ‘127 Hours’

WILMINGTON ON DVD: 127 Hours, Bambi, Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy, Burlesque, Faster

Monday, March 14th, 2011

PICK OF THE WEEK: NEW & BLU-RAY

127 Hours (Four Stars)
U.S.: Danny Boyle, 2010 (2oth Century Fox)

Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours is a great real-life survival story — horrific and inspirational, stunningly crafted, and loaded with suspense, even though most of us already know all or part of the film’s story, and most probably its shocking climax. It’s about climber/explorer Aron Ralston (James Franco), trapped and alone for five days in a crevasse in a little-traveled area of Utah‘s Canyonlands National Park, his cell phone unusable, his arm stuck between stretches of rock, and ultimately forced to make a terrifying choice in order to have a chance at survival.

Ralston did survive of course. He also wrote a book about the experience called “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” and most people within range of a TV — or not actually caught between rocks themselves — know what he had to do to get himself free. That doesn’t lessen the tension here. As Alfred Hitchcock often said, suspense depends not on surprise but on our strong identification with characters trapped or in crises — which is certainly what director Danny Boyle, co-writer Simon Beaufoy and a marvelous crew (including editor Jon Harris and cinematographers Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak) manage to set up and execute, stunningly, here.

Wonderfully told by Boyle, it’s also searingly well played by James Franco, in the second of his two top-of-the-line 2010 lead performances. (The other was a wholly dissimilar but equally brilliantly done assignment as beat poet Allen Ginsberg in “Howl.”)

Watching Franco here, as he plunges himself into a part so taxing physically, psychologically and even spiritually, and does it so brilliantly, you tend to forgive him for that awful, howlingly embarrassing turn he gave as co-host (with the equally sabotaged Anne Hathaway) at the last Oscar Show. Not their fault. After all, Franco and Hathaway didn’t pick themselves as hosts. Or write those empty, fatuous lines. Or get hung out to dry by the whole bankrupt Looks and Youth Uber Alles philosophy of many current movie and TV execs.

Memo to future Oscar producers: Don’t keep engaging in the great American media masturbation fantasy. Think of those two guys your writers referenced on the Oscar Show to try to excuse yourselves. Think of Bob Hope. Think of Billy Crystal. Think of what they brought to the table. Think of Robin Williams, whom you guys keep mistakenly passing over as the Oscar Show host. (He’s unpredictable? He’s dangerous? He’ll be bleeped? Bleepin’ great!) For the Oscars, you need for your hosts comedians or comedy-minded actors, funny guys and gals who can think on their feet, ad lib if necessary, generate good times, swiftly respond to everything, milk sentiment when needed, and above all, keep things going and recover from catastrophes. Witty, not pretty, is what you want in your host. (That said, Jeff Bridges, with nary a laugh, had the best line deliveries of that whole awful evening. Not that Jeff is all that pretty. And he is, after all, The Big Lebowski. Dude!)

Here, Franco has a damned good script, a damned good director. And damned good fellow moviemakers who know what they’re doing. Forget the Oscars. (127 Hours, by the way, probably deserved some statuettes it didn’t get.) Here, Franco makes the most of what he’s got. So did Ralston.
Extras: Commentary by Boyle, Beaufoy and producer Christian Colson; Deleted scenes, Featurette.

PICK OF THE WEEK: CLASSIC & BLU-RAY

Bambi Diamond Edition (Blu-ray and DVD Combo) (Two Discs) (Four Stars)
U.S.: David Hand, 1942 (Walt Disney)

Walt Disney‘s Bambi is one of those classic family movies that children never forget, that adults still love, and that tends to make children of us all as we watch it.

I don’t want to come across as too much of a softie, or as an easy mark for Disneyfied sentiment. But aw shucks, how can you help it? This lush 1942 film adaptation of the classic Felix Salten book — now released in Blu-ray, with every color shimmering, every brush stroke gleaming, every animal character (from Bambi, his regal dad and his loving and lovable mother, to that fussbudget old owl and Bambi’s charming, stalwart chums Thumper the bunny and Flower the skunk) absolutely aglow with life — plays just as well and just as beautifully, as it did nearly 70 years ago, on its first release.

SPOILER ALERT

It’s one of the great movie nature stories and one of the great rite-of-passage children’s tales — and like Lassie Come Home, The Yearling and The Red Pony, it’s one of a great cycle of animal movies in the ‘40. Thanks to Disney and his matchless ‘30s-‘40s animation team — headed here by director David Hand — the movie unforgettably gives us the times and seasons in the life of the princely little deer Bambi: his widely celebrated birth (as the new Prince of the Forest), his first faltering bent-legged steps, the tenderly wise tutelage by his mother (while his royal stag dad is busy King-ing it up elsewhere ), his meetings with his forest friends and future wife, the russet-colored falling leaves of autumn, the cold snows of winter, crisis and tragedy, and finally, poetically, the new spring. There we find the problems of “twitter-pation” (a Disney term for emerging sexuality), and finally, the renewal and birth of the next Prince.

END OF ALERT

Of course, Disney’s classic feature cartoon tale of animals in the forest,  the cycles of life, of mothers and fathers and their young, has a pro-ecology theme that’s gotten even more powerful and topical through the years — especially when we watch the movie’s lovely, painterly forest ravaged and burned, and Bambi’s parents and friends threatened or harmed, by the carelessness and brutality of the movie’s chief villain: that shadowy, menacing, rifle-toting, mostly unseen but always dangerous figure whom the animals shudderingly call: “MAN!”

The movie, of course, is an animal‘s-eye view of the beauties of nature and the threats to it, and of the hunt, and it‘s probably done as much over the years to make movie audiences conscious of that beauty and those threats, as any nature-loving film endeavor up to those other great popular masterpieces of the whole ecology cinema canon: the wondrous David Attenborough-Alistair Fothergill BBC documentaries Planet Earth, Life of Birds, Life of Mammals and Blue Planet. (If you haven’t seen these movies on TV or DVD, you’ve missed a cinematic revelation.)

But those British movies, splendid, educational and knowingly and enthusiastically narrated (by Attenborough) as they are, don’t have, as Bambi does, a guaranteed pipeline to our heartstrings: characters we feel we know, life experiences that become our own, a great sacred natural cartoon domain that becomes our spiritual homeland as well as Bambi‘s. They don’t have the little spotted fawn Bambi hiding behind his mother from his first (and last) crush Faline, or the bashful little self-conscious skunk Flower (Uncle Pepe Le Pew’s unlikely American nephew?), or Bambi’s great self-sacrificing mom nestling and protecting him and calling for him frantically as the hunters go on their rampage in the Great Meadow.

They don‘t have the little deer‘s groovy, chubby smart-alec little sidekick Thumper to keep thump-thump-thumping and wise-cracking away, offering pearls of forest wisdom like his defiantly non-correct version of his dad’s doggerel homily “Eatin’ greens is a special treat. It makes long ears and great big feet …But it sure is awful stuff to eat!” (“I made up that last part myself.”)

Bambi was the last of the five great animated features with which Disney impressively kicked off his and his studio’s feature cartoon filmography, and which, in many ways, Disney and the studio have never surpassed (or equaled) since. And, like the others — 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (also directed by Hand), 1940’s Pinocchio and Fantasia, and 1941’s Dumbo — it’s a still-luminous showcase for the genius and craft of all his artists, their talents meshing back then in a grand synergy that still seems amazingly personal (Walt’s personality, of course), staggeringly ambitious and amazingly accomplished.

It took barely a decade, after all, for the Disney studio to go from the “primitive” black and white line drawing style of Steamboat Willie and Plane Crazy to the incredible color, detail and lushness of “Snow White” and the others. A decade!

Bambi is a movie that has never lost its own youth, even as the ages and seasons pass inevitably in the movie itself. For many years, Bambi and most of the rest of the great first five, were regularly re-released to succeeding generations of children and their parents, until we all seemed to know them, and until the relative financial failures of some of those movies on first release (notably Pinocchio and Fantasia) were finally wiped out. Like the cycle of nature, the theme reworked in the Bambi-like 1994 hit The Lion King, these movies were always renewed and renewing, always returning, forever young.

I first saw Bambi as a child (with my mother, of course) in the ’50s. I saw it again, for this column, as an older (old?) man in a brand new restored 35mm print at Chicago‘s Museum of Contemporary Art, accompanied by a Q&A session with a current Disney Studio animator and by the actor who, as a boy voiced young Bambi, the still vigorous and sharp retired U.S. Marine Donnie Dunagan.

It will probably be the last time I ever see Bambi in a 35 print in a theatre, maybe the last time I‘ll see it ever. (I always hoped I’d see it some day though, with kids of my own.)

But the movie, unlike the Prince of the Forest, hasn’t aged. Most of it never will. And what has aged in it has become sometimes even more precious. Bambi, whether in 35 mm, DVD, Blu-ray or not, whatever the format, whatever your age, whatever the season, is a picture that should be seen and re-seen — especially by us, humanity, MAN.

Extras: Both DVD and Blu-ray versions; Introduction by Diane Disney Miller; Deleted scenes; Deleted song; Inside Walt’s Story Meetings; Game; Interactive galleries; Disneypedia: Bambi’s Forest Friends.

PICK OF THE WEEK: BOX SET

Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy (Three Stars)
U.S.: Gore Verbinski, 2003-2008 (Walt Disney)

Avast, ye lubbers! Here are three salty-dog adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp at his most playfully anti-heroic), on the high seas and in the Caribbean colonial digs, battling it out with stuffy snobs and nabobs (Jonathan Pryce, at his most playfully icky), ghostly buccaneers (led by Geoffrey Rush, at his most playfully villainous), and incidentally aiding two not exactly star-crossed lovers, Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom. (Actually they’re more like stardom-blessed lovers).

I didn’t much like the first of these movies, I enjoyed the second, and I would have enjoyed the third, if writing about it hadn’t been such a horrible experience, if a group of bloodthirsty pirates hadn’t attacked and boarded me old ship, maties, and made many of my old friends (and many of the best of them) walk the plank, and then sent the ship on an orgy of brutal high jinks, inane new navigation charts, sadistic abuse, inhuman and ruthless cutting and slashing, and gross dim-witted piratical revelry that made the place a living if sometimes outrageously comic Hell.

Soon the once proud old tall ship started sinking, sinking…But the word is that on spooky moonlit Caribbean nights, you can see that high-masted old vessel, its sails in tatters, its poopdeck in ruins, still drifting forlornly on cold dark waves, and you can hear, ever so faintly, wild mad laughter and the distant ghostly voices of that pirate crew, singing of fifteen execs on a dead man‘s chest, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of (very expensive) rum, of the joys of bankruptcy, of looted pension funds and of grave-dancing grave-robbers from Hell.

Avast, ye lubbers! Keelhaul the swabs! It’s too bad Errol Flynn wasn’t there to retake the ship.

Enough of horror stories. Actually, in the old days, when I lived in Los Angeles, and used to visit the original Anaheim Disneyland regularly, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” boat trip was my absolute favorite. (I suppose that stamps me as lowbrow and somewhat lower-class. So be it. Ya swabs.) The movies, which came later (which were, in fact, inspired by the Ride) are pale reflections of the wondrous ultimate 3D spectacle of that boat trip itself — a masterpiece of theme park grandeur that sends you cruising through the waves and an inky Caribbean night, with pirate automatons (smarter than the ones I knew) attacking ships, stealing treasure and then wine-wenching-and-wassailing it in their orgiastic pirate haunts. I made sure we took the ride every time we were there. The movies aren’t as good, although they do offer Depp in his best Keith Richards impersonation, as Jumping Jack Sparrow. And you can play these in your living room, without getting wet or running the risk of being lashed to the mast or slashed by a cutlass.

Speaking of Flynn, since it’s obvious that Michael Curtiz‘s classic 1935 Captain Blood lies partly behind this Pirate trilogy (and the pirate ride before it) , and since TCM/Warners recently re-released “Blood” on a Flynn box with The Sea Hawk and the dry land swashbuckler The Adventures of Robin Hood, you should know that the Flynn box is cheaper, and a better box than this — though less of a high tech wonder. But high tech isn’t everything, especially on the high seas.

Includes: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (U.S.: Gore Verbinski, 2003) (Two and a half Stars) Captain Jack starts chasing spooks and ships. With Depp, Rush, Bloom, Knightley, Pryce.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (U.S.: Gore Verbinski, 2007) Three Stars.

Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) climbs on board. With the above cast, plus Nighy and Stellan Skarsgard.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (U.S.: Gore Verbinski, 2008) Three Stars.

More sea battles: a wearing experience for some, fun for others. With the above casts, plus Chow Yun Fat, and, as Jack’s dad, the great Keith Richards. (“Good to be in the Caribbean! Good to be anywhere!”)

Extras: Featurettes; Blooper reel, game, Interactive tour.OTHER CURRENT AND RECENT DVD RELEASES

OTHER CURRENT AND RECENT DVD RELEASES

Faster (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.: George Tillman, Jr., 2010 (CBS Films)

DRIVER. COP. KILLER.

Those three stark titles flash over the grim visages and grimmer physiognomies of the unholy trio of main characters in Faster — stamping them on our consciousness just like the iconic intros for Eastwood, Van Cleef and Wallach in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. (Waaa-wa-wa!) Here, they’re the nicknames for three deadly foes in the new road-runner neo-noir thriller Faster: Three murderous players spinning around a race track of death, hatred and revenge, in a vintage 1970 black Chevy Chevelle (Driver’s), a Bakersfield police car (Cop‘s) and a Ferrari (Killer‘s). The fast. The faster. The fastest. The Good. The Bad. And The Ugly.

Cast as the threesome in this visually snazzy but whacked-out neo-noir, are three actors trapped in parts that expose them to constant danger, frequent ridicule and sometimes make no sense at all. Dwayne Johnson is Driver, the ex-con on a mission from Hell. Billy Bob Thornton is Cop, the dissolute, disheveled fuzz who’s on the case and on the skids. And Oliver Jackson-Cohen is Killer, a stylish Brit hit man who looks a bit like Jake Gyllenhaal and does yoga.

Or should we get into the terse, monosyllabic spirit of things encouraged by writers Tony and Joe Gayton (The Salton Sea) and director George Tillman, Jr., (Soul Food), recall Johnson’s superstar wrestler heyday and I.D. them as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Billy “The Bob” Thornton and Oliver “The Jackson” Cohen?
The Rock, The Bob. The Jackson. Driver will kill you, Cop will collar you. Killer will teach you the lotus position.

According to Faster — a sometimes exciting, sometimes really silly thriller that would like to be the new Point Blank, The Driver or Kill Bill, but can‘t quite make it into third gear — this deadly trio of characters are three existential pawns in a wild game of murder, revenge and redemption, waged on the bloody streets, oily oil fields and desolate deserts of Bakersfield.

The Rock’s Driver is on a mad, monomaniacal revenge spree after being sprung from a ten year prison sentence. The Bob’s Cop is Loser Number One, it seems: a slovenly, unshaven detective, with parenting problems, a skeptical partner, Cicero (played by Carla Gugino), a heroin habit, and — always a danger sign — only weeks to go until retirement.

And the Jackson’s Killer is a retired financial whiz, and self-improvement nut who takes on assassinations for a lark, has been hired to whack Driver by one of his potential victims, but has promised his supermodel-looking girlfriend, Lily (Maggie Grace), that he’ll settle down to smell the roses and all the good things in life — great sex, target practice, financial chicanery, and yoga — after this one last job (another danger sign).

Oh, I forgot the other lead characters: the cars. Or CARS. They’re pretty damned important here too, especially that constant scene-stealer, the Chevy Chevelle that Driver uses to do 180 degree skid turns, speed against the traffic flow, and outrace other muscle cars while in reverse.

Driver loves to drive, sometimes in the wrong lane. But mostly he‘s hell-bent on revenge, from the moment at the beginning when he marches down the cell block floor, sneers at the Warden’s (Tom Berenger) good wishes, races to a local junkyard, pops into the Chevy, gets a list of his enemies and stoolies and betrayers from a crooked investigator and starts wreaking havoc on all the murderous vermin who double-crossed him in a heist job. On the slime beyond slime and the scum beneath scum who killed his brother and got Driver sent off to prison where he apparently became a millionaire, selling contraband cigarettes or porn or advertising or something. (Maybe it was bootleg DVDs of Point Blank and Escape from Alcatraz.) .

SPOILER ALERT
Like Lee Marvin‘s Walker in Point Blank (called Parker in Richard Stark/Donald Westlake’s original novel, “The Hunter“) Driver wants to find the rats who screwed him. But, unlike Walker (who’ll settle for his money) Driver won’t stop until each one of them suffers and dies, in as photogenic a way as possible. Telemarketer. Dirty Old Man. Bathroom Thug. And all the rest, including Evangelist (Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje), screaming for mercy and supplying the author’s message. (I shouldn’t josh. That was the best scene in the movie.)
END OF SPOILER

Faster, well-photographed by Michael Grady, tries for a neo-noir-gone-Leone kick. But it’s undermined by its own would-be heartfelt sleaze factor. Billy Bob is always pretty good (though I wish he’d use a French or German accent some time) and he manages to keep a straight face here (it must have been hard), despite playing a Cop who has survived even though he shoots up in johns, comes to work unshaven and in need of a fix and has trouble getting his kid to Little League games.

Johnson plays Driver with few words, the usual ripped physique, a constant glower, and lots of hammerlock charisma. Hell, it’s a better part than  Tooth Fairy.

Jackson-Cohen — whose Killer calls his therapist between hits — is sometimes upstaged by his own cell-phone, whose ring tone is, you guessed it, the Ennio Morricone title theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

One thing bewildered me, and has bewildered others. How can Driver — a six foot plus bald muscle-bound hunk of a hulk, scowling and marching around like The Terminator with an upset stomach — keep whizzing around the town, blasting victims before surveillance cameras, killing people right and left, have his mug shot plastered everywhere on TV as Suspect No. One in a crime wave, constantly engage in high speed chases and massive traffic violations everywhere, and yet never seem to get fingered by the public or a stray cop? Is everyone in Bakersfield on heroin?

Despite myself, I enjoyed part of this. I like it sometimes when the slime beyond slime gets iced on screen. And this movie, for all its sadistic folderol, has a smidgen of humanity. I liked Tillman‘s Soul Food,” a good-hearted ensemble family movie, and I appreciated the occasional humanity Tillman tried to mix in with the standard brutality and melodrama here.

But one of the reasons film noir became so classic, is that the writing and the original stories back in the ‘40s were often so damned good. Hammett. Cain. Chandler. Woolrich. Hughes. Hecht. Polonsky. Huston. Thompson. Most of the ‘70s neo-noirs were well-written too. (Hard to beat Bob Towne‘s Chinatown.) But, script-wise, it’s been a crapshoot since the ‘70s, and that’s a word I’d apply here too. Crap. Shoot.

The scripts for the post-70s neo-noirs are sometimes absurd and often have happy endings. (A lot of the classic noirs did too, but darker is always better.) I won’t tip the hue here. I don’t want spoil any (absurd) surprises. Unfortunately, Faster is nowhere more absurd than it is at the finish, when it springs three twists so preposterous, you almost wish they had opted instead for, oh I dunno, having the three guys make nice and decide to open up a yoga school together instead. Called “The Good, the Bad and The Ugly: Yoga Masters.”

Love that Chevy Chevelle though. Does it really steer that well in reverse?

Burlesque (Two Stars)
U.S.: Steve Antin, 2010 (Screen Gems)

Cher: Boy can she sing! Christina Aguilera: Boy can she sing and dance! Stanley Tucci: Boy can he act! Burlesque: What a crock of high-gloss…crud. (I‘m aware that kids sometimes cruise the Internet.)

This is one of those “Oh, My God!“ movies. (Excuse me, “Oh my Gosh!“) Even if you don’t say it out loud, you’ll be thinking it every ten minutes or so, maybe every five minutes.

Steve Antin wrote and directed. (Wrote? Directed?) Christina Aguilera is Ali, from Iowa, a girl with a dream. She makes it to L. A. (Oh, my God.) She gets robbed. She finds the Gosh-darnedest place I ever saw allegedly in Hollywood — and I used to live there. It’s a show bar called “Burlesque,“ modeled on Cabaret and Chicago, with that great “Cabaret” alum emcee Alan Cumming as a greeter. He‘ll be wasted here, and I don’t mean on booze or coke.
Up on stage, somewhere in Hollywood (or maybe in Oz), there are barely dressed sexy girl dancers, without poles, lip-synching songs. Cher is up there as owner Tess, lip-synching Cher (herself), in a pretty good tune called “Welcome to Burlesque” (the last time I had any hope for the movie). Soon we find that the club is full of sort-of striptease dancers who wear elaborate costumes, and lip-synch to, say, Marilyn Monroe’s great “Diamonds are a Girl‘s Best Friend” number and other classics, while sort of stripping. Everybody seems to have a number except Cumming, who doesn’t strip and who maybe couldn’t clear the “Cabaret” rights. (Oh, my God.)

Ali watches. She is entranced. (Oh, my God!) She wants to sing, to dance, to take it all off (or maybe put it all on) — which she did back in Iowa in the first scenes, all by herself, in a deserted bar. Tess is skeptical. (Why? Ali sings great.) But Ali, indomitable, just picks up a tray and just starts waitressing and gets hired. Meanwhile Tucci, as Sean the dresser/cohort/“Burlesque” jack-of-all-trades (especially rough), deals out snappy patter while zipping everyone up. Or down. For a brief fleeting minute or so way back when, he was a heterosexual and once even bedded Tess, who still loves him. (Oh, my Gosh!)

Ali still has no home. Never fear. To the rescue comes cutie-pie bartender Jack (Cam Gigandet, trying to Brad Pitt it up). Jack offers his digs, recently vacated by his fiancée. Ali moves in, takes the couch. They don’t sleep together. (Oh, my God!) Somebody is about to foreclose a mortgage on Burlesque, and the evil studly rich guy Marcus (Eric Dane) wants to buy the place, put up condos. He also wants to sleep with Ali and he dates her up and takes her to his swanky digs in the hills, but she’s too busy occupying the couch and not sleeping with Jack. (Oh my gosh and golly!)
One fateful night, another dancer tries to sabotage Ali‘s lip-synch act, but Ali saves the day by actually singing. She sounds just like Christina Aguilera! She becomes a smash hit! (Oh, my God!) Tess, inspired, throws together a new show , with live singing and the house band, in about a day. (Oh, my God!) It’s hit after hit, smash after smash, though there’s not much room in the club, and they chopped up Alan’s one song. But the editors put Ali on the cover of the L. A. Times Calendar section anyway, a venue so prestigious and exclusive they once nixed a cover pic of Robert Altman for a location story on The Player. (I swear.)

Despite this howling success, the mortgage is still due. Ali is still on Jack’s couch. Marcus is still hot to trot and he‘s furrowing his brow and bragging about his millions and his philanthropy. Tess’s old partner throws a drunken fit. Tess yells “I don’t want to put any more tequila on your cornflakes!“ (Savor that line; It’s the best they’ve got.) But one other fateful night, Jack puts on red jammies with little white things, does a strip for Ali, and holds a box of Famous Amos cookies over his thingie. (Oh, My God!)
Well, you get the drift. So, if you want to see this, go ahead. As Mad Magazine used to say all the time, “It’s crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide.“ (Or words to that effect.)

The music is by Christophe Beck. The songs are all pretty good (though I‘d like more Cher), but not worth suffering through the rest for. Wait for the DVD, so you can just play the songs and skip the drama, the comedy, the mortgage foreclosure, the tequila and cornflakes, Tucci’s zipper technique and Jack‘s red jammies. And Jack’s hidden thingie.(Oh my God!)  As they say in Chinatown, I’m doing you a favor — and that’s even if you love Cher, Christina, Tucci and Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies. Lip-synched. (Oh, my God!)

Extras: Commentary by director-writer Steve Antin; Alternate opening; Alternate musical numbers; Blooper reel.

The Weekend Report – February 13

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Bieber Pitch
By Leonard Klady

It was Sandler by a nose over the teen sensation. The rom-com Just Go With It emerged with an estimated $30.8 million while the 3D concert film Justin Bieber: Never Say Never was right behind with $30.4 million. In a session energized by new releases the animated Gnomeo and Juliet charted third with $25.3 million and the Gladiator-lite The Eagle slotted in position five with a drab $8.3 million.

The frame also featured a clutch of incoming niche and exclusive debuts. Bollywood entry Patiala House was the best of the newbies with $352,000 at 80 venues and on the Pinoy circuit Bulong had an OK $25,300 at six locales. Testing the waters with 15 screens, the comic Cedar Rapids found the temp conducive with a $302,000 tally.

There was also good response to the Oscar shorts tour with a first stop of $237,000 and the pacifist doc Mooz-lum had an impressive $12,000 per location average of $12,000, The single screen bow of another doc, Vidal Sassoon, looked and dressed good with $13,800.

Following a month of box office declines revenues experienced dramatic upturns that have finally put smiles on the folks in the distribution and exhibition sector.

Pundits were confident that the Sandler – Aniston pairing in Just Go With It would generate a $30 million plus opening salvo that would easily outdistance any threat from Justin Bieber’s concert foray. The latter movie was pegged at $25 million to $28 million and was the clear winner on opening day Friday with close to a $3 million edge of $12.4 million.

However, whereas the pubescent fan base proved to be first day fanatics, the older Valentine romantics were dominant for Saturday date night. The Bieber group declined by 13% while the Gos expanded by 42%. Both films skewed female with the concert crowd comprised of a whopping 84% and 67% under 25 according to exit polls. The comedy crowd was 58% distaff and 60% comprised of plus 25%. Never Say Never also registered a very potent 84% attendance for its stereoscopic playdates.

That still left plenty of room for the family audience that embraced Gnomeo and Juliet. Largely underserved in recent weeks, trackers underestimated its appeal with predictions in the range of $16 million to $20 million. The Eagle was the poor cousin in the mix and largely negative reviews didn’t help improve a lackluster response.

Overall revenues pushed to roughly $150 million for an eye-popping 73% boost from the prior weekend. It was also an impressive 32% improvement from 2010. Last year’s freshmen thrust was provided by first and third ranked Dear John and From Paris with Love with respective opening salvos of $30.5 million and $8.2 million.

Obviously with so much incoming fare the crowd of Oscar contenders – even the most resilient – lost a significant number of screens. And if on-going appeal is any kind of indicator, The King’s Speech contingent would be well advised to brush up on their elocution. It sputtered an insignificant 5% erosion despite the loss of 321 theaters.

Weekend (estimates) February 11 – 13, 2011
Title Distributor Gross (avg) % chng Thtrs Cume
Just Go With It Sony 30.8 (8,680) NEW 3548 30.8
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never Par 30.4 (9,790) NEW 3105 30.4
Gnomeo and Juliet BV 25.3 (8,450) NEW 2994 25.3
The Roommate Sony 8.3 (3,290) -44% 2534 26
The Eagle Focus 8.3 (3,630) NEW 2296 8.3
The King’s Speech TWC 7.3 (3,230) -5% 2263 93.8
No Strings Attached Par 5.6 (2,030) -30% 2756 59.8
Sanctum Uni 5.1 (1,830) -46% 2789 17.5
True Grit Par 3.8 (1,820) -19% 2072 160.3
The Green Hornet Sony 3.6 (1,730) -39% 2090 92.3
The Rite WB 3.1 (1,410) -44% 2207 28.7
The Mechanic CBS 3.1 (1,630) -42% 1886 25.3
The Fighter Par/Alliance 2.1 (2,030) -25% 1049 85.6
Black Swan FoxSrchlght 2.1 (1,980) -37% 1069 99.3
Dilemma Uni 1.0 (800) -70% 1242 47.6
Tangled BV .77 (980) -58% 784 193.3
Yogi Bear WB .74 (670) -67% 1111 96.6
Blue Valentine TWC .57 (1,450) -28% 393 8.2
Tron: Legacy BV .55 (1,510) -60% 364 169.7
127 Hours FoxSrchlght .54 (1,500) -50% 359 16.8
Biutiful Roadside .52 (2,740) -19% 190 2.2
The Company Men TWC .51 (1,840) -7% 277 3
Barney’s Version eOne/SPC .44 (4,400) -11% 119 3.3
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $144.10
% Change (Last Year) 32%
% Change (Last Week) 73%
Also debuting/expanding
Patiala House Hari .35 (4,400) 80 0.35
Another Year Sony Classics .34 (1,970) -23% 236 2.2
The Illusionist Sony Classics .32 (1,540) 70% 205 1.15
Cedar Rapids FoxSrchlght .30 (20,150) 15 0.3
2011 Oscar Shorts Magnolia .24 (3,880) 61 0.24
Mooz-lum Peace-Films .13 (12,000) 11 0.13
Gaganam Big Pictures 96,700 (6,400) 16 0.1
Bulong ABS 25,300 (4,210) 6 0.03
Poetry Kino 18,300 (6,100) 3 0.02
Payanam Big Pictures 15,400 (1,490) 9 0.02
Vidal Sassoon: The Movie Phase 4 13,800 (13,800) 1 0.01
Carancho Strand 12,900 (4,300) 3 0.01
Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 – Feb. 10, 2011)
Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Paramount (7) 184.7 20.60%
Sony (8) 157.6 17.50%
Universal (5) 121.9 13.60%
Buena Vista (3) 83.9 9.40%
Warner Bros. (10) 81.3 9.10%
Weinstein Co. (3) 78.8 8.80%
Fox Searchlight (2) 62.4 6.90%
Fox (4) 46.6 5.20%
Relativity (2) 24.5 2.70%
CBS (2) 22.6 2.50%
Alliance (5) 5.3 0.60%
Other * (49) 27.7 3.10%
897.3 100.00%

Sketching 127 Hours’ Exacting Set Design

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Sketching 127 Hours‘ Exacting Set Design

The Weekend Report – February 6

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Where Have All the Avids Gone …
Long Time Passing

The debut of The Roommate led an anemic field at the weekend box office with an estimated $15.5 million. Second ranked was another newcomer – the 3D adventure Sanctum - with a disappointing $9.2 million.

Anticipating steep Sunday admission drops from the Super Bowl both national and niche debuts were generally directed to strong single quadrant audiences. Opening day-and-date with Mainland China, the Sino version of What Women Want generated a dull $58,900 at 29 venues; the family oriented The Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec struggled to $51,300 at 27 screens in Quebec; and the inspirational Midway to Heaven was stuck in the middle with $42,400 at 10 playdates. Best of the new exclusives was American indie Cold Weather with a $14,800 tally on a single screen.

Continuing the first quarter cold spell ticket sales experienced double digit declines that have left both the exhibition and distribution sectors in a very blue funk.

The Roommate, a remake in all but name and credit of Single White Female, bucked recent viewing trend with exit polls showing strong younger appeal. Its 65% female crowd was not unexpected and its 61% under 21 makeup was encouraging … at least for an opening weekend gross that was largely predicted by tracking pundits.

Sanctum wasn’t as lucky with, again, a distaff skewing set of viewers, albeit largely plus 25s. The sizzle was all about its stereoscopic qualities and reviewers skewered its artistic elements. Still tracking indicated a bow of $10 million to $12 million that audiences weren’t willing to make come true.

Overall business fell short of $90 million for a 20% decline from the prior weekend. It was a slightly steeper 22% drop from 2010 when the $30.5 million opening of Dear John toppled Avatar’s reign with that film taking the bridesmaid spot with $22.8 million.

The industry is now inured to Super Bowl’s clobber but the more serious concern is the sudden disappearance of the avid audience that falls between ages 17 and 25. Recent movie releases are largely being blamed with no relief in sight for the first quarter of 2011 and certainly no possibility of Oscar fare bringing up the slack.

The official line is that the avids will return but somewhere in the dark recesses are concerns that a significant portion of that audience has opted out of the theatrical experience in favor of new technologies and platforms. Theater owners are buckling down for additional experimentation in “windows” that will cut into their bottom line.

Historically the majors have been slow to respond to change and if logically an aging population would suggest adopting more mature content, don’t expect that penny to drop for three to five years. Independents could move in to fill the gap though one can be certain their deep pocket brethren will out spend them to ensure market share dominance rather than address real business issues.

___________________________________

Weekend Estimates – February 4-6, 2011

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
The Roommate Sony 15.5 (6,130) NEW 2534 15.5
Sanctum Uni 9.2 (3,300) NEW 2787 9.2
No Strings Attached Par 8.3 (2,730) -38% 3050 51.7
The King’s Speech Weinstein Co. 8.1 (3,150) -27% 2584 83.9
The Green Hornet Sony 6.3 (2,070) -44% 3033 87.4
The Rite WB 5.6 (1,880) -62% 2985 23.7
The Mechanic CBS 5.3 (1,970) -53% 2704 20
True Grit Par 4.8 (1,650) -36% 2902 155
Dilemma Uni 3.4 (1,340) -40% 2545 45.7
Black Swan Fox Searchlight 3.4 (1,710) -34% 1977 95.9
The Fighter Par/Alliance 2.9 (1,730) -27% 1662 82.4
Yogi Bear WB 2.3 (1,260) -28% 1807 95.4
Tangled BV 1.8 (1,330) -28% 1369 192
127 Hours Fox Searchlight 1.4 (1,510) -36% 899 15.7
Tron: Legacy BV 1.4 (1,320) -46% 1040 168.8
Little Fockers Uni 1.2 (910) -52% 1355 146.5
Blue Valentine Weinstein Co. .79 (1,760) -33% 450 7.3
From Prada to Nada Lionsgate .69 (2,640) -38% 261 2
Biutiful Roadside .63 (3,560) 38% 177 1.4
Country Strong Sony .61 (640) -52% 948 19.8
The Company Men Weinstein Co. .55 (2,380) -17% 231 2.3
Chronicles of Narnia: Dawn Treader Fox .53 (1,030) -40% 514 102.6
Gulliver’s Travels Fox .67 (1,030) -42% 495 41.14
Another Year Sony Classics .48 (2,030) 55% 236 1.7
Barney’s Version eOne/Sony Classics .43 (3,570) -13% 119 2.7
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $84.70
% Change (Last Year) -22%
% Change (Last Week) -20%
Also debuting/expanding
The Illusionist Sony Classics .19 (2,850) 46% 68 0.77
Incendies eOne/Seville .14 (3,050) 30% 47 2.8
Rabbit Hole Lionsgate .12 (890) -32% 131 1.7
What Women Want China Lion 58,900 (2,030) 29 0.06
Adele Blanc-Sec Seville 51,300 (1,900) 27 0.05
Midway to Heaven Excel 42,400 (4,240) 10 0.04
Cold Weather IFC 14,800 (14,800) 1 0.01
Troubadours PBS 13,200 (4,400) 3 0.01
Waiting Forever FreeStyle 8,700 (2,900) 3 0.01
The Other Woman IFC 5,800 (2,900) 2 0.01

Top Domestic Grossers – 2010

Distributor Gross Market Share
Paramount (7) 163.5 20.90%
Sony (7) 130.7 16.70%
Universal (4) 103.7 13.30%
Buena Vista (3) 79.6 10.20%
Warner Bros. (10) 70.1 9.00%
Weinstein Co. (3) 66.2 8.50%
Fox Searchlight (2) 55.7 7.10%
Fox (4) 45.1 5.80%
Relativity (2) 24.1 3.10%
CBS (2) 15.1 1.90%
Alliance (5) 4.9 0.60%
Other * (46) 22.3 2.90%
781 100.00%
* none greater than 0.4%

I’d Like to Thank the Academy …

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

… for announcing its nominations at such a ridiculously early hour during Sundance every year. Everyone in the business who’s already hitting their exhaustion point at the fest really appreciates getting to wake super early so we can hear nominations that rarely offer any huge surprises. But we’ll see.

… Okay, there were a few surprises, pleasant and otherwise:

I’m happy to see Dogtooth get a nomination for Best Foreign; we’ve been talking about that film since Toronto 2009, so it’s nice to see it get some love. But I’ll be rooting for my #1 film of the year, Biutiful, to win the category.

Speaking of Biutiful, how great is it that Javier Bardem got that well-deserved Best Actor nomination? In a perfect world, he would win it, but all things being what they are in Hollywood, you can give the performance of your career as he does here and still be the underdog.

No Ryan Gosling, though, which is too bad. Not sure which Best Actor nominee I would have bumped to make room for him. Bridges, maybe.

And also good to see John Hawkes get the Supporting Actor nom for Winter’s Bone. He’s my pick to win it. Fingers crossed.

On the chick side of things, I’m not unhappy to see any of the actresses who were nominated for Best Actress. It would be easy to get excited about the nominees all being from films with small budgets. Not that there’s anyone from a bigger film I would have liked to have seen nominated, but still.

As for the Supporting Actress noms, nothing shocking there, though it’s probably Hailee Steinfeld’s to lose. Here’s hoping her career survives the dreaded “child nominee” backlash, and that she has someone smart guiding her script choices post-True Grit.

Aronofsky and the Coens got well-deserved director nods. I wish Debra Granik’s name was on that list as well, but at least they tossed her a bone for screenplay. And what? No Christopher Nolan?

Nothing terribly shocking in the docs nominations. Once Exit Through the Gift Shop made the short list, it seemed likely to make the final cut. I hope it wins. And I guess I am going to have to get off my ass and force myself to watch Restrepo.

Good for The Illusionist for at least getting a nomination … maybe that will interest more parents in watching it with their kids. Okay, probably not, but a girl can dare to dream. If it actually beat out Toy Story 3 that would be probably the biggest shocker of the Oscars this year, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for that to happen.

And yay for the Roadside Attractions team for scoring noms for two films, Winter’s Bone and Biutiful. It’s been interesting to watch as Roadside has stepped up into the awards game with some smart acquisitions. Nice guys all around, and I’m happy for them almost as much as for the films, both of which I loved.

Okay, thanks Academy. Back to Sundance.

The Last-Minute Choice Of Where To Chop 127 Hours’ Ending

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

The Last-Minute Choice Of Where To Chop 127 Hours‘ Ending

Critics Roundup — January 13

Friday, January 14th, 2011

The Green Hornet|||||Yellow
The Dilemma |||Green||Green
Barney’s Version |||Green|Green|Green
A Somewhat Gentle Man |||Yellow||Green
Black Swan|Green|Green|Green|Green|Green
The Fighter|Green|Green||Green|Green
127 Hours |Green|Green|Green|Green|
The Social Network|Yellow|Green|Green|Yellow|Green

Critics Roundup: January 6

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Country Strong|||||Yellow
Season of the Witch |||||Yellow
True Grit |Green|Green|Green|Green|Green
Black Swan|Green|Green|Green|Green|Green
The Fighter|Green|Green||Green|Green
127 Hours |Green|Green|Green|Green|
The Social Network|Yellow|Green|Green|Yellow|Green

James Franco’s Busy Daze

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

James Franco’s Busy Daze

Weekend Box Office Report –January 2

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

Haply New Year

True Grit closed the gap with Little Fockers but couldn’t quite overtake the seasonal gag fest. Fockers emerged at the top of the charts with an estimated $26.2 million with Grit a trot behind at $24.5 million.

The closing frame of 2010 provided no new national releases and just two additions to the last gasp of the awards season. The searing drama Blue Valentine provided an opening weekend of $174,000 from four screens while the acclaimed Brit import Another Year bowed on six screens with $117,000.

Estimates for the year peg domestic box office at $10.52 billion, which translates into a 1.5% downturn from 2009. Admissions declined by a more sizable 7% drop largely as a result of premium pricing for 3D and large format movies. Eight of the top 10 top grossing movies of the year fell into that category and 2011 promises even more stereoscopic offerings.

Theater owners are scrambling to convert screens to digital 3D to capitalize in what no one can yet proclaim as either a temporary craze or the future of film going. The enhancements have been a finger in the dike of the eroding audience but with the arrival of 3D home entertainment this year that nagging recession may not abate. And there’s little doubt that the “windows” issue — the time between theatrical and ancillary release — will intensify with exhibition making grudging concessions that can only ramp up bad blood with major suppliers.

This year’s New Year weekend box office experienced a 13% uptick from the Christmas holiday session. However, it was 29% less fulsome than the same period last year when weekend three of Avatar grossed $68.5 million with Sherlock Holmes and Alvin: The Squeakquel adding $36.6 million and $35.2 million respectively.

Adult/awards fare, which includes The Fighter, Black Swan and The King’s Speech — all likely Oscar contenders — held their own with the holiday frivolity. That still leaves seven slots for films as diverse as Toy Story 3 and Blue Valentine in year that most film reviewers have characterized as overall sub-par.

True Grit has already become The Coen Brothers biggest grossing domestic release and actor Jeff Bridges can claim the rare distinction of having two holiday films (Grit, TRON: Legacy) that will gross in excess of $100 million. He’s easily the comeback kid in a year where seemingly more audience-friendly performers (and filmmakers) have taken it on the chin.

__________________________________________________

Weekend Estimates – December 31-January 1, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Little Fockers Uni 26.2 (7,380) -15% 3554 103.1
True Grit Par 24.5 (7,960) -1% 3083 86.7
Tron: Legacy BV 18.4 (5,480) -4% 3365 131
Yogi Bear WB 12.6 (3,580) 62% 3515 65.7
Chronicles of Narnia: Dawn Treader Fox 10.3 (3,500) 9% 2948 87
The Fighter Par/Alliance 10.0 (3,960) 32% 2534 46.4
Tangled BV 9.9 (3,820) 53% 2582 167.9
Gulliver’s Travels Fox 9.0 (2,910) 42% 3089 27.1
Black Swan Fox Searchlight 8.4 (5,420) 35% 1553 47.3
The King’s Speech Weinstein Co. 7.5 (10,760) 67% 700 22.7
The Tourist Sony 6.7 (2,420) 25% 2756 54.7
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hollows, Part 1* WB 4.5 (2,580) 32% 1732 283.4
How Do You Know Sony 4.5 (1,800) 28% 2483 24.9
Megamind Par .57 (750) 56% 764 144.1
Unstoppable Fox .53 (1,180) 61% 450 79.5
The Social Network Sony .47 (1,890) 71% 249 93.2
Burlesque Sony .42 (1,270) 19% 330 37.8
Due Date WB .31 (770) 10% 404 98.8
127 Hours Fox Searchlight .27 (2,620) 42% 103 10.4
Red Summit .26 (860) 44% 303 89.5
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $153.60
% Change (Last Year) -29%
% Change (Last Week) 13%
Also debuting/expanding
Blue Valentine Weinstein Co. .17 (43,500) 4 0.27
Another Year Sony Classics .12 (19,550) 6 0.17
Somewhere Focus .14 (17,870) 20% 8 0.44
Rabbit Hole Lionsgate .13 (3,850) 52% 34 0.42
Casino Jack IDP 79,700 (4,430) 63% 18 0.23
The Illusionist Sony Classics 50,200 (16,730) 30% 3 0.13
Country Strong Sony 42,600 (21,300) 40% 2 0.12

Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 – Dec. 23, 2010)

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Warner Bros. (30) 1900.7 18.30%
Paramount (20) 1684.9 16.20%
Fox (20) 1470.5 14.10%
Buena Vista (17) 1408.5 13.50%
Sony (26) 1258.5 12.10%
Universal (19) 844.2 8.10%
Summit (11) 522.8 5.00%
Lionsgate (16) 519.6 5.00%
Fox Searchlight (8) 119.5 1.20%
Overture (8) 87.5 0.80%
Focus (8) 75.3 0.70%
CBS (3) 72.7 0.70%
Weinstein Co. (9) 72 0.70%
Sony Classics (22) 59.7 0.60%
MGM (1) 50.4 0.50%
Other * (324) 257.5 2.50%
10404.3 100.00%
* none greater than .04%

Wilmington: The Ten Best of 2010

Friday, December 31st, 2010

So here’s my list of The Ten Best Movies of 2010, plus Honorable Mentions and a separate list of documentaries. I know it’s customary at this time to write about how awful a year it was, and how I had to struggle to find ten movies worthy of recognition, and how Hollywood is so bankrupt artistically and so bereft intellectually that the mere act of compiling a ten best list has become supremely dubious and morally questionable. But actually, I thought the moves were one of the few good things about 2010. (They’re certainly better than the last election.) And if you couldn’t find ten good ones, you weren’t trying.
(more…)

Weekend Box Office Report — December 26

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

Grit and Bear It

Little Fockers and True Grit led the Christmas charge with respective opening debuts estimated at $34 million and $25.5 million that topped weekend movie going. The session also featured a Christmas day bow for the animated Gulliver’s Travels, which netted a two-day gross of $6.9 million.

Bollywood’s seasonal offering Tees Maar Khann rang up an impressive $700,000. However, several other Hindi, Telegu and Tamil releases were non-starters. China’s If You Are the One 2 opened up day-and-date (a first) with its Mainland release and chimed in with a potent $208,000 launch.

The frame also featured a clutch of last-minute releases for award season consideration. Best of the bunch was Venice-prized Somewhere with $148,000 from seven venues. The animated The Illusionist displayed comparable strength with a two-day tally of $52,600 on two screens and a four screen push for Barney’s Version in Canada proved effective with $64,400 (a single U.S. Oscar qualifying run was unreported). Lastly, Country Strong lilted $33,800 from two sneak peeks.

Overall the Christmas session got clobbered with calendar positioning that landed the eve on Friday (expect something similar with New Years). And while an estimated $155 million weekend provided an 11% boost from the prior weekend it translated into a pounding 45% drop from 2009. As the door quickly closes on the year, box office gross has slipped behind the prior year and admissions are approaching close to double digit erosion. A year ago Avatar’s second weekend grossed $75.6 million and debuts of Sherlock Holmes and The Alvin Squeakquel added $62.4 million and $48.9 million respectively.

All that said, tracking wasn’t exactly on target for new entries and holdovers. The third in the Fockers series was expected to render a first weekend of between $40 million and $45 million while the sophomore edition of TRON: Legacy was pegged at $25 million. Conversely True Grit outperformed pundits soothsaying that had it shy of $20 million.

Holiday crowds clearly voted for The Fighter, Black Swan and The King’s Speech as their Oscar favorites. Still there are seven additional slots to fill and the campaigning is apt to intensify in the upcoming weeks.
__________________________________________________

Weekend Estimates – December 24-26, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Little Fockers Uni 34.0 (9,610) NEW 3536 48.2
True Grit Par 25.5 (8,360) NEW 3047 36.6
Tron: Legacy BV 20.6 (5,960) -53% 3451 88.7
Chronicles of Narnia: Dawn Treader Fox 10.9 (3,240) -12% 3350 63.9
The Fighter Par/Alliance 8.6 (3,430) -29% 2511 27.7
Yogi Bear WB 8.4 (2,380) -55% 3515 36.3
Gulliver’s Travels * Fox 6.9 (2,700) NEW 2546 6.9
Tangled BV 6.7 (2,590) -24% 2582 143.8
Fox Searchlight 6.4 (4,390) -23% 1466 28.9
The Tourist Sony 5.6 (2,020) -35% 2756 41.1
The King’s Speech Weinstein Co. 4.6 (6,530) 317% 700 8.4
How Do You Know Sony 3.7 (1,480) -51% 2483 15.1
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 1* WB 3.3 (1,920) -34% 1732 273.1
Tees Maar Khan UTV .70 (6,780) NEW 103 0.7
Due Date WB .37 (910) -71% 404 98.3
Unstoppable Fox .36 (920) -80% 393 78.5
Megamind Par .35 (460) -49% 764 142.6
Burlesque Sony .33 (660) -77% 501 36.7
The Social Network Sony .31 (1,230) 9% 249 92.3
If You Are the One 2 China Lion .21 (9,040) NEW 23 0.21
127 Hours Fox Searchlight .20 (1,720) -64% 115 9.8
* Christmas Day opening
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $145.90
% Change (Last Year) -45%
% Change (Last Week) 11%
Also debuting/expanding
Somewhere Focus .15 (21,140) 7 0.2
Rabbit Hole Lionsgate 88,700 (2,610) 65% 34 0.16
Barney’s Version eOne 64,400 (16,100) 4 0.06
Casino Jack IDP 60,500 (4,030) 75% 15 0.11
The Illusionist * Sony Classics 52,600 (26,300) 2 0.05
Country Strong Sony 33,800 (16,900) 2 0.05
The Tempest Miramax/Maple 32,700 (2,520) -44% 13 0.19
Toonpur Ka Superhero Eros 9,600 (400) 24 0.01
Isi Life Mein Rajshri 4,500 (250) 18 0.01

Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 – Dec. 23, 2010)

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Warner Bros. (30) 1861 18.40%
Paramount (19) 1634.7 16.10%
Fox (19) 1442.4 14.20%
Buena Vista (17) 1349.1 13.30%
Sony (26) 1239.1 12.20%
Universal (18) 798.7 7.90%
Summit (11) 522.2 5.20%
Lionsgate (16) 519.3 5.10%
Fox Searchlight (8) 105 1.00%
Overture (8) 87.4 0.90%
Focus (7) 75.2 0.70%
CBS (3) 72.5 0.70%
Weinstein Co. (9) 65.5 0.60%
Sony Classics (22) 59.5 0.60%
MGM (1) 50.4 0.50%
Other * (317) 253.5 2.50%
10135.5 100.00%
* none greater than .04%

Top Limited Releases * (Jan. 1 – Dec. 23, 2010)

Title Distributor Gross
Hubble 3D WB 19,359,509
The Ghost Writer Summit 15,569,712
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Music Box/Alliance 11,287,817
The Young Victoria * Apparition/Alliance 11,131,232
127 Hours Fox Searchlight 9,321,571
Get Low Sony Classics 9,106,802
Fair Game Summit 8,650,388
A Single Man * Weinstein Co. 7,935,872
The Girl Who Played with Fire Music Box/Alliance 7,848,496
Cyrus Fox Searchlight 7,461,082
Babies Focus 7,444,272
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus E1/Sony Classics 7,394,171
Conviction Fox Searchlight 6,768,063
City Island Anchor Bay 6,671,036
The Last Station Sony Classics 6,617,867
Waiting for “Superman” Par Vantage 6,410,257
The Secret in Their Eyes Sony Classics 6,391,436
It’s Kind of a Funny Story Focus 6,362,514
Winter’s Bone Roadside Attraction 6,237,371
Under the Sea 3D * WB 5,732,362
* does not include 2009 box office

Top Ten Feature Films 2010

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

I really struggled over my top ten list this year. There were maybe six films that were pretty hard locks early on, which only left four open slots for the rest of a field of strong contenders — not a lot of wiggle room in a year with a good many solid films rightfully in contention for top ten lists.

For the most part, I think the films that made the final cut onto my top ten list will not come as a surprise if you know me and the types of films I tend to like more than others.

Some of the films that did not make the final cut for me, though, may surprise you, and I’d like to say a few words about that. First, there were several other films to which I gave thoughtful consideration (and if this had been a Top 20 list, they likely would have been on it); some of them are smaller films, and not all have distribution, so I’d like to recognize their excellence.

They are, in no particular order: For the Good of Others, Secret Sunshine, Father of My Children, The Vicious Kind, The Illusionist, and Shutter Island. I Saw the Devil, which was one of my favorite films at TIFF, would have made my top ten, but since it’s supposed to be released here in March, I’ll hold off and include it next year.

And it might come as a surprise, given the number of artsy films on my list, to learn that the two films that came closest to making my Top Ten list but just missed are Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.

And while I haven’t done a lot of Oscar prognosticating yet, I will say right now that The Illusionist is my pick for Best Animated Film over Toy Story 3, fond as I am of Woody, Buzz and the gang.

There are not any documentaries on my top ten, not because there were no good docs this year, but because I find it very hard to compare features to docs; there’s a reason fests and the various awards separate the categories. So I will have a Top 5 (maybe 10) Docs list in a day or so. Yes, yes, it’s a bit of a cop-out. Sorry. I’d rather put the spotlight on the docs separately, though.

The most notably absent of the major awards-contending feature films on my final list are The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, and The Social Network. Of these, The Fighter came the closest to making the cut, but in the end I found that the acting, for me, was stronger than the writing, and that it was problematic for the supporting characters in the film (particularly Dickie and Alice) to be more flawed and interesting on the surface (which is what the script and director chose to show us) than the main character.

Mark Wahlberg’s younger brother Mickey was the more psychologically complex character in his quieter way, but he wasn’t as showy as Christian Bale’s malnourished crack addict or Melissa Leo’s flamboyant stage mother; that’s a writing and directorial decision that made it hard to know who we were supposed to be rooting for — Mickey? Or Dickie? Or both? Or all of them? That said, there was a subtlety to Mark Wahlberg’s performance that I found very moving, and Amy Adams, reaching outside her comfort zone, is excellent.

I enjoyed The Kids Are All Right, for the most part, but again, for me it was a film driven more by the excellent performances by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore than by the direction or script. I applaud Lisa Cholodenko for her handling of the subject matter and for the originality of the idea, but the execution I found problematic. I already devoted an entire column to this subject, though, so I’ll leave it at that.

And then we have The Social Network by far the most popular kid in the Top Ten lunchroom this year. There’s some good acting in there, and it’s an entertaining enough film, although I still take issue with the way Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed — not so much with Jesse Eisenberg’s performance, which is solid, but with the way the character is scripted by Aaron Sorkin. There are some cleverly edited scenes in there (but if you put them side-be-side with similar scenes from Wall Street 2, are they really head-and-shoulders above?).

I suppose Social Network reflects the “cultural zeitgeist,” and critics love them some cultural zeitgeist about as much as they love seeing reflections of themselves in a movie. It’s certainly true that the last 15 years or so have been a remarkable bit of our societal growth to be a part of. I get that. And as a regular Facebook user, I admit it was kind of cool watching this film and seeing the birth of a website that’s become a regular tool I use in my own work and life to stay connected with friends, family and colleagues scattered far and wide.

But Social Network did not, for me, represent David Fincher’s best effort as a director, particularly when I compare it to the sheer balls of Darren Aronofsky in making the crazy, beautiful Black Swan as a follow-up to The Wrestler, or the brilliance of Chris Nolan in conceiving and bringing to life a starkly daring and creative bit of genius like Inception. It doesn’t match the artistry with which Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy attacked what could have been a Lifetime Movie of the Week in 127 Hours, spinning a a compelling, gorgeously shot film out of a story about a guy stuck alone in a crevice in the wilderness with his arm pinned by a rock. It cannot stand against the meticulous process with which Mike Leigh worked with his cast in crafting Another Year, or the poignant honesty and deep sadness of Rabbit Hole, or the rich, full exploration of what it means to live and to die in Biutiful. These films captured raw, honest, flawed and deeply human characters acting and reacting to each other in ways that make us feel like we have been gifted with a rare and insightful mirrors that reflect back to us our own humanity.

There are some solid performances in Social Network, yes . But even looking at the acting, there’s not a performance in The Social Network that has the depth and soul of Javier Bardem’s dying father in Biutiful, the sheer guts of Natalie Portman’s tragic perfectionist in Black Swan, the anguished loneliness of Lesley Manville in Another Year, the clarity and honesty of Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit. Or for that matter, the chemistry of Chloe Moretz and Nic Cage in Kick-Ass.

You, of course, are free to disagree with what made my list and what did not, and no doubt many of you have your own thoughts to share on why you disagree with my choices and reasoning. That’s the best thing, to me, about top tens — they provide an opportunity to hone down the year and then engage in energetic debate about our choices. My top docs list is coming soon, and after the holidays I’ll break it down further with my picks for who should win at the Oscars, all political BS aside.

All that said, here are my Top Ten Feature Films of 2010:

1. Biutiful
2. Another Year
3. Black Swan
4. 127 Hours
5. True Grit
6. Winter’s Bone
7. Rabbit Hole
8. Inception
9. Blue Valentine
10. Dogtooth

Weekend Box Office Report — December 19

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Da Doo Tron Tron

TRON: Legacy commanded the multiplex with an opening salvo estimated at $43.4 million. The movie stocking was stuffed with two other new releases plus a couple of platform films that went wide to significant response.

Yogi Bear filched $16.6 million to rank second in the marketplace while the star-laden romantic comedy How Do You Know struggled to position eight with $7.5 million.

The Fighter proved itself a contender with a $12.1 gross and Black Swan spread its wings with an impressive $7.9 million. Meanwhile there were two freshmen titles tossing their hat into the ring for award season. The starkly dramatic Rabbit Hole had an encouraging $51,700 from five venues while Casino Jack failed to beat bank with $32,100 at seven tables. In Quebec, local action comedy L’Appat had a soft debut of close to $170,000.

Overall weekend revenues saw a significant boost from the early December doldrums, but couldn’t quite overtake 2009 box office when Avatar arrived at the multiplex. Friday domestic box office inched past $10 billion (4 days faster than last year) and through the weekend it stands just 1% better than at this point last year.

The current session promised an even better result than transpired with new entries appealing to different demographics. Only TRON: Legacy conformed to tracking that predicted a result between $40 million and $45 million. The 28-year hiatus from the original has allowed the 1982 movie to accrue a cult status and brought out an avid young male audience. Stereoscopic engagements accounted for an unusually strong 80% plus, though their numbers accounted for 55% of its screen count. Its ultimate potency will be determined by building a wider audience.

The animated-live action Yogi Bear was expected to gross in the low $20 million but came up short several pic-a-nic baskets. It won’t expand beyond the family market and should limp through the holiday season. How Do You Know is already hobbled and while there were low expectations of $10 million to $12 million it failed to meet an already low bar.

The session generated roughly $135 million for a 47% bump from the prior weekend but dipped 4% from 2009. Last year’s Avatar bow of $77 million led the frame with The Princess and the Frog trailing behind with $12.2 million and Did You Hear About the Morgans? limping into theaters with $6.6 million.

Black Swan shows early signs of becoming the season’s adult hit. Though the film has divided critics and the public, it has generated fierce debate that’s translated into sales … an asset in short supply for the likes of such films as 127 Hours and Fair Game. The Fighter, while not a knockout, looks likely to get traction from awards season recognition in a race that seems — despite already announced critics awards and the Golden Globe announcement — a bit amorphous.

__________________________________________________

Weekend Estimates – December 17-19, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Tron: Legacy BV 43.4 (12,580) NEW 3451 43.4
Yogi Bear WB 16.6 (4,710) NEW 3515 16.6
The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader Fox 12.5 (3,530) -48% 3555 42.9
The Fighter Par 12.1 (4,850) 2503 12.6
Tangled BV 8.7 (2,720) -39% 3201 127.9
The Tourist Sony 8.4 (3,040) -49% 2756 30.5
Black Swan Fox Searchlight 7.9 (8,260) 140% 959 15.3
How Do You Know Sony 7.5 (3,030) NEW 2483 7.5
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 1* WB 4.8 (1,690) -43% 2860 265.5
Unstoppable Fox 1.8 (980) -51% 1874 77.4
Burlesque Sony 1.3 (880) -58% 1510 35.4
Due Date WB 1.2 (1,060) -52% 1157 97.3
Love and Other Drugs Fox 1.1 (970) -64% 1093 30.2
The King’s Speech Weinstein Co. 1.1 (24,880) 81% 43 2.9
Megamind Par .69 (680) -73% 1025 141.6
127 Hours Fox Searchlight .51 (1,660) -49% 307 9.3
Faster CBS .41 (620) -76% 660 22.5
Red Summit .31 (710) -28% 439 88.4
The Social Network Sony .29 (1,270) 2% 228 91.9
Fair Game Summit .23 (860) -59% 268 8.7
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $129.60
% Change (Last Year) -4%
% Change (Last Week) 47%
Also debuting/expanding
L’Appat Alliance .17 (2,350) 72 0.17
I Love You Phillip Morris Roadside .14 (2,830) -10% 49 0.51
The Tempest Miramax/Maple 52,400 (2,490) 22% 21 0.12
Rabbit Hole Lionsgate 51,700 (10,320) 5 0.05
Casino Jack IDP 32,100 (4,440) 7 0.03
La Rafle Seville 28,200 (2,170) 13 0.03

Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 – Dec. 16, 2010)

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Warner Bros. (29) 1837.8 18.40%
Paramount (19) 1622.6 16.20%
Fox (19) 1427.1 14.30%
Buena Vista (16) 1296.2 13.00%
Sony (25) 1221.2 12.20%
Universal (18) 798.5 8.00%
Summit (11) 521.7 5.20%
Lionsgate (15) 518.9 5.20%
Fox Searchlight (8) 96.1 1.00%
Overture (8) 87.3 0.90%
Focus (7) 75.2 0.70%
CBS (3) 72.1 0.70%
Weinstein Co. (9) 64.5 0.60%
Sony Classics (22) 59.4 0.60%
MGM (1) 50.4 0.50%
Other * (315) 251.4 2.50%
10000.4 100.00%
* none greater than .04%

Top Domestic Grossers * (Jan. 1 – Dec. 16, 2010)

Title Distributor Gross
Avatar * Fox 476,899,300
Toy Story 3 BV 415,071,937
Alice in Wonderland BV 334,191,110
Iron Man 2 Par 312,445,596
Twilight: Eclipse Summit 300,551,386
Inception WB 292,485,544
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 WB 260,701,257
Despicable Me Uni 250,322,315
Shrek Forever After Par 238,667,087
How to Train Your Dragon Par 218,685,707
The Karate Kid Sony 176,797,997
Clash of the Titans WB 163,214,888
Grown Ups Sony 162,171,789
Megamind Par 140,950,962
The Last Airbender Par 131,733,601
Shutter Island Par 128,051,522
The Other Guy Sony 119,534,389
Tangled BV 119,142,932
Salt Sony 118,485,665
Jackass 3D Par 116,857,736
* does not include 2009 box office

In Arm’s Way: The True Story Behind 127 Hours

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

In Arm’s Way: The True Story Behind 127 Hours

New York Online Crix Make Their Picks

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

New York Film Critics Online, composed of thirty critics whose outlets are exclusively online and two who are print journalists with a strong online presence, met at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theatre on December 12th and bestowed these awards at its 11th annual meeting:

The Complete List:

PICTURE
The Social Network

DIRECTOR
David Fincher – The Social Network

ACTOR
James Franco – 127 hours

ACTRESS
Natalie Portman – Black Swan

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christian Bale – The Fighter

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Melissa Leo – The Fighter

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Matthew Libatique – Black Swan

SCREENPLAY
Aaron Sorkin – The Social Network

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
I Am Love

DOCUMENTARY
Exit through the Gift Shop

ANIMATED FEATURE
Toy Story 3

FILM MUSIC OR SCORE
Clint Mansell – Black Swan

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMER
Noomi Rapace – The Millennium Trilogy

DEBUT DIRECTOR
John Wells – The Company Men

ENSEMBLE CAST
The Kids Are All Right

TOP 10 PICTURES (Alphabetical)

127 Hours (Fox Searchlight)
Another Year (Sony Pictures Classics)
Black Swan (Fox Searchlight)
Blue Valentine (The Weinstein Company)
The Ghost Writer
(Summit Entertainment)
Inception (Warner Bros.)
The Kids Are All Right
(Universal Pictures)
The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Company)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Universal Pictures)
The Social Network (Columbia Pictures)

Weekend Box Office Report — December 12

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

Weekend Estimates – December 10-12, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Chronicles of Narnia: Dawn Treader Fox 24.3 (6,840) NEW 3555 24.3
The Tourist Sony 16.8 (6,110) NEW 2756 16.8
Tangled BV 14.4 (4,040) -33% 3565 115.5
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 1* WB 8.6 (2,400) -50% 3577 257.8
Unstoppable Fox 3.7 (1,260) -37% 2967 74.3
Black Swan Fox Searchlight 3.4 (37,778) 134% 90 5.7
Burlesque Sony 3.2 (1,120) -48% 2876 32.6
Love and Other Drugs Fox 3.0 (1,330) -48% 2240 27.6
Due Date WB 2.5 (1,260) -39% 1990 94.9
Megamind Par 2.5 (1,020) -50% 2425 140.2
Faster CBS 1.7 (820) -56% 2106 21.3
The Next Three Days Lionsgate 1.0 (720) -60% 1426 20.3
127 Hours Fox Searchlight 1.0 (2,360) -39% 416 8.2
The Warrior’s Way Relativity .91 (560) -70% 1622 4.9
The King’s Speech Weinstein Co. .58 (30,530) 78% 19 1.5
Fair Game Summit .55 (1,260) -43% 436 8.2
Morning Glory Par .51 (510) -70% 1004 30.2
Red Summit .41 (730) -45% 564 87.9
The Fighter Par .33 (81,850) NEW 4 0.33
The Social Network Sony .27 (1,190) -35% 227 91.4
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $88.65
% Change (Last Year) -5%
% Change (Last Week) 9%
Also debuting/expanding
No Problem Eros .20 (2,400) 84 0.2
I Love You Phillip Morris Roadside .16 (4,490) 39% 35 0.31
The Tempest Miramax 44,700 (8,940) 5 0.04
Band Baaja Baaraat Yash Raj 43,700 (1,370) 32 0.04
Hemingway’s Garden of Eden Roadside 11,600 (830) 14 0.01
And Everything is Doing Fine IFC 6,400 (6,400) 1 0.01
You Won’t Miss Me Factory 25 4,200 (4,200) 1 0.01
Love, In Between CJ Entertainment 2,600 (2,600) 1 0.01

Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 – Dec. 9, 2010)

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Warner Bros. (28) 1821.5 18.40%
Paramount (18) 1617.9 16.40%
Fox (18) 1387.3 14.10%
Buena Vista (16) 1277.9 12.90%
Sony (24) 1193.7 12.10%
Universal (18) 798.1 8.10%
Summit (11) 520.3 5.30%
Lionsgate (15) 517.1 5.20%
Fox Searchlight (8) 89.3 0.90%
Overture (8) 85.9 0.90%
Focus (7) 75.2 0.80%
CBS (3) 69.6 0.70%
Weinstein Co. (8) 63.6 0.60%
Sony Classics (22) 59.1 0.60%
MGM (1) 50.4 0.50%
Other * (306) 249.5 2.50%
9876.4 100.00%
* none greater than .04%

Weekend Box Office Report — December 5

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

The Warrior’s Weigh

The first weekend of December has the ignominious tradition of being one of the lowest moviegoing periods of the year. This year is no exception with but a single new wide release and holdover titles generally experiencing declines of more than 50%.

The newcomer arrived from the re-constituted Relativity Media with the martial arts actioner The Warrior’s Way. It barely squeaked into the top 10 with an estimated $3 million. Industry trackers hadn’t expected much for the picture but even their estimates were pegged significantly higher at roughly $5 million.

The frame leader was the animated Tangled with an estimated $21.5 million with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 taking the consolation prize with $16.9 million. The rest of the holdovers were indeed the deathly hallows.

However, there were a couple of spectacular exclusive debuts. The controversial and intense drama Black Swan bowed to $1.4 million, which translated into a jaw dropping per engagement average of $76,670. And the left-for-dead black comedy I Love You Phillip Morris hit the target with $109,000 from six locations and an $18,200 average. Also encouraging was the two-screen bow of the ironically titled All Good Things with $37,500.

The rest of the new niche crowd ranged from fair to poor including several new films on the Indian circuit, the independent Night Catches Us and the documentary Bhutto.

All added up, revenues amounted to about $86 million and a 54% drop from the weekend slice of Thanksgiving. It was also off 15% from the 2009 edition when the top new entry was third-ranked Brothers with $9.5 million. The 2009 leader with $20 million was The Blind Side.

Domestic box office should push past $10 billion next weekend and register a slight gain for the year when the dust settles in 26 days. It also unquestionably marks another year of theatrical admission declines; likely between 5% and 7%.

As to award’s contenders, it remains anyone’s game and last week’s announcement of honors from the National Board of Review provided scant indication of what’s to follow from major critical groups or the Hollywood Foreign Press. Apart from James L. Brooks’ How Do You Know, the anticipated upcoming releases have been seen and left prognosticators fumbling to identify leaders in any of the talent categories.

__________________________________________________

Weekend Estimates – December 3-5, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Tangled BV 21.5 (5,970) -56% 3603 96.5
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hollows, Part 1* WB 16.9 (4,090) -66% 4125 244.4
Burlesque Sony 6.1 (2,020) -49% 3037 27
Unstoppable Fox 6.1 (1,930) -47% 3152 68.9
Love and Other Drugs Fox 5.7 (2,310) -42% 2458 22.6
Megamind Par 4.9 (1,550) -61% 3173 136.6
Due Date WB 4.2 (1,720) -41% 2450 91
Faster CBS 3.8 (1,550) -55% 2470 18.1
The Warrior’s Way Relativity 3.0 (1,870) NEW 1622 3
The Next Three Days Lionsgate 2.6 (1,150) -45% 2236 18.3
Morning Glory Par 1.7 (760) -56% 2263 29.1
127 Hours Fox Searchlight 1.6 (3,790) -4% 433 6.6
Black Swan Fox Searchlight 1.4 (76,670) NEW 18 1.4
Fair Game Summit 1.0 (2,320) -27% 436 7.3
Red Summit .75 (960) -45% 779 87.2
For Colored Girls … Lionsgate .45 (930) -67% 485 37.3
Lance et compte Seville .43 (4,480) -31% 96 1.3
Skyline Uni/Alliance .42 (730) -63% 578 20.9
The Social Network Sony .41 (1,580) -42% 260 91
The King’s Speech Weinstein Co. .32 (53,000) -10% 6 0.8
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $81.25
% Change (Last Year) -15%
% Change (Last Week) -54%
Also debuting/expanding
I Love You Phillip Morris Roadside .11 (18,200) 6 0.11
Raktacharitra 2 Viva/Happy 94,200 (4,100) 23 0.09
Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey Viva 65,300 (960) 68 0.07
Nutcracker 3D FreeStyle 45,700 (1,040) -31% 44 0.14
Made in Dagenham Sony Classics 39,600 (3,600) -37% 11 0.18
All Good Things Magnolia 37,500 (18,750) 2 0.04
Dead Awake New Film 31,400 (570) 55 0.03
Mar Jawan Gur Khake Punjabi 18,800 (6,270) 3 0.02
Night Catches Us Magnolia 12,100 (3,020) 4 0.01
Bhutto First Run 7,800 (3,900) 2 0.01

Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 – Dec. 2, 2010)

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Warner Bros. (27) 1792.9 18.40%
Paramount (18) 1609.2 16.50%
Fox (18) 1371.7 14.00%
Buena Vista (16) 1252.3 12.80%
Sony (24) 1185.4 12.10%
Universal (18) 797.2 8.20%
Summit (11) 517.9 5.30%
Lionsgate (15) 512.4 5.20%
Fox Searchlight (7) 84.7 0.90%
Overture (7) 81.9 0.80%
Focus (7) 75.2 0.80%
CBS (3) 64.2 0.70%
Weinstein Co. (8) 63.1 0.70%
Sony Classics (22) 58.7 0.60%
MGM (1) 50.4 0.50%
Other * (301) 246.6 2.50%
9763.8 100.00%
* none greater than .04%

Top Global Grossers * (Jan. 1 – Dec. 2, 2010)

Title Distributor Gross
Avatar * Fox 1,955,694,414
Toy Story 3 BV 1,065,128,004
Alice in Wonderland BV 1,024,537,295
Inception WB 840,550,911
Shrek Forever After Par 738,351,966
Twilight: Eclipse Summit 699,325,617
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 WB 634,033,738
Iron Man 2 Par 622,718,600
Despicable Me Uni 534,415,944
How to Train Your Dragon Par 495,921,283
Clash of the Titans WB 489,778,913
Sherlock Holmes * WB 367,796,599
The Karate Kid Sony 359,429,551
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time BV 335,816,141
The Last Airbender Par 319,062,129
Robin Hood Uni 312,207,159
Shutter Island Par 301,977,955
Sex and the City 2 WB 301,158,934
Salt Sony 293,955,694
Resident Evil: Afterlife Sony/Alliance 292,972,689
The Expendables Lionsgate 272,550,235
Grown Ups Sony 271,417,359
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel Fox 264,341,533
Knight and Day Fox 261,206,060
Percy Jackson & the Olympians Fox 226,497,298
* does not include 2009 box office

On Danny Boyle’s Fear Of Mediocrity

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

On Danny Boyle’s Fear Of Mediocrity

127 Hours (Dir. Danny Boyle)

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

127 Hours is, so far, my pick for the most overrated movie of the year.

Don’t get me wrong, 127 Hours is not a bad film, it’s just one that doesn’t really strike me as having a particular point of view or an interest in characterization.  For some folks, that won’t be an issue, they’ll walk into the film wanting to see a man stuck in a perilous situation for an hour and change and then cut his arm off.  For those folks, that will be enough and they’ll walk out satisfied.  But for me, I need arcs, I need characters, I need to walk out of a film knowing more than when I walked into it.

I don’t know Aron Ralston any better now that I’ve seen a movie about him than I did before I walked into it.  Before the film started, I knew him as the guy who cut his arm off because he was trapped in a crevice for five days, his arm pinned by a rock.  Now that I’ve seen the film and had a day to digest it, I will still think of him in the exact same way.  He is still nothing but a fascinating symbol of the human will for survival.

And all of that is fine and dandy, except that a film is an opportunity to shape that symbol into a character and bring him into focus.  Danny Boyle instead eschews traditional narrative tropes that would have worked to the film’s benefit, instead just giving us minute after minute of James Franco screaming and gasping and slowly dying of thirst.  And while I admire Boyle’s courage in trying to make an interesting movie about this struggle, I don’t think he completely hits the mark.

Imagine Into the Wild, except the entire film is set in the “magic bus” at the end of the film.  After all, that part of Chris McCandless’ life is what brought him to our attention to begin with; had he not died in that bus, nobody would have known who he was.  But instead, the film travels back to give us a picture of how this character came to get to that bus, what drove him as a person.  As a result, when McCandless dies, we feel we have known this character and feel the loss of him.  Conversely, in 127 Hours, we don’t feel like we know Aron Ralston at all, so we he finally decides to cut his arm off, I didn’t feel the film earned that moment.  I didn’t understand what that moment meant to Ralston or what it was supposed to mean to us beyond the surface act of actually doing it.

The film gives us snippets of Ralston’s life, of how he doesn’t return his mother’s calls and his fractured relationship with a girlfriend.  But I’m not sure what these snippets signify other than that Ralston had lived a fairly normal life and had fairly ordinary motivations to get out of this situation.  This would have been the film’s opportunity to deepen the characterization of Aron by deepening his relationships with the people around him.  One could say that, “oh, but what if those relationships were boring in real-life?”  Well, this is a fictionalized account of what happened, the film therefore has license to change things around in order to fit the screen in a more interesting way.  That is the difference between feature and documentary filmmaking, the ability to shift the truth (and some would argue that documentary does the same thing).  I guarantee you that there are many elements of 127 Hours that were completely made up, but even if Boyle didn’t want to invent something entirely that would make Aron’s past more interesting, I’m sure there must have been something already there.  Human beings are inherently complicated, I’m sure there was something in Aron’s past that would capture our attention and make us care more about his plight.

Instead the first half of the film is especially trying to watch because it’s, frankly, boring.  After the initial fall in the crevice, all I was thinking was, “how long until he cuts off his damned arm?” because much of the running time is focused on Aron chipping away at the rock with the knife he eventually uses to do the deed.  There are a few good moments where Aron talks to the camcorder he brought with him (the best moment in the film is probably the “talk show scene”), but I didn’t like the fake “escape” sequence.  If you have to pad your running time by including a five minute long scene that didn’t actually happen, then you might want to think about how to better structure your film.

James Franco is good in the role, but I don’t understand the unanimous acclaim for his performance because I don’t know what he does that another (good) actor couldn’t have done.  The role doesn’t demand that much from its actor other than to scream a lot; there are very few choices that an actor could make that would change the complexity of the character.  If you had replaced Franco with, say, Jake Gyllenhaal, would the film/performance be vastly different?  Franco was certainly convincing in the role, probably his best performance to date, but I’m not convinced of its greatness, especially in a year with so many fantastic lead performances.

As for Danny Boyle, I suppose this is the kind of film you’re allowed to make after you win an Oscar, but I was disappointed with a lot of the visual “tricks” he used in order to keep the story entertaining.  A lot of the close-ups of the water being drunk reminded me of Aronofsky’s work in Requiem for a Dream, only not done as effectively.  I always found that Boyle has had a lot of trouble with the endings of his films (besides Shallow Grave and Trainspotting) and at least here, he found one with a ready-made perfect ending.

The scene of the actual arm-cutting itself wasn’t as disgusting as I anticipated it would be.  Blood doesn’t have the same effect it once did, but the moments where he has to break the bone and then cut through nerve endings were powerfully rendered.

But I got the feeling as the film went on, careening towards its inevitable conclusion that I was essentially watching a snuff film minus the death.  There are some that would be excited by that prospect, but I’m not one of them.