Posts Tagged ‘The Tourist’

Wilmington on DVD: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Tourist, The Twilight Zone Season Two, The Clowns, Exit Throught the Gift Shop, Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed.

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK: NEW OR RECENT

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Blu-ray) (Three Stars)
U. S.; David Yates, 2009 (Warner Brothers)

From the moment, right near the start of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, when we see three dark, murderous Death Eaters swooping across London, wreaking CGI havoc on the foggy city below, right up to this new movie‘s hellish climax, with teen wiz Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) observing as his wizardly mentor Prof. Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) fights in a lake of fire filled with deadly, squirmy creatures and monsters, the new Harry Potter movie drenches us in a mix of horrific fantasy and teen romance/sexuality that’s a world away from the sugary magical tone in the series’ 2001 kickoff, the Chris Columbus-directed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer‘s Stone.

Back then, Potter and Company stirred and slurped up a confectionary fantasy that, despite the picture’s high-prestige British adult supporting cast, wasn’t so far, in style and mood, from ‘60s post-Mary Poppins-era Walt Disney Studio — and closer in feeling, to the gung ho kids’ adventure of an early Star Wars.

Now the series has gone dark and arty. (More than a few people have compared it to Star Wars” somber sequel The Empire Strikes Back.) The supporting adults are juicier and more theatrical, the villains increasingly threatening and stylishly demonic. (Here, Alan Rickman, as the snobbish, over-lordly menace Prof. Severus Snape, surges to the fore).
And its still youthful heroes and heroine (the pensive Radcliffe as Harry, the increasingly photogenic Emma Watson as right hand lass Hermione Granger, and a brawnier Rupert Grint as sporty sidekick Ron Weasley) are taller, more filled-out, more teen-idolish and more preoccupied with affairs of the heart and glands, as well as with the dark side horrors and potential cataclysms that now rightly preoccupy Harry as a dutiful young Chosen One.

The story has grown and ripened, and so have the young protagonists, over the seven volumes of author J. K. Rowling‘s fabulously popular series — and they have in the movies as well. I still prefer the middle two films, directed by Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell, to the first two, by Home Alone‘s Chris Columbus, and the latest two by BBC helmer David Yates. In a way, “Half-Blood Prince” strikes me as a bit too dark, arty and creepy — while the Columbus opening episodes were too blithe and bouncy. (Yes, I know, the kids are growing up. Life gets darker, meaner. It’s all relative.)
 
The arcs of all the stories though, have stayed pretty much the same, with Harry and his chums again encountering British boarding school crises, while evil forces gather around Harry, and final battles must be waged. Here, in addition, Harry and friends must adjust to specifically teen romantic problems, while Harry and Dumbledore also investigate the dark past and hold off the increasingly awful and awesome assaults of the off-screen dark Lord Voldemort’s onscreen torpedoes — including Snape, Helena Bonham Carter as the devilishly sexy and ferocious Bellatrix Lestrange, and Tom Felton as sullen student baddie Draco Malfoy.

The Rowling series blends several British classic youth-reader literary staples, the school romance and the horror adventure fantasy, with unusual fullness and detail. The movies, mostly scripted by Steve Kloves — who once gave us, as writer-director, that memorable adult 1989 Bridges Brothers and Michelle Pfeiffer romantic drama The Fabulous Baker Boys — seem as faithful to the Rowley novels as David O. Selznick always tried to be to the books he filmed. The movies compress the novels’ large spans of events, and give us as many characters as they can — often played by the cream of Britain’s older British thespian talent, like Rickman, Carter and Maggie Smith.

Here, Michael Gambon pretty much steals the acting honors, along with a dithering new Professor of Potions, Horace Slughorn, played with his usual priceless distractedness and fumfery by Jim Broadbent. But there are also sharp turns for Rickman, Carter, Smith (as the magisterial Minerva McGonagall), and, very briefly, Robbie Coltrane as stout fella Hagrid. These older stars tend to have a field day in their parts, while the younger Potterites — including Harry, Hermione and Ron — are less flavorsome, even if, as here, they happen to be in the throes of youthful desire.

Gambon and Broadbent are the acting treasures here. About the younger actors, I’m not as enthusiastic. They’re good, never great, and perhaps it’s wrong to expect them to be. They are, after all, intended as conduits for the emotions and dreams of the huge youth audiences the movies intend to rally. At that, they’re still fine, if not always dandy.
The movie’s sheer darkness, and its refusal to talk down to its vast audience, are what make the Potter series increasingly interesting — one of the few franchise movie series, that has tended to get better and more ambitious and difficult as it has gone along. The later Potter movies, like this one, tend to be more literary and theatrical, and, though it still relies on heavy displays of special effects and CGI prowess, this one tends to flaunt them less.

Obviously, a huge franchise movie like one of these Harry Potters, is playing by different rules, and in a different arena, than the art films it may sometimes recall. Yet it’s nice to see that the producers of the movie versions of such titanic bestsellers, aimed initially at children, feel a compulsion, along with supplying the requisite catalogue of cinematic and hormonal wonders, to make their movies deeper, smarter, classier. Harry Potter movies are not at the top of my must-see list, but it’s good to be able to sit through them without wondering why adult needs and desires aren’t being serviced with as much lavishness. Here, they are. Extras: Featurettes.

 

PICK OF THE WEEK: CLASSIC

The Clowns (I Clowns) (Four Stars)
Italy/France/Germany: Federico Fellini, 1970 (Raro Video)

At the age of seven, little Federico Fellini, of Rimini, Italy, ran off with the circus.

Luckily for us, the circus returned him to this parents after a few days. And Fellini grew up to become a small town wastrel (with his Rimini friends, whom he later immortalized as I Vitelloni). Eventually, he went off to Rome, where he became a failed student, a successful cartoonist, part owner of the Funny Face Shop (which sold sketches and photos of American G.I.s for loved ones back home), a jack-of-all-trades for a troupe of traveling players (including a spunky young actress named Giulietta Masina), a scriptwriter for radio, plays and films (including Rome: Open City and Paisa for Roberto Rossellini), and finally, a world famous movie maker (La Strada, La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2). For decades, he was the biggest directorial star of Rome’s Cinecitta Studios — where, in 1970, at the age of 50, Federico ran away with the circus all over again.

The wondrous result is The Clowns (I Clowns): a sometimes neglected but truly delightful little film, bursting with glee, made originally for television in 1970. The Clowns, while not that well-known, is Fellini‘s fondest, funniest tribute to art, to show business, and, above all, to the companies of clowns who romp and screech and slug each other and pratfall their way around all the circus sawdust and tinsel of all the world, and whose white or raggedy faces, fixed smiles and wild uninhibited behavior terrified him when he was seven — but must have attracted him very deeply as well.

Fellini, as always, uses his somewhat fanciful autobiography as a frame. The Clowns is a documentary filmed in Rome and Paris among mobs of actual circus people (Joseph Bouglione, Jean Houcke), actual clowns (Charlie Rivel, Louis Maisse, Alexandre Brugny de Brailly, Ludo, Nino, the Fratellini family, and Charlie’s daughter, Victoria Chaplin), another circus-loving film director (Pierre Etaix) and even a circus historian (Tristan Remy).

But it’s also part (a big part) mockumentary (see Exit Through the Gift Shop), in which most of the scenes are staged and actors play the presumed technicians and members of Fellini‘s supposed film crew (and Fellini himself plays “Fellini“). It’s part dramatic/comic reminiscence of Rimini (the seeds of Amarcord are here, and we see such later Amarcord mainstays as the midget nun and the fascists, examples of “real life” clowns). And it’s part rumination on the eternal variance and tension between the two main types of circus clowns: the White Clown and the Augusto.

Remember this now, all you would-be clowns. The white clown is white-faced, graceful, aristocratic, a gentleman and dandy, often smiling. The Augusto is a tramp-clown, with shabby clothes and a sorrowful countenance, often frowning, a Gloomy Gus and the butt of innumerable jokes by the white clowns and everyone else. (Comedians and comic actors can be classified this way too. Cary Grant is a white clown. Laurel and Hardy are both Augustos. Chaplin is a strange mixture of both.) So, you see, class division and class warfare exist in the clown world as well. Maybe they even originated with clowns.

In the heyday of the circus, which had already passed in 1970, there were famous White clowns, famous Augustos. We see plenty of them here. (We and Fellini also watch a frustratingly short film clip of the man reputed to be the greatest of all Augustos, Enrico Sprocani a.k.a. Rhum). Most of all, we see hordes of Italian clowns running madly all around the circus rings, terrifying children like little Federico.

And me as well. When I was a tiny child, no single figure on TV or elsewhere scared me more than Clarabelle the Clown, on the Howdy Doody Show. Clarabelle was a madcap white clown with a seltzer bottle, who ran around smiling, never speaking, and often squirting people. He reduced Howdy and Buffalo Bob Smith’s kid audience in the Peanut Gallery, to frenzies of mirth and squeals of delight — and he was played, oddly enough, by Bob Keeshan, who later became a paragon of kinder, gentler children’s TV programming in his other famous incarnation as the benevolent Captain Kangaroo.Still, despite Keeshan’s reform, Clarabelle and his terrifying smile and his orgies of seltzer-squirting scared me silly.

The clowns of The Clowns don’t scare you though. They make you feel sympathetic, protective. You can love them, even if they sometimes don’t make you laugh. The Clowns was financed by Italian TV, and it played to a huge TV audience (in black and white), before starting its premiere theatrical run (in color). It’s a beautiful film, and never pompous or pushy. Many of the usual Fellini collaborators are with him here: co-screenwriter Bernardino Zapponi (of Roma and Satyricon), cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno (for the first two Rimini weeks, before Dario Di Palma takes over), designer Danilo Donati and, of course, inevitably, maestro/composer Nino Rota, penning another grand carnivalesque score, and making loving, clownish use of Richard Wagner‘s Ride of the Valkyries, Georges Bizet’s Toreador Song from Carmen, and the great pop songs “Fascination” and — hauntingly, unforgettably — “Ebb Tide.”

So The Clowns looks and sounds great of course. I think it’s one of Fellini’s lesser-known masterpieces, like the even lesser-known short feature Toby Dammit from 1968‘s Spirits of the Dead. But it also has a lively, antic, almost slapdash/slapstick pace, a comic frenzy that emanates from the clowns themselves, but radiates out to include the world all around them as well. In one of the movie’s more memorable moments, the sober-looking Fellini is asked by a pompous interviewer about the symbolism of the clowns, and, before he can finish his reply, two empty buckets fall on the heads of both of them. (And Signore Fellini, the buckets symbolize…?)

So, which are you: a White Clown or an Augusto? After The Clowns opened in Madison, Wisconsin in the ‘70s, my University of Wisconsin friend Gerry Peary went around classifying members of the Madison film and university communities (a stellar bunch) as either one of the other. But it’s not a simple question. Nor is The Clowns a simple movie, even if it goes rowdy and slings buckets at us. The end of the show, like that Rimini beginning, is a comic orgy of rampaging Italian clowns (Enrico Fumigalli, Carlo Pisacane, the Four Colombaionis, the 3 Martani Brothers, Antonietta Beluzzi, Luigi Leoni), that turns sad, turns happy, turns happy-sad-happy and then ends with one of the loveliest scenes in all of Fellini: the clown duet to “Ebb Tide.”

My God, what a scene! If you don’t clench up a little when the last trumpet notes of “Ebb Tide” ring out — its exultation, climax and diminuendo — and if sometime while watching this movie, you don’t briefly want to run a way and join the circus, then maybe you need a squirt from Clarabelle or a bucket on your head.
Oh, and Anita Ekberg is in The Clowns too. And she’s funny, dammit!

What a wonderful, lovingly assembled  little package this is: Federico Fellini’s The Clowns (I Clowns), has been digitally restored and given new subtitles, and the set also includes the Fellini short A Matrimonial Agency (three stars), his episode in the multi-part 1953 anthology film Love in the City which also had writer-directorial contributions from Antonioni, Lattuada, Risi, Lizzani, and Zavattini; Adriano Apra’s visual essay Fellini’s Circus; and a beautiful 50-page booklet containing Fellini‘s own writings, his reminiscences on the film and plenty of Fellini drawings as well.

 
CO-PICK OF THE WEEK: CLASSIC

Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed (Three and a Half Stars)
Germany: Alexander Kluge, 1968 (Facets)

Alexander Kluge is a gigantic figure in the German cultural landscape. He exemplifies…what is most vigorous and original in the European idea of the artist as intellectual, the intellectual as artist.”
Susan Sontag

Appropriately bracketed as a classic pick this week with Fellini’s I Clowns Alexander Kluge’s Artists at the Top of the Big Top: Perplexed is also a European art film about circuses and circus people. But this is a film in black-and-white, where the filmmakers would have answered the question Fellini dodged in The Clowns about symbolism, and then done something symbolic to illustrate the answer, and had an illustrated lecture on symbolism and the history of art, and the politics of circuses.

Kluge, in other words, is as intellectual a radical filmmaker as you can find, and Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed – which is also known as “Artists Under the Big Top: Disoriented” or “The Artist in the Circus Dome: Clueless” (these are not jokes) — is an intellectual and radical a film as he ever made, a black and white dramatic treatise on art and politics and their hybrids that no one on earth could accuse of selling out to anybody, except maybe Roland Barthes.

The heroine of “Artists,” or “Perplexed,” is Leni Peickert (played by Hannelore Hoger of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum), an intense but seemingly humorless circus-lover, whose circus-loving father died and left her with a passion to run a circus herself, and to somehow mix the acts with her other obsessive interest: radical anti-war and anti-capitalistic politics. Without ever cracking a smile (but occasionally stripping to the buff), Leni hires performers, talks with experts, plans acts, find tents and even hangs around with some very photogenic elephants — but somehow never gets it all together. She winds up instead at a TV station, where she and her comrades try to mix art and politics, or news and politics, once again, with disastrous results. The moral might be summed up thus: If you want to radicalize the circus, or TV news, watch out for the elephants.

If you’re going to watch “Artists: Perplexed“ though, this is the version to get. Facets has included, as an extra, the 1970 short The Indomitable Leni Peickert, which is described as a follow-up to “Perplexed.” (Imagine a full-blown sequel, the name emblazoned on a marquee: “Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed 2.”) But “Leni” is less a follow-up than the actual culmination and climax of the first movie, and they should be seen together, “Leni“ right after “Perplexed.“

Kluge was an ex-documentarian and he shoots “Perplexed” like a ‘60s documentary, full of wordy dialogues and cinema verite-looking scenes and monochrome montages. It’s not a cheerless movie — a couple of Beatles songs are on the soundtrack — but it is relentlessly serious, though not unlikably so. I actually watched it twice, and would happily watch it again, if anybody wanted to see it with me. They really don’t make them like this any more. (Part of a series of Alexander Kluge films being released by Facets as The Alexander Kluge Collection; I hope they eventually put them all into a box set.)
Extras: The Alexander Kluge shorts The Indomitable Leni Peickert (1970) (Three and a Stars) and Execution of an Elephant (Three Stars), which makes use of Edwin S. Porter’s and Thomas A. Edison‘s 1903 Electrocuting the Elephant.

 
PICK OF THE WEEK: BOX SET

The Twilight Zone: Season 2 (Blu-ray) (Four Stars)
U.S.: Various directors, 1960-61(CBS/Image)

“You’re traveling through another dimension: a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey through a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the sign-post up ahead! Your next stop: The Twilight Zone.”

“A brief and frenetic introduction to Mr. Rod Serling, 37, a fabulously successful TV writer, a child of the 20th century, a product of the population explosion, one of the inheritors of the legacy of progress — and much to his surprise and occasional consternation, a fledgling TV star as the bitingly deep-voiced host and narrator of a prize-winning weekly science fiction anthology series that Mr. Serling calls The Twilight Zone.
“Let us watch Mr. Serling now, as he pauses at his typewriter, and lights another cigarette — an Oasis if you please — and as he ruminates on the ironies of life and show business. On his show, Mr. Serling and his fellow writers and directors regularly craft and present little half-hour dramas with moral and social messages — tales about the dangers of totalitarianism, about the bomb, about prejudice, ignorance, greed and the pitfalls of progress.

“They do this because, in addition to reaping the financial rewards of a hit TV program, Mr. Serling honestly wants to educate and elevate his audience, in line with the liberal idealism of America‘s youthful new president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and his New Frontier. They want to be taken seriously — or at least taken with a smile and a shiver, but understood seriously.

“Yet the huge TV audience which laps up Mr. Serling’s show seem instead to digest these stories as simple horror fantasies, good for a chill, but not really applicable to their own lives. For Mr. Serling, this has become like something in his stories: a recurring nightmare, or a message from the future, or a visit to the past, or a plane ride going wildly off course. Is anybody there? Is there anybody out there who can understand that The Twilight Zone, in a way, is no fantasy? That it’s about real things, real people, real events? Things that really happened, or may happen, to Mr. Serling, as he sits at the typewriter, an Oasis in his hand, in a room full of the kind of books that, as in one of his most recent scripts, may someday be declared obsolete, and taken away?

“Mr. Serling wonders. And as he does, something strange starts to happen before his eyes. Mr. Rod Serling, 37 and not prone to hallucinations, notices that his typewriter is beginning to type by itself, turning out a story he hasn’t yet imagined, about a world he doesn’t yet see. But soon he will see that world, and so will everyone else, because this is a tale that could only be written…in The Twilight Zone.”

The box set of the second season of one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Rod Serling‘s The Twilight Zone, with all 29 episodes now gathered in this excellent set, isn’t quite as good as the first, but it’s still good enough. There are signs of pressure: Some missed weeks toward the end of the run, and what seem slightly lower budgets and production values for a few of the shows. And there’s the awful sight of Serling pulling out a cigarette during his last few sign-offs and hawking a brand called Oasis, claiming that it’s “the softest.”

The writing is the same though: superb, and most of it by Serling. (There are some fine scripts by other hands, including Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, and more and more impressively, Charles Beaumont.)

The subjects are still daring, the characters still memorable, the dialogue and narration still crisp, eloquent and smart. The eerie, nerve-jangling music is still by, among others, Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith. And the voice is still Serling’s: authoritative, ironic, inviting us each week into his now well-established domain, the Twilight Zone.
A lot of the older vet Hollywood directors who helped helm the “Zone” for its first season (like Robert Parrish, Robert Florey, Mitchell Leisen) are gone this season, along with a few of the good newer TV specialists of 1959-60 (Ted Post, Ralph Nelson, Stuart Rosenberg). But the series’ very best director, John Brahm (Time Enough at Last) is back for two stellar outings, both with the series’ acting champ, “Time” librarian Burgess Meredith. And there are some fine young directors continuing from 1959-60 or newly recruited to the troupe, including Buzz Kulik, Elliot Silverstein, Douglas Heyes, and Jack Smight.

 
I’ve read that The Twilight Zone is Leonardo Di Caprio’s favorite TV series. Good taste. No wonder he makes so many good movies. He’s right, though. It’s still a great show, still with great casts (Meredith, Art Carney, Jack Carson, Agnes Moorehead, Luther Adler, Dennis and Fritz Weaver, and Cliff Robertson), and this is another great set.

Note: Almost all Twilight Zone episodes are good, rarely ever even mediocre. The asterisks below signify the following: * Of special interest. **Classic episode. *** Top of the Zone.

Includes: Disc One: *** ‘King Nine Will Not Return (Buzz Kulik, 1960) With Robert Cummings. A flight captain and a WW2 warplane, alone in the desert. Writer: Rod Serling. **”The Man in the Bottle” (Don Medford, 1960) With Luther Adler and Joseph Ruskin. In a dusty shop, those legendary genie’s wishes tease and trick again. Writer: RS. * Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room (Douglas Heyes, 1960) With Joe Mantell. The big city underworld, a cheap room, a mirror and two personalities. A Thing About Machines (David Orrick McDearmon, 1960) With Richard Haydn. Household machines revolt against an insufferable snob (Haydn). Writer: RS.

** The Howling Man (Heyes, 1960) With H. M. Wynant and John Carradine. The Devil and holy men in a night-shrouded castle. Writer (from his short story): Charles Beaumont. ** Eye of the Beholder (Heyes, 1960) In another world, beauty and cosmetic surgery are relative. With Maxine Stuart and Donna Douglas. Writer: RS. *Nick of Time (Richard L. Bare, 1960) With William Shatner, Pat Breslin. In a small town diner, a cheap fortune telling machine starts predicting the future — correctly. Writer: Richard Matheson.

Disc Two: * The Lateness of the Hour (Jack Smight) With Inger Stevens and John Hoyt. To his daughter (Stevens), an inventor’s household humanoid robots are not a blessing, but a curse. Writer: RS. **The Trouble with Templeton (Kulik, 1960) With Brian Aherne, Pippa Scott and Sydney Pollack (as the stage director). A grand old theater actor (Aherne) dreams of the past, and suddenly rediscovers it. Writer: F. Jack Neuman. * A Most Unusual Camera (John Rich, 1960) With Fred Clark. Three grifters find a camera that shoots pictures of the future. Writer: RS. **Night of the Meek (Smight, 1960) With Art Carney and John Fiedler. A drunken department store Santa (Carney) finds a magical Christmas sack. Writer: RS.

**Dust (Heyes, 1961) With Thomas Gomez, Vladimir Sokoloff, John Larch, and Douglas Heyes, Jr. In a violent old West town, a young man is about to be hanged; a crooked peddler (Gomez) offers a way out. Writer: RS. Back There (McDearmon, 1961) With Russell Johnson and Paul Hartman. A man who thinks time travel can change history goes back himself to the night Lincoln was shot. Writer: RS. ** The Whole Truth (James Sheldon, 1961) With Jack Carson, Loring Smith and Arte Johnson. The world’s most dishonest used car salesman (Carson, natch) buys a Model A which makes him tell the truth — about everything. Writer: RS.
 
Disc Three: **The Invaders (Heyes, 1961) With Agnes Moorehead and Heyes. A lonely woman in an isolated house is besieged by a tiny UFO and its tiny spacemen. Writer: Matheson. A Penny for Your Thoughts (Sheldon, 1961) With Dick York. A young office worker discovers the perils of telepathy. Writer: George Clayton Johnson. ** Twenty-Two (Smight, 1961) With Barbara Nichols and Jonathan Harris. A star stripper (Nichols), while hospitalized, has a recurring nightmare about a menacing nurse and the morgue in the basement. Writer: RS. The Odyssey of Flight 33 (Addis, 1961) With John Anderson. A commercial plane suddenly goes wildly off-course, in space and time. Writer: RS.

***Mr. Dingle, the Strong (John Brahm, 1961) With Burgess Meredith, Don Rickles and James Westerfield. The best actor (Meredith) and best director (Brahm) of the first two Twilight Zone seasons return for a comic, light-fantastic take on weakness, strength, celebrity, two-headed extraterrestrials and bar-room bets. Writer: RS. Static (Kulik, 1961) With Dean Jagger, Carmen Mathews and Bob Crane (as the disc jockey). An old man (Jagger), who lost his love (Mathews) but loves the past, finds just the right radio station. Writer: Beaumont. * The Prime Mover (Bare, 1961) With Dane Clark and Buddy Ebsen. Two small-time gamblers (Clark and Ebsen), one with a wild talent, take a Las Vegas casino into the Twilight Zone. Writer: Beaumont. Long Distance Call (Sheldon, 1961) With Billy Mumy, Lili Darvas and Philip Abbot. A boy’s beloved but dead grandmother calls him on their private phone. Writers: Beaumont & William Idleson.

Disc Four: **A Hundred Yards Over the Rim (Kulik, 1961) With Cliff Robertson, John Crawford and John Astin. The determined leader (Robertson) of a lost, thirsty wagon train, finds more than sand over the rim. One of the series’ great titles adorns one of its best shows. Writer: RS. * The Rip Van Winkle Caper (Addis, 1961) With Simon Oakland, Oscar Beregi, and John Mitchum. Four robbers in a million dollar gold bar heist enlist G. Gordon Liddy to peddle their loot on TV…No, sorry, the four freeze themselves and awaken 100 years later, ready for a lesson in economics (not from Liddy). Writer: RS. *The Silence (Boris Sagal, 1961) With Franchot Tone, Liam Sullivan, Jonathan Harris and Cyril Delevanti. A club snob (Tone) bets a loudmouth he can’t keep silent for a year, with ominous consequences. Writer: RS.

***Shadow Play (Brahm, 1961) With Dennis Weaver, Harry Townes and Wright King. A seemingly deranged man convicted of murder (Weaver) claims the trial, sentence and impending execution are all part of his (recurring) nightmare, and that when he dies in the chair, everyone else in the world will die with him. Another great one, from noir master Brahm. Writer: Beaumont. ** The Mind and the Matter (Kulik, 1961) With Shelley Berman. A white collar fussbudget (“Inside” comedian Berman) would rather the world were empty of other people…and suddenly it is. Writer: RS. ** Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? (Montgomery Pittman, 1961) With John Hoyt and Jack Elam. Two cops follow the footsteps from a snowstorm-crashed UFO to a diner with eight people. But which is the Martian? Prototypical “Zone” comedy: one imagines it complete with illustrations by Astounding Science Fiction’s Kelly Freas. Writer: RS.

*** The Obsolete Man (Elliot Silverstein, 1961) With Burgess Meredith and Fritz Weaver. In a dystopian future world, run by “1984” style statists, a soft-spoken librarian (Meredith) argues for his usefulness to society, while the brutal Chancellor (Weaver) of a new bookless world shouts him down. A brilliant companion piece to that other Meredith-and-books Serling fable Time Enough at Last — and, like “Time,” it’s Serling, and the “Zone,” at their absolute best. The direction, by Elliot (“Cat Ballou”) Silverstein, is positively Brahmian. Writer: Rod Serling.

Extras: Serling‘s complete ‘50s “Suspense” science-fiction TV play Nightmare at Ground Zero (*); 25 Audio Commentaries, featuring directors Kulik and Heyes, writers Johnson and Robert Serling (Rod‘s brother), actors Robertson, (Dennis) Weaver, Rickles, Mumy, Berman and Douglas, and Twilight Zone scholars, historians and writer/admirers; Interviews with regular “Zone” cinematographer George T. Clemens, and actors Joseph Ruskin and H. M. Wynant; 15 radio dramas of episodes in this set; 22 isolated music scores by Herrmann, Goldsmith and others; Serling promos.

OTHER CURRENT AND RECENT DVD RELEASES

The Tourist (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2010 (Columbia)

There comes a time in life when you realize, sadly, that you‘ll probably never see Venice, except in dreams and movie-houses — never see the Piazza San Marco, the Grand Canal, never eat at Caffe Florian, never ride in a gondola, or watch the sun glinting down on the City of Water, the City of Bridges, the City of Masks, Serenissima — and that’s when movies like The Tourist become more important to you.

Important, but not necessarily better. The Tourist, a lushly photographed touristic Hitchcockian exercise in romantic-movie-thrillerism for Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, starts with impressive travelogue credentials. It’s filled with ravishing views of the legendary city where Casanova plied his trade and Antonio Vivaldi composed concerto after concerto for his girls’ school, and where Kate Hepburn tumbled so memorably into the canal: filled with the glorious sights of those canals, the gondolas, the old hotels — and of ravishing Angie smiling and sashaying through it all, stopping traffic and inspiring voyeurism as only Angelina can. This is a city we’d probably all like to visit, and it’s shot here by director-co-writer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and cinematographer John Seale, with all the color and the luster they can, uh, muster. (Without bluster or fluster). A huge advantage, that.

Which The Tourist then sort of squanders. Von Donnersmarck, the thriller-savvy writer director of the Oscar-winning German Cold War surveillance suspense movie The Lives of Others, has two witty co-scenarists here — Christopher McQuarrie of Bryan Singer‘s twisty, zappy The Usual Suspects (which has a twist ending) and Julian Fellowes of Robert Altman‘s Agatha Christie-ish, Jean Renoiresque Gosford Park (which does also). And one would have thought this talented threesome could easily acquit their assignment: restarting the agenda of Hitchcock‘s To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest.

I love that Lady Vanishes sort of movie. And initially, I had nothing but fond feelings and expectations for this film — and for Jolie as Elise Clifton-Ward, and for Depp‘s typically whimsical and lightly fey lead male character, Frank Tupelo. Elise is the babe of babes. Frank is a mousy-looking math teacher thrown into international intrigue when British spy and fugitive gang girlfriend Elise becomes his maybe-evil angel.

My tilt seemed especially apt when it developed that Frank hailed from my old home town, Madison, Wisconsin, the city where I lived and went to school, and to the movies, for a decade and a half. I can testify that Franks’ shaggy, wispy hairdo, which has caused consternation in some ultra-critical circles, is pretty much what some young male Madisonians used to wear, at least when I was there, and may still wear — and that in fact, I often avoided haircut expenses in just such a manner myself.

Wandering farther afield, I recall our fair city even had a few knockouts in the Angelina Jolie class (I remember them well) — and that we also often (at least in the ‘60s and ‘70s), sincerely believed we were as overrun with spies, undercover cops and murderous gangsters, as The Tourist’s Venice seems to be here.

Well, enough Remembrance of Things Past. Get thee behind me, Proust. And Ella’s. These days most of us, ex-Madisonians or not, don’t want a slice of life from a movie like The Tourist. We want what Hitchcock always promised from this kind of show (in the genre that he practically invented): slices of cake. Though the plot here might seem to promise (and even serves up) some Hitchcockian delectation, it begins to get soporific and stillborn and as wispy as Frank’s hair, almost as soon as the strangers-on-a-train flirtation starts. Robert Walker and Farley Granger had better flirty badinage, and so did Cary Grant and — take your pick — Grace Kelly (To Catch a Thief), Ingrid Bergman (Notorious), Eva Marie Saint (North by Northwest) or Audrey Hepburn (in Stanley Donen‘s sparkling Hitchcock pastiche Charade).

The plot? Elise, it seems, is the girlfriend of the mysterious Alexander Pearce, an international outlaw in flight from both Scotland Yard — which has her on camera, manned by the obsessive Dana Andrews-ish cop, Acheson (Paul Bettany) nearly everywhere she goes, from Paris to Venice — and from the killer-thugs of Russian mobster Ivan Demidov (played by Steven Berkoff, the rich scum of the first Beverly Hills Cop), from whom Pearce conned and stole billions of dollars, or enough to qualify him for a tax cut extension from the Republicans in the U.S. Congress.

In the very first scene, a pretty cool opener, Elise, at a Parisian sidewalk café, gets a note from Pearce (a note she quickly reads and burns, while being monitored by the Yard guys) telling her to head for Venice, find some schnook of Pearce’s own general size and build, latch on to him, and sucker Scotland Yard and Demidov into thinking the patsy is really Alex. (Well, we had a lot of schnooks in Madison too, myself included.)

So, she does, and, in this case, Depp, now the seeming Hitchcockian “wrong man” of your dreams, has Elise pitching what seems to be woo and dragging him up to her palatial apartments for what seems to be a roll in the sheets (but isn‘t), and he also has murderers and minions (aided by Christian de Sica, Vittorio de Sica’s boy, as a crooked cop) chasing him all over the rooftops and canals.

That’s the itinerary. They meet, they flirt, they fake us out, they almost smooch, they run from cops and killers. Depp fumbles and shambles and sometimes looks as if he can’t believe his good luck, and sometimes acts as if Brad Pitt were staring over his shoulder. Jolie looks more than ever like a European glamour star hottie out on a shoot, but has been dubiously encouraged to say little, and say it like Kristin Scott-Thomas.

Paul Bettany is quite good, and his part should have been pumped up with another scene or two. Steven Berkoff is just as snobby and sadistic as he was in Beverly Hills Cop. There’s even a Bond around — Timothy Dalton — to complain about tactics. Ah Venice, city of dreams, where Angelina Jolie may pick you up, while Russky goons manacle you to a gondola. Ah Madison, city of bad hair, Beatle albums and student riots. Ah Hollywood, which has a meet-cute for every occasion and a tale for every two cities.

The Tourist is based on French cineaste Jerome Salle’s 2005 French thriller Anthony Zimmer, which took place in Nice instead of Venice, and which is still unreleased in the U.S., despite having good notices, plus Sophie Marceau, Yvan Attal, Sami Frey and Daniel Olbrychski in the main parts. But Tourist is maybe too touristy. It often fails to crackle and delight in the Cary Grant ways it should.

In fact, if I were in the Court Jester-Danny Kaye sort of mood that my luster-muster-fluster-buster-cluster remarks above suggest, I’d say maybe that Tourist was a fizzle, not a sizzle, in the drizzle of Venezia. (or Venizzle?) I don’t object to the relative paucity of suspense scenes in this film, because most contemporary thrillers have too many, and this one has at least four passable ones. What irks me is the movie’s relative failure to build up the beguile factors of Jolie and Depp‘s roles, or to come up with some sexy shower scene or fancy teasing crosstalk for them. This film is like a would be dinner party that’s all canapés and dessert, and where the Russians drank all the wine and the Italians drank all the vodka.

Nevertheless, I would insist that, as failed movies go, The Tourist has stuff to compensate. The spirit of Hitch. Angelina sashaying. Depp yearning. Bettany on the prowl. And Venice. Ah, Venice. We may never get there, but we can still hear the lap of the waves in stereophonic sound, see Kate tumble, hear the gondolier‘s song. “O sole mio…” Isn’t that what movies are for? If only, if only…Ah, the hell with it. (In English, French and Italian, with English subtitles.) Extras: Commentary by von Donnersmarck; Featurettes; Out-takes.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (Three Stars)
U.S.: Banksy, 2010 (Oscilloscope)
For the record, this sardonic, cynical, whip-fast Oscar-nominated “documentary” from the secretive street artist Banksy — about an obsessed L. A. doc-maker named Thierry Guetta, who shoots a “documentary” about street artists like Shepherd Fairey and Space Invader (and Banksy), gets nowhere with it (because he has no talent), and then decides to become an artist himself, nicknames himself Mr. Brainwash, holds a huge L. A. art show, getting some L. A. Weekly people to (unknowingly) shill for him, and becomes the rage of the art world — strikes me as fake. Or mostly fake. (Certainly Mr. Brainwash and his “art” are fakes.)

And, as the son of a genuinely brilliant artist (Edna Wilmington) who got nowhere professionally or financially or critically her whole life — while phonies like Mr. Brainwash were conning critics into writing about them and suckers into buying their junk — I resented the hell out of it.

But Banksy is no fake. This movie made me laugh a lot. And, like all of us, I tend to forgive anyone who makes me laugh. Extras: “B Movie,” a film about the “art” of Banksy; Deleted scenes; “Life Remote Control” lawyer’s edit.

Yogi Bear (One Star)
U.S.; Eric Brevig, 2010

“It ain’t over till it’s over.“
Yogi Berra (from Wikipedia)

What can you say? A bunch of movie guys were determined to make a show out of the ’60s TV cartoon series Yogi Bear — starring Dan Aykroyd as the voice of Yogi and Justin Timberlake as the voice of Boo Boo — and there was nothing anybody could do to stop them.

Yogi, of course, was that brash, picnic-basket-obsessed cartoon bear from the studio-shop of erstwhile “Tom and Jerry” Oscar winners Hanna and Barbera, a bear whose signature was his cheap drawing, silly hat and goofy voice. In the era when limited animation became the vogue, Yogi was born to be cheap, made to be cheap. He was cheapness personified.

“90% of the game is half-mental.“
Now, defying all sense of proportion, and of true bearishness, millions and jelly-ilions of dollars have been lavished on a big-movie reprise of Yogi, Boo Boo and Hanna-Barbera’s cartoon ecological showcase, Jellystone Park. The ultimate in CGI 3D wizardry has been employed to fly Yogi up in the air, scoot him over Jellystone panoramas, and sail him past picnickers and picnic baskets as the Yoge chortles “I‘m smarted then the average bear!“ and “Give me that pic-a-nic basket, dammit!“ and other witty or archetypal lines.

Screenwriters Jeffrey Ventimilia and Joshua Stemin, fresh from their labors on The Rock’s show Tooth Fairy, have been hired to write or rewrite those lines and others as well, producing (with the help of Brad “Wild Hogs“ Copeland) a script that sometimes makes Tooth Fairy look like The Red Shoes.

“Always go to other people‘s funerals; otherwise they won’t go to yours.”

Ah, yes. There’s a romance between plucky Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh) and documentary filmmaker Rachel (Anna Faris), and there’s another, more gullible ranger, named Jones (T. L. Miller) and there’s an evil mayor (Andrew Daly), who wants to close Jellystone Park and turn it onto, I don’t know, Casino Jack condos or something. Couldn’t they just have advertised, “At this park, we have two talking bears who walk around in hats and shirts and crack jokes?” Wouldn’t that be a draw?

“I really didn’t say everything I said.”

Visual effects guy Eric Brevig (who directed the recent Journey to the Center of the Earth remake) tries to make sense of all this. He can’t. But Aykroyd, ignoring any effort to reproduce the voice of original Yogi, Daws Butler, blazes new trails in Yogi-dom. (What about giving Dan that classic lost album, “BluesBears: Daws Butler and June Foray sing B. B. King?“)

What can you say about Yogi Bear? That this movie is more profound than the original Huckleberry Hound, more moving than Snagglepuss, more shattering than Deputy Dawg, and just as good as the movies somebody will no doubt make out of all of them? Just kidding. It’s really just another big, bad, expensive movie that leaves you speechless. And kingless. And bearless. As a wise man once said: A movie as bad as this can’t possibly be this bad. Yogi, we hardly knew ye.

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.“ — Yogi Berra

Extras: Featurettes; Looney Tune “Rabid Rider”; Game.

How Do You Know (Two Stars)
U.S.: James L. Brooks, 2010 (Sony)

I have nothing much to say about the a new James L. Brooks romantic comedy — from the highly gifted writer-director who made Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News, and helped Jack Nicholson win two Oscars (“Terms” and As Good as It Gets) but who here casts Jack below (and gives him less lines than) Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd, three younger stars playing a romantic triangle vaguely reminiscent (and I do mean vaguely) of Holly Hunter, William Hurt and Albert Brooks in Broadcast News. Nothing to say but just this:

“Hold the chicken!” (You want me to hold the chicken?) “I want you to hold it between your knees!”

No, let’s develop that thought a little more. Let’s imagine Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd, the three stars billed above Nicholson, each doing that Five Easy Pieces truck stop scene. (I have nothing against any of them, by the way.)

Wilson, I think, would play it a little confused and bemused, and even slightly disbelieving and semi-reasonable, all the way though, and then finally explode frantically on “You see this sign?“ and the ultimate table-sweeping. Then he’d try to gather himself together. Maybe even apologize. Mr. Goof.

Rudd would probably do the scene haggard and a little unkempt as if he‘d been up all night and wasn’t quite himself. Then he‘d begin to stare and stare at the waitress as she kept frustrating him. Then he‘d say, with utter calm, “I want you to hold it between your knees!“ Then he’d give a fakey smile on “You see this sign?” before he sweeps the table. Then another smile and some hand-waving. Mr. Charm.

Reese Witherspoon could do the whole scene cold, just like Jack, though maybe she’d remove her sun-glasses at some point, and give the waitress a long hard stare. And, after she swept the table, she’d give a little “I-don’t-believe-I-just-did-that” shriek. Ms. Attitude.

As good as it gets, which isn’t very good, “How Do You Know” is still never as entertaining nor as vibrant, memorable, and terrific as those few table-sweeping Bob Rafelson-concocted minutes in “Five Easy Pieces.” or Terms of Endearment. And James L. Brooks is a good writer, a good director. There’s no real excuse for this. Except the system, of course.

Look, it’s like this. Movie ageism to the contrary, I’d rather see Jack do the scene himself, looking just as he does now. No one builds a tantrum like the Man. And I’d rather see Owen, Paul and Reese supporting Jack instead of vice versa. You know something? I bet they all would too. Extras: Commentaries with Brooks, Wilson and others. Conversation with Brooks and composer Hans Zimmer; Blooper reel.

On the Double (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Melville Shavelson, 1961 (Paramount/Olive)

Danny Kaye. I can’t waqit. A mediocre Danny Kaye movie is still usually funnier than, say, a mediocre Adam Sandler or Owen Wilson movie. This one has Mr. “Split Personality” Daniel Kaminski himself, in an okay but not scintillating script by co-writers Jack Rose and Melville Shavelson (who also directed), as a cowardly, neurotic U. S. soldier (Kaye) who, because of his amazing resemblance to a vain and sadistic British general (Kaye), is recruited to impersonate the general and fool the Nazis and maybe some movie critics too.

Now, this mean general has a beautiful wife (Dana Wynter), whom the war staff neglects to inform about the substitution, and for whom our kid from Brooklyn instantly falls. Though sick of her husband, she then falls for a guy who looks just like him and is trying to impersonate him, but is nicer. (If she likes rapid-patter songs and sentimental ballads, especially by Danny’s wife Sylvia Fine, she’s hit the jackpot.) There are also an unusual number of Nazi spies who have infiltrated the British Army officer class here, and are impersonating various twits, snobs and Nigel Bruce impersonators. They could have all been played (better) by Peter Sellers. (But he might have messed up the movie by chasing Dana.)

Not too sharp, this movie. A turkey may be lurkin‘ in the murk where Mel is workin‘. A spy tells a lie, as he tries not to die. This movie isn’t proving to be giggly or groovy. But, at the end, Rose and Shavelson come up with some stuff, better stuff than that, and it gets somewhat crazy and funny. More Kaye, I say. And more Sellers too. No extras.

The Weekend Report — January 16

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

Weekend Estimates – January 14-16, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
The Green Hornet Sony 33.2 (9,270) NEW 3115 33.2
Dilemma Uni 17.4 (5,910) NEW 2940 17.4
True Grit Par 10.8 (3,130) -26% 3459 126
The King’s Speech Weinstein Co. 9.0 (5,810) 40% 1543 44.5
Black Swan Fox Searchlight 8.0 (3,450) -1% 2328 72.9
Little Fockers Uni 7.3 (2,140) -46% 3394 134.4
Tron: Legacy BV 5.7 (2,350) -43% 2439 157
Yogi Bear WB 5.3 (1,950) -21% 2702 82
The Fighter Par/Alliance 5.1 (2,100) -28% 2414 65.7
Season of the Witch Relativity 4.5 (1,600) -57% 2827 18
Tangled BV 4.0 (1,940) -22% 2048 181
Country Strong Sony 3.6 (2,550) -51% 1424 13.2
Chronicles of Narnia: Dawn Treader Fox 2.3 (1,340) -51% 1704 98
Gulliver’s Travels Fox 2.0 (1,220) -56% 1666 37.6
The Tourist Sony 1.6 (1,150) -57% 1420 64.2
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hollows, Part 1* WB 1.4 (1,460) -42% 1507 289.8
Blue Valentine Weinstein Co. 1.4 (5,910) 93% 230 2.8
Megamind Par .62 (1,820) 125% 341 145.4
The Heart Specialist FreeStyle .48 (1,140) NEW 422 0.48
Yamla Pagla Deewana Eros .43 (5,270) NEW 82 0.43
How Do You Know Sony .41 (660) -78% 615 29.9
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $123.70
% Change (Last Year) -27%
% Change (Last Week) 15%
Also debuting/expanding
Barney’s Version * Sony Class/eOne .37 (8,270) 259% 45 0.8
Rabbit Hole Lions gate .26 (2,620) 138% 100 0.9
Somewhere Focus .25 (4,680) 52% 53 0.73
Mirapakaya Bharat .23 (8,820 26 0.13
Another Year Sony Classics .12 (9,380) 40% 13 0.34
Anaganga o Dheerudu Blue Sky 66,500 (2,290) 29 0.07
The Illusionist Sony Classics 63,400 (9,060) 92% 7 0.25
Aadukalam Big Cinemas 25,600 (4,270) 6 0.03
Kaavalan Big Cinemas 21,800 (1,680) 13 0.02
Siruthai Bharat 18,200 (2,020) 9 0.02
Every Day Image 8,800 (2,930) 3 0.01
Ong Bak 3 Magnolia 5,500 (1,830) 3 0.01
A Somewhat Gentle Man Strand 5,100 (5,100) 1 0.01

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.

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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%

Friday Estimates — January 1

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

True Grit|8.3|3083|74%|70.4
Little Fockers|7.7|3554|56%|84.6
TRON: Legacy|5.0|3365|26%|117.6
Yogi Bear|4.1|3515|92%|57.2
Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader|3.4|2948|58%|80.1
Tangled |3.4|2582|96%|161.4
Gulliver’s Travels |2.9|3089|NEW|21
The Fighter |2.7|2534|105%|39.2
The King’s Speech |2.5|700|712%|15.16
The Tourist |2.0|2756|127%|49.9
Black Swan|1.9|1553|81%|40.8
Also Debuting
Blue Valentine|42,400|4||42,400
Another Year|33,200|6||33,200
* in millions

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.
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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

Weekend Estimates — December 26

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

Little Fockers|34.0|NEW|48.2
True Grit|25.5|NEW|36.6
TRON: Legacy|20.6|-53%|88.7
Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader|10.9|-12%|63.9
The Fighter|8.6|-29% |27.7
Yogi Bear|8.4|-55%|36.3
Gulliver’s Travels *|6.9|NEW|6.9
Tangled|6.7|-24%|143.8
Black Swan|6.4|-23%|28.9
The Tourist|5.6|-35%|41.1
* Christmas Day opening

Friday Estimates — December 25

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

Little Fockers|5.0|3536|NEW|19.3
True Grit|4.8|3047|NEW|15.9
TRON: Legacy|4.0|3451|-77%|72.2
Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader|2.2|3350|-38%|55.3
Yogi Bear|2.1|3515|-54%|30.1
Tangled |1.8|2582|-17%|139.1
The Fighter |1.3|2511|-68%|20.3
Black Swan|1.1|1457|-58%|23.5
The Tourist |0.85|2756|-67%|36.3
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt 1 |0.75|1732|-45%|270.6
Also Debuting
Tees Mar Khann|0.17|104||0.17
Somewhere|28,300|7||28,300
Barney’s Version|14,200|4||14,200
Country Strong|3,300|2||3,300
Toonpur Ka Superhero|2,100|24||2,100
Isi Life Mein|1,100|18||1,100
* in millions

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

Weekend Estimates — December 19

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

TRON: Legacy|43.4|NEW|43.4
Yogi Bear|16.6|NEW|16.6
Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader|12.5|-48%|42.9
The Fighter|12.1|NEW |12.6
Tangled|8.7|-39%|127.9
The Tourist|8.4|-49%|30.5
Black Swan|7.9|140%|15.3
How Do You Know|7.5|NEW|7.5
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt 1|8.6|-50%|257.8
Unstoppable|1.8|-51%|77.4

Friday Estimates — December 18

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

TRON: Legacy|17.1|3451|NEW|17.1
Yogi Bear|4.6|3515|NEW|4.6
The Fighter |3.8|2503|3748%|4.2
Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader|3.5|3555|-57%|33.9
How Do You Know|2.5|2483|NEW|2.5
The Tourist |2.5|2756|-59%|24.6
Black Swan|2.4|959|142%|9.8
Tangled |2.1|3201|-38%|121.3
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt 1 |1.3|2860|-47%|261.2
Unstoppable|0.55|1874|-54%|76.1
Also Debuting
L’Appat|50,800|68||50,800
Rabbit Hole|15,300|5||15,300
Casino Jack|8,300|7||8,300
La Rafle|5,700|13||5,700
* in millions

And the Golden Globe Noms Are … Yawnnnn

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

So, the Golden Globe noms were announced this morning, not that anyone particularly cares. Although I find it kind of funny that entertainment journalists actually get up at the asscrack of dawn to “report” on the urgent news that the HFPA nominated Johnny Depp twice and The Tourist for anything. If every journalist who works in Hollywood would stop pretending the Globes are important as anything other than the Hollywood ass-kissing fest they are, maybe they would go away. Or maybe not. Hollywood does love any excuse to play dress-up, I guess.
(more…)

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 Estimates — December 12

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader|24.3|NEW|24.3
The Tourist|16.8|NEW |16.8
Tangled|14.4|-33%|115.5
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt 1|8.6|-50%|257.8
Unstoppable|6.1|-47%|68.9
Black Swan|3.4|134%|5.7
Burlesque|3.2|-48%|32.6
Love and Other Drugs|3.0|-48%|27.6
Due Date|2.5|-39%|94.9
Megamind|2.5|-50%|140.2

Friday Estimates — December 11

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader|8.1|3555|NEW|8.1
The Tourist |6.1|2756|NEW|6.1
Tangled |3.3|3565|-35%|104.4
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt 1 |2.4|3577|-50%|251.6
Unstoppable|1.2|2967|-38%|71.7
Burlesque|1|2876|-48%|30.4
Love and Other Drugs|1|2240|-49%|25.7
Black Swan|1|90|137%|3.3
Due Date |0.85|1990|-39%|93.2
Megamind|0.55|2425|-54%|138.2
Also Debuting
The Fighter |98,500|4||98,500
No Problem|56,700|84||56,700
The Tempest|15,400|5||15,400
Band Baaja Baaraat|10,600|32||10,600
Hemingway’s Garden of Eden|3,500|14||3,500
And Everything is Doing Fine|1,900|1||1,900
You Won’t Miss Me|1,500|1||1,500
* in millions

Critics Roundup — December 10

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader||||Yellow|Yellow
The Tourist|||||Yellow
The Fighter|Green||||Green
You Won’t Miss Me |||||
The Tempest |Yellow||||

Non-Review – The Tourist

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

How does this happen twice in one year?

The script for The Tourist is better than the script for Knight & Day, but both were completely workable ideas with completely workable screenplays and each had two major movie stars who could absolutely deliver on the core idea of these films… retro Hitchcokian/Wilderian thrillers with a sense of humor and fun roles for their stars.

And both fail to deliver because both films picked the wrong director.

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck made a great film in The Lives of Others. It is intimate and smart and demanding… which is not only the opposite of what The Tourist is, but is the opposite of the intent of The Tourist. It’s palpable from the first scenes of the film… something is amiss… the film is like watching a woman in a very tight pencil skirt trying to trudge through 2 foot deep mud while showing no signs of the difficulty on her face. What the HELL are they up to? It’s not Mission: Impossible (or Salt). It’s not really a drama. And if it’s meant to be mysterious, perhaps they needed to have something real to unravel. And then Depp shows up… in a comedy performance. He and Jolie work haaaaard to try to make it work. But this terrific director… uh… how to put it…

They had a romantic thriller that might well have starred Cary Grant and Grace Kelly… light on its feet… airy… funny… and they hired a German director!!!!

With due respect to Germans who have a gift for light comedy… seriously… I loved Mostly Martha, but even that director would not be the right fit for this material.

Oy.

And Knight & Day? James Mangold has delivered big for pretty much every movie star he has ever worked with. Nominations and good box office all over the place. And K&D wasn’t a disaster, financially or creatively. But it needed a light touch that the director of Walk The Line, Girl, Interrupted, and Copland was not the right guy. I have come to like and appreciate Mangold more and more over the years. But funny? No.

It reminds you of how delicate good movies are. And how really talented people can be just the wrong people for a particular project.

The script for The Tourist is, I think, better… but I think Knight & Day is the better film. But both films could well have been great fun for audiences… romps that would be watched over and over again… the kind of films that make you smile – and stop – when you remote past them on your cable/satellite when they get there, just for a moment, and then dragging you in.

But they aren’t. Sigh.

MW on Movies: The Tourist, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Fighter

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

The Tourist(Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2010

There comes a time in life when you realize, sadly, that you‘ll probably never see Venice, except in dreams and movie-houses — never see the Piazza San Marco, the Grand Canal, never eat at Caffe Florian, never ride in a gondola, or watch the sun glinting down on the City of Water, the City of Bridges, the City of Masks, Serenissima — and that’s when movies like The Tourist become more important to you.

Important, but not necessarily better. The Tourist, a lushly photographed touristic Hitchcockian exercise in romantic-movie-thrillerism for Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, starts with impressive travelogue credentials. It’s filled with ravishing views of the legendary city where Casanova plied his trade and Vivaldi composed concerto after concerto for his girls’ school, and where Kate Hepburn tumbled so memorably into the canal: filled with the glorious sights of those canals, the gondolas, the old hotels — and of ravishing Angie smiling and sashaying through it all, stopping traffic and inspiring voyeurism as only Angelina can. This is a city we’d probably all like to visit, and it’s shot here by director-co-writer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and cinematographer John Seale, with all the color and the luster they can, uh, muster. (Without fluster). A huge advantage, that.

Which The Tourist then sort of squanders. Von Donnermarck, the thriller-savvy writer director of the Oscar-winning German Cold War surveillance suspense movie The Lives of Others. Tourist has two witty co-scenarists here — Christopher McQuarrie of Bryan Singer‘s twisty, zappy The Usual Suspects (which has a twist ending) and Julian Fellowes of Robert Altman‘s Agatha Christie-ish/Jean Renoiresque Gosford Park (which does also). And one would have thought this talented threesome could easily acquit their assignment: restarting the agenda of Hitchcock‘s To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest.

I love that “Lady Vanishes” sort of movie. And initially, I had nothing but fond feelings and expectations for this film — and for Jolie as Elise Clifton-Ward, and for Depp‘s typically whimsical and lightly fey lead male character, Frank Tupelo. Elise is the babe of babes. Frank is a mousy-looking math teacher thrown into international intrigue when British spy and fugitive gang girlfriend Elise Clifton-Ward, becomes his maybe-evil angel.

That was especially true after it developed that Frank hailed from my old home town, Madison, Wisconsin, the city where I lived and went to school, and the movies, for a decade and a half. I can testify that Franks’ shaggy, wispy hairdo, which has caused consternation in some ultra-critical circles, is pretty much what some young male Madisonians used to wear, at least when I was there, and may still wear — and that in fact, I often avoided haircut expenses in just such a manner myself. Wandering farther afield, I recall our fair city even had a few knockouts in the Angelina Jolie class (I remember them well) — and that we also often (at least in the ‘60s and ‘70s), sincerely believed we were as overrun with spies, undercover cops and murderous gangsters, as The Tourist’s Venice seems to be here.

Well, enough Remembrance of Things Past. Get thee behind me, Proust. These days most of us, ex-Madisonians or not, don’t want a slice of life from a movie like The Tourist. We want what Hitchcock always promised from this kind of show (in the genre that he practically invented): slices of cake. Though the plot here might seem to promise (and even serves up) some Hitchcockian delectation, it begins to get soporific and stillborn and as wispy as Frank’s hair, almost as soon as the strangers-on-a-train flirtation starts. Robert Walker and Farley Granger had better flirty badinage, and so did Cary Grant and — take your pick — Grace Kelly (To Catch a Thief), Ingrid Bergman (Notorious), Eva Marie Saint (North by Northwest) or Audrey Hepburn (in Stanley Donen‘s sparkling Hitchcock pastiche Charade).

The plot? Elise, it seems, is the girlfriend of the mysterious Alexander Pearce, an international outlaw in flight from both Scotland Yard — which has her on camera, manned by the obsessive Dana Andrews-ish cop, Acheson (Paul Bettany) nearly everywhere she goes, from Paris to Venice — and from the killer-thugs of Russian mobster Ivan Demidov (played by Steven Berkoff, the rich scum of the first Beverly Hills Cop), from whom Pearce conned and stole billions of dollars, or enough to qualify him for a tax cut extension from the U.S. Congress.

In the very first scene, a pretty cool opener, Elise, at a Parisian sidewalk café, gets a note from Pearce (a note she quickly reads and burns, while being monitored by the Yard guys) telling her to head for Venice, find some schnook of Pearce’s own general size and build, latch on to him, and sucker Scotland Yard and Demidov into thinking the patsy is him. (Well, we had a lot of schnooks in Madison too, myself included.) So, she does, and, in this case, Depp, now the seeming Hitchcockian “wrong man,” has Elise pitching what seems to be woo and dragging him up to her palatial apartments for what seems to be a roll in the sheets (but isn‘t), and he also has murderers and minions (aided by Christian de Sica, Vittorio’s boy, as a crooked cop) chasing him all over the rooftops and canals.

That’s the itinerary. They meet, they flirt, they fake us out, they almost smooch, they run from cops and killers. Depp fumbles and shambles and sometimes looks as if he can’t believe his good luck, and sometimes acts as if Brad Pitt were staring over his shoulder. Jolie looks more than ever like a European glamour star out on a shoot, but has been unfortunately encouraged to say little, and say it like Kristin Scott-Thomas. Paul Bettany is quite good, and his part should have been pumped up with another scene or two. Steven Berkoff is just as snobby and sadistic as he was in “Cop.“ There’s even a Bond around — Timothy Dalton — to complain about tactics. Ah Venice, city of dreams, where Angelina Jolie may pick you up, while Russky goons manacle you to a gondola. Ah Madison, city of bad hair, Beatle albums and student riots. Ah Hollywood, which has a meet-cute for every occasion and a tale for every two cities.

The Tourist is based on French cineaste Jerome Salle’s 2005 French thriller Anthony Zimmer, which took place in Nice instead of Venice, and which is still unreleased in the U.S., despite having good notices, plus Sophie Marceau, Yvan Attal, Sami Frey and Daniel Olbrychski in the main parts. But Tourist is maybe too touristy. It often fails to crackle and delight in the Cary Grant ways it should.

If I were in the Court Jester-Danny Kaye sort of mood that my color-luster-muster-fluster-cluster remarks above suggest, I’d say that Tourist was a fizzle, not a sizzle, in the drizzle of Venezia. (or Venizzle?) I don’t object to the relative paucity of suspense scenes in this film, because most contemporary thrillers have too many, and this one has at least four passable ones. What bothers me is the relative failure to build up the beguile factors of Jolie and Depp‘s roles, or to come up with some sexy shower scene or fancy teasing crosstalk for them. The film is like a would be dinner party that’s all canapés and dessert, and where the Russians drank all the wine and the Italians drank all the vodka.

Nevertheless, I would insist that, as failed movies go, The Tourist has lots to compensate. The spirit of Hitch. Angelina sashaying. Depp yearning. Bettany on the prowl. And Venice. Venice. We may never get there, but we can still hear the lap of the waves in stereophonic sound, see Kate tumble, hear the gondolier‘s song. “O sole mio…” Isn’t that what movies are for? If only this movie were worthy of it… (In English, French and Italian, with English subtitles.)

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Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Two and a Half Stars)

U. S.-U.K.: Michael Apted, 2010

The movie series based C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia — which was one of the great children‘s book cycles in the English language — nearly crashes on the cliffs the sea-storms of modern big special effects 3D moviemaking in the third Narnia movie, tongue-twistingly entitled Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Nearly. But not quite. The movie’s not bad, even if it’s initially a little flat and unwelcoming. I had a devil of a time getting into it though, even though I like Lewis, and like the director here (Michael Apted), and despite the fact that Dawn Treader begins with very nearly its best scene: a bang-up fantasy sequence of a seascape painting that magically floods a staid British room and sends the three child protagonists off on tremendous ocean waves into a new round of Narnian adventures.

But, as the story unwinds, the characters seem flat or obvious, the castles and ship and the world itself look a bit unused, the “real-life” World War II scenes seem too short and shallow, and the monsters and magical animals often have more personality than the humans, especially the kids. The swashbuckling rat, Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg this time, instead of Eddie Izzard) has a lot of the best lines — and, in many ways, he steals the movie, which is a bit big for his britches.

If Dawn Treader doesn’t quite succeed, it’s not for want of effort and some talent, and even a determination to stir things up. No longer a Disney Studio series, it’s now being released by Fox. Producer Andrew Adamson (Shrek) has ceded the directorial post he held for the first two Narnia films, to the very gifted and very artistically sturdy Michael Apted of Coal Miner’s Daughter, a James Bond outing (The World is not Enough), and, most impressively, of the brilliant ongoing “Up” documentary series.

Oddly, Apted (or the second unit) handles some of the big action-fantasy sequences more enticingly than the more intimate dramatic and character scenes you’d have thought would be Apted’s metier. Even so, I wish he’d had a Potter or two under his belt by now as well. He’s good at fanasty-adventure when the production lets him be — and I prefer his style and touch to Dvaid Yates’. (At least for now.)

Narnia is cast, like the Potters, with three fetching young British actors at the center (Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes as the continuing young Narnia adventurers and conquerors Lucy and Edmund Pevensie, and Will Poulter as their pain-in-the-ass cousin Eustace Scrubb), surrounded by classy adult support (in this case, Pegg as the rat, Liam Neeson as the lion, Tilda Swinton as the white witch, and Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian). And it‘s a movie full of love for the printed word and for archetypal fancy and fantasy, jam-packed with swords and sorcery, ships and storms, and dragons and sea serpents. And it ends spectacularly at the edge of the world.

It’s just a little humorless, humanless, sparkless. The movie begins superlatively well, with that oceanic rouser of a fantasy sequence. But soon the effects take over and the movie’s rowdily thrilling games of rat and dragon (starring Reepicheep and the unspeakable Eustace, who is transmogrified into the fire-breathing monster) can’t totally save things.

The third Narnia was dumped by the Disney Studio, home of the first two, perhaps after the second movie in the series, Prince Caspian, took a box office tumble from the receipts of the first (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Since Lewis had four stories left to go (including prequels), it would seem a shame to abandon Narnia (as they might), condemning the remaining four segments to oblivion. Even so, a less spectacular British TV version is available as a fallback. It remains, so far unseen, on my shelves, along with a box set of the seven Narnia novels — and copies of C. S. Lewis‘s mostly superb adult Christian science fiction trilogy Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.

Anyone in Hollywood want to give them a shot?

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The Fighter (Three Stars)

U.S.; David O. Russell, 2010

Why are most sports movies in general usually so phony, predictable, corny and schmaltzy, while boxing movies (or movies that use boxing as a dramatic sparkplug) tend to move us more, play more realistically, work better dramatically, and supply more film classics than the norm?

I’m not saying that David O. Russell‘s The Fighter — which is about the relationship between light welterweight fighter Micky Ward and his half-brother trainer Dickie Kelvin — is in the class of Body and Soul, The Set-Up, Somebody Up There Likes Me, The Harder They Fall, On the Waterfront, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Ali, Million Dollar Baby or Raging Bull. Or even, God help us, of Rocky. But it’s certainly a good movie, an arena for really good actors and technicians to show their stuff.

That’s true of many fight movies. It’s a genre that even attracted Alfred Hitchcock (in 1927’s The Ring.) And even a somewhat phony, melodramatic boxing show like City for Conquest (with Jimmy Cagney fantastic as the boxer who fights to help his brother, the musician) and Golden Boy, from Clifford Odets’ lauded Depression play (with William Holden as the boxer who is a musician) have classier corn, tonier schmaltz.

Maybe it’s because boxing movies can focus more easily on character and individual combat. In The Fighter, Mark Wahlberg plays Micky and Christian Bale plays Dickie (respelled “Dicky“ in the movie, to match “Micky“) and they‘re the classic pair-up of good-guy/prodigal-guy (half) brothers. Both are from working class Lowell, Massachusetts (Jack Kerouac‘s town). Both are the sons of tough cookie Alice Ward (Meliissa Leo of Frozen River and 21 Grams). But they’re way different.

Micky is diligent, self-sacrificing, a terrific boxer with a great temperament who works hard, survives unusual hardship (including a busted hand), and who won’t fold under duress. His nickname is “Irish Thunder.“ Dicky is a natural athlete and sometime irresponsible goofball who was a star fighter when Micky was 12, fought Sugar Ray Leonard even up (Leonard appears in The Fighter as himself), and now trains and strategizes for his half–brother (and does it well).

But Dicky has gotten heavy into crack cocaine. He’s a certifiable bad influence, and the new managers who take over Micky‘s career, after the boxer gets whipped a few times, don’t want him around, especially when Dicky pops up on camera in a TV documentary on cocaine use called High on Crack Street.

Micky goes along with the program and splits up with his brother, despite being pushed toward Dicky by their mutual mother, and pushed away from him by Micky’s contentious girlfriend, Charlene Fleming (played, in a real change of pace, by sunshine gal Amy Adams). Soon Micky is fighting for the Intercontinental light welterweight championship — against the snobbish champ, a British pugilist, who’d rather have a different opponent.

You probably know what’s going to happen in this movie even if you don’t know the real life story. (The real-life Micky and Dicky show up under the credits.) But this isn’t a case where predictability matters. It’s a character study of depth and power, and Wahlberg, Bale, Adams and Leo – and a lot of the supporting actors — really shine. Perhaps most impressive is Bale, who looks, and acts, something like a Dead End Kid on crack, an elongated mix of Huntz Hall and the younger Mean Streets De Niro, oscillating frantically between the goony and the near-tragically self-destructive.

Bale, like De Niro as LaMotta in Raging Bull seems willing to all but deform himself for his roles, and here, he plays Dicky as a guy who thinks he‘s a Golden Boy but keeps slipping, slipping, fouling up (like Cameron Mitchell as heroin addict boxer Barney Ross in De Toth‘s Monkey on My Back). Wahlberg has his role as Micky, the less splashy one, down pat, and Melissa Leo seems like a Lowell mama who just walked into the movie. (So do the platoon of actresses who play her family). As for Adams, playing a tough bar girl in a low-cut blouse may not be her type and metier, but I liked her better here than I did Julia and Julia. Then again, these four actors are always good. It would probably take some crack cocaine and twenty blows to the head from Joe Frazier to really mess up their characters.

The Fighter — scripted by Scott Silver, Paul Tahasy and Eric Johnson — has a real weath of characters, several dozen good speaking roles, where the average movie focuses on maybe a half-dozen people or so. That richness may come from the fact that the sources here were real people. A real story. If I could hand the Hollywood studios one motto (or two) that would make their movies better — at least as good as The Fighter and maybe better — its this: Trust life. See and trust the world around you. Make your people breathe before you make them fight.

Box Office Hell — December 9

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Our Players|Coming Soon|Box Office Prophets|Box Office Guru|EW|Box Office . com
The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader|41.8|43.5|36|n/a|35
The Tourist|26.4|26.8|18|n/a|25
Tangled|13.5|13.8|13|n/a|13.5
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt 1|8.2|9.6|8.5|n/a|8.5
Unstoppable |3.3|4.2|n/a|n/a|3.6

The Tourist Pictures

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Because I Kissed You …

Monday, November 29th, 2010