Tuesday, April 29, 2008

'Bart Got A Room': Tribeca's Best Comedy

By Katey Rich


Teen comedies are experiencing their own kind of highbrow resurgence, with Oscar nominations for Juno and the surprising critical success of the filthy Superbad. Now the Tribeca Film Festival is enchanted with another sex-addled teen, the gawky adolescent Danny of Bart Got A Room. The movie's writer and director Brian Hecker admits influences from the master of teen comedy, John Hughes, but insists the movie's story is not intended to be trendy, just true to life.

"It's a very personal story, so I don't think I was so calculated in my attempt to create a specific sex-themed comedy versus a more romantic-themed comedy," Hecker told me over the phone today. "I wanted to tell a personal story based on the essence of what a kid would be going through."

The similarities between Hecker and his hero Danny (Steven Kaplan) are pretty clear. Both are Jewish teenagers growing up in Hollywood, Florida, a retirement community that also hosts, as Hecker explains it, a lot of transplants from New York. Danny's parents are going through a divorce, and while mom (Cheryl Hines) is trying to introduce her new boyfriend as a potential father figure, dad (William H. Macy) is having a hard enough time figuring out how to get any woman to stick around after the first date.

Hecker admits that he based both characters on his parents, but both mom and dad are thrilled with the movie. "My relationship with my parents is very strong, [and] my experiences growing up were certainly entrenched in the world of family," Hecker explains. Both of his parents helped scout locations in Florida, and Hecker's father even met with Macy the night before filming to help the actor get a better idea of the character he was playing. "During dinner, when my dad went to the bathroom, Macy turned to me and said, 'I get it now. He's a sweet man.' "

The real plot of Bart, though, revolves around Danny's attempts to find a prom date, after his best friend since childhood Camille (Alia Shawkat, of "Arrested Development") asks him and he's convinced he can do better. Hecker admits, perhaps begrudgingly, that this part is true too. "I had these delusions of grandeur going with a sexy hot date, and of course I was unsuccessful in my quest." Kaplan, who plays Danny, was a little bit gentler to his director in an interview at the red carpet premiere of Bart last Friday. "He certainly had a very specific vision in mind on how it should play out. But the entire film wasn't autobiographical. There were parts that were exaggerated, parts that were added."

As Bart gets more attention (which it definitely will) and gets picked up by a distributor (which it most definitely will), Kaplan will probably suffer many assumptions that he, in fact, is the Bart of the title. But that role is actually played by Chad Jamian Williams, who appears in just one scene as the mega-nerd who optimistically books himself a hotel room for some post-prom activities. Bart, as Hecker explains it, is really more of a symbol. "You don't really even meet Bart throughout the movie. The fact that he got this room, being the source of great anxiety and pain for the protagonist, is a way to accentuate the ridiculousness of our society. People are so worried about other people having a much better life than theirs."

Hecker says he was a self-described high school "dweeb,"or a self-deprecating nerd. In the movie Danny is definitely that, but eventually he becomes a dweeb who learns to let go and, as Hecker describes it, "feel the aliveness of this individual moment." For those who didn't catch the movie, Kaplan is coy about Danny's fate-- "[He succeeds] maybe not in the way that people were anticipating, but in the greater sense"-- but that's for the best. The ending of Bart, like the movie itself, is a delightful surprise that shouldn't be spoiled.

Today's Film News: Mel's Back!

By Katey Rich

Gibson177Having his name associated mainly with The Passion of the Christ and an unfortunate DUI arrest is clearly wearing on Mel Gibson. He's taken on his first acting role since 2002, reports Variety, signing on to star in Edge of Darkness. The movie is an adaptation of a six-hour BBC miniseries, and the series helmer Martin Campbell has signed on to direct the film. The Departed team of screenwriter William Monahan and producer Graham King are also on board.

Steven Soderbergh may be poised to blow up big on the Riviera once again with the premiere of his The Argentine and Guerrilla double-feature next month, but after that he'll be heading back to his low-budget roots. He'll direct The Girlfriend Experience for Magnolia/HDNet, part of the six-picture deal he signed to make low-budget films that would be simultaneously released in theatres and on-demand. Variety writes that Brian Koppelman and David Levien are the screenwriters, but much of the script leaves room for improvisation, as was the case with Soderbergh's earlier HDNet film, Bubble.

Charlotte_simmons_bookTom Wolfe's novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, which purported to expose modern life in college, will head to the screen as an adaptation directed by Liz Friedlander (Take the Lead). The Hollywood Reporter writes that John Watson will pen the adaptation. This will be the first of Wolfe's novels turned into a film since Bonfire of the Vanities.

And finally, the child actors who played the leads in the original Race to Witch Mountain, now adults, will have parts in Disney's remake of the 1970's movie. Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann have both signed on for small roles in the film, according to the Reporter. Cheech Marin, Tom Everett Scott, Chris Marquette and Billy Brown have also joined the cast.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Today's Film News: Ironclad

By Katey Rich

Downeygauntlet_2In case you haven't noticed, Variety has gone nuts over Iron Man, starting with a rave review and coming down to a whole special section dedicated to the iron giant. It's hard to believe that it's already time for the first of the summer blockbusters (it's cold and rainy here in New York), but even with the Tribeca Film Festival humming along and Cannes excitement building up, Iron Man is the big news for the next week. It already has an 89% Rotten Tomatoes score ("I loved it," writes New York Magazine's David Edelstein) but the real question, of course, is how much money will it make? If you're still listening to the Iron Man nuts at Variety, a lot; Anne Thompson cites predictions of as much as $100 million for opening weekend. Paramount will surely be trying to temper expectations, but there's a lot of hope riding on those big iron shoulders.

Though his most recent film, Idiocracy, was shunted to box-office Siberia, Office Space director Mike Judge is giving the big screen a shot again with Extract, a Miramax comedy starring Jason Bateman. The Hollywood Reporter says that Judge will write and direct Bateman as a beleaguered flower extract plant owner, sounding not all that different from Ron Livingston's cubicle drone character from Office Space.

039_37230ewanmcgregorposters_2Coming off the steamy Deception, Ewan McGregor may be trying to atone for his sins by playing a Cardinal in Angels & Demons, the prequel to The Da Vinci Code. The Reporter writes that McGregor would star alongside Tom Hanks, who is reprising his role as symbiologist Robert Langdon, as a papal aide who initially helps out the hero. Shooting of the long-anticipated, oft-delayed project is set to begin in Europe in June.

And finally, check out our sister publication The Hollywood Reporter for its new redesign, and imagine how jealous we are over here that we haven't yet gotten the same attention. The look is snazzy, the format is easy to navigate, and even though most of today's news is about television (it is pilot season, after all), I expect them to be pumping out the same movie reporting in an even easier-to-read format.

Weekend Roundup: Babies On Top

By Katey Rich


In the battle of two sets of buddies setting out on misadventures, the Amy Poehler-Tina Fey duo of Baby Mama ruled the box office this weekend. The comedy brought in $18 million, a solid $4 million over their nearest competition, Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. Both openings were merely decent, but a little bit over expectations. Hey, you only have to wait a few more days before the blockbuster weekends start rolling in!

The other wide release of the weekend didn't fare nearly as well as the two champs; Deception barely squeaked into the top 10, with just $2.2 million to its name. It was even beaten out by 88 Minutes, which was the critical whipping boy the weekend before and landed at #8 with $3.6 million. Somehow we're living in a parallel universe in which bad Al Pacino > bad (yet sexy) Ewan McGregor + Hugh Jackman.

The rest of the holdovers fared much better, with Forgetting Sarah Marshall coming in behind Forbidden Kingdom again, despite a smaller drop in audience. Kingdom made $11.2 million at #3, while Marshall made $11 million at #4. Both are facing stiff competition from the coming wave of summer blockbusters, but Marshall looks more likely to hang on. Speaking of hanging on, Nim's Island is quietly becoming a hit despite never having made it to #1; it stayed in place at #5 and made another $4.5 million, bringing its tally to $38 million. Those are no blockbuster numbers, but for a movie that was initially written off along with its fellow opening-weekend flop Leatherheads, an impressive performance.

Behind Nim were the current teen-centric offerings, Prom Night and 21, which came in at #6 with $4.4 million and #7 with $4 million, respectively. And finally there's Horton Hears a Who! at #9 with $2.4 million, likely making its last appearance in the top 10. Thank you, Horton, for all that you've done for bolstering the spring box office until Iron Man hopefully comes along to save the day.

After the jump is the full top 20, which features The Visitor for the first time after the acclaimed drama added nearly 60 screens. The rest are all familiar faces from the 10-20 group, and many of them are shedding theatres so quickly we probably won't be seeing them around these parts again.

TWLWTitle (click to view)StudioWeekend Gross% ChangeTheater Count / ChangeAverageTotal GrossBudget*Week #
1NBaby MamaUni.$18,271,000-2,543-$7,184$18,271,000$301
2NHarold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo BayNL$14,570,000-2,510-$5,804$14,570,000$121
31The Forbidden KingdomLGF$11,230,000-47.5%3,151-$3,563$38,255,000-2
42Forgetting Sarah MarshallUni.$11,014,000-37.9%2,799+1$3,934$35,077,000$302
55Nim's IslandFox$4,525,000-20.4%2,977-300$1,519$38,954,000$374
63Prom Night (2008)SGem$4,400,000-49.3%2,821+121$1,559$38,115,000$203
8488 MinutesSony$3,600,000-48.3%2,168-$1,660$12,632,000-2
98Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!Fox$2,410,000-31.4%2,159-511$1,116$147,883,000$857
10NDeception (2008)Fox$2,225,000-2,001-$1,111$2,225,000-1
117Street KingsFoxS$2,125,000-49.2%1,735-734$1,224$23,682,000$203
Click here to find out more!
1310Expelled: No Intelligence AllowedRM$1,379,000-53.6%1,041-11$1,324$5,282,000-2
1412Smart PeopleMira.$909,000-43.2%1,036-83$877$8,298,000-3
1511Superhero MovieMGM/W$853,000-47.0%1,103-777$773$24,897,000-5
1630The VisitorOver.$508,000+205.1%76+58$6,684$857,000-3
1718Shine a LightParV$419,000-26.2%218-2$1,922$4,400,000-4
1813The RuinsP/DW$415,000-65.7%722-1,135$574$16,669,000-4
1917Under the Same MoonWein.$400,000-31.6%453-1$883$11,784,000-6
2014Drillbit TaylorPar.$384,000-57.1%702-665$547$30,353,000-6

Friday, April 25, 2008

Box Office Outlook: Smoke and Babies

By Katey Rich

If you don't have a funny bone this weekend, you're out of luck. The next three months will be dominated by superhero costumes and explosions, but this weekend is all about comedy, with the only two major releases both aiming to be the mainstream comedy hit of the weekend. Well, if you can call a stoner comedy a mainstream comedy, that is. Universal couldn't quite snag the top spot last weekend with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and it may struggle again as it pits Baby Mama against Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. See, the problem is that both movies are targeting audiences who rarely leave the house: mothers and stoners. Let's see how the reviews will help sort out this mess.


BABY MAMA. Opening in 2,543 theatres. If you don't know the story behind Baby Mama by now, you've somehow avoided the all-out marketing assault that's been going on for this movie for the last few weeks. Tina Fey plays a single woman, Kate, who has focused so much on her career that she never left time to have a baby. When she finds out she can't conceive, she hires Angie (Amy Poehler) as a surrogate, conveniently ignoring the fact that Angie is lazy, annoying, and refuses to change pretty much anything about her life to prepare for pregnancy. The odd-couple comedy also stars Sigourney Weaver as a fertility clinic specialist, Steve Martin as a new-age guru, Dax Shepard as Angie's husband, and Romany Malco as a motormouth doorman.

The issue for Baby Mama's critical reception seems to have been expectations. Those expecting a wry Tina Fey comedy were disappointed, while those expecting (based on the godawful trailers) an annoying standard chick flick were pleasantly surprised. I was in the second camp in my review: "Baby Mama doesn't exactly break new ground with its rich and neat/poor and sloppy roommates, but it does go in enough surprising and funny directions to justify its contrived setup." Ann Hornaday at The Washington Post was with me, writing, "Fey and Poehler could easily have become caricatures. Instead, each actress gives her character her dignity, grounding her as a recognizable human being." The New York Post, on the other hand, wasn't crazy about the movie or its girly premise: "Pregnant with possibilities, Baby Mama wants too badly to be loved to take any chances. Men who are coerced into seeing this chick flick may feel like they've been attached to an estrogen drip." And Manohla Dargis at The New York Times credits the movie's use of female humor, but can't entirely get on board: "The film never comes fully to term, as it were: the visual style is sitcom functional, and even the zippiest jokes fall flat because of poor timing."

Haroldandkumar22_largeHAROLD AND KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY. Opening in 2,510 theatres. If critics weren't sure what to expect with Baby Mama, everyone knows exactly what they're getting into with Harold and Kumar. The stoner buddies are trying to make it to Amsterdam to meet up with Harold's (John Cho) new love Maria, but Kumar (Kal Penn) gets them in trouble with Homeland Security when he tries to smoke from a bong on the plane. Shipped off to Guantanamo, the pair escapes soon after, and they try to make their way across the South to... oh, does it really matter? With a crazed Homeland Security officer (Rob Corddry) on their tail, a run-in with Neil Patrick Harris at a whorehouse and adventures with the Klan, inbred hillbillies and even the President, Harold and Kumar have more than enough going on for one stoned adventure.

Given that it's a movie about two kids who mostly just want to get high, it's remarkable how many people praise Harold and Kumar, and point out its political sensibilities at that. "Its idiocy serves the cause of good sense and intelligence," writes A.O. Scott of the august New York Times, before clarifying, "And no, I'm not smoking anything." Our Lewis Beale also wants you to know his head is on straight when praising the movie: "Where Harold and Kumar truly excels, however�and this is no joke�is in its almost blas depiction of a truly multi-cultural America." Among the dueling trades, Variety called it " one of the ballsiest comedies to come out of Hollywood in a long time," but The Hollywood Reporter pauses to slam the movie as well as Corddry, writing that the actor "can't make the script's one-note Patriot Act-enabled incompetence entertaining for more than a few minutes." And the Village Voice calls it simply "a largely mind-numbing experience."


DECEPTION. Opening in 2,001 theatres. Filmed under the name The Tourist and once re-titled The List, Deception is a thriller that's been kicking around for a good long while. Ewan McGregor stars as a lonely accountant who, thanks to a high-powered lawyer (Hugh Jackman), gets brought into a seedy underground sex ring. His relationship with one nameless woman (Michelle Williams) drives him deeper and deeper into a scandal and, dare we say, deception?

In case you couldn't tell from that description that the movie appears to be irredeemably ridicuous, the critics will spell it out for you. Our Frank Lovece bemoans the movie's "slapdash shoddiness," while Newsday complains, "As a thriller, Deception can't get enough of the obvious." Salon.com shares Frank's complaint that the movie just looks awful, writing, "What troubles me most about Deception is that it looks so damn bad. The D.P. is Dante Spinotti, who has obviously been bodysnatched and replaced by a pod from Planet Glaucoma." And the Seattle Post-Intelligencer hits a bit below the belt, literally: "As a kinky-sex exploitation film (which it's trying very hard to be), Deception is even more incompetent. [...] What passes here for shocking sex is so tame it's laughable."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Today's Film News: Brian DePalma Must Be Furious

By Katey Rich

Fury201With the remake of 1980's Prom Night still doing pretty well at the box office, it's time for yet another retread of an title from the campy horror past. This time it's The Fury, Brian DePalma's 1978 follow-up to Carrie, also about a psychically gifted teen. Fox 2000 will produce the remake, reports Variety, with Brian McGreevy and Lee Shipman writing the screenplay. No telling what DePalma thinks of the deal, but given that he's probably still licking his wounds from the fallout over Redacted, we shouldn't expect to hear much from him anyway.

Jody Hill is a director and writer whose first film hasn't even been released yet (The Foot Fist Way comes out this summer), but he's already attracting some big names to his next project. Ray Liotta, Anna Faris and Michael Pena have all signed on to join Seth Rogen in Observe and Report, a comedy about a mall security guard. Faris will play a mall employee with whom Rogen's security guard character flirts, Pena will be his right-hand man, and Liotta will be his nemesis in the police force. The Hollywood Reporter says the film goes into production this week.

Poster_ironman_comiconHere's the problem with writing articles speculating how the first movies of the summer will perform: you can't really get away without using the word "may" in the same sentence referring to two completely different things. Variety does it anyway, though, in their article titled "May box office may break records." See the trouble there? Basically there's a lot of giddy speculation that Iron Man, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and even Speed Racer could perform well enough to bring in huge numbers, despite none of them being as high-profile as the triumvirate of threequels that dominated May last year (the Shrek, Spider-Man and Pirates entries, if you've forgotten). Wishful thinking? Maybe, but buzz on all three top contenders is pretty good, and I'm holding out hope that Speed Racer will be more than a fast-paced whirl around a pinball machine. Stay tuned to see if this May may break box office... see, you can't avoid it!

EloiseJordana_beatty_narrowweb__300x4470And finally, nine-year-old Jordana Beatty has been chosen to play Eloise in the live-action adaptation of the beloved children's book, Eloise in Paris, to be directed by Charles Shyer (Alfie). The Reporter writes that Beatty was chosen after more than 4,000 girls auditioned. Now we're got a new face to add to the ongoing Abigail Breslin-Dakota Fanning rivalry.

Tribeca Kicks Off with Political Glitz

By Katey Rich


New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal, and New York Governor David Paterson greet the press.

In New York, movies aren't something that's just left to the filmmakers and studio execs. New York's identity has been shaped by cinema perhaps more than any other city, and those in charge of the city's fortunes have a vested interest in keeping the cameras rolling. That's what brought Mayor Michael Bloomberg and newly minted Governor David Paterson to the Borough of Manhattan Community College yesterday for the opening press conference of the Tribeca Film Festival. They didn't walk the red carpet-- we'll leave that to Bloomberg after his role in the upcoming Sex and the City-- but they did add a strange kind of celebrity glitz to the early morning gathering.

Pressday5 "The governor and I really are total failures�at the governor's mansion in California, they've got someone who's actually been in lots of movies!" Bloomberg said, before taking a moment to brag about his recent appearance on "30 Rock." "If you think I don't care about movies, you couldn't be more wrong�that's my next career!" Paterson, a new face for most in the audience, also got in on the open mic stand-up vibe. The governor, who is legally blind, reminded the movie freaks in the house that he, too, shares our passion. "If I sit in the front row I can pretty much watch the movie. The problem is trying to get someone to sit in the front row with me."

Pressday4Paterson also had some exciting news for filmmakers, announcing that New York State would boost its tax credits for film productions from 10% to 30%, thanks to new competition from other states and Canada, who have introduced competitive tax breaks as well. "New York is a city of winning people, and as of today New York will be winning again." Paterson also made room for a slight jab at Robert De Niro, the Tribeca co-founder who was away filming a new movie in Connecticut, one of the states that has recently introduced hefty tax breaks. "I wonder what the film is about. It must be something really interesting�like the Long Island Sound," he said, with hearty laughs from the room full of New Yorkers.

Pressday9In addition to the political luminaries, some film industry superstars were on hand as well. Most notable were Jane Rosenthal, the co-founder of the festival, and Doug Liman, the Bourne Identity director who said he's been attending the festival ever since it began-- he's now a juror for the awards selection. "As a Tribeca resident, while the rest of us were really walking around in a state of shock, it's really amazing and inspiring that Jane and Bob and their partners managed to bring our neighborhood together, bring the world to our neighborhood." Liman then announced his fellow jurors for the six awards categories, names as varied as star chef Mario Batali, Superbad director Greg Mottola, and rock icon David Bowie. It's as if the festival is trying to shout, "Hey, where else but New York can you find this kind of variety?"

Rosenthal also introduced John Hayes, the Chief Marketing Officer for American Express, who announced that the credit card company would continue sponsoring Tribeca for another five years.

Bloomberg, Rosenthal and festival artistic director Peter Scarlet wrapped up the conference by answering audience questions. The best answer probably came from Bloomberg, who responded to a question about the international selections at the festival by reminding us all of New York's roots. "New York was built by immigrants. [That's] New York's vitality, its strength, and the reason that our economy, while we're going to have some problems, is better than other places. This is just another way to pull people together."

While the festival may pull people together, it yanks them apart as well, sending them all over the city to far-flung screening rooms and press conferences. It's all in good fun, though, as the film addicts with eyes as big as saucers can tell you. I'll be checking in periodically from the festival with reviews, interviews and maybe some photos (these are the best I could do from my seat in the auditorium, but not too bad, right?) It's springtime in New York, but for the next week, I'll be spending most of my time at the movies.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Today's Film News: Cannes You Dig It?

By Katey Rich

ChangelingCheIt's time for Cannes again! What, you don't already have your ticket to the Riviera? Just so you know what you (and me, and pretty much everyone I know) will be missing, Variety has the full list of films that will be screening at the glitziest of film festivals. As suspected, Indiana Jones will be snapping his whip on the red carpet in world premiere, as will another potential summer smash, Kung Fu Panda. Only two American films will be screening in competition this year, Clint Eastwood's fall release The Changeling and Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York. Of course, one of the highest-profile American filmmakers, Steven Soderbergh, will also be there with his two-part Che, but his entry is officially counted as being Spanish. The usual collection of highbrow foreign films are part of the package as well, though it's hard to single out any special ones, since Cannes is the place they become special to begin with!

David O. Russell, a director famous for his videotaped hissy fit on the set of I Heart Huckabees, seems to have given another of his actors more than they can take. James Caan walked off the set of Nailed, on the first of what was intended to be a two-day shoot for the actor. The Hollywood Reporter recounts a bizarre story about the dispute between actor and director happening over a choking scene involving a cookie. No, really. There will surely be a lot of he-said, he-said finger pointing about this, but if you can't cooperate with a director for a two-day shoot, something must be very wrong.

ConnorEven though Will Smith has his own young son, Jaden, who has his own acting career, he enlisted another celebrity progeny to play a younger version of himself in the upcoming Seven Pounds. The Reporter writes that Tom Cruise's son Connor, whom he adopted with Nicole Kidman, will play the younger Smith, mostly in still photographs. Given the other options for children of celebrities-- namely, rehab-- I guess this is among the better choices. Smith makes a good role model-- after all, he did make it from the streets of Philadelphia to Bel-Air in practically no time.

And finally, Ang Lee is heading to the past once more, this time the fabled summer of 1969. He's adapting Elliot Tiber's memoir Taking Woodstock, about a series of events that led the author to accidentally cause the famed outdoor music festival. Variety writes that Focus Features president James Schamus will write the screenplay, with Lee directing. I guess they'll shatter our illusions that mud, music and a lot of hallucinogenics actually caused Woodstock.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Derby Thrills in 'First Saturday in May'

By Katey Rich


John and Brad Hennegan know horses. They grew up working at Long Island's Belmont racetrack, scooping ice cream and scooping poop for patrons, jockeys, trainers and horses, with their father involved in the racing community as well. So when they set out to make The First Saturday in May, a documentary about the long road to the Kentucky Derby, they knew that the traditional film crews, boom mics and dolly tracks were out of the question. That left them working with the simplest film crew there is: each other.

"Well, you're looking at the camera crews right now," Brad Hennegan told me when I spoke to him and his brother a week before the film was released last Friday. "What allowed us to get so up close and personal is that the camera was so small," John adds. "These are young animals, and if you had a boom and a director and sound guy, etc., it's too many people to be around. We knew our way around horses, and the trainers felt really comfortable letting us be around."

It's that comfort that makes The First Saturday in May the tender and thrilling movie that it is--unscripted, unplanned moments with some of the country's finest horses, and the trainers and grooms who love them. The trainers featured range from seasoned equestrian experts, like Barbaro trainer Michael Matz, to scrappy up-and-comers getting their first shot at a Derby contender, like New Yorker Frank Amonte. The Hennegans even ventured to Dubai, where American Kiaran McLaughlin trains horses for the royal family of the country. "We wanted to show the international appeal of horse racing," explains John, who says that racing is as popular worldwide today as it used to be in the United States. "Kieran was going there for the Dubai world cup, and we wanted to go with him. We want to show the coolest, most interesting things we can."

Of course, one of the most interesting stories to ever come out of the Derby, and one that gripped the nation for over a year, happened to take place in the year the Hennegans shot their film. Barbaro, the Florida-trained horse who was a favorite going into the Derby, won the race by the widest margin in 60 years. Going into the Preakness Stakes two weeks later, Barbaro was a heavy favorite to be the first Triple Crown winner in nearly 30 years. But Barbaro shattered his leg early in the race, and during the following year's worth of surgeries that attempted to save his life, animal lovers across the world tracked every bit of news about the thoroughbred. As John Hennegan points out, Barbaro was the second-most Googled athlete of 2006, behind only Michael Jordan.

Barbaro's story meant that, despite the title, the movie would not end on Derby day-- the first Saturday in May. "It would be a disservice to the story not to continue on," Brad says. "There had to be an end to the story." John returned to the stable where Barbaro was recovering several times, and filmed the horse only a week before he was put down. Following the media frenzy that surrounded Barbaro, John says, "We had several people approach us and say, 'Why aren't you making the whole film about him?' We just thought that would do a disservice to that whole time. There were so many great stories, and Barbaro's story was one of them." In the final version Barbaro is merely one of six horses who are featured, albeit the only one with global name recognition.

John says people have been attracted to the film because of Barbaro, "But we also want people to know it's fun. There's a lot of laughter, there's a lot about families and stuff that everybody can relate to. People are shocked at how much they like it."

The First Saturday in May is being released by Truly Indie, an arm of Magnolia Pictures that secures theatre engagements and helps with publicity for films that would otherwise be too small to be picked up for distribution. Still, the Hennegans have gone directly to racing fans and movie fans alike to promote the movie-- "You're looking at the marketing department right here," John says. "There's just not the manpower out there for little films like this to go pass out merchandise and postcards. We're going directly to the fans. We're just hoping we can catch fire."

John echoes the fears of many independent filmmakers when he says, "If these little movies like ours don't do well in a theatre now, in the first weekend, they're gone. It's an extremely, extremely competitive market out there." Though similar movies like Spellbound and Mad Hot Ballroom have broken out into the mainstream, it's too soon to tell if First Saturday in May can pull off the same feat. In its opening weekend it averaged $2,727 per theatre, on par with the average of fellow new doc Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed and besting that of Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?, Morgan Spurlock's highly anticipated follow-up to Super Size Me.

It's tempting to use racing metaphors here about breaking out of the pack or making it to the finish line, but The First Saturday in May isn't really like any of the horses it features-- it's a scrappy upstart that's far more of an underdog than Barbaro, Sharp Humor, Brother Derek, Jazil, Achilles of Troy or Lawyer Ron. If you don't recognize those names, see the movie and you will, and maybe start learning some other thoroughbreds to boot. As Brad says, "We have people coming up to us after the screening and saying, 'I hate you guys because now I have to go to the Derby, and it's going to cost me a lot of money to get down there.' "

Read Lewis Beale's review of The First Saturday in May here.

Today's Film News: It's Earth Day!

By Katey Rich

PlanetThough the rest of the country may be focused on the fact that today is the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, Disney wants to remind you that it's also Earth Day! They chose this day of planting trees and hugging the planet to announce that they're building a new production shingle, DisneyEarth, that will focus on nature documentaries. First up will be Earth from director/producer Alastair Fothergill, who gave the world the breathtaking BBC miniseries "Planet Earth." The Variety article doesn't mention whether or not Disney will show the films on IMAX or in 3D, but this seems a pretty clear attempt to edge in on the nature documentary market that National Geographic has had cornered for years now.

Plenty of films currently in production are nervously eyeing the potential June 1 start date of a SAG strike, but a handful of indie projects are in the clear. The Hollywood Reporter announced today that two Bob Yari Films productions, Killing Pablo and The Governess, have been awarded no-strike pacts with the union, guaranteeing that their actors will stay on the set through the summer shooting dates in the case of a strike. A handful of other indie projects have been awarded similar pacts, and more are expected to come. Killing Pablo is a drama about Colombian drug czar Pablo Escobar, starring Christian Bale and Javier Bardem. The Governess is a comedy starring Jennifer Lopez.

OharaSam Mendes' upcoming romantic comedy, which goes into production this week, continues climbing higher and higher on my "can't wait" list. Now two new names have been added to the cast that, unbelievably, makes it sound even better-- Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara will be part of the fun, presumably in some parental role with the main characters, played by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph. The script, written by novelist Dave Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida, follows an expectant couple as they travel the country looking for a place to live. The Reporter writes that Allison Janney, Jim Gaffigan and Paul Schneider, among others, are also on board. With a cast this big and this talented, not to even mention the greats behind the camera, how can you go wrong?

And finally, Hilary Swank will be duking it out with Virginia Madsen over her one true love Richard Gere in Amelia, Mira Nair's biopic about Amelia Earhart. Variety reports that Madsen has signed on to play Dorothy Binney, the first wife of publishing magnate George Putnam (Gere), who went on to marry Earhart (Swank). The movie will begin shooting later this month in Canada and South Africa.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Today's Film News: Terminator to the Moon

By Katey Rich

MoonbeachAs the cast for the next Terminator movie rounds out, it becomes curiouser and curiouser that Christian Bale ever signed on to begin with. The Dark Knight's current co-stars include Sam Worthington, who may or may not break out in James Cameron's upcoming Avatar, and Anton Yelchin, a former child actor whose best efforts at leading-man status have been in little-seen indies like Charlie Bartlett and Fierce People. Now The Hollywood Reporter writes that Moon Bloodgood, most recently onscreen in the Viking drama Pathfinder, may join as the female lead. I guess you've got to have a star anchor for a big franchise movie like this one, but did Bale know he'd be paired with a bunch of also-rans when he signed on?

Bai_lingThe cast for another sequel is rounding out, but this time it features a lot more familiar faces. Amy Smart has signed on to re-team with her Crank co-star Jason Statham in Crank 2: High Voltage, reprising her role as hitman Chev Chelios' girlfriend. Variety also reports that Dwight Yoakam and Efren Ramirez will reprise their previous roles, while Bai Ling will join for the first time. Clifton Collins, Jr. has also signed on as Chelios' nemesis, who replaces the hitman's indestructible heart with another that needs constant jolts of electricity to keep working. Say what you will about Christian Bale and his cohorts in the above item, but this is not a problem the Terminator would have to deal with.

A veteran in the animated field will be heading to live action thanks to the producing teams of Suzanne and Jennifer Todd and Joe Roth, based at Columbia. The Reporter says that the storyline of Linda Wolvertoon's (The Lion King, Mulan) spec script is under wraps. Woolverton also wrote the script for Tim Burton's upcoming revisionist take on Alice in Wonderland.

And finally, virginity or lack thereof continues to be a hot topic in Hollywood. Yet another virginity-losing comedy with a suggestive double entendre of a title (check out last week's news roundup for the first) is heading into production. Rob Schneider, Tania Raymonde ("Lost") and Rumer Willis will star in Wild Cherry, about a high school girl who seeks revenge on a football player who sought to take her virginity for decidedly unsentimental reasons. Variety writes that Redwood Palms, Rampage Entertainment and Farpoint Films are producing.

Weekend Roundup: The Boys Are Back In Town

By Katey Rich


If last weekend can serve as a template, all you have to do to bring in the box-office riches is appeal to the boys. The combination of a martial-arts drama, a raunchy comedy and holdovers in the action and horror genres put this weekend's box office at 4% over this time last year, the first uptick in many, many weeks. Forbidden Kingdom led the pack with a $20.8 million take, followed closely by Forgetting Sarah Marshall with $17 million; both performed pretty much according to expectations.

The utterly preposterous-seeming (and critically panned) Al Pacino thriller 88 Minutes even managed to find some love, coming in at #4 with a decent $6.8 million. It was bested by last weekend's #1, Prom Night, which scared up another $9.1 million to make a $32 million total gross-- big money for a throwaway horror remake.

The only other wide-ish release of the weekend, Ben Stein's intelligent-design documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, came in at #9 on just over 1,000 screens, with a $3.1 million gross.

Other holdovers didn't fare nearly as well as Prom Night did. Street Kings saw a steep 60% drop and fell to #7, taking in $4 million over the weekend. And in its second week Smart People fell out of the top 10 entirely, joining Leatherheads as another spring comedy packed with big names that just couldn't hold its own. The George Clooney comedy at least stuck around in the top 10, rounding out the bunch with $3 million.

The rest of the older films held in there just fine. Nim's Island continued to perform well, coming in at #5 with $5.6 million, and 21 stayed strong just behind it, at #6 with $5.5 million. Finally, Horton Hears a Who! remains an unstoppable beast; it made another $3.5 million, good enough for eighth place. The animated blockbuster is starting to shed theatres, but with no new PG-rated wide release coming out until Speed Racer, it will probably continue ruling the roost for a few more weeks.

Below the jump is the full top 20, where pretty much everything is on the way out. There are a few certified flops in there that actually made a surprising amount of money; Drillbit Taylor weaseled its way to $29 million, and Superhero Movie made $23 million. That's no major success, but given that both movies were made on the cheap, not so bad. Shine a Light, on the other hand, still can't catch a break; despite the extra fee tacked on to IMAX tickets and the massive baby-boomer appeal of The Rolling Stones, it's still only managed a $3 million payday. Looks like Mick isn't the only one who can't get no satisfaction.

TWLWTitle (click to view)StudioWeekend Gross% ChangeTheater Count / ChangeAverageTotal GrossBudget*Week #
1NThe Forbidden KingdomLGF$20,870,000-3,151-$6,623$20,870,000-1
2NForgetting Sarah MarshallUni.$17,348,000-2,798-$6,200$17,348,000$301
31Prom Night (2008)SGem$9,100,000-56.3%2,700-$3,370$32,564,000$202
4N88 MinutesSony$6,800,000-2,168-$3,136$6,800,000-1
54Nim's IslandFox$5,650,000-38.0%3,277-241$1,724$32,857,000$373
72Street KingsFoxS$4,000,000-67.9%2,469+2$1,620$19,879,000$202
86Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!Fox$3,500,000-40.9%2,670-539$1,310$144,407,000$856
9NExpelled: No Intelligence AllowedRM$3,153,000-1,052-$2,997$3,153,000-1
117Smart PeopleMira.$1,613,000-60.6%1,119+13$1,441$6,818,000-2
129Superhero MovieMGM/W$1,542,000-52.1%1,880-646$820$23,538,000-4
Click here to find out more!
138The RuinsP/DW$1,200,000-64.6%1,857-957$646$15,819,000-3
1410Drillbit TaylorPar.$900,000-56.0%1,367-838$658$29,787,000-5
1511Tyler Perry's Meet the BrownsLGF$670,000-56.9%675-495$992$41,130,000-5
161210,000 B.C.WB$585,000-60.4%855-695$684$92,808,000$1057
1716Shine a LightParV$581,000-39.5%220-57$2,640$3,769,000-3
1817Under the Same MoonWein.$555,000-41.8%454+4$1,222$11,157,000-5
1918College Road TripBV$407,000-52.9%650-362$626$42,919,000-7
2015The Bank JobLGF$370,000-62.7%473-329$782$29,164,000-7