Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kate Winslet's Oscar Hopes caught in power struggle

By Sarah Sluis

Awards season is months away, but Harvey Weinstein and Scott Rudin have already fought a few rounds over the release date (and Oscar chances) of The Reader and Revolutionary Road, two aspiring Academy Award
contenders starring Kate Winslet and produced by Scott Rudin.  With a prime December 26th release date and positive buzz, Winslet was a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination for Revolutionary Road.

Now, after a lengthy battle between power players Weinstein and Rudin, The Reader will release on December 12th, cannibalizing the Revolutionary Road release and creating a publicity dilemna, while also opening up the possibility that Winslet could win two nominations and then split the Oscar vote.

The Weinstein Company has been dealing with various business and legal challenges as of late, which partly explains why Harvey pushed so hard to move forward the release date.  Needless to say, he has burned some bridges in the process, and much of the fallout has already hit the Internet.  An email purportedly surfaced from Rudin talking about Weinstein trying to finagle editorial rights out of Minghella on his deathbed, which spurred a Page Six fight.

As a prelude to the subsequent rounds of power plays that this decision will engender, I have put together a brief primer to help you place your bets:

In one corner, The Reader:

  • Producers Sydney Pollock AND Anthony Minghella passed away this year, and we all know what happens to the value of artists' canvases after they die.  However, both of these producers have already won the coveted Best Director Oscar (Pollack for Out of Africa and Minghella for The English Patient), so it's not like this would be a chance to reward someone overlooked in their lifetime.

  • With a WWII-related topic, war criminals and Nazis,  the material is tried-and-true Oscar fodder.

In the other corner, Revolutionary Road:

  • This is Kate Winslet's "passion project."  She enlisted her husband, Sam Mendes, as the director, and got Leonardo DiCaprio to re-team with her.  Personally invested in this project, she has the power to work the talk show hosts to her advantage when she promotes both of these films.

  • Rival The Reader is still in post-production, giving Revolutionary Road an edge both in terms of film quality and marketing campaigns--I still haven't seen The Reader's trailer, but Revolutionary Road has released the trailer over the internet and in theatres.  Their marketing team also bought a two-minute trailer spot on Mad Men this Sunday to show the full trailer.  Given both the film and television show's focus on retro suburban ennui, the tie-in was spot-on, making Gold Rush, The Hollywood Reporter's year-round awards blog, take notice.

With both films receiving strong advance buzz, it's a shame to pit them against each other.  Of course, any internal competition or sabotage of these films would only end up hurting producer Scott Rudin and star Kate Winslet, who have both put much effort into the success of these film.  Stay tuned, the fight is certainly not over!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Religion trumps war at weekend box office

By Sarah Sluis

The government conspiracy thriller Eagle Eye came in at just under $30 million this week, making it the largest-grossing opener since the first week of August.  Shia LaBeouf's people are probably dancing on top of their desks over this one.  With lukewarm reviews, LaBeouf's star power certainly had a hand in its box office take.  Aside from limited releases Appaloosa ($10,357) and The Duchess ($10,455), it had the highest per-screen average ($8,319).

Coming in with the second-highest per-screen average ($7,764) of the top ten and number four overall, with a total take of $6.5 million, was Fireproof.  Given that Box Office Mojo fixed its budget at $500,000, the film is the success of the week.  I bet Wall Street would kill--or convert--to make that much money on an investment right about now.  The film's success came from its ability to successfully target church groups that would embrace the film's Christian message. 

The film revolves around firefighter Captain Caleb Holt (Kirk Cameron).  While saving people's lives daily, he can't save his marriage to wife Catherine.  Just as the couple seems ready to divorce, Holt's father challenges him to "The Love Dare" and asks him to spend forty days trying to repair his marriage, making it Fireproof.  The promotional materials for the film include a book called "The Love Dare," the opportunity to buy a packet to use during sermons or small groups, and all kinds of flyer-type tickets and mini-books.  What's more, they are actually charging for use of these materials.  While the success of The Passion of the Christ drew a lot of mainstream media attention to church marketing, it's interesting to see how this type of marketing is carried out for smaller films that slip under the radar of big city newspapers, which tend to have smaller populations of churchgoers.

The big loser of the week was Iraqi road trip film The Lucky Ones, which made only $489 per screen and grossed a paltry $208,000.  Ouch.  The poor performance of this film reminds me of Stop-Loss, another Luckyonesimage
returning Iraqi soldier film that failed to reach audiences--and which also had a trailer that tried to toe the line between patriotism and a vague disgust of war.  While some war films have performed well during the Iraq war, I think it's fair to draw an analogy to the similarly divisive Vietnam, where war programming did not play well.  For me, it's a margin of comfort as a viewer.  Seeing people my age dealing with injuries and trauma from a war that infuriates and divides the American people hits a little too close to home.   I don't want to see a film that will make me squirm, at least not yet.  Moreover, trying to appease those who want to "Support our Troops" by glorifying their experience, versus those who want to "Support our Troops" by bringing them home makes for a difficult plotting and marketing proposition.   On a related note, WWII combat film The Miracle of St. Anna also performed poorly, making $3.5 million and finishing at #9.  It seems audiences would rather see a pair be framed and hunted by their government in Eagle Eye's comfortably fictional setting than address the issues of war and racism promised by The Lucky Ones and The Miracle of St. Anna.

For complete box office results, click here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

All eyes on Shia LaBeouf

By Sarah Sluis

While the presidential debates this evening will likely dampen box-office returns, a few good popcorn options will entertain the under-eighteens and, at least for New York City, those escaping the forecasted rain.

Eagle Eye, 3,510 theatres
Oh, Shia LaBeouf.  Just a few years ago, he played a dorky younger brother on Disney sitcom "Even Stevens."  After a turn in summer tentpole Transformers (soon-to-be-titled Transformers 1), a drunken driving charge, and a supporting role in mega-franchise Indiana Jones IV, he's starring in yet another action-thriller, Eagle EyeFJI reviewer Daniel Eagan called it "a B-movie with higher pretensions," and he just might be spot-on.  Executive produced by Stephen Spielberg, the film appears to be a Minority Report-light.  As a vehicle for Shia LaBoeuf, it couldn't be more interesting.  He has worked on three Spielberg (executive produced or directed) films to date: Transformers, Indiana Jones IV, and Eagle Eye.  With no upcoming projects, save the Transformers sequel and a rumored thriller, he will likely be able to leverage any favorable reception to this film into better roles and higher salaries.

Miracle at St. Anna, 1,185 theatres
A Glory for WWII, Spike Lee's epic effort to show the experience of black soldiers on the Italian front apparently suffers from his need to say and do too much.  David Edelstein from New York Magazine notes that "Lee's canvas is impressively vast. The shock is in how coarsely he fills it in," while A.O. Scott calls out the genre shifts (apparently it starts out as a film noir?), the "platoon picture" speeches, and the flashbacks-within-flashbacks as evidence of the film's overwrought nature.

Nights in Rodanthe, 2,704 theatres
Nicholas Sparks is quite the hot commodity, with two additional Sparks adaptations recently announced, albeit with younger stars.  For fans of Message in a Bottle, Nights in Rodanthe awaits you at the cineplexes, if you're too impatient for it to show up on cable.  Watch Richard Gere and Diane Lane swoon into their fated love in this "PG-13 romance porn."

Also releasing this week:

  • Tim Robbins and Rachel McAdams star in The Lucky Ones (425 theatres), an Iraqi veteran road trip picture.

  • A dropout med student turns into a member of the marijuana-growing community in Humboldt County (10 theatres).

  • A firefighter turns his attention to saving his marriage in Christian-themed Fireproof (839 theatres).

  • Black comedy Choke (434 theatres), based on a novel by Chuck Palahnuik, centers on a sex addict who also works as a tour guide for a faux-colonial town.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Animated Waltz with Bashir' defies expectations

By Sarah Sluis

This is the age of "reality" television, where everything from "Man vs. Wild" to "The Hills" claims they depict the truth, only to be besieged by scandals when, for example, the public finds out a survivalist stages his "life or death" situations and goes home to a hotel every night.  In this context, seeing a documentary that makes a point to include its subjectivity is incredibly refreshing.

Waltz with Bashir
, screening Oct. 1 and 2 at the New York Film Festival, exists on another plane from how mainstream culture represents reality.  An animated documentary, the film uses a combination of flash, classic, and 3D animation to explore director/writer/producer Ari Folman's quest to find out what really happened during the 1982 Israel-Lebanon war, which he had completely blocked from his memory (watch the trailer to get a sense of the graphic novel-esque visuals).  The film goes back and forth between his interviews with people who were there, often with him, and the recreation of events based on these memories.

Waltz with Bashir deviates from genre and tone expectations of a "war" film.  In moments where you
are trained to expect bravery and heroics, there is fear and disorganization.  In one scene, the commander of a tank is shot.  The soldiers seem puzzled by why he has stopped moving.  Then, their whole tank comes under fire, and they flee without weapons, all dying save one soldier hiding behind a rock, who watches the supporting tank roll away in the distance, abandoning him.

So Waltz is not a "war" film, but it's also not an "anti-war" film.  Folman most wants to recover his memory of the Massacres of Sabra and Shatila, and when that memory finally comes to light�the moment where the Israelis found themselves playing the role of the Nazi�he leaves the emotions of guilt and complicity unaccented.  Nodding to the bureaucratic stagnation that perpetrated the action, he shows the numbness and matter-of-fact attitude of a soldier carrying out orders.  Whether his reaction or atonement is enough, right, appropriate?  Beside the point.  By defying our expectations of a war or anti-war film, or that of a hero searching for redemption, Waltz with Bashir develops more emotional nuance.  The climax includes a break with animation to include archival video footage, a final jolt that places the film within the evening news and expands its scope and reach.

The film has already swept the Israeli Oscars, the Oshir awards, and will likely be in the Oscar running for Best Foreign Film�and possibly Best Animated Feature, so make a point to see this unique documentary when Sony Pictures Classics opens it in late December. It deserves the buzz.

Monday, September 22, 2008


By Sarah Sluis

Lakeview Terrace captured the top spot this weekend with a $15.6 million opening.  The neighbor-terror
picture, with some racial overtones thrown in, benefited from Samuel L. Jackson's performance.  While reviewers generally shrugged at the film, as least one critic noted that "Jackson hasn't had a role this good or this complex in many a moon."  With over one hundred films to his credit, Jackson has made something of a career from roles in moderately-budgeted, male-oriented genre films�including, as of late, the unusual snake duo Snakes on a Plane and Black Snake Moan.  While I haven't seen Lakeview Terrace, Jackson's villains are always compelling, and his supporting appearances always carry beyond the screen, making you wish he didn't have to die off so soon.

Two other newcomers, rom-com My Best Friend's Girl and animated tale Igor had disappointing opening weekends, coming in at #3 and #4, with $11.3 million and $8 million takes.  Neither was particularly well-reviewed�Film Journal pronounced Igor "decent" and My Best Friend's Girl "irredeemably ugly."  Audiences smelled a stinker and went for some of the better options in the multiplex.

Burn After Reading did surprisingly well in its second week, dropping only 41% and grabbing the #2 spot.  If I were a teen girl (as I once was), I would go for Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading over the iffy romantic comedy My Best Friend's Girl.

Other newcomer Ghost Town came in at #8 with a $5.2 opening.  The studio dropped 500 theatres from the run at the last minute, perhaps conceding that the film wouldn't be able to expand on its niche audience appeal.

Rounding out the top ten were last week's Righteous Kill, Tyler Perry's The Family that Preys, and The Women.  July's Dark Knight and August's House Bunny have also continued to bring solid returns, each coming in a bit under $3 million for the week.

Both Appaloosa and The Duchess had strong per-screen averages. The Duchess cheated a little bit, as its "per location" average (running on a couple screens in one location) of $29,000 beat out Appaloosa's per screen average of $18,429.  I saw The Duchess this weekend and many of its most dramatic moments played as absurd comedy, which definitely was not mentioned in any of the reviews or marketing of the film.  Ralph Fiennes' performance as the Duke was so bizarre it kept on drawing incredulous laughter from the audience.  One of the biggest laughs came from the wedding night scene, in which Fiennes aseptically inquires for scissors from a maid to undress Keira Knightley.  While not played as creepy, the moment is so bizarrely matter-of-fact the audience couldn't contain itself.  Inappropriate laugher aside, both of these films, with their strong per-screen numbers, should expand into more theatres.  Appaloosa already has a scheduled wide release in two weeks.  Assumedly, The Duchess will also expand, but no definite date has been set.

Friday, September 19, 2008


By Sarah Sluis

While not as strong as last week's lineup, this week brings four wide releases and three limited releases to the box office.

Ghost Town (1,505 screens)
Ghost Town features Ricky Gervais, star of the British "Office," as a grumpy dentist.  In a premise simultaneously gallows-humor and gross-out, Gervais has a near-death experience during a colonoscopy.  Upon revival, he can see ghosts, who pester him to tie up their unfinished business.  Reluctantly, he agrees to help ghost Greg Kinnear prevent his wife from remarrying, and in the process falls for the wife.  Gervais is still a niche star stateside, beloved among those who like to claim they got in on hit show "The Office" back when it was an overseas import.  If this film can have a big enough presence opening weekend, I think it will stick around for awhile as word-of-mouth takes over.

Lakeview Terrace (2,464 screens)
Lakeview Terrace
takes those neighbor-from-hell horror stories and packages them into a thriller.  A couple moves next door and draws the ire of Samuel L. Jackson, a seemingly upstanding citizen and LAPD Officer.  The conflict escalates from maliciously placed floodlights to slashed tires, and the badge of the officer next door makes calling the cops useless.  Implied in the trailer is the LAPD Officer's discomfort with his neighbors' interracial marriage.  This film looks like a strong shot at number one or number two.

My Best Friend's Girl (2,604 screens)
My Best Friend's Girl offers a permutation on the plot of another Kate Hudson vehicle, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days.  Dane Cook plays a guy recruited by ex-boyfriends to be an obnoxious date, sending them flying back into the arms of their exes.  He's hired by Jason Biggs to repel Kate Hudson, but the plan backfires as the two fall for each other.  While most romantic comedies seem clearly guy-centric (Saving Silverman) or girl-centric (27 Dresses), My Best Friend's Girl appears to fall in between.  Both Dane Cook and Kate Hudson have star personas that seem tailored to their own sex, so I imagine that pairing them together will draw in a wider audience than a pure Kate Hudson vehicle.  Nevertheless, this film will probably come in behind at least one holdover release, and certainly Lakeview Terrace.

Igor (2,339 screens)
Animated film Igor opens to a market devoid of children's movies�perhaps this will be a reward for kids who have successfully navigated their first couple weeks of school?  Starring John Cusack as the voice of humpback sidekick Igor, the film shows the sidekick breaking away from his unappreciative master and proving he can intelligently design a scientific experiment (a human-like creature!) on his own.

Appaloosa (14 screens), The Duchess (7 screens), and Hounddog (11 screens)
Other smaller releases include Ed Harris' Appaloosa, a traditional, finely rendered Western, and The Duchess, in which Keira Knightley dons yet another costume and tests her star power�this one's on my to-see list.  Lastly, Hounddog, a film about a poor, mistreated Southern girl, starring Dakota Fanning, also releases, with a general critical thumbs-down.  Fanning, however, has proved herself to be a talented actress with a talented agent, and this small film precedes two others that will release in 2008�The Secret Life of Bees, in which she will also play a maligned Southern girl, and Coraline, a 3D animated feature with an Academy run this December. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


By Sarah Sluis

Miley Cyrus has just made the shrewdest career move ever.  Forget adapting an existing novel, Cyrus' team has commissioned Nicholas Sparks to write a book and screenplay tailored for her.  Her team has Fp9073hannahmontanabestofbothworlds
good reason to want so much control over her next film.  The incredibly bankable star of Disney's Hannah Montana, singer of sold-out concerts and a record-breaking IMAX concert film, is literally growing out of her role, making her success in a teen-to-adult part crucial.  With her slightly racy Annie Leibovitz-led Vanity Fair shoot a misfire, the Cyrus team is under extra pressure to prove she has the ability to switch to teen and adult roles�enter proven property, Nicholas Sparks.

Sparks' books have been great vehicles for teen-to-adult stars.  Featuring pull-on-heartstring romances and strong family ties, and having enraptured legions of female viewers, these films are exactly what growing Hannah Montana fans will seek.  Singer Mandy Moore benefited from her turn as a preacher's daughter with a terminal disease in A Walk to Remember, and Rachel McAdams' career took off after she followed her performance as Queen Bee in Mean Girls with an is-that-her? performance later that summer as sweet Southern Allie Hamilton in The NotebookThe Notebook in particular had an indie following that resonated with teen viewers.  The word-of-mouth tagline (which no marketer could have thought up) went something like: "Have you seen The Notebook yet?  Ohmigod, I cried so hard, I was just bawling."  Montana fans, who similarly engage in the content across platforms by buying CDs, going to concerts, and dressing up like her as Halloween, will need an emotionally engaging film that will inspire multiple viewings and collaborative chatter.

The genre, too, represents a shift from childhood wish fulfillment to teenage wish fulfillment.  Miley Cyrus made her fame out of the proven "teen double life" genre, which I remember from my Nickelodeon childhood days.  A literal representation of a childhood desire to be special and to become independent, they involve tweens who have access to a "phone booth" moment, wherein they transform to a television star ("The Famous Jett Jackson"), rock star ("Hannah Montana"), or superpower liquid ("The Secret World of Alex Mack").  What makes these television shows so compelling is their preservation of the awkward, normal tween character.  Shifting between the normal and super personas, viewers experience the transformation moment again and again.  Sparks' adaptations keep the fairy tale in the romance, making its couples part of a special, fated love blocked by circumstances, you guessed it, again and again.  If Hannah Montana tapped into a kid's desire to be special, a Nicholas Sparks adaptation will tap into the teen desire to be loved by someone special�a perfect project to allow Hannah Montana to age with her viewers as they transition to adulthood.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


By Sarah Sluis

Lehman Brothers Bankruptcy Affects Hollywood

Hollywood may be in the entertainment business, but the industry is far from isolated from the current political and financial climate.

With the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and news that Bank of America will buy Merrill Lynch, some have wondered what will happen to Hollywood.  United Artists, for example, has a $500 million credit line with Merrill Lynch.  As all of Merrill's assets are examined during its merger, UA, which failed to live up to its contractual obligation in terms of films per year, could lose its contract.  Hollywood Reporter's Risky Biz Blog has this to say about big-studio financing:

"UA has a $500 million production facility from Merrill Lynch; will Bank of America scrutinize that for a way out? MGM and The Weinstein Company are seeking money to finance slates -- and that's getting harder by the day. Summit and Marvel, who have debt facilities, may be in a slightly better position because acquiring companies tend to scrutinize loans less than they do equity investments...but don't expect the companies to go back and get money on the next go-round nearly as easily as they did the first time."

Frankly, though, the Tom Cruise/Paula Wagner mess at United Artists (see: Lions for Lambs, upcoming Valkyrie) is probably a better bet than one of those famed mystery meat packages of adjustable rate mortgages.

Hollywood Opens Checkbooks for Candidates and Content

On a political note, last night also brought news of a political fundraising effort in Beverly Hills for Barack Obama�two events that should raise him a staggering $9 million. 

Speaking through their films as well as their checkbooks, the studios are delivering a number of 01_300dpi_2 political films before and after November's election.  Upcoming Oliver Stone film W. will release just weeks before the election, taking some assertive swipes at an active presidency.  Other films, such as documentary Battle in Seattle, about the WTO riots in 1999, address political uprisings.  In fiction films, political CIA thriller Body of Lies, starring Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio, hits theatres October 10th.  The Lucky Ones, a road trip movie about a mixed group of soldiers heading home after sustaining injuries, will release on September 26th.  While the film looks to be ultimately heartwarming, the message of soldiers healing and learning to renew their lives is bittersweet.

After the election, Milk, a biopic of America's first openly gay elected official Harvey Milk, who was _42381235_theatre_frostnixon_203_2 assassinated for his sexuality, opens on November 26th.  Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon, about talk show host David Frost's interview with Richard Nixon after his resignation, will come to the screen on December 5th.  The mix of biopics, dramatizations of actual events, fiction films, and documentaries shows that Hollywood is actively courting content relevant to the current political climate.  As for the other releases, film scholars will certainly make assertions about how their "latent content" speaks to our current political and financial climate�The New York Times has already done a feature tenuously contrasting depictions of wealth in teenage television shows in different eras, so it's only a matter of time.

Monday, September 15, 2008


By Sarah Sluis

After weeks with nothing to see, America turned out in force to catch four new wide releases, placing them #1-#4 at the box office.

Burn After Reading claimed the top spot with $19.4 million, creating an opening weekend record for the duo.  True, many of their films have opened in limited release and racked up the millions more slowly, but this nevertheless represents a victory for the Coens, who were able to roll over the critical success they achieved with No Country for Old Men into box office dollars for their current film.

Not far behind, Tyler Perry's The Family that Preys finished at #2 with $18 million.  Perry's continued Familythatpreyspostersuccess�$250 million in box office on his past six films, with five of the six films opening at #1 or #2, and 11 million DVD sales�has made more people stand up and take notice.  By not screening his films for critics in advance, and targeting mainly African-American viewers, Perry's films have made it big at the box office without a similar splash in the media.  Expect more stories about Perry, as a $250 million track record is hard to hide.

Righteous Kill (#3, $16.5 million) and The Women (#4, $10 million) were both star-studded mediocre releases.  Neither was particularly well-reviewed, although I imagine they will both find their way into many people's Netflix queues.

The House Bunny surpassed Tropic Thunder this week ($4.3 million to Tropic's $4.1 million), actually adding 27 theatres to its run.  Female-oriented films are known for opening small but lasting for several weeks as they gain word-of-mouth, and this film definitely speaks to that point.

Lastly, that incendiary film Towelhead had the highest per-screen average for the week, earning $13,250 per screen (with only four locations playing the film).  In terms of per-screen averages, Tyler Perry's The Family that Preys trailed at second with $8,705 per screen.  Choosing a wide but selective release of 2,070 locations was undoubtedly a smart move and certainly reflects the niche-to-mainstream position of Perry's films in the marketplace.

Friday, September 12, 2008


By Sarah Sluis

After two weeks of nothing, Hollywood has several options this week to bring viewers back to the theatres.

Righteous Kill
DeniropacinoThe much-hyped pairing of Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro arrives onscreen with Righteous Kill, written by Russell Gewirtz of 2006's Inside ManEarly reports rank the script as a lesser effort by the writer, exacerbated by director Jon Avnet's poor control over the picture.  Unfortunate, given that Inside Man had well-developed twists and was a bit of surprise coming from director Spike Lee.  Given the draw of the star power, however, this film has a strong chance of coming in at number one.

Burn After Reading
The Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading, featuring Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand as personal trainers-turned-blackmailers, has received "not as good as No Country for Old Men" reviews from virtually every critic, but Focus Features' marketing campaign has heavily emphasized the Coens' No Country for Old Men laurels in their ads.  With George Clooney added to the headline, this film will do brisk business.
Towelhead, mired in controversy I covered earlier, releases to New York and Los Angeles this week, and will undoubtedly be buoyed by the buzz surrounding the film, as well as the sizeable marketing budget.
Tyler Perry's The Family that Preys
Not being terribly familiar with Tyler Perry beyond his "Madea" character, I was surprised to learn that The Family that Preys does not feature a man in drag but instead takes a dramatic-comedic tone to depict a story about two families connected by friendship, affairs, and hidden paternities.  Of note, this film features a mix of white and black actors, including the always entertaining Kathy Bates.  Whether this was included in the original script or a studio attempt to have Perry's films reach a wider audience, eyes will be watching to see if this movie will expand Perry's viewership beyond his loyal black audiences.
The Women
Promising a Sex and the City experience, ensemble film The Women releases today to mediocre Women1 reviews. The original film was based on a play by suffragette Clare Boothe Luce, and the 1939 George Cukor film in turn honored the feminist roots and Women_women_2preserved the satire.  What I loved about the original, besides the neat visual trick that never brings any men onscreen, was how the primary conflict, a woman being cheated on, becomes an opportunity for complex iterations of power�not disenfranchisement and weeping.  The women are in complete control over their domains, and their power spots are not golf courses and smoky mahogany clubs, but beauty salons, spas, and fashion shows.  Judging by the reviews, this message has softened in the remake.  Nevertheless, those seeking an echo of the original The Women or this summer's Sex and the City will probably come out sated.


By Kevin Lally

FJI correspondent Daniel Steinhart continues his reports from the Toronto International Film Festival.

As the Toronto Film Festival comes to a close, the lackluster acquisition market has perked up a bit with two major buys. Summit Entertainment nabbed domestic distribution rights to Kathryn Bigelow's war film The Hurt Locker. This was another film I missed to recuperate from a cold, but the trades are suggesting that the picture could overcome the public's general lack of interest in Iraq war films by eschewing politics for straight-up action.

The other major acquisition was IFC Films' securing of U.S. rights to Steven Soderbergh's Che, the nearly four-and-a-half-hour biopic of Che Guevara. This is a bold move, especially considering the unpredictable indie market. Plans are to roll out the film for a limited release of the complete picture in December and then distribute the film's two parts separately a month later. Releasing part one, "The Argentine," and part two, "The Guerrilla," makes economic sense, but I think the whole film will suffer as a result. It seems to me that the two parts should be seen back-to-back, as together they form a mirror of distorted reflections, rich with parallels and contrasts. The complete film is also a rare epic moviegoing experience for the modern age, replete with intermission and roadshow overtures that accompany geography lessons on Cuba and Bolivia. This is an unwieldy film and it's hard to make a fair assessment after a single viewing, but let me offer some initial impressions.

It might frustrate some that the film avoids the biopic convention of charting the inspiring rise and fall of a hero. But if you're looking for inspiring Che, watch Gael Garca Bernal shaking hands with lepers in the forgettable The Motorcycle Diaries. Here, Soderbergh and Benicio Del Toro, who plays Che, give us a tenacious and wheezing strategist, who first mounts a successful revolutionary campaign in Cuba (part one) and then an unsuccessful one in Bolivia (part two). Che's political ideology is rarely delivered through rousing speeches, although we do see him going head-to-head with various emissaries at the UN in 1964 via flash-forwards. Instead, his politics come through his commitment to action, the enforcement of discipline amongst the guerrillas, and even in his bedside manner as the good doctor treats both comrades and peasants. This is a film of detail and breadth, which I think partly comes from the versatile camerawork. The film was shot on the much-touted Red One digital camera, and seeing the film projected digitally, audiences got the full effect of the new technology. While the camera may have allowed the filmmakers a great deal of flexibility on location, the images still lack the richness and warmth of 35mm. And on another technical note, part one is presented in 2.35 anamorphic and part two in 1.85. Tech talk aside, this is not one to miss in the theatres, especially if you get to experience the full roadshow treatment.

Certainly, getting to see Che was one of the highlights of the festival for me, but there were many others, including Waltz with Bashir, Hunger, Better Things, Liverpool and Gomorrah. I also enjoyed 24 City, Of Time and the City, Three Monkeys, The Wrestler, Me and Orson Welles, and the Dardenne Brothers' new Le Silence de Lorna, a strong film, but not on par with their previous work. I struggled through Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata, but its ending has made me rethink the film and compelled me to want to see it again. It was also a pleasure to see Kelly Reichardt's modest and perceptive Wendy and Lucy while sitting next to Czech filmmaker Bohdan Slma. Sadly, I gave short shrift to Canadian cinema�a typically American move�but was very fond of the one Canuck movie I saw: Bruce McDonald's language-driven zombie film, Pontypool.

Finally, there were two films from two masters that I thoroughly enjoyed: Clair Denis' 35 Rhums, a great film, and Takeshi Kitano's Achilles and the Tortoise, a very good film. I think Denis works like an alchemist, putting an array of elements together�beautiful faces, the perfect song, the trading of glances, a certain gesture, graceful movement�and conjures up something radiant. 35 Rhums, about a tight-knit father and daughter, is beautiful from beginning to end. As for Kitano, he's fallen out of favor with critics because of some missteps, but I think his new film is an inspired piece of work. Achilles and the Tortoise tracks the life of a failed painter and is divided triptych-like into childhood, youth and old age. The film is an amusing meditation on the artistic process and a showcase of Kitano's own painting. I think the movie also demonstrates that the filmmaker is one of the great color stylists working in modern cinema.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


By Sarah Sluis

Steven Soderbergh has double news today. First off, his biopic Che, which showed at Toronto as well as Cannes, has been picked up by IFC Films. The choice of IFC was a bit of surprise, as the filmmakers had actively pursuing deals with other studios. In the end, IFC's "enthusiasm" won out, which may or may not be a euphemism for "Oscar marketing dollars." IFC plans on releasing the film for a week in NY/LA to qualify it for the Oscars, and then re-releasing the film in January on video-on-demand as well as a theatrical release. Che will become of the most expensive films to pursue such a strategy, but Soderbergh has been open to experimental release strategies, pioneering simultaneous video/theatre releases with Bubble back in 2005. For a film like Che, which consists of two, 120-minute film, the length and form links it a mini-series, making it a natural fit for television and on demand and its pause-for-popcorn and bathroom break button.

After profiling a Marxist South American revolutionary executed by his enemies, the logical next step for Soderbergh is Liberace, the flamboyant and theatrical piano player who had millions of women fooledLiberace until he died of AIDS and his lover sued to inherit his money. Overwrought glissandos aside, Soderbergh actually has some meaty work on his hands. As a director who likes to weigh in on social and political issues in his biopics (second example: Erin Brockovich) I imagine that AIDS and Liberace's closeted identity will figure prominently into the script.

Drew Barrymore's production company, Flower Films, picked up the book How to Be Single. They're currently producing another title by the same author, Liz Tuccillo, He's Just Not That Into You, which has a scheduled release date of February 9, 2009 (right before Valentine's Day, hmm). One thing I find curious about Flower Films is its choice of content�middle-budget romantic comedies, and other films where Barrymore steps down and takes a supporting role. Star-led production companies usually are formed to find Oscar-worthy roles for their founders, but perhaps compensation is a bigger concern for Barrymore. This route certainly would allow Barrymore to make a larger profit on the films she produces. On a related note, Domino did a feature on Flower Films' production offices back in April, and they have the most gorgeous, best-place-to-produce-romantic-comedies workplace imaginable, which you can look at here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


By Sarah Sluis

Today the trades were filled with project updates from a
couple of film school idols and perennial buzz makers: Paul Verhoeven and Wes

Returning to the ground he covered in Basic Instinct, Paul Verhoeven is in talks to direct a thriller
about a college intern who has an affair with his boss's wife (cue the angry
boss out for revenge and twist-filled manipulations of power dynamics). Wendy Miller wrote the screenplay, and
although she has lengthy television credentials, she has no film credits to her
name. She's currently working on VH1's
frenetic pop culture recap show Best Week
. Considering the film has been
billed as "Fatal Attraction meets Risky Business," I imagine that some of Best Week Ever's madcap humor made it
into her script�it would certainly make for some good one-liners.

Wes Anderson plans to rewrite French film Mon Meilleur Ami for Universal Pictures,
with the possibility that he will direct the project. Rewriting an existing work is a good choice
for Anderson, whose last Wesanderson_nymag
couple films have failed critically, and some have
cited scripting issues as the cause. Like so many others, I fell in love with Rushmore, The Royal
, and Bottle Rocket on
video, watching them again and again, but have been disappointed by his
subsequent projects, The Life Aquatic
and the The Darjeeling Limited. The repetition of style, characterization,
and plot elements to an audience already intimately familiar with their
trajectory fell flat, and his visual and musical ornamentation of plot could
not disguise its lackluster form.

A few years ago Slate
contributor Field Maloney wrote an article after the failure of The Life Aquatic, attributing the
success of Anderson's first films to his co-writing with Owen Wilson, which he
felt tempered Anderson's tendency towards esoteric references and style over
narrative�his "fantasy world." Testing
this theory by reuniting this writing team will not come anytime soon. After some kind of nervous breakdown last
year, Wilson's
rebound pic, Marley & Me, seems
like a forced attempt at happiness: based on a memoir about a neurotic but
loveable dog, the film includes sitcom star Jennifer Aniston as a love interest. Not exactly Wes Anderson-style material.

Anderson has since worked with a variety of writers, including acclaimed writer/director
Noah Baumbach, on The Life Aquatic
and upcoming animated picture The
Fantastic Mr. Fox.
With Wilson unavailable, perhaps having a pre-existing script
will aid Anderson
in tempering his style. While he won't
be working off original ideas, the plot itself seems ripe for an Anderson adaptation. The story centers on an unlikable man oblivious
to the fact that all his friends hate him, until an awkward moment at a dinner
party clears this up. His business
partner then challenges him to produce a best friend in ten days, in order to
win a vase (an expensive vase, mind you). With his black book of "friends" yielding no results, the man ends up
enlisting a taxi driver, who teaches the gruff man about politeness.

I can already see this film populated by Anderson's trademark cast�Bill Murray would
be phenomenal in the title role. Like
all of Anderson's
films, this plot involves a character using deception and lies to develop a
superficial relationship, only to seem surprised when others are upset when
they find out about the ruse. In the
end, his characters still end up developing an "unlikely friendship," to use
plot synopsis terminology. Case in
point: Gene Hackman pretends he is dying to move back into the family home and
reconnect with his family in The Royal
. With the characteristic Anderson plot already a part of Mon Meilleur Ami, Anderson
should have smooth sailing ahead of him. I am curious to see how this film moves forward, especially with
casting.  Anderson needs this picture or Mr. Fox to break away from the narrow
path he has created for himself.


By Kevin Lally

FJI correspondent Daniel Steinhart reports on acquisition activity from the Toronto International Film Festival.

There seems to be a heightened sense of uncertainty at this year's Toronto Film Festival, as the future of independent film distribution looks primed for some kind of transformation. In the last year, Warner Bros. shut down its specialty divisions Warner Independent and Picturehouse. Paramount restructured its Vantage division. New Line has been downsized. And a number of boutique distributors, such as ThinkFilm, have been plagued by financial troubles. While there are still numerous specialty labels out there, fewer players and company cutbacks point to reduced acquisitions at the festival market. So it is with great interest that industry analysts, producers and distributors watch the business dealings in Toronto. What follows is my own cursory look at some of the films that have generated deals and interest at the festival.

The festival kicked off last week with a spurt of acquisition announcements for a handful of films playing in Toronto. Regent Releasing picked up the North American rights for Brillante Mendoza's Serbis, a Filipino film about a family-run porn house. Like Tsai Ming-liang's Goodbye, Dragon Inn, which centers on another shambolic movie theatre, the main point of interest is not the films playing on the screen, but the action taking place off-screen. The theatre is alive with hustlers cruising in the shadows, a wild goat on the loose, a purse snatcher chased by a cop, a projectionist tending to a festering boil on his rump, and the management family, who are suffering from the strain of adultery and personal missteps. A melodrama of sorts, the film has great kinetic camerawork, which seems to take its cue from the bustle of the theatre's encroaching Manila neighborhood.

Another welcome acquisition was Cinema Guild's securing of U.S. rights for Jia Zhang-ke's part-documentary, part-fabrication, 24 City. Jia conducts a series of interviews with workers�both real and invented�of the state-owned Factory 240, which is being shut down to make room for a new housing community. Like some of the director's previous films, 24 City details the effects of the modernization of China, but in this film, he accomplishes the task mainly through direct talking-head interviews. While there are some elegant shots of industrial spaces, the film spends most of its time with the interviewees, recording life stories that are rich and moving.

The other documentary distribution deal was Strand Releasing's pickup of Terence Davies' Of Time and the City. (See previous TIFF post for my brief assessment of the film.) Cinema Guild and Strand should be commended for acquiring these challenging works, but how extensively they'll be distributed remains to be seen. Unfortunately, this burst of acquisition activity didn't seem to carry into the rest of the festival. Reports of new deals died down until early this week.

The big news in Toronto came on Sunday, when Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler won the top prize, the Golden Lion, at the Venice Film Festival. By the time of the film's packed press and industry screening on Monday, word was already trickling in that Fox Searchlight had inked a distribution deal. As I watched the film, I couldn't help but wonder why the Venice jury had awarded the film. (Perhaps, it's more telling of this year's competitive lineup at Venice.) While it's actually a pretty good movie, it's far from a top-tier festival winner. The film concerns an aging pro wrestler named Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke), whose fame has faded and who must scrape by on the independent fighting circuit. The movie seems to be at once an ironic take on the kind of underdog he-man vehicles that Sly Stallone produced in the late '70s and '80s and very much of a piece with that cycle of films. A fight is presented out of sequence, denying us the kind of sympathetic alignment that the Rocky fight sequences excelled in and instead focusing our attention on the bodily destruction that The Ram puts himself through. But the film also aims directly for the heart, in no small measure through Rourke's performance. Rourke delivers a strong emotional portrayal, but it is also a great bodily show. We see his character either lumbering around, protected by a uniform of threadbare parka, baggy jeans, work boots, and tangle of long blond hair, or else strutting around the ring showing-off his roided-out, battle-scarred body. Fox Searchlight is aiming for a December release, so expect an aggressive awards campaign for Rourke.

A couple of other films have drummed up interest, but so far no deals. The Burning Plain from screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel) was highly anticipated but didn't seem to attract any buyers. (Unfortunately, I missed the film to nurse an oncoming cold. Yes, four films a day and moving from air-conditioned theatres to rainy streets can take its toll on the body.) Also, Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles met with general approval but no deals. The film takes up a much-fabled event for movie and theatre lovers: Orson Welles' staging of a fascist-themed Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theatre in 1937. I found the film very likeable, with a spot-on performance by Christian McKay as Welles.

There are still four more days left in the festival and so many films here that deserve to be seen by more than just festival audiences. Let's hope that for the good of the market and film culture, business picks up.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Perturbed by Disturbia

By Sarah Sluis

Disturbia 025_rear_window

Disturbia, last year's knockoff of Rear Window, a fact mentioned by every critic to review the film, Film Journal's included, has just been smacked with a lawsuit alleging that it ripped off the short story used for the plot of Rear Window.  DreamWorks (including its co-founder Steven Spielberg), its parent company Viacom, and Universal were named as defendants.  Given the similarity between the two films, it's embarrassing that this was just noticed.  In fact, a similar lawsuit was brought to court in 1998 by Sheldon Abend over television rights to Rear Window, so it's not as if this property has been lying unnoticed since 1954.  Abend, executive producer of Rear Window and owner of the rights, died in 2003, leaving Sheldon Abend Revocable Trust to do the job�and apparently the lawyers are sleeping on the job.

Mean Girls sidekick turned Mamma Mia! star Amanda Seyfried has taken a cue from her other Mean Girls co-star, Rachel McAdams (The Notebook), and signed onto a Nicholas Sparks adaption.  The film, Dear John, chronicles the romance between a do-gooder college student and a soldier on leave.  They fall in love the summer before 9/11, but their romance receives the ultimate test when John goes back overseas after the terrorist attacks.

Up in Toronto, the big news was Fox Searchlight's acquisition of The Wrestler.  With a nod to Mickey Rourke's has-been star persona, he plays a fading semi-pro wrestler who tries to connect with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and a similarly aging stripper (Marisa Tomei) as his success in the ring diminishes.  The film, which won the Golden Lion at Venice, will release in the U.S. this December.  Just in time for Oscar season�could this be another De Niro in Raging Bull?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Worst Weekend Box Office in Eight Years

By Sarah Sluis

With stale and meager offerings, America pretty much stopped going to the movies last weekend. They made the right decision. No film broke $10 million, making this the worst domestic box office in eight years. The one new release, Thai remake Bangkok Dangerous, barely beat the existing offerings, and came in at number one just ahead of Tropic Thunder. This star-studded comedy has shown surprising legs, and is approaching the $100 million mark�if only that wasn't also the production budget. No doubt word-of-mouth has helped extend its run. The Tom Cruise cameo as a studio exec apparently is worth checking out, and the trailer always got a smattering of chuckles from the audience when I saw it in theatres earlier this summer.

Bangkok Dangerous belongs to a subset of English-language remakes of South/East Asian action film. Bangkok_dangerous  With a B-list budget and effort, the underwhelming $7.8 million take only prompted a disappointed shrug from execs. I don't think the lackluster performance of this film speaks to a softening of the remake market, but rather that with the success of films like Oscar-winner The Departed (a remake of Infernal Affairs), and the spate of Japanese horror films, producers have gotten less picky in choosing what films to remake.

Overseas, Mamma Mia! came in number one at the box office, speaking to the transcontinental appeal of European group ABBA. While ABBA might have sold tickets, along with familiar music comes gorgeous visuals: a saturated-blue Mediterranean sea and perhaps the most cinematic use of fabric in recent memory, surely inspired by some Bollywood viewings. I heartily endorse this film's success, and am willing to ignore the awkwardness of the unchoreographed moments in the film. 

Next week finally brings some box-office draws: The Coen brother's Burn After Reading, and the remake of The Women. Look for more information Friday as I delve deep into next week's box-office outlook.


By Kevin Lally

FJI correspondent Daniel Steinhart files the first of several reports from the busy Toronto International Film Festival.

One of the most daunting tasks facing any dedicated festivalgoer is arranging a screening schedule. With 409 features and shorts (by my count) at this year's edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, this is a task that requires military-like strategizing. You need to consider running time, if a film will have more than one screening, and how you want your day to flow. Difficult art films in the morning when critical faculties are sharpest? Or livelier genre fare to rouse you from the morning daze? Fortunately, geography is rarely an issue, since most press and industry screenings are clustered at the Manulife Centre, making it easy to slip out of one screening as the end credits roll and saunter across the hall into another screening just as the opening credits come on. Certainly, this can make for jarring juxtapositions. I left the screening of Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir with images of Lebanese refugee camp massacres seared into my brain, then immediately sat down for the cartoon violence of Kim Jee-woon's kimchi-western The Good, The Bad, The Weird. Such are the challenges of navigating the film festival world!

So where to begin with such a massive offering of films? There are high-profile U.S. films, such as the Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading and Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married, which will make their fall bow in the coming weeks. There's new work in the Discovery, Vanguard and Visions sections, which showcase emerging filmmaking talents from around the world. In the Wavelengths section, there's new experimental work from old masters such as Nathaniel Dorsky, Pat O'Neill and James Benning. My strategy is to go eclectic�a sampling of everything. But to start off, I felt compelled to catch up on the films that made a stir at this year's Cannes Film Festival and now make their appearance in North America. Perhaps it's a good way to get a sense of the movie trends that will unfurl over the next year.

If we are to look to any region for new exciting work, we should look to the U.K. In the first three days of the festival, I've seen three stellar films from there. Most formidable was visual artist Steve McQueen's Hunger, a film of intensity, brutality and formal precision. Set in 1981 during the IRA's deadly attacks and the Thatcher government's repressive response, the film charts the events that occurred at Maze Prison outside Belfast. Denied political status, IRA prisoners are stripped of basic human rights. In reaction, the prisoners protest through every unthinkable action. And in turn, the prison guards resort to all-out torture. This is a film of few words and it takes time for the main player to emerge: the prisoners' leader Bobby Sands (impressively played by Michael Fassbender). In the film's centerpiece, a daring long take (I lost count at about 15 minutes) captures Sands laying out the rationale for going on a hunger strike to a Catholic priest. What follows is a graphic and near-wordless depiction of Sands' bodily degradation that demonstrates the physical and psychic limits that the strike leader was willing to push himself to.

Far less brutal, but no less aesthetically forceful is Duane Hopkins' Better Things. Set in England's rural Cotswolds, the film follows various interweaving storylines of drugged-out teenagers and declining seniors, all experiencing the loss of or estrangement from loved ones. Hopkins, another visual artist, exploits the expressive possibility of the medium to link the various characters. Instead of structuring the film with a cause-and-effect flow of action, the scenes are strung together using an idea, a gesture, a repeated pattern, or an overlapping sound. This is the kind of micro-level storytelling one finds more often in experimental film, but here, this approach gives the film a poetic charge and serves to visually connect characters who can't seem to make those human connections themselves.

Fresh from a newly inked U.S. distribution deal with Strand Releasing, Terence Davies' Of Time and the City is both an essay film and memory piece. The city of Liverpool commissioned Davies to make a film in commemoration of its selection as the 2008 European Capital of Culture. What he produced is at once a celebration of and acerbic broadside at his birth city. Over stock footage of Liverpool throughout the 20th century and recently shot footage, Davies dwells on cinema, music, soccer, religion, community, nationalism, and the strange land that his city has become. The filmmaker is generous and erudite in his remarks and recollections and one emerges from the film feeling well nourished. Kudos to Strand for picking this one up.

And then there was the film Liverpool, which actually isn't even a British film and really doesn't have much to do with the titular city, but it deserves mention. I would make the case that this Argentine film from Lisandro Alonso is part of a trend of contemporary international art cinema marked by long takes, de-dramatized performances, loose plotting, glacial pacing�and I eat this stuff up. On the surface not much happens in this film: A seaman takes shore leave at the tip of the South American continent in order to visit his ailing mother. The film follows his arduous journey to his small village, where few people recognize him. Then he departs, leaving only the audience to witness the village's quotidian routines. There's little action and little dialogue, but the film's real interest seems to lie in its attempt to convey the seaman's estrangement from his surrounding in nearly every shot, either through composition, landscape, or the juxtaposition of actions. This is a film that requires patience, but I think that patience is rewarded with a work of great beauty.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. So many more films to consider. More to come�

Thursday, September 4, 2008

del Toro snags Hobbit; Universal Resurrects more Monsters

By Sarah Sluis

Making good on the adage "when it rains, it pours" Guillermo
del Toro has not only snagged the directorial duties for The Hobbit, which will tie him up for the next four years, but he
also has managed to keep Universal committed to the four projects they had been
planning with him: Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Slaughterhouse-Five and upcoming novel Drood.

Putting up with a four-year setback on these projects marks
a pretty big commitment for Universal. In a statement to Variety,
production president Donna Langley said the decision was made after some "tough
conversations," which sounds like a pretty juicy understatement.

Universal also admitted that it's willing to be patient in
order to have the right vision, citing upcoming film Wolf Man (grainy, leaked trailer here) as an example where it paid
off to use an experienced director. The
film, helmed by Joe Johnston, who started out working on special effects in Star Wars and has since directed Honey, I Shrunk the Kids! and Jumanji, is scheduled for a June
release, and will likely be a Universal tentpole.

If plans to develop Universal monster properties Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll come through, the studio will be well on their way to
remaking most of their monster franchises. Its reincarnation of The Mummy
(although not in a plot sense) has already spawned its third sequel. Looking at their other properties, I would
not be surprised if we see another Invisible
or Creature of the Black Lagoon
in development a few years down the line.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Fall Releases: 'The Reader' and 'Slumdog Millionaire'

By Sarah Sluis

While we are still several holidays away from the Oscars, Halloween costumes are already in stores, and studios are starting to make their programming chess moves for Oscar season. Documentaries have already made their move, quickly squeezing in a barely advertised week-long run in order to meet the documentary submission deadline of September 2, 2008.

The Weinstein Co. hopes to move up their film The Reader, starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, to a December release, in hopes that the film can rack up some nominations. The film, which covers that Oscar-friendly subject of World War II, war crimes, and the Holocaust, is also a high-profile literary adaptation (Translated from Swedish and featured on Oprah's Book Club). The whole package screams Oscar�but can it deliver?

Slumdog Millionaire, while not an Oscar contender, has also received a marketing boost through aSlumdog_2
change in distribution. Previously planned as the last release of now-shuttered Warner Independent Pictures, the film is now being distributed by Fox Searchlight and Warner Bros.. The film centers around a Hindi boy hustler suspected of cheating on a "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"-type show (pictured on the right). Director Danny Boyle, whose films encompass every genre imaginable (horror, romantic comedy, kid pictures), has had some hits and misses. I didn't care for his previous kid-oriented picture, Millions (which incidentally also covered a boy stumbling into wealth) but Slumdog Millionaire might be different�it was the buzz winner of the Telluride Film Festival.  The film will release in the United States on November 28, 2008.

In other topical news, photoshopped posters of last year's Oscar nominee for Best Picture, Juno (retitled as Juneau, get it?), have been circulating the internet, showing up on Cinematical, Defamer, and NYMag, so check them out for some mid-week entertainment/political commentary.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tropic Thunder Continues to Rumble

By Sarah Sluis

With no significant new releases to challenge its action-comedy dominance, the big news today wasAlternativetropicthunderposter_4 Tropic Thunder's ability to hold on to the top spot for the third week running, with just an 11% drop in revenue.

Among new releases, Babylon A.D. managed to come in second with a $14.3 million take, despite abysmal reviews, including a 4% rating on critical aggregator RottenTomatoes. Traitor, the other action release, picked up $10 million at #5.

Of the three teen-oriented pictures, only one, Disaster Movie (#7), made the top ten, with College and Hamlet 2 settling in at spots #15 and #17. With most teens and college students already back on campus or gearing up for the start of the school year, low teen turnout comes as no surprise.

Mamma Mia! was able to boost its take slightly (2% over the weekend) by adding a sing-along to 299 of the 1,968 theatres playing the Meryl Streep musical. Last year this approach was tried by competing studio New Line with Hairspray. This tactic has long been used on the small screen with Disney original movies, including the much-hyped High School Musical series.

Woody Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona also increased its take over Labor Day, and looks to be a financial success on par with Scoop. Hamlet 2 opened in wide release over the weekend, increasing its take, but with a per-screen average of only $1k, it will likely cut down on the number of theatres in release. With only one wide release this Friday, Nicolas Cage thriller Bangkok Dangerous, most of these films will remain in the top ten through next week.