Friday, October 30, 2009

'This Is It' to thrill audiences through Halloween weekend

By Sarah Sluis

When Halloween falls on a weekend, the box office usually suffers, with the exception of horror movies. The choice between trick-or-treating and seeing a movie is pretty obvious for most people. To Michael jackson this is it max out their revenue during this slow weekend, even the two big horror movies went wide last weekend. Saw VI and Paranormal Activity should continue to see healthy grosses this weekend, as audiences get into the Halloween spirit.

Michael Jackson, of course, does have creepy song "Thriller" in his repertoire, and This Is It (3,481 theatres) includes a graveyard, zombie-walking sequence set to the song. The concert documentary kicked off its two-week engagement on Wednesday, earning $7.4 million domestically its opening day. With no other wide releases opening this weekend, This Is It may pick up some extra business to supplement its solid, but not stellar opening.

Opening on just three screens, The House of the Devil is a retro '80's throwback, taking place in the House of the devil time period "for no apparent reason other than writer-director-editor Ti West doesn't want mobile phones to gum up his feeble plot." Devoid of scares, "it borrows literally from a well-known horror film made by a guy in a Swiss jail." So for those of you who have seen Rosemary's Baby, this movie may be a pass.

Director Jared Hess follows up Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre with Gentlemen Broncos, which is receiving a quiet theatrical release in two locations. The movie's "unrelenting strangeness" may make it better suited to a DVD release, where those that enjoy the movie can recommend it to their like-minded friends.

A "bloated follow-up" to the cult hit, The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day (68 theatres) also seems more suited to the DVD market. Critic Michael Rechtshaffen predicted it won't turn a profit for its distributor "until the Saints go marching back into the video store." Its mix of violence and comedy comes across as a cartoonish "Godfather III meets The Three Stooges," so those curious about the combination should check it out.

Based on the true story of a phenotypically black child born to white Afrikaners, Skin features such a striking genetic anomaly our critic Ethan Alter felt it would be more powerful as a documentary. While he praises Sophie Okonedo's performance, "there's an artificiality to the proceedings" that "a documentary would likely have been able to circumvent."

On Monday, we'll see if This Is It held on through the weekend, and if the horror movies are able to draw crowds in spite of the wealth of off-screen spooky options.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

'This Is It' shows Michael Jackson as we want to remember him

By Sarah Sluis

I knew Michael Jackson first as someone photographed with scarves and clothes covering his head. Magazine articles speculated about his appearance and plastic surgery, allegations were put forth Michael jackson this is it about his sexual abuse of children, and his own children had mysterious paternity and maternity.

That's not the Michael Jackson you see in This Is It. For a younger generation, many of whom filled the seats at my Wednesday night screening, the concert documentary offers an opportunity to see the King of Pop back in peak form. He's guarded, not reclusive, and his exacting nature comes across as perfectionism, not diva behavior.

Because Michael Jackson is holding back on singing in the rehearsals to preserve his voice, the most stand-out songs are those staged with elaborate choreography. The dancing has incredible energy, precision, and ingenuity. Even surrounded by powerful dancers half his age, Jackson comfortably holds the lead. The dancers also help cue our awe. A casting session whittles down the hundreds of immensely talented dancers vying for a spot, and the ones that remain seem overjoyed by the opportunity to work alongside one of their idols. They applaud during rehearsals and show an incredible amount of respect for the man who has influenced contemporary dancing.

For those curious about the challenges of staging big concert productions, plenty of behind-the-scenes moments abound. The audience at my screening got a big kick out of Jackson's direction to let a song intro "simmer," and shouted the phrase back at the screen with a joyful glee--"Let it simmer, Mike!" Mj dancing One of Jackson's accompanists, after getting grilled by Jackson about the "simmering" pace, goes on to convey his respect for a pop artist who is such a perfectionist. He actually knows all his records and exactly how everything should sound. In the age of Auto-Tune, Jackson is a welcome anomaly. Though it seems he was planning on using echo effects live, judging from one performance, he brings with him a history of pop singing independent of the technological crutches standard in today's music world.

This Is It is worth going to the theatre for the crowd, but not necessarily for the IMAX. While the quality is far better than you would expect, the aspect ratio sometimes shifts to something smaller and grainier. Director Kenny Ortega, who was in charge of both the stage and film production, puts together an engaging two-hour experience. He expertly conveys half-completed effects, and instead of feeling like you missed something, you fill in what could have been. By showing us the strength of Jackson's would-be stage performance, This Is It seals his reputation as an icon.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Two Matt Damon trailers in one day

By Sarah Sluis

Two trailers of movies starring Matt Damon in one day? And just after I wrote about him yesterday? I guess there's a reason I consider Matt Damon one of my favorite actors. Oddly enough, his highly lauded Bourne movies leave me cold, but his memorable roles in the Ocean's series, Good Will Hunting, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and The Departed, among others, always make me eagerly anticipate his films, even more uneven ones like the recent The Informant!

The first trailer is for Invictus, which releases on December 11. It's a feel-good, based-on-a-true-story kind of tale that appeals to Oscar voters. Damon plays a rugby captain who is enlisted by South African President Nelson Mandela to win the 1995 World Cup. Mandela hopes the economic and racial divisions within the country can be mediated by national pride. The trailer has some heartbreaking looks at the Johannesburg slums, last seen in District 9 (albeit in a sci-fi context).

Next up is The Green Zone, which was pushed back and is now set for a March 12, 2010 release. Paul Greengrass, who helmed the Bourne movies, directs. It shows all signs of being your typical action thriller, but distinguishes itself with its hyperreal historical setting. Damon plays a CIA agent who has been tasked with finding the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When they don't show up, he tries to find the misleading source and get to the bottom of the intrigue.

Currently, Damon's filming The Adjustment Bureau. They've been shooting in New York City's West Village, with trailers set up on Greenwich Avenue a couple weeks ago. From Darren Aronofsky, the movie centers on a politician (Damon) and the mysterious ballerina he falls in love with (Emily Blunt). I seriously hope there is an element of Vertigo or Ghost in here--who doesn't love a good romantic mystery?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Casting underway for Coen Bros.' 'True Grit'

By Sarah Sluis

The Coen Bros.' remake of True Grit, a classic Western follow-up to their modern Western hit, No Country for Old Men, has lined up two more actors. Matt Damon is in talks to take on the Texas Ranger True grit role, and Josh Brolin is in talks to play the hunted man. In the movie, a fourteen-year-old girl (who has not been cast) enlists the ranger and a U.S. Marshal to help her track down her father's killer. The role of the marshal, an Oscar-winning role for John Wayne in the 1969 original, will be taken on by Jeff Bridges (The Dude in The Big Lebowski). With top producers Scott Rudin and Steven Spielberg behind the film, and a fast-track from Paramount, this movie is scheduled to head into production this spring, for a release the following year.

Why has the 40-year-old film, based on the novel by Charles Portis, interested the filmmaking duo? Let's consult the archives.

1. Weird, affected dialogue. In Roger Ebert's review of the original, he notes that "Portis wrote his dialog in a formal, enchantingly archaic style that has been retained in Marguerite Roberts' screenplay." The Coen Bros. are known for utilizing accents and unusual speech, which is already present in the original work.

2. The Eye Patch. George Clooney has his pomade in O Brother, Where Art Thou? Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men has his bowl cut hairstyle. The Dude has his bathrobe and his white Russian in The Big Lebowski. This irresistible bit of costuming (working in tandem with Wayne's star image) just amplifies the characterization of Wayne as an "unwashed, sandpapered, roughshod, fat old rascal with a heart of gold well-covered by a hide of leather" (from Ebert's review).

3. Cash, Crime, Cover-ups and Complications. The U.S. Marshal and the Texas Ranger are both in it1969_true_grit_007 for the money. According to Ebert's review, the ranger "claims he has a reward for the killer (who also, it appears, plugged a state senator in Texas)." Sounds like an ulterior motive could come in play--a complication--in Coens' treatment.

Many of the Coen Bros.' films include journeys to either find the booty or hide it (the baby in Raising Arizona, the buried treasure in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the kidnapping/money in Fargo, the money in No Country for Old Men). Inevitably, things do not go according to plan, and Coen Bros. take pleasure in piling on the complications and twists to make things interesting.

The Challenge: According to many reviews, John Wayne makes the movie. The absence of Wayne's star presence could be a problem. In fact, both Roger Ebert and the Variety review use the same word, "tower," to describe Wayne's presence. Ebert notes that "one of the glories of True Grit is that it recognizes Wayne's special presence...He is not playing the same Western role he always plays. Instead, he

can play Rooster because of all the Western roles he has played. " He also mentions a parodic scene that works because of Wayne's star image. Making this movie without Wayne will require screenwriting and directing magic.

Monday, October 26, 2009

'Paranormal Activity' climbs to number one in its fifth week

By Sarah Sluis

Most horror movies open huge and drop precipitously, at least 50%, in their second week. Not Paranormal Activity. In a rare case of the tortoise beating the hare, the minuscule-budget movie rose Paranormal-activity-bedroom1 to number one in its fifth week and usurped the Saw franchise, which consistently had been opening in the $30 million range. As I predicted, Paranormal Activity's per-screen average dropped about 50% from last week, but since the movie more than doubled the its total screens, its gross shot up 12% to $22 million.

Below Paranormal Activity, Saw VI opened at $14.8 million, despite receiving positive reviews for its jibes at health care and insurance. Critic Frank Scheck wrote that "[i]f this is torture porn, it's as if it was designed to be enjoyed by Michael Moore."

Four family titles were in the top ten, making for a crowded market. Summit's Astro Boy opened at number six with $7 million. Most critics had at least something good to say about the movie (it's tracking at 49% on Rotten Tomatoes), so perhaps the property was just too obscure to connect withAstro boy audiences. Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant opened two spots lower, at $6.3 million, but received overwhelmingly negative reviews, with reports that the movie went all over the place. At number nine, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs dropped 30% in its sixth week to take in $5.6 million, making it the strongest family movie of the fall. Up at number three, Where the Wild Things Are dropped 55% in its second week to $14.4 million. While it's certainly not the flop some were predicting, its second-week drop is precipitious

Fox Searchlight's Amelia opened just outside of the top ten with $4.9 million. Because it was released in just 818 theatres, its per-screen average was better than all the films in the top ten. While reviews Amelia movie faulted its by-the-book storytelling, which may move it out of awards consideration, the PG-rated flick with a historical heroine could make it the perfect matinee for a young girl and her parents or older audiences in search of tamer subject matter.

Among specialty releases, An Education had the best per-screen average of the week, earning $13,000 per screen and approaching the $1 million mark in its third week. Antichrist debuted with a $12,200 per screen at six theatres.

This Wednesday, the Michael Jackson concert film This Is It will release, followed by a weekend devoid of major openings because of the Saturday night Halloween holiday.

Friday, October 23, 2009

'Saw VI' and 'Paranormal Activity' battle for scares

By Sarah Sluis

This week's extra-scary throwdown features horror titles Saw VI, opening in 3,036 theatres, and Paranormal Activity, which is expanding to 1,945 theatres. All five Saw movies opened above $30 Saw vi girl million, but competition from Paranormal could cut that figure. If Paranormal's per-screen average drops another 50%, it will come in at $24 million. Saw VI is tracking best among young males (perhaps the horror fans who have already seen Paranormal), while Paranormal Activity has broader appeal that extends to women and older males. If teens are going in big groups to see the movie, will the crowd-pleaser prevail, or will they go for something all of them haven't seen?

Amelia opens in 818 theatres, the kind of small-scale distribution that characterizes many Amelia plane hilary swank Fox Searchlight releases. Critic Ray Bennett praised the "classically structured bio," but other reviewers have been less kind to the traditional approach, which seemed antiseptic to some. "Bathed in golden light, Amelia and G. P. [her husband] are as pretty as a framed picture and as inert," lamented New York Times critic Manohla Dargis.

Animated Astro Boy (3,014 theatres) will compete with last week's box-office winner, Where the Wild Things Are. "Visually dynamic if overly eager-to-please," according to critic Astroy boy liftMichael Rechtshaffen, the family-oriented movie is based on a manga originally published in Japan in 1951, and also draws from its numerous adaptations.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant opens on 2,754 screens, but appears too bloodless to cash in on current vamp chic. Critic Kirk Honeycutt called director Paul Weitz "miscast." It's also a PG-13 movie that skews younger, not older, fracturing its audience. "Miscalculation runs through the entire movie," which is destined for a lackluster open.

Among specialty releases, Antichrist, a film that is "in no danger of jeopardizing [Lars von Trier's] reign as the most controversial major filmmaker working today," according to critic Peter Brunette, will open on six screens. Uma Thurman's Motherhood, small in scope but well-rendered, will open on 46 screens. Coming in below the radar, a 3D re-release of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas will be shown on 105 screens, unlike the recent release of Toy Story/Toy Story 2 3D, which opened on many more screens with greater marketing support.

On Monday, we'll circle back to see if fresh horror or viral buzz won over the box office, if Amelia soared above its reviews, and if Astro Boy could woo families away from Where the Wild Things Are and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Playing films across borders: 'Agora'

By Sarah Sluis

We live in a global village, where worldwide distribution of Hollywood blockbusters is standard practice. But many films don't play well overseas, and some never get picked up to play across Agora borders.

One such example is Agora, a historical epic. It was passed over for domestic distribution at Cannes, where it appears price was one of the main issues--though concerns about length led to filmmakers chopping 21 minutes from the film, which previously ran almost two and a half hours.

While the movie was made in English, it had its box-office debut in Spain last weekend, where director Alejandro Amenbar (Abre los Ojos, The Others, The Sea Inside) is famous. It earned $7.9 million in three days, and $17 million through Tuesday, making it Spain's top opening of the year (It beat Ice Age 3!). U.S. distribution is back on the table, and other foreign buyers, who normally would wait for a U.S. pickup, are interested solely because of its performance in Spain.

As for the film itself? The trailer is sure to point out all the by-the-book elements of a historical epic: angry mobs, period costumes and sets, impassioned speeches made to leaders who will go on to make terrible decisions painfully apparent to the modern audience. The movie's epoch, the fall of the Roman Agora rachel weisz Empire, includes a high-drama invasion of Alexandria. But most intriguing is the movie's heroine, Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), an astronomer, teacher, and mathematician who is killed by newly empowered Christians.

The movie was made for $70 million, a pricy sum when you're betting on foreign sales. And while the trailer didn't wow me, I think Amenbar is a talented director who seems quite capable of handling an historical epic. But until this film gets picked up, American audiences will have to wait to see for themselves.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Outside of the theatres, movies are produced and shown online

By Sarah Sluis

Since their inception, movies have always been shown in theatres. It's only everything else that has changed. Yesterday, CNET News published an ominously-titled piece entitled "End of the world as Hollywood knows it." DVDs and movie rentals, according to media reporter Greg Sandoval, are on the Sony-vaio-vgn-tt190ejxc-james-bond-007-laptop outs, depriving studios of a valuable revenue stream. What's more, downloading or streaming movies from illegal sources is socially acceptable, free and so easy it's hard for people to resist.

Of course, Netflix, iTunes and Hulu are examples of legitimate ways the internet movie business has been monetized, but, especially for ad-supported streaming sites, the revenue isn't yet substantial. While the internet appears poised to decimate the DVD and movie rental business, the new medium also shows potential for lowering the cost of film production. If production costs shrink, it may make decreasing revenue streams a bit less frightening.

Lionsgate announced that it will produce a film with Massify, an online movie-production networking site. The project will be a "high-concept, male-driven comedy short based on a script from our community," with plans to expand the premise to a feature film. Crew will be drawn from the ranks of the Massify community. The intermediary process (from short to feature) helps reduce risk by offering audience feedback before the movie goes into the more expensive production of a full-length movie. Plus, the viral potential of the internet will be at the filmmakers' fingertips. Even if this movie never gets off the ground or registers as more than a blip, its experimentation with production makes it part of the vanguard of internet production. Earlier this year, an animated short was created using collaboration via Facebook. The result was "Live Music," good enough that Sony Pictures picked it up and is now showing it in festivals. It's also worth noting that Intel, which creates a software used by the animators, sponsored the project--corporate tie-ins also appear to be part of the wave of the future.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Modern Love column heading into theatres

By Sarah Sluis

For those that read the New York Times, the "Modern Love" column is often one of their first stops in the Sunday Styles section. The stories can be contemplative, whimsical, bizarre, and cute--sometimes Modern love to a fault. A couple who adopts a dog, a daughter who searches for her birth mother on Facebook, and a woman who refuses to let her husband leave her are all fodder for the column. In fact, the last story sounds a lot like the forthcoming movie Serious Moonlight, in which a woman (Meg Ryan) holds their husband hostage in her house in an attempt to save their marriage.

Columbia Pictures now has a first-look deal with "Modern Love," with the idea that they can use the material for romantic comedies. As much as I like to mock the column, I think the stories, which are all based on the authors' real experiences, are more nuanced than typical romantic comedies. While the film genre tends toward the obvious or unbelievable, the unusual circumstances remain believable since they are, in fact, true. While some of the stories are small in scope, most seem condensed to fit into a column. The addition or a few details and subplots could easily fill up a 100-page screenplay.

Still, the series of columns may lend itself better to the second production deal it has in the works, which is an HBO show about a fictional male editor of the column, who has recently divorced, as well as the stories in the column. It sounds like a (slightly depressed) male version of the Carrie Bradshaw role from "Sex and the City." In television form, the show would be able to take advantage of the column's consistent tone, in my mind an asset.

These deals are but the latest New York Times articles to be acquired with an eye for adaptation. Since signing a contract with the paper, the ICM agency has successfully sold several of the paper's stories--but at least it's another revenue stream for the Old Grey Lady in a tough climate for journalism. Just don't let them make a movie about balloon boy.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Unconventional titles and releases populate box office

By Sarah Sluis

Where the Wild Things Are opened this weekend to the tune of $32.5 million, on the high side of projections. However, the movie is rumored to cost around $100 million. Once you add in the Where the wild things are hug marketing budget, it could be awhile before the film breaks even. After taking the Twitter pulse of the people, it appears that some found the movie to be slow and squirm-inducing, but others were pleased to see something so unconventional at the box office. While I enjoyed the movie, I think the budget was way too big. The production notes mention expensive choices like clearing a beach full of kelp and helicoptering the footprints out of a desert between takes--things a filmmaker with a smaller budget would be forced to work around. By comparison, its competitor, Fox's upcoming adaptation of the children's book Fantastic Mr. Fox, was made on a "medium-sized" budget, and also boasts a rollout distribution. It will release in New York and Los Angeles for two weeks before expanding (oddly, on the same weekend Disney's The Princess and the Frog opens wide). Their respective directors, Spike Jonze and Wes Anderson, can each be characterized as indie-crossover successes, and I suspect that Fox's release strategy will better serve their film.

The other unconventional release of the week was Paranormal Activity, which expanded its release to 760 theatres and racked up $20.1 million at the #3 spot. Its per-screen average was $26,530, down 50% from last week's $49,379. If the per-screen average drops another 50% next week, when it expands to about 1,800 screens, the movie will still gross about $23 million. Not so bad for a movie that cost around $10,000 with a reported marketing budget of $10 million. Next week it will contend with Saw VI, but it's worth noting that it didn't seem to have any problem with the competing horror title The Stepfather, which debuted this weekend to $12.3 million.

Going back up the list to #2, Law Abiding Citizen earned $21.2 million, a big win for its distributor, Law abiding citizen car fire Overture. With a diverse cast and its appeal to adult males, the movie helped fill a neglected niche.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs brought in another $8.1 million to bring its box-office total to $108.2 million. Even with Where the Wild Things Are and Toy Story/Toy Story 2 3D, it dropped just 29%, yet another week with an extremely strong holdover. Toy Story/Toy Story 2 3D, however, a week past its advertised two-week engagement, dropped 61% to bring in $3 million. While a $28.5 million gross for a re-release is quite healthy, Disney spent an unknown but sizable amount remastering the movie in 3D, paying for prints, and marketing. Last week, it pushed back its re-release of Beauty and the Beast in 3D from February 12, 2010 to 2011, perhaps a sign it is rethinking its 3D re-release strategy.

The maid Among specialty releases, The Maid had the highest per-screen, $18,000. New York, I Love You did light business, $3,000 per screen, but by opening at 119 locations it netted a third of a million dollars. A Serious Man, in its third week of release, added 60 locations for a total of 82, with a strong $10,400 per screen. An Education, in its second week, went from 4 to 19 locations, and drummed up $14,000 per screen.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A 'Wild' weekend at the box office awaits

By Sarah Sluis

Where the Wild Things Are, Spike Jonze's children's movie that's much different from what we've come to expect from children's movies, will open today in a huge 3,735 screen release. Besides kids, Max wolf suit the movie has a huge fan base of 20 and 30-somethings who grew up with the Maurice Sendak book. The fact that Jonze's adaptation is regarded as "adult" could help bring in those crowds. Critical reception has been mixed, and it's uncertain whether theatregoers will relay the good or bad parts of the film to their friends. This weekend, projections are putting the film's weekend take at $25 million, and its release in IMAX should help bring it to that number.

Law Abiding Citizen (2,899 theatres) may have a mere 16% approval rating on Rotten Law abiding citizen Tomatoes, but according to critic Kirk Honeycutt, the thriller "create[s] sufficient tension and intrigue to hook viewers along with a photogenic, hard-working cast," making it a likely candidate for a solid, if unimpressive box-office performance.

Starring teen heartthrob Penn Badgely from "Gossip Girl," The Stepfather (2,734 theatres) is wish fulfillment for children of divorced Stepfather killer parents. Because when your stepfather yells "Your Mother said 'Turn that down,' son," it really means he's a psycho serial killer who marries divorced women then kills off their families.

The teen horror movie could have some competition from Paranormal Activity, which is expanding to 760 theatres this week. If it were to replicate its $49,000 per screen from last week, it would bring in $37 million. While it's unlikely to maintain that per-screen level when it expands, I wouldn't be surprised if it creeps much closer to Where the Wild Things Are than expected.

On the specialty front, New York, I Love You releases in 119 theatres. Our critic Erica Abeel found it to be better than Paris, Je T'Aime, noting that "most of these linked 'shorts' succeed remarkably in nailing the serendipitous flavor of love, New York-style." Newbie distributor Apparition will release blaxploitation parody Black Dynamite in 70 theatres. Critic James Greenberg appraised that "even if it's a one-joke movie that runs out of steam, director Scott Sanders manages to keep the gag going for 90 minutes," though he wondered if younger audiences who didn't grow up with blaxploitation would get the joke.

On Monday we'll see if Where the Wild Things Are made audiences roar as loudly as predicted, if Paranormal Activity's screams died down or amped up, and whether Law Abiding Citizen and The Stepfather were able to entice those interested in a run-of-the-mill thriller or horror movie.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Will 'Where the Wild Things Are' enchant or repel audiences?

By Sarah Sluis

Last night, in a theatre dotted with kids wearing cardboard crowns just like the boy lead, Max, I saw Where the Wild Things Are . Like many of my generation, the book by Maurice Sendak was one of my Max is king where the wild things are favorites, in part because it defied easy explanation. Max breaks rules and is mean to his Mom, then goes on this weird, parallel adventure that's never really explained. All in a few hundred words. Max's wolf suit, in particular, captured my imagination. In the movie it's just as compelling, and comes with the addition of Converse sneakers to place the movie in a modern, but still retro, context.

I loved the soundtrack by Karen O (a singer in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs). It would burst in with just the right note of ebullience during the rumpus or dirt clod fight. But it's also eclectic. Not everyone likes the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and those that aren't a big fan of children choruses (apparently one of the most hated things about music, according to an NPR "This American Life" I once listened to) will probably dislike the film's music even more. But director Spike Jonze's choice in the soundtrack reflects his sensibility for everything else about the movie. He's not trying to please everyone. Maybe he doesn't even care that the movie has some slow spots in the middle. He's certainly not trying to make a Disney movie.

In the press notes, Jonze explains that "kids are

given so much material that's not honest, so when they find a story

like this it really gets their attention." It's true that Americans in particular are known for sheltering their children, which leads me to wonder how this movie will play across the world. In an interview with Newsweek, Sendak rails against Disney for defanging the Mickey Mouse of his youth (he apparently used to have teeth) and spoke of how his immigrant parents believed in giving children the full, messy, Max goat where the wild things are evil truth. Will Max's disobedience of his mother read the same across cultures? Or the presence of monsters who want to eat you one minute and are your friends the next?

More immediately, how will the movie do this weekend? Thompson on Hollywood puts tracking at $25 million, a plausible figure. Toy Story / Toy Story 2 has been playing this week, and the studio announced that it extended its engagement through a link on Twitter to this video. Meanwhile, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs will be entering its fifth week, and will probably dip below $10 million. Among family and kid-oriented fare, the field is wide open. Let the wild rumpus start!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

'Frenemy of the State,' from Rashida Jones, picked up by Universal

By Sarah Sluis

Rashida Jones is full of surprises. When I interviewed director John Hamburg earlier this year, he praised Jones' acting in I Love You, Man (she plays Paul Rudd's fiance). I was pleased to see her on Rashida jones the big screen after being charmed by her performance on "The Office" and the budding "Parks & Recreation." Turns out, she's a writer, too, and she's just sold her second project to Universal and Imagine Entertainment.

She co-writes with Will McCormack, who, like Jones, mainly has acting credits to his name. Their latest project is graphic novel Frenemy of the State (which doesn't appear to be published yet). The story centers on a girly-girl heiress type who stalks her ex-boyfriends. After getting in trouble for her stalking, she's offered a chance to put her skills to work as a CIA spy in exchange for having the charge dropped. On one hand, the story is recycling old tropes, like that of a girly-girl or someone obsessed with relationships. Plus, who hasn't seen a million spy movies? But: consider Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which a girly-girl suddenly wields a ton of power. The story, in particular the television series, was heralded as an example of a strong, powerful woman. My guess is, this story will follow the same path.

As for her first project, Celeste and Jesse Forever? Fox Atomic originally picked up the screenplay, but when the label shuttered Overture jumped in and grabbed it. While no start date for the movie (which Jones will also star in) has been set, I'm hoping that Overture's pouncing indicates they're as eager for this film to be made as I am. The comedy centers on a divorcing couple who try to maintain their friendship even as they begin dating other people. Breaking-up stories are just so much more interesting--and funny--than falling-in-love stories.

In fact, Celeste and Jesse Forever's emphasis on a falling-apart, stressed relationship sounds similar to a Drew Barrymore/Justin Long movie that just wrapped, Going the Distance. Set to release next October, the movie follows a couple struggling through a long-distance relationship, and eventually deciding it won't work out for them. Nanette Burstein, who did the lovely documentary American Teen (even capturing an incidence of sexting gone wrong, before it jumped the shark on daytime television), is making her feature debut on the movie, which is also on my must-see list.

And while I'm on my interesting-projects-involving-women path, a rather mysterious project was picked up yesterday by Paramount for $2 million. It came from a screenwriter known for female fare (27 Dresses, Morning Glory, The Devil Wears Prada) and one known for male-oriented action flicks (Sherlock Holmes, X-Men: The Last Stand, Mr. and Mrs. Smith), so I will be on the lookout for a logline to decipher this combination. I'm hoping Mr. and Mrs. Smith will offer a hint, though, of the pitch's direction--I found that movie to be a clever homage to classic screwball within the context of an action movie.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The journey of a scare: 'Paranormal Activity'

By Sarah Sluis

There are a couple of interviews of Oren Peli, who went from being a software programmer to the director of Paranormal Activity, circulating the blogosphere. The movie has taken a non-traditional Paranormal activity path to the theatres, from production, to distribution, to exhibition, and Peli helps fill in the blanks.

According to his interview with Cinematical, DreamWorks bought the project after Slamdance 2008 with the intent of having him remake it on a bigger budget--because you can't release a film that was made in seven days for $14,000--or could you?

The studio scheduled screenings for potential screenwriters, but the overwhelmingly positive reception led them to decide to release the movie nearly as is. Pacing and editing were changed to make it more fast-paced--though some reviews have still faulted the film for being too slow. The ending, which apparently "makes" the film, was also changed based on the input of none other than Steven Spielberg (DreamWorks and Paramount had ownership of the project before their split).

Peli sounds like a very organized, analytical person. He planned the production for a year, sprucing up his house to prepare for the shoot, and looked at hundreds of people before finding his two actors Paranormal-activity-bedroom1 (how many low-budget films would look at that many people for their casting calls?). He spent ten months editing, and thanks to his technical background, he did the visual effects and audio mixing himself. His hours of work was probably worth several times more than the film's budget.

Oren Peli already has his next project lined up, Area 51, which will use the same home-video camera techniques to document a group of teenagers who decide to poke around the famed UFO grounds.

Now that the studio knows it has a hit on its hands, Paramount has announced plans to expand the release to 2,000 theatres two Fridays from now, putting it head to head with Saw VI. While there are certainly many horror fans who will have already seen Paranormal Activity (at least $8 million worth), its positive word-of-mouth could encourage more casual viewers to put the movie on their must-see list. Last weekend, the movie ended up being more successful than early tracking figures indicated. It actually earned $7.9 million, not $7 million, bringing its per-screen total to almost $50,000 per screen, a truly astonishing number (there must be some big theatres showing this movie--and a lot of sellouts)

So why has the movie been such a big success? The "found footage" style has been used in films from The Blair Witch Project to Cloverfield, but there is something to be said for the fact that the camera is often fixed in the same spot in front of thehaunted couple's bed, giving the movie a more "security camera"-type look. Also, not many horror movies have the benefit of having Steven Spielberg come in and fix your ending, nor the dedicated marketing team at Paramount, which appears to have risen to the challenge of marketing a non-traditional film. I, for one, wouldn't have expected college towns to be the jumping-off point for a horror film, though the midnight-only screenings fit perfectly into a college student's late-night schedule. Now that Paramount has thrown down the gauntlet by pitting their film against Saw VI--a move that, at the very least, will generate publicity--we'll be waiting to see who will emerge the winner in the battle of Saw VI vs. Paranormal Activity.

Monday, October 12, 2009

'Couples Retreat' finds love at the box office

By Sarah Sluis

Couples Retreat opened well above expectations, earning $35.3 million. Attendance was strong Couples retreat mai tai among women and a thirty-plus crowd more likely to be married and appreciate the relationship humor. I think ensemble romantic comedies will (and should) become more popular, since they help avoid the repetitiveness of the genre and showcase supporting characters. Without being saddled with going through all the hoops of the genre, characters with more fleeting storylines often create the most memorable, and humorous, parts of the movie.

The other big success in the top ten is Paranormal Activity, with went from twentieth to fifth this week and racked up an astonishing Paranormal activity $44,163 per theatre at 160 locations--enough to earn $7 million despite its minuscule amount of locations. When our executive editor Kevin Lally reviewed the film, he noted that

"its achingly slow buildup is a test not just of an audience's patience

but the power of hype surrounding the latest alternative scary movie." Well, it appears the movie has harnessed the power of hype. Since most horror movies

are more about imagination and mystery than actual scares, what initial

audiences view as banal becomes tauntingly suspenseful for those coming

because of word-of-mouth. The tagline, "the first-ever major release decided by you,"

encapsulates the movie's success: a participatory horror experience

with most of the scares determined by you. Made for just $16,000, the horror movie gained traction thanks to a successful marketing campaign, which limited screenings to college towns at midnight, while those in other communities could "demand" the movie online.

Critical darling An Education brought in $40,500 per screen at its four locations, an auspicious start An_education car for the platform release. Chris Rock's Good Hair earned $1.1 million at its 186 locations. Its $6,000 per screen was better than most of the wide releases, but low considering the amount of publicity generated by Chris Rock's television appearances.

The Toy Story/Toy Story 2 release earned another $7.6 million it its second week, and many suspect Disney will extend its run for another week. The re-release has racked up $22.6 million in two weeks, and because of the Columbus Day school holiday, it will likely have another weekend-level gross today.

Among returning films, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs held on the strongest, falling just 25% to bring in another $12 million. With a total gross of $96 million, it should cross the $100 million mark this week. In its second week, Zombieland brought in another $15 million with a 40% drop, which is on the small side for a horror film. Whip It failed to catch on in its second weekend, a tragedy in my opinion, though it dropped 40% to Invention of Lying's 52%.

This Friday, children's book adaptation Where the Wild Things Are will open along with Law Abiding Citizen, a thriller about a serial killer.

Friday, October 9, 2009

'Couples Retreat' has no company at the box office

By Sarah Sluis

Couples Retreat (3,000 theatres) has the benefit of being the only wide release of the weekend. Date-night audiences are expected to bring the weekend total to $20 million. Because it's applying the Couples retreat walking in ensemble premise that worked so well for He's Just Not That Into You, I think the movie could go over that number, especially since those that are "kinda" interested in seeing the movie will have no other material to choose from. On the other hand, Universal just replaced its chairmen, so maybe it's another film on their slate that hasn't been tracking so well. Critic Kirk Honeycutt lamented that "the script...gets pulled in opposite directions" by trying to cover the gamut from potty to sexual humor. He also noted that "the best sections of the film deal with [Vince] Vaughn and [Malin] Akerman, since they represent a critique of the relationship industry that is determined to justify its existence in finding problems even if none exists. The most problematic in comedic terms involves [Jon] Favreau and [Kristin] Davis. No week at a couples retreat is going to solve their myriad problems." The latter observation, according to speculation by Movieline, must have been echoed by focus groups. Favreau and Davis' acts of adultery depicted in the trailer are absent from the film--and Favreau was pulled away from Iron Man 2 for reshoots.

Among returning films, Zombieland is considered a top choice for #2. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has been beating Toy Story/Toy Story 2 during the weekdays, but perhaps audiences with more time will seek out the double feature for a matinee this weekend. Whip It had a disappointing opening weekend despite positive word-of-mouth. I saw a TV spot last night that de-emphasized the roller derby aspect (apparently a tough sell), so perhaps Fox Searchlight will be able to re-position the movie to take only a small drop this weekend.

On the specialty front, the much-lauded An Education releases. Our critic Rex Roberts found the filmCarey mulligan an education "comes close to perfection: inspired casting and performances, exquisite design and photography, witty and well-crafted script, empathic yet nuanced direction." Carey Mulligan has turned more critics' heads than I can count, and Roberts dubbed her "the most interesting ingnue to grace the screen since Audrey Tautou delighted audiences in Amlie." The film will release in 4 theatres in New York and Los Angeles.

Also opening this weekend is The Damned United (6 theatres), a soccer drama that, according to critic Daniel Eagan, "almost brings to life a feud 35 years ago between two notable British sports figures," but is "ultimately too insular to attract many stateside viewers."

After making appearances on all the morning and female-skewing talk shows, including "Oprah" and "The View," Chris Rock releases the documentary Good Hair (185 theatres)--but did he give away all Chris rock good hair of the best parts already on the television shows? Frank Scheck found it "entertaining and substantive enough to be interesting even for those completely unfamiliar with weaves and relaxers." While Rock is best known as a comedian, his documentary achieves a "pointed sociological examination of its heretofore cinematically unexplored subject"

On Monday, we'll see how successful Couples Retreat was at the box office, which returning films held on, and mull over the opening weekend of An Education.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Leading men find their new weapon-toting roles

By Sarah Sluis

This week a whole slew of top male stars revealed their latest action/thriller roles. Besides their lethal weapons and testosterone-fueled characters, the hero-with-a-past and the one-last-job tropes appear to be particularly popular. Here's the round-up.

Mark wahlberg weapon Mark Wahlberg has signed on to play a former alcohol smuggler. Hard times, along with a persuasive, devious friend, lead him back into the business. The movie will be a remake of Reykjavik-Rotterdan, a critically praised Icelandic film. Since the producers are changing the location of the action to a more American-friendly place, the title will likely change as well.

George Clooney just started filming The American, in which he will also play an assassin who has decided to hang up his silencer for good--after one last job. He starts WK_0_wk8Syrian_SYRIAN_1208 acting as if he's already checked out as he waits for a final kill in a small town in Italy, befriending a local priest (does the assassin feel guilty for committing one of the deadly sins?) and romancing a local lady. These conspicuous acts of socialization, however, threaten his safety.

Ryan Reynolds may play a former Secret Service agent who left under disgrace in Motorcade. He gets his chance at redemption when he happens to be around when the U.S. President is kidnapped. Tom Cruise was reportedly eying the role before he decided to do Wichita. Jon Casser ("24") is now set to direct after Len Wiseman (Underworld series) left the project.

Adrien brody leading man Adrien Brody will play the leader of a group of elite warriors in Predators,

a role he apparently lobbied hard for (If you doubt his leading-man credentials, remember how he comforted Naomi Watts in King Kong). Robert Rodriguez is directing. There's no sign of a tortured past, but how could they not write one in? Just look at Brody's mournful face!

Of all these movies, The American and Reykjavik-Rotterdam are the ones I'm most excited about. The American is produced by specialty studio Focus, indicating it isn't going for genre dreck, and George Clooney has a track record of choosing roles in the "action/war/thriller" genres that go way beyond--Three Kings, Ocean's 11, the upcoming Men Who Stare At Goats, Syriana, Out of Sight.

Reykjavik-Rotterdam obviously has something special going on in style or tone that has drawn local audiences. Unfortunately there's no U.S. distributor--yet--so we have to take their word for it. While many local projects fail in the remake, subtitled thrillers like Tell No One have a je ne sais quoi that seems to draw audiences.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Female stars with the top returns, and a look at the 85% rule

By Sarah Sluis

Today Forbes compiled a list of female stars that give the most return on their salary. They divided the total gross of the film, including DVD and television, by the star's salary to get their number. The Naomi1_300x200 formula has its flaws, namely that a supporting part in a big-name movie can put you near the top of the list. They also only looked at the star's past three films, though arguably, that kind of short-term outlook is what flies in Hollywood.

The top ten actresses were Naomi Watts, Jennifer Connelly, Rachel McAdams, Natalie Portman, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway and Hilary Swank. At the top of the list, each dollar Watts earned brought in $44 at the box office. For the bottom three, each dollar brought in $23 at the box office. In contrast to normal 'A' Lists, the group highlights some lesser-known stars by presenting the information through a different lens.

The unusual grouping also brings to mind the movie mindset that focuses on opening weekends instead of theatrical runs. A month ago, I noted that quiet film Julie & Julia was playing strongly week after week, which was expected given its audience demographics. While the industry standard works off a simple formula of exponential decay, meaning that they expect to earn half as much each week (adding up to 85% in the first three weeks), many movies defy that formula For example, since my post, the percentage of gross Julie & Julia earned from its first three weeks dipped from 73% to 64%--and it's racked up $91.9 million. It just kept on making close to the same amount of money, week after week. The news is good for theatre owners, too, since they earn a greater percentage on the film as weeks go by.

I took a look at some other films to see where they fell using the 85% rule (keep in mind some 2009 films are still playing, so the percentage may eventually lower a point or two). Turns out, the films I decided to check out first--films I simply remembered strongly--usually outperformed, earning 85% or less of their gross from the first three weeks. They have sticking power. It took random selections from Box Office Mojo to find a movie that actually went over the 85% rule: take the March release Street Fighter: Legend of Chun-Li (by now, a faint memory). It earned 91% of its gross from the first three weeks.

Most hits fell below or met the 85% rule. Sex and the City earned 78% of its gross in the first three weeks.Twilight, even though it dropped over 60% in its second week, went ten percent below the rule: 74%. Star Trek, with its strong word-of-mouth, brought in 71%. A youth-oriented hit like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen also released on a Wednesday, boosting its front-end gross: 84.3%. A summer flop like Year One? Just barely over, at 88%.

When you look at platform releases, it's a whole different story. Slumdog Millionaire earned just 2.4% of its gross in the first three weeks, and the reigning champion in my mind is My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which earned 1% of its gross in the first week. It didn't even fulfill the rule of platform releases, which is a $15,000 or more gross per theatre. It earned just $5,000--a number it stuck to for most of its run.

While the 85% number is useful, especially for those frantically calculating potential gross after opening weekend, it's interesting to see the range of results--especially when tweaks of a few percent adds up to millions.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

'Precious' this year's 'Slumdog,' minus the 'Millionaire'

By Sarah Sluis

After seeing Precious some weeks ago, I had pushed it to the back of my mind, but today I saw this letter posted on Tyler Perry's website (via Movieline), and the movie was just as fresh as it was a month Precious walking down street ago. In the letter, Perry details his rough childhood and the abuses he suffered, all of which made him want to support Precious. Oprah Winfrey, who has also signed on as an executive producer, has revealed before on her show that she was sexually abused as a child. For Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, this movie recalls real experiences. Even the movie's website URL,, emphasizes identification with Precious. But is having a terrible childhood a prerequisite for seeing this movie and having an emotionally wrought experience? I say no.

Precious, which stars Gabourey Sidibe, follows a young, poor, black teenager living in Harlem in the 1980s. She has been sexually abused by her father. She is pregnant with his second child. Her first child has Down syndrome and lives with her grandma. Her mother emotionally and physically abuses her. She can't read. She's obese. What does she even have to live for? Under Lee Daniels' direction, the experience is pathos overdrive, which I think explains the movie's success to date.

Viewers have overwhelmingly approved of the film, giving it audience awards at Toronto and Sundance, much as Slumdog Millionaire won the Toronto award as well as four other audience festival awards. Both movies leave you with such an wealth of emotion that you want to do something--like choose it for the audience award. They also have some distance from their subject that makes it easier to bear. In Slumdog, it's geographical, in Precious, it's because the movie is set in the past.

I took particular note of how the film's style encourages identification with Precious. We see her dream sequences, one of which is segued into as her eyes are fixated on the ceiling as her father rapes her. In another scene, as Precious cooks for her mother and is forced to eat even though she isn't hungry, the food she cooks is surreally disgusting and unappetizing. I liked that Precious' point-of-view was conveyed with fantasy sequences and with subtle alterations of her real life.

The oddest, and riskiest part of the movie is a monologue near the end where the movie's villain Monique precious makes a plea for us to understand her. It's like hearing a defense from a skilled serial killer--she's convincing and you get to understand where she's coming from, but at the same time you're fighting not to believe her. For me this was the biggest payoff of the film. It can seem "easy" to side with Precious the whole way through, but being challenged to understand the victim's enemy and refusing to side with her is like fighting for Precious yourself.

Lionsgate will platform the release of Precious, opening it in some cities November 6th and expanding over the next two weekends. When reception of the film goes beyond its critics and film festivals, I'm curious to see if reactions will start to expand and diversify. Wisely, the studio has already brought in Perry and Winfrey, two public figures whose personal experiences remind them of Precious, to lead the discussion. Will American audiences find the movie to be as Precious as the early viewers did?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Audiences die for 'Zombieland'

By Sarah Sluis

Combining the classic opening weekend winner, the horror genre, with an 89% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Zombieland went straight to number one at the box office, bringing in $25 million. Zombieland banjo The number exceeds the reported production budget, making this movie an out-of-the-gate winner for Sony.

The studio also had the second place film of the week, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The 3D animated movie earned $16.7 million with just a 33% drop from last week, even as it shed 142 locations.

Right behind it was its 3D animated rival, the Toy Story/Toy Story 2 3D double feature. The re-release brought in $12.5 million. Because it opened in a smaller number of theatres, its per-location average bested that of Cloudy, $7,100 to $5,600.

The Invention of Lying opened at $7.3 million, despite its dismal reviews. By contrast, the Whip it pageantwell-reviewed Whip It opened three spots lower, with a gross of $4.8 million. However, the movie sneaked in 500 locations the week before, so the studio likely has an extra million or so in its cumulative gross. If Fox Searchlight's predictions come true, the movie could play well in coming weeks due to positive word-of-mouth.

Increasing 1,990% from last week, Capitalism: A Love Story also opened at $4.8 million. Its first wide opening weekend matches that of Sicko, so it's likely to end up in the $20-25 million range.

Among specialty releases, The Coen Brothers' A Serious Man racked up a quarter million at its six locations for a per-theatre average of $41,00. While the Coens' movies Serious man gopnik trouble have a large number of fans that likely turned out opening weekend, and many expect this to be one of their smaller films, the large average indicates that this film is in for a healthy, robust run at the box office.

In its second weekend of release in college towns, Paranormal Activity went from 12 to 33 locations, and brought in $16,200 at each. The unusual release strategy appears to be paying off--the movie brought in $535,000 this week, for a cumulative gross of $780,000.

LeBron James documentary More Than a Game debuted with $197,000 gathered from its 14 locations, with a per-location average of $14,071. Well-reviewed, the payoff for this movie may be in its tie-ins, since Nike has been heavily cross-promoting the doc.

In its second week, Coco Before Chanel added 11 locations and $220,000 to its gross, with a healthy $13,750 per screen.

This week, Universal comedy Couples Retreat should head up the box office, and the much-buzzed potential awards movie An Education begins its platform release.

Friday, October 2, 2009

'Zombieland' to take over theatres

By Sarah Sluis

Zombieland (3,036 theatres) is the top pick for #1 this weekend, since its blanket release puts it in nearly twice as many theatres as the other wide releases. The horror comedy "has its tongue planted

Zombieland firmly in its rancid cheek while still delivering the visceral

goodies," and its twist on the horror genre should attract die-hard and sometimes horror fans alike.

The other three wide releases of the week are each opening in around 1,700 theatres, smaller-scale releases that match each of the movie's strategies.

Roller derby tale Whip It, which is already benefiting from positive word-of-mouth, will open in 1,720 theatres after sneaking in half that number last week. Women seem to love the movie, and opening smaller will put emphasis on its subsequent weekends rather than its opening weekend. Those that love the film (myself included) are struck by how it breathes life into the familiar coming-of-age genre. Critic Peter Brunette called it "familiar yet simultaneously different...loaded with clichs...but somehow writer Shauna Whip it group_ Cross...manages to continually inflect the story with fresh twists."

Prepping for the release of Toy Story 3 in June, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 will be released as a 3D double feature in 1,745 theatres. The run is planned for two weeks, but will be extended based on performance. Industry insiders are pegging the film's opening in the $10 million range, but a re-release like this is so rare I wouldn't be surprised if normal tracking measures fail. The movie's biggest competitor is 3D animated Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which is going into its third week. The re-release will undoubtedly bump Cloudy from some of its 3D venues, which could affect both of the films' standing.

Ricky Gervais-Jennifer Garner comedy The Invention of Lying is also opening small (1,707 theatres), but perhaps that's indicative of its quality: low. Critic Rex Roberts called it a "self-indulgent, ultimately unsatisfying skit-that-won't-quit." Ouch.

On the specialty circuit, Capitalism: A Love Story expands to 962 theatres, its first wide expansion. LeBron James documentary More Than a Game, a "superb, slam-dunk documentary " that follows a More than a game quartet of talented basketball players, including James, through high school and beyond will also open in New York, Los Angeles, and Cleveland.

The Coen Brothers' A Serious Man, sure to appeal fans of the writer/director/producers, opens in New York, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis this weekend. Our critic Ethan Alter praised the "subtle, humorous way the film tackles such complex subjects as morality, faith and family," calling this personal, "darkly comic" film one of the Coens' best.

On Monday, we'll circle back to see how many viewers Zombieland infected, if audience members took the bait for The Invention of Lying, and how well word-of-mouth was built up for Whip It.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Roderick Jaynes is 'A Serious Man'

By Sarah Sluis

A Serious Man is the latest from the Coen Brothers. It's a maddening look at Jewish life in the Midwest in 1967, and our critic Ethan Alter called it "one of their very best...films to date." It opens tomorrow in

A serious man

New York, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis (where the film was shot).

I went to a screening myself last night, and was amused to find the following bio in the press pack for the Coen Brothers' editing pseudonym:


Roderick Jaynes began his career minding the tea cart at Shepperton Studios in the 1930s. The U.K. native eventually moved into the editing department, where he worked on some of the British film industry's more marginal features from the 1950s and '60s.

With the demise of the Carry On series, he retired from film editing, only to emerge from retirement to work on Joel and Ethan Coen's first feature Blood Simple. He has since worked on most of their films.

Mr. Jaynes resides in Hove, Sussex, with his chow Otto. He remains widely admired in the film industry for his impeccable grooming and is the world's foremost collector of Margaret Thatcher nudes, many of them drawn from life.

As a footnote, Roderick Jaynes also holds the distinction of receiving an Oscar nomination for editing in 1997 with Fargo and in 2008 for No Country for Old Men.

As for A Serious Man itself, it's another classic Coen Brothers movie, with its characters panting to keep up with the break-neck pacing, their misfortunes piling up higher than they can deal with them. In this case, it's middle-class Jewish professor Larry Gopnik, whose wife has just left him for another

A serious man gopnik

man. He also has self-absorbed kids, is burdened with a criminal, mildly insane brother, and faces mounting professional problems. The movie is pesteringly elusive (the Coens certainly love to torture their audience--or at least viewers like me), and in the end we're left asking the same questions as Larry. Why did this happen? Did he do something wrong? Was there some kind of curse?

One of my favorite parts of the Coens' movies are the supporting characters. They're always given specific character traits and pieces of business that add a bit of the absurd to the goings-on: in A Serious Man, for example, the uncle is always draining his sebaceous cyst, hogging the bathroom or using his portable suction unit in the living room, a detail which I'm sure will inspire many more people to see the movie--so watch the trailer instead, which is the best one I've seen in awhile (read about the making of the trailer here).