Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fandango Polls Moviegoers for Most Anticipated Movie of 2015, Surprisingly Finds That It Is Not 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2'

I know. I was shocked, too.

As we close the door on 2014, movie ticketing service Fandango polled more than 1,000 moviegoers to determine the "most anticipated"s of the coming year, both among movies and actors appearing in 2015 films. To the surprise of probably absolutely no one, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, out on December 15th, was selected as the most-anticipated movie, while Despicable Me spinoff Minions was the top family pick.

Among actors and actresses drawing us to theaters over the next 12 months, Robert Downey Jr. and Jennifer Lawrence were picked as "fan favorites" for their roles in franchise behemoths Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, though Lawrence has some smaller films in the works as well (Joy, which will see her reunite with Silver Linings Playbook director David O. Russell, and Susanne Bier's Serena).

The Force was with the pick for 2015's highest-anticipated actress: British actress Daisy Ridley, set to make her big debut as the female lead in The Force Awakens. She's been in some TV and shorts before, and one feature film--a horror flick called Scrawl that is currently in post-production and is thinking up ways to capitalize on Star Wars fever at this very moment if it knows what's good for it. Piquing moviegoers' interest even more is the fact that Ridley's character is rumored to be the daughter of Luke and Leia. But we don't know anything about her for certain other than her name (Rey) and the fact that she knows how to ride a landspeeder and rock a Tusken Raider-esque color palette.

Jamie Dornan, star of the sure-to-be-steamy Fifty Shades of Grey, topped the list of the Biggest Male Breakout Stars, with Star Wars' John Boyega (previously of the excellent Attack the Block) coming in at #2. For your perusal, here's the whole list:

Most Anticipated 2015 Movie:
1. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
2. “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
3. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”
4. “Fifty Shades of Grey”
5. “Jurassic World”

Fan Favorite Actress in 2015 Movies:
1. Jennifer Lawrence (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2,” “Joy” )
2. Scarlett Johansson (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”)
3. Angelina Jolie (“By the Sea”)
4. Melissa McCarthy (“Spy”)
5. Halle Berry (“Kidnap”)

Fan Favorite Actor in 2015 Movies:
1. Robert Downey, Jr. (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”)
2. Chris Hemsworth (“Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Blackhat,” and “In the Heart of the Sea”)
3. Daniel Craig (“Spectre”)
4. Chris Pratt (“Jurassic World”)
5. Tom Cruise (“Mission Impossible 5”)

Biggest Male Breakout Movie Star, 2015:
1. Jamie Dornan (“Fifty Shades of Grey”)
2. John Boyega (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”)
3. Levi Miller (“Pan”)
4. Neel Sethi (“The Jungle Book”)
5. Tony Jaa (“Furious 7”)

Biggest Female Breakout Movie Star, 2015:
1. Daisy Ridley (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”)
2. Lily James (“Cinderella,” “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”)
3. Dakota Johnson (“Fifty Shades of Grey,” “A Bigger Splash”)
4. Kate Mara (“The Fantastic Four,” “The Martian”)
5. Sofia Boutella (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”)

Most Anticipated Family Film of 2015:
2. “Cinderella”
3. “Pixar’s Inside Out”
4. “Peanuts”
5. “Pan”

Monday, December 29, 2014

'The Hobbit' beat all newcomers on Christmas weekend; 'The Interview' raked it in on VOD

A lot of movies came out on Christmas weekend, but none of them could go up against the almighty power of The Hobbit, the third installment of which held onto its number one spot for the second week. Still, the new releases didn't exactly do shabbily: With the top 12 movies earning $189.4 million, the last weekend of the year was also the highest-grossing.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' weekend haul of $41.4 million brings its total domestic gross to $168.5 million; internationally it's earned $405 million, for a worldwide gross that's well over half a billion already. Second place went to Angelina Jolie's Unbroken, which earned $15.6 million on Christmas Day (Thursday) and $31.7 million over the three-day weekend. Next up is Disney musical Into the Woods ($31 million, $46.1 million including Christmas), which now has the third-highest opening weekend for a musical (behind Enchanted and... High School Musical 3: Senior Year? Did not see that coming.)

The Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (weekend gross: $20.6 million; total gross: $55.3 million) and Annie (weekend gross $16.6 million; total gross $45.8 million) rounded out the top five; both movies added theaters and saw their box office hauls increase by 20.5 and 4.7 percent, respectively. New release The Gambler, despite playing on roughly as many screens as Into the Woods, limped to the number seven spot with a weak $9.3 million ($14.3 million, including Christmas) against a reported $25 million production budget. An R-rated crime drama was never going to do as well as a family-friendly musical, of course, but The Gambler doesn't even have the admiration of adults going for it; its Rotten Tomatoes rating is 48%, and moviegoers slapped it with a C+ CinemaScore.

The only remaining wide release was Tim Burton's Big Eyes, which pulled in a lackluster $2.9 million in 1,307 theatres. The Interview, meanwhile, earned $1.8 million on only 331 screens, and its day-and-date VOD release reportedly made Sony over $15 million from the bored/curious masses willing to shell out a $6 rental fee to see what all the fuss is about. Those are huge VOD numbers, though one wonders how much the film would have made theatrically were it not for the Sony hack.

Clint Eastwood's American Sniper made $610,000 ($850,000 including Christmas Day) in four theatres for a massive per-theatre average of $152,50, the 11th-highest of all time. Selma's $31,053 average ($590,000 on 19 screens, $912,000 including Christmas Day) doesn't come close, but it's still good--given the film's positive word of mouth, you can expect an impressive haul when it expands to wide release on January 9th. The Imitation Game expanded from 34 to 747 theatres and took in $7.9 million as a result, bringing its total gross to $14.6 million.

As for as Christmas' foreign offerings, Belgium's Two Days, One Night and Russia's Leviathan made $30,600 and $15,200, respectively, each on two screens.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Film Journal names ten best films of 2014

It may have been an off year at the box office, but I had no trouble filling my personal list of the ten best films of 2014. There were many more enthralling and engaging movies beyond the ten that made the cut, and even some very satisfying studio tentpoles (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, How to Train Your Dragon 2) that just missed my runners-up list. Here’s my group of favorites, which I’ve dared to rank in order despite the apples-versus-oranges question:

1. Boyhood. Richard Linklater’s 12-year project is more than a movie, it’s an
experience. His risky gambit to follow a boy’s progress from age six to eighteen paid off miraculously in a storyline that triggers reflections on change, mortality and the passage of time. The transitions from year to year are often breathtaking, and the work of compelling lead Ellar Coltrane is matched by the rich and brave performances of Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as his estranged parents.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson surpasses himself with this antic, wildly entertaining farce with grave undertones centered on a vain concierge whose seductions of rich old dowagers lead to big trouble. Ralph Fiennes is a complete delight as that roué, and the film is stuffed to the edges of the frame with zany production details, combined with a multi-layered structure spanning 50 years.

3. Ida. Every frame of Pawel Pawlikowski’s gorgeous black-and-white, square-
Academy-ratio drama could be on display in a museum. But this drama set in 1960s Poland is more than beautiful images; it’s also the haunting story of an innocent young novitiate about to take her vows who learns about her very complicated past through an encounter with her earthy and sardonic aunt.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy. The most unexpected surprise of summer 2014, this sci-fi action comedy took an obscure group of Marvel comic-book characters and turned them into instant blockbuster movie stars. Who knew a talking raccoon and a monosyllabic tree creature could be so entertaining (not to mention heroic)? Chris Pratt’s charismatic breakthrough performance as their irreverent leader set the tone for this witty, fast-moving, imaginative, thrilling and joyous cinematic ride.

5. Stranger by the Lake. Forget Rope. If Alfred Hitchcock made a chiller with real homoerotic content, it might look something like this French import about a gay cruising spot where murder is only a temporary interruption to the pursuit of hookups. Director Alain Guiraudie never leaves that lakeside haven, and the dispassionate cinematography and evocative sound design conspire to create an enclosed world where lust trumps good judgment.

6. Leviathan. Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev proves himself a modern master with this nervy tale of an auto mechanic fighting a losing battle to hang onto his seaside home, which his village’s corrupt mayor has designs on. Zvyagintsev’s evocative use of landscapes recalls the great Michelangelo Antonioni, and he brings an astringent, sometimes darkly funny sensibility to this Kafkaesque account of a modern-day Job.

7. The Theory of Everything. Eddie Redmayne is sensational as Stephen Hawking, the
genius physicist who was stricken with motor-neuron disease while studying at Cambridge and still thrives today despite being told he only had two years to live. Felicity Jones is equally compelling as his remarkable wife Jane in this gorgeously produced romantic drama that reveals the Hawking we never knew.

8. Whiplash. Yes, J.K. Simmons’ horribly abusive teacher would be ejected from any civilized music school within a week, but if you can set aside the politically correct realities, Damien Chazelle’s film is a highly entertaining contest of wills between that vicious autocrat and Miles Teller as a student who is determined to become one of the world’s best drummers. This crackingly edited movie is as pulse-quickening as the music that drives it.

9. The Lego Movie. Who could have predicted that a computer-animated movie based on inanimate construction toys could be so much fun? Writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who also made box-office gold from a less-than-classic TV show called “21 Jump Street,” fashioned a wild, anything-goes world populated by a United Nations of incongruous allies, with Chris Pratt (again!) in the center of the action as an innocuous Everyman turned hero. The CG replication of all those Lego blocks, not incidentally, is brilliant.

10. The Babadook. Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent makes a stunning feature debut with this very creepy story of a widowed mother, her tantrum-prone little boy, and the ominous storybook creature who enters their home and their psyches. Essie Davis gives one of the year’s outstanding performances as a parent with conflicted attitudes toward her very demanding son. Imagine Catherine Deneuve in Polanski’s Repulsion stuck with a kid, and you’ve got a rough approximation of this potent psychological chiller.

And here’s a list of runners-up, all worth tracking down: Wild, Snowpiercer, A Most Violent Year, The Boxtrolls, Venus in Fur, American Sniper, Birdman, Foxcatcher, Edge of Tomorrow, Get On Up. We Are the Best!, Selma, Pride, Locke, and Keep On Keepin’ On.

The Five Best Christmas Movies to Watch on Netflix Instant

Christmas can get pretty boring after the presents are opened and the breakfast is done. In order to fill the hours, we recommend firing up Netflix Instant and extending the Christmas cheer with one of these five movies. If your family's full of misanthropes, there's always Bad Santa instead.

The Muppet Christmas Carol
You can talk about The Italian Job, Sleuth or Alfie all you want, but I'm not entirely convinced Michael Caine's ever surpassed his turn as Ebeneezer Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol. Gonzo and Rizzo give him a run for his money, though.

The Nightmare Before Christmas
Was this part of your Halloween celebrations a few months back? Doesn't matter. Watch it again! Watch it on President's Day! Columbus Day! Arbor Day! There's never a bad time for Claymation. It is a general rule of existence.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

You have to see this once in your life, and surrounded by Christmas alcohol and family members for emotional support is as good a time as any. Plus, you'll be watching the first screen appearance of Mrs. Claus. It's a Christmas miracle!

Love Actually

I wasn't going to include Love Actually on this list, because I am a Scrooge who thinks there must be some sort of mind control ray or Stockholm Syndrome in play to have made so many people think this soppy rom-com deserves to be called a "Christmas classic." Every time I see it referred to as such, I die a little bit inside. That said, Love Actually is being pulled from Netflix Instant on New Year's Day, making this the last holiday season you can see it without having to shell out the extra dough it is not worth. So you might as well.

Elf Bowling: The Movie

Someone needs to watch this and report back to me on the experience. I can't do it myself. Watching the trailer alone gave me a headache.

Monday, December 22, 2014

'The Battle of the Five Armies' Movie Has a Big (Not Hobbit-Sized) Week at the Box Office

As expected, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies defeated all other newcomers at the box office over the weekend, though it wasn't exactly "new" itself: The final movie in Peter Jackson's Middle Earth franchise (well, at least until he gets the rights to The Silmarillion and turns it into three movies) opened on Wednesday. Its three-day total is $56.2 million--less than the opening weekend hauls of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ($84.6 million) and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ($73.6 millon), though they both opened on a Friday. Add in Battle's other two days, and it's earned $90.6 million domestically so far and $265 million internationally.

Fellow new wide release Annie did tolerably well with a $16.3 million opening weekend gross, roughly on par with Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb's $17.3 million, though Secret of the Tomb cost approximately twice as much as Annie to make. Exodus: Gods and Kings ($8 million) and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 ($7.7 million) rounded out the top five, the former plummeting in its second week by nearly 67%. Looks like those bad reviews (still sitting pretty at 28% on Rotten Tomatoes) finally caught up with it.

Among limited releases, there was a surprising entry in the top 10: Bollywood film P.K., about an alien who crashes to Earth and subsequently teaches humanity a thing or two about organized religion. It earned $3.4 million on 272 screens, landing it at the #10 spot right behind Penguins of Madagascar.

Mr. Turner and Song of the Sea made substantially less money than P.K., but their per-theatre averages were better--they made $109,000 on five screens and $18,000 on one screen, respectively. Foxcatcher, still with awards season gold in its sights, more than doubled its theatres and saw its box office increase by 137%, while Wild expanded to wide release and passed the $4 million mark. Chris Rock's Top Five expanded from 979 theatres to 1,307 but nonetheless saw its box office drop by 48%.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Final 'The Hobbit' Movie Has Tall Order to Fill For Box Office Success

As we get closer and closer to Christmas, more big-name movies are schlepping their way to the theatres, hopefully leading us out of the box office doldrums that typify early December. Sure to take the number one spot is The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies--because it's big, because it's the last movie in Peter Jackson's Middle Earth series and because it came out on Wednesday, so it will have had five days to rake in the dough instead of three. Tricksy Hobbitses! So far Bilbo and his pals have earned $24.4 million domestically and $122.2 million internationally (it opened in several foreign markets last week). By the end of its five-day weekend, it could earn up to $100 million on US soil, though merely decent reviews (60% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and the general consensus that the Hobbit trilogy is nowhere near as good as The Lord of the Rings could lead the final Hobbit movie to fizzle.

Also out in wide release is Sony Pictures' Annie, which by most accounts isn't very good--only 23% on Rotten Tomatoes, yowch--but I kind of want it to do well, if only because Sony's had a bad enough month already. They could use a break. It'll be up against fellow kids' movie Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, which is getting better--but still not good--reviews. But hey, those reviews are on-par with what Night at the Museum and Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian got, and they still made $30.4 million and $54.1 million, respectively, on opening weekend. Still, the second movie made substantially less overall than the first one, which indicates a potential decreasing interest in the series. Plus, it's been five years since the second movie. Does anyone still care?

Wild is expanding from 116 theatres to 850, which should pull in a few extra million and increase its stature for awards season. Among the movies coming out limited release in New York and/or Los Angeles are Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner, Angus MacLachlan's Goodbye to All That and Song of the Sea, the sophomore feature of Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells co-director Tomm Moore.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Saving Private Ryan,' 'The Big Lebowski' Among the Films Named to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry

This Library of Congress has held its own, film nerd version of the Hunger Games and chosen the 25 films to add to the National Film Registry--"culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant films that the Library will preserve for future generations. As usual, there's a good mix of well-known films among a sprinkling of experimentals, shorts, student films and silents. A moment of... well, of silence... for all the films in the latter group that are now lost due to lack of preservation. That's an estimated 70% of all silent features.

The Librarian of Congress (someone integrate that position into a third National Treasure movie, please) confers with the Library's film curators and the National Film Preservation Board (NFPB) to select each year's inductees, which have to be at least 10 years old. That has to be the only reason 2008's Step Up 2: The Streets wasn't included. You can nominate films on the NFPB's website, and come 2018, I expect every one of you to step up and do that.

Here are a selection of the more popular films that are now officially a part of American history, with the entire list underneath. For more information on the National Film Registry, we at FJI humbly recommend America's Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry, by FJI reviewer Daniel Eagan.

Monday, December 15, 2014

'Exodus: Gods and Kings' Carries Subpar Weekend

Oh, December, December, December:  You of the historically disappointing weekend. Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings finally bumped The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 out of the number one spot, but it did so with a U.S. gross of only $24.5 million. That's about $20 million less than the opening gross of this year's earlier Biblical epic, Noah, which cost $15 million less to make. Looks like those bad reviews really caught up with Batman Moses: The Movie.

Fortuitously, Chris Rock's Top Five also cracked the top five; its $7.2 million gross on 979 screens landed it in the number four spot. Spots two and three went to Mockingjay and Penguins of Madagascar, respectively, while Big Hero 6 was the fifth highest-grossing movie of the weekend with $6.1 million (for a total so far of $185.3 million).

Jean-Marc Vallée's Wild expanded from 21 to 116 theatres and saw its box office increase 155%; distributor Fox Searchlight has moved up its planned national expansion from Christmas Day to December 19th. Birdman, despite losing 132 theatres, saw its box office jump by 15.2%, while The Imitation Game and Boyhood both added theatres and moolah, likely a result of their Golden Globe nominations. Fellow Oscar-seeker The Theory of Everything remained mostly steady.

Inherent Vice opened in five theatres this weekend, where it earned $330,000 for a per-theatre gross of $66,000. Chinese film Back In Time (Congcong Nanian) and documentary Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles and also made small waves, pulling in $210,000 and $7,200, respectively. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies made an impressive $117.6 million in 37 international markets, doing particularly well in Germany, Russia, the U.K., France, Brazil, Mexico and New Zealand. We'll see whether American audiences like it when it opens this Wednesday.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Holy Moses! 'Exodus: Gods and Kings' Poised for Box Office Triumph

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1's three-weekend box office reign is set to come to a close with the release of Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings, a retelling of the story of Moses starring Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton. Despite generally dismal reviews--it's currently clocking a mere 28% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes--it's on track to earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million.

Chris Rock's highly buzzed-about Top Five, which was the subject of an intense bidding war after its debut at September's Toronto International Film Festival, is also opening in wide release at 979 theatres. Its appeal isn't as broad as an actioner like Mockingjay's, and it won't be playing at nearly as many theatres, so snagging the number two spot away from presumed runner-up Katniss and her crew is going to be difficult. Still, it's possible--reviews for the film (92% on Rotten Tomatoes) have been positive.

Praise has been less uniform for Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice, an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel of the same name, with some critics pegging it as a muddled mess. Still, the reviews aren't horrible (Rotten Tomatoes: 72%), and it's only opening at five theatres in New York and Los Angeles, which means its per-theatre average will likely be an impressive $40,000 or higher. It's opening weekend for a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, for Chrissakes--it could be Howard the Duck 2, and cinephiles in New York and LA would still go.

Meanwhile, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies becomes the latest film to open in international markets ahead of its US release; though it doesn't come out stateside until next Wednesday, the last movie in Peter Jackson's Middle Earth series is premiering in 37 international territories, including the U.K., Japan and Russia, this weekend. By the time it gets to us, it'll have money in the bank. Nobody spoil us for what happens, OK? It's not like there's a book that's been out for more than 75 years or anything.

In the realm of limited releases, among the films hitting theatres in New York and/or Los Angeles are Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, Maidan, Poker Night and After the Fall. Jean-Marc Vallée's Wild, which earned $606,810 when it opened last weekend, will add 80 theatres and is likely to benefit from star Reese Witherspoon's Golden Globe nomination.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

20 Films to Look Forward to at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival

It's that time of year. Winter is in the air and everybody is freaking out about the Oscars. In approximately six short weeks, the Sundance Film Festival (January 22-February 1) will be upon us. It's always a good time for movie fans, because even if we're not among the lucky few attending the fest, scuttlebutt alerts us as to some of the indie films to keep an eye out for over the coming year. The entire festival lineup can be a bit of a monster to sort though, so here are 20 select films that look particularly intriguing or have already been accruing buzz from other fests on the circuit.

Director: Yann Demange
Cast: Jack O'Connell, Paul Anderson, Richard Dormer, Sean Harris, Barry Keoghan, Martin McCann
Official Synopsis: ‘71 takes place over a single night in the life of a young British soldier accidentally abandoned by his unit following a riot on the streets of Belfast in 1971. Unable to tell friend from foe, he must survive the night alone and find his way to safety. 

Director: John Crowley
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent
Official Synopsis: 1950s Ireland: Eilis must confront a terrible dilemma — a heartbreaking choice between two men and two countries, between duty and true love.

Digging for Fire 
Director: Joe Swanberg 
Cast: Jake Johnson, Rosemarie Dewitt, Orlando Bloom, Brie Larson, Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick
Official Synopsis: The discovery of a bone and a gun sends a husband and wife on separate adventures over the course of a weekend.

99 Homes
99 Homes
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Tim Guinee, Cullen Moss, J.D. Evermore
Official Synopsis: A father struggles to get back the home that his family was evicted from by working for the greedy real-estate broker who's the source of his frustration.

Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Cast: Félix de Givry, Pauline Etienne, Greta Gerwig, Brady Corbet, Arsinee Khanjian, Vincent Macaigne
Official Synopsis: Mia Hansen-Løve's electronic-dance-music epic follows the rise and fall of a DJ (based on her brother, Sven, a contemporary of Daft Punk) who gets into the rave scene in 1994 and spends the next 20 years navigating the French club scene. 
End of the Tour 
Director: James Ponsoldt
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Anna Chlumsky, Joan Cusack, Mamie Gummer, Ron Livingston
Official Synopsis: This story of the five-day 1996 interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace explores the tenuous yet intense relationship that develops between journalist and subject. The two men bob and weave, sharing laughs and also concealing and revealing their hidden vulnerabilities. 

Mistress America 
Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke
Official Synopsis: Tracy, a lonely college freshman in New York, is rescued from her solitude by her soon-to-be stepsister Brooke, an adventurous gal about town who entangles her in alluringly mad schemes. Mistress America is a comedy about dream-chasing, score-settling, makeshift families, and cat-stealing.
Sleeping With Other People 
Director: Leslye Headland
Cast: Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet, Jason Mantzoukas, Natasha Lyonne
Official Synopsis: Jake and Lainey impulsively lose their virginity to each other in college. When their paths cross twelve years later in NYC, they realize they both have become serial cheaters. Bonding over their chronic infidelity, they form a platonic friendship to support each other in their quests for healthy romantic relationships.

Wild Tales
Wild Tales 
Director: Damián Szifrón
Cast: Ricardo Darín, Julieta Zyberberg, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Darío Grandinetti, Erica Rivas, Oscar Martínez
Official Synopsis: Inequality, injustice, and the demands of the world cause stress and depression for many people. Some of them, however, explode. This is a movie about those people. Vulnerable in the face of an unpredictable reality, the characters of Wild Tales cross the thin line dividing civilization and barbarism.
The Bronze
Director: Bryan Buckley
Cast: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan, Haley Lu Richardson, Cecily Strong
Official Synopsis: In 2004, Hope Ann Greggory became an American hero after winning the bronze medal for the women's gymnastics team. Today, she's still living in her small hometown, washed-up and embittered. Stuck in the past, Hope must reassess her life when a promising young gymnast threatens her local celebrity status.

Slow West
Director: John Maclean
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Rory McCann, Ben Mendelsohn, Brooke Williams, Caren Pistorius
Official Synopsis: Set at the end of the nineteenth century, 16-year-old Jay Cavendish journeys across the American frontier in search of the woman he loves. He is joined by Silas, a mysterious traveler, and hotly pursued by an outlaw along the way.

Stockholm, Pennsylvania 
Director: Nikole Beckwith
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Cynthia Nixon, Jason Isaacs, David Warshofsky
Official Synopsis: A young woman is returned home to her biological parents after living with her abductor for 17 years. 

Director: Kim Farrant
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving, Lisa Flanagan, Meyne Wyatt, Maddison Brown
Official Synopsis: When Catherine and Matthew Parker's two teenage kids disappear into the remote Australian desert, the couple's relationship is pushed to the brink as they confront the mystery of their children's fate.

Z for Zachariah
Z for Zachariah
Director: Craig Zobel
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie, Chris Pine
Official Synopsis: In a post-apocalyptic world, a young woman who believes she is the last human on Earth meets a dying scientist searching for survivors. Their relationship becomes tenuous when another survivor appears. As the two men compete for the woman's affection, their primal urges begin to reveal their true nature.

Director: Marc Silver
Official Synopsis: On November 23, 2012, unarmed 17-year-old Jordan Russell Davis was shot at a Jacksonville gas station by Michael David Dunn. 3½ MINUTES explores the aftermath of Jordan's tragic death, the latent and often unseen effects of racism, and the contradictions of the American criminal justice system.

Finders Keepers
Director: Bryan Cranberry, Clay Tweel
Official Synopsis: Recovering addict and amputee John Wood finds himself in a stranger-than-fiction battle to reclaim his mummified leg from Southern entrepreneur Shannon Whisnant, who found it in a grill he bought at an auction and believes it to therefore be his rightful property. 

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Director: Alex Gibney
Official Synopsis: Going Clear intimately profiles eight former members of the Church of Scientology, shining a light on how they attract true believers and the things they do in the name of religion.

The Hunting Ground
Director: Kirby Dick
Official Synopsis: From the makers of The Invisible War comes a startling exposé of rape crimes on U.S. campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and brutal social toll. Weaving together verite footage and first-person testimonies, the film follows survivors as they pursue their education and justice — despite harsh retaliation, harassment, and pushback.

Prophet's Prey 
Director: Amy Berg
Official Synopsis: When Warren Jeffs rose to prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, he bridged the gap between sister wives and ecclesiastically justified rape, befuddling the moral compass of his entire congregation.

Racing Extinction 
Director: Louie Psihoyos
Official Synopsis: Academy Award-winner Louie Psihoyos (The Cove) assembles a unique team to show the world never-before-seen images that expose issues surrounding endangered species and mass extinction. Whether infiltrating notorious black markets or exploring humans' effect on the environment, Racing Extinction will change the way you see the world.

You can see the rest of the program on Sundance's website.

Monday, December 8, 2014

'Mockingjay - Part 1' Handily Defeats the Competition on a Humdrum Weekend

No surprises here--on a weekend devoid of any new wide releases, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 held onto the number one spot for the third straight week. Its weekend gross of $21.6 million brings it up to $257.7 million domestically; by the end of its run, it could be the second- or first-highest grossing movie of 2014. (The title is currently held by Guardians of the Galaxy, with its sweet $332.2 million.) The rest of the top five is Penguins of Madagascar ($11.1 million), Horrible Bosses 2 ($8.6 million), Big Hero 6 ($8.1 million) and Interstellar ($8 million)--almost the exact same as last weekend, only Horrible Bosses 2 and Big Hero 6 swapped places.

As for new releases, the biggest was low-budget horror flick The Pyramid, which opened in 589 theatres, just shy of the 600 needed to qualify it as a national release. Its poor buzz and low marketing yielded the expected result--it earned only $1.35 million, landing it in spot number nine.

Nightcrawler, The Homesman, The Babadook, Keep On Keepin' On and Boyhood (yup, still keepin' on) saw upticks in their box office as a result of added theatres, while The Theory of Everything added 24 theatres and saw its box office drop nearly 47%. That's not awful, though--it's already earned a healthy $13.6 million in its five-week run. The Imitation Game added four theatres and dropped only 16% percent in its second week, for a not-too-shabby per-theatre average of $50,250.

Reese Witherspoon's Wild opened in 21 theatres, where it earned $630,000 for an average take of $30,000. It will add about 80 theatres next weekend before expanding to national release on Christmas Day, when it will be up against a crop that includes Unbroken, Into the Woods, American Sniper (limited), The Interview and Big Eyes.

The only other new release to ping at the box office was Talya Lavie's Israeli military comedy Zero Motivation, which earned $9,700 on a single screen.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Brief History of Movies Being Leaked Onto the Internet

It's been a wild month for Sony. First, hackers calling themselves the GOP (Guardians of Peace) shut down their offices and threatened them with blackmail. Then, as a probable result of the hacking, at least five Sony movies were leaked onto the web, all of them either still in theatres (Fury, downloaded by over 888,000 unique IP addresses in the last week) or not yet released (Annie, Mr. Turner, Still Alice, To Write Love on Her Arms). A bunch of sensitive employee information was also leaked, probably at least in part because Sony kept thousands of passwords in a folder labelled "password." Oof. Now the scuttlebutt is that North Korea might be involved somehow, possibly in retaliation to upcoming Sony comedy The Interview, in which a pair of schmucks try to assassinate Kim Jung Un. Oh... kay.  Who's going to make a movie about this?

Sony, on behalf of Film Journal International, I would like to offer my condolences. Have a happy holiday, guys. If it's any consolation, this isn't the first time pirates have gotten their hands on major movies before their release dates. This new quintet of pirated pictures joins the august (or not so august) company of...

Talya Lavie discusses her award-winning Israeli army comedy ‘Zero Motivation'

Talya Lavie
If there is such a thing called the academic film calendar, December is when our collective focus starts shifting from seeking cinematic gems to checking the year’s prominent must-sees off our lists. Awards season gets louder, year-end lists start popping up and comparably modest releases of December face the challenge of battling with the excessive noise around. Talya Lavie’s infinitely original and wickedly funny Zero Motivation, which quietly opened at NYC’s Film Forum for a limited run on Wednesday (to expand its run in select states/theaters through early 2015), is one of those smaller releases that requires some well-deserved attention before you make your year-end lists. Winner of 6 Israeli Academy Awards (nominated for 12 in total) as well as double accolades from the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival (Best Narrative Feature and Nora Ephron Prize), Zero Motivation is as confident a debut as I’ve come across in recent years from a young writer/director, noticeably ripe with a vision. 

Set in an Israeli military base, the quick-witted Zero Motivation tells the story of a group of young female soldiers (many of them blessed with a deadpan sense of humor) tasked with mundane, paper-pushing, behind-the-scenes duties; surviving their day-to-day boredom. As Lavie dials up the tension in the office, plagued by monotony and jealousy (and even a cleverly-played ghost story), she unveils the film’s many universal themes, as everyday as friendship and love; and as complex as feminism. In the midst of a season that is (yet again) taken over by stories of distinguished males (a handful of exceptions aside), the must-see Zero Motivation thankfully emerges as an antidote.

I had the great pleasure of chatting with writer/director Talya Lavie about the film’s themes, her artistic inspirations and gender representation in film industry. Read our conversation below.

How did you land on this story? I know both women and men spend time in military in Israel, so I am wondering if anything in the movie is based on your own experiences.
The film is not autobiographical, but it is very personal. When I was writing the script, I was talking to many girls who were just released from the army, and they were soldiers at that time. In building the story and its language, I was very inspired by them; so it’s a mix. And of course, there is a lot of instinctual imagination here as well.

You touch upon so many different themes. Friendship, love, betrayal, jealousy, gender… How did you enter the film? Which layer did you first want to tackle?
I think it was the friendship. I was very intrigued by the idea of finding your identity as a young woman. I noticed that women’s friendships are very stormy love stories. Female friendship has elements of love affairs – they are very deep and interesting. And so that’s where I started, thinking, most of the time you identify yourself by who your friends are. 

What you’re saying is so true. When we take our friendships seriously, it really is like a romantic relationship.
Yes, that’s what I meant. Romantic relationship. With ups and downs and a lot of emotions. You get attached and jealous. In women’s friendships, even at young age, they think: “Oh you were my friend first, and you betrayed me with another girl.” There is nothing really romantic or sexual about it, but it’s very emotional.

You get into some gender politics in there too, especially with the character Zohar (Dana Igvy) who’s still a virgin and wants to lose her virginity. And there’s a scene where she almost gets raped.
Connecting this to your earlier question, there are a lot of themes in the script because I put inside a large scale of emotions that I had as a young woman. And you know, this girl wants to lose her virginity because to her, it’s a metaphor to enter real life as an adult. And her character in a way doesn’t want to become an adult. She wants to stay a kid and turn everything into a game. She wants to play computer games. She doesn’t want to enter the world as an adult but she knows she needs to. That’s kind of the story. She has many obstacles in her way, and I think I wanted to save her from having her first sexual experience with the wrong guy. And the character Irena (Tamara Klingon), the girl who stops him… It is hinted that she has history of violence in her own life. She is not a nice girl or friend. But in a way, she displays the friendliest act in the film.

As I’m sure you’re aware, in Hollywood or American cinema, films like Zero Motivation are not the norm. We don’t get a lot of movies around here with women’s stories. Why do you think there’s this issue here? 
I think this issue, lack of representation, is all over the world. It is very significant in Hollywood, but I think when it stops being like that in Hollywood, then it will stop in the rest of the world. So I think it all starts from there. And I think it is a problem all over the world, because there are fewer women than men in top positions. Also, I don’t think women necessarily have to make movies about women or female issues only. I think women should make films about whatever they want, and they can make films about men. Like, male directors made amazing films about female characters. 

How did you get your project funded?
It was first funded by the Israeli Film Fund. Then by a cable TV channel in Israeli called HOT. We also received some money from a fund in France. Also, Match Factory in Germany. That’s how we funded the film. It took a long time.

In recent years, there were many IDF (Israel Defense Forces) related films from Israel such as Beaufort, Waltz with Bashir, Lebanon. How do you see your film fit in that group?
IDF is a big part of our culture and society. And because of that, there are a lot of army-related films from Israel. I wanted to add this one to the mix, because I think it was important to also talk about the unimportant parts of IDF.

I noticed that you mostly steered clear of political talk in Zero Motivation. I think there is one scene where Rama (Shani Klein) mentions, “our men are dying out there.” But other than that, we don’t really hear about political unrest going on.
I think the film is political because it in a way shows Israeli society. Since IDF is a major element in our society, I tried to show this little office as the microcosm of Israeli society. And you can also see that the girls in the office are coming from different parts of the society, and they mix together there. The tension in Israeli society comes from politics. So, the tension, the violence, come from outside of the walls and enter into the room. That’s one thing.

Also, I wanted to be very true to the characters. One of the things that was most important to me was that the film had to feel authentic. Those girls in the office, they are not in front of anything. They are not involved in anything. Those political issues, they don’t come up in the story but there is also a permanent feeling of the world outside. You can see that when they’re told in the field “there’s a war outside, and you’re doing that? And you’re fighting over nothing?” That’s very much the Israeli experience. That there is something much bigger going on, and the rest of the issues are less important. That’s the way those characters live. When we were getting the film funded, people sometimes told me I should add more political elements to get European money. Every time I tried to do it, it felt very fake. And it felt like it was done to please someone else. It was not authentic.

I understand. I am really glad you stuck with your gut, because that authenticity really shows.
Thank you so much.

Some have compared your sensibilities to Lena Dunham. Wondering if you’ve seen those comparisons and what you thought. Do you follow her work?
Yes. And I even met her in Sundance Screenwriters Lab. She was there with a project; as a screenwriter to Ry Russo-Young. So I met her there. Then I went to the premiere of Tiny Furniture in Jerusalem. I think she is fantastic. I wrote this script before I knew her, but if you compare me to her, I would be very happy with it.

What are you working on next?
I am working on a script that I actually wrote when I was waiting on funds for Zero Motivation. It takes place in Brooklyn but it’s an Israeli film, about an Israeli musician trying to make it in New York City. I am still re-writing it.

'Mockingjay-Part 1' Set to Dominate On What Could Be the Slowest Weekend of the Year

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 might be a financial disappointment next to its older sister Catching Fire, but as it goes into what's sure to be its third weekend at number one, you can't deny it has staying power. Though it's not like there's a lot coming out to challenge it this weekend. The biggest release is horror flick The Pyramid, the directorial debut of Grégory Levasseur, co-writer of 2006's The Hills Have Eyes remake and a producer of the cinematic masterpiece that is Piranha 3D, which I bet you'd managed to forget about before I mentioned it. Sorry.

You might not have heard of The Pyramid, because distributor 20th Century Fox has done practically no marketing. They know, as does everyone else, that the weekend after Thanksgiving is traditionally one of the slowest of the year, and they're playing it safe. The top five will probably be the exact same as last weekend's top five (Mockingjay, Penguins of Madagascar, Big Hero 6, Interstellar, Horrible Bosses 2), just with decreased earnings all around. Predictions are that The Pyramid, opening in 589 theaters, will earn less than $5 million.

For limited releases, the critically well-received Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon as a woman who hikes across the Pacific Crest Trail, is opening in 21 theaters. It's directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, whose Dallas Buyers Club garnered an Oscar for Matthew McConaughey last year. The man works fast.

Among the films getting smaller releases, mostly in New York and/or Los Angeles only, are Tayla Lavie's Israeli military comedy Zero Motivation, which was rightly named Best Narrative Feature at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival; Comet, a romantic comedy/drama with a sci-fi twist (parallel universes!); Pioneer, a thriller about deep-sea diving from the director of Insomnia (no, not the Nolan remake, the original); Susanna Fogel's feisty and fresh female friendship film Life Partners; She's Beautiful When She's Angry, Mary Dore's documentary about the women's rights  movement of the '60s and '70s; and the Nicolas Cage CIA thriller Dying of the Light, which was the subject of some behind-the-scenes drama.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Academy Announces Its 15-Film Documentary Short List

"To watch" lists at the ready--the Oscar short list for Best Documentary has been unveiled. Five of the following 15 films will hear their names (well, see their names on the Web--documentaries aren't "important" enough to be part of the televised announcement, sniff sniff) when the nominees are revealed on January 15th. And the almost-maybe winners are:
Anybody get a little emotional at the thought of Roger Ebert doc Life Itself winning an Oscar? No? Just me?

Most of these have come and gone from theaters pretty quickly, as is the way with documentaries, though Citizen Koch, about the rise of the Tea Party, and Virunga, about conservation efforts in the Congo, are available for streaming on Netflix. Wim Wenders' and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado's The Salt of the Earth, about nature photographer Sebastião Salgado, and crime doc Tales of the Grim Sleeper are hitting theaters in limited release on December 26th and March 27th, respectively.

Though I am, sadly, neither a psychic nor a time traveler, I'm going to hazard a guess that Laura Poitras' Citizenfour, about Edward Snowden, is a near-lock for a nomination--earlier this week the Gotham Independent Film Awards and New York Film Critics Circle Awards both named it the year's best doc.

Monday, December 1, 2014

'The Hunger Games' Gobbles Up Thanksgiving Weekend

Audiences hungry for a movie on Thanksgiving weekend opted for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 over new releases Penguins of Madagascar and Horrible Bosses 2, both of which underperformed with $25.8 million ($35 million over the five-day weekend) and $15.7 million ($23 million for five-day), respectively. Compare that with Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted's opening weekend haul of $60.3 million and Horrible Bosses' $28.3 million.

With Thanksgiving weekend's $56.8 million gross, Mockingjay - Part 1 has earned $225.6 million so far. Matching its predecessor Catching Fire's domestic gross of $424.6 million is looking pretty well unlikely by this point. Or, put another way, the odds are not in its favor.

Big Hero 6 and Interstellar both hung onto their top five spots, the latter's box office actually increasing 3% from last weekend, even though it lost 350 theaters.

Coming out on top of a small crop of limited releases was Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game, which took in $482,000 in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles, for a per-theater average of $120,500. That's the year's second-best per-theater debut, after Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel ($202,792). The Theory of Everything likewise had a good weekend, expanding from 140 theaters to 802 and seeing its box office jump more than 230% as a result.

Also making modest waves among new limited releases were Chinese rom-com Women Who Flirt ($80,000), the documentary Antarctica: A Year on Ice ($32,000), horror film The Babadook ($27,000), and swimming doc Touch the Wall ($6,200).

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Will 'Penguins' or 'Horrible Bosses' Win the Holiday Weekend?

Penguins of Madagascar
Gluttony Weekend--sorry, sorry, Thanksgiving--approaches, and with it a slate of  new releases for people who can manage to fight through their food coma and pull themselves off their couches. Go on, buy that movie theater popcorn. Your diet's shot anyway.

The two movies coming out in wide release today (Wednesday) aren't much to be thankful for, at least according to reviews--critical reception for Penguins of Madagascar and Horrible Bosses 2 has been decidedly mixed, though Penguins' 60% Rotten Tomatoes rating isn't awful. Expect Horrible Bosses 2's poor reviews (31% on Rotten Tomatoes) to keep it from snagging the top spot, while Penguins has a better shot due to its status as a kid's movie on a long weekend when schools are closed and parents need something to occupy the little ones with. Hey, you don't want to take 'em Black Friday shopping. That stuff's dangerous. Still, my money's on Mockingjay - Part 1 holding on for another week, despite its relatively disappointing opening weekend haul.

The Babadook
Reviews have been more positive for limited releases The Imitation Game and The Babadook, both out this Friday in New York and Los Angeles. Another option if you're not interested in penguins or bosses is The Theory of Everything, which is expanding from 140 theaters to 802. It's done well in limited release, snapping up nearly $3 million (and a lot of awards buzz) so far.

Also hitting theaters in the indie arena are director/writer/actor Shawn Christensen's Before I Disappear, based on his Oscar-winning 2013 short film Curfew, and the documentary Remote Area Medical, about a "pop-up" clinic in Bristol, Tennessee established to provide aid for those without options for medical care.