Posts Tagged ‘Inception’

Ebiri Can’t Quit Dom Cobb

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Ebiri Can’t Quit Dom Cobb

The DVD Wrap: Inception, Restrepo, Videodrome, Cronos, Strictly Ballroom … and more

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Inception: Blu-ray

Normally, I wouldn’t recommend watching a background featurette before checking out the main attraction first. The summer smash, Inception, demands a bit more work on the part of the viewer than most movies, though, and to fully enjoy the experience, some preparation is advised.

This isn’t to imply the only people capable of fully grasping what’s happening in Christopher Nolan’s multilayered thriller are those already acquainted with the work of Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung, only that some appreciation of the psychology of dreams is advisable. Otherwise, why bother trying to make sense of the often confounding array of chases, dizzying shifts in time and dimension, precisely timed break-ins, brilliant escapes and amazing visual effects? Sit back and enjoy the mayhem. Inception is a movie that asks more questions than it can possibly answer in one sitting.

I recommend starting with the featurette, Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious, in which several learned doctors, psychologists, theorists, authors and professors describe various theories pertaining to dreams and the brain’s capacity to process memories and other visual impulses. None of the movie’s secrets are revealed in the discussion and no one’s fun will be spoiled. Even those who aced Introduction to Psychology: 101 in college meet find value in the refresher course. That’s because most of what takes place in Inception plays out like a dream experienced during REM sleep.

Just when you think you can predict what’s going to happen next to characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Ken Watanabe, Lukas Haas, Marion Cotillard and Ellen Page, Nolan’s abruptly pulls the rug out from under them … and, by extension, us. Their mission is to enter the sub-conscious mind of a powerful energy magnate (Cillian Murphy) and plant an idea that will bear fruit at another time and in another dimension. DiCaprio’s crew may be able to anticipate shifts in their target’s brain activity, but a stray impulse could propel them into unknown territory and imprison them in his subconscious mind forever. And, as if this mission weren’t delicate enough, DiCaprio’s master thief is struggling to keep his own sub-conscious from imploding, along with memories of his seemingly doomed family in a previous, present or future life … take your pick. All of this action occurs at breakneck speed and against a background of constantly evolving natural disasters.

In addition to the primer on dreams, the Blu-ray’s bonus package offers fans much grist for the intellectual mill. Viewers who’ve already watched Inception in theaters may want to slow things down a bit, so they can study individual scenes in the interactive “Extraction Mode.” It provides immediate, full-screen access to making-of shorts and backgrounders. Other supplementary material includes “Inception: The Cobol Job,” a prequel to “Inception” in the form of Motion Comic. It explains how the dream-travelers were enlisted by Cobol Engineering for the mission. “Project Somnacin: Confidential Files” introduces “highly secure” tech files and schematics for the dream-share technology (requires BD-Live compatibility). There’s also a Conceptual Art Gallery, Promotional Art Archive, trailers and TV Spots.



It’s always interesting to learn the titles of movies screened by our presidents in theaters at the White House and Camp David, or on DVD. Indeed, a 2003 documentary All the President’s Movies addressed that very question. Richard Nixon was partial to Patton, we’re told, while Bill Clinton favored American Beauty. (Insert your own joke here.) Before being elected to his current job, Barack Obama cited the first two installments of The Godfather and Lawrence of Arabia as his faves. Typically, our leaders have favored movies that promise to be highly entertaining or inspirational, rather than polemical and downbeat. In this, they’re not much different than the people who voted for them.

Considering how deeply the incumbent Commander in Chief has committed himself to the never-ending “war against terrorism” in Afghanistan, I would hope that he’s reserved time to view Restrepo, a documentary that not only honors the soldiers fighting there, but also suggests the futility of trying to win the hearts and minds of Afghans for whom the Taliban represent less a threat than errant Hellfire missiles. (Made in 2005, Fyodor Bondarchuk’s 9th Companytells almost the same story, except from the point of view of Russian occupiers, 20 years earlier.)

Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger’s Restrepo is a feature-length documentary that chronicles the 15-month deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in the hotly contested Korengal Valley, adjacent to the border with Pakistan. The outpost carved into a mountainous ledge overlooking the valley was named in honor of a platoon medic who was killed in action. In total, the filmmakers spent a year imbedded with Second Platoon, Battle Company, often following them on patrols and public-relations meetings with local elders. That the men (and filmmakers) were subject to daily attack by insurgents hardly qualifies as news. Indeed, they took it for granted.

It’s what we see the soldiers do when they aren’t returning enemy fire – besides doing chores, calisthenics and ragging on each other — that makes Restrepo seem, at times, otherworldly. Even as deeply dug in as these men were, they had access to video games, satellite telephones for calls home and a canteen that would make veterans of previous wars green with envy. As connected to the outside world as they were technologically, however, the soldiers knew that they were surrounded by an environment made hostile by the elements, a deeply committed enemy and traumatized locals.

As for their priorities, making Afghanistan a safe place for democracy and the antics of corrupt politicians is pretty far down a list that begins with staying alive, intact and relatively sane. In other wars, these young men could have expected occasional days of relief behind the front lines, in the company of other off-duty GIs and with access to modern plumbing and USO shows. Not so, these guys, and not so, this war. Hetherington and Junger have produced a document that is as politically neutral as The Hurt Locker, and demonstrates admiration for the courage of the enlisted men. Viewers are left to make what they will of a postscript that says Restrepo was abandoned by the army after Second Platoon left it, in 2007. The DVD adds extended interviews, deleted scenes and an update on the soldiers’ current whereabouts.


Videodrome: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Cronos: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray

In the movies of David Cronenberg, horror takes many forms. A few have been populated with recognizable monsters, whose appearance alone is sufficient cause for fright. Typically, though, the Canadian filmmaker has found terror in places overlooked by most other artists. While his early projects merged science fact and science fiction with large dollops of paranoid speculation, the monsters in Eastern Promises and A History of Violence were decidedly human. Released in 1981, at the dawn of the video age, Videodrome prophesied a world in which certain forms of recorded entertainment literally would suck viewers into a subliminal realm dominated by predatory capitalists, religious zealots, sexual deviants and despots of all stripe.

By controlling the visual media, these criminals, clowns and charlatans could control large segments of society. Horrific images of a television programmer (James Woods) being turned into a human VCR were as unsettling as the film’s premise, which also anticipated the coming age of nanotechnology. Cronenberg would re-visit the human-hardware concept in eXistenZ, in which gameports were embedded organically in bodies. Any sequel to Videodrome would be hard-pressed to imagine something more horrifying than the current confluence of social media, reality television, celebrity worship, cyber-voyeurism and tweet-speak.

Made without the benefit of CGI, Videodrome effectively mimicked the low-tech appearance of underfinanced indie stations and local-access cable shows. Wood’s programmer is desperate to air something dramatically different than reruns of Gilligan’s Island and the rants of televangelists. He finds it in a mysterious cable transmission, which features the apparent torture and murder of women at the hands of masked sadists. If that weren’t shocking enough, the programmer discovers that the irresistibly nasty images mask subliminal messages that could influence the actions and opinions of viewers.

The more he learns about the conspiracy, the further Woods is sucked into its evil vortex. The Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray edition boasts a restored high-definition digital transfer of the unrated version; commentary by Cronenberg, DP Mark Irwin, Woods and co-star Deborah Harry; an extended version of the bootleg “Samurai Dreams” video shown in the movie; the featurette, “Forging the New Flesh,” with FX genius Rick Baker; “Fear on Film,” a 1982 roundtable discussion with Cronenberg, John Landis and John Carpenter; a booklet of essays; and the 2000 short, Camera.

The 1993 horror-fantasy Cronos introduced Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro to genre enthusiasts crying out for something different that slashers, splatter and increasingly more grotesque cyber-villains. At 29, Del Toro was the consummate genre geek, with his own effects emporium, Necropia, and a resume that included several short films and television productions, an executive-producer nod for Dona Herlinda and Her Son (1986), and 10 years worth of makeup and effects credits.

As a boy, he was so enraptured of monsters and fantasy that his deeply religious grandmother attempted to have him exorcised … twice. Cronos opens in 1535, inside the shop of an alchemist and tinkerer who’s putting the finishing touches on a scarab-like time piece. Flash ahead 400-plus years and we’re told that Mexican antiques dealer Jesús Gris (Federico Luppi) has come into possession of certain items salvaged from the alchemist’s lab, which was destroyed in a landslide. The scarab is hidden inside a statue of a cherub, infested with giant cockroaches.

After an impromptu inquiry about the cherub, Gris finds the scarab inside the carving and, under the watchful eye of his granddaughter, restores the timepiece’s gold ectoplasm to its former luster. After winding the mechanism, however, Gris finds his hand grasped by the scarab’s hidden claws and his palm pierced by a metallic stinger. Soon thereafter, the old man’s wrinkles have disappeared and he looks 20 years younger. Clearly, the scarab possesses magical powers. It is about this time, as well, that Angel, the American nephew (Ron Perlman) of a filthy rich Mexican gentleman, arrives on the scene. The geezer is aware of the scarab’s provenance and desperately wants to live forever, if only to cheat Angel from his inheritance. In the ensuing test of wills between the old men, the one who’s beginning to understand the true cost of living forever tries to discourage the other from finding it out for himself. That never works, though, does it?

Cronos is a wonderfully inventive entertainment and it looks superb in Blu-ray. It also was omen of good things to come from Del Toro, who would go on to make The Devil’s Backbone, Blade II, Pan’s Labyrinth and a pair of Hellboy installments. (Mimic, his first foray into Hollywood, was more like a nightmare.)

The Criterion edition adds a newly restored high-def digital transfer, audio commentary with Del Toro and the producers; new interviews with Del Toro, Perlman and producer Bertha Navarro; a separate interview with Luppi; “Geometria,” an unreleased 1987 short horror film; Welcome to Bleak House, a tour by del Toro of his memorabilia-filled office; a stills gallery; and booklet featuring an essay by critic Maitland McDonagh.


Strictly Ballroom: Special Edition
Dancing Across Borders

Given the recent release of Moulin Rouge! and “Romeo + Juliet” on Blu-ray, I was surprised to see Miramax’s Special Edition of the similarly wonderful Strictly Ballroom arrive in standard DVD, albeit with a stack of neat extras. The colorful costumes, especially, would have lent themselves to hi-def, as would the delightfully eccentric musical presentation.

In it, a rising star in the world of ballroom dance meets a plain-looking young novice, Fran – a Gypsy, perhaps — who convinces the young man, Scott (Paul Mercurio), to listen to his heart and break some rules in his pursuit of glory. Holding Scott back is a domineering mother, herself a ballroom champion, who demands of her son that he stay on the straight-and-narrow path with his approved partner (Gia Carides), a frosty blond hoofer. She knows how reluctant the establishment is to change and fear the young man will ruin the opportunity for her to bask in his reflected glory.

Naturally, in Luhrmann’s inventive hands, Scott and Fran are able to silence the naysayers with a spectacular blend of traditional and interpretive dance routines. In the end, of course, everyone’s a winner. This was Luhrmann’s first feature and a limited budget precluded much experimentation. Besides the appeal of the dancing, Luhrmann was helped greatly by the ensemble work of veteran Aussie actors who could play it straight and campy with equal dexterity. The bonus package includes a deleted scene, the featurettes “‘Strictly Ballroom’: From Stage to Screen” and “Samba to Slow Fox,” a design gallery and commentary. Anyone who’s taken a fancy to the broadcast networks’ prime-time dance competitions will especially love Strictly Ballroom.

Anne Bass’ fine cross-cultural documentary, Dancing Across Borders, also cautions against too narrowly defining what constitutes High Art. A prominent patron of American and European ballet companies, Bass also devotes much of her abundant energy to organizations promoting Khmer culture.

It was on a visit to Angkor Wat that the Ft. Worth socialite discovered a young dancer, Sokvannara Sar, who was performing with other students of the Wat Bo School of Traditional Dance at Preah Khan. Something in his makeup convinced Bass that Sar might be able to excel at Western ballet, which requires turns and leaps unknown to Cambodia dance. The teen’s re-education would require that he leave his family, which depended on his contributions of money and labor.

If he weren’t so determined to succeed on his own terms as a dancer, Sar might have stayed home to work the rice paddies. The gamble paid off, though. Bass brought Sar to New York, where he auditioned for the School of the American Ballet and studied under ballet mistress Olga Kostritzky. Sar never abandoned the traditions of Cambodia, but the time he spent away from home weighted heavily on him. Sar’s commitment inspired Bass to pick up a camera, herself, to document what it took to become a professional dancer in America these days.

Dancing Across Borders represents an accomplished cinematic debut, especially for someone whose philanthropic time is so much in demand. The scenes shot in Cambodia, still reeling from the excesses of the Khmer Rouge, are quite beautiful. The DVD adds performance footage, an interview with the director and photo gallery.


Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel
Lennon NYC

Apart from being iconic 20th Century personalities, publisher Hugh Hefner and musician John Lennon shared several noteworthy characteristics. Most notably, perhaps, both men were targets of repression under the Nixon administration for their political views and lifestyles. They also were fabulously rich and hugely influential outside their chosen professions. Although they often courted the media, Hefner and Lennon would contribute time and resources to progressive causes, without first consulting with publicists. At some point, both men were condemned – and admired – for their choice of female companionship.

Had they met, and I’m not sure they didn’t, the Playboy and the Beatle probably would enjoyed each others’ company. That much, at least, can be inferred from this pair of enlightening bio-docs.

Without ignoring the opinions of his detractors, Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel argues that the Playboy founder – who’s still very much alive, thank you — ultimately will be remembered as much as an outspoken advocate of human and civil rights as for any of his centerfolds or girlfriends. Besides giving money and space in Playboy to controversial causes, Hefner consciously used his syndicated television shows as weapons against racism, not only by inviting celebrities of all racial and political stripe to share his “penthouse” parties, but also for treating them as welcome guests, not merely entertainers.

Although such liberality cost the show broadcast outlets in the South, it also gave jazz musicians, comics, political figures and blacklisted entertainers a forum that otherwise wouldn’t be available to them. More to the point of the magazine, however, Hef never backed down from challenges presented by those who would deny the right of free sexual expression to consenting adults. For example, Hef once helped to free a Georgia man serving a 10-year prison sentence for the crime of (wait for the drumroll) … fellatio. If the man had been caught doing the same thing in any of the other 49 American states, the worst penalty he might have gotten was a citation for disorderly conduct.

The vocal opposition is represented in Brigitte Berman’s film by feminist and longtime detractor Susan Brownmiller, singer Pat Boone and talk-show host Dennis Prager. Among those testifying in Hefner’s defense are Tony Bennett, Jim Brown, Dick Gregory, Jesse Jackson, Jenny McCarthy, George Lucas, David Steinberg, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Shannon Tweed and Gene Simmons. The film also offers vintage performances, from “Playboy After Dark,” by Pete Seeger, Sammy Davis Jr., Joan Baez and blacklisted harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler. Actors Tony Curtis, Robert Culp and James Caan are there to remind us of the fact that the Playboy mansions have been used for other reasons than promoting liberal causes and most involved scantily clad Bunnies.

If the film seems at times to resemble a premature obituary for the 84-year-old sybarite, I say, better now than later.

The title of Michael Epstein’s LennonNYC is a bit of a misnomer. Although most of the events chronicled in the biodoc take place in Manhattan, the tragically short resurrection of the former Beatles’ career and marriage wouldn’t have been nearly so dramatic if it weren’t for the time he spend in Los Angeles. It was where he went for shelter after the breakup with Ono, recorded with Phil Specter (among others) and came close to drinking himself to death. It made his return to productivity and sobriety in New York that much more significant.

Much of the material here will be familiar from the more tightly focused documentaries, Imagine and The U.S. vs. John Lennon. The nearly 10-year arc of LennonNYC combines artistic elements of his life with corresponding personal, political and social concerns. It opens with Lennon championing the cause of jailed Michigan White Panther leader John Sinclair, who was imprisoned for possession of two joints. His ability to draw a huge crowd to a Detroit rally, and impact Sinclair’s almost immediate release, caught the attention of both left-leaning political strategists and Nixon administration officials who feared his charismatic appeal.

This led the Nixon/Ford Justice Department to actively pursue his deportation. It was during this four-year nightmare that Lennon compounded the agony of his appeals by separating from Ono and moving with May Pang to Los Angeles, where he spent more time partying than making music. His time spent wandering in the wilderness came to an abrupt and welcome end in 1975, with several high-profile musical collaborations, his reuniting with Ono and the nearly simultaneous birth of second son Sean and cessation of deportation proceedings.

For the next several years, Lennon divided his time between raising Sean and quietly returning to his music. The tragedy of his murder, in 1980, nearly coincided with the release of the album, “Double Fantasy,” which signaled his return to the musical limelight. In addition to archival footage of Lennon in concert and with Ono, LennonNYC is distinguished by the insightful recollections of fellow musicians, producers, friends and lovers. The film appeared first as part of PBS’ “American Masters” series, in the lead-up to the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s death at 40, on December 8.


Big Bad Mama/Big Bad Mama II: Roger Corman’s Cult Classics
Lady in Red/Crazy Mama: Roger Corman’s Cult Classics

The titles included in the latest installment of Shout!Factory’s Roger Corman’s Cult Classics series could hardly be more representative of the impresario’s overriding principles of American cinema. The only things missing here are rocket ships, murderous critters and Barbarian women wearing animal skins. Otherwise, the movies overflow with car chases and explosive crashes, machine-gun fire, vengeful women, gratuitous nudity, B-list stars, rockin’ soundtracks and borrowed plots. All were shot on absurdly short schedules and suffocatingly tight budgets, by young filmmakers who would go on to make their marks in mainstream Hollywood.

What sets the Big Bad Mama epics, Lady in Red and Crazy Mama apart from lesser Corman efforts is the cohesiveness of their narratives. They don’t rely on the audience’s willingness to forgive cheesy production values and cornball dialogue for their commercial success. If you were 17 in the 1970s, watching a double-bill Big Bad Mama and Crazy Mama at the local drive-in, you might have been tempted to stop necking long enough to enjoy the pictures.

It would be impossible to address the appeal of the first Big Bad Mama without also mentioning the fact that Angie Dickinson – among the most beautiful and classy women ever to appear on the silver screen – sheds her clothes in the service of a plot that reads very much like a white-trash version of Bonnie and Clyde.

As the bank-robbing Wilma McClatchie, she makes love to a fellow crook, played by Tom Skerritt, and a sharp-dressed huckster, played by William Shatner. Normally, that would be sufficient cause to recommend a Roger Corman movie, but “Big Mama” is enhanced, as well, by the bluegrass music of David Grisman and Jerry Garcia, and some of the coolest vintage automobiles ever to be assembled for a demolition derby. Thirteen years later, in Jim Wynorski’s Big Bad Mama II, Dickinson would return in the similarly entertaining shoot-‘em-up, but a newspaper reporter played by Robert Culp is only allowed the pleasure of making love to Angie’s body-double.

Here, Wilma and her two jailbait daughters exact revenge on the politician who killed their husband/father and stole their farm. Danielle Brisebois and Playboy Playmate Julie McCullough supply the celebrity skin.

A drop-dead sexy Cloris Leachman plays the title character in Crazy Mama, a rare PG action comedy directed by Jonathan Demme. Leachman plays Melba Stokes, who, as a child, was driven from her family’s Arkansas farm by a greedy capitalist. Now living in SoCal, circa the late-1950s, with her mother, Sheba (Ann Sothern), and randy teenage daughter, Cheryl (Linda Purl), Wilma decides she wants to re-appropriate the property. She’ll finance the cross-country excursion by stealing unattended cash boxes at fairs and racetracks, and robbing businesses.

Donny Most (Happy Days) plays Wilma’s future son-in-law. Jim Backus and Stuart Whitman also play prominent roles. Dennis Quaid, John Milius, Bill Paxton, Will Sampson appear in small parts, as well. The rock classics on the soundtrack are as expressive and delightful as any of the dialogue.

John Sayles wrote the screenplay for The Lady in Red, a far less humorous re-telling of the FBI manhunt for John Dillinger (Robert Conrad), from the point of view of the prostitute falsely accused of setting up the gangster for the feds. Here, too, the female protagonist — Polly Franklin, played by a fetching Pamela Sue Martin — rises from the dust of poverty and parental abuse to impact events in the big city.

Besides her role as Dillinger’s lover, Franklin labored in a sweatshop and as a taxi dancer, for which she served time in jail, and would graduate to work in a brothel and diner. The story follows Franklin beyond the cowardly excessive assassination of Dillinger outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater, to her ill-fated attempt at making a name for herself as a criminal. The cast also includes Louise Fletcher, Robert Forster, Christopher Lloyd and Kitten Natividad. All of the movies are accompanied by an entertaining and informative commentary tracks and interviews with, among others, Dickinson, Corman, Sayles, Demme and Wynorski. The easy rapport between the producer and the artists makes the commentary tracks highly recommendable.


The Year of Getting to Know Us

It’s taken almost three years for this not terribly convincing dramedy about a garden-variety dysfunctional family to make the journey from Sundance to the direct-to-video marketplace. It’s not for lack of star power, certainly: Jimmy Fallon stars opposite Sharon Stone, Lucy Liu, Tom Arnold and Illeana Douglas. Hundreds of DVDs get released each year with lesser fire-power and worse scripts.

In his feature debut, co-writer/director Patrick Sisam makes the fatal mistake of casting SNL alum Fallon in a role that diminishes his naturally buoyant personality in the service of a character so morose that he’d even be a bummer at a funeral. In The Year of Getting to Know Us, Fallon plays commitment-phobic New York freelance writer, Christopher Rocket, with the nicest and most supportive girlfriend (Lucy Liu) in the world. Nevertheless, he treats her as if her lingerie is woven from poison ivy.

The blame for such inexplicable behavior is placed directly on the shoulders of his distance, golf-addicted father (Tom Arnold) and a hippy-dippy mom (Sharon Stone, in a bright-red wig), both of whom were too self-centered to notice he existed most of the time. When his dad suffers a stroke, Rocket elects to return to his Florida home, where he’ll be reminded of every emotional wound suffered at their hands. At the same time, he’s reunited with an old pal who knows too many of the writer’s secrets, a female classmate for whom he’s carried a torch, a too-caring neighbor and other reminders of a failed youth.

Things get even more complicated when his girlfriend decides to join him in Florida. What this picture needed was a far greater balance of comedy and drama, and a lot more room for Fallon to demonstrate why we should care about such a mope. The DVD adds footage from a panel discussion held after the movie debuted at Sundance. Typically, cast and crew behave as if the crowd had just watched Citizen Kane.


The Stranger in Us

In his freshman feature, writer/director Scott Boswell demonstrates a technical sophistication uncommon not only in so-called Queer Cinema, but most other indie products, as well. The Stranger in Us is a character-driven story about an aspiring poet, Anthony, who follows his lover, Stephen, a therapist, across the country to San Francisco. Once there, Anthony discovers that Stephen isn’t at all reluctant to work out his anger issues on him.

The situation forces Anthony to find solace and companionship in the streets, where he’s a decided outsider. He’s forced to make new friends and embark on adventures he might not have considered if things were better at home. Boswell’s camera is never more than a few feet from the characters, whether they’re walking down the street or having sex. The lighting is naturalistic, almost to a fault, and the love-making occurs as it might in real life. On the other hand, Boswell’s decision to experiment with narrative flow makes viewers work too hard. All things considered, though, an impressive debut.


Dennis Hopper: The Early Works

When Dennis Hopper died last May 29, at 74, obituary writers had more than a half-century of movie titles from which to choose career highlights. As far as I know, none of the articles mentioned his appearances in the productions included in the interesting retrospective, The Early Works. Like most stars whose careers began after 1950, Hopper’s earliest credits represented appearances on the small screen. The shows represented here are Medic (1955), in which Hopper played an epileptic; Public Defender (1955), in which he assumed the familiar role of juvenile delinquent; The Loretta Young Show, opposite the pig-tailed diva (1955); and, believe it or not, the 1964 “Bobbie Jo and the Beatnik” episode of Petticoat Junction.

The set also includes Hopper’s first feature lead, in Night Tide (1961), a supernatural romance inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s Annabelle Lee. In the psycho-thriller, he played a sailor in love with a possibly murderous mermaid. There also are previews of Key Witness, another teen-crime drama, and Night Tide. In every role, Hopper’s trademark mix of intensity and vulnerability is on full display. The shows probably were recorded from kinescope copies, so they aren’t of the highest visual quality. They are fun to watch, though.


Caged Animal

Originally titled “The Wrath of Cain,” the straight-to-DVD prison drama Caged Animal almost certainly will be confused with two previous Ving Rhames prison flicks, Animal and Animal 2, in which he plays a jailed gangsta’ named James “Animal” Allen. All’s fair in love, war and genre movies, I suppose, but there ought to be a MPAA rule against such ruses.

I’d hate to think that someone, somewhere, felt one Ving Rhames prison movie is indistinguishable from all other Ving Rhames prison movies. Here, the scariest looking guy in Hollywood plays, what else?, a former gang-banger who’s become nearly as powerful a presence in prison as in the streets of L.A. Cain’s top-dog status is threatened by the arrival of an old nemesis, Redfoot, who’s played by Robert LaSardo, the richly inked Hispanic actor who’s played more homeboys and convicts than any actor alive. Caged Animal also co-stars Nipsey Hussle, Robert Patrick, and Jeanette Branch.


Hunter Prey
Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre: Unrated Edition: Blu-ray

Comics and superhero geeks might know writer/director Sandy Collara best for his nifty short, Batman: Dead End, in which a confrontation between the Caped Crusader and Joker is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a gang of Predators. Hunter Prey provides a wonderful example of what an imaginative FX specialist can do with a minute budget.

Here, the answer derives from going Old School, relying more on prosthetics, costumes and a unique setting than CGI effects. After an alien spacecraft crash-lands on a rocky and arid planet somewhere in the cosmos, its crew of bounty hunters is instructed to re-capture a prisoner the ship was carrying. The first half-hour of Hunter Prey doesn’t promise much in the way of adult thrills, as all but one of the four characters resemble Ninja Turtles in Iron Man costume and their weapons and shields look as if they were purchased at toy store.

The action, which mostly involves hiding behind rocks and firing off the occasional shot, seems to be confined to a giant sandbox. Before long, though, the Baja California location takes on a sinister personality of its own and the aliens’ cat-and-mouse game becomes a battle of wits. One doesn’t expect to encounter such spare entertainment in 2010, so Hunter Prey requires no small degree of patience on the viewer’s part. Their patience is rewarded with a film that’s more of throwback to Twilight Zone or Outer Limits than Star Wars, and some old-fashioned fun.

A product of Iceland, Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre describes what happens when a boatload of stranded eco-tourists is rescued by a family of degenerate sailors from Satan’s merchant marine. The confrontation between whale huggers and whale muggers isn’t nearly as one-sided as one might imagine, really. The whalers may have all the weapons, but they’re also as dumb as rocks, which leaves them vulnerable to booby traps and sloppy mistakes.

The result is a bloodbath the equal of any butchering that occurs on a Japanese whaler. Gore fanciers won’t even have to understand Icelandic to enjoy the slaughter in Whale Watching Massacre, as half of the dialogue, at least, is in English. True genre fanatics will appreciate the brief, but unforgettably gruesome appearance by native Icelander Gunnar Hansen, who played Leatherface in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Stranger in Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Daddy in Chainsaw Sally and Krenshaw in Brutal Massacre: A Comedy.


Across the Line: Blu-ray

Writer/director R. Ellis Frazier says that the inspiration for Across the Line (a.k.a., “The Exodus of Charlie Wright”) came from Bernie Madoff, who elected to face prosecution for his crimes, rather than put his family at risk from potentially dangerous creditors. Mob banker Charlie Wright has no such scruples and splits town moments before he’s about to arrested by the FBI.

Although Wright is believed to have more than a billion dollars stashed away in foreign bank accounts, he heads directly for a dumpy apartment in Tijuana. Normally, T.J.’s one of the last places on Earth a rich hoodlum would go to avoid arrest. There probably are more kidnapers, U.S. and Mexican drug agents, desperados and federalis there than anywhere else in Mexico, and a wealthy hoodlum would be fair game for all of them.

Among other parties interested in capturing Wright are the Russian mobsters who entrusted him with their funds. The only person not armed to the teeth and desperate for revenge is Wright, who is searching for the daughter of a woman he loved and left behind many years ago. That pretty much sums up the appeal of Across the Line, except to point out that one of the parties interested in capturing the fugitive is an overextended Tijuana crimelord, played by Andy Garcia, and that the lovely Claudia Ferri plays a hooker of a certain age who volunteers to help Wright in his mysterious quest.

After a certain point, it becomes clear that Frazier’s film is as much a meditation on growing old in a cruel business as it us about the chase, itself. I doubt the likely audience for “Across the Line” will embrace such a subtle conclusion, but Tijuana provides enough visual diversions to disguise the subtext until near the film’s gentle climax. Also featured in the cast are Mario Van Peebles, Danny Pino, Gina Gershon, Luke Goss, Raymond J. Barry and Elya Baskin. There’s a bonus making-of featurette.


A Dog Year

Earlier this year, Jeff Bridges won an Academy Award as Best Actor for his performance in Crazy Heart, a movie that very nearly went straight to DVD. It wasn’t so much that the film wasn’t ready for prime-time, as for the lack of imagination and financial courage on the part of it original backers, Country Music Television and Paramount Vantage. Fox Searchlight saw a potential hit in Crazy Heart, as well as possible award contention for Bridges, at least.

In addition to roles in such high-profile pictures as Iron Man and The Men Who Stare at Goats, and the upcoming True Grit and TRON: Legacy, Bridges had also logged time in a bunch of underachievers and charity cases. Among these titles were The Open Road, in which he played a former baseball star who could have been Bad Blake’s twin brother, and the HBO original, A Dog Year, as a writer also nearing over-the-hill status.

In the latter, Bridges’ Jon Katz is an author in his mid-50s who’s grown weary of banging his head against a writer’s block the size of a Rhode Island. For reasons that aren’t made entirely clear, Katz agrees to take in a border collie with ADD. It had been abused by its former owner and was celebrating its newfound freedom by bowing to no man. Katz already owns two extremely obedient golden retrievers, Stanley and Julius, who try very hard to ignore the intruder, Devon. Nearly at wit’s end, Katz decides to move into a dilapidated farm house, where he and Devon can flake out as much as they want.

A neighbor suggests Katz turn Devon over to the local dog-whisperer (Lois Smith), who senses that the primary thing the dog needs in his life is to be re-introduced to a flock of sheep that need herding. Without giving anything away that couldn’t already be guessed, Devon’s redemption inspires Katz to get back to his word processor and write. A Dog Year is a decidedly small film, but it plays extremely well on the small screen. Bridges seems content to play second fiddle to the unruly pup and the result is a film that dog lovers of any age can enjoy. The DVD includes a making-of featurette.


The Dolphin: Story of a Dreamer

This light-hearted animated feature was distributed to theaters throughout South America, Central America and Mexico, by Fox, before landing in DVD on American shores. Nationality plays far less a role in enjoyment of cartoons than live-action pictures, of course, but The Dolphin is informed by a distinctly Hispanic vibe. In it, a dolphin named Daniel defies the elders in his pod by embarking a journey of discovery and adventure with a small coterie of friends.

I doubt that its producers would discourage comparisons with Finding Nemo, even if its budget is far smaller than the one allotted The Dolphin. In the period between the two movies’ release, software costs have diminished to the point where smaller studios can afford to capture magic that looked revolutionary and prohibitively expensive only a few years earlier. The movie’s rated PG, for “mild scary action and brief rude humor,” but I can’t imagine children being any more scared by The Dolphin than the G-rated Bambi and Old Yeller. The disc offers English and Spanish audio tracks.


Space: 1999: The Complete Season One: Blu-ray
Space Precinct: The Complete Series
Hoarders Season Two: Part One

Thirty-five years ago, it must have seemed entirely reasonable to think men and women would be living on our moon, if not other planets, by now. Who could have imagined that future lunar missions would be scrapped in cost-cutting campaigns or that Americans would lose interest in a program that had yet to reveal the presence of life or edible green cheese? It was with that original flash of optimism in mind that Britain’s ITC studio launched an expensive sci-fi series that took seriously the notion that a research facility, housing more than 300 people, would be built on the moon.

Unfortunately, the space station and everyone on it would be hurled into Deep Space after the moon broke away from Earth’s orbit, following a series of nuclear explosions. Among the well-known actors populating the Moonbase Alpha were Martin Landau and Barbara Bain (Mission:Impossible), Barry Morse, who played the police detective assigned to tracking down David Janssen on The Fugitive.

The American presence of Space 1999 was limited to independent stations that could afford the money and time for the syndicated show. (Today, the producers would have their pick of a dozen different cable stations.) The A&E Blu-ray package adds 5.1 surround-sound audio, along with the original mono; audio commentaries; music-only tracks, behind-the-scenes featurettes; image galleries for all episodes; trailers; textless titles; Barry Gray’s theme music demo; alternate opening/closing titles; Landau and Bain’s intro and outro for the U.S. premiere; SFX plates and deleted SFX scenes with music tracks.

Gerry Anderson, who exec-produced Space 1999, Thunderbirds and Supercar, also was responsible for the exceedingly goofy Space Precinct, a 1994 series that merged elements of sci-fi shows with police dramas. Although shot in the U.K., it featured a pair of veteran New York cops entrusted with the pursuit of alien and human criminals on the planet Altor. The detectives were played by Ted Shackelford and Rob Youngblood.

When A&E debuted the reality-based series, Hoarders, it was difficult for me to imagine the show lasting two weeks, let alone two seasons. If there’s one thing Americans love to do, however, it’s watching people nuttier than themselves on television. Before long, fictional hoarders would start being murdered by their piles of junk on such shows as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and local TV news shows would beat the bushes for hoarders of their own.

As we learned, hoarders risked nervous breakdowns if forced to eliminate even the most insignificant-seeming item from their archives. This show helped them endure the ordeal. The DVD set includes the first seven episodes of the second season and additional footage.

Other new TV-to-DVD packages include, SpongeBob SquarePants: Season Six, Volume 2, which offers more of the same undersea nonsense, and Touch of Frost: Season 15, which purports to be the final year for the venerable series. An alternate ending is included.

Inception In Real Time

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Inception In Real Time

Weekend Box Office Report — December 5

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

The Warrior’s Weigh

The first weekend of December has the ignominious tradition of being one of the lowest moviegoing periods of the year. This year is no exception with but a single new wide release and holdover titles generally experiencing declines of more than 50%.

The newcomer arrived from the re-constituted Relativity Media with the martial arts actioner The Warrior’s Way. It barely squeaked into the top 10 with an estimated $3 million. Industry trackers hadn’t expected much for the picture but even their estimates were pegged significantly higher at roughly $5 million.

The frame leader was the animated Tangled with an estimated $21.5 million with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 taking the consolation prize with $16.9 million. The rest of the holdovers were indeed the deathly hallows.

However, there were a couple of spectacular exclusive debuts. The controversial and intense drama Black Swan bowed to $1.4 million, which translated into a jaw dropping per engagement average of $76,670. And the left-for-dead black comedy I Love You Phillip Morris hit the target with $109,000 from six locations and an $18,200 average. Also encouraging was the two-screen bow of the ironically titled All Good Things with $37,500.

The rest of the new niche crowd ranged from fair to poor including several new films on the Indian circuit, the independent Night Catches Us and the documentary Bhutto.

All added up, revenues amounted to about $86 million and a 54% drop from the weekend slice of Thanksgiving. It was also off 15% from the 2009 edition when the top new entry was third-ranked Brothers with $9.5 million. The 2009 leader with $20 million was The Blind Side.

Domestic box office should push past $10 billion next weekend and register a slight gain for the year when the dust settles in 26 days. It also unquestionably marks another year of theatrical admission declines; likely between 5% and 7%.

As to award’s contenders, it remains anyone’s game and last week’s announcement of honors from the National Board of Review provided scant indication of what’s to follow from major critical groups or the Hollywood Foreign Press. Apart from James L. Brooks’ How Do You Know, the anticipated upcoming releases have been seen and left prognosticators fumbling to identify leaders in any of the talent categories.


Weekend Estimates – December 3-5, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Tangled BV 21.5 (5,970) -56% 3603 96.5
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hollows, Part 1* WB 16.9 (4,090) -66% 4125 244.4
Burlesque Sony 6.1 (2,020) -49% 3037 27
Unstoppable Fox 6.1 (1,930) -47% 3152 68.9
Love and Other Drugs Fox 5.7 (2,310) -42% 2458 22.6
Megamind Par 4.9 (1,550) -61% 3173 136.6
Due Date WB 4.2 (1,720) -41% 2450 91
Faster CBS 3.8 (1,550) -55% 2470 18.1
The Warrior’s Way Relativity 3.0 (1,870) NEW 1622 3
The Next Three Days Lionsgate 2.6 (1,150) -45% 2236 18.3
Morning Glory Par 1.7 (760) -56% 2263 29.1
127 Hours Fox Searchlight 1.6 (3,790) -4% 433 6.6
Black Swan Fox Searchlight 1.4 (76,670) NEW 18 1.4
Fair Game Summit 1.0 (2,320) -27% 436 7.3
Red Summit .75 (960) -45% 779 87.2
For Colored Girls … Lionsgate .45 (930) -67% 485 37.3
Lance et compte Seville .43 (4,480) -31% 96 1.3
Skyline Uni/Alliance .42 (730) -63% 578 20.9
The Social Network Sony .41 (1,580) -42% 260 91
The King’s Speech Weinstein Co. .32 (53,000) -10% 6 0.8
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $81.25
% Change (Last Year) -15%
% Change (Last Week) -54%
Also debuting/expanding
I Love You Phillip Morris Roadside .11 (18,200) 6 0.11
Raktacharitra 2 Viva/Happy 94,200 (4,100) 23 0.09
Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey Viva 65,300 (960) 68 0.07
Nutcracker 3D FreeStyle 45,700 (1,040) -31% 44 0.14
Made in Dagenham Sony Classics 39,600 (3,600) -37% 11 0.18
All Good Things Magnolia 37,500 (18,750) 2 0.04
Dead Awake New Film 31,400 (570) 55 0.03
Mar Jawan Gur Khake Punjabi 18,800 (6,270) 3 0.02
Night Catches Us Magnolia 12,100 (3,020) 4 0.01
Bhutto First Run 7,800 (3,900) 2 0.01

Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 – Dec. 2, 2010)

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Warner Bros. (27) 1792.9 18.40%
Paramount (18) 1609.2 16.50%
Fox (18) 1371.7 14.00%
Buena Vista (16) 1252.3 12.80%
Sony (24) 1185.4 12.10%
Universal (18) 797.2 8.20%
Summit (11) 517.9 5.30%
Lionsgate (15) 512.4 5.20%
Fox Searchlight (7) 84.7 0.90%
Overture (7) 81.9 0.80%
Focus (7) 75.2 0.80%
CBS (3) 64.2 0.70%
Weinstein Co. (8) 63.1 0.70%
Sony Classics (22) 58.7 0.60%
MGM (1) 50.4 0.50%
Other * (301) 246.6 2.50%
9763.8 100.00%
* none greater than .04%

Top Global Grossers * (Jan. 1 – Dec. 2, 2010)

Title Distributor Gross
Avatar * Fox 1,955,694,414
Toy Story 3 BV 1,065,128,004
Alice in Wonderland BV 1,024,537,295
Inception WB 840,550,911
Shrek Forever After Par 738,351,966
Twilight: Eclipse Summit 699,325,617
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 WB 634,033,738
Iron Man 2 Par 622,718,600
Despicable Me Uni 534,415,944
How to Train Your Dragon Par 495,921,283
Clash of the Titans WB 489,778,913
Sherlock Holmes * WB 367,796,599
The Karate Kid Sony 359,429,551
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time BV 335,816,141
The Last Airbender Par 319,062,129
Robin Hood Uni 312,207,159
Shutter Island Par 301,977,955
Sex and the City 2 WB 301,158,934
Salt Sony 293,955,694
Resident Evil: Afterlife Sony/Alliance 292,972,689
The Expendables Lionsgate 272,550,235
Grown Ups Sony 271,417,359
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel Fox 264,341,533
Knight and Day Fox 261,206,060
Percy Jackson & the Olympians Fox 226,497,298
* does not include 2009 box office

Things to Be Thankful For

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

We’re getting an early start to the long holiday weekend around here; Seattle got nailed by an early snow storm, which gave the kids a couple snow days tacked onto the Thanksgiving weekend. So we’ve got the unexpected bonus of a six-day holiday weekend around here, and spirits are high. I hear that Angelina Jolie hates Thanksgiving and doesn’t want to perpetuate celebrating an anniversary of murder, and to that I say, well, good for her, and I guess can see her point.

But for me, Thanksgiving has always been not about the past and Pilgrims and Native Americans, but about the present and the future; it’s a time to take a pause from the hectic pace of life and reflect on the many blessings we have in our lives. Around here, we try to focus with our kids on helping them to be aware of how fortunate we are to have a nice home to live in, plenty of food to eat, warm clothes to wear, jobs that provide the money to support our family. And, of course, to be aware that others are not so blessed, and to make room in our hearts and our budgets to give to those who need a little boost to help them out.

Thanksgiving for me is also about getting mentally geared up for the upcoming Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa season, when we should be as mindful (or more) of giving as well as receiving. This is absolutely my favorite time of the year, and this year in particular my heart feels very full.

I’m very thankful this year for my own good health, and for healthy, happy, well-adjusted kids and a new marriage. I’m immensely thankful to still be employed in a tight economy, and to be able to write and edit for a living when there are many other crappy jobs I could be doing just to make ends meet. I’m thankful for amicable relationships with ex-spouses that allow us to have a crazy, loving, blended extended family where everyone gets along most of the time.

We will be having lots of family time this holiday weekend. In between marathon sledding sessions, warming up with hot cocoa and popcorn by a cozy fire, and delightfully raucous games of Munchkin and Zombie and Chthulu Dice with six kids and two game-geeky grownups, I have big plans this weekend to snuggle up under warm covers and work my way through the stack of screeners beckoning from the foot of the bed.

The screener fairy has been making daily stops by our house, so in between holiday activities and cooking and playing, I’m planning to watch Restrepo, The Kids Are All Right, Road to Nowhere, The Lottery, Somewhere, The American, The Town, Greenberg and Babies. I’m even going to take a second look at Hereafter, and we have both Inception and HP 7.1 to watch again (really loved that movie, though I will enjoy more watching it together with 7.2 after it comes out … I think the pacing will play out better that way).

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the awards-season movies What do you love? What do you hate? Who’s getting overlooked? Who’s overrated? What do you think about this new docs category at Sundance? Are you fine-tuning your own Top Ten list? Do you care about Oscars and Golden Globes and BAFTAs (oh my)?

Happiest of holidays to you and yours. I hope you enjoy your time with friends and family, as I plan to. But if you need a break from hearing Aunt Ethyl’s stories for the 89,000th time, drop on by and let’s chat about movies too. As for me, I have a few more films I need to see yet in addition to the screeners I have here before I can narrow down my own top ten and gear up for voting with my critics’ groups. True Grit, Rabbit Hole and The Fighter are the big ones I have yet to see before I can hone things down seriously. There is much movie-watching to squeeze in around holiday stuff, but this is such a wonderful time of year, I don’t even mind how hectic it gets.

Happy holidays to all, and I’ll see you after Thanksgiving!

Weekend Box Office Report — November 21

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Harry and the Deathly Swallows … Gulp!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 ascended to an estimated $126.2 million and corralled more than 60% of weekend ticket sales. Comparatively speaking the remaining films in the multiplex had to settle for chump change, including the bow of the thriller The Next Three Days which slotted fifth with $6.7 million.

The session also included the new Bollywood release Guzaarish, which garnered a better than respectable $423,000 at 108 venues. Among the few exclusive bows both the British import Made in Dagenham and France’s White Material were just OK with respective openings of $39,300 and $35,800, each playing on three screens.

It was the biggest opening yet for a Harry Potter film but while the juggernaut provided a big box office boost from last weekend it was insufficient to stave off a decline from 2009.

Expectations were high for the first installment of the last chapter of the Potter franchise. Advance sales and online tracking anticipated a $100 million debut and that number expanded following word of advance Thursday midnight screenings estimated at $24 million. Large format engagements were estimated at $12.4 million and if that number holds up it will be a record.

Internationally the early estimates are roughly $205 million from 54 markets. It includes all-time records in the U.K. and Russia and otherwise just sensational debuts elsewhere. The final, final Potter putter is schedule for July 2011.

On a decidedly downbeat note, The Next Three Days came in well below tracking that suggested a $10 million launch. The film also received a drubbing from critics.

Weekend revenues lurched toward $200 million, which translated into a 64% hike from seven days back. It was however 25% behind the 2009 slate led by the second installment of Twilight (New Moon), which bowed bitingly to $142.8 million with the unexpectedly $34.1 million potency of The Blind Side right behind it.

The contender’s roster failed to see any additional dynamos this weekend and the titles already in the marketplace were finding the Darwinian aspect of the exercise unrelenting. Both Fair Game and 127 Hours added a significant number of playdates with the latter continuing to maintain a hefty $8,330 engagement average. The other surprise in the mix is the continuing stamina of the non-fiction Inside Job that’s racked up $2.2 million to date.


Weekend Estimates – November 19-21, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 1* WB 126.2 (30,600) NEW 4125 126.2
Megamind Par 16.2 (4,280) -45% 3779 109.5
Unstoppable Fox 13.0 (4,060) -43% 3207 41.9
Due Date WB 8.9 (2,760) -42% 3229 72.4
The Next Three Days Lionsgate 6.7 (2,590) NEW 2564 6.7
Morning Glory Par 5.2 (2,050) -43% 2544 19.8
Skyline Uni/Alliance 3.4 (1,170) -71% 2883 17.6
Summit 2.4 (1,190) -51% 2034 83.5
For Colored Girls … Lionsgate 2.3 (1,920) -64% 1216 34.5
Fair Game Summit 1.4 (3,730) 41% 386 3.7
Secretariat BV 1.0 (970) -56% 1010 56.4
Paranormal Activity 2 Par .93 (840) -69% 1101 83.6
The Social Network Sony .91 (1,590) -49% 571 89.2
127 Hours Searchlight .90 (8,330) 104% 108 1.9
Saw 3D Lionsgate .82 (1,020) -71% 806 45.3
Jackass 3D Par .72 (1,050) -68% 687 116.1
Life As We Know It WB .52 (930) -50% 558 51.6
Guzaarish UTV .42 (3,910) NEW 108 0.42
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest Music Box/Alliance .41 (2,180) -22% 188 3.5
Inside Job Sony Classics .37 (1,770) -22% 211 2.2
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $191.50
% Change (Last Year) -25%
% Change (Last Week) 64%
Also debuting/expanding
Today’s Special Reliance 88,400 (1,670) 53 0.09
Made in Dagenham Sony Classics 39,300 (13,100) 3 0.04
White Material IFC 35,800 (11,930) 3 0.04
Queen of the Lot Rainbow 16,400 (2,730) 6 0.02
Copacabana Seville 14,100 (2,010) 7 0.01

Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 – Nov. 18, 2010)

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Paramount (18) 1555.1 16.80%
Warner Bros. (26) 1538.8 16.70%
Fox (17) 1320.7 14.30%
Buena Vista (15) 1173.4 12.70%
Sony (23) 1160.3 12.60%
Universal (18) 790.4 8.60%
Summit (11) 508.5 5.50%
Lionsgate (14) 490.6 5.30%
Overture (7) 81.7 0.90%
Fox Searchlight (7) 80.3 0.90%
Focus (7) 75.1 0.80%
Weinstein Co. (7) 62.5 0.70%
Sony Classics (21) 57.3 0.60%
MGM (1) 51.2 0.50%
CBS (2) 50 0.50%
Other * (288) 240.7 2.60%
9236.6 100.00%
* none greater than .04%

Top Domestic Grossers * (Jan. 1 – Nov. 18, 2010)

Title Distributor Gross
Avatar * Fox 476,883,415
Toy Story 3 BV 414,681,777
Alice in Wonderland BV 334,191,110
Iron Man 2 Par 312,445,596
Twilight: Eclipse Summit 300,551,386
Inception WB 291,914,445
Despicable Me Uni 248,900,040
Shrek Forever After Par 238,667,087
How to Train Your Dragon Par 218,685,707
The Karate Kid Sony 176,797,997
Clash of the Titans WB 163,214,888
Grown Ups Sony 162,147,232
The Last Airbender Par 131,733,601
Shutter Island Par 128,051,522
The Other Guy Sony 119,256,755
Salt Sony 118,485,665
Jackass 3D Par 115,357,091
Valentine’s Day WB 110,509,442
Sherlock Holmes * WB 106,967,985
Robin Hood Uni 105,425,146
* does not include 2009 box office

The Kids Are All About Oscar Picks

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

David and I were talking about the latest Gurus chart, and I made the (half-joking) observation that we should do kind of an anti-Gurus chart of my kids’ random Oscar picks. In the past when I’ve had them choose Oscar winners with random methods including Magic-8 Ball, Twister, Guitar Hero, and “Pin the Oscar on the Donkey’s Butt” they’ve averaged just about as well as folks paid to pontificate on the politics of Oscar Night. Plus, they’ve had a lot of fun doing it.

It just goes to show you, no one really knows anything, maybe not even the people being paid to know about things.

There have been some occasionally heated discussions here and on The Hot Blog about film critics and what “qualifies” someone to write about film. Generally, for what it’s worth, I think having a broad knowledge of film, a passion for movies, and the ability to write about why you like or don’t like a given film in a coherent way that connects with your readership qualifies someone to write about movies, though this is not necessarily the same thing as more purely academic film criticism.

As to what qualifies someone to be or not to be an Oscar pundit, well, that depends, I think, on what you’re looking for. Random guesses abound on the internet, and once you get it down to a Top Ten or so, pretty much anyone who works in any aspect of this business is entitled to offer a qualified opinion on which films or actors they think should win. Understanding the politics involved behind the scenes may be a little more tricksy, but if you’ve kept up at all with the recent history of Oscar winners it’s not terribly difficult for the average person to make educated guesses that are as accurate as (maybe better than) those of the experts.

In the spirit of “the average folks” versus “the experts,” I asked my kids (plus one friend) to give me their early weigh-in on their Best Picture pick based on the Top Ten on the Gurus chart, based on the titles alone if they didn’t know anything else. (For the record, Neve has seen The Social Network and Inception, and all of them have seen Toy Story 3). I also asked them to weigh in on which film had the worst title.

Their not-so-expert opinions are below. I’ll check in with them closer to Oscars for their picks in the major categories. If you have ideas on how they should make their picks this year, let me know.



BEST PICTURE PICK: I think Toy Story 3 will win because I really like it. It was kind of sad, but some parts were funny, and it had a really good story. And I think they’re gonna make a Toy Story 4.

WORST TITLE: I think 127 Hours is a really bad name for a movie because no one wants to watch a movie that’s that long. That sounds like a really, really, really long movie. And boring.



BEST PICTURE PICK: Toy Story 3, because it was really good and sad and it had great animation and stuff. And great characters like Woody and Buzz.

WORST TITLE: The King’s Speech. Boring. I think it’s about a guy standing there who’s giving a boring speech to try to put everyone to sleep so he can steal the town’s rarest thing.



BEST PICTURE PICK: Toy Story 3, because it had really good animation and also it had a really good story behind it.

WORST TITLE: The King’s Speech sounds like a guy standing on a big platform just speaking for two hours. Boring.



BEST PICTURE PICK: Either True Grit or Inception. Inception because I thought it was very interesting and I liked all the plot twists and how you had to pay attention to every thing or you’d be lost. And True Grit because I loved the trailer and I read the summary and it looks really interesting. No Country for Old Men terrified me, but I appreciated its artistry, so I think this one will be good.

WORST TITLE: The King’s Speech. The title sounds boring, because who wants to see a movie that’s about some guy’s speech? A good title is everything, right? If it’s bad, and people think it sounds boring, no one will come see it. See, this is why I get Veda to help me with my titles for my writing.



BEST PICTURE PICK: The name Inception really grabs me. It sounds very dramatic. I also like the sound of Black Swan. That sounds interesting, too.

WORST TITLE: I concur on The King’s Speech. It just sounds really boring. Maybe it’s not, it might be a really good movie, but that’s how it sounds.

Zimmer And Nolan’s Expanded Inception Sound Project

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Zimmer And Nolan’s Expanded Inception Sound Project

17 Weeks To Oscar: It’s Raining Men

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

The Best Actor category is always loaded. This happens to be a strong year for Best Actress as well. But with the ladies, there are a good number of completely worthy performances. In the Actor this season, there are more than five Undeniables. Yet, some of them will be denied.

Javier Bardem is an Undeniable. There is no tougher movie in our American mainstream cinema this year than Biutiful. Compared to a film like Hereafter, it is the suicide bomb vs. the 100 virgins you party with after you are freed from your mortal coil. It’s the story of a man who is connected to The Dead finds out he is going to die himself and struggles mightily to tie up loose ends for his children and others whose lives he has touched, for better or worse. But Bardem… my God… he is not only 100% present in every moment we experience with him on screen, but he oozes empathy through all the harshness, never for a second falling into the sentimental, commanding the audience to stay with him… this is about you… this is about your soul… life is a scary ride, but here we go.

Robert Duvall is an Undeniable. One of our greatest actors and has been for decades. Get Low gives him room to perform to most of his strengths as an actor… all those colors, power seething under restraint. And then, he gives us one of the great one-person speeches, near the end of the film, and pulls it off brilliantly when it could have gone so wrong. This is the role that aging actors dream of finding… and Duvall wears it like a handmade glove.

Jesse Eisenberg is an Undeniable. His “Mark Zuckerberg” is not only the single most unforgettable character of the year so far, his reading of Aaron Sorkin’s unique verbal music is definitive in The Social Network. Lots of great actors have made wonderful moments of Sorkin’s words, but Eisenberg seemed born to it, a perfect blending of an actor’s unique being and a writer’s precision.

Colin Firth is an Undeniable. Last year, he broke through the awards ice with an unexpected, tortured, desperate man whose façade had all the charm of, well, Colin Firth. This year, his is still under siege, but his own mind is responsible in The King’s Speech. It’s closer to roles that we have known Firth in over the years, but a great balance between his ascendant prince, an uncommon Australian, and a wife who has a clear vision of the entire chess board makes audiences want to scoop up all three actors and thank them for being.

James Franco is an Undeniable. He holds the audience in his palm from the third minute of 127 Hours (when we first really see him) until the very last moment, when he hands it all back to the real Aron Ralston for a closing bow. It is a tribute to Franco and Boyle and the whole team that something as tightly defined as being stuck in a narrow passage of rock for more than 5 days feels like so much more. But first, it is on Franco. As an audience, we cannot disconnect from him for a single moment or the illusion is over. And we don’t.

That’s five. And that doesn’t start to take into account the performances that are on the way from reigning Oscar champ Jeff Bridges, Hollywood favorite Mark Wahlberg, and nice-to-see-you-back Jack Nicholson, at least two of which look like Undeniables in the making.

That’s seven, folks.

So whom do you leave out?


Weekend Box Office Report – October 24

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Back to Paranormal

Paranormal Activity 2 exceeded pundit expectation (though not necessarily fans) with an estimated $41.6 million to lead weekend movie ticket sales. The session’s only other national bow was Hereafter, which shot up to $11.9 million following last weekend’s limited opener.

Niche and regional bows included a solid $212,000 (in Hindi and Telegu versions) bow for the Indian crime saga Rakhtcharitra. Fans won’t have to wait long for its second part conclusion that’s scheduled for late November. Meanwhile up in Canada the Toronto fest curtain raiser Score: A Hockey Musical failed to live up to its name with a discordant $143,000 from 127 rinks.

Exclusives included good though unsensational debuts that included non-fiction Boxing Gym with a $6,100 TKO in its solo bout and Taqwacores — the tale of an Islamic rock band — grossing $5,500 also in a single outing.

Though there was a marginal dip from last weekend’s box office, the frame saw its first uptick from 2009 in a month with industry mavens already predicting expanded revenues through the end of the year.

Critical response to sleeper sensation Paranormal Activity 2 was at best tepid with the more negative reviews viewing it as a cynical rehash of its inspiration. Nonetheless avids were cueing up to provide Thursday midnight shows a record preview for an R-rated film. It lost traction as the weekend proceeded but the fast start was sufficient to speed past tracking that suggested an opening salvo of not much more than $30 million.

Exit polls for both Paranormal Activity 2 and Hereafter were disappointing. The latter film pretty much brought in the anticipated older crowd and filmmaker Clint Eastwood’s films have a history of hanging in for longer than typical runs and much higher multiples than is the industry norm. Still, this yarn could well stray from that trend.

Weekend revenues amassed roughly $130 million in torn ducats. It represented a slight 2% dip from seven days back but the unexpected Paranormal Activity 2 and overall strong holdovers translated into a 13% box office boost from 2009. A year ago the first Paranormal Activity (in its initial wide weekend) led with $21.1 million followed by Saw VI and Where the Wild Things Are with respective tallies of $14.1 million and $14 million.

With the exception of Waiting for “Superman” it’s been a brutal season for Oscar hopefuls trying to set an early footprint on the awards landscape. Granted, very few have received a wholehearted critical embrace, but even by niche standards the likes of Nowhere Boy, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and Jack Goes Boating among others have been comparative under-performers when measured against past films that have employed this tactic.


Weekend Estimates – October 22-24, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Paranormal Activity 2 Par 41.6 (12,930) New 3216 41.6
Jackass 3D Par 21.5 (6,920) -57% 3111 87.1
Red Summit 15.1 (4,620) -31% 3273 43.6
Hereafter WB 11.9 (5,450) 2175 12.2
The Social Network Sony 7.2 (2,450) -31% 2921 72.8
Secretariat BV 6.9 (2,210) -26% 3108 37.3
Life As We Know It WB 6.1 (2,010) -32% 3019 37.5
Legend of the Guardians WB 3.1 (1,390) -26% 2236 50.1
The Town WB 2.7 (1,390) -33% 1918 84.6
Easy A Sony 1.7 (1,050) -35% 1632 54.7
Wal Street: Money Never Sleeps Fox 1.2 (960) -49% 1255 50
My Soul to Take Uni/Alliance 1.0 (600) -68% 1689 13.9
Waiting for “Superman” Par Vantage .76 (2,620) 2% 290 3.7
Alpha and Omega Lionsgate .71 (980) -14% 727 23.5
It’s Kind of a Funny Story Focus .66 (1,180) -46% 560 5.1
Devil Uni .63 (980) -35% 642 32.4
You Again BV .61 (680) -50% 901 24
N Secure FreeStyle .53 (1,190) -55% 445 1.9
Toy Story 3 BV .42 (1,211) -21% 350 413.4
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger Sony Classics .40 (1,060) 46% 381 1.8
Case 39 Par Vantage .38 (530) -69% 721 12.7
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $123.90
% Change (Last Year) 13%
% Change (Last Week) -2%
Also debuting/expanding
Stone Overture .34 (3,030) 49% 113 0.76
Conviction Fox Searchlight .30 (5,420) 192% 55 0.34
Rakhtcharitra Viva/Happy .21 (6,230) 34 0.21
Nowhere Boy Weinstein Co. .21 (870) -39% 215 0.76
Score: A Hockey Musical Mongrel .14 (1,130) 127 0.14
Jhootha Hi Sahi Viva 64,700 (1,350) 48 0.06
My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend Fiftyfilms 10,300 (5,150) 2 0.01
Boxing Gym Zipporah 6,100 (6,100) 1 0.01
Taqwacores Rumanni 5,500 (5,500) 1 0.01
Inhale IFC 5,600 (2,800) 2 0.01

Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 – Oct. 21, 2010)

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Warner Bros. (25) 1403.9 16.30%
Paramount (15) 1310.6 15.30%
Fox (16) 1287.9 15.00%
Buena Vista (15) 1144.7 13.30%
Sony (23) 1129.9 13.20%
Universal (17) 771.4 9.00%
Summit (10) 453.6 5.30%
Lionsgate (12) 411.5 4.80%
Overture (7) 79.7 0.90%
Focus (7) 73.2 0.90%
Fox Searchlight (6) 72.7 0.80%
Weinstein Co. (7) 61.6 0.70%
Sony Classics (21) 53.7 0.60%
MGM (1) 50.4 0.60%
CBS (2) 50 0.60%
Other * (271) 226.9 2.70%
8581.7 100.00%
* none greater than .04%

Top Domestic Grossers * (Jan. 1 – Oct. 21, 2010)

Title Distributor Gross
Avatar * Fox 476,726,209
Toy Story 3 BV 413,013,123
Alice in Wonderland BV 334,191,110
Iron Man 2 Par 312,445,596
Twilight: Eclipse Summit 300,531,751
Inception WB 289,881,124
Despicable Me Uni 247,148,995
Shrek Forever After Par 238,667,087
How to Train Your Dragon Par 218,685,707
The Karate Kid Sony 176,797,997
Clash of the Titans WB 163,214,888
Grown Ups Sony 161,942,598
The Last Airbender Par 131,733,601
Shutter Island Par 128,051,522
The Other Guy Sony 118,236,912
Salt Sony 118,229,865
Valentine’s Day WB 110,509,442
Sherlock Holmes * WB 106,967,985
Robin Hood Uni 105,425,146
The Expendables Lions Gate 103,068,524
* does not include 2009 box office

Best Picture Chart – 19 Weeks To Go – 10/21/10

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

The Ten, If I Had To Pick Today
Dec 25
True Grit
The King’s Speech
Dec 1
Black Swan
Oct 1

The Social Network
Dec 10
The Fighter
O. Russell
Nov 5
127 Hours
Oct 22
June 18
Toy Story 3
July 16

July 9
The Kids Are All Right
The Next Tiers Of Likely
Dec 17
Everything You’ve Got
Nov 24
Love & Other Drugs
Zwick Hathaway
Dec 29
Another Year
June 11 Winter’s Bone
Feb 19
Shutter Island
July 30
Get Low
Sept 15
Never Let Me Go
Sept 17
The Town


Nov 19
Made In Dagenham
Oct 8
Dec 25



Dec 10
The Tempest
Dec 31
Blue Valentine
Dec 29
Dec 29
The Way Home

by David Poland

Previous Chart

September 29, 2010