Posts Tagged ‘Leaves of Grass’

The DVD Wrap: Splice, The Magician, White on Rice, Leaves of Grass, and more …

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Splice: Blu-ray

If an Academy Award were given each year to the most ingenious new monster, it would be difficult to choose between the conjoined creature created by a mad surgeon in The Human Centipede and the genetic abominations in Splice.

In Vincenzo Natali’s continuously inventive sci-fi/horror thriller, Splice, a pair of young scientists extends a genetic experiment far beyond its intended goal, if only because they’re curious as to what their research might reveal. Hired by a corporate laboratory to create animal hybrids from which medical benefits might be gained, Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) balk when their employers decide to put the brakes on the project for economic reasons.

Although neither would appear to fit the same profile as Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Dr. Paul Moreau, they share with them a belief that the laws of God and man don’t apply to them. The same could be said of the corporate executives who answer to God on Sunday mornings and the lords of Wall Street the rest of the week, but that’s an entirely different movie. Clive and Elsa’s first genetic experiment results in a slug-like animal that mostly slithers and grows.

It’s possible that the beast’s chemicals could be useful, but further investigation – if not experimentation – is required. Our frustrated protagonists extend their research to its logical conclusion, though, by adding human DNA to the original cocktail. The result is a humanoid, Dern, who appears to be equal parts flying squirrel, kangaroo and petulant beauty queen. Like other babies, Dern is cute, curious and mischievous, all qualities that Elsa finds to be endearing.

Soon, less appealing traits reveal themselves in Dern, including a willingness to exploit her undeniable sexuality for her own devious purposes, one of which is possessing Clive’s heart. Without being at all derivative, Splice recalls much of David Cronenberg’s work: thought-provoking, scary and extremely well made. Natali describes it as a “metaphor for dysfunctional parenting.” The Blu-ray package adds, “A Director’s Playground: Vicenzo Natali on the set of Splice.”


The Magician: The Criterion Collection: Blu-ray

Chronologically, Ingmar Bergman’s The Magician fits roughly between such acknowledged masterpieces as The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, and The Virgin Spring and Through a Glass Darkly. If the movie isn’t often mentioned in the same breath as those classics, it’s probably because Bergman used it less to address great philosophic and religious questions than artistic concerns of less gravity to his growing legion of admirers.

Influenced by a G.K. Chesterton play the filmmaker admired, The Magician — a.k.a., Ansiktet (The Face) – used the mysteries and pretense of the illusionist’s art to comment on such peeves as the intolerance of critics, rigidity of scientists and pomposities of small-town potentates. Max von Sydow stars as Dr. Vogler, a mid-19th Century mesmerist who travels through Europe with a small company of associates, casting spells and performing rudimentary magic tricks.

To support themselves, they also peddle a line of potions designed to cure the ills of rubes in the towns on their itinerary. On the road to Stockholm, their carriage is stopped by a local sheriff acting on orders of the town’s minister of health, Dr. Vergerus (Gunnar Bjornstrand). Before they’re allowed to proceed, the company must perform before a select audience of skeptics. If he fails the audition, Vogler could be charged as a fraud.

Like any good magician who keeps his best tricks hidden up a sleeve, Vogler survives an early faux pas by identifying the scientist’s greatest fear and leveraging it against him. Meanwhile, the servants keep themselves amused by frolicking with the visitors, testing the potions and accepting the magician for what he is, an entertainer with extreme “animal magnetism.”

The Criterion Collection edition features a newly restored high-def digital transfer that literally makes the black-and-white presentation sparkle; a new visual essay by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie; a brief 1967 video interview with the director; an English-language audio interview with Bergman; and a booklet with an essay by critic Geoff Andrew.


White on Rice

Movies populated by characters of a single ethnic or minority group face several commercial obstacles, besides attracting cross-over audiences. In addition to being entertaining, for example, they’re also expected to comment on the experience of being someone other than a descendant of the original American settlers.

White on Rice is about a fully assimilated Asian-American family living in Salt Lake City, the most conspicuously bland community in the United States. For all it says about the “outside” experience, it might as well take place in Chicago and feature a family of Greek-Americans … oh, yeah, that one’s taken. And, that’s kind of the point. Hiroshi Watanabe plays 40-year-old Jimmy, a socially inept Japanese divorcé who’s moved into the suburban home of his sister, brother-in-law and precocious nephew.

More than anything else, Jimmy wants to find another woman willing to put up with the needs and desires of a spoiled Japanese man. Most of the Asian-American women he meets in SLC are as American as the Mormon Tabernacle and, although he has some endearing qualities, Jimmy is extremely boring. Nevertheless, he confuses the kindness of a cousin for romantic encouragement and is devastated when she allows a former boyfriend to re-enter her life. Jimmy’s depression also has a negative effect on his hard-working brother-in-law, who feels as if the family’s infrastructure is about to collapse under the weight of their guest’s ineptitude.

Eventually, as they must in these sorts of comedies, fortunes reverse themselves. White on Rice is Dave Boyle’s second feature, after the offbeat fish-out-of-water comedy, Big Dreams Little Tokyo. While the humor in White on Rice is probably too broad to satisfy most mainstream audiences, it demands little of its viewers. The predominantly Asian cast is universally bright and enthusiastic. As diversions go, I’ve seen a lot worse.


Arn: The Knight Templar

Until recently, Hollywood was the go-to place for vast historical epics. When ambitious filmmakers ran out of options everywhere else, they’d come here to realize their dreams. Even the great Akira Kurosawa struggled to find the money and support to make movies that told big stories.

That’s changed somewhat, though. Chinese filmmakers have displayed both the financial wherewithal and talent to compete with the American studios at their own game, while computers can create great armies from a platoon of extras on horseback. Sweden would be among the last of the major filmmaking countries one would expect to make a movie with the same historical and romantic scope as Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven or Australia. Arn: The Knight Templar, based on the novels of Jan Guillou, uses the saga of a fictional warrior, Arn Magnusson, to describe life in Sweden before the formulation of a recognizable kingdom.

After a bloody encounter with an elder from rival tribe and forbidden sexual relations with a woman from another clan, Magnusson is ordered to serve as a knight templar in the Third Crusade. Meanwhile, his lover, Cecilia, is sentenced to 20 years of labor in a convent. While in the Holylands, Magnusson gains a reputation as a much-feared warrior. In a skirmish with bandits, he saves the life of the Arab military genius, Saladin, with whom he feels a kinship based on honor and mutual respect. Conveniently, Magnusson’s tour of duty ends just before Saladin’s takeover of Jerusalem. Upon his return to Götaland, the knight is re-united with Cecilia and volunteers to lead the local king’s resistance to an invasion by tribes aligned with the Danes.

Filmed in Sweden, Scotland and Morocco, Arn is reported to be the most expensive film production in Swedish history, and every krona shows in the production values. The costumes and sets are excellent, as are the battles staged by director Peter Flinth with hundreds of extras and horses. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the movie’s leading man, Joakim Nätterqvist, find a home in English-language projects, as have co-stars Stellan Skarsgard, Bibi Andersson and Vincent Perez. The DVD adds a pair of making-of featurettes.


I Am Comic

Look closely at the face of a standup comedian and you’ll see the tracks made by the tears of a clown, or so sayeth Smoky Robinson. It’s also what the men and women we meet in I Am Comic want us to believe. In his often hilarious documentary, Jordan Brady follows retired performer Ritch Shydner as he struggles to get his groove back after a 13-year hiatus from the club scene.

Shydner had a once-promising career, appearing in HBO specials, TV pilots and late-night talk shows. After a while, though, he decided to pull himself off the road and focus on writing, instead. Between Shydner’s musings about the grind of standup work and his efforts to put together a new routine, Brady intersperses material culled from interviews with dozens of stand-up comics, ranging from true stars to virtual unknowns. Especially outrageous are the stories about the uncouth behavior of comedians who share apartments owned by nightclub owners too cheap to afford hotel rooms.

That’s not the worst of it, either. In some clubs, the owners treat even the headliners as if they’re panhandlers. Among the participants are Tim Allen, Tom Arnold, Dave Attell, Lewis Black, Margaret Cho, Lewis C.K., Phyllis Diller, Tom Dreesen, Jeff Foxworthy, Janeane Garofalo, Sarah Silverman, Robert Schimmel and Carrot Top. The bonus material adds extended interviews and club scenes.


Forbidden Lie$

Literary and journalistic hoaxes have become so commonplace, it’s difficult to fully trust any controversial work of non-fiction. Authors found guilty of bending the truth beyond recognition use “literary license” as an excuse for their crime. Movies get around the problem by adding the line, “Based on a true story.”

In 2003, Random House published a book by a woman, purporting to be Norma Khouri, about a Jordanian friend murdered by her brother in an Islamic honor killing. The title of the international best-seller was Forbidden Love (a.k.a., Honor Lost). Those are the facts of the case, as presented by Australian documentary maker, Anna Broinowski, in Forbidden Lie$. Everything else we know about Khouri, her book, the murdered woman and honor killing in Jordan has been laid open to question.

Australian journalists were the first to begin tearing Khouri’s story apart. They established that Khouri was Norma Bagain Toliopoulos. She was born in Jordan, but raised on the south side of Chicago. In 2001, a few steps ahead of the FBI, the woman moved to Australia with her husband and children. It was there that she wrote the book that would stir two major controversies: first, that Jordan would countenance such abominations and, second, that almost nothing she wrote was 100-percent accurate.

Broinowski took Norma up on her challenge to prove that the book was a fraud and discovered a woman so complex and sure of herself, she made Clifford Irving and James Frey look like schoolboys. In Forbidden Lie$, she also demonstrates how good an actress Norma is. The documentary is absolutely fascinating, whether it’s exposing the charade or balancing her lies with the truth. The bonus package adds lots more testimony as to Norma’s possibly criminal background in Chicago and the very real subject of honor killing.


Leaves of Grass

Edward Norton plays identical twin brothers in Tim Blake Nelson’s often delightful, if wholly schizophrenic Leaves of Grass, an indie comedy that demands to be accepted on its own quirky terms. Apart from sharing an ex-hippie mother (Susan Sarandon) and Oklahoma roots, Bill and Brady Kincaid couldn’t possibly be any more different from each other.

Bill is a highly respected Ivy League philosophy professor, while Blake has gained a reputation locally for growing hellaciously good marijuana. One’s life is ruled by ethics, while the other is a righteous criminal. Although there’s nothing noticeably wrong in their relationship, Bill has stayed away from Oklahoma for a good long while, perhaps because his mom is such a nut job. (At 50, she chooses to live in a retirement home, where she’s the youngest resident by several years.)

Apparently, Brady and his good-ol’-boy pal, Bolger (Nelson), have gotten into a spot of trouble and could use someone who looks exactly like Brady to pull off an elaborate scam. They con Bill into coming home by saying that his brother was killed by an Orthodox Jew drug dealer (Richard Dreyfuss) from Tulsa. The explosive situation is leavened by Brady’s sweet stoner girlfriend (Melanie Lynskey) and her friend Janet (Keri Russell), a high school teacher and poet, who returned to Oklahoma after becoming disenchanted with the academic life in New England.

Among Janet’s endearing qualities is an ability to “noodle” catfish and recite Walt Whitman while gutting them, in preparation for dinner. Leaves of Grass would fit squarely within the definition of romantic comedy, if it weren’t for the number of violent deaths that occur during its 105-minute length. A couple of them are so surprising as to be shocking. All of the lead actors are fun to watch, as they straddle the tightrope between sentimentality and farce. Musician Steve Earle also is scary in the role of a no-nonsense drug dealer.

The bonus package adds a good making-of featurette, in which Nelson and Norton explain their motivations for spending time on a movie, however entertaining, that always looked to be a tough commercial sell.


Language of the Enemy

In 2005, a 21-minute musical comedy titled West Bank Story used Romeo & Juliet as a light-hearted vehicle to comment on the futility of life in war-torn Israel. In it, an Israeli soldier falls in love with the Palestinian cashier at one of two rival falafel stands in the occupied territories. Imagine the cast of Glee performing during a break at a Camp David summit and you’ll have an idea of how much fun the Oscar-winning short was to watch.

Language of the Enemy (a.k.a., A House Divided) revisits the Shakespearian conceit, this time with a far more tragic agenda. Eoin Bailey plays Romi Meir, a young American businessman in Israel for the funeral of his father, killed in a terrorist attack. While there, a cousin coerces him into using his knowledge of Arabic to serve as a spy for the Israeli secret service. Tying up loose ends at his father’s bakery shop in Ramallah would give him the perfect cover for taking photographs of armed Palestinians.

Instead, Romi gets caught up in a rally disrupted by snipers, and witnesses the killing of a boy and his father, ostensibly by Israeli soldiers. He, too, is wounded in the fracas. Fortuitously, Romi’s surgeon is the beautiful Palestinian women, Joleh, with whom he bonded earlier over bread at the bakery. If their stars weren’t crossed before then, they sure were now. Joleh allows Romi to recover from his wounds at her home, where her blind grandfather studies the Koran and cheats at backgammon. Anyone familiar with Romeo & Juliet will know what happens next, if not precisely where. And, yes, it’s tragic.

The cast, which also features F. Murray Abraham and Tovah Feldshuh, does what it can to support the highly condensed series of coincidences and shortcuts that lead to the ill-fated romance. The Israeli settings add to the film’s limited credibility. Ultimately, though, the on-going struggle for a solution to the Mideast crisis proves to be too weighty a dilemma to be alleviated by one couple’s suffering.


Daniel & Ana

Reports of drug-related massacres, assassinations and kidnappings pour out of Mexico like so many illegal aliens at an unattended border crossing. Unless one is anticipating a vacation in Acapulco or Cabo, Americans have begun tuning out all but the most horrendous incidents. We’re told that Daniel & Ana is based on one of those truly shocking trends and everything plays out exactly as it did in reality. Otherwise, Michel Franco’s first feature would be sexual equivalent of a snuff film … too ugly to be anything but myth.

Although separated by several years, siblings Daniel and Ana are as close as twins. She’s about to be married to a man whose stability she admires, while he’s only recently begun exploring his own sexuality. On the way back from a store, they’re kidnapped by men who know their names. Instead of demanding a ransom from relatives, the kidnappers give Ana and Daniel an impossible choice: have sex before their camera or be raped and killed.

Reluctantly, the siblings choose life over certain death. Franco’s cameras observe the sexual intercourse dispassionately, but at a length that some critics have considered to be gratuitous. The rest of the movie deals with Daniel and Ana’s difficulties in dealing with what happened to them and how the change in their personalities affects everyone else. The fate of sex tape itself remains unknown. I found the movie to be a shattering experience, if only because we know that nothing will be the same for Daniel and Ana ever again.

We’re told, as well, that such tapes are passed around in certain circles like snuff films reportedly were in the 1980s and, of course, child pornography still is. I think that, by lingering on the sexual act, Franco attempts to implicate anyone who’s watched reality-based porn, however phony, and gets off to it. Clearly, Daniel & Ana isn’t a movie that can or should be recommended to mainstream audiences, even those used to watching NC-17 titles. As further evidence of man’s inhumanity to man, however, it serves the intended purpose.


Brain Dead
Crucible of Terror
Four Boxes

Kevin Tenney’s latest gore-fest is a throwback to the days when all one needed to sell a horror flick to drive-in audiences was to bash in the heads of otherwise anonymous characters, introduce a grotesque humanoid or alien, and flash some bodacious ta-tas.

Brain Dead does all that all and adds a generously macabre sense of humor, as well. The first hole in the head is administered by a meteorite that turns an angler into a zombie. A few minutes later, a young woman in the company of a sleazeball evangelist goes topless, causing a passerby to drive his car into a tree. Three more sets of very large breasts are revealed before the zombie strikes, again. Oh, yeah, there’s also a crazed escaped convict who takes refuge in a deserted fishing cabin, which provides shelter for the fearful characters.

The siege continues until a gorgeous forest ranger has her brain ripped from her head and, well, you get the picture. Instead of being scary, the effect is strangely entertaining. The movie’s most compelling mystery, perhaps, lies in the fact that screenwriter Dale Gelineau has only one other script to his credit, and that was for an episode of Moonlighting nearly a quarter-century ago.

Fans of mid-century British horror will find something to enjoy in Crucible of Terror, a 1971 thriller notable mostly for starring former Pirate Radio deejay Mike Raven (a.k.a., Austin Churton Fairman). Raven plays a Victor Clare, a sculptor whose bronzes resemble beautiful women who no longer are listed among the living. Clare lives in a spooky mansion, from which his alcoholic son has stolen some sculptures and given them to a gallery owner.

The works attract the attention of the dealer’s patrons, who would like to see more examples. Alas, Clare is more interested in seeking perfection than making money. The gallery owner and his patrons journey to Clare’s remote studio in hopes of convincing him to change his mind. Instead, horror ensues. Crucible of Terror is far more interesting as an artifact than a thriller … which it’s not, particularly.

Indeed, Raven’s own story would make a far more interesting movie. Besides employment as a deejay and actor, at various stages in his life he was a sculptor, occultist, TV presenter, production manager, writer, ballet dancer, photographer, flamenco guitarist and, finally, a sheep farmer. He lived in interesting times and in intriguing places. The DVD, which looks much better than previous video versions, reportedly was transferred from the only known uncut 35mm print in existence, loaned to Severin Films by a Bodmin Moor coven.

Four Boxes is one of those movies that asks viewers to tag along through most of its length, then, with only about 20 minutes to go, presents new facts not in evidence, thereby pulling the rug out from under them. Instead of succeeding as a fully realized thriller, it exists mostly as a parlor trick. Here, a trio of estate scavengers and Internet geeks moves into the home of a recently deceased man.

They become obsessed with a voyeuristic website,, which is chronicling the movements of a gnarly freak they nickname Havoc. He appears to be capable of inflicting great danger on society, but not so much as they would feel necessitated a call to police. And, yes, therein lies the rug, er, rub.


Sex and Lucia: Blu-ray
All American Orgy

More than any other American filmmaker, Radley Metzger set the table for the sexual revolution in the cinema during the late 1960s and early 1970s, by importing I, a Woman and directing such posh soft-core erotica as Camille 2000, The Lickerish Quartet, Therese and Isabelle and Carmen, Baby. In the guise of Henry Paris, he also demonstrated that hard-core pornography could be classy and sexy.

His The Opening of Misty Beethoven, Barbara Broadcast and Maraschino Cherry still hold up as classics. Before those films were released, he made Score as Radley Metzger.

Typically, the movie was set in a haunt of the idle European rich and starred actors who could have stepped out of the pages of Vogue, wearing the same evening clothes and lingerie. Here, a happily married man and woman enter into a competition as to which one is able to introduce a newlywed couple into the swingers’ lifestyle first. The affairs take place at a nice Riviera villa (Zagreb, actually). Score is heavy on same-sex couplings – especially of the boy-boy variety — which, at the time, was highly unusual. The set includes an entertaining interview with cult goddess Lynn Lowry.

Cult Epics is also releasing Tinto Brass’ 2003 erotic comedy, Private (a.k.a., Do It), an uncharacteristically playful collection of vignettes, in which gorgeous women demonstrate just how easy it is to manipulate their men, using only their joysticks. Each short film introduces a different kink, accompanied by jazzy music and lavish settings. The sex is tame compared to what’s au courant in American porn circles, but only a handful of directors here – Andrew Blake among them – care to make sex look fashionable, anymore. The set comes with a making-of featurette, photo galleries and previews of other Brass titles.

Spanish director Julio Medem made Sex and Lucia after scoring big in 1998 with the intricately structured Lovers of the Arctic Circle. If he accomplished nothing more than introducing the luscious Paz Vega to a weary world in Sex and Lucia, Medem could have considered his mission on Earth accomplished.

It, too, is multilayered story, in which a writer falls for a waitress (Vega), while also obsessing over a nanny and her employer, the woman who might have borne his child. It helps that much of the action takes place on Formentera, one of Balearic islands. The Blu-ray edition benefits from the film having been shot digitally, unusual 12 years ago. It adds a behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews, soundtrack information, a photo gallery and bios.

The replacement title, All American Orgy, is nearly as misleading as the original, Cummings Farm. Yes, the dweebs gathered in a guesthouse at Cummings Farm are there to engage in an orgy, but next to nothing sexual actually occurs there and, what does is almost painful to watch. Sarah Silverman’s sister, Laura, is half of one of the three couples in attendance. Anyone hoping to catch a glimpse of her naughty bits will be sorely disappointed, though. As usual in these sorts of flicks, the women are far more evolved than the men, who, here, are lacking in even the most basic of social graces.


You Might As Well Live
The Trailer Park Boys: The Complete First Season

Considering the large number of comedians and comic actors who’ve made their mark in Hollywood, it’s odd that so few feature-length comedies have survived the journey south. British and French comedies do far better. You Might As Well Live arrives here in straight-to-DVD form. It’s representative of the kind of movie that lacks nearly all of the attributes of a successful comedy – pacing, timing, insight, irreverence – but still somehow manages to raise a smile.

Joshua Peace plays terminal loser Robert Mutt, who, after attempting to commit suicide several times, is committed to a mental hospital. Although he feels he’s among his element there, Mutt is tossed back into the streets for being too happy. Once home, he’s accused of being a purveyor of kiddie porn and subjected to even more harassment and ridicule.

This all changes when he runs into his hero, the near-mythic baseball player Clinton Manitoba (Michael Madsen), who encourages him to marry his catatonic daughter, Regina. His only other friends include a trannie and a mad bomber. If you assume we’re in Napoleon Dynamite territory here, you’re right. If that’s your cup of tea, take a sip of You Might as Well Live.

On the other hand, I have gotten hooked on several Canadian sitcoms, Trailer Park Boys being only the latest example. I caught up with the show rather late in its seven-year run, via a special DirecTV channel dedicated to reruns of interesting cable and foreign programs. Set in a generic mobile-home conclave in Nova Scotia, Trailer Park Boys wraps every trailer-trash cliché into a tidy package and, then, adds a few more insults of its own.

The protagonists, Julian and Ricky, are a pair of guys who spend most of their waking hours smoking home-grown pot, drinking and trying to come up new ways to avoid working for a living. Their best pal is Bubbles, who wears glasses with coke-bottle lenses, collects cats and converts stolen shopping carts into go-karts and hashish transports. Their nemesis is trailer-park supervisor, Mr. Lahey, a former cop and full-time alcoholic whose lover/assistant is a permanently shirtless former street hustler. There also are assorted girlfriends, kids and neighbors, one goofier than the next.

The show is real hoot, at once profane and sentimental. Season One opens the same way as the rest, with Ricky and Julian exiting jail and vowing to go straight. The faux documentary format predates its use in Ricky Gervais’ The Office.


Great Expectations/Kochuu

Jesper Wachtmeister’s documentary provides a comprehensive look back at radical movements in 20th Century architecture and the people who made them happen. They include Le Corbusier’s functionalist cities, Buckminster Fuller‘s geodesic domes, Moshe Safdie‘s Habitat ’67 prefab apartments, Rudolf Steiner‘s Goetheanum and other anthroposophy buildings in Switzerland, Oscar Niemeyer‘s designs for Brasilia, Paolo Soleri‘s arcology and Colin Fournier‘s biomorphic Kunsthaus Graz in Austria.

Wachtmeister’s film employs archival and contemporary footage, animation and interviews to explain why some ideas succeeded and others failed. Included in the package is Kochuu, a film that describes how Japanese architecture has influenced modernist Scandinavian design.


Skins: Volume 3
Sgu Stargate Universe: Complete First Season
Clatterford: Season 3
Wolverine and the X-Men: The Complete Series

Skins, which debuted here on BBC America, is simply one of my favorite television series of all time. Unlike American shows about teenagers, the characters in Skins are allowed to age and graduate to college or trade schools. The casts go through wholesale changes and the kids actually dress their age and status. By comparison, Glee and Gossip Girl might as well take place on Mars. The biggest difference, I suppose, is that Britain’s TV teens are allowed to use the same colorful language they would in real life and sexual hang-ups aren’t always cured with a morality lesson attached, nor is drug and alcohol abuse.

In Season Three, the central characters are back for another year at Roundview College, a school that will never be confused with Cambridge. This term’s “it girl” is Effy, a pretty brunet whose self-confident veneer is wafer thin. The boys compete for her attention and the girls want to be seen in her company. Eventually, though, as alliances shift, the strengths and weakness of the other key characters come to the fore. The DVD set includes bonus stories, behind-the-scenes material and auditions, and interviews.

Sgu Stargate Universe is the fourth series in the Stargate family. It joins Stargate SG-1 (1997), Stargate: Infinity (2002) and Stargate: Atlantis (2004). This time around, a group of soldiers, scientists and civilians find themselves stranded on a seed ship, left by the Ancients eons ago, billions of miles from Earth. The Destiny is locked on an unknown course, which means it will encounter all manner of alien forces, cultures and potential cataclysms. Among the cast members are Robert Carlyle, David Blue, Ming-Na, Justin Louis and Elyse Levesque.

The third season of the offbeat BBC series, Clatterford will be its last, unfortunately. The series, created by Ab-Fab stars Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders, followed the daily routines and get-togethers of the ladies of small-town Clatterford. The gossip is mixed with storylines that tackled various social issues. It will be missed.

The new Blu-ray Wolverine and the X-Men compilation includes all 26 episodes; 29 audio commentaries; a making-of featurette and The Inner Circle: Reflections on ‘Wolverine and the X-Men’; a trailer gallery; and English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio.

Weekend Box Office Report – September 19

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

A trio of new films was expected to duke it out for weekend bragging rights but Friday box office returns burst that bubble. The cops and robbers of The Town prevailed with an estimated $23.6 million while the high school angst and hijinx of Easy A took place position with $18 million; followed with a $12.5 million gross for the horror entry Devil.

The session’s fourth national bow was the family-targeted Alpha and Omega (in 3D) that ranked fifth with $9.2 million.

And despite the surge of new blood, weekend box office was no better than on par with 2010; albeit with fewer people buying tickets.

The frame was also chock-a-block with new additions in regional and exclusive play. The Toronto fest favorite Incendies had a solid bow in Quebec of $170,500 at 29 venues while another TIFF debut, the adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, rang up a per engagement average of $29,370 from four screens. Also good in limited exposure were Philip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut Jack Goes Boating and the black comic Leaves of Grass.

Though The Town was clearly out-pacing its competition in advance ticket sales, tracking pundits pegged the latter day Ridgemont High antics of Easy A as the box office leader for the frame. Devil was expected to be very close behind the duo.

But some unexpected twists altered the scenario. The most telling wild card was the fact that Devil went against the grain of drawing in women (horror films generally draw a majority distaff audience). Exit polls revealed the horror film’s audience at 60% while The Town, which was expected to be predominantly male, had a better than expected 45% female buyers.

Conversely, Easy A’s composition was two-thirds female and whenever two films display comparable strength, the one that favors males usually dominates. Men out-weigh women among avid filmgoers.

Weekend revenues should top out just shy of $100 million for a sizeable 24% boost from the immediate prior weekend. However, that also translated into a 1% box office drop from 2009. A year ago the debuts of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Informant held the top two slots with respective opening salvos of $30.3 million and $10.5 million.

Holdovers largely took it on the chin with last weekend’s chart topper Resident Evil: Afterlife going free fall by 63%. In general older titles saw their box office halved. The alternative hits of summer have pretty much run their course and specialized exhibitors are almost rabid about getting the deluge of film festival favorites on screen to bolster flagging sales.

Weekend Estimates – September 17-19, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
The Town WB 23.6 (8,250) New 2861 23.6
Easy A Sony 18.0 (6,310) New 2856 18
Devil Uni 12.5 (4,460) New 2809 12.5
Resident Evil: Afterlife Sony/Alliance 9.9 (3,090) -63% 3209 43.8
Alpha and Omega Lions Gate 9.2 (3,490) New 2625 9.2
Takers Sony 3.0 (1,390) -48% 2139 52.3
The American Focus 2.7 (1,110) -52% 2457 32.8
Inception WB 2.0 (1,510) -29% 1305 285.1
The Other Guys Sony 1.9 (1,050) -43% 1827 115.3
Eat Drink Pray Sony 1.6 (980) -44% 1668 77.6
Machete Fox 1.6 (940) -63% 1704 24.2
Going the Distance WB 1.3 (660) -65% 2007 16.7
The Expendables Lions Gate 1.3 (720) -59% 1854 101
The Last Exorcism Lions Gate 1.2 (600) -64% 2013 40.1
Nanny McPhee Returns Uni 1.0 (600) -53% 1588 27.6
The Switch BV .91 (790) -55% 1158 26.6
Despicable Me Uni .86 (910) -48% 944 244.7
Lottery Ticket WB .62 (920) -49% 677 23.5
Get Low Sony Classics .57 (1,380) -34% 421 7.8
Vampires Suck Fox .54 (560) -64% 964 35.8
Toy Story 3 BV .43 (900) -44% 475 410.5
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $94.30
% Change (Last Year) -1%
% Change (Last Week) 24%
Also debuting/expanding
Catfish Uni .25 (21,080) 12 0.25
Incendies eOne .17 (5,880) 29 0.17
Never Let Me Go Searchlight .12 (29,370) 4 0.16
I’m Still Here Magnolia .11 (970) 11% 111 0.25
Jack Goes Boating Overture 30,300 (7,580) 4 0.03
Leaves of Grass First Look 24,300 (8,100) 3 0.02
Picture Me Strand 6,800 (6,800) 1 0.01
The Freebie Phase 4 4,400 (4,400) 1 0.01
GasLand HBO 2,800 (1,400) 2 0.01
Kings of Pastry First Run 2,250 (2,250) 1 0.01

Domestic Market Share – January 1 – September 16, 2010

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Fox (15) 1232.8 15.60%
Warner Bros. (21) 1229.4 15.60%
Paramount (11) 1227.5 15.60%
Buena Vista (13) 1086.8 13.80%
Sony (20) 967.9 12.30%
Universal (14) 718.4 9.10%
Summit (9) 424.5 5.40%
Lions Gate (10) 382.2 4.80%
Fox Searchlight (4) 70.6 0.90%
Overture (5) 67.4 0.90%
Focus (6) 62.8 0.80%
Weinstein Co. (6) 60.3 0.80%
MGM (1) 50.4 0.60%
CBS (2) 50 0.60%
Sony Classics (18) 49.8 0.60%
Other * (235) 199.9 2.60%
7880.7 100.00%
* none greater than 0.45%

Friday Estimates – September 17

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

The Town|8.2|2861||8.2
Easy A|6.7|2856||6.7
Resident Evil: Afterlife|3|3209|-72%|36.9
Alpha and Omega|2.3|2625||2.3
The American|0.8|2457|-53%|30.9
The Other Guys|0.6|1827|-42%|114
Also Debuting
Never Let Me Go|33,500|4||33,500
Jack Goes Boating|8,300|4||8,300
Leaves of Grass|6,900|2||6,900
Picture Me|2,900|1||2,900
The Freebie|1,900|1||1,900

Leaves of Grass writer/director Tim Blake Nelson

Monday, March 15th, 2010

24 Weeks To Go Toronto Scores A Single, But Not Much More

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

That sound you heard coming out of the Toronto International Film Festival this year…

Near silence.

The films that came in hot (An Education & Precious) stayed hot, the new film expected to come out hot (Up In The Air & A Serious Man) came out hot, and a total of one title that went in unsure came out with some heat, A Single Man.

Just not that exciting, awardswise.

There were other good movies. But there was not much of a fuse lit. Studios started pushing away from the Gala events at Roy Thompson Hall, often preferring the less tony environs of the Elgin, the newly reopened for movies Winter Garden, and often the college theater energy of Ryerson Hall.

The Road wasn’t killed… but it didn’t come flying out of the week either. Capitalism: A Love Story wasn’t a car wreck… but it was a lot more Sicko than Fahrenheit 9/11.

At $1 million, A Single Man was the biggest sale of the festival… which tells you right away that there were no rush-it-out sure bets like The Wrestler or The Hurt Locker in play at the festival this year.

Creation, Agora, Chloe, Mother & Child, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, Micmacs, Love & Other Impossible Pursuits, The Young Victoria, Triage, Harry Brown, The Joneses, The Vintner’s Luck, The Boys Are Back, Leaves of Grass, Life During Wartime, Ondine, and London River are part of the long list of high profile titles looking to break out at TIFF and just not doing so. Cannes hits Broken Embraces, Bright Star, A Prophet, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus did fine… but didn’t have a next step, propelled by Oprah or anyone else.

The non-Best Picture arthouse breakout may turn out to be the Chinese-made City of Life & Death while the most commercial films might be Whip It (large size) and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (small size).

But still… the only potentially significant awards story to emerge from TIFF 2009 was A Single Man.

And the only really bad news for a film that was looking for a push out of TIFF was Bright Star, which opened on 19 screens for a 3-day $9,984 per-screen average and expanded to 130 screens and a $5,168 per-screen. The film is running slightly ahead of Cheri, as an example, on weekend per-screen, though after 10 days, Cheri is running slightly ahead of Bright Star because of weekday numbers. I still expect Bright Star to outperform Cheri, but $5 million seems like the high bar domestically. That is unlikely to be enough to make the Best Picture leap, especially in a season with an unusual number of strong female-driven films (Nine, Precious, An Education, Coco Before Chanel, Julie and Julia, Amelia, It’s Complicated and more).

Outside of Toronto, there have also been casualties of timing. Films from Martin Scorsese, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Lasse Hallstrom, Neil Jordan, and Paul Greengrass all are out of the game because they won’t be released this year.

What is clear is that there is plenty of room to fight for a slot at this point. Of my Top 12 – which is really my entire top group at this point – only three of the films are unseen as of this writing (Nine, Invictus, and Avatar). In addition, there are a couple of completely blind items, like Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol and Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. Traditionally, films like Sherlock Holmes, The Blind Side, and It’s Complicated are commercial films and not Oscar films… but there is always room for a pop.

What finally smashed me in the face up in Toronto was that with 10 Best Picture nominees and only five in each of the acting slots, it could get pretty weird. Nine and Precious are actress fests. Invictus, A Serious Man, A Single Man, and The Hurt Locker are actor parties. But at the same time, you have to assume an Oscar nomination for Daniel Day Lewis in Nine and for Julianne Moore in A Single Man. How many of the 8 star actresses can be nominated for Nine?

If it’s Day-Lewis, Clooney, Firth, Renner, and Damon… what happens to Mortensen, Wahlberg, Sarsgaard, Stuhlbarg, and Maguire?

If it’s Streep, Mulligan, Cotillard, Weisz, and Sidibe… what happens to Tautou, Cruz, Cornish, Swank, and Theron?

Supporting Actor is looking like the softest category with potential in Gyllenhaal, Tucci, Molina, Duvall, and Kind.

Best Supporting Actress is a MONSTER… Just Nine has Dench, Loren, Hudson, Cruz, and Kidman. Add Ronan, Farmiga, Kendrick. Moore, Adams, Portman… and God knows who else?

So here we are… about two months from things really locking in… and while The Ten doesn’t seem to be in for a whole lot of changes, there are some big fights brewing in the other categories. With 10 nominees, all of these films are more likely to be seen by Academy voters.. making it all the more interesting.

– David Poland
September 30, 2009