Posts Tagged ‘Paranormal Activity 2’

Rombes On Paranormal Activity 2 As Avant-Garde Filmmaking

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Rombes On Paranormal Activity 2 As Avant-Garde Filmmaking

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

Weekend Estimates – November 21

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt 1|126.2|New|126.2
Due Date|8.9|-42%|72.4
The Next Three Days|6.7|New|6.7
Morning Glory|5.2|-43%|19.8
For Colored Girls|6.6|-64%|30.8
Red|2.4|-51% |83.5
Paranormal Activity 2|2.3|-64%|34.5

Weekend Box Office Report – November 7

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

No Brainer

Megamind led a torrid weekend box office frame (the largest for a pre-Thanksgiving November) with a first salvo estimated at $47.5 million. Two other national openers followed in succession with strong numbers. The comedy road trip Due Date grossed $33.4 million and the Afrocentric For Colored Girls bowed to $20.1 million.

There was also a pair of Bollywood films timed to the Dwali holiday. Golmaal 3 had solid returns of $443,000 from 86 screens while Action Replayy was disappointing with $232,000 from 99 venues. In Quebec Reste avec moi pancaked on a gross of $25,600 in an initial 19 playdates.

In limited and exclusive runs the politically charged Fair Game polled a respectable $663,000 that indicates challenging expansion plans. Among the remaining newcomers there was a good solo for Algerian Oscar submission Outside the Law of $7,500. But the big noise of the weekend was the not-for-the-squeamish 127 Hours, which played to near capacity at four and generated a staggering screen average of $66,570.

Weekend revenues ballooned as a result of buoyant new titles and some very strong holdovers.

The latest from DreamWorks Animation, Megamind, was generally pegged to debut in a mid-$40 million arena though some felt it could have performed better on a less competitive weekend. Though that contention is dubious, the rest of the year really doesn’t offer that option with both pre-sold and award titles beginning to open up the multiplex floodgates.

Due Date — with its obvious references to Trains, Planes & Automobiles — renewed faith in the power of a high concept comedy. But the riskier For Colored Girls, based upon the acclaimed play by Ntozake Shange, was the session’s major question mark. Many had pursued the property for decades and concluded that it was unfilmable, so when Tyler Perry unexpectedly stepped forward there was a collective shudder. Critical response was mixed to positive while the opening box office was better than anticipated.

Overall box office should top $155 million for the weekend and best the immediate prior session by 67%. It’s also a 28% improvement from 2009 with the launch of the animated A Christmas Carol opened to $30.1 million with the frame’s other debs The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Fourth Kind slotting third and fourth with respectively $12.7 million and $12.2 million.

If you believe that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, the opening weekend of 127 Hours would certainly buttress your argument. Aside from sterling reviews, the fact-inspired tale of endurance has generated a lot of ink centering on the intensity of the viewing experience that appears to cause at least a few patrons to faint at every screening. The industry will be watching intently to see whether it remains a date movie as it expands nationally.

Also under the microscope is Fair Game that fell short of dynamic initial business. There’s already debate about the decision to open in more than a handful of venues and a feeling that rapid expansion will result in further disappointment along the lines of Conviction.


Weekend Estimates – November 5-7, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Megamind Par 47.5 (12,040) New 3944 47.5
ue Date WB 33.4 (9,960) New 3355 33.4
For Colored Girls Lionsgate 20.1 (9,440) New 2127 20.1
Red Summit 8.8 (2,720) -18% 3229 71.8
Saw 3D Lionsgate 7.9 (2,820) -67% 2808 38.5
Paranormal Activity 2 Par 7.1 (2,250) -57% 3168 77
Jackass 3D Par 5.0 (2,330) -41% 2165 110.8
Secretariat BV 4.1 (1,570) -18% 2614 51.1
Hereafter WB 4.0 (1,680) -38% 2365 28.7
The Social Network Sony 3.5 (1,890) -22% 1860 85
Life As We Know It WB 3.1 (1,610) -23% 1950 48.6
Conviction Fox Searchlight 1.5 (2,280) -16% 672 4.5
The Town WB 1.2 (1,510) -39% 801 89.8
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest Music Box/Alliance .74 (3,720) 2% 199 2
Fair Game Summit .66 (14,410) New 46 0.66
Easy A Sony .50 (1,070) -53% 468 57.3
Legend of the Guardians WB .45 (610) -74% 740 54
Golmaal 3 Eros .44 (5,140) New 86 0.44
Waiting for “Superman” Par Vantage .38 (1,570) -36% 242 5.4
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Fox .34 (960) -57% 353 51.9
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $149.10
% Change (Last Year) 28%
% Change (Last Week) 67%
Also debuting/expanding
127 Hours Searchlight .27 (66,570) 4 0.27
Action Replayy Viva .23 (2,340) 99 0.23
Stone Overture .18 (1,630) -28% 109 1.5
Four Lions Drafthouse 41,300 (5,160) 8 0.04
Reste avec moi Seville 25,600 (1,350) 19 0.03
Client 9 Magnolia 18,400 (6,130) 3 0.02
Red Hill Strand 8,400 (1,680) 5 0.01
Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi) Cohen Media 7,500 (7,500) 1 0.01
Trapped CJ Entertainment 4,400 (4,400) 1 0.01

Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 – Nov. 4, 2010)

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Warner Bros. (25) 1457.6 16.50%
Paramount (16) 1423.7 16.00%
Fox (16) 1290.9 14.50%
Buena Vista (15) 1163.9 13.10%
Sony (23) 1151.1 13.00%
Universal (17) 776.9 8.80%
Summit (10) 488.3 5.50%
Lionsgate (13) 444.2 5.00%
Overture (7) 81.2 0.90%
Fox Searchlight (6) 75.9 0.80%
Focus (7) 74.8 0.80%
Weinstein Co. (7) 62.3 0.70%
Sony Classics (21) 55.5 0.60%
MGM (1) 51.2 0.60%
CBS (2) 50 0.60%
Other * (281) 233.2 2.60%
8880.7 100.00%
* none greater than .04%

Top Global Grossers * (Jan. 1 – Nov. 4, 2010)

Title Distributor Gross
Avatar Fox 1,953,205,209
Toy Story 3 BV 1,061,408,156
Alice in Wonderland BV 1,024,537,295
Inception WB 831,539,135
Shrek Forever After Par 737,766,901
Twilight: Eclipse Summit 691,483,448
Iron Man 2 Par 622,718,600
How to Train Your Dragon Par 495,792,295
Despicable Me Uni 492,994,376
Clash of the Titans WB 489,778,913
Sherlock Holmes * WB 367,796,599
The Karate Kid Sony 359,315,646
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time BV 335,692,394
The Last Airbender Par 318,404,181
Robin Hood Uni 311,826,207
Shutter Island Par 301,977,955
Sex and the City 2 WB 301,158,934
Salt Sony 291,684,047
Resident Evil: Afterlife Sony/Alliance 277,419,991
Grown Ups Sony 270,265,798
The Expendables Lionsgate/NuImage 269,273,037
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel Fox 264,341,533
Knight and Day Fox 256,518,022
Percy Jackson & the Olympians Fox 226,497,209
Valentine’s Day WB 217,596,116
* does not include 2009 box office

Weekend Estimates – November 7

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Due Date|33.4|New|33.4
For Colored Girls|20.1|New|20.1
Saw 3D|7.9|-67%|38.5
Paranormal Activity 2|7.1|-57%| 77
Jackass 3D|5.0|-41% |110.8
The Social Network|3.5|-22%|85

Friday Estimates – November 6

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Due Date|12.1|3355|New|12.1
For Colored Girls|7.4|2127|New|7.4
Saw 3D|2.5|2808|-76%|2.5
Red|3.4 |3349|-25%|51.5
Paranormal Activity 2|2.5|3229|-27%|65.5
Jackass 3D|1.6|2165|-50%|107.3
The Social Network|1|1860|-32%|82.5
Also Debuting
Fair Game|0.18|46||0.18
Golmaal 3|0.12|86||0.12
127 Hours|77,400|4||77,400
Action Replayy|58,200|99||58,200
Four Lions|12,700|8||12,700
Reste avec moi|7,600|19||7,600
Client 9|5,450|3||5,450
Red Hill|3,000|5||3,000
Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi)|2,000|1||2,000
*in millions|||

Box Office Hell — November 4

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Our Players|Coming Soon|Box Office Prophets|Box Office Guru|EW|Box Office . com
Due Date|32.1|32.4|28|34|38
For Colored Girls|23.5|12.9|20|23|27
Saw 3D|8.5|8.5|8|8.5|8.5
Paranormal Activity 2 |7.0|5.8|7.5|7|6.5

Weekend Box Office Report – October 31

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

See … Saw … Ouch!

Saw 3D whipped into cinemas with an estimated $24.3 million to take top spot in weekend movie going. Distributors gave a wide berth to the Halloween frame when traditionally there are sharp drops in attendance; making the Saw finale the sole new national release.

A different sort of ghoul — the Millennium finale The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest — went limited wide to solid returns of $890,000, but otherwise the frame’s new entries were dominated by niche and exclusive launches. The best of the bunch was the Chinese trembler Aftershock with a single screen entry of $17,600. Other newcomers with good but not spectacular returns included indie drama Welcome to the Riley’s, Brit spy spoof Wild Target, Mexican prize winner Nora’s Will, Claude Chabrol’s final effort Bellamy and non-fiction entry Waste Land.

Overall box office saw a sharp fall from last weekend and a slight bump from 2009 results.

The seventh annual edition of the Saw franchise was hoping for an exit with bite with the addition of stereoscopic imagery. But pre-release tracking indicated that with or without gimmicks the mania was fading and its mid-$20 million weekend tally was pretty much in line with pundit’s predictions. The gore crowd would appear to be sated with current splatter fare but the past month has seen every segment of the audience unenthusiastic for the new crop of movies beyond their opening sessions.

The global juggernaut for the Millennium trilogy continued with the U.S. bow of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. The first installment, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, has racked up $99 million internationally and it and its second chapter are the top grossing foreign-language movies in America post-Pan’s Labyrinth.

Weekend revenues generated about $95 million in sales that translated into a 28% drop from the immediate prior session. It was a modest 6% improvement from 2009 when Michael Jackson: This Is It bowed to $23.2 million followed by Paranormal Activity with $16.4 million.

The fact-based Conviction expanded nationally to fair results and appears to be headed to the same sort of indifferent commercial returns as the rest of the early award season contenders. A sharp drop for last weekend’s Hereafter departs from the sort of holds associated with recent films directed by Clint Eastwood whereas the better than expected stamina of the geezer spies of RED has confounded box office mavens.

But apart from Jackass 3D (which passed a $100 million tally this weekend) such well-reviewed positive word-of-mouth entries as The Social Network and Secretariat have struggled to maintain a presence (forget about momentum) in a marketplace that has all but eliminated the possibility of a second wind.


Weekend Estimates – October 29-31, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Saw 3D Lionsgate 24.3 (8,660) New 2808 24.3
Paranormal Activity 2 Par 16.4 (5,070) -60% 3239 65.6
Red Summit 10.9 (3,250) -28% 3349 59
Jackass 3D Par 8.5 (2,720) -60% 3139 101.7
Hereafter WB 6.4 (2,630) -47% 2424 22.2
Secretariat BV 5.0 (1,610) -28% 3108 44.7
The Social Network Sony 4.7 (1,690) -36% 2767 79.7
Life As We Know It WB 4.1 (1,440) -33% 2860 43.6
The Town WB 2.0 (1,250) -27% 1608 87.7
Conviction Fox Searchlight 1.8 (3,220) 501% 565 2.4
Legend of the Guardians WB 1.8 (880) -46% 2010 52.7
Easy A Sony 1.1(880) -37% 1262 56.3
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest Music Box/Alliance .89 (5,830) New 152 0.89
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Fox .78 (840) -37% 933 51.2
Waiting for “Superman” Par Vantage .52 (1,580) -33% 330 4.6
Devil Uni .51 (800) -21% 635 33.1
Alpha and Omega Lionsgate .48 (710) -34% 676 24.1
It’s Kind of a Funny Story Focus .46 (960) -32% 477 5.8
You Again BV .41 (610) -37% 673 24.7
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger Sony Classics .33 (1,022) -24% 323 2.4
Toy Story 3 BV .31 (920) -34% 337 413.9
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $89.70
% Change (Last Year) 6%
% Change (Last Week) -28%
Also debuting/expanding
Stone Overture .22 (1,760) -39% 125 1.2
Nowhere Boy Weinstein Co. .13 (840) -62% 153 1
10.50 Alliance 55,800 (4,290) 13 0.06
Welcome to the Riley’s IDP 41,600 (4,160) 10 0.04
Nora’s Will Menemsha 25,300 (4,220) 6 0.03
Wild Target FreeStyle 23,200 (5,800) 4 0.02
Bellamy IFC 19,700 (9,850) 2 0.02
Monsters Magnolia 18,100 (6,030) 3 0.02
Aftershock AMC 17,600 (17,600) 1 0.02
Waste Land Arthouse 10.300 (10,300) 1 0.01
Walkaway IABA 9,400 (360) 26 0.01
Strange Powers Variance 4,800 (4,800) 1 0.01
The Kids Grow Up Shadow 4,600 (4,600) 1 0.01

Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 – Oct. 28, 2010)

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Warner Bros. (25) 1436.3 16.40%
Paramount (16) 1389.1 15.90%
Fox (16) 1289.8 14.70%
Buena Vista (15) 1155.5 13.20%
Sony (23) 1142.4 13.10%
Universal (17) 774.3 8.90%
Summit (10) 473.3 5.40%
Lionsgate (12) 412.7 4.70%
Overture (7) 80.6 0.90%
Focus (7) 74.1 0.80%
Fox Searchlight (6) 73.4 0.80%
Weinstein Co. (7) 61.9 0.70%
Sony Classics (21) 54.7 0.60%
MGM (1) 51.2 0.60%
CBS (2) 50 0.60%
Other * (277) 229.7 2.70%
8749 100.00%
* none greater than .04%

Top Limited Releases * (Jan. 1 – Oct. 28, 2010)

Title Distributor Gross
Hubble 3D WB 17,246,918
The Ghost Writer Summit 15,569,712
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Music Box/Alliance 11,270,373
The Young Victoria * Apparition/Alliance 11,131,232
Get Low Sony Classics 8,980,294
A Single Man * Weinstein Co. 7,935,872
The Girl Who Played with Fire Music Box/Alliance 7,768,761
Cyrus Fox Searchlight 7,461,082
Babies Focus 7,444,272
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus * E1/Sony Classics 7,394,171
City Island Anchor Bay 6,671,036
The Last Station Sony Classics 6,617,867
The Secret in Their Eyes Sony Classics 6,391,436
Winter’s Bone Roadside Attractions 6,204,696
It’s Kind of a Funny Story Focus 5,342,641
Under the Sea 3D * WB 5,256,073
I Am Love Magnolia 4,982,446
An Education * Sony Classics 4,963,224
The Hurt Locker * Summit 4,531,548
Solitary Man Anchor Bay 4,360,548
* does not include 2009 box office

Weekend Estimates – October 31

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Saw 3D|24.3|New|24.3
Paranormal Activity 2|16.4|-60%| 65.6
Jackass 3D|8.5|-60% |101.7
The Social Network|4.7|-36%|79.7
Life As We Know It|4.1|-33%|43.6
The Town|2.0|-27%| 87.7

Friday Estimates – October 30

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Saw 3D|10.8|2808|New|10.8
Paranormal Activity 2|6|3239|-57%|55.2
Red|3.4 |3349|-25%|51.5
Jackass 3D|3.1|3139|-59%|96.2
The Social Network|1.5|2921|-33%|76.5
Life As We Know It|1.4|3019|-28%|40.9
The Town|0.6|1918|-24%|86.3
Also Debuting
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest|0.28|124||0.28
Welcome to the Riley’s|12,500|10||12,500
Wild Target|7,600|4||7,600
Waste Land|4,800|1||4,800
The Kids Grow Up|2,650|1||2,650
*in millions|||

MW on Movies: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Paranormal Activity 2, and CIFF Wrap-Up

Friday, October 29th, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Three Stars)

Sweden; Daniel Alfredson, 2009

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the third of the Steig Larsson “Girl” movie adaptations — about a leftist Swedish investigative reporter named Mikael Blomkvist, a dragon-tattooed Lesbian computer hacker/investigator named Lisbeth Salander, and the rat’s nest of government corruption, private depravity and cold-blooded murder they uncover — is not quite as good as the first “Girl” movie (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), but about as good or a little better than the second (The Girl Who Played with Fire), and overall, a sometimes too-predictable but pretty entertaining show.

The Swedes have been unusually good at literary thrillers, just as they’re also unusually good at rock ‘n roll, and tennis, and lingonberry jam, and movies. Ingmar Bergman is still their best movie-maker ever, and one of the world’s best as well: one film writer-director who probably should have gotten the Nobel Prize for literature. (I‘m serious.) The Larsson books are, of course, what Graham Greene, another famous Nobel non-recipient, called “entertainments,“ crowd-pleasers mostly ignored by upper-echelon critics and prize-givers. But, sales-wise, they were world-wide phenomenons, and the writer’s own story is a fascinating one.

Like his hero (or maybe sidekick) Mikael, Steig was a leftist Swedish investigative reporter himself, engaging in obvious literary wish-fulfillment. He wrote the three novels (and maybe more), but died before any of them could be published. Put out posthumously, the Larsson trilogy have all become spectacular international best-sellers, and opened up a real life mystery drama as well an inheritance battle between his long-time girlfriend and his family.

Then came the movies and they’ve all been crowd-pleasers too, if not quite on the lofty financial level of the books. Here, the main actors are back — Michael Nyqvist as the angst-ridden, determined Mikael and Noomi Rapace as the bewitchingly sullen and silent half-pint dynamo Lisbeth. So are most of the supporting cast, including brilliant, warm Lena Endre (of Bergman and Ullmann‘s great Faithless), in the less flashy part of Mikael’s expose’ magazine colleague Erika; Georgi Staykov as Lisbeth’s brutal Russian defector father Alexander Zalachenko, Anders Ahlbom as her scum-sucking pedophiliac pig of a psychiatrist Dr. Peter Teleborian , and the best of all the movie’s many malevolent male villains, Micke Spreitz as the huge, blonde assassin Ronald Neiderman, a behemoth who feels no pain and looks as if he could take on three Robert Shaws from From Russia with Love” and send them all back to Moscow, mangled.

Back too are director Daniel Alfredson and scenarists Jonas Frykberg, who also collaborated on Played with Fire, but not, suggestively, on Dragon Tattoo, which was directed by Niels Arden Oplev and written by Nikolai Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg. This suggests that Oplev is a better, slicker director than Alfredson, but it also may be a script problem. Each of the unusually big Larsson books is arranged as a stand-alone murder mystery by itself, but they’re also part of a continuous saga, and by the end, there are so many strands to untie, that the last movie seems too rushed, even though it’s nearly two and a half hours long.

If you compare the movie “Girls” to the recent British crime trilogy Red Riding, though — which is also based on a novel trilogy about social corruption and dark secrets, written by novelist David Peace, and adapted and scripted by Tony Grisoni for three different directors — it holds up well. And the movie Red Riding is a modern masterpiece, on the “Godfather“ level of artistry.

Dragon Tattoo didn’t have to wrap everything up and audiences were probably so startled and/or delighted by their first look at Rapace’s hard-boiled anti-heroine Lisbeth that they didn’t care. There’s another problem with the last “Girl” story: Lisbeth is a damsel in distress and in jail or the hospital for much of its running time, and she’s more fun when she’s roaming free and kicking ass.

The best parts of Hornet‘s Nest are Lisbeth’s last battle with Neiderman and her courtroom scenes: She shows up as a defendant in a mohawk and leather, and she shoots laser stares through her prosecutor and chief opposing witness. Those scenes, and many others, connect like electric shocks and it‘s worth remembering that Daniel Alfredson has had a strong directorial career already. Interestingly, his older brother Thomas made one of the best-reviewed Swedish movies of the past decade, the recently remade (in America) vampire romance , Let the Right One In. Their father, the famous Swedish actor-director-writer, Hans Alfredson, appears in Hornet’s Nest as an elderly hit man.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest also mixes up thriller and romance movie genres, though in this case, the romance seems to be doomed: Mikael‘s apparently unrequited crush on Lisbeth, scourge of an astonishing gallery of vile male rapists, pedophiles, fascists and murderers. Mikael, the relentless reporter, has the same soft eyes as Erika, but Lisbeth’s glare pierces like a knife, and what they share is almost like Brief Encounter, crossed with a James Bond movie and All the President‘s Men.

I’m not going to start stumbling into Spoiler Alert hell, by describing more of the Hornet’s Nest story here. Even though it can be enjoyed separately, you really should see the first two movies before watching this one. You should also try the books later, though I’ve yet to finish them myself. As for the upcoming American remake, to be directed by David Fincher, with Daniel Craig as The Reporter and Rooney Mara as The Girl, well, you owe it to yourself to see Noomi and her tattoo and mohawk first. If Ingmar Bergman deserved a Nobel Prize for Literature, Noomi Rapace deserves a Palme d’Or for Punk and Perversity.


Paranormal Activity 2 (One and a Half Stars)

U. S.: Tod Williams, 2010

There’s an ugly rumor going around that Paranormal Activity 2 is a really scary movie, that it‘ll scare you silly. Well, not the one I saw ( a week late, unfortunately). You’d be silly to be scared. That Paranormal Activity — a sort of sequel, sort of prequel to last year’s ultra-low-budget ultra-smash hit about a squabbling couple and their fight with demonic possession, as recorded on home movies and video surveillance — is about as frightening as staring at your own left big toe, or gazing from a fixed position into a microwave oven at a slowly cooking bowl of Orville Redenbacher gourmet popcorn. I’m serious.

If you think you might jump with fright when that corn actually starts popping (POP!! POP!!!! POP!!!!!!), then you might be similarly terrified at the slamming doors and sudden loud clangs, the invisible spooks and fast-forwards or skips in the tape that are some of this new movie‘s main bag of tricks — not to mention all the mysterious, horrendous stuff going on off screen that the “Paranormal 2’” characters, especially a barking dog and a crying infant in a playpen, are staring at, but that you can’t quite see.

Me, I was mainly disturbed by the empty performances, the third-rate script, the pointless yammering pseudo-real dialogue, the low-tech, imitation surveillance tape camerawork, and all the unimaginative grabs and knockoffs from the first movie. And at the fact that I had to pay six dollars for a civilian’s ticket to see the damned thing. Sheeesh! I would have been better off buying the popcorn, better off ogling my toe. Seriously. Sort of.

I’m not trying to be Mr. Unspookable “You-can’t-scare-me” here. I‘m fully aware that 40 million dollars worth of supposedly terrified moviegoers lined up to climb into the theatre seats and then jump out of them, at innumerable showings of Paranormal Activity 2 last week. And that lots of smart critics seem to like it.

I’m also sadly conscious that it’s a better-than-even bet that millions more may line up at the polls next Tuesday and cast their votes for those mostly preposterous Republican Tea Party schnooks, phonies, millionaires and lunatics, and to rubber-stamp their idiotic plans to dismantle the government, tear up the social safety nets, rework the Constitution, make Twenty new Commandments, try to hire God as a financial advisor, and give windfalls to the same undeserving rich crooks and party-hearty incompetents and imbeciles who nearly destroyed the economy in the Bush era — all the while, watching their moolah-worshipping politico heroes stuff their greedy little hands and already-full pocketbooks with piles of corporate dough, and then line up to high-five and be “interviewed” by Roger` Ailles’ Fox News mob of mostly shameless shills, blow-dry creeps, and McCarthyite bozos and blowhards. You talk about scary? That’s scary!

But I realize you’re not here for some gonzo rant or Keith Olbermann tirade about the election. Sorry. Paranormal Activity 2. Gotcha! Focus. (Something the P.A. 2 cameras do, just barely.)

You see, it’s hard as hell for me to figure the appeal of something like Paranormal 2 — another sequel that tries to do everything the first movie did, and somehow justify copying it. I know that teen couples like to scream and grab each other in the dark. And the first Paranormal worked. It had a very clever low-budget, low-tech idea, somewhat like the first Blair Witch Project.

In nervous camerawork trained on mockumentary scenes and performances, that Paranormal showed us troubled Katie and compulsive filmmaker Micah, a combustible couple played by actors Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, try to get Katie over her fears of being a poltergeist-target or demon magnet, while using Micah’s home movie camera, and a surveillance camera in their bedroom, to try to spot and catch things going bump in the night. All the movie’s camerawork was amateur hand-held or fixed-position stuff, sometimes with an eerie blinking time code in the frame. And, to nobody‘s surprise the things bumping in the night, caught on candid camera, were something really bad that we couldn’t quite see.

The first Paranormal Activity cost (initially) about $11,000, and made a mint. This one cost 3 million or so, not really enough for most tea party “grass roots” political campaigns — and the law of diminishing returns, and diminishing movies, applies.

Paranormal 2 is supposedly set two months before the other one. As we watch, supposedly transfixed, Katie‘s spookable sister Kristi Rey, (Sprague Grayden), her phlegmatic husband Daniel (Brian Boland), her venturesome stepdaughter Ali (Molly Ephraim), her inquisitive new infant son Hunter, the family’s ghost-savvy housekeeper and that vigilant, barking dog (the only character in the movie whom I thought had any sense) settle into a new house. And that house is burgled, trashed (but not robbed), causing them to put up six surveillance cameras — over the bedroom, living room, kitchen, foyer, entrance and swimming pool — thereby making sure they and we can get a movie out of this.

Micah appears before-hand,with his camera, and oddly, we sometimes get little titles, informing us that it’s six months (maybe) before his death, or days before his death — which made little sense to me, but which I guess was there to stop any wise-acres in the theatre from shouting “Hey, wasn‘t that the dude that got offed in Paranormal Activity!? (“Shhhhh!”) This Paranormal also begins with another title, I think, thanking the police and citizens of Carlsbad, California. So I guess this was supposed to be a documentary assembled from those six surveillance tapes, cut into poor Micah’s peek-a-boo home movie stuff perhaps nixed from the “Deleted scenes” extras section on the Paranormal 1 DVD.

Those six high-angle cameras — fuzzy during the day, greenish during the night — gradually reveal a tale of terror. Something is sneaking around the house. But we can’t quite see it, unlike the more perceptive crying infant and the more prescient barking dog.

SPOILER ALERT, I guess, but who really gives a crap?

Every once in a while, a door slams! Or a spoon falls! Or the wall slams! Or the furniture moves! Or the pool cleaner does some weird thing! Or a door swings shut when Ali goes outside! Or some unseen something or other messes with the dog or infant Hunter! The scares just keep on coming. Finally something truly terrible happens, but we can’t quite see it. In between, we get dialogue and performances of afternoon soap opera quality, with the actors portraying a bunch of characters who don’t seem to have their heads screwed on straight. (Don’t any of them ever watch these tapes?). And, of course, we get another reminder that there are only a few more weeks or days or minutes until Micah gets killed. (“Hey, wasn’t that the dude…?” “SHHHHH!”)


Oren Peli was the writer-director who ingeniously pulled off the first Paranormal, but here he’s upgraded himself to producer, no less, engaged by now in Paramount Activity . (Maybe, by the time of the next sequel-prequel, he’ll be a mogul.) The new director is Tod Williams, who, back in 2004, made that pretty good, touching Jeff Bridges-Kim Basinger domestic drama The Door in the Floor” (Perhaps someday there will be college courses on “The Significance of ‘The Door’ in the Cinema of Tod Williams.”) I thought the screenwriters gave all the good lines to the dog, but the dog was a pro. He was totally convincing, always hit his marks, and he never upstaged anybody, not even the ghost-savvy housekeeper. (Good boy. What’s his name anyway? I couldn’t find it on IMDB.)

As for cinematographer Michael Simmonds, he may have stumbled onto the cushiest camera gig around. Did he just set up the surveillance cameras here, hand a video recorder to Micah (who has only ten more minutes to live) and head out for Santa Monica and the beach? (“Hey dude! Aren’t you the guy from Paranormal Activity?) I guarantee you, we probably couldn’t tell the difference if he did.

One thing bothers me a little. Why has this nothing of a movie, this unimaginative uninteresting knockoff sequel, attracted such massive (and apparently appreciative) audiences and gotten such widely laudatory reviews and indulgent praise from so many critics? Are audiences lost in fond memories of the first show? Have they really been scared witless?

Are the critics good-heartedly applauding the low-gore quotient and the so-called ingenuity with which the filmmakers shoehorned an easy way to repeat stuff and ideas from the first movie into this one? Are we supposed to be happy that the filmmakers, with admirable restraint, aren’t showing us the things we don’t want to see anyway? Are we critics trying to prove we’re populists, plugged into the crowd? Or have we discovered in the Paranormal Activity surveillance camera a rigorous classical minimalism worthy of Romanian cinema? (“Micah has 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days to live.”)

Well, you get the idea. I didn’t like it. Lots of others did. Take your pick. We report; you decide. Or so we say. One man’s pinhead is another man’s patriot. Ya dig? But what if they start making more and more movies with surveillance cameras?

If they do, I‘ve got, I think, a real money idea. A movie called “Dumpster” (or maybe “The Last Dumpster), shot from one fixed position surveillance camera trained on a dumpster behind a huge grocery store. Dig it: We watch for half an hour or so while nothing happens except an occasional trash bag being thrown in the dumpster, a homeless bum wandering by and scavenging, and some pointless conversations between two store employees smoking a joint. They leave. A bunch of homeless bums show up. They pick among the trash, wolf down some old bananas and TV dinners. A dog show up, barks, and leaves. A nasty manager appears, swears and chases away the bums. They return, devour the contents of a bag with a mysterious green glow. Then, they drag one weaker bum off and do something awful off screen that we can’t see.

Nothing happens for the next ten minutes, except for the dog barking off screen and a title telling us that Micah will be dead by the end of the movie. The tension builds. Fast forward to early evening. The nasty manager walks by, and the bums appear, surround and jump him, drag him off and do something awful offscreen. Fast forward to day. Cops wander by, share a smoke and a doughnut, discuss the mystifying new crime wave, and then question the two employees who were smoking the joint. Something awful happens to them all offscreen. Fast forward to night. More bums appear, some speaking Romanian (with English subtitles), some smoking glowing green joints. One of them finds a broken pool cleaner in the dumpster. More awful things that we can’t see keep happening somewhere offscreen.

Finally, Micah and another girlfriend, named Kooky, show up with a camcorder, shoot dumpster footage and then get surrounded and seized by an even larger mob of ravenous bums, howling and cursing and chomping away, while the dog barks wildly, offscreen. In a truly terrifying moment, the camera suddenly pans right, and we realize, to our horror, that it was not a surveillance camera at all but a cheap camcorder operated by some insane, creepy voyeur — probably the maniac who poisoned the now near-zombie bums with green gook in the first place. Slowly, the camera swivels and points at the voyeur, at us. Cut to black.

Like it? Have you already seen it? Street Trash, you say? Body in a Dumpster?” I’ll be damned. Well, anyway, there’s sure to be a Paranormal Activity 3” any day now (probably shot with seventeen surveillance cameras, five camcorders, and three dogs), plus the inevitable Romanian remake, or the French version by Gaspar Noe. And even if you can’t sell “Dumpster” as a movie, you can make a fortune by renting the footage to Republicans and Karl Rove disciples for use in TV political ads about the undeserving poor. (The script: “What will really happen if Barack Obama is re-elected President? What are the shocking consequences of his secret plan to ‘share’ the wealth? What is the awful truth about the Democratic Party’s vision of America? And of the so-called ‘Green‘ Party?”)

Well, maybe not. But, just remember, 40 million dollars can’t be wrong. (As the Supreme Court recently decided for us: Money talks and bull—- walks.) That‘s maybe even enough to buy — excuse me, elect — a senator, a governor. Meanwhile, it’s all cool, dude, all cool. Micah and that “Paranormal” camera guy are down at the beach. So is the dog. So are the bums. Surf’s up! (“Hey, aren’t you the dudes…?”)


I haven’t been going to film festivals much in the past three years. So, as October rolled around, it was a pleasure this year, to walk down Columbus Drive to the AMC River East 21 multiplex, and catch up every day on the 46th Chicago International Film Festival, all under one roof at the AMC River East 21 multiplex. Of course it wasn‘t Cannes — whose happy, Palais du Cinema Lumiere Theatre I commemorated each day by carrying a little black Cannes tote bag with me — but it was within walking distance of my apartment in Streeterville. Can’t beat that location.

Can’t beat some of the movies either. Even though the CIFF, still under the aegis of the apparently eternal Mike Kutza, has had to resort to some belt-tightening measures — an occupational hazard of arts groups these days as most of the public suffers through another of those periodic Republican Party-trashed economies (with the promise of worse to come if they swindle and buy control again with another “Hey, suckers!” campaign retread of their favorite battle cry “We‘ll cut taxes! And they’re Commies!”) — the fest, under head programmer Mimi Plauche‘ and managing director Vivian Teng, still managed to bring another 150 films or so, from 50 countries. I saw 40 or so.

Included this year were new features or appearances by Bertrand Tavernier, Abbas Kiarostami, Stephen Frears, Apichatpong Weerasethakul (the most recent Cannes Palme d‘Or winner), Julie Taymor, Guillermo Del Toro and other star world cineastes, including ex-Cannes jury president and festival favorite Clint Eastwood, whose Hereafter was one of the fest’s special events.

Other fest specials, already reviewed here last week, included John Curran‘s highly verbal crime romance Stone, with Robert De Niro and Ed Norton, Tony Goldwyn’s real-life drama of courtroom injustice and family ties Conviction, with Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell, and Robert Schewentke’s anti-ageist goof thriller Red, with Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren. And, so far unreviewed, Danny Boyle‘s 127 Hours, which we‘ll get to later.

Pretty good bunch. I didn‘t like all of them, but I liked more than a few. You can read about the CIFF awards right over here.

Meanwhile, until the 47th CIFF rolls inevitably around, may the spirits of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger look down from Clint’s Hereafter and their own Stairway to Heaven, and bless Kutza and his crew, and all the filmmakers (including this year‘s CIFF Career Achievement winner Ron Howard), and longtime Chicago Festival “Great Voice” Ken Nordine, and poster king Victor Skrebneski, and all their co-conspirators, for never giving up.


Beautiful Darling (Three Stars)

U.S.: James Rasin, 2010

The short meteoric life and unhappy death of Candy Darling (a.k.a. Jimmy Slattery), the ‘70s Andy Warhol movie actress/hustler/superstar immortalized, along with galpals Holly Woodlawn and Jackie Curtis in Warhol and Paul Morrisey‘s 1972 Women in Revolt, and also in Lou Reed’s scandalous pop hit “Walk on the Wild Side” (“Everybody’s Darling…But she never lost her head, even when she was giving head…“).

Darling, whose idol was the sultry, platinum blonde Columbia superstar Kim Novak of The Jeanne Eagels Story, was the most eerily beautiful of all the Warhol drag queens, and a favorite of both Reed and of Tennessee Williams, who wrote his play Small Craft Warnings for her.

She was also the lifelong idol/great love of Jeremiah Newton, then her slender, Kink-haired best friend, now a sad-eyed, plump old Noo Yawk fella, who has a treasure of old interviews and candid shots of Candy to share with director James Rasin and us. An often shocking, often melancholy look at the dreams, and rude awakenings, of stardom. Winner: CIFF Docufest Gold Hugo.

Of the ‘70s
Big Tits Zombie (One and a Half Stars)

Japan: Takao Nakano, 2010

Yikes! Mind-boggling would-be Midnight Movie stuff, Big Tits Zombie makes Faster Pussycat! Kill Kill! look like a Robert Bresson movie. Bosomy Japanese strippers ( including Risa Kasumi and Sala Aoi) (Oy!) uncover the so-called Book of the Dead at a sleazy provincial strip palace, run by their bad bosses, an evil dwarf gangster and his horny sadistic minions, and proceed to unleash bloody, chainsaw-wielding, periodically 3D chaos.

The energetic girls, constantly waving chainsaws, screaming and baring their titular boobs, end up battling mobs of reeking, kill-crazy zombies from hell, along with a renegade striptease queen who wants to rule the world. (She can have this one.) The 3D, the old-fashioned kind with those little red and blue-lensed glasses that look like breakfast cereal favors, comes on every once in a while, signaled by a William Castle-style 3D flasher alert.

Writer-director Takao Nakano, whose 1992 Spiral Zone won the Grand Prize of the Lite Trash Film Festival (no kidding), seems to be enjoying himself. Maybe you will too, especially if you haven‘t been weaned. (In Japanese, with English subtitles and 3D flasher alerts.)

Brother & Sister (Three and a Half Stars)

Argentina: Daniel Burman, 2010

Good direction and writing, by director-writer Daniel Burman (Lost Embrace) and co-writer Sergio Dubvovsky, and brilliant acting, by stars Antonio Gasalla (the brother) and Graciela Borges (the sister), and much of the cast behind them, make this funny-sad, very convincing tale of squabbling, tormented siblings thrown together after the death of their elderly mother, really click and resonate.

Gasella is Marcos, a kind, outwardly meek goldsmith, and Borges is Susana, a bossy, selfish, manipulative realtor, who cons her generous brother into buying a Uruguayan property on which she‘s about to take a bath, commutes interferingly back and forth between Buenos Aires and Uruguay, and then throws fits when Marcos develops a late-life fondness for acting in local theater — in Oedipus Rex, no less. Winner: CIFF Silver Hugo for ensemble acting (and it deserved it).

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff ) (Three Stars)

U. K.: Craig McCall, 2010

A tribute to one of world cinema’s greatest cinematographers, Britain’s Jack Cardiff, who started his official career with three masterpieces — Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s staggering Stairway to Heaven, beautiful Black Narcissus”and ravishing The Red Shoes — and kept on for more than half a century, distinguishing himself as cinematographer (The African Queen), director (Sons and Lovers) and, above all, as a master of color and Technicolor (Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, Vidor’s War and Peace), ultimately making stuff like Rambo and Conan the Destroyer (in his 70s) look better than they deserved, winning the only career Oscar for camerawork, and shooting almost right up to the end.

(Cardiff was 21 when he shot, uncredited, a bit of Schoedsack-Cooper’s 1935 The Last Days of Pompeii, and his last IMDB credit is the 2007 miniseries The Other Side of the Screen, released when he was 93. Lots of good archive and interview footage here and very eloquent recollections from Cardiff himself. My one complaint: however they were reproduced, many of the clips of Cardiff’s work here don’t look as rich and lustrous as they should be. Nobody, of course, not even Vittorio Storaro, shot color better.

The Defiled (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Julian Grant, 2010

The world of Night of the Living Dead, engrossingly told from the living dead creatures’ point of view: We follow a human woman (Kathleen Lawlor), a “living dead“ baby, and their strange, paternal “living dead” guardian (Brian Shaw), through a desolate world of abandoned houses, marauding monsters and armed humans. An interesting idea, well-executed and very well-shot (in classic low-budget ‘60s style black and white images) by writer-director-producer-cinematographer Julian Grant. One complaint: The device of never using spoken dialogue becomes strained after a while. It might have been better if Lawlor had tried to talk to her corpse-like protector, even if he never answered. Pretty good cultish stuff all the same.

Faith (Shahada) (Three Stars)

Germany: Burhan Qurbani, 2010

First time feature director- writer Burhan Qurbani, who shot Shahada as his final student film project at the Filmakademie Baden-Wurttemberg, weaves together three stories of modern Muslim youth in Germany: A young married policeman who falls in love with an illegal immigrant, a closeted gay Islamic student who falls in love with a fellow co-worker, and the daughter of the liberal Islamic teacher, who descends into fundamentalist fanaticism after a secret abortion. Well-acted, well-written and shot, and especially well-edited. For a student project, this is extraordinary. Winner CIFF New Directors Gold Hugo. (In German, Turkish and English, with English subtitles.

The Happy Housewife (Two and a Half Stars)

Netherlands: Antoinette Beumer, 2010.

An absorbing drama about content, upper-middle class wife, and flight attendant Lea (Clarice van Houten), who’s married to devoted husband and real estate developer Harry (Waldemar Torenstra), but who undergoes a difficult pregnancy and painful delivery, and then falls into a postpartum depression that sends her to a mental institution. Not bad.

TV director Beumer (Famke Janssen’s older sister) shows talent and confidence and Van Houten (of Paul Verhoeven’s The Black Book) gives a powerful performance in the kind of probing, realistic study of marital and psychological problems theatrical movies often avoid. In Dutch, with English subtitles.

Heartbeats (Two and a Half Stars)

Canada: Xavier Dolan, 2010

Canadian prodigy Xavier Dolan, Heartbeats multi-talented 22-year-old writer-director-producer-star, gives us a fairly unusual romantic triangle drama, one that‘s both realistic and ultra-romantic, in a Godardian sort of way. Acerbic Quebecois Francis (Dolan) falls for angel-faced blonde Nordic hunk Nicolas (Niels Schneider), and so does Francis’ equally hip and tart best friend Marie (Monica Chokri).

Hunk conquers hip, but can hip win the heart of hunk? Heartbeats is very well done and it’s strong both visually and dramatically. But it’s the kind of smart, yet cry-baby youth romance that meant something to me in my 20s, and now seems self-indulgent. That said, Dolan, who won multiple prizes at Cannes for his first film, I Killed My Mother, is obviously someone to watch — and it’s better to have a smart cry-baby youth movie than a dopey schlocky one. (In French, with subtitles.)

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel (Three Stars)

U.S.; Brigitte Berman, 2010

This bio-documentary on the man behind Playboy — founder, publisher, top creative guy and still, for most of us, Playboy-in-chief Hugh Hefner — is not what you think. Frank and candid, it’s no “Hef stripped bare” expose’.

Director Brigitte Berman is an Oscar-winning documentarian — and also, of course, a woman — and she approaches Hefner, a.k.a. “Hef,” seriously, without either sniggering or bible-thumping outrage. For the most part, she tackles the subject — one of the great publishing phenomenons and sexy stories of the Twentieth Century — as “60 Minutes” might, but without a Mike Wallace to do any grilling.

Hefner-bashers like Susan Brownmiller (the feminist author of Against Our Will and the movie‘s Wallace-in-absentia) are given their say. So are his colleagues and admirers, including daughter and later Playboy Empire head Christie Hefner.

In case you’ve forgotten, or never knew, we get much of the justifications for the film’s title — Hefner’s longtime crusades in his magazine for civil liberties, liberal ideals, First Amendment rights and social and political justice, as exemplified in his “serious stuff” column “The Playboy Philosophy“ — and his targeting for destruction by the Nixon administration and its corrupt minions and thugs (some of them would-be or failed playboys, I‘ll bet, and many of them, I’ll bet too, card-carrying hypocrites, ugly bullies and vicious jerk-offs).

Berman takes us all the way from Playboy‘s and Hefner’s origins, his as a repressed workaholic Chicago family guy who wanted to outdo reigning American men‘s magazine Esquire, where he once worked (and struck it rich when he parleyed Marilyn Monroe and her nude calendar shoot into the first Playmate of the Month); through their glory years (from the ‘50s through the ‘70s, including movie lover Hef‘s sadly too-brief career as big-time mogul, backing Roman Polanski’s Macbeth); to his elder-statesman-of- wet-dreams status on The Girls Next Door (the cable TV “reality” show about his former playmate threesome, and a show women probably enjoyed as much as men).

Some nostalgia here. Playboy was one of my favorite magazines as a teen or young man and I’ll ‘fess up: My favorite part of it was the centerfold. I didn’t read too much of the Philosophy, but I opened up every gatefold I could find. I still remember the first Playmate of the Month I ever saw, to my utter (no puns, please) teen-age awe: a very charming and temporarily pants-less young long-haired “Girl next door”-style brunette named Joyce Nizzari, who had a lovely derriere (as any fool could see) and a smile that could warm up a whole city block.

But of course, I would never have bought Playboy, later in college, even as the centerfold derrieres and bosoms gradually were joined by the mons veneris, if it hadn’t been for the editorial content — especially the classy fiction (by the likes of Vladimir Nabokov or Ray Bradbury) and top-notch articles (Norman Mailer or Gay Talese). And for its liberal attitude as well. Esquire had classy content too — maybe a bit classier (certainly while Harold Hayes was editing it and Bonnie and Clyde’s Robert Benton and David Newman were on the staff). But they didn’t have Joyce Nizzari.

Susan Brownmiller to the contrary, I don‘t think Playboy was ever for men who hated or had contempt for women, though many of the readers may have been real-life shy. I think Hefner always liked women, and wanted them to be happy (and smile like Joyce) and succeed in life — though it’s true he seems to keep going back again and again (like the centerfold and the young guys perusing it) to young women. The Classic Playboy was fun and sexy, stylish and smart, and it made a difference. (The new one may be too, but I don’t ogle newsstands any more.) And the movie, as you’d suspect, suggests Hefner was all those adjectives too. At the very least, he’s still having fun.

By the way, I think Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel is a lousy title, even if it’s a true sentiment. Too long and too slightly pretentious. Definitely not date bait for a Saturday on the town. A better title? Hef, maybe. (I can’t find it on imdb.) Or my own favorite possibility, Citizen Hef. Now, maybe that was floated and they thought it was pretentious, though I think it’s more playful. Not meant ironically, as it was in Citizen Kane, but partly because that’s what Ms. Berman’s movie is really about. Hef (the playboy) as Citizen. (Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago)

The Man I Love (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Raoul Walsh, 1947

“Raoul Walsh’s idea of a tender love scene is to burn down a whorehouse,” was Jack Warner‘s famous sentiment. But Jack be damned. Here’s a top grade ‘40s romance from the action-master Walsh, about a hard-boiled but heroic jazz chanteuse (Ida Lupino), her lecherous dude of a boss (Robert Alda) and her troubled family.

Shot in Walsh’s best ‘40s noir style, during the period when he was one of the favorite filmmakers of the young up-and-coming Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, it suffers from a rushed last act and a needless death. But it has great songs (Kern-Hammerstein and the Gershwins, including the supremely heart-tearing title number) and one of the smartest, toughest, gutsiest, fastest-talking film noir gals ever, in Ida Lupino.

Lupino isn’t usually ranked with the Bette Davises, Joan Crawfords and Barbara Stanwycks (to name some other tough Warners gals). But she should be. She’s every bit as good an actress, sometimes better, as well as a dynamite “B” director (The Hitchhiker). Here Lupino proves she can really wear a low-cut sheath tight gown. And when Walsh lets her wise-crack, push and slap around some of her male colleagues, with impunity, some of the distaff audience may be cheering. “Here‘s looking at you…” is this movie‘s borrowed last line. They should have given it to Ida. (Shown in 35 mm at the Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago)

The Bowery (Three Stars)

U.S.: Raoul Walsh, 1933

Wallace Beery and George Raft play brawling Bowery buccaneers Chuck Connors and Steve Brodie, fighting over the doll they both love (Fay Wray), the kid they both mentor (Jackie Cooper) and a roost they both want to rule.

This is a quintessential Walsh movie. He revisits and recreates the Bowery during the turn of the early 20th century, and it was a place and a “Strawberry Blonde” era he knew well. (Warning: Political incorrectness and ethnic slurs abound — not necessarily endorsed, because these guys are be-derbied, boozing boobs.)

Like The Man I Love, this is rarely shown in 35mm, as they both are here at the Gene Siskel Center. Try not to miss them.

Box Office Hell – October 28

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Our Players|Coming Soon|Box Office Prophets|Box Office Guru|EW|Box Office . com
Saw 3D|23.4|n/a|24|n/a|22
Paranormal Activity 2|19|n/a|16|n/a|19.5
Jackass 3D|10.5|n/a|10.5|n/a|9.5

Frenzy on the Wall: I’m Not Scared of Slamming Doors

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2 has no artistic purpose for existing.

Look, Tod Williams is a talented filmmaker and there are lots of folks involved in the making of this film that are good at what they do. But ultimately, let’s face it, the impetus behind making a sequel to Paranormal Activity was not based on artistic merit but rather on the notion that it would be advantageous financially to make another cheap horror film that could be released around Halloween. Based on the box office receipts, it has definitely won the box office war, but I was seriously underwhelmed by the product put on the screen.

The idea that some spirit is slamming doors just isn’t that scary to me. It was probably put to use best in Robert Wise’s The Haunting and it has proven to be effective in different films since then, but often with diminishing results.

The first Paranormal Activity wasn’t my favorite recent horror film, but I admired the fact that it dared to be different and put an original spin on the old “haunted house” scare tactics that have become clichés. Strange sounds, slammed doors, Ouija boards…these are all tropes that are tried and true and when employed in the service of something different, they can be fear-inducing. But, when you feel like what you’re watching isn’t an organic expression of the material, but rather a cheap attempt at getting someone to jump in their seat, then it doesn’t become interesting any longer.

The truth of the matter is that I wasn’t scared once during my viewing of Paranormal Activity 2 and that is a big problem when watching a horror film. The best horror movies will keep the viewer up at night, staring at the shadows on the wall and conjuring up memories of what they have just viewed. Not all horror films can live up to that kind of standard, but at the very least a horror film has to prod the viewer into feeling a sense of terror, however slight. During the film, if I don’t jump out of my seat, then I need to at least feel like at any second I might jump. In fact, the really good horror films don’t have any “shock” scares but rather a general sense of foreboding and dread.

Besides the fact that I wasn’t scared during Paranormal Activity 2, I also didn’t particularly believe in the characters. That’s not to say that I didn’t care one way or another (if you put a baby on screen, chances are the viewers are going to worry about its well-being), but that I didn’t think they seemed like real people. This is a risk you take when you make a film that is supposed to be based on “found” or “real” material; it causes the viewer to look a bit more closely at the reality of the situation portrayed. And I didn’t think any of the people in the film behaved like real human beings.

For instance, the daughter in the film is constantly filming things with her camera. This is completely plausible; sometimes young people get hold of a camera and they point it at things they find interesting. However, I don’t think that anybody would find the installation of a home video system at all interesting. There are so many things filmed with the “home camera” that simply wouldn’t be filmed because nobody would think to press “record” during these moments. Most people record things that they find intriguing on some level and I just found that there were too many moments being recorded by the video camera that nobody would think to press “record” on.

But the truth of the matter is that the film’s issues are more systemic than that. The problem is that the well has run dry after one film. There isn’t anything interesting to me any more about seeing invisible creatures doing things. And more and more, when I watch these types of films, I can’t understand why anyone would stay in these situations. I mean, why wouldn’t you move out of this house? I understand there are real-world difficulties to maneuver, like mortgages and such, but if there is an entity in my house that is threatening my family, I think I’ll just put the house on the market and move to a hotel for a few months.

It just doesn’t make any sense that people would continue to live in a house when they have photographic evidence that there is a ghost living there with them. Also, if you were living in this house and you had that footage, wouldn’t you be selling it to every major news outlet in the world. I mean, this would give the world proof that ghosts exist; seriously, in this day and age, nobody in that house would think to try and profit off of this terrible experience?

But the cliché factor is the part that really bugs me. Not only are there rip-offs of everything from Poltergeist to The Blair Witch Project, but it relies on really offensive stereotypes like the ethnic nanny who somehow knows about spirits and ghosts. Or the trite notion that dogs can see these invisible specters and bark at them. Dogs can’t even see colors and I’m supposed to believe that they can see spirits that human beings are unable to?

I mean, I’m not asking the filmmakers to try and reinvent the wheel because sometimes there are themes and occurrences that are just damned effective and you might want to use them in your films. However, you have to bring some kind of new twist to the material or else you’re just rehashing something that has already been done. The first film had the clever idea to set-up cameras in a couple’s bedroom that was being haunted; what does this sequel offer us? It’s a sort of side-quel to the first film, but I don’t think anyone was clamoring to find out what Katie and Micah were doing when they left the house in the first one or wondering what their family members were up to.

Know what else is annoying about this film? One of my biggest pet peeves in the world is when movies that are not documentaries end with crawls stating what happened to the characters. This is a work of fiction; if you cannot show me within the piece what happens to the characters that you have created, then you’re not doing your job correctly. Unless you’re making a joke, like the end of Animal House, there is no excuse for not capably showing the audience the relevant information about the characters and their lives.

I understand this is Halloween week (and I’ll be devoting a whole blog post to what you should be doing film-wise to celebrate), but are audiences this desperate for something “scary” that we’ll watch poor quality footage of bad actors being dragged around by malevolent invisible forces? Have we not evolved past this stage of horror filmmaking? Of course, your other theatrical option is to wait a week and check out the latest Saw disaster that stopped being interesting halfway through the first installment and yet has cranked out another edition every October. I just sincerely hope that Paranormal Activity doesn’t try to compete.

But based on how successful the sequel is, I’m betting I’ll be writing a similar column 12 months from now.

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

Weekend Estimates – October 24

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2|41.6|New| 41.6
Jackass 3D|21.5|-57% |87.1
The Social Network|7.2|-31%|72.8
Life As We Know It|6.1|-32%|37.5
Legend of the Guardians|3.1|-26%|50.1
The Town|2.7|-33%| 84.6
Easy A|1.7|-35%|54.7

Friday Estimates – October 23

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2|19.1|3216|New|19.1
Jackass 3D|7.6|3111|-66%|73.1
Red|4.5 |3273|-38%|33
The Social Network|2.2|2921|-34%|67.8
Life As We Know It|2|3019|-35%|33.4
The Town|0.8|1918|-35%|82.7
Legend of the Guardians|0.75|2236|-27%|47.7
Easy A|0.55|1632|-35%|53.6
Also Debuting
Score: A Hockey Musical|81,400|120||81,400
Jhootha Hi Sahi|20,200|48||20,200
My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend|3,700|2||3,700
Boxing Gym|2,300|1||2,300
*in millions|||

An Inside Look At PA2

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

An Inside Look At PA2

Review: Paranormal Activity 2

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Fans of surprise horror hit Paranormal Activity will find much to like in Paranormal Activity 2. This second round of things-that-go-bump-in-the-night-vision-cameras retains the slow-building, repetitive pace of the first film, while still delivering (for the most part) plenty of scares to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Box Office Hell – October 21

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Our Players|Coming Soon|Box Office Prophets|Box Office Guru|EW|Box Office . com
Paranormal Activity 2|33.8|24.2|30|29.5|28
Jackass 3D|22.5|25|20|22|23
The Social Network|7.0|7.4|6.5|7|7

Critics’ Roundup – October 21

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2||||Green|
Boxing Gym|||Green||
Score: A Hockey Musical|Red||||
Kalamity |||||
Punching the Clown |||||
Rising Stars |||||