Posts Tagged ‘The Ghost Writer’

Weekend Box Office Report — December 26

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

Grit and Bear It

Little Fockers and True Grit led the Christmas charge with respective opening debuts estimated at $34 million and $25.5 million that topped weekend movie going. The session also featured a Christmas day bow for the animated Gulliver’s Travels, which netted a two-day gross of $6.9 million.

Bollywood’s seasonal offering Tees Maar Khann rang up an impressive $700,000. However, several other Hindi, Telegu and Tamil releases were non-starters. China’s If You Are the One 2 opened up day-and-date (a first) with its Mainland release and chimed in with a potent $208,000 launch.

The frame also featured a clutch of last-minute releases for award season consideration. Best of the bunch was Venice-prized Somewhere with $148,000 from seven venues. The animated The Illusionist displayed comparable strength with a two-day tally of $52,600 on two screens and a four screen push for Barney’s Version in Canada proved effective with $64,400 (a single U.S. Oscar qualifying run was unreported). Lastly, Country Strong lilted $33,800 from two sneak peeks.

Overall the Christmas session got clobbered with calendar positioning that landed the eve on Friday (expect something similar with New Years). And while an estimated $155 million weekend provided an 11% boost from the prior weekend it translated into a pounding 45% drop from 2009. As the door quickly closes on the year, box office gross has slipped behind the prior year and admissions are approaching close to double digit erosion. A year ago Avatar’s second weekend grossed $75.6 million and debuts of Sherlock Holmes and The Alvin Squeakquel added $62.4 million and $48.9 million respectively.

All that said, tracking wasn’t exactly on target for new entries and holdovers. The third in the Fockers series was expected to render a first weekend of between $40 million and $45 million while the sophomore edition of TRON: Legacy was pegged at $25 million. Conversely True Grit outperformed pundits soothsaying that had it shy of $20 million.

Holiday crowds clearly voted for The Fighter, Black Swan and The King’s Speech as their Oscar favorites. Still there are seven additional slots to fill and the campaigning is apt to intensify in the upcoming weeks.

Weekend Estimates – December 24-26, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Little Fockers Uni 34.0 (9,610) NEW 3536 48.2
True Grit Par 25.5 (8,360) NEW 3047 36.6
Tron: Legacy BV 20.6 (5,960) -53% 3451 88.7
Chronicles of Narnia: Dawn Treader Fox 10.9 (3,240) -12% 3350 63.9
The Fighter Par/Alliance 8.6 (3,430) -29% 2511 27.7
Yogi Bear WB 8.4 (2,380) -55% 3515 36.3
Gulliver’s Travels * Fox 6.9 (2,700) NEW 2546 6.9
Tangled BV 6.7 (2,590) -24% 2582 143.8
Fox Searchlight 6.4 (4,390) -23% 1466 28.9
The Tourist Sony 5.6 (2,020) -35% 2756 41.1
The King’s Speech Weinstein Co. 4.6 (6,530) 317% 700 8.4
How Do You Know Sony 3.7 (1,480) -51% 2483 15.1
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 1* WB 3.3 (1,920) -34% 1732 273.1
Tees Maar Khan UTV .70 (6,780) NEW 103 0.7
Due Date WB .37 (910) -71% 404 98.3
Unstoppable Fox .36 (920) -80% 393 78.5
Megamind Par .35 (460) -49% 764 142.6
Burlesque Sony .33 (660) -77% 501 36.7
The Social Network Sony .31 (1,230) 9% 249 92.3
If You Are the One 2 China Lion .21 (9,040) NEW 23 0.21
127 Hours Fox Searchlight .20 (1,720) -64% 115 9.8
* Christmas Day opening
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $145.90
% Change (Last Year) -45%
% Change (Last Week) 11%
Also debuting/expanding
Somewhere Focus .15 (21,140) 7 0.2
Rabbit Hole Lionsgate 88,700 (2,610) 65% 34 0.16
Barney’s Version eOne 64,400 (16,100) 4 0.06
Casino Jack IDP 60,500 (4,030) 75% 15 0.11
The Illusionist * Sony Classics 52,600 (26,300) 2 0.05
Country Strong Sony 33,800 (16,900) 2 0.05
The Tempest Miramax/Maple 32,700 (2,520) -44% 13 0.19
Toonpur Ka Superhero Eros 9,600 (400) 24 0.01
Isi Life Mein Rajshri 4,500 (250) 18 0.01

Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 – Dec. 23, 2010)

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Warner Bros. (30) 1861 18.40%
Paramount (19) 1634.7 16.10%
Fox (19) 1442.4 14.20%
Buena Vista (17) 1349.1 13.30%
Sony (26) 1239.1 12.20%
Universal (18) 798.7 7.90%
Summit (11) 522.2 5.20%
Lionsgate (16) 519.3 5.10%
Fox Searchlight (8) 105 1.00%
Overture (8) 87.4 0.90%
Focus (7) 75.2 0.70%
CBS (3) 72.5 0.70%
Weinstein Co. (9) 65.5 0.60%
Sony Classics (22) 59.5 0.60%
MGM (1) 50.4 0.50%
Other * (317) 253.5 2.50%
10135.5 100.00%
* none greater than .04%

Top Limited Releases * (Jan. 1 – Dec. 23, 2010)

Title Distributor Gross
Hubble 3D WB 19,359,509
The Ghost Writer Summit 15,569,712
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Music Box/Alliance 11,287,817
The Young Victoria * Apparition/Alliance 11,131,232
127 Hours Fox Searchlight 9,321,571
Get Low Sony Classics 9,106,802
Fair Game Summit 8,650,388
A Single Man * Weinstein Co. 7,935,872
The Girl Who Played with Fire Music Box/Alliance 7,848,496
Cyrus Fox Searchlight 7,461,082
Babies Focus 7,444,272
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus E1/Sony Classics 7,394,171
Conviction Fox Searchlight 6,768,063
City Island Anchor Bay 6,671,036
The Last Station Sony Classics 6,617,867
Waiting for “Superman” Par Vantage 6,410,257
The Secret in Their Eyes Sony Classics 6,391,436
It’s Kind of a Funny Story Focus 6,362,514
Winter’s Bone Roadside Attraction 6,237,371
Under the Sea 3D * WB 5,732,362
* does not include 2009 box office

New York Online Crix Make Their Picks

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

New York Film Critics Online, composed of thirty critics whose outlets are exclusively online and two who are print journalists with a strong online presence, met at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theatre on December 12th and bestowed these awards at its 11th annual meeting:

The Complete List:

The Social Network

David Fincher – The Social Network

James Franco – 127 hours

Natalie Portman – Black Swan

Christian Bale – The Fighter

Melissa Leo – The Fighter

Matthew Libatique – Black Swan

Aaron Sorkin – The Social Network

I Am Love

Exit through the Gift Shop

Toy Story 3

Clint Mansell – Black Swan

Noomi Rapace – The Millennium Trilogy

John Wells – The Company Men

The Kids Are All Right

TOP 10 PICTURES (Alphabetical)

127 Hours (Fox Searchlight)
Another Year (Sony Pictures Classics)
Black Swan (Fox Searchlight)
Blue Valentine (The Weinstein Company)
The Ghost Writer
(Summit Entertainment)
Inception (Warner Bros.)
The Kids Are All Right
(Universal Pictures)
The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Company)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Universal Pictures)
The Social Network (Columbia Pictures)

Weekend Box Office Report — November 28

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Tangled Up in Blues … and Reds

A quartet of new releases for Thanksgiving failed to topple Harry Potter from the top of the charts during the gobble, gobble fest. The first part of the Potter finale — Deathly Hallows — grossed an estimated $51.2 million for the weekend portion of the holiday frame. Just a cluck behind was the animated Rapunzel of Tangled with $49.2 million ($69.1 million for the 5-days).

The other three wide release freshmen clustered in positions five to seven with indifferent results. The glitzy musical Burlesque crooned $11.4 million, rom-com Love and Other Drugs ingested $9.6 million and Faster added a tortoise-paced $8.2 million.

The big noise of the session proved to be the well positioned awards contender The King’s Speech that amassed a heady $86,000 screen average from just four venues. There was also an impressive $610,000 for local hockey comedy Lance et compte in Quebec, but a dull $212,000 for Bollywood entry Break Ke Baad. And a new seasonal Nutcracker in 3D was virtually D.O.A. with a $62,700 tally from 42 screens.

Adding it all up, Thanksgiving box office was a smidgen less than last year’s result.

Industry trackers generally predicted that Deathly Hallows would prevail at the box office but few anticipated that Tangled would be truly competitive with the Hogwart’s grad. They also generally over estimated the strengths of the remaining trio of new entries; especially Faster, which was given the edge over Love and Other Drugs.

Overall weekend numbers added up to roughly $187 million that translated into a 6% decline from the immediate prior session. It was also a slight 1% decline from Thanksgiving weekend 2009 when The Twilight Saga: New Moon and The Blind Side led with respectively $42.9 million and $40.1 million. The top new entry, Old Dogs, ranked fourth with $16.9 million.

The current session also saw expansions for 127 Hours and Fair Game that were encouraging but nonetheless displayed signs of fatigue. Still with critics groups just weeks away from announcements both films could well experience second winds. The potent arrival of The King’s Speech however has put that film in the forefront and its now vying with a real royal wedding as well as a smattering of pictures yet to be seen for late year honors.


Weekend Estimates – November 26-28, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hollows, Part 1* WB 51.2 (12,420) -59% 4125 221.2
Tangled BV 49.2 (13,660) NEW 3603 69.1
Megamind Par 12.9 (3,770) -20% 3411 130.5
Unstoppable Fox 11.7 (3,670) -10% 3183 60.6
Burlesque Sony 11.4 (3,740) NEW 3037 16.8
Love and Other Drugs Fox 9.6 (3,920) NEW 2455 13.8
Faster CBS 8.2 (3,360) NEW 2451 11.8
Due Date WB 7.2 (2,830) -19% 2555 84.9
The Next Three Days Lionsgate 4.8 (1,860) -27% 2564 14.5
Morning Glory Par 4.0 (1,630) -24% 2441 26.4
127 Hours Searchlight 1.7 (5,900) 89% 293 4.4
Fair Game Summit 1.6 (3,960) 8% 396 6
For Colored Girls … Lionsgate 1.4 (2,360) -38% 605 36.6
Red Summit 1.4 (1,540) -43% 914 86.2
Skyline Uni/Alliance 1.1 (900) -70% 1189 20.1
The Social Network Sony .73 (2,510) -22% 291 90.4
Secretariat BV .66 (1.310) -32% 502 57.6
Lance et compte Seville .61 (6,930) NEW 88 0.61
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest Music Box/Alliance .36 (1,970) -10% 184 4.2
Despicable Me Uni .35 (1,320) 31% 266 249.7
The King’s Speech Weinstein Co. .34 (86,030) NEW 4 0.34
Inside Job Sony Classics .31 (2,330) -9% 132 2.6
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $179.40
% Change (Last Year) -1%
% Change (Last Week) -6%
Also debuting/expanding
Break Ke Baad Reliance .21 (2,500) 85 0.33
Nutcracker 3D FreeStyle 62,700 (1,490) 42 0.09
Made in Dagenham Sony Classics 62.500 (5,680) 64% 11 0.12
The Legend of Pale Male Balcony 11,400 (11,400) 1 0.01
The Unjust CJ 7,200 (7,200) 1 0.01
Tere Ishq Nachaye Eros 4,200 (200) 21 0.01

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

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Warner Bros. (27) 1674.1 17.80%
Paramount (18) 1578.1 16.70%
Fox (17) 1333.8 14.10%
Buena Vista (15) 1174.6 12.50%
Sony (23) 1161.6 12.30%
Universal (18) 793.9 8.40%
Summit (11) 512.7 5.40%
Lionsgate (15) 500.4 5.30%
Overture (7) 81.8 0.90%
Fox Searchlight (7) 81.4 0.90%
Focus (7) 75.2 0.80%
Weinstein Co. (7) 62.6 0.70%
Sony Classics (21) 57.8 0.60%
MGM (1) 51.2 0.50%
CBS (2) 50 0.50%
Other * (296) 242.7 2.60%
9431.9 100.00%
* none greater than .04%

Top Limited Releases * (Jan. 1 – Nov. 21, 2010)

Title Distributor Gross
Hubble 3D WB 18,355,494
The Ghost Writer Summit 15,569,712
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Music Box/Alliance 11,282,938
The Young Victoria * Apparition/Alliance 11,131,232
Get Low Sony Classics 9,080,285
A Single Man * Weinstein Co. 7,935,872
The Girl Who Played with Fire Music Box/Alliance 7,837,823
Cyrus Fox Searchlight 7,461,082
Babies Focus 7,444,272
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnasus * 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
It’s Kind of a Funny Story Focus 6,350,058
Winter’s Bone Roadside Attraction 6,225,414
Waiting for “Superman” Par Vantage 6,130,466
Under the Sea 3D * WB 5,504,062
Precious Lions Gate 5,085,319
I Am Love Magnolia 5,002,411
An Education * Sony Classics 4,963,224
* does not include 2009 box office

The Ghost Writer. actor Olivia Williams

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams Interview

Friday, November 19th, 2010

I saw Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer on an airplane a few months after it came out.  As soon as it came out on DVD, I knew I had to watch it again, to get a better feel for the complexities of this tightly-wound thriller.  It held up and it continues to hold up as one of the better films released this year.  So when I had the opportunity to talk to Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams about their experience making the film and working with a master filmmaker like Polanski, I jumped at it.

Williams is a woman that every geek fell in love with in Rushmore and has done solid work ever since, while Brosnan has made some fascinating choices since hanging up the James Bond tuxedo nearly a decade ago.  They filled me in on working with Polanski, working with each other, and gave me some info about their upcoming films.

Olivia Williams: Sorry, I’m not very good at these three-way things.

Noah Forrest: Yeah, I feel like the ringleader of a strange carnival.  But I wanted to start by saying that I liked The Ghost Writer a lot and I wanted to congratulate you on that.

Pierce Brosnan: Thank you.

Olivia Williams: Thanks.

Noah Forrest: I wanted to ask both of you whether you came to this film because of the material or for the chance to work with a director like Roman Polanski?  And I guess we’ll ask Olivia first.

Olivia Williams: Oh, that feels all wrong.

Pierce Brosnan: It’s exactly right, Olivia.

Olivia Williams:  Well, it would have to be a combination.  I would have worked with Roman in pretty well anything, but I was very, very lucky that it was this character.  And I completely responded to her immediately.  Not least, without giving too much away, but I had Roman Polanski working very hard on my own denouement.  So I feel consider myself very lucky and privileged to have worked with him and got to play this.

Pierce Brosnan: You had Roman working on your what, Olivia?

Olivia Williams:  My own dénouement.  Maybe that’s arrogance to call it that, but it felt like that.

Pierce Brosnan: Oh no, not at all.  [Pause] For me, it was definitely working with Roman.  He’s such an iconic figure on the landscape, so when I got the call – when I was in London – to go have lunch with him, I hopped on the train and had a most delightful three hour lunch with this great man.  And luckily I had a wonderful part to play as well.

Noah Forrest: And did you and Olivia know each other before filming began or was this the first time you had met?

Pierce Brosnan: It was the first time we met.

Olivia Williams:  We have some mutual friends, so I had heard he was delightful, but that can always be a lie in Hollywood.

Pierce Brosnan: We were on that wonderful island, Sylt, and I got a call and knew she was coming in the afternoon and I got a call from her saying, “Let’s have dinner.  I’d like to have dinner and talk.”  So we hit the ground running.

Olivia Williams:  I felt that we should at least have dinner, considering we were supposed to have been married for twenty-five years. [Laughs]

Noah Forrest:  It’s the least you could do, I guess… [Laughs]

Olivia Williams:  I’m not much of a method actor, but I felt that was a good place to get started.

Noah Forrest:  It’s interesting because you are playing husband and wife, but you don’t share much screen time with one another.  So is it difficult to come up with an idea of who your spouse is or what your marriage is if you don’t get to develop that on screen?  Or do you have to develop that off screen?

Olivia Williams:  I’m not being facetious when I say that the dinner was actually very useful for that, to have a sort of genial time before we started sniping at each other.  A lot of it, for me, was set up because I pestered poor Robert Harris with e-mails and he wrote this wonderful paragraph of things to heed of, that I have to love my husband though it seems in many ways that I’m using him.

Noah Forrest:  Well, I think that’s a tough kind of line you both have to balance – giving hints away without giving everything away.  And I guess you have to rely on the other actors to do the same.  So was the difficult for you to know what your character is, without letting the audience know immediately.

Pierce Brosnan:  Well, not in my case, I don’t think.  I feel that he’s a man about to burst, his brain’s open (and he finally gets his brains blown out) because he knows that he’s in a damaged relationship and its been like this for some time.  The wolves are at the door for him and the long knives are out and he’s hanging by a thread, he’s a very pathetic character.  When he sits on the sofa and he feebly asks, “What would you do?”  It’s the ultimate humiliation.  He succumbs to that.  Olivia is so strong in her work, she cuts like a knife with her performance…it made me feel great in my own sick way about this character.

Olivia Williams:  Having two really tough women fighting over him, having two lionesses protecting him, and the moment when – I think we’re talking about the same scene on the sofa – essentially Ruth says, I bow out, take him with you.  Drama film is about people at the extreme of their lives and you meet all these people when they’re already up against it.  You’re introduced to Ruth, she’s screaming and slamming the door…she’s already behaving just about as badly as any of us ever will.  And then it cranks up.  That’s what Roman does – he just keeps on cranking you up and cranking you up.  And that was such a pleasure to act.

And, as you say, playing one thing and doing another.  There’s a trend in scripts of people saying what they feel all the time and that’s not as much fun as an actor, it’s much more fun to say one thing and do something else.

Noah Forrest:  Well, it’s much more true to life that way, I think.  Often, we’re not saying what we feel.  But Pierce, you bring up that scene which is so wonderful because it exposes what is supposed to be one of the great leaders of the world and he’s really just a sad man at the end of the day.  I think the message there is very subtle, yet direct and I really admired that about the film.  Were you wary of being Tony Blair?  Because there were so many allusions – namely, being the former Prime Minister.  I was wondering if that was something you were fearful of?

Pierce Brosnan:  No, I wasn’t fearful of that.  Roman sort of released me from that on our first lunch.  I said, “Am I playing Tony Blair?  Because it’s already been done brilliantly by Michael Sheen.”  He said, “No, you’re not playing Tony Blair.”  Which made absolutely sense because whatever I did it would turn out to be Tony Blair anyway.  All roads lead to Tony Blair.  Robert Harris is a good friend of his as well.

I did look at Tony Blair’s work as Prime Minister, I watched his speeches.  But I didn’t try to indicate or play this fellow.

Olivia Williams:  You got the grin, Pierce.

Pierce Brosnan:  I got the grin, I got the grin.  I used it once.

Olivia Williams:  And the sadness killed me.  I think you’re talking about the moment, Noah, that I loved when the Ghost says, “It looks like Rycart Publishing set all this up.”  And Pierce says, “Can you ask them to stop?”  Because there was such sadness and powerlessness in that moment.

Noah Forrest:  The thing is, I don’t think you’re playing Tony Blair.  I just asked that because I think you sidestep a lot of traps that one could fall in.  And I think it was well-done that you managed to create this character that was uniquely its own.

Pierce Brosnan:  Well, he’s an actor.  He’s a born actor.  You take the emblems of the script.  He’s really this fellow with Peter Pan syndrome.  He plays at being the Prime Minister, he’s a puppet.

Olivia Williams:  That’s a brilliant phrase, actually, “the emblems of a script.” There were some things about the Blairs that were very important to honor to make the script work.  And one of them was what Pierce was saying, the fact that he was the charismatic one, the one that people immediately responded to and loved of the two.

Noah:  It’s almost an interesting feminist take on it because this really takes that saying of “Behind every great man is a woman” to its logical extreme.  But I wanted to ask both of you – I mean, Roman Polanski is one of my favorite directors and he’s kind of renowned for being a controlling filmmaker.  Did you find that to be so?

Pierce Brosnan: I had a baptism by fire with the fellow.  My first day’s work was really my last scene with the character – it was on the airplane, on the jet.  I walked straight into this vortex of Polanski and after that day’s work, he left me alone.  I could see him get twitchy and I could feel his energy and I think we were all on our game because you just don’t want to get found out by Roman.  You don’t want to have this guy coming up to you saying, [in Polish accent] “Why do you do it like this?  Why?  Why?”  [Laughs]

Olivia Williams:  Well, the point is that he’s worthy of being one of your favorites because there’s nothing accidental on that set.  Nothing has happened by accident.  It’s happened because Roman has seen it in his head and he wants it to be there.  And therefore he really deserves the title of a great director or a great auteur.  It is a terrifying experience to work with, but we were all in.  As Ewan [McGregor] used always said, “You can argue with him, but he’s right, you do it his way and the whole machine works.”  If you rebel, the machine doesn’t work.  For him, filmmaking is very painful.  The man is in quite a lot of pain most of the time, it feels like.

Pierce Brosnan:  Especially when he can’t get the right lens.  [Laughs]

Olivia Williams:  And when it’s not right, he actually said to us that he closes his eyes and sees in his head this model vision.  And he’s trying to force everyone and every object there to recreate that vision.  I would be really upset if what I’m saying makes him sound like a difficult person to work with because that doesn’t come into it.  There is a vision and we must all try to make it happen and then you, the viewing audience, will see what this man has created in his head.

Pierce Brosnan:  You get a lot more from his camera, from the positioning.  As you work on a scene, he will really take time to find the best dramatic angle.  In relation to what is Olivia is saying, he really takes the time.  That day when we were on the airplane, I was ready to go and Ewan was ready to go, it’s a six or seven page scene.  But he spent the morning, as we sat there, just finding the angle.  He worked backwards and forwards, backwards and forward.  You could feel him generating this energy and you’re thinking, “Well Christ, I’m here, Ewan’s across from me, just put the camera here and shoot it.”  But, he didn’t.  He spent the morning looking at the guns, looking at the laptops, dealing with the props…

Olivia Williams:  He never quite recovered from the disappointment of never finding the right slippers for under the bed.

Pierce Brosnan:  Oh really?  [Laughs]

Olivia Williams:  And he was angry to the end of shooting and beyond that these slippers weren’t disgusting enough to be an old man’s abandoned slippers.  And Ewan said that he brought him hundreds of wheelie suitcases that the Ghost carries with him in every scene, that wheelie suitcase had to be right.  That matters to him as much as an actor, almost.  Would you agree?

Pierce Brosnan:  I would whole-heartedly agree.  He gets involved in every detail, the squib, the blood going off in my head, the bullet wound…But it was an exhilarating experience to work with him and I would go out again, in a heartbeat, to work with him.

Noah Forrest:  Does this aspect of his, where he’s very demanding and exacting, does that carry over to your performance as well?  Like he does he do line-readings?

Pierce Brosnan:  Yes.

Noah Forrest:  Oh really?

Olivia Williams:  I would call it a demonstration.

Pierce Brosnan:  A demonstration.  My line, I remember, “Give my ghost a Calvados,” I mean he had so many variations on that.  I tried.  I said, “I’ll try my best,” but it always sounded like I had a Polish accent, so it didn’t work.

Olivia Williams:  It’s interesting because you’d resent it if he wasn’t right.  I made some objections and wanted to change some stuff in the dinner scene and he said, “No, I’ve eaten this meal.”  The food was designed around the scene.  What we ate, the way it looked, how long it took to chew it.  And so, to go in and say, “My character wouldn’t say that,” actually insults the amount of work and preparation that went into it.

Pierce Brosnan:  Did he really say that about the food?

Olivia Williams:  He really did, he absolutely did.  He literally said we timed the scene.  I wanted to make a line shorter and he said, no, I timed it.

Noah Forrest:  Wow.

Olivia Williams:  But he said that he and Robert had actually made the meal and had eaten it when they were writing it.

Pierce Brosnan:  Oh my.

Noah Forrest:  That’s pretty exacting, yeah.

Olivia Williams:  I was kicking against it and I was trying to bring something of myself to the playing of the character, but after he explained his process, I backed off.  “Let me do anything I can to recreate your vision.”  And that was the pleasure of it.  The pleasure wasn’t to kick against it, but to give yourself entirely over to his process because that’s when you “get it” with him, I believe.

Noah Forrest:  I suppose there’s a certain school of directors who believe that acting is an act of submission.  That’s gotta be so difficult for an actor to get to that point, where they’re willing to trust the director.

Olivia WilliamsWell the fact that he has such a track record and he’s not 24 is working in his favor.  I think if most 24 year olds tried to do that with their actors, they’d get kicked in the teeth.  But I think there’s too much of a fashion possibly with directors who are saying, “That was great, do you think maybe possibly you might mind trying it this way…”  And I think if you’re going to have directorial greatness, you need to be…You know, Wes Anderson who I worked with, he’s also exacting but in a different way.

Noah Forrest:  Well, I was going to ask you about Wes Anderson because Rushmore was the first film that I saw you in.  I think I was 15 or 16 when it came out and I was so totally blown away by it and I was going to ask you if they had a similar process because he seems very precise as well.

Olivia Williams:  They couldn’t be more different as people, but there is definitely a comparison to be made in how exacting they are and how clear their vision is.  I worked with Wes when he was very young and starting out and I think it’s interesting that he had such a pleasure with puppets on Fantastic Mr. Fox because he can really make them do exactly what he wants.  [Laughs]  And that is said with love.

Noah Forrest:  And Pierce, I’ve been following your career for a long long time.  I remember seeing The Lawnmower Man when was I was very young and being like, “That guy is gonna be a star!”  But I think it’s interesting the direction your career has taken because it seems like you’ve built up this image and you’ve spent the past decade kind of slyly subverting it with movies like The Matador or The Tailor of Panama.  And even now with The Ghost Writer.  I was wondering if that’s a conscious decision on your part of if these just happened to be the roles you found most attractive?

Pierce Brosnan:  It’s 50-50 really.  You set your intentions to do something, like I did when I came here in 1981, which was to be as successful as I possibly could be in movies.  Well, I got a TV series.  Beggars can’t be choosers, so I ran with that for all it was worth.  And of course, doing Remington Steele, I created this image for myself that ultimately led to James Bond.  So, you find yourself painted into a corner, so you have to find your way out and find parts that will lend themselves to your own creativity and potential.  So yes, there’s certainly a conscious effort to re-mold, re-define, change.  I believe I can play more than one character, so hopefully one can play more than one note.  So that’s the task at hand, always has been.  You know, I’ve managed to stay employed throughout this career.  I’m really a working actor and I’m always happy to go to work.   I don’t like trying to toil over the next direction of where I should go.  Sometimes I’ve just had to work to feed my family.  It hasn’t always been the work I want, but I’m working and that’s the greatest joy for any actor: to work.  And you have to have patience.  So it’s nice to make twists, to make sharp left turns. The Matador was certainly a wonderful experience and one that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t make it myself, because you get pigeonholed.  People don’t take risks, so that’s why having one’s own company or having a partner as I do in Beaumarie St. Clair at Irish DreamTime, it’s been the most exhilarating and exciting work for me.

Noah Forrest:  And both of you have exciting movies on the horizon.  Pierce, you have Salvation Boulevard coming out next year.  And Olivia, you’ve got Hanna, which is Joe Wright’s next film.  So is there anything either of you can share with us about those films?

Pierce Brosnan:  We went back out to the desert there a month or so ago to put an added scene on it, which I hear works like gangbusters and that’s as much as I know.  I haven’t spoken to anyone about it.  George Ratliff is directing from a book with the same title; Ed Harris, Greg Kinnear and myself.  Just wasn’t enough of Greg.  We kicked the movie off and then it goes off in different directions.  I had a great time doing it.  It was wonderful to be with Greg again.

Noah Forrest:  Well you and Greg Kinnear had great chemistry in The Matador.  And Olivia, what can you tell us about Hanna?

Olivia WilliamsIt was interesting movie from Polanski to Wright.  He’s another director with an extraordinary vision.  It feels like it’s happening much more on the set, his vision and gift.  This film is so many things.  The script just jumped out, I loved the script.  It’s part assassin thriller, it’s part road movie.  I’m in the road movie section of it, so I was driving a huge hippie truck around Morocco with Jason Flemyng and Saoirse Ronan.  She’s astonishing.  I have quite a small part in it, but I was like, come on, this kid is gonna be trouble.  She was so phenomenal in Atonement and she was only 12, now she’s gonna be 16 and a pain in the ass. [Laughs]  She’s absolutely delightful, humble, beautiful.  When she turned those blue eyes on me, I was like, “Okay, you’re gonna be a huge star.”  And Cate Blanchett, you just can’t argue with her…you really can’t argue with her, it’s very difficult.  [Laughs]  I haven’t seen it, but I can’t wait.

Noah Forrest:  Well, I’m gonna get you guys out of here on this question, which is what I ask everyone before they leave: what is your favorite film of all-time?

Olivia Williams:  Pierce, you go first, give me time to think!

Pierce Brosnan:  [Rushing]  Uh, um, There Will Be Blood!

Noah Forrest:  That’s a good one!

Olivia Williams: The Man Who Would Be King.

Noah Forrest:  That’s another great one.  Two wonderful choices.  Well thanks to the both of you.  I really appreciate this.

Olivia: Thank you.

Pierce Brosnan:  Okay, I’ll see you later tonight Olivia.  Noah, goodbye!

Brosnan And Williams On Polanski’s Eccentric But Uncanny Direction

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Brosnan And Williams On Polanski’s Eccentric But Uncanny Direction

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

The Real Shawn Levy Waxes Cinematic On The Hottest Bikram Yoga Class Ever He Took

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

The Real Shawn Levy Waxes Cinematic On The Hottest Bikram Yoga Class Ever He Took

Gurus o’ Gold – A Pre-Toronto Look At The 2010/11 Field

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Welcome to the first Gurus gathering of this upcoming season.

It always seems a little silly to offer strong opinions before the Toronto International Film Festival has even begun. So we don’t. Consider these a gentle guide to what the buzz is, very early in the season.

We asked The Gurus to offer their 15 favorites to end up nominated for Best Picture come January. No ranking, No “sure things.” Just instinct and as much insight as is possible at this moment.

Last year, we did the same and the result was that The Gurus hit seven of the final ten in their Top Ten from this long distance. Two more were picked in the Top Sixteen. And the only film to get nominated that was nowhere to be found on this early list? The Blind Side. (Perhaps that explains the shock from the media when it got nominated… even after becoming a well-reviewed massive box office hit.) So maybe this early poll isn’t really all that silly .

Is there a stone unturned this year? Well, not Stone, which got a vote from Pete Howell. And not Tree of Life, which got 4 votes last year at this time… and just 3 votes this time around (2 of them from the same Gurus as last year).

This is not the look for the future of Gurus moving forward. But our team is designing a databased system that will launch when Gurus goes full-out in November. So, until then…

UPDATE, 9/7/10 – The last three Gurus have now chimed in.

The Participating Gurus
Anthony Breznican – USA Today
Greg Ellwood – Hitfix
Pete Hammond – Deadline Hollywood
Eugene Hernandez – indieWIRE
Pete Howell – Toronto Star
Dave Karger – Entertainment Weekly
Mark Olsen – LA Times
David Poland – Movie City News
Steve Pond – The Wrap
Sean Smith – Entertainment Weekly
Sasha Stone – Awards Daily
Kris Tapley – In Contention
Anne Thompson -indieWIRE
Susan Wloszczyna – USA Today

Wilmington on DVDs: Sweetgrass, A Prophet, Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music, The Ghost Writer … and more

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010


Sweetgrass (Four Stars)
U.S.; Lucien Castaing-Taylor/Ilisa Barbash, 2010 (Cinema Guild)

In Sweetgrass, named for the lushly beautiful Montana country in which it takes place, we see the last summer pasturing of the vast sheep herd that once belonged to the Allested ranch in Big Timber: thousands of sheep blanketing the mountain slopes and valleys, bleating, baa-ing and clanging their cowbells like some grand atonal choir, ranging freely over the green grass and past the rushing rivers and under the high blue sky, surging like some white snowy river itself, with that entire tumbling, rippling, slowly moving mass of animal life itself cared for and guided by just two lone sheepmen in cowboy hats on horseback, with their alert and tireless sheep dogs loping alongside.

This stunning event was recorded by Lucien Castaing-Taylor (“recordist” or, I guess, cinematographer-director-editor) and Ilisa Barbash (producer), a husband-wife ethnographic filmmaking team then resident in Boulder, Colorado and now based at Harvard University. It was the last of its kind, because the Allested Ranch closed down in 2006, when Bush administration bureaucrats cancelled the public land grazing permit that the Allesteds and other independent ranchers had used for more than a century to feed their herds.

So what we see, though it isn’t explained until the end titles, is the end of a way of life — another wondrous American ritual and tradition, largely lost to the contemporary world.

As with Frederick Wiseman’s great socio-political documentaries, such as High School, Welfare and The Titicut Follies, there is no voice-over or narration. There’s precious little talk at all, and most of it comes from sheepmen John Ahern and Pat Connolly, who plan their work and gab laconically, or cuss something fierce, as they ride, or as they sip coffee and chew bacon, or just laze around and ruminate, in their camp chairs or by the fire.

Often they complain. But we can’t. They’re burdened by each day/s work, which looks endless. We’re blessedly privy to the beauties of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, and that huge woolly cloud of sheep. As in King Kong directors Merian Cooper’s and Ernest Schoedsack’s great 1925 documentary Grass, a movie which watched another group in a more distant land, the Bakhityari or Persian tribesmen, taking their herds to pasture, we‘re absorbed by the spectacle and by the journey before us: with the sheep moving like a great white wave grazing uphill and down, as the sheepmen try to protect them (vainly in one instance) from marauding grizzlies and wolverines, as mothers suckle their young, and dogs run and nudge, as the season passes, and as we see what only a relative handful have watched before this.

Critics have generally loved this film — and they’re right — but Sweetgrass is unfortunately the kind of movie that would-be wits denounce because they say nothing is happening, that it‘s like watching paint dry. Or sheep graze. Nothing is happening? What in God‘s name were they looking at in the theatre? Their watches? Their navels?

Thanks be to the filmmakers for undertaking this journey, which took them two years (2001-2003) to record and eight in all to get on film and in theatres. We are in their debt, and also in that of the Allesteds and of sheepmen Ahern and Connolly (and hell yes, of the horses, dogs and the sheep herd as well), for the lyrical sights and uncommon beauties of Sweetgrass. At the end, crusty John Ahern, riding in a truck cab, is asked by his boss Allested what he’ll do next, and he replies that he “ain’t going to worry about it for a week or two.” You think: Well, that’s okay, get some shut-eye. You earned it. Goodbye, sheep. Adios, amigos. Extras: Commentary by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash; Additional Scenes; Trailer; Booklet with Robert Koehler essay.

A Prophet (Three and a Half Stars)
France; Jacques Audiard, 2009 (Sony Pictures Classics)

The Grand Prize winner at the last Cannes Film Festival, this brutal, unsparing prison picture, about the rise of a young Muslim convict who becomes the favorite of the prison‘s Corsican mob boss, has been widely hailed as a great foreign language film and a great crime movie.

Whoa. Not quite, says me. It’s certainly a riveting show, and it has an undeniably great performance by Nils Arestrup as the Corsican mobster Cesar Luciani (the kind of dour gangster role for which Lino Ventura once held the patent), and a magnetic one by newcomer Tahar Rahim as the rising Muslim assistant crook Malik El Djebena.


But, on first glance, I disliked the ending, which almost seems to secretly glorify the young thug, for no better reason than that he’s an improvement on the old thug, and to overly admire what I took  as a possibly equivocal and darkly ambiguous resolution as some kind of stirring “star-is-born” multi-cultural parable.

Maybe I’m wrong. Director-co-writer Jacques Audiard says that A Prophet is an anti-Scarface, and in some ways, he’s right. But the De Palma/Pacino 1983 Scarface, whatever the uses that some gangsta-rappers made of it, does say that crime shouldn‘t pay, and clearly shows why, as did the superb 1932 original Scarface by Howard Hawks, Ben Hecht and Paul Muni.


I’m not completely sure what A Prophet. But Audiard, here and in A Self Made Hero (with Mathieu Kassovitz) and The Beat that My Heart Skipped (with Romain Duris), seems to have a soft spot of some kind for psychopathic anti-heroes, or maybe to him, psychopathic heroes, as long as they’re cute, intense star material.

That doesn’t invalidate the film, or Audiard’s grim vision, or Rahim’s often incredible performance. But it makes the movie, to me at least, less powerful and satisfying than those two recent fact-based movies about Italian organized crime, Il Divo and Gomorrah. A Prophet, by contrast, seems to me at least partially a wish fulfillment fantasy. If so, it’s a wish I didn’t particularly like to see fulfilled, at least not without more criticism.

But A Prophet, whatever my cavils, gets you on the hook and keeps you there. It summons up a prison and criminal world that, up until the end, I found grimly plausible, fiercely exciting.  It also boasts that Arestrup performance, which is an absolute knockout. (In French, with English subtitles.)


Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music — The Director’s Cut (Four Stars)
U.S.; Michael Wadleigh, 1970-1994    (Warner)Both a great rock concert movie, and a superb  documentary on youth culture in the Vietnam War Years, Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock — shot at the legendary 1969 Aquarian gathering at Max Yasgur‘s farm at Bethel, N. Y. (not the nearby Woodstock) –brings back the era and all its pot-fumed tenderness, horror, humor, beauty, ugliness, and glorious absurdities, as few other movies can.Caught by the virtuoso wide-angle cameraman Wadleigh (along with many others) in  amazing handheld widescreen images full of sweep and scope and seething with energy, and cut by editor/assistant director Martin Scorsese (and others) in vividly atmospheric sequences and evocative, witty split screen juxtapositions, the movie literally overwhelms youThe original three day concert — which wound up being one of rock history’s great freebies, when the crowds, measuring a half million plus, overflowed the ability to count or charge them ticket money — is rendered with shocking, lyrical immediacy. Woodstock records both the amazing social extravaganza surrounding the music — the gargantuan  sex-drugs-and-rock-n’-roll community that descended on Yasgur’s green farm fields, the bad trips and free food, the marijuana, nude romps and ubiquitous flashing peace signs, the ocean of communal feeling and occasional bummers — and, of course, the memorable music itself.David Gates’ dyspeptic Time Magazine anniversary cover story about Woodstock (a few years ago) to the contrary, it was a terrific concert. (Gates seems angry not only at ‘60s youth culture in general, but that acts like Merle Haggard weren’t on the bill. But you wouldn’t expect the bard of “Okie from Muskogee” to have shown up in 1969  at Bethel,  even if today, Haggard cheerfully will shares a show with peacenik Bob Dylan.)The original roster of acts in the 1970 movie included Crosby, Stills and Nash (ladling out, among others, Steve Stills’s honeyed lyric to Judy Collins, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” plus, under the closing credits, Joni Mitchell‘s soaring anthem to the whole affair “Woodstock“), along with Jefferson Airplane, The Who (“See Me, Feel Me“ the mesmerizing capper from “Tommy“), Richie Havens (the heartbreaking folk ballad “Motherless Child”), Joan Baez ( a hushed, reverent “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”), Santana (the fever-drenched “Black Magic Woman”), Sly and the Family Stone (Taking us “Higher,” if possible), Joe Cocker (tearing out his classic version of “A Little Help from My Friends”) and, as a blazing climax, guitar god Jimi Hendrix, with his legendary exploding variations on “The Star Spangled Banner,” complete with sonic Hendrix booms on “rockets red glare” and “bombs bursting in air.”Over the years, Woodstock has picked up even more initially deleted musical high points, some not used in the original cut because of lesser picture quality (they were shot at night), like blues lady Janis Joplin‘s frenzied “Work Me, Lord”) and, in the extras here, three performances by Creedence Clearwater Revival (including “Born on the Bayou”). and one by the Grateful Dead (“Turn on Your Love Light”).

Throughout, either in the epic original and this expanded director‘s cut, Woodstock beautifully records both the amazing social extravaganza surrounding the music — the gargantuan  sex-drugs-and-rock-n’-roll community that descended on Yasgur’s green farm fields, the bad trips and free food, the marijuana, nude romps and ubiquitous flashing peace signs, the ocean of communal feeling and occasional bummers — and, of course, the memorable music itself. Peace.

Extras: Deleted performances (Baez, Country Joe & The Fish, Santana, The Who, Joe Cocker, Mountain, Canned Heat, Paul Butterfield, Sha Na Na); featurettes, documentary.


The Ghost Writer (1 Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Three Stars)
U.S.-U.K.; Roman Polanski, 2009 (Summit Entertainment)

Shutter Island is a movie Roman Polanski probably should have made, just as, for different reasons, Schindler‘s List was.  (He got a second great chance at Schindler’s subject matter, and triumphed with it, in The Pianist.) But Island is even more his kind of movie than Scorsese’s: a descent into subjective terror that fits Polanski’s eye-level nightmare style perfectly, a movie that might even be described as a mix of the elements of his masterpieces Repulsion (the crazy killer), Cul-de-Sac (the island) and Chinatown (the detective and the scandal).

The Ghost Writer is the movie Polanski did make: an adaptation of  Robert Harris’ prize-winning thriller The Ghost about an opportunistic (and nameless) young writer (Ewan McGregor) brought to an isolated retreat on Martha’s Vineyard, and hired to ghost-write the autobiography of a retired Tony Blair-like British Prime Minister named Adam Lang (played with 007-like machismo and insouciance by Pierce Brosnan), while trying to fathom what’s up with Lang’s wife (Olivia Williams), his assistant (Kim Cattrall), a mysterious political rival named Emmett (Tom Wilkinson) and a gabby old man (Eli Wallach).

Based on the movie, The Ghost doesn’t seem like a very good novel. The film didn’t seize my imagination or chill my blood as I wanted it too, even though I was primed for it, and even though Polanski directs it beautifully, visualizing each scene with an edgy, icy-gray or chilly-blue bleak atmosphere and a sense of underlying evil and panic. But Polanski is a master, and evidences of his mastery are all over the movie.

I once transcribed a Polanski interview, in which I thought he was saying to me that the two most important thing in movies were “characters and utmost fear,“ when what he was really saying, was  “characters and atmosphere.“ He gets at least two of those three here: atmosphere and utmost fear. But though the actors are good, none of the characters (not even the usually movie-stealing Wilkinson’s) is very memorable. And it’s hard to empathize with a character in a thriller, like McGregor’s Ghost, who shows so little fear, with so much danger and enigma around.

The Ghost may be a good writer, but he doesn’t seem to have read much John Grisham or watched Three Days of the Condor. The fact that Lang has been linked to a CIA scandal doesn’t seem to phase him. Neither does the coincidence of his predecessor being drowned in the first scene, nor any of the mysterious things that happen along the way.  Maybe the fact that the writer remains nameless has made him think himself invulnerable, already a ghost of himself.

Anyway, Polanski may be a captured fugitive, but he’s no fake, even if The Ghost Writer sometimes feels a little as if it were ghost-written. It’s been decades since Pauline Kael suggested that Polanski might become the new Hitchcock (at least before Truffaut did), yet this is his first thriller since Frantic in 1988. He’s capable of better in the genre; he’s capable of masterpieces. I hope he does them.

Extras: Interview with Polanski; Featurettes.

James and the Giant Peach (2 Disc Blu-ray DVD Combo) (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Henry Selick, 1996 (Walt Disney)

British writer Roald Dahl started out was a specialist in the adult and macabre, crafting witty little literary gems of crime, sex and suspense for class markets. (Playboy often ran them, and Alfred Hitchcock often adapted them for his TV show.) Then he switched to children’s stories, jettisoning the sex, adding more whimsy and fantasy to the suspense, and coming up with modern classics like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (filmed twice, first by Gene “Willy Wonka” Wilder and later by Tim Burton), and this juicy little tale of voyage and adventure, filmed by Burton (the producer) and Henry Selick: the team behind The Nightmare Before Christmas.

It’s an odd, sophisticated, beguilingly weird and somewhat creepy tale of an orphan boy named James (Paul Terry)* who escapes from his two awful aunts, Sponge and Spiker (Miriam Margolyes and Joanna Lumley), when a giant peach shows up, and grows up, on their coastal hillside home, filled with genial giant talking bugs, and then sails off toward New York City, land of James’s dreams.

The film, done in Selick‘s sprightly stop-motion animation style, begins somewhat murkily and nightmarishly, then really takes off when the boy and the bugs sail away. The look is bewitching and the cast is swell: including Susan Sarandon (see below, with Tim Robbins) as the seductive Spider, Simon Callow as the posh-voiced Grasshopper, Richard Dreyfuss as the streetwise Centipede, Jane Leeves as the matronly Ladybug, and David Thewlis as the Naked earthworm. Dahl’s stories are for children of course. But, like Edward Gorey‘s, they probably have their strongest admirers among adults. Here‘s an example.

Extras: Featurettes.
* No relation to the cartoonist of Terrytoons.


The Kim Novak Collection (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Various Directors, 1955-59 (Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures)

My favorite Kim Novak line comes in Pal Joey, Columbia‘s dubiously altered, shamefully bowdlerized but still entertaining adaptation of the great cynical/lyrical O’Hara, Rodgers & Hart stage musical classic, in which Novak’s Linda English says to Frank Sinatra’s cabaret Casanova Joey Evans, in a girlish, amused, deliberately non-provocative voice, with no Mae West intonations or hints at all, “You‘re right. I do have a great shape. Confidentially, I‘m stacked.”

Stacked she certainly was: a willowy but sumptuous blonde bombshell with (usually) short-cropped platinum hair and a 37“ bosom that never knew a brassiere (“That‘s right!“ her Vertigo director Alfred Hitchcock once said tartly to Francois Truffaut. “She‘s particularly proud of that!”)

Pretty Novak, born in 1933, was a Chicago railroad worker‘s daughter and a natural beauty with haunting eyes and a vulnerable air, who became a movie star in her early twenties, with 1954‘s noir Pushover directed by her lover Richard Quine, and then a megastar with 1955‘s Picnic, directed by the explosive Joshua Logan, in which — as playwright William Inge’s small town Kansas princess Madge, with George Duning’s Theme from Picnic glowing behind her — Novak danced her way into the hearts and loins of William Holden‘s ex-football star/drifter Hal, and many more of the males of a susceptible nation.

The great years of her stardom, the mid to late ’50s,  are well-covered here. These movies give you the classic Novak image: a gorgeous fair-haired girl who’s a little troubled by her own long-legged, statuesque beauty, a bit hesitant about pushing herself forward, slinky and self-conscious, sometimes suspicious of men, a traffic-stopping but vulnerable glamour girl with brains and surprising sensitivity.

Like Marilyn Monroe, who often played it dumb, the real-life Novak was a reader. (Sinatra, one of her dates, wooed her with first editions, while his fellow Clansman Sammy Davis, Jr. hit the jackpot in one of the more famous secret love affairs of the ‘50s.) There’s a very well-written sleeper in this box, which you probably haven’t seen, but contains top-notch New York dialogue and one of her best performances: writer Paddy Chayefsky‘s and director Delbert Mann‘s Middle of the Night.

By 1964, she was considered past her prime, and when she played Polly the Pistol, the girlish hooker (with the belly-button jewel and the requisite heart of gold) in Billy Wilder‘s Kiss Me, Stupid, she shared in the movie‘s lousy notices. Today Kiss Me is rightly regarded as a flawed classic, and if original star Peter Sellers hadn’t had his heart attack and dropped out in mid shooting, we might see it as  a masterpiece, as some of the French do (“Embrasse-moi, Idiote!“)

But maybe she was too much a creation of the ‘50s, of the last fugitive years of the Golden Age, a kind of platinum blonde Jekyll and Hyde. Kim Novak could play it naïve and lower class, or tony and glamorous, and sometimes she played both in the same movie, as in her masterpiece, as Madeleine/Judy  in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. (He‘d wanted Grace Kelly for her part, but Hitch always wanted Grace Kelly, for every part.) Vertigo, of course, is in lots of Hitchcock Paramount or Universal sets. But it’s a shame Columbia couldn‘t cut a deal and get it in this one. What’s a Kim Novak collection without Vertigo?

She probably wasn’t a natural actress. She gave some awkward performances. But she was a natural-born star. Kim was one of the movie dream girls of my youth, and I still get a pang looking at her. Confidentially, she‘s stacked.

Includes: Picnic (U.S.; Joshua Logan, 1955)  Three and a Half Stars. William Inge‘s great Broadway dramatic hit about the way sex steams up in a small Kansas town at the annual picnic, with Novak as the town siren, William Holden as the drifter who steals her from his best friend (Cliff Robertson in the role the young Paul Newman played on Broadway), Betty Field as Kim‘s mother and Susan Strasberg as her little sister, who loves Carson McCullers, Rosalind Russell as the busybody schoolteacher whose aging beau, Arthur O’Connell, is marriage-shy. The stage play, which was also directed by Josh Logan, had a great ensemble cast — Janice Rule, Ralph Meeker, Eileen Heckart, Kim Stanley (understudied by Newman’s gal, Joanne Woodward), and O‘Connell. But there’s something iconic about this one, and something iconic and ultra-50ish about both Kim and the movie.

Jeanne Eagels (U.S.; George Sidney, 1957)  Two and a Half Stars. Novak plays the reckless, self-destructive ‘20s stage and screen beauty and superstar Jeanne Eagels, who made an onstage hurricane as Sadie Thompson in the Maugham play Rain, — a drama-goddess who drank and screwed and missed so many performances she was banned by Actors’ Equity, and died of a heroin overdose. It’s a tough part and not one of Novak’s real successes. But she had guts playing this brilliant talent and  bad girl.

Jeff Chandler is her Coney Island mentor/lover, Agnes Moorehead is her haughty teacher, and Murray Hamilton is the sleazy guy who helps push her over the edge. Sidney and cinematographer Robert Planck make it brassy and glamorous, there’s an allusion to director Frank Borzage, and a great trio of writers worked on the script: prolific Oscar-winner Sonya Levien (Quo Vadis, Drums Along the Mohawk) and those two excellent novelists Daniel Fuchs (Low Company) and John Fante (Ask the Dust).

Pal Joey (U.S.; Sidney, 1957)  Three Stars. Gene Kelly became a Broadway star, beckoned by the movies, when he playing the amoral, lady-killing show biz heel and kept man Joey Evans in the great musical play by writer John O‘Hara and the supreme song-writing team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.  And Kelly was promised the movie and the role, with Rita Hayworth as his star, in the ‘40s by Columbia boss Harry Cohn. But in the ‘50s, when the movie was finally made, it was Gene‘s pal and ex “In the town” dance partner Frank Sinatra who got the move call for Joey. And though the film is regarded as  famously botched adaptation, it’s not really Sinatra’s fault, he sings the songs here as well as Kelly danced them, on stage.

This is actually one of Frank’s quintessential movie roles, full of Sinatra-isms like “gasser,” and “ring-a-ding,” with added songs by Rodgers and Hart, and with orchestrations by the unbeatable Nelson Riddle — Sinatra’s genius arranger on “Only the Lonely,“ “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,“ and many other classic albums, including all of Ella Fitzgerald’s George Gershwin Songbooks. Frank spins a real gasser on “Lady in the Tramp” (it’s worth the whole movie), and he also kills us on “I Could Write a Book,” and ”There’s a Small Hotel,” while the dubbed Rita Hayworth as the socialite Vera, who’s keeping Joey, delivers “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and true love/non-stripper Kim‘s dubber sings that poignant gem “My Funny Valentine.”

What the movie needs is even more Frank, even more Rodgers & Hart, packaged by Riddle. It also may have needed Billy Wilder, whom that famous bully Harry Cohn turned down as director. The problem was the script, which Billy would have fixed, but which certainly baffled Dorothy Kingsley. It was the ‘50s and the goddamned Breen office was still fouling up movies in the name of our morals. But a moralistic “Pal Joey” is like squeezing Mae West into a nun’s habit. Even so, Sinatra, “The Voice,”  singing “The Lady is a Tramp“ is enough to obliterate all bad, or goody-two shoes, memories.

Bell, Book and Candle (U.S.; Richard Quine, 1958)  Three Stars. Novak rejoins Jimmy Stewart in the same year as Vertigo playing Gillian Holroyd, lady witch and classy Greenwich Village shop-owner who has a cat named Pyewackett, and who utterly bewitches, bothers and bewilders Manhattan publisher Shep Henderson (Stewart) in this swanky adaptation of playwright John van Druten’s spooky romantic comedy, directed by ex-beau Quine. Novak ‘s fellow witches include those sometimes macabre, sometimes playful ladies Elsa Lanchester (Queenie) and Hermione Gingold (Bianca), Ernie Kovacs is a great drunken writer (on witchcraft) named Sidney Redlitch, Janice Rule (who played Novak‘s Picnic role on stage) is Jimmy‘s luckless fiancée Merle, and  Jack Lemmon, no less, is a grinning, streetlamp-quenching delight as Gillian’s impish brother, the bongo-playing warlock Nicky.

Witchcraft here is obviously a code or analogue for ‘50s Bohemianism and the Greenwich Village bi and homosexual counter-culture, and the witches all hang out in a hip club called the Zodiac. Bell has some of the look and feel, if not the richness and impact of a classic. It just misses, and I guess I wouldn’t have hired Daniel Taradash (Picnic‘s adaptor) for this script. Maybe they needed Billy Wilder for this one too. But you can’t beat that cast. Or that cat. Or that hat of Shep’s, symbol of a bewitched heart, that we see soaring and falling all the way from the skyscraper to the street.

Middle of the Night (U.S.; Delbert Mann, 1959)  Three Stars.  As interviewer Steve Rebello remarks, this is the sleeper of the set. Novak in her prime often had good screenwriters or sources, and here she has the best script (excepting Vertigo) she was ever given: Paddy Chayefsky‘s April-December romance Middle of the Night — done on TV with Eva Marie Saint and E G. Marshall, done on Broadway with Gena Rowlands and Edward G. Robinson, and done here with Novak and Fredric March. March is the affluent garment maker/widower who takes a good look at his secretary (Novak) one day and stumbles into heaven  and hell. The script, like Marty, is both crackling and compassionate, and the supporting cast includes Lee Grant (as Novak‘s savvy friend), Albert Dekker (as March’s girl-chasing partner), Glenda Farrell (as Novak‘s skeptical mother) and Martin Balsam as March’s sympathetic son-in law. The movie has that great ‘50s-’60s look: New York City in black and white. But it didn’t work with audiences, and it’s a shame.

Extras: Interviews and commentaries with Kim Novak and Stephen Rebello; Featurettes; Trailers.


Kick-Ass (Two Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Three Stars)
U.S.; Matthew Vaughn, 2010 (Lionsgate)

Kick-Ass is a movie made from a comic book about a wish-fulfilling teen geek who plays at being a super-hero named Kick-Ass, and then runs into some real heroes (including a wildly talented purple-haired 11-year-old nicknamed Hit Girl, and her death-dealing pa, Big Daddy) and some real villains (including a vicious mob boss and his spoiled-rotten son). Though it may sound as if the Farrelly Brothers or Judd Apatow wannabes had taken over the latest  action-comic picture epic, it’s better than we might have expected: at its best,  expertly done and full of snazzy, kick-ass, wish-fulfilling fun.

Director Matthew Vaughn, Guy Richie‘s ex-producer (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and helmer of the British neo-noir Layer Cake, shows the same mix of slam-bang action and a genial light touch that director Jon Favreau brought to Iron Man. Vaughn and his co-writer Jane Goldman (adapting the comic by Mark Millar), know what their  basic audience wants to see. But they also know what audiences not usually attracted to this kind of movie may want to see as well: something witty and light and self-kidding, with the humor counter-balancing the carnage.

Of course, the carnage needs to be counter-balanced. Kick-Ass is funny. But it’s also so violent, and sometimes so convincingly bloody and savage, in its half-comic over-the-top action scenes — which include the kind of one-against-a-bunch climactic wholesale slaughter-fest usually administered by a Bruce Lee or a Sonny Chiba, but here dealt out by that 11-year-old girl —  that, at times, this movie becomes genuinely disturbing. (Parents should heed that “R” rating, which mentions “strong brutal violence, pervasive language, sexual content and nudity.”) Still, I can’t go along with the stern or skittish condemnations the show has aroused in some. That wounding violence, especially in a revenge fantasy, strikes me as not necessarily such a negative thing. Movie violence often should be more disturbing, should  have consequences.

And here, when high school geek Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) goes on his first costumed Kick-Ass expedition, and gets stomped by gang-bangers (well and half-realistically played by Johnny Hopkins and Ohene Cornelius) and run over by a car — winding up with nerve damage for the rest of the movie — it reminds us that violence hurts, that the world is full of pain, which is something that big action movies often leave out. That hurt gives more edge to the movie’s action, and also to its humor and satire, to the ways it burlesques and sends up the geek fantasies of vigilante-ism and super-celebrity that fuel almost every action-hero movie.

The fact that Kick-Ass starts life as a media-friendly geek-imagined fake, that the real super-heroine here is a cute little girl named Mindy Macready (played by Chloe Grace Moretz),  incredibly well-versed in martial arts and gunplay by her action-hero dad Damon (“Big Daddy”) Macready (Nicolas Cage), makes the movie more fantastic, less half-real. It’s also a riff on the gun culture that permeates our society, with presidential hopeful Sarah Palin (a kind of wannabe Hit Girl, but not as cute) smiling adorably while she calls on her followers to get their enemies in their sights and “reload.“

Wham! Bang! Thank you, Ma’am! In our introduction to this movie’s Hit Girl and Big Daddy, Mr. Macready reloads just like Sarah and her fan-boy militia. He aims and shoots his daughter from point blank range, then watches her bounce up, protected by body armor. Later Mindy kids Papa by requesting a pony for her birthday, when what she really wants are Palinesque weapons of destruction. Pony, my ass! The satire, deliberately profane,  kids our own gun-nutty cultural callousness. But the vulnerability of the movie’s good guys, and girl, facing a smash-face violence that often hits OldBoy levels, lets some reality seep back in. It keeps us anxious.

I haven’t read the Kick-Ass comics, written and drawn by Millar and John Romita, Jr.  (My own super-hero comic-reading heyday included Superman and Batman, and ended around the prime time of Johnny, Jr’s Daredevil-Spider-Man drawing dad Jazzy Johnny Romita, Sr.) But the story structure of the movie Kick-Ass reminds us that in the most popular super-hero fantasies, Clark Kent and Peter Parker are just as important as Superman and Spider-Man. Here the early scenes pivot around the ineffable nerdiness of Dave and his geek buddies, smart-ass Marty (Clark Duke) and Todd (Evan Peters), and by way Dave is ignored by the school’s top girl, Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), and kept away from fraternization with the Mafia rich kid Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) — and how Dave evades his parents (Garrett H. Brown and Elizabeth McGovern) to create the fantasy world of the masked, costumed, swaggering Kick-Ass, a multi-colored human action toy who’s exactly the kind of superhero a geeky kid would dream up.

Revenge fantasies are popular partly because they blow way our frustrations, and because the real world actually is full of bad guys and gang-bangers who really do hurt people. Crime boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), and his squad of torpedoes led by WiseGuy Big Joe (Michael Rispoli), are heavies with a touch of real-life viciousness (or at least reality filtered through other mob movies and TV shows) — and when some of those heavies go down like video-game targets, it’s hard to mind, especially when the vanquishing kick-asses are a nerd in a super-hero suit and a little girl with purple hair and lots of energy. Kick-Ass pushes our movie paradigms and clichés of violence and worm-turning to extremes, and whether you laugh at it, or go “Tsk-tsk,” probably depends on your own frustration-level. It made me laugh and sometimes cringe.

Extras: Commentary with Matthew Vaughn; Documentary; Featurettes; Live Menu System.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Also 3 Disc Blu-Ray) (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Thor Freudenthal, 2010 (20th Century Fox)

This one is better than it first looks — and it initially looks pretty silly, despite the source.

That source: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a best-selling children‘s book by Jeff Kinney, written in the form of a diary by a supposedly actual wimpy kid, Greg Heffley (Zach Gordon), who’s suffering through the torments of middle school (Grades 6-8).

This wimpy kid is the Job of junior high, a sort of Coen-Brothersish “Serious Boy.” He’s picked on by classmates and older thugs, dissed by his teachers, shut out of a seat at the cafeteria, abandoned by his friend, pestered by guys even dorkier and wimpier than he, teased by the school paper editor, joshed by his parents, bullied by his gym teacher, out-wrestled by a female nemesis and ignored by the prettier girls. To top it all off, he‘s a bit of a jerk himself: an unreliable friend and a little liar.

Waiting for him and us throughout the movie is a joke we really don’t want to see: involving an open-face cheese sandwich, rotting and festering away, and  going greenish-nauseating, right in the middle of the outdoor playground basketball court. It’s a sandwich that nobody ever moves (don’t they ever play hoops at that school?) and we know that someone, somehow, somewhere, is probably going to have to eat it. Or seem to eat it. (“Eat it raw!“ as the bullies used to scream, back when I was in junior high.) Luckily, it doesn’t look anything like  real food.

Any more than this movie looks anything like a real middle school, or a real suburb. What saves all this school-kid angst, done in high-Spielbergian exaggerated style by Thor Freudenthal (who made the visually inventive but mostly awful Hotel for Dogs)?  The actors, mostly. Gordon as the “wimpy kid” diarist Greg and Robert Capron as his plump, sweet tempered best friend Rowley Jefferson, are so cute, so easy and adept, and so consistently funny, that they  redeem a lot of the movie’s sprightly, but over-cute and over-obvious comedy.

Gordon has a gravity and low-key intelligence that once would have made him ideal for a role played by another kid Gordon: Barry, as Jason Robards’ nephew in A Thousand Clowns.  And Capron’s Rowley is a real find: a great fat little sidekick with a wonderful seraphic smile and the disposition of a frisky puppy.

After.Life (Also Blu-ray) (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Agnieszka Wostowicz-Vosloo, 2009 (Starz/Anchor Bay)

Christina Ricci, as car-crash victim Anna Taylor spends most of this movie nude, or in a red slip, and lying on a table at the funeral home. Liam Neeson, as funeral home manager/departures specialist Eliot Deacon, spends much of it staring down at her and speaking softly, trying to get Anna to accept her fate.

No this is not the breakthrough in necrophiliac movie romance we’re all not waiting for. It’s a sophisticated, scary horror film in which Deacon proves to have a wild talent, albeit one very helpful in his profession. Deacon can speak to the dead, before their interment — although here, he spends most of his time jawboning with Anna, and ignoring the others, who aren’t as pretty and don’t have red slips. Anna’s guilt-tripping boyfriend Paul (Justin Long), who would like to talk to her too, gets mysterious calls from the funeral home, and is very suspicious of both Deacon and his business and home, into which he keeps trying to break. And little Jack (Chandler Canterbury) can hear and see Anna, though that may simply mean he‘s a potential departures expert.

Neeson, underplaying beautifully, shows that he could have played Hannibal Lecter, or any of Peter Cushing‘s old Hammer roles, and done a first-rate job. It’s hard though, to imagine how Deacon is able to take care of a thriving funeral business in a huge house with a mortuary and an accompanying graveyard, and do it all, even the grave digging, all by himself — besides carrying on long conversations with corpses and making sure they don’t escape.

Ricci is a fine damsel in grisly distress. Long, also the Alvin of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel is suitably perturbed, especially when he gets his ghostly calls or takes a roll in the cemetery.

I think that Wostowicz-Vosloo shows a lot of talent here, but that her subject matter  is a shade too grisly and a little too lacking in real dark humor.  Don’t confuse this movie, by the way, with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s wonderful 1998 fantasy After Life — which is not at all gruesome, and in which Ricci and Neeson do not appear, in red slips or otherwise.

Dogora (Three Stars)
France; Patrice Leconte, 2004 (Severin)

From the unusually versatile cineaste Patrice Leconte (Ridicule, The Hairdresser‘s Husband): A beautifully photographed semi-travelogue documentary, in which Leconte’s camera wanders around without narration in Cambodia — catching views of boats, people, waving grain, motorcycle riders, shabby or neon-lit city streets and relics of the past — while a very western and catchy orchestral/choral score by Etienne Perruchon gives the whole thing a Koyaaniqatsi feel.

I would have liked a little narration, or an identifying title or two, but Leconte has his perverse side. In the accompanying interview, he tells of a high school critic/interviewer who finally found a connecting thread in Leconte‘s variegated oeuvre — his films mostly deal with an encounter between strangers and are all set in enclosed worlds — and proceeds here to offer a film that utterly contradicts it. (No dialogue or subtitles.)

Extras: Interview with Leconte; Trailer.

Charlie’s Angels (Blu-ray) (Two Stars)
U.S.; McG (Joseph McGinty Nicol), 2000 (Sony)

Despite that omnipresent Farrah Fawcett poster, this ‘70s TV “classic” about glamour girl trouble-shooters wasn‘t really very good. And the movie is just more frenetic and expensive. It’s a supposed showcase for Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu as the Angels, and they look good it. (Then again, when don’t they look good?) With Bill Murray, Tim Curry, Sam Rockwell and LL Cool J. I hope they all had a great payday.

Bull Durham (Blu-ray) (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Ron Shelton, 1988 (MGM)

A tough old minor-league catcher on his last legs (Kevin Costner), a young pitching phenom with lots of attitude (Tim Robbins), and the team super-fan with a great idea of baseball bonuses, who stands between them (Susan Sarandon). The best of all minor league baseball romantic comedies, despite that crack of Costner’s about the JFK assassination. Well, I guess there aren’t that many minor league baseball romantic comedies…Okay, one of the best of all sports romantic comedies. Sports movies maybe. Sure.

Sarandon had to prove to the execs that she was sexy enough for this show, and they should have been ashamed of themselves for even asking. (At least she got a bonus herself: This is where she met future husband Robbins.) Three balls, no strikes. A dry, wry, sexy double-header. No, that‘s not a double entendre, at least not an intentional one.

Extras: Commentaries by Shelton, Costner and Robbins; Featurettes.

The Breakfast Club (25th Anniversary Blu-ray) (Three Stars)
U.S.; John Hughes, 1985 (Universal)

Five kids on weekend detention hall duty (class princess Molly Ringwald, jock Emilio Estevez, brain Anthony Michael Hall, freaky Ally Sheedy, and leather-jacket rebel Judd Nelson)  get stuck with the biggest asshole of a teacher/detention monitor the school has got (Paul Gleason). They bond. He gets his. I was mixed on this in 1985. After all the ‘80s were such a goddam terrible decade for movies, it all began to look like crap. But I feel a little nostalgic about Breakfast Club now. It’s probably John Hughes’ most heartfelt statement of suburban teen solidarity. (His best movie remains Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)

Part Time Work of a Domestic Slave (Three and a Half Stars)
Germany; Alexander Kluge, 1973 (Facets Video)

Director-writer Alexander Kluge and his star actress/sister Alexandra Kluge re-team for a movie that‘s similar to their great 1966 Venice Film Festival German New Wave breakthrough Yesterday Girl and just as provocative. It’s a radical, feminist, but not predictable look at marriage, sexism and labor unions, a Godardian mix of drama/melodrama and semi-documentary verite with Alexandra as Roswitha the activist wife of a student/ worker (Bion Steinborn), whose factory is slated for a secret closure and relocation to Portugal by its unscrupulous bosses.

The movie splits neatly in two, and committed mothers may be disturbed by it. In the first part, Alexandra works part time as an illegal abortionist’s assistant and the graphic operation scenes will make many cringe. In German, with English subtitles.

Extra: Kluge’s short documentary on education Teachers in Transition (Three Stars)

Crack in the World (One Star)
U.S.; Andrew Marton, 1965 (Olive)

Andrew Marton’s zenith as a filmmaker was undoubtedly his brilliant action direction of the chariot race in the William Wyler-Charlton Heston Ben-Hur. Here is what I hope is his nadir: a completely idiotic disaster movie, with passable effects and a ludicrous script, in which mortally ill and furiously obsessed scientist Dana Andrews (who takes his marching orders, bizarrely, from Alexander Knox and a conference room in London) fires a missile at the earth’s core so that we can pipe out the magma for fuel. Bad idea.

Unfortunately, our rash scientist creates a huge crack which travels fast around the world, leaving earthquakes, volcanoes and other catastrophes in its wake — but not too fast for Andrews‘ fleet-of-foot scientific colleague and romantic rival Kieron Moore, who keeps chasing the crack, and trying to fix things.

With Janette Scott, as Andrews‘s steadfast wife, who stands by her man even as the world seems on the verge of ending because of his stupidity.


The ending features the requisite couple shot, lots of red magma and a cute little squirrel poking his head up to catch a glimpse of sky.


The only possible reason for watching this genuine catastrophe (Dana Andrews fans should actively void it and catch his other 1965 movie, that neglected classic In Harm’s Way instead) is if you have designs on making an Airplane-style spoof on disaster movies, and want the most ridiculous premise possible. The ad tagline for Crack in the World, by the way, was “Thank God it’s only a motion picture!” Amen.

Appointment with Danger (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Lewis Allen, 1951 (Olive)

Brusque and hardcase postal inspector Alan Ladd goes undercover to investigate a murder that may be the key to a huge impending postal truck robbery. Phyllis Calvert is a nun who witnessed the murderers: that sterling noir pair Jack Webb and Harry Morgan of Dragnet), Paul Stewart is the robbery boss, and Jan Sterling does another moll. This is pretty entertaining in a “T-Men” sort of way, but not half as stylish.


Presenting Sacha Guitry (Four Discs) (Three and a Half Stars)
France; Sacha Guitry, 1936-38 (Eclipse/Criterion)

Includes: The Story of a Cheat (France; Sacha Guitry, 1936.)  Four Stars. (In French, with English subtitles.) The Pearls of the Crown (France; Sacha Guitry, 1937.)  Four Stars. (In French, Italian and English, with English subtitles.) Desire (France; Sacha Guitry, 1937.)  Three Stars. (In French, with English subtitles.) Quadrille (France; Sacha Guitry, 1938.)  Three Stars. (In French, with English subtitles.)

Extras: Four essays by Michael Koresky.

Wilmington on Movies: Cop Out, The Crazies, A Prophet, North Face and The Ghost Writer (revisited)

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Cop Out (One and a Half Stars)
U. S.; Kevin Smith, 2010

Cop Out is one movie where you can tell what went wrong just by looking at the trailer. The (more…)

Wilmington on Movies: Shutter Island, The Ghost Writer and Ajami

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Shutter Island (Four Stars)
U.S.; Martin Scorsese, 2010

Shutter Island, Martin Scorsese’s new film, is a horror movie for aficionados, who like to be scared and not have to check their brains in the lobby. It‘s for moviegoers who’ve had their fill of the current (more…)

Pictures of The Ghost Writer

Friday, January 29th, 2010

When a successful British ghostwriter agrees to complete the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang, his agent assures him it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. But the project seems doomed from the start–not least because his predecessor on the project, Lang’s long-term aide, died in an unfortunate accident.  As The Ghost works, he begins to uncover clues suggesting his predecessor may have stumbled on a dark secret linking Lang to the CIA — and that somehow this information is hidden in the manuscript he left behind. Was Lang in the service of the American intelligence agency while he was prime minister? And was The Ghost’s predecessor murdered because of the appalling truth he uncovered?

Trailering The Ghost Writer

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Trailer: The Ghost Writer

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

A ghostwriter hired to complete the memoirs of a former British prime minister uncovers secrets that put his own life in jeopardy.