Posts Tagged ‘The Rite’

The Weekend Report — February 20

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

I Am Number?

There was little to salute as the weekend portion of the President’s holiday frame saw movie going once again register box office and admission declines. A trio of new films opened to modest response including the action-thriller Unknown, which led the field (though it could slip to second for the four-day period) with an estimated $21.9 million. Also new were the teen-oriented chiller I Am Number 4 , with $19.4 million to slot third, and the comedy sequel Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son in position five with $16.4 million.

There were also a tsunami of niche and exclusive bows including new Hindi and Telegu movies from India. But neither 7 Khoon Maaf nor Katha Screenplay Darsakakatvam provided more than a ripple of interest. Best of the limited releases was the non-fiction The Last Lions with $49,400 at four venues and Spanish Oscar submission Even the Rain, which grossed $52,600 from eight screens. And the fistful of exclusive bows was largely non-vigorous, though the doc I Am generated an encouraging $10,100 in its solo flight.

The absence of an 11th hour Oscar surge didn’t help the situation, though two contenders — The King’s Speech and Black Swan — managed to pass the $100 million threshold. Still, the failure of most late calendar releases to find Academy favor and the wave of new releases pushing out front-runners trends toward a serious re-thinking in theatrical exploitation for award season movies.

The four-day weekend should generate roughly $175 million and that translates into a 28% drop from President’s weekend 2010. It’s a more modest 4% erosion from the prior weekend. A year ago the trio of freshmen comprised of Valentine’s Day, Percy Jackson and The Wolfman debuted to respective grosses of $63.1 million, $38.7 million and $35.6 million.

Unknown skewed dramatically older with exits indicating 89% of its ticket buyers older than 25-years old. Surprisingly, I Am Number 4 also went slightly older with 53% plus 25s and Big Mommas had a 50/50 split. Also unexpected was Number 4’s 57/43 split that favored men and only 26% of its audience identified as teens.

The past six months has certainly seen a listing toward what the industry views as an older audience. The combination of the majors’ historic slowness at responding to change in the marketplace and decades of reliance on young males to propel special effects movies into the box office stratosphere is about to face a major challenge in May.

If you build it … will they come? Stay tuned.


Weekend Estimates – February 18-20, 2011

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Unknown WB 21.9 (7,190) NEW 3043 21.9
Gnomeo and Juliet BV/eOne 19.6 (6,490) -23% 3014 50.6
I Am Number 4 BV 19.4 (6,160) NEW 3154 19.4
Just Go With It Sony 18.3 (5,150) -40% 3548 60.8
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son Fox 16.4 (5,810) NEW 2821 16.4
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never Par 13.6 (4,370) -54% 3118 48.5
The King’s Speech Weinstein Co. 6.5 (3,100) -11% 2086 103.2
The Roommate Sony 4.0 (1,870) -50% 2160 32.6
The Eagle Focus 3.4 (1,490) -61% 2296 14.9
No Strings Attached Par 3.1 (1,570) -47% 1966 66
True Grit Par 2.4 (1,660) -36% 1465 164.2
Sanctum Uni 1.5 (1,110) -73% 1377 21.8
The Fighter Par/Alliance 1.5 (1,990) -30% 759 87.9
The Green Hornet Sony 1.5 (1,170) -60% 1265 95.1
Black Swan Fox Searchlight 1.3 (1,970) -39% 656 101.5
The Rite WB 1.1 (1,030) -67% 1048 31.3
The Mechanic CBS 1.0 (1,090) -68% 952 27.9
Cedar Rapids Fox Searchlight .93 (9,120) 207% 102 1.3
Barney’s Version eOne/Sony Classics .80 (2,850) 90% 323 4.3
Tangled BV .55 (1,410) -32% 389 194.1
Biutiful Roadside .52 (3,640) -10% 143 3
Tron: Legacy BV .43 (1,380) -22% 312 170.4
Yogi Bear WB .41 (570) -47% 725 97.2
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $139.30
% Change (Last Year) -28%
% Change (Last Week) -4%
Also debuting/expanding
Blue Valentine Weinstein Co. .32 (1,370) -45% 235 8.8
The Company Men Weinstein Co. .29 (1,210) -44% 242 3.5
Another Year Sony Classics .22 (1,820) -33% 121 2.5
7 Khoon Maaf UTV .19 (2,470) 76 0.19
The Illusionist Sony Classics .19 (1,790) -37% 106 1.5
Even the Rain Vitagraph 52,600 (6,570) 8 0.05
The Last Lions National Geo 49,400 (12,350) 4 0.05
Katha Screenplay Darsakatvam Supreme 36,700 (1,930) 19 0.04
Immigration Tango Roadside 14,400 (380) 30 0.01
En terrains connus eOne 12,600 (1,050) 12 0.01
I Am Paladin 10,100 (10,100) 1 0.01
Brotherhood Phase 4 8,800 (8,800) 1 0.01
The Chaperone IFC 6,900 (690) 10 0.01
Putty Hill Cinema Guild 4,500 (4,500) 1 0.01
Vanishing on 7th Street Magnolia 3,200 (3,200) 1 0.01

Domestic Market Share – 2010

Distributor Gross Market Share
Paramount (8) 236.4 21.60%
Sony (9) 216.8 19.80%
Universal (5) 131.8 12.00%
Buena Vista (4) 114.3 10.40%
Weinstein Co. (3) 90.6 8.30%
Warner Bros. (10) 87.9 8.00%
Fox Searchlight (3) 66.6 6.10%
Fox (4) 47.4 4.30%
CBS (2) 27.4 2.50%
Relativity (2) 24.6 2.20%
Focus (2) 12.9 1.20%
Sony Classics (5) 5.9 0.50%
Other * (49) 33.5 3.10%
1096.1` 100.00%
* none greater than 0.45%

The Weekend Report – February 13

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Bieber Pitch
By Leonard Klady

It was Sandler by a nose over the teen sensation. The rom-com Just Go With It emerged with an estimated $30.8 million while the 3D concert film Justin Bieber: Never Say Never was right behind with $30.4 million. In a session energized by new releases the animated Gnomeo and Juliet charted third with $25.3 million and the Gladiator-lite The Eagle slotted in position five with a drab $8.3 million.

The frame also featured a clutch of incoming niche and exclusive debuts. Bollywood entry Patiala House was the best of the newbies with $352,000 at 80 venues and on the Pinoy circuit Bulong had an OK $25,300 at six locales. Testing the waters with 15 screens, the comic Cedar Rapids found the temp conducive with a $302,000 tally.

There was also good response to the Oscar shorts tour with a first stop of $237,000 and the pacifist doc Mooz-lum had an impressive $12,000 per location average of $12,000, The single screen bow of another doc, Vidal Sassoon, looked and dressed good with $13,800.

Following a month of box office declines revenues experienced dramatic upturns that have finally put smiles on the folks in the distribution and exhibition sector.

Pundits were confident that the Sandler – Aniston pairing in Just Go With It would generate a $30 million plus opening salvo that would easily outdistance any threat from Justin Bieber’s concert foray. The latter movie was pegged at $25 million to $28 million and was the clear winner on opening day Friday with close to a $3 million edge of $12.4 million.

However, whereas the pubescent fan base proved to be first day fanatics, the older Valentine romantics were dominant for Saturday date night. The Bieber group declined by 13% while the Gos expanded by 42%. Both films skewed female with the concert crowd comprised of a whopping 84% and 67% under 25 according to exit polls. The comedy crowd was 58% distaff and 60% comprised of plus 25%. Never Say Never also registered a very potent 84% attendance for its stereoscopic playdates.

That still left plenty of room for the family audience that embraced Gnomeo and Juliet. Largely underserved in recent weeks, trackers underestimated its appeal with predictions in the range of $16 million to $20 million. The Eagle was the poor cousin in the mix and largely negative reviews didn’t help improve a lackluster response.

Overall revenues pushed to roughly $150 million for an eye-popping 73% boost from the prior weekend. It was also an impressive 32% improvement from 2010. Last year’s freshmen thrust was provided by first and third ranked Dear John and From Paris with Love with respective opening salvos of $30.5 million and $8.2 million.

Obviously with so much incoming fare the crowd of Oscar contenders – even the most resilient – lost a significant number of screens. And if on-going appeal is any kind of indicator, The King’s Speech contingent would be well advised to brush up on their elocution. It sputtered an insignificant 5% erosion despite the loss of 321 theaters.

Weekend (estimates) February 11 – 13, 2011
Title Distributor Gross (avg) % chng Thtrs Cume
Just Go With It Sony 30.8 (8,680) NEW 3548 30.8
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never Par 30.4 (9,790) NEW 3105 30.4
Gnomeo and Juliet BV 25.3 (8,450) NEW 2994 25.3
The Roommate Sony 8.3 (3,290) -44% 2534 26
The Eagle Focus 8.3 (3,630) NEW 2296 8.3
The King’s Speech TWC 7.3 (3,230) -5% 2263 93.8
No Strings Attached Par 5.6 (2,030) -30% 2756 59.8
Sanctum Uni 5.1 (1,830) -46% 2789 17.5
True Grit Par 3.8 (1,820) -19% 2072 160.3
The Green Hornet Sony 3.6 (1,730) -39% 2090 92.3
The Rite WB 3.1 (1,410) -44% 2207 28.7
The Mechanic CBS 3.1 (1,630) -42% 1886 25.3
The Fighter Par/Alliance 2.1 (2,030) -25% 1049 85.6
Black Swan FoxSrchlght 2.1 (1,980) -37% 1069 99.3
Dilemma Uni 1.0 (800) -70% 1242 47.6
Tangled BV .77 (980) -58% 784 193.3
Yogi Bear WB .74 (670) -67% 1111 96.6
Blue Valentine TWC .57 (1,450) -28% 393 8.2
Tron: Legacy BV .55 (1,510) -60% 364 169.7
127 Hours FoxSrchlght .54 (1,500) -50% 359 16.8
Biutiful Roadside .52 (2,740) -19% 190 2.2
The Company Men TWC .51 (1,840) -7% 277 3
Barney’s Version eOne/SPC .44 (4,400) -11% 119 3.3
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $144.10
% Change (Last Year) 32%
% Change (Last Week) 73%
Also debuting/expanding
Patiala House Hari .35 (4,400) 80 0.35
Another Year Sony Classics .34 (1,970) -23% 236 2.2
The Illusionist Sony Classics .32 (1,540) 70% 205 1.15
Cedar Rapids FoxSrchlght .30 (20,150) 15 0.3
2011 Oscar Shorts Magnolia .24 (3,880) 61 0.24
Mooz-lum Peace-Films .13 (12,000) 11 0.13
Gaganam Big Pictures 96,700 (6,400) 16 0.1
Bulong ABS 25,300 (4,210) 6 0.03
Poetry Kino 18,300 (6,100) 3 0.02
Payanam Big Pictures 15,400 (1,490) 9 0.02
Vidal Sassoon: The Movie Phase 4 13,800 (13,800) 1 0.01
Carancho Strand 12,900 (4,300) 3 0.01
Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 – Feb. 10, 2011)
Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Paramount (7) 184.7 20.60%
Sony (8) 157.6 17.50%
Universal (5) 121.9 13.60%
Buena Vista (3) 83.9 9.40%
Warner Bros. (10) 81.3 9.10%
Weinstein Co. (3) 78.8 8.80%
Fox Searchlight (2) 62.4 6.90%
Fox (4) 46.6 5.20%
Relativity (2) 24.5 2.70%
CBS (2) 22.6 2.50%
Alliance (5) 5.3 0.60%
Other * (49) 27.7 3.10%
897.3 100.00%

The Weekend Report – February 6

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Where Have All the Avids Gone …
Long Time Passing

The debut of The Roommate led an anemic field at the weekend box office with an estimated $15.5 million. Second ranked was another newcomer – the 3D adventure Sanctum – with a disappointing $9.2 million.

Anticipating steep Sunday admission drops from the Super Bowl both national and niche debuts were generally directed to strong single quadrant audiences. Opening day-and-date with Mainland China, the Sino version of What Women Want generated a dull $58,900 at 29 venues; the family oriented The Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec struggled to $51,300 at 27 screens in Quebec; and the inspirational Midway to Heaven was stuck in the middle with $42,400 at 10 playdates. Best of the new exclusives was American indie Cold Weather with a $14,800 tally on a single screen.

Continuing the first quarter cold spell ticket sales experienced double digit declines that have left both the exhibition and distribution sectors in a very blue funk.

The Roommate, a remake in all but name and credit of Single White Female, bucked recent viewing trend with exit polls showing strong younger appeal. Its 65% female crowd was not unexpected and its 61% under 21 makeup was encouraging … at least for an opening weekend gross that was largely predicted by tracking pundits.

Sanctum wasn’t as lucky with, again, a distaff skewing set of viewers, albeit largely plus 25s. The sizzle was all about its stereoscopic qualities and reviewers skewered its artistic elements. Still tracking indicated a bow of $10 million to $12 million that audiences weren’t willing to make come true.

Overall business fell short of $90 million for a 20% decline from the prior weekend. It was a slightly steeper 22% drop from 2010 when the $30.5 million opening of Dear John toppled Avatar’s reign with that film taking the bridesmaid spot with $22.8 million.

The industry is now inured to Super Bowl’s clobber but the more serious concern is the sudden disappearance of the avid audience that falls between ages 17 and 25. Recent movie releases are largely being blamed with no relief in sight for the first quarter of 2011 and certainly no possibility of Oscar fare bringing up the slack.

The official line is that the avids will return but somewhere in the dark recesses are concerns that a significant portion of that audience has opted out of the theatrical experience in favor of new technologies and platforms. Theater owners are buckling down for additional experimentation in “windows” that will cut into their bottom line.

Historically the majors have been slow to respond to change and if logically an aging population would suggest adopting more mature content, don’t expect that penny to drop for three to five years. Independents could move in to fill the gap though one can be certain their deep pocket brethren will out spend them to ensure market share dominance rather than address real business issues.


Weekend Estimates – February 4-6, 2011

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
The Roommate Sony 15.5 (6,130) NEW 2534 15.5
Sanctum Uni 9.2 (3,300) NEW 2787 9.2
No Strings Attached Par 8.3 (2,730) -38% 3050 51.7
The King’s Speech Weinstein Co. 8.1 (3,150) -27% 2584 83.9
The Green Hornet Sony 6.3 (2,070) -44% 3033 87.4
The Rite WB 5.6 (1,880) -62% 2985 23.7
The Mechanic CBS 5.3 (1,970) -53% 2704 20
True Grit Par 4.8 (1,650) -36% 2902 155
Dilemma Uni 3.4 (1,340) -40% 2545 45.7
Black Swan Fox Searchlight 3.4 (1,710) -34% 1977 95.9
The Fighter Par/Alliance 2.9 (1,730) -27% 1662 82.4
Yogi Bear WB 2.3 (1,260) -28% 1807 95.4
Tangled BV 1.8 (1,330) -28% 1369 192
127 Hours Fox Searchlight 1.4 (1,510) -36% 899 15.7
Tron: Legacy BV 1.4 (1,320) -46% 1040 168.8
Little Fockers Uni 1.2 (910) -52% 1355 146.5
Blue Valentine Weinstein Co. .79 (1,760) -33% 450 7.3
From Prada to Nada Lionsgate .69 (2,640) -38% 261 2
Biutiful Roadside .63 (3,560) 38% 177 1.4
Country Strong Sony .61 (640) -52% 948 19.8
The Company Men Weinstein Co. .55 (2,380) -17% 231 2.3
Chronicles of Narnia: Dawn Treader Fox .53 (1,030) -40% 514 102.6
Gulliver’s Travels Fox .67 (1,030) -42% 495 41.14
Another Year Sony Classics .48 (2,030) 55% 236 1.7
Barney’s Version eOne/Sony Classics .43 (3,570) -13% 119 2.7
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $84.70
% Change (Last Year) -22%
% Change (Last Week) -20%
Also debuting/expanding
The Illusionist Sony Classics .19 (2,850) 46% 68 0.77
Incendies eOne/Seville .14 (3,050) 30% 47 2.8
Rabbit Hole Lionsgate .12 (890) -32% 131 1.7
What Women Want China Lion 58,900 (2,030) 29 0.06
Adele Blanc-Sec Seville 51,300 (1,900) 27 0.05
Midway to Heaven Excel 42,400 (4,240) 10 0.04
Cold Weather IFC 14,800 (14,800) 1 0.01
Troubadours PBS 13,200 (4,400) 3 0.01
Waiting Forever FreeStyle 8,700 (2,900) 3 0.01
The Other Woman IFC 5,800 (2,900) 2 0.01

Top Domestic Grossers – 2010

Distributor Gross Market Share
Paramount (7) 163.5 20.90%
Sony (7) 130.7 16.70%
Universal (4) 103.7 13.30%
Buena Vista (3) 79.6 10.20%
Warner Bros. (10) 70.1 9.00%
Weinstein Co. (3) 66.2 8.50%
Fox Searchlight (2) 55.7 7.10%
Fox (4) 45.1 5.80%
Relativity (2) 24.1 3.10%
CBS (2) 15.1 1.90%
Alliance (5) 4.9 0.60%
Other * (46) 22.3 2.90%
781 100.00%
* none greater than 0.4%

Weekend Estimates — February 6

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

The Roommate|15.5|NEW|15.5
No Strings Attached|8.3|-38%|8.3
The King’s Speech|8.1|-27%|83.9
The Green Hornet|6.3|-44%|87.4
The Rite|5.6|-62%|23.7
The Mechanic|5.3|-53%|20
True Grit|4.8|-36%|155
The Dilemma|3.4|-40%|45.7
Black Swan|3.4|-34%|95.9

Friday Estimates — February 5

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

The Roommate |6.3|2534|NEW|6.3
Sanctum |3.5|2787|NEW|3.5
No Strings Attached|2.9|3050|-34%|46.3
The King’s Speech|2.3|2584|-20%|78.1
The Rite |1.9|2985|-64%|20
The Mechanic|1.8|2704|-51%|16.5
The Green Hornet|1.7|3033|-40%|82.8
True Grit|1.4|2902|-28%|151.7
Dilemma |1.1|2545|-35%|43.4
Black Swan|1|1977|-26%|93.5
Also Debuting
What Women Want|25,200|29||25,200
Midway to Heaven|17,900|10||17,900
Adele Blanc-Sec|14,300|27||14,300
Cold Weather|5,100|1||5,100
Waiting Forever|2,800|3||2,800
The Other Woman|1,800|2||1,800
* in millions

The Weekend Report: January 30, 2011

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Tune Down

The debut of the ExoRcIsT-lite The Rite possessed the top of the weekend box office charts with an estimated $14.7 million. In another soft film going frame the other national opener The Mechanic ranked fifth with an $11.1 million bow.

The session also saw the Hispanic-targeted release of From Nanda to Prada register OK results of $1 million at 256 haciendas – continuing the elusive pursuit of tapping into the nation’s fastest growing viewing demographic.

Niche and specialized debuts included a disappointing $103,000 launch for Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji on the Bollywood circuit and a dull $332,000 bow of Funkytown on 79 Quebecois screens. Also new, sorta, was Mexican Oscar submission and nominee Biutiful (following a December qualifying run) that recorded a solid $432,000 weekend at 57 venues. And of the exclusives only the American indie Kaboom created a stir with a solo screen gross of $14,700.

The first month of 2011 certainly suggests that multiplexes are losing ground with its traditional base of youthful avids. Overall box office experienced an upward weekend flutter from seven days earlier but on going double digit drops from 2010.

Exit polls indicated that both The Rite and The Mechanic’s ticket buyers were about two-thirds comprised on plus 25s. Add in the decidedly older appeal of Oscar contenders and the big picture appears decidedly grayish. The two films also debuted relatively close to tracking estimates and both, if not technically remakes/updates, toed to expectations implanted from earlier films.

Weekend revenues clocked in just shy of $110 million for a 4% hike from the immediate prior frame. It was 15% behind last year’s session when week seven of Avatar continued to hold sway with $31.3 million. Bows of Edge of Darkness and When in Rome followed with respective tallies of $17.2 million and $12.3 million.

Last week’s observation of The Social Network fatigue factor in the lingering award season manifested itself in Saturday’s Directors Guild award to The King’s Speech Tom Hooper. With Oscar four weeks in the offing the momentum for its top award now is clearly listing toward Speech with its chief competition coming from True Grit. Regardless, unlike last year most of the films with a clutch of nominations have generated $100 million at the domestic box office or are within striking distance of that benchmark.

It’s also the case that the majority of late December Oscar qualifiers that had token or were absent of nominations are struggling to stand on their own merits. The Way Back, Country Strong, Somewhere and Rabbit Hole are rapidly losing screens and The Company Men is only faring slightly better.


Weekend Estimates:  January 28-30, 2011

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
The Rite WB 14.7 (4,930) NEW 2985 14.7
No Strings Attached Par 13.6 (4,490) -31% 3022 39.7
The Green Hornet Sony 11.5 (3,270) -35% 3524 78.8
The Mechanic CBS 11.1 (4,110) NEW 2703 11.1
The King’s Speech Weinstein Co. 10.4 (4,080) 33% 2557 71.5
True Grit Par 7.2 (2,320) -1% 3120 148
Dilemma Uni 5.4 (1,870) -40% 2905 40.6
Black Swan Fox Searchlight 4.9 (2,110) -17% 2315 90.5
The Fighter Par/Alliance 3.9 (2,020) -7% 1914 78.2
Yogi Bear WB 3.1 (1,440) -20% 2133 92.4
Tron: Legacy BV 2.5 (1.670) -31% 1505 166.7
Little Fockers Uni 2.5 (1,200) -43% 2051 144.6
Tangled BV 2.4 (1,520) -22% 1589 189.5
127 Hours Fox Searchlight 2.0 (2,200)   916 13.4
Country Strong Sony 1.2 (960) -41% 1287 18.8
Blue Valentine Weinstein Co. 1.1 (2,720) 29% 415 6
From Prada to Nada Lions Gate 1.0 (3,980) NEW 256 1
Chronicles of Narnia: Dawn Treader Fox .87 (1,190) -36% 732 101.8
Season of the Witch Relativity .73 (660) -68% 1110 23.7
Gulliver’s Travels Fox .67 (1,030) -42% 653 40.9
The Company Men Weinstein Co. .64 (3,030) -1% 211 1.5
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hollows, Part 1* WB .57 (1,220) -37% 465 292.2
The Way Back Newmarket/Alliance .52 ((860) -57% 602 2.2
Barney’s Version eOne/Sony Classics .50 (4,190) 12% 118 2
Megamind Par .47 (1,570) -18% 300 146.9
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films)   $103.00      
% Change (Last Year)   -15%      
% Change (Last Week)   4%      
Also debuting/expanding
Biutiful Roadside .43 (7,580)   57 0.59
Funkytown Remstar .33 (4,200)   79 0.033
Another Year Sony Classics .31 (3,410) 49% 91 1.1
Rabbit Hole Lions Gate .16 (1,310) -8% 124 1.5
The Illusionist Sony Classics .13 (5,360) 66% 25 0.53
Somewhere Focus .11 (1,780) -47% 60 1.5
Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji Viva .10 (2,460)   42 0.1
Incendies eOne/Seville 91,500 (6,100) 142% 15 2.6
Ip Man 2 Variance 57,400 (2,870)   20 0.06
Kaboom IFC 14,700 (14,700)   1 0.01
When We Leave Olive 5,600 (5,600)   2 0.01
Rage Strand 3,800 (3,800)   1 0.01

Friday Estimates — January 29

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

The Rite|5.2|2985|NEW|7.2
No Strings Attached |4.3|3022|-41%|30.4
The Mechanic|3.4|2703|NEW|3.4
The Green Hornet|2.9|3524|-42%|70.3
The King’s Speech |2.8|2557|29%|63.9
True Grit|1.9|3120|-9%|36.8
The Dilemma|1.7|2905|-45%|26.6
Black Swan|1.4|2315|-23%|86.9
The Fighter |0.95|1914|-22%|75.3
Little Fockers|0.65|2051|-47%|142.8
Also Debuting
From Prada to Nada|0.31|256||0.31
Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji|26,700|42||26,700
Ip Man 2|18,800|20||18,800
* in millions

Wilmington on Movies: The Rite and Nora’s Will

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

The Rite (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Mikael Hafstrom, 2011

Exorcism movies are intended to scare the hell out of you, and The Rite is a classy, but forgettable example. Purporting to tell us a true story, about the devilish experiences of a Chicago priestly novitiate — the not-that-sure-of-his-vocation Michael Kovack (Colin O’Donoghue), who is temporarily assigned to the Vatican for a hands-on exorcism course with experts (including Anthony Hopkins as demon-raiser Father Lucas Trevant) — the movie holds your interest, without especially rewarding it.

This arty hellish show casts off its devils with style and grace, but not that much conviction or point. Like an accordion player doing 20 variations on “Lady of Spain,” The Rite does its job fairly well, without demonstrating why the job was worth doing in the first place — without summoning up any real sense of evil, to go with its sense of sub-Exorcist shock and awe,.

I didn’t dislike The Rite. Almost everything about the movie, directed by Swedish expatriate Mikael Hafstrom (who also made the fairly good thrillers 1408 and Derailed) is fairly well-done too. The scenes are intelligently written, if outlandish and somewhat over-familiar, and the cast — including Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds and Alice Braga as well as Hopkins and newcomer O’Donoghue — is much better than the horror movie norm. You can see why Hopkins is a great actor, and to a lesseer extent why Toby Jones can be as well, without being drawn into The Rite’s game.

Writer Michel Petroni’s plot, supposedly based on Matt Biglio’s book and some real life possessions, pits Kovack’s youthful skepticism about all-things-devilish against the savviness of his sadder but wiser elders: Jones as chatty, tired-looking Father Matthew of Chicago (looking like Truman Capote after taking his vows), Ciaran Hinds as smug Father Xavier, our man at the Vatican, and Hopkins as the sad-eyed, underworld-weary Father Lucas. Kovack listens and watches closely as Father Lucas labors over a very pregnant demon-ridden victim named Rosaria (Maria Castini), and later as all hell, of course, breaks loose.

But the movie didn’t really convince me that anything here could actually happen, even in a horror movie, and it isn’t witty or inventive enough to be much fun. Watching it is often like sitting down with an affable, eloquent companion (played by Anthony Hopkins) who pours some wine, lights a good cigar and says: “Look, I know you‘re going to be skeptical about this, and you’re probably going to tell me I’ve been watching too many movies. (What was the last one? The Last Exorcism?) And you’re probably right to be cautious, right to question, hell I question it myself. But I want to tell you a true story that actually happened to a real priest candidate — from right here in Chicago. A man who lives very near here today, in the suburbs. We could drive out and see him, if you like. The priest I mean.“

“Now, I want you to keep an open mind while you hear this — even when Rutger Hauer shows up as an all-American dad and when Alice Braga (Sonia’s niece, you know) arrives as a pretty Vatican reporter and the rooms boil and the walls clang and hellfire rages and poor pregnant Rosaria starts screaming and swearing and acting like Linda Blair — and when you actually see me, Tony Hopkins, grinning like a hungry bansheee and possessed by Beezlebub or Baal or Billy Bob or whomever.”

Pause. Puff. Sip some wine.

“What was it Hamlet said to that chap Horatio? ‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy?’ Something like that. Damned straight. And that goes for hell as well — if there is a hell, and there probably is, and lots of Beezelebubs and Billy Bobs skittering around it as well, thank you. And a hell of a Hollywood, for that matter.

“Have some Madeira? M’Dear? The devil exists you know, he really does.” Faintest of smiles. “You don’t believe me? Really? Well, that’s your privilege. They laughed when Billy Friedkin sat down at the Organ too. They learned, they learned. How about a little Toccatta and D action?”

So this is what the movie gives us: the same old malarkey, with class. (And listen, if I was intolerant of malarkey, I wouldn’t be a movie critic.) If you’re susceptible, you’ll probably enjoy The Rite or at least you’ll enjoy the parts with Hopkins and Jones. If you’re not, you may get restless — even if your head doesn’t actually start to swivel and spit green and spew profanity.

Hafstrom’s movie certainly has atmosphere: A kind of fancy pall settles down along with Ben Davis’ arty cinematography in Chicago, and rarely leaves the screen until the Hellzapoppin payoff scenes in Rome. And there’s an interesting contrast. Michael, the somewhat skeptic, the somewhat doubter, is played by a lesser known actor, O’Donoghue who’s a bit of a blank slate, but looks and acts vulnerable, possessable, maybe even slightly crazy. (It’s a role maybe for the young Tony Perkins.) The pro-exorcism team, especially Fathers Lucas and Matthew, tend to look and act like realists: urbane, quietly sophisticated, slyly literate.

That almost sets up the plausibility the movie never achieves — not least, because, as always in exorcism films, its hard to figure why these devils fasten on these victims, and then spend so much time messing with them and doing these mad demon acts and lame ventriloquist routines. Don’t they have better, more evil things to do? How many Baals are there anyway?

Malarkey and underworld-weariness aside, the movie, for all its sub-Mephistophelean style, sometimes leaves you feeling suckered: like an apprentice exorcist who winds up with swivel-marks on his neck, pea soup stains on his vestments, and a mocking toodle-oo from the Devil.
Isn’t the rest of the world going to hell as well? How about a little Toccato and D action? By the way another Swedish filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman, once wrote and directed a 1969 TV movie also called The Rite. It was Strindbergian, Kafkaesque. It was also a hell of a lot better than this movie.

Nora’s Will (Three and a Half Stars)
Mexico: Mariana Chenillo, 2008

Let me tell you about death. It’s sneaky, heart-shattering, awful, a cruel, cruel kick in the guts. Death sucks out all the air, sends the shadows down, turns the world into a pile of dirty snow and ashes. You think you’re ready for it, but you never are. You never will be, unless you just just didn’t care, unless nothing really matters to you and you think life is some Goddamned joke. But time passes, the seasons turn, people change, and what can you do sometimes to hold back pain, and to stave off emptiness, but try to laugh?

Mexican filmmaker Mariana Chenillo’s first feature film Nora’s Will — which won seven Ariels (or Mexican Academy Awards), including best picture, at the 2010 ceremonies — is a comedy-drama about death and its aftermath, about the anguish and the jokes. (The movie’s original and better title is “Five Days Without Nora.”) It’s about an old ex-couple who married, divorced, but never really left each other. Decades later Jose and Nora Kurtz still live just across the street, in high-rises and rooms that are clearly visible to the rooms opposite by binoculars.

The long-time husband/ex-husband of this broken, unbreakable pair is a sour-faced upper-middle-class atheist named Jose Kurtz (played by Fernando Lujan, who won the “best actor” Ariel). One morning, Jose goes across the street to bring some frozen meat left by a grocer, and discovers his long-time Jewish wife, and then long-time divorced “ex,” Nora (played in youth by Marina de Tavira and in old age by Silvia Mariscal), has committed suicide (with pills) and left him detailed instructions and fixings in the fridge for an elaborate Passover feast for her friends and family (and even a lover) — all to be prepared by Jose and by Nora‘s longtime faithful and fiercely loving housekeeper, Fabiana (played by Angelina Pelaez, who won the best supporting actress Ariel.)

This is not something Jose wants to do. And he wants to even less when he accidentally finds on the floor an intimate picture of Angela’s secret lover, and Jose‘s friend, the frail-looking family doctor Alberto Nurko, played by Juan Carlos Colombo. Colombo won no Ariels — no loot for the wicked in this film or funeral — but Chenillo won two, for her witty script and for her immaculate direction.

From then on, Jose conducts, for the next five days without Nora, a kind of constant quiet war and subversive rebellion against the funeral, the seder, and his more pious or propriety-conscious relatives. He finds Nora a Christian funeral home, a gaffe canceled by his aghast family — though that opens up the thorny question of a Jewish cemetery that won’t put suicides in holy ground.

He offers a forbidden snack, a slice of sausage pizza, to the local rabbi, Rabbi Jacowitz (Max Kerlow), horrifying him and driving the good man away. He scrambles up the labels and instructions on Nora’s Passover feast refrigerator boxes. (No matter; Fabiana knows what to do.) He has a frown and a contrary word for almost everyone in the family and ensemble — his and Nora’s highly responsible son Ruben (Ari Brickman), and Ruben’s chic wife Barbara (Cecilia Suarez), their little children, nearly-blind Cousin Leah (Veronics Langer), and that damned little doctor.

Meanwhile, Nora lies on the apartment floor, wrapped up in blankets, watched over by Moises (Enrique Arreola), the watcher left by nosey Rabbi Jacowitz , and spied on by the kids. There is another rabbi, Kolatch, and you may recognize the very old actor who plays him. Years ago, when that actor, named Martin LaSalle, was young, he played, for the great French Catholic director Robert Bresson, the melancholy young thief Michel in Bresson’s great 1959 Dostoyevskian film noir Pickpocket.

No matter what, come hell, Jose or high water (or high shivah), Nora will be buried in five days. For Jose and the others, life without Nora has commenced, and no matter what mischief the ex-husband may now wreak, childishly (but humorously), his new, emptier existence has irrevocably begun. Nora’s fourteenth suicide attempt, all of them unforgettable to Jose, is successfully over. Gone is the subject of the lifelong love this man tried to disguise as distaste, duty or indifference.
It’s sad. But of course, it can be funny too. Chekhov, remember, thought his last plays were comedies.

Recently, movies about death and funerals have been fairly regularly played as comedies — the obvious examples are the two versions of Death at a Funeral — reversing and sometimes travestying that old John Fordian sentiment-laden Shall We Gather at the River reverence for gravesites and the beloved movie dead. I’m not happy with most of those pictures, which are at least partly aimed as satire at innumerable examples of falsely sentimental movie funerals and their automatic rains, bowed heads and mechanical prayers — and, in many ways, I don‘t find the new dark funeral farces or comedy scenes amusing.

But Nora’s Will is both more comic and more realistic than its phonier Hollywood counterparts. It’s not a travesty. Jose is a great, thoroughly convincing and thoroughly engaging comic character. He’s also — as wonderfully played by the famous Mexican TV actor Lujan — a half-pathetic figure, a man once madly in love who never got over it. With every glower, every pursed lip, every scornful glance, Lujan shows us the beating heart of the husband who could never leave.

Why did all those Ariels come to “Five Days Without Nora?” (For me, that’s the right title, and screw everything else.) Why should you see it? (And you should.) Well, Lujan and Paleaz and the other actors, of course. But also the gorgeous, perceptive variousness of this movie’s take on life and people. “Five Days Without Nora” has been so finely, humorously and perceptively written by Chenillo, and so beautifully shot in such perfect, crystal-clear images by cinematographer Alberto Anaya, that it can always nimbly balance us between the tragedy/pathos of Nora‘s passing, and the comic rebellion of Jose’s war — a war which may be his perverse denial of death‘s finality.

The film never slips, even if the photo of Dr. Nurko does. “Five Days without Nora” is an exquisite movie comedy-drama, and a moving and hilarious one, melancholy and joyous, impeccable and raffish, sad and witty. It’s a portrait of love and death, and love beyond death, that’s both subversive and, in the end — honestly, believably — a source of great solace. Rest in peace, Nora. Have some pizza, Jose. (In Spanish, with subtitles.) (Chicago, at the Music Box.)


Strongman (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Zachary Levy, 2009

Stanley Pleskun, a.k.a. “Stanless Steel,” is a Strongman. A gentle, affable, intense guy with a piercing gaze, who wears his black, graying hair in braids, he performs feats of incredible strength at shows and schools and in parking lots, mostly around his native New Jersey. Strongman, made over the past ten years by director-cinematographer Zachary Levy, is his story — and that of his girlfriend Barbara, a gray-haired, saftig, voluptuous gal who acts as his announcer/pitchwoman.

Stanless’ act is truly amazing. In one of the first stunts we see him perform, he lies under the front of a ten ton truck and lifts it off the ground (for a few seconds) with his legs. He lifts three people in the air, with a device strapped to one finger. He bends pennies with his fingers, a feat none of his fellow strongmen today can match. He has a repertoire of 50 or so feats of strength, and every one we see here is a jaw-dropper.

But the fame and marketing muscle of Stanless doesn’t match his strength on stage — though he‘s made a number of TV appearances, is a regular at events around New Jersey and, at one point here, travels overseas to a London Strongman TV show to gape at Big Ben and, before the TV cameras, to lift that threesome with his finger.

Yet despite decades of work, other, less talented, more gimmicky strongmen — and some gifted ones as well — make far more than he does.

Why? It’s no image problem. As the movie Strongman proves, Stanless holds the screen like gangbusters. He‘s an intriguing, likable guy, an eloquent, even poetic speaker, and a colorful character: a vegetarian who reads books, talks about spirituality and gobbles down cobs of corn as if they were fistfuls of popcorn.

But Stanless is pushing (or past) 50, and his window of opportunity for real fame and money is closing. He likes beer, has a temper. He has a drug addict brother and an elderly mother, confined to a wheelchair. He has a contentious relationship with Barbara’s sister, who would like him out of the house they all share. This last schism eventually reaches a crisis point, which is caught — like everything else — by Levy‘s eavesdropping mike and seemingly omnipresent camera.

Why isn’t Stanless more famous? Well, it’s not his act, not Stanless Steel himself. He’s one of the more engaging subjects in recent cinema verite documentary history. The system hasn’t worked for him, has not justly rewarded or even well-exploited him — and he hasn’t figured out how to make it all work to his advantage. One observer tells him he should get rid of his pigtails; another tells him he needs to self-market better. Stanless is a blue collar guy (a scrap metal carrier by day) who hasn’t found a whiter collar champion — except, in a way for director Levy.

Strongman is a brilliant non-fiction film about the ironies and kinks in the American Dream — and a moving chronicle of the perseverance of dreams and dreamers. While most of the reality shows on TV are exploitative garbage about phonies, this cinema verite fly-on-the-wall documentary, is the real stuff, a real document: entertaining , moving and engaging. Most of you will love it.

And let’s hope the movie — the Grand Jury Prize winner at Slamdance — gets Stanless Steel the gigs, and part of the life, he deserves. (In Chicago, Facets)


Dhobi Ghat (Three Stars)

India: Kiran Rao, 2010

This polished and very good-looking romantic drama (also called Mumbai Diaries) follows four people around modern Mumbai (or Bombay): semi-abstract painter Arun (the big Indian movie star Amir Khan), pretty investment banker Shai (Monica Dogri), handsome young washer man (or “dhobi”) Munna (Prateik), and Mumbai newcomer and amateur video camera bug Yasmin (Kriti Malhotra), a young woman from the provinces.

It’s a roundelay of sorts. Bubbly Shai and shy Arun meet at a gallery showing of his works. They sleep together, split, and then Munna (who does the wash for both), falls in love with Shai. There’s also some drugs and crime erupting out of Munna’s lower class world, and a touching ending.

Dhobi Ghat is the feature debut of writer-director Kiran Rao, who is married to the producer, Aamir Khan. It’s a sympathetic attempt to tell a realistic story which crosses class boundaries, but I’d have to say, speaking as a guy with lower class origins, I found it somewhat condescending, despite itself, toward the dhobi, whose hold on our sympathies seems to stem mostly from his shy puppy dog manner and movie star handsomeness.

But it’s a well-done, pretty, good-hearted film. The fine, wistful score is by Gustavo Santaololla (Inarritu’s composer), and Arun’s paintings were done by Ravi Mandlik and Sukanya Ghosh. They’re not bad.