Posts Tagged ‘You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger’


Wednesday, February 16th, 2011


Unstoppable (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Tony Scott, 2010 (20th Century Fox)

Unstoppable, a blow-you-out-of-your seat thriller about a runaway train — by Tony Scott, who knows how to make action movies, but doesn’t always make them this well — starts strong, hits the tracks fast, tears out the brakes, takes off like a shot, and then just keeps racing and accelerating, ratcheting up the action and raising the stakes, barreling through Pennsylvania and all of writer Mark Bomback’s plot twists and character cues with costars Denzel Washington (the grumpy old engineer) and Chris Pine (the slick young conductor), blasting along with a lung-clutching velocity “Die Hard“ could only dream of, until it leaves you breathless (Phewww!) at the last stop.

If you watch this movie and say you weren’t excited, then you probably weren’t paying much attention. If you think it’s the same old Tony Scott — remembering that last silly runaway remake subway train movie he made — you’re partly right, though this is the funnier, jazzier Tony Scott of Spy Game or True Romance, not the scriptless flash of The Fan and The (Mis)Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

And if you complain about all that talk and babbling backstory between Washington’s Frank Barnes and Pine’s Will Colson, or between Rosario Dawson’s traffic manager Connie Hopper and Kevin Dunn’s greed-crazed creep of a Veep of Operations Galvin, or between Connie and the guys, Galvin and his bosses, and all those TV news people (Fox, local and otherwise) and the nation, all trying to keep up with the action, you’re actually attacking a lot of what makes this movie work so well, move so fast — and what’s more, something that most other action movies should have in their bags of tricks too.

But they mostly don’t. A lot of the new actioners have hollow, unambitious, phony-baloney scripts: plenty of action, but not much room for acting, even the economical emoting we see here. How can you get excited about a riderless train, if it’s being pursued, in a way, by other riderless trains and pilotless helicopters and copless cop cars, and formula heroes and heroines just along for the ride?

The General needed Buster Keaton. But Runaway Train also needed Jon Voight and Eric Roberts. And Unstoppable needs, and has, Washington as Barnes, the crusty old 28-year vet about to be put out to trackless pasture by the corporate cruds of his world — and Pine as Will, the twenty-something, well-connected railroad rookie, who represents everything blue-collar Frank despises, justly, while Frank represents something whiter-collar Will resents and misunderstands, not too wisely or well.

The movie and the actors swiftly sketch these two, and their families (a Hooters scene) and their class backgrounds, their conflict, and the mutual competence and feistiness that both will bring to the tasks soon at hand — and the picture and the guys give that speed-portrait just the right, more relaxed but steady opening style and rhythms, churning under the slowly mounting tension of catastrophe to come.

What goes wrong with the train here, comes partly from the real-life story of the driverless CSX train with a cargo of toxic chemicals that really went racing though Ohio in 2001. And though this story is an exaggerated version of that event, re-set in Pennsylvania, it’s cleverly overdrawn, retaining just enough real-lifey touches and semi-veracity, and just enough heavily-detailed railroad and police rescue backgrounds to keep us from going “Give me a break” at every rest stop. We’ll do it anyway, some of us, but probably with more affection than exasperation.

We’re off on the wild ride we expect: a constantly frantic, slam-bang but neatly
controlled race though a familiar but still wickedly exciting thriller-landscape, replete at times with another trainful of all-too-vulnerable schoolchildren, a heroic but futile attempted train-snatch on the tracks, and a gutsy Marine dangling precariously and heart-stoppingly from a helicopter, trying to set himself down on the roof of a train by now, by God, going 70 m.p.h. or more.

If you think about it for a while, it does begin to seem a little implausible — all those cliff-hangers on one train, and all those Fox cameras trained on all that action for so long, without anyone shoving Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich into the frame. (Maybe it’s still 2001.) But the movie never gives you time to think. If you mull over what could possibly happen, and what did happen (some of which is on the screen, exaggerated), you might go “Hey, whoa….”

But Unstoppable doesn’t give you time to mull. It’s always two stops ahead of you, thirty seconds before the track-switch, one helicopter-dangle above us, and three cars in front of your caboose. You barely have time for anything but a laugh or a “wow.” The movie, like Hitchcock, makes us accept and enjoy the implausible (a slice of life that becomes a slice of cake), not least because Washington, Pine, and Dawson are such good company, and Dunn is the right kind of bad company.

Washington is one of those actors who, like the great noir leading men of the ‘40s — Bogart, Mitchum, Cagney, Ryan, Garfield, Douglas, Lancaster, Widmark — is equally good as hero or villain. (He got his leading man Oscar as a bad guy in Training Day, and his breakthrough part was as another baddie in A Soldier’s Story. That dual good-and-evil gift materializes because Washington isn’t afraid to show an edge or an attitude in his roles, which is why Frank is a believable old cuss, even when he’s hopping on those roofs.

I love trains (wish I could take them more often) and I love a lot of train movies, though usually the more leisurely ones, like Keaton’s The General, and Hitchcock‘s The Lady Vanishes, or the train sections in Hitch’s North by Northwest and Strangers on a Train, in Billy Wilder‘s Some Like It Hot and John Hughes’ Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Sidney Lumet’s film of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. But I also like Konchalovsky’s hectic, hell-on-the-tracks Runaway Train; I only wish I could have seen a version of that movie directed by the original writer Akira Kurosawa. (It’s the sensei’s story, after all.)

Train movies tend to be more visually interesting than plane pictures, simply because trains have more space to stage stuff, besides which, all that landscape rushing by outside can become almost another character. “Unstoppable” is so good on one level, because Scott so fully exploits almost everything you can do with a train on screen, except drop it off the Bridge over the River Kwai. (Well, maybe not quite everything. There are no North by Northwest-style upper berth double entendres.)

But movies like Unstoppable also work because of the way they‘re able to mix glamour and sarcasm, reality and fantasy, action and reactions, speed and smarts.  Scott has made some half-dumb or illogical (but sometimes exciting) movies, including Beverly Hills Cop 2, The Last Boy Scout and his and Denzel’s ruination of “Pelham.” And have you seen Top Gun lately? (Or better yet, actor Quentin Tarantino‘s comic-phallic deconstruction of  Top Gun, in Sleep With Me?)

The younger Scott sometimes seems like the actor who brags he can make an audience cry with anything, including the phone book. True maybe, but why keep sticking yourself with wrong numbers like The Fan? The point is that T-Scott can make even a mess of a script pretty exciting, sometimes hellishly exciting. But with a good script, or a decent one, or with very good actors enjoying themselves, he’s that much better. (Anyone is, of course.)

Man, can he keep the speed up. Man, can he shoot (with cinematographer Ben Seresin.) Man, can he cut (with editors Robert Duffy and Chris Lebenzon). Man, can he score those action sequence knockouts. And man, can he stage one hell of a train chase. This is as good as Tony Scott can do, maybe as good as he’ll ever do.

Of course, Kurosawa could have done it better.
Extras: Commentary with Scott; Featurettes; Digital copy.


You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.-U.K.; Woody Allen, 2010 (Sony)

Here’s Woody Allen with a classy example from his current British period: an ensemble romantic-comedy-drama about writers, infidelity, the occult and big moral questions.

It’s quite good, it’s quite smart, and, as usual with Allen, it offers us those delights of language, wit and canny social observation that most romantic comedies these days ignore.

The direction is light and impeccably balanced. The cast is excellent. Josh Brolin plays a novelist who’s begun to suspect he has only ordinary gifts. (Decades ago, Woody would have played this part.) Naomi Watts — sort of sitting in for the Diane Keaton or Mia Farrow of happier days — is the writer’s wife, who develops the hots for her seductive employer (Antonio Banderas, very good in what might have been a “tall dark stranger” role slated for Javier Bardem).

Meanwhile, novelist Brodin finds an unusual solution for creative block and also falls for the exotic girl next door (Freida Pinto). And Naomi‘s (temporarily) well-off father (Anthony Hopkins in the role Allen might have well played today) takes up with a bouncy, not-too-bright hooker (Lucy Punch, stepping into some old Mira Sorvino shoes).

Is there someone we can honestly like in all of this? Yes indeed. Gemma Jones plays Naomi‘s dotty but lovable mother, a kindly but unhip matriarch who’s developed a passion in old age for séances, psychics and the supernatural — and even a fling of her own.

Sadly, Woody himself seems to have disappeared from his movie (as a player) almost entirely.  He didn’t write himself a misanthropic old codger role (even one that he could have handed off to Larry David), and he doesn‘t play the Hopkins part, with a New York Jewish rather than Welsh/British accent. He doesn’t even narrate this one, and he definitely should have. But at least he wrote and directed it, and without pitching any parts to Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis or Vince Vaughn. Bet they’d have played them.
No extras.


Thelma and Louise (Blu-ray) (20th Anniversary Edition) (Four Stars)
U.S.: Ridley Scott, 1990 (MGM)

Thelma is the bossed and bullied trophy-wife of a middle class Arkansas doofus business guy. Louise is her best friend, a streetwise, countrywise waitress . The two take off for a road trip without their guys: Thelma’s neurotic district manager husband (Chris McDonald), and Louise’s  good-hearted. good ol’ boy boyfriend Jimmy (Michael Madsen). It looks like fun — and director Ridley Scott and writer Callie Khouri give their knockout star pair some drop-dead gorgeous backdrops (the fires lit by Adrian Biddle) and a bubbly, irresistible  comic rhythm and tone — until the gals run into good music and bad men at a loud and rowdy Country & Western bar.

There, things go wrong. The fun-loving but too often repressed Thelma is lured outside by a local Lothario (Timothy Carhart), and then slammed against an engine hood, with rape commencing. Gun-packing Louise comes to her pal’s rescue, puts a gun to his ear. But the Lothario (Timothy Carhart) makes one fatal sexist wisecrack too many, Louise blows her cool (partly due, we later learn, to an ugly past), and she shoots and kills the attacker almost by reflex. Now, the ladies, not thinking clearly, are on the run, in the kind of road movie they made so well in the ‘70s, and so often badly afterwards.

As T. & L. race across the desert roads (made up mostly of California locations and a bit of Utah, masquerading as the great American Southwest), they are occasionally harassed by gross truckers, while being pursued by protective Harvey Keitel, as a cop who wants to save them, and Stephen Tobolowski, as a creepy FBI man we suspect probably won’t.

They also meet up with a sexy hitchhiker, a cowboy-hatted, blue-jeaned convenience store robber named J.D. who really rings Thelma‘s bell, played with loopy relish and realism by Brad Pitt. It’s a role that probably should have gotten Pitt an Oscar nomination (matching the ones for  both Geena’s Thelma and Susan’s Louise and the actual Oscar that Callie Khouri’s script won). J.D.  probably made him a movie star instead.`

But though we may dig bad boy Pitt (who turns the screws expertly and makes us dislike J. D. mightily in his last scene), we tend to fall in love with Thelma and Louise. They’re two of the sexiest gal roles Davis and Sarandon (or anybody) ever had. But they’re also characters with whom we sympathize and for whom we root, even though their road movie race to Mexico, to avoid a cop who actually wants to help them, is somewhat ill-advised and senseless. (Then again, much of life is ill-advised and senseless.)

The lead actresses still look and act great. Davis’s Thelma is a beaten-down belle who suddenly finds the inner femme fatale in herself, and David makes that part sing. Sarandon’s Louise is a spunky but wounded woman who tries to be a good person, but keeps getting smacked — and, like most of the best Sarandon roles, she‘s earthy and real and heartbreakingly gorgeous. Together the two of them are magic. The leave-taking scene in the diner between Louise and Madsen’s hard-case but loving Jimmy is one of the most beautiful goodbyes in any American movie — and the last radiantly smiling farewell of Thelma and Louise is even better.

People really loved or hated this movie back in 1991 — and I’m with the latter group. It’s a slightly preachy show, and since both Scott and Khouri intended it as a feminist statement, the script could actually have gone either way, been a dog or a phony as well as a gem. If Thelma and Louise” hadn’t been cast so superlatively well, or if it had been drenched in doom, gloom and messages — instead of getting the seductive, funny, exhilarating treatment Scott gives it, the movie might have worn us out. We wouldn’t have loved the characters as much, and we wouldn’t have felt what we finally do at that rousing cliff’s edge climax.

Along with Chinatown, Point Blank The Godfather movies, Mikey and Nicky, Altman’s The Long Goodbye and Bonnie and Clyde — and another Ridley Scott movie, Blade RunnerThelma and Louise is one of the great neo-noirs. The bright, colorful comedy plays counterpoint to the violence and sadness; darkness and anguish underscore the sunny landscapes through which the unintentional outlaws flee.

It’s the ‘90s equivalent of love-on-the-run noir classics like Nick Ray‘s tender They Live By Night and Fritz Lang’s icy You Only Live OnceRidley Scott, in a very fine and illuminating commentary (Khouri and the stars are also available on an alternative sound track) says he had the most fun on Thelma and Louise of any movie he ever directed. It shows.

Extras: Commentary by Scott, and by Davis, Sarandon and Khouri; Featurettes; Extended ending with Scott commentary; Deleted and extended scenes; Storyboards; Glenn Frey video.


Turner Classic Movies, Greatest Classic Legends: Errol Flynn (Four Stars)
U.S.: Various Directors, 1935-48 (TCM/Warner Bros.)

Errol Flynn was a rascal, a seducer and a dissolute rogue — and, according to his biographer Charles Higham (whom I don’t believe), he may, have been far, far worse. But one look at three of the movies in this box set — the swashbuckling masterpieces Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk — and you tend to forgive him everything. I do, any way.

What does it matter how reckless and selfish a life Flynn led, as long as we can see him, as Irish doctor, rebel and pirate Peter Blood, cross swords with Basil Rathbone‘s villainous Captain Levasseur in  one of the two greatest of all movie swordfights? (The other is also between Flynn and Rathbone, in Robin Hood.)

Or  as long as we can watch Flynn as Robin of Locksley, stride so confidently and stylishly and impudently into the huge castle banquet of Prince John (Claude Rains, with his rotting smile) and heave a dead dear onto the table under the noses of John  and Guy of Gisbourne (Rathbone), lounge lazily in his Sherwood green outfit before the lords of the realm, casually insulting everybody — and then outwit and out-fight and out-race all the guards to the moat, to his horse, and to his waiting merry men?

Or see him topple the masts and shred the sails of the Spanish ship in that first great Sea Hawk battle — men, muskets and swords in a turbulent mass of bodies and weapons — and then board the ship with the rest of his cutlass-wielding crew while the third of Erich Wolfgang Korngold‘s magnificent scores on this set, erupts in choral yells  and trumpet blasts?

I’ve seen these three movies, all directed by the maestro of costume adventure and a dozen other genres, Michael Curtiz, over and over again, I watched them again to write this column, and I’ll watch them happily again some time, if I can find an excuse. Or even if I can’t.

So what if Flynn was kind of a jerk at times? (“In like Flynn,” the whole country used to say, sniggering about his alleged erotic prowess.) So what if he once abandoned his best friend David Niven to the sharks? So what if Basil Rathbone was the better swordsman? So what if Humphrey Bogart disliked him? So what if Flynn acted like a cad to Olivia de Havilland, who’d rejected him, and her boyfriend John Huston beat him up one night? (The two combatants later became friends.) So what if Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. was the nicer, more inspiring movie swashbuckler/idol, and more of an artist than Flynn?  So what if…? Well, we can’t go on like this forever. As Niven once said, “The (marvelous) thing about Errol was that you always knew where you stood with him. He always let you down.“

Who cares today? When we watch these great, rousing, brilliantly crafted Errol Flynn/Michael Curtz film adventures, we can experience the magic of movies as we were meant to. And Flynn and Curtiz (who disliked each other) become our ideal guides to that excitement, that wizardry.

I’ll make a confession. I would forgive Errol Flynn all his Wicked, Wicked Ways (part of the title of his autobiography) for even the weakest movie in this set, the tongue- in-cheek The Adventures of Don Juan, directed in 1948, after Flynn‘s heyday, by Vincent Sherman (who does a commentary here).

“Don Juan” was made after the war, when the European market for Hollywood period epics had opened again. So Flynn once more strapped on his sword, buckled his swash, leapt on a horse, and looked hither and yon for a lady, a ship, a battle, or Basil Rathbone. The man who had his brains almost beaten in by Olivia‘s lover (and almost beat Huston‘s brains in  as well) was a little older, wiser, more dissolute. But he was still ready for any kind of action, on screen or off.  In like Flynn? It’s all fantasy, of course.

But so what?

Includes: Captain Blood (U.S; Michael Curtiz, 1935) Four Stars. Adapted from one of Rafael Sabatini’s thrilling literary period adventures: along with Alexander Dumas’, Sabatini’s adventure books were the best of their kind. (My favorite is Scaramouche, which Flynn and Curtiz didn’t make.) The then-unknown Flynn, cast because Robert Donat and others turned the part down, plays a doctor turned slave turned pirate of the Caribbean. Olivia de Havilland, in the first of her many Flynn match-ups, is his ideal, noble ladylove. Rathbone and Lionel Atwill are the villains, Guy Kibbee and Ross Alexander are among Captain Blood‘s hearty crew. Blessed also with the first of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s wondrous swashbuckling scores, three in this set. Of its kind, Captain Blood is nearly perfect.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (U. S.: Curtiz & William Keighley (and, uncredited, William Dieterle), 1938) Four Stars. Flynn‘s finest hour. Ever. This is the Robin Hood legend turned pure Hollywood, pure Warner Brothers. De Havilland is Maid Marian, attended by feisty little Una O’Connor. Rathbone, Rains and Melville Cooper (as the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham) ooze villainy. The Sherwood Forest stalwarts include Patric Knowles as Will Scarlet (a role meant for Niven), Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck and — just as he once played him for Doug Fairbanks’ 1922 Robin Hood — Alan Hale as Little John. More Korngold. More swordfights! Archery tournaments, where one arrow splits another! If you’ve ever watched this movie and didn’t yearn, for a minute or two, to be Flynn as Robin Hood (or de Havilland as Maid Marian), then I just don’t trust you.
The Sea Hawk (U.S.: Curtiz, 1940)  Four Stars. Another Sabatini novel, this time considerably altered by the pre-Casablanca Howard Koch, into an obvious symbolic saga about the impending war with the Nazis. Flynn is the dashing privateer and scourge of seagoing Spain, Geoffrey Thorpe; Brenda Marshall sits in uneasily for de Havilland (even with O’Connor to help her). The villainy is dispensed by Rains, Gilbert Roland and Henry Daniell. with Hale and J. M. Kerrigan (of The Informer) to buck Flynn up, and Flora Robson flirting with Geoffrey as Queen Elizabeth. Not as good as Captain Blood, but still one of the great sea movies.

The Adventures of Don Juan (U.S.; Vincent Sherman, 1948) Three Stars. Flynn returns to swashbuckling, after his World War II hiatus. And he’s typecast as Don Juan, lover and fighter —  aided by the faithful Leporello (Hale, natch) — who breaks hearts and skulls all across Spain. For a Don Giovanni, he’s an oddly noble fellow, but there’s a twinkle in Flynn, all the same. The Queen (Viveca Lindfors) is one of his fans; Robert Douglas and Raymond Burr are two of his enemies. This has the sometimes reputation of being tired and derivative, Flynn past his prime. Maybe that‘s true but Adventures of Don Juan is still fast, colorful, fun. And what a prime it was!

Great special features in this low-priced TCM set, whose contents are also mostly available in the previous Warners Errol Flynn costume adventure box.

Extras: Commentaries by director Sherman (on “Don Juan”) and historian/critic Rudy Behlmer (on “Robin Hood“ and “Don Juan“); Documentaries on Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk; Leonard Maltin hosting four “Warner Night at the Movies” packages, including original trailers, vintage newsreels, vintage drama, comedy, travelogue and musical shorts (with, among others, Johnny Green) and classic Looney Tunes (with, among others, Porky Pig).

Weekend Box Office Report – October 31

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

See … Saw … Ouch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Weekend Estimates – October 29-31, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend Box Office Report – October 24

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Back to Paranormal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Weekend Estimates – October 22-24, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend Box Office Report – October 17

Sunday, October 17th, 2010


Jackass 3D was better than all right with an estimated $49.3 million that easily ranked it at the top of the weekend movie going charts. Another freshman, the seasoned action-comedy Red, ranked second with $21.9 million. The session’s third national debut in medium-wide release was the inspirational N Secure with an OK $133,000 bow.

Among niche and regional bows the polemical documentary I Want Your Money failed to bring out the vote with a $236,000 tally from 537 screens. Telegu-language Brindaavanam rang up an impressive $10,320 average from 20 venues while Bollywood entry Aakrosh was a washout with a $46,400 gross from 24 screens.

Among the week’s exclusive newbies the clear favorite was Hereafter with a $37,380 per screen from six early peeks. There were also impressive openings for the three-hour plus portrait of a terrorist Carlos of $33,700 from single dates in Manhattan and Montreal and a sturdy $101,000 gross for the ripped from the headlines Conviction at 11 cells.

Overall weekend box office revenues topped $130 million for a sizeable 42% boost from seven days back. However, it fell 4% below last year’s tally and the 2010 box office has shrunk to just 2% better than the prior year’s gross for the same period.

Industry trackers had pegged the stereoscopic version of Jackass at roughly $30 million prior to its opening. But they obviously were deaf to bygone wag Henry Mencken’s observation that “no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” The recently under-served young male audience were eager to don Polaroid glasses and see the aging stars of the reality skein making fools of themselves and others up close and personal.

Pundits also undervalued Red with early estimates in a $15 million to $18 million range. The single joke premise of over the hill spies conscripted back into service (more intentionally mawkish than The Expendables) skewed older but obviously had some appeal for a younger crowd in search of something marginally less mind numbing that required optical gimmicks.

The glacial expansion of Waiting for “Superman” continued to display stamina but it’s clear that Never Let Me Go has peaked and that the rapid expansion of Nowhere Boy left the early years of John Lennon stranded outside the Cavern Club. Stone was experiencing a better than expected hold as it increased its exposure from six to 41 venues.

The frame’s two award contenders – Hereafter and Conviction – constructed solid foundations for their platform bids. Still the early signs suggest a better than anticipated commercial run for the former with the latter yarn requiring a lot of TLC to reach a wider audience.

Among holdovers the second lap for Secretariat showed signs that audiences were discovering the heartfelt saga and The Social Network continues to be propped up by award buzz rather than Facebook fascination.


Weekend Estimates – October 15-17, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Jackass 3D Par 49.3 (16,010) New 3081 49.3
Red Summit 21.9 (6,740) New 3255 21.8
The Social Network Sony 10.8 (3,910) -30% 2771 63
Secretariat BV 9.4 (3,070) -26% 3072 27.4
Life As We Know It WB 9.2 (2,910) -37% 3150 28.8
Legend of the Guardians WB 4.2 (1,670) -39% 2502 46
The Town WB 4.0 (1,700) -37% 2368 80.6
My Soul to Take Uni/Alliance 3.1 (1,240) -54% 2529 11.9
Easy A Sony 2.6 (1,140) -39% 2314 52.3
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Fox 2.3 (1,110) -50% 2045 47.8
N Secure FreeStyle 1.3 (2,730) New 486 1.3
It’s Kind of a Funny Story Focus 1.3 (1,660) -38% 757 4
You Again BV 1.2 (750) -53% 1588 22.7
Case 39 Par Vantage 1.2 (840) -56% 1406 11.9
Devil Uni 1.0 (1,100) -46% 891 31.6
Let Me In Overture .83 (690) -66% 1211 11.1
Alpha and Omega Lions Gate .81 (840) -46% 969 22.6
Waiting for “Superman” Par Vantage .74 (4,060) 17% 182 2.5
Toy Story 3 BV .52 (1,480) -6% 350 412.8
Inception WB .35 (1,180) -29% 297 289.7
Resident Evil: Afterlife Sony/Alliance .34 (780) -73% 438 59.7
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $125.70
% Change (Last Year) -4%
% Change (Last Week) 42%
Also debuting/expanding
Nowhere Boy Weinstein Co. .33 (1,550) 554% 215 0.41
Never Let Me Go Searchlight .32 (1,390) -7% 232 1.65
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger Sony Classics .27 (2,440) 1% 112 1.26
I Want Your Money FreeStyle .24 (440) 537 0.24
Stone Overture .23 (5,780) 199% 41 0.34
Hereafter WB .22 (37,380) 6 0.22
Brindaavanam Blue Sky .21 (10,320) 20 0.21
Buried Lions Gate .13 (1,270) -41% 103 0.76
Conviction Fox Searchlight .10 (9,200) 11 0.1
Aakrosh Eros 46,400 (1,930) 24 0.05
Carlos IFC 33,700 (16,850) 1 0.03
Knockout Eros 18,100 (700) 26 0.02
A Better Tomorrow CJ Entertainment 5,800 (5,800) 1 0.01
Down Terrace Magnolia 2,900 (1,450) 2 0.01
Samson and Delilah Ipix 2,300 (1,150) 2 0.01

Domestic Market Share – January 1 – October 14, 2010

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Warner Bros. (24) 1380.1 16.40%
Fox (16) 1284.6 15.30%
Paramount (14) 1242.3 14.80%
Buena Vista (15) 1129.6 13.40%
Sony (23) 1111.7 13.20%
Universal (17) 765.4 9.10%
Summit (9) 425.1 5.10%
Lionsgate (12) 410.1 4.90%
Overture (7) 78.2 0.90%
Fox Searchlight (5) 72.1 0.90%
Focus (7) 71.4 0.90%
Weinstein Co. (7) 61.1 0.70%
Sony Classics (20) 52.9 0.60%
MGM (1) 50.4 0.60%
CBS (2) 50 0.60%
Other * (266) 222.3 2.60%
8407.3 100.00%
* none greater than .04%

Weekend Box Office Report – October 10

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

Nobody Nose Anything

The Social Network surprised pundits with a better than expected hold and won the weekend movie going chase with an estimated $15.3 million. Three national debs were on its tail with lackluster returns. The rom-com Life As We Know It faltered in the clutch with $14.6 million while the much ballyhooed turf saga Secretariat posted $12.4 million, and there was a lack of stereoscopic shock for My Soul to Take with $6.9 million.

There was also a lack of oomph for the comic oddity It’s Kind of a Funny Story with $2 million tally-woo from 742 engagements.

In the niches Telegu-language Khaleja had a buoyant bow of $343,000 from 24 screens and OK returns of $72,700 for French thriller L’Immortel in Quebec. There were also a raft of exclusive bows with Darwinian winners that included the young John Lennon of Nowhere Boy grossing $51,300 at four venues, the squeezed of non-fiction Inside Job with $37,500 at two interviews and psychological thriller Stone with $71,400 from six couches.

Overall business once again took a dip with 2010 box office now less than 2% ahead of last year’s pace and industry mavens sweating out a quick reversal of fortune.

Tracking reports had pegged the uplifting tale of racing Triple Crowner Secretariat as the weekend’s odds-on favorite with estimates in the range of $16 million to $18 million. But its appeal to women and an older demo that remembered the four-legged wonder of the early 1970s failed to bring ‘em out in its maiden performance despite a considerable marketing push.

Life As We Know It was expected to be about a length behind Secretariat but pulled ahead right from the opening gate. It opened ahead of the pack on Friday with a $5.2 million bow but quickly lost ground to The Social Network as the weekend advanced.

And My Soul to Take fell smack in the middle of estimates in the $6 million to $8 million range. All three of the newbies skewed toward distaff viewers and there’s little question the marketplace is in dire need of something for the boys.

Weekend revenues pushed to roughly $92 million that represented a 4% dip from seven days back. It was a considerably steeped 16% fall from 2009 when the launch of Couples Retreat topped the charts on a $34.3 million first salvo.

On the expansion track, the “what’s wrong with our education” doc Waiting for “Superman” is holding up well and Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger continues to draw in aficionados. But the dour Never Let Me Go appears to have peaked early in the awards season. Among the new entries the highly enjoyable Tamara Drewe proved to be the surprise commercial disappointment with a dull $4,300 engagement average from four initial exposures.


Weekend Estimates – October 1-3, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
The Social Network Sony 15.3 (5,520) -32% 2771 45.9
Life As We Know It WB 14.6 (4,630) New 3150 14.6
Secretariat BV 12.4 (4,050) New 3072 12.4
My Soul to Take Uni/Alliance 6.9 (2,670) New 2572 6.9
Legend of the Guardians WB 6.8 (2,100) -38% 3225 39.2
The Town WB 6.3 (2,310) -36% 2720 73.7
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Fox 4.5 (1,600) -55% 2829 43.6
Easy A Sony 4.1 (1,450) -39% 2847 48.1
Case 39 Par Vantage 2.6 (1,160) -55% 2212 9.5
You Again BV 2.4 (1,030) -58% 2332 20.7
Let Me In Overture 2.4 (1,160) -54% 2042 9.1
It’s Kind of a Funny Story Focus 2.0 (2,670) New 742 2
Devil Uni 1.7 (1,210) -51% 1442 30
Alpha and Omega Lionsgate 1.4 (890) -51% 1616 21
Resident Evil: Afterlife Sony/Alliance 1.2 (1,210) -56% 1012 58.8
Waiting for “Superman” Par Vantage .63 (6,120) 54% 103 1.4
Toy Story 3 BV .55 (1,400) 140% 393 412
Inception WB .52 (1,290) -43% 403 289.2
Takers Sony .39 (950) -50% 412 56.8
Catfish Uni/Alliance .37 (2,590) -37% 143 2.2
Khaleja Ficus .34 (14,290) 24 0.39
Never Let Me Go Searchlight .33 (1,990) 77% 167 1.1
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $86.30
% Change (Last Year) -16%
% Change (Last Week) -4%
Also debuting/expanding
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger Sony Classics .25 (3,380) 15% 73 0.84
Buried Lionsgate .21 (2,300) 118% 92 0.5
L’Immortel Seville 72,700 (3,030) 24 0.07
Stone Overture 71,400 (11,900) 6 0.07
Nowhere Boy Weinstein Co. 51,300 (12,820) 4 0.05
Inside Job Sony Classics 37,500 (18,750) 2 0.04
Route 132 Alliance 37,300 (1,430) 26 0.06
I Spit on Your Grave Anchor Bay 30,800 (2,570) 12 0.03
Tamara Drewe Sony Classics 17,200 (4,300) 4 0.02
Ghetto Physics IDP 10,700 (1,190) 9 0.01
Budrus Balcony 8,400 (8,400) 1 0.01
It’s a Wonderful Afterlife UTV 5,500 (770) 20 0.01
As Good as Dead First Look 1,850 (1,850) 1 0.01

Domestic Market Share – January 1 – October 7, 2010

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Warner Bros. (23) 1340.5 16.20%
Fox (16) 1277.7 15.40%
Paramount (14) 1237.4 15.00%
Buena Vista (14) 1107.4 13.40%
Sony (23) 1081.3 13.10%
Universal (16) 753.6 9.10%
Summit (9) 425.1 5.10%
Lionsgate (12) 407.1 4.90%
Overture (6) 74.5 0.90%
Fox Searchlight (5) 71.5 0.90%
Focus (6) 68.4 0.80%
Weinstein Co. (6) 60.9 0.70%
Sony Classics (19) 52.3 0.60%
MGM (1) 50.4 0.60%
CBS (2) 50 0.60%
Other * (260) 217.3 2.60%
8275.4 100.00%
* none greater than .04%

Top Global Grossers: January 1 – October 7, 2010

Title * Distributor Gross
Avatar * Fox 1,948,069,404
Toy Story 3 BV 1,047,492,510
Alice in Wonderland BV 1,024,537,295
Twilight: Eclipse Summit 691,330,829
Inception WB 803,799,128
Shrek Forever After Par 732,163,289
Iron Man 2 Par 622,718,660
How to Train Your Dragon Par 494,288,254
Clash of the Titans WB 489,778,913
Sherlock Holmes * WB 367,796,599
Despicable Me Uni 367,194,481
The Karate Kid Sony 357,206,535
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time BV 335,020,929
Robin Hood Uni 311,610,747
The Last Airbender Par 310,375,125
Shutter Island Par 301,977,955
Sex and the City 2 WB 301,158,934
Salt Sony 287,626,258
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel Fox 264,341,533
Grown Ups Sony 261,324,243
The Expendables Lionsgate 257,529,373
Resident Evil: Afterlife Sony/Alliance 244,795,280
Knight and Day Fox 229,686,302
Percy Jackson & the Olympians Fox 226,497,209
Valentine’s Day WB 217,596,116
* does not include 2009 box office

Friday Estimates – September 25

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps|6.9|3565||6.9
The Town|5|2885|-40%|38.1
Legend of the Guardians|4.5|3575||4.5
Easy A|3.6|2856|-47%|25.7
You Again|2.7|2548||2.7
Resident Evil: Afterlife|1.4|2642|-54%|48.5
Alpha and Omega|1.1 |2625|-53%|11.5
Also Debuting
The Virginity Hit|0.1|700||0.1
Waiting for Superman|52,300|4||52,300
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger|44,800|6||44,800
Like Dandelion Dust|37,100|26||37,100

Critics Roundup – September 23

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps|Yellow|Yellow|Green|Yellow|Green
Legend of the Guardians|||Yellow||Yellow
You Again|Red|Yellow|||
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger |Green|Yellow|Yellow|Yellow|
Waiting for ‘Superman’|Green|Yellow|||
Jack Goes Boating||Yellow|Green||
Enter the Void|||Green||Yellow
Buried |Green||Green||Yellow

Review: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Woody Allen‘s latest effort, You Will Find a Tall Dark Stranger, finds the director returning to Europe — the fertile ground which, in recent years, has served as the setting for the excellent Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona and the fair-to-middling Cassandra’s Dream and Scoop. This time around he’s back in London with a story about the futile, perpetual human desire to chase after that ever elusive greener grass.

Anthony Hopkins On His Senior Moment In Tall, Dark Stranger

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Anthony Hopkins On His Senior Moment In Tall Dark Stranger

Itzkoff And Woody Ping The Conversational Pong

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Itzkoff And Woody Ping The Conversational Pong

Woody On Faith, Fate And Fortune-Tellers

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Woody On Faith, Fate And Fortune-Tellers

TIFF Preview, Part Two

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Previously, I wrote about what you might consider the more “indie” sections of the Toronto International film fest: Contemporary World Cinema, Discovery, and docs, plus Canada First!, which is always interesting.

Now let’s take a peek at the Galas and Special Presentations, plus everyone’s favorite late night, wild ‘n’ crazy section, Midnight Madness.

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger Poster

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010