Greetings and welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly guide to the weekend’s new movies. Tune in every Tuesday for the latest look at the upcoming weekend, and then check back on Thursday night for final projections based on actual theatre counts.
1. Inglourious Basterds (The Weinstein Company/Universal) – $26.7 million N/A
2. District 9 (Sony) – $21.0 million -44%
3. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Paramount) – $10.7 million -52%
4. Shorts (Warner Bros.) – $10.5 million N/A
5. The Time Traveler’s Wife (New Line/WB) – $9.8 million -47%
6. Julie & Julia (Sony) – $7.7 million -37%
7. G-Force (Disney) – $4.6 million -33%
8. Post Grad (Fox Searchlight) – $3.8 million N/A
9. The Goods: Live Hard. Sell Hard. (Paramount Vantage) – $2.9 million -48%
10. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.) – $2.7 million -47%
11. X Games 3D: the Movie (Disney/ESPN Films) – $2.5 million N/A
The last month of summer is grinding along, and for the third week in a row, we have a much-anticipated movie, this being the return of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino to the movies as he tackles a WWII epic. Tarantino’s rep among cinephiles isn’t the only thing going for Inglourious Basterds (The Weinstein Company/Universal), as it also stars none other than Brad Pitt, constantly one of the most dependable box office draws. Being Rated R and with a 2 and a half hour run time might limit how much it can make in one weekend, especially so late in August, but there’s a lot of excitement for this movie among males of all ages and reviews should generally be good enough that they’ll be out in force at least opening weekend to see if Tarantino can once again deliver.
Neill Blomkamp’s critically-acclaimed sci-fi epic District 9 should hold up well in its second weekend, benefiting from positive word-of-mouth to keep it above the $20 million mark despite having heavy competition for guys with Tarantino’s latest.
Offered as counter-programming for the kids is the new family movie from Tarantino’s good friend Robert Rodriguez, as Shorts (Warner Bros.) will hope to capitalize on the success Rodriguez had with the “Sky Kids” franchise, but might suffer from the late August release, which has never been good for family films as kids return to school and others go away on vacation. It looks like a fun premise but nothing too original and Disney is generally better at selling these kinds of movies, so it’s probably going to be shooting for third place against G.I. Joe.
Alexis Bledel of “Gilmore Girls” and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants stars in the college graduation comedy Post Grad (Fox Searchlight), but we’ll be shocked if this makes much more than $4 million, since it’s essentially going to pull in younger females and no one else, placing it nearer to the bottom of the Top 10.
Also opening in 1,200 theatres is Disney’s XGames 3D: The Movie (Disney) but just for one week only ala the Miley Cyrus concert film, and it’s not quite clear who might want to see this movie. It’s an experiment that might bring in $2 to 3 million this weekend, putting it outside the Top 10, but not much more.
This weekend last year* saw the release of Ben Stiller’s war comedy Tropic Thunder (DreamWorks), opening on Wednesday with $6.5 million in 3,319 theaters, then remaining on top for the weekend with $25.8 million, a huge late summer sleeper comedy which ultimately grossed $110 million. It also finally knocked The Dark Knight out of the top spot down to #2, followed by George Lucas’ Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Warner Bros.), which disappointed with its third place opening with just $14.6 million in nearly 3,500 theaters. Alexandre Aja’s horror-thriller Mirrors (20th Century Fox) starring Keifer Sutherland opened in fourth place with $11.2 million, while Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona (The Weinstein Company) opened in roughly 700 theatres with $3.7 million, enough for tenth place. (It would go onto become Woody’s second-highest grossing movie internationally.) Also, the 3D-animated Fly Me to the Moon (Summit Entertainment) opened in 12th place with less than $2 million. The top 10 grossed $106 million, and we think this weekend will be down slightly from last year.
(*Yes, we realize it may seem like we’re a week behind at this point but it will all make sense in two weeks when we talk about Labor Day weekend, which happened a week earlier last year.)
THE BATTLE CRY
This week, I’m going to call out a studio, which is not something I normally do. While I know it’s in vogue to bash the big studios, I’m going to do something that’s not so popular and that’s to call out a studio that specializes in indie, foreign and art films, you know, the movies that tend to be GOOD.
I’m talking about Sony Pictures Classics.
Anyone who has read this column over the last few years knows how many movies this company has released this year that I’ve loved enough to make my “Chosen One,” and that’s because they really have some of the best movies in their roster on yearly basis. And yet, every time Sony Classics picks up a movie at a festival such as Cannes or Sundance, you hear all sorts of grumbling from the bloggers, especially if it’s a movie that was really loved that festival. That was certainly the case with Jonathan Levine’s The Wackness last year, because you would be hard-pressed to find one person who loved that movie who thought that Sony Classics knew how to market it and get it.
The reason people complain and bitch is that they know that Sony Classics, for whatever reason, just can’t figure out how to release their movies and get them to the biggest audience possible. How else can one explain why Duncan Jones’ Moon, possibly one of the most critically-hailed debuts of the year, only grossed $4 million? Why has Woody Allen’s Whatever Works never gone wide and grossed just $5 million, compared to the $3.7 million Woody’s last movie made OPENING WEEKEND when released by the Weinsteins? Woody obviously has a fanbase among moviegoers, as does Larry David, and it’s by no means his worst movie either. Don’t even get me started on the lost opportunities the company had with movies like Sugar and Paris 36 (one of the best French films since La Vie en Rose) and Every Little Step and Tyson… and that’s just this year!
For whatever reason, Sony Classics also can’t figure out how to platform their movies and then open them wider. As well as the movie might do in New York or L.A., after that, it might expand out over the weeks into 200 or 300 theatres but that is a big number of theaters because many of these movies top out at 50 theatres. That is FIVE ZERO. There are over 4,000 theaters nationwide and you’re going to tell me that none of them will give one screen to one of the best Spanish language films of the year or a movie about one of the most notorious sports figures of the last few decades? That’s because Classics continue to focus on the arthouses rather than trying to sell the movies as mainstream comedies to wider audiences outside major cities, despite having many movies that should be treated as more than just fringe films for very exclusive tastes.
Just look at their box office track record here if you don’t believe me. It’s EMBARRASSING. They had a huge hit in 2000 with Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which grossed $163 million and since then, they haven’t had a SINGLE MOVIE that grossed more than $30 million domestically ($40 million adjusted for inflation). Since Crouching Tiger, only two of their movies have grossed more than $15 million, and it seems hard for them to get any movie not by some well-known auteur to more than $10 million. I’m not a business man or an accountant, but I’m really not sure how they make money on some of these movies unless their DVD sales are that amazing.
Meanwhile, Fox Searchlight has constantly proven they can open their better movies limited and slowly expand them out into more theaters, building on word-of-mouth and eventually getting them wide, even getting them into the Top 10 weeks after their release. They have become masters of the slow build that goes completely against the general attitude that opening weekend is the only one that matters. They did it with Napoleon Dynamite and Garden State and Little Miss Sunshine, all movies they picked up at Sundance, just like Sony did with The Wackness. They’re not perfect by any means, as seen by movies like Joshua or Choke, which probably should have done better, (or this week’s offering for that matter) but they have a much better track record than Sony Classics while basically being in the exact same boatthe indie division of a major corporation.
The other thing is that Fox Searchlight does all of their publicity in house, rather than handing them to independent publicity houses to do all that important work. Now mind you, these are a lot of people I genuinely like, some of whom I even call friends, who handle the publicity for Sony Classics’ movies, but they’re working on those movies at the same time as they’re working on dozens of other movies for other filmmakers and companies. Most of them are based in New York and/or L.A. so that’s where their focus lies, on the local releases in those cities. Even though one can cover a fairly wide base from those cities, most of the press comes before their N.Y. and L.A. openings and there’s very little four or five weeks late when the movies start opening in other cities. As well as this system has worked, no one is going to put as much love or time or care into promoting your movies than you are yourself. Fox Searchlight has proven this time and again, and they’ve done that by establishing a publicity team whose only job is to figure out ways to market THEIR movies, no one else’s.
Despite being a division of one of the largest corporations in the known world, Sony Pictures Classics’ business model just doesn’t seem like one that can possibly work, because it’s evident that they’re not able to promote their movies to the point where people outside major cities know of their existence. This is a studio with an impressive library of films that needs to be taken seriously for the art of cinema they are trying to promote and not as some sort of leader loss or write-off for the corporation as a whole.
One idea I’d like to suggest to Sony Pictures Classics is that they try to create something like IFC Festival Direct or Magnolia’s Video on Demand program that allows people in other cities besides New York or L.A. to see these movies early and tell their friends (or blog or tweet about them) so that when they come to the local theaters (and believe me, they will if there’s enough demand to see them in that environment), people will have already heard about them. One problem with this suggestion is that as a company, Sony has always been very skittish about piracy and bootlegs, unlike IFC and Magnolia. It’s much tougher to get screeners from them even when awards season comes around. Actually suggesting they show their movies on cable or Xbox Live or in other venues before they’re given a theatrical release might be a fruitless effort, although it will probably make a huge difference in getting their movies seen, especially the foreign films. Obviously, it must be working for IFC and Magnolia because their movies don’t have to make all their money back theatrically nor do they have to wait until DVD or cable.
ADDENDUM: As was pointed out to me by someone who would know, the problem is just as much or more about not having the advertising dollars to compete with the major studios and do the type of press in other regions that they can do in New York and L.A. This is an interesting point and one that might have just as much or more to do with the problems. Maybe doing some sort of VOD program will help get their movies seen by more people, because it certainly must be as frustrating for them as it is for me.
So Sony Pictures Classics, I love you and your movies dearly, and I’m saying this stuff just because I want to help your movies be seen by the widest audience of movielovers possible, but someone over there really needs to examine and address problems, so you don’t ultimately go the way of Picturehouse and Paramount Vantage and Warner Independent and all the other independent distributors who couldn’t figure out how to get these movies out to audiences.
Inglourious Basterds (The Weinstein Company/Universal)
Starring Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Daniel Bruhl, Eli Roth, Samm Levine, B.J. Novak, Til Schweiger, Gedeon Burkhard, Paul Rust, Michael Bacall, Omar Doom, Sylvester Groth, Julie Dreyfus, Jacky Ido, August Diehl, Martin Wuttke, Richard Sammel, Christian Berkel, Sonke Mohring, Michael Fassbender, Mike Myers, Rod Taylor, Denis Menochet, Cloris Leachman, Maggie Cheung, Samuel L. Jackson
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, Death Proof, Jackie Brown)
Genre: War, Thriller
Tagline: “A basterd’s work is never done.”
Plot Summary: Taking place in German-occupied France just before the end of WWII, a group of Jewish soldiers led by Lieutenant Aldo Rayne (Brad Pitt) are on a mission to kill as many Nazis as possible, and they become involved in plans by the British Secret Service to blow up a movie theater where dozens of high-powered Nazi officials are congregating for the premiere of Goebbel’s latest war epic “Nation’s Pride.” The owner of the theater, a French-Jewish woman named Shoshana (Melanie Laurent), whose family was killed by Nazis, has plans of her own.
It’s been two years since Quentin Tarantino’s failed Grindhouse experiment with long-time friend Robert Rodriguez, but now he’s back with a movie that’s just as risky but at least in a genre that’s very popular in America, the war movie. Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino’s attempt to do a WWII flick, following in the footsteps of the likes of Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood and Spike Lee, the former having better luck with his offering than the latter two. Considering the devout male fanbase Tarantino has built for himself while working in other genres such like crime, action and martial arts, having him tackle his own version of a WWII movie is something that’s immediately attractive and appealing to fans of his previous movies.
In 1992, Tarantino broke onto the scene with the edgy crime-thriller Reservoir Dogs, along with a group of “bad boy” filmmakers that included Rodriguez and Roger Avery, but then a few years later, his second movie Pulp Fiction, co-written with Avery, was considered a masterpiece, critically adored and became a hit theatrically, before going on to be nominated for numerous Oscars (winning for its screenplay). Tarantino’s follow-up Jackie Brown was seen as somewhat of a disappointment because it only grossed $40 million and received few of the accolades. (Real cinephiles and Tarantino fans love his adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel.) It was then nearly six years before we saw or heard from Tarantino again when he returned with his two-part revenge epic Kill Bill, starring Uma Thurman, the first which opened with $22 million and grossed $70 million, the second which opened higher and grossed slightly less. Even so, it proved that Tarantino could bring audiences to theaters, and it was surprising that the pairing of him and Rodriguez for Grindhouse tanked so miserably.
As was the case with Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, Tarantino has gotten himself a big name movie star for his WWII movie, in this case, that star is Brad Pitt, probably one of the most recognized and bankable stars working today. Since entering on the scene a little over 20 years ago, Pitt has starred in seven movies to gross over $100 million including Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 and its two sequels, plus two of his movies with David Fincher (Se7en and last year’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). His biggest hit to date was when he was first paired with his Baby Mama Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which was an enormous summer hit, as well. That hasn’t stopped Pitt from venturing off into artier fare like Babel, which was nominated for multiple Oscars. Pitt’s appearance in Warner Bros.’ equally long Western The Assassination of Jesse James… was his only movie not to even get a wide release or do significant business. Inglourious Basterds falls somewhere between the two realms, being a wide summer release and somewhat of an event movie since it’s the first pairing of Pitt with Tarantino. While Pitt is the leader of the army unit known as the “Basterds,” the movie is by no means about him and he’s really just a part of the ensemble, which might be annoying to anyone seeing the movie just for Pitt.
Just as much attention is played by actor Michael Fassbender, who plays a British officer who goes undercover as a Nazi soldier. The son of German and Irish parents, Fassbender appeared in Zack Snyder’s 300, but he received a lot of attention for his role in the Irish drama Hunger, which played the festivals last year. Pitt’s band of soldiers include many familiar faces including that of “Hostel” director Eli Roth, who has known Tarantino for years with the first Hostel being “presented” by him and Roth having a role in Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse. Comic actor Samm Levine and Paul Rust (both seen in Chris Columbus’ bomb I Love You, Beth Cooper) and B.J. Novak from “The Office” also play soldiers plus there’s a brief appearance by comic actor Mike Myers. One of the few female stars in the movie is Diane Kruger, who appeared in Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy, though not in many scenes with Pitt, and quite a few other films. Otherwise, there are a lot of French and German actors in the movie that few people will know going in, including Christoph Waltz (in the latter category), who is getting a lot of attention for his role as an enthusiastic S.S. agent. The other breakthrough performance is by Melanie Laurent, a little known French actress. Tarantino’s latest also stars German actor Daniel Brühl, who’ll be familiar to fans of German cinema as the star of Goodbye Lenin! and The Edukators, but who has also ventured into Hollywood films like The Bourne Ultimatum.
The movie played at the Cannes Film Festival–Tarantino’s preferred film festival–to generally mixed reviews and he did a couple tweaks for the U.S. release, a version that has been receiving a lot of raves in the past few weeks despite its seemingly long 2 and a half hour running time. Now some might feel that Tarantino has a limited audience consisting mostly of guys from 20 to maybe 40 and sure, that might be true, but the fact that this is a war movie is going to get a lot more older guys interested to see what he does. Like the Western, the war movie is a beloved American film genre that brings out a lot of guys and even moreso when made by a big director or with a big star. That was partially why Saving Private Ryan did huge business due to its teaming of Steven Spielberg with Tom Hanks, and Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise also got a lot of interest despite opening against Pitt’s last movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Last year this weekend, Ben Stiller received his own war-comedy Tropic Thunder, which was also R-rated, and granted, it wasn’t two and a half hours long, but it made $26 million on the same August weekend despite opening on Wednesday.
The movie is very violent, right up there with some of Tarantino’s other movies, which might put off some audiences from seeing it, especially older women. Another thing that might detract mainstream audiences from enjoying the movie enough to recommend to friends is that it’s not all about Brad Pitt and his Basterds as the ads and clips make it seem. There are long segments in German and French with the lesser-known actors who play just as big a role in what is essentially a big budget ensemble foreign film. Even so, Tarantino has been doing the rounds more than normal to promote the movie, even appearing on “American Idol” with an exclusive clip a few months back, and this is just part of how he’s getting further into the mainstream than when he was doing the Oscar rounds.
Either way, this is an incredibly important movie for the Weinstein Company (as is next week’s Halloween II) because they haven’t really had a big hit in some time, and they’re at the point where they need one of their movies to be profitable. (There even was a long article about just this in Sunday’s New York Times. They did get some help with financing from Universal Pictures, who actually might have the better deal since they’re releasing it in Europe, where the movie could be huge.
The desire for new output by Tarantino from his fanbase who have waited patiently, combined with the added draw of Pitt, will insure that Inglourious Basterds opens big on Friday with around $10 to 12 million on Friday. After that, it will be interesting to see whether anyone but critics and cinephiles really love the movie and whether it can hold up against the twin terrors next weekend, and also, whether the Academy and others take the movie seriously enough for it to be considered during awards season.
Why I Should See It: This may be Tarantino’s strongest movie since Pulp Fiction.
Shorts (Warner Bros.)
Starring Jon Cryer, William H. Macy, Leslie Mann, James Spader, Jimmy Bennett, Kat Dennings, Trevor Gagnon, Leo Howard, Devon Gearhart, Rebel Rodriguez, Jake Short, Jolie Vanier
Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, Spy Kids 2, Spy Kids 3D: Game Over, The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3D
Genre: Family, Adventure
Tagline: “The Adventures of the Wishing Rock”
Plot Summary: in the suburbs of Black Falls, Toe Thompson (Jimmy Bennett) has just moved into town and is trying to make new friends, something that becomes easier when a colorful rock falls from the sky granting wishes to anyone who holds it. Unfortunately, the town’s grown-ups want to get their hands on the rock, something Toe and his friends need to stop from happening.
By sheer coincidence, this weekend not only sees the return of Quentin Tarantino but also of Robert Rodriguez, the filmmaker who he has been most associated with over the years, most recently as they each directed a portion of the two-part Grindhouse. (The two teamed previously on Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn and Tarantino directed a segment of Rodriguez’s Sin City as well.)
Besides being Rodriguez’s first movie in two years, it’s also his return to family films for the first time since 2005, having shifted towards family-friendly fare in 2000 when he directed Spy Kids, a huge hit for Dimension Films (still with Disney at the time) that spawned two successful sequels, the second of them being in 3D, which at the time was still thought of as a gimmick, but ended up being a hugely successful one, as the third movie grossed more than the first two. (Oddly, Daryl Sabara, one of the “Spy Kids,” stars in Bobcat Goldthwaite’s World’s Greatest Dad in limited release this week.) Rodriguez’s next attempt at a 3D family film was The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl, which barely grossed a third of the “Spy Kids” movies. After that, Rodriguez moved over to R-Rated fare including Sin City with Frank Miller and the third of his “El Mariachi” movies, until his son came to him with another idea that he decided to turn into a movie.
Rodriguez’s latest family film stars Jimmy Bennett, who has appeared in a number of previous Warner Bros. movies including dogs like Wolfgang Peterson’s remake Poseidon and the thriller Firewall as well as last month’s Orphan. At this point, he’s probably better known for his role as young Kirk in J.J. Abrams’ summer hit Star Trek. For the most part, he and his young friends are the stars, but there are appearances by many well-known adult actors, such as William H. Macy, John Cryer, Leslie Mann and James Spader.
So far, few of the kids’ movies that have come out since July have exploded while Disney’s G-Force and “Harry Potter” have run rampant over any attempted competition. Originally, this was supposed to open the first weekend of August, but it got moved back a couple weeks, presumably to get away from G.I. Joe. Unfortunately, being released so late in August is never a good thing for a family movie, because half the kids are back to school and the other half are on vacation. This is partially why movies like Disney’s Valiant and Tim Allen’s Zoom didn’t stand a chance. Warner Bros. has done a decent job with the trailers and it looks like a cute enough premise that could find a family audience, but there’s a good reason why the first “Spy Kids” movie did well in March and the third one did well in late July, that’s because those are good weekends to release family movies while any weekend after school starts spells almost certain doom. This shouldn’t be a complete disaster for Warner Bros. although releasing it so wide when there isn’t so much demand will mean that it business will be widely spread out and not being in 3D will certainly be a hindrance in this day and age when that’s becoming the standard. On the other hand, younger teens might buy tickets for Rodriguez’s movie and then sneak into Tarantino’s so everyone wins!
Why I Should See It: Rodriguez has proven that he knows how to make movies that families love as seen by the success of the “Spy Kids” franchise. This one has a similarly sellable premise.
Post Grad (Fox Searchlight)
Starring Alexis Bledel, Zach Gilford, Rodrigo Santoro, Jane Lynch, Fred Armisen, Bobby Coleman, Andrew Daly, Kirk Fox, Catherine Reitman, Craig Robinson, Carol Burnett, Michael Keaton
Directed by Vicky Jenson (co-director of Shrek and Shark Tale); Written by Kelley Fremon (debut feature)
Tagline: “A Pre-Life Crisis”
Plot Summary: Ryden Malby (Alexis Bledel) had her entire life mapped out for herself, but when her arch-rival Jessica (Catherine Reitman) steals Ryden’s dream job, she’s forced to move back to her childhood home with her weird family (Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch, Carol Burnett). As she deals with the humiliations of having to live at home, she also finds difficulties getting a job, showing that life after college might not be smooth sailing. (And yes, this is a comedy, although it’s likely to depress anyone under 21.)
Review (Coming Soon!)
We’re not going to spend a lot of time on this one because there really isn’t much to say, but if it isn’t obvious that Fox Searchlight is having a bad year, than this weekend should prove it, as they’ve once again been dumped with another comedy from the libraries of the failed Fox genre subsidiary Fox Atomic. This is the third high concept comedy given a wide release by Searchlight this year, and considering how poorly Miss March and My Life in Ruins did, it’s surprising they’re trying to continue on this route. Searchlight generally does better with quirky indie festival fare, as seen by how well they’ve been doing with Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer by platforming it and then expanding it wider. The only reason to go wide immediately with this one is because they know the movie isn’t very good and only have one weekend to make money before it gets around.
Essentially, Post Grad is a vehicle for Alexis Bledel, star of “Gilmore Girls,” in her first full-on comedy in a leading role after appearing in two “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” movies. Even though “Gilmore Girls” has a lot of fans, there’s nothing to show she has very much pull in terms of getting people into theatres on her own. In some ways, Bledel might be a good example of how television stars have trouble making the transition to the big screen, even though her mother on the show, Lauren Graham, has had slightly better luck. Bledel has a great supporting cast including Michael Keaton and Carol Burnett as well as omnipresent comedy mainstay Jane Lynch (The 40-Year-Old Virgin). Wisely, the trailer focuses on them because at least the two older women are actually funny, while Bledel really isn’t. (Blink and you’ll miss other comedy ringers like Fred Armisen, Demetri Martin and Craig Robinson who appear in the movie.) It’s hard to believe that this movie is from the co-director of the Oscar-winning Shrek whose contribution to that movie was overshadowed by that of Andrew Adamson (who went on to direct the first two Narnia movies).
Despite the great cast, this just doesn’t look like something that people necessarily need to see in theaters, and really, the only audience that might have any interest are teen and slightly older girls actually going off to college this month. This isn’t the first bad Fox comedy that’s likely to bomb this summer as we’re still trying to recover from Chris Columbus’ I Love You, Beth Cooper, but considering that Fox Sr. couldn’t even open the relatively decent Rainn Wilson comedy The Rocker last August, it’s unclear what Fox is hoping to achieve with this one. It’s also weird for it to be released in August just as its target audience is starting college rather than in April, when they’re starting to think about the issues the movie pokes fun at.
Really, the movie’s only chances of bringing in business rely solely on the fickle younger female demo who do have plenty of other choices but might pick this over some of the other options just to get out of the late summer heat. Otherwise, we just don’t see a lot of interest in seeing this movie theatrically much like last week’s The Goods, despite the moderately wide release into almost 2,000 theaters.
Why I Should See It: It’s really humid outside right now, and most movie theaters have really good air-conditioning.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Art & Copy (Seventh Art Releasing)
It’s more than a little ironic that this new documentary from Doug Pray is this week’s “Chosen One,” because let’s face it, this very site has a LOT of advertising on it–it’s impossible to avoid. Pray, who is the filmmaker behind groundbreaking docs like Scratch and last year’s Surfwise, has found a way to tackle this interesting subject in a unique way.
Talking to everyone from veterans in the business who have been involved with advertising since the Golden Era during the ’60s to some of the modern cutting edge independent agencies who went against tradition, Pray’s film examines the thought process that led to some of the most famous ad campaigns of the last 50 years including Apple’s “1984” Super Bowl commercial to slogans like “Got Milk?,” “Just Do It,” “Where’s the Beef?” and more. Pray travels to the homes and workspaces of these titans of advertising, talking to an amazing array of unique individuals from the hard-nosed George Lois to the incredibly laid back Lee Clow, who all wax philosophical about the business of creating advertising, why it can be better than just something that makes people have to wait longer to see a movie or interrupts their favorite shows. The premise revolves around the idea that creativity is what is necessary to make a difference in changing people’s minds and how a simple thing like a song or a slogan can deeply affect and move those who see the commercials. (Yes, the movie also deals with those who do those political ads that can make all the difference in a Presidential campaign.)
While it might not seem immediately obvious why a movie about the world of advertising might be of interest, the most immediate “in” to the movie is the popularity of the AMC show “Mad Men,” which takes place in an advertising agency during the heyday of the business in the ’60s. Pray’s movie does touch upon what it meant to be a woman in those times through interviews with Phyllis Robinson and Mary Wells. Pray has gone out of his way to make sure “Art & Copy” is more than just a talking heads movies though, combining the interviews with beautifully shot esoteric images–the counterpoint footage of a worker posting billboards on the highway goes a long way to show the last steps in the ad process–and a gorgeous ambient score by Jeff Martin that pulls the whole thing together.
Art & Copy is a deeply fascinating movie, maybe because you never really get to hear much from the people behind the ads, and these are indeed very interesting people on many levels. After watching this movie, you’ll probably never be able to look at commercials and ads the same way again.
The movie opens on Friday at the IFC Center in New York.
Passing Strange: The Movie (Sundance Selects/IFC)
I’m not usually a very big fan of Broadway musicals, which is why I mostly ignored “Passing Strange” when I started hearing about it on Broadway. It’s only thanks to the foresight of filmmaker Spike Lee to film the last performances of the show that I got a chance to see it at a special presentation at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival after premiering at Sundance. On the one hand, the show does follow a number of Broadway formulas, but it’s the way they’re tackled kicking and screaming to the ground by songwriter and narrator Stew–a large black man who plays a mean bluesy electric guitar–that makes this show such an amazing one.
The story revolves around a nameless young black man referred merely to as “Youth,” played by Daniel Breaker, who feeling limited by the stereotypes of South Central L.A., travels to Europe where he starts seeing a completely different side to life, one that frees him musically and emotionally, even as he loses sight of equally important things, like the mother he left behind. Clearly based on Stew’s own life and experiences, the kids meets a variety of eccentric characters on this coming of age journey, and it’s impressive that they’re all played by just four actors, who gleefully turn every stereotype into an amusing caricature. Pretty much stealing every scene is Colman Domingo, who first appears as the boy’s passionate pot-smoking teacher and later as an angry avant-garde performance artist in the Berlin sequence. This is a very diverse group of actors who came together to tell Stew’s story.
Stew and his partner and co-writer and bassist Heidi Rodewald have an amazing rock band who are right on stage taking part in the story and interacting with the actors. The mix of rock music and storytelling reminded me a lot of the concept albums of Lou Reed, such as his rock opera “Berlin” where it’s not just a bunch of rockin’ good tunes, but it’s a really poignant story told through music.
Spike Lee really did an amazing job capturing this show on HD, showing his strengths at making you feel as if you’re there in the audience, but also getting the cameras exactly where they need to be so you can see every expression and drop of sweat. After watching the movie, it really was no surprise that Stew’s movie was nominated for seven Tonys (winning one) and seven Drama Desk awards (winning three), and if you didn’t have a chance to see it on stage Lee’s movie really is the next best thing to being there.
Like this week’s “Chosen One,” Passing Strange: The Movie will open at the IFC Center for a limited run before airing on Pay Per View, then it’s scheduled to air on PBS sometime next year.
Also in Limited Release:
World’s Greatest Dad (Magnolia) – Robin Williams stars in Bobcat Goldthwait’s Sundance favorite, a dark comedy about a failed writer and poetry teacher whose son (Daryl Sabra from “Spy Kids”) is so difficult that when something happens to him, his father capitalizes on it to try to find the success that’s been fleeting. Already playing on Video on Demand, the movie opens theatrically in select cities on Friday.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
X Games 3D: The Movie (Disney) – Steve Lawrence directs this movie that captures the athletes and competitions of the annual X Games in full 3D. Narrated by Emile Hirsch, it opens in wide release in 3D theaters for one week only.
Five Minutes of Heaven(IFC Films) Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt star in Oliver (Downfall) Hirschbiegel’s drama about the reconciliation meeting between two men whose lives became entangled during the violence in Northern Ireland during the ’60s after one man killed the older brother of the other. The winner of a screenwriting award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, it opens in New York at the Angelika Film Center and in L.A.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
Fifty Dead Men Walking (Peace Arch Releasing) – Jim Sturgess (21) and Sir Ben Kingsley star in Kari Skogland’s thriller set in 1980 Belfast, Sturgess playing Martin McGartland, a street hustler recruited by a British intelligent agent (Kingsley) to infiltrate the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in a dangerous bit of subterfuge meant to save lives on both sides of the war. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Interview with Jim Sturgess (Coming Soon!)
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
The Baader Meinhoff Complex (Vitagraph Films) – This Oscar-nominated German political drama from Uli Edel takes a look at German of the ’70s as radical revolutionaries Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu), Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) fight a war against the American ideals that have begun to permeate German culture. It opens in New York at the Angelika Film Center on Friday and in L.A. on August 28.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!
The Headless Woman(Strand Releasing) – Lucrecia Martel (The Holy Girl) directs this drama about an attractive well-to-do woman (María Onetto), who thinks she might have hit a child with her car, but having not been seen, she drives away only to deal with guilty feelings of what happened later. It opens at New York’s Film Forum on Wednesday.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
The Marc Pease Experience(Paramount Vantage) – Actor Todd Louiso directs this dark comedy starring Jason Schwartzman as a high school music star who is still living in the past eight years after graduating. Co-starring Ben Stiller, it opens in select cities, though neither L.A. or New York. (Can you say “DUMPED”?)
My One and Only(Freestyle Releasing) – Richard Loncraine (Firewall, Wimbledon) directs this period piece set in 1953 with Renee Zellwegger as Ann Devereaux, a woman who leaves her cheating husband with their two sons Robbie and George, looking for a new mate, unaware how difficult it is to find a good man at her age. It opens in select cities on Friday.
Sikandar(Big Pictures) – Piyush Jha wrote and directed this movie about a 14-year-old orphan who dreams of becoming a soccer player but whose life takes a dark turn when he finds a gun and becomes the pawn in a game between various factions. It opens in select cities on Friday.
Next week, it’s the battle of the horror franchises as teens will be slaughtered right and left, if not by Michael Myers in Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 (Dimension Films) then by Death himself in The Final Destination (New Line/WB). Some teens might survive Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock (Focus Features), but only if they stay away from the brown acid.
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas