Archive for the ‘Movie Nation’ Category

Weekend box office: The shrinking web

Monday, May 14th, 2007


As expected, "Spider-Man 3" continued to rule the box office, with $60 million in ticket sales this weekend; as expected it dropped off a sizable 60% from the week before. This is the classic summer scenario: a frontloaded event movie with no legs to speak of, and why should the studio care when it broke records the first week out and will make a killing on DVD? Expect more of the same when "Shrek the 3rd," "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," and "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" open. (Warning: Links lead to resource-hogging corporate megasites that may eat your computer and possibly your soul.) With luck, some of them might even be good.

The other new movies ducked and covered, mostly. The surprise was British zombie sequel "28 Weeks Later" (pictured above) making $10 million mostly on the strength of expectations and very favorable reviews. It's worth noting, though, that the first movie, "28 Days Later," made the same amount of money in half the theaters in 2003.

"Georgia Rule" deservedly tanked with $5.9 million, and the latest from Zach Braff, "The Ex," performed even more poorly ($1.4 million -- ouch). At $3.9 million, the Larry the Cable Guy "comedy" "Delta Farce" fell in the middle, but at least there'll be a DVD aftermarket for that -- expect to see it on sale in bait shops and truck stops in about a week. I doubt they'll be able to give "Georgia Rule" away in rehab centers.

More box office fiddling from Box Office Mojo and Leonard Klady.

Ty’s picks for Friday May 11

Friday, May 11th, 2007


Let us have a moment of silence for the late, beloved Adrienne Shelly, above. Okay, now go see "Waitress," her last movie as director and actor, and a goofy, bittersweet treasure.

In general, the arthouses are probably your best bet for new releases this weekend: "Away From Her" at the Harvard Square and "Waitress," "Red Road," and "Stephanie Daley" all at the Kendall -- all good, nervy movies. I'll spare you my rant about the Kendall hogging the good stuff while other area indie houses starve. Let's instead just note the overwhelming number of women directors (respectively Sarah Polley, Shelly, Andrea Arnold, and Hilary Brougher) and tremendous roster of strong female performances, from Julie Christie in "Away From Her" to Tilda Swinton and -- surprise -- Amber Tamblyn in "Stephanie Daley."

Also worth seeing are the smart zombies-in-London sequel "28 Weeks Later" and "Zoo," arguably the first documentary on the subject of bestiality and definitely the most artistic. Reviews have been fairly rapturous and Wesley likes it a lot; I'm in the minority, I guess, that thinks the film aesthetizes the meaning out of its subject in an effort to be poetic. But, hey, if you have the stomach and "Seabiscuit" was too tame for you, go right ahead; you can't argue that Robinson Devor doesn't know how to direct a movie.

The studio pickings are pretty dire this weekend: "The Ex," with Zach Braff, and "Georgia Rule," with Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan, and Felicity Huffman. Haven't seen the former but the latter is just painfully bad, a new low for all three actresses. I'm imagining the look on the faces of parents all over America who take their tweeners to see the new Lohan movie and get a plot involving incest and oral sex. (Yikes! What's in the next theater over, kids? Something called "Zoo"? That sounds cute.)

In the rep houses and elsewhere: The Boston Gay and Lesbian Film/Video Festival kicks in at the MFA; the Globe's Erin Meister breaks the offerings down.

Real, honest-to-goodness grindhouse movies at the Brattle, including a solid John Carpenter/Kurt Russell double bill tonight: "Escape from New York" (1981) and the much-reviled-but-actually-frickin'-awesome 1982 remake of "The Thing". On Sunday, they chase the stink out with a few Laurence Olivier classics.

The Harvard Film Archive is dark Friday and Saturday but comes back strong on Sunday with a rare screening of 1964's "The Pumpkin Eater," with a script by Harold Pinter and what is probably Anne Bancroft's single best performance, as a wife and mother going around the bend from husband Peter Finch's cheating ways. Grab this one.

Finally, if you've always wanted to meet director Paul Mazursky ("An Unmarried Woman," "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," "Moscow on the Hudson") and feel like heading out to Brandeis on Sunday, the National Center for Jewish Film will be playing his travelogue documentary "Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy." The director will be in attendance. What, they couldn't program it on a double bill with "The Pickle"?

Reader feedback: Why not DVDs?

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Reader Derry Ledoux of Cohasset -- see? local audience -- responded to my previous post with a long, thoughtful email about the changes cinema's undergoing and our duty to keep pace. Some excerpts:

"It's the DVD thatÂ’s changing everything. Critics really need to stop and take notice that today people are building film collections rather than libraries of books. In the past your business may have been limited to the going-out crowd but times are changing...

Your business embraces far more than whatÂ’s new. Technology has just opened the past. Criterion is planning to release an edition of TarkovskyÂ’s film "My Name is Ivan," or as it is also known "IvanÂ’s Childhood." So what are you planning to do? Old films need reviewing too... What makes you think that I wouldnÂ’t be interested in the ideas and the people that have been shaping cinema over the past century?... ThereÂ’s an enormous amount of work before you: the development of a market with all its nuances. The DVD player has made every home a theatre with different tastes. Where do you start?"

Excellent point: The wall between the theatrical experience and the home experience -- and thus between new films and the vast back catalogue -- has dissolved. Big media, by contrast, still plays the new-release game because the studios still need theatrical to plant the seed. More and more, a movie's appearance in theaters functions as an ad for the eventual DVD release, and that's necessary. Case in point: One of the best movies I've seen this year so far is "Longford," a British true-crime-and-punishment story starring Jim Broadbent and Samantha Morton (and Andy "Gollum" Serkis as a most evil man). It was released in England last year and only played on HBO here; it'll be on DVD soon. If it had come out on the big screen, there'd be Oscar talk, and rightfully so. But because it was on TV only, you probably haven't heard of it. It's our job to let you know about it, but theatrical movies still get the most attention from readers -- if nothing else, they act as a filter that helps make sense of an unending barrage of media.

We cover DVD at the Globe, obviously. Our Sunday Home Entertainment page features the writing of the estimable Tom Russo, as well as Wesley, myself, and others. That's the pattern most papers follow, and you could argue it marginalizes the format that has become the mainstream. (Indeed, why does the arts page not have a dedicated, searchable DVD section?) The Times, by contrast, has Dave Kehr, easily the best working critic covering DVD, and his must-read weekly column and blog point the way toward the big picture Ledoux writes about.

A primary reason most film critics don't cover the DVD world in proper depth is that there just aren't enough hours in the day. Not that I'm complaining, but I have my hands full seeing new releases (400 or so a year for me and Wesley and Janice Page to divvy up), writing reviews, and keeping up this blog. (Oh, and the wife and kids. Fact is, movie critics should never have families -- they just get in the way of watching that Rohmer boxed set in one sitting. On the plus side, they keep us from being snotty pasty-boys with no lives.)

Most of us have the same time-crunch issue. Except Tony Scott at the Times, who I'm convinced has a clone (or two) stuck in a closet with a word processor.

Still, Derry, you're on to something. The daily paper is one thing, but it behooves a critic's website -- whether it's a personal blog or an official corporate site -- to make not just an entire body of criticism as porous and accessible as possible, but the entire history of cinema. Because that's what's available to be seen and that's increasingly how people are seeing it.

Another reason to have to drive to New York

Thursday, May 10th, 2007


Guy Maddin strikes again. "Brand Upon the Brain," his latest cinema/stage-show/silent film/early talkie/midnight movie will be touring New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Here in Boston, we'll just get the movie alone at the Brattle in late June. What, they don't think we can handle the castratos? Pishers.

Another film critic down

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, who has been writing incisive film criticism for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, has been let go after 30 years, her articles replaced by wire service reviews. And so the death of local movie coverage -- and the relationship a critic can build with his or her readership -- dwindles further. The Alliance of Women Film Journalists kicks the story forward in thoughtful ways.

The point I sometimes ponder is whether a working critic even has much of a local readership anymore. Wesley and I cover movie releases in Boston; our reviews generally come out in the paper on Friday and presumably are read and digested by people in the greater New England area. I know that's true because I get e-mails from local readers Friday or Saturday, responding to what I've written with pleasure, vituperation, or just further comment.

Then the local emails stop, and those from readers around the country and around the world start coming in. As our reviews are posted online at and disseminated via Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, and other websites, the audience becomes anyone with a computer, a love of movies, and a willingness to click through. A woman in Washington State wrote to tell me I'm her favorite movie reviewer. A guy from Somerville wrote to say my writing is "sludge" and he'll never come back. For which reader am I a "local" critic?

On the other hand, The New York Times national edition has made inroads in the Boston area. Many people I know here read both the Globe and the Times; some people read only the Times. Does that mean that A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis are their local critics?

Yes, it does. In an era in which everyone's a critic and all reviews are instantly accessible, one's taste becomes one's neighborhood. The reviewer who articulates those tastes best and pushes them in provocative directions becomes your local voice, wherever he or she is and wherever you are. Cultural geography subsumes physical geography when distribution is moot. (The problem then is getting you to check out another "neighborhood" of taste.)

It's an interesting and not unrewarding new world, but what it doesn't promise is job security for the likes of Eleanor Ringel Gillespie (or Bob Ross or Jami Bernard or Mark Burger or many others).

Or me, really. Which is why Wesley and I have to -- and want to -- keep writing about the Coolidge and the Brattle and the series at the HFA and the guy in Malden pouring his heart and credit card balance into making a movie he hopes someone, anyone will see. If we don't connect the dots for readers in our physical sphere, a wire service certainly isn't going to. Cultural communities need entry points and talking points and as much connective tissue as possible. The local critic is valuable because he or she sits in the same theater you do -- and understands how and why that matters.

“I just don’t want to be someone’s sequel bitch”

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

The L.A. Times' Patrick Goldstein has a good thumbsucker today about sequels and their demands. He lays into the usual suspects -- the studios and their beancounters and all the lazy slobs in the audience -- but then he spanks a number of gifted filmmakers who, in his opinion (and, all right, mine), are wasting their time cranking out "Sausage #2," "Sausage #3," and so forth.

Steven Soderbergh ("Oceans Eleven"), Bryan Singer ("X-Men"), Christopher Nolan ("Batman Begins"), and of course Sam Raimi ("Spider-Man") are some of the visionary directors Goldstein calls out for making arrant product, after which he goes after the big fella himself: Steven Spielberg, who's just about to start shooting "Indiana Jones 4." On the other hand, Goldstein talks to Wayne Kramer, director of "The Cooler" and a guy who apparently has turned down a number of offers to make movies with numerals attached. He's the source of the quote up top. And you, very likely, are saying, "Wayne who?"

Scariest nugget of information in the whole article? Harrison Ford is about to turn 65.

Local film institutions make good

Monday, May 7th, 2007

This just in: The Harvard Film Archive and the Coolidge Corner Theatre are on the list of grantees for the Academy Foundation's Institutional Grants Program. The Foundation, the educational wing of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (those lovely people who bring us the Oscars every year) has awarded $500,000 to 56 non-profits in the film world.

The HFA will receive $7,500 to help cover costs for visiting filmmakers. The Coolidge will receive $5,000, earmarked for an upcoming seminar on film criticism. Congratulations to both organizations, two of the too-few bright spots on the current Boston moviegoing scene.

Classic architecture

Monday, May 7th, 2007

In movie real estate news, the mansion owned by the family that served as the basis for the 1940 Katharine Hepburn classic "The Philadelphia Story" is up for sale. The AP story starts off "Ardrossan, named after the Montgomery ancestral home in Ayrshire, Scotland, has been a retreat for the privileged for almost a century. Hope Montgomery Scott, the family head for most of that time, was the basis for Katharine Hepburn's character in the 1940 Oscar-winning movie, which also starred Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart."

If you must know more -- and I know some of you must -- the Philly Inquirer has the full backstory.

No price has been set yet, but, come on, a chance to role-play out by the swimming pool, doing drunken Jimmy Stewart carrying Kate up from the poolhouse? Priceless.

Sequels: That’s why

Monday, May 7th, 2007


Everyone carps about sequelitis and the death of originality in movies, but you know what? Originality isn't in the studio business model, and it never has been. This morning all the suits in Hollywood are grinning fatcat grins because the model has been once more proven sound.

"Spider-Man 3" cost $260 million or so to make, is getting mixed reviews from critics and even a lot of moviegoers, and so what? The movie arguably recouped its cost in a single weekend: $148 million in U.S. box office plus an additional $227 in foreign ticket sales equals a total of $375 million. Using "Coming to America" accounting methods, this puppy might just break even.

That's a record for weekend box office, eclipsing last year's $136 million for "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (and doubtless to be eclipsed next summer when "Indiana Jones IV: The Search for a Title" opens on May 22, 2008). Friday's take -- $59.3 million -- broke the one-day record. "Spider-Man 3" also opened on the greatest ever number of screens (over 10,000) in the most theaters (4,252), proof that Sony was aiming for the record books. (By opening the film last Tuesday in 107 other countries, by contrast, the studio was just hoping to make as big a pre-piracy profit as possible.)

It also meant that if you wanted to see a movie this weekend, "Spider-Man 3" was almost all that was playing. The next film down the chart, at #2, was old standby "Disturbia" with $5.7 million. The weekend's only other new studio release -- all others having had the good sense to get the hell out of Dodge -- was Curtis Hanson's gambling drama "Lucky You," which was a bug on the windshield of the Spidey 18-wheeler. Seriously: "Spider-Man 3" made an average $35,000 at each of those 4,252 theaters. "Lucky You," at 2,525 theaters, could barely scrape together $1,000 bucks per house.

There was action down in art-house land, though, where the late Adrienne Shelly's "Waitress" debuted at four theaters and averaged $23,000 at each. Boston will get this lovely little comedy on Friday, and it's worth the wait.

Here are the Box Office Mojo numbers. Leonard Klady's on vacation, but here's the Movie City News chart.

Ty’s picks for Friday, May 4

Friday, May 4th, 2007


Most of the population of the free world will be going to see "Spider-Man 3" this weekend. Conveniently, that frees the rest of you to do whatever niche programming or soul-searching you want. Not much else in movie theaters, unfortunately, unless you're a cycling fan (proceed forthwith to "The Flying Scotsman," in photo above, and I swear the movie's not as ridiculous as that outfit), a Euro-football junkie ("Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait" at the ICA), or a gambling addict ("Lucky You"). That said, if you have a yen for adorable, calorie-free French comedies, "The Valet," from reliable farceur Francis Veber, stands to make you very, very happy. At the very least, you won't hate yourself afterwards, and I'm not entirely sure you can say that about "Spider-Man 3".

Community art porn at the Coolidge at midnight, tonight and tomorrow. God, I love that place.

At the Harvard Film Archive, a retrospective of the films of Spain's Alex de la Iglesia, who's mostly unknown here while Pedro Almodovar hogs all the press. The filmmaker himself will be present at Saturday's 7 p.m. screening of "La Communidad". Highly recommended.

If you're interested in Tibet, Buddhism, exotic cinematic tours, and/or eye-popping cinematography, the MFA has some dharma unspooling with the ongoing screenings of John Bush's "Yatra Trilogy" and the debut today of "Dreaming Lhasa," which makes up in poignancy and visual impact what it lacks in drama.

Or you could go outdoors. It is May, after all.