The week’s new releases flounder while “The Smurfs 3D” continues to take over the world
While box office results have, of course, always been an important factor in the history of Hollywood, I think we were much better off in the old days when studio moguls weren’t as obsessed about opening weekend numbers as people are now. Films were allowed to build an audience and, even better, some films were made simply because the filmmakers believed in the product. They hoped the films would find an audience but if they didn’t hit the Top Ten right out of the gate, so be it. Sigh.
I shudder to think what some of the box office stats this year will mean for the future of the movies. Case in point: a few days ago, “The Smurfs 3D” movie passed the $500 million dollar point in worldwide ticket receipts. Yes, you heard me...that’s HALF A BILLION dollars for the little blue devils. On top of signaling the onset of Armageddon, those numbers guarantee that there will be endless sequels made of this monstrosity well into President Bachman’s first term (hey, I said we’re approaching Armageddon!). Ugh.
The current weekend is not quite over but it's been a very poor showing for the new releases. The top three films in the country are holdovers. “Dolphin Tale,” Warner Bros./Alcon’s 3D family film about a lovable mammal’s prosthetic tale, pulled into first place with an estimated haul of $14.2 million for the weekend (in 3,515 theaters), edging out Sony’s critically acclaimed baseball pic, “Moneyball,” starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. That film, also in its second week, still managed to get a base hit with $12.5 million (on 2,993 screens).
“The Lion King 3D,” though slipping into third place, remains the unchallenged Lord of the Jungle, adding another $11 million to its overflowing coffers this weekend (in 2,340 theaters). Hey, weren't Simba and his pals only supposed to be out there for two weeks? Disney clearly couldn't bear to pull the cash cow (forgive my mixed animal metaphor) but at least its mega-profits are for a superb well-told story as opposed to infantile drivel (hiya, Smurfs).
You have to go to fourth place to find the first new film on the list, Summit/Mandate’s “50/50” which will net $8.8 million (in 2,458 theaters). I hate to think that such figures might label the film a “failure” since it embodies so many qualities that need to be encouraged such as excellent writing, fine performances, and content that challenges while it entertains. Come on, people, don’t be scared off by the C-word, this is actually a great movie for date night (if you don’t mind your girlfriend mooning over Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
In fifth place this weekend is Sony/Sherwood Pictures' new film, “Courageous.” Um…what? To be honest, I never heard a peep about this film until I saw it mentioned in the box office report. Is L.A. so far outside the demographics of this “Christian drama” that not a theater in town even showed the trailer? I have to admit that I’ve never heard of a single actor in the film and I see a lot of movies. Hello? Apparently, this is an inspirational story about fatherhood and raising your kids in a “God-honoring” way. I’m in, why won't anyone let me see this film? I saw a recent press release by the studio that confirmed how different this group is from the Hollywood-based crowd: “After much prayer, creative brainstorming, more prayer, wise counsel, and still more prayer, Sherwood Pictures is ready to move ahead with their fourth motion picture.” Wow. Now I really want to see it. Frankly, it’s a miracle (ha!) that it reached fifth place at $8.8 million in only 1,161 theatres, most of them apparently far from the Sodom and Gomorrah-like cities that I know and love.
You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this fascinating new documentary…but it wouldn’t hurt!
Looking to sneak out of your High Holiday services and head to the movies without feeling too guilty? You’re in luck! If all you know about celebrated writer Sholom Aleichem (1859-1916) is the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” (based on his stories about Tevye the Milkman), have I got the film for you! Joseph Dorman’s documentary “Sholom Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness” is playing in limited release around the country (and by “limited” I mean cities with large Jewish populations) and is receiving rave reviews.
My grandparents were orthodox Jews and I grew up reading many of Sholom Aleichem’s stories. But I’m surprised at how little I knew about the man. Here’s one shocker: he was sort of a hunk—and knew it! Described as a “dandy” by many, Aleichem was very concerned with his appearance and with trying to fit into society.
Born Solomon Rabinowitz in a Ukrainian shtetl, he wrote from a very early age. His first book gave an indication of his wit and humor. Rabinowitz was only 13 when his mother died, and when his father remarried a hellish woman he despised, the boy coped by compiling a book of his stepmother’s colorful Yiddish curses!
He created the pseudonym “Sholom Aleichem” (which translates to something like “Peace be with you!” in Yiddish) as a young man and insisted on writing in Yiddish, a language that was looked down upon by many intellectual Jews of the time. The film describes Sholom Aleichem’s constant and often thwarted attempts to make his fortune. He fell in love with a rich Jewish girl “above his station” and married her to his in-laws' great objections. He played the stock market and was successful for a while, only to lose everything in the crash of 1890.
After lots of false starts, the writer made a name for himself in the Yiddish press, writing folksy and humorous stories in serial form that were published every week in the newspaper. He was dubbed “the Jewish Mark Twain” and in 1906, moved to New York with his family. Aleichem longed to be a successful playwright but his plays were not well received by the New York critics (if only he could have known how “Fiddler on the Roof” would conquer Broadway decades later!). Miserable, he moved back to Europe and spent years wandering from city to city, giving readings wherever he could.
When World War I hit, he hightailed it out of Europe again (along with two million other Jews) and returned to New York where he died a few years later. Like so many writers, Sholom Aleichem was more revered in death. His funeral was the largest one held in New York up to that time—over 200,000 people turned out for it. The procession went from one Jewish neighborhood to the next, and at each stop there was another eulogy. Oy, how he would have kvelled at such a reception!
As documentaries go, Dorman’s approach is not terribly stylistic or cutting-edge. But the content, archival footage, and interviews are fascinating, especially the conversations with Sholom Aleichem’s granddaughter, the 100-year-old and still feisty author Bel Kaufman (“Up the Down Staircase”). Although he left behind a rich body of work, Sholom Aleichem’s life was extremely difficult. As he once wrote, “No matter how bad things get, you’ve got to go on living—even if it kills you!”
Adaptation of Jeffrey Archer’s book 'Paths Of Glory' tells story of climber
In the early 1920s, Mallory was obsessed with summiting the famed peak. He attempted the climb three times, and even in the wake of his first two failed attempts, he was a national hero to his home country of Britain. Mallory was not only bent on reaching the top of the mountain for himself and his country, he was also locked in an intense rivalry with Australian George Finch, who also sought to summit. Though Mallory had to abandon his first two attempts, the final results of his third attempt (in 1924) are widely speculated. Mallory and his partner Sandy Irvine were last seen during the last leg of their climb, but they disappeared and were never heard from again. Mallory’s remains were not discovered until 1999, when they were famously found by climber Conrad Anker. Anker then embarked on a quest to duplicate Mallory’s climb (from his exact route down to the type of equipment and clothing Mallory wore), a quest documented in Anthony Geffen’s 2010 documentary, “The Wildest Dream.”
While it’s still unclear if Mallory ever reached the top of Everest, the discovery of his body turned up one amazing piece of evidence – the climber had promised to leave a picture of his wife on the peak should he reach it. When his body was found, the picture was not among his (quite well-preserved) belongings. The story of Mallory is a truly fascinating one, and I dare anyone to not get sucked into the most basic details of it, even on something as simple as the climber's Wikipedia page.
While Liman and Turner would not be my first choice for an Everest film (mainly because they just seem like unexpected picks), they have great material and a captivating story to work from for their project. The last Everest feature of note, the television adaptation of Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air" showed on the small screen way back in 1997. Despite the continuing power and magnetism of Everest, there have been scarce little feature offers about the peak, with only one film ever tackling the story of Mallory (1991's "Galahd of Everest," a TV in which Brian Blessed attempted to recreate Mallory's last climb). I could not be more excited about the possibilities of "Everest."
Finally, revisionist history that looks worth watching
Typically, I bristle at films that use revisionist history as their entire basis, but Amit Gupta’s feature debut, “Resistance,” looks like one worth checking out. Based on the novel of the same name by Welsh poet and author Owen Sheers, the film imagines a world where D-Day has failed, with its focus not on the worldwide effects of such an event, but how they play out in a tiny Welsh village. The village, Abergavenny, sees two huge upheavals in the wake of D-Day’s failure – the women wake up one morning to discover that most of the men have left them to join a covert British Resistance, and quickly thereafter a pack of German Werhmacht soldiers shows up t set up a radio outpost in their town.
These are predictably huge changes for the women of Abergavenny, and the subsequent events are run the gamut between the twistedly complicated and the vaguely inevitable. One of those events? A romance between villager Sarah (Andrea Riseborough, a name you’ll be hearing much more in the coming months) and a sympathetic German solider played by Tom Wlaschida. The first trailer reveals parts of this plot, and a few more that are much harder to take (beware, not everyone makes it out even this trailer alive). Michael Sheen co-stars.
Psst, it's not really about a samurai
Screenwriter Will Reiser based the comedy on his own experience with cancer
Films about cancer are rarely a laugh riot, although there are often funny moments. Getting such a terrifying diagnosis and going through the often brutal treatments that follow can be so outrageous there are certainly experiences that can be mined for laughs, ironic or otherwise. One of my favorite moments in the 1983 tearjerker, “Terms of Endearment,” occurs when Shirley MacLaine is sitting across from an oncologist trying to come to terms with her daughter Debra Winger’s terminal cancer diagnosis. “I always tell my patients,” the doctor tells Shirley, “to hope for the best but plan for the worst.” With perfect delivery, the outraged MacLaine stares straight at the doctor and replies, “And they let you get away with that?”
Medical personnel don’t always fare well in cancer movies. Insensitive, impatient doctors often make for a better story since the patient is then forced to find his or her own strength and “prove the doctors wrong.” The scene that probably won Shirley MacLaine the Best Actress Oscar that year was when her dying daughter needs more pain medication. Poor Debra Winger can only get the drugs once every three hours so MacLaine is watching the clock like a hawk. After the three hours pass and no one comes to administer the meds, MacLaine pitches the mother of all fits at the hospital staff that is both heartbreaking and hilarious. The terrified nurses rush in with the morphine at which point Shirley brushes away the strands of hair that have fallen in her face during her tirade and offers a quiet and elegant, “Thank you!”
“Terms of Endearment” is referenced in “50/50” but the two movies have little in common except for Anjelica Huston’s excellent performance as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s force-of-nature mother (who could give MacLaine’s Aurora Greenway a run for her money). In the film, Gordon-Levitt is diagnosed with a rare form on cancer on his spine. The story is based on the real-life saga of screenwriter Will Reiser, and though several liberties were taken with the story, many come straight from Reiser’s own experience, even the presence of Seth Rogen, his best friend in real life who plays Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s best friend in the film.
This is one we can actually get behind
Many actors have enjoyed the challenge (and scenery-chewing potential) of a double role
I’ve seen the trailer for Adam Sandler’s upcoming comedy “Jack and Jill” several times now in the theater and I’ve noticed a familiar pattern. When the trailer begins and the audience gets its first glimpse of Adam Sandler in drag as his own twin sister, audible groans erupt throughout the house. This looks really stupid. He’ll never pull it off. But by the end of the trailer, I have to admit, the disdain turns to laughs, my own included. (Check out the trailer below and see what you think! The film will be released on November 11).
Sandler made his name, of course, starring in broad comedies (many, such as “Happy Gilmore,” “Big Daddy,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” and “Grown Ups” also directed by “Jack and Jill’s” Dennis Dugan) but he also seems eager to prove himself in serious, deeper films such as “Punch-Drunk Love,” “Spanglish,” and “Funny People.” The new film “Jack and Jill” obviously belongs in the first category, and I'm sure those are the films that bring in the bigger bucks. You almost wonder if Sandler makes deals with the studios: “I’ll give you a ‘Jack and Jill’ if you give me another ‘Spanglish.’”
The tagline of “Jack and Jill”—“His twin sister is coming for the holidays…and it ain’t pretty!”—suggests the freak show premise of Sandler playing a woman, and yet I can’t help but notice that the posters for the film seem to be going out of their way to make the female Sandler as attractive as possible. Is that just so the character seems more female and not just Sandler in a wig? Or were the Photoshop artists, so used to fixing all of the stars’ flaws, simply unable to contain themselves?
Sandler may be the first actor to play his own sister but he’s certainly not the first to take on a double role. Back in the old days, making a movie about twins was sometimes seen as a kind of Hail Mary pass for a stalled career—the good twin/bad twin shtick was such a great way for actors to strut their stuff. There have been many actors who have taken on this challenge over the years. Here are ten that stand out: