Alena Mihulova (#110 of 23)

Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2015: Home Care, The Red Spider, The Measure of a Man, & More

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Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2015: Home Care, The Red Spider, The Measure of a Man, & More

Kino Lorber

Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2015: Home Care, The Red Spider, The Measure of a Man, & More

As the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival celebrates its 50th year, it continues to be a major showcase for Central and Eastern European cinema, as it has been ever since its days as the premier film festival of the socialist world during the Cold War period. From 1959 to 1993, the Czech spa town alternated yearly with Moscow as the site of the most important film festival behind the Iron Curtain, and since then has become the foremost annual destination to see new cinema in Central Europe. Throughout, it's shown some of the best cinema that the Czech Republic and its Eastern neighbors have had to offer, as well as both big budget and independent works from Western Europe and the Americas. This year's selections included ribald comedies from the Czech Republic, documentaries and fictional works both whimsical and dark about Eastern Europe's recent history, and films from the West that have garnered praise and awards elsewhere on the festival circuit. As it was in its heyday in the 1960s, the festival remains an exciting site of cinematic exchange between Eastern Europe and the Western world at a time of mounting economic and political conflict between the two.

Box Office Rap Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and the 2013 Wrap

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Box Office Rap: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and the 2013 Wrap
Box Office Rap: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and the 2013 Wrap

Adam McKay’s Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opens on Wednesday and looks to become the eighth live-action comedy of 2013 to gross over $100 million in its domestic run. That's a significant jump from only three comedies in 2012 which made that benchmark—a doubling in margin that suggests, by all conventional accounts, that it was a “good” year for comedies. Yet, upon further inspection, we find the titles of these moneymakers to be Bad Grandpa, Grown Ups 2, The Heat, and The Hangover Part III, which are among the laziest, if not the worst, Hollywood films of the year. Instead of “good,” we should say it was a profitable year for comedies and leave any such evaluative adjectives out of box-office summations.

If live-action comedy hits were aplenty, so were their animated counterparts, with Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, The Croods, Frozen, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 all meeting or exceeding financial expectations. The same could certainly be said for nearly every endeavor into superhero territory, as audiences still prefer cinema that transports them from the confines of reality and into a playground of fantasy-infused triviality, with a treatment of characters that ranged from tongue in cheek (Iron Man 3) to bombastic (Man of Steel) to hopelessly imitable (The Great Gatsby).

Box Office Rap The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex

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Box Office Rap: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex
Box Office Rap: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and the Fantasy-Entertainment Complex

Confession: I don't like The Lord of the Rings films. All of them. Well, at least the first three, as I skipped The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey because of my disdain for its predecessors, and needless to say, I'll be skipping The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as well. Of course, millions of others will not be skipping the film this weekend, as it tries to land somewhere in the $80-90 million range, matching the previous film's performance. For me, director Peter Jackson's initial trilogy operates on bloated runtimes meant to appease fanboy OCD, including Jackson's own. The apex of contemporary pop-cultural obsession-as-sickness is no better embodied than by these films, which edify young moviegoers to view film culture as narrative/character/imaginary playtime rather than a mindful and serious medium for artistic expression.

However, rather than further lambast The Hobbit, Jackson, and Warner Bros. for their transparent, masturbatory decisions to turn one novel into three films for means of tripling profits, of more importance this week is examining how critics are responding to The Desolation of Smaug, and the sorts of qualities being sought after in their evaluations of Jackson's latest. The film currently boasts a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 75%—a full 10% higher than the first installment, though the middling reviews did not negatively affect its box office, as The Unexpected Journey had the highest-grossing opening weekend of any films in the entire franchise. Critic proof, like most franchises, but it nevertheless remains the critic's role to instruct attentive filmgoers to the qualities worthy of contemplation.

Box Office Rap Out of the Furnace and Christian Bale’s Body (of Work)

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Box Office Rap: Out of the Furnace and Christian Bale’s Body (of Work)
Box Office Rap: Out of the Furnace and Christian Bale’s Body (of Work)

As Bane raises Batman above his head and prepares to snap his back in The Dark Knight Rises, Bane postulates, “I was wondering what would break first: your spirit or your body!” The scene is faithful to the comic books for its “krakt” intensity, but also reflexive insofar as it speaks to Christian Bale's acting career, which has been founded on consistent bodily transformation and, before donning the cape for Christopher Nolan's franchise, a lack of commercial success that could have easily broken the actor's spirit in becoming an A-list star. Yet, even after the Batman films, Bale's financial viability removed from franchise confines remains questionable, and one wonders with Out of the Furnace opening this weekend if Bale's name alone is enough to guarantee a $10 million opening.

Bale's career began as a child actor in films like Empire of the Sun and Newsies, but it wasn't until 2000's American Psycho that he found a leading role that began to define his star persona. As Patrick Bateman, Bale's slender, muscular body and strikingly handsome face were apparent enough, but perhaps more surprising was the ease with which the actor seemed to project Bateman's affability-masking-psychopathy lifestyle, wielding an ax with the same quotidian detachment as when he visits the tanning salon. Roger Ebert said in his review of the film that “Bale is heroic in the way he allows the character to leap joyfully into despicability; there is no instinct for self-preservation here, and that is one mark of a good actor.” Audiences generally agreed, as the $7 million film grossed just over $15 million domestically.

Box Office Rap Frozen and the Frost-y Showdown

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Box Office Rap: Frozen and the Frost-y Showdown
Box Office Rap: Frozen and the Frost-y Showdown

Some say the box office is going to end in fire, but some say it'll end in ice, as Disney's Frozen looks to unseat Catching Fire over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend. For Catching Fire, the lack of a significant improvement over the opening weekend of the first film suggests many viewers could have been holding out to round up the family for a viewing over the long weekend; nevertheless, almost every box-office prognosticator had Catching Fire pegged too high (especially yours truly), making talk of “catching” The Avengers appear foolish in hindsight.

Frozen goes nationwide on Wednesday, entering a marketplace that hasn't seen a legitimate animated contender since Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 nearly two months ago. Although trailers make the film look rather pallid, reviews have been white hot, which should boost interest among core demographics and adults alike. In fact, interest could be high enough for Frozen to top Tangled's $68.7 million opening three Thanksgivings ago.

Box Office Rap The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the No-3D Karma

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Box Office Rap: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the No-3D Karma
Box Office Rap: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the No-3D Karma

When a film is set to make the exorbitant amount of money that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire surely will this coming weekend, further lamenting the woes of global capital via cultural products will undoubtedly find little purchase among fans ready to see Katniss and Peeta unwillingly do battle yet again for (and against) the Capitol. Nevertheless, take note of Thelma Adams's review, which details how “The Hunger Games has become a victim of its own success, co-opted by Hollywood, a rebel not without a cause, a money minter.” Adams's attention to film-as-product engages a discussion of economics too often omitted from film reviews, especially when a film's “call to arms” doubles as a “call to more ticket sales.”

This week, a more essential nerdist box-office question emerges: Can Catching Fire top the $207.4 million opening weekend of The Avengers without the support of 3D showings? And true to the spirit of this franchise, it's only appropriate to evaluate the competitors in relation to this new, Francis Lawrence-directed entry. To recap, The Avengers opened on May 4, 2012 in 4,349 theaters (still the widest North American opening of all time) in IMAX 3D, regular 3D, and regular 2D, with a 40% 3D share, a number that helps to explain how the $169.2 million record previously held by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 could be so bracingly shattered. Earlier this year, Iron Man 3 took the second-highest opening with $174.1 million, with a similar 3D share as The Avengers. Much like Warner Bros. with The Dark Knight films, though, Lionsgate has elected not to dabble with 3D in hopes that the film's quality will be all the pull needed to get audiences into theaters; it's a decision that, while certainly forgoing the surcharge on each 3D ticket, retains a degree of integrity on the part of the studio, which isn't trying to milk consumers for every last penny in their pockets.

Box Office Rap The Best Man Holiday and the Scrooged Marketplace

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Box Office Rap: The Best Man Holiday and the Scrooged Marketplace
Box Office Rap: The Best Man Holiday and the Scrooged Marketplace

When Paramount announced a few weeks ago that The Wolf of Wall Street would be pushed back until Christmas due to runtime and “trimming” issues, The Best Man Holiday was left as the only wide release slated for a November 15th debut. The departure of a new Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle surely meant another equally high-profile or even several smaller-profile releases would be flocking to the date. Prime candidates were Homefront and Oldboy, both hard-R difficult sells which appeared destined to get lost in the Thanksgiving shuffle; Delivery Man, too, could have gotten out of the gate a week earlier to beat The Hunger Games: Catching Fire's impending box-office hurricane; or perhaps George Clooney's The Monuments Men, which would undoubtedly have attracted a similar audience as Scorsese's film, but instead retreated to a 2014 release date. Conspicuously, no studios were willing to bump their films into the slot.

The only thoughtful explanation for these trepidations is that no studio dared sandwich one of their films between blockbuster juggernauts like Thor: The Dark World and Catching Fire, with the pair looking to gross a combined $250 in their opening weekends. Fair enough, yet clearly Paramount originally showed no real concern with offering up a prestige, $100 million film in this slot, but even their refusal to shuffle Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit forward to the date is baffling, especially considering the recent press generated by Tom Clancy's death.

Box Office Rap Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster

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Box Office Rap: Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster
Box Office Rap: Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster

Although Thor: The Dark World doesn't hit North American theaters until this Friday, it's already amassed $109.4 million from 29 overseas territories in just its first weekend. Opening Hollywood films internationally before debuting them stateside is a trend that's existed in some capacity for a number of decades, but it's only become a more common practice in the last few years, beginning with Iron Man 2 in 2010, which saw release in nearly 70 foreign territories weeks before domestic theaters.

The prevalence of American films in foreign markets has existed essentially since the start of World War I; as film scholar David Cook tells it, European studios were forced to shut down production since the same chemicals being used to manufacture celluloid film were needed to make gunpowder, while the American film industry faced no such problems, making over 90% of the world's motion pictures by 1918. Nearly a century later, little has changed, with mega-budget, Hollywood actioners now dominating the global marketplace. Lynda Obst discusses these trends in her recent book Sleepless in Hollywood with what she calls the “New Abnormal,” where Hollywood studios are heavily reliant on foreign markets to see profits and now produce content with dozens of marketplaces in mind. Thus, international casts in spectacle-driven vehicles are preferred, while U.S.-specific blockbusters are becoming a rare breed (look to White House Down, The Lone Ranger, and R.I.P.D. for recent failings on this front).

Box Office Rap Ender’s Game and the Depressing Studio Dares

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Box Office Rap: Ender’s Game and the Depressing Studio Dares
Box Office Rap: Ender’s Game and the Depressing Studio Dares

This past weekend, The Counselor opened to a mere $7.8 million—second only to Runner Runner for the weakest opening for a film debuting in over 3,000 theaters this year. By all standard accounts, this was a “bad” box-office weekend, and, as I discussed last week, one that perceptive prognosticators should have seen coming. Coupled with a 35% Rotten Tomatoes score, nothing has gone right for Ridley Scott's latest. But lest we throw the baby out with the bathwater, we need to be certain that The Counselor is ultimately an object of derision because it's a bad film, and not simply because it's a poor box-office performer.

Of course, any discerning eye knows quality and capital cannot be equated, but ultimately, a weak box-office showing necessarily diminishes cultural impact and public opinion. A casual viewer reads that The Counselor opened poorly and determines that it mustn't be very good. There is, indeed, an equation made. In this case, critics and viewers agree on the film's negative quality, which makes its dismissal easier, but this isn't always so. Films like Killing Them Softly and Wolf Creek were despised by audiences, as each is one of only a handful of films to receive the dreaded F CinemaScore. However, these films were generally admired by critics, though Wolf Creek was fairly polarizing, with an equal measure of raves and pans. Both floundered at the box office, with each failing to attain a $3,000-per-theater average on opening weekend. When such dissonance occurs, it seems the supremacy of box office reigns over positive reviews.

Box Office Rap The Counselor and the Prestige-Film Fallacy

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Box Office Rap: The Counselor and the Prestige-Film Fallacy
Box Office Rap: The Counselor and the Prestige-Film Fallacy

This Friday sees the release of The Counselor, a film that, by all conventional accounts, should be a lock for a $20-million opening at the box office this weekend, and yet the film is unlikely to crack double digits, even with a mega-wide 3,000 theater release. Certainly, as many have been doing, we could point to Gravity as a reason why The Counselor is likely to stumble; earning over $30 million in its third frame last weekend, I'm inclined to think it will finish on top yet again, besting primo contender Bad Grandpa by a few million, and making it the first film since The Hunger Games in April 2012 to top the box office for four consecutive weekends. However, its highly impressive run cannot fully explain why The Counselor is going to fail. Rather, we would be better served to examine how Fox has been marketing the film and, beyond that, question precisely why Ridley Scott's production company, Scott Free, and Fox believed this to be a financially viable project to begin with.

The entirety of the marketing for The Counselor suffers from what I'm calling “prestige-film fallacy” (PFF). The PFF relies on the prior prestige of those involved, rather than ingenuity, to convince prospective viewers of the new film's worth. Everything about a PFF campaign reeks of derivative, outmoded notions of “quality” cinema and often hitches its wagon to the premise that sexy, rich characters played by sexy, rich stars equal big bucks. The Counselor is an epitome of these tendencies and, for those attuned to these developments, will serve to test our fundamental question: Can you sell a film based purely on prior pedigree?