In this week's column, we highlight two coming-of-age films, question distribution strategies, consider national conflicts, and watch rival robbers in (hopefully) hilarious action.
New Distribution Deals
New Zealand-born Taiki Waititi has been crafting wry, droll comedies for years, first coming to international attention with the off-beat romance Eagle vs. Shark, starring Jemaine Clement, in 2007. Waititi worked on multiple episodes of Clement's HBO series, The Flight of the Concords, and then followed that up with Boy, which he wrote and directed. Boy played at Sundance and major international film festivals (Berlin, Edinburgh, Melbourne, AFI Fest) in 2010, and has finally secured U.S. distribution via Paladin and Unison Films, according to indieWIRE.
Boy sounds like a very personal project for Waititi. Set in 1984, it's based on his short film Two Cars, One Night (nominated for an Academy Award) and is drawn from his own childhood experiences. James Rolleston stars as a young man obsessed with American pop culture -- especially Michael Jackson -- who fantasizes that his long-absent father is "an adventurous world traveler." When his father, played by Waititi, returns home, the reality is far different than the young man's fantasies. "It may seem slight, but this is a film of mighty heart," wrote Peter Calder in his New Zealand Herald review. "This is a very strong piece of work that will quickly become a classic." Paladin is planning a limited release for Boy later this year, timed to qualify for awards season.
Another coming-of-age story, this one a drama from an Italian filmmaker, has also been picked up for distribution. Corpo Celeste will be released by Film Movement in the first quarter of next year, first on a limited basis nationwide in theaters, and then on cable video on demand platforms. Like Boy, Corpo Celeste also traveled the festival circuit, though its trip was much shorter, starting at Cannes in May.
The directorial debut of Alice Rohrwacher, Corpo Celeste (or Heavenly Body) is set in Calabria and is a "sensitive portrayal of local realities [that] steers clear of stereotypes and captures something of the region’s gritty appeal through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl, Marta," says Agnieszka Gratza in Sight & Sound. It's "a coming-of-age story doubling as a spiritual quest."
Indie Box Office
Senna enjoyed a robust first weekend, earning $36,749 per-screen at the two theaters where it played last weekend. making it the top-opening documentary of the year. The film tells the story of a Brazilian race car driver who rose to the top of his profession in the 1980s, engaging in fierce competition with a French racer while also dealing with contentious political in-fighting. Reviews for Senna have been almost entirely positive.
According to industry analyst Anne Thompson, however, "the real question … is why Working Title didn’t put the movie out through Universal’s specialty subsidiary Focus Features, which releases many of their smaller-scale films." Thompson points out that Senna is already the third highest-grossing documentary in UK history, and so Focus may be regretting the decision. She also provides background information on producer James Gay Rees' choice to work with the same team that drove Exit Through the Gift Shop to good box office returns and an Academy Award nomination last year.
Kevin Smith opened his horror flick Red State in Los Angeles for a one-week Oscar qualifying run, for which he received criticism, both for the idea that his film might be worthy of Academy Award consideration -- he says he did it for the actors -- and the higher-than-usual price he charged for a movie ticket and Q&A at the normally low-price theater -- Smith says it's cheaper than what he normally charges for a Q&A alone. Our own Erik Davis covered the controversy in detail. When all was said and done, Smith's move generated $21,610 over the weekend.
Katherine Bruens' documentary Corner Store debuted to the tune of $12,743 at a single theater. Yousef Elhaj is an immigrant from Palestine who moved to San Francisco ten years ago to build a new life for his family. He left behind his wife and small children to work "day and night to build a small business, save money, and become part of his adopted community while trying to stay connected from afar," according to the official description.
To the disappointment of respectable perverts everywhere, Sex and Zen 3D: Extreme Ecstasy could muster returns of only $903 over the weekend at a single location in San Francisco. Why did potential viewers turn their backs on the soft porn shenanigans? Was it because it was only offered in 2D? Were men too embarrassed to be seen buying tickets to a movie called Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy? The movie expands to Austin, Los Angeles, and New York this weekend.
Stalwart indie filmmaker John Sayles' latest effort, Amigo, opens Friday on 12 screens. The 17th feature from the writer / director, Amigo is set in 1900, in the midst of the Phillipine-American War. Joel Torre stars as a mayor who comes under pressure when U.S. troops occupy his village and an officer (Chris Cooper) demands his cooperation. The mayor's brother, however, is the leader of the local guerillas, and considers any aid rendered to the Americans to be traitorous. Check the official site for playdates and theaters.
5 Days of War tracks the conflict that erupted between Russia and Georgia in 2008. The cast includes Rupert Friend, Richard Coyle, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Val Kilmer, Andy Garcia, Dean Cain, and Heather Graham; Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, The Long Kiss Goodnight) directed the "action-packed thriller." 5 Days of War opens in two theaters this weekend.
Also opening in single engagements: Flypaper, a crime comedy (see below), and Programming the Nation?, Jeff Warrick's "documentary journey through the subconscious mind while exploring the alleged usage of subliminal messaging in advertising, music, film, television, anti-theft devices, political propaganda, military psychological operations, and advanced weapons development, to determine if such tactics have succeeded." Visit the official site to watch the trailer and find out when and where the film is playing.
Trailer of the Week
Flypaper, directed by Rob Minkoff and written by Scott Moore and Jon Lucas (The Hangover), stars Patrick Dempsey and Ashley Judd as an innocent bystander and a teller, respectively, who get caught between two rival gangs of robbers just as the bank's security system locks everyone in for the night. The supporting cast includes Tim Blake Nelson, Mekhi Phifer, and Octavia Spencer.
The trailer, which you can watch below, looks good, but it's a toss-up on how the story develops. Moore and Lucas are also responsible for The Change-Up, which I thought was mostly disastrous, and Minkoff's recent credits include The Haunted Mansion and The Forbidden Kingdom, which is not very encouraging. Still, we'll be optimistic and hope for the best.