Nature, celebrities, nostalgia from Eastern Europe, the passion project of a Transformers star, and the question of The Perfect Host -- is it David Hyde Pierce? -- all play a role in this week's column.
New Distribution Deals
Nature documentaries continue to attract audiences, as well as celebrity narrators who are attracted to the subject matter, and the new film The Whale fits that profile nicely. The Whale tells the tale of "a lonely young killer whale who causes upheaval in a small town and amazement around the world when he tries to make friends with humans," according to a prepared statement from Paladin, a distribution company that has acquired rights to the film. Ryan Reynolds narrates and serves as one of the executive producers, along with Scarlett Johansson and Eric Desatnik.
The Whale will open in limited release in late summer before expanding in the fall. That sounds like a good release strategy; it could pull in children as they return to school and also adults who are not interested in the genre flicks that appear to dominating the multiplexes in that time period. More information is available at the official Facebook page.
In late fall, look for Cirkus Columbia, from director Danis Tanovic, who made No Man's Land, an Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film in 2001. (The press release is available at indieWIRE.) The film is "a comfortably old-fashioned story set in a small village in South Herzegovina as the clock ticks down to war in the Balkans," according to Fionnuala Halligan at Screen Daily. "Tanovic’s nostalgic take on the events prior to No Man’s Land make this a watchable if not entirely engrossing affair."
The combination of nostalgia and a foreign language could make it a very appealing fit for the late fall, among the darker award-questers routinely unspooling in art houses in that time frame. Of course, there's a lot of art house competition in that quarter, but Strand Releasing is very good (and realistic) about the most effective way to distribute this kind of film.
Indie Box Office
A Better Life, a drama directed by Chris Weitz, placed at the top of the indie chart, earning $15,522, on average, at four locations. Distributor Summit Entertainment is rolling it out slowly; I loved the movie, but critical reaction has not been unanimously positive. With the high percentage of dialogue in Spanish, it should do better once it rolls out to more theaters in the Southwest.
The second highest per-screen average for indies proved to be Passione, John Turturro's "musical adventure" in which he stars as "an amateur ethnomusicologist/corny travel guide," in the words of Melissa Anderson at The Village Voice. (The film made $15,377 at one theater in Manhattan.) For those curious, Turturro -- also playing a key supporting role in this week's Transformers: Dark of the Moon -- appears as a dancer in one of the musical numbers, but doesn't (apparently) sing. Which is too bad if you happened to catch last year's woeful The Nutcracker in 3D, where he played The Rat King and displayed his full-throated singing and bold dance moves, all while dressed as a rat, complete with whiskers. Oh, it was something to see! The film's official site has just been updated with playdates, so check it out.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris and Terence Malick's The Tree of Life continue to chug along successfully, with Allen's latest comedy becoming his highest-grossing film since Hannah and Her Sisters in 1986, according to indieWIRE. The Tree of Life nearly doubled its theaters, to 215, and kept up a very nice average of $6,177, nudging its weekly gross up 14.1%, per Box Office Mojo.
Coming This Weekend
The biggest indie flick will be disguised as a star vehicle in the minds of many, as Brad Pitt will surely draw many viewers who see his face on the poster and make assumptions about The Tree of Life, leading at least one theater in Connecticut to post a reminder notice that the movie "is a uniquely visionary and deeply philosophical from from an auteur director." In other words: No robots here, kids; drain your brains elsewhere, as one of our commenters suggested. After five weeks in limited release, this is the big expansion that will either blow up the universe or underperform like crazy.
Lacking Brad Pitt and/or robots, Terri may be the more popular pick for certain audiences. The latest from Azazel Jacobs (Nobody Needs to Know, Momma's Man) features indie star John C. Reilly as an assistant high school principal. In his review for Film.com, Eric D. Snider wrote: "You probably know that John C. Reilly’s presence in a comedy is a harbinger of good things, and his loony behavior as the unstable Mr. Fitzgerald is this film’s greatest asset." That sounds good, but be advised that the remainder of Mr. Snider's review details Terri's liabilities, especially as concerns its mockery of fat people; therefore, proceed to the art house at your own risk.
Trailer of the Week
David Hyde Pierce (TV's Frasier) stars in The Perfect Host, a thriller that opens in two theaters this weekend. Directed by Nick Tomnay, the film pits Pierce, who is hosting an important dinner party, against Clayne Crawford, as an injured bank robber seeking temporary refuge. The film is based on a short film by Tomnay, and to Jay Seaver at eFilmCritic.com, that longer running time may have hurt it: "The Perfect Host has its moments, but it appears that stretching it from short-film length has left marks. Pierce and Crawford do good work, but the end result is far from perfect."
You can watch the trailer above to get a sense of the movie. I haven't seen it yet, so I don't know how representative it is of the overall tone. But judging from what's in the trailer, it looks like a cocktail of comedy and drama mixed with the (potentially bloody) thrills. Plus Frasier's annoying brother! How bad could it be?