Broken Embraces

Behind every great actor is a great director. Leonardo DiCaprio has Martin Scorsese, Johnny Depp has Tim Burton, and Penélope Cruz has Pedro Almodóvar. Cruz, in particular, is a completely different actress when working with the Spanish director. Whether it’s the material he writes for her or the fact that she’s acting in her native language, every time they get together, something magical happens. Their latest collaboration, “Broken Embraces,” isn’t their strongest project to date, but it’s much better as result of Cruz’s involvement. A time-spanning love story filled with passion and revenge, the film stars Lluis Homar as Harry Caine, a blind screenwriter who recalls the story of falling in love with an aspiring actress (Cruz) while on the set of his latest movie, even though she was the mistress of his jealous financier (José Luis Gómez). The principal cast all turn in solid performances – Cruz channels an Audrey Hepburn-like innocence as the object of both men’s affection, Homar brings grace to an otherwise unlikeable character, and Gómez is a real villain’s villain – but the story just isn’t that compelling. Though Almodóvar infuses his film with bright colors and some hypnotically beautiful shots of his leading lady, the story dangerously borders on becoming a cheesy telenovella. It never quite reaches that point, but it’s enough to suggest you won’t love “Broken Embraces” nearly as much as fans of the director were expecting.

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Christmas mish-mosh at the box office

I have to keep this fairly short tonight, but suffice to say that things are going to be very busy over this long Christmas holiday weekend and just how it will shake out is anyone’s guess. I’m certainly not going to try, though I think it’s safe to say the battle for the #1 spot will be between the second weekend of the Fox-released “Avatar” and Guy Ritchie’s action/comedy oriented “Sherlock Holmes” starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Dr. Watson. It’s getting pretty decent reviews as well, though the Rotten Tomatoes “Top Critics” are split down the middle. Not that that’s likely to mean one less dollar in Warner Brothers’ coffers.

There is another strong commercial contender, it actually opened today, and it’s reviews are anything but decent. I speak of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” from Fox, which was excoriated by our own David Medsker and 75% of critics in general. Still, La Finke reports that online sales are unusually strong and one should never underestimate the power of kiddie appeal. At the same time, it goes a lot better when parents don’t leave the theater angry and making a mental note to keep up with their birth control regimen — and Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” is still relatively fresh and it seems a lot more parent-friendly.

Also, there’s plenty of action in grown-up/awards-movie-ville. Nancy Myers’ rom-com, “It’s Complicated” with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin, might get a boost from older moviegoers, particularly women, happy to see folks their own age actually still having sex and stuff in movies. However, the Golden Globe nominations it garnered may be a flash in the pan as the critics are not especially impressed. This looks like a case of the Globes living up to their rep and being notably star-struck.

In somewhat fewer theaters, major Oscar contender “Up in the Air,” finally goes into the releasing big leagues for Paramount, expanding into 1,895 theaters according to Box Office Mojo. The Rob Marshall-directed “Nine” is going into 1,412 theaters. The flashy Broadway musical adaptation with a cast that includes Daniel Day Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, the eternal sex goddess/great actress Sophia Loren and, for all I know, the reanimated corpses of Greta Garbo and Clara Bow, has long been touted as an Oscar contender but, looking at the disappointed reviews, I seriously have to wonder. A poorly reviewed musical hasn’t been a hit at the Oscars since the badly bloated “Oliver!” and “Hello Dolly!” were released in 1968 and 1969. “Nine” might do okay because of its sexy/smart ad campaign and star power, but it’s hard to imagine a critically unloved Fellini-derived musical having any kind of staying power at the box office and even harder to imagine it having a more than token showing at the Oscars — but then I’m forgetting those ten best picture slots.

Fashion designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut, “A Single Man” starring Colin Firth, has been racking up a lot of acclaim and awards heat, and is opening in 46 theaters. It’s a probable art house hit, and Firth is one of those actors who just keeps getting more interesting.

Finally, Box Office Mojo isn’t saying how many theaters it’s opening in, but Terry Gilliam’s semi-surrealist fantasy, “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” is coming out this Friday; it’s the film Heath Ledger was midway through production on when he died suddenly in early 2008, but which was completed by casting the late actor’s friends Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell to play aspects of his character. My review of it is forthcoming so I’ll keep my opinion to myself for now, though it has scored an RT rating of 62%. I understand it’s done okay in Europe, but my strong hunch is that commercially it’s a non-factor here.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/sherlock_holmes_2009/?critic=creamcr
  

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Fangirls give fanboys a run for their money as “New Moon” hits the record books

New Moon Even more than before, studio development executives will be combing through scripts looking for something about female humans in love with handsome young monsters whose unspeakable urges can only be controlled if they immediately remove their shirts. “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” earned an estimated $140.7 million this weekend for mini-major Summit Entertainment, which is now a bit more major and a bit less mini. As both jolly Carl DiOrio and Nikki Finke remind us, that puts it right behind the opening weekends of “The Dark Knight” and “Spider-Man 3,” displacing, as per Finke, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” with its pitiful $135.6 million.

“New Moon” enjoyed a spectacular Friday performance of $72.7 million, an all-time record one-day take, but dropped by what DiOrio describes as a “manageable” 41% to earn a still terrific $43.2 million on Saturday. (Finke, plays the baseball statistician and mentions that the two-day total $115.9 million makes for the biggest two-day gross of all time, and also gets into other November openings, if you think that stuff is important.) Still, by the end of this weekend, most of the really hardcore “Twilight” fans will have seen “New Moon.” The question remaining is how many casual viewers, plus repeat hardcore fans, will return for the big Thanksgiving day weekend.

There was another surprise this weekend: I was right about one of my casual box office prognostications! Based on the true story of the NFL’s Michael Oher, “The Blind Side” starring Sandra Bullock and newcomer Quinton Aaron supported by country singer Tim McGraw and Kathy Bates,  proved the sturdiness of the inspirational sports film genre. The sub-genre goes back at least as far back as 1940’s “Knute Rockne All American” and in this case won an estimated $34.5 million for the gipper and Warner Brothers, pretty much in line with what I wrote on Thursday. Astonishing.

According to Finke, the prognosticaters had only pegged this one for a maximum of $20 million, but they didn’t reckon, I suppose, with the cross gender and generational appeal of the story as well as its cross-cultural/ethnic impact which spans the inner-city and red state America, and both conservative and liberal perspectives common in Obama’s America. Lou Loumenick quotes this line uttered by country star Tim McGraw in the role of Bullock’s husband: “Who ever thought we would have a black son before we knew a Democrat?”

Woody H. in In the #3 spot this week was the big holdover from last weekend, Roland Emmerich’s “2012” which dropped a not-so-great 59% in its second week — spurred on, perhaps, by bad word of mouth from people  like the 20-something male checker at the Walgreen’s next door to me who volunteered his views to me a couple of nights back. The mega-disaster flick earned a relatively modest estimated $25 million for Sony on it’s second weekend for a total so far of $108 million. That’s still well short of it’s $200 million budget, which I find a bit obscene, but it’s current foreign total is $341.1 milion. Ah, the international language of blowing-shit-up.

Bringing up the rear of the new releases is the poorly reviewed “Planet 51,” which apparently shows that even CGI animated family comedies can be hurt by poor buzz if that buzz is bad enough.  Also, while our own Jason Zingale was unimpressed, “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” continued its unusually strong performance as it expanded this week. As explicated via table at Box Office Mojo, the downbeat tale of inner city dysfunction earned an impressive $11 million in only 629 theaters (as compared to 3,035 for “Planet 51”).

Of the two films debuting from undisputed world class directors and huge international stars, German man-of-the-world/universe Werner Herzog’s critically embraced “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” starring Nicolas Cage had a disappointing debut of only $257,000 in 27 theaters despite great reviews and considerable buzz. On the other hand, Spain’s brilliant twosome of Pedro Aldomovar and Penelope Cruz earned back some of that lost “Planet 51” cred for their nation by taking in the week’s highest per screen average ($54,000) with their latest, “Broken Embraces.” That’s on only two screens, but it’s a start.

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Shouldn’t it actually be “9 1/2”?

I guess 2009 is as good a year as any for a movie called “District 9” to be followed by one called “9” and another called “Nine.”

This is the film version of a Broadway musical based on the non-literally autobiographical quasi-surrealist 1963 sensation, “8 1/2,” so named because it’s writer-director, Federico Fellini, had made seven films and a featurette prior. Anyhow, this pretty marvelous new trailer has been circulating for about a day now and it’s time to feature it here.

Combining somewhat staged looking “behind the scenes” footage with clips from the movie, the idea here seems to be to reach out a bit both to putatively musical hating males with some of the most beautiful women in the world including Kate Hudson, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz and Nicole Kidman. Lest director Rob Marshall be seen as in any way sexist or ageist, we also have seventy-something Judy Dench showing she’s still got the stuff for musicals — she played the role of Sally Bowles in the original 1968 London production of “Cabaret” (though her Sally was closer to the original stories in that she wasn’t a great singer) — and none other than Sophia Loren, still glamorous as heck at 75 (she’s got just a few months on Dame Judi). No bubbi in my family every looked like that.

“Nine” kinda sorta fills up a hole in Ms. Loren’s resume as, rather amazingly, the world-wide superstar and reigning Italian screen queen of almost the entire fifties and sixties never worked with Fellini, her nation’s most influential and arguably greatest director of the same period, though she did present him with his honorary Oscar in 1993.

Anyhow, my nominee for possibly the sexiest trailer of the year or maybe this entire, rapidly ending, decade…

H/t Culture Monster. If you missed the earlier trailer for “Nine,” see it here.

  

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Count to “Nine” with Rob Marshall’s latest

Musical theater not your thing? Yeah, us neither. But then, most musicals haven’t been, uh, endowed with the bevy of babes that makes up much of the cast of Rob Marshall’s “Nine” — a list that includes Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, and Fergie — or, for that matter, the combined acting might of Daniel Day-Lewis and Judi Dench. It’s from the guy who directed “Chicago,” so you know your significant other is probably going to twist your arm into seeing it, and you might as well get a taste of what you’re in for with this trailer — which just might leave you looking forward to November 25 (if only just a little). Check it out below, and don’t forget to follow Bullz-Eye’s coverage of “Nine”!


  

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