The poster submitted by ThinkFilm for Taxi to the Dark Side — the Alex Gibney documentary opening January 18 — has been rejected by the MPAA.

The MPAA rejects posters on a semi-regular basis — it happened this year with the original one-sheets for Hostel Part II and Captivity — so Taxi‘s rejection, in and of itself, isn’t surprising. Not surprising, that is, until you look at the poster, which depicts two soldiers walking a hooded prisoner away from the camera. That’s it — no gore, no dismembered flesh, no bloody dental instruments. Just a guy in a hood.

It’s the hood, as you might have already guessed, that the MPAA has problems with; last year, the Association rejected the artwork for The Road to Guantanamo, which depicted a hooded prisoner hanging by his wrists. According to Variety, Roadside Attractions’ co-president, Howard Cohen, said the studio was told “the burlap bag over the prisoner’s head depicted torture, which was not appropriate for children to see.” This is reinforced by the MPAA’s statement regarding Taxi to the Dark Side, which follows:

“We treat all films the same. Ads will be seen by all audiences, including children. If the advertising is not suitable for all audiences it will not be approved by the advertising administration.”

Gibney is predictably peeved:

“Not permitting us to use an image of a hooded man that comes from a documentary photograph is censorship, pure and simple. Intentional or not, the MPAA’s disapproval of the poster is a political act, undermining legitimate criticism of the Bush administration. I agree that the image is offensive; it’s also real.”

The image in the poster is real — sort of. It’s actually a combination of two photos; one, taken by Corbis’ Shaun Schwarz, depicted the prisoner with one soldier, while the second soldier was added in later. The Schwarz photo has its own interesting story, also involving censorship. From Variety:

Ironically, the original Schwarz photo was censored by the military, which erased his camera’s memory. The photographer eventually retrieved the image from his hard drive.

ThinkFilm has announced plans to appeal the MPAA’s ruling, although the studio’s distribution president, Mark Urman, says the company “doesn’t know what that entails.”

Source: Variety


Ah, Edinburgh, a city known for contrast, vibrancy, comedy, castles and, for a couple of weeks in August, a little congestion. You see, the Edinburgh International Film Festival competes with the infamous Fringe comedy festival, as well as half a dozen other festivals, and no-doubt a couple of weddings and a stag do. Hotel rooms are as scarce as A-listers from the film and comedy world are abundant and restaurants are practicing their, “I’m sorry sir, you should have booked in February,” routine.

Edinburgh Castle

The festival has, in the past, played home to the world premiere of Serenity and the European first-show for Clerks II. Its programme is open to the public, and provides a wide variety of home-grown, European, American and international cinema. This festival sees two of the freshest movies of the year from the US play to UK audiences for the first time – Knocked Up and Ratatouille and they’re joined by the indie likes of Hallam Foe and French warbler Les Chansons d’Amour.

In short, there’s something for everyone of every age, gender and nationality, and it’s probably one of the most relaxed and, in turn, exciting festivals on the calendar. It’s also a good place to start or join in that ever-exciting early awards buzz, and with that in mind we thought it’d be a good idea to let you know what we and the critics think of the films on display so you can add them to your wish-list.

So without further ado we present, in no particular order, our fifteen favourites of the festival. We’ve gathered quotes from the Tomatometer and our critic friends too to spotlight the cream of the cinematic crop as chosen by our international pool of critics and ourselves respectively.

THE BEST OF BRITISH
Five films that represent the best the UK has to offer at the Edinburgh Film Festival – whether produced in the UK, directed by British talent or starring British actors.

Hallam Foe – dir. David Mackenzie

Hallam Foe

You may remember director David Mackenzie‘s previous films, Young Adam and Asylum, with respective Tomatometers favouring fresh and rotten. In the eyes of the critics we’ve spoken to, and this dashing RT-UK editor, Hallam Foe looks set to do away with any doubts and land firmly as one of the year’s freshest.

Being the tale of a rather strange teenager, the titular Hallam, who escapes a devilish stepmother for the lofty heights of Edinburgh and falls in love with a woman who’s the spitting image of his mother, the oedipal tale is at turns hilarious and heart-rending. As is Mackenzie’s wont, it’s about real people with unique lives and as a coming-of-age drama there is none finer. Its depiction of this festival’s host city, Edinburgh, isn’t troubled by big-screen sheen – this is the real Edinburgh, and it’s beautiful.

Bell and Myles are outstanding, and Claire Forlani reaches a level of wicked sadism that only Claire Forlani could accomplish and still have you falling madly in love with her. It’s quirky, but not so quirky that it becomes ridiculous, and it’s probably one of the finest films you’ll see this year.

“Affirms the raw talents of both David Mackenzie and Jamie Bell (who’s come a long way since Billy Elliot).”
Rich Cline, SHADOWS ON THE WALL

“An intriguing rites-of-passage story with a delirious, skewed perspective and an almost palpable sexual pulse.”
Damon Wise, EMPIRE MAGAZINE

Stardust – dir. Matthew Vaughn

Stardust

We first experienced a sprinkle of Stardust courtesy of director Matthew Vaughn‘s invitation to the edit suite and while we loved what we saw we were curious to see if the film could maintain the pitch of the footage for its entire runtime. Having taken two trips to see the unfinished version, we’d say we’re fairly enthusiastic about the results.

Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman (to settle the argument before it starts, it began life as an illustrated novel before being published without the illustrations), Stardust follows young Tristan Thorn (newcomer Charlie Cox) as he journeys across “the wall” into a magical land in quest of a falling star to retrieve for the beautiful Victoria (Sienna Miller) in exchange for her hand in marriage. When he discovers the star is actually a young woman (Claire Danes), they begin a quest back home and, along the way, are pursued by a handsome prince (Mark Strong), a wicked witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) and a devilish pirate (Robert De Niro), all of whom have their own designs on the star.

And if that cast list isn’t enough to woo you, pray silence as we barrage you with Peter O’Toole, Ian McKellen, Mark Williams, Ricky Gervais, David Walliams and Rupert Everett.

And we have a Princess Bride fan in the office who’s convinced he’s found a movie to rival his classic. You can start queuing now.

“With its heart worn proudly on its sleeve, it’s one of the best date movies of the year, a compatibility litmus test for starry-eyed romantics.”
Kevin Crust, LOS ANGELES TIMES

“The antic spirit of The Princess Bride looms large over Stardust, creatively adapted from Neil Gaiman’s much more sober 1998 graphic novel. That’s probably a good call.”
Joshua Rothkopf, TIME OUT NEW YORK

WAZ – dir. Tom Shankland

Waz

On paper WAZ (the A is actually a Delta symbol so it’s pronounced Was or W-Delta-Z depending on the mood you’re in) looks like every other torture porn movie cluttering cinemas at the moment. But to lump it in with Saw and Hostel would be to do it a disservice, because this debut feature from director Tom Shankland is much more inventive.

Detective Eddie Argo and his new partner, Helen Westcott, begin investigating a series of grisly murders with one thing in common; a mathematical equation has been carved into each of the victims. When they learn that the equation – the WAZ of the title is a part of it – is designed to test altruism, and that the victims are being offed in pairs, forced to kill each other to “save” themselves, the case turns even nastier, and as Westcott gets to know her new precinct she’s seeing things that don’t add up in the police department’s handling of previous cases.

Set in New York but filmed, predominantly, in Belfast, with a cast that includes a Swede, an Australian and a Brit, the accents are a touch on the unpredictable side, but stirring performances from Stellan Skarsgard, Melissa George, Ashley Walters and Selma Blair make you forget those troubles, and the film creates a visually arresting universe and ramping tension that keep you glued to the screen.

“Director Tom Shankland launches himself into the industry with a fierce sense of style and energy to spare.”
Rich Cline, SHADOWS ON THE WALL

WAZ distastefully delivers.”
Derek Elley, VARIETY

Sugarhouse – dir. Gary Love

Sugarhouse

Lest you think we have a thing for Ashley Walters, it’s worth pointing out that Sugarhouse and WAZ mark genuinely impressive turns by the young actor following his stunning breakthrough in Bullet Boy. We’d make some sort of So Solid Career pun but that’d be annoying.

Sugarhouse, another debut film this time from director Gary Love, is a smarter kind of Brit gangster flick. Walters is crackhead D who is looking to sell a gun to Steven Mackintosh’s city worker. D’s motives are money, his client’s are revenge. But there’s a third in the form of Andy Serkis as this year’s most terrifying baddie, Hoodwink. The gun’s his and he’s damn sure not going to let D sell it on.

Based on a play, Sugarhouse is decidedly intimate, most of the action collected around D’s crack den, and its sense of realism – lacking in the works of Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn – is refreshing. It’s not about effing and blinding, it’s about the seedier side of life.

“Despite thin caricatures and dodgy dialogue, this still stands out on the street.”
Kat Brown, EMPIRE MAGAZINE

“Andy Serkis delivers a performance that makes his turn as King Kong look like Johnny Vegas’s knitted monkey sidekick.”
Stella Papamichael, BBC

Control – dir. Anton Corbijn

Control

Starring Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Craig Parkinson and Alexandra Maria Lara

Anton Corbijn‘s Control captivated audiences upon its Cannes debut earlier this year, and with good reason; the biopic of Joy Division’s late lead singer, Ian Curtis, delivers a somber but beautiful glimpse into the life of the tortured musician that should enrich fans of the Manchester band and move the uninitiated in comparable measure.

Shot in gorgeously stark black and white monochrome, Control follows Curtis (Sam Riley), a sensitive working-class daydreamer in 1970s England, as he falls into the role of lead singer for a local band. That band, of course, soon becomes post-punk legend Joy Division; the lads sign a record deal, go on tour, and get big. But life gets in the way of fame for Curtis, and the demands of his budding fame – a young wife (Samantha Morton) and child, and a new girlfriend (Alexandra Maria Lara) on the side – paired with recurring epileptic seizures that render him helpless sometimes mid-concert, become too much for him to juggle.

With its pulsating score (all songs performed, and well, by the actors themselves) and a transcendent central performance by Curtis doppelganger Riley, Control paints a sensitive portrait of a tragic artist whose legacy lived on for decades after his untimely death at the age of 23.

“Corbijn has done his research during 30 years as a photographer, striking a realistic balance between farce and tragedy.”
Stephen Dalton, THE TIMES

“Somber, sad and compelling.”
Russell Edwards, VARIETY

THE BEST OF THE US
We cross the Atlantic (figuratively) to take a look at the five top films playing in Edinburgh from the US of A.

In the Shadow of the Moon – dir. David Sington

In the Shadow of the Moon

Featuring Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Michael Collins and Jim Lovell

Theory: There’s nothing more exciting than listening to the former astronauts for the Apollo missions tell their tales of visiting the lunar surface. Except perhaps being one of them. Yes, David Sington‘s In the Shadow of the Moon is a little heavy on the America-the-Great, but it’s also one of the best documentaries of the year; a fascinating portrait of men so brave that most regular Joes couldn’t possible comprehend their journey.

And, to its credit, it allows them to get on with it – there’s no narrator – we’re just shown fascinating footage from the moon’s surface, from the launch pad, from the shuttle, and in between these men tell us their story.

For the real space-junkies, there’s doubtless little in here to learn, but for the rest of us the film is full of fascinating factoids and, like the best movies set in space – fictional or not – it’ll leave you feeling smaller than the smallest needle in the biggest haystack.

“The excitement, majesty and extraordinary human accomplishment of the American lunar program of the ’60s and early ’70s is rousingly captured in In the Shadow of the Moon.”
Todd McCarthy, VARIETY

“This exquisite documentary about the Apollo program takes the magic of moon flight and miraculously makes it downright down-to-Earth.”
Frank Lovece, FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL

Ratatouille – dir. Brad Bird

Ratatouille

Starring Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano and Peter O’Toole

Films about rats, it seems, don’t tend to go down well with the squeamish movie-going public. That’s just about the only way to explain the poorer-than-expected box office returns for the gem that is Ratatouille. Of course, we’re not talking bomb here – it’s currently sitting at around $300m so they won’t be remortgaging – but it’s a surprise considering it’s one of Pixar’s finest movies in a crop of fine movies.

The project, about a gastronomic rat named Remy who finds himself the sous-sous-chef at a posh restaurant, has a troubled history; original director Jan Pinkava was replaced by Brad Bird with barely a year of the seven-year development time left on the clock. Pinkava left Pixar and has “no comment” on the whole affair, but given last year’s troubled Cars the tabloid tales have knocked a little of the sheen from Pixar.

Fortunately the film – credit to Bird and Pinkava – is astonishing and more than settles any doubts about the affair affecting the movie. As is traditional with Pixar, the actors are chosen because they’re right for their characters and the film’s visuals shame every other CG movie released this year. Bring on Wall-E.

“Displaying the usual meticulousness associated with the Pixar brand, Ratatouille is a nearly flawless piece of popular art.”
A.O. Scott, NEW YORK TIMES

“A film as rich as a sauce béarnaise, as refreshing as a raspberry sorbet, and a lot less predictable than the damn food metaphors and adjectives all us critics will churn out to describe it. OK, one more and then I’ll be done: it’s yummy.”
David Ansen, NEWSWEEK

Death Proof – dir. Quentin Tarantino

Death Proof

Caught up in this year’s Grindhouse scandal – Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez made two back-to-back flicks to be put out as one and then no-one in America went to see them – Death Proof is the Weinstein Company’s first attempt at recouping some of the expense internationally. It’s Tarantino’s half, which means lots of talking, lots of references to classic pop-culture, and plenty of hot women with well-manicured feet.

The film follows Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) as he crosses country to do damage to a bevy of beauties in his “death proof” car – he can crash it at any speed and live to tell the tale. So we first meet Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier) and her posse (Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd and, notsomuch, Rose McGowan) before the film shifts state and introduces us to stuntgirls Tracie Thoms and Zoe Bell (who was Uma’s stunt-double on Kill Bill and their friends Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Rosario Dawson.

But it’s not so much about the story or the characters as it is about the Tarantino dialogue, the homages to seventies B-movies and the fake film grain added to make it look like the print has been kicked around a bit. One segment is even in black-and-white suggesting it’s not even a complete print and the missing reel has been substituted with one from a black-and-white version of the film.

Death Proof, the standalone, replaces a title card pointing to a missing reel in the Grindhouse version with the full version, a seedy lap dance from Ferlito. And it’s steamy-hot but, of course, all the good frames have been ripped out – presumably stolen by projectionists as the print gathered dust. It’s all a very heart-warming reference to classic B cinema.

As a standalone, Death Proof is far more satisfying than it is as part of Grindhouse, though a scene with Michael Parks, while far too good to cut out, doesn’t working without the audience having seen Planet Terror. The irony is that, because Planet Terror builds to a crescendo ending and is followed by a film that takes a while to get going, Death Proof should have been the first part of Grindhouse and Planet Terror should have been the first to be released independently. Still, forgive the Weinstein mistakes and be sure you see Death Proof, even if you’re one of the lucky ones to have already seen Grindhouse.

“All the nutrition of a narcotic compound.”
James Rocchi, CINEMATICAL

“A beautiful piece of Americana. Stupid, and brilliant.”
– Alistair McKay, SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY

Knocked Up – dir. Judd Apatow

Knocked Up

There’s a reason this comedy – usually a tough genre with the critics – is currently sitting in the nineties on the Tomatometer; it’s genuinely that good. From The 40-Year-Old Virgin helmer Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen stars as a man whose one-night-stand turns into a twenty-year commitment when his beau, Katherine Heigl, turns up pregnant. Oops.

Perhaps the buzziest film of the year – an R-rated trailer first circulated virally ages ago – it’s a laugh-a-minute romp through hysterically inappropriate gags with Rogen chewing the scenery at every opportunity, and fantastic supporting performances from Paul Rudd and Alan Tudyk.

Keep an eye out for Jonah Hill – you’re about to hear his name a lot when Superbad hits cinemas – and be sure to bring the girlfriend. Knocked Up‘s real success is that it appeals to every demographic, with just the right mix of cheap laughs and heartfelt drama that both sexes will fall in love with it, and it’s loveable “hero”.

“A refreshingly frank, funny odd-couple comedy with engaging leads and too many belly laughs to count.”
Tom Charity, CNN.COM

“Apatow’s gleefully raunchy movies are, in an odd and charming way, extremely family-friendly.”
Joe Leydon, VARIETY

Paranoid Park – dir. Gus van Sant

Paranoid Park

Starring Gabe Nevins, Taylor Momsen, Daniel Liu and Dillon Hines

Gus van Sant is fascinated with adolescence, and his fascination has thrown out some deeply meditative films in the last few years. From his Cannes triumph Elephant, through Last Days and now Paranoid Park, van Sant’s stoic trilogy is a labour of love that seems to shun convention at every turn.

While Last Days, ostensibly a biopic of the final hours of Kurt Cobain, and Elephant, about high-school serial killers, have courted controversy, Paranoid Park plays things decidedly safer, adapting Blake Nelson’s novel about a skater boy who accidentally kills a security guard while venturing out-of-bounds on Portland’s rail network.

And because it’s safer it’s also probably his most accessible of the three – Elephant and Last Days did little until their powerful endings while Paranoid Park first introduces us to Alex (played by newcomer Gave Nevins) before exploring how the accident affects his life.

The film looks beautiful and is rather unconventionally shot in the square 4:3 aspect ratio, while 8mm cutaways punctuate the film gracefully. It’s a testament to van Sant’s ability that he can say so much by doing so little; you could collect the film’s dialogue on a postage stamp.

“Van Sant has composed an emotional mosaic that brings you inside Alex.”
Kirk Honeycutt, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

“Bears some similarities with Elephant. A similarly photogenic teen milieu is shot with fluid, graceful camerawork; a non-linear structure slots together like a puzzle to reveal the panicked mindset of a boy under agreat deal of stress.”
Wendy Ide, THE TIMES

THE BEST OF THE REST
Of course, Edinburgh is about more than British and American movies – here we take a look at some top titles from the rest of the world, as well as a few British and American flicks that we couldn’t quite squeeze into the first two categories.

Day Watch – dir. Timur Bekmambetov

Day Watch

Starring Konstantin Khabensky, Mariya Poroshina, Aleksei Chadov and Dima Martynov

Timur Bekmambetov‘s follow-up to his masterful Night Watch – a film which came out of left field from Russia and gave Hollywood a run for its money – is possibly even less accessible than its predecessor. Day Watch cuts straight into the universe, grabbing its audience by the lapels and forcing us to remind ourselves of the story so far.

It’s also decidedly more heartfelt than Night Watch; Khabensky’s Anton wrestling with a son who’s deserted him for the Day Watch and his responsibilities to his unit. The line Anton walks is blurrier than anything to come out of the big American studios, and it’s refreshing to see a little ambiguity.

Jeannette Catsoulis says it best in the New York Times. Day Watch “dazzles and confuses with equal determination.”

“Spectaculars don’t come much more bombastic than this goth-Russian supernatural epic.”
Colin Covert, MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE

“The filmmakers destroy Moscow with the same glee that Godzilla has in stomping Tokyo. Even though Day Watch is probably a good 20 minutes too long, it’s easy to forgive its excesses because Bekmambetov just seems to be having so much fun.”
Beth Accomando, KPBS.ORG

A Mighty Heart – dir. Michael Winterbottom

A Mighty Heart

When A Mighty Heart was first announced the reaction seemed to be shock – Angelina Jolie as a black woman? But it’s the story here that has the power, and her fine performance ensures nothing else matters.

Still, it’s an odd project to see Michael Winterbottom direct. Considering he’s recently crafted films as varied as Road to Guantanamo, A Cock and Bull Story and, erm, 9 Songs we should be long past the point of surprise when it comes to the projects he works on, and yet who could have foreseen him direct Angelina Jolie in a film produced by Brad Pitt?

Nevertheless, it wowed critics in Cannes and sent doubters – both from camps Jolie-isn’t-black and Winterbottom-doesn’t-do-Jolie – running. It’s a Winterbottom film through-and-through and the smart turns of the supporting cast – including Dan Futterman and Irfan Khan – make an impressive film even more impressive.

“The director’s rapid-fire and choppy editing gives you a genuine feel for the many different sides of Karachi, and the urgency of the investigation.”
James Christopher, THE TIMES

“What is best about A Mighty Heart is that it doesn’t reduce the Daniel Pearl story to a plot, but elevates it to a tragedy.”
Roger Ebert, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

Weirdsville – dir. Allan Moyle

Weirdsville

Allan Moyle‘s Weirdsville imagines a scenario that defines the term, “bad day.” When Royce and Dexter find the latter’s dead girlfriend following an overdose, it’s a simple trip to a seedy basement to bury the evidence. Only a group of satan-worshipping ne’er-do-wells happen to be doing their own ill deeds at the same time. And when the girlfriend can’t stay dead it seems like nothing is going to go their way.

What follows is nothing short of riotous as the pair of hapless losers beg, steal and borrow their way to morning. Moyle, whose last big hit was 1995’s Empire Records serves up a devilishly intriguing black comedy that keeps you on tenterhooks ’til the end. Weirdsville may well be another cult classic in the making.

Wes Bentley and Scott Speedman are brilliant as Royce and Dexter, while support from some cultists, a dead girlfriend, a bunch of drug dealers and a midget security guard keep them on their toes throughout.

“A cleverly constructed, capably crafted and often uproarious shaggy-dog black comedy.”
Joe Leydon, VARIETY

“So much gonzo enthusiasm that it’s impossible not to enjoy watching these crazed characters bounce off of each other.”
Rich Cline, SHADOWS ON THE WALL

Two Days in Paris – dir. Julie Delpy

Two Days in Paris

It’s rather fitting that actress Julie Delpy’s feature film debut would be Two Days in Paris. You can imagine the financiers meetings as she explained that it was about a couple, a French girl and an American boy, and their brief stay in the City of Love. The dollar signs in their eyes are as clear as day.

And it’s with a brilliantly witty sense of irony that we behold the end result. If Before Sunset is one of the most romantic movies ever set in the French capital, its female lead has gone on to deliver one of the most unromantic. The culture clash is the source of much comedy between Delpy and the brilliantly on-form Adam Goldberg, but if Sunset is about how communication can reignite a relationship, Days is about how misreading it can be disastrous.

It’s not very often a journalist will imply that watching a film is like witnessing a car crash powerless to do anything and mean that as a compliment, but in this case it’s definitely fitting. Two Days in Paris marks Delpy as a director to watch and its sharp wit will leave it resonating with anyone who’s ever found even the slightest fault in their partner.

“Julie Delpy’s and Adam Goldberg’s performances are so assured and spontaneous that they don’t even seem to be acting.”
Stephen Holden, NEW YORK TIMES

“[Delpy has] created two original, quirky characters so obsessed with their differences that Paris is almost a distraction. I don’t think I heard a single accordion in the whole film.”
Roger Ebert, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

Rocket Science – dir. Jeffrey Blitz

Rocket Science

Jeffrey Blitz first examined kids under the stress of hormones and intellectual competition in documentary form with Spellbound. With Rocket Science he this time spins a fictional yarn, but it nevertheless still manages to capture the real emotional minefield that is adolescence.

Hal Heffner’s stutter is incurable by any therapist-recommended treatment, but when he meets Ginny Ryerson and she introduces him to the world of high school debating, he finds a project to immerse himself in; one that, he’s sure, will rid him of his impediment. But when Ginny starts playing truant from their meetings and the stress of his parents’ divorce begins to take its toll he wanders whether getting even is preferable to getting mad. Enlisting the help of former debating champion Ben Wekselbaum, he becomes determined to beat his former tutor at her own game.

Reece Thompson’s nuanced performance as Hal betrays a talent beyond his age and Anna Kendrick’s Ginny is as beguiling as she is infuriating. It’s these two key performances that cement the emotional core of a film that succeeds through subtlety without ever having to hold back from its comedy. It’s certainly not the first quirky American indie to release, and its quirk threatens to alienate audiences who believe they’re tired of that sort of thing. Rocket Science matches its quirk with real emotional truth and that’s enough to separate it from the herd.

“It may gross as little as Welcome to the Dollhouse or as much as Clueless, but whichever it does, it’s in the same league.”
Roger Ebert, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

“A fiercely personal and yet engaging–and often outright hysterical–look into a young man on the brink of adulthood.”
Rich Cline, SHADOWS ON THE WALL

Check the website for more details about the festival and use the links below to find out more about the movies, directors and stars referenced within!

Universal looks to score its first number one hit in nearly a year this weekend with the new Steve Carell comedy "Evan Almighty" which hits the multiplexes on Friday targeting a broad family audience.

Reaching out to adult moviegoers are MGM with the John Cusack chiller "1408" and Paramount Vantage with the Angelina Jolie starrer "A Mighty Heart." Overall, the marketplace could slow down a bit this weekend before another wave of high-profile summer blockbusters arrives towards the end of June.

The sixth consecutive sequel to open at number one has a different formula up its sleeve. "Evan Almighty" loses Jim Carrey from "Bruce Almighty," drops the rating from PG-13 to PG, and shifts the plot over to a Biblical story while courting family audiences. Michael Bay isn’t the only one with a transformer at the box office this summer. Universal’s big-budget comedy offering should easily top the charts, however the financial picture will be very different. Steve Carell, whose starpower has blossomed since the 2003’s "Bruce," takes over as the lead playing a TV anchorman-turned-congressman who is told by God to build an ark because a mighty flood is coming. Morgan Freeman reprises his supporting role as the big G.

On a budget rumored to have ballooned to $175M thanks to extensive special effects and overages, "Evan Almighty" stands as one of the priciest comedies ever. The loss of Jim Carrey means it has almost no chance of reaching the $68M three-day opening weekend gross of "Bruce" from four years ago when it shocked the film industry by kicking "The Matrix Reloaded" out of the top spot in only its second frame. It reached a domestic haul of $242.8M. "Evan Almighty" could conceivably gross half the amount of "Bruce," while costing twice as much to produce. Does that mean it will lose money? Not necessarily. "Evan" would love nothing more than to follow in the footsteps of "Night at the Museum," another effects-driven comedy led by a popular comedian aimed at families, which has grossed over $570M worldwide. If it can tap into that crowd, then it will be a divine road ahead.

"Evan"’s trim running time of about 90 minutes will help since multiplexes can schedule numerous showtimes per day. Competition will come from current chart-topper "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer," another action-comedy sequel tamed down to a PG to cater to eight-year-old boys on summer vacation. Teens and young adults who have to wait until the fall to see new episodes of Carell’s "The Office" may line up for "Evan" and give it a try, despite the negative reviews. There’s not much else exciting that demo right now. And given its themes, moviegoers in the Bible Belt may contribute some solid sales on opening weekend as the studio is wisely targeting churches in its marketing outreach. Opening in 3,602 theaters, "Evan Almighty" could premiere to about $40M this weekend.


"Evan Almighty"

John Cusack hopes to avoid the current horror curse at the box office with his new psychological thriller "1408." The MGM release finds the actor playing a writer who checks into a haunted hotel room that many have died in. Samuel L. Jackson co-stars in the PG-13 pic. Scary movies have been slaughtered at the cash registers lately. Even star-driven adult thrillers have struggled as witnessed by openings of $11.2M for "Perfect Stranger" starring Halle Berry and Bruce Willis, $10M for Hilary Swank‘s "The Reaping," $10M for Kevin Costner‘s "Mr. Brooks," and $7.6M for Luke Wilson‘s hotel-themed "Vacancy." Managing to surge a bit higher were Sandra Bullock‘s "Premonition" with $17.6M and Jim Carrey’s "The Number 23" with $14.6M. "1408" may not scare up that much business given consumer apathy towards fright flicks right now. Plus Cusack and Jackson are not really known for packing them in on opening weekend unless there are bigger stars present. Checking into 2,678 theaters, "1408" might take in about $12M this weekend.


John Cusack in "1408"

Angelina Jolie headlines this weekend’s serious offering for adult audiences, "A Mighty Heart." Directed by Michael Winterbottom ("The Road to Guantanamo," "Welcome to Sarajevo"), the R-rated film finds the Oscar-winning actress playing Mariane Pearl, wife of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and documents her struggle to find her kidnapped husband in Pakistan. In a summer of sequels and effects-driven action pictures for kids on vacation, Paramount Vantage is going after the adults that are often neglected at this time of year. Reviews for "Heart" have been strong with Jolie already earning kudos buzz and the film should appeal to the same audiences that came out for other acclaimed political thrillers like "United 93" ($11.5M, $6,395 average), "The Constant Gardener" ($8.7M, $6,444), and "Syriana" ($11.7M, $6,699). Competition will come from "Ocean’s Thirteen" and "Knocked Up" which have both been playing well with the 30-plus crowd. Debuting in about 1,350 theaters, "A Mighty Heart" might open in the vicinity of $7M.


Angelina Jolie in "A Mighty Heart"

Last weekend, Fox’s "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" opened at the top and was just one of six sequels to land in the top ten. Its 2005 predecessor tumbled 59% in its second weekend thanks to poor word-of-mouth and intense competition from newcomers "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Wedding Crashers" which stole over $90M worth of ticket sales away from holdover pics. "Silver Surfer" has been greeted with marginally better responses and will not face as much competition from the incoming class this weekend, although "Evan Almighty" will be gunning for that PG-loving family crowd. A drop of 55% would give the new "Fantastic Four" saga around $25M for the frame and a ten-day cume of $103M.

"Ocean’s Thirteen" will see some of its adult audience get pulled away by the weekend’s two new mature-skewing flicks. A 40% decline will leave the caper sequel with roughly $12M pushing the total to $91M after 17 days for Warner Bros. Universal’s comedy sensation "Knocked Up" will smash through the $100M mark this weekend, probably on Friday. Look for a 30% fall to around $10M boosting the cume to $108M.

LAST YEAR: Adam Sandler scored his usual table at the top spot with his comedy "Click" which bowed to $40M for Sony on its way to $137.3M domestically and over $235M worldwide. The Disney/Pixar toon "Cars" dropped to the runnerup spot but dipped only 31% to $23.3M. Sophomores "Nacho Libre" and "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" were both hit hard and tumbled by more than 50% each to $12.7M and $9.8M, respectively. Focus launched the Tyrese Gibson actioner "Waist Deep" to a solid $9.4M from just over 1,000 theaters on its way to $21.3M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Featuring a performance from Angelina Jolie that has already drawn praise as one of the best of her career, director Michael Winterbottom‘s "A Mighty Heart" is the latest from a director who has carved out a unique niche in the world of cinema.

Fidgeting constantly while answering questions in a quick, British monotone, Winterbottom resonates with the nervous energy of a young artist brimming with ideas but without enough time to share them all. Winterbottom‘s newest film, "A Mighty Heart," opens this Friday and is based on the book by Mariane Pearl about the frantic search for her husband, journalist Daniel Pearl, during his abduction by terrorists in 2002. Angelina Jolie plays Mariane in this harrowing real-life drama about the lengths that people will go to for the ones they love, and the labyrinthine, often life-threatening difficulties facing souls who pursue truth and compassion amidst an embattled world.

A prodigious filmmaker behind the recent "Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story" and "The Road to Guantanamo," Winterbottom has teamed up this time with Brad Pitt‘s Plan B Entertainment to craft Mariane Pearl’s story in his trademark minimalist, documentary style. Sitting down with Winterbottom for a roundtable Q&A in San Francisco, we discussed Angelina Jolie’s strong performance, terrorism, and the "Rashomon" Effect that comes with piecing together a complex story.

Q: You’ve been praised for your directorial finesse in downplaying Angelina Jolie’s celebrity status. Could you talk about how you affected that?

A: It wasn’t about me letting her do her thing. She did her thing. I suppose that’s true of all the actors. I think my part as a director is choices about people, and then you try and create the environment in which they can do their work. The starting point of the performance is that Angelina knows Mariane, she’s a friend of Mariane’s, she spent a lot of time talking to Mariane and she really wanted to be Mariane, to represent Mariane in the film. I think, then, within the film, Angelina was really trying to be Mariane on set as well, in a sense of being part of the group and being as generous and welcoming to the people, like the taxi driver from Karachi who got flown over to be the taxi driver in India, people who have no experience of acting, people in the catering crew. She was great on set. She was on set the whole time. I assume she consciously put the equivalent of Mariane on our set and made everyone feel they were all together as part of the group. She was great to work with.

Q: In writing the book, Mariane says that she wanted to continue Daniel Pearl’s goal of journalistic dialogue and mutual understanding between cultures. I wonder if with this film you have the same hopes?

A: Look, to be honest, when you’re making something, you’re engaged with just doing that story and the concrete problems of how to tell that story. I’m not a big fan personally of "the message." But I was impressed by Mariane’s book. I think it’s amazing that she’s willing to be that forgiving, to be that constructive after what’s happened. She refuses to be negative and to give in to hatred, and thinks more about what is possible to be positive about, and how maybe she can pass it on to Adam, her son, and how you can pass it on to the next generation, to be more positive about what’s going on. It’s incredibly impressive.

But I think also it’s incredibly impressive how well she tells the story, given that it’s her story, that it must be so emotional to her. that she manages to find a way of telling it incredibly clearly and interestingly. So for me, really, it was just a question of how to make this film accurate, simple, engaging, rather than what’s the message of the film. I’m not trying to think, "Well, if we make Angelina do this here then that will make this message in the end." It was more like, "Does this seem true, does this seem believable, does this seem interesting?"

Click here to read the full interview!

This week at the movies, we’ve got a magical remote control ("Click") and a father who’s trying to rescue his son ("Waist Deep"). Will the critics dig "Deep?" Will they pick "Click?"

Adam Sandler‘s latest, "Click," traffics in a premise that most of us have probably considered at one point or another: Wouldn’t it be cool if we could control everything around us with the push of a button? And would that necessarily be a good thing? But lemme tell you something about Hollywood, kids: good ideas are a dime a dozen. And the critics say "Click," like an aimless round of channel surfing, is pretty inconsistent, veering from yuks early on to goopy sentiment toward the end. It’s at 22 percent on the Tomatometer, but we know that Adam Sandler is pretty critic-proof; his average Tomatometer is 29 percent, and we love him anyway.


Adam Sandler "Clicks" with the Fonz! Heyyyy!

"Waist Deep" is an attempt to cross gritty urban action with a story of redemption; unfortunately, according to critics, it’s not terribly successful. The plot involves an ex-con, played by Tyrese Gibson, who must venture outside the law in order to recover his kidnapped son. While a number of critics say the film is well-made and well-meaning, others say it’s too violent and far-fetched to be truly compelling. At 44 percent on the Tomatometer, this "Waist" is only sporadically worth watching.


"Wassup Rockers:" Skateboarding is not a crime.

Also opening this week, albeit in limited release: "The Road to Guantanamo," a searing mix of documentary and fiction, is at 92 percent; "The Hidden Blade," a subdued samurai tale, is at 85 percent; "Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man" is at 75 percent, which will perhaps prompt the fans of the cult figure to exclaim, "Hallelujah!"; and "Wassup Rockers," Larry Clark‘s film about a wild day in the life of a posse of teenage skaters, is at 38 percent.

Recent Adam Sandler Movies:
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29% — The Longest Yard (2005)
52% — Spanglish (2004)
43% — 50 First Dates (2004)
42% — Anger Management (2003)
81% — Punch Drunk Love (2002)

Recent Tyrese Gibson Movies:
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11% — Annapolis (2006)
52% — Four Brothers (2005)
28% — Flight of the Phoenix (2004)
38% — 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
67% — Baby Boy (2001)

Although Father’s Day has passed, Hollywood brings out two very different stories about dads and their wacky adventures this weekend with Adam Sandler‘s comedy Click and Tyrese Gibson‘s actioner Waist Deep, both opening in theaters on Friday. Comedy has been ruling the box office throughout the month of June and that trend should continue until the Man of Steel arrives next week.

Looking for his seventh trip across the $100M mark, Adam Sandler returns to the big screen with his latest comedy Click. Released by his favorite studio Sony, the PG-13 pic tells the story of a man who comes across a magical remote control that gives him the power to manipulate his whole world, from his family at home to his boss at work. Frank Coraci follows up The Wedding Singer and The Waterboy by directing the funnyman for a third time while Christopher Walken, David Hasselhoff, Kate Beckinsale, and Henry Winkler co-star. Sandler, who turns forty this year, is moving on from his slacker roles playing a husband and father. This makes sense as his fan base is aging too.

The comedian typically picks films with unique concepts and Click is no different. The story is not run-of-the-mill, but an interesting what-if scenario that will make audiences curious. Trailers and commercials have been funny so another blockbuster that satisfies moviegoers is in the works. Over the last eight years, Sandler has seen his bigger hits like Waterboy, Big Daddy, Anger Management, Mr. Deeds, and 50 First Dates all open in the $37-42M range with opening weekend averages of more than $11,000 each time. His most recent film The Longest Yard scored a bit better last summer opening to $47.6M over the Friday-to-Sunday portion of the long Memorial Day holiday weekend. The guy comes out with about one movie per year so audiences don’t get too much of him.

Young men make up the actor’s bread and butter, however you don’t open north of $40M by just appealing to this group. Female appeal is also solid with his films and Click should click with chicks too. Still, Nacho Libre and The Fast and the Furious sequel will be in their second weekends and even though both are expected to drop hard, the duo will still provide some competition for Sandler. However, since Waist Deep is looking to be a relatively small pic in the marketplace, this weekend shapes up to be one where Click is the only major new wide release. That should make frequent moviegoers like teens and twentysomethings look at it as the only new game in town.

Sony has invested heavily in the marketing push and summer is a time when people want to laugh so the returns should be healthy. Opinions of critics should not matter much. One of the most reliable box office draws around, Adam Sandler will see the widest opening of his career with a launch in 3,748 theaters this weekend. That could push Click to around $43M over the Friday-to-Sunday span.

Tyrese Gibson plays an ex-con on a fast and furious hunt to get back his kidnapped son in the new action drama Waist Deep from Focus Features’ Rogue Pictures division. Directed by Vondie Curtis Hall (Glitter, Gridlock’d), the R-rated film also stars Meagan Good, Larenz Tate and hip hop star The Game. Gibson jumped from the modeling world into movies and has become a player although his roles have always been opposite other established box office draws. This time, he anchors solo as none of his co-stars have a track record of opening films on their own.

Waist Deep will play primarily to an urban audience with African Americans making up the largest component. Whites are not likely to show much interest. This same audience powered ATL to a stellar $11.6M bow from 1,602 theaters this past spring. However, Waist does not seem to have the same level of hype plus it will debut in fewer theaters. Most of the film’s competition will come from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift which is likely to fall sharply this weekend. The marketing push has been targeted and is trying to appeal to fans of The Game who in recent years has developed a large fan base. Opening in 1,004 theaters, Waist Deep might shoot up about $6M this weekend.

Opening in limited release this weekend, Roadside Attractions offers the controversial film The Road to Guantanamo which tells the story of a group of Pakistani men from England who are detained while traveling to Afghanistan and imprisoned and tortured by the U.S. military. Told through a mix of interviews with survivors and re-enactments of the events, the R-rated pic won the best director prize at this year’s Berlin Film Festival and hits 15 theaters in North America before expanding.

After two laps as box office champ, the Disney/Pixar animated hit Cars looks to decelerate some more this weekend for a second place finish. The film’s 43% second weekend decline was the biggest for any Pixar toon since 1999’s Toy Story 2 which was coming off of a Thanksgiving holiday launch. Cars should see its drop stabilize since this weekend’s offerings should not pull away too many young children. A decline of 40% to about $20M could result giving the Lightning McQueen pic $152M in 17 days.

Jack Black flexed some amazing muscles last weekend with the debut of Nacho Libre. Adam Sandler will provide some stiff competition for young males so a sizable drop of 50% could occur giving Paramount a weekend take of around $14M. That would still give the wrestling comedy a solid $54M in ten days.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift also debuted impressively last weekend tapping into a similar audience, but a steep sophomore crash is imminent. The last film in the franchise, 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, tumbled 63% in its second race. This latest Universal sequel has also burned through its upfront crowd plus will face competition for young guys from Click and for the urban audience from Waist Deep. A hefty 60% fall would leave Tokyo Drift with $9M for the weekend and $42M in ten days.

Keanu and Sandra snuggled up to a decent, but not spectacular, opening for their romance The Lake House. Adult women will not be too distracted by the new options so a moderate 40% drop could result. That would give the Warner Bros. release $8M for the frame and a ten-day tally of $29M.

LAST YEAR: Topping the charts for a second straight weekend, Batman Begins grossed $27.6M dropping 43% from its opening giving Warner Bros. an encouraging hold. Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell powered their new comedy Bewitched into the number two slot opening with $20.1M. The Sony release found its way to $62.3M. Fox’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith placed third with $16.8M in its third fight. Two new releases rounded out the top ten. Disney’s Lindsay Lohan film Herbie: Fully Loaded opened to $12.7M and $17.7M over five days, while Universal’s zombie flick Land of the Dead bowed to $10.2M. Final grosses reached $66M and $20.5M, respectively. In limited release, the inner city dancing documentary Rize opened to $1.6M from 352 theaters for a $4,474 average putting it in 12th place. Lions Gate collected $3.3M by the end of its short run.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com