This week on DVD and Blu-Ray, we’ve got a lot of new releases – some of them more worthy of mention than others – and a couple of new editions of familiar titles. In addition, we have one very important boxset of Italian cinema that Criterion saw fit to release, much to the joy of film aficionados everywhere. The other notable thing about this week’s releases is that many of them are quite Fresh, if not Certified Fresh, with the exception of one or two flops, and one that is sure to divide viewers quite dramatically. So, buckle up your seat belts and dive into our ten picks this week to see which will make it onto your DVD rack, and which will be left to collect dust on the shelves of your nearest retailers.



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Michael Jackson’s This Is It

Smack dab in the middle of last year, the world lost one of its most recognizable and beloved pop icons when Michael Jackson fell victim to cardiac arrest. The eccentric singer had been in the midst of planning his comeback tour, rumored to be his last before retirement, and ticket sales were already through the roof. When news of Jackson’s death went viral, cynics began to speculate how long it would be before someone would attempt to cash in on the tragedy, and sure enough, just months later, Michael Jackson’s This Is It hit movie theaters everywhere. Only, This Is It didn’t turn out to be the thoughtless money grab everyone assumed it would be. Quilted together from backstage rehearsal footage from the planned comeback tour, This Is It was a documentary-styled tribute to the man’s performance routine, depicting the star preparing for specific numbers and directing his crew, as well as a few other elements behind the show. The footage was never intended to be made public, but director Kenny Ortega believed it was an appropriate tribute, and most critics agreed, bestowing upon the film an 80% Tomatometer rating and Certified Fresh status. You can pick it up this week on DVD and Blu-Ray.



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Whip It

My, how the little girl from E.T. has grown. Actress Drew Barrymore survived a troubling childhood and adolescence following her role in the Spielberg-directed sci-fi family film, making a comeback as one of America’s favorite sweethearts in films like Charlie’s Angels and 50 First Dates. 2009 in particular was a successful year for her; she very recently came away with a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Edith Bouvier Beale in the HBO film Grey Gardens, but before that, she made her directorial debut with a snappy girl-power film by the name of Whip It. Somewhat of a coming-of-age tale, Whip It stars Ellen Page as an aimless teen who discovers her inner strength when she’s suddenly tossed into the world of roller derbies. Critics largely praised the film (Certified Fresh at 82%), citing its wit, charm, and high energy as the ingredients for a good time at the movies. This week, you can bring it home and see for yourself.



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Surrogates

2009 was a huge year for sci-fi, full of films that appealed not only to the geek in all of us but also to mainstream audiences as well. Unfortunately, the Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3)-helmed, Bruce Willis-powered Surrogates failed to make much of an impression. Based on a graphic novel of the same name, the story centers around an FBI agent (Willis) and his partner (Radha Mitchell), who live in a world where a technological breakthrough has allowed citizens to live their lives vicariously through “surrogates,” superior robotic versions of themselves. When a college student with close ties to the technology is murdered, the agents must wade through a society of surrogates to solve the mystery. Critics mostly felt that while the presentation was clean and slick, the intriguing premise was wasted on mindless action and a poorly constructed script. Still, if you’re looking for a paranoid sci-fi actioner, this might do the trick for you.



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Saw VI

At this point, it almost seems moot to bring up any Tomatometer scores or plot summaries for installments in the Saw franchise. The films follow a fairly distinct formula, after all. But the sequels keep coming precisely because the formula works (or, at least, it has in the past), and according to some critics, this latest entry actually marks a step up for the series, earning the highest Tomatometer of any of the films since the original that started it all. Maybe that’s not saying much, but in this day and age of gory horror and “torture porn,” it certainly helps when the acting is actually passable and the plot isn’t absolutely recycled and hackneyed. In any case, the Saw films seem critic proof, and as long as moviegoers continue to flock to them on Halloween, there will always be an audience for them.



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Bright Star

English poet John Keats published some of the most widely loved and studied poems of the Romantic movement, and he completed these masterpieces all before the age of 25, when he succumbed to tuberculosis. In Bright Star, up and coming British actor Ben Whishaw (I’m Not There, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) takes on the role of the legendary Keats, focusing on the love affair between him and Fanny Brawne. Directed by Jane Campion (The Piano) and co-starring such talent as Abbie Cornish, Kerry Fox, and Paul Schneider, Bright Star managed to earn high marks for its direction, writing, and superb acting. At 83%, the film is Certified Fresh, and it comes to DVD this week.



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Little Ashes

In another small film about artists of the past, 2009’s Little Ashes centers around the friendship between three key icons of early 20th Century Spain, namely Luis Bunuel, Salvador Dali, and Federico Garcia Lorca. The three become friends while attending the same university, and while Bunuel (Matthew McNulty) eventually leaves for Paris to pursue his passion in film, Dali (Twilight‘s Robert Pattinson) and Garcia Lorca (Javier Beltran) find that they share something deeper than friendship. Unfortunately, director Paul Morrison seems to have faltered a bit in his efforts, as many critics found several moments to be unintentionally silly and the tone to be somewhat uneven. The general sentiment was that this could have been so much more than it was, but it might still interest those curious about the three artists in question. You can pick it up on DVD this week.



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I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell

Sometime in the early- to mid-2000s, a young man named Tucker Max rose to internet fame with a blog in which he chronicled the lurid details of his private life, retelling stories of sexual conquest and drunken binges. In 2006, he published a book titled I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, which proved to be a massively popular bestseller, so it only came naturally that a film version would follow. In 2009, that film became a reality, and an appropriately raunchy story in which Max travels to attend a friend’s bachelor party and embroils said friend in so much trouble that it jeopardizes the wedding. Unfortunately, the big screen adaptation fared much poorer than its paper counterpart, compelling critics to call out Max on his outrageous behavior and unlikely redemption at the end of the film. It’s possibly a case of one’s 15 minutes of fame extending far beyond its acceptable lifespan, but judging from the book’s popularity, there’s certainly an audience for this type of film. If you are part of that audience, well, you know where to find it.



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Paris, Texas – Criterion Collection

Accomplished German director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, Buena Vista Social Club) receives his second Criterion treatment on DVD and Blu-Ray with Paris, Texas. Starring Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, and Dean Stockwell, the film relates the story of a man named Travis (Stanton), who has lost his memory and attempts to piece his life back together. Paris, Texas won the Palme d’Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, buoyed by its strong performances, evocative cinematography, and distinctive soundtrack, and it has earned a cult following since its release. This new Criterion edition includes special features like interviews with Claire Denis and Wenders himself, deleted scenes with commentary, and Travis’s vacation footage (shot on super 8) set to music. If you’re curious to know why this film inspired everyone from U2 to Elliot Smith, pick up this classic and find out.



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Pride & Prejudice (2005) – Blu-Ray

There are a handful of updated Blu-Ray transfers of older films that are releasing this week, but with I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell on our list, we thought we might go ahead and temper that with something classy, something sophisticated, something Victorian. 2005’s version of the Jane Austen classic Pride & Prejudice is not the first to be made, but something has to be said for the fact that, even after so many interpretations have found their way to the big screen, director Joe Wright (Atonement) found success in his own vision. With star power like Keira Knightley, Donald Sutherland, Rosamund Pike, Carey Mulligan, and Matthew Macfayden, the film featured strong performances, and Wright proved he knew a thing or two about crafting a period drama. At 85% on the Tomatometer, this Certified Fresh film is the real deal. For those interested in the special features, they include everything found on the regular DVD, as well as a look at The Politics of 18th Century Dating, The Stately Homes of Pride & Prejudice, and conversations with the cast.


Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy – Criterion Collection

Italian director Roberto Rossellini began his career in 1937, and his first handful of films was produced under the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. When the regime came down in 1943, Rossellini began work on his War Trilogy, also known as his Neorealistic Trilogy, which consisted of 1945’s Rome, Open City, 1946’s Paisan, and 1948’s Germany Year Zero. These films have been long out of print, so kudos must go to Criterion for bringing them to the forefront once again, and with restored prints and soundtracks, they’ll appear better than they ever have before. In addition, the box set includes a slew of special features, including video introductions to all three films by Rossellini himself, making-of documentaries, commentary tracks, interviews, visual and illustrated essays, and much more. It’s a must have for any cinephile familiar with Rossellini’s work, or for anyone interested in historically important cinema, period.

Four months after his death, Michael Jackson was the king of the box office as his concert documentary This Is It thrilled fans opening at number one. But with no other new films opening in wide release, and with Halloween dampening ticket sales on Saturday, the Top 20 slumped to its lowest point of 2009 with just $83M.

Sony scored its seventh top spot debut of the year with This Is It, a look at preparations the music superstar was making for his sold-out London concerts, which grossed an estimated $21.3M over the weekend and $32.5M over five days since its Wednesday launch. Worldwide, the Kenny Ortega-directed pic grossed an estimated $101M with 68% of the total coming from overseas markets where Jackson’s popularity has remained stronger over the years despite his many legal troubles. Domestically, This Is It averaged a solid $6,119 from 3,481 theaters over the Friday-to-Sunday span.

The studio has reported that the Jackson pic has broken the all-time record for top-grossing concert film worldwide beating the $71.3M of last year’s Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus 3D concert flick. But that’s not much of an achievement since very few concert films get wide releases in the first place and even fewer are given massive global launches like This Is It which unspooled on over 15,000 screens worldwide simultaneously. Montana bowed in North America on a Friday in just 683 3D locations (albeit with higher $15 tickets) and grossed $31.1M for a scorching $45,561 average on its way to a $65.3M domestic final representing a whopping 92% of its final global take. Its international release was much more limited.

Still, for a documentary of any kind to open at number one is quite remarkable. This Is It was in a unique position as it entered the marketplace and was one of the most unpredictable films of the year at the box office. The weekend grosses did not measure up to pre-release forecasts that were published in media reports though. Some suggested the film could gross as much as $600M worldwide in its two-week run. But these numbers that were tossed around in news stories were utterly ridiculous and not plausible.[rtimage]MapID=1218058&MapTypeID=2&photo=1&legacy=1[/rtimage]Causing further confusion for a film that could not truly be compared to any past box office hit were reports from online ticketing sites of the amount of showtimes that had sold out well before the opening day of the film. Fandango reported that over 1,000 shows were sold out on its site a full two weeks before the film opened and that its advance ticket sales were twice as strong as the Hannah concert’s, although no admissions or gross figures were revealed. Stats like these fueled media hype creating false expectations that were beyond realistic.

Over 100 hours of rehearsal footage was bought by Sony for a hefty $60M with the studio also kicking in the cost of prints and advertising. From the worldwide income, it will recoup its costs first and then take a fee for its distribution services. Any remaining amount will be split 90/10 between the Jackson estate and concert promoter AEG.

Outside of North America, This Is It grossed a stellar $68.5M from 97 overseas markets. Leading the way were Japan ($10.4M), the United Kingdom ($7.6M), Germany ($6.3M), France ($5.8M), Australia ($3.6M), and China ($3.2M) which together represented more than half of the overseas box office for the pic.

As seen with other two-week runs, This Is It will now play beyond the initial limited period and will remain in theaters through Thanksgiving in the U.S. Other countries will also extend their runs soon. Disney used the ‘two-weeks-only’ stunt to promote the Hannah Montana concert film and this fall’s Toy Story double feature, only to extend both of those runs after they opened. The gimmick helps to create must-see-right-now buzz.

Being a fan-driven film, This Is It is likely to see the bulk of its grosses upfront meaning it may not have very good legs in the weeks ahead. But with the global box office likely to surpass $200M and with additional revenue to come pouring in from DVD, TV, and other streams, Jackson’s big screen extravaganza looks to become a profitable venture for all involved.

Paramount expanded its horror sensation Paranormal Activity for the fifth time going from 1,945 to 2,404 locations and ranked second for the weekend with an estimated $16.5M. Off only 22% on Halloween weekend, the R-rated overachiever raised its total to an incredible $84.8M and became the top-grossing horror film of 2009 – a stunning feat for a film that cost a mere $15,000 to produce. On Halloween Day it trailed This Is It by only $600,000 as it increased its gross from Friday by 10% while the Jackson doc fell 8%. Paranormal now looks certain to smash the $100M mark.

Halloween falling on a Saturday made that day perform more like a Friday. The top ten films grossed $26.7M on Friday and inched up only 1% to $27M on Saturday. Usually the increase would be over 20% depending on the types of films that were out, but trick-or-treating and parties give people other options on the pumpkin day making it especially harmful to the multiplexes when it falls on Saturday, the busiest day of the week.[rtimage]MapID=1218012&MapTypeID=2&photo=5&legacy=1[/rtimage]Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler continued to be popular choices at the box office as their revenge thriller Law Abiding Citizen performed well for the third straight weekend. The Overture release took in an estimated $7.3M, falling 41%, and put its 17-day cume at a solid $51.4M. A $70M final could result.

The lack of adult comedies helped Couples Retreat again as the Vince Vaughn vehicle declined by 43% and took fourth place with an estimated $6.1M. Universal has banked $86.7M to date and is heading for a $100M finish. Saw VI tumbled in its sophomore frame, but the drop was the smallest that the franchise has seen since Saw III. The latest torturefest plunged 61% to an estimated $5.6M giving Lionsgate $22.8M in ten days. Saw movies gross about 75-80% of their totals in the first ten days so Saw VI looks to end its run with roughly $30M which is less than what the last four installments all grossed in their opening weekends.[rtimage]MapID=1205735&MapTypeID=2&photo=13&legacy=1[/rtimage]Tumbling 64% in its third weekend was Where the Wild Things Are with an estimated $5.1M for a $61.8M total in 17 days. The Warner Bros. kidpic was especially hurt by trick-or-treating on Halloween as Saturday sales slumped 13% from Friday. Sony’s The Stepfather followed with an estimated $3.4M, down 45%, for a cume of $24.7M.[rtimage]MapID=1205735&MapTypeID=2&photo=13&legacy=1[/rtimage]Two films tied for eighth place with $3M each, according to estimates. Summit’s animated actioner Astro Boy fell a steep 55% in its sophomore frame and has collected a dismal $10.9M in its first ten days. Fox Searchlight expanded its Hillary Swank starrer Amelia from 818 to 1,070 theaters and saw sales dip only 23% putting the ten-day tally at $8.3M. The per-theater average of $2,804 was third best among all films in wide release. Rounding out the top ten was the fright flop Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant which dropped a sharp 55% to an estimated $2.8M. Universal has taken in only $10.5M to date.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $74.1M which was up 7% from last year when High School Musical 3 stayed in the top spot with $15.3M; but down a hefty 37% from 2007 when American Gangster debuted at number one with $43.6M during the typically strong first weekend of November.
Author: Gitesh Pandya, Box Office Guru!

This week at the movies brings only one wide release: the hotly-anticipated performance documentary Michael Jackson’s This Is It, which captures the King of Pop in rehearsals for what was to be a comeback tour. What do the critics have to say?



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Michael Jackson’s This Is It

Before its release, it was difficult to escape the notion that Michael Jackson’s This Is It was little more than a cynical cash-grab — an attempt to strike at the wallets of the great star’s fans after his death precluded a potentially lucrative concert tour. Such concerns may have been unwarranted, however; now that the film’s actually here, the critics say it’s an intriguing portrait of the artist at work, and a reminder of Jackson‘s protean talents, as well as a farewell gift to fans. High School Musical helmer Kenny Ortega crafted this feature from more than 100 hours of rehearsal footage for Jackson’s comeback tour. The pundits say that if the Certified Fresh This Is It is short on revelations, it’s got plenty of electrifying performances, and it provides an interesting look at the King of Pop’s working methods.


Also opening this week in limited release:

Finally, props to Chris89 for coming the closest to guessing Saw IV‘s 45 percent Tomatometer.

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