Canadian box-office stats — September 16

Here are the figures for the past weekend, arranged from those that owe the highest percentage of their take to the Canadian box office to those that owe the lowest.

Mr. Bean’s Holiday — CDN $6,010,000 — N.AM $28,474,000 — 21.1%
Shoot ‘Em Up — CDN $1,480,000 — N.AM $10,342,000 — 14.3%
Superbad — CDN $12,680,000 — N.AM $111,336,000 — 11.4%

The Nanny Diaries — CDN $2,510,000 — N.AM $23,987,000 — 10.5%
The Bourne Ultimatum — CDN $21,750,000 — N.AM $216,193,000 — 10.0%

Mr. Woodcock — CDN $774,647 — N.AM $9,100,000 — 8.5%
Balls of Fury — CDN $2,000,000 — N.AM $28,875,000 — 6.9%
3:10 to Yuma — CDN $2,040,000 — N.AM $28,549,000 — 7.1%
The Brave One — CDN $819,173 — N.AM $14,015,000 — 5.8%
Halloween — CDN $2,950,000 — N.AM $51,264,000 — 5.8%

A couple of discrepancies: Shoot ‘Em Up and The Nanny Diaries were #7 and #10 on the Canadian chart, respectively (they were #11 and #12 in North America as a whole), while Dragon Wars and Rush Hour 3 were #5 and #9 on the North American chart, respectively.

Cronenberg on atheism and explicit violence

The press screening for David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises started almost an hour late, so I saw the first 71 minutes but had to skip the last 25 due to a prior commitment. Apparently I missed “the scene everybody is talking about”, in which Viggo Mortensen fights a man to the death — in the nude.

Ah well, maybe one day I’ll get around to seeing the rest of this movie, though I’m not particularly keen on revisiting the hour-plus that I have already seen — mainly because I found it pretty dull. In the meantime, I am intrigued by how Cronenberg defends the explicit violence in this interview with Reuters:

There is a moment in the Russian mob movie “Eastern Promises” when the level of violence rises so high that the audience lets out a collective gasp, followed by a ripple of nervous laughter.

But director David Cronenberg and his star Viggo Mortensen insist the vicious climax to a murderous bathhouse battle between mob killers is an essential part of the movie, bringing home the reality and the finality of death.

“Murder is a serious thing. I am taking it very seriously,” Cronenberg told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the Toronto International Film Festival, where “Eastern Promises” had its premiere on Saturday night.

“I’m an atheist,” Cronenberg said. “To me an act of murder is the act of total destruction, it’s absolute. There’s no comeback, there’s no going to heaven, that’s it. And it is very easy for that to be veiled or covered up, in a movie especially.

“To me it makes perfect legitimate, artistic and, if you push me, moral sense as well to do that this way.”

Make of all that what you will.

Bring the filmmakers home!

There have been a lot of movies about the Iraq War at the Toronto International Film Festival, apparently, and Variety‘s Todd McCarthy, for one, is getting tired of this mini-genre:

TORONTO — During the Vietnam War, the only Hollywood picture to directly broach the subject for many years was John Wayne’s “The Green Berets.” Unlike that era, important directors have been rushing to get their Iraq projects made and released in a timely way.

But based on what I’ve seen so far, particularly at the Toronto Film Festival, I’m in no rush to see the rest of the Iraq-centered fiction films (as opposed to documentaries) Hollywood will be serving up in the coming months, simply because I think I know exactly where they’re coming from and that I’m not going to learn anything new from them.

The trend thus far splits into battlefront recreation of atrocities, heavily influenced by docus and home-made videos (Brian De Palma’s “Redacted,” Nick Broomfield’s “Battle for Haditha“) and homefront blowback (Paul Haggis’ “In the Valley of Elah” and James C. Strouse’s “Grace Is Gone,” which preemed at Sundance). The former try to show what TV and official coverage will not — the hideousness of the carnage — while the latter seek to portray the similarly airbrushed effects the war has on American soldiers and families.

No matter the specific qualities of the writing, filmmaking and performances; the problem for me is that all these films emanate from precisely the same mindset, the safest, least provocative attitude it is possible to have: the war sucks, Bush sucks, America is down the tubes.

Does anyone in Hollywood think anything different than this? According to polls, more than 60% of Americans also agree.

Just as, during World War II, Hollywood pictures had a unified aim, to rally viewers around the war effort and present an image of the Allies prevailing, today they are also identical in nature, except in the opposite direction.

The first problem is that fictional films take at least a year, sometimes two, to create and disseminate, and thus the attitudes they reflect can be a bit stale at a time when events move so quickly (even if, alas, the war is still very much with us).

When someone like Richard Gere spouts off about Bush at the Venice Film Festival, as he just did, how much more tired can you get? Being anti-Bush simply isn’t enough, as this point; there’s an election coming up, a future to decide, complex issues to sort out, and Bush won’t be part of the equation.

Where current events are concerned, documentaries are far better equipped to tackle them than are fictional features. The film of the year for me in many ways is “No End in Sight,” a profoundly analytical, meticulously methodical and rewardingly specific study of where the U.S. went wrong once it achieved military victory in Iraq; it was the film I’d long been waiting for after the emotional hysteria of “Fahrenheit 9/11” and its ilk.

In the fictional arena, I would welcome the contemporary equivalent of something like the late John Frankenheimer’s Vietnam-related “Path to War,” a revelatory dramatization of how and why the war happened, or a (probably non-Hollywood) look at what was going on inside Saddam Hussein’s Iraq just prior to and during the invasion.

But yet another knee-jerk condemnation of Bush, wayward soldiers and misguided policy, such as exported torture (as in another underwhelming new film, “Rendition“)? I’ve been hearing all that for years and I’d rather spend my time learning and experiencing something new and forward-looking, as well as analyzing the ever-changing political map of the Middle East, not stewing in the juices of stale vitriol.

Now that the vast majority of Americans have misgivings, at the very least, about the Iraq adventure, producers are betting that mainstream audiences may be ready, up to a point, for the homefront stories of mangled, maimed and disturbed vets and their families. But the overt polemics of most of the Iraq films thus far, such as those expressed so predictably at the end of “In the Valley of Elah,” seem calculated to once again stir up the Cindy Sheehan crowd, to preach to the converted of four years ago. Move on, indeed. . . .

It’s good to be quoted (even if anonymously).

Thanks to my colleague Christian Hamaker for alerting me to the fact that the Washington Post, in an article on the duds of the summer movie season, quotes a line from my review of License to Wed, though without linking to it or mentioning me by name.

Incidentally, I was reminded of License to Wed while watching Mr. Woodcock, but I didn’t mention this in my review of that film. Both movies feature a male protagonist who tries to dig up dirt on a male antagonist, and in the course of doing so breaks into his house, embarrasses himself by publicly making false accusations based on insufficient data, and so on. And both movies feature a female lead who you’re supposed to like, but she’s either so blind to the antagonist’s flaws or so oblivious to the protagonist’s concerns that you begin to resent her before the movie’s over.

JAN 1 UPDATE: My line on License to Wed was quoted again, this time as the representative “snippet of snark” in the Washington Post‘s list of the ten worst-reviewed movies of the year.

Mr. Woodcock — the review’s up!

My review of Mr. Woodcock is now up at CT Movies.

UPDATE: Entertainment Weekly looks at how the movie was shot over two years ago and was then sent back for reshoots under another director after test audiences failed to respond positively to the first cut. Meanwhile, the original director, Craig Gillespie, has been getting pretty good notices for his newest film, Lars and the Real Girl, which just played the Toronto film festival.

Unhappy feet. Trudge of the penguins.

I’ve been meaning to link to this for a few days: Chris Knight at the National Post had a report from the Toronto film festival on Encounters at the End of the World, the new documentary from Werner Herzog, that had me laughing on the bus:

Encounters is essentially Herzog’s home movie of his trip to Antarctica last summer. Laced with dry Germanic humour, it follows the filmmaker as he ambles across the bottom of the world interviewing some of the thousand or so inhabitants of McMurdo Station, the U.S.-run hub of science and exploration activities on the continent. From the people he meets, it’s clear Antarctica holds more than its share of oddballs, misfits and misanthropes, as if you shook the world and all the eccentrics settled at the bottom like sediment. Herzog, who finds the presence of aerobics and yoga classes in McMurdo Station “an abomination” and who remarks that “human life is part of an endless chain of catastrophe,” fits right in.

Herzog was invited to visit Antarctica by the National Science Foundation, he says, “even though I made it clear I would not come back with another film about penguins.” But to ignore the tuxedo-clad fowl completely would be like coming to the festival and turning your back on George Clooney in an elevator. So he interviews penguin expert Dr. David Ainley, but in his inimitable Herzogian style asks: “Is there such a thing as insanity among penguins?” Ainley, taken aback, says the birds do sometimes get disoriented, and Herzog immediately cuts to a group of penguins huddled together in the snow. Half of them waddle off toward the sea to feed; half make for their nesting grounds; but one sad bird stands alone for a long moment before turning his back on the camera and trudging off toward a mountain range some 70 kilometres away. It’s a bitter bit of comedy; even in the penguin world, it seems, Herzog can find a link in the endless chain of catastrophe.

Given Herzog’s other films, I can just imagine this scene. Chuckle.