Review: Round-Up: "At Eternity's Gate", "The Clovehitch Killer", "Jonathan", and "The Last Race"                "Green Book" is a crowd pleaser of the highest order and a definite Oscar contender                Steve McQueen and a phenomenal ensemble cast help make "Widows" look effortless                "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" offers something for every type of Coen Brothers fan                Updated Academy Award predictions for early November                Review Round-Up: "Dr. Seuss' The Grinch", "El Angel" "The Long Dumb Road", and "Outlaw King"                Taking a look at potential Best Documentary Feature contenders                "The Front Runner" is a terrific and timely film for right around Election Day                Hollywood Film Awards Marked the Launch of Awards Season                Taking a first crack at Golden Globe predictions                “The Favourite” and “The Front Runner”: Films to see in November                Awkwafina to Host 22nd Hollywood Film Awards                Review Round-Up: "Bodied", "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms", and "The Other Side of the Wind"                Rosamund Pike is a force to be reckoned with in "A Private War"                Black Panther, Incredibles 2 to Receive Hollywood Film Awards        

This Week In Movies By Pete Hammond

By Pete Hammond Perhaps helped by the fact that it was the only new truly wide release this week, Paramount’s raunchy romantic comedy, No Strings Attached starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher did better than expected grossing an estimated $20.3 million , mostly from female audiences who showed up in force. The film about a woman who wants only a sexual relationship and nothing more is surprisingly crude for a standard romcom, particularly one written by a woman, Elizabeth Meriwether. The script actually feels like it might have come from the Judd Apatow factory more than anywhere else, very R-rated. It may have been helped by Portman whose December release Black Swan continues to overperform and has struck a big chord with young women (the same audience targeted for No Strings) and awards voters. Moviegoers under 25 gave it an A- Cinemascore rating while those in the Over 25 bracket were less impressed downgrading it to a B. Portman is everywhere right now with two movies in the top six and trailers for her April and May releases, Your Highness and Thor also prominent in theatres and two other films that will also be out soon including Hesher opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt and The Other Woman, a limited February 4th indie that is currently available On Demand as well. She’s undoubtedly the ‘it’ girl of the moment and that had to have factored into the unexpectedly strong opening for No Strings. Certainly it’s not because Ashton Kutcher is in it , right?

In more limited release was The Weinstein Company’s superb , and very timely drama, The Company Men. This contemporary look at the effect of corporate downsizing on a number of executives who suddenly find themselves out of a cushy job and struggling to make ends meet in the new economic reality of today was written and directed by John Wells (ER) and features a top notch cast including Ben Affleck , Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper and Kevin Costner. It played Sundance a year ago and had a brief Oscar qualifying run in December but now has been released on a limited break on just over 100 screens. It averaged about an estimated $7200 a screen for an overall total now hovering above $800,000. Pretty good for a drama that is so close to life some might not consider it “entertainment” but Wells is such a skilled writer and director , his film harkens back to classic Hollywood dramas that tell the truth of the times in which they were made. I recently lunched with Wells on the Warner Bros lot where he is shooting his new Showtime series, Shameless which debuted to excellent ratings and acclaim two weeks ago and has a 12 episode order. We talked about that , the upcoming Writers Guild negotiations (he is the WGA President) and especially Company Men. He said the whole idea to do the film was inspired by the job woes of his brother-in-law and had a tough road to get distribution after the economic bubble burst. It was turned down by Warners and others but eventually picked up by The Weinstein Company at the 2010 Sundance Fest. “We were making it right as everything was collapsing,” Wells told me. “Soon we began to believe we would be releasing it as a historical document. When we tested the film I asked how many people had this happen in their immediate family and every hand would go up.” He added that it’s a bit of an aberration since these kinds of stories are not usually done anymore for the big screen, especially by the major studios who have shied away from that five letter word, drama in the recent past.

The success of movies like The Social Network, The King’s Speech and others though indicate audiences may be ready to see well-made dramas again, especially after the overload of comic book entertainment the studios serve up. Wells certainly hopes so. He plans to direct the film version of the Tony winning play August, Osage County next Fall with a script by its playwright Terry Letts and starring the A list teaming of Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts , this one also for The Weinstein Company for release later in 2012. Busy, talented and nice guy.

Finally , another film given a brief December qualifying run opened semi-wide this weekend on 678 screens, The Way Back from six time Oscar nominee Peter Weir whose previous films include classics like Dead Poets Society, Witness, The Truman Show and Master& Commander: The Far Side Of The World. It did a middling $1.4 ish million for a so-so average of $2161. This epic film which stars Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess and Colin Farrell in the story of a group of prisoners who escape a Siberian Gulag in 1940 and embark on a perilous journey across five hostile countries in their quest for freedom, had a tough time getting made and finally had to be financed and released independently with a very low marketing budget. That’s pretty incredible for a Weir film, his first in seven years since the Oscar winning Master And Commander. Still against all odds he got it done and it is good to see it finally hit theatres. This is a truly majestic , gorgeously filmed (by M&C’s Oscar winning cinematographer Russell Boyd) adventure flick that harkens back to the kind of film David Lean might have made, but that apparently Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with. Weir told me he pitched it to every studio and one exec told him “It’s great but we aren’t in that business anymore” to which Weir replied “What business? Show business?” Sad commentary indeed , but a fine film worth checking out on the big screen if can manage to hang on in the weeks ahead.

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About Pete Hammond

Pete Hammond is a writer, producer, movie critic and film expert whose commentary on the entertainment industry has appeared in numerous publications and on air interviews including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, OK Magazine, NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, Evening News With Brian Williams on MSNBC, the CBC, BBC, Bravo, E!, AMC, Canada AM and the KTLA Morning Show.

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