“This Week In Movies” – “Black Swan,” “The King’s Speech”

By Pete Hammond

HollywoodNews.com: Do movie going weekends get any slower than this?

Usually the weekend after Thanksgiving is among the slowest, if not the slowest of the year and this one did nothing to alter than perception. With only one new film even attempting a semi-wide release, Relativity Media’s ninja western, “The Warriors Way” (a disastrous 9th place start on 1600 screens), it really was a period where specialty releases like the fantastic 18 screen debut of “Black Swan” or the second limited weekend of “The King’s Speech” could really strut their stuff. The mainstream masses may have had other things on their mind like tree trimming, shopping, parties or Chunakah but the art house crowd was out in force.

“Black Swan” director Darren Aronofsky was ebullient when I caught up with him earlier this week. He had just come to L.A. from the New York premiere of ‘Swan’ and said it was an overwhelming experience for him right down to the smeared pink lipstick decorations at the post party. He’s really obsessed with the sound quality of the film and said NY’s Ziegfeld theatre where the premiere took place was beyond reproach. When ‘Swan’ premiered at AFI Fest at the Chinese earlier in November he had real problems with the audio although I thought it sounded great. It’s important because Clint Mansell’s booming musical soundtrack is a big part of the thrill factor of this twisted and dark film about a mentally unbalanced prima ballerina (Natalie Portman) who gets the lead role in a Lincoln Center production of Swan Lake and spirals into a near-nervous breakdown. My advice to perfectionist Aronofsky is if he thinks the Chinese was dicey, stay out of the malls. The sound and picture presentation of films in many run-of-the-mill multi-plexes can be really depressing for directors who put their all into the making of these films. You are lucky if they are in focus half the time. At any rate Ballet-themed movies aren’t usually the stuff of box office blockbusters but with a $77,000 estimated per screen average on 18 screens the movie did about $1.3 million , very impressive and better than Fox Searchlight’s other hot titles of years past like “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Sideways,” “Juno” and “Slumdog Millionaire” when they started out.

Continuing on the specialty front “The King’s Speech” had the best second week hold of any limited release this year with a British sterling $54,000 per and just over $800,000 on only 6 screens so far. Starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in the story of the friendship that develops between the stuttering King George VI and his Australian speech therapist, this could become a word-of-mouth smash for The Weinstein Company which really needs this kind of hit. On the surface it would seem to be a stuffy British period piece but it’s actually nothing remotely close, instead a winning story of two disparate people brought together through unexpected circumstances. Screenwriter David Seidler was a stutterer himself as a child and made it a lifelong passion to tell the King George story. It only took him about 40 years though to finally put all the pieces together that resulted finally in the film version. Actually he wrote it as a play as a writing exercise but it never got produced. Rush got hold of it and suggested it would be good film material and it went from there. Now ironically Seider tells me it looks like it finally WILL become a stage piece with a hoped-for London West End production in 2011. I seriously doubt though Firth or Rush will be headlining.

The fact is both “Black Swan” and “The King’s Speech” are projects that almost didn’t get made except for the passion of a few who pushed them through. ‘Swan’ was ten years in development and the plug was nearly pulled as little as four weeks before production began until an angel investor came through with the needed cash at the last minute. Another “specialty” item that opened this week, Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor’s “I Love You, Philip Morris” has been in limbo for nearly two years, in and out of courts with distributors who dropped the ball and threatened with the real prospect of going straight to DVD in America, an astounding prospect for a Carrey film. This gay-themed comedy about a con man in love with a fellow prisoner finally got a company, Roadside Attractions, to put up money for prints and advertising and was released on six screens to a very good average of nearly $19,000. That’s good news because the movie which started life at Sundance 2009 is really funny and a quite amazing true story of a flamboyant guy named Steven Russell who outwits the system at every opportunity , embarrassing prison officials in Texas with his numerous escapes and schemes. Now he is in solitary confinement with no way out. He pushed it too far and the then-George W. Bush administration was red faced about his antics. If anything it would be nice if this film could help spring him. The guy’s an absolute genius and the movie is a fitting tribute in many ways.

Hopefully all these films that have taken the long road to theatres will get wide distribution and a healthy run nationally, if only to encourage others to stick with their passion and keep the fires burning for smart cinema.

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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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