From GI Joe to F-bombs, we’ve reported from the front lines of more than few cultural skirmishes. But none to date boast the impact of the firestorm surrounding Roman Polanski — the renowned Oscar-winning filmmaker, idling in a detention cell in Zurich, battling his arrest and potential extradition based on his flight from sentencing in a sex-crime case three decades ago. The creative community has rallied in his support. The media ask why an artist should be above the law (and what the law even means in a case riven with judicial misconduct). The public demands blood, and they may get it: Considering the lengthy appeals process facing the 76-year-old, there is the very real possibility of Polanski dying in jail before justice — however you define it — is served. Amid all the disconnections and breakdowns, could this be any more of a disaster?
First, the news: Polanski today appealed against his arrest to the Swiss Federal Penal Court, which said it would announce a judgment in the “next few weeks.” That’s another “few weeks” that Polanski is locked up, signifying an unconscionable disgrace to those film-industry leaders already distressed that Swiss police (at the request of the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office) rained on his Zurich Film Festival parade. Moreover, they write in a petition,
His arrest follows an American arrest warrant dating from 1978 against the filmmaker, in a case of morals. […] Roman Polanski is a French citizen, a renown and international artist now facing extradition. This extradition, if it takes place, will be heavy in consequences and will take away his freedom. Filmmakers, actors, producers and technicians — everyone involved in international filmmaking — want him to know that he has their support and friendship. […] If only in the name of this friendship between our two countries, we demand the immediate release of Roman Polanski.
The petition’s signatories comprise a who’s who of contemporary cinema: Martin Scorsese, Wong Kar-wai, Pedro Almodovar, Jonathan Demme, Tilda Swinton, Julian Schnabel, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and nearly 100 more luminaries (and counting). They’re supplemented by Harvey Weinstein, who mines Polanski’s tragic past in today’s Independent: “How do you go from the Holocaust to the Manson family with any sort of dignity? In those circumstances, most people could not contribute to art and make the kind of beautiful movies he continues to make.” Weinstein concludes with the Polanski defenders’ standard coup de grâce, arguing that the director fled sentencing after his 1978 guilty plea for unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old because the judge, Laurence Rittenband, was expected to renege on the deal.
Marina Zenovich’s documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired indeed lays out Rittenband’s publicity-hungry strategy, which Weinstein and others have invoked as reason to dismiss Polanski’s sentencing and the warrant for his arrest. But as Michael Wolff argues, the film instead motivated prosecutors to revenge. “The documentary reminded everybody that the L.A. prosecutor must be turning a blind eye to Polanski, wandering freely in Europe,” Wolff adds, “hence the arrest now is the prosecutor covering his ass.”
SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM: Now that official numbers have come in, controversial Inglourious Basterds opened with $14.3M Friday, but then dropped -10% Saturday to $12.9M from 3,165 theaters. So, with a Sunday estimate of $10.3M, that’s a bigger than expected $37.6M first weekend for director Quentin Tarantino. (The most moolah anybody projected for Friday-Sunday had been $30M.) “The Weinsteins live to fight another day,” quipped one rival studio exec about the World War II film on which beleaguered The Weinstein Company had hung its financial future (along with next weekend’s reboot sequel, Halloween 2). Basterds scored Tarantino his best North American opening since the $25.1 million earned by Kill Bill Vol 2. And eased Harvey Weinstein’s fears of another Grindhouse-like flop. Expected to dominate on both coasts, the “Hard R”-rated pic was predicted to play much softer in the middle of the country. Still, after all that buzz — a lot of it awful — at the Cannes Film Festival in May, it’s a miracle the movie didn’t tank. Especially since Tarantino changed up the film but didn’t cut its 2-hour, 32-minute, running time, which is now a minute longer. Universal has both foreign theatrical distribution, and international and domestic home video, while Weinstein is self-distributing in North America and also has pay TV. There’s a single-pot worldwide deal split 50/50.
But there was stiff competition for male moviegoers from the Peter Jackson indieprod District 9, a Sony pick-up, which was down a larger-than-expected 60% from its No. 1 debut last Friday. The alien apartheid pic made $5.5M Friday and $7.3M Saturday (+31%) from 3,050 venues and $18.9M for its 2nd weekend. That’s a very respectable -49% drop from last weekend, and new $73.4 cume, based on the good watercooler/Twitter word-of-mouth that kept weekday numbers averaging a strong $4M. (Rest of Top 10 below…)
So it was Nazis vs Aliens at the box office. In terms of negative cost, the two pics are $72M vs $30M. But I’ve learned that while District 9 only has a small gross participation for Peter Jackson and nobody else associated with the film, Inglourious Basterds has a big gross participation for both Tarantino and star Brad Pitt. Film financing circles tell me the film has to make more than $60M in North America in order to earn out. But they also expect a 70% drop for Inglourious Basterds next weekend because most college campuses around the country will be back in session — and that’s bad for biz. Which is why The Weinstein Company’s release of Halloween 2 that weekend is so inexplicable.
Overseas, the two pics are battling, too. Inglorious Basterds is the No. 1 movie overseas. The Weinstein/Universal co-production internationally grossed an estimated $27.5M at 2,630 dates in 22 territories — making it the biggest international weekend for a Quentin Tarantino film. It broke QT records in several markets including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and Hong Kong. And there are still 42 territories to open over the next few months.
Lest we forget amid all the hype and secrecy of yesterday’s trailer debut, it’s Avatar Day with 20th Century Fox screening 16 minutes from the film in 101 IMAX theaters Friday night in the U.S., and another 238 theaters — including 28 IMAX screens — abroad. Free tickets were given out via an online lottery.
Meanwhile, there were a slew of other pics opening this weekend: small, smaller, and arthouse:
Fox Atomic leftover Post Grad, a little comedy starring Alexis Bledel in a seeming reprisal of her Gilmore Girl role (what happened to the Sin City vixen?),opened in 1,958 theaters. Warner Bros sent family fare Shorts from Robert Rodriguez into 3,105 dates with little fanfare even though the kids needed something fresh. Disney debuted the documentary X Games 3D The Movie in 1,399 runs. Foreign pic Casi Divas from Maya Entertainment had 22 runs. IFC sent the crime drama Five Minutes Of Heaven starring Taken‘s Liam Neeson into a single theater. Still another Paramount Vantage leftover, The Marc Pease Experience, is a laffer starring Jason Schwartzman and Ben Stiller dumped with 10 plays and no publicity. And Magnolia took World’s Greatest Dad, a comedy starring Robin Williams, into 12 theaters.
Period piece My One And Only scored an average $15,000 per screen if Sunday holds up in 4 NY/LA dates. But how did one-time Oscar-winner Renee Zellweger end up in a pic that couldn’t receive a decent release — even though reviews were 70% positive according to Rotten Tomatoes, especially among top critics? I’m told the movie was made and financed independently by businessman/investor Norton Herrick, whose Hair on Broadway won a Tony but was new to the film biz.
Herrick took My One And Only to the Berlin film festival, where it received positive trade reviews as well as a special mention from the independent jury. But no American studio stepped up to acquire the picture. (Not so surprising considering how loathe studios are to spend $30+M marketing money on pickups, especially considering that Zellweger has been in a slew of loser pics of late and lost her mojo with audiences.)
So Herrick decided to finance the distribution of the film himself. He hired Freestyle Releasing, which had distributed The Illusionist and Bottle Shock, among other pics, and assembled a marketing team. Their advice was to start exclusive through a limited opening, then widen over Labor Day weekend to 15 markets. So my One And Only opened as Inglourious Basterds counter-programming in upscale (but not arthouse) venues. Still, I’m shocked that Zellweger’s career has come to this.
Here’s the TOP 10:
1. Inglourious Basterds (TWC/Uni) NEW [3,165], $37.6M Wkd
2. District 9 (Sony) Week 2 [3,050], $18.9M Wkd, Cume $73.4M
3. GI Joe (Paramount) Week 3 [3,953], $12.5M Wkd, Cume $120.5M
4. Time Traveler’s Wife (NL/WB) Week 2 [2,988], $10M Wkd, Cume $37.4M
5. Julie & Julia (Sony) Week 3 [2,463], $9M Wkd, Cume $59.2M
6. Shorts (WB) NEW [3,105], $6.6M Wkd
7. G-Force (Disney) Week 5 [2,561], $4.2M Wkd
8. Harry Potter/Half Prince (WB) Week 6 [1,971], $3.5M Wkd, Cume $290.2M
9. Ugly Truth (Sony) Week 5 [1,936], $2.8M Wkd, Cume $82.6M
10. Post Grad (Fox) NEW [1,959], $2.8M Wkd