In a screen adaptation of the Philip Roth novella The Dying Animal this highly charged sexual drama comes to the fore as its central character wraps himself around a dangerous life-changing relationship. David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) is an engaging very successful professor whose personal life he closely controls--never letting commitment get in the way and keeping the women in his life at arm’s distance. Although he can go on The Charlie Rose Show and charm with the best of them his emotional needs have remained hidden to him--that is until a gorgeous young student Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz) enters his classroom and rocks his tightly monitored world. Suddenly everything he thought he knew about his own human nature and longings are thrown out the window. He becomes obsessively involved with the much younger Consuela--SO obsessive in fact that his jealousy and possessiveness take their toll and eventually drive her away. Drowning his sorrows in other personal matters he will discover that this relationship is not quite over and the woman who haunts his dreams is going to come back into his life with an urgency neither one could possibly have imagined. Kingsley an Oscar winner over a quarter of a century ago for Gandhi has perhaps his richest role since then as professor Kepesh a man overwhelmed by desire he never knew he was capable of. It’s certainly unusual and definitely refreshing to see an actor who is just hitting retirement age get such a full-bodied and sexual role. Let’s face it Kingsley is no Brad Pitt but he certainly represents a group of men who are still in the game and even just discovering their full romantic potential in the autumn of life. Of course what red blooded American male wouldn’t fall hook line and sinker for the rapturous Cruz. Her Consuela is a woman in complete charge of her being--until events out of her control bring out the vulnerability. Without revealing plot spoilers there are two distinct parts to this complicated and fascinating performance and Cruz effortlessly nails both. The supporting cast is also top notch with Patricia Clarkson a particular standout as Carolyn the professor’s long-time lover who finds her mutually convenient affair threatened for the first time. There’s also Dennis Hopper as a distinguished poet and David’s good friend; Deborah Harry as Hopper’s long-suffering wife; and Peter Sarsgaard as the prof’s distant son are all fine in the exceptionally well-cast film. Spanish director Isabel Coixet (My Life Without Me) brings an intimacy and strong woman’s touch to a story that might have had a different spin if directed by a man. After all how many Hollywood films have we seen with 60 and 70 year-old male stars cast opposite much younger actresses that fail to examine the irony of those pairings? This relationship is shown warts and all in a much more emotionally complicated way than most films dare. Emphasis on Clarkson’s spurned lover also adds a nice touch and we can completely empathize with this smart sexually alive woman whose main sin is her age similarity with the man she has slept with hassle free for over 20 years. A major studio would never touch a story like this that deals with the sexual proclivities of mature adults unless it had something to do with Batman and Catwoman. We can thank Coixet’s sharply detailed work behind the camera particularly in intimate bedroom conversations and a smart adaptation by Nicholas Meyer which gets right to the heart of Roth’s ultimately heartbreaking story. Those expecting something along the raunchy lines of the aging author’s Portnoy’s Complaint will be in for a surprise with this independently made contemplative beautifully crafted and acted romantic drama. Finally a film for grown ups.
How many stories are there in one big city? In this unique vision of Paris there are 18 different ones each averaging about five minutes. The short films are related only by the theme of love and the setting. Visiting most of the different arrondissments (neighborhoods) of that sometimes elegant sometimes tawdry locale the short stories range across the board. Beginning with the chance meeting of two lonely people moving through stories of crazy lovers missed opportunities romantic beginnings parents’ relationships with their children and the dissolution of a marriage each one has its own unique vision point of view and cinematic style. But despite so many individual styles and voices the 18 wildly diverse tales deftly blend the magnificent city of Paris with the commonality of the human condition and combine to form a cohesive and extremely satisfying whole. With so many of the world’s most talented actors taking part in these short films there are a plethora of terrific performances to choose from in Paris Je T'aime . Leila Bekhti shines in “Quais de Seine” as a shy young Muslim teen befriended by a handsome French boy while Steve Buscemi uses his bug-eyed looks to perfection in “Tuileries ” a comic segment created by Joel and Ethan Coen. Catalina Sandino Moreno brings an aching reality to a young mother’s life dilemma in “Loin du 16éme ” while Juliette Binoche’s older mom’s agony is heartbreaking in “Place des Victoires.” Miranda Richardson is luminous as a dying wife in “Bastille ” and Natalie Portman’s natural charm ignites the screen in “Faubourg Saint-Denis” as the girlfriend of a blind man. Maggie Gyllenhaal Elijah Wood Emily Mortimer Rufus Sewell Bob Hoskins Fanny Ardant Gena Rowlands Ben Gazzara and Margo Martindale all elevate their segments with fine acting as well but Nick Nolte seems to stumble through his. That minor glitch is just that--a blip in an otherwise seamlessly concocted series of well-acted vignettes. A who’s who of contemporary cinema from around the world the eighteen directors (who for the most part also wrote their segments) of Paris Je T'aime prove their formidable talents here. By limiting each to only five minutes to tell their story producers Emmanuel Benbihy and Claude Ossard (who began the project in 2002) forced each one to distill the essence of their idea into a compact tale with admirable results. From well-known names like the Coen brothers Wes Craven Gus Van Sant Alfonso Cuaron and Alexander Payne to lesser-known auteurs (at least in America that is) such as Tom Tykwer Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas Frederic Auburtin and Gerard Depardieu Olivier Assayas Gurinder Chadha Isabel Coixet Sylvain Chomet Nobuhiro Suwa Christopher Doyle Richard LaGravenese Vincenzo Natali Bruno Podalydes and Olivier Schmitz--the work across the board in the film is exemplary. At turns poignant comical lusty and emotional it’s a collection that will undoubtedly leave you with a longing to be in Paris especially with someone you love.
This weekend's box office competition has been Rundown.
The action-comedy The Rundown, starring the formidable The Rock, premiered at the top of the box office this weekend with $18.5 million*, while the sun shined on another newcomer, the escapist Under the Tuscan Sun, which opened in second place with $9.406 million.
The Rundown shoved last week's headliner Underworld back to No. 3 with $9.4 million, while the sappy Secondhand Lion only tepidly growled into fourth place with $8.2 million. The toe-tappin' The Fighting Temptations rounded out the top five with $6.4 million.
The other wide release, the mean-spirited Duplex, only managed seventh place with a measly $4.4 million, while the indie tearjerker My Life Without Me opened in limited theaters with $40,199.
THE TOP TEN
Universal Pictures' PG-13-rated The Rundown reigned supreme in its opening weekend with an ESTIMATED $18.5 million in 3,152 theaters, averaging $5,869 per theater.
The Rock plays a bounty hunter who heads to Brazil to retrieve his kingpin boss's son. But before long, the two must team up in order to escape hidden traps and obstacles they encounter in the jungle.
Directed by Peter Berg, it also stars Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson and Christopher Walken.
Buena Vista's PG-13-rated Under the Tuscan Sun made a sweet debut at No. 2 with an ESTIMATED $9.4 million in a much smaller release--only 1,226 theaters--making its $7,672 per theater average the highest of any film playing wide this week.
In this romantic comedy, a wounded divorcee searches for true love when she pulls up roots and impetuously buys a villa in scenic Tuscany.
Directed by Audrey Wells, it stars Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, Vincent Riotta and Raoul Bova.
Sony Picture's R-rated supernatural thriller Underworld went back under, relinquishing its top spot to take No. 3 with an ESTIMATED $9.4 million (-57%) at 2,928 theaters (+13 theaters; $3,210 per theater). In its second week, the vampires vs. werewolves thriller has accumulated approximately $37 million.
Directed by Len Wiseman, it stars Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman.
New Line's PG-rated Secondhand Lions fell two spots to fourth with an ESTIMATED $8.2 million (-32%) in 3,038 theaters (+25 theaters; $2,716 per theater). In its second week, the family drama about two grumpy uncles and their precocious nephew has taken in approximately $23.4 million.
Directed by Tim McCanlies, it stars Haley Joel Osment, Robert Duvall and Michael Caine.
Paramount Picture's PG-13-rated The Fighting Temptations dropped two rungs to fifth place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $6.4 million (-45%) in 2,026 theaters (unchanged; $3,196 per theater). The church choir singin', finger snappin' musical has accumulated $20.2 million.
Directed by Jonathan Lynn, it stars Cuba Gooding, Jr., Beyonce Knowles, Mike Epps and Steve Harvey.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Sony Pictures' R-rated sequel Once Upon a Time in Mexico came in sixth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $5.1 million (-54%) in 2.922 theaters (-367 theaters; $1,745 per theater). Its cume is approximately $49 million.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, it stars Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek and Willem Dafoe.
Miramax's PG-13-rated black comedy Duplex debut at No. 7 with an ESTIMATED $4.4 million in 2,189 theaters, with a $2,018 per theater average.
A young New York couple buys the perfect brownstone duplex--too bad they have to share it with a nasty old lady who lives upstairs.
Directed by Danny DeVito, it stars Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore.
In another dream-house-turned-nightmare, Buena Vista's R-rated thriller Cold Creek Manor slipped three spots to eighth place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $4.3 million (-48%) at 2,035 theaters (unchanged; $2,113 per theater). Its cume is $14.5 million.
Directed by Mike Figgis, it stars Dennis Quaid, Sharon Stone, Stephen Dorff and Juliette Lewis.
Warner Bros.' PG-13-rated drama Matchstick Men dropped three places in its third week to take the No. 9 position with an ESTIMATED $4.2 million (-43%) in 2,666 theaters (-45 theaters; $1,607 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.6 million.
Directed by Ridley Scott, it stars Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell and Alison Lohman.
In its third week of release, Focus Features' R-rated dramatic comedy Lost In Translation rounded out the Top Ten for the second week in a row with an ESTIMATED $3.5 million (+34%) in 488 theaters (+305 theaters; $7,217 per theater average). It cume is approximately $8.4 million.
Directed by Sofia Coppola, it stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.
Sony Pictures Classics' R-rated My Life Without Me opened in seven theaters with an ESTIMATED $40,199, earning a $5,743 per theater average.
The film follows the life of a 23-year-old woman who has two kids, lives in a trailer and works a blue-collar job. When she's told she only has a few months to live, she decides to live what time she has left to the fullest.
Directed by Isabel Coixet, it stars Sarah Polley, Scott Speedman, Deborah Harry and Mark Ruffalo.
Overall, the box office numbers fell considerably from last weekend. The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $79 million, down 12.26 percent from last weekend, when they grossed $91.7 million. The Top 12 movies were also down nearly 14 percent from this time last year when they took in $90.1 million.
Last year's top three included: Buena Vista's PG-13-rated romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama premiered in the top spot with $35.6 million in 3,293 theaters ($10,826 per theater); Dreamworks' PG-13-rated spy comedy The Tuxedo debuted in second place with $15 million in 3,022 theaters ($4,980 per theater); and MGM's riotous PG-13-rated Barbershop slipped to No. 3 in its third week with $10 million in 2,051 theaters (+ 157 theaters; $4,880 per theater).