'EASTERN PROMISES' HIT MOVIE OF 2007 - SO FAR!
As Nikolai, the Russian mafioso played by Viggo Mortensen in David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises," plunged a knife into the eye of a Chechen mobster, the audience at its San Sebastian press screening on Thursday morning let out a collective groan... and then burst into applause. There was more applause at the screening's end.
"Promises" was chosen by San Sebastian fest director Mikel Olaciregui as the gala opener for this year's 55th edition. The reception of the London-set Russian mobster drama will do nothing to dent the strong impression the pic already made at the Toronto Film Festival, where it won the audience award.
Polled by Variety, reviewers at major Spanish newspapers gave the film an unanimous thumbs up. "It's very strong, a powerful movie," said one.
That positive reaction permeated an upbeat press conference, where Cronenberg politely rebuffed local journalists' insistence on his penchant for violence.
'Promises' is a film about Russian gangsters. You have to deal with the question of violence. But it's their way of life. It's not a matter of vengeance or sadism or pleasure. It's a business," he said.
"If you're asking me why I shot the violence in such an extreme way, I want my audience to understand what the physical reality of violence is. Violence is a destruction of a human body. I'm not treating it as a cinematic event but as a physical human event," he added.
Mortensen charmed the audience. That was partly due to his use of the host languages. He began by speaking in Spanish — with an Argentine lilt as he spent years there when growing up — and then topped that by going into Basque.
Spain has already taken Mortensen to its heart after he toplined last year's "Alatriste," a blockbusting Spanish swashbuckler. That performance won him a Spanish Academy Goya nomination.
"I've never won a prize," he mused at the press conference. After "Eastern Promises," the Spanish press was suggesting that his turn as the emotionally tightly-leashed Nikolai puts him in the running for one at San Sebastian.
SNAGGING DVD SALES HOPE TO REBOUND IN FALL/WINTER
The summer boxoffice broke records, which confounded dire predictions and brought a shot of much-needed adrenalin to Hollywood. Now the big question is whether the declining DVD business can get a similar boost when those movies debut in the fourth quarter.
The disc deluge begins Sept. 25 with "Knocked Up," the first hit of the summer, and won't end until late December, when some movies that aren't even in theaters yet are expected to hit shelves.
After the Judd Apatow comedy, some 15 other films that grossed more than $100 million domestically are expected in the last quarter, up from a dozen last year.
There's a lot at stake: Studios can make up to half of their coin during the fourth quarter thanks to the annual gift-buying frenzy. And that's a huge amount of money, when the domestic homevid biz hovers around $24 billion annually, compared to $9.49 billion last year for domestic theatrical grosses. (Around one-third of homevid coin comes from rentals.)
Cannibalization isn't as big a concern as it is at the multiplex, because buyers tend to stock up on more than one disc at a time. For that reason, homevid execs tend to exult in heady competish rather than despair about it.
But it's not necessarily going to be smooth sailing. The homevid biz has been in decline for most of the year, with most estimates in the 5%-10% range. (Due to various factors, it's harder to get exact figures than it is in boxoffice reporting.)
In addition, there is the ongoing battle of formats, as well as turmoil in the biz's two biggest rental chains. On Sept. 10, Blockbuster laid off its chief operating officer to save coin, and No. 2 chain Movie Gallery (operator of Hollywood Video) has been teetering on the edge of bankruptcy for weeks. And there's more uncertainty over the format war than ever, now that Paramount has thrown its weight solely behind HD DVD. At this point, hi-def sales pale in comparison to those from standard DVD.
Digital downloads, forever touted as the delivery system that could kill DVDs, have yet to take off and are bringing in even smaller returns than the nascent high-def biz.
But the bigger question is whether the summer B.O. bonanza will carry over to a business that's been dipping.
"That's a big question mark," concedes Paramount homevid topper Kelley Avery, who believes the industry will end slightly up by year-end.
GOOGLE'S STOCK PRICE HITS HIGH
Google Inc.'s stock reached a new high Friday, reflecting Wall Street's renewed faith in the Internet search leader as it introduces new ways for advertisers to reach its steadily expanding online audience.
The shares peaked at $560.79 before falling back to finish at $560.10, up $7.27, or 1.3%. The rally eclipsed Google's previous record high of $558.58 attained in mid-July, just days before the Mountain View-based company disillusioned investors with a second-quarter profit below analyst estimates.
Google, founded just 9 years ago, now has a market value of almost $175 billion, more than long-established technology bellwethers like Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. The stock has increased by more than six-fold from its initial public offering price of $85 in August 2004.
The latest run-up in Google's stock represents a turnaround from a little over a month ago when the shares briefly dipped below $500 amid the stock market turmoil triggered by a home mortgage meltdown that raised fears about a recession.
Those worries have lessened because of the Federal Reserve Bank's decision to lower short-term interest rates by 0.5 percentage point in a move expected to free up more money for consumers and businesses to spend.
Google stands to benefit because it runs the largest advertising network on the world's hottest marketing medium, the Internet.