Harvey Weinstein had secret hitlist of names to quash sex scandal

Producer hired team to investigate 91 film industry figures in attempt to stop harassment claims going public

The Observer has gained access to a secret hitlist of almost 100 prominent individuals targeted by Harvey Weinstein in an extraordinary attempt to discover what they knew about sexual misconduct claims against him and whether they were intending to go public.

The previously undisclosed list contains a total of 91 actors, publicists, producers, financiers and others working in the film industry, all of whom Weinstein allegedly identified as part of a strategy to prevent accusers from going public with sexual misconduct claims against him.

The names, apparently drawn up by Weinstein himself, were distributed to a team hired by the film producer to suppress claims that he had sexually harassed or assaulted numerous women.

An extract from Harvey Weinsteins hitlist.

The document was compiled in early 2017, around nine months before the storm that blew up on 5 October when the New York Times published a series of sexual harassment allegations against Weinstein.

Individuals named on the list were to be targeted by investigators who would covertly extract and accumulate information from those who might know of claims or who might come forward with allegations against the film producer. Feedback was then to be relayed to Weinstein and his lawyers.

The size of the list 85 names appear on one document, with an addendum identifying another six individuals appears to corroborate claims that sexual misconduct allegations against the 65-year-old were an open secret throughout Hollywood.

Prominent stars were among the first tranche of individuals on the list to testify publicly against Weinstein. Among those named were the actress Rose McGowan, who days after speaking out accused the producer of raping her. Another was Laura Madden, who told how Weinstein pestered her for massages at hotels in Dublin and London, beginning in 1991. McGowan and Madden were among the first to speak out against Weinstein last month.

Rose McGowan
Photograph: Richard Shotwell/AP

A typed note on the document appears to suggest that by February 2016, Madden had already been targeted by one of Weinsteins hired investigators. Her view of the producer is, says the note, very bitter.

Another name is Zelda Perkins, a London-based production assistant for Weinsteins Miramax film company, who left the firms London offices on Brewer Street in Soho in 1998 after, she says, enduring years of sexual harassment by her boss. Last month Perkins revealed that she had broken a confidentiality agreement to describe alleged sexual harassment by the Hollywood producer.

Also on the list is the English actress Sophie Dix, who has described how her career trajectory was massively cut down after an alleged sexual assault by Weinstein in a London hotel and who was among the first to come forward.

Although at least 10 individuals are based in London, the majority live in New York, with others from Los Angeles. They include individuals working in acquisitions, marketing and distribution, along with producers, publicists and human resources staff, as well as actors. Forty-three men are named and 48 women.

Weinstein, the list confirms, was aware that the New York Times was gathering testimony from his victims long before it first ran the story. A public relations professional is named alongside a note stating that HW [Harvey Weinstein] in contact w/him. Friends w/Jodi Kantor. Kantor is the New York Times journalist who broke the story that immediately engulfed the producer and the film production company he co-founded with his brother.

Sophie Dix Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

More than 50 of the names have been coloured red to highlight those who should be prioritised by investigators individuals Weinstein most keenly wanted to target. The names of the actresses McGowan, Dix and Madden are all coloured red.

Following an initial list of 85 names, another six individuals were identified during August 2017, including the actress Annabella Sciorra, who two months later publicly alleged she was raped by Weinstein after he barged into her apartment in the 1990s.

Also named on the later list is the US actress Katherine Kendall. Weeks later she revealed how a naked Weinstein literally chased her around his New York apartment in 1993.

Another is a former Weinstein employee, Lauren OConnor, who documented several allegations against the producer in a 2015 memo in which she described a toxic environment for women at Miramax.

Interestingly, the document includes the filmmaker Brett Ratner, who has been accused of sexual harassment or misconduct by six women in the wake of the Weinstein allegations.

Annabella Sciorra Photograph: Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

It is unclear whether Weinstein intended subsequently to approach any of the individuals on the list with a non-disclosure agreement. Evidence has emerged which shows that over the past three decades Weinstein reached at least eight settlements with women, according to two company officials speaking on condition of anonymity, after he was confronted with allegations including sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact.

Not surprisingly, considering the psychological abuse and bullying allegations emerging from his former film studio Miramax, more of the film studio employees are also named. Among them is Kathy DeClesis, former assistant to Weinsteins brother Bob, who has revealed that she told him about Harvey sexually harassing women over a period of 25 years.

So far, more than 50 women have come forward with allegations of rape, harassment and inappropriate behaviour, prompting police investigations in the US and UK.

Weinstein unequivocally denies all claims of non-consensual sex, a spokesman for the producer has said. The spokesman dismissed reports that the producer hired spies to stop claims, saying: It is a fiction to suggest that any individuals were targeted or suppressed at any time.

The producers alleged targets were often young, aspiring actresses. Among the high-profile names who have spoken out against Weinstein are Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevingne and Kate Beckinsale.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/nov/18/harvey-weinstein-secret-hitlist-sex-scandal

Child abuse documentary Hollywood ‘didn’t want you to see’ goes viral

The film An Open Secret died upon release in 2015, but is seeing a renewed interest online amid a cascade of allegations against Hollywoods elite

When the documentary An Open Secret tried to lift the lid on child abuse in Hollywood, it billed itself as the film Hollywood doesnt want you to see. The marketing tagline did not exaggerate.

The film died upon release in 2015. There was no theatrical release to speak of, no television deal, no video-on-demand distribution.

We got zero Hollywood offers to distribute the film. Not even one. Literally no offers for any price whatsoever, said Gabe Hoffman, a Florida-based hedge fund manager who financed the film.

It did not seem to matter that it was directed by an Oscar-nominated director, Amy Berg, or that it uncovered damning evidence of the sexual abuse of teenage boys by figures in the film industry.

There was nowhere to see it, said Lorien Haynes, the films writer. I dont think it impacted at all. Nobody saw it. We released a film that didnt [seem to] exist.

Now, two years later, multiple open secrets of predatory behaviour are detonating across Hollywood and the documentary that blew the whistle is getting millions of viewers but still no distribution deal.

Hoffman released the film for free on the video-sharing website Vimeo this month after reports about Harvey Weinsteins alleged sexual assaults set off a chain-reaction, with James Toback, Tyler Grasham and Kevin Spacey among those accused of harassment and worse.

Corey Feldman, a former child actor who says he was the victim of a paedophile ring, has raised more than $170,000 through crowdfunding for a purported $10m biopic about the abuse.

Hoffman said he had intended to end the free online viewings of An Open Secret on Tuesday, but extended the window until Sunday because of public interest, with more than 3 million viewings on various social media platforms since 12 October.

We knew a Harvey Weinstein moment was coming and when it would, that wed release it for free, said Hoffman. He hoped the documentary would yet make its way on to television. Wed love to be on Amazon and Netflix. Were always ready to talk.

The documentarys initial vanishing into the void and belated re-emergence underlines how Hollywood long ducked evidence of abuse. An Open Secret had the elements to make a splash.

Berg, the director, had earned an Oscar nomination for her film Deliver Us from Evil, about sex abuse in the Catholic church.

Her team obtained evidence of a paedophile ring in Hollywood managers, agents, publicists and directors that preyed on young boys and teenagers seeking entry to the industry.

Some hosted lavish parties where men allegedly plied the boys with alcohol and drugs and traded them for sex. Others spent years grooming victims, and winning the confidence of their families, before starting sexual assaults.

A handful were caught and served relatively brief jail sentences before returning to the industry. Brian Peck, an actor and acting coach who worked for Nickelodeon and the X-Men franchise, was convicted of two counts of lewd acts with a child. He is now working in the industry again.

The documentary features interviews with Evan Henzi, who was 11 years old when his manager, Martin Weiss, started assaulting him. Weiss pleaded no contest in 2012 to two counts of child molestation, and was sentenced to a year in jail and five years probation. He was freed immediately due to time served.

I shared my story in An Open Secret so other victims who have been molested for years just like me can heal, Henzi, 24, said this week.

When the film was released, I witnessed a lot of support by people who actually saw the film. What I did not witness was support from film festivals or Hollywood at large to promote the film. I do believe, though, that both some of the film-makers of An Open Secret and the Hollywood establishment are responsible for this.

Internal disputes disrupted the films launch. Hoffman took Berg to arbitration, alleging she did not fulfill her end of the deal. She denied that. There were other rows behind the scenes over the script, crediting and edits.

Berg declined to be interviewed, saying she would let the film speak for itself.

Hoffman downplayed any suggestion that the film-makers had shot themselves in the foot and blamed Hollywood for its distribution travails for instance initially rating the film R, before relenting and classifying it PG-13. Hollywood clearly blocked the film. The higher-ups didnt like how it portrayed the industry.

Hoffman also claimed festivals in Los Angeles, London and Toronto promised to give the well-reviewed film prominent screenings, only to rescind the invitations without proper explanation. The Guardian could not immediately verify this account.

Haynes, who wrote the script, said mid-ranking television executives seemed eager to buy the film, only to be overruled. At the top of the food chain is where we got the no. It did feel that people were scared to run it. It is complete anathema to release a film about corruption in Hollywood in Hollywood.

She acknowledged another factor: a harrowing film about child abuse was a tough sell. Youre expecting a lot of an audience to sit through that.

For two years An Open Secret existed in film purgatory, available only in pirated online versions, few people aware that here was evidence of abuse, collusion and cover-up in the heart of Tinseltown.

Weinstein does not feature in the documentary he allegedly preferred women, not young boys but the accusations against him unleashed a gale which put An Open Secret in the headlines as a must watch documentary that explains Hollywoods complicity.

Weinstein has apologized for his past behavior, but denies many of the harassment claims and unequivocally denied allegations of non-consensual sex.

Spacey apologized this week after he was accused of making an unwanted sexual advance toward the Star Trek actor Anthony Rapp, who says he was 14 years old at the time of the alleged incident in 1986. Spacey, star of the Netflix show House of Cards and former artistic director of Londons Old Vic, said he did not remember the encounter but if he had done what Rapp described in an article published by BuzzFeed, it would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.

Meanwhile, Toback, a veteran director, faces allegations from more than 30 women of sexual harassment and trying to trade roles for sex. He has denied the accusations, saying he hired people only on merit. Grasham, a veteran agent, is accused of harassing and assaulting multiple young men. His employer, the Agency for the Performing Arts, fired him after the claims went public. One alleged victim has filed a complaint with the Los Angeles police department. Grasham has not addressed the claims in any public statement yet and could not be reached for comment.

The cascade of allegations have all served to give Open Secret the kind of limelight its backers believe it deserved in the first place.

The dangers and threats that follow speaking out are very real. Ive seen them first-hand. But I believe weve turned a corner, said Katelyn Howes, one of the producers. I hope this continues to push these abuses of power into the spotlight, making it safer for so many people, especially children, who arent in the position to talk about their experiences yet.

Henzi, the former child actor who shared his story of abuse, echoed that. I do believe that the allegations against Harvey Weinstein have completely opened up the door to having a grand conversation about different experiences of sexual assault by people in the entertainment industry, and that will be really beneficial for a lot of people. It is about time.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/nov/01/an-open-secret-hollywood-child-abuse-documentary

Kong climbs to top of the box office as Logan claws way to second place

Kong: Skull Island takes $61m in first weekend, beating expectations, though expensive film needs $500m worldwide to be certifiable hit, says analyst

Kong is the king of the box office this weekend, after a battle of the beasts for theater seats around the US.

According to studio estimates Sunday, Kong: Skull Island amassed $61m in its first weekend in theaters, surpassing expectations and easily beating out Logan, which is now in its second weekend.

Warner Bros and Legendarys Kong: Skull Island stars Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson and Samuel L Jackson. Its the second in the planned monster universe following the latest Godzilla,which grossed $529.1m worldwide in 2014.

Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros head of domestic distribution, said the weekend far exceeded everyones expectations, and he predicted Monday actuals might come in higher than the estimated $61m. The film, which earned a B CinemaScore overall, was graded stronger by younger audiences, many of whom will have extra days off soon for spring break.

The world of mouth is really kicking in, Goldstein said.

Costing a reported $185m to produce, Kong still has work to be done, however, to reach profitability, and much of that will depend on international earnings. This weekend, it topped international charts as well, with $81.6m from 66 territories.

They had a solid weekend. But theyre going to be looking for a half-billion worldwide to make it a certifiable hit, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for the box office tracker comScore.

Foxs Logan took second place, down about 58% from its first weekend with $37.9m. The R-rated film, which sees Hugh Jackman reprising his role as the X-Men character Wolverine, has earned $152.7m in total.

In third place, Get Out, the buzzy horror film directed by Jordan Peele, added $21.1m, pushing its sum to $111m in just three weeks.

With a price tag of only $4.5m, the movie is a certifiable hit for Blumhouse and Universal and continues to remain prominently in the conversation up against films with much larger production and marketing budgets behind them.

Rounding out the top five were the faith-based movie The Shack, with $10.1m, and The Lego Batman Movie, with $7.8m.

The strong weekend nudged the year to date out of the red, too, and even at this early date, Dergarabedian thinks the box office might be headed for yet another record year based on the number of releases.

Next week shows no sign of slowing, either, with Disneys Beauty and the Beast poised to earn well over $100m out of the gate.

Its a March of beasts for sure, said Dergarabedian.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/mar/12/us-box-office-kong-skull-island-logan

Soaring Disney Studios hopes for $7bn fairytale ending to its year

Its systematic buying spree to acquire franchises and talent has now put the company in sight of a global box-office record

What do you get if you cross a handful of superheroes with the Death Star and a forgetful fish? Box office gold. Walt Disney Studios is tipped to amass a record $7bn (5.6bn) in cinemas around the world this year, having already passed $6bn thanks to Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War and Finding Dory. It expects to set a new all-time high with the upcoming release of animated feature Moana and the all-but-guaranteed Christmas bonanza of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story which sees the return of Darth Vader.

Industry analysts say Disneys success is hardly surprising. This is a studio that has systematically bought up great franchises, characters and talent in recent years, and now it is reaping the benefits.

What is happening at Disney is no accident, says Guy Bisson, research director at research firm Ampere Analysis, who points to the benefits of the $15bn spending spree that has underpinned its film business. It is the fruit of a long-term strategy based around strong characters and franchises.

In 2006, Disney spent $7.4bn on Pixar, the hit factory behind Finding Nemo, its new sequel Finding Dory, Toy Story and The Incredibles. This helped Disney win its struggle to produce modern versions of the blockbuster animated movies on which it built its reputation.

A scene from the forthcoming animation Moana. Photograph: 2016 Disney

In 2009 came the riskier $4bn purchase of Marvel Comics sprawling superhero universe, comprising 5,000 characters including the X-Men, Iron Man and Captain America, which saw Disney branch out from wholesome family creations such as The Little Mermaid and The Lion King to edgier, more violent fare.

This was followed by nailing down the worlds most famous sci-fi franchise by buying Lucasfilm, maker of Star Wars, in a $4bn deal that has paved the way for a string of new releases, including Rogue One, a spin-off story about a plot to steal the plans to the Death Star. The deal also included the rights to the Indiana Jones franchise and two highly prized, hi-tech production companies, Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound.

Theyve made acquisitions that initially looked really expensive but turned out to be very lucrative, says Brian Wieser, analyst at Pivotal Research. Theyve managed them well, kept creative leadership in place, and they keep making amazing properties.

Disney films have enjoyed a stellar year, with four blockbusters to date: Captain America, Zootopia and Finding Dory made more than $1bn each and The Jungle Book made $966m. But its film arm accounted for only 18% of the companys total $42.5bn revenues in the nine months to the end of July; the rest of the business is not performing so well. Shares in the Walt Disney Company have fallen 16% over the past year and the companys fourth-quarter results undershot expectations last week.

Investors concerns are focused on ESPN, Disneys sports cable network and the companys biggest profit driver, which is struggling as consumers ditch expensive pay-TV packages and switch to cheaper services.

Finding Dory, this years sequel to the Pixar hit Finding Nemo. Photograph: Rex Shutterstock

Disneys broad character franchises like Mickey Mouse and Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean fame are exploited across its theme parks and resorts business, which accounts for 30% of revenues, and its merchandise and licensing unit, which accounts for a further 10%.

Disney is currently constructing a Star Wars land at its flagship US theme parks in Orlando and Anaheim, which will include a ride where visitors take control of the Millennium Falcon, and dining options featuring a take on the famous Mos Eisley cantina from the original 1977 film.

And in just the first year following the premiere of 2015s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, merchandise sales are predicted to hit $5bn, with Disney reportedly taking about 10%. Another Disney blockbuster, Frozen, is reportedly the biggest merchandise moneyspinner of all time, with sales of more than $107bn.

The parts of the business interact strongly, says Bisson. The big character franchises superheroes, Star Wars,childrens output all are so dependent on the whole stream from theme parks and resorts.

The global appeal of Disneys character franchises also plays well in the increasingly important international movie market which has been driven by a boom in Asian countries such as China and Indonesia, where much Hollywood fare has traditionally not performed well as well as the rise of markets in Latin America and eastern Europe. In 2015, 61% of Disneys total $5.88bn global box office take came from outside the US.

The major studios are moving to fewer, but bigger and bigger, films to drive the box office, says David Hancock, the head of film and cinema at analysts IHS Technology. And it is working. Part of the key to this is now the wider picture: the international market is so much bigger than just appealing in the US.

Disney is also aware that the Marvel and Lucasfilm acquisitions have helped it pull in large numbers of millennials: exactly the demographic film-makers and TV companies are most concerned about losing as they threaten to abandon traditional media.

Remember, Disney is rumoured to be looking at a potential acquisition of Netflix, says Bisson. An international over-the-top [streaming on-demand] business that would fit into its channels business is hugely attractive. Disney already has an exclusive film deal with Netflix in the US.

The only barrier to Disney hitting the magic $7bn box office total is whether Rogue One proves to be a winner with diehard Star Wars fans this Christmas.

A scene from Captain America: Civil War. Photograph: AP

In August, Bob Iger, chief executive of the Walt Disney Company, said that the level of fan enthusiasm for Rogue One was roughly on par with what had been seen at the same point in last years marketing campaign for The Force Awakens. That film clocked up more than $2bn from cinemagoers, with $1.33bn of that banked as box office takings in the 2015 calendar year.

Disney will be hoping that its force will be strong enough to net the $1bn-plus it needs to make history this year.


Disneys billion-dollar blockbusters in 2016
1. Captain America: Civil War: $1.15bn
2. Zootopia: $1.023bn
3. Finding Dory: $1.022bn
4. The Jungle Book: $966m
5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens: $2.07bn ($736m in 2016)

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/nov/12/disney-hopes-for-fairytale-ending-7bn-box-office-moana-rogue-one-finding-dory

China passes law to ensure films ‘serve the people and socialism’

First law governing the countrys film industry targets box-office fraud and says film-makers must have excellent moral integrity

China has passed a law that bans film content deemed harmful to the dignity, honour and interests of the country. It also encourages the promotion of socialist core values.

Booming box-office receipts have drawn Hollywood studios and a growing Chinese film-making industry into fierce competition for the Asian giants movie market, which some analysts predict will soon eclipse that of the US.

The new laws govern the promotion of the film industry and were approved by the National Peoples Congress standing committee at a meeting in Beijing.

The law states that its aim is to spread core socialist values, enrich the masses spiritual and cultural life, and set ground rules for the industry.

It forbids content that stirs up opposition to the law or constitution, harms national unity, sovereignty or territorial integrity, exposes national secrets, harms Chinese security, dignity, honour or interests, or spreads terrorism or extremism.

Also banned are subjects that defame the peoples excellent cultural traditions, incite ethnic hatred or discrimination, or destroy ethnic unity.

The law says films should serve the people and socialism, state news agency Xinhua reported. Foreign film-makers damaging Chinas national dignity, honour and interests, or harming social stability or hurting national feelings were not welcome, it added.

The Communist party fiercely criticises governments and public figures who have expressed sympathy for the Dalai Lama. Brad Pitt angered authorities when he appeared in the film Seven Years in Tibet.

Companies that work on such content now face fines of up to five times their illegal earnings over 500,000 yuan (60,000).

Fines will also be imposed for providing false box-office data, a widespread problem as firms have been caught pumping up ticket sales to generate marketing buzz.

The new laws also lay out stricter rules for actors and film-makers, saying people employed in the industry should have excellent moral integrity and self-discipline, Xinhua said. This follows recent instances of celebrities being caught taking drugs.

The law has been in development since 2011, and will come into effect on 1 March 2017.

Only 34 foreign films are given cinema releases each year under a quota set by Beijing, and all are subject to official censorship of content deemed politically sensitive or obscene.

To get around restrictions, Hollywood studios looking to capitalise on Chinas burgeoning market have sought partnerships with local companies. Co-produced movies can bypass the quota as long as they contain significant Chinese elements, such as characters, plot devices or locations.

This may no longer be as important, as already this year the quota has been relaxed possibly to prop up box-office figures after an unexpected downturn and a renegotiation of the deal with the US in February is expected to increase the number of foreign films allowed in.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/nov/08/china-passes-film-industry-law-box-office-fraud

Marvel’s Doctor Strange cures struggling US box office as Trolls cast spell

Mel Gibsons second world war film Hacksaw Ridge takes third place in a weekend that sees moviegoers flock to cinemas

A strong batch of new films drew audiences to US theaters in large numbers this weekend, including Marvels Doctor Strange, the animated Trolls and Mel Gibsons second world war drama Hacksaw Ridge, waking up a sleepy fall box office. The top three films all received largely positive reviews from critics.

As the superhero in the bunch, Doctor Strange easily dominated with $85m in North American theaters, according to studio estimates on Sunday. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a neurosurgeon turned sorcerer, Doctor Strange opened internationally last weekend. It has already grossed $325.4m globally.

Its the 14th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the 14th to open at No 1. As one of the lesser-known properties, it far surpassed Ant-Mans $57.2m launch, but fell a little short of Guardians of the Galaxys $94.3m debut.

Much of the Doctor Strange business came from premium large format screens and 3D showings, which, according to RealD, made up 47% of the domestic gross.

Movie theaters exist for a movie like Doctor Strange, said Dave Hollis, executive vice-president of distribution for the Walt Disney Company. For one thing, Hollis said, its just visually different.

Yes, for a marketing tagline the idea that its something that you havent seen before is a great way to sell something, but having something that arrests and totally disrupts what people are expecting to see inside of a movie theater is part of what will help jump-start what has been a bit of a slower box office lately, which is good not only for us but for the entire marketplace, Hollis said.

The weekend also drove Walt Disney Studios to surpass the $6bn mark globally this year a first for the studio and a second for the industry.

DreamWorks Animations Trolls, a family-friendly musical featuring the voices of Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake, took second place with $45.6m in North America, and $30m internationally. In addition to being one of the first new family films to hit the market in a few weeks, the film had the added benefit of an original hit song from Timberlake, Cant Stop the Feeling.

And in third place, Hacksaw Ridge, Gibsons film about the true story of the conscientious objector Desmond Dosss heroics during the battle of Okinawa, earned $14.8m. The independently financed film cost a reported $40m to make.

Its a real return to form for Mel Gibson, who has obviously had his ups and downs in his personal life, but it is a true meritocracy in this business, noted Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box office tracker comScore. If you make a really great movie, people will judge you based on that movie.

Gibson hasnt directed a film since Apocalypto in 2006.

Holdovers populated spots four and five. Tyler Perrys Boo! A Madea Halloween dropped 55% in its third weekend in theaters. It made $7.8m, bringing its total earnings to $65m.

Perry managed to beat out Inferno again, which brought in only $6.3m in weekend two to take fifth place. The Tom Hanks-starrer has grossed $26.1m to date.

In limited release, the likely awards film Loving, about the true story of the couple behind the supreme court decision that invalidated laws against interracial marriage, opened in four theaters to $169,000.

Overall the box office was up around 16% from this weekend last year, which Dergarabedian said was attributable to the quality of the new films, audiences desire for some escapism before the election on Tuesday and the diversity of content. The top three films all had different ratings too. Doctor Strange is PG-13, Trolls is PG and Hacksaw Ridge is rated R.

This is the formula that Hollywood should try to re-create every weekend, Dergarabedian said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/nov/06/doctor-strange-box-office-marvel-trolls-mel-gibson

Herschell Gordon Lewis: low-brow schlock horror director with a kind of horrible genius

Lewis was the master of bargain-basement splatter without whom we would not have the likes of Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino

One of the most extraordinary figures in the history of popular American moviegoing has departed the stage: film director Herschell Gordon Lewis was the godfather of gore and the sultan of splatter who in the 1960s energetically pushed the envelope of bad taste with low-cost, low-brow schlock-horror exploitation pictures. Lots of blood, lots of screaming, lots of nudity and lots of money.

Photograph: Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

But he was more than just this. Lewis was a sort of cross between Ed Wood Jr, Roger Corman, Russ Meyer, Dale Carnegie and maybe even Bernie Madoff. Because as well as being a conveyor-belt of trash movies, Lewis was a formidable and unnervingly driven entrepreneur and compulsive wheeler-dealer who did three years jail time in the 1970s for fraud, having conned people through crooked schemes, like a fake car rental company and incredibly a phoney abortion referral service, and for (nearly) all these services he borrowed money from the bank using as collateral the cinemas of which he claimed to be the un-mortgaged owner. It was a breathtaking and crazy illegality, but nothing dented his almost sociopathic self-belief and work ethic. He cranked out dozens of books on direct marketing and salesmanship and to the end of his life kept his focus on this, producing how-to guides on making money from the web. In fact, he may well have seen in the internet the same kind of wild-west, anything-goes spirit that drove him in his film-making heyday.

Lewis came into low-budget movie-making in Chicago from a flourishing career in ad copywriting. After his softcore nudist-camp smutfests like Goldilocks and the Three Bares, Lewis found his true vocation in bargain-basement horror with his pioneering splatter film Blood Feast in 1963, about a cannibalistic caterer who kills women so that he can offer up their cooked remains in horrendous occult rituals. Lewis actually made a sequel in 2002 entitled Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat a title which had a kind of horrible genius. John Waters was always a fan.

Photograph: Everett/REX/Shutterstock

After this, Lewis created A Taste of Blood and The Gruesome Twosome, which cemented his own cult reputation, and he was a master of films which appeared to have been created simply to justify the existence of outrageous titles and delirious posters: The Gore Gore Girls (aka Blood Orgy); Monster A Go-Go; Just for the Hell of It; Bell, Bare and Beautiful; The Ecstasies of Women; Alley Tramp; Sin, Suffer, Repent.

After his brush with the law, Lewis turned his hand to direct marketing and his book titles have a very similar gamey spirit to his mould-breaking splatter: Hot Appeals or Burnt Offerings (surely inspired by his masterpiece Blood Feast?), Sales Letters That Sizzle, and Open Me Now.

Lewis was a one-off, although perhaps his career is maybe a lesson in the fact that cinema has its origins in hucksterism and the fairground tent. But without Lewis, there would be no Robert Rodriguez, no Quentin Tarantino. Respectable cinema entertainment is Dr Jekyll; Herschell Gordon Lewis was its Mr Hyde.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2016/sep/26/herschell-gordon-lewis-schlock-horror-director-blood-feast

Horror film Don’t Breathe scares up $26.1m at box office

Performance more than doubles predictions for small-budget film, as latest inexpensive hit for Sony tops Suicide Squad

Audiences turned out in droves for the horror movie Dont Breathe, which brought in $26.1m on the last weekend of August, according to studio estimates released on Sunday.

That was more than double early predictions for how the film would perform and far above the modest production budget, which was reportedly less than $10m. Stage 6 Films produced and Sonys Screen Gems oversaw distribution.

Don’t Breathe is about a group of Detroit teens who chose the wrong house to rob that of a blind, vengeful veteran. It stars Jane Levy and Dylan Minnette and was directed by Fede Alvarez, who is known for the Evil Dead remake.

Sony Pictures marketing chief Josh Greenstein noted how rare it was for a film in this genre to resonate so deeply with critics its current Rotten Tomatoes score is 87%. It also continues Sonys summer of success with original films that cost very little to make.

This marks a string of very profitable hits for Sony with very modest budgets. The Shallows, Sausage Party and now Dont Breathe were all incredibly profitable because they were made for modest budgets and did incredibly well at the box office, Greenstein said.

Dont Breathe is also the latest horror success for Hollywood this summer, which has seen films like Lights Out, The Conjuring 2, and The Purge: Election Year thrive while bigger budget, spectacle-driven counterparts flailed.

As it turns out, horror is the least scary genre this summer, especially to the bean counters in Hollywood, said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for box office tracker comScore. [They] can almost always be counted on to make money.

Horror films, Dergarabedian said, perform very well on home video too.

Dont Breathe effectively unseated Suicide Squad from its three-week run atop the box office. This weekend, the comic book film grossed $12.1m, bringing its domestic total to $282.9m.

Laikas Kubo and the Two Strings took third place in its second weekend in theaters with $7.9m. The $60m film has now earned $24.8m domestically. Sausage Party continued to have a ball, earning $7.7m for a fourth place finish and an $80m domestic total.

The poorly reviewed Jason Statham-led sequel Mechanic: Resurrection placed fifth in its opening weekend with $7.5m, according to Lionsgate. The first film opened to $11.4m in 2011.

Among specialty releases, the Barack and Michelle Obama first-date movie Southside With You launched in 813 theaters to an estimated $3.1m, while the Weinstein Companys Roberto Duran boxing biopic Hands of Stone opened in 810 theaters to $1.7m.

Overall, the box office was up slightly from this weekend last year, when Straight Outta Compton opened. Next weekend closes out the summer season with the release of the sci-fi film Morgan and the romantic drama The Light Between Oceans.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/aug/28/us-box-office-dont-breathe-suicide-squad

Kubo and the Two Strings review kids’ movie equivalent of a plate of vegetables

The unremarkable non-adventures of a Shinto boy and a monkey voiced by Charlize Theron will not appeal to kids. Except, perhaps, teachers pets

I went to quite a progressive school and, as such, spent time as a kid learning about other cultures and beliefs. Whenever we finished a new unit wed get an extracurricular treat. After learning about north Africa, someone served me my first bowl of couscous. If we were really lucky, wed get to watch a movie. But it was always the same: first, the thrill of dimming lights and a hush over the room; then, the inevitable realisation that while this was better than classwork, the enrichment film was still a little lame.

I hadnt thought about any of this in decades, but it came whooshing back during Kubo and the Two Strings. Somewhere in an alternate universe, a mini version of myself, after learning about Japanese culture and Shinto beliefs, ends up seeing this animated feature as a reward and is only mildly happy about it.

The story is as by-the-numbers as they come. Kubo, a young boy with a gift for origami and playing the shamisen, is a chosen one. He is the grandson of the jealous Moon King, but his mother left the immortal realm when she fell in love with a samurai. Her evil sisters are out to get Kubo, hoping to steal his second eye (hes already lost his first one), and when things get rough one night, Kubos mother uses the last of her magic to send her young son on a quest. Joined by a talking, nannyish monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron), he must find three totems a sword, a helmet and a breastplate that will help him, er, help him do something. I cant remember, because this movie really is incredibly boring.

Along the way, Kubo and the monkey meet Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), an insect warrior reminiscent of Kristoff from Frozen, in that hes a lovable dope. The three overcome some odds and eventually win the day, in a remarkably slow and uneventful manner. This affords them plenty of opportunity to talk about death, which is what every kid looks for in a summer cartoon film. Some of the scenes that show Shinto (or Shinto-inspired) rituals concerning deceased elders and the acceptance of mortality are, admittedly, interesting, but Im not inclined to give a pass to a family film that indoctrinates an irrational belief system just because its novel. Its one thing to say this is what some people believe, but another to say, as this film does, this is the way.

Kubo and the Two Strings trailer

Shockingly, Kubo and the Two Strings doesnt even have much going for it on a visual level. Laika studios first feature, the marvellous 2009 picture Coraline, was remarkable in its tactile, handmade approach. But in the intervening years following the quite good ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls a problem has arisen. Laikas animation technique has become, counter-intuitively, too good. If you came to this with no previous knowledge of the studios mission statement, youd likely think this was a typical 3D computer-animated project, and not the result of a time-consuming, homespun process involving small puppets and stop-motion photography. I had to check YouTube for some behind-the-scenes marketing materials to confirm the studio hadnt made the leap to CG images. Perhaps were nearing a singularity, where the digital renderings of mega-processors have knocked the wonder out of us, and real animation now only looks impressive when it is demonstrably less than perfect, as in something like Coraline or Ji Bartas marvellous 2009 film Toys in the Attic.

I dont enjoy being a stick-in-the-mud about Kubo and the Two Strings, but I am being realistic. Little kids will be bored, as there are only a few scenes with any action, and of those, only one, featuring an enormous skeleton with swords sticking out of its skull, has any oomph. The creature design isnt that spectacular either, save for a quick look at a Forgotten Realms-ish beholder. Older kids, except for a few teachers pets, will soon realise that this is hardly a fun action-adventure cartoon at all, but a plate of vegetables. That isnt to say the animation market should live on Minions alone, but for its intended audience, its unlikely these two strings will resonate.

  • Kubo and the Two Strings is released in the US on 19 August and in the UK on 9 September

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/aug/12/kubo-and-the-two-strings-review-charlize-theron-laika-animation

Suicide Squad makes Con Air look inspired. It’s time for a blockbuster face-lift

Our writer-at-large saw DCs critically panned film and thinks its emblematic of Hollywoods superhero inertia. His solution: let Yorgos Lanthimos have a go

Warner Bros marketing department is probably having a hell of a time finding positive quotes for their latest DC Comics-inspired critical disaster, Suicide Squad. I feel for the poor intern who has to go through all the press clippings and sort through bon mots such as Resembles the sale rack at a Burlington Coat Factory and Jared Letos overacting makes the dog from Beethoven look like John Cazale just to find the stray compliment that the studio will shoe-horn into a 30-second spot during Bachelor in Paradise. In honor of those poor souls who just want to get some experience in Hollywood during their summer away from Northwestern, heres a quote for you, free of charge: I didnt hate it!

I didnt hate it, says Dave Schilling of the Guardian has a real ring to it, doesnt it? But why, you might ask, did I not hate Suicide Squad?

Its atrocious. A blatant pastiche of Escape from New York, Ghostbusters, Guardians of the Galaxy and Con Air. Yes, I said Con Air is better than Suicide Squad. Con Air sucks, but Con Air sucks in the most fun way possible. Its happy being bad. It knows nothing other than being bad and does not stray from its mission statement of being bad. Its a natural expression of its creative vision.

It includes a prominent role for John Cusack as a US marshall who does karate in Birkenstocks. There are moments in Suicide Squad that harken back to the era of movies such as Con Air the height of the Jerry Bruckheimer brand of unapologetic Hollywood action trash, a dearly departed style of eccentric stupidity wiped away by the pristine war machine of Marvel Studios.

The success of films such as X2, Iron Man and The Dark Knight gave credence to the so-called respectable genre film. Peek at the Rotten Tomatoes page for 2014s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and youll see critic after critic applauding the film for its energy, humor and various allusions to real-world problems. Winter Soldier, like almost every Marvel production, is a testament to the infernal dream factory they have created.

Each film adheres to a stylistic and thematic structure that guarantees success. Even lesser works such as Ant-Man and Iron Man 2 possess enough Marvel magic to skate by without anyone really stopping to consider how generic they are. Theyre fun, brimming with charm and eager to please. Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios should be commended for doing something truly superhuman: getting people to leave their homes to see films in a theater on a regular basis. Of the 13 Marvel Studios releases, only one has grossed under $150m in domestic box office. Only four of them have grossed under $200m. Ask the producers of recent box office disappointments such as Ghostbusters or Star Trek Beyond good movies that received mostly positive critical notices but underperformed financially if making a blockbuster is easy.

That success breeds audience loyalty and brand recognition. If a new Pixar movie is released, people will see it out of cultural obligation. If Apple releases a Wi-Fi enabled nose-hair trimmer, millions of consumers would snap one up just to be the first one at the office to try it out in the private executive bathroom. But Apple doesnt take big swings any more. They release another iPhone once a year with a slightly better camera. Pixars film slate is littered with sequels. What was once refreshing and vital is now the fourth trip to the soup-and-salad bar at Sizzler. Thats OK, though. I have an iPhone 6 and will gladly pay money for Incredibles 2. I also love Sizzler. That cheese toast they have is stupendous. (Still, its human nature to want to sample new things, even in the face of whats warm and familiar, which brings me back to Suicide Squad.)

Its criminal: John Malkovich in Con Air. Photograph: Channel 5

Warner and DC Entertainment promised a film-maker-centric creative culture, a subtle dig at Marvels Pixaresque top-down structure. Suicide Squads advertising made it look quirky and visually arresting. As the summer movie schedule chugged along and it became clear that nothing outside of Marvel and cartoons were going to make a dent in the cultural conversation, Suicide Squad shone in the distance like a lighthouse that our boat was slowly creeping up on. Finally, something different. What we often forget is that something different occasionally means something terrible.

The movie business is not designed to produce starkly original works. Its supposed to create profitable widgets with merchandising potential. When a piece of art with an unconventional worldview does escape, its rare and it tends to take audiences awhile to catch up to what they witnessed. Sometimes, a film will get hammered to death by the executives whose job it is to protect the profit margin of their studio. Its a facile argument to say that theyre all corporate stooges who hate art. No, what they hate is losing their jobs. Think about all the industry professionals that will soon be out of work at studios that struggled this summer, such as Paramount and Columbia. Im not saying you should pity them; most of them get paid quite well and will find work elsewhere. But understand the motivation behind the instinct to meddle with something weird. Remember the studio executives that watched Blade Runner and suggested Ridley Scott add a voiceover and a happy ending?

Suicide Squad wasnt going to be Blade Runner, but it could have been more coherent with less studio involvement. WB execs clashed with writer/director David Ayer and mandated reshoots to lighten the tone of the film, rendering the finished product an unholy mess of conflicting ideas and unclear character motivations. A movie that co-stars a crocodile-man in a Juicy Couture track suit was probably never capable of the serious treatment. Marvel, on the other hand, has weaponized the ironic distance necessary to make these movies palatable for mass consumption. DC can try to copy that or they can carve a new path, but they have to pick one or the other. As it stands now, they are cranking out glorious B-movies and no one, save for Michael Bay, makes movies this strange and terrible any more.

Maybe thats why audiences have sleepwalked through the summer season. While there is plenty of arthouse fare worth your time, the studio product is competent, clean and safe. The results are predictable. Theres nothing in the big-budget, studio category compelling us out of our moviegoing apathy, nothing as particular and auteurist as Tim Burtons Batman, Paul Verhoevens Total Recall or James Camerons Titanic. Theres also nothing as moronic as Twister, except Suicide Squad. The summer of 1995 the year the neon demon known as Batman Forever squirted out of the Warner Bros apparatus and dominated the box office saw the release of the abominable Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd adaptation. Bombs like that made Batman Forever, a McDonalds commercial posing as a feature film complete with rubber nipples and Tommy Lee Jones having an artistic seizure on camera, seem interesting. If everything is good, is anything really good?

Hollywood needs to take risks and give creative control to singular visionaries in order to keep people energized by the idea of seeing men and women in spandex fight CGI monsters. The auteurist sensibilities of Christopher Nolan pushed the form to new heights with the Dark Knight trilogy, even if the template he laid down is not being followed by the brain-trusts at Marvel and Warner Bros. The sign of a unique piece of work is when it cant be so easily replicated and commodified. Let Yorgos Lanthimos, director of The Lobster, have a crack at a comic book film. Sure, it might turn out to be artsy and unconventional, but it could also redefine the parameters of the superhero genre and breathe new life into the movie business.

Studios are going to have to learn to accept failure, which is outside the realm of their corporate identities. Theres a certain nobility to the earnest, creatively pure disaster. When watching Suicide Squad, its readily apparent that whatever was noble about that film was surgically removed long before opening weekend.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/aug/08/suicide-squad-hollywood-creativity-blockbuster-films