‘The Mustang’ and Matthias Schoenaerts Ride Into Indie Box Office

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A slew of new releases hit the indie box office this weekend, with the top per screen average going to Focus Features’ “The Mustang,” which stars Matthias Schoenaerts as a violent prison inmate who undergoes a personal transformation when he is entered into a mustang taming program.

Released on five screens in Los Angeles and New York, the film grossed $94,750 for an average of $18,950. Critics have hailed the performances of Schoenaerts and co-star Bruce Dern, as well as the direction of Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, giving the film a 95 percent Rotten Tomatoes score.

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Less impressive was Fox Searchlight’s “The Aftermath,” which also released this weekend on five screens in L.A. and New York and grossed $57,000 for a per screen average of $11,500. Set after the end of World War II, the film stars Keira Knightley and Jason Clarke as a British couple who move into a home in Hamburg that has been recommissioned by the British but is still inhabited by a German widower (Alexander Skarsgard) and his troubled daughter. Circumstances lead to a secret tryst between the woman and the widower, as tensions between Britain and Germany remain high.

Directed by James Kent, the film will expand to 28 theaters next weekend but faces poor critical reviews, as it earned a 27 percent Rotten Tomatoes score.

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Among holdovers, A24’s “Gloria Bell” expanded to 39 screens in its second weekend and grossed $378,000 for a total of $568,000, while NEON/CNN Films’ “Apollo 11” expanded to 588 screens and added $1.22 million for a total of $5.5 million after three weekends.

Finally, Magnolia and Shorts.TV’s annual screening of the Oscar short film nominees is reaching the end of its theatrical run, adding $14,500 this weekend to bring its total to $3.5 million, a record for the Oscar screening series.

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‘The Hummingbird Project’ Film Review: Jesse Eisenberg Launches an Overly Ambitious Scheme, and Ultimately, So’s the Movie

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

One millisecond is a nearly infinitesimal fraction of time. Heck, it just took you about a thousand milliseconds to read the words: “one millisecond.” So telling a story about a high-stakes race to convey information one measly millisecond faster than anybody else sounds like an exercise in making a heck of a lot of ado over, quite literally, almost nothing.

Thankfully, Kim Nguyen’s “The Hummingbird Project” is in on the joke. It’s a dryly humorous caper about a pair of cousins, Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg) and Anton (Alexander Skarsgård), who scheme to build a fiberoptic pipeline from Kansas City to New Jersey under the nose of their wealthy ex-employer, Eva Torres (Salma Hayek). Once built, their connection to the stock exchange will be one millisecond faster than anyone else’s, and that’s all the time they need to make a fortune.

Yes, that’s it; that’s their whole plan. They may be somewhat unethical, but they’re hardly Lex Luthor and Eric Northman. Vincent and Anton pitch their idea to legitimate investors and then try to charm and (when necessary) drink the allegorical milkshakes of the various landowners who stand in the way of them digging a modest-width, albeit incredibly long, hole in the ground.

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Nguyen, director of the Oscar-nominated “War Witch,” plays most of “The Hummingbird Project” like an old-school heist movie, complete with fast-talking cons and schematics every which way. The cognitive disconnect between how serious Vincent and Anton take their mission and the mundanity of actually digging holes is inherently funny, and Nguyen milks that contrast for delicious irony and, eventually, some only partly-earned pathos.

“The Hummingbird Project” is the kind of film where Salma Hayek says, as she reaches out to a colleague, “You don’t have to hide behind this gimmicky neutrino-messaging bullsh*t,” as if she doesn’t sound like she’s reading stereo instructions. The playful score by Yves Gourmeur (“Méprises”) and sharp, serious cinematography by Nicolas Bolduc (“Enemy”) are also whimsically at odds with one another. It’s a film that owns its contrasts, that’s for certain.

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But although the story of “The Hummingbird Project” begins with a slick, Soderbergh-ian heist mentality, it gradually evolves into a rather sad tale about what a waste of time it is to try to steal a millisecond. As one of our protagonists wrestles with his mortality, and his decision to build the pipeline even if it literally kills him, the other expands his consciousness to acknowledge that all their effort to make a few insanely rich investors just a little bit richer does absolutely nothing to help the people working at the companies in which they’re actually investing.

That’s a thoughtful approach to a film like this but sadly, “The Hummingbird Project” doesn’t earn its enlightened conclusion. Most of the characters are eccentric, sometimes to the point of caricature; that, or they merely serve a function to the plot. Eisenberg seems to be playing a significantly less successful version of his Mark Zuckerberg character in “The Social Network,” with all the detachment and scheming but almost none of the skills to back up his bravado. Eisenberg is great at that, but it doesn’t do much to earn our empathy.

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Meanwhile, Skarsgård plays a genius whose behavior would seem to indicate that he’s on the spectrum, although that’s never directly addressed. The actor appears to relish playing a brainy character: It looks like he dove headfirst into the electric razor that gave him a huge receding hairline. And it’s exceedingly amusing, for those who relish hackneyed moments of inspiration in movies, to see him amble from one seemingly random moment to another, in search of the big “eureka” that will solve all his problems and finally buy them that extra millisecond. Will he find a way to skip junctions after he tries skipping stones? No. Will he realize that fiberoptic cables are affected by water after he picks up the frog? No. You’ll see what it is, and if you’re into meta-narratives, you’ll probably be happy with its banality.

But all this whimsy does little to address the film’s frustratingly simple conclusions about life, the universe and everything. One of the characters basically comes right out and says, like he’s the biggest genius of them all, that the real treasure was the friends they made along the way. At that point “The Hummingbird Project” goes from ironic to trite in — it seems — less than a millisecond.

“The Hummingbird Project” is most of a great movie. Amiable performances and a deft pace combine with high-contrast storytelling, and the results are generally engaging. Sometimes funny, sometimes smart, always watchable, but perhaps the film’s dedication to turning a clever tale into something profound was a miscalculation. Perhaps there were simply better ways to spend the time.



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‘The Aftermath’ Film Review: Keira Knightley Stars in a Post-War Romance Lacking in Passion

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From the wreckage of Allied-bombed Hamburg comes the post-World War II romantic triangle “The Aftermath,” and suddenly the problems of three little people amount to a hill of blah in this handsomely mounted, but hopelessly machine-pressed game of who are sacrificing more to escape the rubble of shattered desire and lingering grief.

Director James Kent’s adaptation of Rhidian Brook’s 2014 novel — about a ghost-like Germany, a broken British marriage, and the healing powers of a passionate thaw — has the unfortunate quality of a hot-blooded soap grafted onto rather than merged with a historical-political drama. The result exhibits little feel for how each genre’s particular needs might interfere with the other’s, or how the film’s trio of capable actors (Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgård, and Jason Clarke) might be properly utilized.

When one considers the cinematic legacy of post-war Germany sagas alive to the colorful simmer of one-time enemies in close quarters — Billy Wilder’s “A Foreign Affair,” Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “The Marriage of Maria Braun,” Christian Petzold’s “Phoenix” — it makes the dashed potential of “The Aftermath” all the more frustrating.

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Early on, there’s promise in the thick, snowy air of polite discomfort coursing through Brook’s scenario. Arriving in Hamburg five months after the Allied victory, Rachael Morgan (Knightley) is eager to be reunited with husband Lewis (Clarke), a conscientious British colonel overseeing a defeated, devastated city’s reconstruction. With the tragic loss of their son during a London bombing raid still a fresh memory, Rachael finds it disconcerting that in requisitioning a grand estate on the banks of the Elbe for them to live in, the charitably-minded Lewis insists its owner-architect, Stefan Lubert (Skarsgård), a war widower, and his aggrieved teenaged daughter, Freda (Flora Thiemann), remain as tenants, albeit in the attic.

Rachael does her stiff-upper-lip best to play nice around the gracious if glum Stefan, but she’s suspicious, quick to believe the gossip from a fellow military wife (Kate Phillips, “Peaky Blinders”) that any outline of a removed painting in a German house — like the one prominently featured in the Luberts’ — surely must have held a portrait of Hitler.

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But as with conquered cities, dividing a house into foreign zones, no matter how well-intentioned, can turn boundaries into alluring points of trespass. With the intimacy-challenged Lewis routinely called away, almost overeager to play do-gooder for a displaced populace, Rachael is left to find a connection with the sensitive, artistic German upstairs who mourns like her and who looks good chopping wood. (Yes, there’s actually a scene in which she stares at him from a window.) And Stefan, having noticed the chill between his new landlords, is only too happy to address his own loneliness by breaking the growing sexual tension.

Fair enough, as potboilers go. Why, then, does “The Aftermath” always blandly signal its every development, rather than put you in sync with its characters’ percolating feelings? The screenplay, credited to Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse (“Race”), and author Brook, is too bogged down with uninspired dialogue (“What is it you want from me?”) and clichéd set-ups (bandaging a wound, really?). Subsequently, the heart can never truly race for either the adultery or a flabby side story involving a guerrilla insurgency among displaced Nazi youth, a plot element that seems to exist only to make up in contrived endangerment what the main love story lacks in sexual peril.

But even outside the gravitas-challenged drama, director Kent — who tackled matters of heart related to the Great War in the better “Testament of Youth” — can’t find a way to showcase the Lubert estate as a visually evocative representation of the characters’ emotional states beyond Sonja Klaus’s (“Taboo”) tasteful old world-meets-modern production design. When you throw in pacing that offers no surprises, the well-appointed cinematography from Franz Lustig (“How I Live Now”) suffers as a result; no shadow-filled indoor scene or weather-driven outdoor shot feels wrong but put together, they don’t add up to a cinematic vision of any meaningful intensity.

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The cast is ultimately let down, too, by the lack of directorial verve. Knightley and Skarsgård are a serviceable pair of circle-then-pounce lovers, but their opposites-attracting coupling is hardly cathartic. And in the wake of costume-drama queen Knightley’s revelatory turn shaking up a marriage with wit and spice in last year’s “Colette,” the part of Rachael here is something of a cookie-cutter comedown. Clarke, meanwhile, struggles with a typically thankless role and isn’t done any favors with how his feelings breakthrough is handled in the final act — like the ticking of a box for the remaining emotional strands.

World War II remains such a tempting milieu for filmmakers interested in the classic pleasures of a grandly scaled, era-specific entertainment — whether history-driven (“Dunkirk,” “Darkest Hour”) or spectacle-infused (“Allied,” “Hacksaw Ridge”) — that you wonder if soft entries like “The Aftermath” are merely satisfied to be the B team: atmospheric but not immersive, attractively cast but unmessy, and fine with touching on a moment in time instead of dealing with it. In its aim to primarily push the buttons of romance fans, “The Aftermath” comes off, regrettably, like a period widget.



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‘Fast & Furious 9’ Moves Back a Month for Summer 2020 Faceoff With ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’

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It’s the battle of the big-studio franchises! Universal announced on Friday that it had moved the release of the ninth “Fast & Furious” movie from April 10, 2020, to May 22, 2020.

That puts it smack up against Warner Bros.’ pricey monster mashup, “Godzilla vs. Kong,” as well as Paramount’s kiddie-skewing latest “The SpongeBob Movie.”

Justin Lin is attached to direct the ninth (and tenth) installment in the fast-moving franchise, with Jordana Brewster, a.k.a. Mia Toretto, also returning to the series opposite her onscreen brother (Vin Diesel). Mia was last seen in “Furious 7,” retiring from the family business to start a family with Brian O’Connor, played by the late Paul Walker.

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The new “Furious” squares off against another pricey studio franchise: “Godzilla vs. Kong,” the fourth installment of the Legendary and Warner Bros. cinematic universe, which Adam Wingard will direct.

Demian Bichir, Alexander Skarsgard and Brian Tyree Henry have signed on to star in the new film, which follows this May’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” with Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown.

“Godzilla” brought in $529 million globally after it was released in 2014. “Kong: Skull Island” was released March 10, 2017, and grossed more than $565 million worldwide.

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Meanwhile, the eight “Fast & Furious” films have collectively grossed more than $5 billion worldwide. “Hobbs & Shaw,” a spinoff film from director David Leitch starring series regulars Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, drives into theaters on Aug. 2.

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‘The Hummingbird Project’ Trailer: Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård & Salma Hayek Dig Big Money

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The Little Drummer Girl stumbles as it moves the final pieces into place

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Alexander Skarsgard, Nat Wolff Military Drama ‘The Kill Team’ Lands at A24

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A24 announced on Thursday that it has picked up North American rights to war drama “The Kill Team,” starring Nat Wolff and Alexander Skarsgard.

“The Kill Team” follows a young soldier in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan who witnesses other recruits killing innocent civilians and considers reporting them to higher-ups as the heavily-armed, increasingly violent platoon becomes suspicious that someone in their ranks has turned on them.

A24 plans to release the film sometime in 2019.

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The project was written and directed by Award-nominated short-form documentary filmmaker Dan Krauss. “The Kill Team” was produced by Adrián Guerra through Nostromo Pictures, together with Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen and Isaac Klausner from Temple Hill Entertainment.

Krauss was nominated for an Emmy for his feature documentary of the same name, on which this film is based and was also nominated for Academy Awards for his short films “Extremis” and “The Life Of Kevin Carter.” Krauss is represented at UTA, his manager is at Grandview, and attorneys at Lichter, Grossman, Nichols & Adler.

Nostromo Pictures’ Nuira Valls and Miguel Ángel Faura are executive producers, and Ben Smith from Temple Hill is co-producer.

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Along with Wolff and Skarsgard, Rob Morrow (“Quiz Show”) also stars.

UTA Independent Film Group and CAA Media Finance represented the deal on behalf of the filmmakers. Cornerstone is selling international rights.

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Florence Pugh, Alexander Skarsgard Gear Up in ‘The Little Drummer Girl’ Trailer (EXCLUSIVE)

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‘The Aftermath’ Trailer: Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgard & Forbidden Romance In Postwar Germany

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