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

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

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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‘Berlin, I Love You’ Film Review: Latest City-Based Anthology Is a Deutsch Dud

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The juxtaposition of moments in time, such as one person experiencing immense joy and another hitting rock bottom, or someone dying while someone else is being born, has always been an intriguing concept in film. But there’s a certain finesse that goes into making each separate vignette engaging — and in some cases, even urgent — so that these slivers of tales resonate with the audience. Unfortunately, “Berlin, I Love You” lacks that essential finesse.

This fourth installment of the “Cities of Love” franchise (the series has previously traveled to New York City, Paris, and Rio de Janeiro) centers on Berlin and, like the other segments, tells ten not-so-interwoven stories that illuminate various themes including love and loss. There’s the woman (Keira Knightley) who takes in an abandoned Arabic child, much to the chagrin of her disapproving mother (Helen Mirren). There’s also the Hollywood actor (Luke Wilson) grappling with his stagnant career and looking for something, or someone, who can exhilarate him once again.

Then there’s a model (Lili Gattyán) who is reeling after coming all the way to Berlin for what she thought was her first big break only to get sexually harassed by the photographer. There’s the trans woman (Diego Luna — yes, another cisgender male actor playing a trans woman) who just broke up with her boyfriend and encounters a teenage boy confronting his sexuality. And the young woman (Toni Garnn) who decides to slide up in a barstool next to her dad (Mickey Rourke), who has never met her. These are just a smattering of the instances that occur while the heart of Berlin continues to beat.

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It’s important to stress that these storylines simply happen and don’t actually unfold. In other words, scenes aren’t allowed to breathe or to be processed. They merely arise. That’s because the number of vignettes doesn’t permit much room for plot or character development. Certain narratives, like Knightley’s and Gattyán’s, could have definitely used some fleshing out. They raise questions more than they offer any insight. Editors Peter R. Adam (“Bye Bye Germany”) and Christoph Strothjohann (“Head Full of Honey”) certainly had their work cut out for them trying to piece together the staggering amount of stories that don’t really intertwine, which would have at least given the film more of a flow. Instead, “I Love You, Berlin” comes off clunky and hollow.

The real attraction here is the cinematography, which is essential to the franchise as each installment primarily serves as a valentine to its setting. But as lush and striking as the images from cinematographer Kolja Brandt (“The Young Karl Marx”) are, they don’t give Berlin much of a distinct personality and instead simply candy-coat it. What makes these stories so pertinent to Berlin culture and history? How is the landscape used effectively to amplify the story? It’s not. Every scene is gorgeous to look at, but it doesn’t serve, or even affect the flat, unrefined storytelling.

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Still, there are some interesting moments in the film, which ultimately don’t come to much but are worth calling out anyway. Rourke delivers an authentic portrayal of a lonesome single man who decides to have one vulnerable moment with a female stranger in a bar, and it pivots the direction of his life. Gattyán’s exasperated performance is at once a #MeToo fist pump and a statement of female solidarity, even when we’re not always in exact agreement.

But other storylines, like the one about a male artist (Robert Stadlober, “Summer Storm”) in angel wings who falls for an Israeli woman (Rafaëlle Cohen) new to Berlin, are far too contrived to be engaging. While Cohen is effervescent, there’s just not enough story. In fact, the film ends with them just falling into each other’s arms after her rousing vocal performance in a park that brings almost every character to the location (without necessarily tying up any of their individual plots). Nor does the brief, befuddling dance sequence narrative featuring Jenna Dewan make any definitive point. It’s yet another occurrence in the film that takes place without any actual meaning.

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The bevy of writers and directors behind Berlin, I Love You” — including Dianna Agron (who pulls double duty as director and star alongside Wilson), Justin Franklin, Massy Tadjedin, and Dani Levy — highlight a collective of rich voices and potential stories that would have been better delivered with longer and fewer vignettes in the film. Some stories might have even been better combined as one.

As well intentioned as its flurry of feelings and sentimental performances are, “Berlin, I Love You” isn’t given the space or the format to truly sail. It fails to build on political landscape or culture and instead tries to pull on the heartstrings of its audience with half-baked concepts.

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IFC Films Acquires Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes Sundance Film ‘Official Secrets’

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IFC Films has acquired global rights to the Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes film “Official Secrets” out of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Directed by South African filmmaker, screenwriter, producer and actor Gavin Hood, “Official Secrets” tells the true story of British secret-service officer Katharine Gun, who during the immediate run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq leaked a top-secret National Security Agency memo.

The memo exposed an illegal U.S. and U.K. spying operation against members of the United Nations Security Council and proposed blackmailing smaller, undecided member states into voting for war.

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The film is based on the book “The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion,” by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell.

In addition to Knightley and Fiennes, “Official Secrets” also stars Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans and Adam Bakri.

The film premiered on Monday during the festival at the Eccles Theatre in Park City, Utah.

IFC plans to role the film out in a traditional theatrical release at some point in 2019.

The deal was negotiated by Arianna Bocco of IFC  and CAA + UTA on behalf of filmmakers.

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‘Berlin, I Love You’ Trailer: Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren Among Stars In Fourth ‘Cities’ Installment

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‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ Film Review: This Sugarplum Is Rancid

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Between now and doomsday, it’s unlikely that we’ll get a movie that will defile the work of Tchaikovsky and E.T.A. Hoffman more than 2010’s “The Nutcracker in 3D,” the movie that took the classic story and ballet and added Holocaust metaphors, Tim Rice-penned hip-hop lyrics, and a bizarre turn by Nathan Lane as Albert Einstein. But while it may not be quite as terrible, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” earns runner-up status on the list of worst cinematic “Nutcracker” misfires.

Maybe it was the massive reshoots — directorial credit is shared by Lasse Hallstrom, who shot the first go-round, and Joe Johnston — or perhaps the script by first-timer Ashleigh Powell was always muddled and convoluted, but the results are singularly dispiriting. Rather than harken back to an elegant, whimsical earlier period of history, this “Nutcracker” calls to mind the early 2010s, when the success of “Alice in Wonderland” led to a spate of fairy-tale characters being given swords and marched off to war with hordes of CG creatures.

By the time seven-foot-tall automaton tin soldiers attack a 30-foot robot woman whose skirts are a circus big top, all semblance of humanity or empathy has escaped the film, but the movie’s soul starts leaking out pretty early. The opening is promising enough: young Clara (Mackenzie Foy, “Interstellar”) hides in the attic studying physics and building Rube Goldberg-ian mousetraps as a way of dealing with her grief over her mother’s recent death. On Christmas Eve, her bereaved father (Matthew Macfadyen) gives the children presents that mom left for them; Clara gets a locked music box, but no key.

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At a ball that evening, Clara ducks out to find Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), who built the box. Later that night Drosselmeyer has the children follow strings around the house to find their presents; Clara’s string takes her into another dimension where she learns that her mother was a queen of four realms, each one ruled by sweet Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley), flower-covered Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez), icy Shiver (Richard E. Grant) and Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren). As Clara arrives, the latter seems to be waging war with the other three realms, and it’s up to Clara to fix the situation.

The movie then spends a sizable chunk of its real estate trying to explain its own premise. There’s a giant machine built by Clara’s mother that brings toys to life but can also turn people back into toys. Sugar Plum demonstrates — for no reason other than to explain how Clara can have adventures yet still return to Drosselmeyer’s party on time — that time moves much more quickly in the Four Realms than it does back on Earth. (Maybe this movie needed Einstein in it instead.)

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Clara gets a tour of the realms (one made of candy, one of flowers, one of frost) that serves little purpose but to give costume designer Jenny Beavan, unquestionably the film’s MVP, a chance to shine. And then the movie stops dead in its tracks for Misty Copeland to do a dance about Clara’s mother, but even this dance doesn’t quite explain if Clara’s mother created this world, or discovered it, or what exactly.

Stopping the movie, at this point, is actually a kindness, and would that Copeland could have just starred in a more literal adaptation of the ballet. Her contributions are glorious and all-too-brief, but this interjection of dance and music at least gives her a moment to shine, alongside conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who appears in silhouette with his orchestra in a moment that seems right out of “Fantasia.” (That’s not the film’s only quotation: We open with a dizzying, aggressively artificial birds-eye swoop through Victorian London that is so obviously a piece of animation that it could have come directly from Robert Zemeckis’ awful motion-capture “A Christmas Carol.”)

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The “child travels to a magical land and learns things” trope has been the basis of many beloved stories, from “The Wizard of Oz” to “The Phantom Tollbooth” to “The Chronicles of Narnia.” But it’s not a foolproof device, particularly when the magical land in question never makes much narrative sense; besides, how can the Four Realms be magical when the London where Clara already lives is so obviously a cartoon? Both the “real” world and the fake one are ugly, overdone, and lacking any visual connection to gravity let alone reality.

Also not helping matters are the barely sketched-in characters. Knightley scores at least a few fun moments as a bubbly pixie miles away from her usual dramatic leading ladies of literature, but Grant and Derbez are stuck letting their costumes do all the work, never mind that they provided some of this year’s finest comedy work in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and “Overboard,” respectively.

If there’s a ballet company anywhere near you, they are most likely staging “The Nutcracker,” and they are no doubt hoping that the profits from this crowd-pleaser will get them through the rest of the year. Support them with the money you might otherwise have thrown at this misbegotten assault on the eyes.

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Let’s get this out of the way: The Nutcracker And The Four Realms is probably going to be nominated for at least one Oscar. And costume designer Jenny Beavan and production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas will richly deserve the nods their fanciful Rococo cr…