DISNEY'S EARTH IN RECORD OPENING
In a record-setting debut for a documentary, Disney's Earth grossed more than $4 million in its Wednesday (Earth Day) debut and received critical raves. Typical was Kenneth Turan's review in the Los Angeles Times: "It would be Pollyannaish to pretend that the documentary Earth is without its problems, but the bottom line is, difficulties be damned, it shouldn't be missed. What it does well is so remarkable that by the time the credits roll you likely won't want it to end." The film faces a crowded competitive field this weekend as three other films make their debuts, including Paramount's critically well received The Soloist, Universal's Fighting, and Sony's Obsessed (which was not screened for critics). Most box-office forecasters are predicting that Obsessed, starring Beyoncé Knowles as a woman whose husband is being stalked by a coworker, will be the movie to beat this weekend, with close competition from The Soloist, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. Fighting, starring Channing Tatum, is not expected to be a strong contender.
MOVIE REVIEWS: THE SOLOIST
Critics are greeting The Soloist, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx, with considerable applause. Calling it "poignant" and "heartfelt," Claudia Puig in USA Today concludes, "It presents a moving tribute to friendship and the power of music." The two lead actors receive much praise for their performances -- Downey, especially. "With small gestures or a single word, the actor conveys a complicated, comical personality," writes Rafer Guzmán in Newsday. Says Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe & Mail: "Few actors can play wry and rueful as persuasively as Downey, and his portrayal of a scruffy writer in a flailing profession is overripe but characteristically witty." As for Foxx's performance as a homeless musician who once studied at Juilliard, Chris Kaltenbach in the Baltimore Sun comments, "Foxx is magnificent, taking a role that could be exorbitantly showy ... and turning in a performance that's controlled and mesmerizing." But Manohla Dargis of the New York Times has conflicted feelings about the film. She writes: "The film is imperfect, periodically if unsurprisingly sentimental, overly tidy and often very moving. It works hard to make you feel good, as is to be expected, even as it maintains a strong sense of moral indignation that comes close to an assertion of real politics. Outrage would be too much for a mainstream entertainment like this one to manage. Like its muckraking journalist guide, it exploits its subjects for its own purposes. But its commitment to the material feels honest." And Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times summed up: "The Soloist has all the elements of an uplifting drama, except for the uplift. The story is compelling, the actors are in place, but I was never sure what the filmmakers wanted me to feel about it."
MOVIE REVIEWS: FIGHTING BACK
Fighting, which explores the world of underground fight clubs through the eyes of a character portrayed by Channing Tatum, receives the kind of respect that a good but never great fighter receives for his performance in the ring. A.O. Scott in the New York Times gives it an overall positive review, but he remarks, "Not that Fighting is a great movie. It has no desire to be one -- not an ounce of grandiosity or pretension or melodramatic overstatement. ... Its ambitions are modest, and it doesn't pursue them with excessive zeal, which may be why, improbably, it feels like a winner." Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe & Mail reaches a similar conclusion. "Though by no means original or especially ambitious, Fighting turns out to be a surprisingly watchable B-movie, full of oddball personal touches from its director," Dito Montiel. Likewise Michael Ordoña concludes in the Los Angeles Times: "It's not Raging Bull or Fight Club, but Fighting is populated by believable losers and lovingly adorned with just the right faces and peeling wallpaper to absorb you in Montiel's world."
COPPOLA TO SCREEN LATEST FILM AT CANNES
The Cannes Film Festival's "sidebar" known as the Directors Fortnight, which has often brought new directorial talent to the fore, will open this year with the latest work of an old hand -- Francis Ford Coppola. After turning down an invitation to show his film Tetro as an out-of-competition Official Selection, saying that a "gala screening wasn't true to the personal and independent nature of this film," Coppola accepted an invitation from the Fortnight, explaining that he wanted his work to be "a cry for independence, which is why it is so appropriate that Tetro is premiered in the Directors' Fortnight, where young filmmakers go." The Fortnight will also include Lynn Shelton's Humpday, a Sundance favorite that already has a distribution deal with Magnolia. Two other Sundance entries also will make their way to Cannes -- Cherien Dobis's Amreeka, which was picked up by National Geographic Entertainment, and Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's I Love You Phillip Morris, which has still not found a distributor despite the fact that it stars Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. Brothers Joshua and Benny Safdie will screen their Go Get Some Rosemary at the sidebar event as well. The Fortnight will close with the German film Ajami, which deals with the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is directed by Scandar Copti, who is Palestinian and Yaron Shani, who is Israeli.
PIRATES JUMPING SHIP
Following the conviction of "The Pirate Bay Four" in Stockholm last week, the official Swedish anti-piracy watchdog Antipiratbyran has sent notices to other Swedish BitTorrent trackers warning them that they too will face prosecution unless they delete suspected copyright-infringing works. The website TorrentFreak.com said Thursday that "many" Swedish BitTorrent trackers had responded to the warning by shutting down altogether, while at least one has limited the items it tracks to music groups who are seeking exposure. (One tracker, TTi, said that it "will only concentrate on bands/artists that want to spread their material on the Internet and are waiting for a record contract.") Pending an appeal of the verdict in its own case, The Pirate Bay continues to operate as before, leading some to suggest that it is now likely to attract even more users. On his website ThePiratesDilemma.com, Matt Mason wrote, "That the market has not come up with alternatives to file-sharing good enough to make piracy moot is the real problem, and the companies and individuals that have stood in the way of this are the ones who owe content creators an explanation. Extremists on both sides are hailing this as a win, but it's the majority of us in the middle who continue to lose out."
CRUCIAL COURT HEARING ON DVD COPYING SET FOR TODAY
A federal court hearing is expected to take place in San Francisco today (Friday) over RealNetworks' software that allows users to make identical copies of DVDs on their hard drives. The Motion Picture Association of America has described the software as a means to allow users to rent a film and copy it rather than pay for an original copy. RealNetworks contends that the software, which allows only one copy of a DVD to be made, is intended to allow users to back up their DVD collection. It also notes that the hard drive copies contain the DRM code that prevents multiple copies from being made. In the meantime, numerous DVD-copying applications are being sold illegally online that perform the same function as the RealNetworks software, while removing the anti-piracy encryption.