Los Angeles, July 15 (AP/UNB) — "Spider-Man: Far From Home" is celebrating another weekend at No. 1, but non-franchise fare continues to struggle at the box office. Fresh studio-released counterprograming such as the horror movie "Crawl" and the action-comedy "Stuber" barely made a dent in the web-slinger's earnings, although there is a glimmer of hope in the independent world.
The "Spider-Man" sequel added $45.3 million in its second weekend, down only 51% according to studio estimates Sunday, bringing its domestic total to $274.5 million. Globally, Sony Pictures' "Far From Home" has already grossed $847 million.
Disney and Pixar's "Toy Story 4" landed in second place with $20.7 million in its fourth weekend in theaters. It's now earned $346.4 million from North American theaters.
But while the well-reviewed franchises are thriving, original newcomers are facing an uphill battle in wide-release.
"Crawl," a thriller from Paramount Pictures, debuted in third with an estimated $12 million against a reported $13.5 million budget. Directed by Alexandre Aja, "Crawl" stars Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario as a father and daughter trapped in their home with a bunch of angry alligators during a hurricane. The R-rated pic has been was not screened for critics in advance, which usually signals a dud, but it has been surprisingly well-received by critics since opening. It's currently 88% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Uber comedy "Stuber" got off to a bumpier start with an estimated $8 million from over 3,000 North American locations. The R-rated Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista film cost a reported $16 million to produce and has not inspired the best reviews (it's resting at a rotten 46. It's the latest Fox film to be released by Disney.
"People always complain about the lack of original offerings from the studios especially during the summer but this summer in particular it seems like audiences are turning their backs on these films," observed Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "It's a real head-scratcher in a way as to why some of these films aren't doing well."
Universal's Beatles-themed rom-com "Yesterday" rounded out the top five in weekend three with $6.8 million.
Dergarabedian said that it's never a good thing for the box office when week after week the top movies are holdovers.
"That means newcomers are not making inroads," he said. "You want audiences every weekend to be excited about a new film."
That lack of enthusiasm is showing in the overall industry numbers. The weekend is down nearly 26% and the year is still around 9%, although Disney's blockbuster-in-the-making "The Lion King" is on the horizon. The photorealistic remake of Disney's animated classic opened this weekend in China ahead of its North American debut and made an estimated $54.7 million.
Although the big new releases failed to light the box office on fire, the independent film scene was thriving with myriad of options.
Among the most notable is Lulu Wang's family drama "The Farewell," which currently has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Awkwafina-led film opened in four locations to $351,330 for a massive $87,833 per theater average. It's expanding to more cities in the coming weeks.
The dark Jesse Eisenberg comedy "The Art of Self Defense" opened in seven locations to $121,080, and the Marc Maron-led "Sword of Trust" debuted in two locations with $22,512. Documentaries, such as "Maiden," ''Pavarotti" and "Echo in the Canyon" also continue to find audiences in limited release.
"If you're an independent movie fan, this is your weekend," Dergarabedian said. "The diversity of films is just staggering."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1."Spider-Man: Far From Home," $45.3 million ($100 million international).
2."Toy Story 4," $20.7 million ($48.1 million international).
3."Crawl," $12 million ($4.8 million international).
4."Stuber," $8 million ($3 million international).
5."Yesterday," $6.8 million ($7.8 million international).
6."Aladdin," $5.9 million ($14.6 million international).
7."Annabelle Comes Home," $5.6 million ($18.1 million international).
8."Midsommar," $3.6 million ($766,000 international).
9."The Secret Life of Pets 2," $3.1 million ($14.6 million).
10."Men in Black: International," $2.2 million.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada), according to Comscore:
1. "Spider-Man: Far From Home," $100 million.
2. "The Lion King," $54.7 million.
3. "Toy Story 4," $48.1 million.
4. "White Storm 2: The Drug Lords," $33.6 million.
5. "Annabelle Comes Home," $18.1 million.
6. "Aladdin" and "The Secret Life of Pets 2," $14.6 million.
7. "Yesterday," $7.8 million.
8. "Crawl," $4.8 million.
9. "Fate/Stay Night: Heaven's Feel - II. Lost Butterfly," $3.5 million.
10. "Stuber," $3 million.
Tehran, Jul 14 (AP/UNB) — The Farsi caption has unfurled across the black screen of a channel of Iranian state television every night for days now, promising viewers that what they are about to witness is "based on a real case."
But the slick graphics, chase scenes and gunfights of "Gando" serve a far different purpose — trying to offer justification of Iran's detention, closed-door trial and imprisonment of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian.
The case of Rezaian, who was freed in 2016 after 544 days in a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Iran just as Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers came into force, showed how the Islamic Republic can grab those with Western ties to use in negotiations. It's a practice recounted by human rights groups, U.N. investigators and the families of those detained.
"Gando" instead offers a farcical fever dream of conspiracies — from a chador-wearing sniper opening fire to a White House infiltrated by a blond Iranian female spy who works under a portrait of George Washington. It encourages suspicion of the U.S., journalists and anyone leaning too closely to the West amid heightened tensions between Tehran and President Donald Trump over the unraveling nuclear deal. That includes Iran's Foreign Ministry and, by extension, President Hassan Rouhani, who reached the accord.
"Today, it is easier to tell a story of foreign meddling because of the way Trump pulled out of the nuclear accord despite Iran's compliance and then reinstated harsh sanctions," said Narges Bajoghli, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies who studies the intersections of culture and power in Iran. "It is easier to tell a story of 'no matter what we do, foreign powers want to see Iran weakened.'"
The 30-episode "Gando," which refers to the name of an alligator indigenous to Iran, has all the trappings of an American police or spy procedural.
Beautiful operatives sit in front of high-tech computer monitors showing surveillance footage and drone shots, graphics far better than those typically seen on a state TV series. A wise old commander's fashion sense, while Iranian, nods toward Mark Harmon's character on the long-running American serial "NCIS."
But reality soon gets tossed aside as it focuses on Michael Hashemian, whose last name rhymes with Rezaian's. He's not just a reporter for the fictitious Eye of the World newspaper. He's a super spy who somehow gets a meeting from President Barack Obama in 2013 and an appointment to be the first U.S. ambassador to Iran after the country's Islamic Republic is overthrown. (Obama's letter, flashed on the screen with the former president's signature, erroneously puts the Islamic Revolution in 1978, instead of 1979.)
Gunfights ensue, including one in which a woman in a chador tosses aside a blanket for a sniper rifle to shoot someone in the leg. Hashemian is arrested, kept in a prison cell the size of a small Tehran apartment, and later tells his captors "during this period I've grown a lot fatter" from all the good food during his incarceration.
Reality, obviously, is a different thing.
Rezaian was arrested July 22, 2014, in Tehran alongside his wife, reporter Yeganeh Salehi, at gunpoint in a night raid. Despite being an accredited journalist for The Washington Post with permission to live and work in Iran, Rezaian was taken to Tehran's Evin prison and later convicted in a closed trial before a Revolutionary Court on still-unexplained espionage charges.
"They held him in prolonged solitary confinement, deprived him of sleep, aggressively and relentlessly interrogated him, denied him basic medical treatment for serious and painful illnesses and infections, and threatened him with dismemberment, execution and other forms of cruel and unusual physical torture," his U.S. federal court lawsuit against Iran reads. "They also threatened to maim and kill his wife Yeganeh and other family members."
The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions in 2015 also highlighted his case.
"During the interrogations, he was typically hooded when transported between his cell and the interrogation room, and his interrogators used isolation and threats of physical harm to Mr. Rezaian's wife in unsuccessful attempts to force him to confess to crimes which he did not commit," the group's report said. "The source states that Mr. Rezaian has been humiliated, mistreated and deprived of the most basic facilities, including access to a bathroom, at various points during his detention."
While detained, Rezaian suffered "dramatic weight loss, respiratory problems and chronic infections of the eye and urinary tract," the report added. It notes interrogators used an unsuccessful job application to the Obama-Biden transition team in 2008 — offering to "break down barriers" in U.S.-Iran relations — and an effort to secure his wife a U.S. visa as evidence of espionage.
A prisoner swap in January 2016 as Iran's nuclear deal came into force saw Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans freed. The U.S. also made a $400 million cash delivery to Iran, something "Gando" gleefully recounts with pallets of cash near a private jet at Tehran's Mehrabad airport.
"You're being freed in exchange for hard cash," an Iranian intelligence officer in the series tells Hashemian.
The show also makes Iran's Foreign Ministry look inept amid the negotiations, as only the intelligence operatives made sure to get the money for the prisoner release.
The characterization of the Foreign Ministry, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, even came up at a weekly news conference held by the ministry's spokesman, who acknowledged he watched the show and called it "not a bad series based on the special effects."
"They said this is based on a true story. There are so many documents in the Foreign Ministry about our negotiations on this issue," Abbas told journalists. "If they asked us, we would have provided them to them to make the show much more realistic."
The show's vision is clearly embraced by its actors. Payam Dehkordi, who plays Hashemian as a sweating and conniving conman, told Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency that he believed Rezaian was "definitely a spy" after the U.S. made the cash exchange.
"If Jason Rezaian was not a spy, John Kerry would not have welcomed him, and Obama would not have held a luncheon for Rezaian," Dehkordi reportedly said.
To date, other Westerners remain held in Iran.
State television aired a segment this week showing the actors manning a call center, receiving messages from happy fans of "Gando." The director said they planned a second series.
Dhaka, July 14 (UNB) - A recording studio that has been unused for a decade has reopened after a "shoestring" refurbishment, reports BBC.
Sadacca Studios, on the Wicker, in Sheffield, is now a community music space and arts venue.
Based in the former Bob Marley studio it has been equipped by Musical Works, a not-for-profit organisation.
Studio manager Chris Morris said: "This sort of space is much needed, it's open to everybody."
The studio is based at the Sheffield and District African Caribbean Community Association.
"We are reminding our students that music is a physical activity, as a lot of younger people think it's all digital and online," he said.
The studios has been brought back into use by volunteers and using mainly donated equipment.
"It has been done on a shoestring," Mr Morris said.
Sheffield was "blessed with a reputation for producing culturally significant bands" but it needed a place for people in the music scene to meet, Mr Morris added.
He is a music producer who had previously played with local band the Longpigs, alongside Sheffield musician Richard Hawley.
Several groups, including one from the Refugee Council, are already using the studio complex.
Dhaka, July 14 (UNB) - A grassroots film company say their first feature film will showcase the "beautiful" River Nene, reports BBC.
Screen Northants, which organised the first Northampton Film Festival this year, has set an ambitious aim to get 5% of feature films in the UK to be made in Northamptonshire.
Their first production, titled Nene, is about a boy who runs away to find his dad, using the river as a guide.
Saturday's screening is of a "work in progress" before a final edit.
The screening at Northampton Filmhouse at 11:30 BST will also serve as a fundraiser to help get it shown at other UK film festivals.
Audience members, who have paid £25 for tickets, will be invited to give feedback on the film in order to contribute to its final edit.
Nene follows the journey of Rory, a boy who lives in a residential care home in Thrapston, Northamptonshire.
But when the boy's father - who lives in Northampton - fails to contact him, he runs away, using the River Nene, which flows between the two towns, as a guide.
Becky Adams, director of Screen Northants, said: "We aim to make a feature film in this model each year working with local disadvantaged young people on the production and promoting Northamptonshire as a film destination."
The project has also been supported by money from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and BBC Children in Need.
Dhaka, July 14 (UNB) - Filmmaker Karan Johar is all set to expand the world of Student of The Year. According to an Asian Age report, the director is looking to adapt the film franchise into a web series, reports The Indian Express.
Apparently, Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan and Siddharth Malhotra, who appeared in SOTY’s first installment of the franchise, will make an appearance in the web series along with Tiger Shroff, Ananya Panday and Tara Sutaria, who took over the silver screen in SOTY 2.
The plot and the drama will be completely different, as far as packaging and presentation are concerned.
Meanwhile, Karan has his hands full with various projects.
The filmmaker is producing Netflix original film Guilty, starring Kiara Advani. “Today a filmmaker with an interesting idea has so many avenues to connect with the audience, and Netflix is definitely one of the most exciting among them. As a content creator, there has never been a better time to tell stories. Guilty is a film that explores a personal, powerful subject where a small-town girl takes on the structures that protect perpetrators of rape. Ruchi Narain is helming the film as a director, and we at Dharmatic, could not be more excited than to see her vision come alive across 190 countries on Netflix,” the director had earlier said in a statement.
Apart from that, he is also working on Ghost Stories, an anthology consisting of four short film segments to be directed by Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar.