Cricket flick ‘Backyard Ashes’ off to a good start in Australia


The sport of cricket dominates summer Down Under. Also popular in England, India-Pakistan and the Caribbean, it has never taken off in the U.S. or Europe. Just as many gridiron or baseball films have crashed and burned Down Under, the new low-budget Australian cricket film Backyard Ashes is never likely to conquer the cinema screens of North America. Indeed, even in Australia it is getting a very low-key release. Starting in four country towns with a grassroots marketing campaign, the film has delivered good word of mouth and fine results and Umbrella Entertainment is now looking to more country towns before a possible city release.

At least Backyard Ashes got a theatrical release Down Under, which is more than can be said for the latest Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sylvester Stallone movie, Escape Plan. The film was due for a major release on Nov. 28, but distributor eOne Hopscotch decided to go straight to home entertainment after its less than spectacular results in the U.S. This could well be the first Arnold starrer since the 1969 Hercules in New York to miss out on cinema screenings Down Under. Al Pacino's Stand Up Guys, Eric Bana's Deadfall, Gerard Butler's Chasing Mavericks and the JFK assassination drama Parkland also had their planned local theatrical releases canned after disappointing box office, or poor reviews, internationally. In recent years, a large number of releases are day-and-date with international schedules, and if they flop on release, it is then too late to cancel the local theatrical launch.
Australian media mogul and casino operator James Packer has teamed up with Brett Ratner and Steven Mnuchin to co-finance around 75 films with Warner Bros. This strengthens Warner Bros.’ ties with Australia, as it has had a long-term financing partnership with Village Roadshow.
At this year's Australian Movie Convention, reported on in the last issue, the Empire Cinema at Bowral, a four-cinema complex, was awarded the Best Independent Country Cinema. It won the same award in 2003 when it was a twin. The Empire Theatre opened in 1915 as a two-tiered cinema with 946 wooden collapsible seats. The seats could be removed for community events and roller-skating days. In 1973, the stalls were removed to accommodate shops and office space. A new cinema auditorium was formed from the dress circle and seating reduced to 350 seats. Twenty years later, the single-screen cinema was twinned and the seating reduced to 341. March 2005 saw the most recent change to the Empire as it was converted to a four-plex. Cinema one now has 203 seats, Cinema two 101, Cinema three 65 and Cinema four 144, for a total of 513 seats. The cinema is in the Southern Highlands about 90 minutes south of Sydney, a popular weekend destination. On Sept. 15 next year, the Empire Cinema will celebrate its centenary, the oldest commercial cinema in Australia.

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