The Weekend Warrior

The Weekend Warrior: Oct. 3 - 5

Source: Edward Douglas
October 2, 2008

Greetings and welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly guide to the weekend's new movies. Tune in every Tuesday for the latest look at the upcoming weekend, and then check back on Thursday night for final projections based on actual theatre counts. (Once again, apologies for the lateness of this week's predictions. The Weekend Warrior had a computer crisis, which has also delayed the inclusion of any mini-reviews.)

Hollywood, what are you trying to do to your poor overworked Weekend Warrior? Kill him? In one of the most blatant forms of sadism ever inflicted on moviegoers (and this writer), everyone is throwing movies out willy nilly this weekend with five new comedies in wide or semi-wide release, an apocalyptic thriller (that's Blindness, not David Zucker's An American Carol), and a couple of movies expanding nationwide after platform releases. There's just no way this many movies can sustain themselves in such a slow moviegoing period, so expect a couple of them to jump out, a couple to bomb, and the rest fighting for the scraps of what's left.

As much as it pains me and anyone who takes their movies seriously, it seems nearly impossible that Disney's latest family movie Beverly Hills Chihuahua doesn't win the weekend with a lot going for it from the lack of strong family movies to the precedence set by previous Disney dog movies Snow Dogs and Eight Below. The PG-rated movie's overly cute concept will probably win over many younger girls and older women as well, making it a true family film.

Michael Cera from Superbad and Kat Dennings from The 40-Year-Old Virgin team-up for the comedy Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (Screen Gems) based on the popular teen girls' book by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. It seems like the perfect combination to get younger women who have not been well-serviced since Sony's last comedy The House Bunny into theaters this weekend, whether it's through their adoration of the book or their love Michael Cera, who is becoming the George Clooney of the younger female set. (Okay, maybe not, but young women do seem to like him a LOT, something that was solidified by Juno.)

Blindness (Miramax), the new movie from Brazil's Fernando Meirelles (The Constant Gardener, City of God), is an apocalyptic thriller where the world is afflicted by an epidemic that makes everyone blind, everyone except Julianne Moore. The movie definitely has the strongest commercials and premise to bring in the 18 and over male crowd this weekend, but they're also likely to have read the bad reviews and negative buzz from its festival premiere, which will keep it under $10 million mark this weekend.

Not as much has been heard or said about the comedy How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (MGM) starring Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Jeff Bridges and Megan Fox, based on the best-selling book by Toby Young about an entertainment writer's attempt to move up the ranks at Vanity Fair (in this case renamed "Sharps Magazine"). Movies about the industry rarely do well with Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder being a rare exception, and Simon Pegg has yet to prove himself as a box office star that can sell people on a weak premise like this one. One should expect a middle-of-the-road opening at best.

Just in case Beverly Hills Chihuahua isn't the worst idea for a movie ever, someone must have been smoking crack at Universal when they greenlit Flash of Genius (Universal), a movie about the invention of the intermittent windshield wiper starring Greg Kinnear. Although it's not a bad movie, how one expects to get people to willingly go see this opening weekend is anyone's guess, so even with a moderate release into roughly a thousand theaters, it will probably end up near the bottom of the Top 10, hoping for word-of-mouth, much like Kinnear's last movie Ghost Town.

It's likely to get caught up in what is going to be a royal mess in that bottom half of the top 10, as a number of other movies open or expand wider hoping to get in there:

Opening the widest is David Zucker's dark political comedy An American Carol, being released by new distributor Vivendi Entertainment. Starring Kelsey Grammer, this is very much an unknown quantity, being a right wing leaning movie that might play well in the Red States but hasn't been promoted much anywhere else. Why someone might want to go see this over the other choices is beyond me, so this will probably be a loss. (And even though it's not about Christmas, having a name that reminds us of Christmas but coming out in October is never a good thing; just look at Ben Affleck's bomb Surviving Christmas.)

On the other hand, Bill Maher's comedy doc Religulous (Lionsgate), which teams him with Borat director Larry Charles, could bring in a good amount of both their fans, ready to laugh at people's religious beliefs. It's probably one of the weekend's stronger offerings in terms of marketing, so it's the most likely of the more moderate releases to make a serious play for the Top 10, possibly even having the largest per-theater average in the Top 10.

Two movies that played fairly well at the recent Toronto International Film Festival expand nationwide after two weeks in limited release, with Ed Harris' Western Appaloosa (New Line/WB) expanding into roughly 800 theatres and the costume drama The Duchess (Paramount Vantage), starring Keira Knightley, moving into roughly 500. Appaloosa has generally been doing well in its platform release, so it could end up somewhere in the $2.5 to 3 million range that places it somewhere in that Top 15.

(UPDATE: The column was so late that theatre counts were published just after it went live but while most will remain the same, Appaloosa is getting more screens, which means it probably can do $3 million with ease...The Duchess isn't expanding wider after all.)

If that isn't enough movie to keep you entertained, Universal is also sneak previewing the football drama The Express, starring Dennis Quaid, on Saturday night in 700 theaters.

This week's Chosen One is Lance Hammer's Ballast (Alluvial Film Co.), a Southern indie drama that was a hit of this year's Sundance Film Festival, which you can read about here.

This Week's Predictions -

1. Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney) - $21.6 million N/A

2. Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist (Sony) - $15.3 million N/A

3. Eagle Eye (DreamWorks) – $14.7 million -49%

4. Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros.) - $7.9 million -41%

5. Blindness (Miramax) - $6.5 million N/A

6. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (MGM) - $4.2 million N/A

7. Religulous (Lionsgate) - $3.7 million N/A

8. Lakeview Terrace (Screen Gems) – $3.6 million -45%

9. Burn After Reading (Focus Features) – $3.5 million -43%

10. Fireproof (Samuel Goldwyn) – $3.5 million -48%

- Igor (MGM) – $3.2 million -41%

- Appaloosa (New Line/WB) - $3.0 million N/A

- Flash of Genius (Universal) – $2.8 million N/A

- An American Carol (Vivendi) - $2.6 million N/A


(The Duchess removed.)

This weekend last year, there weren't nearly as many movies, but the movies that were released didn't make much a mark as Ben Stiller's R-rated comedy The Heartbreak Kid (DreamWorks), which reteamed him with the Farrely brothers, failed to make much of a mark, opening with just $14 million, not enough to take down Disney's The Game Plan with Dwayne Johnson, which retained the top spot with $16.6 million. Based on a children's book that few people knew much about, The Seeker (FoxWalden) tanked with $3.7 million opening in 3,141 theaters, an abysmal average of $1200 per location. Even so, it still ended up doing better than the latest dance movie, Feel the Noise (Sony BMG), which opened with just over $3 million albeit in a third as many theaters. The Top 10 grossed just $63 million, an amount that should be bested by the number of new movies this weekend even if most of that business will come from the Top 2.



Beverly Hills Chihuahua
Starring Piper Perabo and Manolo Cardona, and (the voices of) Drew Barrymore, George Lopez, Andy Garcia, Paul Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Jamie Lee Curtis, Eugenio Derbez, Placido Domingo, Edward James Olmos, Eddie "Piolin" Sotelo, Luis Guzman
Directed by Raja Gosnell (Scooby-Doo, Big Momma's House, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, Yours, Mine and Ours); Written by Analisa LaBianco, Jeff Bushell (TV writer from "Mad TV" and "The Bernie Mac Show"
Genre: Comedy, Family, Adventure, Dogs
Rated PG
Tagline: "50% Warrior. 50% Lover. 100% Chihuahua."
Plot Summary: Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore) is a spoiled Chihuahua enjoying a cushy lifestyle in Beverly Hills who gets lost in the streets of Mexico, forcing the tough Papi (voiced by George Lopez), who has always had a crush on Chloe, to go across the border to try to find her with the help of two humans (Piper Perabo, Manolo Cardona), a rat (Cheech Marin) and an iguana (Paul Rodriguez).

Analysis:

Someday, the world's going to come to an end and earth will be living its final days, and the planet's one remaining scientist will look at the formulas he's scrawled on his chalkboard and have an epiphany, tracing the decline of civilization and end of the world to exactly one thing: the success of this movie.

Okay, maybe that's being slightly harsh but seriously, when you've made it your decision to analyze movies on a weekly basis, every once in a while a movie comes along that seems so horrid on so many levels, that it can only possibly be a huge and ginormous hit, especially when it comes from Disney, who has turned making dumb comedies into blockbuster hits a science in itself. Of course, I'm not a kid, nor am I an animal lover to the point of wanting to watch a movie about talking Chihuahuas, but surely there's a market out there for it, or why else would movies like Good Boy! and Disney's The Shaggy Dog find so much business? There really isn't any studio who's better at marketing this kind of movie to family audiences then Disney, and for the most part, there's a giant group of parents across the nation who realize that something with the Disney logo, for better or worse, is generally safe for their youngest kids.

What may or may not be surprising is that this is the new movie from Raja Gosnell, who first came to prominence after the success of his comedy Big Momma's House starring Martin Lawrence, followed by the blockbuster hit Scooby-Doo and its sequel Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed. He also directed the family comedy Yours, Mine and Ours, a remake that tried to capitalize on the success of Steve Martin's Cheaper by the Dozen movies.

He assembled an interesting cast including Drew Barrymore as the main Chihuahua Chloe, her return to animation voice work since the generally successful Curious George in 2006, having also been one of the voices in the less than successful 2000 sci-fi cartoon Titan A.E.. Jamie Lee Curtis, who became Disney darling when she was paired with Lindsey Lohan for their sleeper comedy hit Freaky Friday, hasn't appeared in many movies since being paired with Tim Allen for the holiday comedy Christmas for the Kranks (and seriously can anyone blame her?) so this movie is a welcome return for her fans. Then on top of that, there is just about every Latin actor working today providing voices of the Mexican chihuahuas, which I guess is good for Latin actors, but it's kind of demeaning for the likes of Andy Garcia and Edward James Olmos to be doing this kind of movie. Comedians George Lopez, Paul Rodriguez, and Cheech Marin also play key roles as Chihuahuas. (Yo, where's Carlos Mencia? Is he too good... or just too foul-mouthed for a Disney movie?) In theory, having so many respected Latino voices involved could bring in the Latino market, which is fairly big in certain areas, although that group might also find the film to be racist.

As it were, few of these actors are being mentioned or featured in the marketing of the movie, not that it matters since most of the young and old people who love dogs will be the primary target audience and they probably won't really care who are making those cute little doggies talk. Disney had huge success with Snow Dogs starring Cuba Gooding Jr. (I know!) and a few years ago with the real-life dog adventure Eight Below (none of the dogs talked in that one), but not so much luck with their live action version of the popular cartoon character Underdog, which basically had real dogs talking with voices of known actors. It's hard to determine exactly what it is about one of these movies that convinces people to go see it as other studios have had mixed results with dog movies as seen by the difference in gross between 20th Century Fox's Because of Winn-Dixie and Firehouse Dog, neither of which had dogs that talked.

Some might think this movie's early October release might not be beneficial for it to do well as a family movie, since the summer and winter holidays tend to bring in more family business. In fact, Disney has already proven in the past they can have hits in the post-summer pre-holiday period with movies like the animated Brother Bear and last year's comedy hit The Game Plan, which was #1 for two weeks in a row. (See above) A year earlier, Sony had a moderate hit at the end of September with the animated Open Season, which opened with $23.6 million, again not summer or holiday numbers for a family movie but not terrible. Other studios haven't had as much luck as seen by DreamWorks' Wallace & Gromit - The Curse of the Were-Rabbit a few years ago, though in that movie, the dog didn't talk either.

Who knows if this movie is worth spending any time watching, but it's likely that critics will be especially harsh merely due to the premise, and the movie's already being mocked by anyone even remotely intelligent because the ads make it look like another dumb comedy (and a potentially racist one at that), geared mainly to little kids and their families. Fortunately, that audience is not particularly selective and with a release by Disney into over 3,000 theatres, there's little reason why this can't win the weekend with $20 million or more with generally strong legs as one of the few kids' movies until November.

Why I Should See It: If you're sick of having conversations with your own dog and him/her not responding, then this should give you a good reason to get out of the house, and believe me, you probably need it.
Why Not: You'll be contributing to the decline of civilization and ultimately, the end of the world. I hope you can live with yourself.
Projections: $20 to 22 million on its way to $75 to 80 million total.

COMPARISONS



Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (Sony/Screen Gems)
Starring Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Ari Graynor, Jay Baruchel, Rafi Gavron, Aaron Yoo, Alexis Dziena
Directed by Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas); Written by Lorene Scafaria
Genre: Comedy, Teen, Romance
Rated PG-13
Plot Summary: Nick O'Leary (Mike Cera) and Norah Silverberg (Kat Dennings) spend a night driving around New York City when Norah's drunken best friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) runs off and they have to try and find her. Although they have nothing in common except the music on their iPods, their first night together could end up being that magical first date that proves they were made for each other.

Review

Analysis:

It's sometimes really hard to please young female moviegoers, because they're a demographic that's often hard to gauge. While they might all rush out to see one movie with a certain star, if that star does another similar movie, they're just as likely to skip it. You just never know what marketing will work and what won't. Case in point: the recent Sony comedy The House Bunny with Anna Farris, which looked dumb as hell but did far better than many expected in what is generally the worst weekend of summer, mainly because it appealed to that finicky teen female market. This one is likely to have a similar effect, especially being based on a book by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan that's popular among teen girls. It was adapted by Lorene Scafaria, a screenwriter who rolls with Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning writer of Juno, for director Peter Sollett, whose last movie was the New York indie Raising Victor Vargas way back in 2002.

Also popular among young women is Canadian actor Michael Cera, who first appeared on the Fox show "Arrested Development," before making the jump to movies once that was cancelled, most notably with last year's hit comedy Superbad. If that weren't enough to solidify Cera's status as a teen idol, he then played the romantic lead of sorts in Jason Reitman's comedy Juno, which grossed $140 million and was nominated for four Oscars. Needless to say, appearing in those two movies was enough to put Cera over the top as a popular star among women and girls, although he hasn't quite achieved Jonas Brothers' status among the younger teens and 'tweens, not that this movie would be for them.

For his first movie of the year, Cera has been teamed with the punky Kat Dennings, who first introduced her cynical style as Catherine Keener's daughter in Judd Apatow's The 40-Year-Old Virgin, then appeared earlier this year in Charlie Bartlett and the aforementioned The House Bunny. In some ways, she's better as Norah then Cera is as Nick, but it's the romantic angle of the story and the chemistry between the two young actors that's going to make this such a popular choice among the movie's target demographic.

The other recognizable young actors in the cast include Jay Baruchel from the Judd Apatow camp (Knocked Up), who recently appeared opposite Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder, and Aaron Yoo, who co-starred in the Sony hit 21, the indie comedy The Wackness and was paired with Shia LaBeouf in last year's thriller Disturbia. Even though she's not generally known, blonde Ari Graynor does steal the movie and the commercials as the wild and out of control Caroline, whose drunken exploits are the catalyst for Nick and Norah getting to know each other better.

The movie probably won't have much interest to anyone over 20 and most guys won't have much interest in seeing this except if they have a date to take, so it's very much catering to younger women (like a teen version of Nights in Rodanthe), although it might lose some of that business to Disney's Beverly Hills Chihuahua, because those little Mexican doggies are soooooooo cute, which may be why celebutantes like Paris Hilton are known to keep them as pets. Still, the commercials have been strong and the movie has semi-decent buzz since its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, so expect a strong second place.

Why I Should See It: Kohn and Levitan's book is terrific and one couldn't get better casting for Nick and Norah than Cera and Dennings.
Why Not: The movie diverges greatly from the book, something that might piss off some of the young ladies the movie is trying to target.
Projections: $14 to 16 million on its way to roughly $40 million.

COMPARISONS



Blindness (Miramax)
Starring Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore, Gael Garcia Bernal, Sandra Oh, Danny Glover, Don McKellar
Directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardner); Written by Don McKellar (Last Night, "The Drowsy Chaperone" on Broadway)
Genre: Thriller, Sci-fi
Rated R
Tagline: "In a world gone blind, what if you were the only person who could see?"
Plot Summary: An epidemic hits a city causing people to go blind, and when it turns out to be infectious, the political leaders lock up the infected blind into a gulag where they have to survive on their own without any assistance. One of those locked up is an eye doctor (Mark Ruffalo) and his wife (Julianne Moore), the latter who has been unaffected by the blindness virus and who is the only one who can see in their prison-like setting.

Review

Analysis:

If you're a guy over 15 then chances are that neither of the above movies will have much interest to you, which is why it was a smart move for Miramax to move this new thriller from Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles to this weekend where it stands a better chance at making a mark. Meirelles first broke onto the scene when his crime drama City of God made waves in this country as a sleeper hit that sustained itself for almost a year at one New York theater. He followed that in 2005 with The Constant Gardener, based on the novel by John Le Carée, which was a bonafide box office hit, opening well over Labor Day. For his third film to get a major U.S. release, Meirelles decided to tackle José Saramago's novel along with Canadian playwright Don McKellar, taking the literary novel and exploring its themes of the apocalypse based around an epidemic that causes the loss of humanity's eyesight.

Meirelles assembled a pretty amazing cast for The Constant Gardener led by Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, who won an Oscar for her performance, and he's done similar with this movie, first of all by getting Julianne Moore to take on such a daring role that requires her to get thrown into all sorts of situations that less daring actresses might not do. Five years ago, it didn't seem like Moore might ever do this kind of movie because she was considered a serious dramatic actress, being nominated for Oscars and everything. Of course, she'd already appeared opposite Anthony Hopkins in the sequel Hannibal and co-starred in Steven Spielberg's The Lost World by then and in the summer bomb Evolution with David Duchovny. She then went and did some of those serious dramas and only returned to genre in 2004 when she toplined the Sony thriller The Forgotten, which had a similar sci-fi bent, this one about missing children. It would be Moore's top grossing movie as a headlining star, grossing $66 million, but things basically went downhill from there. What's odd is that Meirelles' movie will definitely remind many of Alfonso Cuaron's adaptation of Children of Men, which Moore also had a small role in, although she was very much a supporting player with only two or three scenes. Still, there is the previous connection between Moore and genre films that doesn't make it such an odd choice like say Kate Hudson in The Skeleton Key.

In the film, Moore's husband is played by Mark Ruffalo, whose only real forays into genre were David Fincher's Zodiac and Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (sort of), but he's mainly done serious indie dramas that haven't made much of a mark like last year's Reservation Road. The main baddie of the film is played by Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, who made his debut in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Amores Perros, followed by memorable appearances in Alfonso Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien, Walter Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries and Pedro Almodovar's Bad Education. Except for a small role in Inarritu's Oscar-nominated Babel, Bernal hasn't appeared or starred in any movie that's made more than $17 million domestically, and one wonders if he's as much a draw as the director he works with. Likewise, Danny Glover might have a featured role in the movie, but he also stopped being a draw years ago and probably nothing short of a Harrison Ford/Indiana Jones like return to the "Lethal Weapon" franchise will help him. Lastly, Meirelles is reunited with his City of God co-star Alice Braga, who recently appeared in David Mamet's Redbelt, but had a more prominent role as the co-star with Will Smith in last year's post-Apocalyptic blockbuster I Am Legend.

While this movie is being marketed similarly to that movie and Danny Boyle's sleeper hit 28 Days Later, the movie is in fact a slow character-driven exercise, more of an art film really, something that might greatly disappoint many who see it based on the commercials. Meirelles and his cast certainly have some good karma saved up from their past work that might help bring older moviegoers into see this, but it's doubtful that word-of-mouth will be very good, something that can be seen as early as a sharp drop-off on Sunday.

Originally, Miramax was going to platform the movie last weekend, but about a month ago, it was decided to move it back a week and release it as wide as possible, which in this case is about 1,700 theaters give or take. This is a smart move for two reasons, the first one being the fact that the movie can theoretically make a lot more money if it's opening in more cities and theatres, especially with little direct competition from the very different other movies. The only one that's looking for the same audience is Ed Harris' Appaloosa, which expands wider, although that will skew older. The other reason they're opening this wider is because they probably realize that a lot of people who go see this movie based on the commercials will feel ripped off and bad word-of-mouth will spread quickly and kill any chances of the movie's legs, so might as well open it as wide as possible right out of the gate.

The odd thing is that next week Screen Gems releases Quarantine, a similar-looking horror movie, but that is indeed horror, which means it's likely to bring out the real 18 to 25 male horror fans rather than this artsy movie that's already getting trashed by critics.

Why I Should See It: Ha ha ha ha ha ha... How can you see a movie if the entire world has gone blind!?!?
Why Not: This movie might not be exactly what some might be expecting based on the commercials.
Projections: $6 to 8 million opening weekend and roughly $16 million total.

COMPARISONS



How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (MGM)
Starring Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Danny Huston, Gillian Anderson, Megan Fox, Max Minghella, Jeff Bridges
Directed by Robert B. Weide (producer and director of "Curb Your Enthusiasm"); Written by Peter Straughan (Sixty Six)
Genre: Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: "Brace yourselves, America."
Plot Summary: Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) is a cynical British tabloid journalist who is brought to New York by Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), editor of the prominent Sharps Magazine, in order to be their newest staff writer. Sidney soon learns there's a lot involved with playing the game in order to move up the ranks as an entertainment journalist, which involves kissing up to his superiors (Danny Huston), negotiating with publicists (Gillian Anderson) and primadona filmmakers (Max Minghella). Sidney does the best he can in order to get closer to a hot young actress (Megan Fox) even though he's better off with his idealistic co-worker Alison (Kirsten Dunst).

Mini-Review: Even having not read Toby Young's novel, it's not hard to figure out where this movie must have diverged from any sort of reality. As someone who's worked in the entertainment industry for five years, I'll probably have to call "bullsh*t" on a lot of it, not just the silly physical comedy the movie often resorts to for laughs when nothing else is working. The entire thing centers around Simon Pegg's Sidney Young, a British journalist who has become the bane of publicists with his cheeky home-grown magazine that catches the eye of the editor in chief of the prestigious Sharps Magazine, a high-end publication that's known for starting trends and creating stars. Sidney is brought to New York, put into a dive of an apartment, and given a low-level writing job with a sleazy supervisor played by Danny Huston. Young's novel was about his similar journey through the ranks of Vanity Fair, and while there's certainly a number of elements that will remind viewers of "The Devil Wears Prada," the most blatant one is Jeff Bridges' performance as the magazine's brusque and surly overseer, but it's not quite the same as Meryl Streep. Otherwise, the movie pretty much throws everything but the kitchen sink into the mix to get laughs as Sidney chases after a sexy but vacant starling played by equally sexy (though not so vacant?) Megan Fox. Besides the obvious, it's never quite clear why having sex with a bimbo who can't even understand his accent is enough of a motivator to convince Sidney to get his act together, while ignoring his obvious connection with his co-worker Alison (Dunst). For better or worse, that's the main plot of the movie, which strives to take its R-rating as far as possible without really using the swearing or nudity in a clever way. As obnoxious and shallow Young is as a character, Simon Pegg certainly has a way of giving him more life and depth than if it was played by any other British actor, like say Hugh Grant or Jude Law, for two examples. Unlike "Run, Fat Boy, Run" and Pegg's previous starring roles, he didn't co-write this, which might be why he doesn't bring nearly as much to the role, but he generally keeps the movie from sinking even when he takes part in poorly-staged physical comedy. There are other characters like Gillian Anderson's publicist and Max Minghella as an obnoxiously arrogant film auteur, as well as funny moments with Sidney's landlady and a cross-dressing friend, but all of it seems forced and contrived, as the movie constantly takes the path of least resistance to laughs. When Sidney gets Allison drunk and she starts letting loose, you can guess without much effort that it'll ultimately lead to some sort of puking incident. Otherwise, the movie takes an incredibly simplistic view at how the entertainment business works, which is surprising considering how many of those involved with it have been so deeply involved with it, especially director Robert Weide, the producer of Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Whatever good or bad things there's to say about the entertainment industry, it's not nearly as shallow as it's portrayed in this comedy, which never tries to go too far below the surface, instead taking a more snide and cynical approach to the meet-cute romantic comedy, filling it with all of the most obvious clichés and stereotypes in its desperate attempt for yucks. Rating: 5.5/10

Analysis:

Based on Toby Young's bestselling memoirs of the same name, this is the feature film directorial debut of Robert Weide, Larry David's partner-in-crime from HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," an R-rated comedy with an impressive cast led by Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame. Toby Young's novel was fairly timely, dealing with the celebrity reporting business that's exploded in recent years with the success of tabloid sites and shows like TMZ and the continued interest in celebrities. Toby Young's novel probably found similar appeal to readers as the novel The Devil Wears Prada, and when Fox had a huge hit with that one, it made sense that another movie about the magazine biz would get greenlit fairly quickly.

No one really can top the British when it comes to tabloid journalism, so it makes sense that they'd want to get a funny Brit to play the role and who better than Simon Pegg? (Especially since Ricky Gervais was busy making Ghost Town and his own movie.) Pegg's becoming a bit of a Hollywood go-to-guy in recent years, especially when it comes to movies that requires comic timing but also some degree of charm and romance. Maybe that's because Pegg's breakout was in the horror comedy Shaun of the Dead and that movie's romantic comedy element proved he was more than capable of carrying a movie as a leading man. Pegg and long-time collaborator Edgar Wright switched gears for the police action-comedy Hot Fuzz which did slightly better, and Pegg was cast as the lead in David Schwimmer's directorial debut Run, Fat Boy, Run opposite Thandie Newton and Hank Azaria. The latter opened earlier this year to poor results, making about what Hot Fuzz did its opening weekend in total. Even so, Pegg has a lot of fans including television producer J.J. Abrams, who cast Pegg for both his movies, a small role in Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible III, as well as having him playing Scotty in next year's Star Trek. Unfortunately, we haven't really seen the male genre fans that dig some of Pegg's more genre-based work making any effort to seeing any of his other movies, and it's not likely they'll have much interest in this one.

More importantly, this is Kirsten Dunst's first movie appearance since 2007's blockbuster Spider-Man 3, although like Pegg, she hasn't really proven she can carry a movie outside that franchise, her biggest non-Spidey movie being the first movie where people recognized her talent, the cheerleading comedy Bring It On, which opened with roughly $17 million. Everything else has opened under $11 million. (Okay, some might say Dunst's breakout was Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides.) None of her three starring movies released between Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 made more than $27 million with this one most resembling Wimbledon, her London-based romantic comedy with Paul Bettany that took place in the world of tennis.

Weide has assembled a decent cast around the duo including the always-great Jeff Bridges, fresh off his success as the villain in Jon Favreau's Iron Man, this time playing a similar role to Meryl Streep in "Prada" as the editor-in-chief of the esteemed magazine who hires Pegg's character. Gillian Anderson plays a pushy publicist, while Danny Huston (30 Days of Night) is Pegg's immediate supervisor. The actress possibly getting the most attention for this movie, maybe even more than Pegg, is Megan Fox, who appeared in Transformers and has been making tons of waves due to the racy photos and statements she's made to the press about her sexuality. Makes perfect sense that she'd appear in a movie about celebrity journalism and what it takes to make it in the biz.

Movies involving the industry rarely do well, something that one can be reminded by the recent movie Finding Amanda from Peter Segel, which failed to make much of a mark, and this is very much an R-rated comedy with lots of swearing and nudity, so it's not going to bring the coveted teen crowd. It generally doesn't seem to have a very focused target market like the weekend's other movies, which means it's basically going to be getting the spoils for those who have nothing better to see. (Sure, the title might help get people in because it is a good one for sure.)

Even so, MGM is giving this a fairly wide release into 1,700 theaters, which might help it make a bit more money than it might otherwise, but they've been promoting the movie even less than they did their recent bomb College, so this will be a middle-of-the road opening before quickly disappearing.

Why I Should See It: Simon Pegg is generally funny enough to elevate comedy material, and this film does have basis in a generally well-read novel.
Why Not: Who on earth wants to see a movie about the world of entertainment journalism and publicity? Even someone IN that business (i.e. me) doesn't want to see a movie about this subject!
Projections: $4 to 5 million opening weekend and roughly $12 million total.

COMPARISONS


Flash of Genius (Universal)
Starring Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham, Dermot Mulroney, Alan Alda, Bill Smitrovich, Tim Kelleher, Jake Abel
Directed by Marc Abraham (directorial debut of the Universal-based producer of movies like The Rundown, Bring It On, Children of Men, Dawn of the Dead and more); Written by Phillip Railsback
Genre: Drama
Rated PG-13
Tagline: "Corporations have time, money, and power on their side. All Bob Kearns had was the truth."
Plot Summary: In a moment of inspiration, Detroit professor Dr. Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear) comes up with an idea for intermittent windshield wipers but when his hard work is stolen by the Ford Corporation, Kearns must decide whether to take the money they're offering to silence his claims or fight against the domineering car company, something which Kearns will be obsessed with for many years of his life, destroying his family in the process.

Mini-Review: Within the first twenty minutes of Mark Abraham's directorial debut, you pretty much have the entire set-up for the movie, forcing one to seriously consider whether it's worth sitting through the remaining hour and a 40 minutes to see whether it's interesting enough to warrant that sort of length. Dr. Robert Kearns (Kinnear), father of six and professor of engineering in Detroit, has come up with an invention for more practical windshield wipers and after a few months of experimentation, he devises the perfect intermittent windshield wiper in the hopes of manufacturing them for the city's thriving car companies. Instead, the Ford Company takes Kearns' designs and installs them on their new models without any credit or financial compensation, sending Kearns on a journey of obsession that lasts nearly two decades as he tries to get credited for the invention, as the rest of the movie follows Kearns as his life and relationships fall apart due to his fixation on this one invention. While Abrahams' directorial debut might not seem like the strongest idea to sustain a two-hour movie--and it is touch and go for a while there--it actually does keep you interested and entertained though it sometimes does get silly in trying to drive home how being ripped-off by Ford affects Kearns' very state of mind. The biggest problem with the movie, besides the dull central premise, is that Abraham tries to make far more out of this rather mundane case than it's worth, though all attempts at adding heightened drama doesn't exactly work, even if compared to windshield wipers ANYTHING would be more exciting. Or maybe not. For instance, Kearns' wife, ably played by Lauren Graham, doesn't get cancer while her husband is focusing on his court case, driving a wedge between them... she gets psoriasis. In one rainy scene--incidentally there's a lot of raining in this movie or else we'd never get to see Kearns' invention in action--Kearns stalks one of the cars mounted with his intermittent windshield wipers in his own car which sports normal wipers, as if it might create some sort of added tension or us-against-them symbolism that viewers will need to get behind Kearns' struggle. Generally, this is a good role for Kinnear as he's very good at playing underdogs who are charming and likeable. Besides the always-terrific Graham and a small scene-stealing appearance by Alan Alda as a high-power lawyer who offers to help, Kinnear has to carry the film, and the fact that he's able to do so with general ease is a strong testament to how he's grown as an actor to play this role. There's a point in the movie where Ford starts offering Kearns money to make him go away, and it's almost like "Deal or No Deal" where you feel yourself starting to yell at the screen, because Kearns clearly must be crazy to turn down the money they're offering, ethics be damned. What saves the movie from being a complete write-off is the last twenty minutes when Kearns finally gets his day in court against the Ford Company, offering the film's most masterful scenes, both in terms of writing and Kinnear's performance. Ultimately, it's a fairly satisfying story of an underdog taking on the corporations that anyone can get behind, although it rarely feels like something so cinematic you might feel the need to rush to see it in theaters. It's more the type of movie one will enjoy watching at home and be pleasantly surprised that a movie about windshield wipers could rise above the seemingly boring subject matter to win you over. Rating: 7/10

Brief Analysis:

Well, this is certainly an interesting idea for a movie... NOT... and frankly, the only reason this movie is being released by Universal is because it's the directorial debut of a long-time collaborator with the company, producer Marc Abraham, who has brought many lucrative projects to the studio (and a couple real duds, too.) Not that it's a bad movie, mind you, but it's not the kind of movie you'd expect to have studio backing and a release. Like Rod Lurie's Resurrecting the Champ from last year, this movie is based on an article by John Seabrook about the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper and his fight with the Ford Motor Company when they stole his designs and wouldn't give him credit. Not exactly the kind of thing that people have been pounding on their theater ticket windows demanding and to most, not something one can't wait for DVD. Abraham hired a number of strong actors for his first movie, but none of them who might really bring anyone to theaters. Greg Kinnear is generally good as Kearns, as is Lauren Graham (from "Gilmore Girls") as his wife, and even Dermot Mulroney, who I feel has the emotional range of a sack of wheat, isn't bad in the movie, but how many of them actually get people into seats when it comes down to it? Kinnear wasn't able to do it when he was teamed with Pierce Brosnan in The Matador, nor when teamed with Morgan Freeman for last year's Feast of Love. Not even the critically-lauded Ghost Town just a couple of weekends ago was able to do much, and that had a far stronger premise and co-star in British superstar Ricky Gervais.

In some ways, this is about as boring an idea for a movie as Disney's golf drama The Greatest Game Ever Played, Shia ("We're going to mention him in every write-up this week") LaBeouf's last movie for the company before moving to DreamWorks and becoming Steven Spielberg's go-to guy. Sure, Universal is trying to sell it as an intense thriller in the vein of Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind, a huge hit for Universal seven years ago, but that was Ron Howard and Russell Crowe, and this isn't. Then again, Universal tends to do well with niche films geared more towards adults, though they generally do better with spy movies and political thrillers such as Breach and Robert De Niro's The Good Shepherd, which both benefited from stronger players.

And now for something completely NEW! A sporadic and random feature we call THREE THINGS or "Three Things that Would Have Made This Movie Better":

1. Professor Bob Kearns really needed to have an imaginary friend like Paul Bettany show up when he started going a bit off the rails.
2. The invention of the windshield wiper really should have been handled more like Iron Man, a full hour of Kearns trying to figure out the best way to create the perfect wiper (we only get about 10 minuets of it here), leading to him fighting the head of the Ford Company wearing armor with more powerful windshield wipers. (And of course, Paul Bettany could provide the voice to Kearns' armor as well.)
3. It really needed some sort of feverish nightmare dream sequence done like the ones in the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski, just to really show how Kearns' obsession with the windshield wiper was invading his every thought.

Why I Should See It: Believe it or not, it's actually a fairly interesting premise for a movie with a solid cast, one that will probably be seen and appreciated on cable and DVD.
Why Not: It's a movie about the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper and... ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz... sorry, what were we talking about again?
Projections: $3 to 4 million opening weekend and $8 million total.

COMPARISONS



An American Carol (Vivendi Entertainment)
Starring Kelsey Grammer, Kevin Farley, Trace Adkins, Jon Voight, Leslie Nielsen, Dennis Hopper, David Alan Grier, James Woods, Rosie O'Donnell
Directed by David Zucker (The Naked Gun, Airplane!, Scary Movie 3, Scary Movie 4, BASEketball, My Boss's Daughter); Written by David Zucker, Myrna Sokoloff
Genre: Comedy, Politics, Fantasy
Rated PG-13
Tagline: "Laugh Like Your Country Depends on It."
Plot Summary: Liberal documentary filmmaker Michael Malone (Kevin Farley) has gone too far, trying to put an end to the 4th of July, so three spirits including that of George Washington (Jon Voigt), General George S. Patton (Kelsey Grammer) and the Spirit of Christmas Future (country singer Trace Adkins) visit him to show him the error of his ways and show him the meaning of patriotism.

Brief Analysis:

Of all the movies this weekend, this is the one I know the least about, maybe because new distributor Vivendi has been keeping it fairly close to vest, at least from the "liberal media" of New York City. Essentially, this is a new comedy from David Zucker, master of the spoof movie, creator of comedies like Airport!, Top Secret and the "Naked Gun" movies, most of them starring Leslie Nielsen, as well as the director of the last two "Scary Movies." His latest movie is also a spoof of sorts, one that mocks Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Michael Moore and his liberal attacks on the government, which goes against conservative Republican Zucker's own beliefs. To bring this personal project to fruition, Zucker got the likes of Kelsey Grammer, Jon Voight and James Woods on board to bring some star power, and the casting might be more impressive if Voigt seems to be up for anything, going by last year's Bratz and September Dawn (a fairly controversial anti-Mormon movie that nobody saw). Zucker basically gathered all the right wing conservatives he could find in Hollywood, which isn't a hell of a lot, and got Chris Farley's brother Kevin to do an impression of Michael Moore for the movie's unpatriotic main character.

Basically, this movie is going to be hoping to play up to audiences in the Red States who flocked to the movies of Larry the Cable Guy, or at least his first one, as they soon wised up, and new distributor Vivendi is very much an unknown quantity with no experience in marketing and distributing movies. The former aspect is the most obvious as this writer hasn't seen a single commercial for the movie... again, maybe because they're not promoting it much in New York and are only screening it on opening day. Maybe that's because this movie looks a lot like Uwe Boll's last "disasterpiece" Postal in which the German lunatic tried to take on American politics in comedy format, and though that wasn't released in nearly as many theaters, this really doesn't look very good and probably won't find much of an audience until its DVD release.

Why I Should See It: If you have enough faith that David Zucker can be funny despite his political leanings, then this movie is for you.
Why Not: Isn't Michael Moore kind of an easy target by now?
Projections: $2 to 3 million opening weekend and $5 million total.

And then the inverse of that movie is...



Religulous (Lionsgate)
Starring Bill Maher
Directed by Larry Charles (Borat, Masked and Anonymous); Written by Bill Maher ("Politically Incorrect," "Real Time with Bill Maher")
Genre: Comedy, Documentary
Rated R
Tagline: "Heaven help us."
Plot Summary: Comedian and political commentator Bill Maher travels the world talking to people about religion and faith.

Interview with Larry Charles

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Brief Analysis:

There's not too much to say about the movie that I won't have covered in my interview or my eventual review, but the important thing is that the movie was the brainchild of comedian Bill Maher and comedy writer/director Larry Charles. The former has had huge amounts of success on television with his shows "Politically Incorrect" and "Real Time with Bill Maher" shows that have been on very consistently since 1993 with Maher only being off air for a couple of years. Those shows mainly dealt with U.S. and world politics and current events, but Maher has often railed against organized religion and those who take faith too far, so his first feature-length movie is the logical extension of that. One might wonder who this kind of movie might appeal to and Bill Maher's expansive audience of fans will probably be the most interested, but it's also likely to pull in some of those who enjoyed the extreme comedy of Larry Charles' previous film "Borat" and those in liberal areas that enjoy the movies of Michael Moore. Lionsgate is giving this a similar distribution pattern and advertising as they used for Moore's hit documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 in hopes of creating a similar buzz, although it doesn't seem likely that a movie against organized religion will be that big a draw when it's essentially targeting only the roughly 12% of the population that are agnostics. It should still do fairly well in the college towns where it plays, especially with little else for that particular demographic except for maybe Fernando Meirelles' Blindness, which isn't getting nearly as many good reviews since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival. While this probably won't do anywhere near "Borat" numbers, a strong opening per-theater average should be expected as this does particularly well in college towns.

Religulous opens on Wednesday in New York then expands into 500 theaters on Friday.

Why I Should See It: Larry Charles has been involved with some of the funniest comedy of the last 15 years and no one's more cutting in their humor than Maher.
Why Not: Some people might find the movie to be divisive in terms of creating more boundaries between people of different faiths.
Projections: $3 to 5 million opening weekend on its way to $10 to 12 million.



THE CHOSEN ONE:

Ballast (Alluvial Film Co.)
Starring Micheal J. Smith Sr., Jim Myron Ross, Tarra Riggs, Johnny McPhail
Written and directed by Lance Hammer (debut)
Genre: Drama
Unrated
Plot Summary: A man's suicide in the Mississippi Delta brings three of his immediate relatives together for better or worse as his twin brother Lawrence (Micheal J. Smith Sr.) is forced to share his brother's neighboring house with his former wife Marla (Tarra Riggs) and her young son James (Jimmyron Ross), who both have gotten into troubles, both with finances and with local drug dealers.

The first time I heard about this movie, the directorial debut by Lance Hammer, it was at this year's Sundance Film Festival where the movie was all the buzz, winning prizes for Hammer's direction and the film's cinematography, which is no easy task. When I finally got a chance to see it at Lincoln Center's New Directors/New Films, I was generally unimpressed because it was an exceedingly slow movie with very little dialogue using non-actors. It also seemed very much to be a first movie, and I didn't understand what the big deal was. Then I saw it a second time more recently, and I think I finally got it. Sure, it is slow and not a lot happens in terms of plot development but as I watched, I started thinking that if this was a Chinese or a Romanian movie, it'd probably be considered genius because it has a similar pace and low-key execution to those foreign films and it only throws you off because it takes place in America's Deep South. The heavy accents can sometimes be off-putting, as well, but it is interesting how Lance Hammer brings these three characters together through their grief in what's essentially a slice of life drama. With very few words, Micheal Smith Sr. gives a riveting performance as the sullen Lawrence who has trouble carrying on after the death of his twin. You can tell he generally has a good heart and does his best to take care of Marla and her son, letting her run the family store and helping the boy learn, even though she really doesn't treat him well due to the way his brother left them. It's hard to determine how much time passes over the course of the movie, but ultimately, it's a satisfying character study, even if it ends much like far too many Romanian movies in that it merely ends without a real conclusion or resolution. If you have some patience with a very slow pace and have some interest in people who live in that part of the country, Ballast certainly leaves you thinking about a lot of things you've seen.

It opens in New York on Wednesday at the Film Forum

Rachel Getting Married (Sony Classics) - Jonathan Demme returns with a character drama written by Jenny Lumet and starring Anne Hathaway as Kym Buchman, a former model released from her rehab program to return home for her sister's wedding, only to bring all of her baggage of personal crisis and family conflict with her. It opens in New York and L.A on Friday.

Mini-Review: There may be nothing worse than going into a movie with far too much advance buzz and claims of greatness, only to be left disappointed. Sure, I can understand the appeal of Jonathan Demme doing Robert Altman, having been a fan of both directors long enough to understand why that might be an exciting prospect. And yet, the resulting movie comes across like a 2-hour wedding video done by the world's worst cameraman with a few overly dramatic moments shoehorned in to allow the cast to flex their acting muscles. There's no question that the strength in the movie lies in Anne Hathaway's portrayal of Kym Buchman, a young woman whose out-of-control behavior ultimately gets her put away in rehab, though she's been released for her sister Rachel's wedding. To say that there are issues in this family would be an understatement as the girls' mother (Debra Winger) left them a long time and their father (Bill Irwin) has remarried. We're introduced to the various members of the family just as one might while attending a wedding, where we don't really know much about their background or connection besides what is said in the many speeches given over the course of the rehearsal dinner and wedding ceremony. As much as you want to praise Demme at his attempt to go for realism, the movie's just dull when compared to more contrived wedding films like "Four Weddings and a Funeral" where the humor and drama flow much smoother because as scripted movies, they're designed that way. By comparison, Jenny Lumet's script is okay but not great, and like Altman, Demme seems to have allowed a good deal of improvisation amongst his cast, which does leave a lot more in the hands of actors in realizing the characters. Besides Kym, the only other characters of any particular interest are her sister Rachel, played by Rosemarie DeWitt from "Mad Men," Mather Zickel as a fellow A.A. attendee and Winger as their mother. Kym's release ultimately leads to another breakdown amidst all of the pressures of facing up to family issues, which creates a nice 15 minute stretch of drama that actually feels like a real movie. But then we're back to the wedding humdrum. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if this wasn't the corniest wedding ever with lots of people trying to give clever and witty speeches. In the movie's best moment, Kym steals the show by using her speech time to go through a number of her steps to recovery, one of a couple "Oscar clip" moment within a movie full of bland characters whom one certainly wouldn't care much about if they were ever forced to spend two hours with them at a real wedding. Demme once again brings in all his friends to fill-up the cast, using the excuse that Kym's father is some sort of music business luminary, so of course, we get Robyn Hitchcock playing a few tunes. The overly abundant music does eventually wear on the nerves making it hard not to laugh when someone finally tells all the wandering minstrels to shut up. There were moments where I felt like doing that to almost the entire cast. Ultimately, Demme's movie isn't particularly poignant, funny or memorable, except maybe to "weddingaholics" who thrive on that sort of environment. Rating: 5.5/10

Humboldt County (Magnolia Pictures) - A disillusioned medical student named Peter (Jeremy Strong) comes upon a community of marijuana farmers in the "Lost Coast" of California and is taken in by an eccentric family. Co-starring Peter Bogdanovich, Frances Conroy and Fairuza Balk, this indie drama from Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs opens in New York at the Landmark Sunshine after opening in California last Friday.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Allah Made Me Funny (Unity Productions) - This comedy concert film follows three different Muslim comedians--Azhar Usman, Bryant "Preacher" Moss, Mohammed Amer--one South-Asian-Amerian, one African-American and one Arab-American--as they go on the road together to show the humorous side of their misunderstood religious affiliation in their Muslim Comedy Tour. It opens in New York at the Cinema Village.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Just Buried (Emerging Pictures) - Jay Baruchel (Knocked Up, Tropic Thunder and this week's Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) and Rose Byrne star in Chaz Thorne's dark romantic comedy about a loner who inherits a funeral home and has to create a deadly way to help their business pick up along with the pretty embalmer who he falls for. Having played at least year's Toronto Film Festival, it opens at New York's Village East Cinemas and in other select cities.



Next week, Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe are back, this time bringing Leonardo DiCaprio along for the ride, in the political thriller Body of Lies (Warner Bros.), Dennis Quaid plays a football coach in the real-life drama The Express (Universal), and there's also a new horror-thriller called Quarantine (Screen Gems) and the latest from Walden Media, the fantasy adventure City of Ember (FoxWalden).

Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas




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