The Weekend Warrior

The Weekend Warrior: Oct. 31 - Nov. 2

Source: Edward Douglas
October 29, 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 theater counts.

Predictions and Comparisons -

1. High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Disney) - $22.5 million -47% (Down .3 million)

2. Zack and Miri Make a Porno (Weinstein Co.) - $18.2 million N/A (Down .3 million)

3. Saw V (Lionsgate) - $12.2 million -59% (Down .4 million)

4. Changeling (Universal) - $10.6 million +2040% (Up .4 million)

5. The Haunting of Molly Hartley (Freestyle) - $6.7 million N/A (up .6 million)

6. Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney) - $4.4 million -36%

7. Max Payne (20th Century Fox) - $3.6 million -53% (down .8 million)

8. The Secret Life of Bees (Fox Searchlight) $3.6 million -41% (same)

9. Eagle Eye (DreamWorks) $3.3 million -35% (same)

10. Pride and Glory (New Line/WB) - $3.3 million -47% (same)

-- RocknRolla (Warner Bros.) - $1.7 million

Weekend Overview

After an amazing weekend, October concludes appropriately enough on Halloween with a couple interim movies before the holiday movie season starts in earnest next week.

Although it's doubtful that anything can knock Disney's "High School Musical 3" out of the top spot after its impressive opening weekend, the strongest new movie this weekend is Kevin Smith's latest, Zack and Miri Make a Porno (The Weinstein Co.), which teams him with comedy superstar Seth Rogen and his 40-Year-Old Virgin co-star Elizabeth Banks (or just "Beth" as it says on her nametag). Kevin Smith has a strong fanbase that can offer a certain amount guaranteed but pair that audience with the college-age males who admire Rogen, king of the slackers, and give it a strong title that'll intrigue as much as it appalls, and you have the formula for Smith's strongest opening to date.

After a year off, Clint Eastwood returns with the true-life crime thriller Changeling (Universal) starring Angelina Jolie as a single mother whose child goes missing. The period piece expands nationwide into roughly 1,800 theaters after a strong platform release last weekend, and it's likely to be one of the few choices for older moviegoers of both genders. Reviews are mixed at best, but there's enough Oscar buzz to allow it to deliver a weekend gross in the same range as Eastwood's WWII drama Flags of Our Fathers.

To be perfectly honest, I know next to nothing about The Haunting of Molly Hartley (Freestyle) except that it's a horror movie being released on Halloween geared towards teens, which should allow it to do a good amount of business among the young demographic that doesn't have a Halloween party to attend. Freestyle Releasing rarely puts a lot of money into advertising so this will be all about the walk-up business that's already seen Saw V and has no interest in Kevin Smith.

Lastly, Guy Ritchie's ensemble crime-comedy RocknRolla (Warner Bros.) will finally get a wide release into under 1,000 theaters after a number of weeks playing the big cities, and frankly, I don't think it will be able to make much of a mark against the other movies, so it'll probably end up outside the Top 10 with less than $2 million.

(We'll skip this weekend last year to try to get back on track before Thanksgiving, which is a week later this year.)



THE BATTLE CRY

It's been a couple of weeks since Max Payne was released, doing moderately well for a video game movie despite glaring reviews and general disappointment, so it got us thinking:

What does it take to make a decent video game movie?

I'm not really much of a gamer having given up the habit to write about movies, but it hurts my brain to even think how many bad movies have been made based on video games. Mind you, it's fairly obvious why studios jump at the chance to option so many video games to make into movies, since for the past ten years, they've watched as a lot of their potential business migrate over to console video games. It's not too hard to figure out why this is the case since video games offer the same form of escapism as movies, but with more interactive playability and an experience that offers much more bang for the buck. (Movies are $15 for less than two hours of entertainment, while video games can offer days and days of fun for $40 to 50.)

The thought that bringing the characters and storylines from video games to the big screen would automatically mean that gamers would follow is a sound one, and yet, only one movie based on a video game has grossed over $100 million and only six have more than $50 million, so obviously it hasn't been working. The reason? (and feel free to disagree with me, here) MOST VIDEO GAME MOVIES SUCK. They're boring and not nearly as fun or exciting as playing the games, and so many corners get cut when making the movies in trying to appeal to the sometimes lower-budget nature of the games. It's kind of surprising that Hollywood can spend more money developing bad movies than the gaming companies spent developing much cooler video games.

Have there been any good video game based movies? It's all very subjective, but some might say that parts of each of the "Resident Evil" movies have been decent, as well as Silent Hill, though none of them really stand out as great movies. On the other hand, a movie like Aliens vs. Predator might have avoided the curse, because it wasn't merely based on the video game, instead involving a simple premise of mashing together two popular creature franchise. While Lara Croft: Tomb Raider may still be the most successful video game movies, having grossed $131 million, that might be since they cast the very hot Angelina Jolie in the role, and yet, you'll have a hard time finding a single person who'll suggest that it's a good movie or even remotely as good as the video game, maybe because the movie didn't use the same third person view where we could look at Jolie's ass for 2 hours. (At least that's my theory and I'm sticking with it!)

We've already seen that comic books can be successfully ported to the big screen, but video games just don't seem to work, which is odd considering how much they've been influenced by the movies. So how can someone fix this problem and make a video game movie that wins over the fans?

First of all, get the people who created the original video games, including the writers and designers, actively involved in the movie experience. These are the people who knows what works and what gamers want and they can tie the movie into the mythology of the game where the people who like the game will want to see the movies to follow the characters and stories they love. It's really not that hard to take a similar approach to a movie as a video game, getting a bunch of people in a room to throw around ideas of what they'd pay to see. Then get an A-list director to make the movie... not some guy whose resume includes lots of commercials and music videos, but a serious director like Christopher Nolan who can bring a legitimacy to the genre that's desperately needed. (And never EVER let Uwe Boll near a video game again. Go to his house and knock out any power to his district so that he can't even PLAY video games let alone adapt them.)

20th Century Fox had the right idea to have Mark Wahlberg play Max Payne, and you have to continue that tradition when making other movies, but make sure you have a stronger script in place before you start shooting because no amounts of stylish tomfoolery will save a movie if the script or story sucks. Also going by the problems with Max Payne, If the video game is "M" for "mature," don't make a PG-13 movie based on it. What is the point of that? If gamers are shooting people in the head for the thrill of watching blood and gore spray everywhere, why would they want to see a movie where people shot don't even bleed? It's just not thinking straight.

You know what video games they should try to use these ideas with? Video games so popular that the potential of a good movie would excite players as much as the next release/installment of the game. Starting with a game based on "Halo" or "Grand Theft Auto" would be a great place to start, and it would be worth the money to get some strong name writers involved in adapting them, maybe some of the guys who've done such a good job porting comic books to the screen. As far as the near future, there's still a lot of hope for Disney's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time in the same way they were able to take an amusement park ride like "Pirates of the Caribbean" and make it into a successful franchise, but that's because they're making a tentpole movie that isn't relying on the game's fanbase. The announcement that "Pirates" director Gore Verbinski himself is making a movie based on the game Bioshock is another step in the right direction.

It's pretty obvious to me that if you're going to make a good video game movie, either remove yourself completely from the video game or go back to the source and find out what really works about it. Don't just slap the video game name on a badly-written, poorly-acted movie and expect to get all the gamers back into theaters, because doing so just continues to give the genre a bad rap and keep more people away from the cineplex and at home with their cozy game consoles.



Zack and Miri Make a Porno (The Weinstein Co.)
Starring Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Traci Lords, Katie Morgan, Ricky Mabe, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes
Written and directed by Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jersey Girl, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back)
Genre: Comedy
Rated R
Plot Summary: Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are lifelong platonic friends and roommates who are having problems making the rent, so they decide to make a porno movie. (Seriously, the title says it all!!!)

REVIEW (ComingSoon!)

Analysis:

The inimitable Kevin Smith returns to theaters with his latest comedy, taking some of the principles from his earlier movies and combines them with bankable box office stars and a catchy title in hopes of bringing the Jersey filmmakers a significantly larger audience than his previous movies. The key to the movie working will probably be the casting of Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as the romantic leads, reuniting them from their memorable appearance in Judd Apatow's debut The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Even though that movie starred Steve Carell, Rogen has gone on to become a star in his own right with Apatow's follow-up Knocked Up, a blockbuster hit in the summer of '07, followed by Rogen's own project Superbad. Earlier this year, he starred in the follow-up Pineapple Express, which grossed $40 million in its first five days solidifying himself as a star. Getting Seth Rogen in his new movie might be the best thing going for the success of Kevin Smith, although casting Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in his earlier movie Dogma didn't help that make more than $30.6 million, which has been the ceiling for Smith's films. Then again, that was before the dawn of the new age in R-rated comedy launched by Apatow and his gang that's seen numerous $100 million movies including this past summer's Step Brothers and Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder. Apparently, the country is a lot more amenable to raunchy sex humor than when Smith's last movie Clerks II came out, and that can only help "Porno."

To play Rogen's better half, Smith cast actress-of-the-moment Elizabeth Banks, who has been very busy in recent weeks, co-starring as Laura Bush in Oliver Stone's W. before she reunites with "Virgin" co-star Paul Rudd in next week's Role Models. Smith has also brought over others from the Apatow crew, most notably Craig Robinson who had a small role in Knocked Up as the sensitive bouncer, followed by him starring opposite Rogen in Pineapple Express. More importantly, Craig is best known for playing Darryl, the acerbic warehouse worker on the NBC sitcom "The Office." Fans of Apatow's directorial debut will also recognize Jerry Bednob playing Rogen and Robinson's cranky boss. Other Smith mainstays like Jason Mewes (aka Jay) and Jeff Anderson have also been brought back, and he's also brought on actual porn stars like Traci Lords and Katie Morgan to give the movie more validity.

Smith has been playing the movie at various festivals including the Toronto Film Festival and Fantastic Fest in Austin, which will help build word-of-mouth and internet buzz for the movie, leading to the movie getting some of the best reviews Smith has seen in some time.

What's odd is that the Weinstein Company is deliberately not advertising this as a Kevin Smith movie, maybe because his last movie Clerks II didn't even make $25 million, and they're figuring his fans already know about the movie. The title of the movie might be a big sell, at least at first glance, but it also might be somewhat of a hindrance if it puts off casual moviegoers from seeing it. (Even though the adult film industry is thriving, watching porn is still a guilty secret for 90% of those who watch it.) Smith has become infamous for his movies being very raunchy and sexually graphic, at least in the dialogue, so one expects that a movie like this would be even moreso. There even was word of an earlier cut of the movie being given an NC-17 rating before Smith recut it for an R, and there was further concern about promoting a movie with "Porno" in the title in some markets, so some of the commercials just call "Zack and Miri" which is pretty silly but also detrimental to the catchy title--one of the most explanatory movie titles since "Snakes on a Plane"--being able to generate interest in the movie.

Even so, there are plenty of people who'll be looking for a good comedy and there's nothing like this in theaters for Smith's male 17 to 30 year old demographic, so expect it to be a very popular choice especially in the bigger cities and college towns.

Why I Should See It: Kevin Smith has proven his unique comic genius in the past and teaming him with another comedy king like Rogen can only help get people to see the movie.
Why Not: Most people like to watch pornos in the privacy of their homes.
Projections: $18 to 20 million opening weekend and $48 to 50 million total.

COMPARISONS



The Haunting of Molly Hartley (Freestyle)
Starring Chace Crawford, Haley Bennett, Jake Weber, Shannon Marie Woodward, Shanna Collins, Anna Lynne McCord
Directed by Mickey Liddell (the producer of Go and "Everwood"); Written by John Travis, Rebecca Sonnenshine (American Zombie, Within)
Genre: Horror, thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: "Her past is yet to come."
Plot Summary: Molly Hartley (Haley Bennett) is close to reaching her 18th birthday, a point in her life where she is about to go through a radical change that's been lurking under the surface since her early teen years. (I think it involves witchcraft or a cult or something. I honestly couldn't follow the trailer at all.)

Analysis:

Seriously, I have no idea where to begin with this movie that's trying to appeal to teen girls who want to be scared on Halloween, but it looks like an amalgam of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Craft, apparently revolving around a teen girl involved with some sort of witches' coven or something like that. It's obviously trying to appeal to the young audiences looking for scares on Halloween, something that will be greatly helped by its PG-13 rating.

The cast is mostly made up of unknowns with actress and pop singer Haley Bennett in the title role. Anyone who saw Music & Lyrics might remember her as pop star Cora Corman, a role that began Haley's pop career simultaneously to her acting, and she also stars with Owen Wilson in the upcoming high-profile drama Marley and Me. The big selling point is that it stars Chase Crawford from the popular CW show "Gossip Girl" and who also starred in Renny Harlin's dog The Covenant a few years ago. Presumably, the movie is being advertised during that show, since it's shooting for the exact same demographic.

This is another attempted wide release by Freestyle Releasing, a company who has helped facilitate independent filmmakers like Uwe Boll to self-distribute. They had a minor hit in 2005 with An American Haunting, the first movie from Courtney Solomon's After Dark which remains their biggest hit with a gross of $16.3 million. They've had just as many bombs including the spooky family film Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour, which grossed less than a million despite a wide release, as well as Uwe Boll's In the Name of the King which topped out at $5 million. Ouch.

They're definitely giving this movie a slightly bigger marketing push, buying television ads during prominent shows, but one has to wonder how many people who see the terrible trailer and mediocre commercials might be interested, except maybe less finicky teen girls. With that in mind, this will probably be getting a bit of walk-up business on Halloween based on its PG-13 rating and the offer of scares, but expect it to be heavily-frontloaded to Friday and opening weekend, as it doesn't stick around much beyond a week or two.

Why I Should See It: It's Halloween so what else are you going to watch? Beverly Hills Chihuahua?
Why Not: This looks pretty awful, like straight-to-video crap that would make more money if it offered some R-rated nudity and violence.
Projections: $5 to 7 million opening weekend and $11 to 12 million total.

COMPARISONS



Changeling (Universal)
Starring Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Colm Feore, Amy Ryan, Michael Kelly
Directed by Clint Eastwood; Written by J. Michael Straczynski (creator of "Babylon 5" and "Jericho")
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Rated R
Tagline: "To find her son, she did what no one else dared."
Plot Summary: In 1928 Los Angeles, single working mother Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) panics when her 9-year-old son mysteriously vanishes, but gets even more frantic when the police produce a boy claiming it's her son when she's sure it's not. It ultimately leads her to seek the aid of a local activist (John Malkovich) to uncover the police conspiracy and cover-up after she's thrown into a institution to quiet her complaints against the police's corrupt methods.

REVIEW

Analysis:

The first choice of adults over 30 this weekend will probably be the latest movie from two-time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood, who has been a mainstay at the annual Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences since his 1993 Western Unforgiven. At this point, it's almost expected that any movie from Clint will be considered for year-end awards, and Clint's latest movie returns to territory covered in movies like the similarly Oscar-worthy L.A. Confidential, telling a true crime story from Los Angeles circa 1928. It's a project developed by writer J. Michael Straczynski, who is best known as the creator of the sci-fi series "Babylon 5" and being a prolific writer of comic books, though this movie really doesn't cater to his geek squad audience.

The big selling point is that it teams Eastwood with Angelina Jolie, another Oscar winner who has been one of the hottest box office stars since she won that award for Girl, Interrupted. In recent years, Jolie has been bouncing between doing big budget action movies like Mr. & Mrs. Smith with Brad Pitt and this past summer's hit Wanted to doing more serious dramatic fare like Robert De Niro's The Good Shepherd opposite Matt Damon, and last year's Michael Winterbottom movie A Mighty Heart, for which Jolie received a number of nominations for her portrayal of Mariane Pearl, but not the expected Oscar nomination. That movie also opened weak and ended up making less than $10 million.

Eastwood has had a very interesting post-political career but certainly his 1993 Oscar sweep for Unforgiven, also his first movie to gross $100 million, was the big turning point that made Hollywood take him more seriously as a filmmaker. Eastwood then bounced between Hollywood fare like the hit Space Cowboys, thrillers like True Crime and Blood Work, and serious awards fare like The Bridges of Madison County. In 1997, Eastwood directed Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, his first movie as a director in which he didn't star, something that's been more common in recent years, although the last movie he starred in, 2004's Million Dollar Baby won numerous Oscars including Best Picture. Ever since Changeling debuted as the Centrepiece in the 46th New York Film Festival, there's been a lot of buzz for Jolie's chances of getting her second nomination for Eastwood's film and considering his track record with getting Oscar-winning performances with two winners each in Mystic River (which also debuted at the NY Film Festival) and Million Dollar Baby, it's not too surprising.

Many of Eastwood's movies have followed a similar path of opening in platform release before expanding nationwide, which was the pattern followed by both Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby on their way to Oscar season. Changeling averaged $32.6k in 15 theaters last weekend. That's slightly lower than Mystic River made it in its debut before expanding wider into 1,500 theaters the following weekend with $10.4 million, and that ultimately grossed $90 million. Its follow-up Million Dollar Baby opened weaker, but then built up an audience in limited release over eight weeks before exploding into 2,000 theaters right after Oscar nominations were announced.

Changeling may be opening too early in the season to earn a lot of money from awards, especially with Eastwood directing and starring in another movie this fall, but his movies are certainly met with a lot of interest from moviegoers following so many awards-worthy movies, which will probably be as good a reason as any for people to be more interested in Eastwood's latest venture, although like Flags of Our Fathers, this will probably won't have the lasting power to get to awards season.

Why I Should See It: Clint Eastwood is an Oscar-winning master filmmaker and doing a movie with Angelina Jolie (another Oscar winner) is a big deal.
Why Not: Of course, you'd expect a better movie than this from the two of them, but whatever.
Projections: $10 to 12 million opening weekend and $40 to 45 million total.

COMPARISONS



RocknRolla (Warner Bros.)
Starring Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Mark Strong, Idris Elba, Tom Hardy, Toby Kebbell, Jeremy Piven, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges
Written and directed by Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smokin' Barrels, Snatch, Revolver)
Genre: Crime, Comedy, Thriller
Rated R
Tagline: "A story of sex, thugs and rock 'n roll."
Plot Summary: A missing painting leads to a clash of wills between London mob boss Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) and the gang of thugs known as the Wild Bunch led by One-Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) with all sorts of other characters in the mix including Cole's rocker stepson Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), his managers (Jeremy Piven, Ludacris) and an opportunistic accountant (Thandie Newton).

Interview with Guy Ritchie

Interview with Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges

REVIEW

Analysis:

Trying to find an audience against some of the stronger choices above, Guy Ritchie is back with another ensemble crime-comedy like his earlier classics Lock, Stock and Two Smokin' Barrels and Snatch, but his latest might get lost in the shuffle as much due to the busy market as the tabloid negativity that's probably made Ritchie even less popular among mainstream pop culture fans. It's kind of a shame because Ritchie continues to be one of England's more inventive and clever filmmakers, despite making two rather unpopular movies since getting married to one of the world's most famous pop divas. Ritchie's previous movie Revolver premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2005, opened in the UK a couple weeks later, then sat on the shelf for two years waiting to get U.S. distribution, before making just $350 thousand last December despite starring hot action star Jason Statham, who got his first break starring in Ritchie's earlier movies.

RocknRolla is the first collaboration between Ritchie with mega-producer Joel Silver (The Matrix, Lethal Weapon) who also brought Ritchie on board for their high-profile reinvention of Sherlock Holmes due next November. They've assembled a really great cast of British and American actors and rappers, though only two of them really have any sort of box office credibility. Gerard Butler is making his fourth movie for Warner Bros. with Ritchie's latest, following his stint as Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera, then exploding in Zack Snyder's 300 and being the ghost of Hilary Swank's boyfriend past in PS I Love You. Butler's Q-rating has certainly exploded in the last year and this is his first starring role since 300, so it'll be a good test whether he's a draw. Thandie Newton has starred in many big movies since her debut in the Oprah-produced Beloved, some of her bigger movies being Mission: Impossible II opposite Tom Cruise, The Pursuit of Happyness with Will Smith and Eddie Murphy's Norbit. Tom Wilkinson, while an Oscar-nominated actor for last year's Michael Clayton and notable for many other roles, has not gotten to the point in his career where he can be considered a box office draw. The cast also includes Jeremy Piven, the three-time Emmy winning star of "Entourage," rapper Ludacris who also can be seen in Max Payne, as well as respected British actors like Idris Elba, Mark Strong and Toby Kebbell. Sadly, none of these great actors will do much to generate interest among moviegoers.

Oddly, Guy Ritchie has been all over the news in the last few weeks, but not for the best reasons, as his divorce case with pop star Madonna has been everywhere, and yet few of those reporting that "news" has bothered to mention that Ritchie has a new movie in theaters. Not that it may help, since Madonna has a lot more fans who probably will hold things against Ritchie enough to consciously avoid his movie. Ritchie already had a good amount of male fans prior to his marriage and some of them might actually be happy he's finally rid of the Material Girl, who was responsible for the worst movie of his career, the remake of Swept Away.

RocknRolla opened on October 8 in 7 theaters in New York, L.A. and Toronto, then it tripled that amount the following week, but it lost business in that second weekend, which isn't a good sign that a movie is generating strong word-of-mouth. It was able to hold its ground a bit better this past weekend, but still lost three theaters, which also isn't a strong sign warranting an expansion. Guy Ritchie's movies generally play better in the bigger cities where it's already been playing for a few weeks, so this weekend, it'll be relying on business from areas where the movie hasn't been promoted as much.

Warner Bros.' decision to expand the movie into wider release may be an attempt to appease their long-time relationship with producer Joel Silver, though it's not even getting as wide a release as Ritchie's second movie Snatch. Maybe that's because it doesn't have the high-profile caliber of actor as Brad Pitt, who likely helped that movie bring in a larger audience. On top of that, RocknRolla will be targeting the same audience who'll likely be interested in seeing Kevin Smith's latest movie or some of the horror offerings on Halloween. Unfortunately, Ritchie's movie seems to be following a similar trajectory as Shane Black's excellent crime-comedy Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang starring Robert Downey Jr., also produced by Silver, which debuted at the Toronto Film Festival three years ago, but failed to make enough of a mark in limited release to get the nationwide expansion this movie is getting.

Why I Should See It: Guy Ritchie's back in fine form with a great cast and getting some of his best reviews since Snatch.
Why Not: Rolling this out slowly may have been the wrong approach for the movie since it's already been playing in the cities where Ritchie is popular for three weeks.
Projections: $1.5 to 2.5 million and $6 to 7 million total.

COMPARISONS



THE CHOSEN ONE:

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (Oscilloscope Laboratories
Starring Kurt Kuenne, Zachary Andrew, David Bagby, Dr. Andrew Bagby, Kathleen Bagby
Written and directed by Kurt Kuenne
Genre: Documentary
Unrated
Plot Summary: The murder of Dr. Andrew Bagby on November 5, 2001 convinces filmmaker Kurt Kuenne to make a film for Bagby's unborn son Zachary, as he travels across the country interviewing everyone who knew Andrew to create a vivid portrait of his friend for Zachary. Little did Kuenne know that Zachary would become involved in a fierce custody case between Andrew's parents... and his killer.

Mini-Review: This doc is one of those pleasant little surprises that comes along so rarely, that's clearly better not knowing too much about the facts of the case going into it. The tragic death of Dr. Andrew Babgy is just the beginning of a story that will shock you, as filmmaker Kurt Kuenne's attempt to create a memorial tribute to his dead friend turns into a very different movie. The film starts with testimonials from various people that gets you curious as to why someone might want to make a film about a fairly ordinary guy, but it quickly becomes evident how many lives Andrew touched, how much he was loved, and how his murder was a huge loss to all of them. Kuenne's attempt to create a tribute to his friend so that his unborn son could learn more about his father is sidelined as he travels across the country meeting and interviewing everyone who knew him and more facts come out about the strange case surrounding his murder via a crime of passion. In some ways, it was more Kuenne's attempt to learn more about his dead friend, a process that ends up taking many more years and hours of footage than he expected. Besides looking into the details behind Andrew's murder, it also deals with the custody case of his child (the Zachary of the title), an extraordinary story that takes a life of its own as it becomes the focus of the film. What makes this documentary so amazing is the clever and inventive ways Kuenne has edited that footage together, telling the story not only using those interviews, but family photos, home movies, some of Kuenne's own early amateur films starring Andrew, police reports, court documents and answering machine tapes. A lot of this film is shocking and unbelievable, especially what Andrew's parents are forced to endure after their son's death, and their interviews expose some of the most honest and frank emotions you're likely to see on film. At the same time, Kuenne narrates the film plainly and trying to remain as unbiased as possible, though you can sometimes hear his voice cracking when talking about what happened to his friend. The fact that Kuenne was able to finish this film despite the deep long-lasting emotions makes this film quite an achievement in itself. Ultimately, the film falls somewhere between the clinical compiling of found materials from "Capturing the Friedmans" and the artistry of "Tarnation," arguably two of the strongest documentary films of the past five years. As one might expect, that makes it one of the most powerful and moving films this year, as Kuenne has created something really special, a personal film that perfectly captures the feelings of anger and loss that accompany a loved one's untimely death. It's a movie that truly has to be seen to be believed, and it's not one that's easily shaken or forgotten once you've seen it. Rating: 9.5/10

Honorable Mention:

The Matador (City Lights) - This documentary by Stephen Higgins and Nina Gilden Seavey follows the quest by David "El Fandi" Fandila, a 24-year-old from Granada, to become Spain's top-ranked bullfighter, as he puts his skills to the test across Latin America and faces various setbacks in reaching his goal. It opens in New York at the Angelika on Friday, and in L.A. on November 21.

Mini-Review Putting aside any personal issues one might have with the sport of bullfighting (and the fact that this documentary stole its title from the Pierce Brosnan crime-comedy), this is an interesting portrait of one of Spain's top matadors, giving unbelievable access to the 24-year-old David "El Fandi" Fandila and his family to find out exactly what's involved in becoming one of the greats. If you know little about bullfighting, this doc acts as a simple primer to get one up to speed as it shows David in training to tackle the circuits in Spain and Latin America in his attempt to fight in 100 matches (or corridas) in a single season. Through interviews and footage, we get to see the many dangers of bullfighting as David and others are gored while on the job, but there's lot of things we haven't really had a chance to see as the film covers a lot of ground. One thing the filmmakers don't do is they never try to defend the violent traditions of bullfighting nor does it give another side to the story, because this is very much about David's journey, which makes it hard not to feel like the movie is little more than an ego massage to the already-famous matador. There's a lot of incidental stuff that doesn't necessarily add much to the movie and it does end up being a lot of talking, but whenever it shows David fighting in the ring, it's hard not to be fascinated by the artistry of the dance, which is accompanied by a grandiose score. The movie may not change your mind if you're against the cruelty of the sport, but it does show a different side and what it takes to make it, as well as giving one of the more comprehensive looks at bullfighting we've seen in this country. Rating: 7.5/10

Also in Limited Release:

Eden Lake (Third Rail Releasing) - James Watkins' horror-thriller which recently played at the Toronto Film Festival revolves around a couple trying to escape for a romantic weekend at a remote lake where they're terrorized by a gang of kids leaving them stranded and at their mercy. It opens in select cities on Halloween as does...

Splinter (Magnet Pictures) - In Toby Wilkins' directorial debut, a couple on a camping weekend are carjacked by another couple on the run from the police, but they all end up stranded at a gas station when they encounter a parasitic creature that infects and reanimates the bodies of the dead. It opens in select cities on Friday.

Mini-Review

The Other End of the Line (MGM) - This romantic comedy from James Dodson follows the romance between a beautiful phone worker at an India call center (Shriya Saran), and the man in San Francisco (Jesse Metcalf) she makes a connection with over the phone, and the obstacles they face on the road to true love when she flies to San Francisco to meet him in person. It opens in 90 theaters in select cities Friday.

Run for Your Life (Screen Media Films) - This new documentary from Judd Ehrlich tells the life story of Fred Lebow, the Jewish immigrant who left war-torn Europe to begin the New York City Marathon tradition back in 1970. It's available on DVD on Tuesday and opens at the Village East in New York on Wednesday, as does...

The First Basket (Lammle/Zeller Films) - David Vyorst's documentary explores the history of basketball between the '20s and '40s when it was populated by Jewish immigrants, leading to Ossie Schectman making the first basket for the New York Knickerbockers in 1946.

My Name is Bruce (Dark Horse Indie) Bruce Campbell directs and stars in this horror-comedy as himself, as he's forced to fight a nine-foot Chinese god of war when he's mistaken for his character Ash from the "Evil Dead" trilogy. It opens in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.



Next week, the animated animals are back in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (DreamWorks Animation) while Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac play Soul Men (MGM/Dimension) and Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott act as Role Models (Universal).

Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas




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