The Weekend Warrior

The Weekend Warrior: June 25 - 27

Source: Edward Douglas
June 22, 2010

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.

If you aren't doing so already, you can follow The Weekend Warrior on Twitter where he talks about box office, movies and all sorts of random things.

Updated Predictions and Comparisons -

(UPDATE: With Knight and Day only making $3.8 million on Wednesday, it's not likely it can make our original prediction of $24.5 million over the three-day weekend, but we do expect the movie to pick up some steam on Friday due to word-of-mouth. Everything else is pretty much the same and the lower interest in Knight and Day should help Sandler's new comedy do around what we normally expect from him.)

1. Toy Story 3 (Disney•Pixar) - $60.4 million -45%

2. Grown Ups (Sony) - $36.3 million N/A (down 1.2 million)

3. Knight and Day (20th Century Fox) - $20.5 million N/A (down 4 million)

4. The Karate Kid (Sony) - $17.5 million -42% (up .3 million)

5. The A-Team (20th Century Fox) - $7.8 million -46% (same)

6. Get Him to the Greek (Universal) - $3.7 million -40% (same)

7. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Disney) - $3.3 million -42% (down .2 million)

8. Shrek Forever After (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $3.1 million -45% (down .2 million)

9. Killers (Lionsgate) - $3.0 million -40% (same)

10. Jonah Hex (Warner Bros.) - $2.0 million -63% (same)

Weekend Overview

It's the rematch of the month as Sony and 20th Century Fox have a chance to even things out after the former bested the latter two weeks ago when it was supposed to be a much closer race between The Karate Kid and The A-Team. While this weekend's match-up may be closer, both new movies have their own set of issues, as well as both having to face Disney•Pixar's powerhouse Toy Story 3 in its second weekend. Ultimately, that will keep both of them from completely breaking out, though there should be enough business to go around.

Either way, this is a weekend full of stars, and with Adam Sandler's new ensemble comedy Grown Ups (Sony) reuniting him with Kevin James and three of his "Saturday Night Live" pals--Chris Rock, Rob Schneider and David Spade--we should see if the sum is indeed greater than the parts for a movie that presumably offers something for teen and older males, but may be plagued by moviegoers being less accepting of weaker movies this summer and possibly not being on board with Sandler this time around.

Likewise, normally teaming two attractive stars like Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in a romantic action-comedy like Knight and Day (20th Century Fox) would be a sure-fire way to make money, but the movie is coming straight off the heels of the similar Killers and neither Cruise nor Diaz are on the upper curve of their careers right now. Even so, the movie is a lot of fun and is much better than the commercials, so it could be a surprise summer sleeper, making more over the weekend than it does on Wednesday and Thursday. The good news for both movies is that the summer has officially begun with schools being out in most regions and the high school and college crowd are usually looking for things to do that keeps them out of the hot summer sun. That should definitely help the two movies trying to take on the inevitable winner Toy Story 3.

This week's "Chosen One" is Tim Heatherington and Sebastian Junger's award-winning war doc Restrepo (National Geographic Entertainment), which you can read more about below

This weekend last year, Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Paramount) topped the box office with $109 million over the three-day weekend after making $91 million in the previous two (and a half days). With $200 million made in less than a week, it became the second-fastest movie to reach that amount and went on to double that amount to be the year's highest grossing film until James Cameron's Avatar came along. Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin starred in the drama My Sister's Keeper (New Line/Warner Bros.), which opened in fifth place with $12.4 million in 2,606. The Top 10 grossed $190.6 million but since we don't think that the two new movies will make as much as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, we can expect this weekend to be down. Also opening this weekend last year of note, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker (Summit) opened on its long way to winning Best Picture at the Oscars earlier this year.



THE BATTLE CRY

Is there such thing as a "review-proof movie"?

That's the question of the week and we're not just asking that because there's a new movie from Adam Sandler either.

No, I've been pondering this question in our minds for months, ever since seeing Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, a movie I wasn't crazy about, but one I realized as I watched it that it would be another hit, because it was catering to certain audiences--presumably women and children--who only cared about seeing adorable singing rodents and didn't care about some of the things that are important to critics - like a proper story, decent writing, acting, etc. It was the classic case of a "review-proof movie" and so... I didn't review it.

There's been a lot of talk in the last few years, including here, about whether or not reviews and critics matter anymore, and the jury is still out, because for every movie that does well based on critical raves, there are dozens that barely make a dent with moviegoers. Then there are those movies that do huge business despite being trashed by critics like Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which looked terrible, got bad reviews, and yet still did huge business. Clearly, that movie was review-proof, but in a different way, because it was marketed so well by Sony, who have proven countless times how good they are at marketing dumb comedies to those who enjoy them. (Okay, maybe this "Battle Cry" is about Adam Sandler after all.)

The thing is that a few months ago I thought Sex and City 2 would be another one of those movies. I figured no matter what critics said about it, the fans of the show and the first movie would flock to go see it in droves. Wrong! Not only did the movie disappoint its opening weekend and in general, but the fans of the show haven't exactly loved the movie either, so in that case, negative reviews may have convinced those who were skeptical of the need for a sequel to skip this one. But you see there was already a precedent for a movie like SATC2 to do well despite negative reviews, and that was last year's The Twilight Saga: New Moon, which did huge business despite tepid reviews (27% on Rotten Tomatoe). I assume this will continue with Eclipse later this month.

This has been a pretty strange summer so far where smaller studio movies like Splice and MacGruber were raved about by critics going back to their festival showings, but those positive reviews just didn't connect with audiences enough to convince them to go see those movies in theatres. Part of this may be since avid movie lovers, the more discerning ones that read reviews, have gotten to the point where they'll just wait and watch these movies later on DVD, but it's somewhat disconcerting, making you wonder what makes a movie review-proof on either side of the equation, whether it's one that's going to do well or one that's going to bomb regardless of what critics say.

This past weekend's Toy Story 3 may as well have been review-proof because people wanted to see it, but it certainly didn't hurt that it got nearly unanimously positive reviews, but one also has to think that the number of critics that trashed Jonah Hex last week certainly hurt that movie's chances at bringing in the audiences who might have seen it based on the cool trailers and commercials.

As a critic who often has to see movies that already have a huge amount of anticipation or an equal amount of negative buzz, it sometimes gets frustrating that no matter what I say for or against a movie, there are people who will go see the movie anyway. Then I remember that the whole point of a review is to share one's opinion and not necessarily alter other people's decisions. Providing our readers with a review of, say, a "Twilight" movie does benefit the studio in some way, because it allows for our readers and fans to discuss/debate whether or not they agree with said review, or at least that's the case with the internet. Print reviews don't even allow that amount of interaction, which ultimately might convince those who are uncertain whether to see a movie or not.

So in some ways, I guess this brings us back to the thought that if a movie is review-proof, then what's the point of showing it critics in the first place, something that's probably been discussed a lot in studio meetings every month I'm sure. It really can go either way, because reviews do help raise awareness for those casual moviegoers looking for something to see, but there's no way to tell whether reviews will completely counter the marketing ala "Hex" or whether the marketing is strong enough that reviews aren't necessary. Lionsgate and Screen Gems certainly veer more towards the latter, which is why they don't screen movies in advance. One has to wonder whether the recent Killers would have indeed been hurt by bad reviews earlier in the week. It opened fairly weakly with $16 million but then this past weekend, it was only off 36% which means that people were still interested in seeing it regardless of reviews. Obviously, we don't think Jonah Hex will share that fate.

With that in mind, I guess we'll continue to see different levels of being "review-proof" and we'll probably continue to see certain audiences be more affected/influenced by reviews than others, and movies with fan-based buzz continuing to be the most review-proof. We'll definitely be watching the rest of the summer with interest to see whether we can find any specific trends in that respect, but I do have a feeling that moviegoers are going to continue to do whatever they want in terms of making their decisions whether or not movies get good reviews or bad.



Grown Ups (Sony)
Starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, David Spade, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph
Directed by Dennis Dugan (You Don't Mess with the Zohan, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, The Benchwarmers, upcoming Just Go With It); Written by Adam Sandler (The Waterboy, Big Daddy, You Don't Mess with the Zohan, Little Nicky), Fred Wolf (Strange Wilderness, Without a Paddle, Joe Dirt)
Genre: Comedy
Rated PG-13
Tagline: "Boys will be boys... some longer than others."
Plot Summary: Five former friends (Sandler, James, Rock, Schneider and Spade) who played on a school basketball team reunite years later to honor the death of their coach at the lake house where they celebrated winning the championship, bringing their wives and kids in tow.

Review

Analysis:

In the 9 1⁄2 years, this column has been around in one form or another, we've written about 12 Adam Sandler movies, as well as at least a dozen movies by his partners in comedy crime who join him in this ensemble comedy. It's probably a fairly safe bet that at least some of the things we've written can be applied to this movie that brings them all together, because for better or worse, Grown Ups looks to be the ultimate Adam Sandler movie, as he's working with all of his regular collaborators like director Dennis Dugan and long-time friend and Happy Madison partner Fred Wolf but most importantly, it reunites him with three other members of the "Saturday Night Live" cast who he's retained ties to since they all appeared on the show in the early '90s.

Sandler certainly has had better years than he's been having recently with last summer's appearance in Judd Apatow's R-rated Funny People not doing very well for either of them, grossing roughly half what a normal Sandler summer movie makes. Other than previous forays into indie/drama work, Sandler pretty much can guarantee $100 million in box office with an opening in the $35 to 40 million range. It's been roughly four years since he's had a $40 million opener, that being the high concept Click, yet no movie has quite surpassed the one-two punch of The Waterboy and Big Daddy, each which grossed over $160 million. For the most part, Sandler has done better when doing movies with Sony, and he's generally mixed it up between playing outlandish characters like 2008's "Zohan" and doing movies where he plays normal guys in odd situations, which was the case with Click, Anger Management and Bedtime Stories.

Although Sandler has proven himself to be a box office draw, any success this movie has can probably be attributed as much to Kevin James, who at this point may be considered an equal or even bigger box office draw than Sandler with the success of last year's Paul Blart: Mall Cop which grossed almost $150 million after doing $39 million over the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. That would be impressive even it wasn't only the third major live action movie for the star of the popular CBS sitcom "King of Queens," having followed up his successful debut in Will Smith's hit comedy Hitch five years ago. Oddly, James' previous movie with Sandler, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry was one of the latter's weaker openings, but probably could be attributed more to the subject matter of homosexuality which probably made Sandler's caveman audience uncomfortable.

Then there's Chris Rock, who also appeared briefly with Sandler on "Saturday Night Live" and teamed with him for the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard, which is Sandler's highest grossing movie of the past decade. On his own, Rock has only had one movie that grossed more than $50 million, which was 2001's Down to Earth, his most recent movie Death at a Funeral, topping off with $42 million despite being teamed with Martin Lawrence. Other than The Longest Yard, Rock's biggest movies have been animated, but he's still maintained a much higher profile than some of the other actors in the movie and he'll bring in African-Americans who won't necessarily care for Sandler or James.

Next we have Rob Schneider, who has appeared in just about every single Sandler movie to date--he's kind of like Happy Madison's version of Pixar's John Ratzenberg--but that's mostly been the extent of his movie career having peaked in 2001 with Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, followed by the lesser hit The Animal, then decreasing openings until he was teamed with David Spade for The Benchwarmers, also directed by Dennis Dugan. In this writer's opinion, Spade is funnier than his four peers, but he hasn't really had many, if any, big comedy hits, his two highest grossers before The Benchwarmers being Tommy Boy and Black Sheep with the late Chris Farley. Surprisingly, the only time Spade and Sandler appeared together since "Saturday Night Live" was an uncredited cameo made by the former in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. As has been the case with many of Sandler's movies, he has a lot of beautiful ladies, and Grown Ups is no exception as the guys share screen time with the likes of Salma Hayek, Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph, although they're taking much more of a backseat this time around.

The movie's premise of "men-children," guys who just can't grow up, isn't exactly a new one, but it's one that's a good selling point since both older and younger audiences can relate to it, whether it's middle-aged guys, their wives or their kids who are embarrassed by their fathers' behavior. That may help Grown Ups bring in audiences more than the pairing of these five comic friends. In that sense, the best comparison (other than every other Adam Sandler movie) may be the Disney comedy hit Wild Hogs, which brought together John Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy, and had enough appeal across all their fanbases to open with $39 million in early March. There's also last year's comedy blockbuster The Hangover, which also catered to the idea of male-bonding in Vegas, which found a really large audience not only opening weekend but over the rest of the summer.

Unfortunately, Grown Ups doesn't look nearly as funny as any of Sandler's previous movies, which is saying a LOT. The few gags in the commercials, which one assumes are the funniest jokes the movie has to offer, a scary prospect indeed, do not stand up to repeat viewings. That said, Sony have proven themselves to be quite talented at marketing dumb comedies to the masses, though compared to the two movie mentioned above, this doesn't look nearly as strong.

Reviews of the movie probably won't be good, but as we've learned far too well (see "The Battle Cry") fans of these five comic actors are not particularly discerning about quality and would go see this movie hoping for laughs however funny the commercials look. You would think at this point that Sandler's fans from the '90s will have gotten sick of his act, although there's a lot of dumb guys out there who enjoy his mindless humor and with basketball season over, older guys will be looking for something to see, and this might appeal more than Knight and Day.

With that in mind, there have been promos for the movie all over ESPN and ABC during the NBA Finals, which may or may not entice drunken sports fans to go see the movie. Unlike The Longest Yard, this isn't a sports-related movie, and it looks more like one of those dumb movies where comic stars are paired with kids--you know the ones: Cheaper by the Dozen, Daddy Day Care, etc.--which are normally relegated to PG family fare. One wonders whether parents might mistake this for one of those and bring their kids to see a movie that may be a little too adult for them. This sort of confusing marketing, making an adult-targeted movie look like it's more for kids, was something that deeply hurt Will Ferrell's Land of the Lost last year.

One also can't ignore the fact that it's opening against two strong well-reviewed movies in Toy Story 3 and The Karate Kid, but opening later in the summer will probably help the movie do better its opening day since many teens and older are out of school. That will also probably make it more frontloaded, since it's not the type of movie that can survive if word-of-mouth isn't good.

Why I Should See It: There seems to be enough comedy talent in this one that there should be a good amount of laughs.
Why Not: Not that you can tell from the trailer which goes for the dumbest and most low-brow jokes.
Projections: $35 to 39 million opening weekend and roughly $105 million total

COMPARISONS



Knight and Day (20th Century Fox)
Starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Maggie Grace, Marc Blucas
Directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line, Identity, 3:10 to Yuma, Girl, Interrupted); Written by Patrick O'Neill (debut)
Genre: Action, Comedy
Rated PG-13Plot Summary: On an trip to attend her sister's wedding, June Havens (Cameron Diaz) encounters the dashing Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) on a plane trip, and though they immediately hit it off, June soon learns that Roy is not what he seems and the two of them go on the run from FBI agents and assassins who want to get their hands on a super-battery Roy has been trying to protect.

Mini-Review: If the benchmark for the modern summer action movie is the likes of "Bourne" or "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," then director James Mangold's first foray into summer popcorn fare is certainly on par in terms of delivering the characters, the action and the fun modern moviegoers expect from their summer fare. The idea of putting two good looking actors on screen and seeing what happens is nothing new, and in that sense, it's also an effective throwback to the romantic comedies of the '40s, a movie that stands or falls based on the chemistry between those leads and many may be more than a little surprised how far the chemistry between Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz takes a rather simple espionage premise.

Starting like any meet-cute romantic comedy with an encounter in an airport, this leads to an airplane flight from hell for Diaz's June Havens, a simple headstrong girl who immediately falls for the charm of Tom Cruise's Roy Miller, unaware he's a spy assigned to protect a young genius (Paul Dano) who has invented a perpetual power source that everyone wants to get their hands on or keep out of the hands of others. The FBI is trying to catch Roy because his motives may not be as wholesome as he's made June believe, something made clear by the trail of bodies he leaves behind wherever he goes.

Although this is an action-espionage movie at its core, its strength lies in the fact it always keeps things light and never gets too serious, staying focused on the fish-out-of-water humor of Diaz being thrown into dangerous situations by a man she meets. It takes some time to get used to the rapid-fire pace of the dialogue and the heightened rapport between Cruise and Cameron, but after watching the two of them go back and forth for a half an hour, you quickly warm up to the relationship, which is so important to the movie working. Casting strong dramatic actors like Viola Davis and Peter Sarsgaard as the FBI heads trying to catch them gives the movie far more weight and credibility than casting character actors who might have overplayed these roles.

What "Knight and Day" does more effectively than anything else is that it creates a slow build, where you might not be sure at first whether the quirky dynamic between the stars can maintain your interest, but it slowly gains your trust as the action gets more intense, then ultimately delivers with a last act that crosses the globe as the duo try to stay ahead of those chasing them. Sure, sometimes it gets silly and other times it requires more than a little suspension of disbelief, but no more or less than any other good summer action movie.

Throughout the film, Mangold proves himself more than capable at creating action scenes as exciting at the ones in "Bourne" or "Casino Royale," also doing well with the humor, delivering subtle visual gags that play well off the two main actors. Surprisingly, he's using much of the same crew as his previous few movies, but the real star of the show is cinematographer Phedon Papamichael who mixes things up to keep the movie flowing, whether it's capturing the international locations in interesting ways or the way the action feel so fluid. He also subtly plays around with the look of the movie for different sections, even making a brief foray into noir. Wisely, Mangold also hired "Bourne" composer John Powell on board to create a similar feel, and it works quite brilliantly to pull the different genre elements into a cohesive whole.

In many ways, "Knight and Day" is what "Mission: Impossible 2" should or could have been, successfully bringing humor into the mix with its stars making jokes without ever taking away from the feeling that they're constantly in danger. Whether or not you're a fan of Cruise or Diaz, there's no denying that the entertainment comes from how much fun it is to watch them on screen together, and that's ultimately what separates "Knight and Day" from previous attempts at mixing romance, comedy, and action. Rating: 8/10

Analysis:

Summer rolls along with the second action comedy bringing together two good-looking movie stars getting into all sorts of dangerous situations, the first one being just three weeks ago when Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl paired for the spy comedy Killers, which only made $16 million its opening weekend. In this case, it's Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, who first were seen on screen together in Cameron Crowe's thriller Vanilla Sky.

Back in the '80s and '90s, Tom Cruise was looking to become one of the biggest box office stars of all time but times change and so do audiences, and nearly thirty years after his debut in movies like Endless Love and Taps, Cruise is in a career that's struggling to bring in the now-older audiences who grew up on his movies. Part of this involves the stigma surrounding Cruise due to his odd behavior around the time of Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds five years ago, which reportedly hurt movies like Mission: Impossible III. His last movie, the WWII thriller Valkyrie, which paired him with director Bryan Singer, only grossed $83 million after a relatively weak Christmas opening. One of the things that definitely went in Cruise's favor was Ben Stiller casting him as studio exec Les Grossman in the comedy Tropic Thunder, a role that not only nearly stole the movie but one that Cruise recently reprised for the MTV Movie Awards, bringing more attention to Cruise's sense of humor.

Similarly, Fox and the filmmakers probably hoped that pairing Cruise with Cameron Diaz, an actress who presumably has a younger, hipper audience, might help the movie appeal to more people, although it's hard to determine what sort of draw Diaz brings to the table. Although Diaz had a decent-sized hit with the comedy What Happens in Vegas...--co-starring Killers' Kutcher, ironically enough--she's not really been able to bring people into more serious roles like In Her Shoes or last year's My Sister's Keeper and The Box. Diaz's main forays into action were the two "Charlie's Angels" movies which both grossed over $100 million, and Knight and Day is certainly more in the vein of the action-comedy movies that have worked so much better for Diaz in recent years.

While the movie also stars Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis and Paul Dano, you'd be hard-pressed to see any of them in the trailer, because it's obvious this one is all about Cruise and Diaz, and they've been everywhere doing promos for the movie, including a special Sport Center promo on ESPN that many people watching the World Cup or Wimbledon will be seeing. The draw of the two actors isn't meant to take away from the filmmaker, James Mangold, who brings a lot more credibility to the movie than similar action-comedies, having directed two movies that have won Oscars for actresses involved, Girl, Interrupted and Walk the Line. His last movie was the Western remake 3:10 to Yuma, which got favorable reviews despite suffering from the difficulties getting it made. (It also helped people take Russell Crowe seriously again after having received similar negative press as Cruise.)

This is clearly an attempt to create something akin to Doug Liman's Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the movie that brought Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie together, quite literally, and was a huge summer hit for Fox. It also shares elements with throwback romance movies like Six Days Seven Nights with Harrison Ford and Anne Heche, and Bird on a Wire, which paired Goldie Hawn and Mel Gibson. The spy-action aspect of it even has things in common with Matt Damon's The Bourne Identity if it weren't played as seriously. The crazy thing is that three of those four movies opened in mid-June and at least Mr. & Mrs. Smith and "Bourne" did huge business.

The problem is that there has been a lot of press recently about how poorly the movie has been tracking in terms of interest among audiences, which has more to do with the marketing than the movie's quality. To be honest, the commercials haven't been that great, focusing on the comedy with scenes of Cruise acting crazy, something that make it too easy for people remembering Cruise's erratic behavior a few years ago. That's been shifted slightly to focus on the action, which is a much smarter move, and wisely, Fox gave the movie sneak previews on Saturday night in hopes that those who see it will tell their friends and those sneaks were very well-attended and did help turn around opinions about the movie.

This is the type of movie that can do decently among the dating crowd teens and older because there is a good combination of comedy, romance and action, which allows it to be fairly appealing to all audiences. The problem is that both Cruise and Diaz probably appeal to older audiences, say 25 and up, rather than the younger people who flock to the movies and probably will go for something a bit more obvious like Grown Ups. That may be part of the reason Fox are opening the movie Wednesday, hoping to make some money before losing audiences to the Adam Sandler movie. Unfortunately, this isn't the type of movie people will rush out to see opening day, and it has a better chances of getting some of the weekend crowd once reviews start hitting and positive buzz gets around.

Although it may lose some women to next week's The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, that movie generally won't be of interest to guys, and won't be able to hold up until the 4th of July weekend where an action movie like this could appeal to larger audiences, so we may see this hold up better against the new movies than Grown Ups.

Why I Should See It: However you feel about Tom Cruise and/or Cameron Diaz, this actually is a fun movie that successfully captures the spirit of Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
Why Not: Do we really need to PAY to see Tom Cruise act crazy?
Projections: Figure on $10 to 12 million on Wednesday and Thursday and another $23 to 27 million over the weekend leading to a total gross of roughly $95 million total

COMPARISONS



THE CHOSEN ONE:

Restrepo (National Geographic Entertainment)
Starring The Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade
Directed by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
Genre: Documentary
Tagline: "One Platoon, One Year, One Valley"
Plot Summary: Documenting a year in the deployment of the Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in what's considered to be the most dangerous area of Afghanistan, the Korengal Valley, where they're constantly under fire from insurgents on a daily basis.

These days, most young people's idea of what war is like comes from television news, movies or more likely, the video game "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare," which is why this new doc from two journalists who have spent most of the last 15 years in war-torn locations is so important, because it shows exactly what being a soldier in a war zone is really like to audiences who only think they know.

I remember a few years back when there was a slew of Iraq War docs and dramatization movies. As far as the former,
The War Tapes was a high point, just a brilliantly-realized doc about being a soldier, but I had problems with the similarly-minded movie Gunner Palace, which seemed a bit too frivolous for the message it was trying to convey.

Restrepo ends up falling directly between the two as the filmmakers embed themselves within a group of soldiers deployed to one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan for 14 months, always having their cameras rolling to capture the good moments as well as the hellish ones. Although the movie starts with some lo-fi footage of the soldiers traveling to their destination, the majority of it is filmed with high-definition widescreen cameras that do a good job establishing the location where the entire film happens. We're quickly introduced to the soldiers and learn more about their personalities through testimonial interviews, as the cameras follows them through some of their everyday activities, whether it's the mundane or something more specific to their jobs. During their time in the Korengal Valley, their greatest accomplishment is to set up an outpost, named after their fallen comrade Restrepo, at the top of one of the mountains, which gives them a much clearer view of the area, rather than being sitting ducks in the valley.

Although a good amount of time is spent watching the soldiers shooting their weapons, which does give the viewer a suitable adrenaline rush, this isn't just a mish-mash of random footage as Junger and Heatherington are able to edit their 15 months of footage into a tight 94-minute package full of cohesive narrative storytelling where we follow certain storylines. These include regular interactions with the local elders where the soldiers are doing their best to maintain the peace among the civilians, but there's only so much you can do when you're at war, and things happen that none of them can foresee.

When you're constantly under fire, there isn't a lot of time for fun, but the movie does capture the lighter side of being brothers in arms, trying to get by in between missions by playing pranks. It never feels like watching actors or soldiers playing up to the cameras; this is real war. When one of their good friends and colleagues is shot down in a dangerous firefight, you see how they immediately react. Watching these tough and head-strong young men break down and crying while in the field is something that's not easy to forget. It's never gratuitous with the violence inherent with war, never showing the bodies of the wounded, but having them be described though the emotional testimonials.

This is a really solid film from Hetherington and Junger, ably encapsulating the experience of these soldiers in the middle of an incredibly difficult situation into an unforgettable film, and probably the closest we'll come to seeing what war is really like without being there ourselves. If you're a fan of war movies, you can appreciate how Restrepo puts you on the frontlines and impacts you in a way that you won't soon forget what you've seen.

Restrepo opens in New York at the Angelika Film Center and in Los Angeles at the Landmark.

Honorable Mention:

Our favorite time of the summer is when Subway Cinema presents the New York Asian Film Festival, because it's often our one and sometimes only chance to see some of the biggest and craziest imports from China, Korea, Japan and other Asian countries.

This year, NYAFF is taking over the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center in conjunction with the Film Society of Lincoln Center as well as having screenings at the IFC Center and Japan Society. If you're going to be in New York City between June 25 and July 8, I highly recommend you try your best to get to one or more of the screenings, because the festival is a ton of fun, and it's not just the fun of watching crazy movies with a rowdy audience. It will be even more fun this year to see the younger downtown fringe audience that normally attends the "NYAFF" will get along with the Film Society's older, stodgier crowd and whether the latter are quite prepared for all the crazy genre fare the festival offers.

As in past years, the fine folks at Subway Cinema were nice enough to send us a stack of screeners and we couldn't find time to watch all of them, but here are some of the highlights:

The festival opens on Thursday with the North American premiere of IP Man 2 from Hong Kong, the sequel to Wilson Yip's martial arts once again starring Donnie Yen in the leading role with the legendary Sammo Hung doing the martial arts choreography and co-starring Simon Yam, both of whom will be attending the festival. Also representing Hong Kong is Teddy Chen's Bodyguards and Assassins, the multiple 2009 Hong Kong Film Awards winner that sports an all star cast including Yam, Donnie Chen and Tony Leung. (It screens with an hour-long documentary called Development Hell about the problems they went through making the movie.) Sammo Hung also stars in the intriguing comedy Kung Fu Chefs, and he'll be there for the Saturday night, June 26, screening as well.

The highlight of the festival's extensive Japanese line-up is clearly the festival's centerpiece as it shifts to the Japan Society and that is the international premiere of Tetsuya (Kamikaze Girls, Memories of Matsuoko) Nakashima's Confessions, which is thought to be a major departure, being a drama starring Takako Matsu as a teacher whose four-year-old daughter is murdered and is convinced two of her students committed the crime.

Two of the stranger offerings from Japan are 8000 Miles and its sequel 8000 Miles 2: Girl Rappers, which are indeed inspired by the similarly-named Eminem movie. There's also Symbol, the latest from comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto (Big Man Japan), a screening of Takashi Miike's adaptation of the giant robot Anime Yatterman, and a rare one-time showing of the uncut 5-hour version of John Woo's Red Cliff on July 4, which this writer may just be crazy enough to try to see.

Mainland China seemingly has trumped Japan with even odder fare with Crazy Driver and Cow, both directed by Guan Hu and starring actor Huang Bo, who will be in attendance at the festival. Cow, winner of a couple "Golden Horse" awards (really!) is a WWII buddy movie about a farmer and his cow, while the appropriately-titled Crazy Driver puts Hu as the most logical heir to the Stephen Chow throne with its story about a failed bike racer.

Korea brings the likes of Lee Hey-Jun's Castaway on the Moon, the blind swordsman movie Blades of Blood from Lee Joon-ik, and Chaw, a movie about a giant monster pig.

The downtown IFC Center will host the festival's midnight line-up, which will include Death Kappa, a low-fi giant monster movie, the teen martial arts flick Power Kids from Thailand and a rare theatrical screening of the1985 action flick L.A. Streetfighters.

That's just a drop in the bucket of the number of movies being screened, and there are lots of martial arts and genre movies among them. You can get the entire line-up info and see individual trailers for many of the movies at the Official Site. Also, you can check out the festival's official trailer below, although knowing the festival, there's a good chance it may be somewhat unsafe for work… or kids:


Also in Limited Release:

Director Oliver Stone's documentary South of the Border (Cinema Libre Studios) look at the current leftist movement in South America in recent years, led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has been declared a dictator by the U.S. media, including exclusive interviews with most of South America's current leaders. It opens in New York at the Angelika Film Center on Friday, and in L.A. on July 2.

Interview with Oliver Stone and writer Tariq Ali (Later This Week)

Mini-Review

French filmmaker Alan Resnais (Private Fears in Public Places) returns with Wild Grass (Sony Pictures Classics) based on Christian Gailly's novel "The Incident" about a man and woman (André Dussolier, Sabine Azéma) who meet over the return of a lost wallet and the protocols that's involved with such a transaction. Also starring Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric, the film opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos' second movie Dogtooth (Kino/Lorber) involves the father of three teens, two boys and a girl, who locks them up in the middle of nowhere and conducts odd mind game experiments on them. The festival favorite from Cannes and South by SouthWest opens in New York at the Cinema Village.

Mini-Review:

Bruce McDonald's This Movie is Broken (Alliance Films) is a romantic drama based around a guy (Greg Calderone) whose female friend (Georgina Reilly) who he's had a long-time crush on is leaving for France, and he only has one chance to express his love, and that's at a party thrown by her favorite local band, Broken Social Scene. It will open in Toronto and Vancouver this weekend.



Next week, it's the 4th of July weekend but it starts early on Wednesday with the third installment of the popular vampire romance The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Summit) and then a day later, M. Night Shyamalan's fantasy epic The Last Airbender (Paramount) opens.

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas




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