The Weekend Warrior

The Weekend Warrior: September 2 - 4

Source: Edward Douglas
August 30, 2011

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, music, comic books and all sorts of random things.

Predictions and Comparisons -

(Note: all of the below are four-day projections)

1. Apollo 18 (Dimension Films) - $15.8 million N/A

2. The Help (DreamWorks) - $14.0 million -3%

3. Shark Night 3D (Relativity Media) - $12.5 million N/A

4. Colombiana (Sony/Tristar) - 6.8 million -36%

5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox) - $6.5 million -25%

6. The Debt (Focus Features) - $6.0 million N/A

7. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (FilmDistrict) - $5.4 million -37%

8. Our Idiot Brother (The Weinstein Company) - $5.0 million -29%

9. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (Dimension Films) - $4.5 million -25%

10. The Smurfs (Sony) - $4.1 million -13%

Weekend Overview

It's Labor Day weekend and after two absolutely awful weekends, including one where most of the Eastern seaboard was plagued by Hurricane Irene, the summer officially comes to an end with a four-day weekend that's often been a time when studios offer up horror and action movies in order to give high school and college age kids a chance for one last blast before returning to school. How fortuitous is it that we have two PG-13 horror movies this weekend to give them choices after ignoring most of the R-rated movies released over the last month?

Not a lot is known about the outer space sci-fi thriller Apollo 18 (Dimension Films/Weinstein Company) which uses a similar found footage approach to horror as the blockbuster "Paranormal Activity" movies. It's being marketed in a similar fashion as other found footage movies under the pretense that it's real with commercials filled with scares, but it seems like the type of movie that would skew older and more male than some of the other offerings, and fortunately, they're the moviegoers not likely to be going away for the Labor Day weekend.

Unfortunately, it has some potentially serious horror competition for the younger folks with the shark attack thriller Shark Night 3D (Relativity Media), directed by Snakes on a Plane helmer David R. Ellis, another PG-13 movie that will try to show that it can deliver scares without the blood and gore that normally comes with shark movies. It's certainly a more appropriate way to end the summer than the space thriller and 3D ticket prices certainly could help, although this may look too cheesy to be taken seriously, which means more people might wait to see it on video after the fact.

Opening on Wednesday is a bit of prestige counter-programming for older moviegoers as Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington and Jessica Chastain star in John Madden's political thriller The Debt (Focus Features), which has been delayed for at least a year following the dissolution of Miramax. Like One Day, this seems like the type of movie that would be better to platform and build an audience, especially due to it being a period piece about Nazi hunting, not exactly the easiest sell. Reviews should be good, which should allow it to have an opening that isn't too embarrassing for Focus, although it's likely to end up outside the Top 5.

If you don't like any of those choices, Gavin O'Connor's sports drama Warrior, starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, will get nationwide sneak previews over the weekend so check your local theaters if you want to see it early.

This week's "Chosen One" is the R-rated ensemble comedy A Good Old Fashioned Orgy (Samuel Goldwyn Films) starring Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte, Leslie Bibb and more, which you can read more about it below.

Last year Labor Day saw a #1 movie that surprised many as George Clooney's thriller The American (Focus Features) opened with just $3.2 million on Wednesday and Thursday, but then topped the box office with $16.7 million over the four-day weekend. Robert Rodriguez's action movie Machete (20th Century Fox), starring Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez and Robert De Niro took second with $14.1 million, and Drew Barrymore and Justin Long starred in the R-rated romantic comedy Going the Distance (New Line/WB), which tanked with just $8.5 million for fifth place. The Top 10 grossed $93.4 million over the four-day weekend, although we don't think this weekend will rebound enough to top that amount.



THE BATTLE CRY

It's the end of the summer and while "The Battle Cry" has been sporadic at best--honestly does anyone even read these when I write them?--it seemed like now was the best time to look back at the summer and see how we did when we wrote our box office preview way back in May. If you missed it, you can follow along here. If you've already the preview and regularly read this column, you already know that we tend to focus on domestic box office, only because that's far easier than trying to predict the world. One of the big news stories this summer was how the international market was doing such big business that it was saving some of the movies that didn't do as well as hoped domestically.

As far as our early summer predictions, we did good on some things and totally bombed on others, but we did get that the top two would be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, even if we underestimated how much each of them might gross by roughly $40 million. Still, that's not really bad, and as we thought, the last "Harry Potter" ended up being the biggest.

Who knows why we doubted Todd Phillips' The Hangover: Part II (Warner Bros. - May 26), since we were such big fans of the original movie but it ended up doing huge business over Memorial Day and it didn't take long for it to surpass our measly $185 million prediction to end up with $254 million as the third-biggest movie of the summer. It also outpaced Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which paired Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow with new director Rob Marshall and it ended up with $240 million, roughly $45 million less than our $285 million prediction. Like so many movies this summer, it more than made up for it internationally, crossing the billion mark with ease.

Then we have the four superhero movies of the summer, which offered its own share of surprises, one being that Kenneth Branagh's Thor ended up grossing more than Joe Johnston's Captain America: The First Avenger. After all, we assumed that the latter character would be much more popular among Americans, but by the time it was released in late July, there may have been burnout for the superhero genre. Thor came closer to our $190 million prediction, just $10 million short, while Captain America is currently at $168 million, well below our $250 million prediction.

We thought Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class would do much better than it did, even if we knew it had no chance of doing the type of business of the last chapter. Coming in 12th with less than $150 million was hugely disappointing. We weren't as surprised when Warner Bros.' Green Lantern tanked with just $115 million as we had already been lowering our expectations from the $200 million we thought it would make earlier in the summer.

The biggest surprise this summer was how poorly two CG animated sequels fared this summer, considering how well their predecessors did. We thought that both DreamWorks Animation's Kung Fu Panda 2 and Disney/Pixar's Cars 2 would surpass the $200 million mark, but neither did and despite the worst reviews in Pixar history, Cars 2 came out on top with $187 million, sixth place behind Universal's Fast Five, which wisely got a headstart on the summer and scored $200 million for its efforts. Regardless, we were going back and forth about which would do better and then NEITHER came closer to our $250 million plus predictions. Kung Fu Panda 2's domestic showing might make one think that it wouldn't continue on as a franchise, but the movie did gangbusters overseas, which means it will be profitable enough for DreamWorks Animation to continue on with their plans for the franchise.

One of the categories in our summer preview dealt with the summer's sci-fi movies and were very optimistic both for J.J. Abrams' Super 8 and Jon Favreau's Cowboys & Aliens. As they got closer to release, it became far more obvious that these very different takes on the alien invasion movie weren't going to meet our expectations and neither of them made it into the Top 10 for the summer. Only Super 8 passed the $100 million with $126 million, a far cry from our $200 million plus prediction - obviously, we thought the Spielberg involvement would be a bigger draw, but it wasn't. On the other hand, 20th Century Fox's Rise of the Planet of the Apes is already on its way to passing our $155 million prediction because it far exceeded all expectations in terms of how good the movie would be, something it shares with X-Men: First Class. Yes, it looks like this was the summer where Fox finally figured out how to revive and reinvent franchise material, having failed so badly last year with Predators and The A-Team.

Two of the predictions we're really proud of was our ability to tell that the R-rated comedies Bridesmaids and Horrible Bosses would both do very well among audiences this summer. We probably had seen Bridesmaids by then which is why we stated "We think $130 million is the low-end and it could possibly get up to $150 million," but it did even better than that! We were going entirely by a CinemaCon teaser for Horrible Bosses when we said it would make $120 million, and though it's only at $113 million, it did far better than others thought it would do.

We're also proud that we mentioned three movies with the "potential to gross at least $100 million" outside of our Top 15 for the summer; both The Smurfs and The Help have reached that amount (or are very close) and Sony's Bad Teacher only missed that mark by a million or two. Not bad.

Well, that's it for the summer and now that it's over, here's more or less The Weekend Warrior's Top 10 favorite movies from best to not quite so best:

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2
2. Bridesmaids
3. Thor
4. Attack the Block
5. Horrible Bosses
6. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
7. The Tree of Life
8. X-Men: First Class
9. Midnight in Paris
10. Kung Fu Panda 2



Apollo 18 (The Weinstein Company)
Starring "Not Available"? What the f*ck?
Directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego (El Rey de la montaña); Written by Brian Miler (debut), Cory Goodman (Priest)
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: "There's a Reason We Never Went Back to the Moon" (Does it involve Tom Hanks?)
Plot Summary: Apparently following the "last" manned mission to the moon on December 17, 1972, NASA sent two American astronauts on another mission to the moon in 1974... it was called "Apollo 18" (get it?) and after 36 years, the footage they filmed is finally being revealed to the public. Apparently, it's easier to get distribution if you find footage than it is if you spend years developing, writing and making a movie.

Analysis:

So remember when man first landed on the moon? Apparently, there was 20 minutes when they weren't being monitored back on earth, so they wandered over to the dark side of the moon and discovered something we never knew about...

Oh, wait, no, that's the opening of Michael Bay's Transformers: Dark of the Moon, so what's this movie that looks like Paranormal Activity in space? It is in fact... Paranormal Activity in space! But instead of going for that rather obvious title, they're calling the movie "Apollo 18" and it's the latest attempt at creating "realistic" horror by pretending it's made up of found footage. Produced by Russia's answer to Steven Spielberg, Timur Bekmambetov, this one takes a different approach to some of the others as it explores a sci-fi premise that takes cues from classics like Alien and other horror films set in space.

The phenomenon was originated by the success of The Blair Witch Project, an inexpensive indie horror film that was picked up at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to become an enormous blockbuster hit. It was followed by the lesser success of the stranded-at-sea movie Open Water (which wasn't really found footage). J.J. Abrams got in on the act when he produced the found footage monster movie Cloverfield, a movie shrouded in mystery that used viral marketing to get people into theaters to the tune of $40 million opening. The real surprise was 2009's Paranormal Activity, an indie movie that cost $5,000 to make and then lay in the archives at DreamWorks as they tried to figure out how to remake it.

Having had a hit with Cloverfield, Paramount convinced Spielberg to let them release it as is, taking a rather unconventional approach of opening in select cities and building buzz before going wide. It worked and the movie grossed over $100 million. Last August, Lionsgate released an inexpensive found footage movie called The Last Exorcism, which opened to $20 million and grossed $41 million, another sure sign that this type of horror movie can find an audience. That was followed a few months later by the sequel Paranormal Activity 2, which opened with $43 million in its wide release but ended up not grossing as much as the original. A lot of indie producers have been jumping on the bandwagon trying to make inexpensive horror movies that turn a profit using this technique with the Vicious Brothers' Grave Encounters being another one.

Normally, horror movies might do decently without having big stars and might flop despite having big stars (see the last two week's horror offerings) but this may be the first time where we have absolutely no information about the two actors playing the American astronauts, something being done obviously to make the found footage seem more authentic. Dimension are keeping this one a mystery, not releasing any information other than the names of the filmmakers and what we see in the trailer and commercials for the same reason.

It's doubtful anyone will believe that this is a true story or that the found footage is real, but one can imagine guys who like space movies and alien invasion movies will be more interested than the younger people who normally frequent these movies (and helped turn Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity into huge hits) since they're not likely to have as strong a connection to the space program. In fact, the younger people who normally might see this will basically have to choose between this and Shark Night 3D, which could mean softer openings for both movies.

Labor Day has been a great time to release lower budget horror movies as seen by the success of Jeepers Creepers and its sequel (wait for it) Jeepers Creepers 2, as well as Rob Zombie's Halloween remake. Action movies like the original Crank also did well over the weekend, probably because there are a lot of college age moviegoers looking for one last movie before school starts.

Wisely, Dimension is keeping this one fairly well hidden, a wise tactic so that anyone intrigued by the concept won't be swayed against it by any potentially bad reviews or press. The commercials certainly make it look scarier and more original than Shark Night, so we think this one will end up winning the weekend even if it doesn't set any Labor Day records.

Why I Should See It: Maybe there'll be some end credits and you can find out who is in the movie.
Why Not: Not that we can expect to see them in much else.
Projections: $14 to 17 million over the four-day weekend and $32 million total

COMPARISONS



Shark Night 3D (Relativity Media)
Starring Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Katharine McPhee, Chris Carmack, Alyssa Diaz, Joel David Moore, Donal Logue, Sinqua Walls, Chris Zylka
Directed by David R. Ellis (Snakes on a Plane, Final Destination 2, The Final Destination, Cellular); Written by Jesse Studenberg (debut), Will Hayes (a TV writer)
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: "Terror Runs Deep"
Plot Summary: A group of hot young people go on vacation to a lake cabin next to a lake that's suddenly swarming with hundreds of deadly sharks. (So what is the plural of "Jaws"... "Jawses"?)

Analysis:

Last summer, a lake became populated with deadly prehistoric piranha in Dimension Films' Piranha 3D, and now Relativity Media has decided to take on Dimension with their own game, but since the idea of prehistoric piranhas are silly, they've instead infected a lake full of sharks. Yes, we fully realize that sharks only live in salt water, but we're sure it will be explained for roughly twenty seconds before they start feeding on hot and barely-clad young actors and actresses. We probably don't have to go too in-depth how sharks work in terms of horror because we're just used to them appearing in movies and television going back to Steven Spielberg's early blockbuster Jaws, going through more recent movies like Renny Harlin's Deep Blue Sea and the Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" is regularly their highest-rated week of programming.
This one is directed by David R. Ellis who made his name on the "Final Destination" movies, helming the second and fourth, but more importantly, he was the helmer on New Line's Snakes on a Plane, a movie that had a lot of online buzz before opening but then did disappointing business once it finally opened.

This cast isn't quite as strong as the one for Piranha 3D with the biggest stars being "American Idol" contestant Katharine McPhee and Avatar's Joel David Moore, plus it has Sarah Paxton who appeared in the remake of Last House on the Left and has been acting for 14 years since the age of nine. There are a few other actors who have experience doing horror, but honestly, none of them are being mentioned in the commercials or trailer

We can probably reiterate what we said above about Labor Day weekend and horror movies, although releasing two of them on the same weekend means that business for both might be somewhat diluted. Obviously, Shark Night cost more money to make and has higher production values than Apollo 18, but it also looks a lot more like something we've seen way too many times before. Like with Apollo 18, younger moviegoers will be able to get into this because it's PG-13, and we expect that the younger guys and girls, say 14 to 17, will probably pick this over the weekend competition, but even they're likely to be somewhat cynical and that PG-13 is somewhat of a double-edged sword because moviegoers going to see a shark movie would normally do so expecting a lot of R-rated gore and blood, but somehow they managed to tame this one down. That might hurt the movie among older horror fans who might normally check it out. Normally, being in 3D would help the movie since it means higher ticket prices, but this summer has seen many 3D movies tanking as moviegoers got tired of being burnt.

Either way, Relatively Media have done a decent job marketing the movie from its presence at Comic-Con to the constant commercials as well as tying it into the Discovery Channel's "Shark Week," but since they won't be screening the movie in advance, don't expect to find out how that PG-13 works out for it, because they'd rather the marketing sell the movie. Either way, both this and Apollo 18 will mostly be fighting for the same audience and that one should benefit from having more theaters and being something not quite as derivative (though that's not saying much).

Why I Should See It: It has girls in bikinis!
Why Not: ...getting chewed to bits by sharks... what a waste.
Projections: $12 to 14 million over the four-day weekend and roughly $26 million total.

COMPARISONS



The Debt (Focus Features)
Starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Jesper Christensen, Marton Csokas, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Wilkinson
Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, Proof,Killshot, Captain Correlli's Mandolin); Written by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class), Peter Straughan (The Men Who Stare at Goats, Sixty Six, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People)
Genre: Thriller
Rated R
Tagline: "Every Secret Comes with a Price"
Plot Summary: Three Israeli Mosaad agents (Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Marton Czokas) are assigned with the mission to capture a Nazi war criminal known as the "Surgeon of Birkenau" who is hiding in East Berlin. As their plans start to hit hurdles, the three of them become embroiled in a love triangle while their target begins to play mind games with them. Over forty years later, the woman on the team, Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) is finding old secrets dredging their ugly heads and her former teammate (Tom Wilkinson) calls her into action to tie up loose ends.

Review

Analysis:

Prestige distributor Focus Features has earned themselves a reputation for being able to get an advance jump on the fall movie season by releasing more serious dramas and thrillers for older moviegoers over Labor Day weekend after having success with Fernando Meirelles' The Constant Gardener, which went onto win an Oscar for Rachel Weisz. Last year, they released George Clooney's The American, a slow European-based drama that was marketed like a thriller, similarly to The Debt, and though it didn't receive rave reviews, it was able to beat out the competition over Labor Day and end up #1 for the weekend with around $16 million.

Produced and written by Matthew Vaughn of Kick-Ass fame, The Debt was originally going to be distributed by Miramax and released in the fall last year, presumably to be eligible for awards contention, but Miramax continued to have problems before all of their movies were folded into Disney. For whatever reason, they decided to drop this one and last week's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, and Focus Features decided to release it. Most people probably won't realize this is actually a remake of an Israeli film, something that's not exactly being advertised.

What is being advertised is that it stars Helen Mirren, who is becoming one of the most reliable actresses over 60 in terms of box office (along with Meryl Streep), and this has definitely been the case in the last year where she helped Summit to get a big hit with the action-thriller Red and co-starring with Russell Brand in the comedy Arthur earlier this year. Although she's had a few bombs such as Julie Taymor's The Tempest and husband Taylor Hackford's Love Ranch, Mirren's draw for older men and women will play a large part in the film's success as they'll know that the movie will offer at least one strong performance, being that she's an Oscar winner.

Playing Mirren's character in flashback is this year's hottest actress, Jessica Chastain, who has already appeared in Terrence Malick's acclaimed The Tree of Life and the box office sleeper hit The Help, which will be shooting for its third weekend at #1. She actually has more screen time than anyone else and her year isn't over yet as she's also appearing in a couple of fall prestige films like Ralph Fiennes' Shakespeare adaptation Coriolanus and Jeff Nicholls' Take Shelter.

Oddly, Sam Worthington's role in the movie is being downplayed even though he starred in the #1 highest grossing movie of all time, James Cameron's Avatar, but maybe they realize that his younger male fans from movies like Clash of the Titans and Terminator Salvation won't be as interested in this kind of movie. The film also stars solid dramatic actors like Tom Wilkinson and Marton Czokas.

Like some of Focus' other Labor Day releases, this one is opening on Wednesday, maybe because they realize older moviegoers don't have very much in theaters other than The Help, which will certainly be offering the most competition for its target audience despite having been in theaters for weeks.

The movie hasn't been tracking that well in terms of awareness or interest, but it probably will still be able to bring in older adults, say 40 plus, who don't have a lot of choices this weekend. The reviews should generally be good, which will certainly help among the film's target audience who do often read reviews before going to see movies - and in fact, it might be the only wide release this week with reviews. The good news is that older adults who may be interested aren't necessarily the audience who will rush out to see it over Labor Day weekend, which means however well or poorly it does this weekend, it stands a better chance at legs due to word-of-mouth than the other movies.

Why I Should See It: This is a solid dramatic thriller with a great cast.
Why Not: It's definitely not as exciting or action-packed as most mainstream thrillers even though it's a great subject matter for one.
Projections: Roughly $1 to $1.5 million on Wednesday and Thursday and another $5 to 7 million over the four-day weekend and roughly $18 million total.

COMPARISONS



THE CHOSEN ONE:

A Good Old Fashioned Orgy (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Starring Jason Sudeikis, Tyler Labine, Leslie Bibb, Will Forte, Lucy Punch, Lake Bell, Michelle Borth, Martin Starr, Nick Kroll, Lindsay Sloane, David Koechner
Written and directed by Pete Huyck, Alex Gregory (writers from "The Late Show with David Letterman" and "King of the Hill")
Genre: Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: "A Comedy About Old Friends in New Positions"
Plot Summary: As the summer comes to an end, 30-something Eric (Jason Sudeikis), who has been throwing big bashes for his friends all summer at his father's summer home. When he learns his father is planning on selling the place, Eric and his friends decide to throw one last unprecedent bash... an orgy!

Interview with Tyler Labine

Review

I was able to finish my review before this week's column goes live so I don't have a lot more to add, but this was an R-rated comedy I caught at its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, way back at the very beginning of the summer, and it's kind of ironic that in a summer full of R-rated comedy, this is batting clean-up. Pete Huyck and Alex Gregory are talented writers and their efforts to assemble a great cast for their directorial debut is more impressive when you realize this was filmed nearly three years ago and much of their cast, including Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Bibb and Lucy Punch, had yet to break big. And they were also the first filmmakers to give Tyler Labine his first big leading role, which once you read our review, you'll know why that's such a big deal. This is a very funny sex comedy that has lots of warmth as well, and it's a really fun way to end the summer.

A Good Old Fashioned Orgy opens in select cities on Friday.

Honorable Mention(s):

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles (Argot Pictures)
Starring Justin Duerr, Steve Weinik
Written and directed by Jon Foy (debut)
Genre: Documentary
Unrated
Plot Summary: For decades, Justin Duerr has searched for the mysterious tiled messages that could be found all over Philadelphia and other cities with the enigmatic message: "Toynbee Idea in movie '2001' Resurrect Dead on Planet Jupiter." As Duerr finds more and more of these tiles in even odder places (like South America), he sets out to discover who is responsible for the tiles and what they were trying to say with them.

This was a doc pushed to me pretty hard by its publicist at the Sundance Film Festival and in hindsight, it's one that I now regret missing the chance to cover, because it's an intriguing bit of investigative journalism to try and solve a mystery. Over the course of two decades, Philly native Justin Duerr went looking for the tiled messages left by a mystery artist in locations across the country, tiles that hinted about a way of bringing the dead back to life, while making references to Stanley Kubrick and British history Arnold Toynbee. Frankly, it sounded like a seriously dullsville idea for a documentary when I first heard about it, and boy, was I wrong!

Narrated by Duerr himself, the film explores all of Duerr's theories as well as the connections and coincidences surrounding the tiles, including a one-act play by David Mamet that seems to reference the same message explored in the tiles. First-time filmmaker Jon Foy has created a terrific DIY doc that handles the subject matter just as seriously as Charles Ferguson might handle a serious issue like the economy or Iraq War, working with Toynbee Tiles expert Colin Smith.

Ultimately, there's just as many questions raised as there are concrete answers given, and we never actually get to meet the person responsible for the tiles or hear their story firsthand, but Duerr certainly is an intriguing enough character to keep us interested in his obsession with the tiles and where it leads. This is a terrific sleeper doc that somehow finds a way of pulling you into its investigation and makes you wonder about what drives people to do the things they do.

Rating: 8/10

Jon Foy's doc opens at the IFC Center in New York on Friday.


Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life (Music Box Films)
Starring Eric Elmosnino, Lucy Gordon, Laetitia Casta, Doug Jones, Anna Mouglalis
Written and directed by Joann Sfar (debut of the graphic novel artist)
Genre: Musical, Drama, Fantasy
Unrated
Tagline: "Singer. Songwriter. Hellraiser."
Plot Summary: The life and times of legendary French singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg is told via a musical fantasy that follows him from his days growing up in Nazi-occupied Paris through his success as a pop superstar that had him in affairs with some of the most beautiful women in Europe, including starlet Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta). All the time, Gainsbourg is plagued by demons that have followed him since childhood.

Interview with Joann Sfar

While I can't say I've ever been a big fan of French singing sensation Serge Gasinsbourg--I like his daughter, does that count?--I only recently caught this film having heard about it over a year ago when its star Eric Elmosnino won an award at the Tribeca Film Festival. It looked rather strange, but as a music lover, it seemed like it might be an interesting way into the world of a songwriter who has become one of France's most stalwart institutions. I was definitely right and this is an incredibly inventive and creative film as well as a fantastic piece of artistic expression on the part of artist and first-time director Joann Sfar.

We meet Gainsbourg while he's still a child, dealing with the prejudice he faces as a Jew living in Nazi-infested France, creating an imaginary friend that shares his large noggin. As he transitions from drawing to making music, his reputation as a songwriter grows, as does his womanizing ways, and that's where the movie starts to get more fun, even if one expects it all to come crashing down any second.

Like more traditional biopics, a movie like this is all about the actor and in Elmosnio, Sfar has found a leading man who has the presence of a De Niro or a Hoffman, even if he doesn't have the looks of a typical French lead; he certainly thrives as Gainsbourg in the scenes where he is being overtaken by his own narcissism. As much as this is all about Elmosnino's performance, there's something equally charming seeing Doug Jones, creature performer for Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, and his portrayal of the “alternative Gainsbourg,” the singer's alter-ego who appears as a puppet-like creature, always giving him bad advice. The most intriguing aspect of Gainsbourg's life may have been his love affairs with some of the most beautiful women in Europe around that time, including Brigitte Bardot; Laetita Casta's performance as the sex bomb starlet should really turn a lot of heads.

The music is handled in an interesting way, not done merely as performance but often acting as background music to the story. Seeing how Gainsbourg pulls the women around him into the act is certainly makes him seem a lot cooler; at times, he displays a similar swagger as Johnny Cash and the hipness of a Leonard Cohen.

The film does get a bit silly and off-the-wall at times, which probably should be expected when you include a fantasy creature in a story that isn't too concerned with historic accuracy, but the music and cast really drive Sfar's debut in a way that will make you immediately want to learn more about Gainsbourg if this film is in fact your first introduction.

Rating: 7.5/10

Gainsbourg opens in New York on Wednesday at the Film Forum.

Also in Limited Release:

Legendary Hong Kong martial arts filmmaker Tsui Hark returns with Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (Indomina Releasing), a period epic starring Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs) as a detective assigned to solve seven mysterious murders of a number of individuals involved with China's new Empress (Carine Lau), men who were burnt to death leaving nothing but ash and bones. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool) and Kristin Scott Thomas star in the late Alain (Fear and Trembling) Corneau's Love Crime (Sundance Selects) as two women working as executives at a major corporation who comes to head when Sagnier's Isabelle starts questioning the motives of her boss Christine (played by Scott Thomas). It opens on Friday in New York and Los Angeles.

Interview with Ludivine Sagnier

MIni-Review

Matthew Dean Russell's Seven Days in Utopia (Utopia Films) stars Lucas Black as golfer Luke Chisolm, who escapes to the town of Utopia, Texas after his career hits a hurdle. There he meets an eccentric rancher named Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall) who helps to change Luke's outlook on life. Also starring Oscar winner Melissa Leo, it opens all across the country in select theaters starting Friday.

Opening on Wednesday in select cities is Bodyguard (Reliance BIG Pictures), the latest from Bollywood, this one starring Salman Khan as Lovely Singh who is assigned to act as a bodyguard to DIvya, the teenage daughter of a tycoon while she goes to college. Annoyed by his presence, she hatches a master plan to find the perfect woman to distract Singh from his duties.

Beto Gómez's action-adventure Saving Private Perez (Pantelion Films) stars Miguel Rodarte as Julian Perez, leader of organized crime in Mexico who is sent on a mission by his mother to rescue his brother who has been kidnapped while fighting in the war in Iraq.

Mere weeks after his thriller Cold Fish was released in US theaters, Japanese filmmaker Shion Son's earlier film Love Exposure (Olive Films) hits theaters. It tells the story of teenager Yu, who is driven to the sexual perversions of taking panty snapshots after his father turns to Catholicism following the death of his wife and lover. The boy's desire to get his father's attention through his crimes leads him to a fanatic religious group called the Zero Church. This award-winning favorite from the New York Asian Film Festival opens in New York at the Cinema Village.

Claude Miller and his son Nathan Miller's French drama I'm Glad My Mother is Alive (Strand Releasing) tells the story of a teenager who was given up for adoption as a toddler and he starts to look for his birth mother, but when he finds her, their inappropriate relationship brings up bad memories from his childhood. It opens in New York at Lincoln Center's Elinore Bunin Munroe Film Center.

Richard Gabai's Los Angeles-based crime thriller InSight (Check Entertainment Distribution) stars Natalie Zea as Kaitlyn, a nurse who gets electrocuted by a defibrillator while trying to save a young patient dying from a stab wound, and she ends up experiencing the victim's memories, something she uses with a local detective (Sean Patrick Flanery) to try to solve the murder. It opens in select theaters listed here on Friday.



Next week, the fall begins proper with three new movies, Steven Soderbergh's virus thriller Contagion (Warner Bros.), Gavin O'Connor's Mixed Martial Arts sports drama Warrior (Lionsgate) and comedian Nick Swardson as Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star (Sony).

Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas




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