The Weekend Warrior

The Weekend Warrior: September 23 - 25

Source: Edward Douglas
September 21, 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.

Updated Predictions and Comparisons -

1. The Lion King 3D (Walt Disney) - $18.5 million -39% (up .5 million)

2. Moneyball (Sony) - $17.7 million N/A (up .4 million)

3. Dolphin Tale (Warner Bros.) - $16.2 million N/A (same)

4. Abduction (Lionsgate) - $13.0 million N/A (same)

5. Killer Elite (Open Road) - $10.6 million N/A (up .3 million)

6. Contagion (Warner Bros.) - $8.8 million -38% (down .2 million)

7. Drive (FilmDistrict) - $6.8 million -40% (up .8 million)

8. The Help (DreamWorks) - $4.5 million -30% (down .2 million)

9. Straw Dogs (Screen Gems) - $2.3 million -54% (same)

10. I Don't Know How She Does It (The Weinstein Company) - $2.1 million -53% (same)

Weekend Overview

It should be another interesting weekend, especially if Disney's The Lion King 3D manages to once again beat out all the new movies to remain on top, although it has a bit of competition in a new PG release, while two generations of pretty boy actors will also be battling for the top spot with Brad Pitt taking on that young upstart Taylor Lautner in two very different movies.

We have to give the homefield advantage to Pitt, whose leading role will be the main draw for the unconventional baseball movie Moneyball (Sony), based on Michael Lewis' bestselling book about how manager Billy Beane used stats to put together a winning team for the Oakland A's. Co-star Jonah Hill could help bring in some of the younger guys and it should be the first choice for baseball fans as the season approaches its end, as well as older women intrigued by the rave reviews.

Taylor Lautner is in his second non-"Twilight" role since taking that franchise on, starring in John (Boyz n the Hood) Singleton's action-thriller Abduction (Lionsgate) with Sigourney Weaver, Lilly Coliins and Alfred Molina. The movie will try to bring in the young female fans he's gained from playing Jacob in the blockbuster series. Usually this sort of genre would appeal to the same guys as Moneyball, but there's plenty of reasons for guys to avoid this one, the most obvious one being that Lautner probably won't be of much interest, which will likely hinder the movie from breaking out and being the "Bourne"-like franchise Lionsgate is hoping for.

A lot of older guys may be more intrigued by the action-thriller Killer Elite, starring Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro, which is the first release from Open Road, the distributor formed by AMC and Regal Theaters, and having such strong leads certainly is enough to sell the movie on its own. As we've seen with so many recent distributors, getting that first movie out there is the toughest, and we're not sure the marketing for this one will really convince a lot of people to go see it.

Not having to worry too much about any of the above is the family movie Dolphin Tale 3D (Warner Bros.), which stars Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, reuniting for the third time after Kiss the Girls and HIgh Crimes, and Harry Conick Jr. (also working with Judd again). Opening in over 3,000 theaters and marketed directly towards families with the feel of other nature-based hits like Free Willy, it could make for a good follow-up to last week's Lion King now that families are going back to the movies following the slow August. A touching PG-rated movie involving a dolphin also has a good chance of getting older women who like their entertainment a bit more toned-down than some of the more violent recent offerings in theaters. This should give it a strong advantage at taking third place behind Moneyball, especially with a strong boost on Saturday and Sunday. That sort of weekend boost should also help push The Lion King back into #1 even if it's bested on Friday by one or two of the new movies.

This week's "Chosen One" is Cameron Crowe's doc Pearl Jam Twenty (Vinyl Films), which you can read more about below.

This weekend last year saw the release of Oliver Stone's sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (20th Century Fox) starring Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan, which opened at #1 to the tune of $19 million in 3,565 theaters. Zack Snyder tried his hand at animation with Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (Warner Bros.), which brought in a disappointing $16.1 million for second place. Kristin Bell starred in the high concept comedy You Again (Touchstone Pictures), which tanked with just $8.4 million to take fifth place. The Top 10 grossed $88.9 million, but this weekend's offerings should help the box office get out of its slump so we'll see the Top 10 do closer to $100 million or more over the weekend.



Moneyball (Sony)
Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Stephen Bishop, Kathyrn Morris, Chris Pratt
Directed by Bennett Miller (Capote); Written by Steven Zaillian (Hannibal, Gangs of New York, The Interpreter, American Gangster, All the King's Men), Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, Charlie Wilson's War, A Few Good Men)
Genre: Sports, Drama
Rated PG-13
Tagline:
Plot Summary: Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane is sick of watching his team getting clobbered by teams with a lot bigger budgets for spending on players, so he calls upon Yale grad Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to incorporate the use of statistics to hire underrated players and change how that aspect of the game is played.

Review

Video Interview with Bennett Miller

Video Interview with Jonah Hill and Peter Brand

Analysis:

Every few years, a baseball movie comes along that's deemed to be a classic, and in between, we tend to get two or three that are quite forgettable. Based on Michael Lewis' best-selling book, Moneyball's a film that's gone through many permutations with Steven Soderbergh originally planning on directing it, but the plug got pulled because he was trying to make something a lot more expensive and less commercial than Sony was expecting. With that in mind, producer Mike De Luca brought on the team of producer Scott Rudin and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who had been working with David Fincher on The Social Network, a movie that would become one of the most talked-about films of last year on its way to Oscar night, for which Sorkin won for his screenplay. To replace Soderbergh, they brought on director Bennett Miller, whose sole feature directing credit (other than a documentary) was the biopic Capote, for which Miller was nominated for an Oscar and his star Philip Seymour Hoffman won an Oscar for his performance in the title role.

The most important part of the equation remained from Soderbergh's version and that was Brad Pitt, who is clearly one of the biggest stars making movies today. Since Interview with the Vampire in 1994, in which Pitt co-starred with Tom Cruise, he's had 10 movies gross over $100 million. Pitt's most recent appearance was in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, more of an art film which only grossed $13 million, and Pitt does those from time to time for sure, but he's been pivotal at bringing in audiences for movies like Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, directed by Pitt's frequent collaborator David Fincher. Pitt's other regular director, Steven Soderbergh, helmed all three of the "Ocean's" movies with the first one Ocean's 11 grossed $183 million. If you add it all up, Pitt's movies have grossed $5.4 BILLION worldwide since he started doing leading roles in movies nearly 20 years. Pitt joins a prominent group of actors with his first baseball movie, most notably Dennis Quaid in The Rookie, Robert Redford (who Pitt bears a striking resemblance to in the role of Billy Beane) in The Natural, and Kevin Costner, who has done three baseball classics and Tom Hanks.

He's joined by Jonah Hill, an actor who has been able to appeal to young males with his comedy work in movies ranging from Knocked Up and Superbad to last year's Get Him to the Greek and Cyrus. He plays a fairly big part in the movie's main storyline as the guy who helped Pitt's Billy Beane create a system for putting together a team, while Philip Seymour Hoffman also reunites with Miller for a smaller role in the movie as Beane's biggest detractor in the dugout.

The movie premiered last week at the Toronto International Film Festival and had its U.S. premiere in Oakland, where one expects the movie to do very well considering it's home turf for the story. Generally, the reviews have ranged from positive to absolute raves with many feeling Brad Pitt may get another Oscar nomination (his third) for the role. That combined with people's knowledge of the book should help get a lot of older moviegoers into theaters this weekend, especially with the baseball season coming to an end soon.

Basically, it's going to be facing the second week of The Lion King 3D for the top spot and the only thing that might hold this back is having direct competition from the action movie Abduction and Killer Elite, which both will be bigger draws to the under-25 crowd. We expect Moneyball to win on Friday but then fall behind Lion King over the weekend and settle for a close second place.

Why I Should See It: Bennett Miller, Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill do a great job turning Michael Lewis' book into a fairly accessible movie even for non-baseball fans.
Why Not: It's still a movie about baseball statistics... Zzzzzzz...
Projections: $16 to 18 million opening weekend and roughly $50 million total.

COMPARISONS



Abduction (Lionsgate)
Starring Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello, Denzel Whitaker, Michael Nyqvist, Sigourney Weaver
Directed by John Singleton (Four Brothers, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Boyz n The Hood, Shaft and more); Written by Shawn Christensen (debut)
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: "The fight for the truth will be the fight of his life."
Plot Summary: Nathan Harper (Taylor Lautner) learns that his life is a lie after the couple he thinks are his parents (Maria Bello, Jason Isaacs) are murdered. As he tries to figure out who he really is with the help of his neighbor (Lily Collins), he becomes the target for a group of trained killers.

Review (Coming Friday)

Analysis:

September's been such a strange month so far and with a number of thrillers already in theaters, one wonders if there's room for another one. Really, the only reason this one got made is because it's a vehicle for Taylor Lautner, the popular star of the "Twilight Saga," and an attempt to try to make him more of an action star that might appeal to young guys as well as girls. Even though it looks like a cool action premise, it might be a harder sell than they think because anyone over a certain age, say 25, will probably realize that there's just no way this possibly can be good with Lautner in the lead. Whether or not you're a fan of "The Twilight Saga," Lautner's other movies haven't really given us much confidence whether it's his sole superhero movie, Robert Rodriguez's The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl or his appearance opposite former girlfriend Taylor Swift in the rom-com Valentine's Day, which was so awful it made this critic want to dive off the balcony of the movie theater where he saw it. (True story!)

The movie's directed by John Singleton, the director of such urban classics as Boyz n The Hood and others, who hasn't made a movie since Four Brothers, but in 2005, but he also directed the sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious, so he clearly knows how to do action.

Lautner is joined by Lily Collins, who had small roles in the 2009 Oscar-nominated hit The Blind Side and the recent summer flop Priest, but she's getting enough attention lately as she's scored the leading role in Tarsem's "Snow White" movie and the movie version of the book, The Mortal Instruments. Alfred Molina, best known as Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2, but who has also appeared in many other movies, both big and small, plays the main baddie and he's featured fairly prominent in the trailers, and Sigourney Weaver also plays a key role. Jason Isaacs and Maria Bello also have smaller roles as his parents, but let's face it, this movie is being sold, for better or worse, solely based on Taylor Lautner's name, so clearly he has the most at stake with the movie doing well.

It's fairly safe to think that action movies are still safe bets for bringing in audiences if marketed well--see Zoe Saldana's Colombiana as proof--and this one is certainly being marketed decently even if Lionsgate has been having a rough time as of late, first with the bombing of Conan the Barbarian in August, then the disappointing showing for Gavin O'Connor's Warrior a few weeks back. One wonders if an action movie starring an actor who has yet to prove himself when not in a movie adaptation of a popular book can find audiences, and while Lautner seems to be getting groomed by Lionsgate as the next Jason Statham, it doesn't help that Lautner's first attempt at straight action is opening the same weekend as a movie actually starring Statham.

This one can really go either way, but the way things have been going lately, we're a bit more bullish on it, mainly since it feels like the weak link for the weekend.

Why I Should See It: Because it looks a lot like "The Bourne Identity"...
Why Not: ...or "The Bourne Identity" if Taylor Lautner starred in it instead of Matt Damon. That can't be good.
Projections: $12 to 14 million opening weekend and $30 million total.

COMPARISONS



Dolphin Tale 3D (Warner Bros.)
Starring Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Austin Stowell, Morgan Freeman
Directed by Charles Martin Smith (Air Bud, The Snow Walker and lots of TV); Written by Karen Janszen (A Walk to Remember, Gracie), Noam Dromi
Genre: Family, Adventure
Rated PG
Tagline: "Inspired by the Amazing True Story of Winter"
Plot Summary: When a dolphin is caught in a crab trap damaging her tail, she's taken to the Clearwater Marine Hospital where Winter (as she's named) fights for survival until a group of biologists and doctors figure out a way to give her a prosthetic tail.

Analysis:

Successful family films have come in different forms, whether it's animated movies or live action comedy or a mix of both, but one thing that has generally done well among family audiences are movies about animals in real-life adventures. Dolphin Tale is one of those inspirational true stories that not only gets kids excited but also tends to bring in adults who don't like the normally dark and violent movies Hollywood tends to release.

This year, FilmDistrict had a moderate hit with Soul Surfer, which granted, wasn't about animals--that is, if you don't count the shark that bit off Bethany Hamilton's arm (too soon?)--but it was a true-life movie with a PG rating that was able to bring in a portion of the moviegoing audience who rarely gets catered to.

What's impressive is the cast they've assembled for this movie, including three prominent actors originally from the South, who have worked together before. The most prominent of them is Oscar winner Morgan Freeman whose filmography over the years has made him a household name, whether it's starring in the comedy Bruce Almighty, Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins and The Dark Knight or some of his Oscar-worthy performances in Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby (for which he won an Oscar) and the Nelson Mandela biopic Invictus.

Ashley Judd had her breakthrough role in the psychological thriller Kiss the Girls in which Freeman played James Patterson's popular fiction character Dr. Alex Cross, which she followed with some significant hits in Double Jeopardy and a bunch of smaller hits in The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, High Crimes and Twisted. Judd was thought to be on her way to becoming a star on the level of a Julia Roberts, but since 2004, she's mainly been doing smaller low profile indies, only having a small role in Dwayne Johnson's family hit The Tooth Fairy. In that sense, Dolphin Tale is rather important to bring Judd back into the spotlight after years out of it.

In 2007, Judd appeared in The Exorcist director William Friedkin's oddball thriller Bug along with Harry Connick Jr. and they're reunited in what's only his third movie since then as the singer has mainly been focusing more on his music career in recent years, and this is his first movie since the rom-com bomb New in Town opposite Renee Zellwegger, which in turn followed the slightly more successful rom-com hit P.S. I Love You. The funny thing is that despite the fact all of these three actors have worked together before, it was always in edgier R-rated material and never in a family film like Dolphin Tale. The last piece of the puzzle is legendary actor Kris Kristofferson, whose movie output has also been fairly minimal in recent years, although he brings quite a bit of legitimacy to the project, similar to Freeman.

Dolphin Tale is being advertised as being "from the makers of 'The Blind Side'" because it is indeed from Alcon Entertainment, the Atlanta-centric company who produced that movie. In that sense, it's somewhat ironic it's being released the same week as Moneyball, which is based on a book written by "Blind Side" author Michael Lewis. Being a PG movie is a big boost for the movie, not just because parents can bring their kids, but the older audiences not into sex and violence will know that this is a safe movie, which probably played an equally large part in the success of The Blind Side.

It's hard to determine whether being released in 3D is going to be a help or a hindrance, especially considering how poorly other 3D movies have done this year... that is, up until last week's The Lion King 3D, a reissue of a 17-year-old movie that grossed nearly $30 million its opening weekend. In fact, that might hurt Dolphin Tale's chances more than anything else, although we think the lack of family films will end up working in its favor just as it did "Lion King."

Why I Should See It: It's the type of inspirational real-life story that audiences seem to eat up.
Why Not: They didn't go out to see Shark Night 3D, so why would they go see Dolphin Tale 3D?
Projections: $15 to 17 million opening weekend and roughly $54 million total

COMPARISONS



Killer Elite (Open Road)
Starring Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert De Niro, Yvonne Strahovski, Dominic Purcell, Aden Young, Ben Mendelsohn, Lachy Hulme, Firass Dirani, Grant Bowler, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Directed by Gary McKendry (the short "Everything In this Country Must"); Written by Gary McKendry, Matt Sherring
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rated R
Tagline: "May the Best Man Live"
Plot Summary: An ex-special ops agent now working as a hitman, Danny (Jason Statham) is forced out of retirement when his mentor Hunter (Robert De Niro) is taken hostage by a powerful sheik who wants Danny to kill the British SAS agents who killed his sons. As Danny assembles a team to perform the operation, another tough agent named Spike (Clive Owen) has been hired to find out who is killing these agents and put a stop to him.

Interview with Clive Owen & Jason Statham

Interview with Gary McKendry (later this week)

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Analysis:

It's hard to think that a movie starring Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro might be the underdog of the weekend, especially since Killer Elite, the debut by Irish filmmaker Gary McKendry is such a cool action movie, but it does seem like it's opening at a time when it has to convince moviegoers to see it over any number of other more prominent action-thrillers in theaters as well as the namebrand value of Brad Pitt in Moneyball.

That being said, there are few modern action stars who have established as solid a track record as Jason Statham. After starring in Guy Ritchie's first two movies, Statham was cast in the one-two punch of The Transporter and The Italian Job, both which found him many fans to help create two franchise behind his "Transporter" character Frank Martin, and his character in Neveldine-Taylor's Crank. Statham's reunion with Jet Li in the awful War was able to bring in roughly $10 million its opening weekend and he's normally good for at least $12 million, and even one of Statham's lower opening movies The Bank Job built on its $6 million opening weekend to make $30 million total. Last year, Statham played a large part in Sly Stallone's supergroup action flick The Expendables, which was his first movie to cross $100 million since The Italian Job and earlier this year, Statham starred in The Mechanic, which did close to the same $30 million as his other movies.

His nemesis in the film, Clive Owen, has had more sporadic luck when it comes to action movies, following his appearance in The Bourne Identity, with the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced King Arthur bombing, Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez's Sin City doing better, and other studio releases like The International, Derailed, and Duplicity doing moderate business, although one can expect that Owen is good for an opening around the same $10 to 12 million range as Statham.

Robert De Niro doesn't seem as active as he used to be, although he had three movies in 2010, and already starred in the hit sci-fi thriller Limitless earlier this year, which grossed $79 million. His reteaming with Al Pacino for the crime-thriller Righteous Kill was good for $40 million while his part in Robert Rodriguez's Machete was only good for $26.5 million total. Still, he does bring a great deal of experience and prestige, as well as being a bigger draw for the over-30 crowd than either of the other actors.

Even with De Niro on board, one imagines Killer Elite will appeal more to younger male audiences than some of the other movies, though two of the things that makes the movie cool and distinctive, that it's a period piece set in the early '80s about SAS agents, may also be seen as somewhat of a stumbling block, especially for younger audiences who won't have any interest in that sort of nostalgia.

Just a few weeks back, Focus Features had a significant hit with the long-delayed conspiracy thriller The Debt, although that movie probably appealed more towards older audiences as well as women, who aren't exactly on board the Jason Statham bandwagon when it comes to action movies. It also didn't have as much direct competition for its target audience as Killer Elite does.

Besides having a brand new unknown director, Killer Elite is also being released by a brand new distributor, Open Road, who have yet to release a movie theatrically, and one wonders whether their marketing campaign will be strong enough to get people into theaters. The commercials certainly focus more on the action than on the film's look into the British intelligence, which makes this more like the Bourne movies than its prime action competition in Abduction.

According to recent tracking, the awareness of the movie isn't that great, but among those guys who know about, they certainly seem interested in seeing it. This seems to point that it will be another moderate opener for Statham and Owen in the range of other action movies.

Why I Should See It: Statham and Owen kick ass, literally! They're kicking each other's asses all over the screen!
Why Not: Robert De Niro's phoned-in scenery-chewing performance kind of kills the movie at times.
Projections: $9 to 11 million opening weekend and about $32 million total.



THE CHOSEN ONE:
Pearl Jam Twenty (Vinyl Films)
Starring Eddie Veder, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Chris Cornell
Written and directed by Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, Elizabethtown, Singles, Say Anything
Genre: Documentary
Plot Summary: Cameron Crowe's doc chronicles the twentieth anniversary of one of Seattle's most successful rock bands culled from hours of never-before-seen concert footage and interviews with Eddie Vedder and the band.

It probably wouldn't be that big a surprise that former Seattle-based music journalist Cameron Crowe would end up being the best filmmaker to make a doc about the city's local band who rose to success nearly overnight during the early '90s.

Honestly, I was never really a big fan of Pearl Jam despite having seen them at the beginning of their meteoric success when they played the Lollapalooza tour in 1992. Maybe it was just because unlike my personal Seattle faves Mudhoney and Nirvana, their influences were more Zeppelin and bombastic 70s rock rather than punk. Even the thought of hearing "Alive" or "Jeremy" twenty years after they were being played on an endless loop on radio stations and MTV nearly sends me into spasms.

So imagine my surprise when Crowe's film ended and I actually had a much greater appreciation for the band and what they've been doing in the 18 or 19 years where I haven't really paid much attention to them. That said, I did find the section of the movie that covers the formation of the band out of the ashes is the most interesting aspect as is watching their rise to success out of the ashes of Mother Love Bone following their singer Andrew Woods' drug overdose death. Crowe has managed to get his hands on a lot of great unseen footage, and his personal connection to the band helps him get some incredibly honest interviews from Eddie Vedder and the others, reflecting on some of the pivotal moments in their career.

You do have to respect the band's decision not to kowtow to the way the music business is so driven by corporations, as shown by their reticence to make music videos and their decision to go against the grain and say something about Ticketmaster price gouging for concert tickets. It's actually somewhat surprising that Pearl Jam were able to maintain their success for so many years.

The two-hour running time might seem long but it goes by quickly and none of it feels gratuitous or unnecessary, even though it's nearly 70 minutes before the movie gets into the importance of some of the other members of the band like lead guitarist Mike McCready and drummer Matt Cameron (the last in a long string of drummers for the band).

Even though the story is told in a linear fashion, Crowe does approach the doc format in a far more artistic way than most, cutting in footage of Bob Dylan from "Don't Look Back" and even David Lynch, showing that a filmmaker so skilled at narrative storytelling always has something new to offer the realm of docs. It was especially interesting to see this movie so soon after Davis Guggenheim's From the Sky Down, which looked at U2 a little over ten years into their career and how they were trying to redefine themselves essentially at the same time when Pearl Jam were first being discovered.

"Pearl Jam 20" is a great introduction to the band as well as a great recap for the fans who have been there all along the way.

Rating: 8.5/10

Pearl Jam Twenty will open in New York at the IFC Center and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Sunset 5 on Friday.

Honorable Mention(s):

Thunder Soul (Roadside Attractions)
Starring Conrad "Prof" Johnson, the Kashmere High School Stage Band
Directed by Mark Landsman (TV docs "30 Days," "Big Ideas for a Small Planet")
Genre: Documentary, Music
Rated PG
Tagline: "He gave them everything. Now it's time to give back."
Plot Summary: 35 years after their heyday, Houston's Kashmere High School Stage Band, who performed some of the most amazing original funk tunes, reunite to play a tribute concert to their 92-year-old band leader, Conrad "Prof" Johnson.

Limelight (Magnolia)
Starring Peter Gaitian, Michael Alig, Moby, Sean Kirkham, Howard Safir, Steve Lewis, Benjamin Brafman
Directed by Billy Corben
Genre: Documentary
Rated
Tagline: "The Rise and Fall of New York's Greatest Nightclub Empire"
Plot Summary: This doc looks at the nightclub empire Peter Gaitian established in New York CIty during the '80s, which led to four of the most popular night spots in town until the authorities started cracking down on drugdealing taking place inside.

Limelight opens in New York at the Landmark Sunshine on Friday.

Also in Limited Release:

Gerard Butler stars in Machine Gun Preacher (Relativity Media) playing Sam Childers, a former drug addict and convict who turns to preaching at a church he builds with his wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan), and then decides to go to Sudan where he becomes a mercenary sworn to protect the children being preyed upon by military rebels. Directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace), it opens in New York and Los Angeles with a national rollout to come.

Review

Interview with Michelle Monaghan

Interview with Marc Forster

Chris Evans stars in Adam and Mark Kassen's Puncture (Millenium Entertainment), playing Mike Weiss, a Houston lawyer who decides to take on the case of an ER nurse (Vinessa Shaw) who contracted AIDS after being accidentally pricked by a contaminated needle so he and his partner Paul Danziger (Mark Kassen) set out to fight the system by introducing a new safer needle, and end up in a battle with the lawyers from the pharmaceutical companies.

Mini-Review: Every once in a while an independent movies comes along that generates much head-scratching especially when one considers how expensive it is to make any movie.

"Puncture" is a classic example of how misguided filmmakers can get when they find a subject they think might make for an interesting movie, but donít really think, "Who on earth might want to see this?" Apparently, the Kassens thought a movie about a drug-taking lawyer who dedicates his time to getting the first patented safety needle used by hospitals would be of interest and clearly, they learned nothing from "Extraordinary Measures" or "Flash of Genius," because thereís only so much you can do with a topic thatís only of interest to a marginal group of people to begin with. In this case, we have a law drama that throws around a lot of medical and financial gobbledygook that few of its starís teen girl fans might understand, creating a recipe for disaster.

But first, it opens with Vinessa Shaw as a nurse who gets pricked with an AIDS-infected needle while trying to calm a patient down, and she contacts a law firm that specializes in personal injury who becomes intrigued enough to branch out and fight against the corporations trying to stop the use of a new safety needle that would prevent future incidents like hers. The problem is that the lead lawyer Mike Weiss, played by Chris Evans, is a chronic drug user who hangs out with undesirables.

Evans gives a solid performance as Mike Weiss, but since heís playing a character who rarely shows any redeeming qualities and it's never justified he'd go so far to back an inventor the way he does in the movie. Co-director Mark Kassen plays his law partner Paul Danziger and heís okay, though not really as strong as Evans. On the other hand, Shaw is quite good in what ends up being a fairly small role with only a few scenes, which is a shame because her struggle with AIDS and the fact she contracted it while trying to help people is a story that would make for a much stronger movie.

The Kassens aren't bad filmmakers and they've made an extremely glossy looking movie with slick production values that belie what one assumes is a small budget. The ambient soundtrack adds a lot, but itís just not an interesting topic and after pushing this concept down our throats for 90 minutes, it falters by making it look like Mike is finally getting his act together, then throwing a last minute twist at us that might make you feel as the entire movie was a waste of time.

The topic of safety needles is certainly an important one but not one that makes for very interesting drama; the Kassens would have been better off making a doc and having Evans narrate it.

Rating: 5/10

Kevin Smith returns with his politically-tinged horror thriller Red State (Smodcast Pictures), starring Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner and Nicholas Braun as three teens who fall foul of the homophobic Pastor Abin Cooper and his Five Points Trinity, a fundamentalist religious group in Cooper's Dell who have stockpiled weapons in the church, which leads to a face-off with the authorities. Also starring Stephen Root, Melissa Leo and John Goodman, it opens in select cities following its run on Video on Demand.

My Review from Sundance

Andrew Haigh's Weekend (Sundance Selects) stars Tom Cullen and Chris New, two guys who meet on a Friday night and end up in a lost weekend of sex, drugs and conversation about their differing views on life. A winner of Audience Awards at SXSW and Outfest, it opens at the IFC Center in New York on Friday.

Mini-Review: An incredibly daring film from Andrew Haigh, whose credits include being assistant editor on some of Ridley Scott's movies, this film follows a relationship between two guys who meet at a bar and the weekend they spend together before one of them has to leave town.

We first meet Tom Cullen's Russell, a shy gay man barely out of the closet who is leading a double life before he encounters the outgoing Glenn, played by Chris New, in a night out drinking. They spend the night together, and Russell finds someone he can talk to and share his inner thoughts with, but the next day, Russell learns why Glenn is afraid to commit, because he's moving to Portland for two years the following day.

"Weekend" is a fairly simple movie exploring a subject matter we've seen covered a lot in independent filmsóthat of a short-term relationship of two people meeting and getting to know each otheróRichard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" is a classic example of it. Told mostly using a fly on the wall approach, somewhat like "Medicine for Melancholy," Haigh's movie benefits from a solid script with naturalistic dialogue that feels like it could have been done as a play, and two fantastic unknown actors who take on the daring roles.

Over the course of the movie, they snort coke and talk about how difficult it is being gay in modern society, deciding whether to show love or affection in public and their experiences having their sexuality exposed, dealing with homophobia and the argument of whether to remain in the closet or not. Haigh finds interesting ways of shooting the film despite much of it taking place in a single room in British council estates, and it gives the film a haunting quality similar to the work of Andrea Arnold.

Some of the movie feels a bit meandering and not as focused, and if you're not comfortable with your own sexuality the movie probably won't be for you. On the other hand, there hasn't been a film in recent memory that discusses being gay in such honest fashion, and "Weekend" is a surprisingly strong film about love and sexual identity that leaves a lasting impression.

Rating: 7.5/10

Ryan Reynolds narrates Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm's The Whale, a documentary about a baby orca named Luna who gets separated from his family and starts making contact with humans on the coast of Vancouver Island. It already opened in Washington, but the G-rated family film opens in New York on Friday at the Cinema Village and at L.A.'s Laemmle Monica on September 30.

Rachel Nichols stars in Margaret Whitton's A Bird of the Air (Paladin) as a librarian named Fiona who agrees to help a loner night watchman named Lyman (Jackson Hurst) to find the owner of a parrot who flies into his trailer one day.

Starring Carmen Electra, the long-delayed Mardi Gras: Spring Break (Samuel Goldwyn Films), which was originally going to be released by Screen Gems, follows three college guys on their senior year who take a road trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, dress up in drag and break into Carmen Electra's hotel room, before "exploding a feces bomb in a swanky hotel lobby." Kind of shocked this never got released. Oh, wait. No, I'm not.

Directed by S.J. Clarkson, Toast (W2 Media) tells the story of British food writer Nigel Slater, who as a child had to deal with a mother who couldn't cook, and when she passes away suddenly, Nigel finds himself having to learn how to cook much to his father's ire. When he hires a new cleaning woman in Mrs. Potter (Helena Bonham Carter), whose cooking (and curves) entices his father to make her his second wife.

Carl Colby's doc The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby (First Run Features) is pretty much what the title suggests, a look at the history of the CIA through a personal memoir. It opens in New York at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.



Next week, the month of September comes to an end (so soon?) with Jonathan Levine's cancer comedy 50/50 (Summit Entertainment), starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen; Jim Sheridan's horror film Dream House (Universal) starring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz; the Chris Evans-Anna Faris comedy What's Your Number? (20th Century Fox) and Alex Kendrick's indie drama Courageous (TriStar Pictures/Sony).

Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas




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