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.
This week’s column commemorates the fifth anniversary of The Weekend Warrior at ComingSoon.net, and what a long strange trip that’s been with many weeks where I didn’t think I could write two words, let alone 2,000, about the movies coming out. The fact that I’ve been able to produce this column regularly with only one week off a year is astounding sometimes, but I have to take this time to thank my boss and editor Mirko for sticking with it and me all these years, editing every single one of these columns as they got longer and longer, and sometimes shorter (but rarely–usually they just get longer.)
And that said, this sadly will be the very last Weekend Warrior column I’ll be writing for ComingSoon.net.
Wait, what’s that you say? What day is it again? April 1? Oh, yeah, isn’t that the day where you can’t believe anything you’re told? Yes, I do believe it is.
Now that we got that silliness out of the way, the dumping month of April kicks off with three new movies in wide release, and George Clooney’s period football comedy Leatherheads (Universal) co-starring Renée Zellweger and John Krasinski is the most promising in terms of box office potential, although one has to wonder whether the football might turn off women as much as the romantic triangle might turn off guys or whether it’ll be a good movie for couples. Clooney’s current run of success and acclaim with artier films should continue with a respectable opening, probably enough for it to take #1 over last week’s Sony hit 21.
Then again, the fantasy adventure Nim’s Island (Fox Walden) teaming Abigail Breslin with Jodi Foster is being released into the most theaters, over 3,400, which gives it a strong chance to give 21 a fight for second place. While the movie does have two known stars, that didn’t help Fox Walden’s last movie Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium and it’s questionable whether Foster’s fans might want to see her in this type of movie, let alone Breslin’s fans. Expect an opening and gross more on par with Because of Winn-Dixie than Bridge of Terabithia.
The R-rated horror flick The Ruins(Paramount/DreamWorks), based on Scott Smith’s novel, should be able to bring in a decent audience of genre fans that wouldn’t necessarily be interested in the other new movies, but it looks too much like the kind of gory horror films that seem to be on their way out, so it’ll probably end up below $10 million for the weekend and in fifth place, at best.
Also, Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones concert film Shine a Light (Paramount) will open in roughly 250 theaters in select cities on Friday, including many IMAX screens, the latter which should help it bring in just over a million for the weekend.
1. Leatherheads (Universal) – $15.8 million N/A
2. 21 (Sony) – $14.2 million -42%
3. Nim’s Island (Fox Walden) – $13.7 million N/A
4. Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who (20th Century Fox) – $11.3 million -36%
5. The Ruins (DreamWorks/Paramount) – $7.6 million N/A
6. Superhero Movie (Dimension) – $4.9 million -49%
7. Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns (Lionsgate) – $3.7 million -51%
8. Drillbit Taylor (Paramount) – $3.2 million -44%
9. Shutter (20th Century Fox) – $2.7 million -48%
10. Stop-Loss (Paramount/MTV Films) – $2.6 million -43%
This weekend last year was Easter but none of the four wide releases were able to succumb the one-two punch of Will Ferrell and Disney as Blades of Glory and Meet the Robinsons remained in the top 2 with $22.5 and $16.7 million. With two strong movies already in theaters, Ice Cube’s family comedy sequel Are We Done Yet? (Sony) had to settle for third place with $14.3 million. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez reteamed for the horror anthology Grindhouse (Dimension) which disappointed fans (but more Dimension Films) by making just $11.6 million over the weekend, followed by Warner’s horror movie The Reaping starring Hilary Swank with $10 million. All the way at the bottom of the Top 10, Firehouse Dog (20th Century Fox) made just $3.8 million in over 2,800 theaters. The top 10 grossed $104 million and frankly, I don’t think we’ll see that kind of gross in the Top 10 until May.
Starring George Clooney, Renée Zellweger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Root, Ezra Buzzington, John Vance, Dan John Miller
Directed by George Clooney (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night, and Good Luck); Written by Duncan Brantley (directed the documentary “What It Was Was Football”), Rick Reilly (sports writer for “Sports Illustrated” for over 20 years)
Genre: Sports, Comedy, Romance
Tagline: “In the beginning, the rules were simple. There weren’t any.”
Plot Summary: It’s 1925 and Dodge Connolly (George Clooney) is a brash football hero in the country’s first pro-football league, a sport that’s having trouble surviving until good-looking war hero Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) joins the team, and Dodge suddenly finds himself at odds with wanting to save his team and competing with Carter for the affections of Lexie Littleton (Renée Zellweger), a hotshot reporter trying to debunk Carter’s war story.
Mini-Review: Despite the odd release date, “Leatherheads” is more in the vein of Clooney’s comedic work with the Coen Brothers than any of his serious period fare, but it’s still a fine-looking film that pays close attention to detail in recreating the times, both in the costumes and the comedy, a loving look back at silent film slapstick mixed with sly and witty ’30s and ’40s repartee. Fans of old movies will certainly appreciate the effort, as will fans of football who will get to see another side of the sport in this very different football comedy. It does take some time to adjust to the tone of the film and for the romance to get going, but clean-cut Krasinski is clearly outmatched by Clooney when he’s in all-charm mode, which is through most of the movie. They have quite a few very funny scenes together, as does Clooney with Zellweger, who’s not exactly breaking new ground as she smirks and winks her way though the film creating a chemistry with Clooney that’s on par with the best moments in “Down with Love.” The three of them do a good job trading verbal blows with a clever script that pays homage to old movies but doesn’t feel as fake as the dialogue in “The Good German,” with a strong well-constructed plot that allows the humor and romance to drive it without ever feeling cheesy or contrived. (Also, Steven Root gives another scene-stealing performance as an old school sports writer.) That said, the movie does at times try too hard to be funny, and the big “end game” is somewhat dull compared to what’s gone before, but ultimately, Clooney has created a deeply satisfying and entertaining film that will appeal just as much to guys as their ladies, something that’s as hard to do in this day and age as it was 80 years ago. Rating: 8/10
This weekend’s strongest entry has to be the third movie from George Clooney: Director, following the astounding Oscar-nominated hit that was Good Night, and Good Luck two and a half years ago which grossed nearly $55 million while receiving six Oscar nominations. For this one, he’s going a bit more mainstream (but only a bit) by creating a romantic comedy set within the early days of football in hope that it will be something both his male and female fans might enjoy, more than likely together.
It goes without saying that George Clooney has had an amazing film career since his days on “ER,” but trying to compare Leatherheads to movies like The Perfect Storm or Batman & Robin would probably be a waste of time, since it’s more of a continuation of Clooney’s run of artier films that started when he started working regularly with Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. At its height, the pairing has spawned three hit “Ocean’s” films, all that have grossed over $100 million, but it’s also spawned artistically creative bombs like their remake of Solaris and the WWII period drama The Good German. After making his directorial debut with the Chuck Barris biopic Confessions of a Dangerous Mind starring Sam Rockwell, Clooney followed that with Good Night, and Good Luck set in the world of ’50s newsman Edward R. Murrow, but Leatherheads is more in the vein with the movies Clooney has made with the Coen Brothers, like the Oscar-nominated period film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, including similar romantic comedy elements as Intolerable Cruelty, his second teaming with the brothers that pitted him against Catherine Zeta-Jones. Both of those were decent hits for the Coens (compared to some of their other films anyway), and those films set a clear precedent for the type of old-school slapstick humor that Clooney has infused into this film, so it shouldn’t feel completely foreign to his fans, even if the movie won’t be looking for a blockbuster opening. On top of that, Universal is banking that Clooney’s recent Oscar win (for Syriana) and nominations, most recently for last year’s Michael Clayton will create a lot more attention and interest for his new movie.
Clooney has an equally strong leading lady in the shapely form of Renée Zellweger, who’s had respectable success with movies like Chicago, Cold Mountain and Cinderella Man. So with Leatherheads, she’ll be seeing if she can have similar success with a movie that doesn’t start with the letter “C.” (But of course she starred in Bridget Jones’ Diary before any of those.) Like some of Ms. Zellwegger’s biggest movies, Leatherheads is a period piece, so obviously she’s comfortable in that sort of environment, although her last period romantic comedy was Down with Love with Ewan McGregor, which bombed, followed by their second team-up, the biopic Miss Potter, which fared even worse. One has to presume that pairing Zellwegger with Clooney will have more impact with women, but the other side of their romantic triangle is held by John Krasinski, star of the NBC sitcom “The Office,” who co-stars in this after his semi-successful team-up with Mandy Moore for Warner Bros’ romantic comedy License to Wed. Essentially, this is a movie that’s going to be sold based on its starpower, particularly Clooney, but also the other two, more than it will be sold on its genre, which is probably a smart move.
The odd thing about the movie, besides its quirky humor, is that it’s a period piece set in the roaring ’20s, joining four other recent Universal movies set in the same era–can you name them?–but it’s also a sports comedy and a romantic comedy set within the context of the early days of football. It’s not strange enough that they’re releasing a movie about football in early April, well after the end of the season–at one point, it was scheduled for last fall when it was thought that the movie was a potential awards contender–but there’s also some strange mixed marketing going on, since it’s being marketed to women as a romantic comedy and to men as a period sports film. This is a problem because the romance will probably turn off many of the actual football fans that might be interested in the movie after seeing the prominently-placed Super Bowl commercial. The key is to run the commercials targeted to women during shows targeting women like daytime talk shows and to save the football-related commercials for ESPN and other sports shows, and Universal has cut a LOT of different commercials for the movie. Some people will likely be turned off by the film’s period setting and the slapstick humor.
Certainly, the movie might be facing some of the same obstacles as the Farrelly Brothers’ reworking of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch with Jimmy Farrell and Drew Barrymore, released the same weekend a few years ago, but at least that was released at the start of baseball season, despite having similar problems figuring out its target audience. The big difference between this and Fever Pitch is the stronger cast and the fact that the trio will appeal as much or more to women as to men, making this the kind of movie that wives and girlfriends will be able to convince their husbands and boyfriends (or vice versa) to see rather than being something they’re dragged to see. One can also look back in time to Kevin Costner’s landmark Bull Durham as a comedy that mixed sports and romance to become a classic film enjoyed equally by men and women.
With all that in mind, Leatherheads should do decently, if only because it’s the only movie directly targetting audiences over 30, although it might still face some tough competition for all audiences from last week’s hit 21 in its second weekend.
Why I Should See It: After three consecutive years of Oscar nominations, Clooney returns with his third film as a director, something which presumably is more immediate and mainstream.
Why Not: Mixing football and romance into a period drama might make this too difficult for most audiences.
Projections: $15 to 17 million opening weekend and $45 to 50 million total.
Nim’s Island (Fox Walden)
Starring Jodie Foster, Abigail Breslin, Gerard Butler, Alphonso McAuley
Written and directed by Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett (writers of Madeline, Little Manhattan, Wimbledon and the upcoming Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D) with Joseph Kwong, Paula Mazur
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Family
Tagline: “Be the hero of your own story.”
Plot Summary: Nim (Abigail Breslin) is an imaginative young girl who lives on an island–if you haven’t figured it out from the film title–fashioning her life after Alex Rover, an adventurer from the novels by author named Alexandra (Jodi Foster). When Nim’s father goes missing, it brings Nim and Alexandra together on the island to try to overcome the island’s dangers to find him.
Mini-Review: A fairly mundane family adventure that’s not completely awful due to a cleverly constructed story and strong production values, but it’s still mainly catering to a younger audience who’ll be easily amused and entertained by much of the film’s silliness. Abigail Breslin is her typical annoyingly perky self as Nim, a girl living on an island whose father goes off leaving her alone, while Gerard Butler isn’t bad in a dual role as Nim’s marine researcher father who gets stranded at sea–there’s some wonderful irony watching this knowing that he’ll be providing his voice for a similar scene in Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen”–and also playing Alex Rover, the hero of the novels she reads. Jodi Foster takes on a far quirkier and vulnerable role than normal as the neurotic agoraphobic author Alexandra Rover, afraid to leave her home until she must do so to help Nim when she gets into trouble. It’s a cute premise especially to have Nim Emailing with her hero for help but it’s something that doesn’t sustain the movie for long. Things tend to get silly as the movie turns into “Home Alone” with Nim trying to fight off invading tourists, while Foster has the unfortunate role of portraying the xenophobic nature of traveling abroad with lots of awkward slapstick and hammy act as counterpoint to Nim’s daring and adventurousness. In essence, there are three adventures in play with Butler tying them together as the adventurer who speaks to both of them, and while there are some cute bits, all of the talking to Nim’s animal pals quickly gets tiresome and we can only be thankful that none of the animals in the movie actually talk like they do in the commercials. Likewise, Butler’s commentary during the bits before Breslin and Foster are united–they only appear together for maybe 10 minutes at the end–is an idea that quickly wears thin. Certainly uncritical kids will love it and there are some great messages in the movie about trying new things and being adventurous, but for adults, the film might be a grueling exercise in patience and endurance, especially in watching actors that we know can do better lowering themselves to try to mold themselves into some fictitious kid-friendly formula. Rating: 5.5/10
With the current family films in theatres only doing moderately decent business–certainly I expected Horton to be approaching $200 million by now–it’s time for a new contender to try to scoop up some of that audience, this one being the third film from the recently-established Fox Walden based on the novel by Wendy Orr.
Adapted by the creative team behind the little-seen 2005 Fox family film Little Manhattan, this is the second starring vehicle of the year for Little Miss Sunshine‘s Abigail Breslin, following her semi-successful romantic comedy Definitely, Maybe with Ryan Reynolds in February, and it will try to prove her to be a box office draw much like Dakota Fanning was a few years back. Oddly, this is the first time that Breslin is doing a family film, although the character doesn’t seem to be too foreign to previous roles, except maybe for the action part if you don’t include the famous van chase scene. This time, Breslin is teamed with a veteran actress who is definitely among the Hollywood A-listers. A former child star herself, actress Jodie Foster appears in her first big budget family/kid’s film since starring in Disney’s original Freaky Friday over thirty years ago. In recent years, Foster has been appearing in thrillers like David Fincher’s Panic Room, Touchstone’s Flight Plan, Spike Lee’s Inside Man with Denzel Washington, and last year’s The Brave One, which teamed the actress with Irish director Neil Jordan. The third part of the equation, and another potential draw at least for women is Gerard Butler, who after starring in the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, achieved a new level of stardom when he headlined Zack Snyder’s blockbuster 300 last year, followed by his romantic role in Hilary Swank’s P.S. I Love You, which might help convince some mothers to bring their kids to see this.
Certainly, the cumulative star power might help the movie do better than last year’s The Seeker even if having Natalie Portman and Dustin Hoffman did little to help its follow-up Mr. Magorium’s Magical Emporium. Either way, the nature of the film will probably sway more towards girls and women, which doesn’t bode well for a huge opening, but it should do respectably well since Fox is opening it in over 3,400 theaters and other family films (including Fox’s Horton) are already starting to lose some ground. There really isn’t much more to say about this movie except that it looks like it might be a fun adventure movie for kids and parents, and though like Fox Walden’s previous movies The Seeker and Mr. Magorium, it’s not being screened heavily before opening, it is being marketed and promoted a lot better with tons of commercials and a preview on the recently-released Alvin and the Chipmunks DVD. This should help the movie do somewhere in the teens, putting it in the running for a third place opening depending on how well 21 holds up from last week.
Why I Should See It: Walden Media has a good handle on making family films, and this one has a strong cast and adventure premise to appeal to kids.
Why Not: Jodie Foster doing physical comedy seems scarier than anything in this week’s horror offering.
Projections: $12 to 14 million opening weekend and roughly $40 to 45 million total.
The Ruins (Paramount/DreamWorks)
Starring Jonathan Tucker, Laura Ramsey, Jena Malone, Shawn Ashmore, Joe Anderson
Directed by Carter Smith (Bugcrush); Written by Scott Smith (author of the novel and Oscar-nominated writer of A Simple Plan)
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Tagline: “Terror has evolved.”
Plot Summary: Five friends travel down to Mexico where they explore an ancient Mayan ruin which holds a deadly secret, which has been awakened.
Mini-Review: The premise of killer plants in an ancient Mayan ruin probably seems fairly silly to those who haven’t read the original novel, but Scott B. Smith successfully transforms it into a gut-wrenching thriller with the help of first-time director Carter Smith. As much as it might look like another typical teen slasher flick from the commercials, there’s a logic to why these five young people go to these ruins and how they get put in their dangerous situation that makes it convincingly tense. The film also proves that while a horror flick doesn’t necessarily need known faces or names, it does make a huge difference if you hire strong actors, and all five of them are able to do more sell the dialogue-heavy psychological aspects to their situation, which already puts this well above many other similar films. Jena Malone and Shawn Ashmore are particularly good at keeping their characters from being typical stereotypes. Those looking for blood and gore won’t be disappointed either as it offers a number of truly gruesome and disturbing sequences that are far more effective by taking place in the daylight, and like the best horror films, they’re done in a way that will make you forget it’s just a movie. While the killer vines could be seen as ridiculous, they’re handled in a way that makes them menacing without seeing overly CG or fake. The film does end rather abruptly leaving too many fates to happen off screen, but otherwise, it’s a surprisingly satisfying and original addition to the horror genre, maybe not quite on par with something like “The Descent” but close enough to not make you not feel as if you’ve been ripped off. Rating: 7/10
While from the trailers, The Ruins might look like just another “Texas Chainsaw”/”Turistas” style young people go somewhere and get slaughtered film, it’s actually a little more intelligent than that, being based on a novel by Scott Smith, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan. Smith adapted his own novel for the screen, and while it’s probably a bit more geared towards the horror crowd, it does promise some of the same psychological overtones of his novel not that it’s being sold based on that.
These kinds of movies tend to either have unknown casts or young up ‘n’ coming actors that might appeal to the younger horror audiences, though this cast is a notch above others due to the presence of actress Jena Malone, who has starred in lots of great indie fare, such as Donnie Darko, The United States of Leland, Saved! and most recently, Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. Even better known than her is Canadian Shawn Ashmore, best known as Bobby Drake or Iceman in the “X-Men” movies and who’s also done his fair share of indie films, many in his native Canada. Jonathan Tucker’s first big film was the hit remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was mostly responsible for the wave of these movies being made, but he hasn’t done very much of significance since then. (Sorry, Jonathan, but I’m just not a fan after enduring Stateside and it’ll take a long time before I’m over that.) The obligatory hot blonde, Laura Ramsey might be the least known, although she’s appeared in her fair share of horror thrillers including Reny Harlin’s The Covenant, as well as Venom, and the last part of the equation is highly underrated British actor Joe Anderson, who appeared in the musical movies Across the Universe and Control last fall. Frankly, none of these names are being mentioned in the advertising, so like most horror movies, it probably won’t make a hell of a lot of difference in terms of getting young people into seats.
No, The Ruins is being marketed solely by its genre and the fact that it’s R-rated horror, which will have much more credence among true horror fans thanks to the success of gory horror like the Saw movies. Unfortunately, horror is not exactly DreamWorks’ strong suit–you probably couldn’t think of another horror movie they’ve produced if you tried–and they’ve made this one look like every other horror movie where young people go someplace and end up getting slaughtered, as typified by the afore-mentioned 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which helped kick off the latest wave of the genre, followed by House of Wax, The Hills Have Eyes and Turistas. Chances are that the movie is nothing like the latter, which was a huge bomb for Fox Atomic, but the fact that it looks so much like it might turn off those who saw (or skipped) other similar “torture porn” movies.
Paramount has not had a very good spring/winter season, hobbling on a bad foot after having such a big hit with Cloverfield, following it with a series of comedies that stiffed, last week’s Stop-Loss and now this, which is getting less of a marketing push than the Martin Scorsese Stones movie being released in fewer theaters. In general, they’ve cut a lot of scary commercials, but the film is being marketed somewhere between Lionsgate’s Bug and Touchstone Pictures’ Primevil in that they’re masking the psychological stuff and trying to hide the fact that the thing threatening these kids is a series of ancient intelligent vines. (And just typing that last bit makes it immediately apparent why this aspect of the plot is being hidden or only hinted at in the commercials, much like the croc in Primevil.) On the other hand, the fact that the original novelist was involved with the adaptation, one can hope that there’ll be some more intelligence to this film than some of the countless other similar films, and it could help the movie appeal to those who read the novel as well as diehard horror fans who haven’t had a true gorefest in some time. We can certainly hope so, although like most horror films, Paramount won’t be screening the movie for critics, and because of this, they won’t be getting nearly as much attention and press they’ll need for the movie to bring in casual horror lovers.
Why I Should See It: This looks like it could be a really creepy and scary horror movie, though one not even remotely for the squeamish.
Why Not: Killer vines!? Are you freakin’ kidding me?!? That HAS to be the stupidest horror premise ever put on the page, let alone adapted from the page to the screen.
Projections: $7 to 9 million opening weekend and roughly $23 million total.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Jellyfish (Meduzot) (Zeitgeist Films)
Starring Sarah Adler, Tsipor Aizen, Bruria Albek, Ilanit Ben-Yaakov, Assi Dayan
Directed by Shira Geffen, Etgar Keret; Written by Shira Geffen
Tagline: “Love. Longing. Magic.”
Plot Summary: Three intersecting stories of women living in Tel Aviv all from different backgrounds: a waitress who takes in an enigmatic and seemingly abandoned child she finds on the beach; a young bride breaks her leg at her wedding forcing her to cancel her dream honeymoon, and forcing her new husband to work harder to make her happy; and a Philippino domestic worker who doesn’t speak Hebrew gets a job caring for a crotchety and xenophobic old woman.
This Israeli drama is not the type of movie you normally might see show up in this highly-coveted position, especially in a week that offers new movies from the likes of Martin Scorsese and Wong Kar-Wai, two personal favorites. In fact, this wonderful film is the brainchild of first-time filmmaker Shira Geffen, an Israeli playwright and author of children’s book, who teamed with her partner, author Etgar Keret–he wrote the novel which inspired the recent Wristcutters: A Love Story–to realize this film which at a glance might seem like a “chick flick” but is actually a wonderfully emotional journey of three very different women. There’s Batya, a single woman slaving at a catering company who is a complete mess after breaking up with her boyfriend. When we meet her, she’s working at the wedding of Keren, a bride who breaks her leg after being locked in a lady’s room stall, but whose loving husband wants to do anything he can to make her happy on their honeymoon, despite her being very high maintenance and demanding, while getting frustrated by her unwillingness to consummate the marriage. At their seedy hotel, he meets an extremely gorgeous older woman that gets his young bride jealous. At first, the third story about Joy, a single mother from the Phillipines forced to care for the older mother of an actress, seems to have the least to offer, and there are some odd parallels to this week’s “The Flight of the Red Balloon” (see below) but it ends up being one of the more enjoyable stories to see these two characters starting to connect over the young son that Joy left back home. Batya’s story is also one that keeps you mesmerized as she spends time with the silent and strange little girl she finds on the beach, who may or may not have some connection with an incident from Batya’s past. I seriously challenge anyone to figure out where the three stories in this movie are going and not to be deeply moved by the outcome of these stories, as it enters new territory in exploring the world of women’s issues, particularly these three women dissatisfied with their lives who experience events that give them the chance to overcome their problems. Even with the implausible coincidences that are used to bring disparate characters together, this is a truly remarkable film that will have a deep emotional impact on anyone who watches it, even if you don’t always immediately understand what is going on or where things are going; much of that has to do with the gorgeous Tel Aviv setting mixed with the magical realism incorporated into the stories.
Clearly one of the underrated highlights of Lincoln Center’s recently-launched New Directors/New Films series, this will open in New York (at the Angelika) on Friday and in L.A. on April 25.
Also in Limited Release:
Shine a Light (Paramount Classics) – Martin Scorsese directs this concert movie of the Rolling Stones performing a benefit shot at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in the fall of ’06, playing all of their hits with special guests Jack White (of the White Stripes), Christina Aguillera and Buddy Guy. It opens in 250 theaters including IMAX screens across the country.
Sex and Death 101 (Anchor Bay Entertainment) – Simon Baker stars in this dark sex comedy from “Heathers” writer Daniel Waters playing Roderick Blank, a successful executive who receives a mysterious Email listing the 101 women he will sleep with in his entire life including his 72 future sex partners, who he rushes to find, leading to all sorts of hijinks until he meets the deadly serial killer Death Nell (Winona Ryder), a femme fatale who kills all the men with whom she sleeps. It will open in select cities on Friday.
Mini-Review: From the strange and implausible premise to the low-brow humor that dips into the Farrelly Brothers well at its lowest, this silly misguided comedy has very little ground to stand on beyond its high concept idea of a man who suddenly receives a complete list of the women he’ll sleep with, allowing the film to bounce between being unapologetically misogynist to just being plain sexist. If the concept of the sex-list isn’t strange enough, the film suddenly turns all metaphysical with an idea right out of “The Matrix” of a super-computer that predicts the future, though why anything that smart or all-knowing would bother with a guy like Simon Baker’s character is probably something not worth wasting many brain cells contemplating. Not that Baker is bad as he carries the film, but one has to wonder why anyone might possibly empathize or care to spend an entire movie watching such a good-looking guy having sex with a lot of gorgeous women, even when his encounters go horribly wrong to humorous results. (One bit is stolen right from “American Wedding”, just to give you an idea how unoriginal the film’s sub-Apatow sex humor tends to be.) For most of the first hour, there’s very little of Winona Ryder’s femme fatale serial killer, which is probably a good thing since she’s not quite as strong now as she was back when she starred in Waters’ “Heathers” but there’s a nice rapport between her and Baker that almost saves the film in the last act. Most of the film’s funniest bits revolve around the computer character played by Patton Oswalt, who acts almost like a conscious to Roderick, essentially voicing the thoughts of most guys when they come upon a list of future sexual partners. One also can’t help but appreciate the unbounded sexiness of Leslie Bibb, Sophie Monk, and the dozens of other hot naked women, just as one can’t completely loathe a movie for trying to revive the career of Mindy “Facts of Life” Cohn, but when it comes down to it, the movie serves even less purpose than it does strong laughs. Maybe Waters thought his film could get by with a great title and flimsy premise, but other than that, it has very little else.Rating: 5/10
And this week’s Asian filmmaker report:
The Flight of the Red Balloon (IFC Films) – Juliette Binoche stars in this new movie from Chinese auteur Hsiao-Hsien Hou (Three Times, Café Lumière< Millennium Mambo) as Suzanne, the single mother of the 7-year-old boy Simon who brings in a Taiwanese student named Song Fang to watch over the boy, and the two of them bond in an imaginary world, as Suzanne deals with her day-to-day life, including tenant problems. Inspired by Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 film Le Ballon Rouge, it opens at the IFC Center on Friday.
My Blueberry Nights (Weinstein Co.) – Wong Kar-Wai (In the Mood for Love, 2046) returns with his first English language film starring singer Norah Jones in her first feature, playing Elizabeth, a young woman who travels across America after breaking up with her boyfriend, working as a waitress and encountering a diversity of other lonely people, played by Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman. It will open in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Mini-Review: Wong Kar-wai’s English language debut would be a bigger disappointment if it wasn’t a film that barely works even on paper, since it’s almost impossible to easily describe or summarize. Granted, it continues his tendency for beautifully-shot slow-moving films, but this is a surprisingly bland affair that lacks a strong enough story to maintain the viewer’s interest for long. Jones isn’t bad in her acting debut, but there’s almost no chemistry between her and Jude Law as a coffee shop owner, and things don’t get much better as she encounters David Strathairn as an alcoholic at his wit’s end with his cheating wife, played by Rachel Weisz. Weisz is decent in her small role, except for one teary soliloquy that’s so gruelingly slow you’ll be reaching in vain for the fast forward button; Natalie Portman is far more entertaining as a chatty Vegas gambler, but sadly, the script is very weak and there isn’t enough real story or plot to carry the film through Elizabeth’s journey. There’s nothing even remotely on the level of “In the Mood for Love” or “2046” in terms of the character interaction or developments. Mr. Wong seems to be equally in love with his soundtrack as he is with his trademark slow motion, which is severely overused in this case, as he plays a couple songs on endless loop through various segments–the Norah Jones track gets tiresome very quickly–but Wong’s usual cinematic gimmicks have very little effect in this environment, and his regular cinematographer Christopher Doyle is sorely missed. Essentially, the film is 90 minutes that feel like a lifetime as nothing really happens, and you hardly care when something does. It just isn’t a very well conceived film, and in casting aside his native Chinese language and homeland, Mr. Wong also loses the beauty and emotion of his earlier films, making this disappointing at best and extremely aggravating at worst. In that sense, it’s similar to Wim Wenders’ “Don’t Come Knocking” in that it shows Wong to be far less adept and successful when working outside his normal element. Rating: 4/10
Tuya’s Marriage (Music Box Films) – Mongolian filmmaker Wang Quanan’s third film tells the story of Tuya (Nan Yu), the strong-willed wife of a paralyzed herdsman who is forced to take over his hard labor in order to survive. When that threatens her health, they get divorced with the stipulation that Tuya’s next husband will have to take care of her entire family including her ex-husband. It opens at the Cinema Village in New York.
Water Lilies (Koch-Lorber Films) – Celine Sciamma’s follows three teen girls in Paris whose paths cross at the local swimming pool where first love and desire brings them together at first but ultimately threatens to tear the group apart. Another selection from the Lincoln Center New Directors/New Films program, it will open in New York on Friday.
Jack and Jill Vs. the World (Lantern Lane) – Freddie Prinze Jr. (remember him?) plays a New York ad exec named Jack who is living a bored life of routine until he meets the fiery younger woman Jill (played by Taryn Manning from “Hustle & Flow”) who turns his life around by helping him write a new manifesto to live by. Like a modern-day version of Jonathan Demme’s “Something Wild,” it opens in L.A. on Friday.
Meet Bill (First Look) – Aaron Eckhart, Elizabeth Banks and Jessica Alba star in Bernie Goldmann and Melisa Wallack’s dramedy with Eckhart playing Bill, a man working at a dead-end job and having marital problems with his wife (Banks) who may be cheating with a local news anchorman (Timothy Olyphant). Things change when he starts mentoring a boy (Logan Lerman from “3:10 to Yuma”) who helps him hook up with a lingerie salesgirl (Alba), making him more self-confident. After premiering at least year’s Toronto Film Festival as “Bill,” this opens in 35 theaters in Minneapolis & St. Louis this weekend with plans to expand into other cities in May.
Next week, April continues. Oh, you wanna know what movies are coming out? Okay. Let’s see, there’s a horror movie called Prom Night (Sony/Screen Gems), a crime thriller called Street Kings (Fox Searchlight), and for those looking for a little comedy, there’s Smart People (Miramax) with Sarah Jessica Parker, Dennis Quaid, Thomas Haden Church and Ellen Page.
Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas