The Weekend Warrior: April 18 -20

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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.

Three more movies join the late spring fray and while Judd Apatow’s latest comedy production Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Universal) would seem like the strongest offering, it might have too much competition for guys from the two other movies. The Forbidden Kingdom (Lionsgate/The Weinstein Co.) unites two of China’s top martial arts stars, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, for their first movie together, making it a strong draw for their many male and female fans. More in the vein of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the recent movies of Zhang Yimou (like Jet Li’s Hero), it should bring in a fairly wide demographic, but mostly younger guys from 10 to 17 that won’t be as interested in the other movies. (UPDATE: With a couple hundred more theaters, there’s a good chance this cross-demo action-comedy can cross the $20 million but just barely.)

Written by and starring Jason Segel from Knocked Up with Kristen Bell from “Heroes” and “Veronica Mars,” “Sarah Marshall” is a raunchy R-rated break-up comedy in the vein of Knocked Up that could bring in a substantial audience of Apatow and comedy fans with strong reviews and buzz from advance screenings, but the amount of other choices and the April release might keep it from doing the kind of business we’ve seen from some of Apatow’s past comedies, but being the only comedy, it should bring in a decent-sized audience, giving it a strong second place.

There might be some business left over for the long-delayed high concept thriller 88 Minutes (Sony/Tristar) starring Al Pacino, and though some of his generally older fans might be enticed by the action-thriller premise, negative early reviews should successfully kill this off after its opening weekend.

Lack of awareness might be the killer for the Ben Stein documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (Rocky Mountain Pictures) which takes a controversial look at the thought of Intelligent Design and how the scientific community has accused those who bring it up as being religious creationists. Fortunately, fundamentalist religious groups will get fully behind the movie, possibly for the wrong reasons, with heavy promotions through churches, although a documentary will probably be a harder sell than some of the other movies those groups have flocked to. Expect it to end up outside the top 10 with roughly $1.5 million, more or less. (UPDATE: Awareness has certainly increased since MOnday as the controversy continues to brew and with the demand exceeding the # of prints, it will open in over a thousand theaters and should end up somewhere near the bottom of the Top 10 or just outside.)

This week’s Chosen One is the documentary Glass: A Portrait of Philip in 12 Chapters (Koch Lorber Films) by Scott Hicks, the director of Shine, which you can read about here.

Updated Predictions

1. The Forbidden Kingdom (Lionsgate/The Weinstein Co.) – $20.2 million N/A (+.8 million)

2. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Universal) – $15.5 million N/A (down .3 million)

3. 88 Minutes (Sony/Tristar) – $9.3 million N/A (up 1 spot)

4. Prom Night (Sony/Screen Gems) – $8.5 million -59% (down 1.3 million and 1 spot)

5. 21 (Sony) – $7.4million -29% (+.6 million)

6. Street Kings (Fox Searchlight) – $6.5 million -48% (same)

7. Nim’s Island (Fox Walden) – $5.7 million -37% (same)

8. Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who (20th Century Fox) – $3.6 million -40% (down .3 million)

9. Leatherheads (Universal) – $3.4 million -45% (+.1 million)

10. Smart People (Miramax) – $2.5 million -38% (same)

11. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (Rocky Mountain Pictures) – $2.4 million N/A

Last year, DreamWorks’ Disturbia grossed $13 million to remain #1 in its second weekend, keeping two other one-named thrillers, Fracture (New Line) and Vacancy (Screen Gems) under thumb as they opened with $11 million and $7.6 million in second and fourth place, respectively. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s second movie Hot Fuzz opened in just 825 theaters with $5.8 million, scoring the highest per-theatre average in the Top 10, while Meg Ryan and Adam Brody starred in the romantic drama In the Land of Women (Warner Independent) which bombed with less than $5 million in 2,155 theatres. The top 10 last year made just $68 million which means this might be the first weekend in a long LONG time where this year’s movies surpass the gross of the same period last year.


Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Universal)
Starring Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Bill Hader, Kala Alexander
Directed by Nicholas Stoller (directorial debut from the co-writer of Fun with Dick and Jane and “Undeclared”); Written by Jason Segel (writing debut of actor from Knocked Up, “Undeclared” and “How I Met Your Mother”)
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rated R
Tagline: “The ultimate romantic disaster movie.”
Plot Summary: After his girlfriend, TV star Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), breaks up with him, Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) goes to Hawaii to try to get over the pain, not realizing that Sarah has chosen to go there with her new superstar rocker boyfriend (Russell Brand) so Peter finds some solace by spending time with the hotel’s adorable desk clerk (Mila Kunis).

Before last week’s Prom Night explosion, April was looking like it was going to be a dead month, but this weekend will be a good test to see if audiences are ready to return to theatres en masse with the latest movie from the studio that brought us Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, trying to achieve similar success with a movie from one of Apatow’s camp, Jason Segel, who writes and stars in this “romantic disaster movie.”

Segel last appeared in Knocked Up as Seth Rogen’s amorous friend who was constantly trying to hit on Leslie Mann, and he’s had a recurring role on the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” for even longer, but like Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, he established himself in the “Apatow-verse” by appearing on both of Apatow’s popular cult TV shows “Freaks and Geeks” (as Nick Andopolis) and “Undeclared” (as Eric). Having already become well known among the growing Apatow fanbase, it made sense that he’d finally star in his own movie. His two love interests are also played by known TV actresses, Kristen Bell taking the title role as Sarah Marshall, following her popular runs as the star of the cult hit “Veronica Mars” and her recent appearance on “Heroes.” Bell’s film career hasn’t been as fruitful with her only significant film being the J-horror remake Pulse two years ago, but that’s better than Mila Kunis, who followed years on the Fox sitcom “That ’70s Show” with a film career made up of flops like the movie version of Tony and Tina’s Wedding and a sequel to American Psycho. Sarah Marshall’s new love interest is played by MTV Europe VJ Russell Brand, whose a known personality in England and Europe, but not so much here in the States.

What will make Apatow fans take notice is the return of many of the regulars from previous hit comedies, including Jonah Hill and Bill Hader, both showing up here after popular roles in Seth Rogen’s Superbad, as well as Paul Rudd, who co-starred in both of Apatow’s comedies, all of them playing smaller satellite roles in this one. Still, they’re being featured prominently enough in the commercials that fans of Apatow’s previous movies will know what they have to offer in terms of humor, especially Hill, who has become hugely popular among the college-age audiences from his roles in Superbad and Accepted. (That didn’t help the recent Happy Madison production Stranger Wilderness do much business.) This means that Bell and Hill are the closest the film has to stars and they’re not quite on par with popular TV stars like Katherine Heigl or Steve Carell or Michael Cera, plus this one doesn’t have Seth Rogen, who has also popped in the past two years, though one can expect that comedy fans into the previous movies will expect more of the same raunchy R-rated humor in this one. A movie about a break-up might not seem like as strong a premise as some of the previous Apatow comedies and certainly the title is somewhat lacking compared to previous movies, but there are plenty of strong (and not so strong) comparisons. The most obvious one is The Break-Up which pitted Vince Vaughn against Jennifer Aniston to great success, and that did decently, though it was driven by the tabloid rumors of them actually being a couple. Romantic comedies filmed in Hawaii have been very hit or miss with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore’s 50 First Dates exploding over Valentine/Presidents’ Day weekend four years ago, but Ben Stiller’s The Heartbreak Kid flopping pretty badly last October. But again, those also had bigger stars.

The question is whether this movie with lesser-known stars, an awkward title and a premise that might sway interest towards women can open as well as past Apatow productions or join the previous three comedies to cross the $20 million mark in April. Even before this movie’s release, Segel and his directorial partner Nick Stoller have had their next project Five Year Engagement greenlit, plus they’ve been hired to update and relaunch the Muppets, so obviously someone out there must like what they’re doing and think that their debut will be commercially viable, and the reviews should be strongly favorable creating a lot more interest leading up to opening day. It’s also the only straight comedy in theaters at the moment, which could help it bring in a last minute audience.

The release date might be the film’s biggest hindrance, not only because it’s not being released in the summer like previous Apatow hits, but because it only has one week to make a mark before facing an insane amount of competition for the comedy audience with next week’s Baby Mama and Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo (starring Segel’s HIMYM co-star Neil Patrick Harris, no less) and even more romantic comedy competition on its second weekend with Sony’s Made of Honor. While it might not open nearly as big as some of Apatow’s own movies, word-of-mouth should generally be good enough to sustain it even with so much comedy competition next weekend (including another comedy from Universal, oddly enough).

Why I Should See It: Another funny movie from Apatow regulars that will probably have a similar effect in terms of repeat viewings.
Why Not: The way things are going, it’s getting to a point where we’ll be getting movies from Apatow’s barber and masseuse, and as Mel Gibson can attest, that’s never a good idea.
Projections: $15 to 17 million opening weekend on its way to $50 million or slightly more.

COMPARISONS


The Forbidden Kingdom (Lionsgate/The Weinstein Co.)
Starring Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Michael Angarano, Collin Chou, Crystal Liu Yi Fei, Li Bing Bing
Directed by Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, Stuart Little); Written by John Fusco, Ch’eng-En Wu
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Martial Arts
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “The path is unsafe. The place is unknown. The journey is unbelievable.”
Plot Summary: Jason (Michael Angarano) is a typical teenager from Boston, a kung fu enthusiast, who finds himself thrust back in time to ancient China when he gets hold of a fighting stick that used to belong to the legendary Monkey King (Jet Li). Once there, he’s paired with a drunken Ancient (Jackie Chan) who offers to help Jason return the stick to its rightful owner in order to free the Monkey King from a 500-year exile.

Mini-Review: Fans of old time kung fu movies and Asian epics probably won’t be disappointed by this mix of magic and martial arts that’s surprisingly reverential to the classic films of the Shaw Brothers and all the movies that have come since then. While it’s not nearly as arty as “Crouching Tiger” or “Hero,” it offers more than enough entertainment value to forgive some of the cornier moments. Jackie Chan is particularly funny as he rekindles his Drunken Master persona, while Li plays off him well, taking the more serious route as a monk, and those looking forward to seeing these martial arts greats finally face off won’t be disappointed by the extended fight sequence between the two of them. Unfortunately, their broken English often distracts from the flow of their humor, but Michael Angarano does a fine job as the charge that brings them together. Collin Chou is equally strong as the main antagonist while Li Bing Bing offers a fun homage to “The Bride with White Hair.” Hollywood director Rob Minkoff effortlessly slips into this traditional Asian setting, working closely with martial arts master Yuen Woo-Ping and cinematographer Peter Pau to create a visually stunning movie that offers many stunts we’ve never seen before. There’s often a bit too much silliness to cater to the duo’s younger audience, although the violence in the martial arts does not necessarily make this a movie for younger kids. Even though the film drags at times with slower moments filled with talking and over-exposition, the action ultimately wins out in the end to make this an incredibly entertaining and satisfying action flick well worth the wait to finally see these two martial arts masters work together. Rating: 7.5/10

Offering the strongest potential to interest younger guys is this martial arts movie that boasts the first teaming of Chinese martial arts superstars Jackie Chan and Jet Li, who both have made significant waves into Hollywood with their crossover success, but whom have never teamed-up, let alone fought, in a movie before, which makes The Forbidden Kingdom a huge marketing coup from that alone. It’s also an epic martial arts fantasy film like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero, two of China’s biggest exports that have brought many fans to the martial arts and Chinese epic genres, allowing a lot more of those films to be released fairly wide in the country.

Both Jackie Chan and Jet Li probably have to thank Quentin Tarantino for their careers, as the loud-mouthed filmmaker was a huge booster for Hong Kong martial arts films when his second movie Pulp Fiction was getting so much attention in 1994. Sure enough, Jackie Chan’s Hollywood career effectively began shortly after with the importing of Rumble in the Bronx in 1995. Jet Li’s Hollywood debut in Lethal Weapon 4 followed a few years later, which he followed with a string of successful action thrillers like Romeo Must Die and The One. Meanwhile, Chan was effectively combining martial arts and comedy to team with the likes of Chris Tucker and Owen Wilson to produce hits like Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon, the former becoming a hugely successful global franchise with a blockbuster sequel that grossed almost $350 million worldwide. Chan hasn’t had much luck on his own with flops like Disney’s The Tuxedo and The Medallion, and he’s been bouncing back and forth between Hollywood and Hong Kong films, while Li has been a lot more selective, working mainly with foreign directors to great results. Zhang Yimou’s Hero for instance transcended the barriers between the two countries, becoming a huge hit in the States years after its Chinese release, and that was followed by a series of foreign films that were well marketed in the States such as Unleashed and Fearless, though Li’s eventual reunion with Jason Statham in last year’s War was not nearly as successful.

Joining the duo is Michael Angarano, a young actor who’s close to having his Shia LaBeouf breakout moment, although in recent years, he’s mainly been doing little-seen indie flicks, the one exception being his starring role in Disney’s Sky High and a prominent role in The Lords of Dogtown. He’s yet to prove himself as a box office star, not that it will matter much in this case with two strong box office stars leading the way. Fans of kung fu and other Chinese films might also recognize Collin Chou, a highly respected Asian actor who was last seen in Donnie Yen’s Flash Point; in this movie, Chou plays the primary baddie so he also gets into some great fights with Jet Li. If that weren’t enough for Asiaphiles, there’s lots of cute young Asian actresses if you’re into that sort of thing, and really, who isn’t?

What’s odd is that the film is directed by Rob Minkoff, best known for his work on Hollywood family films like The Lion King and Stuart Little, so doing a martial arts movie set in Ancient China, based on a Chinese legend with so many Chinese stars involved is quite a departure. Yet, very wisely Minkoff brought in a couple Asian ringers who have been involved with some of the greatest martial arts movies of recent years including stunt choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping who coordinated the action scenes for “The Matrix” trilogy Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle and most recently, Jet Li’s Unleashed and Fearless. Minkoff also hired cinematographer Peter Pau, who shot the Oscar-nominated Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and other martial arts classics. Chances are that Yuen Woo-Ping’s involvement will be of more interest among martial arts enthusiasts, although the trailers and commercials seem to be playing up the comedy over the action.

Reviews will generally be good because the movie is far better than the commercials and trailer make it look and it delivers on the action, even though it’s still playing to a younger male audience as well as guys over 30 who may be fans of Chan and Li from their long history of martial arts films. The film is also being pushed heavily among Asian areas within big cities, which is where the film should do the best business despite Jackie Chan thinking the film is too Westernized. In fact, so many Chinese martial arts epics have been released here with subtitles which may have hindered their business, but The Forbidden Kingdom is mostly in English with only a few subtitled moments, which should help it do better among American audiences. Although it’s not a kid’s movie due to the violence that earned it a well-deserved PG-13 rating, one can definitely see parents taking their boys from 10 and up to see the movie for the fun and the action, and then of course, there’s the matter of needing a movie to buy tickets to in order to sneak into the R-rated Apatow comedy.

Why I Should See It: Two of China’s greatest martial arts stars can finally be seen in one movie that offers lots of kung fu action that fans of the genre will love.
Why Not: Might seem too childish or silly for those looking for a serious art film.
Projections: $18 to 20 million opening weekend and roughly $50 to 55 million total.

COMPARISONS


88 Minutes (Sony/Tristar)
Starring Al Pacino, Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, Amy Brenneman, Deborah Kara Unger, Benjamin McKenzie, Neal McDonough
Directed by Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes, Red Corner, Up Close & Personal); Written by Gary Scott Thompson (Hollow Man, The Fast and the Furious)
Genre: Thriller
Rated R
Tagline: “He has 88 minutes to solve a murder. His own.”
Plot Summary: College professor Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino) who does forensic work for the FBI receives a death threat claiming he only has 88 minutes to live, so he must use his skills to find out who is responsible for the threat before his time runs out.

You can rarely go wrong with a high concept thriller, especially when you have a big star at the center of it, something that proved quite true when Colin Farrell starred in Phone Booth. Just a few months earlier, the Irish actor had been paired with Al Pacino The Recruit, and now it’s Pacino’s turn to get into the high concept act with a thriller that takes cues from the hit show “24,” the classic film D.O.A., the “Saw” franchise and yes, even Phone Booth. Essentially, it’s trying to sell itself as a real-time thriller where a hero has a certain amount of time to solve his own murder, something that was already done quite effectively in the Jason Statham action-thriller Crank. It’s the brainchild of producer Jon Avnet who makes his return to directing for the first time in many years working from a script by the writer of Hollow Man and The Fast and the Furious.

Pacino’s career is just hanging at the edge of being over and done, which is pretty scary if you consider that this is the guy who starred in classic films like “The Godfather” trilogy, Scarface and Dog Day Afternoon. These days, the best he can do is things like Two for the Money with Matthew McConaughey, which made $22 million, and we won’t even get into what-was-he-thinking bombs like Gigli and Simone. In fact, it’s been over five years since Pacino has made anything truly memorable, that being Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia and it was three years before that where he starred in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday. Hard to believe but the only non-Godfather movie that has grossed over $100 million was the 1990 summer stinker Dick Tracy.

Pacino is joined by generally respected secondary actors like Leelee Sobieski (fresh from her Uwe Boll experience), Deborah Kara Unger, Amy Brenneman and Benjamin McKenzie from “The O.C.” However, the movie’s relying more on Pacino doing the talk show rounds, but the chance of him doing much press for the movie is pretty slim, despite the fact that he’s also starring in director Jon Avnet’s next movie Righteous Kill, reteaming him with Robert De Niro, something that will certainly be of more interest.

The movie has been plagued by problems before sitting on the shelf for years with rumors of a straight-to-DVD release at one point, but trying to save face, Sony-Tristar is selling the movie as much for its real-time high concept as for Pacino’s presence. In general, this kind of movie would normally appeal to single guys in mid-20s to 40s, who might not be as interested in this week’s romantic comedy or what looks like a kid-targeted martial arts film, but the movie will still be competing with those movies for a male audience offering very little for other demographics.

Even worse, the movie probably won’t get many, if any, positive reviews, something that’s almost mandatory for getting older audiences who do read reviews before making their moviegoing decisions, so Sony’s decision to screen this one in advance might prove to hurt more than help. To make matters worse, the movie has been available online for many months due to its earlier release in many foreign countries (in many areas, it only got a DVD release), so avid moviegoers who tend to download movies (and there’s a lot out there) will probably already have seen the movie and know that it’s a dog. Word tends to spread fairly fast so even if this does okay opening day it probably won’t sustain any sort of legs with much stronger summer fare just weeks away.

Why I Should See It: Al Pacino is of our greatest living actors, and this looks like an intriguing high concept action-thriller.
Why Not: “Greatest living actor” doesn’t always translate into “most selective” or “actor with the best taste”
Projections: $8 to 10 million opening weekend but less than $25 million total.

COMPARISONS


Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (Rocky Mountain Pictures)
Starring Ben Stein, Richard Dawkins, Caroline Crocker, Eugenie Scott, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Schermer
Directed by Nathan Frankowski (“The Pathway to 9/11”); Written by Ben Stein, Walt Ruloff and Kevin Miller (After…)
Genre: Documentary
Rated PG
Plot Summary: Actor and former game show host Ben Stein spearheads this documentary’s look at the controversy surrounding Intelligent Design, a scientific theory that has come under fire from the scientific community that accuses it of being religious “creationism” with no place in the scientific community. Apparently, Stein feels differently.

This week’s truly oddball offering in wide release is this new documentary spearheaded by Ben Stein, best known as the economics teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and for his Comedy Central shows, but whom is actually a serious intellectual who once wrote speeches for Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Though he’s considered one of the smartest men in the entertainment business, some of his liberal fans might not feel the same way when they see his new movie, which could possibly be one of the most controversial docs since Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, and that’s saying something!

Without getting too deep, the premise of “Intelligent Design” involves the religious/faith-based theory that we were put on the earth by some higher being much like Adam and Eve and all the animals were, but this goes against the theories of evolution originated by Charles Darwin, something that’s created an enormous argument among the scientific community whether religion, faith and spirituality should be allowed into the scientific study of creation. Stein’s documentary looks at how the scientific community has tried to silence and censor those who speak out about Intelligent Design or suggest that it should be considered, but the big question is who the BLEEP will want to see a movie about this?

In fact, some might have thought the same thing about a film called What the BLEEP Do We Know?, a similarly controversial film about quantum physics that opened in just 13 theaters in 2004 and created so much discussion and debate that it brought in nearly $11 million by the time it left theatres. “Expelled” is somewhat different in that it deals with a religious topic, something that always promises lots of controversy, but it’s also not something that typical doc fans might seek out. Instead, this is more of a film that will only be of interest to those on either side of the argument
In 1999 and 2000, movies like The Omega Code and Left Behind tried to capitalize on the spiritual fanaticism of the religious but didn’t make much of a mark but Mel Gibson changed everything when he made The Passion of The Christ and decided to take a different approach to marketing, selling the movie through church group sales. Other movies that have done well in recent years based on this sort of campaign include The End of the Spear (also distributed by Rocky Mountain Pictures) and One Night with the King, both which got wide releases and entered the Top 10 with minimal marketing campaigns. Last year’s September Dawn grossed less than a million despite a similar campaign, despite a number of well-known name involved. Of course, religion has become a much bigger hot topic in the past few years, and the fight to keep religion out of schools and studies has been one of the biggest fights between the two factions, so this film will probably stir a lot more controversy and get people angry, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they will want to go see it. While this isn’t the typical doc fare that fans of that genre will seek out, it’s interesting to see how it lays out the arguments. With that in mind, scientists who want more ammo against Stein and Creationists might see it, but it’s more likely to be embraced by Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians.

Because of this, the movie is getting a much wider release than other recent docs with a lot of interesting and original marketing ideas geared specifically towards churches and school, but unlike many docs, this probably won’t get many positive reviews since film critics tend to lean towards more liberal views and the doc really throws feces in the face of scientific beliefs that most educated people will believe in. There even was a lengthy article in “Scientific American” trashing the movie and the accuracy of its information, and for months, science blogs have been railing against the film since its release was first announced.

Frankly, movies like this are nearly impossible to predict because any marketing is being done through outlets that I have absolutely no connection or access to and normal tracking has absolutely no way of finding these people. Either way, the fact that this is a documentary will probably hurt its chances of doing very well among normal church groups either way, so it probably won’t be around long enough to make a big difference.

(I’ve decided that any joke about why or why not you should see this movie will be seen as inappropriate by one side of the argument or another so we’re skipping that this week.)

Projections: Roughly $1 to $1.5 million, more or less, but who really knows with this kind of movie, because it’s very much a crap shoot.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Glass: A Portrait of Philip in 12 Chapters (Koch Lorber Films)
Starring Philip Glass, Errol Morris, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese
Directed by Scott Hicks (Shine, Snow Falling on Cedars, Hearts in Atlantis)
Genre: Documentary, Music
Plot Summary: For 18 months, filmmaker Scott Hicks followed New York composer Philip Glass around his day-to-day across three continents to try to capture a complete portrait of the complex artist.
Tagline: “In July 2005, filmmaker Scott Hicks started shooting a documentary about the composer Philip Glass to celebrate his 70th anniversary in 2007.”

Interview with Scott Hicks

I still remember when I first heard about this project, which was when I interviewed filmmaker Scott Hicks for his romantic comedy No Reservations last July, and I was thrilled to learn that someone was finally doing a documentary about one of the most infamous and eclectic composers living today. I’m glad to say that the film is even better than I could have hoped as Hicks really gets up close and personal with Glass, following the composer’s everyday life, his personal history, family dynamics, spirituality as well as his working relationships with filmmakers like Errol Morris (who oddly, I had just interviewed before seeing this), Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen. There are many great moments of Glass at work and play—you even get to watch Glass preparing a pizza for his family—and there are so many enlightening insights that you may wonder how Hicks was able to get Glass and his much younger wife to open up and talk so frankly. This amazing footage, combined with archival photos and concerts, makes this one of the most thorough looks into the mind of a music composer ever put on film. The results are comprehensive and definitive, brilliant and quite fascinating.

After premiering at the Toronto Film Festival and playing festivals all across the globe, it finally gets a release in Glass’ hometown of New York at the IFC Film Center, just in time to coincide with the premiere of Glass’ new opera “Satygraha” at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Honorable Mentions:

This being Doc Week here on ComingSoon.net, we’ll go with…

Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? (The Weinstein Company) – Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock returns with his second feature documentary in which he travels to some of the most dangerous countries in the Middle East to find the trailer of the Al-Quaeda leader who was responsible for the World Trade Center attack on 9/11. It opens in 100 theaters in select cities on Friday.

Interview with Morgan Spurlock

Mini-Review: Morgan Spurlock’s second movie starts off somewhat frivolously as he explains how the impending birth of his first baby got him thinking about his child’s safety in a world full of terrorism, followed by a silly animation of Osaba bin Laden performing M.C. Hammer’s “You Can’t Touch This.” It might make you think that the filmmaker has given up his unique technique of investigative journalism in favor of the Michael Moore approach by trying too hard to be funny or entertaining while dealing with serious topics. The segments that follow as Spurlock prepares for his trip to the Middle East by taking a safety class doesn’t show much growth either. It’s when Spurlock arrives in the Middle East to visit some of the most dangerous countries in the world, places where many Americans have been targeted and killed, when things start to get interesting, as he interviews a variety of individuals on the streets and in their homes, and we begin to truly understand Spurlock’s intentions. He gives clear and concise picture of the situation in various Middle East countries including Israel, but explains them in a way that a non-CNN-watching layman would understand. Unfortunately, the film’s title is somewhat deceiving in that you can never truly take Spurlock’s quest to find Osama seriously and Spurlock’s constant queries about the terrorist leader’s whereabouts gets tiring—it’s almost a shame that Albert Brooks already grabbed the more appropriate title “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.” Regardless, Spurlock is successful in giving viewers a cross-section view of the Arab people in various countries and why they feel so strongly against Americans, even though it’s clear that the terrorists that actually act on those sentiments, are in the minority. Most of the people in those countries do not approve of the tactics and think that they do more harm for their countries than good. The oddest scene involves Spurlock being swarmed by angry Hassidic Jews in Israel who do not appreciate being asked about the situation on the West Bank, but you really start to feel the true danger he’s in when he becomes embedded with troops in Afghanistan. It does lose some steam as it goes along in terms of the humor, since Spurlock realizes that some aspects of his journey just can’t be spun in that way. Sadly, the subject matter might not make this the kind of movie that anyone would rush out to see, but it’s a successful effort at informing while entertaining, even if the impact it has on the viewer will rely heavily on how open-minded they are about experiencing other cultures. Rating: 7.5/10

Also in Limited Release:

Anamorph (IFC First Take) – Henry Miller’s thriller stars Willem Dafoe as a reclusive New York detective investigating a series of gruesome and elaborate murders that points to the return of a serial killer who terrorized the city years earlier. In order to solve the crimes, he must come to terms with his own tormented past. It opens in New York at the IFC Film Center on Friday and in L.A. on May 2.

The First Saturday in May (Truly Indie) – Brad and John Hennegan follow six horses in the months leading up to the 2006 Kentucky Derby, the famous race that introduced the country to the legendary Barbaro. It will open in select cities on Friday.

Interview with the Hennegan Brothers

Kiss the Bride (Regent Releasing) – Tori Spelling appears in this gay romantic comedy from C. Jay Cox about a gay man named Matt who attends his high school love’s wedding, surprised that he’s marrying a woman (Spelling), who takes a liking to her fiance’s former boyfriend, which keeps Matt from being able to rekindle his former love. It opens in L.A.

The Life Before Her Eyes (Magnolia) – Vadim (The House and Sand and Fog) Perelman returns with a drama based on Laura Kasischke’s novel with Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood playing the same small town woman, who was traumatized when witness to a horrifying high school shooting but 15 years later is trying to get her life together with a husband and young daughter of her own. After premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, this will open in select cities on Friday.

Mini-Review: Vadim Perelman’s second film is an intriguing literary tale that uses a high school shooting as the catalyst for other events, and while the deliberately sanguine pace won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s something about the film that grabs your attention, particularly the way Evan Rachel Wood portrays the rebellious teen Diana, desperately trying to escape the small suburban town in which she’s become trapped. What takes some getting used to is the way the film jumps back and forth in time between Wood to Uma Thurman as Diana 15 years after the horrifying events that open the film, now married with a daughter but still haunted by events of the past. The disjointed non-linear use of flashbacks to the time before the shooting is somewhat jarring and hard to follow at first, but both past and present tense are driven by strong performances, including an eye-opener from newcomer Eva Amurri as Diana’s best friend. The friendship between the two very different teen girls creates an interesting dynamic that makes their scenes together more enticing compared to the many scenes of Uma’s Diana seeing things that neither she nor we understand. What really makes the film so memorable is the way that Perelman mixes beautiful images of nature… flowers, trees, bugs…with this horrifying event from Diana’s past, creating a gorgeous oil painting that sets the film’s haunting tone. All three women look great thanks to Perelman and cinematographer Pavel Edelman who surround them with vibrant colors that jump off the screen and James Horner’s beautiful score is the perfect accompaniment to these mesmerizing images. The entire film is somewhat enigmatic with an ending revelation that not everyone will buy, since it does seem to come from left field, but the film is incredibly effective and moving, one that will leave you thinking long after the film is over. Gorgeous, haunting and thought-provoking, and ultimately, a solid sophomore effort from Perelman despite its potentially frustrating pace. Rating: 7.5/10

Interview with Vadim Perelman (Coming Soon!)

Pathology (MGM) – “Heroes” star Milo Ventimiglia stars in this medical thriller written by Crank creators Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor in which he plays a top med student who is accepted into a prestigious pathology program and gets involved with a group who are trying to create the perfect undetectable murder, forcing him to keep from being their next victim. It opens in roughly 45 theatres in select cities on Friday.

Zombie Strippers (Triumph Releasing) – Jay Lee’s schlock horror film stars former porn Jenna Jameson as one of a group of strippers at a club that becomes infected by a zombie virus, which actually makes them more popular as strippers, even as they start killing and eating the club’s patrons. Also starring Robert “Freddie” Englund, Lee’s debut will open in select cities this weekend.


Next week, the month of April closes (hurrah!) with three new movies in wide release including the battle of the comedy duos: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s Baby Mama (Universal) takes on Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo (New Line) with the Hugh Jackman-Ewan McGregor thriller Deception (20th Century Fox) waiting in the wings to take on anyone who isn’t in the mood to laugh.

Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas