Greetings and welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly guide to the weekend’s new movies. Tune in every Tuesday (or in this case Wednesday) for the latest look at the upcoming weekend, and then check back on Thursday night for final projections based on actual theatre counts. It’s the end of April which is usually a dumping ground for the last of the studio’s spring dogs, though every once in a while you get a surprise hit, which may be why it’s interesting to see two half-way decent comedies being released, both with strong comedy duos. Universal releases their third comedy of the month with Tina Fey and long-time Amy Poehler facing off in Baby Mama, a comedic look at surrogate motherhood that should cater to a similar female audience as Fey’s debut Mean Girls, which opened on the same weekend four years ago. Fey is even more popular now than she was back then thanks to the success of her show “30 Rock” but the subject matter will certainly sway the audiences older and more female. Chances are that guys from 15 to 25 will be more interested in Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (New Line), the sequel to the R-rated stoner comedy that bombed in theaters but found a cult audience on DVD and cable. This sequel is hoping to capitalize on that fanbase as well as to offer something for those not interested in pregnancy humor, but working against it is that it’s one of the final releases by a studio on its last legs against a comedy with stronger marketing and better-known stars. The real question is how badly will either or both of these be hurt by the second weekend of Universal’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall which should be able to generate some strong word-of-mouth from its opening weekend. (UPDATE: It looks like it’s going to be an even tougher race than we first predicted with Baby Mama getting fewer theaters than projected and H&K getting more. There’s a good chance that the latter will win Friday but by its nature, it will be more front-loaded than the comedy geared towards women and the date crowd, which should pick up on Saturday to overtake and win the weekend.) Countering the strong comedies, the Fox thriller Deception, starring Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman, is clearly a movie being dumped after numerous title changes, and it probably will make even less of a mark than Al Pacino’s 88 Minutes did last week despite opening in a similar number of theaters. This week’s Chosen One is the French thriller from Claude LeLouch’s Roman de Gare (Samuel Goldwyn), which you can read about here. This Week’s Predictions – 1. Baby Mama (Universal) – $15.5 million N/A (+.1 million) 2. Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo (New Line) $14.7 million N/A (+1.9 million) 3. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Universal) – $11.2 million -37% (+.2 million) 4. The Forbidden Kingdom (Lionsgate/The Weinstein Co.) – $10.8 million -50% +.1 million) 5. Deception (20th Century Fox) $4.6 million N/A (same) 6. Prom Night (Sony/Screen Gems) – $4.2 million -53% (+.2 million) 7. Nim’s Island (Fox Walden) – $3.6 million 36% (same) 8. 88 Minutes (Sony/Tristar) – $3.3 million 52% (same) 9. 21 (Sony) – $3.2 million 42% (+.1 million) 10. Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who (20th Century Fox) – $2.1 million -40% (same) This year will definitely seem less of a dump weekend than last year where three new movies opened in wide release and yet, DreamWorks’ Disturbia sailed over the top with its third weekend at #1 and another $9 million. Opening in second place, David Goyer’s The Invisible (Hollywood Pictures) just narrowly defeated the long-delayed sci-fi flick Next (Paramount) starring Nicolas Cage and Julianne Moore, but both ended up with less than $8 million their opening weekends. Steve Austin and Vinnie Jones faced-off in the Lionsgate action-thriller The Condemned, which grossed just $3.8 million in 2,310 theaters opening in ninth place. The Top 10 grossed $56.9 million and like last weekend, this week’s offering should allow the Top 10 to come out ahead this year compared to last.
Baby Mama (Universal) Starring Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, Dax Shepard, Romany Malco, Maura Tierney, Holland Taylor, Sigourney Weaver, Steve Martin Written and directed by Michael McCullers (writer of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Austin Powers in Goldmember and Undercover Brother) Genre: Comedy Rated PG-13 Tagline: “Would you put your eggs… in this basket?” Plot Summary: Kate Holbrook (Tina Fey) is a 37-year-old executive at the top of her game, but being in her late ’30s, she realizes that she only has a few more years to have a baby. When she learns that she’s incapable, she joins a surrogate program and is paired with Angie Ostrowiski (Amy Poehler), a loud-mouthed woman who moves in with Kate after getting in a fight with her abusive boyfriend (Dax Shepard). Mini-Review: While this new comedy might not exactly be a reliable “How To” guide on having a baby, either your own or someone else’s, it’s clear that the team of Fey and Poehler is one that should be making a lot more movies together, since there’s something magical about their on-screen chemistry that we haven’t seen since the days of Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance. “Austin Powers” alum Mike McCullers tries to embellish this fairly simple premise with a lot of wacky characters and situations, possibly overcomplicating things by doing so, and not all of the comedy bits work, but clearly, Poehler drives the laughs with her hilarious loud-mouthed character who’ll say and do anything to get laughs. Usually, it works, leaving Fey to settle for playing the straight man. Kinnear graciously accepts his role as wallpaper in playing Kate’s romantic interest, offering some really sweet moments, and Shepard tries to keep up in vain while rarely veering far from past roles. The “secret actor” playing Kate’s New Age boss quickly gets tiring, as those scenes do the least towards the overall story, and seem to be done as a gimmick merely to say “Hey, we got So-and-So to be in our movie! Isn’t that great?” Honestly, the only other actor that can even remotely keep up with Poehler is Romany Malco (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) as Kate’s helpful doorman, and their scenes together are the ones where it seems that McCullers allows a bit more improvisational freedom. Fortunately, “Baby Mama” doesn’t suffer from the problem faced by so many comedies with the funniest scenes and gags already being in the trailer and commercials and Fey and Poehler are able to do a lot with even the smallest joke, whether it’s singing badly to a “American Idol” video game or taking birthing classes together. While much of the humor is clearly geared towards the estrogen set, there’s far worse ways to spend your money if you’re looking for laughs, since that’s something that this killer comedy duo once again delivers in spades. Rating: 7/10 Tina Fey and Amy Poehler Talk About the Movie For 15 years, “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels has made movies with Paramount Pictures starring the cast members of his show either playing popular sketch characters like Mike Myers and Dana Carvey’s Wayne’s World and Molly Shannon’s Superstar, or in the last instance, Hot Rod, giving some of the new talent a chance for some screen time. Baby Mama is the first movie Michaels has done with Universal, through the NBC-Universal partnership, but it’s very much an “SNL”-derived movie even if it’s not based on any characters from the show. Instead, it’s a vehicle for two of television’s most popular female comics, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who for years were the co-anchors on SNL’s “Weekend Update” and who’ve really exploded in the last year, Fey on her Emmy-winning NBC sitcom “30 Rock” which she created and stars on, and Poehler, both on “Saturday Night Live” and with appearances in comedies like Will Ferrell’s Blades of Glory along side real-life husband Will Arnett–Poehler also played his wife on the sitcom “Arrested Development.” (Poehler also appeared in Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales but the least said about that the better.) While the pairing of the two long-time friends and collaborators will certainly appeal to long-time “SNL” fans, it’ll probably be Fey who brings in audiences, particularly the female fans of her hit show and her film debut Mean Girls, which she also wrote. Also featuring Poehler, that opened on the same weekend four years ago, and granted, starring Lindsay Lohan at the height of her popularity didn’t hurt that movie. Although Fey and Poehler probably have a good pull among 20 to 30 somethings, this won’t get as much of the younger teen audience. The comedy premise will mostly likely be relateable more to women than men, which may be why actress Sigourney Weaver is being featured in the trailer and commercials, but there’s no sign of the ladies’ love interests, as played by Greg Kinnear and Dax Shepard. There’s also the “mystery star” who takes a key role in the movie without a credit or appearing in the commercials, though you have to think that his presence could help the movie bring in older audiences. The latest in what seems like a trend of pregnancy comedies is the brainchild of Michael McCullers, former “SNL” writer who also co-wrote Mike Myers’ “Austin Powers” sequels, and besides its strong cast and stars, it could actually benefit from its familiar premise that could appeal to many women over 20 and make it a strong date movie. The movie’s PG-13 rating means that it could bring in some teen girls looking for the funny won’t be able to get into either of the other two comedies, but both of those will offer competition for the over-20 crowd, which might keep Baby Mama from opening that big. The other issue is that it’s opening in late April where most moviegoers are looking ahead to the busy summer months with lots of must-see movies, though that didn’t necessarily hurt Mean Girls. Reviews will likely be mixed but the movie is generally crowd-pleasing and since it is geared towards women, who don’t necessarily rush out to see movies, it could maintain business over the next month with good word-of-mouth, even if it will be hard to hold onto theaters with so many big movies coming out, including a number geared towards women like next week’s Made of Honor. Why I Should See It: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s “Weekend Update” were the best part of “Saturday Night Live” over the last few years and they’re just as funny when paired in this situation. Why Not: While very funny, the humor and romance will probably be more for women than guys. Projections: $14 to 16 million opening weekend and between $40 and 45 million total. COMPARISONS
Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (New Line) Starring John Cho, Kal Penn, Rob Corddry, Roger Bart, Neil Patrick Harris Written and directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle) Genre: Comedy Rated R Tagline: “This time, they’re running from the joint.” Plot Summary: Harold Lee and Kumar Patel (John Cho, Kal Penn) have only just returned from their White Castle adventure when they follow Harold’s dream girl Maria to Amsterdam but when they run into trouble with the airport TSA, they’re thrown into Guantanamo Bay as terrorists, putting them on the run while being chased by an overzealous federal agent (Rob Corddry). Review Offering some comedy competition for the guys is this sequel to the stoner comedy Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, one of three R-rated comedy bombs back in 2004 that certainly didn’t predict a future where Wedding Crashers and Judd Apatow’s films would show that R-rated comedy could indeed bring in an audience. Despite a huge marketing push, the original movie opened in 7th place with $5.5 million, a dismal per-theater average of $2,567 in 2,100 theaters, and yet, it ended up with $18.2 million which was nearly twice the film’s $9 million production budget. Filmmaking partners Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg didn’t give up on the chances of bringing the characters played by John Cho and Kal Penn back for more, especially since the last movie ended with the duo going to Amsterdam, but they found some great source material in the political climate of the country in the time since then. Both John Cho and Kal Penn had done a few things before they were teamed for the first comedy from Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, Cho having appeared in all three of the “American Pie” movies having been the character that coined the phrase “M.I.L.F” and starring in the Asian breakout indie hit Better Luck Tomorrow while Penn played comic Indian sterotypes in National Lampoon’s Van Wilder and Malibu’s Most Wanted. Even though it wasn’t a box office hit, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle helped get both guys a lot more attention and both have been appearing in bigger movies since then, Penn appearing in the spoof comedy Epic Movie last year and in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns as Lex Luthor’s henchman, and also getting a lot of critical attention for his starring role in Mira Nair’s drama The Namesake. Cho has continued to do TV and appear in indies like Greg Araki’s Smiley Face, but he’s also playing the young Sulu in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek next year, something that has gotten the Asian actor a lot of attention in recent months. Penn recently starred in the unwarranted sequel to the Ryan Reynolds comedy Van Wilder reviving his pre-Kumar character for Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj, and though that bombed, it doesn’t necessarily bode poorly for this sequel because this looks funnier and is being marketed much better. Of course, Neil Patrick Harris is back playing himself, the former “Doogie Howser” having revived his career with the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” since his hilarious appearance in the first “Harold & Kumar” movie, and the sequel is being sold very much based on Harris’ partying persona, including a viral site called What would NPH Do?. Christopher Meloni from “Law & Order: SVU” also makes an appearance. The key new additions who bring a lot of laughs to the movie are former “Daily Show” correspondent Rob Corddry and Broadway star Roger Bart as the federal agents after the duo. While White Castle had to rely on unknown characters that made it harder to sell, Guantanamo Bay has the benefits of being a sequel greatly tuned into the political climate of the country, both the infamous terrorists’ prison, but also with a funny bit involving a President Bush impersonator that should go over very well in the Blue States. In essence, the film is more of a road comedy as the duo escape while being chased by the government, and while it has its own spin, it’s not the first movie to take this approach with some of the precedents being the R-rated Road Trip and Kevin Smith’s 2001 road comedy Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Both of these were geared directly to the young male audience, and though it was supposed to end Smith’s “Jersey trilogy,” he returned a few years back with his own sequel to his groundbreaking indie debut Clerks II. Neither of Smith’s film opened with more than $11 million and Jay and Silent Bob leveled off at $30 million, and both of them had the benefits of a summer release, as did Road Trip and the first “H&K” movie. New Line’s last R-rated comedy was Semi-Pro with Will Ferrell, which grossed just $33 million after a disappointing $15 million opening, something that probably helped Time Warner make the decision to dissolve the company as it currently exists and roll it into the far more successful Warner Bros. studio, and the “H&K” sequel is going to suffer from being released by a studio on its last legs, as they haven’t been able to promote it as much as the first movie. Although it already has a built-in fanbase thanks to the original movie’s airing on cable and DVD, its R-rating means that it has certain standards of when the very funny commercials can be shown, which could also be a detriment. While one can point to the success of Judd Apatow’s comedies in recent years, there’s definitely a ceiling to how much a movie like this can make in the South and Midwest, since this type of ethno-political humor wouldn’t go over as well, especially the film’s many jokes about people in the South. The inbred couple and the KKK bit might not be viewed favorably in those areas. Still, the fanbase from the first movie should be there, even if this will probably get hit worse by next week’s Iron Man than Baby Mama will, making this very much a one-weekend wonder that has to hit the ground running in its opening weekend. Why I Should See It: The first movie is a highly underrated cult comedy that’s really funny, Why Not: Surely, the world has progressed beyond the stoner and bathroom humor of “Harold & Kumar” right? Or at least until Pineapple Express comes out late this summer. Projections: $13 to 15 million opening and less than $35 million total. COMPARISONS
Deception (20th Century Fox) Starring Hugh Jackman, Ewan McGregor, Michelle Williams, Maggie Q, Natasha Henstridge, Rachael Taylor Directed by Marcel Langenegger (debut, also has Brothers in Arms upcoming); Written by Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard, Godsend, The Night Caller) Genre: Action, Thriller Rated R Plot Summary: Jonathan McQuarry (McGregor) is an accountant who is unwittingly pulled into the world of a casual sex club called “The List” by his lawyer friend Wyatt Bose (Jackman) only to find that he’s been tricked into taking the rap for the disappearance of a woman and a multi-million dollar heist. Mini-Review: The influence of Kubrick’s far-superior “Eyes Wide Shut” on the sexually-charged premise behind this so-called thriller is evident, but even an excuse to show off sexy nude women in the film’s sole erotic montage quickly passes as this fairly misguided venture grinds to a halt after getting it out of the way. Sure, there are some original ideas along the way, though almost all of the “shock twists” are telegraphed so blatantly that there’s never any true suspense or real surprises. At its core, the film fails because Ewan McGregor is so grossly miscast as the nerdy accountant who gets involved with the sex ring only to be duped. (What? You thought the one-word title was just there for show?) It’s almost immediately evident that Jackman’s lawyer character is slimey from the first time we meet him, and the only thing remotely shocking is how much longer it takes McGregor’s character to figure it out as he naively plays along and falls in love with a nameless one-night stand played by Michelle Williams. By that point, Jackman has already vanished for a good portion of the movie, followed quickly by Williams’s character, both of them returning for an awkward sexual encounter later in the movie, a scene so despicably grotesque there’s little way for the movie to recover. Langenegger seems like a capable-enough director though his background in commercials is blatantly thrown in our face with lots of stylish visuals and an overbearing FX-laden score that tries to create something out of nothing. The dialogue is mostly lame, and the acting mostly follows suit with none of the trio doing their best work, and even the usually-excellent Maggie Q is wasted in a single barely-clad scene before leaving McGregor to his own devices. Besides the predictability of every single beat of this films, there’s also the usual gaffs and oversights that come along with trying to make such a high concept premise more complicated than it need be without ever knowing where you’re going or how to resolve things in a satisfying way. Essentially, this boring, obvious and overly stylish cat-and-mouse thriller offers fewer thrills than a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon and should quickly join the rest of its one-named predecessors in the “Dumpster.” Rating: 4/10 This new thriller seems to have come from nowhere with very little fanfare, but in fact, it didn’t start out life as an April dumper, since it was a script bought by 20th Century Fox from the guy who wrote last year’s action sequel Live Free or Die Hard and the thriller Godsend. After going through a number of different titles, the movie is finally being released on April 25 in a way that almost guarantees it will bomb, kind of surprising since it has an impressive cast that includes two stars of epic summer blockbusters, as well as some hot actresses from various avenues of the film business. Deception is taking the erotic thriller route as seen in successful movies like Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction and the Cruise and Kidman vehicle Eyes Wide Shut from Stanley Kubrick, taking a simple premise of someone answering a phone call and being in the wrong place and wrong time to get into even deeper trouble. Since that premise includes an underground sex club, one can expect that there’ll be lots of sex and nudity to account for the film’s R-rating. It’s also a vehicle to bring together Ewan McGregor–no stranger to nudity–and Hugh Jackman, the Scottish and Australian actors who have been making many waves over the years without really stirring the water. The thing is that both guys have starred in huge franchises, McGregor in the “Star Wars” prequels and Jackman in the “X-Men” trilogy and the upcoming Wolverine and yet, they’ve had trouble bringing people into theaters when starring in other movies. McGregor starred in Michael Bay’s sci-fi actioneer The Island, which was a huge bomb compared to the director’s other films, while both his films with Renee Zellweger (Down with Love and Miss Potter) bombed, as did his recent appearance in Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream. (Jackman’s prior teaming with Allen for Scoop was far more successful.) Really, the closest McGregor has come to some sort of thriller is Marc Forster’s Stay with Ryan Gosling and Naomi Watts. Jackman hasn’t done as much small fare, having spent many years doing the “X-Men” movies and Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing in between, though he had a particularly busy 2006 as he provided his voice for a number of animated films and starred in Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain and Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, the latter doing far better than the former. Even though they’re both really strong actors, it certainly seems like their careers are driven by who they’re working with and the premises of the movies. The film’s main leading lady is Michelle Williams, who has starred in many indie films, the most memorable one being Brokeback Mountain opposite the late Heath Ledger, who she ended up marrying and having a baby with, made only the more tragic by the actor’s sudden recent death after they broke-up. Otherwise, Williams has not been in many big films as she stuck to indie fare like The Station Agent. The main reason I’d be lining up to see this opening day is for Asian sex goddess Maggie Q, who has had key roles in Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible III and last year’s Live Free or Die Hard, as well as in the ping pong comedy Balls of Fury. She’s pretty awesome, but if Maggie Q isn’t your thing–and if that’s the case, I feel sorry for you–then the film also stars hottie Rachel Taylor who starred in last year’s hit blockbuster Transformers and the recent Fox horror remake Shutter, and lastly, there’s sexy Natasha Henstridge, best known for her clothes-doffing role as an alien in the sci-fi thriller Species. (And sci-fi geeks might be able to connect Henstridge to Williams if they’re really smart or go to IMDb.) The film which marks the directorial debut of commercial director Marcel Langenegger was in development and production as “The Tourist” which seemed like a perfectly good title, though not as descriptive, and then that was then changed to “The List” before winding up with a rather generic noun. Who knows what 20th Century Fox is thinking by releasing it with almost no promotion, most of it coming at the very last minute, and one has to think the worst considering the weak marketing campaign. Wisely (or maybe not), Fox will be screening this for critics so they’ll be able to get the word out, and bad reviews probably won’t hurt, as we saw last week with Al Pacino’s high-concept thriller 88 Minutes. Then again, opening a week after that movie surely couldn’t help because some people might have felt burnt by how poorly that movie delivered on the commercials. Even if the one-word title often works with this kind of thing–see last year’s “Fracture” or “Disturbia” or “Malice” or countless others–it’s not the type of movie that people who know about will feel needs to be seen in theaters, so expect it to find an audience on DVD much like Brian de Palma’s sexy thriller Femme Fatale. Why I Should See It: Surely, this is worth seeing for the awesomeness that is Maggie Q, right? Why Not: The lack of a mention of Maggie Q in the advertising (not to mention that she only has one scene) should be grounds for a nationwide boycott! Projections: $4 to 6 million opening weekend and around $10 million total. COMPARISONS
THE CHOSEN ONE: Roman de Gare (Samuel Goldwyn) Starring Audrey Dana, Dominique Pinon, Fanny Ardant Written and directed by Claude Lelouch (A Man and a Woman, Rendezvous, Another Man, Another Chance) Genre: Drama, Thriller Rated R Plot Summary: A young woman (Audrey Dana) has been left stranded on the highway by her fiancé so she asks a mysterious stranger (Dominique Pinon) if he could not only give her a ride to the country but also pretend to be her runaway fiancé, not realizing that the man isn’t who he claim with possible ties to a bestselling mystery novelist (Fanny Ardant) and an escaped pedophile rapist. Tagline: “Everybody has a secret. Every mystery has a twist.” Interview with Claude Lelouch I’m somewhat embarrassed that I wasn’t familiar with Claude Lelouch before seeing his latest movie, possibly due to my bizarre love-hate relationship with French cinema, but more likely because this once prolific filmmaker hasn’t made a movie in seven years, which is about how long I’ve been writing this column. Who really can blame the 70-year-old filmmaker for taking some time off, having already won an Oscar for A Man and a Woman over forty years ago? This one doesn’t follow any of the cinematic formulas we’ve seen from his younger countrymen, as Lelouch successfully combines comedy, drama and murder mystery to create something singularly unique and memorable. It doesn’t hurt that Lelouch borrowed character actor Dominique Pinon from Jean-Pierre Jeunet to play the stranger, and Pinon proves his comfort with all aspects of this multi-layered character whether it’s light humor or romance or when it turns into a crime drama in the last act. Lelouch paired this veteran with wonderful newcomer Audrey Dana, who is clearly one of the greatest French ingénue finds since Audrey Tautou and Ludivine Sagnier. One shouldn’t be put off by the first five or ten minutes of the film which seems like a series of non-sequiturs involving a mystery writer (Ardant)it takes some time before the movie returns to these scenes to explain their relevance–but it quickly settles into a comfortable pace once Pinon and Dana are brought together, and it’s smooth sailing from there, even as the story mysteriously cuts from them to a woman whose husband and brother have gone missing. (We assume that Pinon is one of them.) Granted, there’s a great deal of talking heads in the film and tone is somewhat erratic as it juggles the various storylines, but the dialogue is so brilliantly written and the structure is so well conceptualized, that just when you think you’ve figured things out and know where things are going, Lelouch pulls out one surprise after another. The results fall somewhere between Hitchcock and Haneke, an eclectic but captivating film that creates an intricate web of mystery and intrigue within a simple relationship drama, and one can’t help but be impressed and enamored by the way Lelouche masterfully switches tone without missing a beat. He’s truly created a masterpiece that can only get better the more times it’s watched. It opens in New York at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and the Angelika Film Center on Friday. Honorable Mentions: Just a reminder that if you’re in New York City this weekend, there are lots of movie opportunities at the 7th Annual Tribeca Film Festival which runs from April 24 to May 4, and you can read more about it here. Also, if you missed The Chosen One last month, I want to give a quick mention that the doc Wetlands Preserved is available on DVD with lots bonus features including a couple of live performances and a bunch of interviews and anecdotes that weren’t included in the theatrical release of the movie, and if you’re a fan of music and some of the bands, you can pick up a copy at Amazon starting April 22. Also in Limited Release: Stuff and Dough (Mitropolous Films) – Romanian filmmaker Cristi (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu) Piui’s debut film finally gets a release in the United States with a two-week exclusive at the Film Forum in New York City, as it tells the story of a trio of young people who get into trouble when they agree to transport illegal drugs to Bucharest. A Plumm Summer (Freestyle Releasing) – William Baldwin and Henry Winkler star in this family coming-of-age road adventure about a cynical 13-year-old dealing with family issues and trying to rekindle his belief in all fantasy and magic by finding the kidnappers who stole his beloved Froggy Doo, a wisecracking marionette that’s loved by kids everywhere. (Baldwin plays the boy’s boxer father and Winkler is the operator of the missing puppet.) It’s opening in roughly 56 theaters in California, Alabama, Montana and Minnesota with a list of places you can see here. Deal (MGM) – Gil Cates Jr.’s poker drama stars Burt Reynolds as ex-gambler Tommy Vinson who decides to return to the game of poker having quit 30 years prior when he decides to mentor a young hothead played by Brett Harrison, but instead ends up facing him in a high-stakes tournament. Also starring Jennifer Tilly and Shannon Elizabeth, the film will open in 50 theaters in select cities. Rogue (Third Rail Releasing/Weinstein Co.) – Greg (Wolf Creek) McClean’s crocodile movie finally gets a release in the United States after literally years of delays, as it follows a local Australian tour guide (Radha Mitchell) and an American writer (Michael Vartan) as they explore the myths of a giant crocodile living and killing in the Australian Outback. It will open in ten select cities on Friday, but probably will do most of its business on DVD. Standard Operating Procedure (Sony Classics) – After winning the Oscar for his last movie The Fog of War, documentary filmmaker Errol Morris returns with his investigative look at the prisoner tortures of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 with interviews with those who took the infamous pictures in order to get to the bottom of what really happened and who was responsible. Interview with Errol Morris Mini-Review: It’s hard to recommend Errol Morris’ first movie since “The Fog of War” without a few reservations, because seriously, could he possibly have picked a more difficult and grueling topic to make a movie about? It’s not that it isn’t a solid piece of investigative filmmaking or a brilliantly-made film and it’s certainly not because it’s being released so soon after Alex Gibney’s superior “Taxi to the Darkside” which takes a far more expansive view of the mistreatment of prisoners while following the chain of command up to the top. Morris’ film focuses exclusively on the pictures taken at Abu Ghraib, combining candid interviews with those who were there with shockingly graphic recreations to try to determine exactly what happened. It’s pretty horrifying to watch and not exactly a fun way to spend two hours, especially considering how much of the movie is monotonous talking heads even that are hard to liven up with recreations and a clever use of graphics. Certainly one can appreciate the artistry with which Morris assembles the facts and gives them more impact via Danny Elfman’s moving score, but he remains far too focused on the specific incidents at Abu Ghraib and doesn’t spend enough time trying to get to the bottom of why they happened or why torture is considered “standard operating procedure.” (Possibly because military higher-ups would never talk to him.) It’s also somewhat infuriating how few of the soldiers involved show any remorse about what happened, and it’s hard to believe their claims that they didn’t know what they were doing or were just following orders. In essence, Morris leaves far too much to the viewer to determine and decide, and allowing that sort of idle speculation makes it hard to determine whether this is effective as a documentary, especially because the film runs so long that it’s easy for the viewer to become desensitized to the atrocities. As much as this is a gorgeous and harrowing film made by a master craftsman at the top of his game, it probably won’t hold much interest to anyone who hasn’t seen the infamous photos and wanted to know more about what really happened. Light entertainment, this is not. Rating: 7/10 Tashan (Yash Raj Films) Vijay Krishna Acharya, screenwriter of the popular Indian blockbusters Dhoom and Dhoom 2 makes his directorial debut with this action thriller starring Saif Ali Khan, Akshay Kumar and Karrena Kapoor, as a mismatched trio journeying across india and relying on each other to stay alive after being targetted by a murderous gangster, despite not trusting each other. It opens in normal Bollywood venues in select cities. Then She Found Me (THINKFilm) – Actress Helen Hunt makes her directorial debut with this adaptation of Elinor Lipman’s novel in which she plays April Epner, a 39-year-old woman who’s had little luck having a baby until she splits with her husband (Matthew Broderick) and meets someone new (Colin Firth) only to learn she’s pregnant. At the same time, she’s finally been reunited with her own birth mother (Bette Midler) and is trying to juggle these three people in her life while trying to find personal fulfillment. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday and then expands elsewhere on May 2 and 9. Mini-Review: Helen Hunt proves herself to be a highly capable filmmaker with this charming and mostly enjoyable dramedy that sometimes achieves its desired blend of humor and pathos, but not always. For whatever reason, Hunt didn’t cast herself in a role that allows her to show much range as an actress with the exception of two key moments, but she wisely filled the two main supporting roles with Bette Midler and Colin Firth, both whom elevate the material far beyond anywhere it could have been without them. The scenes between Hunt and Midler are particularly wonderful for their rapid-fire patter that will remind some of Hunt’s sitcom days, though their age difference doesn’t seem wide enough to work. Firth is as charming as usual, even if he’s partially responsible for the film’s dark turn in the last act. The one weak link to the cast is the poorly miscast Matthew Broderick as April’s ex-husband, because he doesn’t bring enough to the role to make one believe she’d have any interest in getting back together with him. There are a lot of cute smile-inducing moments like when April shows up for her sonogram with both her ex-husband and boyfriend, but the film often falters due to its awkward pacing and erratic tone which is hard to adjust to as Hunt’s film tries to figure out whether to be funny or moving. There’s little denying that this is an unrepentant chick flick, but one has to commend Hunt for having the vision and ability to pull something like this off without relying on some of the most overused clichés of the genre to create a film that shows that she may have more potential as a filmmaker than some of her peers. Rating: 7/10 Up the Yangtze (Zeitgeist Films) Documentary filmmaker Yung Chang looks at the Three Gorges Dam project on China’s Yangtze River and how the flooding of the valley has affected a number of lives through the eyes of two different young people working on a tour boat that travels on the river showing Western tourists the last remains of old China. It opens on Friday at New York’s IFC Center. Mini-Review: Zhang Ke Jia’s drama “Still Life” might not have made much sense to Westerners who didn’t understand the situation surrounding China’s Three Gorges Dam and how it’s forced so many residents to relocate to newly-built cities. In that sense, Yung Chang’s documentary is an intriguing look at the evolution and Westernization of that area of mainland China as it graciously accepts one aspect of capitalism while trying to uphold communist ideals. The film follows two young individuals as they leave their families behind to work on a prestigious Victoria Cruises boat that travels down the Yangtze, an uneducated teen girl named Yu Shui whose impoverished family lives in a hut by the side of the river and Chen Bo Yu, a young man from a more well-to-do family. Both of them are given the Westernized names of “Cindy” and “Jerry” as they’re trained to perform like good little natives for their interactions with the Western world. It’s an intriguing premise, but it only accounts for film that’s maybe 60 70% interesting as Yung Chang keeps the camera rolling even when there’s nothing really worth putting on film. Some of the dialogue scenes seem forced or staged as if Chang told his subjects “talk about this” and then rolled the cameras as if he captured impromptu conversations. At a certain point, the film becomes all about Cindy and her family’s attempts to survive and Jerry is forgotten with no further follow-up to his fate. There’s some enlightening moments for sure, but otherwise, it’s a slow and mostly uneventful attempt to be a “fly on the wall” without passing judgment, which it only mildly succeeds at doing. Clearly, the most effective scene is Chang’s brilliant time-lapsed filming of the Yangtze River rising and engulfing the embankment where Cindy’s family used to live, and the film should have ended there rather continuing on to a tedious extended visual of the boat passing through the dam, which serves little purpose. Rating: 6.5/10 Without the King (First Run Features) – Michael (Lockdown USA) Skolnick’s documentary takes a look at the Royal Family of Swaziland, the last country in Africa to have a ruling King with fourteen wives and 22 children in schools abroad, including his eldest daughter who starts seeing the dire path of her country under her father’s old-fashioned traditions. It opens at the Quad Cinemas in New York.
Next week, the month of May and the start of summer kicks off with (takes enormous breath) IRON MAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh, and also Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan stars in the romantic comedy Made of Honor. Ho hum.