The Weekend Warrior: May 2 – 4

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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 (or Wednesday as is the case this week again) for the latest look at the upcoming weekend, and then check back on Thursday night for final projections based on actual theatre counts.

This is it. The start of May, the start of summer and the release of one of the most anticipated non-sequel movies of the year (after Cloverfield of course) as Marvel Studios rolls out their first production, Iron Man! With Jon Favreau (Elf) at the helm and Robert Downey Jr. under the helmet, this looks to be a quality superhero movie that can appeal to regular movie enthusiasts as much as comic book geeks, although it will certainly be the biggest movie in the careers of Downey and co-stars Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges, who plays the film’s villain. Instead of being about starpower or box office clout, the movie will sell based on the concept and the cool factor and the quality of the actors will help deliver a well-reviewed movie that will probably have a lot of repeat business. This weekend is all about the fans, though, and while most of them might try to catch it on Thursday night when screenings start at 8pm, one would expect that the movie will be very busy Friday and Saturday, as this has become a true event movie. $60 million is guaranteed and $70 million is almost a given, but we’re going a bit higher thinking that the lack of strong movies in the last few months is going to help this one explode.
(UPDATE 5.1.08: Well, with a revised theater count at 4,105 theaters, Iron Man becomes one of the top 10 widest releases ever, and with Fandango reporting that 81% of their ticket sales is for the movie, one can probably expect a much bigger opening. Still, a lot of the true fans will go out on Thursday so we could see numbers in the $6 to 8 million range, which might take away slightly from the weekend, but it looks like $80 million is a given and probably closer to $85 million.)

Unfortunately, that leaves very little business for Sony’s romantic comedy Made of Honor (Sony) starring Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan, which will try to bring in some of the female audience more interested in the upcoming wedding season than some guy flying around in a tin can. (sorry, Tony!) There certainly will be an audience of older women who will be more interested in this, mostly Dempsey’s fans from “Grey’s Anatomy,” but otherwise, this looks like a bit of unneeded counter-programming that will have trouble getting screens despite a very wide release.

With a strongly anticipated movie exploding into theaters and some additional counterprogramming, one can expect to see a lot of the weaker returning movies losing theaters and screens faster than usual and larger drops this weekend than normal, though Made of Honor might find itself facing tougher competition for women with both Baby Mama and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which are playing well among the same audience.

This week’s Chosen One is Son of Rambow (Paramount Vantage), a hilarious British coming-of-age comedy from Garth Jennings (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), which you can read about below.

Also, check out The Weekend Warrior’s Summer Box Office Preview, our predictions for the upcoming summer months including what we think will be the Top 10 this summer. (This is what helped make this week’s column later than usual, in case you were wondering.)

This Week’s Predictions

1. Iron Man (Marvel Studios/Paramount) – $83.5 million N/A (Up $2.9 million)

2. Made of Honor (Sony) – $11.2 million N/A (down .1 million)

3. Baby Mama (Universal) – $9.9 million -43% (down .2 million)

4. Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo (New Line) – $7.0 million -53% (same)

5. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Universal) – $6.6 million -40% (same)

6. The Forbidden Kingdom (Lionsgate/The Weinstein Co.) – $5.5 million -51% (same)

7. Nim’s Island (Fox Walden) – $2.5 million –43% (down .1 million)

8. Prom Night (Sony/Screen Gems) – $2.1 million -55%

(Note: the next two on the list were accidentally still listed as last week’s predictions… they’re now correct.)

9. 21 (Sony) – $2.0 million –50%

10. 88 Minutes (Sony/Tristar) – $1.6 million –55%

Last year, summer kicked off with one of the most anticipated sequels of the year, Spider-Man 3 reuniting director Sam Raimi with the cast of the first two blockbuster movies and introducing new characters Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and the long-awaited intro of Venom (Topher Grace). Even though the movie wasn’t received particularly well by the fans, it still grossed over $150 million setting a new three-day record, and reclaiming that title from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Last year’s counter-programming was the long-delayed Curtis Hanson drama Lucky You, starring Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore, which unsurprisingly bombed while trying to take on Spider-Man 3. (Sony’s own romantic comedy counterprogramming may want to take note.) The top 10 grossed nearly $180 million but since Spidey accounted for $150 million of that, one can expect this summer’s kick-off weekend will be down considerably.


Iron Man (Marvel Studios/Paramount)
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub, Leslie Bibb, Bill Smitrovich, Nazanin Boniadi, Micah Hauptman
Directed by Jon Favreau (Elf, Made, Zathura); Written by Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comic Book
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “I AM IRON MAN!” (No, not really, but I love that bit from the Black Sabbath song.)
Plot Summary: Billionaire weapons inventor, industrialist and playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is kidnapped on a field testing trip to Afghanistan and is forced to build a heavily-armed armor suit in order to escape his captors. Once he returns home, he realizes that he’d rather use his inventions to help and save people than to kill people, putting him at odds with his business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges).

Mini-Review: It’s so easy to build expectations based on everything we see and know about movies ahead of time, partially thanks to sites like this one, and it’s so rare that the actual moviegoing experience can ever possibly deliver on such expectations. The first film from Marvel Studios always looked good on paper, and the trailers and commercials have been solid, and as hard as it is to believe, you might as well hold onto your hats, because it not only delivers but surpasses any expectations by being a consistently fun and exciting take on a Marvel character that has only had a few truly memorable moments in his 40-plus year publishing career. The key is that Jon Favreau and his production team have focused on the storytelling and the dialogue, which has taken a back-seat to the action and FX in movies like this for far too long. Needless to say, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is the most perfect casting for a superhero role that we’ve seen to date, as he delivers just the right amount of swagger and snark to be convincing as the genius billionaire inventor. As the movie begins, we see a lot of him in his fun-loving playboy mode but once he’s kidnapped, we get to see him in more serious situations, but never losing that charm and personality that makes him such a great character even when not flying around in the cool armor. More than anything, the film works well as a comic book origin story, keeping just enough of the comics to satisfy the character’s fan without sacrificing strong storytelling and filmmaking. Favreau takes the extra effort to implant Stark Industries into a real-world setting, but pays just as close attention to Stark’s inner circle to make Downey’s scenes with Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard really fun. Downey and Paltrow perfectly capture the awkward relationship between Stark and his Girl Friday Pepper Potts from the comics, something that far surpasses any relationship stuff in previous comic movies, while Howard brings an extra dimension to James “Rhodey” Rhodes by creating a truly memorable on-screen friendship with Stark that provides some of the movie’s many funny moments. Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane is not only very different from anything we’ve seen him done before, but it’s more on par with Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor than other weaker comic book movie villains. The only time the movie even slightly drags is during the time spent on the development of the various Iron Man suits, but it also helps to make you believe that one man could develop and build this armor on his own with all the reasoning and motives being sound. Of course, the reality the film sets up loses something during the climactic battle between Iron Man and Obadiah Stane’s Iron Monger, the only point where the movie devolves into the normal comic book movie we’ve seen before, but there’s more than enough that non-comic fans will have fun. Fans of the comics should be on cloud 9 with the way everything is handled. “Iron Man” is easily the best Marvel Comics based movie yet, right up there with “X2” and “Spider-Man 2″—Favreau, Downey and company have really nailed this one! Rating: 9/10

We’ve written about a lot of comic book movies in this column since it’s inception in 2001—we’ve had all three “Spider-Man” movies, two “X-Men,” two “Fantastic Four’s”, and dozens more—and it’s obvious that the comic book movie is never going away as long as there’s great source material to work from. When you think about it, there’s still a lot of untapped potential from the Marvel and DC comic book universes, which may be why Marvel Studios was formed once they got the rights back to a number of their characters. To kick-off their tenure as a film production company, they decided to tackle the armored Avenger created by Stan Lee and Don Heck in the pages of “Tales of Suspense” in December 1962, a character that would go onto play a huge part in the Marvel Universe for years to come, as Iron Man’s alter-ego Tony Stark would be responsible for the formation of Marvel’s popular super-group, The Avengers, even as the individual character only had a few memorable storylines over the years. Because of this, Iron Man was never one of Marvel’s most popular characters on par with Spider-Man or Wolverine or the X-Men or the Fantastic Four, though he did star in many cartoons over the years, which is probably where most non-comic readers will know him from.

To bring the armored Avenger to the screen, Marvel hired Jon Favreau, a respected screenwriter who had directed Will Ferrell’s Elf and Sony’s adaptation of Zathura, the former being big hit, the latter flopping. When hired, Favreau wasn’t seen as a critical or fanboy favorite on par with Bryan Singer or Sam Raimi when they took over Marvel superheroes. Essentially, Favreau’s experience with superhero movies was his appearance as Foggy Nelson in the 20th Century Fox version of Daredevil a few years ago, but Marvel obviously trusted him with the film’s reported $165 million budget, and he’s taken point on helping to market the movie with his own MySpace page and lots of updates over the years while making it, including the casting news that was received very favorably by the fans.

Robert Downey Jr. is not only having the comeback of the decade or the century but maybe the comeback of the millennium if you consider that at the turn of the century, he was in jail for drug possession and spent the time after that fighting his drug addiction and Hollywood’s reluctance to hire him building up the trust that’s allowed him to star in many studio and independent films in the last few years. In 2002, Joel Silver helped get Downey back on his feet by hiring him for the Halle Berry thriller Gothika and Downey followed that with a number of smaller independent films and quirkier fare like Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Fur with Nicole Kidman, neither which made much money. He also played a baddie in Disney’s The Shaggy Dog, obviously done for the money, and was part of the SAG-nominated cast of George Clooney’s Oscar-nominated Good Night, And Good Luck a few years ago. The continued popularity of Downey Jr. isn’t surprising, since he was always a well-respected actor, going back to his early days during the ’80s and having been nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Chaplin, all of which culminates in his casting as Tony Stark in Iron Man, which is likely to gross more its opening weekend than most of Downey’s individual movies have done in total.

He’s joined by two actors who have received similar accolades but have yet to star in a big budget summer blockbuster, Terrence Howard having built a reputation as a supporting character actor before getting attention for his Oscar-nominated role in Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow released the same year as an equally strong role in Paul Haggis’ Oscar-winning Crash. Many of Howard’s starring roles since then have been in films that haven’t done as much business theatrically, such as Pride and The Hunting Party last year. The daughter of director Bruce Paltrow and actress Blythe Danner, Gwyneth Paltrow received a similar amount of attention when she won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love almost ten years ago, and she continued to build a strong repertoire of leading and supporting following that. Her last big movie was Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, one of Paramount’s earlier attempts at a fan-driven action movie, which may have failed because it wasn’t based on a known property like Iron Man. She hasn’t done very much in recent years as she played mother to her kids with Coldplay’s Chris Martin, only appearing in small films like her brother’s The Good Night and Running with Scissors. The movie’s dominant baddie is played by Jeff Bridges, who’s never done a role quite like Obadiah Stane, although he does have some experience in summer FX movies, having starred in Disney’s Tron and Starman.

Kicking off the summer in the first week of May is always a great way to make lots of money, possibly because so many movies in March and April are weak, and this year being a particularly tepid pre-summer season, a lot of moviegoers are dying to see something big and exciting. Opening in May greatly helped the first Spider-Man as well as the sequel X2 and last year’s Spider-Man 3, which set a new opening box office record after being the first movie to make over $100 million over a three-day weekend five years prior. Iron Man is certainly in good company, although not being a sequel and not being as popular a character as Spider-Man might keep it from repeating Spider-Man‘s success. Other Marvel Comic character debuts haven’t opened as big as Spider-Man with Ang Lee’s The Hulk opening with roughly $62 million and Tim Story’s Fantastic Four launching with $56 million, both characters being more well-known than Iron Man, though he does have more non-comic fans than Daredevil and Ghost Rider, since neither of them ever starred in a cartoon.

Some might wonder why we might think that Iron Man, a movie with no proven box office stars, might break out and surpass the opening of those other Marvel films. Many of them had to open against advance negative buzz and mixed reviews, while Iron Man already has a lot of people excited, especially the normally cynical film critics. The main difference might be that Marvel Studios made this movie themselves, and they’ve done everthing right in promoting the movie along the way. The movie has been marketed up the wazoo starting at last year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego where the footage shown received the most fan praise, and was recieved as well or better than Zack Snyder’s 300 the year before. The film’s stars have also been traveling the globe for the movie’s premieres in other countries and doing the talk show circuit, plus early reviews and word-of-mouth have all been generally positive.

A key factor is that Iron Man is a PG-13 superhero movie that will have a lot more appeal, especially to the kids being enticed all of the cool toys including tie-in toys available at Burger King. The number of kids that will want to see the movie because of this should play a large part in the film’s success, and it’ll help the movie from being frontloaded by the normal fan-driven desire to see the movie opening day. That said, some parents might be hesitant at taking younger kids to a film that deals with war and weaponry.

Either way, this is very much a guys’ movie with lots of fast cars, big rockets, planes and guns, although there’s a small bit of romance for the ladies and Downey Jr. and Howard both have enough charm that ladies might be coerced to see the movie by their boyfriends. This is very much like Michael Bay’s Transformers last year in that there’s such a diehard built-in fanbase who have been clamoring for the movie and they’ve made so much noise about it, that it’s leaked into the public consciousness and become the first big must-see event movie of the summer after a dismal spring-winter movie season.

The only possible thing working against the movie is that the highly-anticipated “Grand Theft Auto IV” was released on Tuesday and some have claimed that teen and older males may stay at home over the weekend to play it. In fact, it only takes 3 to 4 hours to go see a movie and even the most diehard video game fanatic probably can break away for that long, right?

The movie is opening earlier on Thursday night to meet the demand and lighten the load on the weekend, and while avid comic book fans will probably rush out to see it on Thursday or Friday, there should be enough demand and business to keep theaters very busy over the weekend, as movies currently in theaters make way for it. (Expect a lot of big theater and screen drops for the early April movies on Friday.) With that in mind, we can figure that it should bring in roughly $4 to 6 million on Thursday, another $28 million on Friday, a little more than that on Saturday and then closer to $22 million on Sunday for a solid opening weekend in the $80 million range. Next week, it’s facing Speed Racer, but it shouldn’t have a problem remaining in the #1 spot, as word-of-mouth gives it a strong second weekend boost.

Why I Should See It: Marvel Studios and Jon Favreau have created the most kick-ass Marvel comics movie yet, one that’s fun, exciting and is starting the summer movie season with some of the heaviest interest and anticipation across the board.
Why Not: It might be another two to three years before we see another Iron Man movie.
Projections: $78 to 82 million opening weekend (after making $4 to 5 million from Thursday screenings) and $240 to 250 million total. (Side note: At ShoWest earlier this year, Paramount V.P. Rob Moore spoke out against those who do box office predictions for setting unrealistic expectations, but I’m sure he’ll change his mind if our prediction is in the ballpark or too low.)

COMPARISONS


Made of Honor (Sony)
Starring Patrick Dempsey, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin McKidd, Kathleen Quinlan, Sydney Pollack
Directed by Paul Weiland (City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, the BBC hit “Mr. Bean”); Written by Adam Sztykiel, Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont (Surviving Christmas, Josie and the Pussycats, A Very Brady Sequel, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, Can’t Hardly Wait)
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “It takes a real man to become a maid of honor.”
Plot Summary: Tom (Patrick Dempsey) is a successful man whose best friend Hannah (Michelle Monaghan) has always been someone he can count on. When Hannah goes away to Scotland for six weeks, Tom starts to realize how much he misses her and that his feelings might be stronger than friendship. Unfortunately, when she returns, she’s engaged to a rich, good-looking Scotsman and she wants Tom to be her maid of honor, which he agrees only to get closer to Hannah and try to win her away from her fiance.

Since Iron Man will be getting all of the attention from guys this weekend, Sony is offering some counter-programming hoping that women will want something else to see, rather than something that’s clearly being sold to the testosterone set. Granted, some women might want to see Iron Man for its two male stars and just because it looks so darn cool, but there’s also the women who’ll be getting out of work on Friday and want something light and romantic to see with their girlfriends. Some women going on dates this weekend might be able to convince their boyfriends and husbands to take them to a romantic comedy rather than Iron Man, but there’s a good chance those relationships and marriages won’t work out, since those women clearly don’t understand how to please men.

That be as it may, here’s a light romantic comedy in the vein of recent hits 27 Dresses and P. S. I Love You offers a familiar high concept premise—guy likes girl as friend but in fact he actually loves her, but she’s with another guy, so he comes up with a crazy scheme to get her to dump him, hilarity ensues—and it fills it with two actors who’ll hopefully have the kind of romantic chemistry that’ll bring the ladies in to see it. In this case, it stars Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan, Dempsey of course being the famous child actor from the ’80s who disappeared for a while, only to return as the star of ABC’s hit medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy.” Before then, he was teamed with Reese Witherspoon for Sweet Home Alabama in 2002, her biggest grossing romantic comedy, making even more than both Legally Blonde movies and setting new records for the genre and the month of September. This probably helped get Dempsey onto “Grey’s,” and then last year, Dempsey starred opposite Hilary Swank in the academic drama Freedom Writers followed by a romantic role in Amy Adam’s Princess Giselle in Disney’s hit Enchanted, which probably helped Dempsey find many younger female appreciators. Made of Honor will certainly help prove or disprove whether women will go see a movie because Dempsey is in it, being that this is the first one where he’s the main star rather than working with a stronger female lead.

That said, he does have the lovely and vivacious (love that adjective to describe her) Michelle Monaghan as his love interest. Monaghan is usually an October girl, having been in two movies released that month both last year and two years prior, but she also has experience kicking off the summer when she appeared in Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible III two years ago. That ended up disappointing, as it was one of the weaker opening May and summer kickers. Monaghan certainly has her fans (myself included) after starring opposite Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr. in Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and in Ben Affleck’s thriller Gone Baby Gone last year, though her last attempt at a romantic comedy, The Heartbreak Kid, opposite Ben Stiller no less, bombed pretty badly. Clearly, she’s not quite the box office draw that one presumes Dempsey to be.

The good thing is that women just love their weddings and wedding movies have often followed suit, as seen by the success of Julia Roberts’ My Best Friend’s Wedding and Runaway Bride, while both The Wedding Planner and The Wedding Date did decent business as first quarter releases thanks to the women who love wedding movies. This was also seen this past January when 27 Dresses, starring Dempsey’s “Grey’s Anatomy” co-star Katherine Heigl, grossed $77 million, preceded by Dempsey’s Freedom Writers co-star Hilary Swank having success with P. S. I Love You, a romantic comedy that opened lightly but went onto find great holiday legs. Neither should have been much of a shocker, since women need movies they can go see in groups to gush over their male stars or relate to the women involved. The fact that the movie is being released just a month before wedding season might be a smart move since so many women are planning their weddings or those of friends so it’s deeply ingrained in their consciousness.

The big question is whether Sony can successfully bring in the same female audience that have flocked to some of those other movies, since wedding-themed movies already seem to be getting stale. (While 27 Dresses did well, it was received fairly poorly from women who saw it.) That’s one challenge but a bigger one is whether Made of Honor can make a mark on a weekend where all eyes are glued to Marvel Studios’ Iron Man. Counter-programming is certainly nothing new as Disney opened The Lizzie McGuire Movie against X2 to decent success and The Devil Wears Prada impressed box office pundits more than Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. 27 Dresses itself was offered as counter-programming to Paramount’s Cloverfield and it was able to hold its ground over Presidents’ Day weekend to gross $27 million, similar to Prada‘s success.

Also, Made of Honor is opening after two back-to-back weeks of strong comedies geared towards women, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and last week’s Baby Mama, both Universal movies that did decently and will probably generate enough solid word-of-mouth that they’ll be of interest to the same audience that might normally see this movie. With that in mind, one can expect a lighter opening for this and with the Cameron Diaz-Ashton Kutcher comedy opening next week and Prince Caspian the week after, it might be hard for this romantic comedy to make much of a mark on the early summer.

Why I Should See It: Michelle Monaghan rocks!!!!!!!!
Why Not: What’s she doing in a movie with that lucky has-been Patrick Dempsey anyway?
Projections: $11 to 13 million opening weekend and $40 to 45 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Son of Rambow (Paramount Vantage)
Starring Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jules Sitruk, Jessica Stevenson, Neil Dudgeon, Anna Wing, Ed Westwick, Eric Sykes
Written and directed by Garth Jennings (The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy)
Genre: Comedy, Coming-of-Age
Rated PG-13
Plot Summary: Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is a member of the Plymouth Brethren, a religious sect that forbids music and television, but when he’s sent to public school, he meets the troublemaking Lee Carter (Will Poulter) who ropes the innocent boy into being his stuntman in a home-made sequel to the first Rambo movie “First Blood.”
Tagline: “Make Believe. Not War.”

My Sundance Interview with Hammer & Tongs

A Newer Interview with Hammer & Tongs

As you’ll see from the links above, I first saw this very funny movie in January 2007 at the Sundance Film Festival. It was easily the nicest surprise of the festival, and at the time I liked it even more than Once, which some might remember as my #1 movie of last year. It was kind of a bummer to have to wait nearly 15 months to see it again, but it’s finally being released and I’m glad to say that has somehow managed to live up to my own nostalgic hype from Sundance. I was already a fan of Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith (collectively known as Hammer & Tongs) from their music videos for the likes of Supergrass and Blur and for their quirky take on Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, but this is a very different movie that has many different levels of storytelling to enjoy. On the surface, it’s a wonderful coming-of-age film… funny, quirky and strange, and also strangely reminiscent of my own high school years. If John Hughes were British, he probably would have made a movie much like this. There’s also the whole idea of making your own movies, something done not quite as effectively in Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind but more reminiscent of the “Raiders” remake done in the ’80s. Jennings has such a keen visual style but the best thing going for it is the casting of Bill Milner and Will Poulter as the two unlikely young friends who get into all sorts of trouble, and just watching this friendship develop and evolve over the course of the movie makes it such a heartwarming experience, one that will remind a lot of people about their own youths I’m sure. (There’s also some funny stuff involving a way-too-hip French exchange student who nearly steals the movie.)

If you enjoy movies like “Stand By Me” and Danny Boyle’s “Millions” than definitely give this singularly unique adventure comedy a look when it opens in New York and L.A. on Friday, hopefully with other cities soon to follow.

Also in Limited Release:

The Favor (Dark Night Productions) – Eva Aridjis wrote and directed this family drama starring Tony winner Frank Wood as a quiet man living a secluded existence who finds himself adopting the 16-year-old son of his childhood sweetheart when she dies in an accident. It opens on Friday at the Quad Cinemas.

Fugitive Pieces (Samuel Goldwyn) – Stephen Dillane and Rosamund Pike star in the new film from Jeremy Podeswa (The Five Senses, Eclipse) based on Anne Michaels’ best-selling novel about Jakob Beer, a Canadian who escaped Poland during WWII but remains haunted by the death of his parents and loss of his sister. After opening the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, it opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Mister Lonely (IFC Films) – Harmony Korine (Julien Donkey-Boy) returns with a quirky movie starring Diego Luna as a Michael Jackson impersonator who moves to a commune of similar impersonators in the Scottish Highlands. Also starring Samantha Morton and Werner Herzog, this opens at the IFC Center in New York.

Mini-Review:
Opening with a near-perfect Michael Jackson impression by Diego Luna, the film quickly sets up its premise of a commune of celebrity impersonators, fairly high concept for an indie flick and leaving very little left to enjoy once that novelty wears off, which is about five minutes once “Michael” gets to the Scottish hillside. From there, we get lots of pointless scenes of these bad celebrity impersonators in non-sensical scenes as the group prepare to put on a big show, led by an Abe Lincoln impersonator who swears a lot. The one saving grace is that Samantha Morton is fairly smokin’ hot as Marilyn Monroe, though we never quite understand the relationship between her and “Michael,” and her jealous Charlie Chaplin impersonating husband, played by Frenchman Denis Lavant in a role that has him chewing up scenery in order to try to make it more interesting. If the movie is scripted, it’s some of the worst writing ever, but it’s more likely that most of the overly talky scenes were just badly improvised with lots of talking and very little being said. Werner Herzog’s first appearance as a priest trying to talk down a drunken love-sick pilot is amusing but even his ramblings grow tiring as they lead into bizarre segments about skydiving nuns that seem to have absolutely nothing to do with the people at the commune. Sure, Korine offers some interesting images by putting these celebrities in odd circumstances, but the movie’s a mess even before they put on the big show to an audience that’s probably about as small as the one that might want to see this movie. Korine’s return is a painfully excruciating and awful experience that’s bound to make you resentful about the two hours of your life wasted watching such a disastrous and atrocious wankfest. Why this movie was made is beyond me, because it’s possibly the worst movie this year… or at least we can hope so. Rating: 2/10

Redbelt (Sony Classics) – David Mamet returns after four years with a new drama set within the world of competitive martial arts starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as jiu-jitsu trainer Mike Terry, struggling to keep his training studio open, forcing him to return to the world of the prize-fighting circuit despite swearing off fighting for money years earlier. Combining actual fighters with Mamet regulars like Ricky Jay, David Paymer and Rebecca Pidgeon, it opens in New York and L.A. and then will expand nationwide on May 9.

Interview with Chiwetel Ejiofor

Interview with David Mamet

Review (Coming Soon!)

XXY (Film Movement) – From Argentina comes this quirky coming-of-age drama from Lucia Puenzo about a teen girl who is actually a hermaphrodyte, unbeknownst to the teen boy staying with her family who falls in love with the “girl.” Starring Argentina’s finest actor Ricardo Darin (8 Queens, The Aura), it will open in New York at the Cinema Village.

Mini-Review:
You have to give credit to the Argentininians for constantly finding new and original ways to explore relationship dramas and this unique sexual awakening coming-of-age tale takes the innocence of “My Girl” and sets it on its ear with the story of a 15-year-old girl who might look more like a boy if not for a constant stream of pills. The real turning point in her bloom into puberty occurs when a surgeon come to stay with Alex’s family with ulterior motives of “curing” her, but at the same time, his effeminate son falls for the “girl,” leading to confusion for all parties, possibly even including the viewer. Even if the subject matter sounds like something that could easily fit into an old Cronenberg or John Waters film, the subject of Alex’s dual genitalia is handled tastefully and non-exploitatively—we never actually see them for instance—but the first actual sex scene between the two teens is pretty jarring and really takes you out of the movie, which was fairly innocent up till that point. Even more interesting is how the film shows her two parents trying to come to terms with Alex’s confusing sexuality and trying to decide whether it should be her decision to have an operation to remove the extra genitals. Ricardo Darin is especially good as her scientist father who thinks having her get an operation to become a girl might traumatize her in the future, since she’s definitely more boyish despite her feminine appearance. Puenzo has found an amazing new talent in Inés Efron, who is convincingly boyish as the main character as we watch her trying to deal with her blooming sexuality and dealing with confusion about her sexual identity and preferences. It’s pretty amazing how thoroughly the film deals with the topic, considering the rare circumstances, and unfortunately, it’s a fairly slow and sometimes plodding drama that only really explodes in the film’s most disturbing moments. The ending might not be the most satisfying one since it leaves things very open-ended, but the performances by Efron and Darin are both solid, and the movie successfully opens a a lot of questions about what it means to be “normal.” Rating: 7/10


Next week, the Wachowski Brothers return with their take on the cartoon Speed Racer (Warner Bros.) and Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz co-star in the romantic comedy What Happens in Vegas (20th Century Fox).