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.
The end of the month is brought to you by the letter “W”–a personal favorite of the Weekend Warrior–and with it comes the last of the head-to-head competitions. After a quieter mid-June weekend with a decisive victor, we end the month with what could be a serious powerhouse combo that gets everyone out of their houses to catch one of the two new movies.
One of the more anticipated movies every summer is the annual offering from Pixar Animation Studios, and it’s hard to believe that WALLE (Disney) is only the studio’s ninth movie in thirteen years, though Pixar’s latest should benefit from a couple things that will help it stand out. With a sci-fi slant that will appeal to guys and an adorable lead character and love story for the women, Pixar is looking to have their biggest opening since joining up with Disney, as they presumably will try to get the movie into over 4,000 theaters in order to break the $70.5 million opening ceiling of past Pixar movies. The fact that it’s opening later in the summer like last year’s Ratatouille should certainly help, allowing it to do a lot more business on Friday and Sunday then it might normally.
Based on a semi-obscure comic book series by Mark Millar & J.G. Jones, Wanted (Universal) from Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch) stars James McAvoy (Atonement) as a trod-upon officer worker who learns that he has what it takes to become a skilled assassin. While an R-rated action movie with a burgeoning unproven star might not seem like much at first glance, it offers exactly what is needed to counteract the family-drawing film, and it does have two “not-so-secret weapons” in Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, both of whom have experience with action blockbusters and who’ll be a big draw for audiences this weekend. The combination of action and the darker humorous tone will probably play well among younger people in cities who find a G-rated Pixar film below them.
(UPDATE: Well, both new movies are getting fewer theaters, but both are also getting stellar reviews with WALLE at 97% on Rottentomatoes and Wanted sitting pretty at 72%. I do think that more guys will rush out to see the latter than families will do so for the former, so we’re going to rebalance them a little, especially since Disney wasn’t able to get the Pixar movie over the 4,000 mark. Even so, one can expect both movies to do well from repeat and word-of-mouth business so we’ve adjusted the total gross for both movies accordingly.)
1. WALLE (Pixar/Disney) – $68.3 million N/A (down $3 million!)
2. Wanted (Universal) – $40.6 million N/A (up 1.1 million!)
3. Get Smart (Warner Bros.) – $21.2 million -45% (up .2 million)
4. Kung Fu Panda (DreamWorks Animation) – $11.7 million -47% (up .4 million)
5. The Incredible Hulk (Marvel/Universal) – $10.4 million -54% (up .1 million)
6. The Love Guru (Paramount) $5.6 million -57% (down .1 million)
7. The Happening (20th Century Fox) 4.7 million -55% (up .2 million)
8. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount) – $4.5 million -47% (up .2 million)
9. Sex and the City (New Line) – $3.6 million -45% (down .2 million)
10. You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (Sony) – $3.4 million -54% (down .3 million)
Last June wrapped up with a similar scenario of an action movie taking on a Pixar flick, although in that case, it was the PG-13 return of Bruce Willis’ Sgt. John McLane in Live Free or Die Hard (20th Century Fox) taking on Pixar’s culinary comedy Ratatouille. The latter won the weekend with $47 million, Pixar’s weakest opening since A Bug’s Life although it would go onto make over $200 million and win an Oscar. Opening on Wednesday, the fourth installment of Willis’ action franchise grossed $33 million over the weekend and another $15 million in the two days before, decent but not spectacular. Based on a novel, the drama Evening (Focus Features) featured an all-star cast including Claire Danes and Meryl Streep, but just squeezed into the bottom of the Top 10 with $3.5 million. The Top 10 movies last year grossed $141.7 million, an amount that should be bested if the two movies do as well as we think.
Full analysis follows, but first…
THE RETURN OF THE BATTLE CRY!! (Bet no one saw THAT twist coming, not even M. Night!)
The question of the week is why don’t critics seem to like comedies?
This past weekend saw two comedies facing off against each other and it was presumed they’d be splitting up audiences based on the fans of the movie’s stars, Steve Carell and Mike Myers. It was a weekend where analysts and experts were looking at the two contenders from every angle, but instead of it being an even battle, Carell’s Get Smart trounced The Love Guru, and the latter was a pretty major bomb. It was odd, beacuse Myers certainly had proven that he has a solid fanbase from his previous work, but critics loathed the movie, accounting for its 16% Rotten Rating on Rotten Tomatoes compared to the 55% – 67% Fresh rating that Myer’s “Austin Powers” movies received, including Goldmember, which had a similar sense of low-brow humor. So what’s changed in the five years since Goldmember?
One thing for certain is that the divide between film critics and audiences has been growing in recent years but it’s never been more clearly delineated than with comedies, which can never get a break when it comes to reviews, to the point where moviegoers have learned to ignore reviews if something looks funny. There’s a lot of people out there who just like to go to the movies to be entertained or distracted from their everyday lives and there’s no other genre that does that better than a comedy that makes you laugh away your troubles. Critics go to see movies because that’s their job. While critics are just as amiable to the idea of escaping into a movie or seeing something that surprises us, we’re a lot tougher to get a laugh out of, maybe because we’re not nearly as receptive going into a comedy as fans of a certain comic might be. It’s why comics like Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell and Mike Myers (actually most former “SNL” members) rarely get a fair shake from critics even if they have a solid fanbase who’ll go see their movies regardless. (And let’s not forget Eddie Murphy’s character Norbit, which opened with over $30 million despite being considered my many critics as the worst movie of the year, amassing Razzies and a 9% Rotten Rating.)
The problems of winning critics over to comedies has become something that a few studios have tackled head on by skipping critics’ screenings altogether. After all, what’s the point if they’re just going to trash the movie and put off anyone who might be on the fence about seeing it? The classic recent examples of this are the spoof movies like Meet the Spartans earlier this year and previous films like Epic Movie, neither of which was screened for critics, probably because 20th Century Fox was well aware that they can bring a sizable young audience by virtue of the subject matters being spoofed and that the movie wasn’t good enough to stand up to the scrutiny of critics.
That’s not to say that all comedy doesn’t stand a chance. Filmmakers like Judd Apatow have managed to win over the critics with their more intelligent approach to comedy, but there’s also the strange case of Borat a few years back, which scored a 91% Fresh Rating with a movie full of racist and sexist humor. So why did critics love that one but not others? Of course, critics are like the majority of people in that they’re all very different with different tastes and sense of humor (yes, some critics do have a sense of humor, believe it or not), and not everything works for everyone. It’s especially strange critics are divided on a movie like they were with Get Smart this past weekend. It was obviously the audience’s choice but you’d be hard-pressed to find two critics agreed on it and there are a couple out there (who I won’t embarrass here) who actually thought Myers’ The Love Guru was the funnier/better movie. (I know, right?)
A big problem that makes it harder to judge comedies fairly is that critics often see the presumably funny movies in small, secluded screening rooms without the benefit of the fans’ laughter to get them into the right frame of mind, but even when they are surrounded by laughing audiences, it tends to annoy critics even more, since they don’t understand what the audience is finding so funny. Sometimes, having someone right behind or next to you laughing uncontrollably at something can get you into the right mood as well, because you can’t help but laugh, but comedy doesn’t always work.
There’s a movie coming out at the end of the summer called Hamlet 2 which played really well among audiences at the Sundance Film Festival and was picked up by Focus Features. I really liked it and have already seen it twice, but knowing critics as well as I do, there’s a good chance they won’t appreciate the film’s non-stop gags (co-written by “South Park” writer Pam Brady), because it tends to go for wilder, low-brow and physical humor, something that rarely goes over well with the stuffy and often elitist critics’ set. (Again, Borat was an exception to that rule.)
There’s also a strange phenomenon where a movie that is painful to sit through in theaters, one that gets trashed right and left by critics, actually stands up well when watching it at home on cable, even if it’s just having it on in the background. Maybe it’s just that you’re less embarrassed about watching them or laughing when you’re on your own, but when you compare some of these movies to the stupidity on TV, they actually stand out quite well, although the same goes the other way, when TV comedies like “The Office,” “30 Rock”, etc. are funnier than anything you can get at the movies. (And free, too!)
Anyway, this was something that’s been on my mind for a while and something that came to the forefront due to the battle of the comedies (and George Carlin’s tragic passing R.I.P.) this past weekend. I’m not sure if there’ll ever be a time when everyone agrees on everything when it comes to comedy or humor. Probably not, but just remember that just because a critic (or every critic) doesn’t think something is funny, that doesn’t mean that a movie won’t entertain or make you laugh. Use your judgment and you may be surprised what sort of funny movies you can find out there. (And I’m not just saying that as a plug for Peter Tolan’s indie Finding Amanda which opens this weekend, but you can read about that below if you want to know more.)
Starring (voices of) Fred Willard, Jeff Garlin, Sigourney Weaver, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy, Ben Burtt
Written and directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, co-director Toy Story 2)
Genre: Animated, Family, Sci-Fi, Comedy
Tagline: “After 700 years of doing what he was built for – he’ll discover what he’s meant for.”
Plot Summary: Mankind has abandoned earth, but they forgot to turn off one of the robots: WALLE (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class), a garbage disposal robot who continues to work by himself for hundreds of years and who’s starting to get lonely until he encounters Eve, a probe sent by humans to see if earth is safe for rehabitation, and completely smitten, WALLE follows her back to her spaceship.
Mini-Review: Just when you thought Pixar Animation couldn’t possibly top their last great achievement, they’ve created a piece of artistic storytelling that’s so above and beyond anything that’s come before that it truly deserves the audacious label of “pure genius.” The fact that you can watch this minimally-scripted future tale of robots in love and not only forget that you’re watching animation but you may not even believe that it could possibly be done with animation. That’s how fluid the process has become in creating this post-apocalyptic sci-fi love story. With mere synthesized bleeps and bloops and the occasional word, sound FX expert Benn Burtt has created a character that stands up not only to some of Pixar’s most beloved, but also classic Disney characters going back to Mickey Mouse. It’s one of the most impressive jobs at humanizing a robot since R2-D2 (also “voiced” by Burtt). As the movie begins, we’re introduced to WALLE, a lowly garbage disposal droid left alone on earth to do his job, but his time alone has created unlikely sentience in the bot and though he has his hobbies, watching his favorite musical and adding esoterica found in the trash heaps to his collection, poor WALLE is lonely with his only friend being a perky cockroach (also the last survivor). Apparently, even robots always fall for the bad girls, as along comes EVE, a destructive robot fatale who could only lead poor lonely WALLE into trouble. Even so, it’s a beautiful romance that’ll bring more than a few tears to your eye, as WALLE does whatever he can to be with the elusive EVE. The tone of the film changes when WALLE follows his crush to the star freighter Axiom, where humankind has been languishing for 700 years, getting fat and lazy. It’s a cynical view of mankind’s future right out of Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy” where humans have stopped thinking for themselves, unable to see beyond their hoverchair’s viewscreens. At this point, the film takes an unexpected tonal dip as the dynamics change, since the human characters aren’t nearly as well-realized as the robots, except for Jeff Garlin as the voice of the Axiom’s captain, who has been kept clueless about the true nature of their mission. Visually, Pixar has outdone themselves, first with their creation of an earth piled high with skyscraper-size structures made out of garbage, but when the film gets into space, we really see what Pixar vet Andrew Stanton is capable of. Man’s first view of the earth from space might be a landmark, but seeing a romantic ballet of robots in that environment is something that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. The latter part of the movie allows for a generous amount of social commentary and some preaching about the state of our planet, but it quickly moves past that, leading to an insane action-packed sequence involving rogue robots and obese humans working together. Pixar’s clever and inventive humor is still present throughout, and the movie is as entertaining as past offerings, but some might be surprised that at the film’s core is this beautiful, emotion-charged romance yes, between robots. The fact that one can be so deepy moved by inanimate objects, let alone by a film with limited dialogue, proves that Stanton and Pixar have achieved a new plateau in their craft, creating what’s destined to be a beloved classic, right up there with the likes of “Snow White,” “Bambi” and “Cinderella,” and one that similarly will be held close to many hearts for decades to come. (Make sure to get there early for the hilarious animated short “Presto” which pits a magician against his hungry bunny in a very clever premise involving the old “rabbit in the hat” trick, and stay for the end credits, which gives a veritable history of art and animation. Impressive indeed.) Rating: 9.5/10
For the third summer in a row, Pixar Animation are unveiling their ninth animated family movie, a real treat for their many fans now that they’ve stepped up production in order to be able to release a new movie every year. WALLE is their third movie under Pixar’s two-year-old deal with Disney Pictures, and according to the film’s early ads, it’s based on one of the original ideas thrown around during early story meetings along with Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo.
The man responsible for the last one of those, Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton, is helming Pixar’s latest with the honor of having helmed Pixar’s highest grossing movie with the $340 million made by Finding Nemo as well as earning Pixar their first Oscar for an animated feature. Stanton has been with Pixar since the beginning, having been involved in the writing of Toy Story, released in 1995, as well as co-directing A Bug’s Life with Pixar head John Lasseter. The company really exploded with the 1999 sequel Toy Story 2 when Pixar was put firmly on the map as the preeminent animation company, a veritable brand name that guarantees parents and kids and film enthusiasts would rush out to see their movies, as well as creating a huge merchandising franchise for toys, games and television spin-offs. Toy Story 2 was the biggest opening animated movie at the time, but the follow-up Monsters Inc. surpassed that opening, as did Stanton’s Finding Nemo, which became one of the biggest films of the summer of ’03. It was followed by Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, which surpassed “Nemo’s” opening but fell short of its box office gross even with a second Oscar win. The two Pixar movies since then have each made less than the movie before: Cars marked the return of John Lasseter to the director’s chair, opening with $60 million but grossing less than the previous four movies, and then Brad Bird’s Ratatouille, which opened in the same weekend last year, was their smallest opening movie since A Bug’s Life, although it became Bird’s second Pixar movie to win the Animated Oscar.
Unlike DreamWorks Animation’s movies, Pixar rarely concerns itself with starpower providing voices for their characters and in this case, most of the robot voices were done by sound effects guy Ben Burtt. Burtt played a similar role for the “Star Wars” movies, most notably the bleeps and bloops produced by the lovable bot R2-D2, something that’s been referenced regularly during the marketing of “WALLE.” There are a few human characters voiced by Sigourney Weaver, Fred Willard and others, but as with previous Pixar movies, the stars’ presence is usually secondary to the premise of the movie, and this one has a strong one.
Pixar has already made movies about toys, monsters, cars, fish, superheroes and cooking rats, so what’s next? How about a movie mainly starring robots? The last computer animated movie about robots was Fox’s appropriately-titled movie Robots, which had a huge star-studded cast but didn’t leave a very lasting impression on moviegoers, grossing just $128 million, and it could be seen as the start of the backlash towards computer animation. Pixar certainly has suffered somewhat as more and more studios jumped onto the computer-animated bandwagon with movies making less and less money because of it. Warner Bros.’ The Ant Bully was a classic computer-animated bomb and some of Sony Animation’s movies like last year’s Surf’s Up also haven’t fared particularly well as they might have if there weren’t so many movies being released. Thankfully, this year has been a lot quieter and WALLE is only the third computer animated movie of the year after Fox’s Horton Hears a Who and DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda, both which did well.
WALLE is opening just a few weeks after DreamWorks had their biggest opening non-sequel Kung Fu Panda and family audiences certainly should be ready for another animated comedy with that success still in mind. That movie had the benefit of featuring talking animals, something that goes over very well with the youngest kids, but WALLE the robot is equally adorable and fun and since he doesn’t talk much, the humor is very physical and visual, something that also goes over well with kids. The great thing about Pixar’s movies are that they almost always get a G-rating, which guarantees parents can bring their youngest children, which isn’t always the case, especially with some of the other summer family films like Kung Fu Panda and Prince Caspian, both of which were somewhat dark and violent.
Due to the movie’s huge marketing campaign, there’s a lot of anticipation and expectations by various groups, not just kids, but women of all ages have fallen in love with the lovable robot, and a lot of guys over 20 who are into science fiction should be drawn to this Pixar movie, much like they were with Brad Bird’s The Incredibles. There is some competition for the latter audience with Universal’s Wanted, but that will likely do better in cities and among the video game crowd, while everyone else will make WALLE their first choice. It’s certainly not unheard for Pixar movies to make more than $20 million in a single day even a few years ago, and with higher ticket prices and school being out, it shouldn’t be too surprising if this one is able to make $25 million its opening day and similarly strong days on Saturday and Sunday, which should allow it an opening closer to “Nemo” and The Incredibles than last year’s Ratatouille. (see above)
Regardless of whether WALLE sets a new opening record for Pixar Animation, the movie should hold well over the 4th of July holiday and against weaker family fare in early July, which means that we could see another Pixar hit. The real question is whether WALLE has what it takes to finally surpass the lofty goals set by Stanton’s previous movie and be Pixar’s second $300 million movie or whether it’ll be another movie to end up in the low-to-mid $200 million range.
Why I Should See It: Pixar Animation is back, this time with another early idea that’s been gestating in development for years, but also one that should appeal equally to sci-fi and “Star Wars” fans as well as the normal kids and parents that flock to these things.
Why Not: How much time can someone watch a movie with robots who barely talk before getting bored?
Projections: $69 to 73 million opening and $280 million total. (UPDATE: We’re lowering opening weekend to $67 to 70 million but a total closer to $300 million.)
Starring James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, Common, Angelina Jolie
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Day Watch, The Arena); Written by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas (3:10 to Yuma, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Catch That Kid), Chris Morgan (Cellular, Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, upcoming Gears of War, Fast and the Furious 4)
Genre: Action, Thriller
Tagline: “Choose your destiny.”
Plot Summary: Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is a trod-upon office worker who one discovers that his father was part of a group of assassins called The Fraternity and two of them, the sexy Fox (Angelina Jolie) and the group’s leader Sloan (Morgan Freeman) want to train Wesley to kill the assassin that killed Wesley’s father.
Continuing the string of comic-based action movies that have been permeating the summer, here is the second one of the month from Universal Pictures, adapted from the graphic novel by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones published by Top Cow as a six-issue miniseries in 2003 and 2004. It was a very different comic book from what was out there, taking a more adult approach to superheroes with the main character Wesley Gibson being inducted into a team of supervillains who could rape and kill whomever they pleased. The mini-series quickly sold out its early printings, as Millar’s edgy work was compared with comics like “The Authority” and “Watchmen,” but the final issues of the series were famously delayed so long that the movie rights were already optioned and in development at Universal before the series ended.
In early 2006, Universal handed the movie over to Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, who first got attention when his film Night Watch, based on a popular Russian novel series by Sergei Lukyanenko, became a blockbuster in his native country grossing $16.7 million, that’s more than “The Lord of the Rings” made in Russia. The movie’s success piqued the interest of the world including Fox Searchlight who decided to release it and its sequel Day Watch domestically, but neither did a lot of business theatrically, Night Watch grossing about $1.5 million and Day Watch making a third of that, although both have found a larger audience of genre fans on DVD despite a lot being lost in translation.
Playing the role of everyman underdog Wesley Gibson is James McAvoy, who had appeared in Disney’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as the fawn-footed Mr. Tumnus before getting the gig, as well as co-starring opposite Forrest Whitaker in his Oscar-winning role as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, though McAvoy didn’t get very much attention in either case. In the last year, McAvoy starred opposite Keira Knightley in the Oscar-nominated Atonement, with Anne Hathaway in the period dramedy Becoming Jane and with Christina Ricci in the long-delayed Penelope, all of which have raised his presence in theatres and awareness, though mainly among women and girls. McAvoy’s previous independent movie like Starter for Ten, released last year by Picturehouse, went largely unnoticed, although the movie’s been getting so much play on HBO in the past few months, it’s sure to have raised awareness of McAvoy among the women who never got around to seeing Atonement.
Some might question putting a relative unknown as the lead in this movie, but fortunately, McAvoy has a pair of co-stars who have frequently proven they can draw people into theaters. The biggest box office draw in this case is the return of Angelina Jolie to an action movie for the first time in three years. Jolie first got attention when she won an Oscar early in her career for Girl, Interrupted and it wasn’t long before she made the move to summer blockbusters, co-starring with Nicolas Cage in the action remake Gone in 60 Seconds. It wasn’t until Jolie donned the short pants of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider a year later where her popularity among young video-game playing males skyrocketed. They rushed out to the movie to the tune of $48 million opening weekend, the highest opening for a woman-led movie until the recent Sex and the City, but they weren’t so kind when she reprised the role two years later and the sequel “The Cradle of Life” bombed, making just $65 million total. After a couple low-key movies like the D.J. Caruso thriller Taking Lives, Jolie had an even bigger hit when she faced off against her then rumored boyfriend Brad Pitt in Doug Liman’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a relationship-based action movie that opened with over $50 million and grossed $186 million. Having a PG-13 rating might have played some part in the success of “Tomb Raider” and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, as did the fact that neither movie had much real competition when they opened. The thought of Angelina Jolie taking off her clothes and killing people is just as big a draw for Wanted as her relationship with Brad Pitt was for Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
The other key starpower factor is Morgan Freeman, once again playing a mentor-type role like he did in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, which got Freeman his first Oscar, but in this case, his character is more like the Morpheus to James McAvoy’s Neo. Freeman is a fairly bankable star, having headlined the Jack Patterson adaptations Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider in the past 12 years, and his Q-factor was raised substantially when he played God in Jim Carrey’s Bruce Almighty, a huge blockbuster comedy that’s still Freeman’s biggest movie. That was followed with a key role in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, which raised his rating among the same comic fans who’d be interested in Wanted, and recently, Freeman teamed with Jack Nicholson for the high concept comedy The Bucket List which duplicated the success of Million Dollar Baby, grossing $90 million without a single Oscar nomination. In between those big movies, Freeman has appeared in a number of smaller movies like Unleashed opposite Jet Li, Lucky Number Slevin with Josh Hartnett and Ben Affleck’s directorial debut Gone Baby Gone. Freeman is generally an actor who is as reliable as he is prolific, and his presence tends to elevate the quality of a movie, which can only help Wanted being taken seriously.
The last part of the equation is rapper Common as the Gunsmith, the Fraternity’s weapons master, continuing his string of genre films. In 2007, the Grammy-winning rapper had a featured role in Joe Carnahan’s breakout hit Smokin’ Aces and a smaller role in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, though he’s clearly a rapper who is being taken seriously in his transition to acting. (He also appeared in the Keanu Reeves crime-thriller Street Kings earlier this year.)
Unlike other recent comic movies like Iron Man, this movie is not based on a widely known property outside of comic book circles, but that could also help the movie, since being a sequel or a remake would set certain expectations and being an original movie should help after a couple weeks of remakes. Certainly, the movie’s biggest selling point are the amazing signature action sequences created by Bekmambetov that have been hyped at appearances at various comic conventions this year as well as online, and it’s gotten many guys excited about the movie in a way we haven’t really seen since Zack Snyder’s 300. Even with McAvoy’s potential female fanbase, Wanted will probably be more of a guys’ movie, as many women would be more likely to see the new Pixar movie. There’s certainly some crossover male audience with Pixar’s WALLE since it’s been heavily pushed towards the same sci-fi comic book crowd, but guys that aren’t into comic books will probably go with a high-profile action flick over a G-rated animated family film.
Originally, the movie was going to be released in March, which didn’t show a lot of confidence on Universal’s part, but wisely, they moved the movie to the summer last year, and they’ve been doing everything they can to get the word out with the extra time the move allowed. It’s definitely more of a summer movie, the kind that the older kids who are out of school will go see repeatedly if they like it the first time. Reviews should generally be good, especially among male critics, and that could help raise awareness and interest going into the weekend. The movie’s R-rating could be somewhat of a sticking point if the 15 and 16 year old males who might want to see this can’t get in without a parent, but if there’s one thing we learned from The Matrix and 300, it’s that a movie like this can do well despite its rating if there’s enough people wanting to see it.
Sadly, the only thing really holding this movie back is the weekend’s other option, Pixar’s WALLE, but word-of-mouth should be decent enough that this could end up getting a good amount of repeat business even with three weeks of comic book/superhero movies coming on its tail.
Why I Should See It: Timur B. delivers, bringing the tone of Mark Millar’s graphic novel to the big screen with some of the most mind-blowing action since “The Matrix.”
Why Not: The movie is going to be WAY too dark and violent for certain audiences who might go in expecting Tomb Raider 3.
Projections: $36 to 40 million opening weekend and $120 to 125 million total. (UPDATE: We’ll go with higher amount opening and total for this surprising action flick with a $38 to 41 million opening and $135 to 150 million total; yes, even with with three superhero movies on its tail.)
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Gunnin’ for that #1 Spot (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
Starring Michael Beasley, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, Donte Greene, Kevin Love, Kyle Singler, Lance Stephenson, Jarryd Bayless
Directed by Adam Yauch (Awesome: I F*cking Shot That!, Beastie Boys videos)
Genre: Documentary, Sports
Plot Summary: Documenting the Elite 24 Hoops Classic, an all-star basketball game played in Harlem’s Rucker Park, Beastie Boy Adam Yauch profiles eight of the top high school basketball players in the country.
There have been a lot of great sports docs in the last few yearsmy personal favorite is Once in a Lifetime, being a diehard soccer nutbut few have surprised me as much as this offering from the Beastie Boys’ Adam “MCA” Yauch. On the surface, it documents a one-off all-star high school basketball game, but more importantly, it gives a comprehensive look at the sport of basketball and how more and more teams and corporations are looking at younger and younger players to get in on the ground floor on the next Michael Jordan. The most immediate comparison might be something like “Hoop Dreams” as Yaunch spends much of the first part of the movie profiling eight of the 24 players taking part in the first-ever Elite 24 game. These are all great kids who are clearly on top of their game and grounded despite them having millions of dollars being thrown their way and all the pressures of being chased by scouts and recruiters on top of the normal issues faced by teens. Yaunch is very methodical in his approach to introducing us to the players and their families, getting into their backgrounds and what makes them interesting, and it leads to one of the most amazing basketball games you’re ever likely to see, the jaw-dropping gameplay being enhanced by Yaunch’s inventive use of slow-motion replays, impressive camerawork, sound FX and an absolutely must-have soundtrack of rap, funk and soul music. If you’re not a fan of basketball, you may immediately think this movie is not for you, but having never seen an actual basketball game (yes, it’s true!), I was blown away by what these high school players can do on the court. Even more entertaining is the play-by-play given by “Bounce” magazine co-founder Bobbito Garcia as he gives the players hilarious nicknames and gives his own unique spin on what we’re watching. The movie is far more comprehensive than just being about this particular all-star game, looking at the way the different players are ranked, how they’re chased for sneaker endorsements and the pressures that go along with being a top basketball player in the country while merely a teenager. If you’re even remotely interested in basketball or wonder why it’s such a huge obsession to so many Americans, this movie is an impressive feat on every level as Yauch, obviously an avid basketball fan himself, brings an unbridled passion to shining a spotlight on some of the country’s finest young basketball players in a way that can be appreciated by anyone and everyone.
It opens in select cities including New York, L.A., Philly and Phoenix on Friday with a couple other cities added next week.
Also in Limited Release:
Full Grown Men (Emerging Pictures) – This comedy stars Matt McGrath as a 35-year-old man obsessed with action figures who moves back in with his mother, then decides to track down his school friend Elias (Judah Friedlander), now a teacher for mentally-challenged kids. On a class trip to an amusement park, the two old friends encounter strange characters played by Alan Cumming, Amy Sedaris and singer Deborah Harry. The comedy will open exclusively at New York’s Cinema Village on Wednesday.
Elsa & Fred (Mitropolous Films) – Marcos Carnevale’s romantic comedy about the relationship between two older people, Elsa, a spirited woman in her 60s and Alfredo, a slightly younger widower who learns to live when he starts spending more time with her, will open in New York at the Angelika Film Center.
Finding Amanda (Magnolia Pictures) Emmy-winning writer Peter Tolan, the co-creator of the FX series “Rescue Me,” makes his directorial debut with this comedy starring Matthew Broderick as a television writer with a gambling problem who agrees to track down his 20-year-old niece Amanda (Brittany Snow) in Vegas when he learns that she has become a prostitute. It will open in select cities, including at many Landmark Theatres.
Mini-Review: What’s likely to leave the most lasting impression while watching Peter Tolan’s directorial debut is how amazing Brittany Snow is in the role of a hooker with a heart of gold, giving a performance that’s akin to “Junebug” for Amy Adams or more appropriately, Julie Roberts’ breakout in “Pretty Woman.” The strange but straight-forward premise delivers lots of laughs due to the perfect typecasting of Matthew Broderick as a recovering alcoholic trying to stay on the wagon while dealing with a problematic gambling problem in Las Vegas. Broderick is much better in this than other recent movies because his tragically one-note routine works far better in this sort of situational comedy, which provides most of its laughs from the awkward screenwriter being put into these foreign situations as he tries to bond with his younger niece. We’re just as shocked as he is when this perky young woman starts talking frankly about sexual acts, and that’s just part of why Snow’s performance is so notable. Snow is delightfully bubbly in this role, like a younger version of Reese Witherspoon, as she gives a Pollyanesque take on the world’s oldest profession, but as the film starts veering into darker territory, she shows that she has some serious dramatic chops and range as she delivers a number of powerful emotional moments that will shock and awe anyone who thinks they have this comedy figured out. Things get more surreal when Taylor visits Amanda’s home, her pride and joy, and faces off against her slimy boyfriend (played by Peter Facinelli in a rare non-nice-guy role), which adds another amusing element to the humor, as does Steve Coogan in a small role as the trusting hotel manager who keeps giving Taylor money despite not having any indication he’ll ever get paid. The weight of the movie is carried by Tolan’s smart and sharp script, delivered in a rapid sitcom-like pace from Broderick and the rest, but some might be shocked by the amount of expletives, even if they seem appropriate within the environment. The movie tends to be somewhat frontloaded with the laughs and it starts to feel uneven once things get darker, but ultimately, it’s a satisfying debut from Tolan, one that embodies a clear and distinctive tone and style of humor. Like “Go” and “Swingers,” it’s a fun look at the Vegas environment, but one that imbues the seediness of the setting with a sense of innocence and warmth that might take some by surprise. Rating: 7/10
The Last Mistress (IFC Films) Asia Argento stars in Catherine (Fat Girl) Breillat’s 19th Century drama about a young rogue (Fuad Ait Aatou) who has been having a ten-year affair with the courtesan Vellini (Argento) despite recently becoming engaged to the virginal aristocrat Hermangarde (Roxanne Mesquida). It will open at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on Friday.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
Trumbo (Samuel Goldwyn) This pseudo-documentary semi-theatrical piece adapts Christopher Trumbo’s touring play about his father, legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted from Hollywood during the Cold War communist scare, despite writing many classic films from Spartacus to The Brave One under various pseudonyms. The film features the likes of Donald Sutherland, David Strathairn, Josh Lucas, Paul Giamatti and Brian Dennehy reading Trumbo’s letters to family and associates that help tell his story. It opens at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Landmark Sunshine in New York and in L.A.
Mini-Review: A fine counterpart to George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck” and a unique amalgam of talking heads and theatrics, the story of Dalton Trumbo and how he and his family dealt with being blacklisted is an amazing one. It documents how the Cold War witchhunt affected many in Hollywood including a prolific and once-respected screenwriter like Trumbo. Askin’s film, partially based on the play by Trumbo’s son Christopher, does a good job documenting the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings and how they drove Trumbo into hiding after being sent to jail, forced to flee with his family to Mexico and having to write under assumed names, including his Oscar winning screenplay for “The Brave One” which went unclaimed for years. “Trumbo” isn’t always a particularly captivating film, being somewhat dry as a documentary with so much talking heads and an unimpressive and repetitive score, but Trumbo’s powerful words are what drives the film and having award-winning dramatic actors reading Trumbo’s personal letters during the time in question–whether it’s a birthday poem for his son or a letter of complaint to the telephone companymakes a brilliant device that gives you a better idea what made Trumbo such a brilliant writer, regardless of the circumstances. Nathan Lane’s hilarious reading of Trumbo’s ode to masturbation should not be missed and both Paul Giamatti and David Strathairn give typically stand-out performances, but one can’t really scoff at the likes of Liam Neeson, Michael Douglas and Donald Sutherland either, all of whom give their all while giving monologues of Trumbo’s letters. In between, there’s amazing footage and audio of Trumbo himself and interviews with his family and close friends, which successfully pulls it all together into a successfully immersive experience. Whether or not you’re familiar with Trumbo’s films, you’re likely to walk away from this experience enlightened to the genius of a true wordsmith and moved by how he lost it all by standing up for his beliefs in the face of adversity. Rating: 8/10
Red Roses and Petrol (World Wide Motion Picture Corp.) – Tamar Simon Hoff’s adaptation of Joseph O’Connor’s stageplay that explores the gathering of a dysfunctional Dublin family for the wake of their patriarch, librarian Enda Doyle (Malcolm McDowell), where they try to deal with unresolved issues. The dark Irish comedy opens in New York and L.A.
Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic (Yash Raj Films) – Kunal Kohli (Fanaa) directs this Bollywood romantic comedy starring Saif Ali Khan as a loner industrialist forced to take in four orphan children due to a court order, but the kids hate him and they turn to an angel named Geeta (Rani Mukerjee) who shows up as the kid’s new nanny. This Bollywood version of “Mary Poppins” opens concurrently with its Indian release in select cities where Bollywood films normally play.
Next week, it’s the Fourth of July, a holiday that once again belongs to Will Smith with his latest action movie playing the superhero Hancock (Sony) while the doll-inspired girlie flick Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (Picturehouse) will expand nationwide, both on Wednesday.