The Weekend Warrior: August 8 – 10

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Greetings and welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly guide to the weekend’s new movies. Tune in every Tuesday for the latest look at the upcoming weekend, and then check back on Thursday night for final projections based on actual theatre counts.

This Friday is August 8, 2008… 8/8/08… and both new movies have decided to open two days earlier on Wednesday to avoid the jinx of opening on such a scary-sounding date. Either that or they’re opening early to get away from the Beijing Summer Olympics which start on Friday.

Even more likely is that Sony decided to open Seth Rogen’s new action-comedy Pineapple Express (Sony) a couple of days earlier in order to get two more days of business once Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder decided to move to Wednesday a couple of weeks back. Either way, it stand the best chance at defeating the seemingly unstoppable The Dark Knight from its fourth week at #1 (even if we thought the same thing about “The Mummy” last week). With so much good will towards Rogen from the success of last year’s R-rated summer comedies Knocked Up and Superbad, one can expect the somewhat more mainstream action-comedy to do a lot of business on Wednesday and Friday, but with less appeal to women and older audiences, it might not see the heights of those previous movies as the diehard Apatow fanbase rushes out to see it opening week and then it’s hit by a number of movies stealing its business the following week.

Offering suitable counter-programming is the chick flick sequel The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (Warner Bros.) reuniting all four of the actresses from the first movie including the super-hot America Ferrera. It’s somewhat surprising that they even made a sequel since the first movie only grossed $40 million, but apparently, it did well on video and with the likes of Amber Tamblyn (“Joan of Arcadia”), Alexis Bledel (“Gilmore Girls”) and Blake Livesey (“Gossip Girl”) all having a growing young female fanbase from their respective shows, one can expect “Sisterhood 2” to do significantly better in its opening week than the previous movie.

(UPDATE: It kind of would be cheating to post updated predictions considering that we already know what the new movies made on Wednesday. Both Pineapple Express and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 have opened bigger than we expected with $12.1 million and $5.7 million respectively, and while both could be frontloaded due to their Wednesday opening, it seems likely that PIneapple Express will do closer to $30 million over the weekend while Traveling Pants will probably be closer to $15 million or maybe even slightly more.)

As far as the returning movies, The Dark Knight should continue to do well, as should Mamma Mia! even with competition for their prime demographics. In general, however, the box office will start to feel the effects of the dog days of summer as fewer people go to the movies and more people go on vacation.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Patti Smith: Dream of Life (Palm Pictures), the documentary by photographer Steven Sebring that takes an intimate look at the artist/poet/rocker, which you can read about here.

Updated Predictions

(Since we already have Wednesday #s, it would be cheating to change my weekend predictions, so we’ll include the original prediction and then the updated one in parentheses.)

1. Pineapple Express (Sony) – $28.2 ($29.5) million N/A (up $1.3 million)

2. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.) – $24.5 million -43% (same)

3. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Universal) – $17.5 million -56% (Down .2 million)

4. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (Warner Bros.) – $12.5 ($13.8) million N/A (Up $1.3 million)

5. Mamma Mia! (Universal) – $9.3 million -29% (up .3 million)

6. Step Brothers (Sony) – $8.3 million -46% (down .1 million)

7. Journey to the Center of the Earth (New Line) – $4.5 million -33% (same)

8. Swing Vote (Touchstone) – $3.5 million -43% (down .1 million)

9. WALL•E (Pixar/Disney) – $3.1 million -32% (same)

10. Hancock (Sony) – $2.8 million -45% (down .1 million)

Last year this week, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker reunited for Rush Hour 3, the third installment in the buddy comedy franchise, which grossed $49 million in its opening weekend, down from the opening of its predecessor six years earlier. Matthew Vaughn’s take on the Neil Gaiman graphic novel Stardust didn’t find much of an audience, opening with just $9.2 million in 2,540 theaters for a disappointing fourth place. Still, it did far better than Cuba Gooding Jr.’s family comedy Daddy Day Camp, which bombed with $3.5 million to take the lowly 10th place. Also, Lionsgate finally opened the long-delayed werewolf thriller Skinwalkers in 745 theatres where it grossed less than a million dollars, an embarrassing bomb. The Top 10 grossed $133 million and like last week, it doesn’t look like this week’s offerings will be able to best it, not unless Pineapple Express does far better than we expect.


The “Battle Cry” is back and this week, we’re asking whether PG-13 comedy is officially and completely dead? Four years ago, if you were to ask us about the possibilities for R-rated comedy, we would have laughed in your face, citing film like Eurotrip and The Girl Next Door and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle as bombs that proved that movies like There’s Something about Mary and the “American Pie” franchise were a fluke that wasn’t going to be repeated.

Things changed the following year when New Line’s Wedding Crashers was a huge hit followed by Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year Old-Virgin, and it was the latter that started a wave of R-rated comedies from Apatow associates leading up to last year’s twosome of Knocked Up and Superbad. Clearly, movie audiences are getting older and more appreciative of humor geared more towards mature audiences that doesn’t have to pull punches in order to avoid being slapped with an R-rating.

This week, we get Pineapple Express, the latest collaboration from the creators of Superbad, and next week, there’s Tropic Thunder, Ben Stiller’s first foray into R-rated territory since last year’s The Heartbreak Kid, one of Stiller’s only bombs since the one-two punch in the gut of Envy and The Duplex, both PG-13. This time he’s joined by Jack Black, also better known for PG-13 fare, and Robert Downey Jr.

Raunchy comedy is nothing new and back in the ’70s and ’80s, movies like Animal House and Porky’s were huge hits that have lasted for generations, influencing many of the filmmakers making R-rated humor today. Sometime in the ’90s, it was decided by studios that it’s better to get a much wider teen audience who have more disposable income, so they started cutting movies so they could get a PG-13 rating, mostly by keeping the expletives down to one F-word. Up until last year, there was plenty of data to prove that PG-13 comedies have generally fared better than their R-rated counterparts. Just look at the poor guys from the Broken Lizard group who have yet to have a big hit with one of their R-rated movies and yet, when they make the PG-13 The Dukes of Hazzard, it grosses more than all of their own movies combined!

Things have changed now, partially due to Apatow’s success, but also because movies are more expensive and fewer teens can afford to go as regularly. Studios are getting less nervous about normally teen-friendly box office stars going for older audiences. In fact, studios are marketing the fact that their movies warranted an R-rating from the MPAA and it’s actually helping some movies like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening (his first movie to get that rating) and Sony’s Step Brothers, which promised a raunchier Will Ferrell, even after his R-rated basketball comedy Semi-Pro bombed months earlier. In fact, Apatow’s two recent PG-13 movies Drillbit Taylor and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan didn’t fare nearly as well as some of his R-rated offerings, making one think that audiences would rather see actors and filmmakers be free to find comedy wherever it can be found whether it’s clean humor or whether they’re “working blue.”

The success of these movies and also of Christopher Nolan’s violent The Dark Knight, which is close to grossing $400 million despite a “Hard PG-13” rating, might be showing Hollywood that the current MPAA ratings system is obsolete, if parents are indeed taking their younger kids to dark PG-13 movies and teens are going to see R-rated movies. Movies like Pineapple Express certainly aren’t meant for those over 30 or kids under 15, but there’s enough moviegoers in the ages in between that a studio can allow a comedy to be R-rated knowing that they’ll still have a sizable audience.

Ironically, my buddy Todd Hill at the Staten Island Advance just wrote a blog entry denouncing R-rated comedy, suggesting that it will be put to rest with the upcoming Rogen and Stiller comedies which go too far, but really, it will depend more on how well the two of them do. If either or both repeats the success of last year’s Knocked Up and Superbad, we’re going to see more filmmakers, actors and studios wanting to try their hand at making movies without the boundaries and limitations of a PG-13 rating and as long as they continue to make good movies, who are we to blame them?

(My other question is “Why won’t Judd Apatow let me interview him?” Seriously, I’ve interviewed every director and actor who’s worked with him and even his wife Leslie Man, and yet, he seems to have cold feet about facing the admittedly lightweight questioning of Ye Olde Weekend Warrior… but that’s probably a “Battle Cry” for another time.)


Pineapple Express (Sony)
Starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez, Danny R. McBride, Amber Heard, James Remar, Ed Begley Jr., Nora Dunn
Directed by David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls, Snow Angels, Undertow); Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad)
Genre: Action, Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: “Put this in your pipe and smoke it.”
Plot Summary: Pot-smoking process server Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) gets into trouble with a drug lord (Gary Cole) when he witnesses the murder of a Chinese rival, sending Dale on the run with his pot dealer Saul (James Franco) as they’re chased by thugs and Asian gangsters.

Review

Interview with David Gordon Green

Interview with Danny McBride

Last August, Superbad, the first movie co-written by Seth Rogen and his high school buddy Evan Goldberg, was released by Sony to huge success, becoming the second-highest opening R-rated comedy and grossing $121 million. Following the success of producer Judd Apatow’s own movies Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin into the $100 million territory, it solidified Apatow’s ability to create huge comedy hits, and it was an even bigger coup for Rogen, who suddenly became the go-to guy for comedy who could do no wrong. Sony quickly was on board for Rogen and Goldberg’s follow-up Pineapple Express and signed the duo to make a movie based on the pulp fiction character Green Hornet.

While three of the same components are in place for this year’s Pineapple Express, it’s arguably a very different movie, more of an action-comedy than a coming-of-age high school comedy, and it will be an even better test for Rogen’s ability to bring people into theaters than Superbad where he played a secondary role to the equally-hot Michael Cera and Jonah Hill. Judd Apatow took a big risk by casting Rogen in the lead role of his second movie Knocked Up–he shared the spotlight there with Katherine Heigl from “Grey’s Anatomy”–although the success of that film helped turn Rogen into one of the hottest comedy stars of the past year, even as he’s been called upon to provide his voice for many of the year’s biggest animated movies including Kung Fu Panda and Horton Hears a Who.

In Superbad, Rogen played a cop riding around with Bill Hader, but this time he’s teamed himself with James Franco, an actor not really known for his comedy although he got his start in the exact same place as Rogen, Apatow’s cult television show “Freaks and Geeks,” where they played best friends before Franco moved onto movies like Never Been Kissed opposite Drew Barrymore. In 2002, he was cast by Sam Raimi in the role of Harry Osborn in Spider-Man, which would lead to his involvement in one of the most successful superhero franchises. Otherwise, Franco’s attempts at a career as a leading man haven’t been as fruitful with military dramas Annapolis and Flyboys that didn’t do very well and roles in indies that didn’t fare very well.

The movie’s secret weapon might be Danny McBride, who not only has a key role in Rogen’s movie but also co-stars in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder opening next week. McBride is quickly becoming a star in comedy circles due to his cult comedy The Foot Fist Way, which wasn’t seen by too many people, but between his role in this and in next week’s Tropic Thunder, he’s well on his way to becoming the next Seth Rogen. To direct it, they brought on Daniel Gordon Green, who brings a lot of indie cred having helmed movies like All the Real Girls (McBride’s first movie) and Snow Angels earlier this year, and having some genre experience with his ’70s-influenced thriller Undertow. The rest of the cast includes actress Rosie Perez from Spike Lee’s early flicks, Gary Cole, who stole many a scene in Will Ferrell’s “Talladega Nights” and lots of other familiar regulars from the Apatow gang.

Pineapple Express isn’t exactly in the same vein as some of Apatow’s other productions, because it doesn’t have as much of a mainstream premise as a coming-of-age movie or the romantic comedy elements of previous movies like April’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Instead, it’s what’s become known as a “stoner comedy,” a genre originated in the ’70s with the movies starring Cheech & Chong and revived in the ’90s with movies like Half-Baked starring Dave Chappelle, followed a year later by Billy Bob Thornton’s Homegrown. In 2001, Wu Tang Clan rappers Method Man and Redman teamed for How High, which tried reinventing the genre, and it fared better than Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, which would go onto become a cult comedy leading to a far more successful sequel earlier this year. Similarly, the movies of the Broken Lizard group, including 2007’s Beerfest, have always found a small but devout college-age audience. The success of Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo is a good sign that America is ready for more drug-driven humor, so Pineapple Express is being released at a good time to bring in more of the summer slackers who have nothing else to do with their time.

Generally, the audience for this movie will be guys from 16 to 30, and it could even have a bit more appeal to “urban” audiences than some of Apatow’s other movies, since action-comedies tend to translate well to that audience, as seen by the success of Bad Boys and Rush Hour. Unfortunately, this also limits the audience slightly because unlike Knocked Up and even Superbad, it won’t appeal as much to women due to the action and violence, nor will it have much interest to older audiences who’ll have already outgrown stoner comedies. In some ways, the mix of genres could also put people off, since Sony’s not selling the movie as a straight comedy nor specifically as an action movie, and audiences unfamiliar with Superbad might be confused by the marketing. Reviews will generally be more mixed than Rogen’s 2007 summer comedies which quickly won over the critics.

Usually opening a movie on a Wednesday might hurt its weekend box office, and that certainly can be the case here with such an anticipated movie, but Sony was obviously hoping the movie could do a bit of extra business on Wednesday and Thursday once Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder decided to open earlier, potentially cutting into the movie’s legs. Fortunately, the commercials have a blaring banner at the top stating that it’s opening on Wednesday and with most of the film’s college-age target audience still out of school, they’re just as likely to rush out and see it on Wednesday or Thursday rather than waiting until the weekend. Because Pineapple Express is such a strange mix of genres, it’s not as likely to get as much repeat and word-of-mouth business as Rogen’s 2007 summer comedies, so it will probably lose some business once Stiller’s movie opens and fall slightly short of the $100 million mark.

Why I Should See It: Rogen and Apatow delivered the laughs on Superbad, and there’s certainly elements of Pineapple Express that will appeal to that same audience.
Why Not: This is a very different movie from Superbad and Knocked Up, so it might not appeal to as wide a demographic, including fewer women and older audiences.
Projections: Expect this to make $15 to 17 million in its first couple days, and then another $26 to 29 million over the three-day weekend. It will probably end up around $90 million or slightly above with Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder nipping at its tail.

COMPARISONS


The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (Warner Bros.)
Starring Alexis Bledel, America Ferrera, Blake Lively, Amber Tamblyn, Jesse Williams, Blythe Danner, Kyle McLaghlan, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Directed by Sanaa Hanri (Something New); Written by Elizabeth Handler (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, What a Girl Wants)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Some friends just fit together.”
Plot Summary: Three years after the events of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, the four young women who became lifelong friends went their separate ways to go off to college, but they remain in touch and still share their adventures through a pair of magical one-size-fits-all patched-up jeans.

My Analysis of the 1st Movie (out of pure laziness of not wanting to repeat myself)

Three years ago, Warner Bros. decided to turn Ann Brashares’ popular girls’ book “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” into a motion picture during a period where every studio was trying to make movies to cater to the female teen and ‘tween audience. It brought together four young actresses, some of whom had already made a mark on television or other movies, and though it only made $13 million in its first five days, opening on a Wednesday, it went on to make nearly $40 million over the rest of the summer. That kind of money wouldn’t make you think that it warranted a theatrical sequel, especially since the movie cost $25 million to make, but the original plan was to do it as a DVD-only movie. One wouldn’t imagine there being much demand for another movie with these characters except that a number of the original stars have gone on to bigger things, most notably America Ferrera, whose became hugely popular due to her Emmy-winning turn on the ABC comedy “Ugly Betty” and suddenly, the decision to release it theatrically made more sense. Brashares’ young adult novels have been popular among girls with four books in print, the first being released in 2001 and the follow-up a year later, although the book was called “The Second Summer of the Sisterhood” rather than the awkward sequel title gone with by Warner Bros, maybe so they could deviate further from the novel.

Even so, they’ve done a good job selling the movie based on the four actresses as much on the fact it’s based on the book and that’s probably what will help the sequel do better than the original. Ferrera is probably the best known due to the success of “Ugly Betty” but she first got noticed when she starred in the indie movie Real Women Have Curves in 2003, and then she had a small role in Lords of Dogtown, which opened just two days after the original “Traveling Pants.” In recent months, she’s gotten involved in production and her first movie La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon) was very successful after being delayed for a year after its Sundance debut. Despite her popularity for “Ugly Betty”, she’s getting a bit of competition from Blake Lively, who has only appeared in one other significant movie since the first “Traveling Pants,” that being the Justin Long and Jonah Hill comedy Accepted two years ago. In the last year, she got a role on the popular CW show “Gossip Girl,” which like “Ugly Betty” is targeted towards the girls who might like this movie.

The other two actresses, Amber Tamblyn and Alexis Bledel, started their careers on popular television shows, “Joan of Arcadia” and “Gilmore Girls” respectively, and since they ended, they’ve both made further ventures into movies, Tamblyn taking over the “Grudge” franchise from Sarah Michelle Gellar a few years back, and Bledel starring in a similar adaptation of a popular young adult novel with Tuck Everlasting, followed three years later with a small role in Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City. Even so, neither actress has really broken out the way Ferrera has, although there are many young women obsessed with them from their love of those cult television shows.

While it might be obvious why Warner Bros. would make a sequel and release it theatrically, especially at a time when there aren’t too many movies for women, it’s odd to see that while the previous movie had a family-friendly PG, the sequel received a PG-13 rating, making it the second Warner Bros. franchise to have a rating increase midway through after the “Harry Potter” series, which started receiving PG-13 ratings with the fourth movie. That didn’t really hurt the later movies and that probably shouldn’t hurt “Traveling Pants 2” since presumably its audience is three years older than it was when the first movie came out.

The real question is whether the popularity of the books warrant another movie since few female ‘tween-oriented book adaptations have done very well theatrically. Last year, the Warner Bros. movie trying to reinvent the popular literary character Nancy Drew for young audiences failed to find much of an audience, and Time Warner subsidiary Picturehouse didn’t have much more luck releasing Kit Kittredge: An American Girl starring Abigail Breslin. In fact, very few of these adaptations of young adult novels have really done well except for the ones released by Disney with Walden Media, so really, the best thing going for this movie is that it is the follow-up to a movie that already won over that audience.

Fortunately, the only other movie geared towards women and girls is the musical Mama Mia! and this looks like it offers a similar sort of fun for teen girls and their mothers so we can probably see some of the audience who already saw the musical moving over to “Traveling Pants,” even if it’s more of a first-week wonder than the previous movie and will probably end up grossing roughly the same as the original.

Why I Should See It: If you like the books or the first movie, chances are that you’ll like the sequel?
Why Not: If you’re not a teen girl, then what business are you doing even reading this?
Projections: $7 to 9 million on Wednesday and Thursday and another $11 to 13 million on the weekend; Expect this to make close to $40 million by the time it leaves theaters.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

This was a tough week to decide on a “Chosen One” because there are a couple of good movies, but I guess in the end, I had to go for the rock doc… just the way I am…

Patti Smith: Dream of Life (Palm Pictures) – Starring Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, Oliver Ray, Tony Shanahan, Jay Dee Daughterty, Jackson Smith, Jesse Smith, Tom Verlaine, Sam Shepard, Phillip Glass, Benjamin Smoke, Flea
Directed by Steven Sebring (debut)
Genre: Documentary, Music, Art
Plot Summary: For ten years, “Spin” photographer Steven Sebring followed rocker/poet Patti Smith around for ten years to assemble this haunting portrait that shows every aspect of her life following the death of her husband Fred “Sonic” Smith.

As much as I like to show off my cool musical tastes and roots as a rocker, I was never the biggest Patti Smith fan, having been well aware of the legacy she created for women in rock and her inspiration on bands like R.E.M. and U2. Sure, I knew most of her songs, but for the longest time, it was only from the numerous covers by other bands, and only heard her versions more recently. Steven Sebring’s intimate portrait of Smith as rock icon, artists and poet, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this past year, is fascinating for a number of reasons, the first being it’s not your typical rock documentary, as Smith gets her history out of the way in the first five minutes via a voice-over that covers most of her career as it’s known. Instead, the movie starts in the mid-’90s after a string of significant deaths including her husband Fred Smith, after which the poet moved back to New York with her two kids and decided to start performing live again for the first time in sixteen years. Unlike other rock docs, there are no interviews with anyone except Smith herself, combined with a narrative voice-over made up of her reading poems and that works that were influential on her own. The concert footage from Smith’s first shows in many years makes up a small part of the movie, but it gives one a great impression of her intensity live. Instead, much of the movie is made up of footage captured by “Spin” photographer Steven Sebring as he followed Smith around for ten years, capturing different sides of her life, spending time with her kids and parents, as well as visiting her old haunts and locations that inspired the poets and writers who inspired her. Combining all of this footage together, you get a uniquely intimate portrait that shows a different side of this woman and artist than what we see of her on stage. The movie probably isn’t nearly as accessible for novices unfamiliar with Smith’s work as it should be, and it requires a lot more effort to get past the film’s artsy nature to actually get any information about Patti’s career. Because of this, you might not immediately know who everyone is because there are no formal introductions or text to help introduce the players, but that makes the film more challenging, similar to A. J. Schnack’s Kurt Cobain: About a Son, one of the better rock movies from last year. The way the footage jumps around in time makes it feel scattered and erratic, because you’re never quite sure what time period you’re watching, and it certainly lacks the much-needed structure of something like Scott Hicks’ Philip Glass movie from earlier this year. Not all of the footage is interesting or necessary either, so it’s obvious that Sebring could probably have cut out 15 to 20 minutes without losing anything, but still, if you’re even remotely interested in this fascinating and enigmatic artist or the influence she’s had on the world of rock, then you might want to check out Sebring’s film when it opens exclusively at the Film Forum in New York on Wednesday.

Honorable Mentions:

Elegy (Samuel Goldwyn) – Isobel Coixet ( ) directed this adaptation of Philip (“The Human Stain”) Roth’s novel “The Dying Animal” starring Sir Ben Kingsley as an author and professor who falls in love with his gorgeous student (Penelope Cruz) who is 30 years his junior, but then becomes completely obsessed with her former lovers. Also starring Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard and Dennis Hopper, it opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Interview with Isabel Coixet

Mini-Review: Staged like a play in an extremely minimalist way, Coixet’s vision of Philip Roth’s novel is a gorgeous looking film with a wry and clever script and a talented cast giving stellar performances, yet it’s a film that suffers greatly from the painstakingly slow pace that makes it hard to remain interested in what’s happening, which for the most part, is not a hell of a lot. As surprising as it may be by how much time is covered over the course of the film, it mostly revolves around the relationships of Sir Ben Kingsley’s David Kepesh, a noted author and literature expert who goes against his instincts and falls for his beautiful younger student Consuela (Penelope Cruz). Their evolving relationship is countered with his lunch-time discussions with his prize-winning poet friend George (Dennis Hopper) and time spent with his “f*ck-buddy” (for lack of a better term) Carolyn, played by Patricia Clarkson. The film unfolds via a series of dialogue-driven scenes that mainly work well since Kingsley plays a real person with flaws rather than one of the eccentric characters with a funny accent we’ve seen far too much from him in recent years, exuding the same charm and personality Kingsley possesses in real life. Kingsley confidently carries the movie, being in just about every scene while interacting with some of the finest working actors, some of the strongest moments being his confrontation with his estranged son, played by Peter Sarsgaard. Patricia Clarkson gives a daring, sexy performance as well, but the real surprise comes in the form of Dennis Hopper with one of strongest performances since “River’s Edge” or “Blue Velvet.” For much of the film, he acts as a sounding board for Kepesh, keeping things light amidst the drama, but late in the movie, his character takes a turn that’s quite poignant and moving, one that truly defines their relationship. By comparison, Cruz is just okay, because Consuela isn’t nearly as strong a role as we’ve seen her play in the past, and she tends to play a backseat to Kingsley and the rest of the cast. Having not read the novel, it’s hard to understand the appeal of having such a character-driven piece that never really delivers a payoff, making the film’s last act problematic, since after 90 minutes of build-up, you’re left with an ending that leaves you hanging and possibly somewhat confused. Even with the pacing problems, one has to credit Coixet for assembling such an amazing cast and capturing their amazing performances with mesmerizing cinematography that would make Terrence Mallick proud and creates intensely riveting drama. Rating: 7/10

What We Do is Secret (Peace Arch Entertainment) – The life and death of Crash Darby, lead singer of early L.A. hardcore band The Germs is dramatized by Rodger Grossman with Shane West (A Walk to Remember) as Darby and Rick Gonzalez as punk guitarist Pat Smear (the real Smar was a musical consultant on the film). Covering the five years from the birth of the band to Darby’s suicidal death, it opens in New York (at the Landmark Sunshine) and in L.A. (If you’re in New York, you can buy two tickets to the movie for Friday and Saturday and get a free ticket to see the Germs play on Friday in New York. Check it out!)

Mini-Review: If you’re from L.A. and over 30, chances are that you worship the ground the Germs played music on, as rare as that was, but if you’re from anywhere else in the world, they were easily forgotten hardcore punk pioneers with songs that weren’t nearly as memorable as their peers. Maybe that’s why it’s hard not to be skeptical on the decision for Rodger Grossman to make a biopic about the short life of Germs singer Darby Crash, using an overused faux documentary technique, cutting interviews with the actors in character talking about Darby in between dramatizations of some of the legendary stories from the band’s short musical career. Shane West does the most impressive job capturing the attitude of the outspoken self-destructive singer both on stage and when being interviewed, but he’s surrounded by far weaker actors that make the movie feel like a homogenized MTV version of the Germs with weaker actors playing dress-up as L.A. punks. Rick Gonzalez is only okay as Pat Smear, the Germs’ most famous member due to his stints with Nirvana and the Food Fighters, but Bijou Philips spends too much of the film smiling and laughing as bassist Lorna Doom. The generally bad miming and lip syncing is particularly inexcusable especially considering how weak the Germs were as musicians, but some of the recreations of famous performances (like the one in “The Decline of Western Civilization”) are particularly impressive due to West’s amazing on-stage charisma. There are some fun secondary characters including a surprisingly good turn by Ray “Darth Maul” Park as the club owner who gives the Germs their first gig, but the film tends to gloss over Crash’s sexuality far too much, leaving a lot of question marks about his relationships with various hangers-on. Fortunately, the movie’s last half hour is where things start to get interesting, as it builds to Darby’s untimely but predictable death in December ’80, which goes almost unnoticed in the wake of the assassination of John Lennon. While Grossman’s movie isn’t nearly as dramatic or visually captivating as last year’s “Control,” nor is it particularly daring for a movie about punk music, it does offer an interesting piece of the puzzle from the L.A. hardcore scene that hasn’t been explored as much as one might expect. Rating: 7/10

Also in Limited Release:

Bottle Shock (Freestyle Releasing) – The new movie from Randall Miller (Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School) takes a look at the early days of the California wine industry with Alan Rickman playing a snobbish British wine merchant who travels to the California wine region to find wines that could possibly stand up to those produced by the French. Also starring Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Rachael Taylor and Freddy Rodriguez, it opens on Wednesday in select cities.

Mini-Review: Becoming known for creating visually stylistic films that look better than their low budgets might convey, Randall Miller sadly blows it with his third movie (after the yet-to-be-released “Nobel Son”), treading territory handled better in “Sideways” and “A Good Year.” It’s mostly based around the flimsy premise of Alan Rickman’s British wine snob Steven Spurrier and his desire in 1976 to find wines that can compete against the French, who had cornered the market on fine wine for centuries. At the same time, we see Bill Pullman and Chris Pine as father and son vintners Jim and Bo Barrett trying to achieve their dreams of creating the perfect Chardonnay in California, but plagued by ongoing problems that make it unlikely they’ll even be able to keep their vineyard. By this point, you can probably figure out exactly where things are going and yet, we sit through 108 minutes of tedium, structured similarly to sports dramas as Miller throws obstacles and hurdles at the character to try and create excitement and tension in the otherwise dull concept of a battle between French and American wines. There are too many characters and sub-stories that detract from the focus of film, but for the most part, most of the movie is spent with them sitting around drinking wine and talking about it. (Yawn.) Rickman is perpetually entertaining as always but Pullman gives a flat performance and fails to be convincing in his role, while the younger characters played by Pine and Rachael Taylor aren’t particularly well-developed characters. Freddy Rodriguez’s character has some good moments–he works for the Barrett’s but has his own dreams as a vintner–however, the presence of Eliza Dushku as a bartender at a local dive with the world’s best wine cellar apparently serves little purpose. Miller’s attempts at creating a ’70s period piece complete with Doobie Brothers tunes seems fake due to the shoddy costumes, and the movie’s modern visual style, while it looks great, detracts from the effect. Much of the film thrives on Miller’s panoramic shots of the vineyard-covered Napa Valley landscapes, but with such poorly developed characters and story, you end up with nothing but that setting, which does not a movie make. Why anyone would be interested in this movie is beyond me, and since it’s fairly obvious where things are going, it’s somewhat of a waste of time when all’s said and done… unless you’re REALLY into wine. Rating: 4.5/10

Beautiful Losers (Sidetrack Films) – Aaron Rose and Joshua Leonard’s documentary looks at a group of young outsider artists who came together in ’90s New York from the worlds of skateboarding, punk, hip-hop and graffiti to make unique artwork, including interviews with filmmakers Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) and Harmony Korine (Mister Lonely). The documentary co-directed by the “Blair Witch Project” star opens in New York at the IFC Center on Friday.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Beer For My Horses (Roadside Attractions) – Country singer Toby Keith’s #1 song of the same name is turned into a road comedy-adventure written and starring Keith and comedian Rodney Carrington as Southern deputies, one of whose girlfriend is kidnapped by a druglord as revenge, forcing them to go against their boss’ wishes to save her, with help from a bow ‘n’ arrow sporting loner, played by Ted Nugent. It opens in select cities.

Hell Ride (3rd Rail Releasing / Dimension) – Quentin Tarantino exec-produced the first movie from Larry Bishop in 12 years, as he wrote, directed and acts in this throwback to the biker movies of old, playing Pistolero, the leader of a group of bikers wanting revenge against a rival gang who killed one of their members. Co-starring Michael Madsen, Dennis Hopper, David Carradine and Vinnie Jones, it will open in select cities on Friday after debuting at the Sundance Film Festival.

Red (Magnolia) – Brian Cox stars in this adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s short story about a small town widower whose dog is killed by a trio of punks leading him to enact revenge upon them. Having also premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, it opens exclusively in New York at the Cinema Village.

Interview with Brian Cox (Coming Soon!)

Interview with Stephen Susco (Also Coming Soon!)

Mini-Review: Ketchum’s story could have formed the foundation for a strong character-based thriller or even a cool revenge flick ala “Death Wish,” so who knows what happened from this film’s origins to the final film which is so god-awful in so many ways that one might get distracted from the story wondering how things could have gone so horribly wrong. One certainly can’t blame it on Brian Cox, who is absolutely riveting as the widower wronged by a group of troublemaking teens, but his terrific performance is squandered by surrounding him with awful actors like Tom Sizemore and Robert Englund, who can’t help but chew up scenery trying to create more drama in scenes that don’t require it. Who knows if that is why Lucky Mckee, director of May and The Woods, walked or was replaced midway through production by Norwegian director Tryvge Diesen, but the quality of the filmmaking is all over the place, as might be the case when you have two directors making a movie. Even beyond the poor production values and bad acting it’s a tough movie to watch due to the excessive amount of gore and bloodshed—and let’s face it, a movie that starts with the brutal shooting of a dog in the head is not exactly going to be winning over many fans. Cox’s Avery is an interesting character and moreso once we learn about the tragedy from his past, but the last act is marred by sensationalistic car chases and gun fights that seem to come from out of left field, as they try to intensify things, but the lack of a budget is fairly evident as it tries to fudge its way through the action. There’s also some serious issues with continuity that kills the film’s credibility including a TV reporter who tries to help Avery, but who by the end is writing for the local newspaper. That’s just a small part of many things that don’t make sense in this movie that seems to have been thrown together so slap-dash that it often achieves Ed Wood levels of awful, which is a shame because Brian Cox really gives it his all and his performance would probably be even better if he didn’t have to deal with such poor production values around him. Rating: 4/10


Next week, it’s the August Hump Weekend, the last chance to catch a potentially good movie before the true Dog Days of Summer, and the best bet is probably Ben Stiller’s war comedy Tropic Thunder (DreamWorks), co-starring Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr., or George Lucas’ latest Jedi adventure in the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Warner Bros.) Also, French horror director Alexander (High Tension) Aja returns with Mirrors (20th Century Fox) starring Keifer Sutherland, while the 3-D animated Fly Me to the Moon (Summit) tries to make some sort of mark, and Woody Allen is back with the ménage a trois comedy Vicky Christina Barcelona (Weinstein Co.) starring Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson.

Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas