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.
1. Max Payne (20th Century Fox) – $22.1 million N/A (down 1.4 million)
2. W. (Lionsgate) – $11.7 million N/A (same)
3. Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney) – $10.8 million -38% (same)
4. The Secret Life of Bees (Fox Searchlight) $7.2 million N/A (up .1 million)
5. Body of Lies (Warner Bros.) – $7.0 million -46% (same)
6. Quarantine (Screen Gems/Sony) $6.8 million -52% (same)
7. Eagle Eye (DreamWorks) $6.2 million 43% (same)
8. Sex Drive (Summit) $5.8 million N/A (up .2 million)
9. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Sony) – $3.7 million -42% (same)
10. The Express (Universal) – $2.8 million -39% (same)
After another dismal weekend where Disney’s chihuahua movie brought in the most money, there’s some hope this weekend for movies about a video game character… and Max Payne (20th Century Fox). (rimshot)
Mark Wahlberg stars in John Moore’s take on the crime noir video game character that took game consoles by storm seven years ago, and that should be the first choice for many younger guys from 15 to 25, helped greatly by the surprising PG-13 rating the movie received despite the original video game’s “M” rating. With a stronger cast than most video games movies normally get, it should benefit from the guys who’ve enjoyed Wahlberg’s previous police work in The Departed and We Own the Night over the last two Octobers, and with the widest release of the new movies, first place should be a foregone conclusion.
Oliver Stone takes on our 43rd President in W. (Lionsgate) with Josh Brolin playing the title role, surrounded by an all-star cast as members of his family and cabinet. Political comedy generally doesn’t do very well, but there’s something intriguing about the concept of Stone making a biopic about not only a living president, but one still in office, and it might be the entertainment of choice for those looking for some laughs going into the last two weeks of a heated Presidential election. Then again, the Americans who’ve been railing about Bush for the last seven to eight years may not want to waste their time seeing a movie about him, even when it’s done in a humorous and/or detrimental way.
Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo all star in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s bestselling novel The Secret Life of Bees (Fox Searchlight), a moving portrait of strong black women in the South during the ’60s should be able to do decent business among its female demographic due to the popularity of the book and the cast despite getting only a moderate release into roughly 1,400 theatres.
The raunchy R-rated comedy Sex Drive (Summit) could theoretically bring in some of the college-age audience not interested in Max Payne, but there’s very little beyond supporting appearances by Seth Green and James Marsden to set this apart from other similar post-“American Pie” road comedies like MGM’s bomb College, so this will probably end up in the lower half of the Top 10 even with a release into 1,000 more theaters than “Bees.”
This week’s “Chosen One” is Caroline Suh’s documentary FrontRunners (Oscilloscope Labs), which looks at a different Presidential election, the one at the highly-competitive Stuyvesant High School in New York City. You can read about that below.
This weekend last year was one of those crazy weekends with five new releases and although the horror comic adaptation 30 Days of Night (Screen Gems) starring Josh Hartnett came out on top, it only brought in $16 million in 2,855 theaters, not very impressive considering expectations. Ben Affleck’s directorial debut Gone Baby Gone (Miramax) starring brother Casey, Michelle Monaghan and Oscar nominee Amy Ryan opened in 1,700 theatres, grossing $5.5 million, putting it just behind the sports spoof movie The Comebacks (Fox Atomic), which opened in over a thousand more theaters. The rerelease of the 3D version of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas continued its holiday tradition bringing in $5.3 million in less than 600 theaters. The Middle East thriller Rendition (New Line) bombed with its $4 million opening, but did better than the Halle Berry drama Things We Lost in the Fire (DreamWorks), which opened outside the Top 10 with $1.6 million. Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour (Freestyle) and the animated The Ten Commandments (Promenade) both grossed less than a million in over 800 theaters, adding to the number of bombs for the weekend. The Top 10 grossed $73 million, an amount that should be bested by this weekend’s offerings.
THE BATTLE CRY
The box office has gone to the dogs… quite literally. But no, we’re not here to analyze and criticize that Disney’s Beverly Hills Chihuahua is making its way to $100 million after two weekends at #1. No, we’re looking at a subject that the animal rights group PETA might be interested at looking into.
In the Barry Levinson comedy What Just Happened, opening this weekend in select cities, one key plot point established within the first ten minutes of the movie is that killing a dog in a movie is a sure way to lose your audience. It makes this point via a test screening where the crowd is outraged by the graphic shooting of the hero’s dog in a movie produced by Robert De Niro’s character. What struck me so odd about this scene on seeing it again, months after the Sundance debut, is how many movies have completely disproved this theory, by shooting, punching or killing their canine stars. (And sadly, no, Beverly Hills Chihuahua probably isn’t one of them.)
Exhibit A through C: In this year’s biggest movie, The Dark Knight, within the first 20 minutes of the movie, we see the film’s hero, Batman, getting violent on some rottweilers trained to kill. He didn’t exactly shoot the dogs in the head or anything but he got pretty rough with them considering they were just doing their master’s bidding. On the other hand, in Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies, Leonardo DiCaprio ends up in a back alley in the Middle East where he’s attacked by vicious dogs and he gets a lot more final with the way he handles them. While almost nobody saw the dark comedy How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, there’s a subplot about a dog that gets its untimely demise, though that’s done more in a comic way ala There’s Something About Mary.
This isn’t a new thing as last year, the canine co-star of one of last year’s biggest blockbuster died in the middle of the movie, yet that didn’t keep people from seeing and raving about the movie, and Josh Brolin (who stars in this week’s W.) shot not ONE dog last year… but TWO, and in two separate movies no less… and yet everyone still likes him, right?
I haven’t seen Max Payne or Quarantine yet, so I have no idea if there are any dogs in there that might come to a bad demise, but it’s a rather strange trend lately. (Oddly, dogs and Julianne Moore–no dog there–seem to be the only ones not affected by the mystery blindness virus in Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness, so not everyone is using them merely for bullet fodder.)
It’s just funny that these movies are all coming out so soon after one another and you’ll never hear anyone say “boo” about the way dogs are treated in these movies, disproving the adage from the book based on Art Linson’s Hollywood memoir that killing a dog is the easiest way to lose your audience. The point is that there is certainly this rabid (ha ha) group of dog lovers in this country who you can win over with the cute mutts, as seen by the chihuahua movie, but one wonders whether in this day and age, killing or hurting a dog in a movie really can lose an audience or hurt a movie’s chances at the box office. It certainly didn’t bother them that dogs were seriously injured by the Batman, and yet, that’s the second highest grossing movie ever without a single negative comment said about the scene, so apparently, dogs will continue to be mistreated for the entertainment of moviegoers as long as there’s a cute talking dog movie coming out to balance things out.
Max Payne (20th Century Fox)
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Olga Kurylenko, Chris O’Donnell
Directed by John Moore (The Omen (2006), Behind Enemy Lines, Flight of the Phoenix); Written by Beau Thorne (debut)
Genre: Crime, Action, Thriller
Plot Summary: After the murder of his family and partner, DEA Agent Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) must work with a Romanian assassin (Mila Kunis) to find the killers, while they’re both hunted by the police, the mob and all sorts of supernatural entities.
One of the more interesting releases this weekend is a movie based on a video game that amazingly wasn’t directed either by Uwe Boll or Paul W.S. Anderson. Instead, the big screen version of the third person shooter game that took the consoles and computers by storm back in 2001 and 2002, puts actor Mark Wahlberg in the role of the tough gumshoe with 20th Century Fox’s favorite director John Moore helming. Moore directed two reasonable-sized hits for the studio with Behind Enemy Lines in 2001 and the remake of The Omen in 2006 with the less-successful remake of The Flight of the Phoenix in between. He’s taken the original video game and created a stylish movie that looks more like comic book movies Sin City or Constantine than some of the other video game movies, which should make it intriguing even to those who haven’t played the games.
Wahlberg has been solidifying his status as a box office draw in recent years, and playing a police officer isn’t much of a stretch, as he did so in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, for which he was nominated for an Oscar, and then last year in We Own the Night. He’s played lots of other tough guy roles, in John Singleton’s Four Brothers and in Antoine Fuqua’s Shooter, and his career has generally been in good shape since starring in The Italian Job which was followed by five movies that grossed close to $50 million or more. This past summer, Wahlberg followed Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson and Joaquim Phoenix by starring in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, which was Wahlberg’s biggest opener since Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes seven years ago, but a movie that had practically no legs. Unlike many of Wahlberg’s other roles, Max Payne is a known entity, which should allow it to open at least as well as Four Brothers despite not opening in summer.
Wahlberg is joined by Mila Kunis from “That ’70s Show,” fresh off her breakout appearance in the comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, just out on DVD, and the unrelated Beau Bridges and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, the latter also appearing in Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla, which is currently in limited release.
The biggest opening video game to date was the movie based on Lara Croft: Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie, with $48 million, though that was a summer release. Mostly, these movies tend to open in between $20 to 25 million range, as seen by the first Mortal Kombat, the two “Resident Evil” sequels and the Silent Hill movie. The only other video game adaptation released in October, generally a bad month for movies, was the Universal movie based on the popular shooter game Doom, which only opened with $15.5 million. On the other hand, Fox did decent business last year with the movie based loosely on the video game Hitman, which grossed about $21 million over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2,500 theaters.
With that in mind, there may be somewhat of a ceiling to how much a movie like this can make by the nature of its genre and release month, although its getting a far wider release than previous video game movies into over 3,000 theaters and it does have a bigger star than most of its predecessors, which should help it do better than it may have otherwise, allowing it to win the weekend by a nice margin.
Why I Should See It: Max Payne was a really cool video game and John Moore and Mark Wahlberg should be the right team to bring it to the screen.
Why Not: Has there ever been a really good video game movie?
Projections: $22 to 25 million opening weekend and roughly $44 million total.
Starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, Richard Dreyfuss, James Cromwell, Ellen Burstyn, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Scott Glenn, Ioan Gruffudd, Jesse Bradford
Directed by Oliver Stone (World Trade Center, Platoon, The Doors, Alexander, Any Given Sunday, JFK, Wall Street); Written by Stanley Weiser (Wall Street, “Rudy: The Rudy Giulliani Story”)
Genre: Comedy, Politics
Tagline: “A life misunderestimated…”
Plot Summary: Oliver Stone explores the life of George Walker Bush (Josh Brolin) from his days in college, to meeting his wife Laura (Elizabeth Banks), finding faith and his early political career, all leading up to him becoming the 43rd President of the United States.
This will certainly be an interesting movie to follow this weekend in terms of box office, since it’s such an anomaly amongst the other movies being released this fall, as well as the other movies we’ve seen in recent years. On the one hand, it’s the latest biopic from Oliver Stone, who has made a name for himself with that genre, but it’s also a project that seems to come from out of nowhere, announced earlier this year and put into production quickly so that it could get out before the November election.
Following two years after World Trade Center, which tried to show what happened during the fateful 9/11 terrorist attacks, this is an interesting choice, being Stone’s third movie made about a president after JFK in 1991 and Nixon four years later, except that in this case, the President not only is alive but still in office. The movie couldn’t come out at a better time with George W. Bush’s run as the 43rd President coming to an end and everyone into election mode of who will replace him, which is a similar environment (or so we thought) in which Michael Moore released his record-setting doc Fahrenheit 9/11 four years ago.
One would expect that Stone would take the liberal approach to the movie, in the sense of making Bush look like an even bigger clown than he is, but it’s interesting that the movie reteams him with Stanley Weiser, screenwriter of Stone’s 1987 stock exchange drama Wall Street–which is rather timely in itself–but who also wrote the TV movie “Rudy: The Rudy Giulliani Story” which took a less than favorable view of the former New York City mayor.
Stone has assembled another great cast but the most attention is being paid to Josh Brolin and his performance as George Walker Bush, since he’s front and center on this one. Elizabeth Banks, who also appears in Kevin Smith’s new movie later this month, plays Laura, while James Cromwell and Ellen Burstyn are his parents George and Barbara Bush. Since the movie covers Bush’s Presidency up to the United Station invasion of Iraq in 2003, it also includes the likes of Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney, Toby Jones as Karl Rove, Thandie Newton as Condoleeza Rice and Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell, plus there are a lot of other well known actors taking on other key political figures.
What’s really strange about the movie is that Lionsgate is selling the movie as a comedy, though knowing Stone, it’s probably more of a serious biopic that’s just being made to look funnier in hopes of getting more people interested in seeing it. It’s an odd choice since political comedy isn’t a genre that’s proven very popular among moviegoers, going by some of the recent bombs like Swing Vote starring Kevin Costner and American Dreamz. Even the more popular political comedies like Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog and Primary Colors topped out at $43 million, which would not be a good return for an Oliver stone movie. The big difference is that much like Michael Moore, Stone is notorious for his political stances and politically-charged movies, and he’s a director who can sell a movie based solely on his name, being a serious and established filmmaker among filmgoers, as well as those in the industry. There certainly was a lot of controversy and doubts whether he could make a mainstream movie about 9/11, and yet World Trade Center grossed $70 million after opening with $18 million, so there are certainly still audiences interested in Oliver Stone’s view of the world.
The question is who will want to see this movie besides diehard Oliver Stone fans? Surely, Bush doesn’t have too many fans or supporters left, considering how much of the country blames him for the mess we’re in, both in terms of the economy and Iraq, but will conservatives, Republicans and the Christian Right want to show support for their beloved leader? Will they want to support a movie by a known liberal who is probably trying to make Bush look even worse? More importantly, will big city liberals want to see the movie to get more ammo against their mortal enemy or have they had their limit to the point where they wouldn’t even want to see a movie that might potentially create a sympathetic portrait of the man while mocking him?
Those are the questions all coming into play as Lionsgate gives the movie a more moderate release into roughly 2,000 theaters, a thousand less than World Trade Center more likely focused in the big cities, college towns and the liberal areas where the movie might do particularly well. While it probably couldn’t make a serious play for the top spot, there should be enough interest to give it a slight edge over Beverly Hills Chihuahua in its third weekend.
Why I Should See It: Oliver Stone is one of the country’s most intense political filmmakers and his take on our President certainly should be interesting.
Why Not: Going by Stone’s past movies, this might be another heavily liberally political message movie that’s not nearly as entertaining as it looks from the commercials.
Projections: $11 to 13 million opening weekend and $38 million total.
Sex Drive (Summit)
Starring James Marsden, Josh Zuckerman, Amanda Crew, Katrina Bowden, Seth Green, Clark Duke
Written and directed by Sean Anders with John Morris (Never Been Thawed)
Tagline: “He’s leaving virgin territory.”
Plot Summary: After 18-year-old virgin Ian Lafferty (Josh Zuckerman) meets a sexy girl online who offers to deflower him if he drives the 500 miles to meet her, he steals his brother Rex’s flashy sports car and sets off across the country with his best friend Lance (Clark Duke) and his childhood crush Felicia (Amanda Crews), getting into all sorts of trouble along the way.
Falling somewhere between the cracks of the other releases is this raunchy R-rated road comedy which will try to bring in the college age males who might not be interested in some of the other movies, but it might have a hard time convincing anyone that this is something worth going to see in theaters, since it looks like so many other movies, from Todd Phillips’ Road Trip to the recent MGM bomb College.
This new movie from Sean Anders stars newcomers Josh Zuckerman, Amanda Crew and Clark Duke, all virtual unknowns to the young audience the movie is trying to appeal to. Amanda Crew appeared in Final Destination 3 and on various TV shows since then, but the two guys are young actors who haven’t really made much of a name for themselves before this movie. Instead, the main star power comes in the form of co-producer Seth Green as an Amish man they meet on their trip and James Marsden as Ian’s brother Rex. This is familiar territory for Green, who has mainly done comedy or been the comic relief in action movies like The Italian Job. He’s well known among young audiences from his roles in the “Austin Powers” movies and sleeper hits like the 2004 sleep Without a Paddle, although in recent years he’s mainly been focusing on his Cartoon Network show “Robot Chicken.” On the other hand, this is a very different kind of movie and role for Marsden, known mainly for playing Scott Summer/Cyclops in the “X-Men” movies but who’s branched out into musicals and comedy with the back-to-back hits with Hairspray and 27 Dresses. In this movie, Marsden plays a similar role to what Seann William Scott did in the “American Pie” movies and it’s jarring how almost unrecognizable he is while doing so.
The problem is that this type of movie will only appeal to a specific audience, mostly teens, but being R-rated, that audience is somewhat limited to those who can get into see the movie. The over-17 crowd certainly has plenty of stronger choices this weekend, and there’s nothing to say that they’d have much interest in a familiar-looking comedy. Even if the movie gets semi-decent reviews, this movie is just too much like Rainn Wilson’s The Rocker in that those who are really interested in seeing it will be fine waiting until it arrives on DVD, because there doesn’t seem to be any sort of immediacy to see it in theaters. (The minimal audiences at this past weekend’s sneak previews is proof of that.)
Why I Should See It: Even though this looks like so many similar comedies, it’s actually very funny; the writing is solid as is the cast including very funny roles for Seth Green and James Marsden.
Why Not: Most people who see this will probably want a spin-off sequel with just Seth Green and James Marsden’s characters.
Projections: $5 to 6 million opening weekend and about $15 million total.
The Secret Life of Bees (Fox Searchlight)
Starring Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, Nate Parker, Tristan Wilds, Hilarie Burton, Paul Bettany
Written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball)
Plot Summary: When Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) runs away from home with her black cook (Jennifer Hudson) in 1964, they end up at the South Carolina home of August Boatwright (Queen Latifah), a local purveyor of honey, who lives alone with her two sisters June (Alicia Keys) and May (Sophie Okonedo), all independent and thriving despite the ever-present racism as the Civil Rights moment starts to take effect.
Mini-Review: Even without reading the book, one can easily deduce how this adaptation will explore every single manipulative trick in the book to tug at the heartstrings of women whose emotions are easily manipulated. The movie opens with young Lilly accidentally shooting her mother and ten years later, she’s still living with an angry and bitter father who’s scared of his teen daughter growing up. Being the South during the early ’60s, racism is ever-present even though the Civil Rights Movement has had a pyrrhic victory when blacks are allowed to vote. When Lilly’s maid Rosaleen (Hudson) goes to exercise her right and is beaten to within an inch of her life by white men, prompting Lilly to leave and try to find out who her mother was. The similarities in the setting and characters to Fanning’s last movie “Hounddog” is somewhat disconcerting, but once she arrives at the bright pink house owned by the Boatwright Sisters, August, May and June, the film settles into a dull and plodding Lifetime movie filled with overwrought drama and sentimentality. Essentially, it’s a lot of talking and crying and some girly silliness to try to keep things light in between. Dakota Fanning’s transition to adolescence has not been a smooth one, so much so that one particular scene where she sucks honey off the finger of a black boy might make you squirm if you still see her as a “little girl.” Otherwise, the writing and performances are flat, feeling almost phoned-in at times, especially in corny scenes where Queen Latifah waxes philosophical about her bees, about life and about love to anyone who’ll listen, taking her matriarchal role far too seriously. Sophie Okonedo does a good job avoiding the “full retard” as the slower Boatwright sister May, but neither Alicia Keys nor Jennifer Hudson really bring much to the table with their roles. The movie just feels like it’s trying too hard to run the gamut of human emotions with an overabundance of character arcs and subplots while rolling out every cliché in the book, making the whole thing feel forced and contrived. The real killer is that the movie’s last 20 minutes is quite good, really paying off on the mundane melodrama earlier in the movie. By then you’ve already sat through an hour and a half hours of boring cliches, and even the most patient fan of the book might find it hard to forgive that. Then again, if you love the book, you’ll surely thrill to see it finally brought to the screen since Gina Prince-Bythewood does a good job capturing the look and feel of the period in the movie, evn if it relies far too much on the soundtrack to drive the movie. Even so, the movie doesn’t quite create resonance within the viewer towards the black experience of the times the same way that movies like “Dreamgirls” or “Ray” were able to do, so watching the movie is an experience quickly forgotten. Rating: 5.5/10
Sue Monk Kidd’s 2002 novel “The Secret Life of Bees” exploded onto the New York Times bestseller list after it was chosen by “Good Morning America” for its Book Club and millions of women discovered its inspirational story set during a pivotal time during the early days of the Civil Rights Movement.
Five years later, it’s been adapted for the screen by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the filmmaker behind Love and Basketball, who assembled an all-star cast of some of the strongest African-American actresses who’ve come from the world of music. The main character Lilly is played by 14-year-old Dakota Fanning, her first movie since the controversial indie Hounddog, which was also set in the South during the ’60s; it was destroyed by critics when it debuted at Sundance in 2007 and bombed when it was released in select cities last month. Before then, Fanning had an impressive string of starring roles in box office hits like the thriller Hide and Seek opposite Robert De Niro, which made her one of the most successful actresses under 15, although she hasn’t really been seen on-screen much in the past couple years. Lily’s housemaid is played by Jennifer Hudson, who won an Oscar for her first movie role in Dreamgirls, then followed it with a role in the chick flick blockbuster Sex and the City this past summer. Queen Latifah plays a beekeeping honey producer and the matriarch of the house, August Boatwright, a great role for the former rapper, similar to her role as Motormouth Mabel in last year’s musical Hairspray. Latifah is a strong actress with many fans going back to her days as a rapper and talk show host, and her career really took off in 2003, when she starred in the hit musical Chicago followed by the comedy Bringing Down the House with Steve Martin and a cameo in Scary Movie 3. Alicia Keys is more popular for her music, although she continues her inroads into acting, having co-starred in Joe Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces and having a small role in Scarlett Johansson’s The Nanny Diaries. The third Boatwright sister is played by Sophie Okonedo, the Oscar-nominated co-star of Don Cheadle’s Hotel Rwanda, and it also co-stars Nate Parker, who notably appeared last year in Denzel Washington’s The Great Debaters, a movie that explores similar subject matter as Secret Life of Bees.
Besides the subject of racism and being black in the South during the ’60s, the movie also deals with women’s issues, as well as having a spirituality that’ll further appeal to the black women that the film targets. The key to the movie’s success is certainly the popularity of the book and the cast, and the fact that Fox Searchlight is opening the movie in just 1,400 theatres shouldn’t matter since the women who love the original book will know it’s been turned into a movie with help from the likes of Oprah and other morning talk shows. Maybe it isn’t the kind of movie that women will necessary flock to opening weekend, but with many of the female-centric movies like Nights in Rodanthe disappearing from theaters, there’s a room for this to find an audience, especially among the female-oriented book clubs that’ll probably want to see the movie after reading and discussing the novel. This should have a decent opening, if not spectacular, and it should have strong legs based on word-of-mouth as other women tell their friends about it when they return to work on Monday.
Why I Should See It: Sue Monk-Kidd’s novel makes for a stirring and emotional film…
Why Not: …unless you’re a white guy in which case, you generally wouldn’t be too interested or affected by the issues explored in the film.
Projections: $6 to 8 million opening weekend and $23 to 25 million total.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Well, there weren’t that many choices this week, having not seen many of this weekend’s movies, which means we’ll have to go with…
FrontRunners (Oscilloscope Labs) – Caroline Suh’s documentary explores the elections for student body president at New York’s exclusive and competitive Stuyvesvant High School, showing how even at their young age, the students taking part in the election understand how many different elements contribute to a winning campaign. Having played at this year’s South by SouthWest, it opens at New York’s Film Forum on Wednesday.
Mini-Review: Just in time for the latest Presidential Election, here’s a simply-made yet entertaining doc that has a similar appeal as Alexander Payne’s “Election” while following in the vein of docs like “American Teen” and “Spellbound.” It’s a fairly straight-forward but a decent debut from Suh, who spends time at New York’s exclusive Stuyvesant High School following the campaign of four tickets running for the President and VP of the Student Union, interviewing the students and getting their reactions to the campaign as it progresses, and it’s amazing how seriously the candidates take the election. The most interesting candidate is George, a strange, cocky nerd with a backpack, almost a Ferris Bueller type, whose running partner has to keep from snickering and shaking her head as he tries to explain his campaign; a few minutes later we’re seeing him trying to communicate with classmates who also have no idea what he’s talking about. What is interesting is how smart these teens are, talking about all of the different elements that come into play with the election including the race card and the candidate’s looks, which makes it very much of a popularity contest. One clever teen even makes comparisons between the debate between the top two candidates and the Kennedy/Nixon debate from thirty years before they were born. It’s interesting to see how the different tickets approach campaigning for the election, particular the slacker candidates Alex and Zakia who do no campaigning at all. It’s also interesting to see how what the students are going through relates to the current Presidential election, making this the perfect time to release this movie. Ultimately, the movie is a lot of talking between the interviews and the analysis by school pundits and teachers. Otherwise, it isn’t a bad first film from Suh with decent production values, and it’ll be interesting to see how she might tackle a subject matter that isn’t so regionally specific and might have appeal to a larger audience. Rating: 7.5/10
Also in Limited Release:
What Just Happened (Magnolia) – Barry Levinson bites the Hollywood hand that feeds him in this adaptation of Art Linson’s of the same name which stars Robert De Niro as Ben, a Hollywood producer going through personal crises at home while facing problems with two of his projects, one involving a primadonna British director (Michael Wincott) unwilling to recut the ending of his movies and the other involving a primadonna Bruce Willis unwilling to shave his beard. It opens in select cities.
Updated Mini-Review: It was an interesting test to rewatch this movie for a second time, the first time since its Sundance premiere, the movie really didnt hold up very well and the performance by De Niro, which seemed so groundbreaking the first time, just seemed lifeless and bland the second time. Most of the things that seemed relatively amusing the first time, like Bruce Willis bearded rampage and John Turturros stomach problems, just didnt seem very funny, and the movie lacked the depth that seemed present on the first view. There really are only three or four running storylines through the movie, but none of them really seem interesting enough to work on their own. What really stands out on second viewing are the performances by the female cast, particularly Catherine Keener and Robin Wright Penn, and it becomes abundantly clear how much the movie would have been if there were more of them in the movie. Sadly, the movie just doesnt work well as a comedy nor as a poignant drama about the travails of being a Hollywood producer, and there have been far better movies about the movie including the recent “Tropic Thunder.” Essentially, the movie got a pass by playing so early in the year when there werent many good movies out but seeing it again later in the year when there have been much better movies released, one realizes how flat and uninspiring the film really is. New Rating: 5/10
Tru Loved (Regent) – Stewart Wade’s romantic comedy centers around a teen girl from San Francisco named Tru, whose lesbian mothers relocate to the suburbs, where she struggles against closed minds and closeted friends while trying to form the school’s first Gay-Straight Alliance. It opens at the Quad Cinemas in New York and at the Century Center in Chicago on Friday and then in Seattle, L.A. and Colorado on October 24.
Mary – Abel Ferrara’s controversial drama, which premiered at the 2005 Venice Film Festival and played the festival circuit in 2005 and 2006, follows an egotistical director (Matthew Modine) who casts himself as Jesus Christ in his own movie, while the actress playing his Mary Magdalene (Juliet Binoche) becomes so obsessed with her role that she travels to Jerusalem on a spiritual journey. At the same time, a TV journalist (Forest Whitaker) is making a documentary about the life of Christ that brings him together with the other two. It will finally open theatrically at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City for a limited run.
Filth and Wisdom (IFC Films) – Madonna makes her directorial debut with this enigmatic indie starring rocker Eugene Hütz from Gogol Bordello as one of three London roommates trying to achieve their goals. He plays a Ukrainian immigrant trying to make it with his band, while working as in the S&M field. His roommate Holly (Holly Weston) is an aspiring ballerina who tries to make money as a stripper, while his other roommate Juliette (Vicky McClure) steals drugs from her pharmacy to help kids in Africa. It opens in New York at the IFC Center on Friday, in other select cities on October 24, then in L.A. on October 31.
Mini-Review: While you have to give the “material girl” some credit for wanting to show her depth by helming a feature film, why would anyone have interest in these characters and their journey through the seedier side of London living? It’s clearly coming from the same side of Madonna’s brain that produced her “Sex” book and some of her steamier videos as it follows three struggling 20-something artist-types in London trying to earn a living while supporting their dreams. AK is a musician from the Ukraine working as an S&M worker in London while he waits for his band to break it big, and he convinces his pretty roommate Holly that she could strip for a living while waiting to make it as a ballerina. Eugene Hutz is a charismatic leading man and performer for sure, but it’s hard not feeling that the movie is essentially a long-form video for Hutz’s band Gogol Bordello, which isn’t so bad, because they’re a good band, but it’s filtered through some awful writing, if you were to believe that there actually was any sort of script for this mess. Who knows what Richard Grant was thinking when he agreed to play a blind professor who seems to have a crush on all three roommates, but mainly Hutz’s A.K., a character who spends most of the movie spouting his philosophies about life and sex? It’s pretty ridiculous without necessarily being entertaining or funny, except for one scene where Holly’s making her debut as a stripper and Madonna’s “Erotica” is replaced on the turntables by Brittney Spears, almost as if Madonna herself was acknowledging the new breed. It’s a fleeting moment of cleverness within a movie that seems to be full of ideas but very little resembling a story to tie them together. The subplot involving Juliette, a dissatisfied pharmacist, is the weakest and least interesting part of the movie, as she’s pursued by her creepy Indian boss who’s obsessed with her despite being married with kids. The latter is a good example of the quality of acting among the supporting cast, as they create sleazy stereotypes with very little depth. One could certainly see the movie having almost a John Waters level of DIY depravity but it never goes far enough to be titillating, and most of it seems like pointless goofing around, offering lots of filth and very little semblance of wisdom. Rating: 3.5/10
The Elephant King (Unison Films) – Seth Grossman’s drama about two brothers (Tate Ellington, Jonno Roberts) who are sent to Thailand by their domineering mother (Ellen Burstyn), where the younger of the two falls in love causing a rift in the brothers’ relationship opens at the Angelika Film Center in New York on Friday, and in L.A. on October 24.
Morning Light (Disney) – Mark Monroe and Paul Crowder, the co-writers of Once in a Lifetime and Amazing Journey: the Story of the Who, co-direct this documentary which follows the fifteen young men and women who race the 52-foot-sloop Morning Light in the 2300-mile TRANSPAC sailing competition. It opens in select cities on Friday.
Mini-Review: How you feel about sailboat racing might affect whether or not you like or love this often breathtaking film that starts more like an MTV “Real World” spin-off show than the classic Disney docs of yesteryear, introducing the fifteen 18-to-21 year old kids involved in training for the intense sailboat that will take them from California to Hawaii over the course of 14 days. It might be somewhat worrying to hear them throw around words like “rad” and “intense” so early on, because it drives home the fact that this is the same era where reality TV is more popular than documentaries, but once you spend time with them, you realize this is a serious and ambitious group of young men (and two women) determined to conquer the ocean and do something that few people twice their age have accomplished. The first hour of the movie focuses on their intense training which covers every aspect of the boat they’re sailing as well as a number of shorter overnight and three-day trips to prepare them for the grueling journey. We meet each of the individual sailors through personal journals about the experience, which run the gamut from poignant to mundane, and over the course of the movie, we watch them grow and and mature while undergoing this unique life-changing experience, as the bonds develop between them. The true beauty of the film lies in the spectacular way Monroe and his crew were able to capture every aspect of the crew’s training leading up to the race, expertly cut together by Paul Crowder and accompanied by a truly inspired score by the group Matter, combined with a diverse selection of tunes that all work well with the images. Unfortunately, the race itself isn’t that exciting except for a short face-off with the Morning Light’s main competition that lasts all of ten minutes, but then it’s mainly footage of the guys dealing with the exhaustion and rigors of being at sea for such a long stretch of time, and that’s not nearly as exciting as some of the footage from their training. In the end, it’s a mildly interesting look at one team’s view of this amazing race, featuring lots of shots of the Morning Light floating idly at sea with glorious sunsets setting behind it. As relaxing as that may be to watch for a few minutes at a time, it doesn’t make for a particularly entertaining movie, and as amazing as the kids’ achievement may be, it’s certainly not something that will inspire anyone to get into sailing as a sport. Rating: 6.5/10
Next week, theatres will be invaded by kids, teens and ‘tweens as the Disney musical 3-quel High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Disney) hits theatres. Not to be hindered by that, we get the fifth movie in five years from a venerable horror franchise Saw V (Lionsgate) and Edward Norton and Colin Farrell co-star in Gavin O’Connor’s police drama Pride and Glory (New Line/WB).