The Weekend Warrior: Oct. 24 – 26

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.

Updated Predictions and Comparisons -

1. High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Disney) – $48.5 million N/A (up 2.1 million)

2. Saw V (Lionsgate) – $24.2 million N/A (up .9 million)

3. Pride and Glory (New Line/WB) – $7.9 million N/A (same)

4. Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney) – $7.1 million -38% (same)

5. The Secret Life of Bees (Fox Searchlight) – $6.8 million -36% (up .2 million)

6. Max Payne (20th Century Fox) – $6.5 million -63% (same)

7. W. (Lionsgate) – $5.9 million -44% (same)

8. Eagle Eye (DreamWorks) – $4.1 million -39% (down .2 million)

9. Body of Lies (Warner Bros.) – $3.7 million -45% (down .4million)

10. Quarantine (Screen Gems/Sony) – $2.9 million -52%

(UPDATES: The big thing is that it certainly looks like High School Musical 3 will beat the all-time October opening record going by ticket sales and could even cross the $50 million mark this weekend. Disney is also rereleasing Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Xmas in 3D, but being in less than 300 theaters, it’s likely to end up outside the Top 10 this weekend)

Weekend Overview

As we edge ever closer to the end of the month, we have a couple movies that should bring in a lot of business between them. For the last three years, the “Saw” franchise has taken this weekend, but the fifth installment Saw V (LIonsgate) will probably break that winning streak by giving up the top spot to an even scarier movie…

Disney’s High School Musical 3: Senior Year!!!

The popular Disney Channel television movies come to the big screen as it (presumably) closes off the high school years of the popular singing and dancing teens who’ve grabbed the hearts of kids and ‘tweens across the world. Tickets for the movie have been selling briskly through online vendors since they went on sale a few weeks ago, outselling most of the movies released in the last few weeks, and there are already a lot of sold-out shows for Friday, so one can expect this to be a huge hit for Disney. Currently, the top opening October movies were Shark Tale and Scary Movie 3 with $47 to 48 million and Disney’s second hit of the month should make a play for that area of the charts with solid showings across the country.

With a new director on board (actually the production designer of the last two movies), Saw V hopes to continue the success of the series, although it’s facing a general ennui towards this type of “torture porn” horror and the poor overall showing of the previous movie makes one think that fans of the franchise are ready to move on. Even so, it’ll be the only option for the older teens and college-age males who’ve already outgrown Disney musicals (or never had any interest) so it should have a decent but moderate opening in second place.

Delayed for nearly a year, Gavin O’Connor’s police thriller Pride and Glory (New Line/WB), starring Edward Norton and Colin Farrell, will get a wider release than it might have if New Line were still a separate entity, which might help it make a play for the even older males whose cynicism for the “Saw” franchise grows with each new chapter. Whereas the movie might have made $7 or 8 million total in a limited release, look for the WB marketing team to help it make that much its opening weekend, although it won’t be helped by bad reviews.

This weekend’s “Chosen One” was really tough because there are a lot of great movies, but we went with the Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In (Magnet Releasing) from Tomas Alfredson with the documentary Stranded (Zeitgeist) and the French drama I’ve Loved You So Long (Sony Classics) taking Honorable Mentions. You can read about all of them below.

This weekend last year, it was all about the last installment of the horror franchise, as Saw IV (Lionsgate) topped the charts with just under $32 million, followed in 2nd place by the Steve Carell comedy Dan in Real Life (Touchstone) with $11.8 million. The rest of the Top 10 ended up in the $3.3 to $6.8 million range totaling $81 million, an amount that should be easily bested by the twosome of “High School Musical 3″ and Saw V.


THE BATTLE CRY

With Halloween just a week away and with the latest “Saw” movie opening on Friday, it’s time for us to look at the state of R-rated horror and whether Saw V is opening into a market where it could possibly do as well as the previous movies. We discuss it more below in the analysis for the movie, but these are certainly different times than last year when Saw IV was released. Some of that has to do with what is going on in the outside world in regards to the economy, but it also has to do with the fickleness of moviegoers and horror fans are no exception.

In late January, Screen Gems started this year in horror with Untraceable, a serial killer movie that was able to play up the star power of Diane Lane, something that wasn’t the case with The Ruins a few months later. The biggest movie of the year in terms of R-rated horror was Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers, which opened at the height of summer after a number of huge movies and was able to gross $53 million, which is a lot for a horror movie, let alone one that had been shelved for the good part of a year. Later in the summer, Alexander Aja had Mirrors with Kiefer Sutherland, a movie that grossed $30 million after a solid opening, and last week’s Quarantine (another remake) opened even bigger and shows signs of grossing roughly the same.

Personally, I’ve only seen a few of these, because another thing these movies have in common is that the studios won’t screen them for any critics, but there’s still this ongoing question in Hollywood whether a PG-13 rating would help to bring in larger audiences and that’s proving not to be the case at all. For instance, M. Night Shyamalan’s first R-rated movie The Happening (which we can also consider a branch of the horror genre) opened in the range of most of the “Saw” movies with $30 million, doing far better than his previous movie Lady in the Water. Studios are starting to realize that there are a lot of horror fans old enough to get into R-rated movies who prefer their horror with gore and violence, not just wimpy scares, so in that sense, an R-rating is often more desirable when it comes to horror. Fox released Mirrors with an R-rating but then they decided to release this past weekend’s Max Payne with a PG-13 rating, something that might have hurt rather than helped it. (Their 2007 video game movie Hitman did decently over Thanksgiving despite its R-rating, so it was a strange choice to make.)

The fact that The Strangers did far better than anyone thought it would do after being delayed and pushed back for nearly a year, and both Mirrors and Quarantine brought in bigger audiences their opening weekends than some (like me) expected, shows that there’s obviously an audience for these horror movies that are unfiltered through the studio and the MPAA process. While the “Saw” franchise has led the way for the success of violent and bloody R-rated films with two of the last four movies grossing over $80 million, it’s a genre that’s starting to see some weakness as seen by the poor showing for Eli Roth’s Hostel: Part II last summer, implying that maybe horror fans are looking for interesting scares and not necessarily people being tortured, which makes up the main premise for the “Saw” movies. We’ll see if Saw V stands up to the legacy created by the first four movies, but the sad truth is that all of the movies mentioned in this week’s “Battle Cry” were made on such a low budget that they always end up being profitable however well or poorly they do in theaters, which may be why so many horror franchises eventually make the movie to DVD-only releases, something we might see from the “Saw” movies if it starts to wear out its welcome.


High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Disney)
Starring Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman, Bart Johnson, Alyson Reed, Olesya Rulin, Chris Warren, Jr., Ryne Sanborn, KayCee Stroh, Matt Prokop, Justin Martin, Jemma McKenzie-Brown
Directed by Kenny Ortega (The “High School Musical” TV movies and upcoming Footloose); Written by Peter Barsocchini (The previous “High School Musical” TV movies and DVDs)
Genre: Musical
Rated G
Tagline: “high school graduation” (That’s all they could come up with? Really!?!?)
Plot Summary: The Wildcats of East High School are entering their senior year as they plan for their prom and a spring musical and the school takes part in a basketball championship, but as they all have to decide where to go to college, the future of their friendships are called into question. At the same time, there’s a new class entering East High to join in the dance numbers. (woohoo!)

Analysis:

It’s hard to imagine that any straight male over 20 could possibly understand the phenomenon that started on the Disney Channel with the original television movie “High School Musical” getting 7.7 million viewers in its premiere broadcast on January 20, 2006 before the CD went onto become the best-selling album that year. The sequel “High School Musical 2″ aired on the Disney Channel on August 17, 2007, bringing in 17.3 million viewers and showing that the phenomenon had grown since the debut a year earlier. Since then, DVD and CD sales have continued to be insane, and the musical has been ported to the stage… and onto the ice with the hugely successful “High School Musical: The Ice Tour.” Almost three years after the introduction of the Wildcats of East High School, the excitement hasn’t worn off, and now, the original cast has been reunited for (presumably) one final movie, this one on the big screen, and if the introduction of new Wildcats shows anything, it’s that Disney plans to squeeze this one for all it’s worth.

It’s probably not much of a surprise that the franchise is just as popular as ever, since a lot of the original cast have built on the popularity of the first two movies by building their own personal fanbases. Clearly, the Wildcat whose gone the furthest is Zac Efron, who starred in last year’s hit musical Hairspray and is already slated to star in the movies 17 Again and “High School Musical” director Kenny Ortega’s remake of Footloose. Both Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale have been very popular as they each launched solo recording careers, but Hudgens is clearly better known having mainly appeared on other Disney Channel shows, as well as dating Efron. The nude pictures of Hudgens that surfaced didn’t do much to hinder her popularity either, while Tisdale, Corbin Bleu and their other young castmates have mainly been coasting on their being a part of the ensemble. While seeing the cast of the original “High School Musical” together one more time will be a driving factor to the original movies’ teen and ‘tween fans rushing out to see the movie, the movie also introduces new characters that can hopefully sustain the franchise after they leave.

The success of the movie musical, especially among teen girls and women, is fairly well proven with the enormous success of Hairspray last year and Mamma Mia! earlier this summer, both following on the heels of Chicago becoming the second-highest grossing movie musical of all time after Grease. The fanaticism behind the franchise is making this look like another Sex and the City in that it also ports a television-based franchise to movies, but otherwise, there aren’t a lot of viable comparisons. This one will be more geared to the same teen and ‘tween girls and their families who rushed out to see Disney’s 3D concert movie Miley Cyrus & Hanna Montana: The Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour, which made $31 million in just 683 theatres. If you look at the fanbase and ticket sales, there’s no reason why “High School Musical 3″ shouldn’t do a lot better than that in over 3,000 theaters, although it might be hard making Sex and the City money, firstly because it’s opening in the fall with school on Friday and Monday cutting into the weekend, but it also won’t have much appeal beyond the show’s fanbase of younger kids and ‘tweens who would generally be paying for lower child-priced tickets. Even so, the movie is virtually review-proof and probably won’t even need good reviews to make much of a difference with shows already being sold out over a week in advance, and negative reviews from cynical critics won’t have any effect on the young fans of the franchise.

It might not be too big a surprise that “High School Musical 3″ has already sold millions of tickets through Fandango and other online ticketing sources with a special promotion for a free song download being heavily advertised, but chances are, the 17.7 million viewers of the last television movie just wants to be the first to see the movie with their friends. This should help the movie try to set an October opening record, although we’ll see how much of that business is sustained after its opening weekend.

Why I Should See It: If you’re a fan of the original movies, then this will be your last chance to see the original cast singing and dancing together one more time.
Why Not: Who here will actually admit to having seen and enjoyed the original movies? That’s like admitting you’re a fan of Abba or “Mamma Mia!”
Projections: $45 to 48 million opening weekend and $120 to 125 million total.

COMPARISONS


Saw V (Lionsgate)
Starring Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Mark Rolston, Carlo Rota, Julie Benz, Greg Bryk, Laura Gordon, Meagan Good
Directed by David Hackl (directorial debut for the production designer and 2nd Unit Director for the previous two “Saw” movies); Written by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan (Feast and Saw IV)
Genre: Horror
Rated R
Tagline: “You Won’t Believe How It Ends.” (Maybe because this could never REALLY be the end of the annual franchise?)
Plot Summary: Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) is the last person alive to carry on the Jigsaw legacy, but he has to get rid of a few loose ends that threaten his secret.

Mini-Review: As clockwork as the timer on Jigsaw’s death traps, another “Saw” movie hits the theaters with some of the same pluses and minuses of the previous four movies. While the original Jigsaw is still dead, his legacy lives on through an accomplice taking over his work in the same way that David Heckl, production designer and 2nd Unit Director from the previous few movies, takes over the helm from Darren Bousman without missing a beat, as he continues the story from the previous two movies. Much of the story follows the last men standing from “Saw IV”, Detective Mark Hoffman and Scott Patterson’s Agent Strahm, as they each do their own investigation into Jigsaw’s crimes. After a random death trap, we’re back to the time period in between “III” and “IV” to continue where the last story left off. (If that confuses you, then you’re probably not ready to accept the time-jumping trickery of the “Saw” franchise which has rarely involved linear storytelling.) The best thing about this fifth installment is that it brings back a concept introduced in the second movie by having multiple characters working together to try and get through a gauntlet of traps, something that really brings strong character dynamics to the mix as opposed to the normal “torture porn” routine of having just one poor schmuck struggling vainly to escape. In terms of the blood and gore, “Saw V” is just as vicious as the third movie and the traps are just as clever and intricate, including a stomach-slashing pendulum that opens the movie and plays a large part in the motivations for the “new Jigsaw.” As with the previous movies, Tobin Bell is still the best thing going for the franchise, but they’re quickly running out of ways to use him in flashbacks. Neither Costas Mandylor nor Scott Patterson are strong enough as actors or characters to maintain the series beyond him, and one can’t imagine Strahm’s replacement on the Jigsaw case, Agent Erickson, played by Mark Rolston, will do much being the most likely to continue the story. On the other hand, the five victims in the gauntlet including Meagan Good and Betsy Russell make their segments the most entertaining. Fans of the franchise will certainly enjoy the “behind the scenes” moments revisiting the first three movies showing how Hoffman was brought into the fold and how some of the more intricate traps were staged, although all the jumping around does get tiring. (So much of “Saw III” is once again revisited that you might wonder why they aren’t just shooting all these movies at the same time.) The film ends just as abruptly as the third one, in a way that’s more likely to leave people frustrated rather than itching for more, but fans of gore and the creepy mood of the series should have enough blood to satisfy Dracula’s entire lineage. If you liked the previous four movies, there’s little reason why you won’t find at least a few things to enjoy in this one, but it’s definitely getting to the point where it’s dubious whether they can keep it going much longer without completely starting from scratch. Rating: 7/10

Analysis:

This is the fifth year in a row where I’m writing about the “Saw” franchise, and like with “Harry Potter” and other long-time franchises, is there really that much more to say about them? The first movie opened with $18 million and was hugely profitable based on the mere millions it cost to make, and each progressive movie has cost a little more. The last three movies have opened on the same weekend with over $30 million, although the last installment Saw IV barely sustained that business, ending up with just $63 million, a little twice its opening weekend, which is pretty awful.

At this point, most of the people involved with the franchise have left including original director James Wan, original screenwriter Leigh Whannell and director Darren Lynn Bousman, who helmed the last three chapters. Tobin Bell’s character Jigsaw was killed two movies ago and has mainly been appearing in flashbacks, and even Shawnee Smith, the only other mainstay is gone. All that’s left are the producers, Twisted Pictures, the distributor Lionsgate and the production designer of the previous two movies, David Hackl, who has been promoted as he makes his directorial debut with the fifth installment. Will fans of the series even know that the original creators and director Darren Bousman are gone?

Saw V is a continuation of the last movie, which seemingly lost some of its business but they’ve added a few more high profile actresses like Julie Benz from the hit show “Dexter,” who co-starred in the recent Rambo and the upcoming Punisher: War Zone (both from Lionsgate), and Meagan Good, whose previous horror movies include One Missed Call and Venom. The cast doesn’t really matter much because they rarely do in horror movies, and the “Saw” franchise is no exception.

While there have been many horror franchises that have gotten to fifth, sixth and even tenth installments, few of them were any good, as evidenced by Halloween V and Nightmare on Elm Street V. The “Friday the 13th” franchise was already up to their seventh movie before 1990, and it finally petered out at Jason X, although pitting him against the “Nightmare on Elm Street” villain in Freddy vs. Jason was hugely successful, even if New Line never capitalized on its success with a follow-up.

In the case of “Saw,” it’s hard not to feel like the premise has been extended as far as it possibly can go and by this point, Lionsgate and the producers are just getting greedy, because they know there are people who will see every movie. And yet, this installment of the “Saw” franchise doesn’t seem to be getting nearly as big a marketing push as the previous two movies, even as it’s being sold as the conclusion of the series (which we know isn’t the case). It’s somewhat strange that Lionsgate didn’t just go for the October 31st Friday release, since Halloween has played such a large part in the success of the franchise. Instead, they’re opening it a week earlier and like the previous movies, it’ll probably do most of its business in the first couple days and then tail off fairly quickly, so one should probably expect it to gross even less money than the previous installment.

Why I Should See It: You saw the other four chapters, why on earth would you stop now?
Why Not: Because you didn’t like the last few chapters?
Projections: $23 to 25 million opening weekend and $60 million total.

COMPARISONS


Pride and Glory (New Line/WB)
Starring Edward Norton, Colin Farrell, Jon Voight, Noah Emmerich, Jennifer Ehle, Frank Grillo, Rick Gonzalez, Shea Wigham, John Ortiz, Lake Bell, Manny Perez, Carmen Ejogo
Directed by Gavin O’Connor (Miracle, Tumbleweeds); Written by Joe Carnahan & Gavin O’Connor
Genre: Police, Crime, Drama
Rated R
Tagline: “Truth. Honor. Loyalty. Family. What are you willing to sacrifice?”
Plot Summary: When four police officers turn up dead, Detective Ray Tierney (Edward Norton) is asked by his father the Chief of Police (Jon Voigt), to investigate, but since the four dead officers served with his brother Francis (Noah Emmerich) and brother-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell), Ray soon discovers that his family might not be on the side of law and order they’ve sworn to protect.

Mini-Review: The credentials involved with this police thriller might make you wonder why it was shelved by New Line after completion, but once you start watching, it doesn’t take long to realize why it was suddenly and inexplicably backburnered. Trying to develop a rather standard and unoriginal plot about good cops vs. bad cops into an interesting film may have been hard enough if this one weren’t filled with so many clichés that it’s far too easy to predict every single beat. Once the general plot is introduced, very little actual depth of intrigue is introduced to the movie, as it mainly follows Edward Norton’s detective, as he tries to solve the cop killings, while interacting with various thugs, informants and gangbangers who show up for one scene, then are gone. Norton is clearly the best thing going for this movie, his performance generally being on par with some of his better work, but it just makes the rest of the cast look that much worse, particularly Colin Farrell, who doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders as his brother-in-law, a police officer who has gotten in deep with the wrong crowd. In one scene, Farrell’s characters holds an iron up to a baby’s face to get information from a perp, which goes too far even within a genre that’s spawned the likes of Vic Mackie from “The Shield.” Like in Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster,” we barely see the two main actors on-screen together until near the end, which is somewhat disappointing. Noah Emmerich is also very good, but the movie spends way too much time with him and his cancer-stricken wife, an unnecessary subplot that greatly takes away from the main story, as do a lot of the “family gathering” scenes. Jon Voight’s performance is the weakest of the lot, giving a stilted and exaggerated performance that rarely rings true. There are a number of good scenes, but for the most part, the pace is slow due to some of the driest writing we’ve seen in this genre, and the way director Gavin O’Connor chose to shoot the movie further takes away from it working, since it rarely looks very professional. (One has to assume that there were better takes than some of the ones used, and if not, then they should have gone back and done reshoots.) The film culminates in a completely expected stand-off between Norton’s character and the corrupt cops, a decent enough ending that could excuse some of the worst parts of the previous 90 minutes, but it still feels a little too late to save the movie. Considering how many great police films we’ve seen in recent years, like James Gray’s “We Own the Night” for instance, the movie barely even stands up to some of the better police television dramas, and by comparison, this is surprisingly bland, trite and uncinematic. As hard as it must have been to screw up a Joe Carnahan script, the fact that Gavin O’Connor is no Martin Scorsese or Michael Mann is blatantly obvious from this weak effort. Rating: 5/10

This weekend’s underdog longshot is this police crime drama that originated with filmmaker Joe Carnahan, who kicked that genre on its ear with his 2002 movie Narc. The project was taken over by director Gavin O’Connor (Miracle), the son of a New York City police officer, who had the benefits of two strong actors already signed up with Colin Farrell and Edward Norton, making it a no-brainer movie to greenlight. That was back in 2006, and Pride and Glory has been sitting on a shelf for nearly two years when New Line mysteriously delayed it before it was merged into Warner Bros.

Norton is coming off his highest grossing movie The Incredible Hulk, but in recent years, he’s generally been hiding in indie movies like Down in the Valley and The Painted Veil, both seen by few people, the one exception being the 2006 breakout hit The Illusionist. Farrell’s previous police work included roles in Minority Report (sort of), S.W.A.T. and Michael Mann’s Miami Vice, all of which opened with more than $25 million, showing that Farrell’s male fans certainly buy him as a police officer. Even though the duo don’t appear in the movie together very much, they have an amazing supporting cast including Noah Emmerich (Little Children), who is working with O’Connor for the third time, and veteran Oscar winner Jon Voight, although at least the latter is not the mark of quality he used to be, having appeared in movies like Bratz and Super Babies: Baby Geniuses 2.

The police thriller genre has been hit or miss over the past few years with movies like Carnahan’s Narc and Dark Blue topping out around $10 million. On the other hand, the most obvious comparison is last year’s We Own the Night, a police thriller that paired Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg, which opened with just under $11 million in fewer theaters, showing that October is a great month for this kind of movie. The year before, Martin Scorsese had his biggest success with the police thriller The Departed, which followed in the footsteps of Denzel Washington’s Oscar winning turn in Training Day, also which opened in October.

Pride and Glory has been on New Line’s roster for a long time after being completed in January 2007, almost two years ago, but sometime last year, it was mysteriously shelved until 2008. Usually when a movie is delayed for that long a period, it’s immediately lumped with negative buzz since most informed moviegoers assume the movie isn’t any good. On the other hand, plenty of movies have been saved by putting some time in between their completion and release, as seen by this year’s horror movie The Strangers, which was picked up by Universal and turned into a huge hit.

When New Line was merged into Warner Bros. earlier this year, the new studio decided to release the movie in the fall season, and the movie was given a stronger marketing and promotion campaign with a far better trailer. Warner Bros. was confident enough in the movie to release it in the busy fall season, not necessarily as an awards contender, but as an alternative to movies like this week’s “High School Musical 3.” The movie debuted at the Toronto Film Festival last month to generally tepid reviews and reaction, although those reviews are being buried by Warner Bros.’ ability to cut strong commercials that will go along way to getting older male audiences interested in the movie. Warner Bros. was also able to get the movie a much wider release than what was initially planned, which should help it have a moderately decent opening, although the movie might not have long-term success if it doesn’t live up to the commercials.

Why I Should See It: A great cast and premise set within a New York police drama certainly is different from the other movies out there right now.
Why Not: Sadly, I’ve already seen this one and it doesn’t live up to the commercials and trailer.
Projections: $7 to 9 million opening weekend and roughly $22 million total

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Let the Right One In (Magnet Releasing)
Starring Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson
Directed by Tomas Alfredson (Four Shades of Brown); Written by John Ajvide Lindqvist (author of the novel)
Genre: Horror, Drama, Romance
Rated R
Plot Summary: A 12-year-old Swedish boy named Oskar (Kare Hedebrandt) who has been bullied mercilessly becomes enamored with his enigmatic new neighbor Eli (Lina Leandersson), but he starts to suspect there’s something not quite right about the girl as people start dying all around them.

Interview with Tomas Alfredson

REVIEW (Coming Soon!)

Honorable Mentions:

Stranded: I Have Come from a Plane that Crashed in the Mountains (Zeitgeist)
Starring the survivors of the 1972 plane crash in the Andes
Written and directed by Gonzalo Arijon (debut feature)
Genre: Documentary
Unrated
Plot Summary: On Wednesday, October 22, 1972, a plane left Uruguay on its way to a rugby match in Chile, but a few hour later, it crashed in a remote part of the Andes and the 29 survivors spent the next two and a half months lost in the mountains unable to communicate with the outside world, forcing them to do unthinkable things to survive. This documentary features candid interviews with the survivors of the plane crash that inspired the novel and film “Alive.”

Opens in New York at the Film Forum on Wednesday

Interview with Gonzalo Arijon

Mini-Review: Already knowing this amazing story, even from seeing the film “Alive,” doesn’t diminish the power of this talking heads driven documentary that might be the most comprehensive and definitive version of the story, since it’s told by the actual survivors as they relive the experience 35 years later. Finding so many of the survivors must have been an experience in itself, but getting them to talk so openly about what happened in such graphic detail is amazing, since their memories of their nightmarish ordeal are so vivid that they create strong images in your mind. Not content with telling and not showing, director Gonzalo Arijon masterfully recreates many of the events discussed in similar way as the docudrama “Touching the Void”—in fact, that film is a great barometer for whether this movie is for you as they’re similar in pace and structure. It’s fascinating to hear first-hand abut the experience of being in the actual crash, the sense of camaraderie and community that developed, and all that they endured while stuck in the remote Andes valley for 72 days. The knowledge that they had to survive by eating the dead is something that’ll either draw in the curious or repel those disturbed by the very thought, but the cannibalism aspect of their story is handled very tastefully in a non-sensational way, something that does create tension. Not that anyone avoids the subject, but they talk about what they were forced to do as reverentially as they handled it when the decision was made originally. Something that greatly enhances the power of the film is the footage of the survivors returning with their families to the place where they spent those 72 days with many of the interviews done on the actual spot where their plane crashed. It’s a nice touch, one that probably helped get such candid thoughts from the subjects, but their stories and the recreations are embellished by the rarely-seen news footage of their rescue and the only picture in existence of the group during their time in the mountains. The movie might seem somewhat long, being over two hours, but once you start hearing their captivating tale, the time goes by fairly quickly, and there’s enough elements to the story to keep it interesting. Make no mistake, this is by no means the “feel good film” of the year and in fact, it may be one of the more horrifying films to watch since it forces you to think about what you would do in order to survive. The thoughts and emotions the movie stirs up in the viewer makes it one of the more powerful documentaries of the year, one that you’ll probably remember the next time you get on an airplane for a short trip expecting it to be uneventful. Rating: 9/10

I’ve Loved You So Long (Sony Classics)
Starring Kristen Scott Thomas, Elsa Zylberstein, Serge Hazanavicius, Laurent Grevill, Frédéric Pierrot, Lise Ségur
Written and directed by Philippe Claudel (directorial debut of the French author)
Genre: Drama
Rated PG-13
Plot Summary: After fifteen years in prison, Juliette Fontaine (Kristen Scott Thomas), a former doctor, is reunited with her younger sister Léa (Elsa Zylberstein) who invites Juliette to stay with her and her family; it doesn’t take long before those around them learn why Juliette was in prison and the hard feelings that built over the years apart comes back to haunt them.

After playing various festivals and winning a numer of awards, it opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Interview with Philippe Claudel and Kristen Scott Thomas

Mini-Review: French filmmakers certainly know how to create vividly interesting characters and situations, and in that sense, the directorial debut from novelist Philippe Claudel is very French. It’s also one of the most intriguing character studies in recent memory, Kristen Scott Thomas playing a woman who has been released from prison, trying to get her life back together while living with her younger sister’s family. Much of the movie deals with the baby steps she must take to try and reenter the world, and it takes the movie a good 25 minutes before we learn why she was imprisoned, something that will really take you aback. Juliette’s been living a tragic story, having been abandoned by her family while in prison, and she’s spent the last 15 years dwelling on what she did. This is a film that really needs to be experienced, since it’s hard to explain how just watching this woman going through her day-to-day trying to find a job, reporting to her parole officer and trying to move on with her life is such a powerful and poignant tale. It’s riveting to watch how people around Juliette react when they find out the truth, but the crux of the movie is about the relationship between Juliette and her sister, and how their once loving relationship has been quelled by the situation. Kristin Scott Thomas gives a quiet and thoughtful performance that explodes with emotions at time, and the fact she can play such a subdued character, but imbibe her with so much emotion clearly shows her to be one of the best actresses working today. The lesser-known Elsa Zylberstein is equally talented, as the scenes the two actresses share some of the most stirring and memorable. Otherwise, this is a perfectly sublime slice-of-life film that shows this woman’s attempt at reconciliation and redemption in a world that’s too judgmental to understand what she was going through when she committed the crime that had her imprisoned. As things start looking better for Juliette, there is an unexpected turn and a dramatic revelation that changes the nature of the film’s last act. The sisters have one final confrontation in a clash of emotions that will leave the viewer shaking; but this amazing scene seems to come out of nowhere and it’s one of the few places where the film’s editing doesn’t seem as fluid or naturalistic. Otherwise, one can certainly draw favorable parallels to recent movies such as “Boy A” and Jonathan Demme’s current movie “Rachel Getting Married,” but the way novelist Philipe Claudel, a first-time director, handles the material and tells this story is what makes it so memorable. Ultimately, it’s a pretty amazing first film from Claudel, being a dialogue heavy drama that never gets dull and will leave you drained from the amount of emotions explored through Thomas’ character and those around her. Rating: 9/10

Also in Limited Release:

Fear(s) of the Dark (IFC Films) – A variety of artists and animators, including cartoonist Charles Burns (“Black Hole”) and graphic artists from New York, France and Italy including Richard McGuire and Blutch provide black and white animated shorts for this horror anthology exploring the world of nightmares. It opens at the IFC Center on Wednesday.

Interview with Charles Burns

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Synecdoche, New York (Sony Classics) – Charlie Kaufman, Oscar winning screenwriter of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, makes his directorial debut with this look at the life of a theater director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) whose entire life is encapsulated within an expansive stage production, as he has affairs with the ticket taker (Emily Watson) and leading lady (Michelle Williams) after his wife (Catherine Keener) leaves with their daughter.

REVIEW

Interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman

Changeling (Universal) – Angelina Jolie stars in Clint Eastwood’s true crime story about a working single mother living in 1928 Los Angeles whose son disappears mysteriously. When the police brings a boy back, she claims it’s not her son, and finds herself caught in a police cover-up into what really happened. Eastwood’s movie opens in select cities on Friday then expands nationwide on Friday, October 31.

REVIEW

Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun (Truly Indie) – Rowan Joseph adapts the award-winning 1971 film directed by Dalton Trumbo based on his novel, which takes place inside the mind of an American soldier (played by Benjamin McKenzie from “The O.C.”) who lays dying in a hospital bed remembering how he got there after having had his face blown off and both arms and legs been amputated. (Fans of the group Metallica might remember the original movie being used for the basis of their video for “One.”) It opens at the Quad Cinemas in New York on Friday.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Passengers (Sony) – Rodrigo Garcia (9 Lives) helms this drama about a therapist named Claire, played by Anne Hathaway, assigned to counsel five survivors of a plane crash including Eric (Patrick Wilson), the most secretive passenger, who Claire gets involved with romantically. It opens in select cities.

Roadside Romeo (Yash Raj/Disney) – Jugal Hansraj’s animated film, the first co-production between Bollywood and Walt Disney Studios, tells the story of a spoiled dog abandoned on the streets by his rich owners who must find a way to survive all sorts of problems. The animated Bollywood answer to Beverly Hills Chihuahua opens in select cities consecutively with its release in India.

The Universe of Keith Haring (Arthouse Films) – Christina Clausen’s documentary creates an intimate portrait of artist Keith Haring, considered one of the most popular New York artists of the 20th Century, combining interviews Haring did with his biographer John Gruen, and many of his closest friends, confidantes and artistic peers. It opens on Friday at New York’s Cinema Village.


Next week, the month of October ends on Halloween as Kevin Smith teams Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks for the comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno (Weinstein Co.) and the horror flick The Haunting of Molly Hartley (Freestyle). Plus Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla (Warner Bros.) and Clint Eastwood’s Changeling (Universal) open nationwide.

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