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.
(Sadly, this is going to be a sparser column than usual just due to time constraints, which also accounts for the tardiness. Hopefully there’ll be time later in the week to embellish upon what we’ve had a chance to do, but until then, we haven’t been able to include any mini-reviews.)
(UPDATE: I’ve had a change of heart in the battle between Role Models and Soul Men, and it’s come down as much to the advertising as the theater count, although it could be close and I think both will end up around that $10 million mark.)
1. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (DreamWorks Animation) – $54.3 million (Up 2 million)
2. Role Models (Universal) – $12.4 million (Up $2.1 million
3. Soul Men (MGM/Dimension) $10.5 million (down $1.1 million)
4. High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Disney) – $7.5 million -51% (down .6 million)
5. Zack and Miri Make a Porno (Weinstein Co.) – $5.5 million -45% (down .1 million)
6. Changeling (Universal) – $5.3 million -44% (down .2 million)
7. Saw V (Lionsgate) – $4.4 million -55% (same)
8. Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney) – $2.7 million -45% (down .3 million)
9. The Secret Life of Bees (Fox Searchlight) $2.6 million -35%
10. The Haunting of Molly Hartley (Freestyle) – $2.3 million -58% (down .1 million)
Halloween turned last weekend into one of the worst weekends of a generally busy month–something we didn’t account for in our predictions obviously–but things should pick up this weekend, as the holiday movie season begins in earnest with the release of DreamWorks Animation’s sequel Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa with its star-studded voice cast including Ben Stiller and Chris Rock that should bring in a lot of family and teen business this weekend. It should surpass the three-day opening of its predecessor but fall short of DreamWorks Animation’s opening of Kung Fu Panda over the summer. Either way, it’s mostly about doing business over the next two weeks before facing Disney’s Bolt and the eagerly-anticipated Twilight, and while it might not achieve the type of numbers Pixar has made over the weekend, it should do significantly well.
Competing for older teens and adults are two star-studded R-rated comedies, which might be neck-and-neck this weekend despite a vast discrepancy in theaters. Even though Soul Men (Dimension) is opening in fewer theaters, the combination of Samuel L. Jackson with the late Bernie Mac should bring in a significant African-American audience who want to pay their last respects to the popular comic. This should give it the slight advantage over Role Models (Universal) teaming Paul Rudd with Seann William Scott, which could bring in a younger college-age audience based on its high concept premise. It also may be a tougher sell since teaming comic actors with kids tends to be more PG family-fare. After a slow weekend, moviegoers should be out in force, but with a lot of comedy choices, the latter might end up being the underdog to a comedy targeted towards a specific demographic with stronger star power.
This weekend last year, DreamWorks Animation opened Jerry Seinfeld’s animated Bee Movie against Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, and even with the latter starring Denzel Washington and Ridley Scott, many were surprised that it beat the animated movie, $43.6 million to $38 million. (In past face-offs, usually the animated movie would win against the live action one.) Also, John Cusack starred in New Line’s long-delayed family drama Martian Child, which made only $3.4 million to open in 7th place. The Top 10 movies grossed $118.5 million, but with only one movie this weekend making over $40 million, it might be hard for this weekend to match that.
(Sorry, have to skip this week’s “Battle Cry”… too much else going on)
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (DreamWorks Animation)
Starring (the voices of) Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Bernie Mac, Sherri Shepherd, Alec Baldwin, Will.i.am
Directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath (Madagascar); Written by
Genre: Animated, Family, Comedy
Tagline: “The crate escape”
Plot Summary: The New York City zoo animals Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer) and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) have just flown away from Madagascar along with King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) and the penguins, but their plane only makes it to the African tundras where many of the animals finally encounter their own species for the first time, forcing them to have to decide whether they want to return home to Central Park.
In the continuing battle between the animation companies, DreamWorks Animation becomes the first of them to deliver their second sequel hoping to build it into a second franchise as successful as their “Shrek” movies. In this case, it’s a continuance of the story began in Madagascar, which opened over Memorial Day weekend 2005 against the second weekend of Star Wars: Episode III and Adam Sandler’s The Longest Yard, grossing $61 million over the four-day weekend. It would go onto gross $191 million, making it DreamWorks Animation’s biggest non-“Shrek” sequel up until Kung Fu Panda blew that amount away this past summer.
A key to the movie’s success was its star-studded voice cast, which was able to appeal to teens and older audiences and kept it from just being a kids’ movie, and that’s equally true for the sequel. Following the success of the original Madagascar, Ben Stiller is coming off a string of blockbuster hits, as he followed it by starring in the enormous family hit Night at the Museum over the ’06 holidays, plus he also had a strong summer sleeper hit with his recent war comedy Tropic Thunder. If the original Madagascar didn’t help solidify Stiller’s family status, then certainly “Museum” did, and he’ll be following up this big sequel with a sequel to that other family movie next summer. Chris Rock, the voice of Marty the Zebra, hasn’t been doing nearly as much since the last Madagascar movie, helming the comedy I Think I Love My Wife, and adding his voice to Jerry Seinfeld’s animated Bee Movie, while former “Friends” star David Schwimmer has mainly been directing in his time between movies including the British comedy Run, Fat Boy, Run and the HBO series “Little Britain USA.” (Okay, does anyone else find it weird that three of the voice cast directed movies since the last Madagascar? Jada Pinkett Smith, you’re slacking off!)
Other returning favorites include Sacha Baron Cohen as the lemur King Julien, and Cohen is even bigger now than when the original Madagascar came out, thanks to his hit “Borat,” which followed a role in Will Ferrell’s “Talladega Nights.” Cedric the Entertainer is also back as his right hand man Maurice while Andy Richter returns as Mort. Amongst the new cast is Alec Baldwin as Makunga, a rival lion, and Black Eye Peas frontman Will.i.am as amorous hippo Moto Moto, both who’ve been featured prominently in the trailers. When Madagascar was released, it was Chris Rock who had another movie opening that same weekend, but this time, it’s the late Bernie Mac, who also appears in the R-rated comedy Soul Men with Samuel L. Jackson (see below) this weekend. Before his tragic passing, he lent his voice to create the character Zuba, father to Ben Stiller’s character Alexa, opposite talk show host Sherri Shepherd who provides the voice of Alex’s mother. Mac was well-loved and his passing was tragically sudden, so his fans will certainly want to pay tribute by seeing both of his new movies this weekend.
It’s pretty obvious why DreamWorks Animation wanted to make a sequel, since talking animals have always been very popular among kids, many whom fell in love with the characters in the original movie, particularly the monkeys and penguins who played such a large part of the humor in the first movie and are being featured more prominently in the sequel. The sequel also looks even more like Disney’s hugely successful The Lion King, which will only make it a stronger draw for family audiences, although not opening during the summer might limit how much it can make opening weekend. Last year this weekend, DreamWorks Animation tried to open Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie, but it only opened moderately to less than $40 million, though that was still significantly better than DreamWorks Animation’s third teaming with Aardman Studios for Flushed Away, which opened the same weekend the year before. Over the summer, DreamWorks Animation had their biggest non-“Shrek” hit with Kung Fu Panda, which grossed $215 million and with most of the family business for Disney movies Beverly Hills Chihuahua and High School Musical 3 being tapped out, this animated sequel is opening at a good time and without the competition for screens that some of those other movies were facing opening weekend.
Helping the movie’s opening will be its release into IMAX theaters, in fact setting a record for the widest IMAX opening for any movie to date, and for some families with kids, that will certainly be the format of choice. These factors should help the movie have a decent opening as it brings out those who loved the original movie during its theatrical run as well as those who found it on DVD later. The real test for the movie will come in its third weekend when it tackles Disney’s Bolt and Twilight, but if it can get past those, it should have a nice bump in business over Thanksgiving weekend.
Why I Should See It: The first Madagascar was one of DreamWorks Animation’s funnier movies and with all the original cast back and other new characters added to the mix, this might be of those rare animated sequels better than the original.
Why Not: One has to wonder how much of the cast aren’t doing this one for the paycheck as was the case with the “Shrek” sequels.
Projections: $51 to 54 million opening weekend and $200 to 220 million total.
Role Models (Universal)
Starring Seann William Scott, Paul Rudd, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jane Lynch, Bobb’e J.Thompson, Elizabeth Banks
Directed by David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer, The Ten); Written by David Wain, Paul Rudd, Ken Marino, Tim Dowling, W. Blake Herron
Tagline: “They’re about to get more than they plea-bargained for.”
Plot Summary: Danny and Wheeler (Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott) are underachievers working as spokesmen for an energy drink but when cynical Danny crashes their truck into a public monument, his lawyer girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) gets them off by having them perform community service for a mentoring group called Sturdy Wings. It seems like a cakewalk until the guys meet their wards; Danny gets Augie Farks (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a nerdy role-playing teen, while Wheeler gets a foul-mouthed 11-year-old named Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson) who is an even bigger nightmare.
Mini-Review: There’s equal parts good, bad and indifferent in David Wain’s first studio comedy, which takes a surprisingly high concept route to its comedy, but also plays well off the fortes of its cast, even if its desperate attempts to mimic the comic stylings of Apatow almost ends up becomes its undoing. While the cynicism of Rudd’s character Danny and party animal sensibilities of Scott’s Wheeler don’t exactly break new ground for either actor, it’s the way the two are combined as unwitting big buddiesyes, this certainly can be labelled as “buddy comedy”that drives the humor in the film. The characters and premise are introduced and set-up in a fairly standard way that doesn’t offer very much beyond the laughs found in the trailer. The writing isn’t great, just okay, and it relies too much on ideas that are only remotely funny at first and don’t necessarily sustain a movie, though there are some good gags that do get laughs. The best thing going for the movie is Bobb’e J. Thompson, who steals the movie from his older stars as young Donnie, a foul-mouthed breast-loving pre-teen who proves to be the perfect foil for Scott’s Wheele. Mostly, it’s just funny hearing this 11-year-old cuss up a storm and obsess with “boobies.” Auggie Farks isn’t quite as well-developed a character as Mintz-Plasse’s McLovin’ and he’s not quite as memorable either, a little more classic nerd than the smooth talking virgin we loved so much in “Superbad.” It’s great seeing many of Wain’s collaborators from “The State” and beyond, particularly Kerrie Kenny and Ken Marino as Augie’s mother and stepfather, but Jane Lynch takes what is at first a funny character and goes beyond overboard with the gag of her being a recovering drug addict trying to help kids. Most of the movie sets up the bonding between these two guys and their younger wards, but that’s pretty much the joke, and about halfway through, you can kind of figure out where it’s going. As far as antagonists, it really comes down to Ken Jeung as the King in a live action roleplaying that takes over the last act, but the movie loses a lot of momentum by then, even if it gets some points for its attempts to be heart-warming. (Again, it’s the Apatow formula regeared towards Wain’s sensibilities.) In terms of the raunchiness of the humor, it rarely goes far enough to justify its R-rating, basically relying on swearing and only a smattering of nudity, but nothing really outrageous or shocking when compared to previous films in the oeuvre. Is this the funniest movie from Wain or anyone involved in the cast? No, probably not, but you should get enough laughs out of it that it shouldn’t be completely written off as a loss. Analysis: 6.5/10
One of two R-rated comedies opening this weekend, Role Models continues Universal’s run of such comedies following the success of that genre spearheaded with the release of Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin over three years ago. While Role Models reunites some of the cast from that movie, in fact Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks originally appeared together in a comedy that spoofed ’80s summer camp movies called Wet Hot American Summer, which was helmed by this movie’s director, former member of “The State,” David Wain. This is a very different kind of movie for Wain, more of a high concept buddy comedy, pairing two popular comic stars with kids, something that’s generally worked well in family movies like Eddie Murphy’s Daddy Day Care and Steve Martin’s Cheaper by the Dozen, but in this case, that formula is being attempted in a movie geared more towards college age men and women.
Much of the success of this comedy will be accredited as much to its premise as to its two comic stars, and it’s an especially important film to Paul Rudd, who has become hugely popular due to his appearance in both of Judd Apatow’s movies, as well as this year’s “spin-off” (of sorts) Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Unfortuately, Rudd’s last few starring roles haven’t fared well with Over Her Dead Body bombing and the long-delayed I Could Never Be Your Woman with Michelle Pfeiffer going straight to DVD. Role Models is Rudd’s third movie with David Wain, having starred both in Wet Hot American Summer and last year’s The Ten, and Rudd also appeared in Reno 911!: Miami with the other former members of “The State.”
Seann William Scott became famous for his raunchy R-rated material long before Apatow came around, having created the character Stifler in the original American Pie in 1999, followed by two $100 million sequels. In the time since then, he’s been trying to break away from that character, but generally sticking with comedic roles. He starred with The Rock in Peter Berg’s action-comedy The Rundown, opposite Chow Yun Fat in the martial arts movie Bulletproof Monk and in a number of long-delayed bombs like last year’s Mr. Woodcock and this year’s The Promotion, but his biggest non-“American Pie” success was with the Warner Bros.’ reinvention of The Dukes of Hazzard opposite Johnny Knoxville, which grossed $80 million; ironically, that movie put him in touch with the Broken Lizard group, somewhat of a competing ensemble comedy group with Wain’s “The State.”
The theory is that pairing two popular comic actors together with a strong premise and lots of foul language will be enough to get people into theaters, but they have a lot of back-up, including Elizabeth Banks, who’s coming off two back-to-back movies that underperformed (W. and Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno). More importantly, Role Models marks Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s first movie since creating the popular “McLovin” in Superbad, something that could bring in fans of that movie, and the trailers and commercials have also prominently featured Jane Lynch (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Best in Show) in hopes of bringing in fans of her improv-driven humor.
Similar to previous comedies, Universal has been screening this movie fairly extensively in the last month to build word-of-mouth among its intended college-age audience and while that’s probably going to help nudge it into the double digits. That said, it’s hard to imagine this finding the same success as some of Judd Apatow or Seth Rogen’s movies, since neither Rudd nor Scott have proven themselves to be significant draws and the humor just doesn’t seem to be as groundbreaking or edgy as some of the R-rated comedies that have come before it. Even so, we can expect an okay opening in third place and possibly a strong hold from word-of-mouth even going against bigger budget movies in the weekends to come.
Why I Should See It: David Wain from “The State” finally hits the big time with his first studio comedy!
Why Not: Fans of his earlier work like Wet Hot American Summer might find the movie to be a bit too mainstream for their tastes.
Projections: $9 to 11 million opening weekend and roughly $35 to 40 million total.
Soul Men (MGM/Dimension)
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Bernie Mac, Sean Hayes, Sharon Leal, Jennifer Coolidge, Isaac Hayes, Affion Crockett, John Legend, Adam Herschman, Fatso Fasano, Jackie Long
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, Roll Bounce, Undercover Brother); Written by Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone (Man of the House, Intolerable Cruelty, Life, Big Trouble)
Genre: Comedy, Music
Tagline: “Out of sync. Never out of style.”
Plot Summary: Twenty years after they broke up at the height of their success as a singing duo, Louis and Floyd (Samuel L. Jackson, Bernie Mac) are reunited by the death of their former lead singer (John Legend) and they decide to drive across country to perform a big tribute show at New York City’s fabled Apollo Theater, that is if they don’t kill each other.
Mini-Review: The basic premise behind this traditional squabbling buddies road comedy can be readily traced back to “The Blues Brothers,” and if Samuel Jackson and the late Bernie Mac weren’t chewing up the scenery in an incessant game of one-upmanship, this might have worked nearly as well. Still, the formula of throwing two guys who don’t get along on a road trip is a sound one that’s stood the test of time, so one shouldn’t be surprised if a certain demographic will probably think this is the funniest movie they’ve ever seen. The original singing group Marcus Hooks and the Real Deal are introduced in an impressive montage that shows off Jackson and Mac’s dance moves, which we’ll see plenty more later, with singer John Legend playing the part of Hooks. Cut forward thirty years later, and Mac’s Floyd Henderson is doing fine thanks to wise investing and a thriving business, but Louis is now a car mechanic with a condescending boss. The two men haven’t spoken in decades, so Floyd has to convince Louis that reuniting for the funeral of Hooks will be worth the money, and they pile into Floyd’s 1971 El Dorado and head across the country, playing shows along the way at backwoods places where their music might not normally go over well. Obviously, they find ways to win over their audience, bringing them together as they realize the power of their music. Along the way, they stop at the home of Louis’ ex-wife, the woman who broke up the duo when she cheated on one with the other, and find Sharon Leal’s Cleo, a young woman being abused by her gangsta rapper boyfriend Lester (a ridiculous scenery-chewing performance by Affion Crockett, who effectively kills the laughs with his racial stereotype.) Otherwise, it’s fairly obvious that in Louis, Jackson is once again trying to create a tough-talking character on the level of Jules from “Pulp Fiction” and you can’t deny the great chemistry he has with Mac, even though most of the movie is spent with them squabbling. As much as one expects Jackson to take advantage of the movie’s R-rating, he barely holds a candle to Mac, who in one scene, inserts the word “motherf*cker” over a dozen times into a single sentence. At first, it’s funny, then it gets kind of awkward and uncomfortable, but then it gets funny again since it’s so over-the-top. That’s generally par for the course of most of the movie, and the material is better for the quality of Jackson and Mac’s presence, though few people will think that the scene of Mac in bed with Jennifer Coolidge does much beyond making one retch. Once the duo stops fighting, they do have some decent songs and choreography whenever they’re on stage, and they seem to be having fun, even if Jackson doesn’t even really try to make it look like he’s really playing bass. That doesn’t leave much room for Sean Hayes as the group’s original manager to do much other than play things straight, although Adam Herschman from “Accepted” does get a few good moments as the duo’s gushing fan, an intern at their management company who they convince to join them on the road (funding the trip on a company card). In general, the soundtrack is really good, and an appearance by Isaac Hayes (the last before his death earlier this year) on the duo’s stop through their hometown of Memphis adds more musical cred. The film is fairly rich with subplots but overall, it’s disjointed, uneven and rarely as funny as it thinks it is. As far as mainstream comedies go, it also follows along certain beats that make it obvious where things are going almost at all times. Mostly, it’s pretty silly with very little basis in reality, but what almost save it is Malcolm Lee’s loving tribute to Mac and Hayes in the end credits, something that almost makes up for the awfulness of the movie that comes before it, but not quite. Rating: 5.5/10
So what do we have here? A road buddy comedy bringing together two popular African-American actors, one whose best known for his comedy, the other who has brought humor to many movies despite being more of a dramatic actor. They play soul singers thrown in a car together as they drive across country for a big show performing along the way. Let’s face it, this is basically The Blues Brothers, except that it’s given a modern spin geared towards African-American audience due to the direction of Malcolm Lee (Roll Bounce, Undercover Brother), and it’s likely to get a lot of attention, being one of the last movies filmed by Bernie Mac before his tragic death over the summer.
Certainly, Bernie Mac will be one of the bigger draws appearing in his first comedy as a lead in nearly 3 and a half years since he faced Ashton Kutcher in Guess Who, a $70 million hit. Of course, Mac has been appearing regularly in Steven Soderbergh’s “Danny Ocean” movies, the most recent one Ocean’s 13 grossing nearly $120 million and Mac also appeared briefly as comic relief in Michael Bay’s Transformers, something Mac excelled at, having played a similar role in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. In fact, his appearance in the “Oceans” movies might have played a large part in Mac’s success outside African-American audiences, who knew him for his stand-up and later for his popular Fox sitcom. Sadly, Mac’s career was erratic and for every sleeper hit like Bad Santa, there was a disappointment like the baseball comedy Mr. 3000 or the swimming drama Pride opposite Terrence Howard.
Oddly, Samuel L. Jackson hasn’t been very successful when attempting straight comedies as seen by the bombs Formula 51 and The Man opposite Eugene Levy, neither which made more than $10 million. It’s actually kind of surprising considering how many people loved the humor Jackson brought to movies like Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and many movies since then, but Jackson is just one erratic dude who jumps between genres so much that it’s hard to consistently make movies that appeal to all of his fans. In recent years, Jackson would appear in up to four or five movies of varying degrees of quality and budget and for every semi-decent hit, he’d appear in a bomb, last year being especially tough as Black Snake Moan, Home of the Brave and Resurrecting the Champ all bombed. And then just this year, he had Jumper, which did decently, and the Neil LaBute-directed thriller Lakeview Terrace, which was somewhat of a surprise hit. Despite all of that, Jackson had never appeared in a movie opposite Bernie Mac, and it’s their pairing as feuding soul singers that will bring in his fans this time around.
Not only is this Bernie Mac’s last film appearance, but it also includes a featured supporting role by soul singer Isaac Hayes, who also passed away this year, the day after Mac; fans of his music will also be interested in seeing him make a rare big screen appearance. (Of course, Hayes is best known as the performer of the theme from “Shaft” possibly one of the more recognizable film themes of the last half-century.)
Adding to the film’s pedigree is director Malcolm Lee, probably one of the more prominent black filmmakers making studio comedies with various degrees of success, his biggest hit being Martin Lawrence’s recent comedy Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, but his movie The Best Man with Taye Diggs, considered a precursor for the urban romantic comedies that have followed to similar success. Lee’s comedy Undercover Brother was equally successful, though his rollerskating movie Roll Bounce failed to bring in his faithful audience. Soul Men is probably closer to somewhere between Roscoe Jenkins and Undercover Brother and being geared so much for laughs and entertainment value, it should deliver.
What’s surprising is how R-rated this movie is, especially how foul-mouthed Bernie Mac was in his next-to-last film role, but it’s surprising that this is his first R-rated material since Bad Santa almost five years ago, though it probably shouldn’t be too much of a surprise since it returns Mac to his stand-up roots as captured in Spike Lee’s concert film The Original Kings of Comedy alongside Cedric the Entertainer and Steve Harvey. It’s somewhat ironic to see Bernie Mac appear in two such different movies this weekend, this and the PG family film Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. One might wonder whether being in two movies might split Mac’s audience, but this is a much stronger featured role than the animated movie.
Despite the foul language that might turn off some of the church-going crowd, the movie is enough of a crowdpleaser that it will probably find even more of an audience after opening weekend as people tell their friends about hilarious it is, although one shouldn’t exactly expect critics to embrace it. No, this is the kind of movie that will do well among the urban audiences who’ve flocked to many of Ice Cube’s bigger comedy hits.
Why I Should See It: The pairing of Samuel L. Jackson with the late Bernie Mac doing R-rated material should offer lots of laughs for their older African-American fans. Look for this to be a sleeper hit.
Why Not: This probably will appeal to non-demanding urban audiences who’ll be able to look past the fact that the premise is stronger than the comedy material.
Projections: $11 to 13 million opening weekend and roughly $40 to 45 million total.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Miramax)
Starring David Thewlis, Vera Farmiga, Rupert Friend, Asa Butterfield, Jack Scalon
Written and directed by Mark Herman (Brassed Up)
Genre: Drama, Holocaust
Tagline: “Lines may divide us, but hope will unite us.”
Plot Summary: In the 1940s, an eight-year-old German boy named Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is moved from their Berlin home to a house in the country where the lonely boy starts to explore the nearby “farm” where he befriends a young boy on the other side of a fence, unaware that it’s a concentration camp for Jews.
It opens in roughly 25 theaters in select cities on Friday
Mini-Review: As hard as it is not to be cynical about the way the importance of remembering the Holocaust has been exploited by filmmakers trying to be taken seriously, there are still angles and avenues left to be explored, as seen by this film, which looks at the horrors through the innocent eyes of its protagonist. Bruno is a sullen and quiet boy often left to his own devices, although his mother (played by Vera Farmiga) is particularly overprotective about him knowing the reasons why his German officer father (David Thewlis) was reassigned to the country, and what goes on at the “farm.” With no friends to play with, the inquisitive boy begins to explore, finding a boy roughly his own age named Schmuel on the opposite side of a high fence, and the two quickly become friends, although Bruno never quite understands why Schmuel is always sad. Much of the film deals with their relationship and Bruno discovering the truth about what goes on there, while his older sister is being brainwashed with Nazi ideals by a good-looking young officer, played by Rupert Friend. Certainly, the film’s unique perspective on the Holocaust, seen from the viewpoint of a normal Germany family torn apart by Hitler’s regime, is one that makes the film unique, and in Bruno, we see how the innocence of youth might have a hard time understanding what is going on even while it might be obvious. Young Asa Butterfield, who had a small part in Garth Jennings’ “Son of Rambow,” is a fine young actor, doing a splendid job in what would be a difficult role for any young actor. At times, that innocence is overplayed with Bruno being so naïve almost to the point of being oblivious of what’s going on around him, which might be obvious to others. Farmiga and Thewlis both give solid performances as his parents, Farmiga once again playing a mother on the verge of a breakdown as it dawns on her what a monster she’s married to; much of their relationship in the film involves them arguing over the polemics of one “doing their job” despite it involving horrible acts. The real clincher for the movie is the final scene, one that will hit you in the gut stronger than other Holocaust films, and leave the most lasting impact for what you’ve seen. Up until that point, the film tends to be somewhat slow and dry, though director Mark Herman does a fine job creating the mood for the film with a gorgeous score by James Horner that once in a while does feel somewhat overwrought. This might not be quite on par with “Life is Beautiful” or “Schindler’s List” but it’s still a powerful film, and a more than worthy addition to the genre due to its unique perspective. Rating: 7.5/10
Pray the Devil Back to Hell (Balcony Releasing)
Starring Leybah Gbowee
Directed by Gini Reticker (“A Decade Under the Influence”, “The Class of 2006″, The Heart of the Matter)
Plot Summary: This documentary follows Leybah Gbowee’s attempts to unite the Christian and Muslim women of Monrovia, Liberia in a series of peace rallies to speak out against the brutal civil war between dictator Charles Taylor and the warlords who want control of the country, a war that has ravaged their village with women and children being raped and killed.
It opens exclusively at the Cinema Village in New York on Friday.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon)
Gardens of the Night (City Lights)
Starring Ryan Simpkins, Gillian Jacobs, Tom Arnold, Kevin Zegers, Jermaine “Scooter” Smith, Evan Ross, John Malkovich, Harold Perrineau, Jeremy Sisto
Written and directed by Damian Harris (Killing Time, Mercy, Deceived)
Plot Summary: As an 8-year-old girl, Leslie (Ryan Simpkins) was kidnapped by two men (Tom Arnold, Kevin Zegers) and forced to do unspeakable things, but she found solace with her best friend Donnie, another victim of the pedophiles. Ten years later, Leslie (Gillian Jacobs) and Donnie (Evan Ross) are living on the streets of San Diego, turning tricks to survive, and Leslie has to decide whether she’s ready to return to the past in order to escape the cycle of abuse.
It opens at the Village East Cinemas in New York on Friday.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon)
Also in Limited Release:
The Guitar (Lightning Media) – Saffron Burrows stars in Amy Redford’s directorial debut, based on a script by Amos Poe about a woman diagnosed with throat cancer who decides to spend her last days in an expansive loft she furnishes luxuriously using her credit card. She decides to live out her girlhood dream of buying an electric guitar as she gets into a tryst with her deliver man (Isaach de Bankhole) and pizza delivery girl (Paz de la Huerta). It opens Friday at the Landmark Sunshine in New York.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon)
The World Unseen (Regent Releasing) – Lisa Ray and Sheetal Sheth star in this romantic drama from Shamin Sarif, who adapts her own award-winning novel set in 1950’s South Africa where two unlikely women of Indian descent find themselves falling in love in a world that would never accept such a thing. Opening on Friday, this is the first of two movies from Sarif based on her novels being released this month, the other being I Can’t Think Straight, Sarif’s first movie based on her third novel, also starring Ray and Sheth, which comes out on November 21.
JCVD (Peace Arch Releasing) – Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as himself in this crime thriller from Mabrouke El Mechri, as it follows the Belgian action star facing his failing career when he stumbles upon a post office robbery and is suspected of being its mastermind. It opens at the Angelika Film Center in New York on Friday.
I don’t know what’s up with all these horror films opening a week after Halloween, but here’s what we got…
Repo! The Genetic Opera (Lionsgate) – Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II through IV) helms this rock opera set in the year 2056 where organ transplants is the hottest trend, but when people can’t afford to pay for them, they’re visited by the deadly Repo Man (Anthony Stewart Head) who removes them and returns them to GeneCo. Starring Paris Hilton, Alexa Vega, Paul Sorvino and singer Sarah Brightman, this long-delayed dream project opens in select cities including New York, L.A. and Austin on Friday.
Mini-Review: This long-anticipated rock opera from the director of 3/5ths of the “Saw” franchise should have been a “Rocky Horror” for the 21st Century and though one can appreciate the craft and artistry that went into Darren Bousman’s vision of the film, one has to face the facts: People singing about genetics and body parts is not exactly something that’s going to bring in large audiences. This is a rock opera that thrives on the fringe and niche factor and can be appreciated by gore hounds for the aspect of the story that allows for plenty of bowel eviscerating scenes as the Repo Man reclaims the unpaid organs. There are some original ideas, but otherwise, it seems to be cobbled together using a generic musical formula with all of the normal beats one might expect. Following so closely to far better horror-laced movie musicals like “Sweeney Todd” and “Phantom” leaves this film lacking, making it obvious how the film’s problems stem as much from the source material as the oddball casting. Frankly, the only member of the cast who can really sing is essentially a ringer, Sarah Brightman (the lead in said “Phantom”), and in some cases, the cast’s often tone-deaf inability to handle the material almost kills the movie. Anthony Stewart Head gives the strongest and most emotional performance as the Repo Man, and Alexa Vega is suitably sweet as his daughter, though she doesn’t have the strongest voice. The performance by Nivek Ogre from Skinny Puppy is disturbing not because he spends the entire film wearing a mask made of human skin but because he spends it with a huge smile on his face, speak-singing his lines in a high-pitched whine while poncing around. That’s better than Bill Moseley, whose singing voice is more horrifying than his entire film career. While some might be ready to pounce on Paris Hilton, she’s actually quite good as their sister, going through many costume changes and looks on her way to finding herself. The entire film has a unique and distinctive look as Bousman and production designer David Hackl (who directed “Saw 5″) create a dark and vivid world that’s both retro and futuristic at the same time, and the animated interstitial segments used to introduce the characters and set-up the story are also pretty cool. While the film’s finale does pull everything together, that’s after over an hour of grueling off-Broadway level musical numbers sung by an ensemble of barely capable singers. Ultimately, this campy gore-filled romp might appeal to a very specific group of weirdos i.e. the “Rocky Horror” crowd, but other than that, the performances rarely rise above a “let’s put on a show” quality, so it’s hard to be impressed by the amazing effort it must have taken to creating the film’s inventive look. Certainly in the future depicted here so stylishly Andrew Lloyd Webber is probably turning in his grave. Rating: 4.5/10
The Alphabet Killer (Anchor Bay Entertainment) – Eliza Dushku and Cary Elwes star in Rob (Wrong Turn) Schmidt’s thriller set in Rochester, New York (where the movie opens on Friday), in which Dushku plays a police detective who has a breakdown while trying to solve a series of child murders, but two years later is back on the case once again trying to catch the psychopath.
House (Roadside Attractions) – Robby Henson directs this horror film based on the novel by Ted Dekker (Th3ee, also directed by Henson) about a couple stranded in Alabama with no car or cell phone coverage who come upon a remote inn where another couple has experienced a similar fate, but they soon discover that their safe haven is not what it appears to be. Co-starring Michael Madsen and Bill Moseley, it opens in roughly 250 theaters in select cities on Friday.
Otto; or Up with Dead People (Strand Releasing) – Bruce La Bruce’s horror-comedy about a young zombie named Otto who hitchhikes his way to Berlin and is discovered by an underground filmmaker who wants to make a documentary about him, until Otto discovers his past and tries to reunite with his former boyfriend. This homoerotic horror film opens in New York at the IFC Center on Friday and in L.A. on November 28.
Next week, finally a week with only one new movie but that’s a doozy as Daniel Craig returns as James Bond in Quantum of Solace (Sony).
Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas