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.
(UPDATE: One thing we’re accounting into this week’s predictions are a couple exclusives that are being added to certain movies this weekend. First of all, 20th Century Fox will be debuting the first trailer for X-Men Origins: Wolverine in front of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which should greatly help that movie’s opening weekend. Second, Disney is debuting a brand-new 3D short Tokyo Mater, based on the character from Cars, in front of their animated movie Bolt this weekend, so one could expect that to give their struggling movie to get a nice boost in its fourth weekend despite losing over 300 theaters.)
1. The Day the Earth Stood Still (20th Century Fox) $45.8 million N/A (up 2.4 million)
2. Four Christmases (New Line/WB) $10.5 million -39% (up .3 million)
3. Twilight (Summit) $7.2 million -45% (same)
4. Nothing Like the Holidays (Overture) – $6.8 million N/A (up .5 million)
5. Bolt (Disney) – $6.5 million N/A -35% (up .4 million)
6. Delgo (Fathom Studios) – $4.2 million N/A (same)
7. Australia (20th Century Fox) $3.9 million -44% (same)
8. Quantum of Solace (Sony) $3.4 million -49% (down .1 million)
9. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (DreamWorks) – $2.8 million -45% (same)
10. Milk (Focus) $2.5 million +36% (same)
After the normally slow post-Thanksgiving weekend, December looks to explode again with the big budget remake of the ’50s sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (20th Century Fox), this one starring Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly and Jaden Smith, which will hope to find similar success as last year’s I Am Legend (see below) with a wide release including IMAX theaters. With many of the big holiday movies already making less than $20 million per weekend, it’s very likely that this sci-fi remake can explode into theaters with a bigger than expected opening but will still have to settle for a number closer to what Reeves has proven himself capable of rather than a summer blockbuster size opening.
Continuing the holiday spirit of Warner Bros.’ Four Christmases, the Latin-tinged family dramedy Nothing Like the Holidays (Overture Films) stars every high-profile Latino actor working today, including John Leguizamo, Freddie Rodriguez, Luis Guzman and many others, and it’ll mainly be targeting the growing audience of Latino moviegoers that have helped create surprise hits out of smaller Latincentric films, though being in English and with Debra Messing co-starring, this could appeal to non-Latin audiences as just a fun holiday family gathering movie. Its moderate release will probably keep it somewhere in the middle or bottom half of the Top 10 but its good news for Latin actors, who are featured front and center this week, between this and Steven Soderbergh’s Che (IFC Films).
Another player joins the world of computer animation as Fathom Studios releases their long-in-production fantasy epic Delgo, featuring the voices of Freddie Prinze Jr., Chris Kattan and Jennifer Love Hewitt into theaters hoping to bring in some of the kids that have already seen Bolt and the other family fare. Despite a release into 1,800 theatres, it seems unlikely that the company has been able to promote the movie enough to really make much of a mark, so it’s likely to end up in the realm of a Fly Me to the Moon or similar indie animated film.
This weekend last year was a weekend that will forever live in infamy as Will Smith took on Alvin and the Chipmunks (20th Century Fox), but when the smoke had cleared, Will’s take on Robert Neville in Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend had grossed more than $77 million, which became the top opening movie of December ever. Not to say that Alvin didn’t do well, because that ended up making an insane $44 million over the weekend, also in the top 10 openers for December, and the two movies amassed $120 million between them. Meanwhile, Lance Rivera’s holiday comedy The Perfect Holiday (Yari Film Group) starring Queen Latifah and others proved to be just the reverse, as it tanked with just $2.3 million in 1,300 theaters. The Top 10 grossed $149 million last and it’s doubtful this frame’s movies will match that, especially with only one strong movie in wide release this year. (Okay, I know, I know, we missed a week somewhere and last week should have coincided with New Line’s The Golden Compass so sue me.)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (20th Century Fox)
Starring Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith, Jon Hamm, Kyle Chandler
Directed by Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose); Written by David Scarpa (The Last Castle)
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Plot Summary: The entire world panics when a spaceship arrives on earth and an alien named Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) acts as their ambassador, putting the military and scientists on alert to find out the invaders’ intentions. When Klaatu escapes from the government’s grasp, he goes into hiding with a reporter (Jennifer Connelly) and her stepson (Jaden Smith) and as they get closer with Klaatu, they learn there’s more to this invasion than anyone else can suspect.
Potentially one of the bigger movies of the month, both in terms of budget and box office potential, is this modern remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic, which will try to bring Keanu Reeves back to the forefront as a box office star with his highest profile movie since the 2005 movie based on the comic book Constantine.
While Keanu Reeves is often mocked for being stiff and one-dimensional as an actor, that will actually come in handy as he plays the alien Klaatu, a character who doesn’t show any human emotion as he plays a harbinger towards earth’s last days. It returns Keanu to the world of sci-fi in which he’s been the most successful thanks to “The Matrix” trilogy, the series of three movies grossing $1.6 billion worldwide, even though the final installment The Matrix Revolutions was the least successful, grossing roughly half the amount of the first sequel. Reeves followed that by taking on the role of the comic book character Constantine, which did decently but not enough to warrant a franchise, especially after the project’s figurehead left Warner Bros. Even though Reeves tends to get a lot of flack from movie fans, he also has built a credibility among guys for doing interesting sci-fi projects like Johnny Mnemonic and the animated version of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly with Richard Linklater. (Let’s not forget the time travel aspect of the “Bill and Ted” movies either!)
For this movie, Reeves is teamed with Jennifer Connelly, whose highest profile movie to date was Universal’s first Hulk movie, following her Oscar winning role in Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind. The studio movies she starred in which followed, Dark Water and Blood Diamond, both under-delivered at the box office, and she still tends to be seen as a supporting actress rather than a lead so it’s hard to take her seriously as a box office draw. Then there’s Jaden Smith, the young son of actor Will Smith, who is now moving up to getting his own movies after starring with his Dad in The Pursuit of Happyness two years ago. (Oddly, Father Will has his own new movie next weekend cutting into this movie’s legs.) The remake is directed by Scott Derrickson, who got a lot of attention in Hollywood when his thriller The Exorcism of Emily Rose opened with over $30 million during a normally slow September weekend three years ago, but this is a much bigger movie not only because of the familiar name but also because of the bigger FX budget.
Science fiction continues to be popular and yet, sci-fi audiences are ones that aren’t often catered to, the most recent attempt being the action flick Eagle Eye, which just crossed the $100 million mark. Granted, they’re also a finicky bunch who don’t like their beloved classics messed with, and the genre has mainly been kept alive via television shows like “Battlestar Galactica” and the like. Certainly, there’s a niche market that might be catered to by a movie like this, but it’s also one that might be skeptical of a remake, and in general, there’s a growing ennui among movie audiences against remakes these days because they’ve become so frequent and studios have relied so heavily on them bringing in audiences based solely on namebrand value. This may have been something that greatly hurt Warner Bros.’ The Invasion with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, a poorly disguised remake of a classic ’50s sci-fi movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Will Smith’s I Am Legend escaped the “remake syndrome” by using the name of the original Richard Matheson book rather than being sold as a remake of the books’ previous adaptations, and it didn’t hurt having Will Smith to help turn it into one of last year’s biggest blockbusters. Likewise, Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise had good luck when they reteamed to remake another ’50s sci-fi classic War of the Worlds and the movie is being distributed through 20th Century Fox, who has had great luck with alien invasion and apocalyptic movies from Independence Day to The Day After Tomorrow and even things like Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and M. Night Shyamalans The Happening; they obviously love the genre and it loves them!
The other thing going for the movie is the alien invasion aspect that has helped movies like Smith’s breakout hit Independence Day and last year’s Transformers, as it’s a subgenre of science fiction that continually proves to be popular among moviegoers that aren’t necessarily sci-fi fans. While movies like this tend to be made to appeal to younger audiences who might not be familiar with the original movie, this is one that could actually interest older sci-fi fans interested in what they do to update it. What’s interesting about the original movie is that it was more of a quiet philosophical alien invasion movie… “There’s a flying saucer in your backyard, what DO you DO?!?” (Yes, that was my impression of Keanu from Speed, thank you very much)… so one wonders whether this remake will have more action or big FX sequences as the trailers seem to indicate.
Regardless, The Day the Earth Stood Still is getting the widest release of any new movie since Four Christmases, including many IMAX theaters, which means it not only will be the first choice for many moviegoers but also the only choice in many areas. Certainly, guys who passed on Punisher: War Zone and Transporter 3 will be looking for a suitable follow-up to Quantum of Solace with very few movies geared to them on the horizon. Reviews might not be too favorable just because few critics will admit to liking a remake of a classic movie, but that shouldn’t hurt the interest among moviegoers looking for a bit of escapism this weekend. The movie should be a good litmus test for whether the country’s messy economy is affecting moviegoing practices because this movie doesn’t feel like a must-see event movie, but it also looks like a good casual moviegoing choice for those looking for something to see this weekend.
Why I Should See It: It’s been a long time since a good sci-fi thriller and this one remakes a classic alien invasion movie.
Why Not: Seriously, Keanu, do you really think you can get past all of the “stiff and emotionless” critiques of your acting by playing an emotionless alien?
Projections: $42 to 45 million opening weekend and $130 to 140 million total.
Nothing Like the Holidays (Overture Films)
Starring John Leguizamo, Debra Messing, Freddy Rodriguez, Vanessa Ferlito, Luis Guzman, Jay Hernandez, Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Pena, Melonie Diaz
Directed by Alfredo De Villa (Adrift in Manhattan, Washington Heights); Written by Rick Najera, Ted Perkins, Alison Swan (Mixing Nia)
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Holiday
Tagline: “Twas the night before chaos…”
Plot Summary: The Rodriguez family are reunited for Christmas when the youngest son Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez) returns from fighting overseas, still having feelings for his ex-girlfriend (Vanessa Ferlito), while his older siblings each deal with their own issues, and his parents (Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Pena) seem to be on the verge of getting a divorce.
Mini-Review: It almost feels like a waste of time reviewing a movie that relies so heavily on overused holiday movie formulas that have worked time and time again. It’s almost as if one needs to accept many of this movie’s biggest problems as par for the genre. Essentially, this is another family gathering movie where everyone in the family is reunited for the first time in years, reawakening lots of old arguments and family secrets, and the only thing that makes it even remotely worthwhile is the impressive cast of talented Latino actors assembled to fill the necessary roles for this kind of movie. Freddy Rodriguez, the film’s executive producer, does a particularly good job as a soldier returning home, who is trying to get his life back together while trying to regain the heart of his newly married childhood sweetheart (Melonie Diaz). Otherwise, the characters mostly fill very predictable roles, John Leguizamo as the over-achieving son who has married a white woman (Debra Messing), who doesn’t want the same things his family does, and Luis Guzman as the (potentially gay?) comic relief. Jay Hernandez plays a friend dealing with local gangbangers. For the most part, these are all very good actors who do their best to elevate the relatively weak material, particularly Peña and Molina, but far too often, they get dragged down by the film’s sillier moments, trying too hard to get laughs. Messing is the worst of the bunch, playing the awkward fish-out-of-water so stiffly that she sticks out like a sore thumb though probably not in the way that was intended. As a holiday comedy, this isn’t nearly as funny as the recent “Four Christmases” but after spending so much time playing things for laughs and giggles, things turn too dark and serious as it starts to look like the family’s parental units will not be staying together after the holidays. While one can commend director Alfredo De Villa for giving the film the type of glossy production values one normally only gets from a far more expensive studio movie, keeping things moving at a brisk pace, the balance between humor and drama doesn’t always work as well as other indie films. The movie continues to pile too many subplots on top of each other, ultimately settling down for an easily expected happy ending, but nowhere along the way does any of it feel particularly groundbreaking. If you really must see a family gathering holiday movie like this to get over the seasonal blahs, than so be it, but surely, one could have made a much stronger movie with a cast this good, one that wasn’t so erratic and driven by such obvious and formulaic holiday silliness. Rating: 5.5/10
There’s only a few things you need to know about this Latino Christmas dramedy that’s getting a fairly moderate release this weekend. The first one is that this is a production put together by Freddry Rodriguez (“Six Feet Under”) that features one of the strongest line-ups of Latin talent put on film in a long time. The question is whether the presence of such an amazing cast and the holiday themes will be enough to get that audience into theaters this weekend or breakout and find wider audiences. We’ve already seen a great example of the family holiday gathering comedy paying off with Four Christmases a couple of weeks back, which itself followed the similar success of This Christmas around this time last year. What’s somewhat worrying for this independently-produced project is that a month after This Christmas opened, a smaller indie movie called The Perfect Holiday opened and bombed; here we have the exact same thing happening, although this will target a very different audience than Four Christmases, which wasn’t the case with The Perfect Holiday. Also, this passion project is more of a family gathering movie like The Family Stone and Home for the Holidays, movies which capitalize on the fact that people are so stressed out over the holidays, they need a release and what better way than to laugh at eccentric and dysfunctional families worse than your own?
Clearly the biggest names involved are John Leguizamo and Debra Messing, both of whom have appeared in big movies either as the lead or supporting players, and they could be the only real draw for this one. Leguizamo has starred in a lot of independent films in the last couple of years but the only ones he’s headlined haven’t made too much money. His biggest starring movie was the crime drama Empire which opened in early December 2002, but otherwise, his independent flicks have barely made $50,000. Instead, Leguizamo has made a name as a supporting character in other big films including M. Night Shyamalan’s recent The Happening. Debra Messing plays his wife and she generally has had more success in TV than movies, although she had a breakout hit with The Wedding Date a few years back and recently starred in the similarly femalecentric The Women. It’s hard to determine whether either’s presence will get anyone in theaters, especially since the women who generally like Messing from her TV shows “Will & Grace” and “The Starter Wife,” might not be as interested in the film’s decidedly Latino slant.
Continuing that theme, actors Freddy Rodriguez and Luiz Guzman last appeared together in the DreamWorks family movie Dreamer but neither has starred in a leading role in a movie despite tons of character and television work, while Jay Hernandez is probably best known from starring in Hostel. The heads of the household are played by Elizabeth Pena, the winner of four Alma Awards and a mainstay in Latin independent filmmaking, while her husband is played by Alfred Molina, who may be best known for playing Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2. Their daughters are played by Vanessa Ferlito, the lapdancing vixen in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, and Melonie Diaz, who has been everywhere this year, co-starring in Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind, Hamlet 2 and other indies.
It’s doubtful this movie will have much interest among guys under 30 and it’s not exactly a family film either, but as far as older Latin couples and families with teens, this could be just what they need to identify with as their own Christmas movie. The question is whether the fairly new Overture Films will be able to target that market in a way that they know it’s opening or whether they’ll use the normal approach of selling movies like this with slapstick humor trying to bring in a wider audience. So far, they seem to be using some of the same holiday movie formulas that were used for Warner Bros.’ Four Christmases and coming so closely on its heels without that movie’s name stars might ultimately hurt its opening weekend, especially since they’re making the movie look even dumber than it is. Regardless of how the movie does this weekend, it should see somewhat of a bump over the holidays if Overture can keep screens against so many stronger movies.
Why I Should See It: Some of the best Latin actors working today finally get to do something together that while specifically targeted towards the Latin demographic could appeal to wider audience.
Why Not: Non-Latinos probably will have very little interest so how much of an audience does that leave?
Projections: $5 to 7 million opening weekend and $20 to 22 million total.
Delgo (Fathom Studios)
Starring (the voices of) Freddie Prinze Jr., Jennifer Love Hewitt, Val Kilmer, Chris Kattan, Kelly Ripa, Michael Clarke Duncan, Eric Idle, Malcolm McDowell, Burt Reynolds, Lou Gossett Jr., Anne Bancroft
Directed by Marc F. Adler, Jason Maurer (debuts); Written by Patrick J. Cowan, Carl Dream, Jennifer A. Jones
Genre: Animated, Fantasy, Family, Adventure, Romance, Comedy
Tagline: “In a divided land, a troubled youth and some unlikely friends must save the world from itself.”
Plot Summary: In the land of Jhamora, the Lockni are a peaceful tribe involved in the mystical arts who are attacked and overpowered by the Nohrin, the winged masters from the sky, but in this world, a young Lockni named Delgo (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.) must team with the daughter of the Nohrin King (voiced by Jennifer Love Hewitt) to end the war.
Mini-Review: Even if you’re not a fan of the gooey-eyed fantasy this simplistic animated offering espouses, it might take some time to get your head around the bland Tolkieneque Romeo and Juliet plot that seems to have been taken directly from a video game. The graphics don’t look much better, the weak computer animation looking dated compared to what’s out there even compared to the worst bits in the recent “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” This movie is clearly from the same mold, being a movie that tries to straddle fantasy and sci-fi genres in a way that could never appeal to anyone but the youngest of kids, rather than interesting the older teens who enjoy Japanese animation. Sure, there are some clever set pieces, but those are countered by a lot of equally lame moments, like the scenes between Delgo and his mystical mentor voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan as they’re trying to control mystical stones. Over time, the characters do eventually win you over, but it requires far too much patience with bland writing and voicework that feels like everyone involved phoned it in for a paycheck. The two exceptions are the late Anne Bancroft, who seems to really enjoy voicing the film’s baddie Empress Soressa, sister to the Nohrin queen who seeks revenge after being exiled, while Chris Kattan almost steals the movie with his overly-exuberant sidekick character. Kattan and Eric Idle generally offer the film’s only laughs although most of it is the type of immature silliness that only kids can apprecaite. With so much great computer animation being made these days, this looks worse than some of the worst ’90s video game animation with very little texture or detail and it’s fairly inexcusable much like “Kaena: The Prophecy,” a movie that was similarly so long in production that its animation techniques became obsolete, looking almost like it was done by college animation students. Oddly, one gets used to the ugly animation and even accepts it after a while as they get into the story and characters, but it might keep diehard animation fans from being able to get into the fantasy world. Kids should certainly enjoy the simplicity of this adventure fantasy, because there are enough funny moments and cool action scenes to keep them riveted to the screen, but anything good that can be said about this movie tends to be hindered by the ugly animation, which pales in comparison to anything else being done in the field right now. Rating: 5.5/10
There’s probably less to say about this than I have to say about Nothing Like the Holidays, except that this is an independently-produced computer animated fantasy film that has been in production for many years and is finally getting released after playing the festival circuit. It’s the first project by Fathom Studios, who literally started this movie in April 2003, over five years ago, and got it into the film festival circuit over the spring and early summer before deciding to release it on their own. What’s surprising is that they’re releasing it wide into over 1,800 theaters, which seems unfathomable (ba dum bum… thank you, I’m here all weekend), especially considering the minimal marketing campaign that might be required to make any sort of mark. This is very much a fantasy adventure, the Romeo and Juliet story transplanted into a world of kind and gentle creatures and those that prey upon them; it’s a simple premise that could appeal to younger moviegoers who enjoy fantasy, but probably won’t be taken very seriously by anyone over 13. The voice cast is not particularly interesting or significant, with most of those involved being at a nadir in their career, so few of them will have much of an impact on people deciding to see the movie. On the other hand, it does feature the last performance by the late Anne Bancroft.
Computer animated movies not from Pixar or DreamWorks or Blue Sky Studios (the makers of “Ice Age”) have had a hard time making much of a mark at the box office because there are so many of them being released these days, and it’s hard to imagine this finding the same success of Hoodwinked!, which became a breakout hit for the fledgling Weinstein Company a few years ago, success that hasn’t been replicated by any other independently produced computer animated film since then. Unlike the “VeggieTales” movies, which were similarly produced independently and distributed by Artisan and Universal to moderate success, Delgo doesn’t have the namebrand value of a popular Saturday morning show or the mainstream marketing money of a Fox or Disney to help raise enough awareness to warrant such a wide release.
Basically, this might find some family audiences in the suburbs or other areas where the kids have already seen “Madagascar” or Bolt, but it’s unlikely to open very big, and it’s best bet is if it’s able to retain theaters through the holidays, which might be hard, especially with Universal’s The Tale of Despereux and two other big movies opening next week.
Why I Should See It: This attempt by a new independent animation company to go against the studios features some fun and interesting characters and decent fantasy action.
Why Not: The animation doesn’t look great, the voice cast is bizarrely eclectic, and this will probably appeal only to kids, rather than bringing in any older teen fans of fantasy and animation.
Projections: $4 to 5 million opening weekend and $13 to 15 million total.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
What a crazy week this is for limited releases and what it comes down to this week is a juicy battle between two potential Oscar contenders, the new company formed by Harvey and Bob Weinstein and their former company
And the winner is… (drum roll)
The Reader (The Weinstein Co.)
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Kate Winslet, David Kross, Lena Olin, Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara
Directed by Stephen Daldry (The Hours, Billy Elliot); Written by David Hare (The Hours)
Tagline: “Unlock the mystery.”
Plot Summary: When he was 15 years old, Michael Berg (David Kross) became sexually involved with the older Hanna Schlitz (Kate Winslet), a ticket collector who asks the boy to read to her after their trysts. Years later, Michael discovers Hannah’s secret, one that will forever haunt him throughout his life, as the older Michael (Ralph Fiennes) tries to make amends for his youthful misgivings.
It opens on Wednesday in New York exclusively at The Paris Theatre and on Friday in L.A. and San Francisco and more New York theaters
Review (Coming Soon!)
Starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis
Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (writer of Moonstruck and writer/director of Joe vs. the Volcano)
Plot Summary: At the St Nicholas Catholic School in the Bronx in 1964, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is accused of having a questionable relationship with the school’s only black student Donald Miller by the school’s strict principal Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), when the school’s youngest teacher Sister James (Amy Adams) thinks she sees something confirming the principal’s suspicions.
It opens in select cities on Friday.
Interview with John Patrick Shanley (Coming Soon!)
Review (Coming Soon!)
Also in Limited Release:
Wendy and Lucy (Oscilloscope Pictures) – Michelle Williams stars in Kelly (Old Joy) Reichardt’s third film about a young woman driving to Alaska for the summer whose car breaks down in Oregon, but when she makes a bad choice, she loses her beloved dog Lucy and finds herself trapped in this town as her plans are derailed by the sudden change in luck. After playing at the Toronto and New York Film Festivals, this critically-acclaimed indie flick opens in New York on Wednesday at the Film Forum and in L.A. on Friday at the Laemmle Sunset 5 and two more California theaters on December 19.
Mini-Review: If you enjoyed Gus Van Sant’s recent “Paranoid Park” and experimental films like Soderbergh’s “Bubble,” maybe you’ll appreciate Kelly Reichardt’s third film, a girl and her dog story that features a terrific performance by a deglammed Michelle Williams, but little else to keep one interested for long. The premise is exceedingly simple, essentially about a young woman traveling through a strange town whose car breaks down and then she loses her beloved dog Lucy. It makes for a dull movie, much of it following her character walking around looking for her dog and interacting with various people, but nothing about this movie seems particularly well thought out, most of the dialogue feeling improvised and not particularly well at that. The only scenes that really stand out are those between Wendy and a security guard played by Walter Dalton. When it comes down to it, Williams is fascinating to watch on screen with her almost androgynous look which is very different from her previous roles, but she’s really the only thing that keeps this movie interesting until Larry Fessenden shows up as a crazy man in the woods. Up until that point, one rarely feels that Wendy is in any sort of peril, but Williams has a number of really emotional scenes after that. Either way, it feels like Reichardt could have put more thought into this overly simplistic plot, rather than leaving so many obvious questions unanswered, like why Wendy is shoplifting in the first place when she clearly has money. Being that the movie is only 80 minutes long, it’s fairly obvious that there wasn’t much more that could have been done with this premise, but it ends in a rather unsatisfying way. On the other hand, if Reichardt had cast an unknown actor, the movie would probably have been unwatchable since so little happens. Unfortunately, a strong performance does not necessarily an entertaining movie make, and there seems to be little point or purpose to this except maybe to examine how homeless people end up that way, not exactly something that makes for a satisfying movie experience. Rating: 6/10
Che (IFC Films) – Steven Soderbergh directs this epic tale of the Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara (played by Benicio Del Toro), showing his early days as a guerilla in Cuban helping his good friend Fidel Castro (Demián Bechir) throw a coup, then in Part 2, we see Che’s last campaign in Bolivia, trying to assemble an army of guerillas for a similar coup. After playing at various film festivals this year, Parts 1 and 2 of Soderbergh’s movie opens for one week only at New York’s Ziegfeld Theater and the Landmark 12 in Los Angeles before its normal theatrical run in January.
Review (Coming Soon!)
Gran Torino (Warner Bros.) – Clint Eastwood directs and stars as Walt Kowalski, a cranky and racist Korean War vet, trying to overcome the death of his wife and the changing neighborhood in which he’s surrounded by Asian immigrants, and he gets closer to the teenagers next door when gangbangers target their family. It will open in select cities and then expand wider in January.
Adam Resurrected (Bleiberg Entertainment) Veteran filmmaker Paul Schrader returns with this adaptation of Yoram Kaniuk’s controversial novel starring Jeff Goldblum as popular German cabaret entertainer Adam Stein, who was forced to live as a dog for a Nazi commander (Willem Dafoe), as his family died in the concentration camps. Years later, he’s interned at an insane asylum in Israel where he tries to outsmart his doctor (Derek Jacobi), sleep with his nurse (Ayelet Zurer) and finds a kindred spirit in a dog boy. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
Dark Streets (Samuel Goldwyn Films) – Gabriel Mann stars in this musical drama set in 1930’s New York from Rachel Samuels as Chaz Davenport, a playboy who becomes the owner of a hot nightclub and ends up in a love triangle with two beautiful and mysterious women, played by Bijou Philips and Izabella Miko, who perform many sensual and stylish dance numbers on stage to the tunes of the blues, jazz and R&B greats. Chaz is the envy of all until bodies start turning up at the hands of a loan shark trying to take the club. The musical drama opens in select cities on Friday.
Timecrimes (Magnet Labs) – Nacho Vigalondo’s directorial debut is a Spanish sci-fi crime thriller about a man who accidentally travels back in time and meets himself. After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Vigalondo’s debut opens in New York, L.A. and Austin as part of Magnet’s Six Shooter series.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
What Doesn’t Kill You (Yari Film Group) – Former inmate Brian Goodman makes his directorial debut with this autobiographical crime tale starring Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke as Brian and Paulie, two young punks from the streets of South Boston who fall into the world of crime, though things get worse for Brian when he starts taking drugs and faces jail time that will separate him from his wife and two sons. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Mini-Review: Who knows how this movie might be perceived if you went in not knowing its background or that events in the movie were based on the life of first-time filmmaker Brian Goodman, but it’s hard not to be impressed with what he’s accomplished in his directorial debut. Even though the setting might remind one of “The Departed” or “Mystic River,” this crime drama is much more about one man’s struggle to overcome his addiction to drugs and set his life right after going to jail. It’s clearly one of Mark Ruffalo’s better roles and performances playing Brian, a guy from the streets of Boston who commits petty crimes with his childhood friend Paulie, played by Ethan Hawke, as they get deeper and deeper into trouble and Brian’s addiction to drugs gets worse. Even though Goodman is directing, Ruffalo never tries to make the character based on him look better than he is, especially in a scene where he storms out of the hospital after being shot three times to score a drug fix. It’s one of the strongest performances from an underrated actor who rarely gets roles as juicy as this one, and there are some truly revealing moments like Brian’s failing relationship with his wife, an emotional performance by Amanda Peet. Goodman himself gives a fairly decent performance as the boys’ boss Pat Kelly, who gets thrown into jail before the guys decide to go off on their own; there’s one scene that’s a bit too “Sopranos” but otherwise, it feels honest and real. The violence is brutal at times, but it never goes overboard or feels exploitative, always filmed in a way that enhances the realism. The Boston environment itself also has an authenticity that’s rarely felt in Boston-based crime movies made by outsiders, from the sweeping establishing shots of the city to Alex Wurman’s beautiful accompanying score, which brings just the right amount of sentimentality and emotion to Brian’s story. The writing is generally good although the pacing sometime suffers by the amount of dialogue and the somewhat standard linear storytelling. Not every scene works and some scenes are just so overwrought with drama that it goes too far, but Goodman allows it to be driven by the actors’ performances which is why it works. Once Brian ends up in prison himself, he decides to set his life right, and this leads to the film’s touching and inspirational third act where he tries his best to avoid returning to jail for the sake of watching his kids grow up after being out of their lives for five years. “What Doesn’t Kill You” may not be a perfect movie even for a first film, but there’s a realism to this story we don’t often see in crime dramas, and that can only have come from someone who actually lived through it themselves. Rating: 7.5/10
Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (Yash Raj Films) – Aditya Chopra’s musical dramedy stars Shahrukh Khan as a regular guy named Surinder who meets the colorful and fun-loving Taani (Anushka Sharma), and they experience a journey of love and tears as they fall in love.
$9.99 (Regent Films) – Tatia Rosenthal’s stop motion animated movie based on the short stories of Etgar Keret that explores the meaning of life through a group of diverse neighbors whose stories are woven together through the pictures in a $9.99 booklet. It opens for one week only at the Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills for Oscar consideration.
Where God Left His Shoes (IFC Films) – John Leguizamo stars in Salvatore Stabile’s drama as Gulf War veteran Frank Diaz suffering hard times, who has been living at a homeless shelter with his family, and who has to find a job in order to be eligible for an apartment, something that proves harder than he thought. It opens on Friday at the IFC Center in New York
While She Was Out (Anchor Bay) – Kim Basinger stars in the directorial debut from producer Susan Montford, a revenge thriller in which Basinger plays a housewife stalked by teen thugs led by a psychopath (Lukas Haas) and she only has the contents of a toolbox to survive the night. It opens in select cities.
In the City of Sylvia (Eddie Saeta Films) In José Luis Guerín’s drama, a young man in Strasbourg sits in a café sketching the women around him, haunted by the memory of a woman named Sylvia he met three years earlier and hoping she’ll reappear. It opens at the Anthology Film Archives on Friday.
Next week, the month of December motors along (when will it end!?!?!) with three more movies to tempt moviegoers into theaters… or not. It’s Jim Carrey vs. Will Smith as the former’s comedy Yes Man (Warner Bros.) takes on the latter’s drama Seven Pounds (Sony). Universal enters the computer animated realm with The Tale of Despereux, and the wait is finally over for Danny Boyle’s acclaimed Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight) to open wider.
Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas