The Weekend Warrior: April 3 – 5

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 theater counts.

Updated Predictions and Comparisons -

1. Fast & Furious (Universal) – $45.5 million N/A (Up .3 million)

2. Monsters vs. Aliens (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $32.8 million -45% (up .3 million)

3. The Haunting in Connecticut (Lionsgate) – $9.2 million -60% (same)

4. I Love You, Man (DreamWorks/Paramount) – $8.9 million -31% (up .6 million and one spot)

5. Knowing (Summit Entertainment) – $8.4 million N/A -43% (down .1 million and one spot)

6. Adventureland (Miramax Films) – $7.0 million N/A (up .2 million)

7. Duplicity (Universal) – $4.4 million -43% (same)

8. Race to Witch Mountain (Disney) – $3.0 million -47% (same)

9. 12 Rounds (20th Century Fox) – $2.3 million -57% (same)

10. Sunshine Cleaning (Overture) – $1.8 million +67% (down .2 million)

Weekend Overview

April kicks off with another prospective spring blockbuster with the fourth installment of the popular street racing franchise, Fast & Furious (Universal), reuniting the original foursome of the initial 2001 hit for the first time in eight years. The reunion of Vin Diesel with Paul Walker should play a large part in this opening big as guys under 30 looking for the tried-and-true formula of the previous three movies–fast souped-up cars, hot women, and cool music–should be out in droves to see if this one can live up to the original. However much business the movie brings on Friday, expect March Madness and the college basketball semi-finals to take a big chunk out of the movie’s business on Saturday, though it should still get enough business to open up somewhere between the first two movies.

Offering a bit of counter-programming for young women and the more intelligent collegiate set is Greg (Superbad) Mottola’s Adventureland (Miramax), starring Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale) and Kristen Stewart (Twilight), a sweet period coming-of-age film that’s being sold as a straight comedy due to the presence of SNL’s Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. Opening in over 1,800 theaters, it should fare better than Miramax’s 2008 “Sundance offering,” Smart People, despite not having quite the star power. The big irony is that the only thing holding this movie back from breaking out big is the continued success of the comedy I Love You, Man, directed by John Hamburg, who used to direct episodes of Judd Apatow’s “Undeclared,” same as Mottola.

Also look for the indie comedy Sunshine Cleaning (Overture Films), starring Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, to break into the Top 10 as it expands nationwide into over 500 theaters, building on its buzz from limited release and the lack of many other female-friendly movies.

Last April kicked off with three new movies entering the marketplace, but none of them were able to take down 21, which remained on top with $15.4 million. Coming in a close second was the family adventure Nim’s Island (Fox Walden), starring Abigail Breslin and Jodie Foster, with $13.2 million, followed by George Clooney’s period football comedy Leatherheads (Universal), co-starring Jon Krasinski and Renee Zellwegger, with $12.7 million. The horror movie The Ruins (DreamWorks) opened in fifth place with $8 million in 2,800 theaters, and the Top 10 grossed $76 million, which should be smoked this weekend thanks to Fast & Furious.


THE BATTLE CRY

It’s pretty amazing to think about it, but as I was writing this week’s column and trying to figure out which of the many topics on my list I could rant about, I realized, “Hey, you know what? This week commemorates my sixth anniversary at ComingSoon.net!” That’s right, the Weekend Warrior has now been on this very site for six years, which felt pretty darn cool until I looked at the Archives page–a page I almost NEVER go to–and saw what five years of weekly columns looked like. Go check it out and then think about it, that’s roughly 5,000+ words written every week about the movies opening over the last six years, and I guess it’s a bit of an achievement to be proud of… but just thinking of the amount of hours it took to write all that just boggles the mind.

Every few months, I think to myself, “Do I really want to keep doing this every weekend?” Feeling obligated to write about the weekend movies and box office every week certainly has cut into my free time and affected my ability to have any kind of social life. There’s also been way too many weekends where I forced myself to write about crappy movies I hadn’t seen, probably will never see and certainly didn’t care about. (There are a few of those coming up this summer.) It’s actually amazing sometimes that I have anything to write about some movies. I know what you’re probably thinking: “But Ed, that’s your job and that’s what you’re paid for, so stop all your frickin’ whining!” And yes, you would be right and it is true, this is my job, but I have this strange feeling that ComingSoon.net would survive without the Weekend Warrior, just as I and everyone else would be able to without it. Or maybe not?

Sure, I’ve totally screwed up some of my predictions, often on a weekly basis – seriously, who would think that so many crappy horror movies would keep doing so well? Even so, I am proud that every single week, my predictions and thoughts on the weekend box office are always the first you would read anywhere. While most of the people who’ve jumped on the box office bandwagon in the last six years will crank out a quick article or throw some numbers up on Thursday or Friday–and I’m convinced most of them read this column before doing so*–I’ve somehow managed to do something that doesn’t seem humanly possible if it was suggested to me all those years ago. I’ve written at least five hundred to a thousand words about every wide release in the last six years, and challenged myself every week to figure out how millions of American moviegoers might choose what to see and not to see. (*I’m actually somewhat flummoxed when I do realize how many people depend on my box office analysis and research for them to make decisions, because I feel like I’ve screwed EVERYONE when I’m way off.)

Anyway, “Happy Anniversary to Me,” and thanks as always to my patient and understanding editor who is the only one I know who reads through every single damn word I blather on about in each and every single column. (And believe me, I have tried to test him by slipping in a couple inside jokes, so I know he does read everything!) Also thanks to all of the readers who have stuck with the column all this time and taken the time to actually read some of the things I write, rather than just looking at the numbers, as well as to everyone who posts their own thoughts in the comments section each and every week. Since I started writing this column all those years ago, I’ve always hoped to generate more feedback, comments and discussion, so ultimately, it’s all of you regular commenters who’ve made it worth writing this column every single week.


Fast & Furious (Universal)
Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, John Ortiz, Laz Alonso, Gal Gadot, Shea Whigham, Tego Calderon, Liza Lapira
Directed by Justin Lin (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Annapolis, Finishing the Game, Better Luck Tomorrow); Written by Chris Morgan (Wanted, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift)
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “New Model. Original Parts.”
Plot Summary: Still a wanted man, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) returns to L.A. when someone close to him is murdered, and he’s forced to reteam with undercover agent Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) to try take down a big-time drug smuggler who may be responsible for the death.

Mini-Review: Those wondering whether there’s any chance of reviving the magic that made the original The Fast and the Furious such a memorable movie for its times might hold out some hope for seeing Vin Diesel and Paul Walker together again after eight years. Sure enough, a lot of the formula that worked so well in the earlier movies has been retained as the action moves back to the States with a plot involving a drug kingpin using racers to traffic drugs.

Before we get there, the movie opens in the Dominican Republic with an amazing set piece where Diesel’s Dom, Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty and other drivers stage an elaborate heist of a bunch of oil tankers, leading to an explosion-filled sequence which greatly ups the ante from what was done in earlier installments. The timeframe of this sequence appears to be before the events of “Tokyo Drift” but then the rest of the movie takes place afterwards, as Dom returns to L.A., still wanted by the FBI. Dom’s reunited with Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor as the two of them compete for a spot on the crime boss’ racing team, Dom having his own reasons for wanting to get onto his crew, to get revenge for the death of someone close to him that he links back to one of the lieutenants.

After wowing us with such an amazing opening, the movie gets bogged down as it struggles to bring the cast back together, which involves roughly 20 minutes of exposition scenes that might not seem out of place in a soap opera. Let’s face it. No one is going to see a “Fast and Furious” movie to see Vin Diesel or Paul Walker or Jordana Brewster emote to swelling strings, and yet, that’s essentially what we get for those 20 minutes. One can’t enough good things about the welcome rapport between Diesel and Walker, but far too much of this fourth installment is played too seriously, rather than being as fun as the original. Diesel’s character has been turned into a superhero of sorts, one that can survey the scene of a car crash and use Batman-like deductive abilities to figure out what happened. Certainly, one shouldn’t ever bet against him in a fight or a race, since he always seems one step ahead, which diminishes the amount of real tension or danger one ever feels. When not spending time on the main characters, the film cuts back to O’Connor’s agency as they track his progress, but they really are one of the most incompetent groups ever assembled; their inability to figure out what’s going on is laughably embarrassing. It’s especially a joke when you see the caliber of baddie the film delivers in the form of John Ortiz as the always-smiling Campos, a generally awful performance that isn’t that much better than his fellow henchmen. (They even seemed to have stolen a driving range confrontation scene from Donnie Yen’s Hong Kong police thriller Flash Point for some reason.)

Either way, there’s no denying that the movie is all about the cool cars and anyone going into it hoping for Oscar-caliber writing or acting is likely to have been disappointed anyway. Justin Lin continues to prove himself as a confident and competent filmmaker, who ably captures the feel of the original movie with the music and party scenes with literally hundreds of women on order from “Skanks R Us.” Surprisingly, there’s only really one of the franchise’s trademark street races, a crazy tech-enhanced race through the busy streets of L.A.’s Koreatown that probably owes more to Death Race than the original movie. There are also a number of exciting chases though underground tunnels, though most of the time, the cars are admired more as they’re first unveiled rather than as we watch them being destroyed. Regardless, if you’re just looking to drool over cool cars, a few cool chases, and don’t mind a lot of mindless blather in between the action, then you’re likely to forgive the awful writing and weak acting that keeps the movie from delivering an experience as strong as the original. Rating: 5.5/10

Analysis:

This weekend, careers will be saved. Or at least those might be the hopes for a quartet of actors returning to the franchise that helped spawn careers that have mostly taken a tragic downturn since then. Of course, we’re talking about the fourth installment of the street racing venture “The Fast and the Furious,” which spawned two sequels before going back to basics with the new installment, simply called Fast & Furious.

Back in the summer of 2001, when the original movie helmed by Rob Cohen opened, there were very few expectations among grown-ups, because the trailers made the movie look like a cheap ploy to bring in younger action fans with a bunch of cool racing cars much like Renny Harlin’s Driven a year earlier. After the movie opened with $40 million, people started to take the power of youth-driven action movies seriously, and a sequel was quickly greenlit. Original director Rob Cohen and the movie’s breakout star Vin Diesel decided to move onto something else, leaving just Paul Walker for the sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious directed by John Singleton. It opened to $50 million two years after the original but didn’t hold up its business so well. By the time the third movie rolled around, all of the original cast were gone, and director Justin Lin, who helmed the breakout indie hit Better Luck Tomorrow, was brought on to take the racing action to Japan with an all-new cast and a much smaller budget. For a while, it was rumored that the movie would be following the “American Pie” franchise to DVD-only releases, but that wasn’t the case, and it got a decent theatrical release, despite opening with just $24 million. Probably the coolest thing about the third movie was that it ended with a cameo by Vin Diesel, hinting that he might return for another movie and sure enough, Diesel’s inability to have much of a career outside action movies has convinced him to return to the movie for which he’s the most famous. Obviously, Universal were happy enough with the 3-quel to invite Justin Lin back for a follow-up that would reunite the cast from the original movie, making him the only director to make two “Fast and Furious” movies in a row.

Having already appeared in the sleeper sci-fi hit Pitch Black and the drama Boiler Room opposite Ben Affleck, Vin Diesel was generally known before making The Fast and the Furious, but that movie really clinched his status as a superstar. The following summer, he reteamed with Cohen to launch another action franchise XXX, which they also left after one movie. That was followed by a couple of lean years for Diesel as the crime-thriller A Man Apart and the big budget sci-fi sequel The Chronicles of Riddick failed to meet expectations, making one wonder if Diesel could only do well with straight action vehicles. That proved not to be the case when Diesel made his triumphant return by starring in Disney’s family comedy The Pacifier, which grossed over $100 million in the spring of 2005. Diesel disappeared for a while before returning last Labor Day in the sci-fi action flick Babylon A.D., hoping to recapture some of the magic of “Riddick,” but that bombed badly when it was finally released by 20th Century Fox.

Meanwhile, Diesel’s co-star Paul Walker returned for the sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious and used his status from the two hits to try to do other things like the crime-thriller Into the Blue with Jessica Alba and Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared, both bombs. Walker’s only real hit in that time, ironically enough, was for Disney, when he starred in their nature drama Eight Below, but he was generally out-acted by the octet of Alaskan sled dogs. Jordana Brewster, who played Diesel’s sister in the first movie, hadn’t done very much, appearing in the indie comedy D.E.B.S., in Justin Lin’s second movie Annapolis (released a few months before Tokyo Drift) and the horror prequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. The fourth returnee is Michelle Rodriguez, who had already received interest for her role in Girlfight before co-starring in the original movie, and she followed it with roles in the first Resident Evil, the big screen S.W.A.T. remake and a few others, also appearing on half a season of the hit show “Lost” before quickly exiting mid-season. (Actually, there are a few other familiar faces returning, but we’ll leave those as a surprise.)

The return of the original cast will certainly be a draw, but most guys going to see it will be doing so for the insane street races and car chases that have become the trademark of the franchise. Some might look at how poorly the third installment did at the box office, grossing half its predecessor, and wonder if there’s still interest in this sort of popcorn flick or if moviegoers are tired of dumb action movies. One can’t forget the main reason why the sequels didn’t fare as well as the original was that they weren’t able to capture the same formula, namely the original cast who helped win so many fans in the first place.

In fact, the original movie was so successful that every studio and producer were trying to do their own version of it, some of the ones trying to capitalize on the success being the motorcycle movies Torque (also produced by Neil Moritz) and Biker Boyz, both released within a year of each other. There’s also the more recent independent racing film Redline, but they just weren’t able to capture the fervor that The Fast and the Furious generated in the summer of 2001.

One strange decision by Universal was to move Fast & Furious from its planned summer release in June to early April, which helped open up the playing field and allow them to open the new movie in more theaters than the previous movies. There also aren’t the many strong summer blockbusters competing against it now, which would have been the case going by the original release plan, so the unconventional decision was probably a smart one. Then again, the move ended up putting the racing flick right in the middle of the college basketball playoffs, and Saturday’s semi-finals will certainly take a big chunk of business from the movie, because there’s a lot of crossover between those audiences.

Even with the high profile return of Diesel and Walker–or maybe because of it–Fast & Furious probably won’t get a lot of great reviews, but it also probably won’t really matter, since the movie is fairly review-proof, because fans of the original movie will really want to see it. It ultimately should do very well on Friday as guys from 13 to 30 rush out to see it in droves, probably enough of them to bring in $18 million or more, but then expect it to quickly drop off each week, even without any significant competition from upcoming releases.

Why I Should See It: More souped-up cars and racing action is real draw for this rejuvenated popcorn flick.
Why Not: Is street racing nearly as hip now as it was back in 2001? Have the fans of the original movies moved on to other hobbies and interests since then? (No, probably not.)
Projections: $42 to 45 million opening weekend but less than $110 million total.

COMPARISONS


Adventureland (Miramax)
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Ryan Reynolds, Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, Paige Howard, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Margarita Levieva
Written and directed by Greg Mottola (The Daytrippers, director of Superbad)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rated R
Tagline: “It was the worst job they ever imagined… and the best time of their lives.”
Plot Summary: After graduating college, intellectual James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) is forced to take a job at a Pittsburgh amusement park called Adventureland to earn money for graduate school in New York. There, he encounters all sorts of odd characters and falls for the cool chick Em (Kristen Stewart), who seems to be too hung up in her own issues to reciprocate his feelings.

Review (Coming Soon!)

Interview with Greg Mottola

Analysis:

Taking on Fast & Furious this weekend might be a futile effort by this lower-budget coming-of-age dramedy, but the third film from Superbad director Greg Mottola will probably be looking to bring in a different audience, slightly more educated older teens and 20 to 30 somethings who are looking for something with a bit more depth than this week’s popcorn movie offering.

The fact that Mottola was at the helm of such a huge comedy hit with Superbad in 2007 allowed him to get one of his own scripts made, and Adventureland is loosely based on his own experiences working at an amusement park. Working at a bad summer job is certainly something that many young people will be able to relate to, which is why that’s a large selling point for the movie. It’s also hoping that the millions of young people who loved the comedy in Superbad didn’t realize that it was written by Seth Rogen and Evan Robinson and merely directed by Mottola.

Starring in Mottola’s third movie are Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, two young actors who’ve been working for many years, each having had prominent roles in awards-worthy independent fare. Stewart is also coming off a huge hit, having co-starred in the recent blockbuster Twilight, which grossed over $190 million last fall. Stewart’s been working hard for years though, having first appeared with Jodie Foster in David Fincher’s Panic Room and starred in the Pang Brothers’ 2007 horror semi-hit The Messengers. Eisenberg first appeared in the indie Rodger Dodger back in 2002, then took a few years off before starring in Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale, which was garnered with a number of critics’ awards. Adventureland certainly has similar elements to Baumbach’s film, in terms of being set in the ’80s and mixing comedy and drama, though it’s certainly more of a crowd pleaser since it’s a more pleasant mix of romance, nostalgia and humor. Even though Eisenberg is generally known among indie crowds, he’s not nearly as popular among young ladies as Superbad‘s Michael Cera, and it’s hard to imagine that he might attract them.

Helping out in the latter category is Bill Hader from “Saturday Night Live” who had a key role in Superbad and adds much of the comedy relief in this movie, along with fellow “SNL” cast member Kristen Wiig. It also features Martin Starr, a regular from the Judd Apatow camp, most famously as the butt of beard jokes in Knocked Up.

The biggest hurdle Mottola’s film is facing is that it’s opening during a very busy weekend for limited releases like Sugar, another Sundance hit from last year, some of which might take away the cinephile business in New York and L.A. that Adventureland might normally bring in. (Either that or their platform release will be hindered by the presence of Mottola’s film, which would be a shame considering how many good options there are this week.) Adventureland also has to face some heavy competition in the form of I Love You, Man, the R-rated comedy from John Hamburg, who also worked with Judd Apatow when the two of them were directing episodes of the failed “Undeclared.”

Miramax has been screening the film fairly regularly starting from the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, through the South By Southwest Festival a few weeks back, and both Mottola and his cast have been doing the press rounds trying to generate awareness among the type of audiences that would thrive on the material. Miramax is releasing the movie into over 1,800 theaters, one of their widest initial releases since the departure of Harvey Weinstein, which should allow it more visibility. Even so, one has to wonder if the movie has that much going for it than last year’s Smart People, which had a much stronger cast, including Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker and Ellen Page, shortly after her Oscar nod for Juno. (That opened with $4 million last year but didn’t even gross $10 million.)

At least Adventureland will be shooting for a slightly younger, hipper audience, and the festival exposure and support in the online world with generally positive reviews should get more people interested in seeing it, even though it will certainly skew on the younger side. The question is whether the fact it’s being marketed as a comedy and isn’t nearly as funny as something like I Love You, Man will hurt it in the long-term or whether it will find an audience who’ll like it for its relatable characters and its unique take on romance. Next week, it has to face Seth Rogen’s new movie Observe and Report, although that’s likely to be more for guys while this is likely to skew more towards young women.

Why I Should See It: This is certainly a more intelligent character-driven alternative to Fast & Furious… but seriously, what wouldn’t be?
Why Not: The movie is being marketed as a straight comedy, which it’s definitely not and that might annoy those who see it expecting tons of laughs.
Projections: $5 to 7 million (or slightly higher) opening weekend and roughly $20 to 22 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

This is another great week for limited releases, so much so that it’s hard to pick just one. Since we already allowed for a double pick a couple weeks ago, we’ll choose just one, and that would be…

Sugar (Sony Pictures Classics)
Starring Algenis Pérez Soto, Rayniel Rufino, Andre Holland, Michael Gaston, Jaime Tirelli, José Rijo, Ann Whitney, Richard Bull, Ellary Porterfield, Alina Vargas, Kelvin Leonardo Garcìa, Joendy Peña
Written and directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (Half Nelson)
Genre: Sports, Drama
Rated R
Plot Summary: 19-year-old Dominican pitcher Miguel Santos (aka “Sugar”) (Algenis Pérez Soto) makes his way into the American baseball circuit by way of a small town minor league baseball team based in Iowa. As he struggles with the language and cultural barriers of the country, he learns that his dream of becoming a professional baseball player could easily get sidelined by the difficulties of the sport, as well as the loneliness that goes along with that journey.

Interview with Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden

Anyone who’s ever attended a film festival knows how hard it is to see everything. The second movie from Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden was certainly on my list to see at Sundance last year, and though I ended up missing it, I heard nothing but good things about the movie. I then continued to miss it when I had other opportunities to see it. Well, I’m glad to say that having finally seen it, it’s probably one of my favorite movies I’ve seen this year, as Fleck and Boden have delivered a sophomore effort even more impressive than their debut, one that couldn’t be better timed either.

Like Fast & Furious, the movie opens in the Dominican Republic where Miguel “Sugar” Santos is a young, hotshot pitcher working his way through the minor league training camp where local talent is groomed to play in the United States. Apparently, this is a very common thing that has helped launch the careers of some of the best MLB players like Sammy Sosa, making Miguel’s journey through spring training and the minor leagues very believable. At its core, the film is a fish-out-of-water story about Miguel trying to adjust to being in a foreign country, adjusting to his new environment with an adoptive American family. Miguel’s story takes a dark but realistic turn as he finds himself unable to deliver the pitching performance expected of him and his dreams of playing in the Major Leagues start to look fleeting, forcing him to make a tough decision.

Fleck and Boden follow the tradition of other recent indie movies that strive for a naturalistic realism by using non-actors dealing with everyday situations, and they’ve really discovered an amazing talent in Algenis Pérez Soto, an actual Dominican baseball player who is able to carry the movie with an expressive performance clearly driven from his own experiences. Oddly, the other non-actors that surround Soto are more convincing than some of the American actors once Sugar gets to the States, but two standout supporting roles come in the form of Rayniel Rufino as Jorge, a veteran player whose own career is derailed by a knee injury, and Jaime Tirelli as Osvaldo as the owner of a furniture store who befriends Miguel after he arrives in New York City. By putting Soto in situations with these strong experienced actors, Boden and Fleck are able to get the most out of the young actor to create some very powerful scenes. They also find a way of mixing enjoyable moments with some really difficult ones as Miguel starts to face tough times.

Besides being a very different look at the world of baseball than what’s been explored in film already, Sugar is also a great take on the Latin American immigrant experience captured realistically by non-Latin filmmakers. As inspirational as it is heartbreaking, it’s a moving story about pursuing one’s dreams and how one can still find a life for oneself even if those dreams don’t come to fruition.

Needless to say, I really loved this marvelous film; I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t wind up on more than a few Top 10 lists at year’s end.

Sugar opens in New York and L.A. on Friday, and it couldn’t be better timed with the start of baseball season.

Honorable Mention(s):

Oddly, our second choice this week is the other new film from Sony Pictures Classics, those lucky ducks!

Paris 36 (Sony Classics)
Starring Gerard Jugnot, Clovis Cornillac, Kad Merad, Nora Arnezeder, Pierre Richard, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Maxence Perrin, François Morel, Elisabeth Vitali, Christophe Kourotchkine, Eric Naggar, Eric Prat, Julien Courbey, Philippe Du Janerand, Marc Citti
Written and directed by Christophe Barratier (The Chorus)
Genre: Drama, Musical, Comedy
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Music Halls, Romance and Danger. This is Paris, 1936.”
Plot Summary: In the northern Paris community of Faubourg, the music hall Chansonia has been closed down, but three of the regulars decide to band together to try to reopen it, making a deal with the neighborhood crimeboss Galapiat (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), and finding new talent in the beautiful young singer Douce (Nora Arnezeder) who becomes the club’s biggest draw, even as she becomes the subject of Galapiat’s desires.

It’s harder to explain why I loved this movie, though it definitely has a very distinct flavor from other films in theaters, like a cross between the 2007 biopic La Vie en Rose and Stephen Frears’ Mrs. Henderson Presents, the latter being one of the more underrated movies from the Oscar-nominated filmmaker, in my opinion. This is clearly a French film, another rich crowd pleaser from Christophe Barratier, who has worked closely with his uncle Jacques Perrin (Winged Migration), who produced this film. It’s a period piece set in pre-WWII Paris, an era filled with political tension, class conflicts and financial woes that force the owner of the Chansonia music hall to sell it to the corrupt local “investor” Galapiat, who promptly shuts it down. Hard times can’t keep the drive of entertainers down, and three of them band together to reopen the hall, making a deal with the devil in order to do so. Along comes Douce, a beautiful young singer whose voice and beauty soon becomes the reopened clubs star act, and things are looking up for all.

The film is filled with so many fun and eccentric characters, each of them having their own story arcs and subplots, that you’re not likely to lose interest as we watch them interact. What’s really interesting about the casting is how Barratier used a lot of French character actors to fill these roles without resorting to many of the familiar faces we often see on these shores. Gérard Jugnot, who also appeared in Barratier’s The Chorus, is a strong lynchpin for the story, a stagehand who lost his wife to a performer, then loses his 12-year-old son in a custody battle after the music hall closes. His dream is that the reopened music hall will be successful enough that he can get his son back.

Nora Arnezeder is quite an amazing find as the pretty ingenue Douce; she’s clearly a presence whenever she’s on screen, especially during the film’s striking musical numbers. What some might not realize as they watch this movie is that all the songs performed are originals, and they weren’t just written for the film, but they influenced Barratier to make the film in the first place.

Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu gives a suitably menacing performance as Galapiat, but he’s also able to elicit compassion from the viewer when he falls under Douce’s spell but is betrayed when she falls for the club’s outspoken electrician, played by Clovis Cornillac. It’s a great cinematic love triangle that one might find in classic literature. Even so, one of my favorite characters is Jacky, played by Kad Merad, a pretty bad comedian and impressionist who has a single fan in the bartender at a local establishment. The way their relationship evolves over the course of the film is also entertaining.

In these trying times, it’s great to have a positive and uplifting film that perfectly captures the spirit of an era that reminds us that entertainment will always be a way to help us rise above our woes.

Paris 36 opens in New York (at the Paris Theater!) and in L.A. on Friday.

The Escapist (IFC Films)
Starring Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Liam Cunningham, Seu Jorge, Dominic Cooper, Steven Macintosh, Damian Lewis
Written and directed by Rupert Wyatt with Daniel Hardy
Genre: Thriller
Rated PG-13
Plot Summary: A brazen plan to escape from a maximum security is hatched by lifer Frank Perry (Brian Cox), who learns that his daughter has fallen ill 12 years into his sentence. Frank and his hand-selected crew plot their escape while trying to keep it a secret from Rizza (Damian Lewis), the prison’s ruthless boss, who has set his eye on Frank’s young cellmate Lacey (Dominic Cooper).

Not going to say much about this because you can just learn more about it from reading My Thoughts from Sundance ’08, but I’m just glad that others can finally see Rupert Hyatt’s debut when it opens in New York and L.A. on Friday; those in other areas can catch it on IFC First Take starting on April 1.

Interview with Rupert Wyatt

Also in Limited Release:

Alien Trespass (Roadside Attractions) – R.W. Goodwin, director of “The X-Files,” helms this homage to ’50s sci-fi movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still and It Came From Outer Space with Eric McCormack (“Will & Grace”) playing a dual role as a small town astronomer who happens upon a spaceship and an alien tracking down a menacing alien creature that is killing the townsfolk. It opens on Friday in select cities.

Interview with RW Goodwin

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Tulpan (Zeitgeist Films) – Sergey Dvortsevoy’s dramedy follows the residents of an extended family living on the Hunger Steppe of southern Kazakhstan, particularly an ex-military man named Asa (Ashkat Kuchinchirekov) who returns back there after being at sea and realizes he needs to find himself a wife. The only available local option is a shy young woman named Tulpan who spurs his repeat advances. It opens on Wednesday at the Film Forum in New York.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Gigantic (First Independent Films) – Paul Dano plays a mattress salesman from a strange and quirky family whose life is changed when he begins a romance with a strange girl (Zooey Deschanel) from a similarly f*cked up clan. Also starring John Goodman, Ed Asner and Jane Alexander, Matt Aselton’s bizarre comedy, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year, opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

The Song of Sparrows (Regent Releasing) – Majid Majidi’s latest drama involves an Iranian ostrich farmer named Karim struggling to support his family despite many problems and financial woes, until he decides to start a new business as a taxi driver in the city of Tehran. The fish out of water tale opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Bart Got a Room (Plum Pictures) – William H. Macy and Cheryl Hines co-star in Brian Hecker’s Miami-based comedy as the divorced parents of a high school senior trying to find a date for his prom, trying to deal with all the bad advice he gets from those around him. Having premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, it opens in select cities.

C Me Dance (Freestyle Releasing) – Greg Robbins’ Christian dance flick stars Christina DeMarco as Sheri, a 17-year-old trained ballerina who finds out she’s dying from cancer. It opens in roughly 200 theaters, mostly in the Bible Belt one would expect.

Enlighten Up! (Balcony Releasing) – Kate Churchill’s documentary follows the skeptical Norman Allen as he acts as her guinea pig in exploring the world of yoga, trying to find the best instructor and path for himself to find enlightenment. It opens on Wednesday at the IFC Center in New York and then in three theaters in the L.A. area on April 17.

Forbidden Lie$ (Roxie Releasing) – This documentary from Anna Broinowski looks into the hoax portrayed by Chicago real estate Norma Bagain, a mother on the run from the FBI, who created the Jordanian alter-ego Norma Khouri, to write the best-seller “Forbidden Love,” before being exposed as a fake. It opens in New York at Cinema Village this Friday and then in L.A. at the Lammle Theaters on April 10.


Next week, it’s Miley!!!!!! The Disney superstar headlines Hannah Montana The Movie (Disney, of course), her first non-animated non-concert feature film, while a popular Japanese comic comes to the big screen in Dragonball Evolution (20th Century Fox) and Seth Rogen plays a security guard in the dark comedy Observe and Report (Warner Bros.).

Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas

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