The Weekend Warrior: April 17 – 19

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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.

Before we look at this week’s movies, I just want to quickly give a shout-out to the boys at Movieline, who kicked off the new site this week. For those keeping track, these are the guys from the former Defamer, reviving a classic movie magazine for the Internet Age.

Updated Predictions and Comparisons

UPDATE: Not to many changes… a few more screens for Zac’s movie, a few less for Jason, and Fast & Furious expands into 200 more theaters which might help it hold off some of the other movies in that range, which is actually three or four. Should definitely be an interesting weekend, especially if any of them over or underperform.

1. 17 Again (Warner Bros.) – $21.6 million N/A (Up .9 million)

2. Hannah Montana The Movie (Disney) – $14.0 million -57% (same)

3. Crank: High Voltage (Lionsgate) – $13.4 million N/A (down .3 million)

4. Fast & Furious (Universal) – $13.0 million -52% (up .4 million and one place)

5. Monsters vs. Aliens (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $12.7 million -43% (down .2 million and one place)

6. State of Play (Universal) – $11.3 million N/A (same)

7. Observe and Report (Warner Bros.) – $5.8 million -47%

8. I Love You, Man (DreamWorks/Paramount) – $4.0 million -37% (down .2 million)

9. Knowing (Summit Entertainment) – $3.7 million -43% (down .1 million)

10. The Haunting in Connecticut (Lionsgate) – $3.2 million -46% (same)

Weekend Overview

It’s only a few more weeks before the summer movie season starts, but before we can get there, we have six more movies to get through, three more opening this weekend hoping to make some cash before being replaced in theatres by the screen-hogging blockbusters.

The one with the best bet of scoring this weekend, following hot on the heels of Miley Cyrus’s big hit, is the high concept age-swapping comedy 17 Again (New Line/WB), starring Cyrus’ Disney Channel colleague (of sorts) Zac Efron in his first leading role. The age-switching comedy has generally done well with teen audiences, and this one should mainly appeal to teen girls and slightly older women who have swooned over Efron in his various “High School Musical” films and Hairspray. It should do enough business this weekend to prove that the hot young star doesn’t have to sing and dance to make a living by bringing in the ladies.

While it will bring in most of the ladies, Jason Statham’s return as Chev Chelios in Crank: High Voltage (Lionsgate), the sequel to the surprise Labor Day hit of 2006, should bring in enough guys to pull ahead of Universal’s Fast & Furious, although it won’t have any appeal to women or anyone over 30. That shouldn’t be a problem for the R-rated action flick which should appeal to the same gamers and adrenaline junkies that made Neveldine and Taylor’s innovative debut a surprise hit three years ago.

Universal has generally had good luck with conspiracy thrillers and the star-studded remake of State of Play, headlined by Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams, has enough going for it that it should be appeal to older audiences who don’t have a lot else to see in wide release, although the lack of an easy-to-explain premise will make it an even harder sell than Crowe’s last movie Body of Lies. It will probably open in the general range, but lower than Crank: High Voltage, Fast & Furious and Monsters vs. Aliens, as it tries to offer something more intelligent to the other moviegoing choices.

This week’s “Chosen One” is James Stern and Adam Del Deo’s documentary Every Little Step (Sony Pictures Classics), which you can read more about below.

This weekend last year saw the release of the greatest martial arts action movie ever made as The Forbidden Kingdom (Lionsgate) pit Jackie Chan against Jet Li, which helped it win the weekend with an impressive $21.4 million, making it Jet Li’s biggest opener and Jackie Chan’s biggest non-“Rush Hour” opener. Opening in second place, Jason Segel’s dysfunctional rom-com Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Universal) brought in $17.7 million. Lastly, Al Pacino starred in the high concept thriller 88 Minutes (TriStar), which opened in fourth place with less than $7 million. Ben Stein’s anti-Darwin doc Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed brought in $3 million in roughly a thousand theaters. The Top 10 grossed about $80 million, and while this weekend’s line-up doesn’t seem nearly as strong, the general boom the box office has been seeing should allow it to remain ahead of the same weekend last year.


THE BATTLE CRY

I certainly don’t want this section to turn into “Deep Thoughts with Edward Douglas” but I do have a lot on my mind right now, which hopefully will keep this space filled over the next few months since I don’t expect to get another blog anytime soon.

One thing that I’ve been thinking about, something that came out of writing my review for last week’s Observe and Report is how hard it is to review movies these days. Firstly, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve seen everything before, but also because there are certain expectations that come into play with every movie, expectations that are almost impossible to avoid unless you literally live in a vacuum where you haven’t seen a single commercial, trailer, interview, etc. about the movie. There are also only a limited number of movie genres out there, so when you’re reviewing something, it’s almost impossible not to compare a movie to something you’ve seen in the genre previously.

Because of this, it’s almost impossible to judge any movie on their own merits, especially when you put into play how famous Hollywood is for trying to replicate what has worked in the past. 300 is a success, so every studio and filmmaker is jumping to make stylish historic battle epics, and the best case scenario is that their movie can be compared favorably to what’s worked before; these copycats are marketed accordingly in hopes of getting similar success.

With that in mind, not only did Observe and Report have to go up against the last mall cop comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which is a very different movie mind you, but also every other recent R-rated comedy, including all of those starring Seth Rogen and even director Jody Hill’s previous movie and TV work. Sure, the optimal situation when watching or reviewing any movie is to see it as a standalone piece of work created in its own bubble, but that becomes exceedingly difficult when so many movies resort to formula and cliches in order to work. Whenever something new or different comes along, something that’s not so easily categorized–and sure, Observe and Report fits into that category (ha ha)–you might find yourself resorting to a fruitless search for something, anything, to compare it to.

It also becomes harder when a movie stars a popular actor or is the latest from a respected or known filmmaker, because their latest movie is immediately added to the top of their filmography, and writers start mentally tying throughlines between it and their previous work. It’s almost impossible not to do it sometimes. Probably the best thing going for David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was that it was so different from his previous work that the only thing left to do was to remember that it was the third movie he had made with Brad Pitt. Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire was unlike anything he’d ever made before, unless you saw his earlier film Millions and suddenly, that’s an entirely new avenue to explore when writing about the movie. With remakes and/or relaunches/reinventions, you’re almost forced to compare them to the original or what has gone before with a franchise, which causes its own set of problems. (First of all, you feel obligated to watch the originals rather than accepting the relaunch/remake on its own merits or lack thererof.)

Likewise, when an actor starts doing something different than what’s worked for them before, it’s much harder to win over the viewers going to see the movie because they’ve enjoyed their previous work–one of the main criticisms of Observe and Report in fact–yet, in the same respect, when an actor does the same thing every single movie, that’s also something that can be easily criticized.

You can probably take every major studio release this year and immediately find something to compare it to. Try it right now, and then think to yourself whether that’s something you do instinctively whenever watching movies. Can you watch Max Payne without comparing it to the video game or Fast & Furious without comparing it to the original? Sure, things come along that break all molds and can truly be called original, and those movies tend to be the ones that stick with us, the ones that end up on Top 10 lists at the end of the year, but these seem to be getting fewer and further between as more movies are produced every year.

The question is whether comparative criticism is a viable way of reviewing movies and whether it’s even possible to really view every movie on the basis of its own strengths and weaknesses. I know that I’m certainly guilty of falling back on it when there’s nothing more that can be said about what’s on the screen, and heck, just thinking about the box office potential of a movie as much as I do, I can’t help but start making comparisons in my head while watching a movie, since I’m constantly thinking whether it might be commercially viable.

I guess this was just my long and rambling way of saying that if you’re a filmmaker or actor, there’s really no way of winning. Everything you do will ultimately be compared to everything that has come beforehand, whether or not you had anything to do with that, so just don’t worry about it and make the movie you want to make and hope for the best.


17 Again (New Line/WB)
Starring Zac Efron, Leslie Mann, Thomas Lennon, Michelle Trachtenberg, Matthew Perry
Directed by Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down, writer of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days); Written by Jason Filardi (Bringing Down the House)
Genre: Comedy
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Who says you’re only young once?”
Plot Summary: Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry & Zac Efron) is a middle-aged loser whose marriage has fallen apart and whose kids don’t respect him, and he’s been wondering if he made the right decision by marrying his then girlfriend Scarlett right out of school. After being forced to crash with his high school friend Ned (Thomas Lennon), Mike is magically transformed back to the age of 17 and gets to go back to high school and make different decisions the second time around.

Analysis:

One thing you can almost guarantee every April is that studios will try to roll out the last of their smaller-budget high concept comedies in hopes of tying audiences over until the big summer blockbuster comedies with Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Adam Sandler et al. Last week, we got a rather experimental offering with Observe and Report and now the same studio releases something a little more mainstream and high concept with 17 Again, this one being a comedy picked up by Warner Bros. from New Line during last year’s merger. It’s also the first full starring vehicle for Zac Efron, the 21-year-old star of the “High School Musical” movies who has been deemed to be a star of tomorrow by many in the industry, as those movies have been hugely successful on the Disney Channel and in theaters. Efron’s big screen debut was the musical Hairspray, which was a huge hit for New Line, and then last year, High School Musical 3: Senior Year opened in theaters to the tune of $42 million, before grossing $90 million. Efron is definitely on his way to being a star on par with how big Lindsay Lohan was going to be before becoming tabloid fodder, and he’s not relying entirely on Disney to do it. One presumes that this project came out of what Efron’s popularity did to help New Line have a hit with Hairspray, and this movie will be a great test to see if young women will flock to see the good-looking young man when he’s doing a non-musical comedy.

What makes 17 Again such an easy sell is that it uses the comedy potential of the age-switching genre, where you basically have an adult in the body of a kid or vice versa, sometimes both at once. This lucrative high concept premise for humor can probably be traced back to Disney’s 1976 family comedy Freaky Friday, which was remade in 2003 to great success, bringing attention to future (and former) superstar Lindsay Lohan. Even so, it wasn’t really until the mid-80s where the genre flourished. 1988 was a banner year for the genre with 18 Again! starring George Burns, Vice Versa starring Judd Reinhold–which itself followed just a year after Like Father Like Son–and the most popular of them all, Big, starring Tom Hanks. That latter was different in that it involved a young boy in the body of an adult, an idea that was borrowed for Jennifer Garner’s 2004 hit 30 Going on 30. There are plenty of different variations of the premise but 17 Again probably owes more to Francis Ford Coppola’s 1986 film Peggy Sue Got Married, starring Kathleen Turner and Nicolas Cage, as it basically explores the same concept: What if you were an adult living a miserable life who suddenly had a chance to do things over?

Basically, Efron is playing the younger version of Matthew Perry from “Friends,” who has generally had bad luck with his movie career except for when he was paired with Bruce Willis for The Whole Nine Yards and its sequel, and if things go as we predict, Perry might have to thank Efron next Monday for helping him get his biggest film to date. It also co-stars Thomas Lennon from “The State” and “Reno 911” and Leslie Mann AKA Mrs. Judd Apatow, who has appeared in his two movies as well as last year’s Drillbit Taylor.

As much as the movie will be about Efron’s popularity, it’s just as much about its comedy premise. Besides following in the path of Jennifer Garner’s 13 Going on 30, which opened with $21 million in mid-April 2004, this is likely to have a similar appeal as Tina Fey’s Mean Girls (starring Lohan), which opened with $24 million a week later. Both of those were big breakthroughs for their stars, but also proved that this sort of comedy can do very well in the generally slow month of April.

As it were, 17 Again is another movie inherited by Warner Bros. from New Line, and they’ve had a lot of success with that pairing, as seen recently by the romantic comedy He’s Just Not That Into You and horror remake Friday the 13th. Zac Efron’s avid female fans probably won’t have any problem finding it, as it’s opening ultra-wide into over 3,000 theaters, showing a lot of confidence by theater owners and Warner Bros. that Efron can carry a movie on his own. It should pay off, as New Line should have another solid hit with this one as well.

Why I Should See It: The whole age-swapping genre is always rife for comedy, making this a great vehicle for Efron to show off his range without getting too far out of high school.
Why Not: This premise has been used so much in the last 20 years that one can’t possibly go into this thinking that there’s anything new or original that can be done with it.
Projections: $19 to 21 million opening weekend and $55 to 60 million total.

COMPARISONS


Crank: High Voltage (Lionsgate)
Starring Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakam, Efren Ramirez, Clifton Collins Jr., Bai Ling
Written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Crank, upcoming Citizen Game)
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rated R
Tagline: “He was dead… but he got better.”
Plot Summary: After dying in the previous movie, Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) is revived with a pacemaker that requires itself to be electrically charged at intervals in order for Chev to keep himself alive.

Analysis:

It’s been just two weeks since Universal opened the hit action flick Fast & Furious and yet, we’re already getting another action sequel, this one the follow-up to a breakout 2006 hit starring Jason Statham, an amazing adrenaline ride created by former cameramen/stunt men Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, which grossed roughly $28 million in theaters a few years back and then made that same amount on DVD.

This insane drug and obscenity-filled shoot ’em up movie was really quite groundbreaking for its time, clearly an action movie for the video game generation, and the only other movie anywhere near as insane as it was Joe Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces, which came out months later. Even three years later, it’s still quite different from the normal studio action flick, even if it’s just how the film ends in such an unconventional way. Fortunately, they’ve figured out a way to bring Chelios back for more with a similarly wild high-concept premise, forcing Chelios to keep a make-shift pacemaker electrically-charged in order to stay alive.

You have to love Jason Statham, a British athlete who suddenly found himself thrust into acting when Guy Ritchie discovered him and put him in his first two movies, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Despite playing secondary roles in both movies, Statham figured out a way to build on his career to the point where four years after his debut, he was headlining the action movie The Transporter for Corey Yuen. Three years later, the sequel The Transporter 2 was a huge hit, but Statham had already signed to do a relatively low-budget action movie with untested filmmakers Neveldine and Taylor, playing an assassin whose been dosed with a drug that will kill him unless he keeps moving. Most of the time, this kind of movie might not be discovered until much later on DVD–certainly the Clive Owen action movie Shoot ‘Em Up didn’t do very well theatrically–but opening on Labor Day exactly a year after The Transporter 2 helped the movie get more attention, grossing roughly half the amount of the anticipated sequel a year earlier.

Statham has now firmly established himself as a box office star with four movies that have grossed over $30 million so he’s going to be the biggest draw, but Amy Smart is also back as Chev’s girlfriend, as is Dwight Yoakam and Efren Ramirez as his colleagues. This time, they’re joined by Bai Ling, the crazy Chinese actress whose more known for her red carpet and reality TV shenanigans than her movies.

The fact that the original movie made almost as much in DVD sales as it did in theaters is fairly revelatory, because that means it generated great word-of-mouth. Teens who weren’t able to see it in theatres were able to catch it on DVD and three years on, they’re likely to be able to catch the sequel in theaters. This is where the sequel factor comes into play with Crank: High Voltage, which is how Transporter 2 doubled the opening of its predecessor, although it also opened in over 800 more theatres, which makes a huge difference.

Lionsgate has done a great job promoting the sequel with various posters, but for some reason, they weren’t able to get the sequel into as many theatres as the first movie, maybe because it’s trying to get screens away from Universal’s hit Fast & Furious and some of the other bigger budget movies. Unlike the first movie, they haven’t been able to generate the advance buzz from online press since both Statham and the filmmakers are busy working on their next movies, plus they’ve decided not to screen the movie for critics, despite the original movie rating 60% Fresh on Rottent Tomatoes and rating 7.1 out of 10 on IMDb. Obviously, they’re hoping that fans of the first movie already know the movie’s coming out and will pay to see it, regardless of the lack of positive reviews. Either way, this will be the first choice for most guys between 16 and 25 this weekend, although it will have a hard time finding any interest among other audiences, which means it will generally do most of its business opening weekend.

Why I Should See It: The original Crank really WAS an “action-packed thrill ride,” one that really surprised many by seeing so groundbreaking, literally redefining the action genre for the video game generation.
Why Not: Can Neveldine and Taylor deliver an action film as insane as the first one without repeating themselves?
Projections: $13 to 15 million opening weekend and $33 to 35 million total.

COMPARISONS


State of Play (Universal)
Starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, Jeff Daniels, Helen Mirren
Directed by Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void); Written by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, Duplicity, the “Bourne Trilogy”), Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom, Lions for Lambs), Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Breach)
Genre: Thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Nothing is Off the Record.”
Plot Summary: While investigating a random murder, Washington D.C. reporter Cal McAffrey (Russel Crowe) discovers that they might be tied to the mysterious death of the assistant to his college roommate and current U.S. Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), who admits to having an affair with the dead woman. As Cal follows the two stories along with a feisty political blogger named Della (Rachel McAdams), they start discovering that there might be more to the connection between the deaths than they originally thought, but they’re under deadline to solving it and getting the story to press.

Review

Analysis:

Back in 2003, the BBC ran a six-hour mini-series called “State of Play,” an intricate crime story told from the viewpoint of a British newsroom, starring Bill Nighy, David Morrison, James McAvoy and Kelly MacDonald. It went on to receive numerous British awards, including one for director David Yates, who some might know from the last couple “Harry Potter” movies. A few years later, Working Title Films bought the rights to adapt the mini-series into a feature film, deciding to move the story to Washington D.C. to put a different spin on it for American audiences, some who had a chance to see the original when it aired on BBC America. Now, this wouldn’t be the first time that a high-profile BBC miniseries was turned into an American feature film. After all, Steven Soderbergh did that with his 2000 breakout Traffic, which won him an Oscar and became his second movie of the year to gross over $100 million.

It’s been almost nine years since then, and this has been turned into a vehicle for Russell Crowe, an actor whose become somewhat of an anomaly over the years due to his career decisions. The first of these is the decision that four of his last nine movies were done with director Ridley Scott, the last one being Body of Lies, which had a disappointing box office showing of less than $40 million gross. It might not have been so bad if their previous movie American Gangster with Denzel Washington had made that amount its opening weekend, but it just showed how erratic Crowe had gotten as a box office draw since the days of Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind, two Oscar-winning films that grossed over $150 million each. Things were going fine until Cinderella Man, Crowe’s second movie with Ron Howard and an unfortunate incident involving a phone, and suddenly, Crowe was no longer able to guarantee a certain opening weekend. In fact, only “Gangster” has grossed more than $100 million since the incident, and one of his films (A Good Year) didn’t even make $10 million. Still, you can’t deny that he is a good actor, especially when put in the right role and premise, and playing a hardened veteran reporter is closer to his role in “Gangster” than some of his other movies.

At least Crowe hasn’t hit some of the career stumbling blocks as his co-star Ben Affleck, who also had a time where his appearance in a movie guaranteed $100 million, but then he met Jennifers Lopez and Garner and things quickly went downhill as he became know more for his tabloid appearances than his choice in quality films. Things started going better when Affleck played George Reeves in the crime-thriller Hollywoodland, which reminded people that he was a serious actor, and then a year later, he was directing his first movie Gone Baby Gone, which was also a smart career choice, since it showed that he was serious about filmmaking. A few months back, Affleck was part of the ensemble cast in New Line’s He’s Just Not That Into You, another wise career choice because it helped remind audiences of his existence to the tune of $92 million. Affleck has never played a politician, but it’s a good part for him, as he’s still working with an ensemble but having a bit more of a presence.

They also have a great leading lady in Rachel McAdams, who has been lying low in indie films in recent years, but appeared in four back to back $50 million grossers before that, including the blockbuster $200 million comedy Wedding Crashers, after back-to-back hits The Notebook and Mean Girls. McAdams has certainly done a wide variety of roles and genres, and State of Play is the first of three high profile films McAdams will be appearing in this year, including the delayed Time Travellers’ Wife with Eric Bana, and the anticipated Sherlock Holmes opposite Robert Downey Jr.

Besides the main trio, there are a lot of strong supporting roles including the Oscar-winning Dame Helen Mirren taking the role of Bill Nighy, and the likes of Jeff Daniels and Jason Bateman, all brought together by director Kevin MacDonald, who received critical acclaim for his docudrama Touching the Void and who directed Forrest Whitaker to an Oscar for The Last King of Scotland. He’s working from a script by Matthew Michael Carnahan, brother of filmmaker Joe Carnahan, who wrote The Kingdom, directed by Peter Berg, and Lions for Lambs for Robert Redford and Tom Cruise. (He had some assistance from the likes of Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray, both of whom had written successful espionage thrillers for Universal, the former with the “Bourne” trilogy and the latter with the surprise hit Breach.)

The movie is being released within months of two other corporate thrillers, The International and Duplicity, both starring Clive Owen, though it doesn’t offer the limited amount of action of the former nor the romance of the latter. (It also doesn’t have a star of the caliber of Julia Roberts, though that didn’t really help Duplicity that much either, did it?) Even though Universal has generally done well with these movies, the commercials are rather enigmatic, maybe because it’s very hard to explain the plot of the movie without giving things away. So essentially, they show a lot of Crowe and Affleck, hoping that the fans of the two actors will be intrigued enough to check it out. They certainly can’t expect that many casual moviegoers will be aware of the original BBC series. With that in mind, State of Play will very much be relying on the fact that older moviegoers haven’t really had very much that appeals directly to them in recent weeks, at least not in wide release, and maybe that will be enough for them to give this a try. Even with decent reviews from the influential print critics, this will probably be more of a sleeper than an opening weekend wonder.

Why I Should See It: The original mini-series is an intriguing crime-thriller, and the prestigious cast and crew doing this version should be just as enticing.
Why Not: Those who’ve already seen The International and Duplicity might have already burnt out on this genre, although at least this one doesn’t have Clive Owen.
Projections: $11 to 13 million opening weekend and $33 to 37 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Every Little Step (Sony Classics)
Starring Bob Avian, Michael Bennett, Charlotte d’Amboise, Ramon Flowers, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Marvin Hamlisch, Megan Larche, Donna McKechnie, Meredith Patterson, Yuka Takara, Jason Tam, Chryssie Whitehead
Directed by Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern (So Goes the Nation, Year of the Yao)
Genre: Documentary, Musical
Rated PG-13
Plot Summary: This documentary follows the audition process for the revival of “A Chorus Line” on Broadway, which brought out thousands of hopeful dancers and singers hoping to fill the iconic roles that made the musical such a beloved generation-spanning musical.

Interview with Directors James Stern and Adam Del Deo

Now I’m not exactly a fan of Broadway musicals despite having many opportunities to see them, and my experience with “A Chorus Line” basically comes down to playing a few tunes in high school jazz band, probably while the original musical was still playing on Broadway. (Yes, that’s how old I am, kids.) Even so, I never quite understood the popularity or the resonance of the musical, how every actor, dancer, singer or musician has had to go through the audition process with every single one of their dreams on the line. I understood the point of how the musical encapsulated the dream of every singer and dancer who has ever auditioned for Broadway, but it was not until I saw this new doc from James Stern and Adam Del Deo where that point was really driven home. In fact, I’d go so far as saying that it is impossible to leave Every Little Step without being awed and moved, as it shows 3,000 dancers converge on the New York studios to audition for roughly a dozen roles in the 2006 revival of choreographer Michael Bennett’s influential musical.

On the surface, this might look a lot like “American Idol” with everyone auditioning for the dream role and only going so far, but there’s a lot more depth in the way that the film follows the dancers going for some of the same roles, showing footage of the original cast (when available) and the award-winning moments that defined them and sets the bar for the newbies. The doc also includes original never-before-heard audiotapes of the initial workshop sessions between Michael Bennett and the original cast as they developed the characters who would eventually become the basis for Bennett’s greatest work. There are many great stories included in this doc, from the non-Equity dancer from Jersey trying to get her first big part on Broadway, the seasoned vet who desperately needs a job, and even a little friendly competition between two Asian dancers trying to score the coveted role of Connie. The original Connie, Bayoork Lee, is actually the choreographer on the revival, and thirty years later, she’s still quite a firecracker as she barks orders at the dozens of dancers trying to get a role in the high profile musical.

I’m not ashamed to say that I found myself getting kind of choked up watching these dancers going through the rigorous audition process that not only required amazing dance skills, but being able to sing and act as well. I wasn’t even sure why this film affected me so much, but there’s something about watching these Broadway types chasing after their dreams and how hard it is for them to deal with such intense scrutiny and competition. Once you put that in a mirror against the themes of Bennett’s musical and you suddenly have a very deep piece of documentary filmmaking, one that really sneaks up on you if you’re not expecting it. And you know what? When you see the original musical in this context, it doesn’t seem nearly as cheesy as some of the musicals that it must have influenced (*koff*Rent*koff*). All of the songs and big emotional moments are still very powerful, especially when you see them interpreted by the new candidates.

Whether or not you’re a fan of Broadway musicals, this is groundbreaking in terms of its in-depth coverage of the Broadway audition process in a way that really hasn’t been captured before, but also an incredibly moving portrait of a musical that’s as relevant today as it was thirty years ago.

Every Little Step opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Also in Limited Release:

Is Anybody There? (Big Beach Films) – Michael Caine and Bill Milner (Son of Rambow) star in John Crowley’s coming-of-age film about a young boy living at his parents’ nursing home, who escapes from his domestic woes by hanging out with a cranky old magician who comes to stay at the home.

Interview with John Crowley

Sleep Dealer (Maya Releasing) – Alex Rivera’s South of the Border sci-fi film stars newcomer Luis Peña as a young Mexican named Memo who travels to Tijuana from the small village of St. Ana hoping to earn money for his family by being “upgraded” with nodes that will allow him to work as a Sleep Dealer in the local tech factories. Having won a number of awards at various festivals, Rivera’s film opens in select cities on Friday.

Interview with Alex Rivera (Later this week)

American Violet (Samuel Goldwyn Films) – Tim Disney directs this drama starring Nicole Beharie as Dee Roberts, a young African-American single mother living in Texas who gets caught up in a drug raid, siding with an ACLU lawyer (Tim Blake Nelson) and a narcotics officer (Will Patton) to fight the Texas justice system in order to regain custody of her kids. Also starring Oscar nominees Alfre Woodard and Michael O’Keefe, the film opens in select cities on Friday.

Lemon Tree (IFC Films) – Eran (The Syrian Bride) Riklis’ Israel-based drama stars Hiam Abbass as Palestinian widow whose lemon grove is in danger of being uprooted when the Israeli Defense Minister moves in next door, but on the opposite side of the West Bank border. In trying to save her trees, she becomes closer with her young lawyer and the Defense Minister’s wife. It opens at the IFC Center in New York on Friday.

Beer Wars – If you ever wanted to know everything there is to know about America’s favorite drink, then Anat Baron’s documentary should get you up to speed. It will play in roughly 440 theaters for a one-night only showing on Thursday, April 16. We have no idea whether free beer will be served.

The Golden Boys (Roadside Attractions) – Set in 1905, Daniel Adams’ Cape Cod based romantic comedy stars David Carradine, Rip Torn and Bruce Dern as three elderly gentleman who try to convince a middle-aged woman (Mariel Hemingway) to marry them. Based on Joseph Lincoln’s novel “Cap’n Eri,” it opens in New York at the Quad on Friday.

Oblivion – Heddy Honigman’s documentary looks at the people of her birthplace, Lima, Peru, from the bartender who has served many of the country’s presidents to the street urchins. It opens on Wednesday at the Film Forum in New York.


Next week, it’s the last weekend of the spring movie season–where did all of the time go?–but we wrap things up with three new movies, a couple that have been delayed until now. First, there’s the thriller Obsessed (Screen Gems), Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx star in the drama The Soloist (DreamWorks) and lastly, Channing Tatum is Fighting (Rogue Pictures).

Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas

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