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.
In case you missed, we posted the first half of our Summer Box Office Preview last week, which you can read here.
UPDATE: Our full update is coming later tonight after we get the rest of the theater counts but being that Star Trek is opening tonight and we have a few more factors, such as advance ticket sales (which are booming on all services) and theater count (at least 200 more theaters than estimated earlier), we’re upping our amount both for the weekend and opening day. So now we’re calculating that Trek will make at least $7 million from Thursday “pre-screenings”, and another $72.5 million over the weekend. We’re upping our total box office prediction to closer to $200 million or higher as well. Check back tonight for the rest of our final predictions for the returning movies.
1. Star Trek (Paramount) – $72.5 million N/A (+5.2 million)
2. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (20th Century Fox) – $27.5 million -68% (down .5)
3 Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (New Line/WB) – $9.0 million -42% (same)
4. Obsessed (Screen Gems) – $6.4 million -47% (up .1)
5. Next Day Air (Summit Entertainment) – $4.4 million N/A (up .1)
6. 17 Again (Warner Bros.) – $3.6 million -44% (up .1 and one spot)
7. Monsters vs. Aliens (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $3.5 million -36% (down .3 and 1 spot)
6. The Soloist (DreamWorks) – $3.2 million -43%
9. Earth (Disneynature) – $2.5 million -43% (up .1 and one spot)
10. Hannah Montana The Movie (Disney) – $2.3 million -44% (Down .2 and one spot)
Historically, the second weekend of May has not been the best time to release a summer tentpole flick because it tends to slow down after whatever blockbuster gets the coveted summer kick-off spot a week earlier and before the mid-May blockbusters that also tend to dominate the summer. This is the weekend when Wolfgang Peterson’s Poseidon bombed, as did the Wachowski’s Speed Racer (see below), and in fact, the only movie that’s done reasonably well in the second weekend of the month was Peterson’s epic Troy, starring Brad Pitt.
With that in mind, it was kind of surprising when Paramount decided to release J.J. Abrams’ relaunch of Star Trek in the weekend between “Wolverine” and next week’s Angels & Demons, delaying it from Christmas ’08. It may end up being the genius move of the summer, as they’ve built so much buzz for the science fiction action epic that it’s guaranteed to open bigger than the previous ten movies and should outgross all of them by next weekend, greatly helped by its IMAX presence. The movie will have sneak previews on Thursday night starting at 7pm, which should bring out the diehard fans, but expect this to be a first choice among older guys and some women looking to be entertained this weekend. While it might be somewhat frontloaded for the weekend due to the fanboy factor, rave reviews and positive word-of-mouth should help it stick around at least through June despite a number of big movies opening over the next few weeks.
Hoping to catch some of the urban male business that might not be interested in science fiction, Summit Entertainment is releasing the ensemble crime-comedy Next Day Air, starring Mike Epps, Donald Faison, Mos Def and more, into roughly a thousand theaters. With very little advance buzz, it will be pushing to make $5 million and get into the Top 5 this weekend, becoming another summer bomb that few will remember by June.
This weekend last year, nothing could take down Marvel’s hit Iron Man, which had a solid second weekend of $52 million, down just 48% from its banner opening. It was surprising that no one thought the Wachowski Brothers’ first movie since “The Matrix” trilogy, their live action interpretation of the cartoon Speed Racer (Warner Bros.), could take it down, but it did even worse than expected, bombing badly with just $18.5 million. In fact, it couldn’t even beat the Ashton Kutcher-Cameron Diaz comedy What Happens in Vegas (20th Century Fox), which opened decently with $20.2 million to take second place. The Top 10 grossed $116 million and if Star Trek does as well as we think, that amount will be easily surpassed this weekend.
Star Trek (Paramount)
Starring John Cho, Ben Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Winona Ryder, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana, Leonard Nimoy
Directed by J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III); Written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Transformers, Mission: Impossible III, The Legend of Zorro, The Island, “Alias”, “Fringe”, upcoming Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen)
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Tagline: “The Future Begins”
Plot Summary: Acting as a prequel to the original “Star Trek” television series, J.J. Abram’s relaunch of the franchise follows the maiden voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise, as a thrill-seeking Iowa farm boy named James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) joins the crew and butts heads with the emotionless Vulcan Spock (Zachary Quinto) before the two need to work together to stop the Romulan leader Nero (Eric Bana) from destroying Earth.
Mini-Review: (DISCLAIMER: I’m by no means a “Star Trek fan” although I’ve seen enough of the shows over the years to know the general mythology and lore.)
The general idea behind any reboot is that it needs to bring in a new audience of presumably younger people in order to revive a fanbase that has grown stagnant, usually due to a franchise being run into the ground. In that sense, having J.J. Abrams and his army of genre geeks tackle Gene Roddenberry’s most famous creation is pure genius because they’re going to do what it takes to make an entertaining movie without losing sight of what the fanbase loved. If you’re already a fan of the “Star Trek” franchise, you’ll love many of the results, but don’t kid yourself: This isn’t a reinvention or reimagining in any sense of the word. Instead, it’s literally a reboot prequel that uses a time travel device to create its own separate timeline from the original show and movies.
After a flashback sequence showing the Romulan Nero destroying the U.S.S. Kelvin, we see Kirk and Spock as kids (played by Jimmy Bennett and Jacob Kogan from “Joshua”), then watch their developing years before being brought together on the maiden voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise. At first, it does look and feel very different from previous “Trek” movies, until everyone starts donning the uniforms and boards the ship and we’re in more familiar territory, closer to the television show only with much better production values. Fortunately, there’s a strong story and script at the film’s core with enough twists on the “Trek” we know that one can even marvel when Abrams borrows from his beloved “Star Wars” movies, such as when Kirk is chased by creatures on an ice planet.
Otherwise, it’s a loving tribute with lots of the familiar sound FX and Majel Barret Roddenberry’s soothing voices as the ship’s computer. Far too often, the movie feels like it’s strictly pandering to the fanbase, and it’s done in such an obvious way as characters throw out the lines they made famous from the original show. One of the reasons why the Batman and James Bond reboots worked so well was that they completely broke down the formulas and rebuilt their franchises from scratch. By comparison, Abrams is essentially starting from the source material and then just tinkering with it, mostly by replacing everyone with younger versions.
The main reason this works even remotely well is that the casting is near perfect. It takes a good portion of the movie for Chris Pine to transform from a whiny Christian Slater like cockiness to the confidence of the Shatner Kirk we know so well. Zoe Saldana, John Cho and Karl Urban channel their predecessors so well that you might think that they were clones. Quinto is equally strong as the younger Spock, though once Leonard Nimoy, enters the picture, it’s hard for him to compete with the original. Even so, the interaction between Pine and Quinto create some of the film’s best moments as they work towards the Kirk and Spock rapport that was so great in the show’s heyday. Even so, Simon Pegg quickly and effortlessly steals the show from everyone when he shows up as Montgomery Scott halfway through the movie. The movie also has a great villain in the Romulan Nero, played by an almost unrecognizable Eric Bana, and he even gets a few Khan-like moments in there to further the idea that this movie isn’t completely redefining “Trek.”
There’s no denying the results are very entertaining, especially the second half of the movie which is full of excitement and fun, although there are only a few real action scenes, the outer space battles being highlights. The overall scale of the production is impressive with far better CG and production design than any of the previous movies, but Abrams uses far too many close-ups for this to possibly work when stretched onto the IMAX screen, which might be somewhat of a strain due to the amount of quick-editing in the action scenes as well.
If you already are one of the committed (and you probably should be ha ha), then “Star Trek” should quench all your Trekker geek desires and then some, but make no mistake, this is still very much the same “Star Trek”, just with a younger cast and a lot more money thrown at it. Rating: 8/10
The summer is now in full swing as we follow one franchise prequel with another one that’s a bit more of an X-factor this summer. On paper, relaunching Star Trek wouldn’t have much going for it even though doing so has been very successful for both the “Batman” and “James Bond” franchises in recent years. The 43-year-old franchise, created as a television show by Gene Roddenberry ran just three seasons but created a diehard fanbase, one that has set the bar for all other genre franchise fanbases. In 1979, Gene Roddenberry decided to take “Star Trek” where it had never gone before–the movie screen–leading to a series of successful movies and spin-off shows of varying success throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Things were going well in fact until 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis almost killed the franchise entirely, grossing a pitiful $43 million over the holidays, making one think that the last of the Trekkers had finally moved on.
Paramount wasn’t going to let this franchise die so easily, and after five years, they decided to give it another go, meeting with J.J. Abrams to see what he could bring to the franchise after helming Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible III, a decent action flick that didn’t really deliver the box office of its predecessors. Having already had a lot of success on television with shows like “Alias” and “Lost,” Abrams brought his collaborators from those shows, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman to write it, and fellow producers Bryan Burk and “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof, along to help craft a story that took place before the start of the original series on the very first voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
The key to any relaunch is the casting, and while Christian Bale had already been appearing in movies for many years before Nolan put him under the Batman cowl, Daniel Craig wasn’t as well known when he got hired to play James Bond. Abrams took a different approach, mixing lesser-known actors with those who’ve already had success in genre films. The young Captain James T. Kirk is played by Chris Pine, whose previous roles include playing the love interest in The Princess Diaries 2 and Lindsay Lohan’s Just My Luck, and one of the Tremor Brothers in Joe Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces. It’s quite a daring casting decision considering how few genre fans will know Pine, but what might have been the even more difficult job of casting Spock was made easier when Zachary Quinto started making waves as the main villain on the hit NBC series “Heroes.” Quinto is certainly well-suited for the role and popular among genre fans, so his casting was met with excitement. Similarly, British comic actor Simon Pegg, who had a small role in M:I:III already has a bunch of genre fans from his starring roles in Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, both enormous hits in the UK; he was brought on to play the young Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, formerly played by the late James Doohan.
As far as the rest of the cast, there’s Karl Urban of the first couple “Lord of the Rings” movies, replacing DeForrest Kelley as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, John Cho (Harold of the “Harold & Kumar” movies) playing the younger Sulu, a character made famous by George Takei, and Zoe Saldano–one of the actresses who got to cold-cock Captain Jack Sparrow in the first “Pirates of the Caribbean”–stepping in as Nichelle Nichols’ communications officer Uhura. Most casual moviegoers might not those names, but they will know Eric Bana, who plays the primary villain Nero, leader of the Romulans, from his starring roles in Ang Lee’s The Hulk and Steven Spielberg’s Munich, as well as his role in Wolfgang Peterson’s epic Troy. Even though he’s nearly unrecognizable in this movie, he’s been doing the talk show rounds to help get interest among those unfamiliar with the rest of the cast. To appease the diehard Trek fans, Abrams even brought back Leonard Nimoy to reprise the role of Spock using a time travel plot device, something that should guarantee even the most skeptical Trekker will be there opening weekend.
While the franchise still has millions of staunch and diehard fans, they haven’t proven to be enough to make the “Star Trek” franchise as lucrative a moneymaker as other blockbuster genre series such as “Batman” or “Terminator” or even “The Matrix” trilogy. The first three movies all grossed in the $76 to 85 million range, which was actually pretty good for the ’80s, then the fourth installment “The Voyage Home,” grossed over $100 million in 1986; to date, that’s still the highest-grossing movie in the franchise, as well as the only “Star Trek” to cross $100 million. The biggest opening for a “Star Trek” movie to date is “First Contact’s” $30 million opening with two others opening over $20 million. Granted, those were different times when that amount was thought to be a lot, but one should also bear in mind that only three of the ten “Star Trek” movies opened during the summer (neither of the two highest-grossing installments did). It’s hard to gauge whether that might have much of an effect on Abrams’ relaunch, except that it’s likely to have less legs, just because there are more big movies fighting for screens in the coming weeks.
Abrams will be using a similar approach to relaunching the franchise as Batman Begins and Casino Royale. Although both those movies were following hugely popular blockbuster movies, they were still met with skepticism, and they opened fairly lightly, Batman Begins making $73 million in its first five days then topped out at $205 million, outgrossing all but Tim Burton’s first movie; Casino Royale opened with $41 million and grossed $167 million, which was the highest gross for the James Bond franchise. There’s little question that Star Trek will do better than its predecessors, but it’s doubtful it can open with more in three days than Batman Begins did in five. The fact that the fanbase has only helped the previous max out at $100 million is somewhat disconcerting.
It’s impossible to ignore the stigma that comes along with naming a movie “Star Trek,” since other than the science fiction and genre crowd, it’s something mostly seen as something loved by “geeks” and “nerds,” rather than being a cool action franchise like The Matrix. Aside from that trilogy, the science fiction genre has been showing a general weakening over the past few years. This could be seen just four years ago when Michael Bay’s The Island, a throwback to old school science fiction penned by Star Trek‘s co-scribes Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, bombed by grossing just $35 million. Disney’s attempt at bringing Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to the big screen only did slightly better. Because Hollywood is so nervous about the science fiction genre, we haven’t seen that many attempts at reviving it. Even the Fox remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still opened only moderately then tanked afterwards.
One big difference this time around is that the movie will be playing on IMAX screens across the country, something that has greatly helped plenty of other movies do big business, since the theatres are bigger and can charge higher ticket prices. This greatly helped Zack Snyder’s 300, I Am Legend and plenty of others, although that’s only about 100 theaters nationwide. In general, advance ticket sales have been leaning more towards those screenings, just because moviegoers are digging the bigger screen experience for movies like this, especially with the promise of large-scale outer space battles. It will be interesting to see if Star Trek will be able to retain any of those IMAX screens over Memorial Day weekend when 20th Century Fox will try to snag them all for Ben Stiller’s new Night at the Museum sequel.
Few will remember when Paramount initially planned to release Abrams’ movie on Christmas Day, but last summer, they decided to push it back to this summer, presumably to give them more time for FX. (UPDATE: One stickler of a reader has pointed out that all the FX were done and the move was made because Paramount thought what they had would make a stronger summer movie.) That decision is likely to have paid off in a big way, since it’s given them a lot more time to market the movie and get interest up. The good thing is that this “Trek” has a far better marketing campaign than any of the previous movies thanks to the new-fangled Paramount who has been perfecting their marketing with movies like Transformers and Iron Man and Indiana Jones. They pretty much have the geek market down pat, so they’ve been focusing on everyone else with their “Not Your Father’s Trek” campaign.
It’s a smart move since younger audiences have not had much exposure to “Star Trek” in recent years; anyone under the age of 15 probably won’t have the sort of interest in this that they do in “Star Wars,” since George Lucas has gone out of his way to make his franchise accessible to younger moviegoers. “Trek” just hasn’t had the type of presence it needs to have built up interest among younger audiences and Abrams’ faithful reboot doesn’t really offer much to anyone who isn’t a fan already. Even with the hunky Chris Pine in the lead, the movie will have very little to no interest for women either young or old, which is likely something to keep it opening as big as last week’s “Wolverine.”
That said, there is a ton of buzz surrounding the movie from earlier screenings, including a sneak preview in Austin last month and world premieres in Australia, England and Los Angeles. So far, reviews have been positive across the board with the influential fansites raving and gushing about the movie non-stop for weeks. It’s doubtful that every serious film critic will be as thrilled, but they probably won’t make much of a difference since they have little influence on the genre crowd.
Knowing there’s such huge demand to see this movie among the fans, Paramount is doing the standard practice of opening the movie a day early for special “preview screenings”, essentially having early screenings at 7 and 10pm on Thursday the 7th. These won’t count towards their opening weekend, but it should bring in an extra $4 to 6 million as well as help generate word-of-mouth for the weekend. This certainly should be an interesting weekend for Abrams and Paramount, and it will be especially amusing to see his Star Trek become the second highest opening film in the franchise after just one day.
Why I Should See It: J.J. Abrams and his boys are clearly the masters of science fiction and genre properties.
Why Not: If you really think that your father’s Star Trek might be better than what J.J. Abrams and his gang can come up with… well, then you’re a crankier old man than me!
Projections: (UPDATED!) $7 to 9 million on Thursday, $71 to 74 million opening weekend and then $200 to 225 million total.
Next Day Air (Summit)
Starring Donald Faison, Mike Epps, Wood Harris, Omari Hardwick, Emilio Rivera, Darius McCrary, Cisco Reyes, Mos Def
Directed by Benny Boom (various rap videos); Written by Blair Cobbs (debut)
Genre: Crime, Comedy
Tagline: “It’s All in the Delivery”
Plot Summary: Small-time criminals Brody and Guch (Mike Epps, Wood Harris) unwittingly receive a package of cocaine, which they try to sell, starting the dominoes tumbling on a series of events that will affect everyone who comes into contact with them as they try to get rid of the package before the intended recipients get rid of them.
With so much attention being paid to J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek this week (see above), it’s hard to think that any studio would want to release anything against it, but this is obviously an experiment of sorts by fledgling distributor Summit Entertainment to offer something for urban males who might not see enough color among the Enterprise crew to pay much attention to the sci-fi relaunch. So here, we have a crime-comedy that brings together a number of known African-American comics and rappers, as well as a few unfamiliar names, most notably the writer and director “Benny Boom,” who apparently is a reputable rap video director. (Not that the movie is being sold on that fact.) To call this new urban crime comedy the underdog of the weekend would be a huge understatement.
Instead, it’s being sold on the premise and the familiar faces, Mike Epps being the best known among urban audiences, having co-starred with Ice Cube in the two “Friday” sequels and many other films. His partner-in-crime is played by Wood Harris of HBO’s popular crime drama “The Wire” and Donald Faison is best known from his lengthy run on the sitcom “Scrubs.” Rapper Mos Def continues his run of bad movie choices that guarantee he’ll never be known among mass audiences, despite his early appearance in the summer hit The Italian Job in 2003. After that, he co-starred with Sam Rockwell in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and with Bruce Willis in 16 Blocks but none of his more recent movies have made more than $12 million. Needless to say, none of these actors have done anything that proves them to be a box office draw.
Those are the names that will probably be best known among the movie’s potential audience but the premise seems very standard, like so many crime-comedies that we’ve seen bomb over the years, essentially using a very simple concept of mistaken identity to bring together a cadre of quirky and odd characters. That was the premise for Tim Allen’s Big Trouble, a movie involving a bomb that was delayed by 9/11 and then fulfilled its own irony by bombing. There are plenty of other movies that use this idea for comedy but it seems very much like an outdated Hollywood formula and not something that people might rush to see in theatres.
What’s surprising is that this movie is being released by Summit, who just recently had their first non-“Twilight” hit with Nicolas Cage’s Knowing, but has absolutely no experience marketing to urban audiences, so one finds it perplexing how they hope to bring in African-American or even Hispanic guys that might not care much about Star Trek. (Chances are that most of them would go see it anyway because it promises a lot more action and excitement than this movie does.)
Why I Should See It: If you’re not a fan of “Star Trek” and really must go to the movies this weekend.
Why Not: Marketing has been weak and even urban audiences have their limits to what they’ll waste their money on.
Projections: $4 to 6 million opening weekend and $12 million total.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Starring James McGreevey, Michael Rogers, Michelangelo Signorile, Jim Kolbe, Hilary Rosen, Tony Kushner
Written and directed by Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated)
Tagline: “Do Ask. Do Tell.”
Plot Summary: Kirby Dick turns his camera on the government officials who vote against gay rights policies despite being secretly gay themselves.
I was a great admirer of Kirby Dick’s previous doc This Film Is Not Yet Rated, which went undercover to find out the truth about the standards used by the MPAA to rate movies, giving preference to the big studios over independents and foreign films. Now, the doc filmmaker is back with a movie that puts him in a class amongst Errol Morris and Alex Gibney in his investigative look at politicians who vote against gay rights policies despite many claims (and proof) that they’ve had homosexual relations as well. Now when I first heard about this, I immediately thought that the topic would hold absolutely no interest for me, but it does get you thinking with the way it combines archival news footage and interviews with those who have been involved with the outing of gay politicians who have consistently voted against things like gay marriage. Its thorough coverage of the topic includes interviews with former NJ Governor Jim McGreevey and Congressman Jim Kolbe, both who came out, but mostly, it looks into the cases of Larry Craig and Charlie Crist, who have been vehemently opposed to gay marriage despite there being testimonials from men who had intercourse with them. Helping the investigation are two staunch gay advocates and outers, Michael Rogers and Michelangelo Signorile, but the topic is always handled tastefully rather than sensationally with lots of reasons why this is a topic that doesn’t just affect gay men and women. There’s certainly people who will find this movie more interesting than others, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the way Dick compiles all of the facts and information into a cohesive 90 minute film, and if nothing else, you leave the movie knowing that one should know the real facts about the politicians they vote into office. Those who like well-crafted political docs should be able to appreciate how Kirby Dick gets his point across in a way that’s infinitely fascinating. Outrage shows tremendous growth in his ability as a documentary filmmaker, and it will be interesting to see if this is able to affect change as much as This Film Is Not Yet Rated. So far, this is one of the best docs in terms of intelligence and craftsmanship this year.
It opens in New York, L.A., San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia on Friday.
Rudo y Cursi (Sony Classics)
Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, Guillermo Fracella
Written and directed by Carlos Cuarón (Writer of Y Tu Mama Tambien)
Genre: Sports, Comedy, Drama
Tagline: “Life is a coin toss.”
Plot Summary: After brothers Tato and Beto Verdusco (Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna) are discovered in their small Mexican village by a opportunist soccer talent scout known as “Batuto” (Guillermo Fracella), the two young men spend the next year experiencing all the ups and downs of playing professional soccer for competing clubs, nearly destroying their family in the process. Having become a huge hit in Mexico, Cuarón’s film opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Interview with Carlos Cuarón (Later this week)
Review (Coming Soon!)
Also in Limited Release:
The Garden (Oscilloscope)
Directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Plot Summary: A documentary about the political battle over a community garden in South Central L.A. where the homeless have been growing their own food for 15 years opens in New York at the Cinema Village on Friday, having played in L.A. for a few weeks.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
The Window (Film Movement) – Argentine director Carlos Sorin pays homage to Ingmar Berman’s Wild Strawberries with the story of a bedridden elderly man who escapes from the clutches of his attending staff to wander the fields near their home and reflects on his life. It opens on Wednesday at the Film Forum.
Little Ashes (Regent Releasing) – Javier Beltrán, Robert Pattinson (you may have heard of him) and Matthew McNulty star in Paul Morrison’s biodrama about the relationships between poet Federico Garcia Lopez, artist Salvador Dali and filmmaker Luis Buñuel, three Spanish artists growing up during the Spanish Civil War, a friendship and mutual respect that evolves and changes over the course of the years. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
Adoration (Sony Classics) – Atom Egoyan’s latest drama is about a teen boy (Devon Bostick) living with his uncle (Scott Speedman) after the death of his parents in a car crash, who becomes inspired by an assignment from his French teacher (Arsinée Khanjian) to post a story about a plane bombing on the internet that causes an uproar. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
Julia (Magnolia Pictures) – Oscar winner Tilda Swinton plays Julia, a manipulative 40-year-old alcoholic who agrees to help a Mexican mother get her son back, but decides to make a little extra money for herself before things go horribly wrong and she ends up in Mexico with the boy, where she soon learns how real kidnappers work. Directed by Erick Zonca, it opens at the Village East Cinemas in New York and Laemmles 4 in Santa Monica.
Mini-Review: If Tilda Swinton were looking for a way to kick any preconceived notions about her range as an actress in the teeth, than she found the perfect character in Julia Harris, a generally unpleasant hellion of a woman who lies and drinks her way through this dramatic thriller. We meet her as she is cavorting drunken in a bar, and we proceed to watch her as she wakes up in a lot of strange places and strange beds after similar revelry. Julia isn’t one of those pleasant lovey-dovey drunks, as much as a foul-mouthed pathological liar who manipulates all of those around her to get what she wants. To bring this all-too-familiar character to life, Swinton puts on a heavily affected American accent and alters her voice to a grating nasally screech that’s certainly channeling Gena Rowlands, as much as director Erick Zonca pays homage to early Cassavetes. The one person who seems to want to help her is her friend Mitch, played by Saul Rubinek, but even he is flawed. When Jullia meets the smiling Mexican woman Elena at an A.A. meeting, it’s pretty obvious that she’s not all there, and in fact, she may even be crazier than Julia, especially when she asks our unbalanced anti-heroine’s help in retrieving her estranged son. Julia sees it as an opportunity to make a lot of money for herself, and she proceeds to kidnap the boy, as the film delves into darker territory unsoftened by the dark humor that accompanied similar films by the Coen Brothrs.
There’s something about the way Swinton carries herself in the movie that really keeps you riveted to her every movie, and she plays Julia very different than previous flawed antagonists, especially without her smooth and soothing British accent. Even though it’s hard to sympathize with her, she has many great scenes with the young actor who plays the kidnapped boy Tommy, creating almost a reverse Stockholm Syndrome as she starts to become somewhat protective of the boy. It doesn’t last long though, and even when faced with a nearly impossible situation, she never completely
Not everyone is going to be able to accept how harsh the movie gets and Zonca never lets up as Julia’s situation just gets crazier and crazier. There are aspects of Courtney Hunt’s “Frozen River” in there, as well as the grittiness of Alejandro Iñarritu’s work, but some scenes are so grueling one might wish Zonca would toned things down, like when Julia and Elena go at it in a psychotic catfight unlike anything we’ve seen in recent memory. In a twist on the wave of immigration films, Julia and her ward end up in Tijuana, Mexico, where they become involved with even more unsavory types; the lack of subtitles is sometimes aggravating but it certainly adds to the tension in their predicament. Overall, it’s certainly a well-crafted film that rarely pulls punches, though it’s also overly long (over two hours) and it feels like some of the earlier scenes of Julia taking care of the kidnapped boy aren’t necessary after the film takes a turn into Mexico. Either way, the movie will be remembered for the unforgettable performance by Swinton that drives this inventive thriller. Rating: 7/10
Life In Flight (IFC Films) – Tracey Hecht’s filmmaking debut stars Watchmen star Patrick Wilson as a New York architect and family man (married to Amy Smart, no less) who starts rethinking his domestic life when he meets a designer played by Lynn Collins (X-Men Origins: Wolverine). It plays on IFC Festival Direct video-on-demand starting Wednesday and
Love n Dancing (Screen Media Films) – Amy Smart also stars with Tom Malloy in this romantic movie written by the latter, about an English teacher (Smart) who forms a bon with a swing dancer (Malloy) when they partner up to try to win a world title, while struggling with their relationships. It opens in select cities, mostly in California, Arizona and Utah.
Powder Blue (Speakeasy Releasing) – This ensemble drama from Timothy Linh Bui (Green Dragon) stars Jessica Biel, Forest Whittaker, Ray Liotta, Patrick Swayze and Lisa Kudrow as strangers in L.A. whose lives cross paths. It opens in New York on Friday at the Village East Cinemas, as well as in other select cities.
Next week, Tom Hanks and Ron Howard reunite for their adaptation of Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons (Sony).
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas