The Weekend Warrior: August 7 – 9

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.

Updated Predictions and Comparisons -

UPDATE: Both of the two bigger releases this weekend are getting far more theaters than we estimated earlier, although we’re not going to go too crazy in raising our earlier predictions, because they might just be getting more theaters due to the late summer releases.

1. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Paramount) – $53.4 million N/A (up .8 million)

2. Julie & Julia (Sony) – $20.2 million N/A (up .9 million)

3. Funny People (Universal) – $10.4 million -54% (down .6 million)

4. G-Force (Disney) – $10.2 million -42% (down .3 million)

5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.) – $9.5 million -47% (-.7 million)

6. A Perfect Getaway (Rogue Pictures) – $7.3 million N/A (up .2 million)

7. The Ugly Truth (Sony) – $7.0 million -47% (up .2 million)

8. Aliens in the Attic (20th Century Fox) – $5.0 million -38% (same)

9. (500) Days of Summer (Fox Searchlight) – $4.5 million +67% (down .4 million)

10. Orphan (Warner Bros.) – $4.1 million -45% (same)

Weekend Overview

As we kick off the last full month of summer, the big movie of the weekend would have to be Stephen Sommers’ G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Paramount) based on the popular action hero figures from Hasbro and the cartoons and comic books they’ve spawned. There’s been a lot of weird buzz for the movie, negative at first and then suddenly turning positive as people began to see the movie and rave about it, and while the negative buzz seems to have been louder and more persistent, it’s doubtful that will keep loyal G.I. Joe fans from checking out what Sommers has done. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of an audience beyond the male fanbase and young boys, so like Van Helsing, one should expect a decent opening from the movie and then a quick drop-off as it faces similarly strong male fodder in next week’s District 9 and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds the following week.

For the women who will not give a second thought to skipping “G.I. Joe,” there’s Nora Ephron’s dual cooking biopic Julie & Julia (Sony), starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, as two women trying to find themselves through cooking. Playing beloved TV chef Julia Child, Streep is a far stronger box office draw for older women than the former, but the combination of the two actresses with a foodie premise should make this an easy choice for women over 30, even if the moderate release might make it slightly harder to break the $20 million mark this weekend.

Also this weekend, director David Twohy (Pitch Black) returns with his Hawaii-based thriller A Perfect Getaway (Rogue Pictures), starring Milla Jovovich and Steve Zahn, which might have trouble getting audiences away from the other two high-profile movies, but could bring in some of those skeptical that “G.I. Joe” might be any good with its strong commercials and trailer. (What’s interesting is that all three filmmakers this weekend–Sommers, Twohy and Ephron–are making their return to movie theaters four to five years after helming movies that either disappointed or outright bombed, so this is an important weekend for all three of them.)

Fox Searchlight’s sleeper hit (500) Days of Summer, starring Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel should be expanding nationwide this weekend which should allow it to finally crack into the Top 10.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Charlyne Yi and Nicholas Jasenovec’s Paper Heart (Overture Films), which you can read more about below.

This weekend last year, Rob Cohen took the reigns for the 3-quel to the action franchise The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Universal) with Brendan Fraser, which opened with $40.5 million, which oddly enough, was not enough to beat Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in its third weekend. It remained on top for a third week with $42.7 million, having accumulated an astounding $394 million since opening. Opening in sixth place, the political comedy Swing Vote (Touchstone/Disney), starring Kevin Costner, failed to capitalize on the country’s interest in politics, taking in just $6.2 million in 2,213 theatres. The Top 10 grossed $140 million and unless G.I. Joe far exceeds our expectations, that amount won’t be surpassed by this weekend’s offerings.


G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Paramount)
Starring Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Byung Hun Lee, Sienna Miller, Rachel Nichols, Ray Park, Said Taghmaoui, Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Dennis Quaid
Directed by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, Van Helsing); Written by Stuart Beattie (Collateral, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, 30 Days of Night, Australia, Derailed), David Elliot (Catacombs, Four Brothers, The Watcher), Paul Lovett
Genre: Action
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “When All Else Fails, They Don’t.”
Plot Summary: General Hawk (Dennis Quaid) leads an elite team of highly-trained soldiers trying keep suitcase filled with metal-coroding “nanomites” created by M.A.R.S. Industries head, James McMullen (Christopher Eccleston), away from a group of mercenaries. The team’s new recruit Duke (Channing Tatum) seems to have some past history with the beautiful but deadly Baronness (Sienna Miller), while the silent ninja Snake Eyes (Ray Park) has his own long-standing issues with his opposite Storm Shadow (Byung Hun Lee).

Interview with Stephen Sommers

Review

Analysis:

With the huge success of Michael Bay’s Transformers, which grossed over $300 million in the summer of ’07, and the continued success of its sequel, which is fast approaching $400 million (!), it probably made perfect sense that Hasbro would try to capitalize on the popularity of their other long-running action figure toy line, the military-based special ops force G.I. Joe, which first debuted in the ’60s and continued to be popular boys’ toys through the ’70s (even with the Vietnam War going on). The company decided to take a different approach to G.I. Joe in 1983 when they turned what were just uniformed soldiers into virtual superheroes with amazing abilities and weapons, even tying the toys into a popular comic written by Larry Hama, followed by an equally popular cartoon and numerous video games.

It’s now been almost 25 years since the introduction of G.I. Joe as “A Real American Hero” and helming the very first live action movie based on that Joe incarnation is Stephen Sommers, the director who most famously took Universal’s horror movie The Mummy and turned it into a blockbuster summer action franchise, which spawned an even more successful sequel, The Mummy Returns. Five years ago, Sommers kicked off his third summer–see, his surname isn’t a coincidence!–when he created the action hero based on Dracula’s arch nemesis Van Helsing, starring Hugh Jackman. It was trashed by the critics and after a solid opening weekend, it quickly tanked as word spread that it wasn’t a very good movie. And then
Sommers seemingly disappeared until his name was attached to G.I. Joe (more on that below).

Sommers has assembled a really amazing cast with actors from a wide range of places, the one with the most film experience probably being Dennis Quaid as General Hawk, a fairly small role compared to the others. Mostly, the movie relies on its younger cast including Sienna Miller, the British actress who is better known for her relationships than her movies, which have consisted mainly of indies and quickly forgotten movies like Casanova opposite Heath Ledger and the remake of Alfie opposite Jude Law. This will be Miller’s biggest movie that will probably be seen by the most people so whether or not they buy her as the evil “Baroness” will play a large part in whether the movie’s presumed success carries over to her career. Her arch-rival (and former love interest) Duke is played by Channing Tatum, the Southern beau who turned many a woman’s head with his role in Disney’s Step Up, but he hasn’t been able to carry that success over to subsequent movies like Kimberly Peirce’s Stop-Loss and the recent Fighting. Appearing with Tatum in the former was up ‘n’ comer Joseph Gordon Levitt, best known as Tommy on the hit sitcom “Third Rock from the Sun” but also playing nice guys in indie films like The Lookout, Brick and (500) Days of Summer. In fact, this is Gordon Levitt’s biggest movie to date and he gets to play a villain, a dastardly doctor who helps to prompt the titular “rise of Cobra” by creating super-soldiers. He’s the right hand man of Christopher Eccleston (“Doctor Who,” The Seeker), who plays arms dealer James McMullen who starts the ball rolling by unleashing deadly “nanomites” into the world that pits Hawk’s team against a team of similarly-trained mercenaries. The main comic relief comes in the form of Marlon Wayans, one of the many Wayans Brothers who have created a comedy empire with his family. Wayans plays Wallace “Ripcord” Weems, another popular member of the team, and he will help bring in the African-American and urban audiences, as will Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, best known from his roles on “Lost” and HBO’s “Oz.” Playing Snake Eyes, the most popular character in the Joe mythos, is Ray Park, best known for playing Darth Maul in George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, while his counterpart, Storm Shadow, is played by Korean actor Byung Hun-Lee. There’s also Rachel Nichols, who played the green Orion skank in Star Trek, as the super-hot Scarlett, the only woman on the Joe team.

Aside from Wayans, it’s hard to believe any single one of the actors above might be able to bring in significant audiences, except possibly Tatum, though his female fans probably won’t have much interest in the idea of trained soldiers. Just like with J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and other ensemble genre pieces (like “The X-Men” series), it’s more about finding actors that suit the roles of the beloved characters, and in that sense, Sommers has probably succeeded enough that the fans will mostly like these incarnations of their favorite Joes.

What the movie does have going for it, besides over 20 years of fandom, is that it’s the kind of movie that will immediately appeal to younger boys, not just because of the toys but also because it looks like a lighter action movie, one that fathers who were into the cartoons and such will be able to bring their sons to see the movie. Even so, the appeal of the movie is still rather insular to guys from 10 to 30 or slightly older, and the older one gets, the more cynical they’re likely to be about the movie. Women probably won’t have very much in this type of straight action movie even with not one but two kickass female characters, which is about twice as many as found in most of the action movies this summer.

That said, the movie has had some weird buzz surrounding it going back to the very first footage, which was a 30 second Super Bowl spot, which showed the Joes in “accelerator suits” that were invented for the movie. Fans of the characters were very vocal about how they felt about this addition, despite really only seeing them for a brief second with FX that were probably unfinished. It was a similar gut reaction as fans had to the first look at Ang Lee’s The Hulk and even Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, but it was something that permeated the internet for months after that, making it very difficult for Paramount to sell the movie. A few months ago, someone leaked to certain bloggers (the ones they knew would print anything) that the movie had problems, that it was testing poorly, that it was nearly unwatchable and that Sommers had been kicked off the movie, most of which proved to be untrue. A couple weeks ago, around the time of Comic-Con (where G.I. Joe was noticeably absent—another warning sign), word started spreading that Paramount planned not to screen the movie in advance, at least not to film critics, which in most cases, makes people think that yes, the movie must be bad if the studio doesn’t want to screen it. The latter rumor quickly started spreading to the point where last week, USA Today ran a story about it, and Paramount quickly went into “spin control” mode as they booked last minute screenings to show the movie early to a number of onliners and what most critics dub “Junket whores” in L.A. and Austin days before the junket screening in New York City, garnering many rave reviews. That might be enough to convince some fans to go see the movie, but there are still enough who are dubious and skeptical–such as the older moviegoers who don’t read sites like CHUD or AICN–who will probably believe the louder, negativity surrounding the movie not screening.

Then again, this is the summer that kicked off with Fox’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a movie that was leaked a month early, received all sorts of scorn from online press but then still opened with $85 million. It quickly tanked after that as quite a few fans seemed generally disappointed with certain elements (like the way treatment of Deadpool) but it still was successful enough for 20th Century Fox to greenlight a sequel and various spin-offs.

Otherwise, Paramount are doing as good a job with the more recent commercials for G.I. Joe as they did with the ones for Star Trek and the “Transformers” sequel showing that Paramount really knows how to sell their movies. Even so, it’s hard not to think they may have screwed their own pooch by not just letting critics see the movie, as they did with last year’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, both generally inferior movies. The tie-ins for the movie are plentiful from Hasbro releasing an entire line of new toys to coincide with the characters as portrayed in the movie, as well as a new video game, which should be enjoyed by Joe fans. For the most part, many of them will give the movie a chance and a good portion of them should enjoy it.

Despite the weird amount of buzz and hyperbole surrounding the movie, the fanbase and those who’ve been sold on the last minute raves should be out on force on Friday or even Thursday night, which should help it open decently, although having the similarly-hyped District 9 and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds nipping at its heels—not to mention many areas returning to school—can’t help the movie have any sort of significant late summer legs after opening weekend.

Why I Should See It: If you’re a fan of the original characters, you’ll find a lot of fun stuff that Sommers has brought over to his movie.
Why Not: If you’re unable to turn your mind off and just enjoy this as the fun summer popcorn movie it was meant to be, than there’s really no reason for you to go see it.
Projections: $51 to 54 million opening weekend and $140 to 150 million total.

COMPARISONS


Julie & Julia (Sony)
Starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Linda Emond
Written and directed by Nora Ephron (You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, Bewitched, Michael)
Genre: Comedy, Biopic, Drama
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Passion. Ambition. Butter. Do You Have What It Takes?”
Plot Summary: Bored with her life, New Yorker Julie Powell (Amy Adams) decides to start a blog in which she cooks her way through Julia Child’s classic cook book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Fifty years earlier, Child (Meryl Streep) herself is struggling within the male-dominated world of the French kitches, as she tries to complete her first cookbook despite all sorts of problems.

Mini-Review: There have been movies based on books, on comic books, video games and amusement park rides, so it makes sense that eventually, someone would get around to making a movie based on a COOKBOOK. Unrepentant foodies looking for a movie to call their own may be prematurely rejoicing that the late great Julia Child has finally been given the biopic treatment with no less than Meryl Streep wishing her viewers “Bon Appetit!” as she shows that anyone can make the fanciest French meals. In fact, Nora Ephron’s return to filmmaking is just as much about New Yorker Julie Powell’s desire to blog her way through Child’s cookbook, something that never quite lives up to the flashbacks to Child in the Paris of the ’50s trying to get that book published. Those flashbacks probably could have been a movie unto themselves. While the idea of showcasing the life and food of Julia Child through a modern-day woman does have its benefits at heightening the film’s obvious feminist angle, there’s never enough flow between the two segments as it spends fifteen minutes in one timeline and then the next in the other one. Sure, Ephron makes sure to drive home the similarities between the two women in a cooking montage towards the end of the movie that cuts back and forth a little quicker, but by then, you’ve spent two very long hours watching two stories that don’t offer enough of a payoff to make the time spent getting there worthwhile. The results are surprisingly bland and not nearly as amusing or funny as Sony’s brilliant marketing team has made the film look, because even Streep’s spot-on take on Child’s larger-than-life personality starts to wear itself thin after a while. Sporting a surprisingly unattractive page boy haircut, Adams has finally reached the point where even her staunchest supporter (i.e. me) is tiring of her overly-precocious whiny delivery, and she does little to make Julie Powell a person whose life might be of interest. Other than Adams, the performances are generally decent with the two guys, Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina, doing a good job with generally thankless roles, effectively playing support to their leading ladies but not really offering much beyond that. It’s a shame that the movie doesn’t work because Ephron is generally a decent filmmaker, and you can tell there was a true love for the material put into every foodie moment. Despite the moments that are enjoyable, usually involving Streep and Tucci, but overall, it’s too long, too bland and never really pays off in the way one might hope with such a strong premise and cast. Rating: 6/10

Analysis:

As we go into the last month of summer, studios are trying to get out the last of their potential tentpole movies (like this week’s G.I. Joe), as well as a few genre-related movies they hope will hit among those who are still hanging around over the last weeks of summer, but there’s also the potential of bringing women into theaters and that is the primary motivation behind the latest from Nora Ephron, the filmmaker who has either written and directed some of the most beloved movies in the much maligned “chick flick’ genre.

Ephron’s first movie since the failed big screen version of the TV show Bewitched Is based on the popular blog and the resulting bestseller by Julie Powell, a New York woman who decided to cook her way through Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” book, something that got her a lot of publicity (and a book deal obviously). It combines that with a more straightforward biopic about Child, as played by one of the country’s most respected actresses Meryl Streep, showing what she went through to get that very book published.

Of course, Streep’s performance as the beloved French chef Julia Child is going to be the driving force behind many women, mostly over 30, going to see the movie this weekend. Child was a mainstay on PBS who is known and beloved by so many women who learned how to cook from watching “The French Chef” and the many shows it later inspired. Streep has had an amazing career that’s spanned over 30 years, and after many decades of being known as an actor’s actor by garnering more Oscar nominations than any other–the last time she won an Oscar was the year Hasbro reinvented G.I. Joe!—but in recent years, she’s been headlining a number of surprise summer blockbusters that targetted women, first her role as a stern magazine editor in The Devil Wears Prada (for which she received her 14th Oscar nomination) and then last year with the musical Mamma Mia!. Both movies grossed over $120 million and a lot of that can be traced back to Streep’s enduring popularity.

Streep’s last Oscar-nominated performance was in the drama Doubt, starring opposite her Julie & Julia co-star Amy Adams, who is certainly becoming a superstar actress in her own right, having been nominated for two supporting Oscars in her relatively short career and having recently made the move to bigger summer blockbusters with her appearance opposite Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. A few years back, Adams was already getting attention when she starred in the popular Disney musical hit Enchanted, which also grossed $120 million. Although the two actresses don’t appear on screen together—their stories take place 50 years apart—the popularity of the actresses among the audiences who might normally see this kind of movie is clear and evident enough to make this a no-brainer on many levels. The last part of the equation is actor Stanley Tucci, who appeared opposite Streep in The Devil Wears Prada a few years back, and he’s generally a well loved and respected actor even though he’s once again clearly taking a backseat to the movie’s female stars.

Maybe a few years back, having Nora Ephron directing a movie targeting women would have been a big selling point, considering that she wrote beloved films like When Harry Met Sally and Hanging Up before directing Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in a duo of popular romances, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. In this case, her name isn’t even being mentioned in the ads, maybe because her cast is enough. A bigger selling point in fact might be the fact that it’s based on the life and work of Julia Child, something that will surely cater to the same older women that might be interested in seeing a movie starring Meryl Streep in the role. A few years back, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart starred in the Warner Bros. rom-com No Reservations, which performed modestly (total gross $43 million) despite its own foodie roots, though Julie & Julia does have a stronger cast and premise to draw them in.

All these elements certainly will add up on female moviegoers’ scorecards when deciding whether to see the movie or not, although this one will clearly veer older than the recent Sony comedy The Ugly Truth, despite this being a PG-13 vs. R-rated. One hindrance might be that the movie is not getting nearly as many good reviews as some of the actresses’ other movies, and older women are an audience who certainly read reviews before deciding to see a movie.

With other chick flicks like Sony’s The Ugly Truth still in theatres (though not doing that well) and next week’s The Time Traveler’s Wife shooting for the same older female audience, it’s going to be hard for Julie & Julia maintain much traction, although the fun foodie nature of the movie will probably help it have more legs than if it was a completely awful piece of crap (like The Ugly Truth… snap!)

Why I Should See It: Julia Child was an amazing icon in the world of food and cooking, one who was responsible for inspiring much of the country’s current foodie craze. It’s only right she’s honored with a movie in which she’s played by Meryl Streep.
Why Not: The resulting movie has problems, essentially being two movies in one, rather than just being about Child, and it’s not nearly as fun as the trailers make it look.
Projections: $18 to 20 million opening weekend and roughly $60 million total, maybe slightly more.

COMPARISONS


A Perfect Getaway (Rogue Pictures)
Starring Timothy Olyphant, Milla Jovovich, Steve Zahn, Kiele Sanchez, Chris Hemsworth, Katie Chonacas
Written and directed by David Twohy (Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick, Below)
Genre: Thriller
Rated R
Tagline: “Let the Games Begin.”
Plot Summary: Having just gotten married, screenwriter Cliff (Steve Zahn) and his new wife Cydney (Milla Jovovich) travel to Hawaii, hoping to hike the Kalalau Trail. After learning about a series of brutal murders on a neighboring island, they start to suspect a pair of hitchhikers they meet on the road, even as they encounter survivalists Nick and Gina (Timothy Olyphant, Kiele Sanchez) who act equally suspicious.

Interview with David Twohy

Interview with Timothy Olyphant

Interview with Milla Jovovich

Mini-Review In the hands of director David Twohy, a high concept idea about a sunless planet full of killer aliens became “Pitch Black” and a haunted submarine transformed into something far more terrifying in “Below.” With that in mind, one would expect that tackling a thriller in which newlyweds find terror on their tropical honeymoon would be done with a unique and original vision, and sure enough, “A Perfect Getaway,” Twohy’s first movie in four years, does take a different stance on the normal whodunit thriller, even as it builds to a reveal that doesn’t necessarily deliver. It’s a far more character-driven piece than we’re used to seeing in the summer, for which Twohy has assembled a solid cast of third and fourth stringers. Steve Zahn plays the same comical nebbish he’s done so well in previous films and Milla Jovovich goes against type as a mild-mannered young wife who we do learn later has an unquenchable taste for the bad boy. (Fans of her work in “Resident Evil” should be sated by the action she gets involved in by the end of the movie.) When the happy couple encounters Tim Olyphant’s Nick, a former Marine adventurer with lots of tales to tell, and his equally adventurous gal Gina–we meet her as she sunbathes in the nude–things start to pick up as we have to guess whether or not they’re the killers responsible for the brutal slayings on another island. Twohy’s impeccable dialogue drives the first two acts of the movie as we try to guess which one of the couples the newlyweds meet might be the killers, and the best thing going for this part of the story is that having a screenwriter as one of the characters allows there to be talk about plot devices like red herrings, which acts like a running commentary to our own thoughts. There’s little question that Olyphant’s over-the-top narcissist is what keeps the movie entertaining through the slower dialogue scenes, and Nick is not unlike some of Olyphant’s better previous characters. He seems to be almost gleeful about how his character’s intentions will keep the viewer guessing as Twohy uses a couple neat tricks to build suspense. Unfortunately, when we finally do get the big reveal, it involves a twist that wasn’t too hard to predict and isn’t particularly believable. That will make a huge difference whether you’re on board for the rest of the ride, as we’re taken into a long flashback that tries to justify the crazy plot twist we just experienced. (The flashback is even filmed in black and white, which completely takes one out of the movie, because it’s a pretentious conceit used merely to show off rather than to add something to the flashback.) Sure, Twohy is clearly still a confident visual filmmaker who does as well with the bright and sunny landscapes of Hawaii as he does with dark alien planets, and he shoots the action-packed final climax in a way that shows he hasn’t lost his touch. In the hands of a less capable filmmaker, the movie might have been unwatchable. Even so, the intentional slow build to the movie’s explosive third act should have worked in the same way as Wes Craven’s “Red Eye,” but it doesn’t, and you’re either on board with what Twohy was trying to achieve here or not. Unfortunately, suspension of disbelief only can go so far. Rating: 5.5/10

Analysis:

Falling somewhere between the other two choices this weekend, being a thriller that could appeal equally to men and women, A Perfect Getaway marks the return of filmmaker David Twohy, a director who garnered a lot of fanboy support with his earlier films Pitch Black and Below, but then fell off the face of the map after his expensive sci-fi action sequel The Chronicles of Riddick failed to turn a profit or bring in the fan support of Vin Diesel’s previous movies. That was five years ago and Twohy has learned a lesson from that failure by returning to lower budget higher concept fare, in this case a paradise-based thriller involving a series of murders and a mystery surrounding the identity of the killers.

Twohy has assembled a respectable cast of actors including Timothy Olyphant, who has found success both on the little and big screen, the former on shows like HBO’s “Deadwood” and the latter as the villain in Bruce Wills’ Live Free or Die Hard and as the star of the Fox action flick Hitman, based on the popular game. Also familiar to genre fans is Milla Jovovich from the “Resident Evil” movies, playing a more subdued role this time around as the new wife of actor Steve Zahn, who generally is appearing in four to five movies a year at this point, the most recent ones being the indies Sunshine Cleaning with Amy Adams and Management, opposite Jennifer Aniston. Zahn has experience appearing in thrillers, having co-starred in the 2001 movie Joy Ride.

The other actors aren’t as well known although Chris Hemsworth is starting to receive some buzz for his small role as Kirk’s father in the summer hit Star Trek, but also because he got the coveted role of “Thor” in the upcoming Marvel Studios movie. The other two ladies are played by Kiele Sanchez from “Lost” and Marley Shelton, who appeared in both halves of Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse. It’s hard to tell whether any of those actors can really bring people into theaters and whether Twohy still has enough of a name that fans of his early work might check it out based on his involvement. (He’s not being used in the ads to promote the movie so obviously, Universal doesn’t think so.)

Moviegoing audiences have generally been mixed when it comes to serial killer thrillers, the success of David Fincher’s Se7en leading to literally dozens of other copycat movies. Some, like Morgan Freeman’s take on James Patterson’s Dr. Alex Cross in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider were both successful, but other attempts like Sandra Bullock’s Murder by Numbers just never really took off. (It might be somewhat of a giveaway that Twohy’s movie is produced by Mark Canton, who also produced Taking Lives, the similar twist-filled Warner Bros. thriller starring Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke. In recent years, the genre has shifted more towards indie limited release fare rather than bigger studio movies, despite the fact that they can generally made for less money.

Twohy’s latest movie has a strange history, originally meant to be distributed by MGM but then put into turnaround and picked up for distribution by Rogue Pictures, which is owned by the production company Relativity, who decided to essentially dump it into a summer release rather than putting it out in the winter, spring or fall where it might not get lost in the shuffle of higher profile movies. Ever since Rogue shifted over to Universal, they’ve generally done better with selling their movies, as seen by the success of last year’s The Strangers and David Goyer’s The Unborn. Originally, it was going to open on August 14, which would have given them an extra week of promotion, but then they recently moved it up a week, putting it against “G.I. Joe,” which certainly won’t help matters, nor will the fact that it’s only getting a moderate release into 2,000 theatres. Universal and Rogue probably realize that A Perfect Getaway isn’t as immediate or as easy a sell as some of the other movies. Instead, it looks like it falls somewhere between the torture porn flick Turistas and last year’s The Ruins, neither which did particularly well in theatres.

The commercials for this one are decent although they seem to be giving away more and more of the plot as they go along with the most recent one being nearly two minutes long. Early word from critics who’ve seen the movie—because Universal don’t play games and almost always screen their movies in advance—isn’t good, because not everyone is into the twist. Even so, that could just as easily be said about Warner Bros’ recent horror movie Orphan and that opened fine, and at least Twohy’s movie was made fairly cheaply (at least compared to “Riddick”) so it can always make back its money when released on DVD.

Why I Should See It: David Twohy is a true original in Hollywood when it comes to filmmaking and his fans know to expect more than the usual thriller.
Why Not: Not everyone is going to buy the big twist.
Projections: $6 to 8 million opening weekend and $17 to 19 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Paper Heart (Overture Films)
Starring Charlyne Yi, Michael Cera, Jake Johnson
Directed by Nicholas Jasenovec (debut); Written by Nicholas Jasenovec, Charlyne Yi (debut)
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Documentary
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “A story about love that’s taking on a life of its own.”
Plot Summary: Actress and stand-up comic Charlyne Yi (played by Charlyne Yi) is looking for the meaning of love, so she and director friend Nicholas Jasenovec (Jake Johnson) go on the road to interview random people about what loves means to them. During her journey, Charlyne meets actor Michael Cera (Michael Cera) and the two begin a relationship that seems doomed by Charlyne’s inability to express or feel love.

Interview with Charylne, Nick and Jake

Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer might have been my favorite movie out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival but coming a close second, and in a similar vein, is the debut from Charlyne Yi and director Nicholas Jasenovec, a strange amalgam of documentary and romantic comedy that immediately reminded me of a sadly overlooked movie from a few years back that I really loved called My Date with Drew. That movie’s filmmaker was very specific in his goal to meet and go on a date with Drew Barrymore. Yi’s intentions behind Paper Heart are slightly more vague and enigmatic, only because she enjoys blurring fiction and reality in her stand-up act, something that plays a large part in what makes this film equally intriguing.

The conceit behind the movie is that Yi is unsure whether she’s capable of love, so she goes on a cross-country journey with a film crew (including actor Jake Johnson playing Jasenovec) to try and find the meaning of love, interviewing people she meets along the way and hearing stories about how they met. These stories are then recreated using paper puppets and dolls in a way that remind some of the work of Michel Gondry, especially in The Science of Sleep. It’s similar to Bill Maher’s Religulous as far as the vignettes that come out of Yi’s travels, talking to everyone from a divorce judge to a tarot card reader, but she plays things far more innocent and so adorable that it’s hard not to immediately connect with her.

There will be many questions about what’s real and what’s staged in Paper Heart, which is also what makes it so greatly appealing, but sadly, most of the attention the movie has been getting comes from the fact that it co-stars Yi’s (alleged) boyfriend Michael Cera, showing how they first met and how their relationship evolved. In fact, all the scenes between Yi and Cera are scripted and acted, including many fun and sweet moments that could just as well be real, and they make the perfect counter-balance to the doc portion of the movie.

Charlyne Yi is quite an astounding performer, not just because she’s able to get her interview subjects to open up to her, but she’s more than capable at selling the scripted scenes as reality. You really believe she’s broken-hearted when things don’t seem to be working out with Cera–part of what has gotten a lot of people wondering whether art was imitating life or vice version. Yi’s talents are especially evident in one emotional scene later in the movie, and Jake Johnson is so convincing as the film’s director and Yi’s closest confidante, you might have a hard time believing he is in fact an actor playing that role.

It’s that seamless blending of reality and fiction that makes Paper Heart such an intriguing addition to the mockumentary genre, especially in light of all the TV reality dating shows. Yi’s demeanor keeps the tone light and sweet even during the darker moments, and the tone of the film fits in well with the other quirky Sundance romance movies released in the last few weeks. Really, if you’re a fan of documentaries, you can’t get a more perfect date movie either.

Paper Heart opens in select cities on Friday.

Honorable Mention:

Cold Souls (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Starring Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, Emily Watson, Dina Korzun, Lauren Ambrose, Katheryn Winnick
Written and directed by Sophie Barthes (debut)
Genre: Comedy, Sci-Fi
Rated PG-13
Tagline:
Plot Summary: Actor Paul Giamatti (Paul Giamatti) has been having trouble getting his handle on his latest stage role, so when he spots an article in the New Yorker about a company that will extract and store your soul, unburdening you from all your problems, he tries it out, only to become a victim in a “soul-trafficking” ring out of St. Petersburg in Russia.

Interview with Sophie Barthes from Sundance

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Also in Limited Release:

Beeswax (Cinema Guild) – Mumblecore mainstay Andrew (Mutual Appreciation, Funny Ha Ha) Bujalski’s third film is based around a pair of twin sisters, the wheelchair-bound Jeannie who runs a vintage clothing store, and Lauren, who is stuck between jobs and boyfriends and considering a travel overseas. Lots of babbling and meandering on about nothing ensues as tends to be the case in the genre. It opens in New York at the Film Forum on Friday.

Bliss (First Run Features) – Turkish filmmaker Abdullah Oguz adapts Zülfü Livaneli’s novel involving a road trip in which a 17-year-old girl named Meryem (Özgü Namal) is condemned to death after her family finds her lying unconscious by the side of lake, presumably having been raped, and her distant cousin Cemal (Murat Han) is assigned the mission to kill her, something that becomes more difficult when the two fall for each other. It opens at the Cinema Village in New York.

I Sell the Dead (IFC Films) – Glenn McQuaid directs this horror film about 18th Century grave robbers Arthur Blake and Willie Grimes (Dominic Monaghan, Larry Fessenden), the former who seeks absolution for his sins by sharing all of his ghoulish stories with a clergyman (Ron Perlman). The low budget period thriller opens in select cities on Friday.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)


Next week, Peter Jackson presents Neill Blomkamp’s directorial debut, the sci-fi actioneer District 9 (Sony), Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams star in the temporal romance The Time Traveler’s Wife (New Line/WB), Jeremy Pivens stars in the used car comedy The Goods: Live Hard. Sell Hard., Vanessa Hudgens takes part in a battle of the bands in Bandslam (Summit Entertainment) while Japan’s Anime master Hayao Miyazaki returns with Ponyo (Disney). That’s right… five movies opening next weekend. Grr…

Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas

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