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.
As we kick off the New Year, we want to give a quick shout-out of congrats to Jeff Katz on launching his very cool new blog GeekWeek.com, which covers a lot of things besides movies and includes a number of great geek writers from various sites.
We also want to say a sad farewell to Todd Hill, film critic and movie editor for the Staten Island Advance for decades and one of the Warrior’s favorite colleagues since joining the junket circuit six years ago. You can read his final blog post here. He’ll be missed.
1. Avatar (20th Century Fox) – $37.0 million -46% (up .7 million)
2. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (20th Century Fox) – $15.9 million -55% (down .2 million)
3. Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros.) – $15.6 million -58% (up .3 million)
4. Daybreakers (Lionsgate) – $14.1 million N/A (same)
5. Leap Year (Universal) – $11.0 million N/A (down .2 million)
6. It’s Complicated (Universal) – $10.5 million -45% (up .5 million)
7. The Blind Side (Warner Bros.) – $7.0 million -41% (down .1 million)
8. Up in the Air (Paramount) – $6.7 million -38% (up .8 million)
9. Youth in Revolt (Dimension Films) – $5.7 million N/A
10. The Princess and the Frog (Disney) – $4.5 million -53% (up .3 million)
– The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (Sony Pictures Classics) – $2.4 million
With a lot of big movies opening over the holidays, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room at the box office and yet, three new movies will try to entice audiences away from the Big 3 looking for something new to see after the holidays. It’s doubtful anything will be able to dethrone James Cameron’s monster hit Avatar this weekend. Having grossed $300 million in the last half of December, including setting records for second and third weekends, the number it needs to beat is $28.7 million in order to beat the current record for a movie’s fourth weekend, which is held, ironically enough, by Cameron’s previous dramatic feature Titanic. Shouldn’t be a problem as it makes its way to passing Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen to become the highest-grossing movie of 2009 by sometime this weekend.
Two very different movies will try to at least make a play for second or third place, though probably settling for fourth or fifth instead. They each have their pluses and minuses (see below) but it seems more likely that the R-rated vampire thriller Daybreakers (Lionsgate) starring Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe will do a better job bringing in the guys than the romantic comedy Leap Year (Universal), starring Amy Adams and Matthew Goode, will do bringing in the ladies. They both should offer enough of what both genders enjoy in their vampire and romance movies–when they are kept separate, as they should be–but they’ll probably end up somewhere in the $10 to 15 million range, which might not be enough to surpass either Sherlock Holmes or the Chipmunks in their third weekends.
Unfortunately, the loser of the weekend looks to be Miguel Arteta’s Youth in Revolt (Dimension Films), starring Michael Cera, which is getting a slightly more moderate release, but just doesn’t have the marketing or advertising behind it for it to get much business away from the other two new movies and all the returning films. Although it does have an advantage at being the only straight comedy for younger men and women, it’ll be shooting for the low end of the Top 10 with a low per-theater average.
UPDATE: Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (Sony Pictures Classics), starring Christopher Plummer and Heath Ledger, will be expanding nationwide into over 550 theaters where we think it will end up with roughly $2.4 million, maybe slightly less.
2009 kicked off in a big way with Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino (Warner Bros.) expanding nationwide into 2,800 theaters and grossing $29.5 million, Eastwood’s biggest wide opening ever, setting the movie to go onto become his biggest movie with nearly $150 million in domestic gross. Opening in second place, the high concept comedy Bride Wars (20th Century Fox) pitted Kate Hudson against Anne Hathaway to the tune of $21 million in roughly 3,300 theaters. David Goyer’s supernatural thriller The Unborn (Rogue Pictures) also fared well, grossing just under $20 million in 2,300 theaters for third place, showing that the box office was off to a strong start. Even the drama Not Easily Broken (Screen Gems), which only grossed $5.3 million did so in just 724 theaters, a healthy per-site average of $7,340 per site to open in ninth place. The Top 10 grossed $121 million which should be ballpark for this week’s movies as well.
THE BATTLE CRY
As promised, we’re going to try and spout off a little more frequently in this segment of the column in 2010, at least in the next few months where things are fairly slow. We’ll start off very simply with the ever-popular “Most Anticipated Movies of 2010.” I’m not sure there are that many surprises on here, because many of these already have some sort of teaser or trailer out there. Uncoincidentally, many of the movies below I had a chance to visit the set of so I’ve seen a lot of stuff that others haven’t which I can’t wait to see on screen.
1. Iron Man 2 (Marvel/Paramount – May 2) – This one really is a no-brainer. I loved the first Iron Man, and just like everyone else on the planet, I can’t wait to see Robert Downey Jr. return as Tony Stark and for director Jon Favreau to prove that the first movie was no fluke. This will easily be the biggest movie of 2010, followed closely by Toy Story 3. You can bet your house and kids on it.
2. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Universal) – Any fan of Edgar Wright’s previous two movies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz or who has read Brian Lee O’Malley’s hilarious series of graphic novels will know that this movie’s mix of romance, comedy, music, video games and martial arts action should play to all of Wright’s strengths as a filmmaker. Here’s hoping the rest of the world is ready to accept such a crazy mix of genres, because it’s bound to open a lot of eyes.
3. Kick-Ass (Lionsgate) – I love the über-violent comic book from Mark Millar (writer of Wanted) and John Romita Jr. and everything I’ve seen and heard makes me think the movie will be just as funny and violent as the comic books in the hands of Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust). Can’t wait!
4. Inception (Warner Bros. – July 16) – The latest trailer really has me intrigued with Christopher Nolan’s next non-Batman film, which looks to just as original as Memento or The Prestige. There’s little question that Nolan is a true visionary in every sense of the word and this could very well be next year’s Avatar or The Matrix in terms of the sci-fi movie that everyone is talking about for months after seeing it.
5. Clash of the Titans (Warner Bros. – March 26) – I was never a fan of the original movie though I do love my Greek mythology and everything I’ve seen about this one really blows me away, especially the casting of Sam Worthington, Gemma Arterton (swoon) and my favorite Dane Mads Mikkelsen. Should be the first great action and FX movie of ’10.
6. Alice in Wonderland (Disney – March 5) – It’s Tim Burton doing his vision of Lewis Carroll’s classic story in 3D… anyone who doesn’t have this on their most anticipated list either isn’t a Burton fan, isn’t a fan of fantasy or heaven forbid, doesn’t like the original classic story. This will be a good test for Burton to see if he can create as immersive an experience as Avatar.
7. Jonah Hex (Warner Bros. June 18) – One of the most annoying things from last year’s Comic-Con is that I missed the footage they showed from this new Western based on the long-running DC Comic that puts Josh Brolin in a role he was born to play, that of a scarred Wild West outlaw fighting against the criminals and the law at the same time. With a script from Neveldine/Taylor and directed by Jimmy Heyward, this should be a wild (horse) ride!
8. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Disney – May 28) – The first trailers probably haven’t given the best impression what to expect from this swords and sandals action epic that uses the classic video game as basis in the same way that the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies used the theme park ride. There’s a lot of stuff that hasn’t even been touched on in what you’ve seen so far, and of course, this will also mean I’ll only have to wait two months to see my latest on-screen crush Gemma Arterton screen after Clash of the Titans!
9. The Social Network (Sony – October 15) David Fincher directing an Aaron Sorkin screenplay about the start of Facebook? Sounds like a winner to me. I imagine well be seeing this one around awards time as well
10. Robert Rodriguez’s Predators (20th Century Fox – July 7) – I’m not as fanatical about the original Predator as some parties, though I do have high hopes that the combination of Rodriguez with Nimrod Antal, probably one of the most underrated filmmakers working today, and a great dramatic cast, will produce something of higher quality than the “AVP” movies.
11. The Wolfman (Universal – February 12) – I’ve heard mixed things on this period remake starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt, but I love werewolves and the original movie that introduced the character is still one of the most influential horror movies of the last century. I’ll be curious to see whether Del Toro can give as rounded a performance as Lon Chaney did back in his day.
12. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Disney – July 16) – I have this feeling that like “Prince of Persia,” this one is going to sneak up on people, because there are a lot of cool ideas at play that no one can see coming, similar to National Treasure, the previous collaboration between Nicolas Cage, Jon Turteltaub and Jerry Bruckheimer. It doesn’t hurt that the movie involves magic and was mainly shot in New York City.
13. The A-Team (20th Century Fox June 11) – Honestly, I’m not even a fan of the show–not even sure if I’ve ever seen it, to be honest–but I am a fan of Joe Carnahan’s work and I can’t wait to see what he does with more mainstream material. Hopefully, it will do well enough for him to get some of the money for his other long-gestating passion projects.
Honorable Mentions (if they’re finished in time for release in 2010):
Paul (Universal) – The other two-thirds of what made Hot Fuzz so great, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, team with Greg (Superbad) Mottola for a sci-fi road comedy that teams them with a CG alien voiced by Seth Rogen. This should be a great counterpoint to Scott Pilgrim for sure… here’s hoping we’ll see it by year’s end.
Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) – Knowing how fast Darren Aronofsky works, I can’t imagine us not seeing this supernatural thriller set in the world of ballet starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis by year’s end. Aronofsky is a genius in my book after Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain so I’ll be looking forward to anything he directs.
That’s it for this week’s “Battle Cry.” Next week, I’m going to muse on whether critics need to take a movie’s viewing audience into account while reviewing a movie.
Starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Claudia Karvan, Michael Dorman, Vince Colosimo, Isabel Lucas, Sam Neill
Written and directed by Peter and Michael Spierig (Undead)
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Tagline: “In 2019, the Most Precious Natural Resource… is Us.”
Plot Summary: In the near future, the majority of the world’s population have been infected as vampires, but there’s a severe shortage in the blood supply, forcing one company to start harvesting humans for their blood, making them an endangered species. Scientist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) has been trying to develop a new form of synthetic blood, until he meets a human survivor named Audrey (Isabel Lucas) who brings him to her group of rebels who have possibly found another solution.
For the past few years, the first weekend of January has been a good time to release horror and genre flicks, delivering a number of hits from One Missed Call to last year’s The Unborn. This might be why Lionsgate, prime purveyors of horror for the past decade or so, have jumped on this weekend to release the second movie from Australia’s the Spierig Brothers, whose low-budget zombie flick Undead was given a nominal limited release a number of years back. In this one, they take an innovative look at the future of vampires in a world overrun by them, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect since vampires are more popular than ever thanks to shows like “True Blood,” “The Vampire Diaries” and the unavoidable “Twilight Saga.” Unlike those television shows and movies, which take a romantic look at vampires, this is a dark and gory R-rated science fiction thriller that’s geared more towards teen and older guys.
The cast is respectable, centered around Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill, all strong actors with impressive resumes that include a variety of genre films. Hawke’s foray into genre hasn’t been that successful at least theatrically, but Daybreakers is probably most reminiscent of his dark sci-fi thriller Gattaca, which found more of an audience on DVD and cable. Of course, Dafoe co-starred in the vampire movie Shadow of a Vampire (and he even had a tiny part in Tony Scott’s The Hunger) and he’s definitely become a fave among genre fans for his roles in The Boondock Saints, David Cronenberg’s Existenz and Lars von Trier’s controversial Antichrist. Dafoe also starred in the recent family bomb Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, which shows that not all things vampire can bring folks into theaters.
Realizing that none of the actors are sells unto themselves, Lionsgate have created a strong marketing that focuses on the premise of a future where everyone is a vampire. They showcase the Spierigs’ amazing visuals with one set of commercials that passes itself off as a fake advertisement, similar to campaigns used successfully for the “Resident Evil” movies and less so for last year’s sci-fi action flick Surrogates. They’ve also released the trailer on Xbox Live, a huge network of just the type of guy who would want to see a movie like this, and that could probably do more for awareness of the movie than anything else. While the movie doesn’t exactly have the best title to draw people in nor the strongest cast, it received favorable reviews having played a number of film festivals this past fall, which should also help create sufficient buzz among the genre/horror crowd to get them interested.
This is a vampire movie made for horror and genre fans not for teen girls looking for romance, more in the vein of the “Underworld” movies, the sequel and prequel bringing in decent business with their January releases. Like those movies, this is rated R rather than PG-13, which will make it a stronger draw for the guy who expect their vampire movies to have lots of blood and gore, something on which it certainly delivers. Unfortunately, that means it won’t be able to bring in the casual teen audience returning to school and looking for something to see as a group on Friday night; it also will limit the amount of women over a certain age who just won’t have any interest.
Opening the first weekend in January, after frequent moviegoers have probably already seen most of the holiday movies, should help it do decently this weekend, even though facing the higher-profile dystopian future movie The Book of Eli next week and then another one one (Legion) the week after might make it hard for Daybreakers to sustain much business over the rest of the month.
Why I Should See It: The Spierigs have created a fascinating sci-fi action amalgam with its own unique take on vampires… and Dafoe’s character alone makes it worth seeing.
Why Not: Enough with the vampires already!
Projections: $13 to 15 million opening weekend but less than $35 million total.
Leap Year (Universal)
Starring Amy Adams, Matthew Goode, Adam Scott, John Lithgow
Directed by Anand Tucker (Shopgirl, When Did You Last See Your Father?, upcoming Red Riding Trilogy); Written by Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (Made of Honor, Can’t Hardly Wait, Surviving Christmas, Josie and the Pussycats)
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Tagline: “Anna planned to propose to her boyfriend on February 29th. This is not her boyfriend.”
Plot Summary: A successful Boston woman (Amy Adams) has given up hope on her boyfriend Jeremy (Adam Scott) proposing to her, so she follows him to Dublin to propose on Leap Day, but instead gets stranded in a remote area of Ireland forcing her to rely on the good will of a surly local (Matthew Goode) to get her to Dublin in time to fulfill her plan.
Another January mainstay is the light romantic comedy, in this case one of the “meet cute” variety bringing together Amy Adams and Matthew Goode in a road trip across Ireland so she can propose to her boyfriend on Leap Day. It’s a fairly simple no-brainer premise that pretty much tells the entire story within the trailer, and it’s the kind of movie that will only appeal to teen and slightly older women looking for some light fare, presumably with their girlfriend, after the holidays.
Since being nominated for her first Oscar for Junebug, Amy Adams has been a Hollywood “It Girl,” a reliable actress who bounces between smaller indies like Miss Pettigrew Lives for the Day and Sunshine Cleaning which top out around $12 million and bigger movies like her Disney hit Enchanted and last year’s Julie & Julia. One would think that the enormous success of Enchanted would make Adams a huge box office draw, but it did very little for “Pettigrew.” This past summer she co-starred in Ben Stiller’s Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian followed by the hit Julie and Julia, although most of the reactions to the movie were more positive towards Meryl Streep than for Adams. For whatever reason, many women don’t like Adams, but they’re probably just jealous of how much guys tend to like Adams, because she’s so darn adorable! Because of this, one wonders how many women who saw Julie & Julia either in theaters or DVD would want to see this movie just for Adams.
This time, she’s paired with Matthew Goode, the charming and good looking Brit who first showed up on these shores in the Mandy Moore bomb Chasing Liberty, which kicked off the year exactly six years ago. He’s also appeared in movies like Woody Allen’s Match Point and the recent Brideshead Revisited remake, as well as a variety of dogs and duds over the years. Most recently, he appeared in the ensemble cast of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, although he’s still quite far away from breaking out, something that this movie becoming a hit could do for him. (I personally think he’s a great actor, one with personality and charm who could and should break out ala Hugh Grant as long as he doesn’t get trapped in the rom-com world.)
Universal has had mixed results with romantic comedies from last year’s Love Happens to Definitely, Maybe a few years back, neither which did the type of huge business we’ve seen from “meet cute” rom-coms like The Ugly Truth or most of Matthew McConaughey’s romantic comedies. The female-centric premise means this movie will only be of interest to women, presumably a younger crowd than It’s Complicated, so it doesn’t have to worry so much about conflicts. Like last year’s Bride Wars, the movie even got a PG rating, which means the humor is tame enough for older folks with delicate sensibilities turned off by the R-rated comedy present in the weekend’s other choices. Even so, there’s plenty of other choices for younger women this weekend and there may be some burnout from the number of romantic comedies already in theaters. Also, reviews will probably be mixed at best, which will probably keep Leap Year from being another breakout January hit.
Why I Should See It: The chemistry between Amy Adams and Matthew Goode makes this movie what it is.
Why Not: And what it is basically can be easily seen by watching the trailer or commercials.
Projections: $10 to 12 million opening weekend and roughly $32 to 35 million total
Youth in Revolt (Dimension Films)
Starring Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, Justin Long, Jean Smart, Ari Graynor, Fred Willard, Zach Galifianakis, Mary Kay Place, Rooney Mara
Directed by Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl); Written by Gustin Nash (Charlie Bartlett), Miguel Arteta, Michael Cera
Tagline: “He Wasn’t a Rebel Until He Found His Cause.”
Plot Summary: When teenage virgin Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) is brought to his family’s trailer park vacation home, he meets and falls for the lovely Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday), who convinces him to do all sorts of misdeeds in order to win her heart.
Unfortunately, this often-delayed dark comedy based on the ’90s cult novel series by C.D. Payne might be considered the underdog of the weekend for a number of reasons, but it’s certainly not due to its star Michael Cera, whose popularity exploded in 2007 when he starred in back-to-back hit comedies Superbad and then in the Oscar-nominated Juno. Then again, teaming with Jack Black for Harold Ramis’ biblical comedy Year One, which was generally loathed by audiences, hasn’t helped Cera’s cred, and his involvement with ex-girlfriend Charlyne Yi’s indie mockumentary Paper Heart didn’t help that to do much business either. Normally, Cera would bring in younger women, but they’re not apt to be as drawn to a movie about a horny teen as they would something like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which was based on a far more popular and recent novel.
Other than Cera, the film has a couple ringers, the most prominent one being comedian Zack Galifianakis, who is hotter than ever after the success of The Hangover, something the studio is fully aware of because they feature him in commercials even though he has a fairly small part in the movie. (Having Ken Jeong and Ed Helms from The Hangover didn’t do much to help The Goods, nor did “The Hangover’s Bradley Cooper” do much for All About Steve.) The ensemble cast also includes similar small roles from the likes of Justin Long and Steve Buscemi.
In most cases, this would be sitting pretty since it’s the only straight comedy geared towards the coveted 17 to 25 year old audience, male and female, but it’s probably too quirky and odd to be an easy sell to mainstream audiences looking for comedy. And yet, it is relying far too much on Cera’s popularity and the small cult fanbase for the novel. R-Rated comedies have had their ups and downs over the years, but this one just looks too quirky and odd to appeal to mainstream audiences looking for comedy.
The movie was originally supposed to come out last spring but was then delayed twice, once from the early November release to this less than ideal January spot even after getting raves from its Toronto Film Festival premiere, making one think that Dimension doesn’t have confidence in it. Even so, they’re opening the movie in 2,000 or more theaters, although we expect business to be fairly spread out, probably focused more in college areas where its target audience will be looking for something new to see. Most will probably be fine waiting for the DVD on this one as it doesn’t seem like the type of movie people rush to see in theaters, so it’s best bet is word-of-mouth.
Why I Should See It: This dark and funny comedy really plays well on Michael Cera’s talents, so if you’re a Cera fan, you should enjoy this.
Why Not: It’s probably too odd and quirky for the fans of his more mainstream comedy work.
Projections: $4 to 6 million opening weekend and roughly $15 million total or slightly less.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Sweetgrass (Cinema Guild)
Directed by Lucien Castain-Taylor and Ilisa Barbach
Plot Summary: Follows the last trail of a family of Montana sheepherders on their final journey across the Rocky mountains to take their flock of sheep to greener pastures for the winter.
Garbage Dreams (Wynne Films)
Directed by Mai Iskander
Plot Summary: A look at three teens in the Zaballeen race of Cairo, Egypt, who have taken it upon themselves to be the city’s trash collectors and recyclers, a profession that’s become endangered by the city hiring outside contractors.
We’re starting the year with two low-key documentaries that deal with the working class in two very different areas of the world, one clearly an American story and one that takes place in a foreign culture but dealing with a topic that most of us take for granted.
Sweetgrass could be seen as that rare art form of documentary verité, Castain-Taylor’s camera acting as a silent observer as it opens on a Montana sheep ranch in their day-to-day sans commentary or narration. PETA might have a field day with at least part of this silent introduction, because it’s hard watching these poor sheep being sheared of their wool and sent back out into cold. After fifteen minutes of watching the constantly-bleating sheep, we meet the cowboys who’ll take these sheep on their journey across the Rockys, and anyone who has watched Brokeback Mountain will know at least some of what to expect from that journey.
By comparison, the production values for Garbage Dreams are far more primitive, taking a more traditional approach as it follows a group of young Egyptians who have grown up with the belief that their only place in life is to collect and recycle trash. They even go to “Recycling School” where they can learn the techniques needed to turn the garbage they collect into raw material that can be sold for profit. At one point, filmmaker Mai Iskander follows them on a school trip to Wales where they see how other cultures deal with their waste and garbage. Oddly, this mostly Cairo-based doc is actually something that might be easier to relate to for those in big cities than the sheep drive film, because it deals with the ecological issues that have become a hot topic for doc filmmakers in recent years.
The two docs couldn’t be any more different with Garbage Dreams relying on traditional talking heads to tell its story, as various individuals around the teens talk about their grave situation, while Sweetgrass acts a a fly on the wall as it quietly watches the cowboys’ trek through the mountains with no voice-over offering commentary. Everything happens as it would normally happen with nothing being instigated merely for the sake of making an interesting film. It’s actually quite relaxing to watch their trek through the wildness without commentary, showing the rigorous trip these men have taken for many years, each time taking a toil on them both physically and emotionally.
Neither topic might sound very interesting on paper, but both films successfully show another side of society that feels foreign and unfamiliar at first, but one that’s infinitely more interesting when put into context of our own lives and what we take for granted. It would seem completely odd for any of us to dream of being a garbage collector, but for these people, it’s that or nothing, and you might be surprised how much joy they have in their lives despite what may seem like a sad existence to us. In both cases, watching people do tough jobs that are crucial to their way of life makes for fascinating viewing, and in both cases, long-standing traditions are coming to an end so it was fortuitous the filmmakers had the wherewithal to capture it. With Garbage Days, you might feel the movie doesn’t offer much of a solution to the problems faced by Egypt’s Zaballeen, but you do walk away feeling as if the younger generation can make a difference even as they continue the family tradition.
Those looking for two very different views of the world should try to catch these docs when they both open on Wednesday in New York, Sweetgrass at the Film Forum and Garbage Dreams just down the street at the IFC Center.
Also in Limited Release:
Wonderful World (Magnolia Pictures)
Starring Matthew Broderick, Sanaa Lathan, Michael K. Williams, Jodelle Ferland, Philip Baker Hall, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Patrick Carney, Ally Walker, Zacharias Foppe, Christy Reese, Cristen Barnes, Mia Ford, Paul T. Taylor, James Burton, John Hambrick
Written and directed by Josh Goldin (directorial debut from the writer of Darkman)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Tagline: “If the glass is half empty, at least you can’t drown.”
Plot Summary: Ben Singer (Matthew Broderick), a divorced unemployed loser who is unhappy with how his life has played out, find a new perspective when his Senagalese roommate (Michael Kenneth Williams) falls sick and his beautiful sister (Sanaa Lathan) moves in with Ben, bringing hope into his world of cynicism.
Mini-Review: Josh Goldin’s debut is a pleasant enough indie dramedy acting as a star vehicle for Matthew Broderick as a dour guy living a fairly mundane life. While you may think you know where it’s going from similar movies, there are some interesting surprises with what Broderick does with what might not seem like the most spectacular role. Within the first ten to twelve minutes, we know everything we need to know about his character Ben Singer, who seems fairly well settled into his unhappiness when we meet him, as he spends his time at a proofreading job he hates, playing chess with his philosophizing Sengalese roommate, played by Michael K. Williams, or dealing with his ex-wife. It’s the type of movie where not a lot happens at first as we watch Ben’s life being put to test with Ben barely reacting to any of it. In that sense, it has a premise similar to the Coens’ “A Serious Man” but its tone is more on par with Thomas McCarthy’s “The Visitor,” including a similar plot device that introduces Ben to his roommate’s visiting sister, played by a heavily-accented Sanaa Lathan. Once she enters the picture, the movie becomes more about their romance, which is definitely the most enjoyable part of the movie, before even that gets mired in Ben’s negativity and the film hits another downward turn and his pessimism takes over.
The performances are generally decent although very few of the scenes really pop, Goldin’s dialogue being delivered flatly and without much emotion from the entire cast, especially Broderick himself. Besides the romantic section, some of the better moments involve the time Singer spends with his daughter, played by Jodelle Ferland, and his odd interaction with Philip Baker Hall, who represents “The Man.”
Goldin does a fine job telling this story, embellishing his strong script with a variety of music, including some lovely acoustic tunes and traditional African instruments, which does wonders for setting the mood. He also uses the movie as a soapbox to rant about various things on his mind, using Ben as his mouthpiece, and not all of what Ben says seems to have much relevance to the overall story. (Of course, the Weekend Warrior took some deference to the rant against box office reporting.) At times, it’s hard to enjoy because it gets so dour, but the whole thing is saved by the last act in which Ben travels to Senegal to tie up some lose ends. This is also where Broderick’s performance starts to take off. There’s a good chance this movie will play better with an audience, but generally, it offers an enjoyable look into one man’s emotional journey even if it doesn’t offer anything that new or indispensable in the grand scheme of things. Rating: 7/10
Crazy on the Outside (Freestyle Releasing) – Comedian Tim Allen makes his directorial debut with this comedy (of course) starring himself (of course) as an ex-convict trying to start a second life with his sister (Sigourney Weaver) and her family, taking a temporary job at a fast food chain, with hopes to reignite with an old flame (Julie Bowen) and reviving his late father’s business. It opens in select cities on Friday.
Bitch Slap (Freestyle Releasing) – This tribute and spoof of exploitation flicks from the ’60s and ’70s director Rick Jacobson (“Baywatch,” “Xena: Warrior Princess”) follows three women from different walks of life: a stripper (Julia Voth), a businesswoman (Erin Cummings) and an ex-convict (America Olivo) as they plan to steal $200 million in diamonds from a crime lord. It opens in select cities.
Mini-Review: For those who wondered what “Thelma & Louise” might have been like if directed in the post-”Grindhouse” world of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, this attempted cross between “Charlie’s Angels” and “Sin City” is not exactly going to be the female empowerment flick for the new decade, since so much of it seems to exist merely for titillation (with emphasis on that first syllable). In that sense, it acts almost as a counterpoint to the recent “Women in Trouble” only taken to the most ridiculous extreme with a similar look and feel as a Rob Zombie music video, and about as much depth. Apparently, the filmmakers think that it all it takes is gratuitous T ‘n’ A., lots of swearing and a bit of blood and violence to separate horny guys from their hard-earned cash.
Not to say that a movie about three sexy scantily-clad women in the desert is necessarily a bad thing and the three actresses look great and have a strong screen presence, though their performances are erratic with a lot of overacting, and the characterizations are inconsistent, like none of them are sure who their characters are supposed to be as they play up every single misogynistic stereotype while spitting out mostly bad dialogue. Even so, by comparison, most of the supporting characters are blatant B-movie stereotypes with the worst of them being a Bai Ling wannabe named Kinki.
The influence of B-movies on Jacobson’s debut is inherent, but the imprint left by the likes of Rodriguez are far more blatant from Jacobson’s use of CG green screen backgrounds to save money. The lower budget shows as the green screen is shabbily done and the characters don’t blend well with their backgrounds. Jacobson does use some cool techniques although he flagrantly overuses the split screen once it’s introduced.
It’s clear that whomever wrote this was trying way too hard to be clever by flashing back to all sorts of inane scenarios from the trio’s past ala “Lost,” but it just gets more and more ridiculous as more ideas are thrown into the mix. At least the filmmakers show amazing restraint by waiting for nearly 43 minutes before throwing in a gratuitous lesbian scene between two of the hot women. Later, there’s a flashback to a scene of lesbian nuns. All of it’s done for the sake of humor, but very little of it is very funny, and it makes for a nearly incoherent experience. The whole thing leads up to a fairly decent fight scene between the three leads but Jacobson doesn’t seem to know how to end the movie, so he tacks on another entirely superfluous shootout scene. The movie isn’t nearly as bad as that schlock “Zombie Strippers” but it’s also not as good as even the worst from Neveldine/Taylor (let alone anything from Rodriguez or Tarantino). In any other world, this would be getting a DVD or Syfy-only release, and Jacobson’s talents would be better utilized directing Playboy Channel interstitials. Rating: 4/10
Pyaar Impossible (Yash Raj Films) – Uday Chopra (Dhoom) wrote and stars in this Bollywood romantic comedy about a geek who is paired with the college beauty he has lusted over by chance. It opens in select cities.
In Search of Memory (Icarus Films) – Pete Seger’s documentary looks at the life and work of neuroscientist Eric Kandel who won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his research on the brain’s ability to store memories. It opens at the IFC Center in New York on Friday.
Waiting for Armageddon (First Run Features) – This doc from Kate Davis, Franco Sacchi and David Heilbroner about Evangelicals who believe Bible prophecy about the return of Jesus Christ and how it might affect relationships between the United States and the Middle East. It opens at the Cinema Village on Friday.
Next week, we’re celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and he’ll get two movies as presents, Denzel Washington in the dystopian future action-thriller The Book of Eli (Warner Bros.) from the Brothers Hughes, and Jackie Chan in the family action-comedy The Spy Next Door (Lionsgate). Also, Peter Jackson’s fantasy-thriller The Lovely Bones (Paramount) opens nationwide.
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas