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.
If you get bored reading everything below, also check out the first part of my Oscar predictions in the acting races here. I hope to have Part 2 up later this week.
1. Avatar (20th Century Fox) – $29.5 million -30% (up 1.5 million)
2. Tooth Fairy (20th Century Fox) – $19.3 million N/A (same)
3. Legion (Screen Gems) – $17.4 million N/A (same)
4. The Book of Eli (Warner Bros.) – $15.5 million -53% (down .2 million)
5. The Lovely Bones (Paramount) – $9.3 million -45% (down .1 million)
6. Extraordinary Measures (CBS Films) – $8.5 million N/A (same)
7. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (20th Century Fox) – $6.6 million -43% (down .2 million)
8. The Spy Next Door (Lionsgate) – $5.4 million -45% (down .1 million)
9. Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros.) – $5.2 million -47% (same)
10. It’s Complicated (Universal) – $4.8 million -38% (same)
With James Cameron’s Avatar running rampant over the box office for the past month, having just hit the $500 million mark yesterday, three new movies open this weekend, trying to do what none of the last ten movies have been able to do and knock it out of the top position. Will any of them succeed? No, probably not, but there are two movies that will try their best to at least bring in some of the people looking for something new to see this weekend.
Oddly, the absolutely idiotic-looking family comedy Tooth Fairy (20th Century Fox) starring Dwayne “Formerly The Rock” Johnson probably stands the best chance at coming close with its easy-to-market concept that kids should appreciate, especially after Jackie Chan failed to entice that audience with The Spy Next Door last weekend. It’s essentially going to be shooting for family audiences with younger kids only, because even Johnson’s older male fanbase will want nothing to do with this new career choice.
Those guys will more likely be checking out Legion (Screen Gems), the edge action-thriller with a heavenly bent starring Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, and Tyrese. The commercials and trailer have generally been selling it as a video game-inspired creature feature ala the “Resident Evil” and “Underworld” movies that have done so well for Screen Gems, so there should be some interest.
It may be close between those two movies, but our instincts tell us that the family film will be filling a niche that Legion doesn’t necessarily fill. With Jackie Chan’s movie failing, maybe American kids have finally gotten some good taste and they’ll skip Tooth Fairy as well, but probably not.
Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser star in the enigmatic medical drama Extraordinary Measures (CBS Films), which might pull in some older audiences due to its star power, especially with the amount of time since Ford has been in a high-profile movie, but its odd title and premise, one that barely registers from the commercials, will make it a tougher sell.
This weekend last year, the prequel to the hit vampire vs. werewolf franchise–the one that isn’t Twilight—Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (Sony/Screen Gems) opened with $20.6 million, not enough to dethrone Kevin James’ comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Sony) from the top spot. Also, the long-delayed fantasy film Inkheart (New Line/WB) starring an ensemble cast, including Paul Bettany and Brendan Fraser from two of this week’s offerings, opened in seventh place with a dismal $7.6 million in 2,655 theaters. The Top 10 grossed $118.6 million which is around what this week’s movies should roughly end up with.
THE BATTLE CRY
Some of you reading this might be looking forward to reading mini-reviews of some of the movies opening this week, but sadly, none of them have been screened for anyone in New York just yet.
On Friday morning, while most entertainment journalists and movie critics will be in Park City, Utah, catching their first movie at the Sundance Film Festival (see below), the Weekend Warrior will probably be sitting in a private screening room catching what they call a “courtesy screening” of the new Screen Gems thriller Legion. It’s a pain getting up early and dealing with rush hour to get to midtown for a movie that probably wasn’t made to be seen first thing in the morning. Mind you, I don’t want this to sound like me griping that I don’t get to see a movie before the general public because I’m well aware of how lucky I am to have this job that allows that. No, I’m thinking more practically and how this practice of not screening movies is becoming more detrimental to a movie’s success than helpful, which is counter to the reasoning for not screening it in advance.
In the last few years, we’ve written a few times about studios not screening movies for critics or why they don’t feel reviews are necessary. Times are changing though, and major studios have been screening their movies, good or bad, even if they’ll often wait until Wednesday night to cut down on the number of negative advance reviews. At one point, Lionsgate never screened their movies until opening day but that practice seems to have quelled as both Daybreakers and last week’s family film The Spy Next Door received numerous early screenings. I’m sure that at least with the latter, they must have known that critics wouldn’t like it. (See last week’s “Battle Cry” for some reasons why.)
Screen Gems used to be in the same boat, rarely screening movies not as the exception but the rule. It’s easy to understand why movies like the “Underworld” or “Resident Evil” sequels don’t need reviews to help awareness, because they’re well-established franchises, and those who’ve seen the other movies in theaters or on DVD will likely check the movie out in theaters. On the other hand, something like Legion or like Nimrod Antal’s Armored a few months back, no one has any idea what they’re about and having any sort of reviews might help raise awareness with people who might not have known about them. (We can probably assume that they’ll screen some of their other spring/winter releases like the drama Dear John and Chris Rocks comedy Death at a Funeral.)
I’m actually interested in checking out Legion because all the commercials and trailers make it seem like an interesting premise, which is a testament to its marketing. So here you have a critic who doesn’t instinctively think the movie looks bad and doesn’t have the usual attitude “Oh, it’s a January movie, so it’s probably bad” then I find out they’re not screening it until opening day, so what am I supposed to think? It’s very hard not to take that info negatively and assuming the worst. Even so, not every movie that doesn’t screen until opening day is necessarily bad either. Some movies (like Armored) might have stood a better chance at the box office if more people knew about them, and immediately discounting critics as a way of getting the word out to potential audiences is a disservice to all parties, including the filmmakers who spent time making those movies.
As I’ve said before, when you have a movie that costs as much as these movies do, it’s not that big an investment to book a screening on Tuesday or Wednesday of opening week in major cities, fill it with punters i.e. normal moviegoers who show up on a first-come first-seated basis, who will react to what’s on screen and help establish the right atmosphere for the critics in attendance. It’s a much better environment for a genre movie than a screening room, that’s for sure, and this benefits the movie in a number of ways: A.) Anyone who likes the movie they saw for free will tell their friends; B.) You’re more likely to get better reviews since critics won’t be seeing your movie prepared for the worst; B.) Just having a review in prominent places lets people know the movie is being released and then they can decide whether it sounds like something that would interest them, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative review. Awareness is the biggest key to a movie’s success, which is why so many companies spend money on marketing and promotion, doing big Comic-Con presentations, flying journalists to set. But that isn’t enough and there are just as many moviegoers who do want to see or hear opinions about a movie before paying to see them as those who go see whatever they want regardless of reviews. There’s also the fact that many TV commercials are never seen because the advent of DVR and Tivo allows people to fast-forward over them.
The sad truth is that with some genre movies, the studio generally wants people to see it as soon as possible before bad word of mouth kills it, and not having screenings until opening day limits the number of bad reviews that might detract them from seeing it in the first place. The general mindset is that critics and reviews won’t do anything to help genre movies like them anyway, but if that’s the case, why are studios still afraid of letting people writing about movies see them early and let their readers know what they think? These days, there are plenty of critics and bloggers who appreciate decent horror and genre films, when done well, so why not try to get them behind your movie?
The bottom line is that if studios aren’t confident enough to show their wares to critics in advance, why should you as a moviegoer think the movie is good enough for you to waste your money on? See, that’s the thing. Movies that don’t get screened are starting to feel the pinch. Even what should have been a sure-fire hit like the sequel Crank: High Voltage bombed without any early support from the genre crowd, and that might be changing some minds about whether to screen movies or not. Would Daybreakers even have made $15 million its opening weekend if there weren’t reviews saying that “yeah, the movie is actually as cool as it’s advertising”?
So yeah, on Friday morning I’ll probably be getting up early to see the movie, sitting in a clinical screening room with a bunch of other critics who are similarly moody about the situation… and how can anyone expect to get any sort of good reviews in that situation? I think that if studios can’t be more confident in the movies they’re releasing, instead of hiding them and hoping for the best by making cool commercials, maybe they should spend the time and money to actually make better quality films worthy of the $8 to 12 moviegoers are shelling out to see them without any sort of advanced informed opinion.
Legion (Screen Gems)
Starring Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, Jon Tenney, Charles S. Dutton, Lucas Black, Kate Walsh, Doug Jones, Adrianne Palicki, Kevin Durand, Willa Holland
Written and directed by Scott Stewart (visual FX guy from The Orphanage who did the FX on Iron Man, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies and more) with Peter Schink (a veteran Hollywood editor)
Genre: Action, Horror, Thriller
Tagline: “When the last angel falls, the fight for mankind beings.”
Plot Summary: A group of misfit strangers trapped in a desert diner get caught up in a war between mankind and God’s legion of angels with the help of a former Archangel named Michael (Paul Bettany).
Mini-Review (See this week’s “Battle Cry”)
Continuing the January tradition of lower-budget genre flicks trying to bring in the coveted 17 to 25 male audience, we have this high concept R-rated thriller from FX man Scott Stewart which will try to sell itself based on the combination of action and creatures, a formula that has worked very well for Screen Gems with some of their other franchises. This one involves a spooky premise involving good and bad angels in a war to destroy Mankind, which is reminiscent of B-movies like The Prophecy starring Christopher Walken, which didn’t do huge business but did enough to warrant a sequel. It’s trying to sell the guys on the action and the creatures, but one can imagine this sort of premise might appeal to the spiritually-minded folks in the Bible Belt as well in a weird way, similar to last week’s The Book of Eli.
Legion has a fairly diverse cast, headlined by Paul Bettany and Dennis Quaid, although it doesn’t seem like either of them is really being highlighted in the commercials rather than just being a part of the ensemble. Quaid certainly is the bigger pull having starred in movies for over two decades. Last year, he starred in the hit G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra followed by the sci-fi thriller bomb Pandorum. On the other hand, Bettany has mainly been appearing in smaller movies in recent years; currently he can be seen in The Young Victoria opposite Emily Blunt and this week, he’s also playing Charles Darwin in Creation with his wife Jennifer Connelly. In fact, Bettany’s biggest movie to date is The Da Vinci Code with Tom Hanks, a similarly faith-based character, and before that, he starred opposite Russell Crowe in the Oscar-nominated Master and Commander and the Oscar winner A Beautiful Mind. Those were a long time ago and Bettany could really use a hit if he wants to continue being taken seriously as a leading actor. The ensemble cast also includes Tyrese Gibson, who has starred in numerous genre films including both “Transformers” movies; sadly, him and Charles Dutton seem to be the draws for the urban audiences who might go see a movie like this.
The movie was originally slated for 2009 but sometime at the end of 2008, it was pushed all the way back to this weekend, which rarely bodes well for a movie. Chances are Screen Gems just wanted to replicate the success of the “Underworld” movies, the two sequels having been released on this same January weekend. The strange thing is that the poster shows Bettany as a machine gun wielding former angel and the early trailer focused on him, but the most recent commercials show him just briefly and they barely touch upon the premise, instead focusing on the creatures (including one played by the always great Doug Jones from “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Hellboy II: the Golden Army”).
Even so, they have a fairly solid campaign of commercials and trailers in place that play up on the horror elements of the action movie, similar to the studio’s highly-successful “Resident Evil” and “Underworld” series, but also playing up the elements that make it look like the underrated thriller Identity, which involved a group of people in a hotel dealing with similarly odd circumstances. It’s clearly being targeted towards the 15 to 25-year-old male, particularly the video game crowd, having run the trailer on XBox Live where it could get the most attention among that audience. It’s very likely Screen Gems are hoping this could prove just as fruitful in terms of franchise potential, and they’re already releasing Stewart’s next movie Priest, also starring Bettany, a vampire flick based on a popular Japanese comic.
This is the third R-rated “apocalypse” thriller in a row after Daybreakers and Denzel Washington’s The Book of Eli, which should still be somewhat of a draw in its second weekend. Screen Gems might find many male moviegoers are already burnt out on genre fare, which may be why it’s getting a relatively moderate release compared to some of their other films, roughly 2400-2500 theaters; the low theater count shouldn’t hurt that much but it certainly won’t help.
Why I Should See It: It looks like a pretty cool premise with some interesting creatures and action.
Why Not: This is exactly the kind of cool-looking movie that Screen Gems is great at marketing but ends up being crap, hence this week’s Battle Cry.
Projections: $17 to 19 million opening weekend and roughly $43 million total.
Tooth Fairy (20th Century Fox)
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Ashley Judd, Billy Crystal, Julie Andrews, Stephen Merchant, Ryan Sheckler
Directed by Michael Lembeck (The Santa Clause 2, The Santa Clause 3, Connie and Carla); Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (City Slickers, Mr. Saturday Night, Robots, Fever Pitch), Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia (“That ’70s Show,” “3rd Rock from the Sun”), Randi Mayem Singer (“Jack & Jill,” Mrs. Doubtfire)
Genre: Comedy, Family
Tagline: “You Can’t Handle the Tooth.”
Plot Summary: Derek Thompson (Dwayne Johnson) is a tough minor league hockey player known as “The Tooth Fairy” for his habit of knocking out opposing players’ teeth, but when he disappoints a young fan, he’s sentenced to work for a week as a real tooth fairy, a job that seems ill-suited towards Derek’s tough demeanor.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
With Jackie Chan’s The Spy Next Door failing to capture the interest of families with kids last week, that leaves room this weekend for another high concept family comedy, this one in the vein of Elf or the “Santa Clause” movies starring former wrestler Dwayne Johnson in a fairly silly role that’s geared towards younger kids who still believe in the tooth fairy and the adults whose parents never debunked the myth for them. The humor inherent in a tough guy like Johnson playing the Tooth Fairy doesn’t require a lot of thought or brain power to sell or market, and kids who see the commercials will generally want to see this; the question is whether their parents will set them straight or let them continue thinking that the tooth fairy is any more real than wrestling.
Having come from the world of professional wrestling, Johnson was mainly given tough guy roles in action movies until people started realizing he was good at comedy from movies like Be Cool and The Rundown, as well as appearances on “Saturday Night Live.” For whatever reason, Johnson decided to branch out and do family films starting with Disney’s hit The Game Plan followed last year by Race to Witch Mountain, which didn’t do nearly as well.
Johnson is surrounded by a number of popular family favorites including Billy Crystal, star of the “City Slicker” movies as well as the voice of Mike in Pixar’s Monsters, Inc., and the legendary Julie Andrews, who has appeared in so many Disney family favorites over the years from Marry Poppins to the “Princess Diaries” movies that her role in this might bring enough credibility to parents who grew up with her movies to give this the benefit of the doubt. Billy Crystal also brings something to the movie, especially considering how long it’s been since we’ve seen him in a movie. Again, it’s all about convincing parents there’s a reason for them to endure the movie for the sake of their kids. The real question is what the hell is Ashley Judd doing in this movie? Once a reliable box office draw, the actresses’ name appears in the ads briefly but we don’t get any impression of what she’s doing in the movie except earning a much-needed paycheck after doing a number of smaller indie movies.
More than the casting, the key to the film’s success is as much about the reality that the Tooth Fairy is a well-known mythic figure among kids and they can easily understand the fish-out-of-water humor of Johnson taking that role, again similar to Will Ferrell as an elf or Tim Allen as Santa Clause.
20th Century Fox has done a decent job marketing family comedies like Ben Stiller’s Night at the Museum, the “Ice Age” and “Alvin and the Chipmunk” movies, and this one seems to be just as easy to sell even if opening in January might limit how much it makes on Friday and Sunday. It’s odd that Fox didn’t just push the movie forward and release it over the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend because it wouldn’t have found much competition in The Spy Next Door. Unlike last year’s Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which didn’t look nearly this stupid, the movie will mainly be geared towards families with young kids, though it also seems innocuous enough to do well in the middle of America and suburbs more than in the big cities. One assumes that Fox included the trailer for this on their latest hit, the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” sequel, keeping the circle of stupid unbroken, and they’re opening the movie ultrawide.
Even with that going for them, Fox has had a number of big bombs with family films opening in over 3,000 theaters like Eddie Murphy’s Meet Dave, and there’s little to say they can open this movie without the support of older audiences, which will certainly make it a tougher sell. It should do enough business on Saturday to have a solid showing this weekend and with no other kids’ movies on the horizon, it could keep bringing in business well into February.
Why I Should See It: Because you always wondered what a wrestler might look like when dressed up like the tooth fairy?
Why Not: Really? You wanted to see The Rock playing the Tooth Fairy? Who ARE you people?
Projections: $18 to 20 million opening weekend (probably a little more) and roughly $65 to 70 million total.
Extraordinary Measures (CBS Films)
Starring Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser, Keri Russell, Courtney B. Vance
Directed by Tom Vaughn (Starter for 10, What Happens in Vegas); Written by Robert Nelson Jacobs (The Shipping News, The Water Horse, Chocolat)
Tagline: “Don’t Hope for a Miracle. Make One.”
Plot Summary: John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) is a successful businessman whose career gets sidelined when two of his children contract a fatal disease, so he teams with brilliant scientist Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford) to form a company that can develop the drug necessary to save his children, even as they’re forced to fight against the medical establishment.
Mini-Review Anyone who thinks it’s hard to get a movie financed and made obviously has never tried to research and develop the cure for a potentially terminal disease. That’s one of the main things we learn from this glorified Lifetime Channel movie that makes it abundantly clear what a worthwhile endeavor curing disease can be; why anyone thought making a movie about such an achievement is another matter altogether.
The overly simplified plot is that Brendan Fraser is John Crowley, the father of two ailing kids with Pompe Disease (a type of Multiple Sclerosis) who backs Harrison Ford’s Dr. Robert Stonehill, the scientist working on an enzyme that can potentially save the lives of his kids. The two of them team-up to try to find a cure, while finding themselves constantly having to fight against the system and the scientific community due to their unconventional approach.
Most of the movie then deals with Stonehill trying to find the right enzyme to create the “special medicine” to save Crowley’s kids – the name of the drug masked to prevent the movie from being seen as a two-hour infomercial. It often suffers from the unfortunate trend in Hollywood movies these days of throwing obstacles at the protagonist–in this case doubtful suits ready to pull financing at the drop of a hat–then resolving those problems a few minutes later before they could bring any added drama or tension to the situation.
Ford plays Stonehill like a cranky and eccentric researcher with his head constantly buried in algorithms and formulas, usually while listening to classic rock, only raising his head to bark something at anyone who disturbs him, usually Fraser. In fact, much of the movie revolves around scenes in which Fraser and Ford see which one of them can chew the most scenery with their overacting, a battle that for the most part, Ford always wins. Despite the grim topic, there’s a surprising amount of humor but not all of it’s intentional, since much of it comes from Ford’s over-the-top growling at anyone who questions his studies.
If nothing else, the subject matter is handled more tastefully than “My Sister’s Keeper” without the questionable plot device that leaves you feeling yucky, and Tom Vaughan does a competent job with material that doesn’t really lend itself to entertaining storytelling, often using a fuzzy filtered look seemingly done to make Harrison Ford look younger.
Whether or not you know the true story on which this is based, you can probably figure out that no one is going to make you watch as Crowley’s kids die a slow and painful death, so the ending is suitably uplifting. It doesn’t help make up for the fact that most of the rest of the movie is dull, bland and lifeless.
With the other two movies targeting the guys and the kids, that just leaves the older moviegoers, particularly women–see how that works out each week?–so here we have a medical drama inspired by a true story and based on Geeta Anand’s book about said story, which features the return of Brendan Fraser to more adult-oriented dramatic fare and the first high-profile movie from Harrison Ford since his return as Indiana Jones a few years back. It looks like they’re attempting to create a new movie genre, which we can only possibly label a “buddy drama.”
Ford certainly will be the bigger draw of the two actors, and we haven’t really seen him in this kind of role. His last movie Crossing Over was given an extremely limited release after being delayed for years, and it ended up bombing less than a year after his return to “Indiana Jones.” His movie before that, the Warner Bros. thriller Firewall (with Paul Bettany from this week’s other movie Legion) did decent business but grossed less than $50 million. Fraser has generally gotten better notices when he appeared in movies like this, as seen in Gods and Monsters, The Quiet American and the Oscar-winning drama Crash, but he’s counterbalanced them with very silly family movies that generally are far more successful. Oddly, the movie is directed by Tom Vaughn, who has generally done comedy before this, most notably with the Cameron Diaz-Ashton Kutcher hit What Happens in Vegas, and it co-stars Kerri Russell, an actress whose popularity has been growing among women, which may be why she’s started appearing in later commercials.
This is the first release from the fledgling CBS Films who have been promoting the hell out of it with literally non-stop commercials everywhere, none of which really give a very good idea what the movie is about. Maybe that’s because the actual premise looks about as entertaining as Flash of Genius, Universal’s movie about the invention of the windshield wiper starring Greg Kinnear, or Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant!, a movie about the corn syrup industry. Chances are that Ford and Fraser’s star power will help get older audiences interested in seeing this, even if they don’t know fully what it’s about.
One good thing going for the movie is that it’s PG, which gives adults another option to the violence inherent in all the R-rated movies currently in theaters. There is certainly an audience out there for tamer movie fare, something that probably helped The Blind Side do so much business, and wisely, the marketing has tried to draw comparisons between this true story and that one.
CBS are giving their first movie a moderately wide release, but we still don’t expect a huge opening, probably somewhere between $6 and 10 million, which wouldn’t be bad, especially considering what a difficult sell a movie like this would normally be even with big stars like those involved.
Why I Should See It: Don’t you want to see if Harrison Ford can help Brendan Fraser’s children before they die?
Why Not: No, I don’t either.
Projections: $7 to 9 million opening weekend and roughly $25 million total.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Soundtrack for a Revolution (Louverture Films)
Starring John Legend, Wyclef Jean, The Roots, Joss Stone, Blind Boys of Alabama, Mary Mary, Richie Havens, Anthony Hamilton, Angie Stone, The Carlton Reese Memorial Unity Choir
Directed by Bill Guttentag, Dan Sturman (Nanking)
Genre: Documentary, Music
Plot Summary: This documentary explores the Civil Rights Movement through the songs sung to help them get through all of the adversity and violence they faced at the hands of the authorities while trying to end segregation in the South during the early ’60s.
Here is another great doc from the Tribeca Film Festival, which sadly I didn’t have a chance to see at the actual festival. Thanks to it making the Oscar short doc list, I was able to catch it at a special presentation at Tribeca Cinemas for the documentaries that have moved onto the next round of Oscars. I’d be very surprised if this new movie from Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman, the filmmakers behind the fantastic documentary Nanking, didn’t get in with this musical look at the Civil Rights Movement through some of the songs sung to keep up morale during the brutal times faced by blacks in the South during the early ’60s as they fought for their rights.
The doc is made up of film footage from the era showing the marches and the violence they faced, combined with interviews with those who were there. It covers a lot of ground in terms of the various incidents and protests that ultimately led up to the famous march to Selma, and like with Nanking, it’s an incredibly moving experience to watch the struggles everyone went through, all framed by the protest songs of the time and what they represented to those in the trenches. Music producer Corey Smith has assembled an amazing array of musical artists like John Legend, The Roots, Wyclef Jean, Joss Stone, Richie Havens to perform their own interpretations of those songs, which adds another layer to the film.
Once it gets to the section dealing with Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, it gets somewhat redundant to Adam Pertofsky’s short doc “The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306,” which was nominated for an Oscar last year, maybe because it features a lot of the same people saying the same things. Even so, the timing of the film couldn’t be better, released so soon after Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and it’s a great way to remember why we celebrate that date in the first place.
It’s definitely one of the strongest docs I’ve seen in some time, and hopefully, it will find better distribution to get out there, because it’s not just informative, but also quite educational for those who weren’t around at the time.
Soundtrack for a Revolution will play at the BAM Rose Cinemas starting Friday and will hopefully play in other regions after that.
Unfortunately, the Weekend Warrior won’t be attending this year’s annual festival in Park City, Utah, but we couldn’t completely ignore it in this week’s column, because it is the premiere film festival for the independent movies we’re likely to be covering in this column over the next year or so.
The cool thing is that for the first time, you won’t have to go to Park City to experience some of the festival as IFC’s Sundance Selects will be bringing three movies premiering at this year’s festival to Pay-Per-View starting on Friday. The three movies are Daniel Grou’s revenge thriller Seven Days about a surgeon who seeks revenge on the man who raped and murdered his daughter by capturing him and torturing him in many gruesome ways. The Montreal import is a lot more layered and clever than these types of movies normally are, and it mainly works due to the performances by Claude Legault and Rémy Girard as doctor and “patient” respectively. Grou, a music director known as Podz does a good job elevating the material beyond the normal “torture porn” movie, especially in showing how the desire for revenge makes the surgeon no better than his daughter’s killer.
The Shock Doctrine from Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross (The Road to Guantanamo is a doc based on the bestselling book by Naomi Klein that explores how government uses “disaster capitalism” to gain control on the populace, how introducing shock to a system allows governments to introduce new ideas to people how might not necessarily be open to them. It ties together the torture techniques used at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib with disparate events such as various coups staged in South America to more current events like the attack on the World Trade Center, the Iraq War, and the 2008 stock market crash. It’s a bit long-winded and unfocused, and covers a lot of ground that’s readily available in other documentaries, but there is a lot of food for thought in the way the filmmakers tie it together using Klein’s lectures.
(I haven’t seen the third movie, Daddy Longlegs from the Safdie Brothers, but I do know it’s about a single father who decides to finally face up to his responsibilities.)
I’ve also seen three movies produced by the Duplas Brothers: Bass Ackwards, Linas Phillips’ indie road comedy, which will bypass normal theatrical releases and be available on Video on Demand and online download starting February 1; The Freebie, the directorial debut from actress Katie Aselton co-starring Dax Shepard as a married couple who agree to give their spouses one night to seek sex with another in order to get it out of their system; the comedy Lovers of Hate from Brian Poyser involves two brothers’ conflict over one of their wives, which culminates at a luxurious condo in Park City, Utah. I actually can’t review these at this point, but we’ll have an interview with Mark Duplass later in the week so you can learn more about how they got involved with those movies as producers, as well as some of the other things they’ve been working on, including their own new movie premiering at Sundance, Cyrus, starring John C. Reily, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill and Catherine Keener, which we’re dying to see, but we’ll probably have to wait until Fox Searchlight figure out when to release it.
In the meantime, the Sundance Film Festival runs from Thursday, January 21 to January 31, and hopefully we’ll hear from others what is worth checking out later in the year.
Also in Limited Release:
Creation (Palladin) – Real-life husband and wife Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly portray Charles Darwin and his wife Emma in Jon Amiel’s drama about the writing of his most famous work, “On the Origin of Species,” which proved his intense research into his theories of evolution. At the same time, Darwin and his wife are trying to come to terms with the death of their eldest daughter Annie. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
A Room and a Half (Seagull Films) – Russian animator Andrey Khrzhanovsky uses various techniques to explore the life of Russian poet Joseph Brodsky’s exile from St. Petersburg, Russia in 1972 which led to him winning the Nobel Prize in literature and becoming American poet laureate in 1991. It opens at the Film Forum in New York on Wednesday.
Drool (Strand Releasing) – Nancy Kissam’s Southern -based romantic comedy stars Laura Harring as Anora Fleece, a housewife who deals with abuse from her husband (Oded Fehr) and children until an African-American woman moves into town selling cosmetics and the two become close, much to the anger of her husband who she accidentally shoots, forcing the two women to go on a “family road trip” to bury him. After premiering at last year’s Slamdance Film Festival, it opens in L.A on Friday.
The Girl on the Train (Strand Releasing) – André (Wild Reeds) Téchiné’s drama stars Emilie Dequenn as a jobless young woman living with her mother Louise (Catherine Deneuve) whose involvement with an aggressive young man named Franck (Nicolas Devauchelle) leads her to be put into a number of situations that leads to even more problems. Based on the French play, it opens Friday in New York at the IFC Center and the City Cinemas 1,2,3, then in L.A. on February 19 at three more theaters.
The Paranoids (Oscilloscope Pictures) – Argentina’s Gabriel Medina tells the tale of ultra-paranoid 30ish screenwriter Luciano (Daniel Hendler from “Lost Embrace”) who discovers that his childhood friend Manuel has become a successful TV producer with a hit Spanish television show called “The Paranoids” whose lead character is based on him. It opens in New York at the Cinema Village and L.A. on Friday.
To Save a Life (Samuel Goldwyn Films) This Christian drama directed by cinematographer Brian Baugh stars Randy Wayne (“Sons and Daughters”) as Jake Taylor, a popular guy who has found great success in college until his dejected childhood friend (Robert Bailey Jr.)–notice a trend here?–shows up on campus with a gun, completely changing Jake’s worldview. It will open in limited release in select cities on Friday.
House of Numbers (Kalleidoscope Media) – Brent Leung’s documentary that explores the origins of HIV and AIDS and why there isn’t a cure after 28 years, talking to most of the major players on both sides of the war to find that cure. It opens in Portland at the Regal Tower Stadium 10 on Friday.
Next week, two new movies will divide up audiences with the return of Mel Gibson in the revenge thriller Edge of Darkness (Warner Bros.) while Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel star in the long-delayed romantic comedy When in Rome (Disney/Touchstone).
Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas