The Weekend Warrior: March 26 – 28

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: Yeah, we’re sucking it up on our earlier week prediction on “Dragon.” Between all the good reviews (including our own) plus a much higher theater count than we expected, more along the line of other DWA flicks, not to mention the advance sales for IMAX 3D and the higher ticket prices, it should do more than $40 million for sure. We also might have been a bit bullish on Hot Tub Time Machine though we still think it will find an audience.

1. How to Train Your Dragon (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $42.8* million N/A (up 7.4 million!!!)

(*Sorry, this was what the final prediction should have been changed to.)

2. Hot Tub Time Machine (MGM) – $20.7 million N/A (down 2.7 million)

3. Alice in Wonderland (Walt Disney Pictures) – $18.8 million -45% (same)

4. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (20th Century Fox) – $13.3 million -40% (down .7 million)

5. The Bounty Hunter (Sony) – $11.5 million -45% (down .3 million)

6. She’s Out of My League (Paramount/DreamWorks) – $3.5 million -38% (down .1 million)

7. Repo Men (Universal) – $3.2 million -48% (up .1 million)

8. Green Zone (Universal) – $2.9 million -53% (up .1 million)

9. Shutter Island (Paramount) – $2.7 million -40% (down .2 million and one place)

10. Avatar (20th Century Fox) – $2.2 million -45% (up .1 million)

Weekend Overview

As the month of March comes to a close, we’re presented with two movies that might finally end Tim Burton’s run at the top with Alice in Wonderland, but even though it’s the likeliest to be the #1 movie of the weekend, DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon (Paramount) probably won’t have the type of opening of last year’s Monsters vs. Aliens (see below) or other movies from the “House that Shrek Built.” It has a solid voice cast that includes Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler and others, but the trailers and premise haven’t done much to excite anyone but the youngest of kids, which ultimately will keep it from doing the type of blockbuster opening we’ve come to expect even with its presence in IMAX 3D theaters. (The real question is how many IMAX theaters will dump the sure thing that is “Alice” and how many digital 3D theaters will commit to playing “Dragon” with Clash of the Titans opening next week.)

Playing up to guys from the age of 15 to 30 and hoping to capitalize on the success of last year’s The Hangover is the raunchy time-traveling comedy Hot Tub Time Machine (MGM), starring John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry and Clark Duke, which should benefit greatly from the non-stop word-of-mouth screenings over the last couple months that has made the movie a hotter ticket than it might have been normally. With very few comedies in theaters, this one should open well even if it’s likely to play more to guys than woman just by its nature, and it will probably only be held back because it’s opening during the second week of March Madness.

Also, James Cameron’s Avatar should be enjoying its 15th (and final!) weekend in the Top 10 this week.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Conor McPherson’s supernatural romance drama The Eclipse (Magnolia), starring Ciaran Hinds, which you can read more about below, as well as about this week’s “Honorable Mention” Don Hahn’s documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty (Walt Disney Pictures).

Last March ended with another DreamWorks animated movie that scored big in 3D, the action-comedy Monsters vs. Aliens (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount), which opened with $59.3 million in 4,104 theaters, more than half of that amount coming from 3D screenings. Coming in second with $23 million was the ghost movie The Haunting in Connecticut (Lionsgate), an impressive amount for under 2,800 theaters. WWE Films latest offering 12 Rounds (20th Century Fox) starring John Cena tanked with $5.3 million to open in 7th place. The Top 10 grossed $136 million, and we think this might be the first weekend in some time that doesn’t surpass that amount due to the weaker DreamWorks Animation offering.


THE BATTLE CRY

As some of you may have noticed, I spent most of last week in Las Vegas attending the 2010 ShoWest–you can read our coverage here if you missed it–and once again, it was a fun experience, not just seeing a lot of summer movies and new footage before anyone else, but also having a chance to talk with exhibitors from all over the world about that side of the business.

In fact, if you ever have a chance to attend, you’ll notice that anyone and everyone who takes the stage gives a shout-out to the exhibitors and rightfully so, because they are often the unsung heroes of the movie business, who rarely get the type of attention or respect they deserve for all their hard work at making the moviegoing experience one we want to do whenever possible.

Sure, the filmmakers and actors make the movies and the studios fund and market them, but if not for those movie theaters who have done whatever it takes to stay in business through thick and thin, we’d have far fewer places to see movies. See, right now movies are doing big business and everyone is benefiting, but there have been many times over the last ten years when things dried up and people weren’t going to the movies, and at those times, it was often the theater owners who got hit the hardest. I’m not talking about the big corporate chains or multiplexes so much as the small business owners who’ve been running single-screen theaters or arthouses, who are constantly having to make tough choices in an increasingly busy market where no one knows can always know which movies will break out and which will tank.

Talking to the owners of these smaller mom and pop theaters at ShoWest gives you a good idea what they have to deal with in terms of making sure they can provide their locals with what they want, whether it’s digital 3D screens or movies for older audiences. It’s quite fascinating to talk to them, especially those who have theaters in other countries–I met theater owners from Switzerland, Sweden and Bermuda for instance–because you’re suddenly reminded of what a big world it is out there and how people in other countries view movies very differently from us. It’s also even more obvious how big the international market has grown in the last few years, and some movies are clearly doing better among those audiences than they are in the United States.

But what I often come back with after my experiences at ShoWest is what a nice group of people theater owners tend to be, people who really love movies and the people who come to theaters to see them, and it’s a shame that much of the time, they’re just sitting in an office somewhere figuring out which movies to book and never really getting credit for their part in the currently booming box office.

The next time you go to the movies and have a great experience, make sure to thank all of those hard working people who go out of their way to make movie going so much fun for us, and let’s not forget that it’s the exhibitors who are often taking the biggest chances, especially when they show smaller independent films, docs or foreign language films.


The Weekend Warrior’s DVD Corner

Before we get to the analysis for this week’s theatrical releases, I’m going to start a sporadic new section in the column, probably once a month, to talk about some of the cooler DVDs I’ve received. Hopefully, those readers not in New York or L.A. who rarely get a chance to see the movies picked as “The Chosen One” will have another opportunity when they’re released on DVD.

Park Chan Wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy,” comprising of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance, was released on an 8-DVD box set by Palisades Tartan last week, and it’s simply one of the best introductions to the work of one of Korea’s finest filmmakers you can possibly get. If you’re not familiar with Director Park’s work or have only seen his recent movie Thirst then you’re in for a real treat with this box set that not only includes his fabled trilogy of revenge thrillers but also tons of extras, some of them brought over from Tartan’s Asia Extreme series and some which are clearly new. I haven’t had time to watch the whole thing yet but it’s going to be fun to revisit them since it’s been a number of years since I watched any of the three. The new collection also includes a book with essays by the likes of Eli Roth, Don Murphy and Susan Montford (writer-director of the revenge flick While She Was Out) about the influence of Park on their work.

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s documentary Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love (Oscilloscope Pictures) missed being “Chosen One” when released on June 12 last year, but it did make it into my Top 10 Docs for last year, and it’s released on DVD on April 6. It follows the legendary African singer from Senegal as he goes on tour for his controversial “Egypt” album, and it’s the perfect combination of concert film and biographical doc. It follows his life and career from the ’80s when Peter Gabriel first introduced N’Dour to the Western world, through his recent endeavors, trying to give a positive message about being a Muslim in a world that mistrusts the religion. It includes lots of performances and interviews that span the years. If you’re a fan of world music, whether you’re already familiar with N’Dour or not, this film is a great way to learn why he’s become such a pivotal part of making African music popular in this country.

Although I wasn’t really a fan of Spike Jonze’s take on Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, I kind of enjoyed the documentary Tell Them Anything You Want (Oscilloscope) by Spike and Lance Bangs, which features candid interviews with the beloved children’s book author/artist talking about his family and past. Of course, a lot of the focus of the movie is on Sendak writing “Wild Things” and how that affected his career, but there is a lot of great insight shared in a fairly short running time of roughly 40 minutes. It even has an appearance by Catherine Keener in a short film recreating one of Sendak’s stories and some of Sendak’s public appearances at MOMA and the 92nd Street Y to commemorate his 80th birthday.

Over this past weekend, I finally caught up on Syfy’s SGU 1.0 (Fox Home Entertainment), which looks like the network’s attempt to fill the void left by “Battlestar Galactica.” Going by the first nine episodes included on the DVD, they’re off to a great start. I never really got into the various shows that spun-off Roland Emmerich’s 1997 movie, but this is a great group of characters and a strong premise about a group of people trying to survive in space, and the production values are some of the best on television.

The show returns to Syfy on April 2 with Season 1.5 and as a special surprise for anyone who reads the entirety of this column every week, including the fine print, we actually have an extra copy of the Blu-ray and we’re presenting our first Weekend Warrior Give-Away in some time! IMPORTANT: We can only mail this to someone living in the U.S. or Canada, but we’ll try to get it out to you before the start of the new season, so you can get caught up.

All you have to do is be the first person to Email the answer to the following question to me at Warrior (At) ComingSoon (Dot) Net, replacing the items in parentheses with the proper symbols, along with your name and address:

“What movie featured the breakout role for the actor who played one of the main villains in the original Roland Emmerich Stargate movie?” (You can name the actor, too, but what we want is his previous movie.)

(NOTE: We already have a winner!!)


How to Train Your Dragon (DreamWorks Animation)
Starring (the voices of) Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrara, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Craig Ferguson, Kristen Wiig, T.J. Miller
Written and directed by Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois (Lilo & Stitch)
Genre: Animation, Family, Adventure
Rated PG
Plot Summary: Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is a young Viking teenager who has never been able to adjust to his tribe’s tradition as great dragon slayers, a task which becomes more difficult when he befriends a dragon that’s nothing like he could ever have expected.

Mini-Review After the enormous success of “Shrek” back in 2001, DreamWorks Animation settled into a fairly reliable formula of “gag-a-minute” punchlines and A-list starpower voice casts, so it’s somewhat surprising that “Dragon” veers quite drastically from that formula and still works quite well. It does have a few things in common with that benchmark, such as being based on a book and having lots of Scottish accents (this time by actual Scottish actors), but in many ways, it’s better compared to last year’s “Cloudy with a Chance Of Meatballs,” because similarly, it’s a movie that will take you by surprise how much you’re likely to enjoy it.

It takes some time to adjust to Jay Baruchel’s voice as Hiccup, the Viking teenager who lacks the courage or constitution to follow in his father’s footsteps, partially because he’s becoming one of those young actors Hollywood insists on shoving down our throats ala Shia LaBeouf a few years back. That said, his character does grown on you and his voice blends more into his animated character as the story goes along. Likewise, the dragons sure seem odd-looking at first, showing a bit of over-inventiveness in their design. Thankfully, the dragon Hiccup captures and befriends, who he lovingly names “Toothless,” isn’t one of those talking dragons we’ve seen in far too many movies, as tempting as it might have been. In fact, the parts that work best, and where the movie really finds its footing, are those moments where Hiccup and Toothless are interacting, wonderful “boy and his dog” moments that are handled so magnificently, mainly due to the expressive and detailed characterization of Toothless as the filmmakers attain a level of anthropomorphic brilliance we’ve normally come to expect from the likes of Pixar.

“Dragon” is clearly a movie made for 3D, and unfortunately, we only got to watch it with one less dimension, yet it still looks quite fantastic. The scenes of Hiccup riding on his dragon are immediately reminiscent of “Avatar,” and they really bring out the beautifully-rendered environments which allow the lighting FX to really shine. The textures in the hair and fur are also quite well done.

Even so, and as is the case with most CG animated movies, the look of the humans is the roughest thing to adjust to, the Vikings looking a bit like Hagar the Horrible as realized by Nick Park, not helped by Gerard Butler making his Scottish accent even more exaggerated. Other than Hiccup and his pet dragon, the most likeable characters are Craig Ferguson as the Viking trainer and America Ferrara’s Astrid, a tough Viking girl who eventually befriends Hiccup and gives him someone to confide in. Oddly, the times when the movie tries to fall back on the normal DreamWorks humor, they’re the parts that feel the most forced, maybe because they’ve hired a talented comedic voice cast and then restrained them with a script that sometimes feels bland, corny or obvious.

Even so, the film is impeccably paced with very little time wasted, and at times, it’s quite marvelous, especially the last act that features action so well choreographed and filmed, you’ll be won over even if you’ve remained dubious up until to that point. Of course, you’ll probably figure out how Hiccup resolves some of his issues, but the strength of the storytelling is commendable even if the general character arc is somewhat derivative.

While there’s little doubt kids will absolutely adore and thrill to this adventure, “How to Train Your Dragon” is a movie that will sneak up on grown-ups who will eventually be dazzled both by the beauty of the visuals and the masterful storytelling. As surprising as it may be how well “Dragon” works overall, you’ll quickly set aside any doubts as you grow to appreciate what DreamWorks has been able to do by stepping outside their normal comfort zone. Rating: 8.5/10

Analysis:

For a second year in a row, DreamWorks Animation is taking advantage of the number of kids out of school for spring break to release a 3D animated movie in a month that’s becoming more and more viable as a time to release family films for that very reason. Along with Pixar, DreamWorks Animation has become one of the pioneers in 3D animation storytelling, having had huge hits with the “Shrek” and “Madagascar” movies and they’ve been on quite a roll in recent years, their last three movies having opened with more than $59 million.

Like with Shrek, DreamWorks’ latest is based on a book, this one by Cressida Cowell, and this one is helmed by the team who directed Lilo & Stitch, one of Disney’s later 2D animated movies in 2002 before they followed DreamWorks’ suit and started focusing on 3D computer animation. Even though those are both strong factors, this looks like a weaker offering than past ones, not just from the quality and style of the animation but also the amount of genuine laughs in the trailer.

Unlike past DreamWorks offerings, there’s no real starpower at work here with a bunch of the people providing voices who have already appeared in other movies this month that haven’t done gangbusters. It’s certainly not as impressive a roster with the biggest name being Scotland’s Gerard Butler, who has some experience with dragons from his earlier role in Reign of Fire, but his only family film to date was Fox Walden’s Nim’s Island where he took a backseat to Abigail Breslin and Jodie Foster. The main role is played by Jay Baruchel, who is currently starring in the R-rated rom-com She’s Out of My League, and they’re joined by lots of comedy people from the world of Judd Apatow including Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, both of whom broke out with Superbad. The odd thing is that those three comics tend to appeal to guys from 15 to 30, which is exactly the audience that might be interested in seeing this weekend’s other new movie Hot Tub Time Machine (see below).

The weaker voicecast probably won’t matter too much since DreamWorks Animation is a fairly known and trusted commodity at this point, though bearing that in mind, “Dragon” probably won’t be bringing in many teen and older non-parents that have helped previous DreamWorks (and Pixar) movies do better than the average animated film meant strictly for kids. With many kids out of school on break on Friday, parents will be looking for things to keep them entertained, although this is also going up against the second weekend of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which is based on a book that’s much more popular than Cowell’s.

Dragons have generally been popular among both young boys and girls, although movies incorporating them have only done moderate business, the most recent examples being Eragon, based on a bestselling book, and the aforementioned Reign of Fire. There have been other movies about dragons over the years including Dragonheart and Dungeons and Dragons, but none of them have really broken out.

As with DreamWorks Animation’s last few movies, How to Train Your Dragon is opening simultaneously in IMAX and digital 3D theaters, and as was the case with James Cameron’s Avatar and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, the higher price of IMAX and 3D tickets should play a part in the film’s success. That said, it’s not likely theater owners will readily give up all their digital screens for this unknown when both of those other movies are still bringing audiences in. It’s also not like “Dragon” was directed by a visionary director who can bring people in because they’re working in 3D. We shouldn’t forget one of early IMAX 3D animated movies was Warner Bros.’ The Ant Bully, which flopped badly. While movies like Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf and A Christmas Carol, and Disney’s Bolt, have all done decent 3D business, none of them have really been huge. Of course, that was before Avatar, at a time when there were also far fewer digital 3D theaters. One should still bear in mind that just because IMAX 3D is bringing in more viewers ready to pay premiere prices, that doesn’t mean parents with small kids will want to spend the extra money to see it that way. Also, the fact that a lot of the movie’s audience will be kids means that the higher 3D prices will be counter-balanced by the lower priced tickets for kids.

The good thing is that How to Train Your Dragon seems to have early buzz from those who’ve seen it and reviews will generally be good, which should help spur parents to want to take their kids to see it. Even with any last-minute buzz and the benefits of 3D, it feels like “Dragon” is going to end up being one of DreamWorks Animation’s weaker openings, more on par with Bee Movie or Over the Hedge than Kung Fu Panda, which is fine because they have a fourth “Shrek” movie ready to bat clean-up in a couple months and that should help make up for it.

Why I Should See It: DreamWorks Animation tends to be full of surprises especially with their lower key movies like this one, which could end up surprising much like Shrek did nine years ago.
Why Not: Am I the only person who thinks this looks like an animated version of Dragonheart?
Projections: $33 to 36 million opening weekend and roughly $130 million total.

COMPARISONS


Hot Tub Time Machine (MGM)
Starring John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Crispin Glover, Lizzy Caplan, Chevy Chase, Sebastian Stan, Lyndsy Fonseca, Collette Wolfe, Charlie McDermott, Kellee Stewart
Directed by Steve Pink (Accepted); Written by Josh Heald (Mardi Gras), Sean Anders and John Morris (Sex Drive, She’s Out of My League)
Genre: Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: “Kick Some Past”
Plot Summary: Four friends whose lives don’t seem to be going anywhere decide to spend a weekend at a ski resort but after spending the night drinking in a hot tub, they wake up to find themselves transplanted to the year 1986, giving them another chance to change the decisions that left them living such depressing lives.

Review

Analysis:

With R-rated comedy being in vogue these days, this new comedy brings together Josh Heald, the writer of Maxim’s Mardi Gras, which is yet to see the light of day, with hot comedy writers Sean Anders and John Morris and director Steve Pink, who helmed the PG-13 college comedy Accepted a few years back. It’s generally a high concept comedy involving time travel and the ’80s, both of which offer lots of laughs to older males who remember the ’80s as well as young guys who just like raunchy sexual humor and topless women. Essentially, it’s hoping to capitalize on the success of the genre following blockbuster hits directed and produced by Judd Apatow, as well as last year’s blockbuster sleeper The Hangover.

Like that movie, it’s bringing together a bunch of comedic actors who have mostly played supporting roles, but clearly the biggest name is John Cusack who rarely does comedies these days, having done most of them back in the ’80s, which is intentionally ironic considering the movie’s premise. His last political comedy War, Inc. bombed, but Cusack has continued to keep himself relevant by starring in a number of high-profile thrillers, and he’s coming off one of his biggest hits, having starred in Roland Emmerich’s 2012. Fortunately, he has three ringers in Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke, all of whom have been hilarious in supporting roles in past comedies. Robinson might be the best known, not only from his long-running stint playing Daryl on “The Office” but also for his appearance in various Judd Apatow movies, having a great scene in Knocked Up and then a larger role in David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express and Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Corddry has been a comedy staple for a number of years with memorable roles in a number of Will Ferrell comedies, as well as appearing in the 2008 “Harold & Kumar” sequel. Duke is the least known of the quartet, a friend and collaborator of Michael Cera, who also co-starred in the R-rated comedy Sex Drive written by the same guys who wrote Hot Tub Time Machine, and who also stars in the upcoming Kick-Ass. (Corddry also had a cameo role in Sex Drive with Duke.)

In terms of box office, R-rated comedy has run the gamut from Eurotrip to The Hangover, and while MGM would probably like this one to do closer to the latter, that was just a movie with a relatable premise–waking up after a drunken bender in Vegas–released at the right time, whereas “HTTM” has a stranger premise that’s no less funny but possibly a little more difficult to sell because it’s so outlandish. That’s probably why MGM has done a ton of word-of-mouth promotional screenings to get the word out how funny the movie is, and it’s generally been received well by those audiences, who’ve talked it up on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

If nothing else, Hot Tub Time Machine should benefit greatly from there not being many comedies in theaters, let alone movies for guys with the last couple weeks having mainly duds in that department from Green Zone to last week’s Repo Men. While the R-rated She’s Out of My League is doing decently, it’s not the type of movie that would appeal to older guys in the way that Hot Tub Time Machine might. Granted, this will probably appeal even more to younger guys who dug things like the “Harold & Kumar” movies, and there’s no real crossover for that demographic with the week’s other movies. Unfortunately, it’s also opening in the second weekend of March Madness so many guys will be busy watching college basketball rather than going to the movies.

The thing is that MGM really needs to have a hit after the last few movies they’ve invested in have bombed, including their previous comedy College and the Fame remake. They didn’t have much luck when distributing Dimension Films’ comedies’ Soul Men and Superhero Movie either, but to be fair, those were marketed by The Weinstein Company. The company is already on the auction block this week and this movie being a breakout hit could make it easier for them to find a buyer and guarantee their future releases. If it ends up bombing, which would essentially be making anything less than $15 million, then a lot of people will be questioning the future of the company… again.

Why I Should See It: In terms of raunchy male-driven humor, this is certainly up there with The Hangover and some of the comedies Judd Apatow has produced.
Why Not: Reportedly, this movie’s hot tub time machine technology is singularly responsible for the presence of The A-Team and The Karate Kid movies coming out this summer.
Projections: $22 to 24 million opening weekend and $70 to 75 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

The Eclipse (Magnolia)
Starring Ciaran Hinds, Iben Hjejle, Aidan Quinn, Jim Norton, Eanna Hardwicke, Hannah Lynch
Written and directed by Conor McPherson (Endgame, The Actors with Billy Roche
Genre: Drama, Romance, Supernatural Thriller
Rated R
Plot Summary: A widower living in a tiny Irish seaside town with his two kids, Michael Farr (CiarĂ¡n Hinds) is still mourning the loss of his wife, but when he’s assigned to drive around Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle), a popular author of supernatural fiction, during the town’s annual literary fest, Michael finds himself being haunted by nightmarish visions. Lena tries to help him, while being plagued with her own problems in the form of a jealous former lover also in town for the festival, played by Aidan Quinn.

Interview with Conor McPherson and Ciaran Hinds

When I went to see this movie at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, I went in with very few expectations. It was Friday night, the movie was premiering and I knew that the publicist working on it tends to have really good taste in movies – she did handle Once at Sundance my first year there, after all. Conor McPherson’s The Eclipse does have a setting in common with Once i.e. Ireland, and it also has a simplicity in its characterizations and storytelling, but it also has far more layers and depth than most movies in its vein.

The general idea is that every year the small seaside town of Cobh, Ireland has a literary festival where authors from all over the world come to read from their novels, and Ciaran Hind’s Michael Farr, a local shop teacher and the widowed father of two kids, has once again volunteered his services as a driver. This year, he’s assigned to a beautiful writer specializing in the supernatural, played by Iben Hjejle (who we haven’t really seen in a role/movie this good since Stephen Frears’ High Society), but at the same time he’s been having haunting visions.

The Eclipse is by no means a horror film, but the creepy tone set as Michael walks through his old house is enough to keep you on edge, and when it throws a number of jump scares at you, they never feel cheap or unwarranted. Farr is a man who is haunted not just by the death of his wife, but also by her neglected father-in-law who has been put in a home and forgotten since her death, something that weighs on Michael’s guilty conscience.

The film goes in many surprising places as we see how Lena helps Michael get through the problems that haunt him, and there’s a warmth to how their relationship unfolds that makes the film highly enjoyable. Amidst all that, there’s also a good amount of humor, mostly at the expense of Aidan Quinn’s character, Nicholas Holden, an arrogant bestselling author who loves to throw his weight around and complain about his treatment by the kind people of this backwards town. More than anything, Holden is hoping to recreate a one-night stand he had with Lena years earlier, and his advances get more desperate and pathetic as she continually brushes him off. This conflict leads to one of the only moments in the film that seems false as Michael and Nicholas face-off in a badly-choreographed fight. Once that’s past, Michael gets a satisfying resolution to his journey, not only with Lena but also with the death of his wife, and the film ends one of the most enjoyable “answering machine voiceovers” since Alexander Payne’s Sideways.

McPherson is clearly a talented filmmaker who uses all his resources to create a film that’s highly cinematic but also quite personable and intimate, pulling the different elements together with a gorgeous score, sometimes using choral music other times using more subtle ambient sound FX to create the mood.

The Eclipse is a film about growth and recovery, about finding your way in life after the loss of a loved one and trying to love again, and it’s simply one of the best films I’ve seen this year so far. It opens in New York at the Angelika Film Center and in a number of California theaters on Friday, opens in Chicago on April 2, and more cities on April 9.

Honorable Mention:

Waking Sleeping Beauty (Walt Disney Pictures)
Starring Peter Schneider, Michael Eisner, Roy Disney, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Don Hahn
Directed by Don Hahn (producer of Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and other Disney films
Genre: Documentary
Plot Summary: Don Hahn documents the transition of the Walt Disney Animation Studios during the mid-’80s when it went from having trouble getting a hit to creating some of the most memorable and beloved animated films including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, all while conflicts between three key executives, Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Roy Disney, raged behind the scenes.

Interview with Don Hahn

Another great documentary to come out of the film festival scene, in this case last year’s Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals, the latter where I saw it, is this documentary about the resurrection of Disney Animation during the late ’80s and early ’90s, and it’s more than a little ironic that it’s opening the same week as DreamWorks’ latest animated movie. Either way, you certainly won’t find a better person to tell this story than Don Hahn, who produced Beauty and the Beast and other Disney animated classics of the time.

One has to remember that this was before the current wave of Pixar and DreamWorks computer animated films, which may have never happened if Disney Animation hadn’t had such huge hits leading up to the mid-’90s. The success of their animated movies really turned the company around even as the three main figureheads Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Roy Disney could barely get along and regularly clashed in public, ultimately leading to the Disney-DreamWorks conflict of the past ten years.

Amazingly, Hahn was able to get all of the participants to reflect back on the times in surprisingly frank and candid interviews, and the footage from the times is quite amazing, not just the media clips but also the behind-the-scenes footage of the animators working out and discussing ideas that would turn into some of the beloved classics from those years. Hearing all the inside stories about how the execs doubted the potential of movies like The Little Mermaid, and how they ended up coming up with the musical formula that proved so successful. The movie also shows how the studio started using computer systems to compile all of the hand-drawn artwork, which was done by a company who would eventually become Pixar. Maybe I’m too easily amused but I also enjoyed how the movie captures the slow loss of Jeffrey Katzenberg’s hair, and there’s an amusing moment of him almost being mauled by a lion.

Hahn has done an amazing job telling this story in a way that could never have been done by an outsider, showing how all the in-fighting helped to drive the creation of so many magic moments and beloved classics. He never sugar coats or glosses over the fact that there were a lot of problems behind the scenes of the studio’s greatest successes, and yet, as a doc, it captures all the energy and magic of the Disney animated films of the time.

If you’re a fan of Disney’s animated of the time, whether it’s The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King, then Waking Sleeping Beauty is a MUST SEE documentary, as it pulls back the curtain on one of the most enigmatic periods in Disney history and allows you to enter a world very few ever get to experience.

It opens on Friday in New York at the Landmark Sunshine, in L.A. at the AMC Century City and AMC Burbank, in San Francisco at the Landmark Embarcadeno and in Chicago at the AMC River East 21.

Also in Limited Release:

Chloe (Sony Pictures Classics) – Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan remakes the French erotic thriller Nathalie with Julianne Moore playing a married woman concerned that her husband (Liam Neeson) is cheating on her, so she hires a young prostitute (Amanda Seyfried) to seduce him and prove that he’s been unfaithful, only for things to go awry when the prostitute tries to blackmail her. It opens in select cities on Friday.

Review

Bluebeard (Strand Releasing) – French filmmaker Catherine Breillat (The Last Mistress) creates her own take on the grisly fairytale about the child bride of an ogre known for killing his wives, and how she tries to avoid her inevitable fate. It opens in New York at the IFC Center.

Godspeed – Robert Saitzyk’s thriller set in Alaska stars Joseph Mckeheer as Charlie Shepard, a faithhealer whose young son and wife are brutally murdered for no apparent reason, sending him on a downwards spiral until he meets a young girl who needs his help after her mother’s death. The winner of the 2009 CineVegas Special Jury Award opens at the Cinema Village on Friday.

Lbs. (BQE Releasing) – Matthew Bonifacio’s romantic comedy about an overweight 27-year-old forced to go on a diet after having a heart attack and what he goes through in order to get over his addiction to eating opens in New York on Friday.

Dancing Across Borders (First Run Features) – Anna Bass’ documentary about ballet dancer Sokvannara Sar, who was discovered in Cambodia and brought to the United States to audition for the School of the American Ballet. It opens at the Quad Cinema on Friday.


Next week, the month of April kicks-off with Easter Weekend and the release of Louis Letterier’s mythological action epic Clash of the Titans (Warner Bros.) starring Sam Worthington, Tyler Perry’s first sequel Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too? (Lionsgate) and Miley Cyrus stars in the Nicholas Sparks drama The Last Song (Walt Disney Pictures).

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas

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