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.
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UPDATE: We forgot to mention earlier, and assumed it was a given, but all below are four-day predictions. We’ve decided to lower our predictions on the two new movies and we think Disney’s Prince of Persia may not even defeat the fourth “Shrek” in its second weekend, but we still expect two strong openings.
1. Sex and the City 2 (New Line/WB) – $65.5 million N/A (down 2.7 million)
2. Shrek Forever After (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $53.3 million -25% (up .3 million and one place)
3. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Disney) – $51.2 million N/A (down 3.4 million and one place)
4. Iron Man 2 (Marvel/Paramount) – $18.8 million -29% (same)
5. Robin Hood (Universal) – $12.2 million -35% (down .3 million)
6. Letters to Juliet (Summit) – $7.2 million -20% (Same)
7. Just Wright (Fox Searchlight) – $2.6 million -39% (down .4 million)
8. MacGruber (Universal) – $2.5 million -37% (same)
9. Date Night (20th Century Fox) – $2.3 million -22% (down .2 million)
10. How to Train Your Dragon (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $1.3 million -35% (down .2 million)
The summer seems to be in a tailspin so far, as none of the movies we’ve expected to be big have come close to our predictions–we’re talking to you Iron Man 2 and Shrek Forever After!–but this weekend is Memorial Day, four days where everyone barbecues, goes to the beach, but more importantly, it’s the weekend where many people plow into movie theaters to see whatever is playing and catch up on movies they’ve missed.
Opening on Thursday for the women who just can’t wait that one extra day to see it, Sex and the City 2 (New Line/WB) is one of two anticipated summer sequels among the estrogen set, the other being next month’s The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. Reuniting the cast of the popular HBO show and the previous blockbuster movie, it’s likely to bring in the same group of women over 20 hoping to find out what happens next. It should have a decent opening Thursday but like other Memorial Day movies that have opened on Thursday (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Terminator Salvation), we expect it to still have lots of business for Friday and the weekend, as many women get out of work early and go see it en masse. It’s also likely to take advantage of the hard-working women being off Monday to win the weekend with relative ease.
Walt Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer reteam for an Arabian action epic Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Walt Disney) based on the popular games and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Sir Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina. While this is the type of action and FX-driven movie that normally does well over Memorial Day weekend, the over-20 male crowd familiar with the game may be somewhat skeptical of a movie that seems to be playing more towards younger kids. While it might bring in some younger women from the Jake Gyllenhaal factor, business will likely be spread out among demos with none of them feeling it’s a must see. It should still do decently, but after Friday, it will be battling with the latest “Shrek” movie for the weekend family business.
Last Memorial Day saw the release of two sequels (sort of) and much to the surprise of many, Ben Stiller’s family comedy Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (20th Century Fox) took McG’s Terminator Salvation (Warner Bros.) relaunch to school by besting it $70 million to $51.9 million over the four-day weekend, although the Stiller movie did have a 600 theater advantage (and IMAX ticket prices) to help it. Not even entering the race was the Wayans’ latest spoof movie Dance Flick (Paramount), which opened in fifth place with $12.6 million, quite a long way from their previous successful comedies. The Top 10 grossed $211 million over the four days, and the two movies should help this Memorial Day weekend do slightly better than last year.
THE BATTLE CRY
Not sure if having two “Battle Cries” in a row can be considered “being on a roll”–I already know we won’t have one next week–but this week’s opinion piece is about something we like to call “Geek Sells,” and the interesting recent phenomenon that has made Huey Lewis’ song “Hip to be Square” become the new reality.
This is a relatively new phenomenon where entertainment that used to appeal only to a very small core group of outsiders or outcasts, who were used to being mocked by society, has now entered the mainstream, including comic books, science fiction and horror. We’ve been seeing this in a big way in the last few years, most obviously with the immense success of the recently-completed ABC drama “Lost” which went far beyond the normal geek crowd with its sci-fi influenced stories of time travel and alternate timelines, helping to create a new trend for hip science fiction shows. We’re also seeing a number of phenomena surrounding vampires in places like HBO’s “True Blood” and Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight Saga,” which appeal more to women than the males who normally thrive on horror or genre fare.
Geeks are no longer nerdy introverts who wear glasses and average 200 lbs. on a good day–sure, we’re still around, too–but now, the popular kids in high school and the crowd you might normally find at a party or clubbing on Friday and Saturday nights, the people who normally wouldn’t have anything to do with comic books or science fiction or anyone who had anything to do with them, now feel the need to act as if they’re into all that stuff in order to fit in with everyone else. They’re what I like to call “faux-geeks,” those who’ll go to comic conventions “’cause it’s the cool and ‘in’ thing to do” rather than something that merits mocking. This has also led to the advent of a species of sexy female geeks, young women who dress up as their favorite anime and television characters. Ten years ago, you’d barely see any women at comic conventions and now they’re everywhere and they’re in complete control… yet they still won’t go out with guys who may like the same things they do unless they meet up to the standards of their beloved Edward or Jacob.
Filmmakers and producers like J.J. Abrams, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Peter Jackson, Edgar Wright and Guillermo del Toro, whose geeky cinephile tendencies kept them on the outside of the Hollywood mainstream, are now treated like rock stars because they’re able to tap into their own inner geeks to appeal to a much larger audience. While Martin Scorsese might be considered the King of Cool among filmmakers and film aficionados, even he branched out into genre fare with the recent Shutter Island to have his biggest success to date. There are also serious filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, who one wouldn’t necessarily think as coming from a genre background but are able to bring their own cinematic sensibilities to superheroes to come up with something that can appeal to much wider audiences, leading to the likes of The Dark Knight. Nolan’s full-on immersion into science fiction with the upcoming Inception makes one think that maybe he had just been hiding his “geek badge” better than others.
A lot has been written about how Comic-Con plays into this. The annual “geekfest” has become so popular that the city of San Diego can barely even handle the number of people who show up each year. Even hip indie documentarian Morgan (Super Size Me) Spurlock has outed himself as a geek by wanting to make a documentary about it. Who knows if his movie about the annual comic convention might be more successful than the last few attempts? One certainly wonders who is meant to see that movie – the people who can’t make it to Comic-Con each year or the “normals” who don’t understand the appeal and draw of it? (Oddly, Universal’s Paul, which teams Superbad‘s Greg Mottola with geek heroes Simon Pegg and Nick Frost also has a story revolving around Comic-Con.)
What does this have to do with movies? Well, not much, except that the “Rise of the Geek” has led to those people who used to be the outsider are slowly gaining control of the media causing the geek mindset to grow by leaps and bounds. It’s now easier for those who used to enjoy geek fare on their own to create a website or blog to try to reach others and convert them. You also see this in the form of new blogs created by mainstream print media like the L.A. Times’ Hero Complex and the Hollywood Reporter’s Heat Vision blog, which keep the industry posted on what’s hip and cool among the geek crowd. MTV, the music video network that used to epitomize what was cool among the teen set, are now relegated to trying to placate the geek crowd that drives most of the traffic on the internet. Then there’s dudes like Geoff Johns, who I first met in a DC Online chat room years before he was writing comic books and who is now the Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment, which will presumably break down any remaining boundaries.
Even so, we’re almost reaching the point where the “geek crowd” is starting to overpower those who aren’t into genre fare. Part of that can probably be attributed to the peer pressure of people wanting to belong, though like with everything else, there’s a breaking point where one wonders if this is just the latest trend or fad that requires constant feeding. “Battlestar Gallactica” is done and so is “Lost,” and is there anything else that can keep this burgeoning crossover audience sated?
The studios have known for a long time they can tap into this market via the internet, but the size of that audience, while it’s constantly expanding, is still only so large that the only way to have a huge hit is to crossover to other audiences like James Cameron’s Avatar did or the “Spider-Man” and “Pirates” movies. It’s also good to bear in mind that not everyone who goes to see a superhero or sci-fi movie is automatically deeming themselves a “geek,” though one hopes that a good percentage of that audience will then go and pick up a comic book to check out the source material. To me, the weirdest thing about this phenomenon is that I’ve read comic books since I was ten years old, and I still don’t consider myself a “geek.” I’m just a guy who likes a lot of different things including opera, soccer, punk rock… and comic books. And yet, I still get looks whenever I’m reading comic books on the subway, which I do regularly.
And that’s really the kicker that keeps the geek ethos from completely taking over. While those of us who’ve enjoyed comics and genre films all our lives have welcomed the dawn of the new geekdom that’s enabled us to have access to a lot cooler stuff in theaters and on TV, let’s hope we won’t be shut out or ostracized by the New Age of ultra-hipster geeks who might not be ready to embrace one of the core values of fandom, which is being accepting of like-minded individuals without judgment. That’s the one part of “being a geek” that may never quite register with the “cool kids.”
Sex and the City 2 (New Line/WB)
Starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Chris Noth, David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Jason Lewis, Mario Cantone, Willie Garson
Writing and directed by Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City as well as the HBO show of the same name)
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Tagline: “Carrie On”
Plot Summary: Two years after the previous movie, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Samantha (Kim Cattrall) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) are dealing with their earlier decisions, whether it’s being married or balancing a family and work life, etc. The answer to all their problems? A vacation escape for just the four ladies.
Mini-Review: As someone who thought the first “Sex and the City” feature film was flawed, yet a perfectly fine continuation of the HBO show, it’s hard not to be skeptical that another movie could possibly improve upon the formula that’s worked well so far.
It’s two years since the previous movie, the stylish New York friends are dealing with very real issues from menopause to coping with having two children. For Carrie and Big, it’s the horrors of having gotten far too comfortable in their marriage rather than being the fun and carefree couple we loved to see together. Before we get too far into the realm of the serious, we’re invited to the wedding of Carrie and Charlotte’s gay friends, played by Willie Garson and Mario Cantone, a lavish spectacle that opens the movie in a fun way including a crazy appearance by Liza Minelli. Once that’s over, it starts delving into more weighty topics for roughly an hour before the ladies are off on a partying vacation to Abu Dabi. At this point, the movie completely changes gears, shirking its duty to resolve any of the drama set-up earlier.
Michael Patrick King is a solid director who gets some of the best performances out of these actresses, especially Parker who is such a strong dramatic actress when given the chance. He also makes all of the ladies look great, even when they’re wearing some of the most outlandish outfits, and he essentially does a perfectly fine job continuing the same formula that worked so well on the show. Unfortunately, that also means the sequel shows little growth or development.
God love Kim Cattrall for taking part in not just one but two fairly graphic sex scenes that hark back to her hilarious early role in “Porky’s” and for the most part, she’s often the one who delivers just the right wry punchline to save many a scene, if not the entire movie. Cynthia Nixon’s Miranda, who had the strongest dramatic arc in the previous movie, seems to have little to do here, her “big change” being a decision to quit her lucrative job. Big whoop.
Other than Chris Noth’s Big, who is discarded and forgotten as soon as the women leave New York, the other men–David Eigenberg, Evan Handler and Jason Lewis–all play negligible parts. Considering how weak many of them were in the previous movie, that’s just fine, since at least the latter three have not shown that they have the chops to be a movie actor.
There are quite a few funny bits that will get laughs regardless of your gender, but there’s just as much hamming it up and resorting to the female version of gross-out humor, some of which will be appalling to any man forced to endure it. As an homage to female empowerment and bonding, the movie certainly does the trick, but there are points where it becomes a little too ridiculous to be taken even remotely seriously. (Really? A club in the Middle East would have “I Am a Woman” on the karaoke machine?) While the economic downturn is mentioned a few times in passing, you’re not likely to know if from all of the money being thrown around on screen. In that sense, the film is as irresponsible as it is unrealistic.
Worse than anything else, the movie’s excessive length is entirely inexcusable. Once again, the movie seems like King just slapped together ideas for five or six episodes, loosely strung together with little to no cohesion. It’s so erratic it’s hard to stay with it, especially with the feeling that King is just throwing whatever ideas he has into the mix. (What’s the point of having Penelope Cruz playing a character who appears in one scene?)
Any crisis thrown the ladies’ way is quickly overcome and forgotten as it awkwardly veers its way back into the laughs. For instance, the entire subplot with Carrie meeting Aiden in Abu Dabi seems to be done merely to sate the fans who preferred John Corbett’s love interest to Chris Noth, yet the much-discussed plot point goes nowhere before being brushed aside and forgotten when Samantha causes an international incident with her vulgarity. Since that storyline is worth more laughs, the movie plays up on that leaving the Aiden encounter as an afterthought.
Even more than the first movie, “Sex and the City” continues to be little more than the female equivalent to porn, a fashionable but unrealistic fairy tale with very little actual meat, but this time, it feels more like a cash grab than a necessary continuation of the story that was tied up so neatly and nicely with the previous movie. Rating: 6/10
Two years ago, the popular HBO show Sex and the City came to the big screen, reintroducing audiences to the characters that hadn’t been seen on television in five years. It became a huge event for women to go see together as a group, bringing in $56.8 million its opening weekend, making it the highest opening romantic comedy and fifth-highest opening for an R-rated movie. More importantly, it solidified the fact that women were clearly able to drive the box office as well as men, something shown by The Devil Wears Prada a year earlier, but then would become the norm later that year with hits like Mamma Mia! and of course, Twilight.
Although Sarah Jessica Parker, a former teen actress who first appeared on the cult show “Square Pegs,” has had huge success with the “Sex and the City” show and movie, she’s had mixed results as a box office draw when not playing Carrie. Her biggest success was her pairing with Matthew McConaughey in the romantic comedy Failure to Launch, which grossed over $88 million, but last year’s poorly-titled Did You Hear About the Morgans? with Hugh Grant wasn’t able to capitalize on the success of the previous Sex and the City movie. Obviously, Parker’s female fans are the ones who only want to see her play Carrie, which is why they’re likely to forgive most of her previous bad rom-coms whenever she returns to the role.
The other three ladies haven’t had much success on their own with Kristin Davis making the most forays into mainstream studio movies, most recently in the hit comedy Couples Retreat, which grossed $108 million last fall. Before that, she appeared in a couple of dogs, quite literally, starring opposite Tim Allen in The Shaggy Dog and opposite Parker’s hubby Matthew Broderick in the holiday comedy Deck the Halls. Kim Cattrall was recently seen in Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, but otherwise, she hasn’t had very much luck in movies in recent years after having starring in two classic ’80s films, Mannequin and Porky’s. Fortunately, she’s loved for her role as the sex-crazed Samantha and she’s been keeping busy since the last movie by appearing in the West End on stage. Cynthia Nixon has mainly been drawn to smaller indies, but like the other actresses, she’s had a hard time transcending her “Sex and the City” role as Miranda to do other things.
As much as this sequel will thrive on having all the cast from the show and previous movie back together again, an even bigger draw for the movie is its appeal to women in the way it deals with their issues in an upfront and funny way, something that makes it stand apart from other chick flicks. There’s also a glamor to the movie, one that delves into the fantasy of romance, though not quite to the extent as “The Twilight Saga,” which also makes it a draw to younger women as well.
Once again, the sequel factor should be in effect where those who saw the first movie not only in its theatrical release and on cable will be more likely to go out to see the sequel in its opening week, and having only two years since the previous movie is definitely a plus. That said, the original movie did have the benefits of five years anticipation since the show ended as well as the equally long-awaited wedding of Carrie and Mr. Big, which was a big draw for fans of the show as the movie neatly tied up the series. This sequel, like most, may seem to be more of a money grab that doesn’t really follow up on the first movie and may not as feel as necessary. Still, the joys of coming together with other women in a theater to cheer on the characters made the first movie such a big female-friendly event movie, and that should once again be the case. Also, this is one of Warner Bros.’ biggest movies this summer and they’ve been promoting the heck out of it, especially in New York City, where it should do especially big business not just among locals but also with the tourists visiting on the holiday weekend.
For whatever reason, Sex and the City 2 is opening on Thursday, presumably to be able to do an extra night’s worth of business before the Memorial Day weekend. The original movie kicked off its run with an astounding $26.7 million opening day, partially due to the huge amount of women rushing out to see the movie as a group at midnight on Thursday. This sort of opening might have been doable to replicate if the movie didn’t open on the day before a four-day holiday, although one can expect the movie to do a ton of business Thursday night and midnight going into Friday. Also, the previous movie opened over the last weekend of May, a week after Memorial Day, which caused a huge drop on Sunday. This time, it should take full advantage of the four-day holiday weekend especially on Sunday with so many women being off work on Monday.
Either way, the anticipation by women for the movie still points to a fair bit of frontloading for the movie, though one wonders how much of that will be on Thursday (or Wednesday midnights) rather than taking Friday off and seeing it then. Advance ticket sales have been brisk, and one of those days should do at least $22 million, though we think that will be Friday while Thursday will fall just short of $20 million.
Why I Should See It: The Girls are Back In Town! And they’re also spending time in Dubai!
Why Not: The sequel doesn’t have the same appeal as the first movie, which did a good job tying up loose ends from the show.
Projections: $17 to 19 million on Thursday, another $21 to 23 million on Friday for a $65 to 68 million four-day weekend (so roughly $85 million in its first five days?) on its way to roughly $170 to 175 million total.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Walt Disney)
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, Gemma Arterton, Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell
Directed by Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mona Lisa Smile, Johnnie Brasco); Written by Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard (The Great Raid, The Uninvited, upcoming The Sorcerer’s Apprentice)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Tagline: “Defy the Future”
Plot Summary: In ancient Persia, the adopted son of the King, Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is sent on an adventure across the desert with the beautiful Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) after he finds a dagger containing magical sands that transports the bearer back in time, and the two of them have to keep it out of the hands of those who want to use it for bad.
If it’s the summer then it must be time for the return of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who has had enormous success in the season in the past, most notably when he took a Disney theme park ride “Pirates of the Caribbean” and turned it into an action-packed pirate swashbuckler, the first one in decades, and leading to a hugely successful franchise that grossed $2.6 BILLION worldwide. Bruckheimer is a smart businessman, who knows that one can’t rely solely on one franchise to stay in business, so he’s hoping to recreate that magic by taking the popular series of “Prince of Persia” video games, created by Jordan Mechner way back in 1989 but becoming much more popular in 2003, and turning them into an Arabian epic that mixes the type of action and FX one normally would expect in a summer movie. That may be why the movie quickly grabbed the Memorial Day weekend while it could.
Like with Johnny Depp in “Pirates,” the core of the movie is the casting of Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead role, which hopes to bring in the male and female fans of the 29-year-old actor. Gyllenhaal already has experience appearing in a Memorial Day blockbuster, having been one of the leads in Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, which opened with an astounding $85 million over the four-day weekend. Gyllenhaal went on to star in Sam Mendes’ Iraq war thriller Jarhead and be nominated for an Oscar for his supporting role in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, both commercial successes, but they were followed by Rendition and David Fincher’s Zodiac, movies that performed weakly making one think that he may not be the box office draw some had hoped. Also, last year’s December drama Brothers underperformed despite Gyllenhaal’s presence, as well as Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman. Regardless, Gyllenhaal has been doing the talk show rounds for the movie, and the guy does have the charm and personality to help sell the doubters on his movie.
Gyllenhaal’s female counterpart in the movie is played by Gemma Arterton, who took on a similar role as the token woman in Louis Letterier’s Clash of the Titans last month, after having played a small role in the Daniel Craig James Bond movie Quantum of Solace. She’s certainly an actress on the rise, especially in Britain where she appeared in Pirate Radio and St. Trinian’s, plus she stars in Stephen Frears’ new movie Tamara Drewe, which just premiered at Cannes. Certainly having a beautiful and sexy actress like Arterton in the movie won’t hurt with the movie’s primarily male audience.
The rest of the cast includes Sir Ben Kingsley, an amazing Oscar-nominated actor who has sadly made a lot of bad decisions in terms of his career, though even his decent indie movies haven’t done well. Kingsley is coming off one of his biggest hits, having teamed with Martin Scorsese and Leo DiCaprio for Shutter Island. Sir Ben’s most recent video game related movie was BloodRayne directed by Uwe Boll and the less we say about that the better ,although that certainly falls into the “bad decisions” we mentioned. Alfred Molina has had solid success with summer blockbusters with Raiders of the Lost Ark, a clear inspiration for “Prince of Persia,” being his first movie, and he also played Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2, one of the more highly-regarded superhero movies.
There’s quite a bit of conflict for the casting of Gyllenhaal et al rather than casting Arab or Persian actors who looked more naturally like the video game characters, but that seems to mainly be among the Persian community and shouldn’t have that big an effect on opening weekend. Probably a bigger factor for the movie’s success than the cast is the involvement of Jerry Bruckheimer, a producer who has earned quite a rep among moviegoers, especially for his summer action movies, having been involved with movies such as Top Gun, the early movies of Michael Bay and the aforementioned “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. “Prince of Persia” is certainly in that vein and is trying to replicate the magic of the movie with the help of British filmmaker Mike Newell, best known for Four Weddings and a Funeral and directing the fourth “Harry Potter” movie.
It’s been a while since there’s been a movie based on a video game that was PG-13 but in general, video game movies have a horrible stigma around them, not only among gamers but also among those who don’t play video games at all. The best comparison for this one may be the first Lara Craft: Tomb Raider movie starring Angelina Jolie, which brought in fans of the game but also those interested in seeing the sexy Jolie doing action. Of course, that movie sucked, which is par for the course for movies based on video games, and many games just as popular as “Tomb Raider,” have led to bombs. One good example was the R-rated Doom and even games perfect for the movie treatment like Silent Hill and the “Resident Evil” movies have capped off at $30 million openings at best.
While there certainly will be a group of moviegoers familiar with the video games and probably a good number of fans, Disney and Bruckheimer are trying their best to appeal to everyone else, essentially those who normally would be looking for an action movie to see over Memorial Day weekend. More than anything, probably due to the amount of sand, the movie looks a lot like Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy, which did decently when it opened in 2001, and its sequel The Mummy Returns opened even bigger. Disney has stepped up their game with far better commercials that focus on the action and FX, and they’ve been placing those in the places where they’d get the most attention, such as during the “Lost” finale on Sunday night.
The movie will mostly be targeting young boys and girls from 10 through 16, and though some women may be interested in Jake or the romance, it will be hard getting women over 25 away from the movie unless they’re mothers with kids, in which case they’ll see Sex and the City 2 on Thursday or Friday then take the kids to see this over the weekend. This is more likely to be a movie that families can see as a group, but in that sense, it’s also battling against the second weekend of the “sure-thing sequel” Shrek Forever After.
Reviews are probably going to be mixed at best for a variety of reasons, but as with most summer blockbusters, interest in the movie will come from those enticed by the strong commercials for the movie and awareness of its existence, which should allow it to open decently even if it’s mainly a one weekend wonder and it quickly tails off afterwards.
Why I Should See It: They don’t really make big Arabian epics like this one anymore.
Why Not: Probably for a good reason.
Projections: $49 to 52 million in its opening four-day weekend on its way to $105 to 110 million total.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Micmacs (Sony Pictures Classics)
Starring Dany Boon, Andre Dussollier, Nicolas Marie, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Yolande Moreau, Julie Ferrier, Omar Sy, Dominique Pinon, Michel Cremades, Marie-Julie Baup
Written and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, A Very Long Engagement, Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children) with Guillaume Laurant
Plot Summary: Having lost his father during the war due to a defective mine, video store clerk Bazil (Danny Boon) already has issues with weapons manufacturers, but when he’s shot by a stray bullet during a freak drive-by incident, he swears to get revenge on them, banding with a group of misfits to plot how to take down the companies responsible for his misfortune.
Interview with Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Coming Soon!)
With “The City of Lost Children” being permanently stationed in my Top 10 favorite movies of all time, it’s always a joy whenever Jean-Pierre Jeunet releases a new movie, and this one, which I first saw at the Toronto Film Festival last year, is as clever and imaginative as we’ve come to expect from France’s most distinctively original filmmakerbeing his less than subtle pacifist statement done in the form of a comedy caper.
This time, Jeunet isn’t veering too far from his normal M.O. that combines quirky humor with equally quirky visuals, with more than a few elements reminiscent of earlier films like “Delicatesssen” and “Amélie” to the mix. If you’ve seen any of those movies, you’ll generally be a step ahead of anyone discovering the filmmaker’s work for the first time. “Micmacs” is certainly more entertaining and distinctive than his previous film “A Very Long Engagement,” which wasn’t based on his own original idea.
Essentially, the movie is about Bazil, who is left homeless and jobless after being shot in the head by a stray bullet in a drive-by shooting. Bazil falls in with a group of ex-cons and homeless misfits know as the “Micmacs” who live in a subterranean hideout inside a junkyard, all of them having special skills, including a contortionist and a mad genius who constructs animatronic toys out of everyday junk. Together, they plot a way to bring down the two weapons manufacturers who have brought such misery to their new friend’s life, and the movie quickly turns into something that falls between “Ocean’s 11” crossed with “Bowling for Columbine”-era Michael Moore. The idea is to bring the two weapons manufacturers down and they do this by sabotaging a number of their foreign deals and eventually have the two men fighting against each other.
For those familiar with Danny Boon’s work, it won’t be too surprising that one of France’s top comic actors is excellent as Bazil, displaying the physical humor of a Chaplin or Keaton and showing a lot of emotion without having a ton of dialogue. Of course, Dominic Pinon and other regulars from Jeunet’s ensemble are present, another thing that makes it easier to be comfortable with the tone of the piece. Though Jeunet has put together a neat group of odd characters, once they’re introduced the focus starts to get away from Bazil, and the best Jeunet can do is to set up a rather clunky love triangle between Bazil and two women in the group that never really delivers.
There are certainly many clever and imaginative ideas in the way the group plays tricks on the businessmen, but the overall story never feels like it carries enough weight for a full-length feature film compared to Jeunet’s previous work. Every plan by the group goes over perfectly, so there never seems to be much of a sense of tension or danger even when Bazil is captured.
With that in mind, maybe “Micmacs” isn’t my favorite movie by Jeunet, partially because it often gets too silly or zany for its own good. On the other hand, if you’re already a fan of his quirky sense of humor and storytelling, there are a more than a few enjoyable moments, and the visuals are quite spectacular and like always, something worth marveling over as one tries to figure out how they were achieved.
Jeunet’s Micmacs opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Also in Limited Release:
George A Romero’s Survival of the Dead (Magnet Labs) is the latest zombie movie from the master of the genre. Following up after 2007’s Diary of the Dead, it follows Sgt. Crockett (Alan Van Sprang), as he leads a group of men (and one woman) to Plum Island, a remote location off the coast of Delaware where they hope to be safe from zombies, but instead get caught up in the feud between two Irish families who have different opinions on how to deal with the walking dead. It opens in select cities on Friday and you can find out where on the official site.
Mini-Review: Fans of George Romero’s classic zombie movies of the ’70s and his stylish horror of the ’80s, who might have still been on board with his low-fi “Diary of the Dead” may have a harder time forgiving his eccentricities this time around, as he clearly seems to be more interested in making a Western or telling an Irish family drama than sustaining his horror legacy. Sure, the trademark zombies that made Romero famous are still ever-present, as they should be, but his latest entry in the never-ending franchise is neither funny nor scary. It’s just a big mess that sucks what little good will the filmmaker may have built from his diehard fanbase.
Sure, the gory make-up effects are impressive as always, but there’s only so many times you can watch a zombie bite a chunk out of someone’s neck or watch them being shot with a flourish of CG blood spray before it gets tiring. There needs to be a story or characters the viewer cares about whether they live or die, and that’s partially where the movie falters. It follows the group of opportunistic soldiers from “Diary” who robbed the heroes of that movie, as they’re trying to survive, making their way to a remote island where the zombies are the least of their problems. No, the inhabitants of the island are made-up of two Irish families who have been feuding for years, a conflict that comes to a head when they have opposing views on how to deal with the walking dead. That could be a good environment for strong drama except that the writing is weaker than Romero’s previous movies, and the acting is just horrendous, made even worse by some of the worst Irish accents you’re likely to ever hear. Why there are so many Irish people living on an island off the coast of Delaware is never explained, but that’s really the smallest of the movie’s issues. One imagines that with a better cast of stronger actors, this film might have thrived but clearly, the money is being spent on the make-up department rather than on creating believable characters.
When one of the female characters shows up as a zombie riding by on a horse it’s hard enough not to start laughing hysterically; when the same actress turns up alive announcing that was her twin sister on her horse–a sister that was never even mentioned up until that point–you quickly realize how badly this movie and Romero has lost the plot. Things just go downhill from there to the point where not even the massive zombie attack that makes for the film’s climax can save it. Animal lovers and PETA members will probably be quite revolted by the fate of that horse, too. “Survival of the Dead” is clear proof it’s time for Romero to give up the zombie and MOVE ON. Rating: 4.5/10
Stéphane Brizé’s Mademoiselle Chambon (Lorber Films) stars French actress/singer Sandrine Kiberlain (Apres Vous) as an elementary school teacher who becomes involved with the parent of one of her students, a gruff homebuilder (Vincent Lindon–Kiberlain’s former husband). The French romance opens in New York at the Cinema Village on Friday.
Rachel Weisz plays the philosopher and astronomer Hypatia in Agora (Newmarket Films), the new movie from Alejandro Amenabar (The Others, The Sea Inside) that looks at the violent conflict between religions in ancient Alexandria, Egypt, while Hypatia herself is caught between two men in the struggle, her Christian servant Davus (Minghella) and her wealthy student and suitor Orestes (Oscar Issac). It opens in select cities.
French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Love’s drama The Father of My Children (IFC Films) stars Louis-Do de Lencquesaing as a film producer who is generally happy in life until he starts having financial problems that puts his family’s resilience to the test. It opens at New York’s IFC Center on Friday, having opened last Friday in L.A.
Next week, the month of June kicks off with four (!) new movies, which means that the Weekend Warrior may have to work through his vacation… Booooooo! Russell Brand and Jonah Hill reteam for the road comedy Get Him to the Greek (Universal), Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl are Killers (Lionsgate)… of comedy maybe! The comic strip character Marmaduke (20th Century Fox) comes to life, a prospect that may be even scarier than Vincenzo Natali’s sci-fi thriller Splice (Warner Bros.)
Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas