The Weekend Warrior: June 11 – 13

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. (Reminder: We’ll be posting on Wednesday for the next few months.)

If you aren’t doing so already, you can follow The Weekend Warrior on Twitter where he talks about box office, movies and all sorts of random things.

Updated Predictions and Comparisons -

UPDATE: Well, both new movies are opening in more theaters than our earlier projections and both movies seem to have interest, but it will be a very close race for the top spot, and though The Karate Kid should surpass The A-Team on Saturday, and the latter will also lose business on Sunday night with the NBC finals in full gear.

1. The A-Team (20th Century Fox) – $35.8 million N/A (down 1.6 million)

2. The Karate Kid (Sony) – $34.5 million N/A (up 1.1 million)

3. Shrek Forever After (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $14.8 million -42% (down .5 million)

4. Get Him to the Greek (Universal) – $10.9 million -38% (up .3 million)

5. Killers (LIonsgate) – $8.4 million -47% (down .1 million)

6. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Disney) – $7.3 million -48% (same)

7. Marmaduke (20th Century Fox) – $6.8 million -40% (same)

8. Sex and the City 2 (New Line/WB) – $6.0 million -52% (down .5 million)

9. Iron Man 2 (Marvel/Paramount) – $4.0 million -49% (down .1 million)

10. Splice (Warner Bros.) – $3.4 million -54% (down .2 million)

Weekend Overview

June continues with a ’80s Retro Extravaganza, so break out your “Hot Tub Time Machine” for two movies that will try to score on the nostalgia factor inherent in almost everyone over 25 years old, and the only real question is whether there are enough nostalgic ’80s fans to go around.

The retro-movie with the best bet at winning the weekend is Joe Carnahan’s take on the popular television show The A-Team (20th Century Fox), featuring Bradley Cooper, Liam Neeson, District 9‘s Sharlto Copley and a mixed martial artist known as “Rampage” in the role formerly played by Mr. T. The original show has many male fans over 25 and with a strong cast and the promise of a similar amount of action and fun, there should be enough of a male audience looking for mindless entertainment. With no big sports games on Friday and Saturday night, expect them to go out to the movies in force for the first time in a while, although it’s not the kind of movie that could have long-term legs unless word-of-mouth is on par with last year’s Star Trek.

Meanwhile, the 1984 classic The Karate Kid (Sony) gets the remake treatment, teaming Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan for a new take on the story of a boy who finds a friend, mentor and substitute father in a handyman who teaches him martial arts, in this case in China. The original movie has millions of fans and they’ll want to share the movie with their kids. With schools having let out in some areas should help the movie on Friday and Sunday, though this is likely to be a word-of-mouth sleeper hit rather than a movie that explodes out of the gate.

Essentially, this weekend will be a battle between moviegoers who will go see a movie based on the name value that comes with nostalgia and those who are vehemently opposed to Hollywood’s affinity for remakes, but with the box office being so down in recent weeks, we expect the former to win even if both movies open under $40 million.

This week’s “Chosen One” is the doc Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (IFC Films), which you can read more about below.

This weekend last year saw the release of two new movies in wide release, but neither could take down the one-two punch of Warner Bros.’ hit comedy The Hangover and Pixar’s Up which retained the top two spots with over $30 million each. That left the Tony Scott remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (Sony) starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta to take third place with $23.4 million in over 3,000 theaters. Eddie Murphy’s latest family movie Imagine That (Paramount) opened with just $5.5 million for sixth place. The Top 10 grossed $129 million and with the success of the two new movies, that amount should be reached, but if either of them falters, we may have another down weekend.


The A-Team (20th Century Fox)
Starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, Gerald McRane
Directed by Joe Carnahan (Narc, Smokin’ Aces); Written by Skip Woods (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Hitman, Swordfish), Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom
Genre: Action, Comedy
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “There is No Plan B” (Well, there was but then the movie changed its title to The Back-Up Plan)
Plot Summary: A group of Iraq War Special Forces soldiers go rogue once they’re framed for crimes they didn’t commit with hopes of using their unique talents to clear their names with the U.S. military and find out who was really responsible for what they’re being accused of doing.

Interview with Joe Carnahan

Mini-Review: There’s a good chance if I was even remotely a fan of the ’80s television show on which this new summer action movie was based, I would probably appreciate this movie more, but there’s no denying this is a movie director Joe Carnahan was born to make and a movie that Sharlto Copley was born to steal from the rest of the cast.

At first, it’s difficult to adjust to Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper trying to channel their ’80s counterparts as the movie opens in Mexico with an extended pre-title prelude that brings the group of Army Rangers together to take down a corrupt Mexican general. This isn’t a throwaway as much as it’s own little mini-movie culminating in a money shot-filled air chase.

After that somewhat jarring introduction, the movie cuts to eight years later, the group having gotten comfortable working together. While in Baghdad, they’re informed by Jessica Biel’s Captain Sosa about a number of stolen printing plates used to counterfeit money by Sadam Hussein’s administration. A number of factions want to get their hands on them for obvious reasons, but ultimately, Hannibal’s team is blamed for the theft by the military, they’re court-martialed and thrown into separate prisons. If you know the A-Team, you’ll probably know what comes next as they escape and try to clear their names.

The above is a fairly simplified version of what’s a fairly complex plot, one that’s hard to follow at times, especially with the questions about never knowing who is good or bad. Throughout the story, there are a number of sly and clever nods to the original show, as well as a few that are a little more overt and obvious. It’s always fun watching Neeson’s Hannibal laying out the game plan for each mission at the same time we’re watching that plan come together.

Bradley Cooper doesn’t have to stretch as the group’s ladies’ man “Face,” essentially spending much of the movie shirtless finding the humor in his womanizing ways and having some nice moments with Jessica Biel. Ultimate fighter “Rampage” Jackson–nice of him to bring his own “A-Team nickname” to the show–takes a bit more adjusting to than Neeson’s impression of Peppard, though he does a good job easing into the role, especially in the second half where they give B.A. Barracus a funny twist. In general, he’s better than most “actors” that come from his field, more on par with rapper-turned-actors – not quite as bad as 50 Cent, but not quite as good as Common or Ludacris. Copley is much easier to buy as Murdock, and in fact, he pretty much steals the movie with his funny comments and antics. His accent is perfect, made even funnier when he resorts to his own South African for one gag, and if you aren’t into his schtick at first, his “Mel Gibson moment” will seal the deal. Copley and Jackson have some great buddy moments and the movie never loses sight of how important that chemistry is to the movie working. The last role of any significance is Patrick Wilson as Lynch, the CIA agent who seems to have ulterior motives in hiring the A-Team, and while it’s always obvious he’s a snake not to be trusted, he really makes the most out of the role.

Sure, it seems long at two hours, but it’s so perfectly-paced with its four absolutely insane action set pieces spread throughout so that one never gets bored. This is clearly Carnahan’s show all the way, and he really has upped his game, taking some of the things he did in “Smokin’ Aces” and relishing the increased budget to really let his creativity run wild with some truly unique action scenes. While much of the humor is fairly wild and madcap, driven by heightened performances, he also knows how to bring clever subtle humor to quieter scenes. Also, the movie just looks great due to the stylish cinematography of Mauro Fiore, and it only loses a bit in the action scenes due to the overuse of close-ups and speedy editing. Coming so soon after the similarly-minded “The Losers” could detract from enjoying the movie, but Carnahan is clearly a better filmmaker who maintains a consistent tone and look throughout.

Overall, “The A-Team” tries a bit too hard to cater to fans of the original show at times, but it’s exactly the type of fun escapist entertainment we need this summer. Rating: 7.5/10

Analysis:

There was a time when the summer was all about action movies, but nowadays, that sort of fun, mindless entertainment that used to be so prevalent in the ’80s and ’90s just doesn’t seem as frequent. No, instead, every action movie has to have romance for the ladies and stuff that younger audiences might enjoy while guys over 25 get more and more cynical about all the crap in theaters this summer. It’s certainly an interesting environment for the release of a movie that many guys have been looking forward to, a big screen version of the mid-’80s television show The A-Team, created by Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell to run on NBC from 1983 to 1986. The popularity of the show created a fairly large mostly male cult audience with its use of humor and violence in a way that hasn’t really been seen on television. For everyone else, the show was probably most famous for introducing one Mr. T and his unforgettable catchphrases like “I pity the fool!”

With many previous television to film transplants being relatively successful including the first Charlie’s Angels and S.W.A.T., plus comedy versions of Starsky and Hutch and The Dukes of Hazzard, it made sense that someone would eventually get to “The A-Team.” What’s odd is that it’s coming out when there’s something in the air with other movies clearly influenced by the show and the ’80s and ’90s summer action movies it inspired, including April’s The Losers and the upcoming The Expendables.

Maybe the oddest thing about the new movie is that it’s directed by Joe Carnahan, who started out doing indie crime films, coming out of the same general DIY school as the likes of Tarantino and Kevin Smith. This is only Carnahan’s fourth feature length movie as a director in the twelve years since his debut Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane. (Yeah, just the name of his debut screams “This guy should direct an A-Team movie,” doesn’t it?) Since then, Carnahan directed the critically-acclaimed Narc and the cult action flick Smokin’ Aces, and he certainly has established a strong cult fanbase similar to Kevin Smith. Actually, it’s somewhat ironic that Carnahan’s first real “for hire” franchise gig comes out the same year as Smith’s ’80s-influenced action comedy Cop Out, since both movies are targeting a similar audience.

What Carnahan has going for him that Smith didn’t is that he’s making a movie with a strong namebrand, but also he’s assembled an amazing cast that includes the stars of three of last year’s biggest sleeper hits, starting with Bradley Cooper in the Dirk Benedict role of Templeton Peck aka “Face,” whose starring role in the breakout blockbuster comedy The Hangover has raise his status among producers and studios to the point where he can be considered a big draw for a male-bonding movie like this one. Next up is Liam Neeson, who last year starred in the revenge thriller hit Taken and has taken on the role of John “Hannibal” Smith originally played by George Peppard on the show. It’s a odd choice being that Neeson is better known for his serious dramas, including his Oscar-nominated role in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. As the popular crazy man H.M. (“Howling Mad”) Murdock, Carnahan got Sharlto Copley, the South African actor who made his debut in Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 last year, though that may not be enough for American audiences to know who he is. Lastly, in the role made famous by Mr. T, that of B.A. Baracus is mixed martial artist Quinton “Rampage” Jackson whose better known for his tenure in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) than his acting roles, but he should bring a similar attitude and toughness as Mr. T.

One of the guys who was constantly chasing after the A-Team on the show was Colonel Lynch, played by William Lucking. For the movie, they got Patrick Wilson, best known for his performance in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen and Todd Field’s Little Children. To add a little bit of sex appeal to the movie, there’s the luscious Jessica Biel as government agent Captain Clarissa Sosa, kind of a love interest for Bradley Cooper. Biel has appeared quite regularly in genre fare and movies for guys including Blade: Trinity, Rob Cohen’s bomb Stealth and the Adam Sandler comedy I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Although prolific character actor Yul Vazquez has probably been seen in thousands of movies audiences have seen, he gets to play a prominent role as the film’s bad guy General Xavier Tuco. It’s a pretty diverse cast overall that will hope to bring in a wide range of ages and ethnicities from the variety being offered.

The original show does have a fairly diehard fanbase even 25 years later, so much of the movies’ audience is likely to be older guys who have a nostalgic fondness for the show and are interested in seeing what Carnahan brings to it with new actors. Even so, that may limit the movie’s audience somewhat to guys over 25 with little to no interest for women of any age or male teens, who’ll see this more as “their father’s action movie.”

Sure, there have been movies based on old TV shows that were able to bring in a younger audiences like the movie version of S.W.A.T. – starring Colin Farrell, who also teamed with Jamie Foxx for Michael Mann’s Miami Vice movie. There was also the “Charlie’s Angels” movies, the first which did great but the sequel which kinda tanked. Straight comedy takes on old shows didn’t fare as well but they still brought in quite a bit of business based on the fans of the original shows curious about what comic actors like Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson might bring to Starsky & Hutch or Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott might bring to The Dukes of Hazzard. Carnahan’s “A-Team” is probably more like Charlie’s Angels in that it’s mixing comedy in with the action and trying to make a big bombastic action movie, though it will skew more male than that movie did. Unfortunately, few people have actually loved any of the previous TV-movie transitions so The A-Team may be facing some hesitance from those who remembered how bad those previous movie adaptations were.

Then again, The A-Team is also probably hoping to achieve the success of last year’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which successfully channeled ’80s male nostalgia into a viable modern action movie, although it probably was able to bring in a young audience as well, helped by opening later in summer when schools were out and people were more likely to take off on Friday to see a movie.

There was probably a time when a movie like this could open over $40 million easily, and maybe it still will, but this has been a disappointing summer where nothing has met expectations, and even with the diehard fanbase of the show that are excited about this movie, moviegoers generally seem more tentative about rushing out to see anything. Even so, the desire for a straight no-frills action movie is pervasive, even if movies like MacGruber and The Losers didn’t tap into it as well as hoped. We can probably expect The A-Team to have one of the higher per-theater averages of the last few weeks other than the big sequels. Whether it holds up for repeat business with weaker offerings for guys over the next month is another story.

Why I Should See It: Joe Carnahan promises to bring all the humor from the show to an action movie that seems right up his alley as a filmmaker.
Why Not: Having not been a fan of the television show, I really don’t get the appeal of revisiting it.
Projections: $36 to 39 million opening weekend and roughly $105 to 110 million total.

COMPARISONS


The Karate Kid (Sony)
Starring Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith, Taraji P. Henson
Directed by Harald Zwart (Pink Panther 2, Agent Cody Banks, One Night at McCool’s) ; Written by Chris Murphy, Steve Conrad (Bandidas, Taken, The Transporter)
Genre: Action, Adventure
Rated PG
Plot Summary: After moving to China with his mother (Taraji P. Henson), 12-year-old Dre (Jaden Smith) becomes the target of bullies with martial arts training, and realizing the only way to protect himself is to learn to fight back, he tries to convince the building caretaker Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) to teach him Kung Fu.

Interview with Harald Zwart

Review

Analysis:

The second retro-remake of the weekend is this new take on the 1984 movie that could be considered responsible for the martial arts trend that permeated the ’80s and early ’90s, and has become a cult classic among guys over 30 while scoring an Oscar nomination for Pat Morito – yes, the Japanese cook from “Happy Days. The original movie spawned two sequels, one that was equally successful a couple years later, and then a less successful threequel, but then in 1994, there was an unfortunate attempt to reboot the franchise with The Next Karate Kid starring a very young Hilary Swank, which bombed, big time.

One would think that would be that, but now 16 years later, the pairing of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and original producer Jerry Weintraub have teamed together to try to revive the popular tale in a new version that takes place in China. The first thing they did is cast the two key roles, Jaden Smith in the title role and Jackie Chan as his mentor Mr. Han. While the younger Smith has yet to prove himself as a leading actor, he impressed a lot of people when paired with his father in the drama The Pursuit of Happyness, for which the older Smith received an Oscar nomination. The younger Smith then appeared with Keanu Reeves in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, a one-weekend wonder if ever there was one.

While Smith doesn’t have a strong box office record yet, he’s teamed with Jackie Chan, who continues to be one of the most popular Asian actors in the United States. Chan has been making movies for almost three decades but he only broke out in this country in the mid-90s thanks to the vocal support of martial arts fan Quentin Tarantino. Not long after Chan’s first movie was imported here, he was teamed with Chris Tucker for Bret Ratner’s Rush Hour and the rest was history, leading to one hugely successful sequel and a threequel that made roughly the same as the first movie. Just like in the ’80s, young kids love martial arts, which is why Jackie Chan continues to be popular among a younger audience with movies like Forbidden Kingdom. He also provided a voice in the hugely successfully DreamWorks Animation movie Kung Fu Panda, and though his pairing with Tucker will be considered a high watermark, he certainly has similar chemistry with the younger Smith.

Playing Jaden’s mother is actress Taraji P. Henson, who also played a mother in David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which got her an Oscar nomination, and the film is directed by Dutch-Norwegian filmmaker Harald Zwart, who is best known in this country for making high concept family comedies like Agent Cody Banks and The Pink Panther 2, so this is very different for him.

While there have been many remakes over the years, most of them go back to the ’60s or ’70s and tackling a beloved movie from the ’80s is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the familiar name will jump out on the marquee to those familiar with the original movie, but it also will face a ton of cynicism not only from critics but also from moviegoers who have gotten somewhat sick of Hollywood laziness for presenting new material. Then again, moviegoers haven’t been too open to new things either this summer, which may be why Hollywood always goes back to old stand-bys like remakes and sequels.

To put it bluntly, “going black” with the remake at least in terms of two of the lead characters can help bring in a much more diverse audience then the movie may have otherwise, and Chan’s presence should help make the movie a draw for many Asian-Americans as well. In fact, the last time a movie successfully brought in those two ethnic groups was when Chan was teamed with Chris Tucker for the three “Rush Hour” movies, the second one being hugely successful.

The problem is that there will probably be a ton of crossover between guys who liked the original movie when they were kids and may be interested in seeing this movie and those who would want to see The A-Team, and that’s more likely to be a first choice at least over the weekend. On the other hand, one can expect that most boys 15 and under will want to see the movie and will be able to relate to the character. That brings us to the second problem, which is that the family audiences who might normally go to see this movie after opening weekend will have the latest monster from Disney•Pixar, Toy Story 3, opening next weekend, which might make it harder for the movie to have legs. Still, the movie is definitely better than it looks from the commercials, which means word-of-mouth should be strong enough that people will check it out in their own sweet time and this could maintain business through the rest of the month and into the 4th of July, bringing in business as schools start letting out.

Either way, this is a strong film with a lot of emotion and entertainment value, which is why it’s been reported as having the highest test scores for a Sony release (apparently ever) and that sort of endorsement can often work better than reviews, which are likely to be mixed due to the fact it’s a remake, the casting and the director, all of which will make it hard for critics to support it.

Why I Should See It: As a fan of the movie, this really captures the heart and feel of the original movie adding the magic of China and fantastic chemistry between Smith and Chan.
Why Not: Fans of the original may feel like they’ve already seen the movie and will know where it’s going.
Projections: $31 to 35 million opening weekend and roughly $140 to 150 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (IFC Films)
Starring Joan Rivers, Don Rickles, Kathy Griffin, Melissa Rivers
Directed by Ricki Stern with Anne Sundberg (The Devil Came on Horseback)
Genre: Documentary, Comedy
Rated R
Plot Summary: The career of the controversial, polarizing comic Joan Rivers is covered in this doc which has cameras following her around for a year of her life while she’s trying to figure out what the next step in her career may be.

Interview with Joan Rivers

At this point, to even mention the fact that this was another great doc I saw at the Tribeca Film Festival would be somewhat redundant, and in all fairness, this new movie from the filmmakers behind the Darfur movie The Devil Came on Horseback premiered at the Sundance Film Festival first.

For most people, hearing the name “Joan Rivers” usually makes one think of plastic surgery or the red carpet or an incredibly abrasive personality. Yet like every human being, and especially for one considered a living legend, the 77-year-old television personality has a lot more layers than what may immediately be seen on the surface. This doc is more about the woman we don’t get to see on TV and stage, and in fact, it opens with close-ups of her applying the heavy make-up that covers the plastic surgery she’s become famous for.

Now if you’re not a fan of Ms. Rivers or have problems with her schtick, you may immediately be shutting off your brain, because you’re not likely to feel like you’d have any interest in a documentary about her. And yet, that makes this movie even more important for you to see, because it does such a good job disproving some of the preconceived misconceptions many people tend to have about Rivers. While it does go over her history in show business, the cameras also act as a fly on the wall as Rivers prepares a new play and tries to keep busy, often taking whatever is thrown her way. By the third act, Rivers is starting to get offered more high-profile gigs like the Comedy Central roast and “Celebrity Apprentice,” making it seem like things are improving. Throughout the film, Rivers proves herself to be one of the hardest working comedians of her generation, constantly trying to maintain a career flow with younger comics like Kathy Griffin and Sarah Silverman nipping at her heels.

What’s amazing is how comfortable Rivers is with the cameras in terms of allowing the filmmakers access into her life and being candid and open with them during the interview segments, not allowing any topic to go untouched, whether it’s leaving her hosting duties on “The Tonight Show” and Johnny Carson never speaking to her again, to the suicide of her husband Edgar, her relationship with daughter Melissa, her proclivity for plastic surgery and other things, but it’s all countered with her humor, as it cuts this footage from various shows over the course of the year.

For the most part, the movie focuses on her better side, whether it’s doing charity work or taking time to talk to the fans, but it always seems very genuine, since it would be nearly impossible to maintain that sort of persona for 14 months of filming. Once Rivers gets on stage, she lets rip with the type of rude and raunchy humor that has made her famous and her fans love, and watching the difference in how she is on stage and how she is in her regular life is quite amazing to watch.

More than anything, the film is a fantastic achievement for the way the filmmakers were able to condense a year in Rivers’ busy life into 90 solid fascinating minutes. The results are a truly original doc and one of the year’s best, on par with Exit Through the Gift Shop, heartfelt and funny and thoroughly entertaining.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work opens in New York and L.A. on Friday and then in other cities on June 18 and 25.

Honorable Mention:

Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen, the filmmakers behind Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey explore the lives and career of the popular Canadian metal trio in Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (Banger Films), which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival to rave reviews, winning the Audience Award. It will play for one night theatrically in select cities on Wednesday, June 10, before its DVD release on June 29. You can find out more about its theatrical release on the Official Site and look for our interview with the directors sometime before the DVD release.

Also in Limited Release:

Jan Kounen’s Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (Sony Pictures Classics) stars Anna Mouglalis and Mads Mikkelsen, as the French fashion mogul and temperamental Russian composer who had a torrid affair after she had him and his family move in with her while she funded his work on “The Rite of Spring.” It opens in New York and L.A.

Interview with Mads Mikkelsen

Mini-Review: These days, it’s hard to find old school film romances like the ones from the early days of cinema, because so many modern attempts are tempered by hokey Hollywood ideas that take away from the intricacies of romance. That’s one of the reasons it’s nice to see a movie that explores the enigmatic relationship between two famous historical figures who’ve had such a huge impact on fashion and music respectively.

The film opens with a ballet performed to Stravinsky’s turbulent “Rite of Spring” in Paris, which nearly leads to a full-scale riot, and many years later, the already powerful Coco Chanel, who had been in attendance at that show, meets Stravinsky in a social setting and convinces him to move with his entire family from Russia to live in her country mansion while he finishes the symphony. The sullen composer has already been having problems with his wife Catherine (Elena Morozova), but having the beautiful and mysterious Chanel slinking around is too much for their marriage to handle, as he finds a kindred spirit in the fashion maven. One would think the two of them could never possibly connect, since they’re both quite cold at times, but it creates for an interesting dichotomy to the passion within their creative works and their relationship.

Jan Kounen has created an incredibly beautiful film in every respect due to the stylish way the film is shot combined with the powerful usage of Stravinsky’s music. In many ways, it’s a better film than the previous “Coco Before Chanel,” because it doesn’t just focus on the fashion plate before her fame, which isn’t particularly interesting in itself, but having a chance to show the composer’s demeanor during this fascinating period of time where he was trying to decide his musical path. When the two aren’t on screen together, the movie goes back and forth between Chanel working on creating her first fragrance and Stravinsky’s writing.

As would be expected, the entire emotional drive for this film grows out of the performances by Mads Mikkelsen and Anna Mouglalis, who have a fiery on-screen chemistry, particularly during the love scenes. Mikkelsen isn’t just convincing when playing piano or speaking Russian but also when speaking French, since he does it with a Russian accent, though the silent and brooding composer is seldom saying more than a few words at a time. Mouglalis is just as compelling playing Chanel as Audrey Tautou, though playing the older and more sophisticated version allows her a lot more room to create a sultry goddess of a woman whose sexual appeal is quite obvious and pervasive.

It’s a little slow and stiff at times due to the nature of the characters, especially leading up to the first sexual encounter between Coco and Igor. Once those flames are ignited, the film is far more interesting, being as much about the relationship between the two women in Stravinsky’s life as it is about his relationship with the one woman who has the fame and wealth and power to keep Igor under her thumb. Morozova is quite strong as the wife who feels threatened by Chanel’s presence, but she trusts her man as far as she possibly can.

When she finally realizes what’s going on and leaves with the kids, Stravinsky becomes more obsessed Chanel, only to have her cut off the sexual nature of the relationship, and things start to settle back down, possibly a bit too much. The decision to cut forward a number of decades for a brief epilogue is a somewhat disappointing and unsatisfying way to end things, especially after the fireworks earlier in the film. Visually and thematically compelling, this is a classic performance-driven romance drama that’s only marred by the languid pacing—the second half is infinitely better than the first but it’s always better whenever Mikkelsen and Mouglalis are on screen together. Rating: 7.5/10

Winter’s Bone (Roadside Attractions), the new indie drama from Debra Granik (Down to the Bone) stars newcomer Jennifer Lawrence as 17-year-old Ree, who goes looking for her missing convict father after he disappears, skipping his bail, and putting her and her mother in danger of losing their house. To find him, she confronts her relatives who live with a code of silence in the Ozark woods putting her own life in danger. The Jury prize winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival opens in New York and L.A. on Friday and then expands on June 18.

Ralph Ziman’s crime-drama Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema (Anchor Bay Films) looks at the crime and corruption in the crime-infested area of Johannesburg where a petty criminal starts getting into bigger crimes like armed robbery and carjacking and masterminding a plan to steal money from the local tenement landlords. It opens in New York, L.A. and Houston on Friday.

Kings of the Evening (Indican) is a PG drama from Andrew P. Jones about an inmate returning home after two years in jail to deal with the bleak town caught in the Great Depression, and is thrown together with four strangers trying to get out of their poverty of the ghetto by entering a weekly contest where they can escape from their conditions.


Next week, the month of June gets real with the release of the latest movie from Pixar, the threequel Toy Story 3 (Disney/Pixar). Also, Josh Brolin stars as the DC Comics Western character Jonah Hex (Warner Bros.)

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas

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