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: Not a lot of changes and pretty much holding the line on the two main openers. This weekend will be all about Toy Story 3 with The Karate Kid and The A-Team picking up some spillover business from sell-outs as well as getting a bump on Father’s Day. One additional note, 20th Century Fox’s action-comedy Knight and Day starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz will get sneak previews on Saturday.
1. Toy Story 3 (Disney/Pixar) – $115.3 million N/A (same)
2. The Karate Kid (Sony) – $31.8 million -42% (minus .7 million)
3. The A-Team (20th Century Fox) – $12.7 million -51% (up .2 million)
4. Jonah Hex (Warner Bros.) – $10.1 million N/A (down .4 million)
5. Shrek Forever After (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) $8.3 million -48% (same)
6. Get Him to the Greek (Universal) – $5.5 million -42% (down .3 million)
7. Killers (LIonsgate) – $4.2 million -48% (same)
8. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Disney) – $3.0 million -54% (same)
9. Marmaduke (20th Century Fox) – $2.7 million -55% (down .2 million)
10. Sex and the City 2 (New Line/WB) – $2.5 million -53% (down .1 million)
With this summer being down from last year and there being an ongoing ennui among moviegoers, it’s up to Pixar Animation Studios to save the box office with one of the most anticipated threequels in years, as Buzz, Woody and their toy friends return for Toy Story 3 (Disney/Pixar Animation Studios), directed by Lee Unkrich. The first two movies are beloved classics among a wide audience of moviegoers, who have helped make Pixar one of the most consistently reliable animation houses in terms of quality and box office performance. Saturating theaters in all formats including digital 3D and IMAX 3D this weekend, it pretty much sells itself, which is why moviegoers will be out in force, whether it’s parents bringing their young kids who never saw the originals, teens who grew up watching the original movies, whether it’s the millions of people who have fond memories of the original movies or the millions of fans Pixar has established in the 12 years since then. There’s really no reason Toy Story 3 can’t make a play for the recent opening record set by Disney for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, although business may be spread out, because older Pixar fans tend to be more patient in terms of waiting to see their movies after opening weekend. Even so, with a short running time and the higher 3D ticket prices, we should see this one defy the downer attitude that’s hurt so many sequels so far this summer so far. With Father’s Day being Sunday, that can only help this one do bigger business opening weekend than any previous Pixar release.
On the other hand, the first (and probably last) film appearance by the DC Comics Western character Jonah Hex (Warner Bros.), played by Josh Brolin and co-starring hottie Megan Fox, hasn’t done much to get many moviegoers excited, except possibly the slightly older teen comic book readers, since it essentially looks like a video game version of a Western. Granted, there’s a Western video game doing big business right now, but with rather late (and incredibly lazy) promotion for the movie by Warner Bros., this one’s likely to disappoint this weekend, and then tank once bad word-of-mouth kills any chances of legs, making it another one of the summer’s big bombs.
This week’s “Chosen One” is the adaptation of Jim Thompson’s pulp novel The Killer Inside Me (IFC Films) from director Michael Winterbottom, starring Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba. You can read more about it below.
This weekend last year, there was the second comedy feud of the month with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds taking on Jack Black and Michael Cera. The former’s romantic comedy The Proposal (Disney/Touchstone) had a definite win, topping the box office with $33.6 million, making it Bullock’s biggest opening movie and beginning an amazing year for the actress who would win an Oscar for her next movie The Blind Side. Despite its huge opening, The Proposal went on to be a great follow-up to The Hangover as it grossed $163 million over the rest of the summer. Meanwhile, Harold Ramis’ biblical comedy Year One (Sony) opened with a relatively disappointing $19.6 million for fourth place below The Hangover and Pixar’s Up. The Top 10 grossed just under $140 million, an amount that should be destroyed by the arrival of Toy Story 3, which could make close to that amount on its own.
THE BATTLE CRY
I was hoping to write about this last week with the release of The Karate Kid and The A-Team, but it still seems rather pertinent, and that’s the question about how important suspension of disbelief is to enjoying not just summer movies, but just in general.
We’ve all had those moments where we watch a movie that we’re quite enjoying, then suddenly, something happens that completely throws us off and makes it impossible for us to enjoy any more of it. As much as we look at movies as escapist entertainment, unless we’re watching fantasy or science fiction or something completely foreign to our way of life, we generally expect things to follow a certain logic that makes sense to our own point of view. I talk to so many people about movies, both ones they like and ones they don’t like, and I’d say maybe 85% of the time what tends to kill a movie for them is that they’re watching it and then all of a sudden, something happens that makes them think, “That wasn’t believable.” After that, it’s all over and there’s no convincing them that it’s a good movie. In fact, some people will dwell on those things for years, like for instance, the famous scene where Indiana Jones survived a nuclear explosion by getting into a refrigerator that created the meme “nuking the fridge.”
It’s one of the thing that constantly challenges every filmmaker, because it’s the director’s job to convince the audience that everything happening on screen works with some sort of logic, knowing full well once you’ve lost their ability to suspend disbelief, you’ve lost your audience. The good filmmakers that we respect and appreciate care about things like that and make every effort to keep us on board. Ironically, the guys at Pixar are really amazing at this because they’ve been able to make us believe in everything from toys that come to life and talk… to cars that come to life and talk… to a dog that talks. Okay, fine, so they’re really good at making us believe one specific thing over and over again, but being able to watch any of their animated movies and being drawn into those worlds, often forgetting we’re watching animation, is part of the magic of Pixar.
So let’s go back and look at last week’s movies and how this suspension is important to enjoying them. I will give a small SPOILER WARNING right here for them since we’re talking about a specific plot point in them, though both have been shown in the trailers/commercials. Joe Carnahan’s The A-Team certainly requires it more than The Karate Kid remake, because you see the movie’s heroes getting into all sorts of insane situations that probably could never happen nor could anyone possibly survive them, and yet they do. For instance, it’s not even remotely believable that a tank being dropped from the sky can be flown by shooting the guns in different directions but that’s exactly what is expected from audiences to believe that maybe it’s possible. The thing is that it’s a really crazy and funny sequence that fits in well with the tone of the movie, and yet for many people, that scene is so ridiculous they immediately discount the rest of the movie.
Now The Karate Kid certainly goes more for realism, and it’s not uncommon to see from-behind underdog stories in real-life sports. In that case, we have to believe that the act of Jaden Smith taking a jacket on and hanging it up over and over is the basis for him being able to fight off Jackie Chan using kung fu, not to mention that a few weeks of training is enough to take part in a tournament with much more experienced fighters. Both of those things happen in the movie. He is doing the jacket thing we see in the trailer and then after a few weeks of doing that, he can suddenly fight Jackie Chan. Do I believe that? No, not at all. Did it ruin my enjoyment of the movie? Nope, it didn’t.
So that brings up the question of how far something has to go to completely take you out of a movie and why we sometimes will be accepting of ridiculous things in movies that aren’t meant to be mindless humor, but not accept things in movies that are clearly meant to be fantasy. For instance, I still TOTALLY believe that being possessed by the symbiote could turn Tobey Maguire into Buddy Love from “The Nutty Professor,” while I remember being driven by the action movie 16 Blocks since every time I recognized a street sign or subway stop, it took me right out of the movie since the geography was completely off. (Even tiny things like an impossible address in Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth still bothers me!)
That being said, I do find myself being slightly more lenient than my peers in terms of believing what movies tell me, but that isn’t always the case, and I’ve yet to figure out why one thing works while another doesn’t. So essentially I don’t necessarily have an answer for this question of why and how we suspend disbelief at times and not at others. In some ways, I’m hoping the two or three of you who read the “Battle Cry” when I get around to writing one will chime in and let us know your feelings on the subject. That is, if you can put it into words, because it is something that’s often part of our subconscious, something we rarely think about, too. Wherever you stand on the debate about the importance of the suspension of disbelief and how it plays into our enjoyment of movies, hopefully that’s not something that’s a dealbreaker for you, since one assumes many filmmakers are doing their best to try to maintain some sort of realism even in fantasy movies.
I guess the real test will be Christopher Nolan’s Inception, because we’ll see whether critics and moviegoers will be more lenient about that suspension of disbelief especially when it comes to a concept that’s more outlandish than a flying tank or using a jacket for martial arts training. While Nolan is a smart enough filmmaker to think out every possible angle to make whatever he does believable–we saw that with The Prestige, right?–I have a feeling that the combined anticipation for the movie and continued adulation for The Dark Knight will allow Nolan to get a pass where so many filmmakers have to fight for their audience’s confidence and faith. I also predict that this week’s Jonah Hex will not get any favors from anyone.
Toy Story 3 (Disney/Pixar Animation Studios)
Starring (the voices of) Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, John Morris, Laurie Metcalf, R. Lee Ermey, Jodi Benson, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, Timothy Dalton, Jeff Garlin, Bonnie Hunt, Whoopi Goldberg, Kristen Schaal, Blake Clark
Directed by Lee Unkrich (co-director of Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo); Written by Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine)
Genre: Animation, Family, Comedy
Tagline: “No toy gets left behind.”
Plot Summary: As their owner Andy heads off to college, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Woody (Tom Hanks) and their toy friends have to figure out what’s going to happen to them. They wind up at a Day Care facility where they meet lots of kids who can’t wait to “play” with them. The question is whether the toys can survive in this new environment without the love and care of their original owner Andy.
There haven’t been a lot of sure-things this summer (or at least not as many as we expected earlier in the summer) but of the movies that people have been eagerly anticipating, the latest from Disney and Pixar Animation, Toy Story 3, tops many lists, given the amount of love generated by the first two movies not only in theaters but also in the 15 and 11-and-a-half years since they were released. Certainly, those first two “Toy Story” movies created an impressive legacy for Pixar Animation, essentially creating a brand that meant quality storytelling and filmmaking that created a devout fanbase who helped each successive movie become a worldwide blockbuster. In fact, every single movie since Toy Story 2 has grossed a minimum of $450 million worldwide and a minimum of $200 million domestically. Andrew Stanton’s Finding Nemo was a huge watermark for the studio, grossing $339 million after the studio’s biggest opening and winning the studio the first of five Oscars in the Animated Feature category.
Toy Story 3 is only Pixar’s 11th movie in the last 15 years, and while it’s not Pixar’s first sequel, it is their first threequel, and it will try its best to avoid the pitfalls of so many franchises that make it to a third movie. In fact, the two previous computer-animated movies that made it to a third movie, Shrek the Third and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, while they may not have been critically well-received, they at least opened well and the latter duplicated the success of its predecessors. The $191 million and $245 million grossed by the earlier movies might not seem like a lot by today’s standards, but that was quite impressive for the ’90s.
The first two “Toy Story” movies were made at a time when Pixar was still casting huge bankable stars like Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, two of the biggest stars at the time. By casting such known actors, they were able to create two of the most memorable animated characters of the late 20th Century in Woody and Buzz Lightyear, as well as add to the popularity of both Hanks and Allen. Allen had already starred in the first The Santa Clause movie and Tom Hanks was coming off Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump, an Oscar-winning blockbuster. Putting them together certainly helped Pixar get interest in what at the time was a fairly new thing, whereas these days, computer animation is fairly common place with dozens of movies released each year. The thing is that Pixar has never been about the star voicecasts as much as about creating characters that people love. In this case, these are characters who have lived on in other formats since the previous movies, as well as being based on toys that many of us played with as kids, so there’s that familiarity that adds another layer to why so many people enjoy these movies That said, they’re introducing a number of new characters including Barbie’s love interest Ken voiced by Michael Keaton as well as Ned Beatty (also appearing in Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me) and a bunch of others.
While Toy Story 3 has many of the elements that helped DreamWorks Animation have an enormous hit with their own threequel Shrek the Third, there are a couple factors that will play a part not only it becoming the biggest Pixar opener but also one with solid legs. First of all, both the original “Toy Story” movies opened over Thanksgiving weekend where they could do big business with family audiences, but Disney is releasing the threequel during the summer, and at a time when most schools are already out for the summer, which means it can do a lot more business than normal on Friday. Even so, since most parents and adults work, they’re just as likely to take the kids to see it on Saturday or better yet, on Father’s Day Sunday. Even so, the teen and older audiences interested in this will likely go out to see it sometime on Friday, because they can.
Secondly, this is only the 2nd Disney/Pixar movie to be released in 3D theaters, and there are a lot more of them than there was even last year, but also Toy Story 3 will be the first Pixar movie to be released in IMAX 3D, although IMAX hasn’t been very helpful with family films since they don’t necessarily want to pay extra for the kiddies. On the other hand, moviegoing audiences are definitely flocking to 3D and IMAX movies more than they are to movies that aren’t in the premium formats. Disney already had a huge hit earlier this year with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, starring Johnny Depp, which opened with $40 million its first day and then $116 its first weekend, becoming the sixth-biggest opening ever (now seventh after Iron Man 2) but also Disney’s biggest movie, partially thanks to IMAX and 3D.
Lastly, Toy Story 3 is a damn good movie, and it should score similar stellar reviews as previous Pixar movies among critics who tend to fall over each other to gush over everything Pixar does.
Pixar movies have generally made $20 to 23 million their opening day although the biggest opening weekend to date is The Incredibles with $70.5 million. Due to the sequel factor and the love audiences across the board have for the characters, there’s no reason why Toy Story 3 won’t have a lot of people, both parents with kids and young people who grew up with Pixar, trying to see it opening weekend. This should allow an opening weekend over $100 million and though there’s certainly strong movies coming out on its tail, people tend to love Pixar movies enough to see them multiple times. We think this one will top Finding Nemo‘s record for a Pixar movie and become the top grossing movie for the year by summer’s end.
Why I Should See It: The creative geniuses of Pixar have brought back some of moviegoers’ favorite animated characters in a fun comedy-adventure that will appeal to all demographics.
Why Not: But will people be open to another sequel in a summer where they’re not being received nearly as well as expected?
Projections: $112 to 116 million opening weekend and roughly $365 million total
Jonah Hex (Warner Bros.)
Starring Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Michael Shannon, Michael Fassbender
Directed by Jimmy Hayward (co-director of Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who); Written by Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor (Crank, Gamer, Crank: High Voltage)
Genre: Action, Thriller
Tagline: “Revenge Gets Ugly”
Plot Summary: Bounty hunter and drifter Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) survived an attempt to kill him leaving him with a horrifying scar and warrants on his head, but the military makes him an offer to find and stop the terrorist Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) who has gathered his own army of men who will stop at nothing to finish what they started and kill Hex for real.
Mini-Review: Anyone who wonders why the Western has become a dying breed in Hollywood need look no further than the latest attempt to bring a third-string comic book character to the big screen. It really takes a special type of skill and talent to take such a simple and effective character like Jonah Hex and throw him into a movie so filled with what the?!? moments you wonder if the filmmakers skimmed the comics, figured they could do better and ignored all but the most distinctive features in favor of maintaining overused comic book movie clichés.Not surprisingly, the results are as bad as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as you see a lot of money being thrown at the screen with very little thought to storytelling or structure.
Essentially, Josh Brolin is scarred bounty hunter Jonah Hex who has been hired to go after John Malkovichs General Turnbull, the man who killed his wife and son and scarred him for life. Turnbull has now become a terrorist possessing a weapon of mass destruction with plans to blow up the White House on the 4th of July of Americas Centennial. Sound familiar? It should because its essentially the same generic formula plot weve seen in so many bad action movies when writers have no original ideas to offer. Considering how much great material there has been in the comics over nearly forty years, its shocking this is the best they could come up with. Throughout Hexs search for Turnbull, were reminded relentlessly about his enemys earlier transgressions, as it flashes back repeatedly to the events, apparently for those who came in late and missed it at the beginning. Theres also some sort of dream sequence where Hex fights with Turnbull on red clay, and lots of scenes of Brolin riding on horseback through all sorts of outdoor environments such as fields of tall grass that have little to do with the desert towns and industrial cities where most of the story takes place.
Clearly, this is a movie made by a bunch of actors wanting to dress up and play cowboy with little done to maintain any realism except to have the actors insert Western cliches into otherwise inanely silly and laughable dialogue. As much as the movie tries to retain traditional Western tropes, there doesnt seem to be any research behind any of the historical facts made up for the story, the craziest one being that Eli Whitney designed the explosive weapon used by Turnbull to destroy entire towns at once. Its not quite clear why he might need it since early in the movie, Hex shoots out a window with hi gun and a second later, the entire town explodes behind him. That entire aspect of the story, done to create familiarity within modern audiences, fails because it feels as forced as a similar attempt in Prince of Persia. Every few minutes something new is introduced thats so silly or ludicrous, its impossible to ever take it seriously, particularly the ridiculous weapons Hex pulls out then discardsits hard to decide whether the gattling gun saddle or the explosive crossbow is stupider. The worst part of the movie is Jonah Hexs powers to bring the dead back to life so he can communicate with them, something that has nothing to do with the comic character and just doesnt work the way it was intended. For one thing, we never really see him have any sort of near-death experience that would give him these powers as claimed.
Brolin has a strong background doing genre films with the likes of Robert Rodriguez, but that experience isnt evident as he goes back and forth from making dry quips to playing things far too seriously. The make-up, which looked fine in still photos, forces Brolin to keep his face as motionless as possible while communicating, insuring that his entire performance is flat and lifeless. At least it allows him to join the ranks of Halle Berry and Hillary Swank, talented actors who squandered the attention they received from awards kudos.
Megan Foxs character seems utterly pointless, as they cant decide which cliché to go for: the damsel in distress or the tough chick who can take care of herself, resulting in a performance as flat as Brolins. This is a character who probably would have played a much smaller part if there wasnt a known actress like Fox in the role, but shes still not the worst part of the movie. That honor goes to John Malkovich who puts on an awful accent (in the scenes he feels like staying in character) and gives another scenery-chewing performance, which is actually tame in comparison to Mike Fassbenders attempts to channel Heath Ledgers joker as General Turnbulls right-hand man Burke. Neither bad guy works, but theyre both examples of how the movie throws everything it can against the wall hoping something will stick.
Will Arnett is quickly introduced as the humorless head of the Union Army, disappears then briefly returns later. Aiden Quinn shows up as the President–at least thats what we assume, because hes never properly introduced. Blink and youll miss Michael Shannon as a carnival barker introducing a fight involving some sort of snake creature. Of course, you expect Hex to eventually fight that man-creature. Wrong! Like everything else in the movie, its another element introduced for no particular reason except to liven up a conversation Hex is having in his search for Turnbull. Either way, any of those characters would have done a better job fleshing out the story than Fox does.
Overall, the movie looks like crap, including the unexciting fight scenes and the editing is absolutely awful as it cuts back and forth, back and forth, from one location to another to the point where you barely have any idea what is happening. Bottom line is that Jimmy Heyward is not a very good director, and he was clearly out of his league thinking he could turn a script by Neveldine & Taylor into something even remotely resembling what they might have done with the material. Possibly the biggest shame is the studio deciding to tone things down to a PG-13, the absence of cussing and violence watering things down to the point where the movie is dull dull dull. Maybe this wouldnt be as insulting if the writing, acting and everything werent so much better in the recent video game Red Dead Redemption. Heck, even Book of Eli did a better job capturing the spirit of the Old West than Hex!
Overworked critics are often grateful when a bad movie is over quickly, but at roughly 70 minutes before credits, this is a rip-off to anyone shelling out money to see it, especially since that short time is filled with so much nonsense. Like the filmmakers, youll have forgotten most of it by the end. Movies like Jonah Hex anger me no end because it gives Hollywood an excuse not to make more Westerns, just as its bad for the future of graphic novel adaptations. People seeing this movie will think worse of the comics which are definitely worth reading, so save your money on the movie and buy some of the trade paperbacks instead. Rating: 3/10
As comic books continue to be a great source material for Hollywood, here is one of the odder choices from a studio that’s brought many DC Comics books to the big screen, and not just the Superman and Batman movies, but also some of the grown-up specialty graphic novels like Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta and Watchmen, and the Keanu Reeves version of Constantine, which was kind of based on the comic book character of the same name. While none of those did huge business, they did respectably based on their cost, which may be why they decided to take a bit of a chance with a lesser-known DC Comics character.
Jonah Hex was created during the ’70s for the pages of “All-Star Western,” a book that tried to revive the once-popular Western comics genre that was more commonplace during the ’50s. DC Comics published the book for quite a long stretch, and then the character was revived a few times, most notably in the ’90s when horror writer Joe Lansdale and Tim Truman delved more into the supernatural aspects of the character. Currently, the Jonah Hex comic has been more popular than ever thanks to the work of writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, who have returned Hex to his roots, although it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to superhero books like Superman and Spider-Man.
Because the comic character isn’t that well known among movie audiences, the key to selling the movie was getting known actors for key roles and tryng to sell it more as an action movie than the normal slow-paced Westerns we’ve seen before. Hex seems like a role that Josh Brolin was born to play, which is why comic fans were very much behind the casting of the actor who had just been nominated for an Oscar for his role in Gus Van Sant’s Milk after appearing in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster and the Coen Brothers’ Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men. Brolin did a good job in the latter playing a tough cowboy type and Jonah Hex allows him to play off that image of him. Playing his love interest in the movie is super-sexy Megan Fox who had come off the “Transformers” movies–quite literally, in fact–but hasn’t really proven herself as a box office draw with the horror movie Jennifer’s Body disappointing during its release last fall. The cast is rounded out by John Malkovich as the bad guy Turnbell, Mike Fassbender from Inglourious Basterds while Will Arnett plays a non-comic role as a military officer. (We’ve heard from people who’ve seen it that actor Michael Shannon was completely cut out of the movie.)
Maybe the oddest thing about this movie is that it was originally conceived by the hyperactive filmmaking duo of Neveldine & Taylor, best known for their debut Crank. After writing the script, they left the project and the directing slot was filled by an even more unconventional choice in Jimmy Hayward, whose last movie was the 20th Century Fox family hit Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who. Unfortunately, the production has been plagued with problems that have been well-reported on the internet, including having to do reshoots with director Francis Lawrence (who did that Constantine movie we mentioned earlier). After finishing the movie, the studio waited for a long time to start promoting the movie with the first trailer appearing less than two months ago with A Nightmare on Elm Street, which is a very short lead time for a summer release.
On top of that, the Western has had a troubling history at the box office in recent years with Warner Bros. famously being unable to sell Andrew Dominik’s critically-acclaimed and highly-regarded The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, even though it starred Brad Pit and scored Casey Affleck (stars of this week’s “Chosen One” The Killer Inside Me–see below) his first Oscar nomination. That movie only made $4 million, while a few months earlier, James Mangold’s remake of 3:10 to Yuma pairing Russell Crowe and Christian Bale did decent business with $53 million. The latter was only one of 10 Westerns to gross more than $50 million and the real moneymakers were either Oscar winners (Dances With Wolves, The Unforgiven) or star-studded summer fare.
While Warner Bros. has had some success with unconventional comic adaptations, they’ve also had a number of bombs, most notably the long-delayed Whiteout, which grossed roughly $10 million. Their most recent attempt at a comic book movie was The Losers, also produced by Joel Silver, which tried to bring in the young male crowd with a similar mix of action and comedy but only grossed $23 million to date.
For better or worse, Warner Bros. went PG-13 on this one, probably as backlash to Watchmen making less than they hoped. While this might allow younger teens to see the movie, not like they may be interested, but it will be a turn-off to the 17 to 25 year old guys who would prefer a Jonah Hex movie to have the level of sex and violence and swearing one might expect from a movie written by Neveldine and Taylor. The commercials looks like it maintains their usual frenetic pace but that also makes the movie look a bit too much like The Wild, Wild West, one of Will Smith’s most notorious summer bombs, rather than something that might appeal to older fans of Westerns. Another factor no one may have considered when they greenlit the movie is the possible influence of the hit video game “Red Dead Redemption” which has probably gotten more teen and older guys into the idea of Westerns than any movie.
Either way, this doesn’t look like your father’s Western, and in this case, that’s a bad thing, since normally Father’s Day on Sunday would be a great time to take Dad out to see a Western. While there’s a good shot some fathers in the 30-40 range and even older may be familiar (or even fans) of the DC Comics Western series, it’s doubtful they’d be very interested in a movie that looks like this.
As much as we’ve been looking forward to this movie, we have not heard very good things, and Warner Bros. has been giving the movie more low-key screenings than other recent genre flicks, possibly realizing that reviews are going to be uglier than Hex’s facial scar. At least the movie has a short running time, shockingly so, as it’s just 82 minutes long, which means theaters can get more screenings in, though it’s doubtful the movie’s going to have more than one print per theater. As we called it earlier in the summer, this is almost guaranteed to be one of the summer’s big bombs.
Why I Should See It: Considering how great the comics are, Jonah Hex has the potential to be a wild action-packed Western filled with sex and violence…
Why Not: From what I’ve heard of the movie, that potential has been squandered.
Projections: $9 to 11 million opening weekend and roughly $25 million total.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
The Killer Inside Me (IFC Films)
Starring Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Simon Baker, Bill Pullman, Ned Beatty, Elias Koteas, Tom Bower
Directed by Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People, A Mighty Heart, The Road to Guantanamo, Code 46 and more); Written by John Curran (The Painted Veil, We Don’t Live Here Anymore)
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Plot Summary: Smalltown Texas deputy Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is hired to run a local prostitute named Joyce (Jessica Alba) out of town but instead, Lou falls for her and he starts sleeping around with her. Realizing his mistake, Lou decides to rectify it by killing her and framing someone else, but his best-laid plans backfire and soon Lou needs to start covering his tracks.
Before I saw Michael Winterbottom’s new movie at the Tribeca Film Festival, I had heard a few mixed things about it out of Sundance, mainly about the brutal violence, and I was worried it may be one of the few movies from Winterbottom that I just wasn’t into. In fact, this is Winterbottom delving into territory that’s not uncommon to the Coen Brohers (my all-time favorite filmmakers) and he takes on this new challenge delivering one of his best-looking movies as well as one that’s far more cinematic than what we’ve normally seen from the director.
This isn’t going to be a movie for everyone because it’s dark and brutal, and it has a tone that’s defined by the source material with a solid script that one presumes remains fairly faithful to the tone of Jim Thompson’s pulp novel.
Casey Affleck plays smalltown deputy Lou Ford, and the mood is immediately set with a bit of intro narration that states how the problem with growing up in a small town is that everyone thinks they know who you are. As the film progresses, we see Lou is nothing at all like his polite exterior. He has something dark and malevolent inside him that’s unleashed when he starts having an affair with the local prostitute and tries to cover his tracks before anyone finds out.
Like with so many of the Coens’ best movies, Lou’s a lead character who does the wrong things for the wrong reasons and suddenly finds himself getting deeper and deeper into trouble as he lies to protect himself when those around him start turning up dead. It’s really just another great performance by the younger Affleck, one that’s an interesting contrast to Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho.” Most of Lou’s actions are so shocking, he’s not a character that’s immediately easy to like or relate to, but part of what makes him so fascinating is that he never does what we may expect.
The performances by Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson end up taking a backseat to Affleck–that was a rather bad pun to the S&M aspects of their relationship with Lou–but both actresses are better than we’ve seen them. They’re also incredibly daring for taking roles that allow them to break out from their normally squeaky clean images and delve into darker territory than they’ve normally explored, playing women who fall for the wrong man and end up becoming victims of his increasing abuse as his dark side emerges. Other than the two ladies, Affleck is surrounded by a diverse ensemble cast including Simon West, Bill Pullman and a rare appearance by Ned Beatty.
Needless to say, a movie like this isn’t going to be for everyone and some may be bothered, even possibly offended, by the harshness of the violence against the women, though much of it is perceived rather than shown. Even so, I found it quite difficult to watch some of the scenes where Lou lashes out, especially when he brutally beats Alba, because it’s as disturbing as anything in Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible or David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. As you watch the movie, you do realize there are people like Lou out there, not just serial killers waiting to snap, but people who are into kinky and disturbing behavior in the bedroom that could point to more sadistic behavior down the road. In either case, you rarely suspect the Lous of this world, and you never see them coming.
Winterbottom seems to take delight in the violence at times or at least in juxtaposing it with the perceived innocence of the times. Part of that involves the cheeky use of music from that era combined with a really effective score that establishes a very specific tone and helps create a tension that builds and builds up to a fantastic ending.
The Killer Inside Me is certainly a departure for Winterbottom from his previous movies, which may be why it’s also up there with 24 Hour Party People as one of his best works. It’s a movie that really has an impact and sticks with you, as well as one you’ll find many hidden layers within if you’re able to get past the violence to watch it a second time.
The Killer Inside Me opens in New York at the IFC Film Center on Friday and in other theaters in the weeks to come.
Cyrus (Fox Searchlight)
Starring John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, Catherine Keener, Matt Walsh
Written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass (Baghead, The Puffy Chair)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Tagline: “John met the woman of his dreams. Then he met her son…”
Plot Summary: Single after getting divorced years earlier, middle-aged John (John C. Reilly) gets into a relationship with the mysterious Molly (Marisa Tomei) after meeting her at a party, but her odd behavior forces John to follow her home when he learns that she’s living with her 21-year-old son Cyrus (Jonah Hill) who is not into the idea of his mother dating John. And he’ll do anything to break them up.
I probably was a bit late to the game with the Duplass Brothers than their other fans, having not seen their debut The Puffy Chair until after being impressed by their second movie Baghead. While I was bummed to not be able to see their first studio movie at Sundance, I caught its rousing premiere at South by SouthWest a few months later and could immediately see why many of my colleagues had been raving about it.
It opens with a classic Duplass moment, Catherine Keener walking in on John C. Reilly during an embarrassing personal moment. She’s his ex-wife who left him seven years earlier and she’s shown up to tell him that she’s getting remarried to her new boyfriend (Matt Walsh). He’s already been rather down, but they convince him to join them at a party with hopes he’ll meet someone new. After a couple of awkward attempts, John gets incredibly drunk and meets Marisa Tomei’s Molly, the two of them go home and things are suddenly looking up for John. He’s a changed man. After she comes over for dinner and then sneaks out, he gets suspicious and follows her home to find out she has an odd 21-year-old son named Cyrus (Jonah Hill), a true Mama’s boy, who has the type of influence over his mother that he could convince her to dump John. The movie is about how the two guys in Molly’s life try to one-up each other in trying to get her attention and love.
Cyrus is certainly a great introduction to the Duplass Brothers’ work for anyone who have been interested in their work but may have been turned off by their use of unknown actors. In this case, they have four actors who have constantly proven they’re willing to go to daring lengths for their craft, and it’s a lot like their previous movies where they introduce a few characters than bring them together to see what happens. Surprisingly, it doesn’t look THAT much slicker than Baghead in terms of the way it was shot either.
The brilliant casting is immediately obvious with the presence of John C. Reilly playing the type of character he excels at. He’s really on target with getting laughs from the minute his character is introduced, as well as getting the audience to empathize with his awkwardness, especially as he tries to interact with women at a party and gets increasingly drunk. From the second we see Reilly and Tomei on screen, we know for something that’s meant to be, though you might feel a bit bad for Marisa Tomei whose role in the movie may confirm the myths generated by “Seinfeld” that she’s into losers, but as always, she’s amazing with the smallest of emotional shifts, something the Duplasses are able to capture well. Any thoughts of the movie turning into a mushy rom-com are quickly stamped upon when Hill shows up, acting so hilariously odd, almost like a cult member. Reilly and Hill are just great together, really building on their small moment together in the underrated Walk Hard, giving subdued performances that work well within the naturalistic approach to the storytelling. Hill is really funny as this character who is clearly manipulating both John and Molly as he tries to get the upper hand. What starts out as small digs builds over the course of the movie to the point where the Duplasses earn it when things explode with some broader physical comedy.
There are plenty of hilarious moments up until that point such as when John first meets Cyrus, and the latter offers to play some of his ambient techno music, staring blankly into space as he gets into the music. It’s an awkward enough moment, but then Molly walks in, unaware of John’s presence, and starts dancing, a moment that’s funny for how real it feels. They also love playing up the creepy relationship between Molly and Cyrus in order to stir up John’s paranoia and confusion about the near-incestuous way she clings to her son.
Towards the end, things get a bit darker and more serious, and some of the “dramatic dialogue” moments don’t seem as natural as the earlier humor. It’s not exactly the smoothest transition either after delivering so many laughs in the first two acts, and it would have been nice if the movie at least ended with some sort of humorous moments rather than something more non-committal which leaves things open-ended. It’s certainly not a satisfying way to end the movie after pulling us so fully into the lives of these characters.
Either way, the movie up until that point is a lot of fun, and you are left with a warm feeling inside as if you’ve just watched something really special. Clearly, the Duplass Brothers have taken up the challenge by the Alexander Paynes and Wes Andersons to break through from indie obscurity to the mainstream without compromising their ideals or sacrificing the quality of their character-driven storytelling.
Cyrus opens in New York and L.A. on Friday and then will spread wider to other cities in the coming weeks. You see the full schedule here.
Also in Limited Release:
Reed Cowan’s documentary 8: the Mormon Proposition (Red Flag Releasing), narrated by Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) explores the effects of the Mormon Church’s push to get Proposition 8 passed in California in order to abolish the rights of gays to get married despite those marriages being allowed in the state just two weeks earlier. It opens in select cities on Friday.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
French filmmaker and actress Agnès Jaoui returns with her latest romantic comedy Let It Rain (IFC Films) in which she plays Agathe, a politician who has agreed to appear in a TV documentary by filmmaker Michel Ronsard, played by Jean-Pierre Bacri, Jauoi’s partner and co-writer. As the bumbling by director and his cameraman Karim (Jamel Debbouze from “Amelie” and “Angel-A”) becomes more and more frustrating to Agathe, she doesn’t realize her sister Florence (Pascale Arbiloot) is having an affair with Michel. It opens in New York at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on Friday.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
Tilda Swinton produces and stars in the Italian romantic drama I Am Love (Magnolia Pictures) from Luca Guadagnino, playing the matriarch of a wealthy family who starts a secret affair with her son’s friend and business partner, a chef named Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), causing friction within the family. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Musicians Sean Bones and Norah Jones star in Ben Chace and Sam Fleischner’s Wah Do Dem, Bones playing a young Brooklynite who goes on a free cruise to Jamaica on his own after his girlfriend (Jones) dumps him and his friends flake out, leaving him with the decidedly older crowd on the high seas. When he arrives in Jamaica, he’s robbed and left stranded, trying to get back to the United States. After winning the top prize at last year’s L.A. Film Festival, it will play at the BAM Cinemafest on Tuesday before opening at New York’s Cinema Village and L.A.’s Egyptian Theater on Friday.
Mani (Guru) Ranam’s romantic thriller Raavan (Reliance Big Pictures) stars Bollywood’s power couple Abhishek Bachnan and Aishwarya Rai Bachnan, him playing a bandit who kidnaps the wife of the policeman who killed his sister, leading to a chase through the jungle and the bandit following for his beautiful captive. It opens in select cities on Friday.
Opening at New York’s Film Forum on Wednesday is the documentary Stonewall Uprising (First Run Features) by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner (Waiting for Armageddon), which looks at the police raid of the Greenwich Village gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, which led to a 3-day riot that launched the Gay Rights movement.
You won’t be able to see Zippi Brand Frank’s Google Baby in theaters this weekend, but it will be premiering on HBO 2 on Wednesday, June 16. I loved Rodrigo Garcia’s Mother and Child, the “Chosen One” a few weeks back, which dealt with adoption and surrogacy, something I found quite fascinating. This is a little scarier because it’s about a shocking procedure involving surrogacy outsourcing happening in India where groups of women agree to carry babies to term for others, often putting their own lives in danger to do so. It’s not just disturbing to know this is going on, but the woman who runs the whole thing is just so smiley and cheerful about the whole process that you feel as if you’re watching the creepy doctor from The Human Centipede explaining why that procedure makes sense. What’s even more surprising is that they allowed the filmmakers to bring their cameras into the facility as they cheerfully introduce them to the women who have donated their bodies for the sake of providing babies to others. Maybe they thought it would be good advertising for their services, who knows? But it is disturbing that something like this is going on because to a casual spectator, it certainly looks as horrid as sex trafficking.
Also, the Los Angeles Film Festival begins on Thursday, June 17, with standouts including the Duplass Cyrus (see above), the Australian crime-drama Animal Kingdom (Sony Classics – Aug. 13), Davis Guggenheim’s doc Waiting for “Superman” (Paramount Sept. 24). One of the movies we saw that we thoroughly enjoyed was Chris Meltzer and Lev Anderson’s Everyday Sunshine: the Story of Fishbone, a documentary about the venerable California punk/ska band Fishbone. It includes a lot of great footage from the band’s heyday in the late ’80s/early ’90s, combined with many interviews with the band now as they struggle to keep their career going years after many of their fans have deserted them.
Next week, the month of June almost comes to an end without a new comedy from Adam Sandler… but nope, here’s one. Grown Ups (Sony) brings Sandler together with all of his buddies and former co-stars including Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade and Rob Schneider. Meanwhile, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz are reuniting for the romantic action-comedy Knight and Day (20th Century Fox), which looks absolutely NOTHING like Killers… Rrrrrright.
Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas