The Weekend Warrior: October 8 – 10

Greetings and welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly guide to the weekend’s new movies. Tune in every Tuesday for the latest look at the upcoming weekend, and then check back on Thursday night for final projections based on actual theatre counts.

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

Updated Predictions and Comparisons -

UPDATE: Well, Secretariat has drastically upped its theater count for the weekend, which we think will give it a clear-cut advantage over the rom-com Life As We Know It, which has resorted to commercials that essentially give the entire movie’s plot away, which is a shame. There should still be enough room for both, although they’ll be splitting up female audiences pretty thoroughly.

One last minute addition to the Top 10 is Focus Features’ It’s Kind of a Funny Story from directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, which we thought was only getting a limited release but in fact is being released nationwide into roughly 750 theaters, which should be enough for it to sneak into the Top 10, probably near the bottom.

1. Secretariat (Walt Disney) – $16.5 million N/A (up .8 million)

2. Life As We Know It (Warner Bros.) – $14.7 million N/A (down .1 million)

3. The Social Network (Sony) – $14.2 million -37% (same)

4. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (Warner Bros.) – $7.6 million -30% (up .1 million)

5. My Soul to Take (Rogue/Universal) – $7.4 million N/A (up .1 million)

6. The Town (Warner Bros.) – $6.5 million -33% (same)

7. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (20th Century Fox) – $5.5 million -45%

8. Easy A (Sony/Screen Gems) – $4.2 million -35% (minus .2 million)

9. You Again (Disney/Touchstone) – $3.5 million -39% (same)

10. It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Focus Features) – $2.6 million N/A

Weekend Overview

As hard as we’re trying to resist making any sort of horserace gag in a week where there’s actually a movie about horseracing–okay, we did it and we apologize and that will hopefully be the only one –this weekend’s box office sees three new movies opening in wide release with two of them having a chance at dethroning last week’s #1 movie The Social Network, although we don’t expect either of them breaking out and making more than $20 million this weekend either.

The movie with the best chances at taking the top spot is Randall Wallace’s equine biopic Secretariat (Walt Disney Studios), starring Diane Lane – no, she doesn’t play the horse, you silly people, but she does have the starpower that gives the movie more weight. Although it’s opening in less than 3,000 theaters (at least at the time of this writing), it’s a movie that’s going to try to tap the same audience that flocked to see the 2005 hit Seabiscuit, while Disney is also pushing the movie towards Christian audiences in the Bible Belt, who generally may eat up an inspirational story like this one more than cynical city-dwellers, so expect it to do especially well in the places where horseracing is the local pastime. Increased business in those areas, moviegoers’ desire for more uplifting fare and a family-friendly PG rating that should allow it to get a nice bump on Saturday and Sunday should help put Secretariat over the top this weekend, but not by much.

Although it’s opening in considerably more theaters, the romantic comedy Life As We Know It (Warner Bros.), starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel, will try to appeal to finicky female audiences who have snubbed their noses at the most recent “chick flick” offerings despite relatively impressive starpower. This one has the added humor potential for the two stars taking care of a baby, something that will immediately be relatable to every mother or wannabe mother. It may lose some of its audience to the horse-loving women in certain areas in the country, but the additional theaters should help it at least win on Friday even if it loses some ground over the weekend. However things turn out, both movies are genuine crowd pleasers that will benefit from word-of-mouth, which is why both were given sneak previews this past Saturday.

Wes Craven returns with My Soul to Take (Rogue Pictures), his first straight horror movie as a director in five years. Seemingly delayed for years–Craven appeared at Comic-Con back in 2008 to talk about the movie–it’s being released with the added gimmick of being in 3D, though it was covered to 3D rather than shot way, something that’s been hit by a fairly major backlash due to movies that just didn’t deliver a 3D experience worthy of the added ticket price. While Wes Craven’s name may be enough to get horror fans out there, the weak marketing that makes it look like so many other bad horror movies (for instance, the Craven-written Pulse) is not going to do the movie any favors and it’s looking for placement somewhere in the middle of the Top 10 between some of the stronger returning movies.

This weekend last year only one new movie opened, which made us very VERY happy indeed. Unfortunately, that one movie was Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau’s comedy Couples Retreat (Universal), which was a huge piece of crap, but that didn’t stop it from being well-marketed to the point where it opened with $34.3 million. The Top 10 grossed $91 million and since we’re not sure the three new movies can make that amount, we think this weekend will fall short.


THE BATTLE CRY

This week’s column represents the ninth anniversary of me writing a weekly box office and preview column in some form or other going back to when it was called “Half-Assed Analysis” over at another site. The column has expanded and contracted and evolved many times over that time before finally settling comfortably into the format it’s in now. Writing this column has allowed me to meet and interact with a lot of great people including many of my regular readers, who I greatly appreciate more than I could ever put into words. It’s also given me an “in” to get a job at ComingSoon.net which has taken me further than I ever could have imagined nine years ago, talking to many of the filmmakers and actors who I had admired long before I got into writing about movies. So thanks to the big boss man for responding to my Email when I was ready to make a move and bring “The Weekend Warrior” to a new home with a lot wider readership for that.

Unfortunately, this joyous commemoration is countered by some (somewhat) sad tidings…

I’ve decided that I’m only going to give this column one more year, essentially taking it to the ten-year point. At that point, I’ll decide if I want to continue beyond that. I think writing a regular weekly column of upwards of 3,000 words (and sometimes closer to 7,000 words) for ten years is quite an achievement and certainly I never imagined it would be possible, let alone by me, but the amount of time I spend writing it every week has become a bit of a millstone around my neck, effectively taking up all my free time on the weekends while I ignore important things in my life, like having an apartment that’s actually a livable space.

In the last few years, a lot of young guns have come around with a lot more effective ways of gauging box office, and frankly, the recent death of the Cantor Exchange has taken the wind out of my sails a bit, because I was hoping that would get a lot more people interested in box office and thereby, in my column. Having been successfully aborted by the MPAA and other parties who didn’t understand how such an exchange worked and how it could be moderated from corrupt individuals in the business, that tragic loss created one less reason to write a box office column.

Not that I don’t appreciate the loyal readers who’ve stuck with me for the last nine years–I’m thinking there may be a few of you out there who’ve been with me since the HSJ days–but I certainly never started this column with the intention of it being my life, and after nine years, it certainly seems to have become that. I think I can get through one more year without going completely and utterly bonkers–some may disagree that I’ve already been there for a long time–but it’s certainly getting to the point where I just don’t think I can keep this column up and have any sort of life beyond it.

So maybe things (like my mind) may change in the next year, but right now one can expect the very last Weekend Warrior to be the one on October 11, 2011, where I’ll get to write about Paul Anderson’s The Three Musketeers, which seems appropriate being that I’m such a fan of the characters both in fiction and film.

And then after that? Who knows?


Secretariat (Walt Disney Studios)
Starring Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Dylan Walsh, Scott Glenn, Dylan Baker, Margo Martindale, Nelsan Ellis, Otto Thorwarth, Fred Thompson, AJ Michalka, Kevin Connolly, Eric Lange, James Cromwell
Directed by Randall Wallace (We Were Soldiers, The Man in the Iron Mask, writer Braveheart); Written by Mike Rich (The Nativity Story, Radio, The Rookie, Finding Forrester)
Genre: Drama
Rated PG
Tagline: “The Impossible True Story”
Plot Summary: After Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) agrees to take over her sick father’s Virginia horse ranch Meadow Stables, she sets her eye on a black stallion that no one expects much from but with the help of an eccentric trainer, Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), they’re able to groom Secretariat into the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years and one of the most famous racehorses of all time.

Analysis:

For years before DreamWorks and Disney joined forces, there seemed to be a bitter rivalry between the two studios as they tried to one-up each other, especially in the realm of animation. While Disney taking over distribution of DreamWorks seems to have ended that, there’s still some residual spill-over like Secretariat, which seems to be Disney’s attempt to create another movie on par with the blockbuster hit Seabiscuit, which grossed $120 million and earned seven Oscar nominations. While that movie was only co-financed by DreamWorks (and distributed by Universal), DreamWorks already tried to mimic that movie’s success with their own movie Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, starring Dakota Fanning and Kurt Russell, the latter a Disney regular, which opened in October five years ago.

Disney has a lot more going for Secretariat than DreamWorks did for Dreamer, not only because the story of the horse that won the Triple Crown in 1973 is a better-known story that took place far more recently in time than Seabiscuit’s own horseracing victory, but also because it has a pretty big movie star in Diane Lane to attract moviegoers. Diane Lane has been appearing in movies for nearly 20 years with famed early roles in The Outsiders and The Cotton Club, but her second career began in 2002 when she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in the thriller Unfaithful opposite Richard Gere. The movie grossed $52 million based on that performance and led to Lane getting bigger roles in studio rom-com fare such as Under the Tuscan Sun and Must Love Dogs. For the most part, her movies have stayed in that $40 million range with a few indie bombs along the way and the thriller Hollywoodland under-delivering despite an impressive cast.

Supporting Ms. Lane in the movie are film mainstays like John Malkovich and James Cromwell as well as the likes of Kevin Connolly from “Entourage” and character actor Margo Martindale – trust me, you’ll know who she is if you see her. While only Malkovich may be considered a draw for the movie, especially as he steals many scenes as another eccentric character, what they bring is another level of quality that should help the movie get better reviews.

Really, the movie is about the horseracing, which is a very popular pastime among Americans, especially in the South, but one thing Seabiscuit had that Secretariat doesn’t is that it was based on a hugely popular non-fiction book that was on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year. William Nack’s 2002 book about Secretariat came out a year earlier than the movie and did well, but it wasn’t as big a phenomenon, maybe since many adults were actually around for the horse’s Triple Crown victory.

There are a couple of different audiences who might be interested in this movie. Certainly younger girls who like horses will want to check it out and maybe a few boys as well, and then there are the women over 30, mostly mothers, who will either see this for Diane Lane or for their own lingering love of horses. Guys generally won’t be as interested even if they are some of the biggest audiences for horseracing – the fact that they can’t place bets on the movie won’t help. The PG-rating is a big boon for the film since it can bring in family audiences, which will give it a nice push on Saturday and Sunday over other fare, and having the Disney name attached to a PG family film never hurts either.

The movie is a little more difficult to analyze because Disney are taking a rather unconventional approach by pushing it towards Christian audiences in the South, a group that’s hard to gauge and predict especially when you have a movie that only has tangentially Christian themes. There’s a very good chance those in the area where horseracing is popular like Kentucky, Tennessee, where the movie was partially shot, will turn up in droves opening weekend while cityfolk in places which usually drive movie business won’t bother. Also, there’s something good to be said about a movie that has a positive uplifting story, because that offers audiences something different from the other darker movies currently in theaters. Even though the movie is reportedly being released in less than 3,000 theaters, there’s a good chance those factors will drive up the per-theater average, especially on Saturday and Sunday, to put Secretariat in the lead this weekend.

Why I Should See It: It’s an inspiring true story about how you can get a horse to race around a track really fast so that someday they’ll make a movie about him.
Why Not: As one might expect, this movie looks just too much like a Seabiscuit wannabe and wanting to be something doesn’t necessarily lead to making something as good as that something you’re wanting to be.
Projections: $14 to 16 million opening weekend and roughly $60 million total.

COMPARISONS


Life As We Know It (Warner Bros.)
Starring Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Josh Lucas, Christina Hendricks, Hayes MacArthur
Directed by Greg Berlanti (The Broken Hearts Club); Written by Ian Deitchman, Kristin Rusk Robinson
Genre: Comedy
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “A comedy about taking it one step at a time.”
Plot Summary: After being set-up on the blind date from hell, Holly Berenson and Eric Messer (Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel) find themselves thrown together and having to take care of a one-year-old girl named Sophie after the same friends who set them up die in a car accident. (These really are the worst friends ever, huh?)

Interview with Greg Berlanti

Review

Analysis:

On the surface, the first major studio directing gig by Greg Berlanti, a television writer and producer who has gotten into bed with Warner Bros. to help them bring a couple DC Comics heroes to the screen, may seem like the type of formulaic high concept comedy fodder that Hollywood often throws out there in order to attract women with free time and money for entertainment. After all, it does star Katherine Heigl, who has built a solid reputation post-”Grey’s Anatomy” making exactly this type of movie and being quite successful at it.

Heigl’s big film break came when she was cast opposite Seth Rogen in Judd Apatow’s second movie Knocked Up, a movie with a similar situation of Heigl having to interact with someone she doesn’t necessarily like to care for a baby, only that time it was still in utero. It was an enormous success both opening weekend and overall, grossing nearly $150 million and making Heigl an instantly bankable star. Her next movie 27 Dresses did about half the business but opening a rom-com with $23 million is still nothing to sneeze at, and pitting her against Gerard Butler in last year’s The Ugly Truth also proved to be a lucrative idea as that opened with nearly $28 million and grossed $88 million total. Again, not bad at all for a chick flick that essentially only appeals to 50% of the potential moviegoing audience. Heigl’s pairing with Ashton Kutcher in Lionsgate’s summer action-comedy Killer didn’t work quite as well but it was only considered a bomb based on how much it cost.

This time around, she’s pitted against Josh Duhamel whose debut, the DreamWorks rom-com Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, directed by Robert Luketic–who just happens to have directed Heigl’s last two movies–was such a bomb, that Duhamel shifted over to the television show “Las Vegas” for a couple years before being cast by Michael Bay in Transformers. Duhamel’s film output hasn’t been particularly prolific since then, but he appeared in two dogs this year between the rom-com When in Rome (opposite Kristen Bell) and the family film Ramona and Beezus, both which grossed less than $33 million. One would surmise that Duhamel’s presence isn’t a factor except that women do find the tall and charming actor to be quite dreamy, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s married to the Black Eyed Peas singer Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson.

Berlanti has also filled the movie up with lots of great supporting actors including Josh Lucas, who might normally have been cast in the Duhamel part (as he was in Reese Witherspoon’s Sweet Home Alabama), but instead plays a secondary love interest, and the world’s hottest redhead Christina Hendricks from AMC’s “Mad Men.” A lot of the laughs in the movie come from satellite characters played by the likes of Will Sasso and Andrew Daly from “Mad TV,” Melissa McCarthy from “Gilmore Girls” and “Samantha Who?” and Faizon Love, most of whom aren’t even shown in commercials.

Really, it’s the premise as much as the pairing (or pitting) of the two lead actors against each other that will play the biggest part in women deciding whether they want to see the movie or not. A good percentage of women who may be interested in this movie will either have had babies themselves or have some interest in having babies so the idea of these two actors having to contend with one surely will be have appeal.

Baby comedies seem to come in waves but in recent years, it’s been more about pregnancy comedies. Knocked Up starting off one such wave that included the likes of Waitress and culminating in Juno. This year we have a lesser wave of those comedies that haven’t done so well, starting off with Jennifer Lopez’s The Back-Up Plan and culminating in Jennifer Aniston’s The Switch. It may be somewhat surprising that Heigl has a far better box office track record than either of them, as well as being very much an actress of the moment. Even so, Life As We Know It may suffer from not having a summer or four-day holiday release like her previous movies. On top of that, some women may be a little burnt out on Heigl doing the same thing in every movie, because this is essentially the same general set-up as her previous comedies only with a different male co-star and situation. With that in mind, the marketing really should be focusing on them caring for a baby since that’s what sets it apart from Heigl’s weaker movies and will remind Heigl’s fans of her biggest hit Knocked Up.

Generally, comedies aren’t received well by critics and romantic comedies and Katherine Heigl seems to be universally loathed by film critics with Knocked Up being her highest-rated film. Killers and The Ugly Truth each received RottenTomatoes ratings under 15% Fresh, though Life As We Know It is already garnering better reviews than 27 Dresses – not that reviews have mattered much for Heigl’s previous movies since Knocked Up. One big factor that may hurt the movie is that while it is a comedy, there’s a lot of dark and serious moments in the film – Heigl and Duhamel do have to get the baby somehow which involves (SPOILER!) the death of their friends. While mixing serious drama and comedy is nothing new in the world of indies, it may throw off mainstream moviegoers looking for straight laughs or romance.

Regardless, Warner Bros. is wisely giving this a very wide release because it’s the type of movie that will do well in different regions of the country, mostly urban and suburban, and saturating the market with a big presence can certainly help a movie’s opening even if that business is spread thin in some areas. Unfortunately, they’re also releasing the movie in October which is not a great month for movie attendance. This may have been disproven by last year’s high concept comedy hit Couples Retreat, released on the same weekend; that was helped greatly by being the only new movie in theaters while Life As We Know It does have some direct competition in Secretariat.

Life As We Know It had some decently-attended sneak previews on Saturday that should help generate enough chatter around the watercooler earlier in the week to get more women interested in the movie. Because of this, we think Life As We Know It could very well win Friday as women go to see this movie with their friends and coworkers, although it’s just as likely to drop off over the weekend, putting it in 2nd place behind Secretariat. Even so, regardless of how well or poorly it does this weekend, there’s a good chance it will have decent legs based on word-of-mouth and the lack of strong female fare in the weeks to come.

Why I Should See It: This is actually a very funny and poignant take on the romantic comedy mixed with the humor that comes inherent with caring for a baby.
Why Not: There are many other movies that have tried to create high concept romantic chemistry that have failed.
Projections: $14 to 16 million opening weekend and roughly $53 million total.

COMPARISONS


My Soul to Take (Rogue Pictures)
Starring Max Thieriot, John Magaro, Emily Meade, Nick Lashaway, Denzel Whitaker, Shareeka Epps, Paulina Olszyinski, Raul Esparza
Written and directed by Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, director Scream, and lots more)
Genre: Horror
Rated R
Tagline: “Only One Has The Power To Save Their Souls.”
Plot Summary: 16 years after the death of a local serial killer, a 16-year-old named Bug (Max Thieriot), born on the day of the death, starts experiencing the signs of having a split personality while the other kids born on the same date as him start dying off in gruesome fashion.

Interview with Wes Craven

Review

Analysis:

Being October, everyone is gearing up for Halloween as studios start releasing scary movies in hopes of enticing the young moviegoers looking for scares to get them into the mood. Into this environment comes the new movie from A Nightmare on Elm Street creator Wes Craven, who not only directs but also writes this film involving split personalities and displaced souls. It’s not exactly new ground for the filmmaker who has spent most of his career killing teenagers, whether it’s in “Nightmare” or in his three hit “Scream” movies, a franchise he’s returning to next year after a ten-year hiatus.

There are very few names that have as much power and credibility in the world of horror as Craven, and he was having enormous blockbuster horror hits long before the “horror boom” of 2003 which had studios scrambling to keep up with their own horror offerings. Most of those studios ended up resorting to remaking famous old horror movies, a bandwagon Craven himself jumped onto by producing remakes of his early gorefests The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House on the Left, the first of those warranting a less-successful sequel. Those movies have kept Craven’s name alive in the time since his last hit, the airplane thriller Red Eye, although one wonders how many teenagers know the name compared to the over-30 crowd.

Casting in horror movies rarely makes much of a difference at the box office because it’s more about the marketing and whether a movie looks creepy or scary or whatever. After a few other actors dropped out, Craven went with Max Thierot for the film’s lead, a young actor who has mainly played kids in movies like The Pacifier and The Astronaut Farmer an also appeared in ‘tween movies Nancy Drew and Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. Most recently, he appeared in Atom Egoyan’s thriller Chloe, but My Soul to Take is meant to be a breakout role for the young actor. The other featured actress is Emily Meade, who has appeared in two movies that premiered at Sundance, Assassination of a High School President and Joel Schumacher’s Twelve; the former is significantly better than the latter yet it never even got a theatrical release. Craven also brought on board two talented young African-American actors in Shareeka Epps from Half Nelson (in a TINY one-scene role) and Denzel Whitaker, Forest’s son, who had a breakout role in Denzel Washington’s The Great Debaters and has done a lot of television.

Again, the cast is interesting but won’t matter much in the grander scheme of things compared to the premise, which is exceedingly complicated and difficult to figure out from the commercials, something that can only hurt the movie. The movie’s title, taken from the Lord’s Prayer, also seems kind of cheesy compared to what we normally get from Craven, although it is somewhat better than it’s original title of “25/8.” One wonders how you go from “Last House on the Left” to “The Hills Have Eyes” to “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Scream” to… “My Soul to Take”? Maybe a title like that would interest the Bible Study kids… if they weren’t already being wooed to go see Secretariat this weekend!

Unfortunately, the movie isn’t very good, which is partially why it’s taken so long for it to get released. Realizing the movie would be a hard sell even with Craven’s name, Rogue then decided that one way to help it do better would be to jump on the 3D bandwagon, delaying the movie in order to convert it into 3D. As we probably know by now, there’s been a significant backlash against 3D, especially against 3D conversion that doesn’t really seem to add much to a movie and definitely isn’t worth the inflated price of tickets. Recently, the “Resident Evil” franchise went 3D and even with the approximate 30-50% more that 3D ticket prices cost, it opened with just 12% more money than the opening for its two predecessors, which tells us that 3D is not a deciding factor in people seeing horror movies as much as it was when The Final Destination or My Bloody Valentine benefited at a time when it wasn’t so commonplace. Those movies were both shot in 3D as well, so they took advantage of the extra depth and dimension, while My Soul to Take doesn’t.

For better or worse, the movie is also R-rated, which means it’s potentially missing out on the teen audience who’ll often go out to see a horror movie like this in droves but they won’t be able to get into the movie without a parent or guardian, so they’re more likely to buy a ticket to another movie and sneaking in.

While some older long-time Craven fans may give this a look as well as some of the scare-seeking older teens who skipped last week’s dud horror duo, the stink surrounding this movie’s long delays (especially on horror sites) will ultimately hurt it, especially among cynical moviegoers and horror fans who’ll probably save their money for more reliable franchise fare like Paranormal Activity 2 and Saw 3D, both of which have much stronger marketing campaigns and are opening closer to Halloween.

Why I Should See It: Wes Craven is indeed a master of the horror genre and it’s great to have him back after five years.
Why Not: Reviews are embargoed until Friday for a reason.
Projections: $6 to 8 million opening weekend and less than $18 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Inside Job (Sony Pictures Classics)
Starring Matt Damon (narrator)
Written and Directed by Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight)
Genre: Documentary
Tagline: “The film that cost $20,000,000,000,000 to make”
Plot Summary: Filmmaker Charles Ferguson explores the economic meltdown of September 2008, and the events that led up to it where greedy brokers and bankers tried to turn a profit by betting against the ability for lower income families to pay back their debt, how it all came to a head with the collapse of Bear Stearns and then Lehman Brothers, causing a domino effect that cost millions of Americans their homes and jobs.

Interview with Charles Ferguson

Despite my many years playing the Hollywood Stock Exchange, I still know far less about the real stock market than I probably should. When it crashed in September 2008 with Lehman Brothers collapsing and things just kept spiraling downwards as the country’s economy went to pot, it didn’t immediately register with me exactly what happened and why these banks were being given all this money to bail them out. (All I knew was that my credit card companies were suddenly raising all my rates, the bastards!) While Oliver Stone’s recent Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps tries to put what happened into the context of a fictional narrative film, I was delighted to hear that Charles Ferguson decided to tackle the subject himself. After all, Ferguson did more to explain how things went so bad in Iraq in his 2007 doc No End in Sight than dozens of other docs before it, so I certainly had high hopes for the film even if the subject matter didn’t seem as immediately of interest to me.

As one might expect, Inside Job is very much a talking heads movie in that it’s comprised of lots of economists and other financial experts analyzing and explaining exactly what was happening that ultimately caused the economy to collapse. What’s amazing about the film is how thorough and comprehensive it can be with all these experts talking at length about derivatives and deregulation and CDOs yet Ferguson finds clever ways to make the information accessible even to the layman like myself via the use of narrative and graphics that make it very easy to follow. There’s also something rather soothing about Matt Damon’s narration that makes the entire film a lot easier to digest than one normally would expect a 108-minute economics class might be.

It’s essentially a movie that’s broken up into sections that cover the ’90s and years leading up to 9/11, how things changed afterwards but not for the better as banks and brokers found ways to take advantage of Americans’ dependence on credit and their inability to pay back debt. As you watch the film, it becomes immediately evident why this might not work and how brokers and bankers profiting at the expense of those not as financially fortunate could only lead to something bad happening later. Of course, this sort of 20/20 hindsight only helps in preventing things like this from happening, but the way Ferguson is able to assemble all the pieces into a cohesive film is quite impressive and masterful.

The last few segments of the movie are the most satisfying ones, dealing with what can be done to hold those responsible accountable, and that’s where Ferguson really goes to town on the experts who denied the inevitable crash with a third degree we’ve never seen from the likes of Michael Moore or Errol Morris. The way Ferguson goes after one economics professor shows that he’s the real deal when it comes to investigative filmmaking and that he’s not in it just to create light entertainment, but that he really wants to get answers. The number of those involved in the fiasco who refused to be interviewed by Ferguson is disheartening, but watching those who did squirm in their seat when Ferguson asks them the tough questions is well worth the price of admission.

On top of that, Ferguson’s doc successfully ties together a number of other docs including his former producer Alex Gibney’s Oscar-nominated Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and his upcoming Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer – Spitzer was very much on Wall Street’s case in his years as New York State Attorney General, which some think may have led to his downfall just as everything he was trying to prevent started to happen. It’s also a lot more focused than something like Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story and other docs that tried to broach the subject of the economy.

If you’ve ever wanted to know more about the economic crash and what really happened–and really you should want to know about this stuff–as well as why the problems haven’t been solved by the 2008 election–in fact, most of those responsible still hold jobs in Washington as the current administration’s economic advisors–then you really need to check out Inside Job. It’s another fine example of Ferguson’s ability to tackle a topic in a way that keeps you riveted to every single word, knowing full well how much better you’ll be by knowing what you’ll learn by paying attention. In a year that’s turning out to be great for docs, Inside Job is another one that shouldn’t be missed.

Inside Job opens in New York and L.A. on Friday. One expects that Washington D.C. will follow shortly thereafter.

Honorable Mention:

Tamara Drewe (Sony Pictures Classics)
Starring Gemma Arterton, Dominic Cooper, Roger Allam, Luke Evans, Bill Camp, Tamsin Greig
Directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, The Grifters, Cheri, Mrs. Henderson Presents and many more); Written by Moira Buffini
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rated R
Plot Summary: Stonefield is a writers’ retreat in the British countryside that’s turned upside down by the return of local girl Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton), now an entertainment writer in London who has come back to tend her late parents’ farm nearby. She ends up in a relationship with famous rock drummer Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper) whom she brings back to the farm, much to the consternation of her childhood sweetheart Andy (Luke Evans) and the philandering crime writer Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam) who owns Stonefield, the latter who regularly cheats on his poor wife Beth (Tamsin Greig). When a local teenager who has a crush on Ben tries to get revenge on Tamara, it leads to a series of events that are even more complicated than this plot summary has already gotten.

Video Interviews with the Cast

Tamara Drewe opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Also in Limited Release:

Half Nelson directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden tackle their first pseudo-comedy with It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Focus Features), an adaptation of Ned Vizzini’s novel about 16-year-old Craig Gilner (Keir Gilcrhist) who is committed to an adult psychiatric ward for five days after he starts having thoughts of suicide. There, he falls for the ward’s only other teenager Noelle (played by Emma Roberts) and is mentored by the ward’s boisterous veteran, played by Zach Galifianakis. It opens in select cities on Friday.

Kick-Ass star Aaron Johnson is a young John Lennon in Sam Taylor-Wood’s Nowhere Boy (The Weinstein Co.) a portrait of the Beatle as a teenager dealing with his troubled family life being raised by his strict aunt Mimi, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, while trying to reconnect with his estranged birthmother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff). At the same time, he starts discovering rock ‘n’ roll and forming a band, which achieves a pivotal moment when John finds a kindred spirit in Paul McCartney. Released in New York and L.A. on Friday to coincide with what would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday on Saturday.

Director John Curran (The Painted Veil) helms Stone (Overture), starring Edward Norton as the titular inmate trying to get out of a maximum security prison where he’s been jailed for killing his grandparents in a fire, and Robert De Niro as Jack Mabry, the parole officer who stands in his way of freedom. Things get more complicated when Stone’s wife Lucetta, played by Milla Jovovich, takes her own initiative by seducing Jack in order to convince him to let her husband free. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Interview with John Curran and an Exclusive TV Spot

Director Steven R. Monroe remakes the controversial ’70s cult horror film I Spit on Your Grave (Anchor Bay) with Sarah Butler playing a writer who goes out into a remote cabin in the woods to work only to be terrorized by locals who break into her cabin to scare her and end up abusing and assaulting her before leaving her for dead. Months later, she returns and enacts her grisly revenge. It opens in select cities on Friday.

Jonathan Mossek’s psychological thriller As Good as Dead (First Look Studios) stars Cary Elwes from Saw as Ethan, a photojounalist who’s kidnapped and tortured by three assailants who break into his New York apartment led by the widow of a right-wing cult leader looking to get revenge on the man she claims is his killer, played by Andie MacDowell. It opens in New York at the Quad CInema and then arrives on DVD next Tuesday, October 12.

Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha returns with the comedy It’s a Wonderful Afterlife (UTV Communications) about Mrs. Sethi, an Indian mother so obsessed with her daughter getting married that she goes to extreme measures, which involves a poisoned curry. When the spirits of her victims come back to haunt her, Mrs. Sethi has to figure out how to put a stop to what she’s started. It opens in select cities at normal Bollywood venues.

Klaus Haro’s Letters to Father Jacob (Olive Films) is Finland’s official selection in the Foreign Language Oscars, the story of a warm-hearted woman sentenced to life who has been pardoned and sent to work at a clergy house as the personal assistant to a blind priest, answering the letters people sent asking him for help. It opens at the Cinema Village in New York on Friday and in Los Angeles on October 15.

Jeff Malmberg’s documentary Marwencol (Cinema Guild), which has won jury prizes at SXSW and other film festivals, tells the story of Mark Hogancamp, who was brutally attacked by five men in Kingston, New York on April 8, 2000, leaving him in a coma and causing irreversible brain damage. With no health insurance, Hogancamp turned to other means of recovery including the building of models and collecting toy soldiers, culminating in the construction of a one-sixth scale Belgian town in his backyard. It opens on Friday at the IFC Center in New York and then opens in L.A. at the Nuart on November 12.

Kyle Gallner from A Nightmare on Elm Street (the remake) stars in Jeffrey Fine’s Cherry (Abramorama) as Aaron, a freshman entering an Ivy League college who gets caught up in a love triangle between an older former wild-child (Laura Allen) and her teenage daughter Beth (Britt Robertson), making his education somewhat more complicated.


Next week, it’s the battle of Johnny Knoxville and his young guns doing crazy stunts in Jackass 3D (Paramount/MTV Films) and Bruce Willis and the old folks doing crazy stunts in Red (Summit)

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas

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