The Weekend Warrior: April 8 – 10

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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.

In all the craziness of CinemaCon last week, I completely forgot to mention that last week marked the 8TH ANNIVERSARY of the Weekend Warrior at ComingSoon.net, so thanks to my boss and editor for all his hard work and patience at getting this column up every week with far less mistakes than it would be if he didn’t edit it!

Predictions and Comparisons

UPDATE: Well, some pretty major changes this week, most notably our flip-flop on the battle between Arthur and Your Highness as the former has picked up its pace of commercials and though they’re both getting trashed by critics, Arthur‘s PG-13 rating and the fact that it appeals to both men and women will help it win out over its R-Rated competition. The other two movies should also do decently.

1. Hop (Universal) – $23.5 million -37% (up .2 million)

2. Arthur (Warner Bros.) – $15.3 million N/A (up 1.9 million and one spot)

3. Your Highness (Universal) – $12.4 million N/A (down 2.9 million and one spot)

4. Soul Surfer (FilmDistrict) – $10.0 million N/A (up .5 million)

5. Hanna (Focus Features) – $8.6 million N/A (up 1.6 million)

6. Source Code (Summit) – $8.2 million -45% (down .3 million)

7. Insidious (FilmDistrict) – $6.8 million -49% (same)

8. Limitless (Relativity Media) – $5.6 million -40% (same)

9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick’s Revenge (20th Century Fox) – $5.4 million -47% (same)

10. The Lincoln Lawyer (Lionsgate) – $4.5 million -34% (same)

Weekend Overview

The surprise hit that kicked off April, Universal’s Hop, probably won’t have too much direct competition for the top spot, although two star-driven comedies will do their best to try. In fact, this may be the first time in a long time (maybe ever) that Universal might end up with the top two spots at the box office, because we think that Pineapple Express helmer David Gordon Green’s Your Highness (Universal) starring Danny McBride from HBO’s “Eastbound and Down” will do the best of this week’s offerings despite not being in as many theaters as its main competition. Although an R-rated medieval comedy might not exactly sound like box office gold, it will greatly benefit from having two of the hottest actors of the year so far, Natalie Portman and James Franco, not to mention McBride’s own popularity due to his HBO show. This should be the first choice among older teens and 20-somethings, and though it may skew male, there should be enough interest among younger people to allow it to clinch second place.

The remake of Arthur (Warner Bros.) has the benefits of teaming its star Russell Brand with the well-respected Oscar winner Dame Helen Mirren, but it’s likely to lose much of Brand’s older teen audience to Your Highness and older fans of Mirren who probably won’t be too keen on the Dudley Moore classic being remade as a vehicle for Brand.

Oddly, the other two new movies are also related in that they both star a young actress, but you really can’t get much more different between the hyper-stylish action-thriller Hanna (Focus Features), starring Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett, and the real-life drama of Soul Surfer (FilmDistrict), starring AnnaSophia Robb. Our instincts would normally pick the former to win, because it looks like a cool action movie, but Soul Surfer will benefit from the real-life story of Bethany Hamilton being well-known by potential older audiences and the movie is gaining support among church-going groups that should give it a bump. Hanna is the type of quirky movie that would generally do better in major cities where movie audiences are always looking for something different although the normal action crowd probably will give it a pass.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Max Winkler’s romantic dramedy Ceremony (Magnolia) starring Michael Angarano and Uma Thurman with an “Honorable Mention” to the doc Blank City (Insurgent Media), which looks at the underground New York film scene of the early ’80s.

This weekend last year was all a horse race between the returning epic Clash of the Titans (Warner Bros.) and Shawn Levy’s new comedy Date Night (20th Century Fox) starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell. While the former dropped 57% in its second weekend, it remained on top with $26.6 million, followed by the high concept comedy with $25.2 million for second. That was followed closely by DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon, then opening way down in tenth place was the drama Letters to God (Vivendi Entertainment) with $1.1 million in 897 theaters. The Top 10 grossed $117.6 million but since none of the new movies are likely to do over $25 million, it’s unlikely this weekend will come close to last year.


The Battle Cry

Not that I have any more time this week than I have any other week this year, but having returned from the first CinemaCon in Las Vegas, I thought it would be good to write something about what I saw, particularly in terms of how it has changed some of my thoughts on potential box office.

The biggest surprise has to be Seth Gordon’s Horrible Bosses, which I didn’t really think much about but seeing the humor that’s been applied to a highly relatable premise makes me think this will be the breakout comedy of the summer despite its R-rating. Another R-rated comedy we’ll want to keep an eye on is Cameron Diaz in Sony’s Bad Teacher by one of our favorite Judd Apatow co-horts Jake Kasdan. This looks incredibly raunchy and funny and Diaz has had so much success in the summer between There’s Something About Mary and the lesser What Happens in Vegas, there’s a good chance this one will also breakout.

I saw the same footage from J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 that I saw a week earlier, and it went over just as well. At this point, there’s enough excitement surrounding it that this could be one of those summer sleepers that does well mainly because it’s not a sequel or remake.

I also got another taste for DreamWorks Animation’s 2011 offerings, both of which are very strong, although the three clips from Kung Fu Panda 2 we saw in 3D just didn’t have the same impact as seeing the first half of the movie even in an unfinished state. The 13 minutes of Puss In Boots we saw were just as funny a second time around and looked even better in 3D than Kung Fu Panda.

There are four big superhero movies this summer and we got a taste of three of them at CinemaCon. We were absolutely thrilled with what we saw from Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, which looks like it really gets what makes the premise of a God on earth so entertaining. We still think this is the harder sell for Marvel Studios, but we think that Marvel fans will be lining up in droves to see it. We also got a great taste for Captain America: The First Avenger, which will rely just as heavily on the charm and personality of Chris Evans as the “Iron Man” movies do on Robert Downey Jr. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any of Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull, but it was a great way to see how Captain America’s origin is being handled.

Similarly, Warner Bros. has Green Lantern and hopefully you’ve already seen the edited version of the footage shown at CinemaCon and WonderCon, which makes it pretty clear that Ryan Reynolds was the perfect choice to play Hal Jordan. Some of the CG seemed a bit wonky as did the creature make-up, and adjusting to the Oa scenes with all sorts of CG aliens might be the film’s biggest hurdle, similar to Thor‘s scenes on Asgard, but we’re confident this will be the best movie that could be made based on the character.

Overall, the best and most consistent presentation was that from DreamWorks who showed up at CinemaCon like a phoenix from the fire with four movies, showing behind-the-scenes footage of Steven Spielberg’s War Horse and their adaptation of the bestselling novel The Help, both which look like they could offer the type of movie experiences that might get them mentioned around Oscar time. Craig Gillespie’s Fright Night was the only movie to show entire scenes as well as being the only one in native 3D, and it really worked in a similar way as D.J. Caruso’s Disturbia. Shawn Levy’s Real Steel also looks decent but we’re still nervous about its October release.

Sadly, the two problem children of the summer may be two of the more anticipated summer films from Disney. The clips from Cars 2 just didn’t go over very well, though it’s likely it will do fine based on the Pixar name, just like the first Cars. Even so, for all the hype and hoopla that’s surrounded the movie in recent months, it’s going to be a bummer if the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to even the lowest expectations. While we’re very excited to see what Rob Marshall will do with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the three clips shown were good but felt a little disjointed. We’ll really have to see the movie as a whole before passing any judgment but we’re thinking Jerry Bruckheimer only wanted to give the CinemaCon audience a taste and everything will make more sense when all put together.

Noticeably absent at CinemaCon were Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which only showed a bit of footage with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s Rising Star award, and Jon Favreau’s Cowboys and Aliens, which chose to show stuff at WonderCon instead.

In two or three weeks (probably three) I’ll be posting my annual Summer Box Office Preview, so we’ll see how my week spent in Las Vegas will affect my predictions, but I do think that this summer will bounce back after a relatively weak spring-winter season. You can read more about CinemaCon on our CinemaCon Blog.


Your Highness (Universal)
Starring Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Theroux, Toby Jones, Damian Lewis
Directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, George Washington, Undertow, All the Real Girls); Written by Danny McBride, Ben Best (The Foot Fist Way, “Eastbound and Down”)
Genre: Adventure, Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: “Get Your Quest On”
Plot Summary: After years of watching his brother Fabious (James Franco) attain all the glory, Thadeous (Danny McBride) agrees to help him get back his bride-to-be (Zooey Deschanel) who has been taken by the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux). The duo is joined by the warrior Isabel (Natalie Portman) on the quest filled with dangerous creatures.

Analysis:

Medieval comedies aren’t that common for one reason or another. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is still considered by many to be a classic, but others like Martin Lawrence’s Black Knight haven’t been as memorable, although the amount of big fantasy period pieces that have come out in recent years seems to make it the perfect fodder for laughs.

With that in mind, Danny McBride is getting his first chance at a starring role since his early film The Foot Fist Way, but this one is getting a much wider major studio release thanks to the popularity he’s gained due to the HBO series “Eastbound and Down” and funny performances in the Seth Rogen comedy Pineapple Express and Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder – movies released within a week of each other in 2008. Before all of that, he appeared in David Gordon Green’s acclaimed indie All the Real Girls, which was also the debut of Zooey Deschanel, and the three of them are reunited for this new project. Green made his first foray into studio comedies with Pineapple Express after years making small indies few people saw in theaters.

The real selling point for the movie though is that it co-stars James Franco and Natalie Portman, two actors who have been making movies for a number of years now, but both have achieved a new plateau as stars in the last year or so. Franco has really come into his own in the last couple years following his role in Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” trilogy, doing a lot of interesting things in his life and career, which culminated with his Oscar nomination for Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours and him co-hosting the Oscars – the former got more raves than the latter. Portman just won her first Oscar for Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, which has helped keep her in the news, both good and bad; in the last few months, she’s gotten engaged and announced her pregnancy to her Black Swan choreographer as well as gotten caught up in a controversy with a stunt double. Comedy is a fairly new thing for Portman, having just appeared in the Paramount hit No Strings Attached with Ashton Kutcher earlier this year, but she certainly has more fans and younger ones than she did this time last year, which will make her more of a draw to this than she may have been otherwise.

For the most part, Your Highness will be targeting the older teen and 20-something audience that like the cast, but the question is whether they might have any interest in a raunchy stoner comedy set during the historic times. The comedy competition of Arthur also can’t be ignored, because there’s a chance that young women might prefer that to the testosterone-filled humor that McBride normally does.

Even so, Your Highness should do decently, though not being released during the summer and having to divide audiences with Russell Brand will probably keep it from replicating the success of Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder, which means it will open more moderately and probably not go too far with so many big franchise sequels opening in the next couple weeks.

Why I Should See It: This film has a lot of potential because Danny McBride and David Gordon Green have done some great stuff together and the commercials and trailer look hilarious!
Why Not: That’s kind of the point of commercials and trailers and we’re dubious the movie can be that good.
Projections: $14 to 16 million opening weekend and roughly $40 million total.

COMPARISONS


Arthur (Warner Bros.)
Starring Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Greta Gerwig, Luis Guzman, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Garner
Directed by Jason Winer (debut from the director of ABC’s hit sitcom “Modern Family”); Written by Peter Baynham (Brüno, Borat, “I Am Alan Partridge”)
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “No work. All play.”
Plot Summary: Billionaire Arthur Bach (Russell Brand) has coasted by on his fortune with his nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren) always there to help him with his dealings with society, but he suddenly finds himself having to make a decision, between continue to living luxuriously with an arranged marriage to a crazy woman (Jennifer Garner) or turn his back on it for the woman he loves (Greta Gerwig).

Analysis:

Hollywood does love its remakes and while there are many people who are opposed to them on principle, there’s something to say about the namebrand value of reimagining a well-known classic for modern audiences. One movie that may have been forgotten and probably isn’t that well known among younger audiences is Arthur. Thirty years ago, British comedian Dudley Moore had broken big in the United States due to the success of Blake Edwards’ 10 and that was followed by Arthur, a vehicle for Moore to play up his over-the-top persona, and it seems like the perfect movie to remake to allow England’s latest export Russell Brand to let loose his own brand of comedy.

Brand had already broken out big in Europe before he was cast as Aldous Snow in Nick Stoller’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a character with so much personality he was spun-off into his own movie Get Him to the Greek a few years later. Some might wonder how much of the success of those movies was due to Brand and how much to his co-stars Jason Segel and Jonah Hill, but Brand has been pretty hot in terms of the decisions he’s made from providing his voice in animated movies like Despicable Me and Hit to marrying popular pop star Katy Perry, something that’s quite honorable in this day and age. The latter certainly helped increase Brand’s visibility and his success has led to gigs like hosting “Saturday Night Live.”

Helping Brand out is Dame Helen Mirren, one of England’s most respected actors, who won an Oscar in 2007 for Stephen Frears’ The Queen and has won numerous other awards on top of that. Most people won’t realize the two appeared together in Julie Taymor’s awful version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest last year, ’cause no one saw it, but Arthur is the second movie in a row in which Mirren plays a role that was originally designed for a man. Mirren’s status among younger audiences was greatly helped last year when she co-starred in the action movie RED along with Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and others.

The cast is rounded out by Jennifer Garner, who has done more than her share of comedy even if some of them like Catch and Release and Ricky Gervais’ The Invention of Lying didn’t do particular well, and the film’s breakout star is likely to be Greta Gerwig, who has been doing low budget indies for years but is starting to get more attention, having appeared opposite Ben Stiller in last year’s Greenberg and earlier this year in No Strings Attached.

Being a remake may actually hurt the movie since older audiences who might be interested in the movie for Mirren or may be familiar with the original might not like the idea of anyone pissing on Dudley Moore’s grave by remaking what was a terrific film. The movie has potential but it also has problems and being given a ridiculously wide release into over 3,000 theaters will only mean that business is spread out thinner and likely to be focused more on the big cities than more rural areas in the South and MidWest where they probably won’t have much patience for Brand’s British accent.

Why I Should See It: The premise of a spoiled rich guy trying to find love certainly isn’t something we see often.
Why Not: Maybe because who can have any sympathy for the rich in the current economic climate?
Projections: $12 to 14 million opening weekend and roughly $35 million total.

COMPARISONS


Soul Surfer (FilmDistrict)
Starring Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, AnnaSophia Robb, Carrie Underwood, Lorraine Nicholson, Kevin Sorbo, Jeremy Sumpter
Directed by Sean McNamara (Bratz, “That’s So Raven,” “Even Stevens” and other television shows and movies); Written by Sean McNamara, Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz, Deborah Bonann Schwartz
Genre: Drama
Rated PG
Tagline: “When you come back from a loss, beat the odds, and never say never, you find a champion.”
Plot Summary: Teen surfer Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) lost an arm in a vicious shark attack but fought back through sheer determination to be able to ride the waves again, as well as becoming active in helping others.

Analysis:

In this day and age, when Lifetime and other cable channels are grabbing up the rights to any news story that makes the headlines, it’s sometimes surprising to see a fairly recent story being turned into a theatrical feature film, but the story of surfer Bethany Hamilton and her being attacked by a shark in 2003 was big news, so big that the rights were quickly optioned to be made into a movie.

Starring as Bethany is AnnaSophia Robb, a young actress who has been acting in movies since 2005 when she starred in the Walden Media adaptation of Because of Winn-Dixie, which was followed by a role in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Disney hit Bridge to Terabithia, the thriller The Reaping opposite Hilary Swank and Disney’s Race to Witch Mountain.

Playing her parents are two big stars of the ’90s who have taken a bit of a backseat in recent years. Dennis Quaid had remained fairly active in movies in the previous decade, although he hasn’t appeared in a movie since Legion from early 2010, which did better than his previous thriller Pandorum. Quaid’s biggest recent hit was playing Col. Hawk in Paramount’s summer action movie G.I. Joe, but the last time he starred in a real-life drama, it was 2008’s The Express, which bombed big time. Helen Hunt has been seen even less in recent years, her last movie being her directorial debut Then She Found Me three years ago, and one wonders if her involvement with the movie will have any sort of impact on how well it does or not. Lastly, former “American Idol” and current pop superstar Carrie Underwood makes her acting debut in the movie. The movie is directed by Sean McNamara who has mainly done television including many shows for the Disney Channel, but also directed the Bratz movie.

One of the driving forces of getting people into theaters to see the movie is that Bethany’s steadfast beliefs are thought to have played a large part in her recovery, which may be why a number of Christian groups have bought out entire theaters for showings this weekend. The film is being released by FilmDistrict, who picked it up from Sony/Tristar, and they’re releasing it a week after the horror film Insidious did better than expected. It’s opening in roughly 2,100 theaters, which is the least number of theaters for a wide release this weekend.

Having not seen the movie, we don’t know how it’s going to fare with critics but it’s doubtful the people who real want to see this movie will care too much about what the critics think (as if they ever) since they’ll already have their minds made up. If the movie doesn’t live up to their expectations, expect word-of-mouth to kill any chance of legs, but we expect a solid first weekend if nothing else.

Why I Should See It: Bethany Hamilton’s story is certainly one that caught the attention and interest of the country.
Why Not: The Christian overtones of the movie might make it feel preachy to those who just want to hear her inspirational story.
Projections: $8 to 10 million opening weekend and roughly $28 million total

COMPARISONS


Hanna (Focus Features)
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, Jason Flemyng, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams
Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, The Soloist); Written by Seth Lochhead and David Farr (“MI-5”)
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Adapt or Die”
Plot Summary: A young girl named Hanna (Saorsie Ronan) has been raised in the wilds of Norway by her former CIA father (Eric Bana) but when Hanna decides she wants to go out into the real world, she’s sent on a mission by her father to kill her father’s former handler Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) before she finds and kills them.

Review

Interview with Joe Wright from the New York Comic-Con

Analysis:

The second “name” movie of the weekend is this fourth movie from Joe Wright, an action-thriller that takes him further away from the period pieces with which he kicked off his film career, but reunites him with Saoirse Ronan, the star of his biggest hit, the Oscar-nominated Atonement, playing a very different role than we’ve seen her. At the age of 14, Ronan has become one of the more reputable actresses, having been nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Wright’s Atonement, which she followed up with lead performances in Fox Walden’s City of Embers and Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lovely Bones. Earlier this year, she already appeared in Peter Weir’s The Way Back, which didn’t even make $3 million.

There was a time when Eric Bana was thought to be on the way to being a huge star, probably when he was cast in the lead of Ang Lee’s The Hulk, but since then, his career has been see-sawing from one movie to the next with relative hits like The Time Traveler’s Wife and flops like the long-delayed Lucky You. The last important piece of the puzzle is Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett, who has been noticeably absent from movie screens since last year’s Robin Hood, but she’s also playing a very different role than we’ve seen her play before. Blanchett could potentially bring a lot to the table following her appearance in blockbusters like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, though she’s not being featured in the commercials much. The cast is rounded out by British mainstays like Tom Hollander (“Pirates of the Caribbean”), Jason Fleming and Olivia Williams.

The big question is who might want to see this movie: the older audiences and women who dug Wright’s early period pieces? Probably not. The younger guys who normally go to see action movies? More likely, although it won’t be based on the cast, since they haven’t appeared in movies they would normally see other than the “Hulk” and the “Indiana Jones” movie. The premise of a young girl being trained as a killer is solid enough, and might be more interesting if we hadn’t already seen it in last year’s Kick-Ass, which at least handled the material in a more mainstream and humorous way.

Hanna is following The Eagle as a rare wide release by Focus Features, who tend to try out movies in a platform release before going wide, and the difference this time is that the movie just doesn’t have a big draw like Channing Tatum to bring in audiences. On the other hand, they had a decent-sized hit last year with The American, which defeated the competition over Labor Day weekend – again, due to its star draw of George Clooney.

I hate to say it, since I generally dig this film, but Focus Features may be opening it in way too many theaters than it warrants, which means business will probably be thinner and much more spread out than it might if there was a demand for it. We think this will be the low performer of the weekend, not for lack of trying by Focus to get the word out, but just because there isn’t very much to really sell the movie beyond its premise.

Why I Should See It: Joe Wright has created a rather unique take on the action-thriller with a terrific cast.
Why Not: The movie may be too weird for mainstream action fans.
Projections: $6 to 8 million opening weekend and roughly $20 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Ceremony (Magnolia)
Starring Uma Thurman, Michael Angarano, Reece Thompson, Lee Pace, Rebecca Mader, Jake Johnson
Written and directed by Max Winkler (debut by the director of “Clark and Michael”)
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rated R
Tagline: “He’s the Love of Her Life. She Just Doesn’t Know it Yet.”
Plot Summary: When best friends Sam and Marshall (Michael Angarano, Reece Thompson) decide to spend the weekend in the Hamptons, Marshall doesn’t realize that Sam is just trying to crash the wedding of his former lover Zoe (Uma Thurman) in order to try and win her back.

Interview with Max Winkler

(For the sake of transparency, director Max Winkler was nice enough to buy us a brownie on our birthday when we interviewed him, but that had absolutely no effect on us giving his movie this week’s “Chosen One” prize. Honest!)

Every once in a while, you attend a film festival and you catch something so unexpectedly good it leaves you wondering how you could have doubted it could possibly good. That was certainly the case when this movie fit snugly into my cramped schedule at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Mind you, all the cast of Max Winkler’s directorial debut have been involved with decent movies in the past, but when you look at the plot and the cast, you just imagine it’s just going to be another indie movie trying to bring together a group of quirky and dysfunctional characters at a wedding to see what happens. There’s some of that in there as well, but Winkler definitely has a talent for creating strong believable characters and dialogue that helps Ceremony be a lot more than it could be otherwise.

We first meet Michael Angarano’s Sam when the latter is doing a reading of his latest children’s book at a library with the only person in attendance being his best friend Marshall, played by Reece Thompson. The two of them are reconnecting after a year apart and they’ve decided to drive out to Long Island for the weekend. Marshall soon learns Sam’s interest in a wedding happening at a nearby beachside estate is more about the bride-to-be Zoe, played by Uma Thurman, who Sam had a tryst with. Soon, the duo are pulled awkwardly into the family’s celebration and Marshall tries to fit in while not being comfortable with the pretenses for being there by Sam, who is so infatuated with Zoe to the point of constantly embarrassing himself, but he does have his charms so she puts up with it.

Making comparisons to the work of Wes Anderson is a little too obvious though somewhat apt, because Winkler has a similar way of creating grounded characters with their share of quirks and neuroses and finding ways of throwing them together in interesting ways. It takes a little time to get into the swing of things, but Reece Thompson is generally so affable in whatever he does, it’s not hard to allow yourself to be pulled into this adventure by his best friend. Even more impressive is watching the evolution of Michael Angarano from a child actor into a grown-up with one of his strongest performances to date, one that shows he’s well on his way to being able to pull off the roles Dustin Hoffman used to play when younger. It’s even more surprising how well Angarano holds himself up against Thurman so that you really can believe them as a couple, something which normally might have been the hardest thing to adjust to. Lee Pace is very funny as Zoe’s fiancé Witt, as he finds subtle ways to butt heads with Sam while still coming off as gracious about his fiancee’s ex-lover crashing their wedding celebration. Then there’s Jake Johnson as Zoe’s crazy alcoholic brother Teddy, who gets some of the easiest laughs with his odd behavior.

These five characters have many great scenes together in different configurations, but none of the relationships ever feel forced because every aspect of the film is handled in such an elegant fashion. Even the music is handled in such a subtle way it never distracts from the story, which is not something one would expect from a first-time filmmaker treading on such familiar ground.

I’ve actually seen Ceremony a few times since Toronto; each time, I’ve been able to find new charm and pleasure to enjoy, and that all has to be credited to Max Winkler’s writing and wherewithal to make the movie with such an eclectic cast. We’ll anxiously be waiting to see what he does next.

Ceremony opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.

Honorable Mention:

Blank City (Insurgent Media)
Starring Jim Jarmusch, Debbie Harry, Steve Buscemi, John Lurie, Fab 5 Freddy, Thurston Moore, Richard Kern, Lydia Lunch, Amos Poe, Eric Mitchell, James Nares, Maripol, Ann Magnuson, James Chance, Beth B, Scott B, John Waters
Directed by Céline Danhier
Genre: Documentary
Plot Summary: A documentary that looks at the downtown New York underground art and film scene of the late ’70s and early ’80s that produced the likes of Andy Warhol, Jim Jarmusch, Steven Buscemi and John Waters.

This debut documentary from Céline Danhier was one of the great docs I’ve seen at the Tribeca Film Festival in years past–I want to say that I saw it two years ago, but it may have been more or less–and it’s a movie about something very close to my heart, which is the New York underground arts scene of the ’70s and early ’80s. It’s one of those things that you would sometimes hear about from those who were there, but that’s a rare breed at this point. Essentially, the likes of Andy Warhol or the Velvet Underground inspired thousands of others to move to the city and start making films and music together, but they weren’t making slick mainstream movies or pop songs, but doing really cutting edge stuff, creating a movement that we haven’t really seen anything like since then.

Probably the valedictorian of that graduating class would be Jim Jarmusch, who went on to be one of the most respected independent filmmakers of the last couple decades, and actor Steve Buscemi also got his start in that scene, but the film also includes a lot of forgotten artists like Amos Poe, Eric Mitchell, and Scott and Beth B. Probably one of the most impressive aspects of the film is that Danhier was able to get her hands on a lot of the original Super 8 films of these filmmakers as well as finding many of the living filmmakers themselves to talk about their work. The craziest section of the movie is saved for last when it starts dealing with the in-your-face “Cinema of Transgression,” making movies to disturb and piss off the viewers with the likes of Nick Zedd and Richard Kern at the forefront of this movement which mixed horror and politics.

The doc isn’t just about the film scene though as all of the arts were mixed in that day with filmmakers and artists and musicians all hanging together, switching roles and creating new things. The film gets the musician perspective from the likes of Thurston Moore, Debbie Harry, Anne Magnusson and John Lurie.

Blank City effectively acts as a time capsule of New York of that era, and the saddest thing is that I only moved to New York in the late ’80s after this level of underground artistry had already died away. Maybe this is a movie that will appeal more to those who live in New York City, but being able to see all of this crazy originality unfolding chronologically really makes this a very special film that I’m glad to see finally getting a release.

Blank City opens in New York at the IFC Center on Wednesday, and a lot of the filmmakers will be appearing to answer questions after the evening screenings.

Also in Limited Release:

Opening in IMAX theaters is David Lickley’s nature doc Born to be Wild (Warner Bros.), narrated by Morgan Freeman, which looks at orphaned orangutans and elephants rescued from the wilds of Borneo by primatologist Dr. Birute Galdikas and elephant authority Dame Daphne Sheldrick in Kenya and the bonds that form between animals and humans.

Alejandro Springall’s Spanish language romantic comedy No Eres Tu, Soy Yo (Lionsgate) stars Eugenio Derbez as Javier, a man on a journey to find true love after losing the woman he loves. It opens in select cities.

Keanu Reeves stars in Henry’s Crime (Moving Pictures), a crime-comedy set in Buffalo, New York, where his hapless toll collector is jailed for robbing a bank, a crime he didn’t commit, so he plots with a veteran criminal (James Caan) to rob the bank by taking on a role in a production of Chekov’s “The Cherry Orchard” in an adjoining theater, where he gets into a relationship with a local actress, played by Vera Farmiga. It opens in New York at the Landmark Sunshine on Friday and in L.A. on April 15.

Wendy and Lucy director Kelly Reichardt is back, this time looking at a piece of history in Meek’s Cutoff (Oscilloscope Pictures), starring Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Will Patton, Shirley Henderson and Zoe Kazan as a group of settlers traveling through the Cascade Mountains as part of the Oregon Trail in 1845, following a shortcut by Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood) who gets them hopelessly lost.

Kim (“Sex and the City”) Cattrall stars in Keith Bearden’s Meet Monica Velour (Anchor Bay Films) as a former porn star from the ’70s who has become the obsession of an awkward teen named Tobe (newcomer Dustin Ingram), who learns of a rare live appearance she’s making miles away and uses it as an excuse to meet and befriend her. Also starring Brian Dennehy and Keith David, it opens on Friday in New York and L.A.

Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas look at the life and times of notorious stand-up comic Bill Hicks in the documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story (Variance Films), whose career was booming in the late ’80s and early ’90s until he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It opens in New York at the Cinema Village.

Malcolm Mowbray’s Meeting Spencer (Paladin) stars Jeffrey Tambor as a stage director trying to make money for his comeback production during one night in the Theater Row bar Frankie & Johnnie’s. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinemas.

João Pedro Rodrigues’s To Die Like a Man (Strand Releasing) is about a drag queen in Lisbon, Portugal who is pressured by her lover, a young soldier gone AWOL, to go through the operations to become a woman for real, but her religious beliefs keep her from going through the last step of the operation.

In Ankush Kohli and Chad Waterhouse’s Exodus Fall (Oakhurst Pictures), three siblings in 1974 Texas have to deal with an abusive mother after the death of their father, but when one of them is sent away for being autistic, the others steal their father’s station wagon in order to drive the thousands of miles to get him back. It opens in Los Angeles on Friday.


Next week, there’s a huge battle for first place as the animated Rio (20th Century Fox) takes on the Wes Craven’s most lucrative horror franchise Scream 4 (Dimension Films). Hoping to get a few of the crumbs is Robert Redford’s historic drama The Conspirator (Roadside Attractions), starring James McAvoy and Robin Wright.

Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas