The Weekend Warrior: May 6 – 8

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 -

1. Thor (Paramount/Marvel) – $68.5 million N/A (up 3.3 million)

2. Fast Five (Universal) – $38.0 million -56% (same)

3. Something Borrowed (Warner Bros.) – $13.5 million N/A (same)

4. Jumping the Broom (Sony/Tristar) – $10.4 million N/A (up .8 million)

5. Rio (20th Century Fox) – $9.2 million -38% (up .9 million)

6. Water for Elephants (20th Century Fox) – $5.5 million -40% (down .1 million)

7. Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family (Lionsgate) – $4.5 million -54% (down .1 million)

8. Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil (The Weinstein Co.) – $2.7 million -35%

9. Prom (Walt Disney) – $2.5 million -46%

10. Soul Surfer (Film District) – $2.1 million -37%

Weekend Overview

While last week’s blockbuster hit Fast Five took the wind out of the sails of what would normally be the first weekend of summer, the first weekend of May is going to continue the run with the third movie from Marvel Studios, Kenneth Branagh’s Thor (Marvel Studios/Paramount), starring Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman and others. Thor isn’t the best-known or most popular Marvel Comics character with far less of a presence than some of their others, but he has appeared in many recent cartoons and the movie has the type of epic look that will appeal to guys of all ages including younger boys. While we don’t think it will do the kind of numbers we’ve seen from the Iron Man or Spider-Man movies, we do think that opening in IMAX and 3D theaters should help it open better than the “Fantastic Four” and “Hulk” movies, and it should have decent legs as word-of-mouth helps make it an early summer sleeper.

Offering the usual counter-programming is not one but two romantic comedies. Based on the popular book, Something Borrowed (Warner Bros.) stars Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, Jon Krasinski and Colin Egglesfield, and it looks like the type of dumb and innocuous stuff women eat up. The same can be said for Jumping the Broom (Sony/ Screen Gems), which will be targeting African-American women who probably won’t be as interested in either of the other two movies. Both movies probably will do in the $10 million range, although Something Borrowed is opening in nearly a thousand more theaters, which gives it the advantage of the weekend as does being based on a popular book, which should allow it to take third place.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Alexandre Phillipe’s doc The People vs. George Lucas (Wreckin Hill Entertainment), which you can read more about below.

Last summer kicked off with the return of Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau for Iron Man 2 (Marvel Studios/Paramount), which kicked off the summer strongly with $128 million in 4,380 theaters, not setting any records but still a great start for what would become the year’s second biggest movie, grossing $312 million by the time it left theaters. The only counter-programming offered was the toddler doc Babies (Focus Features), which opened in 534 theaters and just got into the Top 10 at #9 with $2.2 million. The Top 10 grossed $168 million although that might be a tough number to attain unless Thor does much better than we expect.


“Thor: God of Thunder” Video Game Giveaway!

To celebrate the release of Marvel Studios’ Thor, we have copies of SEGA’s new “Thor: God of Thunder” video game to give away in three formats: Wii, PS3 and Nintendo DS.

Email me at “warrior at comingsoon dot net” with the answers to the following four questions as well as your address and choice of format (You can only choose one of the formats listed above and this contest is for people in the US and Canada only):

1. In the movie Thor, the lead character is all over Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, but who has been his ongoing love interest in the comics?
2. Which comic creator took over writing/drawing the “Thor’ comic in 1983 to create one of the defining runs on the book?
3. A previous live action version of Thor appeared in a TV movie spun-off of what popular television show?
4. True or false? Besides being a member of the Avengers, Thor also was an active member of The Defenders and The Champions.

The contest will end on Sunday, May 8 at midnight.


Thor (Marvel Studios/Paramount)
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgard, Jaimie Alexander, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Josh Dallas, Tadanobu Asano, Idris Elba, Clark Gregg, Colm Feore, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Frankenstein, Hamlet, Sleuth); Written by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz (“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” “Andromeda”), Don Payne (Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer, My Super Ex-Girlfriend)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “The God of Thunder”
Plot Summary: After causing a war between Asgard and their mortal enemies the Frost Giants, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is stripped of his powers by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and exiled to earth where he works with physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her team to find a way back home, while his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) uses Thor’s absence to usurp their father’s throne.

Interview with Chris Hemsworth

Interview with Kenneth Branagh (Coming Soon!)

Mini-Review:

Few filmmakers could possibly envy Kenneth Branagh for his task of bringing Marvel Comics’ God of Thunder to the big screen in a way that will appeal to fans and novices alike, but Branagh’s enormous leap to giant big-budget blockbusters works so well, one wonders why he hasn’t been called upon for earlier superhero films. “Thor” is very much a movie in three distinct parts: Asgard, earth and then all the S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff to help tie the character into the Marvel Movie Universe that’s been established. Balancing those three things is what keeps the movie from ever getting dull.

The first twenty minutes sets up the toughest aspect of the movie, which is to create the premise of the Gods of Asgard in a way that doesn’t completely lose the audience. Taking a cue from “Lord of the Rings,” we’re told of an an age-old feud between the Asgardians and their enemies, the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, the two worlds having been in a truce for centuries since Odin ended the earlier war. It’s a fairly familiar story about two brothers trying to compete for the love and attention of their father and him clearly favoring one over the other. Like “The Dark Knight,” this story could have been told entirely outside the realm of comic books and superheroes, but the fact these brothers are Gods and warriors caught up in epic battles just makes it that much more entertaining. Thor’s boisterous bravado reignites this war and his angry father exiles him to earth where he must find his way without power, the section of the movie that’s easiest to appreciate.

From the very beginning, the most immediately impressive aspect of “Thor” is the world-building Branagh and his production design team have done to create a Asgard, the Bifrost Bridge and the other worlds, which bear very little visual resemblance to anything in the comic books. This Asgard is depicted as equal parts fantasy and science fiction, just as they explain the presence of magic as something derived from their own version of science. Even with a simple explanation, it still takes some time to adjust to this world and it’s not until we’ve spent a little bit of time on earth (and we learn the relationship between the two worlds) that it becomes easier to accept Asgard.

Chris Hemsworth is just as perfectly cast as Thor as Robert Downey Jr. was as Tony Stark, because he has just the right balance of boisterous arrogance and naivety necessary to make his scenes work. He carries the dramatic scenes with real power and the lighter scenes with the type of charm you’d hope for. The New Mexico scenes also work due to the actors surrounding Hemsworth, his chemistry with Portman making the romantic aspect of Thor’s relationship with Jane Foster palatable. Kat Dennings delivers the film’s funniest lies, while Scandinavian actor Stellan Skarsgaard also brings an interesting dynamic to the group.

There probably aren’t many actors who could deliver Odin’s every line with the weight of Sir Anthony Hopkins, really making you believe that there’s nothing even remotely silly about Norse Gods who dress so flamboyantly. The use of Thor’s Asgardian compatriots, Sif and the Warriors Three, is another pleasant surprise with Ray Stevenson’s Volstagg having the type of voluminous presence that makes him such a fun character in the comics and equally fun here.

Every frame of the movie looks fantastic even if the 3D doesn’t feel extreme enough to be mandatory–it certainly doesn’t distract from any of the visuals. The action is also very well done regardless of how much CG is involved in some of the Asgard scenes; watching Thor battle with the Destroyer on earth is certainly a high point. Also, the sections dealing with S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulsen (Clark Gregg) interacting with this mysterious being who tries to take the immovable hammer they’ve acquired is blended into the story in a more transparent manner than “Iron Man 2.”

Overall, Branagh has done a brilliant job with this type of epic storytelling, while contrasting with the type of humanity and realism we’ve come to expect from the new wave in Marvel superhero movies. This is a great introduction to a character who in theory shouldn’t work on screen as well as he does, and the fact they’ve found a way into the comic material without being precious about it leaves you immediately wanting to see more of all the characters.

Rating: 9/10

Analysis:

About three years ago, after Iron Man opened with roughly $100 million, the fledgling Marvel Studios had an investors conference call where they laid out their movie plans for the next three or four years and besides starting to develop a sequel to the hit, they decided it was time to introduce other Marvel Comics characters to the big screen in order to build to a movie about the superteam The Avengers to follow.

Thor has an interesting history in comics from his introduction in “Journey Into Mystery” back in 1962 as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby figured out a way to bring Norse mythology into the Marvel Universe, and the idea of a God on earth was an interesting one, especially when Thor joined the Avengers. The early issues by Lee-Kirby are quite beloved, and the character has remained in publication in one form or another ever since, receiving a big revival in the ’80s under the guidance of Walter Simonson. In recent years, the character hasn’t really gotten the type of attention in comics as some of his peers, so though he’s one of the Marvel Universe’s most powerful characters, he’s not necessarily one of the most popular ones. Over the years, Thor has appeared on various TV cartoons and shows, most notably in a cartoon from the ’60s that basically adapted the comic book stories, and in the ’80s on the “Incredible Hulk” television show, but that’s really about it.

Back in the mid-90s when Marvel Comics was facing bankruptcy, they sold a lot of the movie rights to their most popular characters off to various movie studios in order to survive. All their biggest characters like the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and X-Men went to the likes of Sony and 20th Century Fox, and originally, Thor was part of a package deal sold to indie Artisan Films. They eventually merged with Lionsgate, who released two less than successful Punisher movies. Meanwhile, movies based on Ghost Rider and Daredevil did decent business, while Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk had two big summer movies, all opening over $50 million. Despite how they did at the box office, fans weren’t that happy with some of the movies being made by the studios other than Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” movies and Bryan Singer’s “X-Men,” and Marvel decided to get into film production themselves, forming Marvel Studios and became more involved with the production, and their first release, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man was a bonafide $300 million blockbuster.

Helming Thor‘s big screen debut is veteran filmmaker and actor Kenneth Branagh, who has built his reputation directing film adaptations of Shakespeare’s greatest works, including the Oscar nominated Henry V and Hamlet, but his highest profile movie was probably the 1994 reinvention of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Despite making movies since the late ’80s, Branagh hasn’t had a movie that’s grossed more than $40 million and directing a big movie like Thor is a huge leap for him. Even so, he’s assembled an amazingly eclectic and unconventional cast starting with the casting of virtual unknowns Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston in the roles of Thor and Loki. Hemsworth’s only major role before taking on the hammer of the God of Thunder was playing James T. Kirk’s father in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, but he also has roles in a couple upcoming MGM movies that should finally get released this year.

The two biggest names in the movie are also both Oscar winners, and for many, the presence of Sir Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman may be the deciding factor in whether they see the movie. We just saw Sir Anthony in the recent thrilled The Rite, which didn’t do particularly well, and last year, he appeared in Woody Allen’s movie and in The Wolfman. Personally, we can’t think of an actor better to play the all-seeing Odin, and he really makes the Asgard scenes great. Portman is coming off her Oscar win earlier this year, something that’s already been tarnished by the failure of movies like David Gordon Green’s Your Highness, which makes it obvious that Black Swan‘s success doesn’t necessarily mean moviegoers will rush out to see any movie Portman is in.

The oddest casting is probably that of Idris Elba as Heimdall, gatekeeper of Asgard, which may have been to try to attract black audiences who might find Thor to not be something that might cater to their tastes. Elba has a huge following especially in his native England for his TV role as “Luther,” and he’s already been involved in other comic book movies like last year’s The Losers and he also appears in next year’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. He’s also appeared in some of Screen Gems’ biggest hits like Obsessed, This Christmas and last year’s surprise hit Takers, so he certainly is known among African-American audiences even if the role is fairly small.

The only other known names are that of Kat Dennings, who has been making waves in the indie world since her debut in Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin playing Catherine Keener’s snarky daughter, and Ray Stevenson, who may be better known for his stint as the Punisher in 2008′s Punisher: War Zone. They’re essentially the comic relief of the movie.

While the start of summer got usurped by last week’s Fast Five, the opening week of May has been thought of to be a prime release date, considered to be the first weekend of the summer movie season. Lots of superhero movies have kicked things off with huge openings, most notably Sony’s Spider-Man in 2002, which was followed by Bryan Singer’s sequel X2 in 2003, Spider-Man 3 in 2007, then the two Iron Man movies with X-Men Origins: Wolverine in between. The lowest opening for any of those movies was $85 million, which is more than Fast Five opened last weekend, so clearly, there’s enough people willing to go out to the movies in early May despite having school and work. It’s good to keep in mind that other than the first “Spider-Man” and “Iron Man” movies, most of the movies were either sequels or prequels to existing franchises, although the huge success of Spider-Man (at the time, the biggest opening weekend of all time) and Iron Man shows that there are lots of people, comic and non-comic fans alike, who were excited about the Marvel Comics characters finally coming to theaters.

A couple things will probably keep Thor out of that level of opening, the first being the fact that last week’s Fast Five took a lot of the wind out of Thor’s sails by opening so big; there may be many action fans who would choose to see that again. Thor opened internationally last week to the tune of $83 million which is a strong debut, although it does feel that the character would play better in Europe and other parts of the world than in the United States (which is probably why Paramount made that decision).

On the other hand, reviews so far have been astounding, currently holding a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is comparable to the ratings Branagh has received for many of his Shakespeare adaptations, most notably Henry V and Hamlet. Because Thor has appeared in so many recently cartoons, he definitely will appeal to a lot of younger moviegoers and with so many older comic fans remembering the character with a sense of nostalgia, we can expect to see fathers bringing their kids to see the movie on the weekend, which should keep it from being heavily frontloaded to Friday.

With that in mind, we think Thor will probably open closer to Ang Lee’s 2003 movie The Hulk than Iron Man, but it will be helped by the higher IMAX and 3D ticket prices to end up in the mid-60s for its opening weekend. Being a better movie than some of the others mentioned, it should be able to sustain business at least over the next few weeks.

Why I Should See It: Thor is one of the most underrated Marvel Comics characters and Kenneth Branagh really has done spectacular things with him.
Why Not: Some might think this is a biopic of the Canadian heavy metal star.
Projections: $63 to 66 million opening weekend and roughly $190 to 200 million total, possibly more!

COMPARISONS


Something Borrowed (Warner Bros.)
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, Colin Egglesfield, John Krasinski, Steve Howey
Directed by Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door); Written by Jennie Urman (“90210,” “Gilmore Girls”), Jordan Roberts
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “It’s a Thin Line Between Love and Friendship”
Plot Summary: Single and 30, New York lawyer Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) has had a crush on Dex (Colin Egglesfield) since they were both in law school, but at Rachel’s 30th birthday she gets drunk and sleeps with him. Unfortunately, by then he’s already engaged to her outgoing best friend Darcy (Kate Hudson). She tells her confidante Ethan (John Krasinski) but he has a secret of his own. (I think I know what is, do you?)

Review

Analysis:

There has been a fairly popular trend in Hollywood these days to take whatever book that women are reading on a regular basis and turning it into a movie, hoping they’ll turn up in droves to see it. The latest wave in this trend may be traced back to the success of The Devil Wears Prada or before that to How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. With the success New Line had with He’s Just Not That Into You, Warner Bros. is getting into the act with a movie based on Something Borrowed, the bestselling 2005 “chick lit” book by Emily Giffin. The rights were picked up by Hilary Swank who appeared in the movie version of P.S. I Love You, a relatively strong rom-com hit for Warner Bros.

Instead of starring in the movie herself–and we thank her for not forcing us to endure another movie as bad as P.S. I Love You– Swank has tailored it as a vehicle for two other actresses, Ginnifer Goodwin and Kate Hudson. Obviously, the latter has a stronger track record at the box office, though in recent years she’s had movies that have tanked such as the musical Nine and her teaming with Dane Cook in 2008′s My Best Friend’s Girl. Then again, she’s also had four comedies open with more than $20 million with her biggest hit (and the only one to gross over $100 million) being 2003′s How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. The good thing is that Hudson has the type of status that she can do the talk show circuit and get the film’s potential female audience interested.

Personally, we’re bigger fans of Ginnifer Goodwin, best known for her role on HBO’s “Big Love,” but she also appeared in a number of big movies like Walk the Line ($119.5 million) and He’s Just Not That Into You ($93.9 million). Unfortunately, her last two movies were the awful Ramona and Beezus and a tiny role in Take Me Home Tonight, but Something Borrowed is her first leading role, and it could make a big difference in what she does next. Her leading man Colin Egglesfield is fairly new to the movies, coming from doing TV shows like the modern-day “Melrose Place,” and then lastly, there’s Jon Krasinski from “The Office,” whose movie career has been fairly spotty. His featured roles in romantic comedies like License to Wed and Leatherheads failed to take off and Sam Mendes’ indie road comedy Away We Go barely made a dent. Krasinski has generally done better with smaller roles in big movies like 2009′s It’s Complicated (his last movie), but we also were blown away by his directorial debut Brief Interviews with Hideous Men even if no one saw it.

Warner Bros. has been in the romantic comedy game for a long time and they’ve had mediocre success (as seen by License to Wed) with many of their most recent hits being New Line productions, Valentine’s Day and He’s Just Not That Into You. They’ve had a bit more success with romantic dramas like Nights in Rodanthe and The Lake House, though their last romcom Life as We Know It did okay with a $14 million opening and $50 million total gross. Something Borrowed was produced by Alcon Entertainment producers of The Blind Side, which was a huge hit for Warner Bros.

Despite its title, Something Borrowed isn’t REALLY a wedding comedy, though it does have the elements of those comedies, and its deceptive title should help get wedding-frenzied women into theaters. It’s become fairly common to open a chick flick the same first weekend in May as a big FX-laden tentpole movie as counter-programming, and we’ve seen some success. Three years ago, the wedding-themed Made of Honor opened against Iron Man and was able to gross $14 million its opening weekend; on the other hand, Warner Bros.’ long-delayed Lucky You tanked against Spider-Man 3.

Unfortunately for this movie, it has some comedy competition from Jumping the Broom, and though that movie will be primarily targeting African-American audiences, that’s a fairly large group of women who may have checked this otherwise. We think that will keep this under the $15 million mark opening weekend and probably closer to $12 million, and it doesn’t stand a chance at much legs with Kristen Wiig’s Bridesmaids opening next week.

Why I Should See It: Surely, this movie can’t be as bad as it looks, right?
Why Not: Surely, we’ve said that before and been proven wrong, right?
Projections: $12 to 14 million opening weekend and roughly $45 million total.

COMPARISONS


Jumping the Broom (Sony/ Tristar)
Starring Angela Bassett, Paula Patton, Laz Alonso, Mike Epps, Loretta Devine, Meagan Good, Tasha Smith, DeRay Davis, Julie Bowen, Romeo Miller, Gary Dourdan, Pooch Hall, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Valarie Pettiford
Directed by Salim Akil (BET’s “The Game,” “Girlfriends”); Written by Arlene Gibbs, Elizabeth Hunter (The Fighting Temptations, Beauty Shop)
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Drama
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Sometimes the only way to get past family drama… is to jump right over it.”
Plot Summary: When lawyer Sabrina Watson (Paula Patton) finally finds Mr. Right in Jason Taylor (Laz Alonso), she decides to wait until they’re married before sleeping with her, and when he proposes, they decide to have their wedding at her family’s house on Martha’s Vineyard where her mother (Angela Bassett) is having problems with her husband’s infidelity. The other problem is that Sabrina hasn’t met Jason’s family and his working class mother Pam (Loretta Devine) brings along her best friend, her brother (Mike Epps) and Jason’s cousin (DeRay Davis) who immediately start to disrupt the Watsons’ upper class lifestyle.

Review

Analysis:

I’ll be the first to admit that I tend to be at a loss when it comes to movies geared towards African-American audiences, particularly women, because I never know which ones of them will hit and which ones will miss. But let’s face it, other than Tyler Perry’s movies, most of them have been missing in recent years, and it’s been some time since we’ve had breakout urban hits like Waiting to Exhale or Barbershop or Ice Cube’s “Friday” movies, although many of the same actors are still working fairly consistently in these movies.

This is a new film produced by the Reverend T.D. Jakes, pastor of the TD Jakes ministries, who has had two films based on his novels, Woman Thou Art Loosed starring Kimberly Elise–the stageplay was directed by no less than Tyler Perry–and 2009′s Not Easily Broken, which was directed by Bill Duke. Both did relatively well despite moderate theatrical releases, though Jumping the Broom isn’t based on any of his writings yet it’s opening much wider.

Jakes’ profile among the African-American community has helped bring together an impressive cast including one of the most respected actresses among that audience, Angela Bassett. Her roles in the early precursors to Tyler Perry, Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back helped establish herself among African-American women as someone they could relate to following her early lead roles in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and the Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got To do with It. In the last five years, she’s starred in the underrated Akeela and the Bee, as well as Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns and the Big E. Smalls biopic Notorious. Loretta Devine is slowly becoming an actress on par with Bassett, starring in Tyler Perry’s last two films, Ice Cube’s Lottery Ticket and hit movies like This Christmas, Dreamgirls and the Oscar-winning Crash. Both actresses are well known among the older African-American women who will be the most interested in this movie.

Paula Patton and Meagan Good are both comparatively new actresses who have done their fair share of urban-targeted films, Patton appearing with Queen Latifah in last year’s Just Wright and Good doing the dance movies You Got Served and Stomp the Yard, but also branching into non-urban films like Mike Myers’ The Love Guru and the horror films The Unborn and Saw V. The male lead Laz Alonso has actually appeared in both Just Wright opposite Patton, and This Christmas opposite Devine as well as being one of the busiest actors of the last decade. The cast is rounded out by comedians Mike Epps, DeRay Davis and Tasha Smith, all of whom have been fairly omni-present in comedies like this one and they’ll offer most of the best laughs.

With such a strong cast and the involvement of Jakes, this should be able to have some interest among African-American audiences even if the chance of it crossing over and being of interest to white audiences is minimal at best since few will even be familiar with the tradition of “jumping the broom” – it’s like breaking the glass at Jewish weddings. While this is very much a wedding comedy using the same formula we’ve seen so many times, the unfamiliar term in the title won’t bring in the non-African-Americans who might normally want to see a wedding comedy.

Opening just two weeks after Tyler Perry’s latest joint, and one that didn’t do as well as expected, one wonders whether the African-American audiences have started to tire of the same old thing, but with Perry’s movie already leaving theaters, this should be the only viable for African-American women and couples, which should allow it to do decently at least in bigger cities.

Why I Should See It: It features some of the finest African-American talent making movies today.
Why Not: So why do they keep agreeing to make movies like this that don’t offer any sort of challenge?
Projections: $9 to 11 million opening weekend and roughly $30 million total.


THE CHOSEN ONE:

The People vs. George Lucas (Wrekin Hill Entertainment)
Starring Gary Kurtz, Neil Gaiman, Ray Harryhausen, David Brin, David Prowse, Anthony Waye, Dale Pollock, Wendy Ide, Sandy Lieberman, Glenn Kenyon, Joe Leydon, Chris Gore, Joe Nussbaum, Kevin Rubio
Directed by Alexandre Philippe (debut)
Genre: Documentary
Plot Summary: This doc looks at how filmmaker George Lucas goes from being loved for the original “Star Wars” trilogy to becoming the target of ire from his former fans and critics due to some of his decisions to release changed version of the original trilogy and outcry from the prequels.

I never quite understood the fanaticism for “Star Wars,” at least not to the degree that we’ve often seen where people will dress up like their favorite characters, collect toys or even make their own versions of the movies, but I certainly feel like I’ve heard every grumble and complaint about the prequels umpteen times, so one wonders why someone might make a movie about it. Well, read on.

I first heard about Alexandre Philippe’s documentary when it premiered last year at SXSW, but I missed it there and it’s been a long road for it finally to be released. In fact, I almost missed it because I only found out it was opening this weekend by accident while doing research for the column.

Essentially, the movie brilliantly encapsulates the entire “Star Wars” saga taking a behind-the-scenes perspective, looking at what drove George Lucas to make some of his decisions and how the fans were along for the ride until Lucas seemed to be deliberately spitting in their faces or as some so eloquently put it, “raping their childhood.”

The film starts with Lucas’ early days in Hollywood and his experiences with THX 1138 and American Graffiti that turned him off the studio system and convinced him to go it alone for Star Wars in 1977. The film was such a huge hit, it created a new level of fandom that exploded with millions of dollars of toys being sold, and years later, Lucas found himself within the corporation environment he fought so much against. The demand for more “Star Wars” is so great that in 1997, he starts releasing the special editions of the trilogy using newer technology to try to “enhance” the movie, but it immediately gets his fans angry that he’s messing with the movies they loved. That’s escalated by the release of Episode I The Phantom Menace as the first new movie in 18 years and all of the disappointment and anger surrounding that.

It’s a very talkie film made up mostly of interviews with various fans and critics, as well as a lot of archival footage of Lucas himself, but it’s enhanced with some of the most amazing footage culled from YouTube and other sources, all edited together with the type of precision that makes it move at a brisk pace, and keeps it entertaining despite basically covering a lot of familiar ground. This isn’t a movie that’s only there to criticize or vilify Lucas, because there’s clearly a lot of love at the heart of why Philippe chose to make this film.

Ultimately, it’s a fun film that “Star Wars” fans will love, even if it’s just to confirm their own feelings about what Lucas has done wrong by hearing testimonials from similarly ardent fans. Even those who aren’t as fanatical about “Star Wars” should be able to appreciate the enthusiasm and energy people are willing to put into something they love and hate as much as they do George Lucas’ “Star Wars” movies.

The People vs. George Lucas opens in New York on Friday at the Cinema Village and at the Nuart in Los Angeles on May 13.

Also in Limited Release:

(This is seriously one of the craziest weeks we’ve seen for limited releses in a long time and we’re surprised there are enough theaters to go around.)

Rutger Hauer stars in Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun (Magnet Labs) as the title character, a homeless man who arrives in a city plagued by violent crime under the guidance of its corrupt mob boss Drake (Brian Downey) and his two sadistic sons, Slick and Ivan. When he befriends a young prostitute named Abby (Molly Dunsworth), he decides enough is enough and decides to take vigilante justice against those who are breaking the law. It opens in New York at the Village East Cinemas and in Austin at the Alamo Ritz before expanding to L.A. and other cities on May 20.

Mel Gibson stars in Jodie Foster’s The Beaver (Summit Entertainment) as Walter Black, a toy manufacturer who is suffering from depression but finds relief from suicidal desires when he finds a beaver puppet and starts using it to voice his feelings. Meanwhile, his son Porter (Anton Yelchin) is having his own problems as he tries to help the school’s valedictorian (Jennifer Lawrence) write a graduation speech. It opens in select cities on Friday with plans to expand wider later.

Review

Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington star in Massy Tadjedin’s Last Night (Tribeca Films) as a married couple who spend the night apart, he with a colleague he’s attracted to (played by Eva Mendes) and her with an old French flame who is in town (played by Guillaume Canet). Can their relationship survive? It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Roland (The Killing Fields) Joffe’s There Be Dragons (Samuel Goldwyn Films) tells a more sympathetic version of the story of Opus Dei founder St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer (Charlie Cox) as an action-packed film set during the Spanish Civil War having Josemaria interact with fictional characters. Also starring Wes Bentley, Derek Jacobi, Olga Kurylenko, Dougray Scott and Rodrigo Santoro, it opens in select cities on Friday.

Mitch Glazer’s Passion Play (Image Entertainment) stars Mickey Rourke as Nate Poole, a jazz musician on the run from a gangster (Bill Murray) who comes across a carnival and falls for its prize attraction, the winged “Bird Woman” Lily, played by Megan Fox, who he tries to run away with, putting her boss (Rhys Ifans) after them as well. It opens in select cities.

Mini-Review: Having a cast that includes the likes of Oscar nominees Mickey Rourke and Bill Murray, you’d think there has to be a better reason for them wanting to make this movie other than increasing the chances of possibly bedding Megan Fox, but no, “Passion Play” is a failure on so many levels, it’s baffling that neither of them has agents who could have seen it from the script stage.

Rourke’s Nate Poole is a loner who comes upon a circus and sees Megan Fox’s Lily, a beautiful woman with angel’s wings, and he helps her escape the clutches of her owner (Rhys Ifans) with hopes of turning her over to Murray’s Happy Shannon, whom he owes money to. Nate becomes so romantically attached to Lily that he immediately reneges on the deal and realizes he needs to save her from Shannon’s possessive attentions.

Mitch Glazer has produced many fine films and for his first time as a director, he may have been trying to make a movie that’s a cross between Wim Wenders, Wong Kar-Wai and David Lynch. The influence of classic Hollywood movies is fairly obvious from the rather simplistic storytelling, but it’s like something we’ve seen in so many movies, and may have been more enticing if we didn’t see essentially the same plot in “Water for Elephants” just a few weeks back.

Mickey Rourke is either phoning his performance in or he realized he needs to take it down a few notches as to not make Fox look so bad. It doesn’t really work. Her performance is so wooden, it’s obvious she was hired only for how good she looks wearing a pair of wings and little else. The scenes where Lily tries to fly are some of the worst wirework we’ve seen in any movie of any budget. Similarly, Rhys Ifans is so over-the-top in his early scenes you’re almost thankful he doesn’t appear again until the end of the movie, and what is Kelly Lynch doing traipsing around in next to nothing? Isn’t she a little old to be doing that?

As fantastic as the entire film looks thanks to the way cinematographer Christopher Doyle captures the desert landscapes, the film is extremely dull, like watching a beautiful painting dry. You have to assume the title is meant to be ironic since the one thing “Passion Play” lacks more than anything else is passion. Rating: 4.5/10

Kat Dennings may be cracking people up in Thor this week, but she also stars in the Sundance film Daydream Nation (Anchor Bay Films) as 17-year-old Caroline Wexler who moves with her father from the city to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere where she gets into a love triangle with her teacher (Josh Lucas) and a troubled classmate (Reece Thompson). It opens in New York at the Village East Cinemas and L.A. at the Laemmle Sunset 5 on Friday but then hits DVD on May 17th in case you don’t feel like getting to the theater.

Marc Meyers’ drama Harvest (Monterey Media), starring Robert Loggia as the head of a large family gathering together on a shoreline town, opens at the Quad Cinemas in New York.

Jessica Alba stars in Marilyn Agrelo’s adaptation of Aimee Bender’s An Invisible Sign (IFC Films) playing Mona Gray, a 20-year-old loner whose love of mathematics helps her survive a traumatic childhood incident before she turns to teaching a group of kids math. (No, we’re not sure how Alba, who just turned 30 is playing a 20 year old.)

Mini-Review: We’ve spoken with people who really like Aimee Bender’s writing, so who knows what happened in the development of her novel “An Invisible Sign of my Own” into what may be the most excruciating film we’ve sat through all year? Bender’s story of a girl trying to deal with her father’s mental illness through math and numbers just isn’t something that makes a very good movie, and it’s even harder in the fact we’re meant to believe that Jessica Alba has enough acting chops to play a woman good enough at math to teach a class.

It certainly doesn’t help that Alba goes through the movie seemingly in a daze and just when you’ve thought she’s stunk up the screen with her portrayal as much as humanly possibly, they throw her into a classroom with a bunch of young actors. Now, we’re not the sort to attack kids, but they must have cast the worst child actors on the planet in order to make Alba look better. Much of the story involves Mona bonding with a little girl whose mother has cancer, but any chance at serious drama is diluted by all of the ridiculous goings-on in Mona’s classroom.

Overall, the writing is amateurish, and the line deliveries by most of the cast is the type of thing we might see in a student film, and not one from a student who passes the course and gets a diploma either. Really, what it comes down to is the fact that director Marily Agrelo, who seems to be lucky to have gotten the job (or any job), is so fixated on all the animation tricks she gets to do in order to represent Mona’s numbers, she loses sight on the fact that every single scene comes across like crap. We almost feel bad for JK Simmons, who bravely delivers a perfectly fine performance while all of this is going on around him.

Simply put, “An Invisible Sign” is one of the worst movies we’ve seen in a very, very long time. Rating: 2.5/10

Opening on Friday at the IFC Center in New York is Koji Wakamatsu’s Caterpillar (Kino Lorber) about a Japanese soldier who returns home from WWII as a quadruple amputee.

Lee Fulkerson’s doc Forks Over Knives (Monica Beach Media) looks at how most diseases can be avoided by rejecting processed and animal-based foods with leading experts tacking the issue of how changing one’s diet can prevent major diseases like diabetes and cancer.It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Peruvian filmmakers Daniel and Diego Vega make their directorial debuts with Octubre (October) (New Yorker Films), a dark comedy set in Lima, Peru following a loan shark named Clemente who has been stuck in a rut of reckless behavior until he comes home to find someone has left a baby, his illegitimate offspring from one of the prostitutes he has been with. He calls upon one of his clients Sofia to help with the care of the baby. It opens at the Lincoln Plaza and Angelika Cinemas in New York on Friday.

You’d think it was October with the number of horror films out this week, starting with Uruguayan horror flick–recently remade into English by the filmmakers behind Open WaterThe Silent House – Las Cas Muda (IFC Midnight) is a horror film shot in one single 78-minute shot following a young woman named Laura who starts experiencing strange noises and occurrences within the summer cottage she’s renovating along her father before they put it up for sale.

Vaughn Juares’ thriller I’m Not Jesus Mommy (FilmDemic) involves a fertility doctor who wants to have a baby and though her possibilities seem slim, due to cloning technology, she’s able to have a son named David, but in a world suffering from wars and disasters, she’s having trouble raising the boy due to odd occurences, only to learn his DNA was taken from the Shroud of Turin. Holy “Da Vinci Code”! See what happens when it opens in three theaters in Minneapolis on Friday.

Lastly, there’s potentially the first Bollywood horror film, Haunted 3D (Reliance BIG Entertainment), which oddly is also about a guy who visits an old sprawling mansion, Glen Manor, in order to complete a sale before he learns that it’s haunted by the ghost of a beautiful woman whom he falls for. It opens in select cities on Friday.


Next week, we get the odd pairing of the raunchy Kristen Wiig comedy Bridesmaids (Universal) and the Paul Bettany action-thriller Priest (Sony/Screen Gems). Will either or both survive the annual “2nd weekend of summer” jinx?

Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas

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