The Weekend Warrior: June 24 – 26

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. Cars 2 (Disney•Pixar) – $67.5 million N/A (Up .3 million)

2. Bad Teacher (Sony) – $26.0 million N/A (down .3 million)

3. Green Lantern (Warner Bros.) – $20.0 million -62% (same)

4. Super 8 (Paramount) – $13.0 million -40% (up .2 million)

5. Mr. Popper’s Penguins (20th Century Fox) – $10 million -45% (same)

6. X-Men: First Class (20th Century Fox) – $6.2 million -47% (down .1 million)

7. The Hangover Part II (Warner Bros.) – $5.3 million -45% (down .2 million)

8. Bridesmaids (Universal) – $5.0 million -30%

9. Kung Fu Panda 2 (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $4.5 million -49% (down .1 million)

10. Midnight in Paris (Sony Pictures Classics) – $4.0 million -19%

Weekend Overview

As summer starts to reach its midway point and schools are now out in most places, Pixar Animation returns with their second sequel and their fourth movie from the studio’s mastermind and chief creative officer John Lasseter as Cars 2 (Disney•Pixar) reunites the voice cast of Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy and brings in the likes of Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer for an international adventure to follow up the 2006 blockbuster. Considering how few teen or older folks think much about the original Cars, this one really is all about the kids and they should be out in force with their parents this weekend, though we don’t think the 3D ticket prices will make up for the number of older Pixar fans who give this one a pass, putting a definite ceiling on how high this one might open. The poor showing for DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 2 last month may be proof that CG animation isn’t as strong as it used to be especially when it lacks originality (as is often the case with sequels) and an opening on the mid-$60 to $70 million range will still be seen as decent by Pixar standards.

Offering counter-programming for the older audiences who didn’t care much for Cars, Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel star in Bad Teacher (Sony), a raunchy R-rated comedy that will be targeting the same teen and slightly older audience that flocked to the year’s highest-grossing film so far, The Hangover Part II. Sony have pulled out all the stops marketing the movie with a series of laugh-filled commercials, and this week’s Pixar offering won’t offer much competition for an older audience who doesn’t have much interest in it.

This week’s “Chosen One” is the doc Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (Abramorama), which you can read more about below.

This weekend last year was a competition between two very different comedies, though neither were able to dethrone Disney•Pixar’s Toy Story 3, which made $59.3 million in its second weekend, down 46% but bringing its total to $226 million after ten days. Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider teamed for the comedy Grown Ups (Sony), which opened in second place with $40.5 million while the Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz action-comedy Knight and Day (20th Century Fox) opened with less than half that taking third place with a weak $20.1 million. The Top 10 grossed $154 million which shouldn’t be too hard to best with the assumption that Cars 2 will do decently this weekend.


THE BATTLE CRY

Whether you want to believe it or not, I actually started writing this week’s “Battle Cry” before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that there won’t be a set number of Best Picture nominees anymore and that it could range anywhere between five and ten. We won’t get into how that affects the annual game of trying to guess which movies will get nominated which we do like to do in the guise of the Oscar Warrior every year.

That aside, a good friend of mine has given me a hard time about some of the premature Oscar claims I’ve made in the past few years, and sure, I’ll agree that some of them may be kind of crazy – I’m sticking by my claim that Jackie Chan should have received a supporting nod for last year’s The Karate Kid. Generally, people look at the first part of the year as when studios dump movies, and few movies released before July have much of a chance of getting a nomination for Best Picture even with ten slots to fill.

So with that in mind, here are my thoughts on what movies released in the first half of the year would end up in the Top 10 Best Pictures if the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences had to make their selections today… oh, and of course, if they even nominated ten movies (in alphabetical order):

The Adjustment Bureau (Universal) – Having recently rewatched George Nolfi’s long-in-development adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story about a group of overseers controlling every action and reaction by humans, and how a politician played by Matt Damon discovers their existence when they interfere in his relationship with a pretty dancer (played by Emily Blunt). Normally, science fiction has a tough time when it comes to awards but Nolfi’s screenplay is solid as are the performances by Damon, Anthony Mackie and others to create something that’s far deeper than the normal sci-fi flick.

Beginners (Focus Features) – Mike Mills’ second feature is an incredibly powerful character drama, the type that often is considered for awards when released later in the year, and with any kind of push, it could get Christopher Plummer his second nomination in the supporting actor category for his portrayal of Ewan McGregor’s father who comes out of the closet at the age of 75. It’s a really powerful film and though it’s probably too low-key to be remembered at year’s end, it would be in like flynn if the Academy made their picks today.

There have been a lot of indie comedies that became sleeper hits and Oscar nominees in the last decade, and while Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids (Universal) may seem too low-brow and mainstream at times to be considered Oscar-worthy, there’s no denying that it’s one of the strongest crowd-pleasing comedies in a long time and if nothing Kristen Wiig should be a shoe-in for a Golden Globe nomination in the comedy category.

Midnight in Paris (Sony Pictures Classics) – You’ve probably already heard a lot about Woody Allen’s return to form with a romantic comedy set in Paris during two different eras, present day and the ’20s. Many have claimed this to be his best movie in decades and it’s already looking to become his highest-grossing movie since Hannah and Her Sisters, which was also his last movie to get a Best Picture nomination. The setting and the premise of nostalgia should appeal enough to Oscar voters that a few should make it their first choice for the year, not just now, but also at year’s end.

Rango (Paramount) – I can’t tell you how much I love Gore Verbinski’s first foray into animation with this comic Western featuring the voice of Johnny Depp and a ton of great character actors in supporting roles. Besides great action sequences, it has a fantastic screenplay with hilarious dialogue that makes it kind of Western I was hoping to get with the Coens’ True Grit, and who knows? It has a good chance of being one of the three animated movies the Academy does pick this year.

Rio (20th Century Fox) – Another terrific animated movie that beautifully recreated the experience of visiting one of the most beautiful countries and cities on earth is this surprisingly warm film from the man behind the three “Ice Age” movies. The fantastic scenes of Rio de Janeiro at Carnival, the musical numbers and the great voice casting of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway and more made this rise above the normal kids’ fare.

Source Code (Summit) – This second feature directed by Duncan Jones stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a soldier assigned to be a part of an experimental program to transmit his spirit into the body of a man on a train that was blown up by a terrorist in hopes he can find the man and put a stop to further terrorism. It’s a heady movie with a sci-fi premise that counter-balances the clinical nature of its premise with warm human emotions thanks to the performances by Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan. While I have no doubt this has little chance of being nominated for awards, I loved it, having seen it three times and like Rango, this is almost guaranteed to be in my Top 25 for the year.

My hatred of Terrence Malick’s previous movie The New World, something remembered by many of my colleagues, probably surprised many of them when I declared my love for his enigmatic new film The Tree of Life (Fox Searchlight). It’s a gorgeous look at the beginnings of life as well as a personal story about a dysfunctional Texan family in the ’60s that leads to pain and regrets later. This is one of the movies on this list that I’ve been dying to see again and haven’t had a chance, but I’m sure it will be even better on a second viewing.

Water for Elephants (20th Century Fox) – It may be just as surprising to see this romantic drama directed by Francis Lawrence in here, but it’s probably the closest thing we’ve gotten to an “old school Hollywood romantic epic” this year and if it were released in November… well, it probably would have been treated much like Baz Luhrmann’s Australia (which I also enjoyed, even if it was a bit long).

Tom McCarthy’s Win Win (Fox Searchlight) is a great follow-up to his earlier films The Station Agent and The Visitor, though it’s clearly something that can appeal more to mainstream moviegoers. While I don’t think it would be strong enough to get awards support even if it opened in the fall, it certainly has many of the elements of movies like Sideways (also starring Paul Giamatti) and Little Miss Sunshine, both which received Best Picture nominations.

So how many of the above might actually get in when the Academy announces its five to ten Best Picture nominees? Probably neither of the animated movies nor the science fiction ones and in fact, we think only two of the movies above actually have any chance of getting kudos from the Academy and that’s the new movies from Woody Allen and Terrence Malick. Considering how many people have enjoyed or appreciated their craft so far, getting 5% of the 6,000 Academy voters to consider those movies their #1 pick shouldn’t be that hard.

(Now, I’m sure some will complain that I left out J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 (Paramount), which definitely had good moments, but sci-fi rarely gets nominated for Oscars with a few exceptions (like District 9) and not having ten guaranteed slots means it has less of a chance of being considered. Either way, I didn’t feel it was as successful as some of the movies above.)

If nothing else, you now know where I stand in terms of the best non-doc movies of the year, although I definitely left a couple out that even my optimism couldn’t get nominated for awards like Thor and The Green Hornet, which I enjoyed more for their entertainment value than for their worth as awards fodder.


Cars 2 (Disney•Pixar)
Starring (the voice of) Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Jason Isaacs, Joe Mantegna, Peter Jacobson, Thomas Kretschmann, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub, Guido Quaroni, Lloyd Sherr, Paul Dooley, John Ratzenberger, Jenifer Lewis, Michael Wallis, Katherine Helmond, John Turturro, Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, Eddie Izzard, Bruce Campbell, Michel Michelis, Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, Lewis Hamilton, David Hobbs
Directed by John Lasseter (Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Cars), Brad Lewis (debut, producer of Ratatouille); Written by Ben Queen (the failed TV show “Drive”)
Genre: Animation, Family, Adventure
Rated G
Plot Summary: Racecar Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and his good pal, tow truck Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) head overseas for the World Grand Prix and get caught up in a top-secret spy adventure that takes them through the streets of Europe, Japan and beyond.

Analysis:

With the release of a new movie from Pixar Animation becoming an annual event, the popular and prestigious animation house have earned themselves quite a strong reputation among movie lovers, both young and old. That rep has led them to an astounding cumulative worldwide box office gross of $6.6 billion grossed by just eleven movies in 16 years, a track record that few other studios or stars can claim. Seven of those movies have opened over $60 million, nine have grossed over $200 million, two of those over $300 million and then last year’s Toy Story 3, their first attempt at a sequel, became the highest-grossing movie of 2011 with $415 million.

So now we have Cars 2, the fourth movie to be directed by John Lasseter, the head honcho of the whole enchilada, the man who first made waves in 1995 when he directed the original Toy Story, which was the very first full-length CG animated feature film. It grossed $191 million and led to the sequel Toy Story 2, which did even better. It was seven years before Lasseter directed another movie though his passion project Cars didn’t really strike a chord with Pixar fans even if it opened in June 2006 to a $60 million opening and $244 million total, which was a moderate showing for them, similar to Monsters Inc. ten years ago – incidentally, that’s also getting a sequel. The sequel was to be directed by first-time helmer Brad Lewis, but midway through the project, Lasseter set aside his busy schedule as a Disney and Pixar executive and took over the reigns.

Once again, Owen Wilson is voicing the role of Lightning McQueen, which he does a lot better than he did the voice of Marmaduke, but he probably will be taking more of a backseat in this one to Mater the Tow Truck, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy. While Larry’s movie career has not been anything to write home about, the character of Mater is one that many kids and parents like, with Larry having voiced Mater for a number of shorts. The most obvious and tragic absence is the voice of actor Paul Newman, who passed away since the previous movie, and other characters from the first movie play a smaller role this time around in favor of British actors Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard and others.

The sequel factor is certainly in full effect with Cars 2, since the young kids who liked the first movie will want to see the sequel as soon as possible. Even so, the movie may not have as many fans as some might assume from its $250 million take at the box office. While the original movie’s 74% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes might seem great, that’s compared to the 90% plus positive ratings that other Pixar Animation movies have received with the original Toy Story and Toy Story 2 having 100% Fresh reviews, and last year’s Toy Story 3 being at 99%. On the other hand, it did rate 7.4 out of 10 among IMDb Users, though that too is below the 8 out of 10 that most other recent Pixar movies have received. Because the original Cars isn’t as popular as other Pixar movies, one can assume that the bump will be smaller.

Some may be surprised that the tracking for the sequel is on par with the original movie, though it really should be tracking significantly higher if there was any sort of anticipation for the movie. The fact is that many of the grown-ups who saw Cars really didn’t care for it much, though kids ate it up, and apparently, it has sold more merchandise than any previous Pixar film to this day. That probably shouldn’t be too surprising because kids love cars as is, and these are basically cars with faces on them… bonus! Even though those young kids will be very excited to see another movie talking cars, it’s up to the parents who earn the bread and decide what they’ll see in theaters vs. waiting for DVD/cable. Being that the previous movie opened five years ago, many of the younger kids who saw this may still be keen on seeing the sequel though anyone 12 and up probably will give it a pass. If Pixar can’t bring in the 20 and up crowd that often goes to see their movies, then they’re left with the parents and kids, which will probably limit how much the movie can make this weekend.

Is there a danger of Cars 2 opening lower than the first Cars? Maybe, going by the recent Kung Fu Panda 2, which opened over the plum Memorial Day weekend with a release in 3D and IMAX and still failed to do as well as the first movie, which is kind of worrying. Disney is hoping that people will pay the extra money for 3D ticket prices, but as we’ve seen many times this summer, 3D ticket sales are going down and not as many moviegoers feel like it’s worth paying that premium. In fact, the box office is generally down from last year with fewer movies opening big.

It won’t help that reviews will be mixed at best, rather than the normally glowing reviews critics dish out whenever Pixar releases a new movie, and while that won’t have any effect on kids, it will be noticed by those who already questioned the necessity for a sequel to Cars.

The movie is opening late enough in June that schools are out in most places which means that many families with younger kids should be able to see it on Friday. The two other Pixar movies that opened this late were WALL•E with $23 million and Up with $21.5 million, and the latter held up better over the weekend. Being a sequel, we can imagine Cars 2 would behave a little more like the former and have a big opening day, probably in the $23 to 25 million range, but then tail off slightly by Sunday.

Last year, Disney opened Toy Story 3 one week earlier in June where it took in $110 million, roughly half the total gross of the previous movie, and it went on to make over $400 million. Unlike that movie, Cars 2 hasn’t built up over ten years of good will from people who have seen it on DVD and television, and one wonders how many people have even bothered to rewatch the first movie. Because there just isn’t as much interest in this sequel as others, we expect a more moderate opening in the range of Pixar’s non-sequels and it should do okay over the 4th of July weekend before being hit by a bunch of other family movies in July.

(Thanks to Scott Chitwood for his helpful thoughts, which contributed to this week’s analysis.)

Why I Should See It: Pixar has proven itself to be one of the most reliable animation studios in terms of quality of content and entertainment…
Why Not: …except for with the first Cars movie.
Projections: $64 to 68 million opening weekend and $220 million total.

COMPARISONS


Bad Teacher (Sony)
Starring Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Lucy Punch, John Michael Higgins, Jason Segel, Phyllis Smith, Thomas Lennon, Eric Stonestreet
Directed by Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard, The TV Set); Written by Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg (Year One, “The Office,” upcoming Ghostbusters 3)
Genre: Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: “She doesn’t give an ‘F’”
Plot Summary: Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is a disgruntled teacher who is just about to get out when her wealthy fiance breaks up with her forcing her to return to teaching middle school. She realizes that the only way out is to land another rich guy and she thinks the only way she can do that is with a boob job, but when she realizes the new substitute (Justin Timberlake) comes from a rich family, she sets her sights on him. Meanwhile, she has to fend off the attacks of the friendly gym teacher (Jason Segel) and a competitive colleague (Lucy Punch).

Interview with Jake Kasdan

Mini-Review: The premise for this raunchy R-rated comedy is so incredibly high concept and spot-on one probably won’t have to actually see the movie to know exactly what to expect. That, in a nutshell, is what’s both right and wrong about this Cameron Diaz vehicle that leaves little question that the role of Elizabeth Halsey is absolutely perfect for her. As you’ll already realize, Elizabeth is a sexy teacher who, as the tagline puts it, just doesn’t give an “F” about anyone or anything, including her students or the other teachers. Needless to say, it starts out quite dark and Elizabeth doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to showing her contempt for every aspect of the school system. Even realizing the comedy potential to laugh at or with someone who has no moral compass, it does take some time to accept the character. While her portrayal doesn’t go overboard like some of Adam Sandler’s characterizations, it follows a similar story arc of introducing a highly-flawed person then spending the entire movie giving them a chance to overcome their flaws and win the audience over.

Other than Diaz, the member of the cast who makes the strongest impression is Lucy Punch, who has been getting a lot of attention as a comedic actress recently. She’s perfect in the role of Amy Squirrel, the goody-good teacher who immediately takes a disliking to Elizabeth, although it’s a character who quickly gets annoying as Punch takes the characterization way too far, then keeps on going. The fact that the “good teacher” is even less likeable than the teacher giving kids a bad education is kind of problematic, to say the least.

The rest of the school staff is made up of an incredibly talented cast of comic actors, many of whom have stolen scenes in far better movies, but who seem to not have much of a challenge playing their respective roles. This is especially the case with Jason Segel, who doesn’t have much of a challenge playing his role as gym teacher, another nice guy trying to get the girl, but not trying that hard. Then there’s Justin Timberlake. We may be slightly biased being that Timberlake has become so representative of the current incarnation of “Saturday Night Live,” both good and bad. Yeah, we get it. Here’s this sexy pop star putting on glasses and acting all nerdy and goofy, but it’s only slightly funnier than his character in Michael Myer’s “The Love Guru”… and sadly, a few of us remember how that one turned out. He does have some funny scenes with his ex—a dry-humping scene is hilarious even if it seems to be shoehorned into the story without much justification. Even when Diaz starts canoodlng with the school superintendent, played by Thomas Lennon from “Reno 9/11,” in order to steal the test answers to help her chances, there’s just something very standard about where things go. Of course, Elizabeth is going to use her sexuality to lull the super into a false sense of security and of course, he’s going to fall for it.

It just feels that most of the movie’s funniest scenes were already in the multitude of trailers and commercials Sony has used to sell it which is rarely a good thing, especially when you expect the raunchiest things to be unshowable. In terms of the story, it just feels that there’s nowhere to go except where it does and once it actually does try to get away from showing what a bad teacher Elizabeth is, it just loses something, because it tends to take the most predictable path to get there.

“Bad Teacher” is by no means terrible or unbearable, though it’s slightly disappointing after the brilliance of Kasdan’s previous movie “Walk Hard.” While there are more than a few good laughs to make up for the generally lazy storytelling going on here, it feels like “Bad Teacher” should have been much, much funnier than it ends up being.

Rating 6/10

Analysis:

For the third time this summer, we’re being given an R-rated comedy, this one offering quite a bit more starpower than the last few in the form of Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake as well as a premise that should be easy to relate to the teen and slightly older audience who have been eating up the raunchy laughs.

For the most part, Diaz is once again trying to headline her own movie after failing to make much of a mark with last year’s Knight and Day, which teamed her once again with none other than Tom Cruise – they appeared together in Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky nearly ten years ago. When she was teamed with Ashton Kutcher for What Happens in Vegas it didn’t fare much better with both of those movies opening with $20 million and ending up between $75 and 80 million. Earlier this year, Diaz appeared in Seth Rogen’s The Green Hornet, which is one of her biggest opening non-”Shrek” movies, though one wonders how much of that was due to her and how much was due to the male comic book and action fans. This is a straight-up comedy and it’s right up Diaz’s alley as she’s great at playing roles that allow her to flaunt her sexuality and looks as well as be the one who gets all the best lines as she creates a funny character.

Her dance partner (and former boyfriend) Justin Timberlake hasn’t been in that many big movies and his last attempt at a comedy, Michael Myers’ The Love Guru pretty much stiffed, although since then he’s been all over “Saturday Night Live,” both as a host and musical guest as well as making cameo appearances and playing a part in the hot Digital Shorts. Last year, he had a key role in David Fincher’s Oscar-nominated The Social Network that proved he could do more dramatic work. Apparently, the young people, especially ladies, prefer when he does comedy which is why he’s following this up with the R-rated rom-com Friends With Benefits next month.

The third part of the equation is Jason Segel who has become increasingly popular in recent years both from his appearance on the hit CBS show “How I Met Your Mother” as well as R-rated comedies like Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up and his own Forgetting Sarah Marshall. He was also paired with Paul Rudd for the successful comedy I Love You, Man. The cast is filled with recognizable comedic talent including Lucy Punch, who made waves in last year’s Dinner for Schmucks and Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Thomas Lennon and John Michael Higgins are actors who have appeared in many movies stealing scenes from the stars, while Phyllis Smith is best known for her role as the lovable Phillis on “The Office.” There’s even a small role for Eric Stonestreet from “Modern Family.” While none of these are draws in themselves, the fact the cast is so rounded out with comedic talent will allow for more laughs per scene than normal, which is important for a comedy. Pulling this cast together is director Jake Kasdan whose resumé includes Jack Black’s Orange County and the musical comedy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which sadly tanked when it was released a few years back.

R-rated comedy is king at the box office with Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids and Todd Phillips’ The Hangover Part II running rampant, and teens definitely seem to be the key market for them as they prefer raunchy laughs over other options. That under-25 crowd will definitely be the main target audience for this one, especially with Diaz and Timberlake who appeal to that audience. It probably will skew more towards women than men as well, for the same general reason.

Sony have done a terrific job marketing this with trailers and commercials that showcase the number of funny bits, and most will assume that the rest of the movie is more of the same. The simple idea of a “bad teacher” is certainly something that will be easier to relate to or get than some of Diaz’s other comedies.

Going by the reviews out of England where the movie opened last week, the critics probably aren’t going to embrace this one like they did Bridesmaids earlier this summer. As we’ve seen way too many times, reviews don’t really matter when a movie looks funny or entertaining, especially in the summer when young people are out of school and looking for easy entertainment. On top of that, Cars 2 shouldn’t offer much competition either, which means Bad Teacher should have a solid opening, probably in the range of Bridesmaids. Even so, with Michael Bay’s latest “Transformers” epic opening early next week, we can’t imagine it will do more than $80 million or so when all’s said and done.

Why I Should See It: This is absolutely the perfect premise and vehicle for Cameron Diaz.
Why Not: Is this really the best time to be making fun of the school system?
Projections: $24 to 27 million opening weekend and $80 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (Abramorama)
Starring Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Jack McBrayer
Directed by Rodman Flender (Idle Hands, Leprechaun 2, The Unborn)
Genre: Documentary, Comedy, Music
Rated R
Plot Summary: After he was removed as host from “The Tonight Show” and he was given a severance package that meant he couldn’t be on television for six months, comedian Conan O’Brien hit the road with his band for a 32-city tour, which was documented for this film.

Interview with Director Rodman Flender

As someone who rarely stayed up late enough to watch Conan O’Brien’s original show, I wasn’t fully on Team Coco when he was booted from “The Tonight Show” last year, though my generally anti-corporate leanings and as a believer of fair play, it seemed impossible not to side with O’Brien when he was forced off the air by NBC’s choice to bring back Jay Leno. A day after his last show, Conan O’Brien announced he’d be hitting the road with the “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour” where he could perform songs with his band and do some rare live comedy.

Rodman Flender’s movie gets us into O’Brien’s head just as his show is ending and he’s trying to figure out what to do with himself, but any doubts that he can put together a great live show is quickly dispelled as we see him getting ready for the first show in, of all places, Eugene, Oregon. The shows are generally entertaining and you might wish there was more of Conan on stage, but anyone who has been a fan of his work will appreciate how Flender gets him to open up about the sudden halt in his late night talk show host career and how the tour helps him come into closer contact with his supportive fans.

It’s backstage where the movie really shines whether it’s O’Brien playfully mocking a visiting Jack McBrayer or some of his impromptu bits as he interacts with his patiently put-upon personal assistant. Essentially, the film proves that Conan is just as funny off-stage as he is on. As the tour progresses, Conan finds himself being recruited into meet-and-greets that start to endanger his shows as he starts to lose his voice talking to anyone brought backstage. As exhaustion from the grueling tour starts to break down his good nature, he starts getting more and more irate by what his celebrity has wrought on him. Even so, he continually takes on new tasks on days off from the tour including introducing bands at Bonarroo and even bringing his band to perform at his college reunion talent show.

The results are a fascinating look at the real Conan O’Brien, close-up and unfiltered, and it’s far more effective than some of the other recent comedy tour concerts we’ve seen. If you weren’t lucky enough to get tickets for the show when it hit your town or just want to spend a little time with a more candid Conan then we see on his TBS show, then “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” is likely to be one of the funniest concert docs you’re likely to see and not just for what’s happening on-stage.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop opens in select cities on Friday.

Also in Limited Release:

Director Chris Weitz (The Twilight Saga: New Moon) tackles a smaller story with A Better Life (Summit) starring Demián Bichir as Carlos Galindo, an illegal immigrant working as a gardener and trying to be a good father to his son Luis (José Julián) to prevent him from joining a gang. When Carlos uses all his money to buy a used pick-up truck to start his own business then it gets stolen, they have to work together to get it back. It opens in select cities.

Interview with Chris Weitz

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Josh Shelov’s R-rated comedy The Best and the Brightest (FlatIron Film Company) stars Neil Patrick Harris and Bonnie Somerville as Jeff and Samantha Jasinski, a married couple who move to New York City and are trying to get their five-year-old into a private school, even though all of them have been booked for months. They end up getting help from a special consultant (Amy Sedaris) and his college classmate (Peter Seranowicz), pretending he’s a high-profile poet to earn points. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinema and Los Angeles.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Marshall (Racing Dreams) Curry and Sam Cullman’s doc If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (Oscilloscope Pictures) documents the rise and fall of the environmentalist group that the FBI has deemed “America’s number one domestic terror threat” told through the story of Daniel McGowan who faces life in prison for his radical environmental activities. It opens on Wednesday at New York’s IFC Center.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Actor John Turturro directs the music doc Passione (Squeezed Heart) whch looks at the music of Naples, Italy. It also opens on Wednesday but at New York’s Film Forum.

Robert Persons’ experimental doc General Orders No. 9 (Variance Films) looks at loss and change in the American South and the “clash between nature and man’s progress” using images, poetry and music. It opens at the ReRun Gastropub Theater in Brooklyn on Friday.

Narrated by Miranda Richardson, Nick Stringer’s documentary Turtle: The Incredible Journey (Hannover House) follows the 25-year migration of a loggerhead turtle from the East Coast of Florida, across the Atlantic Ocean before returning decades later.

Opening at the Cinema Village (actually this week) is Michael Rowe’s Leap Year (Ano bisiesto) (Strand Releasing) following a 25-year-old journalist from Mexico City named Laura who gets into an intense sexual relationship with a man named Arturo, while trying to keep her secret past from him. It will open in L.A. on July 1.

Michel Leclerc’s romantic comedy The Names of Love (Music Box Films) stars César Award-winner Sara Forestier as a young liberal Muslim woman who tries to convert right wing guys by sleeping with them until she meets a middle-aged Jewish scientist and the unlikely duo fall in love. It’s opening at the Landmark Sunshine in New York on Friday.

David Guy Levy’s Los Angeles based drama A Love Affair of Sorts (Paladin) is the first feature film to be shot entirely on a FLIPcam, as a man catches a Hungarian nanny shoplifting and their relationship gets complicated when her boyfriend and his friend enter the picture. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinemas and then in Los Angeles this July.


Next week, the month of June transitions into July with the long-awaited return of Michael Bay with Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Paramount) which opens on Wednesday. Then a couple days later, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts reteam for Larry Crowne (Universal) and the teen adventure Monte Carlo (20th Century Fox) open on Friday.

Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas

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