The Weekend Warrior: June 27 – 29

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

We also greet the month of June, which will take a different approach than May, a month when many of the biggest movies were released sans direct competition. This month, we see week-after-week of movies that could be vying for the same audience as they hope to make a mark in a month that’s generally slower. Considering the amount of star power and blockbuster potential, there could be a number of movies exploding and the box office could remain strong despite the current recession in the country. Things often slow down in June with fewer movies opening with more than $50 million although considering the lack of huge blockbusters last month, this could be a very busy June indeed.

This weekend, it’s Sandler vs. DreamWorks Animation, a rematch from the Memorial Day weekend of 2006, where Sandler’s remake of The Longest Yard took on DreamWorks’ Madagascar (another talking animal movie). Sandler’s movie just narrowly defeated the movie over their first three days but lost the four-day weekend due to the lack of school on Monday.

This time, Sandler returns to his wacky character-driven comedy, playing a deadly Israeli special agent who decides to become a New York hairdresser in You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (Sony) and he’s taking on the anthropomorphic martial arts comedy Kung Fu Panda (DreamWorks Animation) featuring the voices of Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman. It should be a similar squeaker of a race, one where we can expect Sandler’s movie to win Friday with general ease, but DreamWorks Animation’s movie will have the advantage of bringing in the kids and their families over the weekend, something that could guarantee a victory by Sunday even if both of them will probably end up somewhere in the $40 to 50 million range. (Some have thought that “Zohan” will be Sandler’s first big downfall since Little Nicky but the reception the trailer and movie has received is promising.)

(UPDATE: Well, the Panda has gotten about 100 more theaters and Sandler has gotten about 100 less and it’s looking more and more like The Zohan is going to get karate chopped this weekend, probably to the point where DreamWorks Animation’s latest might not only win the weekend but Friday as well. It still might be a close race on Friday, but not so much once Kung Fu Panda gets the Saturday bump and at this point, it’s likely to be the biggest opening non-sequel from DreamWorks Animation.)

With two strong movies vying for the guys and kids, we could see a lot of big drop-offs as theaters try to open up screens, although in general, the Top 10 should continue to be represented by the May releases.

This week’s Chosen One is the Harlan Ellison documentary Dreams with Sharp Teeth, which you can read about below.

Updated Predictions

1. Kung Fu Panda (Dreamworks/Paramount) – $52.4 million N/A (up $3.8 million)

2. You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (Sony) – $39.7 million N/A (down 2.1 million)

3. Sex and the City (New Line) – $25.5 million -55% (up 1.1 million)

4. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount) – $22.5 million –50% (same)

5. The Strangers (Rogue Pictures/Universal) – $10.7 million -49% (same)

6. Iron Man (Marvel Studios/Paramount) – $7.9 million -42% (up .1 million)

7. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Disney) – $6.5 million -49% (down .1 million)

8. What Happens in Vegas (20th Century Fox) – $3.7 million –45% (down .5 million)

9. Baby Mama (Universal) – $1.0 million –50% (same)

10. Speed Racer (Warner Bros.) – $.85 million -57% (down .15 million)

This weekend last year wasn’t nearly as interesting even with three movies vying for box office. The third reunion of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, Ocean’s Thirteen (Warner Bros.) won the weekend with $36.1 million, a softer opening than the previous two movies. Sony’s animated comedy Surf’s Up, featuring the voices of Shia LaBeouf and Jeff Bridges (ironically, both from this summer’s two biggest movies), pretty much hit the waves and crashed with just $17.6 million in its weekend, far less than expected. Still, it fared better than Eli Roth’s Hostel: Part II (Lionsgate), which failed to find the success of its predecessor, making just $8.2 million and presumably spelling the death of the “torture porn” horror genre. Either way, there’s a good chance that this week’s two stronger offerings will help the box office be up from last year’s $129 million top 10 gross for the second weekend in a row.

Kung Fu Panda (DreamWorks Animation)

Starring (the voices of) Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Ian McShane, Seth Rogen, David Cross, James Hong, Randall Duk Kim, Michael Clarke Duncan, Dan Fogler, Wayne Knight

Directed by John Stevenson (“Father of the Pride”) and Mark Osborne (short films “More” and “Greener”); Written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (“King of the Hill,” Shrek the Third and upcoming Monsters vs. Aliens) from a story by Cyrus Voris and Ethan Reiff (Bulletproof Monk)

Genre: Animated, Action, Comedy

Rated PG

Tagline: “Prepare for awesomeness.”

Plot Summary: Po (Jack Black) is a lazy panda working at his family noodle shop who dreams of being a martial arts master, and he gets his chance when he inadvertently is selected as the Chosen One to train alongside his idols, the legendary Furious Five, under the tutelage of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). But Po has greater things in him, when Shifu informs him that it’s his calling to take on the recently escaped snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane) using the mysterious Dragon Scroll.

Interview with Co-Director John Stevenson

Mini-Review: Glorious, gorgeous animation and amusing anthropomorphics are the order of business for this clever and faithful homage to the kung fu classics of yesteryear that finds its strength in that love for the genre, pulled into a clever, tightly-written script. Without the clever sight gags and sly references for the grown-ups ala previous DWA offerings, it’s not quite as laugh-out-loud funny and there’s often a danger of “Jack Black Overkill”, but when his humor is mixed with the martial arts action, it produces a number of breathtaking action set pieces that would make Stephen Chow proud. Tai Lung’s prison escape may be one of the finest sequences ever animated, followed closely by the dumpling battle and Tai Lung’s battle with the Furious Five, and that’s before we even see his climactic face-off with the legendary Dragon Warrior. (Even younger viewers who might not be so versed in the kung fu should enjoy the amount of physical humor.) With a hodgepodge of voice talent that doesn’t always match the characters, the most ingenious casting comes in the form of Ian McShane as the evil snow leopard Tai Lung and Dustin Hoffman as counterpart Master Shifu, both of whom elevate the material to being more than just kids’ stuff. Like the best animation, you do forget you’re watching talking animals, which his the hardest obstacle for any film like this to overcome. Even so, there are a few too many talky expositional scenes that sometimes slows things down, but they’re quickly forgotten once the action kicks back into high gear, but then it’s over quickly leaving you wanting more. Whether or not DreamWorks Animation has finally achieved a Pixar level of storytelling may still be up in the air, but you can walk away from the experience realizing that DWA has finally found their successor to the “Shrek” mantle in the hapless hero known as Po the Panda. Rating: 8/10

The only surer thing than releasing an Adam Sandler comedy every summer (see below) is DreamWorks PDI releasing an animated movie, a tradition going back many years to the time before the animation studio became one of the second biggest purveyors of computer animation. For three of the last seven summers, DreamWorks Animation has released a movie starring their lovable ogre Shrek, but every couple of years, they try something new with this week’s Kung Fu Panda following in the footsteps of Madagascar and Over the Hedge of receiving the studio’s coveted summer slot. (Other non-sequel DreamWorks Animation projects like Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie and Shark Tale were both released in the fall rather than the summer.)

Still, DreamWorks Animation has a respectable track record with six of their 12 movies having grossed over $150 million, five of them opening with more than $40 million, not to mention the “Shrek” movies, a true phenomenon that has broken all animation records. Last year’s Shrek the Third took the record for the largest opening for an animated movie with $121 million in three days, and three years earlier, Shrek 2 ran away with the animation records held by Disney’s Finding Nemo and The Lion King to become the highest-grossing animated film of all time with $441 million. So far, only the “Shrek” movies and Madagascar have warranted sequel status, although that follows in line with the track record for Pixar and other animation studios, who realize how few family sequels do better than the original and how much a presumably more expensive sequel would need to make to become profitable.

In recent years, computer animation has taken somewhat of a downturn as more studios got into the game, and it’s become less of a gimmick to draw people into theaters, especially those who don’t have kids. At this point, it’s really down to the talent and premise of the original movies if they want to see any success. Kung Fu Panda has a good premise, particularly with its use of talking animals, something that always appeals greatly to younger kids, but then putting them in a martial arts setting, something that would interest guys of all ages. Just last month, pairing Jackie Chan and Jet Li in The Forbidden Kingdom showed that there’s still interest in the martial arts genre, especially among younger kids, which makes this the perfect timing for DreamWorks Animation to try their hand at the genre using their seasoned method of animated storytelling.

Presumably, much of the key to DreamWorks Animation’s success has been the star power they’ve been able to bring their characters to life, and this one is headlined by Jack Black, a comic star whose voice has already appeared in a number of other family animated movies including Ice Age and DreamWorks Animation’s Shark Tale. This time, he’s playing the main character of Po the Panda, strong casting that can play up to what Black does best, which is to goof off and get laughs from his silly behavior, which helped movies like School of Rock and Nacho Libre find a younger audience. Po’s mentor Master Shifu is played by Dustin Hoffman, an Oscar-winning actor who’s never been known for his kid fare, although his most recent effort, Fox Walden’s Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium was an unequivocal bomb, grossing around $32 million over the generally busy holiday season.

Actress Angelina Jolie also provided her voice for Shark Tale and she returns as Tigress, one of the Furious Five, though it’s a smaller low-profile role than her previous foray into animation. Bringing a bit more martial arts cred to the two mix are two stars who’ve made a name for themselves via action movies, including Jackie Chan, coming off the action hit The Forbidden Kingdom and last summer’s Rush Hour 3, and Lucy Liu, best known for the “Charlie’s Angels” movies, though they’re also playing smaller ensemble roles with very little dialogue. More humor is brought to the table by the likes of David Cross and Man of the Hour Seth Rogen, who brought two other voices for the Furious Five, and lastly, “Deadwood” star Ian McShane provides the menacing voice of the snow leopard Tai Lung, the film’s principal baddie.

While DreamWorks Animation tends to sell their movies based on the voice talent, often showing them off in the commercials, kids probably won’t care much about who is providing the voice for these animal characters; it just doesn’t matter to them. Black’s presence could help the movie bring in a few more teens than it might otherwise, but it’s more likely that audience would go see a new Adam Sandler movie over an animated one.

DreamWorks Animation has given the movie a huge marketing campaign with an over-abundance of the usual toys and children’s books to get kids into the characters long before they see the movie. Because of this, Kung Fu Panda might be seen as the first true kids’ movie of the summer, because of the previous two PG offerings this summer may have put some parents off. Kung Fu Panda is the one that all kids probably know about and will have been bugging their parents for weeks to see, so it should do very well, even if school on Friday and Monday might keep it from doing the biggest opening numbers. Then again, this is exact same weekend that Pixar opened Cars two years ago to the tune of $60 million and with a similar amount of toys and cross-promotions, but it really didn’t have any direct competition, not with Fox’s The Omen remake tailing off after opening early in the week. Similarly, Pixar’s previous summer offering Finding Nemo had even less competition with the only family movies being Eddie Murphy’s Daddy Day Care and The Lizzie McGuire Movie.

“Panda” does have direct competition for the younger teens and older males from Adam Sandler’s new movie (see below) that might be interested in the film’s martial arts, and this is a rematch of sorts, since the last time DreamWorks Animation faced Sandler was Memorial Day weekend ’05 when their Madagascar narrowly beat Sandler for the four-day after losing against it on Friday. (Of course, that match-up would never happen now that Paramount, who released The Longest Yard, is distributing DreamWorks Animation’s movies.)

It’s apparent that DreamWorks Animation will try to release the movie into as many theaters as possible like their previous offerings, something that might be tougher with so many big movies still taking up screens. Kung Fu Panda will be DreamWorks Animation’s first foray into IMAX theaters, which in most cases might help a movie, though as we’ve seen with other animated IMAX movies like Ant Bully and even the recent Speed Racer, IMAX isn’t necessarily the first choice for parents to take their young kids. Generally, DreamWorks Animation movies get decent reviews and this should be no different, especially with the martial arts aspect that should appeal to male critics more than the usual talking animals family film might. With strong word-of-mouth, the movie should hold up well over the next few weeks with only Warner Bros.’ Get Smart attracting younger audiences until Disney/Pixar’s WALL•E steals away all the family business at the end of the month, and though it’s not likely to cross the $200 million mark, it should come fairly close, at least surpassing the total of the year’s only other animated movie Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who. Right now, we’re going with a prediction for it to make less than $50 million opening weekend, but if DreamWorks Animation/Paramount are able to pull out their third 4,000-theater release of the summer, we might up that amount

Why I Should See It: Combining martial arts and talking animals seems like a sure thing when trying to appeal to kids, especially younger boys.

Why Not: Computer animation has become so commonplace that even kids have become somewhat jaded, and does this premise really stand up to the best efforts from Pixar and DreamWorks Animation?

Projections: $45 to 49 million opening weekend and close to $185 to 190 million total. (UPDATED: $50 to 53 million opening weekend and closer to $200 million total.)



You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (Sony)

Starring Adam Sandler, John Turturro, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nick Swardson, Rob Schneider, Kevin Nealon

Directed by Dennis Dugan (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, The Benchwarmers, National Security, Big Daddy, Saving Silverman, Happy Gilmore); Written by Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel, Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up)

Genre: Comedy, Action

Rated PG-13

Tagline: “Lather. Rinse. Save the World.”

Plot Summary: After faking his death, Mossad agent Zohan (Adam Sandler) comes to New York to start a new career as a hair stylist, only to have enemy counter-agents following him there to continue their war.

If it’s the summer (and it is), then it’s time for Adam Sandler to roll out his latest comedy, this time forsaking the high concept of his last few summer comedies, for another character comedy ala some of his early hits like The Waterboy and The Wedding Singer. This one has him creating a new character called “The Zohan,” an Israeli Mossad agent who comes to New York to follow his dreams of being a hairdresser, only to have his work follow him there, allowing for all sorts of action amidst the comedy.

Sandler has an amazing box office track record with four movies under his belt that opened over $40 million and three more which opened just under that mark, making him one of the more reliable and consistent box office draws after maybe Will Smith. This is more of an action-comedy, one that’s well-geared towards Sandler’s predominantly male fanbase, much like Sandler’s remake of The Longest Yard was a few years back, although “Zohan” doesn’t have the benefits of a Memorial Day weekend release, which helped push that closer to the $50 million mark than any of Sandler’s previous movies. In fact, Sandler’s only true comedy bomb was probably Little Nicky released in 2000, shortly after his biggest hit Big Daddy. Ironically, that was also Sandler’s last foray into playing a real character that wasn’t a normal joe caught in an abnormal situation, which could be somewhat worrying for “Zohan.” Then again, at least this is more in line with Sandler’s normal humor, compared to his attempt at doing serious drama with P. Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love, James Brooks’ Spanglish and Mike Binder’s Reign on Me, none of which grossed in total what one of Sandler’s comedies make opening weekend.

This is Sandler’s fourth pairing with director Dennis Dugan and second film in a row after making last summer’s I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, a high concept premise that paired Sandler with Kevin James from Hitch but failed to find the success of either of their previous films. Dugan previously directed Sandler in Big Daddy in 1999, which to date is still the comic’s biggest hit, having grossed $163 million, plus Dugan also helmed Sandler’s breakout film Happy Gilmore three years prior. “Zohan” also reunites Sandler with John Turturro, who appeared in a few of Sandler’s previous movies, Anger Management and Mr. Deeds, this time playing a counter-agent known as “The Phantom.” Lastly, “Zohan” brings Sandler back to his safe haven of Sony Pictures, where he’s made most of his biggest pictures, having only strayed for “Chuck and Larry” and The Longest Yard.

Like I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Sandler’s latest has a rather unwieldy title, which never helps matters, since people going to theaters without knowing what they want to see tend to lean towards short, catchy titles, like Click for instance. It probably won’t hurt this one so much, since “Zohan” is a memorable enough name that those ordering tickets at the counter will shorten it to just that, while names like “Chuck” or “Larry” or “Roscoe Jenkins” are not catchy or memorable enough to leave any sort of impression.

Sandler’s movies never get good reviews, so that’s pretty much a non-issue this time as well, and while it continues Sandler’s run of PG-13 comedies, the movie probably won’t get the younger audience like Sandler’s ’06 summer offering Click did, as they’ll be more interested in Kung Fu Panda. On the other hand, the action-comedy aspect of “Zohan” comes into direct conflict with the martial arts of DreamWorks Animation’s comedy, even if most older guys would probably see an Adam Sandler movie over an animated family film with Jack Black. Since “Zohan” isn’t going to get the kids or the older women, it’s really relying on Sandler’s dedicated fanbase, which is primarily male from 13 to 25, which fortunately is the same demo that often flocks to theatres during the summer. “Zohan” is getting an earlier summer release than every other Sandler movie except The Longest Yard, but the college age crowd is generally already out of school with nothing to do which certainly will help its opening weekend.

Sony has been saturating the airwaves with commercials for the movie, going all the way back to the Super Bowl in January, with a gag-filled commercial that gets laughs from everyone who sees it, and not just Sandler’s usual fans. Adding to the promotion for the film is Adam Sandler’s recent appearance on the MTV Movie Awards receiving the Generation Award from Tom Cruise, something that will help raise awareness for his movie among the coveted teen audience, many whom will choose this over Kung Fu Panda.

The question is whether Sandler’s latest can hold up over the following weeks with two genre films and two more comedies, both starring relatively strong stars, opening over the next couple weekends, and that’s really “Zohan’s” biggest challenge, more than the animated film it faces this weekend.

Why I Should See It: Adam Sandler returns to playing funny characters, this one with more of a flair for action than some of his other recent high concept movies.

Why Not: Okay, let’s face it, this is basically Adam Sandler doing the same thing as always, right? Will Ferrell finally hit a wall and lost his momentum by coasting along and surely, Sandler might be next if he doesn’t offer something new.

Projections: $40 to 43 million on its way to $135 to 140 million. (UPDATED: $37 to 40 million opening weekend and $130 to 135 million total.)



Dreams with Sharp Teeth

Starring Harlan Ellison, Neil Gaiman, Carol Cooper, Robin Williams

Directed by Erik Nelson (producer of Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World, next week’s “Chosen One”)

Genre: Documentary

Plot Summary: This comprehensive documentary takes a look at the life and work of best-selling SF author Harlan Ellison, through his own words and those of his friends and close acquaintances.

I can’t say that I’m the biggest Harlan Ellison on the face of the planet, but even I can appreciate what Erik Nelson has done to bring Ellison’s words to life in this fascinating doc, which really gets to the heart of an enigmatic literary figure who has been a mainstay on the genre scene for decades. Most people will know him from his vast bibliography of sci-fi classics or his episodes of “Star Trek” or comic book writing work, and all that is included in this portrait of this prolific writer, who’s as outrageous as he is outspoken. As much as this is a talking heads doc with lots of people musing on Ellison’s work and his inimitable personality–the likes of fellow author Neil Gaiman and close friend Robin Williams for instance–but Nelson wisely spends much of the film allowing Ellison to talk for himself and that is quite an amazing thing to behold. Whether he’s reading from some of his best-known works–possibly the best way to be introduced to his work–or railing against television or supporting writers’ rights, Ellison is on fire and Erik Nelson, producer of Werner Herzog’s last few docs, does a great job capturing his rants but also catching a far more sentimental and introspective side to the acerbic writer that’s rarely seen in public. Then on top of that, there’s lots of family history and some rarely seen television appearances, making this a rich and full documentary that’s as entertaining as Ellison himself. It opens on Wednesday at the Film Forum in New York City, and though it’s lacking distribution, hopefully, it will make the rounds over the next few months.

Honorable Mention:

I think in any other week, the following two movies could have been “Chosen One” with ease; both open in New York and L.A. after debuting at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival.

Mongol (Picturehouse)

Starring Tadanobu Asano, Honglei Sun, Khulan Chuluun, Odnyam Odsuren, Aliya, Ba Sen, Amadu Mamadakov, Ba Yin, He Qi, Su Ben Hou

Directed by Sergei Bodrov (Nomad, Prisoner of the Mountains); Written by Arif Aliyev (Prisoner of the Mountains) and Sergei Bodrov

Genre: Action, War, Historical

Rated R

Tagline: “Greatness comes to those who take it.”

Plot Summary: This historical epic explores the early years of Genghis Khan leading up to his reign as a great leader and warrior, showing his troubled youth, when he was known as Temudgin, to his years trying to find his true love while being jailed in a Chinese prison, showing him to be a loving family man as much as a ruthless monster.

Mini-Review: Once you get past the fact that this isn’t the Genghis Khan film some might be expecting and that it’s not all battle scenes and brutality, you can sit back and enjoy director Sergei Bodrov’s conjecture and speculation about what the leader’s life might have been like before he became the fabled “great king” of Mongolia. Granted, there’s enough bloody battle scenes and a quantity of spattered blood not seen since “Kill Bill” to appease those expecting them, but it’s more about the man once known as Temudgin, hounded as a child for being the son of a murdered father, and growing up to be not only a brave and fearless warrior, but also a family man. Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano does a fine job playing the grown-up leader with a steely resolve that one can easily imagine might give away to a brutal killer any second. Wisely, Bodrov rarely shows the Mongol leader as the monster he’s often depicted, much of the film instead revolving around his life-long relationship with his beloved Borte (newcomer Khulan Chuluun) and his constant burning desire to find her after being separated from her by adversity. His love for her never falters even when she has two children by two other men during their separation. The other key plotline involves a childhood friendship that turns into a bitter rivalr–Honglei Sun does a fine job filling this character with confidence and bravado–leading to the film’s amazing climactic battle with thousands of warriors, which sadly is over after roughly ten minutes, essentially setting things up for another movie where we see the Genghis Khan of stories and legend. While his film’s historical accuracy might sometimes be questionable, Bodrov has created a spectacular film filled with all-natural beauty from the realistic locations one that brings forth the man within the fabled barbarian, and one that sits well amongst classic historical epics like “Braveheart” and “Gladiator” and even “300” even if it never goes out of its way to try to be flashy or over-the-top as those films often did. Rating: 8/10

When Did You Last See Your Father? (Sony Classics)

Starring Colin Firth, Gina McKee, Jim Broadbent, Juliet Stevenson, Gina Mckee, Sarah Lancashire, Matthew Beard

Directed by Anand Tucker (Shopgirl, Hilary and Jackie, Saint Ex); Written by David Nicholls (Starter for 10, Simpatico)

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Rated R

Tagline: “The life of a father seen through the journey of a son.”

Plot Summary: The relationship between author Blake Morrison (Colin Firth) and his difficult father (Jim Broadbent) are explored via flashbacks to Blake’s childhood, as his father lays dying in the present day.

Interview with Director Anand Tucker

Mini-Review: Just a few years after tackling Steve Martin’s “Shopgirl,” Anand Tucker returns to more familiar surroundings, working from a far superior script with a dream cast of England’s finest to help give this straight-ahead memoir the sort of depth and weight that can help a character piece like this flourish. The story of author and poet Blake Morrison, portrayed sheepishly by Colin Firth, and his relationship with his father is mostly told through flashbacks to a youth spent dealing with his father’s abuse and humiliation. As the once boisterous man lays silently dying, Blake has to find some way to reconcile with how poorly their relationship deteriorated once both got older. Jim Broadbent has had many great roles in his career, but few have given him as much a chance to shine as does playing the world’s worst father, Arthur Morrison, who is constantly lying and embarrassing his son, as he grows from a shy boy to an awkward teen and eventually leaves home to become a writer. While Firth has more than a few memorable moments, he’s always at risk of being overshadowed by the less experienced actors playing his younger selves, particularly Matthew Beard as the teen Morrison. Even so, Firth and Broadbent are quite believable as father and son, even if they really only have two key sequences to see them acting together, since Broadbent spends much of Firth’s “present day” scenes silent and bed-ridden. A few aspects of this story might remind some of Augusten Burroughs’ “Running with Scissors,” another quirky memoir, only this is a far tighter and more focused story the film is trying to tell. Ultimately, this unique coming-of-age story is all about Nicholls’ tight script and the performances with Broadbent in his finest hour, although Tucker gets credit for creating a truly moving and emotional experience out of what could easily have been a soppy and over-emotional mess. The timing of this film’s release before Father’s Day couldn’t be more perfect, because anyone with an older father should be able to find some resonance with Morrison’s personal story. Rating: 7.5/10

Also in Limited Release:

Operation Filmmaker (First Run/Icarus Films) – Filmmaker Nina Davenport started this doc to follow Iraqi film student Muthana Mohmed as he was brought by Liev Schreiber to intern on Everything is Illuminated in Prague, but the film quickly got out of control as she learned that Mohmed wasn’t going to be the easiest subject matter to make a movie about. After premiering at the Toronto Film Festival last year, Davenport’s doc opens in New York at the IFC Center on Wednesday, at the Cinema Arts Center on Long Island on June 10, June 13 in Chicago and June 20 in Boston.

Interview with Nina Davenport

The Go-Getter (Peace Arch Entertainment) – Martin Hynes’ debut is an indie road movie starring Lou Taylor Pucci (Thumbsucker) as Mercer White, a 19-year-old who steals a car and goes in search of his long lost half-brother after the death of their mother, encountering a number of stranger characters along the way, including the stolen car’s attractive owner (Zooey Deschanel). After playing at the Sundance Film Festival, this low-budget indie which introduced Deschanel to her musical collaborator M. Ward will open in New York at the Quad Cinemas and in L.A., Portland and Toronto on Friday.

Mini-Review: Martin Hynes’ debut is another valiant effort by a first-time filmmaker to tackle a road movie filled with drama and humor, but despite its cast full of some of the most talented young actors working today, it offers nothing new or different to the overused indie sub-genre. Much of the film relies on the plot device of Pucci’s character communicating with Zooey Deschanel on a cell phone and trying to imagine what she looks like before they finally meet up, something that quickly gets tiring due to the uninspired and wish-washy performances given by both actors. At least Jena Malone shines as a manipulative sexpot who hits the road with Pucci, her presence only makes it that much more obvious how much better Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild” was, but she has a better role here, as well as one that allows her to show off more skin. In general, Pucci’s character seems unbelievably naïve for a car thief, constantly falling for everything that’s thrown at him, and he’s not type of protagonist that one can immediately get behind. Otherwise, the story and movie are all over the place, mostly involving lazy storytelling that tries too hard to be quirky and different and bland writing that does little to make the characters very interesting. Hynes’ worst offense is being so in love with his soundtrack and the songs of composer M. Ward, though his attempt to create a similar vibe as “Juno” falters because few of the songs actually match the tone of what’s happening on screen, often being overbearing and trying to create drama that just isn’t on the screen. Even bearing in mind the film’s indie sensibilities, the production values are lackluster with lots of sloppy filmmaking mistakes that makes Hynes’ inexperience that much more obvious. Ultimately, this is another dull indie road movie that doesn’t really go anywhere and serves very little purpose, little more than a vanity project that wastes most of its better-than-average cast. Rating: 4.5/10

Miss Conception (First Look Studios) – Continuing the string of pregnancy-related comedies, Heather Graham stars in this romantic comedy from Eric Styles as a woman who dumps her boyfriend when she learns he’s not interested in helping her have a baby, so she turns to a few male friends to try to help her conceive while she can. It will open in three theatres in L.A. on Friday.

The Mother of Tears (Mitropolous Films) – Legendary Italian horror director Dario Argento concludes his “Three Mothers” trilogy (begun with Suspiria and Inferno in 1977 and 1980), this one starring his daughter Asia Argento as a museum worker who encounters the Third Mother (the last of three witches) when an ancient urn is uncovered that unleashes an unstoppable evil. It opens in New York, L.A., Philadelphia and Boston on Friday.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

On the Rumba River (First Run Features) – Jacques Sarasin’s documentary explores the music of the Congo region of Africa, as personified by the music of Wendo Kolosoy, who has reassembled a new band of musicians to continue his legacy. It opens in New York at the Village East Cinemas.

The Promotion (Third Rail Releasing) – John C. Reilly and Seann William Scott square off in Steve (The Pursuit of Happyness) Conrad’s comedy about two supermarket managers competing for the same management job at a new store branch, a competition that gets ugly as they both have good reasons for wanting the job. It opens in limited release in 200 theaters on Friday.

Mini-Review: The cast of screenwriter Steve Conrad’s directorial debut, including the likes of Fred Armisen and Jenna Fischer, might point to a far more riotous comedy than is actually delivered, the laughs being far more subdued than the broad humor the premise lends itself to. Not that there aren’t some great laughs, but this is far from the laugh-a-minute yuck-fest some might expect, as Conrad always pulls back and keeps the reins held tight, allowing Seann William Scott to play the straight man to John C. Reilly’s clueless Canadian rival. It’s a fun rivalry between the two, one that offers lots of chances for Reilly to show off how funny he can be, though it’s such a low-key performance compared to his Dewey Cox that Jason Bateman effortlessly steals the movie with a very funny cameo. Otherwise, the film motors along at a healthy clip and is far more successful at keeping the viewer interested than other similar attempts at indie comedy. (“The Ex,” a previous Weinstein comedy offering with a similarly impressive ensemble cast, immediately comes to mind by how this kind of movie can go horribly wrong.) In the end, this is a strange but pleasant debut from Conrad, one that’s sometimes sad but often sweeter than its dark comedy roots might suggest. It may not leave the most lasting impression on the viewer, but it also doesn’t leave you hating yourself for seeing it either. Rating: 7/10

Next week, the June competitions continues with a battle between two strong genre films, Marvel Studios’ revival of The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton, and M. Night Shyamalan’s apocalyptic thriller The Happening. May the best movie win… presuming that at least one of them is any good.

Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas


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