The Weekend Warrior: August 1 – 3

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.

(Note: Sorry this week’s column is so late due to this weekend’s exhausting Comic-Con International schedule, but hopefully we’ll get back on track next week and for the rest of the summer.)

After two weeks reigning at the top, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.) finally gets some competition in the form of another PG-13 action franchise, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Universal), the third movie in the Brendan Fraser action vehicle which last saw theaters when The Mummy Returns kicked off the summer of ’01 with what at the time was a new non-holiday opening weekend record. Having been seven years since the previous installment, it’s likely to have lost some interest as we saw with New Line’s Rush Hour 3 last year–oh, and The X-Files last week–but it should be a viable option for those looking for more summer action, being the last big budget FX movie of the year. (Sure, Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder might fit into the action category, but they’re more comedies.) The new Chinese setting and the addition of Hong Kong action stars Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh should bring enough of a new twist from the first movies to interest casual moviegoers and those looking for something new to see this weekend. (We’ll see how much the entry of a new Brendan Fraser movie will have an impact on his sleeper hit Journey to the Center of the Earth.)

Kevin Costner returns in the political comedy Swing Vote (Touchstone), which could work as effective counter-programming for older moviegoers looking for something different. Coming on the heels of Robin Williams’ successful Man of the Year and a slew of less successful political comedies in past years, it might be a hard sell except to Costner’s fans, which includes many woman, and even those who might be interested in Costner’s take on the hot topic that is the electoral process, it’s just as likely that they can wait to see it on DVD. Opening in roughly 2,000 theaters, it would be pretty amazing if the movie’s able to bring in more than $10 million in the summer season, which might not have been the best time to release it.

(UPDATE: Not much has changed, although some might have noticed that all my estimated theater counts for the week were off, so I fixed that. I also think that the overwhelmingly negative reviews for The Mummy will hurt it slightly and it’s now going to be looking at making around the same amount as the first movie nine years ago. Don’t think Kevin Costern’s Swing Vote will do much business but that will be a noticeable bomb.)

This week’s “Chosen One” (by default of me not seeing any of the other movies) is Paul Weiland’s British coming-of-age comedy Sixty Six (First Independent Pictures), which you can read about here.

Updated Predictions

1. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Universal) – $43.9 million N/A (down $1.9 million)

2. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.) – $39.5 million -49% (up $1.2 million)

3. Step Brothers (Sony) – $17.0 million -44% (up .5 million)

4. Mamma Mia! (Universal) – $11.5 million -35% (up .3 million)

5. Swing Vote (Touchstone) – $7.8 million N/A (up .1 million)

6. Journey to the Center of the Earth (New Line) – $6.0 million -38% (down .4 million)

7. Hancock (Sony) – $4.5 million -46% (up .1 million)

8. WALL•E (Pixar/Disney) – $4.2 million -35% (same)

9. The X-Files: I Want to Believe (20th Century Fox) – $4.0 million -60% (same)

10. Space Chimps (20th Century Fox) – $2.9 million -36% (down .1 million)

Last year, the month of August kicked off with the return of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in the third movie in the successful action franchise The Bourne Ultimatum, considered by many to be the best 3-quel of the summer, as it grossed $69.3 million, up 32% from the opening of the previous movie two years earlier. It was the biggest opening for an August release, and it would go on to become the first movie in the franchise to gross over $200 million. The other three new movies didn’t fare so well as Disney’s live action Underdog disappointed with just $11.6 million in over 3,000 theatres. Still, it fared better than “SNL” newbie Andy Samberg’s starring vehicle Hot Rod (Paramount) and Lionsgate’s movie based on the doll line Bratz, which both tanked with just $4 to 5 million each, opening at the bottom of the top 10, although the latter only opened in 1,500 theaters. The Top 10 grossed $157 million

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Universal)

Starring Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, John Hannah, Michelle Yeoh, Anthony Wong, Luke Ford, Isabella Leong

Directed by Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious ,XXX, Stealth); Written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (Shanghai Noon, Shanghai Knights, Lethal Weapon 4, Herbie: Fully Loaded, “Smallville”)

Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy

Rated PG-13

Tagline: “A New Evil Awakes”

Plot Summary: It’s 1947, and the O’Connell family are back in another adventure after Rick O’Connell’s son Alex (Luke Ford) uncovers the tomb of Emperor Han (Jet Li), a powerful despotic warrior king whose army was cursed for eternity after screwing over a witch (Michelle Yeoh). When Alex’s parents Rick and Evy (Brendan Fraser, Maria Bello) travel to China to return a valuable artifact, they all wind up having to face the resurrected Han and his army of stone soldiers.

Mini-Review: Considering some of the dogs he’s made, Rob Cohen does a surprisingly good job breathing new life into a franchise that could well have run its course with the abysmal “Mummy Returns” and it’s not too surprising where his influences lay, since the third installment is visually reminiscent of the likes of Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Unfortunately, while bringing the O’ Connells to China allows Cohen to explore his inner Zhang Yimou, the great scenes with Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh are interspersed with more of the same silliness that plagued the last movie, probably best evidenced when one of the characters starts calling for Yeti, giant CG Abominable Snowmen, to help the group fight the Chinese army. Like the first movie, the influence of “Indiana Jones” is still in full effect, both for good and bad, but the cool death traps and undead army action is brought down by far too much CG insanity, which gets even worse when the already powerful emperor starts to be able to transform into all sorts of giant creatures, something which doesn’t do much for the story except show off Cohen’s CG budget. Still, Li makes a great villain, using his powers to create fire, ice and other elements, and the battle between the two undead armies is up there with some of the best moments in the first “Pirates of the Caribbean,” maybe because the CG has improved since the first movie. It certainly doesn’t have as lame a villain as The Rock’s Scorpion King actually turning into a giant scorpion by the end. On the other hand, it’s never quite clear why Mario Bello decided to take on a role like this, but she’s clearly no Rachel Weisz, and it’s almost impossible to ajust to her ludicrous British accent whenever she opens her mouth. It’s a surprisingly bad performance from an actress who used to be able to do no wrong, and certainly, Fraser doesn’t have the same sort of chemistry with Bello that worked so well with Weisz in the first movie, and that plays a big part in why this movie isn’t nearly as much fun. Then again, it’s not nearly as focused on Fraser, and Luke Ford does a good job helping with the heavy lifting–not that there’s much of it–so that one can easily see him taking over if the franchise survives this good but not great third installment. The biggest hurdle faced by the movie is that it’s opening in a summer full of so many stronger action and FX movies, including many with better and more original premises, and this franchise’s return suffers from a convoluted plot that’s not nearly as memorable as many of the summer movies we’ve already seen. While this 3-quel could have been a lot worse, it also should have been much better, and in the long run, it’s a movie you can watch once and be entertained, but it probably could never sustain multiple viewings like the best summer fare. Rating: 6.5/10

Arriving a year too late to be a part of 2007’s “3-Quel Madness,” this new installment in the once-popular “Mummy” franchise may have waited too long to capitalize on the success of The Mummy Returns, which grossed over $200 million with a new non-holiday opening weekend record of $68.1 million when it kicked off the summer of 2001 solidifying that weekend as a great place to open a summer movie. $68 million might not seem very impressive in this day and age of multiple $100 million opening movies in a single summer, but back then, it was fairly impressive, especially since the original movie only grossed $150 million. The general principle behind the 1999 movie was to take Universal’s licensed character from the 1932 Boris Karloff movie and reinvent it for new audiences, turning it into an action franchise like the popular “Indiana Jones” movies and “Tomb Raider” video games. It was a big success, turning Brendan Fraser, a respected dramatic actor, into a bonafide action star and causing Universal to rush out the sequel. The Mummy Returns co-starred Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in his first acting role, something that proved popular enough to create a spin-off prequel The Scorpion King starring his character the following year, but since then, the franchise has been quiet until now.

Who knows what has held up the production of another installment, especially considering the success of the previous movie. Maybe original director Stephen Sommers was too busy trying other things like the poorly-received 2004 action movie Van Helsing, but the biggest differences with this 3-quel from the other movies is that the action has this time been moved to China, to bring a new mythology into the mummy-related action, and the other big difference is that big budget hack director Stephen Sommers has been replaced by his slightly less-critically chided Rob Cohen, who is most famous for kicking off the “Fast and the Furious” and “XXX” franchise, the former which has been far more successful than the latter. Writers Gough and Millar were two of the many writers on Lethal Weapon 4 and they followed that up with the Jackie Chan-Owen Wilson buddy franchise Shanghai Noon that could be the best proving ground for this movie, since it was a similar action-comedy set during a historic period with Asian overtones.

Otherwise, there are only two returning faces from the last movie, the most important one being Brendan Fraser as adventurer Rick O’Connell, a character who proved popular enough to warrant the 2001 sequel, and apparently, there was enough demand to see him face more mummies and creatures in a third movie. Fraser is coming off one of his biggest non-Mummy hits since the family movie George of the Jungle with Walden Media’s update on Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, which has grossed $60.5 million after just three weeks. Fraser has been surprisingly dormant since the previous “Mummy” movie, only starring in the political thriller The Quiet American with Michael Caine, the Oscar-winning Crash, the Warner Bros. family bomb Looney Tunes: Back in Action (Fraser should have learned that lesson with Monkeybone), and a couple of indies.

John Hannah is also back as Rick’s brother-in-law, the greedy wise-cracking Jonathan Carnahan, who delivered so many laughs as he tried to capitalize on the riches uncovered by his sister Evy in the previous movie, but the movie’s most noticeable absence is that of Rachel Weisz, who co-starred opposite Fraser in the previous two movies but decided to move. She’s been replaced by actress Maria Bello, who after appearing in Coyote Ugly has shined in many minor indies before getting attention for her roles in Wayne Kramer’s The Cooler and David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. Her biggest movie to date was probably Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center although Bello’s role in the movie was rather low-key to other roles in thrillers like Assault on Precinct 13 and Secret Window. Since the movie takes place about seven or eight years after the previous movie, Rick’s son Alex is played by older Australian TV actor Luke Ford, who also gets more of the focus.

The biggest coup for Rob Cohen and Universal was to get Asian superstar Jet Li to play the titular “dragon emperor,” because it does bring another name action star to the mix, as well as an action star who has a fairly sizeable and devout Asian fanbase who has flocked to many of his movies including the recent The Forbidden Kingdom and the 2004 Oscar-nominated Hero by Zhang Yimou. Jet Li starred in dozens of Chinese action movies before he was brought over by Richard Donner to play a key role in Lethal Weapon 4, and he quickly moved into starring roles with movies that opened in the $10 to 20 million range–The Forbidden Kingdom is Li’s biggest opening movie after “Lethal Weapon” thanks to his pairing with Jackie Chan. His other recent movies have generally ended up grossing $22 to 24 million after a strong opening and they tend to do even better on DVD among his fanbase of martial arts stars. Li’s joined by Michelle Yeoh, who got her own taste for historic martial arts epics when she starred in Ang Lee’s Oscar-nominated Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but her introduction to American audiences was the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997, followed by a key role in Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha. Besides increasing the new Mummy’s movies chances at bringing in a lot more Asian dollars when it opens in China, their presence adds the appeal of the movie to the Asian fans of Li and Yeoh living in the United States. (Fans of Asian crime films might also be thrilled to see Anthony Wong from the “Infernal Affairs” trilogy in a key role.)

For whatever reason, Universal decided that now was the time to bring back the franchise after years in moth balls, not only with this third installment but also with a straight-to-video sequel to The Scorpion King later this summer, making it the first ever (get ready for this one) sequel to a prequel to a sequel to a remake. We’ll know by Sunday whether the decision was a wise and worthy one, but so far, the commercials and trailers look great, filled with lots of great CG effects and action. Universal has been cleverly connecting the movie’s Asian themes to the Beijing Olympics, which will air on their sister network NBC starting next Friday, something which greatly helped their release of Hellboy II a couple of weeks back. Also, the movie was included in a number of special “movie money” deals over the summer that included The Incredible Hulk, Wanted and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, all three of those movies surely being helped by those promotions through places like Best Buy and Circuit City where specific Universal DVDs include a special coupon good for a movie ticket. While there’s a chance many of those who got the DVDs have already used them, Universal has made sure that the coupons with the DVD rereleases of the previous “Mummy” movies (as well as Jet Li’s Unleashed) have included a coupon just for the third “Mummy” flick. One thing to bear in mind is that these coupons are credited to the box office even if it’s essentially Universal buying their own tickets to try to boost opening weekend sales in hopes that those who use the coupons will bring others with them to see the movie.

In the past, August has been one of the slower months of the summer though the first couple weekends have proven to be good places to release a movie as it’s seen a number of successful sequels including last year’s The Bourne Ultimatum, the biggest opener for the month with $69.2 million. The same year that The Mummy Returns was released, New Line’s Rush Hour 2 came close to beating its opening weekend in the first week of August, and that movie’s three-quel Rush Hour 3 opened lighter in August last year, showing the atrophy that can occur if too much time is built-up following a successful sequel before releasing a follow-up. Rush Hour 3 opened 37% lighter than the previous movie six years earlier. Universal also had some success with the two sequels to their hit comedy American Pie in 2001 and 2003, although the latter also opened lighter than the sequel.

“Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” might be fairly review-proof, which is good because the reviews will probably be mostly bad, just based on the nature of it being an FX movie directed by Rob Cohen, who’s become somewhat of a critical whipping boy. As you can see from my mini-review above, the movie isn’t that bad and those who like the first “Mummy” and some of Jet Li’s historic epics will probably appreciate what Cohen has done with the movie, although it’s very likely to be a “one weekend wonder” like many of Universal’s previous action movies this summer, doing decently opening weekend where it’s only real competition is Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in its third weekend, and then cooling off quickly afterwards. The presence of the Batman might be the only thing keeping it from opening over $50 million, although it should still win the weekend by a slight margin over the popular action sequel.

Why I Should See It: Rob Cohen, Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh bring a much-needed change of pace to the “Mummy” franchise after a painfully bad sequel over seven years ago.

Why Not: Some people might have problems with the amount of CG and a couple of the sillier aspects to the movie.

Projections: $44 to 47 million opening weekend on its way to $115 million.


Swing Vote (Touchstone)

Starring Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Nathan Lane, Kelsey Grammer, Stanley Tucci, George Lopez, Madeline Carroll, Paula Patton, Judge Reinhold, Willie Nelson, Mare Winningham, Richard Petty

Directed by Joshua Michael Stern (Neverwas) with Jason Richman (Bad Company, upcoming Bangkok Dangerous)

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Rated PG-13

Tagline: “One ordinary guy is giving the candidates a reason to run.”

Plot Summary: Earnest “Bud” Johnson (Kevin Costner) is a beer-drinking slacker from New Mexico whose daughter Molly (newcomer Madeline Carroll) has been urging him to vote in the upcoming Presidential election. When he fails to show up, she casts his vote for him but it doesn’t go through due to an error. After the votes have been counted, it turns out that Bud holds a deciding vote in the tight election between the two opposing candidates (Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper) as each of their respective campaign managers (Stanley Tucci, Nathan Lane) do whatever they can to try to win over Bud’s vote, attention that Bud is more than willing to accept.

Mini-Review: For those in the Red States anxiously awaiting for a political comedy just for you, here comes an extremely erratic and disjointed attempt at mixing comedy with a message movie that fails on both counts, most notably from casting of an unshaven Kevin Costner as a character who’d probably have been better served if played by Larry the Cable Guy. For much of the movie’s first half hour, Costner plays Bud like an inexcusable redneck stereotype who seems clueless about the electoral process or the Presidential candidates. Much of Bud’s characterization coming from Costner’s good old boy drinking and swearing to drive home the point that Bud is just a dumb Southern man. The high concept premise of an election coming down to that single vote is so hard to fathom, but you’re expected to accept this idea before being able to believe anything else, as most of the movie shows how two Presidential candidates do whatever it takes to win Bud’s vote, plying him with anything he might want. Most of the movie’s humor relies on one’s suspension of disbelief of this ludicrous idea, which may be why when less credible things are thrown at the viewer–a bar full of New Mexicans watching Bill Maher is one of many–one just gives up on trying to be fight the fact that the creators have very little regard for their potential audience having even the slightest degree of intelligence. As much as you might be impressed with the cameos by celebrities and political pundits, they’re mostly shoe-horned in a way that takes one even further away from the movie’s chances of credibility. Realizing this, the movie falls back on obvious political jabs at hot topics like immigration and gay marriage, allowing for a handful of clever witty bits, particularly the mock campaign ads done by either side in order to win Bud over. All of the main supporting characters have moments to shine and in general, most of the performances are decent, though they do little to save Costner’s ass. Most of his best scenes are opposite young first-timer Madeline Carroll, who looks like a cross between an Abigail Breslin clone and the typical Disney pre-teen ingénue. She does a decent job keeping up with her more experienced castmates, but like so much of the movie, her tearful monologue at the end seems forced. At the same time, Bud transformed into Costner’s typical character who suddenly wises up and gives a rousing and heartwarming speech, at least that’s the intent, that seems so far removed from the character introduced earlier that you wonder how anyone is to believe he’s the same guy. For the most part, the movie is dull and predictable and rarely delivers anything even remotely resembling biting political satire, instead going for the most obvious lightweight gags. The movie sends so many mixed messages about the electoral process with both candidates doing so much to compromise their positions, that by the end, you’re wondering why Bud would want to vote for either one of them. Maybe it’s not surprising that the movie ends before we learn his decision… or maybe the filmmakers didn’t know how to end the movie after setting up such a preachy PSA about the virtues of voting. Either way, “Swing Vote” is such a monotonous waste of time that you’re better off voting with your dollar and seeing something else. Rating: 5.5 /10

Every summer, there has to be one or two “What were they thinking?” moments and for Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, that will be the decision to release this political comedy in the height of summer rather than waiting until closer to the 2008 Presidential Election in November. After all, this new vehicle for former box office superstar Kevin Costner would probably work better as an expanding platform movie rather than just giving it a wide release and maybe Touchstone realizes this isn’t even remotely the Oscar fare that some may have hoped when the project was greenlit.

The character and premise aren’t too foreign to Kevin Costner, who’s played similar characters in sports movies like Bull Durham and Tin Cup, although this is his first attempt at an overt political comedy. It might surprise some to learn that Costner, once a huge box office draw, hasn’t had a movie gross more than $100 million in over 15 years, the last hit being The Bodyguard with Whitney Houston which followed a couple other big blockbusters. In recent years, Costner has done a hodgepodge of thrillers and smaller indies like Mike Binder’s The Upside of Anger, but his bigger movies like the Western Open Range and the action-thriller The Guardian with Ashton Kutcher, topped out at less than $60 million. There’s little question that Costner is the bigger draw for the movie than the actual premise of a smalltown guy who can decide a tight Presidential election, something that’s fairly hard to fathom even after the events of the 2000 Election.

Even so, Costner’s presence has allowed former indie filmmaker Joshua Stern to bring together a terrific ensemble cast of popular character actors including Nathan Lane, Stanley Tucci, Dennis Hopper and Kelsey Grammer, all of which could enhance the interest of older audiences though few of them will even know they’re in the movie because the commercials and trailer are so focused on Costner. In fact, if you see the commercials for the movie, you may not even know what it’s about, because they just feature Costner on campaign posters and a bunch of critics’ quotes and very little about the actual story.

It’s somewhat daring to be releasing the movie wide at all, since few political comedies have fared well in recent years with Paul Weitz’s American Dreamz being a memorable star-studded bomb. Really, the only recent movie to show that audiences are interested in seeing an everyman entering into politics is the Robin Williams comedy vehicle Man of the Year, which grossed $37 million when it opened a few years back, though that was wisely released in mid-October rather than early August. In some ways, Swing Vote is a lot like the Polish Brothers’ The Astronaut Farmer starring Billy Bob Thornton, given a wide release by Warner Bros. in early 2007, which ended up with roughly $11 million, making one think it would have done better as a limited release.

Maybe Touchstone is hoping that Swing Vote could prove to be a sleeper ala Steve Carell’s Dan in Real Life which opened in October last year, but that was a much stronger movie, one opening at a much better time to find an older audience than the middle of summer. Touchstone is releasing Swing Vote in just 2,000 theaters in between a slew of stronger comedies, although ironically, they’re all R-rated and skewing younger than Swing Vote. Still, there’s probably a couple thousand Costner fans who’ll go see anything he’s in, although this doesn’t look nearly as strong a draw as Costner’s action movies, and his fans in the South probably will assume the movie is more liberal political musings and ignore it.

Why I Should See It: Kevin Costner’s always a crowd favorite when it comes to low-key comedies.

Why Not: The movie sends mixed messages targeted more to the Southern Red States that would not necessarily get as much out of the film’s political humor, as lightweight as it is.

Projections: $7 to 9 million opening weekend and roughly $26 million total.



Sixty Six (First Independent Pictures)

Starring Eddie Marsan, Helena Bonham Carter, Stephen Rea, Catherine Tate, Peter Serafinowicz, Geraldine Somerville, Richard Katz, Ben Newton, Gregg Sulkin

Directed by Paul Weiland (Made of Honor, City Slickers 2, “Mr Bean”); Written by Peter Straughan (upcoming How to Lose Friends and Alienate People), Bridget O’Connor

Genre: Comedy, Coming-of-Age

Rated PG-13

Tagline: “It was Bernie’s big day, but there was a little competition.”

Plot Summary: It’s 1966, and 12-year-old Bernie (Gregg Sulkin) has been anxiously awaiting and planning for his Bar Mitzvah for years but as his neurotic father (Eddie Marsan) and mother (Helena Bonham Carter) suffer from the reduced business at his grocery story, it looks doubtful that Bernie will have the Bar Mitzvah of his dreams, made even worse when he realizes that it coincides on the exact day that England is to play in the World Cup finals.

It’s kind of strange when smaller indie movies from different countries start appearing in theaters, having obviously gotten their ideas from the same cinematic ether. While this British coming-of-age comedy is based around a highly-anticipated World Cup final much like the Brazilian film The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, which was a “Chosen One” back in February, that’s about all they have in common, this time setting the story four years earlier when England was trying to make the football finals. This movie was produced by the prolific British production company Working Title and was released over in England two years ago, but it finally gets a release here, and you know what? It’s quite a fun little movie, a coming-of-age tale with a great cast of character actors including a personal favorite of mine, British character actor Eddie Marsan, who’s appeared in movies like Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake and who most recently, played the baddie in Will Smith’s Hancock, as well as Stephen Rea and Helena Bonham Carter. In this one, Marsan plays the compulsive and neurotic father of Bernie, a 12-year-old boy who’s dreamed of becoming a man at his Bar Mitzvah but suddenly sees his big day and all his perfect planning fall apart as nothing goes as planned. Young newcomer Gregg Sulkin plays the role of young Bernie and manages to carry the piece despite the slew of more experienced actors he’s paired with and Paul Weiland does a great job keeping things moving throughout. (What’s odd is that he made this movie before the recent wedding comedy Made of Honor and it’s only finally now getting released.) I’m not sure why I enjoyed the movie as much as I did, maybe because of my own connection to being a young kid growing up in a place where the World Cup was the most important thing in the world, but it’s really driven by the great cast including Peter Serafinowicz as Bernie’s charismatic uncle Jimmy. Ultimately, Weiland’s movie is sweet, sentimental and funny in a warm and fuzzy way, even if it’s somewhat predictable and few of the actors seem very Jewish. You’re probably likely to forgive some of the more obvious humor and problems, because otherwise, the movie is clever and different from other comedies we’ve seen out of England.

Sixty Six opens in select cities on Friday, including New York’s Village East Cinemas.

Also in Limited Release:

America the Beautiful (First Independent Pictures) – Darryl Roberts’ documentary takes a look at cosmetic surgery in the United States takes a similar approach as the recent Bigger, Stronger, Faster to how young people are influenced by advertising to try and achieve perfection in their looks with a special focus on 12-year-old supermodel Gerren Taylor whose quest for beauty led her to the most desired fashion catwalks, as well as interviews with many celebrities. It opens in New York at the Cinema Village in New York, and in Los Angeles on August 22.

Stealing America: Vote by Vote (Direct Cinema Ltd.) – Narrated by actor Peter Coyote, Dorothy Fadiman’s documentary takes a look at the 2004 Presidential elections and how exit polls have become less accurate in the past ten years with interviews with many of those who’ve been involved with the past few elections sharing horror stories. It opens at the Quad Cinemas in New York on Friday.

Frozen River (Sony Classics) – Melissa Leo from “Homicide: Life on the Streets” stars in this drama from Courtney Hunt about a trailer mom in upstate New York who gets roped into the world of illegal immigrant smuggling in order to make ends meet after her husband leaves her. Having debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and played at Lincoln Center’s “New Directors/New Films”, it opens in New York and L.A. on Friday including the Angelika.

In Search of a Midnight Kiss (IFC Films) – Alex Holdridge’s romantic comedy stars Scott McNairy and Sara Simmonds as a down-and-out writer and a “blind date from hell” who spend a night roaming the streets of Los Angeles looking for love will open in New York at the IFC Center and in L.A. on Friday.

Midnight Meat Train (Lionsgate) – Bradley Cooper, Brooke Shields and Leslie Bibb star in Japanese filmmaker Ryuhei (Versus, Azumi) Kitamura’s American debut, a horror-thriller about a photographer who becomes obsessed with the gory work of a serial killer played by Vinnie Jones. After being delayed for nearly a year, it opens in roughly 100 theaters in select cities, and sadly, New York isn’t one of them.

Praying with Lior (First Run Features) – Ilana Trachtman’s festival favorite documentary about the Bar Mitzvah of a boy with Down’s Syndrome returns to the Cinema Village for a one-week Oscar run on Friday.

Next week, the month of August motors along with two new movies opening on Wednesday, the Seth Rogen-James Franco stoner buddy movie Pineapple Express (Sony) and the based-on-the-book girlie sequel The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, starring America Ferrara and Alexis Bledel.

Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas


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