The Weekend Warrior: July 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. (There may not be an update this week as we’re caught up on Comic-Con stuff on Friday.)

Predictions and Comparisons

1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.) – $36.6 million -53%

2. G-Force (Disney) – $27.2 million N/A

3. The Ugly Truth (Sony) – $24.4 million N/A

4. Orphan (Warner Bros.) – $12.7 million N/A

5. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (20th Century Fox) – $11.1 million -37%

6. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (DreamWorks/Paramount) – $7.6 million -45%

7. The Hangover (Warner Bros.) – $5.5 million -34%

8. The Proposal (Disney/Touchstone) – $5.2 million -37%

9. Public Enemies (Universal) – $4.3 million -44%

10. Brüno (Universal) – $3.7 million -55%

Weekend Overview

Three new movies open in wide release this weekend and though none of them have much of a chance at keeping the 6th “Harry Potter” movie from remaining on top for a second weekend, there’s a good chance two of them will be fighting it out for second place while trying to attract the same women and children who would normally make “Harry Potter” their first choice.

In one corner is Jerry Bruckheimer’s 3D talking animal action flick G-Force (Disney), featuring an all-star voice cast including Nicolas Cage and others, which will try to appeal to younger kids with the cute premise and promise of action, as well as the Disney name and the added bonus of higher-priced 3D tickets. On the other side of the steel cage ring is the new Katherine Heigl “battle of the sexes” comedy The Ugly Truth (Sony), co-starring Gerard Butler, a classic chick flick directed by Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) that will be a first choice for groups of women ready to pick sides. The only thing that might hold the film back is that it’s R-rated which might prevent teen girls from seeing it, but older women should be getting together to see it, before having a drink afterwards to discuss how all men suck and that they’ll never understand women. Even so, the former has the higher theater count and it’s opening at a point in the summer where there are a lot of kids and families looking for something to see, which should give it the advantage when all’s said and done.

Bruckheimer isn’t the only Hollywood power player with a movie this weekend as producer Joel Silver’s horror-thriller Orphan (Warner Bros.) will try to offer a new take on the creepy kid thriller that’s been such a mainstay in movie theaters. This one stars indie faves Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga and while it should bring in some horror fans, it’s a premise that might be of more interest to the same women who might go see the similarly R-Rated The Ugly Truth, and the fact that it’s opening in the middle of a media event like San Diego Comic-Con might actually hurt it since the focus will be on next summer’s movies.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Armando Iannucci’s directorial debut, the political comedy In the Loop (IFC Films), which you can read more about below.

Our weekly attempt to examine the previous year’s box office in relation to this year’s prospects is going to get screwed up a little because the last weekend of July this year is one week earlier than last. That be as it may, this weekend last year saw the release of the Will Ferrell buddy comedy Step Brothers (Sony) and the long anticipated sequel The X-Files: I Want To Believe (20th Century Fox), reuniting the duo of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson from the popular TV show, but neither stood a chance against the $75 million second weekend of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (and that’s with a 53% drop!) Step Brothers opened in second place with $31 million and “The X-Files” sequel wasn’t so anticipated after all, bombing with just $10 million in over 3,000 theaters for fourth place. The Top 10 grossed $170 million, an amount heavily boosted by the huge success of The Dark Knight so this weekend will probably be more moderate.

G-Force (Disney)

Starring Bill Nighy, Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Kelli Garner and the voices of Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Jon Favreau, Penelope Cruz, Steve Buscemi, Tracy Morgan

Directed by Hoyt Yeatman (directorial debut of the visual FX artist); Written by The Wibberleys (I Spy, The Shaggy Dog, National Treasure), Bad Boys II, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle), Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (The “Pirates” movies, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, The Legend of Zorro), Tim Firth (Confessions of a Shopaholic, Kinky Boots, Calendar Girls)

Genre: Action, Comedy, Family

Rated PG

Tagline: “Gadgets, Gizmos, Guinea Pigs. In 3-D.”

Plot Summary: The super spy guinea pigs of G-Force–team leader Darwin (Sam Rockwell), Blaster (Tracy Morgan), Juarez (Penelope Cruz) and Speckles (Nicolas Cage)–find themselves put out of a job by a government agent (Will Arnett) who doesn’t like the way they work, having them shipped off to a pet store. They quickly realize they have to escape with the help of their new pet shop friends Hurley (Jon Favreau) and Bucky (Steve Buscemi) in order to stop the dastardly plans of corporate mogul Leonard Saber (Bill Nighy) who is trying to take over the world.

Interviews with Zach Galifianakis and Bill Nighy

Mini-Review While producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s name on a project creates certain expectations, Disney was wise to avoid declaring this new talking animal action-comedy as being “from the creators of ‘Kangaroo Jack,'” since that wouldn’t be doing the movie any favors. Instead, they’ve focused on the superior though not exactly original premise–comic book writer Grant Morrison explored similar ideas in his comic “WE3”–and the action, which is on par with many of Bruckheimer’s previous films. First-time director Hoyt Yeatman’s background as an FX specialist is evident as is his eye for detail in making a movie that effectively blends the CG creatures with their environment and the human characters, taking full advantage of advancements in CG and 3D technology since Bruckheimer’s previous talking animal movie.

As far as voicing those critters, Sam Rockwell does a commendable job bringing his usual charm to team leader Darwin, and Tracy Morgan is funny enough as Blaster, though not doing anything drastically different from his character on “30 Rock.” Penélope Cruz’s weak English isn’t as big a problem as she voices Juarez, a sexy martial arts expert caught in a love triangle between Darwin and Blaster. (No, I never realized guinea pigs were monogamous either.) Nicolas Cage’s voice is almost recognizable as the team’s computer-hacking mole Speckles, and the same can be said for Jon Favreau as the voice of Hurley, a fluffy and spikey-haired pet shop gerbil who starts the ball rolling for the movie to go fairly low-brow with lots of fart and poop jokes for younger kids who will still find that kind of thing funny. As might be expected the actors playing normal humans don’t have nearly as much to do with Zach Galifianakis (“The Hangover”) playing the role of “Ben, G-Force trainer” as straight as humanly possibly to not detract from the scene-stealing rodents. Bill Nighy also seems to be phoning in his latest baddie role as corporate mogul Leonard Saber, which is a shame since it makes it that much more obvious how many of those involved with this project were just in it for the paycheck.

The characters do grow on you for the most part, and there’s quite a lot of cool stuff like when hundreds of household electronics come to life and form a giant “Transformers”-like robot, which actually is better than the similar ideas in Michael Bay’s movie. The action’s solid, all working very well in 3D, although there’s a few too many gratuitous shots of things flying at the screen than other recent 3D movies. Unfortunately, coming so soon after the eerily similar “Bolt” and that movie’s own hilarious hamster Rhino, “G-Force” doesn’t quite stand up. It’s certainly surprising enough that “G-Force” is not completely awful although it dips its toes into the easy territory of potty humor too many times to be forgiven. That said, as a movie for kids, “G-Force” delivers on the things they’ll enjoy and grown-up chaperones will just have to grit their teeth a lot. Rating: 5.5/10


With the summer in full swing, the family movies are being released at a brisker pace, hoping to bring parents with younger kids into theaters whenever they want to get out of the sweltering summer heat. While producer Jerry Bruckheimer is best known for his explosion-filled action movies for teen and older males, he’s been partnered so much with Disney over the years that it makes sense that his very first foray into making a 3D film would also be his latest attempt at doing a straight kids’ movie that might appeal to older audiences as well. Bruckheimer’s previous foray into talking animals was the 2003 action-comedy Kangaroo Jack, which grossed $67 million after opening in mid-January. (We also shouldn’t forget that the hugely successful “National Treasure” movies for Disney were also rated PG but they were never meant specifically for kids.)

Working with the writers of the hit “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies and the Wibberleys, Cormac and Marianne, who wrote National Treasure, other Disney family comedies like The Shaggy Dog and other just plain dogs like Eddie Murphy’s I Spy, Bruckheimer has come up with a premise that should have a similar appeal as Disney’s breakout 2008 hit Beverly Hills Chihuahua in that kids love talking animals and few studios do them as well as Disney. With that in mind, the big stars of the movie are the guinea pigs with primary roles voiced by Sam Rockwell (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), Tracy Morgan (“30 Rock”), Oscar-winning actress Penélope Cruz and the almost unrecognizable voice of Bruckheimer’s #1 star, Nicolas Cage. There are also roles voiced by the ever-present Steve Buscemi and even one voiced by John Favreau (who is directing Rockwell in the upcoming Iron Man 2). These characters have been all over the place promoting the movie in commercials and trailers so one shouldn’t be surprised if there are young audiences going to see their favorite character.

The human roles will probably take a backseat, although they include Zack Galifianakis, the underground comic currently having a huge hit this summer with The Hangover, which has grossed $235 million with no signs of stopping. The main villain is played by Bill Nighy, who has been a huge part of Bruckheimer’s “Pirates” movies as well as the “Underworld” series, and there’s a government role played by omni-present comic Will Arnett from “Arrested Development.” Seriously, no one will walk away from this moving raving about any of those roles.

The movie is really playing up to Disney’s strengths as a purveyor of family fare, having already had huge hits with high concept premises like Wild Hogs and The Pacifier. The cute premise, the family friendly rating and the movie being advertised as Bruckheimer’s first 3D film will probably play a large part in bringing families with kids into theatres, as well as teen guys looking for some dumb fun to get them out of the heat. The 3D aspect of the movie will help increase the average ticket price since the majority of families will probably want to see it in 3D, as seen by the success of recent movies like Pixar’s Up, DreamWorks Animation’s Monsters vs. Aliens and Henry Selick’s Coraline from their decision to release 3D versions. It’s an amazing phenomenon that can be traced back to Robert Rodriguez’s family film Spy Games 3D, which used a different technology but still proved popular enough to bring in $33 million its opening weekend.

This is the kind of dumb family film that always tends to do well, especially in suburban and rural areas where families with small kids are looking for something to do in the hottest summer months. The film’s wide release and Disney’s incessant marketing will continue to help awareness over the course of the week, so that we should see it do solid business despite what’s likely to be horrible reviews.

Why I Should See It: As stupid as the movie looks, it’s a cute premise with adorable furry creatures doing all sorts of cool action set pieces… plus lots of fart jokes for the kids!

Why Not: If you’re an adult with an IQ over 60, who doesn’t have kids, you’re not going to be able to watch this movie without the aid of alcohol or drugs.

Projections: $26 to 28 million opening weekend on its way to roughly $80 to 85 million total.


The Ugly Truth (Sony)

Starring Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, Eric Winter, John Michael Higgins, Nick Searcy, Kevin Connolly, Cheryl Hines

Directed by Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde, Monster-in-Law, 21, Win a Date with Tad Hamliton); Written by Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith (The House Bunny, She’s the Man, Ella Enchanted)

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Rated R


Plot Summary: Morning show television Abby Richter (Katherine Heigl) has had her hands full trying to run the show and have any sort of love life until she’s teamed with TV personality Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler) who is starting a new segment dealing with the relationships between men and women with an edge that immediately bristles with Abby’s own ideas of love. To try to make peace, Mike promises to help Abby win over the perfect guy she’s been looking for her whole life.

Mini-Review: Just what we need. Another movie trying to capitalize on the millions of women looking for estrogen-friendly fodder that can support their belief that all men are pigs, ones that can be easily trained to perform tricks for them. This “battle of sexes” comedy certainly has its moments, most of them coming from the chemistry between its two stars, but anyone going into this movie thinking they’ll walk away enlightened about the opposite sex is basing too much of their relationship realities on what they see in movies. Katherine Heigl uses her latest vehicle to cross over from being sexy smart to being ditzy and annoying, some of which might be funny if she hasn’t essentially entered Meg Ryan territory where she constantly is falling back on physical comedy. Actually, it’s more like a cross between Meg Ryan and Seth Rogen, because the film’s R-rating allows her and her male counterpart played by Gerard Butler to curse up a storm. From the mouth of Butler, it wouldn’t be nearly as jarring if not for the way Butler seems unable to stick with one accent as he spends much of the movie seeming like he comes from the Scottish neighborhood of the Bronx. There’s no denying that they are great together, although for the most part, the funniest moments between them have already been shown in the commercials and trailer. Even more disappointing is that Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins, normally two great improvisers, dumb down their normally impeccable comic timing for their roles as married morning show anchors, which is a shame considering how desperately the movie needed someone to give the movie some energy. Due to the success of other recent R-rated comedies, “The Ugly Truth” tries to be raunchy with lots of jokes about masturbation and orgasms and private parts, though it never goes far enough, nor does it try very hard to be particularly clever or original. Essentially, there’s really nothing new here and because of that you always know exactly where it’s going at all times. When Abby tries on a pair of vibrating panties, is there any doubt that she’ll soon be trying to recreate Ryan’s famous fake orgasm scene from “When Harry Met Sally,” though of course, we have to assume that this one is real. (Heigl is not convincing in the slightest.) Most of the movie’s problems can probably be traced back to the fact that Luketic still isn’t a very strong director after making numerous similar movies. He s perfectly capable of pointing a camera and getting the actors to say their lines, but not much more than that. It’s not quite clear who this movie is supposed to be for, men or women, because for the most part, it’s just more of the same formulaic relationship poppycock that needs to have its mouth washed out with soap. Rating: 5/10


One film genre that just doesn’t show any sign of going away any time soon is the “chick flick,” a term that probably makes 50% of the moviegoing population (and studio marketing people) cringe, though it’s a fairly accurate description of the types of romantic comedies and dramas that really have absolutely no appeal to anyone with a penis. There are different types of romantic comedies but the ones that seem to appeal to the most women are the “battle of the sexes” variety that can be traced back to the very beginning of film history with movies starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy being a classic example, but one of the most memorable being Rob Reiner’s When Harry met Sally starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, which is considered a rom-com classic among women and men. Just last month, the Touchstone Pictures comedy The Proposal pit Sandra Bullock against Ryan Reynolds to the tune of $133 million after opening with $33 million, both records for Ms. Bullock. Even before that, movies like How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days and He’s Just Not That Into You have done huge business both opening weekend and in total, as they brought women out in force to bond over their relationship woes and their inability to understand the intricacies of the “unfairer” sex.

Unlike those two hit movies, The Ugly Truth isn’t based on a bestselling novel. Instead, this is the third major film vehicle for actress Katherine Heigl, the star of ABC’s hit medical dramedy “Grey’s Anatomy,” an incredibly popular show among women. Heigl has been appearing on TV and in movies for years but her first major starring role was in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up in 2007, which became a huge hit grossing nearly $150 million, followed by last year’s romantic comedy 27 Dresses, which very well by grossing half that amount. The Ugly Truth has elements of both hit movies in that Heigl is once again playing a television producer and she once again is taking on a strong-willed man in a battle of the sexes, and like Knocked Up, this movie is Rated R. (Although what kind of R-rated Katherine Heigl movie doesn’t have her disrobing? Clearly, the producers do not have her male fanbase in mind for this movie.)

For this one, Heigl is paired with Scotsman Gerard Butler, whose big breakout role came when he starred in Zack Snyder’s 300, and for the most part, he’s been bouncing back and forth between action movies and romantic comedies, the latter being typified mostly by him playing Hilary Swank’s late boyfriend in the chick flick PS I Love You, which was also quite successful. The whole shebang is directed by Robert Luketic, who last year had a decent-sized hit with the blackjack movie 21, but who had a lot of experience with estrogen-friendly comedy going back to the first >Legally Blonde as well as the Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda pairing in Monster-in-Law.

Either way, women tend to love these sorts of catty comedies that pit men against women because it allows them to voice things that generally would remain unsaid, and this movie is probably a decent follow-up for those who saw The Proposal, since it appeals to a similar demographic. With that in mind, you’ll probably see groups of women going to see this together similarly to last year’s hit Sex and the City, and while this won’t have any interest for men whatsoever, you may see more than a few husbands and boyfriends dragged to the movie in hopes of them learning a thing or two.

Sony wisely gave the movie sneak previews last Friday, which were well-attended, and the most recent spate of commercials have been great at playing up the battle of the sexes, which will definitely make this the first choice of many women over 25 this weekend. Sony can really use a hit this summer, especially after Angels & Demons, Tony Scott’s remake The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and the Harold Ramis comedy Year One all failed to bring in the amount of business they hoped. They still have two more chances to save their summer in the Julia Child biopic Julie & Julia and the sci-fi thriller District 9, but so far, they’re really trailing behind the other studios this summer. It certainly will be good for Heigl if she goes three-for-three with this comedy, because that will clearly put her among the likes of Bullock, Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts as an actress who women will see in anything.

Why I Should See It: Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler both have a lot of personality so it should be fun to watch those personalities clash on screen.

Why Not: There’s really nothing in this movie that we haven’t already seen a thousand times before, maybe even a million.

Projections: $23 to 25 million opening weekend and $70 to 75 million total.


Orphan (Warner Bros.)

Starring Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, Goal II: Living the Dream); Written by David Leslie Johnson (debut)

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Rated R

Tagline: “There’s something wrong with Esther.”

Plot Summary: After losing their unborn child, Kate and John (Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard), a young couple having problems with their marriage, decide to adopt a strange young girl named Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) who immediately becomes the center of a series of horrifying deaths, but no one believes Kate when she suspects Esther of being responsible.


Looking to offer something for those who aren’t interested in some of the other female and friendly-fare of the weekend, here’s the latest horror movie from Joel Silver’s Dark Castle Productions, which takes elements women might be able to relate to (parenthood) and turns it on its ear with the idea of an adopted girl being responsible for the deaths of anyone around her. It’s not exactly breaking new ground as the “creepy kid thriller” has long been a mainstay in horror genre with the original The Omen being considered a classic and the idea of a dangerous or deadly kid often being returned to regularly by lazy Hollywood producers hoping to capitalize on the easy sell. Cameron Bright probably has appeared in more of these thrillers than anyone else as he’s generally been creepy in every movie he’s made, but there have been many takes on it from a straight on remake of The Horror to the Dakota Fanning vehicle Hide and Seek.

As is the case with many of Silver’s previous horror movies, it starts two actors better known for their award-winning work in independent films and both of them have also done a surprising amount of genre films. Peter Sarsgaard first got attention for his role in Shattered Glass and since then he’s done a variety of roles, including the studio thrillers The Skeleton Key opposite Kate Hudson and Flightplan with Jodi Foster. Vera Farmiga’s biggest role was co-starring in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning The Departed and unfortunately was overshadowed by her mainly male cast, but she’s also done dozens of well-respected indie films, including the indie Joshua, another creepy kid thriller that had her facing off against an evil child.

Silver’s Dark Castle Productions has had a number of moderate successes, mainly considering the low cost of making horror movies, and this time around, he’s once again working with Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra, who helmed the remake of House of Wax, which did not do nearly as well as was expected, having followed hugely successful remakes of Dawn of the Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. While this doesn’t have the namebrand recognition of a remake, it does have a premise that’s very familiar to moviegoers who like being scared. This type of horror flick isn’t necessarily geared only to guys, which often allows it to fare better, though Orphan does have a strong amount of competition for women from The Ugly Truth and “Harry Potter.” Another thing that might limit the movie from bringing in some of the teen girls who make up the latter audience is the fact it’s rated R rather than PG-13. Usually, you wouldn’t expect horror movies that don’t specialize in gore to receive an R-rating but obviously there must be something about having a kid at the center of the terror that makes it mandatory for the higher rating.

It’s doubtful whether this weekend’s Comic-Con in San Diego will help the movie since many genre fans will be trekking to Southern California for the annual geekfest, and most of their attention will be focused on other movies and the various goings-on there. Opening against Comic-Con potentially hurt M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water a few years ago, as well as last year’s “The X-Files” sequel (see above). Unfortunately, this is a genre that’s really been played out and the movie looks like so many other movies that have come before, which is never helpful in a summer where moviegoers are looking for new things. One less obvious thing that might hurt the movie is the vague title “Orphan” which isn’t quite as vivid as “The Orphan,” which would draw quicker correlations to the creepy kid classic The Omen and the David Goyer’s recent hit The Unborn. These kinds of movies rarely have any legs–Nicole Kidman’s The Others and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense were rare exceptions–so it probably won’t be around much once August hits and more anticipated movies start to hit theatres.

Why I Should See It: Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard are solid actors who bring their A-game to everything they do… even B-horror movies.

Why Not: Haven’t we seen this movie already? (And didn’t I just use this “Why Not” above for The Ugly Truth above?)

Projections: $11 to 13 million opening weekend and roughly $30 million total, maybe slightly less.



In the Loop (IFC Films)

Starring Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini, Anna Chlumsky, Steve Coogan, Chris Addison, Peter Capaldi, Paul Higgins

Directed by Armando Iannucci (debut from the writer/director of “In the Thick of It,” Steve Coogan’s “Alan Partridge” shows and more); Written by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche

Genre: Comedy, Politics

Rated R

Tagline: “The fate of the world is on the line.”

Plot Summary: When British minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) inadvertently tells the press that war might be inevitable, his angry boss Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) sends Foster and his young aide Toby Wright (Chris Addison) to the United States to meet with the U.S. State Department, who are having their own internal politics as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Diplomacy Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) is trying to get to the bottom of a secret war committee being staged by her main rival Linton Barwick (David Rasche). The question is whether the politicians opposed to war can actually make a difference in stopping the snowball that’s already begun rolling down the hill.

Interview with Armando Iannucci

One of the standouts at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, as well as at the Tribeca Film Festival and numerous other festivals this year is the directorial debut by Britcom mainstay Armando Iannucci, who worked with Steve Coogan on his “Alan Partridge” television series, before creating “The Thick of It,” a British show about office politics set in the world of British politics. It’s the latter that prompted this full length feature about how the latter contrasts with the similar inter-office in-fighting that takes place in Washington D.C. Although the resulting comedy is filed with lots of outrageous political archetypes, you can tell that Iannucci really did his research so that it’s easy to believe that errors in communication and diplomacy are happening in government all the time, which could easily lead to war being declared.

In this case, that war comes about when a lowly British Minister has a slip of the tongue to the press which starts the ball rolling for politicians on both sides of the pond to try to get into the U.S. State Department’s “Future Planning Committee,” rumored to be where it will be decided whether or not to go to war.

Despite what seems like dark fodder for humor, In the Loop sports some of the finest comedy dialogue you’ll hear this year, as Iannucci and his team have created sharp, snarky insults and comebacks that really sets it apart from some of the tamer political comedies that have been produced on these shores. All of the back and forth between characters keeps the film entertaining, while creating many layers of depth in the relationships. Helping this out is the amazing ensemble cast assembled by Iannucci that includes two actors I’ve generally loved for years, Tom Hollander, best known for his role in the last few “Pirates” movies, and James Gandolfini, who everyone knows as Tony Soprano, playing the brash General Miller, who is more of a military executive than a seasoned soldier. Both actors have generally been decent in everything they’ve done and this movie is no exception. Even so, the standout of the movie is clearly Peter Capaldi who revives the Malcolm Tucker character he played on “The Thick of It,” a Scottish diplomat who spends most of the movie unleashing a hilarious string of obscenity-laced barbs at everyone around him that really steals the movie every time he appears on screen.

Some of the biggest surprises come from the cast I didn’t know beforehand, lesser-known actors giving performances as key players that really make the movie what it is. These include Chris Addison as Toby Wright, Anna Chlumsky as Liza Weld–his American counterpart with whom he has a one-night stand, cheating on his girlfriend–and Zach Woods as the brown-nosing assistant Chad, Liza’s main rival, who give some of the best examples of nasty infighting between political rivals forced to work together despite clearly not getting along. The film shows off a great deal of comedic talent to keep an eye on, as they create characters who deliver their dialogue so naturally that it sounds improvised. Besides the great interaction between the characters, there are many funny situations that one could never imagine another filmmaker coming up with, like Gandolfini’s burly general calculating his forces on a children’s calculator, complete with silly sound effects.

On the down side, the movie’s a little too long mainly because it goes off on a couple tangents that don’t have nearly as much to do with the main story, including a subplot cameo by Steve Coogan as one of Simon Foster’s constituents who hopes he’ll fix his mother’s garden wall. At first, it’s a funny character mainly because it’s not immediately evident that it’s Coogan, but it changes the tone of the movie as it takes away from the political dealings. That said, the subplot does play a part in the bigger scheme of things and things do come together in the end.

However you slice it, this is just a great debut for Iannucci, who hopefully will get a lot more recognition Stateside for his work thanks to this movie. (At this point, “The Thick of It” isn’t available in the United States in a format that will play on American DVD players, and hopefully that will change as well.) In the Loop opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Also in Limited Release:

Deadgirl (Dark Sky Films) – Two high school outcasts (Shiloh Fernandez, Noah Segan) find a beautiful naked woman chained to a table in an abandoned hospital but she’s not as dead as they first think, something that will haunt them afterwards. It opens in limited release.

Shrink (Roadside Attractions) – Kevin Spacey stars in Jonas Pate’s drama about Dr. Henry Carter, a shrink suffering from depression after the suicide death of his wife, who is trying to help his superstar Hollywood clients get through their own problems, but at the same time, he decides to take his first Pro-Bono case, a teen girl (Keke Palmer) suffering from her own loss who really needs his help.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

The Answer Man (Magnolia) – In Jonathan Hindman’s debut, Jeff Daniels plays Arlen Faber, the writer of a bestselling spiritual self-help book twenty years ago who has been in hiding ever since. One day, he throws his back out and must venture into the outside world where he meets and falls for a chiropractor (Lauren Graham) who is raising a son of her own, as well as a disillusioned bookshop owner (Lou Taylor Pucci) trying to stop drinking. Having premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this indie dramedy opens in select cities on Friday.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Surviving Crooked Lane (NeoClassic Films) – Co-written and directed by Sascha Drews, Ezra Krybus and Matthew Miller, this thriller set in the Canadian wilderness involves four teen girls on a canoe trip with an older male guide when something disastrous happens that forces them to reconsider their lives on the journey back home. It opens in Colorado.

Paraiso Travel (Paraiso Pictures) – The second film from Simon Brand (Unknown) involves two young people from Columbia who try to find their dreams in New York, taking the dangerous immigrant journey to cross into the U.S. illegally through Mexico but then getting separated in New York. Having premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, it will open at the Quad Cinemas in New York on Friday.

The English Surgeon – This documentary from Geoffrey Smith takes a look at Henry Marsh, one of London’s top brain surgeons, and what he discovered on a 1992 trip to Kiev. With music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (The Proposition), it opens in New York at the Cinema Village.

Next week, it’s the return of Judd Apatow, this time teamed with comic superstar Adam Sandler for Funny People (Universal), while those not into R-rated comedy will have the nearly polar opposite family adventure Aliens in the Attic (20th Century Fox). Next week’s column may be somewhat late due to Comic-Con but hopefully, we’ll have a special guest fill-in writer to help out.

Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas


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