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.
It’s Labor Day weekend, folks, which means that anyone who was hoping to catch a movie this summer only has four more days to do so before it’s all over and we’re onto the September and October movies of varying degrees of quality. That’s probably what you could say about this weekend’s movies as well, as we don’t have any of the normal sequels and not a horror movie in sight but a couple thematic follow-ups.
The top spot is likely to be taken by one of two movies: Vin Diesel’s sci-fi action flick Babylon A.D. (20th Century Fox) or Disaster Movie (Lionsgate), the latest spoof movie from Friedberg & Seltzer, just six months after their last movie Meet the Spartans. The spoof movie trend might be hitting a bit of a downturn with so many being released back-to-back, giving Diesel the chance at bringing some of his male action fans back to theaters for his first movie for them since The Chronicles of Riddick in 2004.
Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce star in the political thriller Traitor (Overture Films), which comes into the weekend with a strong marketing campaign that hopes to play up to older adult moviegoers who haven’t really had many movies with any depth or weight in recent weeks. While movies about the Middle East and terrorism have generally underperformed theatrically, this underserved audience might see the movie like a “Bourne”-type action-thriller, and Don Cheadle’s involvement as producer will certainly give the movie more credibility like his Oscar winner Crash.
As if there weren’t enough comedies in theaters, MGM is finally releasing the R-rated comedy College–it’s about “college” if you didn’t figure it out from the title–but this long-delayed movie that even Lionsgate wouldn’t release… and they’ll release ANYTHING (see Disaster Movie), might get some scattered business from the college-age male crowd who might not be interested in some of the above choices, but that business will be slim.
Despite a disappointing opening weekend in limited release, Focus Features will also expand the Steve Coogan comedy Hamlet 2 (Focus Features) into roughly 1,500 theatres, hopefully building on the word-of-mouth from last week’s limited release. Oddly, the movie might actually be able to capitalize in Coogan’s hilarious turn as a bad director in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, which will make this a good alternative for the 17 to 30 crowd although it’s likely to get lost in the shuffle.
Either way, Labor Day is often seen as a catch-up weekend for people to see the movies they’ve missed over the summer, so we can probably see highly-touted movies like The Dark Knight and Tropic Thunder picking up some extra business. Maybe a smart studio like Disney will even re-release some of their earlier summer movies for those who missed them, like WALLE, which can certainly capitalize on the long weekend.
(UPDATE: Not much more to add, although it’s not looking good for any of the new movies, and though one of them will probably still win the weekend, this Labor Day will be more about some of the returning movies. Traitor had a weak opening day under a million but it should bounce back on the weekend and can still do decently over the holiday.)
(All of the predictions below are for the four-day holiday weekend.)
1. Babylon A.D. (20th Century Fox) $18.2 million N/A (down .4 million)
2. Disaster Movie (Lionsgate) $15.7 million N/A (down .4 million)
3. Tropic Thunder (DreamWorks) – $14.2 million -13% (up .4 million)
4. The House Bunny (Sony) – $10.5 million -28% (up .2 million)
5. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.) $9.5 million -10% (down .2 million)
6. Traitor (Overture Films) – $8.8 million N/A (up .1 million)
7. Death Race (Universal) – $7.6 million -40% (up .1 million)
8. College (MGM) – $4.4 million N/A (up .3 million)
9. Pineapple Express (Sony) – $3.8 million -30% (down .2 million)
10. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Warner Bros.) – $3.5 million -38% (down .3 million)
— Hamlet 2 (Focus Features) – $3.2 million
Last Labor Day, Rob Zombie’s remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween set a new record for the holiday grossing $31 million over the four-day weekend in 3,472 theaters, averaging roughly $9,000, and continuing the tradition of horror movies doing well over Labor Day, which originated with the success of the two “Jeepers Creepers” movies. Opening early on Wednesday, Focus Features’ ping pong comedy Balls of Fury, starring Dan Fogler and Christopher Walken, opened in over 3,000 theaters (their widest release ever) and made $13.8 million over the four-day weekend after making $3 million in its first two days. Saw co-creator James Wan switched genres for the revenge flick Death Sentence starring Kevin Bacon, which only made $5.2 million over the holiday weekend in 1,822 theaters. The Top 10 grossed $112.8 million and that amount might be hard to match since it’s unlikely that either of this year’s new movies will do as well as Halloween.
THE BATTLE CRY
I’ve been a little too busy with other things to bring back the “Battle Cry” on a weekly basis (and from the lack of comments, it doesn’t seem like anyone reads them anyway), but I just wanted to use this space to share…
My Top 10 Favorite Movies of Summer ’08!
First, a caveat: I’ve only included movies that have received a wide release and I’m gauging and rating the movies by how much I enjoyed them rather than their relative quality, because if I did that, than a certain Pixar movie would probably be first based on its animation and storytelling alone.
That being said, this really was a better summer than past years with a lot more good or great movies and only a few absolutely horrendous dogs, at least the ones I’ve seen. Fortunately, I missed a lot of movies that I really didn’t have very much interest in seeing, but there were definitely a number of movies that ended up being far better than I hoped and others that lived up to my very lofty expectations. I’m thinking that some of my choices will confound those who haven’t seen any or all of the movies or those that don’t share the same sense of entertaining that I got out of watching some of these movies, but so be it. These are the ten movies I liked the most this summer, ones that I’d watch again in a heartbeat.
10. Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D (New Line) Sure, this experiment into 3D filmmaking has a lot of problems in terms of the CG, but it’s just such a fun and entertaining movie that I enjoyed enough to see twice. It reminds me of all those ’70s Disney adventures I saw as a kid, just a wild ride of an adventure through the world of one of my favorite books when I was a kid, but given a modern take. I thought the chemistry and interaction between Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson and Icelandic cutie Anita Briem really drove this movie and made them so much fun to watch get into trouble, and I’m glad to see it found an audience even if it’s not considered the summer’s biggest blockbuster.
9. Step Brothers (Sony) I had to decide between this and Hamlet 2 for this slot but since I haven’t seen the latter since March, it was hard to gauge the two of them against each other in terms of outlandish comedies. This one took me by surprise since I really hated “Talladega Nights,” but this time, Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly (who I’ve always been a big fan of) and Adam McKay got it right, creating a character-driven comedy that surrounded the duo with some really funny actors around them that this was an ensemble comedy on par with Wedding Crashers in terms of having a lot of sources for humor.
8. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Disney) This is probably the summer’s biggest enigmas, not only because I’m pretty sure I saw this movie twice, but for the life of me, can’t remember when I saw it a second time and with whom, but also because I thought it was so much better than the first movie in terms of quality of writing and acting and FX and yet wasn’t nearly as immediate as the original. I still think that a lot of that has to do with the source material since C. S. Lewis’ first book was so much better than the second one, but it’s disappointing to think that the movie’s poor performance might hurt them from finishing the series ala the “Harry Potter” books.
7. Traitor (Overture Films) I talk more about this new political thriller starring Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce below and in various interviews and my review, which will hopefully be up soon, but this is a nice late summer surprise, a really strong political thriller that makes you think both while you’re watching it and afterwards. It’s a great link between one of the better movie summers in recent memory and the upcoming awards season starting with the Toronto Film Festival next week.
6. Wanted (Universal) I love the original graphic novel on which this is based and while the movie by Russian director Timur Bekmambetov is very different, it retained the same snarky and cynical tone I loved so much, plus as a fan of James McAvoy, this finally put him front and center with no little girls or Ugandan leaders to distract… that is except Angelina Jolie who is so smoking hot in this movie that those who saw it should have been warned to wear asbestos. That and some of the wildest action scenes I’ve seen since the first “Matrix” and this was one of the few summer movies I wanted to see again almost immediately.
5. Hellboy II: the Golden Army (Universal) While I wasn’t a huge fan of the first “Hellboy” movie, I was infinitely optimistic that Guillermo del Toro would knock one out of the park with this sequel after visiting the sets, and I was not disappointed, as he brought new levels of epic fantasy to Mike Mignola’s comic book character. Like “Prince Caspian,” this was a sequel that surpassed the original in terms of the quality of filmmaking and storytelling, and sadly, this was one of the movies I REALLY wanted to see a second time in theaters but never had a chance. It certainly will play a large part in me finally getting a big screen HD TV because the movie really does have to be seen on the way it was meant to be seen.
4. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.) I’m sure I’m going to get lots of nasty comments for not making this my favorite movie of the summer, but frankly, I’ve only seen it once so far. Although I’m going to try my best to see it one more time before summer’s end, the movie is so dark and grim that I can’t imagine anyone wanting to see it as many times as some people have, and I feel that I’ll have more problems with it the more times I see it. (Like that first 80 minutes that draaaaaaaag.) But it is great for Heath Ledger’s performance, the writing and Christopher Nolan’s vision that took it far away from its comic book routes and took it more into a cinematic one.
3. Tropic Thunder (DreamWorks) Ben Stiller’s war comedy (of sorts) has really left me tickled both times I’ve seen it, because like Step Brothers, there’s so many characters, each with their own degree of funny that you can watch this over and over and always find new things to laugh about. Certainly Robert Downey Jr. is the main reason to see the movie and I’m surprised I haven’t gotten sick of seeing the same clips of him over and over on television, but there’s so much more to the movie than that, and it left me really surprised that I could love a Ben Stiller movie as much as I did this one. Definitely my favorite movie of his since the first Meet the Parents or There’s Something About Mary and the funniest comedy I’ve seen this year.
2. WALLE (Disney/Pixar) – I’ve become a bigger and bigger Pixar fan in recent years, starting with Monsters, Inc.. Until Ratatouille came out, that was my favorite movie from the animation studio, but then their latest WALLE topped that movie with a beautiful love story between robots that required very little dialogue to work. Sure, I can understand people’s problems with when the less than fully-realized humans show up and the film’s preachy message, but you know what? I got it, and I understood why the second half of the movie was so important to making these robots seem even more human than humans (or at least the way they were depicted in this movie’s future). There’s little question that this movie will end up in my Top 10 or 15 movies of the year, and it’s even more likely if I get another chance to see it.
1. Iron Man (Marvel/Paramount) While I’ve been a fan of Marvel Comics for many decades, Iron Man was never my favorite character compared to Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, X-Men and others, but when you have a movie like this with such a great story, terrific writing and perfect casting, you can’t help but realize what great unexplored potential this character has. The movie is everything you’d want from a summer movie in that you can see it over and over again and always get the same emotions from watching it. Three cheers for Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. for making clearly what is one of the best Marvel superhero movies so far–yes, I liked it better than all three “Spider-Man” movies–and raising the bar for future superhero movies (including The Dark Knight). This movie was a joy and no other movie this summer has left me with such a big smile on my face from beginning to end. Who would have thought that first movie of the summer would also end up being my favorite? Not me, that’s for sure.
And the worst movie of the summer? Mike Myers’ The Love Guru (also Paramount), which I refuse to write about again until the end of the year where it’s likely to end up on my Terrible 25 list, maybe even in the top spot.
And the second worst movie of the summer? Read on.
(Maybe if I have time next week, I’ll do a brief recap of the summer in terms of box office, since it might be interesting.)
Babylon A.D. (20th Century Fox)
Starring Vin Diesel, Gérard Depardieu, Michelle Yeoh, Charlotte Rampling, Mark Strong, Radek Bruna, Melanie Thierry, Lambert Wilson
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz (Gothika, Assassins); Written by Eric Besnard (a bunch of French movies I’ve never heard of)
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Thriller
Plot Summary: It’s the year 2019 and the mercenary Toorop (Vin Diesel) is asked to guard the young girl Aurora (Melanie Thierry) under the care of the nun Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh) as they take a 6,000 mile journey through “New Russia” to New York in order to fulfill a prophecy for the future of mankind.
While this year’s Labor Day offerings aren’t nearly as strong as years past, the return of Vin Diesel to the sci-fi action genre for the first time since 2004’s “Chronicles of Riddick” might be of interest to male moviegoers looking for something new after seeing The Dark Knight for the “dozenth” time. Even Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder may be losing ground a bit, although it’s also going to bring in moviegoers over the weekend who’ve probably heard good things from friends.
There’s somewhat of a strange story behind Babylon A.D., which teams Diesel with French director Mathieu Kasovitz, who’s probably better known in this country for his acting in movies like Amelie, Birthday Girl and Steven Spielberg’s Munich. As a director, he did a bunch of French films that played various festivals before Joel Silver got him on board the Halle Berry thriller Gothika. Based on the obscure French sci-fi book “Babylon Babies” by Maurice G. Dantec, which presumably very few people in the United States have read, the movie is best known for the problems that plagued its production, the fact that it went well over budget and rumors about Diesel not showing up on set, causing delays and rumors that Kassovitz’s unconventional directing style hadn’t gelled with his leading man causing problems and friction on the set.
The elusive Vin Diesel has seemingly been in hiding in recent years after having big success with Disney’s PG-rated The Pacifier followed a year later by teaming with filmmaking legend Sidney Lumet for the crime-comedy bomb Find Me Guilty. Before that, Diesel was generally on a roll with action hits like XXX and The Fast and the Furious, a couple smaller movies like A Man Apart and the Pitch Black sequel The Chronicles of Riddick, the latter focusing more on his character but not doing nearly as well in theaters as some of Diesel’s previous movies. Next summer he returns to the “Fast and Furious” franchise with a fourth movie that promises to be a return to form of the movie that broke Diesel into the big time, but one has to wonder how taking nearly four years off from action movies might help or hinder his return to the genre with this movie. Past action heroes have gone through waves where they have many teen male fans who then grow up and move on, and you have to wonder whether those who were 13 to 15 years old when
The movie is being sold very much based on Vin Diesel’s presence, which is logical enough, but he does have a strong cast around him. Diesel’s young co-star Melanie Thierry has appeared in many French and European films but is a virtual unknown in this country, although they have ample support from Michelle Yeoh, the popular Hong Kong action star who recently appeared in Universal’s The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and has appeared in hit movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, as well as Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha. The main baddie in the movie is played by Charlotte Rampling, star of the French thriller Swimming Pool who had a small role in the recent Fox bomb Deception and there are also small roles for French legend Gerard Depardieu, still one of France’s best known actors in the States, as well as Lambert Wilson, who most Americans will remember from his role in the “Matrix” sequels. Like Rampling, the casting of these actors would probably have more impact for the movie’s European release than in the United States, where it’s really more about Vin Diesel than anyone else.
Even though the movie has a lot of action, it’s mainly being marketed and viewed as a science fiction movie, harking back to Ridley Scott’s classic Blade Runner but closer in tone and feel to Luc Besson’s 1997 movie The Fifth Element with Bruce Willis and the more recent Ultraviolet with Milla Jovovich (who co-starred in “Fifth Element”). Both movies revolved around similar futuristic plots about trying to save someone important to the future of mankind, and a similar premise was the central core of Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men, an Oscar nominated futuristic drama that was based more in the real world than some of the other movies mentioned. Another good touchstone is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1990 movie with Paul Verhoeven, Total Recall, which like Blade Runner was based on the sci-fi literature of Philip K. Dick, but turned into an action movie more befitting of Arnold. In fact, the similarity between Babylon A.D. and those movies might be its biggest stumbling block since many sci-fi fans will probably feel like they’ve seen it before, which isn’t necessarily a good thing even if one considers that the average Vin Diesel fan (presuming there are some left) might not have seen some of the movies referenced.
Babylon A.D. is 20th Century Fox’s last chance this summer to have a hit after a summer season full of one bomb after another, including two in the sci-fi genre with Eddie Murphy’s Meet Dave and “X-Files.” They’ve generally had good results with the action genre with movies like Jason Statham’s Transporter 2, which opened with $20 million over the Labor Day weekend two years ago, setting a new record that was broken last year by Rob Zombie’s Halloween which grossed an astounding $31 million over the four days. Otherwise, those are the only two of three movies to make more than $20 million over the holiday, which is more about going away on one last summer vacation, rather than going to the movies, although movies geared towards older teens and college-age males who may have already returned to school have generally had an advantage when opening over Labor Day. In this case, Babylon A.D.‘s biggest competition are returning movies like The Dark Knight and Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder but also the latest spoof comedy Disaster Movie, which is targeting the same teen audience.
Last week, Jason Statham’s Death Race underperformed despite a strong marketing campaign, and one wonders whether Vin Diesel has enough of what it takes to sell this sci-fi action premise, which like so many other recent movies, won’t be screening before opening day, instead trying to get in viewers based on the visuals in the trailer and the familiar premise. Unfortunately, the movie’s production problems have become very public and since the movie was already released in Europe in a slightly altered longer version, bootlegs and bad reviews on the internet might hurt the movie’s American release. Being one of the few non-comedies in theaters, it should still bring in some business and it has the advantage of theaters and screens, opening in over 3,200 sites. However well or poorly it does this weekend, the truth about the quality of the movie will get around pretty quickly and it probably won’t get very far even with some of the weaker September offerings.
Why I Should See It: It’s nice to have Vin Diesel back doing movies that don’t involve him taking care of kids.
Disaster Movie (Lionsgate)
Starring Matt Lanter, Vanessa Minnillo, Carmen Electra, Kim Kardashian, G-Thang, Nicole Parker, Crista Flanagan, Ike Barinholtz, Tony Cox
Written and directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (Meet the Spartans, Date Movie, Epic Movie)
Genre: Spoof Comedy
Tagline: “Better get off quick.” “Destroying the summer, one movie at a time.” “Not another shallow Hollywood movie.” (Yeah, bullsh*t.)
Plot Summary: Under the pretense of being a comedy that makes fun of disaster movies, this new spoof comedy from the team that brought you “classics” like Epic Movie turn their eye on the movies that came out over the summer in hopes that moviegoers may actually want a summer recap spoof movie. Apparently, there’s some flimsy plot about a bunch of “attractive twenty-somethings” trying to make their way to safety from every known natural disaster.
Just when you thought it was safe to go to the movies without facing another bad spoof movie… here’s another one! Third of the year, in fact! Woo-hoo!! Before one immediately discards this one into the list of movies to avoid–and not saying you shouldn’t do that anyway–it’s good to keep in mind that there are basically two main spoof movie camps now, the Dave Zucker camp that did the last two “Scary Movies” and Superhero Movie and the duo of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, admittedly “two of the six writers” on the first Scary Movie who have created a niche market for themselves by making movies FAST and relatively cheap combining popular movies with elements from pop culture. This is the fourth movie in three years, and it’s one thing for them to be able to produce one movie every year, but now they’re pulling out a movie every six months and it seems like they’ll never run out of movies to use as fodder for their stupid and moronic sense of humor. At this point, they’re not even watching most of the movies they’re spoofing; they’re just going right from scenes in the trailer, and then adding the same dumb tabloid celebrities like Amy Winehouse, Britney Spears and the like to try to appeal to those who like laughing at their misadventures.
They started their run of movies with Date Movie, which poked fun at romantic comedies like Hitch and too many others to mention, and it opened with $19 million on its way to $48 million. (It also earned a terrible 2.6 out of 10 on IMDb’s User Rating, which would end up higher than the next two movies from the team of Friedberg and Seltzer.) Epic Movie, which scored an astoundingly bad 2.2 out of 10 came out a year later and did slightly worse opening and slightly less in total, and then earlier this year, they released Meet the Spartans–wow, they actually came up with a different title than “Fill-in-the-Blank Movie,” nice!–and that ended up with a slightly better 2.4 out of 10 on IMDb and again slightly less, but still around $38 million. Maybe “Spartans” did well because people didn’t associate it with the two earlier “Movie” movies, but the quality of those movies certainly hurt when Dimension followed that with Superhero Movie, again from the Zucker camp, this time looking at superhero movies and being more of a straight spoof. It bombed with just $9.5 million opening and roughly $26 million.
The duo’s fourth movie is presumably a spoof about disaster movies–a tired genre which hasn’t seen a new one in roughly four years–but in fact, it’s just an excuse for them to be the first to target all of the summer movies and make fun of characters from Juno and Enchanted, as well as the usual tabloid fodder. In fact, the commercials don’t even really show any disasters at all, so one probably shouldn’t expect CG FX on the level of The Day After Tomorrow and the material is probably being targeted more towards young women than guys, who still have other choices in theatres including last week’s The House Bunny.
As far as the cast, Carmen Electra is back (having nothing else to do since breaking up with rocker Dave Navarro) as is Tony Cox, whose best movie is and probably will forever be Bad Santa as long as he keeps doing movies like these. They’re joined by Kim Kardashian, who I honestly have no idea what she does, except that she had a sex tape and reality show (Essentially, the filmmakers have gone from making fun of faux-celebrities like Paris Hilton to hiring them to star in their movies.) The only other person of any interest are two “Mad TV” cast members, cutie Krista Flanagan who appeared in their previous two movies and Nicole Parker who appeared in Meet the Spartans, both of them playing real life characters like Hilary Clinton and Hannah Montana, much like they do on the comedy show. Otherwise, I have no idea who any of these other people are: “G-Thang”? “Vanessa Minnillo”? “Matt Lantner”? No, seriously, are they making these people up or are these spoof movies the last bastion for every out-of-work actor in Hollywood? (Actually, Lantner voiced Analkin Skywalker in the recent Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but the others?)
The movies are incredibly stupid and yet they continuously make money, which makes you think that 1.) there are lots of really stupid teen moviegoers who keep forgetting how bad the movies are (say “no” to drugs, kids!) or 2.) it’s a terrorist plan to dumb down our country through bad PG-13 spoof movies. I’d like to think that it’s neither of the above but you have to expect that this movie will have absolutely no interest to anyone over 18 or with an IQ over 50. This is the spoof duo’s first movie in the series from Lionsgate, a studio who’s been veering further into comedy territory in recent years, but don’t quite have the marketing budget of 20th Century Fox who released their previous three films.
The fact that this is opening at a time when there are more comedies in theaters than ever before will probably keep the movie from opening as well as some of the duo’s previous spoof movies even with an extra day added onto the holiday weekend but these days, you never know anymore and my deepest wish that this movie tanks so that it slows down the production of more spoof movies will probably not be granted.
Why I Should See It: In hopes that Carmen Elektra and Kim Kardashian’s clothes fall off? (Sorry, it’s PG-13, so that probably won’t happen.)
Traitor (Overture Films)
Starring Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Jeff Daniels, Neal McDonough, Archie Panjabi, Alyy Kahn, Said Taghmaoui
Written and directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff (writer of The Day After Tomorrow — but don’t let that put you off!!!)
Genre: Political Thriller, Action
Tagline: “The truth is complicated.”
Plot Summary: After seeing his father blown up in a car born as a youth, the mysterious Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) is profiled and targeted as a terrorist accomplice, putting FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) hot on his tail to capture and question Horn before he becomes involved in another bombing.
While most young people will probably look at one of the comedies or action movies in theaters as an option over Labor Day weekend, there’s also an older movie-going contingent probably sick of so many dumb choices and looking for something with a little more depth. Along comes this political thriller from Jeffrey Nachmanoff, making his directorial debut after co-writing Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, with an all-star cast of Western and Eastern actors, though mostly another great vehicle for Oscar-nominated actor Don Cheadle, who also co-produced the movie.
As one of the top two or three African-American actors currently working (in terms of name factor, respect, critical recognition), Cheadle has had an amazing career that just gets more impressive due to his excellent taste in choosing quality material. Despite decent reviews, his last movie Talk to Me was sorely overlooked by moviegoers, including the African-American audiences who might have appreciated it. Teaming Cheadle with Adam Sandler in Mike Binder’s drama Reign Over Me did slightly better, but grossed roughly half what Sandler’s comedies tend to make their opening weekend. A big coup for Cheadle was when he came on board as actor and co-producer of the 2005 drama Crash, which assembled an amazing ensemble cast including Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser and did very well in theaters before being nominated and winning a number of Oscars, including Best Picture. Even before he found success as a leading man, Cheadle earned a reputation as a solid supporting actor in movies like Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic (another awards winner), which Cheadle followed by branched into a more comedic role as Basher in Soderbergh’s three “Danny Ocean” movies with George Clooney and Brad Pitt, probably where most moviegoers will know Cheadle’s work. Traitor is a very different movie, more like Traffic or Crash, both movies that have found audiences due to their critical raves and awards. The movie also plays up to the respect Cheadle has earned with his political activism in places like Darfur, which spurred him on to produce and narrate the documentary Darfur Now.
By comparison, Australian actor Guy Pearce has remained somewhat under the radar in recent years, so Traitor is his most high-profile movie in a long time. Back in 2001, he starred in Christopher Nolan’s breakout crime thriller Memento followed by two high-profile studio movies based on literary classics, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Time Machine, but since then, he’s mainly appeared in smaller independent films like the recent Death Defying Acts, last year’s First Snow and others. His only movie to make more than $2 million since 2002 was the family movie Two Brothers. The main cast is rounded out by Jeff Daniels, who has done dozens of movies, both dramatic and comedic, including more than a few serious adult movies like George Clooney’s Good Night, And Good Luck and The Hours, both Oscar contenders. The cast is filled out with Indian, Asian and Middle Eastern actors including Said Taghmaoui, who appeared in The Kite Runner and earlier this year in Vantage Point, but who’ll really explode next year when he plays Breaker in G.I. Joe. Another featured role is played by British actress Archie Panjabi who actually appeared in The Constant Gardener as well as Angelina Jolie’s A Mighty Heart.
The presence of adults looking for intelligent fare might have been why Focus Features released Fernando Meirelles’ The Constant Gardener over Labor Day a few years ago to considerable success, making roughly $13 million in its first six days. Some might have felt it opened too early before the fall awards season to get taken seriously at the Oscars, yet it was nominated in four categories including writing, score and editing, plus Rachel Weisz won an Oscar for her “supporting” role in the movie. While it’s uncertain whether the fledgling distributor Overture Films sees this as a potential awards movie, The Constant Gardener suffered the long-term in theaters by opening early so that its nominations helped its DVD release more than its theatrical. Even so, Traitor is taking a similar tact in hopes of offering something different for older moviegoers over the extended holiday weekend, and it offers a strong dramatic cast that will appeal to those not looking for yet another comedy. (Focus is going the comedy route this year by expanding Steve Coogan’s Hamlet 2.)
On the one hand, Jeffrey Nachmanoff is an exciting new filmmaker, but he’s also an unknown quantity and movies like this are so much about the cast and the director, which is why Oscar-nominated Fernando Meirelles helming The Constant Gardener was received with such interest a few years ago. The resulting movie is a hard to describe because it’s so rich and complex, much more than the “Bourne” movies, plus it also has lots of twists that makes it hard to talk about the movie without spoiling it, something that could make it hard for journalists and critics to talk about the movie. (Believe me, I know this from first-hand experience.) The other major issue facing the movie, which wasn’t something “Constant Gardener” had to worry about, is that the subject matter of the movie deals with terrorism and Muslim issues, which might not exactly go over well in Peoria, where people aren’t as open to movies that humanize the people who the government is constantly trying to get us to fear. There’s a lot more to this movie than that, but we’ve definitely seen lesser returns on political movies the more we’ve seen as proven last year by the disappointing theatrical showing for Paul Haggis’ In the Valley of Elah, Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs and Gavin Hood’s Rendition, all star-studded political dramas released within months of each other. At least Traitor is being sold more on the action and intrigue to make it look more like the “Bourne” movies or Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana with George Clooney and Matt Damon, which did relatively well despite its difficult subject matter. Sony also had a decent hit earlier this year with Vantage Point, a similarly intelligent political thriller with a terrorist subplot, so it’s not like American moviegoers are completely adverse to seeing action movies set in the real world.
Still, Traitor is very much relying both on reviews and buzz among those looking for something different in order to succeed. Maybe it’s not too surprising that Overture is opening this on Wednesday, much like The Constant Gardener did a few years back, and that will be the key to building up some buzz and word-of-mouth for the weekend. They’re opening it slightly wider in roughly 1,800 theaters presumably more focused on bigger cities on the East and West Coasts and not so much in suburbs or the middle of the country where a movie like this might not have as much interest.
Why I Should See It: A really strong political thriller with a great cast is a nice change from the dumb comedies and action movies we usually get in late August, isn’t it?
Starring Gary Owens, Ryan Pinkston, Drake Bell, Kevin Covais, Andrew Caldwell, Haley Bennett, Nick Zano, Camille Mana
Directed by Deb Hagan (Pee Shy – no, I don’t know what that is either); Written by Dan Callahan and Adam Ellison (upcoming Demoted)
Tagline: “Best. Weekend. Ever.” (I guess they didn’t go see College then…)
Plot Summary: Three high school seniors (Drake Bell, Andrew Caldwell and Kevin Covais) visit the local campus college they hope to attend anticipating a weekend full of parties, and they’re subjected to all sorts of humiliations by the local troublemaking fraternity where they hope to pledge, but hoping to impress some older sorority girls, the guys plan to get revenge on their hazers.
I keep looking at the poster for this movie from all different angles to try and spot the “National Lampoon” that seems to be missing from the title, but it seems pointless, because it’s doubtful they will ever fess up to being responsible for this long-delayed movie that hopes to tackle material handled classically in movies like Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds and others. In fact, the latest college road comedy is from Element Films, the production company whose low-budget comedy Waiting… turned a nice profit with a total theatrical gross of just $15 million three years ago. That movie’s distributor Lionsgate went ahead with plans to distribute this college road comedy, but then the movie has been sitting on the shelf for the good part of the year after having been slated for a March release, before being systematically dropped and picked up for distribution by MGM, who seem to be dumping it at the end of summer against far too much comedic competition.
If there was any movie this weekend with less known talent than Disaster Movie, it’s this one, the only potential “name” being that of Drake Bell, star of Nickelodeon’s popular show “Drake & Josh” along with Josh Peck from The Wackness; he also appeared earlier this year in the main role of Superhero Movie which didn’t fare as well as other recent spoof comedies. Otherwise, there’s lots of young actors and actresses who few people will have ever heard of, from Ryan Pinkston of “Quintuplets” to Andrew Callwell, one of the kids in Owen Wilson’s comedy flop Drillbit Taylor. Some might recognize Nick Zano, one of the teens’ frat tormenters, from the show “What I Like About You”, but the only other recognizable face may be that of Kevin Covais, a contestant on “American Idol” who became known as “Chicken Little.” (Take that, Kim Kardashian! You’re not the only reality nobody who can get an acting role in a movie!)
The movie follows in the long tradition of raunchy college comedies that have tried to mimic the success of the comedy classic National Lampoon’s Animal House thirty years ago (wow!). In recent years, the people behind the once-great magazine have been responsible for many college comedies in recent years, just few have been very good or done very well. Ryan Reynolds’ had some success with National Lampoon’s Van Wilder in 2002, but its recent sequel starring Kal “Kumar” Penn bombed, and there’s nothing to say that College might find more success due to the spate of successful R-Rated comedies we’ve seen in the past few weeks, all which have much bigger stars than this movie. Two movies that have found success with a similar premise as College are the two early comedies from Todd Phillips, the 2000 sleeper hit Road Trip and its follow-up Old School. Otherwise, there have been lots of dogs and stinkers in the last few years, including PCU starring David Spade, and the back-to-back 2002 flops Slackers and Sorority Boys, which opened right before “Van Wilder.”
Basically, this movie is another case of “The Geeks vs. The Greeks” which we’ve already seen too many times, including in last week’s surprise hit The House Bunny, but what that had going was the niche it created for teen and 20-something women. This is just another movie like the ones mentioned above that doesn’t seem to offer very much new to the genre.
Like Disaster Movie and Babylon A.D., the comedy isn’t being screened for critics knowing full well that they’ll probably hate it, so what’s the point? MGM are cutting their losses and just dumping the movie hoping that the commercials and trailers will be enough to get the 15 to 20 male crowd into theaters. In this case, it will probably backfire since it has a very weak marketing campaign, and it’s opening in a market teaming with comedies, both PG-13 and R-rated, many that will be getting word-of-mouth and repeat business over the holiday. It’s going to hurt even worse when this bombs against Disaster Movie, released by the movie’s previous distributor Lionsgate.
Why I Should See It: Dude, if you think I’m going to steer anyone into seeing this, you really have been hitting the keg way too hard.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Sukiyaki Western Django (First Look)
I’ve been a hesitant fan of prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike for a bunch of years, and in fact, he was one of the first filmmakers I interviewed for ComingSoon.net about four years ago. While he’s become famous for releasing two or three movies every year, he’s also known for his strange Japanese genre films which are always remembered for their ultraviolence and gore, some being so disturbing that they stick with you for a long time, which is usually the case with Audition. Oddly, his greatest claim to fame these days, both here and in Japan, is the fact that he directed the original One Missed Call, which was remade earlier this year, but it was a surprisingly mainstream effort from him. Not so with Sukiyaki Western Django that continues Miike’s love for setting various genres on its ear, as seen by his take on fantasy in The Great Yokai War and his bizarro gangster movie Ichi the Killer. Now he’s experimenting with the Western genre, creating a movie that’s as visually stunning as some of his previous efforts but twisting Western stereotypes to make something that seems more like his kind of movie. Stylistically, it’s similar to last year’s Thai Western Tears of the Black Tiger but it’s a better movie with a stronger story and characters… oh, and I guess it would be good to point out that it’s almost entirely in English, except that most of the actors are Japanese so the lines are delivered in broken English. It’s a strange decision that takes some getting used to, but once you do, it greatly adds to the charm of the movie, which has a lot of strange characters, as you’d expect from any Miike movie, but thrives on the storytelling which allows for some wild gunfights between the two gangs of the town, the Heike in red garb and the Genji gang who are dressed all in white. There’s a complicated story based around the lone gunman, played by Hideaki Ito, and the trouble he awakens when he comes to town, but the real stars of the movie are the two ladies, Yoshino Kimura and Kaori Momoi, both who kick ass when given the chance. Even though there’s some great action, the movie is always about the humor and some of the funny bits including the sheriff caught between the two gangs, a Gollum-like performance by Teruyuki Kagawa. Few of these actors will be known by American audiences but Miike gets the most out of them while delivering on his amazing Western vision. In fact, the weakest link in the movie is the recurring appearance by Quentin Tarantino as the gunslinger Piringo, who continues to show why directors and screenwriters shouldn’t try to act, unless they’ve spent years doing it like George Clooney. Either way, if you’re in New York and looking for something really strange and wonderfully funny, than you’re better off seeing this than some of the comedies listed above. It opens in New York at the Landmark Sunshine on Friday and then in L.A. on September 12.
Also in Limited Release:
Goal II: Living the Dream (Peace Arch) Jamue Collet-Sera (House of Wax) takes on the long-delayed second chapter of the soccer trilogy starring Kuno Becker as a young man from California who is on his way to becoming an international soccer star after joining the popular team Real Madrid. It opens in select cities almost a year after it opened in the U.K.
Young People F*cking (THINKFilm) – Martin Gero’s much-discussed festival favorite follows four couples on a single night where they try to hook up and have sex. It opens at the Village East Cinemas in New York on Friday and in L.A. on Sept. 12.
Year of the Fish (Gigantic Pictures) – Dave Kaplan’s Chinatown fairy tale about a young woman who comes to New York from China and ends up working in a seedy massage parlor, but whose dreams of escaping that life come closer to realization when she’s given a magical goldfish and when she meets a charming musician, played by Ken Leung from “Lost.” Filmed traditionally and then animated in a similar way as Waking Life, it opens in New York at the Angelika on Friday
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
My Mexican Shivah (Emerging Pictures) – Alejandro Springall’s comedy follows the crazy week in the life of an eccentric Jewish family based in Mexico City after they sit shivah for the death of the head of the household. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinemas, as do the next two movies…
I Served the King of England (Sony Pictures Classics) – Based on the novel by Bohumil Hrabal, Jiri Menzel’s romantic comedy centers around an old-world Prague hotel and a waiter who creates opportunities for himself in order to attain his goal of becoming a millionaire. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinemas and Lincoln Square Cinemas, as well as in L.A. on Friday. (This was erroneously posted as opening last week.)
Mini-Review: Having won an Oscar forty years ago with “Closely Watched Trains,” Jiri Menzel’s skill and experience as a filmmaker is once again clearly on display in this gorgeous and often surreal memoir, conveying the recollections of Jan Dite from his time as a waiter in Prague’s fancier and most exclusive restaurants and hotels, all in hopes of one day becoming a millionaire. For the most part, it’s a light, whimsical film that bounces between the present and the past, the latter depicted much like a silent movie at times with Ivan Barnev giving a decidedly Buster Keatonesque performance as the younger Dite, a wispy sprite of a man who entertains himself by dropping coins to watch rich people crawl around on the floor to retrieve them. He’s a character with charm for sure, enough that it’s not hard to overlook his opportunistic nature and questionable motivations for doing things that help him rise through the ranks at the expense of others. Even so, Dite’s stories are fascinating and Menzel’s recreation of the city’s gorgeous pre-WW2 architecture is combined with images you’re not likely to forget too soon, like a group of rich old men waltzing around a dining room with plates of food. If you were to believe Menzel’s recollections of Prague during this time, it was a city comprised solely of sexy young women cavorting with horny old rich men, but very few filmmakers are able to so fluidly mix reality and fantasy in such a charming way. The present-day scenes with the older Dite, played by Oldrich Kaiser, are quite a counterpoint, as a pretty younger woman forces him to reflect back on his early sexual encounters, and the jumps between times are also done in a way that never takes away from the story. Once the Germans show up in Prague, the film takes a darker turn as Jan becomes involved with a pretty German girl who has aspirations of serving her new Führer, and she helps spare her blonde lover from the fate suffered by many of his co-workers. Even during this departure, Menzel is able to retain some of the film’s clever humor, as well as revisiting some of the earlier visual themes, but watching a tranquil image of gorgeous nude Aryan women cavorting in a pool changing to something far more disturbing is not something easy to forget. For the most part, the use of nudity and sexuality in all its forms is done in an organic way that’s never obtrusive, exploitive or off-putting. The lovely actresses surrounding the older and younger Dite are all great, although they’re often little more than sex objects, the exception being Julia Jentsch who is well-matched with Barnev as Dite’s Aryan wife; the actor who plays Dite’s older maitre d’ at the restaurant is also quite good in his featured scenes. Combining the imaginative visuals of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Peter Greenaway with the quirky characterizations of Aki Kaurismäki, Mirzel has created a sumptuous feast of delicious food and sexy women that glamorizes pre-Communist Prague in an original and charming manner. Rating: 8/10
Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild! (TLA Releasing) – The guys from Another Gay Movie are back, this time traveling down to Ft. Lauderdale for Spring Break and the annual “Gays Gone Wild” contest that has them trying to get the most action while dealing with all sorts of obstacles. Once again directed by Todd Stephens, it opens in New York, L.A. and Ft. Lauderdale on Friday.
Next week, the summer’s over and the month of September kicks off with just one movie as Nicolas Cage stars in the Pang Brothers’ remake of their own action-thriller Bangkok Dangerous (Lionsgate).