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.
1. Knowing (Summit Entertainment) – $21.5 million N/A (up 2.1 million)
2. I Love You, Man (DreamWorks/Paramount) – $19.6 million N/A (up 1.3 million)
3. Duplicity (Universal) – $14.5 million N/A (down .1 million)
4. Race to Witch Mountain (Disney) – $13.5 million -45% (same)
5. Watchmen (Warner Bros.) – $8.5 million -52% (same)
6. Last House on the Left (Rogue Pictures) – $6.5 million -54% (same)
7. Taken (20th Century Fox) – $5.3 million -20% (down .1 million)
8. Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight) – $3.3 million -34% (down .2 million)
9. Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail (Lionsgate) – $3.0 million -42% (same)
10. Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Sony) – $2.0 million -36% (down .2 million)
This might be one of the better weekends for new movies, but it’s also one of the tougher weekends to call since there are three strong new movies, each with their own ways of appealing to different demographics. There’s a pretty varied mix of strong premises and plenty of star power to go around, and two of the new movies are comedies, which have been thriving in these trying times.
Even with that in mind, Alex Proyas’ apocalyptic sci-fi thriller Knowing (Summit Entertainment), starring Nicholas Cage, might squeak into the lead, having the clear theater count advantage over the others, as well as an intriguing action-laced premise that might bring in an equal balance of ages and genders, giving it a slight boost. Even so, it will probably have the hardest time maintaining its business as it takes the normal plunge genre flicks tend to have after people rush out to see them opening night.
Its toughest competition for the older teen and college crowd will come in the form of John Hamburg’s R-rated relationship comedy I Love You, Man (DreamWorks/Paramount), reuniting Paul Rudd and Jason Segel after their 2008 comedy hits Role Models and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The success of those comedies have given the comic actors serious pull, and we’ll have to see if the strange high concept premise might attract the same size audiences that flocked to Judd Apatow’s movies or if this is another disappointing showing for a Paramount comedy. The comedy may lose Friday to the action-thriller, but expect it to gain ground from word-of-mouth over the weekend and ultimately do strong business over the coming weeks.
Tony (Michael Clayton) Gilroy’s second movie, the espionage comedy Duplicity (Universal), has the most star power of the weekend with Julia Roberts–her first live action movie in over a year–joined by Clive Owen–his first corporate espionage movie since last month. The strong chemistry between the two will certainly make this a strong draw for older women, who might not think much of the other two movie offerings. It probably will bring in more women than men based on the commercials marketing it more as a romantic comedy, though it should be able to maintain business over the next month.
(To be perfectly honest, this weekend can go a lot of different ways at this point, though one can expect that all three movies will open in the $14 to 20 million range with either I Love You, Man or Knowing squeaking into the top spot.)
We have two “Chosen Ones” worth mentioning this week: Steve McQueen’s debut Hunger (IFC Films), starring Michael Fassbender as IRA leader Bobby Sands, and Sean McGinley’s comedy The Great Buck Howard (Magnolia), starring Colin Hanks and John Malkovich. You can read about both of them below.
While Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! (20th Century Fox) remained on top for a second weekend with $25 million, Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns (Lionsgate) opened with roughly $20 million, just below his previous movie “Why Did I Get Married?” for second place. The Asian horror remake Shutter (20th Century Fox) and Owen Wilson’s return in Drillbit Taylor (Paramount) each opened with roughly $10.4 million, the former coming out slightly ahead for third and fourth place. Opening on Wednesday in less than 300 theaters, the Mexican immigration saga Under the Same Moon (Fox Searchlight/Weinstein Co.) was a surprise entry into the Top 10 with $2.8 million grossed, averaging $10.4k per site.
THE BATTLE CRY
Right now, the 2009 South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival is taking place in Austin, Texas and I kind of wish I could be there, since it seems like there’s a lot of fun stuff going on, including the debuts of new movies from Sam Raimi and Sacha Baron Cohen. All the things I’ve been hearing from out of there have me reminiscing back a few months when I was attending the Sundance Film Festival in Park City for the third year in a row, and I started wondering whether the abundance of film festivals is necessarily a good thing.
That’s why this week’s Battle Cry is called “The Problem with Film Festivals.”
Don’t get me wrong. I love being able to go to film festivals whenever I can. They offer a lot of opportunities to see movies that people might never get to see and early looks at movies that might not see the light of day for a long time, something we’ve been seeing a lot lately, as many of the movies from last year’s Sundance Film Festival are finally getting releases this month and next. Film Festivals also make great markets for independently-financed films to be seen by potential distributors, plus they’re a great place to hang out with similarly-minded people who love movies as much as you do.
So film festival definitely have a lot of worth, but for all the hype behind the importance of these festivals–usually built-up by the media hoping to guarantee their press credential to see more free movies the following year–one wonders if festivals are still doing what they’re intended to do, which is to present new films and filmmakers to new audiences. Every year, more and more journalists flock to each and every film festival on a regular basis, and even the smallest of these fests are being considered “important” and yet you constantly hear from those who’ve attended for years how most of them are faltering. For example: “Sundance has lost its way and is more about studios and stars than actual film lovers,” is something you might hear/read every year. And yet, all these big media outlets will go to Sundance invariably looking for the movies with the biggest stars, especially those who are appearing in big summer tentpole movies (yes, I’m talking to you MTV) rather than trying to showcase new or interesting filmmakers that really could use the boost.
I think the biggest problem with film festivals is that all the critics and moviegoers in attendance are seeing far too many movies, they’re completely burnt out and they’re trying to make wise decisions about whether the movies are good or bad. Much of the confusion comes from regular conversations about movies between colleagues that can sometimes be voracious or heated but often turn into something like a hive mind where everyone feels the need to agree with the collective. Even so, there are very few movies that everyone agrees on, and festivals set up a very bad situation where everyone is racing to be the first one to comment or write about a movie in order to set the status of a movie before others.
This year, there was a big group of my colleagues who loved (500) Days of Summer, a new Fox Searchlight romantic comedy starring Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, and then others who thought it paled in comparison to Greg Mottola’s upcoming Adventureland, another studio release. Obviously, things like that come down to personal preference, but when you have dozens of okay movies (or 20 to 25, as is the number most attending critics or press will see), then it becomes harder to determine a ranking in a fair and critical manner.
The biggest problem with festivals comes from their very raison d’être (“reason for being”), because in trying to present movies to movielovers, screenings tend to be populated by regular local moviegoers who don’t have the critical brain to differentiate between good and bad. Combine them with the abundance of filmmakers and cast in attendance and you have screenings that are creating a false buzz for movies that are generally just okay. That’s one of the reasons why so many studios are rushing to unveil their wares there, hoping that the critics in attendance will be swayed by the buzzy environment that festivals always create… and in fact, it works! (So many quotes used in ads are given by critics/journalists seeing the movies for the first time at film festivals.)
One recent movie that benefited greatly from its film festival presence is Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, which really began its Oscar race at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals last year; fortunately, it was a good movie that deserved all the attention, but there was buzz before anyone had seen the movie, and that’s often what film festivals are good at generating. Then again, there was buzz for The Informers, a movie based on a book by Brett Easton Ellis featuring a supporting role by Mickey Rourke and that didn’t turn out nearly as well. I’m also reminded of how funny I thought Mike Myers’ The Love Guru when I saw footage from it at ShoWest last year and the Toronto premiere for the new movie from one of my favorite filmmakers that no amount of false buzz could help… probably because most of those involved with making the movie had cleared out before it ended.
For the past two years, I’ve analyzed the movies that played at the Sundance Film Festival to see which ones got releases and how they fared in theaters, and for all the buzz films at this past year’s Sundance, there were merely a handful that didn’t have distribution going in that ended up with distribution going out, things like Lee Daniels’ Precious comes to mind and a couple docs. Mind you, this is by no means a slam of Sundance itself, which is one of the finer festivals with programmers whose taste in films have been responsible for discovering many great filmmakers, but with South by Southwest going on right now and Tribeca just around the corner, it certainly feels like festival goers, particularly the press, don’t really learn from the past when it comes to making smart decisions.
So while I don’t want people to think I’m down on film festivals–after all, they’re still the best place to see a LOT of really good movies within a course of a few days–you do have to wonder why so many movies that play at them don’t break out and do huge business with very few exceptions. So with that in mind, will the high profile showcases of studio movies opening in the next few months make a difference if they generate positive buzz out of South by Southwest? Sure, it might help a little bit, because attending press will rave about one move or another, but knowing that a lot of that excitement comes from the chance to see a movie early with a rapt audience that’s already excited about seeing the movie, you might want to question how many of these good reviews can be trusted. (And we end there with a tease for an upcoming “Battle Cry” which is tentatively called “Who Can You Trust?”)
Knowing (Summit Entertainment)
While this sci-fi thriller from Alex Proyas (Dark City, I, Robot) might not seem immediately like the strongest movie of the weekend, it certainly might be the most intriguing, if only because the trailers and commercials keep it deliberately vague, while hinting at the large-scale global crises the movie explores. The end of the world and global disasters are things that have been of great interest to moviegoers and in a sense, this movie combines the mystery inherent in supernatural thrillers with the FX-driven action of big budget disaster movies. Then at the center of it all, you have Nic Cage, who can now officially be considered the most erratic box office star working today.
Seriously, if you look at his box office track record over the past few years, he’s been up and down with every Ghost Rider or National Treasure interspersed with a Next or a Wicker Man or a Bangkok Dangerous, movies that just don’t deliver. Certainly the fact that he can open a movie like Ghost Rider or National Treasure proves that moviegoing audiences aren’t completely adverse to seeing him in a movie, but the poor showings for some of the other movies seem to prove that it really depends on the type of movie and how they’re marketed rather than on Cage as a star. Knowing probably looks closer to Next or The Wicker Man than anything else, being that it’s a genre/science fiction film, but it’s also getting a generally better release date and bigger marketing push including a presence at the two major comic cons this year.
That doesn’t say much though and only the good thing going for the movie is that the premise is an intriguing one dealing with global disasters and Armageddon, things that have been of constant interest to a variety of moviegoers. It’s strange to think that in these troubling times, people would want to see a movie like this as escapist fare, but there have been plenty of comparable movies last year, most of them from 20th Century Fox. The most obvious one is the recent remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, which opened with $30 million but then tanked afterwards, or another Fox movie from last year, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, which performed similarly. In between the two was The X-Files sequel, which bombed badly, probably due to the extended time since the show ended, though Knowing has a similar vibe as the original show.
Having Alex Proyas at the helm certainly gives the movie a bit more credibility among genre film fans–he was responsible for two popular genre flicks, Dark City and The Crow–though it’s not exactly something to sell other moviegoers on the film. Neither is Cage’s co-star Rose Byrne, who has appeared in a variety of movies including Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy and has appeared regularly on the FX show “Damages.”
What will probably keep this from topping the $20 million mark are the number of other movies opening this week, and the movie certainly has a lot of stiff competition for older and younger women who might be more interested in the comedies being offered. With that in mind, fledgling distributor Summit is releasing the movie into over 3,000 theaters, which will probably not be the case with the other movies, and the question is whether getting the movie into that many theaters means that the movie will be of interest in every region or whether business will just be more spread out. Certainly, the title Knowing is not great and as vague as Summit’s last release Push and that’s often a big factor in a movie bringing in casual business. Although some might think the premise sounds cheesy, there are more than enough money shots in the commercials to make it look worth seeing, but the movie isn’t going to get many good reviews so by Saturday, word will probably get around how dull or bad the movie is, so except a decent Friday showing but not much in terms of legs, especially as the reviews start getting out and hurting the movie, much like they did some of the other movies mentioned above.
Why I Should See It: The end of the earth is suddenly something everyone has been pondering, allowing movies like this to be of as much or more interest than it was during the disaster movie trend of the late ’90s.
I Love You, Man (DreamWorks/Paramount)
Mini-Review: A significant step up from the romantic comedy “Along Came Polly,” John Hamburg seems to have found his niche by mixing different comedy subgenres to create something surprisingly unique and extremely funny. Sure, most of the humor comes from out of a very simple high concept premise of a guy who doesn’t have other male friends, but needs to find one in time for his wedding. The role of Peter Klaven is an easy one for Paul Rudd to slip into, because he’s easily believable as a safe metrosexual ladies’ man. After the ubiquitous montage of man-dates gone wrong with the likes of Thomas Lennon and Joe Lo Truglio playing up every guy’s worst fear, Rudd meets Jason Segel’s Sydney Fife, a womanizing philosopher who has created his own Man-cave in which to do manly things. The two of them start hanging out and bonding over their love for rocking out to Rush–the seminal rock band even makes a brief appearance–and Klaven tries to convince his fiancée (played by Rashida Jones) that the rough-edged Sydney would make a fine best man. Without a question, the film’s heart and soul lies in the chemistry between Rudd and Segel, who continue to prove their mettle as a comedy duo for our times. In fact, they’re so good on screen together it’s hard to imagine anyone else filling these roles, as much as one can imagine a premise like this lending itself to many other configurations. Sure, one can say that the movie follows some of the same traditions and formulas of most romantic comedies, albeit inserting two men who are involved non-sexually, but the film is extremely well-written–the natural dialogue seamlessly blended with improvised bits and pop culture references that makes it feel very current–and there are enough different characters and situations to keep one from ever getting too comfortably bored with the duo. On top of that, Hamburg has formed a veritable comedy supergroup around the duo, consisting of members of most of the most popular American comedy groups of the last decade, including both Jane Curtin and Andy Samberg representing bookends of “Saturday Night Live” history. Andy Samberg has some funny moments as Rudd’s closeted gay brother, especially when teamed with J.K. Simmons as their father, but the real scene stealing comes in the form of Jon Favreau and Jaime Pressley who absolutely kill as an arguing married couple. The film sometimes veers awkwardly into low-brow territory–puke and masturbation both make mandatory appearances–but there’s also plenty of moments that will be quoted endlessly to people who just won’t get the jokes unless they’ve seen the movie. (“Slappin’ Da Bass!” has the potential of becoming one of those Borat-like catchphrases that won’t go away for a long time.) Clearly, Judd Apatow finally has found some competition in the department of seamlessly mixing raunchy hilarity with truly touching human moments, as “I Love You, Man” is probably the closest a filmmaker has gotten to capturing Apatow’s knack for creating that difficult to achieve balance. Having Rudd and Segel clearly helps, and they insure that this one of the few touchy-feely relationship comedies that will probably play as well or better with guys than it does with women. Rating: 8.5/10
This column has been around long enough that we’ve talked a lot about the R-rated comedy phenomenon, both movies that have done big business and those that haven’t. It’s really still a fledgling genre that has seen many huge hits but also a few disappointments as studios try to jump on the bandwagon by gearing their comedy fare more towards that crowd. Of course, the filmmaker with the most success at this genre is Judd Apatow, who has written, produced and directed 12 movies since his directorial debut The 40-Year-Old Virgin in 2005. He doesn’t have anything to do with this movie except that it’s the success of some of his biggest films that has allowed studios to start taking the thought of R-rated comedies finding an audience seriously. Of course, the Farrellys already knew this when they made There’s Something About Mary over ten years ago, but the potential for realistically raunchy comedies to find an audience certainly has picked up in recent years.
While filmmaker John Hamburg is somewhat new to the R-rated comedy game, he does have a number of popular comedies under his belt, especially the romantic comedy Along Came Polly, which did very well by teaming Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston. It was the fourth movie that Hamburg made with Stiller after writing Meet the Parents and it sequel as well as co-writing Stiller’s Zoolander. Hamburg does have a connection to Apatow, having directed a couple of episodes of “Undeclared” shortly after Meet the Parents. (Oddly, another one of the show’s directors, Greg Mottola, has his own new movie Adventureland coming up in two short weeks.)
For his first movie as a director in five years, Hamburg has reunited Jason Segel and Paul Rudd from Segel’s 2008 sleeper comedy hit Forgetting Sarah Marshall, in which Rudd stole many scenes as a spacey surfer. Since then Rudd went on to co-star with Seann William Scott in the even more successful Role Models, which finally erased any stigma of him being able to lead a movie after the romantic comedy Over Her Dead Body bombed earlier that year. Other than Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Segel hasn’t done much. He had a key supporting role in Apatow’s Knocked Up and he starred in both of Apatow’s failed television shows, but he’s probably best known for his years on the CBS hit sitcom “How I Met Your Mother,” though it’s still not clear how much of that popularity accounted for the success of “Sarah Marshall.”
Hamburg has surrounded the duo with one of the most amazing comedy ensemble casts, maybe ever, or at least since Apatow’s last movie. Playing Rudd’s wife is Rashida Jones, who appeared for a number of seasons on “The Office” as Jim Halper’s back-up, and her best friends are played by Jaime Pressly from the NBC hit “My Name Is Earl” and Iron Man director Jon Favreau, following his scene-stealing supporting role in buddy Vince Vaughn’s last movie Four Christmases. There are many other familiar faces including “SNL” cast member Andy Samberg in a smaller role (which is why he’s barely shown much in the trailers and commercials) and “SNL” vet Jane Curtin, veteran actor J.K. Simmons (Juno, the “Spider-Man” movies and “Oz”), as well as former members of “The State,” Thomas Lennon and Joe Lo Truglio. (The latter is the guy with the high voice called “Elmo” in the latest commercials.)
DreamWorks and distributor Paramount certainly have something to prove with this movie, which is that Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder was no fluke and that they can have a hit with an R-rated comedy if it has a strong cast and premise. Most recently, the two companies tried their hand at R-rated comedy with Ben Stiller’s The Heartbreak Kid directed by the Farrelly Brothers, but that failed to find its mark, and that was followed by equally disappointing showings for their 2008 comedies Drillbit Taylor and The Love Guru, both which ended up around the $32 million mark despite being PG. (There’s also the star-studded Strange Wilderness which came and went without ever entering the Top 10.) Before Tropic Thunder, it had been a long time since Paramount had a comedy hit, the most notable one being the romantic comedy Failure to Launch, and it’s hard to say whether they can market a comedy that can bring in the masses in the same way Universal and Sony have done with the Apatow films.
As is the case with so many R-rated comedies, one can only show so much in television commercials, and because of this, the commercials have mainly focused on the high concept premise and the zaniness of the situations, something that will probably detract older audiences, especially women, from being very interested. On top of that, the movie basically looks like a relationship comedy between two dudes, which might turn off any guys who might normally be interested in a raunchy comedy. Younger women on the other hand already dig Rudd and Segel from their previous movies, so they might be interested in their presence, even though this isn’t playing up the romantic angle that played such a large part in the Apatow films from which they’re known.
The confused marketing that’s unclear of its audience makes this a much harder sell than some of Apatow’s movies despite the strong premise and cast. Because of this, Paramount has been screening the movie heavily to get early critical backing and even had its premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival last week, helping the movie finding a lot of vocal supporters. They should help generate interest and word-of-mouth for opening weekend and then the movie should also get a nice bump from spring break among the older high school and college age students who’ll want to get together for a laugh. These things should allow the movie to sustain business over the next few weeks, much like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, although compared to that movie, this one might seem relatively tame in terms of raunch.
Why I Should See It: This could possibly be one of the funniest comedies of the year, at least so far!
Review (Coming Soon!)
If there’s one thing that Universal Pictures has thrived at, it’s spy movies, whether it’s the “Bourne” trilogy or the 2007 sleeper hit Breach or some of their holiday Oscar fare such as Robert De Niro’s The Good Shepherd. Universal just loves their spies almost as much or more than they do movies set in the ’30s, so it makes sense that when Tony Gilroy, writer or co-writer of most of those “Bourne” movies and the Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind Michael Clayton starring George Clooney, was ready to make his second movie, and it dealt with spies, he’d go to them. Gilroy’s acclaimed previous movie debuted in October 2007 with an opening of roughly $10 million, which was seen as a major disappointment considering Clooney’s star power, but over the next few months, it started getting more notice from awards, ultimately grossing $50 million before leaving theaters. The awards attention received by Gilroy’s first movie has certainly gotten interest in what he does next, which makes it odd that his name is not even mentioned in ads for the movie.
It’s not often one might consider a movie starring Julia Roberts as the underdog in a weekend, especially considering the billions of ticket sales she’s single-handedly responsible for selling during the late ’80s and early ’90s, but having only appeared in one live action movie since Ocean’s Twelve in late 2004, one has to wonder whether she still has what it takes to bring people out to the box office. All three of Roberts’ previous non-“Ocean” live action movies have been released during the December Oscar season, but none of them had made waves opening weekend, Mona Lisa Smile opening the highest with just $11.5 million, though it, like 2007 Charlie Wilson’s War made up their business over the holidays, ending with roughly $65 million each. Other than those movies, Roberts had been doing a lot of voicework, including playing a spider in Charlotte’s Web, another holiday hit, and an ant in The Ant Bully. One wonders whether the fans of the actress who have helped eleven of Roberts’ movies between 1989 and 2001 gross over $90 million are ready to embrace Roberts’ return to the type of fare for which she became so popular.
She’s been teamed for the second time with the sauve and debonaire Clive Owen, who is coming off the disappointing showing for his last political thriller The International, which has grossed less than $30 million despite a strong marketing push. The two previously faced off against each other in Mike Nichol’s Closer, a far darker drama, which also opened in early December Oscar season but only grossed $33 million despite an Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win for Owen’s performance in the movie. Even so, the movie’s biggest selling point, without question, are its two stars, which is why the movie’s posters basically just have pictures of each of them with the name of the movie. Then again, if teaming Julia Roberts with Tom Hanks over the lucrative holiday season can only bring in $65 million, it doesn’t seem likely that teaming Roberts with Owen in March might make much more.
The good thing is that both actors are generally loved by women over 30 who will be less interested in some of the other movies offered this week, and this will probably seem like the more obvious date movie for the weekend. With that in mind, Gilroy’s latest it’s being sold as a wacky romantic comedy involving spies and con games, which is probably a smart move, since it’s a similar approach used to sell the “Ocean’s” movies, though without the three big stars (Clooney, Pitt or Damon) who helped bring women into see that. What might not come across in the ads (for good reason) is that this is an intelligent look at corporate competitive intelligence, which uses a tricky non-linear storytelling method that might throw off anyone expecting nothing more than a fun, light comedy.
It’s a shame because there’s probably a lot of smart moviegoers who might be interested in what Gilroy does as his follow-up to “Clayton,” yet Universal needs to market it in a way that it might bring in the widest audience and that’s to play up the romance angle. Either way, this doesn’t seem like a movie that people rush out to see as much as one that can bring in steady business over the next few weeks, so expect it to do just that. Moderate opening in third place and then solid showings for the rest of March and April.
Why I Should See It: Chemistry is the name of this game in this clever spin on the spy comedy from Tony Gilroy that creates a perfect match in Julia Roberts and Clive Owen.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Because this really is one of the best weekends in a long time for new movies, we’re going to go with two very different “Chosen Ones” this week, two movies that probably won’t appeal to everyone, but were highlights of last year’s film festivals for me. (Irony, huh?)
Hunger (IFC Films)
This directorial debut from experimental multimedia artist Steve McQueen got a lot of attention on the festival circuit last fall, first at Telluride, followed quickly by the Toronto and New York Film Festivals. It was at the latter where I finally had a chance to see it, and it’s not an easy movie to watch if you’re not prepared for the way McQueen decided to capture the jarring and shocking conditions faced by IRA prisoners in Northern Ireland’s Maze Prison in the early ’80s, which lead to the famous Bobby Sands hunger strike.
At its core, the film follows a three-act structure, but it’s by no means one in the conventional sense. The first act shows the terrible conditions at the prison and the degrading and humiliating conditions the prisoners are forced to endure as they try to stick up for their rights. As the film starts, we meet a young lad who has just been brought to the prison and is immediately stripped of his dignity as he’s cast naked into the prison’s sh*t-covered prison cells. Over the first act, we see first-hand the battle of wills between the guards and the inmates, who use complex methods to pass messages and communicate with each other much to the chagrin of their jailers. The camera never flinches at showing the brutal treatment of the prisoners in an extremely graphic way, something that’s often hard to watch. Early in the film, we also meet one of the head guards at the prison who lives in a state of paranoia as a constant target for IRA assassins who are commissioned to take out anyone involved with the poor treatment of prisoners. Much of this first act is even more powerful with the realization of how much of it occurs sans dialogue.
After finally meeting Michael Fassbender’s Bobby Sands midway through the movie, we become a fly-on-the-wall to a conversation between him and a preacher, who’s trying to talk him out of starting a hunger strike that will probably leave Sands dead. This conversation is filmed in a single take unedited 15-minute shot of the two men, followed by a riveting soliloquy by Fassbender about an experience from his youth. This is clearly where Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s writing talents come into play, as the scene is staged very much like a two-man play, and it’s quite a departure from the silence of the first act. (McQueen uses very little if any incidental music in the film, which also gives the film a uniquely stark feel.)
The last act focuses on Sands during his fast, and as we see his body wither away and deteriorate, it’s impossible not to be impressed (and shocked) by what Fassbender must have endured physically to pull off such a feat. After delivering the dialogue in the previous act so brilliantly, it’s clear this is the performance of a lifetime for Fassbender, one that’s not to be missed.
With that in mind, what annoys me slightly is IFC’s decision to give this a low-key one-week release in L.A. last year to try to make it eligible for the Oscar race, except that without opening it in other markets, it blew its chance at getting the critical recognition needed to be taken seriously for awards. (Fortunately, Fassbender is still eligible for this year’s critics awards at least in New York, but it seems a little too late to get people to see the movie in theaters.)
Hunger isn’t an easy film to watch by any means, though it clearly marks the debut of a filmmaker who is a true artist, McQueen’s eye for creating vivid shots and sequences keeping you riveted to the screen as much as you want to look away. Put it this way. Usually, if a filmmaker deemed to spend more than a few minutes on a single shot of a janitor mopping up a hallway that’s been flooded with the urine of jailed prisoners, I’d be calling it “artistic wank fodder,” but in the hands of McQueen, it’s something you just can’t peel your eyes away from, and it’s fascinating how he’s able to create something so gorgeous and unforgettable out of such ugliness.
It will open in New York at the IFC Center on Friday as well as debut on “IFC In Theatres” Video-on-Demand, and then it will slowly roll out to other cities including Boston and L.A. (3/27), Washington D.C.
And if that’s way too dark for your tastes, we also offer…
The Great Buck Howard (Magnolia)
Interview with Sean McGinly (Later This Week)
If you’ve read my thoughts from last year’s Sundance Film Festival above, then you can clearly tell how much I love this movie. It was a high point of the festival for me, and having seen it again recently and having the film affect me in the same way, I really feel it’s something special that has the potential to find a much larger audience than it probably ever will, which is kind of a shame. Based on the real-life experiences of writer/director Sean McGinly when he was the road manager for The Amazing Kreskin, this is a fun movie to watch mainly due to the characterization of the title character by John Malkovich, a high-strung flamboyant entertainer with delusions of returning to his former greatness. There’s just something really entertaining about watching Colin Hanks as Troy, a law student drop-out who has to contend with Buck Howard’s eccentricities as they go on the road to all these Podunk towns and venues. You’ll be even more impressed by the performance as you’re watching the movie and find yourself actually liking Buck Howard, even though he rarely shows any redeeming qualities whatsoever. The rest of the cast is good, including passing appearances by Emily Blunt as a cynical New York publicist who gives Troy some perspective on the life he’s created for himself and Steve Zahn as a local Cincinnati hick who contributes to the worst stop on Buck’s tour. There’s many funny bits that will surprise, including a number of cameos that are best not known about before going into the movie. (And yes, one of them is the famous movie star father of one of the film’s primary cast.) There’s just so many wonderful moments in this movie that will make you laugh and smile and entertain you in ways that very few studio movies are capable of doing, and here’s hoping that audiences give it a chance even though it hasn’t really gotten the critical backing of other movies that have come out of Sundance.
It opens in select theaters on Friday, although you can also see it on Magnolia’s normal Video-on-Demand.
And I gotta say that this only missed being considered a “Chosen One” only because it opened against the two slightly stronger movies above. Any other weekend, and this surely would have been a “Chosen One” itself.
Sin Nombre (Focus Features)
Review (Coming Soon!)
Also in Limited Release:
Angel (IFC Films) – François (Swimming Pool, 8 Women) Ozon’s first English language film set in Edwardian England follows a poor girl with aspirations of being a novelist (Romola Garai) who gets achieves fame and fortune when her tasteless romance novels hit the bestseller lists. Also starring Sam Neill, Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Rampling and others, the period drama opens in select cities on Wednesday.
Bob Funk (Cinema Epoch) – Rachael Lee Cook, Grace Zabriskie, Amy Ryan and Stephen Root co-star in this romantic comedy from Craig Carlisle, which stars Michael Leydon Campbell as the title character, a divorced slacker alcoholic with a penchant for one-night stands and family problems whose life turns around when a pretty young executive (Cook) joins the family business. It opens at the Quad Cinemas in New York on Friday.
Skills Like This (Shadow Distribution) – Spencer Berger wrote and starred in this comedy about a 25-year-old whose dashed hopes to become a writer turn him to a life of crime along with his two friends as they plan a grand theft and face the consequences afterwards. It opens in New York this weekend and then on April 3 in L.A.
Opening at the Cinema Village in New York is Kyle Schickner’s STEAM starring Ruby Dee, Ally Sheedy and Kate Siegel as three women who share their lives with each other in the steam room of their local gym, while Roland Tec’s We Pedal Uphill dramatizes thirteen stories of brave individuals who risked their lives in order to do what’s right in trying times.
Next week, the month of March comes to a close with DreamWorks Animation’s first fully 3D feature film Monsters vs. Aliens, the latest PG-13 horror movie The Haunting in Connecticut (Lionsgate) and wrestler John Cena stars in the action movie 12 Rounds (20th Century Fox).
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas