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.
Updated Predictions and Comparisons – (all four-day predictions)
UPDATE: Not much of a change in terms of the new movies but a lot of the movies that have been in theaters since April are losing a lot more theaters than we expected so they’ll play a very small part in the Memorial Day box office. While Star Trek may be losing its IMAX theaters, it’s expanding into more conventional theaters so it will be the only movie besides Night at the Museum in over 4,000 theaters this weekend.
1. Terminator Salvation (Warner Bros.) – $71.6 million N/A (same)
2. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (20th Century Fox) – $68.6 million N/A (up 1.2 million)
3. Star Trek (Paramount) – $32.7 -24% (up .7 million)
4. Angels & Demons (Sony) – $27.8 -40% (down .2 million)
5. Dance Flick (Paramount/MTV Films) – $10.7 million N/A (up .3 million)
6. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (20th Century Fox) – $9.0 million -39% (same)
7. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (New Line/WB) – $5.0 million -25% (down .3 million)
8. Obsessed (Screen Gems) – $3.1 million -33% (down .7 million)
9. Monsters vs. Aliens (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $2.3 million -23% (down .4 million and up one spot)
10. 17 Again (Warner Bros.) – $2.1 million -38% (down .8 million and one spot)
It’s Memorial Day weekend, and while ye olde Weekend Warrior would rather be taking the week off and not hurting his brain cells trying to figure out how the three new movies might do, the fact that there’s a sequel, a prequel (of sorts) and a spoof comedy tells us that a lot of people will be out in theaters this weekend. If only, we could just leave our box office analysis at that.
Opening one day earlier on Thursday, McG’s franchise relaunch Terminator Salvation (Warner Bros.) starring Christian Bale would normally be the easy winner on a holiday weekend that thrives on big-budget action movies, but it has tough competition in Ben Stiller’s family sequel Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (20th Century Fox), which is following an enormous $250 million blockbuster hit. (By comparison, the previous “Terminator” movie only grossed $150 million.) It certainly will be a fierce day-to-day battle, especially with “Night at the Museum” having 400 to 500 more theaters (including IMAX!) and a much more popular comic cast, but we’ll still give the slightest edge to “Terminator,” just because it’s more like the type of fare that audiences flock to on this weekend. We expect the two movies to have less than $10 million difference between them but neither grossing more than $80 million over the four days. The last time there was such a fierce battle on Memorial Day was when Madagascar took on Adam Sandler’s remake of The Longest Yard, but this time, we see “Terminator” coming out on top.
Meanwhile, the return of the ever-expanding Wayans family to spoof comedy with Dance Flick (Paramount/MTV Films) would normally be huge if it opened in the winter/spring against weaker fare, but opening against such stronger draws that cross many demographics, this might bring in some of the younger urban audiences, probably more young women than men, but we probably won’t see another opening in the realm of the Wayans’ last couple movies.
As far as the returning movies, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek should hold up well, even though it will likely be losing a lot of its IMAX screens to “Night at the Museum.” Expect the demand to be great enough that it gets some of them back by mid-June. Otherwise, Memorial Day is a great weekend to catch up on April and early summer movies people may have missed and that’s often what many of them do rather than trying to get into crowded theatres for the new blockbusters.
Last Memorial Day saw the release of the highly-anticipated return of Harrison Ford as his most popular film role in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount). Like Terminator Salvation, it opened one day earlier on Thursday where it grossed $25 million, and then it grossed another $126 million over the four-day weekend with the busiest day being Saturday with $30.6 million with a gross of $152 million by the end of the holiday. It would go onto gross over $310 million over the summer despite the general disappointment of the fans. The top 10 grossed $212 million over the four-day weekend, and one can probably safely assume that having two strong movies should allow this weekend to do better.
Terminator Salvation (Warner Bros.)
Starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Jane Alexander, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by McG (Charlie’s Angels, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, We Are Marshall); Written by John Brancato, Michael Ferris
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Plot Summary: It’s 2018, and John Connor (Christian Bale) is the voice of the Resistance fighting against Skynet’s unstoppable Terminators and other killer machines. When Connor encounters Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a man out of time with a dark secret, the two men have to work together to infiltrate Skynet and get back Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), the young man who’ll grow up to travel back in time and sire Connor.
Mini-Review: The thought of visiting the dark and dystopian future that’s merely been hinted at in the “Terminator” movies certainly is promising, as well as seeing the origins of the war between man and machine that led Skynet to send the original Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator back in time. This future-set prequel begins with a prologue introducing Sam Worthington’s Marcus Wright, a convict on Death Row, who signs his body over to the similarly-dying Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter) for Skynet experiments. Over twenty years later, we’re thrown right into the thick of a failed attack on Skynet by John Connor and the Resistance that leaves Connor at odds with his commanding officer (Michael Ironside).
There’s no question McG generally gets what made the Cameron movies so exciting, such as the fact that these robots are unstoppable, and the film generally has a solid plot that adds more to the mythos. Unfortunately, so much of that story involves this multi-ethnic Resistance, which often comes across like the Zion scenes in the “Matrix” sequel.
One could probably safely assume that Christian Bale would be the film’s biggest draw, but he brings very little to the character of John Connor, his performance so overwrought with yelling and angst, and yet you never feel any sort of emotional resonance for the character. (Then again, following Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl, there’s not much further downwards one can go.). Still, it’s disappointing considering how much he brought to Bruce Wayne and Batman in two movies, and he sets a low bar that brings out a lot of really bad over-acting from the actors around him. That’s why it’s nice that so much of the movie focuses on Worthington’s man-out-of-time, who appears in this future completely oblivious to the war going on, and his relationship with the lovely Moon Bloodgood as Blair, his kick-ass traveling companion. There’s a constant danger of this duo stealing the movie from under Bale and the rest of the cast. While Bale might be somewhat convincing with his constant teeth gritting, young Anton Yelchin isn’t, and his own attempts at overemoting hark back to the aggravating delivery by Furlong in the second movie; it’s hard to imagine even for a second that this guy might grow up to be the Kyle Reese of the first movie. He’s constantly followed around by a young mute girl played by Jadagrace, one of those annoying kids who’s constantly underfoot and is as unnecessary to the story as Connor’s second-in-command Barnes, played by Common. On the other hand, there are smaller roles played by great veteran actors like Michael Ironside and Jane Alexander that almost make up for it, and they clearly show up the younger cast.
For the most part, there is way too much exposition, trying to pile on plot and character development, but everything is taken so seriously that it’s hard to really enjoy any of it. Where the film does succeed and where McG excels as a filmmaker is his creation of the stark environment for what is essentially a war movie, and his ability to handle the scattered explosion-filled action scenes in an exciting way makes this one fantastic looking film for sure. The introduction of a diverse array of new ‘bots like Harvesters (giant robots who collect humans for research), Hydrobots and Mototerminators certainly adds a lot to the action sequences, and it’s nice to think that they incorporated some of the final creations of the late Stan Winston. Even with the cool new robots, fans of the franchise might feel like the more common humanoid Terminators, which are so representative of the previous movies, tend to take a backseat, appearing only at the opening battle and the final fight sequence.
It’s only in that last act where you really feel like you’re watching a “Terminator” movie as Connor, Wright and their crew infiltrate Skynet to save Reese and put an end to their next plan, though even that seems to be filtered through the “Halo” video game. Of course, now that Connor has met Kyle Reese in the future, there’s the possibility of an endless time loop being created if Kyle ever learns that he sires Connor before being sent back in time, as seen in Cameron’s initial movie. There’s also Marcus’ secret–which we won’t spoil–but it creates a fairly blatant plot hole when you really think about it, and these things do show the flaws in what isn’t a very intelligently-crafted script.
Who knows if this relaunch will find enough of an audience to warrant another sequel, but there are certainly a lot of interesting angles that could be explored, hopefully ones involving Worthington and Bloodbood, as they’re the best things going for this movie. Sadly, even with some solid action moments, the relaunch fails because it doesn’t really get you excited about the return of the franchise or any of the main characters from the earlier movies, and a lot of that comes down to the cheesy writing and bad acting. Rating: 6/10
Six years later and it’s all the rage these days to reboot franchises. So far, three of them have done very well, with Batman Begins and Casino Royale being followed earlier this month with J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. Terminator Salvation is taking a similar approach except that in its case, a prequel would have to take place in the future, dealing with the past of Kyle Reese and the future of John Connor. (Sorry, time travel is always confusing.)
At the helm is the unconventional choice of director McG, making his fourth film following two “Charlie’s Angels” movies and the football drama We Are Marshall, and since he was announced, there’s certainly been some hesitation from fans to accept him as the helmer because it’s such an odd choice. Fortunately, McG has been everywhere in the last year promoting the movie, from Comic-Con in San Diego through this year’s big cons, as well as doing a roadshow and appearing on all sorts of television shows. In some ways, more screen time has been given to the director of the film than to the cast, which is very rare.
It’s especially odd considering that the star of the movie is coming off the second highest-grossing movie of all time, that being Christian Bale and that movie being The Dark Knight, making this the second time Bale has been hired by Warner Bros. to save… um… revive one of their franchises. Bale first appeared as a child actor in Steven Spielberg’s 1987 war movie Empire of the Sun but he shocked everyone with his first real grown-up role in American Psycho. Bale has already appeared in two futuristic genre movies, both in 2002, Reign of Fire and Equilibrium, probably good reference for taking over the role of John Connor (previously played by Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl in earlier movies). Bale attained a new level of fame when he took over the cowl of the Caped Crusader in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, which successfully relaunched that franchise. While Bale continues to take daring roles like the one in Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn, he’ll next be seen later this summer co-starring with Johnny Depp in Michael Mann’s crime thriller Public Enemies. Based on the success of The Dark Knight ($533 million!), you’d think that many people would be seeing this mainly for Bale and that’s probably what Warner Bros. is hoping for, too, but it’s hard to avoid some of the tabloid stories from the last year that have painted Bale to be a violent tool, the most recent one being audio from the set of this movie where Bale dressed down the film’s cinematographer Shane Hurlbut. Who knows if that hurt people’s opinion for him or just added to the attention the film’s been getting?
Fortunately, Bale has a large and varied supporting cast that includes everything from seasoned vets to newcomers, some playing against type or doing their first big budget action films. One thing that Terminator Salvation shares with its creator James Cameron is that it co-stars Sam Worthington, a rugged Australian actor who will be appearing in Cameron’s long-awaited Avatar later this year. He also scored the lead role in Louis Letterier’s remake of the Greek epic Clash of the Titans, which is scheduled for release next year. In many ways, Worthington is the co-lead in the film, playing Marcus Wright, a Rip Van Winkle like figure who appears in this world completely oblivious to the war going on between man and machine.
In the movie, Kyle Reese is played by Anton Yelchin, a young actor who’s been around for years doing indies but who has exploded this summer with appearances in two high-profile blockbusters, having just appeared as the young Chekov in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. McG also has a great ass-kickin’ beauty in Moon Bloodgood (“Street Fighter”), who plays Marcus’ traveling companion Blair. Other established actors include Helena Bonham Carter, making a rare appearance in a movie not directed by her husband Tim Burton, and Bryce Dallas Howard, who appeared in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village and Lady in the Water, as well as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, before taking the role of Mrs. John Connor. Rapper Common (Smokin’ Aces, American Gangster, Wanted) plays Connor’s second in command Barnes, though one wonders how many of these supporting roles will make that big a difference for anyone seeing the movie, especially since few of them are featured in the ads.
The question is who will be the most interested in the movie, and obviously, it will be the first choice for guys who’ve already seen the other movies, especially those over 25 who were into the original movies, although some of them might be put off by the lack of Arnold. There should also be a lot of interest among teen males who might not be as familiar with the movies, but there probably won’t be as much interest among women, either older or younger, unless they’re going to see the movie with friends.
The two previous “Terminator” sequels opened over July 4th weekend, and while the first sequel grossed $200 million domestically, which actually isn’t bad for 1991, the third movie in the series only grossed $150 million six years ago, which isn’t nearly as impressive. That drop might make people wonder why the franchise wasn’t able to retain its fans even 12 years between installments, especially since last Memorial Day, Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg reteamed for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and 19 years between installments, it opened nearly three times higher as the previous movie.
This is the first “Terminator” movie opening on Memorial Day weekend, following the lead set by the “Indiana Jones” movies, which always opened over this weekend. As hard as it may be to believe, this is the first time that Warner Bros. has opened a movie on Memorial Day weekend since their remake of The In-Laws (which bombed), so it’s good to see them giving it another go. Memorial Day is historically one of the busiest moviegoing weekends every year, one that’s helped many movies do far better than they might have opening any other weekend. For instance, Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow huge opening on Memorial Day weekend shows how many fans of action and FX movies go out to theaters over the extended weekend.
Another thing to bear in mind is that all three of the “Terminator” movies were rated R, rather than the PG-13 rating Warner Bros. went for with “Salvation,” maybe licking their wounds slightly after the disappointing box office showing for Zack Snyder’s Watchmen earlier this year. That should help the movie bring in more and younger business than the previous movie, but one wonder how many parents will want their kids under 13 to see the movie, not that kids really have as much interest in Terminator as they might Indiana Jones or Star Trek or other multi-generational franchises. In some ways, this is following in the footsteps of Live Free or Die Hard, which returned after a number of years with a fourth movie with a reduced rating from the original trilogy, allowing it to gross more than the other movies. (Then again, a lot of that has to be credited to inflation and higher ticket prices.)
The recent success of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek might not be a good thing for Terminator Salvation, because it’s created expectations and hopes that this relaunch will be just as good. People are so pumped about what J.J. Abrams did they might have a harder time accepting a much darker sci-fi movie that’s more serious and less fun. That probably won’t hurt its opening weekend much, because in general, the commercials are great, really selling the movie’s action over everything else. Of course, those looking for robot action are probably anticipating Michael Bay’s “Transformers” sequel more than this one.
Warner Bros. is opening the movie a day earlier on Thursday, maybe to get a headstart on its primary competition, Ben Stiller’s “Night at the Museum” sequel (see below), and this could work in adding a bit more box office to its opening weekend as diehard fans of the franchise will likely rush out to see it on Thursday. If those who see it early like it, they’ll tell their friends, which can help the weekend, but if not, word will spread quickly and the movie will end up being more frontloaded. Frankly, we don’t expect reviews to be very good, partially because of who is directing and who is starring in the movie, but there’s such a big curiosity factor that it shouldn’t make much of a difference this weekend.
Why I Should See It: James Cameron and Stan Winston set up a lot of solid groundwork for this franchise, and it’s great to finally spend a bit more time in the dark future hinted at in the earlier movies.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (20th Century Fox)
Starring Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Hank Azaria, Christopher Guest, Alain Chabat, Robin Williams, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Ed Helms, Thomas Lennon, Clint Howard, Ricky Gervais, Eugene Levy, Brad Garrett, Robert Ben Garant
Directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, What Happens in Vegas, The Pink Panther, Cheaper by the Dozen, Just Married); Written by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (Night at the Museum, The Pacifier, Balls of Fury, Reno 911!: Miami)
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family
Tagline: “When the lights go off the battle is on.”
Plot Summary: Years after leaving his job as a security guard at the Museum of Natural History, Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is called back into action when he learns that his animated exhibit friends have been packed up and sent to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. under the Smithsonian Museum. There, they discover a new foe in the Pharaoh Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) and his cohorts Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon (Alain Chabat) and Al Capone (Jon Bernthal). To help his friends, Larry has to redon his security guard uniform and work with new friends Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) and General Custer (Bill Hader) to take back the Smithsonian.
Ben Stiller’s success in recent years has been astounding, especially because there was a small blip of time there when it seemed like audiences had tired of him. Then he made a surprising switch to family films with the first Madagascar in the summer of 2005, followed by Night at the Museum a year later. The latter was Stiller’s first attempt at a PG live-action family comedy, and it paid off, becoming his second-biggest hit of all time after the sequel Meet the Fockers, which was also released over the holidays. After those two hits, Stiller’s R-rated remake The Heartbreak Kid bombed in 2007, but Stiller rebounded last summer with the war comedy Tropic Thunder, which he directed and co-starred with Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr., grossed $110 million, followed a few months later with his return as the voice of Alex the Lion in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, which opened with $63 million last November.
While Stiller is clearly the biggest draw for the movie, most audiences will want to see a lot of the characters they saw and loved from the first movie, and with that in mind, all of them are back, though generally playing smaller roles. Owen Wilson (returning as Jedediah the cowboy miniature) and Robin Williams (Theodore Roosevelt) are stars in their own right, both having starred in their own PG family hits. Even so, Williams is not being featured prominently in the trailers nor is Wilson, so people might assume that the inhabitants of New York’s Museum of Natural History play a smaller part this time, even though that isn’t really the case at all. Also back are British comics Steve Coogan and Ricky Gervais (from the British “Office” and “Extras”), who are generally less known here but played a large enough part in the first movie that the fans will be happy to see them back.
The biggest addition to the sequel is Amy Adams as aviatrix Amelia Earhart, who has also been featured prominently in the ads. After being nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role in the indie Junebug, Adams’ big break came from being cast in the Disney family musical-comedy Enchanted, which was an enormous hit over Thanksgiving 2007. Earlier this year, she was nominated for her second Oscar for her supporting role in John Shanley’s drama Doubt. The main baddie this time is played by Hank Azaria, a popular comic actor who is best known for providing the voice of many characters on “The Simpsons,” and another high-profile addition is SNL cast member Bill Hader (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Adentureland) as General Custer.
Like with the original movie, most of the fun comes from the museum exhibits coming to life and many of them are played or voiced by well-known comic actors like Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy and others. Even though Jonah Hill, who has become a big star thanks to Judd Apatow, has a very small role in the movie–basically one scene–he did appear with Stiller on NBC a couple weeks back during their Thursday night line-up to promote the movie. Obviously, having such a big and diverse cast of popular comics will be a draw, but it’s just as much about the action and the FX used to bring the creatures to life.
Normally, you wouldn’t think that anyone who wanted to see both this and “Terminator” would let something like the cost of movie tickets or the bad economy stop them, but you do have to look at the fact that “Terminator” will be taking away a considerable portion of Stiller’s teen audience and Dance Flick might be taking away more from those looking for comedy. That basically just leaves the kids, their parents and families going to theatres and frankly, many who see this will be going by the name and their enjoyment of the first movie, rather than by the commercials, which makes the movie look really dumb. In fact, the commercials are barely funny and if those are showing the best jokes (which is normally the case), then the movie just might not look good enough for someone to shell out their money.
One thing to remember is that family sequels rarely do as well as their predecessors, except maybe for animated films (examples: the “Shrek,” “Ice Age,” and “Madagascar” sequels all opened bigger than the previous installment). There are many reasons for this, one being that kids are fickle and finicky and something they love at 3 years old might not seem so cool two or three years later. Parents also don’t like having to be dragged to a movie for the sake of their kids and then have to deal with more of the same with the sequel, part of which could point to the disappointing showing for sequels like Cheaper by the Dozen 2 and Are We Done Yet?. Then again, there are few live action family movies that became blockbusters on par with Night at the Museum, and it was generally enjoyed by both parents and kids. Part of its success could be credited to its holiday release, which explains why a movie that opens with $30 million could gross $250 million, a similar phenomenon seen by Meet the Fockers, Stiller’s sequel to Meet the Parents, which opened with $70 million in its first five days then went onto gross $200 million more over the holidays. Stiller has such a huge young fanbase, much of that business could have been teens and older, as much as families with small kids, and there wasn’t very much strong competition for moviegoers that year, whereas this sequel could potentially lose much of the teen and non-family audience to other choices.
Fox knows their sequel is an easy sell to kids, but that doesn’t mean they’re putting their best foot forward in terms of marketing. The commercials do not look particularly funny or entertaining, maybe because they don’t have familiar favorites like the animated T-Rex skeleton or the slap-happy Capuchin monkey that kids loved so much from the first movie. That said, there are a lot of great characters and action sequences, but some reason, 20th Century Fox is saving those as a surprise for those who go to see the movie. Reviews don’t really matter for a movie like this, which is probably a good thing because critics will generally trash this.
Another key to the success of Fox’s latest family film is that like the original movie, they’re opening it on IMAX screens, essentially knocking the blockbuster hit Star Trek off those screens (although wiser theater owners will probably split time between the two movies at least for the next few weekends). While it might not seem like a movie that must be seen in IMAX ala The Dark Knight, enough families will want to experience the larger-than-life museum set pieces on a big screen, and the higher ticket prices could help boost the movie’s opening weekend.
Even so, it’s really all about winning younger audiences opening weekend, because with Disney/Pixar’s latest, Up, opening next Friday, and family-driven films like Will Ferrell’s Land of the Lost and Eddie Murphy’s Imagine That in June, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for Stiller’s latest to bring in a lot of business after this weekend.
Why I Should See It: While Night at the Museum was kind of dumb, it was a lot more fun and entertaining than most family films due to the amazing ensemble comedy cast, and this one ups the ante even further.
Dance Flick (Paramount/MTV Films)
Starring Damon Wayans Jr., Craig Wayans, Shoshana Bush, Essence Atkins, Affion Crockett, Kim Wayans, Amy Sedaris
Directed by Damien Dante Wayans (producer/writer/director of “The Underground” and “My Wife and Kids”); Written by Keenen Ivory Wayans, Shawn and Marlon Wayans (Scary Movie, Scary Movie 2, Little Man, White Chicks), Craig Wayans, Damien Dante Wayans (“The Underground” and “My Wife and Kids”)
Genre: Comedy, Dance
Tagline: “The funniest dance movie of all time”
Plot Summary: A young street dancer named Thomas Uncles (Damon Wayans Jr.) is brought together with a young woman named Megan (Shoshana Bush) through their love of dancing, as they team up for a competitive dance competition.
With the success of dance movies like Save the Last Dance, You Got Served, Step Up (and its sequel) and others, it was only a matter of time before the premiere family in spoof comedy, the Wayans, would set their sights on the genre for their amusing form of derision. The idea of course is that the audience who went to see any of the movies being spoofed will be even more entertained when the movies they love are being made fun of, something which has worked well since Keenen Ivory Wayans came onto the scene with Robert Townsend in the latest ’80s before branching off into his first spoof film I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and then his popular FOX variety show “In Living Color” which made the careers of his brothers Damon and Shawn and even the likes of Jamie Foxx and Jim Carrey, who both got their starts on the show. In 2000, Keenen and his brothers Shawn and Marlon took on horror movies like Wes Craven’s Scream with Scary Movie, an enormous R-rated hit that spawned a seemingly endless franchise. The Wayans left after the poorly-received sequel in 2001 and started developing their own high-concept comedy ideas, the seemingly ludicrous White Chicks and Little Man, both which raised derision in critics worldwide, only to become relatively decent hits.
While one can certainly say that this is Wayans’ return to spoof comedy, Dance Flick is at the center of somewhat dubious false advertising, since MTV Films proclaims on the poster that it’s “From the Wayans Brothers” which is generally thought of as Keenen, Marlon and Shawn Wayans. This movie is more like “Wayans: The Next Generation” as the focus has been shifted to the younger members of the family, which makes some sense since this is a spoof of a teen phenomenon. The better-known older Wayans are still involved, having written and produced the movie, but Keenen is not directing, and the focus is now on Damon Wayans Jr. taking front and center, with Damien Wayans directing, neither of them having been involved with any of the previous Wayans Brothers movies, instead having been pivotal in television shows like “My Wife and Kids” and “The Underground.” (One presumes that African-American audiences would be more familiar with them than the white kids who normally like spoof comedy.) The stupid thing is that most people, regardless of whether they’re white or black, will probably have no idea this isn’t really a Wayan Brothers’ movie in the same vein of the previous ones they loved so much.
The non-Wayans cast is rounded out by Shoshana Bush, who recently appeared in Fired Up, Affion Crockett from Soul Men, David Allan Grier (another “In Living Color” vet) and Amy Sedaris, the talented comedienne best known from her Comedy Central show “Strangers with Candy.”
There’s a lot in play here, being an urban spoof comedy from one of the foremost families responsible for the genre, as well as on that makes fun of dance movies. Essentially, the Wayans are hoping to bring in the same young urban audiences who flocked to dance movies like You Got Served and Stomp the Yard, but also those who’ve helped bad spoof movies like Epic Movie and Meet the Spartans make way more money than they should have. (In fact, the two “Scary Movies” after the Wayans left the franchise actually opened bigger than their movies.) Even so, the spoof genre might be running its course with three of them released last year, each one showing diminishing returns as audiences started realizing how quickly these poor quality spoofs are being thrown together in order to make a quick buck from unwitting teens with cash to burn. Despite the bad quality of those spoofs, one should figure that the Wayans’ involvement in this one would give it a little more crednot that one should expect great reviews or anything, considering the scorn and disdain piled on White Chicks and Little Man. The fact that the movie is PG-13 vs. the R-rating of the first two “Scary Movies” would usually make it easier to bring in the teen audiences if not for the fact that it will be fighting for that audience not only with the other new movies but also the returning movies.
One last thing to bear in mind is that the last “urban comedy” to open over Memorial Day was the disastrous Soul Plane, and though Dance Flick generally looks funnier and better, it also has far more competition than some of its precedents. Like Night at the Museum, the movie has way too much competition on its tail as well, especially in June where there are many high-profile comedies from Will Ferrell and Jack Black that will be of more interest to young audiences looking for summer laughs. This one would probably have done better if kept in its original March release or waited until later in the summer.
Why I Should See It: Dance movies are so dumb they really deserve to be mocked as a genre.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
The Girlfriend Experience (Magnolia Pictures)
Having seen a preview of Soderbergh’s second indie film in his HDNet series at Sundance earlier this year, it was immediately evident that The Girlfriend Experience was miles ahead of 2006’s Bubble as a film, mainly because it’s so much more focused on its character than trying to tell an intricate plot using them. Soderbergh also has an astounding leading lady in Sasha Grey, who gives a breakthrough performance in a role any trained actress would kill for. Soderbergh’s inside look at the world of high-priced New York escorts isn’t Pretty Woman, but rather, a verité slice of a life that few could possibly imagine, how this young woman named Chelsea transforms herself into whatever her mostly white collar clients want from her. At the same time, she enjoys a quiet apartment life with her boyfriend Chris (Santos), an ambitious personal trainer, who accepts her occupation, but gets the real woman behind the façade, whom he knows as Christine. Soderbergh peels back the many layers to this character by showing a series of Chelsea’s “dates” and various meetings, including being interviewed by a reporter and speaking to colleagues who might help her career, while trying hard to keep a distinct separation between her business and her private life. Even so, when Chelsea meets a first-time client who she immediately bonds with, she agrees to go off with him for the weekend on a “non-business trip.” Simultaneously, the film spends time trailing Chris in his day-to-day quest for career improvement, traveling to Vegas with a group of businessman partially as revenge for his girlfriend breaking their cardinal rule. Even though Chelsea’s dates verge on the odd, there is no creepier moment in the film than when she meets an online critic known as the “Erotic Connoiseur,” played by film critic Glenn Kenny; not since Dennis Hopper strapped on an oxygen mask has a performance left your skin crawling, especially when he suggests she give him a free taste of her services as a “review copy.”
Grey plays much of the character of Chelsea as cold and aloof, but she has two deeply emotional moments in the film that prove she is by no means a flash in the pan, hired only for her looks or sex appeal. (Despite her “day job” as an adult film star, Grey only has one nude scene and there’s no graphic sex in the film.) Instead, Soderbergh uses this setting as a backdrop to explore other issues, the timeliness of the film being evident from the conversations about the problems with the economy in our country, and hopes for the upcoming Obama/McCain, further helping set this story in the real world. Much of this comes out of the improvised dialogue between the non-actors cast by Soderbergh, dialogue that flows so smoothly that you can almost believe that the two screenwriters credited for the film were responsible for writing it. On top of that, Soderbergh uses an intriguing non-linear method of telling the story, making it necessary to really watch the whole movie in order to really figure out why Chelsea makes some of her decisions. The movie ends in a strange place, leaving a few too many unresolved questions, but otherwise, it’s an interesting character-based experiment by Soderbergh, one that’s more fully-realized than some of his other recent ideas, making it an unforgettable film. I personally got more out of it on a second viewing, and I really think it’s one of those times where Soderbergh proves that less really is more.
The Girlfriend Experience opens in select cities on Friday.
Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
It opens in New York at the Film Forum on Wednesday
Mini-Review: The advent of the internet and affordable digital video cameras has certainly changed the ability for people in third world nations to express themselves, but never has that been more fully realized than in this unique documentary about the Democratic Voice of Burma, a group of “video journalists” who constantly risk imprisonment and death to sneak hidden video cameras into tense face-offs between the military and the people arising from the government nearly doubling the price of fuel and food. After being cowed into silence and obedience by the military for 20 years, the people of Burma finally had enough, leading to a series of marches and demonstrations during the summer of ’07, all of which are caught on the DVB’s hidden spy cameras. Things come to a head when country’s respected Buddhist monks march against the government’s decision, creating an impressive sight of a parade of literally tens of thousands. The government retaliates by sending the army against a large monastery, taking away literally thousands of monks in the middle of the night, something that they normally might have gotten away with if not for the cameras of the DVB capturing all of it. The fact that the government has refused entry by journalists from other countries has kept the people of Burma hermetically sealed in a media vacuum, so the work of the DVB is quite condemning of the military-driven actions of the country’s government. Editing together the actual field footage from those cameras, Danish director Anders Østergaard is able to recreate what happened during those tense days, interspersed with footage he shot at the headquarters of the group’s “producer,” appearing under the false name of “Joshua,” who compiles all the footage from the field and transmits the information to news media around the world. One would expect a film assembled from handheld video cameras would be relatively low-fi, but in fact, the movie rarely feels that way. Instead, the footage itself is quite shocking, because it’s not the type of filtered information one normally would get from the news. It’s helped greatly by Østargaard embellishing the film with solid sound work and traditional music to make it feel more produced. It’s certainly an interesting use of cinema verité to give a better look at what’s going on in another country than anything that might have created solely by an outsider, the fact that they were able to get all of this footage out of the country being amazing in itself. Watching this powerful piece of filmmaking, it’s hard not to feel that a network like the DVB could have spared millions of lives in the genocide of Rwanda. Rating: 8.5/10
Easy Virtue (Sony Classics)
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
Also in Limited Release:
The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story (Walt Disney) – This doc by Jeffrey and Gregory Sherman look back on their Oscar-winning relatives, Richard and Robert Sherman, who wrote some of Disney’s most unforgettable song classics for movies like “Mary Poppins,” “The Jungle Book” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” as well as the beloved classic, “It’s a Small World (After All).” It deals with many details of their lives that were unknown including their less than acrimonious relationship. It opens in NY, L.A., San Francisco and Palm Springs.
New World Order (SeeThink) – This documentary by Luke Meyer and Andrew Neel takes a look at the underground anti-globalist movement led by radio host Alex Jones and four other conspiracy theorists who are trying to expose a conspiracy that threatens the future of humanity. It opens in New York at the Cinema Village.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
O’Horten (Sony Pictures Classics) This quirky new film from Bent Hamer stars Brad Owe as Odd Horten, a train engineer who is retiring after 40 years on the rails and who suddenly finds himself becoming a lot more daring and experimental in exploring what life has to offer. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
Next week, the month of May comes to a close with Disney/Pixar’s latest animated adventure Up and Sam Raimi’s return to horror with Drag Me to Hell (Universal).
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas