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. The Proposal (Disney/Touchstone) – $26.5 million N/A (up .3 million)
2. The Hangover (Warner Bros.) – $23.0 million -30% (up .5 million)
3. Year One (Sony) – $22.5 million N/A (up .8 million)
4. Up (Disney/PIxar Animation) – $20.6 million -33% (up .3 million)
5. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (Sony) – $12.5 million -47% (same)
6. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (20th Century Fox) – $6.0 million -37% (same)
7. Land of the Lost (Universal) – $4.4 million -52% (up .1 million)
8. Star Trek (Paramount) – $3.6 million -33% (same)
9. Imagine That (Paramount) – $3.0 million -47% (same)
10. Terminator Salvation (Warner Bros.) – $2.5 million -45% (down .1 million)
June has not generally been a very good month for ye olde Weekend Warrior, but last week hurt especially bad, since we nearly moved Tony Scott’s “Pelham” down to the third but then chickened out and moved it up to first – that’s how close we saw last week’s Top 3 line-up! (Yet, we were completely oblivious to the fact there were two major sports playoffs that might have affected the turnout for Denzel’s latest.)
This week, we have another potential horse race. While earlier this month, we thought there would be a tougher battle between Todd Phillips’ The Hangover and Will Ferrell’s Land of the Lost, that wasn’t to be. This weekend sees the face-off of face-offs, as movie audiences will have to decide between seeing Sandra Bullock take on Ryan Reynolds or seeing Jack Black and Michael Cera as cavemen? And both movies will have to take on the unstoppable duo of The Hangover and Up as well.
The Proposal (Disney/Touchstone Pictures) is Bullock’s first comedy since the sequel Miss Congeniality 2 in 2005, which failed to find the success of its predecessor. Bullock has never had a movie open over $20 million but these are different times, and her pairing with the popular Reynolds in a high concept comedy should help bring out women who have been sorely neglected at the box office this summer, helped by word-of-mouth from the movie’s sneak previews this past Saturday.
Unfortunately, Harold Ramis’ biblical comedy Year One (Sony), starring Jack Black and Michael Cera, is just coming out at a bad time against much stronger comedy competition. Although it will skew generally younger and more towards guys, it’s still likely to end up somewhere in that messy competition between the Pixar animated movie and the R-rated Warner Bros. comedy and might end up as low as fourth place in its opening weekend.
This week’s “Chosen One” is the latest movie from veteran New York filmmaker Woody Allen, returning to New York for the first time in years, with Whatever Works (Sony Classics), starring Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood. You can read more about it below. Also, we talk about some of the exciting new film festivals kicking off this weekend!
This weekend last year also saw a comedy face-off, although like two weeks ago, there was a clear winner in the big screen version of Get Smart (Warner Bros.), which opened in first place with $38.6 million in nearly 4,000 theaters, averaging $9,877 per site. Mike Myers’ return to live action character-based comedy with The Love Guru (Paramount) failed to find the audiences of his “Austin Powers” movies, opening with less than $14 million in fourth place despite an ultra-wide opening. It’s doubtful that either of this week’s new comedies will open as well as Get Smart so look for this week to be down from the $135 million made by the Top 10 last year.
The Proposal (Disney/Touchstone Pictures)
Starring Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Malin Akerman, Craig T. Nelson, Mary Steenburgen, Denis O’Hare, Betty White
Directed by Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses, Step Up); Written by Peter Chiarelli (debut)
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Tagline: “Here comes the bribe…”
Plot Summary: When New York book editor Margaret (Sandra Bullock) faces deportation, she turns to her assistant Andrew (Ryan Reynolds), making a deal for him to marry her so she’s not sent back to Canada. But first, she has to survive a weekend with Andrew’s eccentric family (Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson and Betty White) who plan to put their boy’s new fiancee through her paces to make sure she’s good enough for Andrew.
One thing that’s surprising about this summer is that there hasn’t been a lot of strong fare targeted directly towards women. Sure, the summer opened with the counter-programming of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, which failed to bring in women despite the name cast, and then Nia Vardalos’ return deservedly tanked last weekend. Women have generally been finding other movies to keep them entertained like Star Trek, Angels & Demons, Up and The Hangover, but there’s still an audience out there for romantic comedy fare who has been relatively unsated this summer. It’s especially surprising when you look back at some of the most profitable movies of the last year, which all had their box office driven by audiences of women bonding with their friends over the movies’ women-friendly premises.
With that in mind, along comes Sandra Bullock, a long time chick flick favorite who hasn’t starred in any sort of romantic comedy role in four years since Miss Congeniality 2, not one of her biggest hits as it ended up below the $50 million mark, less than half the original. Bullock has constantly proven popular as an everywoman who women over 25 generally dig and respect because she’s funny and imperfect and doesn’t try to play up her glamorous celebrity status in the roles she takes. Her role as a tough boss in The Proposal is no different, and while she’s basically the antagonist in her own movie, women still love her and can find a way to root for her in the way Bullock plays her roles to build the most empathy with a female audience. Even so, Bullock has never opened movies very big, having never even had a $20 million opening, but she’s also never had a romantic comedy open during the summer, and these are different times as women have become a huge driving force at the box office.
The premise is very similar to Bullock’s 2002 holiday hit Two Weeks Notice, but in that instance, she was the assistant to Hugh Grant as her boss. This time, the roles are reversed, as she’s pitted against Ryan Reynolds, her personal assistant who has put up with so much crap from her over the years until he finally has a chance to turn the tables and get her back. Reynolds continues to be a rising star who just hasn’t the big solo hit that he seems to be right on the edge of achieving. The Canadian’s distinctive sense of humor first got attention in National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, but later comedies such as Waiting… and Just Friends only got moderate attention. Reynolds had some success in his romantic comedy debut Definitely, Maybe, which ended up in the same $32 million range as Just Friends, but it solidified his role as a potential guy women might enjoy seeing in a romantic role.
The rest of the cast is equally strong, including many popular actors from television, the most prominent ones being Betty White from “The Golden Girls,” who just has an enormous fanbase among women (and apparently among the gay community, too) from her role on that show and other places. The Proposal is her first big screen role in some time, and she’s joined by the likes of Craig T. Nelson and Mary Steenburgen, who both have their own strong television and movie resumes. There’s also a prominent role by Oscar Muñez, who plays the gay accountant Oscar on “The Office.” Written by first-time screenwriter Peter Chiarelli, the movie is helmed by Anne Fletcher, who has had two decent-sized hits, first with the dance movie Step Up and then with the similar meet cute romantic comedy 27 Dresses, starring Katherine Heigl.
While The Proposal has similar elements as Fletcher’s last movie, it’s far less of a chick flick, more of a straight meet-the-family comedy ala Meet the Parents spending more time on physical and situational comedy than on the romance aspects. Even so, the concept is a strong one because it’s one that women, especially those who work as secretaries or personal assistants, can immediately understand, and it’s fun to see the roles reversed and a bitchy boss getting their due. That could help bring in groups of women seeing it after work on Friday, as well as the date night crowd on Saturday. The title doesn’t help much since it’s not very descriptive about what to expect, not quite like “The Hangover,” but Disney has been doing a great job promoting the film with strong commercials.
When you combine the lack of fare for the estrogen set, taming a hot female-friendly star like Bullock with a hunky lead like Reynolds, an easy-to-get high concept premise and a summer opening, you definitely have the potential for a big word-of-mouth hit. Wisely, Disney ran sneak previews of the movie this past Saturday, and they were generally well attended, showing that there are older women out there desperate for a movie made specifically for them, and buzz should be strong enough to allow Disney to open this ultra-wide, enough to secure a win over the seemingly unstoppable comedy The Hangover.
Why I Should See It: Sandra Bullock has been desperately in need of a strong comedy vehicle since the first Miss Congeniality and being pitted against Ryan Reynolds in her first summer comedy might be just what she needs for a huge hit.
Year One (Sony)
Starring Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, David Cross, Hank Azaria, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Vinnie Jones, Juno Temple, Olivia Wilde, June Raphael, Horation Sanz
Directed by Harold Ramis (Back to School, Armed and Dangerous, Groundhog Day, Analyze This, Bedazzled and more) ; Written by Harold Ramis (Animal House, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Analyze This), Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (“The Office”, upcoming Ghostbusters III)
Tagline: “Meet your ancestors”
Plot Summary: A pair of grass hut dwelling cavemen (Jack Black, Michael Cera) leave the protection of their village to explore the rest of the world, encountering Roman Centurions and the city of Sodom, as they try to rescue the women they love.
Comedy is king this summer and one would expect a movie that pairs two of the biggest comedy stars of the last few years with a veritable Godfather of modern comedy would spawn a huge hit, but these are also weird times and big names have not meant a lot this summer. This has been seen in a big way as movies like Star Trek and The Hangover have become the summer’s biggest hits without the benefits of A-list box office stars.
Based on the idea of cavemen going out into the world and encountering various Old Testament figures, Year One is dubbed as a “biblical road comedy” from filmmaker Harold Ramis, whose last movie was the dark comedy bomb The Ice Harvest in 2005. It’s been many years since his last big hit, but he’s still considered a living legend in the comedy field, having written classics like Animal House, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters and more. Filmmaker Judd Apatow was such a fan of Ramis’ work that he cast him as Seth Rogen’s father in the 2007 comedy hit Knocked Up and came on board Year One as its producer. (Sony doesn’t seem to be pushing the fact that Ramis directed it even with the 25th Anniversary of “Ghostbusters” taking place this month.)
It pairs Jack Black and Michael Cera, two comic actors who have found themselves a fanbase of teen moviegoers with their shenanigans, Black with movies like Nacho Libre and School of Rock, Cera with Superbad and the Oscar-nominated Juno. Black has had the most success voicing animated characters whether it’s in the first Ice Age or DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda or Shark Tale. One presumes that building that younger audience has helped him maintain that fanbase as they grow older, although Black’s recent movies Be Kind Rewind and the “Tenacious D” movie didn’t seem to interest them much. Cera on the other hand certainly seems to be on a roll with his first two movies grossing over $100 million and last year’s alt-rom-com Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist doing moderately. From his appearance in those three movies, the former “Arrested Development” star has built himself a strong teen female fanbase that might help the movie pull some teen and older women away from Sandra Bullock’s movie, although the median age of the female audience between the two movies will be roughly 20, since women over 25 will obviously choose the other movie. Ramis’ comedy cast includes David Cross, Oliver Platt as well as other cameos that should be appreciated by comedy lovers.
Due to the strength of Ramis’ past work, one can probably assume this comedy will be more in the vein of classics like Mel Brooks’ The History of the World Part II or Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, rather than being a dog on par with the Ringo Starr vehicle Caveman or the ridiculous ABC sitcom based on the Geico commercial “Cavemen.” Even so, those images will still very much be in people’s minds when they see the commercials and images for this movie, which might not make this as attractive as one might think just by the cast. Also, none of the above movies performed well in theaters, instead finding their audiences on cable and home video after the fact, which is somewhat daunting, as is the recent disappointing showing for Will Ferrell’s Land of the Lost.
Sony usually does very well with comedies from Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell where other studios have faltered, but this one seems to be relying heavily on the high concept premise and the fans of the two stars wanting to see them in this type of vehicle. The big stumbling block being faced by Year One is that there are a lot of comedies already in theaters and Year One doesn’t look like it offers enough new ideas to be something audiences feel they have to pay to see in theaters. It will probably appeal to teens, but no one much older, despite Ramis having a lot of older fans from his years making comedies. Sony isn’t exactly screening the movie heavily in advance like they did Superbad or other comedy hits, instead making critics wait until Wednesday, which makes one think that the movie might have problems. Either way, this is shooting for second (or even third) place at best by going up against stronger fare like The Hangover.
Why I Should See It: Teaming the very different comedy personalities of Jack Black and Michael Cera with a legendary comedy writer like Harold Ramis seems like sure-fire laughs.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Whatever Works (Sony Classics)
If there weren’t already enough comedy choices this weekend, another comedy master’s new movie hits select cities weekend as Woody Allen returns to his hometown of New York City for the first time in four years with a movie developed from a script he originally wrote in the ’70s, which wound up being perfectly suited for the comedy stylings of Larry David, creator and star of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Of course, one would immediately assume that Larry David is playing Allen, maybe because Jason Alexander’s George Costanza on the “Seinfeld” show was often channeling Allen’s neurotic schlub, and that character was known to be an extension of David himself.
Instead, David plays an almost deliberately unlikable character in Boris Yellnikoff, a misogynistic intellectual who thinks very little of anyone else but himself. When we meet Boris, he’s having a nosh with his friends and we immediately get into his mindset as he waxes philosophical about anything and everything. Next thing we know, he’s talking directly to us, as Boris becomes the first Allen character to break the fourth wall in some time. David delivers an amazing soliloquy about what’s wrong with the world, the kind of rant anyone whose lived in New York City a long time should be able to appreciate, and it’s a great set-up for what’s to come, as is the opening Groucho Marx tune, a quick reminder how Groucho was one of Allen’s biggest early influences.
Evan Rachel Wood plays her first comic role since Pretty Persuasion, acting as the perfect counterpoint to David’s Boris, a naïve, optimistic simpleton who sees the good in everyone, including Boris. While it’s highly unlikely these two might ever be able to connect, it’s even more unlikely they’d get married, but that’s exactly what happens as Boris eventually warms up to the pretty younger woman and what she offers. It’s fun watching the two of them bounce Allen’s dialogue back and forth, but before you have the chance to tire of this odd couple, along comes Patricia Clarkson as Melody’s mother, an ultra-religious Southern Christian spitfire, who is shocked to learn her daughter is married to someone like Boris. She makes it her mission to find her daughter a more suitable beau, but the more time she spends in the city, the more she starts exploring her own sexuality. Just when you think Allen has run out of ways to use these three characters, Melody’s father, played by Ed Begley Jr., shows up in New York City looking for his wife, and soon, he too begins to transform into a different person.
Larry David is clearly not the greatest actor with a very limited range that rarely diverges from the characterization of himself he plays on “Curb,” but if you’re a fan of either David or Allen, this interesting amalgam of their sensibilities will keep you laughing. It may be more surprising that both Wood and Clarkson are almost as funny as David, much of that coming from the way they develop their characters more than any other recent Allen heroine. David’s limited acting skills are certainly more evident when he’s doing scenes with the two of them, but it does make for an interesting counterpoint.
Like with his other recent movies, Allen allows a lot of time to pass over the course of the movie, and it’s fun to watch how New York City (and Boris’ influence) changes each new visitor. Ultimately, it’s another great dialogue-driven comedy containing many classic Woody Allen nuggets, most of the best ones delivered by Clarkson oddly enough. Anyone who has been disappointed with some of Allen’s recent work should be able to recognize the Woody of old, probably a reflection of this being an older script that he pulled out of the vault.
While the movie might seem more negative and cynical than some of Allen’s other recent work, it’s ultimately a wonderful character study not only about the four main characters but also New York City itself and how it affects everyone who enters it with a surprisingly cheerful ending that leaves the viewer on an up note. It’s heartwarming to have Woody back in New York to deliver one of his funniest movies in some time.
Whatever Works opens in select cities on Friday.
Spotlight on Regional Film Festivals
It’s the middle of summer, scorching hot, you have nothing to do except sit around the house playing video games, but you really want to see movies, and nothing being advertised strikes your fancy, so what do you do? Well, if you’re in New York or L.A. or Massachusetts, this is the time to start looking at the local film festivals there to quench your love for cinema with many opportunities to see movies that might not be coming out theatrically for many months.
Out of the numerous film festivals opening this weekend, our personal favorite is The New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), held for the last nine years by Subway Cinema to give Asian cinephiles in the New York area their first look at some of Asia’s finest and craziest films from the past year, many of them either getting their U.S. or World Premiere. If you want to get some idea what to expect, just check out this crazy cool trailer.
This year’s NYAFF opens on Friday night with the World Premiere of Written By, a Hong Kong melodrama from Wai Ka-fai, who is a frequent collaborator of festival vet Johnnie To. The Centerpiece Presentation on Friday, June 26 is sure to be one of those famous insane screenings the New York Asian Film Festival is known for as it’s likely to entice people to see it by its name alone. It’s the Japanese movie Vampire Girl Versus Frankenstein Girl from directors Yoshihiro Nishimura and Naoyuki Tomomatsu, whose filmography includes a movie called “Eat the School Girl.” A few of the interesting genre choices include Kanji Nakamija’s The Clone Returns Home, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, while Assembly director Feng Xiaogang returns to the festival with his new movie If You Are the One. Kim Ki-duk’s new movie Dream will have its New York premiere although we’ve long ago given up trying to explain Director Kim’s crazy plots. Also from Korea comes Hun Jang’s action blockbuster Rough Cut and Mak Hei-yan’s controversial teen drama High Noon. The festival closes on July 5 at the Japan Society with the World Premiere of the Japanese film Be Sure to Share from director Sion Sono, who’ll also have his previous movie Love Exposure screened during the fest. There’s also a healthy supply of Asian war epics, horror flicks and even a Japanese monster movie or two.
Overall, it’s a fun festival that doesn’t take itself quite so seriously as some of the other film festivals–for instance, you might find yourself at a screening introduced by a host dressed in little more than a diaper–and the screenings are usually packed with genre fans there solely to have fun, and even the worst movies somehow seem better when seen in the rowdy NYAFF atmosphere.
The Sundance at BAM series came to an end, but the Brooklyn Academy of Music continues with their own festival, as BAMCinemaFest celebrates its 10th Anniversary with a number of films that played at Sundance and other festivals, kicking off on Wednesday with Cruz Angeles’ directorial debut Don’t Let Me Drown, a drama about two Latino teens dealing with the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. BAMCinemaFest offers a lot of variety in its program, including festival faves like Lynn Shelton’s Humpday, Nicolas Refn’s Bronson and Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop. It also will see the New York premiere of Nash Edgerton’s thriller The Square, an impressive directorial debut that was first seen at this year’s South by Southwest.
If you don’t mind a bit of traveling than the Provincetown International Film Festival kicks off its 10th year on Wednesday with the New England Premiere of this week’s “Chosen One,” Woody Allen’s Whatever Works. Calgary auteur Guy Maddin will be receiving the festival’s “Filmmaker on the Edge” award and actor Alessandro Nivola (Junebug) will be receiving an acting award, while indie distributor Strand Releasing gets a Lifetime Achievement award. The festival includes a few interesting programs including the Portugese Program representing the cultural influence the Portugese have had on the Cape Cod community. The Closing Night selection is Jay DiPietro’s Peter and Vandy, which also got some good notices from this year’s Sundance.
If you drive down the Cape Cod archipelago and take a boat across the Nantucket Sound, you can then attend the 14th Annual Nantucket Film Festival, which will be kicking off on Thursday with a selection of some of the movies that have been at other festivals like Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, Lynn Shelton’s Humpday, Marshall Curry’s documentary Racing Dreams, and many more. Year One director Harold Ramis will be a special guest to receive a Screenwriters Tribute, as well as appearing in an All-Star Comedy Roundtable with Ben Stiller, Peter Farrelly and John Hamburg (I Love You, Man), and they’ll screen both Year One and have a 25th Anniversary screening of Ghostbusters.
For the unfortunates who lives on the wrong coast (I’m just kidding of course), you can still see many of the movies mentioned above at the Los Angeles Film Festival, held by Film Independent, a much bigger festival than the ones above, as it will showcase hundreds of favorites, many from Sundance including Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer, Scott Sanders’ Black Dynamite, Robert Siegel’s Big Fan starring Patton Oswalt, and Tom DiCillo’s Doors doc When You’re Strange. They’ll also get the U.S. Premiere of a little independent film called Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen by some guy named Michael Bay on Monday, June 22, for those lucky enough to get tickets.
These are just some of the many film festivals that will make this summer weekend more entertaining for those lucky enough to reside in or near the areas, and the only drag is that they’re all essentially happening at the same time so there’s no way to give any of them the time or attention they fully deserve. If you’re around any of the areas mentioned above, you can click on the name of the festival to see the full film roster, check ticket availability and buy tickets. Having seen many of the movies playing and knowing that there’ll probably be a lot of them written about in this column as “The Chosen One” in the future, it’s a great opportunity to see them before anyone else.
Also in Limited Release:
$9.99 (Regent Releasing) – Geoffrey Rush and Anthony La Paglia provide their voices for Tatia Rosenthal’s Claymation anthology based on the short stories by Etgar Keret (Wristcutters – A Love Story) centering around the inhabitants of an apartment complex in Australia, all of whom are looking for the meaning of life. It opens in select cities on Friday.
Dead Snow (IFC) – Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola puts a unique spin on the zombie genre as it follows a group of teenagers on a ski vacation in the Alps who encounter a battalion of Nazi zombies that kill anyone who enters their territory. It opens at the Cinema Village in New York as part of the IFC Midnight series.
The End of the Line – Rupert (Unknown White Male) Murray’s Sundance doc looks at the effects of overfishing the world’s oceans, as it follows investigative reporter Charles Clover as he confronts those who have little regard for the effect their love of seafood is having on marine life. It also opens at the Cinema Village as well as the Laemmle Sunset 5, as well as playing at the Provincetown International Film Festival.
The Windmill Movie (The Film Desk) – A look at independent filmmaker and film teacher Richard P. Rogers (Quarry, Elephants), who was unable to complete the autobiographical film he’d been working on for 26 years before he died, so his student Alexander Ochs took the material to create this docu-drama, which includes a sequence featuring Wallace Shawn. It opens on Wednesday at the Film Forum in New York.
Under Our Skin (Shadow Distribution/Open Eye Pictures) – Andy Abrahams Wilson directed this documentary about the Lyme disease epidemic that originated in the 70s, one of the most misunderstood and misdiagnosed diseases that still afflicts nearly 200,000 people a year. After premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008, it will open at the IFC Center on Friday.
Next week, it’s the big mamma-jamma of summer movies as Michael Bay is back with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (DreamWorks/Paramount)–need we say more? Hoping to offer some chick flick counterprogramming, Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin star in My Sister’s Keeper (New Line), based on the bestselling novel.
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas