The Weekend Warrior: June 26 – 28


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

(UPDATE: Not much to add except that Michael Bay’s “Transformers” sequel scored over $60 million on Wednesday including midnights, so it’s obviously doing quite a bit better than we expected, although there’s a chance it could also be frontloaded. Still, we’re sticking by our weekend prediction, expecting it to hold up well over the weekend.)

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (DreamWorks/Paramount) – $110.5 million N/A (up 1.2 million)

2. The Proposal (Disney/Touchstone) – $19.5 million -42% (same)

3. The Hangover (Warner Bros.) – $17.4 million -35% (down 1.4 million)

4. Up (Disney/PIxar Animation) – $14.2 million -40% (same)

5. My Sister’s Keeper (New Line/WB) – $13.3 million N/A (down .4 million)

6. Year One (Sony) – $7.6 million -62% (down .8 million)

7. The Taking of Pelham 123 (Sony) – $5.0 million -58% (down .4 million)

8. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (20th Century Fox) – $3.9 million -50% (down .3 million)

9. Star Trek (Paramount) – $3.3 million -40% (same)

10. Land of the Lost (Universal) – $1.8 million -58% (down .2 million)

Weekend Overview

For the first time since May, there’s absolutely no question what’s going to win the weekend and that it probably will make more money this weekend than the rest of the Top 10 combined. The only real question this weekend is how big Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (DreamWorks/Paramount) opening will be, as it opens on Wednesday in over 4,000 theaters including IMAX screens. The first movie grossed $155 million in its first week two years ago before going on to make $319 million total, and with the amount of buzz and anticipation (not to mention the weaker early summer fare), there’s no reason why Bay’s big budget giant robot sequel shouldn’t do better, with the chance of it being the first movie of the year to open with over $100 million in its first weekend. Even taking into consideration that many if not most of the die-hard fans will be rushing out to see it on Wednesday, there’s probably enough demand to guarantee a busy first week for the sequel with somewhere between $170 and 190 million in its first five days.

Hoping to offer counter-programming to the book-reading female set, Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin star in My Sister’s Keeper (New Line/WB), based on Jodi Picoult’s bestselling novel, which hopes to recreate the magic of director Nick Cassavetes’ 2004 sleeper hit The Notebook. It should bring in a good amount of women who’d read the book and are looking for an alternative to all the comedies, but it’s likely to end up in fourth behind popular returning comedies The Proposal and The Hangover.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq bomb squad thriller The Hurt Locker (Summit Entertainment), starring Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie, which you can read more about below.

Last June ended with a huge summer weekend when two big movies opened against each other, each taking in more than $50 million. Even so, Disney/Pixar’s WALL•E was the clear winner, taking in $63 million to become the animation company’s third-highest opener before continuing their run of Oscar wins. Timur Bekmambetov’s comic-inspired action movie Wanted (Universal), starring James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, also did far better than expected, opening with $50 million for a strong second place. The Top 10 grossed $176 million and the strength of Michael Bay’s movie and its counter-programming should allow a weekend equally as strong.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (DreamWorks/Paramount)
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, John Benjamin Hickey, Ramon Rodriguez, Isabel Lucas, John Turturro
Directed by Michael Bay (Transformers, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys, Bad Boys II, The Island); Written by Ehren Kruger (The Ring, The Skeleton Key, Blood and Chocolate, The Brothers Grimm), Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Transformers, Star Trek, The Island, Mission: Impossible III, The Legend of Zorro)
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Revenge is coming.”
Plot Summary: As Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) heads off to college two years after the events of the previous movie, the Decepticons start to rear their ugly transforming heads once again, forcing Sam, Michaela (Megan Foxx), Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel), Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson) and Agent Simmons (John Turturro) to work together with Optimus Prime and the Autobots to once again try to save Earth.

Interview with Kurtzman and Orci

Review: Not having as much knowledge of the “Transformers” mythos as the millions of people who’ll be eager to see Michael Bay’s second helping of giant robots, I couldn’t necessarily tell you which Autobots were fighting with which Decepticons, but there’s clearly a lot of new members to both factions introduced in this sequel that starts in 17,000 B.C. with the concept that these bots first came into contact with humans long before the first movie. We also learn that Megatron has a superior known as The Fallen, who you could guess from the title wants revenge for his treatment by the Autobots. (He mentions this “revenge” in at least two of his screen moments.) Meanwhile, Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky is heading off to college when he finds a shard of the destroyed Cube from the first movie, which instills him with ancient knowledge that makes him a target for the Decepticons, who think that information will help them overpower their enemies and make earth their own.

Being directed by Michael Bay, you will probably go in expecting a lot of action and explosions, and the sequel delivers that in spades, but this is clearly the Bay of “Pearl Harbor” and “Armageddon,” driven home by a number of shots and scenes that could have been leftover stock footage from those movies. Mix that with post-1999 George Lucas humor in the form of silly wise-cracking robots, including a pair of offensive racial stereotypes in Mudflap and Skids, who often take you out of the movie with their shenanigans.

The first movie mostly worked because it knew how to bring humor into the context of an earth invasion movie to keep it light, but this time, most of the characters act like there’s nothing strange about giant talking robots walking around in their world, and the movie tries way too hard to be funny with non-stop jokes. Just about every character tries to offer comic relief, and it quickly gets tiring as most of it rarely rises about the sophomoric level of “Beavis and Butthead” done solely to prepubescent boys and man-children entertained. It constantly goes overboard and it never lets up. While some of that worked well in the first movie, that was because characters like Sam’s parents were given brief moments; here, they take up the entire first half of the movie with dumb and stupid moments that have no place in a movie about a potentially dangerous threat to the world. On the other hand, Rainn Wilson has an all-too-brief moment as Sam’s professor, and John Turturro is a breath of fresh air when he shows up as the former G-man still obsessed with the giant robots.

For at least the first half of the movie, Shia LaBeouf is acting all strange and quirky, making one think he’s on his way to turning into Nicolas Cage. Megan Fox’s role seems to be to stand around wearing short shorts or tight pants, looking sexy, her face glowing as if the entire thing was covered in lipgloss. Of all the token women in this summer’s blockbusters, Michaela takes the cake as the most unrealistic male fantasy stereotype of a woman, constantly at the center of comments about how hot she is or worrying about Sam or being in distress. Their romance is handled in a similarly cheesy way as the ones in “Armageddon” or “Pearl Harbor” driven by Bay’s dreadful taste in music, as he tries to show his timeliness by including three songs from the new Green Day album.

After seeing the Autobot’s allies Lennox and Epps in an early scene, their characters seem to be forgotten until much later, which is probably fine, because every time Tyrese opens his mouth, you realize what a terrible actor he is. Most of the corny writing might not be so bad if Bay had actors who could deliver convincing performances and weren’t just there to fill in space between the next robot fight.

On top of that, the plot is almost impossible to penetrate due to the amount of ridiculous mythology piled onto the story. Some of it might have some relevance to fans of the toys, but by the time something called “The Matrix of Leadership” is introduced almost 90 minutes into the movie, it’s already gotten to the point where you can’t help but snicker.

As much as you’ll be groaning and rolling your eyes throughout most of the movie, when those robots come on the screen, all is quickly forgiven. Bay knows that most people will be seeing the movie for the giant fighting robots, and this is clearly ILM’s show as they deliver even more incredible designs and the mechanics to make the transformations work. New additions include a canine-like Decepticon as well as one that would probably have fit better in the recent “Terminator” movie. Some of the dialogue between the robots isn’t great—let’s face it; suspension of disbelief is a must – but an ancient robot named Jetfire offers some entertaining moments. The robot battles themselves are handled well, maybe even better than the first movie and really taking advantage of the IMAX experience, if you’re able to see it in that format. Those who can’t wait to see the Devastator, the giant Decepticon amalgam of half a dozen construction vehicles, running rampant through Egypt’s greatest landmarks, shouldn’t be disappointed by the last act which is all action and explosions one would expect from a Michael Bay movie.

Like McG’s recent “Terminator” movie, there’s enough action to keep the popcorn crowd entertained, but one imagines this movie goes way overboard with the humor, just as much as that movie could have used some of it to balance out the grim storytelling. Either way, it’s way too long and Bay could have easily cut out 20 minutes to a half hour of stupid gags and made it stronger summer fare. Instead, he’s made another movie that’ll work better on DVD when you can fast forward over the cheesy character stuff and get to the stuff you really want to see, which let’s face it, is giant robots fighting. If you expect anything more than that, you’re bound to be disappointed. Rating: 6/10


There are times when it’s almost pointless to spend too much time analyzing a movie’s box office potential, because it’s likely to supercede whatever crazy number we might be able to come up with. That certainly might be the case with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the sequel to the DreamWorks blockbuster that brought the popular Hasbro toys and cartoon series to the big screen with lots of giant transforming robot battles. It was considered by many to be the magnum opus of director Michael Bay, who had been no stranger to blockbusters filled with action and lots of CG destruction, things he masterminded with summer popcorn fare like Armageddon and Pearl Harbor.

The original “Transformers” was the official 4th of July release of 2007, making $8.8 million from a Tuesday preview night, followed by the 3rd and 4th of July each bringing in $27 million, then a solid weekend with $70, million adding up to $155 million in its first weekend. Even though it had a “Harry Potter” movie nipping at its heels, it still held up well over the remainder of the summer, grossing almost $320 million. Not bad for a movie about giant fighting robots.

A couple things came out of the success of the first “Transformers” movie, one being the transformation (ha ha) of Shia LaBeouf from former Disney child actor into a full-fledged box office star. Even before “Transformers” came out, LaBeouf starred in the sleeper hit thriller Disturbia and was quickly signed by Steven Spielberg to play Harrison Ford’s son in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That also grossed over $300 million, followed a few months later with the $100 million action-thriller Eagle Eye (produced by Kurtzman/Orci). It certainly would look like LaBeouf has been able to maintain the kid audience he established from his Disney Channel show by offering movies they can enjoy as teens, although his audience is still generally younger with the ceiling being roughly 25. As LaBeouf has gotten more successful, he’s also become the target of tabloids, with somewhat negative attention brought to this movie last summer when LaBeouf was in a drunk driving accident that shattered his hand to the point where he had to finish the film wearing a brace. It ended up drawing a lot of attention to the young star that could get people more interested in the movie, though not quite in the same way as the death of Heath Ledger drew audiences to his performances in last year’s hit The Dark Knight.

Since appearing in the first “Transformers” movie, Megan Fox has also become a big star, which is odd considering that she’s really only appeared in one other movie in the last two years, the dark comedy bomb How to Lose Friends & Alienate People with Simon Pegg. Later this year, she has the horror movie Jennifer’s Body, penned by Oscar winner Diablo Cody, and she’ll have one of the only female roles in Warner Bros’ Western Jonah Hex next summer. What Megan Fox does have is sex appeal in spades, and her scantily-clad appearances and sex-obsessed interviews have driven up her popularity among guys for sure, as well as creating an intrigue that has made her a movie star on par with Angelina Jolie without actually doing the acting work required. It doesn’t hurt that Bay has included lots of shots of Fox wearing short shorts in the trailers, which is sure to help drive the young horny males who would probably see this movie anyway.

Most of the rest of the cast from the original movie has returned including Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson and John Turturro, all of whom will add something to the story even if they’re not necessarily draws. (Actually, Tyrese is probably the only one who can be considered a box office draw, and he’s mainly there to appease the urban males who’ll be checking the movie out.) Bay is also reunited with superstar genre writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci for the third time, having first teamed with them on his sci-fi flop The Island; that movie’s dismal box office showing didn’t stop Steven Spielberg from hiring the duo to bring the popular ’80s toys to the big screen, and it paid off. (The duo are already having quite a summer, having co-written J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, the highest grossing movie of the year so far, and produced this past weekend’s surprise rom-com hit The Proposal.)

One can certainly expect that the sequel will gross more on a daily basis at least in its first week than the original, greatly helped by the fact that it’s opening in IMAX the same day as the regular screenings, which wasn’t the case with the original movie. Bay has even shot some scenes of the movie using the same IMAX cameras Christopher Nolan did to make the IMAX format the most desirable way to see The Dark Knight. (From what we’ve heard, the IMAX-size footage isn’t as must-see with Bay’s movie, but one can still expect that a lot of people will pay for the higher-price tickets.) The original opened at over 4,000 theaters and one can expect that the sequel will be pushing for the record opening theater count set by The Dark Knight.

Opening on Wednesday might make it hard for the “Transformers” sequel to go for any of the opening weekend records except for possibly the June record set by the third “Harry Potter” movie with $93.7 million, but the first milestone Bay’s movie will try to surpass is the single day record currently held by last year’s The Dark Knight. Realistically, the fact that “Transformers” sequel is opening on a Wednesday might make it difficult to hit that amount or even the $50 million plus openings of other big movies like Star Wars: Episode III. Then again, with schools mostly out, the opening Wednesday record set by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix two years ago with $44.2 million could be in sight, although it might have a harder time holding up its business through the weekend if it brings in that much business in its first two days.

The key thing is that Paramount has once again put everything into the marketing of the movie, much like they did with their hit Star Trek with the commercials and trailers all playing in the right places, including the Super Bowl and in front of Star Trek to help drive excitement for the movie. Not that it necessarily will make people want to see the movie more, but the “Transformers” sequel probably has some of the most ridiculous product tie-in commercials ever from M&Ms (completely with an M&M version of Michael Bay) to various cars and electronics. These do help raise awareness of the movie that a mere movie ad might never do, although those ads have been fairly pervasive as well. Hasbro has also unleashed an expanded toy line to tie in with the movie including a large-scale Devastator, which is the sequel’s big baddie. While the movie won’t have much appeal for older women, it’s sure to be the first choice for any guy from 10 to 30 and a good amount of younger women as well.

Reviews probably won’t be that favorable, at least not as good as the ones for the first movie, but Michael Bay has always been fairly review-proof since there’s always people out there wanting big escapist action movies like he’s known for and neither of next week’s July 4th movies should make much of a dent with Ice Age‘s family appeal being the only thing that could offer some competition for the top spot next weekend.

Why I Should See It: It’s giant robots hitting each other and lots of destruction as only Michael Bay can do it!
Why Not: The original made a lot of money, but how can this sequel not be more of the same?
Projections: $46 to 48 million on Wednesday, another $24 to 27 million on Thursday and $107 to 110 million over the four-day weekend. That’s roughly $180 million in five days, which would put it in second place for the 5-day record against The Dark Knight, and we’ll project that it will make roughly $330 to 340 million by the end of summer, just slightly more than the original movie.


My Sister’s Keeper (New Line/WB)
Starring Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, Alec Baldwin, Jason Patric, Sofia Vassilieva, Joan Cusack
Directed by Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook, John Q, Alpha Dog, She’s So Lovely); Written by Jeremy Leven (The Notebook, Alex & Emma), Nick Cassavetes
Genre: Drama
Rated PG-13
Plot Summary: When Sara and Brian Fitzgerald (Cameron Diaz, Jason Patric) realize their two-year-old daughter Kate is dying of leukemia, they decide to have another child for the sheer purpose of using it to help save their daughter’s life. Years later, Anna (Abigail Breslin) is about to turn 11 and though she and her sister Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) have a close bond due to the medical procedures they’ve endured together, Anna decides to seek medical emancipation from her parents when they plan to perform a kidney transplant between the sisters.



Before I started to write this column, I had no idea what this movie was about, maybe because I hadn’t paid much attention to Jodi Picoult’s 2004 novel of the same name, despite it having been on the New York Times Bestseller’s list for some time. (Currently, the trade paperback version of the novel has been on the bestseller’s list for many weeks.) One would think that a movie about a girl dying from leukemia and how it affects her entire family might not be something of interest to moviegoers, but it certainly has captured the attention of readers, mostly women, and it made sense that the book would be made into a movie by director Nick Cassavetes. After all, Cassavetes had a huge summer sleeper hit five years ago when he directed an adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook, and My Sister’s Keeper has him working once again both with New Line (now working as a part of Warner Bros.) and with screenwriter Jeremy Leven. It’s pretty obvious the studio is hoping this movie can recapture the same magic of that hit movie, although this is a very different film in every way.

Compared to the mix of veterans (James Garner and mother Gena Rowlands) and unknowns (Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, at the time) of The Notebook, Cassavetes has a couple bonafide stars in this one, the first one being Cameron Diaz, who is playing a rare dramatic role following her appearance opposite Ashton Kutcher in the romantic comedy What Happens in Vegas. Diaz’s previous book adaptation was the 2005 drama In Her Shoes with Shirley MacLaine and Toni Collette, and that only performed moderately. Before that, Diaz had secondary roles in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky opposite Tom Cruise. This is clearly not on par with either of those, not having a big male star to entice women, but it’s definitely more timely subject matter.

Even so, Diaz may be taking a backseat to her movie daughter, 13-year old actress Abigail Breslin, who has certainly proven herself, ever since breaking out with her Oscar-nominated role in the indie sleeper Little Miss Sunshine. Before that, Breslin would mainly play the token kid in movies like Signs and Kate Hudson’s Raising Helen. Post-Oscar, Breslin is a hot commodity, having co-starred with Catherine Zeta-Jones in the summer rom-com No Reservations, and then starred in three movies last year: the romantic comedy Definitely, Maybe, the kids’ book adaptation Nim’s Island and a movie based on the popular “American Girl” dolls, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, with the middle of the three doing the best with $48 million. The key is that Breslin is a known actress, much like Dakota Fanning, and she can help sell a movie to teen audiences. Playing her sister Kate is Sofia Vassilieva, the 16-year-old actress who has appeared on the hit show “Medium” for the last few years as well as playing popular fictional character “Eloise” in a couple TV movies.

One might think that a drama based on a novel dealing with a tough subject like leukemia wouldn’t be much of a draw, but the huge hit Fox had with Marley & Me certainly forces one to look at this in a different light. One big difference is that this is dealing with leukemia in a lot more adult manner, and it doesn’t have a PG rating, which means New Line can’t sell it to kids and families like Fox did with their dog movie over the busy Christmas holiday weekend. This subject material is somewhat controversial, essentially having a child acting as an organ bank for a sibling, and one would assume that someone would be up in arms about this movie, though we’re not sure if it would be the religious right or the liberal media. After all, this sort of topic seems to be in the same vein as abortion and stem cell research in terms of whether or not it’s right for parents to use one child to help save the life of another.

The biggest hurdle facing the movie is the fact that audiences are generally liking comedies more than serious movie right now, and dramas released this past spring and winter haven’t brought in much business. Either way, it shouldn’t have trouble doing The Notebook like numbers, at least opening weekend, due to the number of women reading the book who will have absolutely no interest in the “Transformers” movie and will want to see this with their girlfriends.

Why I Should See It: Jodi Picoult’s novel must be interesting to sell that many copies and Cassavetes’ success with material like The Notebook makes him the perfect person to adapt it.
Why Not: This premise sounds dreary and do we really want to spend our summer hours watching Cameron Diaz being all dramatic?
Projections: $12 to 14 million opening weekend on its way to $45 to 50 million total.



The Hurt Locker (Summit Entertainment)
Starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Christian Camargo, Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce, David Morse, Christopher Sayegh
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, Point Break, K-19: The Widowmaker, Strange Days); Written by Mark Boal (In the Valley of Elah)
Genre: Action, Thriller, Drama
Rated R
Tagline: “You don’t have to be a hero to do this job. But it helps.”
Plot Summary: A group of Army EODs (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) deal with the rigors of defusing bombs set by Iraqi insurgents and the tension created by their newest teammate, Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), who continually takes risks that put the entire team in danger.

Interview with Kathryn Bigelow & Mark Boal

Interview with Jeremy Renner

I’ve watched Kathryn Bigelow’s bomb squad thriller three times now and even though I generally know what’s going to happen every time, I still get completely caught up in every scene, because from beginning to end, it’s a riveting take on a soldier’s story told in a distinctive way.

The sad truth is that many Americans seem to have forgotten we’re still at war in Iraq and there are brave soldiers over there fighting and dying to try to maintain peace, and moviegoers just don’t seem to be interested in their stories going by the hit or miss success they’ve had at the box office. Any hesitance about seeing a movie in this setting should quickly be set aside, because Bigelow’s comeback is more in the vein of Full Metal Jacket or Apocalypse Now, being about the men in the field, specifically those who deal with suicide bombers and IEDs (bombs hidden by insurgents to take out American troops)

Working with Mark Boal, a reporter embedded in Iraq who also collaborated with Paul Haggis on In the Valley of Elah, Bigelow has created a dramatic tale of three soldiers on an Army E.O.D. team, essentially the bomb squad. Anthony Mackie’s Sanborn and Brian Geraghty’s Eldrige just lost their team leader in an incident that opens the movie, leaving the latter feeling guilt for not taking the shot that might have saved him. Along comes their new team leader, Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), a hotshot who has found and defused hundreds of bombs during his tenure, and he immediately starts taking risks that puts him at odds with his teammates for his disregard for procedure and keeping communication open with them. After a few tense close calls, the men end up in the middle of a firefight between insurgent snipers and a group of mercenaries who captured their comrades, and it forces Sanborn and James to bond as they must shoot their way out of the situation. Things are okay between them after that, but other events happen that test their resolve as they try to finish their tour of duty.

Essentially, the film is comprised of five or six extended scenarios of the team trying to find or defuse bombs with Bigelow combining documentary-style handheld camerawork with more stylish filmmaking to bring realism to the subject matter in every scene. She’s especially proficient at creating the type of tension the guys must experience themselves while on every mission, but the film benefits from using actors rather than real soldiers, as used in Brian De Palma’s Redacted or The Battle for Haditha. This movie isn’t meant to be a political message, nor did it necessarily need to take place in Iraq, but it makes a background that adds a lot to the sense of danger these men are in.

I’ve been a fan of both Mackie and Renner for some time as they’ve both long been underrated as actors, but Bigelow has given Renner an amazing opportunity to create a rich 3-dimensional character in Sgt. Will James. At first, he might seem like little more than an arrogant hot-dogging cowboy, but what Renner brings to the role is a humanity, showing that he does care about stuff than might be apparent from his surface persona. A lot of this comes out from his relationship with a young local boy, but it’s clear that James does take his job a lot more seriously than his teammates give him credit. Mackie and Brian Geraghty are also good, as is Christian Camargo as an army shrink who tries to help Eldritch get over what happened. More than any other film except a number of docs, the film successfully gets into the head of being a soldier and why they do what they do despite the risks. Bigelow even called in a couple favors to get actors like Guy Pearce, David Morse and Ralph Fiennes to show up as cameos, as they interact with the three bomb specialists.

More than anything, Bigelow proves herself to still be in top-notch form as a filmmaker with this movie, having created a brilliantly realized character-driven thriller that’s likely to leave a lasting impression and make you completely forget everything you thought you knew about the day-to-day lives of soldiers in Iraq.

It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday, then expands elsewhere over the course of July. Frankly, I’m a little concerned about it getting destroyed by “Transformers,” so hopefully cinephiles in New York and L.A. will check this one out if they’re looking for a second movie to see this weekend. If you’re around Friday at 7:10, come down to the Landmark Sunshine where yours truly will be moderating a Q ‘n’ A with Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal. (And if it helps convince you, the military consultant from the original Transformers also worked with Bigelow on creating the realistic explosions in her film.)

Honorable Mention:

Afghan Star (Zeitgeist Films)
Starring contestants of the Afghan competition show “Afghan Star”
Directed by Havana Marking (debut)
Genre: Documentary
Plot Summary: For decades, Afghanistan had been ruled with an iron fist by the Taliban, who outright banned television for five years, but the country’s freedom in 2001 convinced a producer to showcase the country’s talent with a new show called “Afghan Star,” which is clearly inspired by “American Idol.” This doc follows four very different contestants and the campaigns they go on to try to win the Afghan people’s votes, even as they face controversy amongst the religious leaders.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Having played as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Human Rights Watch Film Festival,” as well as winning two awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Marking’s debut opens in New York at New York’s Cinema Village on Friday, and then in L.A. on July 24.

The Secret Policeman’s Film Festival (The Film Society of Lincoln Center) – If you’re as big a fan of Monty Python and music as I’ve been my entire life and you happen to be lucky enough to be in or near New York this weekend, then you might want to check out this special six-day festival of some of the comedy/rock benefit shows for Amnesty International that kicked off with The Secret Policeman’s Ball and its follow-up The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball (directed by Julian Temple no less) before leading to much bigger star-studded rock concerts. It had been over twenty years since I first saw the original “Secret Policeman’s Ball” and I never had a chance to see it on the big screen, let alone in its original unedited format. It’s spotty at times, but it’s highlighted by famous sketches from the Monty Python troupe, as well as great bits from Peter Cook and a much younger Rowan Atkinson. If you’ve never seen it, then you may not understand why these benefit shows produced such classic performances. The festival will start on Friday with the world premieres of two comedy concert films from years preceding the first “Policeman’s Ball” called Pleasure at her Majesty’s and The Mermaid Frolics (its world theatrical premiere), as well as newer specials Remember the Secret Policeman’s Ball? and The Secret Policeman Rocks!, celebrating the 25th and 30th Anniversaries of the shows respectively. On Sunday the 28th, Lincoln Center is doing a special all-day real-time screening of the 1988 “Conspiracy of Hope” concert at Giants Stadium, which included the likes of The Police, U2 and Peter Gabriel at the height of their popularity, and it was clearly when the benefits switched gears from being comedy shows to outright rock concerts. (Unfortunately, I realized too late that we probably should have included this in last week’s column as the festival already played and finished its run in Los Angeles.)

Also in Limited Release:

Chéri (Miramax) – Director Stephen Frears reunites with his Dangerous Liaisons star, Michelle Pfeiffer, and screenwriter Christopher Hampton for the first time in twenty years for this adaptation of Collette’s novel about a middle-aged courtesan named Léa de Lonval (Pfeiffer) who becomes romantically involved with Chéri (Rupert Friend), the 19-year-old son of a colleague (Kathy Bates). At first, Léa is just doing her friend a favor by teaching the young man about the worldy ways, but the two form a romantic link that lasts six years until Chéri’s mother sets himself up with a woman his own age. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Interview with Stephen Frears & Christopher Hampton

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Life is Hot in Cracktown (Lightning Media) – Buddy Giovinazzos drama features four gritty stories about people living in the grimy streets whose lives come together, including Kerry Washington as Marybeth, a pre-op transsexual (say what?) working as a prostitute and living with her lover as a married couple, Victor Rasuk as a young man working two jobs surrounded by junkies and drug dealers, a 10-year-old boy who resorts to begging to help his family and a young gangster (Evan Ross).

New York (Yash Raj Films) – Kabir Khan’s drama takes a look at three friends living in New York, whose lives are turned upside down by events they can’t control.

Quiet Chaos (IFC Films) – Nanni Morretti writes, directs and stars in this movie as a successful executive trying to keep his life together after the sudden death of his wife. It will open at the IFC Center in New York on Friday.

The Stoning of Soraya M. (Roadside Attractions) – Oscar-nominated actress Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog) stars in Cyrus Nowrasteh’s adaptation of reporter Freidoune Sahebjam’s controversial novel based on the true story of a woman from a small village in Iran (played by Mozhan Marno), accused by her husband of lying down with another man, and who finds herself facing execution due to a conspiracy among the men in power. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Surveillance (Magnet Films) – Jennifer Lynch (Boxing Helena) directs this crime-thriller involving a series of brutal serial killings and a duo of FBI Agents (Bill Pullman, Julie Ormond) investigating them by questioning the witnesses, each of whom have a different take on what happened. It opens in select cities.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Next week, July kicks off with the 2nd biggest holiday weekend of the summer, the 4th of July! With that in mind, the animated 3-quel Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (20th Century Fox) will be taking on the gangsterland battle between Johnny Depp and Christian Bale in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies (Universal).

Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas