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.
Just want to give a quick shout-out of congrats to the Hollywood Stock Exchange who have just completely redesigned and relaunched their web site for the first time in many years. If you’re into movie box office and online games, it’s really a fun site, which allows you to trade movie stocks and star bonds based on how upcoming movies will perform at the box office. If you haven’t checked it out or haven’t been there in a while, then definitely check out the new site and some of the cool new ideas they’ve implemented.
1. Brüno (Universal) – $37.8 million N/A (down .4 million)
2. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (20th Century Fox) – $25.2 million -39% (up 1.2 million)
3. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (DreamWorks/Paramount) – $20.8 million -51% (up .3 million)
4. Public Enemies (Universal) – $13.5 million -47% (same)
5. The Proposal (Disney/Touchstone) – $8.8 million -32% (up .4 million)
6. The Hangover (Warner Bros.) – $7.3 million -35% (up .3 million)
7. My Sister’s Keeper (New Line/WB) – $4.0 million -41% (up 1 million and two spots)
8. Up (Disney/Pixar Animation) – $3.8 million -42% (up .1 million)
9. I Love You Beth Cooper (20th Century Fox) – $3.6 million N/A (down .4 million and two spots)
10. Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian (20th Century Fox) – $1.1 million -40% (added)
Now that the 4th of July is past us, we’re officially into the second half of the summer, and July tends to be a good month for a couple surprise hits. Apparently, this weekend also seems to be about horny, sexually-confused individuals, which is why it should be no surprise when Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest irreverent character Brüno (Universal) has a similar success as his previous breakout hit Borat. It’s opening in 2,700 theatres, which is more theaters than his last movie Borat played in at its peak, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s guaranteed to do as well. Some of Cohen’s straight male fans might take issue with the fake homosexuality in the movie even if it’s done deliberately to bother homophobes (like those who might avoid the movie). Still, Borat was a popular enough hit that his fanbase as well as the under-25 moviegoing set will be itching to see what Cohen does next, which should allow a decent opening.
In a weak almost deluded attempt at counterprogramming, 20th Century Fox is releasing the Chris Columbus high school coming-of-age comedy I Love You, Beth Cooper, starring Hayden (“Heroes”) Pannetiere, against it, maybe thinking that teens too young to get into the R-rated competition might give this a look. Sure. Maybe they’ll buy a ticket to this and then sneak into Brüno, but otherwise, there’s little other reason for anyone to see this low-profile comedy, if they even know about it. It should get into the Top 10 by virtue of there being a lot of movies under $5 million but there’s just too much summer competition for a movie like this to make much of a mark. (In fact, this would be a good weekend for a limited release to expand wider and get into the Top 10 since there’s a very low entry point with the June movies dropping off quickly.)
Due to the theme of the weekend, the “Chosen One” probably should be Lynn Shelton’s Humpday (Magnolia), but instead we’re going with the concert documentary Soul Power (Sony Pictures Classics), which you can read more about below.
This weekend last year was a bit of a mess with three new movies, two of them competing for family audiences, and the other one being the third superhero movie in a row (sort of) following Wanted and Will Smith’s Hancock. Even so, Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Universal) starring Ron Perlman won the weekend with $34.5 million, barely beating Smith’s movie by a couple million. Brendan Fraser starred in the 3D version of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (New Line), which opened in third place with $21 million. Poor Eddie Murphy followed up his hit Norbit with his biggest bomb since Pluto Nash as the sci-fi comedy Meet Dave (20th Century Fox) made just $5.25 million in over 3,000 theaters, a complete and total embarrassment for everyone involved. The Top 10 grossed $140 million, and that amount is in sight, but it might fall just short if Brüno is the only movie to gross more than $30 million.
Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammartsten
Directed by Larry Charles (Borat, Religulous, “Seinfeld,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm”); Written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer (all from Borat), Jeff Schaffer (“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Seinfeld”)
Tagline: “Borat was so 2006”
Plot Summary: Gay Austrian supermodel Brüno (Sacha Baron Cohen) comes to America with his trusty assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) in order to try to become a celebrity, trying all sorts of crazy schemes and pranks in the process.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two and a half years since British comic Sacha Baron Cohen hit these shores hard with his irreverent comedy Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, which grossed over $128.5 million in the U.S. (and doubling that amount internationally). It was considered an enormous box office hit based on the $18 million it cost to make the movie. Although it opened in just 837 theatres, a strange strategy by Fox considering the buzz they had built for the movie, it grossed $26.4 million, setting a new record for per-theatre average for a wide opener in less than a thousand theatres (previously held by Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and since beaten by Miley Cyrus’ concert movie). When it tripled the theaters the following weekend, it became one of the first movies, possibly ever, to make more money in its second weekend at #1 than its first, grossing roughly $67 million in just ten days.
It was quite a coup for the comic who had been slowly building an American fanbase through his Da Ali G Show on HBO, but who had already been famous in England for many years, especially after appearing as Ali G in Madonna’s 2000 video, “Music.” The general idea behind Cohen’s humor is that he interviews famous celebrities and political figures as his wacky created characters to see what sort of crazy reactions he can get, and then he also goes out in public as those characters trying to get the wildest reactions. Now, Cohen is back with another one of the characters from his HBO show, this one being his gay Austrian fashion model Brüno, who might not be nearly as known or popular as Borat or Ali G but still promises a lot of the same shenanigans that got so many laughs from the “Borat” movie. At the same time, Cohen could be seen playing outrageous characters in movies like Will Ferrell’s “Talladega Nights” and voicing the crazy King Julien in DreamWorks Animation’s two hit “Madagascar” movies.
Borat was released by Fox, who wisely built up anticipation among the fanbase Cohen’s characters generated both from his HBO show and on sites like YouTube and MySpace, where young males have followed him religiously on par with radio shock jock Howard Stern. The impressive marketing campaign began by playing clips from the movie at the Toronto Film Festival almost a year before the movie’s release and then screening the movie both at Comic-Con and Toronto again, which helped to get critics behind the movie, building even more anticipation. Universal has tried to emulate some of the same things that worked with various stunts, including having Cohen appear in character on Conan and other late night shows. What they didn’t account for was the number of times that Cohen’s antics got into the news due to all the mayhem some of them caused.
Oddly, Borat was warmly embraced by mainstream media in the weeks leading up to the movie’s release, creating interest among older audiences unfamiliar with Cohen’s show. They’re being more wary of the Brüno character, just because a lot of the corporate television networks are run by conservative Republicans who have to worry about offending their devout Christian audiences. Because of that, Cohen’s latest just doesn’t seem to have the same advance buzz, maybe because his schtick isn’t as shocking a second time around or maybe because the character isn’t as popular as Cohen’s other bits. Reviews were almost unanimously positive for the first movie, maybe because it was so irreverent and controversial, but critics might not be so quick to praise the follow-up (even if I certainly feel it’s a better movie). I would like to personally thank Cohen and Universal for making the title of the movie more to the point, and that will certainly make it easier for people to buy tickets since they won’t feel the need to say a ridiculously long movie title. (That’s a joke.)
Now on the one hand, Cohen doesn’t have that much appeal to audiences over a certain age and women probably won’t have much interest in his movie, but in a really odd twist, some gay males might embrace Cohen’s openly gay character while others in the GL community might see the movie just to quench their sense of outrage towards the character’s existence. That said, just about every guy under 25 will probably want to see this movie and it will be their first choice with “Transformers” running out of steam (no really, it is!) and Michael Mann’s Public Enemies not quite living up to expectations. The good news is that because the movie is getting a summer release, there will be far more of that audience available to go out and see the movie its opening weekend, and being released wide in 2,700 theaters will make it easier to find.
Why I Should See It: Cohen’s sense of humor might be an acquired taste but “Bruno” is generally entertaining its ability to shock. (See my review above.)
I Love You, Beth Cooper (20th Century Fox)
Starring Hayden Panettiere, Paul Rust, Jack T. Carpenter, Lauren London
Directed by Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Rent, Bicentennial Man, 9 Months, Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire); Written by Larry Doyle (Duplex, Looney Toons: Back in Action)
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Tagline: “Five Little Words Can Change Your Life” (Like “Your movie has been greenlit”?)
Plot Summary: While giving his valedictorian speech, nerdy virgin Dennis Cooverman (Paul Rust) declares his love for the hottest and most popular girl in school, Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere), and she’s flattered enough to want to show him the best night of his life. Except that first he has to contend with her angry boyfriend and all sorts of other roadblocks.
Mini-Review: The thought of director Christopher Columbus tackling the overused high school coming-of-age comedy that’s been such a staple for classic films over the years sounds promising enough, though this stilted attempt at making a PG-13 version of “Superbad” fails out of the gate and never recovers. After Paul Rust’s Dennis Cooverman declares his love for the most popular girl at his school, played by Hayden Panettiere, she decides to show up at his poorly attended graduation party with her two catty friends, who fulfill the normal “stuck-up best friends of the popular girl” we’ve seen in every movie going back to “Heathers” or earlier. From there, most of the film involves all of them being chased by Beth’s ROTC boyfriend as Cooper races around the area with her two ditzy friends screaming madly in the back seat. The core problem is that Rust has very little personality or charisma, as he spends much of the movie trying to pull off “Graduate”-era Dustin Hoffman… except for the fact that Rust is 28, and as soon as you realize this, his romantic relationship with the teen Panettiere starts getting way too creepy. Meanwhile, Hayden Panettiere makes her return to the big screen with a role that is essentially 100 minutes of her acting cute and/or sexy as the two of them drive around with her ditzy friends screaming madly in the back seat. Dennis’ best friend Rich, played by Jack Anderson, seems to be around merely to imitate Jay Baruchel, spout incessant film quotes and insist that he’s not gay, a running joke that isn’t funny the first, second or millionth time it’s used. For a movie intended as a comedy, there’s almost nothing about any of it that is particularly funny, not just because there aren’t any cleverly-written jokes, but also because it always goes for the most obvious low brow ground possible without the benefits of the kind of R-rated humor that usually can save a scene. Even the use of flashbacks to show the character histories fails to get a giggle as a dumb scene of wet towel flicking turns into a full-on montage. After failing at the comedy, it tries to touch on the heartstrings as Dennis and Beth start bonding, but it just adds to the fact this relationship is unbelievable out of the gate. It’s a movie that’s out of step with its potential audience in every possible way, even in its soundtrack, which includes outdated tunes like Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” or Kiss one moment and then The Hives or other modern bands at others. It’s almost as if Columbus studied a lot of movies to find the perfect formula but then failed to get the right amount of the most important ingredients. That’s the biggest insult of this movie, because he includes so many sly nods to some of the best moments of the genre whether it’s “Risky Business” or “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (Alan Ruck plays Rust’s father) or even Judd Apatow’s show “Freaks and Geeks,” just to remind everyone of better things that have been done with the material. How a skilled director like Columbus can take all these elements that have worked so well over the decades, as clichéd as they may have become, and create a movie that doesn’t even remotely work is astounding, but this is clearly a new low for the genre as well as a career low for Columbus. Rating: 3/10
If a studio offers counter-programming to a big high-profile comedy and no one goes to see it, is that sort of like a tree falling in the woods and not making a sound? Yes? No? Maybe? That certainly may be the case with I Love You, Beth Cooper, Chris Columbus’ adaptation of Larry Doyle’s humor novel of the same name, which is only significant due to the clout Columbus has created for himself as a director, first in the ’90s with the movie Home Alone, its sequel and Robin Williams’ Mrs. Doubtfire and then in 2001 and 2002, when he directed the blockbuster duo of the first two “Harry Potter” movies, both which grossed over $250 million. Since then, he was at the helm for the movie version of the musical Rent, which didn’t make much of a mark over the Thanksgiving weekend in 2005. It’s been three years and for his return, he has chosen Doyle’s award winning novel–don’t get too excited, it was just a “Humor Award”–and has created a movie that looks to be in the vein of other high-school coming of age movies over the years where a virginal guy tries to get the girl of his dreams.
As much as the movie marks the return of Columbus, the biggest selling point for the movie is that it’s the return to the big screen by 20-year-old actress Hayden Panettiere, playing a normal high school student rather than the indestructible cheerleader for which she has become famous on the hit NBC show “Heroes.” By the time “Heroes” came along, Panettiere had already been acting for over eight years, often playing the kids in movies like Message in the Bottle and Raising Helen–she even had a voice role in Pixar’s second movie A Bug’s Life!–but her biggest role pre-“Heroes” was Warner Bros.’ family movie Raising Stripes, which did decently. She hasn’t really appeared in a movie since starting work on “Heroes,” so it’ll be interesting to see if her popularity from the show can carry over to movies
There isn’t that much more than can be said about novelist Larry Doyle, who also wrote the screenplay, except that he’s been involved with some fairly dodgy movies including the Ben Stiller bomb Duplex and Looney Tunes: Back in Action. That’s somewhat worrying even to those who are fans of what Columbus does, but let’s face it, even his biggest hits are not exactly cinematic masterpieces.
Oddly, the premise for the movie is in the same vein as last year’s Sex Drive or the hit high-school sex comedy American Pie and even a little bit like the comedy hit Superbad, only Columbus has decided to tackle the subject with the lighter PG-13 rating, which means the raunchy humor that often accompanies teen angst won’t be present. For some reason, that will make it less cool to anyone over 15, who’ll more likely be trying to see Brüno this weekend, and there isn’t much of a shelf-life for the movie after opening weekend.
Obviously, 20th Century Fox is hoping a coming-of-age comedy with a bit of romance might win over younger women who might not be so interested in Brüno, they haven’t really done much to market this compared to other summer movies, so who knows if anyone even knows this movie exists. At this point, there just doesn’t seem to be very much awareness or interest in the movie, and it probably would have fared better if it was released in the spring or winter season rather than getting a mid-summer release. Because of that, this seems destined to follow last year’s The Rocker and College as movies that didn’t stand a chance at finding an audience in the busy summer movie season.
Why I Should See It: Let’s face it, Hayden Panettiere is a super cutie even and she turns 20 soon, so older guys only need to feel slightly less skeevie for thinking that.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Soul Power (Sony Pictures Classics)
It’s almost a given that a concert movie is highly likely to be selected “The Chosen One” because it’s a sorely underrated film genre that this particular writer has absolutely adored for a very long time. This particular movie should have a lot of interest for its historical relevance in that it brought some of the top ’70s African-American soul, blues and R ‘n’ B acts back to the land of their roots for the first time. Every aspect of the unprecedented Zaire 75 musical festival was caught on film but much of this rare footage has not been seen in over 34 years. Filmmaker Jeffrey Levy-Hinte went through nearly 125 hours of that footage and created a tight 93-minute film that’s not just a series of random concert footage, but one that shows them preparing for this once-in-a-lifetime concert event, including footage of the musicians traveling from America to Africa to play at the festival. The candid behind-the-scenes footage of the likes of Muhammad Ali, James Brown and others at the height of their fame is the type of footage so rare that one should be amazed that director Leon Gast never used some of it in When We Were Kings. Gast himself was on hand to produce this concert film which includes the camerawork of legendary concert filmmaker Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter). Highlights include performances by B.B. King, The Spinners and Celia Cruz and the Fania All-Stars (including salsa legend Héctor Lavoe playing a low-key role as a back-up singer), although obviously, most of the focus will be on the performance by James Brown and his Mighty JBs which rightfully opens and closes the film. It takes mere seconds before you immediately realize why Brown is dubbed “The Godfather of Soul” as he gives the type of electrifying performance. Some of the off-stage stuff is equally fun to watch, although Muhammad Ali and Don King are probably given a little too much screen time for them to mouth off with their hyperbole, although this film captures them at the peak of their abilities as showmen as well. George Foreman is nowhere to be seen. Some music fans watching this movie might be itching to see more of the musical performances, since most of the acts only get a few minutes each. You just know that there’s a great DVD that can be made including some of the concert footage that wasn’t used. My one gripe with the film is that Levy-Hinte doesn’t always bother to properly introduce each of the performing acts. Other than James Brown and B.B. King and maybe The Spinners, it’s not exactly obvious who everyone is, especially the local African artists, and none of them are introduced until the very end. As a film that offers an opportunity to introduce a new generation to all these great ’70s acts, one would think that a mere title under each performer wouldn’t disrupt from their performances. Either way, Levy-Hinte’s movie makes for a great companion piece to When We Were Kings, and it seems destined to join classic concert films like Woodstock and Gimme Shelter in the musical archives for its ability to capture the feel of the times and really make you feel like you were there. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
It opens in New York and Seattle on Friday, followed by L.A. and San Franscico on July 17.
Mini-Review: You have to give Lynn Shelton a lot of credit for trying to explore a part of the male lifestyle that often deliberately goes unspoken, when the close bond of friendship between two straight guys is closer than either might ever have with a woman. Every guy experiences that awkward realization at least once in their life, and that’s the basis for what is a surprisingly high concept premise for an indie comedy, but one that’s explored in a rich and satisfying way. Your ability to believe the idea of two straight guys drunkenly daring each other to do a sex scene together on film will probably determine whether or not you’re able to appreciate the results, but that will probably be the hardest pill for at least most guys to swallow. It’s certainly easy enough to believe that Ben has been living vicariously through his world-traveling friend Andrew, and that their reunion could spur Ben to explore his more adventurous side, but even that wouldn’t work if not for the brilliant casting of Mark Duplass–one half of the Duplass Brothers of “The Puffy Chair” fame–as Ben and Josh Leonard (“The Blair Witch Project”) as Andrew. They really work well together on screen in the improvised setting that Shelton uses to create a naturalistic environment, as does Alycia Delmore as Ben’s wife. Despite the film being completely improvised, the results are far more coherent than similar low budget verité pieces made in the past few years, the results being an off-beat dialogue-driven film about male bonding that might be slightly overrated due to the hype it’s received at festivals, but still manages to entertain with its solid characterizations. It’s certainly more of a comedy than drama, though most of the laughs come from the awkwardness of the situations, but it does deal well with very real issues about overcoming your own fears about sexuality while always keeping things light and entertaining. That said, some scenes don’t feel like they work in the overall context of the story being told, probably due to their improvised nature, but fortunately, the whole thing pays off in a big way when the two guys finally get to the hotel room to consummate their plan. It would be a crime to spoil what happens, but it’s one of the stronger scenes you’ll see on film this year, just brilliantly staged and realized by two actors whose improvisational skills are impeccable. Ultimately, the movie really becomes all about that final sequence, and it might have already lost some people along the way by the time it gets there. Those who stick around will realize they’ve watched something truly special, and one can certainly see how this movie can grow on people once they accept the difficult premise at its core. Rating: 7.5/10
Also in Limited Release:
Blood: The Last Vampire (Samuel Goldwyn Films) – Based on the popular anime film, Chris Nahon’s martial arts epic tells the story of Saya (Gianna Jun), an ancient half-human samurai vampire hunter in the body of a teen girl who has been sent after the deadliest vampire of all. It opens in select cities.
Mini-Review: Where do we even begin with this misguided attempt at turning a Japanese animated short into a full-fledged live action feature film, one that is so awful you’ll have a hard time believing that it’s produced by Bill Kong, the man behind gorgeous Asian martial arts films like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” as well as Ang Lee’s recent “Lust, Caution.” As a fan of samurai, martial arts and Asian genre films, this movie should have been the perfect movie, but the problems start with the premise which is a half-assed attempt at combining the worst aspects of “Blade” and “Underworld” with the type of serious Asian epics Kong has made in the past. The story revolves around a sword-wielding teenage Asian schoolgirl who in reality a half-human half-demon vampire hunter trying to find the head of the vampires to finally put an end to their reign. It’s the type of premise that might immediately appeal to horny teen males with low standards, but anything that might have been good about the source material has been usurped into a nonsensical story filled with the type of awful nuggets of dialogue that are impossible to hear spoken aloud without instinctively snickering. It’s not helped by the fact that the movie features some of the worst acting in any movie of any kind this year, most evident by the fact that the actress playing Saya can barely speak English, but tries to get through her lines anyway; the same goes for the rest of the Asian actors, as they stumble through their dialogue unaware of how cheesy it is. It’s surprising to see Alison Miller from NBC’s “Kings,” giving a truly embarrassing performance in her first film role as Saya’s rebellious teen friend Alice. As someone impressed by Miller’s work on that show, it’s shocking this is the same actress. Just to drive home the fact that you’re not watching a quality film, Colin Salmon shows up to chew up the scenery as only he knows how to do, but you might scratch your head wondering why a solid dramatic actor like Liam Cunningham might have been caught dead in a movie this dreadful.
However you try to justify this movie’s anime roots, “Blood: The Last Vampire” shows a new level of filmmaking incompetence previously only seen in the films of Dr. Uwe Boll. It is just plain awful and offers very little either to the vampire or the martial arts genres. Chris Nahon, director of Jet Li’s “Kiss of the Dragon,” shows that he hasn’t improved much, taking an incomprehensible script and weak cast, and turning the entire film into an ugly abomination that looks like total crap from top to bottom, mostly when there’s any CG involved. It all looks very cheaply done, especially the demon creatures Saya fights that look like they were done with Claymation. Seriously, if you can imagine the worst CG work you’ve ever seen in a movie ever, regardless of budget, this is much worse. Even the wire-heavy action scenes choreographed by master stunt coordinator Corey Yuen are ruined with Nahon’s terrible camerawork and the decision to use a diluted color palette that makes the film almost unwatchable at times. The movie continually flashes back to Saya’s past, and at least at those times, we’re given a break from the awful look of the rest of the film, replaced by lovely shots of the Japanese countryside, but then we’re back in present day and the story just gets more and more awful as loads of predictable plot twists are piled on top of action scenes that are agonizingly painful to watch. The only good thing that can be said about the movie is that it sports a score by Clint Mansell, but even that is mixed so low compared to the sound effects that its hard to appreciate it. Originally, this movie was going to be directed by Ronny Yu, and while it’s probably a good thing he escaped, one can only imagine how much better the movie could have been in his far more capable hands. Rating: 2.5/10
Weather Girl (Secret Identity Productions) – Blayne Weaver’s romantic comedy stars Tricia O’Kelley as a weather girl who is fired after freaking out on air due to her boyfriend’s infidelity with the show’s host, forcing her to cope with being 35, single and unemployed as she moves in with her younger brother (Ryan Devlin). It opens in L.A. at the Laemmle Sunset 5.
Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg (International Film Circuit) Aviva Kempner’s documentary takes a look at television pioneer Gertrude Berg, the creator and star of the popular radio show “The Goldbergs” which became television’s first sitcom in 1949, as well Berg receiving the first Best Actress Emmy in history. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinemas and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on Friday.
Next week, the long wait is over for the sixth installment of the adventures of J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.), opening on Wednesday.
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas