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. District 9 (Sony) – $33.0 million N/A (up .6 million)
2. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Paramount) – $24.0 million -56% (same)
3. The Time Traveler’s Wife (New Line/WB) – $19.5 million N/A (up .4 million)
4. Julie & Julia (Sony) – $11.6 million -42% (same)
5. The Goods: Live Hard * Sell Hard (Paramount Vantage) – $5.9 million N/A (Up .4 million and one spot)
6. G-Force (Disney) – $5.5 million -45% (down 1 spot)
7. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.) – $4.6 million -47% (same)
8. Bandslam (Summit) – $4.0 million N/A (same)
9. Ponyo (Disney) – $3.8 million N/A (Up .3 and one spot)
10. (500) Days of Summer (Fox Searchlight) – $3.8 million 0% (added at #10)
It’s already the second weekend of August and it’s hard to believe that the summer is almost over, but it’s a good time for studios to throw out a couple more risky and challenging films, because let’s face it, at this point, does anyone have anything to lose?
The movies most likely to make an impact are two very different science fiction films, each catering to a different gender demographic (or as we like to call it here at the Weekend Warrior–“gendergraphic”). The movie that’s getting a lot of attention this weekend is Neill Blomkamp’s directorial debut, the sci-fi film District 9 (Sony), produced and presented by Peter Jackson. Despite the cast of unknowns, expect the buzz from key critics and advance promo screenings to continue to spread over the internet and social networking sites like Twitter this week, getting a lot of people out to see it on Friday and over the weekend.
Making a strong play for the older female audience that one would assume has been well-sated this summer is The Time Traveler’s Wife (New Line/WB), based on the best-selling Book Club book with the always popular Rachel McAdams starring alongside Eric Bana. It seems to be coming into an extraordinarily busy August with a number of movies already catering to women, but there’s no denying the popularity of the novel and the promise of delivering romance on par with McAdams’ earlier adapted hit, The Notebook. Still, opening a week after Julie & Julia will likely keep it under the $20 million mark.
Every August, there’s a movie or two that gets dumped in the late summer to finally get it out of a studio’s hands and this week’s offering is The Goods: Live Hard * Sell Hard (Paramount Vantage), a long-delayed comedy starring Jeremy Piven from “Entourage” that’s being released by Paramount after Vantage was dissolved. It’s the only comedy of the weekend with a strong cast including two from the summer’s blockbuster comedy The Hangover, though it’s catering to an audience who are just as likely to wait until DVD or Blu-ray on this.
The bottom third of the Top 10 is going to be a mess and though schools are starting to reopen all over the country, two studios are releasing last minute movies geared towards kids and younger teens. Oscar-winning Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s latest Ponyo (Disney) is becoming one of his more high-profile films of the year thanks to the voice cast and the involvement of John Lasseter as executive producer. It’s likely to wind up somewhere at the bottom of the Top 10 or just outside, along with Bandslam (Summit), a lame-looking teen musical starring Vanessa Hudgens from “High School Musical” that’s bound to tank despite the promise of an exclusive Twilight: New Moon teaser.
This week’s “Chosen One” is… a TIE!! Yes, we couldn’t pick between Paul Solet’s horror movie Grace (Anchor Bay) and Davis Guggenheim’s rock doc It Might Get Loud (Sony Pictures Classics), so we’re not gonna try. You can read more about both of them below. (Note: “The Chosen One” write-up/reviews will be posted later in the week.)
This weekend last year saw the beginning of a strange trend where every weekend had a movie opening two days early on Wednesday, starting off with the Seth Rogen action-comedy Pineapple Express (Sony), which grossed $12 million in its first day and then tailed off to $23.2 million for the weekend, not enough to put it in first place but instead a close second to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, which joined a rare crowd of movies that were #1 four weeks in a row. Also opening on Wednesday, the teen chick flick sequel The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (Warner Bros.) brought in almost $9 million on Wednesday and Thursday and then another $10.7 million over the weekend for fourth place. The Top 10 grossed $108.3 million, which shouldn’t be too hard with five new releases opening this week.
THE BATTLE CRY
This is a busy week with five new movies but I really wanted to talk about something before it got too far away from us, and that is to ask the question: What did Comic-Con achieve?
Most of you reading this probably weren’t there, and even those who attended the annual geek bash probably weren’t able to get into the illustrious Hall H, which is continually becoming the place to camp out in order to see footage. Unfortunately, it only holds 6,500 people and over 100,000 people attend the Comic-Con, so that left a lot of dejected people lined up in the park outside the Convention Center unable to get in to some of the presentations. (And that includes Ye Olde Weekend Warrior as well.)
You can read a good chunk of ComingSoon.net’s coverage of Comic-Con here, but I want to talk about just general perceptions of those who attended and who benefited from being at the Big Show, besides those 6,500 people who moved into Hall H. Certainly, Comic-Con is a big part of every studio’s marketing, especially when it comes to comic-based and genre films, and for the fans, it’s not only a chance to see footage but actually see the filmmakers and stars in person (even though they might be quite far away). What’s always interesting is that some studios skipped Comic-Con altogether. Paramount were just there to support Marvel Studios, but they didn’t bother to screen Stephen Sommers’ G.I. Joe, which seemed like a gimme for Comic-Con, considering the franchise’s comic book and toy roots. 20th Century Fox and the Weinstein Company decided to do most of their promotions off-site and after hours, mostly for select journals, although the screening of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds had a huge reaction. Universal were nowhere to be found either, which is a far cry from past years where they brought Doom and Joss Whedon’s Serenity to Hall H. (Both bombed.)
The biggest breakthrough at this year’s Comic-Con Hall H presentations was the ability to screen in 3D to the thousands in attendance, something that was very evident on Day 1 with presentations from Disney, Sony and New Line (whose new Final Destination trailer in 3D impressed many of my colleagues).
Disney kicked the whole thing off with a trilogy of impressive 3D presentations including Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Robert Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol and Tron Legacy, the long awaited return of the premise that kicked off the modern CG-movie as we know it. While A Christmas Carol might have seemed out of place, people were really excited to get a taste of Burton’s vision for “Alice” and the “Tron” fanboys continue to get more excited as they see where first-time filmmaker Joseph Kosinski is going with it.
I continue to maintain that I won’t have anything to do with The Twilight Saga: New Moon, except to write a review and do my normal box office analysis, so we’ll skip right over that debacle. (The rabid fanbase for the movie caused a lot of craziness on the first day of the show because they were in line for Hall H nearly 24 hours before the Summit panel, keeping people from seeing any of the earlier presentations.)
Clearly, the two movies that had the most anticipation going into Comic-Con were James Cameron’s Avatar and Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2. While I missed the 3D footage for the former, I heard generally good things, though it’s hard to know if being at Comic-Con really helped Cameron’s movie THAT much. We really need to see a trailer or some commercials or some sort of footage online to see if it’s really living up to all the advanced hype that the movie has generated before anything was seen.
On the other hand, the Iron Man 2 presentation late on Saturday was easily one of the most in-demand panels, up there with Summit’s “Twilight” panel, and the packed audience went completely nuts when Favreau showed the first footage everywhere of the sequel. It started out quietly enough with some dialogue and a courtroom scene and then we got a great introductory teaser for Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash and the biggest surprise of the panel… our first look at War Machine! (The latter had been hinted at while doing press for the first movie but then hadn’t really been mentioned since they started shooting.) There is no doubt in my mind form this panel (and the reaction to the recently leaked footage) that this movie is going to be huge. Comic-Con got everyone excited that this was going to be another great movie, just like they killed it two years ago.
That said, the great unknown going into Comic-Con which seemed to benefit the most from being there was Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, which had people very excited by the time of its panel on Friday after the movie was screened for a select group by producer Peter Jackson, making his first Comic-Con appearance, on Thursday night. Everyone was generally thrilled and excited by the prospect of another new voice and vision in science fiction with lots of sites and journos jumping on the bandwagon. (You can read more about that below.)
Two movies that were very much under the radar before Comic-Con, not even having U.S. distribution were Matthew Vaughn’s take on the graphic novel Kick-Ass and the movie version of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane, both which showed a lot of footage that got fans excited, and both should have distribution thanks to the reaction at Comic-Con. (I have interviews with the creators of both movies I hope to run soon.) The teaser for Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland, released by Sony in October, really helped get people pumped for the panel, where they showed a new Red Band trailer (now online) as well as a couple clips that were just as funny as the teaser. It was followed by a presentation for Roland Emmerich’s 2012 where they showed some INSANE footage from the movie.
I personally couldn’t get into the Warner Bros. panel, so I couldn’t tell you what worked or didn’t work in terms of the footage shown, but there seemed to be a lot of excitement generated by what they showed for Jonah Hex with Josh Brolin and Megan Fox in attendance, where that might have been under most people’s radar before Comic-Con. Colleagues of mine were also raving about what they saw of Spike Jonze’ Where the Wild Things Are, although people were generally bleh about Richard Kelly’s The Box and the Hughes Brothers’ Book of Eli. Even Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is still being received with some skepticism after its presentation at Comic-Con, which is surprising considering the adoration people have for Robert Downey Jr. Maybe it’s just too British, who knows? It’s still one of my most anticipated of the year and I’m bummed I missed that as much as I am about missing Jonah Hex.
One movie that really got the short end of the stick was Overture’s sci-fi thriller Pandorum, produced by Paul W.S. Anderson, which got an awkward panel of roughly 15 minutes (if that) as the people who ran the show were trying to get things back on schedule. Likewise, Charlyne Yi’s Paper Heart and another Sundance favorite Mystery Team had panels on Sunday to rooms that were maybe 10% full, a far cry from some of the past Sunday presentations. Being at Comic-Con probably didn’t help any of those movies.
So definitely the winners this year were Sony, Disney and Warner Bros., who really made the most out of their allotted time, but that shouldn’t be that surprising since they’re also the three studios who are the most on top of how to market their movies. Comic-Con just gave them a bigger immediate audience than they might normally have in a theatrical setting.
District 9 (Sony)
Starring Sharlto Copley, David James
Directed by Neill Blomkamp (debut); Written by Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Tagline: “You are not welcome here.”
Plot Summary: 28 years after aliens first came to Earth and were confined to a South African slum known as “District 9,” a government field op named Wikus van der Merwe (Shartlo Copley) is assigned the unenviable task of evicting aliens as they’re relocated to a new camp, but little does he realize that something will happen to him that will change the entire game in the shaky human-alien relationship with Wikus being the key to the government unlocking the secret to the alien weaponry.
Every summer, there’s one or two (or three) movies that come from out of nowhere, seem to have very little going for them in the grand scheme of Hollywood, and then explode, becoming much talked about summer sleepers. This summer, we’ve already seen Todd Phillips’ The Hangover become the comedy to do just that, and I think most people were surprised by the quality and success of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. But what about a movie by a first-time South African filmmaker starring a complete unknown childhood friend that a month ago had absolutely no buzz or attention and now is getting hailed as the “must see movie of the summer”?
It doesn’t hurt that the movie is produced and presented by Oscar-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson, the man behind the blockbuster “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (grossed nearly $3 billion worldwide), the remake of King Kong, as well the upcoming “Hobbit” movies directed by Guillermo del Toro. His name is attached on the posters and marketing materials in a similar way as Quentin Tarantino got behind Eli Roth’ Hostel and others like Wes Craven and Guillermo del Toro have added their names in a “presents” capacity, the latter with the Spanish horror flick The Orphanage. In fact, this is the first time in 15 years that Jackson has produced a first-time filmmaker, so it is indeed a rarity.
The movie’s lead actor is Sharlto Copley, an unknown South African filmmaker who’s also a long time friend of Blomkamp, so there’s not a lot we can say about him, except this week, he has his face on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, which is an amazingly impressive feat for any actor or movie. (Clearly, the editors of the magazine love the movie and want to promote it, because it’s not common for a magazine publisher to take such a risk, especially in these trying times for the publishing industry.)
While older filmgoers might remember the similar phenomenon that helped turn The Blair Witch Project into an enormous indie hit, in many ways, District 9 is more like the J.J. Abrams-produced Cloverfield, a different take on the giant-monster-invades-city movie which exploded into theaters in January ’08 after a similarly enigmatic viral campaign. There are couple major differences between District 9 and Cloverfield, the first one being that Blomkamp’s movie is Rated R rather than PG-13, which will make a big difference in terms of getting the teens into theaters this weekend, whether it’s those who have already returned to school or those still having time to kill.
In other ways, this might be seen as similar to the 2004 movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, another distinctive directorial debut which had huge buzz from its appearance at Comic-Con, but months later failed to capitalize on it despite known stars like Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow. Sony has been smarter by releasing the movie just a few short weeks after the buzz broke at Comic-Con, and they’ve also been screening it a lot more, something Paramount was unwilling to do with Abrams’ secret project. While that actually worked in the latter’s favor–the excitement to see the movie wasn’t quelled by potentially negative reviews–District 9 is benefiting from the solid word of mouth from people who’ve actually seen it, which will get more interest from others to see the movie despite the unknown director and cast.
While this movie is likely to have a lot of direct competition next week from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, buzz should continue to fuel it and get people interested over the next few months, much like M. Night Shymalan’s breakout The Sixth Sense. While it might not gross that much, one can see certainly see it making close to three times its production budget domestically.
Why I Should See It: Neill Blomkamp’s debut is another impressively inventive sci-fi movie, one of the most impressive sci-fi action movies from a new director in quite some time.
The Time Traveler’s Wife (New Line/WB)
Starring Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana, Arliss Howard, Ron Livingston
Directed by Robert Schwentke (Flightplan, Tattoo); Written by Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost)
Genre: Drama, Romance
Plot Summary: From the age of six, Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) had a genetic condition that caused him to randomly travel through time, unable to control when it happened and when he would end up. Eventually, he finds his rock in Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams), a young woman from a wealthy family who first encounters an older Henry when she’s a young girl, and Henry finds himself drawn back to her again and again. They finally connect and get married, but maintaining a relationship with someone who disappears at odd times can be difficult.
Mini-Review: If you haven’t read the original novel but are aware of the number of readers who cherish it, you might wonder what the big deal is, because the commercials and trailer for this adaptation have done very little to make it look like anything more than another weepy romance ala “Nights in Rodanthe” or “The Notebook” or “The Lake House.” What might surprise the cynics is that this is a fairly serious look at how time travel might work outside of a straight science fiction setting, creating something more in the vein of “The Butterfly Effect” in that it’s the love of a woman driving the time traveler’s journey, despite it being an uncontrollable phenomenon.
We’re introduced to young Henry DeTamble on Christmas as he’s driving with his mother, a deadly car crash triggering the genetic anomaly that sends him hurtling through time to the future and then back again where he encounters his older self. His inability to control the time jumps (and the nude state when he arrives) gets him into all sorts of trouble, forcing him to forever be on the run with no respite. During one of these jumps he meets Rachel McAdams’ Clare, a young co-ed who not only claims to have met him many times when she was much younger and he was older, but also declares her love for him. One thing leads to another as the two get involved and try to find a way to keep Henry from disappearing, leading to the now married Clare trying vainly to have a baby. Completely against the idea of bringing a child into the world who might share his problem, Henry gets a vasectomy to foil Clare’s attempts, forcing her to cheat on him with his younger self.
This must have been an incredibly difficult novel to adapt for screenwriter Bruce Rubin and director Robert Schwenke (“Flightplan”), because the way the two characters’ timelines connect and diverge in different ways really keeps the film intriguing, as you’ll try your best to keep track of where you are in each of their stories. One might want to question how this power of Henry’s can be so random and uncontrollable, but it adds to the mystery of the piece. In many ways, “The Time Traveler’s Wife” ventures into similar realms of the fantastical as “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” requiring the viewer to accept Henry’s condition without question.
Rachel McAdams has always had an undeniable presence on screen and she brings out an equally strong performance in Bana, both of them being surprisingly believable playing various ages, although we only really see Henry in the span of roughly 17 years. (The attempt to make Ron Livingston look like he could be in college fails miserably.) Some might find the thought of the middle-aged Henry showing up naked when he encounters the 6-year-old Clare kind of creepy, but it’s not like there are any sort of sexual connotations implied.
After a number of failed attempts, they have a daughter who shares Henry’s powers though she finds a way to control them, the actress playing the young girl having the type of haunting and knowing eyes that really make her scenes quite terrific. There’s no question that Schwentke is a capable director who understands how to tell a potentially confusing story in a surprisingly linear way creating strong dramatic arcs for all the characters, plus instilling a surprising sense of humor like having Canada’s Broken Social Scene performing Joy Divison’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” at the couple’s wedding. Foreshadowing? I think so.
Sure, if you really think about it, there are more than a few time anomalies and other potential plot issues, but not nearly as many as in other attempted cross-time romances like “The Lake House,” and for the most part, this is a thoughtful and thought-provoking drama about what it takes for two people to overcome all the obstacles put in their path of staying together. Rating: 7.5/10
It’s odd to think that this week’s obligatory female counterprogramming is also a science fiction movie, but based on the best-selling novel by Audrey Niffeneger, this is essentially a romance film based around the concept of time travel and how two people can be in love despite traveling on different oft-convergent timelines.
For New Line–now merged into Warner Bros.–it was a chance to bring another popular Book Club novel to the screen in hopes of having similar success as their 2004 hit The Notebook, which grossed almost $80 million domestically. Trying to recapture that magic, they’ve made this adaptation a vehicle for that movie’s star Rachel McAdams, who went onto astounding success in the year that followed with back-to-back hits Wedding Crashers and Red Eye. (Most people first discovered McAdams as one of Tina Fey’s Mean Girls.) After having such an amazing year in 2005, McAdams went into hiding, appearing only in smaller indie movies like Married Life and The Lucky Ones until earlier this year when she co-starred with Russell Crowe in State of Play. This movie is a huge return for McAdams because she’s returning to romantic fare based on a book that will play up to the female moviegoers who have generally enjoyed her work.
Her co-star, Australian actor Eric Bana, was once thought to be the next big thing, especially when he starred in back-to-back summer blockbusters Troy and Ang Lee’s The Hulk but he didn’t really capitalize on it, disappearing for a while and appearing in odds and ends like the long-delayed dud Lucky You. This has been a great summer for Bana, from his role as the main bad guy in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek to his role in Judd Apatow’s latest movie Funny People, both which have kept him in the public eye this year. Other than Lucky You, Bana hasn’t really played many romantic leads but he’s good looking enough and ladies generally love a man with an accent.
Despite the presence of the two stars, it’s mainly being sold on the basis of the romantic premise from the book, brought to the screen by Flighplan helmer Robert Schwentke, and Bruce Joel Ruben, who won an Oscar for his screenplay to the much-beloved supernatural romance Ghost. While the goal is for the movie to share the success of The Notebook, New Line’s last attempt at adapting a bestseller (with “Notebook” director Nick Cassavetes no less) was My Sister’s Keeper, starring Cameron Diaz and based on a book still in the bestseller’s list, and that brought in roughly $47 million, not bad compared to its budget.
This is a far more intelligent film than the typical romantic drama, probably more like Ashton Kutcher’s The Butterfly Effect than Warner Bros.’ sleeper The Lake House, which reunited Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves for the first time since Speed. While it might be hard to get guys away from District 9 and some women might allow themselves to be dragged to see that by their guys, this is the kind of movie that older women will see as a group after work on Friday or over the weekend while their husbands and kids are doing other things. (It probably won’t have as much appeal to younger girls as other romantic comedies.)
While it’s coming into a market with plenty of female-friendly fodder including Meryl Streep’s latest Julie & Julia, fans of the book have been waiting a long time for this movie after it was delayed from last November, and that will help create a groundswell of business for the movie at least opening week. Reviews should generally be good, which will make a difference since older women tend to read and pay attention to critics. Like The Notebook, this is a movie that isn’t relying solely on opening weekend and without much female-friendly fare in the coming weeks, it should be able to pick up strong word-of-mouth business similar to some of the summer’s other releases.
Why I Should See It: This is a surprisingly solid romantic film with intelligence that can be enjoyed both by men and women.
The Goods: Live Hard * Sell Hard. (Paramount Vantage)
Starring Jeremy Piven, Ed Helms, Ving Rhames, James Brolin, David Koechner, Kathryn Hahn, Jordana Spiro, Ken Jeong
Directed by Neal Brennan (debut from the director of “The Chappelle Show”); Written by Adam Stock and Rick Stempson (Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach)
Plot Summary: Lifelong salesman and ladies’ man Don Ready (Jeremy Piven) is called upon to save a car dealership with his ragtag crew of dysfunctional alcoholics who hit the small town of Temecula hellbent on accomplishing their mission.
One of the many movies struggling to get business this weekend will this be long-delayed comedy produced by Gary Sanchez Productions, the company formed by Will Ferrell and long-time collaborator Adam McKay (Talladega Nights, Step Brothers), which acts as a starring vehicle for Jeremy Piven, who has won multiple Emmy awards for his role as Ari Gold on the HBO comedy “Entourage.”
While Jeremy Piven has been mainly making his name for that show, he’s been equally prolific with his film roles over the last 20 years, mostly starring opposite John Cusack going back to that actor’s breakout Say Anything…, but never really having a lot of breakout lead roles in films like this one. The closest he came might have been Very Bad Things with director Peter Berg (another regular collaborator), although that was mainly Cameron Diaz and Christian Slater’s movie. Either way, he’s been a well-respected character for a long time before being cast as Ari Gold, and Ferrell and McKay have wisely recognized his talents and ability to carry a show to put him in the lead for this movie.
That said, the secret weapon in The Goods may be Ed Helms, one of the stars of the summer’s big comedy hit The Hangover, who before that was mainly known as Andy from hit NBC show “The Office.” He’s joined by Ken Leung, another comic actor who appeared in The Hangover, but first became known for his role as a cranky gynecologist in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up. It also stars veteran actor James Brolin in a rare comedic role.
Gary Sanchez Productions is to Ferrell and McKay what Happy Madison Production is to Adam Sandler, and while Ferrell has had similar comedy success, not all of Sandler’s productions have been hits, as seen by last year’s Strange Wilderness, which ironically enough, was also distributed by Paramount. Previously, Ferrell and McKay presented the festival favorite The Foot Fist Way, the first movie from Jody Hill (Observe and Report), starring Danny McBride, which tanked. Like that one, The Goods is being sold based on their involvement, just like many comedies have been sold based on the involvement of Judd Apatow as producer.
The Goods would have been one of the last movies to be distributed by the now fully-defunct Paramount Vantage, but it moved over to Big Paramount, who have been using a similar series of red band clips and trailers to get the interest of college males looking for something to see, but the movie just doesn’t look very funny, and they’ll be fighting against two stronger male draws, Sony’s District 9 and last week’s G.I. Joe for business. While having a cameo by Ferrell in your movie used to be a good way for a movie to make money, audiences are certainly getting tired of his schtick so a recently-released Red Band trailer of Ferrell’s cameo might not help matters.
Paramount are almost desperate to prove they can have continued success with comedy, having had their first relative non-rom-com comedy hit earlier this year with John Hamburg’s I Love You, Man (out on Tuesday on DVD, which is not a coincidence) after having numerous comedy bombs, including Ben Stiller’s R-rated The Heartbreak Kid. They’ve put a lot of money into getting the commercials out there, and they’re impossible to miss if you watch ESPN or some of the news channels, which have been showing the commercials incessantly.
That said, Paramount couldn’t get the movie into more than 1,500 theatres, presumably in cities and college towns, and that just isn’t enough to make much of a mark. If the movie’s able to bring in more than $5 million this weekend, that’s probably more than it would have made if Vantage released it, so at least that’s something to be proud of.
Why I Should See It: Piven is hilarious on “Entourage” and Helms is just as funny on “The Office,” so could The Goods live up to its title?
Starring Alyson Michalka, Vanessa Hudgens, Gaelen Connell, Lisa Kudrow
Directed by Todd Graff (Camp); Written by Josh A. Cagan, Todd Graff
Genre: Musical, Family
Tagline: “Music Has the Power to Rock Your World.” (No, I really wish I had made that up.)
Plot Summary: Singer-songwriter Charlotte Banks (Alyson Michalka) hires Will Burton (Gaelen Connell) to manage her new rock band, which she hopes she’ll be able to enter in a battle of the bands against her musician ex-boyfriend Ben’s band. The band starts having success, which only gets complicated when Will falls for the band’s guitarist Sam (Vanessa Hudgens).
Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)
Yes, folks, you knew it was going to happen eventually, and finally, Hollywood has decided to bring the teen show “California Dreams” to the big screen. I wish! No, this is the new movie by Todd Graff, the filmmaker behind indie Camp, doing a bigger budget studio movie. For the most part, the movie is capitalizing solely on the popularity of actress Vanessa Hudgens from her role as part of the ensemble as Disney’s hit “High School Musical” series, the last installment being a feature film that grossed $90 million after a $42 million opening last October. In general, it’s a movie hoping to attract the same ‘tween audience that have been flocking to theaters for other musical movies.
Vanessa Hudgens’ role in the movie will play a big part in that, although it’s hard not to think of her as one of Disney’s “fallen,” being that she left the Mouse House behind to venture into new territories. It might be good to note how that worked out for the likes of Britney Spears, Hillary Duff and Lindsay Lohan. It probably doesn’t help matters that just last week, Hudgens was back in the tabloid headlines due to more private nude photos of her being leaked. It’s really not good timing for her, because though she was able to recover the first time it happened, young female fans only have so much patience with their idols. (Fortunately, Hudgens had already finished all of her press for the movie before this happened.)
Not that this will help matters, but Bandslam also stars “Friends” star Lisa Kudrow in a motherly role. While she did appear in Paramount’s surprise family hit Hotel for Dogs last year, Kudrow is generally known as box office poison for a movie. (Sorry, “Phoebe,” but you know it’s true.)
Rock and music movies have been hit or miss over the years with hit comedies like Jack Black’s School of Rock being counter-balanced by massive bombs like last summer’s The Rocker starring Rainn Wilson. On the other hand, Warner Bros. had a reasonable-sized hit with their PG musical movie August Rush starring Freddie Highmore, which took advantage of family audiences being off for Thanksgiving. One would assume that kids and teens are getting more into music due to the popularity of Rock Band, something that the movie will try to capitalize on.
Unfortunately, the movie just doesn’t look very good. In fact, it looks pretty awful, maybe even as bad as the Ashlee Simpson debut Undiscovered or the “American Idol” inspired megabomb From Justin to Kelly, both which proved that success on television or in the pop world or in trendy musicals doesn’t necessarily translate to the motion pictures.
Hoping to save themselves from what might have been an embarrassing bomb, Summit Entertainment announced that they’d be showing a special exclusive teaser for their anticipated “Twilight” sequel New Moon in front of the movie, something that’s being advertised in hopes that the “Twihards” will rush out and buy tickets to be able to see it. Considering that none of them have rushed out to see the Robert Pattinson movies that have seen the light of day trying to capitalize on his new-found success, it seems doubtful this will work, but it’s really the only thing going for Bandslam right now.
Why I Should See It: It’s been a long time since there’s been a good teen Battle of the Bands movie.
Starring (the voices of) Cate Blanchett, Noah Cyrus, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Frankie Jonas, Cloris Leachman, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Betty White
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke) with Melissa Matheson
Genre: Animated, Family, Fantasy
Tagline: “Welcome to a World Where Anything is Possible”
Plot Summary: A 5-year-old Japanese boy named Sosuke (voiced by Frankie Jonas) finds a strange-looking goldfish and names her Ponyo (Noah Cyrus), and days later, she returns as a little girl, having run away from her domineering father Fujimoto (Liam Neeson), a wizard who doesn’t think his daughter should be out in the world.
Mini-Review With an impressive filmography of memorable animated fantasy films under his belt, Japanese Anime God Hayao Miyazaki heads below the seas opening his latest with an extended underwater scene, completely sans dialogue, showing a wizard with long red hair named Fujimoto creating all sorts of amazing sea creatures out of his bubbles. It’s the type of scene that might immediately make one think of Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” or “The Little Mermaid”–Miyazaki’s latest is based on the original Hans Christian Anderson story. Wiser viewers will quickly realize what you’re watching here is Miyazaki’s tribute to “Fantasia,” the combination of his visuals with Joe Hisaishi’s gorgeous score immediately pulling you into his latest world of wonder. We then meet young Sosuke, a lonely Japenese boy whose father is a sea captain and his mother is busy working at a retirement home. When he finds the strange-looking water-spewing goldfish, he names his new friend Ponyo, only to lose her shortly afterwards when the wizard we met earlier retrieves his daughter. Before you can say “Pinnochio,” the rebellious Ponyo has used her magic powers to become a real girl and starts literally dancing across the waves to return home to the boy she loves. Like his peer, “Akira” creator Katsuhiro Otomo knows how to use the medium to create fantastical and epic sequences, yet there’s a simplicity to his team’s handdrawn linework that goes against the grain of the current trend in animation to instill every frame with hyper-realistic detail. Having been sorely disappointed by the American dub of “Howl’s Moving Castle,” it’s hard not to be impressed by the way some of Pixar’s filmmakers got involved to find the right writer and voices to translate Hiyazaki’s work for a mainstream American audience. The two kids are great as Sosuke and Ponyo as is Liam Neeson as the wizard and a group of old ladies voiced by Lily Tomlin and Betty White; like Pixar’s best movies, they do become their characters. At times, the movie might seem a little too silly or cutesy to keep the youngest of kids entertained, but it’s hard not to deny that Ponyo herself is adorable in all forms. Despite the attempt to make the story more accessible to Americans, the movie maintains much of Miyazaki’s more adult quirkiness–Sosuke’s exasperated mother drinks a beer after a hard day at work–as well as the Japanese aspects of the storytelling. At the same time, “Ponyo” returns us to a more innocent time when one didn’t need edgy and racy humor to keep an audience entertained. In many ways, Miyazaki continues to be the true heir to the Walt Disney legacy, made even more apparent by the loving contribution of his American production team. However you slice it, this is the type of glorious filmmaking and storytelling that should appeal to everyone from the youngest child to the oldest adult, a wonderful and magical film that should be seen and enjoyed as a family. Rating: 8.5/10
It’s surprising that a movie from Oscar winning Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Gibli might be the underdog of the weekend even though the latest movie from the man behind Spirited Away is getting the widest release for one of his movies, as Disney takes a different approach with this one than they did with Howl’s Moving Castle. Maybe it’s because this time around Mr. Miyazaki has Pixar founder and Disney Animation’s Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter on his side as executive producer, as well as superstar producer Frank Marshall (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park) helping out with the American dubbed version of the movie. In order to try to get young American kids interested, they’ve cast Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jonas as the voice leads, and if those names sound familiar, that’s because they’re the youngest siblings of Disney’s biggest superstars Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. Obviously, Disney are trying to keep things in the family while preparing their latest wave of “Pod People Popstars” for which they’ve become known. Lasseter and Marshall also helped get the likes of Oscar winners Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin and Betty White to add their voices, which is very impressive. The decision to give the movie a wide release into over 800 theaters is a daring one, being that no previous Miyazaki movie has grossed more than $10 million domestically, and his last movie grossed about half that amount. While Ponyo might not open that big, one can expect this will be the first choice for many families with small children over the next few weeks as parents discover it–reviews should be as good as Miyazaki’s previous films. Ultimately, it could end up making more money than both The Goods and Bandslam if it’s able to build on opening weekend word-of-mouth.
Why I Should See It: When it comes to 2D hand-drawn animation, Miyazaki and his studio are the masters.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
This week, we have a rare tie! Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we weren’t able to do our normal review/write-up of either of them?but in the meantime, check out the interviews we did for both movies which give you a little better idea what they’re about.
Grace (Anchor Bay)
One of the nicest surprises from this year’s Sundance Film Festival (in a jarring “I can’t believe I’m watching this!” way) was Paul Solet’s expansion of his earlier short film about a mother who won’t give up on her baby daughter even when though there’s obviously something not quite right about her. Movies that revolve around the horrors of childbirth can really play with the basest fears both of new parents as well as those who’ve never experienced it, and in that sense, the very idea behind Solet’s debut can leave you as shaken up as if you watched one of my personal favorites, the French gorefest “Inside.”
Jordan Ladd, star of Eli Roth’s “Cabin Fever” (another personal fave) plays Madeline, a young pregnant woman who has the same concerns and worries of any expectant mother, but all her plans with husband Michael fall apart when he’s killed in a horrible car crash and their baby’s future is left in question. Madeline decides to bring the baby to term and deliver it stillborn, or at least that’s what most people around her seem to think. Once born, Grace is an absolutely beautiful baby, except for the fact that she craves blood rather than mother’s milk which doesn’t seem to odd to the new mother – neither do the flies that circle the young baby. So is her baby daughter dead or alive? That’s part of the fascination most will have with this movie because you’re never sure, since it successfully straddles that line of fantasy and realism that makes for the best horror. Making Madeline’s baby a girl just adds another level of creepiness, because a baby girl naturally seems more placid than a boy.
This is a very different role for Ladd, as she gives a mature and adult performance that will surprise many to see the great lengths this mother will go to in order to keep this baby safe. It’s really unlike anything we’ve seen her do before. Much of the conflict comes from her bitch of a mother-in-law, played by Gabrielle Rose, who disapproves of how her son’s wife is raising the baby, wanting to take full custody to fulfill her own fleeting desires of motherhood that comes with menopause. (It leads to a number of bizarre eye-opening moments, one which might have fit better in one of John Waters’ early films.) There are also a few ongoing PETA-type undercurrents involving animal testing and the idea of meat being murder, as the vegetarian Madeline has to find new sources of blood for her daughter. The story constantly goes into surprising and terrifying directions one can only imagine and often, one will be watch horrified as Solet “goes there” again and again.
Many horror filmmakers say they want to capture the look and feel of classic ’70s horror films like “The Exorcist” or “Rosemary’s Baby,” but Solet has achieved it on many levels combining the film’s quiet and somber tone with a haunting ambient score to keeps you on the edge of your seat. That said, the movie certainly isn’t one for the squeamish, which was quickly discovered from one of the stories that circulated around the movie’s famous midnight premiere at Sundance when two men apparently fainted, but who’s to blame them? This is clearly the sickest and most disturbing movie you’ll see this year, extremely effective on every level without cowtowing to the overused formulas that have become standard in modern horror.
Grace opens in New York and L.A. on Friday. See it at midnight… if you dare!
It Might Get Loud (Sony Pictures Classics)
As a die-hard fan of the rock doc and rock music in general, the idea of three rock guitar greats coming together to talk about their instruments and their history is just something one has to experience for themselves, which is why I was blown away with what Davis Guggenheim managed to achieve the first time I saw his movie roughly eleven months ago at the Toronto Film Festival. It’s not just that you get to watch three legendary guitarists interacting for the first time, even jamming on each other’s songs, but you get a very unique sense of history and where they came from, whether it’s Jimmy Page’s years as a session guitarist before joining the Yardbirds or the formation of U2 at a Dublin university. Jack White is still somewhat of an enigma to me in terms of his popularity, but you do get a better idea of his eccentricity through his suitably weird segments, including one in which he plays a homemade slide guitar to jamming with a 9-year-old incarnation of himself. (Jimmy Page has rarely gone on record so much about his influences and history as he does here.) The very different backgrounds of the three musicians plays a large part in what makes the film so fascinating to watch, as it combines introspective thoughts about their roles in music to segments from their summit meeting. This is more than the normal jam session though, since the thought of Jimmy Page jamming on “I Will Follow” or The Edge adding his ambient noodlings to “Whole Lotta Love” are the stuff of rock enthusiasts’ wet dreams. They might never have happened if the filmmakers hadn’t decided on doing a movie about the electric guitar and if Guggenheim hadn’t had the foresight on focusing on these three specific guitarists. The result is the type of meeting of musical minds that should thrill lovers of rock music, allowing this movie to easily fit on the shelf along with the rest of their records and CDs.
It Might Get Loud opens in select cities on Friday.
Also in Limited Release:
Spread (Anchor Bay) – Ashton Kutcher stars in this L.A. based dramedy about a male gigolo and grifter named Nikki who sleeps with rich older women in order to have a place to crash, but his latest conquest, a middle-aged lawyer named Samantha (Anne Heche), offers him more, but Nikki instead falls for a waitress named Heather (Margarita Levieva from Adventureland), jeopardizing his meal ticket. It opens in New York, L.A. and other select cities on Friday.
Earth Days (Zeitgeist Films) – Documentary filmmaker Robert Stone (Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst) tackles global warning, tracing the current environmental movement back to when we were first warned about the problems the earth faces during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s from books like Rachel Carson’s bestselling “Silent Spring” to other attempts at eco-activism. The Sundance Film Festival closer opens in new York and L.A. on Friday.
Pool Boys (Seven Arts Releasing) – Matthew Lillard, Efren Ramirez (Napoleon Dynamite) and Tom Arnold star in this comedy about a successful high school student who loses his internship to go to Harvard and instead goes to work for his cousin Roger in LA… as a pool boy. While squatting in one of Roger’s client’s mansions, they decide to start an escort business. Supposedly, it’s opening in over 400 theaters and to that we say, “WHAT THE FRACK???” Seriously, Duncan Jones’ Moon could barely get 200 theatres and this movie is opening in double that? Are you kidding me?
Cloud 9 (Music Box Films) – Andreas Dresen’s drama tells the story of a 67-year-old woman named Inge (Ursula Werner) who falls in love with a 76-year-old man and starts to rediscover her passion and sexuality. Werner won a German Film Award for Best Actress in this film which opens at the Cinema Village in New York on Friday.
My Führer (First Run Features) ? Dani Levy’s dark WWII comedy, which precedes Tarantino’s movie by a week, involves the last days of WWII as HItler is sick and depress, so his right hand man Joseph Goebbels gets his former acting teacher, Adolf Grunbaum, a Jew, to try to get the Führer out of his funk to lead his people back to greatness. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinemas on Friday.
Taxidermia (Regent Releasing) – Gyorgy Pálfi’s Hungarian dark comedy tells three stories about three generations of family–the grandfather a lonely WW2 orderly, the father trying to find success as a speed eater, and the grandson, a meek taxidermist who hopes to stuff his own torso. The first two stories are based on the works of Hungarian writer Lajos Parti Nagy. It opens in New York at the Cinema Village.
Next week, Quentin Tarantino returns with his first WWII film Inglourious Basterds (The Weinstein Company), starring Brad Pitt; his long-time colleague Robert Rodriguez returns to family fare with Shorts (Warner Bros.) and there’s a new Alexis Bledel comedy called Post Grad (Fox Searchlight).
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas