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.
(Important Note: this week, we may not be able to update and if there is a column next week, it will be seriously streamlined since we’ll be spending the next ten days in Toronto. You can follow our Toronto Film Festival coverage on Twitter and right here on ComingSoon.net.)
1. Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself (Lionsgate) – $23.4 million N/A
2. 9 (Focus Features) – $10.2 million N/A
3. Whiteout (Warner Bros.) – $8.6 million N/A
4. Sorority Row (Summit) – $7.0 million N/A
5. All About Steve (20th Century Fox) – $6.2 million -45%
6. The Final Destination (New Line/WB) – $6.0 million -52%
7. Inglourious Basterds (The Weinstein Company/Universal) – $5.7 million -46%
8. Gamer (Lionsgate) – $4.2 million -54%
9. District 9 (Sony) – $3.7 million -47%
10. Julie & Julia (Sony) – $3.5 million -38%
We’re now two weeks into September, generally thought of as the second wave of movie doldrums every year, and yet we’re getting four new movies – about the average we’ll be seeing per week this month.
The one that seems like a definite no-brainer to win the weekend is Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself (Lionsgate). Like the Atlanta playwright-turned-mogul’s biggest movies, this one features Perry in drag as the popular character Madea and it’s based on one of his early plays, both good signs for it to bring in more than $20 million in business. Because this doesn’t feature Madea nearly as prominently as his blockbuster hit Madea Goes to Jail earlier this year, it’s likely to open at a more reasonable level, probably somewhere in the mid-20s, which will be more than enough to put it at the top of the box office.
The strongest of the other new offerings is probably Shane Acker’s CG-animated sci-fi fantasy 9 (Focus Features), which is building upon buzz from Comic-Con and its visionary producers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov, who bring an incredible amount of cred with their pedigree. It opens on Wednesday, which is 9/9/09 (how cute!), and some of the diehard genre base who’ve been waiting to see it might go out to see it then, but chances are that most of its business will still come from the weekend. Opening moderately in less than 2,000 theatres might keep it under the $12 million mark either way.
Its main competition for second place will likely come from the Dark Castle thriller Whiteout (Warner Bros.), based on the graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber. Starring Kate Beckinsale, the movie has been sitting on the shelf for many years, which might put off some of the comic fanboys from giving it a chance, but it’s also getting the widest release this weekend as well as a healthy dose of Warner Bros. marketing, so even if business is slow across the board, it should be able to rack up enough business in some regions to push for somewhere just south of $10 million.
That just leaves the slasher remake Sorority Row (Summit) starring half a dozen sexy young ingenues including Rumer Willis – who is old enough that her mother Demi Moore can’t come after me on Twitter for saying that. It’s the kind of movie that usually might bring in teen girls, but it’s limited by its R-rating, so it will instead be targeting college-age sorority sisters instead. Summit are opening it nearly as wide as Whiteout, but going by Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” sequel, audiences seem to have had enough of these types of slaughter-fests, so it will probably have to settle for fourth behind the others.
We’re covering two weekends from last year to try to get back on track. (Please don’t say “I toldja so!!”) Last year saw the normal post-Labor Day drop-off as only one movie opened and topped the box office with just $7.8 million. That movie was the Nicolas Cage action-thriller remake Bangkok Dangerous (Lionsgate), which averaged less than $3,000 per venue but still managed to beat hit movies like Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The Top 10 grossed just $46 million. The following week was very similar to this week with four new movies opening, all making more than $10 million and three making over $15 million including Burn After Reading (Focus Features), the Coen Brothers comedy starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt, which became the Oscar-winning filmmaking duo’s biggest opening movie to date, topping the weekend with $19.1 million. (It would also be Focus Features’ first #1 movie and their biggest opening as well.) Tyler Perry released his second movie of the year with Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys, which took a rare second place with $17.4 million. Robert De Niro and Al Pacino reteamed for the first time since Michael Mann’s Heat in the thriller Righteous Kill (Overture), which took in $16.3 million in over 3,100 theaters, making it the distributor’s biggest opener to date. Meg Ryan, Annete Bening, Debra Messing, Bette Midler and a half dozen other prominent actresses united for Diane English’s remake of The Women (Picturehouse), which opened in nearly 3,000 theaters where it brought in $10 million for fourth place. It would be the indie distributor’s final release as well as their biggest opener. The Top 10 that week grossed $82 million and we think this week will end up somewhere between the two, being that it’s post-Labor Day but also being later in the month.
THE BATTLE CRY
Being that the summer is officially over and we’re getting into the fall season, which is filled with both good and bad in fluctuating waves, here it is, my Top 10 for the summer with a couple of caveats I should point out.
First of all, I only included movies that received a wide release into more than 600 theaters in the United States between the months of May and August, and I didn’t include any docs (not that any of them ever open that wide anymore). If I’d have included limited releases, Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom (Summit) and Sam Mendes’ Away We Go (Focus Features) would have been in the mix, as well as Woody Allen’s latest and numerous docs. If you missed them in theaters, make sure to check ’em out on DVD!)
We’ll start with an Honorable Mention to a movie that almost made it into the Top 10 but fell just short and that was the romantic comedy The Proposal (Disney), starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. I saw this at ShoWest back in March and I wish I had a chance to see it a second time, because it was a great example of how humor and romance can be mixed in a way that doesn’t have to be just a “chick flick.” The chemistry between the two leads and the great supporting cast just made this a hilariously entertaining surprise that can be enjoyed by couples in a similar way as Meet the Parents. I was really happy when it not only found an audience but became Bullock’s biggest hit, plus hopefully, it will finally solidify Ryan Reynolds’ comedic star status after years of hard work trying to get there.
10. Public Enemies (Universal) – As much as this got in here because I’m a true enthusiast for the Depression-era Chicago crime scene that Michael Mann chose to explore in his first movie since Miami Vice, I just thought it was another solid crime thriller from the master of the genre. Maybe it fell just short of Heat and Collateral but it was still better than 75 80% of the other summer offerings. People were also complaining about Mann’s use of HD digital video to shoot a period piece, but I thought the film looked unbelievably gorgeous, every shot perfect in its design and realization and everything just crystal clear. It’s really the way more movies should be made now that we have the technology, and I didn’t find any of the “harshness” that some claimed. This definitely will be on my list of Blu-rays to buy in the future.
9. The Hangover (Warner Bros.) – While I don’t think I would join the millions who thought this was the funniest comedy of the summer, I did think it was the most surprising one in terms of taking an amazingly simple premise and making the most out of it with three actors who couldn’t be more perfectly cast and lots of great supporting characters around them. It was no surprise that Todd Phillips could make a funny R-rated movie for anyone who saw Road Trip or Old School but for some reason, the high concept Vegas-based drunken adventure was one that everyone could relate to and I was no different in that regard. I hope they’re able to put the same laissez faire attitude into making the sequel so that it can overcome the “first time lucky” jinx that hurts so many attempts at following up a breakout hit.
8. Bruno (Universal) – Who would have guessed that one of the few people on the planet who detested Borat would turn around and appreciate Sacha Baron Cohen’s follow-up even more… once again going completely opposed to the rest of the country apparently? I just thought Cohen’s gay Austrian character was able to do far funnier things in the world of fashion and Hollywood, first of all, by spending more time mocking celebrities rather than going after everyday hicks. And frankly, there’s a lot more homophobia out there than the anti-Semitism that Borat tried to prove, and Cohen was able to get a lot funnier reactions from the unwitting fools he met up with on the road.
7. Drag Me to Hell (Universal) – As a long-time fan of horror when done in a humorous and entertaining way, Sam Raimi’s return to the genre after spending years on the “Spider-Man” franchise was probably the most fun I had at a press screening all year. Just the way that he tortures poor innocent Alison Lohman throughout the movie and the great sense of humor that Justin Long brings to the mix made it a movie that overcame any of its flaws by making it clear that it was all done in a tongue-in-cheek fashion to amuse and entertain audiences.
6. Ponyo (Disney) – Yes, it’s a G-rated animated fantasy film in the Top 10 of a grown man, what of it? While I haven’t been as enamored by Hiyao Miyazaki’s films as some, not since Princess Mononoke, this was a return to form that proved Miyazaki to be the clear successor to the legacy of Walt Disney as he crated a film that was as evocative as seeing Fantasia for the first time. Part of that had as much to do with the involvement of Pixar’s John Lasseter and producer Frank Marshall’s contribution in assembling the voice talent to help translate Miyazake’s Japan-based story to American audiences. Sure, it had its moments of silliness done mainly to cater to the youngest kids, but the visuals were spectacular and the storytelling unmatched. In fact, I liked it almost as much as…
5. Up (Disney) – What more can we say about this lovely Pixar movie that hasn’t been said already? While it wasn’t quite up there with WALLE or Ratatouille in my book, it was just a great adventure story, and I loved all of the interplay between Karl, Russell, Kevin and Doug… and if you think that’s just four guys, then you obviously didn’t see the movie and are missing out on more terrific filmmaking from the Pixar crew. (There’s a ten-minute dialogue-free sequence that has almost guaranteed this will be another Oscar for the studio.)
4. Star Trek (Paramount) – It took J.J. Abrams to make this non-believer really believe someone could make a Star Trek movie that’s just as entertaining for non-Trekkers. Much of it came down to the brilliant casting and the terrific time-spanning story that brought Leonard Nimoy’s Spock from the future back to his own early days to take on the time-traveling Romulan Nero (played by Eric Bana and almost unrecognizable as such). It was a very clever way to completely reboot the franchise while showing fans possible early days of their favorite characters while helping to build the foundation for the original television series, or something completely new. Yeah, the insane amount of blinding lens flare does get annoying after a while, but the movie offers the type of summer fun that we’ve all been craving and it was a great way to kick off the summer… After X-Men Origins: Wolverine I mean.
3. The Hurt Locker (Summit) – By the time this movie finally opened, I had seen it four times–once at Toronto, once at ShoWest and twice more on DVD–and every time I got something more out of the adventures of a military bomb squad stationed in Iraq as they try to find and defuse bombs placed by the insurgent opposition. The interaction between Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie, two great actors who finally have a vehicle to show off their talents, and Brian Geraghty made all of the tense situations even more riveting, and it was a welcome return for director Kathryn Bigelow. I would not even be remotely surprised if this movie gets the City of God slot at this year’s Oscars.
2. Inglourious Basterds (The Weinstein Co.) – If The Hurt Locker showed war at its most real and visceral, then Quentin Tarantino’s fifth full length film (not including “Death Proof”) showed war at its most stylized and hyper-realized, catering to the very specific vision of a filmmaker who has repeatedly found ways to filter the foreign films he loves into his own intricate tale of vengeance against Hitler and the Nazis. While many probably went into the movie expecting a Saving Private Ryan like war drama about a band of soldiers led by Brad Pitt, it was the performances by Christoph Mantz as a ruthless S.S. agent, Mike Fassbender as a British soldier, Diane Kruger as a German actress playing Mata Hari, and newcomer Mélanie Laurent as a beautiful French Jew trying to get vengeance for the murder of her family that made the 2 and a half hour film so fascinating. Tarantino clearly proved that he still has the storytelling and filmmaking chops he first displayed in Pulp Fiction, and this will surely be remembered as one of his best. (Put it this way. I saw the movie twice within the span of two weeks and I’d see it again in a heartbeat.)
1. (500) Days of Summer (Fox Searchlight) – Like I said in my brief bit about The Proposal, I’m a sucker for a good romantic comedy, especially if it’s done in an original way and the two leads have strong chemistry, and the directorial debut by Marc Webb had both those elements in spades. I fell in love with it at the Sundance Film Festival this year and the love affair continued until I finally had a chance to see it a second time a few weeks before opening. Anyone who has ever fallen in love with the seemingly perfect woman and had it not work out can relate to the emotions experienced by Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character as he becomes obsessed with Zooey Deschanel’s Summer Bishil, a relationship develops and then eventually falls apart. This near-perfect summer romance movie will certainly gel more with some than others – put it this way, if you met your current wife in high school and have been with her for 20 years, you probably won’t get it. Either way, I have a feeling this could be this year’s Once in that if I watch it a third time (presumably on DVD), it might overtake my current #1 movie of the year.
So that’s it for the Summer of ’09, put to bed, lights out and time to move on, knowing that this summer has actually been fairly decent when all is said and done. Then again, the fall awards season is coming up and there are a lot of movies I’m really looking forward to. One can probably expect roughly a third of the movies above to make it into my Top 25 at the end of the year, but if you’re looking for something to see this month, many of them are still playing in theaters or will be arriving on DVD shortly.
Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself (Lionsgate)
You gotta say one thing about Tyler Perry fans. They don’t have to wait for four or five years between movies like those of us who prefer the works of David Fincher or Terry Gilliam or Jean-Pierre Jeunet. No, they’re almost guaranteed to get two movies a year because that’s how many films the Atlanta playwright and media mogul is able to churn out. Of course, it helps when the movies are mostly already written, which one assumes is mostly the case whenever Perry is adapting one of his own stageplays into a feature film.
I Can Do Bad All By Myself was Perry’s second play, which debuted in 2000, and it was the very first appearance of his cross-dressing granny Madea, although anyone whose seen it and then reads the plot above might realize the movie has basically taken the name of the play and nothing else. It’s about different characters in different situations and probably less about Madea than Perry’s most recent movie Madea Goes to Jail, which became a huge hit (even by his standards), grossing more than $90 million this past March. That said, the fact that it features Madea at all is certainly going to work in the favor of his sixth effort as a director in less than four years. The character has been pivotal at bringing his mostly female and African-American audience into theaters time and time again, and it’s also good that it’s based on one of his plays, because that tends to make a bigger difference in terms of one of Perry’s movies doing well. Even though Perry is coming off his biggest hit to date, this might not be perceived as a “Madea movie” since she mostly interacts with the characters rather than being the central focus. In that sense, the movie is more like Perry’s first movie Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which is also the only one he didn’t direct himself.
Perry’s latest drama stars Taraji P. Henson, who was nominated for her first Oscar earlier this year for David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but she’s been wowing audiences since her early appearance in Craig Brewer’s Sundance-award winning Hustle & Flow. Since then, she’s done a variety of roles including one in Joe Carnahan’s action flick Smokin’ Aces and she even appeared in Perry’s The Family That Preys last year, but in a smaller role, and “I Can Do Bad” follows Henson’s starring role in the similarly-targeted indie drama Not Easily Broken, which grossed just $10 million this past January. The other interesting additions to the cast include Gladys Knight (lead singer of the famous pips) and Grammy-winning R ‘n’ B singer Mary J. Blige, essentially two generations of soul singers, both making rare film appearances.
Working against the movie is the early September release, which is never very good for new movies as people get back to work and school and are mostly burned out from moviegoing after the summer months. It’s just never been a great month for anything to breakout, which is why the top movies have only opened with roughly $35 million or so, and those are very rare. Perry’s movie The Family That Preys, which wasn’t based on one of his plays and didn’t feature Madea, opened this same weekend last year to roughly $17 million (see above) then quickly tailed off. One might see the weaker opening as being due to the month but it was just as much because it lacked the elements that Perry’s main fanbase hopes to see in the movie.
Even so, Perry does have that ever-reliable fanbase to fall back upon, and they always seem to be well aware when he has a new movie, so as usual, they’ll be out in force this weekend to see his latest offering, enough that it should do at least as well as his midrange hits like Why Did I Get Married? and Meet the Browns, though not as big as any of his movies with “Madea” actually in the title.
Why I Should See It: Considering I’ve only been “allowed” to see two of Perry’s previous movies, I really have no perspective on this. If you’re a fan of his other movies, I guess there’s no reason to avoid this.
9 (Focus Features)
While the other three movies this weekend all have fairly suitable precedents, this new computer animated sci-fi fantasy movie has less immediate comparisons. 9 is the feature film debut from animation director Shane Acker, who has expanded his Oscar-nominated short of the same name into a full-length feature. It’s a rare animated movie made for older teens and adults rather than one specifically for kids and families. That’s somewhat of a dangerous proposition as previous attempts at doing animated sci-fi for that audience, such as Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within and Titan A.E., have failed miserably, although the popularity of Pixar and DreamWorks Animation’s movies among older audiences prove that animation is becoming more accepted among older moviegoers who don’t have kids. The popularity of Pixar’s movies among the geek audience is in fact the best precedent for Acker’s movie, as it should be able to bring in some of the audience that dug The Incredibles and WALLE.
For most animated movies, but especially this one, the voice cast involved generally won’t matter to those wanting to see it, although there are some names who have done their fair share of genre work, most notably Elijah Wood, star of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Jennifer Connelly (The Day the Earth Stood Still), Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau, as well as Crispin Glover, who also did some performance capture for Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf a few years back. The thing is that most people won’t really know who is providing the voices as Focus has played that down possibly in order to try to make the animated dolls seem more like real characters.
Science fiction has proven to be very popular this year, whether it’s the success of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek at the start of summer or the breakout sleeper hit District 9 by newcomer Neill Blomkamp. In fact, 9 has a lot more to do with the latter than many animated movies, not just because of the numeral they share in their titles, but also because they’re sci-fi movies from first-time directors who have well-known visionary filmmakers as their producers and mentors. Who knows how much of an audience Peter Jackson’s involvement helped District 9, but Acker has the help of two for his own movie, Tim Burton, who has done his own share of animated movies, albeit of the stop motion variety, and Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov, who showed off his ability to do special FX that looked like studio movies at a fraction of the budget with his early movies Night Watch and Day Watch. Their involvement is actually a great selling point for the movie because both filmmakers are plenty busy and they must really like what Shane Acker is doing to get behind a movie like this.
It’s a good thing because smaller independent CG animated movies often could use help, because so many of them have bombed. This year, we’ve seen Battle for Terra bomb despite a wide release, and last year’s Delgo did even worse. Of course, neither of them were distributed by a company like Focus Features, who had a huge animated hit earlier this year with Henry Selick’s stop motion animated Coraline, based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, which grossed over $70 million, helped greatly by its 3D screenings and a PG rating that helped bring in a good amount of families. Although 9 is PG-13, it should be of interest to younger boys and teens who don’t necessarily have many other choices, being how many movies have been R-rated in recent months, and this is the first high profile PG-13 movie that might interest guys since Paramount’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. It should have as much interest to younger teen girls, but it’s not going to be a family movie as much as a movie to see with friends.
The smartest move by Focus Features, besides showcasing the movie at various comic conventions this year in order to find the targeted genre fanbase, is to feature clips and trailers for the movie on Xbox Live, which probably gets millions of eyes on a daily basis. That’s surely a great way to raise awareness and interest, which will probably greatly help 9 avoid the CG-animated jinx. Even so, Focus is giving the movie a moderate release into less than 2,000 theaters, plus it’s opening on Wednesday to take advantage of the numerical date (9/09/09) similar to how The Omen remake capitalized on its own 6/6/06 release. In most cases, an anticipated genre flick opening on a Wednesday might take away from the weekend but with school back in session, Wednesday and Thursday will probably be lighter, and most of the business will come on the weekend. Even so, with such a moderate release, that might limit how much the movie can make, although the movie also has enough supporters that it could bring in extended business from word-of-mouth of those who see it early.
Why I Should See It: Acker is an amazing filmmaker, clear from the fact that two visionary filmmakers in their own right have come on board to help bring his vision to the screen.
Whiteout (Warner Bros.)
As we get into September, we start getting a combination of artie Oscar fare, lower budget horror movies and the odd movie being dumped after years on the shelf. Whiteout is in the latter two categories, being based on the award-winning graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber published by Oni Press in 1998, which spawned a sequel called “Melt.” The rights to the graphic novel were picked up many years ago by Joel Silver and then sat on the shelf for many years before it finally moved forward with Kate Beckinsale in the lead and Dominic Sena directing.
Dark Castle has generally been at the forefront at lower budget horror and thrillers over the years, their last movie being the summer thriller Orphan which has grossed just south of $41 million with the help of a summer release. The closest comparison to this one in terms of movies based on graphic novels is probably Steve Niles’ 30 Days of Night (starring Beckinsale’s Pearl Harbor castmate Josh Hartnett), a dark take on vampires which opened roughly two years ago but never really found much of an audience.
Like many of Silver’s movies, he’s hired solid dramatic actors to ground it, this one being a starring vehicle for Kate Beckinsale, who is absolutely no stranger to genre, having starred in the first two “Underworld” movies, as well as Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing. Most recently, Beckinsale received some awards attention last year for her performance in Rod Lurie’s political drama Nothing But the Truth, and this is her return to genre fare for the first time in over two years. Her co-star is Gabriel Macht, who played The Spirit in Frank Miller’s failed attempt at bringing Will Eisner’s venerable comic hero to the screen.
The other thing of significance is that this is the first feature film in eight years from director Dominic Sena, best known for the remakes of Gone in 60 Seconds with Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie and the action-thriller Swordfish, both with Silver, the latter being memorable for Halle Berry baring her breasts. The trailer for Whiteout gives men hope that Sena and Silver convinced Beckinsale to doff some clothing as well, although it’s questionable whether the director has enough fans that would see it for his involvement. (Probably not or Warners would be selling it based on his involvement.)
The real killer for the movie–something that cannot be ignored–is that it finished filming over two years ago, and it even appeared at Comic-Con that same year (2007) with Beckinsale present and an early trailer. And then it was mysterious shelved and not given a release date although it shouldn’t have taken that long to do the “snow FX” that seemed to be delaying it. When a movie is delayed that long, it’s rarely good, and clearly, Warner Bros. is dumping it in the post-Labor Day weekend just to get it out there. Sure, it gave them more time to work out a marketing plan but then they essentially came up with an unfortunately generic trailer, which does little to nothing to make the plot seem even remotely exciting.
There’s already a plethora of horror movies in theaters including Final Destination and this week’s other offering Sorority Row, which doesn’t look that much stronger, though this will probably go a little bit older than those movies, so it shouldn’t be hurt by teens returning to school, nor will the R-rating play much of a factor. What will hurt it is that it’s been shelved for so long that those who read the comic and have been waiting to see the movie will be wary, which means that Warner Bros. will mainly be bringing in those suckered in by the commercials, which probably won’t be that many people.
Why I Should See It: The original graphic novel is excellent, as is Kate Beckinsale, so surely the movie can’t be that bad, right?
Sorority Row (Summit)
In any other weekend, this would probably be an enormous hit, bringing in tons of actual sorority sisters from various universities to bond over the premise of a group of sorority sisters. Opening a week after Labor Day against another thriller, which is getting a much bigger marketing push, it seems like it might be harder for this to have any sort of impact. Basically, this movie exists due to the success of previous slasher film remakes like last year’s Prom Night and this year’s My Bloody Valentine, this one being based on a semi-obscure 1983 slasher flick called The House on Sorority Row, which at the time was trying to capitalize on the success of movies like John Carpenter’s Halloween and Friday the 13th, as well as the original Prom Night.
The film stars a group of sexy young women, the most prominent one being 21-year-old Rumer Willis, the daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore who most recently appeared in the sorority comedy The House Bunny. One of her sorority sisters is Briana Evigan, daughter of Greg Evigan (aka BJ of “BJ and the Bear”), who most notably starred in the hit dance sequel Step Up 2 the Streets and she’s also starring in Darren Bousman’s remake of Mother’s Day. My personal favorite sorority girl fodder is cutie Jamie Chung, who first appeared on MTV’s “The Real World,” as on a number of television shows and in the Fox bomb Dragonball Evolution. There’s also Audrina Partridge from MTV’s “The Hills” (I think you’re getting the picture here) as well as Leah Pipes and Margo Harshman, who probably know how to dress just as sexy as the others. Last but definitely least, there’s Carrie Fisher a.k.a Princess Leia of the original “Star Wars” trilogy, making a very prominent appearance in the movie (and commercials) as the house mother.
Essentially, some of them will die in horrible gory ways, others will survive to save the day. It’s the same formula as all the previous slasher films we’ve seen in the last few years, except that this probably owes more to the horror film I Know What You Did Last Summer or its sequel in that there’s an accidental death that’s kept a secret by the survivors, who then start dying mysteriously. It’s a fairly easy premise to sell, which is why it’s surprising that the commercials aren’t very good and don’t do much to separate this from all the other slasher remakes that have come before, not really giving its prospective target audience a reason to see it. If the movie was marketed right, it could actually bring in groups of sorority sisters as the new school year begins, but it just doesn’t look very good, and it’s likely to get slaughtered next week by Jennifer’s Body, since that’s a horror flick a lot more young women are interested in seeing, so Sorority Row will be relying entirely on how well or poorly it does this weekend.
Why I Should See It: Because there’s a lot of drool-worthy talent in the movie.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Walt & El Grupo (Disney)
Possibly one of the nicest surprises of the year and sure to make it into my Top 10 is this new documentary from animator Ted Thomas (son of the legendary Disney animator Frank Thomas), which documents a trip made by Walt Disney and some of his closest creative collaborators down to South America in 1941.
The trip came at a time when Disney was having great success with some of his early films but was burdened by a massive union strike at the studio. Essentially, this was a good will trip set up by the United States government to have the country’s greatest export collaborating with the artists from South American countries, creating a film to be shown in Central and South America as part of the Good Neighbor Policy. At the time, Europe was at war and being months before Pearl Harbor, the United States was just witnessing it from the sidelines and for the most part, South America was neutral but there were factions of Germans trying to win the governments of Brazil and Argentina to their sides.
Thomas perfectly recaptures and recreates the journey of “el grupo”–Portugese for “The Group,” which is how they became known–as they experience all aspects of the cultures of Brazil, Argentina and Chile, meeting people, collaborating with local artists, enjoying the scenery and the music of the locale. The results were two films “Saludos Amigos” (1942) and “Three Caballeros” (1944) which have mostly been forgotten over the years, but this is the first time that we really get to see some of what went into the trip that influenced the films.
This is an absolutely amazing doc, possibly one of the best of the year so far, as Thomas rummaged through the Disney archives to include almost pristine footage of Disney’s journey, as well as tons of archival photographs and some of the actual art. On top of that, Thomas and producing partner Kuniko Okubo traveled to all the original locations and created amazing transitions between the real places and those depicted in the footage. It’s hard to put into words how astounding it is to see a photograph of an artist drawing something over 45 years ago, then cutting to the actual artwork being drawn in the picture. During their journey, they also found some of the people depicted in the footage or their surviving relatives to find out what Walt Disney’s trip meant to them, and we also hear from many of the children of the Americans who went on the trip, creating such a vivid picture of how this trip deeply affected everyone involved. The documentary culminates with one of the more beautiful segments from “Saludos,” the short film “Aquarela do Brasil,” which harks back to the best moments in “Fantasia.”
As someone who spent part of my youth in Brazil where I saw many Disney animated movies for the first time, watching this film was an incredibly emotional experience, not just due the positive memories it brought back, but also because it successfully shows a positive time in Walt Disney’s life, a time when he could enjoy life and be creative for the first time since he became a studio head. If you’ve ever been a fan of Disney animation–any period from the early days to modern day–this historical film has to be seen for the glorious way it takes you back through time, making you feel as if you are part of Disney’s entourage.
It opens at the AMC Downtown Disney in Anaheim on Wednesday, September 9, then in New York on Friday at the Quad Cinemas and Los Angeles at the Regent. You can find the full list of theaters on the Official Site.
No Impact Man (Oscilloscope Labs)
Mini-Review: For all the preachy docs about the environment and global warming that have surfaced since the success of the Al Gore-hosted doc “An Inconvenient Truth,” there are very few that focus more on the personal implications of someone trying to make a difference. When you first learn about Colin Beavan’s masterplan to live for a year in a way that leaves no environmental footprint, you’ll either think “He’s crazy” or “that’s impossible” or “why?” but the filmmakers stuck with him the entire time to show the ups and downs of such a quest, as he and his family start slowly, then take the idea as far as possible, eventually giving up electricity entirely for six months. In some ways, the movie can be compared favorably to Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me,” since it takes a similar approach of showing the journey of one man to achieve something that might seem crazy if not for the sake of researching a subject through self-discovery. Part of what leaves such a lasting impression is how Beavan’s wife Michelle is affected by his decision as she’s dragged along for the ride and their relationship changes because of it. It’s sometimes hard to watch, because the movie does get so personal and introspective as it shows the consolations his family has to make to support his decision. As Colin’s journey starts to get media coverage, they also have to face the criticism of environmentalists who don’t believe he’s doing it for the right reasons, claiming he’s just trying to get attention for his book, which coincidentally, is also released this week. Much of the film involves Beaven talking to people about what he’s doing and why, leading to one the most jarring “Holy crap!” moments as Beaven is called out by a gardener he’s working with as a hypocrite, since for everything he’s doing, his wife still writes for Business Week. At the very core of Beaven’s year-long quest is his desire to determine whether one person can make a difference on the environment. For someone claiming to be “No Impact Man,” Beavan’s efforts at reaching this lofty goal does in fact leave a very big impact on the viewer, and surely, some of those who see this movie will try to implement elements of Beaven’s lifestyle into their own. Rating: 8.5/10
Also in Limited Release:
Crude (First Run Features) – The new doc from Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost, Brother’s Keeper, Some Kind of Monster) examines a massive legal case between people from indigenous dwellers from the Amazon region of Ecuador who are suing Chevron for $27 billion for the damage they did to their environment, creating a “death zone” area that has caused illness and death to the people, plants and animals of the region. Berlinger’s doc opens in New York at the IFC Center on Wednesday
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (Anchor Bay Films) – This dramatic thriller from Peter Hyams stars Michael Douglas as Martin Hunter, a successful prosecutor who is in line to become governor in the upcoming election until he’s put under investigation by a rookie journalist (Jesse Metcalfe) who is calling into question Hunter’s perfect record with his girlfriend, the assistant D.A. (Amber Tambyn), caught in the middle. It opens in select cities.
Mini-Review: You might be surprised to learn that Peter Hyams, the director-slash-writer-slash-D.P. of this unnecessary remake actually began his career as a news anchor, surprising because the television reporting that plays such a large part in this story are completely unconvincing. In fact, one figures this movie could have been roughly 60% better if it seemed like Hyams had spent any time doing any research or trying to create any sort of realism in this update of the 1956 crime drama. One might be somewhat hopeful for the movie as it begins with Michael Douglas’ Martin Hunter prosecuting a case in the courtroom, but we soon learn that the movie is more about Jesse Metcalfe’s C.J. Nicholas, a half-assed investigative reporter who works with his cameraman (Joel David Moore) to try and prove that Hunter has been tampering with DNA evidence in order to win his cases. He hatches a ridiculous scheme to try to get himself framed for a murder setting things up so that they can turn the tables on Hunter, one that makes very little sense. As much as the premise of a prosecutor fudging evidence to win a case still works today, it’s fairly clear that Metcalfe wasn’t the right actor to carry this movie, because it does indeed spend a lot more time with him than it does Douglas. You really wonder what Hyams was trying to go for in terms of tone, because one second we get C.J. canoodling with his girlfriend the Assistant D.A., played by Amber Tamblyn, or clowning around with his cameraman and then it’s back to the moody foreboding music to try to make you think that something serious or dramatic is going to happen. One might understand why a movie like this might shoot in Shreveport to save money, but it’s a mystery why they actually set the movie in the small Southern city, because it doesn’t seem possible like this story might ever take place there, which greatly takes away from any credibility. (It’s not even like any of the cast bother with Southern accents, although Lord knows that Orlando Jones tries his best.) Even setting the story in Baltimore or any other city would have made a huge difference. The courtroom scenes should have been the central focus of the movie, but Hyams doesn’t even bother trying to make those seem real either. For all of the showboating done by Douglas and Metcalfe, not one of the lawyers ever lets out an “I object!” which is probably more commonplace than anything else in any court case. For the most part, the writing is awful, and yet, one can safely say that Douglas is the only good thing going for the movie, which makes the courtroom scenes at least tolerable. With C.J. on Death Row for his actions, of course it will be up to his girlfriend to come forward and save the day, and it then goes from the ridiculous to the absurd as she starts to explore the photo tampering done by the prosecution. Whenever things start to get dull, Hyams throws in a couple chase sequences that seem completely out of place with the rest of the movie, smacking of desperation to bring some excitement to what’s otherwise, a generally unthrilling movie. For the most part, this is dumb, boring and predictable, rarely ever exceeding its TV movie aesthetic and leading to the most ridiculous last-minute twist, which just leaves the viewer annoyed about the time wasted getting to that point. Rating: 3.5/10
Gogol Bordello Non-Stop (Lorber Films) – This documentary by Margarita Jimeno takes a look at the eclectic New York City gypsy punk band led by energetic frontman Eugene Hütz, following them from their early days playing Russian weddings to their current nine-member line-up who have travelled across the globe playing gigs. It opens on Friday at the Cinema Village in New York.
White on Rice (Variance Films) – This new romantic comedy from David Boyle (Big Dreams Little Tokyo) stars Hiroshi Watanabe as Jimmy, the socially-inept 40-year-old Japanese divorcée living in his sister’s basement and trying to find himself a new wife who shares interests, and ends up falling for his brother-in-law’s niece, leading to even more domestic problems. It opens on Friday in California at L.A.’s Laemmle’s Sunset 4 and Edwards Irvine Spectrum in Orange County the opens in San Jose on September 18 and Utah on September 25.
The Red Canvas (Freestyle Releasing) – Set in the world of Mixed Martial Arts, this action drama from Kenneth Chamitoff stars actor and ultimate fighter Ernie Reyes Jr. as Johnny Sanchez, a fighter dealing with domestic problems who looks to solve them by taking part in the Red Canvas tournament.
Skiptracers – Harris Mendheim’s debut comedy about a dysfunctional family of Southern rednecks from Alabama premieres at the Village East Cinemas in New York on Friday, then plays there through the 17th.
Next week, September continues with four more movies including the new Sony animated movie based on the bestselling children’s book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Sony), the new horror movie Jennifer’s Body (20th Century Fox) starring Megan Fox (and written by Juno‘s Diablo Cody), Steven Soderbergh and Matt Damon reteam for the corporate crime comedy The Informant! (Warner Bros.), while Jennifer Aniston plays kissy-face with Aaron Eckhart in Love Happens (Universal).
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas