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. Zombieland (Sony) – $22.4 million N/A (up .3 million)
2. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Sony) – $15.5 million -38% (down .5 million)
3. Toy Story/Toy Story 2 (Disney/Pixar) – $12.5 million N/A (Up 1 million)
4. Surrogates (Disney/Touchstone) – $7.6 million -49%
5. Whip It (Fox Searchlight) – $6.6 million N/A (down .6 million)
6. Fame (MGM) – $5.3 million -47% (same)
7. The Invention of Lying (Warner Bros.) – $5.0 million N/A (down .2 million)
8. Capitalism: A Love Story (Overture Films) – $4.9 million 2500% (down .6 million and two places)
9. The Informant! (Warner Bros.) – $4.3 million -37% (same)
10. Love Happens (Universal) – $2.4 million -45% (Same)
October kicks-off the third quarter of the year with what’s generally a slow month. Normally, there aren’t a lot of big movies except for the ubiquitous “Saw” installment and a couple of other surprises. One of those surprises could very well be the action-comedy Zombieland (Sony), starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin as a quartet who travel across the country killing zombies in fun and inventive ways. Besides having a great title, Sony has cut great commercials and trailers for Ruben Fleischer’s directorial debut that really showcase the fun behind this dysfunctional foursome, which should help make this the first choice of many guys under 30, as well as the genre/horror crowd who just can’t get enough zombies. With most of the horror movies already gone from many theaters and last week’s Surrogates bombing, the movie stands a good chance at pulling a surprise opening much like Sony’s other recent surprise hit District 9.
We’re not going to spend a lot of time analyzing it, but Disney and Pixar Animation will be re-releasing their early hits Toy Story/Toy Story 2 in Disney Digital 3D into 1,600 theaters on Friday, and we wonder whether snagging all those 3D screens away from Sony’s hit animated movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs might knock the latter down further in its third weekend. Granted, the original movies are beloved classics among kids and adults, and this will be the first chance to see them in 3D, but the higher-priced tickets and being a double feature nearly three hours long might give some pause to parents with younger children, as well as limiting the number of screenings per day which will keep it from opening that huge. (Also the fact that the movies have been available on DVD for many years won’t help matters.)
Zombieland isn’t the only directorial debut this weekend as Drew Barrymore gives directing a go with the romantic roller derby dramedy Whip It (Fox Searchlight), starring Ellen Page (nominated for an Oscar for 2007’s Juno), a pairing that will probably be a better sale than the idea of a movie set in the world of roller derby. The previews last Saturday, while not hugely attended, should help get the word out for this to do moderately decent business. Also making his directorial debut, Ricky Gervais co-wrote and stars in the high concept comedy The Invention of Lying (Warner Bros.) along with Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe and Jonah Hill. Gervais’ enormous success from television shows like “The Office” and “Extras,” it hasn’t translated to movies and despite the high concept, this one has been difficult to sell, so it probably should do roughly the same as Gervais’ 2008 movie Ghost Town.
Michael Moore’s new documentary Capitalism: A Love Story (Overture Films) will be expanding into roughly 1,500 theaters nationwide on Friday, trying to capitalize (ha ha) on Moore’s run of television appearances in the past couple weeks, and that should help put it somewhere between the Drew Barrymore and Ricky Gervais movies closer to the bottom half of the Top 10.
This weekend last year saw an insane amount of new wide releases–seven, in fact–and with that many new movies, there was no way that all of them could do well. Absolutely destroying all expectations and predictions, Disney’s Beverly Hills Chihuahua took the top spot with $29.3 million, while Michael Cera and Kat Dennings starred in the comedy Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Screen Gems), which opened in third place with $11.3 million. Dave Zucker’s right wing comedy An American Carol (Studio) and Bill Maher’s documentary Religulous (Lionsgate) both ended up making roughly $3.5 million, the former in 1,600 theatres, the latter in just 500, to take ninth and tenth place. The Top 10 grossed $90.5 million, but a lot of that came from Beverly Hills Chihuahua, so it might be hard for this weekend to replicate that. Ending up outside the Top 10 was “The Invention of the Windshield Wiper” aka Flash of Genius (Universal), which grossed just $2.25 million in 1,100 theatres while Fernando Mereilles’ Blindness (Miramax) and Simon Pegg’s How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (MGM) both ended up with less than $2 million for the weekend.
Starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin
Directed by Ruben Fleischer (debut); Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (debut)
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Tagline: “This place is so dead”
Plot Summary: After the world has become overridden by zombies, two very different guys, the brave zombie-killing Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and the neurotic Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), join together to try to survive along with two sisters (Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin), they meet along the way.
Mini-Review: Since vampires have reached a point well beyond oversaturation, the time couldn’t be better for the welcome return of zombies, and yet “Zombieland” isn’t your father’s zombie movie – even if your father’s name is “George Romero.” Instead, it’s a wild mix of genres that probably shouldn’t work but in fact, it works on many different levels. We’re immediately won over by an impressive opening credits montage before being introduced to the 47 “rules of survival” that have helped Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus survive in a world gone mad. When we meet him, he’s one of the few survivors and he’s trying to get back to Ohio to check in on his family. (If you haven’t gotten it, everyone in this world is named after their destination as to not get too attached to the soon-to-be-zombie.) We learn fairly quickly that Columbus has absolutely no game with the ladies, so when he runs into Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee – we’re given the perfect odd couple formula that makes for the best buddy movies.
“Shaun of the Dead” proved you can have a lot of fun while trying to find ways of ridding yourself of ravenous walking corpses, and while these are clearly the fast zombies like the ones in Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead”–we’ll wait for you to pick a side in that age-old debate–the filmmakers find many sick and twisted ways of dealing with them, which will surely appeal to fans of the genre. What really impresses is the tasteful way first-time director Ruben Fleischer makes his debut when compared to the aforementioned Snyder, because he’s clearly a competent filmmaker who doesn’t resort to a lot of flashy editing or FX, instead finding clever ways of telling this story, whether it’s the flashbacks or the way the “rules” are explained or even the voice-over that harks back to “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Fleischer also has an exemplary taste in music that produces just the right soundtrack song at the right time for best effect.
After seeing Woody Harrelson making a lot of strange career choices over the past few years, this is the role he was meant to play – zombie killer! And he certainly couldn’t find a better foil than Eisenberg, as the two actors have very different sensibilities, which just makes the mix of their different styles of humor even funnier. When you add the ultra-hot Emma Stone as the sassy Wichita and Abigail Breslin playing completely against anything she’s done before as her tough younger sister Little Rock, and you have a formidable foursome that keeps things entertaining due to the strong patter they deliver. There are lots of fun surprises along the way, which we won’t spoil, but the movie mainly works based on the relationship between these four actors.
As a straight-ahead zombie movie, “Zombieland” picks up the ball Romero started rolling decades ago, allows the obvious influence of “Shaun of the Dead” to cling on, but then comes out the other side with something completely new and different. Not only is “Zombieland” a refreshing new spin on the zombie flick, one with humor and heart, but it’s also a great introduction to an innovative and talented new filmmaker. If you honestly think you’ve seen everything that can possibly be done with zombies… think again! Rating: 8.5/10
Being October, Halloween is just around the corner and horror movies are starting to be released on a regular basis, and while the title for this one might immediately make one think this is another flesh-eating zombie thriller, its actually more of a buddy road comedy set in the world of zombies, played mainly for laughs. While some might remember that one of Sony’s biggest summer bombs was a road comedy starring Jack Black and Michael Cera, this one is hoping to bring in a similar audience as Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, while at the same time harking back to the popular British cult comedy Shaun of the Dead, which introduced Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright to America. This is the first movie from director Ruben Fleischer and screenwriter/producers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, making it the third time in the last two months where Sony has put a lot of money and confidence behind new filmmakers. The previous two movies–District 9 and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs–have proven to be very successful for the studio.
It features somewhat of a strange cast–though really no stranger than any other zombie movie–but playing the tough Southern zombie killer “Tallahassee” might be the perfect role for Woody Harrelson, allowing him to build on the comedy chops he first displayed while appearing on the hit sitcom “Cheers.” In the past few years, Harrelson has appeared in literally dozens of movies, but very few that received wide releases. His last wide release comedy was Semi-Pro with Will Ferrell and then before that, there was After the Sunset with Pierce Brosnan, both of them for New Line and both doing relatively poorly. In fact, the only movie Harrelson has been in that opened over $20 million was Adam Sandler’s Anger Management in which Harrelson had a small role as a transvestite hooker. Even without huge box office success, Harrelson has earned a lot of credibility as an actor, both in dramatic indie fare and mainstream comedies, making him one of the hardest working actors out there. Probably one of the oddest unintentional promotions for this movie took place when Harrelson went after a paparazzi photographer who was hounding him, all caught on-camera, and the actor blamed it on the fact that he was still in character as a zombie-killer.
Meanwhile, his “buddy” in the movie, Jesse Eisenberg, has been on a slow career build since appearing in the 2002 indie Roger Dodger, including a starring role in Noah Baumbach’s award-winning indie The Squid and the Whale. Earlier this year, he starred in Greg Mottola’s Adventureland opposite Kristen “Twilight” Stewart, which didn’t fare that well theatrically despite generally being loved. Eisenberg is definitely an actor who has received more critical nods than he’s been able to find commercial success, so a movie like this could finally get him noticed.
Along the way, the duo are joined by super-hot Emma Stone, who most of us first met in Superbad and who co-starred in The House Bunny and The Rocker last year, then the fourth member of the main cast is 13-year-old Abigail Breslin, who has been starring in her own movies since being nominated for an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine, but she’s mostly been bouncing between romantic comedies like No Reservations and kids fare. She hasn’t really done any sort of genre movie since appearing years ago in M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs–coincidentally, Eisenberg appeared in Night’s next movie, The Village–so Zombieland is definitely breaking her away from her normal fanbase. While on paper, none of these actors might seem able to bring people into theaters from their past work, there’s something about the way the very different personalities are brought together, which makes it so different for them.
Still, the movie is going to be mostly sold on its premise, being a funny take on surviving in a world of zombies, similar to the popular novels of Max Brooks, and one can safely admit that “Zombieland” is just the perfect title, one that immediately pops out on the movie theater marquee (or showtimes display) because one sees that and immediately knows it’s a zombie movie and they’ll immediately know whether that’s something they’re up for seeing.
One might look at this movie similarly to Sony’s take on the popular vampire comic 30 Days of Night, although that was a gorier R-rated vampire movie that was played more seriously, while Zombieland looks like a fun and entertaining movie in a year when comedies have generally been more successful than many serious movies. On top of that, the movie premiered at Fantastic Fest in Austin to overwhelmingly positive reviews, which should help add to buzz created by the trailers and commercials.
The fact is that a movie like this is sold mainly on its premise and the fact that it’s a rare zombie comedy will certainly make it of interest to a certain demographic of genre fans, and possibly even a few casual onlookers who just think it looks cool or funny. Even if Zombieland opens a bit softer, positive reactions should be strong enough that it will defy the normal frontloading that comes with genre movies, instead playing like a strong word-of-mouth comedy, though one should probably expect that most of the audience will be younger and male with only the coolest of zombie-loving women giving it a look.
Why I Should See It: It’s been a long time since we’ve had a good zombie movie.
Whip It (Fox Searchlight)
Starring Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Julieete Lewis, Eve, Jimmy Fallon, Daniel Stern, Drew Barrymore
Directed by Drew Barrymore (debut); Written by Shauna Cross
Genre: Comedy, Sports
Tagline: “Be Your Own Hero”
Plot Summary: Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) always felt like an outsider in the small town of Bodeen, Texas until she travels down to Austin and finds a new purpose in life when she joins a roller derby circuit.
Review (Coming Soon!)
One of this weekend’s options that will try to cater to the growing audience of teen and older women is the directorial debut from former child actress Drew Barrymore which takes a rare look at roller derby, the “sports entertainment” that was especially popular in the ’70s and has had somewhat of a resurgence in recent years. Whip It isn’t really a sports movie in the sense that it’s all about the sport or a team winning as much as a coming of age story about one young woman’s journey to find herself amidst the dull smalltown life. In that sense, it has a lot more in common with the late Adrienne Shelly’s Waitress, another directorial debut by an actress released by Fox Searchlight.
Drew lucked out by getting the super-hot Ellen Page to star in her movie straight after she was nominated for an Oscar for Jason Reitman’s comedy Juno, and that movie’s popularity among young women, which helped it gross $142 million, should bring a similar interest from that audience. In some ways, Whip It is a similar “girl power” movie as Juno writer Diablo Cody’s own new movie Jennifer’s Body, which was released by “Big Fox” in more theaters, but performed rather disappointingly compared to expectations. Drew herself appeared in a romantic comedy set in the world of sports when she co-starred with Jimmy Fallon in Fever Pitch–Fallon has a small role in Whip It–and she’s certainly one of the queens of the “chick flick” genre, which has probably made her more popular among women than men. The rest of the cast includes the ever-present Kristen Wiig, former teen star Juliette Lewis making her return to the big screen, R ‘n’ B singer Eve, while Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern play Page’s parents in the movie.
Roller derby, the “sport,” tends to bring out more guys than women, but the question is whether guys will have any interest in seeing this movie, and they probably won’t unless they’re dragged to see it by wives or girlfriends. This is Fox Searchlight’s second movie set on roller skates after 2006’s Roll Bounce, which didn’t fare well among the targeted urban audiences, though Whip It is a very different movie, one geared mainly towards young women who have helped many movies do well in recent months.
Oddly, the commercials barely show the roller derby aspect of the movie, instead trying to make it look like a fun teen coming of age romantic comedy, which is certainly a strange choice being the roller derby aspect of the story is what makes it unique and original. That said, the biggest selling point for the movie will probably be the combination of Drew and Ellen Page, being two generations of child actor, and the general punky attitude of the movie works far better than Jennifer’s Body. In fact, the early reviews out of the Toronto Film Festival, where the movie premiered, have been generally favorable, even among the harshest of critics.
Wisely, Fox Searchlight gave the movie sneak previews in roughly 500 cities last weekend, reportedly at 65% capacity, which isn’t great but it’s also not terrible, and chances are that those who saw and liked the movie will recommend it. While this might not do a huge opening weekend, there should be enough interest that it won’t be a complete bomb and it should continue to play as word gets around that it’s a fun movie.
Why I Should See It: This is one of the stronger female-driven movies of the yearfun, funny and surprisingly smartand Barrymore is quite a solid commercial filmmaker.
The Invention of Lying (Warner Bros.)
Starring Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Fionnula Flanagan, Rob Lowe, Tina Fey
Written and directed by Ricky Gervais (“The Office” and “Extras”) and Matthew Robinson (debut)
Tagline: “In a world where everyone can only tell the truth… …this guy can lie.” (Wow, that’s tough.)
Plot Summary: In a world where no one is able to tell a lie, screenwriter Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) has figured out how to lie and he starts to use these newfound powers to try to win over the lovely Anna (Jennifer Garner), who has started dating his main competition Brad Kessler (Rob Lowe).
The key to the most popular and successful comedies of the last few decades are that they have a strong and easy to sell premise first and foremost. You really can’t get much easier than this new movie from award-winning British comic Ricky Gervais making his directorial debut along with co-writer and co-director Matthew Robinson. Essentially, the concept is that in a world where everyone tells the truth, Ricky figures out a way to tell a lie, which allows him to play up his normally snarky sense of humor in new ways.
Gervais has become quiet popular due to the success of his two television shows, “The Office”–that’s the British one that appeared on BBC for 2 years–and the HBO comedy “Extras,” both of which have helped him find an audience of college and older fans. The popularity of his shows has also made easier for Gervais to put together an impressive cast including his leading lady Jennifer Garner, who has had mixed luck with comedies, doing well with 13 Going on 30 and her recent pairing with Matthew McConaughey in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past–and of course, she had a supporting role in the Oscar-nominated blockbuster Juno–but the movie Catch & Release tanked. On the other hand, actor Rob Lowe, who plays Gervais’ rival, hasn’t been doing many movies, his last major role being a similar one for the SNL spin-off Wayne’s World. His friends are played by the ubiquitous Jonah Hill and Gervais’ friend (and former HBO channelmate) Louis C.K., plus there are appearances by Tina Fey and Jason Bateman and lots of other surprise cameos, much like was the case on “Extras.”
Before this summer’s blockbuster The Hangover, Warner Bros. hadn’t done very well with many of their comedies, and while this one should be an easy-sell, it’s a certain tone of humor that doesn’t sell itself easily in a 30 second commercial (which is probably why there have been longer commercials that give away most of the plot). The fact that this movie was financed independently and the WB is just distributing it means that they don’t have to invest that much money in getting it out there, and they did end up releasing it on a strange weekend after moving it from March. One presumes that some controversy might arise due to the movie’s cynical take on God and religion, but so far, the Religious Right hasn’t really caught wind of that aspect of the movie (which would actually help generate interest). Unfortunately, it’s more likely that something like that would factor into turning people from seeing it, instead waiting for it to be available on cable or DVD. It doesn’t help that it’s opening against an even stronger marketed comedy either.
It’s a shame because Gervais really is hilarious and he seems to be following others who’ve tried to make the jump to movies unsuccessfully–like Jennifer Garner and Rob Lowe for instance–although one can hope that Gervais’ next movie Cemetery Junction, which reunites him with regular collaborator Stephen Merchant, will fare better on these shores.
Why I Should See It: There is no question that Gervais is one of British comedy’s true gems…
THE CHOSEN ONE:
A Serious Man (Focus Features)
Interview with Michael Stuhlbarg and Richard Kind (Coming Soon!)
I feel that I’ve already written a lot about this movie from my Toronto coverage (linked above), but being that it’s earned the “Chosen One” honor and the Coens are two of my favorite filmmakers, and this is classic Coens, I felt that I should find it in myself to write a little more, especially because this might be their most personal film to date… and considering how vivid the results are, some might be surprised that it took them 14 movies to finally explore their own Jewish roots in Minnesota.
The enigmatic filmmakers have created their own take on a “slice of life” movie by following Michael Stuhlbarg’s schmuckish Larry Gopnik through his day-to-day life which includes angry students who want better grades, squabbling kids, and a wife who has asked to get a ritual divorce, having started to see another man. Despite his own problems, Larry also has to fend for his schlubby brother Arthur (Richard Kind), who has a serious gambling problem, yet no real income, having moved in with Larry’s family. As his problems grow, Larry decides he needs to seek spiritual advice and he goes to a series of progressively more experienced Rabbis who give him some of the most nonsensical advice possible.
The reason why this movie has such resonance with me is that I also grew up in the suburbs in a Jewish family roughly a decade later, and there are many familiar settings and situations in this movie that really took me back. I especially could relate to Danny, Larry’s son, played by newcomer Aaron Wolff, as he prepares for his Bar Mitzvah, while trying to evade a bully to whom he owes money. The Gopnik family setting was also a familiar one, because at one point, my parents were going to separate, so I went through that roughly around the same age as Danny.
The Coens have spent much of their careers dealing with various aspects of the crime genre from the Chicago gangsters of Miller’s Crossing or the kidnappings in Fargo or Raising Arizona, but with A Serious Man, they get into more realistic domestic drama, exploring how a normal man deals with everyday things that pile on top of each other in a way that it must feel like there’s no way out.
Visually, the film is on par with everything else they’ve done, having reunited with Roger Deakins after taking a break for Burn After Reading, and the way he shoots the film makes what’s a generally slow and quizzical tale remain interesting. Not all of it works, and it does take some time for the pieces to come together, but once they do, it really is a film that attains a level of brilliance that’s up there with their best movies. (It’s a terrific script, one that should be guaranteed for awards attention.)
Michael Stuhlbarg is quite an amazing find because he has to carry this movie in a way that harks back to some of the Coens’ earlier work such as Miller’s Crossing and Barton Fink, as well as Billy Bob Thornton in The Man Who Wasn’t There, and he’s just a great everyman to follow into this outrageously funny and unpredictable situations. As with most of the Coens movies, the supporting cast is just as strong as the lead with Fred Melamed stealing scenes from Stuhlbarg as Gopnik’s competition for his wife, Richard Kind as Larry’s bad luck brother and others.
The Coens’ latest will open in select cities on Friday, and one can presume that it will probably expand wider over the coming month.
Also in Limited Release:
The Horse Boy (Zeitgeist Films) – Michel Orion Scott’s documentary follows Rupert Isaacson, his wife and their autistic 2-year-old son Rowan who travel through Mongolia trying to find a cure for his autistic condition via shamanic healing, only to discover that the boy has an affinity for animals, particularly horses. It opens in New York at the IFC Center on Wednesday.
A Beautiful Life (New Films International) – Alejando Chomski directs this drama based on the play “Jersey City” about a teenage runaway (Angela Sarafyan) and an illegal immigrant (Jesse Garcia) whose paths cross in L.A., forming an alliance with a Chinese stripper (Bai Ling) and a librarian (Debi Mazar). It opens at the Quad Cinema in New York, as well as L.A., Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle. (It’s not to be confused with the Ashton Kutcher-produced CW show that was just canceled!)
Afterschool (IFC Films) – Antonio Campos’ look at the dark side of today’s youth follows a student at an East Coast prep school who videotapes the death of two girls and then is assigned to make a memorial film to help the school heal. It opens in select cities on Friday.
Chelsea on the Rocks (Aliquot Films) – Filmmaker Abel (“Bad Lieutenant”) Ferrara pays tribute to the New York city landmark, the Chelsea Hotel, with this documentary that features the likes of Ethan Hawke, Milos Forman, Dennis Hopper, R. Crumb and more. It opens in New York at the Clearview Chelsea and in Montclair, New Jersey, and then in other cities afterwards. (You can see the full schedule here.)
Do Knot Disturb (Big Pictures) – David Dwahan’s comedy of errors about a businessman who tries to hide his affair with a supermodel by paying a waiter to pretend to be her boyfriend. It opens in select cities.
More Than a Game (Lionsgate) – Kristopher Belman’s documentary takes a look at the early basketball career of NBA superstar LeBron James and the “Fab Five” of ball players out of Akron, Ohio, from their days as high school championships to their bond being tested by James’ growing fame.
As Seen Through These Eyes (Menemsha Films) – Narrated by poet Maya Angelou, this documentary by Hilary Helstein takes a look at a number of Jewish artists who decided to take on Hitler with their artwork, including Simon Wiesenthal, the children of Theresienstadt and Dina Gottliebova Babbitt, the artist forced to paint Gypsy portraits for Dr. Mengele, and even comic book icons Stan Lee and Neal Adams. It opens at the Cinema Village in New York.
Next week, the Weekend Warrior celebrates eight glorious years (can you believe it? We can’t) with a weekend with just one new movie in wide release and that is the Vince Vaughn vacation comedy Couples Retreat (Universal).