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.
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1. Vampires Suck (20th Century Fox) – $15.3 million N/A (down .1 million)
2. The Expendables (Lionsgate) – $14.5 million -58% (up .5 million)
3. Piranha 3D (Dimension) – $13.7 million N/A (up .3 million)
4. Eat Pray Love (Sony) – $12.5 million -46% (up .2 million)
5. Nanny McPhee Returns (Universal) – $11.0 million N/A (up .2 million)
6. Lottery Ticket (Warner Bros.) – $10.0 million N/A (up 1.4 million)
7. The Other Guys (Sony) – $9.5 million -45% (same)
8. Inception (Warner Bros.) – $6.9 million -40% (down .4 million)
9. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Universal) – $5.6 million -47% (up .1 million)
10. The Switch (Miramax) – $5.2 million N/A
The “Dog Days” of August are officially upon us, the time when very few movies can open to more than $20 million, and yet, we have five movies trying their best to make that amount with only one of them even coming close to 3,000 theaters. None of these movies really have inspired us enough to want to do any sort of full write-up, so we’ll probably only write a couple paragraphs of analysis for each.
We see the competition for the younger moviegoers still out of school and looking for something to do being between Alexandre Aja’s vicious fish remake Piranha 3D (Dimension Films) and the latest spoof abomination from Frieberg and Seltzer, Vampires Suck (20th Century Fox), which has them tackling the equally bad “Twilight Saga.” The latter is opening on Wednesday with the awareness that this is one of the last weeks when teens are still out of school, hoping the TwiHards who may enjoy seeing their favorite franchise mocked will likely go out to see the movie on Tuesday at midnight or Wednesday, but other young people will wait until the weekend. It’s doubtful anyone over 20 will be seeing this regardless.
While Piranha 3D looks cheesy, similar to the original movie in fact, there should be enough moviegoers looking for blood and gore that the added amount for 3D tickets should push it top the box office Friday even if it then quickly drops off putting it behind Vampires Sucks and Sly Stallone’s The Expendables by Sunday. Then again, there’s just as good a chance Julia Roberts’ hit drama Eat Pray Love can do enough in its second weekend based on word-of-mouth to keep it ahead of the new movies as well.
Hoping to capitalize on the lack of new family films but being released during a time of the summer when family films rarely do well, Emma Thompson is back for Nanny McPhee Returns (Universal), a reasonable sequel considering the $47 million grossed by the original in January 2006. Thompson’s involvement has allowed for an impressive cast including Maggies Gyllenhaal and Smith, as well as Ewan McGregor and Ralph Fiennes in smaller roles, but it’s still opening in the latter half of August where many families are taking advantage of the last days of summer to travel.
Ice Cube will try to continue his lucrative albeit shaky run as a producer with the “urban” comedy Lottery Ticket (Warner Bros.) starring rapper Bow Wow and comedian Brandon T. Jackson (Tropic Thunder), which will try to find similar success as the “Friday” and “Barbershop” movies, but probably won’t fare quite as well with Ice Cube playing a much smaller role than those other movies. Even so, with a strong marketing campaign focusing on the ensemble case including the likes of Mike Epps and Charlie Murphy, it should end up somewhere in the bottom half of the Top 10.
The pairing of Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman is intended to be the draw for the second pregnancy comedy of the year, The Switch (Miramax Films), but even sporting the biggest starpower for the weekend hasn’t allowed the movie to get a very wide release as it’s opening in less than 2,000 theaters. Aniston and Bateman can help the movie with talk show appearances, but opening in late August won’t help, and it’s likely to end up in the lower half of the Top 10, maybe even all the way at #10, with a fairly weak showing.
This being the “Dog Days,” anything can happen, and there’s just as much a chance no movie will make more than $15 million as there is chance that one of the above will tank so badly they’ll never be mentioned again at their respective studio’s meetings.
This weekend last year, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (The Weinstein Company), starring Brad Pitt and future Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, was able to avoid the normal “Dog Days” of summer by scoring $38.1 million, the biggest opening for a Tarantino movie ever. How odd it must have been for his long-time friend and Grindhouse collaborator Robert Rodriguez to be acting as counter-programming with his family movie Shorts (Warner Bros.), which settled for 6th place with $6.4 million. Alexis Bledel and a cast including Michael Keaton and Carol Burnett starred in the comedy Post Grad (Fox Searchlight), which tanked with just $2.8 million in nearly 2,000 theaters, for 10th place. X-Games 3D: The Movie (ESPN Films) opened for one week only in over 1,300 theaters and that was probably one week too many as it brought in less than a million over the weekend. The Top 10 grossed $106.6 million, but even with one more movie opening this weekend, we think that’s impossible for this week to do better with none of the movies expected to open as big as Tarantino’s war flick.
Vampires Suck (20th Century Fox)
Starring Jenn Proske, Matt Lanter, Emily Brobst, Chris Riggi, Krystal Mayo, Crista Flanagan, Ken Jeong, Arielle Kebbel, Devon Kelly
Written and directed by Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer (Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans)
Tagline: “Some Sagas Just Won’t Die”
Plot Summary: High school student Becca Crane (Jenn Proske) is torn between two boys, one who is a vampire and one who is a werewolf, and all of her romantic woes come to a head at her prom. Sound familiar, huh?
For some reason, God in his great kindness has spared us two years of having to endure another awful spoof comedy from the filmmaking duo of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. After three movies in “The Twilight Saga” and the amount of money those bad movies made, they could remain silent no longer, and they’re back with a comedy that hopes to capitalize on the willingness of TwiHards to support their local cinema. At least that’s we assume, because we don’t think anyone who hates the “Twilight” movies might suffer another stupid spoof comedy for the sake of making fun of the series.
The last time one of their movies opened in August was with the spoof comedy Disaster Movie, that paired the filmmakers’ chronic starlet Carmen Electra with Kim Kardashian in her first movie role. It was the second movie of the year for the duo after Meet the Spartans, which did roughly the same as their Epic Movie a year earlier, opening with $18.5 million and grossing just under $40 million. Disaster Movie didn’t fare as well, maybe due to the late summer release or because it was distributed by The Weinstein Company. You’d think they would have some knowledge how to market a spoof comedy, having had so much success with the four “Scary Movies.”
While the cast isn’t anything to write home about–Ken Jeong of The Hangover and NBC’s “Community” does have a small role–that hasn’t really hurt previous spoof movies, and in fact, not knowing any of the lead actors might actually benefit the “illusion.” Oh, who am I kidding? Most of the people in this movie will probably never be heard from again. Like that guy Chris Evans from 2001’s Not Another Teen Movie, whatever happened to him?
There are two very strong things working in this movie’s favor, because not only will young people who hate “Twilight” want to see it to make fun of it, but actual fans of “Twilight” might go see this as some sort of bonding experience or stopgap to tie them over until Breaking Dawn, which doesn’t come out until late next year. It’s unsure whether guys might go see it for the former reason or they might just go see Piranha 3D and let the ladies have this one. Either way, opening on Wednesday means that the crazy TwiHards will be out seeing this as soon as possible, lowering its potential for the weekend. Here’s hoping we haven’t come to the point where even spoofs of “Twilight” do insane business because if Vampire Suck is a hit, there’ll be no getting rid of Friedberg and Seltzer.
Why I Should See It: Seriously, I can’t think of any reason to see this unless you’re a paid critic and writing a review of this might help get you the money to buy enough drinks to forget the experience.
Piranha 3D (Dimension Films)
Starring Jessica Szohr, Steven R. McQueen, Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O’Connell, Ving Rhames, Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Lloyd
Directed by Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, High Tension, Mirrors); Written by Alexander Aja, Greg Levasseur, Pete Goldfinger, Josh Stolberg
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Tagline: “There’s Something in the Water”
Plot Summary: The sleepy town of Lake Victoria is about to be inundated by thousands of college students looking for drunken fun over Spring Break, but an underwater tremor unleashes hundreds of prehistoric man-eating fish who aren’t fussy about whether their food is sober and smart or drunk and smart.
Horror movies are far more commonplace for late August than anything else, although up until recently, it was more of a dumping ground for movies that studios didn’t know how to market. Dimension Films hasn’t really had that problem, having had success with their remakes such as Rob Zombie’s Halloween (or at least the first one). This is their first movie of the year, and they’ve teamed with French director Alexandre Aja, who had success with his early movie, a remake of The Hills Have Eyes, as well as its follow-up Mirrors. He’s certainly well-respected in the horror community, mainly due to his debut High Tension, but that gives him a lot of cred to take in a remake like Piranha.
Normally, horror movies tend to be sold on their premise without concern for having a name cast, but this one actually has a strange one, starting with the casting of indie favorite Adam Scott in a leading role, as well as the casting of veteran ’80s actress Elizabeth Shue and Jerry O’Connell. Maybe the casting of Ving Rhames won’t seem as surprising, but the oddest casting of the lot though is that of Richard Dreyfuss, who probably should have known better, having starred in the remake of Poseidon, but after seeing him in My Life in Ruins, we wonder whether the actor who won an Oscar during his early days of his career is long gone. (The connection for Dreyfuss with this movie being that he famously starred in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws).
Horror movies have long been the perfect fodder for 3D, though in the ’50s, it was mostly used as a gimmick to insure even greater scares for audience. Last year, two movies tried to take advantage of the burgeoning 3D explosion with both My Bloody Valentine and The Final Destination opening respectably, helped by the added cost for 3D tickets. Unfortunately, 3D is experiencing a huge backlash, and it probably won’t matter that this movie was filmed in 2D and then converted to 3D after the fact, something that’s contributed greatly to that backlash.
Even so, the idea of watching all these people being slaughtered by killer fish in 3D will probably be too enticing for young people not to pay the extra money for it, and that alone should help the movie win Friday even if it’s likely to be as frontloaded as so many other summer horror movies allowing other movies to pass it by Sunday.
Why I Should See It: Is there anything more fun than watching stupid drunken college kids being eaten by thousands of deadly piranha?
Nanny McPhee Returns (Universal)
Starring Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rhys Ifans, Maggie Smith, Asa Butterfield, Ralph Fiennes
Directed by Susanna White; Written by Emma Thompson (Nanny McPhee, Sense and Sensibility)
Genre: Comedy, Family
Tagline: “You’ll Believe That Pigs Can Fly!”
Plot Summary: Mrs. Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a mother who has been having trouble running her family farm after her husband (Ewan McGregor) has gone away, while raising three kids, who are fighting a war with their city cousins, so they call upon Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) to use her magical powers to help out.
There are few British actresses held in higher esteem than Emma Thompson, so when she decided to put on a garish costume and facial prosthetics and turn herself into “Nanny McPhee, the star of Christianna Brand’s series of children’s books, few people were going to question her. In fact, most people would immediately see this as Thompson’s answer to Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins. Those comparisons probably helped the original Nanny McPhee achieve a higher regard among parents than most family films, allowing it to gross $46 million domestically.
Now, generally family movies rarely open or do as well as their predecessors–animated movies are an exceptions–and we can probably see that same phenomenon happening with this sequel, not helped by the fact that its being released in late August, which is a sh*tty time for a family film compared to the winter/spring movie seasons. Universal has had some success opening British family comedy sequels in August, most notably Mr. Bean’s Holiday, which opened with just under $10 million in the same weekend three years ago.
While the movie’s likely to be trashed by critics and have little interest to anyone but kids and their parents, that latter audience should be enough to help the movie open moderately and possibly do decent business with no other family movies opening in the weeks to come. It probably won’t gross as much as the original movie regardless.
Why I Should See It: Emma Thompson is a highly respected and talented actress…
The Switch (Miramax Films)
Starring Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis, Thomas Robinson
Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon (Blades of Glory, “Cavemen”); Written by Allan Loeb (Things We Lost in the Fire, 21, upcoming Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps)
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Tagline: “The most unexpected comedy ever conceived.”
Plot Summary: Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) is a single woman reaching her 40s who decides she wants to get pregnant, so with the help of a sperm donor (Patrick Wilson) and a turkey baster, she decides to do it herself. Seven years later, when she reunites with her neurotic best friend Wally (Bateman), he suspects that a mistake he made in the pregnancy process may have inadvertently fathered Kassie’s son.
It’s not often a movie with a bonafide box office star on par with Jennifer Aniston being released in the “Dog Days” of summer, and it makes you wonder why the movie isn’t getting a better release. Formerly known as “The Baster,” The Switch was one of the last movies produced by Miramax Films before they closed shop last year, but Disney has taken over the distribution of their remaining movies. Maybe they didn’t know what to do with this or maybe it’s just a bad movie, because they’re releasing it at one of the worst possible times, with a lot of its potential audience going on vacation at this time of the summer. Even so, it looks like a fairly straight-forward comedy geared towards woman, and it might surprise some that it’s based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides – maybe he wrote it after seeing The Back-up Plan, Jennifer Lopez’s pregnancy comedy which opened earlier this year.
One of the best (and possibly worst) things going for this comedy from the directors of Will Ferrell’s iceskating comedy Blades of Glory and the much-maligned ABC show “Cavemen,” the first of them being the pairing of Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman, the second being the romantic comedy sub-genre of pregnancy humor that has a very specific market of 20-to-30 something women whose biological clocks are ticking and they’re starting to think more seriously about having babies themselves.
Aniston has had many big hits since leaving “Friends” but she’s had a number of failures in recent years including last year’s romantic drama Love Happens with Aaron Eckhart and the indie rom-com Management with Steven Zahn. Even Aniston’s dumb-looking The Bounty Hunter with Gerard Butler opened well, which makes one think that she’s still a draw in this type of movie. Bateman hasn’t really exploded as a box office draw even if he’s played a key part in many comedy hits such as Jason Reitman’s Juno, the Vince Vaughn vacation comedy Couples Retreat, and Will Smith’s Hancock, but he’s also had a couple of big bombs like the comedy The Ex. One has to assume that he’s less of a draw then Aniston, that’s for sure, and one wonders whether anyone thinks much of that pairing.
Oddly, the movie seems to be getting the most attention from a dispute between Aniston and the popular political host Bill O’Reilly for its depiction of single motherhood, but honestly, that won’t really help the movie among the key demographic of 20 to 30 something women and could in fact hurt the movie in the South and Central states.
Oh, and there’s also the matter of a little thing called Eat Pray Love and Julia Roberts, who will probably be holding sway over most women in its second weekend. That may hurt The Switch more than anything else, and if Disney’s intention was to dump the movie in mid-August and hoping it will be missed and forgotten, that plan may succeed.
Why I Should See It: Jason Bateman has proven himself quite well as a strong comedic actor from his time on the short-lived “Arrested Development.”
Lottery Ticket (Warner Bros.)
Starring Bow Wow, Ice Cube, Brandon T. Jackson, Naturi Naughton, Keith David, Charles Q. Murphy, Loretta Devine, Terry Crews, Bill Bellamy
Directed by Erik White (Debut); Written by Abdul Williams
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Tagline: “Winning is just the beginning. Surviving is another story.”
Plot Summary: Kevin Carson (Bow Wow), a young man living in the projects, discovers that he’s holding the winning ticket for the $370 million Mondo Millions Lottery, but with the claims office closed for the long July 4th weekend, he and his best friend Benny (Brandon T. Jackson) need to avoid the opportunists who will do anything to get their hands on Kevin’s money.
Mini-Review Any hopes of the “urban comedy” genre ever being elevated above the ridiculous or inane won’t come in the form of this star-studded high concept comedy that has such an impressive cast that falters at every turn due to the inexperience of the filmmakers.
It’s just another day for Bow Wow’s Kevin Carson when we meet him, working at a Foot Locker to try to survive, but he’s been having trouble with a local thug who wants Kevin to get him some free high-end sneakers; by doing the right thing, it makes Kevin a target. When Kevin gets his hands on a winning lottery ticket worth hundreds of millions, he suddenly finds that everyone in the neighborhood wants to be his friend, but he has to keep the ticket safe for three days as the claims office is closed for the holiday weekend. Suddenly, the hot girl who never gave him the time of day now wants to be his “baby mamma” as Kevin begins to ignore his real friends.
The movie is all over the place, starting out with the old reliable “on the block” humor, then veering into being a crime-thriller with Keith David and Terry Crews showing up as a loan shark and his hired goon trying to protect their investment. It then tries to get all dramatic leading into the third act. Bow Wow has very little charisma, certainly not enough to carry the movie, and he’s essentially stepping into the career shoes vacated by Nick Cannon when he finally wised up. Brandon T. Jackson isn’t nearly as funny here as in “Tropic Thunder,” which one can probably blame more on the script and first-time director Erik White, who lets his cast run rampant with adlibs over every scene.
Ice Cube’s role and performance is nothing short of moronic, as he shows up as a has-been boxer living in a basement halfway through the movie. Cube puts on a fat suit and a graying beard to trying to do more of a Martin Lawrence type character role, something that’s clearly not his strength, and it’s all too obvious that he’ll play a large part in the film’s climax. Even appearances by Mike Epps and character actor Charlie Murphy do little to elevate the weak material and most of their attempts at laughs fall flat.
While there are some noble ideas in the movie about giving back to your community, the movie sends out so many mixed messages to young people like that having unprotected sex with millionaires in hopes of getting their child support, ideas that really aren’t very well thought out for the movie’s potential audience.
For the most part, “Lottery Ticket” is a classic case of a decent cast trying to make the most out of bad material, but it brings nothing new to the “urban comedy” than any of the worst “Friday” knock-offs. Rating: 3.5/10
It’s been some time since we’ve had a straight-up urban comedy, a genre that rapper Ice Cube may be considered the true master of, having produced and starred in a number of successful urban comedy franchises, starting with the “Friday” movies, which arguably began the wave of studios taking African-Americans and their desire for laughs seriously. While Lottery Ticket may benefit from the lack of movies for that audience, there’s just as much a chance that audience just isn’t interested in another cliché-filled comedy.
For the most part, the movie is being marketed based on the quality of the comedic cast, although rapper Bow Wow hasn’t exactly made waves with his acting roles, his biggest movie to date being the family basketball movie Like Mike and his rollerskating comedy Roll Bounce failing to attract urban audiences. Brandon T. Jackson has appeared in a couple box office hits like Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder and the family fantasy Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, but it’s unknown whether he has any sort of draw for African-American audiences. Ice Cube’s two ringers for the movie are Mike Epps and Charlie Murphy, who appeared as trashmen in Roll Bounce with Bow Wow, and Epps has built his own fanbase with the “Friday” movies but hasn’t been able to break out beyond that. Ice Cube himself only plays a small part in Lottery Ticket compared to the “Friday” and “Barbershop” movies, but his involvement is still the biggest selling point.
Normally, the business for urban comedies is targeted to a fairly small region and specific cities that are populated by African-Americans, which allows them to do much bigger per-theater averages, and Warner Bros. is giving Lottery Ticket an ambitious release into 1,900 theaters, hoping it can do similar business as those other movies or at least Cube’s previous comedy First Sunday, but they are still working against the August release which rarely helps any comedy break out, let alone one that is fairly weak. The ambitiously wide release will probably dilute business so that theaters in some areas may be empty. Either way, it should have a decent if not spectacular opening due to the lack of movies geared towards African-American audiences looking for a few late-summer laughs.
Why I Should See It: Because you found all of Ice Cube’s previous comedies to be hilarious.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
The Tillman Story (The Weinstein Co.)
The story of NFL player turned soldier Pat Tillman was one that shook the nation, first when it was learned he was killed in action, the government claiming he died a hero saving his platoon and giving him a Silver Star. Weeks later, the truth came out that he was shot by his own troops via friendly fire, something that was covered up by the military. When Pat’s parents found out the truth, they were incensed and rightly so, because it was clear to them that the government was going against what they knew would have been their son’s wishes by using him as an example to create a war hero.
There have been many great war docs over the years, the most recent one being Restrepo, which spent over a year with soldiers, but Bar-Lev’s doc stands out because it is such a singular personal story, one that made waves when the story broke in 2004, but has remained fairly dormant since then. Amir Bar-Lev’s last doc was My Kid Can Paint That about the mystery surrounding an artistic prodigy, but this one deals with far more serious matters, not just due to the personal family tragedy, but also due to the repercussions that may arise if Americans were to realize how and why the government tried to cover-up Tillman’s death and use it for political means.
The structure of the film is somewhat odd at first since it begins with a lot of talking heads from Tillman’s parents, his brother and his widow, and his fellow soldiers talking about what he was like as a person. The movie does assume that anyone watching it will be familiar with Tillman’s football career or followed the news of his death, but we do learn a lot more by hearing from the people closest to him. Pat Tillman clearly wasn’t the God-fearing right-winger some might expect of those living in the South entering the military. In fact, he didn’t want his reasons for turning his back on the NFL to fight in Afghanistan to be made public, something the government immediately ignores when they try to glorify his death as an American hero. The entire film is embellished by terrific footage of Tillman Bar-Lev was given access to, from home movies to interviews done by Tillman at Arizona State before joining the NFL and in his early days playing pro football. He also was able to use the actual military investigation footage to piece together what happened on the fateful day.
In fact, the movie gets infinitely more interesting when it gets into the actual investigation behind what happened in Afghanistan the day Tillman was killed by his own men, and it does a fairly thorough job piecing together the actual military report with comments by Tillman’s fellow soldiers who were there that day. After that, it’s all about the parents following up on Pat’s death, trying to learn the truth and make sure that those who deliberately covered it up are held responsible. It may come as no surprise that the one person who didn’t do interviews specifically for the movie was Pat’s younger brother Kevin, who enlisted at the same time and was present on the day Pat was killed but was also lied to. He is noticeably absent through most of the film, but then shows up almost at the very end in footage of the powerful testimonial he gives before a Congressional hearing that hopes to open the investigation and make those responsible accountable. That attempt also proves futile.
The controversy over the film being “scarlet-lettered” with an R rating, similar to this week’s other doc A Film Unfinished in fact, is an interesting topic of conversation because the movie doesn’t show any graphic violence, sex or nudity, but has an abundant use of the “F” word, which makes sense considering the Tillman Brothers’ abundant use of the word. It’s really hard not to think that the MPAA is adding to the government cover-up with what happened to Tillman, like giving it a rating that limits the movie’s audience might help the government sweep this ugly incident under the rug. After all, why would the government want young teens to see this movie and possibly dissuade them from ever enlisting in the military? They don’t, which makes it very easy for the MPAA to cut out anyone below 17 from seeing this film without a guardian, and teens are really the ones who MUST see this film.
That’s just one of the film’s many interesting layers that unfolds as you watch it, although you can’t help but think that the long process in making the movie kept it from being released when it would have been most effective i.e. when Bush and Rumsfeld were still in power. The film follows the process of making the generals accountable for the cause of Pat’s death, but the only one indicted is a general that had already retired. The media is just as responsible for the circus that followed his death due to their need to create war heroes without actually doing the in-depth research that Bar-Lev felt the need to do in order to thoroughly cover the subject for his doc.
The results of the film are heartbreaking, because you can tell that Pat Tillman and his family were just trying to do what was right by their country and their government certainly didn’t feel the need to return that favor after Pat’s death, instead trying to capitalize on his death for the sake of politics in an election year. Bar-Lev’s accounting of the entire affair is quite momentous and on par with the works of Errol Morris and Michael Moore without ever feeling strictly political or losing sight of the humanity at the story’s core.
The Tillman Story opens in select cities on Friday.
Also in Limited Release:
German-Turkish filmmaker Fatih Akin (Head On) takes on comedy with Soul Kitchen (IFC Films) about a young Greek restaurant owner named Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos) who goes through a series of trials after his girlfriend Nadine goes to Shanghai for a job, and an old friend tries to buy the restaurant behind Zinos’ back. When Zinos’ brother Illias (Moritz Bleibreu from Run Lola Run and Das Experiment) is out of jail on parole and he wants Zinos to give him a job. It opens in New York at the IFC Center on Friday.
Mini-Review Fatih Akin has made a number of innovative dramas revolving around Turkish immigrants in Germany, but by trying to capitalize on the food porn craze and creating something that can appeal to mainstream audiences, he has created a bit of poppy fluff that’s not even as memorable as restaurant/kitchen classics like “Dinner Rush” and “Mostly Martha.” Casting his friend (and cinematic inspiration) Adam Bousdoukos in the leading role of Zinos may have been Akin’s first misstep, as he’s not a particularly strong actor either when handling humor or drama. As much as this is a movie about Zinos’ problems getting his newly-renovated restaurant “Soul Kitchen” going, yet it mainly deals with his worries about his rich German girlfriend being unfaithful to him while in China for business. The lack a truly satisfactory character arc for Zinos allows for Moritz Bleibtrau to step and create a far more enjoyable character as Zinos’ constantly-gambling ex-convict brother, even having a nice romance with the restaurant’s sole waitress. Another returning Akin collaborator, Birol Ünel from “Head On” has some equally fun moments as a Nazi-like Chef, but he’s sadly underused. Overall, the film feels sadly disjointed, with Akin trying too hard to be cute and funny with a lot of the performances relying on over-the-top yelling or physical humor to try to win the audience over. In trying to get laughs, Akin tends to go for some of the most obvious gags like the chef spiking a desert with drugs that gets everyone partying including a tough female agent from the tax office who comes to the “Soul Kitchen” to collect money but instead ends up showing her wild side, much to her own embarrassment. Whenever whichever storyline Akin is focusing on doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, he throws in another music-filled montage, hoping that the popular soul and dance songs will help the audience forgive the lack of storytelling he did so well in his earlier movies. As comfortably as Akin slips into the realm of mainstream filmmaker, there’s just no real weight or depth to any of it, which is shocking considering how innovative and deep Akin’s previous movies were. By comparison, “Soul Kitchen” seems like little more than a throwaway. This is a talented filmmaker who needs to get back to what makes his work so distinctive rather than making movies that cater to simple-minded moviegoers who prefer to be force-fed easy to digest comfort foods rather than being challenged with a sophisticated meal. Saying Akin’s latest could have very well been made within the Hollywood studio system would not be a compliment. Rating: 5.5/10
Opening on Wednesday at the Film Forum in New York is Yael Hersonski’s A Film Unfinished (Oscilloscope Pictures), an expose on a Nazi propaganda film made 70 years ago, having uncovered found footage that unveils the truth behind the making of these films that shows the whole truth. It will open in L.A. after its two-day New York exclusive.
French filmmaker Robert Guédiguian’s Army of Crime (Lorber Flms) is a thriller set during the early days of the French Resistance during WWII with Armenian poet Missak Manouchian (Simon Abkarian) and his wife (Virginie Ledoyen) leading a diverse group of volunteers against the country’s German invaders. After playing at Lincoln Center’s “Rendezvous with French Cinema” earlier this year, it opens at the Quad Cinema in New York and in San Francisco on Friday.
Mao’s Last Dancer (Samuel Goldyn Films) is a new movie from Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) that tells the true story of Li Cunxin (Chi Cao), who as a young boy living in poverty was picked to study at a prestigious school of ballet. Years later, Li was brought to Houston for a year on an exchange program to dance with the Houston Ballet, and he discovers first love then celebrity, which makes him not want to return to China, much to the chagrin of the country’s leaders. It opens in select cities on Friday.
Mini-Review (Coming Soon)
Dallas Jenkins’ spiritual drama What If… (Five and Two Pictures) stars Kevin Sorbo (yes, THAT Kevin Sorbo) as Ben Walker, a man who turned on his back on becoming a preacher for a business opportunity and hasn’t set foot in church ever since. When his car breaks down outside the city, he’s visited by a tow truck driver (John Ratzenberger) who claims to be an angel who wants to show Ben what his life would have been like if he stuck to his original plan. Yes, “It’s a Wonderful Life” in the Christian drama business if this movie finds its churchgoing audience.
Playwright Rehana Mirza’s Hiding Divyaa (Net Effect Media) looks at the subject of mental illness through the bipolar illness suffered by an elderly woman named Divya Shah (Madhur Jaffrey) that has been denied and covered up and how it affects her daughter and her teenage granddaughter. It opens in select cities.
Next week, the month of August comes to a close with two new movies, the horror flick The Last Exorcism (Lionsgate) and the crime-drama Takers (Screen Gems).
Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas