Top 10 of 2011


The annual ritual of choosing the movies that thrilled, chilled, affected and otherwise dug into the critical consciousness with hooks of steel during 2011 is upon Cinema365 and while our list is posted a bit later than most others, think of it as being a labor of love rather than a necessary evil, a particularly unliked chore.

This is the part where I mention that like any other list, this one is completely arbitrary. There’s no scientific basis, nothing quantitative that I can point to and say “this movie deserved to be on this list because of this.” No, it’s completely from the gut my friends and like any gut this big change is constant. The list you see here today is not the list I would make tomorrow. That’s why it always takes me so long; I hem, I haw, I prevaricate. At last, I assign.

Generally speaking, this list reflects my tastes as I saw the movie. I take all the movies I gave an 8 or greater score to, put the 10s at the top, the 9s below and so on. The half points I generally don’t take into consideration. Therefore you might see an 8 ranked above an 8.5. See what I mean about arbitrary?

So this is all about whether I liked the movie or not. 2011 didn’t see any real game changers in terms of movies that will rank as all-time bests. It is somewhat telling that perhaps the most critically acclaimed movie of the year was a silent movie whose style harkened back to the films of that era. Still, even if none of them may end up as classics that withstand the test of time (and I think a few of them will), all ten of these and the honorable mentions as well, should provide at least a good starting point if you want to take a cinematic  year in review viewing party and stock it up with really good movies instead of just really popular ones.

Some of these movies remain in general release even as we speak; you can head right out to a theater and see them the way they were meant to be seen. Some are already out on DVD/Blu-Ray and you can enjoy them in the comfort of your own home – or they soon will be. Lag time between theatrical release and home video release has been shrinking of late. There are two films on this list that you may find difficult to find either in home video or theaters. Check your local film festival to see if they will be around, or the websites that I have included with the original reviews – you can access those by clicking on the movie title and you can read what I wrote about them way back when.

This is meant to invite discussion or perhaps a heated argument or two. Feel free to submit your own top ten, or harangue me about mine. My skin is thick and I don’t bruise easily. I welcome hearing why my list is full of crap and yours is so much better. That’s why lists are fun.  

HONORABLE MENTION

There are a number of movies that didn’t quite make the cut of the top ten. I thought I’d add them here so you can get an idea of which ones came close, were considered and ultimately not chosen. Again, I will stress that all of these are quality films worth seeking out if you’re looking for entertainment, enlightenment or insight. I didn’t include links here but if you want to read my reviews of any of these, simply type in the title into the search field and have at it. So,  in no particular order;

In a Better World, Hugo, War Horse, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Company Men, The Descendants, Margin Call, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I Saw the Devil, Thor, J. Edgar, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Holy Wars, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Double Hour, Win Win, Bridesmaids, Young Goethe in Love, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Adventures of Tintin, The Happy Poet, The Whistleblower, In Time, Apollo 18, Submarine, Drive.

And with no further ado, let us get on with the countdown:

10.  HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2

(Warner Brothers) Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Felton, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis, Everyone in England. Directed by David Yates

Released July 15, 2011 The end of an era finally came to pass as nearly a decade of Pottermania had its final moments and the series went out with a glorious bang. Harry and his friends Hermione and Ron would take on the forces of evil in an epic battle that would shake the very foundations of magic itself as Harry and Lord Voldemort finally had the face-off that everyone had been waiting for.

WHY IT IS HERE: There are those who proclaimed it the best film in the series and in many ways they weren’t wrong. This was an emotional rollercoaster that had heroism, villainy, pathos and even a hint of comedy here and there. After the first part of the last book seemed to be all exposition and no action, this movie made for a wonderful payoff. Not everyone would survive but this was a more than satisfactory ending to a series many people grew up with. There were a lot of misty eyes in the theater when the final credits rolled, not the least of which were the Warner Brothers accountants who would see their biggest moneymaking series ever fade into history.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Harry prepares for certain death as he goes into the black forest to compose himself. There he meets the shades of his parents as well as those in the series who had passed on. It was remarkably moving and I for one had tears literally streaming down my face when I saw it. In fact, I’m a bit misty right now just writing about it.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $381 million domestic (as of 1/17/12), $1.3 billion total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Available on HBO/Cinemax. Download/stream from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Blockbuster.

9. INCENDIES

(Sony Classics) Lubna Azabal, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulim, Maxim Gaudette, Remy Girard, Abdelghafour Elaaziz, Allan Altman, Mohamed Majd, Nabil Sawalha, Baya Belal, Yousef Shweihat. Directed by Denis Villanueve

Released April 22, 2011 This was nominated for a Foreign Language Film Oscar, representing Canada but very little of it was set in the Great White North. It didn’t win but many thought it should have. A woman follows the path of her mother as she makes a search for the man who is her father, starting in the small village her mother came from in the Middle East. The more she looks the deeper the mystery becomes as she discovers her mother was caught in a vicious civil war between Christian and Muslim factions in that country, leading to a shocking revelation that turns her daughter’s life upside down.

WHY IT IS HERE: There is no movie on this list that will grab your guts quite as much as this one does. While many explore the depths of man’s cruelty to man, here is a movie that takes that cruelty head-on and exposes the ugliness for all to see. Yet even with all this ugliness, there is still lingering hope that tinges the entire film and makes it ultimately an uplifting experience, despite the horror. Forgiveness trumps hatred every time.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: A scene in which a busload of Muslim women meet a horrible end is one that will stay with you for a very long time.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $2.1 million domestic (as of 1/17/12), $3.6M total.

BUDGET: $6.8 million.

STATUS:Currently available on home video. Available on Starz. Download from iTunes/Amazon/Blockbuster. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Streaming unavailable.

8. BUCK

(Sundance Selects) Buck Brannaman, Mary Brannaman, Reata Brannaman, Betsy Shirley, Robert Redford, Bibb Frazier, Betty Staley, Ali Cornish, Shayne Jackson, Smokie Brannaman, Ray Hunt. Directed by Cindy Meehl

Released June 17, 2011 Buck Brannaman is an archetype, a modern day cowboy who is equal parts Roy Rogers and Dr. Phil. His journey from being a trick roper for an abusive father to one of the top consultants to ranchers about horse behavior and horse training (the character of The Horse Whisperer is largely based on him) is a moving one. One look at the trailer which preceded it convinced me that this was going to be a special film and when I got to see it in San Francisco with Da Queen, I found it to exceed those expectations and Da Queen agreed – if you were to ask her, this would undoubtedly be one of her favorite movies of the year as well.

WHY IT IS HERE: This documentary won the Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival last January and it’s easy to see why. Few films – and even fewer documentaries – have as much heart and compassion as this movie does and the reason for it is Brannaman. He is self-effacing, quiet and has a connection to horses that is rare as it is beautiful. He has challenged traditional methods of training for one that is more effective and less traumatic for the horse. These days it can be difficult to be proud to be an American but this movie will allow you to do so, at least for a few hours.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Buck comforts a rancher who realizes that her inexperience and poor decisions regarding her horse have led to the injury of one of her hands and the eventual termination of the horse.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4 million domestic (as of 1/18/12), $4M total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS:Currently available on home video. Available on Showtime. Download from Amazon/iTunes. Stream on Netflix. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix.

7. FANNY, ANNIE AND DANNY

(Self-Released) Jill Pixley, Carlye Pollack, Jonathan Leveck, Colette Keen, George Killingsworth, Nick Frangione, Anne Darragh, Suzanna Aguayo, Nancy Carlin, Don Schwantz. Directed by Chris Brown

Released April 16, 2010 There are some movies that you will not see outside of a film festival. They are labors of love, made on shoestring budget by filmmakers who are often just learning their craft. Sometimes those movies are learning experiences for the filmmakers; they will go on to bigger and better things eventually but sometimes, you run into quality that stands on its own merit and doesn’t need any sort of qualifier, be it low-budget or inexperience. These films stand proudly with movies that have studio backing and/or indie distribution to be among the year’s best.  

WHY IT IS HERE: Brown’s third feature is an often poignant, generally funny and entirely too human portrayal of a dysfunctional family imploding over the course of a Christmas dinner. On paper it sounds awkward and uncomfortable and there are a few moments where those emotions are present but for the most part you just saw the damage done by years of digging, disappointment and disability. Well-acted (particularly Pixley, Keen and Killingsworth) and droll when it needs to be, this movie should be sent to every studio mogul and director as a primer in how great films can be done on microscopic budgets.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene near the end of the film when Danny’s departure brings down the facade from his mother and shows her to be what she truly is. It’s a marvelous piece of acting by Keen.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: Not available.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS:The movie worked the film festival circuit last year, culminating in a brief run at New York’s ReRun Gastropub Theater in December. The film’s website doesn’t mention any plans for the movie to be released on DVD; hopefully someday it will be available in that formula or for digital download somewhere. Check the movie’s website for updates.

6. THE HELP

(DreamWorks/Disney) Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O’Reilly, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, Mike Vogel, Anna Camp, Brian Kerwin, Mary Steenburgen, David Oyelowo, Aunjanue Ellis, Nelsan Ellis. Directed by Tate Taylor

Released August 10, 2011 Based on a bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett, this movie shot to big box office after its release. The amount of success was a bit of a surprise given the subject matter but the quality wasn’t, given the excellent cast. Spencer has already won a Golden Globe for her performance and has received an Oscar nomination, along with Davis. The movie is also up for Best Picture.

WHY IT IS HERE: Some of the strongest ensemble work of any casts this year, for one thing. The writers and director Taylor could have taken the route in which Emma Stone’s Skeeter character was the brave white girl standing up for the oppressed minority (which has been done in other films) but that isn’t the case here; Stone is portrayed as much a cog in the wheel as the axel turning it. This is clearly Davis’ and Spencer’s movie. It’s funny, heartbreaking in places and insightful throughout.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene in which Hilly discovers the truth about the “terrible awful.”

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $169.6 million domestic (as of 1/23/12), $205.3 million total.

BUDGET: $25 million

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from Amazon/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix.

5. BARNEY’S VERSION

(Sony Classics) Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Scott Speedman, Minnie Driver, Bruce Greenwood, Rachelle Lefevre, Saul Rubinek, Mark Addy, Macha Grenon, Paul Gross, Anna Hopkins, Jake Hoffman, Thomas Trabacchi, Cle Bennett. Directed by Richard J. Lewis

Released January 14, 2011 While it’s true Giamatti would win a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the title character, it was at last year’s Golden Globes. This Canadian film was based on a Mordechai Richler, author of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. For whatever reason it was released in early January instead of late December, effectively ending any shot it had at Oscar contention.

WHY IT IS HERE: Amazing performances from an amazing cast, to be blunt. Giamatti as I mentioned won a Golden Globe and the rest of the cast, from the irrepressible Dustin Hoffman to the breezy Speedman to the gruff Addy to the lustrous Pike all did bang-up jobs. Barney’s journey isn’t an easy one and at times the movie is so heartbreaking you want to run out of the theater – or as the case may be your living room – but staying until the final credits roll is so very worth your while.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Basically, the last 20 minutes of the movie is something special. I was very, very moved.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4.4 million domestic (as of 1/23/12), $8.5 million worldwide.

BUDGET: $30 million

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Available on Starz. Download from Amazon/Blockbuster/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix.

4. TROLL HUNTER (TROLLJEGEREN)

(Magnet) Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Morck, Knut Naerum, Robert Stoltenberg, Glenn Erland Tosterud. Directed by Andre Ovredal

Released June 10, 2011 We saw this at the Florida Film Festival and have been a huge fan ever since. While this is one of the “found footage” films subgenre that has been getting overused over the past couple years, it may very well be the best of them, better even than the one that started it – The Blair Witch Project.  

WHY IT IS HERE: Irreverent and fun, this is a theme park ride disguised as a movie. The trolls themselves are obviously CGI but they look exactly how you’d expect them to. Definitely the humor is low-key which some might have trouble with. This is one of those hidden treasures that nobody knows about, but when you get a friend to see it they become instant fans.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Hans filling out paperwork after his latest successful troll hunt.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $253,444 domestic (as of 1/25/11), $4.2 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Currently available on home video. Available on Showtime starting February 23rd. Download from Amazon/Blockbuster/iTunes. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Blockbuster/Netflix. Stream on Amazon/Netflix.

3. THE ARTIST

(Weinstein) Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell, Missi Pyle, Penelope Ann Miller, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Bitsie Tulloch, Joel Murray, Ken Davitian, Basil Hoffman. Directed by Michael Hazanavicius

Released November 25, 2011 After a good showing at the Golden Globes, The Artist is an odds-on favorite at the Oscars, with ten nominations including Best Picture (which it won at the Globes) and Best Actor for Dujardin (which he also won). This is probably the most critically acclaimed film of the year.

WHY IT IS HERE: This isn’t just an homage to silent cinema but an excellent example of the style of silent films. The humor is a bit broad and the pathos a bit maudlin but the movie works on every level. Even though there is almost no dialogue (there is music on the soundtrack and some sound effects) the acting gets across every nuance of the screenplay without fail. Dujardin, a French comic actor and Bejo, an Argentine actress, make a great team. This is the kind of movie that those who ordinarily wouldn’t choose to go see it are made believers after they’ve given it a shot.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: George’s suicide attempt is a heartbreaker.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $12.4 million domestic (as of 1/25/11), $33.4 million total.

BUDGET: $15 million.

STATUS: Still in wide release.

2.  THE WAY

(ARC Entertainment) Martin Sheen, Yorick von Wageningen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt, Emilio Estevez, Tcheky Karyo, Spencer Garrett, Angelina Molina, Carlos Leal, Antonio Gil, Simon Andreu, David Alexanian, Eusebio Lazaro. Directed by Emilio Estevez

Released October 7, 2011 Walking the Camino de Santiago has always held a fascination to me. I’m way too out of shape to do it myself; this is as close as I’m going to come to doing it myself. I wasn’t impressed by the trailer or the concept originally but was blown away when I saw the film. It is insightful, emotionally authentic and yes it will make you laugh and cry.

WHY IT IS HERE: I am not the most Catholic of Catholics, but this movie gave me a nostalgic twinge in my ecumenical muscle. I also must admit that James Michener’s travelogue Iberia is a book that I’ve read and re-read a dozen times in my life; the chapter about the Camino always sung to me. No movie released this year afforded the opportunity for self-discovery as this one did and much of the responsibility for that goes to Martin Sheen’s dignified but realistic performance, making me realize how much I miss President Josiah Bartlett. Movies this powerfully moving should get as much praise as can be heaped on them.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene where Sara confesses to Tom about her abusive background.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $4.4 million domestic (as of 1/26/12), $4.4 million total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Scheduled for home video release on February 21.

1. KINYARWANDA

(AFFRM) Edouard Bamporiki, Cassandra Freeman, Marc Gwamaka, Zaninka Hadidja, Mursari Jean, Cleophas Kabasita, Hassan Kabera, Mazimpaka Kennedy, Assumpta Micho, Kena Onyenjekwe, Edouard B. Uwayo. Directed by Alrick Brown

Released December 2, 2011 Some movies aren’t seen so much as experienced. This film tells several stories about the Rwandan genocide, from a teenager girl who comes home after sneaking out to attend a party to find her parents murdered, to a courageous priest who tries to save as many of his Tutsi flock as he can, to a pair of soldiers who have varying reasons to want to put themselves at risk in Rwanda. Each story has an enormous emotional resonance and is based on a survivor’s actual experiences.

WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that doesn’t seem like a first feature. Indeed, I have not seen a better film this year. Few films will affect you as deeply as this one; but while it is set during one of the darkest moments in human history, it is not a story of darkness. Rather it is a film about reconciliation and hope, of the extraordinary ability of the human spirit to give the divine gift of forgiveness no matter how heinous the crime, how egregious the transgression. If the Tutsi can forgive the Hutu and move to becoming a single nation after what happened in Rwanda, there is hope for us as a species if we can, as the Rwandans are doing, appeal to our own higher natures. When a movie can provide that for its audience, it is an extraordinary film indeed.

HIGHLIGHT SCENE: A scene where one of the soldiers who committed murder in the genocide realizes what he has participated in and what it has cost his soul – with tragic results.

BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $21,097 domestic (as of 12/4/11), $21,097 total.

BUDGET: Not available.

STATUS: Kinyarwanda has had a limited release mostly in large cities. It is listed on the Netflix site with an as-yet unscheduled DVD release date, indicating that there are plans to release it in that format.

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The Back-Up Plan


The Back-Up Plan

Jennifer Lopez shows how many times Alex O'Loughlin takes off his shirt in the movie.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (CBS) Jennifer Lopez, Alex O’Loughlin, Eric Christian Olsen, Melissa McCarthy, Michaela Watkins, Danneel Harris, Noureen DeWulf, Anthony Anderson, Tom Bosley, Maribeth Monroe, Robert Klein, Linda Lavin, Cesar Millan. Directed by Alan Poul

Life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. We make plans, have an idea in mind as to what we want out of life. When things don’t go as expected, it’s good to have a back-up plan.

Zoe (Lopez) thought she had it all figured out; great job, get married, have a few rug rats, presto blammo life is sweet. The problem is that none of her boyfriends were working out (men being what they are) and the old biological clock is beginning to tick just a hair louder. Therefore, Zoe makes the decision to go the man-less route in having kids.

Yup, we’re talking artificial insemination. Zoe goes to a fertility clinic where a kindly old doctor (Klein) does the procedure and she gets all knocked up. Giddy from the news, Zoe leaves the clinic on a stormy afternoon and gets into a cab. Trouble is, Stan (O’Loughlin who filmed this just before finding stardom in the TV reboot of “Hawaii Five-O”) spotted the cab at exactly the same time. The two argue and Zoe eventually gives up the cab because she doesn’t want to spoil her great mood.

Of course, now the two of them see each other everywhere. This is the Hollywood God Mechanism, cinematic deities sending none-too-subtle messages that the two were meant to be together. And of course, they are. This is a romantic comedy, after all. The two fall in love but Stan isn’t aware that Zoe has a bun in the oven and Zoe isn’t about to tell him because he might bolt. Boyfriends are a lot like deer that way, skittish.

Eventually she breaks down and tells him and Stan being a Great Guy (you can tell right away he’s a great guy because he’s an organic farmer selling his organic goat cheese at a Tribeca farmers market) doesn’t bat an eyelash but takes on the responsibility of being not only a boyfriend but a father to be – without any genetic connection or legal requirement. I can picture half the single moms in the audience sighing “Why can’t I meet a guy like that?” particularly when Stan shows up shirtless on a tractor, a kind of Chippendale’s farmer get-up.

Of course this is a Hollywood rom-com so there are going to be issues. The couple is going to break up. Are they going to get back together again? Are you kidding? C’mon, you know what the answer to that is.

Lopez is one of those actresses that has a great deal of talent is sadly aware that she has a great deal of talent. One gets the impression that she has a person in her entourage whose sole purpose is to tell her what a great deal of talent that she has. I’m not saying that she’s egotistical, but she seemed to be a much better performer before she became a Big Star. Even in Anaconda, as ludicrous a horror movie as has ever hit the big screen, she was more natural an actress.

I have to admit though, that she is really charming here. It’s as if that entourage flunky has been given the new responsibility to remind her that she doesn’t have to be Jenny from the block 24-7. She can be Zoe instead, a kind of meek and sweet girl. This is the kind of performance that made her a star in the first place.

O’Loughlin turns out to be an appealing romantic lead; together with his cop action persona in Five-O could well parlay that into stardom of his own. The supporting players are for the most part forgettable, although Klein has a few good moments and Anthony Anderson gets a really great scene as a playground dad telling Stan about the joys and pitfalls of being a dad.

Like most Hollywood romantic comedies, this is as wispy and sugary as cotton candy and just as forgettable. It is a pleasant diversion for as long as it’s there, but not long after it’s gone you might feel hungry for something more substantial. It does at least give me hope that Lopez is capable of better than we’ve been seeing from her lately, and that in itself is worthwhile.

WHY RENT THIS: Lopez is as engaging and charming as she’s ever been. O’Loughlin is an appealing leading man.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: As with most Hollywood rom-coms, very formulaic.

FAMILY VALUES: Being as the movie is about being pregnant, there are a lot of pregnancy and sexual jokes herein; there’s a tiny bit of bad language and some mature themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the late Tom Bosley’s final film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $77.5M on a $35M production budget; the movie broke even and even made a little bit of money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Dream House

Bridesmaids


Bridesmaids

For losing the bet, Wiig has to give Rudolph a manicure with her teeth.

(2011) Comedy (Universal) Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Jill Clayburgh, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Franklyn Ajaye, Rebel Wilson, Matt Lucas, Jon Hamm, Richard Riehle, Mitch Silpa. Directed by Paul Feig

There’s something in the female hormone that just goes ballistic when it comes to weddings. Smart, capable, logical women turn into absolute emotional maniacs when confronted with the nuptials of a friend. Gather together an entire bridal party and you have enough cattiness and one-upsmanship to fill up thirty seasons of “Project: Runway.”

Annie (Wiig) and Lillian (Rudolph) have been the best of friends since childhood. Annie’s going through a bit of a rough patch at the moment. Her bakery, co-owned with her then-boyfriend has gone belly-up and her ex walked out out on her, leaving Annie holding the bag. Deeply in debt, she works at a jewelry store owned by a friend of her mom and rooms with a pair of English siblings, Gil (Lucas) and Brynn (Wilson) who would make Ellen DeGeneres homicidal. Annie is the regular booty call of Ted (Hamm), an egotistical jerk who wants no part of Annie other than to get his rocks off and Annie is more or less accepting of this relationship.

Things are looking up for Lillian however. She is engaged to her sweetie Doug and she wants Annie to be her maid of honor. Annie is only too happy to do it, not realizing the expense and frustration that goes hand-in-hand with the job. The bridal party includes Megan (McCarthy), Doug’s big-boned sister who shoots from the hip and has a somewhat skewed view of life; Rita (McLendon-Covey), Lillian’s cousin who is married with three kids and is horny as all get out; Becca (Kemper) who’s a newlywed and blissfully in love and finally Helen (Byrne), the wife of Doug’s boss and one of those rich people who thinks the world not only should revolve around them but in fact does.

Of course, Annie tries to keep costs under control but that’s simply not possible with Helen around. Annie and Helen regard each other with wary distrust, each vying for Lillian’s affection and to be top dog in the pack. As Annie initiates disaster after disaster (a pre-dress fitting meal causes a very nasty case of food poisoning which leads to a scene that isn’t for the squeamish and a drunken incident on a plane to Vegas for the bachelorette party which results in Annie not only making a fool of herself but for the plane not to reach its destination) the strain grows in her relationship with Lillian. Not even reconnecting with her mom (Clayburgh) and connecting with a sympathetic Irish cop named Rhodes (O’Dowd) can help Annie in her downward spiral towards an inevitable rock bottom.

This was produced by Judd Apatow and early indications that this is going to be another big box office hit for him. Like most Apatow movies, there is a good deal of vulgarity and a tendency to not skimp on sex or cussing which is the kind of thing that some folks are going to shy away from.

There are some genuine laughs here, and Da Queen pointed out that any woman who’s ever been involved with a wedding – their own or someone else’s – is going to find a lot of common ground here from the bridal party back biting to the absolute disasters that befall any wedding.

This is Wiig’s first leading role and the SNL veteran shows that she has the ability to be a charming and sympathetic romantic comedy heroine. Not only is she sexy and beautiful, she’s got great comic timing and she gets the audience squarely behind her for the most part, even when she’s sabotaging her own best friend in a fit of self-pity.

McCarthy often steals the show here and could wind up being the Zach Galifianakis of this little posse. Plus-sized women get the shortest of shrifts from Hollywood and it would be a shame for someone this talented and this funny to not turn a performance like this into a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Byrne plays the tightly wound Helen note-perfect and while I haven’t seen much of her in comedic roles (she’s best known for the cable hit “Damages”) she has a future in comedy as well as drama. O’Dowd has also been receiving raves for his role and could well wind up as a leading man somewhere down the road although he seems better suited to comedy than drama.

The movie overuses the awkward situation as laugh template, leaving me feeling uncomfortable more than anything else. However, thankfully, there’s enough genuine humor here and coupled with the genuine chemistry between Wiig and Rudolph (honed by years of working together on SNL) makes for a movie that hits the right notes most of the time. It’s good to see a movie that primarily focuses on the female point of view that can be enjoyed by both sexes equally – that’s a fairly rare bird in the Hollywood aviary.

REASONS TO GO: Enough laughs to keep things moving along. Good chemistry between Wiig and Rudolph.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the bits go on too long. A few too many awkward moments masquerading as laughs.

FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of bad language and tons of sex, not to mention a few disgusting images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Jill Clayburgh’s final film before she passed away from leukemia last November.

HOME OR THEATER: No need for a big screen on this one.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Fish Tank

New Releases for the Week of May 13, 2011


May 13, 2011

If you give your confession to this Priest, you'd best say your prayers.

PRIEST

(Screen Gems) Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Christopher Plummer, Lily Collins, Brad Dourif, Steven Moyer. Directed by Scott Stewart

In a future where man has won a savage war with vampires thanks in no small part to the warrior priests of the Church, a single priest has discovered that the vampire menace is returning and that his niece has been kidnapped by a particularly violent and sadistic ex-Priest who is now a vampire. Disobeying direct orders, he goes into the wilderness to rescue his kin, pursued by his former fellow priests. If this sounds like it’s based on a comic book, that’s because it is.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard. 3D

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Action

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and brief strong language)

Bridesmaids

(Universal) Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Jill Clayburgh. From producer Judd Apatow comes this comedy about a lonely and broke woman whose best friend is about to get married. Of course, she has to be the maid of honor but she has no idea what she’s getting herself into, particularly with this group of bridesmaids who would drive Dr. Phil into a violent rage.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for some strong sexuality, and language throughout)

Everything Must Go

(Roadside Attractions) Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Michael Pena, Stephen Root. A salesman who has passed the peak of his career washes his sorrows away with booze and loses his job because of it. When he gets home, he discovers that his job isn’t the only thing he lost; his wife set all of his belongings out in the yard and changed the locks. With nowhere else to go, he is forced to have a yard sale, gradually realizing the more he lets go of his things the more free he becomes.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

2011 Summer Movie Preview


Usually, this is where I wax poetic on the nature of summer and the joys of sunshine and lollipops, but this is different. This is serious.

Let’s be clear here. This is threatening to be the most amazing summer in the history of the movies. There are more potential $300 million box office films here than…well, ever. We’re talking sequels of blockbusters, highly anticipated franchise makers and event movies of the highest order.

The 2010 summer was disappointing to say the least. While Inception and Toy Story 3 did extremely well, there were an amazing number of flops and movies that didn’t live up to expectations both in terms of quality and box office. The year overall was disappointing in terms of box office but also in attendance. Bumps from 3D and IMAX upcharges helped the bottom line somewhat, but the audience is shrinking due in large part to competition from internet streaming and on-demand video. The first part of this year has continued that trend up to the point this was being written.

The movies will be coming at us from comic book superheroes and bestselling young adult novels. We’ll see comedies, science fiction and action movies cheek by jowl with romantic comedies, horror flicks and adventure movies.

Marvel and DC Comics will be well represented with Thor, X-Men: First Class, Captain America: The First Avenger and Green Lantern. Hollywood’s sequelitis remains strong with Hangover II, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Final Destination 5. Remakes will abound with Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night 3D. We’ll have science fiction (Cowboys and Aliens), horror (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark), fantasy (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2) and romantic comedies (Larry Crowne, Something Borrowed) up the yin yang.

We will be seeing (or hearing) such stars as Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, Steve Carell, Kevin James, Jodie Foster, Cameron Diaz, Mel Gibson, Owen Wilson, Shia LaBeouf,  Jack Black, Colin Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston displaying their craft either vocally (in animated features) or the old fashioned way onscreen.

So if you have Crazy Stupid Love for the movies, tell your Horrible Bosses or your Bad Teacher you’ve been Kidnapped and take a day at the multiplex. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark while contemplating The Tree of Life. Better still tell them you’re going to Monte Carlo with The Zookeeper to capture Mr. Popper’s Penguins on Super 8 for display at the Cannes Film Festival next year. Hmmm…Maybe not; that kind of stuff is just for Beginners.

MAY

The summer season kicks off with the first big blockbusters and runs through the big Memorial Day weekend. Some of the biggest movies of the year are settled here, looking to be the first to get the big summer box office bite and get their season off to a roaring start. May has become Marvel month – nearly every year for the past several, a movie from Marvel Studios featuring one of their comic book icons has come out in May.

May 2011

THE BIG KAHUNA

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES

RELEASE DATE: May 20, 2011

STUDIO: Disney

STARRING: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin R. McNally, Judi Dench, Roger Allam, Richard Griffiths, Keith Richards, Gemma Ward

STORY: Captain Jack Sparrow has a map to the fabled Fountain of Youth. In order to get there, he will need to get through the English government, the machinations of Angelica, a woman with whom he shares a past, and the legendary Blackbeard, most feared of all the pirates.

PROSPECTS: Depp has made Sparrow an iconic figure in the 21st century and this has become one of Disney’s biggest moneymaking franchises. It has been four years since the last movie and absence generally makes the heart grow fonder.

OBSTACLES: This is the first film in the series that wasn’t directed by Gore Verbinski. The last movie was panned by critics and fans alike.

FACTOID: Depp received a letter from a schoolgirl asking him to help her start a “mutiny” in her classroom. He showed up at her school in full Jack Sparrow regalia and talked her out of it.

HANGING TEN

THOR

RELEASE DATE: May 6, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount/Marvel

STARRING: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgard, Jamie Alexander, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Idris Elba, Colm Feore, Samuel L. Jackson, Adriana Barraza

STORY: Thor, the arrogant and prideful Norse God of Thunder, reignites an ancient and devastating war through his recklessness. For his lack of humility, he is cast out of Asgard by his angry father Odin, the Allfather. He is sent to live amongst the humans and there discovers not only what true heroism is but what true love is. This will be put to the test when his wicked half-brother Loki sends down a monster so heinous and so powerful that the entire world is threatened.

PROSPECTS: While Marvel fans haven’t warmed to this as much as other Marvel films, there is nonetheless anticipation building for it since Marvel first announced it nearly three years ago.

OBSTACLES: This might be the toughest sell of all the Marvel heroes to a general audience.

FACTOID: Chris Hemsworth won the role over his brother Liam.

THE HANGOVER PART II

RELEASE DATE: May 26, 2011

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Gallifinakis, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike Tyson, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Liam Neeson, Bryan Callen, Jamie Chung, Sondra Currie

STORY: The boys are celebrating the impending nuptials of Stu in Thailand. After what happened in Las Vegas, they opt for a bachelor brunch – sedate and well-planned in advance. As you can guess, it turns into an absolute disaster; best laid plans and all.

PROSPECTS: Not only was the first movie a big hit, it was also a comedy classic. This is one of the most anticipated movies of the summer, particularly by comedy fanatics.

OBSTACLES: Can they capture lightning in a bottle a second time?

FACTOID: Mel Gibson was initially to have a cameo in the movie as the tattoo artist but protests from the cast and crew put the kibosh on the idea; Cooper got his pal Neeson, with whom he worked on The A-Team, to do the part instead.

KUNG FU PANDA 2

RELEASE DATE: May 26, 2011

STUDIO: DreamWorks Animation

STARRING THE VOICES OF: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh

STORY: A new villain has unearthed an unstoppable weapon that threatens to wipe out China and destroy Kung Fu forever. It is up to the Dragon Warrior – Po the Panda and his friends the Furious Five to journey across China and prevent this from happening.

PROSPECTS: Animated features, particularly the well-hyped ones as this one is, have become money-making machines for the studios. The first KFP was a major hit for DreamWorks.

OBSTACLES: I don’t know. Every kid on the planet gets grounded for the summer?

FACTOID: This is director Jennifer Yuh’s first feature-length direction effort. She previously worked as a story artist on the first Kung Fu Panda as well as other animated films.

ROGUE WAVE

THE TREE OF LIFE

RELEASE DATE: May 27, 2011

STUDIO: Fox Searchlight

STARRING: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Joanna Going, Fiona Shaw, Crystal Mantecon, Tamara Jolaine, Hunter McCracken, Dustin Allen

STORY: The life of a Midwestern family from the 1950s through modern times is centered on the relationship between eldest son Jack and his sometimes mercurial father.

PROSPECTS: The trailer showed some stunning imagery that has elements of fantasy and science fiction in the mix. Star power of Pitt and Penn doesn’t hurt.  

OBSTACLES: Director Terrence Malick can be an acquired taste. The trailer also reminded me of The Fountain whose box office fate was not a good one.

FACTOID: Originally, Heath Ledger was cast in the role eventually played by Brad Pitt, but passed away before shooting started.

SURF’S UP

May 6, 2011

MOTHER’S DAY (Gigapix) occurs when a sadistic mom and her two bank robbing sons take over a birthday party held at their former home inhabited by new residents who took over when it was foreclosed upon. SOMETHING BORROWED (Warner Brothers) stars Ginnifer Goodwin as a maid-of-honor whose best friend is marrying her old flame. However, after a night of drinking and partying, the maid of honor sleeps with the groom…which is a serious breach of etiquette I do believe. Kate Hudson and John Krasinski also star. JUMPING THE BROOM (TriStar) is an ensemble romantic comedy in which two families from opposing economic backgrounds clash at a wedding between the two families. In the cast is Angela Bassett, Mike Epps, Paula Patton, Gary Dourdan and Loretta Devine.

May 13, 2011

BRIDESMAIDS (Universal) stars Kristen Wiig as a maid-of-honor to her best friend who must navigate the challenging waters of modern matrimony with a gaggle of often contentious and occasionally unusual bridesmaids to lend support or otherwise. Fellow SNL veteran Maya Rudolph co-stars in this Judd Apatow-produced comedy. THE FIRST GRADER (BBC Films) is based on a true story about an 84-year-old man in Kenya who decides to take advantage of a free education the new government is offering. This sparks outcry in the community despite the fact he fought for Kenya’s liberation and was incarcerated in a prison camp because of it. This is playing in limited release only. PRIEST (Screen Gems) envisions a future where men have triumphed over vampires thanks to the Church and her Warrior Priests. When one discovers a new vampire army is being amassed, he must fight not only them but the Church itself to save his niece. Paul Bettany, Karl Urban and Christopher Plummer star.

May 20, 2011

THE LION OF JUDAH (Animated Family Films) is a Christian animated feature about a stable full of barnyard animals who seek the King who was born in that very stable thirty years previously to intercede on behalf of a lamb who is to be sacrificed at the village festival..

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

A look back at how last year’s previewed movies did at the box office. The budgets and box office numbers are courtesy of Box Office Mojo. My verdicts are based on the typical studio formula that for a movie to break even it must make twice its production budget; any movie that achieves that will be labeled as profitable. I define hit movies as those that make three times the production budget and blockbusters as anything that makes $200 million in domestic box office or more, or made five times the production budget with a minimum of $100 million in domestic box office. The first four movies listed are the four main previewed items; I’ve also chosen a selection of other major releases that made the preview issue as well.

IRON MAN 2 (Paramount) Budget: $200 Million. Domestic Gross: $312.4M Total: $622.2M Verdict: Blockbuster.

SHREK FOREVER AFTER (DreamWorks) Budget: $165M. Domestic Gross: $238.7M Total: $752.6M Verdict: Blockbuster.

PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME (Disney) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $90.8M Total: $335.2M Verdict: Flop.

BABIES (Focus) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $7.3M Total: $9.5M Verdict: Broke Even.

ROBIN HOOD (Universal) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $105.3M Total: $321.7M Verdict: Flop.

SEX AND THE CITY 2 (New Line) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $94.4M Total: $288.4M Verdict: Made Money.

MACGRUBER (Universal) Budget: $10M. Domestic Gross: $8.5M Total: $9.3M Verdict: Flop.

LETTERS TO JULIET (Summit) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $53.0M Total: $79.2M Verdict: Made Money.

JUST WRIGHT (Fox Searchlight) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $21.5M Total: $21.6 Verdict: Made Money.

JUNE

June doesn’t always have the big super blockbusters that the months preceding and following do, but this is the month Pixar traditionally releases their annual movie and this year once again is no exception. With most kids getting out of school at this point, family films become more plentiful this month – a trend that will continue up through Labor Day.

June 2011

THE BIG KAHUNA

GREEN LANTERN

RELEASE DATE: June 17, 2011

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins, Temuera Morrison, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Tenney, Jay O. Sanders

STORY: A brash test pilot is given immeasurable power from a cosmic ring wielded by a force of knights dedicated to protecting the universe.

PROSPECTS: The buzz has been huge on this ever since it was announced. With new Batman and Superman films in the wing for 2012, this is the movie that the suits at DC are hoping will propel their properties into motion picture profitability much as Marvel has become a box office draw.

OBSTACLES: The cosmic setting for the Green Lantern is not unlike that of Thor which opens a month earlier. GL is less known than properties like Wonder Woman and The Flash and the lack of familiarity for non-comic book fans might hurt it at the box office.

FACTOID: The screenwriters were inspired by the comic book arc “Emerald Dawn” which explained the origins of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern in greater detail than was done in the comics previously.

HANG TEN

CARS 2

RELEASE DATE: June 24, 2011

STUDIO: Disney*Pixar

STARRING THE VOICES OF: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Jason Isaacs, Vanessa Redgrave, John Ratzenberger

STORY: As Lightning McQueen is participating in the prestigious World Grand Prix, Mater is getting haplessly involved in a spy plot.

PROSPECTS: C’mon, it’s Pixar. They could probably make an entertaining movie out of “Pilgrim’s Progress.”

OBSTACLES: Most of the inhabitants of Radiator Springs from the original are gone, including the late Paul Newman who in many ways was the soul of the first movie..

FACTOID: This will be the first John Lasseter-directed Pixar film not to have a score by Randy Newman.

SUPER 8

RELEASE DATE: June 10, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Zach Mills, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Riley Griffiths

STORY: Young amateur filmmakers capture a train wreck near their Ohio home in 1979 and soon realize that something far more sinister may be afoot.

PROSPECTS: Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams together? Think of E.T. meets Cloverdale and if that’s indeed an accurate summary this could be the biggest non-surprise surprise hit of the summer.

OBSTACLES: There are some derivative elements in the plot summaries I’ve seen.

FACTOID: This was the first Summer 2011 to get a teaser trailer, shown way back in the summer of 2010.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

RELEASE DATE: June 3, 2011

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, Jason Flemyng, Zoe Kravitz

STORY: The origins of the Xavier School are explored and the story of how Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Eric Lensherr (Magneto) went from being close friends to mortal enemies.

PROSPECTS: An all-new X-Men with an all-new cast and director Matthew Vaughn at the helm. While the buzz here isn’t as intense as it is with some of the other superhero films, the trailer did get some fanboy praise. Fox is betting that fans will connect with the younger actors in the X-Men roles.

OBSTACLES: The last film in the series was excoriated by fans, critics and box office alike although the Wolverine stand-alone did enough business to warrant a sequel.

FACTOID: Bryan Singer, who was on board the first two X-Men films, returns to the franchise as a producer.

ROGUE WAVE

A BETTER LIFE

RELEASE DATE: June 24, 2011

STUDIO: Summit

STARRING: Demian Bechir, Jose Julian, Dolores Heredia, Joaquin Cosio, Carlos Linares, Nancy Lenehan, Isabella Rae Thomas

STORY: A father tries to provide opportunities for his son that he himself never had, while attempting to keep him away from immigration officials and East L.A. gangs.

PROSPECTS: The trailer looks very stark and gritty; this could be one of those sleeper films that makes a splash come awards season.

OBSTACLES: No stars and a mostly Hispanic cast are going to be tough sells for theater owners who have blockbuster summer releases taking up screens.

FACTOID: Director Chris Weitz previously directed About a Boy and Twilight: New Moon.

SURF’S UP

June 3, 2011

BEGINNERS (Focus) stars Ewan McGregor as a man who has never been able to commit to a relationship finally finding one worth committing to – which brings up memories of his late father (Christopher Plummer) who after his wife of 44 years passed away, came out of the closet to lead a fulfilled life. Better late than never. SUBMARINE (Weinstein) is an off-beat coming-of-age film in limited release that wowed audiences at Sundance earlier this year. A teen yearns to lose his virginity and get his parents crumbling marriage back in order, two tall orders indeed.

June 10, 2011

JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER (Relativity) is based on the children’s book series and features a bored young girl who enlists her feisty Aunt Opal into helping her have the best summer vacation ever. TROLL HUNTER (Magnet) is a movie I saw at the Florida Film Festival (see review here) that has elements of The Blair Witch Project with a sense of whimsy as a group of student filmmakers follow a government-sanctioned hunter who is authorized to keep trolls from leaving their designated areas in the wild.

June 15, 2011

KIDNAPPED (IFC) shows a family’s bickering in their new condo shattered by the arrival of three masked men demanding their valuables and that they empty their bank accounts. Although this is listed as a wide release, chances are it will only see a limited distribution.

June 17, 2011

MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS (20th Century Fox) is based on a classic children’s book about a man who dreams of exploring the Arctic writing actual explorers, one of whom impulsively sends him a penguin. Once the penguin turns out to be a pregnant she and gives birth to a dozen beaked birds, Mr. Popper determines to train them to dance and take them out on the road as performing animals.

June 24, 2011

BAD TEACHER (Columbia) stars Cameron Diaz as a less-than-enthusiastic teacher who wants to find a rich husband. When the opportunity presents itself, she will stop at nothing to get what she wants – including actually teaching her students. CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP (Abramorama) chronicles the time just after the late night talk show host parted ways with NBC and took his act on the road, which turned out to be as cathartic for him as it was entertaining for his audiences.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

TOY STORY 3 (Disney*Pixar) Budget: $200 Million. Domestic Gross: $415.0M Total: $1.1B Verdict: Blockbuster.

KNIGHT AND DAY (20th Century Fox) Budget: $117M. Domestic Gross: $76.4M Total: $261.9M Verdict: Made Money.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE (Summit) Budget: $68M. Domestic Gross: $300.5M Total: $698.5M Verdict: Blockbuster.

JONAH HEX (Warner Brothers) Budget: $47M. Domestic Gross: $10.6M Total: $10.9 Verdict: Flop.

GET HIM TO THE GREEK (Universal) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $61.0M Total: $91.4 Verdict: Made Money. 

THE KARATE KID (Columbia) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $13.9M Total: $359.1 Verdict: Blockbuster.

GROWN UPS (Columbia) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $162.0M Total: $271.4M Verdict: Hit.

MARMADUKE (20th Century Fox) Budget: $50M. Domestic Gross: $33.6M Total: $83.8M Verdict: Blockbuster.

WINTER’S BONE (Roadside Attractions) Budget: $2M. Domestic Gross: $6.5M Total: $12.5M Verdict: Hit.

JULY

With the Independence Day holiday weekend kicking off the month, July is almost always one of the most anticipated months of the studio schedule. Smack dab in the middle of the summer, the schedule this month is normally packed with some of the year’s most anticipated movies and this year that trend will most certainly continue, as you can see below.

July 2011

THE BIG KAHUNA

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2

RELEASE DATE: July 15, 2011

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Tom Felton, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, Jason Isaacs, David Thewlis, Julie Walters

STORY: The confrontation between Lord Voldemort and Harry finally occurs and the Wizarding World will never be the same. Heroes will rise…and heroes will fall.

PROSPECTS: It is inconceivable that this won’t blow effortlessly past the $300M mark. It is the last entry in a franchise that has spanned ten years and eight films; many have grown up with these characters, making this one of the summer’s definite must-sees.

OBSTACLES: There aren’t many, but the first part of the movie was dark and depressing; some might be discouraged from seeing the second.  

FACTOID: Most of the events of this movie including the climactic battle scene take place over the course of a single day.

HANG TEN

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

RELEASE DATE: July 1, 2011

STUDIO: DreamWorks

STARRING: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Ken Jeong, John Turturro, Leonard Nimoy, Alan Tudyk, Patrick Dempsey

STORY: The Space Race of the 1960s turns out to have been motivated by the discovery of Transformers technology on the moon.  

PROSPECTS: The first two Transformer movies have generated well over a billion dollars in domestic box office alone. The fanboy base for these movies is still hella strong.

OBSTACLES: The last movie was roundly panned by critics and fans alike.

FACTOID: Gabriela Cedillo, an extra on the set during filming in Chicago, was critically injured when rigging from a snapped cable crashed through the windshield of the car she was driving and struck her in the head. The studio made arrangements to pay for her medical care.

COWBOYS AND ALIENS

RELEASE DATE: July 29, 2011

STUDIO: Universal

STARRING: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine, Noah Ringer, Clancy Brown, Ana de la Reguera, Abigail Spencer

STORY: A mysterious stranger with no memory of his past and a strange shackle on his wrist may hold the key to survival for a town in the 19th century Arizona territory that is being attacked by aliens from outer space – which may be the key to understanding why they are so distrustful of foreigners.

PROSPECTS: A terrific trailer has started Internet buzz circulating, and the cast is a winner. Who wouldn’t want to see James Bond and Indiana Jones in the Old West facing down aliens?

OBSTACLES: The title inspired guffaws often when I saw the trailer at the multiplex. Despite a big time behind-the-scenes talent list (director Jon Favreau, producers Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzmann and Damon Lindelof) the property is still based on a fairly obscure graphic novel.

FACTOID: This is the second time Harrison Ford has played opposite James Bond – the first was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with Sean Connery in 1989.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

RELEASE DATE: July 22, 2011

STUDIO: Paramount/Marvel

STARRING: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Stanley Tucci, Sebastian Stan, Toby Jones, Neil McDonough, Dominic Cooper, Richard Armitage, Derek Luke

STORY: Steve Rogers, the original 97-lb weakling, volunteers for the Army at the beginning of World War II only to be rejected and humiliated. Undeterred he volunteers for a secret government project to create a super soldier, one who will lead the Americans to victory over the Nazis  – unaware the Third Reich has a super soldier of their own.

PROSPECTS: A very nice looking trailer places the Marvel Universe in a location they haven’t been to heretofore – at war. Director Joe Johnston has been successful with period comic book fare before (see The Rocketeer).

OBSTACLES: Cap as a superhero is a little bit on the bland side, much like Superman. It will be interesting to see how the filmmakers come up with a way of making him less of a recruiting poster and more relatable to audiences.

FACTOID: This will be the fifth movie based on a comic book for Chris Evans, including both Fantastic Four movies, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The Losers.

ROGUE WAVE

HORRIBLE BOSSES

RELEASE DATE: July 8, 2011

STUDIO: New Line

STARRING: Jason Bateman, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Donald Sutherland, Julie Bowen, Charlie Day

STORY: Three friends with overbearing bosses who are unable to quit their jobs and must simply take the abuse concoct a plan with the help of a fast-talking con man to rid themselves of their nemeses permanently. The problem with the best-laid plans is that they’re only as good as the minds dreaming them up.

PROSPECTS: A hysterical trailer and the buzz going around is that this might be as good if not better as The Hangover. This could well be the type of role that will do the same for Bateman as The Hangover did for Bradley Cooper.

OBSTACLES: It’s flying underneath the radar to a very large degree. In an economic climate where so many are unemployed, there might be some push back for a comedy about people who hate their jobs.

FACTOID: Director Seth Gordon is best known for his documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.

SURF’S UP

July 1, 2011

LARRY CROWNE (Universal) is about a man who is downsized and decides to attend the local community college to fill up some time. Joining a cast of eclectic oddballs (doesn’t this sound suspiciously like a network TV show?) he finds the last thing he expected to – love. With Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts starring, this is probably a slam dunk too. MONTE CARLO (20th Century Fox) finds four high school grads in a case of mistaken identity while on a graduation trip to Paris being given the opportunity to live the high life. I’m just surprised this didn’t make it to ABC Family.

July 8, 2011

ZOOKEEPER (Columbia) stars Kevin James as a zookeeper much beloved by his animals and who has absolutely no luck with the ladies, so he decides to leave the zoo for a more glamorous job. The animals decide to take matters into their own hands…er, paws.

July 15, 2011

WINNIE THE POOH (Disney) returns Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood into a traditional animated style as they try to find Eeyore a new tail. It looks awfully charming and it would certainly be a shame if it got lost amid all the high-profile releases of the summer.

July 22, 2011

In FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (Screen Gems) two people running from bad relationships decide to make it purely physical despite an obvious attraction to one another. Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake star. ANOTHER EARTH (Fox Searchlight) posits the discovery of a second Earth where all of us have doppelgangers. On this Earth, a young physics student and a well-known composer are bound by a terrible tragedy. This Sundance favorite is due for limited release.

July 24, 2011

LIFE IN ONE DAY (National Geographic) is the results of a call for ordinary people to submit videos of what was going on in their lives and around the world on a specific day – July 24, 2010. Oscar-winning documentarian Kevin Macdonald assembled the footage.

July 29, 2011

CRAZY STUPID LOVE (Warner Brothers) stars Steve Carrell as a 40ish husband and father whose good life disintegrates when his wife asks for a divorce and cheats on him. A friend of his, a playa in the prime of his career, takes him on as a wingman and protégé, leading to unexpected results. THE SMURFS (Columbia) brings the blue-skinned Belgian creatures (who always reminded me of the Keebler Elves) to the big screen as an evil wizard chases them out of their village and into Central Park in New York. This live-action/animated hybrid is being filmed in 3D, yet another reason for you to have nightmares about little blue things lurking in the dark.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

INCEPTION (Warner Brothers) Budget: $160 Million. Domestic Gross: $292.6M Total: $825.5M Verdict: Blockbuster.

DESPICABLE ME (Universal) Budget: $69M. Domestic Gross: $251.5M Total: $543.1M Verdict: Blockbuster.

THE SORCEROR’S APPRENTICE (Disney) Budget: $150M. Domestic Gross: $63.2M Total: $215.3M Verdict: Flop.

CYRUS (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $7M. Domestic Gross: $7.5M Total: $9.9M Verdict: Flop.

SALT (Columbia) Budget: $110M. Domestic Gross: $118.3M Total: $293.5M Verdict: Made Money.

PREDATORS (20th Century Fox) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $52.0M Total: $127.2M Verdict: Hit.

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS (Paramount) Budget: $99M. Domestic Gross: $73.0M Total: $86.4M Verdict: Flop.

CATS AND DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE (Warner Brothers) Budget: $85M Domestic Gross: $43.6M Total: $112.5M Verdict: Flop.

THE LAST AIRBENDER (Paramount) Budget: $150M Domestic Gross: $131.8M Total: $319.7M Verdict: Broke Even.

AUGUST

The last month of the summer season tapers off as the heat keeps people at the beach or indoors, but there is almost one or two last gasp blockbusters. Horror movies seem to do really well this month, as the final days of summer are replete with leftover blockbusters from the months before and less hyped movies hoping to sneak up on audiences and win the reward of box office gold.

August 2011

THE BIG KAHUNA

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

RELEASE DATE: August 5, 2011

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Andy Serkis, Tyler Labine, Leah Gibson

STORY: Scientists searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s instead discover their formula mutates the ape test subjects, granting them intelligence.

PROSPECTS: The last film in the series made $360M worldwide, so there is certainly an audience out there.

OBSTACLES: This film is minus Tim Burton, Mark Wahlberg or any real name star, although Franco has a certain amount of name value following his Oscar nomination this year.

FACTOID: Originally conceived as a sequel to Planet of the Apes (2001) but when director Tim Burton and star Mark Wahlberg passed, the studio decided to reboot the franchise and lay the foundation for future sequels.

HANG TEN

CONAN THE BARBARIAN

RELEASE DATE: August 19, 2011

STUDIO: Lionsgate

STARRING: Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Ron Perlman, Said Taghmaoui, Leo Howard, Steve O’Donnell, Bob Sapp

STORY: A barbarian from the lost tribes of Cimmeria must save all of Hyboria from a supernatural evil, fighting evil wizards, fearsome monsters and fierce warriors along the way.

PROSPECTS: Director Marcus Nispel has had some B-movie successes. This is the franchise that established Arnold Schwarzenegger as an action star 30 years ago.

OBSTACLES: The works of Robert E. Howard haven’t really had a great deal of box office success to date. Momoa is as unknown as Schwarzenegger was but is he as good?

FACTOID: Perlman, who plays Conan’s father, previously voiced the barbarian in videogames and direct-to-video animated features.

FRIGHT NIGHT

RELEASE DATE: August 19, 2011

STUDIO: DreamWorks

STARRING: Anton Yelchin, Colin Ferrell, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, David Tennant, Dave Franco, Reid Ewing

STORY: A high school senior discovers that his next door neighbor is a vampire – and nobody will believe him, even when people begin disappearing.

PROSPECTS: A remake of a seminal 80s horror flick that featured Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowell, an updated version might sell.

OBSTACLES: Not many remember the original, and the market is overcrowded with vampire movies that aren’t making money if they aren’t named Twilight.

FACTOID: Marti Noxon, who wrote many of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episodes, wrote the screenplay.

FINAL DESTINATION 5

RELEASE DATE: August 12, 2011

STUDIO: New Line

STARRING: Emma Bell, Nicholas D’Agosto, Miles Fisher, Arlen Escarpeta, Jacqueline MacInnes-Woods, P.J. Byrne, Ellen Wroe, David Koechner, Courtney B. Vance, Tony Todd

STORY: A young man has a premonition that a disaster is going to occur and manages to save some of his friends when it actually happens. But then death stalks them and takes them in complicated ways…yes, it’s the same damn movie!

PROSPECTS: Why mess with success?

OBSTACLES: Aren’t we tired of this yet?

FACTOID: Todd returns to the franchise after missing the last installment.

ROGUE WAVE

APOLLO 18

RELEASE DATE: August 26, 2011

STUDIO: Dimension

STARRING: Cast unavailable

STORY: The scrubbed moon landing actually took place and here is the found footage to prove it – and also the reason we never went back to the moon.

PROSPECTS: The concept is very compelling; the director of Wanted produced this.

OBSTACLES: The found footage sub-genre might be running out of steam. Also this has been bounced around the release schedule by Weinstein, never a good sign (although Weinstein is notorious for doing this, even with their best films).  

FACTOID: The astronauts who were scheduled to be on the actual Apollo 18 were Richard F. Gordon Jr., Vance D. Brand and Harrison Schmitt, who was eventually moved up to the Apollo 17 mission, the last manned landing on the moon as of now.

SURF’S UP

August 5, 2011

In THE CHANGE UP (Universal) a steady family man and an irresponsible single man change bodies as they wish they had each other’s lives. They’re about to find out why they wish they didn’t. Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds star. DIRTY GIRL (Weinstein) stars Juno Temple as a girl who gets into trouble in her high school and is sent to a remedial class, where she embarks on an extraordinary friendship that will help her define who she really is.

August 12, 2011

30 MINUTES OR LESS (Columbia) features Jesse Eisenberg as a pizza delivery boy who has a bomb strapped to his chest by a vicious criminal and must rob a bank within 30 minutes or the bomb will go off. Did I mention that Danny McBride plays the vicious criminal? Yeah, it’s a comedy. THE HELP (Disney) is based on a New York Times bestseller and stars Emma Stone as a would-be journalist in the Mississippi of the 1960s who decides to write a piece on the African-American maids in the area, igniting a controversy and helping a town discover its soul.

August 19, 2011

SPY KIDS 4: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD (Dimension) introduces some new Spy Kids, this time with their unwanted stepmother (Jessica Alba) as the spy. With a maniacal would-be megalomaniac trying to rule the world through the control of time on the loose, you can bet it will be the kids who once again save the day. Sigh. ONE DAY (Focus), opening in limited release, stars Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess as two friends who meet every July 15th for more than two decades as we watch their friendship ebb, flow and change over the years, seeing the world change and them with it – until they realize the love they’re both searching for is right in front of their eyes.

August 26, 2011

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (FilmDistrict) is a remake of a 1973 horror film in which a young girl moves into a mysterious mansion only to find that there are creatures already inhabiting the house – and they aren’t very nice or very friendly. OUR IDIOT BROTHER (Weinstein) stars Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer and Elizabeth Banks as a trio of sisters who are constantly exasperated by their un-ambitious brother (Paul Rudd) whose honesty plays havoc with his relationships – and theirs.

August 31, 2011

THE DEBT (Focus) is a taut thriller about a trio of retired Mossad agents whose mission to capture a Nazi war criminal in 1966 may not have been as successful as others were led to believe – and who must now deal with the consequences of that mission.  

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (Universal) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $31.5M Total: $47.7M Verdict: Flop.

THE OTHER GUYS (Columbia) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $119.2M Total: $170.4M Verdict: Flop.

THE EXPENDABLES (Lionsgate) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $103.1M Total: $274.5M Verdict: Hit.

NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS (Universal) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $29.1M Total: $93.3M Verdict: Made Money.

EAT PRAY LOVE (Columbia) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $80.6M Total: $204.6M Verdict: Hit.

THE LAST EXORCISM (Lionsgate) Budget: $1.8M. Domestic Gross: $41.0M Total: $67.7M Verdict: Blockbuster.

PIRANHA 3D (Dimension) Budget: $24M. Domestic Gross: $25.0M Total: $83.2M Verdict: Hit.

THE SWITCH (Miramax) Budget: $19M. Domestic Gross: $27.8M Total: $49.8M Verdict: Made Money.

GOINGTHE DISTANCE (New Line) Budget: $32M. Domestic Gross: $17.8M Total: $42.1M Verdict: Flop.

Excited? I know I am…there is a highly anticipated movie nearly every week this summer, and sometimes more than one, each one hoping you’ll buy a ticket and ensure more sequels for summers to come. There are whispers that Summer 2012 may even outdo this year – we’ll have to wait and see what takes shape. However, the Fall and Holiday season is going to be no slouch either – with new installments in the Twilight and Paranormal Activity series, sequels to Sherlock Holmes, Happy Feet and Mission: Impossible, a spin-off in the Shrek universe starring one of the most beloved characters in that franchise and not one but two Spielberg films, it’s going to be a busy season at the box office then as well. You can catch a more detailed preview at the end of August. In the meantime, the air-conditioned comfort of the multiplex beckons – so what are you waiting for? Buy your ticket, hit the concession stand for an ice cold soda and hot buttered popcorn, settle back in your stadium seat and let this summer’s blockbusters take you out of your world and into a place of pure magic.

Made of Honor


Made of Honor

Monaghan and Dempsey dance cheek to cheek.

(Columbia) Patrick Dempsey, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin McKidd, Kathleen Quinlan, Sydney Pollack, Kadeem Hardison, James Sikking, Busy Philipps, Whitney Cummings. Directed by Paul Weiland

The secret to a successful romantic relationship is to marry your best friend. Sometimes, that logic escapes even the brightest of us.

Tom (Dempsey) is a serial lady-killer who operates on a complicated but nonetheless rigid set of rules guaranteed to prevent a serious relationship from sprouting up from the sex. At a collegiate Halloween party during the Clinton era he accidentally climbs into the bed of Hannah (Moynahan), a bookish co-ed when he meant to get busy with her cousin Melissa (Philipps). He gets sprayed in the eyes for his trouble and Moynahan, finding him curiously fascinating despite his male chauvinist pig attitudes, nurses him back to sight and points him in the direction of her cousin, who doesn’t handle liquor very well.

Fast-forward a decade and the two have become best buddies. His collegiate tendencies have blossomed into a full-blown lifestyle; he is able to afford this because he invented the coffee cup holder, which has made him rich. She works as an art buyer and is heading for Scotland on business. Tom still has the company of his buddies, including pal Felix (Hardison), and boasts that he has the best of all worlds; a different woman in his bed every night and Hannah during the day to hang out with. However, Tom realizes the longer that she’s gone that he really likes hanging out with Hannah and that he wants more than a platonic buddy relationship with her. He resolves to tell her so, but unfortunately for him, she returns with Colin (McKidd) in tow, the near-perfect man – a Scottish noble with medals for valor and achievement on his perfect manly chest, and a nice guy to boot. She informs a shocked Tom that the two have set a date to be married and she wants him – Tom – to be her maid of honor. Tom does what all men in that situation should do; knock over a waiter with a full tray of food. Ah, hilarity.

Tom is reluctant to go to Scotland to watch the woman he now knows he loves wed another man but Felix convinces him that the best way to subvert her nuptials is from the inside. He decides to go ahead with the plan, not realizing that among the bridesmaids is grown-up cousin Melissa who has an absolute hate on for Tom, and who secretly thinks she should be the maid of honor.

Tom tries to prove himself the best man for Hannah by being as perfect at everything as Colin is but as is usually the case in romantic comedies, events (and the very vindictive Melissa) conspire against him. Will true love triumph in the end?

Romantic comedies are a kind of fantasy, particularly as practiced by Hollywood. The formula is pretty much the same; an unlikely couple gets together and discovers a growing feeling for one another. Things go well until one of them makes a critical error and the two are separated. Usually a third party becomes involved and one of them looks headed for a lifetime relationship with the wrong person until the one he/she should be with saves the day.

That’s all fine and good for the movies but it doesn’t really work that way in real life. Now, I’m all for escapism but I just wish that Hollywood rom-com writers could put some variation in the formula to make these just a tad more interesting. After all, the plot here sounds suspiciously like My Best Friend’s Wedding, except that movie had Julia Roberts and Dermot Mulroney as a couple and there was more chemistry between those two than Dempsey and Monaghan any day of the week.

There really isn’t much here that makes this movie worth seeing, other than a pretty good-looking cast and the beautiful scenery of Scotland. One notable exception is director Sydney Pollack in his last acting role before his death in 2008 from stomach cancer. He plays Tom’s oft-married dad (undergoing wedding number six to American Idol Kelly Clarkson) who is negotiating a pre-nuptial agreement that is essentially a license for prostitution. It’s one of the few sequences that really stand out.

It’s hard to buy why the allegedly bright Hannah would find anything remotely in common with the terminally shallow Tom, who seems to represent everything in life she is against. I guess that the odd couple formula had to be filled out one way or another.

I will be the first to admit I have a great deal of fondness for a good romantic comedy. Some of my favorite movies of all time – Love, Actually comes to mind right off the top of my head – fall into that genre. However, the sad truth is that the studios seem incapable of making a good one and it’s been a bloody long time since I saw anything better than average come out in the genre from a Hollywood studio. It seems that Hollywood can churn out the special effects to make you believe an alien planet is real but can’t find a writer that will make you believe a romance is real. How sad is that?

WHY RENT THIS: Another harmless rom-com without ambition to be much more than that. The fine-looking cast is easy on the eyes.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If your expectations are slightly higher, there are movies with similar themes done far better.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some mild sexuality and a bit of harsh language but otherwise suitable for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Some of the filming was done at Dunvegan Castle on the Island of Skye, the oldest continuously-inhabited castle in Scotland and the ancient home of the chiefs of Clan MacLeod. The Highland Games sequence was filmed here, as well as a sentimental scene between Hannah and Tom.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Gigantic