Beasts of No Nation


Clean up your room!

Clean up your room!

(2015) Drama (Netflix/Bleecker Street) Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Ama Abebrese, Richard Pepple, Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye, Kurt Egyiawan, Jude Akuwudike, Emmanuel Affadzi, Kobina Amissah-Sam, Fred Nii Amugi, Grace Nortey, Ebenezer Annanfo, Zabon Gibson, Randy Aflakpui, Justice Promise Azduey, Annointed Wesseh, Abdul Mumin Mutawaki. Directed by Cary Fukunaga

The things that are done in war are as brutal and inhuman as our species get. In fact, “inhuman” is a bit of a misnomer; in many ways, war defines our species so the things we do, the brutalities we inflict are very human indeed.

Agu (Attah) is a young boy in a village in an unnamed African country that is being torn by civil war. Utilizing an old TV set with most of its innards torn out, he and his friends use this “imagination TV” to entertain villagers by creating television entertainment. The civil war has been far away from then until word comes that the rebel troops are coming.

Knowing that the fighting will soon come to their village, the women and children are set to be taken to a place of safety. His mother (Abebrese) and his baby brother are allowed to go but the drive of the vehicle refuses to allow Agu aboard. Reluctantly, his mother leaves promising to come back as soon as the fighting is over.

But it is the government troops that come into the village and start slaughtering the males who had stayed behind to fight, including Agu’s father (Amissah-Sam) and brother. Rebels find the traumatized Agu hiding in the hills and he is brought to their Commandant (Elba) to be executed but instead the Commandant keeps Agu on as a child soldier and gives him to the mute Strika (Quaye) to train.

The training is brutal and the fighting worse. These young boys (and girls) are made to do terrible, horrible things, unthinkable things. Agu doesn’t do these things out of rage but out of fear; fear that if he refuses, the Commandant will have him butchered. He lives in a constant certainty that he is going to Hell once he dies for the things he has done – his mother was a fervent Christian. And the more he sees and the more he does, the more certain he is that his soul has been tainted.

This isn’t the first movie to depict the plight of child soldiers but it certainly is one of the most powerful. Much of this is because of Attah, the gifted young actor whose dead-eyed fear-wracked expression is much more powerful than any dialogue could convey. Attah has to be both a normal young African child and a ruthless child warrior and he pulls both off effectively. I honestly don’t know if he has plans to continue his acting career but based on the notices he has gotten for his work here that road is definitely open for him.

English actor Idris Elba has been described as a force of nature and he is the polar opposite here to his performance in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. His Commandant is manipulative, sadistic and simply the essence of evil but the Commandant doesn’t see himself that way; rather the character thinks of himself as a great man, doing whatever it takes to make change in his country – however he doesn’t really do this for love of country so much as love of power and when his political position becomes more and more untenable, the dynamic changes until the fear that he once inspired is gone.

The movie was privately financed by Fukunaga who sold the broadcast rights to Netflix. The streaming giant, looking to release movies on their own both on their service and theatrically, offered to give the movie a theatrical run; the larger theatrical chains said no thanks, despite it’s award winning festival run and Oscar buzz. The precedent, went the thinking, of releasing movies simultaneously on Netflix and in theaters would be an end to their business and they may have a point  The Landmark chain, consisting primarily of art houses, however have opted to present it in their theaters so if your town has a Landmark cinema it is likely to be there.

Fukunaga, whose previous project was the massively acclaimed and overwhelmingly popular HBO miniseries True Detective has been working on this project off and on for seven years. He contracted malaria while filming it in Ghana and put up with budget cuts and major difficulties with African officials and law enforcement. There is a great deal of sensitivity in the region about these wars and how they are depicted; there are some American liberals who say that this film plays to the racist element in our society, which is a load of horseshit.

We can’t ignore crimes against humanity because of the color of the skin of those who commit them. Black lives do matter; that’s why it shouldn’t matter the color of the skin of the people who are destroying them and ending them, whether a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri or a black warlord in Somalia. This is a story that should be told and it is a story that here at least has been told extremely well.

REASONS TO GO: Incendiary performances by Elba and Attah. Realistic and intense.
REASONS TO STAY: Drags a little bit during the middle.
FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of violence, some of it disturbing – some of it committed by or against children. Some sexuality and rape, and a lot of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fukunaga intended to cast former child soldiers as extras for the movie but a large number of them were arrested in Ivory Coast on suspicions of being mercenaries and so Fukunaga was forced to go with local extras.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/2/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: 79/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Timbuktu
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
NEXT: Hot Sugar’s Cold World

Machete


Machete

Is this the face only a mother could love?

(20th Century Fox) Danny Trejo, Jessica Biel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Robert de Niro, Cheech Marin, Lindsay Lohan, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal, Tom Savini, Daryl Sabara, Alicia Marek, Gilbert Trejo, Cheryl Chin, Shea Whigham.  Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis

Injustice requires a hero, someone to stand up and defy those who perpetrate it. However, some injustice is so grave, so reprehensible it requires more than a hero: it requires a legend.

Machete (Trejo) is a Mexican federale who is a bit of a maverick and a lone wolf. While his partner pleads with him to back off of a kidnapping case, Machete refuses. He only knows one direction – forward – and one way – the hard one. Unfortunately, this turns out to be a trap set by a drug lord named Torrez (Seagal) who butchers Machete’s family. Since Machete’s boss is in Torrez’ pocket, his career as a federale is over.

Flash forward three years. Machete is working as a day laborer in Texas, where corrupt State Senator McLaughlin (De Niro) holds sway on a fire-eating anti-immigration platform. However, the good Senator’s re-election campaign isn’t going particularly well. It seems that he’s made some powerful enemies, including a snake oil businessman named Booth (Fahey) who hires Machete to execute the Senator with a high-powered rifle from the state capitol in Austin. However, the whole thing turns out to be yet another set-up.

It seems that Booth is actually McLaughlin’s aide. It turns out both of ‘em are also in Torrez’ pocket. It also turns out that a paramilitary vigilante border patrol, led by Lt. Von Stillman (Johnson) are in McLaughlin’s pocket; as a matter of fact, McLaughlin went on a little ride-along with the boys and shot him some Mescans, including a pregnant woman right in the belly.

However, they’ve messed with the wrong Mescan, as Machete slices and dices his way through every slick-haired, black-suited henchman this quartet of baddies can throw at him. He has allies of his own, however, to aid him in the slicing and dicing; Luz (Rodriguez), a revolutionary whose Underground Railroad-like organization for illegals operates out of her taco truck; Sartana (Alba), an ambitious immigration officer who falls for Machete; Padre (Marin), a priest who packs a little bit of lead along with his crucifix and Julio (Sabara), a vato with a heart bigger than all of Mexico.  

Along the way they’ll run into April (Lohan), a drugged-out wannabe-model whose father wants to make her daddy’s girl, Osiris Ampanpour (Savini), an Assyrian assassin with a sadistic streak and Sniper (Whigham), Booth’s right hand man. The odds are stacked against Machete, but Machete doesn’t care about odds, not as long as he has a razor sharp blade at his disposal.

This has all the elements of 70s blacksploitation (i.e. movies like Superfly and Shaft), Asian chop sockey (the films of the Shaw brothers and some of Bruce Lee’s early stuff), spaghetti westerns and even the slasher flicks of the 80s. All of this has been filtered through Robert Rodriguez’ Cuisinart of influences to create something unique and refreshing, even as it is also at once familiar.

It’s no secret that this was born from a faux trailer that appeared as part of the 2007 B-movie homage Grindhouse that Rodriguez did with fellow trash movie aficionado Quentin Tarantino (it is said that another fake trailer from that movie, Thanksgiving is on the fast track for development as well). However, the real genesis for this character and this project took place back in 1994 when Rodriguez was finishing El Mariachi when Rodriguez began writing a script about a disgraced ex-federale with a penchant for blades.

This is so over-the-top that NASA has it studying planets. Every swing of Machete’s weapon generates a fountain of blood and a limb, head or other body part parting rather gruesomely from the original owners. Machete also gets to use his other weapon plenty of times as nearly every woman in the movie gets a sex scene with him, all to the beat of ‘70s porn movie. Wackada wacka wacka boom chicka boom, baby! Of course, it’s a little difficult to picture Danny Trejo, who’s pushing 70 but still in awesome shape, as anything of a sex symbol. To each their own.

Still, this is the role Trejo was born to play. With his hard scowl, stringy hair, Fu Manchu moustache, angry demeanor and a slathering of tattoos, he has played murderers, rapists and thieves in countless movies over the years. Here, he is the kind of anti-hero that the audiences of the ‘70s embraced. There’s something vicariously thrilling about sticking it to the man, y’know.

De Niro is clearly having a great time here. His character is a combination of Byron de la Beckwith, Arizona state senator Russell Pearce and Foghorn Leghorn and De Niro hams it up like he’s working a middle school talent show. In fact, one gets the impression that Rodriguez told all his actors to “let her rip!” and the only instructions they received from him thereafter were “More!”

Certainly modern audiences aren’t used to this much gratuitous sex and overt, bloody violence but that’s okay; those of us who remember Times Square before the chain restaurants, Starbucks and tourist-friendly shopping when just walking into the area made you want to shower and then dry off with sandpaper will embrace Machete with both arms. Okay, not literally; giving Machete a hug will probably lose you the use of both your arms unless you’re a naked chick with big bazoombas. And that’s the way it should be.

REASONS TO GO: It’s social commentary disguised as a cheesy 70s action flick wrapped in satire. The movie is so preposterous you have to love it.

REASONS TO STAY: Those who are faint of heart when it comes to sex and violence should steer clear.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of gratuitous sex and lots of gratuitous violence to go with lots of gratuitous language. Who says they don’t make ‘em like this anymore?

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: After Rodriguez told Trejo about the role of Machete and the film he intended to make, Trejo called Rodriguez regularly at varying times of the day to pitch himself for the role. Finally, when an exasperated Rodriguez asked Trejo why he didn’t just text him, Trejo replied “Machete don’t text” and Rodriguez liked the line so much he used it in the movie.

HOME OR THEATER: Oh, home viewing for this one, definitely. Preferably with a six pack of cheap beer, a bagful of pork rinds and a taco or two.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Fifty Dead Men Walking

New Releases for the Week of September 3, 2010


September 3, 2010

Drew Barrymore doesn’t think it’s so funny when Justin Long brings up the David Letterman thing.

GOING THE DISTANCE

(New Line) Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jim Gaffigan, Kelli Garner, Rob Riggle, Christina Applegate, Ron Livingston. Directed by Nanette Burstein

A young couple gets into a summer fling they both expect will end once the girl returns home across the country to San Francisco. When something meaningful unexpectedly develops, they decide to give a long distance relationship a go. When long hours on the cell phones, an abundance of text messages and vague plans to meet again aren’t enough, things begin to heat up, alarming the friends and relatives of the couple who appear both are on an express train to yet another doomed relationship for the both of them. Can anyone really make a long distance relationship work?

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content including dialogue, language throughout, some drug use and brief nudity)

The American

(Focus) George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli. An American assassin, weary of death, holes up in a bucolic Italian village. He receives an assignment to assemble a weapon for a contact there, but a friendship with a local priest and a torrid affair with a beautiful woman put him in more danger than he can imagine. It is never a good idea for an assassin to have any sort of relationship with anyone – they can be deadly to everyone involved.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Suspense

Rating: R (for violence, sexual content and nudity)

Machete

(20th Century Fox) Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Robert De Niro, Michelle Rodriguez. Based on the faux trailer that appeared before the B-Movie homage Grindhouse, an ex-Mexican federale roams the streets of Texas after being double crossed. That’s a bad idea when it comes to a fellow named Machete, particularly when the name is well-earned. Plenty of carnage, plenty of babes, plenty of Latin spice and a heaping helping of B-Movie oeuvre will  be sure to delight fans of action movies from the ‘70s which ultimately inspired this.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity)

Micmacs

(Sony Classics) Dany Boon, Andre Dussollier, Nicolas Marie, Jean-Pierre Marielle. A man whose father was killed by a roadside bomb is struck by a stray bullet in a freak accident. When he emerges from the hospital, he takes in with an ex-con who lives in a dump and has assembled an eclectic group of friends to make up an odd family. When they find out about his plight, they plot to take revenge against those responsible. This, the most recent film by visionary director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who also directed City of Lost Children), opened up in limited release on May 28.

See the trailer, clips, and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: French Crime Comedy

Rating: R (for some sexuality and brief violence)

We Are Family

(UTV) Kajol, Kareena Kapur, Arjun Rampal, Nominath Ginsberg. A divorced Indian woman living in Australia with her family seems to have everything under control. However, when her ex-husband brings in his new girlfriend, a career-oriented woman, into the picture, things get complicated, turning even worse when they are all forced to live under the same roof. This is loosely based on the American tear-jerker The Stepmom.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Indian Drama

Rating: NR

Fall/Holiday 2010 Preview


The difference between summer movies and fall movies are like night and day. Summer is the time of blockbusters, big budgets and megastars. Fall is the time of Oscar contenders, big directors and holiday films. While the biggest movies tend to be released in May and then again right around the July 4th timeframe for the summer season, Hollywood does the opposite in the fall, going with lesser films to begin with and building to release the bigger-splash movies at the end of the year.

That’s not to say there isn’t a share of box office bonanza in the latter half of the year; in fact, the top two box office movies of all time were released in December – which is to say James Cameron’s top two moneymakers, Avatar last year and Titanic in 1997. Nothing on the radar looks to do those kinds of numbers, but the new Harry Potter should do at least $300 million domestically and Tron Legacy may well equal that.

Oscar-watchers are usually busy this time of year keeping an eye out on potential contenders for the most prestigious awards in the film industry. While it’s impossible to know in advance which movies are going to be collecting nominations by the handful – frontrunners can stumble at the gate while dark horses can surprise from out of nowhere – there are always a few safe bets to keep an eye out on. This year is no exception, as Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, Mike Leigh’s Another Year and Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech look to be early favorites.

Besides the two blockbusters I already mentioned, there are a few movies that Hollywood is counting on to add to their coffers this year; The Chronicles of Narnia franchise has moved over to Fox from Disney and the third installment, Voyage of the Dawn Treader is going to be on the radar of fantasy enthusiasts and family filmgoers alike. Disney’s Tangled, Zack Snyder’s The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and DreamWorks Animation’s MegaMind all look to capture a good chunk of the animated feature market this fall, while action enthusiasts will look to True Grit, Red, Faster and Machete to get their fix.

Halloween means horror and there are plenty of movies that look to scare up big box office bucks, including Paranormal Activity 2, Buried, Saw 3D The Traps Come Alive, Resident Evil: Afterlife, Let Me In and My Soul to Take. Those looking for a lighter touch will find plenty of laughs in Gulliver’s Travels, Little Fockers and Morning Glory.

The crisp night air brings out plenty of stars, and 2010 will have a galaxy full of them in movies like The American (George Clooney), Burlesque (Cher), Gulliver’s Travels (Jack Black), Little Fockers (Ben Stiller, Barbra Streisand and Robert DeNiro), Hereafter (Matt Damon), Morning Glory (Harrison Ford), The Fighter (Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale), Everything You’ve Got (Reese Witherspoon), Life As We Know It (Katherine Heigl), Red (Bruce Willis), Faster (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), Conviction (Hilary Swank), The Town (Ben Affleck), Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Michael Douglas and Shia LaBeouf) and Due Date (Robert Downey, Jr.).

So even as the days begin to get shorter that doesn’t mean that your film choices are as well. There is, as always, something to please everyone at the multiplex this fall and hopefully this will help you find a few to anticipate on your own cinematic shortlist for the fall. By all measures, it was a dismal summer at the movies, with few bright spots on a fairly bleak box office horizon; the studios are almost certainly looking to several key movies to help brighten up their year somewhat. In the meantime, keep an eye out for our monthly Four Warned and weekly Previews for further details about the movies you’ll find herein. Enjoy!

SEPTEMBER

September 2010 Preview

September is usually a time to catch your breath after the summer season. Your post-Labor Day offerings are usually a motley assortment of remainders and leftovers that the studios put out mostly as placeholders, meant to come and go quickly and hit the home video market early in the New Year. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few gems among the dross, however.

MUST-SEE

LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE

RELEASE DATE: September 24, 2010

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING THE VOICES OF: Ryan Kwanten, Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Helen Mirren, Richard Roxburgh, Jim Sturgess

STORY: A young owl, enthralled by the tales of his father about a legendary band of warriors, must summon up the courage of a Guardian to defeat the evil Pure Ones and save his people…er, owls.

PROSPECTS: 2010 has been the year of the family film, given the runaway success of Toy Story 3, How to Train a Dragon and Despicable Me. Given the astonishing animation shown in the trailer, this could well join that elite group. The only other competition this month in the family film sweepstakes is the absolutely awful-looking Alpha and Omega. Plus, the last two films on director Zack Snyder’s resume? 300 and The Watchmen.

OBSTACLES: An all-owl cast doesn’t necessarily make this a box office slam dunk. While there isn’t much competition for the Ga’Hoole, families have a tendency to want to get their kids acclimated to school and movies can be a secondary priority.

FACTOID: The books this was based on were written by Kathryn Lasky. The movie is based on the first three of the fifteen books currently in the series.

HOT TICKET

THE AMERICAN

RELEASE DATE: September 1, 2010

STUDIO: Focus

STARRING: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Irina Bjorklund, Bruce Altman, Samuli Vauramo

STORY: An American assassin, weary of bloodshed and brutality, vows this last assignment will be his last. However, when a potential romance begins to cloud his judgment, he finds himself in a more precarious situation than he ever bargained for.

PROSPECTS: The filmmakers have announced that this will be the last movie in the franchise, so that will get people into the theaters on its own. This is the most popular animated film franchise to date.

OBSTACLES: The public may be getting a bit tired of Shrek as those who were kids when the first one came out are well into their teens and early 20s now.

FACTOID: Director Anton Corbijn is best known as a still photographer for album covers and a director of music videos, especially for Depeche Mode and U2.

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS

RELEASE DATE: September 24, 2010

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Frank Langella, Carey Mulligan, Susan Sarandon, Charlie Sheen, Vanessa Ferlito

STORY: The sequel to the iconic 1987 film reunites director Oliver Stone and star Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, the disgraced broker who has been released from jail and means to redefine himself and resume his life. He becomes involved with the impressionable young broker who is engaged to marry his estranged daughter.

PROSPECTS: The chicanery of the stock market has never been timelier than now. Certainly, those who made the first movie a hit will be lining up to hear Douglas utter those immortal words “Greed is good.”

OBSTACLES: Some of the issues tackled by the movie may be a little too close to home for an economy-weary audience.

FACTOID: This is the third consecutive non-documentary film directed by Stone whose title begins with the letter “W” (the other two are World Trade Center and W).

RISING STAR

MACHETE

RELEASE DATE: September 3, 2010

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Jeff Fahey, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal, Lindsay Lohan

STORY: A former Mexican Federale roams the streets of a small Texas town after having been double-crossed by a political spin doctor, a drug lord and a politician. Things are gonna get violent.

PROSPECTS: This started out life as a faux trailer on the Grindhouse double feature, now getting a life of its own as a feature film. Those who loved that film, the Robert Rodriguez El Mariachi films and ultra-violent B-movies of the 60s and 70s are going to love this.

OBSTACLES: Trejo is a great character actor but has never carried a film of this magnitude before. None of the movies that look like this have made a significant box office dent.

FACTOID: This is the first movie to be commercially released for Steven Seagal in eight years. Marin and Johnson both starred in the hit television show “Nash Bridges.”

ALSO PLAYING

SEPTEMBER 3, 2010

THE WINNING SEASON (Roadside Attractions) stars Sam Rockwell as a local misfit brought on to coach the high school girls’ basketball team. Hmm, you think there’s going to be an uplifting finale on this one? Either way, it’s opening up in limited release.

SEPTEMBER 10, 2010

RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (Screen Gems) is the fourth installment in the popular videogame-based franchise, finding Milla Jovovich back to take on the nefarious Umbrella Corporation, but this time she’s going after the head of the snake – judging from the trailer, literally. LEGENDARY (Goldwyn) is a family film about a family torn apart by a tragedy that learns to heal through an unexpected means – high school wrestling. WWE superstar John Cena stars in this, which is also getting a limited release. THE VIRGINITY HIT (Columbia) is produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, who have Talladega Nights and The Other Guys to their credit as well as the online site Funny or Die. Here they give four guys a camera and send them out to show just how bizarre and funny losing one’s virginity can be. And here I thought it was just terrifying.

SEPTEMBER 15, 2010

NEVER LET ME GO (Fox Searchlight) is based on the novel by Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro (“The Remains of the Day”). This movie stars Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield (the new Spider-Man) as three kids at an English boarding school in a reality much like our own but just slightly different learning a secret that changes them forever. This is in limited release.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2010

ALPHA AND OMEGA (Lionsgate) is the first animated feature from the mini-major. Two wolves (one at the apex of the pack, the other at the bottom) must co-operate to find a way home after they’re shipped hundreds of miles away by well-meaning park rangers. DEVIL (Universal) is about a bunch of people trapped on an elevator with Satan. Yes, the Satan. I know – been there, done that. EASY A (Screen Gems) has high school goodie two-shoes Emma Roberts facing the fall-out of a little white lie that she’s not a virgin anymore. She decides to use the new notoriety to her advantage. THE TOWN (Warner Brothers) stars Ben Affleck as a bank robber who falls in love with his hostage, and then tries to create a romance between them once he gets away. And yes, he wore a mask so she doesn’t know who he is. So there. CATFISH (Rogue), opening in limited release, has absolutely the best trailer I’ve seen in a long time. It’s about an Internet romance that is being documented by the young man’s filmmaker brother that turns sinister in the blink of an eye. The buzz at Sundance about this film was deafening.

SEPTEMBER 22, 2010

YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER (Sony Classics) is the newest film from Woody Allen and as is typical for the veteran director, little detail about the plot is available. All we know is it’s about a family dealing with a myriad of romantic issues among several individual members. Also as is typical for Woody Allen, he’s assembled a stellar cast with Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts and Antonio Banderas among others. This will be out in limited release.

SEPTEMBER 24, 2010

YOU AGAIN (Disney) finds a mother and her daughter dealing with their high school demons in the form of their nemeses when her son proposes to the daughter of the mother’s rival – who is coincidentally the mother of her daughter’s rival. Jamie Lee Curtis and Kristen Bell star. JACK GOES BOATING (Relativity) stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Ryan as a pair of isolated New Yorkers who are introduced and find the courage to come out of their shells, face their fears and come together, even as the couple that introduced them are falling apart. From the new distributor Relativity Media (who recently acquired Overture Films), this is opening in limited release on September 17th before getting a wide release this week.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

A look back at how last year’s previewed movies did at the box office. Since we didn’t include September in last year’s Fall Preview, I’ve chosen some movies that I probably would have previewed had I included September. 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.

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (Columbia) Budget: $100 Million. Domestic Gross: $124.8M Total: $243.0M Verdict: Profitable. SURROGATES (Touchstone) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $38.6M Total: $122.4M Verdict: Flop. WHITEOUT (Warner Brothers) Budget: $35M. Domestic Gross: $10.3M Total: $17.8M Verdict: Flop. EXTRACT (Miramax) Budget: $8M. Domestic Gross: $10.8M Total: $10.8M Verdict: Flop. 9 (Focus) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $31.8M Total: $48.4M Verdict: Flop. GAMER (Lionsgate) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $20.5M Total: $40.7M Verdict: Broke Even. ALL ABOUT STEVE (20th Century Fox) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $33.9M Total: $40.1M Verdict: Broke Even. FAME (MGM) Budget: $18M. Domestic Gross: $22.5M Total: $77.2M Verdict: Hit. THE INFORMANT! (Warner Brothers) Budget: $22M. Domestic Gross: $33.3M Total: $41.8 Verdict: Flop.

OCTOBER

October 2010 Preview

October brings fall weather in more properly, as baseball begins its World Series, football is in the midst of their schedule and hockey and basketball are both getting their seasons underway. At the multiplex, the month is usually dominated by horror movies meant to compliment the Halloween festivities, although there are often some counterprogramming moves going on to get audiences that aren’t looking to be frightened into coronaries at the cinema.

MUST SEE

HEREAFTER

RELEASE DATE: October 22, 2010

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard, Cecile de France, Jay Mohr, Richard Kind, Steve Schirripa, Jennifer Lewis, Lyndsey Marshall

STORY: The lives of three people who have been touched by death in different ways will intersect and be changed by what they think lies in wait after death.

PROSPECTS: Clint Eastwood is on a hot streak; he is one of the few directors who will bring in box office on name alone. The fact that he is doing a movie that has elements of the supernatural to it will only add extra fanboy frenzy.

OBSTACLES: The plot details have been kept very tightly under wraps, leading to the kind of speculation that might cause failed expectations when the movie opens.

FACTOID: Filming stopped for a month while Damon was shooting his scenes for The Adjustment Bureau.

HOT TICKETS

THE SOCIAL NETWORK

RELEASE DATE: October 1, 2010

STUDIO: Columbia

STARRING: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Rashida Jones, Joe Mazzello, Brenda Song, Rooney Mara

STORY: A young Harvard student creates a website that will eventually become Facebook.

PROSPECTS: There are more than 500 million Facebook subscribers, and you would think at least a significant fraction of them will want to go see this.

OBSTACLES: There are no real name stars in it, and you have to wonder if there’s any appeal to those who have limited or no connection to the site.

FACTOID: A cousin of Eisenberg works for Facebook.

SECRETARIAT

RELEASE DATE: October 8, 2010

STUDIO: Disney

STARRING: Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Dylan Walsh, Scott Glenn, Dylan Baker, Margo Martindale, Fred Thompson, James Cromwell, Kevin Connolly

STORY: The story of a horse that came out of an unlikely environment to become the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years and race into legend.

PROSPECTS: With the success of Seabiscuit it was proven that movies about horse racing can win at the box office as well. Disney has made a cottage industry out of these sorts of feel-good sports dramas based on true stories.

OBSTACLES: One wonders how many of these kinds of movies the public is going to line up to see; there are already signs that the market has been oversaturated with them.

FACTOID: The race records that the real Secretariat set in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont still stand today, 37 years after the fact.

RISING STAR

BURIED

RELEASE DATE: October 8, 2010

STUDIO: Lionsgate

STARRING: Ryan Reynolds, Stephen Tobolowski, Samantha Mathis, Robert Paterson, Anne Lockhart (voice), Erik Palladino

STORY: A contractor working in Iraq awakens to find himself six feet underground but still alive, armed with only a cell phone and a lighter without any idea where he is, why he’s there or who’s responsible. With only 90 minutes of oxygen to sustain him, he must fight panic, despair and delirium to get help, or find a way out.

PROSPECTS: One of the most highly sought-after movies at Sundance instigated a bidding war among the studios. The consensus of those who’ve seen it is that it is one of the most original and gripping thrillers to come along in years.

OBSTACLES: Are audiences ready to see a movie that is essentially Ryan Reynolds in a box for 90 minutes? Certainly claustrophobes won’t be able to sit through this one either.

FACTOID: Thomas Jane and Emile Hirsch were both considered for the title roll until Josh Brolin got the part.

ALSO PLAYING

OCTOBER 1, 2010

LET ME IN (Relativity) stars Kick-Ass breakout star Chloe Moretz as a mysterious young girl who befriends a lonely, bullied young boy. Based on the acclaimed Swedish horror film Let the Right One In. FREAKONOMICS (Magnolia), based on the best-selling book, presents a series of case studies that mix the methods of economic study with pop culture and human behavior. This is to receive a limited release.

OCTOBER 8, 2010

LIFE AS WE KNOW IT (Warner Brothers) stars Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel as the godparents of a baby who although they don’t particularly like each other, become legal guardians of the baby when their parents die suddenly. NOWHERE BOY (Weinstein) tells the story of a young Englishman who can’t stay out of trouble and is brought up by an aunt when his mum turns out to be unable to handle him. The boy will grow up to be John Lennon. STONE (Relativity) has Edward Norton and Robert De Niro facing off as a man convicted of setting a fire to cover up his grandparents murder, and the parole officer who is reviewing his case. In between them is Milla Jovovich, the con’s wife. Finally, TAMARA DREWE (Sony Classics) will be in limited release; it is based on a graphic novel which is itself loosely based on Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd” and stars Gemma Arterton as a young flirtatious woman who returns to her small country village and stirs up passions among the locals.

OCTOBER 15, 2010

RED (Summit) is based on a DC Comics graphic novel about a group of retired CIA assassins who are being hunted down by their present-day counterparts. With a cast including Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman, it looks like quite the romp. CONVICTION (Fox Searchlight) is the true account of Betty Ann Waters’ efforts to free her unjustly convicted brother from prison. Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell star in this early contender for Oscar gold. JACKASS 3D (Paramount) is the return of Johnny Knoxville, Bam Magera, Wee-Man and company for more dumbass stunts, only this time in 3D. Weren’t their 15 minutes up, like, years ago?

OCTOBER 22, 2010

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (Paramount) is the sequel to last Halloween’s surprise hit, this time in a new house with a new family being stalked by the supernatural.

OCTOBER 29, 2010

THE COMPANY MEN (Weinstein) is extremely topical; three men are downsized from their executive positions and are forced to find meaning in their lives that doesn’t revolve around their workplace identities. The trailer for this looked awfully good. MY SOUL TO TAKE (Rogue) is the newest horror offering from genre superstar Wes Craven. Here, a serial killer vows to take revenge on the seven children who were born the night he died. Freddie Kruger, step aside! MONSTERS (Magnet) is a limited release horror film that sees alien life forms taking over half of Mexico, which is now under quarantine. A journalist and a tourist try to make it to the border and safety. Again, a superior trailer has piqued my interest. SAW 3D (Lionsgate) is slated to be the final entry into the billion dollar horror franchise, in which survivors of Jigsaw’s traps get together to talk about old times, unaware that one of them has quite a different agenda in mind.  

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

AMELIA (Fox Searchlight) Budget: $40 Million. Domestic Gross: $14.2M Total: $19.6M Verdict: Flop. SAW VI (Lionsgate) Budget: $11M. Domestic Gross: $27.7M Total: $64.6M Verdict: Blockbuster. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (Warner Brothers) Budget: $100M. Domestic Gross: $77.2M Total: $100.1M Verdict: Flop. A SERIOUS MAN (Focus) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $9.2M Total: $31.3 Verdict: Broke Even. THE INVENTION OF LYING (Warner Brothers) Budget: $18.5M. Domestic Gross: $18.5M Total: $32.3 Verdict: Flop. CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT (Universal) Budget: $40M. Domestic Gross: $13.9M Total: $39.2 Verdict: Flop. ZOMBIELAND (Columbia) Budget: $23.6M. Domestic Gross: $75.6M Total: $102.3M Verdict: Hit. MICHAEL JACKSON’S THIS IS IT (Columbia) Budget: N/A. Domestic Gross: $72.1M Total: $261.2M Verdict: Blockbuster. COUPLES RETREAT (Universal) Budget: $70M. Domestic Gross: $109.2M Total: $171.8M Verdict: Profitable.

NOVEMBER

November 2010 Preview

Thanksgiving weekend is a major Hollywood seasonal barometer, and usually there are several movies that Hollywood has high hopes for box office success. This is usually when we start to see some of the more anticipated movies, usually with at least one major blockbuster arriving before Turkey Day.

MUST SEE

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 1

RELEASE DATE: November 19, 2010

STUDIO: Warner Brothers

STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Bill Nighy, Robbie Coltrane, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Felton, John Hurt, Rhys Ifans, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, Timothy Spall, Miranda Richardson, Jason Isaacs, Imelda Staunton, Brendan Gleeson, Warwick Davis, Ciaran Hinds, Julie Walters and every British actor still breathing.

STORY: The final showdown between Harry and Valdemort begins as the war between the Deatheaters and the wizards gets underway and spills over into the Muggle world.

PROSPECTS: This is as near to a slam dunk as you’re going to find out of any movie released this year.

OBSTACLES: Those who grew up with the Boy Who Lived are getting too old for…oh, who am I kidding here?

FACTOID: M. Night Shyamalan and Guillermo del Toro were at one time both considered for the director’s chair for the final two installments before the producers decided to stick with David Yates, who did the last two films.

HOT TICKETS

MEGAMIND

RELEASE DATE: November 5, 2010

STUDIO: DreamWorks

STARRING THE VOICES OF: Will Farrell, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill

STORY: A superhero battle from the viewpoint of the supervillain who, try as he might, can never triumph over the forces of good with his nefarious plans.

PROSPECTS: This could easily become the next Shrek-like franchise for the Second-Best Animated Studio on Earth.

OBSTACLES: The trailer made this look more like a one-trick pony in terms of plot; let’s hope that the finished  has a lot more going for it.

FACTOID: The movie was originally titled Master Mind until it was discovered a TV game show had rights to the name; the title was then changed to Oobermind until it was determined that most people wouldn’t get the reference.

BURLESQUE

RELEASE DATE: November 24, 2010

STUDIO: Screen Gems

STARRING: Cher, Christina Aguilera, Eric Dane, Cam Gigandet, Julianne Hough, Peter Gallagher, Alan Cumming, Kristen Bell, Stanley Tucci

STORY: A small-town girl with a big voice helps to turn around a financially ailing theater, but her notoriety brings some problems she never could have anticipated.

PROSPECTS: Aguilera is one of the hottest musical stars on the planet and Cher is an icon; the combination sounds unbeatable on paper.

OBSTACLES: Cher hasn’t really done anything musical in years; Aguilera has never starred in a movie before. Will audiences flock to see it as they did with Chicago or stay away in droves as they did with Nine?

FACTOID: Gigandet beat out fellow Twilight stars Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and Kellan Lutz for his role.

RISING STAR

LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS

RELEASE DATE: November 24, 2010

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Judy Greer, Gabriel Macht, Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt

STORY: The misadventures of a salesman trainee at a pharmaceutical company who’s assigned to push male enhancement drugs.

PROSPECTS: This sounds like one of those quirky movies that emerges from left field to make some real noise.

OBSTACLES: Does anybody really want to see a movie about Viagra?

FACTOID: The movie is based on a novel by Jamie Reidy, who really did work as a Viagra salesman.

ALSO PLAYING

NOVEMBER 5, 2010

DUE DATE (Warner Brothers) stars Robert Downey Jr. as a first-time father trying to get home to be by the side of his wife in time for the birth. Standing in the way is a disaster-prone actor (played by Zach Galifianakis) and a whole lot of country. Shades of Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

NOVEMBER 12, 2010

MORNING GLORY (Paramount) stars Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton as feuding morning show hosts, with Rachel McAdams as the producer charged with making the peace – or else! Sounds fairly pedestrian but given the star power will be worth looking into. SKYLINE (Universal) is a sci-fi thriller about a group of people trapped in a high-rise as an alien invasion literally sucks people from the face of the Earth. UNSTOPPABLE (20th Century Fox) stars Denzel Washington and Chris Pine as the engineer and conductor trying to stop a runaway train carrying toxic chemicals from hitting a small town. FAIR GAME (Summit), opening in limited release the previous weekend, is the story of Valerie Plame, the CIA operative whose cover was blown by a journalist and became a cause célèbre for the antiwar faction.

NOVEMBER 19, 2010

THE NEXT THREE DAYS (Lionsgate) features Russell Crowe as a man whose wife is imprisoned for a murder she didn’t commit. With time running out and his wife suicidal, he determines the only way to save her life is to break her out of prison. Elizabeth Banks and Liam Neeson co-star.

NOVEMBER 24, 2010

THE KING’S SPEECH (Weinstein) chronicles the relationship between speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) and King George VI (Colin Firth), whom Logue must help get past a terrible stammer so that he may lead his nation into World War II after the unexpected abdication of his brother Edward. The impressive cast includes Timothy Spall, Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi and Michael Gambon. FASTER (CBS) stars Dwayne Johnson in a welcome return to the action genre. Here, he plays an ex-con out for revenge after his brother dies in the botched robbery attempt that got him sent to prison. TANGLED (Disney) is a sassy animated version of Rapunzel, with a voice cast including Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi.

NOVEMBER 26, 2010

RED DAWN (MGM) is a remake of the 1984 movie that starred the late Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Beals and C. Thomas Howell, among others. As in that film, the United States is invaded, and a resistance group of high school-aged football players is all that stands between us and total annihilation. Chris Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki and Jeffrey Dean Morgan star. It should be noted that given MGM’s precarious financial position that this movie may or may not see the light of day.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON (Summit) Budget: $50 Million. Domestic Gross: $296.6M Total: $709.8M Verdict: Blockbuster. DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Disney) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $137.7M Total: $325.2M Verdict: Flop. NINE (Weinstein) Budget: $80M. Domestic Gross: $19.7M Total: $53.9M Verdict: Flop. THE ROAD (Weinstein) Budget: $25M. Domestic Gross: $8.1M Total: $26.8M Verdict: Flop. 2012 (Columbia) Budget: $200M. Domestic Gross: $166.1M Total: $769.7M Verdict: Hit. PRECIOUS (Lionsgate) Budget: $10M. Domestic Gross: $47.6M Total: $62.9M Verdict: Blockbuster. THE BLIND SIDE (Warner Brothers) Budget: $29M. Domestic Gross: $256.0M Total: $309.1M Verdict: Blockbuster. UP IN THE AIR (Paramount Vantage) Budget: $25M Domestic Gross: $83.8M Total: $163.2M Verdict: Blockbuster. THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX (20th Century Fox) Budget: $40M Domestic Gross: $21.0M Total: $46.2M Verdict: Flop.

DECEMBER

December 2010 Preview

The month of December brings fierce competition for the box office dollar, as Hollywood usually releases their big guns. Christmas Day is almost always a big one for movie releases although with it falling on a Saturday this year, there is far more activity going on the preceding Wednesday. Nothing goes with Holiday shopping like an evening at the movie theater as a way to blow off the stress of hitting the malls. Studios are also very well aware that they have to release their films at least in New York and Los Angeles before the end of the month to qualify for Oscar contention, and some of these will hit general release in January.

MUST SEE

TRON LEGACY

RELEASE DATE: December 17, 2010

STUDIO: Disney

STARRING: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Michael Sheen, Beau Garrett

STORY: A young man searches for his father who’s been missing for 20 years. Of course, when your father is Kevin Flynn, we all know where he is and where that search is going to lead – a digital world whose landscape has changed very much since we last saw it.

PROSPECTS: This has a shot at becoming the year’s top grossing film. Only Inception rivaled the buzz of this movie all year long. Director Joe Kosinski and Disney are making all the right moves; great casting, a stellar marketing campaign, a trailer that left all who saw it breathless, and electronic Daft Punk creating the soundtrack. Merry Christmas, everybody.

OBSTACLES: The original Tron, while a groundbreaking movie in its time, is nonetheless 20 years old and may not necessarily speak to its target audience which is far more savvy and sophisticated than the same audience was in 1982.

FACTOID: The movie was shot in just 64 days. However, post-production took 68 weeks due to the pervasive nature of the special effects.

HOT TICKETS

THE FIGHTER

RELEASE DATE: December 10, 2010

STUDIO: Paramount

STARRING: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Dendrie Taylor, Jenna Lamia, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Sue Costello

STORY: The true story of boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward, a chronic underachiever who was taken under the wing of his ex-con brother, a former boxer himself, and fought all the way to a championship fight.

PROSPECTS: There is a good deal of Oscar buzz surrounding this movie; true-life boxer movies have a respectable history with the Academy (i.e. Raging Bull, Cinderella Man).

OBSTACLES: The studio hasn’t done a tremendous amount of promotion on this just yet. Sometimes, Oscar buzz doesn’t necessarily translate into box office.

FACTOID: The gym shown in the movie is an actual working gym and is in fact the same one where the real Mickey Ward trained.

GULLIVER’S TRAVELS

RELEASE DATE: December 22, 2010

STUDIO: 20th Century Fox

STARRING: Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Amanda Peet, Billy Connelly, James Gorden, Catherine Tate, Chris O’Dowd, Romany Malco

STORY: The classic Jonathan Swift tale is given a modern update, with an aspiring travel writer getting lost in the Bermuda Triangle, only to find himself in a strange land called Lilliput.

PROSPECTS: This looks to appeal to a family audience to at least a certain extent, or at least that’s how the marketing looks as I write this. If it’s done well, it could give Voyage of the Dawn Treader a run for its money.

OBSTACLES: Jack Black as Lemuel Gulliver? I’m not sure that’s precisely what Swift had in mind when he wrote the book.

FACTOID: Emily Blunt turned down Iron Man 2 to do this movie.

RISING STAR

SOMEWHERE

RELEASE DATE: December 22, 2010

STUDIO: Focus

STARRING: Stephen Dorff, Elle Fanning, Michelle Monaghan, Benicio Del Toro, Chris Pontius, Robert Schwartzman, Caitlin Keats

STORY: Actor Johnny Marco lives the high life at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood; a steady stream of girls, a Ferrari, a different party every night and all the pills he can pop. Into that life comes the 11-year-old daughter from his failed marriage and suddenly Johnny is given a choice between two very different lives.

PROSPECTS: Director Sofia Coppola is one of the most respected on the indie scene at the moment; everything she does seems to have legitimate Oscar potential.

OBSTACLES: Her movies may be a little more intellectual than general audiences might accept.

FACTOID: Coppola was the first American woman to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar. She also won a Best Screenplay Oscar for Lost in Translation, making the Coppola family only the second to have three generations of Oscar winners (grandfather Carmine, father Francis and cousin Nicolas Cage); the Huston family (grandfather Walter, father John and daughter Angelica) was the first.

ALSO PLAYING

DECEMBER 1, 2010

BLACK SWAN (Fox Searchlight), opening in limited release, is the latest from director Darren Aronofsky and follows the exploits of Nina, a young dancer in the New York Ballet Company who is tapped to replace the company’s prima ballerina in the upcoming production of Swan Lake. However, competition with another dancer leads to some dark and twisted events. Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder star.

DECEMBER 3, 2010

WARRIOR’S WAY (Rogue) is a new martial arts fantasy from Korea, this time set in the American badlands of the Old West. The impressive cast includes Geoffrey Rush, Kate Bosworth and Danny Huston and concerns an Asian assassin who hides out in a small American town, but his past eventually catches up with him.

DECEMBER 10, 2010

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER (Fox Walden) is the third in the Chronicles of Narnia franchise and the first not to be made by Disney. Here, Edmund and Lucy are sucked into the Narnian sailing vessel Dawn Treader along with their ne’er do well cousin Eustace. On the voyage they’ll encounter fantastic creatures, terrifying trials and embark on a quest to save Narnia from a ghastly fate. THE TOURIST (Columbia) concerns an American tourist trying to mend a broken heart in Venice – good idea, that – and meeting a lovely, exotic woman. The two are soon caught up in a web of intrigue and suspense, as usually happens in Venice. Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie headline, a pairing sure to put quite a few butts in seats.

DECEMBER 17, 2010

THE TEMPEST (Touchstone) is the latest from visionary director Julie Taymor. Here, she takes on Shakespeare – and changes the gender of the lead character from male to female, leaving us with Prospera, a sorceress on a mystical island played by the fabulous Helen Mirren. HOW DO YOU KNOW (Columbia) stars Reese Witherspoon as a woman torn between major league pitcher Owen Wilson and corporate executive Paul Rudd, the latter of whom is going through a rough patch. His father is played by Jack Nicholson, so that’s a big plus right there; the director is James Brooks so that’s another. YOGI BEAR (Warner Brothers) is a live action version of the beloved Hanna Barbera cartoon with the title character computer generated and voiced by Dan Aykroyd, with Tom Cavanaugh as the Ranger. Did we learn nothing from Garfield

DECEMBER 22, 2010

LITTLE FOCKERS (Universal) is the third installment of the hit comedy series and returns Robert de Niro and Ben Stiller as the dysfunctional in-laws. This time, events revolve around the birthday party of Stiller’s twin boys and his ability to be a good dad, a good provider and a good son-in-law. Is this series played out yet? Time will tell.

DECEMBER 25, 2010

THE ILLUSIONIST (Sony Classics), opening in limited release, is an animated feature based on an unproduced script by legendary French comic Jacques Tati. Produced by the same outfit that gave us The Triplets of Belleville, it concerns an old-fashioned stage magician whose livelihood is being marginalized by rock star magicians – until he meets a young fan who will change his career and life forever. TRUE GRIT (Paramount) is a remake of the Oscar-winning John Wayne western by none other than the Coen Brothers. If that isn’t enough to whet your appetite, think Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper in the cast. Yeah, this is on my list of must-sees this holiday season too.

DECEMBER 29, 2010

ANOTHER YEAR (Sony Classics) is also opening in limited release. Not much was known about the plot at press time, but the director is the always-fascinating Mike Leigh and the stellar cast includes Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton. THE DEBT (Miramax) stars Helen Mirren as a former Mossad agent who discovers the man she brought in as a war criminal years ago may not have been the right one.

DECEMBER 31, 2010

BLUE VALENTINE (Weinstein) stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a couple whose marriage is on the rocks trying to save their relationship in the course of a single night.

HOW THEY DID LAST YEAR

AVATAR (Fox Searchlight) Budget: N/A but thought to be over $300M. Domestic Gross: $749.8M Total: $2.7B Verdict: MegaSuperGinormousBlockbuster. SHERLOCK HOLMES (Warner Brothers)  Budget: $90M. Domestic Gross: $209M Total: $523M Verdict: Blockbuster. INVICTUS (Warner Brothers) Budget: $60M. Domestic Gross: $37.5M Total: $122.2M Verdict: Broke Even. THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS (Sony Classics) Budget: $30M. Domestic Gross: $7.7M Total: $61.8M Verdict: Broke Even. IT’S COMPLICATED (Universal) Budget: $85M. Domestic Gross: $112.7M Total: $219.1M Verdict: Profitable. ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL (20th Century Fox) Budget: $75M. Domestic Gross: $219.6M Total: $443.1M Verdict: Blockbuster. ARMORED (Screen Gems) Budget: $20M. Domestic Gross: $16M Total: $20.9M Verdict: Flop. DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? (Columbia) Budget: $58M. Domestic Gross: $29.6M Total: $85.3M Verdict: Flop. BROTHERS (Lionsgate) Budget: $26M. Domestic Gross: $28.5M Total: $43M Verdict: Flop. THE LOVELY BONES (DreamWorks/Paramount) Budget: $65M. Domestic Gross: $44M Total: $93.5M Verdict: Flop.

So that’s our fall preview. There’s a fairly diverse set of movies here, and at least a couple of them potential blockbusters. As always, be aware that release dates are subject to change, particularly the farther out you go so be sure and check your local listings before going out to the multiplex. For those who have been disappointed with the crop of movies so far, take heart that 2011 is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory. You can see for yourself when the 2011 preview comes out at the end of December.

Four-Warned: September 2010


Devil

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.
The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.
Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief explanation
Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. DEVIL (1.9)
TIE. MACHETE (1.9)
3. WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (2.0)
4. THE AMERICAN (2.1)
TIE. RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (2.1)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. CATFISH (1.1)
2. WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN” (1.9)
3. NEVER LET ME GO (2.1)
4. A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP (2.3)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

SEPTEMBER 1, 2010

THE AMERICAN (Focus) Genre: Suspense Thriller. An American assassin prepares for one last job in an idyllic Italian village, not realizing that love may be deadlier than any bullet. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 I’m always up for anything George Clooney does.

SEPTEMBER 3, 2010

A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP (Sony Classics) Genre: Comedy Thriller. A Chinese remake of the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple, the owner of a noodle shop whose wife is cheating on him pays a patrolman to kill her, but the patrolman has his own agenda. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Director Zhang Yimou is in my opinion one of the top five directors on the planet; he has an amazing visual sense which makes this like catnip to me.
LAST TRAIN HOME (Zeitgeist) Genre: Documentary. The human cost of China’s economic ascent is measured in families separated by members working factory jobs far from home. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.6 A different look at China than we have ever seen.
MACHETE (20th Century Fox) Genre: Action. One of the faux trailers from Grindhouse gets its own feature film as an ultra-violent 70’s-style B-movie with a Latin flavor. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 Nobody does this kind of movie better than director Robert Rodriguez, except for maybe Quentin Tarantino.
MESRINE: PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1 (Music Box) Genre: True Crime/Gangster. Gangster Jacques Mesrine, an anti-hero who has captured the imagination of his native France, escapes from prison only to find the police closing in on him. Release Strategy: New York/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.6 The second of two films about the notorious gangster.
PRINCE OF BROADWAY (Elephant Eye) Genre: Drama. A Ghanaian immigrant to New York City finds himself unexpectedly charged with raising his baby. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 3.0 A New York story reminiscent of The Visitor.
WHITE WEDDING (Dada Films) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A bride’s perfect wedding is threatened when the groom goes to pick up his best man in a neighboring town. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 3.3 South Africa has been turning out some impressive movies of late.
THE WINNING SEASON (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Sports Comedy. An adult misfit is called upon to coach the local high school girls’ basketball team. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 Sam Rockwell stars in this, so that makes it of interest to me from the get-go.

SEPTEMBER 10, 2010

AHEAD OF TIME (Film First) Genre: Documentary. A documentary about the amazing life of 97-year-old Ruth Gruber, once the world’s youngest PhD and later a key member of the FDR administration and a journalist in the Middle East in the 1940s. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles September 24). RATING: 2.5 This is the kind of movie that always piques my interest; someone who I’ve never heard of yet had a profound effect on history.
BRAN NUE DAE (Freestyle) Genre: Musical. An aboriginal couple in Australia has a series of misadventures. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.7 One of Oz’s most popular stage musicals of all time but I wonder if it will translate for American audiences.
HEARTBREAKER (IFC) Genre: French Romantic Comedy. A young Frenchman who is hired to break up relationships falls in love with his target. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 The French are the best at romantic comedies, but this sounds a bit too much like My Best Friend’s Girl for comfort.
HIDEAWAY (Strand) Genre: Drama. After her boyfriend dies of a drug overdose, a pregnant young girl flees to a relative’s house far from Paris but is joined there by her dead boyfriend’s brother. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles September 17). RATING: 2.9 Sounds a bit melodramatic, but I have confidence that director Francois Ozon will make a terrific film.
I’M STILL HERE: THE LOST YEAR OF JOAQUIN PHOENIX (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. The star of Gladiator decides to retire from acting and reinvent himself as a hip-hop artist. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 A quirky doc that could be fascinating or could be surreal.
LEGENDARY (Goldwyn) Genre: Family Drama. A young boy seeks to reunite his family a decade after his father, a celebrated wrestling coach, passes away suddenly. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 Wrestler John Cena makes a dramatic turn as an actor; could he be the next Dwayne Johnson?
LOVELY, STILL (Monterey Media) Genre: Romantic Drama. A chance encounter leads a lonely elderly man into a romance that takes an unexpected turn. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Considering the leads are Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn, this one might be worth seeking out.
RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (Screen Gems) Genre: Horror Sci-Fi Action. Alice continues to find survivors of the zombie plague and try to lead them to safety but the Umbrella Corporation has a fiendish trap set for her and her team. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.1 This series has been the best videogame adaptation of them all.
THE ROMANTICS (Paramount Famous Productions) Genre: Dark Romantic Comedy. The night before a wedding, the bride and her friends go for a swim with the groom and return…minus the groom. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 Haven’t seen much about this one but Josh Duhamel is in it and I usually like him.
THE VIRGINITY HIT (Columbia) Genre: Sex Comedy. Three guys try to get their buddy, who is still a virgin, laid. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.0 Sounds to me like a raunchier version of The 40-Year-Old Virgin without Steve Carell, although Will Ferrell is a producer on this.

SEPTEMBER 15, 2010

NEVER LET ME GO (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Sci-fi Drama. A sheltered group of young people at a British boarding school discover a terrible fate awaiting them when they graduate. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 From what I can see this is a thought-provoking drama with sci-fi elements concerning what it means to be human – sounds intriguing to me.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2010

ALPHA AND OMEGA (Lionsgate) Genre: Animated Feature. Two wolves – one an Alpha female at the top of her pack, the other an Omega male at the bottom, must rely on each other to get back home. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 From the trailer, the animation looks just plain awful.
CATFISH (Rogue) Genre: Documentary. A young man’s Internet romance is documented by his filmmaker brother, only to turn into something completely different. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.1 One of the most amazing trailers I’ve ever seen – I’m hoping this will be the next Paranormal Activity-like buzz film.
DEVIL (Universal) Genre: Supernatural Horror. Four people are trapped on an elevator with someone who isn’t who they appear to be. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 A very interesting concept that could yield a pretty decent movie.
EASY A (Screen Gems) Genre: Teen Comedy. A teen girl lies about losing her virginity and discovers that she is being seen in a whole new light. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.5 Looks like a cross between The Scarlet Letter and High School Musical.
THE FREEBIE (Phase 4) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A married couple that has lost interest in sex gives each other a “freebie,” one night where anything goes with no questions asked, no repercussions. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.6 A very sexy concept but Dax Shepard, not one of my favorite actors, is the guy.
THE GIRL (Olive) Genre: Coming of Age Drama. A young girl left on her own by humanitarian parents and a bohemian aunt decides to take care of herself. Release Strategy: New York (opening in Los Angeles October 1). RATING: 3.1 Could be intriguing if the juvenile actress is solid enough.
JACK GOES BOATING (Relativity) Genre: Dramedy. A pair of shy, lonely New Yorkers begins to come out of their shells when they meet one another. Release Strategy: Limited (Expands September 24). RATING: 2.9 Very indie in concept but with the great Philip Seymour Hoffman headlining this could be a gem.
KANDAHAR BREAK (Peace Arch) Genre: War Drama. A British bomb disposal expert falls afoul of the ruling Taliban and must flee pre-9/11 Afghanistan on foot. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.9 Intriguing considering the production crew actually did come under fire from pro-Taliban forces while filming this.
PICTURE ME (Strand) Genre: Documentary. A look at the modern fashion model culture as seen through the eyes of Sara Ziff who went from juvenile model to world famous supermodel. Release Strategy: New York (Opening in Los Angeles September 24). RATING: 3.8 In all honesty given all the problems in the world, the problems of women who want to have glamorous pictures taken of them doesn’t really move me all that much.
THE TOWN (Warner Brothers) Genre: Crime Drama. A bank robber falls in love with a bank manager he took hostage and begins to court her, she being ignorant of his true identity. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 A very strong cast with Ben Affleck in the lead; yes, I know but Affleck has been very strong in supporting roles of late.
THE WILD HUNT (Hannover House) Genre: Thriller. A young man follows his girlfriend into a medieval re-enactment game that quickly gets out of hand. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Originally scheduled for July 16; hopefully that’s not a sign that this sucks.

SEPTEMBER 22, 2010

YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER (Sony Classics) Genre: Dramedy. A distinguished cast stars as a family trying to overcome tangled love lives and their tendencies to be their own worst enemies. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.6 Woody Allen has always been an acquired taste that I’ve never acquired.

SEPTEMBER 24, 2010

A MOTHER’S COURAGE (First Run) Genre: Documentary. Kate Winslet narrates the story of a woman who refuses to give up on her autistic son and works tirelessly to find a way to unlock his mind even when conventional medicine has turned its back on them. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 The story of an admirable fight that I might catch on cable someday.
BURIED (Lionsgate) Genre: Thriller. A contractor in Iraq awakens to find himself trapped in a coffin buried underground with only a dying cell phone, a lighter and limited air. Release Strategy: Limited (Opening Wide on October 8). RATING: 2.7 A hit at Sundance, but can it sustain my interest over the course of 90 minutes?
ENTER THE VOID (IFC) Genre: Supernatural Thriller. A small-time drug dealer shot in a police raid tries to fulfill his promise to his girlfriend even as his soul begins to leave this world. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 If done right this could be a very interesting film.
FRICTION (Hyrax) Genre: Dramedy. The lines between script and reality blur as a high school student writes a script about a love triangle. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Has gotten good reviews on the festival circuit.
HOWL (Oscilloscope Labs) Genre: Bio-Drama. Partially a biography of the life of beat poet Allen Ginsberg, partially a chronicle of the obscenity trial surrounding his masterpiece Howl and partially an animated ride through the landscape of the novel. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Ginsberg might have loved this but not so sure audiences will.
IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY (Focus) Genre: Dramedy. A teenager who checks himself into a mental institution is taken under the wing of a fellow inmate. Release Strategy: New York and Los Angeles only (although I’m seeing trailers at the AMC in Orlando so likely this will turn out to be limited release at some point). RATING: 3.0 It will be interesting to see if Zach Galifianakis is ready to take a critical supporting role in a movie that isn’t strictly comedic.
LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE (Warner Brothers) Genre: Animated Feature. A courageous young owl searches for legendary warriors to save the owls from the forces of evil. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.4 The 3D animation from 300 director Zack Snyder looks absolutely astonishing.
WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN” (Paramount Vantage) Genre: Documentary. The director of An Inconvenient Truth takes on the American education system. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 A timely film that will give night terrors to any parent hoping for something better for their children.
WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (20th Century Fox) Genre: Drama. 80s greed icon Gordon Gekko is released from prison, this time taking on his prospective son-in-law as a protégé. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Director Oliver Stone revisits characters and situations that are as relevant now as they were 20 years ago.
YOU AGAIN (Disney) Genre: Comedy. A young woman tries to prevent her brother from marrying her high school rival, only to discover that the rival’s aunt was her mom’s high school rival. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.4 Strong female cast including Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis and Betty White but the trailer didn’t really look good.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
The American, Machete, Devil, The Town, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps