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Box Office Preview: Board Games, Pregnancy, and something like ‘Borat’ 2


The Dictator

At this point if you don’t know what you’re getting walking into a Sacha Baron Cohen movie, you’ve probably never seen a Sacha Baron Cohen movie. That’s not to say “The Dictator” won’t be funny, but if you’re expecting 100 percent originality, you might want to look elsewhere.

“The Dictator” is the story of a North African, you guessed it, dictator, who’s called to answer for his crimes in front of the UN in New York. Believe it or not, it’s loosely based on a romance novel allegedly written by Saddam Hussein. Yeah, that Saddam Hussein, and yeah, romance. Anyway, when John C. Reilly strips him of his beard, nobody believes he’s a dictator anymore, so he has to find his way working in a food co-op with Anna Faris.

Fish out of water on the mean streets of America? Sounds an awful lot like “Borat,” but if it’s funny, who cares? I guess that raises the question, is “The Dictator” funny? The film is sitting at a 63 percent on the Tomatometer, so it’s probably more “Borat” (good) than “Bruno” bad. One thing the film has to set it apart from Baron Cohen’s previous work is that it’s not in his trademark interview-heavy mockumentary format. This probably means “The Dictator” sacrifices the more outrageous comedy that comes from duping public figures and nobodies alike for a semi-coherent plot.


Battleship

Now “Transformers” I get, theoretically anyway. There are characters, good guys and bad guys. It’s shit, but it makes sense, and more importantly it had Megan Fox. But a movie based on Battleship, the board game?

Apparently “Battleship” has a plot, but I’ll leave that explanation for Jason in his Bullz-Eye review. I imagine there are ships involved. Anyway, this movie looks like a turd. It’s at a 35 percent on the Tomatometer, and the consensus over there is that the film is “too loud, poorly written, and formulaic to justify its expense.” Jason’s viewpoint was a bit more optimistic:

But while the film does feel a little bit too much like a Michael Bay explosion-rama at times, to my surprise, it works remarkably well as a mindless piece of popcorn entertainment. It won’t wow you in any way, but “Battleship” knows that it’s big, dumb summer fun, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more.

If that’s the case, so be it. But I have a question, and I’m being completely serious here: what is the world of Hollywood writing coming to when we’re getting movies based on 70-year old board games? What’s next, the Monopoly man going on a Godzilla-like rampage through the streets of Tokyo? Terrorists knocking down buildings with a voodoo Jenga tower? Thank you Screencrush for the ideas, but sad as it may be “Battleship” is a real thing, so there’s no more time for mockery, moving on.


What to Expect When You’re Expecting

It’s a romantic comedy, so already we know what we’re getting into here, don’t we? There will be cliches, love, a second act rife with conflict, and ultimately, a happy ending. But every once in a while a movie comes along that breaks the mold, throwing all those banal stereotypes into a pot and coming out with something great. This is not that movie. Let me repeat again, because I know eyes can wander over a word or two: this is not that movie.

That fact is especially unfortunate when you look at the film’s star-studded cast, which includes Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Chris Rock, Thomas Lennon (“Reno 911!”), Rodrigo Santoro (like 4 episodes of “Lost”), as well as the recent success of “Think Like a Man,” which was also based on a self-help book.

If I could guess, and I can, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” tells the story of a number of couples, each with their own relationship problems centering around pregnancy and child-rearing. It really doesn’t matter, this movie is at a 23 percent on the Tomatometer. As such, you should avoid it like the plague.

If you’re looking for a recommendation this weekend, I’ll say “The Avengers,” just like last week and the week before, and yes, even if you’ve already seen it. Now, last week I also recommended “Dark Shadows” to big Johnny Depp or Tim Burton fans. The same goes here, “The Dictator” is sure to be enjoyable for fans of Sacha Baron Cohen’s work.

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Hidden Netflix Gems – The Extra Man

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

The Extra Man is a rather unconventional film about a pair of very unconventional characters. Louis Ives (Paul Dano) is a young aspiring playwright who moves to New York City after an embarrassing incident that forces him to quit his job. He meets and moves in with Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), a former professor and playwright who now works as an “extra man,” which he stresses is not the same as a gigolo, or even a male escort; first of all, he doesn’t receive money for his services, and secondly, he doesn’t engage in anything sexual with the wealthy older women who hire him. Instead, he says, he brings a certain air of respectability and class to his engagements, in exchange for gifts and fine meals. In the meantime, he lives the sort of penniless existence that occasionally requires him to paint his ankles and calves with shoe polish in order to disguise the fact that he has forgotten to buy socks, which he says may have the added benefit of killing some of the fleas that inhabit him.

Louis is duly fascinated by Henry’s eccentric, acerbic ways, and Kline delivers one of the best performances of his career, mining big laughs from lines like, “I’m against the education of women. It dulls their senses and effects their performance in the boudoir.” He also rails against such practices as recycling and charity to the homeless, which makes an interesting contrast to Louis’ newfound job at an environmental magazine, where he develops a crush on his vegan, uber-green co-worker, Mary Powell (Katie Holmes). Louis is also fascinated by Henry’s mysterious, bearded neighbor, Gershon Gruen (John C. Reilly), who can be heard through the vents each morning singing beautifully as he showers. Louis is hiding his own eccentricity from his new friends, and without giving away too much about the course this particular character development takes, I will say it is perhaps the most sensitive, realistic exploration of heterosexual cross-dressing since Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.

Co-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, adapting a novel by Bored to Death scribe Jonathan Ames, clearly share Louis’ attraction to cranky oddballs such as Henry, as evidenced in their excellent first feature, American Splendor. Henry has much in common with that film’s protagonist, Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti), though there is a misplaced sense of class superiority in Henry that Harvey would undoubtedly abhor. Still, as mean-spirited and narrow-minded as Henry often seems to be, it is difficult as an audience member not to share in this fascination; as Louis says at one point, “You have a strange power over people, Henry,” to which Henry replies, “It’s my constant disapproval. People think it fatherly.” He might not be someone most of us would actually want to live with, but Henry is a wonderful cinematic creation, and probably Kline’s funniest role since A Fish Called Wanda. Though The Extra Man has much else to recommend it, it is this central character that buoys the film, and brings added life to all around him.

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Count the 1980s movie references with the cast of “Take Me Home Tonight”

Okay, I personally think John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei kind of cornered the market on humorous interpretations of the Human League kitsch classic, “Don’t You Want Me, Baby?” in “Cyrus.” Still, Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer and (very briefly) Demetri Martin come pretty close in this nicely done promotional video for the upcoming 1980s-set coming of age comedy, “Take Me Home Tonight,” featuring the band, Atomic Tom.

Yep, you did catch Michael Biehn in there. He plays Grace’s policeman dad in the movie.

I’m currently embargoed from reviewing “Take Me Home Tonight,” but let’s just say that as someone who has been tired of the 1980s since the 1980s and has been tired of coming of age films even longer, my expectations were kind of shattered. What do I mean by that? You’ll have to wait. In the meantime, you can see my earlier post on the red band trailer.

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Box office preview: Will “Just Go With It” flow well? Will “Never Say Never” make Bieliebers of us all?

This is the first weekend in some time when we have more than a couple of new movies opening wide and it’s a weird one. We’ve got a powerhouse team of A-listers vying for first place against a 16 year-old musical phenom whose talent is, as least in the opinion of most adults and nearly all males, vastly less than phenomenal. Gotta love show biz.

If you’re betting on this weekend, you should probably demand some odds if your choice for the #1 spot is not “Just Go With It.” At least on paper, this is a smartly designed movie in terms of attracting a mass audience. To be stereotypical about it, there’s a little romance for the women, and little raunchy comedy for the men and a slightly unusual pairing of rom-com reliable Jennifer Aniston and raunch-com superstar Adam Sandler.

Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston in

The cinematic seers and soothsayers referenced over at the L.A. Times and THR differ only very slightly in suggesting that the comedy from Sony/Columbia, will do something in the neighborhood of $30 million, or perhaps a bit more. Neither Aniston nor Sandler have ever been critical darlings and their latest outing isn’t changing that.

The strange aspect of this is that the film is an unheralded remake of 1969′s “Cactus Flower,” which had a screenplay adapted by the later-career collaborator of Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, and starred Walter Matthau and my hugest crush ever, Ingrid Bergman, in the roles now inhabited by Sandler and Anniston. I’ve liked both Sandler and Anniston in movies from time to time but, my God, talk about devolution. I’ve never seen model-turned-actress Brooklyn Decker in anything, so I’ll spare her the comparison to Goldie Hawn, who won an Oscar for her role.

Meanwhile, there’s more than a little mystery about just how much Paramount’s “Justin Beiber: Never Say Never” will make. Apparently, Beiber’s very young, very female fan base is defying marketers’ ability to measure and predict the results for this 3D docu-concert flick. The really weird part of all this is that, of all four movies being released this week, the biographical documentary has the best reviews with a respectable enough 64% Fresh rating over a Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. A sad commentary, perhaps, or just another sign of the show biz apocalypse. Could this film actually top the week’s box office? Probably not, but never say “never.”

Gnomeo and JulietNext is the 3D animated comedy, “Gnomeo and Juliet.” Disney apparently wanted to keep this one at arm’s length and is releasing it through Touchstone, usually reserved for racier properties, despite the film’s G-rating. My hunch is that animation chief John Lasseter felt the rom-com suitable for the very young wasn’t quite up to snuff all around. The reviews, however, are not completely awful and the voice cast — which includes James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Sir Michael Caine, Dame Maggie Smith and, in a voice-acting debut, Jason Statham — is beyond first rate. It also boasts music by Elton John and parents can also feel like they’re prepping their kids for Shakespeare even if this is comedy and not tragedy. So, the guess of $15-20 million seems reasonable enough to me.

Finally, we’ve got swords, sandals, Channing Tatum, and Jamie Bell in “The Eagle.” No one seems very excited about this costume actioner and that non-excitement seems to be communicating itself through some underwhelming box office guesses to match its deeply “meh” notices.

In limited release in some 16 theaters according to Box Office Mojo, the world always needs a good, or half-way decent, comedy and the large majority of critics seem to agree that “Cedar Rapids” is just that. With a cast of tip-top comedy veterans including Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, and Anne Heche, among others, it’s hard not to have an upbeat attitude about this one.

Ed Helms and Anne Heche are in

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Wednesday night trailer: “Cedar Rapids” is excitement central

A new guy-centric comedy that’ll be premiering at Sundance (!) directed by Miguel Arteta. Ed Helms and John C. Reilly head a very interesting cast that also includes Anne Heche and the eternally underrated Stephen Root. (Sigourney Weaver is actually supposed to be in this movie, but you’d never know it from the trailer.)

This one made me laugh but it was much funnier the first time I watched than the second, and that’s not always the case with me. Anyhow, John C. Reilly has pretty much a direct route to my funnybone, but what is it about Ed Helms and befriending hookers in these movies?

H/t Mike Fleming.

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