This Weekend at the Movies: Transform Your 4th of July, Hanks Style

There are big weekends, and then there are MASSIVE weekends. The release of a new Michael Bay movie, the third film in the TRANSFORMERS franchise at that, makes this a gigantic weekend. But if robots aren’t up your alley, maybe Tom Hanks is. If not them, perhaps Selena Gomez. If none of those, screw you!

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

When director Michael Bay was out stumping for the first Transformers film, he said that he’d love to make a small, character-driven film, just for a change of pace, but that he can’t help but make these huge gigantic movies because he’s afraid they’ll just stop making them. And while that seems absolutely insane with summer blockbusters trying to outdo each other year after year, there doesn’t seem to be any bigger movie this summer than Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Sporting a relatively modest Rotten Tomatoes score of 36% (the first scored 57, the second a mere 20), reviews tend to be on the side of “it’s fun, sure, but c’mon, robots?” Though even the negative reviews mostly note that the climax – a nearly hour-long rampage through downtown Chicago – is staggering to behold. And in 3D. In a relatively modest summer at the box office, with few breakaway hits, this could be one of the few huge ones.

Larry Crowne

I was always disappointed that Tom Hanks didn’t direct another movie after That Thing You Do, one of the most assured directorial debuts and a very fine music film that also, miraculously, gave us one of the greatest pop songs of all time. And while Larry Crowne is kind of taking a beating in the press, scoring lower than Dark of the Moon on Rotten Tomatoes, I know I’m not the only one perfectly happy to head out for a new Tom Hanks movie. This one concerns a middle-aged man (Hanks) who, after getting fired from his job for having never gone to college (which seems like a bad reason to fire somebody, but I guess we’ll see), sets out to do just that. And maybe kiss Julia Roberts in the process. MAYBE.

Monte Carlo

In a plot that could ALMOST be a screwball comedy, Selena Gomez is mistaken for an heiress and taken on a whirlwind tour of, you guessed it, Monte Carlo. The difference is that Selena Gomez plays two roles. And that the movie also provides a launching pad for a new hit single. Claudette Colbert would have none of that. NONE OF THAT.

Stay tuned next week for an ensemble comedy with a great cast, and a family “comedy” with Kevin James.

  

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A roundtable chat with director Nigel Cole of “Made in Dagenham”

Nigel Cole is not the kind of director who becomes a hot topic on AICN with his action masterworks, nor is he the kind of helmer who makes cinephile hearts go aflutter with his unusual directing technique and highly idiosyncratic world view. That isn’t to say that Cole’s latest, “Made in Dagenham,” lacks a certain amount of flair. It’s style, however, takes a definite backseat to clever writing and consistently good, and sometimes remarkably outstanding, performances. Nothing at all wrong with that, especially in a world lacking in good movies about women, as well as movies you can, give or take a little British cursing, safely take Aunt Minnie or Uncle Irv to see. Indeed, even hardened cinephiles should appreciate this well-made and intelligent, if comfortably unambitious and deliberately crowd-pleasing, comedy based on a crucial but overlooked episode from late 20th century British history.

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Written by William Ivory and saddled with a ridiculous R-rating, “Dagenham” is the partially fictionalized story of how the entirely fictional Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) moves from anonymous factory worker and devoted wife and mother to working full-time as a leader of what amounts to a nationwide labor movement. Bob Hoskins portrays an idealistic and goodhearted union leader who sets Rita on a path that at first has her leading the opposition to an unfair job classification for female textile workers at Ford Motors, and later has her deeply involved with a nationwide movement taking on the entire idea of paying men more than women simply because they are men.

Though supported by her loving but at times clueless husband (Daniel Mays), an extended strike creates inevitable strains. The story resolves itself as the affair gets the attention of real-life Labour Party legend, Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson, in a typically biting and hilarious turn), the first woman to attain cabinet status in a British government. Along the way, subplots involve the troubled marriage of her older best friend (Geraldine James) and her chance encounter with the “enemy,” Rosamund Pike as a fellow mom at her son’s school who also happens to be married to a key member of Ford Management (Rupert Graves).

Previously best known for the art-house hit “Calendar Girls” and his first feature, “Saving Grace,” a comedy about an aging pot grower starring Brenda Blethyn and Craig Ferguson, Cole comes across like the down-to-earth bloke you might expect to be behind this kind of a film. Middle-aged and not particularly pretty, he introduced himself as Sally Hawkins, who we’d be meeting a bit later alongside Miranda Richardson, for another roundtable chat, getting the expected laugh from the table full of entertainment journalists.

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Hard days at the office #5: Business language and Ms. Brockovich

I could have gone in a lot of different and rather obvious directions for the last entry in this series of clips from work-related movies, “Office Space” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” being but two of the more obvious possibilities. However, when it comes to productions that really capture the feeling of struggling to get a job in the real world, and then keeping it and balancing it with other commitments, Steven Soderbergh’s deceptively modest “Erin Brockovich” is one of the very few that really seems to get it.

I would have edited this series of clips a lot differently, but it does give a feeling for the movie. (If you remember “Erin Brockovich” at all you’ll know this is NSFW. Actually, if you put up a camera in most offices and then ran it on YouTube, it would probably be NSFW.)

A bonus and a bit more commentary after the flip.

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Movie news for a no longer new week

A fair amount of stuff happening…

* Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts may star, and Stephen Daldry might direct, an adaptation of a 9/11 themed novel by Jonathan Safran Foer called Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Lou Loumenick is, I’m sure, not the only one to hope the project never happens. The backlash against author Foer seems to be going full-steam. Since I”ve never read anything by him and missed the movie version of his “Everything is Illuminated,” I’m completely in the dark on this one.

* I mentioned in a tongue-in-cheek way on Sunday that, despite a fairly disappointing $10 million showing for “Piranha 3D” over the weekend, given the modest $24 million, I thought a sequel a possibility. I certainly didn’t expect this quick a turn-around, but there you go. Seems the foreign returns, combined with an okay take domestically on the famished fish tale were sufficient to justify another go-round at this price level.

* One person who I know for a fact to be delighted by the “Piranha” news is film blogger and devoted horror dad Dennis Cozzalio who reviewed — and kind of loved — the movie for the Bullz-Eye team this week, doing us all a solid as everyone in the staff was indisposed in one way or another. (My infamous gorephobia wasn’t helping any, either.) Coincidentally, Dennis’s excellent and already world-famous cinephile blog — Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule — got a little more world famous today through the attention from the lofty likes of Richard Brody of The New Yorker today. The topic, strangely enough, was the work of the late action director Sergio Leone. The infield fly rule will have to take care of itself for now.

* Oh, and if you reaction to the idea of a sequel to the aforementioned silly horror flick was “when pigs fly!” the great Japanese animator Hiyao Miyazaki has a planned sequel for you.

* It’s too sad to mention in this silly context, but it also seems wrong to ignore it and I don’t know how else to handle this. Sincere condolences to comic actor Martin Short and his family. Extremely tragic news regarding his wife.

* Apparently, unlike most /Film commenters, I actually do care that there’s may be a “Fantastic Four” reboot as they’ve always been my favorite Marvel characters, but I couldn’t even make it past the oh-so-thin first half-hour of the first movie. Why not reclaim a lost opportunity? Casting rumors, however, I never care about. Actual casting news gets really old sometimes.

* If movies are making you sick, it might not be just the content. Nah, it’s probably the content.

* The Playlist is correct. Pedro Almodovar’s new film is definitely high up on my list of highly anticipated movies for next year. It’s nice to see the Spanish director reteam with Antonio Banderas, who appeared in four of the director’s early successes starting with “Matador” in 1986 and wrapping with the controversial “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” in 1991.

However, they’ll forgive us for anticipating even more the next film from Winnipeg’s own resident eccentric cine-genius Guy Madden, which will feature Isabella Rosellini, Jason Patric, and Sir Simon Milligan himself, Kevin McDonald of The Kids in the Hall comedy troupe. No insult to Mr. Patric, but his costars appear to be two of the coolest humans extant as far as we’re concerned here at PH. Ms. Rosellini gave a great interview to Will Harris some time back, and Mr. MacDonald has a terrific career-spanning chat over at the Onion which brings up the fact that, in drag, MacDonald has a small visual similarity to the luminous Ms. R.

* The end of one of modern journalism’s greatest hates? Sharon Waxman extends an olive branch to Nikki Finke. This could be interesting.

* Capone at AICN has a great interview with thinking geeks’ favorite Guillermo del Toro. A couple of items that were new to me, anyway: it’s far from a sure thing he’ll be directing “The Haunted Mansion” though he’s definitely producing and cowriting. Also, del Toro is now openly hoping that Peter Jackson will wind up as helming “The Hobbit” after all.

  

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Weekend box office: “The Expendables” kills with men; “Eat Pray Love” shines for women; the world defeats “Scott Pilgrim”

The ExpendablesI doubt he follows box office grosses, but like one of the books by right-leaning humorist/pundit P.J. O’Rourke, this weekend most certainly could have been entitled Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut. To be specific, Jason Statham is still two years shy of his 40th birthday, but he’s an infant compared to most of the cast of writer-director-star Sylvester Stallone‘s “The Expendables.”

The action flick, about mercenaries hired ostensibly to overthrow a repressive Latin American regime, relied on the very sound box office logic that if one or two super-macho action stars could lead to reasonably dependable ticket sales even when well past their physical peak, eight very grown-up action stars (counting two superstar cameos) was more or less a sure thing. More or less as predicted by everyone, the bloody R-rated actioner earned just over an estimated $35 million for Lions Gate. So says the mighty Box Office Mojo weekend chart.

Also, while Julia Roberts is substantially younger than Stallone, the early forties are not young in actress years. Her many female fans, and the fans of the popular memoir, “Eat Pray Love,” embraced that maturity to the tune of an estimated $23.7 million for Sony. The studio spent a perhaps excessive $60 million on the flick, though the film clearly needed a star like Roberts to open like this, so her reported $10 million salary was probably worth it for the studio.

Sony had a decent weekend overall, with last weekend’s #1 film, “The Other Guys” suffering an average drop of just under 50% and earning an estimated $18 million in third place. Warner’s very leggy “Inception” held firm with an estimated $11.37 million getting into fourth place in its fifth week.

Then we have “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” The Pilgrim reception is inducing nasty flashbacks of past would be “viral” successes with its estimated $10.525 million. The film may well do better over the long run as it’s already a huge cult success, if you think about it, and the international numbers could always be different. Being “big in Japan” has certainly saved a lot of bands, why not Mr. Pilgrim?

However, it cost a not-tiny $60 million (including various credits and rebates for the Toronto-based films, says Anthony D’Allesandro) and was pretty much the talk of the Internet film geek sites for most of the summer. It also reportedly has done very well with the people who’ve actually seen it, both anecdotally and, according to Anthony D’Allesandro, according to Cinemascore. It should have done a lot better.

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Behold the power of the Internet…to make fans bored with a movie before it comes out, while still leaving non-fans out in the cold.  More about this in a post to come later in the week, after the “actuals” come out. I will say I thought “Scott Pilgrim” would beat “Kick-Ass” as it theoretically should appeal to a wider audience, except that the superhero jet-black comedy actually made about $19 million on its below-expectations opening. As the man said, no one knows anything.

Meanwhile in limited release, the second highest per-screen average went to a decent opening for the intriguing Aussie crime thriller “Animal Kingdom” and “Get Low.” The folksy melodrama — which didn’t make me or anyone else in the audience I saw it with laugh much but some insist on calling a comedy drama — continues to get reasonably high at the box office despite my poor review and my delayed write-up of the press conference with charming stars/acting legends Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek, which I promise you’ll be seeing before much longer. I truly don’t see the appeal, but Oscar hopes are growing for this one. More on limited releases, as usual, at Indiewire.

  

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