It’s time for another look at (relatively) recent Blu-Rays and DVDs aimed at the hardcore movie lover — though more casual viewers looking for something beyond Hollywood’s latest mass-market offerings are certainly allowed to kibitz at the Corner as well. Today’s selections are from Hollywood, off-Hollywood, England, and France and were made mostly in the 1930s or the 1970s, though we will be looking at one from 1998 — only yesterday!
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.
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.”
Next 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.
Director Nicholas Ray’s bombastic follow-up to “Rebel Without a Cause” failed in 1956, but has become a cinephile favorite despite being available only at museums and on Fox Movie Channel and TCM. Now presented fully restored and in a ultra-first-rate Criterion edition, film geeks may be entranced by Ray’s outlandish use of widescreen and color, but it also stands as one of the most profoundly emotional and disturbing of classic-era Hollywood melodramas.
James Mason (who also produced) stars as Ed Avery, a kindly suburban schoolteacher struck by a rare, painful, and deadly illness. The only path to survival is a new “wonder drug,” in this case cortisone, a steroid. In time, Avery seems recovered, except that he is slowly becoming a control-obsessed tyrant and drug addict with delusions of grander prone to increasingly extreme reactionary diatribes. Of course, his loving and too dutiful wife (Barbara Rush) and devoted young son (Christopher Olson) suffer. His health-obsessed P.E. teacher best friend (Walter Matthau, terrific in one of his earliest film roles) experiences some discomfort as well, but mid-fifties people were far more naive than we are now about science-driven “miracle cures.” “Bigger than Life” could have been called “Fascist With a Chemical Cause.” (Ray was the prototypical “Hollywood liberal.”) At heart, however, it is an exploration of the potential for madness underlying all family life and quite a baroque one. “Bigger Than Life” treats the potential dissolution of a family somewhat like sci-fi horror and, in this case, it kind of is.
In honor of the biannual TCA and the arrival to our fine coast by PH’s own Will Harris, I’ll be doing a few movie moments that relate to the movies’ media sibling. Let’s just say that the rivalry’s been fierce at times. This spookily contemporary-feeling clip is from Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan’s 1957 “A Face in the Crowd.” Andy Griffith might seem “country” here, but he’s a very long way from Mayberry.
I’m trying to get out of the house this evening for a change, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I jump the gun slightly on this week’s b.o. preview. That means we won’t be hearing from Bullz-Eye critics this week or some of my other usual suspects, though updates are not impossible if something earth shattering grabs my attention.
Anyhow, we’ve got an interesting weekend shaping up as two superstar vehicles, starring a total of three veteran megastars, do battle with yet another ultra-powerful Pixar/Disney feature, “Up,” and a genuine sleeper, “The Hangover.” In fact, the modest, no-star, R-rated comedy surprised almost everyone last week by narrowly defeating the wildly popular PG Pixar film.
As the Hollywood Reporter‘s Carl DiOrio reminds us, the well-received comedy did about twice as well as it was expected to do (and it was already expected to do quite well), grabbing $45 million on its opening weekend and additionally doing strong business during the week, when some of us adults decide to hit the movies. Variety says largely the same thing.
Still, there is one potential powerhouse this week in what, again per DiOrio, turns out to be the third version of the NYC subway thriller, “The Taking of Pelham 123,” first seen in 1974 with Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, and then again in a 1998 TV movie with Edward James Olmos and Vincent D’Onofrio. This a fifty-something superstar two-for-one package in which Denzel Washington’s transit nerd will face off against badass hijacker John Travolta, backed up by a very strong supporting cast led by James Gandolfini, who seems to be getting the best reviews of anyone connected with the film.
Indeed, the critical consensus on this one is not especially kind, perhaps hurt by the recent resurgence of interest/respect for the original film by those of us in the Filmgeek-American community. Critics can’t help comparing it to the compelling and blackly humorous original. The Onion‘s always interesting Nathan Rabin has hard words for “L.A. Confidential” screenwriter Brian Helgeland (stepping into the shoes of Peter Stone, one of the wittiest screen-scribes of his day), hyper-maximalist director Tony Scott, and especially the former Vinnie Barbarino:
John Travolta’s wildly successful post-comeback crusade to become synonymous with crap continues with…Tony Scott’s bracingly awful remake/desecration of the classic ‘70s thriller. The miscalculations begin with Travolta’s distractingly Tetris-shaped facial hair—long rectangular sideburns paired with a geometric Fu Manchu—and extend to every facet of the production. Cursed with following in the outsized footsteps of world-class heavy Robert Shaw, Travolta devours the scenery; his performance is 0% inspiration, 100% perspiration.
Nevertheless, a picture like this is not made or broken by reviews, though word of mouth (or word of Blackberry and text message or cell phone) is another story. It’s expected to do well, and possibly hit the #2 spot, but I wouldn’t bet on it doing any better. On the other hand, it’s got Denzel Washington, who should never be discounted. (And, for pity’s sake, read my new Bullz-Eye feature on the actor’s back catalog: “Washington Insiders.” Plug, plug, plug.)
Expectations are more modest for a new family vehicle for Eddie Murphy from Nickelodeon, “Imagine That.” The film pairs Murphy in a comedic father-daughter situation with young Yara Shahidi. Between a rather soft premise and that Nickelodeon imprimatur, especially with a sub-meh 36% on RT, it’s hard to imagine this one having much appeal outside of pre-tween girls, die-hard Eddie fans, and families who’ve already seen “Up” five times. Still, the family mojo is always good for something. Let’s see if our nation’s dutiful parents push this one into the top five or six… [Update: I also note, via our own now-linked to review by David Medsker, that the premise is somewhat simliar to both “Up” (which I haven’t seen yet) and the Adam Sandler vehicle “Bedtime Stories” (which I will likely never see, not matter how accurate Dave is when he says that Keri Russell “oozes cuteness”…if she oozes anything, that would be it). Though Dave has some mild kind words for the Murphy film, I don’t think that it helps with its’ appeal much, either.]
That’s pretty much it except for three interesting films in limited release. For starters, we have a well-reviewed (though not ecstatically so), moody science fiction film called “Moon” from Duncan Jones — who can’t escape being David Bowie‘s son — with Sam Rockwell as a cloned astronaut and Kevin Spacey as the voice of a HAL-9000/Marvin-the-Paranoid-Android-esque ship’s computer. Film geeks will also be curious about a new film from filmic godfather Francis Ford Coppola, “Tetro” which has been getting a mixed response. (Currently 50% at RT — that’s pretty precisely mixed.) It’s opening just on the coasts.
It’s also only opening in L.A. and New York, but look to be hearing more about the new RT 95 percenter documentary “Food, Inc.“, on the hot topic of the politics of what we’re all eating, as the year wears on. It’s also got a great trailer — the notional tomatoes are on me.