If you’re craving variety and unpredictability in your movie weekend, then this weekend is for you. Still, most of the smart money seems to agree that the week’s likely fiscal winner is Spike Jonze’s new PG-rated adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s multi-layered picture book classic, “Where the Wild Things Are.” The family film boasts an outstanding cast, both onscreen and as voice talent, including Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, and Forest Whitaker. It’s also got a director synonymous with high-quality and not-quite-mainstream fare and its hep cred is further bolstered by the name of bestselling author and McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers on the screenplay. Best of all, commercially speaking, it’s based on a book that’s been read and loved by practically everyone. All told, it seems like a canny blending of mainstream recognition, family appeal, and more than a dash of arthouse appeal, but therein may lie the difficulty.
This is a film that really should bit a big hit with critics, and its advertising certainly sells the film’s visual beauty — always a plus with cinephile critics. However, it turns out our David Medskar’s very mild 3/5 star review is pretty typical of the critical reaction. Rating a good-but-not-great 68% Fresh on the Rotten Tomatoes scoreboard, critics are expressing sentiments similar to Dave, who found it “lacking in terms of emotional weight.” Since emotional weight — laughter and tears, etc. — not arresting filmmaking technique — is what most people are looking for at the movies, you have to wonder about whether the film will show any legs over the long term. Still, jolly Carl DiOrio’s prediction of a $25-30 million dollar weekend seems more than reasonable given the audience’s voracious appetite for strong family films with cross-generational appeal. On the other hand, Disney’s decision to extend the run of the 3-D double bill of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” could cut into the “Wild” numbers just a bit with a terrific package of tried-and-true family fair bolstered by the appeal of 3-D. For some decidedly non-kid-friendly fair, Director F. Gary Gray and writer Kurt Wimmer’s “Law Abiding Citizen” boasts two more or less A-list leads as Jamie Foxx portrays as a careerist D.A. pitted against against tragedy stricken family man turned imprisoned vigilante serial killer played by Gerard Butler. I think Butler has starred in like 200 million mainstream movies this year. None of those movies has been a hit with the critics so far, and “Citizen” is no exception.
For more information on fighting hard drugs among our nation’s preschoolers and first graders, see the FSITO website.
Now, before you decide to come after me for giving free publicity to really sketchy charities, be aware that this is a nice bit of viral marketing for the upcoming seventies blaxsploitation spoof, “Black Dynamite,” which I was fortunate to see at the Los Angeles Film Festival two months back. From cowriter/director Scott Sanders and cowriter star Michael Jai White (“Spawn”), it’s easily the funniest and best made comedy genre homage in a very long time, and its marketing isn’t bad either. The movie’s official site is worth a look, too.
Things may be somewhat winding down as the con’s final day unspools, but there was plenty of big movie stuff yesterday.
* I attended part of a live event that was basically the equivalent of a nifty Blu-Ray disc feature for the “Watchmen” director’s cut Blu-Ray disc, in which director Zack Snyder (“300“) performed a live commentary that was really more of an Q&A with users of the “BD Live” feature for the disc and audience members. What I saw didn’t quite rock my world in terms of the level of discussion. When asked whether the Comedian is a good guy or a bad guy, his answer was words to the effect of “I don’t know. That’s kind of the point.” Things were also light in terms of techno-geekery, slightly to my disappointment and slightly to my relief.
Here’s what bugs me, rightly or wrongly: Snyder has basically finished making two huge comic-book adaptations from opposite sides of the political spectrum — not necessarily overtly, but very clearly in their background — and he hasn’t seemed to notice. I’m a political animal by nature, so that kind of baffles me. Not everybody has to be super-political, but morality and politics is very much at the heart of “Watchmen” at least, and I don’t know how you can make the film without having more of a position on it. Also, Snyder says he hasn’t decided whether or not Veidt/Ozymandias is gay or whether Rorschach might have issues there as well. I’m not saying he had to publicly out any fictional characters, but it’s sort of conventional wisdom (and wise wisdom, I think) that a writer or a director should know that kind of detail for himself about major characters in his film, much as the actors also need to , though sometimes they can make differing calls on those matters. It has to do with committing.
There was also some mention, and free XL polyester t-shirts, for Snyder’s new project, “Sucker Punch.”
One side benefit of the busy, slightly weird and somewhat fouled-up time I’ve been having at the Los Angeles Film Festival is that I’ve only had time to watch films I’ve especially wanted to see. That’s prevented the joy (so far) of making an unexpected discovery, which is definitely part of the fun of film festivals. On the other hand, I’ve liked all the films I’ve seen (so far). “Black Dynamite,” a spoof of the seventies blaxsploitation genre, is one I’ve been wanting to see since the filmmakers’ commendably aggressive PR people sent me a trailer — and a very cool (but inexpensively seventies-esque) t-shirt — a couple of years back via my personal blog.
Fortunately, the wait, the slog through Hollywood traffic on the somewhat spooky evening of Michael Jackson’s death (not as bad as it could have been, actually), and even some technical problems on the first attempt to run through the film all proved to be very much worth it. Directed by Scott Sanders and co-written with actor and martial artist Michael Jai White (“Spawn,” “The Dark Knight“), this is just your basic story of a superhuman ex-CIA agent, able to take out a roomful of bad guys and satisfy a roomful of women, who sets out to avenge the death of his brother, stop the scourge of hard drugs at orphanages, and also deal with a brand of malt liquor that turns out to have a truly disturbing side effect.
The brilliance of Sanders and White’s approach here is the faithfulness they maintain to their source material while sending it up shamelessly. It happily exaggerates the cinematic flaws of actual blaxsploitation and its often unbelievable plots and absurd dialogue, taking several increasingly silly turns as the film unspools, but always with a completely straight face and an apparent complete lack of irony. The approach propels the comedy far further than less disciplined spoofs.
In a video interview conducted with writer David Poland after its debut at Sundance, Scott Sanders said he and White approached it not so much as a movie starring Michael Jai White as Black Dynamite and directed by Sanders, but a movie featuring Michael Jai White playing seventies-era ex-football player Ferante Jones playing Black Dynamite, and directed by Sanders “playing” a seventies director.