Home > Vulture News > THE WEEKEND MARQUEE: ‘The Book Of Eli’ And ‘Spy Next Door’ Team Up To De-Throne ‘Avatar’; Indie ‘Fish Tank’ Arrives With Great Buzz

THE WEEKEND MARQUEE: ‘The Book Of Eli’ And ‘Spy Next Door’ Team Up To De-Throne ‘Avatar’; Indie ‘Fish Tank’ Arrives With Great Buzz


Hollywood is no stranger to dystopian road movies (from Mad Max to Children of Men). The Book Of Eli, where Denzel Washington plays that typical kind of anti-hero who holds the key to the survival of humankind in a post-apocalyptic world, is the latest one. In an interview with Collider last December, Washington said that the appeal of the movie is that its about the search for a higher power, something that everybody goes through in life and can easily relate to:

So I think there’s that – there is a thirst for that but, you know, as a classic battle between God and the Devil or even more specifically for the character of Eli, I mean, he’s five days’ walk from the promised land, if you will, for taking this book where it belongs, and literally all hell breaks loose. So I think that’s sort of a metaphor for life, how when good things happen, you can be tested. It’s like there’s a saying there’s no testimony without a test, and we’re all tested in some way, so I liked the idea of the spiritual journey that this young man takes or old man takes.

The Book of Eli is directed by Albert and Allen Hughes, the brother team behind Menace II Society, Dead Presidents and From Hell, their last directorial effort all the way back in 2001. The original book_of_eli_ver2screenplay is by Gary Whitta (his first one) and the cast features such standout performers as Gary Oldman, Tom Waits, Mila Kunis and Jennifer Beals.

THE BUZZ: Mixed. It sounds like nothing new in the plot department, but if you like dark, post-apocalyptic allegories, then The Book of Eli is for you. In The Chicago Tribune, Michael Phillips writes:

“For some, this genre picture will come with the bonus of its conspicuous and heavy-duty religiosity. It is about the Word, and who controls it. But “The Book of Eli” works, even if the preservation of Christianity isn’t high on your personal post-apocalypse bucket list. Establishing its storytelling rules clearly and well, the film simply is better, and better-acted, than the average end-of-the-world fairy tale.

Claudia Puig of USA Today was less enchanted, writing:

Poetic psalms uttered amid stylized violence are disconcerting. Religion and bloodshed, though linked through much of history, make queasy entertainment partners.

She may be right, but next to The Da Vinci Code,The Book of Eli is looking pretty damn watchable.

___________________________________ The last major American movie that Jackie Chan appeared in was 2007’s Rush Hour 3. Maybe he should’ve stayed on hiatus. The Spy Next Door is clearly not the right choice for a comeback. The family comedy, an obvious ripoff of Robert Rodriguez‘s Spy Kids, is about a former CIA spy who experiences chaos while looking after his girlfriend’s zany, zoo animal-like kids. Sounds funny, right? Director Brian Levant, the man behind such kiddie flicks as Beethoven, The Flintstones and Are We There Yet?, tells The Chicago Tribune that creating family friendly entertainment, not to spy-next-door-poster-2mention movies that his kids love, has been his career passion:

“I haven’t related to [serious dramas]. I was involved with Friday Night Lights [the movie version]. I spent a lot of time in Odessa, Texas with Buzz Bissinger, who wrote the book, and met all those people. I wrote a script, but it was very difficult. It basically told me who I wasn’t. I make my films for everybody. When I became a parent, I found there was no greater enjoyment than to see my kids lose themselves in a movie. That is the feeling I’ve been trying to create ever since I got into the business. Most of my work has been about forming new families or rebuilding existing ones.

Levant doesn’t quite make movies for everybody, though. The critics, for one, have relentlessly ripped apart his body of work since day one. The Spy Next Door is no exception. THE BUZZ: Bad (especially if you’re over the age of five. So far, it has a 0% from the top critics on Rotten Tomatoes. In The Boston Globe, Ty Burr writes:

The Spy Next Door may be a Z-movie rip-off of The Pacifier, which was a B-movie rip-off of Kindergarten Cop, which wasn’t a grade-A idea to start with…the film’s so formulaic your 6-year-old will be ticking off the plot points as they lope by…The most depressing part about The Spy Next Door is the revelation that the Central Intelligence Agency works out of a rundown office complex in Albuquerque and is headed up by the likes of Billy Ray Cyrus and George “Most Intensely Annoying Man in Show Biz’’ Lopez. Suddenly our recent international adventures start to make sense.

True. If you see Cyrus in a movie and it’s not directed by David Lynch, then it’s time to walk out. And don’t even get me started about Lopez. The “most intensely annoying man in show biz” is a kind label for him.


If gritty British realism is your bag, than Fish Tank is a must-see. The drama, written and directed by Andrea Arnold, who won an Oscar in 2005 for her live-action short, Wasp, centers on a disillusioned girl (newcomer Katie Jarvis) whose life changes when a complete stranger (Michael Fassbender of Inglourious Basterds) comes to stay with her family. 67In an interview with BEV Blog, Arnold, whose work has been praised for having a unique stamp that is truly her own, gave this advice to aspiring filmmakers:

“I guess trusting your intuition would require some faith and confidence but by trusting yourself that is exactly what you gain. If you try to be like someone else then how can you be confident about what you are doing? The only way is to trust yourself.

THE BUZZ: Great. Fish Tank has not only received overwhelmingly positive reviews, but it won the Jury Prize at last summer’s Cannes Film Festival. In The New York Observer, Rex Reed writes:

First-rate acting is required to bring this kind of dichotomy to life, and Ms. Arnold is an ace when it comes to drawing real emotional truths from her actors…These are not easily likable people, but Ms. Arnold’s chief talent is the way she makes us understand and even sympathize with both their flaws and attributes. The people in Fish Tank are neither good nor bad, but merely human, with elements of both.

And in New York Magazine, David Edelstein writes:

Arnold’s first feature, Red Road (2006), centers on another outsider, a woman who monitors security cameras. The film is formally brilliant, but it doesn’t have the breathtaking openness of Fish Tank…The final scenes have a transcendent mixture of hope and sadness. I’ve never seen anything like Mia’s final dance, or the leave-taking with her little sister that follows. In Fish Tank, nothing goes right, yet Mia’s fate never seems preordained. Her constant motion might or might not be her salvation, but it keeps you in suspense until the last frame—and beyond.


Also this weekend is The Lovely Bones, which is finally getting a wide release from Paramount after Christmas Day plans were scrapped due to poor reviews. The Peter Jackson-directed pic was first released on December 11. There are also a few indies opening in extremely limited release (which translates to: good luck finding them!). The list includes:

• The Last Station, a Leo Tolstoy biopic written and directed by Michael Hoffman. It features Helen Mirren, James McAvoy, Paul Giamatti and Christopher Plummer. In The New York Times, A.O. Scott rails off on what he thinks is a stupid costume drama that has a better chance of winning a Razzi than an Oscar:

[The Last Station is] the kind of movie that gives literature a bad name. Not because it undermines the dignity of a great writer and his work, but because it is so self-consciously eager to flaunt its own gravity and good taste.


•  44 Inch Chest, an actioner about a group of guys who plot to kidnap one of the guy’s wife’s lovers. It’s directed by Malcolm Venville and starring such hard-nosed actors as Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, John Hurt and Tom Wilkinson. In Variety, Leslie Felperin analyzes the deeper theme of the material:

[44 Inch Chest] could easily elicit accusations of misogyny — especially given its percussive, unrelenting but eminently realistic use of the C-word — but it’s actually, at its best, an acute, unblinking portrait of misogyny in practice, not a misogynistic text itself.

• And, finally, Mine, a doc about the unbreakable bond between man and pet, set during the turmoil of Hurricane Katrina. According to Aaron Hillis of The Village Voice, however, this is one for the dogs:

Underreported and over-emotional, Geralyn Pezanoski‘s 81-minute doc exposé about dogs displaced during Hurricane Katrina moves slower than a basset hound to get to these and other thorny questions.

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