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THE WEEKEND MARQUEE: Sci-Fi, Corporate Greed and ‘Fame’

September 25th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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If you head out to the multiplex this weekend, it may feel like you’re in a time warp. The two biggest movies opening are the 1980s remake Fame, a cheesy song-and-dance showcase with kids that resemble the cast from Glee; Surrogates, a Total Recall-esque thriller about a technology that allows people to experience the world vicariously while never leaving their La-Z-Boy (with Bruce Willis in place of Arnold Schwarzenegger); and Pandorum, a sci-fi flick in the vein of Alien about crew members who are stranded on a spaceship with an unwanted menace on board (with Dennis Quaid in place of Sigourney Weaver).

Seeing as they’ve all been blasted with rotten reviews, my theory is that audiences will be scrambling for leftovers of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Although, for Michael Moore fans, his new doc, Capitalism: A Love Story, will be hitting select theaters in limited release. So that’s a healthy alternative.

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Surrogates got the better marks of the three big openers. The futuristic murder mystery, directed by Jonathan Mostow and written by Michael Ferris & John Brancato, has some critics rollings their eyes and others giving in to the stupid fun. On Salon.com, Stephanie Zacharek writes,
Surrogates stays afloat by not taking itself too seriously, but also by recognizing that a movie about robots shouldn’t look as if it were made by one… and at times, for all its enjoyable silliness, does veer into chilly territory.”
Stephen Witty, of the Newark Star-Ledger, is of a different opinion.
The script is by the team that gave us Catwoman and the last two Terminator movies, which tells you all you need to know.” Surrogates definitely sounds like a genre movie, meaning that if you like grim fables set in the future, you’ll probably have a good time. If not, then stay the hell away.”
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With a track record that includes the under-performing Lions for Lambs and Valkyrie, United Artists is hoping Fame will bring in the big bucks. The studio has put its faith in former MTV director Kevin Tancharoen. In an interview with Cut Print Review, he had fame_poster03this to say about his debut feature:

“Well I was a pretty big fan of the original film, so I had a pretty good idea of how I could have seen a remake of Fame being possible. I think a mistake would have been to do a direct remake; you know, have another Coco and recast Leroy and so forth. We didn’t want to do that, we wanted to make a completely new experience while keeping the integrity of the first film.”

Integrity? Nice try, buddy. Not only does the new Fame not even come close to the quality of the Oscar-nominated original, which was directed by Alan Parker, but critics are calling it one of the worst of the year.

In the New York Post, Lou Lumenick sums it up as

“a desperate, cynical — and most likely unsuccessful — attempt by a dying studio to stave off oblivion by jumping on the High School Musical bandwagon, exploiting one of its legacy titles in ways that dishonor the original.”

Did anybody honestly expect anything from this remake? The trailer (above) is so over-the-top and cliché-ridden that it runs the risk of making Dance Flick look subdued. And what a waste of performances by Bebe Neuwirth, Kelsey Grammer and Charles S. Dutton. At least they all got paid. As for the studio – United, they fall!

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Pandorum, directed by Christian Alvert from a story and screenplay by Travis Milloy, is one of those “battle-a-terrifying-entity-in-order-to-save-the-planet” kinda thrillers. pandorum-posterWhen asked why he wanted to be in the movie, Quaid told AMC.com,

“It’s a really good story — unique and original, and Payton is a great character. So that was it. My taste runs to all different kinds of films, so when I choose a movie, usually the question I ask is, ‘Is this a movie I want to see?’ And yeah, this was one.”

Critics, particularly those from sci-fi and horror publications, have been saying otherwise. Brad Miska, of Bloody Disgusting.com, writes,

Even though Pandorum features a concept not all that appealing to the general public, and a cast of pretty much unknowns, the real killer is the way Alvart shot the creatures. First, we see way, way too much of the monsters, which immediately takes away the fear, they pretty much become like creatures in Lord of the Rings. Second, he shoots them in a choppy, unearthly way, because, you know, creatures on a spaceship defy physics and gravity. Again, Pandorum isn’t all that bad, it just isn’t good either.”

Youch! When you fail to ignite the excitement of your base, it’s time to close up shop.

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Opening in limited release, to be expanded next week, is Michael Moore‘s anticipated new documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story. Moore has hinted that it may be his final non-fiction film. Hopefully he means that in the same way that Friday the 13th: The Final capitalism-lovestory-poster-fullsizeChapter was supposed to be the last Jason flick. A cinematic landscape without Moore’s corporate cynicism would be all too empty, in my opinion. Due to a an ample amount of press, including an exclusive, full hour interview with Oprah, the doc should easily be as profitable as Sicko and Bowling for Columbine (Fahrenheit 9/11‘s stratospheric earnings may be hard to replicate, however).

As the usual, the reviews have been mainly positive, but also divided. In the LA Times, Kenneth Turan writes,
At the end of the day, perhaps the most startling thing about Capitalism is that Moore stands revealed not as some pointy-headed socialist but as an unreconstructed New Deal Democrat who admires Franklin D. Roosevelt, believes in increased democracy and opportunity, and feels that the decades-long weakening of unions has fatally weakened America. The fact that this will be a controversial stance says as much about today’s political culture as it does about Moore’s place in it.
However, in the Village Voice, Ella Taylor calls it a
scattershot, lazy slice of agitprop, which recycles Moore’s usual slice-and-dice job on corporations, while bobbing a curtsey to the current crisis.”
Whatever your opinion is of his in-your-face, less-than-subtle style, it can’t be denied that he brings up the issues that the public needs to be talking about. The fact that people line up in theaters to see his work is remarkable. They certainly don’t do that for other documentaries.
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Since her star-making performance in Amélie in 2001, Audrey Tatou has appeared in only a few diverse movies (such as Dirty Precoco_before_chanel_postertty Things, A Very Long Engagement and The Da Vinci Code). She continues that streak with Coco Avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel). The film, written and directed by Anne Fontaine (her sister Camille helped with the screenplay), tells the true tale of the humble beginnings of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, the famous couturier whose name is synonymous with elegance.

While reviews have mixed, critics have been praising the cinematography, as well as Tatou’s performance. In Variety, Jordan Mintzer writes,

For a film that is, after all, about fashion, helmer Fontaine and d.p. Christophe Beaucarne make things extremely pleasurable to look at. Between lingering wide shots and gliding p.o.v. camerawork, the crisp visuals show Chanel forever analyzing the stylistic tendencies of her surroundings… Tautou’s perf is one of her finest to date, revealing her character’s headstrong personality through smart delivery and a permanent but attractive pout.”

This movie is the definitive cozy counter-program of weekend, as Coco is a nice contrast to the ugly creatures that inhabitant the frames of Surrogates, Fame, Pandorum and even Capitalism. Fans of Julie and Julia rejoice!

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In The Boys Arboys-are-back-postere Back, Clive Owen–ingratiatingly working towards a second Oscar nomination–plays a sportswriter who must adjust to life as a single parent after his wife’s untimely death. The movie, directed by Scott Hicks (No Reservations) and written by Allan Cubitt from a novel by Simon Carr, has been generating surprisingly good marks (but not that good). Rex Reed, of The New York Observer, notes that Owen
“plays all the colors and emotions of the parenting dilemma with a probing wit and a sense of humanity that are thrilling to watch. Roguish yet vulnerable, he gives a performance that is both rough-hewn and gently nuanced.”
Performance aside, A.O. Scott, of The New York Times, says,
“the problem is that the movie always takes the easy way, scattering a few heavy, confrontational scenes among acres of picturesque montages.”
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Who knew sitcom actor John Krasinski (The Office) had directing ambition? He must have taken notes from irritating yuckster Zach Braff, who wrote and directed the overrated piece of indie crap, Garden State, after starring on the equally overrated Scrubs tumblr_kpl2zzNWCK1qz4rgjo1_500for a few years. Krasinski’s movie, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, adapted from the book by the late David Foster Wallace–about a grad student (Julianne Nicholson) conducting research for her anthropological dissertation–features a diverse cast: Dennis O’Hare, Will Forte, Timothy Hutton and Josh Charles, among others. It helps to have friends in Tinseltown.

While the reviews have not been great, they’re more positive than they could have been, considering that this is the filmmaking debut from a guy who’s best known credit outside of The Office is the awful License to Wed. In New York Magazine, David Edelstein writes,

Brief Interviews works only in spurts, but when it does, it’s enough to remind us how much deeper our dramatists could drill — and of the magnitude of Wallace’s loss.”

I think I’ll be skipping this one, though. It reminds me of the kind of project one would dream up in college while discussing Wallace at a cafe between classes. That’s probably where the idea should have stayed.

There are also plenty of other movies opening in extremely limited release this weekend (that translates to: good luck finding them).

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Blind Date, about a grieving couple who pretend to date each other for the first time so that they can finally open up about their dead child,  is Stanley Tucci‘s fourth film (and presumably his worst, especially when compared to his debut, Big Night). Not even a showy performance by Patricia Clarkson (who was so good in Whatever Works) seems to be able to lift up the material. Michael Phillips, of the Chicago Tribune, comments that

behind all the role playing is a movie that feels uncertain in its tone and style, more exercise than drama.”

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Oren Peli‘s Paranormal Activity is a low-budget horror flick about, well, the title says it all, doesn’t it? In Variety, Dennis Harvey says that

horror fans who value credible creepiness over the usual splatdom will welcome this.”

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Russell Brown‘s The Bluetooth Virgin is a comedy about the perils of struggling artists. Vadim Rizov, of The Village Voice, describes it as

self-vindicating L.A. narcissism that tries even less hard than usual.”

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In Search of Beethoven has been generating great buzz. V.A. Musetto, of The New York Post, writes

What made Ludwig such a great musician? The documentary In Search of Beethoven, directed by Phil Grabsky, answers that question reasonably well.”

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I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell is a the familiar bachelor party-gone-awry comedy, directed by Bob Gosse. In USA Today, Claudia Puig writes that

the movie plays out like a watered-down and far less comical version of The Hangover, without the likable characters and the crazy fun.”

And I thought that movie was subpar!

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If experimental cinema is your bag–even if it isn’t, seeing these kinds of films once in awhile is good for the palette–then Michael Almereyda‘s Paradise is for you. It’s an ambient travelogue of sorts that made from compiled footage throughout a span of ten years. The film is only playing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this weekend. Maybe it’ll come around to Chi-town sometime soon, not that there aren’t a million other interesting experimental films as well.

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Finally, we have Rollin Binzer‘s The Providence Effect, a doc that paints the portrait of Paul J. Adams III, a man who came of age during the Civil Rights Movement and now devotes his life to education. Chicago Sun Times critic Roger Ebert says it’s

impressive, although not quite the film it could have been. It asks few hard questions… but the film’s lack of traditional documentary footage leads to a certain beneficent monotony. The doc observes, but doesn’t probe.”

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