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THE WEEKEND MARQUEE: Another Year, Another Jigsaw

October 23rd, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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This weekend, different kinds of wild things will be taking over the multiplexes: a sadistic killer, a fearless aviator, an animated space boy, a thirsty vampire and Satan himself, among others. It’s hard to believe (or is it?) that there have already been five Saw movies, all raking in huge profits. Audiences can’t get enough of the ultra-violent and twisted games that the reluctant victims are forced to play in each installment.

The team behind behind Saw 6 is director Kevin Greutert and screenwriters Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton, the same group responsible for the last two sequels. Of the Saw movies, Melton comments, “It is hard not to jump the shark, as most franchises do, especially six films in. If you Saw6piclook at a lot of the iconic horror movie franchises, they certainly went off the rails, to a certain extent, and/or gone in a different direction from where the original started.

Saw hasn’t, probably because it is made independently, and it’s made by the same people, every year, and everyone keeps it within that same world, without getting ridiculous.

If something is too far-fetched, there’s always someone there to be like, ‘No, that doesn’t feel right.’” I guess no one was around to say that when the writers came up with the cylinder trap full of decomposing pig bodies.

Saw 6 has not been screened for critics–not that it matters at this point. People know what they’re getting into when they purchase the ticket.

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astro_boy_movie_posterAstro Boy, Osamu Tazuka‘s fantasy about the adventures of a child robot, first began in Japan as a Manga comic in 1952 and subsequently became a TV show in 1963. Its latest incarnation is as an American 3D anime, developed by David Bowers and Timothy Harris. The voiceover talent includes Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Sam Jackson and Nicholas Cage.

Following on the tails of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Where the Wild Things Are, Astro Boy is the latest family flick to receive decent marks from critics. In Time, Richard Corliss writes,

“The new version [of Astro Boy], streamlined and Americanized, but with animation from the Hong Kong company Imagi, lacks the brand recognition of the big CGI studios, but the movie has its charms. It’s fun, encyclopedically derivative and pretty darned affecting.”

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The biopic of the weekend is Amelia, about the life and times of the iconic pilot, Amelia Earhart. The movie is directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), written by Ronald Bass & Anna Hamilton amelia-posterPhelan, and stars Hilary Swank and Richard Gere.

“I think one of the things that I took away from Amelia that I found very inspiring and moving,” says Swank, “is I feel that a lot of the people — more than any of my movies — have come up to me and said ‘I cannot wait to see Amelia.’ It was something I expected from women who really wanted to see the movie but a lot of men are also coming up to me and wanting to see this movie.”

That may be true, but they’re going to be sorely disappointed. The critics have been ravaging it.

In the Toronto Star, Peter Howell writes,
“Courting Oscar with unseemly lust, while also promoting Earhart as an early feminist, the film strives too hard to be profound and not enough to be merely human.”
Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly) calls it,
a frustratingly old-school, Hollywood-style, inspirational biopic about Amelia Earhart that doesn’t trust a viewer’s independent assessment of the famous woman pictured on the screen.”
She adds,
The mystery we ought to be paying attention to is: What really happened on the legendary American aviator’s final, fatal flight in 1937? But the question audiences are left with is this: How could so tradition-busting a role model have resulted in so square, stiff, and earthbound a movie?”
It’s pretty fair to say that this biopic has crashed on takeoff. Come Oscar season, the only awards this crew has a chance of winning are the Razzies.
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Cashing in on the current vampire craze (Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries) is director/screenwriter Paul Weitz who’s at the helm of the latest blood-sucking epic, Cirque du vampires_assistant_poster1Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant. Coincidentally, his brother, Chris Weitz, is the director of the upcoming Twilight sequel, New Moon. They must have gotten more competitive since they’re collaborative years of making movies like American Pie and About a Boy.

Weitz adapted The Vampire’s Assistant, along with Brian Helgeland, from the series of novels by Darren Shan. It stars Chris Massoglia, John C. Reilly, Ken Watanabe and Salma Hayek. Genre fans will most likely eat it up but, according to critics, the movie has more than its share of problems.

In the Boston Globe, Ty Burr writes,
“If the Twilight series is aimed at adolescent girls whose hearts go arrhythmic at the thought of being ravaged by Edward Cullen, The Vampire’s Assistant is what a teenage boy might crave in a bloodsucker movie. Which is, basically, Bill and Ted’s Night of the Living Undead…As Darren, the high school hero who becomes apprentice to a vampire and gets drawn into a centuries-old feud, Chris Massoglia is almost wholly charisma-free, a handsome, hesitant two-by-four who makes you appreciate the rich thespian skills of Daniel Radcliffe. Casting an unknown is always a gamble. This time the house wins.”
My prediction is that teenage boys will be skipping this safe, PG-13-rated pic for the savagely bloody Saw 6. Unlike teenage girls, who flocked to Twilight last November, boys like their movies R-rated with a vengeance.
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In the past few years, Uma Thurman has consciously chosen to pick projects that are shot in NYC so that she can remain close to her kids. In a recent interview with CinemaBlend.com, she said, motherhood-poster
Motherhood definitely took the focus off of my work. And I didn’t mind. I had a few panics when I thought that if I wanted to work I couldn’t get a job anymore and then I would get one once in a while and it would make me feel better. So, you know, it’s something – I love what I do though, I really do and I think that for my wellbeing I need to be reminded of, that I have other purposes and it’s just stabilizing in an almost indescribable way…the down side of acting is the travel.”
Her reluctance to leave the big apple explains why most of her movies of so terrible. She chose to star in My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Prime, The Accidental Husband and The Producers, not because the scripts were good, but because the sets were close by. Her latest generic comedy, shot in New York’s West Village, is Motherhood, written and directed by Katherine Dieckmann.
The movie, about a day in the life of a neurotic mother, appears to be yet another miss for the Kill Bill actress. Claudia Puig (USA Today) says that the movie,
not only overdoes its premise, but it’s hampered by several flaws.”
She adds,
“When it tries to be serious, it’s too earnest, and when it tries to strike a chord, it’s banal. And perhaps most egregiously, when it aims for humor, it feels overwrought and clichéd.”
At least Thurman has another Kill Bill volume to look forward to some day.
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The real shock about Lars von Trier‘s Antichrist is that it may be his most explicit and controversial film yet. That’s no small feat, considering he wrote and directed Dogville, Dancer in the 6a00d834518cc969e20120a5650201970c-500wiDark and Breaking the Waves. Antichrist is a psychological thriller starring Charlotte Gainsbourg (who won Best Actress at Cannes for her role) and Willem Dafoe as a grieving couple who encounter Satan at their secluded home in the forest.
Reportedly, the set–much like Antichrist itself–was no pleasant place to be around. Von Trier tells Rotten Tomatoes,
“I felt like an old man that was helped through the film by the actors. I was not at my very best, so all the things that I normally enjoy, I was not able to do. I couldn’t direct and handle a camera at the same time. I just didn’t have the mental capacity. I have been under therapy for several years.”
His audience may need therapy as well. Critics may be divided on how good the film is, but they’re not disagreeing over its disturbing nature.
In Newsweek, David Ansen writes,
“Though it’s hard to deny the fierce purity of Gainsbourg’s performance, Antichrist plays like an incoherent mix of Gothic horror claptrap and Bergmanesque power struggle. I was more bored and puzzled than shattered and provoked.”
Meanwhile, Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun Times) admires the film’s audacity:
“Von Trier, who has always been a provocateur, is driven to confront and shake his audience more than any other serious filmmaker — even Bunuel and Herzog. He will do this with sex, pain, boredom, theology and bizarre stylistic experiments. And why not? We are at least convinced we’re watching a film precisely as he intended it, and not after a watering down by a fearful studio executive.”
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ong-bak-2-hong-kong-posterSix years after the original Thai export hit theaters, here arrives Ong Bak 2, directed and starring Tony Jaa. The plot, if it matters at all to you, centers on a nobleman who’s on a quest for revenge. While the sequel is filled with more stunts, more violence and more effects than its predecessor, critics are saying that there is little else to be loved.
In the Village Voice, Nicolas Rapold writes,
“[Jaa's] first outing as a director is confusing, with distractingly muddy storytelling and wildly varying styles from scene to scene. Thrills do come from acrobatic antics with an alligator and on an obliging elephant; a kick fight conducted mostly on the ground; and an engaging assortment of pummeling in a multilevel thatched village. The movie would work better as a highlight reel. While Ong Bak the first replayed shots from a second angle, here the gimmick is replaying in slo-mo—which only calls attention to the film’s slog.”
Maybe Jaa can speed things up for Ong Bak 3. On second thought, maybe he should start treading other territory.
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There are also plenty of other movies opening in extremely limited release this weekend, which translates to: good luck finding them.
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(Untitled), directed and written, along with Catherine DiNapoli, by Jonathan Parker, is a comedic satire on the contemporary art scene in NYC. It stars Adam Goldberg, Eion Bailey and Marley Shelton. Stephen Holden (New York Times) says that the movie,
shrewdly hedges its bets about the value of it all”
and
it is ultimately on the side of experimental music and art and their champions, no matter how eccentric…for that alone this brave little movie deserves an audience.”
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Bo Zenga‘s Stan Helsing is kind of like the indie version of all those spoofs that end with the word “Movie” (Superhero Movie, Disaster Movie, Epic Movie, etc). It’s a riff on monster movies featuring the likes of Leslie Nielsen and Kenan Thompson. In the New York Post, Kyle Smith writes,
“Mostly the gags are unfortunate and amateurish, but this micro-budget flick at least has a semi-coherent plot and every 10 minutes or so there’s a flash of wit.”
That’s more than you can say for Meet the Spartans!
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Jennifer Baichwal‘s documentary Act of God, her first since Manufactured Landscapes, examines the natural phenomena of lightning. Critic Mark Feeney (The Boston Globe) is charmed by it:
The film doesn’t need a narrator since the people whose accounts we hear speak so absorbingly. All talking heads should talk so articulately.”
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The Wedding Song is a drama about two women who form a close bond with one another despite their obvious differences. The film is written and directed by Karin Albou. In Variety, Boyd van Hoeij writes that it’s
a bold, very carnal take on adolescent female bonding in a setting not often portrayed onscreen…[This] small but ambitious movie should be able to sing its way into fests and arthouses.”

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