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THE WEEKEND MARQUEE: Labor Day Blues

September 4th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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There’s something depressing about Labor Day Weekend. It’s the last gasp of summer – a time when people scramble to inject a little vacation time into their otherwise miserable work lives (or maybe that’s just me). One thing they don’t do is go to the movies. That must be why it’s such a dumping ground for the most vile pieces of cinematic garbage imaginable. Last year during Labor Day, the multiplex offerings included Death Race, The House Bunny, College, Babylon A.D., and Disaster Movie (at least the title is accurate). This year is no exception.

The first movie where producers ought to be ashamed of themselves is Gamer, a cheesy, high-concept thriller about an RPG  starring the ubiquitous snake charmer Gerard Butler and rapper-turned-actor Ludacris (we all remember his “amazing” performance in the gut-wrenchingly awful  Crash). It also features two big TV stars, Michael C. Hall (so good in Dexter) and Kyra Sedgwick (the driving force of TNT’s biggest hit, The Closer).

It’s bizarre that these two actors are in the cast. Hall’s only other big screen credit is as an agent in the flop, Paycheck, and, while Sedgwick used to be an indie queen in such movies as Personal Velocity, she has rarely ventured outside of the TV world since 2005. What did they see in this infantile script that made them say, “Oh yeah. I gotta be in this one!”? Oh, wait, I forgot money.

Gamer is written and directed by, not one, but two guys: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. If they’re still talking after this experience, then it must be a helluva strong bond they share. The buzz has been bad and that’s exactly why Gamer wasn’t screened for critics. Lions Gate Films thought that move would protect them from negative press. Think again. The trailer says it all:


Even worse than Gamer is All About Steve, starring Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper and Thomas Haden Church (shouldn’t he be getting better roles after Sideways?). The plot centers on a desperate woman who travels across the country to stalk a cameraman because she’s convinced he’s her soul mate. This comedy (I guess that’s the word for it), directed by Phil Traill and written by Kim Barker, has the distinction of receiving a 2 % from Rotten Tomatoes.
In Crimes and Misdemeanors, Alan Alda notes that “If it bends, it’s funny, if it breaks it’s not funny.” Well, All About Steve definitely breaks. In his Boston Globe review, Ty Burr writes that it’s
easily the worst movie of the week, month, year, and Bullock’s entire career. It is to comedy what leprosy once was to the island of Molokai: a plague best contemplated from many miles away.”
And that’s one of the nicer reviews.

The last major Hollywood release is Extract, written directed by Mike Judge, the king of crude animation and creator of the cult classic, Office Space. This time around, unfortunately, he seems to have fallen short. Of course, compared to All About Steve, Judge strikes comedy gold. The movie is about the hapless owner of a vanilla extract plant (Jason Batemen) and the wacky people who surround him (Ben Affleck, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig and J.K. Simmons). Critics haven’t totally been bashing it, but nobody is that excited.

In her LA Times review, Betsy Sharkey writes,

While Extract is mildly amusing and a slice of a mostly working-class world that doesn’t make it into comedy that much anymore, it’s not completely convincing as a movie.”

In this Chicago Sun Times review, Roger Ebert adds,

A comedy need not be believable. But it needs to seem as if it’s believable at least to itself.”

It’s too bad that Judge made more of an Idiocracy than an Office Space this time. But at least Extract got a theatrical release. That’s something.

THE OTHER MOVIES OPENING ARE:

American Casino, a documentary by Leslie and Andrew Cockburn that seeks to answer the question: why has this country thrown over $8 trillion into the casino market? Mike LaSalle, of the San Francisco Chronicle, says,

The film is designed for the public, but because it’s made up of interviews with financial insiders — and financial insiders talk like experts, not like high school economics teachers — some of this information may be difficult for lay people to follow.”

Liverpool, directed by Lisandro Alonso, an essential filmmaker of New Argentine Cinema. His new drama, written by Nieves Cabrera and Giselle Irrazabal, is a poetic, haunting portrait of a drifter, struggling to come to grips with his roots. The Village Voice’s J. Hoberman admires the film’s visual aesthetics:

Liverpool opens with a big blast of neo surf, and coasts on that energy for the movie’s 84 minutes, ending with a shot of corresponding impact.”

Tickling Leo, an intense character study written and directed by Jeremy Davidson and starring Eli Wallach as a grandfather harboring a dark secret from the days of World War II. In Newsday, John Anderson comments that Tickling Leo

isn’t easy, but like a long line drive, it’s a great thing to watch.”

That is if you feel like a heavy-handed, dark drama to top off your summer.

Amreeka, a sentimental drama about a family of Iraqi immigrants in Illinois and the difficulty that their teenage kids face in coming to terms with their new home. First-time writer/director Cherien Dabis makes a strong debut. Tom Long, of the Detroit News, went so far to call the film

a portrait of our times painted from an immigrant’s mirror”

and that

Amreeka should be seen by every American.”

Maybe the government can make that mandatory.

No Impact Man, a documentary by Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein that first delighted audiences at Sundance earlier this year. The subject is Colin Beavan, an author who makes a pact to have no impact whatsoever on the environment for an entire year. That means no electricity, no public transportation and no non-local food. Beavan has no problem sticking to it, but when he takes his family along for the ride, there are comical results.

Unmade Beds, a drama about immigrants who connect in London by French director Alexis Dos Santos. In Variety, Justin Chang writes that the film

has a lively, romantic spirit that recalls the playfulness and spontaneity of the French New Wave.”

Carriers, a horror yarn about a group of friends fleeing a pandemic and then realizing that they are the virus. This Cabin Fever-ish indie, written and directed by Alex and David Pastor, has been dumped into a few theaters this weekend after being jerked around by Paramount Vantage. It’s odd that it’s receiving so little attention seeing as its cast is made up of first-rate young actors (Chris Pine, Lou Taylor Pucci and Piper Perabo). Maybe the film stock has a virus.

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