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THE WEEKEND MARQUEE: Skip Out on the ‘Retreat’ and Head for the Indies

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The only major Hollywood movie with a wide release this weekend is Couples Retreat, a comedy about four couples undergoing group therapy in Paradise. Movies where everybody has a great time on the set–particularly those in tropical locations–usually don’t turn out so well. The greatest films are ones that were painful to make. I think we all know where Couples Retreat stands.

The idea was conceived by Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, who also penned the screenplay along with Dana Fox (What Happens in Vegas). Making his directorial debut is Peter Billingsley, the child actor best known for shooting his eye out in A Christmas Story, with a cast that includes Vaughn and Favreau, as well as Jason Bateman, Malin Ackerman, Kristin Davis, Faizon Love and Kristin Bell.

The movie is so lightweight that, during the endless publicity tour for it, the actors have been straining for things to say about it. When asked if she loved doing “awesome date movies” in an interview with iVillage, Bell responded,

Of course I do! I love awesome dates. I love awesome date movies. It is important to me — I do prefer movies that balance out the two sexes, that aren’t too completely mushy and that aren’t full of everything blowing up. I like boy-girl movies.”

And she likes paychecks!

Couples Retreat has been receiving horrible reviews. Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers sums it best:

The cast got to spend a month shooting on Bora Bora. So that explains why they’re in the movie. Why you’d spend good money for a ticket to watch them have all the fun and not have any fun yourself passes understanding.”

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If idiotic comedy isn’t your bag, then you’re in luck: also opening is the coming-of-age drama An Education, directed by Lone Scherfig and starring Carey Mulligan as an educationidealistic student who begins a life-changing love affair with an older man (Peter Sarsgaard). The film is author Nick Hornby‘s second venture into the world of screenwriting–his first was the 1997 adpation of his novel, Fever Pitch.

He has also written the novels as High Fidelity and About a Boy (which, of course, were both adapted for the big screen). Hornby recently told Reuters that he prefers the medium of book writing:

It is a fairly straightforward process whereas movies, it’s such a miracle if anything gets done… You look back and think, ‘I have no idea how that happened or if it could happen again’.

For his sake, An Education, adapted from a memoir by Lynn Barber, has been getting rave reviews. In The New York Observer, Rex Reed writes,

“Captivatingly written, directed and acted with sensitivity and nuance, this is one of the best films of the year. It lives up to its title in more ways than one,”

and is what Todd McCarthy of Variety calls,

“a wonderful film.”

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Filmmaker Regina Kimbell filed a $5 million lawsuit against Chris Rock this week over his new comedic documentary, Good Hair. She claimed that she showed Rock her 2005 doc, good_hairMy Nappy Roots, and that he subsequently stole her “history of African-American hair styles” idea. Today, however, WENN reports that the lawsuit has now been thrown out. The judge found little similarities between the two projects besides the broad subject matter.

This news comes just in time for Rock, as Good Hair is opening in a theater near you today. He can start celebrating not only that the lawsuit has been dropped, but also that his movie, directed by Jeff Stilson, is being praised by critics all around (kind of a new occurrence for Rock, whose past vehicles include the dreadful Down to Earth and the unfunny Head of State). In the Chicago Tribune, Michael Phillips writes,

Rock is a canny interviewer, in addition to  being one of the funnier and more engaging fellows in show business. [He] takes his Good Hair job as a documentarian seriously enough to be interesting, but not so seriously that the film groans with earnestness.”

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damnedunited_2The Damned United is yet another collaboration between actor Michael Sheen and writer Peter Morgan, whose past projects include The Queen and Frost/Nixon. It looks like they created another winner. The comedy, directed by Tom Hooper and based on the book by David Peace, centers on a difficult-to-work-with soccer manager (Sheen) who oversees the Leeds United for a time.

Simply put, New York Magazine’s David Edelstein calls it,

“quite enjoyable, even for those of us who don’t follow British ‘football’.”

And the LA Times’ Kenneth Turan writes,

“Though his notoriously big mouth often got him into trouble, Clough is a great character for Sheen to play because his personal charm invariably — but not always — got him out of the difficulty.”

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Following in the foofree-style-postertsteps of High School Musical costars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, Corbin Bleu is finally getting his closeup with his own vehicle, the motor cross teen drama Free Style. Not only does Bleu get top billing but he produced the damn movie as well. He told HollywoodChicago.com,
“I like to think of myself as a complete performer. I’m going to continue to explore production, my company produced Free Style. I try to expand myself as much as possible.”
He better watch out–if he expands himself too far he might rip in half. What would the world do without cheesy Disney Channel ripoffs starring Tiger Beat celebrities? Not surprisingly, the reviews have been putrid, with The New York Post’s Kyle Smith commenting that
“Bleu’s cute-but-bland act flatlines in every scene of a movie,”
adding that the
“script that is a perfect match for his abilities.”
Oh, what do the critics know anyways? Free Style is a cheapie production that will be profitable if even a quarter of the High School Musical crowd turns out for it. It’s not about art people!
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Also opening are a handful of other independent films that are in the extremely limited release/”good luck finding them” department.

Juliette Binoche continues her streak of appearing in bleak international dramas with Amos Gitai‘s Disengagement. The plot centers on a French woman who returns to her homeland of Israel after the government’s pullout of the occupied Gaza strip.

Over the years I’ve asked Amos many questions about the situation here in Israel, trying to get an inside point of view,”

Binoche said of her writer/director in a statement to Reuters.

I knew he would present that in a healthy way.”

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Comic Ari Gold (not to be confused with Jeremy Piven‘s power agent on Entourage) wrote, directed and stars in Adventures of Power, a comedy about a twenty-something slacker who’s obsessed with becoming a respected drummer. Despite a strong cast that includes the Christopher Guest players Michael McKean and Jane Lynch, the movie is not feeling the love from critics. In the New York Daily News, Elizabeth Weitzman complains,

It’s not the rough edges that bother here; it’s the desperate attempt to capture Napoleon Dynamite‘s success by relying on oddball characters and off-the-wall scenarios.”

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Bronson traces a young man’s jailhouse transformation from an unlawful, troubled boy into Charles Bronson, a brutal alter-ego with supreme confidence. The movie, written by Brock Norman Brock and directed by Nicholas Winding Refn, has been labeled powerful by most critics. The New York Times’ A.O. Scott, for one, says that it’s

a bit like Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange reimagined as a one-man stage show and stripped of any political implications.”

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In a nod to movies like (500) Days of Summer and 21 Grams, Jay DiPietro‘s Peter and Vandy is sweet-as-sugar rom-com that’s told out of order. It stars Jason Ritter and Jess Weixler as a neurotic couple who wonder how they became so messed up. Its receptionhas ranged from mixed to bad. In the Village Voice, Aaron Hillis writes,

DiPietro’s screenplay is emotionally myopic. His sharpest written exchanges — and there aren’t many — get buried under his inexplicable need to embrace the non-linear conceit.”

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Yes Men Fix The World is sequel of sorts to the similarly themed The Yes Men. It is a docu-comedy by Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum about a series of pranks on corporate fat-cats. It has been quietly generating good buzz. Leslie Felperin of Variety says that the

pic’s biggest laughs are generated not from the Yes Men’s gags themselves but from the cutaway shots of audience members looking on with barely disguised shock or, even more disturbingly, unruffled acceptance.”

Sounds like it’d make a a great double bill with Michael Moore‘s Capitalism: A Love Story.

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Brin Hills‘s Ball Don’t Lie is a drama about a troubled kid named Sticky (Grayson Boucher) who uses basketball as an outlet for his aggression. The movie, with an odd cast that includes Ludacris, Rosanna Arquette, Melissa Leo and Nick Cannon, is what Variety’s Ronnie Scheib calls

a story with no internal development and without the stylistic rigor to transform its jerky stop-and-start rhythm into an aesthetic,” adding that the “pic jumps from one disconnected scene to another.”

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Rounding out the crop of movies this weekend is The Heretics, a doc by Joan Braderman about a feminist art collective in 1970s Manhattan. In the Village Voice, Melissa Anderson writes,

If Braderman’s voice-over narration drifts into nostalgia for a lost utopia on occasion, the testimony of her interlocutors reminds us that even though consciousness-raising groups are a thing of the past, the spirit of the group is very much alive.”

Trailer here.

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