THE WEEKEND MARQUEE: Weinstein Company Counting On ‘Basterds’ Glory At The Box Office
The verdict is in on Quentin Tarantino‘s latest movie, Inglourious Basterds, and the reviews have been, if not glorious, then highly praise-worthy. Most critics were impressed, delighted and a little frustrated by the movie, which portrays a manic alternate version of World War II. In the Tarantino version, Hitler’s a comic buffoon, Brad Pitt‘s a war hero and all of the action is set to an Ennio Morricone-like score taken from another movie. Even the title was inspired by the 1978 Italian film The Inglorious Bastards.
In his review for New York magazine, David Edelstein writes,
The movie is an ungainly pastiche, yet on some wacked-out Jungian level it’s all of a piece. Tarantino is nutty enough to believe myth can trump history—that no Führer can survive the bloody onslaught of an exploitation auteur. Inglourious Basterds is a revenge movie in which the movie itself is the best revenge.
And in Time magazine, Richard Corliss writes,
It’s just possible that Tarantino, having played a trick on history, is also fooling his fans. They think they’re in for a Hollywood-style war movie starring Brad Pitt. What they’re really getting is the cagiest, craziest, grandest European film of the year.
The Weinstein Company, which has had a long string of box office disappointments (one of the biggest of which was Tarantino’s last release Grindhouse) is counting on Basterds to be a huge hit. And by counting on it, I mean, Bob and Harvey Weinstein have even talked about leaving the movie business altogether if their next few releases don’t do well. Their troubled outlook was profiled this week by the New York Times which ran a story with the headline, “Weinsteins Struggle to Regain Their Touch”. At the New York premiere of the movie, Tarantino was asked if he’d read the article. Here’s an excerpt:
Did you see the article about Harvey and Bob Weinstein in the New York Times on Sunday?
No, I haven’t read it. Uh-uh.
Well, do you think Harvey Weinstein is going to kick your ass if this movie is not a hit?
Uh, if it’s not a box-office hit, he probably deserves to kick my ass.
Coincidentally or not, Tarantino’s Grindhouse partner in crime, Robert Rodriguez, also has a movie being released this weekend. But it’s not as bloody as Basterds is. In fact, it’s not bloody at all. It’s a kiddie flick! Rodriguez explained his filmmaking philosophy recently in an interview with the Associated Press. He says doing children’s movies re-invigorates him for his other projects:
By splitting it up, it’s that palate-cleansing, where you can almost feel like your head was too close to a project, I just needed to turn on the other one and edit that just for a day.
He also talks about working on The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl at the same time he was working on Sin City. Viewers should be warned, though. If you love the bloody violence and dark humor of Rodriguez movies like Once Upon a Time in America and Sin City and you’re not under the age of 12, then you may want to steer clear of his latest movie, Shorts.
While critics were somewhat charmed by the joyful DIY-spirit of the movie, charm alone apparently isn’t enough to sustain a feature length film. Aaron Hillis, writing for Variety, says,
Structured episodically, but cheekily out of order, the film introduces Toe’s friends, family, schoolyard enemies, and broadly eccentric neighbors—including germaphobe scientist William H. Macy and dictatorial CEO James Spader—as each come into perilous contact with the magical rock. Be careful what you wish for, as we learned as adolescents, which is precisely who and only who this rowdy romp is for—though I’d score points for Jon Cryer and Leslie Mann’s slapstick as Toe’s accidentally conjoined folks.
World’s Greatest Dad stars Robin Williams as a high school teacher who fakes his son’s suicide note following the son’s accidental death. The dark comedy was directed by former stand-up comedian and actor BobCat Goldthwait. In an interview with The Onion A.V. Club, Goldthwait talks about his decision to abandon his lucrative career for filmmaking. He says:
My early stand-up was really Andy Kaufman-esque, and then I became the very thing I was making fun of. And Tom Kenny pointed it out recently, he was like, ‘You lost interest in stand-up when you could no longer make people awkward, when people expected the unexpected from you. People expected to be weirded out.’ I said, ‘That’s true. That’s completely true.’ That’s what I like about making movies. I am most comfortable when I am making people awkward.
The New York Times’ Stephen Holden, says:
With a merciless acuity this nihilistic comedy ridicules collective grief and the news media’s cynical marketing of inspirational uplift after a death. Ultimately it scorns the human impulse to find a deeper meaning in any tragedy.
He goes on to say:
In World’s Greatest Dad the concept is everything. Cinematically the movie doesn’t amount to much. Even a cursory analysis of its plot reveals glaring holes. Its characters, many viewed with undisguised contempt, are barely sketched stereotypes. Clarie, in particular, is a vapid, chirpy narcissist who juggles Lance’s affections with those of Mike (Henry Simmons), an English teacher, who, to Lance’s silent chagrin, has his first story published in The New Yorker.
What can you say about X-Games 3D: The Movie? Not much according to Roger Ebert, who writes:
Well, it’s awesome all right, what these X-Games stars achieve. It’s also awesome how little there is to be said about it. If you’re a fan of extreme skateboarding, motorcycling and motocross, this is the movie for you. If not, not. And even if you are, what’s in the film other than what you might have seen on TV? Yes, it’s in 3D, which adds nothing and dims the picture.
Post-Grad is a comedy about a recent college graduate played by Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls) who tries to find love, happiness and, more importantly a decent job. The film also features Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights), Jane Lynch and comedy legend Carol Burnett. Despite the cast, the movie doesn’t seem to have gelled.
Peter Debruge says in his Variety review:
Auds should be rooting for the couple to get together, but instead, Ryden’s woe-is-me attitude underscores the question why, of the 1.5 million or so college students who graduate each year, she’s so deserving of the perfect job and hopelessly devoted man, much less her own movie. It’s telling that Post Grad‘s emotional climax shifts its attention away from Ryden to her younger brother, Hunter (Bobby Coleman), in a scene that evokes Little Miss Sunshine’s striptease dance finale.
American Casino is a documentary by filmmakers Leslie and Andrew Cockburn about the subprime mortgage crisis. They compare the high flying transactions of Wall Street to the kind of gambling normally found in a casino, and according to the offical website, the movie seeks to explain, “how and why over $12 trillion of our money vanished into the American Casino.
Variety’s Ronnie Scheib says:
The pic never completely escapes a smallscreen feel, however cogent the material; nor do the Cockburns, vets of numerous combat and issue docus, visually expand their gambling metaphor to encompass the widening rift between rich and poor, towering corporate skyscrapers vs. deserted row houses.
The other documentary opening this week is Art & Copy, the latest movie from filmmaker Douglas Pray, who’s best known for the 1996 grunge-music documentary Hype!. This time around Pray, casts his eye on the most influential advertisers of the last 30 years. The film features interviews with George Lois (I Want My MTV!), Lee Chow (Apple’s 1984-inspired ad) and Rich Silverstein and Jeff Goodby (“Got Milk?”) among others.
Nathan Rabin, writing for The Onion, says:
Pray gives a radically different, shockingly sympathetic slant on an industry in desperate need of an image upgrade, but there’s a big difference between inviting a little sympathy for the devil and nominating Satan for sainthood. Art & Copy is mightily diverting, for those who don’t mind being sold a slick bill of goods.
The Baader-Meinhoff Complex is director Uli Edel‘s and writer Bernd Eichinger‘s epic period piece about the 1960s-era German Red Army Faction, based on the book of the same title by Stefan Aust. Manohla Dargis, in The New York Times, says:
For the most part, relying heavily on the historical record, Mr. Eichinger lets the group do its own talking, as does the film’s director, Uli Edel, who gives it the pulse and music of a thriller. (The propulsive score echoes those of the Bourne movies.) This probably accounts for why some have accused the film of glamorizing terrorism, which misses the point that all terrorism is performative.
Boyd Van Heoij, writing for Variety, wasn’t quite as sure about the movie, saying:
Pic feels more like a series of expensive historical re-enactments that could have spiced up a talking-head docu series (which also might have provided some much-needed insight). Historical accuracy in everything from production design to dialogue — many verbatim from historical records — only reinforces this impression.
Opening in limited release, is Mexican writer-director Issa Lopez‘s comedy Casi Divas. It tells the story of four women who engage in an American Idol style competition to win the title role in a popular telenovela. Ronnie Scheib, of Variety, says:
Rather than settling for a lampoon of TV sudsers a la Tootsie or Soapdish, Lopez wittily stresses tensions between form and content. She invests her characters with emotions that register as all the deeper for being superficially presented via pop-culture cliches.
Melvin Van Peebles , the legendary filmmaker behind the classic blax-ploitation film, Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song re-invents himself as a digital video artist, with his latest movie, Confessions of a Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha. The movie tells his life story and the 75 year old Van Peebles, plays himself at every stage of his life.
Nick Pinkerton of the Village Voice says:
The film has a footling kind of style, emptying the whole after-effects toolbox of weird wipes, superimpositions, and solarizations. There’s little concession to period detail in blithely anachronistic street scenes, and the art direction is not much more than one would expect from a backyard eighth-grade production. There’s a temptation to “give” this to Van Peebles, but any scene in which actors get to interact is deathly awkward, and 100 minutes should never feel this long.
The thriller Fifty Dead Men Walking, starring Jim Sturgess and Ben Kingsley, is based on Martin McGartland‘s 1997 memoir about his days as a spy attempting to infiltrate the Irish Republic Army. Tasha Robinson, of The Onion, says:
What makes Fifty Dead Men work is the story’s sheer moral complexity, which dares viewers to sympathize with anyone onscreen for more than a few minutes at a time. It’s a dirty war on all sides, and there’s little sense that McGartland is actually doing the right thing by anyone.
German filmmaker Oliver Hirschbiegel‘s Five Minutes of Heaven tells the story of a perpetrator and victim of 1970s era violence in Northern Ireland, who meet decades after the events that destroyed eachother’s lives. It’s Hirschbiegel’s second English-language film following the poorly received Nicole Kidman thriller The Invasion. Stars Liam Neeson and James Nesbit have garnered high praise, as has the movie.
Dennis Harvey, of Variety, says:
Asking whether reconciliation in some circumstances is ever really possible, the pic provides no easy answers but does make a potent case for at least addressing old wounds. Guy Hibbert’s excellent screenplay evolved over three years of consultations with the real Alistair Little and Joe Griffin, making sure every detail reflected their notions of what might be said or done if they ever met — which won’t likely happen: Griffin says he’d still feel drawn to kill Little on sight, a revenge he imagines would provide ‘five minutes of heaven’.
Finally, we come to My One and Only, a 50s period comedy starring Renee Zellwegger. And it has unusual source material. It’s based on the childhood of actor and sun-worshipper George Hamilton. The eclectic cast includes Kevin Bacon, Chris Noth and David Koechner (always a welcome comic presence).
Stephen Holden, says, in his New York Times review:
The film’s wistfully jaunty tone is established by an elaborate title sequence of vintage radio and magazine ads. My One and Only aspires to be a contemporary version of a Preston Sturges comedy. But for all its charm, this lighthearted travelogue is less an inquiry into the soul of America than an affectionate period piece set in economically leaner times, decades before communications technology revolutionized the concept of personal space. The movie conveys an older notion of the country as a land of open roads where you can thumb a ride: a place where you can still get romantically lost and found.
Leslie Felperin, praises the movie, but casts doubts about its box office potential in her Variety review, saying,
My One and Only will require some aggressive marketing and strong critical support to reverse Zellweger’s sliding B.O. appeal in wake the poor performance of New in Town.