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December 2003 Movie Preview
by Dave Thomas

Ah, the end of the year and all the little Oscar qualifiers are lined up in a row. This December is actually a bit more scarce than most, since the upped awards date (Feb. 29th) has forced studios to up their release dates as well, so a lot of Oscar hopefuls have already been released. Still, the glut of “quality” films is apparent, as is the hopelessly drecky family fare that often comes out this time of year. Enjoy!


DECEMBER 5




THE LAST SAMURAI

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
“Dances w/ Samurai.” Tom Cruise plays Kevin Costner.

WILL IT SUCK?
Dammit, I had all sorts of clever snarky things to say about this but then I had to go and see the movie, but I saw in a sneak peek on Saturday and its one of the best movies of the year. Just plain awesome. Samurai combines great action and great drama in much the same way as the “Rings” trilogy.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Quite well. It’s got nothing even remotely close before, after or during its run. No more epic battles until the biggest, Dec. 19th, “Return of the King”. Plenty of time to rake in the bucks. $133mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
That’s why they’re releasing it in December. Look for Tom to make another run. Ed and John, too, probably. Even Ken Watanabe, playing Cruise’s samurai counterpart, is rumored to be gunning for a supporting nom. And, of course, Best Picture.

---------------------------------

HONEY

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
“Glitter” with dancing.

WILL IT SUCK?
Well, how much less does Jessica Alba suck than Mariah? There you go.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Fairly well. But about as many people remember Jessica Alba as subscribe to Maxim and…hey…maybe this WILL work! Anyway, after the frat boy crowd gets its fill and people jonesing for “Save the Last Dance 2” get their watch on, the b.o. will dry up faster than the second season of “Dark Angel”. $5mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
More like “Razzies.”


---------------------------------

WHAT ALICE FOUND

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Woman on a “let’s get the hell out of my boring life” road trip gets lured into the world of truck stop prostitution. Yes, truck stop prostitution. What, you never did that?

WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is good. Beat out “Thirteen” and “Northfork” for prizes at Sundance and Deauville. And hey, who DOESN’T like a good film about truck stop prostitution?

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
A lot of people, actually. The recently added to November “Triplets of Bellville” and the already there “In America” and “The Cooler” will still be wooing audiences when this comes out and “Girl with a Pearl Earring” will be doing it the next week so there’s not much room for this niche indie. $500,000.


DECEMBER 12


BIG FISH (ltd – 12/10)

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
The latest from Tim Burton. Old man (Albert Finney) recounts his life to his son (Billy Crudup) who’s convinced his tall tales are crap (I mean come on, Ewan MacGregor plays Finney as a young man – NOBODY looks that good!).

WILL IT SUCK?
Good question. Burton’s last film certainly did (“Planet of the Sucky Apes”) but the buzz on this is relatively good, even Oscar-worthy (see below). More often than not, I’m intrigued with Burton’s work, though this time he’s teamed up with screenwriter John August (“Go,” both “Charlie’s Angels” movies) which could be, um, interesting. Let’s just say he wouldn’t be my first choice to adapt a novel, but then again, he’ll probably have a fresh take on it. Great cast, including Steve Buscemi in a supporting role and Alison Lohman, who I predict will play an infant.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Certainly Burton fans will come out for this one but beyond that MacGregor fans will be the main draw. That wasn’t really enough for “Down w/ Love,” though, so word of mouth will have to be pretty damn good. In indie-land it’ll kick all sorts of ass but I think they’ll be looking to expand and with “Return of the King” opening the first week it could go wide, big grosses look unlikely. $31mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Yes. That’s the buzz anyway. Look for Burton to get his first directing nom and August (yup, the “Charlie’s Angels” guy) to get an adaptation nod. Maybe some acting stuff for Jessica Lange, Albert Finney and Ewan MacGregor, but don’t count on it. Probably some technical awards (a la costume design, art direction, etc.) as well.

---------------------------------

STUCK ON YOU

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
The Farrelly Brothers poke fun at conjoined twins as only the Farrelly Brothers can. By casting Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon as the twins and making Cher a major character.

WILL IT SUCK?
I have a lot of faith in the Farrelly Brothers. They haven’t made anything as good since “There’s Something About Mary” but they’ve made consistently entertaining product. The kind of stuff you see on HBO at 4 in the morning and say “Wow, that didn’t suck nearly as much as I thought it would. In fact, it was kind of sweet. Why am I up talking to myself at 6am?” So, at worst, this will be a sweet, gross-out comedy.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
There’s not much in the way of broad comedy ( and no, “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” doesn’t count – see below) at this point and the Brothers have a bit of a following so this should own its weekend and then disappear. Why disappear? Because the mother of all sequels is coming. $74mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Outside shot for best makeup?

---------------------------------

SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
“About As Good As Schmidt Gets”: Jack Nicholson is old and popular and shallow until some chick makes him a nicer person. Insert chick here – Diane Keaton. Insert younger, humanizing guy here – Keanu Reeves.

WILL IT SUCK?
I liked it better when it was called “Untitled Nancy Meyers Project”. That had some mystery to it. Now it just sounds stupid. Nancy Meyers isn’t exactly the world’s greatest writer (“Private Benjamin” was ok, I guess, but “Father of the Bride II”?…and “The Parent Trap” remake?) Let’s just say she’s not Alexander Payne.

On the other hand, that could be a good thing. “About Schmidt” had its drawbacks. Still, this seems like the other side of the ditch. Although I do look forward to seeing any film with Frances McDormand (except, maybe, “Laurel Canyon”) and as big a supporter as I am for the all too rare big studio film written and directed by a woman, I feel a strong urge to pass on this one.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Jack Nicholson is still a draw, but this isn’t exactly the “Anger Management” crowd that’ll be coming to see this. This is going to be a lot more of the “As Good As It Gets” crowd and, what Sony is counting on I’m sure, Nancy Meyers’ last titled project “What Women Want” crowd. (Which holds the record, btw, for being the highest grossing film ever directed by a woman).

Still, Jack Nicholson is no Mel Gibson and Keanu Reeves’ history with romantic comedy is treacherous at best. Look for “Stuck on You” to get the lion’s share of the profits this weekend, but for this film to place. $66mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Maybe. The Academy seems to love nominating Jack for blowing his nose, so, it’s more likely this than his performance in “Anger Management”.

---------------------------------

LOVE DON’T COST A THING

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
“Can’t Buy Me Love” with an all-black cast. And dancing.

WILL IT SUCK?
Well, on the one hand, “Can’t Buy Me Love” is a tried and true premise. On the other hand, it’s been done to death. On the one hand, you have the actual screenwriter for “Can’t Buy Me Love” on board. On the other he’s sharing writing credit with the screenwriter of “Let’s Talk About Sex,” (which has the distinction of receiving the best two-word review since “Shit sandwich.” – “Let’s not.”) who also directed this and…um…”B.A.P.S.” Okay, maybe we don’t need any more hands.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Apparently, this has enjoyed a run on video and cable so somebody thinks it’s good enough to make a box office run. There’s no “urban comedy” competition (except, of course, for “Honey”). And Nick Cannon has a built-in audience from “Drumline”. Should do ok. $28mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Besides the pesky rule about having an initial theatrical run before cable or video (the thing that tripped up “The Last Seduction’s” Oscar chances) there’s also the hurdle of there being no “Best Remake” category – oh, and the sucking.

---------------------------------

GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
True story of a girl with an…um…earring. She ends up in one of Vermeer’s paintings. Betcha didn’t know Vermeer looked like Colin Firth!

WILL IT SUCK?
Well, you gotta be happy with the cast. Scarlett Johansson, Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson. It’s period heaven. (Well, except for the usually ubiquitous Helena Bonham Carter, but she needs a break after “The Heart of Me”). The early buzz is good, and though the story doesn’t interest me that much, it interested the massive numbers who read Tracy Chevalier’s novel. By the way, when I say “true story,” I actually mean “supposition” (no one knows EXACTLY how that chick ended up in that painting).

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
It should be fine until “Calendar Girls” challenges it in limited release the following week. Lion’s Gate has been getting better about promoting its films, and since this seems to have Oscar potential, they’ll probably push it even more. The buzz Johansson is getting off of “Lost In Translation” won’t hurt, either. $5mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
I’m sure Lion’s Gate would like to see plenty of noms head this way. However, with an already crowded field, the most likely nod, if any, will be for Johansson, assuming she doesn’t get one for “Lost in Translation.”

---------------------------------

THE STATEMENT

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Michael Caine plays a guy who’s being hunted by assassins and investigators. Usually we sympathize with a guy like that. In this case, though, he’s a former Nazi who murdered Jews in Vichy France. So our options on who to root for, shall we say, widen a bit.

WILL IT SUCK?
Chances are “no”. Norman Jewison is directing and has an almost Gravas-like grasp of how to balance elements of a thriller with elements of socio/political controversy (“In the Heat of the Night”, “A Soldier’s Story”). The writer, Ronald Harwood, handled similar subject matter before to great effect when he adapted “The Pianist” and his own play “Taking Sides,” (here he’s adapting a Brian Moore novel). Tilda Swinton and Charlotte Rampling are along for the ride, and they don’t suck. And Caine has proven time and again that he’s eminently watchable (and he’s limited himself to only 1 movie per year now – down from 37!) Early reviews, however, are mixed.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
It’s a hard sell. The thriller/chase aspect might put a few more asses in seats but Holocaust-related films rarely make it outside of art houses – as is the case with most Sony Classics films. In addition, this will probably take a back seat to “Girl with a Pearl Earring” and “Calendar Girls” in that environment. Some Oscar wins might help, but that’s not for a while yet. $3mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Michael Caine and Tilda Swinton stand a chance. Harwood’s got an outside shot at a Best Adapted Screenplay nod.

---------------------------------

CRUST

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
You have to read this one to believe it. From IMDB:

“A pub owner purchases a giant shrimp that has washed up on the English shore, teaches it to box, and hits the road in search of fame and fortune.”

WILL IT SUCK?
Well, I don’t see how! It’s a giant boxing shrimp! The only thing I know about this movie, besides the title and synopsis, is that it has the same distribution company as “Tully” and “Charlotte Sometimes” which were both supposed to be very good. Um, I’m sorry, I don’t see how a seven-foot tall shrimp that can kick ass isn’t enough to get you to go.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Assuming it gets the critical plaudits lavished on its predecessors (and why wouldn’t it?) it still won’t make all that much money because of the crowded field, extremely limited release, and lack of money its predecessors made in spite of acclaim. $80,000.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
They should. Big boxing shrimp. Kick Jack Nicholson’s ass, tell you wot.



DECEMBER 19


THE LORD OF THE RINGS:
THE RETURN OF THE KING (opens 12/17)

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
“Am I king yet?”
“No.”
“Am I king yet?”
“No!”
“Am I king yet?”
“NO!…wait…yes.”

WILL IT SUCK?
Of course. There’s no Christopher Lee – hey, give that back! Ow! Sorry folks, Count Dooku over here tried to take away the keyboard, but he’s old and frail. As I was going to say, bloody unlikely.

Keep in mind this is one of the most lauded trilogies (well, the first two parts anyway) in cinema history. Of course, so was the Godfather trilogy until the last one, but that was made years and years later and for the sole purpose of making money. One gets the sense there’s a little more heart behind this one.

Also, those anticipating a disappointment on the level of “Matrix: Revolutions” should keep in mind that many people already know how this story turns out and no one seems to be complaining. All that’s left is the execution and Jackson and Co. have done fine on that front so far. (Of course, execution was the problem with “Revolutions” – imho – but execution improved in this trilogy from one to two and not the reverse).

What’s more, both parts one and two of this trilogy have made it into the IMDB top ten. Only Godfather I and II have achieved this until now, and in reverse order (“Two Towers” actually scored higher than “Fellowship”). So if this trend continues, this should be one of the best films of all time. No pressure, Peter.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
This is also one of the most financially successful trilogies of all time. As Box Office Prophets points out they could close up shop now and still see a profit. And just as TT had more critical acclaim than FOTR, it made more cheddar as well. Look for that trend to continue, as ROTK stands basically unchallenged (and gets a two day head start) for the rest of the month. (A few sci-fi fanboys will go see “Paycheck,” but that won’t hurt this). $360mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
The only film (besides “Cold Mountain”) considered a shoo-in for a Best Picture nom. A lot of people think that the only reason the first two didn’t win is so the Academy could give it to this one. Also, Sean Astin and Ian McKellan appear to be looking at noms as well as, of course, Peter Jackson for directing and for adaptation with his co-writers Frances Walsh and Philippa Boyens. Not to mention countless technical awards and music.

So, the only thing going against it here is the fact that “Two Towers” got significantly fewer noms than its predecessor. However, it could be argued that it was up against stiffer competition last year, and if the plan really is to give the big prize to ROTK, they could be saving up all the ancillary noms for this year as well.

---------------------------------

MONA LISA SMILE

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
“Dead Chick’s Society.” Julia Roberts is Robin Williams. Kirsten Dunst, Julia Styles and Maggie Gyllenhaal are Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke and Josh Charles.

WILL IT SUCK?
Mike Newell isn’t Peter Weir, (though he is still pretty damn good) and Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal are DEFINITELY not Tom Schulman (Or are they? More on that in a minute.) These are the guys who wrote “Superman IV,” “Planet of the Apes (Version Sucky.0),” “Mighty Joe Young,” “Mercury Rising,” and “The Jewel of the Nile,” which I kind of liked - when I was eleven.

Now with Julia (Styles, not Roberts) and Maggie they have two of my favorite actresses and Topher Grace (whom I love ever since he decided to start appearing in Soderbergh flicks) and Ginnifer Goodwin (who was awesome on “Ed” - did she just disappear from Stuckeyville or what?) sweeten the pot but all of that can’t overcome bad writing.

On the other hand, Tom Schulman went on to write “8 Heads in a Duffel Bag,” “Holy Man,” “Medicine Man,” “Second Sight,” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”. So maybe “Mona Lisa Smile” is Lawrence and Mark’s one great flick.

This brings up a question. How do these guys keep getting work? I mean some of these films are successful, but not most. I suppose you could say that for just about any actor or director’s track record but this is pretty extreme. In my idealized Hollywood the thing producers would be pickiest about would be the writers. In the real world, they’re an afterthought.

Speaking of still getting work, do you know what Mark and Lawrence are working on now? “I, Robot.” You have been warned.

And as if all this wasn’t enough – it’s from Revolution “90% of our movies suck” Studios.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
In a shrewd bit of countermarketing, they’re opening against ROTK. However, a lot of women like LOTR, too. Far more than, say, “The Matrix Revolutions”. (That Orlando Bloom. He’s so dreamy.) Anyway, the star power draw will get butts in seats, just not as many as any other weekend. It’ll need good word of mouth to keep it in theaters after that, especially with “Something’s Gotta Give” the week before, “Calendar Girls” (even in limited release) the week it opens and “Cold Mountain” the week after all pecking at part of its core audience. “Smile” definitely skews younger than most of these movies, but it needs all the help it can get. Still, it’s Julia Roberts, and she makes money. $90mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Maybe. Julia got noms for “Pretty Woman” and “Steel Magnolias” which didn’t have exemplary writing or stellar reviews. The supporting actresses have a shot, too, especially if the movie makes bank. However, it’s a very strong year for actresses (maybe not as strong as last year, but still) so it’ll be hard for something like this, which will probably be considered more “lightweight” than, say, “21 Grams” or “Mystic River” (there’s buzz for Laura Linney, and she only has, like, five lines in that flick) to make an impression.

---------------------------------

CALENDAR GIRLS

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
“The Full-breasted Monty” Several (well, twelve, I suppose) older women put together a nude calendar to raise money for leukemia research with themselves as the models. Based on a true story.

WILL IT SUCK?
Probably not. It’s kind of a novel plot (“Full Monty” or no) and Helen Mirren and Julie Waters are more than up to the task. This sort of brit comedy is covered ground for the director, who did “Saving Grace” to some acclaim in 2000 (when the events that took place in this film actually happened). Early buzz is good.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Pretty well. There’s no “charming comedy” in limited release at this point and the closest thing to an audience contender is the slightly less wacky “Girl with a Pearl Earring”. This is the sort of flick where good word of mouth could turn it into a sleeper hit a la…okay, there are a lot of similarities between this and “The Full Monty”. $24mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
It’s possible. But I’m guessing the more “serious” fare will be given first shot at noms and if there’s any room left over, Helen Mirren and/or Julie Waters might get a nod.

---------------------------------

THE FOG OF WAR

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and LBJ. President of the World Bank. Robert S. McNamara has done it all. Well, except be interviewed by Errol Morris. Now he’s done that, too.

WILL IT SUCK?
Probably not. This is Errol Morris we’re talking about here. “The Thin Blue Line.” “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control.” This is Robert S. McNamara we’re talking about here. Vietnam. The Cuban Missle Crisis. Okay, he didn’t direct those (I hope), but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess he has a singular perspective on them. Early buzz is extremely good and Sony Pictures Classics obviously thinks they’ve got a winner on their hands, as they’ve waited until Oscar season to release this.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
That, not so much. Docs as a rule don’t make very much money. With an art house season this crowded, even less so. Errol Morris is one of the best known documentarians in the world, and even with that nobody knows who he is. This will spend some time in the art house, and do better on DVD. $900,000.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Yes. This has made the cut for Oscar nom contention (they announce the doc qualifiers pretty early). It will probably get nominated, being one of the higher profile docs of the year.

---------------------------------

THE HEBREW HAMMER

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
There’s a new superhero in town. The “Hebrew Hammer”. With the help of his African American sidekick Mohammed, he takes on Santa’s evil son Damien, who plans to eliminate Hannukah. It’s not a comedy. (Okay, maybe a little).

WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is pretty good. With Adam Goldberg (“Dazed & Confused,” “Saving Private Ryan” & Joey’s creepy replacement roommate on “Friends”) as the Hammer and Andy Dick as evil Santa spawn, it’s hard to go wrong.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
It doesn’t have much competition, and the Blaxploitation spoof has a rich history of sleeper success (“I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” “Undercover Brother”). The early release on Comedy Central might help (or hurt) its chances in a crowded, but not very funny, holiday season.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Can you nominate a gag? There’s something in this movie called the Jewish Justice League. And the website has a Space Invaders spoof called Gentile Invaders. Hello? Is this thing on?

---------------------------------

TWO MEN WENT TO WAR

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Two British dentists invade France. No, really, this actually happened. They were tired of not seeing any action in WWII so they took it upon themselves to land in occupied France alone and sabotage the enemy. Oh, you believe that part? Then what…oh, yeah, the British really DO have dentists.

WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is mixed, with audiences seeming to like it more than critics. It’s already out on DVD and video in Britain, so if you have a PAL encoded DVD player, you can order it online. If not, you’ll have to wait and see just how charmingly British this comedy/drama really is.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Not very. Even without all the competition it’s got no stars and a mixed buzz. With the competition it will simply be ignored. $300,000.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
With this kind of buzz and that kind of box office, not a chance.



DECEMBER 25


PETER PAN

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Pan. Hook. Tinkerbell. Crocodile. Revenge. Flying. Lost boys (not Jason Patrick). Wendy. All that stuff.

WILL IT SUCK?
Good question. The director has done his fair share of weddings (“Muriel’s” “My Best Friend’s”) and wrote the former and co-wrote this. The other writer penned “Contact” (woo-hoo!) and “Bed of Roses” (d’oh!). The underlying theme here is cheese. “Peter Pan” will probably have a lot of it (even if they’re going for a “darker” tone according to the producers).

Still, this has never been a terribly intriguing story for my tastes so even with Spielberg directing I probably wouldn’t be that interested (and wasn’t – “Hook” wasn’t exactly a classic). Also, I’d be too distracted thinking about Ludvine Sagnier in “Swimming Pool” to completely buy her as Tinkerbell. All sorts of wrong there, actually. Best not to think about it too much.

Given the talent involved, expect a competent retelling. Given the fact that Revolution Studios is involved, expect a generous helping of suck to be thrown in as well.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Its biggest competition comes the week before in the form of ROTK. It doesn’t help, though, that “Cheaper by the Dozen,” another family-friendly flick, is coming out the same day. Still, the holiday weekend may provide enough room for all of them. $140mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
There are already enough films vying for best fx, so I don’t think this’ll make it.

---------------------------------

COLD MOUNTAIN

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Civil War romance/drama with Jude Law coming home disillusioned from battle (how come no one’s ever illusioned from battle?) to Nicole Kidman. Renee Zellweger does some stuff, too.

WILL IT SUCK?
Probably not. Though “English Patient” sucked, “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” showed Anthony Minghella’s writing/directing chops (and, from what I’ve heard, so did “Truly, Madly, Deeply”). The cast is stellar. In addition to the leads you got Natalie Portman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Giovanni Ribisi, Brendan Gleeson, Ray Winstone, Jena Malone, Donald Sutherland and Ethan Suplee. It doesn’t hurt that the book upon which this is based won a National Book Award. Most. Generic. Award. Name. Ever.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
In spite of waning “Mona Lisa Smile” b.o. the “adult” chick flick audience will be flocking to this one. This’ll be the “The Hours” or even the “Chicago” of this holiday season. $105mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Buzz has it that this is the only real competition ROTK has. Of course, that’s based on not a single viewing. So all of that could turn around suddenly. If it doesn’t, look for it in every major category. Remember, Miramax is pushing it so even if it doesn’t deserve it, it’ll probably get at least a few noms.

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CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Based not only on a true story, but another movie as well. This is a family raising twelve kids. Unfortunately, Ashton Kutcher is somehow involved. Perhaps they don’t have twelve kids. Perhaps they are being…punk’d?

WILL IT SUCK?
Oh, my, yes. The director did “Just Married” (explains Kutcher’s presence) and “Big Fat Liar” (now he’ll have worked with Hilary Duff AND Amanda Bynes – you get some sort of award for that). The writers, and there are many, have produced such a cornucopia of crap that to list it all would take up more memory than I’m allotted on this website. I’ll name one from each to show you how many writers and how much crap:

See Spot Run
French Kiss
Money Talks
(that’s two guys right there)
Rookie of the Year
Super Mario Bros.
Joe Di
rt

Probably the only decent screenwriter here is starring actress Bonnie Hunt who wrote “Return to Me,” which, while being no “When Harry Met Sally…” was certainly no “French Kiss,” either. Now among these 9 (!) writers there’s stuff like “Toy Story” and “Best in Show,” but it’s overshadowed by the far more ubiquitous crap. As much as I love the idea of Tom Wellington finally making it to the big screen and the idea of seeing Steve Martin not trying to talk black I just can’t find enough ways to say that this is going to be the suckiest bunch of suck to ever suck.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
That won’t stop it from cleaning up at the box office. Steve Martin does well in family comedy (see “Father of the Bride” franchise) and his star is on the rise again since “Bringing Down the House” raked it in earlier this year. The Kutcher Boy’s still got it and Smallville fans…will probably still stay home but Hilary Duff fans can probably be convinced in some numbers to shell out for this. It’ll be the non-action family alternative to “Peter Pan”. $103mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
We’ll remember how nice it was when Steve hosted. (It won’t be so bad, though, with Billy).

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PAYCHECK

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Like “Memento” with one big memory dump as opposed to a bunch of little ones. Ben Affleck tries to reconstruct his past from trinkets he left for himself before his employer erased his memory using high-tech future stuff. Did I mention this takes place in the future? It’s based on a Philip K. Dick story so, yeah, it’s the future.

WILL IT SUCK?
I’m not actually one to dismiss Ben Affleck out of hand. He’s given us some good years, believe it or not (“Dazed & Confused,” anything where Kevin Smith directs him) and “Gigli” not withstanding, he can carry his share of a flick (the vastly underrated “Changing Lanes”). But that’s not the real concern here. Affleck’s only ever as good as his director and/or material. Here that should be a turkey shoot, right?

But John Woo is about half and half if you include his American fare. He’s at least in the genre here that produced his one decent American flick: “Face/Off”. And though this film has enough “Dick,” keep in mind for every “Total Recall” there’s a “Screamers” and for every “Minority Report” and “Blade Runner” there’s an “Impostor”. Generally, though, when a major director takes on Dick he does it well. However, the screenplay support is being provided by the guy who wrote the latest “Tomb Raider” movie with the title so long that, again, I just don’t have enough room on this website to write it.

One bonus is that this is a character actor treasure trove: Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti and Joe Morton are all on board!

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Without ROTK there, pretty damn well. With it, it’ll need better reviews to really drum up an audience which it still might not get. Affleck’s lousy rep (at the moment) doesn’t help. Still, Woo (since “Broken Arrow”) rarely out and out flops. $103mil. (sound familiar?).

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Look to Woo’s next project, “Land of Destiny” to be more likely Oscar fare. Of course, they said that about “Windtalkers,” too.

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HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
“Not Without my House”. Jennifer Connelly fights Ben Kingsley over possession of her former home.

WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is a bit mixed, but the critics seem to agree that the performances here, at least, are strong even if the plot is not. Admittedly, the trailer looks a little hokey (and feels like it gives away far too much).

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Its biggest limited release competition comes from “Monster,” which will probably draw a different crowd anyway. Dreamworks is banking on this to raise revenue once the noms come out, which is when it will probably go into its widest release and make its biggest bank. Still, dark Oscar fare usually only makes so much, Oprah Book Club Selection or no. Big names will help, though. $89mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Critics weren’t crazy about “I am Sam” but that didn’t stop Sean Penn from getting a nod. Look for a similar outcome here. Almost definitely Ben Kingsley and probably Jennifer Connelly as well.

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THE COMPANY

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Behind the scenes at the acclaimed Joffrey Ballet Company in Chicago. In true Altman fashion, there’s little or no plot, just an ensemble piece (mostly dancers, actually, and only a few featured actors) with people interacting and lots and lots of ballet.

WILL IT SUCK?
Depends on whether or not you like ballet. Critics seem to be unanimously praising this while audiences pan it. Not an altogether atypical reaction to Altman, who seems to have really freed up his camera for this one, opting for high-def over film. The sense I get is that if you go for the ballet and characters, you won’t be disappointed, but if you go for any semblance of story, you will.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Audiences like plot, so not very. $9mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Altman’s last film, “Gosford Park,” enjoyed the sort of critical and audience acclaim that few of his films seem to simultaneously garner. That’s not the case here. Very outside shot for Malcom McDowell, who has a showier role than most as the venerable director of the company.

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MONSTER

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
True life story of Aileen Carol Wuornos, convicted and executed female serial killer.

WILL IT SUCK?
It’s a compelling story. Wuornos was a truck stop prostitute with a tragic childhood who began her killing spree with a john who tried to rape her. Her not entirely unsympathetic tale also involves a lesbian relationship with a woman played by Christina Ricci. Charlize Theron plays Wuornos and by most accounts is outstanding in the role. Early buzz is very encouraging.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
The titillation factor of seeing Ricci and Theron make out on-screen might draw a few lookee-loos who don’t realize that Theron doesn’t exactly look like Theron in this one. Outside of that, the “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” crowd will likely turn out for some dark holiday fare. A release outside of the art house circuit, though, seems unlikely unless some serious noms start rolling in. $7mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Though no one’s talked too much about it yet, a best actress nod for Theron doesn’t seem wholly unlikely.



DECEMBER 31

JAPANESE STORY

WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A Japanese businessman and a geologist get stuck in the desert. Life lessons ensue.

WILL IT SUCK?
Critical reception is generally positive, in no small part due to the fact that Toni Collette plays the geologist with distinction. Overall, though, this doesn’t look to be more than “Gerry” with a man and a woman instead of Matt Damon and one of his buddies.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
How well did “Gerry” do? $240,000.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
If the film does much better than suspected, Toni Collette’s performance could be high profile enough to get a nod. But that’s a very big if. Clearly, though, Sam Goldwyn Films is vying for that possibility by slipping this in just under the wire for Oscar qualification.

That’s all for this year, stay tuned for next year when we get to start off with the worst month in the movie calendar. No, really. There is exactly one film I’m looking forward to in January.

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[email protected] | December 2003 | Issue 45
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