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SEPTEMBER 2004 MOVIE PREVIEW


Paper Clips

Well, Oscar season has begun. And, as with any Oscar season, the absolute least likely contenders are released in September. So look for a lot of crap and a few gems, almost all of which will be overlooked because it's just too damned early.

9/3

THE COOKOUT

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Inner city brutha makes good and throws a cookout in his new suburban digs to celebrate. But as Biggie done told us, "Mo' money, mo' problems."

WILL IT SUCK?
Six writers, no waiting. Three on the story (including Queen Latifah, who guest stars and produces) and three on the screenplay, none of whom have written anything before, so it's up in the air. I can tell you this. The trailer? Not that funny. However, any movie where Danny Glover is married to Farrah Fawcett and Ja Rule plays a character named "Bling Bling" can't be all bad.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Though I'm sure the producers are looking for a "Barbershop"-size reception, I'm not sure it's going to be funny enough to have that kind of appeal. Still, it doesn't have a lot of comedy with which to compete. $31mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Best Performance by a Rapper? It could be a category.


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

WICKER PARK

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Hey, remember Josh Hartnett? He's back! In romantic thriller form!

WILL IT SUCK?
Well, this is based on a French film, and those adaptations always turn out well. The original, "L'Appartement," starred Vincent Cassel and Monica Belucci, who rock. This one has Josh and that chick who played Helen of "Troy." Paul McGuigan isn't the worst director, but the writer did "Apt Pupil," the only Bryan Singer film I don't like. And apparently Matthew Lillard found time out from filming "Without a Paddle" to be in another crappy film.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
I'm not sure how much of a Hartnett fan base is still in operation after "Hollywood Homicide," but that might help it beat "Paparazzi" for like, the number 5 spot when they both open this weekend. The following weekend, "Cellular" should put them both to bed, mostly because of a better marketing campaign. $30mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Matthew Lillard will get an award for "Hangin' in there."


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

PAPARAZZI

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Take equal parts Princess Diana tragedy and that flick "The Fan" with Robert DeNiro and Wesley Snipes and you get this crap about a guy hounded by the paparazzi who strikes back.

WILL IT SUCK?
Oh, my, yes. One of the worst trailers of the year. This feels like Tom Sizemore's community service for making death threats to Heidi Fleiss. Poor Dennis Farina. He deserves better than playing the cop following Cole Hauser (playing a movie star named, I shit you not, Bo Laramie) as he exacts revenge on Sizemore and his paparazzi goons who injured his wife and child in the aforementioned Lady Di scene. Maybe if Sean Penn were in the lead. Nah, it'd probably still suck.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
There will be so many better, and by better I mean having a suck factor of only 99%, thrillers out at the time, including "Suspect Zero," "Wicker Park," and, the following week, "Cellular" with bigger stars and better trailers that this, thankfully, will be overlooked by everyone except for bitter movie stars. $20mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
No, but Cole should get a retroactive nom for his role in "Tigerland."


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

VANITY FAIR

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Period drama, which is a fancy way of saying "Cinderella plot no. 7." Reese Witherspoon plays the rags to riches heroine.

WILL IT SUCK?
It got a Golden Lion nom at Venice, but the plaudits stop there. Critics here have not been kind. Which is too bad when you consider that you've got Mira "Monsoon Wedding" Nair directing and Oscar-winning "Gosford Park" scribe Julian Fellowes on the writing team. Plus, you've got a UK character actor orgy including Jim Broadbent, Bob Hoskins, Rhys Ifans, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (Brendan Gleeson and Brian Cox somehow missed the casting call for this one).

Gabriel Byrne makes an appearance as well, and I can only hope it's like his "Enemy of the State" cameo where he shows up to pull a gun on the lead and inexplicably disappear for the rest of the movie.

On the Reese-meter, think better than "Sweet Home Alabama," not as good as "Cruel Intentions."

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
This is probably the best-advertised limited September release so far, but the bad buzz will sting. $31mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Fellowes already has an Oscar, and Mira Nair would make the second (third?) female Best Director nom (and the first of color) so, don't count on either. And though Oscar loves it when big stars take on "challenging" roles (i.e. don an accent or mental illness), poor critical reception will sink Reese's chances.


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

WARRIORS OF HEAVEN AND EARTH
(Moved from August)

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Two warriors must face each other, but first they must protect a religious artifact from a warlord.

WILL IT SUCK?
Trailer looks good, but reviews are mixed - most seem unimpressed. Too cheesy, apparently.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Well, they managed to change up their problematic release strategy (maybe they read last month's column) by moving it a whopping week away from "Hero." Good for them! That'll buy them, maybe, another hundred grand. I'll be generous and say another two. $500,000.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Well, they did remember "Hero," which never did bother to come out in a platform release in the states before its nomination. On the other hand, "Hero" had incredible reviews and stars, so, no.


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

REMEMBER ME, MY LOVE

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Italian family melodrama.

WILL IT SUCK?
The reviews aren't unanimous, but the general buzz is favorable and it was nominated for a shitload of Italian awards. Plus, it has Monica Bellucci, and that's almost always a good thing.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Up against "The Brown Bunny" and "Hero" from the week before, "Vanity Fair" this week, and "Criminal" and "When Will I Be Loved" the next, this'll be lucky to get noticed. Unless Bellucci blows Gallo, it won't. $100,000.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Offhand, I can't think of anything else Italy will be sending, but that doesn't mean Oscar will accept.

9/10

RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Picking up where the original left off, Alice must save Raccoon City (Really? Are we sure about that name?) from a plague-induced zombie fest and a really fake looking monster unleashed to kill her.

WILL IT SUCK?
Well, Paul W.S. Anderson was too busy bringing the suck to "AVP" to direct this one, but he still had time to write it. As with the original, which he also wrote, expect a degree of commitment to the video game, but not much else to make it a good movie.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
No real genre competition, but bad buzz could sink this even with the faithful. $35mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
No, but I think there should be a video game category so this could lose it.


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

CELLULAR

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Taking the lead from a BMW short, this revolves around a guy who answers his cell phone to find a kidnapped woman on the other end. Tension and/or a bunch of plot holes ensue.

WILL IT SUCK?
Director David R. Ellis usually specializes in sequels. He did "Homeward Bound 2" and "Final Destination 2," so I guess he has, um, range? The script idea comes from Larry "Phone Booth" Cohen (a.k.a. Larry "Maniac Cop I - III" Cohen), so at least the first two thirds should be good. The actual script comes from a newcomer, however, so all bets are off as to whether this follows "Phone Booth's" pattern of falling apart in the third act.

It'll be fun to see William H. Macy cash a paycheck, and Jason Statham should make a nice heavy (I like to think that the character he plays for ten seconds in "Collateral" is the same guy here), but the real prize will be the debut role of "Last Annoying Comic Standing" winner Dat Phan as "Vietnamese Artist."

The trailer gives too much away, and what it gives away doesn't fill me with confidence. Still, should be better than "Paparrazi," but not better than that BMW short.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
The only September release with better marketing comes out the following week, but this should own its opening. $47mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
If William H. Macy couldn't get a nom for "Seabiscuit," it ain't happenin' for this.


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

CRIMINAL

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
American remake of Argentinean caper "Nine Queens" with a kick-ass cast.

WILL IT SUCK?
Usually American remakes of clever foreign hits suck horribly, but usually they come from major American studios. Technically, that's the case here, as Warner Bros. is distributing, but this was spearheaded by the Clooney/Soderbergh shingle Section 8 and directed by Soderbergh AD Gregory Jacobs, with whom Soderbergh co-wrote the screenplay. On the other hand, 8's track record goes from stellar ("Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," "Ocean's 11") to not-so-much ("Welcome to Collinwood," "Solaris").

The cast leaves little to complain about. John C. Reilly, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Diego Luna have the leads. Given sharp dialogue and plot twists, they should be entertaining to watch, but I'd have more confidence with Soderbergh at the helm. (Though I can't complain that he's to busy doing "Ocean's 12" to do this.)

Early buzz, what precious little exists, is mixed.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Some serious competition the following week, especially from genre-similar import "Infernal Affairs," but the cast should give it an edge. $5mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
The original couldn't catch a foreign film nom. Without bigger stars, it's unlikely this could catch any heat, either.


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

WHEN WILL I BE LOVED?

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
"Wild Things," James Toback-style.

WILL IT SUCK?
Well, did you like "Two Girls and a Guy"? From the trailer, this looks like that with a little caper thrown in. Do you like naked Neve Campbell? We got that. Do you think maybe she could kiss more girls? Check. Do you like James Toback? He directed this and, given the lack of a writer listed anywhere, I'm gonna guess he at least encouraged the story in certain directions. As is often the case with him, I think we'll get a whole lot of genuinely thought/groin provoking controversy signifying nothing. Oh, and he cast Mike Tyson. Again.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Could give "Criminal" a run for its money. Naked Neve Campbell vs. clothed John C. Reilly? Even straight girls know how to answer that one. However, Toback rarely does well, even with a high profile cast ("Black & White"). $3mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
I have a sneaking suspicion that Neve has an Oscar performance in her somewhere. I don't think this is it.


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

RECONSTRUCTION

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
A guy leaves his girlfriend for some chick he sees on the subway but the next day no one knows who he is so I guess it kind of balances out, right?

WILL IT SUCK?
This looks to be the next big thing out of Denmark. It even has a co-writer from "The Celebration." It's won a shitload of foreign awards including two at Cannes - the "Camera d'Or," which goes to a debut filmmaker and "Le Label regard jeune," which, loosely translated, means, "Hey! Look at that young man and put a sticker on him!"

Early buzz is good.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Just a matter of bad timing I suppose. Palm Pictures is releasing this against such heavy hitters as Miramax and Warner Bros., who have indie releases this week, and then Newmarket releases a new John Sayles feature the following week. It's not easy being a micro-indie. $200,000.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
This looks like it's being groomed to be the Danish submission for Best Foreign Language Film.


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

PAPER CLIPS

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Documentary about the efforts of a middle school class in Tennessee, taking a voluntary course on tolerance, to collect six million paper clips to represent the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

WILL IT SUCK?
Probably not. It's a fascinating premise, and the little buzz it's had so far is very, very positive.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
It doesn't hurt to have Miramax in their corner, but they're up against "Vanity Fair," "Criminal," and "Silver City." It'll be hard to get noticed. Even Miramax is pitting it against "Infernal Affairs" the following week. $1mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
If it lives up to the buzz, you're looking at an early Best Doc contender.

9/17

WIMBLEDON

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Romantic comedy revolving around the titular (hee) competition.

WILL IT SUCK?
This is probably the second most hotly anticipated romantic comedy of the season, if for no other reason than there aren't that many romantic comedies this season, nor are romantic comedies usually hotly anticipated. In any case, teaming up Paul Bettany with Kirsten Dunst is a clever, if overly-Aryan, masterstroke. Throwing Sam Neil and Jon Favreau into the mix is also a good move.

Though the direction looks to be strong (veteran British director Richard Loncraine, who made Ian McKellan look so deliciously evil as "Richard III"), the writing is a little lacking. I'm not sure I want to see Paul and Kirsten exchanging witty banter from a "90210" alumnus.

The very minimal early buzz is favorable, however.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Direct genre competition comes the following week from "First Daughter," but that's shooting for a younger demographic. Stiffer competition comes this week from "Sky Captain," which relies on established stars (Jude & Gwyneth & Angelina) over up and comers. Even Bettany has admitted that casting directors have looked at him as a poor-man's Jude Law. However, if "Captain" disappoints, "Wimbledon" might be able to stick around and make its money over the long haul. $64mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Romantic comedies, unless they're "Annie Hall," tend to get the shaft at Oscar time.


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

MR. 3000

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Story of a former baseball star who can't get into the Hall of Fame because he gambled on…oh, no wait, they haven't made THAT movie yet. No, this one can't get in cause he didn't get as many hits as he thought.

WILL IT SUCK?
Two things give me hope about this movie. One, it's directed by Charles Stone III, who helmed the ten-times-better-than-it-should-have-been "Drumline." Two, it stars Bernie Mac, who's been the saving grace of more than a few mediocre films ("Charlie's Angles 2," "Head of State").

Unfortunately, none of that can save us from the writing team behind the Whoopi Goldberg basketball vehicle "Eddie." Remember that? No? Good. Don't try.

Honestly, I think the greenlight meeting went something like this…

White Corporate Stereotype #1: "Okay, we've got that 'Drumline' guy directing, and Bernie's committed, but who's gonna write this thing?"

WCS #2: "Who's gonna what?"

WCS #1: "You know. Write." (makes typing motion with hands)

WCS #2: "Oh, that! Um…Let's see. Well, it's a sports movie."

WCS #1: "Correction. It's a BLACK sports movie."

WCS #2: "African American."

WCS #1: "Whatever. So, I was flipping around and there was this thing on BET-"

WCS #2: "Ooooh! Was it 'Booty Call'?"

WCS #1: "No."

WCS #2: "Damn."

WCS #1: "Anyway, it was this basketball movie with that black chick who hosts the Oscars every three years."

WCS #2: "Yeah. What's her name? Yippee? Hooray?"

WCS #1: "No, Whoopi, I think."

WCS #2: "So you wanna pay her to write it?"

WCS #1: "Are you kidding? Do you know how much it cost to get Bernie? We'll get the guys who wrote the basketball movie."

WCS #2: "You mean 'The Sixth Man'?"

WCS #1: "No! The one with Whoopi!"

WCS #2: "But how can we get this to connect with White - I'm sorry - Caucasian Americans?"

WCS #1: "I don't know. Hire a guy from 'Home Improvement'." [Which, in fact, they did.]

Of course, they'd never talk about writers at a greenlight meeting. They save shit like that for the first day of shooting.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Up against anything besides "Sky Captain," (at least of this month's releases) this would run the table. It'll still do very, very well. It's got the sports crowd. The black, er, African American crowd. It's timed to coincide with baseball playoffs. Bernie's garnered a considerable following. $76mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Bernie's is a long way off.


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SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Jude Law plays a guy who checks bags at airports until robot monsters threaten to take his job.

Well, I got the part about the robot monsters right.

WILL IT SUCK?
Good question. The buzz surrounding this film is chiefly technological, not qualitative. It's a cool story. Techno-film-school-geek invents a new cinema technology in his basement and uses it to revolutionize filmmaking to the point where Paramount hands him the keys to the castle to write and direct his first feature. Now how this technology, which allows you to dump actors into virtual sets, is different from the uber-blue-green-screen of "Attack of the Clones" is beyond me, except that it's cheaper, which may be the selling point for studios.

In any case, the look it achieves is, well, kinda cheesy. At least to go by the trailers. In fact, the whole thing looks cheesy in a kind of retro-40's way. Of course, I said the same thing about "The Rocketeer" and I ended up enjoying that when I finally got around to seeing it.

I'm also curious to see how they'll work in archival footage of Laurence Olivier to make him the bad guy.

The early buzz - and again, there's very, very little - is very, very good.

FYI, we're about to enter the Autumn of our Jude Content. He'll be in no fewer than SIX films this fall. With lead roles in three. Gene Hackman, you are about to be served.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
This is why you move a blockbuster from the summer to the fall. With much broader appeal than the closest genre competition ("Resident Evil: Apocalypse") this should easily handle the month. If it doesn't flat out suck, it should be unstoppable. It probably won't flat out suck. $186mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Look for lots of technical noms. The leads have already won (or been nominated for) their Oscars.


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

HEAD IN THE CLOUDS

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
"Henry and June" with Nazis.

WILL IT SUCK?
I get a very "meh" vibe off the whole thing. Charlize Theron, Penelope Cruz, and Stuart Townsend don't do much for me. I thought Charlize was great in "Monster," but I don't see anything nearly as challenging here. The writer/director, John Duigan, hasn't done anything to inspire me, either. His most well known work is probably "Sirens," a.k.a. "Look! It's Elle Macherson! And she's naked!" The whole love-affair-ruined-by-that-pesky-WWII thing is kind of played out for me.

There is, however, a little good early buzz.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
There are much more interesting things going on with much better advance buzz this week and next. So whatever business this gets will be on the strength of the leads. The trailer implies a little lipstick lesbo action between Charlize and Penelope (and this time Charlize won't look like crap when she does it), which could be good to fill a few seats. $17mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Probably not. If Charlize wins twice in a row, it won't be for this.


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

SILVER CITY

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
A thinly veiled George W. Bush stand-in (Chris Cooper) runs for office amidst a potentially scandalous murder investigation.

WILL IT SUCK?
Writer/Director John Sayles has a pretty strict no-suck policy. And he's stacked the deck here with a formidable cast, including Sayles' MVP Cooper, Thora Birch, Miguel Ferrer, and Tim Roth (not to mention half a dozen other people, those are just the ones I particularly like).

Unfortunately, the advance buzz is not so good.

Still, props to Newmarket (who shares a similar no-suck policy) for releasing this and "The Passion of the Christ" in the same year.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
The last two weeks of September are going to be crowded as hell. Still, this should be one of the standouts. Not just because it's Sayles, but also because it's lampooning the President a few weeks before he's either ousted or re-elected. Academy Award Winner Cooper is the icing on the marketing cake. $14mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
I'd like to say that depends upon the outcome of the election, but either way I can see Cooper getting a nom. Maybe it'll be easier for him to win if Bush loses.


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

NATIONAL LAMPOON'S GOLD DIGGERS

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
So these two guys marry these two old ladies in order to get their inheritance but what they don't know is that the two old ladies are actually trying to kill them for the insurance money. Funny, huh? Huh? Is this thing on?

WILL IT SUCK?
Remember when the name "National Lampoon" used to mean something? When it preceded titles like "Animal House" and "Vacation"? Now it sucks. Unredeemably sucks. So will this.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Why is this opening in limited release? I mean, I know it's a crowded weekend wide but it's not exactly the Sahara desert in Indiewood. What do they hope to accomplish? Here's what they probably will accomplish. $5mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
No, but I totally would have given Belushi a Best Supporting nom for "Animal House." I'm just saying.


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

GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Sequel to the most celebrated anime since "Akira."

WILL IT SUCK?
Critics and audiences are split on this one, which looks to follow its predecessor by getting a better reception abroad than in Japan. It was nominated for the top prize at Cannes, but critics here are mostly giving it the cold shoulder while audiences cheer it on. Not as loudly as they cheered for the original, however.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Very limited appeal. Plus, if Dreamworks can only push it as hard as they did "Millenium Actress" last year, it probably won't go far. $80,000.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Outside shot for Best Animated nom.


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

ENDURING LOVE

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Rhys Ifans stalks Daniel Craig after both are involved in a ballooning accident. Ifans ("Danny Deckchair") really has to stay away from floating transportation.

WILL IT SUCK?
This is a good match of director and material. Director Roger Michell did a fine job showing two protagonists' lives imploding in "Changing Lanes," and novelist Ian McEwan provided the source material, yet another in his string of works chronicling fucked up familial/relationship dynamics ("The Comfort of Strangers"). The writer is the unkown link, having only penned the little seen and little regarded "Some Voices" a few years back.

Props on scoring Samantha Morton and Bill Nighy for the supporting cast, however.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
A weekend this crowded will not be kind, especially after the minimal reception "Danny Deckchair" received last month. $200,000.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
No more noms for Samantha for a while, I think.


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

INFERNAL AFFAIRS

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Trading places has never been this fun. A cop goes undercover in the Hong Kong underworld. No big deal. But one of the criminals simultaneously goes undercover as a cop.

WILL IT SUCK?
Like the light from a distant star, the incredible film year that was Asian Cinema in 2002 is just reaching us now thanks to Miramax's incomprehensible release strategy. So the multiple award-winning "Hero" and "Infernal Affairs" are finally arriving on our shores, only a month apart. Better late than never.

Tony Leung's star will certainly be on the rise, as he's featured in both films, getting the exposure "Hard Boiled" co-star Chow Yun Fat received earlier.

Assuming Miramax doesn't go cut-happy, the film should be the second best Asian import of the year, behind "Hero" (although all bets are off once Yimou's "House of Flying Daggers" arrives in December).

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Incomprehensibly, Miramax's sit-on-a-film-for-as-long-as-humanly-possible policy didn't stop "Hero" from raking in mad bones. If they can piggyback off that, this could do well. However, it won't have Jet Li or "Quentin Tarantino Presents" backing it. $8mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
We'll have to wait until Scorcese re-makes this with DiCaprio and Damon before that even becomes a possibility. And, yes, that is the current plan.


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

ZELARY

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
A woman in the Nazi Resistance party has to change her identity and marry a man she doesn't love in order to escape capture.

WILL IT SUCK?
Probably not. Was up for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film earlier this year. It was nominated for a bunch of Czech Oscars and won one for its lead actress. Probably worth checking out.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Maybe if it'd actually won the Oscar. $800,000.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Not until the Brett Ratner remake with Dustin Hoffman and Sandra Bullock. Okay, that one I made up.


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

COWBOYS AND ANGELS

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Coming of age story in Dublin. Straight laced civil servant moves in with gay fashion student and hilarity ensues.

WILL IT SUCK?
Caught this at the Philadelphia Int'l Gay & Lesbian Film Fest and it's better than the routine synopsis might imply. They throw in a drug dealer and some asshole behavior on the part of the protagonist to make this a little more interesting.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Mad props to Philly based TLA for shooting for a theatrical release, but why do it during one of the most crowded weekends on the calendar? $400,000.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Not going to leave enough of an impression (or make nearly enough money) for that.


9/24


THE FORGOTTEN

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
A woman (Julianne Moore) loses her son in an accident but is later told that he never existed.

WILL IT SUCK?
The paranormal element blatantly given away in the trailer makes this at once a more interesting prospect and strangely less interesting since we know that it's coming. Director Joseph Ruben spent the better part of the 80's helming fare that complements the plot. One investigative potboiler ("True Believer") and one sci-fi thriller ("Dreamscape"). But he spent the 90's doing "Sleeping with the Enemy," "Money Train," "The Good Son," and (ugh) "Return to Paradise."

Making matters worse is the writer, who penned "Phenomenon" and "Phenomenon II" (betcha didn't know there was a sequel - straight to DVD, baby!) and, better yet, "Message in a Bottle" and "Angel Eyes." So expect this to be phenomenally crappy.

Oh, and it's Revolution Studios so it's guaranteed to suck.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Given the strong weekend that precedes this, it's unlikely anything from this week will hit number one. After that, ill buzz will put this out of its misery like so much "Godsend." $15mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
No, but remember when Julianne Moore was up for two Oscars in the same year?


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

FIRST DAUGHTER

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Hey, remember that excellent piece of cinema called "Chasing Liberty" about the first daughter played by Mandy Moore? No? Good. 20th Century Fox is counting on that.

WILL IT SUCK?
Wow. There's just so much to say and all of it is bad. Let's start with the curious fact that the story credit goes to, in part, Jerry O'Connell, which is interesting since one of the leads, TV's Marc Blucas, is basically the poor man's Jerry O'Connell. He's also Riley of Buffy fame and while watching the trailer I kept wanting to yell out, "Watch out, Katie! He's with The Initiative! He's gonna go crazy and move to South America for some reason!" As uninteresting as Blucas was on "Buffy," he promises to be even more so here because he won't be fighting vampires.

Now, the screenwriters behind this (it's not just Jerry, for all I know he's the next Alvin Sargent, he just co-wrote the story) have between them "Bring it On" and "Legally Blonde 2." Without the "2" that would have been pretty promising, huh?

I like that they cast Michael Keaton as POTUS, I just wish the movie was just about him and that occasionally during the film he would don a black costume and fight crime. Seriously, is there a better cover for a superhero than being the President of the United States? (Revolution, you can have that one for free.)

And, yes, Katie Holmes is the lead and no, she doesn't get naked.

And why is Forest Whitaker directing this? He deserves better. Then again, he did direct "Hope Floats."

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
It has its demographic and it will serve it well. But the following week "Shark Tale" is gonna kick its ass. $23mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
It's safe to say that they won't.


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

THE LAST SHOT

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Okay. Try not to panic. But apparently, there are a few union folks involved in the making of films. Yes, like that guy in those incredibly annoying anti-piracy commercials they show before movies now. And apparently a few of them are involved in, wait for it, organized crime. Just a few. Anyway, the FBI once tried to sting these malcontents by staging a fake movie. This is the fictionalized, wackier (hopefully) account of those events.

WILL IT SUCK?
Writer/Director Jeff Nathanson has become Spielberg's new golden boy, having penned both "Catch Me If You Can," and "The Terminal." If he directs as well as he writes, we may have a winner. The cast is stellar, including Matthew Broderick as the filmmaker duped by agent Alec Baldwin into thinking the movie is for real. Throw in Tony Shalhoub, Toni Collete, Jon Polito, and Ray Liotta for good measure.

Baldwin in particular should be fun to watch. The last time he was in a movie about movies it was "State and Main" and it was hilarious. Of course, the real gem there was William H. Macy and it was David Mamet writing and directing. But this should be good, too.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
This might actually do better in limited release (and it may still go that route). The names aren't that big for wide release but in an indie pool have a bit more cred (a la the aforementioned "State and Main"). As it is, it'll be lucky to make it into the top ten. $17mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
I could see Alec making another run at a Best Supporting nom. I don't think it'll work, though.


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SHAUN OF THE DEAD

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Zombie spoof.

WILL IT SUCK?
Unlikely. This British hit has already found fans on both sides of the pond. Early buzz is strong. From the team behind cult Brit comedy TV satire "Spaced."

Trailer is hilarious. If you can, find the British one. It's even funnier and, curiously, uses different dialogue during a joke involving which albums to use to chop off a zombie's head.

Oh, and more Bill Nighy!

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Has the potential to be a sleeper hit over here. Especially with good buzz. $22mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
If there were any justice for comedies at the Oscars, yes.


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A DIRTY SHAME

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
A return to bawdy form for John Waters as he spins a yarn about a woman who gets hit on the head and turns into a sex addict.

WILL IT SUCK?
John W. is the father of the gross-out comedy and as a seasoned purveyor of the tasteless, he finds the beauty in it in almost all of his films. And then he made "Hairspray," which I loved but which also began his flirtation with the mainstream (culminating in a Tony for the Broadway version).

But this seems a lot more like "Pink Flamingos" than "Cry-Baby." The NC-17 rating is kind of a big hint. So is the shot in the trailer of John reading from a book about "Career Suicide in the Entertainment Industry." So are the names of some of the characters, including "Fat Fuck Frank," "Ronnie the Rimmer," and "Shelf Humping Sex Addict." So is Selma Blair with breasts the size of small children. So is one of the props I actually saw during a presentation by the set painter - a knot in a tree shaped like a vagina.

Plus it has Johnny Knoxville. It was only a matter of time before he and John found each other.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
This is one of the more high profile limited releases in the glut of late September fare. The name John Waters plus the NC-17 rating will draw people, but turn more away. So, it's probably not gonna do "Hairspray" numbers. $3mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
No, but in some parallel universe John's getting a lifetime achievement award.


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THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Before Che Guevara became, you know, Che Fucking Guevara, he was this guy going cross-continent in South America with a buddy. This is that story.

WILL IT SUCK?
Focus doesn't fuck around. Last year they unleashed "Lost in Translation" in September, paving the way for an, at the time, unexpected Oscar campaign. This year they payed top dollar (literally, nothing else commanded a higher sum) for this at Sundance before it went on to blow away the crowd at Cannes.

Walter Salles is a hell of a director, turning in a moving story with "Central Station," among others. Gael Garcia Bernal, the guy from "Y Tu Mama Tambien" who didn't end up in "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights," supposedly turns in an outstanding performance as Che, or, as he was called at this point in his career, Ernesto.

This is looking to be one of the best-received films of the year.

All this from a screenwriter who used to pen "Family Matters." Who knew?

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Politics are going to be in this fall, and with the kind of reviews this is going to get and the kind of push it'll probably get from Focus (the posters have been up since this July) this should do better than most films about Che Guevara. Okay, there aren't any really, but you get my point. $6mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
They're already talking about a Best Actor nom for Gael. I think they'll also end up talking Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay noms before we're through.


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THE FINAL CUT

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Not to be confused with "The Last Shot," though it will be, this Philip K. Dick-ish tale depicts a future in which microchips in our brains record our lives so that our loved ones can watch a highlight reel of it when we die. Seriously. Robin Williams plays a guy who puts together those reels. Mad conspiracy ensues.

WILL IT SUCK?
Although the early buzz from audiences isn't so bad, and in spite of a Golden Bear nom at Berlin, this is getting slammed by the critics who've seen it so far. I can sort of see where they're going. I'm having trouble buying the premise already. That seems like a lot of effort to please the family of the dearly departed. It's hard enough to afford a decent coffin.

On the other hand, Robin Williams is usually much more interesting in Indiewood than Hollywood, and the supporting cast piques the curiosity - Mira Sorvino and Jim Caviezel. And the writer/director, Omar Naim, comes from the world of documentary, so he should have a singular take on the concept of cutting up a life. Still, my guess is the critics are going to be right about this one.

"Angel" fans be alert. Stephanie Romanov ("Lilah") is up in here.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Lion's Gate's release strategy is a little mind-boggling on this one. They have their other major thriller, "Saw," coming out the very next week. And I'm not kidding about the "Final Cut"/"Last Shot" confusion. Silly as it sounds, it's just not a good idea to release two films with similar titles on the same weekend, especially in limited release. Somebody should, and probably will, back off. In any case, if the glut of fare doesn't sink it, the bad press will. $5mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
If they didn't think of Robin for "One Hour Photo," which got stellar notices, they won't think of him for this.


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THE YES MEN

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Identity theft for a good cause. In this documentary, a group of pranksters pretend to be members of the WTO and wreak mayhem. Good, clean mayhem.

WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is favorable. Premise is hilarious. Check out the trailer. Even Michael Moore lends his mug for a sound byte. Of the three directors, two were involved in the making of the 1999 classic doc "American Movie" - one produced, the other produced and directed.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
This fall we're really going to see just how much of an appetite the indie crowd has for political fare. The very next week a John Kerry doc comes out. My guess is there'll be room enough for all of it. Especially this one if they keep playing up the Moore angle. But don't expect "Fahrenheit"-sized gross. $1mil.

WILL ANYBODY REMEMBER IT AT OSCAR TIME?
Probably not going to be taken seriously enough for a shot at Best Doc, but who knows? Again, could depend upon the outcome of the election.

Next month is October, so the movies will get scarier. Like Hilary Duff in "Raise Your Voice," Ben Affleck in "Surviving Christmas," and, perhaps scariest of all, Richard Gere AND J-Lo in "Shall We Dance." Ooooooh!



- Dave Thomas
http://travelindave.blogspot.com

 


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