It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.… And by that, I mean that the studios are starting to roll out their heavy hitters for the holiday season, while the independent studios unleash more prestige pictures for a different kind of gold – Oscar gold. This is exemplified by this weekend’s output, which is a combination of big-ass studio stuff and smaller scale pictures that are actually worth seeing. Let’s run through this week’s releases. Onward and upward!
The biggest movie to open this weekend is probably Todd Phillips’ ‘Due Date‘, which teams his ‘Hangover‘ co-star Zach Galifianakis with big time movie star Robert Downey, Jr. I really hated ‘The Hangover’ (I find its popularity beyond befuddling) but probably hated ‘Due Date’ more. It’s a typical mismatched duo road comedy thingee that doesn’t have much in the way of heart or anything even remotely fresh. It just has a bunch of gross-out gags (The dog is masturbating! Hilarious!) and some occasionally gut-busting moments, almost exclusively courtesy of RDJ. When he really loses it, things become momentarily electric. But then another section of trite road trip theatrics passes by. The movie occasionally dips into the dangerous “action comedy” genre, and makes for even less compelling cinema. I’m sure some of you will bust a gut at this thing (maybe the same folks who thought ‘The Hangover’ was a scream), but for the most part I found it unpleasant and dull. Still, it’ll probably make a ridiculous amount of money.
And speaking of ridiculous amounts of money, there’s DreamWorks Animations’ latest entry, ‘Megamind‘, which stars Will Ferrell as a blue-headed bad guy and Brad Pitt as a chiseled superhero. I’ve already posted a longer review, but here’s the gist: I hated it.
The only other big picture being released this weekend is Lionsgate’s ‘For Colored Girls‘, based on the 1975 stage play by Ntozake Shange called ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf’. (There aren’t enough marquees in the world to handle that title!) This is written and directed by cinematic titan Tyler Perry, the first of his films to be based on pre-existing material. After an initial flutter of Oscar buzz, things have quieted down on that front. Although I’ve heard from some people that it’s quite good (at the very least, it’s impeccably cast – with Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Whoopi Goldberg, Anika Noni Rose, Kimberly Elise and Kerry Washington), from others I’ve heard that it’s little more than Perry’s usual melodramatic nonsense. I’m excited to see it, but haven’t just yet.
Opening in limited release are a pair of dynamite indies, though.
First off, we have Danny Boyle’s ‘127 Hours‘, the director’s first film since sweeping the Oscars with ‘Slumdog Millionaire‘. It’s the true-life tale of Aron Ralston (played in the film by a charmingly scruffy James Franco), who got trapped in a canyon with his arm pinned against the canyon wall. It’s slickly put together, as all of Boyle’s film’s are, crackling with life, even in the most desperate situation. But it’s going to be a tough movie for people to take, especially when Franco gets down to the business at hand… errr, arm: severing his limb with a dull pocket knife. Even with said squeamish stuff, the movie is exhilarating. It’s easily one of my favorites of the year.
Another film that isn’t quite as good, but is still “quite good,” is Doug Liman’s welcome return to small scale cinema: ‘Fair Game‘. Again, this is a true life story. This time it’s a spy-thriller-cum-relationship-drama about outed CIA Agent Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and her husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn). Plame, famously, was revealed by a senior Bush official, and the film positively bristles with righteous indignation. (Isn’t that the best type of indignation?) The movie doesn’t quite stick the landing. The spy stuff eventually gets pushed aside for the ins-and-outs of the couples’ dissolving relationship in the wake of the controversy. But it’s still exceptionally strong stuff, and it’s nice to see ‘Swingers’ director Liman returning to his independent roots after the famously overblown ‘Jumper‘.
Oh, ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’ and ‘Stone’ are also expanding. So, if you’re into bland prison dramas or Swedish thrillers, be on the lookout.