Raise your hand, raise your hand if you’re sure

The wide releases are nothing to get excited about this week, so I’m going to start off with the limited releases where things are really popping after a couple of slack outtings. We kick things off with what was one of my top 5 most anticipated films of the year:

  • Che. If you’re in New York or Los Angeles, you’ll have the chance to see the roadshow version of Steven Soderbergh’s Che while the film makes its unlikely (in my opinion) Oscar bid. That means you’ll get to see all 4 1/2 hours of the epic film with an intermission in the middle and a souvenir program (the film plays with no credits. All the credits are in the program). As an extra-added bonus, star Benicio Del Toro will be at LA’s Landmark Theatre on Pico (you know, across the street from the 2nd best pie in Los Angeles county) to do a Q&A after the 1:30pm and 7:30pm shows on Saturday, December 13. I couldn’t find any mention of anything special at the Ziegfield Theatre where the film will be unspooling in New York.

So what do you get for your time besides a sore ass and a fancy program? Well, you get the kind of ballsy, no compromises, audience-be-damned cinema that Soderbergh specializes in and that tends to divide viewers into love/hate camps. Your results will likely depend on how receptive you’ve been to Mr. Soderbergh in the past and how much patience you’re able to muster for having your expectations tampered with.

In this case, Soderbergh plays at offering a classic, epic biography in the Lawrence of Arabia mold, but there’s none of the rousing highlights, simply drawn emotional conflict or easy to carry away symbolism. There isn’t even an uplifting score with a hummable theme. This is a contemplative, inward looking epic if there is such a thing and Soderbergh seems to delight in going against the grain.

A month later I’m still kind of talking around the experience of seeing it and I haven’t decided if it’s a great film or merely a good one. Either way, it’s something worth seeing for the cinematically adventurous. Check out what I had to say about Che at AFI here. Highly recommended.

  • Wendy and Lucy (12/10). Kelly Reichardt’s (Old Joy) minimalist character drama is sort of the opposite of Che. It isn’t painted on the broad canvas of history but rather the fragile circumstances of a young woman (Michelle Williams) stranded in a small Northwest town on her way from Here to There with her dog. Like Ballast before it, Wendy and Lucy is another terrific American indie that charts the life of a person on the edges of society with little in the way of a safety net to save them if they should fall. Recommended.
  • Timecrimes. Here’s a nifty little sci-fi/horror/thriller from Spain (soon to be remade by David Cronenberg) about a doughy middle-aged man who stumbles across a beautiful naked woman in the woods, a mysterious stalker whose head is wrapped in a pink bandage and a scientist in the middle of nowhere performing some strange experiments. How do they all fit together? You’ll have to see it to find out. Recommended.
  • The Reader (NY 12/10. LA, SF 12/12. Expands 12/25). Steven Daldry directs Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes in a story that takes place in post-WWII Germany where a woman (Winslet) has an affair with a teenager half her age. Eight years later, they meet again but this time he’s studying law and she’s a defendant in a war crimes trial. I’m guessing Fiennes plays the guy in older age telling the story in flashback because I can’t imagine him in his mid-20s
  • Adam Resurrected. In a film based on Yoram Kaniuk’s novel, Jeff Goldblum plays Adam Stein, former magician, circus performer, clairvoyant, American Express Card holder and Holocaust survivor rehabilitating in an Israeli asylum. Paul Schrader directs. Willem Dafoe and Derek Jacobi also star.
  • Doubt. John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck) adapts and directs his stage play with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a priest trying to loosen up his Bronx Catholic school in 1964. Meryl Streep plays the conservative principal who will take any measure to prevent change. Amy Adams is the young nun caught in the middle of their battle of wills and Viola Davis is the mother of a student who is used as a pawn.
  • Gran Torino. Remember there for five minutes when everyone thought this was going to be another Dirty Harry movie? Well, it kind of is, but this time Harry is about 1000 years old, sounds like he’s losing a battle with throat cancer and he’s not a cop but a racist Korean war veteran named Walt who finds himself protecting his immigrant neighbors (and his lawn) from the clutches of a street gang. My initial enthusiasm for this one has worn off. I still want to see it, but expectations are modest.
  • Dark Streets. Hey everybody, just in time for Christmas it’s a film noir murder mystery blues musical dance fantasy featuring original numbers performed by Etta James, Dr. John, Natalie Cole, Aaron Neville, Solomon Burke, Chaka Khan and Richie Sambora. Think I’m kidding? Think again.
  • What Doesn’t Kill You. Apologies for repeating myself, but here’s basically what I wrote when the trailer for this one came out a couple of weeks ago: Two boyhood friends (Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke) on a downward spiral of crime in South Boston are imprisoned where one turns over a new leaf and the other hatches a plan for one last heist that will allow him to live a life outside of crime. The film was written by Donnie Wahlberg who also stars along with Amanda Peet.
  • While She Was Out. In this feminist thriller, Kim Basinger is a housewife stalked in the woods by Lukas Haas and a pack of savage teens. Surprisingly, Andrew Sarris gave it a good review. Executive produced by Guillermo del Toro.

Opening in New York:

  • Where God Left His Shoes. John Leguizamo is Frank Diaz, a Gulf War veteran who lives with his family in a homeless shelter while waiting to become eligible for an apartment. The big day comes on Christmas Eve(!), but the bad news is that Frank must hold a job in order to qualify. Jeez, how bad can it get? Does someone steal his bike?

And finally, here’s what’s opening wide:

  • The Day the Earth Stood Still. The sci-fi classic is remade with Keanu Reeves and we’re left simply to wonder why. The good news is that Jennifer Connelly is in it and she doesn’t play Gort. The bad news is that’s the only good news.
  • Delgo. I’m just going to reprint a comment Evan Derrick made when I made a post on this animated film back in September because it’s top shelf comedy and he didn’t copyright it: “Let me just shoot from the hip and say that that picture you’ve posted looks like a koala on an acid trip crapped a rainbow into a direct-to-video DVD case.”
  • Nothing Like the Holidays. There’s nothing like the holidays when it comes to lame excuses for crappy movies that people will flock to anyway because they’re feeling loagy from turkey and an abundance of Christmas cookies and they just want to get the hell away from their creepy drunk uncle. The twist this time is that you’ve got a strong Latino cast (John Leguizamo, Freddy Rodriguez, Luis Guzman, Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Pena and Melonie Diaz) filling out the inevitably dysfunctional family plus Debra Messing who must’ve sold her soul to the devil for her brief run of success on Will and Grace because she’s been shooting blanks ever since.

Thank the movie gods I live in Los Angeles this weekend. All I’m sayin’.

With a nod to the soundtrack of Gus Van Sant’s award winning film Milk, the musical sponsor for this edition of the Weekend Forecast is brought to you by David Bowie.

18 Responses to “Weekend Forecast: 12/11/08”

  1. Ha, which is the first best pie?

  2. FROST/NIXON finally opens here this weekend. So we’ll definitely be going.

    DOUBT hits here on the 19th. GRAN TORINO by the end of the month. Christmas Day, I believe.

    MICHELLE WILLIAMS is supposed to be fabulous in WENDY & LUCY. I’m positive that’s true. But Wendy loses Lucy at some point. Events like that can be hard on a moviegoer. Even when the film is excellent and the actors deliver.

    Wasn’t aware of WHILE SHE WAS OUT. Haven’t heard a thing. Whenever KIM BASINGER is involved with a project it’s always of serious interest to me.

    Thanks for that, Craig. I will always adore you…

  3. Yeah, I’m still focusing on the pie, too. Mmmm. I probably just need breakfast.

    Lots of good stuff out, LA-ways. Here, not so much. We get the three new releases, plus Punisher: War Zone. Looks like another DVD fest to me.

    Nice Bicycle Thief shout-out, Craig. And Evan’s remark is classic.

  4. oh, and nice music. Bowie!

  5. CHE!!!!!! :-D

  6. I have no idea what I’ll see this weekend but my hopes are it includes Milk and Slumdog Millionaire. Again with the busy weekend though, so all bets are off.

  7. I love Soderbergh (well, except for “the Good German”), even his blasphemous remake of Solaris was good imho (no Tarkovsky, but still: who is?).

    So I look forward mightily to Che.

  8. Bowie is always a good choice. :)

    Well, I’m going to make yet another attempt to get to a movie theater this weekend. The plan is to see Milk if I can.

  9. Jeff: Pie and Burger in Pasadena. The burgers are serviceable, but the pie rules.

    Miranda, I’d have assumed the Basinger movie was a direct-to-DVD misfire, but Sarris isn’t the first critic who has sung its praises. Certain bloggers have been scratching their heads over why it didn’t get a better release if I recall correctly (no guarantee of that).

    And yeah, Michelle was pretty great in W&L, but it was one of those restrained, minimalist movies that isn’t going to get much attention from anyone. Hard to believe she got her start on Dawson’s Cranium.

    JB: Pie is the best breakfast ever. It should be a part of every healthy diet…why, if you go for a yummy fruit pie, you’ve got your fruit group and your pie crust group taken care of in one easy serving!

    Seriously, if I didn’t blog about movies, I’d blog about pie.

    Joel, it’s annoying how life gets in the way of movies sometimes…

    Rick. As I’m fond of saying, I’m totally in the tank for Soderbergh. I love Solaris, though not in direct comparison to the original…there really is no comparison. Not even a fair fight. As I said somewhere else, Che is either going to end up in my Top 10 or on my list of biggest disappointments…that probably seems foolish, but consider how high my expectations were for it and then also consider sometimes I’m slow and it takes me more than one viewing to warm up to movies that end up among my favorites. I’m just saying.

    Alison. That’s a damn good plan. Plus you’ll get to hear Queen Bitch again.

    I also like how QB was used in Life Aquatic including the grin inducing finale: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3inEK-Dyq0
    followed by the Seu Jorge cover in Portuguese over the closing credits:

    Damnit, you know sometimes I actually forget how much I love that movie. Suck it haters!

  10. Is that the full name of the place, ‘Pie and Burger’? I’ll be disappointed if the menu has more than two things on it.

  11. “Pie, burger and all manner of other dineresque delights” wouldn’t fit on the sign.

    Technically it’s “Pie ‘n Burger.”


  12. Awww, Craig. I didn’t know you remembered.

    And I can second you on Wendy and Lucy. Michelle Williams is ok, but she’s surrounded by such a non-film as to make her performance feel pointless. The film has its defenders, but it was not my cup of tea (and I could use much harsher language than that).

  13. I liked it, but I did not love it.

  14. I didn’t realize you’d seen Timecrimes, Craig. We get it next week and I’m beginning to become more interested in it.

    Today comes Anita O Day, A Christmas Tale and Ashes of Time. We also get Frost/Nixon for a really weird release. I think it’s here only on the weekend, and then disappears for a few more weeks. I don’t get it. Anyway, I hope I’m wrong because I can only see it next week cuz I’m heading out of town this weekend. I can’t keep up. Just can’t right now. It’s hard enough to find any time to write about movies, let alone see so many new ones.

    This week I did see Yes Man and Valkyrie, though. The first is skippable and the second is actually quite interesting, but then again I love Tom Cruise The Actor. The accents are only bothersome for the first few minutes, then I got used to them.

    Speaking of Tom Cruise, his best friend Will Smith is in town for a Seven Pounds premiere tonight, which is also a charity fundraiser. i won’t be there, but I do want to see the movie when it opens next week. What can I say, I just like the guy. Will Smith The Actor and WIll Smith The Guy, in fact.

  15. Will Smith just did the same thing in my town last night. I should have pictures and video up soon.

  16. I think Will Smith is a very talented and likable actor, what frustrates me is his choice of vehicles. Too many are either above average summer blockheaders or fairly formulaic smaller films that aspire to move their audience. With all that money, why not take some chances artistically?

    Cruise strikes me as a more limited actor. But what he does well has been a good fit with his action films and middlebrow dramas. I thought he didn’t quite have the chops for Eyes, but I admired his willingness to stretch himself.

    The one shining moment for me in Cruise’s career is Frank T.J. Mackey. That character was almost as scary as the real life Mr Cruise.

    Loved Solaris. My favorite Clooney performance in a drama by some way.

  17. Awesome, Matthew. I knew you had that opportunity and I was wondering how it went.

    Good question re: Smith, sartre. It’s pretty impressive how he’s been able to work as a comedic, action, and dramatic star. He’s definitely far removed from his role in Six Degrees of Separation, but I guess Ali could be consider at least a challenge of some kind. I don’t know, he kind of seems like the kind of guy it might be hard to write a role for.

    Maybe if he starred in a movie that was like Happyness or Seven Pounds – but without the heroic ending.

    I love Cruise in everything, but yes, he filled out his range by 1988. And Mackay was a foreshadowing of his role in Tropic Thunder this year.

  18. Oooh, nice weekend you guys got there! Wendy and Lucy would be the film I am most interested there, followed by Che, The Reader, Doubt and Gran Torino. Dayam actually, that is an amazing weekend.

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