The creative duo responsible for Ghost World and Art School Confidential has found its next project.

Variety reports that director Terry Zwigoff and writer Daniel Clowes, who received an Oscar nomination for their work on Ghost World, have signed on for New Line’s The $40,000 Man. The script, originally written by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, is summarized as follows:

Story centers on a legendary astronaut and true American hero who finds himself horribly injured in a car accident and rebuilt by the government to be a bionic man, but on a budget of $40,000 — which makes him not all that bionic.

It sounds like the kind of thing that would have made a great SNL sketch — in 1978 — but who knows? Zwigoff and Clowes have earned our trust. Maybe Lee Majors will make a $40,000 cameo.

Source: Variety

Sophia Myles is probably best known to international audiences as Erika in the popular – if not critically hailed – Underworld series. She was also the only good thing in Thunderbirds where she chewed scenery as Lady Penelope, and has starred in features Art School Confidential and Tristan + Isolde. RT‘s Joe Utichi caught up with the actress on the eve of the release of her latest film, Hallam Foe. Directed by David Mackenzie she stars alongside Jamie Bell – the titular Hallam – in a moving and darkly comic tale of lost innocence.

Hallam Foe is released in the UK on August 31st. A US release is currently TBA.

Tom Cruise‘s spy sequel Mission: Impossible III remained the most popular film in North America for the second straight weekend while the big-budget disaster film Poseidon opened in second place to disappointing results.

The frame’s other new releases, the Lindsay Lohan comedy Just My Luck and the soccer drama Goal! The Dream Begins, opened miserably as well giving the industry little to celebrate. Overall ticket sales fell behind those of the comparable weekend in each of the last four years as a sluggish marketplace waits for that one true summer blockbuster that draws the masses into the multiplexes.

Despite a weaker-than-expected opening weekend, Paramount’s MI3 enjoyed a respectable sophomore frame dropping 49% to an estimated $24.5M to retain its standing as the number one film. Playing in an ultrawide 4,059 theaters, the Ethan Hunt actioner averaged a solid $6,039 per location and raised its ten-day total to $84.6M. The decline was very similar to the 48% second weekend fall for last summer’s big spy flick Mr. & Mrs. Smith which grossed $26M in its sophomore shot after a $50.3M bow. The Pitt-Jolie vehicle, however, captured a more muscular $96.7M in its first ten days thanks in part to a June release when more students were out of school.

With so many action sequels tumbling by 55% or more on the second weekend, Mission: Impossible III managed to hold up relatively well. Competition from Poseidon was not formidable so moviegoers were not drawn away to another big event pic. The latest Ethan Hunt film will face its true test this Friday when the much-anticipated thriller The Da Vinci Code starring that other Tom opens followed a week later by the mutant juggernaut X-Men: The Last Stand. At its current pace, look for MI3 to reach $130-140M domestically making it the lowest grossing installment of the decade-old franchise. The first Mission: Impossible grossed $181M in 1996 while MI2 took in $215.4M in 2000. Overseas, MI3 jumped to $129.2M in foreign sales putting the worldwide tally at $213.8M in under two weeks. The global box office gross looks to be on a trajectory to hit $350M.

Failing to sink Cruise’s ship, the ocean liner disaster pic Poseidon settled for the runner-up spot this weekend opening with an estimated $20.3M from 3,555 locations. Warner Bros. generated a decent but not impressive per-theater average of $5,717 with its first pricey entry of the summer movie season. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm, Air Force One), the PG-13 film was a remake of the 1972 picture The Poseidon Adventure and starred Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas, and Richard Dreyfuss as passengers on a luxury ship who must fight to survive after a rogue wave capsizes the vessel. Poseidon opened weaker than other big-budget maritime action films like 2003’s Master and Commander ($25.1M), 2000’s The Perfect Storm ($41.3M), and even 1995’s infamous Waterworld ($21.2M).

Although audiences in years past have flocked to May disaster films like Twister, Deep Impact, and The Day After Tomorrow, this time Poseidon lacked the goods to draw in a paying audience. Reviews were not kind which also made the adult-skewing picture a tough sell. Varying reports on the film’s budget put the production cost in excess of $160M so a stellar run internationally and on DVD will be needed in order to turn a profit. Poseidon set sail in a handful of Asian countries to the tune of $4.4M this weekend, but will open in most foreign territories in June and July.

Once again scoring the best hold among all wide releases was the Robin Williams family comedy RV which dipped a mere 14% in its third weekend to an estimated $9.5M. The Sony hit has collected a solid $42.8M in 17 days.

Ticket buyers ignored Lindsay Lohan’s new film Just My Luck which flopped in its opening weekend grossing a mere $5.5M, according to estimates. The Fox release averaged an unlucky $2,165 per location and played almost exclusively to a teen girl audience. Studio research showed that the crowd for Luck was a remarkably high 80% female and 70% under the age of 25. Critics, not surprisingly, panned the film.

Horror flick An American Haunting enjoyed a solid sophomore session dropping only 36% to an estimated $3.7M for fifth place. Distributed by Freestyle Releasing, the PG-13 thriller has banked $10.9M in ten days and should scare its way to a mediocre $17-19M. Universal’s 9/11 thriller United 93 followed with an estimated $3.6M, down just 33%, lifting the cume to a decent $25.6M.

The teen gymnastics pic Stick It dropped 41% to an estimated $3.2M to land in the number seven spot with a total to date of $22.2M for Buena Vista. Fox’s animated sequel Ice Age: The Meltdown, still the top-grossing film of 2006, grossed an estimated $3M sliding just 29% in its seventh weekend. No other film has spent as many weeks in the top ten this year. Cume stands at $187.4M domestically and over $600M worldwide.

Sony’s fright pic Silent Hill placed ninth with an estimated $2.2M, off 45%, for a sum of $44.5M thus far. The New Line flop Hoot fell 37% to an estimated $2.1M in its second outing as the total inched up to a dismal $6.2M. Last weekend, the owl film had the distinction of suffering the worst opening in history for a film debuting in over 3,000 theaters. Hoot’s puny $3.4M bow in 3,018 sites beat out the dismal $6M launch from 3,006 theaters of 2004’s New York Minute starring the Olsen Twins for that unfortunate honor.

Another film failing to connect with kids was Buena Vista’s new soccer drama Goal! The Dream Begins which kicked off its run with a weak estimate of only $2M. The PG-rated film failed to qualify for the top ten this weekend and averaged a poor $1,989 from 1,007 locations.

Two April releases fell from the top ten this weekend. The spoof comedy Scary Movie 4 dropped 44% to an estimated $2.1M in its fifth frame. With $86.6M to date, The Weinstein Co. release looks to finish with roughly $90M which would not be far off from the $110M of its predecessor 2003’s Scary Movie 3. The Lionsgate family drama Akeelah and the Bee declined 41% to an estimated $2M in only its third turn. Cume sits at just $13.6M and should reach $16-18M.

Opening in limited release this weekend, Miramax’s family reunion comedy Keeping Up with the Steins grossed an estimated $621,000 from 138 locations for a respectable $4,500 average. The PG-13 film stars Garry Marshall, Jeremy Piven, and Daryl Hannah. The Swaziland-set drama Wah-Wah debuted in 25 theaters and grossed an estimated $57,000 for a mild $2,270 average. Starring Gabriel Byrne, Miranda Richardson, and Emily Watson, the R-rated film is distributed by Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Among indie films expanding into more markets, Sony Classics grossed an estimated $1.2M from its comedy Art School Confidential after widening from 12 to 762 theaters across the country. That left the John MalkovichAnjelica Huston starrer with a pitiful $1,593 average per venue as it failed to register with moviegoers on a national level. Cume is $1.4M. Fox Searchlight expanded its Indian drama Water from 36 to 62 locations and grossed an estimated $257,000 for a $4,138 average. Total sits at $593,000 with more markets opening on Friday.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $77.7M which was down 15% from last year when Monster-in-Law opened at number one with $23.1M; and down 23% from 2004 when Troy debuted in the top spot with $46.9M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, BoxOfficeGuru.com

Tom Cruise climbed into his usual number one spot at the box office with his heavily-hyped spy sequel Mission: Impossible III, however ticket sales fell below most industry expectations as the debut was not spectacular.

The weekend’s other new releases, the horror flick An American Haunting and the kid drama Hoot, both generated lukewarm openings. But thanks to a weak early May in 2005, the overall marketplace still beat out last year for the seventh consecutive frame.

Paramount claimed the top spot with MI3 which invaded a staggering 4,054 theaters collecting an estimated $48M in ticket sales over the Friday-to-Sunday period. The third installment in the decade-old franchise averaged a potent $11,846 per venue. But Tom Cruise’s box office muscles were expected to lift the tally much higher given all the factors that were working in the $150M film’s favor. The newest Mission pic obviously had plenty of starpower but with its early May bow, it had virtually no competition in the multiplexes to deal with. Plus the studio’s marketing hype was deafening, the pic opened in the second highest number of theaters in history for a live-action film (behind Spider-Man 2‘s 4,152), and even the reviews were mostly favorable. That was a welcome bonus as critics are rarely kind to big-budget action sequels.

According to studio research, MI3 connected with the same audience that the previous two did. Men made up 56% of the crowd and 64% were age 25 or older. Joining Cruise in the PG-13 film’s cast were Ving Rhames, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Keri Russell, and recent Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Openings for other high-profile action films debuting on the first weekend of May include $68.1M for 2001’s The Mummy Returns, $85.6M for 2003’s X2: X-Men United, and $51.7M for 2004’s Van Helsing. MI3 didn’t even reach the level of Van Helsing. In fact, its opening gross was even weaker than that of Mission: Impossible 2 which launched over Memorial Day weekend six years ago with $57.8M over three days, $70.8M over four days, and $91.8M over its six-day Wednesday-to-Monday span. Even with higher ticket prices, a Friday bow, and hundreds of more theaters, MI3 still failed to reach the heights of MI2. Adjusting for inflation, MI3’s opening was the weakest among the Ethan Hunt flicks. The first Mission bowed to $74.9M over its six-day holiday frame in May 1996 including $45.4M over the Friday-to-Sunday span.

Instead, the new J.J. Abrams-directed IMF saga opened in the same neighborhood as other recent star-driven spy films like last summer’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith ($50.3M), 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy ($52.5M), and 2002’s James Bond film Die Another Day ($47.1M). Although opening near the $50M mark over three days is an impressive feat, Cruise’s new film was backed by one of the most expensive marketing campaigns in recent memory. The highly-paid star/producer attended premieres all around the world, popped up on major talk shows and magazine covers, and press coverage, not surprisingly, was non-stop.

Industry watchers must now wonder – was there too much marketing? Were audiences sick and tired of hearing and seeing Tom Cruise everywhere? Did they really want to spend money seeing even more of him? Media-saavy moviegoers voted with their dollars and those who seemed to have had enough chose to stay away. The MI3 hype machine brought back memories of Sony’s Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle from three years ago. That action sequel also arrived in theaters on a disturbingly loud wave of promotion revolving around its flamboyant stars and Demi Moore‘s relationship with Ashton Kutcher which was constantly covered on the airwaves. Despite the pricey marketing investment, Throttle debuted weaker than expected with $37.6M and crumbled 63% in its sophomore frame.


Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle

Paramount was pleased with the international results for Mission: Impossible III as the actioner took in an estimated $70M over the weekend opening in almost all major markets around the world except for Japan. The spy sequel blanketed the globe with roughly 9,500 theaters in 55 markets putting its worldwide opening weekend tally at $118M. The ratio between sales outside and within North America remained the same as with previous Mission pics. The 1996 original grossed 61% of its $465M global tally overseas while MI2 took in 60% of its $538M internationally. This weekend, 60% of MI3’s dollars came from abroad.

With no major competition for the family audience, the Robin Williams comedy RV enjoyed the smallest decline in the top ten easing just 32% to an estimated $11.1M. The Sony release dropped one notch following its top spot bow and has grossed a solid $31M to date. In just ten days, RV has already become the second biggest live-action grosser for Williams in the past seven years after the $67.4M of 2002’s Insomnia. Look for the $50M road trip flick to end its journey in the neighborhood of $60M.


R.V.

Opening in third place was the supernatural thriller An American Haunting which scared up an estimated $6.4M in ticket sales in its first three days. The PG-13 film averaged a decent $3,825 from 1,668 theaters. Reviews were mostly negative for the Donald SutherlandSissy Spacek starrer about a possessed young woman in the 1800s. Distributor Freestyle Releasing’s weekend estimate included an unusually low Saturday-to-Sunday decline of less than 5%. Final grosses released on Monday could see the figure come down.


"An American Haunting," "Stick It," and "United 93"

The gymnastics comedy Stick It tumbled 49% in its second weekend to an estimated $5.5M giving Buena Vista $18M in ten days. Look for the teen pic to reach $27-29M which is commendable for its genre. After a solid takeoff last weekend, the 9/11 hijack thriller United 93 declined a substantial 55% in its sophomore frame and grossed an estimated $5.2M. After ten days, Universal’s $15M pic has collected $20.1M and should find its way to roughly $30M domestically.

Fox’s Ice Age: The Meltdown dropped 45% to an estimated $4M in its sixth frame to boost its cume to $183.3M. Crumbling 58% in its third spook was Sony’s fright flick Silent Hill which grossed an estimated $3.9M lifting the cume to $40.8M.


"Ice Age: The Meltdown," "Silent Hill," and "Scary Movie 4"

The spoof sequel Scary Movie 4 fell 52% to an estimated $3.8M and brought its total to $83.7M. The Starbucks-promoted kid drama Akeelah and the Bee enjoyed a respectable second weekend hold dropping 43% to an estimated $3.4M. After ten days, the Lionsgate release has still only grossed $10.7M and seems likely to finish close to $20M.

Opening to dismal results with an estimated $3.4M from 3,018 theaters was the kid drama Hoot from New Line. The PG-rated story of a group of boys who set out to save endangered owls averaged a pitiful $1,127 per location. Fans of the best-selling book apparently avoided the film adaptation and critics for the most part were unimpressed.


"Akeelah and the Bee," "Hoot," and "The Promise"

A handful of films opened in limited release to mixed results. Warner Independent debuted the Chinese epic The Promise in 213 theaters but grossed only $271,000 according to estimates for a poor $1,272 average. The Golden Globe-nominated adventure was China’s official submission to this year’s Oscars and is reportedly that country’s most expensive film ever made. U.S. critics were not very pleased.

Sony Classics bowed its indie comedy Art School Confidential which grossed an estimated $142,000 from a dozen sites in New York and Los Angeles averaging a strong $11,833 per site. The Terry Zwigoff-directed film expands to nearly 800 theaters in most major markets on Friday. ThinkFilm debuted its Edward Norton starrer Down in the Valley to an estimated $26,000 from three New York houses for a solid $8,770 average. The film widens to three more cities on Friday before gradually expanding throughout May.


"Art School Confidential"

Among holdovers, Fox Searchlight expanded its widow drama Water from five to 36 theaters and grossed an estimated $188,000 for a $5,222 average. The ten-day total stands at $270,000 and this Friday the Deepa Mehta film will widen to about 60 sites. The distributor’s indie sensation Thank You for Smoking collected an estimated $1.1M, off 40%, for a $20M cume.

Three April releases were pushed out of the top ten this weekend. The Michael Douglas political thriller The Sentinel took a big hit from MI3 and crashed 62% to an estimated $3M putting its 17-day cume at $30.9M. Fox should find its way to about $36M. Disney’s underperforming toon The Wild slumped 46% to an estimated $2.6M. With only $32M in the bank, the animated film looks to conclude with $36-38M. Sony, on the other hand, has generated solid numbers for its sports comedy The Benchwarmers which grossed an estimated $2M this weekend. Down 54%, the Rob SchneiderDavid Spade film has taken in $55.6M thus far and is set to end with just under $60M.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $94.7M which was up a healthy 24% from last year when Kingdom of Heaven opened at number one with $19.6M; but off 4% from 2004 when Van Helsing debuted in the top spot with $51.7M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, BoxOfficeGuru.com

Bay Area RTers, get yourselves to San Francisco this weekend for the annual SF International Film Festival for your chance to see flicks like "Factotum," "Art School Confidential," and John Turturro‘s "Romance & Cigarettes" (if you missed their earlier festival runs).

SFIFF boasts a mixture of international and American films, including sneak peeks at a handful of flicks slated for release in the coming months and films from Terry Zwigoff, Bent Hamer, Robert Altman, Anders Thomas Jensen, Seijun Suzuki, Hsiao-hsien Hou and more. Read on for a rundown of the festival highlights.

Fans of John Turturro will be glad to see his third directorial effort, "Romance & Cigarettes," on the slate for SFIFF, especially since the all-star project doesn’t yet have an American release scheduled. The "down-and-dirty" musical stars James Gandolfini as a working class man torn between his wife (Susan Sarandon) and his sultry mistress (Kate Winslet), and also features Steve Buscemi, Mandy Moore, Mary-Louise Parker, Aida Turturro, and Christopher Walken. Turturro buds Joel and Ethan Coen are also in as executive producers.

Bent Hamer‘s "Factotum" has enjoyed critical praise since last year’s Cannes, but was notoriously dropped by distributor Picturehouse and went back on market at Sundance. Luckily for us, IFC Films snapped it up and set an August 2006 U.S. release; with 12 reviews in, this Bukowski semi-biographical adaptation is sitting pretty at 100% on the Tomatometer.

Also making an appearance at SFIFF is Neil Marshall‘s all-girl horror flick, "The Descent." With a story that follows a group of women on a caving expedition that, of course, goes horribly wrong, this flick is earning high praise among horror fans — and also boasts an early Tomatometer of 100%, with 10 reviews.

Honorary Oscar-winner Robert Altman‘s latest star-studded pic, "A Prairie Home Companion," will hit theaters this June — but why wait? With only 5 reviews in, it’s hard to tell if "Prairie"’s 100% Tomatometer will stay, but the trades loved it. Altman’s cast includes Lily Tomlin, Meryl Streep, Lindsay Lohan, Kevin Kline, Woody Harrelson, and John C. Reilly.

"Art School Confidential" will open in limited release May 5, but you can catch an early peek during the fest. It currently sits at 38% on the Tomatometer with 8 reviews from the Sundance crowd, who rest divided on the latest Terry ZwigoffDan Clowes collaboration.

"Half Nelson," the newest pic from filmmaking team Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, is one for the Ryan Gosling-loving crowd. The August release stars Gosling as an inner-city teacher who strikes up a friendship with one of his students, and currently has a Tomatometer of 83%.

Also slated is a panel with Tommy Pallota, producer of Richard Linklater‘s hyper-visual excursions "A Scanner Darkly" and "Waking Life." If you didn’t catch the secret SXSW screening of "Scanner," show up to see a 20-minute preview clip presented by Pallota.

Since this is an international festival, a slew of Asian and European films flesh out the rest of the festival. Tonight’s opening night film will be Peter Chan‘s pan-Asian backstage musical, "Perhaps Love," starring pop sensation Jacky Cheung and Takeshi Kaneshiro. With lensmen Chris Doyle and Peter Pau (the respective cinematographers of "2046" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") both contributing, and Bollywood choreographer Farah Khan on board for the musical-within-a-musical, this inter-era story is being called a lavish, moving tribute to the magic of cinema and of love.

More treats for Asian cinephiles include Seijun Suzuki‘s "Princess Raccoon," a Japanese folktale-esque pop opera starring Zhang Ziyi as a mystical raccoon-like creature (in beautiful woman form) who falls in love with a prince; and Hsiaio-hsien Hou‘s "Three Times," a love story set in three different eras.

Representing the European contingent are filmmakers like Denmark’s Anders Thomas Jensen (with his neo-Nazi comic character study, "Adam’s Apples"), dance filmmaker Carlos Saura (chronicling Spanish gypsy dances in "Iberia"), and Phillippe Garrel (whose "Regular Lovers" stars son Louis Garrel as a poet in 1968 Paris — raise your hand if you liked "The Dreamers!").

For more films and a schedule of the SFFIF, head over to their official site.

This week’s wide releases highlight a rarely-tread path in modern cinema, as both pics feature two of America’s sweethearts — every geek’s fave, Natalie Portman, and cute little Amanda Bynes — enduring two very different boyish makeovers, with two very different results. Will "Vendetta" live up to the hype? Can a girly "Man" make teens swoon for Shakespeare? The scribes will tell us!

Ah, the hype. "V for Vendetta," arguably the year’s first event movie, has been generating the loudest buzz for months — and critics say it’s justified. Produced by the Wachowski brothers (masters of the Matrices), and starring Natalie Portman and a fully masked Hugo Weaving, "Vendetta" tells the story of a near-future dystopia, where a lone freedom fighter named V (Weaving) plots a series of revolutionary bombings to bring down a shady, secretly policed government. Along the way, V recruits young, frightened Evey (Portman), shaves her head, and turns her into a proper young revolutionary. The scribes say this political thriller is high on politics as well as thrills, with a few stunning set pieces augmenting an austere, yet stylish, mise-en-scene; however, the incendiary tone of its politics — which have been labeled terrorist-like by some — is more than a bit difficult for some to stomach in this post-9/11 day and age. Nevertheless, "V for Vendetta" is enjoying Fresh status with a 68% score on the Tomatometer, and the critical mass urges at least one thought-provoking viewing.

Faring worse at the hands of the critics, "She’s The Man" is a teen-oriented take on Shakespeare’s gender-bender "Twelfth Night," from two of the writers of a better Bard treatment, "10 Things I Hate About You." TV teen queen Amanda Bynes stars as Viola, a prep school tomboy who decides to impersonate her twin brother Sebastian in order to play on his soccer team. Donning a short wig and boy’s clothing, Viola infiltrates Illyria Prep, but soon falls for her dreamy roommate, who’s crushing on a pretty blonde, who has the hots for the undercover Viola; hilarity and sexual confusion ensue. Unfortunately, the scribes say this comedy of errors is just that, with an erratic comic timing, unbelievable plotlines, and too-broad jokes that make you feel embarrassed for Bynes — the actress, not her character. At 50% on the Tomatometer, "She’s" not quite "The Man."

Recent Big-Screen Graphic Novel Adaptations
———————————————————–
38% — Art School Confidential (2006)
87% — A History of Violence (2005)
78% — Sin City (2005)
18% — The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
95% — American Splendor (2003)
83% — Road to Perdition (2002)
92% — Ghost World (2001)
56% — From Hell (2001)

Here are capsule reviews of some of the films we screened at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.

"Thank You for Smoking" is a comedy for our troubled, intensely partisan times – a film about the ways in which framing an issue becomes more important than solving a problem. Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) is the type of smarmy guy you want to punch – if only he weren’t so smarmily likeable. As a tobacco lobbyist, Naylor knows he’s in the wrong, but he’s just so good at spin — and hey, everyone’s got a mortgage to pay. And is William H. Macy‘s liberal senator — who berates an aide for not getting a more pitiable cancer patient on a talk show to square off against the lobbyist — really any better? "Thank You for Smoking" merrily skews the left and the right, making the point that sometimes solutions are less important to politicians than looking good.

Part gritty Western, part Jodorowsky-esque mystic journey, and part Cain and Abel parable, "The Proposition" is a terrific movie, a film loaded with blood, tears, and profound moral ambiguity. A Western tableau has rarely been as dirty as "The Proposition"’s 1880s Australian Outback; even in the relative affluence of the police captain and his wife’s home, there are flies everywhere. Guy Pearce stars as a criminal who’s been set free; the catch is that he must bring his (even more ruthless) brother to justice, or his (sweeter) younger brother will be hanged. But no plot description could do justice to the mood and feel of this film, one of the wildest and bloodiest odysseys in recent cinema.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: "Art School Confidential" is not as good as Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes‘ previous collaboration, "Ghost World," nor does it reach the dizzying heights of Zwigoff’s two documentaries about artists, "Louie Bluie" and "Crumb." Still, the film has its share of pleasures, particularly as a wry satire of how arbitrarily the art world selects its favorites for reasons that can have little to do with the art itself. Unlike "Ghost World"’s unsure heroines, whose aimlessness and cynicism go hand in hand with a search for their inner values, "Art School"’s insecure protagonist (Max Minghella) has ambition to burn, and descends into an amorality that pays dividends the lower he goes.

The reason urban legends hold such morbid fascination is that they’re largely in the mind; it’s the telling that makes them amusing. The main problem with "The Darwin Awards" (based upon the website that cites the stupidest deaths, thus maintaining a stronger evolutionary gene pool) is that the visual reputation of gruesome death makes this black comedy a bit hard to stomach. The filmmakers understand this on some level, as their protagonist Michael Burrows (Joseph Fiennes) plays a cop turned insurance claims investigator who faints at the sight of blood. But a subplot about a film student following Burrows around doesn’t work, and Burrows’ risk aversion comes across not as quirky but as labored slapstick.

The hottest film at Sundance, "Little Miss Sunshine," is barely a comedy for its first half, focusing more on the sad (but darkly amusing) quirks of an extremely dysfunctional family. But the film builds to a stunningly funny climax, one that is a moment of familial growth without an ounce of schmaltz. "Little Miss Sunshine" features deft performances from an ensemble cast that includes Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, and Toni Collette; each cast member pulls off the neat trick of exuding familial concern and contempt for others with aplomb.

Michel Gondry‘s rep is largely due to his phantasmagoric visuals, but one would be hard pressed to find a more hopeless romantic at work in contemporary cinema. Like "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," his latest, "The Science of Sleep," navigates the divide between the real world and dream states. Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg play neighbors who share whimsy, insecurity, and potentially love; the result is a film that is equally fanciful and haunting.

Check out Sundance features by Rotten Tomatoes:
Sundance Full Coverage
Sundance Blog
Sundance Discussion

With Senh, Jen, and Terrible Tim Ryan roaming the streets of Park City, the Tomato readers have had plenty of Sundance reports to pick through. But I thought I’d contribute my own two pennies to the coverage, and give you the best-to-worst lowdown on the myriad movies I took in.

Ratings run on a 1-5 scale. I’ll keep the commentary brief because I have a whole lot of work to do!

The Descent – ***** – I see every horror flick under the sun. And this one actually scared me. And it gets even better the second time around.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated – ****1/2 – Master documentarian Kirby Dick takes a few shortcuts in this demolition of the MPAA ratings board, but I can’t imagine a movie geek who won’t have a darn good time with this doco.

Awesome; I F–kin’ Shot That! – ****1/2 – For Beastie Boys fans only. Like me!

Art School Confidential – **** – First half: really, really funny. Second half: Focuses on a less than fascinating subplot and the laughs sorta dry up. Still, if you’re a "Ghost World" fan, or you just love seeing the "art kids" get a nice satirical skewering, you’ll dig it fine.

Little Miss Sunshine – **** – One or two unwieldly subplots prevent this one from getting a higher rating, but I still liked it a whole lot. Carell, Kinnear, and Alan Arkin deliver some really solid, weird laughs here.

Off the Black – **** – A low-key and melancholy character study with Nick Nolte at the top of his game. (He plays an emotionally isolated umpire who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a high school pitcher.)

Factotum – **** – Matt Dillon as a pseudo-Bukowksi, and the guy delivers one of his best performances ever.

Special – **** – Michael Rapaport plays a guy who may or may not have inherited "super powers" after testing a freaky new prescription drug. Imagine if Kevin Smith had directed "Unbreakable."

Sherrybaby – ***1/2 – A rough-edged and sobering character study with Maggie Gyllenhaal at the top of her game. (She plays a recovering junkie fresh out of prison who’s trying to re-connect with her young daughter.)

TV Junkie – ***1/2 – Comprised entirely of Jim Kirkham’s home movies, in which he laughs, cries, becomes famous, and builds a family … all while battling a ravenous crack addicion.

Wordplay – ***1/2 – A lightweight but colorfully entertaining doco about the New York Times Crossword Puzzle and the various people who adore it. The presence of a hilarious Jon Stewart helps a whole lot.

Wristcutters: A Love Story – ****1/2 – Patrick Fugit finds himself in a bleached-out purgatory after committing suicide and sets off to find his old girlfriend.

American Hardcore – *** – If you’re a fan of the early-80s hardcore punk scene, this retrospective documentary will curl your toes. Felt a little redundant to me, but then again I’m not a member of the target audience.

13 Tzameti – *** – A slow-starting French thriller about a clueless kid who somehow finds himself trapped in an underground Russian Roulette tournament.

Lucky Number Slevin – *** – Too clever for its own good, but packed with familiar faces, this one’s a familiar gangster flick that’ll feel right at home on HBO.

The World According to Sesame Street – *** – Alternately fascinating, self-congrulatory, and even a little dull, this doco takes a look at the ways in which Sesame Street branches out to new markets across the world.

Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out – *** – Feels like Police drummer Stewart Copeland pulled a lot of home movie footage out of his garage, recorded a narration track, and released the thing as is. A few recent interviews might have helped … especially from someone not associated with the band. Still, fans should enjoy it.

The Hawk Is Dying – *** – A dry and fairly bizarre character study with Paul Giamatti as a sad-sack weirdo who has a (very) big sister, a (mildly) handicapped nephew, and an obsession with the capture and training of hawks. Most of the Sundancers I talked to liked this flick a lot more than I did, so take my lack of enthusiasm with a grain of salt, I suppose.

Salvage – **1/2 – The first of two horror flicks that feel like short films stretched out to feature length … and it doesn’t quite work. This one’s about a girl who keeps dreaming of being slaughtered by a brutal madman … over and over and over.

Subject Two – **1/2 – A beautiful-looking but frequently slow-moving medical thriller about a mad scientist who tries to cheat death by way of some freaky formula, only he has to keep killing his subject before he can bring him back to life.

The Darwin Awards – **1/2 – Easily the most disappointing Sundance offering (in my book, anyway), this is a clumsily unfunny comedy that starts out with a great cast and a killer concept … and does next to nothing with either.

All Aboard! Rosie’s Family Cruise – ** – Hey this just in: Same sex parents really do love their children. Now imagine that one simple message delivered for 90 straight minutes.

Somebodies – *1/2 – The first ten minutes offered some really big laughs … and then the wheels just came off. The resulting flick feels like a "House Party 6: The New Generation," only with no-name actors in the Cedric and Bernie Mac roles. But hey, Roger Ebert raved over this one, so don’t go by me…

(Slamdance Flicks)

The Call of Cthulhu – ****1/2 – One of the coolest Lovecraft adaptations you’ll ever see, this flick is 47 minutes of pure old-school style. It’s short, it’s silent, and it’s absolutely excellent.

The Other Side – ***1/2 – A winking b-movie composed of perhaps 12 other concepts, from "The Hidden" to "Jacob’s Ladder," but it’s still just enough fun to keep you watching.

Love Is the Drug – ***1/2 – A nice-guy semi-nerd who works in a pharmacy falls in with the wrong crowd … and does some really stupid things to earn the affections of Ms. Lizzy Caplan. (Like you wouldn’t do the same!)

Things to Do – ***1/2 – A bit heavy on the Napoleon Dynamite wannabeism, but still oddly amusing enough to earn my recommendation. This one’s about an awkward office drone who quits his job and returns home to live with Mom & Dad, only to fall in with a goofy old acquaintance who inspires him to make a list of "things to do."

Find Love – ***1/2 – A mostly improvised romantic drama about the ways in which love can strike at the worst imaginable moments … kinda like a disease.

The Guatemalan Handshake – *** – Weird stuff. I kept nodding off. My apologies to the filmmakers.

The Actress – *** – Three Aussie roommates welcome a new woman into their lives, and much sex ensues.

So that’s 30 movies in 6 days. Hmph. I’ve done better. For a closer look at my festival reports have a peek over at JoBlo’s, eFilmCritic, or just stick around here at Rotten Tomatoes and see if you can spot the pic of me in which I look like a crack-addicted zombie.

Also please note that the opinions offered above are mine only, and do not represent any of the other Tomato farmers, so make sure your hate mail goes to the right email address.

In our belated recap of Day Four at Sundance, the RT crew spots Nick Cave, snaps Maggie Gyllenhaal & Peter Sarsgaard, checks out Matt Dillon‘s "Factotum," and hangs with Dan Clowes at the "Art School Confidential" party! Click here to read more.

Check out Sundance features by Rotten Tomatoes:
Sundance Full Coverage
Sundance Blog
Sundance Discussion

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