In this week’s Ketchup, Katie Holmes won’t be returning to the “Batman” franchise, with Rachel McAdams the early favorite to replace her in “The Dark Knight,” and Dino De Laurentiis is enthused about an “Evil Dead” remake, among other things.

Also, “300” makes more cine-buzz by heading to IMAX, and Jordana Brewster appears to be the female lead in the small-screen version of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” Read on.

This Week’s Most Popular News:

Rachel McAdams to Snag Katie Holmes’ “Knight” Work?

Ask just about anyone who loved “Batman Begins” what they thought the flick’s “weak spot” was, and I bet you money they’d say “Well, Katie Holmes, obviously. Her character, partially, but mainly just her blank stare and entirely unconvincing performance. Why do you ask?”

De Laurentiises Bless “Evil Dead” Remake … and Want More “Hannibal”
Sam Raimi is a bona fide mogul now with his Ghost House Pictures studio producing horror movies while he’s off making “Spider-Man” movies. Back in the day, he needed Dino De Laurentiis’s help to make the third “Evil Dead” film, “Army of Darkness.” Now that Raimi plans to remake his original “Evil Dead” through Ghost House, De Laurentiis thinks it’s a great idea.

“300” Just Got Even Cooler — IMAX Cool!!

As we discussed earlier in the week, the countdown has begun to March 9th’s “300,” the epic, visually stunning retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, as adapted from Frank Miller’s graphic novel. If you weren’t around for the conversation, or have somehow missed the assorted crazy-cool trailers, posters, and other assorted pre-release bits that have been making the rounds, here’s a simple recap…

Holmes Getting the “Knight” Off?
Fans of “Batman Begins” who thought Katie Holmes was the worst part of the movie — and there seem to be a lot of them — will be happy to read IGN Movies’ report, via LatinoReview.com, that Holmes’ role is being recast for the upcoming sequel, “The Dark Knight.”

Jordana Brewster is the New “Mrs. Smith”
Remember the news that director Doug Liman and screenwriter Simon Kinberg were planning to bring their “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” to television? OK, well, it seems like they have their Mrs. Smith locked up.


A welcome arrival for “Batman” fans.

In Other News:

  • Casino Royale” director Martin Campbell has told reporters that he would not be returning to direct the next Bond film despite the success of the 21st installment.
  • Warner Bros. Pictures has acquired the script of the action-thriller “Invaders” from screenwriter Jayson Rothwell, for Basil Iwanyk‘s Thunder Road and Pierce/Williams Entertainment to produce.
  • Ryan Gosling will make his directorial debut in the tentatively titled “The Lord’s Resistance Army,” about child soldiers in Africa.
  • Universal Pictures has acquired the script to the children’s fantasy “Simon Bloom, the Gravity Keeper,” with Gary Ross tabbed as a possible director.
  • Roman Polanski will direct the adaptation of Robert Harris‘ best-selling novel “Pompeii,” which will begin filming in Italy this summer.

Another rom-com in the works.

The 8th Annual Golden Tomato Awards were announced today, and "Casino Royale" and "The Queen" are the best reviewed wide and limited releases, respectively. The worst-reviewed movie was "Basic Instinct 2," Sharon Stone‘s attempt to re-capture past glory.

With a new actor in the role of James bond, as well as a grittier, back-to-basics approach for the 007 franchise, "Casino Royale" has been overwhelmingly embraced by the critics, one of whom opined that the movie "is everything you could ask for in a Bond movie, and more." It scores an impressive 95 percent on the Tomatometer. "Die Another Day," Pierce Brosnan final movie as a double O, scores 59 percent in comparison.


New York Times Crossword Puzzle Editor Will Shortz with his Golden Tomato trophy for "Wordplay." Photo credit: Kevin Tachman

Dame Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen are perfect in their roles in "The Queen." The movie is near perfect on the Tomatometer as well, scoring 98 percent. Mirren and Sheen anchor a movie that illuminates what goes on behind the scenes in Buckingham Palace at a time when the royals faced a crisis of confidence from the populace. New York Magazine’s David Edelstein calls the film "a small masterpiece."


No puzzle here. RT’s Senh Duong hands writing/directing team Patrick Creadon (left) and Christine O’Malley their well-deserved Golden Tomato trophy for best-reviewed documentary, "Wordplay." Photo credit: Mieke Kramer

Here’s how some of the award recipients responded to their Golden Tomato recognition:

"Critical acclaim is the lifeblood of a quality independent film like ‘The Queen‘ and it is a dream come true to be recognized as the best reviewed film in limited release by Rotten Tomatoes," said Daniel Battsek, president of Miramax Films, which distributed the film. "The award will take pride of place in the Miramax trophy cabinet and will hopefully be joined by many more in the future. Long live ‘The Queen!’ May she be forever fresh."

Guillermo del Toro, writer and director of Foreign Film winner "Pan’s Labyrinth," was equally pleased with his win: "The positive response to ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ has been overwhelming. I can’t tell you how many times I have clicked onto Rotten Tomatoes and been bowled over by our positive rating. Rotten Tomatoes provides a much needed, though nerve-wracking service, to all filmmakers. I am proud and honored to accept this award on behalf of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth.’"

Neil Marshall, writer and director of "The Descent," winner of the Golden Tomato for Horror had this to say about his win, "This is by far the coolest award I’ve been lucky enough to receive!"


Director Michel Gondry cherishes his Golden Tomato trophy, but wishes it was a pen instead. Photo credit: Kevin Tachman

Michel Gondry, writer and director of the Golden Tomato winner for Romance, "The Science of Sleep," demonstrated that he can sling barbs as well as any critic when he said, "I am thrilled by this Rotten recognition of the critics. Although, one of them said I should not be allowed to hold a pen, so I wanted to know if I could be offered a Rotten Tomato pen as a trophy that I would gladly present to this critic to place in a not so romantic location."

Other major winners include "Borat" for Comedy; "The Departed" for Thriller; and "Cars" for Animation.

The Golden Tomato Awards honor the best-reviewed (as well as worst-reviewed) movies of the previous year by tallying critics’ reviews using a weighted formula to account for the variation in the number of reviews.

2006 Winners Complete List:

BEST-REVIEWED WIDE RELEASE:
"Casino Royale"

BEST-REVIEWED LIMITED RELEASE:
"The Queen"

BEST-REVIEWED ACTION/ADVENTURE:
"Casino Royale"

BEST-REVIEWED ANIMATION:
"Cars"

BEST-REVIEWED COMEDY:
"Borat"

BEST-REVIEWED DRAMA:
"The Queen"

BEST-REVIEWED HORROR:
"The Descent"

BEST-REVIEWED KIDS/FAMILY:
"Lassie"

BEST-REVIEWED ROMANCE:
"The Science of Sleep"

BEST-REVIEWED SCI-FI/FANTASY:
"Children of Men"

BEST-REVIEWED DOCUMENTARY:
"Wordplay"

BEST-REVIEWED FOREIGN FILM:
"Pan’s Labyrinth"

BEST-REVIEWED THRILLER:
"The Departed"

MOLDY TOMATO (Worst Reviewed Movie of the Year):
"Basic Instinct 2"

Click here to see the runner-ups.

This week at the movies, we’ve got cops and robbers in Boston ("The Departed," starring Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Matt Damon), chainsaw massacres in Texas ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning," starring Jordana Brewster), and retail employees in New Mexico ("Employee of the Month," starring Jessica Simpson and Dane Cook). What do the critics have to say?

Is Martin Scorsese America’s greatest living filmmaker? He’s certainly bolstering his case with "The Departed." The film, which is a loose remake of the Hong Kong thriller "Infernal Affairs," tells the story of two moles, one of whom (DiCaprio) a cop undercover within a Boston crime family led by Jack Nicholson, and the other (Damon) a hood who has infiltrated the police department. Critics say Scorsese has created a crime drama with the gritty authenticity and soupy morality that infused such past triumphs as "GoodFellas," with outstanding work from an excellent cast. At 96 percent on the Tomatometer, "The Departed" may signify a new arrival for the master director; Scorsese’s best reviewed wide release since "GoodFellas." And it’s not only Certified Fresh, but it’s also the best reviewed wide release of the year.


"Wait a minute… you’re telling me I ripped that ‘how do you like them apples’ line off from you?"

The lives of wage slaves are often grist for the cinema’s mill, whether comic ("Clerks"), dramatic ("One Hour Photo") or both ("The Good Girl"). Now comes "Employee of the Month," starring Cook as a slacker at a Costco-like box store who whips himself into shape when attractive new hire (Simpson) comes on board. Critics say the movie has a few good laughs, but Cook and Simpson lack chemistry, and the film doesn’t do much beyond showing employee antics. At 25 percent on the Tomatometer, audiences may want to hire a different "Employee."


"And these are called ‘numbers.’ I know, it’s confusing."

For horror fans who are interested in the origin of Leatherface, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" provides some back story on the Lone Star State’s scariest resident. It also provides oodles of gore, and a style reminiscent of the original. Unfortunately, the critics say it doesn’t provide enough scares to make the experience worthwhile. The plot involves a group of young adults headed to Mexico for a good time before two brothers go to fight in Vietnam; naturally, Leatherface curtails their enjoyment in a hurry. The scribes say the film is a little too rote, and at 14 percent on the Tomatometer, this "Chainsaw" doesn’t cut very deep. (Read RT’s interview with director Jonathan Liebesman here.)


"The unsuspecting teenagers wail/ along the trail/ deep in the heart of Texas"

Also opening this week in limited release: "Blood Tea and Red String," a handmade stop-motion fairy tale 13 years in the making, is at 100 percent on the Tomatometer; "So Goes the Nation," a documentary about the 2004 election season in Ohio, is at 100 percent; "49 Up," the latest in Michael Apted‘s remarkable documentary series about growing and changing in England, is at 94 percent; "Black Gold," a documentary about the global effects of the coffee trade, is at 88 percent; "Little Children," a tale of suburban angst starring Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson and Jennifer Connelly, is at 79 percent; "Shortbus," John Cameron Mitchell‘s warmhearted exploration of unconventional sexuality, is at 68 percent; and "Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner," a documentary about the eponymous Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning scribe, is at 55 percent. And "The Queen," which is expanding this week, is at 98 percent, making it the third best reviewed limited release of the year.


"Blood Tea and Red String":"The King of Cartoons!"

Recent Martin Scorsese Movies:
—————————————
92% — No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005)
89% — The Aviator (2004)
77% — Gangs of New York (2002)
100% — My Voyage to Italy (2001)
72% — Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

Texas Chainsaw Massacres:
———————————-
86% — The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
50% — The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
23% — Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 (1989)
16% — The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
37% — The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Best Reviewed Wide Releases Of 2006
————————————-
(Releases with at least 40 reviews)
96% — The Departed
93% — Dave Chappelle’s Block Party
93% — Little Miss Sunshine
90% — United 93
88% — Inside Man
84% — Akeelah and the Bee
83% — Slither
83% — The Descent
80% — A Prairie Home Companion
78% — The Devil Wears Prada

Best Reviewed Limited Releases Of 2006
—————————————
(Releases with at least 40 reviews)
98% — Kekexeli: Mountain Patrol
98% — The War Tapes
98% — The Queen
96% — Army of Shadows
95% — Wordplay
93% — Fateless
93% — Little Miss Sunshine
92% — The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
92% — An Inconvenient Truth
92% — Lassie

This week at the movies, we’ve got wrestlers ("Nacho Libre"), Tokyo drifters ("The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift"), time-delayed lovers ("The Lake House"), and lasagna-loving felines ("Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties"). What do the critics have to say?

I’m sure I speak for much of humanity when I say that each time I see Jack Black in a wrestling outfit on the posters for "Nacho Libre," I chuckle to myself. Heartily. The critics, who’ve actually seen the movie, have been a little less charitable. Black stars as a man who becomes a wrestler to raise money for orphans who live in the monastery where he grew up. While some critics say the film has its share of laughs, others say the sophomore effort of Jared ("Napoleon Dynamite") Hess is the very definition of sophomoric. At 49 percent on the Tomatometer, this "Nacho" is only sort of tasty. And it’s nowhere near "Dynamite" (71 percent).


"Nacho Libre:" Let’s get ready to rumble!

In the third installment of the "Fast and the Furious" franchise, a new collection of thrill seekers head to Japan to engage in "drifting," that exciting brand of motorsport that values oversteering. Let’s be honest: Nobody is going to this one for anything but action, nifty driving, and other assorted cheap thrills (this ain’t "Two-Lane Blacktop"). And even utilizing those limited criteria, "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" only attains a modest amount of success. The critics say that while the driving sequences are reasonably cool, the characters are about as well-crafted as a pinewood-derby cart that ends up in a ditch. It’s currently at 41 percent on the Tomatometer, trailing the original "F&F" (at 50 percent).


"Tokyo Drift": Faster and furious to an even greater degree

There are a lot of reasons relationships don’t work out. Sometimes couples live too far apart, or have vastly different schedules. But what about a couple communicating across a two-year time difference — can this relationship be saved? Unfortunately for "The Lake House," starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, the answer appears to be no. The critics say the film’s premise (it’s a remake of the 2002 Korean film "Il Mare") is not necessarily a bad idea, but the execution is off; the film is neither effective as a romance or as a metaphysical puzzle. At 32 percent on the Tomatometer, this "House" looks like a fixer-upper. And how does it compare with "Speed," the last Reeves/Bullock collabo? Do you even need to ask?


"I should probably tell you that I’m taking the bus because I had my driver’s license revoked."

The scribes’ response to "Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties" has prompted Critical Consensus to paraphrase from Charles Dickens‘ "A Tale of Two Cities": "[The critics] looked at [Garfield] sideways with a stronger concentration of keenness, closeness, and dislike, than was comportable with its wearer’s assumption of indifference." The operative words here are "indifference" and "dislike," as critics say "Garfield" wastes a talented voice cast (Bill Murray, Bob Hoskins, Tim Curry) in a dull, relatively laugh-free plot. At 17 percent on the Tomatometer, the scribes have one thing to say: Bad "Kitties!" (By the way, the original was at 13 percent.)


"Garfield:" Let’s get ready to rumble… again!

Also this week, in limited release: "Wordplay," a doc about New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz, is at 89 percent; G.W. Pabst‘s silent classic "Pandora’s Box," starring the staggeringly beautiful Louise Brooks, is at 83 percent; the gritty Brazilian love triangle "Lower City" is at 57 percent; the gay cult-fave comic strip adaptation "The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green" is at 33 percent; and Kevin Bacon‘s second directorial effort, "Loverboy," is at 14 percent.

Movies with the Words "Fast" and "Furious" in their titles:
———————————————————————–
38% — 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
50% — The Fast and the Furious (2001)
N/A — The Fast and the Furious (1954)

Recent Jack Black Movies:
———————————
84% — King Kong (2005)
6% — Envy (2004)
35% — Shark Tale (2004)
90% — School of Rock (2003)
49% — Orange County (2002)

Reunion fever hits the multiplexes this weekend as four new releases debut bringing together a lot of familiar faces.

Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock reunite in the romantic drama The Lake House which will play to adult women, while Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties reassembles the cast of the first film in a new British adventure aimed at families. Another sequel taking a successful formula and transplanting it into another country is the action pic The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift which hopes to entice young guys. But the one new film which could flex the most muscle is Jack Black‘s wrestling comedy Nacho Libre which also will be attacking younger boys. With six films reaching double-digit millions last weekend, and four new potent entries opening on Friday, the marketplace will certainly be crowded.

Fresh from his battle with the eighth wonder of the world, Jack Black returns to his bread and butter with the new Paramount comedy Nacho Libre. The PG-rated film is directed by Jared Hess, who helmed the 2004 sleeper hit Napoleon Dynamite, and sees Black playing a cook who moonlights as a masked grappler south of the border. Shooting directly for immature adolescents, Nacho is purely a marketing-driven film for summer kids. Rather than spend its time and money opening the door for hundreds of critics to pan the pic early on, Paramount has instead chosen to put all its force behind its advertising campaign and is so confident in the excitement it has been building, it is launching the film early on Thursday night with 10pm showtimes at select theaters across the country. Since the movie skews younger, the earlier time should make it more accessible than the standard midnight shows.

Black certainly can shine in the comedy genre as evidenced by his 2003 hit School of Rock which opened at number one with $19.6M on its way to a robust $81.3M. Plus with Viacom sibling Nickelodeon adding its promotional muscle, and school children starting their summer vacations and looking for mindless entertainment to rot their brains, Nacho could be the hot item on the menu. Older boys may be distracted by the Fast and the Furious sequel this weekend which could put a limit on how high Nacho can fly. Plus the Disney/Pixar hit Cars is only in its second weekend so competition for kids will be fierce. Body slamming its foes in over 2,800 theaters, Nacho Libre might pin down about $24M over the weekend.

Universal kicks in the nitrous oxide for a third time in its street racing actioner The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Ditching all the major stars of the first two installments (sort of), this PG-13 entry takes the tough-guy-likes-to-race-and-be-cool formula and moves the setting to Japan where an American must learn the local style of racing in order to score some street cred. Paul Walker who starred in the original 2001 surprise blockbuster and the very successful 2003 follow-up 2 Fast 2 Furious is nowhere to be found. Instead, the lead role is taken by Lucas Black (Friday Night Lights, Jarhead) while the rapper-turned-actor slot filled previously by Ja Rule and Ludacris now gets passed on to Bow Wow (Like Mike, Roll Bounce). With little starpower, concept will have to sell here.

Since Drift is the third dip into the same well, and with the recognizable stars from before not starring again, some fans of the previous films will wait for this one on a "tricked out" DVD. Young guys are the core audience here and with schools letting out for the summer, many will give Drift a chance hoping it will be a summer thrill ride. Acting and writing score pretty low in this one, but the target audience is not likely to care too much since there is an abundance of hot cars and hot babes. But Nacho Libre could put a dent in the grosses since it will be stealing away many of the same young males this weekend. Tokyo Drift is not likely to reach the openings of the first two Furious pics which bowed to $40.1M and $50.5M, respectively. Speeding into 3,027 locations, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift may cross the finish line with around $21M.

Twelve years and one week after they crashed into theaters in Speed, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock reteam but this time in a romantic drama starring in The Lake House. A remake of the Korean film Il Mare, the PG-rated film tells the story of a man and woman, two years apart in time, who communicate with each other through the mailbox of a lake house and fall in love. Sci-fi and romance don’t snuggle up too often, so this Warner Bros. release prides itself on a story that has a unique twist to it. But it’s really the starpower that will drive sales for The Lake House. These actors look good together and mature adults will be sold. In some ways, Lake House resembles the Al Pacino-Robert De Niro actioner Heat in that moviegoers will be drawn in by two leads who hardly share any actual screen time together. But that shouldn’t matter to Speed freaks everywhere who would love to see Reeves and Bullock back together again without a looney Dennis Hopper trying to blow them up.

Adult women will overwhelmingly make up the audience here. Lake House should play to the same crowd that came out for two other star-driven films aimed at older women in the first half of the summer of 2002. The Richard GereDiane Lane drama Unfaithful opened to $14.1M and a $5,383 average in May while Bullock’s Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood debuted to $16.2M and a $6,449 average a month later. Many of the same folks will hit theaters this weekend. Competition will come from The Break-Up which also has been skewing heavily female although Cars will be a factor as well since it has been pulling in moms with small children. Given the ages of the stars, Lake House should also do well with twentysomething single women too. Opening in 2,645 theaters, The Lake House could open with about $17M this weekend.

Breckin Meyer, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and the vocal chords of Bill Murray reunite for the family comedy Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties. The PG-rated film is the sequel to Fox’s Garfield: The Movie which was a solid hit two years ago when it opened to $21.7M on its way to $75.4M domestically and nearly $200M worldwide. With strong international sales, and further success on video and television, the studio decided that a sequel could bring in more profits. This new tale finds everyone’s favorite fat cat going to England where he is mistaken for a local feline who is royalty. The studio has had a tough problem finding the right release date. Garfield was originally scheduled to open next Friday, one week ahead of Superman Returns, but was moved up one week and now must face the sophomore frame of Cars which is already doing brisk biz with the exact same audience.

While the first film was successful, it did not become the type of pop culture smash that had fans demanding more. Fox’s best bet might be with families that already came out to see the Pixar toon. Long-term success may also be tough since kids of all ages will have interest in seeing the Man of Steel. The studio’s marketing push has been commendable and there is somewhat of a built-in fan base the film will tap into. But it may find itself on the same path as the Scooby Doo sequel which went on to gross 45% less than its predecessor. Opening in over 2,900 theaters, Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties might debut with around $14M this weekend.

Opening in a pair of New York sites is the IFC Films release Wordplay, a documentary that looks at The New York Times crossword puzzles and the celebs that just can’t get enough of them. The PG-rated film played at the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals earlier this year and features commentary from such crossword fans as Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, and Jon Stewart. The former commander-in-chief even snagged the coveted "and" credit.

With all the new drivers on the highway, Cars will try to stay ahead of the pack and hold onto pole position in its second lap. The Disney/Pixar film’s $60.1M bow was slightly below what the industry was expecting given the track record of the pair’s previous computer animated movies. However, their digital toons usually have good legs and with more kids getting out of school this week, a solid sophomore performance should result. The Incredibles dropped only 29% in its second weekend in November 2004 while Finding Nemo slipped 34% in June 2003.

Cars has been holding up well mid-week as its target audience has become more available. Although it opened behind the $68M launch of Ice Age: The Meltdown this past spring, the stronger weekday business should allow Cars to match or exceed the $81.9M gross that the prehistoric sequel collected in its first seven days. Garfield will take away some of the family audience and Nacho Libre should distract many young boys so competition will be fierce. A 45% drop for Cars would give the toon about $33M for the frame keeping it in the number one spot. That would give Disney a robust $115M in ten days.

Keanu and Sandra will steal away the attention of women from Vince and Jennifer this weekend. The Break-Up will face direct competition from The Lake House for its core audience of adult females so another sizable drop could be in the works. A 40% fall would give Universal a weekend tally of around $12M pushing the 17-day cume to a still-impressive $94M.

Fox grabbed $16M and change last weekend with each of its films X-Men: The Last Stand and The Omen. The mutant saga could see sales get sliced in half while the horror remake, because of its mid-week launch, might suffer a slightly smaller decline. This weekend could find Omen taking in roughly $9M for a $50M total and X-Men grossing about $8M boosting its cume to $216M making it the top-grossing installment of the franchise.

LAST YEAR: Super hero power hit the box office with the top spot debut of Batman Begins which relaunched a profitable franchise for Warner Bros. with its $48.7M opening weekend. Bowing on Wednesday, the Caped Crusader grossed a solid $72.9M over five days and went on to display good legs reaching $205.3M domestically and over $370M worldwide. The rest of the top films all got bumped down a notch by the Dark Knight. Fox’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith placed second with $26M in its sophomore frame while DreamWorks followed with Madagascar which took in $10.7M in its fourth adventure. Fox reappeared in the number four slot with $10M for Star Wars Episode III and Paramount rounded out the top five with The Longest Yard which scored $8.2M. The only other new wide release to challenge Batman was the chick flick The Perfect Man starring Hilary Duff and Heather Locklear. The Universal title opened to just $5.3M on its way to $16.5M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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.

Now that the Sundance Film Festival is starting to wind down, more films join the ranks of early pick-ups "Little Miss Sunshine" and "The Science of Sleep," acquired this week by Fox Searchlight and Warner Independent, respectively.

Bent Hamer’s "Factotum" originally had a distribution deal with Picturehouse after it premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, but was dumped last month — Picturehouse reportedly wanted a television-friendly version (read: no sex or alcohol abuse). Luckily, the character study of a directionless, alcoholic womanizer proved worthy at it’s American debut this week and got picked up by IFC Films. Read Tim’s review of "Factotum" here.

IFC stood prouder yet as Miramax bought distribution rights to "The Night Listener," an IFC Films co-produced thriller starring Robin Williams as a late-night radio show host who develops a connection with a young caller.Co-written by "Tales of the City" writer Armistead Maupin from his own novel, "Listener" reportedly entertained offers from Sony Pictures Classics and Lionsgate before accepting Miramax’s offer of $3 million and becoming the company’s first major post-Weinstein acquisition.

Meanwhile, Lionsgate picked up rights to "Right at Your Door," a suburban disaster thriller starring Rory Cochrane and Mary McCormack. "Door" follows a man who seals himself inside his home after a bomb goes off in LA, trying to keep out the toxic fallout and desperate people caught out of doors. The film, by first-time director Chris Gorak, went for $2 million — quite notable for a relative newbie filmmaker.

Finally, the first doc to break out this year turned out to be "Wordplay," a fondly humorous look at the world of crossword puzzles. IFC Films added to it’s strong Sundance presence this year by paying $1 million to distribute first-time director Patrick Creadon‘s pic, which features New York Times Puzzle Editor and crossword god Will Shortz, Jon Stewart, Ken Burns and more and follows the national crossword competition held annually.

With the festival in it’s second phase more deals are expected to be announced soon, including pending negotiations for the Edward Norton starrer "The Illusionist" and "Half Nelson," starring Ryan Gosling.

Check back for reviews of "The Science of Sleep," "Wordplay" and more.

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

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