It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a Slusho, whatever that is! Cloverfield stomps its way onto DVD as not only the most exciting new release of the week, but the one most chock-full of special features. Charlie Wilson’s War, The Savages, and The Orphanage are also new — but be on the lookout as the year’s worst flick to date, One Missed Call, also shuffles onto shelves.


Cloverfield


Tomatometer:
76%

The best-kept secret of 2007 (look up viral marketing in the dictionary and see J.J. Abram’s grinning mug) turned out to be the rebirth of the kaiju — a Godzilla-esque creature wreaking havoc in Manhattan, as seen through the eyes of Handicam-wielding twenty-somethings. Online campaigns involving Slusho and the mysterious 1-11-08 teaser title made for a gonzo opening weekend take, but significant drop-off suggests that many of you were waiting for DVD.

Bonus Features:

Two alternate endings, deleted scenes, commentary by director Matt Reeves and tons of Easter Eggs make Cloverfield a must-own. Now, figure out where to buy it, since no less than four special store-specific editions will be available, ranging from a Steelbook case (FYE and Suncoast), exclusive ringtone (K-Mart and Sears), “T.J. Miller’s Video Diary” bonus DVD (Best Buy) and our recommendation, a “Rob’s Goin’ to Japan Party Mix” CD (Target).

 

Charlie Wilson’s War


Tomatometer: 83%

If modern, smarmy Tom Hanks doesn’t rub you the wrong way (why, oh why, couldn’t he have stopped at A League of Their Own??) and you’d like to see him charm the pants off of Julia Roberts’ conservative socialite, then perhaps there’s nothing stopping you from watching the true story of Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson and how he run the Soviets out of Afghanistan. But if you’re paying attention, you already know how that situation panned out.

Bonus Features:

There’s not much here, but a “Who Is Charlie Wilson?” featurette brings us up close and personal with not only Hanks, producer Aaron Sorkin, and director Mike Nichols (The Graduate), but also Wilson himself and his lover/benefactor, Joanne Herring.


The Savages



Tomatometer: 90%

After a nine-year absence, Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills) wins us over again. This time, her angsty protagonists are middle-aged siblings (Best Actress nominee Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman) whose perfectly rancorous relationship is tested when they must deal with their increasingly senile, elderly father (Philip Bosco). One of last year’s critical darlings, The Savages deserves a wider audience for its bittersweet, acute observations — you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll see poop on the walls.

Bonus Features:

There’s not much to see here: extended scenes, interviews, and a “Behind the Scenes” photo gallery. But don’t let that deter you; give The Savages a try and you’ll likely end up touched. After all, who doesn’t love their parents?


The Orphanage


Tomatometer: 84%

Orphaned by the Oscars (it was Spain’s official entry but didn’t make the final cut) and at the box office, here your chance to adopt this overlooked flick! In the Guillermo del Toro-produced stab at familial horror, Laura (Belen Rueda) moves into the orphanage she grew up in, but finds the house already occupied by spirits who seemingly kidnap her son. Come for the thrills, stay for the surprisingly tender story.

Bonus Features:

The Orphanage largely takes place in one setting, so location, location, location was undoubtedly a vital adage on set. Two DVD features reveal the efforts taken to bring Laura’s nightmarish world to life: the first, “When Laura Grew Up,” shows the filmmakers at work building the orphanage set. The second takes us into “Tomas’ Secret Room,” where the haunting climax of the movie takes place.

 


Starting Out in the Evening



Tomatometer: 86%

I don’t know about you, but nothing gets our blood boiling like a good May-December pairing. Starting Out in the Evening boasts the match-up of sexagenarian Frank Langella and Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) as an aging writer and grad student , respectively, who grow close in Andrew Wagner’s film about relational intimacy and alienation.

Bonus Features:

Director Wagner offers in-depth commentary in the disc’s only non-trailer offering.


Hannah Takes the Stairs



Tomatometer: 67%

Is the movie movement known as mumblecore (a certain brand of D.I.Y. flicks with ultra-low budgets and nonprofessional actor) all it’s cracked up to be? Take the first step in making your call with the latest notable mumblecore effort, a wry, intimate story about a flaky girl and her crush on two goofy co-workers.

Bonus Features:

Those mumblecore kids are majorly hands-on with the filmmaking process and their subsequent DVD releases. Hannah continues the trend with a commentary, behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, and a short film by director Joe Swanberg, Thanks for the ADD! And speaking of which, check out Swanberg’s MySpace page for even more short films, including the trailer to his next feature, Nights and Weekends.

 


One Missed Call



Tomatometer: 0%

At last, the worst-reviewed movie of 2008 has arrived on DVD! (Okay, it’s only the worst so far, but we’re betting it can go the distance.) It takes something special to go 64 reviews without a single fresh rating, but this remake of Takashi Miike’s J-horror pic — in which people like Shannyn Sossamon get phone calls portending their imminent deaths — manages the feat. Even Uwe Boll’s Dungeon Siege: In the Name of the King notched a five percent Tomatometer. Bravo, One Missed Call. Bravo.

Bonus Features:

Here’s the kicker: there are no bonus features. Zilch. Zero. Nada. Can you blame Warner Bros. or their no-name filmmakers (not to mention Sossaman and co-star Ed Burns, who both seemed listless while promoting the flick at Comic-Con) for washing their hands of the career-killing box office bomb?

Fun fact: One Missed Call‘s Australian title is Don’t Pick Up the Cell Phone! (Note exclamation point.) Rent accordingly.

 

Looking for lists of critics’ favorite films from 2007? Today is your lucky day!

Not to be outdone by last week’s unveiling of the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures awards, a number of critics’ associations have announced their honors, including the New York Film Critics Online, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the Boston Society of Film Critics, and the Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association. Let’s take a look, shall we? The awards follow, with Tomatometer ratings following film titles in parentheses:

New York Film Critics Online:
PictureThere Will Be Blood (100 percent) / The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (94 percent)
ActorDaniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood)
ActressJulie Christie (Away From Her, 95 percent)
DirectorPT Anderson (There Will Be Blood)
Supporting ActorJavier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) (95 percent)
Supporting ActressCate Blanchett (I’m Not There, 79 percent)
Breakthrough PerformerEllen Page (Juno, 92 percent)
Debut DirectorSarah Polley (Away From Her)
Ensemble CastBefore the Devil Knows You’re Dead (88 percent)
ScreenplayThe Darjeeling Limited, 66 percent (Wes Anderson, Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola)
DocumentarySicko (93 percent)
Foreign LanguageThe Lives of Others (93 percent) / Persepolis (100 percent)
AnimatedPersepolis
CinematographyThere Will Be Blood (Robert Elswit)
Film MusicThere Will Be Blood (Jonny Greenwood)

Los Angeles Film Critics Association:
PictureThere Will Be Blood
Director — Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Actor — Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
ActressMarion Cotillard, La Vie en rose (74 percent)
Supporting ActorVlad Ivanov, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (96 percent)
Supporting ActressAmy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone, (93 percent) and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
ScreenplayTamara Jenkins, The Savages (90 percent)
Foreign Languange Film4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
DocumentaryNo End in Sight (95 percent)
AnimationRatatouille (97 percent) and Persepolis (tie)
MusicGlen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, Once (98 percent)
CinematographyJanusz Kaminski, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Boston Society of Film Critics:
PictureNo Country for Old Men
ActorFrank Langella (Starting Out in the Evening, 80 percent)
Actress — Marion Cotillard (La Vie en rose)
Director — Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)
Supporting Actor — Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men)
Supporting Actress — Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone)
Ensemble CastBefore the Devil Knows You’re Dead
ScreenplayBrad Bird (Ratatouille)
DocumentaryCrazy Love (78 percent)
Foreign LanguageThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Cinematography — Janusz Kaminski (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)

Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association:
PictureNo Country for Old Men
DirectorJoel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men)
ActorGeorge Clooney (Michael Clayton, 90 percent)
Actress — Julie Christie (Away From Her)
Supporting Actor — Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men)
Supporting Actress — Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone)
ScreenplayAaron Sorkin (Charlie Wilson’s War, adaptation, 88 percent); Diablo Cody (Juno, original)
DocumentarySicko
Foreign FilmThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly
AnimatedRatatouille

Source: ComingSoon (New York)
Source: Variety (Los Angeles)
Source: Variety (Boston)
Source: Variety (Washington, D.C.)

Every year, movie studios get a jump start on turkey Thursday and black Friday by giving audiences a taste of the good stuff two days earlier than usual. This week, we’ve got real-life fairy tales (Enchanted,
starring Amy Adams and
Patrick Dempsey), a deadly fog (The Mist, starring
Thomas Jane and
Marcia Gay Harden), loads of gunplay (Hitman, starring
Timothy Olyphant), musical families
(August Rush,
starring
Freddie
Highmore
and
Keri Russell), yuletide conflict (This Christmas,
starring Delroy Lindo), and the latest from
the Coen Brothers
(No Country for Old Men, starring
Javier Bardem and
Josh Brolin).
What do the critics have to say?

Sort of a Wizard of Oz in reverse,
Enchanted is the story of
Giselle (Amy Adams), a princess in an animated magical kingdom who’s transported to the
streets of Manhattan by an evil queen (Susan Sarandon). There, she meets a
kindly lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) and attempts to negotiate the line between
fantasy and reality. The pundits say Enchanted lives up to its title,
featuring sharp gags, excellent animation, and a smart re-imagining of
fairy-tale tropes. But they hold out the highest praise for Adams, a sharp scene
stealer who makes the most of her top billing here. At 89 percent on the
Tomatometer, Enchanted is bewitching.



James Marsden challenges Dempsey for Sexiest Man Alive Runner-Up
title.

The Mist
springs forth from the collective minds of author
Stephen King and
director Frank Darabont, the winning
combination that’s previously brought us
The Shawshank Redemption
and
The Green Mile. But
in their latest collaboration the two take a decidedly horrific bent: A small
town is terrorized by a group of deadly creatures lurking in a particularly
thick fog. Could a top-secret experiment at a nearby military base have anything
to do with it? Critics are less ecstatic with The Mist than previous King/Darabont
joints: they say the chills and thrills are there, and Darabont valiantly
attempts for a psychological depth rarely seen in horror, but he frequently
comes off as didactic and heavy-handed. At 69 percent Tomatometer, the gold shines through in The Mist. (Read our interview with the Mist cast and crew here.)



"That’s no moon, that’s a giant bug monster with pseudo-Biblical
overtones."

Hitman stars
Timothy Olyphant as an accomplished assassin named 47 who
stumbles into the midst of some political intrigue and goes on the run.
Considering the well-publicized news of Hitman’s reshoots and its origin
as a video game, it’s no surprise that the movie isn’t sitting well
with the critics. They call it vulgar, gratuitously violent, too reliant on CG
to propel the action, and just an overall dizzying blur of explosions and
bullets — the usual barbs critics reserve for video game adaptations, and
exactly the
stuff that gets gamers off the couch and into the theaters. At 14 percent on the Tomatometer, looks like it’s game over,
Hitman.



"Don’t worry. I did the Konami Code before this mission."

In August Rush, an orphan (Freddie
Highmore
) runs away to New York,
where an overseer of young musicians (Robin Williams) recognizes
his guitar skills. As it turns out, the orphan was the product of a one-night
stand between a cellist (Keri Russell) and a singer-songwriter (Jonathan Rhys
Meyers
), whom he now hopes to reunite. It’s a fairly absurd premise but the
performers give it their all, and goes a long way to overcome
Kristen Sheridan‘s
sentimental and cloying direction. At 58 percent on the Tomatometer, August
Rush
hits a sickly sweet note. (Read our interview with Freddie Highmore here.)




"It’s agreed. No ‘Stairway.’"

It’s time for another Christmas movie in which each member of a dysfunctional family brings
plenty of baggage with them to the yuletide festivities. Bah, humbug, right? Not
so fast. Critics say
This Christmas
is a delightful surprise, a solid
dramedy that, in lesser hands, could have been chaotic and mawkish. In Christmas
the members of the Whitfield clan returns home, setting off a maelstrom of
unresolved tensions and revelations. The pundits say director
Preston A.
Whitmore II
takes a variety of contrived plotines and deftly weaves them together with wit and
finesse, and the cast, which features such excellent thespians as
Delroy Lindo,
Regina King,
Idris Elba, and
Mekhi Phifer, is never less than stellar. At 65
percent on the Tomatometer, This Christmas is a pleasant gift.




"I hope it’s the Little Golden Book adaptation of Bioshock."

With No Country for Old Men, the
Coen Brothers return to the moral
ambiguity, black humor, and horrifying violence that reverberated throughout
some of their best work, movies like
Blood Simple
and
Fargo
. And critics say
that’s a very, very good thing.
Javier Bardem
stars as a psychopathic killer on the trail of an average Joe (Josh Brolin) who stumbles
across a huge sum of money. The pundits say No Country is a triumph:
grim, suspenseful, frightening, and loaded with pitch-perfect performances. At
96 percent on the No Country for Old Men is not only Certified Fresh, it’s one
of the best-reviewed films of the year and trails only Blood Simple
within the brothers’ filmography. (Check out our Total Recall feature on the Coens’ filmography
here.)



“You don’t want to know what I’ll do if that Tomatometer drops below 90.”

Also opening this week in limited release:
The Red Balloon
,
Albert
Lamorisse
‘s French children’s classic, is at 100 percent on the Tomatometer;
Starting
Out in the Evening
, about a relationship between a solitary novelist and a
grad student starring
Frank Langella and
Lauren Ambrose, is at 93 percent;
Todd
Haynes

I’m Not There
, an unconventional biopic of Bob Dylan starring
Cate Blanchett,
Christian Bale,
Heath Ledger, and
Richard Gere, is at 76 percent; Everything’s Cool, a personal documentary about global warming, is at 60 percent;
and Nina’s Heavenly Delights, a culture-clash rom-com, is at zero
percent.




"I also think Robbe-Grillet is vastly overrated. Want to make out?”

Recent Timothy Olyphant Movies:
—————————————
22% —
Catch and Release
(2007)
80% —
Live Free or Die Hard
(2006)
74% —
Coastlines
(2006)
41% —
The Girl
Next Door
(2006)
23% —
Dreamcatcher
(2006)

Senh caught the screenings of three films making their stop at the Sundance Film Festival this week: a funny and well-acted drama about relationships and the creative process; a sluggish drama starring a portly and sweat-drenched Jared Leto; and a movie that may be the template for the modern musical. Read on for his reviews.

"Starting Out in the Evening" is often funny and well-written, but it loses its way toward the end. The drama centers on Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella), a washed-up, once renowned literary writer who’s trying to recapture his past glory by writing one last novel, which he’s been working on for the past ten years. At 70, his deteriorating health can keep him from completing his novel. Heather (Lauren Ambrose), a graduate student who’s a fan of his past work, is infatuated with him and tries to bring him out of obscurity by making him the subject of her graduate thesis. The relationship eventually gets physical and, well, yucky — Leonard is almost three times older than Heather. The other major character in the film is Leonard’s daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor), an unmarried 40-year-old trying to impregnate herself with an ex-boyfriend who is clueless of her intentions. Most of the humor are derived from these awkward relationships. These three characters are at a crossroad in their lives. The acting by the three principles are generally good, especially Frank Langella. Because this is also a story about the writing process, there are lively debates between art versus commerce and discussions on the creative process. The relationships eventually get a little messy and one of the characters even disappear from the story for a little bit towards the end, but when the credits roll, all of the lose ends are tied up nicely.

In "Chapter 27," Jared Leto gained a lot of weight to play the sweat-covered Mark David Chapman, the mentally unstable fan who shot John Lennon on December 8, 1980. While Leto did a great job of gaining those extra pounds, his patterned speech could use a little more work. As a film about the moments leading to Chapman’s shooting of Lennon, it keeps the viewers at a distance. It’s always better to show than to tell, and the film breaks this cardinal rule with Chapman’s frequent narration. Towards the end, he even hears voices. Or is it his own narration? I’m not sure. The characters are so underdeveloped that it’s difficult to relate to any of them. Lindsay Lohan is in it, but her role is trivial, like many of the other supporting characters in the film. The pacing is slow as well.

"Once" is a charming romance, with music videos seamlessly integrated into the story. An Irish guy (Glen Hansard) who makes a living playing music in the streets of Dublin and fixing vacuum cleaners at his father’s shop meets a flower vendor (Markéta Irglová) who also happens to have a broken vacuum cleaner. Two eventually discover they have something in common — they both play a musical instrument and like to sing. They decided to form a band and make an album. The lyrics of the songs in the film move the story along. The music’s great. It helps that the two stars are actually great singers. This mix of film and music video is a unique representation of what a modern musical should look and sound like.

Check out our full Fundance at Sundance coverage.

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