It’s a good week for mediocre films (Body of Lies, Changeling, Quarantine and Flash of Genius, all walking a fine line between Fresh and Rotten) and an even better one if you’re a Wildcat fan (High School Musical 3: Senior Year)! Horror fans have an enticing two-fer to consider (Quarantine and the better-reviewed Midnight Meat Train), while left-wingers get the political Borat (Bill Maher’s Religulous). See what else is new this week on DVD.


1. High School Musical 3: Senior Year — 67%

If there’s a tween or teen girl in your family, chances are they’ll be on their best behavior this week in hopes of snagging the third and final chapter of Disney’s High School Musical franchise, which comes to home video in three different piggy bank-draining versions. Should the kids spring for a single-disc’s worth of Troy Bolton, a double-disc DVD, or go all the way to Blu?

We recommend picking up the 2-disc DVD over the single-disc because, let’s face it, if you’re going to buy High School Musical 3, you might as well get more bang for your buck. Where only a single bonus feature appears on the single-disc DVD, more featurettes, bloopers, deleted scenes, and a sing along bolster the 2-disc and enrich the musical tale of PG-rated teen angst (Play basketball or be in the school play? Start college early or go to prom?). It also includes a digital copy of the extended cut of the film. EXTENDED CUT — that means even more Wildcat singing and dancing!!!

Blu-ray buyers get all of the above, plus a few additional featurettes and the wonderment of seeing Vanessa Hudgens’ Neutrogena-sponsored pores in high definition.

Below, check out two exclusive behind-the-scenes clips in which the HSM3 cast learns to waltz and Zac Efron learns the ropes behind the camera. Is a career change in order?

Next: Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies falls short of Fresh

2. Body of Lies — 51%

Despite boasting the combined powers of Leonardo di Caprio, Russell Crowe, Departed screenwriter William Monahan and celebrated director Ridley Scott, Body of Lies was brimming with more promise than it ultimately delivered. Critics were split neatly down the middle on this politically-charged thriller about a CIA agent (Di Caprio) enmeshed in a Jordanian anti-terror plot; even with its solid cast (including scene-stealer Mark Strong as the head of Jordanian intel), Body of Lies couldn’t truly deliver. While the Blu-ray release comes packed with an enviable amount of bonus material (some of which must be played as interruptions to the film, instead of Picture-in-Picture), a commentary track by Scott, Monahan, and original author David Ignatius will do just fine, and appears along with a few featurettes on the standard disc release.

Next: Clint Eastwood’s Changeling


3. Changeling — 61%

One of the lowest-rated films to be nominated for an Academy Award this year (thanks to Angelina Jolie’s Best Actress nomination, plus nods for Cinematography and Art Direction), Changeling should be an intriguing pick up for Oscar prognosticators this week. Directed by Clint Eastwood, Changeling tells the story of a working class mother who loses her child in 1928, only to be told months later by insistent cops that another boy is her son. Conventionally-told but compelling nonetheless, this should be an interesting rental for anyone who missed the film in theaters; in addition to two making-of featurettes on the standard release, the Blu-ray disc contains archival materials of the real-life story upon which Changeling is based, plus a feature that compares the Los Angeles-area period settings to their modern day locations.

Next: Flash of Genius not so genius

4. Flash of Genius — 57%

Period biographical pictures about men struggling on the brink of greatness sometimes do well (A Beautiful Mind, Tucker: The Man and His Dream) and sometimes fall short of the mark. Unfortunately, Marc Abraham’s Flash of Genius — the true story of Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear), who invented the intermittent windshield wiper in 1967 — is of the latter category, earning middling marks from critics on its way to DVD shelves. If windshield wipers (or Kinnear’s co-star, the awesome Lauren Graham) intrigue you, we recommend a rental, though beware that only a director commentary and deleted scenes accompany the film. Universal is also releasing Flash of Genius day-and-date On Demand.

Next: Dakota Fanning in Hounddog

5. Hounddog — 17%

Even I’m getting tired of referring to Hounddog as “The Dakota Fanning Rape Movie,” so let’s accept the fact of its early and lasting reputation and move on, shall we? Hounddog stars the then- 12-year-old Fanning as a Southern tomboy in the 1950s with a fondness for Elvis; when the controversial event occurs, she finds comfort and redemption in the blues. Deborah Kampmeier’s drama made waves at Sundance, though most reviews were overwhelmingly negative; try and let that stop you from indulging your morbid curiosity.

Next: Simon Pegg loses friends and alienates people

As in The Devil Wears Prada, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People aims to satirize an insider industry with a lead character begrudgingly working their way up the corporate ladder — only this time it’s not Anne Hathaway, it’s British comic actor Simon Pegg, and his work is in entertainment journalism, not fashion. Critics were mostly un-amused by this slap-sticky adaptation of former Vanity Fair contributor Toby Young’s memoirs, citing an irregular tone, too much crudeness, and a mediocre script. However, a feature-length commentary with director Robert D. Weide and star Pegg accompanies the disc, which might be worth a gander thanks to the always-amusing (in real life, anyway) Pegg.

Next: I Served the King of England

Czech New Wave director Jiri Menzel (Closely Watched Trains) returns to form with this World War II-set dramedy about an ambitious waiter whose personal fortunes rise and fall as the country succumbs to the Nazis, then the Communist party, in the mid-20th century. This multiple festival award-winner, based on the novel by Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, is the week’s standout Certified Fresh release.

Next: Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train

When Lionsgate unceremoniously dumped Midnight Meat Train into a very limited theatrical run last summer, horror fans were outraged, and rightly so; the adaptation of a Clive Barker short story was actually Fresh — so why hide it from the movie-going public? This month, Midnight Meat Train finally makes it to DVD, and those eagerly anticipating the Ryuhei Kitamura-directed slasher can take solace in the fact that they can finally see the tale in a DVD-only unrated cut. Bradley Cooper (He’s Just Not That Into You, Wedding Crashers) stars as a shutterbug on the trail of a subway killer (Vinnie Jones); three featurettes accompany the film.

Next: Hollywood remakes Spanish horror with Quarantine

9. Quarantine — 59%

A television reporter (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman (Steve Harris) are the only people able to document the mysterious happenings inside a Los Angeles apartment building in this remake of the Spanish horror film, REC (94%). Atmospheric scares enhance this Blair Witch-styled tale, although critics agreed it fell short of the mark of the original. Director John Erick Dowdle and producer Drew Dowdle, who co-wrote the screenplay, contribute a commentary track, while additional features flesh out the bonus menu.

Next: Bill Maher meets Borat in Religulous

10. Religulous –71%

When director Larry Charles teamed up with Sacha Baron Cohen, the result was Borat. When he joined forces with Bill Maher, the result was Religulous, a comedy-documentary whose main focus is to satirize organized religion, and satirize it hard. A commentary track in which Charles and Maher explain their filmmaking methods and experiences highlights the extras.

Until next week, happy renting!

Hollywood kicks off the fourth quarter with a stampede of new releases that will test the elasticity of the marketplace. Ambulances are already on standby to rush the high number of casualties off to local video stores. Seven films open or expand into 800 or more theaters each while an eighth picture debuts in more than 500 locations still hoping to reach moviegoers from coast to coast. Leading the way and likely to post solid results are Disney’s family comedy Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Sony’s teen saga Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. The rest of the menu will struggle to pick up the remaining scraps during a time when overall box office is not too busy to begin with.

The canine comedy Beverly Hills Chihuahua looks to dominate the multiplexes this weekend with Disney generating plenty of interest with kids and parents. The PG-rated tale of a pampered dog lost on the mean streets of Mexico features voices from Drew Barrymore, Andy Garcia, George Lopez, and Cheech Marin. Piper Perabo and Jamie Lee Curtis take up the human roles. A classic fish-out-of-water story coupled with the always bankable talking-animal formula means plenty of dough will be rolling in for this one. Competition is minimal with Igor in its third session being the only other choice for families right now. In fact there hasn’t been a hit comedy for children since June’s WALL•E so demand is intense. The top kidpic openings during the September-October corridor over the last three years have been $19.1M for Corpse Bride in 2005, $23.6M for Open Season in 2006, and $23M for The Game Plan in 2007. Opening in 3,215 theaters, Beverly Hills Chihuahua should exceed those films. A debut of about $26M could result this weekend.


Piper Perabo, Jamie Lee Curtis and friend in Beverly Hills Chihuahua

Set to attract a fair share of teens this weekend is the romantic comedy Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings. Cera’s stock price skyrocketed last year with Superbad and Juno which grossed a combined $265M. Here he safely is back in his zone which should register well with teens and young adults. Shia LaBeouf‘s got the only other major film for the under-25 set so direct competition will be light. That puts Nick in a position to make it into the top three this weekend and post a solid average. Sony’s marketing push has been commendable and the trailer is exciting the target audience. Plus the PG-13 rating opens the door to younger teens. As the frame’s second widest opener, Nick and Norah bows in about 2,300 locations and might gross around $13M this weekend.


Michael Cera and Kat Dennings in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Backed by lukewarm reviews, Miramax’s Blindness hits theaters with some buzz but will still face an uphill battle. The R-rated film about an epidemic that takes away a victim’s sight stars Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, and Danny Glover with Brazil’s Fernando Meirelles directing. The opening night selection at this year’s Cannes now enters the North American commercial market in search of serious adults looking for arthouse thrills. The lack of enthusiasm from critics will hurt the prospects for Blindness as will the abundance of options for the 30-plus crowd. An intriguing concept and the presence of indie film heavyweights will help, but pulling in business will still not be easy. Opening in 1,690 theaters, Blindness might debut with roughly $6M.


Julianne Moore and Alice Braga in Blindness

A British celebrity journalist enters the world of high society at a New York magazine in the new comedy How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Megan Fox, and Jeff Bridges star in the R-rated MGM release. Pegg has built up a small cult following on this side of the pond with films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but his starpower has not reached the heights where tons of ticket buyers come running to his next role. Fox’s return to the big screen after last year’s smash Transformers could score some points with young men though. Reviews have been mixed and a wide assortment of competing comedies will split the audience. Landing in 1,750 sites, a debut of about $5M could result.


Simon Pegg in How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

The year has been light on biopics but Greg Kinnear plans to change that with Flash of Genius, the true story of the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper and his long battle with the automotive industry for recognition of his work. The PG-13 film will target adults looking for an underdog story, however starpower is lacking and the subject matter is a tough sell. Reviews have been good but not glowing. Universal is not going very wide so the film’s potential will be curtailed but its average may be respectable. Debuting in roughly 1,000 playdates, Flash of Genius could collect about $3M this weekend.


Greg Kinnear in Flash of Genius

Warner Bros. expands its acclaimed Western Appaloosa from 14 to 800 houses nationwide on Friday. The Ed Harris film averaged $10,469 last weekend in limited release and will now test the waters across the country targeting older adults. A $3M take could result.


Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris in Appaloosa

The right pokes fun at liberals in the new comedy An American Carol which features a heavy-set Michael Moore-type filmmaker being visited by three spirits who show him how great Uncle Sam really is. Directed by spoof king David Zucker, the PG-13 film should find better business in the McCain states than in the Obama ones. The release date is aimed at making the film relevant at a time when so much attention is on politics, but overall interest does not seem to be all that strong. Some more controversy, even if artificially manufactured in true Moore style, could have helped this one stand out in the crowded marketplace. Vivendi will attack 1,639 venues on Friday with An American Carol and it could end up with about $3M.


Kevin Farley in An American Carol

Those on the left should not feel abandoned. Comedian Bill Maher offers up his skewering of the world’s God squads in the documentary Religulous which opens in 502 theaters nationwide this weekend. Borat director Larry Charles is behind the camera of this R-rated pic which has been working extra hard to attract controversy only to find limited success in that department. This is a film that desperately needs news coverage in order to sell but with most media outlets only having the bandwidth to cover the elections and the financial crisis, Religulous is not getting its message heard by enough of its target audience. Sponsoring Joe Biden’s podium during Thursday night’s vice presidential debate may be the only true way for the film to reach its base. An opening of around $2M could result.


Bill Maher in Religulous

Last weekend, Shia LaBeouf scored another number one hit with Eagle Eye which generated the fourth best September bow ever. Word-of-mouth has been good and most of the new titles will not have much of a direct impact on the thriller’s teen and young adult audience. A 40% drop could result giving Paramount around $17.5M for the weekend and $54M in ten days.

Nights in Rodanthe‘s audience of older women typically do not rush out on opening weekend so a good hold could result. The Richard GereDiane Lane hit Unfaithful actually dipped a mere 29% in its sophomore frame in 2002 so their new collaboration should see more takers buying tickets this weekend. The Warner Bros. release may fall 35% to about $8.5M pushing the ten-day total to $25M.

The Kirk Cameron marital drama Fireproof shocked Hollywood with its fourth place opening last weekend despite playing in fewer theaters than any other film in the top ten. It also showed the industry the value of films that appeal to audiences not properly served by mainstream studio fare – something Tyler Perry has been proving year after year although with bigger grosses. With intense upfront demand, Fireproof may see a more sizable 45% slide to roughly $3.5M giving the faith-based pic a solid $12M after ten days.

LAST YEAR: For a second straight weekend The Rock and Disney joined forces to rule the top spot with the family hit The Game Plan which dipped only 28% in its second frame to $16.6M. Ben Stiller‘s R-rated comedy The Heartbreak Kid opened in second with a disappointing $14M on its way to $36.8M for Paramount. Universal’s military thriller The Kingdom ranked third with $9.7M and was followed by Sony’s threequel Resident Evil: Extinction with $4.5M. Debuting poorly in fifth was Fox’s The Seeker: The Dark is Rising with $3.7M leading to a weak $8.8M finish. The dance drama Feel the Noise landed in eighth with a $3.2M bow from just over 1,000 screens and ended with $5.9M for Sony.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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