This week’s new releases include a few Hollywood takes on science fiction (Fox’s remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still; the 1984 sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact on Blu-ray), and a few that fall into the fantasy genre (Adam Sandler’s Bedtime Stories; Jim Carrey in Yes Man, where he romances the 18-years younger Zooey Deschanel — a middle-aged male fantasy if there ever was one). Awards-watchers have an Oscar-nominated film new to DVD (Doubt) and a new double-dip from a Coen brothers classic in the making (No Country for Old Men Collector’s Edition). Read on for more!

The Day the Earth Stood Still — 20%

When studios remake films, the question always arises: Why fix it if it ain’t broken? (The original 1951 sci-fi classic sits pretty at a robust 94 percent on the Tomatometer.) The folks at Fox apparently don’t like such questions, because they decided to “update” the tale of an alien visitor named Klaatu who brings a message of peace — and then, potential destruction — to the callow denizens of Earth. Keanu Reeves‘ monotone delivery as Klaatu didn’t help TDTESS‘s clunky direction and script, though in his defense, he was doing it on purpose. Find the 3-Disc version for a plethora of bonus materials (production photos, storyboards, and concept art) and tons of thematic and making-of featurettes; unfortunately, the lone commentary track does not feature the film’s stars or its director, Scott Derrickson. The good news? Limited editions of the 2-Disc and 3-Disc DVDs also come with the original The Day The Earth Stood Still, so you might get some enjoyment out of the release after all.

Next: Adam Sandler in Bedtime Stories

Back again with another family-friendly comic clunker, Adam Sandler stars as a goofball uncle named Skeeter who entertains his niece and nephew with fantastical stories — stories that begin to come to life! Although the appealing Keri Russell co-stars as Sandler’s love interest, and the rascally Russell Brand as his best friend, this high concept comedy fell flat. Even director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) couldn’t breathe enough pep and life into the proceedings, and he was able to make people enjoy watching John Travolta in drag. Special features include pieces on the film’s special effects, child actors, and computer-generated guinea pig, bloopers, deleted scenes, and an infomercial-type appearance by Big Daddy co-stars Cole and Dylan Sprouse (now bonafide Disney idols).

Next: Multiple Oscar nominee, Doubt

Doubt — 78%

Oscar-watchers absolutely must see this Certified Fresh chamber piece, which earned five Academy Award nominations and was adapted by director John Patrick Shanley from his own Pulitzer-winning play. With creds like these, is there any, ahem, doubt, that serious moviegoers should move this to the top of their Netflix queue this week? A strong cast led by Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams give this period piece about suspicion and the specter of abuse in a 1950s parish serious weight, though a brief, powerhouse performance by Viola Davis steals the show.

Next: Say maybe to Jim Carrey’s Yes Man

Jim Carrey is a shadow of his former self in Yes Man, a predictable comedy about a straight-laced banker who battles his mid-life crisis by embracing a single word: yes. Unfortunately, critics overwhelmingly disagreed with the film’s central theme (“Say yes to everything!”), despite a winning if strained performance by Carrey, who plays against his strengths as the straight man with the occasional glimmer of that slapsticky, classic Carrey. And then, there’s Zooey Deschanel. Always winning as the token “manic pixie dream girl,” she’s extra-quirky in a role as a scooter-driving, rock band-fronting, Silverlake-dwelling free spirit who, naturally, falls in love with Carrey (18 years her senior in real life). Deschanel’s musical performances, included in full as bonus features, are the highlight of Yes Man on DVD – watch one below!

Next: Contemplate your credit history with I.O.U.S.A.

I.O.U.S.A. — 91%

Economy got you in a funk? If watching an entire documentary about the nation’s money woes won’t sink you further into depression, then we fervently recommend picking up I.O.U.S.A. (maybe a rental — it’s more cost-effective). This nonpartisan doc aims to educate America about fiscal responsibility — but in an entertaining way, unlike your bank’s customer service agents — utilizing engaging graphics to make its terrifying point. Another bonus: I.O.U.S.A. is directed by award-winning filmmaker Patrick Creadon, whose 2006 doc Wordplay introduced audiences to the nation’s biggest crossword nerds — and won a Golden Tomato award to boot.

Next: Yup, someone made a movie entitled Donkey Punch

Donkey Punch — 47%

The title does bear explanation, but you’ll have to watch this film to find out what it means. It’s got a promising premise; this British thriller follows a group of young partiers adrift on a boat trip that takes a dangerous turn at sea. Critics liked it to a point, but gave it negative reviews for giving way to tired genre cliché. Brutal violence, drug use, and general hedonism abound, if you like that sort of thing…but while curiosity is bound to get the best of anyone looking for sordid thrills, Donkey Punch might turn out less impactful than its own title.

Next: Painterly animation and adventure in The Tale of Despereaux

When it comes to animation, it would seem that American studios (Pixar, DreamWorks) have a monopoly on critical success. European studio Framestore Animation nonetheless tried their hand with The Tale of Despereaux, whose titular character is a mouse of particular courage and manners. Despereaux aimed to capture the imaginations of young audiences but ended up splitting critics, who credited it with handsome, painterly CG visuals but complained of a lack of spirit. The bland allegory, based on the novel by author Kate DiMillo, might serve hardcore fans of animation (and those with small children) best; all else, be warned. A few games and making-of featurettes highlight the DVD.

Next: Get naughty and nostalgic with the Pre-Code Hollywood Collection

Hearken back to an Old Hollywood unencumbered by silly “morals,” before that stuffy Hays Code took effect, with six delightfully dirty classics: The Cheat (1931, pictured above), Merrily We Go To Hell (1932), Hot Saturday (1932), Torch Singer (1933), Murder at the Vanities (1934), and Search For Beauty (1934). Among the set are films starring the likes of Tallulah Bankhead, Cary Grant, Lucille Ball and Claudette Colbert, with salacious storylines that span the un-PC themes of adultery, wedlock, murder, and good old-fashioned smut. (Bankhead’s The Cheat plays like an early version of Indecent Proposal, as an indebted woman considers paying the ultimate price to a “lecherous scoundrel.”) A mini-handbook reprint of the infamous 1934 Production Code accompanies the set; here, we share our favorite bylaws: “Revenge in modern times shall not be justified” and “Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown.”

Next: Should you double dip with the No Country For Old Men Collector’s Edition?

No Country For Old Men Collector’s Edition Blu-ray — 94%

Double-dip home video releases are never enticing to fans who already own a title, but this week’s Blu-ray release of the Coen Brothers’ Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men comes with enough new bonus material that fervent Coen fans should take a look. When No Country first hit DVD and Blu-ray a while back, only a trio of features accompanied the film; all three of those features are ported over to the new Collector’s Edition 2-Disc Blu-ray and 3-Disc DVD, and share space with a wealth of new extras, which include Josh Brolin‘s behind-the-scenes feature, a Q&A with Joel and Ethan Coen and cinematographer Roger Deakins, and nine additional pieces featuring the Coens and their stars talking with various media programs about No Country. If you’ve spent hours analyzing the film’s ending, shot compositions, or Anton Chigurh’s hairdo of choice, consider these materials study guides to the Coen classic.

Next: 2010: The Year We Make Contact hits Blu-ray

It was an audacious idea to begin with; who in their right mind would attempt to follow Stanley Kubrick‘s science fiction classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, with a sequel? In the year 1984, that person was director Peter Hyams (Capricorn One, The Star Chamber, Timecop), whose adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s follow-up novel picked up nine years after the events of 2001. Roy Scheider stars as Dr. Heywood Floyd, a now-disgraced aeronautics expert investigating the HAL 9000 glitch, who along with John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, and Bob Balaban, tries to unlock the secret of the monolith. While the release comes with woefully few bonus features (a vintage featurette and the theatrical trailer), it’s a great High Def release for science fiction purists.

Until next week, happy renting!

It’s Christmas week in the UK cinemas, but instead of any festive films on offer, we have the eagerly anticipated (by young girls everywhere…) romantic vampire movie Twilight. Gonzo: The Life And Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, a documentary about the godfather of Gonzo journalism, and the writer of Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas is also lighting up the big screens, with mouse-based animation The Tale Of Despereaux making up the numbers for this week’s releases. But what did the UK critics have to say?

Twilight is the film adaptation of the hugely successful and popular teen-fantasy novel by Stephanie Meyer. The books, Twilight being the first in a series of four, have sold by the boat-load in the US, approaching an almost Potter level of success, but mainly amongst hormonal teenage girls of a certain age. Meyer’s tales of teenage yearning and angst, combined with the gothic supernatural seem to have struck a rich vein of youth literature, and the film adaptation has been generating a massive amount of interest amongst the book’s legions of fans.

The film was released last month in the US, and didn’t fare too well with the critics. It stood at a Rotten 45% on the Tomatometer, with the critics feeling that it didn’t live up to the source material, and many bemoaning the chemistry (or lack of) between Bella and Edward, played by Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. But, perhaps due to the more muted level of popularity of the source material here in blighty, the UK critics have really fallen for Twilight. From the 20 reviews collated today, only one review came in unfavourably, and even The Sun’s critic The Sneak admitted that the film was “A superior high school romance, which looks set to live on after the sun has set on Hogwarts.” So with UK reviews only Twilight would stand at a much more respectable (and Fresh) 95% on the Tomatometer. Critics swooned over the breathless romance and dark but well-meaning tone, meaning that Twilight may just be the hit of the winter season with Will Lawrence from Empire saying “A sometimes girlie swirl of obsession that will delight fans, this faithful adaptation is after teenage blood, and will most likely hit a box office artery.”

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson does exactly what it says on the tin. Alex Gibney‘s documentary currently stands at a Certified Fresh 86% on the Tomatometer. UK critics echoed the US critical response, applauding the insightful, accessible and definitive biography into Thompson’s weird and wonderful life, whilst a few complained that Gibney failed to delve deeply enough into his darker and more idiosyncratic foibles. Summing up the film, and it’s hagiographic nature, James Christopher of The Times said…

Gonzo is much more than a tribute to a maverick and genuine pioneer. It’s a lament for the gaping hole that Thompson left behind. The only obvious weakness is Gibney’s reluctance to engage fully with Thompson’s toxic personal life.”

It must be a literary themed this week, as our third big release is The Tale Of Despereaux, an adaptation of the Kate DiCamillo fantasy novel, concerning the eponymous brave rodent Despereaux. Boasting an all-star cast including Sigourney Weaver, Matthew Broderick and Potter alumni Emma Watson, The Tale Of Despereaux is a modern animated fairytale with princesses, castles and talking mice, naturally. At 47% on the Tomatometer though, it seems that Despereaux doesn’t have the required level of magic to garner a Fresh rating. The critics felt that kids would probably enjoy it (but, at the risk of sounding patronising, what animated feature don’t they?), they praised the crisp animation, but felt the story was laboured, the characters weak, and film displayed a concerning lack of warmth. Paling in comparison to the similar yet superior Ratatouille and Shrek, The Tale of Despereaux is more stale than fairytale.

Quote Of The Week

“Horror fans will find little to sink their teeth into, but it’ll get tweenage hearts fluttering like orgasmic bats.”

Twilight. Larushka Ivan-Zadeh, Metro.

This week at the movies, we’ve got self-improvement (Yes Man, starring Jim Carrey and Zooey Deschanel), mysterious altruism (Seven Pounds, starring Will Smith and Rosario Dawson), and rodent adventures (The Tale of Despereaux, with voice work by Matthew Broderick and Dustin Hoffman). What do the critics have to say?

After a disastrous detour to dramatic territory with The Number 23, Jim Carrey is back to the realm of wacky comedy. Unfortunately, critics say his return is only sporadically successful in Yes Man. Carrey plays Carl, a man gripped by depression who enters a self-help program that encourages its devotees to say yes to each and every question. However, Carl finds answering in the affirmative can sometimes have negative consequences. The pundits say the film has its moments, thanks to Carrey’s manic energy, but it’s ultimately little more than a series of comedic set-pieces that don’t build or cohere; worse, we’ve already seen Carrey do a pretty fine variation on this theme in Liar Liar. At 40 percent on the Tomatometer, you may want to say “no” to Yes Man. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Carrey’s best-reviewed films.)

“What’s it called? Gallipoli? Sounds hilarious!”

It’s unsurprising that Will Smith would want to shed his blockbuster baggage every once in a while and throw himself into a smaller, more dramatically weighty role; unfortunately, critics say his latest, Seven Pounds, is more leaden than anything else. Smith stars as Ben, an IRS agent haunted by past misdeeds. As a way of making amends, he decides to practice random acts of kindness on strangers, a plan that goes in intriguing directions when he falls in love with terminally-ill Emily (Rosario Dawson). Some pundits have given Smith credit for attempting riskier material, but they also say Seven Pounds doesn’t follow the rules of logic very closely, and its tone is somber and portentous. At 35 percent on the Tomatometer, Seven Pounds may not be worth your 10 dollars.

“I’m really sorry that I said girls ain’t nothin’ but trouble.”

Another week, another so-so animated feature. The Tale of Despereaux is a fantasy tale about a heroic little mouse who becomes an outcast for refusing to conform; he befriends a group of rats, with whom he shares a journey of self-discovery and adventure. The pundits say Despereaux looks pretty good, and is mercifully free of the toilet humor and pop culture references that have become commonplace in animated features. However, it’s also lacking a sense of magic, and doesn’t really take dramatic flight. At 42 percent on the Tomatometer, this mouse is a tail’s-length behind Ratatouille.

“Man, it’s taking forever to read this book!””

Also opening this week in limited release:

Recent Jim Carrey Movies:

Hollywood titans Jim Carrey and Will Smith go head-to-head at the North American box office but only one can add to his long list of number one openings. Carrey has the edge with his comedy Yes Man while Smith could fail to reach the top spot for the first time in seven years with Seven Pounds, his new dramatic offering. Most holdovers will be in the single-digit millions so audiences should welcome these two new star-driven vehicles. Also debuting is the animated mouse adventure The Tale of Despereaux which will target young children.

Jim Carrey returns to his core genre – the broad comedy – with Yes Man playing a loan officer who changes his mundane life when he joins a self-help program requiring him to give a thumbs up to anything and everything life throws at him. The PG-13 film should play to a wide audience and since the actor doesn’t do these types of comedies that much any more, it should prove to be highly in demand not just this weekend, but over the holiday weeks ahead. Star-driven comedies sell when the trailers and commercials have plenty of jokes and this one fits the bill. No, this isn’t a defining moment in his career artistically, but for now audiences that have already laughed it up with Vince and Reese will be looking to move on to the next big comedy and Carrey is most bankable in this type of role, especially one which offers plenty o’ physical humor.

The funnyman’s last live-action comedy came three years ago over Christmas weekend with Fun With Dick and Jane which bowed to a four-day take of $21.5M and a six-day Wednesday-to-Monday tally of $29.1M from 3,056 sites. Warner Bros. has done a fine job in marketing the film focusing on the its two biggest assets – Carrey and the funny situations. These are the two elements that will sell the pic – not reviews, not awards, and not co-stars. Teens and young adults will respond in solid numbers. Mature adults may be distracted by the final shopping weekend before Christmas and may catch it later. Audiences want to laugh and feel good right now and this should deliver the goods at the turnstiles. Marching into 3,434 theaters, Yes Man may open to about $26M and post good holds in the weeks ahead.

Jim Carrey in Yes Man

What could be the least hyped Will Smith film since The Legend of Bagger Vance opens this Friday in the form of Seven Pounds. With it comes a serious threat to the A-plus-lister’s amazing streak of eight consecutive $100M+ blockbusters which began in 2002. But Sony has been in the most difficult of positions as the PG-13 film’s story is so full of twists and turns that most of it cannot be revealed in the pre-release marketing. Without giving away too much, Smith plays a tax man who seeks to help seven strangers with acts that go well beyond the world of kindness. Essentially it is a story that audiences must unravel as the film progresses so the studio can do little more than just say ‘Hey, it’s Will Smith. Buy a ticket!’ In fact the poster is really just a headshot of the man.

Seven reunites Smith with Gabriele Muccino who directed The Pursuit of Happyness which bowed to $26.5M two years ago around this same time. That pic was in ways an easier sell with its uplifting rags-to-riches story and kiss of approval from Oprah. This time around, moviegoers are left to wonder as most don’t really know what the hell Seven Pounds is about. The marketing push is there, but the volume has been low considering the name that hangs above the title. The film has been noticeably absent from awards season with no major group highlighting the pic and reviews have been lukewarm. Strong critical acclaim and some big nominations could have really helped here.

That man in black’s name will certainly be enough for many fans who will just trust their guy and give this a shot on opening weekend. But many might wait for the recommendations of friends and will choose the guaranteed laughs of Mr. Carrey for this weekend’s entertainment instead. Landing in roughly 2,600 locations, Seven Pounds could debut with about $17M. With Brad, Leo, Tom, and Adam all launching new films next week, Will will need to win over fans fast in order to compete in the long-term.

Will Smith in Seven Pounds

Universal secures a spot in the marketplace for its kidpic offering for the holiday season with the animated mouse flick The Tale of Despereaux. The G-rated film is not necessarily out for a big opening, but just looking to settle into the marquees now so when kids start to break for the holidays and parents get some time off of their own, it will be in perfect position to take in some cash. The one big problem is that it is not based on any well-known brand and that will hurt its chances in the short-term. Still, the week between Christmas and New Year’s when everyday is a Saturday at the multiplexes will be the key period when this film can draw in some sales. Overall excitement is not too high and reviews will be mostly irrelevant. It’s really about how many kids will get excited enough to bug their parents to see this new character. Debuting in 2,739 theaters, The Tale of Despereaux could collect about $8M this weekend.

The Tale of Despereaux

Fox Searchlight opened its Mickey Rourke pic The Wrestler in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Wednesday and begins a platform rollout this weekend. Already winning numerous Best Actor prizes for his performance as a down-and-out grappler looking for redemption, the Darren Aronofsky-directed film has earned unanimous acclaim from critics and also scored the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival.

Klaatu and Gort will see a big dip this weekend. After ruling the chart this past week, the sci-fi thriller The Day the Earth Stood Still should face a hefty decline as word-of-mouth is quite poor. The Keanu Reeves pic sits with a weak C+ average from 3,700+ voters on Yahoo Movies. However, there are no new action pictures opening so a total collapse may not occur. Look for Day to drop by 45% to about $16M which would give Fox $55M in ten days.

The holiday comedy smash Four Christmases has been seeing great strength at the box office as moviegoers have been spreading good will and with Santa’s big day approaching, the subject matter is becoming even more relevant. Looking at 2003 when the calendar was exactly the same, the Christmas laughers witnessed slim declines this very weekend. Bad Santa starring the former Mr. Jolie dipped only 15% in its fourth weekend while Will Ferrell‘s Elf eased only 9% in its seventh frame. All this despite a record-breaking opening by the final Lord of the Rings epic which played broadly. Four Christmases does have Jim Carrey stealing some laughs so it may witness a 15% slide to around $11M pushing the cume to a stellar $103M for Warner Bros.

LAST YEAR: Leading a wave of five new releases over the pre-Christmas weekend, Disney shot straight to number one with its action sequel National Treasure: Book of Secrets which bowed to $44.8M on its way to a stellar $220M domestically and $457M worldwide. Sophomore juggernauts I Am Legend and Alvin and the Chipmunks followed with $33.5M and $28.2M, respectively. Debuting in fourth place was the Tom HanksJulia Roberts dream team in Universal’s Charlie Wilson’s War which grossed $9.7M. Johnny Depp was close behind with Paramount’s Sweeney Todd which bowed to $9.3M from half as many theaters. Final grosses were $66.7M and $52.9M, respectively. The Warner Bros. romance P.S. I Love You opened in sixth place with $6.5M leading to a $53.7M stateside tally, but a much stronger $88.4M haul overseas. The frame’s biggest casualty was the Judd Apatow project Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story which debuted to just $4.2M finishing with only $18.3M for Sony.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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