Aaron Eckhart stars as a doctor able to enter the subconscious minds of possessed patients in this week’s Incarnate, a new take on the old exorcism story. And in this week’s 24 Frames gallery, we give our take on the best and worst exorcism horror movies by Tomatometer. Before we start, some règle de jeu: there are no comedies or non-horrors listed, and only movies with at least 20 reviews qualify. Got it? Good. God help us.
This week in horror, we’ve got good news and bad news. Here’s the bad news first: The Haunting in Connecticut, a much ballyhooed flick “based on a true story,” didn’t really happen. The good news? You can find much fresher scares in a newly released Spanish import (2007’s REC, which was remade into last year’s Quarantine). Also new to shelves is a long-awaited comedy show (The State: The Complete Series), HBO’s fabulous, fictionalized Grey Gardens (starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange), Mark Webber’s directorial debut (Explicit Ills), and a Sienna Miller-Keira Knightley love triangle (The Edge of Love). And to top it off, a direct-to-DVD bonanza (National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: Freshman Year, the Dennis Quaid vehicle Horsemen, and more)!
Who among us believes the phrase, “based on a true story,” anymore? The minds behind this clichéd horror tale seem to, since they emphasize the heck out of the idea that a family (Martin Donovan and Virginia Madsen as the parents of a cancer-stricken teen) in 1980s Connecticut actually encountered ghosts and lived to tell about it. Critics slammed this paranormal tale for its easy scares, derivative nature (Amityville Horror, anyone?), and general inconsistencies; then again, if jump scares, creepy hallucinations, and a box of human eyelids are the sort of terrors you like to see in a horror flick, then perhaps this is the type of horror flick you deserve. Audio commentaries, making-of features, and a look at the “real life” case that inspired the film are included on the DVD.
Next: Spanish scares in the critically acclaimed REC
If clichéd hauntings can’t quite satisfy your hunger for horror, here’s a better option. REC, a 2007 Spanish horror film (remade as 2008’s Quarantine), follows a horrifying outbreak one night in Barcelona, as captured on film by a television reporter (Manuela Velasco) and her camera man. As the camera rolls, an entire apartment building full of residents and emergency crews fall victim to a mysterious infection that turns all who are bitten into bloodthirsty savages, leaving survivors scrambling for a way out. Inventive film techniques helped make REC‘s familiar horror tricks fresh, resulting in a riveting, first-person faux documentary-style experience in the vein of The Blair Witch Project. A making-of feature accompanies the film, which was not previously released stateside.
Next: The State comes to DVD!
When it comes to sketch comedy, everyone has their favorites. One of ours here at the RT offices was MTV’s The State, the early ’90s sketch show that gave us such memorable one-liners as “I’m outta heeeerrre.” Various members of The State would go on to create such beloved comedy properties as Reno 911! (Thomas Lennon, Ben Garant, and Keri Kenney), Stella (Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain), and films like Wet Hot American Summer; watch them way back when in this five disc collection that includes cast commentaries, unaired sketches, interviews, and more.
Next: Drew Barrymore is Little Edie in Grey Gardens
Based on the celebrated 1975 documentary of the same name, Grey Gardens tells a fictionalized version of the lives of “Big Edie” (mother, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale) and “Little Edie” (daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale), the mother-daughter spinster pair who served as fascinating subjects for documentarians Albert and Davis Maysles. Famously related to Jacqueline Onassis, the Beales lived in squalor in a formerly glorious Hampton mansion, musing back to their younger lives as East Coast debutantes for the Maysles’ camera. HBO Films’ Grey Gardens intertwines the pair’s lives circa 1975, recreating parts of the documentary, with flashbacks to Little Edie’s youth and the Beales’ once-flourishing social life. Watch for critically lauded performances by Jessica Lange (as Big Edie) and Drew Barrymore (as Little Edie); a commentary, featurette, and interviews are also included.
Next: Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller fight over Dylan Thomas in The Edge of Love
World War II is the backdrop for this character drama, based loosely on the life and loves of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys) who reconnects with childhood love, Vera (Keira Knightley) in war torn London. Complicating things are Dylan’s wife, Caitlin (Sienna Miller) and then, Vera’s newly shipped-out soldier husband (Cillian Murphy); longing, jealousy, and friendship clash as the threesome play out relationship dramas against director John Maybury’s lush, gorgeous scenes. Alas, beauty isn’t quite enough to save the film from critics, who cite a muddled script and apathy for the characters involved among The Edge of Love‘s disappointments.
Next: A Kristin Cavallari direct-to-DVD twofer!
Another week, another direct-to-DVD flick starring Kristin Cavallari of Laguna Beach fame. The former Lauren Conrad foil continues building her acting resume with this week’s Van Wilder prequel, Van Wilder: Freshman Year, in which a young Van (Jonathan Bennett) desperately tries to land the school hottie at his conservative new college…a school hottie played by Cavallari, natch!
Watch an exclusive DVD clip below:
But wait, there’s more! Cavallari’s been super busy, and appears this week in the direct-to-DVD beach volleyball flick, Beach Kings, about a 30-year-old former athlete (played by the 37-year-old Baywatch hunk, David Charvet) who reclaims his manhood…via beach volleyball!
Next: Dennis Quaid and Zhang Ziyi in Horsemen
We’re willing to wager that former metal drummer-turned-prolific music video director Jonas Akerlund is not going to be best-remembered for this clunky horror-thriller, which goes direct-to-DVD this week. Dennis Quaid stars as a forensic dental expert — what a specialty! — who discovers that a serial killer may be molding his kills on the Biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. So why is Zhang Ziyi (in stilted English) co-starring as the adopted daughter of a murder victim? And how did Akerlund manage to nab every working indie film actor in the business to fill supporting roles (Lou Taylor Pucci, Eric Balfour, Patrick Fugit, Peter Stormare, Clifton Collins, Jr.)? Perhaps you’ll find the answers within, littered alongside gruesome tortures and plot holes…
Next: Actor Mark Webber makes his directorial debut!
Actor Mark Webber (Bomb the System, Good Dick) makes his directorial debut with this indie drama, about disparate strangers living in the same working class Philadelphia neighborhood. A Philly native himself, Webber (who also wrote the script) inserts his viewer into the lives of artists (Frankie Shaw and Lou Taylor Pucci), a struggling mother (Rosario Dawson), a bohemian couple (Naomie Harris and Tariq Trotter of The Roots), an aspiring actor (Paul Dano) and more, before blending the threads together — a familiar genre ploy that split critics between supporting the film’s social message and resenting its heavy-handed delivery.
Next: A Certified Fresh Foreign Oscar nominee remake of 12 Angry Men!
In remaking Sidney Lumet’s film 12 Angry Men, Russian filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov (who won the Academy Award for 1994’s Burnt by the Sun) posits the classic set-up within the current Russian social climate. During the trial of a young Chechen boy on trial for murder, a lone juror is less convinced than his peers; deliberation ensues, revealing prejudices within each jury member, in this overly talky but well-acted drama. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, the Certified Fresh 12 is one of the week’s best reviewed new releases (but comes at a hefty run time of 160 minutes).
Next: Criterion celebrates the lunar landing with For All Mankind
Before the Discovery Channel, and before such excellent recent films as In the Shadow of the Moon, there was Al Reinart’s 1989 documentary, For All Mankind. Forget the fussy, analytical talking heads that pepper modern accounts of America’s history in space; this experiential doc focuses on actual NASA flight footage, cobbled together from interviews and recordings made between 1968 and 1972. Edited together to look like a single mission, For All Mankind actually depicts parts of six different Apollo flights; know this, and approach the film as a time capsule ode to the moon of sorts. Roughly 40 years after the 1969 moon landing, Criterion is reissuing this doc in high definition along with a wealth of supplemental materials that include astronaut interviews, moon-inspired art, a making-of feature, and more.
Until next week, happy renting!
This week at the movies, we’ve got a war of the worlds (Monsters Vs. Aliens, with voice work by Reese Witherspoon and Seth Rogen), a demonic abode (The Haunting in Connecticut, starring Virginia Madsen and Martin Donovan), and a royal rumble (12 Rounds, starring John Cena). What do the critics have to say?
Monsters vs. Aliens pays loving homage to B-grade 1950s monster movies, utilizing state-of-the- art 3-D CG animation and a crack voice cast. And critics say it’s rousing, wry, and technically impressive. When Susan Murphy (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) is hit by a meteor on the way to her wedding, it causes her to grow nearly 50 feet tall; she’s ostracized by society, but it turns out that she and her fellow monsters may be the only ones that can save earth from an alien invasion. The pundits say Monsters vs. Aliens is often more whiz-bang than emotionally resonant, and many of the gags will probably soar over the wee ones’ heads. However, those may be small prices to pay for a film of such remarkable visual invention and good humor. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we rank every DreamWorks animated film by Tomatometer, and be sure to take our our DreamWorks Cartoon Challenge.)
The Haunting in Connecticut is allegedly based on a true story. However, most critics feel this New England-set supernatural thriller has more in common with other haunted house flicks like The Amityville Horror than real-life supernatural occurrences. Virginia Madsen and Martin Donovan star as a couple who move to the Nutmeg State only to find the nice old Victorian they’ve just purchased was once a funeral home, and it’s haunted by a demonic presence that only avails itself to the couple’s teenage son. Bedeviling ensues, along with creaking floorboards and (presumably) bad caulking. The pundits say The Haunting in Connecticut has some effectively spooky atmospherics, but ultimately it’s mechanical and cliched.
It appears the folks behind 12 Rounds were afraid their film would receive a critical beatdown, since it wasn’t screened prior to release. Renny Harlin directs WWE superstar John Cena, who plays a cop in the midst of a cat-and-mouse game with a terrorist who has kidnapped his girlfriend. Kids, take a break from your study of Thuganomics and guess that Tomatometer!
Also opening this week in limited release:
Ginormica and her mutant pals look to seize control of the North American box office with the animated 3D adventure Monsters vs. Aliens which will try to overtake a group of not-always-fully-dressed superheroes for the biggest opening weekend of 2009. Two other new releases also hit the multiplexes on Friday, the spooky horror flick The Haunting in Connecticut and the cop actioner 12 Rounds, but will attract much smaller numbers. The overall marketplace is set to crush year-ago numbers putting an end to the back-to-back down weekends the industry just experienced.
DreamWorks Animation puts a lot on the line with Monsters vs. Aliens and is looking for a big response from audiences this weekend. The PG-rated pic is the first 3D foray for the studio which will make all future toons in the format as well. Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Kiefer Sutherland, and Stephen Colbert lead the voice cast in the story of government-imprisoned monsters that are released in order to defend America from an alien invasion. DreamWorks has always had the right formula for toon success. Since Shrek, the company has steered clear of dramas focusing instead on comedic stories paired with big stars known for their funny fare. Monsters is no different as it packs lots of laughs, gripping action, and is peppered with numerous familiar voices from actors people love. And what an easy paycheck for them!
But what the studio and distribution partner Paramount are really looking for is a boost at the box office because of the 3D experience. We’ve already seen solid performances this year from the kidpic Coraline and the horror film My Bloody Valentine 3D which have used the format, and the higher ticket prices, to collect better-than-expected grosses. Monsters has been eventized enough that families are likely to pay the extra $3 or so per ticket for an experience that can’t be duplicated at home. Paramount’s official theater count is 4,104 which is normal for A-list animated films from DreamWorks and Pixar these days. Of the roughly 7,000 total screens being booked for the pic, about 2,000 will feature 3D with the balance showing the standard 2D version at regular ticket prices. But the per-theater average from the 3D locations will tower over the 2D average.
The marketing has been top-notch and the expensive Super Bowl stunt certainly helped in putting the film on the map and making audiences realize that this would be an event not to miss out on. Appeal may be solid outside of the core audience of families too as teens and young adults should contribute a nice bundle of cash. Reviews have been generally upbeat so that may help a bit as well. With only one other toon released this year, and kidpics like The Pink Panther 2 and Jonas Brothers failing to make a big impact, the target audience is ready to go out and give Monsters vs. Aliens a try. A debut of about $60M over the Friday-to-Sunday period may result.
For those looking for real spooky thrills and not cartoon ghouls, Lionsgate rolls out its supernatural thriller The Haunting in Connecticut. The PG-13 film tells of a family that moves into a house that was previously a mortuary with a dark past. Teens, young adults, and horror buffs will make up the audience here and a female skew is likely as is usually the case for the more tame fright pics out there. Teenage girls don’t have much out there for them right now and if Reese doesn’t pull them in with her cartoon alter ego, then Haunting could do well with that demo. Lionsgate knows how to sell these types of films and using the ‘based on a true story’ tag in the marketing materials is the smart way to go. Plus the boy puking up a ghost in ads certainly generates intrigue. A trim 92-minute running time will help as will the number of multiplexes double-screening it. Creeping into 2,732 theaters on Friday, The Haunting in Connecticut could take in roughly $14M this weekend.
Yet another revenge thriller makes its way into theaters, this time with John Cena in the lead in 12 Rounds. The PG-13 actioner finds the wrestler/actor playing a detective taunted by a criminal he put away who wants vengeance for the death of his girlfriend. Young males are the only ones who will take interest here as the Fox release hopes to tap into the built-in audience provided by World Wrestling Entertainment which also co-produced the pic. WWE has struggled to find success at the box office with its recent stable of grapplers with Cena’s The Marine opening to $7.1M, See No Evil starring Kane debuting to $4.6M, and Steve Austin‘s The Condemned launching with only $3.8M. 12 may grab some business from its core target, but don’t expect much beyond that as overall buzz is not strong. Landing in more than 2,200 locations, 12 Rounds could debut with about $6M this weekend.
Nicolas Cage may have a way of predicting impending doom, but he won’t be able to stop the fist fight between monsters and aliens this weekend. The actor’s sci-fi thriller Knowing should drop by about half in the second frame and fall down to roughly $12M giving Summit a solid $43M tally after ten days. Paramount enjoyed a good start for its buddy comedy I Love You, Man. Sophomore drops last year for Paul Rudd‘s Role Models and Jason Segal‘s Forgetting Sarah Marshall were 42% and 38%, respectively and this latest R-rated comic offering may get into the same neighborhood. There will be some competition from new releases, but it shouldn’t be too direct. A 40% decline would leave Man with around $10.5M and a ten-day cume of $34M.
Duplicity‘s audience of adult women should help give the Julia Roberts pic a decent hold since that crowd is not known to rush out on opening weekend for a non-brand name film. Competition from new titles is not direct, however MvA will certainly take a lot of moms out of the picture. Look for a 40% drop to about $8.5M and a total of $26M in ten days for Universal. Disney’s family film Race to Witch Mountain should fall by 40% to approximately $7M and lift the cume to $54M after 17 days.
LAST YEAR: Kevin Spacey and his college pupils landed in first with the gambling drama 21 which bowed to $24.1M. Sony’s unlikely hit topped the charts for two weeks and went on to gross an impressive $81.2M domestically and $158M worldwide. The animated blockbuster Horton Hears a Who dropped by only 28% in its third session and ranked second with $17.7M. The spoof comedy Superhero Movie opened in third with only $9.5M on its way to just $25.9M for MGM. Tyler Perry‘s comedy Meet the Browns tumbled 63% in its second weekend to $7.5M and Owen Wilson‘s Drillbit Taylor fell 45% in its sophomore round to $5.7M rounding out the top five. Debuting in eighth with just $4.6M was the soldier drama Stop-Loss which ended with a mere $10.9M for Paramount.
Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com