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!

It’s a varied pick of films in the UK cinemas this week; we have Sir Ridley Scott‘s latest collaboration with Russell Crowe, the CIA thriller, Body Of Lies. Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo star in dystopian sci-fi flick, Blindness. An animated documentary dealing with the Lebanon war of 1982 – Waltz With Bashir — twirls onto our screens following critical acclaim in Cannes. And the US remake of Spanish horror [Rec], Quarantine, completes the motley lineup. But what did the British critics have to say?

Sir Ridley Scott’s continuing partnership with his Russell Crowe bears its latest offering with the Middle Eastern thriller Body Of Lies. Such a talented director and leading man, plus the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and British Mark Strong also on screen, this was surely a recipe for success? At a Rotten 50% on the Tomatometer however, it looks like this recipe may have been overcooked, with many critics deriding Scott for his over-direction, tedious scripting and over reliance on bombastic pyrotechnics. There were, however, plaudits for the actors, with Mark Strong being praised for his portrayal of Hani Salaam – head of the Jordanian secret service – and for Crowe and DiCaprio who put in ever dependable performances in a film which was nonetheless never anything more than a soulless and generic thriller.

Fernando Meirelles, the director of science-fiction thriller Blindness, has a decent track record so far, with directorial debut, City Of God at 93% and The Constant Gardener at 84% on the Tomatometer respectively, but does his latest effort make it a hat-trick of successes? At a dismal 41% on the Tomatometer, it would seem that Blindness has missed the target, with the film being described by critics as “a bit of a mess” (Derek Malcolm, Evening Standard) and “Rhubarbed Melodrama” (Nigel Andrews, The Financial Times). Its pretentiousness, didactic pomposity, awful score and gloopily unnecessary voiceover all aroused critics ire. As with many book adaptations, it seems the film doesn’t match up to the standard of the source material.

Waltz With Bashir meanwhile is an entry into that very rarest of genres; The animated documentary. Piecing together director Ari Folman’s and various eyewitness accounts of the Sabra and Shatila massacre during the 1982 Lebanon war using hallucinatory and mesmerising animation, Waltz With Bashir is like no other film, and was a strong contender for this years Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. That critical buzz has continued, and at a very healthy 94% on the Tomatometer, nearly all the critics agreed that Waltz With Bashir is a distinctive, pioneering and utterly memorable movie with Sukhdev Sandhu of the Daily Telegraph calling it “A blistering, powerful work”.

Spanish horror [Rec] was a Blair Witch-esque hand-held camera zombie flick, released in the UK back in February earlier this year, which stands at 94%. Quarantine is the US remake – which much surely be a record for turnaround time for a Hollywood adaptation – but does the yank counterpart stand up to it’s Spanish cousin? At a healthy 63% on the Tomatometer, most critics enjoyed the competent remake, but felt that it was kind of little unnecessary, with very little to warrant the reboot. Simon Crook of Empire Magazine summed it up by saying “As a visceral, camera-shuddery ride into foamy-mouthed zombie hell, it’s efficient enough – but if you’ve already seen [Rec], steer clear…”

Quote of the Week

“Visually the film is so undistinguished it may be time for the maker of Blade Runner to be subjected to that film’s Voigt-Kampff test, to determine whether the current owner of the name “Ridley Scott” is real or a replicant.”

Body Of Lies. Nigel Andrews, The Financial Times.

This week at the movies, we’ve got suspicious spies (Body of Lies, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe), gridiron greats (The Express, starring Rob Brown and Dennis Quaid), underground empires (City of Ember, starring Bill Murray and Tim Robbins), and deadly outbreaks (Quarantine, starring Jennifer Carpenter). What do the critics have to say?

Troubled times inspire troubled movies, and critics say Ridley Scott‘s espionage thriller Body of Lies is brainier and politically sharper than your typical spy yarn. However, others say it gets too bogged down in action scenes to totally hit its mark. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Roger Ferris, a CIA operative who has tracked down a terrorist leader in Jordan; however, he must get approval from his boss, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), as well as the head of the Jordanian Intelligence agency. Naturally, machinations and intrigue follow. The pundits say Body of Lies‘ impressive pedigree goes a long way toward redeeming the film; it’s well acted and expertly crafted. However, some critics feel the story is way too labyrinthine and scattershot to be emotionally involving. Body of Lies currently stands at 57 percent on the Tomatometer.


“Dude, for the last time, you are not the king of the world.”


The inspirational, tragic life of Ernie Davis was ready-made for cinematic treatment: the first African American player to win college football’s Heisman Trophy, Davis set rushing records — and battled racial prejudice — before succumbing to leukemia on the eve of turning pro. Critics say The Express is a worthy big-screen tribute to one of pigskin’s greatest heroes, overcoming formulaic biopic tropes with sincerity and excellent performance. Rob Brown stars as Davis, an extremely talented but apolitical young man thrust into the harsh glare of history, and Dennis Quaid plays Syracuse coach Ben Schwartzwalder, a man who changes as a result of his charge’s heroic perseverance. The pundits say The Express has plenty of solid gridiron action, and it exceeds typical inspirational sports movie fare with its heart and craft. At 65 percent on the Tomatometer, The Express sails through the uprights.


“I told you not to use auto-draft for your fantasy team!”

Set in a crumbling underground city that houses humanity after earth’s surface has become uninhabitable, City of Ember follows the exploits of two youngsters who find a magic box that provides clues on how to escape from the depths. The pundits say City of Ember has whimsy to spare, and should please younger viewers with its phantasmagorical imagery, but the plot is difficult to follow and character development is limited at best. At 46 percent on the Tomatometer, Ember doesn’t quite shine. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we take a closer look at the best-reviewed films of star Bill Murray‘s career.)


“Zuul will never find me here…”

It seems that Keira Knightley stars in every other British period piece these days. And, as The Duchess demonstrates, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Knightley stars as Georgiana Spenser, an ancestor of Princess Di’s, who becomes an 18th century style icon while navigating the rough waters of palace life. The pundits say The Duchess is a visual treat, and Knightly and Ralph Fiennes turn in excellent performances. However, some feel The Duchess is too frothy and melodramatic, and forgoes the meaty parts of Spenser’s real-life contributions in favor of obsessing over her frippery and fashion. The Duchess is at 61 percent on the Tomatometer.


Keira Knightley’s 346th birthday party was a pretty gloomy affair.

Apparently out of concern for critics’ physical well-being, Quarantine has been, ahem, quarantined, since reviews aren’t coming out until the day of its release. The film stars Jennifer Carpenter and Steve Harris as a television crew trapped in an apartment building where a strange outbreak of rabies is causing people to commit savage killings. Kids, guess that Tomatometer!


“This one-woman protest isn’t having the impact I’d hoped for.”

Also opening this week in
limited release:

Finally, we’d like to sing the praises of halose7en, who correctly guessed An American Carol‘s 14 percent Tomatometer.

Recent Leonardo DiCaprio Movies:

Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, two men that have on more than one occasion anchored blockbusters that have also won Oscars for Best Picture, team up for the anti-terrorism action flick Body of Lies which leads the new round of debuting titles. Also fighting for a finite number of screens in an overcrowded marketplace are the football drama The Express, the horror thriller Quarantine, and the sci-fi adventure City of Ember. With such variety, there should be little audience overlap between the new releases. Monday’s Columbus Day holiday will see many schools and businesses closing helping the Sunday box office post stronger sales than usual.

The War on Terror comes to a theater near you packaged as a star-driven spy thriller in Body of Lies. The Ridley Scott film brings together big-name stars DiCaprio and Crowe and is selling itself as an action picture. In the process, the marketing materials have done everything possible to hide the fact that the story takes place mostly across the Middle East and deals with the U.S. hunting down a major terrorist leader. You can’t blame Warner Bros. That subject matter just doesn’t sell and who really is in the mood for it? Instead, the names of the stars and director are being pushed to the forefront. Watch the trailer and TV spots and it’s hard to tell what exactly the story is about. Instead, the studio is hoping that audiences look at it as they would a JB flick (Bond or Bourne, you pick) – a globe-trotting espionage film with gritty action elements and a handsome hero in the lead.

Downplaying the subject matter and focusing all attention on the stars is a smart way to go. Both actors are well-respected and have been known to sell tickets – in the right film. Mature adults will make up the prime audience for this R-rated film with older teens and college students likely to pass. Last weekend’s top three films skewed heavily to the under-25 set so Body of Lies has an opportunity to score at this moment. Look for the film to appeal to the same crowds that came out for other fall action thrillers like The Kingdom ($17.1M), Righteous Kill ($16.3M), and The Departed ($26.9M). Since adult men will make up a big part of the audience, competition from football and the baseball playoffs this weekend will have an impact. Infiltrating 2,710 sites, Body of Lies might debut with about $20M this weekend.


Russell Crowe amd Leonardo DiCaprio in Body of Lies

Following films like Finding Forrester and Coach Carter, Rob Brown anchors the new inspirational football drama The Express telling the story of Ernie Davis, the first black man to win the Heisman Trophy. Dennis Quaid stars as the coach in this PG-rated title. Pigskin flicks generally do well at the box office as do stories of African American trailblazers in sports. A solid third place debut could result this weekend. Though not terribly strong on the starpower side, Express does have an uplifting feel-good true story on its side and that should resonate with moviegoers. Universal’s sneak previews last weekend helped to generate positive word-of-mouth and promotions during the current football season will allow it to connect directly with the target audience as a timely autumn film. Add in good reviews and appeal spreads across a wide age range. The studio scored a big hit this very weekend during the last presidential campaign with the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Friday Night Lights which bowed to $20.3M. The Express may not rush that far, but with 2,808 theaters it could debut with around $15M.


Rob Brown as Ernie Davis in The Express

Sony unleashes the first true horror film of the Halloween season with Quarantine. The R-rated thriller about a group of people trapped inside an apartment building where a mysterious force of terror spreads will play to genre fans at a time when fright flicks are in demand. Two weeks clearance before the arrival of Saw V is all the time it needs to carve up the bulk of its business. With a TV news reporter filming the events, Quarantine has the look and feel of Cloverfield and is hoping to tap into that type of marketing. Starpower is not ample but scary trailers and commercials will be enough to pull in a solid number of older teens and young adults. Plus with no other horror films around, it will have its audience to itself. Locking itself into 2,461 theaters, Quarantine could deliver an opening of about $10M.


Jennifer Carpenter in Quarantine

Two teens try to save the human race in the futuristic fantasy adventure City of Ember, the frame’s second PG-rated entry. The Fox release features Bill Murray and Tim Robbins as the most well-known cast members but is aimed at younger teens looking for some sci-fi action. Of course that combo didn’t work so well two years ago for the effects-heavy Zathura which starred Robbins and made just $28.2M overall. In fact, in the post-Hobbit world most fantasy films have struggled to find audiences in the U.S., even though results overseas have generally been much better. Even the latest Chronicles of Narnia film this summer ended up grossing less than half as much as its predecessor. Ember might connect with a core fan following, but overall it will be a tough sell. Plus the marketing push has not been too forceful. Entering the fewest locations among the new releases with 2,023 playdates, City of Ember could collect about $6M this weekend.


Bill Murray in City of Ember

Disney is hoping to hold onto its box office crown with the second weekend of Beverly Hills Chihuahua. The hit family pic has only mild competition this weekend and will have a better-than-usual Sunday thanks to many children having Columbus Day off. A 35% decline would leave the PG-rated entry with about $19M and a solid ten-day cume of $53M.

Eagle Eye has taken in a similar amount in its first ten days and looks to remain a relevant contender in its third session. The Paramount release may slip 35% to roughly $11.5M boosting the 17-day tally to $70M. Sony’s teen comedy Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist should fall harder and might drop by 45% this weekend. That would give the Michael Cera flick around $6M for a sum of $20M after ten days.

LAST YEAR: With a little help from Janet Jackson, Tyler Perry conquered the box office with his latest film Why Did I Get Married? which bowed to an impressive $21.4M and $10,618 average. The Lionsgate release went on to score $55.2M. Disney’s family comedy The Game Plan held up well after back-to-back weeks on top dropping 34% to $11M. Opening in third was Sony’s action drama We Own the Night which took in $10.8M followed closely by $10.4M for the nationwide expansion of George Clooney‘s Michael Clayton for Warner Bros. Final tallies reached $28.6M and $49M, respectively. Rounding out the top five was the Paramount comedy The Heartbreak Kid with $7.3M. Universal landed in sixth with the debut of its period sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age which opened with just $6.2M leading to a disappointing $16.4M final.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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