Welcome to the end of summer, friends. As the big blockbuster movie season winds to a close, and whispers of upcoming horror flicks, holiday films, and awards contenders float on the breeze, it’s nice to know you can settle in at home and catch some quality entertainment. With that in mind, here are 22 films, TV series, and originals newly available on Netflix in September that might be worth your time.
(Photo by Universal Pictures)
When it was announced that Edgar Wright, the beloved cult auteur behind Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, and previous Sub-Cult entry Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, would be directing Paul Rudd in a feature film adaptation of Marvel’s cult comic book character Ant-Man, it created a whirlwind of excitement among comic book fans. At the very least, this particular team promised a low-level cult classic.
But the pairing of Wright and Rudd in a mega-budgeted blockbuster about one of Marvel’s quirkiest do-gooders delighted non-comic book fans just as much, if not more, than it did superhero geeks. With a bona fide auteur like Wright in the director’s chair and a brilliant comic actor like Rudd in the lead, Ant-Man promised to be something much more than a typical superhero movie. It promised to break the mold the way Deadpool, Logan, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther later would.
Unfortunately, Wright and Marvel parted ways over the proverbial “creative differences.” Wright rebounded niftily with his first flat-out box office smash, the groovy sleeper hit Baby Driver, and after replacing Wright with the dependable Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Down With Love), Ant-Man went on to become a critical and commercial success, even if it didn’t quite shatter the mold as expected. Reed’s Ant-Man wasn’t bad by any means, but there was no way it could possibly have compared to the Edgar Wright-directed potential masterpiece that, alas, exists only in the minds and fevered imaginations of the writer-director’s fans.
For his part, Rudd was an inspired, if unexpected, choice to play Ant-Man. He’d appeared in a number of box-office hits like Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Knocked Up, but as an invaluable member of the repertory companies of Judd Apatow and David Wain, he was generally best utilized as a supporting character, rather than a conventional leading man, much less an action hero. Rudd is, after all, legendary for showing a de-contextualized clip of the hilariously terrible E.T. knock-off Mac & Me every time he appears on Conan, rather than a clip from whatever movie he’s supposed to be promoting. He’s obviously more interested in amusing himself and satisfying his wandering id than in pursuing conventional movie stardom.
(Photo by Universal Pictures)
Yet Rudd has emerged as a star almost in spite of himself, thanks to movies like 2008’s Role Models, which he co-wrote and in which he starred, just as he co-wrote Ant-Man and its sequel and co-created the beloved cult TV comedy Party Down. Role Models began life as a directorial vehicle for The Animal helmer Luke Greenfield before Wain, who directed Rudd in Wet Hot American Summer and The Ten, and would go on to direct him in They Came Together, Wanderlust, and A Futile and Stupid Gesture, came onboard as director, co-screenwriter, and supporting player.
The family-unfriendly comedy feels like a latter-day descendant of Bad News Bears, another wonderfully profane, irreverent, hard-R comedy about brash, irresponsible, foul-mouthed kids and the even more brash, even more irresponsible, and even more foul-mouthed adults mentoring them.
Rudd stars as Danny, a 35-year-old curmudgeon eking out a silly, embarrassing living traveling from school to school in a truck designed to look like a minotaur and encouraging children to stay off drugs by substituting the toxic, caffeine-plagued energy drink poison he and his sidekick are cynically peddling. American Pie’s Seann William Scott plays said sidekick, Wheeler, as a gleeful doofus, a sex-crazed man-child so ferociously unambitious that, by his own admission, he’d be content to wear a minotaur costume and quasi-entertain children “forever.”
Danny’s already crappy life as an underemployed depressive takes a turn for the worse when his ambitious live-in girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks, one of many Apatow and Wain fixtures in the cast) tires of his stormy moods and persistent negativity and breaks up with him. A despondent Danny enters a state of freefall and, in despair, nearly kills a security guard when he drives the promotional minotaur truck into a statue.
Role Models’ central conceit demands suspension of disbelief, so instead of doing hard time for a pretty serious crime, these world-class screw-ups are instead sentenced to 150 hours of community service at Sturdy Wings, a Big Brothers/Big Sisters-like organization that pairs kids in need with older mentors.
(Photo by Universal Pictures)
Superbad breakout star Christopher “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse proves he’s more than just a sentient meme here with a surprisingly textured performance as Danny’s charge, Augie, a gawky teen misfit who finds escape from the tyranny of everyday life by disappearing into a world of fantasy live-action role-playing (i.e. “larping”). Wheeler, meanwhile, whose life is a never-ending, frequently successful hunt for sexual conquests, is paired with the hilariously profane Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson), who is every bit as obsessed with sex as his mentor but is somehow even cruder than Wheeler. Scott is a profoundly limited actor, but his role here plays to his strengths as a lovable slob, and Thompson is an impish, ribald delight, stealing scenes from a cast full of ringers and seasoned professionals.
Wain filled the rest of the film with fellow alumni from sketch-comedy show The State, including co-screenwriter Ken Marino and Kerri Kenney-Silver as Augie’s tacky parents and Joe Lo Truglio as a role-playing fanatic who has internalized the faux-medieval aesthetic of his pastime to a pathological degree. Bit parts are filled out by people like Louis C.K., The Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone, and Keegan-Michael Key, while Ken Jeong scored one of his juiciest roles as the king of the make-believe world Augie is obsessed with, a petty tyrant who hangs out at The Burger Hole with his royal sycophants and hangers-on, flagrantly abusing his imaginary power.
Rudd’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin co-star Jane Lynch steals the film as Gayle, the lunatic head of Sturdy Wings and an emotional exhibitionist who finds a way to shoehorn references to her former life as a drug-addicted prostitute into every conversation. Lynch infuses the character with her trademark weird intensity and loopy aggression; if Gayle goes easy on our ramshackle heroes, it might be because she’s even more glaringly inappropriate than they are.
Role Models depicts the rigidly hierarchical, rule- and protocol-obsessed realm of LARP as inherently ridiculous and laughable but also as a source of comfort, identity, and community for a lonely misfit in desperate need of all three. It laughs at its characters’ foibles and absurdity, but like its heroes, it moves from a place of glib mockery to empathy and understanding.
(Photo by Universal Pictures)
The film’s use of music and mythology is similarly nuanced and savvy. Wheeler’s obsession with KISS is a tribute to the crazy, theatrical world of make-believe and pretend — not terribly dissimilar, really, from the world of Dungeons & Dragons — created by Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, as well as a loving send-up. Role Models accomplishes the formidable feat of making the famously cynical and mercenary rock outfit seem incongruously lovable by association.
Danny may initially look askance at Augie and his dorky passions, but he’s ultimately saved by taking the big leap and embracing his inner geek, his inner freak, his inner Kiss Army rock-and-roll warrior. For a movie centered on a cynical, ornery bastard, Role Models is ultimately very inclusive and welcoming in its warm depiction of underdogs triumphing through cooperation and acceptance.
The wonderfully sardonic underachiever Rudd plays here feels like the sarcastic yet charming stepbrother/love interest he played in his star-making turn in Clueless — after fifteen years of failure, low-level depression, and resignation have all but extinguished his inner light and rendered him a joyless crank. For much of the film, he’s a sour misanthrope deeply unimpressed with everything life has to offer, but because he’s played by Rudd, we end up sympathizing with him and feeling his pain despite his prickliness and rough edges.
Role Models is a goofy, commercial, feel-good comedy, but its portrayal of depression — as represented both by Danny’s never-ending mid-life crisis and personal/professional funk — and Augie’s clammy discomfort in his own skin, that palpable anxiety when he’s around his parents and bullies, rings surprisingly and refreshingly true.
Rudd can currently be seen playing a tiny hero in a giant movie, but Role Models’ enduring appeal and growing cult is inextricably linked to its modest scope and ambition. Role Models is not too big or too small. It’s the perfect size, an eminently rewatchable sleeper destined for a long, happy life as the kind of casually irresistible charmer you can’t help but finish watching every time you come across it on basic cable.
Nathan Rabin is a freelance writer, columnist, the first head writer of The A.V. Club and the author of four books, most recently Weird Al: The Book (with “Weird Al” Yankovic) and You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me.
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @NathanRabin
It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to sign up for a sci-fi action thriller in which you’ll pursue something called a Zeo Crystal while wearing a form-fitting green shell — which is exactly what Elizabeth Banks is up to in this weekend’s Power Rangers movie. In honor of Banks’ bravery, we decided to dedicate this week’s feature to a fond look back at some of the brighter highlights from her filmography, and you know what that means…it’s time for Total Recall!
Elizabeth Banks is no stranger to big-budget filmmaking, but even after breaking through to the A list, she’s continued to seek out parts in smaller-scale productions. Case in point: 2010’s Lovely, Still, in which she plays a woman whose neighbor (Martin Landau) pursues a relationship with her mother (Ellen Burstyn) — thanks in part to some encouragement from his boss (Adam Scott). It’s the type of setup that often leads to overly aggressive tugs at the heartstrings, but critics credited debuting writer-director Nik Fackler with largely resisting cheap sentiment while imparting poignant observations on aging and the human condition. As Prairie Miller wrote for NewsBlaze, “It was Bette Davis who said ‘growing old ain’t for sissies.’ And this film reiterates that notion from which no human being lucky enough to survive that long is exempt, framing old age as perhaps the greatest superhero screen manifestation of all.”
He isn’t a household name, but Vince Papale is a legend among hardcore football fans — particularly in Philadelphia, where he overcame the odds to earn a spot on the Eagles’ roster and became one of the oldest rookies in the history of the NFL — as well as a living embodiment of the team’s scrappy, blue-collar image. That legend was brought to life in 2006’s Invincible, starring Mark Wahlberg as Papale, Banks as his eventual wife Janet, and Greg Kinnear as Eagles coach Dick Vermeil. The movie’s fairly boilerplate arc — fully embraced by the Disney execs bankrolling the film — might have prompted a few eyerolls from more cynical critics, but the end result still enjoyed a sweaty leg up on the many inspirational sports dramas in theaters at the time. “There’s a sugar coating to the way Papale’s story unfolds,” admitted the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips, “but not so much that you’ll spoil your dinner.”
A romantic comedy with a twist, Definitely, Maybe finds its protagonist looking back on the love affair that led to marriage and a child — by telling the story to his young daughter, with some names changed and facts adjusted, while in the midst of a divorce. Thanks in part to those narrative curveballs, most critics applauded Maybe — and even if it still ultimately traced a rather familiar arc, it was difficult to find too much fault with a resolutely charming production that made smart use of a likable ensemble cast that included Banks, Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher, and Rachel Weisz. “As the movie is about a character’s growing into his own truth rather than discovering some preordained truth, Definitely, Maybe is hard to outguess,” wrote Mick LaSalle for the San Francisco Chronicle. “For once in a romantic comedy, you won’t be able to tell after five minutes who will end up together.”
The horse took top billing, but Banks played a pivotal role in Gary Ross’ Oscar-nominated biopic about the Depression-era thoroughbred racing sensation, appearing as Marcela Zabala, whose wedding to Charles S. Howard (Jeff Bridges) turns Howard’s life around before he enters the horse-racing world. Part of an ensemble that also included Chris Cooper as expert trainer Tom Smith and Tobey Maguire as scrappy jockey Red Pollard, Banks helped round out the cast responsible for one of the year’s bigger critical and commercial successes, and an inspirational drama that managed to transcend its easily predictable (albeit fact-based) arc. “[It] may be too airbrushed for its own good,” wrote David Ansen for Newsweek, “but in the end nothing can stop this story from putting a lump in your throat.”
Strictly speaking, the world probably didn’t need yet another comedy about grown men acting like children when Role Models came along — yet there’s no denying Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott made the most of this 2008 comedy’s fairly standard story about a couple of knuckleheads sentenced to community service. Along those lines, there’s certainly been no shortage of disapproving girlfriend roles in these movies over the years, and it’s a part that doesn’t necessarily call for someone with Banks’ estimable talent — but her presence brought a little extra depth to the movie, not to mention added dimension to what could have been a shrewish one-note character. “A formulaic movie can be lifted out of its built-in rut by making it look like it invented the formula,” argued Dave White for Movies.com. “Almost everything works here.”
The blockbuster adaptations of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling Hunger Games books arrived at a moment in which a flood of YA novels were being made into movies, but this saga differentiated itself on a number of key fronts — including acting, thanks to a powerfully talented cast that included Jennifer Lawrence in the central role and a supporting ensemble that included Banks (as the outlandishly garbed Effie Trinket), Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, and Stanley Tucci. Acting under garish makeup and a series of distracting wigs, Banks acquitted herself admirably — and saw her character take on an expanded role in the penultimate film, Mockingjay Part 1. “Book’s good. Movie’s better,” wrote the Boston Globe’s Ty Burr after the second installment, Catching Fire. “Wait, what?”
Technically, Judd Apatow’s The 40 Year-Old Virgin didn’t feature every comedy star to come out of the woodwork over the next decade — but watching the Steve Carell-led hit now, it can definitely feel that way. Banks shows up here in a supporting role as Beth, the bookstore employee whose flirty banter with Carell’s sexually inexperienced protagonist leads to some unexpectedly raunchy shenanigans — and making her mark in the midst of an expertly assembled ensemble that also included Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, Jane Lynch, Kat Dennings, and Kevin Hart. “If you’re looking for a successor to There’s Something About Mary and American Pie, look no further. It has arrived,” decreed James Berardinelli for ReelViews. “And, if I may be so bold, this is more enjoyable than either of them.”
There’s nothing like a good creature feature — at least partly because solidly entertaining entries in the genre can seem like they’re so few and far between. Years before his work on Guardians of the Galaxy gave him name recognition with mainstream audiences, writer-director James Gunn wowed genre fans with Slither, a smartly written thriller about a car salesman (Michael Rooker) who becomes infected with a sluglike alien and passes it along to his mistress (Brenda James) before beginning his final transformation — and setting his sights on his wife (Banks), who’s turned to the local sheriff (Nathan Fillion) for help. If this sort of thing is your bag, you’ll find Slither hard to resist — and even if it isn’t, you may be compelled to agree with the Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum, who wrote, “Gross-out horror comedy is my least favorite genre, but this movie’s so skillful I have to take my hat off to it.”
The Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy tells the story of the mercurial Beach Boys co-founder’s often tortured journey, but it’s also a love story — one poised on the fulcrum of Wilson’s relationship with Melinda Ledbetter, who entered his life in 1986 and was part of the lengthy process of getting Wilson away from controversial therapist Dr. Eugene Landy. And although director Bill Pohlad’s film earned a lot of attention for the way it divided Wilson’s life into two discrete arcs — one in which he’s played by Paul Dano, and another starring John Cusack — Banks shouldered a lot of responsibility with her performance as Ledbetter; for the movie to work as more than a standard redemption story, the people on screen needed to feel more like their real-life counterparts than characters. “Love & Mercy might not go as deep, or as dark, as it could,” admitted the AP’s Lindsey Bahr, “but it’s a commanding and artful film, that’s full of excellent and worthy performances whether you’re a student of Brian Wilson or just a curious tourist.”
Home video enthusiasts, prepare yourself for what may be the best week ever! This week you’ll have to choose between Academy Award flicks Rachel Getting Married (Best Actress Nominee, Anne Hathaway) and Milk (Best Actor, Sean Penn), plus a few films that should have been honored at this year’s Oscars (Happy-Go-Lucky, Let the Right One In). Next, consider a Certified Fresh comedy (Role Models), a Charlie Kaufman original (Synecdoche, New York), and a pair of period pics (Cadillac Records, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas). We won’t judge if you give Jason Statham’s latest a spin (Transporter 3), but we do insist that Blu-ray viewers pay attention to a few key re-mastered releases (Pinocchio 70th Anniversary Edition, The Batman Anthology). Dig in to RT on DVD for more!
Anne Hathaway put those Princess Diaries days behind her with an excellent (and Oscar-nominated) performance as Kym, a recovering drug addict who powers her way through her sister’s wedding like a locomotive in Jonathan Demme‘s Rachel Getting Married. Director Demme, best known for making films like The Silence of the Lambs (and in recent years, the acclaimed documentaries Neil Young: Heart of Gold and Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains), lends the proceedings the feel of a verité film, his viewer another guest at the weekend nuptials; the script from Jenny Lumet (Sidney’s daughter) stings and warms in equal measure.
One notable DVD featurette examines the film’s eclectic soundtrack, which includes songs from Robyn Hitchcock (who performs on-screen during the wedding), and TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adembimpe (who in a key role, plays Rachel’s fiancé). Deleted scenes, a cast and crew Q&A, and two commentary tracks highlight the remainder of the bonus menu. Watch an exclusive clip below.
Next: Watch Sean Penn’s Oscar-winning performance in Milk
Two weeks ago on Oscar night, a pair of acceptance speeches reminded us that sometimes movies are about more than just entertainment. Both Sean Penn (who won the Academy Award for Best Actor) and Dustin Lance Black (who won for Best Original Screenplay) honored slain San Francisco politician and gay rights advocate Harvey Milk, whose life and work became the basis for Gus Van Sant’s moving biopic, Milk. Penn, no stranger to politics, and Black, a Mormon-raised gay writer who thanked Milk for helping him overcome his own struggles, are just two reasons to pick up the triumphant, bittersweet period drama this week. (Need another reason? It’s among the best-reviewed films of 2008.)
Bonus features include deleted scenes and three featurettes on the real-life Harvey Milk and the intersection of Hollywood and gay rights.
Next: The best movie you didn’t see in 2008, Let the Right One In
A piece of future advice for 2010: don’t get caught buying a ticket to the American remake of Let the Right One In without having seen the original. This Swedish vampire tale, adapted by writer John Ajvide Lindqvist from his own novel and directed by Tomas Alfredson, is a quiet miracle of a film that, in this writer’s opinion, deserved a shot at the Foreign Oscar race (it went un-nominated by its home country). Part fang horror, part coming-of-age romance, Let the Right One In tells the story of young, bullied Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) and his new neighbor, Eli (Lina Leandersson), a girl who appears to be Oskar’s age but in fact is a blood-drinking vampire who must keep her secret from the public eye; when her older human caretaker leaves (was he once, like Oskar, young and in love with Eli?) the pair turn to one another for help and companionship, captured poetically by Alfredson. It’s one of the most beautiful — and dark, and darkly humorous — films of last year, and a much-needed jumpstart to a genre that’s become reliant on mediocrity and gore.
Deleted scenes and a making-of documentary comprise a disappointingly light special features menu, but if sales do well don’t be surprised to get a commentary track on an eventual double dip.
Next: Catch Sally Hawkins’ infectious cheer in Happy-Go-Lucky!
Should British actress Sally Hawkins have earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a supremely cheerful school teacher in Mike Leigh‘s Happy-Go-Lucky? We say yes, but judge for yourself this week as the intimate, infectious film makes its way to home video. Through a series of real-life trials that might test the patience of any normal person, the effervescent Poppy (Hawkins, who workshopped the role with Leigh) maintains a smile no matter how rough life gets — to the consternation of her grumpy driving instructor, Scott (a hilariously on-edge Eddie Marsan), and perhaps, also to viewers. Only a few extra features are to be found here, including a commentary track by director Leigh, although one behind-the-scenes featurette in particular provides insight into the creation of the film and of the Poppy character, whose bliss is anything but ignorant.
Next: Raunchy laughs with Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott in Role Models
Director David Wain has had a hit-or-miss career with his comedies (I blame that Stella sense of humor) but his latest flick, Role Models, is a solid combination of crass humor, strong characterizations, and dorkiness of the RPG-playing kind. Which is to say, I was sold. The Certified Fresh comedy — a rarity these days, unless your name is Judd Apatow — follows energy drink-selling buddies Danny and Wheeler (Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott) sentenced to mentor a pair of troubled kids as community service: sword-wielding LARP devotee (that’s Live Action Role Playing game to you non-nerds), Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, AKA Superbad‘s McLovin’) and foul-mouthed troublemaker Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson, who steals the show).
The DVD includes both the theatrical cut and an uncut version that runs three minutes longer, as well as a host of featurettes/deleted scenes/alternate takes. Look for Knocked Up OB-GYN Ken Jeong in a scene-stealing role as the king of Augie’s role-playing realm.
Next: Charlie Kaufman’s challenging Synecdoche, New York
If you’re a fan of Charlie Kaufman, chances are you’re enamored of the signature complexities of his screenplays for films like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Well, if you like those Kaufman flicks, just try to wrap your mind around his latest, which also marks his directorial debut. Synecdoche, New York tells the story of a struggling playwright (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who decides to mount his life’s greatest work — an autobiographical play with no ending — in a giant warehouse, casting actors to play himself and his loved ones until the whole thing takes on a meta-quality that will have you scratching your head well past the end credits. It’s impressive stuff, if fairly impenetrable; as Roger Ebert advises, see it twice. Four DVD featurettes, including a Blogger’s Roundtable discussion of the film with Glenn Kenny, Walter Chaw, Andrew Grant, Karina Longworth, and Chris Beaubien, should help you filter Kaufman’s opus.
Next: Transporter 3 the worst of the franchise, but hey — it’s Jason Statham!
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who actually want to see Transporter 3, and those who wouldn’t do it for a million bucks. (There’s also my kind — people who had to see it and wish they didn’t.) While the first Transporter (53%) is a straight-up pleasure, and the second (51%) is more of a guilty one, this third flick — directed by Olivier Megaton, who named himself after Hiroshima — is a slim imitation of a Transporter movie, and features the worst actress of the entire franchise (newcomer Natalya Rudakova, who was apparently discovered by Luc Besson on the street). But if you like the idea of watching Jason Statham fight baddies using a dress shirt as a weapon (all the while getting increasingly unclothed), then Transporter 3 might not feel like a complete waste of time.
Next: Beyonce, Mos Def sing the blues in Cadillac Records
If soul music is your bag, then Cadillac Records should be worth a rental; the biographical tale of Chess Records, the studio that brought musicians like Etta James (Beyonce Knowles) and Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright) to the masses in the 1960s, earned decent enough reviews but critics agreed the light drama coasted on the strength of its music. Adrien Brody stars as Leonard Chess, the R&B-loving businessman who made it all happen; Beyonce, Wright, and Mos Def (as Chuck Berry) hit all the right notes in performing their own songs. Featurettes, deleted scenes, and a commentary by director Darnell Martin supplement the disc.
Next: Holocaust dramatics in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
A German boy befriends a Jewish prisoner and begins to question the Nazi way of life in this Holocaust drama, which drew mixed reviews from critics. While some thought it among the best films of the year, others criticized its execution and the decision to turn an event as horrific as the Holocaust into a parable. Deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, and a commentary track by writer/director Mark Herman and author John Boyne, who wrote the original book of the same name.
Next: Pinocchio celebrates his 70th birthday on Blu-ray
It’s hard to believe that Disney’s classic adventure Pinocchio is already celebrating its 70th birthday, but what’s even more incredible is how good a job the Mouse House has done with this Blu-ray release; every single scene is a dazzling work of art. Disney’s remastering process has burnished the film with an amazing clarity and richness, so much so that watching Pinocchio again this way is like watching it for the first time. You’ll be swept away by the painterly details that the Blu-ray cut reveals — the way something as simple as an ocean wave laps against another in the background, or how the camera turns to follow Pinocchio walk up and down a street despite the medium’s two-dimensional constraints.
Fans of the wooden hero (or of Disney animation history in general) should employ either the new pop up trivia track or the “Cine-Explore” track featuring film critic Leonard Maltin, animator Eric Goldberg, and J.B. Kaufman. In addition to behind-the-scenes documentary features that cover all things Pinocchio, Disney has included deleted scenes (told via storyboards), production galleries, archival trailers from every one of Pinocchio‘s theatrical releases, games, alternate viewing options (including the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio), and, as with Disney’s Blu-ray titles, a standard DVD of the film. Wish upon a star for this stellar (and limited edition!) Blu-ray release.
Next: Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology on Blu-ray
It’s that Bat-time, people: time to sit down with all four pre-Nolan Batman flicks and revisit the franchise before the franchise, from Batman (69%) to Batman Returns (77%) to Batman Forever (44%) to Batman & Robin (12%)! Warner Bros. is releasing all four films to DVD and Blu-ray (each in their own 2-disc Special Edition), and though the set does not include either Batman Begins (84%) or The Dark Knight (94%) (or the camp-tastic 1966 version), keep in mind that a double and triple dip is inevitable. That said, if you’re a Batman completist and love the high def format, you’ll find that these remastered flicks look and sound good even one to two decades after initial release. Just watch out for those Blu-ray-enhanced codpieces.
A host of commentary tracks, deleted scenes, featurettes, and even a four-film spanning “Shadows of the Bat” documentary come within the box set, though there are no added materials beyond what has already appeared in the anthology on standard DVD.
Until next week, happy renting!
A trip to the cinema is a sure-fire way to beat the January blues, but which film should you be shelling out to see? Vying for your pennies this weekend we have Daniel Craig in non-Bond mode for the WWII epic Defiance. Already a big festival hit, Danny Boyle‘s Slumdog Millionaire finally hits the UK cinemas, as do two US comedies in the Apatow-vein, Role Models and Sex Drive. So what did the British critics have to say?
Defiance tells the incredible true story of the Bielski brothers, a trio of Jewish resistance fighters in Belarus, who saved thousands of lives through their actions in WWII. Directed by Edward Zwick and starring Daniel Craig, Jamie Bell and Liev Schreiber, Defiance is an all-action epic with an amazing true story at it’s heart, but it has split the critics. Currently standing at 52% on the Tomatometer, most critics were wowed by the previously rarely heard story, but felt the production was let down by clichéd narrative, drab cinematography and an all-round muddled approach to the central story. Xan Brooks of The Guardian summed up the general consensus:
“Defiance makes a noise but leaves no echo. It feels progressively more bogus and less significant the further it recedes from view, and myths are meant to wax in the memory, not wane.”
Danny Boyle has been a stalwart of British cinema since breaking onto the scene first with Shallow Grave, then the critically acclaimed Trainspotting. Always defying convention, Boyle has tried his hand at many genres, and has now turned his eye to Bollywood, with his Mumbai-set Slumdog Millionaire. With no Rotten ratings compiled from the UK reviews, Slumdog proudly stands at a very healthy, and Certified Fresh, 94% on the Tomatometer. There was universal praise for its uplifting tone, inspirational fairytale story, and stunning use of location and setting. Rob Daniel, Sky Movies, said about the film:
“Hard hearts may balk at the unashamed sentiment, black and white morality, and question-flashback contrivances, but let them eat pie and mash: this is a tangy banquet of smile-on-the-face feel good.”
Role Models and Sex Drive hit the UK cinemas this week both boasting impressive current US-comedy pedigree. Role Models stars Paul Rudd, Seann William-Scott and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (AKA McLovin of Superbad fame) in a comedy about two thirty-something slackers on community service, whilst Sex Drive features Clark Duke, James Marsden and Seth Green in a teen coming-of-age road movie. Role Models is currently faring better on the Tomatometer at a Certified Fresh 76%, whilst Sex Drive is lagging behind at 42% overall, but both films tallied a similar number of fresh ratings with the UK critics, so if a laugh-out-loud comedy is what you are looking for this weekend, you are spoilt for choice. Nigel Andrews of The Financial Times said of the two films:
“Neither film wins a prize for visual style. Each deserves one for clever gags and zanily zig-zagging dialogue.”
Quote Of The Week
“This unfunny studio comedy is so downright demeaning I ended up hating not only it but my entire gender — and most specifically myself for secretly quite wanting to watch it.”
Larushka Ivan-Zadeh, Metro.
The 14th Annual Critics’ Choice Awards were given on January 8, 2009, to honor the finest achievements in 2008 filmmaking. A list of nominees follows below, with winners in bold:
Best Actress (Tie):
Kate Beckinsale, Nothing But the Truth
Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Best Supporting Actress:
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Vera Farmiga, Nothing But the Truth
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Kate Winslet, The Reader
A trio of new releases and a hearty menu of popular holdovers made for a robust Thanksgiving weekend at the North American box office. The holiday comedy Four Christmases led the way with a stellar number one opening while sophomores Bolt and Twilight were in a virtual tie for second place with nearly identical grosses. The top ten films grossed $154M – the best tally for the turkey holiday in eight years.
Superstars Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon contributed their producing and acting talents to Four Christmases and were rewarded with a potent debut grossing an estimated $31.7M over the Friday-to-Sunday period and a fantastic $46.7M over five days since opening on Wednesday. The New Line pic was distributed by Warner Bros. and averaged a stellar $9,571 from 3,310 sites over the three-day period. The PG-13 film about a couple that must attend yuletide events at the homes of each of their divorced parents was just the type of comedic entertainment that moviegoers were in the mood for during the long holiday weekend. Ticket buyers ignored the bad reviews and instead responded to the starpower, the unique premise, and the comedy. Look for both actors to add another $100M blockbuster to their resumes in the coming weeks.
Jumping up one notch from last weekend, Disney’s animated flick Bolt posted a slight uptick in ticket sales for a solid holiday performance. The PG-rated toon grossed an estimated $26.6M inching up 1% from its $26.2M bow last week. Though the canine star opened weaker than expected, it made up for that shortfall by generating a sensational second weekend take. After ten days, Bolt has grossed $66.9M. The studio is hoping that it will continue to see strong legs since there will be no new kidpics released over the next two weekends.
Last weekend’s top film Twilight experienced a hefty decline as expected and ranked third with an estimated $26.4M. Falling 62%, the Summit release has now banked a stellar $119.7M which is quite an impressive sum for a no-star film budgeted at only $37M. The PG-13 film averaged a sturdy $7,699 from 3,425 locations.
James Bond was still a popular draw for movie fans over the holiday weekend with Quantum of Solace dropping only 27% to an estimated $19.5M. That put Sony’s domestic total at a robust $142.1M after 17 days which is 23% ahead of Casino Royale at the same point in its run and 18% ahead of 2002’s Die Another Day. The overseas total for Quantum vaulted to $340.1M lifting the global haul to a stunning $482.2M.
Fox’s big-budget historical epic Australia debuted with an estimated $14.8M over three days and $20M across five days. The Hugh Jackman-Nicole Kidman film opened in 2,642 locations and averaged a respectable $5,607. But given the cost of the massive production (the studio kicked in $78M of the $130M budget) the Baz Luhrmann-directed film will need strong legs and spectacular international grosses in order to break even. According to studio research, 65% of the audience was over 25 while 52% was female. Competition for adult audiences was fierce over the holiday weekend with many choosing to spend their dollars on Four Christmases and Quantum of Solace while young women were still distracted by Twilight. Reviews were mixed for Australia and the running time of 165 minutes meant fewer showtimes per day.
Paramount ranked sixth with its toon entry Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa which slipped only 7% to an estimated $14.5M boosting the overall cume to $159.5M. The sequel’s final domestic haul looks like it will end up a bit below the $193.2M of its 2005 predecessor.
Delivering a seventh-place debut was Jason Statham’s action sequel Transporter 3 which grossed an estimated $12.3M over the weekend and $18.5M over the extended holiday period. The franchise showed signs of age as the five-day bow failed to match the $20.5M four-day debut of Transporter 2 which launched over the slower Labor Day holiday frame. The third chapter in the series played in 2,626 locations and averaged a decent $4,695 over the Friday-to-Sunday span. Fox released the first two pics in the franchise while Lionsgate distributed this new chapter.
Universal’s hit comedy Role Models dropped by 28% to an estimated $5.3M giving the Seann William Scott-Paul Rudd pic a solid $57.9M to date.
Specialty films filled up the next three positions on the charts. The Holocaust drama The Boy in the Striped Pajamas expanded again from 406 to 582 locations and grossed an estimated $1.7M this weekend. The Miramax release averaged a mild $2,904 but raised its sum to $5.2M.
Sean Penn’s highly praised performance in the Focus Features release Milk helped to deliver the weekend’s best average thanks to an estimated $1.38M from only 36 theaters. Averaging a sizzling $38,361, the R-rated film about the first openly gay elected official in America won rave reviews from critics and has generated Oscar buzz for Penn who hopes to score his fourth Best Actor nod from the Academy this decade and fifth overall. The Gus Van Sant-directed film’s five-day total since opening on Wednesday is $1.9M. On Friday, Milk will expand to nearly 100 theaters and will add more runs on December 12.
Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire continued its impressive limited run widening from 32 to 49 theaters for a weekend gross of $1.37M, according to estimates, putting it a hair behind in eleventh place. Cume is now $3.6M. The Fox Searchlight title averaged a potent $27,898 and will add more theaters each week in December.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $154.1M which was up 10% from last year’s Thanksgiving frame when Enchanted opened in the top spot with $34.4M over three days; and up 10% from 2006’s holiday when Happy Feet remained at number one with $37M in its second weekend.
Author: Gitesh Pandya,
This weekend Sony and MGM shattered the record for the biggest James Bond opening in franchise history with their latest installment Quantum of Solace which audiences powered to a massive top spot debut. Fellow franchise flick Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa dropped to the runnerup spot in its second weekend and joined forces with the super spy to generate over $100M in ticket sales continuing a boom in business at North American multiplexes that Hollywood hopes will last throughout the rest of the holiday season.
Aiming to become the biggest Bond ever in every way, Quantum of Solace attacked theaters and hauled in an estimated $70.4M this weekend exceeding industry expectations. Averaging a scorching $20,400 from 3,451 venues, the PG-13 film flew past the old record for the largest debut in the four-decade-old franchise which was held by 2002’s Die Another Day with $47.1M. Quantum‘s debut was a whopping 50% bigger and even adjusting for ticket price increases it was still a healthy 23% stronger. The new globe-trotting saga also bested the last film Casino Royale‘s opening by an amazing 72% (60% adjusted).
Solace marked Daniel Craig‘s second turn as the British secret agent and featured a continuation of the direction away from the glossy clean-cut James of old who had a cheesy one-liner for every situation, and towards a vengeful younger man with no need for fancy gadgets. Much has changed since the Brosnan administration. Reviews for Quantum were mixed and were certainly not as glowing as those for Royale. Nevertheless, Craig proved himself two years ago as moviegoers spent $167.007M domestically and over $595M worldwide on the spy flick making it the top-grossing Bond ever, without adjusting for ticket price increases. That good will transferred over to Quantum as fans all showed up right away without having to wait to see if this new blond Bond was any good. Having no new wide releases to compete against also helped.
If estimates hold, Quantum of Solace will also set a new opening weekend record for a spy actioner edging out the $69.3M of last year’s The Bourne Ultimatum. Word-of-mouth will need to be stellar if Quantum wants any shot at beating Ultimatum‘s $227.5M domestic total. This weekend, the new 007 banked $27M on Friday, dipped 4% to $26M on Saturday, and is estimated by Sony to drop 33% to $17.4M on Sunday. With a production budget estimated to be $200M or more, Solace also ranks as the fourth biggest opener of 2008 and the fifth best November bow ever. Studio research showed that 54% of the audience was male while 58% was over 25.
Overseas, Craig and company raked in another $56.1M on 10,460 screens in the third weekend of international play to boost that tally to $252M putting the worldwide cume at an eye-popping $322M. Look for the $400M barrier to crumble as soon as next weekend as Quantum eventually makes its way past Casino Royale to set a new high for the lucrative franchise, especially with major markets like Japan and Australia still to open.
Last weekend’s top film Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa held up well for a sequel in its second frame falling 43% to an estimated $36.1M. Still averaging a stellar $8,888 from 4,065 theaters, the PG-rated comedy upped its ten-day total to $118M and became the first film since August’s Tropic Thunder to join the century club. Both were distributed by Paramount. Escape 2 Africa has a reasonable shot at matching the $193.2M of the first Madagascar flick from 2005 and will be tested next weekend when Disney unleashes its digital 3D toon Bolt which will target the same audience.
The R-rated buddy comedy Role Models followed its potent debut with a solid hold in its second weekend dropping 39% to an estimated $11.7M. With $38.1M in ten days, the Universal release could find its way to $65-70M. Off 36% in its fourth term was High School Musical 3 with an estimated $5.9M boosting the cume to a robust $84.4M for Disney.
With Bond stealing away older adults, Clint Eastwood’s Changeling dropped harder than it did in past weeks falling 41% to an estimated $4.2M. Universal’s Angelina Jolie starrer has collected $27.6M to date and is running somewhat behind the pace of the director’s 2003 pic Mystic River which had grossed $33.5M at the same point in its run. Sliding 49% to an estimated $3.2M was the comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno which has taken in $26.5M to date for The Weinstein Co.
A pair of films led by African American stars followed. MGM’s Soul Men starring Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac tumbled 55% in its second weekend to an estimated $2.4M. With $9.4M in ten days, look for a disappointing $15M finish. The Secret Life of Bees continued to enjoy some of the best legs of any fall film slipping only 22% to an estimated $2.4M boosting the cume for Fox Searchlight to $33.7M.
Rounding out the top ten were two fright flicks with similar weekend grosses, but vastly different overall totals. Lionsgate’s Saw V took in an estimated $1.8M, down 56%, for a $55.4M sum. After 24 days, the latest torture flick is running 31% behind the pace of Saw II, 26% behind Saw III, and 10% behind Saw IV. The Haunting of Molly Hartley scared up an estimated $1.7M, off 50%, for a $12.7M sum for Freestyle Releasing.
Opening to sizzling results in limited release was Danny Boyle’s critically acclaimed Slumdog Millionaire which debuted in only ten theaters in six cities but grossed an estimated $350,000 for a muscular $35,000 average – tops among all films in the marketplace. Since its Wednesday bow, the Fox Searchlight release about an uneducated orphan from Mumbai who gets to within one question of winning the top prize on India’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire has collected $418,000 over five days. Slumdog has earned some of the best reviews of any film in 2008 and expands to ten more major markets this Friday.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $139.8M which was up a stunning 55% from last year when Beowulf opened in the top spot with $27.5M; and up 8% from 2006 when Happy Feet and Casino Royale debuted with $41.5M and $40.8M, respectively.
This week at the movies, we’ve got Big Brothers (Role Models, starring Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott), wild animals (Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, with voice work by Ben Stiller and Chris Rock), and R&B vets (Soul Men, starring Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson). What do the critics have to say?
Films that are at once raucously stupid and genuinely funny are a rarity. However, critics say Role Models fits the bill with aplomb. The film stars Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott as a pair of energy drink pitchmen with a proclivity for bad behavior and law-breaking; assigned to community service, they act as Big Brothers to a pair of troublemakers — and learn something in the process. It may sound like pure formula, but the pundits say this is a worthy entry in the Judd Apatow-inspired subgenre of gross-out comedy with heart, featuring well-paced, spectacularly dumb (in a good way) gags and engaging performances. At 75 percent on the Tomatometer, Role Models may be worth following.
“I’d like to dedicate this next number to McLovin.”
Speaking of rarities, how many sequels top the original? Madagascar
made a ton of money but disappointed critics unimpressed with its string of pop culture references and flatulence jokes. The scribes say Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is better in almost every regard, with sharper animation, funnier jokes, and a better story. Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) are relocated from captivity in New York to a savannah in Africa. Once there, they rediscover their roots, but pine for the friendly confines of the zoo. It may not be the edgiest animation out there, but pundits say Madagascar is bright and cheerful, with a good deal of energy and some smart laughs. At 68 percent on the Tomatometer, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa may be worth a trip.
“They call me the Hiphopapotamus, my lyrics are bottomless…..”
The script of Soul Men may be coarse and shopworn, but critics say it’s an ok sendoff for the great comic Bernie Mac, who passed away earlier this year. The film stars Mac and Samuel L. Jackson as a pair of R&B backup singers who reluctantly agree to perform at a tribute concert for a soul legend despite mutual acrimony; their cross-country journey to the show is filled with wacky hostility. The critics say Soul Men isn’t particularly original, borrowing from a number of road-buddy flicks, and the jokes are pretty blue. Still, they also note it’s a worthy final performance for Bernie Mac, an actor who stole many scenes in supporting roles and is in fine form as a lead here (and the late soul great Isaac Hayes also turns in a sharp supporting performance). At 54 percent on the Tomatometer, Soul Men hits some decent notes.
One of these men is in no hurry to take it to the bridge, to the consternation of the other.
Also opening this week in limited release:
Captain Abu Raed, a tale of a janitor in Jordan who inspires a goup of children who believe he’s a pilot, is at 100 percent.
Pray the Devil Back to Hell, a documentary about a group of Liberian women’s political activism in the midst of civil war, is at 100 percent.
JCVD, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as a version of himself fighting to escape a hostage situation in a bank, is at 85 percent (check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down the Muscles from Brussels’ best-reviewed films).
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a Holocaust drama about the son of a Nazi officer who forms a friendship with a boy in a concentration camp, is at 71 percent.
The World Unseen, a drama about two South African women who form a tight bond during the Apartheid era, is at 29 percent.
Repo! The Genetic Opera, a futuristic musical about a biotech company that harvests human organs, is at 25 percent.
Finally, props to indiefilmfan2, Mary R., and rockclimbr6 for coming the closest to guessing The Haunting Of Molly Hartley‘s three percent Tomatometer.
Best-Reviewed Bernie Mac Movies:
Bursting into theaters across North America on Friday is the toon sequel Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa which looks to keep the recent wave of kidpic hits going strong. For those not interested in animated zoo animals, two R-rated buddy comedies also hit multiplexes – Role Models starring Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd plus Soul Men with Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac. Overall, the marketplace seems to have a very good chance of beating year-ago sales figures to kick off the holiday movie season.
Three and a half years after their first adventure grossed a stunning $531M worldwide, the fun-loving animals are back in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. The PG-rated film reunites the talented voice cast of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett-Smith, David Schwimmer, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Cedric the Entertainer and picks up where the 2005 original left off with a story about the gang going from the island nation to… continental Africa. Putting the same characters into a new location is common for sequels but this one doesn’t really bother globe-trotting too much. But the story should not matter too much.
Kids and parents loved the first pic which pulled in a broad audience reaching teens and young adults too. It bowed to $47.2M over the three-day portion of the Memorial Day holiday frame that year and had sturdy legs. The brand has remained popular over the years thanks to DVD and TV so there is a desire to see these characters again. High School Musical 3 will be the only major competitor this weekend so the road ahead is clear for Africa to hit its mark. Over the last three years, November has been home to high profile animated films opening in the $38-42M range – 2005’s Chicken Little, 2006’s Happy Feet, and last year’s Bee Movie. Thanks to a built-in audience, Escape should have no problem soaring higher. Crashing into more than 3,900 locations, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa may take in about $55M this weekend.
Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd play friends that are ordered by a court to mentor two troubled kids in Universal’s raunchy comedy Role Models. The R-rated film has earned encouraging reviews and will play to older teens and young adults looking for envelope-pushing jokes. With a Medieval-crazy teen and a cursing ten-year-old, audiences are bound to find just that. The leads have had success in supporting roles while in this genre, Scott with the American Pie pics and Rudd with films from the Judd Apatow factory. While not A-listers individually, as a combined entity they should be able to pull in some sales for a movie like this. McLovin’ adds some voltage and the studio’s marketing push has been good too. Don’t expect early-November Borat numbers here, but a respectable turnout is likely plus word-of-mouth should be good going forward. Landing in about 2,700 theaters, Role Models might take in around $11M this weekend.
Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac play the two remaining members of a popular 1970s band that take a road trip to New York to perform once again in Soul Men. The MGM release will try to tap into the starpower of the leads but the film can’t help itself from being affected by the sympathy factor for Mac who died just three months ago. Reviews have not been very positive and both men have seen their big openings come from larger franchise films and movies with bigger stars in them. The African American audience will be critical here but it’s unclear how many white moviegoers will open their wallets for this film, even in this new Obama era. Debuting in roughly 2,000 sites, Soul Men could bow to about $9M.
Following its two-week stint on top, High School Musical 3 will fall from the number one spot and be replaced by another kidpic. But since last Friday’s box office was so affected by Halloween, this weekend’s overall decline may not be too large. Look for a 40% slide to about $9M for a 17-day cume of $75M. Zack and Miri Make a Porno will face direct competition from Role Models for the exact same audience. The Weinstein Co. release might drop by 50% to around $5M for a ten-day total of $19M.
LAST YEAR: The top two films swapped places with the animated comedy Bee Movie moving into first place with $25.6M and a 33% drop, while fellow sophomore American Gangster fell 45% to $24M. Debuting in third was the Vince Vaughn holiday comedy Fred Claus with $18.5M. The Warner Bros. title went on to collect $72M. Stumbling into fourth was the Tom Cruise–Robert Redford project Lions for Lambs with just $6.7M for MGM on its way to $15M. Buena Vista’s Dan in Real Life rounded out the top five with $6M.
Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com