This week, we’ve got a lot of films that did so-so in the theaters, and a couple that fared a little better. None of the choices really outshines the rest, but there is, again, a little something for everybody here (except, maybe, for the kids). If you’re looking for some horror, we’ve got it; if you’re looking for a rom-com, we’ve got it; if you’re looking for some indie drama, we’ve got it; if you’re looking for some action, there’s some of that too. And, as is more often the case than not, the highest-rated films on this week’s list are the rereleases. So have a peek at what’s on offer, and maybe you’ll find something new to watch.
Never work with children, animals or Katherine Heigl — just ask Judd Apatow. Okay, while that might be a little unfair, it seems neither critics nor audiences were too taken with the actress’ latest would-be star vehicle; bundling up an unimpressive 29% at RT and barely making a mark at the box-office, Life As We Know It all but made Heigl’s Killers look like a smash in comparison. The story of two single adults (Heigl and Josh Duhamel) who inherit care of an orphaned kid, Life was generally derided as a formulaic romantic comedy despite some chemistry between its leads. If you want to judge for yourself (or brave the sight of a baby in nappies blundering around in hi-def), the film’s also on Blu-ray.
2007’s Paranormal Activity was a smash hit, a creepy, atmospheric tale of supernatural shenanigans that was famously made for less than $20,000 and ended up grossing almost $200 million. A sequel, therefore, was no surprise, and in 2010, Paramount attempted to make lightning strike twice with Paranormal Activity 2, a prequel leading up to the events of the first film. This time around, the story centers around Kristi (Sprague Grayden), sister to Katie (Katie Featherston) of the first film, and her family: husband Dan (Brian Boland), his daughter Ali (Molly Ephraim), and the couple’s infant son Hunter. After a random burglary, Dan decides to install cameras in the house, a la the first film, and strange events begin happening until Dan ultimately makes a decision that sends the offending spirit from Kristi to Katie. Because the film largely utilizes the same techniques as the first to create an atmosphere of dread, some of the novelty was lost; critics, however, still felt it was an effective thriller and saw fit to award it a 60% Tomatometer – better, it should be noted, than many others in the genre. In other words, Paranormal Activity 2 may make for a successfully chilly evening.
With a cast that boasts the talents of screen veterans like Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis, and octogenarian it-girl Betty White, as well as budding sweetheart Kristen Bell and hottie Odette Yustman, You Again really could have been much better than it is. Unfortunately, this middle-of-the-road comedy ultimately fails to be either effectively nasty or convincingly sweet, which left critics scratching their heads. The story follows young professional Marni (Bell), who travels home for her older brother’s wedding, only to find out he’s marrying her high school rival Joanna (Yustman). To make matters worse, Joanna’s Aunt Ramona (Weaver) also happens to be Marni’s mom’s (Curtis) own high school rival. Old wounds are opened, hilarity ensues, and a lesson is presumably learned. Pretty standard stuff, really, but critics felt very little of it worked for the film, and as a result, You Again sports a dismal 18% Tomatometer score. You can decide for yourself, because it hits shelves this week.
The writing and directing team of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden has seen quite a bit of critical success thus far, with two previous films – 2006’s Half Nelson and 2008’s Sugar – which have both gone Certified Fresh at 90% and 93% on the Tomatometer, respectively. Their latest effort, an adaptation of Ned Vizzini’s novel It’s Kind of a Funny Story, didn’t fare quite so well; critics respected its sweet nature and willingness not to stoop to psych ward clichés, but expected more not only from Fleck and Boden but from its talented cast as well. The story centers on a suicidal teen named Craig Gilner (Keir Gilchrist) who checks himself into a psychiatric hospital for treatment and befriends the other patients, including a stressed-out father named Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) and a self-mutilating girl named Noelle (Emma Roberts). As Craig bonds with his new friends, he develops a crush on Noelle, and he and Bobby find ways to help each other. After such previous success, this is a bit of a letdown for Fleck and Boden, but its charms may be enough to win some viewers over, so it might be worth taking a chance.
Writer/director Wes Craven is a horror icon, but he hasn’t contributed to a legitimate hit since 2005’s Red Eye. To be fair, that’s also the last feature film he directed before My Soul to Take, and when he’s on, he’s on; Red Eye was Certified Fresh at 79% and it grossed almost $100 million domestically. Unfortunately, My Soul to Take was a failure, both critically and commercially. After five years away from the director’s chair, audiences were expecting a little more than a formulaic and mostly dull film filled with red herrings and half-sketched characters. The story takes place in the fictional town of Riverton, Massachusetts, where a serial killer known as the Riverton Ripper has claimed seven victims. So as not to spoil anything for those of you who dare to brave this film, we’ll just say that 16 years later, seven students regularly perform a ritual to stop the Riverton Ripper from returning, and when they fail to do so, more carnage ensues. My Soul to Take received a 9% Tomatometer rating, which is decidedly Rotten, so consider this fair warning for those of you looking for some decent scares.
His movies are hits, but Tyler Perry tends to be loathed by critics who scoff at his melodramatic throttle, and last year’s For Colored Girls met with a similar reception. Viewed as a heavy-handed attempt to adapt Ntozake Shange’s acclaimed play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, if there’s one thing you can say for Girls, it’s that it never lacks for opera. Each of its multiple characters — played by a hit-list of black actresses including Thandie Newton, Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Anika Noni Rose and Kerry Washington — comes loaded with enough dysfunction to float several soap series, and there’s rarely a moment that isn’t at least engaging in either its loudness or outrageous sincerity. The DVD/Blu-ray comes with an “interactive” documentary on the film, music and other featurettes.
Based on a comic strip that was itself an update to Far From the Madding Crowd, Tamara Drewe can’t help recalling a one woman Dangerous Liasons because of the way Liasons director Steven Frears is positioning star and bond-girl-cum-demi-goddess Gemma Arterton. A free spirited girl loved by the boys, Tamara wants to be a journalist and knows experience of all sorts is the way to write like a person of the world. The knowing Tom Jones-like wink-winking was liked by many a critic and the DVD offers promisingly vivid imagery of the country landscape where rolls in hay are suggested and lush naturalism evoked. Extras include commentaries by Arterton and co-star Luke Evans and two featurettes: one making-of and another on the reconstruction of the many layered character, a British literary hero from two very different generations.
Reportedly based on the experiences of one of its producers, Middle Men tells the story of the birth of internet porn, or, specifically, the emergence of one of the first adult entertainment entrepreneurs on the internet. Luke Wilson plays Jack Harris, a visionary of sorts who sees big money in billing web surfers for access to porn during the early years of mainstream internet availability. What Jack fails to anticipate, however, is how this career decision will impact the rest of his life, which then becomes invaded by all sorts of unsavory characters, from Russian mobsters to the FBI. This comic look at a pop culture niche is packed with some fine acting talent, including Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, Kevin Pollack, and James Caan, but critics felt they weren’t given much to work with, leading to a 41% Tomatometer rating. Though it might intrigue some as a unique take on an esoteric piece of internet culture, the film’s inability to deliver sufficient laughs or dramatic heft may leave some disappointed.
Ong Bak 2 had little to do with the first film, which led many to feel that it was a cheap attempt to cash in on the popularity of Ong Bak, but its intense 20-minute final battle left viewers with a cliffhanger that promised a conclusion to the story in the next installment. Ong Bak 3, which was actually released in 2010 but didn’t get a US opening until last month, takes a turn for the mystical, focusing again on Tien (Tony Jaa, who also directs) after his capture by Lord Rajasena (Sarunyu Wongkrajang), who had Tien’s father murdered in the previous film. Tien is ultimately freed and sent back to recover from his wounds, during which time he trains under his Master Bua, and Bhuti Sangkha (aka the Crow ghost), who had a small role in Ong Bak 2, takes over the kingdom. In all honesty, one watches these films not so much for the story or the philosophy, but for the action, and for a Tony Jaa film, Ong Bak 3 fails to be as impressive as we’ve come to expect. Even those who have seen Ong Bak 2 may find the plot slightly hard to follow, but if you’re eager to see the story finished, you can pick this up this week.
Like his legendary countryman Yasujiro Ozu, director Hirokazu Koreeda makes delicate, lyrical films that examine the intricacies and messiness of family life with a keen sense of observation. And like Ozu, Koreeda’s leisurely-paced dramedies have the ability to sneak up on an unsuspecting viewer – his latest, Still Walking, proves that you don’t need big revelations and hyperkinetic acting to deliver an emotional knockout. Still Walking is the tale of a family that has gathered to mark the anniversary of the death of the eldest son, and we see the daily rhythms, routines, and ties that exist between these people. Criterion has issued a sparkling transfer of the film with a new subtitle translation; special features include interviews with Koreeda, a making-of doc, and a booklet filled with essays.
Directors known as showmen are rarely considered self-indulgent, no matter how personal their work, and director Federico Fellini is the showboat-iest of the classical brood. Amarcord, a highly personal portrait of Fellini’s upbringing in Mussolini’s Italy, carries with it all the associations and obsessions Fellini’s made famous. His deification of women goes well with the circus-like sheen he lends to life, so as bombs ravage his town and rallies for Il Duce raise civic spirits for a despot making their lives increasingly tense, the women sashay in glamorous attire and the town seems to find relief in shared everyday fantasies, all of which are real in their own unique way. Criterion already put out a disc on Amarcord but their Blu-Ray features a handful of special additions including a featurette about Fellini the man, commentary by recently deceased critic and scholar Peter Brunette, deleted scenes, restoration demonstration and much more. Romance is always feverish with Fellini, and he’s enamored of nothing more than he is his own childhood; those who remember their youth with magic will find one to love with Amarcord.
Written by Ryan Fujitani, Luke Goodsell, Sara Vizcarrondo, and Tim Ryan.