ReelThoughts: March 21, 2008

"Theatrical Releases"

Commentary by James Berardinelli


If you're interested in going to the movies to see something new this weekend, things don't look good. It's Easter weekend and the distributors are assuming traffic will be light. The strategy is surprising because, although a large percentage of Americans may not be visiting multiplexes on Sunday, many school districts have Spring Break next week, which makes the paucity of exciting and/or family-friendly features surprising. It has been a while since we have seen so many consecutive weeks of poor lineups this late into March. Yes, things start improving next month, but that's because we're entering the "pre-summer" season. Hollywood's inability to generate sustained interest in their product for more than two months isn't a good sign.

Three movies enter general release this weekend. Two were not screened for critics: Meet the Browns, which should perform quite respectably due to Tyler Perry's built-in audience, and Shutter, which would be more appropriately titled if the "u" was changed to an "i." This is yet another Asian horror remake with pasty-skinned ghosts and plot holes big enough to flush the Mississippi River through. The general release critics were allowed to see won't set the world on fire: Drillbit Taylor, one of the weakest productions to emerge from Judd Apatow's shop in a while. (Apatow did not direct; he produced. His buddy, Seth Rogan, is one of the writers, and his wife, Leslie Mann, is in the cast.) None of these movies is likely to unseat Horton Hears a Who!, which will reign as Box Office Champion for the second consecutive week.

The art house scene is a bit of a mess, since so many different movies are opening slightly wider in so many different locales. This week, I reviewed Married Life, Paranoid Park, Snow Angels, and Sleepwalking. I recommend the first two but not the others. Depending on where you live, it's possible that all, some, or none of those titles may be playing. My Pick of the Week is Married Life, if you can find it. If you can't, Horton remains a good choice, or even Miss Pettigrew.

Another thing worth mentioning are the big-name previews accompanying some of these releases. Many of them make me dread the summer. Sure, some are entertaining, but as I see more and more of them, the less I look forward to the movies they are advertising. This is one reason I avoid previews whenever possible. Not only do they often give away too much of the story but they create an impression - good or bad - that has a tendency to linger. And, if one sees a preview too many times, certain lines of dialogue or scenes become fixed in the mind and one ends up waiting for those moments to appear in the actual movie. Today, when I sacrificed myself on the altar of Shutter, I was exposed to previews for Speed Racer, Meet Dave, and Stepbrothers, and I'm now dreading seeing all three (where I had previously been neutral). If previews decrease interest, they are not fulfilling their function.


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