ReelThoughts: April 18, 2008

"Theatrical Releases"

Commentary by James Berardinelli


This is an odd time for theatrical releases. It's the first weekend in a while when a few mid-budget films are opening that are capable of generating some interest. It's also a weekend when studios are taking the trash out, getting things nice and tidy for the influx of big summer movies. That season is only two weeks off, and it can't come soon enough. Even if the films aren't any good, at least people will be talking about and caring about movies - two qualities that haven't been in abundance since January.

Many pundits have opined that the weekend's biggest grossing entry will be The Forbidden Kingdom. I can understand their reasoning. It's an action film. It has family appeal. And it features the first professional exchange between legendary martial arts masters Jackie Chan and Jet Li. The experts believe the film will earn between $18M and $20M. This doesn't seem unreasonable. What is giving me pause, however, is Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The experts are pegging this in the $15M to $18M range, and I think that's low. As a comparison, however, consider The 40-Year-Old Virgin ($21M opening weekend), Knocked Up ($31M opening weekend), and Superbad ($33M opening weekend). These are three recent offerings from Team Apatow, the group behind Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The closest analog might be Knocked Up, another Spring raunchy romantic comedy. It seems reasonable to me that Forgetting Sarah Marshall should be able to come close to Knocked Up's financial total, unless the argument is that college students will be too busy studying for finals to see a movie. At any rate, I'm going to peg Forgetting Sarah Marshall as my Box Office Champion for this week. It also gets the citation for my Pick of the Week. It's the funniest comedy to come along in quite some time, and is significantly better than any of its competitors this week (although it must be stated that it earns its R rating).

Now we come to the movies that the studios are tossing into the marketplace, hoping something will stick. The first is The Life Before Her Eyes, which would be a tough sell no matter when it came out. The film is thoughtful and provocative, but movies about school shootings and survivor guilt aren't popular. It's unclear whether this was timed to come out close to the first anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings or whether Magnolia was oblivious to the connection. It's worth seeing but the limited release may make it difficult to locate.

Crossroads and that it was intended to be about the intersection of faith and science. The interviews are also said to have been selectively edited. Hey, if Michael Moore can do this sort of thing for the Left, why not Ben Stein for the Right? By all accounts, Expelled is very Moore-esque, albeit taking a position that Moore would never adopt.

Speaking of documentaries, Morgan Spurlock, the guy who ate fast food for 30 days, is back. This time, he's looking for Osama: Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? The movie isn't as interesting or instructive as Supersize Me, although Spurlock's wit is in evidence. Unfortunately, most of the observations and conclusions made by the film are rather obvious. Granted, one doesn't expect a lot of depth from Spurlock - he's not that kind of filmmaker - but a little more substance would have been welcome.


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