Opening Today

December 07, 2007
A thought by James Berardinelli

To start with, I always mention September 11 when I write something on that day (usually a festival report from Toronto), so it's reasonable to note that today is December 7, FDR's "date that will live in infamy." (A.k.a. "Pearl Harbor Day." I am not recommending renting and watching the Michael Bay film as a means of commemoration.)

Now, on to the inaugural edition of the weekly "opening today" movie report, which summarizes what's showing up theatrically this weekend in the United States in limited and wide release. It's intended as a supplement to the reviews, not as a replacement. (However, there will be instances when I will mention a title here that I do not review – next week, for example.)

This weekend's biggest potential money-maker is The Golden Compass. It's opening everywhere, it features some big-name stars, its classification as "fantasy" puts it in a hot category, and it's entering a barren marketplace. Ignoring Awake, which isn't hard to do, there hasn't been anything new in wide release for more than two weeks. Thanksgiving leftovers, everything. Yet it's hard for me to envision a scenario in which The Golden Compass becomes a big success. This isn't a story to steal viewers' hearts and minds. I don't understand why, of all the fantasy series that could have been selected, New Line went after His Dark Materials. When I read the books, I recall thinking that they contained some nice ideas but, in terms of plot and character development, they weren't impressive. I don't know what New Line's "magic number" is for determining whether the other two books in the series will be transformed into movies, but if it's north of $100 million domestic, I don't think The Golden Compass will get there. Who should see it? Hard-core fantasy fans (not so much casual ones), those who are desperate for something new in multiplexes, and card-carrying members of Nicole Kidman's fan club. The Philip Pullman fans I have spoken to about the movie are either on the fence or unhappy. (They all attended last weekend's sneak preview.)

This week's best bet is showing in select theaters in major markets, but if you live in those areas, it shouldn't be hard to find. I'm referring to Atonement, from director Joe Wright and based on the Ian McEwan novel. It's a powerful film with some amazing moments and, while imperfect, it is a strong contender for placement on my end-of-the-year Top 10 list. It's as faithful to the book as one can imagine given the difficulties inherent in adapting this particular novel. Those unfamiliar with the source will not feel as if they've missed something. The movie is complete, absorbing, and stands on its own. If you can't find it playing anywhere close, it should go wider in the coming weeks.

If you're in New York or Los Angeles, Juno has opened near you today. I'll discuss it more next week when it opens wider, but if you get a chance to see it this weekend, don't miss it. And don't forget the orange tic-tacs. Grace Is Gone falls into a similar category - it's opening only in New York and Los Angeles this week. Unlike Juno, the wait for the rest of the country isn't just a week. Yes, it opens in a few extra markets on December 14, but it could be mid-January before it comes to a theater near you. Grace Is Gone is worth seeing when it arrives - just keep an eye on the movie section of your local paper.

Unfortunately, the unwatchable Revolver is opening in too many theaters - zero would be appropriate. Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself to be Guy Ritchie fan, this is something to skip. It's not fun on any level, not even on the "so bad it's good" level. It's just bad - painful and unfortunate. Not many people are going to see it (it hasn't been well marketed), so it should be here this week, gone the next. In this case, it's hard to mourn such a quick turnaround. No movie is more deserving.

Also opening only in New York and Hollywood today is Paul Schrader's The Walker. I have decided to postpone the review and discussion for next week, when it opens a wider. Actually, I haven't seen it yet (although I almost saw it in September at the Toronto Film Festival), so I can't write about it intelligently. By Monday, I will have rectified that oversight.

It's pretty obvious that this weekend's box office champion will be The Golden Compass, but the pick of the week is Atonement. Next week: Juno goes wide, The Kite Runner reaches screens, and Will Smith fills in for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Programming" note: beginning tomorrow and for the rest of December, I will use the Saturday review spot that will eventually be reserved for DVDs as an opportunity to review 2007 releases that I have not previously written about. Tomorrow's entry will be The King of Kong. Other titles will follow on December 15, 22, and 29. In January, I'll return to "new old" reviews on Saturdays.