Thanksgiving or Turkeys?

November 04, 2007
A thought by James Berardinelli

Okay, so October wasn't a great month for movies. It's not just that there weren't many worthy options out there (Gone Baby Gone and Things We Lost in the Fire were the best), but there wasn't a lot to get excited about. That's why revenue and attendance were both down. The first rule in getting peoples' butts in theater seats is to get them excited about something. Little in October did that. Will things be different in November?

Without a doubt, the most anticipated titles of the month are Beowulf, whose profile shot through the roof after the success of 300, and The Mist. A week ago, I expressed reservations about Beowulf due to the PG-13 rating. According to those who have seen the movie, however, it's rife with blood, gore, violence, and nudity. Presumably, the fact that it's animated allowed it to pass with a PG-13 rather than an R. I will never understand the MPAA. It will do amazingly during its first weekend out (November 16). The Mist, which arrives the week after, will also have a big debut. It's the latest opportunity for Frank Darabont to adapt a Stephen King story. The first time this happened, The Shawshank Redemption, the result became something considered by many to be a modern classic. The Green Mile, which arrived a few years later, was not on the same level but was by no means a failure.

November 2 saw the heavyweight American Gangster open, with a supporting cast of Bee Movie and Martian Child. Gangster is deserving of the big box office it will accrue. Bee Movie is a disappointment and will probably not rake in as much as Dreamworks is expecting for a high profile animated effort. Martian Child will be deservedly left in the dust. Of the three, only American Gangster is likely to show any legs and still remain standing when Oscar nominations are discussed.

November 9 sees the release of Fred Claus, the highest profile Christmas movie of the year. It's not very good, but that won't keep audiences from flocking to see it. A holiday-themed movie has to be Deck the Halls bad to die at the box office at this time of year, and that's not the case. Robert Redford gets political again with Lions and Lambs, a film that will probably be studiously avoided by all card-carrying right wingers. P2 is a little low budget thriller that appears oddly placed in the release schedule. And the Coen Brothers' brilliantly nasty (and open-ended) No Country for Old Men begins a platform release that should see it playing in most major markets before the end of the month. Javier Bardem is a shoo-in for a Best Supporting Actor nomination, by the way.

On November 16, Beowulf won't be challenged, but it will have company. The feel-good film of the week is probably Love in the Time of Cholera. Margot at the Wedding is going for the Eric Rohmer crowd - not exactly a large group of people on this side of the Atlantic. The movie is pretentious and not terribly insightful, although it does provide us with another glance at Jennifer Jason Leigh's breasts, which look just as good today as they did in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Finally, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium appears to be going for the Willie Wonka audience, and has a chance to erode Fred Claus' box office. It will be Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman against Vince Vaughn and Kevin Spacey. The universe holds its breath to see which picture will take a distant second behind Grendel's nemesis.

On Thanksgiving weekend, the previous champs will have to move aside for The Mist, which should be able to unseat Beowulf. Enchanted is Disney's attempt to out-Dreamworks Dreamworks in the satirical fairy tale realm. This is an animated/live-action hybrid that has fair damsels and Princes Charming entering the real world. The participation of Patrick Dempsey will no doubt help bring out the female crowd. While this one probably won't top The Mist, it could have some genuine staying power. Finally, Bob Dylan lovers will get to see six actors providing their interpretations of the music icon in I'm Not There. I think Dylan is a brilliant lyricist, but I can't stand his banshee-like voice, so I'm praying for none-too-authentic covers of his songs.

November closes with three small films. The Savages, a drama/black comedy starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney, was one of the best received films at Sundance. It hopes to find a small audience when it hits theaters. Awake pairs the acting challenged Hayden Christensen with the even less able Jessica Alba in a movie that is highly unlikely to produce Best Actor or Actress nominations. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly sounds painfully pretentious but maybe it will surprise.

And with that, the stage is set for December, the biggest and most crowded movie month of 2007.