Theatrical Releases

January 18, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

Call it the week of Cloverfield. Whatever else the movie may be (and it has sharply divided critics across-the-board), the is the first "must see" film of the year for males ages 11 through 40. If you're a member of that demographic and you don't know anything about Cloverfield, you're eligible for a Rip van Winkle Society membership card. I know how hot this title is based on periodic checks of my website stats - hits on the review are through the roof. About a week ago, I pondered whether Cloverfield would be more like 300 or Snakes on a Plane in terms of actual audience response. At least for the first weekend, it will fall into the former camp. Expect a big weekend for mayhem in Manhattan. The unanswered question remains how the shaky, hand-held camera work is going to impact viewer enthusiasm. Nevertheless, no matter what happens, Cloverfield should have no legitimate challengers for the title of this week's Box Office Champion. It's also this week's Pick of the Week, although that comes with a caveat. If you have motion sickness issues, this movie may not be for you, and if you go despite that, sit near the back of the theater. If you start to experience nausea, close your eyes for a short while. Since the room isn't actually moving, cutting off the visual signal will relax the nausea.

Counter-programming Cloverfield are a date movie and a "chick flick." 27 Dresses, a by-the-book romantic comedy, should grab a good portion of the female audience, do in no small part to the star power of Katherine Heigl. The borderline-dreadful Mad Money has Queen Latifa but little else. The other two headlining actresses in this caper comedy (Diane Keaton and Katie Holmes) are dreadful. I was taken to task by a reader for suggesting in my review that Holmes should stay home and play wife and mother instead of continuing to pursue acting. So I'll change that here: if this performance is indicative of what's left of her acting talent, she should find another line of work. I can understand the appeal of 27 Dresses, although I think it would have been better placed for a Valentine's Day release (although the superior romantic comedy Definitely, Maybe is arriving then). On the other hand, it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to see Mad Money, especially on a crowded weekend like that.

Michael Clayton returns to theaters after a few months' absence. The reason for this is obvious - to capitalize on the Oscar nominations it expects to receive. Strike while the iron's hot. No matter what happens with the Awards Ceremony, the studios still want to wring every last cent out of their prize cinematic dogs and ponies. Michael Clayton is very much worth seeing so if you didn't get a chance the first time around (it opened in September and closed in most markets before the end of October), this is a good second opportunity. It's also the most "adult" movie opening this weekend.

There are two smaller movies out there. The first is Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream, a tepid attempt to re-create the recent success of Match Point. Over the last decade-plus, Allen has had a lot more misses than hits, and this is the film that makes me wonder if he has reached the point where he should either slow down or give up. It's sad watching someone with Allen's reputation repeatedly churn out sub-par motion pictures. If he's got a last great one left, he should make it his swansong. The other small film, which is getting a limited distribution this weekend (and will gradually go wider in upcoming weeks) is Teeth, the B-grade horror/comedy/teen angst/romance/female empowerment movie that is relentless in its parodies and fearless in its storyline. Two words: vagina dentate. Read the review for more.

Next week is one of those weeks when a lot of stuff won't be screened for critics, including Sylvester Stallone's Rambo, which might be mistaken for a comedy, and Meet the Spartans, which apparently won't. And animal lovers take note: cat torture provides a major plot point in another new release on January 25. It's not graphic but it is wrenching and it will cause walk-outs. More on that in a week.