Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski
As heir to an acting dynasty, Drew Barrymore has, perhaps, elevated her family name in H’wood moreso than her forebears. The granddaughter of film star John (Dinner at Eight, Twentieth Century Limited) and grand-niece of Philadelphia stage legends Lionel (It’s a Wonderful Life, Key Largo) and Ethel (The Farmer’s Daughter, The Paradine Case), Drew has amassed an amazing list of credentials at the ripe young age of 37. In addition to having her own star on the H’wood Walk of Fame and being a bona fide movie star to boot (ET, the Extra Terrestrial; The Wedding Singer), she has also served as a successful producer (Charlie’s Angels) and critically hailed director (Whip It) on some of her choice acting gigs. Now, she stars in Big Miracle, which is based on real events from the ’80s. In this PG-rated family drama, a small town news reporter (Krasinski) and Greenpeace activist (Barrymore) cross geo-political lines to have two warring superpowers join forces to free a family of grey whales from rapidly forming ice in Alaska. The Plus: The genre. In September, Dolphin Tale, another star-studded fact-based family flick, opened at number one and made a tidy sum at the box office. Also, Barrymore has amassed quite a CV (Ever After, Never Been Kissed, 50 First Dates). Here, she stars with Krasinski (Something Borrowed, NBC’s The Office), Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Grey), Kristen Bell (You Again, Burlesque), and Ted Danson (HBO’s Bored to Death). The Minus: The competition. One weekend, three new releases competing in an already crowded box office. Also, of Barrymore’s movies listed above, they’re mostly rom-coms – not exactly family flicks.
Dane Dehaan, Michael B. Jordan
It has been more than 12 years since micro-budgeted thriller The Blair Witch Project broke box office records by pioneering faux documentary horror (and 11 years since its awful sequel, which adopted a narrative structure, did not). In the last few years, sci-fi took the found footage gimmick to a bigger-budgeted level (Cloverfield, District 9). In 2009, however, director Oren Peli brought faux documentary back to horror when his practically no-budget thriller Paranormal Activity became an instant classic. Now comes Chronicle, the latest such found footage cash-in â¦ albeit with a comic book twist. In this PG-13-rated thriller, three high school students (Dehaan, Jordan, Michael Kelly) find their lives spinning out of control when an incredible discovery leads to them developing uncanny superhuman abilities. The Plus: The genre. Even with hellish reviews, The Devil Inside went on to net more than $51 million on a micro budget. This thriller – capitalizing on the superhero genre – might find the same success. The Minus: The odds. Last year, The Last Exorcism, which followed the Blair Witch formula to a ‘T, hit screens. Then, moviegoers had to sit through similar exercises Skyline, Battle LA, and Paranormal Activity 3. Somehow someway, moviegoers are going to get sick of this sub-genre, which could affect this Chronicle’s earning potential.
Woman in Black
Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds
When the final Harry Potter novel hit bookstores in July, 2007, Muggles half-heartedly prepared themselves for the closing chapter in J.K. Rowling’s magically successful young wizard series. In terms of movies, however, Warner Bros. decided to split this seventh Potter outing, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, into two separate movies. The gamble paid off. Critics and moviegoers felt that the series went out on a high (and the WB has the box office to back this up). But what becomes of its stars now that Potter has taken his final bow? Not wanting to be pigeonholed, Potter star Daniel Radcliffe has taken to Broadway in Equus and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Now comes his first non-Potter starring role in film, Woman in Black. In this PG-13-rated horror tale adapted from Susan Hill’s novel, a young lawyer (Radcliffe) travels with his young children to a remote village where the ghost of a scorned woman is said to terrorize the locals. The Plus: The material. First staged in 1989, Stephen Mallatratt’s stage adaptation of Hill’s novel is the second longest running play in the history of London’s West End. Though the Radcliffe property isn’t based on this play, the material sure speaks to horror fans. The Minus: The gamble. Potter star Rupert Grint barely made a blip on the radar with his forays outside of the boy wizard franchise (Driving Lessons, Cherry Bomb).
Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney
When it comes to playing a rough-hewn man’s man with the eyes of a bare-fisted fighter and the heart of a poet, there’s no Grey area for Liam Neeson. He’s fully sold filmgoers on this stock of anti-hero before with Taken and Unknown, bringing an air of believability to a character type that lesser actors would render with an implausible mix of chest-puffing and scenery-chewing. Unlike those popcorn thrillers, however, the massively engrossing The Grey proves to be a helluva good thriller. Sure, the B-Grade material gets elevated because of Neeson’s A-Grade performance. Still, his latest is more of an ensemble piece and an improbable, but amazingly gripping, mix of Jaws and The Edge that will keep audiences biting their nails down to their elbows straight through to the ace curtain closer.
In this R-rated action-adventure, a plane crash strands a group of oilrig roughnecks (Neeson, Mulroney, Frank Grillo) in the wilds of Alaska with wolves in hot pursuit.
His character is part of an ill-fated crew, but it’s Neeson who does the heavy lifting. Leading back to his star-making performance in Schindler’s List, his acting style has always evinced sincerity in its purest form, as in you sincerely believe his every emotion and nuance. In The Grey, there is never a moment when the audience a.) Doesn’t completely buy his fear; and b.) Doesn’t completely buy that he will fight to survive to the bitter end. It helps that director/co-writer Joe Carnahan has crafted his best feature to date, chock full of palpable thrills and emotion. Bottom line: Black, white, and rad.
One for the Money
Katherine Heigl, Jason O’Mara
One step removed from being a Lifetime TV Movie starring Angie Harmon and Meredith Baxter, this uneven Money won’t live to see Two for the Show. Oh, it’s not that the story, based on Janet Evanovich’s novel, isn’t worthy of an on-screen dust-up. The dialogue sounds like it was probably snappy … on paper, that is. On film, it could’ve used a vervy pop culture-infused touch-up a la Quentin Tarantino’s work on Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch, which became the beyond excellent Jackie Brown. Instead, poor casting and a screenplay that’s sadly P to the G despite clocking a ’13′ makes for One unfortunate bounty.
In her latest, this PG-13-rated adventure, a down-on-her-luck Jersey girl named Stephanie Plum (Heigl) convinces her sleazy bail bondsman cousin to give her a job as a bounty hunter, which leads her into an investigation involving a vice cop wanted for murder (O’Hara) – an ex who broke her heart years before.
Katherine Heigl is good at some roles … it’s just that this reviewer hasn’t seen them yet. In her defense, the lines, laughs, and lucre are too heavy-handed even for Meryl Streep to bail the material out. Having Irishman O’Mara (great on ABC’s cancelled oddity Life on Mars, here … not so much) play wronged Italian cop Morelli doesn’t help matters much. Of course, when an actor makes a dated reference by calling his sparring partner “cupcake,” it’s hardly his fault alone. Director Julie Anne Robinson and her three (count them – three!) screenwriters are unable to re-capture the magic that has sustained the popularity of Evanovich’s Plum for 18 novels. Bottom line: Dog of a bounty hunter.
Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale
Contrary to any bad vibrations already on his CV, Mark Wahlberg makes a damn good action figure even when he’s banded with shlock-tastic material. In this R-rated actioner, an ex-smuggler (Wahlberg) is forced to sneak a container of counterfeit bills into the U.S. after his brother-in-law (Lucas Haas) runs afoul of some brutal drug lords and makes their family (Beckinsale, et al) the target of a treacherous criminal network (Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster). The good news: Contraband is better than Shooter, Wahlberg’s last window-licking actioner. The bad news: not by a helluva lot. Shot to pieces with lunk-headed dialogue, the script is just too twisty for its own good. If it weren’t for the skills and broad shoulders of its star to sell through the cowboy B.S., this counterfeit Bank Job would’ve gone bankrupt from the word “low.” Bottom line: The Italian snowjob.
The Devil Inside
Fernanda Andrade, Bonnie Morgan
Disappointingly not a bio-pic of INXS singer Michael Hutchence, The Devil Inside is rather a poor lesson in horror that’s hardly scary as hell in the long shadow of similar exorcises. In this R-rated horror flick, a young woman (Andrade) sets out to determine if her mother (Suzan Crowley) is criminally insane or demonically possessed with the help of two rogue priests (Simon Quarterman, Evan Helmuth). Fraught with frightening ambition, the story features DNA from two tangents that have weighed down the horror genre as of late. First, the movie involves the taboo Catholic practice of using men of the cloth to get the Devil out. Second, it’s a faux documentary found footage thriller in the vein of Paranormal Activity. Sadly, The Devil Inside doesn’t scare up a good spooker by re-inventing this wheel of cheese. Bottom line: Deja Boo all over again.
Gina Carano, Michael Douglas
Making Hay while the celluloid shines, director Steven Soderbergh’s latest is live-wire filmmaking at it’s action-packed best. In this R-rated turnabout spy revenge tale, a highly trained black ops contract agent (Carano) gets double crossed and left for dead by someone in her agency, leading her to try turning the tables on her dangerous employers (Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender). With the steel-tipped explosively entertaining Haywire, Soderbergh nails the genre so well that it gives other action flicks and directors a bad name. With Carano’s hard-kicking performance here, a star is Bourne. She stands and delivers her character beautifully while kicking butt at an automatic clip – kind of like Ginger Rogers, but with martial arts substituted for hoofing. It helps that Soderbergh’s ace camerawork and clever editing frame all of the hard-kicking excitement with brilliant verve. Bottom line: Quantum of Excellence.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock
Despite it’s extremely earnest and incredibly ambitious intentions, this interesting Loud & Close drama never rings completely true. In this PG-13-rated heart-tugger, a young boy (Thomas Horn) is convinced that a key left by his father (Hanks), who died in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, will lead him to a message somewhere in the city.
Oftentimes, this boy’s journey provides the audience with an enthralling through-line thanks to the Jonathan Safran Foer novel on which it is based. Director Stephen Daldry’s overly-syrupy and highfalutin handling of the source material proves to be the film’s rub, however. For all of his inventive frenetic flourishes, much of this mix between a harrowingly real event and whimsical coming of age story – from the tell-don’t-show narration to the thinly-veiled subtext – feels manufactured save for Max von Sydow’s effortless soul-bearing performance. Bottom line: Lock, stock, and fallow.
Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea
Awakening tired material best left in its already comatose state, Underworld 4 is definitely the resident evil at the box office this week. In this PG-13-rated monstrously bad sequel, vampire warrioress Selene (Beckinsale) escapes from a cryogenic prison into a world where humans are hunting bloodsuckers and werewolves to extinction.
Even its redundancy is redundant. Unlike Resident Evil, Underworld isn’t based on a video game, but it does have the same gnat’s attention span CG-generated execution. Moviegoers can easily trade Milla Jovovich for Beckinsale and zombies for Lycans (read: poorly animated werewolves) and save the $9 ticket expense. Granted, the leather-clad Beckinsale does a fine job of selling through blood gushing while generating some blood rushing too, but – thanks to the eleventh hour set-up for another obligatory sequel – it’s doubtless she’ll ever graduate to Aviator or Serendipity-grade material again. Bottom line: Bloody well wrong.