Just one more month in the summer movie season before the Oscar heavies start rolling out; could any film in that time redeem the (mostly uninspiring) past three months?
First up in wide release is The Change-Up, directed by David Dobkin and starring Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds. Two friends with very different lives – one a hardworking lawyer and father, the other a quasi-employed ladies’ man – end up switching bodies…sort of like a “bro” version of Freaky Friday. Critics agree that the two stars do a fun job playing against-type, but they say the gross-out humor is so forced and the perfunctory “lesson” at the end is so trite that the film barely registers. While Bateman, Reynolds, and the R-rated comedy have had their fair share of successes this summer, audiences might feel fatigued at yet another raunchy comedy. I’m betting against this one – pegging it at $12-17 million.
The other wide release is Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the prequel to a franchise that has already had, like, three prequels…or is this one a reboot? Not sure. Okay, so the story is obviously not the most original Hollywood has ever produced, but we all know the REAL selling-point of this movie: the amazing visual effects from Weta Digital that may very well win an Oscar come next February (For whatever reason, none of us on the staff put the film down in our own early predictions for Best Visual Effects. If you want to know why, I’m afraid I have no idea). The exquisitely-rendered apes are so convincing, in fact, that many critics find them – especially the widely acclaimed performance of Andy Serkis as Caesar – more than enough to make up for the uninspired story and flat human characters. It’s going to be hard to sell this film to general audiences. This Planet of the Apes installment does not have Tim Burton’s name as a selling point and James Franco is unproven as a box office draw. Still, online activity gives it some hope, and the film’s marketing campaign has been put into overdrive these last few days, so I’ll give it a $33-38 million opening.
The surreal and the all-too-real collide in limited release this weekend, starting with Bellflower. This bizarre-looking indie tells the story of two friends with apocalyptic fantasies whose lives are complicated when one of them falls hard for a charismatic young woman. Reviews have been very positive. Several critics expressed being blown away by its vision and creativity, even if some of them acknowledge that the narrative is a little uneven. Oscars? Don’t bet on it, but the film will almost certainly propel Evan Glodell into higher-profile projects.
Academy Award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney teams up with Alison Ellwood to take you on an LSD-fueled journey in Magic Trip. In 1964, Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and his posse “The Merry Band of Pranksters” set out on a cross-country road trip to the New York World’s Fair. They filmed hundreds of hours of footage of their odyssey, but it was never edited and released to the public until now. Gibney’s desire to turn this into some generational touchstone is obvious to most critics, but many believe that that goal is diminished by its occasional self-centered naval gazing. With Project Nim, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and Tabloid garnering much higher praise, I can’t imagine this film making much headway in the Best Documentary Feature race.
Finally, Rachel Weisz exposes corruption in The Whistleblower. Inspired by a true story, Weisz plays Kathryn Bolkovac, a United Nations peacekeeper who risks everything to bring to light a child sex slave racket involving U.S. military contractors and the U.N. in post-war Bosnia. Obviously such a project could be an awards boon for Weisz, as the Oscars love actresses pursuing social justice. But being compared to superior films like Erin Brockovich or even her Oscar-winning performance in The Constant Gardener doesn’t help the film much. The film has been getting decent reviews, but critics say it fails to be as compelling or credible as it should be. Weisz could be a threat for a Best Actress nomination depending on how (if) audiences propel the film. My prediction is that with the potentially stiff competition coming in the fall from the likes of Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Felicity Jones, Michelle Williams, Rooney Mara, Elizabeth Olsen, Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Tilda Swinton, et al., she will most likely – fairly or unfairly – be left in the dust of the cutthroat awards season.
Plenty of new movies to choose from this weekend. What are you planning to see? Let us know right here on The Awards Circuit!