In Wide Release: By all accounts "Brüno" should top the box-office and some are speculating, the picture will open north of $30 million. At his best, Sacha Baron Cohen is comedic guerrilla terrorism, assaulting you senses with outrageous comedic laughs, but if that's the case, his gay Austrian fashionista character, "Brüno" is a small-scale offensive with sporadically uproarious laughs and little bite. We didn't hate it, it's just mildly diverting and mostly forgettable. It's just really hard to trick people these days and it shows in the film. Plus we're all just hyper-aware of his tactics, so there's a dulling, been-there sensation throughout. It's not horrible at all, but it's just minor laughs that do no compare with the initial "Borat" experience (even if "Borat" is near unwatchable these days because the laughs are so ephemeral and the gags and tropes were so painfully ubiquitous. However, most critics seemed to be fairly satisfied and "Brüno" has itself a good, 72% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (no, not the be all end all at all, but a decent look at critical consensus if you concerned about spending your hard-earned money).
Note: on Metacritic, the "Brüno" rating has fallen to 56% or as Awards Daily says, plunged into "the poopenschafte range."
Jeff Wells makes us laugh when discussing the romantic teen comedy, "I Love You, Beth Cooper" starring Hayden Panettiere, and the almost-unknown Paul Rust. He says he salutes the people who created the film's trailer because it "makes it seem like a grotesquely unfunny, off-the-charts high-school relationship farce," when the reality seems much the opposite. The film has a dismal 11% RT rating. Smells like a tax write-off.
The next biggest film in wide release is one called, "Blood: The Last Vampire," that no one seems to know or care about it and it has a forgettable, 22% RT rating. Seems like it's made by and for schlock fans only.
In Limited Release: The most "mainstream" film, or the one getting all the press, is the post-mumblecore film, "Humpday" directed by Lynn Shelton and starring Mark Duplass ("The Puffy Chair") and Joshua Leonard ("The Blair Witch Project"). The comedy about two best friends who face a dare to have sex with one another seems well-beloved and has a very positive, 87% RT rating which makes us sometimes think critics are easy lays. It's... fine we suppose. It has its laughs, the performances are not embarrassing (like many mumble films), it feels more professional than usual (which still means it looks butt ugly) and is capable piece of low-rent, indie filmmaking with small goals, but it didn't impress that much. Considering all the latent homosexual subtext within there seems like a lot of places this film could have gone, but as TimeOut New York aptly writes (and thanks for articulating this so well for us), the film's concluding, "dramatic tidiness...belies its early potency." If you write for Indiewire, Spoutblog and or read both, it's probably mandatory that you think this film is brilliant. #tease
One rating we can wholeheartedly endorse is that of "Soul Power," the wonderful documentary directed by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte about the "Rumble In The Jungle" concert which never got its due. The story goes like this: as you know Muhammad Ali and George Forman had a legendary boxing match in 1974. This famous face-off was spectacularly documented in the film, "When We Were Kings." What was shot and overshadowed by that incredible bout was the Zaire '74 concert featuring James Brown, Bill Withers, B.B. King and many other great funk and American R&B bands, partly because the 'Rumble' fight was pushed back three weeks because of a Foreman eye injury, but the concert itself could not be rescheduled. Got that? So the show went on and was lovingly shot and documented by the the same people who lensed "When We Were Kings," including camera work by cinéma vérité greats like Albert Maysles.
However, that concert was only peripherally included in the 1996 Academy-Award-winning picture and one of the editors, Levy-Hinte realized there was a treasure trove of musical footage to mine and set out to give the concert its proper documentary. And his instincts were on-point. The performances in the film are arresting and spectacular and the entire film has the same vibrant and pulsing pre-anticipating lead-up to the event that 'Kings' has. The camera work drops you right in the middle of the action and performances by Celia Cruz, the Crusaders and James Brown are thrilling hot fire. This picture manages to be intimate yet spectacle-like and up there with great concert docs like "Wattstax," and "Gimme Shelter." It's a great treat with infectious energy and it has a solid 82% rating. It was so riveting and rousing, this Caucasian critic all of sudden thought he was black on Twitter. This is basically our review as we didn't have time to write one, but we recommend the picture highly.
Other pictures in limited release include "Lake Tahoe" (80% RT rating, we admittedly know nothing about it), "Vanished Empire" (60% RT rating, again never heard of), "Weather Girl" (N/A rating, meaning like five critics have seen it which does not bode well) and "Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Goldberg," about a popular radio & TV show during the '20s-through-'50s that boasts the tagline, "Before The Cosby Show, The Jeffersons, Good Times, or even I Love Lucy, there was The Goldbergs. It has a great 94% rating, but smells like something most people will catch on DVD.
Other than that? For New York-centric retro-cinema, the Andrei Tarkovsky retrospective at Walter Reade is in full swing and you'll see us there this weekend and we can't wait for the Nicholas Ray retrospective at Film Forum in late July-through-August. Choose wisely or don't choose at all (there's always DVD, or god forbid, going outdoors and enjoying the weather). Francoise Truffaut's ode to his favorite interrogation subject, Alfred Hitchock, "Mississippi Mermaid," with Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo is also playing at BAM.
Depending on your perspective, this is either a fairly good, or fairly mediocre box-office weekend. We'll have to disagree with the former for the most part, but perhaps that's just us. Although it was dubbed a "tie" last weekend, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" did eventually out perform "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" by about just over half a million dollars. But there's probably no way either of them can hang onto the top spot this weekend (though holding onto #2 still seems reasonable consider the so-so offerings).