NEW MOON SET TO RISE AGAIN
Box office fortune tellers, who were bitten badly last week when The Twilight Saga: New Moon drew near-record crowds and nearly double the revenue of many of their forecasts, are sticking their necks out again and predicting that it will take a steep dive over the Thanksgiving Day holiday. Many of them are taking their cue from the original Twilight movie, which dropped 62 percent in its second weekend a year ago. But, as the Los Angeles Times, which optimistically predicted last week that New Moon would earn $90 million in its official U.S. debut (it wound up with $142.8 million), noted, after New Moon "blew away expectations ... few in Hollywood feel comfortable making predictions on how it will perform going forward. It's quite possible that the movie could beat industry predictions once again."
MOVIE REVIEWS: OLD DOGS
Old Dogs is a "turkey," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, getting into the holiday spirit. So does Ty Burr in the Boston Globe and a host of online reviewers, including one who compared it with "rancid leftovers ... a toxic turkey." Several critics note that the film had originally been set for release last April but was postponed due to the death of Bernie Mac, who has a small role in it. "I can think of another way that they might have respected his memory," writes Ebert, and Burr adds: "If they had any respect for audiences, they might never have released it at all." Stephen Holden in the New York Times has to reach for a deplorable description of the movie. Calling it "a ramshackle mess doesn't begin to evoke the confusion and sloppy continuity of a movie whose disconnected parts sometimes appear to have been randomly assembled from a cutting-room scrap heap," he remarks. Kyle Smith in the New York Post doesn't even attempt to put too fine a point on it and courts a rebuke from PETA. "Old Dogs does to the screen what old dogs do to the carpet," he gibes. "It's unfortunate that only the latter can be taken out and shot." John Anderson in the Washington Post refers to it as a "comedic atrocity." As for the performances of stars John Travolta and Robin Williams, Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News comments: "Travolta, who delivers an impressively enthusiastic performance, seems to have no idea that he's stuck in one of the year's worst movies. The perpetually pained expression on Williams' face, however, suggests he knows otherwise." And Michael Phillips suggests that the two ought to have starred in a film called Bumps on Logs. "Truly, I would rather watch John Travolta and Robin Williams sitting on a tree trunk, doing nothing, than endure their best efforts to energize this ol' hound."
MOVIE REVIEWS: ME AND ORSON WELLES
Me and Orson Welles was intended in part to showcase the acting chops of teen idol Zac Efron -- and also to bring his considerable following into the movie theater -- many of whom, no doubt, have never heard of Orson Welles. But not a few reviewers suggest that the Richard Linklater movie would have been far more enjoyable if it had focused on Welles and not the teenage character who inadvertently becomes a part of Welles's famed Mercury Theater ensemble at about the time the 22-year-old enfant terible of the theater was staging Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (in which he also appeared as Brutus). As Welles in real life upstaged every other actor in his presence, so, too does Christian McKay, the virtually unknown British actor who portrays him in this movie, many of the critics suggest. McKay, writes A.O. Scott in the New York Times, portrays Welles with "superhuman confidence. His evident relish in the dimensions of this role is a crucial part of the performance. It's so much fun to play Orson Welles because it must have been at least as much fun to be Orson Welles." Likewise Claudia Puig in USA Today writes: "McKay's performance is a revelation. He nails Welles' imperiousness, charm and vocal cadences, and even bears a strong resemblance to the iconic actor/director. He is thoroughly convincing as Welles and electrifies the screen when he's on it." Indeed, that may be both the strength and weakness of the movie, Betsy Sharkey implies in the Los Angeles Times. "McKay's command of the subject is so Welles-ian that when he's in a scene everyone else fades a little," she observes. In fact, some critics are suggesting that McKay might very well end up winning the best-actor award at next year's Oscars, something that always eluded the real-life Welles. (He shared a screenplay Oscar for Citizen Kane.) Welles, writes Mary Pols in Time magazine, "is brilliantly embodied by Christian McKay in one of those, hey-who's-that? performances that tends to draw Oscar talk, even if the film itself isn't much more than an extremely pleasant lark."
MOVIE REVIEWS: RED CLIFF
Opening in limited release is John Woo's epic Red Cliff, the most expensive Chinese film ever made and featuring -- literally -- a cast of thousands. The American release runs 2 1/2 hours, about half the length of the movie when it was originally released in China earlier this year (not including an intermission). Critics appear impressed with the grandeur of the production; less so with its script. As Amy Biancolli writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: "The movie doesn't handle nuance too well, and the dialogue spins pretty frequently into unmitigated corniness. But anyone who enjoys stylized hyper-violence should be enthralled by this long, sweeping, murderously vivid dramatization of ancient Chinese warfare, circa A.D. 208." Indeed, Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal comments, "The immensity encompasses such variety, subtlety and intimacy that you may find yourself yearning for more." The critics also bestow high praise on the actors, in particular Tony Leung; several of them use the term "impressive" to describe his performance. But Mike Hale in the New York Times seems less than overwhelmed by the movie's epic scale. "Red Cliff, while handsome and intelligent and perfectly easy to sit through," he writes, "never really approaches the visceral tug of Mr. Woo's Hong Kong hits." Undoubtedly, the entire five-hour original will be available on DVD in the months ahead, but John Anderson in the Washington Post comments. "There should be a law against seeing this thing anywhere but in a theater. It's a big ol' movie, the way Lawrence of Arabia was a big ol' movie."
MOVIE REVIEWS: THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG
Disney is opening The Princess and the Frog in two theaters in New York and Los Angeles for a two-week special engagement before its national roll-out. In the apparent belief that audiences may feel short-changed by the lack of computer animation -- it's drawn by hand -- and 3D, the studio is compensating with a lot of marketing pizzazz, including games and other activities being presented next to the the theater. In Los Angeles, it's actually being screened on the Disney lot, the first time in memory that a studio has opened its gates to the public as part of a theatrical run. It's all totally unnecessary, most of the critics seem to agree. The movie stands beautifully on its own, returning Disney to its glory days. "What a relief to watch an animated movie without 3-D glasses!" writes Claudia Puig in USA Today, "And what a pleasure, after a season of bland computer-generated tales, to be swept up in the visual magic of The Princess and the Frog." Likewise, Betsy Sharkey writes in the Los Angeles Times: "After being bombarded by so much computer-generated, motion-captured high-and-higher jinks, the film feels fresh -- a discovery, or a rediscovery, depending on your age." "Enchanted!" exclaims Lou Lumenick in the New York Post. "The Disney magic -- not to be confused with the delights of its Pixar subsidiary -- is finally back, after a decade in the animated wilderness." Most of the reviews make only passing reference to the fact that the movie features the first black princess in Disney history. But Manohla Dargis in the New York Times faults the movie for doing so itself. After all, the princess spends much of her on-screen time as a frog. "It's not easy being green, the heroine of The Princess and the Frog discovers," Dargis writes. "But to judge from how this polished, hand-drawn movie addresses, or rather strenuously avoids, race, it is a lot more difficult to be black, particularly in a Disney animated feature." But perhaps the basic problem with the film, Joe Neumaier suggests in the New York Daily News, is that this princess is "achingly one-dimensional."
MOVIE REVIEWS: NINJA ASSASSIN
Ninja Assassin, starring Korean pop star Rain, is getting the predictably lousy reviews such films ordinarily elicit. "No one expects much from a film like this, except R-rated bloodletting with some excitement to it," Michael Phillips remarks in the Chicago Tribune, noting that the "target audience" has "already spent weeks vivisecting bad guys on one gaming system or another, most of them without turning into sadistic killers in real life." As usual, Kyle Smith in the New York Post offers the most cutting put-down: "Not to brag, but who is this Ninja Assassin fellow compared to me? He: gets sliced to the bone by whirling blades, is blasted unconscious by stun guns and does handstands on a bed of nails. I: sat through Old Dogs." [The critics themselves are eliciting reviews of their reviews on their newspapers' own blogs. One writer posted this message on the Post's movie blog: "I haven't seen this yet, but all I can say to all these 'big time critics' out there is...ARE YOU ALL RETARDED. The Critics in the New York Post, LA Times and all these other big name places must really hate action, gore and martial arts; because I'm all for it. I'm so anxious to see this thing that I'm tearing the hair off my head in antisipatioin (sic)."]