Well, I ventured out of my art house hole last week to catch a Friday morning showing of Snakes on a Plane (a whopping 3555 screens) and I loved it. I finally got the summer movie I wanted. I was ready to hate it, I admit, mostly because I was peeved about New Line not screening it for the press, and all the B.S. they churned out to explain themselves ("it's not a movie for the critics," "everyone's going to get to see it together," etc.). In the end, they wound up with a fairly paltry $15 million gross, mainly because the core audience -- you good folks, the savvy Internet users -- got wind of the film not screening for the press and assumed it was a loser. With a slate of good reviews, mine included, I guarantee business would have been a bit brisker.
While we're at it, let me duck back down into my dank, darkened art house realm and talk about guilty pleasures. Let's start at the bottom, with a gay romantic comedy, The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green, currently hanging on by its manicured nails on one lousy screen with barely enough gross to pay back the caterers. Based on a comic strip, the film is about a wishy-washy hero who can't decide what he wants; when his boyfriend asks him to move in, he panics and breaks up. Most reviewers complained about this guy (played by Daniel Letterle), but the performance was just sunny and flighty enough to score a win. Not to mention that the entire movie has a sort of goofball unreality to it; it sets up the rules that anything is allowed to happen, then it plays by those rules and plays hard.
The superbad girl samurai flick Azumi (currently on 2 screens) received similarly bad reviews, but I can't figure out why. It's a crisp, bloody, exciting battle flick with lots of flamboyant bad guys and a cute-as-pie heroine who can slice open a combatant eight different ways. It must be the "B" movie factor that I spoke about last week; critics just can't recognize a good one when they see it.
Andy Garcia's The Lost City is also hanging on, doing not too badly and playing on 3 screens despite the fact that it's currently available on DVD. The critics also destroyed this one, but I found its charming allusions to Casablanca and The Godfather, its political fury, its passionate music and its wonderful Bill Murray supporting turn worth cherishing, even if the film is over-directed and more than just a little bit awkward.
Billy Kent's The OH in Ohio is another one that seems to have flown right over the critics' heads -- or at least under their radar. It's a silly, very funny tale about a married couple who have bad sex and their attempts to set things right, even if they have to go their separate ways. Parker Posey gives one of her most frantically funny performances -- catch the scene in which she tries to buy a sex toy -- and Mischa Barton is very easy on the eyes as Paul Rudd's teenage sex toy.
I also couldn't believe the lukewarm critical response to Peyton Reed's The Break-Up, the odd, anti-romantic comedy with Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston. As far as battle-of-the-sexes go, this one plays out with startling emotional logic, and it's disguised as a comedy! If anything, I thought the critics would love it and audiences would hate it, but it happened the other way around. It's on 157 screens after 12 weeks with over $100 million in its pocket.
Likewise, I was alone on Woody Allen's Scoop (367 screens). Was I really the only one who thought this was funny? Maybe I'm too much of a Woody Allen apologist...
Finally, and this one really hurts, I can't believe the hate directed toward The Lake House, dropping to 248 screens in shame after 10 weeks with a minimal $51 million gross. Sure it was only the 587th remake of an Asian film this year so far, and sure it has a ridiculous ending, but what soul! What chemistry! I saw this film on a date with my wife and I left feeling all gushy.Enough of my whining. Let's end with a near-great film with good critical scores so far: Patrice Chéreau's Gabrielle (currently on 4 screens). It's probably way too cold and intelligent for most American audiences, but this portrait of a marriage in tatters is just extraordinary. Chéreau uses all kinds of cinema tricks, from carefully calculated close-ups and cutting to slow motion and even switching from black-and-white to color. All of it is designed to keep the audience on its toes, not to mention the superb performances by the great stars Pascal Greggory and Isabelle Huppert.