In Larry Crowne Tom Hanks plays the title character an affable middle-aged floor manager at a big box department store who loses his job because he never went to college. Lacking a secondary income source (his wife divorced him a few years prior) and underwater on his mortgage he sets out to find new employment but is met with universal rejection. If any of these developments affect him in any significant way you can scarcely tell from his countenance: A plaintive drive home and the occasional watering of the eyes are the only indications of any kind of turmoil within.
All of which hints that Larry Crowne which Hanks also directed and co-wrote (with Nia Vardalos) might be one of those films in which a repressed and emotionally stunted individual gradually comes to face the pain he’s buried enjoys an epiphany or two and lets go of it all in a grand (and presumably Oscar-worthy) catharsis. (That or he shoots up a Dairy Queen.) Only it isn’t. It’s a breezy genial comedy about a guy who enrolls in a community college joins a crew of scooter-riders and hits it off with his speech teacher.
The teacher Mercedes (Julia Roberts) is everything Larry isn’t: dry cynical tired. She’s lost her passion for education and is mired in a toxic marriage with a noxious layabout (Bryan Cranston) whose novel-writing efforts are really just a cover for an internet porn obsession. There’s no reason the two should connect romantically other than the fact that he’s Tom Hanks and she’s Julia Roberts. This appraisal might as well extend to the film as a whole which skates by lazily on the charm and charisma of its two stars never deigning to proffer anything more substantial than their adorable mugs.
Among a rote and forgettable assemblage of supporting characters the only one who manages to register at all is Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) a coquettish free-spirited fellow-student who makes Larry her personal project re-arranging his living room upgrading his wardrobe and coaxing him to be more adventurous. Why she bothers to do any of this is never explained. Is she luring him into a shady business scheme? Is she the recruiter for an apocalyptic cult? An insatiable schlub fetish perhaps? Without any discernible motive we’re left to assume that she takes to him simply because he’s Tom Hanks. I mean who wouldn’t want to ride scooters with Tom Hanks? (I’ll tell you who: Al Qaida.)
Larry Crowne is a film I desperately wanted to like. Certainly its central message of perseverance and optimism in the face of hardship is a noble one. But aside from its two stars a few laughs and a handful of endearing moments there’s precious little to it. By the end of the film I felt like I barely knew any of these people despite having spent the last 90 minutes with them. Nor did I particularly want to know them. Except for Tom and Julia of course. Aren’t they just wonderful?
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Drive Angry directed by Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine 3D) is an action thriller with a resolutely trashy grindhouse ethos. This weekend should you require an antidote to the Academy Awards’ hauteur pretentiousness and altogether unreasonable commitment to quality this lowbrow orgy of carnage nudity and roaring muscle cars will surely do the trick. Then again so will a few episodes of Jersey Shore. But that show unlike Drive Angry isn’t available in eye-bludgeoning 3D. Yet.
The film stars Nicolas Cage as John Milton a cigar-chomping Jack Daniels-swilling ex-con who has escaped from hell (literally) to save his granddaughter from being sacrificed by an apocalyptic cult. Fear not B-movie aficionados: The character’s name a winking nod to the author of Paradise Lost is about the only discernibly literary or philosophical element to be found in Drive Angry which otherwise keeps its aim squarely below the waist. Knowledge of Milton’s 17th-century epic poem or of literature in general is not required for the enjoyment of this film. In fact it might hinder it.
Some films inadvertently earn the “so-bad-it’s-good” label; Drive Angry aspires to it. The plot is spotty and nonsensical crafted mainly to connect the dots between bloody spurts of stylized mayhem. Milton drifts through various small southern towns populated entirely with louts and sluts leaving behind a trail of bodyparts as he rushes to confront the cult leader (Billy Burke) who abducted his granddaughter and who intends to offer her up to the Dark Lord at the next full moon.
Along the way he picks up a sidekick Piper (Amber Heard) a pugilistic potty-mouth in daisy dukes included in the film for the very express purpose of giving us something pretty to look at betwixt the gory shootouts and car chases – a considerate gesture on the part of the filmmakers truth be told. She is however only tangentially related to the plot. Which would be a problem if plot were a priority.
Drive Angry’s holy triumvirate of sex violence and muscle cars merges into one unified splatter-drenched whole during the film’s climax in which Milton launches his ’69 Dodge Charger into the center of an orgiastic cult gathering picking off with a shotgun the few revelers he can’t run over before finally following through on his pledge to drink a bottle of beer from the skull of his dead nemesis. This is actually one of the film's more endearing moments.
Cage for his part has a few moments of inspired batshitry my favorite being a scene in which he enjoys a bizarre sexually charged exchange with a randy waitress before pulling her in for a sloppy French kiss but for the most part his eccentricity is disappointingly muted. He’s more of a grim gunslinger out of the Sergio Leone mold in Drive Angry shooting much and saying little which doesn’t leave much room for those manic outbursts I’ve come to regard with such genuine affection.
Slyly stealing the show from Cage in Drive Angry is the man who pursues him The Accountant played by esteemed character actor William Fichtner. A sort of bounty hunter sent by the devil to bring Milton back to hell The Accountant moves with a kind of creepy grace his utter disregard for conventions of personal space throwing every character he encounters off-balance. Fichtner’s wry observations are the comedic highlight of a movie that tries hard to ape the dark offbeat humor of Tarantino's Death Proof but falls woefully short in the end.
[IMG: L Angels & Demons beat the Vulcans and Romulans in a box-office death match as Star Trek is nudged out of the top spot in a very close race.
A terrific opening for Sony/Columbia’s Angels & Demons as the summer-movie season keeps marching toward that revenue record I’ve been talking about for a couple of months. Great product is driving this incredible momentum as evidenced by the miniscule summer blockbuster second weekend drop of Star Trek of only 45 percent! This is almost unheard of for a film that opened so huge, but with a level of quality that transcends the genre, the film will have “legs” — or as Spock would say: “live long and prosper” at the box office.
Angels & Demons, the action-packed follow-up to 2006's mega-hit The Da Vinci Code, earned $48 million this weekend with $16.6 million on Friday, $17.8 million on Saturday and $13.6 million on Sunday. Back on May 19 of 2006, The Da Vinci Code opened with a massive $77 million and went on to earn $217 million in domestic receipts and over $750 million worldwide! Da Vinci captured the zeitgeist of the moment and carried with it the momentum of the massive sales of the Dan Brown novel. Still, this is a great result for Angels, and it also does not hurt that Tom Hanks is back (and with a better haircut) along with director Ron Howard, hot on the heels of his amazing direction of Frost/Nixon.
Star Trek landed in second in a near-photo finish as the well-reviewed and well-liked film beamed up another $43 million in intergalactic loot, closing in on the $150 million mark domestically. A “tribble-sized” second weekend drop made it a formidable competitor in this robust marketplace, and it should continue to generate solid returns in the weeks to come.
In third is Fox’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine with an impressive third weekend take of $14.8 million and a domestic cume of $151.1 million. After a steep 69 percent second weekend drop, just a 44 percent third weekend drop indicates that audiences are enjoying the X-Men ride as part of their summer movie diet.
Matthew McConaughey just will not budge out of the top five as Warner’s Ghosts of Girlfriends Past continues to reap the benefits of being a very non-summer-style film amidst the season; the number-four flick rang up another $6.8 million, reaching the $40 million plateau.
Rounding out the top five is Sony/Screen Gems' Obsessed, which audiences seem to be obsessed with as it remains a mainstay in rank. Its fourth weekend of release draws an impressive $4.5 million against a tiny 31 percent drop and a total of $62.6 million for the hugely profitable adult drama.
No discussion of this weekend would be complete without a mention of one of my favorite films of the year, Summit Entertainment’s The Brothers Bloom. Released in just four theaters, the film earned $82,000 and posted an impressive per-theater average of $20,500. The film expands into a wider release on the 22nd and the 29th of May, and I urge everyone to go see this unique and hugely entertaining comedic romp.
The second “up” weekend in a row puts the year-to-date box office at a solid 16 percent advantage at this point over last year and attendance at 13.25 percent ahead as we look forward to another huge weekend as Warner’s Terminator Salvation and Fox’s Night at the Museum 2 prepare to continue this massive winning streak at the nation’s theaters.
1. NEW! Angels & Demons (Sony/Columbia) - $48M; 3527 theaters; $13,609 PTA
2. Star Trek (Paramount) - $43M; 3860 theaters; $11,140 PTA; -43%; $147.6M cume
3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Fox) - $14.8M; 3892 theaters; $3,803 PTA; -44%; $151M cume
4. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (Warner Bros.) - $6.8M; 3150 theaters; $2,178 PTA; -33%; $40M cume
5. Obsessed (Sony/Screen Gems) - $4.5M; 2634 theaters; $1,727 PTA; -31%; $62.5M cume
6. 17 Again (Warner Bros.) - $3.4M; 2450 theaters; $1,388 PTA; -20%; $58.3M cume
7. Monsters vs. Aliens (Paramount) - $3M; 1951 theaters; $1,538 PTA; -8%; $190.5M cume
8. The Soloist (Paramount) - $2.4M; 2022 theaters; $1,199 PTA; -39%; $27.5M cume
9. Next Day Air (Summit) - $2.2M; 1139 theaters; $2,003 PTA; -45%; $7.6M cume
10. Earth (Disney) - $1.6M; 1584 theaters; $1,061 PTA; -37%; $29M cume
MORE BOX OFFICE:
LAST WEEK'S B.O.: Star Trek Beams Up Millions!
Even though the 61st edition of the Cannes Film Festival officially ends this weekend--and most of the buyers and sellers have left town (a lot with nothing to show for it)--the stars (not to mention the sun which has finally come out after too many gloomy days) can still be found.
Robert De Niro, star of Barry Levinson’s closing night Hollywood satire What Just Happened?, is arriving today and will be put to work at Sunday’s closing ceremony by presenting the biggie--the prestigious Palme d’Or--for best of fest as voted on by a jury led by Sean Penn and including actress Natalie Portman and director Alfonso Cuaron, among others.
What Just Happened? is one of many films still for sale as it went home from January’s Sundance Fest without one. It’s been reported Levinson has re-edited the film for it’s Cannes unveiling Sunday, so critics--thinking they may have seen it already in Sundance--will have to go again to see how he has fixed the poorly reviewed film about the film industry.
A walk through the market finds several others in the same boat: some still without (at least announced ) U.S. distribution deals including My Life In Ruins, a reunion between Nia Vardalos and her My Big Fat Greek Wedding producers Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman. They have served up a Love Boat-like story in which Vardalos plays a tour guide in Greece, trying to balance romance and a group of looney supporting players. Sound familiar? They are clearly trying to bottle the Greek Wedding box office magic a second time, but no takers as of yet
As for the aforementioned Jury, some of them--like Portman and actress Alexandra Maria Lara--turned up Thursday evening a few miles out of town at Le Moulins Des Mougins restaurant for the glamorous hot ticket event of Cannes: Cinema Against AIDS, which Weinstein Co. head Harvey Weinstein started 14 years ago at Cannes to raise money to fight AIDS. Last year, they made $7.5 million, a record which they hope to at least match this year despite tougher economic times.
Harvey used the occasion to lobby the jury members present to vote for Che, the nearly four and a half hour movie(s) he saw the night before and labeled “a masterpiece, the most ambitious project I have seen in 25 years of coming to Cannes”. Sounds like he’s in the hunt to buy it.
As usual, Sharon Stone and Madonna ran the celebrity auction which drew $350,000 for a private two-song Madonna concert in the fall, and $500,000 for a Porsche Stone and her brother restored among many other big ticket items. Stone also jumped into the audience to try and make out with Sean P. Combs if he would bid $320,000 for a personal Julian Schnabel portrait painting. He didn’t budge.
Mary J. Blige performed a brilliant three-song set that had the very well-heeled tony crowd dancing like teenagers. As Harvey told us at the pre-dinner cocktail party, this hot ticket event (Chair Kenneth Cole said they could have sold it out three times over) is so successful year after year because of one word.
September 16, 2005 5:05am EST
The socially inept Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon) is a workaholic doctor who never leaves the hospital. Her married sister Abby (Dina Waters) tries in vain to set up with a good man to no avail. But fate is about to intervene. On her way home from a long shift Elizabeth gets into a head-on collision with a semi-truck and suddenly the lines between life and death are blurred. Jumping forward we meet David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo) a guy wallowing in self-pity from the death of his wife two years earlier who to find some solitude moves into a fabulous furnished apartment. What he doesn't know is the previous tenant hasn't left not really. That's right it was Elizabeth's apartment and for whatever reason (seriously they don't entirely explain it) Elizabeth--or her spirit I guess--hasn't grasped the idea that she is in well limbo. Only David can see her of course as she yells at him for leaving sweat rings on the coffee table but Elizabeth eventually grows on him. She elicits his help in finding out what happened to her and with a little help from the eccentric Darryl (Jon Heder) a bookstore employee who has the gift for sensing spirits David and Elizabeth find that heaven and earth are not really that far apart.
As our romantic pair Witherspoon and Ruffalo do an adequate job adhering to the staid romantic comedy formula. Witherspoon is one of the more consistent comedic actresses these days and has the sweet but controlling ingénue routine down to a science. But it may be time for her to take a break from the standard fare and head back to the indies getting down and dirty like she did in Election. Ruffalo does a pretty impressive job for his second time as the romantic lead. As he did with 13 Going on 30 Ruffalo at least tries to add some quirky twists to a boring character. Still he should also probably stick to showcasing his dramatic acting talent in cool indies much like he did in You Can Count on Me. It's Heaven's side characters who have all the fun. Waters (The Haunted Mansion) does a nice turn as the caring sister who's own hectic life as a mother of two rambunctious kids always seems to interfere with what she's doing. Donal Logue (TV's Grounded For Life) as David's therapist best friend too has a fun time yuking it up. But the real standout in an otherwise dull universe is Napoleon Dynamite himself Jon Heder in his second feature film. He's still a geek but at least this time he's a mystical one who knows a thing or two about wandering spirits. Of course he also gets the best lines: "I'm 99.9 percent parched here. I need a cola." I'm going to use that one from now on.
As the director of the satirical Mean Girls and the cutesy Freaky Friday Mark Waters may be out of his element with an out and out romantic comedy. The initial idea about a women whose stuck in the spirit world until she finds the true love she never sought after in life is somewhat intriguing. But rather than play with that the film just ends up your standard romantic comedy while also stealing from other films such as Ghost and The Sixth Sense. Just Like Heaven also has some serious logistical flaws. For example seeing how Elizabeth is supposed to be a ghost--that she can't touch anything tangible and can walk through walls tables and just about anything else--she is later seen laying on top of a table. It doesn't make sense as to how she can walk through it at one moment and be on it the next. And the fact you are paying attention to these inconsistencies means you just aren't caring that much about the rest of the film.