Since his days directing sketches for comedy troupe The State and his seminal debut feature Wet Hot American Summer David Wain has been expertly calculating ways to make his brand of absurdist humor work within the rigid conventional world of Hollywood movies. His latest Wanderlust is the perfect example of a hollow rom-com template that Wain fills to the brim with bizarre jokes and perfectly timed physical humor. His soldier of fortune is Paul Rudd who brings the golden ratio: looks of a leading man and a comedic gravitas that is unmatched. Rudd's at the top of his game whether he's landing a one-liner stretching his face to Jim Carrey-like proportions or reacting to his maniac co-stars the actor delivers—making Wanderlust charming deranged and very funny.
George (Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston better suited for this wacky comedy than you'd think) are a happily married couple living in New York attempting to live the dream lifestyle without any of the reality to fall back on. It doesn't work—George loses his job Linda fails to sell her documentary on penguin testicular cancer and the two find themselves forced to sell their "micro-loft" in the West Village and move in with George's brother in Atlanta. During their epic car ride George and Linda make a pit stop at a local Georgian B&B only to discover it's a counterculture commune home to an eclectic group determined to live on their own alternative terms. The inhabitants of "Elysium" range from nudists to tai chi experts to organic farmers but they all have one goal: live free. Realizing they don't have too much else going on in their lives (their alternative is shacking up with George's materialistic misogynistic businessman brother Rick played by the amazing Ken Marino) George and Linda dive head first into the off-beat world of Elysium.
Wanderlust dishes out its fair share of oddities when exploring the world of Elysium but isn't content in simply exploiting those quirks. Wain who co-wrote the script with Marino fleshes out the ensemble and makes keen choices so that no character is just a face in a crowd. Comedy pros like Justin Theroux Alan Alda Malin Akerman Joe Lo Truglio Kathryn Hahn Kerri Kenney Lauren Ambrose and more round out the cast and help color the world of Elysium piling laughs on top of laughs with every scene. Theroux stands out as Seth a spiritual leader for the group who begins to woo Linda away from George with his savvy guitar skills and potent herbal teas. Seth's slow and steady demeanor is a welcome change from the usual rapid-fire style seen in the modern comedy (the movie was produced by Judd Apatow so it wouldn't have been a surprise to see the approach replicated in Wanderlust) making us laugh in a zen fashion.
Meanwhile George just can't get anything right from group "truth circle" exercises to drinking coffee made of dirt to Elysium's "free love pact " which gives both he and his wife the chance to sexually explore outside of their relationship. The couple quickly realizes the freedom of their new home divides them and Wain's sensitivity to story and character evolve the relationship in a rather conventional yet desirable fashion.
Wanderlust falls somewhere between a Katherine Heigl romantic comedy vehicle and the pleasantly obscene work of Wain's past—and it may catch some off guard. The movie doesn't mind throwing in a bit of male nudity playing with abrasive repetition or those who find laughs in patience. The movie fully embraces the weird while never lettings its characters slip fully into caricature. Much like George and Linda's own dilemma Wanderlust wants to find harmony between the mainstream and the not-so-much. Thankfully it achieves inner peace.
I’m going to go back on something. Is that what they call it nowadays? Going back on something? Anyhow, last week I bent over backwards trying to comprehend the sheer badness of Francis Ford Coppola’s Jack, but now, having just watched Coppola’s The Rainmaker, I have a much simpler way of understanding why Jack is so bad. Francis Ford Coppola’s fatal flaw is sentimentality. Really. All of his weaker films – The Rain People, One from the Heart, The Godfather III and Jack – are grand symphonies of sentimentality. I would go so far as to say thait his four masterpieces – The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II and Apocalypse Now – are masterpieces exactly because they depict characters who fight with all their power to achieve a world of perfect sentiment – and fail. Which, naturally, is Coppola’s story as well.
After watching every single Coppola movie I think it’s possible to appreciate 1997’s The Rainmaker for the wonderfully well-balanced acheivement that it is. In this movie, Coppola manages what he hasn’t pulled off in two decades. He makes a totally compotent movie that neither idulges in sentimentatlity nor falls into cynicism. The Rainmaker depicts a world in which sentiment and cynicism coexist, where every victory comes at a price, and where nobody gets exactly what they want.
The Rainmaker’s probably the best movie based on a John Grisham novel. Roger Ebert, of all people, put it well when he pointed out that while most Grisham adaptations pare the story down to a single dramatic action, as movies tend to do, The Rainmaker puts us into the world of being a lawyer. Matt Damon’s Rudy Baylor navigates multiple clients in this story, and each one has their own needs and problems. The fluid and engaging way Coppola moves Rudy through his clients worlds brings us into the struggles of a young man who still believes that the law can bring justice to the innocent. Where does he get to by the end of the story? You won’t know until you get there. The Rainmaker isn’t Jack. It isn’t The Converstation either, but it’s solid, compotent and consistently engaging.
If Jack was a slog and Apocalypse Now is an epic journey, then The Rainmaker is a nice ride. Coppola gets out of the way and lets the whole thing just sort of roll out, but at the same time it’s got just the right amount of political bite – not over the top, not bang on your head, but flowing naturally from story and character.
It isn’t the capstone of a consitently brilliant career. It doesn’t reach the heights of Coppola’s four masterpieces, but it is a solid piece of entertainment that has a wholesome thread of social consciousness to make you feel like you’ve had a healthy meal. To mix a few metaphors.
With The Rainmaker, I’m going to wrap up this survey of the films of Francis Ford Coppola. His more recent work, Youth Without Youth and Tetro, can hardly be considered classic. They’re far too recent, and I think it’s important to watch this third act of Coppola’s career play out before we can understand what it all means.
I come out of all of this with a great deal of love for Francis Ford Coppola. Yes, love. Not brotherly love or familial love, but the kind of love one can’t help but aquire when looking at the life of a person who worked hard to realize his vision. Coppola didn’t succeed all the time, and when he’s bad, he’s really bad. But with only a couple exceptions, Coppola fought to bring his singular vision, artistic ambition, full heart, and social consciousness to his films. And he always brought a technical expertise to his work that bears study from fillmmakers for years to come.
He’s an American artist we’re lucky to have. And I, for one, am glad that he’s finally at place where he can make the movies he wants to make. I honestly think he deserves it.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Disney takes another whack at “Witch Mountain” having found success more than three decades ago with Escape to Witch Mountain and its sequel. Now the story has been contemporized and Bourne-ified to create what is essentially a nonstop breathless race across long winding roads and two worlds competing for superiority. As in the original two children with extraordinary powers seek to save Earth and their own planet from evil forces. They waste no time jumping into a hapless Las Vegas taxi driver’s cab ordering him to put the pedal to the metal. It soon becomes clear the secret to their quest lies somewhere in Witch Mountain a place where top-secret government activity has been going on for years. With their own alien military leaders in favor of a violent takeover and the U.S. leaders ready for confrontation these two teens Sara and Seth plus their cabbie Jack Bruno race against time to find a better solution for both of their worlds.
WHO’S IN IT?
Fast becoming Disney’s go-to guy Dwayne Johnson (formerly known as The Rock) follows up his hit football comedy The Game Plan with another family-oriented tale in which he again gets upstaged by kids. His Jack Bruno proves the perfect foil this time as he gets to be funny cynical commanding and heroic all in the course of about 97 minutes. As events careen out of his control Johnson grows increasingly exasperated and that’s part of the fun. As Sara a smart extraterrestrial teen Anna-Sophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia) is ideally cast bringing a nice believability to the role without falling into stereotypes. Seth is well played but with one-note earnestness by Alexander Ludwig who still comes off a little too robotic at times. As an astrophysicist who gets caught up in the trio’s predicament Carla Gugino is a delight. Lead among the antagonists is Irish actor Ciaran Hinds who is properly mean and heartless when it comes to aliens of any stripe. Director Garry Marshall has an amusing cameo as a self-styled UFO expert and there are brief but welcome appearances by the all-grown-up Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann who played the ‘70s incarnation of the alien kids in the earlier films. Richards’ face-to-face meeting with Robb is especially sweet.
The filmmakers wisely keep the retro tone of the book and earlier films while using state-of-the-art visual effects and movie magic. A lot of sci-fi movies have come along since Escape to Witch Mountain premiered in 1975 – see Star Wars Close Encounters and E.T. And while Witch Mountain circa 2009 won’t do anything to make us forget those classics it’s good fun -- like welcoming back an old friend.
There’s no complexity in sight and the story isn’t given a lot of time to breathe. We barely get to know Jack Bruno before the kids have hijacked his cab and the whirlwind begins. A little more exposition and plot development would have been welcomed for those with an attention span beyond two minutes.
There are lots of first-rate action set pieces including a collision with a train and a chase through a Vegas casino but the climactic spaceship battle can’t be topped. Kids are going to eat this sequence up.
After showing Jack her alien prowess for the first time by making various items in his cab float in mid-air Sara says “you humans don’t move objects because you don’t develop your full brain capacity”. Bruno replies “No I don’t do it because it’s kind of creepy.”
October 19, 2003 1:46pm EST
There was lots of slicing and dicing at the box office this weekend as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Leatherface took on Kill Bill's Bride, proving that samurai sword is no match for a grungy power tool.
New Line Cinema proved with its remake of Tobe Hooper's low-budget 1974 cult horror film Texas Chainsaw Massacre that there is strength in a name. The thriller, rated R for strong horror violence/gore, language and drug content, took in an insatiable $29.1 million* over the weekend, which is not surprising considering the film scored very well in its preview screenings, especially with under-25 horror aficionados.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's bloody take was also enough to make it the second best October opener of all time, bumping the comedy 2000 comedy Meet the Parents to third place. TCM follows the likes of October champ Red Dragon, which debuted in 2002 with $36.5 million; the 2000 comedy Meet the Parents, with $28.6 million; the 2002 comedy Jackass: The Movie, with $22.7 million; and the 2001 drama Training Day with $22.5 million.
Last week's box office champ, Quentin Tarantino's equally brutal R rated thriller Kill Bill Vol. 1, wasn't able to fend off Leatherface's onslaught. The film came in second with a tame $12.5 million.
This week's only other new wide release, the courtroom thriller Runaway Jury, debuted in third place with an expected $12.1 million, while the Jack Black comedy School of Rock rolled into fourth place with a rockin' $11.3 million. Clint Eastwood's Oscar buzz pic Mystic River, which took in an impressive $45,491 per-screen average when it debuted in 13 theaters last week, rounded out the Top Five in its first week of wide release with $10.3 million.
THE TOP TEN
New Line Cinema's R rated horror The Texas Chainsaw Massacre debuted with an ESTIMATED $29.1 million in 3,016 theaters with a tangible $9,649 per theater average-the highest of any film playing wide this week.
In the film, a free-spirited road trip across Texas runs headlong into madness for five friends when they encounter a bizarre family and a chainsaw-wielding man known as Leatherface.
Directed by Marcus Nispel, it stars Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Mike Vogel, Erica Leerhsen and Andrew Bryniarski.
Miramax Films' R rated Kill Bill Vol. 1, last week's box office champ, came in second in its second week with an ESTIMATED $12.5 million (-43%) in 3,102 theaters (unchanged, $4,030 per theater). It's cume is approximately $43.3
Directed by Tarantino, it stars Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah and David Carradine.
Twentieth Century Fox's R rated courtroom thriller Runaway Jury opened in third place with an ESTIMATED $12.1 million in 2,815 theaters with a $4,298 per theater average.
In the film, the latest Grisham adaptation, a young widow brings a civil suit against a powerful gun manufacturing corporation she holds responsible for the death of her husband.
Directed by Gary Fleder, it stars John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz.
Paramount Pictures' PG-13 rated comedy School of Rock, dropped two positions to No. 4 in its third week with an ESTIMATED $11.3 million (-27%) in 2,951 theaters (+22 theaters; $3,829 per theater). Its cume is approximately $55.1 million.
Directed by Richard Linklater, it stars Black, Joan Cusack and Michael White.
Warner Bros.' R rated drama Mystic River expanded in its second week to round out the Top Five with an ESTIMATED $10.3 million in 1,467 theaters (+1,454 theaters; $7,059 per theater). Its cume is approximately $13.4 million.
The film centers on three childhood friends who share a tragic event from the past and cross paths again 25 years later when one of the men's daughters is found brutally murdered.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, it stars Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden.
MGM's PG rated canine comedy Good Boy! fell three spots to come in sixth in its third week with an ESTIMATED $9 million (-31%) in 3,225 theaters (unchanged; $2,791 per theater). Its cume is approximately $25.7 million.
Directed by John Hoffman, it stars Liam Aiken and the vocal talents of Matthew Broderick, Brittany Murphy, Carl Reiner and Vanessa Redgrave as the dog Hubble and his four-legged friends.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Universal Pictures' PG 13 rated romantic comedy Intolerable Cruelty dropped three rungs to place seventh in its second week with an ESTIMATED $6.8 million (-45%) in 2,570 theaters (+6 theaters, $2,680 per theater). Its cume is approximately $23 million.
Produced by Ethan Coen and directed by Joel Coen, it stars George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
MGM Pictures' R rated police thriller Out of Time fell three notches to eighth place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $4.1 million (-52%) at 2,344 theaters (-732; $1,749 per theater). Its cume is approximately $35.3 million.
Directed by Carl Franklin, it stars Washington, Eva Mendes, Sanaa Lathan and Dean Cain.
Buena Vista's PG-13 rated romantic comedy Under the Tuscan Sun fell five notches to No. 9 in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $3.4 million (-31%) in 1,663 theaters (-38 theaters; $2,044 per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.7 million.
Directed by Audrey Wells, it stars Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, Vincent Riotta and Raoul Bova.
Universal Pictures' PG-13 rated jungle actioner The Rundown fell three rungs in its fourth place week to round out the Top Ten with an ESTIMATED $2.8 million (-45%) in 2,099 theaters (-724 theaters; $1,355 per theater). Its cume is approximately $44.5 million.
Directed by Peter Berg, it stars The Rock, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson and Christopher Walken.
Buena Vista' PG rated biopic Veronica Guerin debuted in 472 theaters with $603,000 with a soft $1,278 per theater average.
In the film, set in the mid-1990s, journalist Veronica Guerin covers the powerful drug lords battling for control of the street of Dublin, Ireland.
Directed by Joel Schumacher, it stars Cate Blanchett, Gerard McSorely and Ciaran Hinds.
Focus Features' R rated biopic Sylvia debuted in three theaters with an ESTIMATED $52,000 with an impressive $17,333 per theater average.
The film is a biopic of American poet Sylvia Plath and her turbulent marriage to a future poet laureate of England, Ted Hughes.
Directed by Christine Jeffs, the film stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig.
United Artists' PG-13 teen drama Pieces of April opened in six theaters with $48,000 with a strong $8,000 per theater average.
In the film, 21-year-old April Burns invites her estranged, straight-laced family for Thanksgiving dinner for a disastrous evening.
Directed by Peter Hedges, it stars Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt and Derek Luke.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $105.2 million, up 7.5 percent from last weekend's $73.5 million. The Top 12 movies were also up 43 percent from this time last year when they took in $97.9 million.
Last year, Dreamworks' R rated thriller The Ring debuted at No. 1 with $15 million in 1,981 theaters ($7,580 per theater); Buena Vista's PG-13 rated comedy Sweet Home Alabama also stayed in second place in its fourth week with $9.5 million in 3,282 theaters ($2,913 per theater); and Universal's R rated thriller Red Dragon followed in third place in its third week with $8.7 million in 3,307 theaters ($2,650 per theater).