Friday, January 21, 2011

Movie Openings: Week of January 21st, 2011 - Company Men

Already into the third week of January of the new year and still no new release movies have managed to stand out from the pack. Yes, the year is still young and we'll see our fair share of blockbusters come summertime but these first few weeks already seem to drag on forever without any good films to look forward to. Last week, "The Green Hornet" took top honors at the box office with an encouraging but tepid $33.5M, followed by the Vince Vaughn comedy "The Dilemma," garnering a disappointing $17.8M. Making up the top 5 movies are "True Grit," still going strong with a collection of $11M (total gross: $126M), "The King's Speech," finally expanding to more theaters with $9.2M and "Black Swan" coming in at $8.3M (total gross: $73.2M)

This week, we have a couple of good, middle-of-the-road movies that might just catch your attention. Both are stories of survival, one takes place in the treacherous wilds of the Siberian gulag and the other, in the equally treacherous world of upper middle management, in the time of massive corporate downsizing.

But first, a few words about the recently concluded 68th Golden Globe Awards. I'm not a big fan of these self-congratulatory award ceremonies but one can't help but get caught up in all the glitz and glamor of the movie business. These award shows are also a good way to find out which good films I missed in the theaters the next time I set up my Netflix queue. With host Ricky Gervais stepping on his fair share of sensitive Hollywood toes, the Globes concluded with The Social Network picking up the evening's biggest awards for Best Motion Picture, Best Director (David Fincher), Best Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin) and even Best Original Score (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross). These wins not only enhance the film's chances of a good showing in the upcoming Oscar nominations but puts it as the frontrunner in many categories as well. Other notable winners include Natalie Portman ("Black Swan") and Melissa Leo ("The Fighter") for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively and Colin Firth ("The King's Speech") and Christian Bale ("The Fighter") in the male category.

With that, let's move on to the week's new movie releases:

In his first movie since 2003's award-winning Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, director Peter Weir is tackling another period piece, titled "The Way Back," this time inspired by true events about a group of soldiers trying to escape the Siberian gulag in 1940. This story is based on several sources, most notably the book The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz as well as first-person accounts as researched by Weir and executive producer Keith Clarke. This film has some star power to attract an audience, including Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess and Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan (AtonementThe Lovely Bones). Looking back at Weir's previous efforts, expect "The Way Back" to be another sweeping epic with filming locations in Bulgaria, Morocco and India. One big surprise I found was that this movie was made outside of the studio system, ie. not financed by one of the big Hollywood studios, making it an independent film. "The Way Back" is currently holding steady at a commendable 78% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Next is a movie that might hit too close to home for some. In our time of economic hardship and corporate downsizing, "The Company Men" is a timely look at the men and women caught up in this vortex of job-loss and the drama of self-realization, loss of self-worth and humbling humility. Featuring an all-star cast that include Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones and Maria Bello, "The Company Men" is directed by John Wells, a name familiar to TV enthusiasts as the executive producer of shows like ER and The West Wing. Wells does a commendable job here, delivering the drama and character study of middle-aged middle management workers who suddenly find themselves out of work, with little prospects and having to make drastic adjustments in their lives. Like I said, this film might hit too close to home for some people and may lose some of its audience but it has received mostly positive reviews and is rated at 74% on RT. Here is a brief synopsis:

"Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is living the American dream: great job, beautiful family, shiny Porsche in the garage. When corporate downsizing leaves him and co-workers Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) and Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) jobless, the three men are forced to re-define their lives as men, husbands, and fathers.

Bobby soon finds himself enduring enthusiastic life coaching, a job building houses for his brother-in-law (Kevin Costner) which does not play to his executive skill set, and perhaps the realization that there is more to life than chasing the bigger, better deal. With humor, pathos, and keen observation, writer-director John Wells (the creator of "ER") introduces us to the new realities of American life."


Here is this week's token comedy, "No Strings Attached," starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. OK, time for a self-disclosure. I've never liked Ashton Kutcher as an actor and I never will. The only film of his that I could watch (albeit begrudgingly) is The Butterfly Effect. None of his films matter anyway, so there is really no loss for me. Directed by Ivan Reitman (GhostbustersKindergarten Cop), this film tries to answer the age-old question: Can you have sex without love getting in the way? A physical relationship without the emotional attachment. Well, we already have the answer to that and "No Strings Attached" is yet another romcom with beautiful-looking stars and not much substance. After her rousing virtuoso performance in "Black Swan," why Ms. Portman would so readily throw away her current credibility by starring in a film with Kutcher is beyond me. Anyone hoping for some R-rated stuff in this titillatingly titled film would be disappointed. Roger Ebert puts it best, stating, "It's more of a PG-13 playing dress-up." Critics are torn down the middle, as suggested by its 53% rating on RT. Here is the synopsis:

"In this comedy, Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) are life-long friends who almost ruin everything by having sex one morning. In order to protect their friendship, they make a pact to keep their relationship strictly "no strings attached." "No strings" means no jealousy, no expectations, no fighting, no flowers, no baby voices. It means they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, in whatever public place they want, as long as they don't fall in love. The questions become - Can you have sex without love getting in the way? And can their friendship survive?"

Finally, we have a sexy South Korean erotic thriller, "The Housemaid," a modern remake of a 1960 Korean film of the same title. Directed by controversial director Im Sang-Soo, "The Housemaid" is his satiric statement on class warfare within Korean society. Albeit on a lesser scale, "The Housemaid" is yet another gem coming out from the Koren film industry, led by such masterful films as MotherThe HostOldboySympathy for Mr. VengeanceThirst and J.S.A. - Joint Security Area. "The Housemaid" competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and comes to the U.S. courtesy of IFC Films. It has so far divided critics and comes in at a 47% rating on RT. Might be a great pick-up when it comes to Blu-ray. Here is the synopsis for this film:

"Eun-yi is an innocent young woman who is hired as an upper class family housemaid, and is tasked to take care of the family's small daughter and her pregnant mother, Hae-ra. Byung-sik is an older housemaid who has been with this family for a long time and holds many secrets. But soon enough, the master of the house, Hoon, takes advantage of his social position by slipping into the new housemaid's bed. Hoon's visits become frequent and Byung-sik reports the affair to Hae-ra's mother Mi-hee, who plots to give Hae-ra the control over her husband. Soon Eun-yi becomes pregnant by Hoon and wants to keep the baby. This is discovered by the family and Eun-yi is forced by Mi-hee to have an abortion despite the young woman's pleas to let her keep the baby and leave the house. Her forced abortion turns Eun-yi's already fragile mental condition for the worse and she decides to take the matter into her own hands."

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