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THIS WEEK IN MOVIES by Pete Hammond: ‘True Grit,’ ‘Country Strong’

By Pete Hammond

hollywoodnews.com: Would it be too early to already crown this week’s first 2011 film, Season Of The Witch the worst film of 2011? Some critics are already doing that and it’s abysmal 5% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes would put it almost smack at the bottom of the barrel of any movie released in all of 2010. This Nicolas Cage epic about a couple of crusaders who accompany a woman accused of witchcraft to a monastery was being described by some critics as a comedy although it isn’t meant to be one. That it opened to a semi-decent third place at the box office with $10.6 million is encouraging and means movie marketers can rest assured they can still sell anything to the public, at least on opening weekend. What has happened to Cage’s career? He hasn’t been in a great film since Adaptation in 2002 although his performance in last year’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans. But The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider, Next, National Treasure: Book Of Secrets, Knowing, G Force, Bangkok Dangerous, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? Another film, The Weatherman aimed higher but still managed to leave audiences and critics out in the cold. Does Cage want to reclaim the serious actor reputation that led him to his Leaving Las Vegas Oscar? Apparently not as upcoming he has another dreary-looking ‘ I made it for the paycheck’ kind of performance in Drive Angry , a Death Wish sounding vigilante role in The Hungry Rabbit Jumps , a kidnap drama directed by Joel Schmacher called Trespass and is currently filming , oh boy, a sequel to Ghost Rider called Spirit of Vengeance. Certainly it seems fine for actors to cash in on their success but Cage has been doing an awful lot of “cashing” lately. True, he has comic book sensibilities when it comes to personal taste but it seems like he’s throwing his talent away on a lot of commercial vehicles that don’t stretch his talent in any way.

We’ve seen Robert DeNiro suffer from this syndrome in recent years as well as he seemed to take on less ambitious projects as both producer and star, the Fockers series being the most glaring example. Eventually audiences will turn away and although Little Fockers is a hit, it is a financial disappointment in relation to the previous entries and even was eclipsed at the box office this week by the surging True Grit.

It’s nice to see Gwyneth Paltrow back in a full blown leading role in Country Strong, as a down-on-her-luck boozing country singer attempting a comeback in music and love. Technically this is a leftover from the 2010 crop as it had an Oscar qualifying run in Hollywood in December before going semi-wide nationally this week. Paltrow’s choices in the 10 years since winning an Oscar for Shakespeare In Love have been , like Cage and DeNiro, a little iffy, and sometimes baffling (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow anyone?). But I like her in this role. She sings. She cries. There’s lots of melodramatic goings on and she’s well supported by a terrific group of actors including Tron Legacy’s Garrett Hedlund and Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester. Tim Mc Graw plays her hubby and ironically this country superstar is the ONLY one in the cast who doesn’t sing. Go figure. Opening in a strong 6th place and generating good Cinemascore marks (a B+) from women I have a feeling this could get some good word of mouth , particularly from those in the middle of the country where it is much likely to play better than on the jaded coasts. The songs are catchy too.

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About Pete Hammond

Pete Hammond is a writer, producer, movie critic and film expert whose commentary on the entertainment industry has appeared in numerous publications and on air interviews including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, OK Magazine, NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, Evening News With Brian Williams on MSNBC, the CBC, BBC, Bravo, E!, AMC, Canada AM and the KTLA Morning Show.

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