This Week In Movies By Pete Hammond “Arthur”

By Pete Hammond Four new wide releases this week but none of them could overtake a certain Easter bunny which once again hopped to number one and kept its hold on family audiences. That could all change – and almost certainly will – next week when the 20th Century Fox’s animated juggernaut, Rio hits domestic theatres. Actually Fox got a jump this weekend opening it internationally and already bagging $55 million at the box office . This bright new flick from the creative minds behind the Ice Age franchise could be a monster. More next week on that but it has to be a bittersweet week for Russell Brand who stars in both the number one film (actually his VOICE stars ) Hop which dropped only 42% from its debut weekend and the number two film, Arthur , Warner Bros remake of the 1981 sleeper hit starring Dudley Moore. It grossed only an estimated 12.6 million, on the low end of the studio’s hopes and very disappointing. The film got a “B” cinemascore so there isn’t much hope for sterling word of mouth but quite frankly there really shouldn’t be. It’s a shoody redo and an unnecessary one. I guess the idea of putting Brand in the role is a good one but this Arthur has been so homogenized and politically “corrected” that the brash , outlandish feel of the original about a happy, carefree, rich drunk has been lost. Add to that the gender switch from John Gielgud’s Oscar winning butler to Helen Mirren’s nanny in the pivotal role of Arthur’s protector and confidante and you have updates that may have looked good on paper but just don’t quite make it on the screen. A real problem is director Jason Winer, here making his feature debut, is clearly out of his comfort zone shooting the film in such a claustrophobic close-up style that would look far better on television than it does on the wide screen. Winer’s sole experience is the small screen, notably the very fine Modern Family, so it figures but the film isn’t pretty to watch. In fact its downright dark and depressing . Doesn’t Hollywood have ANY original ideas?

Actually vying for that number two spot in a bit of a surprise is the indie sleeper, Hanna, a kind of teenage cross between Salt and Bourne with a star-making turn from Saorsise Ronan (Atonement) in the lead. It did $12.3, narrowly under Arthur , to place third but it was in about 700 fewer theatres. Chock this up as a good weekend for the film from Focus but its C+ Cinemascore rating indicates it may not last. Nevertheless Hanna followed by the strong 4th place showing of Sony and Film District’s Soul Surfer means it was a great weekend for young blonde teens in peril. Surfer is the inspiring true story of Bethany Hamilton, the Hawaiian surfer who lost an arm to a shark only to come roaring back as a champion of the sport. With its heavy marketing to Christian groups , its positive message and stunning Kauai cinematography this is the most satisfying of the week’s new films and I predict it will ultimately prevail over them all by a mile. Its estimated $11.1 million take on only 2200 screens ( 1000 fewer than Arthur) is very impressive , but even more impressive is its extremely rare A+ Cinemascore rating , something reserved only for the likes of a Blind Side. That indicates incredible word of mouth potential despite a middling 51% fresh score among critics at Rotten Tomatoes. With Annasophia Robb in the lead role and Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as her parents this is one of those truly remarkable human stories and its been brought to the screen in style by director Sean McNamara and a gaggle of screenwriters. Based on Hamilton’s book it’s old fashioned filmmaking in the best sense and really benefits from some stunning Hawaiian locations and a brilliant score by Marco Beltrami. Audiences walk out feeling good about life. How many movies do that anymore?

Well the other wide release of the week is certainly one that doesn’t. Your Highness is a dreary failed stoner comedy from the team that gave you another dreary stoner comedy , Pineapple Express ( I know it was a hit, critics liked it, yadda yadda ). Highness (get it?) is a complete waste of time and audiences apparently sniffed it out as it landed in 6th with only a little more than $9 million. It’s C+ Cinemascore rating is way too generous and this one will sink like a rock next week. With Danny McBride uttering every imaginable four letter word as a punchline to every attempted joke, plus embarrassing turns by a cast including recent Oscar nominee, James Franco and winner Natalie Portman this should have been better. It might have been if Mel Brooks or Monty Python were involved. Sadly it’s directed by David Gordon Green who has no sense of comic timing whatsoever. Every gag is punctuated and beaten into the ground. Strictly for 13 year old potheads but the ‘R’ rating will keep them away. This is my first candidate for Worst film of 2011.

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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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