By Katey Rich
Hooray! At last we have a weekend in 2008 in which there is a movie that people are actually excited to see! Not only that, we have at least two, and two more if you count tiny movies with small but very dedicated fanbases. It's like December all over again, except now no one is competing for an Oscar anymore, which makes it even better. Though there are movies out there for all the demographics, even Woody Allen fans, we all know there's one monster that's going to stomp all over the box office as if it were the Woolworth Building. The Cloverfield monster doesn't have a name yet, but count on at least one clever nickname before the weekend is through.
CLOVERFIELD. Opening in 3,411 theatres. Is there even a need for a plot description at this point? Seen from the viewpoint of a handheld video camera belonging to a group of twenty-something friends, Cloverfield documents the destruction of New York City at the hands of a very vicious, very mysterious, very large monster. The monster's identity, as well as most details about the movie, have been kept under wraps for months as part of a massive online marketing campaign. The campaign worked; the excitement for this $25 million marketing movie trumps the buzz for the next Batman installment, and that's really saying something. It's been 10 years since The Blair Witch Project; ready for round two?
The critics are, for the most part, ready and willing. "A surreptitiously subversive, stylistically clever little gem of an entertainment disguised, under its deadpan-neutral title, as a dumb Gen-YouTube monster movie," writes Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, giving the film a B+ overall. The San Francisco Chronicle runs with the same YouTube metaphor, but seems to like the whole thing even more: "Even though Cloverfield isn't the Godzilla-for-the-YouTube-generation picture that everyone may have been hoping for, it's still a terrific movie, filled with spectacle and a surprising amount of humor, which makes up for its lack of terror or emotional impact." "There's something refreshing about a monster movie that isn't filled with the usual suspects, like The Hero, The Rebel and The Cynic," writes The Hollywood Reporter, predicting that the movie seems "destined to bring in plenty of youth-skewing green for Paramount this Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend." A dissenting voice is the Los Angeles Times, which found much to enjoy but quibbles with the handheld camcorder approach: "While it injects the film with a run-and-gun urgency, the device grows tiresome and ultimately leaves the film shortchanged."
27 DRESSES. Opening in 3,057 theatres. Katherine Heigl is well on her way to becoming the new It Girl of romantic comedy, after her turn in last summer's Knocked Up and now a starring role here. She plays Jane, a career woman who is so supportive, and so self-sacrificing, that she's been talked into being a bridesmaid 27 times. When her younger sister gets engaged to the boss Jane has harbored a crush on for all these years, she's again serving bridesmaid duties, which catches the attention of a smarmy wedding reporter (James Marsden). Chaos ensues, of course, as Jane performs her bridesmaid duties while pining for the groom but possibly also falling in love with the cynical reporter.
Critics agree that the movie is as formulaic as it gets, but some fall for it while others would have rather stayed home. "It's hard to imagine a set of complications more routine, but the way that this tiered cake of a farce has been staged, you can practically lick the white frosting off of the plot," writes Owen Glieberman of Entertainment Weekly. Our Daniel Eagan is similarly unamused: "In spite of its smart premise, Aline Brosh McKenna's script seems compiled of bits and pieces that worked better in other movies." Variety, on the other hand, fell for the formula, but mostly the star: "Heigl effortlessly radiates the kind of charisma that can make auds fall in love with a character (and, of course, the actress who plays her)." And Carrie Rickey of The Philadelphia Inquirer fell for Marsden and Heigl as a package deal: "These troupers with more than 30 years of professional work between them have never shone so brightly. It may sound contradictory, but loved them, hated it."
MAD MONEY. Opening in 2,470 theatres. Did you know that its some people's job to just destroy money? Think about that next time you shell out for a $10 sandwich. In Mad Money three women find themselves with precisely that job, and since one of them (Diane Keaton) is a suburban housewife fallen on hard times, she decides to take all that worn-out money to keep up her standard of living. She enlists two other women in the scheme (Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes), and they're rolling in the dough... until, of course, the Feds catch on to their scheme. Ted Danson also stars.
Most of the critics weren't willing to just take the Money and run. "Keaton brings her usual eccentric energy to the role and, as always, is a pleasure to watch, but no amount of goofy behavior or money porn can compensate for a story that plays like it was written on the cheap," writes the Los Angeles Times. "As the movie invites you to share their delight, you may feel a tad unclean. Is wealth, ill-gotten or not, the answer to everything? Yes, yes, yes! proclaims the movie," The New York Times chimes in. But Newsday finds some serious political messages in this crime caper: "Latifah and Danson come off best, giving relaxed, down-to-earth performances that ground this comic fantasy with a sobriety that seems just right for the economic eggshell walk that is America in 2008."
CASSANDRA'S DREAM. Opening in 107 theatres. Woody Allen's latest was supposed to come out in December, presumably to qualify for Oscar consideration, but was pushed back at the last minute. It stars two London brothers, Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell, who are desperate to raise money and decide to commit a murder to do it. As it did in Allen's Match Point, it all goes downhill from there. Tom Wilkinson and Hayley Atwell also star.
It seems they made a smart choice in delaying this one, since critics indicate Cassandra would have never had a shot in the Oscar race. "The identical premise is used in Sidney Lumet's Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, which is like a master class in how Allen goes wrong," writes Roger Ebert. David Denby at The New Yorker concedes that the film has some "fine moments," but concludes, "Allen's movie, however, is stalled by overexplicitness and chattiness, and, as in the past, I'm not convinced that he has a good ear for British speech." And Variety also takes issue with the dialogue: "Allen's dialogue never establishes a consistent tone, and often sounds awkward in the Londoners' mouths." But Entertainment Weekly sees all those flaws and enjoys the enterprise regardless: "Cassandra's Dream feels like an exercise: the demonstration of a theme rather than the blood-on-the-carpet embodiment of it. Yet it's never boring, because McGregor and Farrell bring such verve and style and quickened life to their roles."