Friday, March 13, 2009

Will moviegoers' destination be 'Last House on the Left' or 'Witch Mountain'?

By Sarah Sluis

After Watchmen's disappointing debut, its make-or-break moment comes this week. Its drop, which I predict will be at least in the 50% range, will seal the movie's fate as a dud or just a so-so adaptation. If Race to witch mountain

it can manage to hold on to half the box office it had last week, it can likely be judged a success, but an entirely possible 70-something drop would spell nuclear apocalypse for Dr. Manhattan (although it's not like he really dies anyway).

The two candidates for number one this week are Race to Witch Mountain (3,187 screens) and Last House on the Left (2,401 screens). The two remakes of 1970s films have eager, built-in audiences, and Race to Witch Mountain has good reviews on top of that. Our Daniel Eagan characterized Witch Mountain's update as one for a "new generation of viewers [who are] accustomed to videogames and in-jokes," and A.O. Scott pointed out that while 1970s Disney live-action films were "kind of strange and spooky," Race to Mountain is more "loud and dazzling" and bursting with special effects, forgetting that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is himself a kind of special effect.

The update of Last House on the Left abhors ambiguity, makings its characters practice good violence and bad violence, instead of viewing bloody revenge as the kind of spot you just can't rub out. While the Last house on the left 2

blogosphere has expressed some concern and outrage over the film's brutal rape scene, in addition to its expected violence, I am intrigued by the premise, which has more resonance than a typical horror film: it's based on a film by Ingmar Bergman, which in turn was based on a 1300s folk ballad about a family that takes revenge on a daughter's rapist. Repentant for the violence they had committed, they built a church to atone for their sins. There's also something a bit Oedipal about taking in and caring for a stranger, only to discover they raped and/or murdered a family member. Oh, fate, which may or may not be discernible through the "hilarious modern twists" involving microwave ovens.

Combining Playboy, road trips, and the "look what happened while I was in a coma!" plot conceit, Miss March (1,742 screens) looks Miss march

like a film many will not 'miss' given its predilection for scatological humor. Instead, catch necro-gross-out with Sunshine Cleaning (4 screens, expanding next week), the indie film starring Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as specialists who clean up after dead bodies, especially suicides. I found it lacking the spirit of its cousin Little Miss Sunshine, but it certainly beats Miss March. Also opening is Tokyo Sonata, the story of an unemployed man who can't bear to tell his family, and Carmen & Geoffrey, a documentary about an artistic New York City power couple.

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