Welcome back to Defamer Attractions, your regular guide to new hits, misses and dead ends this weekend at the movies — and considering our sudden passage into the August filmgoing doldrums, we could use all the guidance we can get. Still, Batman's dark shadow stretches into its second week while another, stinkier franchise will do all it can to vanquish The Dark Knight at the box office. Meanwhile, we fear for Kevin Costner, have a film-festival darling in mind for this week's Underdog pick, and have a bleary-eyed glance at the latest DVD releases as well. As usual, our opinions are our own, but they're also essentially failsafe, so read them and weep! Literally!
WHAT'S NEW: Barring some Joker-emulating fanboy's cackling sabotage of a few thousand projectors nationwide, this will likely be the week The Dark Knight slips out of first place behind The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Make that "first place at the box office," that is — not necessarily in our hearts, where the roundly loathing critical reaction to Mummy doesn't have us too confident in its overall superiority. But that's August for you, and despite the Batmobile at its tattered heels, The Mummy's awfulness shouldn't keep about $52 million worth of American ticketbuyers away. Sorry about that. Or, if you're up for a counterprogramming schlep to Norwalk, Lionsgate's buried Clive Barker adaptation Midnight Meat Train finally opens in one theater. Again, welcome to August. It can only get better. Really.
THE BIG LOSER: In fairness, we're checking out Swing Vote this weekend, so we don't know for ourselves yet whether or not it's a joy to behold. But let's recap for second: Kevin Costner's latest is the story of an alcoholic single dad whose vote is discovered to hold the key to a presidential election. Its plot is essentially lifted from a 1939 John Barrymore film. It's over two hours long. Costner financed it himself, and best promoted it Wednesday night as Conan O'Brian's Chinese-restroom-tour sidekick. Kevin, we really are puling for you, but why are we not encouraged?
THE UNDERDOG: Speaking of counterprogramming, the small drama Frozen River is about as antisummer as its gets: A broke single mother (Melissa Leo) in frigid upstate New York, whose American dream consists of a new double-wide and a Christmas with actual presents under the tree, falls into an immigrant-smuggling ring with a young Native American woman (Misty Upham). That's it — that simple, that stark, and quite strong. And don't hold its Sundance Grand Jury Prize against it; for every brooding indie convention into which it trips, Leo and Upham dig out with help from writer/director Courtney Hunt's elegant eye and gut-punch plot twists. It's not an August miracle or anything, but it's easily the best thing opening in town this weekend.
FOR SHUT-INS: New DVD releases include Martin Scorsese's Rolling Stones concert doc Shine a Light, the 25th anniversary rerelease of WarGames, and a three-way tie for Must-Have-Right-Now Box Set: The Hills: The Complete Third Season; Beverly Hills 90210: The Fifth Season; and Girlfriends: The Fourth Season. Don't rush off to buy them all at once — we have a feeling they'll be there for a while.
So are we worrying too much? Is The Mummy 3 ready for misunderstood masterpiece status? Or is that Swing Vote? Or will Heath Ledger surge back to make fools of us all? We're up for anything at this point in the season — fire away below, and help us count down the days until Pineapple Express.