Welcome back to Defamer Attractions, your weekly guide to everything new, noteworthy and/or catastrophic at the movies. Today we welcome back a franchise that uncannily lives up to its name, a meaty slice of Oscar bait and a congested second tier of art-house strivers, all pleading for your time opposite new DVD releases in the smoldering Doomsday aftermath. As always, our opinions are our own, but they are well-behaved, great with kids and they won't chew up your furniture. Adopt them after the jump!
WHAT'S NEW: Punisher: War Zone returns the comic-book vigilante to theaters in ultraviolent and uniquely downgraded fashion, shedding the Thomas Jane/John Travolta bloat of the 2004 original in exchange for the cheaper, monosyllabic charms of Ray Stevenson. Bullets fly, shit blows up, audiences leave with slight bruising to the cerebral cortex, and Lionsgate banks about $10.4 million by Monday.
Universal, meanwhile, has far more modest hopes for Frost/Nixon in limited release, where Frank Langella and Michael Sheen will officially begin cross-training for the awards-season marathon as the disgraced president and his aggressive TV interrogator David Frost. You've heard our take (and we're not alone in our ambivalence), but older audiences in desperate need of a class fix will nevertheless drive it to about $36,000 per screen.
Also opening: Mariah Carey's Oscar-primed (or something) indie Tennessee; the Aussie autism study The Black Balloon; the child-abuse tale Gardens of the Night; the spicy, self-explanatory anthology It's a Good Day to be Black and Sexy; the overloud, underripe kidnapping thriller Nobel Son; the hospice dramedy Reach for Me; and the iconic Jeanne Moreau's latest, One Day You'll Understand.
THE BIG LOSER: Flopz™ beckons for Cadillac Records, but it probably didn't have to be that way. Adrien Brody stars as Leonard Chess, the Chess Records founder who oversees a stable of talent including Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry (acclaimed performances by Jeffrey Wright and Mos Def, respectively), Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker) and Etta James — whose portrayal by Beyonce Knowles still isn't quite the lauded cinematic breakthrough the singer so craves. All of which isn't bad in itself, but Sony is pulling a little more graceful Passengers move on this one — dumping on 600 screens, undermarketing (read: not marketing), and letting Cadillac crash into the post-theatrical afterlife following a soft opening around $1.6 million. Lame.
THE UNDERDOG: The British visual artist Steve McQueen makes his feature debut with Hunger, the austere semi-biopic of Irish Republican Army operative Bobby Sands, who died following a 66-day hunger strike in 1981. McQueen works one compositional trick after another in detailing truly shocking exchanges of abuse between IRA prisoners and their Protestant jailers, but really, we need recommend little beyond Michael Fassbender's lead performance as Sands — a silent wonder of dignity, crudity and emaciation that makes Christian Bale's Machinist/Rescue Dawn diets robust by comparison. Bleak, bleak, bleak, bleak, bleak, but essential.
FOR SHUT-INS: New DVD's this week include four different versions of the brilliantly pulpy actioner Wanted, three versions of Step Brothers, one version of the stillborn X-Files: I Want to Believe, and the "Ultimate Collector's Edition" of Casablanca.
So what's your punishment this weekend? Can you rally the troops around Cadillac? Should we just screen Casablanca on a loop and call it good? Speak up, already!