The Week in Film: “An Education” beats a “Retreat,” plus new trailers

Thirty Republican senators voted down an amendment by Al Franken to take away government funds from defense contractors who prevent their employees from pursuing legal action for workplace assault or sexual discrimination, but luckily it passed anyway.

Meanwhile, David Letterman admitted to affairs with his employees, and his ratings are higher than ever.

Fix your boss with a “no means no” stare and let’s talk about this week’s movies.

The weekend’s big release is Couples Retreat, and while the resort-set movie always looks postcard-pretty — which is never a given, since lush Greek locales couldn’t save Mamma Mia! or My Life in Ruins from looking washed-out and awful — the script is rather problematic.

Four couples (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell, Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman, Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis, Faizon Love and Kali Hawk) fly off to a tropical paradise, but
three of the pairs don’t know they’re going to be required to participate in heavy-duty relationship therapy.

The movie doesn’t have much to say about relationships, which would have been fine if it didn’t put the brakes on the comedy (to its credit, the movie has lots of zingy one-liners) in the third act for some dull moments of drama and growth that are about as deep as an episode of Full House.

And queer audiences may find themselves cringing over some of the gay-panic humor, some of which involves the touchy-feely and barely-clad yoga instructor (played by Carlos Ponce, above, with Vaughn and Akerman).

While it doesn’t quite live up to the glowing praise it’s been getting since Sundance, An Education is a lovely little coming-of-age tale about a British teenager circa 1961 and her affair with a worldly and much older man.

Carey Mulligan stars as Jenny and gives a star-making performance as we see her blossom from longing schoolgirl to heartbroken lover. The terrific supporting cast includes Peter Sarsgaard (as the older man), Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike and Olivia Williams.


You apparently can’t be pretty and taken seriously as an actress in this country until you take off the makeup and get gritty — just ask Charlize Theron or Halle Berry.

And now it’s the wonderfully talented Michelle Monaghan’s turn in Trucker, and while her performance is terrific, the movie is a very by-the-numbers story about a lady long-haul driver whose crusty exterior
melts when she finds herself having to take care of her long-estranged young son. She’s great, but Trucker has nothing you haven’t already seen a million times.

Movies opening this week that I haven’t yet seen include the documentary Good Hair, in which Chris Rock
examines the mysteries and meanings of African-American women’s hair
(and just thinking about this makes me flash back to the "Straight and
Nappy" musical number from Spike Lee’s School Daze).

We’ve also got
the British prison biopic Bronson, Corbin-Bleu-does-motocross epic Free Style and — forgive me for jumping the gun on this one last week — the Rupert-Everett-in-drag comedy remake St. Trinian’s.

Red Carpet Shilling

We’ve been hearing about The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus ever since Heath Ledger’s tragic accidental death, which necessitated three other actors to fill for him so that the film could be completed. And now Imaginarium is finally ready for its close-up — or for a flashy premiere, anyway.

Now that Miranda has reaffirmed her marriage to Steve, does this mean no Blair Underwood in the next Sex and the City movie?

Is it just me, or is LaToya Jackson turning into Eartha Kitt, and not in the good way?

True Blood’s Stephen Moyer looks very comfortable lurking through the night.

Imaginarium is said to be a trippy experience along the lines of director Terry Gilliam’s earlier films, which include Brazil, Time Bandits, 12 Monkeys and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, on another carpet, the crime drama Law Abiding Citizen had its moment of glory.

OK, Gerard Butler — here’s hoping that your new movie goes well, because otherwise, after The Ugly Truth and Gamer, this would be your third strike for 2009.

Do we think Jamie Foxx is miffed that Eddie Murphy, and then Marlon Wayans, snagged the role of Richard Pryor in the upcoming biopic from Dreamgirls director Bill Condon? Or after Ray, does Foxx feel like he’s had his turn at true stories?

Bits and Stuff

This week, Rich Ross became Hollywood’s first openly gay male studio chairman when he got handed the keys to the boss’ office at Disney. I’m assuming David Geffen doesn’t count, since his position at DreamWorks was way above studio chair, and we won’t mention [name I can’t say] since he’s still technically not out of the closet.

A Muslim actor took on a gay role in a movie with a minimum of fuss. I wish most straight actors could be that chill about playing gay guys
(and that most casting directors wouldn’t be so averse to casting gay actors in straight roles).

A Vacation sequel/reboot? Really? Only if they explain why Rusty Griswold, as played by Johnny Galecki in Christmas Vacation, seemed even younger than
the character played by Anthony Michael Hall in the original movie while the daughter
got older over the course of the first three movies. (No, I didn’t see Vegas Vacation, but I bet most of you didn’t either.)

Los Trailers

Only one more week to see Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3-D on the
big screen, folks:

Oh, and speaking of the aforementioned Imaginarium of Dr.
, here’s the new trailer:

Zac Efron teams with director Richard Linklater (Dazed and
Confused, Before Sunrise
) to make…a film that’s been sitting on the shelf for ages. Still, I’ve got high hopes for Me and Orson Welles:

Another week, another horror remake — bring on The Crazies:

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson played gay in Be Cool, but now
he’s taking on an entirely different kind of fairy:


Zombieland Eats Box-Office Brains

While Drew Barrymore’s delightful Whip It had a lackluster opening weekend — assembled a "dispiriting list" of female-oriented movies that debuted to bigger numbers — Zombieland was the bloody master of its domain, with a $24.7 million dollar entry.

Animation in 3-D continued its reign, with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs placing second and the Toy Story 1 & 2 double feature coming in third. Box-office duds Surrogates and The Invention of Lying finished out the top five.

Winning in limited release was Joel and Ethan Coen’s critically-lauded A Serious Man, which took in $251,337 on six screens for a very impressive $41,890 per.

And hey, if you’re in New York City, I very highly recommend Afterschool, currently playing on one screen. It drew in just $2,606 last weekend and deserves to be doing much better. On my 2008 Top Ten list, I cited the film for its understanding of how YouTube and the internet are having a chilling effect on how the next generation of kids is seeing and understanding the world.

One Last Thing

In case you hadn’t already seen this, artist David Kawena has taken
the Disney princes and run them through the gay-underwear-model-paradigm-izer. It’s an
interesting idea, although I’m admittedly disappointed that every last inch of
his Gaston from Beauty and the Beast (pictured above) isn’t, as the song says, covered in hair.