Friday Movie Roundup: Summer of Fading Stars

The New York Times published a story Aug. 21 that attempted to dissect why so many established movie stars have failed generate their once-golden numbers at the box office this summer.

Among those mentioned were Denzel Washington (The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3), Eddie Murphy (Imagine That), Will Ferrell (Land of the Lost) and Tom Hanks (Angels and Demons). —-

The story quoted Peter Gruber, former chairman of Sony Pictures and longtime Hollywood player, as saying, “The cratering of films with big stars is astounding. These supertalented people are failing to aggregate a large audience, and everybody is looking for answers.”

The answer is pretty simple: Their movies sucked.

Meanwhile, a story in the Aug. 24 issue of the Times pimped the headline, “Brad Pitt Pulls Them in for a ‘Glorious’ Weekend,” a pun about fact that Pitt’s Inglourious Basterds was No. 1 at the box office last weekend, bringing in a reported $37.6 million.

I hate to break it to the Times’ editors, but Pitt wasn’t the main reason Basterds did well; it was the rabid following of the film’s director, Quentin Tarantino, and his unique brand of moviemaking that spurred its strong box-office showing.

That said, there’s no denying the influence of movie stars has been on the decline in recent years, yet another casualty to our rapidly fracturing cultural landscape. But, ultimately, is it the stars or the business in which they reside that’s letting us down?

Looking at this week's batch of opening films does little to reverse the perception that the star system is in permanent decline: The most recognizable face belongs to a decades-old serial killer named Jason.

Opening films:

ADAM — Adam Raki (Hugh Dancy) has Asperger Syndrome, which falls along the autism spectrum of disorders. The film aspires to a level of awareness and understanding about Adam's situation, but narrative awkwardness and good intentions prevent him and the other characters from becoming fully human. (Read review here.) (Opens today at Mariemont Theatre.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated PG-13.) Grade: C-

THE FINAL DESTINATION — The fourth and supposedly final in the high-concept horror/thriller series again rides on the premise that the Grim Reaper is pissed off that cute teenagers have somehow thwarted his nefarious plans. David R. Ellis, the guy behind the second Destination film as well as the disappointingly lame Snakes on a Plane, is back as director. For those who care, it’s screening in both 3 and 2D. (Opens wide today.) — Jason Gargano (Rated R.) Review coming soon.

HALLOWEEN 2 — Contrary to the endless parade of retreads that have become a staple of the genre, Rob Zombie’s re-imagination of this long-running horror franchise is actually piquing interest. Zombie’s 2007 remake of John Carpenter’s 1978 original didn’t suck. Can lightning strike twice? Our fingers are crossed. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated R.) Review coming soon

HUMPDAY — Writer/director Lynn Shelton’s lo-fi comedy touches on a plethora of weighty topics — sexual boundaries, artistic merit, identity, parenthood, gender and more — in a manner so funny and matter of fact that many viewers will feel as if they stumbled upon someone’s home movie. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — JG (Rated R.) Grade: B

TAKING WOODSTOCK — Ang Lee’s clumsy adaptation of Elliot Tibers and Tom Monte’s book Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Lift can't decide if it wants to be a comedy, a drama or merely a slice-of-life reflection on a small-town community transformed by a cultural happening in 1969. Unforgivable is the film’s neglect of the musical element that any movie about Woodstock should necessarily have. There are flashes of inspiration here, but nothing to sustain a feature film’s worth of narrative import. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Cole Smithey (Rated R.) Grade: C

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