By Mark Zhuravsky | The Playlist August 12, 2011 at 2:04AM
Lady love Kathleen Walsh is out for the weekend, so you lovely bunch are stuck with me! The dog days of summer are behind us, and it's time for the August roundup: scrappy flicks and throwaway fare, needless sequels enlivened by adequate 3D that will nevertheless clean up at the box office. We just don’t know any better.
Leading the pack is Ruben Fleischer’s “30 Minutes Or Less” – we’ve been hyped on the film for some time and Fleischer has been riding a wave of admiration following “Zombieland”, so it’s a bit of a let-down that the film is “a well-photographed, terrifically funny, but ultimately insubstantial trifle.” With a strong comedy pedigree featuring a potential dream team of Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson and the always-welcome Michael Peña, it’s a shame that the finished product isn’t up to par. Keep an eye on Eisenberg though – anybody who’s seen “The Squid And The Whale” knows the actor’s got genuine comedy chops and could well be on the way to a lucrative career balancing fare like “The Social Network” with broad and smarmy comedies. Oh wait, he already is. Incidentally, check out our interview with Fleischer, who originally intended '30 Minutes' to be considerably darker. Rotten Tomatoes: 42% Metacritic: 49
Also looking to collect this weekend is the racially-tinged drama "The Help", starring Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, David Oyelowo and Mike Vogel and based on the hugely popular and best-selling book by Kathryn Stockett. Our review praised the film, saying that "buoyed by strong performances—a couple of which are sure to be major awards-season contenders —and a mostly subtle touch with material that could very easily be manipulated or manipulative, 'The Help' finds its good intentions in very capable hands." Looks like another winner for Stone, who's wasting no time cementing herself as one of the major young talents in Hollywood. Frankly, the fact that she managed to act her way out from under that wig is a wonder in itself. Props naturally go out to Viola Davis and especially Octavia Spencer, who our man Kevin singled out, saying "like Davis, Spencer finds different notes within her character’s hard shell in a turn that earns very real laughs and just as much emotion." Rotten Tomatoes: 74% Metacritic: 62
This writer has to go out on a limb and say that cheesy as it is, the backbone of the "Final Destination" franchise -- a fear of an unstoppable and invisible force hunting you down -- is so primal that it's impossible not to be at least a bit affected by it. That said, the series has taken that idea absolutely nowhere and the fifth entry doesn't look to do much more than capitalize on the fact that people have come out to see the last four. Following the inanely named "The Final Destination", decidedly the weakest entry, "Final Destination 5" looks to be an improvement. If you're not into beautiful people getting burnt, blown up, cut, and penetrated by a variety of sharp, blunt, frequently electronic objects, this video has all the charm of the five films put together and little of the lag. The victims include Emma Bell, Nicholas D’Agosto, Miles Fisher, Arlen Escarpeta, Jacqueline MacInnes-Wood, P.J. Byrne, Ellen Wroe, David Koechner, Courtney B. Vance, but probably not Tony Todd. Rotten Tomatoes: 53% Metacritic: 49
Two more minor films on the horizon - sorry, did I say minor? I meant "Glee: The 3D Concert Movie", bound to clean up with scores of fans dragging out family and friends to watch talented people sing and dance their way through other people's songs. Rotten Tomatoes: 64% Metacritic: 52
On the bright side, there's also "Senna", the third-highest-grossing documentary in history. From our write-up on the trailer, "the film focuses on Ayrton Senna, the legendary, charismatic Brazilian driver widely regarded as one of the greatest ever, who won the world championship three times before tragically perishing on the track in a crash at age 34. BAFTA-winning director Asif Kapadia, who makes his first foray into the documentary world after strong Britflicks “The Warrior” and “Far North” (and the instantly forgotten Sarah Michelle Gellar horror “The Return,” but we’ll let that one by), breaks convention by avoiding talking heads, constructing the film entirely from some startling archive footage and audio interviews." One of our crew caught it at Sundance, and called the film "a well-above-average sports doc and any motor racing fans or documentary obsessives would do well to check it out." Rotten Tomatoes: 95% Metacritic: 84
Also dropping earlier this week was "Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow," a doc with a focus on artist Anselm Keifer, who paved roads, dug out caverns, and built houses as part of his art installation on the grounds of an abandoned silk factory. Our review says 'Grass' "isn’t the most exciting movie and absolutely requires a decent amount of endurance from the audience. That said, it’s quite unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Know what you’re getting into before you take the plunge, but once you’re in, let it work its magic." RT: 80% MC: 60
Also in theaters: Egyptian feminist daytime talkshow drama "Scheherazade Tell Me a Story" RT: 86% MC: 75 ; "Bad Posture," a portrait of life in Albuquerque, New Mexico MC: 59 ; a small California town as seen by Japanese tourists in "Littlerock" RT: 85% MC: 62; a story of idealism and education in "Aarakshan"; graffiti doc "Vigilante Vigilante: The Battle for Expression"; and art house drama "Medianeras."
A Very Special Article:
This week, this writer wanted to take a moment to highlight a stellar piece that is a must-read and reflects the high standard The Playlist aspires to on a regular basis. That would be Oliver Lyttelton's "Too Much Madness To Explain In One Text: On The U.K. Riots And ‘Attack The Block’." Oliver makes his home in London and saw the damage unfold during three violent days this past week. Written with great insight and a light touch, his commentary on the rioting and how it relates to the messages at the heart of "Attack The Block" is now legendary lore that will be studied by, memorized, and canonized by our many nameless interns down in the dungeon. Give it a read here.