From Ricky Gervais’ surreal new comedy to the Coen Brothers’ autobiographical film, WATCH TRAILERS of this weekend’s buzziest films and TV shows.
Adolescence is hell-on-wheels in Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, which stars Ellen Page ( Juno) as an oddball who breaks her beauty-queen mother’s heart by joining a roller-derby league. At least she didn’t wind up pregnant this time, right? The film also stars Barrymore, Kristen Wiig, and Ari Graynor as Page’s ass-kicking teammates.
THUMBS UP: Laced with good-natured hipster kitsch and endearingly goofy girl power, director Drew Barrymore's roller-derby dramedy, Whip It!, is a gas. — Rob Nelson, Variety
THUMBS DOWN: Whip It! suggests what might have happened if Juno had gone to a high school as poky as Napoleon Dynamite's and decided that although her mother wanted her to be a beauty queen like Little Miss Sunshine, she'd rather just strap on roller skates. — Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly
Capitalism: A Love Story
Michael Moore ( Bowling for Columbine, Sicko) is back, and this time he's turning his critical eye on Wall Street. This mix of a hot-button topic and a controversial director is sure to provoke the right and left. “I don't have the answers to all these questions. But I do know this: I've had enough,” Moore writes in an open letter on his site.
THUMBS UP: Capitalism: A Love Story is the film he has been building to for two decades: sprawling and scattershot, yet with a cumulative force. Moore’s other films focused on symptoms. This one tackles the disease. — David Edelstein, New York
THUMBS DOWN: About a third, maybe a half of this film is sharp and provocative viewing. The rest feels familiar, and not really good-familiar. — Michael Phillips, At the Movies
Woody Harrelson claims he got so into his role as a badass zombie fighter in Zombieland that he attacked a paparazzo in an airport when he confused the photographer for a brain-muncher. Zombieland follows the Shaun of the Dead model of mixing the living dead with a healthy dose of comedy as it follows zombie-apocalypse survivors (Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, and Harrelson) on a hilarious cross-country road trip in search of a safe haven.
THUMBS UP: The filmmakers show invention and well-tuned comic timing, and above all, there's a cameo by Bill Murray that gets the single biggest laugh I've heard this year. The foursome hauls up at Murray's vast Beverly Hills mansion, so palatial it is surely a grand hotel, and finds him still in residence. More than that I will not say, except that not many zombie comedies can make me think simultaneously about Psycho and Garfield. — Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times
THUMBS DOWN: Ho-hum zombie mayhem lurks around every bend, but the movie's comic tone becomes increasingly strained (as does Eisenberg's logorrheic voiceover), up to and including an indulgent movie-star cameo by a certain deadpan genius usually more discerning in his choice of projects. — Scott Foundas, The Village Voice
The Invention of Lying
If you don’t like The Invention of Lying, you have only Ricky Gervais to blame. Gervais, who’s best known for the beloved U.K. iteration of The Office as well as last year’s box-office dud Ghost Town, wrote, directed, and stars in The Invention of Lying, about a writer who suddenly discovers he has the ability to lie in a world where no one else ever has. The fun at the expense of religion might turn off some viewers, but Gervais has a rabid following that should be good for a couple million at the box office. Jennifer Garner co-stars as his love interest.
THUMBS UP: [E]ven when it's merely mildly amusing, this inspired parable, set in a parallel universe where only the truth is spoken, is so wittily winsome you'll readily cut Gervais and Robinson some slack if they don't quite succeed in going the distance. — Michael Rechtshaffen, Hollywood Reporter
THUMBS DOWN: Not only the most brutally photographed movie of the year, The Invention of Lying is so foully directed and carelessly acted it ultimately proves disingenuous. Gervais fails to address Hollywood mendacity—the process of misrepresentation and delusion that conditions audiences to take cinema for granted and enjoy crap. — Armond White, New York Press
A Serious Man
A Serious Man, the 14th film by the prolific Coen Brothers, explores the writer-director team’s Jewish middle-class Minnesota upbringing. Michael Stuhlbarg ( Body of Lies) makes his lead acting debut as a troubled university professor who tries to maintain his faith in spite of a cheating wife, feckless brother, and scheming kids. The rest of the cast is filled out with relative unknowns largely pulled from the Minnesota area, a departure from the Coens’ habit of sticking with their troupe of A-list regulars like George Clooney and Steve Buscemi.
THUMBS UP: Joel and Ethan Coen aren't generally accused of making personal films, and they have never dealt explicitly with their Jewish heritage. So A Serious Man, their remarkable new movie, is very much a landmark in the Coen canon. … A Serious Man isn't perfect—I'm still grappling with the powerfully offbeat ending—but it's cathartic to see the Coens finally show you a bit of who they are, or at least where they came from. — Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
THUMBS DOWN: As a piece of moviemaking craft, A Serious Man is fascinating; in every other way, it’s intolerable. … The Coens’ laughter is not exactly fresh. Dozens of popular comics in the past half century have worked in the same satiric vein. — David Denby, The New Yorker
Chelsea on the Rocks
It’s probably not a great sign when a hotel is best known for being the place where Sex Pistols' bassist Sid Vicious stabbed his girlfriend Nancy Spungen to death in a heroin-fueled frenzy. But New York City’s famed Chelsea Hotel has more going for it than sleaze, sex, and drugs. It’s been a haven for artists and musicians for decades. In Chelsea on the Rocks, director Abel Ferrara weaves archival footage with fresh interviews and dramatic re-enactments to create a unique portrait of a beloved landmark. Ethan Hawke, Milos Forman, and William S. Burroughs are some of the featured famous residents.
THUMBS UP: Abel Ferrara is not a natural documentarian. He will interrupt his subjects with gruff asides or profane exclamations. His shot choices are haphazard and arrhythmic, always cutting against any recognizable beat. Yet Ferrara’s unconventional methods only manage to serve Chelsea on the Rocks, his loving portrait of Manhattan’s boho landmark, the Chelsea Hotel. — Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York
THUMBS DOWN: And how to justify the abrupt interjection of 9/11 and the disconcerting musical contributions from Ferrara and Ethan Hawke? Usually, the weaving eloquence of Ferrara's filmmaking suffices to draw one in. Chelsea rambles—and in a way that makes you want to move down the bar. — Nick Pinkerton, The Village Voice
After the Storm
For one week only, New York City dwellers can catch After the Storm at the Museum of Modern Art. The documentary follows a group of young adults in post-Katrina New Orleans who put on a production of Once on This Island, a hit Broadway musical itself set after a hurricane, to raise funds for their storm-savaged community center.
THUMBS UP: All of the fluffy, Guffman-esque community theater drama is grounded by the glimpses of each of the performers' devastated homes and fragmented families. The class and cultural tension that exists between the well-intentioned city slickers and underprivileged kids is unavoidable, and director Hilla Medalia lets it settle evenly, refusing to judge. — Michelle Orange, The Village Voice
THUMBS DOWN: Lecesne and helmer Hilla Medalia are too close to the process, and the resulting documentary, After the Storm, feels like it was made more for the kids' sake than to communicate their story to outside auds, who would likely prefer a condensed newsmag-style recap. — Peter DeBruge, Variety
Who could have guessed a flop of a movie, 1994’s Stargate, starring Kurt Russell, would spawn not one, but two successful television series? Stargate: Atlantis went dark in 2009, and the flagship series, SG-1 has only been off for two years. But the emphasis here is on the word “new.” Eschewing Stargate’s formula of secret military teams jumping through wormholes to explore other planets and other dimensions, Stargate Universe strands an exploration team, headed up by Robert Carlyle ( 28 Weeks Later, The Full Monty), in outer space, and follows their adventures as they try to find a way home. In other words, Battlestar Galactica addicts in withdrawal rejoice, your methadone has arrived. Starting October 2, Stargate Universe will air on SyFy Fridays at 9/8c.
WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING: The Stargate Universe premiere is a solid start to this new series. The special effects are top notch, and so is the set design and direction. There's not much to complain about, besides a few awkwardly delivered lines here and there. This is a brand new direction for the Stargate franchise, not a spinoff like Stargate Atlantis. Though the premise is familiar and some of the faces are too, this story has its own unique tone, and it adds some intriguing new material to the Stargate lore. — Ramsey Isler, IGN
FOR FANS OF: Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly
From Nip/Tuck to Royal Pains, plenty of medical specialties have gotten their own TV series, so why not organ transplantation? After his short-lived Moonlight was canned last season, Alex O’Loughlin returns to CBS as Dr. Andy Yablonski, “the highly skilled workaholic lead organ-transplant surgeon, whose good-natured personality and sarcastic wit make him popular with his patients and colleagues.” Starting October 4, Three Rivers airs Sundays at 9/8c on CBS.
WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING: The Important Lessons are relentless in Three Rivers, although they seem a little less preachy when they're coming from Alex O'Loughlin ( Moonlight), who plays one of the best—and definitely the best-looking—transplant surgeons in the world. … The cases are inventive, and the acting is low key. Entertainment-wise, the series didn't seem like anything special to me. — Paige Wiser, The Chicago Sun-Times
FOR FANS OF: ER, HawthoRNe
After her husband left her for a younger woman, Sherri Shepherd, best known as one of The View’s outspoken hosts, wrote the pilot that would, after several years of stopping and starting in Hollywood, become Sherri, the new sitcom on Lifetime. In what’s sure to be an acting stretch, Sherri stars as a woman named Sherri, whose husband (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) leaves her for a younger woman. On Monday, October 5, you can catch a sneak peek on Lifetime starting at 7 p.m. before the show formally debuts in its regular 10/9c Tuesday slot on October 13.
WHAT THE STAR IS SAYING: “It’s about a woman regaining her freedom, learning to forgive and relying on the friendship of other women,” Shepherd says, explaining the show. “In real life, it was my girlfriends who got me through, and I didn’t kill my husband.” — The Buffalo News
FOR FANS OF: The New Adventures of Old Christine, Reba, Girlfriends
Discovery Channel’s new Ghost Lab sends a pair of paranormal investigators, Brad and Barry Klinge, to sniff out hauntings around America. The Texas natives founded Everyday Paranormal to investigate claims of ghostly activity, their biggest claim to fame being an alleged recording of Civil War soldiers talking. Ghost Lab will air Tuesdays at 10/9c starting October 6.
YEE-HAW! The Klinges take on Tombstone, Arizona, in the second episode, airing October 13.
FOR FANS OF: Ghost Hunters, Paranormal State, Haunted History
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