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Monthly Watch List: August 2011

Not all of the following movies are highly anticipated or worth a viewing at all, let alone in theaters.  Still, the purpose of these monthly watch lists is to present what is available and offer a conclusion of whether or not to see the film, usually based on the filmmakers’ pedigrees and current consensus about it.  Also important to note while reading or skimming the list is that not all will be released in a theater near you on the mentioned date; take note of the “Limited” label.

The dog days of summer have arrived and with it the often lackluster lot of August movies.  Several notable, big budget films will be released this month but they seem, for the most part, mediocre and destined to hit the B-movie shelf.  However, occasionally some gems are hidden at the end of the summer so don’t simply dismiss this month’s movies.  Still, none of the films coming out this August are “can’t miss,” even if they’re listed with the “highly anticipated” label or worth seeing.  In essence, August can be labeled a sleeper month – either viewers will fall asleep at the movies or the movies will go from under-the-radar/cheesy-looking to sleeper hits.  Have a good month!

Also, don’t forget about limited releases from June or July that might open to a wider release and a theater near you, such as The Tree of Life, Attack the Block, and The Guard (for more information on these and other previously limited releases refer to the other Monthly Watch Lists.)

August 5 – Rise of the Planet of the Apes



IMDB Synopsis: An origin story set in present day San Francisco, where man’s own experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy.

Director: Rupert Wyatt

Stars: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, Tom Felton, Brian Cox, John Lithgow

Should you see it? – Yes, but maybe only for a matinee showing.

  • Every single time I saw a preview for Rise of the Planet of the Apes in theaters, the audience groaned and scoffed at it.  The most commonly found criticism ridicules the movie’s unrealistic premise: “There is no way that apes could rise up and take over the world!”  Indeed it is highly implausible, but this is a prime example of the phrase “Relax, this is a movie.”  In other words, suspend your disbelief; it’s supposed to be absurd yet amusing or entertaining.  Besides, most younger viewers today are unfamiliar with the Charleton Heston classic Planet of the Apes (1968) or the 1970s TV series of the same name so they might not even realize it’s a prequel and thus have less reason to be excited about it.  Perhaps the studio wants to build a new franchise, but their last attempt at doing so with the material largely failed with Tim Burton’s Mark Wahlberg-led Planet of the Apes (2001).  Once again, an impressive, albeit seemingly miscast, set of actors has been assembled, including Tom Felton’s (Draco Malfoy) first major role now that the Harry Potter franchise is over, but so far, aside from the ridiculous premise, the movie looks pretty generic.  Unless it receives rave reviews in the coming weeks or you’re a Planet of the Apes fanatic, skip this one in theaters.  If you choose to see it, only go for a matinee showing.
  • *** UPDATE – Rise of the Planet of the Apes has received generally positive reviews from both professional critics and casual moviegoers.  It far exceeds expectations, albeit pretty low ones, to help make it a sleeper hit of the summer.  Check this one out in theaters, but still suspend your disbelief.




August 5 – The Change-Up



IMDB Synopsis: A family guy switches bodies with his slacker best friend in an effort to romance his co-worker.

Director: David Dobkin

Stars: Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, Olivia Wilde, Leslie Mann, Alan Arkin

Should you see it? – Yes (HIGHLY ANTICIPATED)

  • The R-rated comedy train races onward with yet another Jason Bateman movie.  I don’t have as much anticipation for it as I did for Bateman’s Horrible Bosses (2011), but maybe that’s a good thing since my high expectations for it kept me from loving it like many others did (I still enjoyed it a lot, but not enough to call it my favorite/the best comedy of the year so far).  Hopefully it will be at least as funny as Horrible Bosses, if not more so; it’s one of a few left that has the potential to upstage the summer’s other comedies as the best of the lot.  The theatrical trailer, and especially the red-band preview, shows some promise.  Bateman and Ryan Reynolds are very idiosyncratic actors and to see the two of them impersonating each other should be entertaining.  Sure, the premise is far from original, but the funny previews, strong cast and talented genre director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Shanghai Knights) make me optimistic that The Change-Up will be a solid to above average (raunchy) comedy.  See this one in theaters but wait until reviews come out to determine whether it’s worth an evening/prime-time or matinee showing.




August 5 – The Whistleblower (Limited)



IMDB Synopsis: A drama based on the experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop who served as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia and outed the U.N. for covering up a sex scandal.

Director: Larysa Kondracki

Stars: Rachel Weisz, Monica Belluci, Vanessa Redgrave, Liam Cunningham, David Straithairn, Benedict Cumberbatch

Should you see it? – Maybe; if it’s able to rise above being preachy then yes, give it a shot.

  • While the premise and title may spoil the plot somewhat, the great cast and intriguingly action-filled preview makes me reconsider whether or not to advocate seeing this film.  Still this could very well turn out to be just more Hollywood-ized political and human rights propaganda.  However, The Whistleblower seems like a solid thriller in which viewers can forgive the political undertones for the most part; then again it might be an “important” movie to see considering its subject matter.  Yet, this has an above-average TV-movie feel to it, so I’m unsure whether it’s worth a theater viewing.  Give the preview a look and decide whether or not this type of movie interests you.  I’m very mixed about it, but cannot deny the impressive cast and might give it a chance if it opened near me or for a wide release.




August 5 – Bellflower (Limited)



IMDB Synopsis: Woodrow and Aiden devote their time to building flame-throwers and weapons of mass destruction, part of their preparation for the global apocalypse. Their plans are derailed temporarily when Woodrow falls for Milly, but when their relationship sours, the two guys begin to live out an even darker, more violent fantasy.

Director: Evan Glodell

Stars: Evan Glodell, Tyler Dawson, Jessie Wiseman

Should you see it? – If you like indie or experimental-type flicks, yes.

  • Considered to be a visually stunning and raw piece of storytelling, Bellflower is an extreme example of experimental independent filmmaking.  Critics have praised the film so far and the preview’s imagery is stunning, but unless you love lower-budget experimental type movies you should skip this one.  Besides, the film is only opening in New York City on August 5 and will roll out to wider audiences in the coming weeks if successful at the box-office (like so many limited releases).




August 10 – The Help



IMDB Synopsis: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962: aspiring writer Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan returns home after college, where unexpected friendships with African-American maids Aibeleen Clark and Minny Jackson result in a book that gives a previously unheard voice to a community’s suffering.

Director: Tate Taylor

Stars: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Mike Vogel

Should you see it? – Maybe – Not for me, but still looks like a quality film.

  • Emma Stone is fast becoming an A-list starlet, but until she truly breaks out she will continue to appear in under-the-radar flicks like this one.  Aided by a surprisingly solid ensemble cast, in particular Oscar-nominated Viola Davis (Doubt [2008]), Bryce Dallas Howard, and Jessica Chastain, The Help looks like a crowd-pleasing dramedy.  What’s more, the film is based on the best-selling book of the same name in which the movie is about, so it’s sure to be an inspiring tale.  However, the mass public will skip this movie, that is if they’ve even heard of it, so chances are unless this kind of movie is to your liking then there’s little I can do to convince you otherwise. Besides, it’s not exactly my cup of tea, but it seems like a quality film and precisely the kind of movie you enjoy seeing.




August 12 – 30 Minutes or Less



IMDB Synopsis: Two fledgling criminals kidnap pizza delivery guy Nick, strap a bomb to his chest, and inform him that he has mere hours to rob a bank. As the clock ticks, Nick, with the help of his ex-best friend, Chet, deal with the police, hired assassins, flamethrowers, and their own tumultuous relationship.

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson, Michael Peña, Aziz Ansari, Fred Ward

Should you see it? – Yes (HIGHLY ANTICIPATED)

  • This is a very interesting return to the big-screen for both director Ruben Fleischer and now Oscar-nominated actor Jesse Eisenberg.  I thoroughly enjoyed Fleischer’s debut Zombieland (2009), so much so that I might put it in the same category as the original The Hangover (2009) and Tropic Thunder (2008); so his sophomore effort definitely intrigues me.  Eisenberg re-unites with Fleischer for another R-rated comedy just after his brilliant turn as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network (2010), my pick for last year’s best picture.  Besides the filmmakers’ history, the cast and solid previews for 30 Minutes or Less have me sold.  However, unless the movie has a ton of great moments NOT shown in the previews, I don’t expect this one to be on the same level as the aforementioned comedies.  Still, check it out in theaters sometime, especially if you enjoyed Zombieland’s style of humor or the cast members’ quirky attitudes.




August 12 – Final Destination 5



IMDB Synopsis: Survivors of a suspension-bridge collapse learn there’s no way you can cheat Death.

Director: Steven Quale

Stars: Nicholas D’Agosto, Emma Bell, Arlen Escarpeta, PJ Byrne, Tony Todd

Should you see it? – No, please stop making these.  Better yet, how is this not straight-to-DVD?

  • The answer is simple: money.  It’s always about money.  The previous installments have made the studio money and therefore another has been made.  In fact, the producers have already stated that if this fifth film does well at the box-office, they will green-light and film TWO more sequels back-to-back.  Clearly it doesn’t matter that the previous installment was title THE Final Destination, presumably as the final one in the series.  The quality continues to slide with each sequel, though the first one isn’t that special anymore really as the premise has more than worn off.  Still, despite the fact that a sequel is totally unnecessary, Final Destination 5 probably provides a few thrills and chills.  However, given that the studio is prepared to make two more sequels, this film probably has an aggravating open-ended ending; they need to go all-out and make a pleasing conclusion, not another bridge money-maker.  Nevertheless, if you’re seeing this movie in theaters then you’ll probably be satisfied with the product: mindless entertainment.




August 12 – Glee: The 3D Concert Movie



IMDB Synopsis: A concert documentary shot during the Glee Live! In Concert! summer 2011 tour.

Director: Kevin Tancharoen

Stars: Cory Monteith, Dianna Agron, Lea Michele

Should you see it? – If you’re a Gleek, maybe; otherwise, definitely not.

  • Gleeks unite! Your favorite sing-a-long sitcom is hitting the big-screen! Well, sort of – Glee’s storylines on TV won’t be adapted into a feature-length film; rather, it’s simply a documentary following the Glee Live In Concert summer 2011 tour.  I’m sure fans of the show will probably enjoy it, and it is clearly made just for them.  If you love Glee, check it out in theaters while you can – you might not see them on the big-screen for a while if at all.




August 12 – Senna (Limited)



IMDB Synopsis: A documentary on Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, who won the F1 world championship three times before his death at age 34.

Director: Asif Kapadia

Stars: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Frank Williams

Should you see it? – For documentary and indie-car racing gurus eyes only.

  • Documentary audience winner at Sundance, Senna has been universally praised thus far.  Yet, if documentaries bore you or indie-car racing isn’t your thing, then chances are you won’t want to see this movie regardless of its quality or rating.  Nonetheless, it seems to be another great, moving documentary film in a year full of them.




August 19 – One Day



IMDB Synopsis: After spending the night together on the night of their college graduation Dexter and Em are shown each year on the same date to see where they are in their lives. They are sometimes together, sometimes not, on that day.

Director: Lone Scherfig

Stars: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson

Should you see it? – If you like romantic dramas, then yes.

  • Based on David Nicholls’ very successful novel of the same name and scripted by the author himself, One Day looks like a solid romantic drama.  I haven’t heard much about the book let alone read it, but based on the trailer it seems to have an intriguing premise with themes and messages that anyone can relate to.  It looks charming, somewhat humorous, and heartfelt; check it out on a date.




August 19 – Fright Night



IMDB Synopsis: A teenager suspects that his new neighbor is a vampire.

Director: Craig Gillespie

Stars: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Toni Collette

Should you see it? – Maybe, but probably not.

  • Despite the strong cast, this unnecessary remake (of the successful, acclaimed original of the same name) looks fairly bland.  Furthermore, it seems to ride the vampire craze and moneymaking train in Hollywood, as well as some Disturbia mixed in.  This has straight-to-DVD or TV movie written all over it, but the studio obviously didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to remake a good movie for a new generation, especially when they can charge 3D prices too.  Unless you’re seeing this as a cheap matinee for some mindless entertainment, skip this one in theaters.  Still, one can hope that this turns out to be one B-A sleeper.




August 19 – Conan the Barbarian



IMDB Synopsis: The tale of Conan the Cimmerian and his adventures across the continent of Hyboria on a quest to avenge the murder of his father and the slaughter of his village.

Director: Marcus Nispel

Stars: Jason Momoa, Ron Perlman, Rose McGowan, Stephen Lang

Should you see it? – Arnold isn’t in this? Then no. Seriously, though, a matinee at most.

  • The minute I heard they were remaking the Arnold Schwarzeneggar cult classic I immediately felt suspicious that this would simply be a money-grabbing project that hopes to build a new film franchise for a younger generation.  Sure, state-of-the-art special effects will enhance the production value and thrilling capacity, not to mention remove the Arnold-cheesiness factor, but this Conan the Barbarian seems to be pretty standard action fare without a particularly notable cast.  I’m certain it will be a grisly, action-packed effort, but it doesn’t seem to be very compelling and definitely not worth a full ticket price.




August 19 – Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D



IMDB Synopsis: Retired agent Marissa Cortez Wilson gets back into action — and recruits her two stepchildren — to stop a super-villain known as the Timekeeper from taking over the planet.

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Stars: Jessica Alba, Jeremy Piven, Joel McHale, Antonio Banderas, Danny Trejo, Ricky Gervais

Should you see it? – No.

  • How this franchise continues to attract movie stars and find its way onto the big-screen is baffling.  Nevertheless, this is a kids’ movie, pure and simple, though a awful looking one to say the least.  There’s no reason why you should see this movie unless you have kids to take it to, but even then I’d question your decision to take them to see this movie; take them to a better children’s flick or save your money from the absurd admission and concession prices, which I’m sure the kids will want to indulge.




August 19 – Griff the Invisible (Limited)



IMDB Synopsis: Griff, office worker by day, superhero by night, has his world turned upside down when he meets Melody, a beautiful young scientist who shares his passion for the impossible.

Director: Leon Ford

Stars: Ryan Kwanten, Maeve Dermody, Marshall Napier

Should you see it? – Maybe.

  • You’re probably thinking “Another indie superhero flick?”  Yes, this is another independent film perspective on what it means to be a superhero in the real world (or not? The preview seems to border between he is a superhero versus it’s all in his head).  Still, despite numerous takes on the idea (i.e. Defendor, Super), the Australian Griff the Invisible looks pretty decent or at least just as good as the other underrated films.  Unfortunately for the film, it will likely remain underrated in its limited release.




August 19 – Amigo (Limited)



IMDB Synopsis: Set during the Philippine-American War at the turn of the 1900s, a village mayor works to keep the peace as advancing U.S. troops led by Colonel Hardacre look to garrison his settlement.

Director: John Sayles

Stars: Joel Torre, Chris Cooper, Garret Dillahunt

Should you see it? – Skip in theaters; save for cable TV maybe.

  • Although Amigo has a solid cast and an Oscar-nominated director, this limited release looks a little too low budget-y and rather preachy with its caricature of Imperialistic military forces.  The fictional tale probably tells a decent story and could be relatable, but it just seems like a concoction gone wrong.  Skip this one.




August 26 – Our Idiot Brother



IMDB Synopsis: A pot bust sends nice-guy Ned to jail, and though he’s released early on good behavior, he returns home to discover that his girlfriend has left and taken his dog with her. Homeless and unemployed, his divides his time by couch-surfing at the homes of his three sisters and causing chaos in each of their lives.

Director: Jesse Peretz

Stars: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan, Hugh Dancy, Rashida Jones, Adam Scott

Should you see it? – Yes (HIGHLY ANTICIPATED)

  • Paul Rudd has had a checkered comedic history but he seems less like his typical self in this lighthearted role.  Additionally, he’s surrounded by a great supporting cast.  The R-rated Our Idiot Brother looks like an above average, charming comedy perhaps with some heart to it.  In fact, critics and audiences really liked it when it premiered as Sundance earlier this year.  It might be the summer’s last real comedy but it’s certainly not its least worthwhile; check it out in theaters.




August 26 – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark



IMDB Synopsis: A young girl sent to live with her father and his new girlfriend discovers creatures in her new home who want to claim her as one of their own.

Director: Troy Nixey; Guillermo del Toro (producer, co-writer)

Stars: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison

Should you see it? – Yes, formerly highly anticipated.

  • It might be a remake of the popular 1970s TV movie, but it might just be worth it.  Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II (2008) writer-director and visionary Guillermo del Toro helped pen this film’s screenplay and worked as one of its producers, so it’s certainly going to be a movie fit for the big-screen.  Moreover, while Katie Holmes likely won’t light up the screen, her counterpart the underrated Guy Pearce should be a joy to see once again; he deserves to become an A-lister, but he seems to have dodged becoming a star over his stellar career.  Nonetheless, even though it has some cheesy creepy voices in the trailer, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark looks to be like a decent horror flick.  Also, although I tend to dismiss the correlation between the quality of horror movies and their MPAA rating (i.e. R-rated = better than PG-13) as an overgeneralization, since oftentimes good PG-13 horror films don’t need the gore to scare you (i.e. Insidious, The Ring), the fact that this film is rated R does give you some hope that it won’t flake out.  Besides, del Toro likes to push the envelope and probably won’t disappoint too much; hopefully he had a heavy hand in this project and that the director didn’t choose to sell out.




August 26 – Colombiana



IMDB Synopsis: A young woman, after witnessing her parents’ murder as a child in Bogota, grows up to be a stone-cold assassin.

Director: Oliver Megaton

Stars: Zoe Saldana, Michael Vartan, Callum Blue, Cliff Curtis, Jordi Mollà

Should you see it? – Maybe, but as a matinee.

  • Luc Besson, writer of genre cult classics such as The Fifth Element (1997), Leon: The Professional (1994), Taken (2008), and The Transporter series, helped write the screenplay for this movie.  It basically looks like a female-driven Taken, so if you enjoyed that one, then you’ll probably like this too.  Although, without Liam Neeson, I’m not sure this action-thriller will fare very well at the box-office.  Still, it looks like an entertaining flick but nothing extraordinarily special.  Check it out as a matinee if you please.  Oh, one other thing: “Never forget!” (how many times did the trailer say that??? Wonder how many in the movie…)




August 26 – Higher Ground (Limited)



IMDB Synopsis: A small evangelical Christian community is thrown off balance when one of their own, Corrine, begins to question her faith. It is a chronicle of one woman’s lifelong struggle with her faith.

Director: Vera Farmiga

Stars: Vera Farmiga, Joshua Leonard, Dagmara Dominczyk, John Hawkes,

Should you see it? – Meh, probably not in theaters.

  • That wasn’t a typo – Higher Ground is underrated actress Vera Farmiga’s directorial debut in which she also stars.  Still, as provocative and depth-filled as this appears to be, Higher Ground doesn’t seem to be the type of movie you’d want to see in theaters.  I have no doubt that it is very compelling and features possibly award-worthy performances, but unless you’re a film connoisseur, love Farmiga, or you’re deeply curious about how she portrays Christianity (will it be the typical Hollywood trashing or something more enlightening?), then you might as well skip this one.




August 26 – Circumstance



IMDB Synopsis: A wealthy Iranian family struggles to contain a teenager’s growing sexual rebellion and her brother’s dangerous obsession.

Director: Maryam Keshavarz

Stars: Sarah Kazemy, Nikohl Boosheri, Reez Sixo Safai

Should you see it? – Probably not.

  • While the subject matter of Iranian oppression is highly important, this film is not the best at conveying such messages.  Instead, critics have noted the lesbian relationship undermines the political context making the story more “melodramatic and insipid” than insightful; it seems to sell out the potential of a call-for-help against Iranian oppression and for its people’s causes for “cheap thrills.”  I’m sure it is a bit moving but Circumstance fails to take advantage of the opportunity and instead just manipulates the viewer.



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