Culture

Box Office Spelunker: Our new weekly feature shines a light on unseen or unsung cinematic treasures

Welcome to the first installment of what we hope will be a scintillating must-read part of your Monday morning pre-what-fresh-hell-awaits-me delation (def: the self-defeating elation one experiences while putting off an unpleasant task, thereby prolonging the agony). Because this is a site about movies (albeit often fancy book-based ones), we felt we could hardly ignore America's addiction to weekend box office results. But we also feel a solemn sense of responsibility to offer you, dear reader, an alternative to the ubiquitous and relatively meaningless "hey, Martha!" stories about how that big 3-D superhero movie or smart animated fun-for-the-whole family cinematic experience herded thousands of people just unlike you, into theaters. So instead, I'll act as your personal box office spelunker, venturing into the deep, dark recesses of the whatever's in theaters at any current moment and pluck out what's worth knowing, seeing, avoiding.

This week, Danny Boyle's "127 Hours," which opened in limited release in New York and Los Angeles, proved its mettle as the kind of kinetic, full-immersion, and paradoxically life-affirming storytelling we've come to expect from the director of 09's Oscar grand slam winner, "Slumdog Millionaire." "Hours," which stars renaissance man James Franco (who recently added another hyphen to his job description with the release of his first collection of short stories, Palo Alto) in an adaptation of outdoorsman Aron Ralston's 2004 memoir, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, about a botched climbing expedition in which he nearly died when a boulder smashed his arm and trapped him in a desert crevasse. Gruesome desperate measures ensue. It's a testament to Boyle's visceral filmmaking that more than one sensitive soul has required medical attention due to the film's graphic scenes. The most significant endorsement for Boyle and co. has been the lines forming outside the arthouses in LA and NYC where the film has grossed more money per screen than any other release this year except "The Kids are All Right."

Fair Game Movie Poster"Fair Game" is another dark horse to keep an eye on next weekend. Based on Valerie Plame-Wilson's eponymous memoir about the 2003 political scandal during which high ranking Republicans in the Bush White House exposed her identity as an under cover CIA agent, "Fair Game" stars Naomi Watts and Sean Penn as Plame and her husband, former Ambassador, Joseph Wilson. Even though the political thriller didn't crack the weekend's top ten, reviewers were rhapsodic, which has helped build a steady momentum behind a relatively puny initial release. If the stars align, the Doug Liman-directed film might even stand a shot at a solid awards season run. That prospect is made all the more appealing (and potentially tide turning) when taken in the context of this fall's other successful adult dramas: "The Town" and "The Social Network." One more of these successes and studios just may start making movies for grown ups again.

Finally, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," the final Swedish-language film based on the Millennium Trilogy, continues to attract mass-market moviegoers like no other subtitled film has done since "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." In its second week of release, "Hornet's Nest" swarmed nearly 200 screens and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Why would it? Moviegoers know that this is the last dose they'll get of pixie badass Lisbeth Salander for at least another year, until David Fincher unleashes his big Hollywood adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

  • Pete

    127 Hours -- what a trailer! Excellent use of Band of Horses tune The Funeral. On my must-see list.

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