Gore v. chills at the box office

I keep reading that the studios are reducing their outputs and that we’ll be seeing fewer new movies, but there’s sure no sign of it lately as we have another complicated week where, at least in theory, anything can happen. Still, the prognosticators agree that the latest entry in the first and longest running franchise in the sub-genre of torture-heavy horror, “Saw VI,” will likely win the week for Lionsgate.

On the other hand, there is also a consensus that the low-violence yet entirely potent chills of “Paranormal Activity” will be cutting into the Saw-bucks some also. Obviously, there is some audience crossover but, just as obviously, the most jaded gore hounds may find it beyond tame. I’ve already noted online the start of an inevitable backlash. I doubt this reaction will have the same angry potency that afflicted “The Blair Witch Project” so many moons ago. In that case, Lionsgate’s attempt to persuade less-savvy audiences that it might actually be real probably backfired later on, as did the over-hype of some of the early write-ups.

This time, Paramount has been more cleverly circumspect than the “Blair Witch” marketers, simply making the case that the modest video-movie can really scare the bejesus out of an audience. I’m here to tell you it can, even though I feel sure that not a single person I saw it with was under any delusion that what we were watching was not staged. Still, you see the violence-loving fanboys complaining at certain sites. I mean, how can a movie be scary if it lets you imagine the worst of it? How is that ever going to work?

It’s probably pretty obvious by now, especially from my post just before this one, that I prefer the “Paranormal” approach and will be rooting for it but, despite the still growing excitement around the movie, it’s the definite underdog as “Saw VI” will be opening in 3,036 theaters, while it’s competitor will be expanding to a mere 1,900. However, the outstanding per-screen averages that the film has been nailing could compensate if some horror audiences find the prospect of yet another ultra-brutality fest less than ultra-appealing.

Though it’s yet another family-friendly CGI animated film, this one based on a property at least some of us remember from our childhoods, hopes are not all that astronomically high for the next film. Summit’s “Astro Boy” is based on the best known creation of Japan’s “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka, who basically invented both manga and anime as we now know them and who created some of the best comic books for adults that I’ve ever read. Of course, you’d never know from the horrendously lame gag at the end of the trailer or the often ugly CGI animation that ruins the beautiful 2-D (black and white, too!) of the early Tezuka cartoons as scene in the trailer. This appears to be another case of a studio adapting a property and missing what made the original work.

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Still, U.S. audiences will barely be aware of this, and with the constant appetite for new family films, a decent performance is probably in the cards, though I would expect this to be more the kind of film parents endure for the sake of their kids than actually want to see for themselves. I was interested to see that, in the “meh” reviews, some critics were actually complaining about the darker and more interesting quasi-political (“robot rights”!) agenda of the original work. It’s the kind of thing critics are supposed to like. I  personally like to give a film credit for even trying stuff like that, though if you screw it up, you screw it up.

Next up, we have another film which could be termed horror though probably not if you’re over 10 or 11. Universal’s “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” is based on a series of tweenish young-adult novels and has not generated a lot of excitement from much anyone, certainly not critics, and apparently it’s not “tracking” all that great either. An apparently not very funny PG-13 horror comedy that skews tween is just not what the core filmgoing audience is looking for. Still, John C. Reilly is a favorite of mine and director Paul Weitz has done some seriously underrated work since “American Pie,” including the disarming and funny “About a Boy,” and the actually kind of good but commercially destroyed and critically dissed “American Dreamz,” so it may not be a total loss. Nevertheless, if I ever see this movie it’ll probably be by accident and I suspect it’ll be that way for most others outside it’s core audience.

Finally, playing on a modest 800 screens is Mira Nair’s “Amelia,” a biopic of famously lost aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart starring Hilary Swank. According to jolly Carl DiOrio at THR, Fox-Searchlight is apparently betting on good word of mouth and critical support. In theory, this might make some sense, given the subject matter and the fact that the director has been a bit of a critical darling for decades with films like “The Namesake” and “Monsoon Wedding,” So far, however, Fox is rolling snake eyes as the director leaves her usual milieu for an attempt at an old school movie biography. The word on the  street on this one has been very weak — perhaps due to some hack work by co-screenwriter Ron Bass whose been known to do the hacky on films a lot of the time — and it’s Rotten Tomatoes score is the lowest of any new film this week, rating a somewhat sad 23%. Unless this film hits a chord with adult women it doesn’t with critics or industry journalists, I would expect this one to, yes, disappear into the ether, never to be seen again except on cable and never, ever on airplanes.

As per Box Office Mojo, in limited release this week we have the 3-D redo of Tim Burton and Henry Selick’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” in 105 theaters for goths of all ages; “Motherhood,” a comedy-drama which appears to divide critics (sometimes an interesting sign in the long run) and stars Uma Thurman is opening on 48 screens; “Ong Bak 2” from Thai martial artist Tony Jaa, which is not generating the interest of the first film (at least from critics) will be on 10 screens; and, for those who like their horror gore arty and emotionally and physically painful as you can imagine, six theaters will be showing the film that proved Quentin Tarantino can be easily out-controversyed whenever Lars von Trier (“Dancer in the Dark,” “Dogville”) makes the scene at Cannes. The movie in question is “Antichrist,” featuring a sometimes naked and sometimes graphically genitally mutilating and/or genitally mutilated Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg and has critics differing sharply, often with themselves. I’m not sure what happens to who, but whatever your gender, get ready to keep your legs tightly crossed.

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