Latest “Twilight Saga” installment to eclipse “The Last Airbender” (updated)

If you’re the kind of person who lives or dies by box office news and, if so, you have my deepest sympathies,  this weekend’s box-office is already partially old news. As I write this late Thursday night, we know that Summit’s “The Twlight Saga: Eclipse” has already raked in a massive $68.5 million, though that’s actually a bit less than the prior installment got on its first weekday release. Nevertheless, its very mixed reviews are actually an improvement on  the poor critical performance of the last entry and there’s general agreement that, whatever else may be the case, this is the most action-packed installment so far. Decent word of mouth could give it a boost.

Ah, the eternal choice: lycanthrope or bloodsucking parasite?

In any case the $150 million or more total for the vampire romance’s first five days that jolly Carl DiOrio has confidently predicted seems like a good guess, especially with Nikki Finke‘s report of a promotional strategy involving 20 cast members fanning out across the country to intro the movie in area theaters.  This can’t hurt. Go to any revival screening in L.A. at a venue like the American Cinematheque or the L.A. County Museum of Art, and you’ll be lucky to see a half-full house. Advertise that a famed cast member will be speaking, and you often get sell outs. Never underestimate the appeal of a live celebrity appearance. If it works with film snobs, it’ll squeeze some more repeat viewings from the Twi-hards.

There’s actually another new genre film debuting this week. It’s the more kid-and-geek-male friendly, PG-rated “The Last Airbender” from M. Night Shameicantspellhisname. The Indian-American director has been pilloried by Asian groups for casting the tale, adopted from an animated series with a definite Asian flavor, with primarily white actors. It’s also been a long time since he’s had a hit, or even a movie that anybody liked much. It gets worse because “Airbender” is getting some of worst reviews of the year, with critics like our own Jason Zingale taking a moment to criticize the film’s retrofitted 3-D as even worse than the film as a whole. Even so, the martial arts fantasy got off to a decent start at midnight screenings Thursday morning with $3 million in the coffer for Paramount.

The Last AirbenderStill, if word gets out that this film is the stinker it sounds like, rather than the franchise-starter it’s supposed to be, it could do very disappointing business. With a $145 million budget, that’s not good tidings for the director or the studio. On the other hand, fans of the animated series could pull the film towards a solid, but certainly hugely distant, second. In any case, it seems clear that the massive and assuredly leggy success of “Toy Story 3” will be nipping at its heels. One thing is certain: the film originally titled “Avatar: The Last Airbender” will not be emulating its former namesake commercially over the long haul.

Among other limited releases this week, we have “Love Ranch,” which is the first film starring Helen Mirren to be directed by her husband, Taylor Hackford (“Ray,” “An Officer and a Gentleman”). Sadly, it’s getting very bad reviews. That is not good for a limited release, even if Joe Pesci is also in the cast. Amazing that a film about murder and legalized prostitution in Nevada is considered dull, but making movies is an uncertain business. Right?

“The Killer Inside Me” starring Casey Affleck as a brutally psychopathic cop is dividing critics in the kind of way that indicates it’s either an honorable near-miss or a cult film in the making. The adaptation of the pulp novel by novelist and Stanley Kubrick screenwriter Jim Thompson, which has a couple of scenes of very brutal and graphic violence that have generated a ton of ink and bloggy pixels, though its admirers tell us there’s lot more to the movie that that, will be expanding significantly from four to seventeen screens this weekend as per Box Office Mojo’s theater counts,. If you want to see it in a theater, I suggest you do so quickly. I don’t think all that many people are in the mood for this kind of thing right now.

UPDATE: Nikki Finke has the Thursday box office which indicates both “Eclipse” and “Airbender” are on track for their respective expected strong performances. Still, I’m curious to see if word of mouth catches up with the latter.

  

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