Box Office Preview: Spidey like it’s 2002

The Amazing Spider-Man

Everything I’ve heard, read, and seen regarding “The Amazing Spider-Man” indicates that it’s a good, or even great movie. Or, rather, that it would be such if (more or less) the exact same film hadn’t come out just a decade ago. The idea here seems to be that Sony needed to relaunch the franchise to keep the rights to the character from reverting back to Marvel, and that kids young enough not to remember 2002 still love Spider-Man. In spite of all that, the reboot, directed by Marc Webb (of “(500) Days of Summer” fame), has been certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and set a new record for highest Tuesday gross on the day it was released.

I’m not going to tell you not to see “The Amazing Spider-Man,” because the latter fact seems to indicate that you’re going to anyway and the former that it might even be worth seeing. But before you inevitably find yourself in your theater seat, don’t think I was just being cynical when I warned you that this was the exact same movie.

Seriously, there are way more similarities here then there are differences, and the differences really aren’t all that significant. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is a tad less geeky than Tobey Maguire’s. Imagine that. The female lead isn’t Mary Jane Watson, it’s that other one, Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone. The “Spider-Man” is evil cause is championed by Gwen’s dad, police captain George Stacy (Denis Leary), rather than J. Jonah Jameson. And right before you point out that the villain is different, think again. The real bad guy here, as in Sam Raimi’s version, is OsCorp. As Bullz-eye’s Jason Zingale put it:

Peter gets bitten by a genetically-altered spider and develops superhuman strength (among other things); Uncle Ben is killed by a petty thief; Peter goes seeking revenge in the guise of a costumed vigilante; and, well, you know the rest. The first hour plays out pretty similar to Raimi’s movie, and though there are some nice changes along the way (like the return of Spider-Man’s web-shooters and the “power and responsibility” speech), it’s hard not to feel a sense of déjà vu in the repetitiveness of it all. Granted, it’s completely necessary to re-tell the origin story because of how it ties into the new characters, but it probably didn’t need to be as drawn out as it is here.

Savages

With competition from Spidey and the July 20 release of “The Dark Knight Rises,” very few big name movies, or movies with big names, are seeing release this month. “Savages” is one of just a few exceptions. Oliver Stone directs and Aaron Johnson (“Kick-Ass“) stars as one of two friends running a lucrative homegrown marijuana business in Southern California. Conflict ensues when they share a love interest (Blake Lively)… and also when a Mexican cartel headed by Elena (Selma Hayek) and Lado (Benico Del Toro) shows up and demands a partnership. A war of sorts breaks out between the cartel and the trio, with the help of a DEA agent played by John Travolta.  Those are some pretty big names, right?

Anyway, Rotten Tomatoes calls “Savages” “undeniably messy,” but also says it “finds Oliver Stone returning to dark, fearlessly lurid form.” Currently at a 60 percent on the Tomatometer, “Savages” has gotten extremely mixed reviews. I don’t think it’ll be all that good, but it’s got some recognizable faces and isn’t “The Amazing Spider-Man.” The latter attribute seems like the film’s primary draw and hints at its target demographic: people who want to see something besides “Spider-Man” this weekend.

  

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Nowhere Boy/Nowhere Man

And now, a couple of trailers I missed earlier.

First, because I’m a both a Beatles fan and a sucker for even the corniest of musical biopics, we have “Nowhere Boy” starring Aaron Johnson as the teenage John Lennon, minus the scuba suit and sporting an accent from his home country. Oh, and if you think 19 year-old  Johnson looks young, check out the kid playing a certain future vegetarian musical elder-statesmen (Thomas Sangster of “Love Actually,” it turns out). Turns out, he’s 19 also. It certainly beats the traditional Hollywood practice of having 28-35 year-olds playing teens. (H/t /Film.)

I’m sure many of you have long since seen the new trailer for Christopher Nolan’s all-star Phillip K. Dick-esque opus, “Inception,” which came out late last week. Just in case you’re like me and have managed to miss it up to now, here it is. I think I get why this one is shaping up as the next really big summer movie.

  

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Family friendly “Dragon” grazes the keister of “Kick-Ass”

We have another apparent photo-finish at the box office this weekend. Despite my confidence Thursday night that “Kick-Ass” would be the top film this weekend and probably come out in the middle-to-high end of the $20-30 million range suggested by all the prognosticators, the film appears to have come just shy of doing either.  For now.
Aaron Johnson and Chloe Moretz in
The “actuals” that will come out sometime tomorrow could change this. However, with an estimate of $19.75 million, the somewhat controversial hyperviolent “hard R” superhero action-black-comedy  is currently within $250,000 of being beaten by the $20 million estimate for the crowd-pleasing, PG-rated 3-D family film “How to Train Your Dragon”. That’s actually still good, if  you can ignore the expectations game.

However much the schadenfreude brigade plays up the gap between expectations and box office reality, the $30 million film from director Matthew Vaughn (a producer earlier in his career) is clearly going to be very profitable for Lionsgate. The man who started his career as Guy Ritchie’s producer and who since has proven himself to be, in my estimation, the vastly better filmmaker (I haven’t seen “Kick-Ass” yet), should be applauded for bringing an action film like this on what is, by Hollywood standards, a very low budget for an action film. I think that is especially so in the home video long haul as the “Kick-Ass” cult will undoubtedly grow, at least among fanboys of all ages. It’ll also be interesting to see if the film develops legs or sinks-like a stone theatrically, as many genre films do. Next weekend will tell that tale.

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Why do you think they call them “Titans”?

There really doesn’t seem to be any way around it, “Clash of the Titans” will almost undoubtedly win the box office race this Easter and Good Friday weekend. Just anecdotally, I can see that interest is high for a remake of a swords-and-sandals fantasy flick that is a sentimental favorite for lots of guys, even if the original film is not really seen as the strongest movie in the cannon of the great stop-motion effects man, Ray Harryhausen, who turns 90 this summer. I’ve been hearing and seeing fairly enthusiastic chatter about this film from French-export action-guy director Louis Leterrier everywhere for months, including at my local Food 4 Less a couple of nights back.

Clash of the Titans

Critics like our own David Medsker may excoriate it for not even having impressive effects, and the Rotten Tomatoes crew as a whole may give it an unimpressive 34%, but you can’t really stop a titan, can you? Moreover, critics seem to agree that, especially in the post “Avatar” world, the retrofitted 3-D is not worth the extra money and audiences will get just as big a kick — if kick, there is, to be had — in cheaper 2-D. But, in for a penny, in for a pound, I suspect, will be the way of things and the roughly 2,170 3-D screens will be mighty crowded this weekend.

Indeed, a returning jolly Carl DiOrio over at THR informs us that the consensus among the box office guru types is that the film could well bring in over $60 million. He also mentions in his weekly video that Easter is traditionally a rather strong weekend at the box office. So, on the weekend that commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as told in the Bible, hundreds of thousands of theoretically Chrisitan people all over the country will be seeing a movie that celebrates ancient pagan deities. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — I don’t really have a dog (or a god) in that particular spiritual fight. Still, maybe I should get a bit more worked up because Warner Brothers’ distribution Dan Fellman told DiOrio that: “We own males over and under 25…” All I can say as someone who falls into one of those categories, neither Warners nor Mr. Fellman own me and I think that’s actually kind of illegal. But, yeah, his movie will make some money and most of it will come from guys.

There are two other new movies coming out, but they both most definitely qualify as counter-programming and are primarily aimed at woman. Adult woman who are also African-American and the men who love them are pretty much the target demo for “Why Did I Get Married, Too?” — a sequel from the Tyler Perry ethnically targeted juggernaut.

Black Dynamite shows his softer side.I will point out, however, that alongside start Janet Jackson, Michael Jai White is in the cast. As everyone who saw him in “Black Dynamite” knows, if the Man wasn’t busy working overtime keeping him down, he’d already be a superstar. So, maybe I hope this does the usual Tyler Perry business and makes between $25-$30 million on a relatively low budget. The film hasn’t been screened for critics it appears. Why bother?

The PG-rated teen-centric weepy romance “The Last Song” starring Miley Cyrus, Greg Kinnear, and guest hunk Liam Hemswroth and adapted from a novel by the ever-popular Nicholas Sparks, who also co-wrote the screenplay, has actually been in theaters since Wednesday — what, you didn’t know that? The film has already done decent business from Ms. Cyrus’s devoted young fans and their moms despite predictably miserable reviews. Still, especially when Disney’s early take is discounted, it will still probably be fairly low on the b.o. totem pole come the Sunday estimates.

There’s no theater count up for it over at Box Office Mojo, and only a handful of critics have eve seen it yet, it appears (of them, currently 58% are favorable at Rotten Tomatoes) but the R-rated “The Greatest” open this weekend in apparently very limited release. Reviewer Jason Newman sure makes it sound like a solid, if heart wrenching, drama. It’s certainly got an outstanding cast with the eternally underrated Pierce Brosnan, the impossible to overrate Susan Surandon, mega-up-and-comer Carey Mulligan, and another potential superstar to be, Aaron Johnson of, dare I say it, “Kick-Ass.” Isn’t it weird that the spill-over notoriety from that couldn’t-be-more-different sure-thing hit will probably help this one move a few DVDs, at least?

Carey Mulligan and Aaron Johnson in

  

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SXSW 2010: Kick-Ass

Matthew Vaughn hasn’t had the greatest luck with comic book movies – first, he walked away from “X-Men: The Last Stand” mere weeks before filming began, and more recently, he was replaced by Kenneth Branagh as director of Marvel’s big screen adaptation of “Thor” – so it’s nice to finally see him find a little success in the genre. Of course, “Kick-Ass” has had its share of problems as well, most notably in the lack of studio interest when the project was first being shopped around. And considering just how much graphic violence and language courses through Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s eight-issue miniseries, you can sort of understand why. Thankfully, that didn’t deter Vaughn from just securing the financing himself, because in doing so, he was provided the freedom needed to create the kind of balls-to-the-wall comic book movie that its bold source material deserved.

For teenage geek Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), comic books aren’t just an escape from the social hierarchy of high school, but a lesson in morals as well. When he wonders why no one has tried to do the superhero thing in real life, he throws on an old wet suit and heads into the city to fight crime. It doesn’t go quite as well as he imagined, but his random act of bravery is recorded and uploaded to YouTube where he becomes an overnight sensation as the masked crusader, Kick-Ass, spawning an entire subculture of costumed heroes in the process. Meanwhile, father-daughter duo Damon and Mindy Macready (Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz) really are living the secret lives of superheroes, and when they catch wind of Kick-Ass’ clumsy heroics, they decide to team up with the kid to take down the local crime boss, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong).

kick_ass

There’s more to the story that would be considered a spoiler to first-time readers of the comic – namely, the reveal that Kick-Ass’ new superhero pal, Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), is actually Frank’s son, Chris, in disguise – but it’s announced so early on in the film version that you’re not surprised when he turns out to be working for the bad guys. In fact, there are plenty of differences between the book and the movie, but with the exception of Dave’s relationship with high school crush Katie Deauxma (Lyndsy Fonesca) – which follows the same general path until it veers off into a decidedly more Hollywood-friendly direction – it’s mostly just additional material meant to flesh out characters that didn’t have as much of a presence in the comic book.

And even when the movie isn’t using the comic as a blueprint, it still feels like it belongs in “Kick-Ass.” Director Matthew Vaughn clearly understands the world that Millar and Romita Jr. have created, and that familiarity resonates throughout, from the high-energy action scenes to the colorful performances from its cast. Aaron Johnson is a real find as the title character – a Peter Parker type who can play both dorky and cool – but it’s his pint-sized co-star who walks away with the film. Chloe Moretz has already proven that she’s mature beyond her years (see: “500 Days of Summer”), but she easily trumps that performance with an instantly iconic role that places her in the middle of some of the coolest, most wildly violent fight sequences since “Kill Bill.” Even Nicolas Cage is at the top of his game as his character’s alter ego, Big Daddy – a vigilante so conceptually similar to Batman that Cage speaks with an Adam West-like cadence.

That’s exactly the kind of detail that might drive some fans crazy, but it complements Vaughn’s vision nicely, because his “Kick-Ass” is more of a satire of the superhero genre than a straight-up action flick. And when you have an 11-year-old girl running around town chopping up gangsters, how could you not acknowledge the absurdity of the situation? Millar’s book had its moments, but Vaughn mines the material for even more laughs, especially in the relationships between Aaron and his friends (Clark Duke and Evan Peters), Kick-Ass and Red Mist, and Big Daddy and Hit-Girl. The end result is an entertaining blend of action and comedy that, despite falling short of its ridiculously high expectations, delivers everything that was awesome about the comic and more.

  

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