An “Avatar” five-peat for MLK weekend?

With “Avatar” holding remarkably well last weekend to the tune of over $50 million, there’s every reason to expect another very strong performance over the coming Martin Luther King Day holiday. Still, along with the holiday, this is also the first weekend since Christmas where James Cameron‘s science-fiction adventure is facing some new decent genre competition.

That comes via “The Book of Eli,” another “Mad Max”-esque post-apocalyptic neo-western, this time starring Denzel Washington and featuring a bit of a religious element. The Warner Brothers film is getting mixed reviews and only rated 45% on the Tomatometer. Beneath the surface, however, I’m sensing that the film actually provides a bit of fun and while star power hasn’t been good for much lately at the box office, my hunch is the combination of a tried-and-true action-flick premise and this particular star is just strong enough to be reasonably potent here.

Denzel Washington in Directed by the Hughes Brothers who, rather unbelievably, haven’t released a theatrical film since 2001’s  fairly decent “From Hell” disappointed at the box office, “Eli” is expected to earn about $30-40 million. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a very close result. Jolly Carl DiOrio nevertheless fully expects an “Avatar” victory and reminds us that it would be the first five-time #1 streak since “The Sixth Sense” wowed audiences back in 1999.

The week’s other major new release is “The Spy Next Door,” a family-oriented Jackie Chan vehicle from Lionsgate that has managed the neat trick of getting eactly 0% of critics to give it a positive review at Rotten Tomatoes. Still, if parents will fork over beaucoup bucks for a certain singing group from the genus rodentia, it’s just possible they’ll take one for the family team by sitting through this possible kiddie-pleaser as well. Jolly Carl is talking about as much as $20 million for “Spy,” presumably partly because of the family appeal of costars George Lopez and Billy Ray Cyrus. As an admirer of Chan’s great Hong Kong work, I have to say that I’m sorry he feels he has to has to work with the guy who brought us “Beethoven.”

That’s it for major new releases, but Peter Jackson’s movie version of Alice Siebold’s “The Lovely Bones,” is finally going wide this week. According to Box Office Mojo, it’ll be expanding from 13 theaters into 2,563, about 500-800 fewer than the major releases I’ve discussed so far. Considering the lackluster reviews and only so-so awards showing for this theoretical piece of awards-bait so far, I wouldn’t expect anything too huge here this weekend   — though apparently younger females have been liking the film, or at least that’s who the film is being marketed to these days. In any case, a surprise Golden Globe or two at Sunday night’s show wouldn’t hurt it’s MLK day Monday. It could use a miracle or two.

Saoirse Ronan in

  

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Avatar-mania, Oscar possibilities, the Obamas’ guest list, and cinegeeks bossing Stephen King around

I had a nasty case of food poisoning yesterday. Not that you care, but a lot has been happening while I spent a day catatonic before TCM and IFC.

* There’s a new “interactive” trailer for “Avatar” that you can download if you don’t mind also downloading some new Adobe software (at least I had to on the computer I’m using right now). The reason “interactive” is in quotes is that the only thing unusual about this longer trailer is that it pauses and allows you to watch additional short promotional films based around the various characters and some of the hardware, etc. It also allows you to buy tickets early.

I’m not sure what “interactive” really means because just about everything is interactive to some degree and this does not particularly impress me as anything new or different. Maybe we can think of a new buzzword.

Avatar movie image (3)

* And’s that’s not all. Anne Thompson has the scoop that “Avatar” may premiere at Harry Knowles’ annual, 24-hour invitation-only Butt-Numb-A-Thon despite some issues between Knowles and Fox. Also, you’ve probably heard about/seen this already, but the movie and writer-director James Cameron got the “60 Minutes” treatment Sunday night. Nothing earth shattering in the arguably slightly puffy Morley Safer piece, though it’s nice to hear Cameron admit that when it comes right down to it, amazing CGI/3-D or not, it all comes down to the story and what’s happening in the actors’ eyes. On the other hand, I really don’t need or want to see 3-D news stories. Will I will wind up doing so anyway?

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Hollywood manages its baser instincts (updated)

Yes, it seems to be a day when we’re avoiding the worst that the film biz has to offer. Take that Sammy Glick! Maybe.

* Notorious screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, who brought the world such morality plays as “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls,” is handling the kind of character/person you’d never expect him to write about, or meet. A virgin. Apparently the once severely overpaid, self-aggrandizing writer not exactly known for any particular virtues of any particular sort became a born-again Catholic following a bout with cancer. Naturally, a recent memoir tells of his conversion.

* I’ve never watched the most recent iteration of “At the Movies,” but I’m happy to say that the next version will be hosted by the New York Times‘ A.O. “Tony” Scott and the Chicago Tribune‘s Michael Phillips. They had both been my favorite subs for the still-going-strong but voiceless Roger Ebert during the final days of the old show’s run, and having them both return gives me a small but solid happy. These guys know movies and should be worthy successors to Mr. Ebert and the late Gene Siskel. I’ll be tuning in.

UPDATE: Glenn Kenny weighs in on “when good things happen to good film critics.” He also has something to say about the predecessors…and one of their daddies. It’s critical go-time. A humorous must for fans of critic-on-critic pugilism and praise.

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