Box office preview: Will the devilish hijinks of “The Rite” defeat both a king and a mechanic?

I’m going to be brief tonight, but don’t confuse my brevity with lack of interest. The results this weekend will be modest but may be surprising.

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in
What’s intriguing this time around is that, at least according to Ben Fritz, there’s a small chance that the chart topper will be that top-nomination gathering Oscar contender from award-meister Harvey Weinstein’s house, “The King’s Speech.” Along with fellow awards contender “127 Hours,” it is expanding into hundreds of new theaters and will be in enough locations for a box office coup.  However, the more likely cash champion is the very non-acclaimed new supernatural horror thriller from Warner Brothers and starring Mr. Scary Face Anthony Hopkins, “The Rite.” The religious themed, PG-13 thriller is expected to earn something in between the “mid-teens” to $20 million according to both Fritz and THR’s Pamela McClintock, with Fritz being slightly more bullish.

The other major new release, “The Mechanic” from CBS Films, is expected to do less well despite actually getting significantly better reviews than “The Rite.” I’ve been covering it here and had fun at its junket, but I have to say I find the R-rated action-heavy hitman thriller a pale reflection of the 1971 original. It wasn’t precisely a great film, exactly, but its honesty about the evil of its protagonists makes for oddly hypnotic viewing. The new version, however, has got two strong leads in Jason Statham and Ben Foster and that, plus some heavy-duty action, will apparently be enough to earn it as much as $10 million, say the gurus.  It really looks like this is one weekend where blockbusters really aren’t dominating at the box office.

Jason Statham and Ben Foster in

  

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Musical movie moments with Clint and Alfred

With the media and political world reeling from the news of Keith Olbermann’s sudden departure from MSNBC and its possible relation to the Comcast-NBC/Universal merger, the Sundance Film Festival starting up, and even the start of Roger Ebert’s new movie reviewing series featuring a veteran critic and a 24 year old blogger who writes for the terrific MUBI site, there’s simply an overwhelming number of things I could be writing about tonight.

However, two movie news items in particular have caught my eye and the link is music and film, though that may not be immediately obvious. First is word that Sacha Gervasi, director of the highly acclaimed comic documentary “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” may be directing a new film about the making of “Psycho” and that Anthony Hopkins may play director Alfred Hitchcock. (The actual terminology at THR is that they are “in talks” to join the film, which I take it is closer to actually working on something that either “eying” or “circling” a project.)

The second is that Clint Eastwood’s next project will be, fascinatingly, the latest version of “A Star is Born,” which will feature Beyoncé Knowles in the lead role. The musical-drama classic might seem like an odd choice, but Eastwood is a serious music fan and he’s even made a rather good musical biopic, “Bird.”

In fact, his debut as a director owed a little something to Alfred Hitchcock and a lot to jazz. I don’t know who edited this video — or why they included subtitles, but this is worth a moment of your time and definitely emphasizes Eastwood’s musical choices. Also, if you thought Jessica Walter was formidable as Lucille Bluth in “Arrested Development” wait until you see her a few decades prior as the spurned antagonist of a swingin’ jazz DJ in Eastwood 1971 directorial debut, “Play Misty for Me.”

Music, of course, played a huge role in “Psycho” and in all of Hitchcock’s films, at least in terms of the way he thought about them. Take a look at this.

  

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By Odin’s beard, the trailer for “Thor” hath appeared online!

The trailer for the first 100% 3D live-action superhero movie — at least that I can think of — starring Christopher Helmsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins and a bunch more folks is online.

Looks like fun to me in whatever number of dimensions you choose and, naturally, director Kenneth Branagh is keeping that King Lear-esque vibe going. I’ve never really seen him work and there’s not all that much of him in this, but I have a hunch Tom Hiddleston, who Branagh worked with in the “Wallendar” BBC series, could be a scene stealer as bad guy/trickster Loki.

According to earlier slightly spoilery reports, Thor’s funny book alter ego, Donald Blake, shows up at the end of the movie somehow. Neither hide nor hair of him here, however. Also, it looks like maybe a bit more of it is set on earth than those earlier reports indicate.

  

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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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Howard’s End

Featuring Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Anthony Hopkins, and a heartbreaking Vanessa Redgrave, 1992’s “Howard’s End” was the third (and most star-studded) adaptation of a novel by E.M. Forster from the famed triumvirate of producer Ismail Merchant, Oscar-winning writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and director James Ivory. With the Merchant-Ivory team’s famed talent for exquisite visuals amidst extravagant period settings, it’s also perfect fodder for a Criterion two-disc DVD set.

Thompson and Bonham Carter are sisters Margaret and Helen Schlegel, affluent early 20th century intellectuals who find themselves embarrassingly intertwined with the crassly wealthy Wilcox family. Eventually, the ailing matriarch, Mrs. Wilcox (Redgrave), starts up an intense friendship with the older and more stable Schlegel sister, Margaret. After her death, wry Margaret unexpectedly falls for and marries Mr. Wilcox (Hopkins), not knowing the ardent capitalist had chosen to ignore a death-bed bequest of enormous import. Meanwhile, the younger Helen’s overweening sympathy for a sensitive clerk with intellectual aspirations (Samuel West) inadvertently threatens everyone’s happiness and proves, once again, that it’s money that matters most. A morally complex blend of complex comedy and drama with florid tragedy reminiscent of another great literary adaptation, George Stevens’ “A Place in the Sun,” “Howard’s End” is everything you could ask for in thoughtful period entertainment, with some highly nuanced ideas from novelist Forster on the interplay of economics and emotional life. Critics sometimes downplay the “tasteful” Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala films, but this hugely entertaining winner of three Academy Awards, including a Best Actress statue for Emma Thompson, gives Oscar bait a good name.

Click to buy “Howard’s End”

  

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