Box office preview: Will “Saw 3D” bloody “Paranormal Activity 2”?

I have no bloody idea, actually, because the entire box office prognostication community — all two members of it that I rely on, anyhow — seem to be taking a break. I know for a fact that both the L.A. Times‘ Ben Fritz and THR‘s ever jolly Carl Diorio are writing stuff, they’re just not venturing any guesses or passing along the usual tracking rumors about this coming weekend. I guess with only major new release, it just didn’t seem worth it. Mr. DiOrio did, however, write a piece yesterday, which is not visible on THR but is via Reuters, explaining why, beyond the fact of Halloween, there actually are a number of reasons why horror pictures tend to come out when the leaves turn orange and the breezes turn chilly. Interesting, but not what I need to get me out of this predicament.

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Indeed, I don’t even have any reviews of “Saw 3D” to mention, because we all know that critics can’t really help, and just might hurt, a picture like this. For you “Saw” fans, however, I can pass along some roundtable interviews our own Will Harris posted a bit earlier today as well as David Medsker’s Bullz-Eye compilation of the most beloved “Saw” series deaths and near-misses. Honestly, though, I’m at a loss, especially I’m too squeamish to have ever seen a single entry in the series.

Regardless, the gory horror tale will be facing some serious competition from the second week of the so-far over-performing ($40 million worth) non-gore driven scare follow-up, “Paranormal Activity 2.” On the other hand, there’s no particular reason to think it won’t suffer something like the typical horror-flick second week drop of 50% or over. That shouldn’t be too hard for the 3D sado-splatter film to beat, but you never know. We’ll see whether the ticket-price raising format can ameliorate the fatigue the “Saw” series has shown on past sequel go-rounds.

In terms of limited releases, we have the final film in the “Millennium Trilogy,” Swedish edition. “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” which isn’t overly exciting critics opening in 123 theaters according Box Office Mojo’s theater counts. Though an internationally huge franchise like this should, in theory, be critic-proof, this is the art-house trade we’re talking about and some might decide to wait for home video or, like me, who enjoyed the first film but haven’t read any of the books yet and skipped the last film, might decide to simply catch up with the books at some point instead. On the other hand, the even-growing fame of the “girl” herself, Noomi Rapace, might help things out a bit.

Also suffering the slings and arrows of often unimpressed critics is “Welcome to the Rileys” a festival drama starring James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo, and Kristen Stewart. Directed by Jake Scott, son of Ridley, the film has generated a little attention but I fear that may be over now given its decidedly “meh” critical reception.

Doing a little better with critics, including my esteemed colleague Jason Zingale, is Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters,” a very unusual monster flick arriving just in time for the holiday. It’s generated a lot of online attention and you absolutely have to give it props for its visual power — accomplished on a truly miniscule budget by is special effects trained director — and for its good intentions in attempting a character driven romantic tale with, yes, actual monsters and some genuinely clever chilling moments. Still, like 37% of Rotten Tomatoes critics, I was kind of let down by it and I blame the fact that the film was made with only a story outline and no formal screenplay. On the other hand, it’s easily the most visually striking monster flick that I can think of not directed by Guillermo del Toro.

Whitney Able in

  

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Weekend box office: In which we separate the men from the boys, and women from both

The Expendables

If we are to believe the prognosticators this weekend, testosterone will rule in a weekend which could turn out to be the most exciting movie three-way showdown since the climax of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The impression is that it really does threaten to send the genders, and possibly even the generations, on their separate ways at the nation’s multiplexes.

Of course, when I speak movies of aimed at us penile-Americans, I speak of the R-rated mega-macho ultraviolent action fest, “The Expendables.” The ensemble-action flick is directed, cowritten and co-starring Sylvester Stallone and features Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, and assorted other manly men who are masculine males in supporting roles and cameos.

Cinema prognosticators Ben Fritz and good old jolly Carl DiOrio seem to think this movie will easily take the top spot for Lionsgate to the tune of about $30-35 million with its appeal to males of all ages. Critics, for the most part, aren’t overly impressed, though a sizeable enough minority are treating the film as a campy, action-packed good time. For me, Stallone’s career peaked 35 years ago with his hilarious performance in “Death Race 2000” — “Rocky” has never done much for me and “Rambo: First Blood 2” did even less — but I still might be checking this one out at some point. I do have an affection for the ensemble action film genre. If you do as well, you might want to check out the salute to the sturdy sub-genre posted over at the Bullz-Eye blog.

Julia RobertsFor the more femininely chromosomed, this week’s big draw is supposed to be “Eat Pray Love” from director Ryan Murphy, best known as the creator of TV’s “Glee” and “Nip/Tuck,” and starring an actress you may remember named Julia Roberts. It’s an adaptation of a memoir about a divorced woman going on a worldwide physical and spiritual “journey of self-realization.”  I don’t know about you but when I hear “self-realization” and especially “journey of self-realization” I check out completely. I don’t think that’ s just because I’m male.

While I haven’t seen a single episode of Murphy’s shows, I gather he is associated with a certain degree of offbeat innovation and has clearly touched a nerve on two on the small screen. That doesn’t seem to have translated into much interest from film critics, however, who are mostly kind of unimpressed. Rated PG-13, “Eat Pray Love” does seem to be doing a bit better critically than his poorly received prior adaptation of a hit memoir, “Running with Scissors.” Jolly Carl expects to film to hit the #2 spot with an amount somewhere over $20 million.

And then comes what I hope may be this weekend’s wild card. The consensus seems to be that, despite a torrent of Internet publicity and huge geek buzz, Edgar Wright’s comic book adaptation, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” will be lucky to get much over $15 million which, for a movie costing about $65 million, isn’t great. Though reviews initially looked as they might be “middling,” they are actually shaping up as rather excellent for a film that risks alienating a certain percentage of its audience with its blatantly video-game derived comic book/manga aesthetic. The consensus being that, as with the highly entertaining “Kick-Ass” before it, geek awareness and mass audience acceptance just are not the same thing and it’s entirely likely this will come in the #4 spot behind last week’s #1 film, “The Other Guys.”

I’m sure there’s a good chance this will happen. However,  “Scott Pilgrim” seems to me to be a film that, at least over the long haul, has a potentially much wider audience than some other films because of it’s unusual combination of relationship-driven and action-comedy. The fact that, as a young skewing film, it’s PG-13 but also relatively racy in its advertisements might not hurt either. Not to be put in the position of defending a film I haven’t seen and pre-release online mini-backlash notwithstanding,  there is one thing I feel sure about. In a few years, the new movie from this weekend that people will still be talking about is “Pilgrim.”

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Actually, that’s perhaps not entirely true because there’s also a very interesting new film debuting in very limited release, and this one I did see a couple of months at the L.A. Film Festival. “Animal Kingdom” is an imperfect but highly assured debut from Australian first-time writer-director David Michôd. Though a bit overly dour and slack in the middle, to the point where it very nearly lost me, it’s one of the best crime films I’ve seen in a while with a real doozy of a last act. It’s opening on just small four screens but with a couple of brilliant bad-guy-and-gal performances, this is one I think you’ll be hearing about later on.

  

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Filmgoing young females end the reign of the Na’vi, finally

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Yes, so for those who read Friday’s post, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Carl DiOrio was wrong and Nikki Finke was more right than even she knew on her first, non-updated, version of her weekend box office post. The Nicholas Sparks adaptation starring Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum, “Dear John,” seriously exceeded even the most optimistic expectations this Superbowl weekend and took down, at last, the seven-weekend long domestic box office “Avatar”  juggernaut. The make-up of the audience that generated $32.4 million for Sony and Relativity Media according to Box Office Mojo was not surprising. As per Finke:

Females made up 84% of the opening weekend audience, while 64% of the moviegoers were under age 21.

Still, I should add that this was definitely a case of “Dear John” winning, not so much “Avatar” losing. James Cameron‘s science fiction spectacle from Fox is still holding remarkably well, dropping less than 25% this week and netting some $23.6 million. The distinctly shorter length of “Dear John” is another obvious advantage.

John Travolta in On the other hand, Pierre Morel’s all-out action picture, “From Paris with Love,” starring John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers is shorter still, but it’s possible this was just the wrong weekend to release that kind of a movie with male fans of balls-out action distracted by the year’s #1 sports event. The film came in a very poor third with only a bit over $8.12 million for Lionsgate. C’est la vie. And here’s one more plug for the Bullz-Eye feature on Parisian-based films of all genres, “We’ll Always Have Paris,” which I say completely without bias or pride of co-authorship.

In other news, “Crazy Heart,” the country music drama featuring a nearly certain Oscar-winning performance from Jeff Bridges, was not a tale of Americana-style heartbreak. It nailed a very respectable $3.65 million in 819 theaters, which got it into this week’s #8 position. The week’s biggest per-screen was for a movie that is technically a television miniseries. The “Red Riding” Trilogy, which originally aired on English television, nailed a per screen average of $15,500 thousand. Of course, that’s in exactly one theater. Still, not bad considering it’s actually three films.

  

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“Princess and the Frog” leaps as expected; “Invictus” is a bit short of the goal line

The Princess and the FrogIf you compare tonight’s post to what I said on Thursday, you’ll see there were no gigantic surprises this week. Disney’s return to traditional cell animation with “”The Princess and the Frog” performed pretty much completely in line with expectations and earned a very nice, though not gigantic, $25 million over its opening weekend. So says ever jolly Carl DiOrio and also the handy dandy Box Office Mojo chart.

Clint Eastwood‘s “Invictus,” on  the other hand, came in third behind the $15.4 million performance of the mega-sleeper “The Blind Side,” to earn a slightly short-of-the-mark $9.1 million. It’s worth noting that the politically-tinged Eastwood film was in a smaller number of theaters and had a very respectable average of $4,275 per screen. That is just a wee bit short of the more commercially successful Sandra Bullock vehicle, which is also a racially themed, fact-based, inspirational sports tale.

Otherwise, recent releases held on in more or less typical ways and there really wasn’t anything too exciting happening. In particular, there where no big break-outs among limited release films. The latest new entry into the late-year Oscar sweepstakes, the festival hit, “A Single Man,” did fine on its opening week in nine theaters earning $216,000, but the directorial debut of clothes designer Tom Ford, based on a book by Christopher Isherwood, will probably need some bigger awards buzz than its currently getting if it’s going to break out of the arthouse ghetto even a little bit.

The Lovely Bones,” however, managed the week’s biggest per-screen average of $38,000. However, that was only at three theaters. Considering the film’s very disappointing critical performance and its dark subject matter, its commercial prospects still seem even dimmer than it’s awards prospects. Indeed, it looks to be eclipsed in every way by the violent little sci-fi flick film co-writer-director Peter Jackson produced earlier this year for award-winning first-timer Neil Blomkamp, “District 9.” Still, a technical nomination or two might help “Bones” to be a less gigantic come down for Peter Jackson.

Saoirse Ronan in

  

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