Box Office Preview: “Little Fockers” to top “Tron: Legacy” and “Gulliver’s Travels” opens, but, come on, “True Grit” is here. Yee-haw and Merry Xmas.

I could almost end this pre-Christmas Weekend box office preview with the overlong headline above. Nevertheless, I’ll fill in the blanks a little.

Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller face off over

For reasons known only to the masses of this nation’s moviegoers and the strange gods they pray to, the third film in the saga of Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) and his oh-so-hilariously quirky family and in-laws, is expected to top the weekend handily. That seems especially so in the wake of the soft opening last weekend of “Tron: Legacy.”

The nation’s critics, however, will not be pleased. My esteemed colleague/boss, the usually gentle and kindly Will Harris, lost all his holiday cheer and did not spare the rod on “Little Fockers.” He’s hardly alone. Especially for a film with some of the biggest stars of the last forty years in supporting roles, it’s getting absolutely abysmal reviews. A rare exception among the Rotten Tomatoes pull quotes is one of my favorite critics and cinephile bloggers, Glenn Kenny. Glenn admits to having very low expectations and laughing a few times. He went on to rave that the film is “not particularly excruciating” and only 90 minutes long.

As for the cash predictions, it’s not Christmas without jolly Carl DiOrio, who I assume is vacationing this week while Pamela McClintock is pulling b.o. oracle duty at The Hollywood Reporter. She tells us that the magic number over the long holiday weekend is $60 million for the “Little Fockers.” With Ben Fritz of the L.A Times also taking some time off it appears, Daniel Frankel of The Wrap adds that “Fockers” could make as much as $70 million for still somewhat beleaguered Universal. With this many stars, I guess it’s possible people will be fooled persuaded into paying $10 or more a head to see it. And, with the diversity of ages, it should prove that folks from 1 to 92 apparently can’t get enough of poop jokes.

Jeff Bridges takes aim at the box office in Vastly higher up the cinema chain of being, if vastly lower on budget and with only two megastars in tow, “True Grit” will do its best to restore the box office luster of the classic western to our movie screens. It’s apparently an unusually straightforward film for the Coen Brothers, who re-adapted the poignant and funny novel by Charles Portis that was previously filmed back in ’69 by Henry Hathaway with a certain former Marion Mitchell Morrison in the role of irascible, trigger happy Rooster Cogburn. Since it’s the Coens, naturally, the reviews are as rapturous as those for “Fockers” reviews are heinous. Our own Jason Zingale’s sincere but qualified praise seems almost a pan by comparison.

There seems to be a consensus that $20 million for Paramount will be the weekend take for the tale of retribution in the badlands. That’s not bad for a film that cost a relatively modest $38 million (“Fockers” is another $100 million comedy.) Still, can’t hope rooting for a Western to do even better.

Apparently wishing to avoid getting completely ignored in the wake of the other two openers, the  Jack Black vehicle, “Gulliver’s Travels,” will be opening Friday, not Wednesday, to modest expectations. Considering the film allegedly somehow connected to a literary classic by Jonathan Swift had one of the worst trailers I’ve ever seen, that seems fair.

Those wanting to flee the loudness and crudeness of mainstream cinema this weekend may check out “The King’s Speech,” which is expanding into 600 theaters on much Oscar buzz as is the way of the Weinsteins. Or, if they live in a very big city indeed, the debut in limited release of the latest from the arty and gentle Sofia Coppola and Focus Features, “Somewhere.” As in “somewhere there’s a movie about family won’t rely primarily on scatological humor.”

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More midweek movie news — it bleeds so, alas, it leads

* It’s probably just the aftermath of a quiet holiday week or two, but there’s been an awful lot of movie news I haven’t mentioned this week. Tonight, however, all of the usual casting tidbits and what not are being overshadowed by an extremely dramatic new development in the murder or Ronnie Chasen. Chasen, you’ll recall, was the highly respected and well-liked industry publicist who was shot five times in her car with hollow point bullets in a murder that seemed senseless, yet not random. Tonight, the big news if you turn on any local news station out here is that police went to serve a search warrant, one of a few, on a “person of interest” in the case but before they could talk to the man, he committed suicide with a handgun. Not surprisingly, Nikki Finke has the latest on what has to be the strangest and saddest Hollywood story of the year.

* Speaking of Finke, she claimed another “toldja” tonight. Channing Tatum will be Jonah Hill‘s costar in the upcoming comedy rendering of “21 Jump Street” written by Hill and Michael Bacall.

* A ballet comedy with Chloe Moretz, Kristen Bell and Jackie Earle Haley? Works for me. Moretz makes a lot of sense here. As we discussed when I interviewed her last summer, she has a background in ballet. She was also fairly gaga over the portions of “The Black Swan” she’d been able to see.

* A sweet tribute to the late Leslie Nielsen by David Zucker.

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* Anne Thompson has a rundown of the selections for this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which is just about six or seven weeks away already, if you can believe it.

* Speaking of Anne Thompson, she posted an early review of the Coen Brothers new version of “True Grit” tonight. She was very positive about the movie herself but seemed to feel  that younger viewers don’t “get” westerns because they happened a long time ago. (Does that mean they dislike all films taking place more than a hundred years in the past? I find that a sad thought.) She also said the response at the screening she went to was “mixed.”

Well, at least so far it’s not so mixed with the geek elements of the film blogosphere because Drew McWeeney, Harry Knowles (who, yes, tends to be excitably positive), and Eric Eisenberg of CinemaBlend posted flat-out raves. This fan of Westerns, who recently read the Charles Portis novel and is looking forward to reacquainting himself with the 1969 version really soon, is excited. Only blogo-blowhard Jeffrey Welles has labeled it a “misfire” in what I’ve read so far, and I can’t help but consider the source. At least he didn’t spend the review calling Jeff Bridges fat or something. It seems like every time I read Welles, he’s criticizing someone for being overweight.

* Left over from last night. Christopher Nolan makes sense and tells us to embrace the ambiguity. Actually, the deliberate little bit of doubt at the ending was one of the few things I liked unreservedly about “Inception” which, overall, was a big, cold, glittering disappointment for me.

* Michael Douglas is apparently doing well in the health department and, from a totally selfish point of view, the best part is that it really does look like the Soderbergh Liberace movie is going forward.

* Whedonesque reveals a non-story as Entertainment Weekly manufactures a dubious scoop on the Joss Whedon-less “Buffy” movie.

* I’m sure Peter Jackson knows exactly what he’s doing, but it blows me away that a big scale fantasy epic like “The Hobbit” is going to be shot with RED Epic digital cameras. I know I have huge retro tendencies, but somehow, I’d feel better if he were using those massive old 3-strip Technicolor cameras.

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A full trailer with “True Grit,” and choppy editing

After last week’s very nice teaser trailer for the Coen Brothers version of Charles Portis’s “True Grit,” we have the full trailer right here. It’s longer, there’s more plot and some nice comic business between Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges. Also, it looks like it’s going to be a bit more violent than the relatively graphic — but still somehow G-rated — 1969 version. What a surprise.

This trailer feels a bit rushed, as if they were trying to fit in too much. It’s probably a good sign, however, that they have a lot of good stuff to fit in. As both an admirer of the Coens and a fan of old school Westerns, I’m even more stoked than average about this brutal little Christmas present.

H/t /Film.

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“Retribution this Christmas”

The Coen Brothers certainly have been no strangers to the American West or movie Western iconography. Still, there’s a difference between borrowing Western tropes for such more or less contemporary tales as “Raising Arizona” or “Fargo” or “No Country for Old Men” and making an actual western with six-shooters and cowboys and all of that. Hence, this teaser for “True Grit” makes me very, very happy.

H/t the Film Drunk, who very correctly reminds us that this may perhaps be more fairly described as a new adaptation of Charles Portis’s novel. I haven’t read the book yet — at least I don’t remember ever reading it — and its been decades since I’ve seen the hit John Wayne/Henry Hathaway version from the sixties, but I understand from people in the know that, surprisingly, that version was mostly very faithful to the book.

  

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