Weekend boxoffice: Ben Affleck steals the weekend, but “Easy A” hangs onto to its virtue

A surprise this week. A film that seemed to skew towards an older and more male audience actually grabbed more box office lucre than a high-concept comedy aimed largely — albeit on a weekend where no one made anything close to a cinematic mint.

Ben Affleck and Rebecca Miller in

He might look down in the pic above, but Ben Affleck — whose taken his share of sometimes deserved and sometimes not so deserved lumps as an actor over the years — has something to celebrate today. To be specific, the cowriter-director-star’s heist drama, “The Town,” swiped an estimated $23.8 million for Warner Brothers according to Box Office Mojo’s weekend chart. I’m guessing that the film got a boost from pent up demand for a the kind of plot-centric thriller we adult males seem to crave, as well as the budding  potential superstar presences of Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, and Blake Lively, not to mention female lead Rebecca Miller. Since older people usually pay a bit more attention to critics, it’s actually possible that the unusually good reviews helped here.

If Cinemascore means anything — and I’m not all that sure that it means all that much — “The Town” might have also gotten a boost from word of mouth, since Anne Thompson tell us it got a better than average B+ all around. Thompson also quotes Warner’s distribution chief Dan Fellman, saying that the studio is looking ahead to award season for the thriller. Moreover, Fellman also reminds us that the film is the largest September opening in Warner’s history (that is to say, September kind of sucks for box office). Though it’s not the kind of movie that usually wins Oscars, the loosened up Best Picture category certainly helps a well-reviewed and reasonably popular film’s chances.

Emma Stone in The PG-13 not-having-sex high school comedy with promising youngster Emma Stone,Easy A,” which was supposed to be #1 as of Thursday night, didn’t quite get there. However, seeing as its budget is reportedly $31 million less than the actually rather modestly budgeted “The Town,” it is by far the most profitable film of this frame with  respectable estimated receipts of $18.2  and an extremely respectable $8 million budget. It’s another fiscal win for Sony/Screen Gems, which has been on a sort of hot streak of late.

The M. Night Shymalan-produced “Devil” took the hindmost of the top 3 with a less than spectacular $12.58 million for Universal, which by now is used to disappointments. Though not directed by Shymalan, the PG-13 film was promoted as if it was and Uni and the man they call “Night” may finally be paying the price for all the almost universally disliked but oddly successful films that bore the once hugely promising filmmaker’s name. Anne Thompson wonders if the two other scheduled films drawn from stories by Shymalan to be directed by up-and-comers on low budgets, “The Night Chronicles,” will happen now. Mr. S., I grew up watching Rod Serling productions, I know Rod Serling’s work. You’re no Rod Serling.

The weekend’s other new release proved that audiences can spot a cheaply made 3D animated family film rather easily for something that is likely a far, far cry from Pixar or Dreamworks Animation. “Alpha and Omega” came in below the predictably sinking-like-a-stone-in-week #2 “Resident Evil: Afterlife” with an anemic $9.2 million.

A number of new films came out in limited release this week. The most impressive per-screen average of the week was $30,000 for the Kazuo Ishiguro adaptation, “Never Let Me Go.” The British science-fiction romantic drama earned $120,000 on four screens for Fox Searchlight, though it’s muted reviews may dim its Oscar hopes, which is really the only root to major success for a film like this at present. The highly buzzed, probable documentary (there are doubters, though everyone agrees it’s no “I’m Still Here“), “Catfish,” may have better Oscar hopes if it reassures the Academy that it really and truly is a documentary. It did well this weekend for Rogue with a $255,000 in only 12 theaters.

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Weekend box office: The “Inception” brain caper goes according to plan; “The Sorceror’s Apprentice” gets a swat in the tuchas

Those of us speculating on the possibility of a surprise in either the high or low direction for “Inception” early on Friday (okay, that would mainly be me), have now been silenced by the weekend estimates. They appear to have come down on the highish side of what the professional prognosticators expected, even if some of them were confessing to uncertainty. (Where did I read that? It’s gone now from where I thought I read it but maybe my dreams are being manipulated by a crack team hired by a Japanese billionaire who hates Nikki Finke.)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in So, no, Christopher Nolan’s highly praised but also controversial science-fiction thriller film for Warner Brothers is officially not “too smart” or too not-franchise-associated to be a hit, if an estimated $60.4 million is enough to constitute a hit these days for a $200 million film. It’s also worth noting that it managed this without an artificial boost from inflated 3-D ticket prices. I wonder if some math whizzes out there can compare this to the “disappointing” $77 million opening for “Avatar.” Anthony D’Alessandro points out this is the strongest North American opening ever for a Leonardo DiCaprio-headlined movie, which includes “Titanic.”(That box office stinker only made about $28 million domestically it’s first weekend.)

Still, as always, the question remains “legs” and how the word-of-tweet-facebook update-txt-mouth goes. The L.A. Times reported that the film scored a B+ on Cinemascore, reportedly dividing the audience by age with under 25-ers giving it an A and us oldsters giving it a B-. So are middle-aged filmgoers more discerning or younger ones more open to real genius? (Hey, politically, I tend to agree more with under-25 years olds more than people my own age who mostly loved Ronald Reagan, who I believe peaked in “Storm Warning” with Ginger Rogers.)

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Big weekend at the box office: Twi-Hards turn out; proof that young men don’t listen (to critics)

This week, most of whatever suspense there was was not at all about which movie will be #1 or, as it turns out, #2 (not quite a 100% sure thing earlier). It had to do with what actually matters when the show business rubber meets the audience road: how much cash did the movies generate from the summer’s biggest holiday weekend but amid gloomy news and gloomier punditry regarding the economy? The answer seems to be what Joel McCrea learned at the end of “Sullivan’s Travels,” people in dire straights need entertainment and fantasy more, not less. I only wish they were getting something as thoughtful as “Ants in Your Plants of 1939.”

Edward and Bella...ooooohhhhhhhhhOver the three day Friday-Sunday weekend, Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” earned an estimated $69 million according to the Box Office Mojo chart. For the broader and potentially confusing numbers covering the extended movie weekends for the two new major new releases this week, I’ll rely on Anne Thompson’s pal Anthony D’Alessandro. He tells us “Eclipse” earned an estimated $175 million and change, just a few million bucks below the similar six-day frame of 2004’s “Spiderman 2,” though not adjusted for ongoing movie-ticket inflation.

This is the point in the series ordinarily where some might wonder if interest is starting to flag, but this is a long-running movie/book soap opera and a continuing tale similar to the Harry Potter in terms of fan interest/involvement. Also, this entry overall got significantly better reviews than the second film in the series, which might indicate the film itself is more boyfriend friendly for this very female-driven franchise.

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It’s time for midweek movie news

I used to be disgusted, now I try to stay bemused…

* Yes, they weren’t kidding. Ben Stiller and Tom Cruise are teaming up to make a Les Grossman movie, declares Nikki Finke. I try never to prejudge films, and I really did think Cruise was hilarious in “Tropic Thunder.” However, I think writer Michael Bacall, Ben Stiller, and whoever winds up directing really have their work cut out for them in terms of this not turning into some kind of inverted ego-fest (“look at me — I’m willing to act all crazy!”) like what we saw on MTV a few nights back.

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* A new James L. Brooks romantic comedy by any name will probably be worth a look, and maybe better than that.

* It’s always seemed to me that the best part of the guilty pleasure appeal of “Entourage” — aside from Ari, Lloyd, and Johnny Drama, anyway — is the lightning fast pacing that nearly always leaves fans wanting more. Now, producer Mark Wahlberg is determined to give us more in the form of a movie to follow up from the conclusion of the television show. I’m concerned about whether he gets the concept of why you want to always leave an audience wanting more. If not, “Entourage”  could become the male equivalent of “Sex and the City” in theaters as well as the small screen.

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“Where the Wild Things Are” rides atop the box office.

Where the Wild Things AreAt least this week I have some company in being a bit off the mark.  The estimated grosses for Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers’ adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” overperformed the most optimistic assessments and nailed an estimated $32.5 million. So says jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter, as the significantly less jolly Nikki Finke factually reminds us that Warners chose to push the film as more of an adult picture. The decision certainly seems to have paid off.

It seems likely that the approach widened rather than narrowed the potential audience (parents with kids were likely to show up regardlesss) and added to the “cool” factor, with Cinemascore indicating that younger adults actually seem to enjoy it more than those over 25. In any case, as past somewhat deceptive campaigns I can think of attest, a certain degree of honesty in movie marketing may actually be the best policy.

Also earning more than expected is Overture’s poorly reviewed violent thriller “Law Abiding Citizen.” The macho appeal of the revenge/serial killerish premise, bolstered no doubt by the familiarity of stars Gerard Butler and  Jamie Foxx, proved fruitful with roughly $21.2-3 million estimated, depending on which sites you read.

Colm Meany, Jamie Foxx, and Gerard Butler in

In the #3 spot, “Paranormal Activity” continued to do extremely good business for Paramount with the week’s highest per-screen average ($26,530), netting an estimated $20.1-2 million on only 760 screens, still a fraction of the number of theaters showing competing flicks. As for the small discrepancies in these figures, looking at the numbers provided by Finke, DiOrio, and the Box Office Mojo chart, it sure looks like the glass-half-full DiOrio is rounding up while the glass-half-empty-and-shattered-beyond-repair Finke is rounding down.

Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell in
Though it has precisely zero appeal for yours truly and got almost uniformly bad reviews, audiences are being kind to troubled Universal Studios and Peter Billingsley, the now grown-up star of “A Christmas Story,” with his feature film debut as a director, “Couples Retreat.” The relationship comedy held well and lost a very respectable 47.7% from its opening week, earning an estimated $17.9 million in its second week. Not too surprisingly, then, the #5 spot went to the PG-13 rated horror remake, “The Stepfather,” with an estimated $12.3 million. In this climate, it might have done a bit better if it held onto the R-rating of the original. Lesson for Sony: If you’re making a horror picture, throw in a few extra f-words and maybe a c-word if you can manage it, just for safety.

On the limited release front, “An Education” had a very good weekend. The Nick Hornby-scripted period memoir adaptation from Swedish Dogme alumna Lone Sherfig, making her English-language directorial debut, earned $505,000 in 19 theaters. The Coen Brothers’ adventure in domestic Judaica,  “A Serious Man,” performed its due box office mitvot with an estimated $860,000 in 82 theaters. The #2 movie this week in terms of per-screen average after “Paranormal Activity,” however, was the critically lauded Chilean drama, “The Maid.” True, that terrific $18,000 was on only one screen, but for a satirical drama from Chile, it’s a success worth noting.

Finally, I have to demand that my brothers and sisters in L.A., Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Seattle get down to their local theaters and see the blaxsploitation parody par excelance “Black Dynamite,” post haste. The film earned what a less jolly Carl DiOrio termed a “mild” $2,014 average on seventy screens for an estimated total of $141,000 for Sony’s Apparition films.  Not horrible, but not what a powerful brother like Mr. Dynamite (absolutely no relation to Napoleon D.) so powerfully deserves! And if I read one more blog commenter saying this movie has already “been done” via the disappointing “Undercover Brother” or the pleasantly fun, but not nearly so brilliant, “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” I’ll know the Man is up to his usual tricks and it’s time to take back the movie theaters!

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