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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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Weekend preview: Will star power and geek mega-hype translate into a box office dream for “Inception”?

Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt wisely keep their guard up in

A confession: I probably won’t even get a chance to see it for a few more weeks, but I’m already a little tired of Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster-in-waiting. Hailed as an instant classic in some quarters, including over at Bullz-Eye by our own David Medsker, the science-fiction brain-caper, “Inception,” is also reviving some rather tiresome movie geek and cinephile controversies left over from “The Dark Knight.” If you’re not aware of it and want to be know all about the cine-annoyance, Jim Emerson does a great job of boiling it down and, earlier in the week, Dennis Cozzalio did an interesting takedown one of the worst abusers over at the L.A. Times.

All I’m going to say is that it’s only a movie and we’re all allowed to react to it however we like. If you find yourself loving it beyond all reason and agree with David that it’s time to consider Nolan with the greatest directors of all time or if you think he’s nothing more than a Michael Bay with a literature degree, please do not assume that anyone who thinks differently is putting on some kind of show. No doubt, there are fools and pretentious twats aplenty in this world, but most of us come by our moviegoing opinions honestly.

Of course, all of this means almost nothing to your ordinary rank and file moviegoer — the kind who don’t care what the movie scored on Rotten Tomatoes and who don’t read posts like this one — and commercially speaking, that’s really the question here. Can a hard-to-describe premise of the Phillip K. Dick school be counterbalanced by the promise of amazing action and visuals, brain candy, and a stunning all-star cast headlined by Leonardo di Caprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy and even a part for promising newcomer Michael Caine?  Perhaps.

The Warner Brothers awareness machine is working over time on this one and there’s certainly no way this film doesn’t win the weekend.  How the movie does beyond that is pretty much up to the whims of the public. Lacking a well known marketing hook, it’s really anyone’s guess whether the film enjoys a modest reception and goes into Nolan’s “one for me” file, or whether it breaks out into becoming the kind phenomenon that will  really justify it’s no-longer-unusually-enormous $200 million budget. Checking in with jolly Carl DiOrio over at THR, he’s calling it at between $50-60 million, though I personally can see the movie making nearly half as much or twice as much as that. It just sort of depends on what people are in the mood for right now.

Nicholas Cage and Jay Baruchel in
Now, there is another movie that will be doing battle with last week’s #1 holdover for the family/tweenage, and that’s Disney’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” which has Nicholas Cage doing his eccentric-guy act as the sorcerer and Apatow-alum Jay Baruchel stepping into some literally big shoes in taking over a part originated by Mickey Mouse in the most popular episode of 1940′s “Fantasia.” Attempting to get a couple of day’s jump on the PG-13 “Inception,” Disney released “Sorcerer” on Wednesday but, as per Nikki Finke, there’s no reason to expect this film to make huge numbers and she guesses it will gross roughly $30 million for the entire five days. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if it came in at the #3 for the Friday-Sunday contest after last week’s box office winner, “Despicable Me,” given that it’s a strong family film which made $56 million and has every reason to suffer only a very modest decline in its second week.

On the limited release circuit, “Standing Ovation” will be on over 600 screens and is aimed at the same family/tween demographic that goes gaga for “High School Musical” style movies. However, lacking any big names or marketing muscle and getting very bad reviews from the few critics who’ve even bothered to see it, I don’t see how this film stands a chance. On the other hand, the two probable indie hits of the summer will be expanding significantly across the country, so stand by for Sunday for news on “The Kids Are Alright” and “Cyrus.”

John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, and Marisa Tomei whoop it up in

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“Despicable Me”: the bad guy wins big, but it’s a weekend full of winners.

Despicable Me

Complaints about summer box have evaporated with the release of well-marketed movies that people seem to actually like. Weird. Leading the pack is the PG-rated animated family comedy, “Despicable Me,” which starring voice Steve Carell has been madly promoting everywhere. The zany villain-centric tale has also benefited, as per Anthony D’Alessandro, from the usual cross-promotional synergies which are as diabolical yet effective as the words are annoying to write/read.

The 3-D animation nearly doubled the already healthy amounts that I mentioned Friday and scored a weekend estimate of over $60.1 million today according to Box Office Mojo. It’s a much needed break for troubled Universal which is launching a new animation division with the film from two French first-time feature directors.

Coming in at #2 was a quite decent second weekend for Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.” The PG-13 rated female tween-teen-young-adult attracting flick suffered an average drop of about 48% and brought home about $33.4 million worth of estimated bacon.

Adrien Brody and Alice Braga in The blood quotient rises considerably for the third genre flick in this week’s lineup, “Predators.” The action-horror pic, which according Jason Zingale, contains an unlucky character who is literally filleted, is apparently being greeted as a bloody good time for action/horror/creature-feature fans and brought in $25.3 million, just a tad higher than the higher end of expectations. That’s especially good considering the remarkably low budget by current action-film standards, $39 million, thanks to the cost-cutting genius of producer Robert Rodriguez and, one assumes, the efficient work of director Nimrod Antal.

(Some of us geeks will remember the praise Joss Whedon generated from making his space-action flick, “Serenity” for $40 million — and shooting the movie entirely in the greater Los Angeles area — back in 2005. Us “Firefly” fans would have been a whole lot happpier with $25 million  than the very disappointing $10 million it’s first weekend actually generated. Damn you people for thinking the movie had something to do with spas or adult diapers.)

Following close behind is the latest leggy smash from Pixar/Disney. “Toy Story 3” generated $22 million in its fourth week, having already earned $140 million over its admittedly enormous (but no longer unusually large) budget of $200 million. I’m sure a lot of that is largely probably due to one of the highest paid voice casts in entertainment history, considering not only the status of Tom Hanks and, to a vastly lesser extent, Tim Allen, but also the enormous success of the prior films. Also, this level of CGI animation appears to be a pricey proposition, still.

Last week’s very successful #2 film, the critically-loathed and C Cinemascore family-action pic, “The Last Airbender” dropped 57% in its second week to this week’s #5 spot. That is actually a fairly typical, though not great, drop for a genre film. Still, with a $150 million budget, critical nightmares of this TV-animation adaptation becoming a long-running live-action film series may remain the stuff of dreams.

Meanwhile, expectations are also being exceeded in limited release. “The Kids are Alright” got the best per-screen average not only of the week but of the year with a whopping per screen of over $72,000 on seven screens. Also opening this week in a very large for limited 110 theater release was the second film of Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, which is quickly emerging as something of an international Harry Potter phenom for over-educated grown-ups. “The Girl Who Played with Fire” made it to the #11 spot with $965,000 estimated despite muted reviews. “Cyrus” continues to do very well, also.

John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, and Jonah Hill as

There’s more. As usual, the details as compiled by Peter Knegt are over at Indiewire.

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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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Los Angeles Film Festival Recap: The Movies, part 3

Okay, so we’re back one more time to wrap up my series of posts covering my reactions to the movies I managed to see at the Los Angeles Film Festival. If time and my temperament permits, a special kvetching post will be forthcoming. You can see my earlier posts on the films here and here.

cane-toads-the-conquest-1

* “Cane Toads: The Conquest” — I saw this the same night as I saw “Cyrus” and, while I got a bit tired towards the end, probably because it had been a long day, I couldn’t help but be delighted and impressed by this unapologetically entertaining documentary. Made in high end 3-D, writer-director Mark Lewis told the audience with some pleasure that his film has been dubbed “Avatoad” by several critical wags.  Whatever comparisons there may be to the Cameron film, this one is definitely funnier.

What it actually is a sequel to a twenty-five year old documentary (“Cane Toads: An Unnatural History”) detailing how these toads were brought to Australia to combat an agricultural pest. The amphibians utterly failed at that task, but utterly succeeding at reproducing themselves by the billion and being perceived as a pest themselves by displeased Aussies. The new film explores the various aspects of the creatures and how they interact with humans in Australia, with some making a sport of how many of the creatures they can exterminate, and others fighting to stop the slaughter or studying them, and, in the case of one little girl, making a pet of one beloved and friendly toad.

Full of invention and wit, “Cane Toads: The Conquest” is easily the funniest ecological nature documentary I’ve ever seen — it’s also, easily, the only one that could qualify as a somewhat dark comedy of sorts, a clever combo of science, silliness, and ecological awareness. As much as I liked the film, overall, I do have to admit that that was overshadowed by the fact that none other than Werner Herzog was sitting in front of me, who is said to be working on his own 3-D documentary. Exactly the guy you’d want to be sitting next to you at that kind of doc.

* “Farewell” — This blend of fiction and documentary film is the tale of the 1929 round-the-world trip of the German Graf Zeppelin as reported by its lone female passenger, a real-life English journalist/aristocrat. Written and directed by Denmark’s Ditteke Mensink, the film is mainly a fictionalized story of starcrossed love, and the real-life writer really did have a lifelong secret love affair with a married colleague. Comprised entirely of found footage, mostly from the actual historical trip, which was probably the biggest zeppelin story until the Hindenberg disaster effectively killed lighter-than-air travel, the story is told in the form of a highly emotional narration in the form of a diary.

drummond-hay-wiegand-lz127-web

Although I was as wowed by the amazing footage as many critics seemed to have been, I was somewhat disappointed with the film as a whole. Lacking the informational interest of a more conventional doc, the film didn’t really work as a drama for me either. It’s bit humorless and static — especially since our male lead that our heroine is over the moon for isn’t exactly your usual dramatic leading man — and, like the zeppelin trip, the love story winds up largely where it starts.

***

And that, believe it or not, is it — for the movies, anyhow.

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