Amanda Seyfried, Erin Cressida Wilson, and Atom Egoyan on “Chloe”

Movies involve looking at people. Sometimes those people are doing some pretty intimate things, too. No wonder then that voyeurism remains about the single most pervasive and discussed theme in the movies and, no matter how often the particularly cinematic obsession of voyeurism has been recycled, there’s always room for a new angle.

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In the case of “Chloe,” which is hitting about three hundred theaters nationwide today, voyeurism in the form of morbid curiosity threatens not only the desiccated relationship of an affluent middle-aged couple played by Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson, but also the woman’s familial ties with her son (Max Theiriot) and possibly her entire life. The vehicle for all of this is a young woman Dr. Catherine Stewart bumps into who turns out to be a high-end sex worker named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried). The sex work in question here is that Dr. Stewart has some pretty good reasons to worry that her professor husband may be cheating, and so she asks Chloe to test her husband’s fidelity in the most direct way possible.

As for the results, all you really need to know right now is that this is an erotic thriller, that it’s directed by the elliptical art-house master Atom Egoyan at his most Hitchcockian, and adapted with some definite cunning by writer Erin Cressida Wilson from a relatively banal French import (2003’s “Nathalie”). Interestingly, “Chloe” is also produced by Ivan Reitman. Reitman is, of course, the famed director and producer far better known for broad comedies like “Meatballs” and “Ghostbusters” than for stylish melodramas. These days, he’s perhaps even better known as the father of “Up in the Air” co-writer and director Jason Reitman.

Sadly, “Chloe” will likely also be remembered as the movie that was interrupted when leading man Liam Neeson got the horrific news that his wife, Natasha Richardson, had died as the result of what appeared to be a minor skiing accident. Even a year later, it’s obviously a sensitive topic that was not broached at the first of two press days I attended at the L.A. Four Seasons to promote the film with Amanda Seyfried, a burgeoning film star after the success of such films as “Dear John” and “Momma Mia!,” and Erin Cressida Wilson, who is probably best known for her screenplay for the kinky romantic comedy-drama, “Secretary” starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader.

Things got off to what I suppose is an appropriate start given the kind of movie “Chloe” is. Asked about a word tattooed on her ankle, Seyfried volunteered it was crude British slang word for “vagina” — it’s apparently a kind of joking term of endearment used by her and friends. And then there was the European journalist who was clearly tasked with getting material as gossip-rich as he could manage. As the inevitably top-of-mind topic of the film’s somewhat explicit nude sex scenes came up, as well as the inherent difficulty of doing those scenes, his felt the need to ask which of the cast members was the best kisser. Seyfried, somewhat outspoken and girlish, but also clearly a pro at 24 years of age, sidestepped the icky question. Fortunately, someone came up a query that was more germane if no less sensational: Did she meet with any real-life prostitutes to research the role?

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“No. Atom actually met with some working ladies in New York and I believe in Toronto as well…It was interesting what he had to say and how he approached it. He was very open about the information that he needed and they were very willing to share. And that’s the same with Chloe; she’s very willing to share that part of her life because she feels like it and in a way it’s being justified by [the fact that] someone’s asking you about your job.”

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“Valentine’s Day” takes big V-Day/President’s Day weekend

Jennifer Garner smashes expectations in Somewhat exceeding the optimistic predictions I noted on Friday, Garry Marshall’s critically disliked all-star ensemble romantic comedy, “Valentine’s Day,” has earned an estimated $52.41 million for the weekend, according to Box Office Mojo. According to Nikki Finke, it is also earning a very nice (and very estimated) $60 million for the WB studios over the not-yet-complete four day holiday period. According to THR/Reuters, the weekend as a whole came in ahead of last year’s President Day with $193 million, compared to $188 million in 2009. Not surprisingly consider, women were the driving force in the success of the Garry Marshall comedy.

Coming in completely on target, we have a photo-finish between the two genre-films duking it out for the #2 spot. The lengthily titled adaptation of a series of young-adult fantasy novels, “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” from Fox and director Chris Columbus, came in slightly ahead with an estimated $31.1 million. Meanwhile, Universal’s trouble-plagued, R-rated stab at reviving it’s grimly furry monster/horror franchise, “The Wolfman,” earned roughly $30.6 million according to estimates.

Benecio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins realize it's a dog-eat-man world

As for the #4 spot, yes, it’s one more strong performance for Fox’s “Avatar.” The film dropped a minuscule 3.7% percent from last week to earn a very solid $22 million in its 9th week. Conversely, Sony’s sentimental wartime love story, “Dear John,” dropped like a relative stone, 49.8% to be exact, and came in with a less exciting $15.3 million to take fifth place in its second week. Still, with a budget of only $25 million and not $120 gazillion or whatever it was that “Avatar” cost, it’s not a terrible performance.

The #1 this week in terms of per-screen averages was “My Name is Khan,” a topical Bollywood drama being released by Fox Searchlight. It scored $15,500 per screen for an estimated $1.8 million. Another win for the growing U.S. popularity of Indian pop-cinema.

  

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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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Will “Avatar” become the Octo-b.o. king?

HmmmYes, folks, at last we have a teeny-tiny bit of suspense and disagreement among the prognosticators of b.o. (that’s “box office” for those who’ve never read Variety).  Hot off the news that’s she stands to be mythologized by HBO — and make no mistake, the “no-holds-barred” fictional film blogger “Tilda” will be inspired primarily by Finke and not Sharon Waxman or especially Anne Thompson — she most definitely bars certain holds, including insulting people for sport — Nikki Finke writes that it’s just possible that “Avatar” could be knocked off its perch by a movie that few males will see except under the most extreme forms of feminine duress.

The kicker here, of course, is Superbowl Sunday, when a large majority of the male public will be obsessed with the game as well as the beer and fat-heavy snacks that go with the event. Of course, some women like football, some men lack the sports-obsession gene (that’s me), and lots of people who really don’t follow football at all will still be watching the game with friends and family. But many females will still be flocking to our nation’s cinemas, and the younger ones especially may be attracted to “Dear John.”

The wartime love story is currently at 30% on Rotten Tomatoes and directed by Lasse Hallström,who is a long way from his “My Life as a Dog” days as an arthouse favorite. La Finke notes that Sony and Relativity Media’s sentimental romance starring Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum was defeating the mighty Na’vi on Fandango by a margin of 20 percent. Even rival Fox execs concede re: Sony executives’ hopes for an upset: “They are not suckin’ on a crack pipe.”

Still, the more establishment voice of The Hollywood Reporter‘s jolly Carl DiOrio states fairly unequivocally that James Cameron will, in fact, reign for one more week — though that may well be it. Still, I wonder just what kind of pipe he and his editors might have been smoking that allows him to describe the violent action thriller-comedy, “From Paris with Love” as another female skewing movie — it’s certainly not a traditional romance.

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Okay, the title might skew could be misleading to some (at least those who don’t know their early James Bond), and women certainly won’t mind looking at “The Tudors” star Jonathan Rhys Meyers.  However, take one look at the trailers and clips and it’s clear this is a real testosterone-fest of an over-the-top action film, embodied by a goateed, shaven-headed John Travolta as a brutal CIA agent and Finke is probably right that it could steal some of the male thunder of “Avatar.” Well, everyone’s allowed the occasional foul-up and jolly Carl certainly is part of “everyone.”

The consensus seems to be that the film from future “Dune” director Pierre Morel will perform below the numbers for “Dear John,” especially given a male-drained Sunday. Its reviews, by the way, are about equally underwhelming. On the other hand, this highly biased critic definitely recommends you take a look at “We’ll Always Have Paris”  — a Bullz-Eye feature on Paris-based movies that I had, of course, absolutely nothing to do with.

That’s pretty much all the news that fits save for noteable Oscar-nomination driven expansions in terms of theater count of “Crazy Heart,” the very good “An Education,” and “Precious.”  Those latter two-films especially might also not be harmed by the big game.

Gabourey Sidibe in

  

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