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Box office preview: Divide and conquer

That’s the studio strategy this week as three major releases with large and divergent natural constituencies hit movie theaters. All three movies are expected to do rather well by the folks whose job it is to guess these things, as evidenced by the small amount of daylight between the predictions showcased this week by the L.A. TimesBen Fritz and THR‘s ever jolly Carl DiOrio.

I don’t think there’s any reason at all to doubt that the family audience, which hasn’t had a new 3D animated comedy in a while to gawk at, will check out “Megamind.” Featuring the voices of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Brad Pitt, and Jonah Hill, the film is the second of these comedies this year to focus on a putative villain after “Despicable Me.” This one takes a more superpowered spin with a pretty obvious spoof on the Superman mythos. Reviews are decent but muted, but the take is expected to be a very solid $50 million or so, which is not so muted.

Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Gallifianaki have a The reviews are substantially less positive for “Due Date,” which is to youngish men what “Megamind” is to families. I remember being unimpressed for the trailer for the new comedy from Todd Phillips starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Gallifianakis, but apparently the sheer star power and the tried and true comic premise of a mismatched twosome on a road trip seems to be enough here for the R-rated comedy to get something in the $30-35 million neighborhood. Personally, however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it under-perform. Star power just isn’t what it used to be these days and this is clearly not a second coming of Phillips’ “The Hangover.”

With a cast that includes Thandie Newton, Phylicia Rashad, Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg and the Oprah herself, “For Colored Girls” is pretty clearly for African-American women as far as studio marketers are concerned. Based on the acclaimed  poetry-based play of the 1970s by Ntozake Shange (full title: For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf), the movie is not getting much acclaim from critics, who once again are none too fond of Perry’s penchant for melodrama, though many do seem to be given Perry credit for at least trying something different this time around. On the one hand, Tyler Perry’s fans are clearly unconcerned about critics, on the other, this is a very different kind of material than Perry’s usual. An amount of $20 million is being bandied about. In any case, one has to wonder what feminist author Shange makes of this excerpt from Carl DiOrio’s piece:

“In addition to Tyler’s core audience, we’re going after fans who are familiar with the play,” Lionsgate distribution topper David Spitz said. “We feel this could be the Sex and the City for African-American women.”

With Oscar season upon us, a number of notable films are coming up in limited release, including the Valerie Plame spy scandal film “Fair Game,” the fainting-inducing mountain climbing ordeal picture, “127 Hours,” and the Elliot Spitzer ordeal documentary, “Client Nine.” Notable for being both good and probably not having a chance in hell at an Oscar, however, is “Red Hill” which I’m not mentioning here not just because we were granted interviews with the director and star, though that never hurts, I admit shamefacedly.

Ryan Kwanten and Steve Bisley in

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No surprises in tame weekend box office: “The Other Guys” hits #1

Just as was predicted by nearly everyone as the weekend began, Will Ferrell — with a little help from a few other A and A- listers and broad critical agreement that the movie is no classic but is, in fact, funny — is back on top of the nation’s box office with a very healthy estimated take of $35.6 million for “The Other Guys.” That number from Box Office Mojo is exactly .6 north of the higher end of what was predicted previously by most prognosticators. It’s also a healthy chunk of what Nikki Finke says was a $90 million budget for the very broad action-comedy directed by Ferrell cohort Adam McKay. Ferrell and company also seem to be doing a good job of holding on to their core audience of young males. Considering that Ferrell’s been on top for a while now, you might expect his audience to be aging with him but, as the song says about the young at heart, fairy tales can come true.

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg in Also, as Anthony d’Allesandro reminds us, Sony must be young at heart as well as they seem to having a consistently strong summer. Personally, I’d like to think there’s a bit of Louis B. Mayer mojo still lingering at the company’s Culver City grounds, which belonged to MGM until the mid-eighties. It is important to remember that Ferrell is, however, not a huge draw internationally, probably because a lot of his humor is verbal and plays off quirks of North American culture that might be obscure elsewhere. I mean, what is a Singaporean or Austrian to make of “Stay classy, San Diego!”?

#2 was, of course, “Inception,” which finally left the top spot in week 4 and dropped a modest 32.3% in its fifth weekend. The science fiction caper earned a tidy $18.6 million, which gets it to over $227.7 million so far, or thereabouts and, I’d say, well on its way to the $300 million mark. My skepticism that “Step Up 3D” could exceed earnings over the prior two films in the series was well earned. However, it did sufficiently well for Summit and Disney, hitting the better side of studio projections, Allesandro says, with an estimated $15.5 million. Apparently, given the mixed critical consensus cited, which is practically a rave for this kind of a tween-skiewing film, it doesn’t suck nearly as much as it could have, and that probably helps. Indeed, many of the critics are citing the dance numbers strongly enough to attract my curiosity. (I’m a sucker for a good dance number — emphasis on “good.”)

Moving down the charts,  Sony’s “Salt” continued to hold decently at an estimate of $11.1 million. Last weekend’s #2 picture, Paramount/Dreamworks’ “Dinner for Schmucks,” had a rather large drop of over 55% percent in it’s second weekend, dropping three places to the #5 spot. In a funny way, while few are arguing it’s particularly great, this film really seems to be dividing people over the question of whether it’s funny or unfunny, mean or nice. (David Medsker came down on the negative side, I came down on the positive — and I’m usually the tough-guy around here.)

Still, things are looking fairly rosy for Steve Carrel as he seamlessly transitions from television to movie star. His other hit comedy, albeit one only featuring his heavily accented voice, “Despicable Me,” is now at over $209 million and was very inexpensive by CG animation standards with only a $69 million budget. That must be music to the ears of the folks over at Universal, who really needed a hit.

Despicable Me

As for limited releases, there’s actually too much interesting stuff happening for me to go into. However, as one might have guessed, Joel Schumacher’s “12″ did the worst business of anything. In the critic-driven world of the arthouse, Mr. Schumacher has the cards seriously stacked against and this one was getting some of the worst reviews of his career, which is saying something. As always, you can read a lot more about it and many vastly better received movies over at Indiewire. Also, I had to look hard to find out how “Middle Men” did. Suffice it to say that, while I had mixed feelings about the movie, I think it deserved better and the folks at Paramount have been awfully nice to us on this film, which shouldn’t make a difference in how I root, but I’m human and it kind of does. At least, it beat the crap out of “12.”

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Ice-cold weekend box office news: “Inception” steals a dreamy threepeat

Leo and a guy named Joe in

Yeah, I’m really late on this — blame a big press day yesterday and three deadlines today and you’ve got your reason. On the upside, for once, we’re dealing in “actuals” from Box Office Mojo, not estimates. However, I’ll keep things short, which will be sweet.

Yes, Christopher Nolan fans, his thriller is apparently not at all too smart for movie audiences, once again showing some real legs with a nice weekend total for “Inception” of roughly $27.5 million. (I really need to see it, don’t I? You know I just caught up with “Kick-Ass” last week, however…) In second place, the new wide release, which might not be great cinema but which I found actually funny, “Dinner for Schmucks,” did a decent $23.5 million, though the movie feels pricey at a $69 million budget.

The week’s other new releases, which really did look weak to me on Friday, proved to be just that, coming in behind two other solid hits, “Salt” and “Despicable Me.” “Charlie St. Cloud” and “Cats vs. Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” had a photo finish at the fourth and fifth place spots, making roughly $12.4 and $12.3 million, respectively. Since “St. Cloud” cost about half as much to make as “Kitty Galore,” it’s definitely the lesser loser, but at $44 million it’s still got a long way to go to profitability.

I’m running out of steam quickly, but that’s not true for either of the two limited releases I’ve been dealing with here to various degrees, “Get Low” (which I seem to like the least of any critic) and “The Extra Man,” where I’m a tad more positive than most.  On the other hand, “The Kids Are All Right” performed well, but not brilliantly, in its first weekend in semi-wide release. (I need to see that, too.) Indiewire has the details for those of you who need specifics, like numbers and stuff.

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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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It’s a villain vs. vampires, and some predators vs. an airbender

Things are crazy for me this weekend, so forgive me if I cross the line between succinct and downright terse, and I make no typo-free or anti-cliche guarantee either. Even so, this is an unusually interesting box office weekend, though inevitably a far less lucrative one than last weekend’s holiday free-for-all.

The major new entry that just might hit the #1 spot is the PG-rated 3-D animated comedy, “Despicable Me.” Though not every film geek loves this movie about a James Bond-style super-baddie redeemed by instant parenthood — veteran animation critic Charles Solomon was particularly cool to it on the L.A. area public radio show, FilmWeek — it’s being noted for having a bit of a more of a Looney Tunes/Spy vs. Spy vibe than your typical family animation and is getting solidly good reviews.  Indeed, the only thing that looks bad about this film is that it’s come out only two weeks after all-but-univerally praised and hugely successful “Toy Story 3,” but then Pixar exists in a world of its own anyhow, where a perfectly entertaining little movie like “Cars” somehow becomes the “bad” one.

Jolly Carl DiOrio at THR is predicting a $30-35 million weekend. Since “Despicable Me, helmed by two first time French directors, is from a new animation division from beleaguered Universal, every little of good luck is badly needed right now. Jolly Carl says that all the suspense will be over the holding power of last week’s huge winner, “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” which has already passed the $200 million mark. It’s all up to the Twi-hards now.

The other major new release is “Predators.” Produced by Robert Rodriguez and directed by Nimrod Antal, it’s an attempt to revivify the old action/monster franchise with a straight-forward multi-star action plot largely lifted from one of the most frequently borrowed of all horror/suspense premises, “The Most Dangerous Game,” which even spawned an episode of “Gilligan’s Island.” This version has been getting relatively good reviews for a movie which is decidedly not critic’s bait and it appears to be very much in the spirit of the effective, if not wildly brilliant, original. It’s Rotten Tomatoes stock has lowered considerably over the last 24 hours or so, however.

Preying on “Predators” is the widely unloved yet successful family action picture from M. Night Shyamalan and Paramount, “The Last Airbender.” This weekend will be an interesting test to see if there’s any effect from all that critical hate and a lowish Cinemascore result which has to have translated into some poor word of mouth, at least among adults. In any case, “Predators” should almost certainly emerge victorious in terms of profits considering that the frugal and innovative Rodriguez has kept the budget to an extremely reasonable $38 million — a minuscule budget for an effects-heavy action film based on long-running franchise. The production budget of “Airbender,” we are told is nearly four times as much. Jolly Carl says the R-rated action-monster picture should earn $20-25 million.

On the limited release front, the movie getting all the attention this week is the highly lauded dramatic comedy from Focus Features with a title borrowed from the Who, “The Kids Are Alright.” Even considering the no-longer-terribly-edgy subject matter (gay women raising children), this movie stars two of the best and most famous actresses of our day in Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, it’s a little sad this is considered a “small” film, but then I keep writing stuff like that.  Welcome to 2010.

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Met Them at the Greek — a press day chat with Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, Rose Byrne and Nicholas Stoller of “Get Him to the Greek”

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If you saw “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” — and I hope you have as its one of the stronger comedies to be made over the last several years — you’ll likely have noticed the strong comic chemistry between British comedy sensation Russell Brand as three-quarters insane, recovering addict rock star Aldous Snow and Jonah Hill (“Superbad“) as a resort waiter and somewhat overly devoted fan of Snow’s. Well, you’re not the only one, and so we have the somewhat slapdash, sometimes brilliant, and ultimately winning new comedy, “Get Him to the Greek,” which once again brings us Brand as Aldous Snow, who, since the events of “Sarah Marshall” has suffered a failed marriage to rocker Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), had a seven-year old son, and removed the “recovering” from his addiction — kind of impressive since “Sarah Marshall” was only two years ago.

Nevertheless, having fallen headlong off the wagon, Snow needs help arriving on-time and semi-cognizant for an important TV appearance, a sound check, and a special comeback performance at L.A.’s Greek Theater. The task falls to ambitious young record company assistant Aaron Green (Hill, playing a different character than in “Sarah Marshall”), a huge fan of Snow’s in a sweet but rocky relationship with his improbably adorable doctor girlfriend (Elizabeth Moss of “Mad Men“). Frequently vomit-stained hijinks ensue as Green and Snow barely survive a number of unfortunate events, including a nearly apocalyptic visit to the set of “The Today Show,” one of the most truly mad Las Vegas sequences in film history, and the kind of freaky three-ways that would make most porn producers blanch. It’s all wrapped up with the sort of good-hearted traditional morality which reminds us that the producer is the Walt Disney of male-centric, R-rated comedies, Judd Apatow.

Since the film was set to premiere with a special screening and live concert at the Greek Theater a few days hence, it made sense to have a bunch of us entertainment-type writers show up for a series of roundtables with Brand and Hill, not to mention writer/director Nicholas Stoller and actress Rose Byrne, whose character has a special gift for singing the most obscene lyrics imaginable with the straightest possible face.

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