Weekend box office: “The Voyagle of the Dawn Treader” and “The Tourist” on a dull trip

Things should perk up a bit at the box office next weekend with “Tron: Legacy” and “How Do You Know,”  but this weekend is proving to be a bust. As was just about certain on Thursday, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” came in on top, but that doesn’t mean the news is good.

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The estimate of $24.5 million for the weekend over at Box Office Mojo is more than $10 million shy of the low-end figures that jolly Carl DiOrio trumpeted and which sounded perfectly reasonable to me. Apparently, this series is not being greeted with anything like the same sort of loyalty a Harry Potter or “Lord of the Rings” receives. Just as apparently, Fox and Walden Media’s strategy of targeting those sometimes Harry-negative and nearly always C.S. Lewis-positive evangelical Christian groups didn’t do much. Sometimes people can tell when they’re being marketed to and they don’t always like it.

Even so, this series tends to do very well abroad. Also, as Nikki Finke mentions, the studio is banking on word of mouth to help smooth things over. I imagine the reason for that is the Cinemascore A rating mentioned by Anthony D’Alessandro. Fox’s decision to take this off Disney’s hands, while reducing the outsize budgets, may still prove wise.

It’s budget was a mere $100 million, about $50 million less than “Dawn Treader, and the difference between the prediction and the reality is not as enormous. However, this weekend’s #2 film’s grosses are not something that will put a spring in the step of Sony executives. “The Tourist” nailed an estimate of $17 million for the weekend, as opposed to the $20 million figure that was thrown out earlier. It might be a bit harsh for Nikki Finke to use the “tank” word, but expectations had already been tamped down hugely for a movie from a hot young director starring, pretty literally, the two most famous actors in the world.

Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in

When a movie directed by a critical darling like Florian Henckel von Donnersmark (“The Lives of Others”) gets drubbed by critics the way this one has — and the Rotten Tomatoes “top critics” have been especially harsh — there’s more at work than the sophomore slump. On the other hand, “The Tourist” did nail a decent B from Cinemascore, for what that’s worth. We’ll see whether my glib line about this being a movie with a great pedigree that could turn out be just a dog applies to the worldwide box office over the long haul. Despite everything, this could be another “Knight and Day.” Unfortunately, a movie doesn’t have to be particularly liked by anyone to do well.

It’s award season and things are looking a lot more interesting right now in the world of limited release. The week’s highest per-screen average by far was at the four theaters showing “The Fighter.” Grosses for director David O. Russell’s apparent comeback after the box office failure of “I Heart Huckabees” averaged $80,000, for an outstanding opening weekend estimate of $320,000. It’s pretty clear that Paramount’s evident commercial confidence in this film was eminently justified.

Natalie Portman in Also doing amazing business, “Black Swan” enjoyed a boffo second weekend with an average of over $37,000 in 90 theaters. It was actually the #6 movie in the country while showing in only a tiny fraction of the theaters its competitors are playing in, and garnered an estimate of over $3.3 million. Considering the ballet thriller’s $5.6 total take so far, a budget of only $13 million, and the near certainty of multiple Oscar nominations, this could be the year’s sleeper cash cow. I haven’t seen it yet, but I will say that studios should never underestimate the cross-gender appeal of over-the-top melodrama and a bit of terror. Fox Searchlight was smart not to.

  

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Box office preview: “Dawn Treader” to take a reasonably lucrative voyage but “The Tourist” may be a stranger to big b.o. bucks

We have two new major releases and which one will be on top is a pretty clear cut case. Even so, it will be relatively muted victory.

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“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is the third installment in the adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s immensely popular fantasy novels. Though it was helmed by veteran filmmaker Michael Apted, it’s not entirely smooth sailing for the family-friendly adventures. Disney dropped the series after the somewhat disappointing showing of “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” back in 2008. Since then, as discussed by both Ben Fritz and jolly Carl DiOrio Fox has picked it up and trimmed the budget in partnership with Walden Media to an oh-so-thrifty $155 million (!).

That’s probably a good thing because it doesn’t seem to be generating a huge amount of excitement, at least from critics. On the other hand, Narnia fans are a sure bet to turn out and, as the first 3D installment in the series, “Dawn Treader” could enjoy a bit of a bump from those inflated ticket prices. DiOrio’s guess of $35-45 million seems reasonable.

Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in From everything I’ve seen today, Sony’s “The Tourist” looks like it may be one of those movies that comes with the finest pedigree but just turns out to be a bit of a dog. Not only does this remake of a French thriller little-seen in the U.S. boast the truly enormous star voltage of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, it’s the follow-up film to the Oscar winning worldwide success, “The Lives of Others” by German writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. I saw von Donnersmark introduce that film before its domestic opening. He turns out to be an extremely fluent and completely unaccented English speaker who, even before his film opened in the U.S., was not shy about his lust to take on American films.

The maker of the compellingly dour political thriller has taken on an attempt at a sophisticated, lighthearted thriller along the lines of such non-Hitchcock Hitchcock films as “Charade.” And, where that film had a screenplay by the great Peter Stone, this one has one credited to von Donnersmark, Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) and Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”). You can’t blame a guy for trying.

The review by our own David Medsker was entirely unenthusiastic, but it was a rave compared with the highly negative reaction of critics overall. The same scribes who rhapsodized over “The Lives of Others” largely found “The Tourist” an exercise in high-gloss boredom. While audiences will be lured by the appearance of an ideal date movie the first weekend, you’ve got to wonder how the film will do once people see it for themselves. Still, about $20 million seems to be figure for the first weekend. We’ll see about the legs later on.

There’s also a bunch going on in the realm of limited releases. Looking at Box Office Mojo, we have a significant expansions of “Black Swan” after its boffo opening weekend. One brand new entry this weekend in five theaters is a new version of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” which, despite starring the great Helen Mirren in a bit of gender-altering casting is getting pretty dismal reviews for famed/infamous director Julie Taymor.  A Shakespeare adaptation with bad reviews is a movie in trouble. “The Fighter” debuts also on four screens, though you can expect many more later.

Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg in

  

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Trailer: “The Tourist” — because you can only watch “North by Northwest” and “Charade” so many times

Not much time for long and newsy posts this week, but there’s always time for a cool trailer. “The Tourist,” this is one megastar vehicle I think I may already be sold on seeing. A remake of a French thriller starring Sophie Marceau that flew completely under most American radars, myself definitely included, “Anthony Zimmer,” “The Tourist” appears to be a rather jolly tale of intrigue along the lines of the more lighthearted Hitchcock and Hitchcockian international spy and crime tales like the ones alluded to above. Check it out.

In a movie world where acting modes lean to grim seriousness, leavened by the occasional out-and-out parody, it’s nice to see Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp channeling the gently tongue-in-cheek approach of folks like Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. What’s more impressive is that the director is the multisyllabic German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. His first-rate Oscar winner, “The Lives of Others” had its humorous moments, but it was heavy-duty stuff, pretty much the opposite of this kind of cinema souffle. Very interesting. The script is credited to a trio of writers, including Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”) and Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”).

  

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Tuesday late night movie news

It’s pretty clear that nothing going on in movieland tonight is going to be able to compete with the sheer entertainment value of the NBC late night TV quagmire, but there’s definitely stuff to talk about.

* Peter Saarsgard of the very good “An Education” is a highly intriguing actor who I’ve been following for some time, especially since catching his work in the underrated “The Dying Gaul” at Sundance a few years back. No matter what kind of character he’s playing, he seems to have a real gift for moral ambiguity. If he’s cast as a villain, we think he must have a good side, and if he’s cast as someone more upright, we wonder if there isn’t something underhanded going on. Anyhow, Borys Kit reports that it looks like he might be playing the villain side of the street in the Green Lantern movie. Could be good.

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* The longest named director in show business is back on “The Tourist,” a remake of a French thriller to star Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is the very talented and personable multilingual director behind “The Lives of Others.”

* Simon Brew has some more on the upcoming “Spiderman” reboot announced yesterday. His list of possible new Spideys has two interesting entries that I can’t quite agree with. Daniel Radcliffe actually makes some sense, but we’ll have to see how his American accent is, though I’d personally advise the soon-to-be ex-Harry Potter to avoid overly franchisey roles for a while. Michael Cera would be interesting but, I fear, disastrous. He’d have to get muscular and we know what happens to funny young actors when they become too obviously physically fit. Just ask Anthony Michael Hall.

The trick with Peter Parker is that the actor has to be believable both as a vulnerable demi-nerd, and as the sinewy superhero. Tobey Maguire was actually a really outstanding choice.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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Tales of cinema survival

* Flicks are a tough business which frequently requires great sacrifice. Still, I can’t think of a single creative or suit whose had to saw off a limb to stay alive. However, that’s exactly what mountaineer Aron Ralston had to do and now director Danny Boyle plans to film Ralston’s story, perhaps or perhaps not with actor Ryan Gosling in the lead. Fun, fun, fun.

Cast Away

* Demon-plagued Katie and Micah of “Paranormal Activitylive (and hopefully have good agents). Also, those with a high tolerance for low humor will want to check out my friends, the Perry Boys, in “Perry-Normal Activity.”

* RIP comic actor, vaudevillian, and magician Carl Ballantine aka “The Great Ballantine, who survived very nicely until age 92.

* Roadside Attractions has picked up “The Joneses,” a comedic social satire with two career survivors, David Duchovny and Demi Moore.

* “The Tourist,” a remake of a 2005 French thriller little seen in the U.S. has lost Sam Worthington and the very good director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others.”) However, it lives to tell the tale as it’s gained Johnny Depp and, perhaps, and an even better director in Alfonso Cuaron (“Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “Children of Men“).

  

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