A roundtable chat with Luke Evans and Dominic Cooper

Tamara Drewe,” the latest from the brilliantly versatile non-auteur directing genius Stephen Frears, is a relationship comedy with tragic overtones based on Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel of the same name, in turn inspired by Thomas Hardy’s 18th century novel, Far From the Madding Crowd. The film pits three not-quite-alpha males against each other for the attention of its mercurial and not always lovable title character, played by the beautiful Gemma Arterton. Two of them, fast rising up-and-comers Luke Evans and Dominic Cooper, were set to meet at L.A.’s Four Seasons with a dozen or so entertainment journalists.

It was therefore more than a little bit amusing when the two fictionally competitive actors entered wearing near identical high-end v-neck fashion undershirts and tight-fitting low-rise pants. It was an apparent complete coincidence or perhaps not so random given the popularity of this ultra-casual look among today’s mod set. In any case, Cooper compared their combined look to “a boy band.”

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Dominic Cooper made his first big splash in Alan Bennett’s Tony winning, “The History Boys,” starring in both the London and Broadway productions in 2004 and 2005. His film career, however, goes as far back as a bit part in another adaptation of a British graphic novel: the Hughes Brothers’ 2001 version of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s “From Hell.” Other key parts include a memorable role as disreputable Peter Saarsgard’s business partner/buddy in “An Education” and the lovestruck movie fiance to former real-life girlfriend Amanda Seyfried in “Mamma Mia!” Notable upcoming roles include playing the part of Howard Stark (Tony’s future dad) in the largely World War II-set “Captain America: The First Avenger.” In “Tamara Drewe,” Cooper plays self-involved rock drummer Ben Sergeant of the band Swipe, with whom the gorgeous protagonist dallies for large portions of the film.

With a background in such musicals as “Avenue Q” and the “remixed” “Rent” on the London stage, Luke Evans, who plays all-around good guy and potential once-and-future Tamara Drewe paramour Andy Cobb, has found his way into a number of big budget films, including playing Apollo in “Clash of the Titans” and an upcoming role as no-less than Zeus in Tarsem Singh’s “Immortals.” He also recently completed the role of Aramis in Paul W.S. Anderson’s 3-D version of the oft-filmed “The Three Musketeers.”

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So, guess what’s topping the box office this weekend

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in Yes, the holiday weekend is barely half-way over and tonight’s Golden Globes could alter things slightly. Nevertheless, the Box Office Mojo’s weekend estimates are out and, don’t even bother to wait for it, Fox’s “Avatar” was once again the box office leader with a solid $41.3 million estimated take and a still very low drop of only 17.9% on its fifth go-round. Domestically, “Avatar” is already the #3 all-time moneymaker with a total of $491,767,000. Worldwide it has defeated, “The Return of the King” and is now #2 at just over $1.6 billion, just a couple billion shy of another movie you might have an opinion about, “Titanic.” James Cameron might have to buy an additional Malibu estate for his self-esteem to live in.

Just to keep us from falling completely asleep, however, there were some new members of the top 3 this week. The post apocalyptic actioner with a spiritual tint, Warner Brothers’ “The Book of Eli,” performed as per the expectations I described last time and has a current weekend estimate of roughly $31.6 million. That will definitely be happy news not only for star Denzel Washington but for directors Allen and Albert Hughes, whose last film, “From Hell” was not a box office success despite the presence of another big star, Johnny Depp. (Indeed, one of that film’s producers left the film business and has gone on to become one of the most powerful and annoying members of the left hand side of blogosphere, but that’s a story for another time and place.)

Denzel Washington in

As for the #3 spot…it’s not really a weekend if I don’t make an completely wrong predictive comment — when will I learn to keep my trap shut? Anyhow, the marketing strategy turning a critically dissed piece of Oscar bait into a film aimed at female tweens and teenagers has paid off with a very decent estimated third place showing of just over $17 million for “The Lovely Bones” and Paramount/Dreamworks. The film has been out in limited release for several weeks, but went into over 2,500 theaters and apparently the timing was correct.

A brand new wide release, “The Spy Next Door,” a frankly lame looking vehicle for Jackie Chan, did fairly unimpressive business for a wide release film on its opening weekend despite . It came in the #6 spot with an estimated $9.7 million for Lionsgate, which might be enough if the film’s budget is low enough. In other “cudda been worse” news, it’s 0% on the Tomatometer on Friday has blossomed to 9% with four critics failing to dislike it.

Michael Cera in Finally, the vampire role-reversal flick a la Monty Python’s “Bicycle Repairman” sketch, “Daybreakers,” which did rather well last week, suffered a huge 67% drop in its second time out, going from a $15 million last week to about $5 million this week. And, because I’m a nice guy, I’ll keep the word on “Youth in Revolt” to myself.

  

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An “Avatar” five-peat for MLK weekend?

With “Avatar” holding remarkably well last weekend to the tune of over $50 million, there’s every reason to expect another very strong performance over the coming Martin Luther King Day holiday. Still, along with the holiday, this is also the first weekend since Christmas where James Cameron‘s science-fiction adventure is facing some new decent genre competition.

That comes via “The Book of Eli,” another “Mad Max”-esque post-apocalyptic neo-western, this time starring Denzel Washington and featuring a bit of a religious element. The Warner Brothers film is getting mixed reviews and only rated 45% on the Tomatometer. Beneath the surface, however, I’m sensing that the film actually provides a bit of fun and while star power hasn’t been good for much lately at the box office, my hunch is the combination of a tried-and-true action-flick premise and this particular star is just strong enough to be reasonably potent here.

Denzel Washington in Directed by the Hughes Brothers who, rather unbelievably, haven’t released a theatrical film since 2001’s  fairly decent “From Hell” disappointed at the box office, “Eli” is expected to earn about $30-40 million. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a very close result. Jolly Carl DiOrio nevertheless fully expects an “Avatar” victory and reminds us that it would be the first five-time #1 streak since “The Sixth Sense” wowed audiences back in 1999.

The week’s other major new release is “The Spy Next Door,” a family-oriented Jackie Chan vehicle from Lionsgate that has managed the neat trick of getting eactly 0% of critics to give it a positive review at Rotten Tomatoes. Still, if parents will fork over beaucoup bucks for a certain singing group from the genus rodentia, it’s just possible they’ll take one for the family team by sitting through this possible kiddie-pleaser as well. Jolly Carl is talking about as much as $20 million for “Spy,” presumably partly because of the family appeal of costars George Lopez and Billy Ray Cyrus. As an admirer of Chan’s great Hong Kong work, I have to say that I’m sorry he feels he has to has to work with the guy who brought us “Beethoven.”

That’s it for major new releases, but Peter Jackson’s movie version of Alice Siebold’s “The Lovely Bones,” is finally going wide this week. According to Box Office Mojo, it’ll be expanding from 13 theaters into 2,563, about 500-800 fewer than the major releases I’ve discussed so far. Considering the lackluster reviews and only so-so awards showing for this theoretical piece of awards-bait so far, I wouldn’t expect anything too huge here this weekend   — though apparently younger females have been liking the film, or at least that’s who the film is being marketed to these days. In any case, a surprise Golden Globe or two at Sunday night’s show wouldn’t hurt it’s MLK day Monday. It could use a miracle or two.

Saoirse Ronan in

  

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