Box Office Preview: The Movie that Shall Remain “Nameless here for evermore,” Jason Statham, Pirates! and the next Apatow/Stoller/Segel Comedy

The Raven

Let’s just get this out of the way, this movie looks like shit, which is unfortunate given some of the names involved. “The Raven” was directed by James McTeigue, who was an assistant director for the “Matrix” trilogy before making his directorial debut with “V for Vendetta” in 2006. The cast includes Brendan Gleeson (“Braveheart,” “Gangs of New York,” “Harry Potter”), and stars John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe.

Poe’s death is shrouded in mystery, so the filmmakers took more than a few creative liberties in this fictionalized account of the writer’s last days. When a serial killer begins using his work as the inspiration for a series of gruesome murders, police enlist Poe to help bring the assailant to justice.

Reviews have been bad, hovering around 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and not without reason. Edgar Allan Poe was a fascinating human being. In 1836, at age 27, he married his 13 year-old first cousin. The man was a great many things: author, poet, alcoholic, opium addict, and the inventor of detective fiction. He uneqivocally was not an action hero or some macabre version of Sherlock Holmes. With such an intriguing life story, there was no reason to make him into such.

“The Raven” is the 241st film or television adaptation of Poe’s work. That leaves you 240 options that might not be garbage, so pick one of those. Or, better yet, pick up some of his written work, which is in the public domain (that means it’s free).

Safe

In “Safe,” Jason Statham plays Luke Wright, “the Big Apple’s hardest cop, once up on a time.” Now, he’s a a second-rate cage fighter who drives fast, kicks ass, and always has a wry one-liner up his sleeve. That is, Jason Statham plays Jason Statham doing Jason Statham things, only he’s got an American accent (sort of). In this case, his excuse for coating the streets in blood is protecting a 12-year-old Chinese girl who’s memorized a valuable code from some Russian mobsters. Purely by coincidence, they’re the same Russian mobsters who murdered his wife.

“Safe” couldn’t have a more appropriate title. It’s another formulaic Statham action movie that’s split critics right down the middle because even though you know what’s going to happen, you can’t help but be entertained. Perhaps Aaron Hillis of The Village Voice put it best: “Safe” is a “preposterously enjoyable—or enjoyably preposterous—action-thriller.”

If “Safe” is your style, go and enjoy it, you’ll get no argument from me. But since you already know the endings anyway, you might as well rent “Snatch” or “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels” instead.

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“Avatar” off to a slightly snowbound $73 million start

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana, embellished, in Thursday night, I tried to imply that only the apocalypse itself could prevent “Avatar” from winning the weekend. And, while 2012 is still a few years away, Nikki Finke reports that a big East coast snow storm is being blamed for the film earning a below-expectations estimate of $73 million for Fox — $12 million less than the the $85 million figure that was being bandied about previously. Regardless, $73 million ain’t chicken feed, though with a ginormous budget ($300 million??) comes ginormous responsibility to rake in the megabucks.

If I were James Cameron, I wouldn’t worry too much, however. Finke is trumpeting the numbers for the more expensive 3-D and 3-D Imax screens and the worldwide take was a record setter, if you leave out all “franchise” films. In other word $159.2 million worldwide is the worldwide record for a film with no previously known characters and not a sequel to some prior hit.

More important, as I suggested on Thursday, the science-fiction spectacular’s strong reviews will likely be reflected in word of mouth among cinema civilians. Finke says that the audience approval surveys from Cinemascore gave the film an “A” across every “quadrant” — i.e., people of all age and gender groups seems to like it. With the Christmas vacation period just getting started and a few Oscar nominations almost certain, I think it’s safe to say that “Avatar” is in better than good shape, especially if a movie like “2012,” which lots of people saw but which I gather very few loved, could still be profitable with a production budget of $200 million. I’d like to think that, sometimes, movies that people actually like do better than movies they merely tolerate. Humor me.

As for the rest of the weekend box office, there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement. Taking a look at the ever-handy Box Office Mojo chart once again, the #2 and the #3 spot went to Disney’s hand-drawn “The Princess and the Frog,” which earned an estimated $12,224,000, and this year’s unrivaled sleeper hit from Warner Brothers, “The Blind Side.” The feel-good sports drama made an estimate $10,030,000 this weekend for a rough total so far of $164,734,000. Considering it’s $29 million budget and the possibility of a box office life-extending Best Actress nomination for Sandra Bullock, I’m guessing this has to wind up as one the year’s most profitable films, perhaps rivaled only by the sub-micro budgeted phenomenon, “Paranormal Activity,” and assorted mega-hits I don’t feel like mentioning/researching.

While Oscar-hopeful “Nine” was the week’s winner in terms of per screen average with $61,750 in four theaters (“Avatar” average of $21,147 was the second placer in per-screen), the week’s other major new release performed in predictably uninspiring fashion. Sony’s critically drubbed star-driven attempt at romantic comedy, “Did You Hear About the Morgans?,” dipped below its extremely modest expectations to earn an estimated $7 million, about  $1 million less than predicted — the snow again, I’m sure. Nevertheless, it appears that if people did hear the Morgans, they mostly decided to ignore them.

Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker in

  

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Either “Avatar” takes the weekend box office, or we’re all in big trouble

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in

Variety has gone behind a pay wall. Jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter is either taking a night off or filing later. Still, this is one week when, if I may paraphrase Bob Dylan, I don’t need a weatherman to tell me which way the wind’s blowing. As a science-fiction adventure sure-to-be blockbuster, James Cameron‘s “Avatar” has pretty much everything going for: huge ballyhoo, much of its centered on its groundbreaking use on “performance capture” (not mere motion capture) and what everyone seems to be describing as a new and more immersive 3-D, strong advance sales (skewing male as of right now), and solid reviews.  Sure, it’s actors aren’t precisely A-listers, but we all know what good stars are these days. I’m sure people will eventually remember that Sam  Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver were in there some place.

The latest from James Cameron at this point has racked up an 82% “fresh” on the Tomatometer and a whopping 96% from the usually harder to please “top critics,” with only Village Voice‘s exacting J. Hoberman submitting a mildly negative review that is actually about as positive as a bad review can be.

Our own Jamey Codding is positive, but not quite ecstatic. Ken Turan, a critic I respect but often disagree with for his rather schoolmarmish tastes — don’t get him started on Tarantino — waxes poetic and compares the technical breakthroughs to “The Jazz Singer.” I personally hope that isn’t quite the case. 3-D is cool as an occasional treat, but I just don’t see how it’s necessary for every movie. Of course, there were people who said that about sound movies too, but don’t laugh too much because there are still people who thought they were right! (Not me. Being a word guy, I like talkies. My fogeyosity has limits) In any case, Roger Ebert might be summing things up nicely when he writes:

There is still at least one man in Hollywood who knows how to spend $250 million, or was it $300 million, wisely.

Sam Worthington in So, we know that “Avatar” will, baring apocalypse or a mass, blindness-inducing plague, win the weekend. The real question is, by how much? Well, considering it’s opening in 3,453 theaters and probably taking up nearly every higher priced regular size and Imax 3-D screen in the country, I’d say the sky is the limit for the moment. Beyond that, I really don’t have the kind of information to make these kind of assertions, but fortunately there is Daniel Frankel of The Wrap who says that the gurus have agreed the Fox film will do over $60 million at least and possibly as much as $90 or $100 million.

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