Weekend box office: “The Roommate” leads dorm room-size grosses

It’s possible that somewhere, to someone, some PR flack or Sony/Screen Gems exec will tout this Superbowl weekend’s grosses for the very familiar looking thriller, “The Roommate” as some kind of triumph. After all, the film exceeded the high end of the guesses I mentioned Thursday night with an estimate of $15.6 million. That’s a not at all astonishing .6 million higher than anyone expected.

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I should add that that’s an estimate, and who knows how many young females may or may not escape the nation’s football obsession for what my old cinephile compatriot Keith Uhlich terms an “enjoyably trashy” film. Keith, writing for Time Out New York, was one of 36 Rotten Tomatoes critics to pay to get in to see the film over the weekend, and one of only two to have anything nice to say about it, backhandedly or otherwise.

Scrolling down a bit further on the Box Office Mojo weekend chart nobody, outside of some lower budget Oscar contenders, has much to be happy about. The James Cameron-produced 3D outing, “Sanctum,” came in pretty much as expected with an estimated and entirely lackluster $9.2 million for hit-deprived Universal. Now, if I was playing the expectations game the studio wanted me to play, I’d say it was a surprise winner because it beat the $6-8 million figure the suits were apparently low-balling with last week. In any case, none of that has any impact whatsoever on the film’s $30 million budget and the not small marketing costs. The critically dismissed watery cave thriller from Australia may do a lot better overseas.

Natalie Portman and Greta Gerwig in The #3 film was “No Strings Attached” which somebody likes, even if I didn’t. It held pretty decently for Paramount in its third week. Its estimate is $8.4 million, and I suppose a decent Superbowl Sunday is very possible for this very female-skewing entry.

As for the fourth and fifth place entries, Weinstein’s “The King’s Speech” is hanging in there, royally, with $8.3 million estimate; Sony’s “The Green Hornet” is still well short of making back its $120 budget with $6.1 million estimated for this week and a roughly $87 million total. I don’t usually talk that much about marketing costs, but it’s important to remember that they’re significantly larger than actual filmmaking costs and, for a movie like “Hornet,” undoubtedly enormous — though there’s always merchandising profits to consider.

Last week’s #1 God v. Satan thriller, Warner Brothers’ “The Rite,” sank down to cinematic purgatory this week with a larger-than-average 62.4% second weekend drop, earning an estimated $5.5 million and change in fifth place. The former #3 entry, “The Mechanic,” about a taciturn hit-man and his hot-headed protegee, endured a very typical 53% drop for the second week of an action film. It earned a not-so-killer $5.37 million estimate for the revived CBS Films, which is still waiting for its first real hit of this incarnation.

  

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Weekend box office preview: Will “The Roommate” breach “Sanctum”? Does anyone care?

It’s Superbowl weekend and that means partially empty theaters on Sunday as a good chunk of the nation drinks beer, eats various high fat and sodium foods, and obsesses either over the game or the commercials. Between that and possible lingering effects of the big storm being suffered through by my easterly Premium Hollywood/Bullz-Eye colleagues in the Midwest and the East, you’re talking about less than optimum movie-going conditions. And, this week, it’s certainly looks like a battle between two less than optimum movies.

To be specific, we have “The Roommate” from Sony/Screen Gems which features “Gossip Girl” star Leighton Meester and the similar looking Minka Kelly of the acclaimed “Friday Night Lights” in a what sure looks like a retread of one of those “the _______ from hell” movies of the eighties and nineties. I never actually saw it, but the model in this case appears to be 1992’s “Single White Female” but set in a dorm room — scarier because the personal space is even smaller, I suppose.

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It’s also scarier because it’s not being shown to critics and the trailer for this alleged thriller actually gave me a couple of good laughs. Even so, hopes are reasonably high for this very young female skewing PG-13 flick to top this very top-able weekend. The L.A. TimesBen Fritz and THR‘s Pamela McClintock both pass on the general opinion that the take will probably not be much more than $15 million and quite possibly significantly less. On the other hand, “The Roommate” only cost $16 million to make so, it’ll make back its budget and it doesn’t seem to me like the studio is blowing much on marketing this one either. Today was the first I’ve heard of it.

The other major new release, which has been on my radar to some degree, is an underwater Australian thriller shot in 3D that is pushing the name of its producer as hard as it can. I guess James Cameron can afford to sully his brand name with what sure looks like a sub-par effort if he wants to. It’s not nice to judge a movie you haven’t seen but with mostly bad reviews and a trailer showing off some scary moments and some surprisingly poor acting it’s hard to hope it’ll be terribly good.

Pamela McClintock reports that Universal is downplaying expectations with a guess of $6 to 8 million. $10 million is apparently too much to hope for. Considering that men are the primary audience is here, if you want to treat a movie theater like your own inner sanctum, I suggest seeing this around 6:00 on Sunday in a theater in or near Wisconsin or Ohio.

In limited release in some 26 theaters according to Box Office Mojo, we have a film with a title that must be on movie marketers’ minds every Superbowl weekend: “Wo Zhi Nu Run Xin.” That’s, transliterated Mandarin for “What Women Want.” The remake of the rather funny Mel Gibson/Helen Hunt 2000 fantasy rom-com from Nancy Myers is back at us from China with Andy Lau and Gong Li.

  

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Non-Oscar movie news

As I write this the announcement of the 2010 Academy Award nominations is literally only a few hours away — and I’ll most certainly be discussing them tomorrow — but this late bird has some other worms to catch, starting with goings on up in Park City.

* Yes, Kevin Smith and the premiere of his long planned “Red State” is the talk of the geek movie blogosphere today. Sundance can be a real circus and Smith was, I gather, both ringmaster and clown as he jokingly joined the protest staged by the detestable, publicity loving, Westboro Baptist Church who apparently noticed that Smith was attacking them. That was followed by a 26 minute pre-screening talkathon — which I’ve yet to bring myself to watch, though I’ve read the highlights — in which he announced his plans to distribute the film himself.

As for the response to the movie goes, the reviews have been extremely interesting. The fact of the matter is that Smith has so gone on out of his way to attack film critics, it’s kind of hard for any of us to have an opinion of one of his films that isn’t colored by the silliness at this point. No surprise, then, that reaction has been dramatically mixed. Not everyone even agrees if it’s actually a horror film or a religious-themed thriller. Sort of a more violent and bloody, less musical, version of the 1973 “The Wicker Man.”

Avatar* Speaking of talented makers of entertaining but highly imperfect films whose need to communicate can often place them at cross-purposes with themselves, James Cameron has told Entertainment Weekly that he’s working on the screenplays for two “Avatar” sequels with the intent of releasing them over Christmas of 2014 and 2015. To his credit, I think, Cameron says he’ll donate some portion of films’ grosses to environmental charities, who can use all the help they can get, considering our planet seems to be melting right at the moment.

* And speaking of directors who at times have worked at cross-purposes with themselves, no one has ever done so in grander fashion than the late Orson Welles. It’s starting to look like his legendary unfinished 1970s project, “The Other Side of the Wind,” may finally get a release of some sort. Because Welles never edited most of it, there’s a school of thought that the film should be released only in unedited form. This is one of the more stupid schools of thought I’ve encountered. Thank goodness, DVDs can make the unedited rushes available to anyone who wants to imagine how the man might have edited the film itself, but rushes are not a movie.

As far as other “lost” Welles films, Kevin Jagernauth mentions a miraculous restoration of his badly truncated, “The Magnificent Ambersons.” I’d settle for a decent restoration/re-release of his Shakespearian opus, “Chimes at Midnight.”

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* Chris Hemsworth — aka Mighty Thor, God of Thunder — has seen the Avengers script by Joss Whedon and, guess what, he thinks its “incredible.” Ordinarily, I’d be skeptical of a star’s good opinion of his own movie, but this Browncoat needs it to be incredible. It better be incredible. No pressure, though.

* Another Sundance sale. For what sounds like a small but intense love story, “Like Crazy” fetched a relatively big price.

* Sam Raimi is still chatting up the possibility of some kind “Evil Dead” reboot.

* An item left over from last week relating to another kind of evil dead: Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles’ “The Dictator” based on a novel claimed by an obscure author you might have heard named Saddam Hussein. This is one movie I really have to see.

* I really enjoyed interviewing Morgan Spurlock and he was as nice as could be, but he failed to mention anything about his latest, very clever sounding stunt-documentary “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” which has been getting great press at Sundance. Jerkface.

  

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It’s your of end the week movie news non-filibuster

While Bernie Sanders did his thing on the floor of the senate today, Hollywood liberals, and a few conservatives too, we’re busy doing their thing so that the guys who owned all the studios would have all the more money to save from their big, big tax break. To wit…

* Robert Rodriguez and the other makers of  the modestly budgeted “Machete” got a nasty surprise from the Texas Film Commission, which appears to be reneging on $1.7 million in tax rebates. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, It has something to do with a law against providing the incentives to films portraying Texas and/or Texans negatively. Every film portrays people negatively. This reeks of political selectivity, probably related to the film’s deliberately nonpartisan lampooning of anti-immigrant hysteria and demagogic politicians. “Machete” goes out of its way to avoid naming the evil politician played by Robert De Niro as a member of either party, in fact.

If Texas doesn’t change it’s tune, and fast, I agree for once with the L.A. Times‘ Patrick Goldstein and seriously hope nobody from outside the state shoots a single foot of film in Texas until such time as the state seeks to elect non-mouthbreathers to statewide office. They have, indeed, fucked with the wrong Mexican.

Danny Trejo is

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A chat with Gale Anne Hurd, producer of “The Walking Dead”

Gale Anne Hurd, producer of There aren’t many producers around these days whose name can help sell a movie or TV show, but Gale Anne Hurd is the rare exception. Probably best known as one of the co-creators of “The Terminator” franchise, Hurd has been an important player in numerous mega- or merely major productions, including both “Hulk” and “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Abyss,” “Armageddon,” “The Punisher,” and the underrated 1999 comedy “Dick,” which starred Dan Hedaya as Richard Milhous Nixon and a young Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams as a couple of teenagers who wind up bringing down a presidency.

Clearly one of the more hands-on producers around, Hurd is pleasant and businesslike when talking to a member of the show-biz press, but clearly has the gumption to deal with the biggest and most difficult of personalities, which is how I segue into the obligatory mention of the fact that she spent the part of the late eighties and early nineties being married to first James Cameron and then Brian De Palma. Moreover, she began her career working for one the most fascinating and effective producers in the history of the medium, Roger Corman, but more of that in the interview.

Still, nothing she’s done is quite like her current project, the zombie horror drama and comic book adaptation, “The Walking Dead.” The AMC television series, adapted from a series of acclaimed comics by Robert Kirkman primarily by writer-director Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile,” “The Mist”) is currently receiving maximum exposure on the web. The publicity train was only just getting started when I spoke to Ms. Hurd at a mammoth new San Diego hotel adjacent to the Comic-Con festivities last summer.

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I had typed my questions on my laptop, which I was afraid might be a little off-putting. So, after a quick greeting, I tried to explain why.

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