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Box office preview: Will “Just Go With It” flow well? Will “Never Say Never” make Bieliebers of us all?

This is the first weekend in some time when we have more than a couple of new movies opening wide and it’s a weird one. We’ve got a powerhouse team of A-listers vying for first place against a 16 year-old musical phenom whose talent is, as least in the opinion of most adults and nearly all males, vastly less than phenomenal. Gotta love show biz.

If you’re betting on this weekend, you should probably demand some odds if your choice for the #1 spot is not “Just Go With It.” At least on paper, this is a smartly designed movie in terms of attracting a mass audience. To be stereotypical about it, there’s a little romance for the women, and little raunchy comedy for the men and a slightly unusual pairing of rom-com reliable Jennifer Aniston and raunch-com superstar Adam Sandler.

Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston in

The cinematic seers and soothsayers referenced over at the L.A. Times and THR differ only very slightly in suggesting that the comedy from Sony/Columbia, will do something in the neighborhood of $30 million, or perhaps a bit more. Neither Aniston nor Sandler have ever been critical darlings and their latest outing isn’t changing that.

The strange aspect of this is that the film is an unheralded remake of 1969′s “Cactus Flower,” which had a screenplay adapted by the later-career collaborator of Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, and starred Walter Matthau and my hugest crush ever, Ingrid Bergman, in the roles now inhabited by Sandler and Anniston. I’ve liked both Sandler and Anniston in movies from time to time but, my God, talk about devolution. I’ve never seen model-turned-actress Brooklyn Decker in anything, so I’ll spare her the comparison to Goldie Hawn, who won an Oscar for her role.

Meanwhile, there’s more than a little mystery about just how much Paramount’s “Justin Beiber: Never Say Never” will make. Apparently, Beiber’s very young, very female fan base is defying marketers’ ability to measure and predict the results for this 3D docu-concert flick. The really weird part of all this is that, of all four movies being released this week, the biographical documentary has the best reviews with a respectable enough 64% Fresh rating over a Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing. A sad commentary, perhaps, or just another sign of the show biz apocalypse. Could this film actually top the week’s box office? Probably not, but never say “never.”

Gnomeo and JulietNext is the 3D animated comedy, “Gnomeo and Juliet.” Disney apparently wanted to keep this one at arm’s length and is releasing it through Touchstone, usually reserved for racier properties, despite the film’s G-rating. My hunch is that animation chief John Lasseter felt the rom-com suitable for the very young wasn’t quite up to snuff all around. The reviews, however, are not completely awful and the voice cast — which includes James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Sir Michael Caine, Dame Maggie Smith and, in a voice-acting debut, Jason Statham — is beyond first rate. It also boasts music by Elton John and parents can also feel like they’re prepping their kids for Shakespeare even if this is comedy and not tragedy. So, the guess of $15-20 million seems reasonable enough to me.

Finally, we’ve got swords, sandals, Channing Tatum, and Jamie Bell in “The Eagle.” No one seems very excited about this costume actioner and that non-excitement seems to be communicating itself through some underwhelming box office guesses to match its deeply “meh” notices.

In limited release in some 16 theaters according to Box Office Mojo, the world always needs a good, or half-way decent, comedy and the large majority of critics seem to agree that “Cedar Rapids” is just that. With a cast of tip-top comedy veterans including Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, and Anne Heche, among others, it’s hard not to have an upbeat attitude about this one.

Ed Helms and Anne Heche are in

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Chills win as the “Paranormal” phenomenon grows

paranormal activity

It was a weekend of surprises at the box office. The most pleasant for those of us who prefer a chill up the spine to a gag reflex was the outstanding performance of “Paranormal Activity,” which handily defeated the dismemberment sweepstakes of “Saw VI” despite being in over a thousand fewer theaters than its horrific competitor.

As documented by Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter and the bean counters of Box Office Mojo, Paramount’s extremely wise ultra-ultra-ultra-low-budget paranormal pick-up earned an estimated $22 million as it expanded to 1,945 screens this week with a outstanding per screen average of $11,321. That’s compared to an estimated $14.8 million for the latest “Saw” entry (two more are still scheduled, including the inevitable 3-D installment) with a per screen average of $4,875, less than half of its spooky competitor.

The irony in all this is that, now that critics have had to paid their shekels to see the unscreened “Saw VI,” not only has it gotten better reviews than the last few entries — which is, of course, not the same thing as getting good reviews — it turns out to have at least an attempt at political content with a plot that involves both the sub-prime mortgage and health care debacles.

Seems to me that Lions Gate really had nothing to lose by screening this for critics and the political angle might have generated a bit more interest. “‘Sicko‘ for real sickos! ‘Capitalism: A Hate Story’! says Geekboy Moonraker of ‘Ain’t it Bloody Disgusting’” might have at least captured a bit more attention. Though, reading Owen Gleiberman‘s highly negative review, it’s interesting to note that both “Zombieland” and “Saw VI” do call attention to our nation’s obesity epidemic.

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Oy, what a weekend: A Disney exit and a Toronto bloodbath (Updated)

You may not have heard it, but the movie world’s been shifting on its axis over the last few days. It might not be very pretty.

* Dick Cook, the Chairman of Disney who doesn’t get nearly the amount of press of CEO Bob Iger, resigned just before the start of Rosh Hashanah last Friday night. In the inevitable “did he fall or was he pushed?” argument, the “push” side seems to have the edge and the repercussions are significant, but not completely clear.

The short version seems to be that Cook and Iger simply had different views on too many issues and that the movie side of Disney, Pixar aside, hasn’t been doing quite as well lately as some would like. Cook was, however, apparently rather well liked by such superstars as Steven Spielberg and Johnny Depp, and that might have an impact on such issues as whether not they’ll be a fourth “Pirates” movie. Marc Graser of Variety has more — including the tantalizing suggestion that the job might be Pixar head John Lasseter’s to turn down. Of course, Nikki Finke has yet more of the seemingly endless lowdown.

Johnny Depp and Dick Cook

* Speaking of Disney and its famous recent acquisition, there’s a second lawsuit similar to the one that wrapped a while back regarding the rights to Superman — or not. Let’s just say it’s from the same lawyer and this time the target is Time Warner/DC Comics competitor, the newly Disnified Marvel Entertainment. As described by Nikki Finke, who picked up the story from the comics site Bleeding Cool, this time the creator in question is the late, great Jack Kirby, one of the most respected figures in all of comicsdom and the co-creator with Stan Lee of many of Marvel’s best known characters including the Fantastic Four and the Mighty Thor. (He also co-created Captain America with Joe Simon just months before America’s entry into World War II.) There’s a long history on the whole issue of Kirby’s role in creating these comics in relation to Stan Lee, and there are a number of issues here. Like anything legal, it gets pretty thorny and there’s some pretty “lively” debate among the commenters at Deadline Hollywood.

* Perhaps most significant of all, reporter/blogger Anne Thompson has written a post that’s sent shockwaves through the online film world and probably the actual film world as well — though the news itself is known to those affected. She concisely entitled her post-festival piece “Toronto Wrap: Indie Bloodbath.” The villain here seems to be, at least partly, rising marketing costs — though I’d like someone to explain to me why they are rising as we’re coming out of a recession with a more or less jobless recovery. Nevertheless:

It costs too much money these days to make a dent, a mark, an impression that will create enough urgency in filmgoers to make them go out and see a movie. While Ted Mundorff insists that business is up at indie-branded Landmark Cinemas around the country, and Apparition’s Bob Berney is hopeful that exec changes at Cinemark and AMC will bring a new awareness to booking the right movies in the right locations, the indie market needs help.

With the exception of the high profile deal for a “A Single Man” last week, very little business got done in Toronto and struggling indie filmmakers are, rather than selling their films, paying to have their films released. Terms like “tectonic shift” are being bandied about. Via David Hudson/The Auteurs Daily, we have reaction from my personal movie Yoda, Roger Ebert and Vadim Rizov, who comments on Universal’s recent troubles and its ensuing spending freeze.

The irony is, of course, that all of this comes after a  very successful movie summer. Another chapter, I suppose, in the ongoing realignment of all media, though the timing sure seems odd. Movies will survive, but it’s a most definitely a tough time for all but the most micro-budgeted of indies and the big budgeted productions of ordinary Hollywood, and life’s not exactly a feather-bed for them, either.

UPDATE: Also via The Auteur’s Daily, apparently there’s been some delayed Toronto-related action and some blood just got mopped off the floor. And a little more. Things are, I’m sure, still bad, but perhaps the mood might be a hair less apocalyptic for larger indies.

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Comic-Con mess o’ stuff


I might have missed my Joss Whedon panel yesterday (clearly, I didn’t want it enough and failed to get in line an hour early), but lots of other folks aren’t missing a thing.

* Apparently, Robert Downey, Jr. is claiming his martial arts using, womanizing (at least that’s how I remember the trailer), and druggie Holmes is closer to the Arthur Conan Doyle character that the scads of cinematic and TV Holmesessess we have had up to now. Well, the literary Holmes did use cocaine. Let’s just say I share Luke Thompson’s differing memory on those points.

Maybe it was all a product of the squirrelly Downey sense of humor we’ve seen in so many unusual performances over the years. I’m also skeptical of why Steven Zeitchik thinks the Guy Ritchie-directed Holmes is a particularly tough sell to geeks. Isn’t Data one of our patron saints? The geeks I grew up with actually used words like “Holmesiana.” The Aleister Crowley-cult thing won’t hurt with a certain breed of gothy nerd, either.

* John Lasseter presented one of the real greats, still very active and hoping for his first stateside hit: Hiyao Miyazaki.

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And the geek overload begins in earnest…

And why would that be? Well, next Wednesday night is the kick-off of San Diego’s now humongous Comic-Con, an event I’ve been attending off and on, but mostly on, since I was a barely pubescent geekling, and both me and the con have changed a little over the years.

The con has grown into something truly enormous and become less fun, and I’ve definitely grown (a little) bigger. I’ll leave the “fun” judgment to others. Like the con also, I’ve also definitely grown less comics-obsessed and more exclusively film/television focused — partly as a function of cost and partly of time. I’m not sure what the con’s excuse is.

In any case, I find myself unable to focus on any one topic right now and am fretting about things like whether or not there will be free wi-fi again this year, but as the event I call “Cannes for geeks” grows ever closer, we’ll be visiting with our old family friends, the Asterisks.

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