Big weekend at the box office: Twi-Hards turn out; proof that young men don’t listen (to critics)

This week, most of whatever suspense there was was not at all about which movie will be #1 or, as it turns out, #2 (not quite a 100% sure thing earlier). It had to do with what actually matters when the show business rubber meets the audience road: how much cash did the movies generate from the summer’s biggest holiday weekend but amid gloomy news and gloomier punditry regarding the economy? The answer seems to be what Joel McCrea learned at the end of “Sullivan’s Travels,” people in dire straights need entertainment and fantasy more, not less. I only wish they were getting something as thoughtful as “Ants in Your Plants of 1939.”

Edward and Bella...ooooohhhhhhhhhOver the three day Friday-Sunday weekend, Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” earned an estimated $69 million according to the Box Office Mojo chart. For the broader and potentially confusing numbers covering the extended movie weekends for the two new major new releases this week, I’ll rely on Anne Thompson’s pal Anthony D’Alessandro. He tells us “Eclipse” earned an estimated $175 million and change, just a few million bucks below the similar six-day frame of 2004’s “Spiderman 2,” though not adjusted for ongoing movie-ticket inflation.

This is the point in the series ordinarily where some might wonder if interest is starting to flag, but this is a long-running movie/book soap opera and a continuing tale similar to the Harry Potter in terms of fan interest/involvement. Also, this entry overall got significantly better reviews than the second film in the series, which might indicate the film itself is more boyfriend friendly for this very female-driven franchise.

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“New Moon” and “The Blind Side” to have repeat box office bout

With a number of mostly rather underwhelming looking new films debuting this post-Thanksgiving/pre full-Christmas insanity week in medium-to-wide-release, box office pros like jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter and Variety‘s Pamela McClintock appear to agree pretty strongly that the battle this week will once again be between the romantic monsters of Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” and the football loving Red State good Samaritans of Warners’ “The Blind Side.” Considering that, as I wrote about last Sunday, “New Moon” dropped by 70% in its second last week while “The Blind Side” actually grew without the benefit of a major expansion — something I’ve never seen in the entire time I’ve been writing these posts — my money’s on the Sandra Bullock feel-good drama.

Picture-17

Of the four new releases said to be appearing in 1,000 to 2,000+ theaters this weekend, the most promising, both artistically and commercially, is “Brothers,”  a remake of a widely acclaimed Afghanistan war-themed 2005 drama from Denmark. Distributed by Lionsgate, the movie is an intense love triangle involving the not-actually-dead young Afghanistan war vet played by Tobey Maguire, his not-actually-a-widow played by Natalie Portman, and his black sheep brother, Jake Gyllenhaal — who looks so much like a brother to Maguire that he once is supposed to have nearly replaced him in one of the “Spiderman” sequels.  (If they worked Elijah Wood into the cast, they would have achieved the baby-faced, raspy-voiced star trifecta.)

Director Jim Sheridan of “My Left Foot,” “In the Name of the Father,” and “In America” has a real flair for intense tales that dance around the edges of melodrama and then sometimes dive right in. The one-two-three punch of the very well known youngish stars would make you think this should come in with a decent amount of money — at least in the double digits. However, considering the growing news and controversy around the Afghanistan war, the topic might be a bit too timely for audience tastes. Also, a film like this should probably should at least crack 70% on the Tomatometer, especially, but hitting it of with something  in the neighborhood of 5060% of critics will have to do. Worse reviewed films have received Oscar nominations, however.

Robert De Niro in Next up is another remake of a foreign language hit, this time of an Italian comedy-drama/tearjerker from 1990 that starred the great Marcello Mastroianni and was directed by Giuseppe Tornatore of “Cinema Paradiso.” (Not at all a favorite of mine, by the way.) Disney’s PG-13 “Everybody’s Fine” brings us Robert De Niro as a widower trying to reconnect with his children and grandchildren and costars Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, and Sam Rockwell. A sentimental tale for the holidays with this kind of star power should have some wattage in theory, though  apparently the “tracking” is kind of stinking for this film which isn’t really wowing the critics either. Our own Jason Zingale liked it mainly on the strength of DeNiro’s performance but this one feels like the movie you settle for if grandma, or maybe great-grandma, wants to see something nice and you can’t get into the “The Blind Side.”

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Food to defeat flesh at the box office

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

It’s going to be a messy weekend at multiplexes this weekend. Raining food items in 3-D are likely to rule the weekend against a sex-heavy horror comedy with a literally man-eating lead, a food-industry investigation gone badly awry, and the semi-obligatory poorly reviewed rom-com and/or rom-drom.

Redefining the term “splatter” for an all-ages audience is “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” The Sony-made entry looks to combine the proven appeal of family-friendly animated comedies, 3-D (and 3-D Imax), and adaptations of popular books to make what THR‘s Carl DiOrio guesses will be roughly $25-30 million. Add to that the film’s fairly stellar critical appeal, with most critics echoing the sunny assessment of our own David Medsker with an 89% Rotten Tomatoes “Fresh” rating, and you get a feature with extremely wide appeal. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one go well over the $30 million mark. (I should add, however, that the “Top Critics” rating is a considerably more modest, but still good, 71% as of this writing. However, with only seven reviews included, that seems like a less a fair sampling.)

Likely to come in a distant second is the R-rated, youth oriented sexy horror comedy from Fox, “Jennifer’s Body.” Variety doesn’t hazard a guess this week, but THR/DiOrio is saying to expect a gross in the “low-teen millions” and that seems reasonable. Though for whatever sick reason audiences have been turning up their noses even at very strong horror films inflected with humor like “Drag Me to Hell,” this film benefits from the current”Transformers”-based star power of flavor of the month Megan Fox. Directed by Karyn Kusama and written by the ballyhoed Diablo Cody, this mixture of blood, sex, and quips is generating little “Juno“-based critical afterglow and some anti-Cody backlash with a mere 33% “fresh” rating. That’s not so surprising given that a lot of critics already had mixed feelings about former exotic dancer’s sometimes cutesy dialogue in last year’s sleeper hit. Given the cussedness of young audiences lately, I wouldn’t be surprised if this would be the film to overcome the horror-comedy jinx and over-perform by a few million this weekend. I think the youngsters enjoy driving critics mad.

Matt Damon in
And then we have this week’s token major release for discerning grown-ups, “The Informant!“.  A fact-based comedy about a borderline delusional executive who threw a huge monkey wrench into an FBI price-fixing investigation of food giant Archer Daniels Midland, it’s the latest from the very prolific Steven Soderbergh. In the past, the onetime “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” wunderkind has had success with fact based material with the unassuming 2000 box office hit, “Erin Brockovich.” This film is similarly star-driven, though it remains to be seen if a pudged-up Matt Damon wearing a doofy mustache will have the same appeal as Julia Roberts in a push-up bra.

With an okay 67% RT rating, the critical chorus here is marked by notes of disharmony. Sometimes that’s actually the sign of a truly interesting movie, but rarely is it the mark of an instant hit, though the hope is still for a double-digit millions opening weekend and some “legs.” Damon is getting very good reviews for his lead performance, so a Best Actor Oscar nomination is definitely not out of the question, which could help this movie get some kind of second life if it does disappoint this weekend.

Bringing up the rear is “Love Happens,” which has one of those titles that pretty much dares critics to come up with clever and, in this case, potentially scatological, insults. I didn’t see anyone actually take the bait this time, though the film did receive a not unfecal 20% RT rating. Also, there seems to be some genuine disagreement about whether or not this film is really a comedy or more of a soapy drama, which is usually not a good sign. The appeal of Aaron Eckhardt — still an underrated actor — and Jennifer Aniston, not my choice for the actress of her generation, can only do so much. Fortunately for the producers, the film had a low enough budget that even a single digit opening weekend can mean they’ll eventually recoup their money and perhaps make a profit. Maybe.

Finally, as Oscar season approaches, we’re starting to see more limited releases of interest. This one to watch this week is the new film from writer-director Jane Campion of “The Piano.” Featuring Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw, “Bright Star” is a well-reviewed romantic period drama/biopic about poet John Keats and the literal girl next door. Not that it’s a huge category, but I’m betting this will be the big date movie for English majors of 2009. All that, and no naked Harvey Keitel. Yay.

  

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Paramount sends us a little “Up in the Air”

“Juno” director Jason Reitman’s latest dramedy, “Up in the Air,” just finished wowing the crowds at the Telluride Film Festival, and now Paramount has released a new clip from the film so everyone can get an idea of what the fuss is all about.

Starring George Clooney as corporate hatchet man Ryan Bingham, “Air” tells the story of what happens when a man who’s made his career out of being a sort of professional grim reaper (that’d be Clooney, of course) feels the sting himself — and right on the cusp of achieving his long-held goal of collecting five million frequent-flyer miles, no less. With a cast that includes Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Jason Bateman — not to mention Reitman writing the script and sitting behind the lens — we know we can safely expect plenty of the seemingly effortless chemistry and smart, downplayed humor on display in this clip. Watch it now — and mark your calendars for December 4.


  

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Void at the box office

gerard_butler_gamer

There’s a definite feeling of apathy about this week’s new box office releases, but on we go.

Topping this Labor Day weekend’s movie newbies is the Gerard Butler sci-fi action flick from the team who brought us “Crank.” “Gamer” adds a video game twist to such past violent media commentaries as “Death Race 2000” and “The Running Man.” Lionsgate isn’t screening this one for critics, so there’s no reason to assume there’s anything terribly clever or satirical about it, though a capable supporting cast led by Michael C. Hall (Showtime’s “Dexter“) as a villainous game designer as well as Ludacris and Kyra Sedgwick seem to indicate someone, at one point, hoped to do something interesting with this one. As for commercial success, it appears to all be laid at the feet of Butler. Nothing against the very capable Scottish thespian, but I just don’t see this one beating last week’s leader, the gimmick-driven 3-D horror opus, “The Final Destination.”

And that, I’m sure goes double for next of the three new major releases of the week, the Sandra Bullock headlined screwball romantic comedy, “All About Steve.” A film which the nation’s critics might well wish Fox had withheld, it has achieved the still fairly rare honor of a 00% Rotten Tomatoes “Fresh” rating (as in 100% “rotten”). Costar Bradley Cooper’s newfound recognizability via “The Hangover” probably won’t help much here, and Thomas Haden Church doubtless deserves better. Apparently the creators of this one intended Bullock’s character to be a lovable eccentric, but instead wound up with the more usual sort of eccentric — the kind who’s just weird. There’s likely a reason this one’s being dumped at the end of a long movie summer.

It’s in significantly fewer theaters than its competitors at only about 1,500, but Mike Judge’s “Extract” simply has to be better than either of them. At a 55% RT rating, the nation’s critics pretty much reflect the divided reaction of my fellow PH-er Jason Zingale, who calls it “a wildly uneven film that is deftly funny at some points, and just plain dull in others.” Still, though Jason 100% detested Judge’s earlier, barely released, “Idiocracy” that film got better reviews and the portions I’ve seen on cable certainly made me laugh — not that anyone cares what us critics think.

Jason Bateman in
As the writer-director of “Office Space” and the creator of TV’s “King of the Hill” and “Beavis and Butthead,” Judge is a knotty figure when it comes to movies. His now legendary workplace comedy was pretty much dumped at the box office only to be discovered later on vide0, and “Idiocracy” got even less promotion than the original release of “Space.” (Jason would say for good reason.) “Extract” star Jason Bateman is a skilled comedian but despite important parts in numerous hits, including “Juno,” he’s a very long way from the film stardom of his onetime TV son, Michael Cera. Still, both Judge and Bateman have a lot of pent-up goodwill. Maybe there’ll be a surprise here, but don’t bet the farm, or even the garden, on it.

That leaves two 100-theater releases. The first is a horror flick being dumped after the demise of Paramount Vantage. “Carriers” seeks to milk horror from pandemic fears. Quarantined from critics, it stars the talented Lou Taylor Pucci and the new Captain Kirk, Chris Pine. Speaking of James Tiberius, the other release isn’t new at all but another chance to catch J.J. Abrams’ hugely entertaining (if oddly filmed) “Star Trek” in Imax, which has certainly lived long and prospered at the box office.

Star Trek

  

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