Go ask “Alice” about weekend box office

Alice in Wonderland

Jolly Carl Diorio is saying it could make $75 million or so. Indeed, there’s no particular reason to doubt that the combination of the name recognition of director Tim Burton, star Johnny Depp, and the enduring, if eternally semi-culty, appeal of Lewis Carroll’s subversive not-at-all-just-for-children literary classic will mean some degree of big dollars at the Oscar weekend box office.

At the same time, I wouldn’t expect “Alice in Wonderland” to haven gigantic lasting power. With a few notable exceptions, weak stories have been the otherwise brilliant Burton’s Achilles heel throughout his career. Moreover, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have never really broken through in film versions in a huge way because of their chaotic, episodic structure. It took the advent of marijuana, LSD, and the Jefferson Airplane to make Disney’s “Alice” a theatrical hit in 1974, 23 years after it’s original release. 3-D is the closest thing our more abstemious age has.

Of course, the new film as written by Linda Woolverton is technically a sequel to original stories and attempts to lay a more coherent structure over Charles Dodgson’s chaotic classics but, judging from the reaction of our own David Medsker and critics overall, the results are mixed. Audiences will come for Burton’s visuals, Depp’s appeal, and the 3-D, but what will they stay for on the second weekend? Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter as dramatic queens won’t hurt, but still.

Don Cheadle and Wesley Snipes are not rural in The fiscal prospect of the week’s other new major release, “Brooklyn’s Finest” seems considerably more modest, though with Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Wesley Snipes and Ethan Hawke in the cast it has its share of big name stars. Reportedly filled to overflowing with cop-movie cliches, the R-rated film from director Antoine Fuqua of “Training Day” has left critics unimpressed and jovial Mr. DiOrio doesn’t expect it to break double-digit millions, noting it “tracks best in urban demos” — which I guess either means that African-American filmgoers are somewhat more kindly disposed towards it than, say, Armenian-American filmgoers, or that filmgoers in farming communities aren’t up for it.

  

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A busy Monday in movieland…

…And not a whole lot of time to talk about it.

* Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” tested as the most memorable film commercial during last night’s hugely rated Superbowl and understandably so, it’s genuinely beautiful stuff. Past versions of the classic, however, have been somewhat hampered by the episodic — you might even say pre-Pythonesque — structure of Lewis Carrol/Charles Dodgson’s freewheeling children’s literary classic. (The first work of art to ever really blow my mind, I think.) The idea this time is to get around that problem by turning the film into something like a sequel to the original as concocted by writer Linda Woolverton. Storylines, or the lack thereof, have been Burton’s Achilles heel in the past, so this should be interesting.

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* The late Michael Jackson’s doctor has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

* We’ve had movies based on toys and board games, so why not a new movie based on this blog?

* In the seventies and eighties, horror films were often named after holidays. Now it’s ensemble romantic comedies, apparently.

* “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” meet “Mr. and Mrs. Jones.” (I guess “Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Episode 1” didn’t do well in focus groups.)

* I’ve always loved Robert Wise’s great film of “The Andromeda Strain” and there are few movies I’ve detested more than Wolfgang Peterson’s “Outbreak.” (A virus is threatening all of humanity and I’m supposed to be distracted by an adorable monkey on loan from an overrated sitcom and helicopter chases???) I’m sure Steve Soderbergh’s “Contagion” will at least try to be closer to the Wise approach. Soderbergh may be uneven because he’s so unafraid to take huge chances, but when he pulls a movie together, few are better.

* Yet another item from Deadline|Hollywood’s ace, non-venomous reporter, reporter, Mike Fleming. Ami Canaan Mann, daughter of Michael Mann, is directing her first big feature (but not her first feature). It’s an intriguing sounding fact-inspired thriller about a series of unsolved Texas murders tied with the drug trade.

  

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