Weekend box office: “Shrek Forever After” #1 with diminishing returns; “MacGruber” explodes, but in the bad way

Shrek Forever AfterThe fourth and, I’m guessing, probably final theatrical bow for the soulful green troll with the Scottish accent grossed an estimated $71.25 million this weekend for Dreamworks and Paramount, according to the mighty Box Office Mojo chart. That’s a lot more than enough to make “Shrek Forever After” the top movie in the country this week, and a substantial take for any movie. It is, however, significantly below the $121.6 that the widely unloved last entry in the series earned on its opening weekend back in 2007 — without the benefit of inflated 3-D ticket prices.

It’s even further below the  numbers that were being bandied about by writers, if not, studios, earlier on. I mentioned last time that Carl DiOrio thought the film could hit $100 million, but failed to note the breakdown at the Numbers. It said that while “analysts” (whoever they may be) were suggesting a $90-$95 million opening, the studio was pimping a more modest $80 million while trying to diminish expectations. They should have diminished them a little bit more.

The week’s other major opener, “MacGruber,” proved my hunches to be at least as wrong as DiOrio’s. While steering clear to some extent of the $15-20 million guess at the Numbers, I doubted the single-digit numbers that DiOrio mentioned. As the singer of the obscure Difford and Tilbrook tune says, let’s face it, I’m wrong again. As it turns out, even DiOrio’s lowest figures weren’t low enough. The incompetent MacGyver-like bomb diffuser only earned a fairly pathetic $4.1 million in 2,551 theaters for the #6 spot. I think it’s safe to say that the poor reputation of SNL-derived films clearly preceded this one, which actually has garnered reviews that are a bit better than most other films in this long-running franchise.

Grim faced Ryan Phillipe, Will Forte, and Kristen Wiig face the b.o. music

Still, considering that most SNL sketches, even at their best, never seem to sustain until the end of the bit, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the movies derived from them have a hard time holding attention through feature-length running times. If “MacGruber” suffered from a bit of movie guilt-by-association, it’s just too bad for anyone who was hoping for a quick A-list status for the off-kilter Will Forte — a performer who I think would fit in really nicely in a David Lynch movie. (I mean that as a compliment, I think.) On the other hand, every time I check Rotten Tomatoes, even it’s now-meh-to-bad (once kind of okay and maybe even almost good) critical numbers keep dropping, with “Top Critics” being a bit more brutal.

The #2 and #3 spots, respectively, were held by “Iron Man 2” with an estimate of $26.6 million for Marvel and Paramount, and “Robin Hood” with $18.7 million estimated for long suffering Universal. Probably helped by weak competition, both movies managed to keep their weekly drop to just under 50%. Still, I think it’s safe to call the $200 million “Robin Hood” a disappointment that won’t do much for the careers of either Russell Crowe or Ridley Scott, not that they’re in any danger of obscurity just yet.

A paucity of movies for women of any age probably also helped grow some legs for the #4 cross-generational rom-com, “Letters to Juliet,” which dropped only by 32.8% and earned a solid $9.1 million for the probably fairly modestly budgeted film. That should help young Amanda Seyfried cement her growing credibility as a box office draw, at least for young-female-skewing films and even if her most challenging film role so far has been ignored. Of course, that lack of female-friendly major draws will change next week with the arrival of “Sex and the City 2.”

Jesse Eisenberg is probably okay for the JewsOn the limited release circuit, it was actually a pretty good weekend for Jesse Eisenberg and the talented young actor’s efforts to prove he’s something other than a Jewish knock-off of Michael Cera. His high-concept drama with mixed reviews, “Holy Rollers,” performed fairly strongly in its opening weekend on three screens with a solid per screen average of $13,003 from an audience that probably discussed after the film whether the drama about a drug-running Hasid was good or bad for the Jews. Doing even better was the all-star comedy, “Solitary Man,” top-lined by Michael Douglas and Danny DeVito (let’s not talk about how long it’s been since “Romancing the Stone” and ‘The War of the Roses”),” and also featuring mid twenty-something Eisenberg. On the strength of strong reviews and the cast, it managed an estimated $22,250 on four screens. As usual, Peter Knegt at Indiewire has the details.

  

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Weekend box office: “Shrek Forever After” enters the 3-D fray

The combined power of family films and the inflated ticket prices of 3-D films being what it is, I don’t think there’s room for much doubt that the putative final entry in the now four film-long computer animated “Shrek” franchise will take the weekend, and probably in a reasonably major way. According to jolly Carl DiOrio, $100 million may be possible. That’s a number that, while being substantially less than past openings featuring the affable troll, may be overheated, with other experts predicting significantly lower amounts. On the one hand, DiOrio theorizes that the tracking surveys don’t properly account for the strength of family films nor the 3-D box office bonus. (He notes some theaters in NYC are charging $20.00 for 3-D showings.) Still, four movies in, people may tend to write this one off as a last ditch attempt to cash in on a once immensely popular character.

Shrek whatever

Are they right? Well, our own David Medsker, not a huge fan of the series, actually thinks “Shrek Forever After” has the most heart of any entry so far and notes that it has lowered the number of fart jokes, always a welcome change in my book. It’s also probably worth noting that Dreamworks and Paramount have chosen an animation newbie in director Miguel Arteta, whose previously been best known for such character driven, off-beat low budget indie comedies as “Chuck and Buck” and “The Good Girl,” as well as the more recent and somewhat more mainstream targeted “Youth in Revolt.” The choice of Arteta has apparently worked to some degree as the film has enjoyed a modest bump upwards in esteem from the critically unlovedShrek the Third.” Still, the marketing for the film has been hampered by title changes — previous monikers were “Shrek:  The Final Chapter” and “Shrek Goes Fourth.” Still, as long as people remember the “Shrek” part, it shouldn’t be too big a problem.

There will be competition from other just a bit less family-friendly major releases rated PG-13 for varying degrees of violence, but Marvel/Paramount’s “Iron Man 2” has been dropping by over fifty percent from its terrific but not ultra-immense opening week, and therefore is likely to come at #2. Last week’s #2, “Robin Hood,” is expected to have a pretty huge drop in its second week based on its unexciting word of mouth and will come in somewhere lower in the top five. Its a good thing for beleaguered Universal Studios that the action-adventure criticized for a marked lack of fun has nevertheless generated strong international numbers.

MacGruber
The week’s other new release has been getting a lot of ‘net coverage, and is based on a character with a lot of TV exposure. Even so, the gurus seem to agree that it won’t be a massive hit. Given that the Saturday Night Live movie brand is not exactly vibrant, though it’s always fun to read about — and was last made use of in 2000 — “MacGruber” could be seen as damaged goods from the start because it’s derived from a series of one-joke skits from the show featuring Will Forte and that PH favorite/comment generator, Kristen Wigg. No wonder that the “tracking” has not been too spectacular.

The very broad comedy, essentially an elaborate spoof of the old “MacGyver” TV series, about an incompetent would-be super-spy who isn’t nearly as good at defusing huge bombs as he thinks he is, is apparently tracking fairly poorly. On the other hand, this film is getting a entirely non-rapturous but okay critical reaction (59% “fresh” as of this writing), which indicates to me it will end up as a video guilty pleasure for many of us. The question is, will so many of the audience decide to wait for the DVD/Blu-Ray or cable version of the film that the number will really be a rather sad $8-10 million as Carl DiOrio suggests, or will enough family-film wary 17-40 year old males decide to enjoy the film’s juvenile-yet-R-rated pleasures making for the more robust $15 or even $20 million figures suggested by C. S. Stowbridge at the Numbers? I’ve been wrong before, but I’m guessing “MacGruber” will at least break double digits. I hope it does fairly well, if only so there’s a chance we’ll see Betty White reprise her SNL role as MacGruber’s (too) beloved grandma in the sequel.

There isn’t a huge amount of action this week on the limited release market, at least in terms of high-profile new movies. “Holy Rollers,” a fact-inspired tale starring Jesse Eisenberg as a young Hasidic Jew — if you don’ t know the term, just think of them as the tech-friendly, urban equivalent of the Amish — who gets caught up in trafficking Ecstasy. Apparently, its premise is more interesting than the actual movie. What a shanda.

Holy Rollers

  

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More movie news and stuff

Cannes is in full swing and there’s plenty other stuff going on besides — way too much to cover completely. So, consider this just me hitting a very few of the highlights of the film world right this moment.

* The critical wars are going full strength at Cannes with the biggest love-it/hate-it proposition appearing to be Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Biutiful.” I haven’t seen the film, of course, but Iñárritu is most definitely my least favorite of “the three amigos” of Mexican/Spanish/U.S. cinema. (The other two being Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro) and not only because his name is the most impossible to type. I mostly liked “Amores Perros” but his “21 Grams” and “Babel” struck me as exercises in touchy-feely realism that was a lot less real than it seemed to fancy itself.

biutiful-inniratu

Still, he’s working with different writers now and everyone seems to agree that the always great Javier Bardem is especially fine in it, so I suppose I should keep an open mind. Still, reading about the film, it’s hard not to side with the anti-faction when much of the commentary echoes my feelings about past films and when the pro-side is being taken by Jeffrey Welles, who really doesn’t seem to respond well when other people don’t love his favorite films. It’s a conspiracy, I tells ya!

In any case, David Hudson does his usual amazing job summarizing the critical reaction from a wide swath of the press; John Horn at the L.A. Times focuses on the reactions of big name critics.

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SXSW Film 2010: Keeping Austin Reel Weird

One of the first things I heard after arriving in town for South by Southwest was “Keep Austin Weird.” It’s sort of the city’s unofficial motto, but it’s one that resonated with me over the course of my week-long trip. Though it’s hard to say whether Austin really is as weird during the rest of the year as it is during SXSW, the city exudes a certain energy that makes it the perfect place to hold such a unique event. It also helps to have some of the most passionate movie lovers in the country populating the streets, because while SXSW attracts cinephiles from all over the globe, it’s the locals (from the volunteers to the everyday attendees) who actually make you want to come back.

For anyone that followed my SXSW Blog throughout the course of the film festival, you already know that my experience was a rather positive one. In fact, of the 17 films screened during my time in Austin, there were only two that I didn’t particularly like. You’d think that would make selecting my personal favorites even more difficult, but my Top Three easily blows the rest of the competition out of the water. Here are some highlights from my reviews of those films:

micmacs

1. “Micmacs

[Jean-Pierre] Jeunet’s latest film, “Micmacs,” may just be his best yet – a whimsical crime caper that boasts his trademark visual style, a classic Max Steiner score, and an ensemble cast filled with familiar faces. Though it likely won’t have the crossover appeal of “Amelie,” “Micmacs” is one of the most enjoyable moviegoing experiences of the year… It’s all done so effortlessly, and with [Dany] Boon and his co-stars so charming throughout, that you’d have to be in a pretty sour mood not to walk out of “Micmacs” with a giant grin on your face.

2. “Kick-Ass

Director Matthew Vaughn clearly understands the world that [Mark] Millar and [John] Romita Jr. have created, and that familiarity resonates throughout, from the high-energy action scenes to the colorful performances from its cast… The end result is an entertaining blend of action and comedy that, despite falling short of its ridiculously high expectations, delivers everything that was awesome about the comic and more.

3. “Four Lions

A pitch-black satire in the same vein as “Dr. Strangelove,” [Christopher] Morris has created a film so relevant to our current political climate that many will feel guilty just for watching it, let alone laughing at all the gut-wrenching humor along the way… “Four Lions” is one of the funniest, most provocative comedies of the last decade – and one that has more to say than any of the numerous self-important war movies that Hollywood has been cranking out for years.

Of course, one of the things that makes SXSW such a great place to watch movies is the venues. The theater experience in Austin is hands down one of the best in the country – from the historic Paramount Theater to the Alamo Drafthouse. While the Paramount is typically a more star-studded affair, complete with a red carpet and the opportunity to see a movie with its director and stars sitting just a few feet away from you, the Drafthouse (both the Ritz located on 6th Street and the South Lamar, which is a short drive from downtown) is a little more intimate. Star-crazed attendees will find little in the way of celebrity sightings, but the chance of seeing a hidden gem like Best Documentary winner, “Marwencol,” more than makes up for it. Plus, midnight showings of genre films like “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” are usually more enjoyable when you’re watching it with a bunch of fellow cinephiles.

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Midweek movie bits

I’m going to be taking a day off from the blogging grind, but there’s plenty going on this late evening in the world’s cinema capital. Starting with…

* Team Coco, the movie! Okay, it’s a documentary about Conan O’Brien’s upcoming live tour and it’s still only in the “early talks” stage according to Mike Fleming’s exclusive. It’s apparently in compliance with his severance deal, even though most people will probably end up watching it on television sets anyhow.

* Speaking of documentaries and comedy, A.J. Schnack rounds up some of the SXSW reaction to James Franco’s SNL documentary.

* At the risk certainty of being repetitious, speaking of comedies connected to SNL, Pete Sciretta rounds up the SXSW reaction to”MacGruber.” We also have reaction direct from Jason Zingale at the big Austin fest just a few posts below.

* In the wake of the sale of Miramax, go-to producer Scott Rudin is negotiating to leave Disney, writes Claudia Eller.

* Okay, even if I might not be a fan of all the movies, I confess to enjoying the idea of having the stars of past Marvel films recreate their roles in the long-discussed “Avengers” film and Edward Norton appears possibly willing to play along by returning as the Hulk, maybe. Whatever else may be true, Norton is a very interesting guy.

* Does a serious version of the Black Knight sequence from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” sound like your kind of film? If so, Anne Thompson thinks you might like “Centurion.”

* I think all the entertainment reporters should just take the month off and let Mike Fleming do all the reporting of stories like the one that Jeremy Renner may be joining Paul Thomas Anderson’s not-about-Scientology movie which will star Philip Seymour Hoffman as not-L. Ron Hubbard. Though it’s relatively modest $35 million budget may be a bit high for the finance folks at Universal, other backers may have been found.

That’s hardly all. Fleming also brings us the one about “Hit Girl” Chloe Moretz joining the cast of Scorsese’s lastest and that Tobey Maguire confirmed to be playing Bobby Fisher.

And one two more from Mr. Fleming…If you think Spike Lee has been working as much as he should after the success of “Inside Man” and his acclaimed Katrina documentary, you’re apparently not alone. He’s switched agencies.

And, oh yeah, another beefcake “Captain America” potential. At least the names for the female lead have a bit of spark to them, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Keira Knightley or Emily Blunt hanging around a Marvel movie.

* Jeffrey Welles is nutso for “Hot Tub Time Machine,” for what it’s worth.

* I often say that the best movies these days are long-form television. So why shouldn’t Martin Scorsese be getting involved? However, does everything crime and Scorsese oriented have to have Rolling Stones music in the background? Unless I’m misidentifying that anachronistic music in the “Boardwalk Empire,” trailer, I guess it really does. Still, yeah, it is Steve Buscemi’s time to play a big bad boss.

* If it’s not news that Jason Segal will be costarring with muppets, why are we talking about  it? Still, based on his obvious love for puppetry as portrayed in the rather brilliant “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” I think it may turn out okay.

  

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