Weekend box office preview: All the cool kids to see “The Social Network”; “Let Me In” bullied

So, I guess when vampire movies actually have a strong story and believable characters played by terrific young actors, they suddenly become box office poison, easily beaten by a movie about an unlikable computer geek. That’s encouraging.

Jessie Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield in

I guess I should be jumping for joy that a movie — almost any movie — from the provocatively counterintuitive team of Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher is primed to head things up at the box office. Sony’s “The Social Network” has been getting mightily hyped, generating some of the year’s very best reviews and just a bit of controversy over its accuracy. It all spells awards-season hit with the added bonus of a youth-friendly cast and topic — the creation of Facebook, though it’s a big mistake to think only young people use Facebook. In any case, the $25 million or over weekend suggested by both Jolly Carl DiOrio and Ben Fritz seems reasonable.

Here’s the thing: I’ve seen “Let Me In” and while I agree with our David Medsker that it doesn’t do a huge amount cinematically to justify its own existence apart from the outstanding original Swedish film, it benefits from the same creepily heart-string tugging story as the original, which will be totally new to most viewers. Moreover, the one area where the film is an improvement over the original is in its performances, Kodi Smit-McFee and Chloe Moretz are just breathtakingly good and I can’t imagine most viewers not being drawn into the very moving and very creepy twice-told tale.

Chloe Moretz is Richard Jenkins' boss in One obvious problem is that this is a film a lot of older kids will definitely want to see, but it’s rated R and, I have to say, not entirely inappropriately. It’s no gorefest, but it’s violent and bloody enough and it tricks us into sympathizing with some pretty immoral actions by very young people, which is not a bad thing but really kind of the point. In other words, you need a certain level of moral maturity to get what the film is really about. I nevertheless think parents should consider taking more mature tweens who are interested to see it, even if director Matt Reeves juices up the blood and violence just a hair from the original film. It’s still a highly intelligent and thought-provoking tale that definitely de-romanticizes the vampire myth while also being a wonderful metaphor that explains why parents might worry about the kinds of friends their kids make.

More infuriating than the fact that this relatively excellent film being expected to make significantly less than $10 million this weekend, is the fact that it might be beaten by the lame looking, poorly reviewed more adult skewing horror flick from Paramount/Vantage, “Case 39” with Renee Zellweger and Bradley Cooper. We need armies of cinema counselors out this weekend, folks, steering filmgoers desirous of chills away from this and towards “Let Me In” — whose with me? Okay, fine.

There is some action on the limited release front. Yet another R-rated horror film from a company I’ve never heard of called New Films Cinema (aren’t “Films” and “Cinema” the same thing?), “Chain Letter,” is going out unreviewed and all but undiscussed into 401 theaters this weekend according to Box Office Mojo.

We also have a major expansion of the highly buzzed documentary “Catfish” and the highly touted documentary spin-off of a very popular non-fiction tome from Magnolia, “Freakonomics.” My own very mildly positive reaction to it is just a hair better than the overall critical reaction, but there’ll no keeping fans of the book away from it, even if the movie is mainly eliciting a bit of a shrug.

  

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Xmas ghosts, a dead popster, goat starers, aliens, a box, and some demons

Yes, it’s a real mishmash this weekend at the box office and I’ve got less time than usual — but let’s just see how it goes.

A Christmas Carol

Anyhow, the clear winner over the next few days will almost certainly be yet another version of Charles Dicken’s constantly remade and revisited holiday perennial, this time from Disney, “A Christmas Carol.” Jim Carrey stars as Scrooge, who won’t hurt at the box office and Robert Zemeckis, in his “Polar Express” mode, is at the helm. Personally, while I found the earlier motion-capture movie a fun visceral thrill ride in Imax 3-D, despite a story that was the very definition of treacle, I personally find this style of animation extremely ugly; it’s as if it’s always stuck in the armpit of the Uncanny Valley. Moreover critics, including our own David Medsker, complain that Zemeckis gets carried away with the effects and makes things a bit too visceral and scary for the film’s own good. Still, if it worked even for Mr. Magoo, there’s no reason to think it won’t work well enough for some fiscal redemption. THR‘s Carl DiOrio, whose nearly as jolly as an way-too-early St. Nick, is guessing it’ll grab about $40 million in premature yuletide cheer. A split decision by critics is, I suppose, neither here nor there.

After that, we have four films that will be duking it out with two extant strong releases, Michael Jackson’s ghostly final bow, “This Is It,” which may benefit from better than expected word of mouth and, of course, the horrifyingly profitable “Paranormal Activity.” Intriguingly, all these new major releases have a slightly spooky and/or “paranormal” spin and trying to guess which will do best is probably about as wise as playing with a Ouija board at a demon-infested San Diego townhome.

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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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“Where the Wild Things Are” rides atop the box office.

Where the Wild Things AreAt least this week I have some company in being a bit off the mark.  The estimated grosses for Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers’ adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” overperformed the most optimistic assessments and nailed an estimated $32.5 million. So says jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter, as the significantly less jolly Nikki Finke factually reminds us that Warners chose to push the film as more of an adult picture. The decision certainly seems to have paid off.

It seems likely that the approach widened rather than narrowed the potential audience (parents with kids were likely to show up regardlesss) and added to the “cool” factor, with Cinemascore indicating that younger adults actually seem to enjoy it more than those over 25. In any case, as past somewhat deceptive campaigns I can think of attest, a certain degree of honesty in movie marketing may actually be the best policy.

Also earning more than expected is Overture’s poorly reviewed violent thriller “Law Abiding Citizen.” The macho appeal of the revenge/serial killerish premise, bolstered no doubt by the familiarity of stars Gerard Butler and  Jamie Foxx, proved fruitful with roughly $21.2-3 million estimated, depending on which sites you read.

Colm Meany, Jamie Foxx, and Gerard Butler in

In the #3 spot, “Paranormal Activity” continued to do extremely good business for Paramount with the week’s highest per-screen average ($26,530), netting an estimated $20.1-2 million on only 760 screens, still a fraction of the number of theaters showing competing flicks. As for the small discrepancies in these figures, looking at the numbers provided by Finke, DiOrio, and the Box Office Mojo chart, it sure looks like the glass-half-full DiOrio is rounding up while the glass-half-empty-and-shattered-beyond-repair Finke is rounding down.

Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell in
Though it has precisely zero appeal for yours truly and got almost uniformly bad reviews, audiences are being kind to troubled Universal Studios and Peter Billingsley, the now grown-up star of “A Christmas Story,” with his feature film debut as a director, “Couples Retreat.” The relationship comedy held well and lost a very respectable 47.7% from its opening week, earning an estimated $17.9 million in its second week. Not too surprisingly, then, the #5 spot went to the PG-13 rated horror remake, “The Stepfather,” with an estimated $12.3 million. In this climate, it might have done a bit better if it held onto the R-rating of the original. Lesson for Sony: If you’re making a horror picture, throw in a few extra f-words and maybe a c-word if you can manage it, just for safety.

On the limited release front, “An Education” had a very good weekend. The Nick Hornby-scripted period memoir adaptation from Swedish Dogme alumna Lone Sherfig, making her English-language directorial debut, earned $505,000 in 19 theaters. The Coen Brothers’ adventure in domestic Judaica,  “A Serious Man,” performed its due box office mitvot with an estimated $860,000 in 82 theaters. The #2 movie this week in terms of per-screen average after “Paranormal Activity,” however, was the critically lauded Chilean drama, “The Maid.” True, that terrific $18,000 was on only one screen, but for a satirical drama from Chile, it’s a success worth noting.

Finally, I have to demand that my brothers and sisters in L.A., Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Seattle get down to their local theaters and see the blaxsploitation parody par excelance “Black Dynamite,” post haste. The film earned what a less jolly Carl DiOrio termed a “mild” $2,014 average on seventy screens for an estimated total of $141,000 for Sony’s Apparition films.  Not horrible, but not what a powerful brother like Mr. Dynamite (absolutely no relation to Napoleon D.) so powerfully deserves! And if I read one more blog commenter saying this movie has already “been done” via the disappointing “Undercover Brother” or the pleasantly fun, but not nearly so brilliant, “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” I’ll know the Man is up to his usual tricks and it’s time to take back the movie theaters!

BlackDynamiteMovieStill

  

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