Surprise! It’s the return of the end of week movie news dump.

I thought I’d shock everyone and do a post that’s not built around a trailer — there’ll be time enough for that on the weekend.

* Tom Cruise may or may not be many things, but I’ve never really thought of him as a rocker. Yet, that’s exactly what he will be in the promised film version of “Rock of Ages.” I’ve long had mixed feelings about Cruise as an actor — he can be very good in some things and disastrous in others — and I have mixed feelings about this project, too. To be specific, I like good movie musicals but strongly dislike eighties hair bands and what some of us used to call “corporate rock.”

On the other hand, Mike Fleming touts Anne Hathaway, who I have few or no mixed feelings about, as a possible costar. I wonder what she’d look like as a glam rocker…

anne_hathaway

* A star has been set — or at least gotten to the serious negotiation stage — for the long discussed “Jack the Giant Killer” coming from Bryan Singer and his old screenwriting cohort, Christopher McQuarrie, writes Mike Fleming. He’s that kid who was so great in 2002’s “About a Boy” grown-up into 20-something Nicolas Hoult. Hoult has also appeared on the UK “Skins” and will be turning up in the upcoming “Mad Max” reboot/sequel or whatever.

Mike Fleming, however, is not correct when he describes the tale as a “scary” variation on “Jack and the Beanstalk.” It’s an entirely different, far less commonly told, fairy tale. As Wikipedia tells us:

Jack the Giant Killer is a British fairy tale about a plucky Cornish lad who slays a number of giants during King Arthur’s reign. The tale is characterized by violence, gore, and blood-letting.

No wonder they’re making a movie of it.

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It’s 2011 and time for the return of the Friday night news dump

I haven’t done this in awhile and I know I’m missing a bunch of stories from early in the week, but you’ll read this and you’ll like it, damn it!

* Mike Fleming is claiming a “toldja” on the news that Elijah Wood will be appearing in “The Hobbit” as Frodo Baggins who is, I believe, not yet born during the events of Tolkien’s original children book. The rumor from earlier in the week has now been confirmed and nothing will ever be the same.

* Mr. Fleming also has the latest on speed-crazed Hollywood buying the rights to a book that has yet to be published and the remake rights on a documentary almost no one has seen. At least we know what the documentary’s about, and it does sound like material for a good movie — except, of course, it’s already a movie.

* Robert De Niro will be heading the jury at Cannes this year. This will be his third go-round in the gig.

* There’s been a ton of quibbling on why it’s not a sequel and maybe not even a spin-off, but the fact remains that Judd Apatow is building his next film around the terrific characters from “Knocked Up” played by Paul Rudd and Apatow’s real-life wife, Leslie Mann. I have to admit I find these kind of fine distinctions to be marketing-driven annoyances. Novelists cast supporting characters from past books in leading roles in newer books all the time and no one calls these books anything other than “novels.” Novelists like Sinclair Lewis and Kurt Vonnegut treat their worlds like the Marvel Universe, so why can’t there be an Apatow-verse?

knocked-up

* Ricky Gervais has apparently signed up to play Mole in an upcoming version of “Wind in the Willows.” Ordinarily, I’d be a little bit excited about this news, but this is a project coming from Ray Griggs, who I frankly wonder about for a number of reasons. I’ve written about him before, at least he had the good sense to hire WETA in on the project. Still, if I were a friend of Gervais’s I advise him to stay away. It has a funny smell about it.

* Oscar winning writer-director Paul Haggis is taking his complaints with the Church of Scientology public in an upcoming book-length expose to be written by Lawrence Wright. Haggis is a former member of the church. I’d tell you what I think of Scientology, but that’s a whole other blog post. I will say I think this will be big.

* Danny Strong played the greatest geek ever on “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” and went on to become a respected screenwriter with his script for the Jay Roach television movie about the 2000 election, “Recount.” Now he’s back in the genre world with a gig rewriting something called “Earth Defense Force,” which Sam Raimi is producing.

* Stan the Man got his star on Hollywood Blvd. Excelsior!

* Ron Howard wants you to know that the “Arrested Development” movie is really still happening. Sure, why not?

  

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Weekend box office: There’s no way other way to say it, Harry Potter is a lot more popular than Russell Crowe

So, folks, here’s your key to box office success: fund the kind of European-styled welfare state that would drive Tea Party activists into a state of complete hysterics, if they weren’t already there. With impoverished moms actually having a modest amount of free time to themselves because they don’t have to worry about their children starving or being unable to go the doctor and your society as a whole benefiting from improved physical and mental health, wait for one of those moms with a literary bent to come up with a once-in-a-century sensation of a book series. Hopefully, it will be aimed at a young audience with time to watch each movie several times. Then, film it — competently, will suffice, no particular need for brilliance — making sure, as Anthony D’Alessandro reminds us, to avoid the need for a momentum-killing reboot by recruiting strong and likable leads you can continue with for the entire length of the franchise. Repeat.

Daniel Radcliffe can probably afford better mirrors than this That’s pretty much the formula for the massive success of the Harry Potter film franchise. So, as stated Thursday eve, the question for the first weekend of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One” was always whether it would have a great opening or the greatest opening of all time. Well, it did have the greatest opening of all time…for a Harry Potter film. To be specific, according to Box Office Mojo, it earned an estimated $125 million, still well shy of the current opening weekend record holder, “The Dark Knight,” which grossed over $158 million on its mega-huge opening weekend.

On the other hand, that is a series best, significantly well north of the $102 million and change earned by “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” five years back. Also, as the saying goes, $125 million here and $125 million there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money. The emotionally rather dark-hued installment (I haven’t seen it, but I’ve read the book, and I can only imagine) also earned the highest per-screen average this week, a rather unusual achievement for a super-wide release like this, earning a whopping $30,332 average in over 4,100 theaters. That’s a nice infusion into our failing economy, as well, even if we have to share it with billionaire ex-welfare mom J.K. Rowling and a bunch of other Brits because of that whole welfare state thing I propagandized for up top. Well, don’t worry because “austerity” might mean that there won’t be any more new English Rowlings for a while, either. Still, she’s got another even bigger pay day ahead of her with the upcoming 3D series finale.

Meanwhile, last week’s trinity of top moneymakers held on decently with drops somewhere not too far above the 40% region. #2 “Megamind” amassed an estimate of $16.175 for its world domination war chest; runaway train thriller #3 “Unstoppable” was not stopped and earned an estimated $13.1 million; #4 “Due Date” avoided lateness penalties in its third weekend for a star-driven $9.15 million.

Meanwhile, the wide theatrical run for Russell Crowe‘s latest may not be all that much longer than, you guessed it, “The Next Three Days.” Paul Haggis’s underwhelmingly reviewed thriller costarring Elizabeth Banks debuted in the deadly #5 spot with only $6.75 million. The budget on the film, which could well be very modest if you subtract Crowe’s paycheck, is unknown at this point, but Nikki Finke is quick to remind that marketing costs for a film like this pretty much start at $30 million.

Will Russell Crowe and Elizabeth banks last for

  

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Box office preview: Harry Potter and the potentially record-breaking weekend

Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson in

Like Stephen Colbert’s frequently posed query about George W. Bush, the question for this weekend is: will “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One” have a great box office weekend, or the greatest of all time — not adjusted for inflation, of course. Short of the kind of the Hitlerian magic-driven apocalypse that Harry, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley try so hard and so emotionally to avert in the final Potter volume, there is certainly no way it doesn’t top the weekend. “Hallows” has already sold out a bunch of midnight shows already happening nationwide as I write this, according to Ben Fritz. With decent-to-good reviews and the legions of Potter fans still growing, the $400 million total gross figure posited by jolly Carl DiOrio seems more than reasonable. As for the totals of the 3D second half of the conclusion of the saga coming this summer, the sky appears to be the limit.

Russell Crowe in The only other major release that dares to rear its head this weekend is a potentially canny bit of counterprogramming. The very grown-up oriented, if not necessarily all that grown-up, “The Next Three Days” is a sort of character-study-cum-prison-break tale starring Russell Crowe and written and directed by Paul Haggis (“Crash“). It’s getting ho-hum reviews both over at our linked-to-above sister-site and elsewhere. DiOrio’s talking “teens” as in millions, not viewers.

Among limited releases, this weekend sees significant expansions of two bits of prime Oscar bait based on real life ordeals. Taking a look at the Box Office Mojo theater count, we have “127 Hours,” about a guy who sawed off his own arm and “Fair Game,” about a power couple whose (metaphorical) legs were cut off by the Bush-Cheney administration, adding a number of screens. Meanwhile, this weekend also sees the 3-screen debut of that ultimate rarity — a feel-good movie about politics showing that, sometimes, ordinary people really triumph in a democracy. What will a disbelieving world make of “Made in Dagenham“?

Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, and Geraldine James in

  

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I think Paul Haggis wants to be an action director now

That’s really the only conclusion I can draw after seeing the trailer for “The Next Three Days,” which starts out like a fighting-for-justice movie along the lines of Jim Sheridan’s “In the Name of the Father” and then becomes moves into an even more well-worn subgenre. Whatever else might be true about the sometimes extremely controversial work of Haggis’s, including the critically lauded, Academy Awarded, but cinephile-despised “Crash” — easily the most divisive Best Picture winner since the similarly largely cinephile-hated “American Beauty” — he knows how to write entertaining dramatic scenes. Could be okay.

H/t – THR’s Jay Fernandez.
  

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