Weekend box office: The “Inception” brain caper goes according to plan; “The Sorceror’s Apprentice” gets a swat in the tuchas

Those of us speculating on the possibility of a surprise in either the high or low direction for “Inception” early on Friday (okay, that would mainly be me), have now been silenced by the weekend estimates. They appear to have come down on the highish side of what the professional prognosticators expected, even if some of them were confessing to uncertainty. (Where did I read that? It’s gone now from where I thought I read it but maybe my dreams are being manipulated by a crack team hired by a Japanese billionaire who hates Nikki Finke.)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in So, no, Christopher Nolan’s highly praised but also controversial science-fiction thriller film for Warner Brothers is officially not “too smart” or too not-franchise-associated to be a hit, if an estimated $60.4 million is enough to constitute a hit these days for a $200 million film. It’s also worth noting that it managed this without an artificial boost from inflated 3-D ticket prices. I wonder if some math whizzes out there can compare this to the “disappointing” $77 million opening for “Avatar.” Anthony D’Alessandro points out this is the strongest North American opening ever for a Leonardo DiCaprio-headlined movie, which includes “Titanic.”(That box office stinker only made about $28 million domestically it’s first weekend.)

Still, as always, the question remains “legs” and how the word-of-tweet-facebook update-txt-mouth goes. The L.A. Times reported that the film scored a B+ on Cinemascore, reportedly dividing the audience by age with under 25-ers giving it an A and us oldsters giving it a B-. So are middle-aged filmgoers more discerning or younger ones more open to real genius? (Hey, politically, I tend to agree more with under-25 years olds more than people my own age who mostly loved Ronald Reagan, who I believe peaked in “Storm Warning” with Ginger Rogers.)

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“Shrek Forever Ever” threepeats, “Get Him to the Greek” wins silver amid box office malaise

Shrek Forever AfterThe numbers are out early this morning via Box Office Mojo and the Numbers, so I’m going to rush out the weekend box office news whilst I have time. Basically, it’s been a fairly slow couple of weekends with disappointing performances for movies like “Shrek Forever After,”  and, to a greater extent, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” and “Sex and the City 2” — though I think most any sensible person could have told the studios these movies, suffering from overused or tired or just kind of lame concepts, never had much mega-blockbuster potential. Let’s see how things go when “Inception,” “Toy Story 3,” and, maybe, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” come out.

Anyhow, the news wasn’t all bad. The final “Shrek” production continues to capitalize on the fact that it’s been better received than the prior film in the hyper-extended series. It’s showing reasonable legs, earning an estimated $25.3 million for Dreamworks/Paramount in its third week and dropping a lower-than-average 41.6%.

Some seem to think it’s a disappointment, but “Get Him to the Greek” sure looks like a moderate success to me. It broke out from a pack of four new releases, two of which were supposed to earn more money than it, and earned a couple million more than some of the gurus were predicting on Thursday, an estimated $17.4 million. I guess the fact that some critics mentioned “The Hangover” in their reviews kind of ginned up expectations, but sleeper successes like that have their own surprising logic and always come out of left field. Universal needs a lot more than this to really break it’s losing streak, but it’s not a horrid start.

Russell Brand and Jonah Hill in

Nikki Finke, for some reason, expected “Greek” to make more than the movie it’s spun off from, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” However, the fact of the matter is that that film had more of an almost classical screwball romantic comedy premise that appeals to a wider audience of both men and women when done well, with more traditionally appealing leads — Jason Segal’s  unpretty but brilliant nude scenes notwithstanding. Even if Russell Brand and Jonah Hill were in the earlier film in scene-stealing supporting roles, the Mutt and Jeff twosome is still not all that widely known and a fairly unusual pairing for a mass audience movie in our time. Moreover, the $40 million budget is modest these days, making the very home-video friendly, Judd Apatow-produced, “Greek” a very probable nice earner over the long haul.

Moving on, things get worse. “Killers,” starring my least favorite male actor in the universe and Kathryn Heigl, came in third with an estimate of $16.1 million. With a budget of $75 million, this is obviously the opposite of a  homerun for Lionsgate. Despite being a family film, the CGI-aided talking dog movie, “Marmaduke”, had at least a certain degree of failure pretty much written all over it, coming in at sixth place with an opening weekend estimate of $11.3 million for Fox. Not quite in the basement, but with a $50 million budget and no reason to expect any kind of legs, this one looks (I cannot resist) like a bit of a dog.

Kim Cattrall in As for last week’s aforementioned debuts, it wasn’t pretty. Both Disney’s “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” and, more so, Fox’s widely reviled “Sex and the City 2” showed no legs this week, dropping by worse than average 54% and 59% respectively, and coming in fourth and fifth with $13.9 and $12.65 million respectively.

Though Nikki Finke and others are trumpeting the tale of how it even got a theatrical release at all, the creepy science-fiction thriller “Splice” pretty much died with $7.45 million estimated for Warners, which is keeping the project at arms length. It apparently did badly on Cinemascore, which I guess reflects my hunch that the modern blood-and-gore-thirsty, trauma-loving, horror audience was the wrong group to pitch the movie too, especially given its potentially misleading R-rating (as much for sexuality and language as “sci-fi violence”).  It should have been sold as more of an adult science fiction thriller and probably started out with more of a limited release. Instead, they promised the audience a chili-bacon cheeseburger and gave them Fettuccine Alfredo. Well, it only cost $30 million, it has its fans, and there’s always DVD/Blu-Ray.

  

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Will “Sex and the City 2” achieve the big $ on Memorial Day?

And will we writers run out of double entendres in describing whether or not the latest adventures of Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and friends enjoys a satisfactory, long-lasting ticket-buying performance from their ardent audience or will it be just a case of “slam-bang-opening-weekend’s-over-ma’am?” Nope. Nor will the bad reviews “Sex and the City 2” has been getting significantly dampen the ardor of ticket buyers.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Noth in

In fact, the film is already doing rather well, as it opened early to get a jump on the long Memorial Day weekend, making $3 million on Wednesday night/Thursday morning midnight shows for the R-rated comedy from Warner Brothers. Both jolly Carl DiOrio and Anne Thompson’s b.o. guy, Anthony D’Alessandro, are bullish. Jolly Carl is talking about $60 million. I have no clue except that every “Sex and the City” fan will want to see it — once, anyway.

Nevertheless, as someone who managed to avoid the original show almost completely, it is a bit of shock to see this kind of vituperation directed against a property that was once a well-reviewed award-winner. I wasn’t too surprised when the first film got mixed reviews, since the show did have more than it’s share of detractors, but the 14% “fresh” rating from Rotten Tomatoes critics as a whole, and devastating 7% from 26 “top critics” so far is a bit of a movie cold shower. The bad reviews even inspired a bottom 10 list at Salon. Matt Zoeller Seitz, like our own Jason Zingale, notes the film’s lengthy sequence in Abu Dabi — which he terms “product placement for a country” (even though it was shot elsewhere) and titles his review: “Ladies and Gentleman, THIS is Why They hate us.” That’s about as positive as his review gets. He’s almost loving compared to the brilliant review by Lindy West:

SATC2 takes everything that I hold dear as a woman and as a human—working hard, contributing to society, not being an entitled cunt like it’s my job—and rapes it to death with a stiletto that costs more than my car. It is 146 minutes long, which means that I entered the theater in the bloom of youth and emerged with a family of field mice living in my long, white mustache.

That one of the nicer parts. I suggest, no, I implore that you read every word.

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