It’s box office preview time: Carrell and Fey to clash with “Titans”

Tina Fey, Steve Carrell, and Mark Wahlberg commisserate in

Commercially speaking, the premise of Fox’s PG-13 rated “‘Date Night” seems right on the money. NBC Thursday night comedy dream team Steve Carrell and Tina Fey are a married couple with children in a humdrum relationship rut who, through a case of mistaken identity, wind up fleeing from criminals and repeatedly running into a perpetually unshirted Mark Wahlberg and other dangerous obstacles to their peace of mind.

It’s been some time since a true wide appeal mainstream comedy aimed at adults and also possibly younger comedy fans of both genders has hit the theaters. “Hot Tub Time Machine” obviously skews more than a little male and more recent films, like “She’s Out of My League,” are clearly aimed at a somewhat younger demographic. On paper, the thing seems destined to do extremely well with a potential to elicit the three words sweetest to a studio suit’s ear “four quadrant picture.”

Still, not everyone is thriller. Our own Jamey Codding found the movie a lot more entertaining in principle than in reality. Director Shawn Levy of the “Night at the Museum” franchise is getting by far the best reviews of his career over in  Rotten Tomato land, but that is not as impressive as it could be given his rather rotten critical track record and many of the critics seem to be simply praising the considerable comic skills more than the movie as a whole. As for the box office gurus, a solid but not super-dramatic opening somewhere significantly south of $30 million but probably north of $20 million is predicted by the mysterious voices in Jolly Carl DiOrio‘s ear.

Sam Worthing girds his loins for battle in Of course, the comedy faces some fierce battles ahead with more grim-faced previously released films, most especially last weekend’s top picture, Warner’s “Clash of the Titans.” Like many poorly reviewed genre pictures, it’s expected to drop off by as much as 60%. Moreover, the catcalls from a geek-heavy audience made newly picky about 3-D thanks to James Cameron‘s innovations appear to be depressing turn-out at the pricey 3-D screens. Still, even with a really big sophomore drop off, it still has a very good shot a winning a second weekend in a row, though the win could well be as ugly as Medusa herself.

Also debuting this week is a Christian-themed heart-tugger, Vivendi’s  “Letters to God.” It’s somewhere between a large limited release and a very small major release as it will be in just under 900 theaters this weekend, according to the mighty Box Office Mojo theater count. No reviews are out yet to speak of, but I noticed even the Christian user reviews on IMDb are a bit muted, noting that the acting is in a bit better than on prior films from the same team and the movie is “professional.” High praise.

Not to be glib — which is a way of me preparing you for the glibness ahead — but with the usual church-based marketing push, this one should do okay preaching to the converted. I guess, as a secular Jew, I sort of feel like I see an awful lot of essentially Christian movies, they’re just not marketed that way or noticed because about 95% of Americans are actually Christian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Despite an atmospheric and a mega-creepy trailer that I love and strong trio of lead actors — Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, and Justin Long — the death-obsessed, R-rated horror thriller from Anchor Bay, “After.Life,” is leaving the large majority of critics as cold as the grave. With only 41 screens for a film which should have a wide appeal for horror fans, an early demise seems likely for this morbid but apparently non-gory tale. I personally hope Ricci, a terrific actress who I haven’t seen in a while in anything, has better luck soon.

afterlife585

  

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No surprise: “Alice in Wonderland” earns all the mad teaparty crumpets

Alice in Wonderland

There really isn’t that much to add to the news that, as reported by Box Office’s Mojo’s weekly chart, “Alice in Wonderland” suffered only a reasonably modest fall-off of 46.6% from its mega-boffo opening weekend, which meant that the latest from the Disney, Tim Burton, and Johnny Depp marketing triumvirate earned a stellar estimated $62 million this weekend. Anne Thompson and her recently added resident box office guru, Anthony D’Alesandro, report that this is a record for a non-summertime second weekend for a film. It’s certainly not that different from the expectations I discussed on Thursday.

As for the newer releases, it was something of a rout. I  like D’Alessandro’s elegant description:

Four distribs attempted to counterprogram against the Disney title this weekend based on the misguided notion that Alice was strictly family fare.  However, rather than nipping away at Alice’s audience, Alice sliced off theirs.

“This is the quintessential four quadrant movie, playing to adults at one time of day, families at matinees as well as couples,” gloated Disney distribution president Chuck Viane.

In other words, it didn’t matter what age or gender you were this weekend, most likely your first choice was “Alice.” It also performed the rare feat of scoring both the biggest gross and, with the aid of those inflated 3-D ticket prices, the best per-screen average of $16,631.

Still, people did see other movies. The marketing for “Green Zonefooled persuaded enough viewers that it was similar to the wildly successful “Bourne” pairings of star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass to earn an estimate of roughly $14.5 million. That might not have been so bad if “Green Zone” hadn’t cost an exorbitant reported $100 million. Conservatives, who have roundly bashed the film as anti-American, will no doubt be claiming victory over the terrorist-loving communists of Universal.

I didn’t quite have the guts to come right out and say it, but I sort of suspected that the raunchy-but-romantic comedy, “She’s Out of My League” was being overly downplayed in some of the prognostication last week and I was right, sort of. The film failed to break into double digits, but its estimated $9.6 million take was enough to put it in the #3 spot for the weekend anyway. Considering that’s just under half the film’s budget, newcomer star Jay Baruchel may not be the year’s break-out comedy star, but he will live to be the girl-friendly geek, a funnier David Schwimmer, if you will, for another day. Indeed, the film seemed to do best with younger women.

I did come right out and wonder why anyone would want to see “Our Family Wedding,” a film which THR‘s Jolly Carl DiOrio seemed to think would do significantly better than “League” — despite being in significantly fewer theaters and, if most critics are to be listened to at all, sucking. My antennae were apparently a bit better than usual and “Wedding,” did, in fact, come in below the other new releases, and the fourth week of “Shutter Island,” to hit the #6 spot with a lackluster $7.6 million estimate for Fox Searchlight. Hopefully, the budget was nice and low.  The good news is that that Rotten Tomatoes rating I linked to above has actually climbed dramatically since Thursday, from an embarrassing 4% to a merely bad 18%.

Doing a bit better, though still no doubt disappointing Summit Entertainment, was the romantic drama “Remember Me” from director Allen Coulter of “The Sopranos” and “Hollywoodland.” Just enough young girls remembered that Robert Pattinson was the “Twilight” heart-throb to make the weepy with the widely derided ending an estimated $8.3 million in the #4 spot. Considering the armies of teen-and-tween-aged girls in love with Pattinson, it’s a result that seems almost as pale as the dreamy young Brit’s vampire make-up.

  

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Weekend box office: “Alice” will be in the zone and out of everyone’s league

Johnny Depp is the Mad HatterYes, there really doesn’t seem to be any reason at all to think any of the four new major releases this weekend will come anywhere remotely near the grosses for the latest tentpole flick from Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and company. That’s because last weekend saw the 3-D “Alice in Wonderland” earn an enormous $116 million, so even a gigantic drop would mean a rather huge second weekend by normal standards. And, as both Anne Thompson and Jolly Carl DiOrio seem to agree, the new competition isn’t incredibly strong.

The leading contender of those, however, appears to be the new movie from director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon, “Green Zone.” The publicity is doing everything it can to remind the audience that both of them worked on the last two Jason Bourne films. However, the film itself is a political thriller — never, I’m sorry to say, the strongest genre commercially. Oh, and it’s about the Iraq war, not a favorite topic of escape-seeking audiences, it appears. Indeed, the only thing worse commercially than a political thriller about an unpopular and still ongoing war is one with mediocre reviews.

Green Zone

Still, the Bourne connection, Damon’s appeal, and a bit of topicality may be good for something. About $14-16 million says Carl DiOrio, which may not be enough to support the film’s hefty price tag, he warns. Anne Thompson, also has some hints about what went might have gone wrong with the film. (Hint: Except perhaps on documentaries, it’s rarely a good thing when a director has to “find” the story in the editing room. It’s nice to have it in the screenplay, but I’m old fashioned that way.)

Like “Green Zone,” the primary commercial asset of “Remember Me” is its male lead. To a certain segment of the market, Robert Pattinson certainly kicks Damon’s box office keister, even if the “Twilight” pasty-factor is out of this picture. On the other hand, if a single unaccompanied male sees the weepy romantic/emotional drama which also features Emile de Raven and Pierce Brosnan, it’ll be a shock. Pretty much detested by David Medsker, this one didn’t exactly wow the mass of critics either. There’s also the matter of its ending, which has been leaked on the web and many find a kind of insult.

Jay Baruchel and Alice Eve in Under those circumstances, you might expect the seemingly Apatow-esque (but not Apatow-associated) guy-friendly romantic comedy, “She’s Out of My League” to do rather well. Like Apatow’s break-through film, “The 40 Year-Old Virgin,” it benefits from a premise, fully explained in the title, that plays to the kind of universal male insecurities that seem to make for commercial comedy gold. Still, though our own David Medsker found the film quite likable, the overall reviews are middling and the level of interest out in the world appears to be low.

So low is the interest in the comedy, in fact, that Carl DiOrio actually expects the abysmally reviewed comedy, “Our Family Wedding,” to make about $3 million more dollars than “League,” even though it’s in nearly thirteen hundred fewer theaters. Featuring actors who I’m sure deserve better, including Forest Whitaker, America Ferrera and Taye Diggs, as well as comedian Carlos Mencia (who absolutely does not deserve better), I’m not sure why people would want to see this. On the other hand, since when am I “people”?

  

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Thursday night movie news dump

I usually do this on Friday, but the interesting film related stories have been coming fairly hot and heavy all week and it’s time to play catch up. I’m telling you right now, as long as this post is, whatever the most important and interesting story from this eventful week turns out to be, it’ll be the one I skip.

* When I first heard about the project a week or so back, I was taken by the prospect of screenwriter Dustin Lance Black segueing from a biopic about the first openly gay U.S. politician in “Milk” to one about by far the most powerful closeted gay man in American history, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover was the first director of the FBI starting in 1935 and, in a real blow to our democracy, intimidated several presidents into keeping him in the position until his death in 1972, a shocking 37 years later.

An already interesting project got even more interesting, however, a couple of days back when word got out that none other than Clint Eastwood, who will be joining the very smal club of octogenerian directors this May, might choose to helm it. (The Playlist broke the news on the 10th that Eastwood was “set” to direct; yesterday Borys Kit of The Hollywood Reporter wrote that he was merely “eying” the project.).

Taken together with “Invictus,” this would be the second time the right leaning but independent-minded Republican would be taking on subject matter that deals obliquely with a significant moral failure of American conservatism. Nearly all well-known conservatives tacitly supported both the racist and fascist pre-Mandela South African regime and Hoover’s uninterrupted reign.

In the case of “Invictus,” the idea of him doing it turned out to be more interesting than the film. However, for the man who embodied “get tough” law enforcement concepts as Dirty Harry to take on a law enforcement figure who enjoyed getting tough with anyone who dared to espouse politics he deemed radical — but not the mafia — that’s a horse of a potentially very different color. One to watch.

Clint Eastwood will take your question later

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