The box office kung-fu of “The Karate Kid” proves strong; “The A-Team” does B-grade business

It’s probably not a completely original thought of mine and it’s obviously a vast oversimplification, but it’s always seemed to me that what audiences really seem to want is more of the same, but different. If something is too unfamiliar, only a limited portion of viewers will be adventurous enough to try out a brand new movie flavor. If it’s too familiar, on the other hand, it’s kind of a bore, at best.

That formula has apparently been in full effect this weekend as a film which put a few gentle twists on a very familiar property prospered at the box office. A second movie — in terms of marketing, at any rate — was an apparent carbon copy of its source material, notwithstanding a new cast, more violence, and a bigger budget (too much bigger, probably). That film will prove vastly less profitable, at best.

Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith in

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It’s time for midweek movie news

I used to be disgusted, now I try to stay bemused…

* Yes, they weren’t kidding. Ben Stiller and Tom Cruise are teaming up to make a Les Grossman movie, declares Nikki Finke. I try never to prejudge films, and I really did think Cruise was hilarious in “Tropic Thunder.” However, I think writer Michael Bacall, Ben Stiller, and whoever winds up directing really have their work cut out for them in terms of this not turning into some kind of inverted ego-fest (“look at me — I’m willing to act all crazy!”) like what we saw on MTV a few nights back.

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* A new James L. Brooks romantic comedy by any name will probably be worth a look, and maybe better than that.

* It’s always seemed to me that the best part of the guilty pleasure appeal of “Entourage” — aside from Ari, Lloyd, and Johnny Drama, anyway — is the lightning fast pacing that nearly always leaves fans wanting more. Now, producer Mark Wahlberg is determined to give us more in the form of a movie to follow up from the conclusion of the television show. I’m concerned about whether he gets the concept of why you want to always leave an audience wanting more. If not, “Entourage”  could become the male equivalent of “Sex and the City” in theaters as well as the small screen.

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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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It’s your end of the week movie news dump.

Posting over the next few days is going to probably be news-free, so we’ll make hay while the cinema news sun shines. We start off with casting news.

Jeremy Renner in * Jeremy Renner of “The Hurt Locker” is “near a deal” to play Hawkeye in the Avengers film to be (theoretically) directed by Joss Whedon, who hasn’t said a word officially to anyone in months, as far as I can tell. Renner is a smart choice. Playing a character who hasn’t previously been introduced is going to be a special challenge in this movie and actors without real ability and charisma probably need not apply.

* So, if the Wrap is correct, Brad Pitt likely won’t end up staring in the U.S. remake of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” It looks like that will be Daniel Craig, instead. Having seen the Swedish film, it seems to me he’s a much better fit for the part of the male lead. The character has a bit of a hang-dog, defeated quality to him that just doesn’t fit Pitt. I think Craig can pull that off easily. He should probably gain or lose a bit of weight for the part. This guy might do okay with woman, but he’s a coffee-and-cigarette addicted journalist, not a perfectly exercised super-spy.

* Speaking of matters Bondian, as per the Playlist, Christopher Nolan is describing his very highly anticipated “Inception” as his Bond film, in a way.  I’m personally not a fan of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” but it’s an interesting model, nonetheless.

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“Shrek Forever After” to live up to its name?

Shrek Forever After Quite possibly, if three weeks constitutes “forever.” The final installment of the CGI animation series was considered a fairly major disappointment in its first week, earning a relatively anemic amount just under $71 million, tens of millions less than prior entries. However,  “Shrek Forever After” has shown decent staying power, indicating that the relatively strong reviews this time around might be reflective of something that actually matters to audiences. If we are to believe jolly Carl DiOrio, it is once again the probable box office champion. Indeed, DiOrio expects the grosses to be between $25 and $30 million, which could easily double almost all of the four, count ’em, four major new releases coming out this week, assuming his lowish guesses for the other films are right.

To a lesser extent, the second week of the widely hated “Sex and the City 2” is also a contender for third place according to DiOrio — in his video, he doesn’t mention it in writing — but the Numbers see things quite a bit differently. I’d personally expect a bigger than average drop-off from it’s unimpressive debut simply because I get the feeling that hardly anyone liked it much, perhaps not even the franchise’s biggest fans.

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