Break out the Bloody Marys, “The Hangover” Lingers at #1

As I was too chicken to more than implicitly predict last time, “The Hangover” held on to its #1 spot with a cool $33.4 million. Variety reminds us that this is only a 26% drop, very rare in today’s opening-weekend-centric turn-’em-and-burn-’em movie world. The star-free ensemble farce is clearly benefiting from excellent word of mouth so that folks who might ordinarily avoid an R-rated comedy about a Vegas bachelor party gone off the rails are being attracted. Good work.

Also Pixar/Disney did fabulously with its unbeatable, yet rare, principle that if you work really hard and imaginatively to provide quality family entertainment with a heart and soul as well as a bit of show-biz razzle-dazzle, people will actually show — you should pardon the express — “Up.” The CGI 3-D animation-fest with a cranky elderly protagonist that no sane executive would ever have greenlit were it not for Pixar’s unprecedented track record, earned $30.5 million and dropped a low 31%.

Denzel Washington, Meanwhile, in star-driven product land, “The Taking of Pelham 123” met the rather modest expectations for a lavish, all-star, action-remake and hit $25 million, while the Eddie Murphy family flick, “Imagine That,” netted a sad $5.7 million for the #6 spot on its opening weekend at over 3000 screens.

Now, I want to add that, while trashing movies I haven’t personally seen is against my religion (for all I know, I’ll end up sorta liking Tony Scott’s “Pelham” — stranger things have happened, I’m the guy who liked “Domino”), even more against my religion is trashing the concept of remakes, though on the whole they tend to be less good than earlier successful versions.¬† True, it doesn’t exactly scream “originality” to take on a property that’s been previously successful, but no one says, “Oh God, not another remake of ‘Romeo and Juliet.'” There is absolutely nothing wrong with restaging an old concept, as long as you have something of your own to say with that property and are not simply going with something that looks likes a safe bet in a business where safe bets don’t exist. Lack of “originality” is not the problem; abject creative cowardice is.

Movie remakes go back to Hollywood’s youth. Probably my single favorite little-known Hollywood factoid is that the 1941 “The Maltese Falcon” starring Humphrey Bogart and directed by John Huston was actually the third adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s great detective novel made over a period of about ten years. I also happen to think that Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is arguably even better than the rather great original version directed by Don Siegel in 1956. And, moving to TV land for just a second, is there any human being on the planet who thinks the recently concluded “Battlestar Gallactica” (don’t tell me how it ends!) isn’t a million times better than the unbelievably awful original? As Roger Ebert likes to say, movies are not what they are about but how they are about it. If you have something fresh to say by revisiting an old story, by all means say it, just make sure you’re not kidding yourself.

Anyhow, returning to this weekend’s b.o., what I think harmed both “Pelham” and “Imagine That” was that, as far as was visible from either the marketing or the response to it, these were movies that offered not one thing fresh or exciting or in any way of a great deal of interest other than the services of its stars. That’s good for something — big stars are the closest thing on the planet to a certain level of guarantee of public interest and sometimes that’s all you really need. But if you really want to hit it big, you’ve got to gamble a little bit that the audience is more interested in being genuinely entertained than lulled by the presence of name entertainment brands.

On the other hand, “Terminator Salvation,” which nobody seems to like too much, is actually doing very well abroad and the very honestly entertaining “Drag Me to Hell” isn’t exactly burning up the U.S. box office. So, who knows?

  

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…And the Winner (Really) Is….

No, this is not a reference to last night’s Tonys. True, the movie-inspired “Billy Elliot” did take the night, continuing a “trend” for B-way musicals that go back to the classic film era, and it’s also true that host Neil Patrick Harris is a winner both for his show-closing/show-stopping musical summation, and because Empire Online has announced a couple of movie gigs for the still up-and-coming Doogie Horrible. (h/t Whedonesque).

However, it seems that the battle for the #1 box office spot discussed on my last post actually had a somewhat different result than we thought. It’s important to remember that those numbers I talk about on Sunday are really only estimates, though they are treated by press-sters as just this side of gospel. The upshot is Variety is reporting that both “The Hangover” and “Up” did better than expected business yesterday, but the former did just a little bit better better business, if you follow me. Sayeth the big V’s Pamela Mcclintock:

Final figures will show that “Hangover” grossed $45 million from 3,269 runs. “Up” should finish at $44.3 million to $44.4 million from 3,818 theaters.

I don’t suppose it really matters that much in the final analysis; nobody’s going broke here. (Well, I can’t speak for degenerate gamblers. Someone, somewhere, just lost a big bet.)

In other box office news I didn’t have time for yesterday, “Angels and Demons” cracked the $400 million mark over the weekend worldwide, sayeth the Finke. “Terminator Salvation” is not doing so badly overseas, actually. “Land of the Lost,” however, may be doing even less well than expected. Critics, you may step up your gloating.

  

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SAG & Swift & Stuff

Steve Benen, who is the main guy at the terrific political blog of the liberal Washington Monthly, frequently posts what he calls “mini-reports,” and as someone who desperately needs an efficient verbal containment device that will discourage me from running off at the keyboard, I’m borrowing his format. You can’t copyright asterisks, can you?
Tom Hanks
* Fortunately for readers, my eyes glaze over just as quickly as yours do when you the subject is proposed union contracts. Nevertheless, the ongoing Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) vote is important stuff and I can’t completely ignore it, even if I’m utterly unsure how I’d vote if I were in the union. Furthermore, I’m still trying to figure out exactly what happened to the current president of the union, Alan Rosenberg, who I gather has been stripped of his authority by the “new majority” who favor a proposed new contract. I could go on, but I’m already experiencing a minor case of mind melt, so here are the dueling videos: For “Yes” — Tom Hanks. For “No”: a bunch of talented but far less famous folks, including Tom’s good friend Ron’s dad. And a very long, but kind of interesting comment by Justine Bateman. More of this to come, I suspect.

* Ever heard of Tom Swift? I barely have myself, but I gather he was the hero of a series of pre-“Hardy Boys” type adventures with a touch of Jules Verne about a boy inventor. With bigwigs rummaging through such relics of a more polite time in popular culture as “Tintin,” it makes sense that Hollywood (director Barry Sonnenfeld, of “Men in Black” fame, included) is taking an interest.

* Box Office Mojo has some revisions. “Terminator Salvation” beat “Drag Me to Hell” after all.

* THR likes “The Hangover”, and I could go for a Bloody Mary right about now, myself.

  

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Weekend at the Multiplex, Pt. II: The Power of Family Defeats Robot Rehash + the Palm Goes to…. (Updated)

The long holiday weekend is barely halfway through here on the west coast, but the numbers gurus have already spoken. Both Variety and megablogger Nikki Finke report that “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” outgrossed “Terminator Salavation” by 53.5 to 43 million smackers, proving once again the power of family films and that I am, at best, a very mediocre prognosticator. It also indicates that McG’s name and talents may not be pure box office gold.

In other news, in what turned out to be a battle of movie bad boys of various types, the coveted Palme D’Or (that’s Golden Palm to you and moi), has been awarded at Cannes after a week of some very divided audience and critical responses. Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” elicited reactions ranging from reasonably positive to angrily disappointed. “Antichrist,” the new horror film/domestic drama from the personally disliked but often genius-level brilliant Lars von Trier (“Breaking the Waves,” “Dancer in the Dark”) crossed some deep psychological lines in terms of graphic violence and human genitals, leading to a raucous screening and deeply appalling many while eliciting some truly unusual, often more positive, reactions from writers. (Roger Ebert’s take, for one, is certainly worth a look.)

Not too surprisingly, the winner was another overage enfant terrible entirely. Ironically enough, he himself has been simultaneously applauded and despised for the first version of “Funny Games.” The second, English-language, version was mostly just despised for its manipulations and made Bullz-Eyer David Medskar talk of punching its maker in the face, which I’m sure he intended as a metaphor.

That winner would be Austria’s 67 year-old Michael Haneke — often regarded as the world class director most in need of a hug, as well as a punch. He picked up the Palm for “The White Ribbon” a dark (of course!) black and white pre-World War I drama. Haneke has had some out-and-out success apart from “Funny Games” with 2005’s genuinely compelling and thoughtfully upsetting “Cach√©,” which Ron Howard once considered remaking but, perhaps fearing David’s reaction, choose to make the movie version of “Arrested Development” instead. Probably a wise move, in any case.


UPDATE: Brandon Grey of Box Office Mojo has the final figures “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithinsonian” raked in $70 million on 7,000 screens and “Terminator Salvation” earned $53.8 million on about six-hundred fewer screens. Also, NPR’s hourly newscast this morning suggested that some of T4’s weakness, especially here in Southern Cal, might be related to the ongoing NBA play-offs. Could be, I suppose. That’s what I get for being a guy who writes for an online men’s mag who’s also a complete ignoramus about sports.

  

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Weekend at the Multiplex (Updated)

Christian Bale contemplates his eyelineHey folks. Now, if anyone out there remembers the series of “Multiplex Mayhem” posts I was writing back in the dark days of the late, late Bush Administration, I’m returning in a different, and briefer form. For this week and next, I’ll be covering the weekend box office, and then, starting next month, there will be more from me on movies in general here, and that’s all I’m saying for the time being.

This big movie Memorial Day weekend, though no longer the official start of summer movie season, brings us too major tentpole releases from the big studios: Warner’s “Terminator Salvation” and Fox’s “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.” The PG-13 Terminator reboot attempt is directed by McG, who Bullz-Eye’s Jason Zingale (who kinda sorta liked the movie) terms a “poor man’s Michael Bay.” Other critics were less charitable, and the film is getting easily the worst reviews in the entire history of the “Terminator” franchise, with the Rotten Tomatoes crowd giving it an underwhelming 35% “fresh” and generally seeming a little angry with star Christian Bale for walking into their collective eyeline. Not that any of that will matter to weekend grosses — and I do expect this to be the big winner of the long holiday weekend. However, if audiences agree that it really is inferior to prior “Terminator” flicks, it’s possible there will be a bigger drop-off later than expected. Still, at last night’s midnight’s screenings, it raked in a cool $3 million from the Red Bull drinking legions.

The sequel to 2006’s entirely unacclaimed “Night at the Museum” should also do well regardless of notices because it combines the only sure formula for box office success — a kid-friendly production that offers something, anything, to parents as well. In this case, Ben Stiller and a very strong supporting cast, even if the result had Roger Ebert squirming in boredom and remembering one of the truer critical refrains of all time:

I found myself yet once again echoing the frequent cry of Gene Siskel: Why not just give us a documentary of the same actors having lunch?

Still, the parents I know are mostly grateful for any movie that doesn’t involve CGI rodents eating their own feces, and at least this one encourages kids to go to museums.

And there is another option, that is the latest, at this point entirely unreviewed Wayans Brother’s spoof film from Paramount and MTV, “Dance Flick,” which at least has a reasonably funny trailer and Amy Sedaris (sister of writer/public radio superstar David Sedaris, frequent comedy companion of Stephen Colbert, before he was having portions of space stations named after him). Carl DiOrio says it will do well if can break out of the euphemistic “urban market”? Young folks looking for a comedy will likely go if they can’t get into something else, but something tells me that both “urban” people and their paler “suburban” friends will have other films to watch considering that, new releases aside, “Star Trek” and “Angels and Demons” are still very strong at the multiplex.

In limited release, we have Steve Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience” starring thinking man’s porn star Sasha Grey in a sexy but non-porn role which makes it something of a must for cinephile horndogs the world over. And because I’m the retro-guy who occasionally likes the same movies your grandma does, I feel compelled to mention both “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story,” about the guys responsible for the vast bulk of the pre-“Little Mermaid” Disney songs, and the Noel Coward adaptation “Easy Virtue,” which looks like it would go down very well with a nice dry martini made with a good, dry English gin. But you’ll want to see Sasha, won’t you?

UPDATE: Apparently some disagree with what I thought was a conventional-wisdom friendly guess about the weekend’s winner, since “Terminator” is such a time-tested franchise. Nikki Finke says it will be neck and neck but those famed “insiders” are predicting immense numbers for “Museum.” We’ll see.

  

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