It’s been a hard day and I’m going going to keep it short and sweet. And how sweet it is for the husband-and-wife team of star Milla Jovovich and director Paul W.S. Anderson. Aided by those premium ticket prices for 3D movies and — as pointed out by Nikki Finke — using footage actually shot in 3D, the film easily won the weekend as indicated earlier and sailed to a record gross for the action-horror franchise. Specifically, the estimate for the weekend was $27.7 million for Screen Gems/Sony according to Box Office Mojo. It’ll likely drop off in significantly next week, but the damage is already done.
Elsewhere, there wasn’t that much box office love going around on this traditionally weak weekend. “Takers” came in at #2 and showed some relative legs with $6.1 million, again for Screen Gems/Sony, which is having a decent month. Meanwhile, both of last week’s toppers suffered significant second week declines. “The American,” from Focus Features, really did seem to suffer from some poor word of mouth and netted only a bit under $5.9 million.
Last week’s silver medalist, “Machete,” with two sequels announced in its end credits, suffered the geek second week curse and dropped by over 63% netting only 4.2% million. On the other hand, after seeing the film myself this weekend I heard some highly informal Hollywood scuttlebutt indicating the budget was significantly lower than $20 million figure we’ve heard for the very funny, but awfully slack, straight-faced tongue-in-cheek homage. So, it’s still possible Danny Trejo as Machete may kill again, if so, I’m guessing Fox will keep him on a tight budget.
We’re in a bit of a post-summer season lull here until the more adult oriented award season films kick in, and so this week sees only one new major release. The fourth entry in the series of video game-based science-fiction-horror-action films starring Milla Jovovich, Screen Gems’ “Resident Evil: Afterlife,” is the first 3D entry in the increasingly successful and 100% critic proof series and marks the return of geek whipping boy Paul W.S. Anderson to the helm. This one isn’t being screened for critics, not that it matters either way.
My go-to prognosticators Ben Fritz of the Los Angeles Times and Jolly Carl DiOrio of THR, both expect the film to easily top the weekend with about $25 million or so, bolstered by those high 3D ticket prices. Fritz also reminds us that the post-Labor Day weekend is traditionally the weakest movie going weekend of the year. If you hate crowds, here’s your chance.
Of course, that leaves a lot of room for jockeying between last weekend’s somewhat successful new releases, the #1 “The American” and the #2 “Machete.” Both films are quite modestly budgeted at $20 million according to Box Office Mojo’s chart, so they’ll both be profitable. Both also have issues with legs — “Machete” because it’s in a heavy-duty genre film and they are noted for huge second-weekend drop-offs and “The American” because it got truly terrible ratings from the people who answered the Cinemascore survey. Jolly Carl believes the way the film, which opened two days early last week, performed indicates that the word of mouth on the film isn’t nearly as bad as that D- would indicate. If the film proves as leggy as most adult-oriented film tend to be, that will a pretty serious black-eye for the polling firm.
Otherwise, there is a major reissue this week of “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” to give Twi-hards one last chance to route for their favorite monster boy-toys. Also there’s going to be a series of what amounts to sneak previews of the upcoming horny teenager mockumentary, ‘The Virginity Hit.” And, finally, the much discussed Joaquin Phoenix documentary that might not be a documentary, “I’m Still Here,” will be opening in about 19 theaters. More about that a couple of posts down.
Hey, we’ve got ourselves a modest surprise that diverges substantially from what I wrote back on Thursday night. Though the weekend is still ongoing, apparently, a lot of people didn’t get the memo that “The American” is a rather dry if eye-filling European-set arthouse style thriller, rather than the intelligent but plot-heavy action film a la the original “Day of the Jackal” they might have felt like seeing. That’s what the dreadful D- Cinemascore rating Nikki Finke is reporting would seem to indicate, in any case. Also, George Clooney‘s star power still counts for something. Even La Finke has stopped her bitter attacks on him.
Box Office Mojo reports that the “one last job” thriller about an assassin and gun-maker earned an estimated take of nearly $13 million. Finke has her estimated numbers a bit larger than that, and her guesses about the film’s total take including Labor Day and it’s early opening reflect that. (The estimate she has has the film making a total of 19.2 million.) Assuming all that’s true, it’s just possible that the adult-oriented thriller could outgross the roughly $32 million “Vampires Suck” has made so far, perhaps there is a movie God, but I wouldn’t bet on it. All of this is not to say that this weekend’s tongue-in-cheek Mexploitation geek fave starring the very cool Danny Trejo, “Machete,” did at all badly on this somewhat underwhelming weekend. It was outgrossed slightly by this weekend’s predicted #1 film, “Takers,” which netted an estimated $11.45 million in its second weekend. It’s $11.3 million really isn’t that bad, however even if it is ranked at #3. I don’t have a budget for the film, but Nikki Finke’s argumentative commenters were throwing around a $25 million figure — a bit high for Robert Rodriguez but quite cheap for a movie with this kind of all-star supporting cast, including Jessica Alba and Robert DeNiro. Considering the way movies like this tend to have a long and healthy life on DVD, that strikes me as a very good start. And that’s not counting the inevitable New Beverly Cinema double-bill with “Black Dynamite.”
“The Last Exorcism,” as predicted, suffered a large 62.5% drop in its second weekend, perhaps largely due to an ending most audience members hated, with an estimate of over $7.6 million. I’m convinced it was the vagueness of the premise that did in this week’s week’s third wide new release, “Going the Distance.” The raunch-infused rom-com came about Justin Long and Drew Barrymore having a long-distance relationship, I guess, wheezed across the finish line at the #5 spot with an estimate of slightly under $6.9 million. Yeah, I know, I wrote “6.9.” Grow up already.
Say what you will about this labor day weekend’s cinema offerings, you can’t complain that they haven’t covered the twin cinema poles of traditional gender preferences. For mega-manly geeks, Danny Trejo finally gets his big Hollywood close-up courtesy of Robert Rodriguez and “Machete.” For more refined males who like their action thrillers to be a bit more arthouse than grindhouse, we have the latest vehicle for George Clooney. Set in Italy, “The American” sounds as dry as a Bunuel martini’ and likely to be about as popular with the masses when set against the cinematic Long Island ice teas and daiquiris usually served during this time of year. Finally, we have a romantic comedy broadly (and, Dave Medsker says, awkwardly) spiked with raunchy gags, “Going the Distance,” testing the box office appeal of stars Drew Barrymore and relative newcomer Justin Long.
None of these movies are expected to burn up the box office. Jolly Carl DiOrio seems to figure that last week’s narrow box office winner, “Takers,” will take this weekend as well. (Presumably, the #2 “The Last Exorcism” is expected to suffer the usual large drop for horror pictures, exacerbated perhaps by disappointment in the film’s ending.) Still, assuming everyone kept their budget nice and low things shouldn’t be too disastrous. I’m guessing that director Rodriguez’s famed gift for squeezing his pennies combined with some support from the underserved and powerful Latino audiences as well as the geek-American community should assure a reasonably profitable outing for the the tongue-in-cheek quasi-parody, “Machete.” I’m feeling less confident for “Going the Distance,” which seems to suffer from a vague premise and marketing campaign. “The American,” which was released on Wednesday to no particular box office earthquake, is splitting critics in a way that makes me want to see it even more than I already do. In any case, it is almost inherently a small audience picture in a marketplace this strongly geared to younger viewers not known for their patience with thrillers stronger on atmosphere than action or plot. It’s title might be dull, too, but wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where it at least outgrossed “Vampires Suck”?
Roger Ebert — there’ll be a bit more about him later tonight — always says that movies are not what they’re about, but how they’re about it. If so, this new film starring George Clooney is a real test of that thesis because, as pointed out by Jay A. Fernandez, premise-wise “The American” isn’t going to win any prizes for originality. Watch this and I think you’ll see, but if any of you English majors are expecting an adaptation of Henry James’ subtle romance, The American, think again.
Okay, so the trailer doesn’t make the hugest impression and how many “one last job” movies about professional killers and other hardcases have we seen over the years? Still, it’s all in the telling and movies are not trailers. This is the second feature from Anton Corbijn, a rock video director who has worked with U2 and Depeche Mode. His biopic of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis, “Control,” is unseen by me but has won numerous awards and wowed critics. The screenplay for “The American” is by Rowan Joffe (“28 Weeks Later“), adapted from an acclaimed novel by the late Martin Booth, A Very Private Gentleman.
It’s worth noting, however, that the character in the book is not an assassin but an expert gun-maker for assassins. A fine moral distinction, I guess, but it would be nice to learn about those expert gunsmiths who always turn up in these stories. There was a character like that employed by the ruthless murderer of “The Day of the Jackal” back in 1973. Of course, the Jackal was doing one last job himself.