Big weekend at the box office: Twi-Hards turn out; proof that young men don’t listen (to critics)

This week, most of whatever suspense there was was not at all about which movie will be #1 or, as it turns out, #2 (not quite a 100% sure thing earlier). It had to do with what actually matters when the show business rubber meets the audience road: how much cash did the movies generate from the summer’s biggest holiday weekend but amid gloomy news and gloomier punditry regarding the economy? The answer seems to be what Joel McCrea learned at the end of “Sullivan’s Travels,” people in dire straights need entertainment and fantasy more, not less. I only wish they were getting something as thoughtful as “Ants in Your Plants of 1939.”

Edward and Bella...ooooohhhhhhhhhOver the three day Friday-Sunday weekend, Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” earned an estimated $69 million according to the Box Office Mojo chart. For the broader and potentially confusing numbers covering the extended movie weekends for the two new major new releases this week, I’ll rely on Anne Thompson’s pal Anthony D’Alessandro. He tells us “Eclipse” earned an estimated $175 million and change, just a few million bucks below the similar six-day frame of 2004’s “Spiderman 2,” though not adjusted for ongoing movie-ticket inflation.

This is the point in the series ordinarily where some might wonder if interest is starting to flag, but this is a long-running movie/book soap opera and a continuing tale similar to the Harry Potter in terms of fan interest/involvement. Also, this entry overall got significantly better reviews than the second film in the series, which might indicate the film itself is more boyfriend friendly for this very female-driven franchise.

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Latest “Twilight Saga” installment to eclipse “The Last Airbender” (updated)

If you’re the kind of person who lives or dies by box office news and, if so, you have my deepest sympathies,  this weekend’s box-office is already partially old news. As I write this late Thursday night, we know that Summit’s “The Twlight Saga: Eclipse” has already raked in a massive $68.5 million, though that’s actually a bit less than the prior installment got on its first weekday release. Nevertheless, its very mixed reviews are actually an improvement on  the poor critical performance of the last entry and there’s general agreement that, whatever else may be the case, this is the most action-packed installment so far. Decent word of mouth could give it a boost.

Ah, the eternal choice: lycanthrope or bloodsucking parasite?

In any case the $150 million or more total for the vampire romance’s first five days that jolly Carl DiOrio has confidently predicted seems like a good guess, especially with Nikki Finke‘s report of a promotional strategy involving 20 cast members fanning out across the country to intro the movie in area theaters.  This can’t hurt. Go to any revival screening in L.A. at a venue like the American Cinematheque or the L.A. County Museum of Art, and you’ll be lucky to see a half-full house. Advertise that a famed cast member will be speaking, and you often get sell outs. Never underestimate the appeal of a live celebrity appearance. If it works with film snobs, it’ll squeeze some more repeat viewings from the Twi-hards.

There’s actually another new genre film debuting this week. It’s the more kid-and-geek-male friendly, PG-rated “The Last Airbender” from M. Night Shameicantspellhisname. The Indian-American director has been pilloried by Asian groups for casting the tale, adopted from an animated series with a definite Asian flavor, with primarily white actors. It’s also been a long time since he’s had a hit, or even a movie that anybody liked much. It gets worse because “Airbender” is getting some of worst reviews of the year, with critics like our own Jason Zingale taking a moment to criticize the film’s retrofitted 3-D as even worse than the film as a whole. Even so, the martial arts fantasy got off to a decent start at midnight screenings Thursday morning with $3 million in the coffer for Paramount.

The Last AirbenderStill, if word gets out that this film is the stinker it sounds like, rather than the franchise-starter it’s supposed to be, it could do very disappointing business. With a $145 million budget, that’s not good tidings for the director or the studio. On the other hand, fans of the animated series could pull the film towards a solid, but certainly hugely distant, second. In any case, it seems clear that the massive and assuredly leggy success of “Toy Story 3” will be nipping at its heels. One thing is certain: the film originally titled “Avatar: The Last Airbender” will not be emulating its former namesake commercially over the long haul.

Among other limited releases this week, we have “Love Ranch,” which is the first film starring Helen Mirren to be directed by her husband, Taylor Hackford (“Ray,” “An Officer and a Gentleman”). Sadly, it’s getting very bad reviews. That is not good for a limited release, even if Joe Pesci is also in the cast. Amazing that a film about murder and legalized prostitution in Nevada is considered dull, but making movies is an uncertain business. Right?

“The Killer Inside Me” starring Casey Affleck as a brutally psychopathic cop is dividing critics in the kind of way that indicates it’s either an honorable near-miss or a cult film in the making. The adaptation of the pulp novel by novelist and Stanley Kubrick screenwriter Jim Thompson, which has a couple of scenes of very brutal and graphic violence that have generated a ton of ink and bloggy pixels, though its admirers tell us there’s lot more to the movie that that, will be expanding significantly from four to seventeen screens this weekend as per Box Office Mojo’s theater counts,. If you want to see it in a theater, I suggest you do so quickly. I don’t think all that many people are in the mood for this kind of thing right now.

UPDATE: Nikki Finke has the Thursday box office which indicates both “Eclipse” and “Airbender” are on track for their respective expected strong performances. Still, I’m curious to see if word of mouth catches up with the latter.

  

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Hey, I’m back, sort of, with weekend box office results

I’m still keeping busy and enjoying the tail end of the Los Angeles Film Festival, which wraps in just a couple of hours, but I thought I’d see how quickly I can give you all at least some of this weekend’s genuinely fascinating box office results as gleaned from both Anne Thompson and Nikki Finke.

Toy Story 3

Well, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Pixar formula — i.e., dollops of laughter and heart (what a concept!) and now a dash of 3-D ticket prices — has once again worked wonders and “Toy Story 3” took on all comers, earning an estimated $59 million for Disney in its second weekend. Meanwhile, it was also a good weekend for the eternal appeal of low humor and, it seems Adam Sandler, at least when accompanied by four other comic known quantities of varying degrees of box office hotness. It was clear that the scatological-joke loving masses were only encouraged by, I’m guessing, entirely correct godawful reviews of Sony’s “Grown-Ups.”

Perhaps also reflecting a dearth of comedy right now, the film actually was a personal box office best — not adjusted for inflation — for Sandler, earning $41 million. Personally, though I like him in actual quality films like the, I think, severely underrated “Funny People” and the brilliant “Punch Drunk Love,” I’ve never gotten the comic appeal of Sandler, going back to his SNL days, and can’t even remember gong through a phase where I found farts inherently hysterical, so I can only throw up my hands here.

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in
On the other hand, there is little joy in the five or six buildings the Church of Scientology owns on Hollywood Blvd, as the Tom Cruise (and Cameron Diaz) action comedy vehicle, “Knight and Day” earned an estimated $27.7 million. Not bad, actually, except considering Cruise’s far better past performances back in the day when stars like him could routinely “open” a film and, according to Finke, the budget for the film was either roughly $117 or $107 million, depending on whether you calculate tax breaks. In other words, Cruise’s thetans might take longer to clear.

In other news, I’m happy to say, that things are hopping on the indie scene. The new wartime documentary “Restrepo” and the Duplass Brother’s enjoyable entry into the semi-mainstream, “Cyrus,” are both doing quite well, as are other newish films.

On the other hand, the controversially violent “The Killer Inside Me” appears to be suffering, perhaps, from an older indie audience that might be turned off by the fuss, which some say has been exaggerated to a certain degree and appears to have surprised its skilled, if highly uneven, director Michael Winterbottom. Interesting how an adaptation of a once obscure fifty-eight year old pulp novel can still raise hackles. Also shows that while a perception of too-little blood and guts can harm a horror film, a perception of too much can perhaps harm even a “hard R” thriller/drama. Advice to the suits: know your audience.

As usual, Indiewire has the indie scoop.

  

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Midweek movie news, and then…

After tonight, I’ll be taking a break from the daily blogging grind for just a bit. That means I’ll be out completely for a couple of days at least and then you may see a post here and there and then, suddenly, I’ll be back like I was never gone in the first place, probably towards the tail end of the month. So, this will have to hold you for a little while.

* As of tonight, corporate raider Carl Icahn appears to be a majority stockholder in Lionsgate.

* I’ve never been a fan of the seventies movie of the silly seventies film version of “Logan’s Run,” but with Carl Erik Rinsch directing, my interest in the new film perked up considerably. Now, Alex Garland — who wrote and produced the not-entirely-unrelated upcoming version of “Never Let Me Go” which I discussed yesterday — has jumped on board, making it even more interesting. Better, they’re approaching it as a new version of the book, not a remake of the film. In the 1976 film, by the way, no one in the futuristic society was permitted to live past 30. In the novel, it was 21.

* Sam Raimi has been confirmed as the director of “Oz: The Great and Powerful.” Apparently Robert Downey, Jr., who just formed a new company with his producer wife, Susan Downey, is the most likely Oz at this point.

* Be sure and check out Will Harris’s terrific interview with one of the best, Isabella Rossellini. Easily one of the most fascinating  actresses of the last thirty years or so, with quite a backstory behind her. Don’t miss it.

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*Though Ms. Rossellini seems perfectly at home in a very humorous way with her fifty-something status, that is not really always the case for actresses. This month’s conversation between Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard at the House Next Door underlines that point as the cinephile thinkers discuss two of Hollywood’s greatest show-biz based films, “Sunset Boulevard” and “All About Eve,” both released in 1950 and both dealing with actresses who struggling with this whole passage of time thing.

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Trailer time — “The Killer Inside Me” (updated)

It’s a bit glib, but it’s fairly safe to say that Jim Thompson was probably the most hard-boiled among the better known hard-boiled writers of the mid 20th century. The new film version of his best known novel proved his work still has the capacity to shock thirty-three years after his death. At Sundance and elsewhere, “The Killer Inside Me,” directed by the very prolific Michael Winterbottom (“A Mighty Heart,” “The Road to Guantanamo”), inspired praise and walks out, particularly for some reportedly extremely rough and bloody scenes of violence perpetrated by Casey Affleck as the brutally sociopathic lead character against costars Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson. Being green band, this trailer merely implies the brutality, of course, but I don’t think it hides from it, either. This really does look like a likely career breakthrough role for Affleck.

This is far from the first time Thompson’s work has been on the screen. Stanley Kubrick was famously impressed with The Killer Inside Me, which came out in 1952. Thompson wound up working on two Kubrick classics, “The Killing” and “Paths of Glory,” but his cult fame had to wait until after his death  in 1977, the year after the first film version of The Killer Inside Me was released to not much interest.

This time, though, that’s looking to be a very different story. Other notable Thompson adaptations include Stephen Frears’ memorable “The Grifters” with John Cusack, Angelica Huston, and Annette Bening from 1990, “The Getaway” (filmed by Sam Peckinpah in 1972 and Roger Donaldson in 1994), and Betrand Tavernier’s haunting 1981 “Coup de Torchon.” None of those were what you’d call family films, but it’s safe to say that this will be by far the most controversial of the bunch.

UPDATE: I just stumbled over an earlier European trailer which is really interesting and a bit more blackly comic. It’s courtesy of a 5/5/10 post made by Simon Dang at the Playlist. Dang also offers that the he thinks the violence has been played up perhaps a bit more than is the case — and this wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened. In any event, the other trailer is after the flip.

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