Weekend box office: “The Roommate” leads dorm room-size grosses

It’s possible that somewhere, to someone, some PR flack or Sony/Screen Gems exec will tout this Superbowl weekend’s grosses for the very familiar looking thriller, “The Roommate” as some kind of triumph. After all, the film exceeded the high end of the guesses I mentioned Thursday night with an estimate of $15.6 million. That’s a not at all astonishing .6 million higher than anyone expected.

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I should add that that’s an estimate, and who knows how many young females may or may not escape the nation’s football obsession for what my old cinephile compatriot Keith Uhlich terms an “enjoyably trashy” film. Keith, writing for Time Out New York, was one of 36 Rotten Tomatoes critics to pay to get in to see the film over the weekend, and one of only two to have anything nice to say about it, backhandedly or otherwise.

Scrolling down a bit further on the Box Office Mojo weekend chart nobody, outside of some lower budget Oscar contenders, has much to be happy about. The James Cameron-produced 3D outing, “Sanctum,” came in pretty much as expected with an estimated and entirely lackluster $9.2 million for hit-deprived Universal. Now, if I was playing the expectations game the studio wanted me to play, I’d say it was a surprise winner because it beat the $6-8 million figure the suits were apparently low-balling with last week. In any case, none of that has any impact whatsoever on the film’s $30 million budget and the not small marketing costs. The critically dismissed watery cave thriller from Australia may do a lot better overseas.

Natalie Portman and Greta Gerwig in The #3 film was “No Strings Attached” which somebody likes, even if I didn’t. It held pretty decently for Paramount in its third week. Its estimate is $8.4 million, and I suppose a decent Superbowl Sunday is very possible for this very female-skewing entry.

As for the fourth and fifth place entries, Weinstein’s “The King’s Speech” is hanging in there, royally, with $8.3 million estimate; Sony’s “The Green Hornet” is still well short of making back its $120 budget with $6.1 million estimated for this week and a roughly $87 million total. I don’t usually talk that much about marketing costs, but it’s important to remember that they’re significantly larger than actual filmmaking costs and, for a movie like “Hornet,” undoubtedly enormous — though there’s always merchandising profits to consider.

Last week’s #1 God v. Satan thriller, Warner Brothers’ “The Rite,” sank down to cinematic purgatory this week with a larger-than-average 62.4% second weekend drop, earning an estimated $5.5 million and change in fifth place. The former #3 entry, “The Mechanic,” about a taciturn hit-man and his hot-headed protegee, endured a very typical 53% drop for the second week of an action film. It earned a not-so-killer $5.37 million estimate for the revived CBS Films, which is still waiting for its first real hit of this incarnation.

  

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Belated box office wrap-up: “The Rite” leads devilishly dull weekend as “The King’s Speech” fails to rise above it’s indie station

One benefit of waiting until Monday night to write up the weekend’s results is that the Box Office Mojo results I have are not estimates but “actuals.” It’s nice not to have to stick in the word “estimated” before every number for a change but, I fear, that’s about the most exciting news I have to report today.

As predicted back on Thursday night, the PG-13 exercise in exorcist hi-jinks, “The Rite,” lead the weekend and gave Warner Brothers #1 bragging rights. It was not the prettiest victory, however. With roughly $13.8 million in grosses, it was either at the low end or even slightly below the numbers that were trumpeted before, with some estimates going up to $20 million. Also,of course, in actual business terms being #1 is pretty meaningless except for the next weekend’s advertising.

Ashton Kutcher and Lake Bell in The #2 movie was last week’s topper from Paramount, “No Strings Attached.” It earned $13.4 million, falling a significantly better than average 31.8% in its second week, indicating good worth of mouth. (Which, since I kind of hated the movie, kind of annoys me. Why are you people saying good things about it?) The attempt at raunchy but adult romantic comedy will be breaking $40 million total by tomorrow, which is pretty decent considering that veteran director Ivan Reitman kept the budget to a modest $25 million.

The Mechanic,” which I’ve been covering here and at our sister site, performed not-horribly for the revived CBS Films with $11.4 million and change. It’s very reasonable budget for an action film, $40 million, means that it’s another modest success for star Jason Statham. I nevertheless agree with Bullz-Eye reviewer David Medsker that Statham deserves better. The original 1971 version of the film also deserved better, though even I have a hard time arguing that an action-inflected meditation on the nature of modern day evil like the original would do any better. Still, I wish they had cut the budget by half and kept it closer to the blunt spirit of that film or, failing that, increased it by one-third and just made a silly action-movie that was fun. Instead, it’s kind of a neither fish-nor-fowl situation.

The King’s Speech,” which expanded significantly in terms of theater count this weekend, failed to generate the surprise some said might be in the offing. It did pretty much exactly the kind of solid and stately business one would expect from a figurehead and came in at a very solid and respectable $11 million or so. It was in 5th place just barely behind “The Green Hornet” which, at about $78 million so far, still has a ways to go to match its $120 million budget.

Jay Chou and Seth Rogen in

clomid, synthroid, zithromax, accutane, celebrex
  

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A roundtable chat with screenwriter Lewis John Carlino of “The Mechanic,” (2011 and 1971)

If there’s a picture of Lewis John Carlino anywhere on the Internet, I haven’t been able to find it. Does it matter?

Unlike other notables, writers are still allowed to be a little mysterious. Indeed, other than the fact that he wrote several widely acclaimed movies, an episode of the legendary television series “Route 66,” some plays, and directed a few movies, very little information is available online about Lewis John Carlino.

The Great SantiniCarlino is probably best known as the director and writer of 1979’s “The Great Santini,” a beloved sleeper about a military family based on a novel by Pat Conroy and featuring one of Robert Duvall’s greatest and most bombastic performances. “Santini” is, however, one of the more conventional films in the Carlino cannon.

In 1966, he adapted a novel by David Ely into John Frankenheimer’s famously eccentric paranoid science-fiction thriller starring Rock Hudson, “Seconds.” Less well remembered are his non-“Santini” directorial efforts. “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea,” a bizarre and intense 1976 drama based on a book by Yukio Mishima, and “Class,” a 1983 comedy in which Jacqueline Bisset has an affair with brat-packer Andrew McCarthy, the best friend of her son (Rob Lowe). In between, Carlino also wrote the acclaimed fantasy drama, “Resurrection” starring Ellen Burstyn. After 1983, Carlino stopped directing movies entirely and his credited writing work declined dramatically.

Now a soft-spoken seventy-something intellectual, Carlino met with a group of writers to discuss a remake of one of his best known films, “The Mechanic.” The 1971 original starred Charles Bronson as a troubled but ultra-stoic hit-man who tries to end his isolation by taking on a protegee (Jan-Michael Vincent), even though his last hit was on the young man’s father (Keenan Wynn). Despite its action film trappings — including a nicely accomplished quarter-hour dialogue-free opening set-piece — it’s an often chilling look at men who have embraced death and cruelty. Bronson’s character does have a “code,” but it’s not a moral one. His aim is to embody an amoral version of existentialism that might be familiar to readers of Albert Camus’s “The Stranger.”

The new version, which stars Jason Statham and Ben Foster as the cool-blooded killer and his more hot-headed mentee, keeps enough of the original story and dialogue that Carlino is a credited screenwriter on the film. This time, around, however, Statham’s character is less vicious and the movie hits a number of more familiar action-flick beats. Viewers looking for traces of Camus will have to go elsewhere.

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A roundtable chat with producers Irwin and David Winkler of “The Mechanic”

Irwin and David WinklerHealthy father and son relationships are certainly more the exception than the rule at the movies. Even so, the murderous biological and surrogate father and son pairings in the original film “The Mechanic” and its action-packed update with Jason Statham and Ben Foster, are unusually problematic. It’s a tale, after all, about a junior hit-man learning from an older paid killer who has, in turn, killed the younger killer’s dad.

That, of course has pretty much nothing to do with two of the new version’s real-life father and son producers, Irwin and David Winkler. For the remake of the 1971 actioner, the pair have teamed up with another parent-and-offspring team, Irwin Winkler’s long-time producing partner, Bill Chartoff and his son, Robert. (For the record, there are a total of ten producers and five executive producers credited on the film.) Both individually and with Bill Chartoff, the elder Winkler has been involved with a remarkable number of good movies and a few genuine classics, starting with Sydney Pollack’s pitch-black Oscar winner, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” and also including two of Martin Scorsese‘s signature works, “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas.” Winkler and Chartoff also, of course, produced “The Mechanic,” the first time around when it was as much of a chilling look at sociopathy as it was an action flick.

Like any great producer, Irwin Winkler has had his share of interesting financial failures.  There was the ultra-culty early John Boorman film, “Leo the Last” and Martin Scorsese’s big budget 1977 disappointment “New York, New York.” Fortunately, there was also the occasional modest but high quality success like Bertrand Tavernier’s great 1986 love letter to jazz and jazz fandom, “‘Round Midnight.” He and Bill Chartoff were also key players in one of the most enduring franchises in film history, the one that started with a low-budget boxing drama called “Rocky.” Since 1991’s “Guilty by Suspicion,” Winkler has also occasionally directed. His most recent films include the musical Cole Porter biopic, “De-Lovely,” and the Iraq war drama “Home of the Brave,” which received a speedy burial.

For his part, son David Winkler has worked on a number of television movies as well as with his father on 2006’s “Rocky Balboa.” He also directed the 1998 drama, “Finding Graceland” starring Harvey Keitel.

I was personally anxious to talk to Winklers during a recent L.A. press junket for “The Mechanic” because of an oddball “only in L.A.” family anecdote. I was nevertheless beaten to the punch by an Italian reporter with a rather distinctive interviewing style who tended to dominate the discussion.

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Box office preview: Will the devilish hijinks of “The Rite” defeat both a king and a mechanic?

I’m going to be brief tonight, but don’t confuse my brevity with lack of interest. The results this weekend will be modest but may be surprising.

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in
What’s intriguing this time around is that, at least according to Ben Fritz, there’s a small chance that the chart topper will be that top-nomination gathering Oscar contender from award-meister Harvey Weinstein’s house, “The King’s Speech.” Along with fellow awards contender “127 Hours,” it is expanding into hundreds of new theaters and will be in enough locations for a box office coup.  However, the more likely cash champion is the very non-acclaimed new supernatural horror thriller from Warner Brothers and starring Mr. Scary Face Anthony Hopkins, “The Rite.” The religious themed, PG-13 thriller is expected to earn something in between the “mid-teens” to $20 million according to both Fritz and THR’s Pamela McClintock, with Fritz being slightly more bullish.

The other major new release, “The Mechanic” from CBS Films, is expected to do less well despite actually getting significantly better reviews than “The Rite.” I’ve been covering it here and had fun at its junket, but I have to say I find the R-rated action-heavy hitman thriller a pale reflection of the 1971 original. It wasn’t precisely a great film, exactly, but its honesty about the evil of its protagonists makes for oddly hypnotic viewing. The new version, however, has got two strong leads in Jason Statham and Ben Foster and that, plus some heavy-duty action, will apparently be enough to earn it as much as $10 million, say the gurus.  It really looks like this is one weekend where blockbusters really aren’t dominating at the box office.

Jason Statham and Ben Foster in

  

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