Either “Avatar” takes the weekend box office, or we’re all in big trouble

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in

Variety has gone behind a pay wall. Jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter is either taking a night off or filing later. Still, this is one week when, if I may paraphrase Bob Dylan, I don’t need a weatherman to tell me which way the wind’s blowing. As a science-fiction adventure sure-to-be blockbuster, James Cameron‘s “Avatar” has pretty much everything going for: huge ballyhoo, much of its centered on its groundbreaking use on “performance capture” (not mere motion capture) and what everyone seems to be describing as a new and more immersive 3-D, strong advance sales (skewing male as of right now), and solid reviews.  Sure, it’s actors aren’t precisely A-listers, but we all know what good stars are these days. I’m sure people will eventually remember that Sam  Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver were in there some place.

The latest from James Cameron at this point has racked up an 82% “fresh” on the Tomatometer and a whopping 96% from the usually harder to please “top critics,” with only Village Voice‘s exacting J. Hoberman submitting a mildly negative review that is actually about as positive as a bad review can be.

Our own Jamey Codding is positive, but not quite ecstatic. Ken Turan, a critic I respect but often disagree with for his rather schoolmarmish tastes — don’t get him started on Tarantino — waxes poetic and compares the technical breakthroughs to “The Jazz Singer.” I personally hope that isn’t quite the case. 3-D is cool as an occasional treat, but I just don’t see how it’s necessary for every movie. Of course, there were people who said that about sound movies too, but don’t laugh too much because there are still people who thought they were right! (Not me. Being a word guy, I like talkies. My fogeyosity has limits) In any case, Roger Ebert might be summing things up nicely when he writes:

There is still at least one man in Hollywood who knows how to spend $250 million, or was it $300 million, wisely.

Sam Worthington in So, we know that “Avatar” will, baring apocalypse or a mass, blindness-inducing plague, win the weekend. The real question is, by how much? Well, considering it’s opening in 3,453 theaters and probably taking up nearly every higher priced regular size and Imax 3-D screen in the country, I’d say the sky is the limit for the moment. Beyond that, I really don’t have the kind of information to make these kind of assertions, but fortunately there is Daniel Frankel of The Wrap who says that the gurus have agreed the Fox film will do over $60 million at least and possibly as much as $90 or $100 million.

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An action-packed movie Monday

Lots going on…

* Via Merrick at THR.

New Line has picked up a pitch from Darren Lemke, the writer behind the studio’s Bryan Singer project “Jack the Giant Killer,” that reimagines the classic tale of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” as an action-adventure movie.

I’m thinking Steven Seagall for the lead, with Jet Li as Kato, though I’m not sure how either of them are at dancing to the music of Tchaikovsky. Okay, actually, this version won’t be a ballet  (obviously) and they’re going for more of a “Chronicles of Narnia” vibe.

* Brad Pitt will be producing, but not playing the lead, in an action-oriented flick about the young Vlad Dracul (his buddies call him “the Impaler”). I’d prefer if they would be honest and call this “Dracula Begins,” but the actual title is “Vlad.” The studio will be the “Twilight” driven Summit. How much you wanna bet this vampire-to-be has a tortured love-life?

* Hand drawn animation appears to be coming back to Disney in a big way. Yay. Film-maker Brendon Connolly has some interesting hints.

93211_first-look-princess-and-the-frog

* And one more item from THR/Heat Vision that I can’t really ignore. Cowriter-producer Peter Jackson has announced that auditions for “The Hobbit” have begun and the only role that’s precast is Ian McKellan as Gandalf. So, actors, if you’ve got a snub nose, a pasty complexion, are never chosen first for basketball, and have hairy feet, I suggest you get into gear. They are denying rumors that James McAvoy could be in the running for Bilbo, though he does have an overall Baggins thing going on, I think. Another actor who screams “hobbit!” to me is writer Peter Morgan’s favorite star, Michael Sheen of “Frost/Nixon,” “The Queen,” and “The Damned United.” Of course, whoever it is, I guess it will have to believable that he’ll look like Ian Holm when he gets on in years.

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“New Moon” rises while sinking; Thanksgiving box office gets hit on “The Blind Side”

My Wednesday prediction that this would be a healthy Thanksgiving weekend at the box office certainly proved true — and it was nice to see it wasn’t at the rest of the economy’s expense: holiday shopping actually went up slightly this year and went up a lot more virtually. Also, the movie everyone expected to hit number actually did one hit number one. However, looking beneath the surface just slightly, movie consumers were making some interesting choices.

The argument prognosticators were making last week was that Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” pretty much had to come out on top because, considering its $142 million+ opening weekend, even if it suffered a catastrophic drop in its second weekend, it still would be ahead of everything else, and that’s pretty much what happened. The vampire-werewolf-human love triangle dropped a massive 70% but, as reported by Box Office Mojo‘s weekend chart and trade mag writers jolly Carl DiOrio and Pamela McClintock, it still earned an estimated $42.5. That was a mere $2.375 million ahead of this week’s surprise #2 film, “The Blind Side,” which not only actually won the box office race on Thanksgiving day (which is not included in the weekend tallies) but came refreshingly close to winning the weekend with $40.125 million. The five day total for the films offer a bit more air between the #1 and #2 spots, with an estimated $66 million for “New Moon” and just over $57.5 for “The Blind Side.”

blindside

The impressive aspect of the Sandra Bullock-led sports film/cross-cultural family drama combo is that it did something I don’t remember seeing whenever I’ve been paying close attention to grosses.  In a world where we think it’s good if a film drops less than 45-50% on its second weekend, “The Blind Side” actually climbed 17.6% on its second go-round without a significant expansion (it went from being in 3,310 theaters to 3,340). I haven’t seen the film but I will say that this seems to be a sign that it’s possible what attracts most audiences today isn’t so different from what attracted them 50 or 75 years ago.

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No one wants to be a turkey on Thanksgiving

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson allow themselves a smooch in Even as the president pardons a pair of prime gobblers who will  instead be going into show business at Disneyland, there’s a good chance that at least one major release this weekend may meet a less charitable fate as a fierce battle rages for the #2 spot. Yes, the #1 spot seems to be reserved, trade mag prognosticators jolly Carl DiOrio and Pamela McClintock agree, for “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.”

Between repeat hardcore “Twilight” fangirls, their friends, and curious onlookers it really seems like a lock for the continuing vampire/human/werewolf romantic menage, considering the film’s spectacular $142.8 million domestic performance last weekend. Which is not to say there won’t be some success to go around this tme. Considering the longest official holiday weekend on the calender — and a “black Friday”-depressing economy that may put many folks in the mood to delay their shopping as long as possible — it seems more than very likely that there will be some nice money to be made at the nation’s multiplexes tonight through Sunday. (Hardcore talliers will be concentrating on the three day period starting Friday.)

The obvious favorite for the #2 spot, if only because it’s going to be booked into 922 more theaters than the next biggest wide release, is Disney’s PG-rated all-star comedy “Old Dogs.” With John Travolta and Robin Williams headlining with a premise that sounds like “Two Men and Two Six Year-Olds” and not much else in the way of broadly appealing, family-friendly comedies out there, this sure seems like a  sure thing in theory.

The slapstick-laden comedy, however, scored an abysmal 6% “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes, but what of it? Director Walt Becker’s previous all-star comedy outing, “Wild Hogs” — the two films actually rhyme — was roundly reviled by most critics and then grossed over $168.2 million domestically.

John Travolta and Robin Williams are

Still, wouldn’t we all rather to win pretty? Our own David Medsker makes a salient point:

…You would think that Disney might step up their game a little bit after seeing just how successful their partners at Pixar have been by not taking the easy way, by using their early success to branch out and make some highly entertaining but also downright challenging movies (“WALL·E,” “Up,” “Ratatouille”). Disney got a taste of that themselves with “Enchanted,” and even “Bolt” to a lesser extent. Most of the time, though, it’s balls to the groin, and gorillas cuddling humans singing Air Supply….

As the quote attributed to H.L. Mencken goes: “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” On the other hand, some have given it a darn good try. We’ll see.

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Avatar-mania, Oscar possibilities, the Obamas’ guest list, and cinegeeks bossing Stephen King around

I had a nasty case of food poisoning yesterday. Not that you care, but a lot has been happening while I spent a day catatonic before TCM and IFC.

* There’s a new “interactive” trailer for “Avatar” that you can download if you don’t mind also downloading some new Adobe software (at least I had to on the computer I’m using right now). The reason “interactive” is in quotes is that the only thing unusual about this longer trailer is that it pauses and allows you to watch additional short promotional films based around the various characters and some of the hardware, etc. It also allows you to buy tickets early.

I’m not sure what “interactive” really means because just about everything is interactive to some degree and this does not particularly impress me as anything new or different. Maybe we can think of a new buzzword.

Avatar movie image (3)

* And’s that’s not all. Anne Thompson has the scoop that “Avatar” may premiere at Harry Knowles’ annual, 24-hour invitation-only Butt-Numb-A-Thon despite some issues between Knowles and Fox. Also, you’ve probably heard about/seen this already, but the movie and writer-director James Cameron got the “60 Minutes” treatment Sunday night. Nothing earth shattering in the arguably slightly puffy Morley Safer piece, though it’s nice to hear Cameron admit that when it comes right down to it, amazing CGI/3-D or not, it all comes down to the story and what’s happening in the actors’ eyes. On the other hand, I really don’t need or want to see 3-D news stories. Will I will wind up doing so anyway?

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