“Where the Wild Things Are” rides atop the box office.

Where the Wild Things AreAt least this week I have some company in being a bit off the mark.  The estimated grosses for Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers’ adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” overperformed the most optimistic assessments and nailed an estimated $32.5 million. So says jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter, as the significantly less jolly Nikki Finke factually reminds us that Warners chose to push the film as more of an adult picture. The decision certainly seems to have paid off.

It seems likely that the approach widened rather than narrowed the potential audience (parents with kids were likely to show up regardlesss) and added to the “cool” factor, with Cinemascore indicating that younger adults actually seem to enjoy it more than those over 25. In any case, as past somewhat deceptive campaigns I can think of attest, a certain degree of honesty in movie marketing may actually be the best policy.

Also earning more than expected is Overture’s poorly reviewed violent thriller “Law Abiding Citizen.” The macho appeal of the revenge/serial killerish premise, bolstered no doubt by the familiarity of stars Gerard Butler and  Jamie Foxx, proved fruitful with roughly $21.2-3 million estimated, depending on which sites you read.

Colm Meany, Jamie Foxx, and Gerard Butler in

In the #3 spot, “Paranormal Activity” continued to do extremely good business for Paramount with the week’s highest per-screen average ($26,530), netting an estimated $20.1-2 million on only 760 screens, still a fraction of the number of theaters showing competing flicks. As for the small discrepancies in these figures, looking at the numbers provided by Finke, DiOrio, and the Box Office Mojo chart, it sure looks like the glass-half-full DiOrio is rounding up while the glass-half-empty-and-shattered-beyond-repair Finke is rounding down.

Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell in
Though it has precisely zero appeal for yours truly and got almost uniformly bad reviews, audiences are being kind to troubled Universal Studios and Peter Billingsley, the now grown-up star of “A Christmas Story,” with his feature film debut as a director, “Couples Retreat.” The relationship comedy held well and lost a very respectable 47.7% from its opening week, earning an estimated $17.9 million in its second week. Not too surprisingly, then, the #5 spot went to the PG-13 rated horror remake, “The Stepfather,” with an estimated $12.3 million. In this climate, it might have done a bit better if it held onto the R-rating of the original. Lesson for Sony: If you’re making a horror picture, throw in a few extra f-words and maybe a c-word if you can manage it, just for safety.

On the limited release front, “An Education” had a very good weekend. The Nick Hornby-scripted period memoir adaptation from Swedish Dogme alumna Lone Sherfig, making her English-language directorial debut, earned $505,000 in 19 theaters. The Coen Brothers’ adventure in domestic Judaica,  “A Serious Man,” performed its due box office mitvot with an estimated $860,000 in 82 theaters. The #2 movie this week in terms of per-screen average after “Paranormal Activity,” however, was the critically lauded Chilean drama, “The Maid.” True, that terrific $18,000 was on only one screen, but for a satirical drama from Chile, it’s a success worth noting.

Finally, I have to demand that my brothers and sisters in L.A., Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Seattle get down to their local theaters and see the blaxsploitation parody par excelance “Black Dynamite,” post haste. The film earned what a less jolly Carl DiOrio termed a “mild” $2,014 average on seventy screens for an estimated total of $141,000 for Sony’s Apparition films.  Not horrible, but not what a powerful brother like Mr. Dynamite (absolutely no relation to Napoleon D.) so powerfully deserves! And if I read one more blog commenter saying this movie has already “been done” via the disappointing “Undercover Brother” or the pleasantly fun, but not nearly so brilliant, “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” I’ll know the Man is up to his usual tricks and it’s time to take back the movie theaters!

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Wild paranormal law-abiding stepdads to rule box office, almost for sure

Where the Wild Things Are

If you’re craving variety and unpredictability in your movie weekend, then this weekend is for you. Still, most of the smart money seems to agree that the week’s likely fiscal winner is Spike Jonze’s new PG-rated adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s multi-layered picture book classic, “Where the Wild Things Are.”  The family film boasts an outstanding cast, both onscreen and as voice talent, including Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, and Forest Whitaker. It’s also got a director synonymous with high-quality and not-quite-mainstream fare and its hep cred is further bolstered by the name of bestselling author and McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers on the screenplay. Best of all, commercially speaking, it’s based on a book that’s been read and loved by practically everyone. All told, it seems like a canny blending of mainstream recognition, family appeal, and more than a dash of arthouse appeal, but therein may lie the difficulty.

This is a film that really should bit a big hit with critics, and its advertising certainly sells the film’s visual beauty — always a plus with cinephile critics. However, it turns out our David Medskar’s very mild 3/5 star review is pretty typical of the critical reaction. Rating a good-but-not-great 68% Fresh on the Rotten Tomatoes scoreboard, critics are expressing sentiments similar to Dave, who found it “lacking in terms of emotional weight.” Since emotional weight — laughter and tears, etc. — not arresting filmmaking technique — is what most people are looking for at the movies, you have to wonder about whether the film will show any legs over the long term. Still, jolly Carl DiOrio’s prediction of a $25-30 million dollar weekend seems more than reasonable given the audience’s voracious appetite for strong family films with cross-generational appeal. On the other hand, Disney’s decision to extend the run of the 3-D double bill of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” could cut into the “Wild” numbers just a bit with a terrific package of tried-and-true family fair bolstered by the appeal of 3-D.

Gerard Butler and Jamey Foxx in
For some decidedly non-kid-friendly fair, Director F. Gary Gray and writer Kurt Wimmer’s “Law Abiding Citizen” boasts two more or less A-list leads as Jamie Foxx portrays as a careerist D.A. pitted against against tragedy stricken family man turned imprisoned vigilante serial killer played by Gerard Butler. I think Butler has starred in like 200 million mainstream movies this year. None of those movies has been a hit with the critics so far, and “Citizen” is no exception.

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