Box office mini-preview, part II: Weirded out Hollywood agrees: “Transformers” sequel smashes puny humanity (updated)

In the face of the death of Michael Jackson right after the very sad news of the passing of Farrah Fawcett, it’s a weird day in Hollywood — and just a bit weirder and louder in news-chopper infested Westwood, where I happen to be, perhaps just a few thousand yards from the hospital room where Mr. Jackson was pronounced dead.

But the box office goes on, not that there’s much more to report other than the boffo, all-time record breaking $60.6 million performance of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” All this so far apparently impacted by the almost across the board negativity of critics, who, I remind you yet again, are also human beings and therefore perhaps reflective of something.

So, it’s safe to say that a new tearjerker starring Cameron Diaz and directed by Nick Cassavetes of “The Notebook” won’t be much of a threat. Even the counter-programming possibilities of “My Sister’s Keeper” seem limited by it’s mediocre Rotten Tomatoes rating of 46% “fresh.” This kind of movie attracts somewhat older filmgoers and that might actually have an impact. A film like this needs some kind of buzz behind it, and I don’t see it making much headway against the various behemoths already ensconced in our nation’s theaters. The Hollywood Reporter has it pegged for about $10 million. The title also, I think, won’t do it much good.

There is, however, a trio of films worth mentioning in the so-called “specialty market.” (Isn’t it special that there’s a market where quality might help a film’s performance?) THR thinks the timing of the Iran-set drama, “”The Stoning of Soraya M.,” might be helped by news of the upheavals from the nation. However, in an area where reviews mean something, a 45% RT rating isn’t hopeful. (And we all know who’s going to be dominating the news for the next several weeks.)

Far more promising, though opening only in four theaters in L.A. and New York, is the action drama “The Hurt Locker.” I’m not a particularly huge fan of director Kathryn Bigelow. I see what she’s trying to do, but even her best thought of pieces, like the vampire flick “Near Dark,” have never quite connected for me. However, this drama about soldiers deals with a topic that’s always been potent dramatic material: unexploded bombs. This time, of course, they are being faced by U.S. solidiers in Iraq. While this film’s only “names” are in smaller roles, this one could break out and the reviews, and that Pixar-esque 97% RT rating, are impressive. Iraq is supposed to be the kiss of death at the box office, but seeing how few people have actually liked any of the Iraq films made so far, maybe it’s not so much the topic as the particular films. [UPDATE: I should add that “Hurt Locker” was written by Mark Boal, a writer who was reportedly embedded with an actual bomb squad in Iraq. So often, when a director with a problematic filmography suddenly makes a really good or great film, it’s because they’ve finally hooked up with a well-written screenplay. How easy it is to forget that.]

Also, as a fan of both Michelle Pfeiffer and director Stephen Frears (“The Hit,” among many, many others), I have to point out the romantic/possibly sexy period drama “Cheri.” Okay, the reviews are not great for this one, but I’d rather watch even a bad movie involving Pfeiffer and Frears than a bunch of personality-free tins cans fighting.

  

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