“Shutter Island” hits big against soft competition

Leonardo DiCarprio in The latest from Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio performed even better than the experts seemed to expect this weekend. The horror-flavored thriller Dennis Lehane adaptation, “Shutter Island,” earned a very healthy estimated $40 million, about $10-15 million more than predicted. This will surprise some because the film was delayed from its original release date last year, which is usually considered not a very good sign. However, as Nikki Finke points out, it turns out to have been a very smart move by Paramount. To me, it’s pretty clear that the general artistic verdict on the film indicates that it wasn’t really Oscar material in any case, but the studio apparently saw the combination of well-known names that the audience trusts with the crime and horror genres could deliver some very nice bucks — if it debuted on a weekend with little in the way of fresh competition.

Taking a look at our handy-dandy Box Office Mojo chart, the competition really wasn’t very strong. Last week’s big winner, the critically drubbed “Valentine’s Day,” took a near nose dive and dropped by 69.5% apparently on word that it wasn’t very good and that V-day was last weekend. Still, $17.16 isn’t terrible box office for a second weekend.

Last weekend’s silver medalist, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” dropped by a more standard 51% percent, but $15.3 million was low enough to put into the fourth place spot. That’s just below, guess what, “Avatar,” still holding nicely with $16.1 million in its tenth week. Meanwhile, the cool-looking but apparently very creatively troubled “The Wolfman” dropped a pretty bad 68.7% in its second weekend to earn an unspectacular $9.8 million and change.

By far the biggest film this week in terms of per-screen average this week belonged to a thriller that is topical in more ways than one. “The Ghost Writer” deals with a writer working on a memoir by a former British Prime Minister accused of war crimes connected to torture, and it’s directed by Roman Polanski. That was controversy/notoriety enough for a solid $44,775 on its four screens. It will be adding a few more theaters next week.

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<a href=”http://www.bullz-eye.com/mguide/reviews_2010/the_wolfman.htm” target=”_blank”><img class=”photo_right” src=”http://www.bullz-eye.com/mguide/review_images/2010/the_wolfman/the_wolfman_5.jpg” border=”0″ alt=”Benecio del Toro in ” width=”218″ height=”138″ /></a>
  

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Wednesday night at the movies

I’ll be taking tomorrow off, so this’ll have to hold you….

* Several blogs, including The Vulture, are commenting on Disney’s refusal to greenlight a sequel to the Sandra Bullock/Ryan Reynolds hit comedy, “The Proposal.” Apparently, Disney is only interested in either franchise pictures with commercial spin off possibilities (i.e, toys and video games) or small-budget youth-themed films.

Ryan  Reynolds and Sandra Bullock in

* So, after everything we’ve seen from him over the last eleven years or so, I’m supposed to believe George Lucas getting more involved will improve the reportedly troubled “Red Tails”? I just hope he stays far, far away from the actors.

* The Playlist has a fascinating peak at an apparent early draft of P.T. Anderson’s not-about-Scientology screenplay.

* The late John Hughes will get a special Oscar tribute this year.

* Nikki Finke on the latest version of the often remade Wuthering Heights. They might as well just go all-out and make Heathcliff a vampire in this one, from the sound of it.

* The British trade, Screen Daily, is the latest pub to go behind a paywall. Anne Thompson has some salient thoughts.

* “American Pie 4” may come to us from the “Harold & Kumar” writers. “Middle-Aged Pie”? (H/t /Film.)

* Remember that wacky/fascinating rumored Lars von Trier/Martin Scorsese remake(s) of “Taxi Driver” rumor I mentioned a couple of days back? Not at all surprisingly, it was just a rumor.


Benecio del Toro chills out in
* Devin Faraci of CHUD provides a listen to that unused rock music score for “The Wolfman.” Yup, it’s hard to imagine how it could possibly have worked with a period horror film, but then I probably would have told Quentin Tarantino that using an eighties David Bowie song in a World War II movie wasn’t such a great idea, either.

Actually, much as I love “Inglourious Basterds,” I’m still not convinced about that particular touch.

  

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“Valentine’s Day” takes big V-Day/President’s Day weekend

Jennifer Garner smashes expectations in Somewhat exceeding the optimistic predictions I noted on Friday, Garry Marshall’s critically disliked all-star ensemble romantic comedy, “Valentine’s Day,” has earned an estimated $52.41 million for the weekend, according to Box Office Mojo. According to Nikki Finke, it is also earning a very nice (and very estimated) $60 million for the WB studios over the not-yet-complete four day holiday period. According to THR/Reuters, the weekend as a whole came in ahead of last year’s President Day with $193 million, compared to $188 million in 2009. Not surprisingly consider, women were the driving force in the success of the Garry Marshall comedy.

Coming in completely on target, we have a photo-finish between the two genre-films duking it out for the #2 spot. The lengthily titled adaptation of a series of young-adult fantasy novels, “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” from Fox and director Chris Columbus, came in slightly ahead with an estimated $31.1 million. Meanwhile, Universal’s trouble-plagued, R-rated stab at reviving it’s grimly furry monster/horror franchise, “The Wolfman,” earned roughly $30.6 million according to estimates.

Benecio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins realize it's a dog-eat-man world

As for the #4 spot, yes, it’s one more strong performance for Fox’s “Avatar.” The film dropped a minuscule 3.7% percent from last week to earn a very solid $22 million in its 9th week. Conversely, Sony’s sentimental wartime love story, “Dear John,” dropped like a relative stone, 49.8% to be exact, and came in with a less exciting $15.3 million to take fifth place in its second week. Still, with a budget of only $25 million and not $120 gazillion or whatever it was that “Avatar” cost, it’s not a terrible performance.

The #1 this week in terms of per-screen averages was “My Name is Khan,” a topical Bollywood drama being released by Fox Searchlight. It scored $15,500 per screen for an estimated $1.8 million. Another win for the growing U.S. popularity of Indian pop-cinema.

  

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(500) days of bad puns and other items of interest

It’s been a weird day for me, and not only because I’m a politically junkie and my side sustained a bit of a loss today (if you don’t know what I’m talking, well, let’s just keep it that way). Still, the movie news beat never stops and there are certainly days when Hollywood makes a lot more sense than politics, relatively speaking.

Spiderman
* It’s official and Nikki Finke has claimed another “toldja.” Newcomer Marc Webb of “(500) Days of Summer” will, it appears, direct the 2012 Spiderman reboot that’s been bandied about since Sam Raimi stepped aside from the now never to be filmed “Spiderman IV.” Even though, as I’ve made clear here several times, I’m not a particular fan of Webb’s feature debut, I think Anne Thompson‘s analysis is probably correct:

Webb’s “(500) Days of Summer” is a deliciously commercial hit movie: witty, breezy, defying romantic comedy formula while not straying outside the realm of accessible entertainment. That’s what studios want: that sweet spot between “original and fresh” and “accessible and commercial.”… He will be eager to prove himself on a big-budget VFX franchise, so he’ll do what he is told.

All she left out is the gift they’ve given us pun-crazed headline writers and bloggers because of Webb’s spider-suggestive last name. I guess Eric Nid was too busy on other projects.

* You knew it had to happen: Here comes “Paranormal Activity II” — from the director of “Saw VI.” (Via Bad Guy Wins.)

* I don’t know why they waited until after Martin Luther King day to announce this, but a long-planned biopic on the single most effective civil rights leader in American history is underway, and veteran playwright and screenwriter Ronald Harwood is penning the screenplay with Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider coproducing. The more recent films in Harwood’s long career include “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “The Pianist.” His best known play, the semi-autobiographical “The Dresser,” was nicely filmed back in 1983. Harwood migrated to England from South Africa in 1951 and he’s proven himself a fairly able cultural chameleon over the years. I’m not sure it’s an inspired choice, but it’s not a a bad one. The tricky part now is choosing the director.

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* Some time back, I was not thrilled to report that Danny Elfman’s orchestral score was being removed from “The Wolfman” and was being replaced by a not at all promising sounding, possibly synth-driven rock, score. Well, as I’m still kind of looking forward to the apparently trouble-plagued film, I’m happy to report that Elfman’s score is apparently back in. Yeah, I’m kind of a traditionalist about things like that. I don’t like to hear futuristic sounds with my 19th century gothic chillers anymore than I want chocolate syrup on my pizza.

* It’s probably not at all fair, but I can’t help but think of this concept as “Tim Burton’s ‘Wicked’.”

* The zombie-centric romantic comedy (“zom coms”) is a subgenre that threatens to take over the planet, devouring us all. Latest to be bitten: “The Wackness” writer-director Jonathan Levine, so says Devin of CHUD.

* In China, Chow Yun Fat and the nation’s most venerated philosopher push out the Na’vi, writes Krystal Clark.

* Today we also had a trio of sad deaths of important contributors primarily to other arts whose work also impacted the movies film, singer Kate McGarrigle, and novelist Erich Segal famously of “Love Story” and less famously of “Yellow Submarine,” and mystery writer Robert B. Parker of “Spencer for Hire.” RIP all.

  

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Monday night at the movies

* We’ve been pretty enthusiastic here about both trailers for “The Wolfman.” Still, there’s been some disconcerting news about the promising looking remake of the 1941 Universal monster classic. Composer Danny Elfman, who has a terrific way with slightly over-the-top genre material going back to his earliest work with Tim Burton on “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” has left the project due to “scheduling conflicts.” Word that a score has actually been composed makes it seem even a bit odder. It’s true that there’s a lot more to scoring a film than composing the music, but there is more than one way to deal with that short of dumping a largely finished score if all there really is is a time problem, I’d guess.

More worrisome is Elfman’s replacement, Paul Haslinger, whose resume includes the rock scores for two of the “Underworld” films Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Death Race.” To be fair, Haslinger was a member of synth group Tangerine Dream from 1986 to 1992 and participated in the scores to films like “Near Dark.” However, I’m usually of the opinion that a period picture requires a period sound and the vague Euro-synth of the “Underworld” music does not inspire me. Hopefully, he’ll go for more of an orchestral sound.

Even more worrisome still, Renn Brown over at CHUD makes a strong case that this is a generally troubled production. At the same time, movie history is filled with troubled productions that turned out great and fun-to-make films that turned out to be horrible-to-watch. We’ll see when we see.

* New York film critic David Ansen will be artistic director of the Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF), writes Anne Thompson.

* Alex Ben Block declares Peter Jackson producer of the year. His methods and approach sound almost Pixar-like in his openness to collaboration. It’s a complicated method: hire good people and listen to them.

* Apparently, Jackson lost all a bunch of weight a few years back simply by swearing off junk food while maintaining a punishing work scheduled during the making of “King Kong,” and he’s kept it off since. Good for him. Judging from the picture in today’s Variety, however, Winona Ryder might consider a regime that includes the occasional milkshake and order of chili cheese fries. Okay, none of our business and, in any case,  the role she is “circling” in Darren Aronofsky’s all-star oddball thriller, “Black Swan,” calls for her to play a veteran dancer, but, my god, those protuberant cheek bones. Part of me just wants her to mainline my mom’s brisket or something.

As for the movie itself, what I’m hearing reminds of just a little bit of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s “The Red Shoes,” and not just because of the ballet setting. There’s also the underlying psychoses.

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