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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“Toy Story 3” trailer + supplementary reading!

If you’re feeling a bit Pixarish after maybe getting a chance to see the new 3-D version of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” wrapping up their two week run in theaters this week, you’re in luck. First of all, The House Next Door, something of a gold standard among brainy cinephile blogs, has just wrapped up Pixar Week, with some of the smartest cinegeeks around exploring the ins and outs of  the studio’s unprecedented run of ongoing artistic and commercial success. Bob says check it out.

That’s not all, the trailer for “Toy Story 3” has been making the rounds today, and we’ve got it. Like many of the folks highlighted by Christopher Campbell, I got a bit verklempt watching this. It’s also, of course, very funny. The usual Pixar one-two punch — works every time (apparently).
Toy Story 3 Trailer in HD

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Sony’s “Zombieland” and “Meatballs” satisfy at the box office

zombieland

“Zombieland” led our carnivorous movie weekend and met expectations almost on the nose with a horror-comedy-curse breaking estimate of $25 million on it’s opening weekend, thereby breaking the back of one of the most irritating box office canards of recent times. Another misunderstanding being promulgated by Nikki Finke, who is back with all vitriol-guns blazing this weekend, is that star Woody Harrelson was box office poison, but the “zom-com” was so appealing it did well anyway. Personally, I have a hard time with the whole notion of once popular stars becoming antithetical to good box office, but that’s a complicated rant for another day.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
The #2 spot went to “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” which showed some really meaty legs and dropped a terrific 33% in its third weekend with an estimated $16.7 million, says Andrew Stewart of Variety and everyone else. Once again, the only sure thing in Hollywood is a family film that parents enjoy watching themselves, and 3-D, at least for the time being, is a proven deal-sweetener for the right kind of movie. By the way, both “Zombieland” and “Meatballs” are from Sony, which means there’ll be delight at the old MGM lot in Culver City tomorrow.

And, as if the prove my point about family films and 3-D, this weekend’s third top grosser was the Disney/Pixar double-feature 3-D retreads of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2.” Not at all surprisingly, the combination of the two beloved animated features was an appealing entertainment value to parents and fun for kids, getting a very solid $12.5 million in just under 1800 theaters. It’s more impressive when you consider that the entire package runs 174 minutes, plus trailers. Considering the limited number of 3-D screens, both “Toy Story” and “Meatballs” doing so well is an interesting development.

After that, we have a bit of divergence from what I wrote in my preview post, in that the #4 film is the Ricky Gervais vehicle from Warners, “The Invention of Lying.” It brought in a modest — but possibly sufficient, given the budget — estimated $7.4 million via just slightly over 1700 screens. I’m going to guess that the growing cult of comedy demigod Gervais plus the film’s easy-to-grasp and inherently amusing premise, as well as the strong and well known supporting cast, gave it enough of a bump to beat the crowded low-end competition this weekend. Beaten by a pug nose was the much higher budgeted ($80 million) Bruce Willis science-fiction film “Surrogates,” with somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.3 million.

Ellen Page and Juliette Lewis in The well-reviewed and, you’d think, appealing sports comedy, “Whip It” disappointed with a mere $4.85 million estimated despite a strong cast led by Ellen Page, and Drew Barrymore’s involvement as both director and cast member. However, the studio is hoping that this underdog will benefit from word of mouth and ultimately win the big game with an unexpected surge. Who doesn’t love an underdog?

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Weekend box office: “Zombieland” to lift horror comedy curse, apparently

zombieland-movie-image-woody-harrelson-jesse-eisenberg-abigail-breslin-emma-stone

There was a time — I think it was, I don’t know, two weeks ago — when horror comedies were supposed to be, now and forever, box office poison. “Too funny to be scary and too scary to be funny” was the not so intelligent line. Such was the Hollywood conventional wisdom, until someone went and made a horror comedy that struck a chord.

So, apparently the peanut butter of horror can be blended with the chocolate of comedy if you have lots of action and sufficient gore, the trailer for the movie in question is funny enough that audiences will be sold on it as a more or less straight comedy…and, oh yeah, almost everybody who can stomach seems to love it. Such certainly seems to be the case with “Zombieland.” The flick, which features indie stars Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin, is eliciting excitement both from industry types and critics who have graced it with an 89% “Fresh” Rotten Tomatoes rating (just two points shy of 2004’s instant zombie comedy classic, “Shaun of the Dead.”)

Still, for yours truly who loves comedy horror but has a well documented issue with gore, particularly of the zombie variety, this means a probable long period of movie procrastination followed by a small bonanza for our nation’s distillers. For top-billed costar Woody Harrelson, though, it means a comeback. Jolly Carl DiOrio of THR and Andrew Stewart of Variety guess that it will gross somewhere around $20-$25 million or perhaps further north in over 3,000 theaters. If it wasn’t such a busy weekend, I might think it could do even better.

As for the number two spot, I gather most of the prognosticators expect yet another very good weekend for the animated family hit, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” but after that, the playing field gets a bit crowded. For one thing, Pixar is making things interesting with 3-D redoes of “Toy Story,” and “Toy Story 2” being released as a double feature. It’s a pretty awesome package of family entertainment and I could see it cutting into this weekend’s “Meatballs” take.

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