Weekend box office: A crime caper, a demon (non) con, and some bulked up Na’vi head to the ‘plex

The good news is that it seems pretty clear that “Vampires Suck” will not be the #2 movie again this weekend. The not-quite-news is that, with the reign of “The Expendables” also almost certainly over, there is some real doubt about what will be #1 because of the special extended edition, all 3D, release of box office champion “Avatar” in over 800 theaters.

While Ben Fritz confesses to some actual confusion, jolly Carl DiOrio cautiously leans toward the heist thriller “Takers” to take the weekend with some amount in the “teen millions.” Although our own Will Harris found some things to like in a thoroughly mixed review, the thriller is being out-and-out bashed by many critics, with the consensus being that the film, which stars Chris Brown, potential A-lister Idris Elba, and “Avatar” leading-female-life-form Zoe Saldana (well, Will says she’s hardly there), is a tinsel-laden rehash or, as Cinemablend’s Josh Tyler puts it (via Rotten Tomatoes pull quote):

The logical result of watching Heat over and over and over until your brain burns out, and then wondering what it would look like if the whole thing were remade as a Smirnoff Vodka commercial.

Doing better critically is this week’s other new wide release, “The Last Exorcism.” Producer Eli Roth’s first foray away into PG-13 scares, the movie boasts a premise that actually threatens to justify one more shot at the increasingly large horror mock-documentary subgenre with a premise I know I’ve seen somewhere before in some form. It’s about an avowedly phony exorcist who opts to document his own con job only to find himself beset by…well, just guess. It’s a premise ripe for laughs and satire as well as scares and a majority of critics find this an auspicious debut for first time helmer Daniel Stamm.  There’s been some viral promotion for this film. Considering the style and the no-name cast, I’m sure the budget for this “Exorcism” was good and low and that’s nearly always a smart move, especially with an attempt at horror that’s more than just frightening.

One proviso, however. Most seem to agree that the ending is a let down. One thing about the most commercially successful entries in this genre, they might not have been great cinema in the usual sense, but they had wowser endings.

Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Lucas Black In the indie world, the year’s next candidate for break-out film turns out to be “Get Low,” which will almost no longer be a limited release as it expands onto 570 screens. Yes, I’m one of the very few writers not to be the least bit charmed by the film. So, what’s the voice of one-almost-lone movie critic versus a wave of good reviews and enormous, well-earned goodwill built up by three great stars like Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray? Don’t answer that.

  

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What Else Ya Got? “The Losers”

Sylvain White’s big-screen adaptation of the DC/Vertigo comic book series, “The Losers,” will undoubtedly get plenty of airtime when it premieres on basic cable, but as one of the many man-on-a-mission movies released this year, it’s probably the weakest of the bunch. Fortunately, Warner Bros. has still thrown together a pretty decent collection of extras that, while not incredibly memorable, are certainly worth checking out once.

Band of Buddies: Ops Training

This three-part featurette is the closest thing you’ll find to an official making-of, but it just barely scrapes the surface at only 17 minutes. Each section covers a different topic, including training the actors to resemble Special Forces soldiers, using Puerto Rico as a stand-in for the movie’s various global locations, and the tricks employed to film certain stunts. It’s a nice tease, but it really could have been better.

The Losers: Action-Style Storytelling

Creators Andy Diggle and Jock sit down to discuss the origins of the comic book and how it compares to the film adaptation. There are some cool accompanying shots from the comic that show the similarities between the two versions, while Diggle comments on the necessary changes to the main villain in order for it to work in the context of a movie. Fans of the comic might be relieved to see that the creators are happy with the final product, but I can’t help but feel like they were legally bound to hold back from revealing their true feelings.

Zoe and The Losers

Zoe Saldana is the center of attention in this short featurette about the film’s only female character that includes some flattering interviews from the cast and crew and a fairly in-depth look at a key fight sequence between her and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. It’s just too bad Warner Bros. didn’t see it fit to expand this character featurette to include the rest of the cast.

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It’s weekend box office time: “Kick-Ass” will kick..nah, forget about it

Easily the most ‘net hyped movie of the year not based on a Marvel superhero or collection thereof comes out this weekend, and while a monster hit isn’t expected, there will be some very long faces at Lionsgate if the comic-book adaptation “Kick-Ass” doesn’t collect at least about $20 million. I think they’ll be okay.

Kick-Ass

Indeed, if I were to bet, I’d expect the film to exceed expectations, if not this weekend, then later on in the run as the word of mouth among younger filmgoers gets out. True, as Jolly Carl DiOrio points out, it’s R-rating is a bit of a deterrent to the younger teens who’d no doubt love to see it but will have to come up with some clever maneuvers to check out this ultra-violent action non-super-powered superhero comedy any time too soon.

Of course, there’s more than a hint of controversy around “Kick-Ass.” It raised some hackles on its earlier British release and while getting mostly solid reviews, did so again stateside with a somewhat surprising one-star review from Roger Ebert. He seemed genuinely saddened and not amused by the spectacle of ultra-violence being meted out by, and later visited upon, the character of Hit Girl played by young superstar to be Chloe Moretz. Kenneth Turan, who’s often in the running for the title of the nation’s second most respected/well-known critic, admitted to being just a touch disturbed, but liked it and even declared it a pop-culture phenom. The interesting part is that Tarantino-negative Turan, who cites “Kill Bill” in his review, was utterly horrified by the violence in that film (the piece, or pieces, he wrote about it seem to have disappeared off the ‘net), while Ebert was beyond thoroughly amused.

It’s tempting for me to engage in a long speculation about other movies they’ve reviewed — a long time ago Ebert was somewhat similarly moved to anger by the finale of “The Dirty Dozen” but, much more recently, he defended, in amused but guarded fashion, “The Devils Rejects.”  But all there really is to say that what disturbs us, or doesn’t, and whether it does so in a good or bad way, is a highly individual and idiosyncratic matter and it behooves all of us critical types to remember that. Anyhow, whatever controversy there is will no doubt only feed the beast and expectations are for it to go from anywhere between $20 to $30 milliion this weekend and almost certainly taking the top  spot.

Death at a FuneralThe other major new release this week is Sony’s “Death at the Funeral,” a Neil Labute-directed remake of an identically-titled Frank Oz-directed British comedy from just a couple of years back with a primarily, but not exclusively, African-American cast. (Or, as Carl DiOrio would put it, the cast “skews to urban demos.”) Since the African-Americans in question are Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, and Danny Glover while Dominican-American Zoe Saldana, white dude James Marsden and little person Peter Dinklage make for a bit of added diversity, this R-rated comedy should play well with a reasonably broad audience.

Jolly Carl says “a debut in the high-teen millions seems doable.” Still, with possible strong showings for holdovers like “Date Night” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” the box office results could be close on Sunday. While the reviews are not at all particularly good, the original did better with reviewers but didn’t exactly make critics do handstands.

In limited release, we have actually too many interesting small movies to mention this week including the amusingly titled “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead.” (Shame the trailer isn’t as amusing.) However, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” looks to be one of the bigger documentaries likely to come out for a while, while the social satire “The Joneses” with David Duchovny and Demi Moore is dividing critics in general, much as it divided our own David Medsker in particular. According to Box Office Mojo, it’s getting a relatively large first week for this kind of film with 192 screens.

The Joneses

  

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So, guess what’s topping the box office this weekend

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in Yes, the holiday weekend is barely half-way over and tonight’s Golden Globes could alter things slightly. Nevertheless, the Box Office Mojo’s weekend estimates are out and, don’t even bother to wait for it, Fox’s “Avatar” was once again the box office leader with a solid $41.3 million estimated take and a still very low drop of only 17.9% on its fifth go-round. Domestically, “Avatar” is already the #3 all-time moneymaker with a total of $491,767,000. Worldwide it has defeated, “The Return of the King” and is now #2 at just over $1.6 billion, just a couple billion shy of another movie you might have an opinion about, “Titanic.” James Cameron might have to buy an additional Malibu estate for his self-esteem to live in.

Just to keep us from falling completely asleep, however, there were some new members of the top 3 this week. The post apocalyptic actioner with a spiritual tint, Warner Brothers’ “The Book of Eli,” performed as per the expectations I described last time and has a current weekend estimate of roughly $31.6 million. That will definitely be happy news not only for star Denzel Washington but for directors Allen and Albert Hughes, whose last film, “From Hell” was not a box office success despite the presence of another big star, Johnny Depp. (Indeed, one of that film’s producers left the film business and has gone on to become one of the most powerful and annoying members of the left hand side of blogosphere, but that’s a story for another time and place.)

Denzel Washington in

As for the #3 spot…it’s not really a weekend if I don’t make an completely wrong predictive comment — when will I learn to keep my trap shut? Anyhow, the marketing strategy turning a critically dissed piece of Oscar bait into a film aimed at female tweens and teenagers has paid off with a very decent estimated third place showing of just over $17 million for “The Lovely Bones” and Paramount/Dreamworks. The film has been out in limited release for several weeks, but went into over 2,500 theaters and apparently the timing was correct.

A brand new wide release, “The Spy Next Door,” a frankly lame looking vehicle for Jackie Chan, did fairly unimpressive business for a wide release film on its opening weekend despite . It came in the #6 spot with an estimated $9.7 million for Lionsgate, which might be enough if the film’s budget is low enough. In other “cudda been worse” news, it’s 0% on the Tomatometer on Friday has blossomed to 9% with four critics failing to dislike it.

Michael Cera in Finally, the vampire role-reversal flick a la Monty Python’s “Bicycle Repairman” sketch, “Daybreakers,” which did rather well last week, suffered a huge 67% drop in its second time out, going from a $15 million last week to about $5 million this week. And, because I’m a nice guy, I’ll keep the word on “Youth in Revolt” to myself.

  

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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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