This is one interesting movie August we’re in. In fact, if you go to a mutliplex this weekend and can’t find anything that interests you, then you probably don’t belong anywhere near a contemporary movie theater. At this point in film history, things just don’t get that much more diverse, and more interesting, than the new films on offer this weekend.
* Anyone with a geek bone in their body has heard and/or seen a fair amount about the movie box office prognosticators expect to end the reign of “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” By most accounts a thoughtful yet violent/bloody R-rated science fiction actioner from first-time feature director Neill Blomkamp, “District 9” benefits from a lot of really good buzz, truly outstanding reviews, and a very high-profile variant of a viral campaign; the “humans only” signs have been up at bus-stops in Los Angeles for what seems like years and the film’s association with executive producer Peter Jackson won’t hurt. (Just like the filmgoers who probably still believe that Quentin Tarantino directed “Hostel” and have no clue who Eli Roth is, many casual movie fans will give Jackson the credit/blame on this.)
On the possible downside: there are no stars or recognizable faces and the film’s setting of South Africa might put off some people. We Americans, I fear, can be an obnoxiously xenophobic bunch at times. However, this is a new age we’re in (I think) and certainly this film, about space aliens being oppressed by us literally xenophobic humans, has a much easier to grasp premise than “Serenity,” the last star-free but excitement-heavy, well-reviewed science fiction film to rely on viral marketing, and the virus is far more virulent this time. So, the projections of a take of somewhere in the $20 millions or more for Sony offered both by Variety‘s Pamela McClintock and The Hollywood Reporter‘s ever-jolly Carl DiOrio, who guesses it at at least $25 million, make some sense.
* Unless they’re seeing someone very special and very insistent, the young males who will be flocking to “District 9” likely won’t be seeing this week’s promising box office hopeful, even though it’s also science fiction, though obviously of a very different sort. Warner’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is unusual for the movies I write about here in that I’ve actually seen this one before its release date, and you can read all about my opinion of the film over at the link. Suffice it to say that fantastical romantic melodrama is not generating a whole bunch of critical excitement, though that underwhelming 37% RT rating is not so much a collective groan as a chorus of “meh.”
Given that, at least for me, it provides the tear-jerking goods despite numerous flaws, is adapted from a very widely-read best seller, and features two moderately well known stars in Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams, this one also seems poised to do well with its audience, dominated perhaps by women averaging in age just a hair younger than the reportedly older filmgoers who were flocking to last week’s #2 film, “Julie and Julia.” The consensus seems to be that a $20 million opening here is likely, driven largely by the appeal of the book. The really interesting question here is whether its grosses will bring it in above or below the second-week’s take for “G.I. Joe.” After Stephen Sommer’s strutting little rant earlier in the week, let’s just say that as far as I’m concerned (cue music)…this time, it’s personal.
* It’s only in 800 theaters and so is only barely a major release by today’s standards, but “Ponyo” is a very major film for numerous reasons. Prepped for the American market by Pixar’s John Lasseteer, this is the latest from Japan’s most beloved and best respected anime director, Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away,” “Princess Mononoke”) and shows him returning to the gentle, child-friendly fantasy of earlier films like “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” This time, it’s a somewhat off-beat, but also more innocent sounding variation on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid.” Miyazaki is a true master, but has yet to make a big dent in the American market. But the help of Disney/Pixar, an all-star voice cast for the U.S. version, and the usual rapturous critical reception won’t hurt. I’m rooting for this one.
* Aimed primarily at tweens at teens and starring a pair of pretty “Disney channel superstars” and a kid who everyone agrees is a dead ringer for a really young Daniel Stern, we have a real sleeper, at least in terms of critical response. Clearly, a lot of scribes were very pleasantly surprised by Summit Entertainment/Walden Media’s PG-rated “Bandslam,” a pop-rock and roll driven teen comedy that seems to have done a good job of overcoming its own wholesomeness. Without stars or much obvious to drive this to any kind of big success on this crowded weekend, this one could get lost in the mix, but parents seeking something decent to take their tweenagers too might be happy to have found it. Estimates vary from the single digits up to the low teens. I have to say this one looks pretty good and I kind of hope it finds its audience (even if the music I’m hearing on the site is a bit homogenized and Disneyfied for my taste) sooner rather than later.
* Bringing up the rear in terms of both critical reception and, perhaps, box office prospects is “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.” A surprise hit here would probably help Jeremy Piven wash off some of the excess mercury from his reputation and help him parlay his “Entourage” TV fame into the territory that would arouse the interest of a real-life Ari Gold. That would be a very big surprise, however, as no one seems to have much hope for the film and reviews for the R-rated used-car sales comedy are awful, though Roger Ebert shows his tendency to sometimes support a film few others can’t stand. Double digits here would constitute an upset and a big surprise for Paramount.
There are also a number of limited releases of some interest this week but, guess what, I’m tired and I’ve already covered five films, three of which are far more interesting than the usual run of major releases. Those smaller films will have to wait while the mainstream box office gets more interesting. And next weekend, things will stay interesting because, guess what? The basterds are coming.