With a number of mostly rather underwhelming looking new films debuting this post-Thanksgiving/pre full-Christmas insanity week in medium-to-wide-release, box office pros like jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter and Variety‘s Pamela McClintock appear to agree pretty strongly that the battle this week will once again be between the romantic monsters of Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” and the football loving Red State good Samaritans of Warners’ “The Blind Side.” Considering that, as I wrote about last Sunday, “New Moon” dropped by 70% in its second last week while “The Blind Side” actually grew without the benefit of a major expansion — something I’ve never seen in the entire time I’ve been writing these posts — my money’s on the Sandra Bullock feel-good drama.
Of the four new releases said to be appearing in 1,000 to 2,000+ theaters this weekend, the most promising, both artistically and commercially, is “Brothers,” a remake of a widely acclaimed Afghanistan war-themed 2005 drama from Denmark. Distributed by Lionsgate, the movie is an intense love triangle involving the not-actually-dead young Afghanistan war vet played by Tobey Maguire, his not-actually-a-widow played by Natalie Portman, and his black sheep brother, Jake Gyllenhaal — who looks so much like a brother to Maguire that he once is supposed to have nearly replaced him in one of the “Spiderman” sequels. (If they worked Elijah Wood into the cast, they would have achieved the baby-faced, raspy-voiced star trifecta.)
Director Jim Sheridan of “My Left Foot,” “In the Name of the Father,” and “In America” has a real flair for intense tales that dance around the edges of melodrama and then sometimes dive right in. The one-two-three punch of the very well known youngish stars would make you think this should come in with a decent amount of money — at least in the double digits. However, considering the growing news and controversy around the Afghanistan war, the topic might be a bit too timely for audience tastes. Also, a film like this should probably should at least crack 70% on the Tomatometer, especially, but hitting it of with something in the neighborhood of 50–60% of critics will have to do. Worse reviewed films have received Oscar nominations, however.
Next up is another remake of a foreign language hit, this time of an Italian comedy-drama/tearjerker from 1990 that starred the great Marcello Mastroianni and was directed by Giuseppe Tornatore of “Cinema Paradiso.” (Not at all a favorite of mine, by the way.) Disney’s PG-13 “Everybody’s Fine” brings us Robert De Niro as a widower trying to reconnect with his children and grandchildren and costars Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, and Sam Rockwell. A sentimental tale for the holidays with this kind of star power should have some wattage in theory, though apparently the “tracking” is kind of stinking for this film which isn’t really wowing the critics either. Our own Jason Zingale liked it mainly on the strength of DeNiro’s performance but this one feels like the movie you settle for if grandma, or maybe great-grandma, wants to see something nice and you can’t get into the “The Blind Side.”
The same definitely cannot be said for two remaining films which are pretty clearly going after the youth and/or male audience. “Armored” is a PG-13 heist thriller that appears to involve, guess what, armored car drivers. Stars Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne and (for the foreign market, no doubt), Jean Reno won’t hurt this film, but I don’t think they’ll save the box office for Screen Gems either, much as I think they’re all pretty cool. The trailer — which features my hero, Fred Ward, doing some warmed-over “Hill Street Blues” shtick — looks fairly tired. Notably, critics aren’t being shown this film from memorably named director Nimrod Antal.
The filmmakers are probably using ten-foot stakes to keep critics away from “Transylmania,” a truly lame-looking attempt from newcomers Full Circle Releasing to set a National Lampoon-style college comedy in a vampire’s lair masquerading as a university. An idiotic title, lame “Twilight” parodies, almost no familiar faces, and sub-sub-sub-sub-“Buffy” style hijinks don’t look promising commercially to me. Judging from craptaculacious trailers I’ve seen online, the only thing interesting about this apparently laugh-free horror farce is that it comes from a new releasing company and no one seems sure exactly how many theaters it’s going to be in. Both McClintock and DiOrio (in his video clip, not in the text) say it’ll be in around 1,000 theaters, but Box Office Mojo merely says it’s release is “limited.” The more limited, the better, I’m thinking.
Still, all may not be lost for fans of old fashioned quality movie-making. Debuting in limited release at 15 theaters is “Up in the Air,” from star George Clooney and director Jason Reitman of “Thank You for Smoking” and “Juno.” After today’s award from the National Board of Review (discussed in the post immediately below this one), the Oscar hype on this one is about to join the mile high club.