It was a weekend of surprises at the box office. The most pleasant for those of us who prefer a chill up the spine to a gag reflex was the outstanding performance of “Paranormal Activity,” which handily defeated the dismemberment sweepstakes of “Saw VI” despite being in over a thousand fewer theaters than its horrific competitor.
As documented by Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter and the bean counters of Box Office Mojo, Paramount’s extremely wise ultra-ultra-ultra-low-budget paranormal pick-up earned an estimated $22 million as it expanded to 1,945 screens this week with a outstanding per screen average of $11,321. That’s compared to an estimated $14.8 million for the latest “Saw” entry (two more are still scheduled, including the inevitable 3-D installment) with a per screen average of $4,875, less than half of its spooky competitor.
The irony in all this is that, now that critics have had to paid their shekels to see the unscreened “Saw VI,” not only has it gotten better reviews than the last few entries — which is, of course, not the same thing as getting good reviews — it turns out to have at least an attempt at political content with a plot that involves both the sub-prime mortgage and health care debacles.
Seems to me that Lions Gate really had nothing to lose by screening this for critics and the political angle might have generated a bit more interest. “‘Sicko‘ for real sickos! ‘Capitalism: A Hate Story’! says Geekboy Moonraker of ‘Ain’t it Bloody Disgusting'” might have at least captured a bit more attention. Though, reading Owen Gleiberman‘s highly negative review, it’s interesting to note that both “Zombieland” and “Saw VI” do call attention to our nation’s obesity epidemic.
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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.
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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They can be viewed in all their expressive splendor here. Spike Jonez and crew did a really great job brining these creatures to life — making them appear both physically imposing and characteristically gentle.
With Karen O and various indie rock stars providing the soundtrack, Dave Eggers penning the script, and Spike Jonez in the director’s chair, this film is going to have to try really hard to suck. I wished it was coming out in early winter because it seems like the perfect date movie. Actually, “Where the Wild Things Are” will appeal to every age group for any occasion. It just has that enticing whimsy that goes hand in hand with the chilly months.
“Where the Wild Things Are” hits theaters on October 16th.
I might have missed my Joss Whedon panel yesterday (clearly, I didn’t want it enough and failed to get in line an hour early), but lots of other folks aren’t missing a thing.
* Apparently, Robert Downey, Jr. is claiming his martial arts using, womanizing (at least that’s how I remember the trailer), and druggie Holmes is closer to the Arthur Conan Doyle character that the scads of cinematic and TV Holmesessess we have had up to now. Well, the literary Holmes did use cocaine. Let’s just say I share Luke Thompson’s differing memory on those points.
Maybe it was all a product of the squirrelly Downey sense of humor we’ve seen in so many unusual performances over the years. I’m also skeptical of why Steven Zeitchik thinks the Guy Ritchie-directed Holmes is a particularly tough sell to geeks. Isn’t Data one of our patron saints? The geeks I grew up with actually used words like “Holmesiana.” The Aleister Crowley-cult thing won’t hurt with a certain breed of gothy nerd, either.
* John Lasseter presented one of the real greats, still very active and hoping for his first stateside hit: Hiyao Miyazaki.
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