Box Office Preview: Can Jack Slay Its Giant Uphill Battle?
February 26, 2013
This is a fairly busy weekend especially in major cities where roughly 15 limited releases will try to compete with four wide releases, which are trying to take advantage of the success of previous March hits like 300, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and last year's The Hunger Games and Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. With last weekend being a bit of a dud between the weaker movies and the Oscars on Sunday, we expect moviegoers to be out in force the next few weekends.
Jack the Giant Slayer (New Line/WB)
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, Ewan McGregor
Directed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men, Superman Returns, Valkyrie and more); Written by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, Dan Studney
Genre: Action, Adventure
Tagline: "If you think you know the story, you don't know Jack."
One of the oddest trends in recent years is the relative popularity and success of movies based on classic fairy tales. Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and last year's Snow White and the Huntsman both set the bar fairly high, and even the recent twist Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters can owe some of its success to being based on known literary characters. Meanwhile, other movies like Red Riding Hood and Beastly tried to appeal directly to young women but didn't fare nearly as well.
What this movie, based on the classic English fairy tale "Jack and the Beanstalk," has in common with Burton's movie is that it's directed by a big name director in Bryan Singer, who hasn't directed a movie since his WWII action-thriller Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise in 2008. Before that, he helmed two hit "X-Men" movies and the Superman Returns reboot, which received a mixed reception. Recently, Singer returned to the X-Men franchise by producing Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class and he's about to direct X-Men: Days of Future Past.
The movie stars Nicholas Hoult, who just had a decent-sized hit with the zombie romantic comedy Warm Bodies, as well as Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane and Bill Nighy. While none of them might not necessarily have box office pull on their own, they help add to the film's strangely comedic tone that doesn't necessarily come off well in the commercials and trailers, but it does work within the context of the movie.
"Jack" was originally going to be released during the summer, which would make a lot more sense for an expensive blockbuster like this, but it was moved back to March to give Singer more time to work on FX. Any sort of big move like that tends to get a lot of people nervous, especially those who were already dubious of Singer doing a fairy tale movie like this, but it hasn't helped that the giants don't look that great on posters and stills, because they just don't translate well to watching internet trailers as opposed to seeing them in 3D on the big screen where they look better. That's likely to hurt the movie more than anything else.
There have been a lot of reports about how expensive the movie is and its toughest battle is that it isn't necessarily a movie for kids—it's rated PG-13—but it still looks too much like a family movie to appeal to Singer's older male fans that have followed him from his earlier movies like The Usual Suspects. Warner Bros. has done a better job in recent weeks changing the marketing to appeal more to the latter with big battle sequences, but in many ways, this movie reminds us of last year's John Carter, another expensive movie facing an uphill battle that ended up finding its share of fans but was still considered a universal bomb.
"Jack" should still do better than many expect now that the marketing has been shifted away from light humor and more towards the action, making it a movie that could entice younger teens not into horror or too young for the R-rated comedy as well as being a movie parents can take their kids to see despite its PG-13 rating.
"Jack" is being released in IMAX and 3D, which may be preferable methods of seeing the movie for certain audiences, except that the older guys (18 to 35) that might normally go see this movie in IMAX will be the ones who are also may be the most dubious of spending any extra money to see the movie. Even though the movie should win the weekend by default of being in the most theaters, it's going to have an even tougher time going up against Sam Raimi's Oz The Great and Powerful next weekend, and we expect a substantial drop.
Weekend Est.: $27 to 30 million; Est. Total Gross: $85 million
21 and Over (Relativity Media)
Starring Miles Teller, Justin Chon, Skylar Astin, Sarah Wright, François Chau, Jonathan Keltz, Daniel Booko, Dustin Ybarra
Written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (writers of The Hangover)
With Identity Thief being the only straight comedy in theaters, here comes a comedy that targets the high school and college age crowd, mostly males, that's written and directed by the guys who came up with the innovative script for the hit R-rated comedy The Hangover. This one takes the very simple premise of a college kid turning 21 years old, the legal drinking age in the United States, which means that it's just one crazy night-long party which we follow over the course of the movie. It's interesting that last year, the low-budget house party movie Project X--produced by no less than Todd Phillips, director of The Hangover--did huge business opening to $21 million (see below). Clearly, Relativity saw an opportunity to capitalize on the pre-Spring Break energy among college and high school movies to grab the early March date for their own R-rated party movie.
The movie stars Miles Teller who was impressive in the drama Rabbit Hole opposite Nicole Kidman and had a humorous role in Craig Brewer's Footloose remake, plus he stars in the Sundance movie The Spectacular Now, but much of the focus seems to be put on Justin Chon, who has played Bella's classmate Eric Yorkie in the first four "Twilight" movies. Sure, there's a chance that teen girls might check this out for the two of them, but this doesn't seem like the type of material that would appeal to women at all.
There should be an audience of older teen guys that have no interest in Jack the Giant Slayer and this will probably be the most obvious choice for them this weekend even if it's not a movie that's going to be remembered beyond the month of March since because it feels like throwaway entertainment.
Weekend Est.: $14 to 17 million; Est. Total Gross: $39 million
The Last Exorcism Part II (CBS Films)
Starring Ashley Bell, Julia Garner, Spencer Treat Clark, David Jensen, Tarra Riggs, Louis Herthum
Directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly (Small Town Murder Songs); Written by Damien Chazelle, Ed Gass-Donnelly
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Tagline: "God Asks. The Devil Commands." (Well, if that's the case, I think I'd rather see a movie about God, wouldn't you?)
It's March and although horror movies are normally relegated to January and sometimes February, we get one more, this one a sequel to the 2010 low-budget hit exorcism movie produced by Eli Roth which took full advantage of the interest in low-budget found footage horror movies following the success of Paranormal Activity a year earlier.
The original movie opened in late August to the tune of $20.4 million (based on a cost of $1.8 million) although it took huge hits after opening weekend to gross $41 million, a good profit but not showing good legs or interest in a sequel. Regardless, the movie made enough money to warrant one, so they're back with the only returning person from the original movie being Ashley Bell, the young girl who needed to be exorcised. Of course, having a sequel to a movie called "The LAST Exorcism" is about as funny as having multiple sequels to the "Final Destination" movies but who are we to question the intelligence of horror movie fans and their desire for sequels?
The original movie was released by Lionsgate, which helped market it to be a huge hit, but CBS Films has jumped on board for this sequel, hoping to have similar success with their 2012 release The Woman in Black starring Daniel Radcliffe. They've released a number of commercials that look okay even though it's obviously taking a different direction than the found footage style of the original, which may have contributed to its appeal.
Director Ed Gass-Donnelly previously directed the gothic crime thriller Small Town Murder Songs--no, I don't remember seeing it either—but let's face the fact that movies like this don't really matter who is in them or who directs. People will either go see them in theatres or wait until DVD.
While some younger women might go for the fairy tale movie, others might want something a bit edgier and there's plenty of historic proof that movies about exorcisms and demons and such tend to bring audiences into theaters. That should keep the horror sequel from tanking as badly as last week's Dark Skies but we don't expect this to have much in terms of legs either.
Weekend Est.: $10 to 12 million; Est. Total Gross: $25 million
Phantom (RCR Distribution)
Starring Ed Harris, David Duchovny, William Fichtner, Lance Henriksen, Johnathon Schaech
Written and directed by Todd Robinson (Lonely Hearts)
Genre: Action, Thriller
Tagline: "You'll Never See It Coming" (Or more likely, you just won't see it)
Mini-Review: Solid performances by Ed Harris and William Fichtner do little to save this fictionalized attempt at explaining the disappearance of a Soviet submarine in the '80s, although if not for the opening preamble and a couple other clues, you might not even realize that this is about Russian naval officers because, thankfully, none of the cast tries to speak in a bad Russian accent.
Harris plays Captain Dmitri Zubov, who is put in charge of an old Soviet submarine with a nuclear warhead that's given one last tour of duty before it's retired. On board are a pair of "technicians" led by David Duchovny’s Bruni, who immediately start counteracting orders given by Zubov and his second in command (Fichtner). After roughly 40 minutes, we learn that Duchovny and his men are rogue agents with a plot to take over the sub and launch its nuclear warhead on the Americans while using Phantom stealth technology to put the blame on the Chinese, effectively starting a nuclear war while Zubov and his crew watch on.
The first 45 minutes plays out like a stageplay inside a submarine in which it’s hard to figure out any of the relationships or why the captain might allow Duchovny's character so much freedom. When you really think about it, it makes even less sense that Zubov would have been put in charge of such an important mission, especially when we learn that he's developed a debilitating case of epilepsy after an earlier tragedy on the same sub.
The script isn't bad and uses vernacular in a way that proves Robinson has done his homework, but unless you have Naval experience yourself or have a degree in Russian politics, good luck figuring out what's going on. Compared to Harris and Fichtner, Duchovny's performance as the bad guy is fairly dreadful and it really brings down the quality of the drama.
Zubov and his men are eventually confined from the command post to allow the rogues to follow through with their plan as they start to plot their own counter attack which involves starting an undersea battle with another Russian sub. Other than a few FX shots during said battle, most of the movie is spent inside the sub, but since the action is as hard to follow as the story, there’s very little excitement even when it builds to a shoot-out inside the submarine which as everyone knows could do serious damage to the controls and the submarine's hull. All of it leads up to an extremely grim and dissatisfying resolution as well.
Mostly bland and often confusing, "Phantom" had potential to be a better movie if it made more of an attempt to make you care about any of the characters rather than boring you with its attempts at accuracy.
Every once in a while, a movie comes out of nowhere, and in the case of this movie about a Russian nuclear submarine that's testing out new covert technology, maybe it's appropriate. It stars Ed Harris and William Fichtner as the co-captains of a Russian sub on its last journey in the '80s that's infiltrated by David Duchovny as a rogue KGB agent who hijacks it in hopes of starting World War III. And yes, if you're thinking "Why did they get so many American actors to play Russians for a movie set during the Cold War?" you're probably not alone.
It's actually based on the true story of a submarine that vanished towards the end of the Cold War and it's hoping to capitalize on the success of other submarine movies like The Hunt for Red October ($17.1 million opening/$122 million total), U-571 ($19.5 / $77 million) and K-19: the Widowmaker ($12.8 / $35 million), but you also have bombs like the thriller Below, a collaboration between David Twohy and Darren Aronofsky that was delayed for years and given only a limited release.
Director Todd Robinson, whose previous movie Lonely Hearts was a terrific crime thriller, has a decent cast with Ed Harris giving a particularly strong performance, but none of them really constitute a draw.
New distributor RCR Distribution are going big by releasing the movie into over 2,000 theaters but as we've seen far too many times with new distributors, trying to make a big splash with a movie by releasing it so wide but not backing it up with solid marketing means that no one will have any idea your movie exists, which is why we don't think Phantom will do enough business to get into the Top 10 despite the wide release.
Weekend Est.: Between $1 and 2 million; Est. Total Gross: $3 to 4 million
This weekend last year saw the release of two solid hits with the animated Dr. Seuss' The Lorax (Universal) opening huge with $70.2 million, making it the third-biggest opening for the month of March on its way to $214 million. The R-rated party movie Project X (Warner Bros.), produced by Todd Phillips, also did well with a $21 million opening for second place. The Top 10 grossed $145 million but since nothing this weekend will come close to $70 million, this is going to be yet another down weekend from last year.
We have a lot of limited releases this weekend, so maybe it's appropriate that we have two "CHOSEN ONE(s)" this week, one a dramatic feature and one a documentary.
We'll start with Kim Nguyen's War Witch (Tribeca Film), which has already received an Oscar nomination in the Foreign Language category. We saw it last year at the Tribeca Film Festival where it won Narrative Feature and a Best Actress award for Congolese first-timer Rachel Mwanza, and we were really blown away with everything about it.
Even so, it feels like somewhat of an oddity when you realize Nguyen is Canadian and presumably of Vietnamese descent and yet, he's perfectly capable of making a believable movie about child soldiers in a remote region of Africa. It's only part of what makes War Witch such a fascinating film on par with Cary Fukunaga's Sin Nombre, a foreign language festival favorite from a couple years back.
Congolese actress Mwanza plays Komona, a 12-year-old girl separated from her family during a raid of her village where she's forced to kill her parents. She's then dragged into the life of a child soldier in order to survive but the guilt over her parents' death cause her to see visions of the dead, as she starts bonding and falling in love with the slightly older Magician, a soldier with mystical leanings, and the two of them decide to escape from their life as soldiers.
The film follows Komona's journey as she and Magician try to find happiness and a normal life only to be dragged back into the horrible and violent world around them. It's a beautiful film that feels so real as if you're a fly on the wall watching the story unfold, although Nguyen also gives it a cinematic quality with the gorgeous cinematography and hypnotic regional score. War Witch represents creative film storytelling at its finest and a truly unique coming-of-age tale driven by the stark realism from Mwanza's performance. I'm still pretty disappointed that it didn't stand a chance to win the Oscar going up against the unstoppable Amour.
You can see it for yourself when it opens in New York on Friday and in Los Angeles on March 8.
Our second "CHOSEN ONE" is Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush's documentary A Place at the Table (Magnolia Pictures), which takes a look at the correlations between poverty and hunger in America with obesity, really a wide range of important topics that are connected.
This is a rather enlightening documentary that follows a number of individuals including a young girl from Colorado named Rosie who has grown accustomed to not having food, a single mother in the DC Area trying to raise two children and feed them properly and Tremonica, an overweight 2nd grader but also provides a lot of information from experts that range from book authors and food experts to "Top Chef" creator Tom Colicchio (one of the film's exec. producers) to actor Jeff Bridges, who founded the End Hunger Network to try to take this problem head-on.
Now I don't have kids nor do I have any plans to, but some of the film's topics really resonated with me since I've had periods of unemployment and was even on welfare for a few months and I totally could relate to not being able to afford healthy food. In fact, only this year I finally decided that it was time for me to eat healthier, cutting out pizza, soda and junk food in favor of fruits and vegetables, and the difference was staggering as I quickly lost weight. The thing is that many people in this country aren't making enough money to afford to eat healthy so they're forced to eat cheap junk, which in turn leads to obesity, and that's a very small part of what ends up being a much bigger problem.
Even though the film does a good job relaying the facts behind the overall problems and why it's become so difficult to overcome them, it's also an incredibly emotional film not only due to the human side of the story through the struggles of the three main subjects, but also because the filmmakers scored T Bone Burnett as music supervisor and he provides a gorgeous soundtrack featuring songs by the Civil Wars.
Ray Winstone stars in Nick Love's British crime thriller The Sweeney (E1 Entertainment), a modern film based on the popular British television from the '70s, which has Winstone playing Jack Huston, the head of the "Flying Squad," the division of British police dedicated to armed robbery and violent squad. He's joined by Ben Drew aka rapper Plan B as his younger partner George Carter, as well as Haley Atwell and Damian Lewis from "Homeland." It opens in select cities Friday.
Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook makes his English language debut with Stoker (Fox Searchlight), a thriller starring Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre) as a teen girl whose father dies in a car accident leaving her to live with her unstable mother (Nicole Kidman) as they're both visited by her father's brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) who seems to have ulterior motives for being there. It opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday and then expands to more cities over the coming month.
Antonio Banderas, Mark Strong and Freida Pinto stars in the Middle East epic Day of the Falcon (Image Entertainment) from filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud (Enemy at the Gates) involving the dispute over oil between two Arab rulers and how it affects the relationship between their respective sons. It opens in select cities after a VOD run.
Mark Webber directs and stars in The End of Love (Variance Films) playing the widowed father of a 2-year-old named Isaac (Webber's real son) who finds himself having to grow up while he starts a relationship with a single mother played Shannyn Sossamon. Including appearances by Amanda Seyfried and Jason Ritter, it opens in New York at the Cinema Village and in Los Angeles at the Sundance Theater on Friday.
Wendy Jo Cohen's mockumentary The Battle of Pussy Willow Creek tells the story of a fake Civil War battle where a group of 600 union soldiers led by a motley crew of individuals fought off a huge Confederate army's attempt to conquer Washington. Done in a completely serious style similar to Ken Burns "The Civil War," it opens at the Quad Cinema in New York on Friday.
If you ever wondered what it was like to work on a fishing boat, then Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel's cinema verité doc Leviathan gives you a pretty good idea what that would be like. It's pretty boring. If you're still wondering, then it opens at the IFC Center in New York on Friday.
If this weekend wasn't busy enough, it also marks the begining of the annual Rendezvous with French Cinema, held at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade and other theaters, the IFC Center and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) over the next few weeks. Unfortunately, "Rendezvous" has turned into a film series that's just as much about what's wrong with French cinema as it is about what's right, proving there's definite formula to what works for French audiences that's rarely diverted from, which is a shame. Personally, we can't imagine there being anything at this year's fest that matches up to last year's The Intouchables,
The best of the ones we've already seen includes Therese Desqueyroux (MPI Pictures), Claude Miller's swan song starring Audrey Tautou as a young woman in Southern France during the '20s who marries a rich landowner (Gilles Lelouche) and immediately realizes what a mistake she's made as she experiences the strong arm tactics of her new husband and his family. It's a very different role for Tautou, one that breaks away from her usual roles that make her seem glamorous or adorable, and her performance makes up for what would have been an incessantly grim and gloomy experience.
If you think that last year's butter carving competition in Butter was weird, then you need to check out Régis Roinsard's light comedy Populaire (The Weinstein Company), a period piece that involves a pretty young woman (played by the truly adorable Déborah François from the Dardennes' L'Enfant) getting a job for a charming and good-looking boss, played by Romain Duris, who is so fascinated by her super-quick hunt and peck typing style that he starts to train her to enter… get this… a speed-typing competition. Yeah, it's pretty ridiculous, but it's a fun and cute movie with a lovely ending so it could find an audience here.
At least it was far more interesting than Gilles Bourdos's Renoir (Samuel Goldwyn Films), a supremely boring look at the later years of Impressionist artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, played by Michel Bouquet, and his feisty new model Dédé, played by newcomer Christa Théret, whose relationship with his son (and future filmmaker) Jean leads to a rift between them. We were even more disappointed by the latest from François Ozon, In the House (Cohen Media Group, out April 19), an esoteric curiosity involving an English teacher and his imaginative teen student who writes a story, presumably fiction, about doing math homework with his classmate. It's far more fascinating to the teacher and his wife (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) than it is to the viewer and it reminded us a bit of Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy, a movie universally praised by film snobs that we hated.
And then there's all the movies I haven't seen… and since I haven't seen them, you can probably learn just as much about them by clicking on the titles below, 'cause honestly, I've written enough this week:
Next week, the month continues with two new movies, Sam Raimi's fantasy epic Oz The Great and Powerful (Walt Disney Pictures), starring James Franco as the Wizard, and Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams as witches, plus Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace star in the crime thriller Dead Man Down (FilmDistrict).
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