The Weekend Warrior

The Weekend Warrior: September 24 - 26

Source: Edward Douglas
September 22, 2010

Greetings and welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly guide to the weekend's new movies. Tune in every Tuesday for the latest look at the upcoming weekend, and then check back on Thursday night for final projections based on actual theatre counts.

Just want to give a quick mention that the New York Film Festival kicks off on Friday with David Fincher's The Social Network. We won't be writing about it in this week's column but we hope to write something about it soon.

If you aren't doing so already, you can follow The Weekend Warrior on Twitter where he talks about box office, movies, music, comic books and all sorts of random things.

Updated Predictions and Comparisons -

(UPDATE: Not a ton of changes although it certainly seems like Oliver Stone's Wall Street sequel is looking to have the biggest opening of the director's career and it should win the weekend with ease. Sony's The Virginity Hit still isn't looking good but it may be able to crack the Top 10 with so many other movies losing theaters fast.)

1. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (20th Century Fox) - $28.3 million N/A (up 1.9 million)

2. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (Warner Bros.) - $24.5 million N/A (same)

3. The Town (Warner Bros.) - $14.2 million -40% (up .6 million)

4. You Again (Disney/Touchstone) - $12.1 million N/A (down .7 million)

5. Easy A (Sony/Screen Gems) - $10.5 million -41% (down .3 million)

6. Devil (Rogue Pictures) - $5.4 million -56% (same)

7. Alpha and Omega (Lionsgate) - $5.3 million -42% (same)

8. Resident Evil: Afterlife (Sony/Screen Gems) - $4.7 million -53% (down .1 million)

9. Takers (Sony/Screen Gems) - $1.5 million -50% (down .2 million)

10. The Virginity Hit (Sony) - $1.4 million N/A (up one spot)

11. The American (Focus Features) - $1.3 million -47% (down .2 million and one spot)

Weekend Overview

Following the craziness of the Toronto International Film Festival, we're jumping back into another busy weekend with three new films, all which have their strengths, but really only one that can come out on top. (Honestly, that's how the box office works!)

Although there are two new movies opening in over 3,300 theaters and it's likely to be a tight weekend between them, we think that director Oliver Stone's reunion with Michael Douglas for a sequel to their popular '80s drama, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (20th Century Fox), is the type of movie that will bring in many older moviegoers who cherish the original, not to mention lots of younger stock traders and business types who may have been inspired by the movie to go that route in their careers. Reviews may be slightly mixed--especially in regards to the ending--which may hurt with the over-30 crowd who are the most likely to be influenced by reviews, but there's just too much of a curiosity factor to see how Stone tackles the modern-day economic collapse that it should have a healthy opening, enough to take the top spot even if it doesn't have much chance of legs with David Fincher's similarly dramatic offering next week.

After three relatively successful R-rated hits, director Zack Snyder does one for the kids--he has six of them--with the 3D animated adventure Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (Warner Bros.). Based on the books by Kathryn Lasky, it benefits from being the only other family film besides last week's Alpha and Omega, especially since it's likely to be more of a draw for younger audiences than Disney's PG comedy You Again. The movie should appeal equally to both boys and girls, as well as a few women who like owls, but the movie's best chance at breaking out is if fathers who've enjoyed Snyder's other movies bring their young sons to see it. Even so, the Australian accents may be a hindrance to American audiences in some parts of the country, which will likely keep it from opening in the $30 million range.

Andy Fickman's comedy You Again (Disney/Touchstone) has a terrific ensemble cast and holds claim to being the first movie where Alien's Sigourney Weaver takes on Halloween's Jamie Lee Curtis. It also stars Betty White, currently the hottest woman on the face of the earth (Here's hoping she doesn't follow in Lindsay Lohan's shoes if the fame starts getting to her.) The movie may cut slightly into the PG territory of Legend of the Guardians and be hurt by opening against the second weekend of Easy A, although enough young and slightly older women may relate to the premise of having to face a high school nemesis that this should do enough business to get into the Top 5.

For whatever reason, the indie comedy The Virginity Hit (Sony), produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, is being given a wide release this weekend despite doing fairly horribly with promo screenings in select cities (at least that is what we've heard), so it's not likely to do very well when it expands to 650 theatres even if it's going after a very different market than the other three movies. With that in mind, we think this one will tank with less than $2 million and possibly not even get into the Top 10.

Last September ended with four new movies but none of them were able to defeat the previous week's winner, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Sony), #1 for a second weekend with $25 million with a minimal 17% drop from its opening weekend. The Bruce Willis action flick Surrogates (Disney/Touchstone) had to settle for second with less than $15 million, not great, but better than the remake of Fame (MGM), which ended up with just $10 million in third place. The sci-fi horror flick Pandorum (Overture Films) opened in sixth with $4.4 million, another bomb. Meanwhile a little indie horror movie called Paranormal Activity (Paramount) opened in 12 theaters with midnight screenings and brought in $77 thousand, not exactly the type of opening one would expect for a movie that would ultimately make over $100 million thanks to increasingly larger expansions over the month of October. The Top 10 grossed $79 million, which should be easily bested by this weekend's line-up.



Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (20th Century Fox)
Starring Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin, Frank Langella, Carey Mulligan, Susan Sarandon, Vanessa Ferlito, Charlie Sheen
Directed by Oliver Stone (Wall Street of course, Any Given Sunday, World Trade Center, W., Platoon and many more); Written by Allan Loeb (Things We Lost in the Fire, 21) and Steven Schiff (True Crime)
Genre: Drama
Rated PG-13
Tagline: "...but it sometimes naps for an hour or so..." (I just made that up. Pretty good, huh?)
Plot Summary: After being released from prison, Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas) is trying to find a second chance, although he's not likely to get it on Wall Street, which has changed drastically since he was charged for insider training. An encounter with a young trader (Shia LaBeouf), who happens to be engaged to Gordon's estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) leads to a mentorship as Jake is trying to get revenge on a powerful investment banker named Bretton James (Josh Brolin) who deliberately destroyed Jake's company.

Review

Analysis:

Possibly one of the biggest surprise sequels of the year by its mere existence is this reunion of director Oliver Stone with Michael Douglas, the latter reviving the Gordon Gecko character he created for the 1987 drama Wall Street. While it may not have been considered a box office hit, grossing roughly $43 million at the time, the movie has grown in popularity by the advent of DVD and the amount of play it's received on TV and cable since then. The latter has helped turn Gecko into one of those rare iconic film characters that's regularly been referred to whenever something shady goes down on Wall Street, most recently with the economic crash of 2008. It was that which inspired Stone to return to the subject matter and create a thematic sequel that would allow them to bring the character back.

Michael Douglas' career isn't quite in the same place as it was in the '80s and early '90s when he was regularly the lead in many big hits. His last big dramatic hit was Steven Soderbergh's Oscar-winning Traffic, though Douglas has had roles in a couple of comedy hits of the '00s. In recent years, Douglas has appeared in smaller indie dramas like King of California and Solitary Man, movies that played well at festivals but didn't do huge business in theatrical release. Essentially, Douglas' career has been up and down, but returning to one of his most popular and famous characters is likely to get a lot of his former fans to give this movie a chance. Weighing heavily on the release of the movie is the recent news that Douglas has throat cancer, something that will make it hard for him to promote the film but is likely to raise enough concern and sympathy among his fans they'll want to see him in this potential comeback role. (This may sound morbid, but the tabloids and entertainment shows have been covering it so much that it can only help raise awareness for the film as well.)

Joining the sequel are two hot young actors who actually became a couple while making the movie, Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan, the former probably needing no introduction after starring in Michael Bay's "Transformers" movies and opposite Harrison Ford in another long-gap sequel Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This has been LaBeouf's first movie of the year, so it will be interesting to see if the younger fans he gained from the big franchise movies will come out to see him in a movie about the stock market. He certainly has the star power to bring people into theaters as seen by the action flick Eagle Eye, which was released this same weekend two years ago to the tune of $29 million. Mulligan got a lot of attention and an Oscar nomination for her performance in Lone Scherfig's An Education, and that helped get her some attention, although Wall Street is her first big studio movie and she doesn't have a proven track record as of yet otherwise. The movie also stars Oscar-nominated Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon) and Susan Sarandon, both of whom will add to the experience for older moviegoers who appreciate their work.

Originally, the movie was going to be released in late April, where it was likely to get lost in the shuffle of a busy pre-summer weekend, but it was moved to September so that 20th Century Fox could premiere the movie at this year's Cannes Film Festival in May, where it was received with middling reviews. Reviews should generally continue to be mixed to negative--the ending tends to kill the movie for many--but the adults over 30 who liked the original movie and want to see Douglas' return as Gordon Gecko for themselves probably won't pay much mind to the negative reviews. The younger people going to see it for LaBeouf and Mulligan will care about them even less.

Why I Should See It: Wall Street is arguably one of Oliver Stone's strongest films, and Gordon Gecko is one of Michael Douglas' most memorable characters. That alone is reason to see the sequel.
Why Not: Neither Stone nor Douglas have the same fire they had when they made the original movie, and it's doubtful Shia LaBeouf and/or Carey Mulligan can make up for it.
Projections: $25 to 27 million opening weekend and roughly $73 million total.

COMPARISONS



Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (Warner Bros.)
Starring (the voices of) Emily Barclay, Abbie Cornish, Ryan Kwanten, Jay Laga'aia, Miriam Margolyes, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Richard Roxburgh, Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham
Directed by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Dawn of the Dead); Written by Emil Stern (The Life Before Her Eyes) and John Orloff (A Mighty Heart)
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Rated PG
Tagline: "On his way to finding a legend...he will become one."
Plot Summary: A young barn owl named Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess) is so thrilled by his father's stories of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole, that after he and his older brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) are captured by the evil Pure ones, he escapes to try to find the Guardians at the Great Tree to save the owl kingdom.

Analysis:

It's now become somewhat of a tradition to release a computer-animated movie in September to try to bring in the family audiences who haven't been catered to since the summer. So far, only Sony have been successful with last year's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the less successful Open Season a few years earlier. The problem is that with September comes school, which means that a good percentage of a movie's potential audience will be unavailable most of Friday and not be able to go see a movie on Sunday night.

With those obstacles aside, Legend of the Guardians, based on the books by Kathryn Lasky, is somewhat of a strange animated movie because it's the first PG animated movie by Zack Snyder, who has earned his reputation for helming R-rated adaptations like 300 and Watchmen. He's assembled an amazing group of Australia and England's finest to provide voices for the animal characters with Helen Mirren being the biggest name and Jim Sturgess (21) having the biggest role. It's an impressive roster indeed, but it's not like Warner Bros. are mentioning any of those names in the marketing so they're mostly irrelevant except for the potential quality of the film. The mostly-Australian voice cast could pose a problem because their accents may be hard to understand for adults, let alone for their kids.

While many family animated films are sold on the jokes and humor, something that's worked well for DreamWorks Animation and Pixar, this one is being sold more on the action and adventure and the 3D eye candy, something that may have limited How to Train Your Dragon's opening, though the quality eventually prevailed allowing it huge legs.

While the movie's release in 3D and IMAX might be considered big factors in the movie's success, both of those have proven to only give a slight bump to movies in recent months compared to the same time last year.

Even so, with only one other PG animated movie in theaters (last week's Alpha and Omega, which swaps wolves for owls, there's a good chance this will be a choice for parents with small kids who haven't been out to the movies in a couple months. However well it does this weekend, it stands a good chance at having legs being the only family choice for some time.

Why I Should See It: Zack Snyder is considered a visionary filmmaker for a reason and if nothing else, Legend of the Guardians should be an amazing visual experience.
Why Not: Take a drink every time an owl says the word "who."
Projections: $23 to 25 million opening weekend and roughly $82 million total.

COMPARISONS


You Again (Disney/Touchstone)
Starring Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Odette Yustman, Kristin Chenoweth, Victor Garber, Betty White
Directed by Andy Fickman (The Game Plan, She's the Man, Race to Witch Mountain); Written by Moe Jelline
Genre: Comedy
Rated PG
Tagline: "What doesn't kill you... is going to marry your brother"
Plot Summary: Publicist Marni (Kristen Bell) returns home for her brother's wedding to her high school nemesis Joanna (Odette Yustman), and though she denies their differences, things come to a head when it turns out that Marni's mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) has a similar history with Joanna's aunt (Sigourney Weaver).

Interview with Andy Fickman

Analysis:

Situational comedies have done very well for Disney's Touchstone Pictures in the past as seen by the likes of Bringing Down the House with Steve Martin and Queen Latifah, the ensemble comedy Wild Hogs and last year's The Proposal, which paired Sandra Bullock with Ryan Reynolds. With the right pairing of premise and star, one can have a huge hit with a comedy regardless of when it's released, although this new movie from director Andy Fickman, whose early film She's the Man was as high concept as you can get, has to contend with having a great cast that's significantly better than its premise.

Kristen Bell is reunited with Fickman after appearing in his early movie Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical, and she's got the strongest comedy resume, having starred in the title role of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, been a part of the hit ensemble comedy Couples Retreat and then headlined the Touchstone Pictures romantic comedy When in Rome earlier this year. The fact that the latter barely made half of the first of these and a third of the second makes one wonder if Bell's strong enough to carry a movie like this.

Fortunately, In fact, it's probably the older actresses who are going to be a draw even if none of them have proven themselves at the box office in recent years. Even so, Jamie Lee Curtis is the ringer, having starred in hit comedies such as Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda, and more recently, in the Disney hit comedy Freaky Friday with Lindsay Lohan and Christmas with the Kranks with Tim Allen. Sigourney Weaver doesn't have nearly as much comedy cred, although she did have a great role in Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's Baby Mamma not that long ago.

Even so, possibly the biggest draw for the movie will be Betty White who stole the show in the aforementioned The Proposal and has been extremely popular in the last year from her appearance hosting "Saturday Night Live" (demanded by the internet) and her return to television with "Hot in Cleveland" and as one of the hottest guest stars a show can have. On the other hand, Bell's counterpart Odette Yustman hasn't been in that many movies but she's best known for her role in Cloverfield and David Goyer's hit thriller The Unborn.

You Again isn't really a "chick flick" per se, although it will still be mainly appealing to teen girls and older women due to the cast and the premise which will relate to them more than to guys, although Betty White has a big fanbase among the gay community apparently, so they may show up for this as well.

It's rarely a good sign when a studio hides a movie and Disney have decided not to screen this movie for critics, or at least only for select critics, so they're not expecting rave reviews to drive people to theaters this weekend, instead relying on their own marketing. Another warning sign of a studio not being so bullish on their movie is the fact that the movie is only slated for roughly 2,300 to 2,500 theaters, which is very low for a studio comedy entering a market without that much direct competition. With fewer theaters, they all would have to do very good business for the movie to perform decently, and with so many other choices this weekend (and with the returning movies), we think that $15 million may be the capper on this one.

Why I Should See It: Andy Fickman's assembled an amazing cast for his latest comedy and just the thought of Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver going at it would make any fanboy's blood boil.
Why Not: Yeah, but most guys would be more likely to see Wall Street 2 over something like this.
Projections: $12 to 14 million opening weekend and roughly $45 million total.

COMPARISONS



THE CHOSEN ONE:

Waiting for "Superman" (Paramount)
Starring Geoffrey Canada, Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates
Directed by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, It Might Get Loud, Gracie); Written by Davis Guggenheim, Billy Kimball
Genre: Documentary
Rated PG
Tagline: "The fate of our country won't be decided on a battlefield, it will be determined in a classroom."
Plot Summary: The filmmakers behind An Inconvenient Truth tackle the public school system and what's wrong with it by following five young students as they try to navigate their way to a better education.

Interview with Davis Guggenheim and Producer Lesley Chilcott

Not being a parent and having not really been a model student back in high school, one would think a movie about improving the public school system would have about as interest to me as the latest Miley Cyrus movie. Yet education continues to be such a highly-contentious hot topic among both parents and politicians, it's surprising how few docs have tried to explain and repair the problems in a way that could appeal to those unfamiliar with them. For those like me who haven't had anything to do with the public school system for many years, the latest doc from the team behind An Inconvenient Truth is able to effectively explain the problems in the current system in a way that doesn't feel like preaching or left wing rhetoric. It's very much a film meant for laymen on the subject of public education as it is for those who have experienced the problems firsthand.

Unlike director Davis Guggenheim's previous docs he doesn't have an Al Gore or a Jimmy Page or Jack White to keep audiences enthralled, which is partially what makes Waiting for "Superman" seem like a far more impressive achievement, more like a real doc where he has to do all his own research and piece together a puzzle that involves a subject matter as complex and divisive as global warming.

The main core of the film involves five students from different regions of the country, different races and grades in school, whose parents desperately want them to get a better education, and while there are only so many options, the better charter schools are one solution. Except that there are so many more parents wanting to get their kids into these schools than they have slots, which lead to annual lotteries to pick students to fill them. With ongoing testimonials of the kids and their parents and teachers, we follow them up until the day of the lottery where they'll be relying on the luck of the draw to be placed in one of the few coveted slots at the charter school of their choice. There aren't all happy endings involved either and after spending so much time with these five kids, it's quite soul-crushing when one or two of them aren't able to get into those better schools. Basically, their entire lives have effectively been altered by someone selecting a ball with their number printed on it or not.

If it was just a matter of students getting into the school of their choosing, then the problem wouldn't be that difficult to solve, except that clearly ALL teachers should be up to the par of those at the charter schools, and there are aspects of the current system that holds good teachers back and allows bad teachers to continue to teach. Essentially, once a teacher gets tenure, they can't be fired, whether they're good or bad, and the movie examines how this affects the students trying to get a good education.

One of the key authorities on how to improve the school systems is Geoffrey Canada, who came from a teaching background, but realizing how hard it was for kids of his neighborhood to get a proper education due to their environment, he started his own program for the kids in Harlem that would work with them from before Kindergarten in order to prepare them to get into college. There's also Michelle Rhee, the Chancellor of the Washington D.C. public school system, who tried to change the system from within but was met with resistance not only from the teacher's union but also from parents. All of this information is assembled into an entertaining film that includes clever animated graphics to get its point across.

Being such a complex subject, it does end up feeling somewhat long and there are still some things left out of the equation like whether home-schooling is something worth considering and how other factors outside of schools have just as much of an effect on kids who drop out. Regardless, it's quite amazing what Guggenheim is able to achieve within the course of just two hours and Waiting for "Superman" is both shocking and enlightening at the same time. Without a question, it's a movie every parent must see, because to them, it may be the most important movie of the year.

Waiting for "Superman" opens in select cities on Friday.

Honorable Mention(s):

Enter the Void (IFC Films)
Starring Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy
Written and directed by Gaspar Noé (Irreversible)
Genre: ???!?!?!?
Not Rated
Plot Summary: Oscar and his sister Linda (Nathaniel Brown and Paz de La Huerta) have been living in Tokyo and working as a drug dealer and stripper respectively, but when Oscar is shot in a police drug bust, his spirit remains behind to watch over his sister, who is distraught by the loss.

Interview with Gaspar Noé

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Buried (Lionsgate)
Starring Ryan Reynolds
Directed by Rodrigo Cortés (debut); Written by Chris Sparling
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rated R
Plot Summary: Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is a truck driver in Iraq who wakes up to find himself buried alive in a small room, and he must figure out ways to survive until he finds a way to escape. It opens in select cities this week and then wide on October 8.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Also in Limited Release:

Woody Allen's latest ensemble comedy You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Sony Pictures Classics), which made its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last week, stars Josh Brolin and Naomi Watts as Roy and Sally, a married couple experiencing difficulties when their thoughts start to wander to other people in their lives. Meanwhile, her father and mother, played by Anthony Hopkins and Gemma Jones) are going through a messy split where he starts dating a significantly younger hooker (Lucy Punch). It opens on Wednesday in New York and L.A.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

James Franco plays poet Allen Ginsberg in Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's Howl (Oscilloscope Pictures), a biopic in which Ginsberg tells his own story of his career leading up to the writing of his pivotal novel "Howl" and the obscenity trial that arose from its publication. It opens in New York and San Francisco on Friday, Boston and Chicago and other locations on October 1st and later. You can see the full release schedule here.

Ngawang Choepel's documentary Tibet in Song (Guge Productions) tells his own story about how he fled to India at two years old to avoid the persecution during the Chinese Occupation, but returned in 1995 to make a documentary film about Tibetan music to prevent the country's culture from being erased by the Chinese. Choepel was arrested and sent to prison, but was released with the help of Vice President Al Gore and others in 2002. It opens in New York at the Cinema Village.

Kate Winslet narrates Fridrik Thor Fridriksson's documentary A Mother's Courage: Talking Back to Autism (First Run Features) which follows one woman's attempt to unlock the secrets of her autistic son, traveling to Iceland, United States and Europe to meet with top autism experts and other families who have autistic members. It opens at the Quad Cinemas in New York on Friday after playing on HBO in April.

Cullen Hoback's unconventional film FriCTION (Hyrax Films) has him going to a private high school to write a script about a love triangle between a student and a real couple.



It's hard to believe but it's October already, and two movies will be vying for fans of quality filmmaking with David Fincher's "Facebook movie" The Social Network (Sony) taking on Matt Reeves' vampire flick Let Me In (Overture Films).

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas




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