The Weekend Warrior

The Weekend Warrior: January 14 - 17

Source: Edward Douglas
January 11, 2011

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.

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 -

All the predictions below are for the extended four-day weekend:

UPDATE: No major changes although we think The Green Hornet will do decent business, much better than The Dilemma and the major bumps will be for Black Swan and The King's Speech, both which continue to expand dramatically leading into a major awards weekend.

1. The Green Hornet (Sony) - $41.7 million N/A (up 2.4 million)

2. The Dilemma (Universal) - $25.6 million N/A (down 1.1 million)

3. True Grit (Paramount) - $10.7 million -27% (up .4 milion)

4. Little Fockers (Universal) - $9.3 million -31% (up .3 million)

5. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) - $8.7 million +7% (up .2 million)

6. Tron: Legacy (Walt Disney) - $6.5 million -35% (Same)

7. The King's Speech (The Weinstein Co.) - $5.2 million -19%

8. Yogi Bear (Warner Bros.) - $6.2 million -4% (up 1 million)

9. Country Strong (Screen Gems) - $5.1 million -30%

10. The Fighter (Paramount) - $5.1 million -29%

11. Season of the Witch (Relativity Media) - $4.5 million -58%

Weekend Overview

Three of comedy's most distinctive leading men face-off in a rather unfair 2 to 1 battle over the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, although Seth Rogen's superhero action-comedy The Green Hornet (Sony), pairing him with newcomer Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz and director Michel Gondry, should be able to bring in a wide enough audience of guys, comic book fans, action fans and others to pull out a fairly substantial victory, helped by a greater theater count and higher 3D ticket prices.

Both Vince Vaughn and Kevin James have starred in numerous movies that opened with over $30 million, so it's hard to believe that pairing the two of them together in Ron Howard's high concept comedy The Dilemma (Universal) shouldn't achieve similar success, although the vague title and harder-to-sell high concept premise may in fact keep it from opening as big as their previous films alone, and it's more likely to do business after opening if word-of-mouth is good since there aren't many strong comedies in the weeks that follow. However things pan out, both movies should benefit greatly over the four-day weekend from the lack of many strong movies opening since Christmas.

Opening in roughly 500 theaters is Dennis Cooper's urban comedy The Heart Specialist (Freestyle Releasing) starring Zoe Saldana, Brian White, Jasmine Guy, Method Man and black icon Ed Asner. The movie is roughly four years old and it's getting a fairly wide self-release, although we don't expect it to get into the Top 10 and it probably won't even make $500,000 this weekend.

The John Cameron Mitchell drama Rabbit Hole (Lionsgate), our previous "Chosen One" starring Nicole Kidman, is intended to go wide this week, but we don't know how wide exactly, though it's unlikely to get into the Top 10.

Other things of interest is that Darren Aronofsky's The Black Swan will add 500 or so more theaters on Friday, which should allow it to continue its traction in the Top 5, and it should keep rolling if Natalie Portman wins the Critics Choice and Golden Globe this weekend. Look for The King's Speech and The Fighter to also build upon any awards they win this weekend. Nicolas Cage's Season of the Witch probably won't even remain in the Top 10 in its second weekend as it's likely to be pushed out by the four movies that will earn in the $5 million range over the four-day weekend.

This week's "Chosen One" is Richard J. Lewis' Barney's Version (Sony Pictures Classics), starring Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike, which you can read more about below.

This weekend last year, two new movies opened but neither were able to take down James Cameron's Avatar which had a spectacular fifth weekend, grossing $54 million over the four days to bring its grand total to $500 million, making it obvious that records were soon going to be broken. Settling for a solid second place was Denzel Washington's futuristic Western The Book of Eli (Warner Bros.), which grossed $38 million over the four-day weekend. After playing for nearly a month in limited release, Peter Jackson's adaptation of the bestseller The Lovely Bones (Paramount) opened nationwide into 2,563 theaters and it took third place with $19 million in the four days. Also, Jackie Chan starred in the family comedy The Spy Next Door (Lionsgate), which opened in sixth place with just under $13 million in its first four days. The Top 10 grossed $183 million in the four-days but without an Avatar still in theaters, this week's offerings don't stand a chance at coming close to that mark and probably will end up closer to $120 million or slightly less.



The Green Hornet (Sony)
Starring Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz, Christoph Waltz, Edward James Olmos, David Harbour, Tom Wilkinson
Directed by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind, Human Nature, The Science of Sleep); Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, The Pineapple Express)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Crime
Rated PG-13
Tagline:
Plot Summary: After the mysterious death of his powerful father, millionaire playboy Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) decides to fight crime along with his martial arts expert and engineering genius butler Kato (Jay Chou), taking on the guise of The Green Hornet, but a new criminal on the scene named Chundofsky (Christoph Waltz) has other plans for the city's underworld, making him the prime nemesis for the new hero.

Interview with Seth Rogen

Review (on Wednesday)

Analysis:

2011 is going to be a big year for superhero movies with three heroes who have been around for decades finally showing up on the big screen in full-length feature films. Before we get to the summer, we have a movie based on a costumed hero who has been around in one form or another longer than any of the others since The Green Hornet first appeared as a character of radio serials along with the Lone Ranger in 1936, two years before the first appearances by Superman and Batman. The character appeared in various comic books over the years until the '60s when he made his way to TV played by Van Williams with Chinese martial arts superstar Bruce Lee taking on the role of his sidekick Kato.

The character pretty much disappeared other than a few attempted comic revivals until the rights were picked up by mega-producer Neal Moritz, who has had many huge action hits, such as the "Fast and Furious" franchise, as well as having teamed with Sony for many of his films including Vin Diesel's XXX, the bomb Stealth and others. Besides being the first of four or five movies the producer has out in 2011, The Green Hornet is in fact his very first movie based on a comic book property. Picking up the rights to the Green Hornet may seem like an odd decision since other movies based on pulp characters have been erratic at best. 1990's Dick Tracy, based on the popular comic strip character, actually did decently probably based on the interest due to Tim Burton's Batman a few years earlier. That success led to Alec Baldwin's The Shadow in 1994, which did decently, and Billy Zane's The Phantom two years later, the latter which was a huge bomb. A few years back, Will Eisner's '50s comic book character The Spirit was brought to the screen by Frank Miller to similarly bad results, and one wonders how much of that was because few moviegoers knew who these characters were.

Even though few people under 40 will have ever heard of the Green Hornet, the key selling point is that it stars Seth Rogen and it's his third movie co-written with Evan Goldberg, following their two previous Sony hits Superbad ($121.6 million gross) and The Pineapple Express ($87.3 million). Rogen came from out of the Judd Apatow stable, having appeared on his cult hit "Freaks and Geeks," then appeared in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and starred in the follow-up Knocked Up, both being huge hits. Rogen isn't the typical leading man, nor is he the typical actor, but the success of those movies allowed him to be taken seriously, because he could write his own material, and that material connected well with the younger slacker generation. Rogen followed those movies by providing his voice in a number of hit animated films like Kung Fu Panda and Horton Hears a Who, but had a few live action disappointments, including Zack and Miri Make a Porno by Kevin Smith (who ironically had written a treatment for a Green Hornet movie himself) and the dark comedy Observe and Report. His pairing with Adam Sandler in Judd Apatow's third movie Funny People didn't deliver quite the impact of their previous movies either, so there's a lot of pressure on Rogen to prove that he can get people into theaters, and him playing a superhero is not necessarily a proven commodity.

Oddly, Rogen's co-star and romantic interest in the movie, Cameron Diaz, is barely featured in the commercials and trailer even though she's a much bigger star than anyone else in the movie. After making her debut in The Mask, another movie based on a lesser-known comic book character, Diaz became best known for her role as Fiona in DreamWorks Animation's "Shrek" movies, but has had a number of comedy hits including the Farrellys' There's Something About Mary and What Happens in Vegas. Sony would probably be wise to feature her more in the commercials, as it may convince some women to check this out.

One of the odder decisions in many minds was the hiring of director Michel Gondry, who is best known for his weird quirky films like The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind, but whom also famously directed Jim Carrey in the Oscar-winning Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Although he's done comedy before, he hasn't really done a big budget studio movie, which may be why so many people are surprised by the choice. Likewise, Austrian actor Christoph Waltz was hired for the villain role in the movie around the time that he was getting accolades for his role in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, keeping him in the role of villain for at least a while longer. The last factor in the movie is Chinese actor and pop star Jay Chou, who steps into the shoes of Bruce Lee with a role that might make him a breakout star in the United States, similarly to when Jet Li appeared in Lethal Weapon 4.

The movie has been plagued with negative internet buzz ever since Rogen was announced to play the role, because let's face it, he's a far cry from George Clooney (an early choice for the role) or other heroic leads, but those who see the movie may be surprised that the movie has veered from Rogen's usual R-rated nature to something more in line with other mainstream superhero movies. People were just getting used to the idea of Rogen and Gondry making the movie when Sony decided to delay the movie two weeks from its initial Christmas release in order to convert the movie into 3D, and once again, many assumed the movie was doomed. The 3D decision may have sounded like a good idea at the time but may end up hurting the movie in hindsight going by the backlash to 3D conversion in the months since that announcement. The movie will be opening in 3D and IMAX at a time when audiences are clearly trying to save their money, which may mean that they skip the bells and whistles and just go see the movie in normal theaters.

Despite all the earlier concerns, the movie has been creating a ton of buzz from early promo screenings and it's been tracking exceedingly well going into the weekend, and a lot of that is due to Sony's marketing team, who have hit quite a high watermark on this one with some fantastic commercials and some of the coolest posters we've seen in a long time. They've also used the media well to let people know that the movie is very cool. Sony has good experience with these types of movies with the hugely-successful Spider-Man movies as well as Ghost Rider, for which a sequel is currently filming.

With the move to the holiday weekend, there is some irony that Seth Rogen is taking on Kevin James, whose Sony comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop opened on this weekend two years ago and did huge business though turning people off from seeing Rogen's own mall cop movie Observe and Report a few months later. While there are many doubters about this one, the movie will ultimately prove itself and word-of-mouth should be strong enough to keep the movie going through the weaker weeks ahead.

Why I Should See It: Some might find it surprising, but this is actually as much fun as some of the best comic book movies of the last ten years.
Why Not: No reason... who cares if you've never heard of the Green Hornet!
Projections: $36 to 39 million over the four-day weekend and roughly $130 million total.

COMPARISONS



The Dilemma (Universal)
Starring Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly, Winona Ryder, Channing Tatum, Queen Latifah
Directed by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon, Parenthood, Edtv, Ransom, Cinderella Man); Written by Allan Loeb (Things We Lost in the Fire, Just Go With It, The Switch, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps)
Genre: Comedy
Rated PG-13
Tagline: "Two best friends. Nothing could come between them... or could it?
Plot Summary: Two best friends since college, Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) lead very different lives but they're trying to launch a new company together, but when Ronny sees Nick's wife (Winona Ryder) with another man, he sets out to get answers without letting his best friend find out about his wife's indiscretions.

Analysis:

The idea of a high-concept comedy driven by the pairing of two box office stars is nothing new, and you don't get much bigger than Vince Vaughn or Kevin James, but let's face it, that's pretty much what both actors have been doing in the last few years to huge success, so the idea of putting them together in a movie seems like a no-brainer regardless of the material.

It's been over a year since Vince Vaughn starred in the ensemble comedy Couples Retreat, his seventh movie to cross the $100 million mark, and a great follow-up to his holiday comedy with Reese Witherspoon Four Christmases. Although Vaughn got his start in the indie hit Swingers, he veered into dramatic films for the most part until he was cast by Todd Phillips in the comedy Old School, which completely changed how people saw Vaughn. Ever since, he's been appearing mostly in comedies or comedic roles including hits like Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Phillips' Starsky & Hutch and then his biggest starring hit Wedding Crashers with Owen Wilson, which catapulted Vaughn to another level and he's been a major comic star ever since.

Kevin James came to movies out of the hit sitcom "The King of Queens" to become a hugely successful star, beginning with his appearance in Will Smith's Hitch in 2005. Last summer, James teamed with Adam Sandler for Grown Ups, their second movie together after the less successful I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and it became James' fourth movie in a row to gross over $100 million, which is a huge achievement. Two years ago, James headlined his own comedy, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which was also huge, opening over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend to make $39 million in its first four days and $143 million total. Of course, that was also a PG movie that was able to bring in the kids and wider audiences, nor did it have any sort of strong comedy competition that weekend.

While it doesn't seem like rocket science to bring these two actors together, it might surprise many that it's directed by Ron Howard, who started out with comedies but hasn't done as many in recent years other than Parenthood, EdTV and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Clearly, he needed a change after doing a number of dramas and action thrillers in a row, and Howard has assembled an impressive cast around the duo including Queen Latifah, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly (who won an Oscar for her appearance in Howard's A Beautiful Mind), and Channing Tatum. This is clearly a similar move to last year's Date Night, which surrounded two stars with a lot of actors who might normally lead their own movies, and it proved to be quite successful.

That said, the title for the movie isn't great and it does very little to sell the movie and the poster basically just has the two stars, again not very descriptive of what the movie's about, but it makes it clear that Universal feels that the presence of the two successful actors alone will be enough. With that in mind, the two of them have been doing the rounds, including a promo for the NFL this past weekend, hoping to win over the guys who may be wary about seeing The Green Hornet.

Universal had a huge hit with Vaughn's Couples Retreat a few years back but that also opened in a weekend all by itself with a much stronger concept, while this is opening against another comedy, and it's likely to lose a lot of the younger guy audiences who might normally go see a Vince Vaughn movie to Seth Rogen's The Green Hornet. Even so, the movie will be greatly helped by the long weekend because the adults who are off on Monday will likely pick this as an easy choice, and it's likely to be a decent date movie since both men and women like both actors. Essentially, there should be enough of an audience for both movies being that there hasn't been any movies on this scale since Christmas.

The movie hasn't screened yet, so it's hard to know whether critics will like it any more or less than the duo's previous movies—the fact that it's not screening in New York City until Tuesday isn't a great sign since Universal normally screens their movies further in advance. They probably realize that the two actors (and their support) have enough of a fanbase that the movie will do decent business based on their presence alone, and it should be able to hold up well against weaker fare over the next few weeks as well.

Why I Should See It: Maybe you'll be able to figure out what "the dilemma" is...
Why Not: ...because if you ask us, the only dilemma is why Vaughn and James aren't trying to do something more cutting edge than this.
Projections: $25 to 27 million over the four-day weekend and roughly $90 million total.

COMPARISONS



THE CHOSEN ONE:

Barney's Version (Sony Pictures Classics)
Starring Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Rachelle Lefevre, Scott Speedman, Bruce Greenwood
Directed by Richard J. Lewis (Whale Music,"Family Law," "CSI," and other television dramas); Written by Michael Konyves
Genre: Drama
Rated R
Tagline: "First he got married. Then he got married again. Then he met the love of his life."
Plot Summary: Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) is a Canadian television producer who goes through his cynical life trying to find his true love, but only meets the beautiful and intelligent Miriam (Rosamund Pike) on the day he's already marrying his second wife (Minnie Driver).

Interview with Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike (Later this week)

Interview with Director Richard J. Lewis and Producer Robert Lantos (Coming Soon!)

This Canadian adaptation of Mordecai Richler's beloved novel warranted an "Honorable Mention" in my Top 25 last month and having seen the movie again recently, I'm beginning to think I should have placed it higher, because it's really a film of the highest quality, one that runs the gamut of emotions with one of Paul Giamatti's finest roles since American Splendour or Sideways.

It takes some time to adjust to the dark comic tone, especially when the story flashes back to the '70s when Barney is in Rome producing a movie with his friends and learns he's gotten an actress pregnant. He agrees to marry her, but things go badly and soon he meets his second wife, a whip-smart Jewess played by Minnie Driver, who seems to be channeling Barbara Streisand at her funniest. The first half of the film plays with Jewish archetypes and how Barney doesn't really fit into that world, most obvious in the scene between Barney's beat cop father, played to great laughs by Dustin Hoffman, and the father of his second wife. The scenes between Giamatti and Hoffman are absolutely outstanding, the best parts of the film's first hour, making it even more obvious how Giamatti is playing the roles that Hoffman used to thrive on.

Barney hasn't even gotten through his second wedding reception when he spots the beautiful and smart Miriam, played by Rosamund Pike, across the room and realizes he's made a big mistake, so he chases after her, leaving his wedding to do so. She won't have anything to do with a married man, but that doesn't stop him from trying. After he catches his best friend Boogie, a junkie writer played by Scott Speedman, in bed with his wife, Barney's able to get the divorce he wants, but not before tragedy befalls and Barney is accused of a crime, which he seemingly gets away with it.

Despite the strangely comic tone that permeates the first hour and the mix of genres, the film really finds its footing after Barney is divorced and finally gets to take Miriam out on a date, which goes horribly wrong. That's when the film shifts from a dark comedy into a grand love story as it shifts forward a few years to Barney and Miriam being happily married with kids. It really feels like another movie at that point, but in a good way. Rosamund Pike gives the performance of her career as she's able to keep the viewer's attention with her screen presence, acting as the rock and the voice of reason in Barney's life. All the way, you feel Barney is bound to lose her since he's such a fallible character whose wisest decision was to not give up on being with her.

They really don't make many films like this, ones that are just a character study following the ups and downs of someone's life--Forrest Gump and "Benjamin Button" are two that come to mind--but it's always filtered through Mordecai Richler's sense of humor and that's what makes it feel like something different. It's quite a commendable achievement by director Richard Lewis, who has been a regular helmer for "C.S.I," that he can pull together the disparate tone of Barney's tale into a movie that remains fairly cohesive as it's held together by a framing device involving the older Barney looking back at his life. It reflects the quality of films from the '70s, with Giamatti giving an incredibly layered and nuanced performance that's matched every step of the way by Pike.

A lot happens in the movie, maybe too much, and it also may go on a bit longer than necessary with a couple of epilogues that take away from the film's biggest emotional climax, but otherwise, it's an amazing film that really delivers on everything we expect from great cinema - a character unlike any we've seen before, and a beautiful and compelling way of telling his story.

Barney's Version opens in New York and L.A. on Friday, February 14.

Also in Limited Release:

Five stories set in Los Angeles are interwoven in Christopher Landon's dark comedy Burning Palms (New Films International) starring Zoe Saldana, Dylan McDermott, Paz Vega, Rosamund Pike, Lake Bell, Nick Stahl, Shannen Doherty, Adriana Barraza and Jamie Chung. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Liev Schreiber, Helen Hunt and Carla Gugino star in Richard Levine's Every Day (Image Entertainment) with Schreiber playing a man suffering from a mid-life crisis whose teen son comes out of the closet and his wife (Hunt) moves her sick father into their home putting stress on their marriage. Things are going bad enough when his sexy co-worker (Gugino) puts the moves on him, forcing him to make tough decisions. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Stellan Skarsgard stars in Hans Petter Molland's A Somewhat Gentle Man (Strand Releasing) as a gangster released from jail after killing his wife's lover and trying to get his life back together, working as a mechanic and resisting the temptation to return to his life of crime. It will open on Friday at the IFC Center in New York.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

First Run Features has two new movies this week. Opening on Wednesday at the IFC Center is I'm Dangerous with Love, Michel Negroponte's documentary about Dimitri Mugianis, lead singer of the band Leisure Class, who turned to the hallucinogen Ibogaine in order to help suspend his drug and alcohol addiction, and then tries to help others with the experimental treatment.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Then on Friday, they have Plastic Planet, opening at the Cinema Village, a documentary from Austrian-German director Werner Boote, whose grandfather was a manufacturer of plastic and his close proximity to the substance gets him interested in learning more about it with a global quest.

Ong Bak 3 (Magnolia Pictures), the third and last chapter in the Thai action series once again stars (and is directed by) Tony Jaa as the young man from a village who now has to confront a supernatural warrior named "Demon Crow," played by Dynamite Warrior star Dan Chupong. It's getting a tiny theatrical release into New York and Hawaii before being released on DVD on February 8.



Next week, comedy icon Ivan Reitman returns with the rom-com No Strings Attached (Paramount Pictures), starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, and director Peter Weir finds The Way Back (Newmarket Films).

Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas




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