The Weekend Warrior: May 16 – 18

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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. (Actually, this weekend, we might not be able to do an update later in the week.)

Can I get a “Hallelujah”? Can I get an “Amen”? It’s almost like a giant talking lion has looked down upon the poor beleaguered Weekend Warrior and said (in Liam Neeson’s voice): “You, Weekend Warrior, look like you need a break. And so, I, Aslan, in my kingly way will grant you an easy week with only one new movie in wide release and let’s say, two more in limited release. You’re welcome. Now go away… you’re WAY too old to be in Narnia.”

As you may have guessed from that little piece of theatrics (takes a bow and takes off lion costume), the one big movie this weekend is the first big sequel of the summer, that being Disney’s The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, which should easily knock Iron Man out of the top as the millions of fans of C.S. Lewis’ novels and the franchise’s Christian fanbase will be out this weekend to see the next chapter in the adventures of the Pevensie kids in Narnia. Opening ultra-wide in close to 4,000 theaters, the movie should bring back many of those who saw “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” over the 2005 holiday season who helped it gross nearly $300 million. It shouldn’t have trouble besting that movie’s $65 million opening by a substantial amount, although it might have trouble holding onto the business with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opening just six days later.

This week’s Chosen One couldn’t be any more different, being Joachim Trier’s debut, the Norwegian drama Reprise (Miramax), which you can read about below.

This Week’s Predictions

1. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Disney) – $81.6 million N/A

2. Iron Man (Marvel Studios/Paramount) – $28.0 million -46%

3. What Happens in Vegas (20th Century Fox) – $11.5 million -44%

4. Speed Racer (Warner Bros.) – $9.0 million -52%

5. Made of Honor (Sony) – $4.6 million -44%

6. Baby Mama (Universal) – $3.7 million -40%

7. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Universal) – $2.3 million -38%

8. Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo (New Line) – $1.6 million -47%

9. The Forbidden Kingdom (Lionsgate/The Weinstein Co.) – $1.1 million –49%

10. Nim’s Island (Fox Walden) – $700 thousand -50%

Last year this weekend, DreamWorks’ Shrek the Third opened ultra-wide, and without the earlier Wednesday opening of its predecessor, it was able to gross over $121 million in the three-day weekend, making it the third-highest opening movie ever with Spider-Man 3 dropping to a distant second place with $29 million. The Top 10 grossed $171 million which might be a stretch for this weekend unless “Prince Caspian” somehow opens with over $100 million.


The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Disney)
Starring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Ben Barnes, Peter Dinklage, Warwick Davis, Vincent Grass, Ken Stott, Pierfrancesco Favino, Sergio Castellitto, Liam Neeson, Eddie Izzard
Directed by Andrew Adamson (Shrek, Shrek 2, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe); Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley (“The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”), Andrew Adamson
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Rated PG
Tagline: “A New Age Has Begun”
Plot Summary: The Pevensie kids, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), return to Narnia a year after they returned home, but they arrive over a thousand years since they left and Narnia is in ruins. The responsible party for Narnia’s problems are the Telmarines led by the evil King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto) who has exiled his nephew Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) from the kingdom. Caspian and the Pevensides need to find the creatures of Narnia and help them stage a war to take back the land from the king.

Mini-Review: It’s hard to criticize this excellently-crafted film for some of its erratic pacing problems, because it really isn’t a sequel, as much as it’s a faithful and respectful adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ second book in the series. In that regard, Andrew Adamson improves greatly on the book by fixing some of its structural issues, improving on a few of the book’s weaker moments, and adding a lot more action to the mix even than the first movie. The introduction of Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) is done similarly as the book, something that might be unnerving those who saw the first movie without reading the books, since they won’t know what’s going on until the film cuts to the Pevensie kids, now having returned to London for school, as they’re dragged back to Narnia to help battle the despotic King Miraz who has exiled Caspian to the woods. Most of the next 45 minutes cuts between the Pevensie kids traveling across Narnia with Peter Dinklage’s Trumpkin and Prince Caspian’s early encounters with the Narnians, before the two groups come together to fight against Miraz, and it’s time that makes the viewer feel they’re trudging along a similar journey. The writing and acting are noticeably improved over the first movie, as are the computer FX used to create hundreds of creatures in a far more realistic way that blends better with the environments. The best new CG character is clearly Reepacheep, the sword-wielding mouse voiced by Eddie Izzard, who steals every scene he’s in with his humorous catchphrase of “Yes, I’m a mouse” when faced by attackers. William Mosely comes into his own as an actor creating a friendly rivalry and camaraderie with newcomer Barnes which carries the film, while Dinklage gives a strong performance as Trumpkin, though his expressive facial movements are overpowered by the heavy make-up job. By comparison, the accents and struggling English of the Telmarine actors is somewhat off-putting. Unfortunately, the film is too long and Adamson’s valiant attempt to keep everything from the book, generally making lesser scenes from the book stronger, creates a movie with too much stuff going on, and there’s a lot that could have easily been cut, even the terrific callback from the first movie. Despite sometimes getting bogged down in exposition, the film always picks up steam during the battle sequences including an impressive raid on King Miraz’s castle. Because of this, the last 45 minutes of the movie, consisting of a swordfight between William Moseley and Sergio Castelitto’s King Miraz and an epic battle between the Narnians and the overwhelming Telmarine army, is excellent, more than making up for earlier pacing problems. There’s a noticeable improvement in every aspect of the production, including the way the CG is blended with the live action in these battle sequences. Regardless, this is a far darker and more violent movie than “The Lion, The Witch,” something parents with younger kids might want to consider, as there are some scary scenes of ferocious non-talking animals and lots of intense fight sequences that might be too much for them. Fans of the novel should revel in seeing the new characters brought to life but those who only know the first movie might be confused at times and bored at others. Essentially, this is a far superior film in terms of the quality on every level, but one that sometimes suffers from the weaker source material. Rating: 7.5/10

Interview with Producer Mark Johnson

Video Interview with Andrew Adamson

Back in December of ’05, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe became another big hit for Disney, as the Andrew Adamson adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ fantasy series, was able to successfully fill in the gap between The Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and its sequels by grossing nearly $300 million after an impressive $65 million opening. The inevitable sequel “Prince Caspian” is looking to become the first big sequel of the summer, opening on a surprisingly appropriate weekend, the one before Memorial Day where many huge blockbuster epics have been launched, including Andrew Adamson’s debut Shrek and its even bigger sequels. This is a weekend where many long-awaited sequels and prequels have opened successfully including all three of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” prequels and the Wachowskis’ The Matrix Reloaded.

C.S. Lewis’ “Prince Caspian” is a very different book, taking place over a thousand years in the future, so many of the characters from the first movie won’t be returning. While it might throw some off not having Mr. Tumnus (played by James McAvoy) or the Beavers back, the four young actors introduced to play the Pevensie kids in “The Lion, The Witch” have returned, as has Liam Neeson providing the voice of Aslan the Lion, but that’s about it, the nature of the story means there’s a lot of new characters. The key addition to the cast is actor Ben Barnes as the titular Prince Caspian, Barnes having had a small role in the fantasy Stardust last summer, but whose handsome visage is being used to sell the movie in hopes of enticing the teen and ‘tween girls who already love the books and characters. Two of the better-known new actors joining the “Narnia” legacy are Peter Dinklage and Warwick Davis as the dwarves Trumpkin and Nikabrik, while King Miraz and his right hand man General Glozelle are played by two respected Italian actors, Sergio Castelitto and Pierfrancesco Favino. The latter two will be known to few Americans, although Dinklage and Davis have each had their share of career highs, Dinklage first coming to prominence with his lead role in Tom McCarthy’s The Station Agent followed by a prominent role in Will Ferrell’s Elf. Dinklage is a well-respected actor who’s done Shakespeare and played roles in indies like The Baxter and Death at a Funeral. Davis probably wouldn’t be as recognizable by face although genre fans will know him for his role as the Ewok Wicket in Return of the Jedi and as the title character in the Leprechaun movies; most recently he’s played a minor recurring role in the “Harry Potter” movies. Eddie Izzard provides the voice of the sword-brandishing CG mouse Reepacheep, one of the key Narnian creatures introduced in this chapter, who’ll probably play a part in the next movie. (A little known factoid for ya: Warwick Davis played Reepacheep in the original “Prince Caspian” BBC television series.)

The change in cast from the movie won’t matter much since these types of fantasy epics are more about the action, the special FX and the fantasy, all which should bring in a large audience looking for big movie excitement during the summer season. The original “Chronicles of Narnia” was released following the success of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the first three “Harry Potter” movies, all of which kicked off a wave of family-friendly fantasy. When “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” opened with more than $65 million, it took many people by surprise especially as it stuck around for the entire holiday season to gross nearly $300 million, and many studios took that as a sign to jump on the fantasy bandwagon, leading to major disappointments like Eragon, Stardust, The Golden Compass last year and The Spiderwick Chronicles earlier this year. Having been two and a half years since the last Narnia film, the key to the sequel’s success is the same as the first movie in that C.S. Lewis’ novels have been beloved classics for over 50 years, compared to some of the more recent fantasy films based on books released in the past few decades. The longevity and the far-reaching nature of the series has stirred many children’s imaginations over the past 5 decades so that parents over 30 will remember the characters just as fondly as their kids will be enjoying them in the present day. This makes it one of those great family films that should bring in many families and audiences of varying ages, especially on Saturday and Sunday.

Despite its near $300 million gross, the first movie wasn’t seen by everyone on the planet with guys from 16 to 25 generally not being nearly as interested as women, and “Prince Caspian’s” primary audience will probably similarly lean more towards girls and women, just because they tend to be more into fantasy and reading. Younger boys and older males (mostly fathers) will be into checking the movie out for its epic battle sequences that look closer to those of “The Lord of the Rings.” Unlike last week’s Speed Racer, which stalled at the starting gate, this will be the type of movie that both kids and their parents will want to see together.

Even bearing in mind the dearth of successful fantasy films, sequels are almost guaranteed to bring in a larger audience opening weekend than the original movies since many of those who discovered the original movie after opening weekend will rush out the weeks that followed. This was certainly the case with Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” and it should prove true with “Narnia” as well, but the question is how much. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers had a 35% increase in its opening weekend than the original installment while “The Return of the King” upped that amount by 22%. The second “Star Wars” prequel also only had a 22% increase over the previous film’s opening, but then looking at the opening of Shrek 2, it nearly doubled the opening of the original movie. Taking into account inflation over the past two years, “Prince Caspian” should be able to bring in a larger audience its opening weekend though some might wait until Memorial Day weekend.

The X factor that might give “Prince Caspian” a significant boost this weekend is the number of devout fundamentalist Christians in the Bible Belt who praised the spiritual context of Lewis’ work, and many of them will be out in force this weekend to support a movie that shares their values. A primary factor working against New Line’s The Golden Compass last fall was that this same group railed against the movie due to the author’s atheistic beliefs that carried over into the novels (thought not so much the movie), something that held it back in the United States, but not so much internationally.

We’ll see how reviews stack up in the coming days, but being slower, darker and more violent than the original movie might not bode well for it to repeat the 75% Fresh rating for the first movie. (It also received a strong 7.1/10 by IMDb Users showing that many people who saw the first movie enjoyed it. Disney has not become known for making sequels as good as the original movies but their sequels always make more money. The commercials and trailers for “Caspian” have been focusing on the action and battle sequences which could interest a larger male audience, but one has to worry that parents with younger kids might be somewhat worried about taking them to see the movie opening weekend since it may be too intense.

As mentioned earlier, the third weekend in May and the week before Memorial Day weekend is a big one for movies having seen many huge hits, including all three “Shrek” films and all three “Star Wars” films and while school is still in session and most people will have Memorial Day off, it’s been proven countless times that the summer has begun and everyone is ready to see a big movie. With that in mind, Disney has received absolutely no competition for their latest sequel, so it’s opening all by itself, not even having to worry about last week’s offerings which generally disappointed. Opening in closer to 4,000 theaters, it should be fairly free and clear to do well, as it will be mainly sharing its sreens with Iron Man.

The real challenge for “Caspian” will come in six days when Paramount opens Indiana Jones and the King of the Crystal Skull, a far more anticipated sequel which will probably weigh more towards guys. This could effectively keep “Prince Caspian” from doing the overall numbers of the original movie, although there should still be a younger female audience that might prefer to see this over Memorial Day.

Why I Should See It: Andrew Adamson recreates another fantastic adventure from the world of C.S. Lewis which fans of the book series should love.
Why Not: It’s far darker and more violent than the first movie and might be confusing for those who’ve never read the books.
Projections: $78 to 83 million opening weekend and $275 to 290 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Reprise (Miramax)
Starring Anders Danielsen Lie, Espen Klouman-Høiner, Viktoria Winge
Directed by Joachim Trier (debut); Written by Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt
Genre: Drama
Rated R
Plot Summary: 20-year-old friends Phillip (Anders Danielson Lie) and Erik (Espen Klouman-Hoiner) have dreams of being famous literary authors like their reclusive hero, but three years later, nothing has gone as they had planned as Philip suffers a nervous breakdown after the success of his first novel and Erik is still hoping to get his first novel published after watching his friend find fame.

Interview with director Joachim Trier

Continuing our run of intriguing and original films from eclectic filmmakers, we have the feature film debut from Joachim Trier, which looks at the lives of a group of 20-somethings living in Oslo, Norway—one of my top 10 favorite cities in the world incidentally—and while it’s not a film that can be immediately categorized or described in terms of plot, nor is it something that might appeal to casual filmgoers. Those who enjoy well-done character dramas and innovative filmmaking should appreciate the intricate and layered story created by Trier with his writing partner Eskil Vogt about young people in their hometown. Maybe I was able to appreciate it more having spent a good amount of time in Oslo myself, so I understand the environment, but I was really taken by this look at two 20-something Norwegian friends, Erik and Philip, and their forays in the world of literature, which reminded me of a French film from last year called Poison Friends. The movie used a similar setting for character drama but didn’t have nearly as interesting characters, as the ones in Trier’s. On the surface, the movie is about filling in the blanks of the lives of two friends who we meet as they’re mailing out the manuscripts for their first novels. Three years later, their dreams of glory have taken very different paths and things haven’t exactly worked out as they planned. Philip, played by Ander Danielsen Lie in an unforgettable performance, has the most interesting character arc, as his story involves a sad and poignant love for a pretty girl named Kari that brings out a case of schizophrenia and depression, which throws his success as a writer into a loop. Erik’s story mainly involves his love of a reclusive Norwegian author whose career he’s trying to emulate. It’s a clever and enigmatic film that uses a non-linear storytelling structure in a very different way then how we’ve seen in the past, and Trier has surrounded the duo with a hilarious group of obnoxious friends who keep things light and entertaining during the heavy drama. What’s amazing is how fully you get absorbed into the lives of these characters and how every seemingly disparate scene ultimately makes sense in the grander scheme of things. Obviously, I don’t want to give away too much because there’s lot of layers to the film that must be discovered and appreciated on one’s own, but if you’re a fan of the early films of Danny Boyle, movies like Zack Braf’s Garden State or Alfonso Cuaron’s Y tu mama tambien or the work of Susanne Bier, then you should be in the proper head to appreciate Trier’s debut. You definitely will want to track Reprise down when it opens in New York and L.A. this weekend.

Also in Limited Release:

(Actually, this one might have been good since it won the Jury Prize at Sundance in 2007, but I missed it there and haven’t had a chance to see it since then, so I couldn’t consider it for “The Chosen One.”)

Sangre de mi sangre (IFC First Take) – Christopher Zalla’s drama about a Mexican boy who sneaks into the country to find his long-lost father only to have his identity stolen by an impostor will open in New York at the IFC Center after winning the Grand Jury prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival (as “Padre Nuestro”)


Next week, it’s the return of a cinematic icon as Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas reunite for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount)!

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