The Weekend Warrior: July 2 – 6


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.

It’s the 4th of July weekend once again, we’re midway through the summer, and this week’s new movies are opening slightly earlier than normal, although there should be enough business over the second biggest holiday weekend of the summer.

Will Smith returns to the holiday he once owned with the superhero action flick Hancock (Sony), teaming himself with Charlize Theron and director Peter Berg (The Kingdom). Opening on Wednesday with special preview screenings on Tuesday night at 7pm, it should make a good amount of money on Wednesday and Thursday, but with the 4th of July holiday being on Friday, the movie shouldn’t be as frontloaded as last year’s Transformers, and there should be enough demand and business to make it the second or third-biggest 4th of July opener ever, and just behind Smith’s last movie I Am Legend in terms of its opening weekend. Being somewhat darker than Smith’s normal 4th of July fare, it might not get overwhelmingly glowing reviews, but we’re still looking at roughly $125 million in five days (including the Tuesday previews), which would put it just outside the Top 10 biggest five-day openers, but it should also join Smith’s last movie I Am Legend among his growing list of movies that grossed over $250 million.

After a ten-day exclusive run in five theaters, Picturehouse’s Kit Kittredge: American Girl will open nationwide in roughly 1,800 theaters on Wednesday. Starring Abigail Breslin as the titular heroine, this Depression-era family film is targeted directly to the young girls who collect American Girl dolls and books. Unfortunately, movies geared towards young girls rarely do very well–the most notable exception being the Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana 3D concert movie–but this should make at least $12 or 13 million in its first five days in wide release as counter-programming to the more mature Will Smith movie.

Both movies will have to contend with the powerhouse duo of Pixar’s WALL•E and Universal’s Wanted, which should bring in a good amount of repeat and word-of-mouth business over the holiday weekend, and there should be a fairly wide gap between those three movies and the rest.

(UPDATE; While we won’t be updating numbers for the weekend today, going by the $24.2 million made by Hancock, it’s probably going to have a smaller opening than originally predicted, probably closer to $40 million by tomorrow and then another $62 to 65 million over the three-day weekend. Picturehouse’s Kit Kittredge: An American Girl has also stumbled out of the gate in its wide release making just $1.1 million on Wednesday and will probably be closer to $8 or 9 million by Sunday.)

This week’s Chosen One is Jonathan Levine’s Sundance favorite The Wackness (Sony Classics), which you can read more about here.

This Week’s Predictions

1. Hancock (Sony) – $72.8 million (three-day weekend) N/A

2. WALL•E (Pixar/Disney) – $41.5 million -34%

3. Wanted (Universal) – $27.5 million -46%

4. Get Smart (Warner Bros.) – $12.1 million -40%

5. Kung Fu Panda (DreamWorks Animation) – $8.0 million -31%

6. Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (Picturehouse) – $7.6 million +780 %

7. The Incredible Hulk (Marvel/Universal) – $5.0 million -48%

8. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount) – $3.4 million -37%

9. The Love Guru (Paramount) – $2.5 million -52%

10. Sex and the City (New Line) – $2.3 million -39%

Last 4th of July, it was all about Michael Bay’s Transformers, the sci-fi action flick starring Shia LaBeouf and lots of giant robots. It opened early on Monday, July 2, for 10pm previews that amassed $8.8 million in 3,050 theaters, then the next day, it added another thousand theaters and exploded with $27.8 million in its first full day and another $29 million on the 4th of July proper. By the weekend, it had already grossed $85 million in four and a half days, and then it added another $70.5 million over the three-day weekend following the 4th of July. That’s $155 million in the first week, a great start for last summer’s rare big budget non-sequel to gross over $300 million, becoming the third highest grossing movie for the year. As counter-programming, Warner Bros. released the romantic comedy License to Wed starring Robin Williams, Jon Krasinski and Mandy Moore, which grossed a less than impressive $10.4 million over the weekend after making $7 million on Tuesday through Thursday. It ended up in fourth place after Ratatouille and Bruce Willis’ Live Free or Die Hard. The Top 10 grossed $160 million and since Hancock should replicate or surpass the success of Transformers over the weekend, we should see the June trend of movies making more in 2008 than the same weekend in 2007 continue into the new month.

Before we get to the box office analysis, it’s time once again for…


This week, we’re wondering why is everyone so fascinated with imperfect heroes?

After 9/11, a hero like Spider-Man could easily grab the country’s attention, admiration and adoration, because at that time, we really needed heroes to come along and make us feel safer. The success of Spider-Man started a huge trend with every studio jumping on the superhero bandwagon to varied results. Having been over six years since that movie came out, grossing $400 million and spawning two successful sequels, we’re left wondering where we are at now? True, we have Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and his alter-ego Iron Man wowing audiences, but like Bruce Wayne and Batman, Stark is a multi-millionaire as well as an industrial genius. He may be a hero we can look up to and admire, but he’s not really someone we can relate to, not in the slightest. This may be why it’s nice to see heroes with some of the same problems we face as humans, and we have a lot of them currently in theaters and on the way. Unlike the Superman and Spider-Man movies, these are reluctant and imperfect heroes, three from the world of comics, and one an original concept, and they may be exactly what moviegoers need to make them feel better about the world and our place in it.

This past weekend, we saw James McAvoy’s Wesley Gibson defy all expectations with the overwhelming success of Universal’s Wanted and this week, we get Will Smith’s Hancock followed by the return of Ron Perlman’s Hellboy in the sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

In Wesley Gibson, we’ve been presented with a character that almost every single person should be able to relate to in one way or another. He’s a regular officer worker, a lowly peon whose girlfriend is cheating on him and whose boss is constantly riding him, something we’ve all experienced in some form at some time in our life. Thanks to his introduction to the Fraternity of Assassins, Wesley is given the chance to live his dreams and meet his true potential. Every guy at one point in their life has wanted to be a superhero or to be able to run rampant and do whatever they wanted to do, and like Millar’s original graphic novel, the movie plays on that desire to create the ultimate wish fulfillment. The question we have is whether Wesley Gibson could be considered a hero. He is an assassin after all and even with the Fraternity’s ulterior motives in mind (which I won’t give away), he’s still a murderer, and yet, we root for him every step of the way as his body count rises. Considering that he does what he thinks is right to rectify situations in a way that’s in line with his original morals and scruples, we can certainly see him as a hero of sorts, but it’s interesting that audiences seem to be split on whether to like him or not.

Hancock is more about Will Smith doing the Will Smith thing, although he’s changing it up a little bit by trying to bury his normal charm and personality to create a boorish alcoholic who is universally loathed for his actions and behavior. Since many haven’t seen Hancock yet, it basically shows what happens when this guy with great power, who has been squandering it as a homeless drunk, finally starts taking responsibility to use those powers for good. It’s like if Peter Parker started Spider-Man using his existing powers to make money rather than the movie showing him getting those powers, learing how to use them and becoming responsible about using them wisely. Like Wanted, there’s an underlying story behind why Hancock is who he is and a couple twists I won’t spoil, but the movie does explore what happens when you’re almost literally a God living among mortals, something that’s been explored quite well in comic books from Alan Moore and others. Still, we’re able to relate to Hancock because all of us have gone through those phases when we don’t think we’re living up to our full potential or we’re not feeling our life is what we wanted and expected. In some ways, Hancock’s journey gives us hope, because if an a-hole like him can turn things around then surely, so can we.

Stretching things a bit, we can even go back a few weeks and fit Edward Norton’s The Incredible Hulk into this scenario as another imperfect hero. He’s trying to control his anger, but as hard as he tries, the monster always comes out and creates all sorts of mayhem and destruction, and certainly, that’s something we all can relate to as well. It’s one of the reasons why the Hulk has always been such a popular character and he’s never been a straight-out superhero in terms of saving people or fighting bad guys (unless you consider the government or military to be bad guys). Most of the time, it’s the Hulk who is causing trouble and who must be stopped.

It’s harder to use this analogy when looking at Hellboy, at least based on surface appearances, because few of us can see ourselves as a big red monster-fighting demon. On the other hand, many of us have at one point or other felt like an outcast or an outsider and Hellboy’s troubled relationship with Selma Blair’s Liz Sherman is something we’ve all experienced as well. Hellboy is really the closest of the characters we’ve mentioned to being a straight-forward hero because he’s working with the B.P.R.D. (Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense) to fight creatures and monsters that threaten humanity despite his many issues.

To answer the earlier question of why these imperfect heroes seem to be in such demand right now, it’s obvious that we want to live vicariously through them. We want to think that we have a chance to do what they do and to improve ourselves in the same way, and for whatever reason, this is something that’s on a lot of minds these days. That explains why we suddenly have four different variations on a similar theme, one case basically being about us fulfilling our dreams, a couple about men with power who are lost and need to live up to their potential, while a number of them are about being an outsider trying to cope in the normal world. All of these movies show how these imperfect heroes get better and obviously, the makers of those movies realized they could tailor these heroes’ journeys to the escapism aspect of moviegoing in a way that offers a new twist to the typical comic book movie we’ve seen in the past few years.

While it may still be too early to tell how “Hellboy II” might fare at the box office compared to the other two, we’ll talk about that in next week’s column, plus we’ll be looking at that and another anticipated superhero sequel in next week’s “Battle Cry”!

Hancock (Sony)
Starring Will Smith, Jason Bateman, Charlize Theron, Eddie Marsan
Directed by Peter Berg (The Rundown, Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom, Very Bad Things); Written by Vincent Ngo, Vince Gilligan
Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Meet the superhero everybody loves to hate.”
Plot Summary: Hancock (Will Smith) is a drunken homeless man with superpowers, which he sometimes uses to fight crime, usually causing destructions and injuries to others in the bargain. When he saves P. R. guy Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), Hancock finds someone who thinks the would-be superhero can turn the public who hates Hancock into fans, and the superhero starts getting closer with Ray, his wife Mary (Charlize Theron) and their young son.

Mini-Review: Regular comic book readers realize there’s more out there than Superman, Spider-Man and Batman, and this unique take on the superhero genre takes a similar approach as alternative superhero comics like “Powers” and “Rising Stars” in showing how a cranky, foul-mouthed homeless drunk with superpowers goes through an entertaining journey of self-discovery as he tries to become the superhero everyone wants him to be. Hancock is a very different character for Will Smith, and the always-drunk “hero” is destroying and hurting more than he’s helping with a disturbing obsession for wanting to stick “heads up asses.” Most of the people in the city are not happy with how he handles crime, but only a fool (or a French kid) would be dumb enough to call him for what he is, an a-hole. We get a good amount of this as set-up for Hancock’s story arc to be accepted in the society that’s grown to loathe him, and the film becomes more about the relationship between Hancock and Jason Bateman’s Ray, a benevolent publicist who wants to save the world and thinks Hancock is the solution. He convinces Hancock to answer for his crimes, but once incarcerated, the city realizes that even Hancock’s bad help is better than no help. The rapport between Smith and Bateman is what keeps the first half of the movie so entertaining, but it’s more than just amusing banter, as there’s a lot of strong human emotion and interaction going on there, reminding us how much better Smith is when paired with human actors, rather than just giving him a dog. Charlize Theron does a solid if unspectacular job playing Bateman’s wife who has her own secret, leading to a blatantly foreshadowed twist that creates a very different dynamic to the story. This leads to a good deal of exposition about Hancock’s true origins without ever really explaining everything, and the rest of the movie deals with him trying to come to terms with the truth, while trying to maintain his newfound popularity. The true nature of Hancock might not exactly what some might expect, and some people might be perturbed by how little is actually revealed about Hancock’s powers and origins. Nice guy Eddie Marsan (“Vera Drake”) is also playing against type as one of the primary baddies who suffers at the hands of Hancock, and he’s an interesting take on the normal disgruntled con always trying to get revenge on his arch-nemesis. Doing his best to channel his inner Michael Bay, director Peter Berg does a decent job with the film’s pacing despite the difficult tonal issues the film has to contend with in the second half, as it gets darker and darker. While there are lots of explosions and destruction wherever Hancock goes, the CG could generally be better since it makes Hancock look fake and takes away from the reality implied by the film’s premise. The movie ends up being far more violent than your usual PG-13 superhero movie and with so much swearing bandied around, it’s most definitely not something you want to bring your younger kids to. In a summer full of solid action movies, this might not be the strongest, but it’s another great departure for Smith to put his charm and popularity to the test, offering more than a few solid laughs within an original superhero premise. Rating: 7.5/10

If there’s any more of a sure thing than releasing a Will Smith action movie over 4th of July, I’d love to hear it. I’ll wait while you think about it. (Of course, those who bet on Big Brown at Belmont might not be so anxious to respond, but we’re talking about box office.) Right now, the thought of Will Smith playing a superhero is an easy sell on its own, but when you take that high concept action-laden premise and release the results on the holiday weekend that many industry folk consider the holiday Will Smith made, you have the potential for one of the biggest movies of the summer.

With Hancock, Smith resumes his long-standing relationship with Sony and the 4th of July weekend, the former going back to his first pairing with Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys back when they were two TV sitcom stars making the jump to the big screen. Smith’s next movie was Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, released the week of 4th of July out of convenience to the movie’s title, and the rest is pretty much history, as it went on to gross over $300 million, which at the time was a LOT of money. Smith followed that up with Men in Black teaming him with Tommy Lee Jones and that also made $250 million after an equally impressive opening. Smith then started getting serious, making smaller dramatic films like Ali and The Legend of Bagger Vance, before returning to the 4th of July weekend with Men in Black II, which didn’t fare as well as its predecessor. Five years ago, Smith got off the 4th of July kick, possibly because there were too many big movies scheduled on those dates, most notably Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Spider-Man 2. Because of those movies, I, Robot and Bad Boys II were released in the weekends following the 4th of July. While both did well (opening with $46 and $52 million respectively), neither were seen as the blockbuster hits as Smith’s other movies, making one wonder if Smith needed the holiday for his movies to do well, something he disproved when Smith solidified his placement among the top box office stars with the adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which opened with $77 million in mid-December and grossed a whopping $256 million over the holidays to become Smith’s second biggest flick.

Although in the past, Smith has teamed with Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich, Michael Mann and other reputable directors, Hancock is his first pairing with Peter Berg, a capable director (and character actor) whose previous movies include last year’s The Kingdom with Jamie Foxx, Friday Night Lights, which spawned a semi-successful television series, and The Rundown, an action-comedy pairing The Rock and Seann William Scott. The middle one of those was the most successful, grossing $60 million, while the other two made just under $50 million, but Berg is certainly becoming a Hollywood player, being wooed for bigger projects like an upcoming remake of Dune.

Not that Smith will need help going by the success of I Am Legend, which teamed him with a dog (not Alice Braga!!!), but Berg brought on two strong supporting stars with Charlize Theron coming off a bunch of smaller indie movies after her own less than great experience playing a superheroine (of sorts) when she starred in the much-maligned live action version of MTV’s Aeon Flux in ’05. It was a fairly major bomb that disproved Theron’s abilities as a box office draw after winning the Oscar for Patricia Jenkins’ Monster. (Her dramatic follow-up North Country also didn’t do particularly well.) Basically, we’ve learned that Theron is a great actress but hasn’t achieved any sort of success at the box office, unlike Smith.

The same can be said for former child actor Jason Bateman, who has been appearing in a lot of movies in the last year with no real breakouts, and a couple embarrassing bombs. Bateman’s big return was his starring role in Fox’s cult comedy “Arrested Development” at the same time as having key supporting roles in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and The Break-Up. Bateman’s starring role in the comedy The Ex opposite Zach Braf didn’t fare well and other recent movies have only done moderately well. In Hancock, Bateman reteams with Berg, having co-starred in The Kingdom, as well as with Theron, who appeared in a couple episodes of “Arrested Development.”

That’s really about it for the cast—Eddie Marsan from Vera Drake plays a baddie, but you won’t know who he is—but as much as the movie will be about Smith in this sort of premise, it’s also about the 4th of July holiday, the second most desirable summer movie weekend after Memorial Day, thought not always the big weekend some might expect. By the mid-summer, it’s already hot outside (thanks to global warming, of course) and people tend to go to the beach or pool and have BBQs as much as they go to the movies, although the latter is a great way to escape from the summer heat. You’d think that many more movies would have opened bigger over the holiday weekend but so far, the top opening for a three-day 4th of July is Sony’s Spider-Man 2 with $88.5 million after making $64 million in its first two days; Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise’s War of the Worlds grossed almost $100 million in the same five days. What’s interesting is that the holiday weekend has generally done more business and new movies have made more money in recent years, possibly due to inflation, but also because studios have released movies that people are excited about over the holiday. Last year, DreamWorks opened Transformers, Michael Bay’s own return to the weekend, on the 4th of July, which in that case was a Wednesday, but they opened it a day earlier and then started screenings the night before that, which meant that a lot of money was made earlier in the week.

More than anything, it’s really about which day of the week the 4th of July falls on, because it’ll determine how many workdays people take off before and after the holiday and how much free time they’ll have for movies. The 3rd of July is generally a good movie day since many people get out of work early, and previous movies that opened when the 4th of July fell on Friday (as it does this year) include the original Men in Black and “Terminator 3” six years ago, both which did more of their business on the weekend than the two days before.

Sony has been pumping the hell out of this movie, seriously giving it the biggest marketing push they’ve given any other movie this year, rolling out commercials as early as the Super Bowl in January and then blasting the airwaves with various commercials for months. The first couple were great, setting up the humorous premise of Smith as a cranky superhero, although the more recent ones have shifted their focus to Charlize Theron, and frankly, they’re not nearly as strong, making the movie look too much like Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns.

As you can see from the mini-review above, this is a very different movie for Smith, darker and definitely more adult than some of his previous 4th of July movies, but continuing his trend of trying to do different things. In this one, he’s drunk, cranky, he swears a lot and is extremely violent, and not all of his fans will appreciate that, although they’re generally entertained by everything he does. While this might mean fewer kids being taken to see it by their parents, this probably won’t hurt the movie’s opening week by that, but it could hurt the movie’s long-term potential, especially with a number of strong competing movies opening in the weeks to come. There have been a lot of early negative reviews out there, most notably from Fox News’ Roger Friedman, but will they really matter? Smith’s fans are pretty diehard and will see him in anything, especially when it comes to the 4th of July weekend where he’s been so reliable, so this movie is fairly review-proof. Even so, it’s not like Smith doesn’t have any competition, because last weekend, audiences flocked out in droves to see Universal’s Wanted and Pixar’s WALL•E and word-of-mouth should be strong enough to convince others to check them out over the extended holiday weekend. Sony is taking a playbook from other studios by opening Hancock on Tuesday for 7pm sneak previews which might slightly cut into the opening day but it should still do decently on Wednesday and Thursday among teens with school being out, and it should be able to average between $20 to 25 million every day with even more on Saturday, continuing Smith’s trend of being the most sure-fire box office draw working today.

Why I Should See It: Will Smith is a cranky, drunken superhero… what more does anyone need to know?
Why Not: Does anyone really want to see Will Smith being an a-hole? Probably not, and that’s the real challenge for Hancock.
Projections: Roughly $47 to 50 million on Wednesday and Thursday (including Tuesday night previews) and $71 to 74 million over the three-day holiday weekend. That’s roughly $120 to 125 million in its first five days on its way to $250 to 260 million total.


Kit Kittredge: American Girl (Picturehouse)
Starring Abigail Breslin, Joan Cusack, Glenne Headly, Jane Krakowski, Chris O’Donnell, Julia Ormond, Wallace Shawn, Stanley Tucci, Madison Davenport, Zach Mills, Willow Smith, Max Thieriot
Directed by Patricia Rozema (Mansfield Park); Written by Ann Peacock (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, upcoming Nights in Rodanthe)
Genre: Family, Adventure
Rated PG
Plot Summary: Margaret Mildred “Kit” Kittredge (Abigail Breslin) is a wise beyond her years 10-year-old who living in 1934 Cincinnati, who wants to be a reporter. As the Great Depression sets in, her father (Chris O’Donnell) goes to Chicago looking for work forcing her family to take on eccentric boarders, while Kit and her friends try to solve a series of crimes perpetrated by hobos, in hopes of saving their own hobo friend Will (Max Thieriot).

Mini-Review: Granted, this review holds very little water because it’s not written by an 8 to 10-year-old girl, who’s already in love with Kit Kittredge and her American Girl friends, nor was this movie even remotely intended for a crotchety middle-age male audience. Even so, there’s very little truly groundbreaking or surprising with this serviceable period piece based on the popular novels and dolls and how it’s handled far from subtly by director Patricia Rozema (Mansfield Park). Fortunately, the writing is generally decent and the expansive cast of characters is filled by a strong and impressive line-up of underrated character actors. Sadly, the entire movie tends to be dumbed down for its pre-tweener audience with lots of obvious humor, the best parts being the amusing interaction between the quirky boarders at the Kittredge house including Joan Cusack as a ditzy librarian, Stanley Tucci as a magician and Jane Krasinski as a hot-to-trot dance instructor. Breslin isn’t nearly as annoying as she has been in some of her other recent movies, although she rarely acts like a typical kid, particularly one from that era, but her dominant personality makes it clear that the other young actors playing her friends are well out of their league. In fact, Breslin’s best scenes are probably when she stands up to the always excellent Wallace Shawn as the editor of the local newspaper, although funny scenes like those are constantly getting bogged down by the expected sentimentality and melodrama that comes with a movie set during the Depression. Chris O’Donnell is particularly good in these scenes as Kit’s young-looking father, as is Julia Ormond as her mother, but it tends to create a film with an erratic tone. It goes well with its flimsy plot about a hobo-driven crime wave that leads to a predictable and overly-complicated ending as the various storylines come together in a way that isn’t particularly clever and silly enough to create embarrassing moments for some of the older cast. Even though younger girls will probably love Kit’s antics and their parents won’t find it to be too painful an experience, “Kit Kittredge” is still only a serviceable and fairly mediocre family film at best, which offers very little reason to be shown theatrically rather than on cable television like previous “American Girl” movies. Rating: 6/10

Guys get a hard time from women about their enthusiasm and obsession for things like video games, sports and comic books, but seriously, can any guy explain the obsession that women and girls have with dolls? Not I, which is probably why I don’t even remotely understand the national phenomenon surrounding the American Girl doll collection, essentially a series of collectible historical dolls that have created a craze that’s generated books, TV movies and even a magazine for its fanbase of 3-to-12 year old girls, as well as the parents who have to buy all of them. Chances are that if you’re not a little girl or don’t have a daughter yourself, you’ve never heard of the dolls, so you may want to sit down when you hear these numbers reported by the American Girl company, which recently joined Barbie at Mattel.

According to their publicity, American Girl has sold 123 million books and 14 million dolls since they started production over 20 years ago. Most of those dolls have sold through mail order catalogs, collected and then resold for more money through the secondary market, but the company also created a handful of interactive superstores in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles where girls can see dolls displayed and watch musicals and shows based on them. If that wasn’t enough insanity surrounding a doll, there’s also the American Girl Magazine that has a circulation of 620,000 and a website full of games that probably attracts an audience of million more girls. Not surprisingly, with that kind of success they’ve already explored the world of movies with three “American Girl” TV movies, one shown on the WB, one released on DVD and the other shown on the Disney Channel, all around the holidays. Eventually, it made sense that the company would try to make a movie for theatrical release in hopes of catering to the same ‘tween and under set who made Hilary Duff’s The LIzzy McGuire Movie such a hit in 2003 and flocked to the Miley Cyrus & Hannah Montana: The Best of Both Worlds concert movie earlier this year, giving in the highest per-theater average for a movie in wide release.

At the center of the movie based around the Depression-era Kit Kittredge doll who appeared in Valerie Tripp’s book “Meet Kit” is 12-year-old actress Abigail Breslin, who first got the attention of most people when she received an Oscar nomination for the indie comedy Little Miss Sunshine but actually has been acting from the age of 6 when she starred in M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. Since being nominated, Breslin has been hugely popular, being cast for all sorts of roles and having leading roles in three films including last year’s No Reservations with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart, Definitely, Maybe opposite Ryan Reynolds earlier this year, and then headlining Fox Walden’s Nim’s Island with Jodie Foster a few months back. Two of the three movies made over $40 million and in general, the audience for these movies were the same women and girls who might be interested in an American Girl movie.

It’s hard to determine whether Abigail Breslin’s success in Little Miss Sunshine and the recent Nim’s Island might bring in more girls or women than might have seen the movie if it were made without a known star, but she’s surrounded by an appropriately star-studded supporting cast including Stanley Tucci, Joan Cusack, Jane Krakowski, Max Thieriot (from Jumper) and Zach Mills (Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium). The oddest part of the large ensemble cast though has to be young Willow Smith, yup, the daughter of Will Smith, whose movie Hancock is expected to clean this movie’s clock.

Movies geared towards ‘tween and younger girls have not fared particularly well and the producers of Kit Kittredge obviously haven’t learned that from past history. In the past, other literary heroines who’ve come to the big screen include Harriet the Spy and Matilda in 1996 and Madeline in 1998, all during the summer, but none of them did particularly well either opening weekend or in total. Last year, Lionsgate tried producing a movie based on the similarly popular Bratz doll line, which bombed, and that was just a month or two after an updated version of Nancy Drew starring Julia Roberts’ niece Emma Roberts also bombed. (Ironically, Roberts’ sister is one of “Kit Kittredge’s” co-producers.) What we can tell by this is that movies for young girls will not necessarily do better because school is out, maybe because they’re not generally known to rush out to movies, with the exception of the recent “Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus” concert movie that not only did well, but set a new per-theater average record for a wide release. Does this mean that “Kit Kittredge” could have a similar appeal? Maybe, maybe not. This isn’t a beloved TV character moving to the big screen as much as a movie based on one of the dolls/characters from books, played by a popular young actress.

It’s a strange idea to release the movie over 4th of July weekend as counter-programming to Will Smith, but in some ways, this movie may have worked better as a holiday release. It’s a bit late for that now, since the movie already opened exclusively in five theaters on June 20 and it didn’t fare that well, averaging just $44,000 its opening weekend, which isn’t great for such an exclusive release if there’s that much demand. Maybe it’s just that the fans of the dolls are spread out across the nation and they’ll see it when it arrives in their area whereas the exclusive releases are in the cities where there are stores. Even so, this is one of the last releases from the failed New Line and HBO company Picturehouse, and they’re only getting it into roughly 1,800 theaters, so there’s probably a ceiling of how much it can make.

The big question is whether all the little girls who own the dolls might flock to see the movie this week and New York Times critic A. O. Scott, presumably a father himself, wrote an interesting article about the “American Girl” phenomenon which you can read here. We’re not quite as convinced, although there’s a good chance that the real diehard fans will see it on Wednesday or Thursday rather than waiting until the weekend.

Unfortunately, “Kit Kittredge” is no longer the only G-rated movie in town, and facing the second weekend of Pixar’s beloved WALL•E may be too much of a challenge even with the bump from the holiday. As a guy, it’s hard to determine how big the phenomenon really is and how it might translate to a feature film, especially since girls are used to seeing the previous movies on TV or video. As we saw with the Olsen Sisters’ 2005 movie New York Minute, success on video doesn’t always translate to the big screen, so we can probably expect a moderate first week for “Kit Kittredge” at best.

Why I Should See It: Because you’re such a big fan of the dolls and books… which means you’re probably a little girl… and I’m not just saying that to be a big old meanie.
Why Not: Unless you’re a little girl, you’re probably going to have very little interest in this unless you’re a creepy older guy.
Projections: $5 to 6 million on Wednesday and Thursday and another $7 to 9 million over the three-day weekend, on its way to roughly $28 to 30 million total.



The Wackness (Sony Classics)
Starring Josh Peck, Sir Ben Kingsley, Method Man, Mary Kate Olsen, Olivia Thirlby, Famke Janssen, Aaron Yoo
Written and directed by Jonathan Levine (upcoming All the Boys Love Mandy Lane)
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Coming-of-Age
Rated R
Tagline: “Sometimes it’s right to do the wrong things.”
Plot Summary: It’s the summer of ’94, and Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) has just graduated high school and is selling pot on the streets of New York City to earn some money. Luke’s confident swagger masks a shyness with the ladies that has him seeing psychiatrist Dr. John Squires (Sir Ben Kingsley), who gives him advice for the ladies, something Luke uses to act on his crush with Squires’ stepdaughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby from Juno).

Full Review (Coming Soon!)

Clearly the highlight of this year’s Sundance Film Festival is this inventive coming-of-age comedy set in New York in the summer of ’94 when Rudolph Giuliani and President Bill Clinton were first coming into power, and you might be surprised how different the city was at that time. The film’s writer/director Jonathan Levine was living in New York at the time, and having lived here during that time (though being quite a bit older than Levine and his characters), I definitely felt some resonance with the story Levine was trying to tell. Even if you’ve never lived here, The Wackness is a really fun movie that follows the journey of a young disaffected teen named Luke who befriends his wacky psychiatrist (Sir Ben Kingsley) and falls for his hot stepdaughter (Olivia Thirlby). It’s the latter story of first love and heartbreak that makes the movie more than just a joke about white kids talking like they’ve watched too much “Yo! MTV Raps” but that aspect makes the movie fairly entertaining in itself. Sir Ben Kingsley has played a lot of eccentric characters in many bad movies, but unlike some of his other recent roles, his performance as Dr. John Squires has real heart and soul, as well as being piss your pants funny, particularly when he’s trying to be hip and cool for his young liege. The three main characters are surrounded by an eclectic cast including Method Man as a Jamaican drugdealer, Famke Janssen as Squires’ beleaguered wife, and Mary Kate Olsen as one of Luke’s hippie clients, and it’s this mix of characters you wouldn’t normally see in the same movie that makes Levine’s movie so special. Really, this is a movie that anyone who has ever fallen in love or had their heartbroken will be able to relate to, while laughing at all the funny ’90s references. Since I’ve already talked about this a lot in my Sundance blog (see above) and various interviews (with more to come), I do want to save some stuff for my updated review, but seriously, if there’s one movie this summer you should track down, this is it.

The Wackness opens on Thursday, July 3, in New York and L.A. and then will expand nationwide on July 18. Look for more interviews on in the next couple weeks.

Honorable Mention:

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Magnolia)
Starring Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Johnny Depp, Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, Jann Werner, George McGorvern
Written and directed by Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Men in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side)
Genre: Documentary
Rated R
Plot Summary: Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney looks at the political writings and journalistic achievements of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, who earned a reputation for his crazy, drug-induced writing for “Rolling Stone” magazine, particularly his coverage of the 1972 and 1976 Presidential elections. Narrated by Johnny Depp, this will open in select cities on Friday.

Interview with Alex Gibney

Mini-Review: Despite a somewhat plodding pace as a biographical doc, Alex Gibney has created a classy tribute to an enigmatic political and literary figures of the ’70s in “Gonzo,” one that captures many of the nuances of Hunter S. Thompson’s personality and drug-induced lifestyle. Some of the many stories that helped contribute to Thompson’s notoriety are narrated by his words, read admiringly by Johnny Depp, who was responsible for most people’s memories of Thompson from his portrayal of the eccentric character in Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” It starts at the end after the suicide, then goes back to Thompson’s embedded research for his first novel “Hell’s Angels,” an experience that forever changed his life. The movie then gets into Thompson’s dabbling with drugs that would lead to some of his most outrageous work, accompanied by some great anecdotes from Thompson’s long-time artistic collaborator, British artist Ralph Steadman. While this is very much a loving tribute to the writer, we not only hear of Thompson’s triumphs but also some of his faux pas, many of them incurred by excessive drug use, which might have ultimately contributed to Thompson’s leaner creative years as a writer leading up to his suicide. Possibly due to Gibney’s own political leanings, the film spends far too much time on the 1972 Democratic primaries and how Thompson’s support of McGovern helped him get the nomination, but it starts to lose sight of Thompson at that point, even as interviews with McGovern, Jimmy Carter and Pat Buchanan (Nixon’s campaign manager) give another perspective on Thompson’s personality and what drove him to write some of his best political musings. Despite all the extensive interviews with Thompson’s closest friends, his ex-wife, widow and son, none are nearly as heartfelt as the way that Rolling Stone editor-in-chief Jann Wenner breaks down tearfully, which tells you that despite his “faults,” his eclectic behavior and drug-induced temper, Thompson was a man whose words deeply touched many people in the nation, and “Gonzo” makes it obvious we’ll never see the likes of him again. For those young ones who think that the likes of John Stewart and Steven Colbert invented wry and cynical commentary on the political process, this comprehensive portrait of a slightly mad master craftsman is a real eye-opener, as well as another fine addition to Gibney’s filmography that successfully achieves its purposes, despite the extended tangent into the ’72 election that almost derails it. Rating: 8/10

Also in Limited Release:

Tell No One (Music Box Films) – Guillaume Canet adapts Harlan Corben’s bestselling mystery novel of the same name with Francois Cluzet as a doctor whose new wife died eight years early during a lake retreat, but when she shows up in an internet video, he gets pulled into a mystery to try to solve the case of what happened and find out it if his wife is still alive. It opens on Wednesday at the Landmark Sunshine and Clearview 1, 2, 3 in New York.

Mini-Review: From France comes this Hollywood-level suspense thriller that never goes where you expect it to go, but often gets bogged down in over-exposition as the plot thickens… and thicken… and thickens… leading to a convoluted, often hard to follow plot. Even so, for his second film as director, it’s a surprisingly strong effort from Canet, one that often finds ways to pull you into the story despite following a fairly formulaic route. The film starts off well enough with Francois Cluzet’s Alex canoodling by a lake with his childhood sweetheart and new wife Margot (Marie-Josee Croze from “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”), but after she swims to shore naked leaving him behind, we hear her screams in the distance and expect the worst. This is the eeriest part of the movie because we won’t find out exactly what happened until much later, in fact eight years later when Alex is Emailed proof that his wife may still be alive. This simple high concept premise leads to an intriguing crime mystery that even offers a surprising amount of action in the Luc Besson tradition (his company Europa Corp produced the film) once Alex becomes the object of a police manhunt, as the body count starts piling up around his attempt to find the truth about what really happened to his wife. Francois Cluzet gives a solid performance that’s sometimes overwrought and overacted to try to heighten the drama, but Canet has assembled an impressive cast around him, including a small but typically strong appearance by France’s finest, Jean Rochefort. All-in-all, the film’s omniscient viewpoint always puts us a few steps ahead of the protagonist but a few steps behind Canet, though it’s hard to really get into it due to the excessive amount of dialogue and exposition which ultimately leads to an anti-climactic resolution that anyone familiar with the genre will have already figured out by the time it gets there. It’s that predictable ending might leave the worst taste in one’s mouth after what is generally decent movie up until that point, but at least it’s something that will make you think more about what you’d seen and possibly even want to see it again to put the pieces together yourself. Rating: 7/10

Diminished Capacity (IFC Films) – Matthew Broderick and Alan Alda star in this adaptation of Sherwood Kirally‘s novel, marking the directorial debut of Terry Kinney (McManus from “Oz”). Broderick plays Cooper, a Chicago cartoonist experiencing memory loss after a head injury who goes home to Missouri to take care of his Uncle Rollie (Alda) who seems to be losing his sanity as well as his home. The two of them bond and go back to Chicago to sell the extremely rare baseball card Rollie has been holding for years. Also featuring Virginia Madsen and Bobby Cannavale, the comedy opens in New York at the IFC Center on Friday after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival.

Mini-Review Another week, another Matthew Broderick movie, but this one doesn’t quite live up to the promise of “Finding Amanda” as the strong cast of Terry Kinney’s directorial debut is squandered on a mediocre script that never really delivers on the premise of Broderick’s damaged character trying to reconnect with his out-to-lunch uncle, played by Alan Alda. It takes some time to get into the swing of things with that trite premise, but it suffers from a bland sense of humor that never really goes far enough to deliver laughs. Granted that being based on an existing story, there’s only so much you can do even with such a strong cast, and any problems in Sherwood Kiraly’s novel are carried over with his own adaptation, which far too blatantly wears his heart on the screenplay’s sleeve with humor about overzealous, disgruntled Chicago Cubs fans that will only appeal to a small percentage of regional viewers. Otherwise, it’s never really funny as hard as it tries to swipe plays from the quirky indie dramedy playbook. Broderick once again shows that he has the acting range of a wet mop and Alda isn’t as good as he’s been in other recent roles–Virginia Madsen is wasted in a nothing role as Cooper’s ex. Things only start really looking up when Bobby Cannavale and Dylan Baker show up as competing vendors at the big trading card show, but that’s where the movie peaks and rather than getting more interesting, it quickly goes downhill as various characters fight over Rollie’s ultra-rare baseball card in the most ridiculous ways possible. There are a few good moments along the way, but the movie’s best efforts at being quirky and different fall short. Essentially, it’s a mediocre effort that never really goes anywhere and never really pays off, trying too hard to be funny without delivering on the premises introduced over the course of the movie. This is a DVD rental at best. Rating: 5.5/10

Holding Trevor (Here! Films/Regent Releasing) – A relationship comedy about the search for love by a gay man named Trevor (played by screenwriter Brent Gorski) who accepts the advice of his promiscuous friend and female roommate to try to break up with a heroin addict and find Mr. Right. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Kabluey (Regent Releasing) – Scott Prendergrast wrote, directed and stars in this indie comedy as a comes to the aid of his sister-in-law (Lisa Kudrow) to help with her kids after his brother goes off to fight in Iraq. It opens at the Cinema Village in New York on Friday.

We Are Together (Palm Pictures) – Paul Taylor’s documentary tells the story of a 12-year-old girl and her friends at a South African orphanage who use music to overcome their losses. Featuring appearances from Alicia Keys, Kanye West and Paul Simon, it also opens at the Cinema Village in New York Friday.

Very Young Girls (Showtime) – David Schisgall’s documentary about how young teenagers are conned into prostituting themselves by ruthless pimps who take advantage of their youth and innocence will open at the IFC Center in New York on Friday.

July continues next week with three interim movies with hopefully one or two of them doing decent business. First, there’s Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, based on the Mike Mignola comic book, then there’s the 3D family film Journey to the Center of the Earth, based on the Jules Verne story. Lastly, there’s Meet Dave, based on the fact that Eddie Murphy cannot be stopped when he sets his mind to making a dumb movie. Next weekend looks like a right royal mess if you ask me.

Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas