The Weekend Warrior: September 12 – 14

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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.

Ye olde Weekend Warrior is in Toronto for the Film Festival this week, which is why this week’s column is so late, but also while you’ll all have to settle for a somewhat stripped-down column. After a couple back-to-back bad weekends for new movies, we have a weekend with a few stronger offerings from known commodities like Tyler Perry, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Will it be enough to keep the September box office from sinking deeper into the crapper? We’ll know on Sunday, but at least there’s some stronger fare to offer us some hope.

Certainly, Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys (Lionsgate), a star-studded drama featuring Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard, has a strong chance at replicating the success of some of Perry’s past movies, although without the comedy “Madea factor,” it’s likely to end up closer to Daddy’s Little Girls than last year’s Why Did I Get Married? or Perry’s early 2008 hit Meet the Browns.

It should win the weekend due to his strong fanbase among African-American women, but guys will probably have to decide between a couple of genre movies that will split up most of that audience. Guys over thirty and older women may have some interest in the reunion of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in the police thriller Righteous Kill (Overture). Besides their brief scenes together in Michael Mann’s Heat, the legendary actors have never made an entire movie together, and their fans as well as fans of police and serial killer dramas should hold enough interest to help this take second place.

Joel and Ethan Coen are coming off their biggest success, having won multiple Oscars for their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men but their new dark comedy Burn After Reading (Focus) reunites George Clooney and Brad Pitt with an ensemble cast that also includes Frances McDormand, who won an Oscar for the Coens’ Fargo, Tilda Swinton, another Oscar winner from earlier this year, and John Malkovich. Unfortunately, the commercials are pushing it as a wacky comedy that doesn’t give a very good impression of the story and will probably keep anyone but diehard Coen Brothers fans from seeing it, which will keep it under the $15 million mark this weekend.

Trying to win over some of the same female audience as Tyler Perry’s movie, “Murphy Brown” creator Diane English’s update of the stageplay The Women (Picturehouse) with an equally stellar cast including Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Debra Messing, Eva Mendes, Cloris Leachman and more might be exactly the kind of thing that will get a variety of women over 30 to see the latest chick flick. It’s opening wider than any Picturehouse film to date into nearly 3,000 theaters, which should help it find a bigger audience than it might otherwise, even if it will stil likely be vying for fourth place.

Apparently, Fred Ashman’s documentary Proud American is opening wide tomorrow into anywhere between 250 and 750 theaters, including IMAX screens, but with little promotion, it’s likely to make roughly $500k or even less, and definitely not enough to get into the Top 10 regardless. (We’d have more about the movie in this week’s column if we weren’t blindsided by its last minute wide release.)

(UPDATE: Less than a couple hours after we finally posted this column, we got final theater counts and a couple one are significantly higher than originally projected, although most of our projections we’ll be keeping roughly the same.)

This week’s “Chosen One” (despite not having time to write much about it) is Alan Ball’s Towelhead (Warner Bros.) starring newcomer Summer Bishil as a 13-year-old Arab-American girl discovering her sexuality in the suburbs of Houston. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to write much about it but you can read an interview with Ball here.

I’d also like to draw attention to Godfrey Chesire’s documentary Moving Midway (First Run Features), a personal documentary about his family’s plantation which uncovers all sorts of revelations about his past as the buildings are moved to a new location.

This Week’s Predictions

1. Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys (Lionsgate) – $17.8 million N/A

2. Righteous Kill (Overture) – $15.8 million N/A (up .2 million)

3. Burn After Reading (Focus Features) – $12.7 million N/A (up .3 million)

4. The Women (Picturehouse) – $8.5 million N/A (up .2 million)

5. Tropic Thunder (DreamWorks) – $4.4 million -40% (up .2 million)

6. Bangkok Dangerous (Lionsgate) – $3.7 million -53%

7. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.) – $3.4 million -39%

8. The House Bunny (Sony) – $3.2 million -42%

9. Traitor (Overture) – $2.4 million -45%

10. Death Race (Universal) – $2.0 million -46%

This weekend last year, Jodie Foster’s revenge thriller The Brave One (Warner Bros.), directed by Neil Jordan, topped the box office with just $13.5 million, knocking the previous week’s #1 3:10 to Yuma down to #2. The high concept comedy Mr. Woodcock (New Line) ended up just below in third place with $8.8 million in 2,231 theaters, while the Korean monster movie Dragon Wars (Freestyle) opened in nearly 2,300 theaters, grossing $5 million for fifth place. In general, this year’s offerings are stronger so last year’s Top 10 gross of $59.6 million should be bested due to the number of movies that gross over $10 million this weekend.


Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys (Lionsgate)
Starring Kathy Bates, Alfre Woodard, Tyler Perry, Cole Hauser, Sanaa Lathan, Rockmond Dunbar, Taraji P. Henson, Kadee Strickland, Sebastian Siegel
Written and directed by Tyler Perry (Daddy’s Little Girls, Meet the Browns, Why Did I Get Married?)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Business is like family. Keep your affairs in order.”
Plot Summary: Charlotte (Kathy Bates) and Alice (Alfre Woodard) are life-long friends, who come from very different families, one wealthy and one working class, but they come together to deal with issues and family secrets including extramarital affairs that threaten to tear their respective families apart.

What It’s Got Goin’ On:

Tyler Perry has gone from being one of the most successful urban playwrights to one of the most successful urban filmmakers with $191.8 million in box office grosses domestically, his average movie opening in the $20 million range despite tight and focused moderate releases.

Presumably, Lionsgate is giving his new movie a similar amount of promotion to make sure that the mostly African-American female audience knows Perry has a new movie, making this their first choice for the weekend. Besides his usual cast of talented and respected African-American actresses like Alfre Woodard and Sanaa Lathan, Perry’s latest includes a larger than usual number of known Caucasian actors like Oscar winner Kathy Bates and Cole Hauser, making his first major film appearance in some time.

Why It Might Fail:

Perry’s biggest successes are the ones that have included his cross-dressing character Madea and/or the movies based on his hit stageplays, and The Family That Preys is neither, being more of an original drama, something that will keep it from doing the type of business we’ve seen some of Perry’s bigger movies do such as Meet the Browns earlier this year and Why Did I Get Married? last fall.

It also has a lot of direct competition for the female audience from Diane English’s The Women, which is opening in nearly 3,000 theaters and has gotten the kind of push only Time Warner can give it, even if there hasn’t been much promotion otherwise. That probably will be geared more towards older, white and suburban women compared to Perry’s latest.

Unlike that movie, which is getting nothing but bad reviews (see below), Lionsgate has once again kept critics from seeing Perry’s latest, although early word is that it’s pretty decent… apparently making five movies in three years is making Perry a better filmmaker. Not being based on one of his plays, The Family That Preys really needs the help getting word out this weekend, so it might hurt the movie, although in general, the press that caters to Perry’s audience has been on the case and should allow him another box office win, even with such heavy competition.

Why I Should See It: If you’re a fan of Tyler Perry’s work, then this will already be on your radar as a movie to see.
Why Not: If you haven’t seen Tyler Perry’s other movies, why would you see this one?
Projections: $16 to 18 million opening weekend and $40 million total.

COMPARISONS


Righteous Kill (Overture)
Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, 50 Cent, Donnie Wahlberg, Carla Gugino
Directed by Jon Avnet (88 Minutes, Red Corner, Fried Green Tomatoes); Written by Russel Gerwitz (Inside Man)
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Rated R
Tagline: “Most people respect the badge. Everybody respects the gun.”
Plot Summary: Detectives David Fish and Thomas Cowan (Robert De Niro and Al Pacino) have been partners on the NYPD for 30 years, and they have one last case as they hunt down a serial killer whose victims may be connected to a case they thought they had solved years earlier.

What It’s Got Goin’ On:

Two of what many consider to be America’s greatest living actors reteam for the first time in a police crime flick that’ll appeal to both their fans. While we already saw Al Pacino in a movie released earlier this year, one that was also directed by Righteous Kill‘s Jon Avnet, this is De Niro’s first major serious role since the movie he directed, The Good Shepherd, which did decent business presumably due to its stars Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie. De Niro hasn’t played a police officer in some time, but only had moderate success when he did in movies like City by the Sea and 15 Minutes.

Presumably, it’s the combination of the two stars that will make all the difference in people wanting to see this since they’ll be hoping that they’re both in the entire movie together unlike The Godfather Part 2 and unlike Michael Mann’s Heat. Overture has generally done a good job with the marketing for the movie to let people know that this is their first movie together in some time and with a script by Russel Gerwitz, who wrote Inside Man, there’s some hope of it being better than Pacino’s last high concept thriller.

Why It Might Fail:

Pacino’s last movie was the long-delayed 88 Minutes, which was released in April to generally poor business. That was preceded by Ocean’s 13, which did decent business thanks to its ensemble cast. His previous movie Two for the Money with Matthew McConaughey also only did okay, and that followed a couple bombs. Pacino’s box office draw is questionable because for every Insomnia, he has a Gigli or S1m0ne.

Despite the two big stars, their appeal does not extend down to the younger under-25 set, which might be the movie’s undoing, since they’re the ones who usually have money to throw away at movies. This will generally be for the over-30 crowd who’ll likely be more skeptical of a movie that looks too good to be good.

Rapper 50 Cent’s acting career hasn’t really taken off since his debut in Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and it’s doubtful that his presence will be enough to bring in the younger urban teens who like crime movies, although this would still be a stronger choice than the Coen Brothers’ movie for that audience.

Overture Films may know they have a dog because unlike their recent hit Traitor, they didn’t screen it for critics until the very last minute on Wednesday, not really giving much time for anyone to write about or promote the movie. That’s rarely a good sign and they’re coasting on this one due to the star power more than anything else.

Why I Should See It: This could be the last chance to see De Niro and Pacino on screen together in a generally strong genre for both of them.
Why Not: Coming from the director of 88 Minutes, it could also be another disaster.
Projections: $14 to 16 million opening weekend on its way to roughly $40 million total.

COMPARISONS


Burn After Reading (Focus)
Starring George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, Brad Pitt
Written and directed by Joel & Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, Fargo, Miller’s Crossing, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?,
Genre: Comedy, Crime
Rated: R
Tagline: “Intelligence is Relative”
Plot Summary: When CIA agent Osgood Cox (John Malkovich) is fired from his job, he starts working on his memoirs, but his abusive wife (Tilda Swinton), who is having an affair with a mutual acquaintance (George Clooney), gets her hands on his files but then loses the CD-ROM. Two opportunistic fitness instructors (Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand) get their hands on it with plans to blackmail Ossie or sell the information to the highest bidder.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

What It’s Got Goin’ On:

This is the Coen Brothers’ first movie since winning four Oscars with their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, which is also their highest grossing movie with nearly $75 million, almost $30 million more than their next highest grossing movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?. The Coens are hugely respected filmmakers among a certain audience, mostly over 20, and predominantly male, and they’re very much American filmmaking icons from the critical success they’ve had, even if “No Country” is their first signs of commercial success that matches it.

For the third time, the Coens are teamed with George Clooney, once thought to be one of the most bankable movie stars, but now considered one of the more recognizable stars, one who generally gets people into theaters even if it’s not the $30 to 40 million opening weekends some have come to expect. His presence certainly will bring in more women than might see this otherwise. Then on top of that, you have Brad Pitt, doing something very different in playing a goofy character, and then you have two reasons to see the movie and more of a chance of people going to see it over the weekend.

Adding to the cast are Tilda Swinton, coming off her Oscar win for Michael Clayton, in which she appeared with Clooney, Frances McDormand, a Coen Brothers’ vet who won an Oscar for their earlier dark comedy Fargo, as well as John Malkovich, Richard Jenkins, J.K. Simmons and lots of other great character actors who bring a similar vibe to this movie as other dark comedies like Fargo and The Big Lebowski.

Why It Might Fail:

The commercials aren’t great, making “Burn” look like a wacky comedy ala Intolerable Cruelty or The Ladykillers, arguably the Coen Brothers’ two worst movies, and not really giving much of an idea what the movie is about. The movie is also more of a dark comedy rather than a comedy full of jokes and gags, something that might turn older people off, even if the critics generally seem to like it. Certainly it might not hurt its opening weekend but legs might be hard to come by if people are disappointed that the movie is not the comedy they may be expecting.

Even though a big draw of the movie is Clooney and Pitt, Clooney’s previous movie Leatherheads didn’t do nearly as well as expected, possibly because it was sold as a wacky comedy. It ended up grossing roughly $31.2 million, even less than Intolerable Cruelty, his last movie with the Coens. Brad Pitt hasn’t done this type of comedy at all, the closest coming to it being Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, which only made $30 million, so one might wonder if there’s a ceiling to how much a movie like this might make.

The Coens’ first Oscar-winning movie Fargo grossed less than $25 million, and its follow-up The Big Lebowski, a wacky comedy that’s since become a cult hit, grossed even less. They followed that with their biggest hit at the time O Brother, Where Art Thou? and while that also was nominated for a bunch of Oscars, its follow-up The Man Who Wasn’t There with Billy Bob Thornton barely made any money. One would expect that the high profile of “No Country” and the presence of Clooney and Pitt would make this a slam dunk but both Pitt and Clooney have starred in movies that didn’t make that much money.

Why I Should See It: The Coen Brothers usually deliver at least a movie that’s watchable and entertaining, and this one is no different, so their normal fans should at least be interested.
Why Not: George Clooney and Brad Pitt doing hammy comedy might permanently damage their images as sexy leading man, though it’s certainly not what their female fans want to see.
Projections: $11 to 13 million opening weekend and roughly $32 million total.

COMPARISONS


The Women (Picturehouse)
Starring Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Jada Pinkett Smith, Debra Messing, Candice Bergen, Bette Midler, Cloris Leachman, Carrie Fisher, Lynn Whitfield, Joanna Gleason, Ana Gasteyer, Debi Mazar
Written and directed by Diane English (writer/producer of “Murphy Brown”)
Genre: Comedy
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “It’s all about…”
Plot Summary: Mary Haines (Meg Ryan) and Sylvie Fowler (Annette Bening) are friends, both fashion-conscious women working in the industry, whose relationship and the lives of their circle of friends is put to the test when Mary’s husband starts having an affair with a counter girl at Saks Fifth Avenue (Eva Mendes).

What It’s Got Goin’ On:

The cast is definitely one of the things that will first interest women since everyone involved has had at least one movie appeal to women, whether it’s Meg Ryan’s string of successful romantic comedies, Annette Bening’s awards-worthy performances, Bette Middler in Beaches or the recent Helen Hunt movie Then I Found Her or Debra Messing’s turn in The Wedding Date or the show “Will & Grace.” There’s also the “Murphy Brown” factor of Diane English herself, who brought that popular show’s star Candice Bergen into the movie, following her cameo in Sex and the City

Movies geared towards women like Sex and the City and Mamma Mia! have done very well this summer and there’s little reason why that audience wouldn’t continue going to movies into the fall, especially if there’s something that looks like it will appeal to female sensibilities like those movies.

Picturehouse is giving this a VERY wide release into nearly 3,000 theaters, which is more than Meg Ryan’s last movie with the studio In the Land of Women, which got 2,100 theaters, helping it make nearly $5 million its opening weekend. One presumes with almost 900 more theaters, The Women can do more business.

You have to admit that the title alone is a winner… it’s a movie about women called “The Women.” Can’t get much simpler than that, and to women going to the movies, that title is all they’ll need to check it out. It’s certainly better than some of the other titles of movies opening this weekend.

Why It Might Fail:

Despite the impressive cast, how many of these female actresses are pertinent at selling a movie nowadays? Meg Ryan’s last movie to make over $40 million was Kate & Leopold with Hugh Jackman almost seven years ago. Jada Pinkett Smith and Annette Bening, while great actresses, tend to be mentioned more with their famous husbands than for their movie choices. Bette Middler? Puh-lease. (Heck, even Cloris Leachman has lowered herself to appear on “Dancing with the Stars” and yet she’s barely appearing in the commercials.) Any attempts to get African-American or Latina women into the movie with the likes of Jada Pinkett Smith or Eva Mendes will fail because they’re more likely to go see the new Tyler Perry movie this weekend.

Reviews so far have been horrendous with a 0% Rating on RottenTomatoes, and since the older women who might go see this movie are the ones most likely to read reviews before seeing it, that could seriously hurt how much the movie makes despite being in so many theaters across the country.

Focus Features tried using the same marketing plan for their adaptation of Evening last year, by focusing the early promotion on the star-studded cast including Meryl Streep, and it failed miserably in every possible way, despite being based on a best-selling book. Even though this is getting a wider release than all of this week’s other releases that may just mean the business is spread thinner.

Why I Should See It: It’s a great cast and it should be interesting to see what Diane English can do when finally moving from TV to film.
Why Not: This probably won’t be for guys unless they’re looking to get in touch with their feminine side or prove to a date that they have a sensitive side.
Projections: $7 to 9 million opening weekend and $18 to 20 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Towelhead (Warner Bros.)
Starring Aaron Eckhart, Toni Collette, Maria Bello, Peter Macdissi, Summer Bishil
Written and directed by Alan Ball (writer of American Beauty and writer/producer of the HBO show “Six Feet Under”)
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: “How can you find yourself if no one can see you?”
Plot Summary: A 13-year-old Arab-American girl named Jasira (Summer Bishil) starts exploring her sexuality when she’s sent to live in the suburbs of Houston with her conservative father (Peter Macdissi). She starts growing up fast when her army reserve neighbor (Aaron Eckhart) starts showing interst in her, as well as an African-American classmate, and it ends up being up to another neighbor (Toni Collette) to try to protect Jasira from the predators that surround her.

Unfortunately, we don’t have time to write much about our “Chosen One” as in past weeks, but you can read an interview with Ball here. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday and in other cities on September 19.

Honorable Mentions:

Moving Midway (First Run Features) – Godfrey Cheshire’s personal documentary deals on the surface with the relocation of his family’s North Carolina plantation home, but as he goes down South to document the ambitious move, he learns that his family has a branch of African-Americans derived from the families of slaves who worked for one of his distant relatives. The film explores the history of the Southern plantation in popular culture and folklore and how the legacy of the past carries though to the present. It opens exclusively at the IFC Film Center in New York on Friday.

FLOW: For Love of Water (Oscilloscope Pictures) – Irena Salina’s documentary looks at the water crisis in the world, from the privatization of the water supply in various areas to how pollution is decreasing the amount of water available, and how a few groups are trying to do something about the problem. It opens at the Angelika Film Center in New York and Laemmle’s Sunset 5 in L.A. on Friday.

Also in Limited Release:

Forgiveness (International Film Circuit) – Udi Aloni’s psychological thriller about a young Israeli-American named David who joins the Israeli army, but after accidentally shooting a Palestinian girl, he is left in a catatonic state and committed to a mental institution where those around him try to help him find closure for what happened. It opens in New York at the Cinema Village on Friday.


Next week, the month of September motors along with four more new movies including the suburban thriller Lakeview Terrace (Screen Gems) starring Patrick Wilson and Samuel L. Jackson, as well as the raunchy comedy My Best Friend’s Girl (Lionsgate) with Kate Hudson, Dane Cook and Jason Biggs. “Extras” star Ricky Gervais stars with Téa Leoni in David Koepp’s spiritual rom-com Ghost Town (DreamWorks), while John Cusack provides the voice of the title character in the scary kids’ cartoon Igor (MGM/The Weinstein Co.)

Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas