The Weekend Warrior: September 26 – 28

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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.

September comes to a quick close with the month’s widest and most high profile release as Stephen Spielberg and the writers of Transformers team with the director and star of last year’s hit thriller Disturbia for the “action-packed thrill ride” Eagle Eye (DreamWorks), starring Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan. With so few movies doing very much business in theaters, it seems almost past due that a movie really explodes, and this one has a lot of elements that add up to a lot of interest among a wide range of moviegoers who haven’t really had any must-see movies since maybe Tropic Thunder. Currently, the biggest September opening is $35.6 million, but opening in more theaters than all but one September opener, as well as on IMAX screens, a format that’s proved very profitable over the summer, it’s likely that Eagle Eye will be setting a new record for the month with a slight chance at having two weeks at #1.

Richard Gere and Diane Lane reunite for the first time since Unfaithful in the romantic drama Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros.) based on the book by Nicholas (“The Notebook”) Sparks, which will probably be a big draw for older women, but only really them and maybe their poor husbands and boyfriends who’ll get dragged to it. Diane Lane has been a fairly solid draw among that audience and Sparks’ novels have quite a devout fanbase, although that doesn’t necessarily mean anyone will rush out to see it opening weekend. Expect a moderate opening but decent legs that usually come with this sort of chick flick.

Opening moderately in just 1,100 theaters is Spike Lee’s WWII movie Miracle at St. Anna (Touchstone), the New York director’s most ambitious film to date, which tells a complex story of the all-black 92nd Division Buffalo Soldiers. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s able to appeal to African-American males over 30 like other WW2 movies tend to appeal to white males, but it might be hard for it to make much of an impact with other audiences, especially against the stronger Eagle Eye with its mixed reviews mostly about its excessive running time.

The inspirational film Fireproof (Samuel Goldwyn Films) starring Kirk Cameron will be released into over 600 theaters this weekend, and advance ticket sales have been solid, which makes us think it might be able to sneak into the bottom of the Top 10 or just outside with roughly $2.5 to $3 million.

(UPDATE: Generally, everything is getting more theaters than we originally projected but after seeing Eagle Eye–review linked below–we’ve decided that it might have a tougher time defeating the September opening record than we originally thought, although it will come very close and maybe just edge past it. Warner Bros.’ Nights in Rodanthe should do very well this weekend, as should Samuel Goldwyn’s Fireproof, which has been selling advance tickets at an alarming rate due to church groups buying them out for their members. Should be another interesting weekend for sure.)

This week’s “Chosen Ones” (I always love that irony!) are Neil Burger’s American road movie The Lucky Ones (Roadside Attractions), starring Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams and Michael Peña, and Clark Gregg’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke (Fox Searchlight) starring Sam Rockwell, both released into 400 theaters. The former will probably end up making less than a million while the latter could end up with about a million and a half. You can read more about them here

Updated Predictions

1. Eagle Eye (DreamWorks) – $35.8 million N/A (down .9 million)

2. Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros.) – $13.3 million N/A (up .2 million)

3. Lakeview Terrace (Screen Gems) – $7.2 million -52% (down .4 million)

4. Burn After Reading (Focus Features) – $6.2 million -44% (down .2 million)

5. Miracle at St. Anna (Touchstone) – $5.8 million N/A (up .2 million)

6. Igor (MGM) – $4.7 million -40% (down .1 million)

7. My Best Friend’s Girl (Lionsgate) – $4.5 million -46% (same)

8. Righteous Kill (Overture) – $3.8 million -48% (same)

9. Fireproof (Samuel Goldwyn) – $3.7 million N/A (up 1.1 million)

10. Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys (Lionsgate) – $3.3 million -53% (down .2 million and one spot)

Last year, the month of September ended with three new movies, two of them competing for the top spot, which ended up going to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s first family comedy The Game Plan (Disney) just under $23 million in 3,103 theatres, Johnson’s second biggest opener as a film’s primary star. His main competition came from his former director Peter Berg and his political action-thriller The Kingdom (Universal), starring Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner, which grossed $17.1 million in roughly 2,800 theaters for second place. The big loser of the weekend was MGM’s drama Feast of Love, starring Greg Kinnear and Morgan Freeman, which grossed less than $2 million in 1,200 theaters, ending up outside the Top 10. The top 10 movies ended up grossing $72.7 million, an amount that should be slaughtered if Eagle Eye does as well as we think it will.

(Sorry, still not up for writing another “Battle Cry” just yet… hopefully we’ll get back into that eventually.)


Eagle Eye (DreamWorks)
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chiklis, Anthony Mackie, Billy Bob Thornton
Directed by D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, Two for the Money, Taking Lives, The Salton Sea); Written by John Glenn and Travis Wright (upcoming The Lazarus Project, Clash of the Titans and The Warriors), Hillary Seitz (Insomnia), Dan McDermott (show “Angela’s Eyes”
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “If you want to live, you will obey.”
Plot Summary: Hustler Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) and single mother Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) are strangers thrown together when a mysterious woman on the phone warns them their live are in danger, forcing them to run for their lives as they’re pushed into more treacherous situations. As Jerry and Rachel become fugitives, they must work together to try to find out what’s really happening and why they’ve been dragged into it.

Review

What It’s Got Goin’ On:

This new thriller from the minds of producers Steven Spielberg, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman has so much going for it that we really don’t even know where to begin, but how about with those names alone? Spielberg really needs no introduction to anyone at this point, but he was the guy who originally came up with the idea for this tense action-thriller. He then personally picked the writing team of Orci and Kurtzman to bring his high concept idea to the screen after working with them on last year’s summer blockbuster Transformers, having been impressed with their earlier work with J. J. Abrams on Mission: Impossible III. The production team came from the world of television, working with Abrams on “Alias” after writing stints on “Hercules: The Lost Journey,” but they first joined up with DreamWorks when they co-wrote Michael Bay’s The Island. Besides co-writing Abrams’ feature film debut and last year’s Transformers, the duo have also been working closely with Abrams at reworking the “Star Trek” franchise with the updated Star Trek out next year. (Oh, and did we mention that they’re also the producers on the Fox series “Fringe”?) Clearly, these are two writer/producers on the rise with a number of blockbusters under their belt, and who are being taken more seriously among genre fans.

Probably the duo’s smartest move after being put in charge of this project by Spielberg was to reteam actor Shia LaBeouf with his D.J. Caruso, the director of Disturbia, after the two of them created one of the biggest sleeper hits of 2007 when it opened with $22 million, then held onto the #1 spot for three weeks amassing over $80 million. That was only the beginning of Shia LaBeouf’s career jump to box office star, having come a long way since his early days with Disney on the show “Even Stevens” and starring in the surprise hit Holes. Breaking away from Disney and cozying up with Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks ended up being LaBeouf’s best career move, as he went from Disturbia right into two back-to-back $300 million blockbusters, Michael Bay’s Transformers and then this year’s third highest grossing movie, co-starring with Harrison Ford in the summer blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Between those two movies, LaBeouf has increased his audience awareness by buckets, but he’s also become rather notorious from his well-documented exploits in the tabloids, including a car crash that left him seriously injured. These stories haven’t necessarily been detrimental for Shia ala Lindsay or Brittney, instead solidifying him as a James Dean like bad boy, something that is likely to make him even more popular among the ladies. Either way, LaBeouf’s Q-rating is at an all-time high as he makes a similar move to superstardom that the likes of Tom Hanks and Will Smith made and then never went back.

The other half of this two-hander is the lovely and talented Michelle Monaghan who first got attention in Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang opposite Robert Downey Jr., getting the eye of J. J. Abrams, who cast her opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible III. Last year, Monaghan got even more raves for her starring role in Ben Affleck’s Gone, Baby, Gone, followed by playing the romantic lead in Ben Stiller’s comedy bomb The Heartbreak Kid. Showing lots of courage, Monaghan then took on Iron Man at the start of this summer with her Sony rom-com Made of Honor opposite Patrick Dempsey, a movie which brought in a respectable $14.8 million its opening weekend against that heavy competition. Certainly, Monaghan’s popularity from that movie could help bring more women to see this. Maybe we’re biased here, but personally, we think that Monaghan is close to hitting it really big and very soon, we should see her in a movie role that finally gets her much-deserved Oscar attention.

Before helming Disturbia, Caruso also came from a background in television, most notably with his work on “The Shield” before helming The Salton Sea with Val Kilmer, Taking Lives with Angelina Jolie and then teaming Al Pacino and Matthew McConaughey in Two for the Money, the latter two doing moderately well but not spectacular. Again, being brought on to direct Disturbia by Spielberg ended up being the leg-up that Caruso needed to be taken seriously as a director among larger audiences, to the point where he’s even producing his own television show.

One can’t discount the rest of the cast, which includes Billy Bob Thornton, Rosario Dawson, and Michael Chiklis (from “The Shield”!!), all stars in their own right, as well as the always great Anthony Mackie, but they all play very small parts in the story and marketing, which is mostly about the two main stars. While the pairing of those two with Caruso should be enough to get people into theatres, we’ve seen too often bringing in moviegoers relies just as much on the premise as the stars. Eagle Eye has an intriguing one that looks like it falls somewhere between Harrison Ford’s The Fugitive and David Fincher’s The Game, and amidst the running around, there’s also a modern technology-based angle to the movie that will certainly appeal to moviegoers’s current gadget-happy way of life. The amazing action and stunts revolved around a normal guy, something that probably helped Universal’s Wanted become such a huge summer breakout hit. While this one doesn’t have Angelina Jolie or Morgan Freeman, it does have Shia, who is probably one of the more recognizable young stars out there these days.

DreamWorks is giving the movie a very wide theatrical release into over 3,300 theaters including IMAX screens, the first movie of the season to be released in IMAX following nearly 10 weeks of The Dark Knight bringing in tons of business and getting moviegoers more acclimated to seeing movies in the larger screen format. That could have a big impact on the opening weekend of what is going to be the biggest movie in a very slow movie market. If that weren’t enough, one might suspect that DreamWorks will use the opportunity to attach a teaser for next year’s inevitable summer blockbuster Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which will also be released in IMAX. (It makes good marketing sense, especially if it will help get people into theaters to see Eagle Eye.)

Why It Might Fail:

The biggest stumbling block for the movie might be the difficulty of releasing a big movie like this in September, which is generally a slower movie season, as we saw this past weekend. Originally, the movie was scheduled for a July release, but DreamWorks realized there were too many big movies that might cut into the number of theaters Eagle Eye might get, which ultimately would have hurt its potential box office. They decided to move it to the much more open last weekend in September, following other movies that made the same summer-September move, including Screen Gems’ Underworld, which successfully kicked off a franchise with the move, followed a year later by Paramount’s less than successful decision to move Jude Law’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow to September, a move that lost it a lot of momentum. The fact is that it’s the slow September season and this movie looks and feels like it should be a summer movie, and so far, the only action movie that’s cracked the $30 million mark in the month is the first Rush Hour ten years ago with a $33 million opening. (Both of the sequels opened in August.)

The September release might put some doubts about the film’s strength into the minds of more cynical moviegoers but with school in session on Friday and Sunday, it also might put a ceiling on how much the movie can bring in, especially among the teen audience who’ll probably rush out to see the movie Friday night.
Older moviegoers, say over 30, might not have nearly as much interest in this sort of action movie over some of the other movies in theaters, but at the least the high concept thriller and the casting of LaBeouf and Monaghan will make it more attractive to younger women.

Why I Should See It: This looks like it could be a really good action-thriller based on the creative team behind it and those on camera.
Why Not: If It was that good, why didn’t Spielberg and DreamWorks fight for screens in the summer?
Projections: $35 to 38 million opening weekend and roughly $100 million total

COMPARISONS


Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros.)
Starring Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Scott Glenn, Christopher Meloni, Viola Davis, James Franco, Mae Whitman, Pablo Schreiber
Directed by George C. Wolfe (“Lackawanna Blues”); Written by Ann Peacock (Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe), John Romano (Intolerable Cruelty)
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “It’s never too late for a second chance.”
Plot Summary: Adrienne Willis (Diane Lane) runs off to the coastal town of Rodanthe in North Carolina in order to escape the conflicts in her life, agreeing to tend a friend’s inn for the weekend, and encounters a doctor (Richard Gere) who has also gone there to face his own crisis, but when a major story hits, the two are left alone for the weekend to help each other through their problems.

Mini-Review: Granted, I’m not the primary audience for any movie that’s unapologetically catering to women who eat up schmaltzy romance and drama, but at some point, one has to wonder how women seem to find satisfaction in such mediocre entertainment, yet can barely be pleased with any other aspect of their life. It’s something men may never understand, and yet, Nicholas Sparks certainly has found his niche in doing so. The fourth adaptation of one of his books follows a fairly standard romance plot about a woman unsatisfied with her life who travels to a new place where she finds true love. In this case, Diane Lane’s Adrienne Willis, who ends up running her friend’s beachside hotel on the North Carolina coast, where she becomes trapped in a hurricane with the hotel’s one resident, a mysterious and charming doctor, played by Richard Gere, who has come to Rodanthe to face up to an operation that went tragically wrong. That’s all you really have to know about painstakingly slow and dull romantic drama that throws in a few too many soap opera subplots amidst its predictably formulaic storytelling. Every single possible cliché is used to bring the two of them together from a sequence of drunken silliness to the emotional shouting match to the inevitable first kiss. That’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, because director George C Wolf does have the beautiful North Carolina coastline as his setting, allowing for many picturesque shots of the giant house on the beach. He also has one of Hollywood’s most talented actresses in Diane Lane, who like her peer Joan Allen, can really capture the camera’s attention and keep the viewer riveted with every graceful movement and facial expression, this being a great showcase for her immense range. Lane is so good in this movie that you almost wish those around her stood a chance. Richard Gere is certainly good at silent brooding, but he’s not quite as good at pulling off any sort of emotional angst beyond that. There’s few actors who really need to do something different to get out of their current slump than Gere, since his phoned-in performance really takes away from the scenes with Lane. The film also suffers from a number of blaring continuity problems like the hurricane that’s coming for a good portion of the movie then hits mere seconds after the couple’s most emotional exchange. On the other hand, the movie does look great, and it’s accompanied by a pleasing score, although the overzealous composer does go a bit overboard at times trying to tug on every heartstring. Women expecting the Hollywood happy ending where everything works out for everyone might be surprised when this takes a very different turn, and as much as this tries to be a ten hanky movie, that ends up being just enough to make a nice noose for yourself after sitting through such an inexcusably downer ending. Mileage will certainly vary, especially among swooning female fans of the book, but “Nights in Rodanthe” is only really notable for Diane Lane, who certainly should be getting stronger material than this by now. Rating: 5.5/10

What It’s Got Goin’ On:

While this adaptation of Nicholas Spark’s novel isn’t the first unrepentant chick flick of the Fall movie season, it’s certainly the most promising, partially because of Sparks’ reputation as a storyteller and novelist after The Notebook, the last movie based on one of his books, grossed almost $80 million after a $13.5 million opening, showing some of the strongest legs for a movie in the summer of ’04. Before that, Sparks had moderate success with some of the previous adaptation including Message in a Bottle starring Kevin Costner, and the adaptation of his novel A Walk to Remember marked the acting debut of one Mandy Moore.

The potential for Nights in Rodanthe isn’t just based on the source material, because it also reunites two of the most popular movie stars among older women, Richard Gere and Diane Lane, who first appeared together in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club, then were paired together in the 2002 thriller Unfaithful, for which Lane was nominated for an Oscar. Lane has gone on to have a number of successful movies among women including the similar travel movie Under the Tuscan Sun and the romantic comedy Must Love Dogs, the latter for Warner Bros., both which ended up grossing $43 million. She did a few smaller independent movies, but earlier this year, she returned with the serial killer thriller Untraceable which opened well but trailed off quickly. Nights in Rodanthe returns Lane to familiar territory that will appeal to her older female fans, but so will her co-star Richard Gere, who’s also starred in a number of these romantic “chick flicks”, most notably his early hits Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride, both with Julia Roberts. Gere also tried to do some smaller movies like last year’s The Hunting Party, The Hoax and Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, none of which brought in the type of audiences Gere has garnered with past movies. In fact, Gere’s biggest hit since Unfaithful was the remake of Shall We Dance? another romantic movie that mainly appealed to women, bringing in nearly $58 million.

As much as a draw that each actor might have on their own among older women, putting them back together especially with this sort of romantic material is something that will certainly be a big selling point for the movie among women. While Gere was coming off his award-winning turn in the musical Chicago when he starred in Unfaithful, Lane had been acting since childhood but had achieved a new point in her career with that movie. Reuniting stars certainly worked well when Gere was reunited with Roberts in Runaway Bride, as it became his second highest grossing movie with $152 million (surpassed by Chicago three years later). Similarly, reuniting Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, the stars of the action-thriller Speed, in the time-spanning romantic drama The Lake House proved to be a decent summer hit for Warner Bros. in 2006, and earlier this year, they reunited Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey in the adventure comedy Fool’s Gold. (Apparently, reteaming classic screen couples is becoming Warner Bros’ niche. Who’s next? Tom and Jerry?)

The key is that Warner Bros. tends to do well with this type of movie, as seen most recently by Hilary Swank’s P.S. I Love You, and the commercials for the movie have been running regularly during daytime television to drum up awareness. They’re generally decent commercials, featuring quotes from “critics” that should help attract the film’s target audience, who do read and listen to reviews for the most part. There haven’t been too many reviews at this point, but they might only play a small factor in the movie’s success, since women who like the actors or have read Nicholas Sparks’ book will not be swayed from seeing this once they set their minds to it. (For example, The Lake House only got 36% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes; Must Love Dogs only got 35%; P.S. I Love You got only 21%! Clearly, the male-driven business of film criticism does not apply here.)

Being an unrepentant “chick flick”, you can expect groups of women to go see it together, either after work or during the daytime when kids are at school in the case of housewives, much like other recent movies geared towards that demographic. The appeal of the movie to housewives will certainly help the film’s legs since they’ll likely go see the movie during the week rather than on opening weekend.

Why It Might Fail:

This is a chick flick, plain and simple, and there’s no way that any sane man will have any interest in seeing this, nor will it hold much interest to the younger female audience that might have gone to see The Notebook since it doesn’t have young stars like Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. This is more for women over 25 or 30, so having a PG-13 rating really doesn’t make much of a difference, unlike last week’s My Best Friend’s Girl, which lost a lot of its potential audience by being R-rated. Women generally don’t rush out to see movies opening weekend either, although that’s been changing in recent years where female-centric movies do very well opening weekend and then maintain legs as they tell their friends. There may be somewhat of a “seen it before” feel to the commercials that might turn some women off from seeing it, at least until they hear from friends whether it’s worth seeing, and the recent economic problems might put somewhat of a damper on anyone wanting to see a romantic movie.

It’s a little worrying that this is a movie from a first-time director, in this case George C. Wolfe, whose primary credit is “Lackawanna Blues.” Warner Bros. has often given new filmmakers or those from the world of commercials and music videos a chance with high profiles movies, which his often why so many of them get bad reviews. As mentioned above, reviews won’t really matter much for this one, although going by past history, reviews from male critics will be fairly damning.

Why I Should See It: Richard Gere and Diane Lane knocked one out of the park with “Unfaithful” and reuniting them might prove to be just as fruitful.
Why Not: If you’re not a woman, you might be one by the time the end credits roll.
Projections: $13 to 15 million opening weekend on its way to roughly $40 to 45 million.

COMPARISONS


Miracle at St. Anna (Touchstone)
Starring Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller, Pierfrancesco Favino, Valentina Cervi
Directed by Spike Lee (Inside Man, She’s Gotta Have It, Jungle Fever, Do the Right Thing, The 25th Hour, Mo’ Better Blues and many MANY more); Written by James McBride (author of the novel)
Genre: Drama, War
Rated R
Tagline: “World War II has its heroes and its miracles.”
Plot Summary: After a shooting in a post office, the police find the head of an ancient Italian statue in the shooter’s closet that leads back to a group of soldiers in the all-black 92nd Division Buffalo Soldiers who end up trapped behind enemy lines in a small Italian village.

Review

What It’s Got Goin’ On:

There’s a really interesting story behind this movie that mainly comes out of filmmaker Spike Lee being unhappy with the depiction (or lack thereof) of black soldiers who fought during WW2, particularly in Clint Eastwood’s 2006 movie Flags of our Fathers, which completely left out any presence of black soldiers in the taking of Iwo Jima. Spike Lee found the novel by James McBride and decided to have him adapt it for Lee’s first foray into making a war movie. It makes sense that Lee might want to get further away from his New York indie roots, coming off the biggest hit of his career with the star-studded crime-thriller Inside Man, which grossed $88.6 million, almost twice as much as Lee’s next highest grossing movie, the 1992 biopic on Malcolm X starring Denzel Washington, for which he received an Oscar nomination.

Miracle at St. Anna is similar to that movie in that it deals with an aspect of the African-American experience that hasn’t been covered in previous movies to date, and at the hands of Spike Lee, one of the preeminent black filmmakers, it certainly will be taken far more seriously. Despite his credentials as one of the most famous New York directors (along with Woody Allen), Lee has only been honored by the Academy for his work twice, once for the screenplay for his early film Do the Right Thing and once for his documentary 4 Little Girls. Even though a lot of black filmmakers have come along and done more business at the box office, Lee is still taken very seriously in terms of the subject matter for his movies, whether it’s the popular comedy concert film The Original Kings of Comedy that broke the careers of comics like Bernie Mac or Cedric the Entertainer, or his compelling documentary about New Orleans, “When the Levee Breaks,” which won three Emmys including one for Lee’s direction. Miracle at St. Anna reunites Lee with Disney who released two of his movies in the ‘90s, He Got Game and Summer of Sam; they ended up in the middle of the road in terms of Lee’s box office potential, having had a number of moderate hits in the $30 to 40 million range, but Lee also had one of his biggest bombs recently with She Hate Me in 2004 (followed two years later by Inside Man).

Lee has also earned a reputation for finding amazing talent, after giving the likes of Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, John Leguizamo, Samuel L. Jackson and John Turturro their first big breaks, and he has assembled a great young cast for this movie, led by Derek Luke, probably the more recognized star in the film since his breakout in Denzel Washington’s directorial debut Antwone Fisher. Luke also co-starred in two political thrillers, David Mamet’s Spartan and Phillip Noyce’s Catch a Fire. Luke’s most successful movies have been the ones dealing with sports, Peter Berg’s Friday Night Lights and the basketball movie Glory Road, and St. Anna in some ways is similar to those, being another ensemble cast. The rest of his “band of brothers” includes Michael Ealy, a veteran of various films and television shows who is starring opposite Will Smith in the upcoming Seven Pounds, up ‘n’ comer Laz Alonso who’ll be in next year’s Fast and Furious and James Cameron’s Avatar and Omar Benson Miller, who co-starred in the 50 Cents biopic Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Halle Berry’s Things We Lost in the Fire and had a small role in Michael Bay’s Transformers

The main storyline also stars Pierfrancesco Favino, who had a key role in Disney’s The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian over the summer, but fans of Spike Lee’s movies might be thrilled to see brief appearances by some of the actors Lee has worked with in the past including John Leguizamo, John Turturro and Kerry Washington

Another big factor of the film’s potential is that it’s a war movie, a very popular genre in the past going by the success of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Mel Gibson’s We Were Soldiers, neither which had any black soldiers, nor did Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down. On the other hand, Nicolas Cage’s two forays into the genre with Windtalkers and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (more of a wartime romance) were dismal failures. One big difference with all of those movies is that they had either big stars and/or big directors involved while all that Miracle has is Spike Lee himself.

Why It Might Fail:

And that’s the problem. Despite the enormous success of Inside Man, which some account to the casting of Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster, Spike Lee is still seen as somewhat of a loose cannon, an unknown commodity in Hollywood, who has not proven himself to be a consistent filmmaker in terms of quality or box office. Some might still think of Lee as an independent filmmaker due to his early films which were made outside the studio system, but in recent years, Lee has been doing more studio films including Inside Man, and even Malcolm X was financed by Warner Bros.

There’s some weird baggage hanging over this movie due to Spike Lee’s heated “dialogue” with Clint Eastwood about the lack of black soldiers in his war movies, and while Lee certainly could have put his money where his mouth is and made a better movie than Flags of our Fathers, going by the early reviews from the Toronto Film Festival, he didn’t. (I haven’t written my own review yet, but personally I feel both movies aren’t great.)

Touchstone is giving Lee’s movie a moderate release into 1,100 although that’s fairly reasonable for a movie geared towards black audiences and movigoers in major cities, so one would expect the business to be heavier in those areas. The running time will severely hurt the movie, not only because few people will want to sit in a movie for that long, but it will also reduce how many times theaters will be able to show the movie per day so even if there is some demand to see it, it’ll be limited, especially since it will generally only get one screen per theater.

In recent years, Disney has not exactly been great for getting their movies seen by urban audiences. Sure, they had some success with Queen Latifah when they teamed her with Steve Martin in Bringing Down the House, but they recently dropped the ball with Martin Lawrence’s College Road Trip which grossed just $47 million, which isn’t bad unless you compare it to some of his bigger comedies (like last year’s Wild Hogs.)

One wonders if older white males who might normally go to see a war movie might give this a pass since it’s from Lee, and they expect it to be preachy or too Afrocentric, especially if they read the reviews and realize how little of the movie involves any sort of wartime action.

Why I Should See It: Spike Lee taking on WW2 is quite an exciting venture.
Why Not: It’s 2 hours and 41 minutes long!!!! Who the hell wants to sit through ANY movie that long?
Projections: $5 to 7 million opening weekend on its way to roughly $15 million.

COMPARISONS

Also Opening Wide This Weekend:

Fireproof (Samuel Goldwyn Films) – Kirk Cameron stars in this spiritual and inspirational drama, playing Captain Caleb Holt, a fireman whose marriage is falling apart as his wife starts to wish she didn’t marry him. As they’re about to divorce, Caleb’s father challenges him to follow an experiment called “The Love Dare” that requires him to embrace a faith in God, something Caleb doesn’t think will help with his unresponsive wife. The movie opens in roughly 600 theaters this weekend and should make roughly $3 million or slightly less.


THE CHOSEN ONE:

I know it’s cheating but we’re going with two this week, because I really can’t decide and I like both movies in different ways. (Granted, they’re both very different films that generally won’t both appeal to everyone.)

The Lucky Ones (Roadside Attractions)
Starring Rachel McAdams, Tim Robbins, Michael Pena, Molly Hagan, Mark L. Young, Howard Platt, Arden Myrin, Coburn Goss
Written and directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist, Interview with the Assassin) with Dirk Wittenborn (Fierce People)
Genre: Drama, Road Movie
Rated R
Tagline: “Sometimes losing your way home means finding yourself.”
Plot Summary: Three soldiers on leave from Iraq must share a car, driving across the country when their planes are cancelled. Along the way, reservist Fred Cheever (Tim Robbins), Colee Dunn (Rachel McAdams) and T. K. Poole (Michael Peña) start to bond and help each other through the issues that brought them back home in the first place.

Interview with Neil Burger

I have to admit I was slightly tentative about this movie the first time I sat in a theater to watch it. While I had huge expectations, being a huge fan of Neil Burger’s previous movie The Illusionist to the point where it was my #6 movie of 2006 in my Top 25, what worried me about the film was that it seemed like essentially another movie about injured soldiers returning home and dealing with the prejudices faced by soldiers fighting for a country who isn’t entirely about having soldiers in Iraq after five years. I worried the movie would be another liberal drama saying the same things that’ve been covered in some excellent recent docs, but not as well in movies like Home on the Brave and Kimberly Peirce’s Stop-Loss. Boy, was I wrong on that one.

I caught the movie a few weeks back at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it was a fairly engaging story about three soldiers trying to deal with unresolved issues while traveling across the country together. McAdams’ Colee carries around the acoustic guitar of a dead fellow soldier (and boyfriend), while Tim Robbins’ Cheever just wants to see his wife and son, only to return two years since leaving to discover that she’s moved on with her life. Michael Peña’s T.K. Poole was injured by shrapnel in a delicate area that keeps him from performing sexually, something he hopes to fix before seeing his fiancé.

This really was nothing like any of the other “war movies” I’ve seen in recent years, and though it doesn’t have the flash of Burger’s previous film with its gorgeous combination of cinematography and production design, it takes a lower-key and more organic approach to the filmmaking that makes the situations the soldiers go through feel more real. I was especially amused by how the various people they meet on their road trip—and these are normal people not “eccentric characters” as is so often the case with the genre—react to them being soldiers. While Burger doesn’t try to dodge the serious issues faced by soldiers when trying to adjust to life back home, this is actually a very entertaining road movie more in the vein of Little Miss Sunshine, following these well-developed characters as portrayed by three terrific actors who span the gamut of emotions along the road trip. In fact, the first time I saw the movie—for the sake of honesty, I only saw the first half hour of the movie for reasons not worth going into—I didn’t even recognize Rachel McAdams. Maybe it was the Southern accent or the different hairstyle or how dressed-down she was, but considering what a huge fan I am of her previous work, it’s surprising how different she comes across in the role of a soldier, merely by putting on different clothes and an accent. Sure, there have been some serious docs that covered the experience of a soldier’s return home better than this, but I found the experience of watching this film to be engaging, especially how each of the individual stories were resolved and how the soldiers bonded over the course of the movie. It’s a great testament to Burger and co-writer Dirk Wittenborn, as well as the three actors, that they’re able to bring out so man emotions with such a simple story and film.

If you have any issues about watching movies dealing with soldiers or Iraq, then you should temporarily cast them aside to check out Neil Burger’s The Lucky Ones, a refreshing departure from the normal “soldier’s story” movies we’ve seen in recent years, which will open in roughly 400 theaters on Friday.

Choke (Fox Searchlight)
Starring Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston, Clark Gregg, Brad William Henke, Kelly MacDonald
Written and directed by Clark Gregg (directorial debut of the character actor)
Genre: Dark Comedy
Rated R
Plot Summary: Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) is a sex addict, but when he’s not trying to f*ck anything that moves, he works at a Colonial village recreation and pretends to choke on his food in restaurants trying to get rich Samaritans to save him. All of that is to help keep his aging mother Ida (Anjelica Huston) in a retirement home where she’s suffering from dementia to the point where she doesn’t even recognize her son. His mother’s doctor (Kelly MacDonald) has some crazy ideas how to cure his mother while his best friend (Brad William Henke) has fallen in love with a stripper.

Interview with Clark Gregg & Sam Rockwell

Some people think that Jack Black or Will Ferrell or Ben Stiller are the funniest guys making movies, but me, I like Sam Rockwell. I can’t really explain it, but there’s something about the way he really doesn’t have to try hard to be funny to get laughs, just in the way he delivers lines whether it’s deliberate comedies like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or how he brings welcome laughs to movies like Joshua and David Gordon Green’s adaptation of Snow Angels, a tough drama in which Rockwell managed to get laughs despite everything he’s put through. Really, there’s no better actor to take on a Chuck Palahniuk character (Sorry Brad Pitt) because the character of Victor Mancini would not have worked with anyone else, since he’s so generally unlikable and Rockwell is so good at playing characters who can do and say lots of bad things to people but whom you like anyway. Frankly, I wasn’t even that big a fan of the novel, having read it right after going nuts for David Fincher’s Fight Club, which is still in my Top 10 for favorite movies of all time. Even without that kind of filmmaking experience, frequent character actor Clark Gregg has done a really impressive job adapting Palahniuk’s material in a way that almost surpasses the original novel, and a lot of that has to do with not just Rockwell, but his entire cast, with an especially impressive performance by Anjelica Huston, who plays herself in the present day as a old woman suffering from dementia, and in flashbacks where we see how she f*cked up Victor’s childhood so badly as he went from one foster home to another, always being “rescued” by his mother who had proven to be unfit to care for her child. MacDonald gives another crush-worthy performance as a doctor with unconventional methods of medicine, and Brad William Henke is enjoyable as Victor’s dim-witted best friend who takes a less cynical view of the world. Like the novel, this is a rich character-driven film full of depth and plot developments as we watch Victor’s journey to coming to terms with his past and working things out with his mother and his own sexual libido. Like Palahniuk’s writing, the movie isn’t going to be for everyone and this is by no means Fight Club 2 if that’s what you’re looking for, but it’s a very funny and very dark comedy that doesn’t pull any punches in terms of dealing with sexuality, and it’ll be interesting to see how it fares in such a busy weekend. Hopefully, it’ll do better than Rockwell’s last few movies because he’s really an actor that more people should appreciate as much as I do, and though I was slightly mixed about the movie when I first saw it at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (see my thoughts above), the movie really does stand up well to repeat viewings, allowing one to get a lot more out of what Clark Gregg has done in bringing Palahniuk’s writing to life.

Choke opens in 400 theaters nationwide on Friday.

Also in Limited Release:

The Amazing Truth about Queen Raquela (Regent Releasing) – Olaf de Fleur Johannesson’s drama about a transsexual trying to escape the streets of Cebu City in the Philippines for a life in Paris, something she tries to achieve by entering the world of internet porn, which helps get her in touch with another transsexual from Iceland. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinemas and in L.A. at the Regent Theatre.

Forever Strong (Crane Movie Company) – Sean Faris and Gary Cole star in this real-life sports drama about the coach of a rugby team that’s thrown into disarray when the hot-headed and troubled star of a rival team comes to town and is mentored into changing his ways. Yes, it’s essentially the exact same plot as Faris’ last movie Never Back Down except this time he’s playing rugby. It opens in select cities on Friday.

Humboldt County (Magnolia Pictures) – A disillusioned medical student (Jeremy Strong) comes upon a community of marijuana farmers in the “Lost Coast” of California and is taken in by an eccentric family. Co-starring Peter Bogdanovich, Frances Conroy and Fairuza Balk, this indie drama from Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs opens in select cities.

Obscene (Arthouse Films) – Filmmakers Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O’Connor follow the life of Barney Rosset, the publisher of Grove Press and the Evergreen Review, who published controversial works in the United States including “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, “Tropic of Cancer” and “Naked Lunch” as well as works by Samuel Beckett, Malcolm X and Che Guevara. Besides battling the government on various obscenity charges, he also fought against lawsuits, death-threats and angered feminists. The film opens in New York at the Cinema Village.

Shoot on Sight (Aron Govil Productions) – A thriller about a Muslim police officer who works at England’s Scotland Yard who is assigned to investigate the shooting of a Muslim terrorist and has to make some tough decisions. Inspired by the July 7, 2005 terrorist attacks on the London Underground, this film, which also stars Brian Cox, opens in 30 theaters in select cities on Friday.

Smother (Variance Films) – Diane Keaton and Dax Shepard star in Vince Di Meglio’s comedy about 29 year old married man Noah (Shepard) who’s fired from his job right before his overbearing mother Marilyn (Keaton) moves in along with her five dogs. Liv Tyler plays Noah’s wife who’s pressuring him to have a baby. This opens in select cities on Friday.

Whaledreamers (Lonely Seal Releasing)
– Kim Kindersley’s stirring tale about an ancient whale-dreaming tribe of Aboriginals from Southern Australia called the Mirning, whom are almost on the edge of extinction until the eight-five elders from around the globe gather to connect with their past and their animal totem, the whale.


Next week, the month of October starts out with a crazy busy week like we haven’t seen in a long time, but with only a couple movies opening in more than 2,000 theatres. Talking dogs hit the screen in the Disney family film Beverly Hills Chihuahua, while Michael Cera and Kat Dennings spend a night in New York in Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Screen Gems). Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo star in Fernando (City of God) Meirelles’ apocalyptic thriller Blindness (Miramax) while Greg Kinnear invents the intermittent windshield wiper in Flash of Genius (Universal). Simon Pegg teaches us How to Lose Friends & Alienate People (MGM), while David Zucker might do just that with his right wing comedy An American Carol (Vivendi Entertainment).

Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas

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