The Weekend Warrior: Nov. 14 – 16

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 theater counts.

Updated Predictions and Comparisons -

1. Quantum of Solace (Sony) – $62.6 million N/A (down .8 million)

2. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (DreamWorks) – $37.8 million -40% (same)

3. Role Models (Universal) – $10.8 million -44% (same)

4. High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Disney) – $5.5 million -40% (same)

5. Changeling (Universal) – $4.6 million -37% (same)

6. Zack and Miri Make a Porno (Weinstein Co.) – $3.4 million -46% (down .2)

7. Soul Men (MGM/Dimension) – $3.1 million -43% (down .1)

8. The Secret Life of Bees (Fox Searchlight) – $2.0 million -36% (same)

9. Saw V (Lionsgate) – $1.7 million -53%

10. The Haunting of Molly Hartley (Freestyle) – $1.4 million -58% (down .4)

Weekend Overview

You don’t have be a genius or have a ton of box office predicting experience to know that the 22nd James Bond film Quantum of Solace (MGM/Sony) will run rampant over the box office this weekend as fans of 2006′s Casino Royale (which is a lot of people) rush out to see its sequel, once again starring Daniel Craig as the British special agent. The key is that many people liked or loved the previous movie, which essentially acted as a reboot, but its sequel doesn’t have any competition for screens or audiences, which should allow it to do significantly better, most likely setting a new opening record for the franchise. The question is how big an opening it might see and whether it will sustain that business over the holidays, and that will probably depend on whether those who go to see it like it enough to see it a second time and tell their friends. The movie has been very successful in other regions where it’s already opened including England, where it set a new opening day record, and other places where it’s done significantly better than its predecessor. North America should follow suit allowing it to deliver the second $60 million plus opening of the month.

(UPDTE: It looks like Quantum of Solace will be getting fewer theaters than we expected, but we still think that a lot of Bond fans, new and old, will be out in force and with nothing else there for the guys from 15 to 30 and older, this should do very well. Additionally, we forgot to mention earlier this week that Disney would be previewing their upcoming animated movie Bolt in 840 theaters on Saturday evening.)

This weekend last year, three new movies opened in wide release, but they weren’t able to knock out the powerhouse twosome of DreamWorks Animation’s Bee Movie and Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, which swapped positions as the Jerry Seinfeld animated movie took the top spot with $25 million and the Denzel Washington-Russell Crowe crime-thriller dropped to #2 with $24 million. Warner Bros. opened the holiday comedy Fred Claus starring Vince Vaughn into over 3,600 theaters, but it had to settle for third place with $18.52 million. Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep starred in Robert Redford’s political drama Lions for Lambs, but that did very poorly, grossing just $6.7 million for fourth place. The horror-thriller P2 (Summit) opened in over 2,000 theaters but just barely made $2 million for the weekend, ending up at #9. The Top 10 grossed $94.3 million but between Quantum of Solace and DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, that amount should get blown out of the water by this week’s offerings.


THE BATTLE CRY

Where on earth did this year go?

It’s really hard to believe that it’s November already, and that the holidays and the awards season are both right around the corner. Maybe it feels strange that so much of the year has gone by because while holiday decorations are already coming out, it doesn’t really feel like the awards season has gotten going yet. In the past years, we’ve had quite a few good movies released in September and October or at least shown at the various film festivals, and often, by this time, there are already a number of frontrunners, whether it’s Helen Mirren or Forrest Whitaker or Sean Penn or Joaquin Phoenix or Bill Murray—performances so strong they seemed hard for anyone to ignore or contest.

You also have to understand that in the past few years, the Oscar race has been discussed, debated and analyzed for six months or more before the envelopes were opened. There are a lot of great sites and blogs that analyze the awards season–Tom O’Neil’s Gold Derby, Sasha Stone’s Awards Daily, and Erik Childress’ The Oscar Eye are three personal faves—but with so many other sites and writers jumping into the game every year, it’s gotten to the point where the studios and filmmakers are trying to keep their movies hidden as long as possible. (We won’t even get into all the silly feuds that regularly occurs between the various awards blogs and sites, which are often more entertaining than even the best awards telecasts.)

This year, every studio and producer seems to be keeping things close to vest, and as someone who regularly writes an Oscar column, I can’t tell you how frustrating and annoying it is to have so little to write about merely based on what I’ve seen so far. Sure, we’ve had lots of great movies like The Dark Knight and Iron Man and WALL•E and this week’s “Chosen One” Slumdog Millionaire (see below), plus few who’ve seen Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler can’t deny Mickey Rourke’s amazing transformative performance deserves accolades. Even so, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of movies strong enough to be considered Best Picture contenders and the movies that some think might make it just aren’t being shown, which is why so many people are backing the movies they’ve already seen. If it weren’t bad enough we haven’t gotten many memorable or strong awards contenders over the last ten months and a number of anticipated movies were vanquished to 2009, there are so many potentially great movies coming out in the next two months that are essentially being hidden.

For instance, as a New York based critic writing for a website, I probably won’t be given a chance to see Doubt or Revolutionary Road or Defiance or “Benjamin Button” or The Reader until sometime in December, after I’ve already written my first Oscar column. Movies like Baz Luhrmann’s Australia will have opened by then, but 20th Century Fox has been waiting until the very last minute to screen it, possibly because Luhrmann is still finishing it up with some last minute edits. (That seems to be part of the reason for these movies not being screened, delays due to directorial tweaking.) But then there’s the case of smaller subsidiaries like Miramax and Paramount Vantage who in past years have had great success during Oscar season thanks to early critical buzz for movies like The Queen, Babel and There Will Be Blood. This year, they seem to want to wait until the last possible minute to screen their movies, going completely against what worked so well for them in years past. (Of course, part of this might be that so many movie writers have proven incapable of keeping their mouths shut and following review embargoes requested by the studios, but that’s a completely different argument.)

It’s a plan that will probably backfire since so much of awards season relies on that early critical buzz and how it translates to the audiences in the months leading up to the first awards nominations. That kind of free publicity has to be built up well in advance for people actually to go see these movies when they’re released. Even those who work in the industry, like guild members and those who vote for other awards, rely heavily on reliable news sources and columnists to inform them of which movies are worth seeing.

With so few movies being talked about, that means we’ll probably see things like a Heath Ledger vs. Robert Downey Jr. supporting actor race for movies like The Dark Knight and Tropic Thunder, two studios movies that normally wouldn’t even be considered Oscar material, but that have built up so much good will among mass audiences–critics and moviegoers alike–that they’ll be hard to ignore when people have already actually seen them. If this happens, a lot of the movies from smaller studios will end up being lost in the shuffle, which is a shame since they’re usually the ones who don’t have the type of money to buy huge commercial sports and could use free buzz.

Hopefully, this situation will change but since I’m planning on writing my Oscar column sometime over the Thanksgiving holidays, it’s going to be filled with less informed opinions when it comes to the Oscars then past years–not like this has stopped any of the other columnists or bloggers who write about awards season every year, mind you. It’s a shame because for years, it’s been the critics and the vocal awards sites who’ve been so instrumental in creating the buzz that convinces awards voters that a movie is worth seeing, let alone nominating. In trying to do things differently this year, the studios and filmmakers who wait too long might be losing the support that a lot of the smaller and artier movies need to be able to actually MAKE MONEY, which when it comes down to it, should be just as important to them or even moreso than winning awards.


Quantum of Solace (MGM/Sony)
Starring Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright, Jesper Christensen, Joaquin Cosio
Directed by Marc Forster (The Kite Runner, Finding Neverland, Stay, Stranger Than Fiction); Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade (Casino Royale, Johnny English, Die Another Day, The World is Not Enough), Paul Haggis (Crash, In the Valley of Elah, Letters From Iwo Jima, Casino Royale)
Genre: Action, Thriller, Drama
Rated PG-13
Plot Summary: After the death of his lover Vesper Lynde, James Bond Agent 007 (Daniel Craig) is hellbent on getting revenge on the secret organization behind her death, leading him to South America where he encounters an environmentalist named Dominic Greene (Matthieu Amalric), a rebellious woman named Camille (Olga Kurylenko) who has her own reasons for getting close to Greene, and a mysterious global organization involved in a lot of terrorism and treachery worldwide.

Review

Interview with Marc Forster

Analysis:

Possibly one of the few sure things this fall season is the 22nd James Bond movie and the second starring Daniel Craig as Agent 007, which will try its best to capitalize on the good will heaped upon the franchise when it was rebooted two years ago with Casino Royale. With both anticipation and hesitation surrounding it, the first Craig Bond movie opened with $40 million while settling for second place against Warner Bros.’ animated Happy Feet. While that was a softer opening than the previous installment Die Another Day, it did end up grossing $167 million domestically, before becoming the highest grossing Bond film with almost $600 million worldwide.

Daniel Craig wasn’t too well known in this country when he was hired to be the sixth James Bond back in 2005, having starred in Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake and with small roles in other movies. Him being given the prestigious role for the first major relaunch of the series since Dr. No more than forty years earlier, was a huge deal. Not everyone was happy with the decision to have the blonde Craig in the role, since he was much more gruff and hard than the more debonair version of the character played by Pierce Brosnan, who had become very popular during his four-film tenure. One of the things done with Casino Royale was to try to make Bond more human and set in the real world in answer to the “Jason Bourne” movies, and the relaunch ended up being a big hit with fans, both old and new, mostly loving Craig and the more violent and real direction for the character.

Quantum of Solace promises more of the same as it continues the story begun in “Casino,” also bringing back many of the auxiliary characters from the relaunch including Dame Judi Dench as M–one of the few mainstays from the Pierce Brosnan era Bond–Jeffrey Wright as CIA operative Felix Leiter and Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini as Mathis. The movie’s new villain is French actor Mathieu Amalric as Dominic Greene, an ambitious environmentalist trying to manipulate world resources to make money for a mysterious criminal organization. Amalric might be best known for his small role in Steven Spielberg’s Munich or his amazing turn in Julian Schnabel’s drama The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, but he appears in five or six French films a year including Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale opening this weekend (see below). The movie’s newest Bond girls are Olga Kurylenko, the Russian beauty seen in video game movies Max Payne and Hitman, and the very hot Gemma Arterton, who’ll star in Disney’s 2010 summer epic Prince of Persia.

The best thing going for Quantum of Solace is the sequel factor, because it’s following just two years after the previous movie, which was received well both critically and among moviegoers with 94% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and 8 out of 10 from IMDb Users, both good numbers for an action movie, let alone the 21st movie in a franchise. There are a bunch of sequels both recent and otherwise that one can use as a comparison for “Quantum,” the most obvious one being The Dark Knight, which was the sequel to Batman Begins, a similar relaunch of the Batman franchise that may have influenced the decision to reboot Bond. Of course, there were a lot more factors involved with The Dark Knight‘s overwhelming success–it being the second-to-last movie of Heath Ledger and the enormous marketing campaign–but it’s a good recent barometer for how a sequel can open huge, and Batman Begins only grossed $35 million more than Casino Royale.

Then there’s the actual Jason Bourne series that equally influenced the Bond reboot. Each of the successive Bourne movies have done better than the previous one with the opening of 2004′s The Bourne Supremacy nearly doubling its predecessor, and the third movie The Bourne Ultimatum opening even bigger, solidifying Matt Damon’s status as a box office star. While it’s doubtful that Quantum of Solace can double Casino Royale‘s $40 million opening, a 50-60% increase shouldn’t be surprising as the previous movie found an equally large audience on DVD after doing well in theaters.

One of the big changes from the previous movie is the film’s director. Whereas Casino Royale was directed by Martin Campbell, who already had another Bond movie, GoldenEye, under his belt, Quantum of Solace brings on a director who might still seem like a strange choice. Marc Forster first got attention for his drama Monster’s Ball roughly seven years ago, and his filmography has been suitably eclectic, following that with the Oscar-nominated Finding Neverland starring Johnny Depp, the psychological thriller Stay, Will Ferrell’s Stranger Than Fiction and last year’s adaptation of the best-selling novel The Kite Runner. “Neverland” was his highest-grossing movie with $51 million followed by the Ferrell movie, but he doesn’t have much experience with this kind of movie.

There’s been a lot of buzz for the movie over the last year as information leaked out but the biggest reaction came with the announcement of the title, taken from an Ian Fleming short story, which had a lot of people scratching their heads, because “Quantum of Solace” is not exactly the most striking or recognizable phrase, nothing like “Tomorrow Never Dies!” or “Die Another Day!” or “Live and Let Die!” (I’m adding the exclamation points for emphasis, of course.) By comparison, “Quantum of Solace” doesn’t exactly jump out as a great title for an exciting action movie, so one wonders how many people will even realize it’s the new Bond movie when they see it on the marquee.

Even so, this is one of Sony’s big movies of the year and they’ve been promoting the hell out of it with product tie-ins and commercials that let fans of the previous know that the sequel is coming out soon. There really hasn’t been any kind of decent action movie for guys over 25 in a long time. DreamWorks’ Eagle Eye and Max Payne both skewed younger, and for many, this will be the first must-see movie since The Dark Knight back in July. Unlike Casino Royale, the 22nd Bond movie is opening against absolutely no competition in terms of new movies, so it’s likely to get a ton more screens and theaters, and it is a sequel that’s following up on the good will given to its predecessor.

Early reviews for “Quantum” haven’t been overwhelmingly positive as it opened in the UK two weeks earlier, although it did set a new opening day record when it opened there, and this past weekend, the movie opened in other territories where it also opened significantly better than its predecessor. (Of course, in international territories, it’s also likely to have gotten more theaters and screens than the previous movie based on the nature of the growing theater business in other countries.)

One can expect that “Quantum” should open just as well here, although the fact that the movie has been playing in so many other regions means there might already be bootlegs on the internet that might lessen its business, although fans of the previous movie, many of whom saw it on DVD, will more likely want to see the sequel on the big screen. Because of this, look for Quantum of Solace to be the second movie this month to open over $60 million and depending on how many theaters Sony can get i.e. whether it ends up in closer to 4,000, this could be pushing $70 million if fans of Casino Royale rush to see it this weekend rather than waiting.

Why I Should See It: Daniel Craig has proven to be a great new Bond and with Marc Forster at the helm, this certainly should be a Bond movie to remember.
Why Not: Early reviews have been mixed and it’s hard to make another movie as good as Casino Royale.
Projections: $62 to 65 million opening weekend and roughly $200 to 210 million total

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight)
Starring Dev Patel, Madhur Mittal, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan
Directed by Danny Boyle; Written by Simon Beaufoy
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Adventure, Crime
Rated R
Plot Summary: When he was a child, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) lived in the slums of Bombay, India, running wild in the streets with his brother Salim until they meet the young girl Latika, who becomes the third wheel in their gang of troublemakers before being separated. Years later, Jamal is still trying to find Latika, as he gets a chance to be on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

Review

Interview with Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy

Honorable Mention:

A Christmas Tale (IFC Films)
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Matthieu Amalric, Melvil Poupaud, Chiara Mastroianni, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Anne Consigny, Hippolyte Girardot, Emmanuelle Devos, Emile Berling, Laurent Capelluto
Written and directed by Arnaud Desplechin (Kings and Queen,
Genre: Drama
Unrated
Plot Summary: A family gathering for the holidays is marred by drunken feuding and bed-hopping as the grown-up siblings (Anne Consigny, Melvil Poupaud, Mathieu Amalric) continue the arguments that separate them years earlier. The circumstances leading to the uncomfortable reunion is the disease being suffered by the mother of the house (Catherine Deneuve) that requires a blood transfusion from one of her relatives, which causes more feuding.

It’s opening at the IFC Center on Friday after the anthology series “The Films of Arnaud Desplechin” which has been running for the last week.

Mini-Review: Those looking for a cheery family gathering for the holidays flick, the kind Hollywood loves for their ability to make money this time of year, might want to look elsewhere (like the upcoming “Nothing Like the Holidays”). Those who enjoy quirky family dramas, beautifully written, performed and shot will be thrilled by Desplechin’s latest, that’s almost like a French version of “The Royal Tenenbaums,” though not quite as much fun. This is a mostly serious drama that starts with the death of a young boy, a backstory told using marionettes no less, before introducing the various members of the family who’ll come together for an eventful weekend that will cause them to rethink familial bonds. Much of the story revolves around Catherine Deneuve trying to find a suitable bone marrow donor for an operation that might kill both her and her donor, and how that causes sibling rivalries to reemerge, particularly between Anne Consigny and Mathieu Amalric as the family’s alcoholic reprobate, the black sheep who had previously been exiled from the family. The film is mostly driven by the dialogue and the performances as France’s finest thespians are paired into different configurations. While the familiar faces of Deneuve, Amalric, Melvile Poupaud and Emmanuelle Devos (like Amalric, returning from Desplechin’s “Kings and Queen”) drive the film, one can be equally impressed by the introduction of newer talent like Emile Berling, as the moody and depressed teen Paul who might be Deneuve’s only hope. Each of Desplechin’s cast is given their moment to shine, Amalric delivering an amazing monologue in the middle that confirms his position as an actor who can do no wrong, and Chiara Mastroianni (daughter of Deneuve) has clearlyinherited her mother’s talents. Even so, this is clearly an ensemble piece where each amazing cog in the machine helps create something far more intricate than other filmmakers have managed while delving into the family gathering genre. There’s a lot of serious moments that makes the film painstakingly grim at times, but that’s not to say the movie doesn’t have any humor as there are some playful moments involving the various affairs going on behind closed doors. Desplechin has a novel way of telling a story like this in a way that’s quizzical and charming at the same time, but some of the lighter moments do feel forced, especially with Desplechin’s eclectic choice in music, ranging from chorales to Irish jigs to Bernard Herman like strings adding an odd tension to many of the dialogue scenes. Fortunately, the movie looks fantastic thanks to the able eye of Eric Gautier, who also shot the similar “Summer Hours” by Desplechin peer Olivier Assayas; Gautier’s ability to make his camera invisible really helps pull the viewer into the lives of these characters without being aware of it. For the most part, Desplechin keeps things interesting by mixing things up, using different cinematic techniques to tell the story so it never gets dragged down by all the talking. Some scenes do feel needless and redundant, and the movie starts feeling excessively long even before it reaches the two-hour mark. Aside from that, this beautiful film confirms Desplechin as France’s most eclectic visionary with performances so strong it might be one of those rare times where bringing together so many strong actors doesn’t feel like a game of one-upmanship, but instead comes together as something as cohesive as it is innovative. Rating: 7.5/10

Also in Limited Release:

The Beautiful Truth (Cinema Libre Studios) – Steve Kroschel’s documentary follows a teen boy from Alaska traveling across the country meeting scientists to investigate whether proper diet can help cure cancer, after reading about it in a book by Dr. Max Gerson. It opens at the Quad Cinemas in New York on Friday, as does…

House of the Sleeping Beauties (First Run Features) – Vadim Glowna wrote, directed and stars in this drama about an elderly widower whose own mortality drives him to a mysterious establishment where elderly men can sleep with pretty naked young women, but finds himself questioning the motives of the mysterious Madame (Angela Winkler). The provocative thriller co-stars Oscar-winning actor Maximillian Schell.

The Dukes (CAVU Pictures) – Character actor Robert Davi co-wrote, directs and stars in this doo-wop tinged crime caper about a Doo-Wop group (Davi with Chazz Palminteri and Frank D’Amico) who plan a heist in order to turn the restaurant where they work into a club. It opens in New York on Friday.

Mini-Review: To completely trash Robert Davi’s directorial debut might not be the nicest thing to do, because let’s face it: it’s hard enough getting a movie off the ground, let alone completed. That said, “The Dukes” is essentially a vanity project, a budget “Ocean’s 11″ for Davi and his pals to sing some doo-wop tunes and ham it up. Anyone going to see this, not already in their circle of friends, probably won’t find any of it nearly as entertaining or funny. It’s a fairly preposterous story to begin with, one reminiscent of “The Crew,” a thankfully forgotten dog, Davi and his singing pals introduced in a vague way as they’re sitting at a table gabbing away without any proper introduction. That leaves it up to the viewer to figure out they were a popular Doo-Wop group from the ‘60s without the benefits of seeing them in that role. It takes far too long to get to an actual story, as it introduces each member of the group, and it’s not the easiest thing to believe Chazz Palminteri as a ladies’ man, even having a painful hive-inducing sex scene with an overweight woman forced upon us. Eventually, it gets around to explaining how the Dukes were a singing group and how each member has fiscal needs leading to a crazy scheme of sneaking into a mall dentist’s office and rob a vault of gold, the kind used to fill teeth, which is essentially valueless. Overall, the writing is really bad, and the film itself isn’t very well conceived, all over the place in terms of tone and story, constantly bringing in all sorts of characters, again with very little suitable introduction. Davi gives a confident performance as the group’s leader Danny, and Peter Bogdanovich is convincing as the group’s manage, but you spend much of the movie wondering when they’re going to stop gabbing and actually sing and when they finally do, it’s just not very satisfying, as their performances are flat compared to those in “Soul Men.” (And even the fact we’re using that recent dog as a comparison for how this movie could have been better is mind-boggling.) Davi is just so ridiculously in love with his movie’s soundtrack that it actually hurts the movie, because little of the music actually works at setting a tone and often has little to do with what we’re watching on-screen. If the entire plot weren’t preposterous enough, when the guys finally do open their club, we get one of the worst “5-minute plot twists”, where the group is finally about to go on and sing in their new club and are stopped because they don’t have a liquor license. Five minutes later, problem solved. That’s just a sample of the bad storytelling that pervades this movie. It’s five minutes wasted in an already meandering storyline, and it just adds to the triviality of this trite and forgettable crime-comedy, which lacks the direction and vision to make it work. Rating: 3/10

Dostana (Friendship) (Yash Raj Films) – This Miami-based romantic comedy from Tarun Mansukhani stars Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham as two friends who pretend to be gay in order to get an apartment from a landlady worried about two young men corrupting her sexy niece (Priyanka Chopra), and of course, once they move in, that’s exactly what they do. It opens in normal theaters where Bollywood films open.

B.O.H.I.C.A. (Wabi Pictures) – This Middle Eastern action-drama directed by D. J. Paul shows what happens when four U.S. Reservists stuck in Afghanistan guarding a radio tower have a keg of beer accidentally air-dropped to them, leading to a night of drunken banter until their station is attacked by the Afghan militia. It opens in L.A. on Friday.

How About You (Strand Releasing) – Haley Atwell (Brideshead Revisited) stars in Anthony Byrne’s comedy as a young woman left in charge of a residential home over the Christmas holidays, having to take care of four of the home’s “hardcore” troublemaking residents, two of them played by Vanessa Redgrave and Imelda Staunton, as the home faces foreclosure. It opens at the Paris Theatre in New York on Friday.

We Are Wizards (Argot Pictures) – This documentary from Josh Koury takes a look at the music scene centered around the writings of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books, including one 7-year-old rock star and the band he’s formed to honor the books. Featuring bands Harry and the Potters and The Hungarian Horntails, it opens at the Cinema Village in New York.

Eden (Liberation Entertainment) – Declan Reicks directs this Irish drama based on Eugene O’Brien’s play about a married couple (Eileen Walsh, Aidan Kelly) preparing for their 10th anniversary, the wife hoping to reignite the passion while the husband’s wandering eye falls on a younger woman. It opens at the Landmark Sunshine in New York on Friday, and in L.A. and Boston on November 21.


Next week, as Thanksgiving approaches, there are two big movies that will face off for the top spot, though it’s likely to go to Twilight (Summit Entertainment), the adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling vampire romance epic that young women everywhere have been clamoring for. It may have some competition for family audiences from Disney’s animated Bolt.

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