The Weekend Warrior: Dec. 19 – 21

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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.

Updated Predictions and Comparisons

UPDATE: Sony has wisely changed their marketing for Will Smith’s Seven Pounds, enough that it should edge closer to Yes Man for the lead, although the latter still has a significant screen count advantage and that should be all it takes for it to squeak out a win. Speaking of squeaking, Universal’s The Tale of Despereaux also looks like it can capitalize on its G-rating and the lack of family fare this weekend.

1. Yes Man (Warner Bros.) – $23.4 million N/A (down 1 million)

2. Seven Pounds (Sony) – $21.8 million N/A (up 1.1 million)

3. The Tale of Despereaux (Universal) – $13.7 million N/A (up 1.9 million and one place)

4. The Day the Earth Stood Still (20th Century Fox) – $13.4 million -56% (down .1 million and one place)

5. Four Christmases (New Line/WB) – $8.6 million -34% (up .1 million)

6. Bolt (Disney) – $5.2 million N/A -30% (down .2 million)

7. Twilight (Summit) – $4.8 million -40% (same)

8. Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight) – $4.0 million +81% (up .1 million)

9. Australia (20th Century Fox) – $2.3 million -45% (down .2 million)

10. Milk (Focus Features) – $2.2 million -15% (down .3 million)

Weekend Overview

It was the weekend before Christmas and all through the movie theaters, people were wondering whether to go see a Jim Carrey comedy or a Will Smith drama or just to finish their Christmas shopping with only a few more shopping days to go. The weekend immediately before Christmas, which falls on Thursday this year, is generally slow for that reason, although there’ve often been exceptions like the “Lords of the Rings” movies… not that this weekend’s offerings are that strong. The big difference this year over last is that the 19th is still far enough ahead of Christmas Day to not be as greatly affected by the normal pre-Christmas weekend, and that should allow the Carrey and Smith movies to reign over the generally weak box office.

Carrey’s treading on familiar ground with Yes Man (Warner Bros.), a high concept comedy based on a humor book that will hope to bring in the same audience that flocked to his earlier movie Liar Liar but could potentially be hurt by the current recession and the fact that many people will be using this weekend to finish up their Christmas shopping. Still, there’s a good chance that a comedy will be a more likely choice for people looking for something to do after they finish shopping and the movie’s wide release into over 3,400 theaters should make it an easy choice.

Meanwhile, Will Smith is reunited with his The Pursuit of Happyness director Gabrielle Muccino and actress Rosario Dawson for the enigmatic Seven Pounds (Sony), a romantic drama disguised as an arthouse thriller, which might bring some of Smith’s most dedicated fans into theaters but will likely leave the male fans of his action blockbusters scratching their heads. Smith’s generally good for a minimum $20 million opening but it might have a hard time maintaining business once people figure out what the movie’s about, not to mention the six other movies nipping at its heels next weekend.

The computer animated fairy tale The Tale of Despereaux (Universal) will try to bring in some of the family audience that’s generally scarce until schools let out for the holidays, so it not doing particularly well this weekend should have little effect on it bringing in a lot of family business over the week-long Christmas holiday starting on Thursday. With that in mind, it should follow in the footsteps of other popular books brought to the screen the week before Christmas like Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, where its opening weekend will not reflect on its ability to do better business over the holidays. (One good thing going for the movie is that school ends for the holidays in some places on Friday so the lack of school on Monday could give the movie a nice Sunday bump.)

This weekend last year was the famous weekend when movies starring Tom Hanks with Julia Roberts and another with Johnny Depp being directed (again) by Tim Burton, both made less than $10 million, though both were overshadowed by Nicolas Cage’s return as Benjamin Franklin Gates in Disney’s National Treasure: Book of Secrets, which opened with $45 million on its way to over $220 million. As mentioned, the Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts political comedy Charlie Wilson’s War brought in just $9.7 million in just over 2,500 theaters, winding up just ahead of Tim Burton’s dark musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, once again teaming him with Johnny Depp, though less successfully than their past ventures. Hilary Swank starred in the romantic comedy P.S. I Love You, which only made $6.5 million in its opening weekend but went onto gross almost $55 million over the holidays. Lastly, John C. Reilly took on the musical biopic in the comedy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which tanked with just $4.2 million and never fully recovered. Even so, the Top 10 grossed just under $150 million, helped by the nearly $61 million grossed by the second weeks of Will Smith’s I Am Legend and Alvin and the Chipmunks, but this week’s offerings may barely make that amount between them.

(Sorry, we’re skipping “The Battle Cry” for the rest of the year due to time constraints and the huge workload that the Weekend Warrior has.)


Yes Man (Warner Bros.)
Starring Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Darby, John Michael Higgins, Danny Masterson, Terence Stamp
Directed by Peyton Reed (Bring It On, The Break-Up, Down with Love); Written by Nicholas Stoller (Fun with Dick and Jane), Jarrad Paul (The Shaggy Dog, Bewitched, Kicking & Screaming), Andrew Mogel
Genre: Comedy
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “One word can change everything.”
Plot Summary: Carl Allen (Jim Carrey) is a loan officer who is used to saying “no” to everyone, but he’s been in a rut and after attending a self-help program by a motivational speaker (Terrence Stamp), he learns that the way to get anything in live is to start saying “YES,” changing Carl as he starts experiencing a new and better life as he starts being more daring.

Mini-Review: If you can sit through Jim Carrey’s latest comedy and not think “Hey, this is the same movie as Liar, Liar!” then you’re a better person than me, because it uses almost exactly the same formula to create results that aren’t nearly as funny, maybe because it’s been done before. Carl Allen is the same character we’ve seen Carrey play so many times before, a cross between an @$$hole and a loser, who has to do something to change his life if he doesn’t want to end up alone and miserable. In this case, it sends him to a motivational seminar led by Terrence Stamp, and suddenly, he’s looking at life differently and he’s far more agreeable and positive than ever, which is not exactly ideal for a loan officer paid to decline loan requests. Most of the humor in the movie should be coming from the situations that Carl finds himself in: Watch Carl get into a bar fight! See Carl bungie jump when he’s told to “jump off a bridge”!—but Carrey embellishes every situation with so much of the over-the-top hammy silliness he’s been doing his entire career, it takes away from any sense of danger or adventure the situations might have provided. It’s never clear if there’s something supernatural going on that’s making Carl only say “yes” to things; Carrey certainly plays it that way at times, even though this is far more based in the real world than “Bruce Almighty” or Carrey’s other high concept comedies. Still, if you were Jim Carrey, you’d probably realize you were in trouble when supporting players like John Michael Higgins and Rhys Darby (from “The Flight of the Conchords”) are stealing every single scene in which they appear, and when Terrence Stamp is funnier than you, that’s when you know maybe it’s time to give it up. Zoe Deschanel plays the same doe-eyed she’s played in other studio comedies, essentially settling into her role as the film’s “meet cute” love interest, after an amusing moment performing on stage with her experimental band—it’s in her contract now that she has to sing in all of her movies, apparently. While she’s had a lot of great roles, it seems like her studio comedy work is basically the same character in new situations, in this case reacting to Carrey rather than Will Ferrell dressed as an elf. There’s just nothing really exciting about this lazy premise, and you find yourself watching Carrey put himself through all sorts of dumb situations with obvious and predictable results, so it’s rarely even worth a few giggles. Really, the one thing that makes the movie even remotely worthwhile is Darby, who is very funny as Carl’s over-eager boss, throwing special theme parties where he dresses up like Ron Weasley from “Harry Potter” or a Spartan from “300”; he brings out the best in Carrey in their scenes together, but after a while, you miss him when he’s gone. Otherwise, this is another dog of a comedy, lame even in comparison to what Carrey’s done in the past, and its tiresome premise doesn’t do much to help the matter. Rating: 5/10

Analysis:

There isn’t anything better after weeks of grim crime thrillers and apocalyptic sci-fi movies than a comedy that can get people laughing during trying times. While Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon’s Four Christmases has been doing a good job providing those laughs, could that ever possibly stop Jim Carrey from showing up with his own brand of humor and a high concept to match it?

Possibly the oddest thing about Carrey’s latest high concept comedy is that it’s adapted from a BOOK by Scottish humorist Danny Wallace, who was partially responsible for the cult comedy show “Are You Dave Gorman?” The book was a non-fiction work about how Wallace himself got into all sorts of situation by deciding to constantly say “Yes” to everything that comes his way. That premise has been modeled around Carrey, though one presumes that he didn’t spend a lot of time hamming it up as Carrey does in all of his comedies.

Yes Man uses almost the exact same formula as one of Carrey’s earlier hits Liar Liar, his first movie to open with over $30 million, essentially having him play a guy whose life is changed when he starts doing the opposite of the norm. This time, he’s a guy who says “no” who starts saying “yes”–it’s that simple. While we won’t go into Carrey’s entire box office history, moviegoers generally either love or hate him with very few falling in between. Those who consider themselves fans tend to prefer Carrey doing more high concept humor as he did in his biggest hits Bruce Almighty ($242 million in the summer of 2003) and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which grossed even more three years earlier. Carrey has a lot of experience opening movies over the holidays, having starred as the bad guy in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, a family movie based on the series of children’s books which opened just over $30 million in the same weekend a few years ago. A year later, Carrey starred with Téa Leoni in the comedy remake of Fun with Dick and Jane. It seemed more like his comedy follow-up to Bruce Almighty than “Snicket’s,” so people expected it to open big but it ended up opening more in the range of Me, Myself & Irene (his second movie with the Farrelly Brothers) then barely crossed the $100 million mark.

For this one, Carrey is paired with Zooey Deschanel, the queen of indie flicks, whose become somewhat of a good luck charm for mid-budget high concept comedies ever since she was first paired with Will Ferrell in his holiday comedy Elf. A few years back, she was one of the supporting cast in the hit romantic comedy Failure to Launch, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConaughey, which also fared well. (Bradley Cooper from that movie appears in this one as Carrey’s best friend.) Over the summer, Deschanel starred opposite Mark Wahlberg in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, which also opened with $30 milion, though that was probably sold more on its premise than its stars, and it tanked after opening weekend.

The movie is helmed by Peyton Reed, the director of the hit cheerleading comedy Bring It On, who also directed the Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston relationship comedy The Break-Up. For his second high concept comedy in a row, he brought in a number of secret weapons including Terrence Stamp doing some rare comedy and John Michael Higgins from The Break-Up and Christopher Guest’s mockumentary ensemble. The film’s biggest breakout surprise might be Rhys Darby, best known as the incompetent manager on the HBO comedy “The Flight of the Conchords.” In Yes Man, he plays Carrey’s incompetent boss who likes throwing themed fancy dress parties based on “Harry Potter” (“Potter” producer David Heyman also produced this comedy) and “300.”

With the economy dying and people losing jobs right and left, it’s actually a really good time for a comedy. The problem is that this just looks like more of the same from Carrey, and it doesn’t look that much better than Fun with Dick and Jane. Unlike Bruce Almighty, which was Carrey’s return to comedy after a few years, this seems to be like Carrey is trying to reignite a spark that’s close to being snuffed from him making movies like The Number 23. Another big difference between this and some of Carrey’s previous movies is that Yes Man is not bound to bring as big a family audience as some of his movies, though it should play well among Carrey’s 20 to 30 year old fans even if it doesn’t feel like something that anyone needs to rush out to see. Opening in the last weekend before Christmas will likely hurt its opening since so many people skip the movies to finish up their Christmas shopping. On top of that, Carrey has to contend with the runaway steamroller success of Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon’s Four Christmases, ironic considering Peyton’s connection to Vaughn. Next week, Carrey is taking on the much more consistently popular Adam Sandler doing his first real family film, although there should still be room for this high concept comedy to bring in some of the middling audience not interested in any of the serious dramatic fare offered next week.

So it’s true there are a number of hurdles Carrey has to face that haven’t hindered him in the past, but one has to have some faith in the strength of Carrey’s comedy fanbase and the fact that at least some percentage of them will want to give it a look because Carrey is doing the kind of humor they like. With a wide release into over 3,400 theaters, one should expect that the $25 million range is roughly where one should expect it to open and then a push for $100 million by the time it leaves theaters in February or March.

Why I Should See It: If you’re a fan of Jim Carrey, surely you’ll put up with anything he does.
Why Not: Give me a break. This is essentially Liar Liar slightly modified and not nearly as funny, since Carrey is doing the same schtick he always does.
Projections: $23 to 26 million opening weekend and $90 to 95 million total.

COMPARISONS


Seven Pounds (Sony)
Starring Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Michael Ealy, Barry Pepper, Woody Harrelson
Directed by Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness, The Last Kiss); Written by Grant Nieporte (“8 Simple Rules… for Dating My Teenage Daughter”, “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch”)
Genre: Drama
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Seven Names. Seven Strangers. One Secret.”
Plot Summary: Ben Thomas (Will Smith) is a troubled man who has set about on a journey of redemption trying to help seven strangers in order to make up for a horrible car accident that killed his wife and five others. Along the way, Ben becomes particularly close with Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), a beautiful woman with serious health issues.

Mini-Review: While one might want to give credit to Will Smith and director Gabriele Muccino for doing something different and unexpected after “The Pursuit of Happyness,” this big budget glorified art film is so strange and depressing, one has to wonder whether it might have gotten greenlit at a major studio if not for Smith’s previous box office success. Worse than anything in the script or on screen is the fact they’ve made a movie that’s nearly impossible to talk or write about without spoiling pieces of the puzzle that eventually lead to the film’s big ending reveal. Up until to then, we spend nearly two hours watching Smith wandering around as Ben Thomas, an I.R.S. agent, meeting with various people, claiming they’re being audited. It’s abundantly clear that there are ulterior motives to these meetings and that he’s trying to find good people to do something good for, whether it’s giving an abused woman a house or helping those who need it. Smith spends most the movie moping and brooding about an event from his past, but it’s not a convincing role, and few will be able to bear Smith spending a movie where he shows nearly none of the charm and personality that has made him such a popular star. When it comes down to it, the movie is far too boring and enigmatic for its own good, leaving you with questions such as “What the hell is up with that jellyfish?” The best part of the movie are the scenes between Smith and Rosario Dawson, as the two of them have a wonderful romantic chemistry in their subplots which evokes classic romances like “Love Story” and “Brian’s Song.” Dawson brings the best out of Smith, acting as a relatively upbeat counter to his moody persona, but she’s also a strange creature, collecting old printing presses to make wedding invites, just to add to the number of ridiculous and unrelated plot devices. They’re not the only characters, but they’re the ones that most of the movie focuses on, while characters like Woody Harrelson’s blind pianist and various relatives and friends of Ben’s come in and out of the movie trying to convince him not to go through with “his plan.” It doesn’t take too much brain power to figure out where things are going, especially in the last half hour. Even so, none of it is nearly as effective at garnering emotion as something like next week’s “Benjamin Button” so it’s basically a lot of beautifully-shot boredom. Eventually, all of the scattered pieces are reassembled and everything’s cleared up in a somewhat satisfying way, but after 110 minutes of dreary confusion, it just doesn’t seem worth it. You’re left wondering what the point was of what you just watched except possibly to espouse the virtues of being a samaritan. Lacking the magical spark that made “Happyness” so special, Smith and Muccino’s latest gets bogged down in their attempts at creating something “important.” The results look nice, but there’s little way to get past its intriguing but impenetrable (and unmarketable) premise. Rating: 6/10

Analysis:

The only thing more common than a Jim Carrey comedy showing up around the holidays is that Will Smith tends to use the season to get all dramatic, breaking away from the normal action-comedies that have made him the most bankable stars in Hollywood when it comes to getting people into movie theater seats. Smith has often jumped into more dramatic movies to change things up going back to his early film Six Degrees of Separation, based on the play, though they rarely have done as well as his other movies, even when teamed with Matt Damon for The Legend of Bagger Vance. A year later, Smith starred in the lead role in Michael Mann’s biopic Ali, which opened on Christmas Day, but that failed to make a lot of money, and he returned to drama two years ago with The Pursuit of Happyness, the touching true story of Chris Gardner, which was his first pairing with Italian director Gabriele Muccino, who previously helmed The Last Kiss. Both movies got Smith Oscar nominations and Sony is probably hoping that this movie will do the same, although they probably weren’t counting on so much confusion and negativity about the movie even before anyone actually saw it.

It probably seemed like a good idea to have Smith reteam with Muccino after the success of “Pursuit,” but this time the duo have made something darker and stranger and artier, something closer to 21 Grams, the second film by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Without giving too much away, Smith plays a man trying to make up for something from his past by helping seven strangers, kind of like Pay It Forward, but it’s the type of premise that normally one might find in a low-budget indie movie, not a major studio release. It’s definitely more like the type of movie that Muccino made in Italy, his movie The Last Kiss even having an English language remake adapted by Oscar winner Paul (Crash) Haggis.

Meanwhile, Smith has been on quite a roll, having starred in eight consecutive movies to gross over $130 million and the last two (Hancock and I Am Legend) becoming the third and fourth movies starring Smith to gross over $200 million. Those last two movies were especially interesting because they were certainly darker and showed a different side of Smith than the smiling wise-cracking guy we’ve seen in the movies of Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich. Instead, Smith has been showing a far more serious side of him, even when making big budget genre or action movies, and his fans have continued to eat it up, which makes one think his latest venture should interest enough of them not to completely bomb. In some ways, Seven Pounds is like the type of movies that Denzel Washington has made in recent years, movies like John Q and Déjà Vu, but those also don’t open in the $30 million range.

Besides working with Muccino again, the movie also reunites Smith with actress Rosario Dawson, who first appeared as his love interest in Men in Black II, but has been making a name for herself by appearing in lots of films by cult filmmakers like Kevin Smith (Clerks II), Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof) and Robert Rodriguez (Sin City). While it’s doubtful Dawson herself can bring many people into theaters, her reunion with Smith and the romantic angle could theoretically be a big draw. Others in the cast include the ever-present Woody Harrelson, Barry Pepper and Michael Euly–Pepper appeared with Dawson in Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour, while Euly co-starred in Lee’s more recent Miracle at St. Anna.

However you slice it, Seven Pounds is a difficult movie to sell, and while the Sony marketing department has done a good job opening their movies this year, it doesn’t seem like they’ve quite figured out how to get people interested in seeing this with an enigmatic marketing campaign. Essentially, the ads and trailers don’t really say much about what the movie is about, and its not giving people confidence that it’s a movie worth seeing. At least movies like Hancock and I Am Legend had concepts that can be easily conveyed despite them being darker.

Sony are making the movie look more like an arthouse film than something Will Smith fans might generally go to see for anything besides Smith. Instead, they should be promoting the romance between Smith and Dawson, which creates an almost Love Story or Brian’s Song poignancy that should appeal to older women. Reuniting these two actors could also be marketed in a similar way as Warner Bros. advertised The Lake House, reuniting Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, and the recent Nights in Rodanthe with Richard Gere and Diane Lane, both which were difficult movies involving death and dying that still managed to open decently. Smith is a bigger star than any of them, and we already know that he works as a romantic lead going by the success of Hitch, but do people really want to see a movie where he’s moping and brooding for two hours?

What it comes down to is that few people know what to make of this movie and reviews will generally be negative because the movie is so slow and dull and enigmatic until it finally reaches the ending “reveal.” Sony is being even tighter than normal in terms of screening the movie and they’ve instituted an opening day embargo policy on reviews to prevent critics from giving away important plot points… Or letting moviegoers know that the movie isn’t all that. In fact, this is a movie could be helped by reviews if audiences went in knowing what to expect, rather than going in blindly and being disappointed. The same can be said for critics, who will probably be very negative about Smith’s latest attempt at drama and all the secrecy behind the project. Theater owners are being just as tentative with taking this one, which is why it will be Smith’s first movie since “Pursuit” to open in less than 3,000 theatres. Even so, it really needs to make a mark this weekend or else it will be killed next week when facing far better advertised and acclaimed films.

Why I Should See It: Smith and Muccino did good work together withThe Pursuit of Happyness and their new movie involves a poignant romantic storyline involving Rosario Dawson.
Why Not: The marketing isn’t helping to get people interested in the movie, instead confusing everyone, and one can tell that Smith’s regular fans are going to come away from this one scratching their heads.
Projections: $19 to 21 million opening weekend and $65 to 70 million total.

COMPARISONS


The Tale of Despereaux (Universal)
Starring (voices of) Matthew Broderick, Robbie Coltrane, Frances Conroy, Tony Hale, Ciaran Hinds, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Kline, Frank Langella, Christopher Lloyd, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci, Tracey Ullman, Emma Watson, Sigourney Weaver
Directed by Sam Fell (Flushed Away), Robert Stevenhagen (animator and storyboard artists for Wallace & Gromit – The Curse of the Were-Rabbit); Written by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Pleasantville
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Fantasy, Comedy
Rated G
Tagline: “Small hero. Big heart.” (Awwwwww… cute!)
Plot Summary: It’s a fantasy fairy tale about a mouse named Despereaux (voiced by Matthew Broderick) who… Oh, who am I kidding? I seriously can’t get myself to care enough to write a real synopsis for this after writing so much about last week’s bomb Delgo.

Analysis:

Another weekend, another animated movie and hopefully, this one will fare better than last week’s Delgo from Fathom Studios–how sad was that? If this movie doesn’t do well, maybe other companies will finally learn to stop wasting money trying to compete with the big boys of animation, Pixar, DreamWorks Animation and Blue Sky, all of whom have built credibility among moviegoers, especially parents, due to the quality of their animation and subject matter.

The latest CG animated offering is based on the 2003 children’s book “The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, a Rat,and a Spool of Thread” by Kate (“Because of Winn-Dixie”) DiCamillo. (Going by that title, she’s clearly an alter-ego of Sacha Baron Cohen). It’s a pretty recent release and a popular one going by the fact it won the Newberry Prize in 2005. It’s been adapted by filmmaker Gary Ross, who wrote a Lassie movie roughly 15 years ago, but otherwise has mainly been doing adult fare like the Oscar-nominated Seabiscuit and the cult favorite Pleasantville. The animation was done by two of the creators behind the DreamWorks/Aardman collaborations Flushed Away and Wallace & Gromit – The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, neither which made huge waves at the box office compared to other animated films.

Universal hasn’t really had a lot of big family hits in recent years, as they tend to sway more towards adult fare, although they did release the animated Curious George movie, which grossed roughly $60 million after a moderate opening of $14 million, and Emma Thompson’s Nanny McPhee, which opened around the same a few weeks earlier in 2006. Earlier this year, Universal released The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything, the second feature film from the makes of “VeggieTales,” but that made less than $13 million total.

While The Tale of Despereaux might not have the dedicated fanbase of the “VeggieTales” videos, it does have a much stronger production company behind it, one that’s helped assemble an impressive star-studded voice cast including the likes of Matthew Broderick, Kevin Kline, Dustin Hoffman and many more. While those actors aren’t exactly being touted heavily in the advertising as a reason to see the movie, it gives a little more weight to the quality of the material, especially for parents.

The best thing going for the movie is that it mixes elements that have worked before; the fantasy/fairy tale aspects of the “Shrek” movies and the Weinstein Company’s hit Hoodwinked! with rodents, which have had more mixed results ranging from Sam Fell’s previous movie Flushed Away to Pixar’s Ratatouille. In this case, the animation doesn’t really look as good as either of those, and the story seems like standard fantasy-adventure fare, much like last week’s Delgo. At least Universal has a bigger marketing budget to make sure parents know about it, and it certainly looks tame enough to bring the youngest kids to see.

While family films tend to do well over the holidays, they generally do better when they open in November and can stick around a while. Family movies that open in the weeks before Christmas tend to open weaker then find their business when schools let out and kids need something to see in the week between Christmas and returning to school in January. The best example of this is the film’s spiritual cousin Stuart Little, another family film based on a book about a mouse which opened with just $15 million in 1999 and then went on to make $140 million. That was also the case with Paramount’s adaptation of Charlotte’s Web, opening in roughly the same weekend two years ago with just $11.5 million despite being based on one of the most famous children’s books ever. It got a huge bump over the holidays and ended up grossing $82.5 million total. Five years earlier, Paramount’s Nickelodeon Films saw a similar phenom with the computer animated Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, which opened with $13.8 million but also scored big in the weeks that followed. Even so, these movies would seem to set a $15 million opening ceiling for “Despereaux” but a far more open-ended shelf-life later.

Well aware that there are a ton of new movies opening next weekend including Adam Sandler’s first teaming with Disney for the family film Bedtime Stories, Universal is releasing the movie ultra-wide into over 3,000 theaters in hopes of hanging on through the holidays, especially since they have no other movies opening until 2009. The good thing going for their family movie is that most schools will finish their year on Friday, and with no school on Monday, “Despereux” could do more business on Sunday than normal, although family films tend to get hurt the most by the last minute rush to buy holiday presents. Either way, expect this to take a good chunk of business away from Disney’s Bolt this weekend, and then see a minimal drop or even a slight bump next weekend when schools are out all three days.

Why I Should See It: If you have kids, this animated movie looks innocuous enough…
Why Not: Just like every other non-Pixar non-DreamWorks animated movie! C’mon, folks. Enough already with the talking mice!
Projections: $11 to 13 million weekend and $65 to 70 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Nothing But the Truth (Yari Film Group)
Starring Kate Beckinsale, Matt Dillon, Alan Alda, Vera Farmiga, Harry Lennix, David Schwimmer, Angela Bassett, Noah Wyle
Written and directed by Rod Lurie (The Contender, The Last Castle, Resurrecting the Champ)
Genre: Drama, Politics
Rated R
Tagline: “Don’t Reveal the Source”
Plot Summary: Rachel Armstrong (Kate Beckinsale) is a Washington D.C. reporter who has broken the story of her career, outing a fellow soccer mom (Vera Farmiga) out as a CIA analyst, but nothing could prepare Rachel for the fight for her rights as a journalist when the government forces her to reveal her source.

Interview with Kate Beckinsale

Interview with Rod Lurie (by Max Evry)

Review (Coming Soon!)

I’ve been waiting a long time to write a review of Rod Lurie’s latest drama, which I saw at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this year, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite movies, and definitely will be in my year-end Top 10. That review is still in the works, but I realize I’ve been neglecting those who read this section of the column to find out more about the movies I deem worthy of the label “Chosen One” so I’ll try to share a bit why I liked it separate from the main review. The first thing that’s so exciing about the movie is the cast Lurie assembled, which is even better than the one he put together for Resurrecting the Champ, his previous and equally underrated movie that followed similar themes. This really is a top-notch roster from Alan Alda, who had a smaller role in “Resurrecting,” to the two women the story revolves around, played by Kate Beckinsale and Vera Farmiga. Now anyone who has ever seen any of Farmiga’s movies knows she’s great, whether it’s as the psychiatrist in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed or as a mother on the verge of a breakdown in the thriller Joshua. By comparison Beckinsale doesn’t get nearly as much respect or the cred as a strong dramatic actress that she should, possibly because of her decision to do action and popcorn movies so much in recent years. Hopefully, her performances in this and in David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels earlier this year will change that, and she’ll start getting taken more seriously as an actress. Besides those performances, I also loved that the movie deals with some of the same journalistic integrity issues that Lurie explored in “Resurrecting,” as well as how one balances those with being a parent. The question of whether a journalist should reveal their sources, especially if faced with jail time or being separated from their families, is certainly a thought-provoking one. However you slice it, this is just a far more solid film than “Resurrected,” having been developed and completely written by Lurie without the strange performance quirks by Samuel L. Jackson that sometimes hurt his previous film. If you’re interested in journalism, especially political investigations as seen in “All the President’s Men,” then you should give this movie a look.

Anyway, I hope to have a real review written sometime soon. Nothing But the Truth opens in New York at the AMC Empire on 42nd Street on Wednesday and then in L.A. (Westwood) at the Majestic Crest Theater on Friday. (In case you hadn’t heard, Yari Film Group declared Chapter 11 last week, so this movie really needs help to make sure it gets seen! If you live in one of those cities, you’ll be much better off with this than either Carrey or Smith’s movies!)

Honorable Mention:

The Wrestler (Fox Searchlight)
Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Directed by Darren Aronofsky (Pi, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream); Written by Robert Siegel (debut)
Genre: Sports, Drama
Rated R
Plot Summary: Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) is twenty years past his prime as a professional wrestler. While he still has many fans as he fights in the high school auditorium wrestling circuit for a portion of the gate, his deteriorating health is making it clear that it’s time to quit, as he uses his time recovering from a sudden heart attack to get closer with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) and a caring stripper (Marisa Tomei).

New York Film Festival Press Conference

Interview with Mickey Rourke

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Also in Limited Release:

The Class (Sony Classics) – François Bégaudeau stars in Laurent Cantet’s documentary-style adaptation of Bégaudeau’s own novel about a normal year in the life of a teacher at a Parisian middle school, dealing with a variety of students who continually challenge François’ method of teaching. It opens in New York and L.A. for an Oscar-qualifying run before its official release on January 30, 2009.

Interview with Laurent Cantet (Later this week…)

Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (Plexifilm) – Stephen Kijak’s documentary contains interviews with many of music’s most influential creators including David Bowie, Brian Eno, Sting and Radiohead talking about Scott Walker, the lead singer of the Walker Brothers, and the recording of his recent album “The Drift.” It opens at the IFC Center in New York on Wednesday.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Moscow, Belgium (NeoClassics Films) – Christophe Van Rompaey’s Belgian romantic comedy about the 41-year-old mother of three who gets into a car crash with a lollipop truck driven by an uneducated younger man with an alcohol problem and criminal record, who becomes a bigger part of her family just as her husband is having an affair with a much younger student. It opens in New York at the Cinema Village on Friday.


Next week, it’s Christmas and there are no less than 6 (THAT’S SIX!!!!) new movies in wide release… What the F*CK!?!?!?!? Bah, well the Weekend Warrior might as well finish his year with a bang, right? Adam Sandler takes on the kids in Bedtime Stories (Disney), while it’s Bryan Singer and Tom Cruise vs. David Fincher with Brad Pitt as the WWII suspense thriller Valkyrie (MGM/United Artists) takes on the The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount). Frank Miller takes on Will Eisner’s The Spirit (Lionsgate), Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston go to the dogs in Marley & Me (20th Century Fox), while the stars of Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, fight it out in Sam Mendes’ domestic drama Revolutionary Road (Paramount Vantage).

Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas