The Weekend Warrior: January 16 – 19

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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 – (All four-day predictions)

UPDATE: The biggest move below is that Fox Searchlight’s Notorious seems to be getting a lot more interest in urban areas than we originally surmised, and while the theater count might keep it from winning the weekend, it certainly should have the highest per-theater count, cutting into My Bloody Valentine‘s business. Also, the WWII drama Defiance (not to be confused with the other adjective title of the weekend) is getting a few hundred more theaters, so it could break into the bottom of the Top 10. We forgot to mention earlier in the week that Last Chance Harvey (Overture) with Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson would be going wide on Friday. It’s getting over a thousand theaters, though that won’t be enough for it to get into the Top 10 and business will probably be spread out fairly thin.

1. My Bloody Valentine 3D (Lionsgate) – $22.1 million N/A (down 1.4 mill.)

2. Gran Torino (Warner Bros.) – $20.6 million -32% (up .4 mill.)

3. Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Sony) – $18.3 million N/A (up .6 mill.)

4. Bride Wars (20th Century Fox) – $16.0 million -25% (same)

5. Notorious (Fox Searchlight) – $16.2 million N/A (up 2.6 mil.)

6. Hotel for Dogs (DreamWorks) – $15.3 million N/A (down .2 mill and one spot)

7. The Unborn (Rogue Pictures) – $10.7 million -46% (same)

8. Marley & Me (20th Century Fox) – $8.3 million -27% (down .2 mill.)

9. Defiance (Paramount Vantage) – $6.4 million 1018% (up .9 mill.)

10. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount) – $6.2 million -33%

Last Chance Harvey (Overture) – $3.4 million

Weekend Overview

After a landmark January opening weekend that saw two poorly-reviewed movies open with $20 million and a legendary actor have the biggest opening of his career, theater owners will hope that the thriving box office will continue to pay their leases and mortgages with four more movies offering a variety of different genres for varied audiences. As we learned last week, the holdover movies in theaters won’t have much effect especially if the reaction to some of last week’s movies are as bad as we think.

Either way, this is Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, where schools and government employees get Monday off, although most others will still be working. It’s a holiday weekend where family fare rules, and movies geared towards the African-American audiences tend to thrive, and it’s especially significant this year as America’s first black President will be inaugurated the day after Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is celebrated.

Even with that in mind, the movie that’s likely to top the box office on the weekend (for a second year in a row in fact) will be a horror movie, this one being Lionsgate’s remake of the 1981 slasher flick My Bloody Valentine 3D (Lionsgate). While it doesn’t have any name stars, its big selling point is that it’s the first R-rated horror movie using the new 3D technology that has been used so successfully used with family and animated films. Unfortunately, less than half of the venues showing the movie will actually be screening it in 3D, so the question is whether moviegoers will settle for 2D where available or they’ll actively seek out only the 3D screenings. Either way, the movie should open well despite its moderate theatre count with preview screenings on Thursday, then taper off over the course of the long weekend.

Surprisingly, the biggest name of the weekend is Kevin “The King of Queens” James who wrote, produced and stars as Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Sony), and while usually this weekend would be great for family fare like this, he has some heavy competition in DreamWorks’ Hotel for Dogs. If there’s anything we’ve learned in the last few months, it’s NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE DOG LOVERS after movies like Beverly Hills Chihuhua and Marley & Me have exceeded all expectations. Hotel for Dogs might be a little more focused on smaller kids, especially young girls, but this weekend has already proven that kid-friendly animal movies do well with hits like Snow Dogs, Kangaroo Jack and Racing Stripes. The fact that family-friendly films can do 30 – 35% of the weekend on Monday alone is a good sign for both movies, but we’ll still give a slight edge this weekend to James, who is likely to bring in an older audience with his new character and not just kids.

Also opening this weekend, the musical biopic Notorious (Fox Searchlight) tells the story of rapper Biggie “Notorious B.I.G.” Smalls, as played by newcomer Jamal Woolard, and his relationship with Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs (Derek Luke) and Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie). It certainly should be a first choice for many young African-American males (and some women) in major cities this weekend, as the death of the rapper has remained of interest even over a decade later, and fans of hip hop will probably want to check this out over the weekend either before or after My Bloody Valentine 3D.

Lastly, the war drama Defiance (Paramount Vantage), starring Daniel Craig and Liev Schreber, will open wide in roughly 1,500 theatres and there should be enough older males not interested in horror that could help it make $5 to 6 million, though that won’t be enough to get it into the Top 10.

Opening over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend last year, the J.J. Abrams-produced monster flick Cloverfield (Paramount) topped the box office as well as set a new record for the holiday weekend with $46 million over the four-day weekend, averaging $13.5k in 3,400 theaters. Undaunted, the Katherine Heigl chick flick 27 Dresses (20th Century Fox) took a strong second place with $27.4 million in the same frame and roughly 350 fewer theaters. Lastly, Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes tried to make Mad Money (Overture) in the heist comedy which brought in $9.3 million in 2,470 theatres. The Top 10 grossed $151 million but even if this week’s four movies all do well, it’s doubtful, they’ll exceed that amount.

As mentioned last week, the next two weeks of the Sundance Film Festival will be taking up my time so no “The Battle Cry”, but I’m happy to say that I’m building up a cache of topics to discuss in February and beyond.


My Bloody Valentine 3D (Lionsgate)
Starring Jensen Ackles, Jaime King, Kerr Smith, Betsey Rue, Edi Gathegi, Tom Atkins, Kevin Tighe, Megan Boone
Directed by Patrick Lussier (Dracula 2000, White Noise 2: The Light and editor of tons of horror movies including Wes Craven’s Scream and others); Written by Zane Smith, Todd Farmer (Jason X, The Messengers, upcoming Clock Tower)
Genre: Horror
Rated R
Tagline: “Get Your Heart Broken.”
Plot Summary: The mining town of Harmony are terrorized by a serial killer with a pickaxe, harking back to the Valentine’s Day horrors of vengeful miner Harry Warden’s own murderous rampage nine years early. Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles), the man whose negligence led to the killings and who recently returned to Harmony, must work with the town sheriff (Kerr Smith), now married to Tom’s ex-girlfriend Sarah (Jaime King), to solve and stop the town’s teens from being brutally killed… all in 3D!!!!

Analysis:

Just a week after the surprise hit that was David Goyer’s Unborn, another horror movie enters the market, this one a remake of a film from the popular holiday slasher genre that flourished during the early ’80s, this one based on George Mihalka’s underrated 1981 horror-thriller that brought new levels of gore to the genre originated with the likes of John Carpenter’s Halloween and Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th. Then again, even before Carpenter’s movie, the holiday horror genre had already seen movies like Black Christmas (already remade) and Silent Night, Bloody Night (in the works).

Low budget and cult horror movies from the ’70s and ’80s have become prime fodder for studio remakes, usually done on the cheap knowing that there will be an audience of teens and older horror fans that will flock to see them guaranteeing instant profits. The success of New Line’s remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre back in 2003 started the fad, and its success led to other ’70s remakes like Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, the “Hills Have Eyes” movies, the babysitter thriller When a Stranger Calls, Dimension’s Black Christmas remake and last year’s Prom Night. Oddly, this one harks back to the 2001 teen horror flick Valentine, which was a cheap toned-down knock-off of the original 1981 movie rather than a direct remake like this one.

There are couple big differences with this remake of My Bloody Valentine, the first being that it’s definitely R-rated, promising the same level of blood and gore as the original, but the primary one being that it was filmed and will be screened using the most current 3D technology. Now I’m not sure if I could tell you from memory when the last horror movie was released in 3D, because in the past few years, what was once thought of merely as a gimmick has been used successfully to bring kids into animated and family movies. The last 3D horror movie I can remember was Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare in 1991, which was partially shown in 3D, but the classic case was to have the third movie in a series be in 3D, as seen years earlier with the back-to-back trio of Friday the 13th Part 3, Jaws 3D and Amityville 3D, all bad movies that were sold based on the gimmick. Times have certainly changed and 3D isn’t a gimmick as much as a new way to experience movies, although Robert Zemecki’s Beowulf was one of the few non-PG movies that used the technology. One should probably expect that this movie will probably veer more towards the gimmicky route with body parts flying at the audience, as that’s probably what people going to see this movie will expect. (Some other attempts at 3D horror like Jedd Weintrob’s Scar and Thomas Jane’s The Dark Country, which seems to be going straight to DVD.)

As mentioned last week, cast rarely matters when it comes to horror, though it might actually work to an advantage for this movie whose only name film actor is Jaime King, last seen in Frank Miller’s bomb The Spirit as well as his earlier hit Sin City. Not having known actors actually helped Paramount’s Cloverfield this weekend last year (see above), because it helped make it more believable, and that might be the case here as well. Fans of television genre fare like “Smallville” and “Supernatural” will probably recognize Jensen Ackles, and I’ve been told that many women love him enough to maybe catch his film debut. There’s also Kerr Smith from “Justice,” though one would think that either of them was the kind of actor who could get people into seats, they’d at least have their names mentioned in the commercials.

Early reviews from the movie’s debut at Austin’s annual “Butt-Numb-A-Thon” have generally been good, but that doesn’t mean Lionsgate will screen this for critics even after last week’s The Unborn clearly proved that reviews for horror movies really don’t matter. The question is whether the backlash against R-rated “torture porn” that began a few years back might affect this movie’s opening weekend, but being able to see the movie in 3D will certainly intrigue those who might normally wait to see it on DVD. Unlike last year’s remake of Prom Night and When a Stranger Calls a few years earlier, this movie’s R-rating might prevent younger teens from going to see it in groups as they often do, though it’s harder to sneak into a 3D movie unless you already have glasses. Even so, it should do well among the college crowd before their long weekend.

Due to the upcoming remake of Friday the 13th, Lionsgate wasn’t able to release the movie on Valentine’s Day proper, which probably would have given it a nice bump since horror movies are often enjoyed by the date night crowd. (Being scared is a good excuse to cozy up to your date, after all.) The question is how many 3D screens and theaters Lionsgate will be able to get this weekend since theater owners might not want to give up screens that could be used to bring in the abundant family business that comes with the holiday weekend. Even so, Lionsgate are doing something unexpected by opening the movie early for previews on Thursday night, not only at midnight but also at 10PM, something that’s usually done for highly-anticipated blockbuster. Obviously, they know there’s demand for this movie or else they wouldn’t jeopardize having a big opening weekend; those previews will probably make the movie even more frontloaded to Friday than it might have otherwise.

Why I Should See It: The original gorefest movie is beloved among cult horror fans, and the idea of it being revisited in 3D certainly makes this an interesting offering to the genre.
Why Not: It’s hard not to feel that the 3D for this one is little more than a gimmick.
Projections: $22 to 25 million over the four-day weekend but less than $55 million total.

COMPARISONS


Hotel for Dogs (Paramount)
Starring Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Kyla Pratt, Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Dillon, Don Cheadle
Directed by Thor Freudenthal (debut from director of shortly films and special FX for the “Stuart Little” movies); Written by Jeff Lowell (John Tucker Must Die, Over Her Dead Body), Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle (Sky High, The Lion King II)
Genre: Family, Comedy, Canines
Rated PG
Tagline: “No stray gets turned away” (As long as they pay their ten bucks!)
Plot Summary: Andi (Emma Roberts) and her younger brother Bruce (Jake T. Austin) are forbidden to have a pet so they need to find a new home for their dog, so they use Bruce’s talents to turn an abandoned hotel into an automated home for every stray dog they find.

Analysis:

Dogs, dogs, dogs… I tell ya, if I have to write about one more dog movie this year, I’m probably going to go out and randomly kill a dog or two (not that they’re very easy to find wandering around the streets of New York or anything). The reason for my ire is that going by my past track record, no matter how much or little I think this movie is going to make, it’ll either make a lot more or it’ll surprise everyone (including me) by making a lot less. Like Marley & Me, this family film is based on a book, the one by Lois Duncan which I have absolutely nothing more to say about it. (I haven’t read it. I doubt I ever will. I don’t care.)

This one stars Emma Roberts, niece of Julia, who made her starring debut in Warner Bros.’ updating of Nancy Drew, which bombed, but this time she has some help… not only from a lot of dogs either, but from a couple of other actors as well. Who knows what Don Cheadle is doing in this movie? Or Kevin Dillon from “Entourage”? Or Lisa Kudrow… okay, maybe that one’s a little more obvious, but this movie is a classic example of how every actor needs a paycheck every once in a while, especially after doing as many indie flicks as Cheadle does. I don’t even know who he plays in this movie because I haven’t seen it, but with no other “Ocean” movies planned, we may see Cheadle doing more movies like this. No, wait, he was just signed to Iron Man 2 so he should be fine. Needless to say, Cheadle’s not even featured in the commercials. Probably in his contract to avoid embarrassment. Roberts’ more famous co-star is Jake T. Austin, star of Disney’s popular show “Wizards of Waverly Place,” which has aired for three seasons, and the world of kids’ shows is weird enough that he’ll be as big a draw as the dogs.

Like My Bloody Valentine, this movie’s cast won’t matter much, because it’s more about whether kids want to see another overly-cute movie with a lot of dogs running around and doing cute and funny things. After all, this movie is more like Disney’s Beverly Hills Chihuahua then the grim family drama Marley & Me, which proved to not really be a movie for kids after all. The problem is that while DreamWorks has been great for animated films, they’re not so good with family films, even if they’re teamed with Nickelodeon Films, who also have been spotty despite having their own network to advertise. They’re basically hoping to have the same success as Beverly Hills Chihuahua without having the reach and credibility with family audiences as Disney does.

What it does have going for it is that it’s the first new kids’ movie since Christmas Day, one that should capitalize on previous family movies doing big business over the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, whether it’s Disney’s Snow Dogs in 2002 ($23.7 million opening), Kangaroo Jack a year later ($21.9 million) or Warner Bros.’ Racing Stripes in 2005 ($18.9 million opening). None of these movies looked very good but with nothing else for family audiences, they exploded in theaters. Hotel for Dogs doesn’t necessarily have that same luck since it’s still contending with Adam Sandler’s Bedtime Stories and Marley & Me, although going by those two movies’ drop-off last weekend, they’ve already done their business. On the other hand, it also has to face Kevin James and his family-friendly comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which looks like it offers some of the same mindless fun. The question is whether this is coming too close on the heels of Beverly Hills Chihuahua to generate the same kind of interest among younger kids.

Either way, this will probably make money just like every other movie about dogs (except for Firehouse Dog–what happened there, Fox?) and the cycle will continue forever, guaranteeing work for every canine actor and trainer out there for years and years to come. (And if it seems I’m slightly bitter, you’re damn straight!)

Why I Should See It: You just can’t wait for the cinematic classic “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2.”
Why Not: It’s about a HOTEL for DOGS!!! Surely, the canine cinema genre has hit an all-time low with this, right? (Can you tell that I’m more of a cat person yet?)
Projections: $16 to 18 million opening weekend on its way to $45 million total.

COMPARISONS


Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Sony)
Starring Kevin James, Jayma Mays, Keir O’Donnell, Bobby Cannavale, Stephen Rannazzisi, Shirley Knight
Directed by Steve Carr (Daddy Day Care, Dr. Dolittle 2, Are We Done Yet?, Rebound); Written by Kevin James and Nick Bakai (“The King of Queens”)
Genre: Comedy
Rated PG
Tagline: “Safety Never Takes a Holiday”
Plot Summary: Paul Blart (Kevin James) could never pass the police officer’s physical test so he uses his desire to be a serious law enforcement agent in his role as a security guard at a New Jersey mall, though his skills are put to the test when he has to single-handedly take on a group of robbers staging an elaborate heist on his mall.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Analysis:

Hoping to offer Hotels for Dogs some serious competition this weekend for parents with young kids is this PG film masterminded by comic Kevin James. As we’ve learned many times in the past, being friends with Adam Sandler means that you’re more likely to get your movie produced or at least have a career making cameos in his movies. That was the case with his SNL pals Rob Schneider and David Spade, who both have only had a movie career by the good graces of their pal Sandler, but that isn’t the case with Kevin James, who already had a career with his hit CBS television show “The King of Queens” which ran for 9 years, where it garnered exactly ZERO EMMIES. Wow.

Then again, James has had even greater success with his movie career, co-starring in comedies with two of the biggest box office superstars, one a major blockbuster hit, the other doing slightly more moderate business. First, he had a major role in Will Smith’s Hitch, a movie that would become one of Smith’s biggest hits at the time, then he teamed last year with Adam Sandler in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, a comedy that didn’t fare as well as some of Sandler’s previous movies. James’ friendship with Sandler led to the latter’s production company Happy Madison working with James to develop this movie.

In “Paul Blart,” James is playing more of a zany character that’s very different from his usual everyman character. While that might not be something his normal fans might enjoy, it’s something that could bring him a whole new audience, particularly kids who bring so much business to movies over this particular four-day holiday weekend. Certainly that’s what Sony is hoping by playing up the physical humor in the movie rather than the romantic angle the movie has with Paul Blart’s crush on the ultra-cute Jayma Mays, whose appeared on “Entourage,” “Heroes” and most recently, “Ugly Betty.” The cast is rounded out by the likes of Keir O’Donnell (from Wedding Crashers) and character actor Bobby Cannavale, neither a draw even if they’re generally solid actors.

While both James’ previous movies were PG-13, he decided to make his movie PG so that it could reach the largest possible audience, following in the footsteps of Sandler, who just starred in his own PG movie Bedtime Stories, which achieved only moderate success over the holidays. (Competing against a dog movie, no less.) The lower rating would mean that families with small kids could go see the movie as a group over the long holiday weekend, and it’s really sound reasoning that it could bring in James’ older fans who have kids. On the other hand, one might not expect a movie like this to bring in anyone over 15, although it does look like the kind of dumb comedy fun teens are more likely to go see over something like Hotel for Dogs. This could be an alternative if they’re unable to get into the R-rated My Bloody Valentine 3D or Notorious, because they can instead just buy tickets for this and sneak into that, something one can certainly expect whenever there’s an anticipated R-rated movie. One probably shouldn’t expect many (if any) good reviews for this (or Hotel for Dogs for that matter) because this is the kind of dumb comedy that critics love to hate, although the audience for a movie like this probably doesn’t read reviews. In fact, they might not even know how to read. (Which is the only reason why I can make fun of them here.)

Either way, this seems like harmless fun that has the chances of reaching a wider audience than some of the other movies due to James’ involvement–not necessarily his “star power” unless the movie explodes–and the easy-to-grasp high concept premise of an incompetent mall cop, which should allow the movie to do particularly well in the suburbs and mall multiplexes putting it in a neck-and-neck competition with the dog movie.

Why I Should See It: Kevin James is generally very funny both in his last couple movies and on “The King of Queens,” so his fans might be interested in seeing him do more of a character piece.
Why Not: In this case, he’s playing a very different… and potentially, a very dumb, character, one that might not go over with his fans.
Projections: $13 to 16 million over the four-day holiday weekend on its way to roughly $30 million or slightly more.

COMPARISONS


Notorious (Fox Searchlight)
Starring Jamal Woolard, Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, Anthony Mackie, Antonique Smith, Naturi Naughton, Dennis White, Julia Pace Mitchell
Directed by George Tillman Jr. (Men of Honor, Soul Food, Scenes for the Soul, Paula); Written by Reggie Rock Bythewood (Biker Boyz, Get on the Bus), Cheo Hodari Coker
Genre: Music, Drama, Biopic
Rated R
Tagline: “No dream is too big”
Plot Summary: The tragically short life of rapper The Notorious B.I.G. a.k.a Christopher Wallace (Jamal Woolard) is explored through his interactions with those around him including his mother (Angela Bassett), his best friend and mentor Sean “Puffy” Combs (Derek Luke), his would-be nemesis Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie) and the ladies in his life, Lil’ Kim (Naturi Naughton) and Faith Evans (Antonique Smith), leading to his shooting death in March ’97.

Interview with Derek Luke and Anthony Mackie

Review (Coming Soon!)

Analysis:

Possibly the only movie that might be taken even semi-seriously this weekend is this dramatic biopic targeted directly towards the African-American audiences whose struggle for civil rights is the impetus for this holiday weekend, and they’re also the ones whom might be most interested in this biopic about a rapper whose life and career was cut short by the gang violence he espoused on his records. This will be the third biopic made about a rapper in the last seven years, going back to 2002, when rapper Eminem made his screen debut in his autobiographical biopic 8 Mile helmed by Curtis Hanson. A few years later, 50 Cent followed form, making his own life story into a movie along with filmmaker Jim Sheridan, but that didn’t fare nearly as well, grossing $20 million less in total than 8 Mile did its first weekend.

Movies starring rappers have generally been hit or miss, and both those movies starred the rappers on whose lives they were based making their big screen debuts. Notorious is more of a traditional biopic with actors playing all the roles and directed by George Tillman Jr., the esteemed helmer of Soul Food. To find the perfect actor to play Biggie, the producers and Fox Searchlight did a highly-publicized nationwide seach before finding newcomer Jamal Woolard, a Southern rapper who performs under the moniker “Gravy” and who does an amazing job recreating the stage presence and delivery of the popular M.C. in the film. Tillman was able to pull together a strong African-American cast around Woolard made up of both vets and newcomers. At the top of the A-list is Angela Bassett as Biggie’s mother Voletta Wallace, the Oscar-nominated actress who has had a good deal of experience in biopics, having starred in the Tina Turner movie What’s Love Got to Do with It? and then played Rosa Parks in The Rosa Parks Story, as well as playing the wife of black militant Malcolm X in Spike Lee’s biopic of the same. Most recently, she co-starred in Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns, but Bassett continues to be one of the most respected African-American actresses working in the business, which gives this project even more credibility. Tillman also has Derek Luke, a strong leading man in many movies including the Phillip Noyce political thriller Catch a Fire, Jerry Bruckheimer’s basketball drama Glory Road and Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna, taking on the role of Biggie’s best friend and mentor, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, another intriguing character from the world of hip-hop. There’s also Anthony Mackie, another Spike Lee veteran, playing Tupac Shakur, a fellow rapper who eventually became embroiled in one of the most famous and bitter rivalries in hip hop.

Even with such an impressive cast, the key draw will be the popularity of the Notorious B.I.G.’s music and the huge vacuum his murder created in the world of hip hop, which should bring a lot of people out to theaters to see the movie. While Eminem was able to get a lot of people into theaters to see 8 Mile, it’s doubtful this movie could have nearly as much impact, especially as movies starring 50 Cent (Get Rich or Die Tryin’) and The Outkast (Idlewild) have barely made a mark despite their own fanbases.

Fox Searchlight has had some success with films targeted towards African-American audiences, though not nearly as much as Screen Gems and Lionsgate; the DMX vehicle Never Die Alone bombed quite badly five years ago for instance. Although they’re giving the film a moderate release, they’ve been promoting the film quite a bit even before it went into production, building anticipation among hip hop fans who may have been curious about what Wallace did to get to fame at such an early age. This should allow it to have a solid opening among Biggie’s fans, who’ve been waiting to find out more about his life and relationships, which sadly weren’t documented very well while he was still alive. On the other hand, urban males might be just as interested in the 3D horror movie My Bloody Valentine. The combination of subject matter, cast and the smart timing of releasing the movie over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend should pay off, even if the moderate theater count might hold it back for making a serious play into the Top 5 or opening as big as the Eminem movie–which was an unprecedented and unmatched phenomenon–but the amount made by the 50 Cent movie is certainly in sight.

Why I Should See It: The Notorious B.I.G.’s life and career was tragically cut short, and this biopic does a good job showing why he became so popular so fast.
Why Not: Considering how short his life was, it’s amazing they were able to get a two-hour biopic out of it.
Projections: $12 to 14 million over the four-day weekend on its way to $28 to 30 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Chandni Chowk to China (Warner Bros.)
Starring Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone, Mithun Chakraborty, Chia Hui Liu
Directed by Nikhil Advani (Salaam-E-Ishq, Tomorrow Never Comes); Written by Rajat Arora, Shridhar Raghavan
Genre: Action, Comedy, Romance, Drama
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “This Diwali, two great civilizations… will wish they had never met!”
Plot Summary: Sidhu (Akshay Kumar) is a lowly cook in India’s busy Chandni Chowk district who is coerced into traveling to China by two Chinese men who believe him to be the reincarnation of a great Chinese warrior who can save their village from the ruthless gangster Hojo (Gordon Liu). Instead, the bumbling and incompetent fool, who barely knows martial arts, gets involved with a pretty TV model (Deppika Padukone) traveling to China to find her long lost sister.

Feature Interview (Coming Soon!)

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Usually, I’d be the last person on the face of the planet to recommend a Bollywood film, being that I’ve probably seen maybe two or three of them in the last five years. You’d think I’d give them more of a chance being that I generally like foreign films, but there’s just something about them… whether it’s their length or their odd affinity for breaking out into song and dance. (It was especially odd in one of my Bollywood faves Kaante, which is basically a remake of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs mixed with The Usual Suspects.) Even so, I’ve always been very curious about the appeal and popularity of these movies in India and why that hasn’t really translated into American box office except for in very rare cases. That thought is on many minds with the continued success of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, which just won a number of Golden Globes over the weekend, and that might be why that film’s original distributor has embraced India’s artform by releasing this action-comedy from filmmaker Nikhil Advani on the same day and date in the United States as its release in India. Doing this has become fairly common, but unlike the releases from Yash Raj Films and other small distributors, Warner Bros. are going all out to try capitalize on moviegoer’s newfound interest in Bollywood films and using all of their marketing and distribution muscle to get people to check it out. They certainly couldn’t have made a better choice to try and break Bollywood movies in the United States, since this one combines many popular elements from Bollywood films–the humor, the drama, the big musical dance numbers–with the kind of Asian martial arts that have already found a second home in this country thanks to movies like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, and the movies of Stephen Chow, Jackie Chan and Jet Li. I’m a huge fan of the latter genre, which is why I was really intrigued by this one and suitably impressed by what Advani has been able to achieve in mixing the two worlds, especially since he got Gordon Liu and some of the stunt coordinators from some of the martial arts films I mentioned. Apparently, the film’s leading man, Akshay Kumar, is also a huge comic star and romantic lead in India, having starred in over a hundred movies including many blockbusters, and from his comedy style, one can easily make comparisons of him to being that country’s Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey. I was lucky enough to be one of the first people anywhere to see the movie and Kumar’s comic style really grew on me, as did his beautiful co-star Deepika Padukone, who is much newer to films than him, this being her third. I can’t really review the movie as such since most Bollywood films aren’t screened until the night before they open, maybe to avoid any negative backlash–a tradition which has been adopted by many Hollywood studios as well–though I really don’t see that being a problem here. In the long run, if you want some fun and zany humor and some really impressive martial arts action, you’ll probably be able to live with yourself more if you go see this over the long weekend rather than something like Paul Blart: Mall Cop or Hotel for Dogs.

Chandni Chowk to China will open in 125 theaters in 50 cities on Friday, making it the widest U.S. release for a Bollywood film ever.

Also in Limited Release:

Cherry Blossoms (Strand Releasing) – Dorris Dorrie’s German drama involves the relationship of an elderly couple, played by Elmar Wepper and Hannelore Elsner, who are struck by tragedy after visiting their adult children in Berlin, sending one of them to Japan to seek out the dreams of the other one. It will open at the Landmark Sunshine Theatre in New York.

Opening at the Quad Cinemas in New York are:

The Sublet – Georgiana Nestor’s indie comedy stars Roger Hendricks Simon as the 71-year-old Walter, a lonely New Yorker who gets a wrong number phone call asking about subletting his Upper West Side apartment, so in order to get some much-needed human contact Walter puts a fake subletting ad in the paper, leading to him meeting a 19-year-old girl and a hitman.

Ballerina (First Run Features) – Bertrand Normand’s documentary takes an intimate look at the progress being made by five up and coming ballerinas from the Russian Mariinsky (Kirov) Theater, the place responsible for some of the country’s most famous choreographers and dancers including Baryshnikov, Nureyev and Nijinsky.


Next week, the feuding vamps and wolves are back in the prequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (Sony/Screen Gems) with Rhona Mitra joining Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen, and the long-delayed fantasy film Inkheart (New Line/WB) is finally released. (Bear in mind that the Warrior’s Sundance Film Festival schedule might preclude his ability to write a full column next week.)

Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas

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