The Weekend Warrior: March 13 – 15

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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 theater counts.

Predictions and Comparisons

1. Race to Witch Mountain (Disney) – $28.8 million (up .2 million)

2. Watchmen (Warner Bros.) – $22.8 million -59% (same)

3. The Last House on the Left (Rogue Pictures) – $11.2 million N/A (up 1.4 million)

4. Taken (20th Century Fox) – $5.1 million -30% (same)

5. Miss March (Fox Searchlight) – $4.7 million N/A (up .9 million and two spots!)

6. Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail (Lionsgate) – $4.5 million -47% (same)

7. Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight) – $4.2 million -38% (same)

8. Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Sony) – $2.8 million -33%

9. He’s Just Not That Into You (New Line/WB) – $2.5 million -35%

10. Coraline (Focus Features) – $2.2 million -33% (new!)

Weekend Overview

The month of March motors along with three new movies looking to find an audience in what’s generally considered a dead month. The movie with the best chance of dethroning last week’s underperforming champion Watchmen is Disney’s remake of the sci-fi action-adventure Race to Witch Mountain, this one starring Dwayne Johnson as a Vegas cab driver who picks up two teenagers with strange powers. Aside from the poor showing for the recent Jonas Brothers concert movie, Disney has generally had decent success in this month with movies like The Pacifier, starring Vin Diesel, and the comedies Bringing Down the House and Wild Hogs. The combination of humor, action and the nostalgia factor should be a strong draw for family audiences who haven’t had a strong movie in some time, helping movies like Kevin James’ Paul Blart: Mall Cop to remain in the top 10 for months. Look for “Witch Mountain” to open well this weekend and possibly hold well until DreamWorks’ Monsters vs. Aliens opens in a few weeks.

Wes Craven continues to remake all his ’70s cult classics, this time bringing a new version of the gory revenge thriller The Last House on the Left (Rogue) to the screen in hopes of winning over some of the college-age males who’ve already seen Watchmen. The last minute decision to release this on Friday the 13th and bring in some of the horror fans who feel it necessary to see scary fare whenever the 13th falls on a Friday hasn’t given them a lot of time to promote the movie, which could hurt its opening.

The least likely to make much of an impact this weekend is the raunchy R-rated comedy Miss March (Fox Searchlight) written, directed and starring the guys from IFC Films’ “The Whitest Kids U’Know.” Yeah, that’s exactly what I said: “Who?????” I guess if you have some success on MySpace, you get your own movie, though this one, presumably a castoff from the failed Fox Atomic, is likely to do about as well as their last comedy The Rocker, which at least had Rainn Wilson in the lead. Bottom half of the Top 10 and a $4 million cap is the best this one has to hope for.

This weekend last year, Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! (20th Century Fox) topped the box office with $45 million in just under 4,000 theaters, becoming the fourth-highest March opener, while Summit Entertainment’s martial arts drama Never Back Down (Summit) opened in third place with $8.6 million in roughly a thousand fewer theaters. Neil Marshall’s Doomsday (Rogue Pictures) opened in seventh place with less than $5 million in less than 2,000 theaters. The Top 10 grossed $101 million and this may be the first weekend this year where the Top 10 doesn’t gross more than the films released last year unless Race to Witch Mountain really breaks out.


Race to Witch Mountain (Disney)
Starring Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Carla Gugino, Ciaran Hinds, Alexander Ludwig, Tom Everett Scott, Christopher Marquette, Cheech Marin, Garry Marshall
Directed by Andy Fickman (The Game Plan, She’s the Man); Written by Matt Lopez (The Wild, Bedtime Stories, upcoming The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), Mark Bomback (Godsend, Live Free or Die Hard, Deception), Andy Fickman
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Comedy
Rated PG
Tagline: “The Race is On.”
Plot Summary: When Vegas cab driver Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson) picks up two teenagers with supernatural powers, he finds himself of an adventure as he tries to discover the secrets of Witch Mountain, as the trio are chased by the government, the mob as well as space aliens trying to get there before them.

Interview with Andy Fickman

Analysis:

March is not generally a great month to release a prospective blockbuster, but somehow, Disney has found a way to make the most out of it, having had three movies open over $30 million in the past six years. A lot of their success has come down to them offering comedies that can appeal to a wide audience and demographic, though they continue to specialize in family audiences and kids especially with movies like The Pacifier, starring Vin Diesel.

Race to Witch Mountain is a little different in that it is essentially a reinvention of the ’70s action-adventure movies that are remembered fondly by those old enough to have been kids seeing Disney movies back then… which sadly is anyone over 35. Ironically, Disney’s Escape to Witch Mountain opened in March 1975 and its sequel Return from Witch Mountain opened in the same month three years later, both proving that one doesn’t need to release a family movie in the summer or holiday season to find an audience.

It’s essentially been 31 years since Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann played the strange young teens from another planet, and the premise has been remolded as a vehicle for former wrestler Dwayne Johnson, who is coming off the biggest movie of his career after co-starring in the remake of Get Smart last summer. Johnson has already made his own move into family territory when he first worked with “Witch Mountain” director Andy Fickman on the 2007 hit The Game Plan, which grossed $90 million in the generally slow months of September and October. Race to Witch Mountain hopes to continue Johnson’s success with vast audiences, rather than in just male-driven fare, which is ultimately what did in Vin Diesel’s career before making The Pacifier. Even though Johnson has already proven himself as a family draw with The Game Plan, this movie will give him a good opportunity to mix the action from his earlier career with the comedy that’s become a staple in many of his movies.

Johnson’s two young travel mates are played by Alexander Ludvig (The Seeker) and AnnaSophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), joined on their adventure by Carla Gugino, who most recently appeared in last week’s Watchmen, but whose biggest family hit was playing opposite Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum. The primary baddie is played by Irish actor Ciaran Hinds, who has appeared in diverse fare like the Oscar-nominated There Will Be Blood and In Bruges, Kimberly Peirce’s drama Stop-Loss and dozens of other films. He’s proven to be a solid actor in any role he plays, even though he’s still generally unknown. One can also expect to see the likes of Gary Marshall and Cheech Marin making rare appearances in the movie.

As mentioned above, Disney’s had a lot of luck in this season, especially with comedies, their biggest successes being the Steve Martin-Queen Latifah comedy Bringing Down the House and the ensemble road comedy Wild Hogs two years ago, both which were PG-13. This one will probably appeal more to teenage boys and younger, although there’s also the nostalgia factor that can bring in grown-ups as might the premise of aliens and government conspiracies, which have always proven to be popular movie and television fare. The trailers and commercials (including one during the Super Bowl) do a decent job showing off the film’s mix of action and humor that could appeal to more casual moviegoers looking for something to see.

The unprecedented success of Kevin James’ Paul Blart: Mall Cop proves there’s certainly a desire for entertaining non-intelligent fare that the entire family can enjoy together, and this has the potential to be a solid Disney action-adventure movie like they used to make in the ’70s. The only thing slightly worrying thing is the fact that Disney isn’t screening the movie very heavily for critics before opening, which usually shows signs of a weak movie that they don’t think can survive what will probably be scathing reviews. That might end up being a smart move if there is enough awareness and interest to get people into theaters regardless of reviews, but if not, then the lack of reviews will be a hindrance since people won’t realize it’s opening and that it’s one of their viewing options this weekend. Either way, this will probably do better in suburbs and the middle of America than among more cynical big city audiences.

Why I Should See It: The “Witch Mountain” movies were classic Disney live action adventure movies that helped pave the way for movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and National Treasure.
Why Not: Those who saw The Game Plan might not be expecting very much from the same team.
Projections: $26 to 29 million opening weekend and $85 to 90 million total.

COMPARISONS


The Last House on the Left (Rogue)
Starring Tony Goldwyn, Monica Potter, Sara Paxton, Garret Dillahunt, Rhys Coiro, Martha MacIsaac, Riki Lindhome, Aaron Paul
Directed by Dennis Iliadis (Hardcore); Written by Carl Ellsworth (Red Eye, Disturbia), Adam Alleca
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rated R (for SADISTIC BRUTAL VIOLENCE INCLUDING A RAPE AND DISTURBING IMAGES, LANGUAGE, NUDITY AND SOME DRUG USE) Ah, you gotta love Wes Craven before he went all PG-13, huh?
Tagline: “If Bad People Hurt Someone You Love, How Far Would You Go To Hurt Them Back?”
Plot Summary: After a pair of teens are kidnapped, raped and murdered by a gang of thugs, the killers accidentally wind up at the house of one of the victim’s parents who decide to get revenge when they learn the truth about their visitors.

Analysis:

When it comes to the R-rated horror subgenre known as “torture porn,” you can bring up the names of Eli Roth or Marcus Nispel or Rob Zombie, recent filmmakers who’ve been the most responsible for keeping the gory horror trend alive, but if you want to be taken seriously, you really have to go back to the genre’s forefather and that would be Wes Craven. In 1972, Craven took what Herschell Gordon Lewis started by bringing gory horror into the mainstream with his first movie The Last House on the Left, which helped pave the way for much of the horror that followed from John Carpenter’s Halloween to Friday the 13th and all sorts of other classic ’70s horror. Just two years after Craven produced a sequel to the Alexandre Aja remake of Craven’s 1977 horror flick The Hills Have Eyes, he’s producing a remake of his first film, hoping that young horror fans who’ve thrived on the wave of hit remakes might be more interested in one spearheaded by the man behind the original.

At the core of this remake is a script by Carl Ellsworth who wrote Craven’s breakout hit thriller Red Eye, as well as D.J. Caruso’s own hit thriller Disturbia. There isn’t a lot that can be said about Greek director Dennis Iliadis, having never seen his previous film Hardcore, nor is there much to say about the cast, which includes vets like Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter as well as many new faces. Like most horror films, this one relies heavily on its premise, which involves the rape and murder of a teen girl and her family’s quest for revenge, which would make it seem more like James Wan’s revenge thriller Death Sentence, rather than a straight horror movie, but the amount of gore and tension will keep it in the horror genre. The good thing is that having Craven as a producer gives this remake more credibility, since one assumes that it will be kept more in line with the vision Craven brought to the original flick.

Rogue Pictures is still riding a crest having had horror hits with The Strangers last summer and David Goyer’s The Unborn earlier this year, though The Last House on the Left settled on this weekend just a few months back, which might not have given the company enough time to promote it and get awareness where it needs to be. Of course, the idea is that releasing it on Friday the 13th will bring in the young horror audiences looking for something scary to see, something that greatly helped New Line’s Friday the 13th last month. There might be some name recognition involved with this remake, but it’s certainly nowhere near the level of Friday the 13th, which seems almost necessary to see on that date.

Since The Hills Have Eyes, there’s generally been a media backlash against “torture porn” as epitomized by movies like Hostel: Part II and other slasher knock-offs like Turistas, although you couldn’t really tell by the continued success of Lionsgate’s “Saw” franchise. Even so, because the premise might be too disturbing and harsh for many women due to the nature of the violence (similar to the previous Craven remake The Hills Have Eyes), this will be relying almost entirely on guys from 18 to 30, which is not a very reliable demographic these days.

That will probably limit the movie’s appeal, and it’s doubtful the movie can bring in as many of some of Rogue’s other hits with such little lead time and opening in fewer theaters even than their failed remake of The Hitcher. With that in mind, this remake’s best hopes will be that it finds casual moviegoers due to the familiar title, because it certainly won’t be able to depend on the die-hard horror fans who have already gotten sick of all their beloved classics getting the remake treatment.

Why I Should See It: Wes Craven is known as the master of horror for a reason.
Why Not: But if he keeps this up, he’s going to be known as the master of destroying his own legacy with too many remakes.
Projections: $9 to 11 million opening weekend and roughly $25 million total.

COMPARISONS


Miss March (Fox Searchlight)
Starring Zach Cregger, Trevor Moore, Raquel Alessi, Molly Stanton, Craig Robinson
Written and directed by Zach Cregger, Trevor Moore (“The Whitest Kids U’Know”)
Genre: Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: “After four years in a coma, Eugene Pratt is going to be reunited with his high school sweetheart… on Pages 95-97” (It’s nice when they can fit the entire plot on the poster.)
Plot Summary: See above.

Analysis:

There really isn’t much to say about this one, mainly because I know next to nothing about it except that it’s written, directed and stars Zach Cregger and Trevor Moore, two guys whose sketch comedy show “The Whitest Kids U’Know” just started its third season on IFC TV, as well as regularly appearing on the MySpace Comedy Channel. Even though I feel completely out of the loop having never seen their work, they apparently have found many fans in comedy circles, even winning an award for “Best Sketch Group” at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. Even though they specialize in sketch comedy, they decided to develop something full length, and while this was originally called “Playmates,” it was then changed to “Miss February” when the movie was scheduled to come out last month.

Their first movie should give a good indication what having a presence on an indie cable channel and on MySpace can bring to a theatrical release. Frankly, we’re not too optimistic going by past films that have tried to build fans through the once far-more-popular social networking site, movies like Summit’s Sex Drive and Rainn Wilson’s The Rocker, both which bombed last summer. Maybe this one is trying to use the blueprint of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” movie, which built on the fanbase he created from the HBO show, but this seems closer to the type of R-rated road comedies we’ve seen going back to Todd Phillips’ Road Trip, which inspired the likes of EuroTrip and the “Harold & Kumar” movies. In terms of the latter, the first movie didn’t do great, but like this, the movie didn’t cost very much, so a sequel was made that did a lot more business.

R-rated comedy certainly has taken off in recent years, the most successful films have been the smarter ones like the movies of Judd Apatow and his crew, but it’s taken time for them to find their niche. This seems more like movies such as EuroTrip and the first Harold & Kumar, neither which did very well because no one knew who Kal Penn and John Cho were, plus it’s also reminiscent of Summit’s recent Sex Drive, which was marketed up the wazoo to no avail. The problem is that when you have unknowns in the leads, it’s hard to convince moviegoers to see your movie. Even the likes of Michael Cera and Jonah Hill had already established themselves by the time Superbad came out, as had Seth Rogen. With that in mind, this movie’s only secret weapon might be the presence of Craig Robinson from NBC’s “The Office” and the movies of Judd Apatow including Knocked Up and Pineapple Express, though it’s doubtful he has a very big role in the movie.

While this is being released by Fox Searchlight, it certainly seems more like the type of movie that might have been adopted from the abandoned Fox Atomic specialty division. Searchlight has had some success with comedies, but usually they’re independent and generally intelligent fare like Alexander Payne’s Sideways, the Sundance hit Little Miss Sunshine and Jason Reitman’s Juno. Miss March looks far more low-brow than the company usually releases and that may make it harder for them to get it to the right audience. Sure, they did have a huge breakout hit with Napoleon Dynamite four years ago, but that was also PG-13, which meant that it could bring in the younger teen audiences.

The movie is getting even less theaters and screens than Screen Gems’ Fired Up! a few weeks ago, which is not a good sign that this will be a breakout as much as one that might bring in the show’s loyal fans (assuming there are some) opening weekend and then quickly lose its business after that. It certainly won’t be building any kind of word-of-mouth or interest based on what should be the type of dreadful reviews that usually comes standard with this type of low-brow comedy.

Why I Should See It: I guess if you’re a fan of “The Whitest Kids U’Know,” this will be a must-see.
Why Not: If you’re not, how are you going to tell the difference between this and all the previous R-rated road comedies?
Projections: $3 to 5 million opening weekend and less than $8 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Sunshine Cleaning (Overture Films)
Starring Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Steve Zahn, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Clifton Collins Jr., Jason Spevack
Directed by Christine Jeffs (Sylvia); Written by Megan Holley
Genre: Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: “Life’s a messy business.”
Plot Summary: Single mother Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) discovers that there’s a lot of money to be made in cleaning up after crime scenes, so she enlists her troubled younger sister Norah (Emily Blunt) to help her, neither woman knowing how difficult the job can be.

For many years in this column, I’ve written about one movie or another that I’ve labeled as a “chick flick” and though a movie about two women who clean up crime scenes might not be the most obvious addition to that genre, the term can certainly be used in a more positive light when talking about this new film from writer Megan Holley and director Christine Jeffs. Sunshine Cleaning is also a clear example of what some might consider a “Sundance film”; in fact, we did watch and enjoy it for the first time at last year’s festival. (Ironically, another movie that played at last year’s festival and shares two of the cast opens next week.)

In the case of Rose and Norah Lorkowski, this movie shows how these two women from Albuquerque, New Mexico are dealing with the suicide death of their mother when they were younger, trying to get on with their lives while working in dead-end jobs. Rose is working for a cleaning service while trying to raise her troubled son Oscar, the results of a tryst with her high school sweetheart (Steve Zahn) who is now married to another woman though still having regular rendezvous with Rose. It’s Rose’s adulterous lover who clues her into the possibilities of making money from cleaning up after crime scenes, and she enlists her sister to help, the two of them quickly finding themselves way over their heads with what’s involved. Amy Adams gives another wonderful performance as the slightly dowdier Rose, another fine character with a lot of emotional depth, and while Emily Blunt has some great moments as Norah, Rose’s troublemaking younger sister, her subplot involving the daughter of a suicide isn’t nearly as interesting. Besides having two strong actresses at the story’s core, Jeffs was able to snag Alan Arkin to play the women’s father, and he has many great scenes with Rose’s son. Lastly, there’s Clifton Collins Jr. (Capote) as the one-armed cleaning supplies salesman who adds another dimension to the character dynamics. Unlike most movies that deal with women’s issues, this is one that can be enjoyed equally by guys rather than being so fueled by estrogen that it’s unbearable. While there are many humorous situations, mostly involving Rose and Norah learning their trade, the humor is far more subdued and based in realism, and it does a good job lightening up a story that sometimes gets a little too dramatic or sentimental. Overall, it’s a decent ensemble piece that looks better than most indie flicks of the sort, though never quite as glossy as a studio movie using the same premise might have looked. In fact, unlike most studio movies, it doesn’t go out of its way to create the perfect pat ending, while still bringing all of the characters to a new place after going through a credible arc. The results certainly make for an enjoyable “slice of life” movie that can be compared favorably to the work of Tom McCarthy. One can only imagine that Sunshine Cleaning will find its audience in a similar way, as those who see it tell their friends.

Sunshine Cleaning opens in New York and L.A. this weekend and then expands into other locations over the next few weeks.

Also in Limited Release:

Brothers at War (Samuel Goldwyn Films) – Documentary filmmaker Jake Rademacher embedded himself into his brother Isaac’s intelligence operation in Iraq and other military units in order to create this documentary that tries to find the true soul of the American soldier. This deeply personal film opens in New York on Friday.

The Cake Eaters – Mary Stuart Masterson directs this drama about two families in a small town, the Kimbroughs and the Kaminskis, who have been brought together by the love between Beagle (Aaron Sanford), the youngest son of one family, with the terminally ill daughter of the other one, played by Kristen Stewart. It opens at New York’s Cinema Village on Friday.

The Edge of Love (Capital Films) – Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller star in John (The Jacket) Maybury’s film about Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys) and how became caught up in the lives of his childhood sweetheart (Knightley) and her soldier husband (Cillian Murphy) at the height of WWII. Sienna Miller plays Thomas’ wife Caitlin in the drama, which opens in L.A. on Friday and then in New York on March 20.

Interview with Keira Knightley

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

The Perfect Sleep (Unified Pictures) – Jeremy Alter’s directorial debut, a homage to film noir, follows a man known as “The Mad Monk” (Anton Pardoe) who returns to the deadly underworld he escaped from ten years earlier in order to rescue his childhood sweetheart (Roselyn Sanchez), even though he realizes it’s a deadly trap he might not survive. It opens in L.A. on Friday and then in New York on March 27.

Fuel (Intention Media) – This documentary from environmentalist Josh Tickell examines the country’s addiction to oil and what needs to be done to change that. After winning the Audience Award for Documentary at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, it opens at the AMC Loews Village 7 in New York.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America (Magnolia) – Tony Stone’s 11th Century epic follows the arrival of the vikings on the land mass that will one day become North America, battling against the native Indians and Christian missionaries trying to convert them. It opens at the >Angelika in New York on Friday.

Tokyo Sonata (Regent Releasing) – In this drama from Japanese horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Cure), a normal Japanese family’s life is disrupted when the man of the house (Teruyuki Nagawa) loses his job but is too embarrased to let his wife and son know. Things get progressively worse as violence enters their domestic lives. The winner of a Jury Prize at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival will open in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)


Next week, the month of March motors along with three big high-profile star-studded movies including Tony Gilroy’s second movie Duplicity (Universal), starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, Alex Proyas’ sci-fi thriller Knowing (Summit), starring Nicolas Cage, and the “romantic buddy comedy” I Love You, Man (Paramount) starring Paul Rudd and Jason (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) Segal.

Copyright Edward Douglas 2009