The Weekend Warrior: April 10 – 12

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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: So we’re going to switch things around because it seems like Miley Cyrus has been doing a ton of publicity in the last week, tickets are selling briskly, and I think that will give her the advantage over Fast & Furious. Buzz has also been building for Observe and Report, which should help it do decent business over Easter weekend.)

1. Hannah Montana The Movie (Disney) – $28.3 million N/A (up 2 million and one place)

2. Fast & Furious (Universal) – $27.5 million -61% (down .3 million)

3. Monsters vs. Aliens (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $18.5 million -43%

4. Observe and Report (Warner Bros.) – $15.2 million N/A (up 1.8 million)

5. Dragonball: Evolution (20th Century Fox) – $6.7 million N/A (down .5 million)

6. I Love You, Man (DreamWorks/Paramount) – $5.0 million -35% (same)

7. The Haunting in Connecticut (Lionsgate) – $4.7 million -51% (down .1 million)

8. Knowing (Summit Entertainment) – $4.6 million -44% (same)

9. Adventureland (Miramax Films) – $3.4million -41% (same)

10. Duplicity (Universal) – $2.3 million -45% (down .2 million)

Weekend Overview

It’s Easter weekend, which means that schools will be out for Good Friday and movie theatres should be teeming with moviegoers as three new movies try to bring in very different audiences.

After the huge opening for Universal’s Fast & Furious last week, the question will be whether it can hold onto its lead against Miley Cyrus’ third big screen offering Hannah Montana The Movie (Disney). While Miley’s concert movie set new box office records, paving the way for 3D to be taken seriously, her new movie is more of a straight-ahead ‘tween comedy similar to Disney’s The Lizzie McGuire Movie, though with a much bigger star in Cyrus. The question is whether all the controversy that’s surrounded the teen actress over the past year might diminish Hannah Montana’s pull with ‘tween girl audiences or whether the movie’s G-rating will be enough to win back the prudish parents who’ve questioned Miley’s wholesomeness as a role model. We’d normally give Miley a slight advantage due to the holiday weekend, but even with a large drop, it’s likely that Fast & Furious will be able to maintain its position.

College age males who have already had their appetites sated with “F&F” shouldn’t have too much problem jumping over to Jody Hill’s raunchy comedy Observe and Report (Warner Bros.), starring Seth Rogen and Anna Farris. While it doesn’t have quite the marketing campaign of some of Rogen’s previous movies for Sony or Universal, nor the Judd Apatow connection that seems so important, there should be enough critical support from its SXSW premiere to get a good number of guys under 25 interested in seeing whether Rogen can make being a mall cop as funny as Kevin James did a few months back.

In different times, like say 1995, 20th Century Fox’s live action version of the Japanese comic book Dragonball: Evolution would be the big movie of the weekend but with a very specific fanbase–one that doesn’t necessarily think much of what they’ve seen so far–this one will be there for younger boys who’ve already seen DreamWorks’ Monsters vs. Aliens. With a moderate release into just over 2100 theaters and a minimal marketing push, one probably shouldn’t expect a particularly impressive Easter opening.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Derick Martini’s period drama Lymelife (Screen Media Films) starring Rory Culkin, Emma Roberts, Alec Baldwin and Cynthia Nixon, which you can read about below.

This weekend last year wasn’t Easter, but the horror remake Prom Night (Screen Gems), starring Britany Snow, topped the box office with $20 million, while Keanu Reeves’ police thriller Street Kings (Fox Searchlight) came in second with $12.5 million and the Dennis Quaid-Sarah Jessica Parker indie comedy Smart People (Miramax) opened in 7th place with $4 million. The Top 10 grossed just $79 million, which shouldn’t be a problem being bested by the combo of Fast & Furious and Hannah Montana.


THE BATTLE CRY

Last week, while I was in Vegas for ShoWest, I was quickly reminded that the summer movie season starts in less than a month, and pretty soon, I’m going to have to start thinking about how the summer movies might fare. I started wondering whether the recession and the state of the economy might affect how movies do this summer, and then out of the blue, Universal’s Fast & Furious opened with over $70 million. That’s a summer movie opening in the middle of spring, and I think there’s nothing really to worry about.

That said, I do wonder how many $100 million openers we might get this year. After all, we got three movies opening that big last summer as well as The Dark Knight setting a new opening weekend record with $158 million, and looking at this year’s line-up, it’s not as obvious which movies will open as big and whether this year’s line-up can stand-up.

The most obvious bet is the delayed Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which shouldn’t have a problem opening over $100 million as long as Warner Bros. doesn’t have it open on a Wednesday like the previous installment. Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen also stands a good chance, although it is already opening on a Wednesday, which might take away from its weekend, much like Spider-Man 2 a few years back. The first movie did $155 million in 6 1⁄2 days before going onto gross double that amount, so one would expect that the sequel could do at least that amount in five days. The other potential for a $100 million weekend is McG’s relaunch Terminator Salvation, although that would be helped greatly by its four-day Memorial Day weekend,

The real question that has been on many minds in the last week, including my own, is whether the leak of Fox’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine might affect that movie’s opening. After all, it was probably going to shoot for $80 million plus opening before it became readily available on the internet and bootleg DVDs, but might it do that amount anyway? It certainly will try to maintain Hugh Jackman’s standing as a summer opener, having starred in X2: X-Men United and Van Helsing. Fox was probably hoping his solo Wolverine movie would open closer to the former than the latter and we’ll have to see if their internet-assisted damage-control will do the trick. The other question is whether this problem might afflict other anticipated summer movies now that the snowball has started rolling down the hill.

The other movies to keep an eye on this summer are J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and Ron Howard’s Angels & Demons, both based on popular source material, and animated films like Pixar’s Up and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. These are all movies that will try to bring in a large and varied audience, and if the summer movies perform even half as well relatively to the ones released these past few months, we might be seeing another record year at the box office.

Anyway, check back in a couple weeks for my annual Summer Box Office Preview and we’ll look closer at all the summer has to offer, the potential hits and the bombs.


Hannah Montana The Movie (Disney)
Starring Miley Cyrus, Emily Osment, Margo Martindale, Jason Earles, Peter Gunn, Melora Hardin, Mitchel Musso, Lucas Till, Barry Bostwick, Moises Arias, Rascal Flatts, Taylor Swift, Vanessa Williams, Billy Ray Cyru
Directed by Peter Chesholm (Shall We Dance?); Written by Dan Berendsen
Genre: Comedy, Family
Rated G
Tagline: “She has the best of both worlds… now she has to pick just one.”
Plot Summary: Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus) is having so much trouble keeping up the illusion of pretending to be her pop star persona Hannah Montana that her father (Billy Ray
Cyrus) decides to take the teen girl back to their home of Crowley Corners, Tennessee to give her a dose of reality.

Analysis:

What can we say about Miley Cyrus, the 16-year-old pop culture sensation, that hasn’t been said in the past year since her 3D concert movie Hanna Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour set a new per-theater average record on Super Bowl weekend? Her name is certainly on many lips whenever the 3D explosion is discussed, not only from the record-setting concert movie, but also from Disney’s animated Bolt, which came out over the holidays last year. Hannah Montana The Movie is a direct extension of her hit Disney Channel “The Hannah Montana Show,” which has run for four seasons, and it follows in the footsteps of Disney bringing their former star Hilary Duff to the big screen with The Lizzie McGuire Movie. Granted, Duff was merely the prototype, and Miley Cyrus has become a much bigger star thanks to her television show, multiple hit records, and a fanbase that borders on cult-like.

It’s that devout fanbase that will guarantee that most of the theaters for this movie will be filled with teen and ‘tween girls, a rather fickle bunch going by the disappointing box office showing for the 3D concert film by Miley’s good friends the Jonas Brothers. Nickelodeon’s own teen star Amanda Bynes saw a similarly mysterious drop-off of fans when her movie Sydney White didn’t even come close to making in total what her earlier movies made their opening weekend. Mind you, in the past year, Cyrus has also been following in the path of former Disney stars by getting into trouble, appearing in the controversial Vanity Fair shoot by Annie Leibovitz that got a lot of parents and fans angry with her decision then later appearing in photos that angered the Asian community. These things might have hurt her rating with her diehard fanbase, especially in more conservative areas of the country, something that would only become evident if the movie disappoints. (Cyrus provided her voice in Disney’s animated Bolt last November, but it got slaughtered by Twilight, so it’s hard to determine how Cyrus helped or hurt that movie.)

The other thing to consider is that this isn’t a recreation of her sell-out concert tour–which had tickets going in the thousands of dollars, not something every family can afford–but it’s more of a straight comedy that extends what Cyrus has done on her show. The success of High School Musical 3: Senior Year proved there is a Disney Channel audience willing to pay to see their favorite television stars on the big screen, although Miley’s concert film had the benefits of the 3D “gimmick” and an announced “one week limited run” to make it worth paying a premium for tickets. While that movie opened with $31 million in less than 700 theaters, that doesn’t necessarily mean that opening in over 3,000 theaters will guarantee that Hannah Montana The Movie will be able to make the same amount, especially without the gimmicks.

On the other hand, opening on Easter weekend should be a good thing since the popularity of Miley’s character should make the movie a first choice for most young girls and mothers on Good Friday, when school is out. Miley’s new movie should do especially well in the suburbs in Middle America and South, as they’re more likely to appreciate the young star embracing her roots – her father Billy Ray Cyrus was a country star when she was still a tot. It will try its best to take down last week’s #1 Fast & Furious, which is likely to take a major tumble but might still have enough pull to remain on top. It will be a close race for sure, and Miley’s future as a film star will certainly depend on the over/under on this one; anything under $25 million will be seen as a disappointment and a sign of weakness in her Q-rating.

Why I Should See It: It’s Miley!!!!! (No, sorry, I have no other reason beyond referencing a recurring gag on E!’s “The Soup”)
Why Not: This looks like the typical ‘tween comedy fodder that won’t have any appeal to anyone besides Miley’s ‘tween and younger fanbase.
Projections: $26 to 29 million opening weekend and roughly $65 to 70 million total.

COMPARISONS


Observe and Report (Warner Bros.)
Starring Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Michael Pena, Ray Liotta, Jesse Plemons
Written and directed by Jody Hill (The Foot Fist Way, HBO’s “Eastbound and Down”)
Genre: Comedy, Action
Rated R
Tagline: “Right Now, the World Needs a Hero.”
Plot Summary: Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) is the bipolar head of security at the Forrest Ridge Mall, where he has to deal with all sorts of unruly shoplifters and customers, hoping one day to be a real police officer and win the heart of Brandi, the girl at the make-up counter (Anna Farris). He soon gets into a turf war with a local police officer (Ray Liotta) as the two of them try to catch a flasher.

Review

Analysis:

Another week, another comedy, this one in the same R-rated realm as last month’s hit I Love You, Man, led by the comedy star who has made R-rated humor more viable due to his frequent collaborations with Judd Apatow, both as an actor and as a writer. Seth Rogen certainly wouldn’t seem like the most obvious choice for a leading man or a romantic lead or an action star for that matter, but he’s become all those things, and Observe and Report is another vehicle to show off what he can do in all those departments.

While it’s clearly another movie capitalizing on what Judd Apatow has done for the R-rated comedy genre, it’s also another one that doesn’t have any direct involvement from the comedy mogul. Instead, this is the brainchild of North Carolina’s Jody Hill, the relatively new voice in comedy who co-wrote and directed The Foot Fist Way starring Danny McBride, which caught the eye of director Adam McKay and his long-time collaborator Will Ferrell, who jumped on board to get it distributed by Paramount Vantage, and who helped create the popular HBO show “Eastbound and Down” (again starring McBride).

Hill has a great collaborator in Rogen, who co-wrote and starred in two huge R-rated comedy hits, Superbad and last year’s Pineapple Express, and that’s after co-starring in Judd Apatow’s second hit comedy Knocked Up. Rogen has also established himself as a great voice actor, providing his humor for hits like Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who, The Spiderwick Chronicles and the recent hit Monsters vs. Aliens. Oddly, Rogen’s first pairing with Kevin Smith, one of the pioneers of raunchy comedy, for Zack and Miri Make a Porno failed to find the success of Rogen’s other comedies, instead grossing roughly $30 million.

For this one, Rogen has been paired with Anna Farris, a talented young comedian who starred in all four hit “Scary Movies” and lesser-seen comedies like Waiting… and Just Friends, all of which helped to get her fans. Last summer, Farris headlined Sony’s The House Bunny, a high concept comedy that grossed $46 million during what is usually a slow period at the box office, and she’s certainly being taken a lot more serious as a comic star after that success.

One big roadblock for the movie is that it’s being released so soon after Kevin James’ PG blockbuster Paul Blart: Mall Cop, currently one of the top 3 moneymakers of the year. Obviously, this will be a lot darker, maybe so dark that those looking for laughs might be too disturbed to enjoy it, although it’s not really targeting mainstream audiences. Chances are that this one will mainly be appealing to the college-age males who normally admire Rogen, though it’s hard to think this premise would be as strong for R-rated comedy. Warner Bros. hasn’t had much luck broaching the genre–Beerfest is one example of a high concept R-rated comedy which failed–and they’re facing the same problem that’s always faced the genre in that you can’t always show the funniest or raunchiest gags in the commercials; they’ve made sure to let people know that there’s more restricted material on the web site.

R-rated fare isn’t something that normally does well over Easter weekend, even with school being out on Good Friday. One recent example of a movie that tried to bring in a cult audience over the holiday weekend was the Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino anthology Grindhouse, which received a big marketing push before opening on the holiday two years ago, yet opened with just over $11.6 million.

One thing that should help the movie is that Seth Rogen has been doing the talk show rounds for Monsters vs. Aliens, which has helped get the word out on this, and this past Saturday, he hosted “Saturday Night Live,” which is essentially the same audience that might go see this, although it’s still limiting itself by not looking nearly as funny as past Rogen comedies.

Why I Should See It: Jody Hill’s previous comedies have been hilarious, and early word from South by Southwest says this one is equally funny.
Why Not: Do we really need another mall cop comedy, even if it’s a raunchy R-rated take on it?
Projections: $14 to 16 million opening weekend and roughly $35 to 38 million total.

COMPARISONS


Dragonball: Evolution (20th Century Fox)
Starring Justin Chatwin, James Marsters, Jamie Chung, Emmy Rossum, Eriko Tamura, Joon Park, Chow Yun-Fat, Texas Battle, Randall Duk Kim, Ernie Hudson
Directed by James Wong (Final Destination, Final Destination 3, The One ); Written by Ben Ramsey (The Big Hit, Love and a Bullet)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Rated PG
Tagline: “The legend comes to life” / “Master your Destiny”
Plot Summary: Akira Toriyama’s manga and anime series is brought to life with the story of an alien who comes to earth to destroy it, but then has a change of heart and decides to help the humans fight other aliens.

Analysis:

In any other weekend, this kid-friendly action movie based on a hugely popular cartoon would deliver a decent box office, but for whatever reason, this one has failed to find much attention despite involving a well-known brand, and it’s looking to be another failed attempt at grabbing the fanboy moviegoers by Fox. This one is loosely based on the popular Japanese manga created by Akira Toriyama, which ran in the Japanese magazine “Shonen Jump” between 1984 and 1995 before adapted into anime cartoons both in Japan and then released in various formats in the United States. There even was a Chinese live action movie movie made based on the property, but that was over 20 years ago.

Unfortunately, this one is coming out not long after the Wachowskis’ version of the Japanese cartoon Speed Racer failed to bring in the business that Warner Bros. was expecting, and that had a much stronger and harder marketing push than Fox is giving this one.

Not helping is the mixed bag that makes up the cast, including Justin Chatwin, star of David Goyer’s The Invisible, playing the main character Goku, and Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-Fat playing Master Roshi. The latter does add some credibility among Asian cinephiles, although Mr. Chow hasn’t had much luck with his American movies over the years – Bulletproof Monk, The Corruptor and Replacement Killers didn’t make much of a mark, and Chow’s biggest hit was Ang Lee’s martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. They’re joined by Emmy Rossum (Phantom of the Opera) as Bulma, Jamie Chung as Chi-Chi, and James Marsters (“Smallville”) as the evil Lord Piccolo. If you’ve read the comics you’ll probably know who these characters are; I don’t.

Director James Wong has experience with action, having directed Jet Li in the 2001 sci-fi action-thriller The One and apparently, he got Kung Fu Hustle director Stephen Chow involved in choreographing the action scenes, though the trailer mainly plays up the FX-laden set pieces involving giant fireballs and fantasy environments. It’s not that martial arts aren’t popular as both Jackie Chan and Jet Li have had huge success at the American box office with their movies, most notably their first movie together The Forbidden Kingdom, which opened with $21.4 million last April.

The film has a PG rating and it’s mainly being sold as a kids’ movie, not something that 20th Century Fox has had much luck with, as seen by Eddie Murphy’s Meet Dave, which bombed badly last summer. They also didn’t have much luck when teaming with Walden Media to adapt novels such as “The Dark is Rising” and “City of Ember,” neither which grossed more than $8 million.

The fact that Fox might not get the appeal of the original comics or cartoon wouldn’t be too much of a surprise–they even combined “Dragon” and “Ball” into one word–and the fans of the series have already been rather vocal on the internet about how weak the movie looks, which means they might just wait to watch it on DVD or cable. At one point, the movie was going to be released on Wednesday, as has been the case with past Easter openers, but then Fox decided to take advantage of the Good Friday opening in order to bolster the weekend. While Dragonball: Evolution will likely take advantage of the holiday and the namebrand value, its success or failure may end up being a good indicator of what to expect from M. Night Shyamalan’s own attempt to adapt a cartoon with The Last Airbender.

Unfortunately, the movie will hold absolutely no interest for women of any age or guys over 25, and the teen audience who might normally see this probably won’t think much of it either. In some ways, this has way too much in common with Fox’s Street Fighter movie which bombed with less than $5 million a few weeks back.
Why I Should See It: I guess if you’re a fan of the original cartoon series, you’ll want to see how the characters are brought into a live action environment.
Why Not: The movie looks pretty cheesy and dated, as if it were made in the ’90s.
Projections: $6 to 8 million opening weekend and roughly $20 million.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Lymelife (Screen Media Films)
Starring Alec Baldwin, Kieran Culkin, Rory Culkin, Jill Hennessy, Timothy Hutton, Cynthia Nixon, Emma Roberts
Directed by Derick Martini (debut); Written by Derick and Steve Martini
Genre: Drama
Rated R
Tagline: “The American Dream Sucks”
Plot Summary: Scott Bartlett (Rory Culkin) is a shy boy growing up on Long Island in the late ’70s where the scare of Lyme disease has already affected the father of his next door neighbor Adriana Bragg (Emma Roberts), who he is hopelessly smitten with. Neither of them realize that Scott’s industrial father (Alec Baldwin) and Adriana’s mother (Cynthia Nixon) are having an affair behind the backs of their respective spouses.

Interview with Derick Martini

It’s gotten to the point where I’ve seen so many period coming-of-age films, especially those coming from the indie world, that it’s hard not to be cynical. Heck, Jesse Eisenberg has starred in two released in the past two months, and these movies proliferate every single film festival. Maybe that’s why I missed this movie from brothers Derek and Steve Martini which debuted at the Toronto Film Festival last year, and then I missed it again at Sundance, even though I’d heard nothing but good things about it.

This one takes place on Long Island in the ’70s, starring Rory Culkin as Scott, a teenager trying to deal with the changes in his life as Lyme disease has the community concerned, as well Scott’s mother. Still a virgin, Scott Bartlett has had his eye on his friend Adriana (Emma Roberts) who has only gotten more attractive as she’s grown up. Scott’s father Micky (Alec Baldwin) has found success in the real estate field, but neither Scott nor Adriana’s parents have been able to deal with the changing times very well, especially as Adriana’s father (Timothy Hutton) has been stricken by the virus.

As someone who grew up around the same time period, remembering things like Lyme disease as well as my own parents having marital problems, there was a lot about Scott’s plight that really struck a chord with me. It’s certainly a testament to the strong writing by Derick and Steven Martini, both roughly ten years younger than me, that they were able to transplant their own teen experiences into this other era. It’s part of what makes this film so different than its thematic predecessors, but a lot of it comes down to the incredible cast they’ve assembled.

Needless to say, Alec Baldwin continues to be in the prime of his second wave, delivering a performance every bit as strong as he’s been doing every week on “30 Rock” with a similarly despicable character–Micky is a racist and a womanizer–yet one who’s still able to keep you relatively charmed. Rory’s older brother Kieran was great in Igby Goes Down, and he’s well cast as Scott’s older brother, back from college and having to witness his parents’ marriage falling apart. The performance that really impressed me most was that of Jill Hennessy as the brothers’ mother; I haven’t really seen her television work, nor has her roles in previous films really made me pay much notice, but here, she really knocks one out of the park with a well-rounded performance that explodes when she finally confronts her husband with an affair he’s having. Rory and Emma are great on screen together, and it’s nice seeing the younger Roberts doing something smaller and more intimate like this. The way their relationship grows over the course of the film is very believable and on par with some of the better teen indie dramas. (The film reminded me most of The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, another film starring Kieran Culkin, which had a similar relationship between Emile Hirsch and Jena Malone; check it out if you haven’t seen it!)

There’s little question that we’re seeing a talented new duo of filmmakers in the Martini Bros–while Derick directs, Steven co-writes, produces, edits and composed the music–and it certainly will be interesting to see how they fare with Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge. Their debut film clearly proves that they’re good with actors and drama, so that should be an interesting project to keep an eye on.

There’s isn’t that much more that can be said without spoiling all of the dramatic turns, but in general, if you’re into independent coming-of-age films and aren’t adverse to checking out another one, you certainly could do a lot worse than this one, as it’s a great follow-up to Greg Mottola’s Adventureland, released last week.

Lymelife opens on Wednesday in New York at the Landmark Sunshine in New York, and on Friday, April 17 in L.A.

Honorable Mention:

Anvil!: The Story of Anvil (Abramorama Films)
Directed by Sacha Gervasi (directorial debut of the writer of Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal)
Genre: Documentary, Rock
Tagline: “At fourteen, they made a pact to rock together forever. They meant it.”
Plot Summary: Over 25 years ago, the Canadian metal band released their album “Metal on Metal,” which would influence a new generation of metal bands including Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax, but something went wrong along the way, and singer/guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudrow and drummer Robb Reiner had to work menial day jobs in order to support themselves, while still trying to rock out past the age of 50.

Interview with Director Sacha Gervasi and Anvil

Also in Limited Release:

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (Peace Arch) – Rawson Marshall Thurber’s adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel stars Jon Foster as Art Bechstein, a college graduate trying to make his way through the job force to get away from his Pittsburgh home. When he meets the beautiful Jane Bellweather (Sienna Miller) at a party, he gets into trouble with her dangerous boyfriend Cleveland (Peter Sarsgaard). It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.


Next week, three more movies open in theatres including the Zac Efron age-switching comedy 17 Again (Warner Bros.), the political thriller State of Play (Universal) and the return of Jason Statham’s Chev Chelios in the action thriller Crank: High Voltage (Lionsgate).

Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas

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