The Weekend Warrior: May 15 – 17

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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

1. Angels & Demons (Sony) – $58.5 million N/A (down .1 million)

2. Star Trek (Paramount) – $39.8 million -47% (up 1 million)

3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (20th Century Fox) – $12.0 million -55% (same)

4 Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (New Line/WB) – $6.4 million -38% (up .4 million)

5. Obsessed (Screen Gems) – $3.6 million -46% (up .2 million)

6. The Soloist (DreamWorks) – $2.6 million -37% (up .1 million and one place)

7. 17 Again (Warner Bros.) – $2.5 million -39% (down .1 million and one place)

8. Monsters vs. Aliens (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $2.1 million -38%

9. Next Day Air (Summit Entertainment) – $2.0 million -53% (Up .1 million)

10. Earth (Disney) – $1.7 million -39% (same)

Weekend Overview

If last week’s big opener, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek wasn’t enough of a challenge for the lil’ ol’ Weekend Warrior–and I’m really proud of being pretty close with my prediction–then the third weekend of summer should be an interesting one, being that as in past years, it sees the release of only one new movie in wide release. In past years, we’ve seen the “Star Wars” movies and The Matrix Reloaded, as well as all three “Shreks.”

This year, that one movie is Angels & Demons (Sony), the sequel to Tom Hanks and Ron Howard’s 2006 summer blockbuster based on Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which brought in over $200 million despite poor reviews and generally mixed reactions. The subject matter and poor reaction to the movie might keep the sequel from opening bigger than its predecessor, as will the word-of-mouth business that Star Trek should bring in this weekend, but Hanks has enough fans (as does the original novel) that this should be the first choice for older moviegoers this weekend, allowing it have a decent opening regardless of the problems with its predecessor.

Expect J.J. Abrams’ summer hit to have a decent second weekend even though it’ll generally drop significantly on Friday, then make up for it on the weekend.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Rian Johnson’s second movie The Brothers Bloom (Summit Entertainment), which you can read about below.

This weekend last year, only one new movie opened in wide release, that being the sequel to a blockbuster holiday film, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Disney). Although its predecessor opened with $65 million and grossed over $290 million over the holidays years earlier, the sequel opened lighter with just $55 million, and then it got killed by the movies opening afterwards. It ended up grossing just $143 million becoming the first blockbuster of last summer to underperform expectations. Speed Racer tanked in its second weekend but everything else held up well to allow the Top 10 to gross $125 million, an amount that should be bested this weekend by the one-two punch of Angels & Demons and Star Trek.


Angels & Demons (Sony)
Starring Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Directed by Ron Howard (The Da Vinci Code, A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon, Cinderella Man, Apollo 13 and many more); Written by David Koepp (Spider-Man, Jurassic Park, The Lost World, War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), Akiva Goldsman (I Am Legend, Cinderella Man, I, Robot, A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code)
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “The holiest event of our time. Perfect for their return.”
Plot Summary: Symbolist Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is called back into the action when the Vatican is threatened by the return of the secret society, The Illuminati, who have sabotaged the papal electoral process by kidnapping the four prime candidates to become Pope as well as planting a hugely-destructive anti-matter bomb under the Vatican.

Review

Analysis:

So we’re into the third weekend of summer and we’ve successfully gotten over the usual second weekend hump with two successful prequels in row, and now we’re back to the more traditional summer sequels, this one being to a movie that made a lot of money when it opened three years ago despite receiving almost universal scorn from critics (24% Rotten on Rotten Tomatoes) and mixed reactions from moviegoers (6.4/10 from IMDb Users). It also paired one of the country’s most popular box office stars with an equally successful director, adapting one of the best-selling novels of all time, and that film was Ron Howard’s movie based on Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which introduced Tom Hanks as symbolist Dr. Robert Langdon.

Howard and Hanks first teamed 25 years ago for the breakout romantic comedy Splash ($62 million gross), back when both were significantly younger and newer to their business, and then ten years later, their next collaboration Apollo 13 was an enormous hit, grossing $172 million and being nominated for 9 Oscars (winning 2) – the industry was shocked when Howard wasn’t even nominated, something rectified when he won six years later for A Beautiful Mind. The Da Vinci Code surpassed both their previous collaborations when it opened with $77 million this same weekend in 2006–it was the biggest opening for either one of them–and it went onto gross $760 million worldwide with $217 million of that domestically. Something rather significant that those writing about this movie will probably miss is that this is the first time that Howard has ever done a sequel, which is pretty amazing considering the length of his career, while Hanks has only done Toy Story 2 (and the upcoming Toy Story 3). For these two Hollywood power players to agree to do a sequel, especially so close to the release of the original, tells you that they really love the source material and see the potential in Brown’s earlier novel to make an even better movie.

Even so, some people might ahave been surprised when Howard and Hanks teamed for The Da Vinci Code, even with the number of blockbuster hits they had made alone and together. Howard already had five movies grossing over $100 million and Hanks starred in five movies to gross over $200 million, putting him amongst an elite group that includes Will Smith, Samuel Jackson and Sir Ian McKellen. In that respect, Hanks is still considered by many in Hollywood to be one of the most bankable box office stars, even after making relative flops with The Terminal and The Ladykillers. This is Hanks’ first movie in over a year (not including his cameo with his son Colin in the indie The Great Buck Howard) and it’s certainly his chance to get himself back into the public eye in a big way. On the other hand, Howard is coming off his third Oscar-nominated film Frost/Nixon, which wasn’t nearly as successful at the box office as his previous two, grossing less than $20 million. It’s somewhat surprising considering Howard’s rep and the bump most Oscar-nominated films get, but it was just too much of a hard sell. Even so, Howard is still the type of known comedy, a respected director who generally makes quality films that appeal to mass audiences.

While Hanks has more than enough box office clout to carry this one on his own, Howard has created an intriguing international cast around him, most notably, having Scotland’s Ewan McGregor play a key role in what is likely the highest profile movie he’s appeared in since the “Star Wars” trilogy. Other known international stars include Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer (Munich) and Stellan Skarsgard, who played Orlando Bloom’s father in the last two “Pirates” movies, as well as Armin Muehler-Stahl and Pierfrancesco Favino (“Prince Caspian.”) These will likely help more with the movie’s international box office, which is incredibly important considering how much money The Da Vinci Code made outside the United States.

Angels & Demons is by no means the first sequel to the adaptation of a popular best-selling book. One can easily form an analogy between it and Ridley Scott’s Hannibal, the sequel to Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs, although obviously that movie was received far better than The Da Vinci Code. One might also look at the various “Bourne” movies, which were loosely based on novels, putting Matt Damon in the role of a popular literary character whose movies increased in quality and box office success over the course of a trilogy (all released in the summer).

For some reason, it’s hard to imagine that the “sequel factor” will be in play here because of the weak reception to The Da Vinci Code, but there will still be a lot of older audiences (30 and over) who’ll be looking for something new to see, especially older women who haven’t had any movies of interest to them over the last few weeks. One can probably safely assume that those who read Dan Brown’s book who liked it will be interested in seeing how it translates to the big screen even if they had problems with The Da Vinci Code. Because this movie’s predecessor wasn’t received very well, there’s a question whether other moviegoers will give Howard and Hanks another chance to get it right. At least Sony has done a decent job with the commercials to accentuate the action-thriller aspects of the sequel to make it look more interesting.

One big difference between Angels & Demons and its predecessor is that the former was based on a much more successful and controversial book, and something that helped get people in the movie was the controversy of the Catholic Church slamming the movie for it dealing with some of the same subject matter as Dan Brown’s novel, specifically the idea of Jesus having a bloodline. That certainly got a lot of churchgoing audiences interested in seeing the movie (similar to the first “Chronicles of Narnia” film, in fact), but this time the Catholic Church isn’t even bothering, which is surprising, since the movie does actually deal with the topics of religion and faith in a far more reverential way.

Unfortunately, the lack of controversy might actually hurt the movie, although the quality of the film will help. Even though many critics will still trash it just because Howard and Hanks are easy targets due to their success, there’s no question this is a better movie, one that moves at a brisker pace, more like a summer movie than The Da Vinci Code was. The question is whether fans of the novel (or Hanks or Howard) will give this sequel a chance, and that’s really going to make a big difference this weekend.

More than a few readers feel that Brown’s first novel starring Langdon was the better book with a plot that bodes well for a better movie, because it puts Langdon in a race against time to solve clues before a bomb explodes, kind of like Speed meets “24,” but set in the Vatican. The title “Angels & Demons” is also a much better title for a movie, one that could get people interested in seeing it from the title on a marquee alone, even if the novel isn’t nearly in the public consciousness as much as “The Da Vinci Code” was, especially considering all of the websites and novels that were created and written just to analyze the theories in Brown’s novel. Another thing to bear in mind is that The Da Vinci Code opened in a generally light weekend following Poseidon, whereas Angels & Demons is facing the second weekend of the critically-lauded box office Star Trek, which is sure to bring in a good amount of repeat and word-of-mouth business this weekend.

Taking all that into account, there’s certainly a chance that this could end up being this year’s “Prince Caspian” (see above), a sequel that doesn’t deliver on the box office of its predecessor, but that might just be the case in the United States where the previous film wasn’t received particularly well. We still think that there’s enough interest among older audiences to keep it from completely tanking, at least its opening weekend, but we doubt it’ll match the $200 million of The Da Vinci Code regardless.

Why I Should See It: Dan Brown’s first Robert Langdon novel has promise to make a more exciting movie than The Da Vinci Code and those who love the book should definitely give Ron Howard and Tom Hanks another chance.
Why Not: Anyone who saw The Da Vinci Code might have a hard time believing the sequel is better.
Projections: $57 to 59 million opening weekend and $165 to 170 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

For the first time in recent memory, this week’s “Chosen One” isn’t going to a movie released by Sony Pictures Classics or Magnolia Pictures… maybe because neither company is releasing a movie this weekend.

The Brothers Bloom (Summit Entertainment)
Starring Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane
Written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick)
Genre: Adventure, Crime, Drama, Romance
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “They’d never let the truth come between them.”
Plot Summary: The Brothers Bloom, Steven and Bloom (Mark Ruffalo, and Adrien Brody), have made their reputation as con men by setting up elaborate scams, but when Bloom wants out of the business, his older brother tempts him with one last job, stealing money from a beautiful but eccentric billionaire shut-in named Penelope (Rachel Weisz).

Interview with Rian Johnson

Review

There’s a full review on the way for this one later this week, but I do feel I’ve turned into one of the key supporters for Rian Johnson’s sophomore effort, following his breakout debut Brick. After all, I’ve already seen The Brothers Bloom three times, twice at the Toronto Film Festival last year and then once again a few weeks back to refresh my memory. I just really like the fact there are new(ish) filmmakers out there like Johnson who are doing something different, especially with the overused conman genre, which has seen a lot of good and great movies–ironically, the Argentine 9 Queens being one of the best–but also quite a lot of lazy storytelling and filmmaking over the years. The Brothers Bloom is far simpler than Brick in some ways, mainly dealing with four characters with a few satellite characters popping in and out. It starts with a flashback intro to the brothers’ childhood (narrated by Ricky Jay) that will immediately pull in fans of Wes Anderson’s work, but over the course of the movie, Johnson references all sorts of great old movies while still keeping the storytelling fresh and modern. If watching the brothers hatching one of their elaborate plots doesn’t immediately sell you, then when Rachel Weisz enters the picture as the eccentric epileptic billionairess who “collects hobbies,” well either you’re on board like I was or not. Personally, I think that fans of quirky and unique voices in filmmaking will really appreciate what Johnson is trying to do, though what really sold me on the movie was the character Bang Bang, played by Babel‘s Rinko Kikuchi, the silent but deadly explosives expert who steals much of the movie with her pantomime commentary on what is happening. There’s a lot of interesting ideas and themes including the idea that you can try your best to decide your own fate–or in the case of Adrien Brody’s character, actually write your own story rather than being a part of someone else’s–but there’s always so much that’s left up to chance. Those kind of themes really fascinate me, and it makes for a far richer filmgoing experience than other Hollywood movies that have tried to explore the art of the con.

So yeah, I’ll be writing a lot about the movie this week between my review and various interviews, because this is the type of unique and original filmmaking I feel we really need to see more of amidst the constant cookie-cutter formulas that have become so pervasive, even in independent filmmaking.

The Brothers Bloom opens in New York and L.A. on Friday, and if you happen to be in New York, come down to the Angelika Film Center on Friday night for a post-screening Q ‘n’ A with Rian Johnson, moderated by yours truly.

Honorable Mention:

Management (Samuel Goldwyn)
Starring Jennifer Aniston, Steve Zahn, Woody Harrelson
Written and directed by Stephen Belber (debut from the prolific playwright)
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rated R
Tagline: “A touching comedy”
Plot Summary: A chance meeting by shy hotel maintenance man Mike Cranshaw (Steve Zahn) and businesswoman Sue Claussen (Jennifer Aniston) at a roadside motel leads to the unlikeliest of romances that has Mike chasing Sue across the country, even when she goes back to her rich ex-boyfriend Jango (Woody Harrelson).

Interview with Stephen Belber

Mini-Review: Those hoping Jennifer Aniston will return to making smart indie movies like “The Good Girl” and “Friends with Money” should appreciate Stephen Belber’s debut, even though the former “Friends” star isn’t exactly breaking any new acting ground with her performance as Sue Claussen, a slightly stuffy woman who encounters Steve Zahn’s Mike Cranshaw on a business trip, then spends an entire movie trying to deny their obvious chemistry. From the moment you meet Mike working at his parent’s seedy motel and he shows up at Sue’s door with a bottle of wine “compliments of the management,” it’s hard not to like him. He’s one of those guys who tries way too hard to win over women way out of his league, only to get blown or have his heartbroken, but he’s also one of those nice guys who never could possibly get the girl in real life, which is why Belber’s film offers the kind of optimism and hope we rarely see in romantic comedies. One can’t imagine a better actor than Zahn to pull of a character like Cranshaw, who is always making an effort, however awkward it might be, and that’s more than most guys can say for ourselves. It plays a large part in what makes this film so special and unique; we can believe these flawed characters and enjoy the give and take as Sue fights against this persistent man’s interest in her, even when he follows her back to Baltimore. It’s a lot of fun watching Zahn and Aniston on screen trying to make things work, but the movie gets pretty bizarre as it progresses, especially once Mike travels to Portland to try to stop Sue from marrying her crazy ex-boyfriend Jango, played by Woody Harrelson at his craziest. Things begin to falter as the plot goes off the rails in that last act, especially as Mike starts getting into Zen Buddhism, but it does offer a few funny moments whenever Zahn and his partner-in-crime Al (James Liao) hatch a crazy scheme to get Sue back. Harrelson is generally so out there that it’s hard not to laugh, even his character is so outlandish compared to Mike and Sue. At times, it does seem like Belber has way more ideas than one should be able to put into a single movie, but it certainly makes this one of the more unique romantic comedies since “Garden State,” one that’s sweet and strange at the same time. Rating: 7.5/10

Also in Limited Release:
Jerichow (Cinema Guild) – Christian (Yella) Petzold’s new drama takes place in the small German town in the forest where a former soldier returns home and gets a job working for a Turkish immigrant named Ali at his snack bar, but ends up inadvertently intruding into Ali’s troubled relationship with his wife. It opens at the Film Forum in New York on Friday.

Big Man Japan (Magnet Films) – Japanese comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto co-wrote, directed and stars at this spoof of Japanese monster movies as a middle-aged slacker who turns into the country’s giant monster-fighting hero, although with recent failures being televised, the people of Tokyo have been turning against him. It opens in select cities.

Summer Hours (IFC Films) – French filmmaker Olivier Assayas (Demonlover, Irma Vep, Clean) follows the life of three 40-somethings (Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling and Jérémie Renier) who must decide what to do with their uncle’s collection of valuable 19th Century art after the death of their mother. It opens in New York at the IFC Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Not Forgotten (Anchor Bay Entertainment) – Simon Baker and Paz Vega stars in this suspense thriller as Jack and Amaya Bishop, a happy couple whose daughter goes missing, forcing him to turn to his past and the dark and long-forgotten faith of La Santa Muerte in order to get her back, while traveling to the brothels and barrios of Mexico City. It opens in select cities on Friday.

The Big Shot-Caller (Stella Films) – Marlene Rhein’s drama explores the roots of salsa music through an awkward teen named Jamie (Marlene’s brother David) who dreams of becoming a salsa dancer, turning to his hip-hop dancing sister (played by the filmmaker) to help him follow those dreams. It opens in New York at the Quad.

99 (People Pictures) – Based on real events, this Bollywood action-comedy from Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK takes place in 1999, dealing with a group of colorful characters who feel stuck in life and hoping to make it before the end of the century. Add a briefcase full of money and lots of coffee and you can imagine what happens. It opens in select cities this weekend.


Next week, it’s Memorial Day weekend and three movies will be fighting it out for the big bucks on the busiest moviegoing weekend of the year. Vying for the top spot will be McG’s Terminator Salvation (Warner Bros.) starring Christian Bale, taking on Ben Stiller in the sequel Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (20th Century Fox). Also the Wayans family returns to spoof comedy with Dance Flick (Paramount).

Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas

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