The Weekend Warrior: August 28 – 30

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. The Final Destination (New Line/WB) – $21.2 million N/A (up .6 million)

2. Halloween II (Dimension Films) – $17.2 million N/A (up .5 million and one place)

3. Inglourious Basterds (The Weinstein Company/Universal) – $17.0 million -55% (same)

4. District 9 (Sony) – $9.8 million -46% (down .2 million)

5. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Paramount) – $6.7 million -45% (up .2 million)

6. Julie & Julia (Sony) – $6.0 million -32% (up .1 million)

7. The Time Traveler’s Wife (New Line/WB) – $5.5 million -45% (same)

8. Taking Woodstock (Focus Features) – $4.7 million N/A (same)

9. Shorts (Warner Bros.) – $3.6 million -43% (same)

10. G-Force (Disney) – $2.5 million -39% (down .2 million)

Weekend Overview

It’s the last week of August and the second to last weekend of summer before next week’s Labor Day holiday, and usually, this is one of the worst weekends of the year, typical of the infamous “Dog Days of Summer.” In fact, there has yet to be one movie that opens to more than $20 million on the weekend before Labor Day, which makes it even tougher for two new movies that might benefit from the fact they’re sequels, but also being in direct competition for each other.

And yet, both of the new movies are anticipated installments in R-rated horror franchises, both opening in over 3,000 theatres, so maybe we’ll see one of them break the late August weekend jinx, though probably not both. We’re putting our money on the fourth chapter in franchise that started ten years ago, The Final Destination (New Line/WB), which will benefit greatly from being the first movie in the series to be shown in 3D, something that will make a huge difference, especially in terms of bringing in non-horror fans. Targeted more towards the college-age male horror aficionados, Rob Zombie’s sequel Halloween II (Dimension Films) continues the story of the hit remake that set a new Labor Day weekend record two years ago. Even though we don’t expect the sequel to open as big as the first movie, partially due to the weekend competition and partially because Zombie’s first movie wasn’t that popular despite its opening weekend success, it should still bring in the diehard fans. On the other hand, the success of Lionsgate’s My Bloody Valentine remake due to its 3D screenings is undeniable, and the higher ticket prices, along with Warner Bros.’ stronger marketing campaign and ability to get screens should help “Final Destination” win the weekend.

Opening in New York and L.A. on Wednesday and then expanding to over 1,300 theaters on Friday is Ang Lee’s latest, Taking Woodstock (Focus Features), a comedy set around the time of the famous music festival starring Demetri Martin, Emile Hirsch, Liev Schreiber and more. Even though Woodstock is very prevalent in many minds due to its recent 40th Anniversary, there probably isn’t as much interest in the movie among general audiences and certainly no one under 30, which means the business will be spread out and mainly focused in arthouse cities.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Ondi Timoner’s award-winning Sundance doc We Live in Public (Interloper Films), which you can read more about below.

This weekend last year, there was another competition between two movies, though very different movies for different audiences, and the female-targeted comedy The House Bunny (Sony), starring Anna Farris, Emma Stone and others won out, taking second place behind Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder with $14.5 million. Meanwhile, Jason Statham starred in Paul W.S. Anderson’s remake Death Race (Universal), which brought in a disappointing $12.6 million for third place. Ice Cube’s inspirational sports movie The Longshots (The Weinstein Co.) opened in tenth place with $4.1 million in over 2,000 theaters, another bomb for the indie studio. Opening on Wednesday, the Rainn Wilson comedy The Rocker (20th Century Fox) ended up with $3.7 million in its first five days, a fairly pitiful bomb for the studio. The Top 10 grossed $83 million, and this week’s two main offerings should help this weekend exceed that amount.


The Final Destination (New Line/WB)
Starring Bobby Campo, Shantel VanSanten, Krista Allen, Mykelti Williamson, Haley Webb, Nick Zano, Andrew Fiscella, Richard T. Jones
Directed by David R. Ellis (Snakes on a Plane, Final Destination 2); Written by Eric Bress (Final Destination 2, The Butterfly Effect)
Genre: Horror, Action
Rated R
Tagline: “Just because you know it’s happening, doesn’t mean you’ll see it coming.”
Plot Summary: A group of teens survive a horrible and deadly crash at a racetrack only to start dying one by one when Death comes to collect those who escape their intended fate.

Interview with Producer Craig Perry

Analysis:

As summer comes to a close, we’re getting to the weekends where it’s harder for movies to make a mark, which is why they’re often dubbed the “Dog Days of Summer,” and it’s very rare that it’s a weekend where we get not one, but two sequels, this one being the fourth installment for a highly successful horror franchise that has grossed $150 million domestically in theatres. Clearly, studios are trying to break the long-standing curse that tends to kill any movie that opens in the weekend before Labor Day, which this year seems to be happening later than usual. Even so, the fourth “Final Destination” movie commemorates a number of firsts: it’s the first installment released in the summer, the first marketed and distributed by Warner Bros., as well as the first to be released in 3D.

The original Final Destination opened in March 2000 with just $10 million, but the clever premise of Death having a design that allows it to claim those who survived deadly disasters was one that caught on and the movie ended up grossing over $50 million, showing the type of legs that’s very uncharacteristic for the horror genre. Three years later, New Line delivered a sequel that opened with $16 million but didn’t quite gross as much as the previous movie, but it grossed almost $90 million worldwide compared to its $26 million production budget, making it profitable enough for a third movie. Final Destination 3 opened in the spring of ’06 with $19 million and went onto gross more than the original and the previous sequel both domestically and internationally. That brings us to Number 4, a movie that’s trying to get past the fact that it’s using the exact same formula as the previous three movies. Returning to the franchise for the first time since the second movie–which is the favorite of many fans of the franchise–are both director David R. Ellis, who also helmed the internet cult movie Snakes on a Plane (which bombed despite the internet buzz) and writer Eric Bress, who went on to write The Butterfly Effect after tackling the first “Final Destination” sequel.

As with the previous three movies, the lack of name actors in the cast won’t really make a difference, because most of them are merely cannon fodder for Death to slaughter them in strange and unexpected ways, although a few previous cast members have gone onto better things, such as Sean William Scott and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
The 3D will certainly help out, as fans of the series will be excited to see all of the brutal killings in that format, and they’ll probably try hard to seek out the 1,500 or so theaters that are 3-D capable. Because ticket prices for 3D are generally higher, that should greatly help the per-theater average in those locations, much like it helped the My Bloody Valentine remake open with more than $20 million earlier this year. That will only account for roughly half of the 3,000 theatres in which The Final Destination is playing – Warner Bros. showing their additional clout with distributors by getting it into more theaters than the previous outings.

While to some, the R-rating might be limiting, the biggest hindrance is the fact that it’s opening against Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (See below), which will draw away some of the horror fans, at least opening night. There should be enough of them that want to see both, but they’ll have to decide which one to see first and whether they’re up for a double feature. The good thing about “Final Destination” is that it can appeal more to casual moviegoing audiences and non-horror fans and probably will bring in more women than Zombie’s movie. In what might seem like an odd decision, Warner Bros. has decided not to screen this chapter for critics, even though the previous movies have found fans among the online genre crowd that helped it find fans. Either way, horror movies tend to bring in moviegoers even when reviews are negative, so at least the movie won’t be hurt by the cranky older print critics who aren’t into the series.

Why I Should See It: “Final Destination” has always been one of the most fun and entertaining horror franchise due to the clever way that people are killed.
Why Not: The series certainly uses a lot of the same formula, and with most fourth installments, some might already be tired of it.
Projections: $19 to 21 million opening weekend and $54 to 55 million total.

COMPARISONS


Halloween II (Dimension Films)
Starring Scout Taylor-Compton, Tyler Mane, Danielle Harris, Daniel Roebuck, Ezra Buzzington, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Jeffrey Daniel Phillips, Dayton Callie, Richard Brake, Matt Bush, Howard Hesseman
Written and directed by Rob Zombie (Halloween,
Genre: Horror, Suspense, Thriller
Rated
Tagline: “You can run. You can hide. Or, you can fight… LIKE HELL.”
Plot Summary: Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) has been trying to reconnect with his sister Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) – and by that, we mean actually trying to killing her, sending her to the hospital, and then cutting a swath of gruesome murders as he tries to find her and finish the job.

Analysis:

The second horror offering of the weekend is the 11th installment in a horror franchise that has been around for over 30 years ago, as well as the sequel to Rob Zombie’s 2007 relaunch of that franchise from two years ago, the first installment to gross more than the original movie and the most successful follow-up.

Created by John Carpenter in 1978, the original Halloween became an early example of the “teen slasher” flick that became so popular during the late ’70s and early ’80s, as well as continuing the trend of setting horror films within the realms of a certain holiday or other (see My Bloody Valentine, etc.). Three years later, there was a sequel, and then the franchise got a bit out of control as four poor sequels were released with very little fanfare. It was only when Jamie Lee Curtis returned for the 20th Anniversary Halloween: H20 in 1998 that the series started to get serious attention again, and it proved to be quite a smart move, as it grossed $55 million. Four years later, the follow-up Halloween: Resurrection did decently despite not being embraced by the core horror fans.

Two years ago, Zombie scored himself the plum gig of relaunching the “Halloween” franchise with a new origin story that would be faithful to John Carpenter’s original movie but hopefully making it more exciting for modern young audiences. The movie opened over the four-day Labor Day weekend, grossing $30 million and setting a new record for the holiday, but it went on to gross less than half that opening weekend amount, which is not a good sign that word-of-mouth was strong enough for people to recommend it to their friends. Like Kevin Smith, Zombie has his own group of diehard fans and horror aficionados who will see everything he does, maybe because they know he tends to give them what they want, but his filmmaking style doesn’t exactly appeal to mass audiences and he has his critics. In fact, the actual paid critics who saw the last movie pretty much trashed it, giving it just 26% on Rotten Tomatoes, which may be why Dimension Films isn’t even screening the latest chapter for them.

Returning for the sequel are Tyler Mane as the new Michael Myers and the previous film’s principal stalkee Scout Taylor-Compton, as well as legendary actor Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis. (Of course, you couldn’t keep Rob Zombie’s wife Sheri Moon away, as she returns in flashbacks as Michael’s mother.) The cast won’t really make a difference to anyone new to the franchise, and the characters returning are there just to appease those who liked the previous movie, rather than being any kind of draw. Like the previous “Halloween” movies, the draw is the iconic character of Michael Myers and Zombie’s treatment of the genre.

Otherwise, there really isn’t a lot to differentiate this from other horror sequels, and while Dimension has been valiantly trying to market the movie similarly to the first one, these are different times, not that the draw of slasher flicks is slowing down anytime soon, going by the success of My Bloody Valentine and Friday the 13th earlier this year.

One thing to bear in mind is that the original movie didn’t have any direct competition, while the sequel will have to deal with the competition from The Final Destination. Both movies might suffer from the fact that despite being fairly high-profile sequels, neither will be able to increase awareness by the added attention reviews in major newspapers can bring to either one of them if they’re any good. They both also might be hurt by being released in a late August weekend that’s considered by some to be a jinx.
Why I Should See It: Rob Zombie gets another crack at venturing into John Carpenter territory.
Why Not: Zombie’s distinctive filmmaking style and sensibilities aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.
Projections: $15 to 17 million opening weekend and roughly $40 million total.

COMPARISONS


Taking Woodstock (Focus Features)
Starring Demetri Martin, Emile Hirsch, Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman, Jonathan Groff, Mamie Gummer, Eugene Levy, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Liev Schreiber
Directed by Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, The Ice Storm, Lust, Caution, The Hulk and many more); Written by James Schamus (Lust, Caution)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rated R
Tagline: “A Generation Began In His Backyard.”
Plot Summary: It’s 1969, and Elliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin) has returned for the summer to help his parents (Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman) in their Catskills hotel, when he’s contacted by Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) to hold a three-day music festival, which would go on to become legendary.

Review

Analysis:

When you’re an Academy Award winning director like Ang Lee, the world is your oyster and you can pretty much do whatever you want, which may be why Lee and his longtime collaborator James Schamus have decided to make a movie based on the book by Elliot Tiber, one of the people living in Bethel, New York during the late ’60s who was greatly affected by the invasion of hundreds of thousands of hippies and young people for the legendary Woodstock Festival. Not ironically, the movie is coming out at a time when Woodstock is being covered a lot in the media, having recently been the 40th Anniversary of the famous music festival.

Starring in the movie and making his feature debut in a starring role is comedian Demetri Martin, best known from his appearances on “The Daily Show” and his own Comedy Central show, and this is a big role for him, being the star of an Ang Lee movie. Martin is joined by a couple actors more familiar to this territory including Emile Hirsch, who starred in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild then co-starred with Penn in the Focus release Milk, and he’s certainly an actor on the rise, even if playing the title character in the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer wasn’t successful. He has a relatively small part in Lee’s new movie. Liev Schreiber is an actor’s actor, who has been making movies for roughly 15 years, first finding success in Wes Craven’s “Scream” series but also appearing in other big summer movies like The Sum of All Fears and remakes of The Omen and The Manchurian Candidate. Most recently, he co-starred with Daniel Craig in the WWII drama Defiance, a surprise arthouse hit, and then played Sabretooth in this summer’s kicker X-Men Origins: Wolverine; in Lee’s latest, he wears a dress, playing a transvestite security guard. Playing Martin’s parents are British actress Imelda Staunton, best known as the Oscar-nominated star of Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake and as Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and the lesser-known stage actor Henry Goodman.

Despite having another typically solid cast, Ang Lee is the type of director whose name on a movie is somewhat of a draw, especially after his Asian kung fu epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which almost made him a household name as it would gross $128 million, the highest-grossing Chinese language movie in the United States. Lee followed that by taking on Marvel’s rampaging superhero Hulk, a movie that outgrossed Lee’s previous movie but was generally considered a disappointment among fans. (When Marvel relaunched the franchise, it was without Lee or that film’s star Eric Bana.) Lee then returned to artier Asian fare with the WWII romantic drama Lust, Caution, which barely got past the arthouses, grossing less than $5 million total.

Focus Features is opening Lee’s latest movie in New York and L.A. on Wednesday and then nationwide into roughly 1,300, which isn’t that weird a concept since movies like Fahrenheit 9/11 have used a similar approach. The weird thing is the weekend in which Focus is releasing the movie and the fact that it’s going wide so early in the run. This is the kind of movie that normally would platform and then open wider later, plus Focus would normally open Lee’s movies later in the year in hopes of getting awards. That was how they handled last year’s Milk biopic, which did great in New York, L.A. and San Francisco but never quite matched the success of Brokeback Mountain, despite following a similar campaign. Maybe Focus realized that Lee’s latest just doesn’t have that kind of awards potential, so they’re releasing it in late summer, hoping to glom off the interest in Woodstock with its 40th Anniversary. The movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it got mostly mixed reviews, and reviews will probably continue to be mixed as various critics weigh in. Because the movie isn’t getting the kind of rave reviews as some of Lee’s past movies, one probably shouldn’t expect many casual moviegoers to make it their first choice this weekend, and it seems that other than fans of Ang Lee’s work, this will only bring in those who are mildly interested in the festival, which we figure will only be men and women over 30 years old.

Why I Should See It: Ang Lee is one of those master auteur filmmakers who can do no wrong. Even if you aren’t crazy about his latest offering, you can’t deny the artistry of the filmmaking.
Why Not: Ang Lee doing a comedy? Based on Woodstock? That seems to be veering very far away from his previous work.
Projections: $4 to 5 million opening weekend and roughly $15 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

We Live in Public (Interloper Films)
Starring Josh Harris
Directed by Ondi Timoner (Dig!)
Genre: Documentary
Unrated
Tagline:
Plot Summary: Ondi Timoner’s documentary looks at the career of internet pioneer Josh Harris, who made many innovations into the world of streaming audio and video and the concept of online communities, which turned him into a multi-millionaire, only for him to walk away from it all and disappear from the public eye.

Interview with Ondi Timoner and Josh Harris

While I don’t get to see a lot of documentaries at film festivals, I really picked a doozy at this year’s Sundance Film Festival when I caught the new movie from Ondi Timoner, a brilliant filmmaker who completely immerses herself into whatever world she decides to explore. For her previous doc “Dig!” she followed around the rock bands The Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre as she explored the relationship between the bands as one became famous and the other languished in cult obscurity.

For “We Live in Public,” she takes an equally in-depth look at Joshua Harris, a guy who broke so much ground in the virtual world, having foreseen the future of the internet and created some of the early chat platforms as well as Pseudo.com, one of the first online television networks before going off the rails and experimenting with what people will do to get on camera. He was so far ahead of this time until he walked away from the business world and started exploring the world of performance art and the downtown art scene by throwing crazy tech-parties.

While the movie briefly touches upon Harris’ childhood as a television addict, the movie gets going when he comes up with the idea for “Quiet,” which is where Timoner came into the picture to document the experimental project, essentially an underground bunker commune filled with artists and Josh’s friends with video cameras everywhere. Harris used the bunker to create the first real life online community whose inhabitants can do whatever they want as long as they realize that they’re being filmed and watched. At its core, the project was an eerie precursor to hidden camera reality TV shows like “Big Brother,” a fascinating human experiment, until you realize what is going on down there, everything from people walking around naked to brainwashing to a full-on shooting range. It’s really eerie stuff, especially if you lived in New York City at the time (as I did) and didn’t realize it was going on. The project comes to a hellish conclusion as the bunker is raided by the police just as the 20th Century comes to an end. Afterwards, Harris moves into an apartment with his girlfriend Tanya to become the subject of his next experiment, having cameras on them 24/7 to capture every aspect of their relationship and broadcast it to the world in real time, something which no relationship could possibly withstand. (When it does implode on camera, it’s incredibly difficult to watch.)

There’s little doubt that Harris is a visionary, well ahead of his time, but one that few of the billions of people on the internet even realize existed. What you might not get from watching the doc is whether he’s eccentric or just plain loco, because the doc doesn’t try to get into the motivations behind some of Harris’ crazier ideas, like his clown alter-ego “Luvey.”

As with “Dig!” this is far from a clinical documentary full of talking heads, since Timoner had access to nearly 5,000 hours of footage taken from Josh Harris’ crazy experimental projects, which she combed through the find the most representative moments, scoring them with perfectly-selected songs that bring out all of the powerful raw emotions.

In this day of Facebook and MySpace and Twitter and blogging, we’re all out there sharing our personal lives with anyone who’ll watch or read, while essentially giving away the rights to our own identity. This is something that Harris was exploring ten years ago with “Quiet” and “We Live in Public,” and Timoner effortlessly draws parallels with this film. If that doesn’t make “We Live in Public” the most creative, timely and relevant doc of the year, then it’s pretty damn close.

It opens in New York on Friday at the IFC Center, followed by Boston on September 4, L.A. on September 24, San Francisco on October 2 and more down the line.

Also in Limited Release:

Mystery Team (Roadside Attractions) – California’s Derrick Comedy Troupe star in this Sundance Film Festival favorite, playing a group of kid detectives about to graduate high school and go into the real world but unable to move on and act their age. When a neighborhood girl’s parents are murdered, the Mystery Team are on the case, taking them into darker territory of drug dealers and strippers. It opens in 8 theatres select cities including Austin, Athens, Georgia, a couple places in Florida and Iowa with plans to expand nationwide in October. You can see the entire list here.

The Open Road (Anchor Bay Films) – Justin Timberlake plays minor league baseball player Carlton Garret in this sports comedy by Michael Meredith in which the young man goes on a road trip with his girlfriend Lucy (Kate Mara) trying to find his father, legendary baseball player Kyle Garret (Jeff Bridges) after his mother (Mary Steenburgen) becomes sick in hopes of reuniting their family. It opens in select cities on Friday.

The September Issue (Roadside Attractions) – This new doc from R.J. Cutler (The War Room, “American High”) takes an in-depth look at Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue Magazine for 20 years, and without question, the most powerful person in the fashion industry. (Meryl Streep was supposedly playing Wintour in the 2006 hit The Devil Wears Prada.) Cutler follows Wintour and her team of editors as they prepare the September 2007 issue, which is going to be the biggest issue of the magazine ever. It opens in New York on Friday and in other cities on September 11.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Big Fan (First Independent Pictures) – Patton Oswalt stars in the directorial debut of Robert Siegel (screenwriter of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler) as Paul Aufiero, a diehard New York Giants fan living with his mother in Staten Island. When he sees his hero, Giants linebacker Quantrell Bishop, he follows him to a Manhattan strip club to try and meet him and gets beaten up for his efforts. He then has to decide whether to press charges, sidelining Bishop and potentially ruining his team’s season or lie about what happened and hope that the Giants can have a comeback in the game against arch-rivals the Eagles. The Sundance favorite opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Interviews with Patton Oswalt and Robert Siegel

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

At the Edge of the World (Wealth Effect Media) – Dan Stone’s documentary about the 3rd Antarctic Campaign of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a group of ordinary men and women recklessly tried to stop a Japanese whaling fleet even though they didn’t have the proper training or equipment to properly make the journey. It opens on Friday at the Cinema Village.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)


Next week is Labor Day weekend and three new movies will be competing for the three-day holiday audiences, including the Gerard Butler action-thriller Gamer (Lionsgate) from the makers of Crank, the Sandra Bullock-Bradley Cooper romantic comedy All About Steve (20th Century Fox) and Mike (“Beavis and Butthead”) Judge’s third live action comedy Extract (Miramax), starring Jason Bateman.

Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas

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