The Weekend Warrior: Oct. 30 – Nov. 1

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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. Michael Jackson’s This Is It (Sony) – $53.2* million N/A

(*Yeah, so that number isn’t going to happen based on the $7.4 million the Michael Jackson concert film took in on its opening Wednesday. A more realistic weekend expectation would probably be in the $25 million range and that will still be enough to be #1 although it will probably top out at a disappointing $40 million in five days, which makes one wonder if there were some bogus reports from a couple ticket services about the advance tickets being sold.)

2. Paranormal Activity (Paramount) – $15.0 million -29% (same)

3. Where the Wild Things Are (Warner Bros) – $7.7 million -45% (up .2 million)

4. Law Abiding Citizen (Overture Films) – $7.4 million -40% (same)

5. Couples Retreat (Universal) – $6.9 million -35% (up .3)

6. Saw VI (Lionsgate) – $6.0 million -58% (down .2)

7. Astro Boy (Summit Entertainment) – $4.5 million -33% (up .1)

8. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Sony) – $3.9 million -26% (same)

9. Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (Universal) – $3.9 million -37% (same)

10. The Stepfather (Screen Gems) – $3.5 million -43% (same)

Weekend Overview

October has been an amazing month full of firsts and a number of bonafide phenomenon, so it makes sense that the month ends on Halloween weekend with Michael Jackson’s This Is It (Sony), the concert movie culled from hours of rehearsal footage from the King of Pop’s last days before his untimely death in late June. There have been many questions about what he had planned for his long-awaited return to the stage and this doc directed by Kenny Ortega from “High School Musical” fame has been kept tightly under wraps as they put the footage together. It opens on Wednesday and it should do huge business as his fans rush out to see it with enough demand and interest that the movie should do very well over the weekend as well. Opening in over 3,400 theaters including a number of IMAX screens, we see it doing roughly $75 to 80 million in its first five days, but it’s in enough theaters we won’t see any sort of record-breaking per-theater average since business will be spread out and more focused in certain areas.

The other movies are likely to make way for it although horror-related flicks like Paramount’s Paranormal Activity, which we expect to continue expanding this weekend, and Universal’s Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant should benefit from the Halloween holiday. On the flip side, Saw VI‘s poor showing last weekend won’t be helped by all the news stories celebrating the franchise’s inevitable demise–you can read our own thoughts on that below–and it’s likely to drop dramatically this weekend and be out of the Top 10 by November.

This week’s “Chosen One,” right in time for Halloween, is Ti West’s horror flick House of the Devil (Magnet), which you can read more about here.

Ironically, this weekend last year saw Kenny Ortega’s High School Musical 3: Senior Year remaining on top with $15.3 million despite an enormous 64% drop. That left second place for Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno (The Weinstein Co.), starring Seth Rogen, which took in a measly $10 million in 2,735 theaters, while the indie horror flick The Haunting of Molly Hartley (Freestyle Releasing) opened in fifth place with $5.4 million in 2,600 theaters. While the box office might have been hurt by the Halloween holiday, its abysmal $69 million gross for the Top 10 is likely to be bested thanks to the Michael Jackson movie.


THE BATTLE CRY

It’s Halloween weekend and after last week’s shocker of Paramount’s Paranormal Activity winning the weekend and destroying the $30 million plus opening streak of the “Saw” franchise, the question on most minds is whether the “Saw” franchise can possibly survive and save itself from a similar fate previous horror franchises through the years.

Let’s face it. Lionsgate has been relying on the “Saw” movies and the prolific Tyler Perry over the past few years to keep themselves afloat, otherwise releasing quite a few bombs that must have hurt. Supposedly, the company has already started making plans for a seventh installment, this one in 3D with the director of Saw V, which wasn’t received very well. Even though Saw VI only made $15 million its opening weekend and probably will top out at $35 million, the movie only cost $11 million to make and it will be profitable, even if not nearly as much as previous chapters. Adding 3D to the mix will also add $15 to 20 million to the cost, which means there’s even more pressure for the next chapter to deliver.

WARNING: From this point on, there is likely to be spoilers not only for the latest chapter of the “Saw” franchise but for the entire series, so if you intend to still see some of the past movies, you might want to skip the next few paragraphs.

Even though I never got around to reviewing it, I saw Saw VI on Friday, and I have to say that I was disappointed. I was probably one of the few people who actually liked Saw V despite the fact that it ended abruptly. I’m clearly the anomaly among “Saw” fans because I liked the second movie the best, wasn’t too crazy about the third, but then became interested once again after Patrick Melton and Marcus Dustan took the reigns and started exploring more of Jigsaws back story and origins. My problem with the new movie wasn’t necessarily the main storyline involving the head of an insurance company who turned Jigsaw down for coverage, but the fact that the overall story doesn’t seem to be moving forward beyond having another person–in this case Jigsaw’s wife–continuing his legacy.

Even so, the series has slowly began to put off a lot of its longtime fans by following the same formula for each movie while making it impossible for anyone new to come on board, since the overall plot had become so complex and intricate, one wouldn’t be able to just watch the new movie and be able to understand what was going on. It’s somewhat ironic that one of the franchises that has defined the first decade of the 21st Century seems to be faltering just as it comes to an end.

Right now, Twisted Pictures’ best bet is to not continue a story that no one is interested in watching anymore and find a new way to reinvent the franchise. Part of that might be to just get rid of Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith and the rotating “Jigsaws” and maybe create a bit more intrigue and mystery behind the legacy of Jigsaw. Jigsaw needs to be less human and more about an ideology. He’s had a bunch of followers, each more annoying than the last (and all mostly played by bad actors), while at the same time, the movies have continually tried to make Jigsaw more human. That moves away from the long-standing horror traditions of the likes of Mike Myers and Freddie Krueger and Jason Voorhees, supernatural beings who keep coming back and are seemingly unstoppable. By comparison, the “Saw” series has gone for realism, which tends to be its undoing since it’s highly implausible that any one, two or even three people could build some of the elaborate traps from each episode.

They need to find a new take on the franchise and part of that means making it more accessible and marketable to those who either had no interest in the franchise up until now. Obviously, most people like the movie for the death traps and the gore, but The Dark Knight took some of the ideas of the franchise to a new level and the death traps now just seem like an excuse for gratuitous blood and gore without having much of an effect on those subjected to them (thereby defeating the purpose of testing them). This may sound harsh, but the producers might also need to get rid of Dunstan and Melton. They’ve written the last three movies and it’s clear from this one they’ve run out of ideas and are just regurgitating the last few movies with endless flashbacks.

On top of that, Bell seems to be phoning it in with the latest installment. Maybe that’s because his character died three chapters ago and the way they keep using him in flashbacks is getting ridiculous. It’s also getting beyond silly that we keep flashing back to previous movies and learning it wasn’t just John capturing these people and setting the traps. No, apparently, he had help along the way, first from the junkie Amanda and then FBI agent Hoffman. Smith was never a very strong actress, and Costas Mandylor isn’t much better and the fact that he’s survived this long in the series and will probably return for a seventh movie isn’t promising. It’s great that they can make the movies so cheaply, but maybe it’s time to spend some money to bring in some known actors, some with real talent, to beef up the movies, give them more depth. Step up the quality of the acting and the characters immediately will be better. At this point, the acting is Syfy TV movie bad at times. This is something they did somewhat with the previous installment by having Meagan Good play a small role, but there are many talented actors like Donnie Wahlberg (star of the second movie) who can go a long way to help the movies be taken more seriously. Casting unknown tenth stringers just guarantees the quality of the movies will never improve.

Another smart and maybe somewhat obvious move would be to get a better class of director on board, whether it be horror legends or up ‘n’ comers like Rob Zombie or Alexandre Aja. When Darren Bousman took over from James Wan for the sequel, there were a lot of skeptics, but he quickly proved himself with three decently-made films in three years. After he moved on, the producers went to the series’ technical team, the production designer and editor, respectively, to direct the last two installments, and obviously, the fans have not been on board with that decision. That’s not to say that either Kevin Greutert or David Hackl did a bad job, but that was one more decision that pushed fans away rather than bringing in new ones.

Either way, whether Lionsgate decides to lick their wounds and move forward with Saw VII is something both the fans and the critics of the series will certainly be interested in keeping tabs on, something they’ll be able to do by regularly checking out ComingSoon.net’s horror affiliate ShockTillYouDrop.com, where many “Saw” stories have regularly broken over the past few years. The question is whether Lionsgate wants to spend the money to make the necessary changes to save the franchise or they’ll just keep going until it dies out in hopes that another studio or production company decides to revive them in 20 years.


Michael Jackson’s This Is It (Sony)
Starring Michael Jackson, Kenny Ortega, Michael Beardon, Travis Payne
Directed by Kenny Ortega (High School Musical 3: Senior Year)
Genre: Concert, Documentary
Rated PG
Tagline: “Like You’ve Never Seen Him Before”
Plot Summary: Before his death, pop legend Michael Jackson had been preparing for a series of sold-out comeback shows at London’s O2 Stadium, and this documentary puts together some of that footage to show the process for staging these amazing shows that no one had a chance to see.

Interview with the Creators of “This Is It”

Review

Analysis:

The death of “The King of Pop” Michael Jackson on June 25 sent shockwaves through the world, not only starting a media and retailer frenzy, but also causing a lot people who had been fans of Jackson before his legal and financial troubles to realize that we had lost a great singer, songwriter and entertainer. At the time, Jackson was preparing for 50 sold out comeback shows at the O2 Arena in London, and many people felt that he had been pushing himself too hard or possibly wasn’t in the best health, causing his death. It just so happens that they had filmed all of the rehearsals that had been taking place over the previous few months and it was decided to edit together the footage and release it theatrically. Sony won the bid to release the movie and work began with Kenny Ortega, the creator of the “High School Musical” series and the creative director of Jackson’s shows, overseeing the process of making a film out of the rehearsal footage.

One wouldn’t think there’d be a lot to say about a movie that doesn’t easily fit into any specific category; it’s not really a documentary or a concert movie, although in the latter terms, the only remotely close comparison might be the MIley Cyrus/Hanna Montana: The Best of Both Worlds in terms of showing how the fandom for an artist could drive the box office way above expectations. We could also point to the success of Eminem’s pseudo-biopic 8 Mile to show how one entertainer’s popularity and mystique can translate into big box office, as that was another much-hyped phenomenon that got everyone out in droves its opening weekend. The Jackson movie might be more like the former, not just because it’s a doc rather than a drama, but also because it will be targeting and audiences that might not normally be regular moviegoers.

By comparison to Miley and Eminem, Michael Jackson is the third-highest selling recording artist after the Beatles and Elvis, having sold $77.8 million records in the U.S. alone, and one has to imagine that a good amount of the millions who bought those records might not normally go to the movies. The release of This Is It is unprecedented and they true fans will feel obligated to see it. As much as the comparison is likely to be controversial, it is similar in that way to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ, another movie about an enigmatic historic figure revered by millions, and similar to Gibson’s movie, This Is It has been swathed in mystery for many months. The mystery surrounding Gibson’s movie certainly helped to create a fervor that led to its inevitable box office success.

Some might feel that Jackson’s music isn’t very hip or current or that he might not have that many remaining fans, but his death brought them all out in droves and it put almost everyone on the same page in terms of commemorating his musical legacy as an entertainer rather than focusing on the negative. News on his death was everywhere for weeks as the facts came out and fans in the thousands tried to get into the Staples Center for the Memorial service, while his record sales spiked with 2.3 million records being sold in the three weeks after he died. Of course, there’s still many people who look at Jackson as a joke or even worse due to the allegations about dalliances with underage boys, which culminated in a high-profile trial a few years ago, and that ultimately led to Jackson declaring bankruptcy, which some think led to him wanting to return to the stage in a big way.

The moviegoing public has a morbid fascination with the dead, something which clearly put Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight over the top in terms of bringing audiences that might not normally go see a superhero movie, just to see Heath Ledger’s last performance, and that might play a major factor in the success of this movie as well, escalated by the fact that the movie is coming out just four months after Jackson’s death. Although one expects his fans to drive the market for tickets, there’s also those who’ll be interested in seeing what the big deal is about and just those with a morbid curiosity to see Jackson’s last days. The interest in this movie is confirmed by the huge amount of advance ticket sales and sold out shows experienced by Fandango and other advance ticket services in the weeks since tickets went on sale.

This Is It is opening simultaneously in IMAX theaters although it will probably be sharing those screens with Warner Bros.’ Where the Wild Things Are then have to give some of them up next Friday for Disney’s A Christmas Carol. Sony is only giving the movie a “two-week limited run,” a similar trick that Disney did with the Miley Cyrus movie and the “Toy Story” double feature, which forces the fans to rush out to see the movie in the limited time they have to catch it in theaters. Like Universal’s Couples Retreat, it’s also the only new movie this weekend after a weekend of bombs, so for a lot of regular moviegoers, it might be the only choice.

Sony has done a good job keeping the footage under wraps only starting to show it last week and causing a media frenzy among those who had a chance to see the 10 to 13 minutes that was shown. The movie as a whole won’t be seen by anyone until Tuesday night when the movie premieres in 15 cities worldwide simultaneously — another media event that will get widespread coverage. It also prevents the movie from getting any negative reviews that might put people off from seeing the movie, not that it will matter, since Jackson fans will want to see the movie regardless of whether critics give it the thumbs up or down.

There will be many diehard fans who rush out on Wednesday to be the first to see the movie, but just as many will wait until the weekend, possibly to bring their entire kids and families along to help share their love for the Gloved One. The interest in the movie mainly driven by the intrigue and morbid fascination should help the movie bring in $80 to 90 million in its first five days and a healthy amount of legs at least until next Friday when more new movies hit theaters.

Why I Should See It: There’s a reason why Jackson sold millions of records and concert tickets and the movie is a great document of Jackson as a consummate entertainer and performer.
Why Not: Michael Jackson’s contribution to music includes influencing the likes of Britney Spears and other formulaic pop acts.
Projections: Roughly $23 to 26 million on Wednesday, another 13 to 14 million on Thursday and then another $51 to 54 million over the three-day weekend and roughly $135 million by the time it leaves theaters.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

The House of the Devil (Magnet Labs)
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Greta Gerwig, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace
Written and directed by Ti West (The Roost, Trigger Man)
Genre: Horror
Rated R
Tagline: “Talk on the Phone. Finish Your Home Work. Watch TV. Die.”
Plot Summary: Trying to earn money for a new apartment, college co-ed Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) takes a job babysitting at a remote house in the middle of nowhere and quickly learns that things aren’t what they seem as she’s left alone in the spooky house.

You probably won’t find a spookier or creepier movie to see on Halloween than this retro-thriller from one of independent horror’s brightest up and coming stars Ti West. Having premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, the movie immediately drew me in with West’s unapologetic homages to the cult horror flicks of the ’70s and early ’80s, particularly the classics that influenced an entire generation of horror filmmakers (including West). Unlike the movies that offered a gory kill every 5 to 10 minutes, West prefers to subscribe to the slow build theory that introduces the characters, puts them in a situation then keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat guessing what’s going to happen as it builds to a fantastic gory climax.

Newcomer Jocelin Donahue plays Samantha, an average co-ed in a remote rural college desperate to move out of the dorm, so she talks herself into taking a babysitting job in the middle of nowhere, but quickly learns things aren’t what they seem when she meets Tom Noonan’s creepy man of the house and his equally strange wife Mary Woronov. She’s then left alone in the large dark suburban home. As one might expect, she starts snooping around and learning what we’ve always known, that there’s something not quite right there. Even the pizza delivery guy, played by A.J. Bowen, is acting strangely, and it’s not long before Samantha discovers why.

Donahue is seriously an amazing find by West because she has that rare girl-next-door attitude that’s so rare, kind of like a younger Michelle Monaghan, and it’s that personality that immediately allows you to like her and be interested in everything she does as much of the film focuses on her alone. It’s quite nerve-wracking to watch her walk through the dark house alone turning on lights and exploring and finding odd things, because we always know that something’s going to happen to her but we don’t know what. When she puts on her Walkman and dances through the empty house to the Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another,” you’ll probably be convinced she’s indeed the logical successor to the legacy of Jamie Lee Curtis. Not only that, but West cast Mumblecore princess Greta Gerwig in a role as Samantha’s flighty best friend and she also perfectly nails the attitude of an ’80s suburban teen. Tom Noonan is just so creepy and deadpan in his delivery that he makes the perfect “bad guy” only because he is so low-key and passive.

The key to this film working so well is the fact that Ti West, who wrote, directed and edited the movie, understands what made those classic horror movies work so well and he has such a keen eye and ear for creating a mood and pacing the movie in a slow and deliberate way. A lot of that comes from the creepy soundtrack that’s composed more of strange sounds than actual music or scoring. While the pacing might get somewhat tedious at times, the last ten to fifteen minutes of the movie makes up for it with so much blood and shocks as Samantha tries to escape her predicament. The opening title scroll talks about satanic cults and mysterious unexplained disappearances, just to give some idea where it’s going, and the movie does include some trippy “Rosemary’s Baby” like moments.

In a year where there’s been a lot of strong horror offerings–Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell and Paul Solet’s Grace being two–Ti West’s House of the Devil is clearly the best of the bunch; a fine example of how a talented filmmaker can tackle a horror sub-genre in a way that’s stylistically reverential but also original in its own way.

The House of the Devil is already playing on Video-on-Demand, but you can see it the way it was meant to be seen, on the screen, when it opens in New York at the Angelika, in L.A. at the Sunset 5, and in Austin at the Alamo Drafthouse on Friday. You can see where else it’s scheduled to play on the official site.

Honorable Mention:

a href=”http://www.comingsoon.net/films.php?id=58722″>The Boondock Saints II: All Saint’s Day (Stage 6)
Starring Norman Reedus, Sean Patrick Flanery, Clifton Collins, Julie Benz, Judd Nelson, Robert Cochrane Marley Jr., Brian Mahoney, David Ferry, David Della Rocco, Peter Fonda, Billy Connolly
Written and directed by Troy Duffy (The Boondock Saints) with
Genre: Action, Thriller, Crime, Comedy
Rated R
Plot Summary: After the murder of a priest, the MacManus Brothers (Norman Reedus, Sean Patrick Flanery) return to Boston and begin their fight against the local mobsters along with a new partner (Clifton Collins), as they’re being pursued by a sexy FBI operative (Julie Benz).

You might be wondering why a movie that gets a mixed review might get an honorable mention. Well, after seeing the documentary Overnight, it’s fairly impressive that Troy Duffy could not only get this movie financed, but also get most of the original cast back together, do it gets points for achievement over execution.

Mini-Review: Having not seen the original movie, it’s hard to make any kind of direct comparisons, and in fact, without having seen the original movie, it’s harder to immediately be on the same page with the squabbling fraternal killers who return to the scene of their earlier crimes, namely Boston, to avenge the brutal murder of a local priest, only to get caught between a number of warring factions. These include the typical mobsters and hitmen, as well as a trio of bumbling detectives trying to solve the escalating murders with help from Julie Benz as a sexy FBI agent who seems to be one step ahead of everyone. (Apparently, she’s been mentored by Willem Dafoe’s character from the first movie and pays homage to his popular character.) Billy Connolly appears briefly in the beginning when the brothers learn about the murder, then shows up later to save the day as “Il Duce,” while Clifton Collins has some funny moments as the brother’s ever-present comic relief sidekick. Since Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flanery aren’t the most charismatic leading men in terms of carrying the film, it’s a good thing they have such a fun supporting cast around them to help keep the movie entertaining. The movie is also all over the place in terms of tone-the guys clowning around one minute then getting all serious as the tone turns all dark and gritty—and it’s hard to adjust to Duffy’s indecision about whether the characters should be played seriously or not. Likewise, the movie is plagued by some absolutely horrendous acting and some sophomoric gags that fall flat. Even so, Duffy is a smart filmmaker who knows what his mostly male fanbase will want to see in a sequel, while also wearing most of his obvious influences on his sleeve, particularly those of Tarantino and Rodriguez, although he’s not quite on par either as a writer or director to pull off that difficult mix of humor and violence those filmmakers have been able to do so well. He also knows how to leave the movie on a cliffhanger ending that will guarantee whether or not you love the sequel or just like portions of it, you’ll be interested in seeing what happens next. Hopefully, Duffy will have more time and money and less of the baggage that came with trying to get this sequel made, because one can see this quirky group of characters growing on you with time even if the appeal isn’t immediately obvious. Rating: 6.5/10

Also in Limited Release:

Gentlemen Broncos (Fox Searchlight) – Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre director Jarred Hess returns with the story of a young loner (Michael Angarano) who writes a story that is plagiarized by a famous fantasy novelist (Jemaine Clement from “The Flight of the Conchords”) and then turned into a movie by a local filmmaker. It’s opening in New York and L.A., one theater each apparently.

Mini-Review: Coming Soon!

Labor Day (River Lights Pictures) – Glenn Silber and Claudia Vianello’s documentary covers the grassroots movement of the SEIU (Service Employees International Union), literally thousands of activists and supporters, who played a pivotal role in the election of Illinois senator Barack Obama to the Oval Office. The movie opens in New York at the Quad Cinema and Chicago on Friday.

Mini-Review: Coming Soon!

Skin (Elysian Films) – Sophie (Hotel Rwanda) Okonedo stars in Anthon Fabian’s South African drama as Sandra Laing, a black child born to two white Afrikaners (Sam Neill, Krige) who are unaware of their own black ancestry. Sandra spends thirty years coming to terms with the racism by her own family until after the end of Apartheid when she has to decide whether to allow for their reconciliation. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Mini-Review: Coming Soon!

How to Seduce Difficult Women (Quadrant Entertainment) – Richard Temtchine’s mockumentary follows Philippe Saint-Pierre a chronic ladies’ man who offers courses and manuals for a group of guys who have trouble meeting and mating with women. It opens in New York at the Village East Cinemas.

Mini-Review: Coming Soon!

Looking for Palladin (Wildcat Releasing) – David Moscow and Ben Gazzara star in Andrzej Krakowski’s tale of an arrogant Hollywood talent scout who travels to Guatemala to find Oscar winning actor Jack Palladin, who happens to be married to the former’s dead mother. It opens at the Cinema Village in New York City on Friday and then in other cities on November 6. (Full listing here)

Storm (Film Movement) – Kerry Fox and Anamarina Marinca (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) star in Hans-Christian Schmid drama about the case against the commander of the Yugoslavian National Army responsible for deporting and killing Bosnian-Muslim civilians. Fox plays prosecutor Hannah Maynard, while Marinca plays the sister of a dead witness who agrees to testify in the Hague. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinema.


Next week, the month of November kicks-off with a start-studded weekend including Robert Zemeckis’ mo-cap animated Disney’s A Christmas Carol (Disney), starring Jim Carrey, the horror flick The Fourth Kind (Universal) starring Milla Jovovich, Grant Heslov’s political comedy The Men Who Stare At Goats (Overture) starring George Clooney and Ewan McGregor, and Richard Kelly’s The Box (Warner Bros.), starring Cameron Diaz and James Marsden.

Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas

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