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.
1. The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Summit) – $105.6 million N/A (up 1.4 million)
2. 2012 – $27.2 million -58% (same)
3. The Blind Side (Warner Bros.) – $15.2 million N/A (up 1.6 million and one place)
4. Disney’s A Christmas Carol (Walt Disney) – $14.5 million -35% (down one place)
5. Planet 51 (Sony) – $12.2 million N/A (up 1.4 million)
6. Precious (Lionsgate) – $9.8 million +70% (down .2 million)
7. The Men Who Stare at Goats (Overture) – $3.1 million -48% (Up .1 million)
8. Couples Retreat (Universal) – $2.5 million -47% (down .3 million)
9. The Fourth Kind (Universal) – $2.1 million -54% (NEW)
10. Michael Jackson’s This Is It (Sony) – $2.0 million -55% (down .3 million and one place)
Last weekend, two new movies were released, but for all intents and purposes, it might as well just have been one. This week, we have three new movies but only one of them will have any sort of significant impact and that is The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Summit), the sequel to last year’s enormous vampire fantasy hit that put Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson on the map. This time around, they’re joined by an even larger cast of supporting characters, a new director in Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass) and werewolves (!) to help bring Stephenie Meyer’s second book in the series to life. Without a question, the mostly female fans of the books and the first movie will be showing up in swarms with millions of advanced tickets already sold through various online services. With many of them rushing out to see the movie at midnight on Thursday, it should have a huge opening day, enough to insure the movie crosses the $100 million mark by Sunday.
For the older and younger moviegoers who might not be interested in what New Moon has to offer, they’ll have a choice of two other movies, the inspirational football drama The Blind Side (Warner Bros.), starring Sandra Bullock, and the animated family comedy Planet 51 (Sony/TriStar Pictures), featuring the voice of Dwayne Johnson. We think the former will do well enough to compete for third place against the third week of Disney’s A Christmas Carol, and the latter should end up somewhere lower. Lee Daniels’ Precious will be nipping at their heels as it expands even further across the nation continuing to build on the buzz from its festival appearances and two weekends in limited release where it’s done well enough to make it into the Top 3 this past weekend.
This week’s “Chosen One” is John Woo’s historic epic Red Cliff (Magnet), and also check out this week’s “Honorable Mention,” which is Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (First Look), starring Nicolas Cage, both of which you can read about below.
This weekend last year saw the release of the first Twilight (Summit), which took the top spot with just under $70 million; you can read more about the film below in the analysis for its sequel. Disney unwittingly opened its animated Bolt against it, and it had to settle for third place behind the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace with $26.22 million. (It was a close call for second place.) The Top 10 grossed $154 million but we think that with the enhanced popularity of the “Twilight” franchise since last year, we’ll see that amount bested quite dramatically, as this should be a very busy weekend in theaters.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Summit)
Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene, Rachelle Lefevre, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Nikki Reed, Kellan Lutz, Jackson Rathbone, Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning
Directed by Chris Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy, The Golden Compass and more); Written by Melissa Rosenberg (Twilight)
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Thriller
Tagline: “The Next Chapter Begins”
Plot Summary: Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) continues to delve deeper into the mysteries of the supernatural world she entered in “Twilight” as her love Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and his family of vampires leave Forks, Washington to protect her, leaving Bella with her childhood friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a Native American teen who has his own secrets.
Just like this weekend last year, the big draw to movie theaters, at least for women, will be this sequel to the 2008 hit based on Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling supernatural romance series, “The Twilight Saga,” a trend that doesn’t seem to have waned even slightly since last November when the first movie grossed $191 million after opening with just under $70 million. At the time, Twilight became a part of the wave of movies that proved women were perfectly capable of driving the box office to huge success, something that was also evident with the success of Sex and the City earlier last year. Since the movie did extremely well, both in theaters and DVD, the buzz and anticipation has grown, helped by the fact that Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson have become major stars with the success of Twilight, and that rabid fanbase will want to see the sequel as possible, allowing for a significantly larger opening this weekend.
This time around the vampires are joined by hot teen werewolves as the other side of Bella’s love triangle, Jacob Black, played by Taylor Lautner, moves into the spotlight, and a lot of new actors join for the second movie, including better known actors like Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) and teen actress Dakota Fanning, both playing members of the Italian vampire faction. Director Catherine Hardwicke, who helped create the look and feel of the film series is gone, replaced by Chris Weitz, one half of the fraternal directing team who created the “American Pie” series and directed Hugh Grant in About a Boy. Weitz last helmed the New Line fantasy epic The Golden Compass, which showed disappointing returns but gave a clear example of what he could do for bigger fantasy movies. (In fact, it won an Oscar for special FX, of which there will probably be far more in New Moon than its predecessor.)
The craze for all things “Twilight” has really exploded in the past year, something that became evident as thousands of teen girls camped outside Hall H at Comic-Con in San Diego causing all sorts of consternation for the mostly male attendees who hoped to get in to see footage for James Cameron’s Avatar. That followed after a similar excitement after this summer’s MTV Movie Awards put a focus on the movie that became the talk of the Twitter social networking system. (At the time of this writing, “New Moon” is the #3 trending topic so obviously, there’s a lot of buzz and excitement.)
Rightfully, New Moon is being sold as an event movie and while the original movie mainly brought in those who had read the book, the second movie will attract them as well as those who first discovered Meyer’s work with the first movie, which is an equally large audience. While the books and movie generally skew female, one could possibly see a few more guys dragged to see the sequel, because it promises more action and FX than the previous movie.
The fact that it’s only been a year since the previous movie should also help, because there’s been an entire year to allow more people to see the first movie but not so much time that it’s been forgotten or fans have moved on. This plan worked well with Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy with each installment making more money than the last, and with the first two “Harry Potter” movies, which opened on this same weekend in 2001 and 2002. At that time, movies opening over $100 million were still a few months off, but the “Twilight” phenomenon is very similar to that for “Harry Potter” and we can see this sequel bringing in a larger portion of the fans on opening weekend than the first movie.
Advance tickets went on sale months ago and they’ve been selling well enough to be setting records, becoming Fandango’s top advance ticket-seller of all time over Star Wars: Episode III and this summer’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. This doesn’t necessarily mean it will do more business this weekend than those movies, just that more people are anxious enough to see the movie to buy advance tickets.
Critics were generally mixed about the first movie and that trend will likely to continue with the second movie although most critics won’t have a chance to see the movie until Wednesday, IMDb’s User Ratings for the first movie averaged at 5.9 out of 10, which isn’t great, yet that probably won’t matter to diehard fans and neither of those things will matter since the diehard fans will see the movie regardless.
Opening in over 4,000 theaters, the largest release ever for the fledgling Summit Entertainment, New Moon is likely to be only the second movie of the year to earn more than $100 million over its opening three-day weekend, but it’s also likely to do most of its business this weekend as the fans rush out, meaning that it might not hold up as well over the weeks that follow.
Why I Should See It: If you liked the first movie, you’ll probably go to see the second movie.
Why Not: Is there any guy who will admit to liking the first movie?
Projections: $102 to 106 million opening weekend and roughly $260 million total.
The Blind Side (Warner Bros.)
Starring Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Kathy Bates, Quinton Aaron, Lily Collins, Jae Head
Written and directed by John Lee Hancock (The Alamo, The Rookie)
Genre: Drama, Sports
Tagline: “Based on the Extraordinary True Story”
Plot Summary: The true story of All-American football star Michael Oher (Quinton Aron), a homeless youngster taken in by a well-to-do white couple, the Tuohys (Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw), who help him to achieve his goals both on and off the football field.
Being that the fall football season is in high gear, it’s the time when studios roll out their annual football dramas trying to stir the emotional heartstrings of moviegoers and sports fans, as well as potentially receiving awards attention. This one is a vehicle for one of Hollywood’s most popular actresses, Sandra Bullock, and while she is certainly a beloved actress, making a true-story based in the world of football is new ground for her, which might make it a harder sell for her fanbase which grew considerably this summer when she was pitted against Ryan Reynolds in the hit comedy The Proposal. The comedy became her biggest movie ever, grossing $163 million.
The Blind Side will be Bullock’s third movie of the year, and while one would think that it would capitalize on the success of her hit comedy, it’s going to test out whether those new fans will follow her when she stars in a somber drama. Not that this will be her first attempt, as she starred in Joel Schumacher’s courtroom drama A Time to Kill fairly early in her career, as well as being involved with the making of Paul Haggis’ award-winning Crash and both that and her reunion with Keanu Reeves, The Lake House, brought in $50 million. On the other hand, Bullock has starred in a number of dramatic films that failed to find an audience like her attempt at a serial killer thriller with Murder by Numbers, a memorable bomb.
Bullock is joined by one of country music’s biggest stars, Tim McGraw, who previously appeared in the 2008 holiday hit Four Christmases, the remake Flicka and even Peter Berg’s Friday Night Lights. The movie is directed by John Lee Hancock, who had a significant sports drama hit in 2001 with The Rookie starring Dennis Quaid, then a major bomb with the historical epic The Alamo. One expects that McGraw’s presence as well as the film’s Southern setting will help the movie do well in the Bible Belt where football rules.
This is a time of the year when football is on everyone’s mind, especially on the weekends, but a movie about football would generally skew male, while Bullock’s audience tends to be female. That creates a rather strange divide. Men won’t necessarily have any interest in the weekend’s other wide releases, but they also might not care about seeing a movie starring Bullock. On the other hand, they will be familiar with Michael Oher, who was drafted into the Baltimore Ravens this year, which get more people interested in this movie than football movies about lesser-known players and teams. One odd thing is that Oher has not been that supportive of the film in the same way that other real people have backed the movies about them. In fact, in a recent interview, he mentioned he hadn’t seen the movie and wasn’t sure if he’d even make it to the movie’s premiere.
Much like Denzel Washington’s Remember the Titans as well as We Are Marshall, Invincible and last year’s The Express, the story is based on a moving and inspirational real life story. Those movies have had varying degrees of success and failure, making it impossible to find a true barometer for how well Bullock’s movie might fare. The thought of a movie about a homeless athlete might not really strike a chord with moviegoers, since two other movies with that premise didn’t fare well: The Soloist starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx and Rod Lurie’s Resurrecting the Champ. Both of those were also based on true stories, although neither of them were nearly as well known or in the public eye as Oher.
The movie is supposedly quite good and positive reviews could generally help get more people interested in the movie, which is why Warner Bros. is selling the movie more like they would an awards movie with early quotes praising the movie and Bullock’s performance. It’s clear this is meant to be a classier dramatic release and not a summer popcorn movie, and there are certainly older audiences who will be looking for something more grounded in reality than the other current choices in theaters.
Warner Bros. is also giving the movie a surprisingly wide release for this kind of movie, into over 3,000 theaters, which is more than The Proposal, but that doesn’t always mean a lot and it might just mean that the business will be spread out more because there is such a saturation. It also means that the movie might play in some smaller suburban areas in the middle of the country that might be interested in this story more than those in big cities.
Unfortunately, there are also older women, especially mothers with girls, who’ll be just as attracted to the romance of the “Twilight” saga as well as those who might be interested in the breakout hit Precious, both of which could cut into how many of Bullock’s female fans actually go out to see her new movie its opening weekend. Even so, it should play well over Thanksgiving and the holidays, which could make it more of a sleeper than a movie that does gangbusters opening weekend.
Why I Should See It: The combination of Bullock with the true story of this football player could make this a strong and inspirational drama that stands out from other movies in theaters.
Why Not: We’ve seen way too many of these kinds of movies already.
Projections: $14 to 16 million opening weekend and roughly $50 million total.
Planet 51 (Sony/TriStar Pictures)
Starring (the voices of) Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Gary Oldman, Seann William Scott, John Cleese
Directed by Jorge Blanco and Javier Abad (debut); Written by Joe Stillman (Shrek, Shrek 2, upcoming Gulliver’s Travels)
Genre: Comedy, Animation, Family
Tagline: “Something Strange is Coming To Their Planet… Us!”
Plot Summary: Astronaut Charles “Chuck” Baker (voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) has landed on the mysterious Planet 51 and discovers the planet is inhabited with little green people having a nice quiet life until their greatest fear of an alien invasion is realized by the coming of Chuck.
With the unprecedented success of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs a few months back, Sony is hoping to continue their successful run of animated films with this high concept animated comedy that wasn’t produced by their animation studios but was picked up for distribution. This one involves an astronaut visiting a planet full of aliens, which doesn’t really look like it could offer a lot of comedy entertainment value, although that’s rarely stopped previous animated movies from making money. That said, a lot of smaller low-profile animated movies have not fared that well at the box office, and the fact that this one is reminiscent of 20th Century Fox’s Space Chimps, which grossed $30 million last summer, isn’t a good sign.
The main featured voice is that of Dwayne Johnson, the actor formerly known as professional wrestler “The Rock,” who has been moving towards doing more family-related movies like Disney’s The Game Plan and Race to Witch Mountain earlier this year, both movies that tried getting him a younger audience. Even though the ads do mention Johnson, it doesn’t seem like the type of movie role his older fans might want to see. Other voices include Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Seann William Scott and John Cleese, none of whom are being featured in the commercials.
Unlike “Cloudy,” Sony isn’t releasing the movie in 3D, possibly because they knew how hard it would be to get digital screens with Disney’s A Christmas Carol holding many of them hostage through Thanksgiving, but that could hurt the movie’s success because many kids and families have become accustomed to being able to see animated movies in what is now a preferred format.
Sony has been so busy putting all their marketing dollars and time into their other fall movies that this one has fallen by the wayside, even if one assumes that the trailer ran in front of “Cloudy,” but this is a clear example of an animated movie that will get lost in the shuffle of much stronger family offerings as well as the stronger holiday fare. The fact that it’s opening in less than 3,000 theaters is rather telling because very few studio family films get less than 3,000 theaters these days.
Earlier this year, DreamWorks released the similar sci-fi comedy Monsters vs. Aliens, which became a huge hit, and this one just doesn’t look as clever or funny, which means it will have a hard time getting either kids or parents excited enough to want to see it. Mothers are likely to pick one of the other two movies to see rather than going to see something with the kids.
The good thing is that next weekend is Thanksgiving when family movies tend to do decent business, so there’s a chance this could pick up a little bit of steam when schools let out, though it’s going to be hard for it to do very well against the Disney comedy Old Dogs, which will be a much stronger draw for family audiences.
Why I Should See It: This looks like a fun high concept premise that younger kids will enjoy.
Why Not: This has been a great year for animation and this looks like one of the weaker offerings.
Projections: $10 to 12 million opening weekend and $38 to 40 million total.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
This was a tough week to pick because I basically had to choose between two great filmmakers whose work I truly loved and who’ve each created a memorable milestone with their latest works, but my leanings towards Asian martial arts and war epics made the decision much easier:
Red Cliff (Magnet)
Starring Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Hu Jun
Directed by John Woo (Face/Off, Broken Arrow, The Killer,
and lots more); Written by Terence Chang, John Woo, Khan Chan, Kuo Cheng, Sheng Heyu
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, War
Tagline: “Destiny Lies in the Wind”
Plot Summary: When the self-appointed Prime Minister Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi) convinces the Emperor that two Southern warlords are traitors to the kingdom, it begins a fierce war between Cao Cao’s unstoppable army and the allied forces of Liu Bei and Sun Quan, with Bei’s master strategist Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) forming an alliance with the Southland’s Zhou Yu (Tony Leung) to try to overcome insurmountable odds.
It’s been almost six years since John Woo released a movie in the States, that being the Philip K. Dick action sci-fi flick Paycheck, and after such a lengthy silence, one would expect he could only come back with a movie that reminds us why he’s one of Asia’s most influential filmmakers. Fortunately, he spent the last few years back in his homeland making an epic historic war movie based on a classic piece of fiction known all over Asia, yet mostly unknown in the Western world.
The result is the stunning Red Cliff, originally released in Asia in two chapters totaling five hours long but now edited down for American audiences to a comparatively tight two and a half hours, which actually goes by much faster than you’d expect, maybe because Woo focused on the action and money shots rather than a lot of exposition. Anyone who knows my tastes in Asian historic war and martial arts films, not just from China, but also from Japan and Thailand, would probably figure out pretty quickly that this would be my favorite movie of the week, and those who’ve pigeonholed Woo as only being good at a certain type of movie will be pleasantly surprised by the size and scope and beauty of what he’s able to do in this setting.
An English voiceover brings us up to date on events that have already transpired, and we’re introduced to many of the characters as we jump directly into a big battle scene that only gives you a taste of what’s to come. The story essentially involves the Emperor’s right-hand man declaring war upon China’s Southern warlords, who form an alliance against the Emperor’s enormous and overwhelming army, made up of 100,000 men and a fleet of seemingly thousands of ships.
There are a lot of characters and it might get somewhat confusing whose side everyone is on, but it’s fascinating to watch how Woo incorporates war strategy and the very culture of China into the story. A big draw for all Asian cinephiles is that the movie reteams Woo with Tony Leung, who starred in Woo’s crime classic Hard Boiled and has gone onto become one of the country’s finest actors, having starred in many of Wong Karwai’s films, as well as Zhang Yimou’s Hero. Much of the strategy comes in the form of Takeshi Kaneshiro’s character, one of the few men who doesn’t get involved in the fighting but quickly becomes a favorite character from the way he uses his suave charm and cleverness to overcome the foes.
Working with Corey Yuen, Woo combines martial arts with historic weaponry to create some amazing battles, including things we’ve never seen in one of these films despite the nature of the genre often resorting to cliches like having a military leader giving a speech a horseback. Instead, Woo brings his distinctive vision to a story that requires the sort of epic imagination that can convey the intricacies of war. In one scene, a dove flies all the way from one camp to another, literally giving us a bird’s eye view of the enormity of the enemy’s fleet in a way that leaves you with your jaw agape, and there’s many such scenes where Woo creates the illusion of actually having thousands of extras on location recreating these battles. In fact, it’s all about the fairly seamless way he uses models and CG to create that illusion, but you can still watch this movie over and over and not be able to figure out how he was able to create some scenes, thanks to the fine work by FX supervisor Craig Hayes and The Orphanage. There’s quite a bit of violence, but it’s mostly stylized and not gratuitous.
The movie isn’t all about the action and the eye candy, and there’s actually a really nice story about the camaraderie that forms between Leung and Kaneshiro during their alliance, both in battle and during quieter times, and there’s a surprising amount of light humor throughout. Also, unlike most war movies, Woo doesn’t neglect the women, as he has introduced two fantastic female characters to the story. Newcomer Chiling Lin is absolutely riveting on screen as Leung’s beautiful (and secretly pregnant) wife who takes her own anti-war initiative in order to bring peace to the country, while Zhao Wei is equally wonderful as the princess who wants to fight despite dealing with the sexism of the time. Undaunted, she goes undercover to spy on the enemy and get information, bringing the type of personality to a role that’s similar to Miranda Otto’s character in “Lord of the Rings.”
There are a few noticeable lulls along the way, but it leads up to a fantastic final hour that includes an amazing set piece involving just about anything you can think of. It does ultimately end with the the type of hokey stand-off Woo has essentially done better in his crime films, but otherwise, it’s hard not to be impressed by the massive set pieces and the spectacular way Woo brings this story to the big screen in order to give Western audiences an Asian history lesson that’s thoroughly entertaining at the same time.
Red Cliff opens in New York on Wednesday and then in other cities a week from Wednesday on November 25. If you like movies such as 300, Hero, House of the Flying Dagger and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, then Woo’s movie is a must see.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (First Look)
Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Jennifer Coolidge, Vondie Curtis Hall, Shawn Hatosy, Denzel Whitaker, Xzibit, Shea Wigham, Katie Chonacas, Brad Dourif
Directed by Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn, Grizzly Man and many more); Written by William Finkelstein (lots of television police dramas including “L.A. Law,” “Murder One,” “NYPD Blue” and “Brooklyn South”)
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Tagline: “The Only Criminal He Can’t Catch is Himself”
Plot Summary: After sustaining an injury, New Orleans detective, Lieutenant Terance McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) becomes addicted to prescription drugs which escalates into abusing crack and other heavy narcotics as he tries to solve a horrendous multiple homicide, while also dealing with the problems faced by his prostitute girlfriend Frankie (Eva Mendes) that puts him into trouble with the mob.
Review (Coming Soon!)
Also in Limited Release:
Broken Embraces (Sony Pictures Classics) – In the latest film from legendary Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, blind screenwriter Harry Caine (Lluis Homar), whose previous life as the director Mateo Blanco is brought back into the light when he’s approached by the mysterious Ray X (Rubén Ochandiano) to collaborate on a film. After an accident, he decides to come clean about his past, which involves a love triangle with the beautiful star (Penélope Cruz) of his latest movie and her jealous boyfriend, who also happens to be financing his film. It will open in New York on Friday and then in L.A. on December 11.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
The Missing Person (Strand Releasing) – Noel Buschel’s modern noir stars Michael Shannon as private detective John Rosow, who is hire to tail a man (Frank Wood) traveling by train from Chicago to Los Angeles, with the instructions to bring him back to his wife in New York City. It opens in New York at the Village East Cinema.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
Mammoth (IFC Films) – Gael Garcia Bernal and Michelle Williams star in the first (mostly) English language film from Sweden’s Lukas Moodysson (Lilja 4-Ever, A Hole in My Heart), playing a successful couple whose jobs keep them from spending time with their young daughter, a matter that only gets worse after he makes a trip to Thailand on business. It opens in New York at the IFC Center.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
Defamation (First Run Features) – Yoav Shamir’s documentary, which opens in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, takes a hard look at anti-Semitism throughout the world by interviewing a variety of key people in unlikely places.
Fix (Mangusta Productions) – Tao Ruspoli’s drama stars Shawn Andrews and Olivia Wilde as documentary filmmakers who spend a day racing across Los Angeles to get his brother to rehab before 8pm in order to keep him from going to prison for three years. Inspired by true events, the trio travel across the city trying to raise the money to get him into rehab encountering all sorts of interesting characters. It opens in New York at Village East Cinemas on Friday.
The Sun (Lorber Films) – Alexander Sokurov, director of Russian Ark and Alexandra, returns with this drama that looks at the last days of Emperor Hirohito at the end of WWII as the American Occupation closes in on his location. It opens at the Film Forum in New York City on Wednesday.
Next week, it’s Thanksgiving! And we can give thanks for a few of the new movies, if not all. (We’ll let you decide which is which.) Robin Williams and John Travolta team-up for the comedy Old Dogs (Disney), Korean pop singer Rain shows some killer moves in Ninja Assassin (Warner Bros.) and Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox will expand nationwide.
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas