The Weekend Warrior: Dec. 4 – 6

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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. The Blind Side (Warner Bros.) – $19.7 million -49% (down .8 million)

2. The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Summit) – $18 million -58% (same)

3. Armored (Screen Gems) – $9.8 million N/A (down .6 million)

4. 2012 (Sony) – $8.5 million -52% (down .3 million)

5. Old Dogs (Disney) – $8.0 million -53%

6. Brothers (Lionsgate) – $7.8 million N/A (same)

7. Disney’s A Christmas Carol (Walt Disney) – $6.0 million -62% (down .3 million)

8. Everybody’s Fine (Miramax) – $5.8 million N/A (down .2 million)

9. Ninja Assassin (Warner Bros.) – $5.5 million -59%

10.Planet 51 (Sony) – $4.5 million -57%

Transylmania (Full Circle) – $.9 million (down .3 million)

Weekend Overview

It’s finally December and the weekend after Thanksgiving, usually a slow time for everyone to recuperate after eating, shopping and seeing movies, so the box office tends to droop as people try to get ahead on work before the real holidays begin in three weeks.

Even with three new movies hoping to dethrone the fall’s box office leader The Twilight Saga: New Moon, we’re going to go out on a fairly strong limb and say that not only will none of those new movies take the top spot, but in fact, Sandra Bullock’s The Blind Side will surpass the vampire romance to become #1 after two weeks settling for second place.

The new movie with the best chances despite opening in the fewest theaters is the crime-thriller Armored (Screen Gems) starring Laurence Fishburne and Matt Dillon, which will be a draw to urban males, a demographic that’s mostly been ignored these past few weeks, although the normal post-Thanksgiving box office doldrums should keep it from being that big a hit.

Oddly, we also have two remakes this weekend, both based on foreign films few Americans will have seen and both dramas being marketed as something else. Both of them will try to put people in seats with their star power and the potentially awards-worthy performances, but with vague premises that won’t help matters.

Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan tackles Susanne Bier’s Danish drama Brothers (Lionsgate) with a star-studded young cast including Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal, each of whom have enough fans that curious moviegoers might check it out even though it’s clearly being sold as a thriller, which it’s not. Meanwhile, Robert De Niro plays a very different role in Kirk Jones’ light road dramedy Everybody’s Fine (Miramax), a far tamer road movie about family, which is getting the widest release of the new movies though it’s also playing to the older audience that are less likely to have time or money for movies after Thanksgiving. This will probably open the weakest but stands the best chance at having legs due to word-of-mouth over the next few pre-holidays weekends, especially since it’s being marketed as a holiday movie. Both of these will likely end up in the bottom half of the Top 10.

This weekend last year saw a similar drop in business and none of the three new movies did well enough to get anywhere near the Top 5 allowing the comedy Four Christmases to take the top spot with less than $17 million, followed by Twilight and Bolt. The biggest surprise was how badly the Marvel Comics inspired sequel-relaunch Punisher: War Zone (Lionsgate) bombed in its debut, opening in eighth place with just $4.3 million in 2,508 theaters, a abysmal per-theater-average of less than $2,000. Ouch. It came out just ahead of the musical biopic Cadillac Records (TriStar Pictures) in ninth place with $3.5 million, but that was opening in less than 700 theaters. And then there is the tragic case of Nobel Son (Freestyle Releasing) which for whatever reason, opened in nearly 900 theaters yet ended up in 16th place with $333 thousand, averaging less than $373 per site, putting it amongst the worst wide release openings ever.


Armored (Screen Gems)
Starring Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Laurence Fishburne, Skeet Ulrich, Amaury Nolasco, Andre Jamal Kinney, Milo Ventimiglia, Fred Ward, Columbus Short
Directed by Nimród Antal (Vancancy, Kontroll); Written by James V. Simpson
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Who Will Be the Last Man Standing?”
Plot Summary: A group of guards plan an elaborate heist of the armored transport truck they’re meant to be protecting, but their seemingly fool-proof plan falls afoul when a policeman discovers their crime and is suddenly caught in the crossfire as the group breaks up into factions.

Interview with Nimrod Antal

Review (Coming Friday)

Analysis:

Bearing in mind that this weekend tends to be one of the slower weekends since before Labor Day, this rather low-key action-thriller might actually be the weekend’s best bet, for what should be obvious reasons: it’s an easy high concept action-thriller movie released at a time when there are very few movies to appeal to older guys, as well as one that brings in guys from urban areas where the only two movies for older male moviegoers are Roland Emmerich’s 2012 and Warner Bros.’ Ninja Assassin.

Besides the premise, it also offers a solid ensemble cast of actors who have appeared in other action movies, crime-thrillers and general movies. Headlining it is Laurence Fishburne, best known as Morpheus from “The Matrix” trilogy but he’s appeared in crime-thrillers like the remake of Assault on Precinct 13, the motorcycle movie Biker Boyz and last year’s breakout hit 21. Even so, he’s a classically-trained actor who has appeared in many awards-worthy films and television shows, and he’s especially respected in the African-American community, which should help the movie do well in urban areas. He’s joined by actor Matt Dillon who has been appearing in movies for almost 25 years in a variety of genres, including the blockbuster comedy There’s Something About Mary, and the Oscar-winning Crash, for which he was also nominated. French actor Jean Reno has established a career on action-thrillers like Luc Besson’s early movies like The Professional and Ronin with Robert De Niro. We also shouldn’t discount the draw of Columbus Short, the choreographer, singer and actor best known from dance movies like You Got Served and Stomp the Yard, who might help bring in a few of his female fans, but mainly those who are dragged to see this by boyfriends and hubbies.

Hungarian filmmaker Nimród Antal may not be the best known director among the general populace, although cult movie lovers and genre fans will know about his debut Kontroll and the 2007 thriller Vacancy, which sadly bombed. By this time next year, he’ll be a name more people know, because he’s currently directing Robert Rodriguez’s Predators, which should be one of next summer’s high profile releases.

Even so, it’s hard to believe that the movie probably has the least starpower of the weekend, which may be why it’s going to be relying more on its premise and its marketing as a fast-paced action-thriller. The main appeal will certainly be the plot about security guards fighting it out over millions of dollars, which might interest the same sort of audience who went to see Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in last year’s Righteous Kill.

Unfortunately, the movie looks like a lot of other movies that have come out over the years that haven’t really done a lot of business, and the fact Screen Gems is opening it in less than 2,000 theaters is never a good sign that there’s a lot of confidence in the movie doing well, especially in the weekend after Thanksgiving. There have been exceptions of movies opening well after Thanksgiving and the two best examples were both male-driven action movies, Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai and Owen Wilson’s Behind Enemy Lines, both which had much stronger star power. The only real competition for guys will be Roland Emmerich’s 2012 and Ninja Assassin, the former which has been out for weeks and the latter which hasn’t been getting a great response after opening last week.

One assumes Screen Gems has been focusing its marketing on networks and shows that watch, particularly sports networks, because we haven’t seen a single commercial yet compared to the dozens for the other movies opening this week. Either way, Screen Gems once again isn’t screening the movie for critics in order to avoid any potential negative reviews holding back the already-limited amount of money they might be able to make with the movie. It’s a shame because this is the type of low-profile movie that needs help and not screening it will automatically put critics on the attack, but frankly, those who’ve decided to see the movie will already have plans to see it. Others probably won’t be that interested regardless what the critics say.

Why I Should See It: It’s been some time since guys have had any sort of crime action-thriller like this one. It has a solid cast and Antal has a solid track record as a director.
Why Not: Most guys who might enjoy this movie would probably rather sit home playing some of the many cool video games released in the past few months.
Projections: $9 to 11 million opening weekend and roughly $23 to 25 million total.

COMPARISONS


Brothers (Lionsgate)
Starring Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Bailee Madison, Taylor Geare, Patrick Flueger, Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham, Clifton Collins Jr., Josh Berry
Directed by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, In America, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and more); Written by David Benioff (The 25th Hour, The Kite Runner, X-Men Origins: Wolverine)
Genre: Drama
Rated R
Tagline: “There are Two Sides to Every Family”
Plot Summary: After being sent to Afghanistan, Marine Captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is shot down in his helicopter and presumed dead, so his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) finds solace with Sam’s troubled brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal). When Sam survives his ordeal and returns home, paranoia and suspicions lead to tension and conflict between the already-tense family.

Video Interview with Jim Sheridan

Review

Analysis:

While the weekend after Thanksgiving is never the best time to release any movie, some movies are released on this weekend more to make sure they’re playing in theaters before the end of the year to be considered for awards, and that’s probably one of the reasons why Lionsgate saved this movie for December rather than releasing it earlier in the fall.

What’s odd about the movie is that this sort of drama tends to skew older, but it has such a young cast whose audience is mainly their age or younger. It’s been some time since Tobey Maguire has done any serious drama. In fact, it’s been three years since he appeared with George Clooney and Cate Blanchett in Soderbergh’s The Good German and three years before that when he starred in Gary Ross’ Seabiscuit. No, Mr. Maguire has been spending a good portion of the last ten years making “Spider-Man” movies, which made people forget that at one point, he was a serious dramatic actor appearing in movies like Lasse Hallstrom’s The Cider House Rules and The Wonder Boys. Even so, this is a very different role for Maguire, and possibly not one the fans he’s gained from the “Spider-Man” movies will care to see him play.

It’s actually more like we might see his co-star Jake Gyllenhaal play, since Jake’s played a soldier in the Middle East in Jarhead as well as having starred in the political thriller Rendition, two movies that couldn’t have performed further across the gamut in terms of movie openings. Even though Gyllenhaal has done many big studio movies, he’s also found a niche for himself with indie fare from his early film Donnie Darko to The Good Girl with Jennifer Aniston, and Brothers allows him to get back to basics. Likewise, Natalie Portman has been involved with this sort of tense drama before; in fact, she received her first and only Oscar nomination for just such a movie, being Mike Nichols’ Closer, which opened this same weekend five years ago in fact, only in 476 theaters and yet it was able to bring in $7.7 million. (It had some help from an actress known as Julia Roberts.)

The problem is that movies that deal with war, even tangentially, have not performed well at the box office in recent years. Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs had a strong cast including Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep, but it just made $15 million and other movies like Kimberly Peirce’s Stop-Loss and Paul Haggis’ In the Valley of Elah, the follow-up to his Oscar-winning Crash failed to even make that much. Even Susanne Bier’s American debut, Things We Lost in the Fire, which starred Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro giving performances that had some critics raving failed to find much of an audience, bombing despite a wide release and ending up making just $3.3 million. The problem is that a movie like this tends to do better when it opens in bigger cities and then expands outwards based on word-of-mouth. Opening moderately wide into 2,000 theaters is a large gambit.

Knowing that drama is a tough sell, Lionsgate have been marketing the movie like a thriller about an angry husband back from war, focusing on the scenes of Maguire yelling and smashing things, and maybe that’s what it will take to get people into seats, but it’s more of a serious family drama that might annoy anyone duped into thinking it’s otherwise.

That said, Brothers is a damn fine movie, but it’s not going to open that well and it’s not the type of movie that people will want to see over the holidays, so the likelihood of any sort of legs will depend solely on whether it receives any awards nominations – its best bet is to get some Golden Globe nominations, especially for Natalie Portman, who won their supporting actress award for Closer. There’s some question about how big an awards push Lionsgate might give the movie, especially with so much of their time and money invested in promoting Lee Daniels’ Precious, but the starpower involved in this one is sure to get some people to see it this weekend even if it’s dealing with subject matter that’s generally a tough sell.

Why I Should See It: This is another strong drama from Jim Sheridan.
Why Not: The movie’s nothing like the commercials, so will they do the trick in getting them in and will they be receptive to what the movie is really like?
Projections: $6 to 8 million opening weekend and roughly $20 to 25 million total.

COMPARISONS


Everybody’s Fine (Miramax)
Starring Robert De Niro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell
Written and directed by Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine, director of Nanny McPhee)
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Frank wanted the holidays to be picture perfect. What he got was family.”
Plot Summary: An elderly widower named Frank (Robert De Niro) embarks on a cross-country trip to visit his three grown-up kids (Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore) after a planned family gathering falls through, and he learns that their lives are very different than what he’s been told.

Video Interview with Kirk Jones

Review

Analysis:

It’s hard to determine whether this new dramedy from Kirk Jones, the British director of Waking Ned Devine, is acting as counter-programming to the other choices this week, or if this was the only weekend which Miramax could release it without going up against much stronger holiday draws for older audiences. Either way, like Brothers, this is the type of movie that normally would get a limited release so it’s odd for it to be getting the widest release of the new movies this weekend.

True, it does feature a very strong “awards-worthy” almost “dramedic” performance from Robert De Niro, a legendary actor who has done decently when he ventures into lighter, more comedic fare, as epitomized by the two movies he did with Ben Stiller, Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers, both huge blockbuster comedies, and the two with Billy Crystal, Analyze This and its sequel Analyze That, which bombed in the weekend after Thanksgiving seven years ago. De Niro’s last movie was the indie Hollywood insider comedy What Just Happened? directed by Barry Levinson, which bombed in limited release. Everybody’s Fine isn’t a straight comedy and it’s a more poignant film like the movies of Alexander Payne, and it has more than a few parallels with his movie About Schmidt starring Jack Nicholson, or films like Little Miss Sunshine.

De Niro will be the big draw for older audiences, but the cast is full of younger ringers featured in the ads in hope of attracting others as well. Even though all their parts are smaller, the commercials feature Drew Barrymore–probably the biggest draw in terms of box office–Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell, the latter two solid actors who’ve sadly not had much success when they’ve done dramatic or quirkier indie fare. They’re all good but this is really De Niro’s show all the way, and one can expect he’ll be the one doing any talk show appearances.

Miramax is trying a different approach with the marketing by trying to sell it as a holiday movie even though the holidays play a negligent part in the story. They probably realize that the holidays are on so many minds, and that when they’re looking for something to see after shopping, a holiday-themed movie might be perfect. (Anyone going to see the movie based on that angle might be disappointed, but Miramax knows that the most important thing is to get people into seats, hence the subtle duplicity.)While the holiday-themed ensemble comedy The Family Stone opened well in early December with $12 million, going onto $60 million, other straight holiday movies such as Nothing Like the Holidays and The Perfect Holiday bombed and couldn’t even make $10 million despite the timely releases into a moderate amount of theaters. One imagines that Sarah Jessica Parker’s starring role helped the former, and one thinks De Niro can do the same here even if this is a very different movie for him.

Unlike many of those movies, Miramax is opening the movie moderately wide into 2,200 theaters, which is their widest release of the year even compared to their previous 2009 comedies Adventureland and Extract, neither of which did particularly well. Sadly, this movie might be the end of the road for the studio subsidiary in its current guise and this movie might be their last hurrah, which may be why it’s being given such a wide release. Sadly, it probably won’t find its audience its opening weekend due to the bad timing.

Why I Should See It: This is another warm and wonderful comedy from Jones that really brings out something new and different from De Niro.
Why Not: It’s not a holiday movie and the little bit of Christmas stuff at the end has been featured to try to make audiences think otherwise, which might make them resentful.
Projections: $5 to 7 million opening weekend and roughly $22 million total.

COMPARISONS


Translymania (Full Circle Releasing)
Starring Patrick Cavanaugh, James DeBello, Tony Denman, Paul H. Kim, Jennifer Lyons, Oren Skoog, Irena A. Hoffman, David Steinberg, Musetta Vander, Natalie Garza, Nicole Garza
Directed by David and Scott Hillenbrand; Written by Patrick Casey, Worm Miller
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “College kids. The other white meat.”
Plot Summary: A group of college students travel abroad to attend Razvan University, located in an old castle in the heart of Transylvania… seriously, do I need to go further? You got the general idea here, right? Good.

I wouldn’t even know where to begin except…

Projections: Under $2 million opening weekend and less than $4 million total.


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Sorry, the writer of this column has chosen to skip this feature for the next few weeks.

Also in Limited Release:

Mystery Team (Roadside Attractions) – The Derrick Comedy , which includes Don Glover (NBC’s “Community”), D.C. Pierson, Dominick Dierkes and director Dan Eckman, have made a comedy spoofing the kid detective books and shows like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys as they produce the first feature film starring Mystery Team, a group of high school seniors who have long ago outgrew the cuteness of being kid detectives, but continue to solve mysteries. When they’re contacted about the murder of the parents of a cute girl (Aubrey Plaza from “Funny People”), they take on their toughest case in hopes of being taken more seriously in town. After opening in select cities on August 28, the comedy finally comes to New York City, playing at the Quad Cinemas.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Before Tomorrow – Zacharias Kunuk completes “The Fast Runner Trilogy” begun with The Fast Runner and The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, producing this new inuit-based film by Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Madeline Piujuq Ivalu set in 1840 before the tribes had met white people, with a story about a small boy and his grandmother. It opens at the Film Forum on December 2, but the previous chapters will be available on Video on Demand starting December 1. More information here.

The Last Station (Sony Classics) – Michael Hoffman (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Emperor’s Club) directs this drama starring Christopher Plummer as famed Russian author Leo Tolstoy and Helen Mirren as his wife, Sofya. As Tolstoy forms a commune of those who follow his beliefs, a young man played by James McAvoy enters Tolstoy’s world as his secretary, only to be caught up in their turbulent marriage. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday for a one-week Oscar consideration run. Look for our review and interviews with Michael Hoffman and Christopher Plummer sometime before the film’s official release on January 15, 2010.

Serious Moonlight (Magnolia) – Cheryl Hines from “Curb Your Enthusiasm” directs the final script by the late Adrienne Shelly (Waitress) with Meg Ryan starring as a powerful New York lawyer who follows her husband (Timothy Hutton) to their country home expecting a romantic weekend getaway only to find out that he’s having an affair, so she ties him up until he’ll admit that he still loves her. From there, things go horribly wrong when a young gardener (Justin Long) takes advantage of the situation. It opens in select cities.

Mini-Review: Coming Soon!

Made for Each Other (IFC Films) – The Brothers Masterson, Danny and Chris, star in this comedy from Daryl Goldberg about a married man who has a one-night stand and feels the only way to make up for it is to find his wife (Bijou Phillips) a man with whom she can sleep with for payback. It opens on Wednesday at the IFC Center in New York and plays on IFC Festival Direct.

The Strip (Fortress Products) – Dave Foley from “The Kids in the Hall” stars in Jameel Khan’s ensemble comedy about five employees at a low-end electronics chain within a suburban strip mall, whose friendships are tested as they try to achieve their dreams.

Until the Light Takes Us (Variance Films) – This documentary from Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell looks at the black metal scene in Norway that has been the center of a lot of controversy and confusion with various suicides, murders and church burnings being blamed on what some have considered a musical Satanist cult. It opens in New York on Friday at Cinema Village.

Across the Hall (Insomnia Media Group) – Brittany Murphy and Mike Vogel (Cloverfield) star in this thriller from Alex Merkin, based on his earlier short about a man who follows his fiancee to a seedy motel, presumably where she’s with another man, and camps out across the hall with a gun, trying to decide what to do. It opens in New York at the Cinema Village East and in L.A. at the Lammle Music Hall. (It actually opened in other cities on October 30, but we didn’t realize that.)

Paa (Big Pictures) – R. Balakrishnan wrote and directed this drama about a 13-year-old boy (Amitabh Bachchan) with a condition that causes premature aging. Sounds a bit like the movie Harold only set in India. It opens in select cities.


Next week, it’s a somewhat slower one as the only new movies in wide release is the new South African drama Invictus (Warner Bros.) from director Clint Eastwood, starring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman, while Disney’s ThePrincess and the Frog (Walt Disney) will expand into wide release after two weeks in exclusive release.

Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas