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. Avatar (20th Century Fox) – $57.0 million -26%
2. Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros.) – $48.3 million N/A (down .3 million)
3. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (20th Century Fox) – $43.5 million N/A (up 2 million)
4. It’s Complicated (Universal) – $22.5 million N/A (down 1.1 million)
5. Up in the Air (Paramount) – $13.5 million +460% (down .3 million)
6. The Princess and the Frog (Disney) – $11.2 million -10%
7. The Blind Side (Warner Bros.) – $9.4 million -6% (down .6 million)
8. Nine (The Weinstein Co.) – $8.6 million +3700 % (down .6 million)
9. Did You Hear About the Morgans? (Sony) – $5.5 million -22%
10. Invictus (Warner Bros.) – $2.8 million -35%
This is it, the last Weekend Warrior of the year, and another busy Christmas weekend with three brand-new movies and two movies expanding nationwide after limited runs and seriously more starpower than any one theater can possibly handle. Moviegoers will have a lot of choices this weekend but fortunately, many will also have a full week off from work or school, which means they won’t have to necessarily rush out and see everything they want to see this weekend. But what we have this weekend is what one of this weekend’s stars might call a “sticky wicket” because there are three potentially big movies vying for first place.
There are also a lot more choices for women this weekend even than last year, which might split up business between a couple movies, although the key battle will be between the two movies that will vie for the guys, James Cameron’s Avatar, which is likely to hold strong in its second weekend as it remains dominant in the higher-priced IMAX and 3D theaters, and Guy Ritchie’s reinvention of Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros.), starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams. It’s a tough call, but we think that the strong word-of-mouth for Cameron’s magnum opus will win over the slightly more difficult Victorian-set action-comedy though there will certainly be a lot of Downey’s teen and older fans, both male and female, who’ll want to see if he can do for “Holmes” what he did for Tony Stark last year.
The strongest (and only new) offering for kids and family audiences brought together by the holiday weekend will be Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (20th Century Fox), the follow-up to the 2007 hit, which looks just as dumb and moronic as the original, making it perfectly suited for younger kids who won’t have as much interest in what Ritchie or Cameron have to offer. It opens on Wednesday and could get some of the out-of-school business out of the way then, but we expect Saturday and Sunday to be big days for the movie, as well as the following weeks as it will probably do as much business as the other two movies on a daily basis as we get into next week.
Older women will generally go for Nancy Meyers’ romantic comedy It’s Complicated (Universal), starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, because it looks like another easy-to-digest romantic comedy that appeals to their sensibilities and gives them the kind of laughs they’ll enjoy, as well as an extremely strong cast. It probably won’t have as much of an appeal to women under 25 or guys of any age, because the movie’s like watching a sex tape of your mother… but hey, if middle-aged women want to flaunt their sexuality, who are we stop them? This is the kind of movie that can bring in the secretarial pool who will mostly be off work over the next week between holidays.
Expanding nationwide after three weeks in limited release, Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air (Paramount), starring George Clooney, will probably be targeting the 20-to-30 somethings in places where it hasn’t played yet as well as capitalizing on its award buzz; competing against higher-profile event movies like Avatar and “Sherlock” will keep it somewhere in the mid-range of the Top 10. If women don’t have enough choices already then the Oscar-nominated director Rob (Chicago) Marshall’s new musical Nine (The Weinstein Company) expands into slightly fewer theaters than the others but will mainly be a draw with its own star-studded cast including Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz and Kate Hudson.
With most people off work and out of school on Monday, business should be evenly spread out throughout the weekend rather than frontloaded to Friday as normal, and some movies like “Alvin and the Chipmunks” will probably have much larger weekends rather than doing big business on Christmas Day proper. Either way, the fact that the only big movie of the past month was Avatar means that it’s a fairly open market for new movie offerings, so we should see an abundance of wealth spread across the playing field this weekend.
The “Chosen One(s)” for the next two weeks are Terry Gilliam’s fantasy The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (Sony Classics) and then Michael Haneke’s Austrian-based WWI drama The White Ribbon (Sony Classics), which both open in New York and L.A. in the coming weeks. You can read more about them below.
Similar to this weekend, last Christmas saw the release of five new movies, many of them on Christmas Day, which fell on a Thursday last year, and the surprise winner was Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston’s
(And we also absolutely promise that we’re going to have more “Battle Cries” in 2010… already working on a few.)
Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros.)
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly
Directed by Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smokin’ Barrels, Snatch, RocknRolla, Revolver); Written by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham (Don’t Say a Word, Invictus), Simon Kinberg (Mr & Mrs. Smith, Jumper, X-Men: The Last Stand)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Tagline: “Nothing Escapes Him”
Plot Summary: in Victorian London, detectives Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his partner Dr. Watson (Jude Law) are put to their greatest challenge as the recently hanged Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) seemingly has returned from the dead and has plans that could lead to global devastation if he isn’t stopped. At the same time, Holmes’ ex-girlfriend Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) has returned to the scene and seems to have her own agenda in the case.
Review (Coming Soon!)
In the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of iconic character “reimagined” for the big screen, whether it was Daniel Craig’s James Bond with Casino Royale or Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman which led to the worldwide blockbuster The Dark Knight or even J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, which got the 40-year-old franchise a bigger audience than ever before. You could probably say that any character when first brought to the screen would be considered a “reimagining” but those cases were all long-time film franchises that had varying degrees of success over the years. Hollywood is now going even further back in time, way back to the late 19th Century, long before anyone even heard of the word “movie” or “cinema” or “film,” when a Scottish physician and writer named (not yet Sir) Arthur Conan Doyle was writing ripping tales about the detective Sherlock Holmes, who proceeded to stir the imagination of young men for literally a century as the stories were adapted into various stageplays, television shows and films. In fact, over 70 different actors have played Sherlock Holmes in his various incarnations even though it has literally been decades since we last saw a movie about the character.
The most famous screen take on the character was probably the Basil Rathbone version of Sherlock Holmes who appeared in movies throughout the early ’40s. Later, there was the Billy Wilder-directed The Private Lives of Sherlock Holmes in 1970 and attempts to make Holmes more hip like in 1979 when Christopher Plummer played him in Murder by Decree or the attempt to show his early years in 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes. Other than that, the character has mainly been relegated to television, and that’s mostly in England and the Soviet Union, while Americans essentially had very little to remind us of Holmes’ existence, so sadly, the literary character who was once considered to be the world’s greatest detective until Batman came along was suddenly forgotten except for when people used expressions like “No sh*t, Sherlock,” which is further proof of how pervasive the character’s legacy has been into modern society.
All that aside, enter Lionel Wigram, the British Warner Bros. exec who realized there was potential with the character, and he started putting together a modern vision of Holmes that could appeal to larger audiences, recruiting fellow Brit filmmaker Guy Ritchie to tackle the difficult task of reinventing Sherlock Holmes for modern audiences. Probably the wisest thing Ritchie did was bringing on board producer Joel Silver, who had just produced Ritchie’s previous movie RocknRolla, co-produced by Silver’s Dark Castle VP of Development Susan Downey, who suggested they cast her husband Robert Downey Jr. in the role of Holmes. This was all going on at a time when Downey was coming off the biggest hit of his career with Marvel Studios’ $300 million grossing Iron Man, followed later that summer with a controversial role in Ben Stiller’s war comedy Tropic Thunder as an Australian actor portraying a black army sergeant in Vietnam, giving a performance so hilarious that it got Downey nominated for his second Oscar. Clearly, Downey has elevated himself into another realm as a movie star, even if his most recent movie, The Soloist with Jamie Foxx, wasn’t particularly successful.
One of the more unconventional decisions was casting Jude Law as Downey’s Dr. Watson, going completely against the way Watson has been portrayed in previous movies and stageshow as a cheerful roly-poly codger, and clearly Holmes’ sidekick rather than an active partner. It’s also a strange decision because Law hasn’t exactly been breaking any box office records in the past few years. Law certainly started the decade well enough with many big hits, appearing with Tom Hanks in Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition and having two Christmas releases with the late Anthony Minghella, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain, both for which Law received Oscar nominations. 2004 was an especially busy year for the actor, but Law only had small roles in the bigger movies, The Aviator and Lemony Snicket, and the movies in which he starred tapping out before they hit $40 million. Although Law appeared in Nancy Meyers’ last movie The Holiday and that did decently over the holidays, he hasn’t been in a movie that’s made over a million since then. Instead, Law has been everywhere due to his romantic relationships that have been covered heavily in the tabloids, as well as a recent turn as Hamlet on Broadway. It’s a shame that some might think of Law as box office poison, but in fact, teaming him with Downey is nothing short of brilliant and it should remind people how much they like watching him on screen when in the right vehicle. (Law also appears in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, which opens in New York and L.A. this week and is this week’s “Chosen One.”)
Holmes’ love interest (kinda) is played by Rachel McAdams, who has had substantial hits such as The Notebook, Mean Girls, Wedding Crashers and most recently in Warner Bros.’ hit romantic drama The Time Traveler’s Wife. Americans will probably have seen the work of British actors Mark Strong and Eddie Marsan over the years in various films such as Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies and Will Smith’s Hancock, respectively, but they won’t generally be very well known.
Even though this is very much Ritchie’s movie, he’s going to have to rely on his cast to sell the movie since his movies haven’t really brought many Americans into theaters. His biggest movie Stateside to date (at least theatrically) was Snatch, which grossed $30 million in 2000, probably helped by the fact it starred Brad Pitt; none of Ritchie’s other movies have made more than $10 million in domestic box office receipts, although as we’ve seen with Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, those ceilings are meant to be burst through when the right project comes along.
While the namebrand value of Sherlock Holmes certainly will be the biggest draw, it’s also somewhat of a difficult sell, because it is a period action-comedy, which is not something we see regularly, and the few out there are not remembered favorably. At the top of that “not favorable” list is Will Smith’s The Wild Wild West and other attempts at that genre include the Owen Wilson-Jackie Chan “Shanghai” movies, which performed okay but didn’t do huge business. Some people might make the connection between this and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies with Downey playing a similarly eclectic character as Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, but it’s not nearly as immediate or accessible, while teens might think of Sherlock Holmes as being too “uncool” for them to waste their time, making the PG-13 rating kind of moot. Then again, the two charming leads will guarantee that younger women will want to see the movie and one can see older fathers who are fans of the character taking their younger teens to see it. That’s probably about as close as you get to a four-quadrant movie this weekend, because the main competition for screens, the “Alvin and the Chimpmunks” sequel (see below), won’t appeal to guys over 12 so much, leaving this the only new option for those who’ve already seen Avatar. On the other hand, even with an American in the title role–something which can’t be looked on favorably by the Brits–this version of Sherlock Holmes might be seen as “too British” or “too period” for American audiences, especially in the South and Heartlands. It’s probably a movie that will fare better on the coasts, big cities and such where audiences will be more open to what they’ve done with the movie.
More than anything else, it will be a combination of Downey and the namebrand of the literary character that will convince people to check it out this weekend, though not everyone will be in a rush to see it. The film should perform similarly to other adventure flicks like the “National Treasure” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies with some of its potential female audience waiting to see it sometime in the week between Christmas and New Year’s rather than it being their first choice this weekend.
Why I Should See It: Teaming Guy Ritchie, Robert Downey and Jude Law has produced a fun and exciting take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary sleuth.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (20th Century Fox)
Starring Jason Lee, Zachary Levi, David Cross, Wendie Malick and the voices of Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Anna Faris, Christina Applegate, Amy Poehler
Directed by Betty Thomas (John Tucker Must Die, I, Spy, Doctor Dolittle, The Brady Bunch Movie, Couples); Written by Jon Vitti (“The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill,” “The Larry Sanders Show”), Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (“King of the Hill,” Kung Fu Panda, Monsters vs. Aliens)
Genre: Comedy, Family
Tagline: “Get Munked” (I’d rather not, thank you)
Plot Summary: After their father (?) Dave (Jason Lee) is in an accident, the Chipmunks are put in the care of his slacker video-game-playing cousin Toby (Zachary Levi) who sends them to school to keep them out of trouble. Meanwhile, their old manager Ian Hawke (David Cross) has found a new group of singing chipmunks, the Chipettes and hopes to use their success to get revenge on the way he was treated by Alvin and his rodent brothers.
One tradition you’re not likely to see ending any time soon is studios releasing their big family movies and sequels over the extended Christmas holidays. Here we have a two-in-one, as it’s a sequel to one of the bigger non-animation family hits of the past couple years. When Alvin and the Chipmunks opened roughly two years ago, few people saw it coming, because obviously, the squeaky-voiced creations of Ross Bagdasarian had built up an enormous silent fanbase since they first appeared way back in the late ’50s. The movie opened to over $44 million despite going up against Will Smith’s sci-fi thriller I Am Legend, which set a new December opening record in the same weekend. It then stuck around through the holidays to amass over $200 million.
Knowing they had a good thing, 20th Century Fox went back to the drawing board, this time hiring director Betty Thomas, the former “Hill Street Blues” actress who also directed Eddie Murphy’s family hit Doctor Dolittle, in hopes of producing a quick and relatively cheap sequel that could offer the same amount of cute factor that helped the first movie become such a big hit.
There really isn’t much to say about the human cast, which has Jason Lee taking a backseat to Zachary Levi, who plays the title role in NBC’s “Chuck,” as well as bringing back David Cross. Once again, Justin Long is voicing Alvin, but this time, they’re bringing on the Chipettes, who are voiced by a trio of talented ladies: Anna Faris, Christina Applegate and Amy Poehler, not that anyone knows it’s them.
One has to bear in mind that not many sequels to hit family comedies do better than the original, in fact it’s very rare for that to be the case. This past summer, Ben Stiller’s “Night at the Museum” sequel opened well but it fell $80 million short of matching the original movie’s gross. Another Fox family movie Garfield, which grossed nearly $80 million, was followed by a sequel that didn’t even make half that amount. There are plenty of other examples like the sequels to Doctor Dolittle or Cheaper by the Dozen, but “Alvin 2” has the advantages of opening at a time with very little direct competition for family audiences in the same busy holiday season that helped the original attain such huge holiday legs.
The movie isn’t going to get good reviews but it’s also fairly review-proof, because people who like the Chipmunks and endured the first movie will probably think this one looks just as cute to give it a try; opening over the extended holidays will mean they have more free time to look for things to see and do. We expect this one will appeal greatly to the same under-12 audience as the original as well as teen girls and older women who think the Chipmunks are adorable and want to see the Chipettes rock out their grrrl power.
The “squeakquel” opens on Wednesday, but we don’t think that the early opening will have that much of an effect on its opening weekend since normally it would probably open over $50 million based on the popularity of the previous movie. We expect it to do a lot more business on Saturday and Sunday than on Friday but it also should have insane legs as it will be the only choice for families with kids at least for a few weeks, until January 15 when the Jackie Chan movie The Spy Next Door (which looks awful), so it should follow other family films like Ben Stiller’s Night at the Museum, which opened just before Christmas with $30 million and then stuck around long enough to amass $250 million. Being a sequel and opening slightly later in December means the movie will do more its opening weekend and less overall, but it still should do big business and we can probably expect a third movie to be greenlit by February or March.
Why I Should See It: Aren’t the Chipmunks cuuuuute? Awwwwwww…
It’s Complicated (Universal)
Starring Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, John Krasinski, Lake Bell
Written and directed by Nancy Meyers (Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday, What Women Want, The Parent Trap)
Tagline: “First comes marriage. Then comes divorce. And then…”
Plot Summary: After being divorced for over ten years, a successful middle-aged caterer named Jane (Meryl Streep) has a one-night stand with her now-married ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin), which turns her entire life upside-down. At the same time, a friendly architect (Steve Martin) has his eye on Jane as well, but the constant presence of her ex-husband makes it hard for him to make his move.
If there weren’t enough sure-fire movies this weekend than what can be more attractive to older women than the pairing of actress Meryl Streep with filmmaker Nancy Meyers, who had huge hits with What Women Want starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt and Something’s Gotta Give, bringing together Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton? Meyers is clearly one of the women directors out there who knows what women want to see when they go to movies, which is why she constantly is getting money to turn her scripts into movies. So far, she has made four movies and all of them grossed more than $60 million with both of the movies mentioned above grossing over $120 million. It’s helped Meyers pull together an absolutely stunning cast for her fifth movie, who’ll be just as much a draw as some of her previous stars.
Meryl Streep has been having quite an amazing decade, especially in the last few years, which is quite amazing for an actress who just celebrated her 60th birthday. After The Devil Wears Prada became a hit in 2006, Streep then starred in the musical Mamma Mia! which was an equally bit hit, and a few months later, Streep was nominated for her 15th (!) Oscar for her performance in the drama Doubt. Over the summer, Streep portrayed Julia Child in Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia, which has garnered her even more awards buzz (as well as being a decent late summer hit), and it’s clear that she’s at the top of her game both as an actress and as a box office draw mainly for women. (That said, stay tuned in 2010 for my planned smear campaign about why I’m so sick of people gushing over Streep when she keeps making bad movies like this one.) Before 2004, Streep had only appeared in one movie that grossed more than $100 million (Kramer vs. Kramer) and a couple other Oscar-nominated hits including Clint Eastwood’s The Bridges of Madison County and Out of Africa, and she’s had close to four in the last five years, so she’s clearly at the top.
The film’s not-so-secret weapon is Streep’s co-star Alec Baldwin who has appeared in a variety of comedies in recent years but never in quite as big a role as this one and It’s Complicated is the first movie that’s fully going to take advantage of the popularity Baldwin has found since his Emmy-winning performance on NBC’s “30 Rock.” In fact, Baldwin and Streep were named the #4 and #6 top entertainers of the year in this week’s “Entertainment Weekly.” The third cog in the wheel is comedian, actor and director Steve Martin, playing a far more low-key role than he normally does in comedies and more like his role in the adaptation of Shopgirl, which he directed. Martin appeared on “30 Rock” last season, although he didn’t have that many scenes with Baldwin, an that’s the case here, too, but the fact that Martin and Baldwin will be teaming up to host the Oscars in March will also be somewhat of a draw.
Regardless of the stellar cast, this is little more than a dumb romantic comedy ala Failure to Launch or Because I Said So, and it even looks a bit like Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Still, considering how much money those movies have made, there’s little reason to think Meyers’ latest won’t continue that trend as women seem to love this sort of thing. Unfortunately, the movie will be playing more towards older married women than the younger single women who usually flock to these movies, so Universal’s attempt to appeal its R-rating was probably for naught.
Last week, the movie was nominated for three Golden Globes, specifically for Streep and the screenplay as well as in the comedy/musical category. Normally, that wouldn’t really mean much, except that older audiences generally take that kind of stuff more seriously as they do reviews, which so far have been mixed at best. Still, Streep has a lot of fans as does Baldwin and Martin, which will make this an easy choice for female audiences over the holiday weekend, especially since Christmas weekend is one where they tend to be out in force, either catching up on movies they missed or seeing anything new that looks like it might be fun, which will probably be the case with this one.
Up in the Air (Paramount)
Starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Tamala Jones, Chris Lowell
Written and directed by Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You For Smoking) with Sheldon Turner
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Tagline: “The story of a man ready to make a connection.”
Plot Summary: Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has been traveling around the country for his job, which essentially is to fire other people from their own jobs, but when he learns his boss wants to take him off the road in favor of new technology, he agrees to take on an ambitious protégé (Anna Kendrick) to show her the ropes and why what Ryan does is important to do in person.
One of the things almost (but not quite) as regular as Christmas is that by mid-to-late December, studios are ready to push their awards-worthy films to wider audiences, hoping to capitalize on early nominations over the extended holiday week. Up in the Air is Jason Reitman’s third movie and his follow-up to Juno, the indie comedy that became an enormous blockbuster hit and attained a number of Oscar nominations, winning for Diablo Cody’s screenplay. As hard as it might be to believe, Reitman’s latest has even more critical support as well as getting a lot more early awards and nominations from groups like the National Board of Review and the Hollywood Foreign Press, who nominated it for six Golden Globes last week.
While Reitman’s involvement and awards may help the movie, it’s not like it really needs any of that, because it happens to star arguably one of the biggest and respected movie actors working today, Mr. George Clooney, who has gone from being the star of a hit television drama like “E.R.” to being one of the most sought after actors. Playing Ryan Bingham in Reitman’s movie will probably get George his fifth Oscar nomination, his second in the Leading Actor category having already won an Oscar for his supporting role in 2006 for the political thriller Syriana. All of the awards attention hasn’t stopped him from appearing in sillier comedies in the past few years like the Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading and his friend Grant Heslov’s The Men Who Stare at Goats, the former doing huge business while the latter performing just moderately.
What’s odd is that Clooney has been doing very little promotion for this movie, instead leaving it to Reitman and some of his co-stars. One of those co-stars is the very fine Vera Farmiga, who has been deserving of awards attention for many years, most notably when she appeared as the only woman in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning The Departed, but also for some of the great roles she’s played in little-seen indie movies in recent years. Earlier this year, Farmiga starred in the Dark Castle thriller Orphan, which did moderate business, and helped get her more into the public eye than some of those indies. Clooney’s other co-star Anna Kendrick is probably best known from her small role as Kristen Stewart’s best friend in the “Twilight” movies but her breakout role was in the Sundance favorite Rocket Science; like Farmiga, she’s considered one of the top choices to get nominated for an Oscar in the supporting category, both of them having received countless nominations so far.
Reitman’s flick opened in New York and L.A. at the beginning of December, and it’s been slowly creeping up the box office charts ever since until this past weekend when it made $3 million in just 175 theaters. It’s actually a really good movie but right now, it’s still all about the awards nominations, which will get people to check it out and then after that, it’s about word-of-mouth and people telling their friends to see it. Unfortunately, Clooney’s inevitable draw towards women is going to be countered by the vast amount of competition for women of all ages from some of the other movies.
Regardless, Up in the Air is expanding into roughly 1,800 theaters on Wednesday, roughly the same range as Syriana, though being a stronger and more accessible film than some of Clooney’s previous awards movies, and more of a crowdpleaser ala Little Miss Sunshine or Alexander Payne’s Sideways, will help it do better sustained business. Because of that, one can expect it will have strong legs into January and February as it continues to be cited for awards and becomes a serious contender in the Oscar race.
Why I Should See It: To put it simply, this is one of the best movies of the year, one that perfectly encapsulates the times.
Nine (The Weinstein Company)
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Stacy Ferguson, Sophia Loren
Directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha); Written by Michael Tolkin (The Player, Changing Lanes, Deep Impact), Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, Cold Mountain, The Talented Mr. Ripley)
Genre: Musical, Drama
Tagline: “This Holiday Season, Be Italian”
Plot Summary: Famous Italian filmmaker Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is having trouble coming up with an idea for his new movie, which needs to start filming very soon, and at the same time, he’s having troubles balancing his time between his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penelope Cruz), his actress/muse (Nicole Kidman), his mother (Sophia Loren) and other women around him (Kate Hudson, Judi Dench).
Interview with Rob Marshall (Later this week… promise!)
Also hoping to capitalize on recent Golden Globes nominations is what many thought would be Harvey Weinstein’s primary raison d’etre this Oscar season, the latest musical from director Rob Marshall. Marshall’s first feature film Chicago was somewhat of a phenomenon, coming out at a time when movie musicals hadn’t been in fashion, but really capturing the imagination of critics, audiences and the industry alike as it sung and danced its way to 13 Oscar nominations, six of which it won, plus an impressive domestic box office gross of $171 million. (Marshall’s second movie Memoirs of a Geisha failed to achieve anything close to that.)
This time around, Marshall is tackling a somewhat lesser known Broadway musical, at least to the populace at large, that being Maury Yeston’s musical take on Federico Fellini’s autobiographical film 8 1⁄2, which debuted in 1982 with Raul Julia in the role of a beleaguered Italian filmmaker, winning five Tony Awards. When it was revived 20 years later with Antonio Banderas, it won two more, so obviously it was a critical fave even if the revival was somewhat short-lived. The key to the musical’s popularity is that besides the one male role, it features many great roles for women, and that’s partially why it seemed like the perfect musical to turn into a movie as well.
The key to it working as a movie is that Marshall has assembled an amazing cast of award-winning actors including Daniel Day-Lewis and Marion Cotillard, who won the leading actor and actress Oscars in the same yearDay-Lewis for There Will Be Blood and Cotillard for La Vie en Rose – as well as Penélope Cruz who took a supporting actress Oscar last year for Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona. Those three alone should get people interested because they all were very much in the public eye during awards season, but Marshall has a true ringer with Nicole Kidman, who starred and was nominated for an Oscar when she starred in Baz Luhrman’s musical Moulin Rouge! which many felt started the ball rolling on the musical trend, months before Chicago. In most cases, Kate Hudson would be the main star of any movie she’s in because she is such a high-profile celebrity, and maybe that’s why she’s been featured in one of the musical trailers, but he’s actually playing one of the smaller (almost negligible) roles in the movie. The cast is rounded out by Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas doing one of the more memorable musical numbers, the always fabulous Dame Judi Dench, as well as marking the return of screen legend Sophia Loren to movies for the first time in many years, playing Guido’s mother.
Nine already opened in four theaters in New York and L.A. this past weekend and averaged roughly $61 thousand per site, which is respectable but not phenomenal by comparison to Chicago, which opened much wider in 77 theaters the weekend after Christmas and grossed $2 million in its first weekend and then it expanded slowly until early February when it finally went wide, grossed $10 million, and then expanded more and did even better the following week. In fact, it had grossed nearly $80 million before it even won any Oscars, so that gives you a pretty clear picture of how awards can help a movie make even more money.
Unlike Chicago, reviews haven’t been that favorable for a variety of reasons, which could detract some moviegoers from going to see it, although fans of musicals, of which there are a lot out there, will certainly be interested in what this cast can do in a musical setting. While Nine certainly is banking heavily on its impressive star-studded cast, one that offers something for everyone, what it doesn’t have is the type of draw for young girls that has helped turn other movie musicals like Mamma Mia! and Hairspray into box office hits, and it also doesn’t have a summer release, which didn’t hurt either. Instead, this is following in the path of Chicago and Dreamgirls and other musicals that opened closer to the holidays to help their push for awards, but that’s only seen those two movies break out and others, like The Producers fail miserably. This one is looking like it could end up more in the range of Warner Bros/’ The Phantom of the Opera, which itself was based on a much more popular long-running musical than Nine.
Even so, the Weinstein Company has put a ton of money into advertising and pushing the movie for Oscars, probably before realizing that Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds would get into the race based on quality, and that push has been quite monumental since before Thanksgiving when the entire cast appeared on “Oprah.” (Apparently, they’ve even mentioned the movie on some soap opera – or at least that’s what I’ve heard.) Clearly, the primary target audience for any musical is women, and that’s the way they’re going with this, except that Nine is opening in a weekend where it’s competing against a lot of stronger fare for women including two or three of the movies above. While the Christmas weekend and the lack of school/work Monday could help Nine do decent long-term business, this one probably has to fight against too many odds to be a huge hit even if it does respectably.
Why I Should See It: Rob Marshall has nailed this musical with some amazing performances by Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz and Daniel Day-Lewis.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Apologies, but we wanted to get the column up on time this week so we’ll be adding reviews and write-ups for the “Chosen Ones” over the course of the next day or so.
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (Sony Classics)
It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday, Christmas Day, and then in more theaters on Friday, January 8.
The White Ribbon (Sony Classics)
It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.
The Chaser (IFC Films)
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
The Chaser opens in New York at the IFC Center on Wednesday December 30 for one week only.
Police, Adjective (IFC Films) – Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest) stars Dragos Bucur as Christi, an undercover policeman who refuses to arrest a teenager accused of distributing drugs because he doesn’t want to take responsibility for ruining the young man’s life. Like everything else, it opens at the IFC Center in New York on December 23.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (Paladin) Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Evans and Ellen Burstyn star in the first movie made from an unproduced Tennessee Williams screenplay in forty years. Howard plays Fisher Willow, a well-to-do young heiress who rebels against Southern high society by hiring the son of her father’s caretaker (Evans) to escort her to a variety of seasonal social events. It opens on Wednesday, December 30, in select cities.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)
A Film With Me In It (IFC Films) Mark Doherty wrote and stars in Ian Fitzgibbon’s dark comedy about a struggling actor who decides to write a movie with his friend, played Irish comic Dylan Moran (Shaun of the Dead), but things suddenly start to go horribly wrong around them. After premiering at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival, playing South by Southwest and being nominated for six Irish Film and Television Awards, it opens on January 1, 2010 at the IFC Center in New York.
The Weekend Warrior is taking next week off, but we’ll be back in 2010 with the romantic comedy Leap Year (Universal) starring Amy Adams, the vampire sci-fi thriller Daybreakers (Lionsgate) with Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, and Michael Cera starring in the dark comedy Youth in Revolt (Dimension Films).
Copyright 2009 Edward Douglas