The Weekend Warrior: April 2 – 4

ON

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.

If you’re not doing so already, you can follow The Weekend Warrior on Twitter where he talks about box office, movies and all sorts of random things.

Exactly seven years ago this week, The Weekend Warrior column first showed up on ComingSoon.net* and I accepted not only the best job I’ve had before or since, but also found a place to work where I’ve spent the longest time at than any other job. Much of that comes down to the fact that my attention-shy editor is one of the best bosses I’ve ever had the pleasure of working for and with bar none. I’ve never worked with someone who gave me so much freedom to do whatever I wanted, despite some of headaches he probably suffers when some of those decisions were rather unconventional or unpopular. Even so, he’s always allowed me to do what I wanted in the Weekend Warrior column, only complaining every other week about how it’s way too long. (Not that he’s wrong, just that I like including all my thoughts on a particular movie at the time I write the column, knowing I might not get another chance.)

I also have to give a huge thanks to the devoted readers who have made The Weekend Warrior enough of a success that I STILL have this job after seven years, and those who’ve come by to read it week-in and week-out or just every so often. Even though I’ve had a few down weeks where I had to do a minimal column and other weeks where I was REALLY off-base with my projections, I’m very proud of my record of having gone seven years without missing a single week, despite having withstood several bouts of burnout and ennui.

(*As a laugh, I’ve included a link to that very first column here. I kind of like how I used to do “Under the Radar” so maybe we’ll return to something more like that soon.)

Anyway, enough with all of the huggy-feelie nostalgia, since most of you are here to read about Clash of the Titans.

Predictions and Comparisons

(UPDATE: Not too many changes, although going by the $5 million made by The Last Song on Wednesday, it probably will have a bump up from that on Good Friday and do better over the weekend. Going by the negative reviews to Clash of the Titans, particularly the 3D, we’re going to keep our prediction where it is, thinking it will do most of its business for the weekend tomorrow.)

1. Clash of the Titans (Warner Bros.) – $65.8 million N/A (same)

2. How to Train Your Dragon (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $29.5 million -33% (up .2 million)

3. Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too? (Lionsgate) – $25.3 million N/A (up 1.6 million)

4. The Last Song (Walt Disney Pictures) – $18.6 million N/A (up 2.3 million)

5. Alice in Wonderland (Walt Disney Pictures) – $10.5 million -40% (same)

6. Hot Tub Time Machine (MGM) – $9.1 million -35% (same)

7. The Bounty Hunter (Sony) – $7.5 million -38% (same)

8. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (20th Century Fox) – $5.9 million -40% (down .2 million)

9. She’s Out of My League (Paramount/DreamWorks) – $2.2 million -40% (down .2 million)

10. Shutter Island (Paramount) – $1.8 million -44% (down .4 million)

Weekend Overview

April kicks off with a full-on holiday weekend starting with Good Friday, ending with Easter Sunday, and with Not-So-Special Saturday falling in between. The movie that’s going to kick the weekend in its ass is Louis Leterrier’s remake of the 1981 cult classic action-adventure Clash of the Titans (Warner Bros.), starring Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Mads Mikkelsen and Gemma Arterton. Opening across the country in 2D and 3D theaters, the movie should be a first choice for males 15 and older, and unlike last week’s How to Train a Dragon, many of them will want to see the movie in 3D, being that the movie was delayed a week specifically to do the conversion. Like many other big movies, Clash of the Titans will begin screening on Thursday night, but opening early shouldn’t detract too much from the movie’s weekend potential, since there’s definitely more than enough demand for a male-driven action-FX event movie like this to bring in an audience who has been fairly deprived since Scorsese’s Shutter Island at the end of February.

Having been six months since his last movie, Atlanta mogul Tyler Perry is back with his first sequel, Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married, Too? (Lionsgate), reuniting Perry with the cast that helped the original movie gross $55 million in the fall of 2007, including Janet Jackson and Jill Scott. Sequels are an unknown quantity for Perry and his fans, as is opening a movie over Easter weekend, which either will greatly help it or possibly hurt it, being that a good portion of his female fanbase are good Christians who might want to spend the Easter holidays in church. Then again, Perry’s latest might be the perfect movie to see as a family/group after church, which means that it should do decently even if it doesn’t have as much pull as Perry’s Madea movies.

On Wednesday, Miley Cyrus’ millions of ‘tween fans will get a chance to see her do a little bit of non-Hannah-Montana acting as she stars in Nicholas Sparks’ The Last Song (Walt Disney Pictures), based on his most recent book. Although Miley’s younger fans on spring break will go see it on Wednesday, Good Friday should be its biggest day since they’ll all be out of school, and that should help drive up the weekend even if the movie will be as frontloaded as previous movies. The problem is that this will mainly be appealing to younger teen girls, since older women won’t have as much interest in the subject as they did in some of Nicholas Sparks’ other movies, even the recent hit Dear John.

Being Easter weekend might be somewhat detrimental to all three movies doing big business, since historically, the highest opening movie over Easter weekend was Dimension Films’ Scary Movie 4 with $40 million. Clash of the Titans will certainly be aiming for a new Easter record, and that shouldn’t be a problem having no crossover audience with the other two movies and helped by higher 3D ticket prices.

This weekend last year, Universal took a big chance by releasing the fourth installment of their hit racing franchise, Fast and Furious (Universal), at the start of April, which proved fruitful, opening with over $70 million, making it Universal’s biggest opening of all time. It averaged over 20,000 per location, helped greatly by there being very few other movies geared towards young males, something that should similarly help Clash of the Titans. Also, Greg Mottola’s Adventureland (Miramax) starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kirsten Stewart opened in sixth place with $5.7 million in 1,862 theaters, not great, but also not terrible for a movie that normally wouldn’t get a wide release. The Top 10 grossed $146 million but since Easter happened a week later last year, it’s hard to make a proper comparison.


THE BATTLE CRY

Last week I decided on a topic to talk about in this week’s “Battle Cry” and of course, between the time I had that thought and the actual writing of the column, dozens of others out there had the same idea. Essentially, I wanted to talk about the latest trend, which is filmmakers directly taking on the film critics who have bashed their past movies.

The most recent bouts started weeks back when prominent New York film critic Armond White was uninvited from seeing Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg due to previous personal comments White had made about Baumbach and his film critic mother, Georgia Brown, who uncoincidentally wrote reviews for the Village Voice, the biggest rival for White’s outlet, the New York Press. It was a fairly low-key affair that was quickly and quietly resolved, plus I consider Armond a personal friend so I didn’t feel like being one of those who commented on the matter.

Then last week, something happened that’s gotten a lot more attention and that was director Kevin Smith deciding to take on ALL of his critics via his prolific Twitter feed. Essentially, Smith was incensed by the absolutely awful and fairly scathing reviews of his big studio for-hire directorial debut Cop Out, which he felt turned people off from seeing it. He suggested that critics shouldn’t be allowed to see his movies for free and in fact, that they should pay to see his movie if they want to see it before his true fans. (You can read more about the incident in a column written last week by MovieCityNews’ Kim Voynar, which sums up Smith’s statements. Knowing that I was writing this, I only glossed over it, because I didn’t want my own thoughts on the matter to be affected by Voynar’s opinion.)

What happened was that many of the critics who have been supporting Smith’s work for years but didn’t like Cop Out, of which I’m most certainly one, immediately turned on Smith for many reasons, but mainly for being such a whiny crybaby about his negative reviews, which were mostly warranted. Whatever the critics thought about the movie, Smith broke what was previously an unwritten but cardinal rule about being a filmmaker by addressing his critics directly. Not that this was the first time he had done it either, as there was a memorable altercation he had with the late Joel Siegel, when the latter walked out of a screening of Clerks II. In fact, Smith has always taken his critics very seriously (maybe too seriously) and questioned them when he didn’t agree. Before Cop Out came out, he posted some of the worst reviews for it on his site with commentary. It was funny at the time and yet four weeks later, he’s clearly not over the fact that for the first time since Jersey Girl, the critics aren’t on his side.

Essentially, there’s a couple of things to talk about here, the first being whether critics should be allowed to see movies for free. While plenty of movies are review-proof, there is enough of a culture of film criticism as part of mainstream news coverage that the studios and filmmakers realize giving them an opportunity to see the movie is important to the process. Like they say, “there’s no such thing as bad press” and even a bad review of a movie will immediately raise awareness for the movie of anyone reading it. Let’s say you don’t really watch TV or spend a lot of time on the internet–I know, madness, right?–but you’re reading the paper opening day and you see there’s a new movie with Tom Cruise being reviewed. Whether it’s positive or negative, if you’re a fan of Cruise, your awareness of his new movie has just been raised and there’s a better chance you’ll see the movie. In fact, smaller movies like Smith’s earlier films relied heavily on the positive reviews of critics to get people to know about them, let alone consider seeing them. Cop Out was a different story, because it had the marketing and backing of a major studio who could have theoretically not screened it for critics, forcing them to pay to see it opening day, but that would just have raised even more alarms about it not being a good movie.

Plenty of critics are already forced to pay to see movies on opening day when studios decide not to screen them (or don’t invite them) and that rarely helps their mood or demeanor while watching/reviewing the movies. In fact, Smith’s idea would probably be even more detrimental to his movie getting good reviews, not that there’s a chance any critic might ever be able to take a Kevin Smith movie seriously after his latest outburst. Smith essentially has made enemies with the few critics left who still appreciated his talent as a writer and filmmaker and were willing to overlook all the other stuff and give his movies a chance. He broke the unspoken taboo and put into question something critics have been fighting for years, which is their right to see movies before their readers as part of their jobs.

There’s a good reason why many filmmakers and actors don’t read their reviews, and that’s because they don’t want it to affect their decision-making process or make them second-guess themselves or how they got to the point where they can make and appear in movies. Very few people can accept criticism gracefully, whether it’s constructive or not… and negative reviews rarely tend to be constructive. In fact, most critics are probably more sensitive and susceptible to people reacting negatively to their reviews than the filmmakers who they’re criticizing. I know this because I’ve had a lot of conversations with colleagues about the negative comments on Rotten Tomatoes and elsewhere whenever a critic goes against the grain, as Armond White has done time and time again.

The thing is that I really like Smith. I’m a fan of many but not all his earlier films, and I like the fact that he’s so open with his fans and his critics and always just says whatever is on his mind. It takes a huge amount of guts and balls to do what Smith does on a regular basis, and he’s very much a filmmaker of the internet era. A lot of prominent online film critics can trace their careers back to their first movie interactions and to websites like Smith’s View Askew and MoviePoopShoot. Most of Smith’s fanbase is made up of the young men who discovered his work and bonded through the internet. For him to now go against the critics who have helped him get to where he is today is going to be unforgivable to most of them.

I’ve been very lucky to have a really good relationship with filmmakers, having interviewed many of them either before or after seeing their movies, and I’ve always been able to keep the two things separate. I have only once encountered a filmmaker whose movie I hated so much I was afraid to interview him, and that was Lee Daniels, but when I told him what I thought about his previous movie, he was actually kind of cool about it, even agreed to rewatch it and discuss again at a later date. I still hope to take that up with him when we both get a free minute.

There’s something good to be said about the way Smith has spoken his mind on the subject, but instead of expecting the worst from the critics and assuming their reviews were personal, he might have been better served by opening a dialogue with them to discuss their thoughts on his movie and why they didn’t like it. Instead, he picked a battle he can never possibly win and turned more of his potential boosters against him. Regardless, it’s highly doubtful any studio or distributor who releases Smith’s next movie will agree to force critics to pay to see his movie, just as I know few critics who would ever agree to pay to see a Kevin Smith movie.


Clash of the Titans (Warner Bros.)
Starring Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Huston, Gemma Arterton, Mads Mikkelsen, Jason Flemyng, Alexa Davalos, Izabella Miko, Nicholas Hoult, Pete Postlethwaite
Directed by Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk, Unleashed, Transporter 2); Written by Travis Beacham (Dog Days of Summer, upcoming The Black Hole), Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (AEon Flux, The Tuxedo, Crazy/Beautiful)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Between gods and men, the clash begins.”
Plot Summary: Perseus (Sam Worthington), a brave warrior born to a human woman impregnated by the Greek God Zeus (Liam Neeson), leads a band of warriors on a dangerous mission to defeat the minions of Hades (Ralph Fiennes), the God of the Underworld, who killed Perseus’ adoptive parents and plans to seize power from Zeus and bring hell to earth.

“Clash of the Titans” Set visit

Interview with Writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi

Review

Analysis:

There was a time when a movie opening in April was thought of as being dumped to get it out of the way before the summer movie season. Nowadays, April is the new June and studios are trying to wrangle their potential blockbusters into the slower spring and winter months in hopes of bringing in audiences who aren’t being given other exciting choices. Of course, part of this comes about from the success of Zack Snyder’s 300 during the month of March in 2007, but last year, Universal had one of their biggest openings when they moved the fourth installment of the franchise Fast and Furious from June to April. It was probably more the former that convinced Warner Bros. that an FX-laden remake of Clash of the Titans, the 1981 star-studded cult classic based in Greek mythology, could do very well if it were to open outside the summer. Oddly, Warner Bros.’ decision to remake the movie was announced less than two years ago and began shooting less than a year ago, which isn’t very long for a movie driven by computer-generated special FX, but things got moving pretty quickly once French filmmaker Louis Leterrier was signed on to direct within weeks of the release of his take on The Incredible Hulk for Universal Pictures.
The original “Clash” was by no means a blockbuster, having grossed just $41 million, which probably isn’t that bad in 1981 dollars, but it built up a cult following from being shown on television and watched on VHS in the decades that followed. There’s a pretty substantial group of 30+-year-old males who loved the movie, as cheesy as it may be watching it now.

The movie stars one of 2009’s top breakout stars, Sam Worthington, who was signed to lead this movie before either of his 2009 blockbusters were released. Although Terminator Salvation didn’t do as much business as Warner Bros. may have hoped, Worthington generally got favorable reviews in it, and six months later, he headlined James Cameron’s Avatar, which would become the highest-grossing movies of all time. The fact that so many more people know who Worthington is (and actually like him) can only help the success of his follow-up, especially since Perseus is a similar soldier-like character. It probably won’t hurt that trailers for “Clash” appeared on Avatar, and
Worthington is joined on his journey by two of the actors who were discovered by most American audiences in the most recent James Bond movies, England’s Gemma Arterton playing a minor role as a Bond girl in Quantum of Solace and Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen playing the main villain in Casino Royale. Both of them have become well known in their respective countries but have yet to make names for themselves in the United States, despite the Bond connection. Like with the original movie, which starred multiple Oscar nominee Laurence Olivier as Zeus, they’ve cast a bevy of respected dramatic actors as the Gods. In this case, Zeus is played by Liam Neeson and his opponent Hades (not in the original) by Ralph Fiennes, both of whom have been involved in blockbuster franchises, Neeson with the “Narnia” movies and Fiennes in the “Harry Potter” movies.

In fact, Avatar had a much bigger influence on “Clash” than just providing an actor in common, because the success of James Cameron’s movie in 3D venues convinced Warner Bros. that it might be worth converting Leterrier’s movie to 3D as well. This led to lots of complications since it was originally opening on March 26 against DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon and that already had most of the 3D screens pinned down, so they pushed the date back to this weekend. With all of the talk of what was entailed with the conversion of 3D, many people will make an effort to see the movie in that format just to see how it turned out, but also because it seems like the type of FX epic that would benefit from 3D. Of course, the main reasoning for the conversion is that theaters can charge more for those tickets, which would effectively boost the amount of money the movie makes.

Greek mythology is a fairly safe subject matter since so many people read it and enjoy it when younger, but “Clash” is clearly a guys’ movie that will appeal not just to teens and younger boys, but also to older guys who remember the original movie, feeding the nostalgia factor. On the other hand, very few women will be interested in seeing this except maybe to ogle Worthington in next to nothing. Since few guys will be interested in the weekend’s other two new offerings, this will be their top choice and the only competition will be from Hot Tub Time Machine and “Dragon” in their second weekends. In fact, those are more likely to benefit from “Clash” sell-outs than Leterrier’s movie being affected by their presence. An even bigger factor that might hurt the movie on Saturday are the NCAA Championship semi-finals that will add to the frontloading normally associated with Good Friday.

Like so many other movies in high demand, Warner Bros. are opening the movie on Thursday night, having screenings as early as 8PM, and while that probably won’t cut into the weekend too much, the movie should see a nice added bonus from those screenings, especially with so many people taking Good Friday off from work and school. It’s never clear whether this money will be rolled into Friday or reported separately, but if it’s the former, one can expect even bigger Good Friday frontloading than normal. (At the time of this writing, we haven’t seen the movie and have no idea if it lives up to expectations.) Easter weekend isn’t normally a holiday when studios open big movies like this, although Warner Bros. had good luck with it eleven years ago when they used the weekend to open the Wachowskis’ The Matrix. That didn’t open that big but went on to become a huge sleeper hit. Those were different times and these days, movies like this tend to do bigger business on opening weekend than in the weeks that follow.

Although Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland stole this movie’s thunder a bit by becoming one of the first movies to open with more than $100 million outside the summer or holidays, “Clash” looks to be the year’s second big event movie which means it should open fairly big, although there isn’t the excitement for it as there was for 300 or last year’s Star Trek. Even considering that it’s sharing 3D theaters with “Dragon” and “Alice,” “Clash of the Titans” is fairly free and clear in terms of a window on the back-end with the next movie vying for its male audience being Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass on April 16. That should allow it to remain #1 for two weeks in a row, as well as continuing to bring in audiences in 3D for the rest of the month.

Why I Should See It: The original movie was cheesy, but Leterrier has turned it into a very cool action movie using cutting edge FX and 3D technology.
Why Not: The fact we haven’t really heard much dialogue from the movie except “Release the Kraken” makes one worry, especially after seeing Terminator Salvation.
Projections: Expect roughly $6 to 8 million on Thursday night, followed by $64 to 67 million opening weekend and roughly $185 million total.

COMPARISONS


Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too? (Lionsgate)
Starring Tyler Perry, Sharon Leal, Janet Jackson, Malik Yoba, Jill Scott, Lamman Rucker, Richard T. Jones, Tasha Smith, Michael J. White, Cicely Tyson, Louis Gossett Jr.
Written and directed by Tyler Perry (Lots of movies which have titles that start with “Tyler Perry’s” – see the comparisons below)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Prepare for Love. Brace for War.”
Plot Summary: In the follow-up to Tyler Perry’s 2007 hit, the four couples from the first movie travel down to the Bahamas for a reunion that’s broken up when one of the women’s husbands shows up trying to break up her new marriage and win her back. At the same time, the other three couples start to question their own commitments in the face of infidelity. Tyler Perry plays a man in this one.

Analysis:

Since the Weekend Warrior began back in 2001, Tyler Perry has starred and/or directed in eight movies, some of them based on his hit plays, others being written specifically for the screen, the eight of them grossing $421 million. In that time, we haven’t even earned a million writing about those eight movies. Obviously, we’re rather bitter about that, so you’ll excuse us if we’re not too thrilled writing about another one of Mr. Perry’s movies for the eighth time.

That said, there’s no denying Perry is a force to be reckoned with and his latest movie is his very first sequel to the 2007 hit Why Did I Get Married?, which grossed $55 million, his third-biggest take and his highest-grossing movie in which Perry didn’t put on a dress to play his popular foul-mouthed alter-ego Madea. The movie opened in October 2008 with $21.3 million, and it sustained the best legs of one of Perry’s movies. While one would not think that Tyler Perry fans are discerning movielovers or anything, it’s interesting to note that the original movie also ranks the highest among IMDb Users having rated 4.1/10. (None of Perry’s other movies have barely ranked above 4.) Although Perry’s movies are rarely screened for critics, most of them do find a way to see it and review it, usually badly, but the original movie scored 46% on Rotten Tomatoes, leading the way for even better reviews down the line. Clearly, critics prefer Perry’s serious dramatic movies that aren’t based on his plays rather than the ones with Madea, which is almost a polar opposite to his fans.

After years writing and directing hit plays, Perry’s film career began in 2005 when he brought his character Madea to the screen with Diary of a Mad Black Woman based on his play of the same name, and it was a huge surprise hit, grossing $21.9 million in less than 1,500 theaters. Perry then took the reigns to direct Madea’s Family Reunion, also based on a play, and that did even better, opening with $30 million. That was four years ago, and since then Perry has been directing two movies a year, normally one based on a play and one original done for the screen. He’s appeared in the majority of them, usually as Madea, but in the case of Why Did I Get Married? in a role as a normal guy. Not all of his movies are hits though and Daddy’s Little Girls and The Family That Preys ended up below the $40 million mark, both being originals written for the screen. His latest movie is a little different because it’s a sequel and thereby written originally for the screen, although that shouldn’t necessarily detract his fans.

Once again, Perry is joined by Grammy-winning recording artist Janet Jackson and R’n’B singer Jill Scott, all three of them having been nominated for Image Awards for their performances in the first movie with Jackson winning. Having been acting since a very young age before becoming a pop sensation, Jackson had a strong acting career in the ’90s before virtually disappearing until Perry brought her back for the first movie, and there’ll be even more interest in seeing Janet on screen following the death of her brother Michael last year.

It’s generally known that Perry’s biggest movies are not only the ones in which he plays Madea, but also the ones that actually have “Madea” in the title for those who need to be hit over the head with the fact Madea is in the movie. Of course, the sequel factor could play some part in the movie’s success, since one presumes many more people have seen the movie on DVD and cable after its theatrical release which would mean more people are aware of the sequel than the original.

Although there’s already a built-in fanbase for a Tyler Perry movie, and a sequel that brings back popular characters has a lot going for it, we can’t neglect to mention how the description of “Married Too” makes it sound like a black version of Couples Retreat, the Vince Vaughn-Jon Favreau joint that made a ton of money despite being really REALLY bad. (I mean, seriously, it was almost unwatchable, so why did so many people watch it?) Even though the first movie was clearly one of Perry’s best movies going by reviews and public opinion, one wonders if his fans might be skeptical of a sequel that hasn’t been tested as a play first. One also wonders if anyone besides those who saw the first movie will have any interest.

Another thing that might hold it back is the Easter weekend since the audience who likes Perry’s movies also tend to be fairly religious, so one expects they might be going to church on Good Friday or Easter Sunday. Even so, they could look for a movie to see as a group afterwards, and certainly women who enjoy Perry’s take on marriage will want to see what new things he has to say about the institution in the sequel. Because of that, we expect this to open in the same mid-$20 million range as the previous movie, but still end up under the $60 million mark total.

Why I Should See It: If you can’t get into see “Clash of the Titans,” than it’s either this or Miley Cyrus… or just stay home.
Why Not: I’m hoping someone will some day make a doc called “Why Did I Go See Tyler Perry’s Last Seven Movies?” (Tyler Perry can executive produce it.)
Projections: $23 to 26 million opening weekend and roughly $60 million total.

COMPARISONS


The Last Song (Walt Disney Pictures)
Starring Miley Cyrus, Bobby Coleman, Liam Hemsworth, Hallock Beals, Nick Lashaway, Carly Chaikin, Nick Searcy, Kate Vernon, Kelly Preston, Greg Kinnear
Directed by Julie Anne Robinson (film debut of the director of TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Weeds”); Written by Nicholas Sparks (first screenplay from novelist), Jeff Van Wie
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rated PG
Tagline: “Do you ever really forget your first heartbreak?”
Plot Summary: Teenager Ronnie Miller (Miley Cyrus) goes down to a smaller Southern beach town to spend some quality time with her estranged father (Greg Kinnear) who hopes to reconnect with his daughter with the only thing they have in common being music.

Analysis:

Yes, kids, it’s Miley!! Back for her one movie of 2010, as if she even needs the money at this point, but this is a strange case, not only because it’s the first live action movie where she’s not playing herself or Hannah Montana, but also it’s a drama, written specifically for her by Nicholas Sparks, one of the bestselling American authors not named Stephenie Meyer. (Maybe there’s some others, but let’s just imagine for the sake of me not having to do any actual research that he is, okay?)

Apparently, Miley was looking for some dramatic vehicle to star in, she snapped her fingers and all of the executives at Disney begged and pleaded for Sparks to write something for her, but he didn’t just write a screenplay, no, he also wrote a novel, and it was probably the first time a movie adaptation of his novel (if you could even call it that) was finished filming before the book hit the shelves, as it did last September. If you’ve read this column, you’ll already be well aware of Sparks’ track records when it comes to movies based on his books from the sleeper hit The Notebook in 2004, to the most recent hit Dear John, starring Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried, which opened with $30 million. The Last Song has a lot of the elements he’s used before like beaches and the South, but the real reason why this pairing came about was because Cyrus was a fan of the movie A Walk to Remember, which was pop singer Mandy Moore’s first starring role in a film, although her acting career nosedived after that.

Sparks’ novels tend to appeal to older women but the popularity of Dear John could be attributed as much to its two stars, which is why it makes sense that Disney would give Cyrus a chance to show that she can do some real acting. Obviously, Disney knows they have a teenage cash cow in Cyrus as long as she continues to do things that might appeal to her younger teen fanbase, and combining her with Sparks would seem like a no-brainer. At least Cyrus’ career seems to be lasting longer than Hilary Duff, whose own Disney Channel show The Lizzie McGuire Movie was brought to the screen with the successful, followed by the similarly successful A Cinderella Story, but then she tried to do serious drama with Raise Your Voice, which bombed. Her career never really recovered. Still, Cyrus seems to have a stronger career going with both of her movies opening to over $30 million, her 3D “Best of Both Worlds” concert film scoring one of the highest per-theater-averages for a wide release with over $45 thousand per location. Last year’s Hannah Montana: The Movie opened in first place with $32 million, and in between, she voiced a main role in Disney’s animated movie Bolt.

Miley’s love interest in the movie is played by Australian actor Liam Hemsworth (brother of Chris Hemsworth of Star Trek and the upcoming Thor), a relationship that continued off-screen, something which adds another level of press. Greg Kinnear is in the movie, too. Seriously, I love the guy as an actor but so far, he hasn’t proven himself as any sort of box office draw with headlining movies like Flash of Genius and Ghost Town and Feast of Love not making much of a mark.

One big difference between this and past Sparks movies is that the original novel hasn’t really been around long enough to build an audience whereas most of the books have been out at least three years before being turned into movies. While it did top the bestsellers list the week of its release and sold well, it didn’t do so for very long due to the release of Dan Brown’s first novel since The Da Vinci Code.

The Last Song is opening on Wednesday and any girls who aren’t in school will probably try to see it early, although it’s likely to do its biggest business on Good Friday, as Easter weekend has often been good for Disney and Miley going by the success of Hannah Montana: The Movie last year. Other Disney hits include Holes starring Shia LaBeouf and the baseball movie The Rookie. Normally, a Nicholas Sparks movie would be the first choice for many older women as well, although The Last Song might lose some of that business to Tyler Perry’s movie.

For the third time in a row–not counting Bolt–Disney is not screening a Miley Cyrus movie for all critics which tells you how much confidence they have in the quality of movies being made by their superstar money-maker.

Why I Should See It: Because Miley Cyrus is such a talented dramatic actress that having her star in a Nicholas Sparks movie clearly will put The Last Song into contention at this year’s Oscars.
Why Not: And if you believe that, I’ll gladly sell you any of the many bridges in my immediate vicinity.
Projections: It could do as much as $8 to 9 million on Wednesday and Thursday and then another $15 to 17 million over the three-day Easter weekend with roughly $50 to 55 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom (White Crane Films)
Written and directed by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam
Genre: Documentary
Plot Summary: An in-depth look at the Tibetans’ attempt to gain independence for their country from China and how the Dalai Lama, who has been exiled in India for decades, is hoping for a “Middle Way Approach” that isn’t in harmony with the desires of his people.

It’s interesting how few Westerners really understand what is going on in China when it comes to the conflict with Tibet. A good percentage of Americans first heard about it around the time of the 2008 Olympics when Tibetans and Buddhists were protesting the Olympics being held there, using the attention the country was getting as a platform to let outsiders know the truth about Tibet. It’s a far more complex situation than any of the news media were able to pick up on, which is why it’s great to have a documentary from a Tibetan perspective that’s still fairly balanced.

The doc opens with the early stages of a walk from Dharamsala in northern India, the Dalai Lama’s home in exile, to Lhasa in Tibet, a trip on foot by hundreds of Tibetans that would take months to accomplish but hoped to draw attention to their situation. For over five decades, Tibet has been under the rule of China, essentially pushing the Tibetan people out of their own home, and we’ll learn more about how they feel about this with the peaceful “Return to Tibet” walk acting as the throughline for the narrative. It’s been over fifty years since the famed Lhasa Uprising, the first major protest about the Chinese army marching into Lhasa and taking over the country, effectively driving the Dalai Lama out, and Tibet is still under China’s rule with no solution in sight. The filmmakers talked to many Tibetan historians and luminaries, poets mainly, who all have an opinion about Tibet’s independence and how the situation can be resolved.

More importantly, the film features a rare and lengthy interview with the Dalai Lama, as well as footage of some of his appearances around the world during the time, and he addresses many of the issues and concerns of the Tibetan people. Therein poses a problem because the Dalai Lama tends to keep the movie from having the desired effect the filmmakers intend, since as the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, he just doesn’t come across very well. You see all these people who are so devoted to him, and yet he’s completely oblivious to what his people want, instead trying to take a non-committal approach that won’t make waves. Meanwhile, the Chinese government and military still think the Dalai Lama is the problem, and they’re just waiting it out for him to die, thinking that will solve everything.

A big problem with the movie working is the enormous cultural gap between Westerners and the Tibetan people, who blindly follow the Dalai Lama due to their faith, that even with all the information laid out for you, it’s hard to comprehend the magnitude of the problem and why it’s been so hard to solve. One would think a movie like this would be hugely biased from the Tibetan perspective, but they do interview some Chinese dignitaries and regular people to get their opinion on the situation as well.

It’s not a perfect documentary by any means, narrated by Sonam’s heavily accented English which does little to energize the film’s slow pace, but what acts as the perfect equalizer is that the filmmakers got two-time Oscar-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla (Babel, Brokeback Mountain) to provide the music and it really works to pull the whole thing together. Ultimately, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better assessment of the situation between Tibet and China than this documentary, and you have to be impressed with the dedication the filmmakers had to covering as much of the story as they could at a time when it was very much in the public eye.

It opens at the Film Forum in New York on Wednesday.

Also in Limited Release:

The Greatest (Paladin) – Shana Feste’s drama which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year, stars Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon as a couple whose eldest son died in a car crash. They take in a young woman named Rose, played by Oscar-nominated actress Carey Mulligan (An Education), who shows up a few months later claiming to be bearing their son’s child.

Don McKay (Image Entertainment) – Thomas Haden Church stars as the title character in Jake Goldberger’s comedic thriller, a man who returns to his hometown after receiving a letter from his ex-girlfriend Sonny (Elisabeth Shue) claiming she’s dying, but there are things she’s not telling him as Don gets caught up in affairs he doesn’t understand. Having premiered at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, it opens in select cities on Friday.

Review (Coming Soon!)

The Thorn in the Heart (Oscilloscope Pictures) – Michel Gondry makes a personal doc about his aunt Suzette Gondry, a schoolteacher for nearly 50 years in the French countryside, and her relationship with her son Jean-Yves, as they travel to some of the places where she taught over her career. It opens in New York at the Village East on Friday and in L.A. on May 14.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

The Warlords (Magnet Labs) – Peter Chan’s war epic about the Taiping Rebellion of the 19th Century stars Jet Li as General Pang, the sole survivor of a massacre, who becomes the blood brother of two bandits, played by Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs) and Takeshi Kaneshiro (Red Cliff, The House of Flying Daggers), and the three swear their loyalty to each other until they get caught up in a love triangle with a courtesan (Wu Jing-Lei). Currently playing on Video on Demand, it opens theatrically in New York and L.A. on Friday and in other cities throughout April.
Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Breaking Upwards (IFC) – Director Daryl Wein and co-writer Zoe Lister-Jones star in a movie based on their own experiences playing a New York couple who’ve been together four years but realize that it’s time to break up, but can they do so without severing their relationship entirely? It opens in New York at IFC Center on Friday, and then in L.A. on April 9.


Next week, just one new movie in wide release and that one pairs Steve Carell and Tina Fey for the comedy Date Night (20th Century Fox).

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas

monitoring_string = "df292225381015080a5c6c04a6e2c2dc"