The Weekend Warrior: July 9 – 11

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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.

If you aren’t doing so already, you can follow The Weekend Warrior on Twitter where he talks about box office, movies and all sorts of random things, including the World Cup!

Updated Predictions and Comparisons

UPDATE: Other sources seem to be pointing to Despicable Me winning the weekend and the reviews have been surprisingly positive (for both movies in fact. Predators will certainly be more frontloaded and maybe the incessant marketing of the minions will help Despicable Me make a push for first, though we still don’t think it’s one of the stronger animated movies this year or that Carell can sell a movie like that to adults. (NOTE: We forgot to update our number for Despicable Me yesterday despite moving it up to second place.)

1. Predators (20th Century Fox) – $31.5 million N/A (down 2.3 million)

2. Despicable Me (Universal) – $25.7 million N/A (up 1.5 million and one spot)

3.The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Summit) – $24.5 million -62% (down .3 million and one spot)

4. Toy Story 3 (Disney/Pixar) – $17.0 million -44% (same)

5. The Last Airbender (Paramount) – $14.3 million -65% (up .3 million)

6. Grown Ups (Sony) – $10.2 million -47% (up .7 million)

7. Knight and Day (20th Century Fox) – $6.0 million -43% (up .2 million)

8. The Karate Kid (Sony) – $4.4 million -46% (up .2 million)

9. The A-Team (20th Century Fox) – $1.4 million -55% (down .2 million)

10. Cyrus (Fox Searchlight) – $.9 million +17% (down .1 million)

Weekend Overview

After three busy weekends at the box office thanks to a number of big sequels and surprise breakouts, July settles down a bit with a couple of smaller movies, at least relatively speaking. Even so, both The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and The Last Airbender should have fairly substantial drop-offs after the holiday weekend, which should allow each of the two new movies to make a play for the top spot.

The movie that’s likely to bring in the biggest audience and dethrone Eclipse is the latest in this summer’s ’80s remake trend as Robert Rodriguez revamps the violent creature feature Predators (20th Century Fox) along with director Nimród Antal (Vacancy) and actors Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Laurence Fishburne and Alice Braga. The original 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger Predator has a lot of fans among guys over 25 who’ll be interested to see if Rodriguez can create a suitable movie that maintains that feel and tone. Younger males may be more interested due to Rodriguez’s involvement or just because it looks like a cool premise, but Fox’s late marketing campaign, the under-3000-theater release and the R-rating is likely to keep this in the low-to-mid 30s, rather than matching some of the bigger ’80s reboots like G.I. Joe and The Karate Kid.

The other movie trying to top Eclipse and maybe having a harder time is the summer’s third 3D animated comedy, Despicable Me (Universal), featuring the voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Disney star Miranda Cosgrove and a bunch of comedy/animation regulars. Unfortunately, the movie’s premise of a supervillain who adopts kids won’t be able to do much to bring in the teen and older guys that might normally check out an animated movie–they’ll probably be seeing Predators–so it’s best bet are the family audiences who are probably already achieving burnout. This is an important movie for Universal’s animation division, and they’ve been marketing it well enough by focusing on the cute minions, so that it shouldn’t tank, but one shouldn’t expect a huge breakout opening weekend for this either.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right (Focus Features), starring Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. You can read more about it below

This weekend last year, Sacha Baron Cohen returned as his gay Austrian character Brüno (Universal), and though it opened significantly wider than his last big hit Borat, it ended up opening with about the same, $30.62 million in 2,755 theaters, to take first place. It fared much better than Chris Columbus’ I Love You, Beth Cooper (20th Century Fox), starring Hayden Panettiere, which tanked with less than $5 million in 1,862 theaters to open in seventh place. The Top 10 grossed $132 million and this week’s offerings could help put the box office ahead of last year once again.

Deepest apologies but the “Battle Cry” I had started working on for this week’s column just wasn’t ready so we’ll save it for next week. Promise!


Predators (20th Century Fox)
Starring Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo, Oleg Taktarov, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Louiz Ozawa
Directed by Nimród Antal (Armored, Vacancy, Kontrol); Written by Alex Litvak, Michael Finch
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Rated R
Tagline: “Fear is Reborn”
Plot Summary: A mercenary named Royce (Adrien Brody) finds himself trapped in a jungle on an alien planet with a group of soldiers who find themselves the target of deadly alien hunters who are using them to practice hunting humans.

Review
Analysis:

This has been a crazy summer for sure, and part of what has contributed to the craziness, is that moviegoers have been really down on the choices, including the fact that the ’80s seem to have returned, particularly the weekend where The A-Team opened against The Karate Kid. Predators fits right in with that trend, except that it isn’t a remake so much as a new movie featuring the alien hunters introduced back in 1987, when Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in John McTiernan’s movie Predator. Arnold was following up his hits The Terminator and the Conan movies to solidify himself as a solid box office star, even if its gross of $59.7 million didn’t seem very impressive even for 23 years ago. It did well enough to warrant a sequel that tanked sans Schwarzenegger, and the franchise moved over to comic books for 15 years. In 2005, 20th Century Fox and Paul W.S. Anderson tried to bring the alien hunter-killers back by having them fight their other sci-fi horror franchise Aliens, and the first movie AVP did decent business, but its sequel Alien vs. Predator: Requiem disappointed with just $41.8 million.

Obviously, Fox wasn’t going to give up the ghost on the franchise due to the relatively disappointing showing, and fortunately, someone remembered that Texas-based movie maven Robert Rodriguez had written a treatment for a “Predators” reboot years ago with hopes of bringing Schwarzenegger back to the fold. (This was before he became California governor, presumably.) Rodriguez essentially tried to create a new movie that followed a similar pattern as the original movie, acting as a sequel, rather than a straight reboot/remake. To direct the movie, Rodriguez turned to Nimród Antal, the Hungarian filmmaker who had made a mark with his foreign film Kontrol and had been making smaller-budget Hollywood genre films like the thriller Vacancy and last year’s Armored, neither which brought in much business at the box office. Oddly, Rodriguez’s involvement has been played down from when the project was first announced and it was going to be called Robert Rodriguez’s Predators, but one presumes his role is more like Judd Apatow on his movies.

The cast is a mixed bag of actors, though it’s doubtful any of them will be a draw on their own. The biggest name is probably Oscar winner Adrien Brody who recently starred in the Sundance fave Splice which only grossed about $16.2 million despite a big marketing push. In fact, other than M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village and Peter Jackson’s King Kong, both movies sold based on the director, Brody hasn’t really had many movies that grossed over $20 million since winning the Oscar for Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. The one female presence is Brazilian actress Alice Braga, who appeared in Will Smith’s I Am Legend and a number of bombs including the recent Repo Men. The oddest member of the cast has to be Topher Grace from “That ’70s Show,” whose closest thing to a dark genre movie like this was playing Eddie Brock/Venom in Spider-Man 3. His only other movie since then was the recent ensemble hit Valentine’s Day. Other than Laurence Fishburne, who starred in Antal’s previous movie and “The Shield” star Walton Goggins, the only known player is Rodriguez regular Danny Trejo playing a larger role than usual, leading up to Rodriguez’s next film Machete later this summer.

Most guys over a certain age will remember the first Predator very fondly, something that probably contributed as much to the success of the “AVP” movies as the Aliens who had a much more lucrative run as a franchise prior to the team-up. That’s one of the reasons why the relatively weak cast and their lack of box office pull won’t have much of an effect, though the strength of their acting does bode for a stronger film.

Another key element that either will work favorably or it will hurt the movie is its R-rating. On the one hand, that limits when the movie can be advertised to later at night, as well as limits the number of teens that can get into see the movie, but the fans will be reassured that the violence hasn’t been softened for a PG-13 rating. The key to the “AVP” movies’ success was that they were PG-13 and did allow for younger audiences, but Rodriguez and Antal clearly preferred to maintain the gore and violence of the original movie, which will certainly be more desirable for fans of the first movie. In fact, the filmmakers’ dedication to trying to honor that first movie may be what helps the movie earn better reviews than most of Fox’s genre movies have received.

Fox has not been having a good summer with Marmaduke, The A-Team and Knight and Day all under-performing and none of them coming close to $100 million so far. Predators may be their last hope to save their summer–that is, if they even care after cashing in the check from James Cameron’s Avatar–but oddly, they haven’t seemingly put as much into marketing this movie as they have some of those others. Maybe they realize that older guys already know about the movie and the brand name of “Predators” will be something that will intrigue the casual moviegoers at theaters looking for something to see. Unfortunately, younger guys in the coveted 17 to 23 range may not be as familiar with the original Predator and to get them, the movie really needs to sell itself better.

Surprisingly, Fox are giving the movie a relatively moderate release pattern closer to the theater count of Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, into less than 3,000 theaters, which isn’t very common for a movie thought to be a summer tentpole. More surprising is that they really haven’t done very much to promote the movie, something that hurt Jonah Hex a few weeks back, as Fox has seemed more focused on pumping Tom Cruise’s Knight and Day for most of June. Even so, Predators probably won’t completely bomb, though it’s going to have trouble breaking out with that big an opening, instead ending up in the mid-$30 million range before getting trashed by the release of Christopher Nolan’s Inception next week.

Why I Should See It: Antal is one of the most underrated filmmakers working today, and as a fan of the original movie, he should create a much more faithful and worthwhile sequel than “Predator 2.”
Why Not: The lack of promotion by 20th Century Fox makes us wonder whether they’re as bullish on this movie as the fans should be.
Projections: $32 to 35 million opening weekend and roughly $85 million total.

COMPARISONS


Despicable Me (Universal)
Starring (the voices of) Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig, Danny McBride, Miranda Cosgrove, Jack McBrayer, Mindy Kaling, Jemaine Clement, Julie Andrews
Directed by Chris Renaud (animation department at Blue Sky Studios, “No Time for Nuts” short, upcoming The Lorax), Pierre Coffin; Written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (The Santa Clause 2, College Road Trip, Horton Hears a Who!, upcoming Hop and The Lorax)
Genre: Animation, Comedy
Rated PG
Tagline: “Superbad. Superdad.”
Plot Summary: The diabolical super-villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) has a plot to steal the moon, but to do so, he needs to get his hands on a shrink ray possessed by his arch-nemesis Vector (Jason Segel). To do so, he adopts three orphan girls with hopes they’ll get into Vector’s lair and get the shrink ray, but Gru suddenly finds himself falling for the little girls’ charm and having to act more like a father to them.

Mini-Review:

Analysis:

With Pixar’s Toy Story 3 having been in theaters for three weeks now and last week’s The Last Airbender receiving scathing reviews and bad word-of-mouth that should kill its second weekend, there’s presumably room for a new family-friendly animated movie. Along comes Universal who is not a studio who has had great success with animation, their last attempt being the holiday-released fantasy The Tale of Despereaux. This time, they have a movie that falls more into the realm of Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, DreamWorks Animation’s Monsters vs. Aliens or Disney’s Meet the Robinsons in that its central character is a supervillain and the movie is clearly trying to tap into an older geek audience as well as younger kids and their parents.

Despicable Me will mainly be trying to benefit from the abundance of comic talent, including a lot of Judd Apatow’s people, an odd dichotomy since most of them have appeared in R-rated movies, and there’s nothing to say any of their teen or older fans will have much interest in a kids’ movie.

First and foremost is Steve Carell, who got a big break when Apatow cast him in his first movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin shortly after the start the hit NBC sitcom “The Office.” Carell’s had a number of hits in recent years, but he’s also a regular voiceover actor in animated movies like Over the Hedge and Horton Hears a Who!. He also starred in Universal’s PG Evan Almighty, a sequel to the far-more-successful Jim Carrey movie Bruce Almighty in which Carell played a small part. Because of this previous success, Carell is really the biggest sell for the movie, and he’s appeared in various promos and probably will appear on some talk shows this week to support the movie even if this isn’t his best character.

Jason Segel has been part of Apatow’s crew going back to “Freaks and Geeks,” getting his big break when he co-starred in Knocked Up and then got his own starring vehicle Forgetting Sarah Marshall along with Russell Brand, who also provides a voice for this. Brand went on to star in that movie’s recent follow-up Get Him to the Greek, which has only done moderately well this summer. Both guys are doing the talk show rounds to help support the movie. Other voice roles include Danny McBride, Kristen Wiig, Jack MacBrayer (from “30 Rock”) and Mindy Kaling (from “The Office.”), with Wiig doing the most previous animation work before. Even with so many funny people providing voices, most of them tend to be better known for their R-rated movies and there’s nothing to say that any of the actor’s teen and older fans will have any interest in a kids’ movie. On the other hand, the biggest draw for girls–who normally might not be interested in a movie about a supervillain–is the presence of Miranda Cosgrove, the star of the popular Nickelodeon show “iCarly,” who has also been doing the rounds promoting the movie including an appearance at the MTV Movie Awards with Segel. Cosgrove is on her way to being the next Miley Cyrus, so having her in this movie is pretty big, although having Cyrus in Disney’s Bolt didn’t do much to help that movie do well against the first Twilight movie.

At this point, there have been so many computer-animated movies released in the past few years, they literally run the gamut of enormous blockbuster hits to absolute and total flops. Unfortunately, unless you’re a movie made by Pixar or DreamWorks Animation or Blue Sky Studios (makers of the “Ice Age” movies), you’re really taking a chance by spending a ton of money to make and market a computer-animated film, assuming it will do as well. Sony Animation Studios took some time to get off the ground, having had a summer bomb with Surf’s Up, not helped by the release of the Oscar-winning Happy Feet months earlier, but they rebounded and had a solid hit last year with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Warner Bros. had Happy Feet while Disney has had a couple of moderate CG-animated hits coming out of their own animation house. Universal only has The Tale of Despereaux under their belt in terms of 3D animation, though at least Despicable Me is closer in tone than hits by other studios.

As we’ve learned many times, just because a movie has a funny voice cast, that doesn’t necessarily mean a movie is funny, and Universal doesn’t seem to care much about even mentioning the former, instead focusing their marketing on the odd “Minions” of Gru, which have been everywhere for the last few months. It’s a smart move since the cute critters will be targeting the women and kids who’ll find them adorable. The older guys who are likely to find them annoying will probably be seeing Predators anyway. The trailers and commercials are funny enough, but they focus too much on these minions, who play a relatively small part in a movie that doesn’t really break new ground. Following after such strong animated films as Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon, this one really doesn’t stand out and it’s not likely to get overwhelmingly positive reviews, which would normally help a movie. Universal has also taken a cue from Pixar and other animation studios by putting these minions in commercials for Best Buy and IHOP (the latter being an odder choice knowing that Universal has another animated movie coming up that was once called “IHOP.”)

Universal could really use an animated hit because currently, they’re behind all the other major studios in terms of CG animation, except maybe Summit, and having this movie break out can go a long way toward getting more money to develop their animated films. (They have a couple in the works, including a Dr. Seuss adaptation.)

At this point, the fact that the movie is being released in 3D is almost a non-issue, because every animated movie seems to be, but the backlash on 3D has begun, and it’s doubtful people will want to pay for the high-priced tickets. Either way, there should certainly be a number of families with small kids who’ve already seen the other choices who’ll give this a look, but it certainly won’t seem like a priority for anyone, so it’ll probably end up in the lower-mid range for a computer animated movie.

Why I Should See It: This has a nice premise, a great voice cast and lots of those adorable (or annoying) minions.
Why Not: Toy Story 3 is a really hard act to follow for any animated movie.
Projections: $22 to 25 million opening weekend and roughly $75 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

The Kids Are All Right (Focus Features)
Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Mark Ruffalo
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko (Laurel Canyon, High Art); Written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Bluberg (The Girl Next Door, Keeping the Faith)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rated R
Tagline: “Nic and Jules had the perfect family, until they met the man who made it all possible.”
Plot Summary: Joni and Laser (Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson) are teenagers whose two lesbian mothers Nic and Jules (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore) had them via a sperm donor, but they’ve decided they want to find their biological father. He ends up being a slacker named Paul (Mark Ruffalo) who proceeds to disrupt the happy family.

Interview with Lisa Cholodenko

Interview with Josh Hutcherson (Coming Soon!)

Many movies premiered at the Sundance Film Festival with an enormous amount of buzz following their debut, with Lee Daniels’ Precious and Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow being two great examples, and the latest from Laurel Canyon director Lisa Cholodenko followed suit earlier this year. Fortunately, The Kids Are All Right is one that more than lives up to all the Sundance buzz and hype while showing Cholodenko achieving a new level as a filmmaker in terms of fine-tuning her writing and being able to bring the best out of a really phenomenal cast.

The first time you realize you’re watching something different is when the movie opens with two teen boys riding their bikes and horsing around to the tune of Vampire Weekend, making you think you’re watching a movie from a much younger/newer filmmaker, since it feels so foreign to Cholodenko’s previous work. One of those boys is Josh Hutcherson’s Laser, and we quickly meet his family including his two Moms, played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, two very different women who fell in love and have been together for two decades. When his sister Joni (Mia Wasikowska) turns 18, she decides to look for their sperm donor father, finding Mark Ruffalo’s Paul, who is nothing like they expect. The Moms aren’t into the idea of having an intruder into their happy family causing all sorts of strife.

While this probably isn’t the first movie involving a family with two women but no father or about sperm donors meeting their kids, it’s certainly one of the first movies that makes it such a central focal point. The movie is generally funny without really involving jokes, playing more off human behavior and the way people react when put into awkward situations. In this case, it’s how this modern family is suddenly thrown into disarray when a father figure finally enters the picture after years without one. Bening’s Nic immediately doesn’t like Paul’s laissez-faire attitude while Jules is a little more open to their kids wanting to know their birth father. There are so many layers the film is dealing with from the search for identity by Joni to a similar one by Moore’s character, who has long lived under Bening’s shadow, being the provider for the family. There’s also an underlying New Age hippy vibe to the entire movie in the way it’s set in an idyllic California suburb, one of the things the movie has in common with Laurel Canyon.

It’s hard to put into words just how “right” the movie feels, how well it captures the dynamics of the family relationships, but much of it comes down to what’s likely to be considered one of the strongest scripts this year. The note-perfect dialogue is brought to life by five brilliant performances, particularly Bening and Moore who constantly surprise and shock us in how far they’re willing to go for their craft. Bening recently killed it in her appearance in Rodrigo Garcia’s Mother and Child, a “Chosen One” a few months back, which also dealt with finding one’s parents though being far more serious, and she nails this one as well. Nic is a similarly stern character who clearly needs to ease up, which is why the free spirited nature of Julianne Moore’s character is one audiences will immediately embrace. Things get really interesting when she agrees to landscape Paul’s yard, and the movie starts getting into more humorous rom-com territory–even her Mexican gardener gets some funny lines–but one which eventually has deeper repercussions.

The first time I saw the movie at ShoWest, I was just riveted by the young actress playing Joni, not realizing until much later it was the same actress who played the lead in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Here she’s as emotive in everything she does as she was emotionless as Alice, making “Kids” just as much a showcase for this talented young Australian actress, who is in a similar place as Amanda Seyfried in terms of having the looks and the acting chops and just needing great material like this. Paul’s a similarly great role for Ruffalo, even if it doesn’t require him to break too far away from what he’s done so well in other movies. The movie doesn’t stay with one character long enough you ever lose interest. Although each character has their own arc, the movie also never feels like it’s unfocused, which is quite an achievement. Each character deals with something happening in their life, and then we see the family (either with or without Paul) dealing the results of a decision. By the last act, the humor has been tuned down and things get more serious, but it’s done in such a fluid way, that you barely will have noticed, because Cholodenko and her cast have pulled you so far into their lives, you’re hooked.

The only minor quibble I have with the movie is that some of the subplots involving the two kids and their friends go unresolved, and Paul’s last scene is really dark compared to earlier one; Cholodenko definitely didn’t go for a pat Hollywood ending, that’s for sure. In that sense, the movie is the inverse of a Noah Baumbach movie because you like all these characters so much and hope them the best even when they’re squabbling or getting into trouble. It exemplifies the marks of an indie classic when you love the characters enough to want to know more about them once it’s over. That’s certainly the case with this family and it’s clearly a step forward for Cholodenko as a filmmaker, a poignant human story deeply rooted in feelings we all can relate to even if we come from a more conventional family than this one.

Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right opens in New York, L.A., Chicago and San Francisco on Friday

Honorable Mention(s):

Also on Friday, the Film Society of Lincoln Center are running a film series called “The Complete Clint Eastwood”, which is exactly what it sounds like as the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s entire filmography is given the retrospective treatment by being screened at the Walter Reade Theater. And we do mean everything, from his Italian Westerns through his Dirty Harry movies, his Oscar-nominated and winning movies, and some of his more commercial fare like Space Cowboys. (They left out Pink Cadillac thankfully.) You can find out more about the line-up and how to get tickets at the Official Site. (If you have nothing else going on from July 9 through the 27th, you can see all 37 of Eastwood’s movies with a pass that costs just $129!)

Just a quick mention that Marshall Curry’s Racing Dreams (Hanover House) will finally be opening in New York City on Friday. You can read what I originally wrote about this here. Also you can read my Interview with Marshall Curry.

Also in Limited Release:

Daniel Alfredson directs The Girl Who Played With Fire (Music Box Films) based on Stieg Larsson’s second best-selling novel in the “Millennium Trilogy” as Millennium’s publisher Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) investigates the death of two reporters who were looking into a sex trafficking ring between Sweden and Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) has become the target of someone from her past, as her back history becomes entangled with Mikael’s investigation. It opens in select cities on Friday.

Mini-Review:

Spanish filmmakers Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza return to the virus-infected apartment building for REC 2 (Magnet) as an armed SWAT team are sent to investigate and suddenly get caught in the demonic happenings that has killed all the inhabitants of the building, hoping to contain the problem before it gets out to the rest of the world. It opens in select cities after a run on Video on Demand.

Mini-Review:

Ben Steinbauer’s comedic doc Winnebago Man (Kino Lorber) follows Jack Rebney, dubbed the “angriest man in the world” due to a series of outtakes from his sales video that involves angry tirades, a famous underground video that was shared via VHS long before YouTube. The director goes looking for Rebney to find out what happened to him. The doc opens in New York at the AMC Empire 25 and Landmark Sunshine Friday, then expands to L.A. on July 16 and other places after that.

The popular 1978 blockbuster musical returns to Rydell High as Grease Sing-A-Long (Paramount) will allow moviegoers to “follow the bouncing ball” as they watch the unlikely romance between greaser Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and good girl Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) flourish once again. It opens in select cities on Thursday.


Next week, Christopher Nolan’s anticipated sci-fi action-thriller Inception (Warner Bros.) explodes into theaters. Opening on Wednesday, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Disney) reunites Nicolas Cage with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Jon Turteltaub from the “National Treasure” movies.

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas