The Weekend Warrior: August 27 – 29

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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, music, comic books and all sorts of random things.

Updated Predictions and Comparisons

UPDATE: We’re sticking to our guns on “Last Exorcism” winning the weekend but we’re going a bit higher on Takers and not cause the movie’s producer called us out on Twitter either. It just seems to have more buzz going into the weekend than we thought earlier in the week and figured we were a bit low in our earlier prediction.

1. The Last Exorcism (Lionsgate) – $17.3 million N/A (down .1 million)

2. Takers (Screen Gems) – $12.7 million N/A (up 3.1 million)

3. The Expendables (Lionsgate) – $8.9 million -48% (up .4 million)

4. Eat Pray Love (Sony) – $7.0 million -44% (up .4 million)

5. The Other Guys (Sony) – $6.0 million -41%

6. Lottery Ticket (Warner Bros.) – $6.0 million -45% (up .2 million)

7. Inception (Warner Bros.) – $5.4 million -30% (down .1 million)

8. Nanny McPhee Returns (Universal) – $5.2 million -38% (same)

9. Vampires Suck (20th Century Fox) – $4.9 million -59% (down .1 million)

10. The Switch (Miramax) – $4.8 million -43% (down .1 million)

Avatar: Special Edition (20th Century Fox) – $3.6 million N/A

Weekend Overview

It’s the last weekend of August and the summer has officially hit its lowest point. Going by last week’s poor showing for all five new movies with no movie making more than $16.5 million, there’s a good chance both of this week’s movies will be able to bring in enough business to take the top two spots.

Even though it doesn’t have the starpower of most summer movies, we think the subject matter and marketing for the indie horror movie The Last Exorcism (Lionsgate) will help it win the weekend over the crime-drama Takers (Screen Gems), which stars the likes of Paul Walker, Hayden Christensen, Idris Elba, rapper T.I. and Chris Brown. The latter will mainly be targeting teen and older guys, but the former has a chance at reaching a much wider audience as older moviegoers have been pivotal at helping movies like The Exorcism of Emily Rose big box office hits. Either way, we don’t expect either of these to be a huge breakout.

Hoping the lack of strong new movies at the end of the summer leaves things open for one of last year’s biggest blockbusters to make even MORE money, James Cameron’s Avatar (20th Century Fox) is being rereleased into over 700 IMAX and 3D theaters with nine extra minutes of footage that have yet to be seen. It probably will bring in roughly $2 to 3 million this weekend, which won’t be enough to get into the Top 10 and is literally a drop in the bucket of the over $700 million it grossed since opening last December.

This weekend last year was a showdown between two horror movies but the fourth (and then assumed to be “final”) installment of the franchise The Final Destination (New Line/WB) won the weekend with an astounding $27.4 million thanks to the addition of 3D. On the other hand, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (Dimension Films) failed to find the success of its predecessor two years earlier, grossing only $16.3 million for third place behind Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds in its second weekend. The Top 10 grossed $105.3 million and since neither of this week’s openers will do as well as those two movies, we expect this weekend to be down substantially before rebounding (hopefully) in September.


THE BATTLE CRY

The summer isn’t officially over until Labor Day weekend, but this seems like a perfectly fine time to look back at the last four months to see which movies released ended up working and which ended up tanking. Unfortunately, summer has become a bit overhyped as a place for the release of tentpole popcorn fare, which puts a lot of box office expectations on every movie released, as well as expectations both from critics and moviegoers. We know full well that just because a movie is released during the summer doesn’t mean it’s the best a studio, filmmaker or actor has to offer, but it is the time when kids are out of school and people are working shorter hours (at least on Friday) so one does expect there to be more casual moviegoing.

Even so, many people have opined that this was the worst summer ever, moviegoers generally feeling down about the summer offerings even if that didn’t necessarily hurt the box office overall or mean business was down from last year. Even so, six of the summer movies crossed the $200 million mark, which is the same number as last year, although only two further movies made more than $150 million, compared to five last year. One movie crossed the $400 million mark, another made more than $300 million and a third came close, and yet only seven of the summer’s top movies got into the Top 10 for the year, which means that there were three movies opening outside the summer season that did better business. This helps to disprove the theory that a movie has to be released in the summer to make money.

The Summer 2010 Box Office Chart

The winner for the summer is clearly Disney•Pixar’s Toy Story 3, directed by Lee Unkrich. The long-planned and delayed threequel to two of the first computer-animated family movies, the reunion of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen as Woody and Buzz Lightyear was enough to be the first and probably only movie of 2010 to bring in more than $400 million. It not only made more domestically than the previous two movies, but also more than every previous Pixar Animation movie and every animated movie PERIOD. In fact, it’s already in the Top 10 for domestic grosses of all time.

That left second place for Jon Favreau’s anticipated sequel Iron Man 2 (Paramount/Marvel) with Robert Downey Jr., which didn’t receive quite the raves of the original movie but still brought in $312 million, which is roughly $4 million less than the first movie. Likewise, despite opening on a Wednesday, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse continued to bring in large audiences of women of all ages, though it didn’t quite make the $300 million some expected. (UPDATE: We made an error earlier with our statement that it was $800k away from matching New Moon when in fact it’s currently $800k ahead.)

One of the main anticipated movies of the summer was Inception (Warner Bros.), Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to the record-setting The Dark Knight, and though it didn’t achieve quite the same numbers, it still wowed and intrigued audiences to the tune of $262 million to become the biggest non-sequel non-remake of the year. The sci-fi thriller opened at just the right time in mid-July to take advantage of audience’s desire for fresh, original ideas, something that has greatly helped other movies in the middle of summer.

As expected, summer was just as much about family movies and the next three highest grossing movies all benefited from their PG ratings. DreamWorks Animation’s fourth installment Shrek Forever After failed to find the success of the previous movies either opening weekend or in total, but still became the sixth highest-grossing movie of the summer with $237 million. One expects this will be the end of the franchise except possibly for the planned Puss in Boots spin-off movie. The big surprise of the summer had to be Universal’s computer-animated Despicable Me, which took formulas that worked well for DreamWorks and 20th Century Fox, and added an inescapable marketing campaign involving its adorable minions. Next thing you know, Universal is making the kind of money DreamWorks often does with a $56 million opening weekend and $237 million so far, which again could be attributed to audience’s desire for originality after a series of remakes and sequels. Of course, that didn’t hurt the summer’s other surprise family hit, the Jaden Smith-Jackie Chan remake of The Karate Kid (Sony), which opened with $55 million and ended up grossing almost $180 million over the summer.

Adam Sandler has often been a summer mainstay, but teaming with his long-time friends Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider helped his new movie Grown Ups (Sony) become his biggest hit since The Longest Yard and his third highest-grossing movies. Those last two movies helped Sony have a strong summer with five movies to open over $35 million in a row, and their third movie in the Top 10 was Angelina Jolie’s political thriller Salt, which recently crossed the $100 million mark. Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood (Universal) helped the filmmaker and frequent collaborator Russell Crowe have a mini-comeback as that also brought in $100 million.

While M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender was one of the Top 10 movies of the summer with $130 million and the third highest-grossing movie of his career, the backlash to the movie both from fans of the original cartoon and critics put Shyamalan in a bad place for trying to get another movie off the ground.

This was not Jerry Bruckheimer’s summer as both of his big-budget Disney movies failed to make back their money domestically with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time stalling out at $90 million and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, reuniting the team behind the successful “National Treasure,” topping out at just over $60 million. For the team who brought moviegoers the enormously successful “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise (which returns next summer), these numbers are just awful, especially considering that both of them probably cost at least twice that much to make.

As far as our own summer picks, we got the order of the Top 5 a little wrong, especially when it came to Toy Story vs. Iron Man 2 (which didn’t come close to the $400 million mark we expected) and Inception vs. Shrek Forever After, while Sex and the City 2, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Predators all failed to find the success we were expecting, none of them even grossing $100 million. Fox’s The A-Team also failed to make that mark despite a lot of anticipation for the television show being brought to the screen. Like far too many summer movies, it was quickly forgotten after the fans went out to see it. Sadly, one of the movies that just didn’t find an audience despite an abundance of marketing and hype was Universal’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which seems to have trouble even making the $30 million some once thought it could do its opening weekend. An even bigger bomb in terms of comic movies was Warner Bros.’ Jonah Hex, which sounded like a good idea with Oscar-nominated Josh Brolin in the lead role and sexy Megan Fox in a corset. While it wasn’t the best-known comic book character, some thought the Western genre was due for a comeback. But this wasn’t going to be it, as Jonah Hex grossed an embarrassing sum of $10.5 million based on a $50 million production budget. These last two hurt more because they were based on comic movies and with the weak opening for Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, it might mean studios are thinking twice before putting a lot of money into comic adaptations.

That pretty much sums up this summer, and already there are a lot of potentially big movies next summer that we’re already looking forward to for the summer of 2011, like Green Lantern and Thor and others.

And don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten the summer box office contest we staged at the beginning of the summer. We still have one more weekend of box office to include and then we’re headed right into the Toronto Film Festival, but we can expect the winners to be announced later in September unless I’m able to get it worked out sooner.


The Last Exorcism (Lionsgate)
Starring Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones
Directed by Daniel Stamm (A Necessary Death); Written by Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland (upcoming The Virginity Hit)
Genre: Horror
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Believe in Him.”
Plot Summary: The Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) has been staging fake exorcisms and taking the money from believers since he was a young lad, but when he brings a camera crew along for what he plans to be his last scam, he soon discovers that things are very different on the farm of Louis Sweetzer because his teen daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) may really be possessed by a demon.

Review (Coming Soon!)

Analysis:

Being the end of the summer, it’s often the only good time to get experimental and try something different, since most of the major studios are just dumping bad movies into the end of the summer to get rid of them. With Lionsgate having one of the biggest non-“Saw” non-Tyler Perry movies under their belt with Sly Stallone’s The Expendables, they’re in good shape to go back to basics, releasing a low-budget independently-produced horror movie, this one supervised by filmmaker Eli Roth, whose horror flick Hostel was a great start to 2006 for Lionsgate.

The Last Exorcism is the brainchild of screenwriters Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, who have created a niche for realistic mock-doc style movies in various genres, this being their first movie, which takes on a similar low-fi realism vibe as The Blair Witch Project or last year’s Paranormal Activity. Their next movie The Virginity Hit takes a similar approach to the raunchy teen sex comedy.

At first, it might be seen as a major drawback to have a cast made-up of complete unknowns, but in fact, not having name actors will help the realism of the premise, something that greatly helped both “Blair Witch” and “Paranormal,” because people actually believe they’re watching something real. Surprisingly, Lionsgate aren’t selling it as a real thing, but instead focusing on the creepy exorcism/possession bits that makes it look more like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which was a huge hit for Screen Gems roughly three years ago.

Movies like this tend to do well across the country, not only in big cities but also in the Bible Belt for some reason, maybe because they believe watching these movies will help them fight the Devil, who knows? The movie will benefit mainly from the easy-to-market genre and the lack of other strong movies in theaters with young people who’ve already seen The Expendables and last week’s Piranha 3D looking for something new to see, but also possibly appealing to older moviegoers who like to be scared but aren’t necessarily horror fans. Having the trailer in front of The Expendables certainly won’t hurt since people will already be aware of the movie when they look for something to see this weekend.

Why I Should See It: This is actually a strong independent take on the demonic possession genre with more than a few surprise twists.
Why Not: Haven’t we had enough exorcism movies already?
Projections: $16 to 18 million opening weekend and roughly $45 million total.

COMPARISONS


Takers (Screen Gems)
Starring Matt Dillon, Paul Walker, Idris Elba, Jay Hernandez, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Michael Ealy, Chris Brown, Hayden Christensen
Directed by John Luessenhop (Lockdown); Written by Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus, John Luessenhop, Avery Duff
Genre: Crime, Action
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Everyone’s after something”
Plot Summary: A group of bank robbers have the police baffled with their elaborate heists that leave no evidence behind, but when they plan on pulling their biggest job to date and end their criminal careers on a high, they’re thwarted by a tough detective (Matt Dillon) who must put them down once and for all.

Analysis:

Everybody loves a good heist movie, right? That’s certainly the mentality that went behind Screen Gems producing this crime-thriller that hopes to entice male moviegoers from the age of 15 to 30 with the combination of a cool young cast of known names and faces. The crime genre is one that has had a great deal of success in the hands of filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Michael Mann, but those are movies that are sold based on the vision of those auteurs, while Takers is one that’s sold on its premise and cast.

In that sense, Takers features an amazing cast of second and third stringers who have all appeared in their share of action movies and crime-dramas, but there’s no denying that Paul Walker and Hayden Christensen’s appearances in the “Fast and Furious” and “Star Wars” have made them both fairly well known among guys, even if their other movies outside those franchises haven’t done well. Christensen’s biggest success outside “Star Wars” was the action-adventure Jumper, which came out over two years ago, and since then he’s laid low, just appearing in one segment of the anthology New York, I Love You. Other than Jumper and George Lucas’ trilogy, he’s never been in a movie to make over $16 million, which is rather telling. While Paul Walker made a bit of a comeback by returning for Fast and Furious last year, Takers is the first other movie he’s made in four years, and it’s doubtful it will do much better than some of his other solo movies.

We do want to pay special attention to Britain’s Idris Elba, who really has established quite an impressive career of late. Already, he’s appeared in three big hits for Screen Gems, the holiday movie This Christmas, the horror remake Prom Night and the thriller Obsessed opposite Beyonce Knowles. He’s also been one of Joel Silver’s regular go-to guys appearing in The Reaping with Hilary Swank, Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla and the recent comic movie The Losers. Clearly, this is an African-American actor on the rise, having even starred in one of Tyler Perry’s early films, Daddy’s Little Girls.

Even so, the biggest draw for urban audiences will be the presence of rapper “T.I.” and R ‘n’ B singer Chris Brown, both of whom have had their share of problems with the law in recent years. T.I. previously appeared in the Atlanta-based ATL and American Gangster (with Elba), while Brown’s previous films including This Christmas (also with Elba) and the dance movie Stomp the Yard. At the time, Brown had a pretty strong pull with the ladies, though that may be gone, and it’s really up to the guys wanting to see the rapper in a movie genre they can appreciate. They do bring a good amount of street cred to the movie even if they’re a bit out of their league in terms of acting.

Screen Gems’ last attempt at this sort of movie was last year’s Armored, also starring Matt Dillon, directed by Nimrod Antal, and that movie barely made a mark despite a similar amount of marketing i.e. not much, but that opened in December, and Takers is opening in a fairly light period without a ton of strong competition, which should allow it to open better. Even so, this being the end of a summer that many have felt wasn’t that spectacular may convince moviegoers to just stay at home this weekend, because this certainly doesn’t look like the type of movie anyone would rush out to see.

Why I Should See It: With such a great cast in such a strong genre, how bad could this movie be? (That’s rhetorical. We won’t even answer it below.)
Why Not: This kind of movie rarely does huge business in theaters because it’s so hard to market it in a way that makes them stand out, and frankly, we’d prefer to see more crime movies like Animal Kingdom or this week’s “Chosen One.”
Projections: $12 to 14 million opening weekend and $33 million total. (UPDATE: We’re going a bit higher on this one, though we still don’t think it will make as much as the film’s producer thinks it will make.)

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Mesrine: Killer Instinct (Music Box Films)
Starring Vincent Cassel, Cecile de France, Gerard Depardieu, Roy Dupuis, Gilles Lellouche, Elena Anaya, Michel Duchaussoy, Myriam Boyer, Florence Thomassin
Directed by Jean-François Richet (Assault on Precinct 13); Written by Abel Raouf Dafri
Genre: Crime, Drama
Rated R
Plot Summary: After leaving the French army fighting in Algeria, Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) becomes a petty criminal, first staging simple break-ins, but getting involved with a mob boss named Guido (Gérard Depardieu) and in trouble with Arab pimps. Later, Mesrine starts holding more elaborate robberies along with a variety of partners, including the Bonnie to his Clyde, Jeanne Schneider (Cécile de France).

Video Interview with Vincent Cassel

I can’t tell you how excited I am that this two-part crime epic is finally being released in the United States, as I’ve been a fan since first seeing the two chapters at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival where Killer Instinct had its world premiere (and I was invited to a special preview of its sequel). Since then, I’ve seen both parts of the movie three times now, once as part of last year’s “Rendezvous with French Cinema” before everyone waited patiently for problems with original distributor with Senator Films to be revolved. I honestly can’t think of a better distributor than Music Box Films to finally release the movie, as they’ve had great hits with foreign films like Tell No One and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequel. After the film had been reconfigured to play as a single epic film, they’ve gone back to the way the films were released in France as two separate movies.

I definitely enjoy the second part of this story, out next week, more than the first half, but you really can’t enjoy that movie without knowing Mesrine’s background, which is where Killer Instinct comes in, covering the first 14 or 15 years following Mesrine’s dismissal from the French Army.

The film starts with a rather drawn-out title sequence that shows the lead-up to the end of Mesrine’s story, but the split-screens give a nice tease to the stylish nature of the first film with director Jean-Francois Richet getting experimental. The movie then jumps back to France during the ’60s following Mesrine’s time in the Battle of Algiers, and he quickly gets involved in petty crimes to make ends meet.

Mesrine is clearly a ladies’ man, seducing a pretty local he meets while traveling in Spain, but then marrying the woman, Elena, who becomes the mother of his kids. Mesrine is not one to be tied down and he’s out every night, getting involved with a prostitute that gets him into trouble with her Arab pimp. Mesrine also falls foul of his wife’s fiery Latin temper that causes her to leave when it’s clear he won’t be giving up his criminal ways. The movie really picks up when Mesrine meets Jeanne Schneider, played by Cécile de France, their scenes offering the type of fun inspired by Bonnie and Clyde, until they make the mistake of kidnapping a billionaire who isn’t planning on paying them off. By the third act, they’ve escaped to Montreal, but it’s not long before he’s back committing bank robberies and they’re caught, and he and his new partner Jean-Paul (played by Roy Dupuis) are captured and thrown into high-security prison. While the prison scenes may not be as dramatic as Une Prophete, they do a good job showing the awful conditions that drive Mesrine to get involved in the fight for fair treatment of prisoners later on in life.

Although Mesrine’s motivations seem to be driven by arrogance, he’s actually an incredibly complex character, which is why having an actor of Cassel’s caliber portraying him is key to making both the character and movie work so well. His charm and charisma drive the entire film, though we’re not given the full range of his amazing performance in this first movie nor do we really get the full degree of the brazen criminal acts committed by Mesrine that made him such a popular underground icon in France for decades to come. We do get to see Gerard Depardieu doing his best “Godfather” impression, as he is one of many great French actors surrounding Cassel who are clearly having fun playing criminals.

Killer Instinct covers a lot of ground, which is also part of why it sometimes falters, because it does change tone every 20 minutes or so, and it ultimately turns into an action movie with gunfire and exploding vehicles as Mesrine makes his daring escape from the Montreal prison. It’s very different from the earlier parts of the film, but it also builds a momentum that quickly comes to an end leaving you wanting more. It’s not a particularly satisfying way to end the first movie after everything that’s happened, which is one reason why the two movies may still be best viewed in one sitting or with a short gap in-between. Regardless of whether the first part leaves you at a point where you’re ready for the two hours plus that is yet to come, you absolutely MUST see the sequel, because it’s an absolutely amazing film in its own right. But we’ll discuss that in Part 2 of this two-part “Chosen One” in next week’s “Weekend Warrior.”

Killer Instinct opens in New York and L.A. on Friday, and then the second part of the story Public Enemy #1 opens on September 3.

Also in Limited Release:

Neil Marshall’s latest movie Centurion (Magnet Labs) stars Michael Fassbender as Quintus, a Roman Centurion who survives a raid by the local savages, the Picts, only to be sent on the run with the motley band of the Ninth Legion pursued by more Picts who plan on rubbing the Romans out completely. It opens in select cities following its run on Video on Demand, XBox Live, etc.

Interview with Neil Marshall

Mini-Review

Filmmaker Dana Brown (Step Into Liquid) is back with his latest surfing doc Highwater (Outsider Pictures) covering the annual 7 Mile Miracle on the North Shore of Oahu, a 55-day test for some of the world’s greatest surfers who convene for the last surfing competition of the year. It opens in New York and Hawaii on Friday.

The Oscar-nominated Peruvian drama The Milk of Sorrow (Olive Films) by Claudia Llosa is about a woman who suffers from an illness transmitted via mother’s milk by women who were violated during the war, and after her mother dies, she has to confront her own fears. It opens in New York at the Cinema Village on Friday and then in L.A. on September 3.

French filmmaker Danièle Thompson (Queen Margo, Avenue Montaigne) and her co-writer son Christopher return with Change of Plans (IFC Plans) revolving around a group of individuals who meet for a dinner party where they talk about their lives with hopes of repeating the night a year later, even though everything in their lives change due to the frank dinner conversations. It opens in New York at the IFC Film Center.

Michael Franco’s Mexican drama Daniel and Ana (Strand Releasing) are about a brother and sister at crosspoints in their lives, Ana about to be married and her teenage brother discovering his own sexual identity, when they’re kidnapped and forced “to engage in an unforgettable act for their freedom.” I can only imagine what that might be, because I doubt I’ll be seeing this.

The Deagol Brothers’ Make-Out with Violence (Factory 25) is the story of twin brothers whose friend Wendy (Shellie Marie Shartzer) has gone missing, but when they find her animated corpse in the countryside, they try to bring her back home to resume a life of normalcy. It opens at Brooklyn’s ReRun Gastropub Theater

Dan Pritzker’s Louis (Dipperflicks) is a silent film about Louis Armstrong as a 6-year-old boy (played by Anthony Coleman), filmed by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond using the styles of old silent films, as it shows the boy navigating the city with dreams of playing the trumpet. Like Guy Maddin’s Brand Upon the Brain!, the silent film is played with a live performance by a 10-piece orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis and Cecile Licad. Its first performance is in Chicago on Wednesday, followed by Detroit on Thursday, Bethesda, MD on Saturday, New York on August 30 and then Philadelphia on August 31. You find out more information and get tickets on the Official Site.

Nagesh Kukunoor’s Aashayein (Wishes) (Reliance BIG Pictures) stars John Abraham as an unlucky gambler who risks everything on a race horse that ends up winning, only to discover that he has cancer with only 90 days to live. It opens in select cities on Friday.


Next week, the month of September kicks off with the official end of summer, Labor Day weekend! The undeniable starpower of Danny Trejo in Machete (20th Century Fox) takes on the relative unknown George Clooney in The American (Focus), while Drew Barrymore and Justin Long are Going the Distance (Warner Bros.).

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas

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