The Weekend Warrior: September 3 – 6

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: Not a lot of changes from the predictions earlier in the week although we think Machete will probably do a little bit better and it will be a tighter race between Going the Distance and George Clooney’s The American this weekend

1. Machete (20th Century Fox) – $17.3 million N/A (up .9 million)

2. Going the Distance (New Line/WB) – $15.1 million N/A (down .5 million)

3. The American (Focus Features) – $14.2 million N/A (up .6 million)

4. Takers (Screen Gems) – $12.3 million -40% (same)

5. The Last Exorcism (Lionsgate) – $10.0 million -53% (same)

6. The Expendables (Lionsgate) – $6.5 million -32% (Up .3 million)

7. Eat Pray Love (Sony) – $5.1 million -24% (same)

8. The Other Guys (Sony) – $4.5 million -29% (down .1 million)

9. Inception (Warner Bros.) – $4.0 million -18% (down .1 million)

10. Nanny McPhee Returns (Universal) – $3.7 million -24% (up .1 million)

Weekend Overview

It’s Labor Day weekend, the official end of the summer movie season and the last chance for people to catch the movies they have missed, although three R-rated movies will try their best to entice audiences away from returning fare or for some of the more desirable summertime activities like going to the beach, etc.

Most of the time, an action movie like Robert Rodriguez’s Machete (20th Century Fox) starring Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez and Robert De Niro would win Labor Day weekend, because it’s so much in the vein of what male moviegoers are looking for on the holiday weekend, but there’s just a good chance that Going the Distance (New Line/WB), a high concept romantic comedy starring real-life couple Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, will be able to successfully best it due to the bump it will get over the weekend from the women and date crowd.

Offering an alternative for older male moviegoers is Anton Corbijn’s espionage thriller The American (Focus Features) starring George Clooney as an assassin. The film is getting a wider release than most movies from Focus as well as a strong though somewhat minimal marketing campaign that focuses on the stylish visuals and genre, though it’s mainly relying on Clooney’s fanbase, which is notoriously fickle. Opening on Wednesday, it looks like a stronger choice for movie aficionados but will rely heavily on reviews, of which there are none as of this writing.

Either way, Machete will probably win Friday as Rodriguez’s most loyal fans flock out to see it, but will then quickly tail off as interest outside his fanbase will be minimal, and with the other two movies being promoted heavily, expect them to catch up, though probably not overtake it by weekend’s end.

Labor Day last year saw the release of three new movies, none of them able to surpass the 1-2 punch of The Final Destination and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, both which made roughly $15 million over the four-day weekend. That left third place for the long-delayed Sandra Bullock-Bradley Cooper rom-com All About Steve (20th Century Fox), which opened with $14 million despite being deemed one of the worst movies of the year by the Razzies. Gerard Butler starred in Neveldine and Taylor’s futuristic action flick Gamer (Lionsgate) which brought in $11.2 million over the weekend for fourth place. “Beavis and Butt-head” and “King of the Hill” creator Mike Judge returned with his fourth movie Extract (Miramax), which opened with $5.5 million over the four-day weekend. The Top 10 grossed $96 million, which this weekend probably won’t make even if one or two of the new movies break out.


THE BATTLE CRY

Now that the summer is almost over, it’s time to look towards the last quarter of the movie year, but unlike our summer box office preview, I just want to talk about some of the movies I’m looking forward to seeing in the next few months, because September and October tends to be when moviegoers just stop going to theaters, thinking there’s little worth their time now that the summer is over. Considering how many people were complaining about the summer’s offerings, it seems like an ideal time to find movies worth seeing, and there’s a regular treasure trove of movies from many great filmmakers.

The good news is that the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) and the New York Film Festival (NYFF) following shortly after will allow me to see many of the following movies earlier than their expected release date. (Yeah, sorry, folks, I’m just not the guy who cares either way about TRON: Legacy even though it’s likely to be one of the biggest movies of the holiday season.)

1. The Social Network (Sony – Oct. 1) – I’m in the process of reading Ben Mezrich’s novel “The Accidental Billionaires,” but David Fincher can do no wrong in my book and working from a script by Aaron Sorkin with a cast including the likes of Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield to tell their version of the Facebook story put this one my list of anticipated movies at the beginning of the year. As this edges closer with its premiere at the New York Film Festival next month, I’m just getting more and more excited, helped by one of the most fantastic trailers I’ve seen this year.

2. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight – Dec. 1) – Even though he hasn’t had the same level of commercial success, Darren Aronofsky is in the same ranks as Fincher in my book, and the thought of him doing a straight thriller and returning to his more stylish visuals after the simplicity of The Wrestler has made this one of my most anticipated movies since January. Aronofsky has another great cast including Natalie Portman and Vincent Cassel (star of this week’s “Chosen One”), and the trailer is one of the creepiest things I’ve seen since I first saw the trailer for Requiem for a Dream.

3. Due Date (Warner Bros. – Nov. 5) – As with most of the country, I totally loved The Hangover and the thought of that film’s breakout star Zach Galifianakis teaming with Robert Downey Jr. for a road comedy ala Planes, Trains and Automobiles sounds too good to be true, but trust us… the funny stuff we saw from the movie at ShoWest was better than a lot of the stuff they showed in the trailer. It’s just that it’s so filthy that they could never show it in a non-red band trailer.

4. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (20th Century Fox – Dec. 10) – If there is one thing I’m a true fanboy for then it’s for C.S. Lewis’ classic fantasy series and I’m so glad that the less than spectacular showing for Prince Caspian didn’t mean that Walden Media have killed off the movies, because I just love these stories and have been waiting for decades to see them brought to the screen. This one is in the more than capable hands of director Michael Apted, so I’m hoping that releasing it closer to the holidays will help it do bigger business so we can get the other three books.

5. 127 Hours (Fox Searchlight – Nov. 5) – Another favorite director is Danny Boyle, once again doing something different from what he’s done before, and really, with his first Oscar under his belt, he can really do whatever he wants. This one is a mountain climbing drama starring James Franco that sounds a bit like one of my favorite movies, Touching the Void, and it’s certainly something I’m looking forward to seeing as much as I do every previous movie from Boyle.

6. Biutiful (Roadside Attractions – Dec.) – Another favorite director is Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose 21 Grams was my #1 movie that year, and I’m looking forward to see what he does working with Javier Bardem. I really know very little (actually nothing) about the movie otherwise, but those two names alone will make this a priority to see at TIFF next month.

7. Another Year (Sony Pictures Classics – Dec. 29) and Tamara Drewe (Sony Pictures Classics – Oct. 8) – Two of my favorite British filmmakers will have new movies out this fall (and both playing at the upcoming festivals, to boot!). Mike Leigh’s last two movies–Vera Drake and Happy-Go-Lucky–were both in my Top 10 for the year and word is out from Cannes that Another Year is another classic. While Tamara Drewe may be staying in the lighter vein of Frears’ 2009 movie Cheri, it stars Britain’s sexiest actress Gemma Arterton wearing tight shorts, and that’s enough for me to want to see the movie, though the trailer makes it look like another fun and sexy romp.

8. It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Focus – Oct. 8) – With one of the best trailers I’ve seen this summer, I’m really looking forward to seeing what Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden do with something more comedic after Half Nelson and Sugar, the latter being one of the best movies of last year. The movie also stars Zach Galifianakis who just cracks me up with his odd comic delivery, so it makes me very happy to see him being let loose in two movies this season.

9. True Grit (Paramount – Dec. 25) – The Coen Brothers doing a Western starring Jeff Bridges? Yes, please! I don’t even care if this is being seen as a remake of the John Wayne classic, as I’m sure the Coens will make it their own, and the late December release makes me think Bridges may be up for an Oscar repeat.

10. The Town (Warner Bros. – Sept. 17) – Ben Affleck’s directorial debut Gone Baby Gone was surprising by how well it utilized his Boston hometown, and I expect this movie, adapted from Chuck Hogan’s book “Prince of Thieves,” to be a similarly gritty crime film that solidifies Affleck’s status as a filmmaker. Certainly doesn’t hurt to have Jeremy Renner and Rebecca Hall in the cast with him.

11. Let Me In (Overture – Oct. 1) – I loved the Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In from last year, because it had such a distinct look and feel, and I’m hoping that Matt Reeves and his fantastic cast including the always-great Richard Jenkins will be able to capture some of that to make this one of the more intriguing remakes of the year.

12. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (20th Century Fox – Sept. 24) – Oliver Stone makes a sequel to arguably one of his greatest films, bringing Michael Douglas along to reprise his iconic role of Gordon Gecko, and it looks like it could be an interesting take on the current economic situation with real-life couple Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan trying to keep up with Gecko’s Wall Street games. I have high hopes for this one.

13. Never Let Me Go (Fox Searchlight – Sept. 15) – I’ve known about Mark Romanek’s second film after 2002′s One Hour Photo for some time, but hadn’t really thought too much about it until I saw the trailer recently and was really blown away that it was very different from what I expected, but it has such a distinctive look and feel that I can’t imagine this film will disappoint.

14. Hereafter (Warner Bros.) – Clint Eastwood has been a bit hit or miss in recent years, but I’m always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and the thought of him doing a drama set in the world of ghosts and the dead makes me think this could be something very different for him. The fact that it’s based on a screenplay by Peter Morgan, one of the finest writers in the business in my opinion, is also promising.

15. Blue Valentine (Weinstein Co. – Dec. 31) – Heard great things about this from Sundance, as well as from the woman who cuts my hair, who apparently knows the producer and has been asking me for months if I’ve seen this yet. (She’s seen it twice!)

We have a couple fun guilty pleasure honorable mentions, two genre movies that I’m looking forward to over the next few months–Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil: Afterlife (Screen Gems – Sept. 10), which should be more cheesy action fun, and Robert Schwentke’s adaptation of the comic book Red (Summit – Oct. 15) with Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Karl Urban, which also looks like it could be fun.

Two movies that would normally be on my list of most anticipated, but which I’ve already seen, are the Sundance doc Catfish (Rogue Pictures – Sept. 17) and Tony Goldwyn’s drama Conviction (Fox Searchlight – Oct. 15), starring Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell.

So what movies are you looking forward to this fall? Now that the summer is over are you going into hibernation or do you think there’s some worthwhile stuff coming up in September and October and beyond?


Machete (20th Century Fox)
Starring Danny Trejo, Jessica Alba, Robert De Niro, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan, Cheech Marin, Jeff Fahey, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal
Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis (Rodriguez’s long-time editor); Written by Robert and Álvaro Rodriguez (Robert’s cousin)
Genre: Action
Rated R
Tagline: “A Pissed Off Mexican Out to Settle a Score”
Plot Summary: Three years after his wife and daughter were murdered by the druglord Torrez (Steven Seagal), the deadly Mexican Federale known as Machete (Danny Trejo) is working as a day laborer when he’s hired to assassinate the racist Texas Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro) in a plot to take down the network of illegal immigrants by the mysterious Shé. With the help of an immigration agent (Jessica Alba), a cook named Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), his preacher friend Padre (Cheech Marin) and a socialite named April (Lindsay Lohan), Machete must get to the bottom of the Senator’s plan to put up a fence separating the United States and Mexico.

Mini-Review: ’70s exploitation movies were certainly entertaining for what they were and more than worthy of being paid homage as well as being spoofed, which is why movies like “Black Dynamite” often don’t have to work too hard to get laughs. Robert Rodriguez’s own take on the B-movies of his youth is expanded from his “fake” trailer from “Grindhouse,” giving his long-time cohort Danny Trejo a chance to show his stuff as a leading man and an action star, as well as using the movie as a social commentary on the current stance against immigration within our government and how politicians use the topic as a way to get votes.

We meet Trejo’s Machete during his days as a Mexican Federale just before his wife and daughter are brutally murdered by a local druglord, played by a katana-wielding Steven Seagal. Three years later, a down-and-out Machete has crossed the border and is desperately looking for work when he’s given a suitcase of money to assassinate the racist Senator McLaughlin, played by Robert De Niro, essentially a set-up to make the Mexicans in Texas seem worse and back up the senator’s plan to put up an electrified fence on the border. Helping Machete enact his revenge are an immigration agent played by Jessica Alba and Luz, a taco slinger with a secret played by Michelle Rodriguez.

Anyone who has seen the indie “SherryBaby” knows that Danny Trejo is a solid actor and that Machete was perfectly-tailored towards his abilities similarly to El Mariachi was for Antonio Banderas. Trejo does a terrific job carrying the movie without having a ton of dialogue, and he’s only overshadowed by Robert De Niro’s hilarious caricature of a racist Texan Senator, a role that allows him to have a lot of fun without making it feel like he’s phoning it in. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast are either trying to create the B-movie level of acting from the movie’s ’70s references or they’re just bad actors, and unfortunately, it’s probably more the latter.

Jessica Alba looks nice but she really stinks up the movie whenever she tries to emote, while Rodriguez is generally pretty kick-ass in a role much better suited for her. Who knows if Lindsay Lohan will ever get back the magic that made her such a hot commodity over at Disney, but she certainly fits comfortably into the role of a drug-taking skank without having to put too much work into it. Former “Spy Kid” Daryl Sabara has not improved much with age either, though one thinks his ridiculous character is more intentional.

As with the movies that influenced Rodriguez, there’s absolutely nothing PC about “Machete,” so the racist bad guys don’t hold back with their racial slurs, almost to the point of going too far, even if they all get their comeuppance by the time the dust settles. Overall, “Machete” certainly has more than its share of fun moments, usually involving the grisly violence he subjects on his pursuers. The problem is that Rodriguez never fully decides whether to play the movie seriously or as a big joke, which leads to an erratic tone where some moments feel silly and out of place to others. Even so, it’s fun watching the filmmaker shoehorn actual scenes from the original trailer into the full-length movie in order to make the story work, although it’s obvious that only Trejo, Cheech Marin and Jeff Fahey are reprising their roles.

Other than the addition of a couple new characters and the starpower that comes with it, “Machete” never fully justifies its expanded status, nor does it feel like a movie that anyone’s going to relish beyond one viewing, successfully capturing the throwaway popcorn aesthetic of the movies that inspired it. Either way, it’s far more satisfying and effective than “The Expendables” and other action throwbacks this year. Rating: 6.5/10

Analysis:

A little over three years ago, Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and his long time pal Quentin Tarantino decided to glorify the B-movie grindhouse films they loved watching by making the anthology film Grindhouse. While it didn’t make waves at the box office, opening with just $11 million and grossing $25 million, it opened with the fake trailer for a movie called “Machete” featuring long-time Rodriguez collaborator Danny Trejo in the role of a Mexican killer trying to get justice for the wrongs committed against himself and his people. It was a funny trailer that perfectly set-up the tone of the three-hour pet project, but it was something that was really a part of the Grindhouse experience, and not something anyone took seriously as premise for a movie.

That is, except Rodriguez who made the trailer with the idea that it could be extended into a full-length feature, and he’s done just that, giving Danny Trejo his very first starring role in a movie. Trejo recently appeared in the Rodriguez-produced Predators, but he’s been appearing in the filmmaker’s movies going back to his breakout flick Desperado, which actually has a lot in common with Machete in terms of tone and direction.

For the most part, Rodriguez himself has been jumping between R-rated and PG-rated fare in recent years, but he hasn’t really had a big hit since teaming with Frank Miller for 2005′s Sin City, which may be why he’s decided to return to his $300 million “Spy Kids” franchise. For most of his fans, this will be a return to what he does best, and it will especially be embraced by the Hispanic and Latino audience who’ve helped Rodriguez’s rise to fame.

For the full-length movie, Rodriguez was able to add a lot more starpower to help his boy Trejo with his first starring role, including Jessica Alba, who previously appeared in a provocative role in Sin City, but whose only bigger success were the “Fantastic Four” movies. In case one hot Latina wasn’t enough, Rodriguez also got his namesake Michelle Rodriguez, who oddly has never worked with the filmmaker before; she seems perfectly suited to his wanton for tough Latina women, and she has done that quite perfectly in a couple “Fast and Furious” movies and James Cameron’s Avatar. The biggest name and “get” for the movie has to be Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro, who hasn’t often done a movie like this, but it’s similar to having Bruce Willis in his Grindhouse installment “Planet Terror,” as he’ll be a name/face that people know. De Niro recently found great success when he was teamed with Al Pacino for the tough guy crime-thriller Righteous Kill, which was proof that his fans want to see him in tougher roles, even if playing a racist Texas Senator is done more for comedic value.

Being a fan of all things pop culture, Rodriguez also got “Miami Vice” star Don Johnson in a key role, as well as using the movie as a vehicle for the long-awaited (?) return of action movie star Steven Seagal, who somehow wasn’t included in Sly Stallone’s The Expendables. It’s been nearly eight years since Seagal’s last action movie Half Past Dead, but it clearly showed a slowdown in his career following its predecessor Exit Wounds. The last “big name” in the movie has been in the news more for her partying activities, which makes it a strange choice for Lindsay Lohan to play a role where she’s a drug-taking slut who has gets naked. It’s doubtful any of Lohan’s old Disney fans or the ‘tween girls who used to dig her will be going to see this, though the older male pervs will certainly be intrigued.

The movie will likely appeal to the same audience as other summer movies like The Expendables or Predators but have a more limited audience, since even those who liked Grindhouse might see this movie as a joke. Fortunately, Rodriguez has that abundant Latino moviegoing audience on his side, and they’re very likely to support the movie big time over the holiday weekend, which should help it open better than Grindhouse. Even so, this isn’t the type of movie that has any sorts of long-term prospects, especially with a new “Resident Evil” movie opening next week.

Why I Should See It: Rodriguez has a very distinctive sense of humor that really comes out in his latest action flick.
Why Not: Considering how few people saw Grindhouse, why would they bother to see this?
Projections: $15 to 17 million opening weekend and roughly $32 million total.

COMPARISONS


Going the Distance (New Line/WB)
Starring Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Ron Livingston, Jim Gaffigan, Kelli Garner, Rob Riggle, Christina Applegate
Directed by Nanette Burstein (American Teen, The Kid Stays in the Picture); Written by Geoff LaTulippe
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: “A Comedy About Meeting Each Other Halfway”
Plot Summary: A summer fling between two individuals, Erin and Garrett (Drew Barrymore, Justin Long) shows there to be chemistry that they try to keep the relationship alive when Erin moves to San Francisco, but none of their friends want them to suffer the inevitable heartbreak of a long-distance romance.

Analysis:

Before last Labor Day when Sandra Bullock’s All About Steve did better over the holiday weekend than the other two new movies, you wouldn’t normally see a romantic comedy opening in the last weekend of summer. Part of this may have been that it’s the last long weekend until Thanksgiving where women that normally might go see this kind of movie are going on vacation, although those that don’t go anywhere certainly won’t have too many other movie choices.

This is a vehicle for the real-life couple of Drew Barrymore and Justin Long who last appeared together (sort of) in the hit ensemble romantic comedy He’s Just Not That Into You, which grossed an astounding $94 million thanks to its release just before Valentine’s Day 2008. Barrymore is no stranger to the romantic comedy genre, having had an even bigger hit when she was teamed with Adam Sandler four years earlier for 50 First Dates, which itself was a follow-up to The Wedding Singer six years earlier. The key is that Barrymore tends to be drawn to funny men and funny material, and though there are those who aren’t crazy about her rather minimal range, women generally can relate to her and most men wouldn’t kick her out of bed. (Okay, I just realized we’re talking about the little girl from E.T. the Extraterrestrial and successfully creeped myself out.) Either way, the pairing of real-life romantic couples has allowed for more than a few hits including Ashton Kutcher and the late Brittany Murphy’s Just Married and Angelina Jolie-Brad Pitt’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Although we probably won’t see this being one of Barrymore’s biggest hits, one would think that the $42 million of Fever Pitch or the $50 million of Music & Lyrics should be attainable with the only other movie in theaters targeting women being Julia Roberts’ Eat Pray Love.

Offering comedy support for the duo are Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis, the former of the cult show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” the latter from “Saturday Night Live,” as well as Rob Riggle, who had some funny scenes in Adam McKay’s The Other Guys. Since this is a comedy first and foremost, these guys should be offer the necessary laughs to help the movie be more than a “chick flick.”

Oddly, the film is directed by doc filmmaker Nanette Burstein, who received much recognition for her work on American Teen and The Kid Stays in the Picture, but one wouldn’t normally see doing a movie like this. Even odder is that while most romantic comedies go for a PG-13 rating to be able to bring in teen girls, this one is R-rated, New Line trying to replicate the success of their early R-rated comedy hit Wedding Crashers, although the R-rated comedy has seen better days as seen by the recent She’s Out of My League, an R-rated rom-com vehicle for Jay Baruchel, who doesn’t have nearly as much of an established rep as a box office star as Barrymore does.

Late summer isn’t normally a good time for a movie like this, but the movie is also an easy sell based on the cast and the premise of long-distance romances that every woman can easily understand, plus this doesn’t look like a complete chick flick, and the R-rated humor may help it be more of a date movie than other recent movies like Eat Pray Love. The biggest drawback facing the movie is that Warner Bros. is marketing it just like any other Drew Barrymore rom-com rather than focusing on the R-rated raunchiness of the humor, and unfortunately, it’s not likely critics will get behind the movie, which means it’s really relying on women to be drawn to the premise and the real-life romance behind it.

Why I Should See It: Drew Barrymore and Justin Long may be a cute couple, but this one is all about the comedic supporting cast, including Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis.
Why Not: The cute overload of Drew and Justin might quell any enjoyment of the humor.
Projections: $14 to 16 million opening weekend and roughly $40 million total.

COMPARISONS


The American (Focus Features)
Starring George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli
Directed by Anton Corbijn (Control); Written by Rowan Joffe (28 Weeks Later, upcoming Brighton Rock)
Genre: Suspense Thriller
Rated R
Plot Summary: After a mission goes wrong in Sweden, an assassin named Jack (George Clooney) hides himself away in Abruzzo mountains in the Italian countryside where he makes a friend with a local priest (Paolo Bonacelli), has an affair with a beautiful local woman (Violante Placido) and takes on a mission to build a weapon for a mystery contact.

Review

Analysis:

There are few actors who are considered bigger celebrities than George Clooney, so when he appears in a movie it’s a pretty big deal since he’s fairly selective. The American is Rowan Joffe’s adaptation of Martin Booth’s novel “A Very Private Gentleman,” which pairs Clooney with photographer Anton Corbijn, who turned many heads with his feature film debut Control about Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis. Working with Corbijn is another case of Clooney doing films with auteurs, although this one’s at least in a genre that has done solid business outside the arthouses.

Even so, this is all about Clooney whose career at the box office has continued to be erratic even as he continues to achieve more and more acclaim as an actor (and a humanitarian, for which he just received an Emmy). He’s generally been doing two movies a year, normally getting an Oscar nomination for one of them. Having already won an Oscar for Syriana, Clooney starred as the title character in Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton, which was nominated for a number of Oscars as well, and when Clooney reunited with the Coen Bros. and Brad Pitt for the comedy Burn After Reading, it ended up becoming one of Focus Features’ biggest movie openings to date. Last year, he got Oscar attention for his role in Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air< which became Clooney's biggest non-"Oceans" movie in roughly ten years. However you slice it, Clooney is a big enough name that Corbijn could cast mostly unknown Italian actors around him, which is exactly what he did.

The American is following in line with other slower-paced spy thrillers like Robert De Niro’s The Good Shepherd starring Clooney pal Matt Damon, and the spy thriller Breach, which opened with $10.5 million despite a moderate release into less than 1,500 theaters. (Both those movies were distributed by Universal, so it’s odd that this one is being released by Focus.) There’s also a clear precedent for a potentially artier adult thriller like this opening over Labor Day, which was the case when Focus opened Fernando Meirelles’ The Constant Gardener on the Wednesday before Labor Day weekend and Overture Pictures did the same thing a few years ago with Don Cheadle’s Traitor. The former grossed nearly $13 million in its first six days, while the latter made a few million less in roughly 2,000 theaters.

For whatever reason, Focus seem to be hiding this one, literally waiting until the last moment to screen the movie for critics, which is rarely a good sign of confidence in a project. It’s particularly odd for Focus, but obviously, they’re hoping the commercials and Clooney will sell this one themselves, because reviews are likely to be mixed at best. This is because the movie is in fact a slower artier film, more like an Italian film than an American summer spy thriller, which is what the commercials and trailer make it look like.

Optimistically, Focus are opening The American very wide into over 2,700 theaters, and though it’s opening on Wednesday, it’s not likely to do as much of its business until the holiday weekend when the older audience for the movie are off work for the long weekend, and won’t have a lot of direct competition for their attention.

Why I Should See It: Clooney has been very selective in the projects he’s done in recent years and seeing him playing an assassin certainly seems like something different for him.
Why Not: The lack of early screenings and reviews makes one dubious that this movie turned out as some hoped.
Projections: $5 to 6 million on Wednesday and Thursday and another $12 to 14 million over the four-day weekend on its way to roughly $35 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 (Music Box Films)
Starring Vincent Cassel, Ludivine Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric, Gérard Lanvin, Samuel Le Bihan, Olivier Gourmet
Directed by Jean-François Richet (Assault on Precinct 13); Written by Abel Raouf Dafri
Genre: Crime, Drama
Rated R
Tagline:
Plot Summary: The continuation of the story of French super-criminal Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) as he returns to France to face justice for his crimes and is declared “Public Enemy #1″ and sent to a maximum security prison where he meets his next criminal collaborator François Besse (Mathieu Amalric) as well as the lovely Sylvia Jeanjacquot (Ludivine Sagnier) with whom Mesrine proceeds to continue his crime spree.

Interview with Vincent Cassel

As mentioned last week, I enjoyed the second part of this French crime epic more than the first, partially because this second movie covers a smaller period of time and is therefore more focused in terms of its storytelling and style, allowing the performances to really shine. It’s hard to imagine Public Enemy #1 could possibly be the type of movie that can be watched as a standalone, since there’s so much background to why Mesrine does what he does in the first movie. With the two movies split, it actually gives one a chance to see the movies separately, and hopefully those who saw the first movie will make an effort to see the rest since Mesrine’s story gets much more interesting on his return to France.

As one would guess from the title, the French police are trying even harder to put a stop to his crime spree, and leading them is Olivier Gourmet’s Police Commissioner Broussard, who has an early encounter with Mesrine and swears he will either capture or kill him. By this time, Mesrine’s ego and hubris has gotten out of control and he continues to involve himself in more elaborate crimes following his second escape from a maximum security prison, this time with a clever accomplice whose criminal genius matches Mesrine’s own.

As I mentioned in last week’s column, Vincent Cassel’s amazing performance as the French master criminal is what makes this film such a memorable experience, and that’s even more true in Part 2, where he’s paired with actors who bring out the best in him, particularly Mathieu Amalric (Munich), one of France’s finest dramatic actors working today, and the sexy role played by Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool).

As much as Mesrine tends to get by on his charm and personality, his ego starts to get out of control the longer he goes without being caught, it finally getting the better of him when a reporter talks bad about him in a local rag, something Mesrine pays back by kidnapping and brutally beating the reporter. This is one of the moments when it’s hard to fully like Cassel’s character. It’s a real turning point for the viewer, because we’re finally made aware that this isn’t a man whose crimes we should be admiring as much as we have been. As many people that get shot or killed over the course of the two movies, the second part isn’t all serious with much of the fun coming from watching Cassel regularly changing his looks, as Mesrine becomes a master of disguise in order to escape the authorities, and not all of those looks are particularly flattering either.

Richet ends the movie exactly where it began with the fatal fate of Mesrine at the hands of Brussard and his men, but this time, it’s drawn out and expanded upon from the opening title sequence to create the most tension possible. It’s really the perfect climax to such a rich and lengthy story, solidifying what is clearly Richet and Cassel’s masterpiece, just a riveting story of a notorious criminal who keeps the viewer equally charmed and shocked by his actions. If Killer Instinct is their The Godfather then Public Enemy #1 is their The Godfather II.

Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 opens in select cities on Friday, while Part 1 of the story Killer Instinct should still be playing in many of the same theaters.

Also in Limited Release:

Sam Rockwell stars in James (Grace is Gone) Strouse’s The Winning Season (Lionsgate) as a divorced loser with drinking problems who agrees to coach a local girls’ high school basketball team for his friend, the principal (Rob Corddry), and has to learn to deal with their problem as well as his own. Also starring Emma Roberts, Rooney Mara and Shakira Epps, it opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Interview with Strouse and the Cast

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Chinese auteur Zhang Yimou remakes the Coen Brothers’ 1985 directorial debut Blood Simple as A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop (Sony Pictures Classics), a black comedy about the owner of a Chinese noodle shop who expects his wife is being unfaithful, so he bribes a police officer to kill her and her lover, a plan that completely backfires. It opens in New York and L.A.

Opening on Wednesday at the Film Forum, Paul and Sandra Fierlinger’s animated adaptation of J.R. Ackerley’s memoir My Dog Tulip (New Yorker Films) features the voice of Christopher Plummer as the unflappable author whose adventures with a new German shepherd leads to all sorts of life-changing experiences. It also features the voices of the late Lynn Redgrave and Isabella Rosselini.

MIni-Review (Coming Soon!)

South African filmmaker Jann Turner’s feature film debut, the romantic comedy White Wedding (Dada Films) is set in Cape Town where a woman is just days away from her perfect wedding except that her future husband is many miles away in Johannesburg, after going to meet a childhood friend who doesn’t show up. It opens Friday at the AMC Empire 25 and the Village East 7 in New York City.

Lixin Fan’s documentary Last Train Home (Zeitgeist Films) follows a couple who for twenty years have taken a long trip to their grueling factory jobs, leaving their two infant children behind, and years later, their teenager daughter starts to rebel against her parents’ annual trek. It opens in New York at

Max Manus (D Films) from directors Espen Sandberg, Joachim Roenning is the true story of one of World War II’s most famous saboteurs, who fights against the Germans occupying Norway, joining Gunnar Sonsteby’s Oslo Gang in their raids against German ships in the Oslo harbor. It opens at the Quad Cinema in New York on Friday, as does Elizabeth Lucas’ musical-drama Clear Blue Tuesday (CAVU Pictures) is one of those movies about New Yorkers who have interconnected lives, in this case in the days after September 11, 2001.

Lee Daniels produces and presents Sean Baker’s Prince of Broadway (Elephant Eye Films) about Lucky, a hustler working in New York’s fashion district, selling bootleg purses and sneakers, who finds himself having to take care of a young boy a former lover claims is his son. It opens at New York’s Angelika Cinemas.


Next week, Paul W.S. Anderson is back directing his popular video game franchise with Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil: Afterlife (Sony/Screen Gems), while Adam McKay and Will Ferrell produce the low-fi sex comedy The Virginity Hit (Sony).

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas

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