The Weekend Warrior: October 1 – 3

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.

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Updated Predictions and Comparisons -

UPDATE: Not a ton of changes although the presence of David Fincher’s The Social Network is fairly pervasive, and the bumped-up marketing for Case 39 both may adversely affect Matt Reeves’ Let Me In this weekend, although it should do well based on word-of-mouth after the fact. Meanwhile, The Social Network should be #1 with close to $30 million and we think The Town will do the unheard of and stay in third place.

1. The Social Network (Sony) – $29.2 million N/A (up 1.6 million)

2. Let Me In (Overture) – $11.6 million N/A (down 1.9 million)

3. The Town (Warner Bros.) – $10.1 million -35% (up .3 million and one place)

4. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (20th Century Fox) – $10.0 million -47% (up .2 million and one place)

5. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (Warner Bros.) – $9.8 million -39% (down .2 million and 2 places)

6. Easy A (Sony/Screen Gems) – $6.8 million -36% (up .3 million)

7. Case 39 (Paramount Vantage) – $5.6 million N/A (up 1.8 million and one plae)

8. You Again (Disney/Touchstone) – $4.7 million -44% (down 1 place)

9. Devil (Rogue Pictures) – $3.5 million -47% (same)

10. Resident Evil: Afterlife (Sony/Screen Gems) – $2.6 million -54% (own .3 million)

Weekend Overview

Following the fairly dismal showing for September–biggest opening was $26.5 million for Resident Evil: Afterlife–it’s down to October to save the pre-holiday fall box office. The best bet to do that is David Fincher’s highly-anticipated “Facebook movie” The Social Network (Sony), starring Jesse “Zombieland” Eisenberg, Andrew “Spider-Man” Garfield and Justin Timberlake. Oh, and it’s written by Aaron “The West Wing” Sorkin, a fact that has probably gotten a lot more attention in early rave reviews than anything else. The movie has a ton going for it (that we’ll discuss further in the analysis below) but certainly the combination of Fincher with a movie about one of the most popular social network websites around and hugely favorable reviews (including lots of Oscar buzz) will be enough to get a wide range of audiences out to see this even if for some, it will still be a hard sell until they hear from their friends it’s worth seeing.

Facing what may be an immovable object is Matt Reeves’ dark vampire thriller Let Me In (Overture), starring Chloe Moretz from Kick-Ass and Kodi Smit-McPhee from The Road, but it’s most-known star may in fact be Oscar-nominated actor Richard Jenkins (The Visitor). Yeah, it’s not exactly a cast that will be a huge draw for moviegoers, although the movie is being well-marketed based on its scares and word from various festivals where it’s played has been good enough to intrigue audiences beyond the horror crowd. Either way, opening in hundreds of fewer theaters and having a far more limited audience than The Social Network will leave it a distant second with potential to build upon that opening if word-of-mouth is good.

While first and second place seem sewn up, third place may be a bit trickier as two of last week’s returning movies and Ben Affleck’s hit crime-thriller The Town will be fighting it out for business with both that and the Wall Street sequel aiming for the same guys who would go see anything by Fincher.

After being shelved for nearly three years and having already been released in most other continents, Paramount Pictures is finally releasing Christian (Pandorum) Alvart’s thriller Case 39 (Paramount), starring Renée Zellwegger and Bradley Cooper, in the United States. Just to give you some idea how long this movie has been delayed, the actress playing the young girl in the movie, Jodelle Ferland, is now 30 years old. No, not really, but it certainly seems like this movie could have been released any time in the last three years, and it could have easily been given a limited release or whatever. Frankly, it’s not even worth our time to give this movie a full analysis because it has absolutely no purpose being released into the 2,000 theaters it’s getting, especially with the weak almost non-existent marketing it’s been given. At one point, we would think this would follow last week’s The Virginity Hit into the realm of the sub-$1000 per-theater averages, but the stronger presence and word-of-mouth from bootlegs–having been available elsewhere for the past year, pirated copies are readily available–should help it achieve the bottom of the Top 10 before quickly vanishing for good.

Quick Update: Two of next week’s wide releases are offering sneak previews in roughly 800 theaters on Saturday, the romantic comedy Life As We Know It (Warner Bros.) and Disney’s Secretariat, something to bear in mind if you’re not interested in any of the other choices.

This weekend last year began the tradition of Jesse Eisenberg having the number one movie of the first week of October–kind of like Will Smith and 4th of July–as Ruben Fleischer’s zombie comedy Zombieland (Sony), starring Eisenberg with Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, opened at #1 with $24.7 million, damn good for a movie that cost less than $24 million to make. Disney rereleased Toy Story and Toy Story 2 into roughly 1,700 digital 3D theaters where it grossed $12.5 million, averaging over $7,100 per site. The last two new wide releases, also opening in around 1.700 theaters was Ricky Gervais’ directorial debut The Invention of Lying (Warner Bros.), which took fourth place with $7 million, and Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It (Fox Searchlight), co-starring Ellen Page, which pretty much tanked with roughly $4.6 million for sixth place. The Top 10 grossed $87.5 million and the anticipation and demand for Fincher’s latest should help this weekend surpass last year’s October kick-off.

Sorry, still not enough time to do a “Battle Cry” this week.


The Social Network (Sony)
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Joe Mazzello, Rashida Jones, Rooney Mara, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Brenda Song
Directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Zodiac, Panic Room and more); Written by Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing,” upcoming Moneyball)
Genre: Drama
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.”
Plot Summary: At the age of 19, Harvard computer programmer Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) creates a program that allows Harvard students to communicate with each other in new ways. He calls the site “TheFacebook.com.” When Mark meets Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), things start to get serious, but Mark ends up alienating his best friend (and financier) Eduardo Savarin (Andrew Garfield) who later sues Mark, as does a pair of Harvard twins (Armie Hammer) who claim Mark stole their idea.

Review

Analysis:

Normally, September and October are months where studios release more adult-friendly fare and dramas with awards potential, but it’s still rare that a highly-anticipated movie from one of America’s most respected directors David Fincher would be getting released in early October. In that sense, The Social Network is an anomaly of the highest order because it’s just as serious a drama and it does have awards buzz, but it’s targeting a far younger audience of older teens to under-30s with its story of the young founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, who became a billionaire by the time he was 20 years old.

It’s a strange choice for Fincher following his highest-grossing movie, the Oscar-nominated fantasy flick The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which paired him for a third time with Brad Pitt and ended up grossing $127 million from a well-strategized holiday release. It was a strong comeback after Fincher’s previous movie Zodiac, his first movie in five years after the hit Panic Room, ended up grossing just $33 million. Although Fincher’s movies are generally well-received and adored by movie fans, his box office results in the fifteen years since his breakout hit Se7en have been so erratic with just as many misses as hits, so one may wonder how much his name is what gets people to see his movies (as opposed to the cast or premise).

Part of what got Fincher on board was the amazing script by Aaron Sorkin, the creator of “The West Wing,” which won the Emmy for Best Drama Series four years in a row. The Social Network is only Sorkin’s fifth produced screenplay, but it’s gotten a ton of praise even in a script stage, and early reviews have it pegged as the one to beat come awards season. In fact, it’s impossible to talk about the movie without talking about Sorkin’s inimitable dialogue. It doesn’t hurt that Zuckerberg’s story of how he created Facebook and the lawsuits that ensured is an interesting one, as seen by Ben Mezrich’s best-selling book “The Accidental Billionaires.” Mezrich’s last book to be adapted into a film was “Bringing Down the House,” which was turned into the hit movie 21 starring Kevin Spacey.

The star of their movie is Jesse Eisenberg, a young actor who has paid his dues in indie films and long-delayed movies like Wes Craven’s Cursed before breaking out in a big way last year, first with Greg Mottola’s Adventureland followed by Zombieland, a fairly low budget comedy from new director Ruben Fleischer, which broke out this same weekend last year to be one of last fall’s first surprise hits. Other than that, Eisenberg has mainly been doing indie films that haven’t gotten a ton of attention, although his performance in Fincher’s movie is already being heralded as a breakthrough for the young actor.

Possibly an even bigger draw is likely to be popstar-turned-actor Justin Timberlake, who hasn’t had the most success as a film star with his first movie Edison Force going straight to DVD and his most recent movie, The Open Road, not even making $20,000. The good thing about having Timberlake in the movie is that the young women who may be interested in the movie due to the Facebook connections will certainly be just as interested in seeing Timberlake in the movie.

The third and fourth parts of the acting equation are Andrew Garfield and Rooney Mara, as Mark Zuckerberg’s best (or only) friend Eduardo and his ex-girlfriend. What makes them interesting is that Garfield was recently hired to play Peter Parker and his alter-ego Spider-Man in Sony’s reboot, while Mara is starring in Fincher’s next movie, an English adaptation of the best-selling novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This immediately makes them very interesting actors to the millions of people who’ve read the respective source materials and will be interested to see what they have to offer.

There’s no denying that up until “Benjamin Button,” Fincher’s audience was primarily males who thrived on his dark visual style with Fight Club‘s success on DVD being pivotal to that fanbase. Just by the nature of the movie’s connections to Facebook, it’s going to appeal to younger people, probably 16 to 30, and the fact that movie scored a PG-13 rating means that the movie won’t be limited to how young an audience it can bring in. Similarly, older folks won’t be as immediately interested unless they’re already fans of Fincher’s work, since they’re not likely to be familiar with any of the actors or care much about Timberlake’s inclusion, not to mention not caring as much about Facebook as younger folks.

On the other hand, The Social Network is very likely to get nominated for Best Picture by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, and if you ask some, it may in fact be a frontrunner, not that that would have much effect on its opening weekend although with enough writers saying it, the movie might get more older moviegoers than it might have otherwise. That sort of awards attention could also help keep it in theaters a lot longer than it normally might and get a big bump in December as awards are announced.

Even so, The Social Network very much seems like a movie that will build slowly upon a strong opening weekend, similar to Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, which had a much stronger cast but opened with less than $27 million then built on that over the weeks to come to end up with $133 million by the time it won the Oscar for Best Picture. The Social Network is likely to follow a similar trajectory, but it should benefit greatly from online networks like Facebook and Twitter as young people who dig the movie will surely tell their friends.

Why I Should See It: The Social Network is looking like it could be Fincher’s best-reviewed movie in large part due to Aaron Sorkin’s script, and it’s really as good as everyone says. Plus the story of Mark Zuckerberg as depicted in the movie is fascinating stuff indeed.
Why Not: No reason. It’s a great film.
Projections: $27 to 29 million opening weekend and roughly $125 million total.

COMPARISONS


Let Me In (Overture)
Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas, Cara Buono, Sasha Barres
Written and Directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield)
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rated R
Tagline: “Innocence dies. Abby doesn’t.”
Plot Summary: 12-year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is regularly bullied by his classmates but when he meets his mysterious neighbor Abby (Chloe Moretz), he suddenly finds himself a new friend, not realizing that Abby is in fact a vampire whose “father” (Richard Jenkins) is a serial killer who regularly finds her fresh blood by preying on the local youth.

Video Interviews with Matt Reeves and Chloe Moretz (on Friday)

Review

Analysis:

Competing against The Social Network won’t be an easy task, but trying to attract some of the horror fans that may not be interested in a serious drama is the second movie from Matt Reeves, who exploded into Hollywood’s gaze in 2008 with the monster movie Cloverfield, which grossed $170 million worldwide based on a budget of just $25 million. For his next trick, Reeves adapted John Ajvide Lindqvist’s critically acclaimed novel “Let the Right One In,” which had already been adapted (by the author no less) into the critically-acclaimed Swedish thriller Let the Right One In. The story involves vampires and romance, but unlike “The Twilight Saga,” it involves younger kids and far more gore and violence than those tame movies. Certainly, there will be a lot of horror fans interested in seeing what Reeves does with the material, the movie already gaining solid reviews and word-of-mouth out of Toronto and Fantastic Fest, which will certainly help.

Playing the two kids in the movie are 14-year-old Kodi Smit-McPhee, who made his debut in The Road opposite Viggo Mortensen, and 13-year-old Chloe Moretz, who blew so many away with her performance as Hit Girl in Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass (which is conveniently on DVD already). These are both very talented young actors, who have received impressive critical acclaim for those previous roles. Even so, the best-known actor of the bunch is probably Richard Jenkins, who starred on the HBO show “Six Feet Under” and who has been a popular character actor for a number of years, but who finally got his deserved recognition when he starred in Tom McCarthy’s The Visitor and was nominated for an Oscar for it.

Hollywood remaking hit foreign horror films is nothing new, although normally, they’ve cast their gaze over to Asia, and having a Scandinavian film being redone in English isn’t nearly as common. Let Me In is not being marketed as a remake as much as a second adaptation of the popular Swedish novel, which ironically enough, is the same thing David Fincher is doing with his next movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Just for kicks, let’s see if you can name another Scandinavian thriller, not from Sweden, that received an American remake – we’re thinking of one in particular.) While most mainstream movie audiences won’t have generally seen the original source material, diehard movie buffs and horror fans will, so they may be eyeing this movie rather dubiously because of it.

Granted, there’s another horror movie opening this weekend, the long-delayed Case 39, but that’s not likely to generate much interest with its last-minute marketing campaign. The greater problem is that it’s opening against The Social Network, which has been fairly pervasive by comparison in terms of marketing. Fortunately, Overture has done well with their marketing of R-rated thrillers having a big hit last year with Law Abiding Citizen and earning a strong rep among horror fans with The Crazies earlier this year. In this case, they’ll probably be better off over the long run as word-of-mouth should help the movie against the long stream of horror movies being released in October.

Why I Should See It: The premise of young love between a boy and a vampire is strong enough to deliver two great films, and Reeves has done a bang-up job creating an American version of the story.
Why Not: Yeah, if you’ve seen the Swedish film Let the Right One In, then you’ve pretty much seen this movie as well.
Projections: $12 to 14 million opening weekend and roughly $42 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Freakonomics (Magnolia)
Starring Steven Levitt, Stephen Dubner
Directed by Alex Gibney, Morgan Spurlock, Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing, Eugene Jarecki, Seth Gordon
Genre: Documentary
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Six Rogue Filmmakers Explore the Hidden Side of Everything”
Plot Summary: Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s best-selling non-fiction book is brought to the big screen by a collection of some of the most reputable and award-winning documentary filmmakers.

My love for docs should be fairly renowned by anyone who has read this column, so my enjoyment of this movie should come as no surprise. Like many of the docs I enjoy, this one got me thinking about things I don’t normally think about, and in this case it’s about the often-vague subject of “economics” which is probably something I should have studied in school given my proclivity for trying to analyze the box office and what movies people may want to see.

The first time I even heard of Freakonomics was when it was announced as the Closing Night for this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. At that point, I honestly hadn’t even heard of the book by economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner on which it was based at that time, and all I knew was that some of my favorite doc filmmakers had been brought together to create an anthology adaptation of said book and that was enough for me. Masterminded by producer Chad Troutwine and King of Kong director Seth Gordon, Freakonomics is essentially an anthology of some of the most prominent documentary filmmakers working today, taking on material from the bestselling non-fiction book in their own distinctive way, while Gordon handles the interstitials used to tie the short docs together.

Like Levitt and Dubner’s book, which I’ve since read, the movie is quite enlightening, because it forces you to look at the world in a different way by asking unconventional questions and finding the data that allows one to question conventional wisdom. Very often, some so-called “expert” will tell us something on TV or on the internet and we immediately accept whatever they tell us as fact without taking a deeper look into the data. The concept of the book (and Levitt’s studies as an economist) revolves around how incentives are used to get the desired results both for good and bad, and how this very fact can often lead to crime and corruption. Experts often have their own reasons for taking one stance or another, for instance, and their incentives for taking that stance are often worth evaluating. Essentially, these theories can be used to explore many subjects I’m interested in as well as being applied to things I don’t care so much about, like parenting. It’s the way Levitt uses his brains to analyze data and figure out how the world really works, applying it to real estate and child psychology and other things we deal with on a regular basis, that makes Freakonomics intriguing as a concept, as a book and now as a movie.

(Personally, I would love to do a study that follows up on film tracking to find out how many people who claim to be “aware and definitely interested” in a movie actually pay to see it in theaters either opening weekend or ever, because I think that information would be useful to determine whether tracking is reliable. I think we’ve seen in recent weeks that it’s not.)

The film begins by introducing Levitt and Dubner, logically acting as the ersatz lynchpins to hold the film together, being that the ideas in the film come from their extensive work and analysis, and it proceeds to explore some of the key topics covered in the book via four short 20-minute films, each by a different director.

Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me and “30 Days” fame tackles “A Roshanda by Any Other Name” – actually the last chapter in the book but moved to the front of the film. It deals with parenting and how you name your child can determine whether they succeed in life or not. It’s classic Spurlock in terms of being light and entertaining, using man-on-the-street interviews and graphics in a similar way as his previous work, and it’s a great way to kick things off even if it might not be particularly clear how it may tie in with what’s to follow.

The incredibly prolific Alex Gibney somehow found time to tackle a segment on cheating called “Pure Corruption” which takes Levitt’s theories on cheating in the world of sumo wrestling and expands it into a criminal investigation on the Japanese police system. It’s certainly one of Gibney’s artier bits of filmmaking, combining the facts about how sumo wrestlers can cheat with dreamy visuals and an ambient score that’s very different from Gibney’s other films.

Eugene Jarecki, director of Why We Fight, takes on Levitt’s most controversial theories about the laws allowing abortion resulting from “Roe v Wade” being one of the biggest factors in the drop in crime during the ’90s. Narrated by Melvin van Peebles, it continues the serious nature of Gibney’s segment but also opens a lot of doors for discussion (and argument) on whether legalized abortion actually has merits that may not be immediately obvious to Pro-Lifers. Jarecki’s segment is more narrative and graphics-driven, rather than relying on interviews with regular people.

Batting clean-up is Jesus Camp helmers Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing with “Can a Ninth Grader be Bribed to Succeed?”, which is exactly what it sounds like, documenting a study by Levitt to determine if giving students a money incentive will be enough to convince them to get better grades. Following two students, one black, one white, it’s easily the most entertaining of the short films as well as the one that has no direct correlation in the book except to show how incentives can be used for certain results. It’s quite amusing to see how these ninth graders react to being able to get money for better grades, and there are quite a few funny moments watching how pumped one of the kids is about the possibilities.

Overall, the movie is just as fascinating as the book if a little more streamlined, Seth Gordon’s segments doing a brilliant job tying everything together even if there doesn’t seem to be as many obvious correlations between one topic and the next as there is in the book due to some of the material omitted from the film. (There’s a great chapter on the business of drug dealers, which is sadly absent from the film.) The changing tone from Spurlock’s short to Gibney’s, going from whimsical and poppy to deathly serious and arty in a matter of minutes, is also somewhat jarring. Even so, this is a really innovative way to explore a potentially boring subject like economics in a way that mass audiences can understand and appreciate, and one can easily see more of Levitt and Dubner’s work adapted to the screen, possibly by a different group of filmmakers.

While Freakonomics has already been available for the past month on various On-Demand outlets including iTunes, it’s getting a theatrical release in select cities on Friday, and it’s a fun movie to see with audience, especially Spurlock and Grady/Ewing’s segments, plus seeing it with friends allows for lots of discussions after watching the movie.

Magnolia just made available the first three minutes of the movie, which you can watch below:


Honorable Mention:

Barry Munday (Magnolia)
Starring Patrick Wilson, Judy Greer, Chloë Sevigny, Jean Smart, Cybill Shepherd, Shea Whigham, Missi Pyle
Written and directed by Chris D’Arienzo
Genre: Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: “It’s What’s Missing That Makes Them Complete”
Plot Summary: After ladies’ man Barry Munday (Patrick Wilson) is attacked in a movie theater by the father of one of his prospective conquests, he wakes up in the hospital missing both his testicles. When an awkward bookworm (Judy Greer) then files a paternity suit against Barry for getting her pregnant, though he doesn’t even remember having sex with her, he realizes this is the last chance for him to be a father. Before you can say “Knocked Up,” the two of them are trying to have a relationship for the sake of her unborn baby, as he tries to help her through the pregnancy.

Interview with Chris D’Arienzo and Patrick Wilson

Barry Munday opens in Los Angeles and San Francisco on Friday and hopefully it will open in other theaters after that.

Also in Limited Release:

Catherine Corsini’s drama Leaving (IFC Films) stars Kristin Scott Thomas as the wife of a doctor (Yvan Attal) living in the south of France who is willing to give up their family to be with the immigrant ex-convict Ivan (Sergi Lopez) after they get into a torrid affair. It opens in New York on Friday at the IFC Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

Adam Green’s horror sequel Hatchet II (Dark Sky Films) continues the legacy of the supernatural killer Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), the scourge of the Louisiana bayous, as Marybeth, the survivor of the first movie, this time played by Danielle Harris, swears to return and get vengeance on Crowley for killing her father and brother. It opens in 60 theaters nationwide, which apparently is a record for a movie not rated by the MPAA.

Drake Domenus’ Douchebag (Paladin) stars Andrew Dickler as Sam, who days before marrying Marguerite Moreau’s Steph goes on a road trip with his estranged brother Tom (Ben York Jones) to help him find the girl he liked in fifth grade to coerce him into inviting her to the wedding. Following its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, it opens in New York on Friday and in L.A. on October 8.

Donnie Yen stars in Wilson Yip’s Ip Man (Well Go USA, Variance Films), as Ip Man, the famous grandmaster of the Wing Chun style of kung fu made famous by Bruce Lee, who studied under him. Beginning during the occupation of China by Japan in the ’30s, Ip Man refuses to teach his style of fighting to the Japanese soldiers forcing him to fight for his country. The movie’s already available on DVD and Blu-Ray, but it’s getting an exclusive theatrical release at New York’s Cinema Village.

Adam Ross’ documentary Cash Crop (Sierra Films) takes a look at the Sonoma County region of California where medical marijuana is grown and is the region’s biggest cash crop. It opened last week at the Minor Theater in Arcata, CA on Friday and it opens in more cities on Friday.

Deon Taylor’s thriller Chain Letter (New Films International) stars Nikki Reed from “The Twilight Saga” as a high school senior who along with her group of friends start receiving a series of Email chain letters threatening that if they break the chain, they will lose a life, and they start being hunted down and killed by someone called “The Chain Man.” It opens in select cities.

Tony Chan and Wing Shya’s Hot Summer Days (Fox International Productions) tells seven stories based in Hong Kong during its hottest summer on record which gets sparks and emotions flying between various individuals. It opens in New York on Friday and in L.A. on October 8.


Next week, Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel take on Life As We Know It (Warner Bros.) and a baby to boot, though it might find itself in a horserace with Secretariat (Walt Disney Pictures) or with the return of Wes Craven with My Soul to Take (Rogue/Universal). Also, the Ryan Reynolds’ thriller Buried (Lionsgate) gets a wide release.

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas

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