The Weekend Warrior: October 22 – 24

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 -

1. Paranormal Activity 2 (Paramount) – $35.6 million N/A (up 1.8 million)

2. Jackass 3D (Paramount) – $22.5 million -55% (same)

3. RED (Summit) – $12.6 million -42% (up .1 million)

4. Hereafter (Warner Bros.) – $8.7 million +3500% (same)

5. The Social Network (Sony) – $7.0 million -32% (same)

6. Secretariat (Walt Disney) – $6.6 million -30% (up .1 million)

7. Life As We Know It (Warner Bros.) – $5.6 million -38% (up .1 million)

8. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (Warner Bros.) – $2.6 million -37% (down .1 million)

9. The Town (Warner Bros.) – $2.6 million -35% (same)

10. Easy A (Sony/Screen Gems) – $1.5 million -42% (down .1 million)

Weekend Overview

At any time during the year, there may be a sure thing that’s destined to make a lot of money and considering the success of its predecessor, the anticipated horror sequel Paranormal Activity 2 (Paramount) will get a lot of people, both young and old, into theaters this weekend to be freaked out once again by what can be done with a little bit of money and a whole bunch of home video cameras. Not a lot is known about the supernatural thriller sequel as it’s been wrapped in secrecy except for a trailer and a few leaked clips that promises moviegoers more freaky occurrences and scares. With a marketing campaign that’s pushing the Thursday midnight screenings, one can expect a lot of fans of the first movie to rush out to see this in its first 24 hours, which should allow Paramount a second #1 movie in a row.

Clint Eastwood’s own look at the afterlife in the supernatural drama Hereafter (Warner Bros.), starring Matt Damon and Bryce Dallas Howard, is opening in fewer theaters with less buzz, following a respectable but unspectacular platform release. It should bring in some of the same older fanbase Eastwood has had for some time, but it’s not a conventional movie with the two stars only appearing in a third of movie, and without a strong central figure like Morgan Freeman’s Mandela, we don’t think this one can even open as weakly as Eastwood’s previous film Invictus did, although it should benefit from the lack of similar fare.

This weekend last year, Paranormal Activity (Paramount) expanded into 1,945, and that was enough for it to pull the upset of the year, moving from #3 to #1 and winning the weekend with $21.1 million. That left the #2 spot for the sixth installment in the venerable horror franchise as Saw VI (Lionsgate) pretty much tanked with just $14 million, roughly half the opening of the previous three installments. Still, it did significantly better than the other three new movies which didn’t even make the Top 10 with the animated Astro Boy (Summit) bombing with $6.7 million in 3,000 theaters, but doing better than Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (Universal) which only opened with $6.3 million. It still fared better than the Hilary Swank biopic Amelia (Fox Searchlight) which opened outside the Top 10 with just $4 million. Still, the combination of Paranormal Activity and the other movies allowed the Top 10 to gross $100 million, an amount that may be hard to achieve even if Paranormal Activity 2 does better than expected, continuing this October being down from last year.


THE BATTLE CRY

Trying to get back on the horse doing more “Battle Cries” in slower weeks like this, especially after being so inundated with other work obligations over the last month that I feel this aspect of the column that’s suffered a bit, and I do want to make up for it in this final year.

Maybe it’s just because I’ve been reading “Freakonomics” (and its sequel) over the past few months that I’ve been thinking deeper thoughts about movies and the box office than ever before, so instead of answers this week, I just have a lot of questions. These aren’t new questions but ones that I’ve pondered for months and in fact, they’re questions that always go through my head whenever I’m writing analysis for the weekend box office. So without further ado, here are a bunch of questions; if you feel that you have any thoughts or answers, feel free to elaborate. Otherwise, these are some of the things I hope to address in some way, shape or form in the coming months (time permitting, of course), but if not I tried to include a few brief thoughts:

How many people who tell a tracking service they’re ‘definitely interested’ in seeing a movie actually go see that movie? How many of them go opening weekend? (Quick suggestion: Tracking really needs to ask some of the questions found in online polls like the ones at Box Office Mojo, as that would be a lot more telling on whether those who are being polled really are people who would go to see movies or they’re just saying what they think the polling person wants to hear.)

How much of a difference does a movie title make? (Quick answer: A LOT. In some cases, a title can be the make or break on a movie doing well, but this is a topic I want to get into more fully in a future column when I have a bit more data in front of me.)

How can two people of the same age, gender and background watch the exact same movie and have two differing opinions? (Quick answer: That’s what’s so great about all of us being individuals, that we all have different opinions!)

Why is it easier to keep quiet about your opinion on a movie and go along with public opinion on a movie even if you disagree with it? (Quick answer: Because it’s easier to agree than disagree.)

How and why do some critics become so biased against certain actors or directors they can’t judge a movie fairly? (No quick answers here, but it probably accounts for most of the bad reviews of last week’s Conviction and Hereafter in my humble opinion.)

Can the business of entertainment journalism (i.e. movie writing) withstand the influx of so many blogs? (Again, this is not an easy or quick answer so maybe that makes it something for a future “Battle Cry”?)

How has Twitter, Facebook and other social networks changed the face of box office prediction? (Quick answer: Obviously, there are sites who have found ways to analyze this data but they certainly give one immediate tracking data since there are so many people willing to voice their opinion on the internet.)

So has 3D already run its course or are moviegoers slowly figuring out the difference between good 3D and bad 3D? (Quick answer: I think it’s a combination of both and fortunately, studios are realizing that they have to put more effort into filming their movies in 3D or at least take the time to make sure the conversion is done right.)

Who do you think will be the next big director ala Neill Blomkamp? (Quick answer: I guess it depends on which of the directors of my favorite indie movies of 2010 make a studio movie.)

Who do you think will be the next big star? (Quick answer: There are a few actors like Alex Pettyfer and Logan Lerman who are just bubbling under, but I do think Andrew Garfield is destined for greatness and his role as “Spider-Man” should do it.)

What do you think will be the next movie craze ala vampires? (Quick answer: If I knew that, I’d be working at a movie studio or production company and not writing about these crazes after the fact.)

How can you go on after being so far off on Jackass 3D last week? (Quick answer: I still remember under-predicting the first Jackass by nearly half, so why should that change with 8 years more experience?)

Is there a foolproof way to predict the box office? (Quick answer: No.)


Paranormal Activity 2 (Paramount)
Starring Katie Featherston, Gabriel Johnson
Directed by Tod “Kip” Williams (The Door in the Floor); Written by Michael R. Perry (all television including “Millennium,” “The Guardian,” Persons Unknown” and “Stephen King’s Dead Zone”)
Genre: Horror, Drama
Rated R
Plot Summary: Scary things happen in a house and it’s all caught on camera.

Early Thoughts and an Interview with Tod Williams

Mini-Review: Whether you liked, loved or loathed Oren Peli’s low-budget supernatural thriller, there’s no denying its successor is quite an achievement in not only recreating what worked so well in the original movie but notching things up to create an even bigger impact.

Neither a prequel nor a sequel but a story that takes place concurrently, the film starts with a couple bringing their baby boy Hunter home from the hospital before we meet their extended family: a Latin nanny, a teen stepdaughter from the husband’s previous marriage, as well as a German Shepherd, who immediately becomes the baby’s protector. The film cuts ahead in time and when the family arrives home one day to find the place completely trashed, they hire a security company to install motion detector cameras, which is where the fun begins. With a combination of handheld cameras and the footage from these cameras, we see this family begin to experience some of the same weirdness surrounding Katie and Micah in the first movie, except that in this case, the family dynamics are added to the mix, so there are more opinions about what might be happening. The family nanny seems to be most clued into the spiritual and supernatural and what’s going on, which means, yeah, she’s gotta go.

Director Tod Williams does a great job maintaining what worked so well in the first movie, creating an even more voyeuristic experience for the audience with the professional camera system, but also knowing that those who saw the first movie will be expecting scares. In that sense, he creates more of a slowburn movie where the first few nights, not a lot happens, making you even more anxious as you wait for strange things to start happening. With that in mind, the scares range from eerie noises in other rooms to loud sudden crashes, a couple door slams, but most of the big shocks you certainly won’t see coming. Then on top of that, there seems to be more creepy goings on that are all caught on camera that we see but other family members don’t, which adds another layer of tension to the movie.

Those who’ve seen the first movie will certainly get more out of the movie since there are so many connections and throwbacks to the movie, including appearances by Katie and Micah. When the daughter and her boyfriend start playing with a Ouija board, you’re immediately reminded of the similar scene from the first movie and you expect the worst. The thing is that while one can understand the primal fear of not wanting a character to go into a basement, since it’s such a classic horror trope,when you’re so on edge that you don’t even want to see them hanging out in the kitchen, then you know that the movie is working. In that sense, it has a similar impact as Tobe Hooper’s “Poltergeist” in that you know something is coming but you never know what, and it constantly surprises and freaks you out even if you think you’re ready for it. It also builds to an impressive climax where all hell breaks loose with an epilogue that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Extremely effective as its own movie but even more enjoyable when it connects together with the original, “Paranormal Activity 2″ is a movie that will satisfy the fans while offering a lot more layers to those who weren’t able to buy into the hype the first time around. Rating: 8.5/10

Analysis:

There’s not a lot one can say about this sequel because really, there isn’t a lot we know about it, except that it’s the quickly-produced follow-up to last year’s most surprising hit movie, Oren Peli’s low-budget Paranormal Activity. After premiering at the Slamdance Film Festival, Peli’s movie was going to be remade by Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks but when they split from Paramount, the latter company thought, “Why not release the original movie?” And that’s what they did, doing special promo screenings and starting an online “Demand It!” campaign where people everywhere could request the movie in their city, and it slowly expanded based on those requests, building buzz until it was in 760 theatres where it averaged an explosive $25 thousand per site for a $19.6 million to take third place against two big studio releases. The following week, it doubled its theaters and took #1 away from Saw VI, ending a long running tradition for that franchise. (In fact, that film’s director was then going to direct this sequel but was contractually obligated to do Saw 3D. Despite any known stars and a shoestring budget, Paranormal Activity ended up bringing in $108 million and another $89 million internationally. It was a slamdunk in terms of marketing and distribution, something that opened a lot of eyes in Hollywood to what could be done with a movie that cost practically no money and get people excited about it using a variety of techniques, mostly focused on the internet.

Now with the sequel, Paramount are going for a far more conventional release into over 3,000 theaters straight off the bat, but continuing the viral marketing with short esoteric clips “leaked” on the internet in weeks leading up to the movie’s release. Otherwise, Paramount are keeping the movie very much under wraps, not doing any interviews or releasing anything about the plot or cast, the trailers essentially being a lot of quizzical stuff happening on those digital cameras scattered around a house.

Even taking this approach, there should be more than enough demand to see the movie from many of those who saw the original movie and a presumably short running time should allow a lot of screenings in every location, as well as roughly 160 IMAX digital screens. Many of the fans of the first movie will rush out to see it on Thursday at midnight, screenings that are being heavily advertised. With the explosive success of Jackass 3D last week, we expect Paranormal Activity 2 to follow-up with another big weekend but one that’s also similarly frontloaded to Friday though next week’s Halloween holiday should allow it to maintain decent business despite facing the “Saw” franchise once again.

Why I Should See It: The original movie was quite groundbreaking and the sequel should have some good scares, especially without nearly as much being known about it.
Why Not: Does anyone remember Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2? We do.
Projections: $33 to 36 million opening weekend and roughly $95 million total

No comparisons cause the only one of importance is the original movie.


Hereafter (Warner Bros.)
Starring Matt Damon, Cecile de France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Jay Mohr, Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by Clint Eastwood (WAY too many movies to mention all of them); Written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon and more)
Genre: Drama, Supernatural
Rated PG-13
Plot Summary: Three people whose lives have been touched by death try to get through their lives afterwards. George Lonegan (Matt Damon) has made a living as a psychic reaching out to dead loved ones of his clients, but he’s put that behind him while trying to create a normal life. French news reporter Marie (Cecile de France) suffered a near-death experience when she got caught in the tsunami in Thailand and tries to find answers about what she saw. Marcus is a London schoolboy who loses his direction when his twin brother Jacob is killed in a hit and run accident, sending him out to find answers about death and the afterlife as well.

Interview with Peter Morgan

Review

Analysis:

In 1971, Clint Eastwood directed his first movie Play Misty for Me, and now, nearly 39 years later, he’s releasing his 31st movie, which might not seem so amazing if you didn’t realize that Hereafter is Eastwood’s 10th movie since turning 70 in 2000. That’s nearly a third of his output as a director coming out in the past ten years with three of them being nominated for Oscars for Best Picture and Eastwood being nominated for director; 2004′s Million Dollar Baby won in both categories.

Eastwood is quite an amazing phenomenon no doubt, but as a filmmaker, his box office record has been incredibly spotty with giant war epics like Flags of Our Fathers failing to deliver at the box office and smaller personal movies like Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino both exceeding $100 million, the latter becoming Eastwood’s biggest box office hit with $148 million. What ties those movies together with previous hits Space Cowboys and Unforgiven, another Oscar winner? Clint Eastwood starred in them as well as directed.

Now, Hereafter, based on the screenplay by Oscar nominee Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon), is somewhat more unconventional than Eastwood’s previous films as it deals with death and the afterlife in a way more like Alejandro IƱarritu’s Babel, by being split into three separate stories, one of them set in London with two young non-actors and the second one mostly being in French.

The most obvious tie to Eastwood’s previous work is the return of Matt Damon, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role as a South African rugby coach in Eastwood’s last movie Invictus. While Damon is clearly one of the biggest box office star in the world, having headlined two blockbuster franchises, his interest in politics has led to his involvement in movies that have received critical accolades but lesser box office, including Invictus, Soderbergh’s The Informant before that and Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone earlier this year. None of these topped $40 million in comparison to previous politically-charged movies like Syriana and The Good Shepherd, both which reached $50 million due to awards buzz and holiday releases. Invictus was sold more based on Morgan Freeman as Mandela, a role he was destined to play, but Damon’s role in Hereafter as a psychic is not something as easy to sell to audiences going to the movies for entertainment.

The other American actor who is fairly well known is Bryce Dallas Howard who has appeared in two of the largest film franchises, both in their third installments, Spider-Man 3 and The Twilight Saga: The Eclipse, giving her two $300 million movies in her resume. In between, Ron Howard’s daughter appeared in McG’s Terminator Salvation and the indie The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, both forgotten fairly quickly, but clearly she’s come a long way since being M. Night Shyamalan’s big discovery for The Village and the follow-up Lady in the Water. The third actor in the equation whom may be familiar to some Americans, at least those who like foreign films is Cecile de France, who made her debut over here in Alexandre Aja’s High Tension, and appeared in the Disney bomb Around the World in 80 Days but mainly has been making a mark in France.

Hereafter opened in six theaters in three cities (NY, LA and Toronto) last weekend where it grossed roughly $230 thousand, which is slightly more than Million Dollar Baby did in its pre-Christmas platform. That movie, like Gran Torino, opened later in the season and was able to build up word-of-mouth over the holidays before expanding nationwide in January, while Hereafter is taking the Mystic River approach. That drama made nearly three times as much in its platform release, before expanding into roughly 1400 theaters for a wide opening of $10.4 million. That’s 800 theaters fewer theaters than Hereafter is getting this weekend, but it’s following a relatively weak opening in cities where an unconventional drama like this might do better business. Unfortunately, American audiences who normally enjoy Eastwood’s films may have an even harder time finding resonance in the segments in French or the one featuring a young unknown British lad.

While there isn’t a lot in theaters for older audiences that normally check out Eastwood’s movies, there is the action movie Red, which offers a lot more starpower and more entertainment value for one’s money, rather than a movie about death and mourning. Needless to say this is already a tough movie to market, and Warner Bros.’ decision to focus on the Damon segment and the film’s one big action scene, which involves the tsunami in Thailand, is a rather unhealthy way to advertise the movie since word will quickly get around that it’s a very different movie.

Sadly, this will be another underperformer for Eastwood just because it’s not really what Americans are looking for at the movies right now, and it just doesn’t have the critical backing to be considered for awards, which means it won’t be able to stay in theaters into the holidays and benefit as Mystic River was able to do.

Why I Should See It: This is a very different movie for Eastwood, but definitely one of his more character-driven films like Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River.
Why Not: If you’re going to see this movie for Matt Damon, two-thirds of you is going to be disappointed.
Projections: $7 to 9 million opening weekend and roughly $30 million total.

COMPARISONS


Limited Releases:

No “Chosen One” this week. The only limited releases I saw this week sucked and those were the following two…

Dermot Mulroney and Diane Kruger star in Baltasar (Jar City) Korkakur’s thriller Inhale (IFC Films) which takes a look at the criminal black market organ business in Mexico, into which the two parents get drawn while trying to find a suitable lung for their dying daughter Chloe after trying to find a donor through normal means.

Mini-Review: Who knows why anyone thought a retread of the Sundance drama “Trade,” replacing the Mexican sex trade with that of black market organs would make an interesting film, but apparently, it took an Icelandic filmmaker to bring all that corruption in Mexico involving illegal organs to light.

We meet Dermot Mulroney’s Paul Stanton, successful district attorney, as he’s already on his quest to save his daughter Chloe’s life, who is suffering from a debilitating lung disease that requires a double replacement lung. We then flashback to the most gratuitous sex scenes in recent memory with some commendable Diane Kruger nudity that’s rudely interrupted when we learn the couple’s daughter Chloe is dying and needs the operation fast. After a potential donor doesn’t work, the frustrated couple starts looking into alternative means of getting a lung, which involves tracking down a mysterious Dr. Novarro in Mexico who does illegal transplants. Along the way, Paul meets up with a young orphan who seems to be connected with everyone and agrees to help him for the right price.

The story essentially jumps back and forth in time from before Paul’s journey to find answers to the increasing roadblocks and problems he hits while in Mexico, something that doesn’t help matters, especially because the writing is fairly bland. There’s just so much about the central plot that just doesn’t work, such as why the couple’s doctor might even hint that the couple should look into illegal organ donors. What licensed physician would even suggest that?

You have to wonder how many actors they went through before arriving at Dermot Mulroney who is (as usual) so dry and flat and not even remotely believable as a father who would go to the lengths this one does to get a lung for his daughter. Over the course of the movie, he goes up against rough Mexican gangsters and sneaking into drug dens as the movie regularly tries to bring action into the mix to spice it up. It doesn’t work partially because, other than Kruger, it’s a fairly sub-standard cast, and it’s a shame Korkakur couldn’t better for his first American movie. It also doesn’t help that much of the movie is shot using a muted color palette used to differentiate the two timelines, but it’s quite distracting as is the overpowering score by James Newton Howard that does little to enhance the movie.

The last act, especially the last 20 minutes, is where things get pretty zany, as we learn where the black market organs come from forcing Paul has to make a tough decision, but it’s not a decision one could possibly imagine considering everything else he had gone through. Up until that last act, this is a fairly predictable TV drama at best, but it’s particularly disappointing following Korkakur’s exceptional Icelandic work, and it leaves you wondering what whoever financed this movie was inhaling. Rating: 4.5/10

TV stars Mark Feurstein, Melona Hardin, Wendie Malick and the WWE’s “Big Show” star in the comedy Knucklehead (Samuel Goldwyn/WWE Films) about a con-artist and boxing trainer (Feurstein) who creates a get-rich scheme by convincing a secluded giant named Walter Crunk (“Big Show”) to travel across the country entering fighting competitions in order to get money for Walter’s orphanage, accompanied by the church’s assigned chaperone (Hardin). It opens in select cities on Friday.

Mini-Review: WWE Films is back with a comedy that makes “Legendary” seem almost palatable, one that showcases wrestler Paul Wight also known as “The Big Show” in a different light than he normally comes off in the ring without taking him too far away from what he does best… which mind you, isn’t acting. You see, because Wight is such a big, imposing guy (7 feet, 445 pounds), it should be funny that he would be a bashful giant who doesn’t have a violent bone in his body and hasn’t been in the outside world in 35 years. Except that it isn’t, because Wight has so little charisma or credibility either as a comedian or as an actor that it falters right out of the gate.

Most of the humor in the first half involves his Walter Crunk getting into all sorts of trouble including burning down the kitchen which threatens the orphanage’s closure. It’s not surprising they agree to let bashful Walter to be trained by con man Eddie Sullivan (Mark Feuerstein) to fight in order to get the money they need to save the orphanage. From the moment you know that premise, you can pretty much predict where it’s going as it quickly turns into a road comedy with Eddie and Walter hitting the fight circuit along with the orphanage’s chaperone Mary, played by Melona Hardin.

Wight’s weakness as an actor leaves it up to Feurstein to keep the movie going, something that’s akin to bringing in a man with one leg to assist a quadriplegic. That said, he does okay with the weak material, and the same can’t be said about Hardin who is certainly slumming it. She doesn’t have quite the strong dramatic role that Patricia Clarkson got in “Legendary” though she seems game to go along with whatever is thrown her way. The rest of the cast doesn’t do much better with normally-funny Wendy Malick from “Just Shoot Me” going overboard as Sister Francesca, and Dennis Farina playing another stereotypical gangster that requires absolutely no extra effort for the paycheck.

Because the premise is so weak and predictable, the movie immediately resorts to gross-out bathroom humor to get laughs, but having that moronic low-brow humor in the first half give way to some sort of feel-good happy-ending type movie later just doesn’t work. While the Farrellys and Judd Apatow have often been successful at combining those two divergent elements, the directorial incompetence of Michael Watkins is quite evident. Apparently, the director was under the false impression he was making “Seabiscuit” here with an entirely inappropriate score that has sweeping strings playing over flatulence humor.

While the movie has a few merits compared to say “Marmaduke,” and that’s not saying much, it’s otherwise a waste of time even if you’re a fan of anyone involved. Essentially, “Knucklehead” is the perfect follow-up to “Jackass” if only because it’s equally moronic, although in this case, it’s not even remotely funny. Rating: 3.5/10

Frederick Wiseman’s doc Boxing Gym (Zipporah Films) looks at Lord’s Gym in Austin, TX which brings in a variety of people from different walks of life wanting to become boxers like the gym’s owner Richard Lord. Having premiered at SXSW and played as part of the recent New York Film Festival, it opens Friday in New York at the IFC Center.

James M. Hausler’s thriller Kalamity (Original 4 Releasing) stars Nick Stahl as Billy, a man who returns home to Northern Virginia after losing his girlfriend only to find that one of his old friends Stanley (Jonathan Jackson) has become unstable and withdrawn, drawing Billy into his friend’s frightening and violent world.

The Slamdance Film Festival award-winning comedy Punching the Clown (Vien Films LLC) stars Henry Phillips as a singer-songwriter who travels the country performing his songs but is close to rock bottom. When he decides to move to L.A., a case of mistaken identity gets him a record deal and sudden success and fame that may be fleeting. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinemas.

Daniel Millican’s family drama Rising Stars (Screen Media Ventures) has an all-star cast including Fisher Stevens an Barry Corbin in story about three teen musical acts in a fierce competition to create songs and music videos and how far they’ll go to achieve stardom. It opens Friday in Nashville, Tulsa and Grandville, Michigan.

The Taqwacores (Strand Releasing) is a drama by Eyad Zahar about Yusef, a first-generation Pakistani-American student who moves in with a bunch of Muslim punks in Buffalo, New York, who introduce him to the Muslim punk rock scene known as Taqwacore, causing Yusef to question the limits of his own faith. It opens in New York at the Village East Cineas on Friday and then in L.A. at the Laemmle Sunset 5 on November 12.


Next week, that other horror franchise tries to make a comeback as it concludes the series with Saw 3D (Lionsgate).

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas

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