The Weekend Warrior: November 12 – 14

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Greetings and welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly guide to the weekend’s new movies. Tune in every Tuesday for the latest look at the upcoming weekend, and then check back on Thursday night for final projections based on actual theatre counts.

Just want to give a quick shout-out that Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is out on DVD and Blu-ray today (November 9). If you were one of the people who decided not to bother seeing it in theaters, than make sure you check it out on DVD or Blu-ray, because it’s a lot of fun and one of the most unique mixes of action, comedy and romance you’re likely to see this year or maybe ever.

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 much change except that after a lot of pondering, we’re going to put the Denzel Washington-Tony Scott movie ahead for the weekend even if Skyline is likely to win Friday. Paramount’s comedy Morning Glory made just a little over a million on Wednesday, and though we think word-of-mouth will pick up by the weekend with it being 57% Fresh on RottenTomatoes (right on the bubble between Fresh/Rotten).

1. Megamind (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $27.0 million -42% (same)

2. Unstoppable (20th Century Fox) – $23.2 million N/A (up 1.2 million)

3. Skyline (Rogue/Universal) – $21.5 million N/A (down 1.3 million)

4. Due Date (Warner Bros.) – $17.5 million -47% (same)

5. Morning Glory (Paramount) – $11.3 million N/A (down 2 million)

6. For Colored Girls (Lionsgate) – $10.3 million -45% (same)

7. RED (Summit) – $7.0 million -25% (same)

8. Paranormal Activity 2 (Paramount) – $3.2 million -55% (Same)

9. Saw 3D (Lionsgate) – $3.1 million -60% (down .3 million and one spot)

10. Secretariat (Disney) $3.0 million -24% (down .1 million)

Weekend Overview

While there’s a good chance DreamWorks Animation will pull a two-fer and stay in the top spot this weekend, three other movies will try to dethrone it with two of them standing the best chance at second place, one starring a bonafide box office star and one being sold entirely on its cool premise and FX. This weekend will be a good litmus test for whether or not starpower matters especially if the low-budget sci-fi flick Skyline (Rogue/Universal) ends up beating Denzel Washington’s fifth teaming with director Tony Scott for the action drama Unstoppable (20th Century Fox), co-starring Chris Pine.

Certainly the premise of an alien invasion is an easier sell than a movie about a runaway train full of flammable chemicals, although one can’t deny that Denzel’s amazing starpower has helped him get hits out of far more unconventional fare, particularly with Tony Scott. (Anyone remember Déjà Vu?) This is the duo’s second November release (Anyone remember Déjà Vu?) following the moderate showing for their summer 2009 remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, and this will be a good test to see if audiences still want to see Denzel as an “everyman” as he was in Nick Cassavetes’ John Q back in 2002. Teaming Denzel with the hot younger actor Chris Pine, Unstoppable promises to have just as much action as Skyline though a little more based in reality–but just a little–although we think that younger audiences looking for something to see with their friends on Friday night and over the weekend will pick Skyline while the over-20 set may go with Unstoppable, essentially splitting the audiences between the two movies. Either way, Skyline should win Friday and then tail off over the weekend to allow Unstoppable to catch up and Megamind to overtake both of them.

Opening on Wednesday, the comedy Morning Glory (Paramount), starring Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton, pokes fun at something that the film’s potential female audience is likely to know well–network morning talk shows–and the great cast and funny commercials should make that a first choice for them over the two action movies, although we expect this one to open moderately and stick around for a while as word-of-mouth brings in audiences leading up to the Thanksgiving weekend.

This weekend last year saw the release of Roland Emmerich’s latest attempt to destroy the world, 2012 (Sony), which scored $65.2 million in 3,404 theaters its opening weekend. It became the eighth-highest opening for a November release, third if you remove all the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” movies that had been released during the month. Also Richard Curtis’ musical-comedy Pirate Radio (Focus Features) was given a wide release into roughly 900 theaters but it wasn’t even able to get into the Top 10 with just $2.9 million, a disappointing per theater average of roughly $3,200 per site.


Skyline (Rogue/Universal)
Starring Eric Balfour, Donald Faison, Scottie Thompson, Brittany Daniel, David Zayas
Directed by Greg and Colin Strause (Aliens vs. Predators: Requiem); Written by Joshua Cordes, Liam O’Donnell (writing debut of two visual FX guys from the Strause’s company Hydraulx)
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Don’t look up.”
Plot Summary: When Jarrod and Elaine (Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson) go to Los Angeles to visit his best friend Terry (Donald Faison) for his birthday, they end up being woken up by a bright light outside Terry’s apartment building, light that’s pulling people into the sky and swallowing them up, as the prelude to an alien invasion of earth.

Analysis:

Ever since the overwhelming success of The Blair Witch Project, filmmakers have tried to make low-budget movies that could find a big audience by creating buzz from a variety of alternate methods, and in recent years, studios have begun to learn that it’s not the pricetag of a movie that matters or starpower as much as having a good marketable story. Two such movies came out in 2009, Oren Peli’s haunted house flick Paranormal Activity and the significantly more expensive South African alien invasion flick District 9, both which grossed over $100 million, and one can probably look to either one of those as a possible influence for Skyline.

Skyline seemingly came out of nowhere, picked up by Rogue and Relativity at Cannes and given a November release date just before San Diego Comic-Con, where people first got a look at the amazing scope of the relatively inexpensive film. In fact, the movie was the brainstorm of filmmakers Greg and Colin Strause, who directed the sci-fi sequel Aliens vs. Predators: Requiem, as they made the movie for roughly $10 million at their own FX House, Hydraulx, which has worked on many big studio FX movies.

Following Comic-Con, there was a bit of controversy (and a lawsuit, which has been settled) involving the similarities between Skyline and Sony’s own upcoming alien invasion movie Battle: Los Angeles on which the Strause Brothers’ FX company worked, but it got resolved. It’s still a little odd that two L.A.-based alien invasion movies are coming out so soon after one another and one wonders if Skyline might step on the latter’s toes. (Don’t even get me started on how many alien invasion movies are coming out in 2011!)

Although many of these low-budget movies have gone with no-name non-actors who couldn’t really bring anything to the table in terms of bringing audiences into theaters, the Strause Brothers hired actors who may be somewhat known at least for their TV work. The main star is Eric Balfour, formerly of “Six Feet Under,” who starred in the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and his girlfriend is played by Scottie Thompson, who had a small role in Star Trek. Actor Donald Faison from “Scrubs” may be the most experienced of the actors, and it also stars David Zayas from “Oz” and “Dexter” who has appeared in movies such as 16 Blocks.

Granted, there really is no one in the cast who might be a draw but we can see from the success of District 9 and Paranormal Activity that if you have a cool concept and it’s marketed well, your film can do better than anyone could possibly expect. Skyline benefits from the fact it’s in a science fiction genre that’s proven very popular at the box office, the alien invasion movie, a genre which had its heyday during the ’50s and achieved a new level of popularity with Roland Emmerich’s blockbuster Independence Day, which grossed $306 million domestically.

Wisely, the commercials are making the movie look a lot like District 9, which will immediately interest most guys 15 and older, and while the new Denzel Washington action movie Unstoppable may be seen as direct competition for that crowd, the idea of a runaway train just doesn’t look or sound as exciting as an alien invasion movie.

Universal aren’t screening the movie in advance for critics or press, meaning that moviegoers will have to rely on the studio’s marketing in deciding whether to go see this or not. Some may presume that the movie isn’t any good although Rogue Pictures generally haven’t been screening their movies in advance as seen by the recent Devil and My Soul to Take. That’s probably going to be a smart move because if the movie isn’t that great, critics will trash it convincing those who may have gone to see it to save their money; of course, if the movie is as good as it’s been made to look by the marketing, it doesn’t get the boost of rave reviews, something that probably hurt Devil.

Why I Should See It: This looks like it could be a pretty cool alien invasion movie that looks much bigger than one might expect for such a low budget.
Why Not: “From the directors of “Alien vs. Predators: Requiem” doesn’t bode a lot of confidence.
Projections: $21 to 24 million opening weekends and roughly $60 million total.

COMPARISONS


Unstoppable (20th Century Fox)
Starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Chapman
Directed by Tony Scott (The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Man on Fire, Déjà Vu, Spy Game, Enemy of the State, Top Gun and many more); Written by Mark Bomback (Deception, Godsend, Live Free or Die Hard, Race to Witch Mountain)
Genre: Action, Drama
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “1 million tons of steel. 100,000 lives at stake. 100 minutes to impact.”
Plot Summary: A runaway train containing harmful flammable chemicals is speeding through the Pennsylvania suburbs, so a brave engineer (Denzel Washington) and a rookie conductor on the first day of his job (Chris Pine) must find a way to try and stop it before it derails and causes untold destruction.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Analysis:

Back in 1995, Denzel Washington starred in Tony Scott’s 1995 submarine thriller Crimson Tide, a choice that would lead to the duo working three more times between 2004 and 2009, culminating in this new action-thriller based on the true story of an unmanned train that careened through Ohio for two hours, but enhanced to make a far more interesting movie. Earlier this year, Washington had his third biggest hit of his career, the Apocalyptic The Book of Eli, which grossed $94 million, but the first decade of the 21st Century certainly moved Washington into another bracket as a star beginning with Remember the Titans, which was his first of two movies to cross $100 million. Oddly, Washington’s pairings with Tony Scott have not been as successful as the actor’s movies without him, having had bigger hits with Spike Lee (Inside Man), Ridley Scott (American Gangster) and the Hughes Brothers (The Book of Eli) in the time in which he’s done three movies with Tony Scott. Although their pairing on last year’s remake The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 was not considered a big hit, it was actually their biggest opening movie with $23.3 million and some might wonder whether Unstoppable might open better despite not having the benefits of a summer release. The last time they had a movie released during November was the Thanksgiving release Déjà Vu, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, which made $28 million in its first five days, but didn’t do much over the holiday weekend proper. Denzel has played a lot of different types of characters, but Unstoppable is similar to Denzel’s role in “Pelham” and the earlier film John Q in which he played normal working Joes who get caught up in a difficult situation. One has to wonder whether his fans like him doing these roles as opposed to over-the-top characters like gangsters and bad cops.

In hopes of maintaining their track record, they’ve brought in a ringer in Chris Pine, the star of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 hit relaunch of the Star Trek franchise, and hopefully, an actor who will have enough appeal for younger women that they might give this a look over Morning Glory. The third part of the equation is actress Rosario Dawson, who has appeared in quite a few action movies including the genre favorites Sin City and Grindhouse, and though she can’t really be seen as a draw, she’s a well-liked actress who brings a lot to every role, and her rapport with Denzel via radio works much better than the similar relationship he had with John Travolta in the “Pelham” remake.

The question is whether audiences will think that a movie about a runaway train, one which mainly features Denzel and Chris Pine sitting on a train (or doing a bit of climbing around it) can possibly maintain their interest for nearly two hours. The commercials have mostly been focusing on the exciting action of the movie, which will appeal to the guys, but unlike some of Tony Scott’s previous movies, this story could be something that appeals to women, because it is something that takes place in the real world and deals with real human emotions. Reviews should generally be good because the movie does work and Tony Scott does a great job focusing on the characters as much as the tense action scenes. The question is whether these reviews will be able to create enough buzz to get people interested or whether it will matter at all since Denzel has such a committed fanbase who will go see him in anything.

Another good thing going for the movie is its November release, which generally means there are more people looking to get out of the cold and find something to do than in the summer. Denzel’s had great success in the off-summer months, and his biggest movie American Gangster opened in early November three years ago. Going by last week, there are a lot of people going to the movies right now and that should help Unstoppable bring in an audience even if it’s not as easy a sell as some of the previous Washington-Scott collaborations.

There are a couple obstacles facing the movie, the biggest one being that it’s opening against an FX-laden sci-fi action movie that may be an easier sell and bigger draw for younger audiences and action fans than a movie about train conductors. On the other hand, Unstoppable can bring in older audiences as well as the working class people in urban areas who may look for something that’s easier to relate to than aliens running around Los Angeles. With few (if any) having seen Skyline, it’s hard to gauge whether the other movie is any good, but Unstoppable is a true crowd-pleaser and even if it doesn’t do huge business this weekend, it should maintain strong legs as those not interested in “Harry Potter” might check it out.

Why I Should See It: This is a much better train movie by the team of Tony Scott and Denzel Washington than their last one and possibly their best movie since Man on Fire.
Why Not: Can a movie about a runaway train sustain an entire movie? (I can tell you, having seen it, that the answer is “Yes!”)
Projections: $22 to 25 million opening weekend and roughly $73 million total.

COMPARISONS


Morning Glory (Paramount)
Starring Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum
Directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Venus, Changing Lanes, Enduring Love); Written by Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses)
Genre: Comedy
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “What’s the story?”
Plot Summary: When Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams) moves to New York City to take over as producer of the morning show “Daybreak,” the fourth-highest rated morning news show after the other three networks–and very close to cancellation–she finds herself caught in the tense relationship between the show’s normal co-host Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton) and her choice to co-host with her, veteran news anchorman Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), who thinks the job is below him and is doing it for the money. Meanwhile, she’s trying to have a life when she gets involved with fellow producer Adam Bennett (Patrick Wilson) but keeping Pomeroy from disappearing turns out to be a job requiring much overtime.

Review

Analysis:

While there have been many chick-flicks and romantic comedies released in the last few decades, this new one harks back to Mike Nichols’ 1988 classic Working Girl starring Melanie Griffith and like that movie, this one stars Harrison Ford as a crusty vet intimidating a newcomer to the business, in this case being the world of network morning news shows.

One of the oddest things about the movie is that it’s produced by J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot who apparently liked The Devil Wears Prada so much that he invited its writer Aline Brosh McKenna to pitch his company something. After receiving her script for a movie about morning shows, they brought on director Roger Michel, best known for his helming of the Julia Roberts rom-com Notting Hill opposite Hugh Grant, and who last helmed the British indie Venus, starring Peter O’Toole, to realize it.

To hold it all together, they cast Rachel McAdams, who has been involved with hit comedies like Mean Girls and Wedding Crashers, the romantic dramas The Notebook and The Time Traveler’s Wife, as well as the Wes Craven thriller Red Eye, all of which were huge hits. In fact, her last movie was the Guy Ritchie period action flick Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, her second $200 million blockbuster.

The duo who may be more of a draw even than McAdams are the aforementioned Harrison Ford and his pairing with another Hollywood vet, Diane Keaton. Neither of them has been making very good movies lately, although Keaton first appeared with McAdams in the holiday comedy The Family Stone. Ford’s most recent movie, the drama Extraordinary Measures opposite Brenda Fraser, bombed, and though his return to his most popular character in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull grossed $300 million, but wasn’t very well received by the fans or critics. Keaton’s career seems to have hit a wall, her last significant hit being Something’s Gotta Give in 2003, which grossed $124 million and got Keaton an Oscar nomination. For further proof she’s made some bad movies in recent years, you have to look no further than Smother and Mama’s Boy, two movies that didn’t even get a theatrical release! One has to think that given stronger material and pairing her with Harrison Ford will make this movie quite appealing to the over-30 set, especially the housewives and moms who stay at home and watch morning shows and are familiar with the humor.

It’s somewhat a shame that the movie is being marketed very much like a normal romantic comedy, because the subject matter could actually appeal to some guys (especially those who dig Harrison Ford). Morning Glory will probably make a decent date movie but it will still be geared towards the older set, since teens and younger 20s probably won’t have much interest in the older cast or the subject matter.

Paramount hasn’t had the best of luck with comedies, as we’ve mentioned in the past. Their last comedy in this vein being the R-rated She’s Out of My League, which didn’t do that well. That said, they did release Failure to Launch and Morning Glory has a significant amount of starpower over the Jay Baruchel comedy vehicle. Warner Bros.’ recent high concept comedy Life As We Know It did decently if not spectacular and it being out of the Top 10 does open some room for this.

For no particular reason that we can imagine, the movie opens on Wednesday, which doesn’t make a ton of sense since there isn’t any real direct competition from the other new movies, although maybe Paramount are hoping to get some word-of-mouth going before the weekend. Normally, a movie like this would have sneak previews on the weekend before opening to do that, and it’s surprising that they didn’t do that since the movie works so well. Regardless of how the movie does, it should be able to hold up well due to positive word-of-mouth, particularly over the Thanksgiving weekend in two weeks.

Why I Should See It: This is a very funny movie on par with The Devil Wears Prada and Notting Hill, and probably Harrison Ford’s best movie in a while.
Why Not: Those who work day jobs and don’t have an appreciation for morning talk shows might not appreciate the humor of the movie as much as those who do.
Projections: $3 to 4 million on Wednesday and Thursday and roughly $13 to 14 million over the weekend, leading to roughly $53 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Cool It (Roadside Attractions)
Starring Bjorn Lomborg
Directed by Ondi Timoner (Dig!, We Live in Public)
Genre: Documentary
Rated PG
Tagline: “A Light Bulb Won’t Solve Global Warming – This Guy’s Bright Ideas Just Might”
Plot Summary: Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg, author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” presents his own arguments about the picture of global warming painted by former Vice President Al Gore, as well as his own suggestions how the problem can be solved and the money used to solve other major problems like HIV/AIDs, malaria and lack of clean water.

When you first hear about Bjorn Lomborg’s take on global warming as featured in Cool It, you might immediately assume this is Republican rhetoric trying to debunk the existence of global warming, something that was so brilliantly brought to the public attention by Vice President Al Gore’s lectures as captured on film in Davis Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth. First of all, Lomborg isn’t American and thereby not partisan to either side of the argument, but also, filmmaker Ondi Timoner is likely to be as liberal as they come, and her interest in bringing Lomborg’s ideas to a mass audience is more out of trying to offer another side of the story and possible solutions that weren’t addressed in previous global warming docs. (And there have been a lot of them!)

That might make Cool It somewhat of a controversial film–similar to Ben Stein’s Expelled, a movie that tried to argue against the theories of evolution–and it’s likely to start many conversations and arguments between those who agree or disagree with Lomborg’s views. His first argument is that Gore presents a heightened version of the realities of how global warming and climate change will ultimately lead to major cities being destroyed by tidal waves and hurricanes, which based on Lomborg’s own research is unfounded. More than that, Lomborg addresses the exorbitant cost of making some of the changes to what he sees as a relatively minor issue compared to others and how long it will take to make very minor changes. An Inconvenient Truth and some of the other docs made it seem like it was as simple as changing your lightbulb, taken to the extreme of No Impact Man, a doc in which the blogger and film subject Colin Beaven tried to get rid of ALL use of electricity and waste in his life.

Lomborg’s theories revolve around his thoughts that what the environmentalist-friendly politicians are suggesting will cost so much money without really offering a viable solution and the money could be used other ways to better the entire human population at present. Instead of just trying to argue with previous thoughts on climate change, Lomborg assembled the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think tank of scientists and economists to try to solve the problems, not only of climate change, but also of things like HIV/AIDS, malaria and the lack of water in third world countries for the same cost of just fixing climate control.

Now, I don’t necessarily think that Cool It is as strong a film as Timoner’s previous two films, because there’s a lot of information and ideas crammed into the space of very little time, enough to make one’s head spin, although Timoner does her best to make sure everything is touched upon in a way that won’t necessarily go over the viewer’s head. (Arguably, Lomborg doesn’t have the charisma of an Al Gore, nor does he have the cool animated graphics, even if they might be used to exaggerate the situation somewhat.)

What I did like about the film is that it offers another side of things, and hopefully open up debate and discussion. The issue of climate control probably falls somewhere between Gore’s ideas and Lomborg’s, and one would hope that there are reasonable men out there who can set aside politics and figure out something that’s better not only for the next generations but also the current one. Cool It may spend too much time deliberately debunking An Inconvenient Truth on a point-by-point basis, but there’s no denying that this movie wouldn’t exist if Al Gore hadn’t brought the issue to light and made it such a hot topic.

Cool It may not be the end-all be-all of global warming docs, although it does a fine job cutting through the rhetoric to ask questions and focus on facts rather than just trying to create fear in the viewer. That said, it shouldn’t be seen as a counterpoint or argument to An Inconvenient Truth as much as a continuation of the discussion i.e. Gore’s movie opened the discussion and hopefully, Lomborg’s ideas may be seen as a way to make it unnecessary for further global warming docs.

Cool It opens in select cities on Friday.

Also in Limited Release:

Lena Dunham wrote, directed and stars in the comedy Tiny Furniture (IFC Films) about a 22-year-old woman who returns home to New York City after going to film school and retursn to her old life before going to college while trying to find her new identity. It opens at the in New York City following its premiere at South by Southwest earlier this year.

Another festival favorite about a young 20-something trying to find herself in New York is Ry Russo-Young’s You Won’t Miss Me (Factory 25) starring Stella Schnabel as a 23-year-old misfit who has just be released from a psychiatric hospital.

Jaak Kilmi’s documentary Disco and Atomic War (Icarus Films) recounts his childhood in the Soviet Union nation of Estonia while held under the limitations of Communism and how life changed in the mid-’80s when an illegal television antenna started to send in signals from Finland allowing his family to get American shows like “Dallas.” This lead to changing times in Estonia as teenagers started imitating what they saw on pirate television. It opens in New York at the Cinema Village on Friday and in L.A. on November 26.

Joseph Infantolino’s dramedy Helena from the Wedding (Film Movement) stars Lee Tergesen (from “Oz”) and Melanie Lynkey as newlyweds who host a New Year’s Eve party at a cabin in the mountain, which is thrown into disarray by her beautiful young friend Helena, played by Gillian Jacobs (from “Community”). It opens at the Quad Cinema in New York on Friday as does…

The Practice of the Wild (San Simeon Films) is John Healey’s documentary that follows Beat poet Gary Snyder–who along with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg founded the Beat Generation–and his friend and fellow writer Jim Harrison was they walk around various nature trails debating all sorts of topics, combined with a look at Snyder’s work and comments from his friends and peers.


Next week, the most successful film franchise in history continues with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (Warner Bros.) as well as Russell Crowe trying to free his wife from jail in Paul Haggis’ The Next Three Days (Lionsgate).

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas