The Weekend Warrior: November 19 – 21

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: Big advance sales for “Harry Potter” but we still think it will be very frontloaded to Friday and Thursday midnights keeping it from setting any records. Lowered our expectations on The Next Three Days. Rest of the predictions will be updated later tonight.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (Warner Bros.) – $127.8 million N/A (up 3.5 million

2. Megamind (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $15.8 million -46% (down .7 million)

3. Unstoppable (20th Century Fox) – $12.5 million -43% (Down .4 million)

4. The Next Three Days (Lionsgate) – $10.2 million N/A (down .9 million)

5. Due Date (Warner Bros.) – $8.0 million -48%

6. Morning Glory (Paramount) – $5.2 million -43%

7. Skyline (Rogue/Universal) – $3.7 million -68% (same)

8. For Colored Girls (Lionsgate) – $2.9 million -55% (down .3 million)

9. RED (Summit) – $2.6 million -46% (down .2 million)

10. Fair Game (Summit) – $1.2 million +39% (down .3 million; only expanding into 386 theaters)

Weekend Overview

As we get closer to Thanksgiving, we’re starting to get the big holiday movies and this weekend’s offering is a doozy, being the seventh chapter of one of the most successful film franchises of all time, as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (Warner Bros.) brings back all the popular trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint and many of the fan favorites who have been keeping the series together since the first movie nine years ago. With many Thursday midnight shows already sold out, we can probably expect a huge opening day, though probably making less than the last movie, which opened during the summer. Either way, without having a Wednesday opening cutting into the weekend, “Deathly Hallows – Part 1″ will be looking at the opening for The Twilight Saga: New Moon as a goal, but probably will fall just short, still ending among the Top 10 openings and be the biggest opening weekend for the series so far.

Offered as counter-programming is the Paul Haggis thriller The Next Three Days (Lionsgate) starring Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks, which will be looking to attract the older guys who may not be as interested in “Harry Potter,” enticing them in with the premise and action, though with Denzel Washington’s Unstoppable appealing to the same audience, it may be hard for the movie to get much attention. We expect this to have a fairly moderate opening with potential to build upon it as older audiences try to find new things to see.

Although we don’t know how many more theaters it might get this weekend, expect Doug Liman’s Fair Game (Summit), starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, to make a play for the Top 10 as it expands wider this weekend and acts as further counter-programming for adult audiences.

This week’s “Chosen One” is French filmmaker Claire Denis’ return to Africa with White Material (IFC Films), starring Isabelle Huppert, which you can read more about below.

This weekend last year saw the release of another anticipated sequel as The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Summit) starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner exploded into theaters with $142.8 million, becoming the third-biggest opening movie of all time and making it evident that the previous year’s “Twilight” phenomenon was no flash in the pan. Even with such a big blockbuster opening against it, Sandra Bullock’s true-life football drama The Blind Side (Warner Bros.) lived up to its name by becoming her second movie of the year to open with more than $30 million, taking second with $34.1 million in 3,110 theaters, an astounding debut indeed; the movie would go on to make $256 million, be nominated for Best Picture and Bullock would win her first Oscar. Roland Emmerich’s disaster movie 2012 dropped to third with $26.4 million and the low-profile animated film Planet 51 (Sony/TriStar Pictures) opened in fourth place with $12.3 million, just beating out Disney’s A Christmas Carol. The Top 10 grossed–you might want to sit down for this one–$246.9 MILLION (!!!!), which seems rather unrealistic for this weekend unless Harry Potter does $20 million more than we’re predicting.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (Warner Bros.)
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Bill Nighy, John Hurt, Rhys Ifans, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Imelda Staunton, Jason Isaacs, Miranda Richardson, Warwick Davis, Alan Rickman, Brendan Gleeson, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, Julie Walters, Tom Felton, Bonnie Wright, Jamie Campbell Bower, Richard Griffiths, Matthew Lewis, Evanna Lynch, Fiona Shaw, Helen McCrory, David O’Hara, Natalia Tena
Directed by David Yates (Harry Pother and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, “State of Play”); Written by Steven Kloves (Wonder Boys, The Fabulous Baker Boys, oh, yeah, and all the other “Harry Potter” movies except for Order of the Phoenix.)
Genre: Fantasy, Drama, Action, Adventure
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “It All Ends Here” (Well, not quite.)
Plot Summary: After the fall of Professor Dumbeldore, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is more hellbent on killing his arch-nemesis Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) than ever, so Harry and his friends Hermione and Ron (Emma Watson, Rupert Grint) set off to find and destroy the Horcruxes that hold the key to Voldermort’s destruction, while remaining in hiding from Voldemort’s Death Eaters and Snatchers.

Review

Analysis:

One of the most anticipated movies of the fall movie season is the seventh movie in the “Harry Potter” series, and the first half of the last book by J.K. Rowling, and this also marks the seventh time that I’m writing about Harry Potter since starting this column nine years ago. So what more is there to say? This has proven to be one of the most consistently successful franchises in box office history and it doesn’t look like the fanbase is going anywhere, having devoured the books and helped the series gross $5.4 billion worldwide over the course of six movies. It’s one of the few franchises that has seen consistent showings, with all but one movie grossing over $250 million and four of them close to or more than $300 million domestically.

What makes the seventh movie a big draw is that it’s literally the beginning of the end, the first half of the last book, which is one that many of the fans seem to have enjoyed more than the weaker fifth and sixth books. All of the Potter movies so far have been considered event movies but this one even moreso, and we expect that the last movie will be an even bigger hit when it opens in July even if some moviegoers may be disappointed by this one (as I was). The series has been so consistent that we don’t see any fans of the previous movies not going to see this one and the finale as well.

Most of the regular cast are back with a few new members including Bill Nighy, John Hurt, Rhys Ifans and others, and this is the third movie in a row directed by David Yates, who came on board with “Order of the Phoenix” and has mostly been embraced (or at least accepted) by the fans. Most of the focus of the seventh movie is being put on the main trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, who really are the actors that most of the fans will want to see, and a lot of the stuff from previous movies like Hogwarts isn’t in this movie, making it very different in feel and tone, something that could hurt the movie’s long-term business among casual moviegoers but shouldn’t bother fans who’ve already read the books and know what to expect and will likely see the movie multiple times. (Then again, those who haven’t been crazy about previous movie due to the overuse of Hogwarts should be thrilled, as should “Twilight” fans ’cause this one involves a similar love triangle in the woods!)

The last two movies were released in early July, but the first half of “Deathly Hallows” takes the series back to the pre-Thanksgiving weekend in which it has done so well with the first, second and fourth chapters, the latter opening with $102.3 million five years ago. When the first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, opened in November 2001, it became the highest opening movie of all time with just $90.3 million (boring, right?), a record that was broken by the first Spider-Man the following summer. Ever since then, there’s been questions about whether a “Harry Potter” could possibly set or break some of the other records but it just hasn’t happened. The last two movies, the previous one being moved to a summer release, also were released on Wednesdays, being that school was out and it would give two more days for the fans to rush out to see it before the normal weekend business. Even so, the last two movies have each had a bump from the previous one with the sixth installment Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince being the first in the series to cross $300 million domestically since the first movie. It opened on a Wednesday with $58.1 million, the third-biggest opening day at the time until the last two “Twilight” movies opened, completely showing it up. The fact that it opened during the summer with schools already out helped the movie have such a strong showing although “New Moon” did $72 million its opening day a year ago.

After the previous movie was able to return to the PG rating of the first three movies, “Deathly Hallows” is back to PG-13 for some truly horrifying scenes with a giant boa constrictor and a bit of sexuality (hubba, hubba), not that it will detract parents from taking their kids, although it will mean that younger kids (say under 6) that might normally go see the movie will have to be left at home. It’s not something that we think will have a huge effect on the box office potential, because the kids who were four or five when the first movie are now in their teens and likely to still be fans and can now go see it on their own or with friends rather than with parents.

Like many of the previous installments, “Deathly Hallows” is two and a half hours long which may limit how many screenings it will get on each screen, but as we’ve seen with the last few movies and lots of other overly-long record-breaking flicks (like The Dark Knight and Avatar), the studio and theaters find ways to make sure they have enough screens to meet the demand, often dumping movies that aren’t doing as much business.

Warner Bros. had to make a tricky decision last month when they decided not to release the movie in 3D as had been planned for nearly a year once James Cameron’s Avatar became such a huge box office hit, and in some ways, that’s quite a noble decision by the studio since there’s been so much backlash against 3D conversion and if the movie didn’t look good, the fans would be pissed. On the other hand, “Deathly Hallows” is the fifth in the series to be released simultaneously in IMAX screens, something that should be a big draw to those who want to see the movie in the largest scale possible. Oddly, the last two movies actually had a good amount of footage in 3D but only in IMAX theaters, and for “Half-Blood Prince” that meant delaying its IMAX release, something that didn’t hurt its box office at all. Even so, having it open in IMAX simultaneously means higher ticket prices which will therefore increase the potential per-theater average for the movie.

The last two movies opened on Wednesday, which limited their opening weekends, but the last one essentially made $107 million in its first three days from Wednesday through Friday, so one has to imagine that “Deathly Hallows” can do better than that being that the people who have to work on weekdays will be able to go see it on Friday night. Because of that, we expect a big opening day on Friday, possibly not as big as the previous movie since it’s not opening in the summer, but probably close to $50 million including Thursday midnights. With so much business coming from those midnight screenings, it’s likely to drop slightly on Saturday, although being a weekend with no school or work on both of those days, the drop might not be as drastic as “Half-Blood Prince” had in its second day. Even so, the amount of frontloading to those Thursday midnights will probably keep the movie from being one of the Top 5 openers of all time, but we do expect it somewhere in the range of Shrek the Third or Iron Man 2, which means it’s guaranteed to be another “Potter” film to gross over $300 million, especially with the bump from Thanksgiving next week (where it will be #1 again) and the holidays.

Why I Should See It: You’ve seen all the previous six movies, so why on earth would you not see this one?
Why Not: See my review above, but essentially, this seems like a really long half-a-movie.
Projections: $123 to 126 million opening weekend and $315 million total.

COMPARISONS


The Next Three Days (Lionsgate)
Starring Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Brian Dennehy, RZA, Moran Atias, Lennie James, Allan Steele, Ty Simpkins, Leslie McCombs, Jason Beghe, Aisha Hinds, Kathy Fitzgerald, Olivia Wilde, Jonathan Tucker, Remy Nozik, Daniel Stern
Written and directed by Paul Haggis (Crash, In the Valley of Elah)
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “What if you had 72 hours to save everything you live for?”
Plot Summary: English teacher John Brennan (Russell Crowe) must go to extreme measures to break his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) out of a maximum security jail when she’s imprisoned for a murder he doesn’t believe she could have committed.

Interview with Paul Haggis

Review (Coming Soon!)

Analysis:

There was a time when it wasn’t thought that a movie starring Russell Crowe may be considered the underdog of the weekend but that’s certainly the case with his new action thriller adapted and directed by Crash director Paul Haggis from a French thriller called Pour Elle, as it has the unenviable task of taking on the seventh “Harry Potter” movie. Granted, the audience who’ll be interested in a movie starring Russell Crowe will generally be older than the normal age demographic for a “Harry Potter” movie but those films have a surprisingly wide range since so many parents have become fans through their kids and grandkids. Regardless, there should be some older guys who have absolutely no interest in it, which is why Lionsgate daringly chose this weekend for the third movie from Paul Haggis.

Crowe has definitely moved past some of the unfortunate incidents that made him tabloid fodder back in the mid ’00s and now it’s all about the acting and the roles he takes, having had his biggest recent hits when he reteamed with his Gladiator director Russell Crowe for American Gangster, helped greatly by Denzel Washington, and the recent Robin Hood. Both of those movies showed that Crowe still had what it take to bring people into theaters after the disappointing showings for State of Play and Body of Lies in between. Other than the romantic comedy A Good Year, Crowe has remained fairly consistent at the box office, doing $12 to 14 million with his non-action movie roles and then $25 to 35 million with his bigger movies. The Next Three Days is clearly more of the former, a dramatic thriller that does have some action but isn’t really an epic on the scale of Gladiator.

Playing Crowe’s wife is actress Elizabeth Banks, who has become better known for her comedic films including The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Role Models and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and she’s making a rare dramatic appearance in this, though she’s certainly taking a backseat to Crowe in terms of the film’s marketing. In a bit of marketing duplicity that we haven’t seen since Lionsgate made it look like Bruce Willis had a bigger role in The Expendables than he actually did, a lot of the trailers and commercials feature Liam Neeson, who literally has one four-minute scene with Crowe in the movie but is being featured heavily as if he plays a larger part in the movie. He doesn’t. Either way, many of those who saw Neeson in the hit thriller Taken may be hoping he kicks similar ass in The Next Three Days. He doesn’t; he just talks.

This is a very different movie for Haggis, whose directorial debut Crash did decent business for Lionsgate before going all the way to Oscar night and surprising many by beating Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture. His follow-up In the Valley of Elah wasn’t received as well, and it got lost in the shuffle of a busy post-Toronto Film Festival month when released by Warner Independent, who were never really able to get many of their movies going other than March of the Penguins.

Regardless, it’s obvious that Haggis has a great cast and this is a strong film, although it does a little bit like Tony Goldwyn’s recent Conviction only with more action and thrills. The problem is that The Next Three Days is not just taking on the new “Harry Potter” but also taking on the second week of Tony Scott and Denzel Washington’s Unstoppable, a similar action thriller that’s received rave reviews and should hold up strong due to word-of-mouth similar to their earlier hit Man on Fire. That doesn’t leave a lot of audience left for Haggis’ new movie, although the premise is solid and Crowe should be able to sell it enough to bring in his normal amount of business.

Why I Should See It: Paul Haggis tries something different and comes away with a solid crime thriller.
Why Not: How can anyone possibly put Elizabeth Banks in jail? She is so nice!!!
Projections: $10 to 12 million opening weekend and roughly $35 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

White Material (IFC Films)
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Lambert, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Isaach De Bankolé, William Nadylam, Adèle Ado, Ali Barkai, Daniel Tchangang
Written and directed by Claire Denis (35 Shots of Rum, Trouble Every Day, Beau Travail) with Marie N’Diaye
Genre: Drama
Rated
Tagline: “In the African Heat, One Woman Stands Alone”
Plot Summary: Civil unrest in an African settlement leads to a white French woman (Isabelle Huppert) desperately trying to save her family’s coffee plantation.

For many years, I would hear friends and colleagues rave about French filmmaker Claire Denis’ work without really understanding the appeal until last year, when I saw this film at the New York Film Festival and was just blown away by how beautifully Denis tells this fairly simple story about a woman and her family trying to survive in an environment in which they’re the minority. Over the years, we’ve seen so many “white people in Africa” movies of varying qualities but Denis takes such a unique approach to the subject that it very much feels like something different.

Much of my enjoyment of the movie comes down to Isabelle Huppert, one of France’s greatest (and sadly underrated) actresses, who really keeps you riveted to the screen as a woman whose family has decided to stay behind after the French Army has left town, putting them in a precarious situation with the country being overtaken by rebels who are looting and pillaging wherever they go.

It’s quite amazing how Denis can keep the film interesting through the first half hour of Huppert wandering around the otherwise abandoned village trying to prepare for what’s to come. During this portion of the film, a lot is done out of very little, using minimal dialogue in telling the story, and it takes nearly 45 minutes before we meet the rest of her family and see how their relationships change during these difficult times. As much as there’s a constant sense of the danger they’re in, it’s escalated when their son Manuel is kidnapped and humiliated by two kids carrying weapons, leaving him naked in a field, and he decides to get revenge on them. From there, the tension builds and builds as the dangers become more real, leading to a climactic finale that’s quite shocking in its violence.

Along with cinematographer Yves Cape, Denis beautifully captures the African environment in which the story is set, an everything about the film feels authentic and real which is quite an achievement in itself. The gorgeous ambient score by Stuart Staples helps to create a tone that’s not unlike some of Gus Van Sant’s dreamier works–which I’m also not the biggest fan of–but it’s quite clear this is more than just cinema verité made up of strikingly beautiful images as it is a story about survival. I was equally impressed by the performances of Christopher Lambert as her husband, Nicolas Duvauchelle as their son and Isaach De Bankolé as a soldier in hiding, although it’s always about their interactions with Huppert’s character and this really is her show.

Considering my general cynicism about how conventional and formulaic French cinema can be at time, “White Material” is quite a standout among the films I’ve seen from France this year (along with Gaspar Noe’s “Enter the Void”), and it really says a lot about Denis’ vision in creating one of those rare films that affects you in ways that might not be immediately apparent but that sticks with you long after it’s finished.

White Material opens in New York at the IFC Center on Friday.

Honorable Mention:

Made in Dagenham (Sony Pictures Classics)
Starring Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson, Rosamund Pike, Jamie Winstone, Nicola Duffett, Andrea Riseborough, Lorraine Stanley, Geraldine James
Directed by Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls, A Lot Like Love, Saving Grace); Written by Bill Ivory
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: “1968. It’s a Man’s World… But Not For Long.”
Plot Summary: At the Ford Motor Company plant in Dagenham, England, a group of female machinists led by Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) walk off the job in order to get paid the same amount as the men, bringing production to a halt until the government agrees to back them.

Interview with Sally Hawkins

Interview with Nigel Cole

The first time I saw this film, director Nigel Cole’s return to England following a brief foray into Hollywood, I felt that it was somewhat pandering and manipulative, and it took a second viewing to really appreciate it for the brilliance in how Cole takes a light approach to introducing the characters before taking the film into deeply dramatic territory.

Using archival news footage, Cole sets up the environment in which the women of the Dagenham auto plant are trying to do their jobs and make ends meet, but they’re instigated by their floor manager Albert, played by Bob Hoskins, to stand up for their rights when they’re labeled “unskilled labor” so that Ford can pay them less than the men. Sally Hawkins is absolutely amazing in the role of Rita O’Grady, a mother and wife living in the council estates near the plant where most of the locals work, and how her decision to stand up for what’s right brings production at the plant to a standstill.

It’s a little worrying when the movie starts off in similar territory as Richard Curtis’ Pirate Radio territory with lots of beehives and poppy ’60s tunes, trying to establish a light tone as we watch these women at work and play before things start to get serious. There’s a wonderful sense of camaraderie and community established very early on, and you really get the impression that Cole and screenwriter Bill Ivory have a good handle on the people of this time and place. In that sense, they do a commendable job showing how the simple lives of the people of Dagenham are affected by the closing of the plant, particularly that of Rita O’Grady, whose marriage hits a rough patch since her husband Eddie (Daniel Mays) becomes resentful about how she’s neglecting him and their kids in order to fight for equal pay. Much of the film involves Hawkins standing up to what’s clearly a male-dominated corporate world.

Throughout the movie we see how the roles of men and women in British society are starting to change, something that isn’t more evident than with Miranda Richardson’s Barbara Castle, a minister who is sternly vocal about the chauvinism she must experience every day as one of the only women in British politics. The film cuts back and forth between Rita and the ladies of Dagenham and Castle in her office commenting on their actions, which establishes the character well for her inevitable stepping in to try to mediate between the women and Ford.

It does take some time for the movie to get going, and it really hits its stride when it gets away from the illusion of it being a light Brit-com and it starts offering more dramatic moments, including a scene between Hawkins and Rosamund Pike, as the factory manager’s wife that’s likely to have even the most cynical close to tears. From there, we get a number of powerful moments where Hawkins gets to flex her muscles at delivering powerful speeches.

Some of the other characters’ subplots seem unnecessary and superfluous, particularly Geraldine James’ Connie, who is dealing with a war vet husband suffering from the early stages of dementia. What starts as a brief mention in the workplace starts to become a more prominent story point, and it’s only purpose seems to be to help the difficult transition the movie from humor to drama. For the most part, it works. As much as it’s nice looking at Jamie Winstone and Andrea Riseborough, the two attractive younger women in the cast, their characters are more to keep things light and breezy and their subplots don’t add very much to the overall story.

While women are likely to get more out of Nigel Cole’s latest inspirational tale of strong-minded women doing something important, rather than being about women fighting against male oppression, Made in Dagenham is more about women standing up to The Man, the great big corporate beast who is constantly trying to save money by undermining their hard work. It gives what seems like an accurate examination of a very specific bit of British history and there’s a clear message always in play that may seem somewhat dated or gender-specific though it does absolutely no harm in revisiting it.

Made in Dagenham opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Also in Limited Release:

Yony Leyser’s William S. Burroughs: A Man Within (Oscilloscope Pictures) is a look at the legendary counter-culture writer whose work has influenced the likes of John Waters, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Gus Van Sant, David Cronenberg and others, all of whom appear in the film talking about their affinity for Burroughs’ work. It opens at the IFC Center in New York on Wednesday.

Jim Sturgess stars in Philip Ridley’s thriller Heartless (IFC Films) as a young man with a disfiguring birthmark on his face that makes him an outcast until he encounters a gang of demonic thugs and makes a deal in order to win over the love of a beautiful model, played by Clemence Poesy (who is also in “Deathly Hallows” this week!). It opens in select cities on Friday.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

“Daily Show” correspondent Aasif Mandvi stars in Today’s Special (Reliance Media), a film adaptation of his award-winning play “Sakina’s Restaurant,” playing Samir a sous chef who has dreams of studying in France and becoming a great chef, only to have to begrudgingly take over his father’s Indian restaurant after his father suffers a heart attack. He brings in Akbar, a passionate chef played by Nasseruddin Shah, who inspires Samir to tackle the cuisine of his heritage which he’s always found below him.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Urszula Antoniak’s drama Nothing Personal (Olive Films) is about Anne (Lotte Verbeek), a Dutch woman who decides to leave her life in Holland behind to spend a secluded life in Connemara Ireland when she encounters a hermit, played by Stephen Rea, and their desire for solitude ends up bringing them together in a platonic deal to coexist. It opens at the Cinema Village in New York on Friday and in L.A. at the Laemmle Sunset 5 on November 26, as will…

Alvaro Pastor & Antonio Naharro’s Me Too! (Olive Films), a Spain-based romantic comedy about a social service worker with Down’s Syndrome who falls for the office slut, played by Lola Duenas, who received a coveted Goya award for her acting.


Next week, it’s Thanksgiving weekend and opening on Wednesday are four new movies in wide release trying to take down this year’s Harry Potter movie. Disney has their new animated musical-comedy Tangled (Disney), while Dwayne Johnson proves he’s Faster (CBS Films) than Bily Bob Thornton. Cher and Christina Aguillera do a little Burlesque (Sony/Screen Gems) while Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal do Love and Other Drugs (20th Century Fox)? Okay, maybe not.

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