The Weekend Warrior: December 3 – 5

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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.

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. Tangled (Walt Disney) – $22.5 million -54% (same)

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (Warner Bros.) – $19.1 million -62% (same)

3. Megamind (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $5.9 million -53% (same)

4. Unstoppable (20th Century Fox) – $5.5 million -52% (same)

5. The Warrior’s Way (Relativity Media) – $5.3 million N/A (same)

6. Burlesque (Sony/Screen Gems) – $5.1 million -57% (same)

7. Love and Other Drugs (20th Century Fox) – $5.0 million -49% (up .3 million)

8. Faster (CBS Films) – $3.8 million -56% (up .1 million)

9. Due Date (Warner Bros.) – $3.2 million -55% (same)

10. The Next Three Days (Lionsgate) – $2.3 million -50% (same)

Weekend Overview

Being that the weekend after Thanksgiving tends to be fairly dead at the box office and there’s only one new movie in wide release, the Korean martial arts flick The Warrior’s Way (Relativity Media), starring Dong-gun Jang and co-starring Kate Bosworth, Geoffrey Rush and Danny Huston, we’re going to forego the usual analysis for a slimmer and trimmer column this week. (Famous last words!)

Other than having a title that the Weekend Warrior can approve of, The Warrior’s Way is an odd first offering from Relativity Media, who are distributing under their own name after previously distributing films through Rogue Pictures and recently purchasing Overture Films. This is a martial arts film that has a few Western actors, but which is mostly capitalizing on the fact that it’s “from the producer of ‘The Lord of the Rings.'” (It’s true, Barrie M. Osborne was one of the producers, along with the filmmakers Peter Jackson and wife Fran Walsh.) When it comes to martial arts movies, Jet Li and Jackie Chan have both proven to be strong draws at the American box office, although The Warrior’s Way fits more into the mold of the historical war epic genre, which found great popularity Stateside thanks to Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, followed a few years later by Jet Li’s Hero, both of them Oscar nominees. Since then, Hero director Zhang Yimou has been one of the great purveyors of the genre, though few of that movie’s follow-ups have received wide releases. After Hero the only true martial arts hit has been the pairing of Jackie Chan and Jet Li in Lionsgate’s The Forbidden Kingdom, but The Warrior’s Way, directed by first-timer Sngmoo Lee, was actually made over three years ago in Australia with a combination of Korean and Western actors, and it’s essentially being dumped into the weekend after Thanksgiving, hoping for guys looking for something to keep them entertained this weekend. With no advance screenings and very little press, we don’t expect Warrior’s Way to make more than $5 or 6 million this weekend and it only will do that much business because there are no other new movies and few strong movies for male audiences other than Denzel Washington’s Unstoppable.

Still, we do have some…

COMPARISONS

Otherwise, expect Disney’s Tangled to go neck and neck with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 on Friday, but for the former to pull ahead over the weekend, becoming the #1 movie in its second weekend. It would be astounding for any of the returning movies to have less than a 50% drop from last week’s exaggerated holiday weekend, but again, with only one new movie, there may be a couple of moviegoers who didn’t get enough of a movie fix over the holiday weekend.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) starring Natalie Portman, and the “Honorable Mention” goes to Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s I Love You Phillip Morris (Roadside Attractions), starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. You can read more about both of them below.

This weekend last year, none of the new movies made it into the Top 2 although Sandra Bullock’s The Blind Side (Warner Bros.) zoomed past The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Summit) in their respective third weekends, taking the top spot with $20 million to New Moon‘s $15 million. The top new movie of the weekend was Jim Sheridan’s Brothers (Lionsgate), starring Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire, which opened in third with $9.5 million in 2,088 theaters. The action-thriller Armored (Sony/Screen Gems) opened in seventh place with $6.5 million while the Robert De Niro vehicle Everybody’s Fine (Miramax) barely made it into the Top 10 with $3.8 million. It fared better than the comedy Transylmania (Full Circle Releasing), which tanked with just $240 thousand despite opening in over a thousand theaters. The Top 10 grossed $86.2 million, and this week’s offerings might fall just short with only one new movie in wide release.


DVD Corner

This past weekend, Walt Disney Studios released their 50th animated feature film Tangled to a great success, but seventy year ago, Walt Disney produced one of my all-time favorite animated movies and that was Fantasia, which is being released for the first time on Blu-ray this week as a special “2 Movie Collection” with Fantasia 2000, itself celebrating its tenth anniversary. As someone who absolutely loves music of all kinds, I’m convinced the first time I saw Fantasia helped to cement that love, as classical pieces like “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “Swan Lake” were brought alive by the animation of Walt Disney and his team during its very infancy. A special treat included on the Blu-ray is the 2003 animated short “Destino,” a collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali from 1945, which should work perfectly among those other two films.

If that weren’t enough Disney goodness for one week, they’re also releasing two amazing docs on DVD, one of them which was the “Chosen One” when released last year, but was also, in fact, my #1 documentary of 2009! Ted Thomas’ Walt & El Grupo documents Walt Disney’s good will trip down to South America in 1941, which led to the making of two animated films, “Saludos Amigos” (included on the DVD in its entirety) and “The Three Caballeros.” At the time, Walt Disney was facing a strike by the animators so when the government asked him to travel down to Brazil, Argentina and Chile to meet animators and try to bring the cultures together, he jumped at the chance, bringing roughly 19 key staff members with him to document everything they see. It’s just an amazing film full of archival footage and photos and beautiful art from the trip, much of which has never been seen, interviews with many of the relatives of those who traveled on the trip, as well as some of those they met and how it affected their lives. I was absolutely exuberant to have a chance to watch the movie this past weekend with my mother who has given me a special connection to this film. Both of my parents lived in South America during the time that Walt Disney visited and watching my mother’s eyes light up on seeing Buenos Aires during the time she lived there just brought a whole new level of enjoyment for me to this film.

You can read more about it in my original “Chosen One” write-up here.

One of the critically-acclaimed docs of the year (that also didn’t make the Oscar short list for some reason) is Don Hahn’s Waking Sleeping Beauty, which takes a look at the Disney animation era ranging from The Little Mermaid through Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King where Jeffrey Katzenberg helped take the studio’s animation division to the height of their game while clashing with Roy Disney and Michael Eisner all the way. (Of course, Katzenberg ended up leaving Disney and formed DreamWorks Animation, the bane of Disney’s existence for over ten years!) This really is an amazing chapter in Disney animation history and Don Hahn, who also helmed some of the sequences in Fantasia 2000, was there to capture the whole thing on his home video cameras, so there are few people who have greater insight into the dynamics that created this amazing period of creativity and innovation. Certainly, the success of Tangled and last year’s The Princess and the Frog would never have happened if not for fond memories of those great films, and Waking Sleeping Beauty is the perfect companion piece.

You can read more about it in my original column here here, plus interviews with Don Hahn here and here. (The first is by me from last year, the second is by our L.A. correspondent Silas Lesnick.)

One of the movies I missed last year was The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story, a film directed by the sons of the composers who wrote some of Disney’s most famous songs from “It’s a Small World (After All)” to some of the Oscar-winning songs in Mary Poppins. If this third Disney historical doc released on DVD this week is even remotely as good as the previous two, then it should also be a must-see for diehard Disney fans who want to know more about the animation studio’s history pre-Tangled. And look at that, they’re coming out at the perfect time to get as gifts for the Disney enthusiasts in your life, both young and old! See how that works?


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Black Swan (Fox Searchlight)
Starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder
Directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream, Pi); Written by Mark Heyman, John McLaughlin
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Drama
Rated R
Plot Summary: Ballet dancer Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is put under immense amounts of pressure and stress when her company’s director (Vincent Cassel) gives her the coveted leading role in a new production of “Swan Lake,” and while Nina strives for perfection, she deals with an overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey) and a bit of competition (Mila Kunis).

Review

Interview with Darren Aronofsky

Hopefully, my review above will be fairly straight-ahead in terms of my thoughts on the fifth movie from Darren Aronofsky, who is probably one of my favorite directors ever since his first two features, Pi and Requiem for a Dream. I also was one of the people who absolutely adored and appreciated his efforts on The Fountain even if, like those other two movies, it was way, way, WAY ahead of its time. Black Swan follows more along routes established by The Wrestler in that it’s set in the real world and it involves a protagonist in an occupation that we don’t often see on film, in this case a professional ballerina, and it explores that competitive world and how the pressures involved with performing can get to someone pushing themselves too hard. Aronofsky tells this story within the genre of a psychological thriller, one that pays homage to Hitchcock and De Palma, but has all the dark humor and ingenuity that the filmmaker has brought to all of his previous work. It may in fact be his most accessible film to date as well, because it does take a classic thriller approach to its storytelling while still throwing in enough distinctive twists an turns that no one might ever guess what’s going to happen in the absolutely insane third act. Either way, this is already one of the year’s better movies and we should probably expect quite a number of Oscar nominations for it (and maybe even a win this time!) If you have yet to have a chance to become a fan of Aronofsky’s, but you enjoy horror or thrillers (or the idea of Natalie Portman making out with Mila Kunis), then Black Swan is great introduction to his innovative style of filmmaking. Black Swan will open in select cities on Friday, but fingers crossed, it will be nationwide sometime before January.

Honorable Mention:

I Love You Phillip Morris (Roadside Attractions)
Starring Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro
Written and Directed by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa (writers of Bad Santa and Bad News Bears)
Genre: Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: “A Story So Incredible, It Could Only Be True”
Plot Summary: Steve Russell (Jim Carrey) is a happily-married Texas police officer who has the epiphany that he’s gay after being in car accident. Realizing that his life has been a lie, he decides to change everything as he becomes involved in all sorts of con games that gets him thrown into jail. There, he meets the soft-spoken Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) and they begin a romance that inspires Russell to commit even greater crimes and find ways of escaping from jail every time he’s caught to be reunited with Phillip.

Our Thoughts from Sundance 2009 (This was my #4 movie at Sundance, but obviously, it wasn’t as “commercially viable” as we originally thought considering it took two years to release.)

I would never imagine a movie with Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor snogging could ever be as enjoyable as… say… a movie that has a make-out scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, but this dark comedy from the guys who wrote the excellent Bad Santa and the just plain bad Bad News Bears is an unexpected treat that’s far more entertaining than you might imagine from the plot synopsis.

Granted, some might find me to be a bit of a Jim Carrey apologist or fanboy, someone who generally appreciates his humor as well as his more dramatic roles. (I even famously stormed out of a screening with Fun with Dick and Jane since I was not digging it, but then paid to see the rest of it after doing an interview with Carrey ’cause it sounded like I might have missed some fun stuff.) Steven Russell seems like a character that would be easy for the star of Liar Liar and Me, Myself & Irene, because it’s a similarly schizophrenic role where he gets to do a lot of crazy things, albeit this time sporting a (sometimes shaky) Texas accent.

As the movie begins, it seems like Carrey is playing a rather inappropriate gay stereotype, and watching him kissing and cuddling with Ewan McGregor is pretty odd regardless of your sexual preferences or orientation, but after 30 minutes or so, that’s when it gets fun because it’s no longer about Steven’s sexuality or his relationship with Phillip as much as something closer to Catch Me If You Can. Steven is an unapologetic huckster, a salesman who is able to convince anyone he meets that he knows what he’s talking about, whether he’s pretending to be a lawyer or running a large corporation while embezzling money. Eventually, the movie becomes about Steven’s perpetual series of arrests and brazen jail escapes before going back on the lamb and the cycle repeating, something captured in an impressive extended montage.

The entire movie has a rather strange tone to it, made even stranger by the fact that a lot of what happens is based on the real-life exploits of the actual Steve Russell, although the character is so heightened by Carrey’s performance that most people might not realize it. Even so, it’s the type of role that lets Carrey do a lot of different things, which is usually when he’s at his best. McGregor’s role isn’t quite as flashy, essentially playing the “loving wife” waiting at home while Steven is out “earning” (i.e. stealing) money to take care of him. As much as the movie’s laughs come from Carrey, it’s heart comes from the scenes between the two actors as they throw themselves into this romance without a worry or care, the sign of a true actor doing what’s necessary to make their characters believable. When it comes down to it, the relationship is handled as tastefully as anything in Gus van Sant’s Milk even if it has a lot of less-tasteful humor surrounding it.

The third part of the equation is a rather subdued role for Leslie Mann as Steven’s religious ex-wife, and Brazil’s Rodrigo Santoro (300) has a tine role as Steven’s lover before Phillip, who ends up contracting AIDS, though neither really play thatlimportant a role in the story.

Regardless, Ficarra and Requa are solid writers who aren’t afraid to push the envelope when it comes to dark and raunchy humor, regardless of whether it’s P.C. or not, and one could definitely see the laughs being minimalized if the movie was filtered through the studio system. Much of the film works because everyone involved is so good at changing gears quickly when the story calls for it, incorporating a lot of different styles of humor and storytelling. Even so, they still have a bit of work ahead of them to become better directors, because at times, it does feel like they’re allowing Carrey to run the show.

Either way, this movie won’t be for everyone and anyone who isn’t implicitly comfortable with their sexuality might not be able to watch some of the scenes involving homosexual romance. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of Jim Carrey’s schtick, this is a far better movie than something like Yes Man or Fun with Dick and Jane, because it’s raw and unadulterated comedy that finds true emotion within its characters and its humor from the fact that some of the craziest bits really happened.

I Love You Phillip Morris opens in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco on Friday.

Also in Limited Release:

Just in time for Christmas, the Finnish horror film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Oscilloscope Pictures) from Jalmari Helander takes place surrounding an archeological dig which has unearthed the real Santa Claus, an ancient being whose cruel treatment of children who have been bad led to his exile. When the local children surrounding the secretive dig begin disappearing, a reindeer hunter and his son find themselves in possession of the evil Santa, trying to find a way to capitalize on their find before his equally evil elves find them.

Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington star in Tanya Hamilton’s debut Night Catches Us (Magnolia) with the former playing Marcus, a man who was heavily involved in the Black Panther movement in Philadelphia, who returns in 1976 to try to make things right with Patricia (Kerry Washington), another member of the movement whose husband was killed by the police years earlier. It opens in select cities on Friday.

All Good Things (Magnolia Pictures) is a true crime drama from Andrew Jareckie, director of Capturing the Friedmans, inspired by the story of Robert Durst, the wealthy member of the Durst family who was suspected of killing his wife Kathie when she disappeared in 1982. Ryan Gosling stars as David Marks, the heir to a wealthy family whose wife (played by Kirsten Dunst) mysteriously disappears before he himself creates a new life for himself as a transvestite. It opens in select cities.

The Danish drama Applause (World Wide Motion Pictures Corp.) from Martin Pieter Zandvliet stars Paprika Steen as Thea Barfoed, an alcoholic stage actress trying to reconnect and gain custody of her two sons following a stint in rehab while trying to play an alcoholic in a stage production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It opens in L.A. on Friday and then in New York on January 21.

Duane Baughman’s documentary Bhutto (First Run Features) explores the life and career of Benazir Bhutto, the first woman ever to be elected leader of a Muslim state, covering her time leading up to becoming Prime Minister of Pakistan, her exile and then he return to Pakistan in 2007. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

From Italy comes Silvio Soldini’s drama Come Undone (Film Movement) about a woman who has everything going her way in life until she meets a good-looking but married waiter, played by Pier Francesco Favino (Prince Caspian) and they start a love affair. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinema, as does…

Henry Jaglom’s Queen of the Lot starring his latest ingénue Tanna Frederick as an up-and-coming actress under house arrest looking for love and fame, working with a team of handlers trying to turn her drunk driving arrests into tabloid gold. When she goes home to meet her movie star boyfriend’s family, she’s introduced to real Hollywood players as well as his black sheep brother (played by Noah Wyle from “E.R.”) who is able to see past her façade.

Rose McGowan, Amy Smart and Nick Stahl star in Omar Naim’s thriller Dead Awake (New Films International) involving individuals trying to overcome a tragedy from ten years earlier, leading them to try to find the truth. Nick Stahl also stars in Josh Sternfeld’s crime thriller Meskada (Red Flag Releasing) as small-town detective Noah Cordin trying to solve the murder of a boy where the only clue is a scrap of paper that brings Cordin back to his hometown where he must reconnect with old friends suffering from financial problems. Both movies open somewhere on Friday.


Next week, two very different movies compete for the top spot as the third installment of C.S. Lewis’ fantasy series
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Fox Walden) takes on the mega-star team-up of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie for the thriller The Tourist (Sony).

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas