The Weekend Warrior: December 10 – 12

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

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Updated Predictions and Comparisons -

UPDATE: Not a ton of changes but with Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan expanding into 90 theaters, it would be almost impossible for it not to get into the Top 10 in its second weekend, probably ending up somewhere in the logjam of movies that will make in the $3 million range this weekend, all vying for fifth place after the two new movies, “Harry Potter” and “Tangled.”

1. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (20th Century Fox) – $42.8 million N/A (up 1 million)

2. The Tourist (Sony) – $26.5 million N/A (up .1 million)

3. Tangled (Walt Disney) – $13.5 million -38% (Same)

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (Warner Bros.) – $8.2 million -52% (same)

5. Unstoppable (20th Century Fox) – $3.3 million -45% (same)

6. Love and Other Drugs (20th Century Fox) – $3.2 million -42% (same)

7. Burlesque (Sony/Screen Gems) – $3.2 million -48% (same)

8. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) – $3.0 million +130% (New addition)

9. Megamind (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $2.9 million -42% (same)

10. Due Date (Warner Bros.) – $2.5 million -40% (same)

Weekend Overview

The second weekend of December is a time when things start picking up again before the Christmas holidays, although moviegoers are also trying to save their money to spend on gifts and vacations, so movies tend to open softer than other months but tend to have strong legs. There are two strong releases competing for the top spot, continuing the yearlong rivalry between 20th Century Fox and Sony, but this time there’s a good chance that the former will beat the latter.

C.S. Lewis’ popular fantasy fiction series reaches its third installment with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (20th Century Fox/Walden Media), this one directed by Michael Apted (The World is Not Enough) and taking the younger Pevensie kids and Prince Caspian on a sea voyage. The film should bring in kids with parents who have read the books when they were young as well as the Christian moviegoers looking for something a bit more wholesome than Harry Potter and the addition of 3D should help sucker… I mean entice many of them to pay extra to see the movie in the enhanced format, thereby increasing the amount it can make this weekend. While we don’t expect it to open nearly as well as the previous chapter, “Prince Caspian,” it should get off to a good start with hopes of staying strong against some of the other impending family entertainment.

Sony’s offering this weekend, The Tourist (Sony), stars two of the biggest box office superstars currently working–Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie–and their involvement is going to go a long way to bring people into theatres to see a movie that doesn’t look very different from last year’s Clive Owen thriller The International. Depp and Jolie’s star power will get a lot more people interested than normal, but mostly the over-20 crowd, helping it take a solid second place.

Either way, the lack of strong new movies last week should get moviegoers out in force this weekend to allow two strong showings for two generally lower-profile December releases, but it should allow room for awards-worthy limited releases like Black Swan, 127 Hours, The King’s Speech and The Fighter to flourish.

This week’s “Chosen One” is John Wells’ unemployment drama The Company Men (Weinstein Co.) starring Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper, which you can read more about below.

This weekend last year, Disney’s animated musical The Princess and the Frog expanded nationwide into 3,434 theaters and it grossed $24.2 million, winning the weekend with very little effort as Sandra Bullock’s The Blind Side dropped to #2 with $15.5 million. Clint Eastwood’s Invictus (Warner Bros.), starring the soon-to-be-Oscar-nominated Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, opened softly with $8.6 million in 2,125 theaters for third place. The Top 10 grossed $83 million, which shouldn’t be hard to surpass with two strong offerings this weekend.


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (20th Century Fox/Walden Media)
Starring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes, Will Poulter, Gary Sweet, Bruce Spence, Arthur Angel, Shane Rangi, Liam Neeson, Tilda Swinton
Directed by Michael Apted (The World is Not Enough, Enigma, Amazing Grace, Enough, the “Up” series); Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, upcoming Captain America), Michael Petroni (Possession, Queen of the Damned, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys)
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Rated PG
Tagline: “Return to magic. Return to hope. Return to Narnia.”
Plot Summary: Lucy and Edmund Pevensie (Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes) return to Narnia along with their bratty cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) in order to help King (formerly Prince) Caspian (Ben Barnes) find the seven swords of seven missing lords, which will help them defeat the Green Mist.

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon!)

Analysis:

Being two weeks into December, it’s time for the studios to roll out the bigger guns with movies they hope will stick around through the busy Christmas week and into January. Big budget family epics are not a bad way to go, particularly if they’re based on popular books and early December has been a fairly common slot for studios to release these big-budget fantasy epics with the first “Chronicles of Narnia” aka The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe opening this same weekend five years ago. It was preceded by Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and followed by attempts to bring other fantasy novels to the big screen with neither Eragon nor The Golden Compass delivering the goods based on the previous success of other early December releases. For the “Narnia” sequel, Prince Caspian, Disney decided to move it to the summer, specifically the same pre-Memorial Day weekend that proved so successful for director Andrew Adamson’s previous movies Shrek and its sequel. While the first movie opened with $66 million, the sequel only opened with $55 million despite the supposedly better release season, which ended up leaving it with less than $142 million, half the gross of the previous movie.

Adamson didn’t stick around for the threequel, so it’s instead directed by DGA President Michael Apted, whose previous franchise experience was the Pierce Brosnan James Bond movie The World is Not Enough, but he’s also done movies of many different sizes including the Jennifer Lopez thriller Enough and the long-running “Up” series of documentaries. This is also the first movie in the franchise released by 20th Century Fox through their distribution relationship with Walden Media, who have not had nearly as much success through that deal than Walden’s movies released by Disney. Movies produced by Fox Walden like The Seeker: The Dark is Rising and City of Ember systematically bombed, although those books also didn’t have quite the fanbase of C.S. Lewis’ books.

Three of the young actors from the previous movie have returned with Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes taking the spotlight as Lucy and Edmund and Ben Barnes reprising his title role from the last movie. They’re joined by Will Poulter who is best known for his role in the Sundance fave Son of Rambow. Even so, Liam Neeson and Tilda Swinton are probably the closest the film comes to box office draws, though both of them only have small appearances in the film as Aslan the lion and the White Witch, who are probably what most people remember and love from the books.

One thing that the “Narnia” movies have going for them are that Lewis’ books have a fairly strong Christian fanbase who have drawn parallels between the lion Aslan and a certain religious figure worshipped by millions, and they’re likely to make up a good portion of the audience when it comes to grown-ups. There’s also the 3D factor which could go either way since it is converted 3D which isn’t quite as impressive, but enough families and kids may want to see Narnia in the enhanced format to help drive up the opening before other 3D movies clobber it next week.

One expects that the success of the previous “Narnia” movies and the built-in fanbase of parents who remember reading the books fondly will help make this a first choice for families who have already seen some of the other family movies that have been in theaters for a number of weeks. Even so, the movie is likely to be hurt by next week’s release of TRON: Legacy and Yogi Bear, both which will take away from this film’s audience over the holidays, although it should continue to bring in some of the people who enjoyed the previous movies, allowing it to match the gross of the last installment even if it doesn’t do as well as the first movie.

Why I Should See It: C.S. Lewis’ books and characters were beloved classics predating “Harry Potter.”
Why Not: Have today’s kids read a single one of the “Narnia” books?
Projections: $41 to 44 million opening weekend and roughly $145 million total.

COMPARISONS


The Tourist (Sony)
Starring Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Rufus Sewell, Timothy Dalton, Steven Berkoff
Directed by Florian Henckle von Donnersmark (The Lives of Others); Written by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, The Young Victoria), Christopher McQuarrie (Valkyrie, upcoming The Wolverine), Jeffrey Nachmanoff (Traitor)
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “The Perfect Trip, The Perfect Trap”
Plot Summary: An American tourist named Frank (Johnny Depp) visits Italy where he meets Elise (Angelina Jolie) who gets them caught up in a dangerous game of espionage when people think Frank is a thief named Alexander Pierce.

Review (Later this week)

Analysis:

There aren’t many no-brainer pairings when it comes to box office stars, because every actor has their ups and downs depending on how far out of their element they are willing to go, and yet, Johnny Depp has easily one of the biggest male stars currently, possibly even surpassing Will Smith, which makes teaming him with his female equivalent Angelina Jolie in a political thriller the project dreams are made of.

Depp is coming out of his biggest pairing with Tim Burton, their version of Alice in Wonderland, which grossed $334 million after opening in March, and that became Depp’s biggest movie following the “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel “Dead Man’s Chest.” Even so, with four $300 million movies since 2003 and the $200 million blockbuster Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in between, it’s clear that Depp is at the top of his game after spending years appearing in a variety of movies that received moderate box office with Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow being one of his biggest hits until the “Pirates” movies.

While Jolie doesn’t have the string of $300 million hits of Depp, she’s had an amazing success as an actress who could get people into theaters, whether it’s the recent espionage action-thriller Salt, her previous hit Wanted or her previous pairing with Brad Pitt in Mr. & Mrs. Smith. The fact is that Jolie is one of the few actresses in recent years who could open action movies because she’s equally popular among men and women. Teaming her with Johnny Depp, possibly one of the few male stars with a higher Q-rating, is quite genius as a follow-up to Salt, because it can prove that she can hold her own and go toe-to-toe even if the sexual chemistry couldn’t be nearly as strong as with Pitt. (The funny thing is that both actors have a bit of a goth-friendly background, so the fact they’re doing something set in the real world with none of that aspect is interesting.)

Although this is all about the two stars, there’s quite an impressive roster of filmmakers behind the movie, including two Oscar-winning screenwriters and German filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who directed the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others. The movie also stars Paul Bettany, who is fairly well known among moviegoers, especially those that saw The Da Vinci Code.

This past summer there were two action movies that tried to benefit from their starpower when Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz teamed for Knight and Day and Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl in Killers, the former which barely opened to $20 million and grossed $76 million total while the latter opened weaker below $50 million. The thing is that both Depp and Jolie are much stronger box office draws who have also been far more consistent with their movie choices, so there is a good chance that moviegoers will go see this based on their involvement.

On the other hand, Sony may be relying a bit too much on that starpower to push this movie, not doing as much press and publicity as usual with a rather exclusive junket in Paris last week. Then on top of that, they’re not screening the movie for critics anywhere until Wednesday night, which means there won’t be many reviews until Friday. This is a strange way to go with the movie unless it really doesn’t live up to the starpower pairing and the marketing that makes the movie look like a cool action caper.

The good thing for the movie is that if people like it enough to tell their friends, it has the next few weeks to bring in audiences and it could get a nice bump from the week between Christmas and New Year’s where many casual moviegoers try to catch up on movies they’ve missed. With that in mind, we expect a moderately decent opening but the movie to benefit from the holidays to make its way up to $100 million by the time it leaves theaters in January.

Why I Should See It: Two terrific actors and a great pedigree in terms of the filmmakers behind it, you can definitely consider us intrigued.
Why Not: The lack of screenings before Wednesday night is a little worrying about the quality of the movie.
Projections: $26 to 28 million opening weekend and roughly $100 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

The Company Men (Weinstein Co.)
Starring Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Rosemarie DeWitt, Maria Bello, Craig T. Nelson
Written and directed by John Wells (executive producer of “E.R.,” “Third Watch,” and “The West Wing”)
Genre: Drama
Rated R
Tagline: “In America, we give our lives to our jobs. It’s time to take them back.”
Plot Summary: Three men on different levels of a corporation lose their jobs due to downsizing with the youngest of them, Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) trying to figure out what to do with his life by taking career coaching classes, working with his brother-in-law (Kevin Costner) in his house-building business, while the other men (Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones) have trouble figuring out their own directions in life.

Interview with John Wells (Coming Soon)

This weekend’s “Chosen One” comes with a little caveat in that its only opening for a week on Friday in New York and L.A. for Oscar consideration before getting its official release in January, which is somewhat disappointing. The original plan was to release it in October, but the move to December gave it some hopes of being considered for awards, but The Weinstein Company must have realized it was going to get lost in the December shuffle. Having seen it, I think this is just as strong as many of their other movies being released this month, though they decided to focus on some of those. I hope the decision to give this movie breathing room doesn’t end up biting this solid drama in the ass.

The truth is that working in the corporate world can be tough and you never really know when the shoe is going to drop and people are going to get laid-off, and veteran TV producer John Wells has crafted a story that looks at three different yet similar men on different tiers at a large company. Ben Affleck’s Bobby Walker is a hotshot employee who has been there for a number of years, though not as long as the grizzled veteran Phil Woodward, played by Chris Cooper, or Tommy Lee Jones’ Gene McClary, a partner who helped build the company from the ground up. An interesting addition to this mix is Maria Bello’s character, the high-powered executive who is also having an affair with Gene, thought that doesn’t keep her from sending him packing along with the other two men.

One might imagine a movie about unemployment and downsizing would be extremely depressing, but in fact, the material is handled in a way that gets you completely involved in the lives of these three men trying to figure out what to do after losing their jobs. Anyone who has lost a job or been unemployed can relate to their situation and though it eventually is quite uplifting, Wells seems to relish continually pulling the rug out from under Bobby anytime there seems to be some sense of hope. It makes you wonder what he might throw at him next.

As good as their one scene in “The Town” was, Ben Affleck and Chris Cooper give even stronger performances under Wells’ guidance. I’d even go so far as to say that Bobby Walker may be among Affleck’s two or three best performances of his career. You can really feel the frustrations of the characters as they try to go about their lives as if nothing is wrong while also trying to keep their families from falling apart. In that regard, Rosemarie DeWitt gives a really strong performance as Bobby’s wife who becomes increasingly frustrated with his state of denial due to pride, something he shares with the two older men.

Wells tackles the material with a similar instinct as he brought to his television dramas, while successfully developing the characters within a fairly short amount of time compared to a series, and the dialogue is quite stirring as it builds slowly to something quite powerful. The results are a film that’s as timely and relevant as Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” was last year, though being far more grounded in a reality more people will be able to understand and relate to.

The Company Men is now only getting a one-week Oscar run in New York and Los Angeles before opening in select cities sometime in January. We hope to write more about it then.

Honorable Mention:

The Fighter (Paramount)
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee
Directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees); Written by Scott Silver (8 Mile), Paul Tamasy
Genre: Drama, Sports
Rated R
Plot Summary: Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is a boxer close to the end of his career who hasn’t been able to catch a break, partially due to his attachment to his crack-addicted brother/manager Dicky (Christian Bale) and manager mother (Melissa Leo). When Micky meets and falls for a pretty bartender named Charlene (Amy Adams), he realizes that his only chance for one last chance is to go it alone.

Review

The Fighter opens in select cities on Friday and then expands nationwide on December 17.

Also in Limited Release:

The Oscar-nominated short Rabbit a la Berlin (Icarus Films) from directors Bartek Konopka and Piotr Rosolowski looks at the Berlin Wall in the years between World War II and the Wall’s 1989 fall as seen through eyes of the rabbits that call the area in between the two border walls their home. It’s screening with Nurith Aviv’s short Loss at New York’s Film Forum starting on Wednesday.

Nearly two years after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, Ry Russo-Young’s You Won’t Miss Me (Factory 25), winner of the “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You” at the 2009 Gotham Independent Film Awards comes to a theater near New Yorkers with Stella Schnabel as 23-year-old Shelly Brown, a misfit recently released from a psychiatric hospital trying to deal with life in New York City.

Mini-Review

Halle Berry stars in Frankie & Alice (Freestyle Releasing) as Frankie Murdoch, a stripper suffering from multiple personalities in Geoffrey Sax’s psychological drama which co-stars Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd as the therapist who tries to help Frankie come to terms with her past. It will open in Los Angeles on Friday before expanding wider in February.

Mini-Review

Mena Suvari, Jack Huston and Caterina Murino star in John (Hamburger Hill) Irvin’s Hemingway’s Garden of Eden (Roadside Attractions) – based on the author’s novel published in 1986 after his death, stirring up controversy about whether or not he wished it to be made public. Based in the 1920s, it follows a successful young writer named David Bourne (Huston) who goes on his honeymoon to Europe with his wife Catherine (Suvari) who suddenly decides to get experimental with their sex life along with an Italian girl named Maria (Caterina Murino).

Julie Taymor’s take on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest (Miramax) stars Helen Mirren as Prospera, a sorceress living on a magical island trying to care for her daughter Miranda (Felicity Jones). When a boat crashes on the island, Prospera must keep the men on board from compromising the island’s secrets while a young prince named Ferdinand (Reeve Carney) sets his eye on Miranda. Also starring Russell Brande, Alan Cumming, Djimon Hounsou (as Caliban), Alfred Molina, Chris Cooper and David Strathairn, it opens in select cities on Friday.

Director Steven Soderbergh profiles the late Spalding Grey in And Everything is Going Fine (IFC Films), which look at the monologist through 25 years of rare footage. Having played at SXSW earlier this year, it opens at the IFC Center in New York on Friday, but two days earlier, there’s…

Michelle Esrick’s documentary Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie (Ripple Effect Films/Argot Pictures) explores the life and career of the hippie icon best known for being the MC at the famous Woodstock music festival of the ’60s with many of his peers talking about his influence.


Next week, we’re edging even closer to Christmas with three new movies including the much-anticipated sequel TRON: Legacy (Walt Disney Pictures), the not-so-anticipated but kid-friendly Yogi Bear (Warner Bros.) and James L. Brooks’ latest comedy How Do You Know (Sony), starring Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson.

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas

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