The Weekend Warrior: January 7 – 9

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: Everything is mostly the same although Little Fockers, True Grit and Season of the Witch are getting more theaters and Country Strong is getting slightly less.

1. Little Fockers (Universal) – $16.8 million -35% (same)

2. True Grit (Paramount) – $16.6 million -32% (same)

3. TRON: Legacy (Walt Disney) – $10.9 million -42% (down .3 million)

4. Season of the Witch (Relativity Media) – $9.3 million N/A (up .6 million)

5. Yogi Bear (Warner Bros.) – $7.7 million -38% (same)

6. The Fighter (Paramount) – $6.5 million -35% (same)

7. Country Strong (Screen Gems) – $6.0 million N/A (Same)

8. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) – $5.9 million -33% (same)

9. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (20th Century Fox) – $5.8 million -43% (same)

10. Tangled (Walt Disney) – $5.7 million -42% (same)

Weekend Overview

Happy New Year everyone and welcome to 2011, which looks like it’s going to start with a couple of weaker releases to help everyone recuperate from the holidays.

Nicolas Cage is back in the long-delayed Season of the Witch (Relativity Media), reuniting him with director Dominic Cena (Gone in 60 Seconds) for a post-Crusades action-thriller featuring witchcraft and CG demons that probably will have a limited appeal to college-age guys and few others. It’s opening in the often-slow opening slot of the year where new movies tend to take a back seat to the bigger holiday movies, and it’s opening with little buzz which means the best it can possibly do is third or fourth place depending on how well TRON: Legacy holds up post-holidays.

After playing in Los Angeles and Nashville for a couple of weeks, Gwyneth Paltrow’s new movie Country Strong (Screen Gems), co-starring country star Tim McGraw, will expand into roughly 1,500 theaters across the nation, where it should bring in the country fans looking for something new to see this weekend. Despite the weak showing in its platform release, all of the marketing has been geared towards this weekend, so it should do better than expected and end up in the bottom half of the Top 5 despite its moderate theater count.

This week’s “Chosen One” is the Romanian prison drama If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (Film Movement), which you can read more about below.

This weekend last year, three new movies opened but none of them were able to crack the Top 3 either as Avatar, Sherlock Holmes and Alvin’s Chipmunks remained comfortably in the Top 3, Avatar winning the weekend with $50 million, which must be some sort of January-opening record. (It had grossed $430 million in four weeks and it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.) Opening in fourth place was the vampire thriller Daybreakers (Lionsgate), which took in $15.1 million in 2,523 theaters. The Amy Addams rom-com Leap Year (Universal) opened in sixth with a slim $9.2 million, then opening all the way down in ninth place was the Michael Cera dark comedy Youth in Revolt (Dimension Films) with $6.9 million in under 2,000 theaters. The Top 10 grossed $145 million, but with nothing even closely resembling Avatar that’s a pipe dream as the Top 10 is more likely to bring in under $90 million this weekend.


THE BATTLE CRY

I’ve already seen The Green Hornet, which is out next week–it’s great and in my opinion, it’s what all the other superhero movies this year are going to have to live up to!–but otherwise, here are…

My Most Anticipated Movies of 2011!

1. Green Lantern (Warner Bros. – June 17) – Sure, I’m trying to keep my expectations realistic and down to earth, but I can’t tell you how excited I am to see this former second-stringer brought to the screen, because he’s certainly one of my favorites from DC Comics (second only to The Flash), and Martin Campbell really delivered with the equally-anticipated Casino Royale.

2. Sherlock Holmes 2 (Warner Bros. – Dec. 16) – Big fan of the literary character and I loved what Guy Ritchie did in the first one, and adding the marvelous Noomi Rapace to the cast could only make it that much better. Bummed that I’ll have to wait until December for what should be an equally cool sequel.

3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Sony – Dec. 21) – Speaking of Noomi Rapace, I loved the Swedish version of Stieg Larsson’s novel because it reminded me of a more extreme version of Se7en, so the thought of David Fincher, one of my favorite directors, tackling this dark material really thrills me to no end.

4. Paul (Universal – March 18) – After two movies and a TV series, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have proven to be a comedy duo on par with Abbott & Costello, Laurel and Hardy and Fry and Laurie, so to have them tackling a bigger budget sci-fi road comedy with the director of Superbad makes what should be a hilarious movie a must-see.

5. Final Destination 5 (New Line – Aug. 26) – I’m a huge fan of the franchise, especially the 2nd and 3rd movies, and everything I know and have seen about this fifth installment makes me think it will be back on track under the auspices of director Steven Quale, James Cameron’s right-hand man, creating a recipe for the biggest and most epic “Final Destination” yet.

6. The Muppets (Walt Disney – Nov. 23) – I’ve been a fan of the Muppets going back to the ’70s when “The Muppet Show” first aired, and while many of the movies sucked, I have high hopes that this new comedy masterminded by puppet fanatic Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) with James Bobin from “Flight of the Conchords,” should deliver the Muppet movie the fans have been aching for.

7. The Thing (Universal – Oct. 14) – This one also plays up to my sense of nostalgia, as I was a big fan of the John Carpenter space virus remake when it came out and like many, I always wondered what happened at that Norwegian base. This movie will show what happens with a cool cast including Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton… sold!

8. Captain America: the First Avenger (Marvel – July 22) – There’s no way that I wouldn’t include at least one of the upcoming Marvel movies in my Top 10 and this is such a classic Marvel character I’m optimistic they’ll do some cool stuff even while keeping him in WWII. I’m sure Chris Evans will make a cool Cap but it’s Hugo Weaving as The Red Skull for the win!

9. Cowboys & Aliens (DreamWorks – July 29) – I’m really excited to see what Jon Favreau does in this amalgam of sci-fi and Western, which looks like it could be just as much fun as the “Iron Man” movies with an equally-terrific cast.

10. Sucker Punch (Warner Bros. – March 25) – Zack Snyder’s first movie based on an original idea stars five sexy young women kicking ass in worlds inspired by the likes of “Lord of the Rings” and Anime, and it certainly feels like it’s going to be something different.

10. Source Code (Summit – April 1) – Duncan Jones’ follow-up to Moon has a pretty cool premise and an equally cool cast, and here’s hoping it gains him many new fans.

11. The Hangover Part II (Warner Bros. – May 26) – I really can’t imagine this will be as good as the breakout original, but Todd Phillips has rarely disappointed and it’ll be great to see the gang back together.

12. X-Men: First Class (20th Century Fox – June 3) – While I was disappointed with “The Last Stand,” I still think that Marvel’s mutants have enough potential that maybe Matthew Vaughn, who was originally supposed to direct the third movie, can break Fox’s superhero movie curse and deliver an X-Men movie that lives up to X2.

13. Thor (Marvel – May 6) – Not a particularly big fan of the character except possibly the Walt Simonson run, but I like what I’ve seen and I’m optimistic they’ll do interesting things with the premise. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing more Anthony Hopkins as Odin!

14. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Disney – May 20) – Loved, loved the first movie, possibly one of my Top 20 favorite movies of all time, and I really believe that getting rid of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley and focusing on Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush is the way to salvage the franchise.

15. Straw Dogs (Screen Gems – Sept. 16) – Been dying to see what Rod Lurie does with this “remake” of the Sam Peckinpah revenge thriller, a movie that’s likely to be controversial on many levels but should deliver.

16. Contagion (Warner Bros. – Oct. 21) – Steven Soderbergh tackling a global virus epidemic in 3D with an all-star cast including Matt Damon and Marion Cotillard? Yes, please!

And a big ol’ Honorable Mention to the latest movie from the Duplass Brothers, Jeff Who Lives at Home (Paramount), which isn’t even on the schedule for next year yet, but we’ll put good money down that it will end up playing Toronto and being released sometime in the fall. Can’t wait!

Anyway, that’s my list. Feel free to share yours in the comments below!


Season of the Witch (Relativity Media)
Starring Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Stephen Campbell Moore, Robert Sheehan, Claire Foy, Ulrich Thomsen, Stephen Graham, Christopher Lee
Directed by Dominic Sena (Whiteout, Swordfish, Gone in 60 Seconds); Written by Bragi F. Schut (“Threshhold’)
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “This January Raise Some Hell”
Plot Summary: Fresh off the Crusades, a knight named Behmen (Cage) who has lost faith in the church and God, abandons his post and returns home to find his homeland decimated by the Black Plague. To avoid being thrown into prison for desertion, he agrees to take on a mission for the Cardinal (Christopher Lee), taking a young woman accused of being a witch (Claire Foy) away to be tried. He’s joined by his long-time companion Felson (Ron Perlman) and other knights as well as a priest.

Review

Analysis:

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that’s almost like a studio experiment in seeing how many genres can be mashed together to create something new, and this one is essentially a period war epic mixed with a supernatural thriller and an action movie. And of course, it’s a starring vehicle for Nicolas Cage, who always seems to be around whenever someone tries to do something weird like this, and it doesn’t get any weirder than having Cage playing a Crusades-era knight, complete with an awkward pseudo-British accent, something that will surely be called to attention when the film is reviewed later this week.

Cage’s career is the definition of erratic where movies like Knowing and G-Force do huge business, but expected hits like this year’s Kick-Ass and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice don’t deliver. It’s been over three years since Cage brought out the crowds for the sequel National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the highest grossing movie of his career, and it’s been a while since he’s been able to pull in a guaranteed $20 million opening weekend otherwise. It’s all about the material and unfortunately, this one looks closer to the bomb Bangkok Dangerous, which barely brought in $15 million. Season of the Witch reunites Cage with director Dominic Cena, who was thought to be hot sh*t after directing the remake of Gone with 60 Seconds ($101.6 million gross), but after the semi-hit Swordfish, the director pretty much slunk into obscurity with a number of long-delayed movies. Joining Cage on his latest adventure is actor Ron Perlman, best known for playing the title role in Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army and star of the FX show “Sons of Anarchy.”

There was a time when opening in the first weekend of January spelt certain doom for a movie, but that’s changed in recent years with horror movies like White Noise, One Missed Call and last year’s Daybreakers doing decent amounts of business. Those films proved that genre fare is a good alternative to the holiday movies still in theaters, and there’s a good chance there will be some guys, mostly of college age and younger, returning to school and wanting to see something this weekend, who might give this a look just because there’s nothing else to see. Then again, the Crusades setting might not be very interesting to them as seen by how poorly Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven did, possibly making this a DVD rental at best.

This is Relativity Media’s second release after December’s The Warrior’s Way, which was delayed for years before being released in the weekend after Thanksgiving–also not a great weekend–where it bombed. Season of the Witch was supposed to be released in early 2010, but instead was delayed so they could do some reshoots, which is still better than Cena’s previous movie Whiteout which sat on the shelf for many, many years before Warner Bros. finally dumped it; it bombed. The marketing for Season of the Witch hasn’t been great, with the latest commercials showcasing the film’s weak CG which makes it look a bit too much like Van Helsing, and it’s probably the type of movie that shouldn’t be screened for critics, though clearly, Relativity are going to do so in hopes they can get more interest than they did for The Warrior’s Way.

Regardless of how well or poorly the movie does this weekend, it’s not going to have much legs once word gets around that it’s a stinker, and then it’ll get killed next week by The Green Hornet–ironic since Cage turned down a role in that movie–and will be gone by late January and February when stronger thrillers open up.

Why I Should See It: Surely, there’s some sort of entertainment value watching Nicolas Cage riding a horse as a knight of the Crusades.
Why Not: Possibly the same as him running around in a bear suit punching women? Let’s hope not.
Projections: $7 to 9 million this weekend and roughly $22 million total.

COMPARISONS


Country Strong (Screen Gems)
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund, Leighton Meester
Written and directed by Shana Feste (The Greatest, Jonah)
Genre: Drama, Music
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “It Doesn’t Matter Where You’ve Been As Long as You Come Back Strong”
Plot Summary: Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) is an emotionally unstable country singer who becomes involved with a rising young singer-songwriter Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) before they embark on a comeback tour along with her ex-husband manager (Tim McGraw) and pretty newcomer Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester from “Gossip Girl”).

Analysis:

If there’s any doubt that Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper would rather be in the music business than movies, here’s further proof following November’s Burlesque. His company’s latest release is a musical drama set in the world of country music by Shana Feste, whose film The Greatest was a favorite at Sundance a few years back. Maybe the Sony subsidiary were hoping to release a movie with similar appeal to last year’s Crazy Heart, which won an Oscar for Jeff Bridges, but at this point, the movie isn’t even being mentioned for awards, even for the performance by Gwyneth Paltrow, which one would think to be a given.

Even so, Country Strong marks the return of Gwyneth Paltrow to leading roles, having mainly been appearing in Jon Favreau’s mega-hit “Iron Man” movies in recent years. Before then, Paltrow was active in a wide variety of dramas and indie films following her Oscar win for Shakespeare in Love, though she’s only really been in a few hits such as the Farrellys’ Shallow Hal and the late Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. Ten years ago, she starred in her late father Bruce Paltrow’s film Duets singing opposite Huey Lewis, which may as well have been a precursor for her taking on the role of a country singer, though few will have to be reminded that Ms. Paltrow is married to Chris Martin, frontman for Coldplay, so she has a lot of first-hand knowledge of the music business. In the past few months, Paltrow has been promoting the movie in unconventional ways like appearing on the Country Music Awards to perform a song from the movie as well as making a highly-touted appearance on the hit show “Glee” to sing Ce-Lo’s “F*rg*t You.”

Adding to the credibility of the movie’s country environment is none other than country singer turned actor Tim McGraw, who starred in Fox’s horse movie Flicka a few years back and then appeared opposite Jon Favreau in Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon’s hit Four Christmases, but his biggest role was starring opposite Sandra Bullock in her Oscar-winning performance in last year’s breakout hit The Blind Side, which grossed over $300 million worldwide. Otherwise, his main audience are the country fans and he has a lot of them who won’t have any problem seeing themselves going to see a movie set in the world of country, even if we’ve seen many music stars who haven’t been able to get their millions of listeners to see their movies. (Again, I point you to Burlesque.)

The movie is opening in 1500 theaters on Friday after playing in Los Angeles and Nashville for a couple of weeks where it did middling business of roughly $121,000, and if it’s not doing big business in Nashville, the home of country music, one has to wonder how the movie might fare across the nation.

For whatever reason, Screen Gems have taken kind of a cockeyed approach to this one by not opening the movie in New York or screening it for New York critics before its platform release, which means that none of the major newspapers or magazines that are respected for their reviews have been able to help raise the awareness for the movie’s release. Chances are that Screen Gems always wanted to focus on the movie’s moderately wide release, although any chance of award nominations, other than an Original Song nomination, are pretty much dashed at this point, since you really need to get the New York critics on board even if you don’t feel that there are enough country fans in the city to help boost awareness. Instead, they’ve plastered the airwaves with commercials for the movie that try to focus on the music, and now have switched tactics for a testimonial commercial with Paltrow and McGraw talking about their new song. Having the cast or filmmakers recommending their own movie is usually a last ditch resort to get interest in a movie and it’s not likely to have much impact.

Opening in so few theaters with no critical buzz is going to make it hard for the movie to do more than moderate business and with so many strong movies in theaters, there’s a chance this might not even get into the Top 10, but it should just slip into the mess that’s likely to be the bottom half. It’s nice that Screen Gems is trying to get away from doing the genre or urban films with this and Burlesque, but if this one fails to deliver, they might want to rethink their marketing and release strategy for future music-related movies.

Why I Should See It: I haven’t seen it yet, so I don’t know what to tell you.
Why Not: The fact that Screen Gems still haven’t screened this movie in New York gives you some idea how nervous they are about actual critics reviewing the movie… same as usual.
Projections: $5 to 7 million this weekend and roughly $22 million total.

COMPARISONS

THE CHOSEN ONE

By the default (of it being the only movie I’ve seen this week)…

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (Film Movement)
Starring George Pistereanu, Ada Condeescu, Clara Voda, Marian Bratu, Mihai Constantin
Directed by Florin Serban (debut); Written by Catalin Mitulescu, Flori Serban
Genre: Drama
Unrated
Plot Summary: Silviu (George Pistereanu) is mere weeks away from being released from the juvenile camp where he’s been imprisoned when he finds out that his estranged mother has returned and she plans on taking his younger brother with her to Italy, something he’s desperate to prevent.

The Romanian filmmaking ethos which tends to involve simpler techniques like long wide-angle shots with few edits, little to no music and fly-on-the-wall camerawork has led to a number of great films like The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, but it also has led to films that don’t really deliver, because the subject isn’t as interesting. Florin Serban’s directorial debut, which takes place entirely in a youth prison facility, falls somewhere in between. Based on a play and using similar techniques mentioned above, the film is constructed very similar to other traditional Romanian films we’ve seen in recent years, but turns into something far more interesting as it goes along.

As the film begins, we spend a good deal of time watching newcomer George Pistereanu as Silviu, following his day-to-day at the juvenile center where he’s clearly older and bigger than many of the other boys. A visit from his younger brother informs him that his estranged mother has returned and she plans on taking the boy back to Italy with her. Silviu only has a few more days in prison before he’s let out, but the thought of not having his brother there puts him on edge. That stress is compounded by other matters such as an uncaring warden who is less sympathetic towards Silviu’s situation and fellow inmates who exploit the fact he won’t do anything to fight back if provoked due to his upcoming parole. Sylviu also has his eye on a pretty caseworker, but romance is the furthest thing on his mind with the thought of losing the brother he’s raised by himself.

Eventually, things build to the point where Silviu snaps and that’s where things break away from the rather languid pace that Romanian films are known for and turns into a more conventional drama as Silviu realizes he will have to go to extremes in order to get what he wants. It’s quite a shocking turn that seems to be inspired more by “Dog Day Afternoon” or “Taxi Driver” than the rest of the film, which feels more like Ken Loach.

Pistereanu does a fine job carrying the film and handling a lot of different types of situations, though when the scenes require a bit more emotion and drama, he does take things a bit overboard. After the big turn, he’s excellent, since he’s far more credible and fascinating as a film character in a tough situation than just as a prisoner being followed around by a camera.

Unfortunately, “If I Can Whistle” has the same problem as many of its countrymates as it doesn’t quite know how to end so it just ends. It’s kind of a shame since the last half hour is so stirring that one hopes it will end in a more satisfying way rather than being left rather open-ended like so many other Romanian films. Otherwise, it’s a fine debut that provides another piece to the enigmatic puzzle that is Romanian cinema.

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle will open at the Film Forum in New York on Wednesday.

Limited Releases:

Elia Suleiman’s The Time That Remains (IFC Films) is the first part of his trilogy of films that looks at the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 through to the present day. It opens at the IFC Center on Friday.

Opening there Wednesday is Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune (First Run Features), Kenneth Bowser’s documentary about the famed protest singer with testimonials by the likes of Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Sean Penn and others.


Next week, it’s the birthday of America’s greatest Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr and we’re getting two new movies to help celebrate, Seth Rogen’s action-comedy The Green Hornet (Sony) and the Vince Vaughn-Kevin James comedy The Dilemma (Universal). Which will win? Only the Green Hornet’s pal The Shadow knows!

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas

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