The Weekend Warrior: January 21 – 23

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.

Predictions and Comparisons -

1. No Strings Attached (Paramount) – $20.7 million N/A

2. The Green Hornet (Sony) – $18.0 million -47%

3. The Dilemma (Universal) – $9.8 million -45%

4. True Grit (Paramount) – $7.2 million -35%

5. The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Co.) – $5.7 million -29%

6. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) – $5.4 million -33%

7. Little Fockers (Universal) – $3.9 million -45%

8. Yogi Bear (Warner Bros.) – $3.1 million -42%

9. Tron: Legacy (Walt Disney) – $3.0 million -47%

10. The Fighter (Paramount) – $2.9 million -43%

The Way Back (Newmarket Films) – $2.3 million N/A

Weekend Overview

While most critics and journalists will continue to perpetuate the myth that January is little more than a studio dumping ground, one movie is going to be able to take advantage of being the only high-profile new release, and that’s the return of director Ivan Reitman with the romantic comedy No Strings Attached (Paramount), starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. With an easy-to-market high-concept premise involving friends who sleep together, kind of an inverse When Harry Met Sally, it should be a strong draw for younger women this weekend and it should be able to bring in enough business to top the box office just ahead of last week’s The Green Hornet even if its R-rating may limit the number of Kutcher’s younger teen fans that will be able to see it.

Opening moderately in 650 theaters is the latest from Oscar-nominated director Peter Weir, the epic drama The Way Back (Newmarket Films), starring Colin Farrell, Ed Harris and Saoirse Ronan, which seems to be getting released without a lot of marketing or fanfare despite Weir’s prestigious history for Oscar-nominated films. We really don’t have a lot to say about the film in terms of box office analysis nor can we think of any comparisons since it feels like a bit of an anomaly, but it’s unlikely to even get into the Top 10.

This week’s “Chosen One” is the Korean thriller The Housemaid (IFC Films) from Im Sang-Soo, which you can read more about below.

This weekend last year saw the release of three new movies which once again tried but failed to dethrone James Cameron’s Avatar as it topped the box office for a sixth week straight with nearly $35 million with a total gross of $550 million. Coming in a distant second was the action-thriller Legion (Sony/Screen Gems) with $17.5 million in less than 2,500 theaters, and opening in fourth place was Dwayne Johnson’s family comedy Tooth Fairy (20th Century Fox) with $14 million. The medical drama Extraordinary Measures (CBS Films), starring Harrison Ford and Brenda Fraser, tanked with just $6 million in 2,500 theaters for eighth place. The Top 10 grossed $120 million, but once again, this weekend is going to fall way short without an Avatar to make a difference.


The Green Hornet IMAX Contest

We were hoping to do this last week, but got waylaid by technical issues. Hopefully lots of you went out to see The Green Hornet this weekend and if you enjoyed it, you’ll want to enter a very special contest we’re doing in conjunction with the IMAX Corporation, who were nice enough to supply lots of cool prizes.

The Grand Prize in the contest is a poster for the movie signed by the cast (except for Cameron Diaz) and crew along with a four-pack of IMAX tickets. Then we have a bunch of cool action figures of The Green Hornet and Kato as well as a cool replica of the Black Beauty, all from Decor, which you can see below, plus a signed limited edition hardcover, which we’ll distribute among the four second place winners, who will also get a pair of IMAX tickets. Lastly, we have a runner-up prize of a Green Hornet IMAX poster and T-shirt plus you guessed it, a pair of IMAX tickets!

Seriously, if you liked the movie and want something to remember it by, or maybe you want to go see it again in IMAX, then this is the contest you’ll want to enter, and this contest, you don’t even have to answer any questions! Just fill in the form here with your name, address, etc. (US only please!) and you’ll be entered and we’ll select the six (or so) lucky winners.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet and are interested in seeing it in IMAX, you can find out more on the Official IMAX site.


No Strings Attached (Paramount)
Starring Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Cary Elwes, Kevin Kline, Greta Gerwig, Ophelia Lovibond, Ben Lawson, Chris Bridges, Olivia Thirlby, Jake M. Johnson, Lake Bell, Guy Brannum
Directed by Ivan Reitman (Meatballs, Stripes, Ghost Busters, Ghostbusters II, Evolution, My Super Ex-Girlfriend); Written by Elizabeth Meriwether
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rated R
Tagline: “Can Sex Friends be Best Friends?”
Plot Summary: Life-long friends Adam and Emma (Ashton Kutcher, Natalie Portman) decide one morning to cross the last barrier between them and have sex, and they decide to become “friends with benefits” as long as it’s just sex and doesn’t include any of the drama and romance normally involved in a sexual relationship. The question is whether people as hot as Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher can possibly have sex with each other without falling in love ’cause I don’t know about Ashton Kutcher, but I know lots of guys madly in love with Natalie Portman who have never had sex with her so my money’s on Natalie not falling for Ashton.

Analysis:

Just one week after the relative failure of the high concept comedy The Dilemma, another studio is giving it a go, this time with an R-rated romantic comedy starring two big stars and helmed by one of the most respected directors from the ’80s (who isn’t named “John Hughes”), Mr. Ivan Reitman!

We’ll get to him in the moment because the big draw for the movie may as well be Ashton Kutcher, who went from being a heartthrob on television’s “That ’70s Show” to be one of the more successful young actors when it comes to romantic comedies, first when he was paired with then-girlfriend-now-deceased Brittany Murphy in Just Married, a January release that did better than expected. Kutcher’s most recent romantic comedy paired him with Katherine Heigl for Killers, which was less successful than both their previous rom-coms, although granted, Kutcher appeared before that in the mega-blockbuster Valentine’s Day. Kutcher also held his own against Cameron Diaz in What Happens in Vegas and the late Bernie Mac in Guess Who, both which opened with roughly $20 million.

Kutcher’s co-star this time around is Natalie Portman, who hasn’t really done movies like this, at least not recently. Sure, she appeared in the romantic comedy Garden State with Zach Braff and going way back to Ted Demme’s Beautiful Girls. Having acted since the age of 12, she’s quite popular especially among guys, even if you couldn’t really tell from her box office record. She’s currently starring in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, a movie which is quickly becoming her biggest non-”Star Wars” hit of all time having just crossed $75 million and we’ll be seeing a lot of Ms. Portman over the next five months, as she will be going up on stage to accept all of her well-deserved awards. She also will be seen a lot on screen, appearing in David Gordon Green’s Your Highness (another comedy!), and in the summer tentpole movie Thor, her second movie based on a comic book. If that wasn’t enough to make Portman one of the most high profile actresses of 2011, she also recently announced that she was pregnant… and engaged! So now she’s also on the tabloids and all over E! as well, rather than just being hidden, and she’ll be all over the movie sites and magazines for the next four months at least. (Portman just won a Golden Globe over the weekend which has helped keep her in the limelight between films.)

Then there’s Ivan Reitman, a legend in comedy due to some of the movies he’s directed including many of Bill Murray’s great movies from the ’80s including both “Ghost Busters” movies, Meatballs and Stripes. In recent years, Reitman hasn’t exactly been loved by critics or moviegoers with his alien invasion movie Evolution doing disappointing business and his last film My Super Ex-Girlfriend bombing fairly badly. Even so, he’s still beloved in the industry, particularly in Canada, and he also reared a second-generation filmmaker in Jason Reitman, who has been known to make a few decent movies.

Most of the focus of the movie is on the two stars, although with Reitman on board, you’ll get a great cast, and this is no exception with Kevin Kline playing a minor role and the cast rounded out by indie cuties Greta Gerwig and Olivia Thirlby, Mindy Kaling from “The Office,” rapper Ludacris (here credited as Chris Bridges), and the ever-present Lake Bell.

One of the possible killers for the movie is that it’s rated R, which means that it won’t bring in the younger teen girls that might normally be interested in seeing a romantic comedy starring Ashton Kutcher. Clearly, a movie that involves casual sex would never get a PG-13 rating and possibly be a bad influence on young girls, even if it’s okay for them to move to California and get a job writhing on stage ala last year’s Burlesque. The last romantic comedy that came out with an R-rating was the Drew Barrymore-Justin Long movie Going the Distance, which bombed over Labor Day weekend. Although Judd Apatow has been able to delve into the territory quite successfully and the hit Wedding Crashers also delved into rom-com territory, all of those had something for the guys, where the appeal to guys of Reitman’s latest is minimal.

Paramount hasn’t had much luck with comedies in recent years – if you don’t include the “Jackass” franchise. Last year’s Dinner for Schmucks was one of their rare breakouts as was I Love You, Man the year before, but they’ve generally done better with big tentpole movies. One of their biggest romantic comedies was How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days in 2003 with Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey, which benefited from a pre-Valentine’s Day release, and they then put McConaughey with Sarah Jessica Parker for Failure to Launch, which was also a big hit, though that was way back in 2006. Just a few months back, they failed to make a mark with Morning Glory despite its strong cast and premise, but they may have better luck this time, not only due to the cast and the premise, but also because they have a fairly free and clear weekend where the only major competition is last week’s releases. Wisely, Paramount has put a lot of money into advertising the pairing of the two stars and the premise so many older teens and 20-somethings will be able to relate to, something which could make this the only date movie currently in theaters.

Why I Should See It: ‘Cause Natalie Portman was adorable in Garden State and we’ve been waiting a long time for her to do another romantic comedy.
Why Not: ‘Cause the thought of Natalie Portman sleeping with Ashton Kutcher even if it’s for a movie is enough for us to knock her off our Top 5 of actresses we want to sleep with. But maybe that’s just us.
Projections: $20 to 22 million opening weekend and roughly $60 million total.

COMPARISONS


The Way Back (Newmarket Films)
Starring Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan
Written and directed by Peter Weir
Genre: Drama
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Their escape was just the beginning.”
Plot Summary: The true story of a group of Russian soldiers who escape from a Siberian gulag in 1940, traveling across the Arctic cold, though the Gobi desert and Himalayas before arriving in India, partially based on the true story of Slavomir Rawicz, as written in his novel “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom.”

Review

Analysis:

As mentioned above, we don’t have a lot to say about the movie. Peter Weir is a fantastic filmmaker, but this movie is not getting as wide a release as his other movies and the mostly-dormant Newmarket Films really haven’t done a very good job marketing it or making its existence known following its one-week Oscar run, and it really feels that its moderately wide release into 650 might be a bit misguided since so few people will be aware of the film’s presence. (We haven’t seen a single commercial for it.) With that in mind, we expect it to end up outside the Top 10 with a very low per-theater average.

Why I Should See It: Peter Weir is a fantastic filmmaker, and this is an interesting story
Why Not: But it’s also a slog that will make you feel like you were on the long walk with the characters
Projections: $2 to 3 million opening weekend and roughly $9 million total.


THE CHOSEN ONE:

The Housemaid (IFC Films)
Starring Jeon Do-yeon, Lee Jung-jae, Sae Woo, Yun Yeo-jong, Park Ji-young
Written and directed by Im Sang-Soo (The President’s Last Bang)
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Unrated
Tagline: “When Opportunity Knocks, Answer At Your Own Risk”
Plot Summary: A young woman from a poor background, Eun-Yi (Jeon Do-youn) takes a job as a nanny at the luxurious house of a wealthy family, led by businessman Hoon (Lee Jung-jae) and his pregnant wife (Sae Woo) but when the former seduces the innocent Eun-Yi and she becomes pregnant, she finds out exactly how evil rich people can be as they try to get rid of their problems.

Interview with Im Sang-Soo

As a long-time fan of Korean cinema, I was quite thrilled to see this one just before the Toronto Film Festival last year, though it’s not like the type of “thriller” you’d normally expect even with one of its most obvious influences being Alfred Hitchcock. Im Sang-Soo’s follow-up to the dark comedy The President’s Last Bang goes into far darker territory than Sebastian Silva’s The Maid addressing many different issues that comes with any master and servant relationship within a rather simple genre-tinged tale.

It begins in a busy city center where a young woman throws herself off a building as witnessed by the film’s protagonist, a young woman working at a restaurant who soon is hired as a nanny for a wealthy family. Eun-Yi is quiet but she has a child-like nature, thrilled to be living and working at this opulent mansion, especially when she meets the couple’s young daughter who is entirely non-plussed by her new nanny’s enthusiasm.

The key to the film working so well is that from the first time Eun-yi enters the house, we’re made aware that this family is incredibly rich and they have no time or patience for the servants. Everything has to be perfect and the very pregnant mistress of the house is used to being pampered and spoiled. When the master of the house, a rich businessman, sees the attractive Eun-yi soaking wet while cleaning out the master bathtub, he’s aroused enough to pay her a visit in her bedroom, getting her drunk and seducing her. From there, “The Housemaid” reveals itself as an erotic thriller where we see Eun-yi being used by the man of the house, something that doesn’t escape the eagle eye of the veteran maid. Eun-yi gets pregnant and word quickly gets to the master’s mother who pays them a visit and starts needling his pregnant wife to do something about it.

One thing that’s interesting is that the film’s opening is shot very much fly-on-wall with handheld cameras to establish realism, but once the story moves into the house, the enigmatic construct that it is, the film takes on a far more stylish look with a very limited color palette mainly of whites and blacks, something that adds to the edginess, similar to the Korean horror film A Tale of Two Sisters and its patterned wallpaper. The Housemaid is more creepy than scary, as we see what these people think they can get away with since they have enough money to throw at any problems. Eun-yi’s pregnancy could pose a bigger problem and the women of the house start plotting to do whatever it takes to convince her to get an abortion. Some may be shocked by the graphic nature of the film’s sexuality as well as the very idea that rich people would go to such lengths, but it’s part of what makes it such an effective thriller. Clearly, Im Sang-soo wanted to say something about the rich upper class and the way they deal with problems, one of the film’s layers that’s the most prevalent.

The movie isn’t necessarily a dark comedy ala “President,” but as it gets darker and darker, there are moments that almost require a bit of release, and most of that comes in the form of Yun Yeo-jong, the household’s veteran, an older woman who has gotten past the point of hating her job after years dealing with the family’s whims and eccentricities.

Since seeing the movie the first time, I also had a chance to see Joen Do-Yeon’s previous film Secret Sunshine, and she is just a fantastic actress, one who could very well be poised to break out of the Asian market if given the right role. She’s extremely sexy but not in the normal way you’d expect from an Asian actress, as she is able to show off a lot of different layers, much like she did in Secret Sunshine. The rest of the cast is just as good, though it’s a little hard to believe that the equally attractive that Park Ji-young is old enough to be Lee Jung-jae’s mother unless she has received Joan Rivers levels of plastic surgery to look so young.

Roughly an hour and fifteen minutes into the movie, the film settles down into a rather lackadaisical pace as it goes back and forth between Eun-yi and her tormentors. Two of the most shocking scenes were clearly inspired by The Omen, a personal favorite movie of mine, and the big climax is so deliciously dark and quite sick it really pays off just when you think the filmmaker has gone as far as he could with the theme. The epilogue is a bit of a quizzical come-down, like something David Lynch might have come up with, but that’s par for the course as so many Korean filmmakers will often delve into strange territory.

Overall, The Housekeeper is quite stirring and thought-provoking in a similar way as Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, showing a flawed system that most would readily accept merely as “how things are.” Seeing how far said system drives one poor young woman merely trying to please her employers is what makes the film both jarring and entertaining.

The Housemaid opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Honorable Mention:

We already have made John Wells’ directorial debut a “Chosen One” back when it got its Oscar-run in December, so you can read our original write-up here.

The Company Men (The 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

The Company Men opens in roughly 100 theaters on Friday.

Also in Limited Release:

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.

Kiran Rao makes her directorial debut with Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries) (UTV Communications) which looks at the lives of four Mumbai residents whose lives are intertwined. It opens in select cities on Friday.

Anime fans may be looking forward to Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (Eleven Arts), a new feature film in the popular franchise that I don’t know enough about to talk about as if I do. Apparently, it involves the pilots of giant cyborgs known as Eva Units fighting to prevent some sort of apocalyptic event. It opens in select cities on Friday.


Next week, the month of January comes to a close with the supernatural thriller The Rite (New Line/WB), while Jason Statham stars in the revenge thriller The Mechanic (CBS Films). Since we’ll be at the Sundance Film Festival starting Wednesday, we’ll probably have a stripped-down column next week and possibly the week after that as well.

Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas

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