The Weekend Warrior: March 11 – 13

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 too many major changes. Apparently, we’re still some of the highest predictions out there on most of the movies but at least the top two have been very well marketed and should be able to defy the bad reviews at least opening week.

1. Battle: Los Angeles (Sony) – $36.4 million N/A (down .4 million)

2. Red Riding Hood (Warner Bros.) – $23.0 million N/A (down .7 million)

3. Rango (Paramount) – $22.0 million -43% (down .5 million)

4. Mars Needs Moms (Disney) – $14.3 million N/A (down .3 million)

5. The Adjustment Bureau (Universal) – $13.1 million -38% (same)

6. Hall Pass (New Line/WB) – $5.3 million -40% (Same)

7. Gnomeo & Juliet (Disney/Touchstone) – $4.5 million -38% (down .2 million)

8. Beastly (CBS Films) – $4.1 million -58% (down .1 million)

9. The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Co.) – $4.0 million -35%

10. Just Go With It (Sony) – $3.8 million -42% (down .2 million)

Weekend Overview

After a relatively decent March opening weekend, three new movies are going to try to keep the ball rolling with two very different alien invasion movies bisected by a darker take on a classic fairy tale.

Under normal circumstances, Jonathan Liebesman alien invasion war movie Battle: Los Angeles (Sony Pictures), starring Aaron Eckhart, could be an enormous summer blockbuster that makes $50 to 60 million its opening weekend, but opening in March during one of the worst movie droughts in years, it’s more likely to end up somewhere in the middle 30s, possibly a little better, but definitely enough to take the top spot. It will mostly appeal to guys ranging from older teens and up, and possibly bring in some of the urban males who have been so undeserved, but it won’t have any interest to women of any age…

Which is why this week also offers the counter-programming of Twilight director Catherine Hardwick’s Red Riding Hood (Warner Bros.), starring Amanda Seyfried, a PG-13 horror version of the classic fairy tale that should bring in the younger women who love scary movies as well as those familiar with the original story and interested in seeing what Hardwick does with it. Like Sony with Battle: Los Angeles, Warner Bros. have been pulling out the stops for the advertising and though it might look too scary for many women, there should be enough left over to give it a look.

Roughly a month after having a surprise hit with Gnomeo & Juliet, Walt Disney Pictures follow it with the photo-realistic sci-fi adventure Mars Needs Moms based on the children’s book by Berkeley (“Bloom County”) Breathed. Unfortunately, it looks much weaker than the other animated films already in theaters and while it may get a bump from the higher 3D and IMAX ticket prices, it otherwise looks like a dud that probably will end up below last week’s Rango.

As far as the returning movies, we expect Beastly to tank against the stronger Red Riding Hood, while Rango and Matt Damon’s The Adjustment Bureau shouldn’t be too adversely affected by the new movies and should be helped by strong word-of-mouth.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Jonathan Hensleigh’s real-life crime thriller Kill the Irishman (Anchor Bay Films), starring Ray Stevenson, with an “Honorable Mention” to Tom Shadyac’s personal and philosophical documentary I Am (Paladin), both of which you can read about below.

This weekend last year, four new movies opened, trying in vain to dethrone Tim Burton’s blockbuster Alice in Wonderland, which won the weekend with another $62.7 million as it crossed the $200 million mark after just ten days. Opening in a distant second was Paul Greengrass’ Iraq-based action-thriller Green Zone (Universal), reuniting him with his “Bourne” star Matt Damon for an opening weekend of $14.3 million in 3,003 theatres. It was followed by the romantic comedy She’s Out of My League (Paramount), starring Jay Baruchel and Alice Eve, which opened with just under $10 million. Robert Pattinson’s romantic drama Remember Me (Summit) opened in fifth place with $8 million, just behind Scorsese’s Shutter Island. That was followed in sixth place with the ensemble comedy Our Family Wedding (Fox Searchlight), starring Forrest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia, which ended up with $7.6 million for sixth place. The Top 10 grossed $130 million, and if two of the three new openers do as well as expected, we could see this weekend doing even better.


Battle: Los Angeles (Sony Pictures)
Starring Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Ramon Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Ne-Yo, Michael Pena
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Darkness Falls, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, The Killing Room); Written by Chris Bertolini (The General’s Daughter)
Genre: Action, Science Fiction, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Plot Summary: When alien invaders crash land into the ocean just off the coast of Los Angeles, a band of Marines led by a soon-to-retire staff sergeant (Aaron Eckhart) must go deep into the city in order to save a group of survivors before the entire area is nuked.

Interview with Director Jonathan Liebesman

Review (Coming on Wednesday)

Analysis:

Since this year is all about science fiction and particularly alien invasion movies, it makes some sense that things kick off early with a movie that mixes Aliens with Black Hawk Down in hopes of enticing the once-strong young male moviegoing crowd that’s been fairly dormant in recent weeks. It’s a territory all too familiar to producer Neal Moritz whose breakout hit The Fast and the Furious in 2001 made him a true Hollywood player, following that up with hits XXX and S.W.A.T., but also a number of disappointing flops as well. The success of the fourth movie in the series Fast & Furious put Moritz back on top, and this will be his second of three movies in the first quarter of 2011, following Seth Rogen’s Green Hornet and leading up to Fast Five at the end of April.

Battle: Los Angeles is a fairly high concept alien invasion movie, but more than that, it’s a war movie, a genre that’s flourished in the late ’90s, early ’00s with Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, but has floundered after a few flops… not to mention the fact that the country has actually been at war making it unnecessary to revisit the genre. On the other hand, one of the most popular video games in the last few years were the “Call of Duty” games, which shows that there are a lot of guys interested in combat and warfare, which gives them a good in to a movie like this. On top of that, alien invasion movies have been hot thanks to the success of Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 in the summer of 2009, which helped get this one greenlit, as well as numerous other alien invasion movies.

Moritz has brought on director Jonathan Liebesman—Blomkamp’s South African countrymate, in fact–who directed a number of bad horror movies at the start of the ’00s and is making a giant leap into big budget action and FX movies with this movie, which leads into him taking over the sequel to last year’s spring mega-hit Clash of the Titans.

While the cast isn’t being featured very heavily in the commercials, the movie stars Aaron Eckhart, a strong dramatic actor who made his biggest move into the mainstream consciousness by co-starring in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight as Two-Face. Otherwise, Eckhart has done mostly indie dramas and romance films like his last movie Love Happens with Jennifer Aniston, which didn’t do particularly well, which makes Battle: Los Angeles Eckhart’s biggest movie as a headlining actor. It also stars one of Moritz’s favorite actresses, Michelle Rodriguez, who appeared in two of the “Fast and Furious” movies and in S.W.A.T., as well as James Cameron’s Avatar, making her a popular actress among mostly-male action fans. It also stars Ramon Rodriguez, who was featured in Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Tony Scott’s remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, as well as Michael Peña from Crash and Observe and Report. One of the few other women is Bridget Moynahan who starred in man-friendly flicks like The Sum of All Fears and The Recruit, but hasn’t done much of significance in recent years. It also features a large diverse cast of young actors playing the Marines including R&B singer Ne-Yo, Jim Parrack rom “True Blood,” Adetokumboh M’Cormack from “Lost” and many more. Having such a large cast of African-American and Latino actors will help the movie do well among urban males who have mostly been ignored by much of 2011′s output so far.

Sony is one of the strongest film studios in terms of marketing and they’ve done a great job rolling out trailers for the movie that don’t give everything away, each one slowly building as they increase the amount of action and the scope of the movie. It’s doubtful reviews will be that favorable even if it will have enough of the explosions and alien stuff male moviegoers are likely to forgive the movie’s problems. Women on the other hand will have very little interest in either thing, making them look for entertainment elsewhere.

While this sort of movie would normally be released during the summer, Warner Bros. opening Zack Snyder’s 300 to over $70 million back in 2007 has made March a viable month to release bigger budget FX-laden action movies with Roland Emmerich’s 10,000 BC and Snyder’s Watchmen both doing well during the month. Last year’s remake of Clash of the Titans was originally intended for a March release before being moved back to April in order to convert it to 3D – it opened well but began the backlash for 3D conversion. Surprisingly, Battle: Los Angeles isn’t getting the IMAX screens this weekend while Disney’s alien invasion movie is, but there should be enough screens left for it to be able to do big business on Thursday at midnight and on Friday night. We expect this to do very well opening day and possibly generating one of the biggest opening days of 2011 so far, but it will then tail off over the weekend, putting it closer to the amount made by Rango last weekend.

Why I Should See It: Having the Marines take on invading aliens is a very cool premise that should offer a lot of great action and FX.
Why Not: Surely, there are better alien invasion movies on the way this summer that will overshadow this one.
Projections: $35 to 38 million opening weekend and roughly $105 million total.

COMPARISONS


Red Riding Hood (Warner Bros.)
Starring Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Virginia Madsen, Julie Christie
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight, Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown, The Nativity); Written by David Leslie Johnson (Orphan, upcoming Wrath of the Titans)
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Believe the legend. Beware the wolf.”
Plot Summary: A young woman named Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) is sworn to marry the wealthy Henry (Max Irons) by her parents, but she’s more into the brooding loner Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but when her sister is killed by a werewolf that prowls the forest around the village, Valerie starts to suspect that one of the two men may actually be the beast.

Mini-Review (Later this week!)

Analysis:

Offered as counter-programming to Battle: Los Angeles is a movie that seems to combine two big movies of early 2010, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and the remake of The Wolf Man. The fact that it’s directed by filmmaker Catherine Hardwick, who is now best known for kicking off the Twilight franchise, will make some think that this is a lame romantic fantasy tale for young girls, although the fact that they’re playing it in a real and gothic way with a Big Bad Wolf that actually kills its victims in a horrifying way.

Hardwicke’s ringer for the movie is Amanda Seyfried, a young actress who has proven immensely popular among women of all ages due to her appearances in the hit musical Mamma Mia! ($144 million gross) and last year’s Nicholas Sparks romantic drama Dear John ($81 million), as well as the lesser hit Letters to Juliet ($53 million). Casting her as the iconic fairy tale character Red Riding Hood is a brilliant idea since Seyfried is popular among the same teen and older women that may be interested in Hardwicke’s take on the classic fairy tale.

The movie also stars Gary Oldman, a highly respected actor who has appeared in a lot of big blockbusters in recent years including both of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and last year’s hit The Book of Eli, Oscar-nominated legend Julie Christie (does anyone even realize she’s in this movie?) and Virginia Madsen from Sideways, and Billy Burke fresh off his role in Drive Angry. The two male love interests are played by Shiloh Fernandez who’ll be seen in Skateland later this month and British actor Max Irons.

Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood is opening a week after another romantic fairy tale Beastly–just a little fun fact is that Vanessa Hudgens appeared in Hardwicke’s early breakout film Thirteen–but unlike that and Alice in Wonderland, this isn’t going to be able to bring in the family audiences or the ‘tween girls who might normally see a fairy tale movie. That’s mainly since Warner Bros. is marketing the film more like a horror film and less like a romantic fairy tale, something that might help it appeal to guys more than it might otherwise. Even so, you’ll have a hard time getting any self-respecting guy to walk up to the ticket counter and ask for a ticket to a movie called “Red Riding Hood.” Either way, the marketing is definitely strong enough to get others interested, which should allow it to do better than it might have otherwise, and reviews probably will have very little effect on those who already want to see this, similar to Battle: Los Angeles.

Why I Should See It: This looks like a pretty cool take on the age-old fairy tale.
Why Not: We’re thinking that the movie is more romance than horror despite the marketing, but we’re not seeing it until Wednesday, so maybe we’re wrong.
Projections: $22 to 25 million opening weekend and roughly $65 million total.

COMPARISONS


Mars Needs Moms (Walt Disney Pictures)
Starring (the voices of) Seth Green, Dan Fogler, Elisabeth Harnois, Mindy Sterling, Kevin Cahoon, Joan Cusack
Directed by Simon Wells (The Prince of Egypt, The Time Machine, An American Tail: Fivel Goes West); Written by Simon and Wendy Wells
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure, Family
Rated PG
Tagline: “Mom needs a little space”
Plot Summary: Based on the children’s book by Berkeley Breathed (“Bloom County,”) about a nine-year-old named Milo (voiced by Seth Green) whose mother (Joan Cusack) is kidnapped by Martians and he has to stow on their spaceship to try to rescue her.

Analysis:

While animated films have done well so far in 2011, one does have to worry about diminishing returns when there are so many movies competing for the same family audience. Disney’s latest animated movie, based on the 2007 children’s book by Berkeley Breathed, best known as the creator of the popular cartoon strip “Bloom County,” might suffer from the fact that it just doesn’t look as good or funny as other offerings.

The movie is written and directed by Simon Wells, great grandson of sci-fi author H.G. Wells–he even adapted his relative’s classic novel The Time Machine roughly nine years ago–but this is his return to animation following 1998′s The Prince of Egypt for DreamWorks Animation and An American Tail: Fievel Goes West in 1991 for Universal, neither which did particularly well.

The voice cast isn’t very impressive which may be why no names are being mentioned in the commercials, and regardless, one would expect Seth Green and Dan Fogler probably would have more fans among the college set than amongst parents – then again, based on last week’s showing for Take Me Home Tonight, maybe Fogler doesn’t have that many fans.

Rango and Gnomeo & Juliet have done a good job cornering the family market with strong commercials that show how funny they are, which can’t be said for this one which may bring in parents with small kids who haven’t seen the other movies but that’s really about it. As has been the trend, the movie is opening in 3D, which isn’t that surprising, but it’s also opening in IMAX theaters, which is surprising, because it’s hard to imagine anyone might want to pay extra to see a movie that doesn’t look very good in the larger screen format.

We’re just not feeling this one doing particularly well especially in a market with stronger family films which should keep this one opening somewhere in the teens and struggling to maintain a place in the Top 10 by Easter.

Why I Should See It: If the aliens in Battle: Los Angeles are just too scary for ya…
Why Not: Because aliens are meant to be scary, not this cutesy kid stuff.
Projections: $14 to 17 million opening weekend and $48 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Kill the Irishman (Anchor Bay Films)
Starring Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vinnie Jones, Paul Sorvino, Fionnula Flanagan, Laura Ramsey, Steve Schirripa, Linda Cardellini, Bob Gunton, Jason Butler Harner, Robert Davi
Directed by Jonathan Hesleigh (The Punisher); Written by Jonathan Hensleigh, Jeremy Walters
Genre: Crime, Drama
Tagline: “Based on the True Story of Danny Greene, the Man the Mob Couldn’t Kill”
Plot Summary: In Cleveland during the mid-’70s, an Irish thug named Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson) became a target for the Italian Mafia when he refused to pay them the money they demanded and found a way of surviving numerous assassination attempts in retaliation.

Video Interview with Ray Stevenson (Later this week!)

Anyone who was bummed by either of the last two Punisher movies, should be thrilled by this collaboration between the star of the last one and the director of the first one as they relay the story of Cleveland’s Danny Greene, who worked his way up from union disputes to being a full on mobster taking on the Italian Mafia.

Scorsese’s Goodfellas is a great entry point to a film that has lots of talented actors playing gangsters and thugs with the likes of Christopher Walken, Paul Sorvino and Vincent D’Onofrio being able to effortlessly nail what’s required, but more than anything, this is a fantastic vehicle for Ray Stevenson, proving he can carry a film and excel in a role that might normally go to someone like Gerard Butler. Stevenson’s Danny Greene is immensely likeable in the way he commits crimes with a smile and a wink, but it’s a surprisingly emotional performance from the actor that really show his skills better than anything he’s done previously.

At first, the film acts like a straight biopic showing Greene’s rise through the labor ranks of Cleveland, taking on crooked bosses and the like and eventually creating his own criminal empire. During this time, the women generally play smaller inconsequential roles with Linda Cardelini and Laura Ramsey playing Danny’s wife and girlfriend, breaking up the film’s testosterone-heavy proceedings. The second half of the film is where it gets interesting as that’s when Danny angers the wrong people by refusing to pay the Italian mob and he becomes their primary target, sending an assassin played by Vinnie Jones to get rid of Danny once and for all. It leads to a movie filled with lots of explosions, and Danny getting retaliation for those trying to kill him.

Other than Stevenson, some of the best moments come from D’Onofrio as his long-time partner and Val Kilmer as the police officer assigned to taking down Greene, but it’s also fun watching Steve Schirripa, Walken and Sorvino unapologetically delivering the type of line readings we’re so used to from them.

The movie is somewhat predictable just by the very nature of the genre, though as you watch it, you may forget it’s based on real events, which is why Hensleigh’s decision to mix in actual news footage from that era is absolutely brilliant at creating results that are akin to Spike Lee’s pseudo-fictional Summer of Sam.

Sure, there have been lots of stronger gangster flicks, but whether you’re a fan of the genre from films or from “The Sopranos,” one has to appreciate the relish and gusto with which Hensleigh, Stevenson and the rest of the cast take on the material, because it makes for a fun and entertaining take on the genre.

Kill the Irishman opens in select cities on Friday.

Honorable Mention:

I Am (Paladin)
Written and directed by Tom Shadyac ( Bruce Almighty, Liar, Liar, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective)
Genre: Documentary, Philosophy
Plot Summary: Following a bicycle accident that left him incapacitated, filmmaker Tom Shadyac, responsible for some of Jim Carrey’s biggest comedies like Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty, decides to change his life, selling his house and worldly possessions to live in a more modest community and start a new life. He also embarks on a journey to try to find out what can be done to improve our life on earth, interviewing the likes of Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Desmond Tutu.

Clearly influenced by An Inconvenient Truth, Jim Carrey enabler Tom Shadyac makes his move into the world of documentaries with a somewhat rambling film that combines personal reflections with deep philosophical ideas from some of the greatest minds on the planet in order to create something quite thought-provoking and inspirational.

After a life-changing accident, Shadyac travels across the globe to find out what’s wrong with the world and what can be done about it, looking into the problems of materialism and human nature and how we’ve grown away from the essence of living in a democratic society in order to sustain our own selfish needs. It sounds like it could make for a rather preachy film, but Shadyac’s warm and friendly demeanor makes for a positive-thinking hippy dippy film that actually maintains the viewer’s interest.

It’s not always exactly clear where the focus of the film lies–at times, Shadyac comes off as being quite crackerjack–and In that sense, the film may not be taken much more seriously than the likes of Religulous or Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, but it never goes overboard in trying to create divisiveness in its audience. It’s also hard not to be impressed by his ability to get some of the great minds to share their ideas. These include South African Arch-Bishop Desmond Tutu, Howard Zinn, a couple Noetic scientists and other disparate individuals. The combined brainpower of these intellectual interview subjects may send some of the film’s bigger ideas whizzing over the viewer’s head, but one always gets the impression it’s leading somewhere, and the film makes its way through its talkie middle third to leave the viewer sated by the arc of the filmmaker’s journey.

While ultimately I Am may not be the best-made documentary, it more than makes up for it with Shadyac’s good intentions, and some may surprised at what a smart film came from the director of so many stupid comedies.

I Am opens in L.A. on Friday and in New York on Friday, March 18.

Also in Limited Release:

Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre (Focus Features) is brought to the screen Cary (Sin Nombre) Fukunaga with Mia Wasikowska playing the title character, a young woman who has led a life of adversity who gets a job as governess to the troubled Edward Rochester (Mike Fassbender), which presents her first opportunity at love. It opens in select cities.

Interview with Michael Fassbender

Video Interview with Cary Fukunaga

Review

Severance director Christopher Smith returns with Black Death (Magnet Labs), a thriller set during the Dark Ages where plague and pestilence was spreading across the country and a young monk (Eddie Redmyane) agrees to lead a group of knights of the church, including the grim Ulric (Sean Bean) to a village that hasn’t been touched by the plague and is thought to be harboring a necromancer who is committing sins against the church. It opens in New York, L.A. and Minneapolis (of course) on Friday, following its run on Video on Demand.

Mini-Review

Abbas Kiorastami’s Certified Copy (IFC Films) stars Juliette Binoche as an art gallery owner in Tuscany, Italy who attends a lecture by a British author (William Shimell) about a novel he wrote on fake art, and the two of them tour the countryside talking about a variety of topics. It opens at the IFC Center on Friday.

Sebastien Guttierez’s follow-up sequel to last year’s Women in Trouble once again stars girlfriend Carla Gugino as (now retired) porn star Elektra Luxx (Samuel Goldwyn Films) dealing with her pregnancy and teaching a sex education class to housewives when her flight attendant friend Cora (Marley Shelton) comes to her with a proposition. It opens in select cities, as does…

Dana Adam Shapiro, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Murderball, makes his dramatic feature debut with Monogamy (Oscilloscope) starring Chris Messina (Julie and Julia) as a photographer who takes on jobs being paid to take impromptu hidden photos of his photos. When he starts following a sexy woman who gets involved in all sorts of sexual activity, he starts wondering if this job may be considered cheating on his fiancée, played by Rashida Jones.

Tchavdar Georgiev and Amanda Pope’s documentary The Desert of Forbidden Art about Igor Savitsky, who saved millions of dollars in artwork that the Russian government wanted to destroy by hiding it at the Karaklpakstan State Museum in Uzbekistan. It opens in New York at the Cinema Village on Friday and then in L.A. on March 18.

Matt Crowley’s groundbreaking off-Broadway play “The Boys in the Band,” which became Hollywood’s first gay movie, is the focus of Crayton Robey’s documentary Making the Boys (First Run Features), which opens at the Quad Cinemas in New York.

Eric Mendelsohn’s Sundance award-winning 3 Backyards (Screen Media Films) follows the lives of three residents of a suburban town, played by Elias Koteas, Edie Falco and Embeth Davitz. It opens at the IFC Center on Friday.


Next week, the month of March settles down with three relatively low-key releases with Matthew McConaughey taking on the role of The Lincoln Lawyer (Lionsgate) based on the best-selling crime novel, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro team up for Limitless (Relativity Media) and the guys from Shaun of the Dead team with the director of Superbad for the sci-fi road comedy Paul (Universal).

Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas

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