The Weekend Warrior: April 15 – 17

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 -

1. Rio (20th Century Fox) – $44.7 million N/A (up .2 million)

2. Scream 4 (Dimension Films) – $40.4 million N/A (down .4 million)

3. Hop (Universal) – $11.0 million -48% (down .3 million)

4. Arthur (Warner Bros.) – $6.8 million -44% (same)

5. Soul Surfer (FilmDistrict) – $6.7 million -37% (up one place)

6. Hanna (Focus Features) – $6.5 million -48% (down .3 million and one place)

7. Insidious (FilmDistrict) – $5.0 million -47% (same)

8. Source Code (Summit) – $4.7 million -45% (same)

9. Your Highness (Universal) – $4.4 million -53% (same)

10. Limitless (Relativity Media) – $3.0 million -45% (same)

The Conspirator (Roadside Attractions) – $2.0 million N/A (up .3 million)

Weekend Overview

In a year where we haven’t had a single movie open with over $40 million so far, this could be the weekend where we see two movies making that amount as each is sure to bring in large audiences on opposite sides of the movie spectrum while competing for the top spot.

It may be a very tight race, but sure to win Friday, especially when Thursday midnights are counted in, is Wes Craven’s return to his popular horror franchise with Scream 4 (Dimension Films), which reunites Courteney Cox and David Arquette (at least on screen) and Neve Campbell, joined by a bunch of young ingĂ©nues, many of whom will be slaughtered by Ghostface. Besides the 20-to-30 somethings who remember enjoying the scares of the original series, the movie should be exciting for teens and older teens looking for a movie to see as a group.

Even so, the latest from Blue Sky Studios, Rio (20th Century Fox), will benefit from having a G rating, which means that parents won’t have any reason not to bring young kids on Saturday and Sunday, so it should be able to catch up to “Scream” by Sunday and surpass what’s likely to be heavily frontloaded and ultimately do better business over the coming weeks leading into the summer.

It should have a great detriment to Universal’s Hop in its third weekend, while three of last week’s new movies should fight it out for fourth place with a likely photo finish.

Being given a semi-wide release to coincide with the anniversary of Lincoln’s anniversary, Robert Redford’s The Conspirator (Roadside Attractions), starring James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Danny Huston and Tom Wilkinson, will open in over 500 theaters on Friday but probably won’t be getting enough attention to get into the Top 10.

This week’s “Chosen One” is … A PLAY! SHOCKER! Yes, we decided to shake things up a bit and recommend the LAByrinth Theater’s Broadway debut with “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” starring Chris Rock and Bobby Cannavale, which you can read more about below.

This weekend last year saw the release of two new movies and while its $19.8 million opening was seen as a disappointment, Matthew Vaughn’s superhero comedy Kick-Ass (Lionsgate) still opened at #1, just narrowly defeating DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train your Dragon with $19.6 million. The Chris Rock-Martin Lawrence ensemble comedy remake of Death at a Funeral (Screen Gems/Sony) opened in fourth place behind Date Night with $16.2 million in 2,459 theaters. The Top 10 grossed $108 million and guess what? This may be one of the first weekends this year where we beat the same weekend last year… hurray!


Rio (20th Century Fox)
Starring (the voices of) Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan, Jemaine Clement, Leslie Mann, will.i.am, Jamie Foxx
Directed by Carlos Saldanha (All three “Ice Age” movies, Robots); Written by Don Rhymer (Big Momma’s House, Surf’s Up, Deck the Halls, The Honeymooners< Big Momma’s House 2)
Genre: Animation, Comedy
Rated G
Tagline: “1 out of every 8 Americans is afraid of flying. Most of them don’t have feathers.”
Plot Summary: Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) is a rare blue macaw living a comfortable life in Minnesota with his master Linda (Leslie Mann) thinking he’s the only one of his kind, but when an ornithologist from Brazil (Rodrigo Santoro) learns of his existence, they’re brought to Rio in order for Blu to mate with a female of the species, Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway).

Mini-Review: (Coming Soon)

Interview with Carlos Saldanha (Coming Friday)

Analysis:

2011 seems to be booming for animation with three of the top movies of the year so far being animated family films with Paramount’s Rango currently the #1 movie of the year with $118 million, Disney’s Gnomeo & Juliet is just under $100 million and Universal’s Hop having the second-biggest opening with $37 million this past weekend and is well on its way to that mark as well. Now along comes 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios with their latest offering, already having a great track record with the three “Ice Age” movies each of which have grossed over $175 million nationally and cumulatively making $2 billion worldwide, as well as the animated version of Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who.

For their first original non-”Ice Age” movie since Robots, they’ve once again turned to director Carlos Saldanha, who decided to make a movie that shines the spotlight on his home country of Brazil with an adventure story involving talking macaws and cockatoos, as well as the other creatures found in the country’s tropical environment. Locale-based fish-out-of-water adventures have already proven successful, as seen by DreamWorks Animation’s hit Madagascar, which helped make Saldanha’s idea more feasible.

Blue Sky has taken an approach somewhere in between the two biggest animation houses, Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, in that they tend to go for star voicepower but they also go for fairly high concepts and lush visuals. One can argue that Anne Hathaway is the biggest name in the voice cast, and she has quite a lot of experience with animated movies, having provided her voice in the first Hoodwinked! movie. That was roughly six years ago and Hathaway’s only involvement with a family film since then was portraying the White Queen in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland last year, which was a global blockbuster. Jesse Eisenberg is a newcomer both to the world of animation and family films, but he’s in top form career-wise thanks to his Oscar nomination for David Fincher’s The Social Network, which has helped make him more known among audiences. The other two relatively big names in the cast are Jamie Foxx and Tracy Morgan, the latter who is better known for comedy than the former, although Foxx did get his start on “In Living Color.” So far, the voice cast are not being used as a selling point compared to other animated films.

Normally, 20th Century Fox could guarantee a $40 million opening with a March animated release but Rio is opening not too long after Universal’s hit Hop as well as other animated family hits, which means there’s generally less demand for family movies than there normally is around this time of the year. It’s also not a sequel or something based on a popular book ala Horton Hears a Who or even How to Train a Dragon, which makes it a harder sell.

One thing that could and should greatly help the movie is that it has an amazing soundtrack featuring some of today’s top stars including Will.i.am as well as Jamie Foxx, and they’re all getting into the samba mood, teaming with Sergio Mendes for their songs. Kids tend to love music, something they’ll share with parents, and having such big names on the soundtrack certainly will help put more focus on the music, something which has helped many of Disney’s films. Also, unlike some of the other animated movies this year, there’s a good chance that Rio will appeal to more ethnic urban groups, both for the music and the cast.

One of the oddest bits of marketing that may actually be the most effective at raising awareness and interest in the movie among adults is Blue Sky Studios’ decision to work with Rovio, the company behind the popular and addictive “Angry Birds” mobile game, to make “Angry Birds Rio,” a version of the game that integrates characters from the movie.

Rio‘s G-rating should help it bring in a wide range of audiences as well as parents with younger kids, and positive reviews should definitely help, but it also should benefit greatly from next week’s Easter weekend especially on Good Friday when school is out.

Why I Should See It: This is one of Blue Sky’s best films to date, which should allow it to get better reviews than the “Ice Age” sequels.
Why Not: It will make you want to visit Rio for yourself and flights are expensive right now… unless you have wings, of course.
Projections: $42 to 46 million opening weekend and roughly $150 million total.

COMPARISONS


Scream 4 (Dimension Films)
Starring Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Marielle Jaffe, Rory Culkin, Nico Tortorella, Erik Knudsen, Marley Shelton, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Alison Brie, Mary McDonnell, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Brittany Roberts
Directed by Wes Craven (The “Scream” movies, Red Eye, My Soul to Take, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Shocker, Last House on the Left and dozens more); Written by Kevin Williamson (The “Scream” movies, I Know What You Did Last Summer)
Genre: Horror, Suspense, Thriller
Rated R
Tagline: “New decade. New rules.”
Plot Summary: Returning to Woodsboro on the book tour for her new self-help book, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) reconnects with Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and new reporter Gale (Courteney Cox), but Sidney’s return also marks the return of Ghostface, who starts killing those around them.

Mini-Review:

Thanks to the mocking it got in the very first “Scary Movie,” it’s hard to take Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s return to the “Scream” franchise very seriously, but that may be exactly what they want, because the fourth movie sets things up very early on that it’s meant to be taken with tongue in cheek, opening with a “Stab” spoof to set up Sidney Prescott’s return to Woodsboro just as the Ghostface murders have started up again. Meanwhile, Courteney Cox’s Gail Weathers has gotten bored with smalltown life and looks at the new killings as an opportunity to get back into the reporting game.

It’s a great-looking film as Craven reunites with much of the team from the first three movies, but it’s certainly not a very scary movie, maybe because after three movies, you generally know where and when Ghostface will strike, creating a predictability that doesn’t bode well for surprises.

Kevin Williamson clearly had fun writing what is a rather clever script with sharp dialogue, taking every opportunity to mock the last eleven years of horror movies with the “Saw” franchise and all the ridiculous horror remakes getting the worst of it. Fans of the series should enjoy how all the characters are still making fun of the horror rules and how those rules have changed, now incorporating the original “Stab” series as a reference for humor when Cox makes the joke about something being “very META,” admitting almost instantly that she doesn’t even know what that means, it makes you realize that Williamson and Craven are well aware of the scrutiny their new movie will get and how ludicrous it is that they can still get so much attention for a fairly simple premise.

Unfortunately, the three returning members of the cast haven’t improved much as actors, Campbell giving Kristen Stewart a run for her money with a mopey emo performance that does little to make you want to see her return to the screen. Cox isn’t much better and neither is Marley Shelton as Dewey’s deputy who seems to be offering some competition for her husband’s eye. Considering how great Craven makes most of the sexy young actresses look in the movie, it’s shocking how bad Cox looks by comparison.

That leaves it up to the younger actors to save the day and the likes of Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere do a fine job carrying the movie, both bringing their A-game to their roles, Panettiere ably playing the funny best friend while Roberts shows a lot of range. Rory Culkin is also quite good in a role that normally would be played by a less experienced actor.

Considering how predictable the first half is, Craven and Williamson pull out all the stops for the finale. Without giving anything away, the last act really delivers with the type of twists and resolutions we’ve come to expect. Maybe the motives of the new Ghostface are a bit suspect but you can’t deny that the big reveal and everything that follows is quite entertaining.

“Scream 4″ may not be as good as the original movie, but it’s certainly better than the two previous sequels and that’s in large part due to the inspiration Kevin Williamson found to return to Woodsboro without ignoring everything that’s happened since the last movie.

Rating 7/10

Analysis:

Back in 1996, when Wes Craven released the first Scream, his first collaboration with screenwriter Kevin Williamson, horror had become somewhat marginalized with a number of horror franchises based on slashers like Michael Myers, Jason and Craven’s own Freddy Krueger from the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” movies, and none of them were doing a lot of business. At that point, the idea of spoofing the genre with a slasher movie that pokes fun at slasher movies seemed to be a good idea and sure enough, it became one of those rare horror movies that didn’t do most or all of its business opening weekend, building on its $6 million opening with word of mouth that eventually took it to $100 million. The sequel Scream 2 opened a year later to $32 million on its way to $100 million itself and then it was over two years before Scream 3 opened even bigger but topped out at $89 million in 2000. It was a huge phenomenon for its time, since no other horror movies had opened that big or done well, and the face of horror has changed quite a bit since the days of “Scream” with the entire “Saw” franchise been and gone with seven installments in seven years. Taking over from them was the “Paranormal Activity” movies which benefited from their PG-13 rating. (I’ve been told they were actually rated R–must have been for language then.) In essence, other horror movies have come along that have opened bigger than Scream 3, but Craven was ahead of his time in creating an environment where a horror movie could be a blockbuster.

Since Scream 3, Craven has remained present with his disastrous but appropriately-named bomb Cursed followed by the sleeper hit Red Eye. He then became involved in producing remakes based on some of his early cult classics The Hills Have Eyes and Last House on the Left once horror remakes became the thing to do in 2003. (Ironically, Platinum Dunes’ The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake began that trend, but when they decided to remake Craven’s earlier hit A Nightmare on Elm Street, he wasn’t involved.) Last year, Craven’s long-delayed My Soul to Take was released, in badly-converted 3D no less, and it pretty much tanked.

Back when the first Scream was released, it starred two actresses who had huge success on television, Courteney Cox on the hit sitcom “Friends” and Neve Campbell on the popular show “Party of Five.” Oddly, neither one has really done very much in terms of movies since then. Cox appeared in bombs like 3000 Miles to Graceland and Alpha Dog, but her highest profile project has been a return to television a few years back with the show “Cougar Town.” Campbell used her “Scream” success to get cast in the lead of Wild Things but her last two movies were small films by the late Robert Altman (The Company) and James Toback’s When Will I Be Loved, her last movie back in 2004 which grossed less than $200,000. David Arquette didn’t do much better as actor, but took up directing with his own horror movie The Tripper in 2007. Arquette and Cox also got married, but they had a rather high-profile break-up and divorce last year. In general, none of the three actors have really done much with their success from the “Scream” movies but the fact that all of them are returning is a big coup for Craven, and at least Cox should be good to do the talk shows to promote the film.

Other than the returning three, Wes Craven has assembled one of the most eclectic casts including a number of pretty young actresses who have gotten their start as child actors. The youngest and most prominent of them is Emma Roberts, who got her start in family movies like Aquamarine and Nancy Drew and in recent years has been starring in a number of well-reviewed indies. Hayden Panettiere is best known for her role on NBC’s “Heroes” but like Roberts, she also starred in a number of family films, and one would expect that most of the young girls who saw those movies are now in their teens and will know both actresses. Then there’s Anna Paquin, who made waves as a young actress by winning an Oscar for her supporting role in Jane Campion’s The Piano, went on to play Rogue in the first three “X-Men” movies, and now is the star of HBO’s popular vampire show “True Blood.” Actress Kristen Bell has also starred in many movies in recent years and though they’re mostly comedies like You Again, she did appear in the 2006 horror remake Pulse. The cast is rounded out by Rory Culkin, Marley Shelton, Adam Brody and Anthony Anderson.

On the one hand, the long time since the previous movie is somewhat disconcerting because one wonders how many people will even remember a franchise whose last installment was 11 years ago. On the other, there’s a lot more young people who will have seen the original trilogy on cable and DVD further building the audience of those who might be anticipating the return of the characters.

Unfortunately, the younger teens may have problems getting into the movie due to the R-rating and they might end up having to buy tickets to some other PG-13 movies to get in. Even so, ticket prices are a lot higher than they were in 2000, so if even 75-80% of the people who went to see the previous movie go see this new one, it should still do enough business to open bigger than the third installment. Horror is also a bigger draw at the box office now than it was when Scream 3 came out with movies like the R-rated “Saw” franchise and remakes of Craven’s own A Nightmare on Elm Street bringing in $30 million of business in a weekend or more, so Scream 4 doing over $40 million doesn’t seem that unrealistic.

Why I Should See It: The “Scream” movies are considered horror classics for a reason, so it will be interesting to see whether they’ll take into account the last 11 years of horror.
Why Not: Can the director of My Soul to Take make a good horror movie again?
Projections: $39 to 42 million opening weekend and roughly $95 million total

COMPARISONS

In Semi-Wide Release

The Conspirator (Roadside Attractions)
Starring James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Justin Long, Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood, Kevin Kline, Alexis Bledel, Toby Kebbell, Danny Huston, Johnny Simmons, Stephen Root
Directed by Robert Redford (Ordinary People, Quiz Show, The Horse Whisperer, Lions for Lambs, The Legend of Bagger Vance and more); Written by James Solomon
Genre: Drama, History
Rated PG
Tagline: “One bullet killed the President. But not one man.”
Plot Summary: After the assassination of President Lincoln, the military cracks down on the men thought to be involved with the conspiracy including the only woman, Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), who ran the boarding house where the men congregate. A young war hero named Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) is assigned with the unenviable task of defending Surratt, whom he realizes may be innocent the further he digs into the case.

Review (Coming Soon)

We don’t really have that much to say about this historic drama directed by Robert Redford, which is getting a moderately wide release similar to Peter Weir’s The Way Back back in January–it ended up grossing less than $3 million total–and this movie doesn’t seem to be getting that much more marketing or promotion, so it’s doubtful it will make much of a mark by opening wide in roughly 550 theatres on Friday. We think this will end up somewhere between $1.5 and 2 million this weekend and less than $5 million total.


THE CHOSEN ONE:

“The Motherf*cker with the Hat”
Starring Chris Rock, Bobby Cannavale, Annabella Sciorra, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Yul Vazquez
Directed by Anna Shapiro; Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis

I’m no theater critic, but this week we’re going to do something different just because I was lucky to be offered a chance to see this Broadway play by my pal Wilson Morales at BlackFilm.com, and rarely get to see anything on Broadway so it got me really excited about what’s happening there. Of course, I’ve heard of the LAByrinth Theater, a popular downtown off-Broadway theater for many years due to the pedigree of actors that have come from out of there including Philip Seymour Hoffman and Peter Dinklage. I’m embarrassed to say that I have yet to see a play there either, but “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” is their first Broadway offering and it’s a great showcase for the talent that’s come from out of the LAB. (Just for a point of reverence, Hoffman’s directorial debut Jack Goes Boating was based on a LAB play.)

First of all, it stars one of my favorite character actors Bobby Cannavale, who is completely unrecognizable as Jackie, an ex-convict and alcoholic trying to get his life back together. When we meet his character, he’s visiting his junkie girlfriend Ronnie, played by Elizabeth Rodriguez, to tell her the news about his new job but they haven’t started celebrating before he notices a hat on a table that isn’t his. This leads to a fight and Jackie getting a gun to scare the guy he thinks is sleeping with his girlfriend. The biggest deal is being made about it being Chris Rock’s debut on Broadway as he plays Jackie’s sponsor Ralph, a guy who has all the answers of how Jackie can fix his life, but who actually has a great deal of problems himself. Annabella Sciorra plays Ralph’s beleaguered wife Victoria, and it also stars Yul Vazquez–one of the nicest guys I’ve met since starting this job–playing Jackie’s Cousin Julio, another strange character who gets a lot of laughs with his behavior and eventually becomes the comic relief in a very tough drama.

The show is incredibly funny and raunchy but also rather poignant, dealing with addiction, abuse and how to overcome both, and it also very cleverly shows the hypocrisy of the holier-than-thous who think they’ve found the best way to happiness while doing wrong themselves.

I was most impressed with Cannavale though because he seems to have slimmed down and changed his very demeanor and the way he carries himself to become Jackie, and it’s not something you might expect from an actor who has generally done more humorous roles himself. Sciorra is also fantastic, giving another moving dramatic performance, and Elizabeth Rodriguez? Let’s just say that casting directors will be wise to catch this play because she seems like someone who really could explode. (Like Vazquez, she’s been in dozens of movies in small parts, but she really could and should be doing more.)

Guirgis is just a brilliant writer, delivering the type of dialogue that Quentin Tarantino is constantly praised for, really nailing the dialect of mostly Hispanic cast as well as creating a character that’s just perfectly suited for Rock’s delivery. They’ve really created something akin to a modern-day “Streetcar Named Desire” with more relevance to what is going on today within the New York working class. The play won’t be for everyone–plays usually aren’t, and they’re expensive too!–but it’s not hard to see the quality of the talent and work that’s been brought to the stage by this group, and it really feels like a Broadway underdog right now compared to the more traditional fare playing down the street.

“The Motherf*cker with the Hat” opened officially last night at the George Schoenfold Theater on 45th Street for a 15-week run. If you’re into great urban humor and drama, then you should try to check it out if you happen to be in or around New York sometime in the next couple months. Next week, we’ll be back to our regularly-scheduled movie recommendations.

Also in Limited Release:

Giuseppe Capotondi’s thriller The Double Hour (Samuel Goldwyn Films) follows a former police officer named Guido (Filippo Timi) who meets chambermaid Sonia (Kseniya Rappoport) while speed-dating and they have a romance that ends suddenly during an armed robbery of the mansion where Guido works as a security guard. It opens in New York at the Landmark Sunshine and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and in L.A on April 29.

Mini-Review

Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged Part 1 (Rocky Mountain Pictures) is brought to the screen by director Paul Johansson with Taylor Schilling (“Mercy”) playing Dagny Taggart who runs the largest railroad in America and is drawn to an industrialist at a metal company (Grant Bowler from “True Blood”) whose innovative alloy will help rebuild her company’s rail line. Part 1 of the historic epic opens in select cities on Friday.

Bernard Tavernier’s The Princess of Montpensier (Sundance Selects) stars Melanie Theirry (Babylon AD) in the title role as the beautiful aristocrat in 16th Century France who is married off to a young prince (Gregoire Leprince-Rinquet) but has two other suitors (Gaspard Ulliel, Lambert Wilson) making her marriage more complicated. It opens at the IFC Center in New York on Friday.

Janus Metz’s Armadillo (Lorber Films) is a documentary about a platoon of Danish soldiers on a six-month tour of Afghanistan. It opens at New York’s IFC Center on Friday, as does…

Zeina Durra’s The Imperialists are Still Alive! (Sundance Selects) starring Elodie Bouchez as Asya, an Arabic visual artist living the high life in Manhattan who learns that her friend Faisal has been taken away by the CIA, but when she becomes romantically involved with a Mexican student, she finds it hard to worry about the problems back home.

Steven Peros’ mystery Footprints (Paladin) is about a woman who wakes up on the sidewalk outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood not knowing how she got there or she is, so she sets out across Hollywood in a single day to learn the truth. It opens at the Quad Cinema on Friday.

Cocaine Cowboys director Billy Corben returns with Square Grouper: The Godfathers of Ganja (Magnolia), a look at some of the key players in the Miami pot smuggling scene of the ’70s including a church based around the idea of smoking ganja to get closer to God and two middle class men who become involved in the marijuana trade. It opens in Miami on Thursday and then in New York at the Cinema Village on Friday.

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s drama A Screaming Man (Film Movement) set in the environment of the civil war in Chad is about a championship swimmer now working as a “pool man” at a hotel for Western guests who loses his job to his son. The winner of a Jury Prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival opens

Janet Grillo’s drama Fly Away (Cricket Films) (based on her earlier short “Flying Lessons”) stars Beth Broderick (Zelda from “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”) as Jeanne, a single mother dealing with an autistic teen daughter named Mandy. It opens in New York, L.A. and Washington DC.


Next week is Easter weekend and it’s also Earth Day, which is why we’ll see Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family (Lionsgate) taking on Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon’s Water for Elephants (20th Century Fox) and the nature doc African Cats (Disneynature).

Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas

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