The Weekend Warrior: April 22 – 24

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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.

Updated Predictions and Comparisons

1. Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family (Lionsgate) – $34.0 million N/A (up .7 million)

2. Rio (20th Century Fox) – $25.5 million N/A -35% (same)

3. Water for Elephants (20th Century Fox) – $16.3 million N/A (up 2.1 million)

4. Scream 4 (Dimension Films) – $9.0 million -52% (down .2 million)

5. Hop (Universal) – $8.0 million -25% (up .4 million)

6. African Cats (Disneynature) – $6.3 million N/A (same)

7. Insidious (FilmDistrict) – $5.1 million -24% (same)

8. Soul Surfer (FilmDistrict) – $5.0 million -31% (same)

9. Hanna (Focus Features) – $4.5 million -38% (same)

10. Arthur (Warner Bros.) – $4.0 million -40% (down .1 million)

Weekend Overview

It’s Easter weekend, falling a bit later in the year than normal, but three movies will try to keep the momentum from Rio‘s big opening last week with Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family (Lionsgate) continuing the Atlanta media mogul’s successful run of comedies starring his popular cross-dressing granny. As we’ve seen in the past, actually putting “Madea” in the title tends to bring in a lot more of Perry’s fans than his movies might otherwise, this one following just two years after Madea Goes to Jail opened with $40 million. Last year, Perry’s sequel Why Did I Get Married Too? opened over Easter with $29 million, but with this one being marketed as a straight comedy, we expect this one to do even better, providing Perry with his second-biggest opening to date.

Reese Witherspoon and “Twilight” star Robert Pattinson come together for the adaptation of Sara Gruen’s 2006 novel Water for Elephants (20th Century Fox), a historic romance that will try to bring in the female fans of both stars from teenagers to older women. It should benefit from the Good Friday holiday to help it bring in some business, although being a period piece with a generally dour premise and weaker marketing will keep it from breaking out in any significant way. Third place is a lock, but we’ll have to see if this week’s promotional blitz with both actors doing interviews and talk shows helps push the movie into the teens or higher territory.

For a third year in a row, Disneynature is releasing a nature doc in time for Earth Day on Friday and while African Cats may benefit greatly from opening on Good Friday, a day with no school, it may be hindered by the stronger animated family movies in theaters and not having the classroom groups to help bolster its opening weekend. The cougars with cubs that don’t go see Water for Elephants (see what I did there?) may go see this with their kids instead.

With school out on Friday and some people off work on Monday, the returning movies should be able to capitalize on the fact that the three new movies have a very specific non-competitive target audience, which should allow movies like Wes Craven’s Scream 4 to hold up a bit better than it might normally while Universal’s Hop should benefit greatly from its Easter themes with a big bump on Good Friday.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies (Sony Pictures Classics) with an “Honorable Mention” to Morgan Spurlock’s POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Sony Pictures Classics); you can read about both below.

Also, the 10th Annual Tribeca Film Festival starts in New York on Wednesday, which you can read more about (and enter our contest) here

This weekend last year saw the release of three new movies, but in one of the biggest shockers of the month, DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon moved back up the ranks into first place in its fifth week with $15.3 million and $178 million total. Jennifer Lopez returned in the maternity comedy The Back-up Plan (CBS Films), which did a disappointing $12.2 million in over 3,200 theaters for second place, but it fared better than the Joel Silver-produced action flick The Losers (Warner Bros.), which opened in fourth place with $9.4 million. Disneynature’s 2010 Earth Day release Oceans opened on Wednesday and it added another $6 million over the weekend for eighth place. With the Top 10 grossing less than $86 million that weekend, there’s a good chance that the Easter weekend this year will help make this the second weekend in a row up from last year!


Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family (Lionsgate)
Starring Tyler Perry, Loretta Devine, Shad “Bow Wow” Moss, David Mann, Cassi Davis, Tamela Brown Mann, Lauren London, Isaiah Mustafa, Rodney Perry, Shannon Kane, Teyana Taylor, Natalie Desselle Reid
Written and directed by Tyler Perry (lots of movies with “Tyler Perry’s” and “Madea” in the title)
Genre: Comedy
Rated PG-13
Tagline:
Plot Summary: When “her” niece Shirley (Loretta Devine) has some health concerns, Auntie Madea (Tyler Perry) agrees to bring together the entire family for a big reunion where a long-buried family secret will finally come out.

Analysis:

If there’s one thing I’ll really miss once I finish writing this column (whenever that blessed day may be), it’s my bi-annual look at the body of film work by Atlanta’s Tyler Perry, a filmmaker who I literally have only seen two movies of (at least ones that he’s directed), while trying to guess whether his diehard mostly female, mostly African-American fans will have any interest in seeing whatever he does next. You’d think that Perry’s schtick might be getting stale by now, but so far, there’s no sign of his popularity abating. The premise for his new movie may be one we’ve seen used in many low-budget indie films but there have been plenty of successful versions of this movie based around the holidays like This Christmas and The Family Stone. Fortunately, Perry’s prolific output means we have a lot of historical data to create a fairly easy formula to figure out which movies work better than others and where Big Happy Family may fall.

Madea’s Big Happy Family is Perry’s 10th feature film as a director in roughly five years and his 7th play to be brought to the big screen – the first of them, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Perry didn’t direct. The previous six play adaptations opened over $20 million with two of them opening over $30 million. Madea’s Big Happy Family is one of Perry’s most recent theatrical works, a musical he wrote after the death of his mother that was put on in 2010 in the middle of the height of Perry’s success as a filmmaker and television producer. 2010 was an interesting year for Perry, since he made his first sequel with Why Did I Get Married Too? and an adaptation of someone else’s play with For Colored Girls, the latter joining The Family That Preys and Daddy’s Little Girls among the movies that didn’t even gross $40 million total… This tells us quite unequivocally that Perry’s fans want movies based on his familiar works, and actually putting “Madea” in the movie greatly helps, as seen by Perry’s two biggest openings, Madea’s Family Reunion based on the 2001 play and Madea Goes to Jail based on a 2005 play with $30 and $40 million openings, respectively.

Joining Perry is the wonderful Loretta Devine, who was so good in For Colored Girls (and she was also in This Christmas), as well as former rapper (and former “Little”) “Bow Wow,” but otherwise, the cast is fairly unremarkable compared to some of his other movies, which have brought in bigger name stars. That probably won’t matter since Perry’s character Madea is the real star of this movie, even more than some of the other movies in which he/she appeared. Perry has been doing a lot more promotion for this movie than others including an appearance at last month’s CinemaCon where he won an award and showed some footage to the exhibitors there; this one is certainly being sold more like a straight comedy not unlike the “Big Momma” movies by Martin Lawrence.

This is Perry’s third movie to open over the Easter weekend with last year’s sequel Why Did I Get Married Too? bringing in $29 million sans Madea, following 2008’s Meet the Browns with $20 million. That one had Madea in a smaller role and she was featured in the commercials but probably didn’t do as well because s/he wasn’t as front and center as s/he is here. Good Friday is going to be a big day for the movie since so many of Perry’s fans who aren’t working will rush out to see it, although it’s probably going to be as frontloaded as most of his movies, even if it might seem like the kind of movie that would do better on Easter as something to see after church. Last year’s Tyler Perry offering Why Did I get Married Too? opened with $12.1 million on Good Friday and we think that having Madea in this one will help this have an opening day similar to Madea Goes to Jail with $14 to 15 million before it tails off on Sunday.

Why I Should See It: It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since we’ve had a chance to see Madea on the big screen.
Why Not: I personally could have gone another year or two… or three… or four, but as I’ve said, I’ve only seen one Madea movie EVER!
Projections: $31 to 34 million opening weekend and roughly $65 million total.

COMPARISONS


Water for Elephants (20th Century Fox)
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz
Directed by Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend); Written by Richard LaGravenese (P.S. I Love You, The Horse Whisperer, The Mirror Has Two Faces, The Bridges of Madison County, Freedom Writers)
Genre: Drama
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Life is the most spectacular show on earth.”
Plot Summary: After the death of his parents, a penniless veterinary student named Jacob (Robert Pattinson) takes a job at a traveling circus caring for the animals where he falls for Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), the circus’ star performer, though the head of the circus, Marlena’s husband (Christoph Waltz), is not a fan of his wife canoodling with Edward… I mean… um… Jacob.

Review

Analysis:

While it wouldn’t be that hard to offer counter-programming for Tyler Perry, this romantic period piece drama based on the 2006 novel by Sara Gruen, which spent some time as the #1 book on the New York Times’ bestseller list, will mainly be hoping its starpower will make it of interest to women who haven’t had much catered directly towards them in recent weeks.

It’s a return to drama for actress Reese Witherspoon who generally had better success at comedies until she starred opposite Joaquin Phoenix in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, which got her an Oscar and Phoenix a severe case of the crazies. Witherspoon’s return to the screen after two years in James L. Brooks’ How Do You Know? was met with a big “eh, so what?” by her fans and the movie tanked with roughly $30 million worldwide. (Not so bad until you consider that the romantic comedy cost $120 million and that Witherspoon has opened previous movies to over $30 million!)

More than anything, Water to Elephants is hoping the many female fans of actor Robert Pattinson, whose career has exploded due to the success of the three “Twilight” movies, will want to see a movie which he works with animals and has a romance with the older actress. (We don’t want to make assumptions that the “cougar factor” of the relationship might be appeal to older female “Twilight” fans, but we just went there, so deal with it!) Pattinson’s last couple non-“Twilight” movies haven’t done that well despite trying to bring in the “Twihards” with last year’s Remember Me stalling out at $19 million, presumably hurt by the film’s connections to 9/11, which became public very quickly. His indie Little Ashes in which he played Salvador Dali barely even made a mark in limited release. Still, you can’t deny the huge popularity of the “Twilight” movies so far, the three of which have grossed $1.8 billion so far. That’s a lot of people who are familiar with Pattinson’s work who may be jonesing to see him on the screen before the fall, but as we saw with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, the fans of the “Spider-Man” movies won’t necessarily care to see them in smaller movies, and that may be the case here as well. Either way, both Pattinson and Witherspoon will be all over the airwaves this week pimping the movie, which is exactly why having stars in your movie is a definite perk.

The last part of the equation is Christoph Waltz, the Oscar-winning actor from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds who appeared earlier this year in Seth Rogen’s The Green Hornet, and who barely is being shown in the commercials and trailers. The choice of director is in an odd one since Francis Lawrence previously had done genre fare with the action-thrillers Constantine and I Am Legend, the latter an enormous hit for Will Smith.

Being a period piece might be one of the stopping blocks, because for some reason, people have trouble getting into period pieces. There have been tons of dramas and comedies set in the ’20s (most of them released by Universal, oddly enough) and some of them, like George Clooney’s Leatherheads and Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man, probably should have fared better considering those involved. Really, the key to the movie doing well or poorly is the genre because romantic dramas have had mixed results when adapted for the screen with the movies based on Nicholas Sparks’ novels generally having great success with The Notebook and Dear John being standouts. Other bestselling novels that have tried to make the leap to the screen have ended up in the $12 to 15 million opening range and that’s probably where Water for Elephants will end up. There probably isn’t that much crossover audience between this and the Tyler Perry, although the animal lovers who may want to see Robert Pattinson cavorting with an elephant may be more attracted to the Disney nature doc African Cats.

With that in mind, it should do just fine on Good Friday but be hit badly by the Easter holiday which is normally spent with family, though if the movie’s any good (and reviews back that up), it’s should get strong word-of-mouth business over the following week before being slaughtered by a number of other female-targeted romantic comedies opening in May.

Why I Should See It: It’s based on a book so it can’t be all bad, right?
Why Not: Oh, wait… so are the “Twilight” movies. QED.
Projections: $13 to 15 million opening weekend and roughly $40 million total.

COMPARISONS


African Cats (Disneynature)
Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey (earth)
Genre: Documentary, Nature
Rated G
Plot Summary: This new doc takes a look at two factions of lions in Africa as well as a single cheetah mother and the cubs she’s trying to raise and protect in the wild.

Mini-Review: It’s hard not to be too skeptical of Disney’s return to nature films, maybe because the new filmmakers tend to stick to the same tried and true formula that worked in the ’50s, and let’s face it, nature hasn’t changed that much since Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom.” For their follow-up to 2009’s earth, Alaistar Fothergil and Keith Scholey create a far simpler story here than they did with that over-achieving attempt to do a global nature doc, focusing on a single are of Africa with far more effective results. The film follows two types of wild cats, a pride of lines led by the male Fang, trying to survive and protect his daughter along with his “baby mama” from the threat of invading lion pride from the North. That location is also home of a single mother cheetah who has to protect her young cubs from various predators. Separating the two areas is a large crocodile-laden river, which provides water for the animals that the lions feed on, but also keeps the two lion factions separated.

The filmmakers do a terrific job introducing the central characters and quickly establishing “good guys” and the “bad guys” and making it evident of the dangers surrounding the film’s protagonists. The animals could only get more anthropomorphic if they stood up on their hind legs and actually started talking to each other, because you’re immediately drawn into their world and start feeling for them as you would humans. This is especially the case with the mother cheetah and her brood, because they seem to be facing insurmountable odds of survival.

Sure, we’ve seen lots of footage of lions and cheetahs hunting their prey and in turn, being hunted themselves, but this film looks fantastic due to the talented cinematographers who beautifully set up the environment with shots of the vast landscape. It’s surprising the film wasn’t shot in IMAX to really make you feel as If you’re there.

The film handles some of the realities of living in the wild in a tasteful way, so when the big cats kill or die it hopefully won’t leave your younger kids in tears. The only issue is that every tragic moment is followed almost instantly with a scene of playful moments with the lion or cheetah cubs, presumably to keep the film from turning into too much of a downer. It seems like a bit of a cop out by trying to avoid the realities of life, but these “awwww”-dorable moments should be expected at this point, and for many younger female viewers, they may be enough for them to give the movie a thumbs up.

Even with those issues, nature and animals lovers probably can do worse things with their time than watching these stories unfold and the filmmakers’ adherence to standard nature doc formula can probably be forgiven due to solid storytelling and filmmaking.

Rating: 7/10

Analysis:

We don’t have a lot to say about the third Earth Day release from Disneynature, maybe because we still don’t really have a particularly good grasp on how these movies work and make as much money as they do. Of course, the return of nature docs can be traced back to the success of French films Winged Migration and March of the Penguins, and Disney, who were one of the pioneers of the genre, took the bull by the horns to create the Disneynature imprint for the type of nature films kids and families seem to adore.

Their first release earth opened with $14 million in its first five days on the same weekend two years ago leading to $32 million total, and last year’s Oceans opened slightly weaker and ended up with less than $20 million. African Cats returns to land and tells a far more focused story about wild lions and cheetahs, which will appeal to fans of Disney’s classic The Lion King. There are a lot of animal lovers out there and cat lovers especially–believe me I know a bunch of them!–which should make it more of a draw than a movie about fish. As added incentive, Disney are doing a special promotion where some of the money from the film’s opening week will go to help the wild cats of the African savannah.

IMAX has often been at the forefront of getting people to see nature docs, particularly those in 3D and African Cats won’t have the advantage of the higher ticket prices those entail, but unlike Disneynature’s previous films, this is opening on Friday, and Good Friday to boot, which means no school and lots of families with kids out looking for movies to see together. The fact that it’s opening a week after the hit animated film Rio and shortly after Universal’s Hop, two very different nature films, but also something Disneynature’s previous movies didn’t have to face, might be problematic. Regardless, we expect animal lovers to give this a look on Friday and there being enough business to do decent post-opening business when classrooms are back in session the following week.

Why I Should See It: It’s a lovely and well-done story about wild animals that’s quite endearing.
Why Not: Didn’t we already enjoy that same story back when it was called The Lion King?
Projections: $5 to 7 million opening weekend and $20 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Incendies (Sony Pictures Classics)
Starring Lubna Azabal, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudetted
Written and directed by Denis Villeneuve (Polytechnique, Maelstrom) with Valerie Beaugrand-Champagne
Genre: Drama
Rated R
Tagline: “The Search Began at the Opening of their Mother’s Will”
Plot Summary: After the death of their mother Nawal (Lubna Azabal), twins Jeanne and Simon (Melissa Desormeaux Poulin, Maxim Gaudette) are sent on a mission to find the father they never knew and the brother they never knew about, forcing them to travel to the Middle East to dig up the dark secrets from their mother’s past.

Interview with Denis Villeneuve

Sundance Review

So far, this is sitting above all others as my favorite movie of 2011, and the only one I’ve given a 10/10 rating in quite some time (see my review above). Having seen it a second time, I’m sticking to that. I think my earlier review and my interview with the filmmaker tells you all you need to know but I can’t really say enough great things about this film that really has captured my interest on so many levels.

I wasn’t familiar with Villeneuve’s work before seeing this, but it really is a masterpiece of storytelling, starting as the type of slow character drama we’ve seen from the French, but once it moves to the Middle East, we witness a riveting story told in two separate time periods. It’s nothing like you might expect from a movie based on a play like Doubt or Rabbit Hole, mostly due to the way Villeneuve and his team captures the vast landscapes of the Middle East. Much of what keeps you invested in the story is the amazing performance by Lunba Azabal as Nawal, a woman who suffers greatly before and during her country’s civil war, but just when you think you know where things are heading, the rug is pulled out from under you. (I really don’t want to say much more because really it’s those shocking twists that make the movie so incredible.)

I’ve said a few times this year that Julian Schnabel’s Miral kind of got shafted a bit since each time I saw it was within close proximity to Villeneuve’s film which accomplishes much of what Schnabel was trying to do with far less effort.

Incendies opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Honorable Mention:

POM Wonderful Presents: the Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Sony Pictures Classics)
Starring Morgan Spurlock
Written and directed by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, Where on Earth is Osama bin Laden?)
Genre: Documentary
Rated PG-13Tagline: “He’s not selling out, he’s buying in.”
Plot Summary: Morgan Spurlock takes a look at marketing, branding and product placement and how it’s infiltrated the movie business by trying to find sponsors for his latest documentary.

Interview with Morgan Spurlock

For his third feature film, Morgan Spurlock tackles branding, marketing and advertising, and while I’m sure I have few friends who aren’t fans of his filmmaking M.O., you have to give him credit for finding a concept for this doc and exploring every single angle while creating something funny and entertaining. In that way, it’s some of his best work since Super Size Me even if it’s not as deep or meaningful as what he did on his “28 Days” series.

The idea is to try to fund a movie completely through corporate sponsorship, and Spurlock makes the rounds calling and visiting all sorts of corporations big and small and trying to impress them with his pitch. It’s an incredibly WETA film, since we’re essentially watching him talking to people about making the film at the same time as we’re watching the finished film, and you quickly learn how that odd addition to the title came about. Watching Spurlock put together a marketing campaign for the movie as part of the movie just makes things odder as you see posters and advertising for the movie all over the place despite not really seeing any of it now that the movie is really coming out.

The results are absolutely hilarious, maybe even funnier than “Super Size Me,” though roughly halfway through the film it turns into a more serious and informational doc that looks into the real damages that comes with advertising as Spurlock visits Sao Paulo, Brazil where all outdoor advertising has been abolished. The ending is quite poignant as the filmmaker contemplates the results of essentially selling out and how that might affect his credibility, but he never loses sight of making an entertaining movie, which is why The Greatest Movie Ever Sold may also may be his most accessible work to date.

If you’ve ever been interested in advertising or product placement and how it works, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold opens in select cities on Friday, and you can find out exactly where on the Official Site

Also in Limited Release:

Jim Mickle and Nick Damici, the team behind the horror film Mulberry Street return with the post-Apocalyptic Stake Land (IFC Midnight), which takes place in a world overrun by vampires. After they meet, a vampire slayer simply known as Mister (Damici) becomes the mentor for a young orphaned teen named Martin (Connor Paulo from “Gossip Girl”) as they travel the country trying to find safe haven. It opens in New York at the IFC Center on Friday, then starts on Video on Demand on April 25 and in more cities on Friday, April 29.

Interview with Nick Damici & Connor Paulo (Coming Soon!)

Mini-Review

Steven Silver’s The Bang Bang Club (Tribeca Films) takes a look at a group of photographers capturing the atrocities in South Africa during the last years of Apartheid with Greg Marinovich (Ryan Phillippe) and Kevin Carter (Taylor Kitsch) becoming almost like rock stars with their Pulitzer-winning photos. Based on the book by Marinovich and fellow photographer Joao Silva, the film premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday before opening in New York and L.A. the following day.

Mini-Review

Donnie Yen stars in Andrew (Infernal Affairs) Lau’s historic action epic Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (Wells Go USA/Variance Films) set in 1925 where China is in danger of being split apart during a Civil War with the incursion of Japanese military hoping to pick up the piece. None of that matters at the Club Casablanca where all the factions converge for drinking and dancing and where the club’s new manager Qi (Yen) hides a dark past as a martial arts expert who fought during the war in Europe as the legendary Chen Zhen. He becomes involved with the club’s singer Kiki (Shu Qi) who has her own share of secrets. It opens in select cities on Friday.

The hand-drawn animated Mia and the Migoo (GKIDS) by Jacques-Rémy Girerd, featuring the voices of Whoopi Goldberg, Matthew Modine, James Woods and Joe DiMaggio, follows a girl named Mia who goes on a journey across mountains and jungles looking for her father, but instead finding a bumbling forest spirit called the Migoo who helps her in her search. It opens in New York at the IFC Center on Friday and in L.A. on May 6.

Robin Blazak’s Cougar Hunting (Aspen Entertainment Group) probably won’t be offering Disneynature any competition this weekend as it follows three college graduates who travel to Aspen, Colorado looking for sexy older women who prey on young guys. Clear proof that the sexual revolution has hit a wall, it opens in select cities.

Michael Gleissner’s action-thriller Deep Gold 3D (Bigfoot Entertainment) follows the journey of free diver Amy Sanchez (Bebe Pham) whose pilot boyfriend Tony vanishes while bringing millions of dollars of gold to a bank, so she and her sister set out to find him. It opens in 3D theaters in select cities.

This is a big weekend for Bollywood-style movies with the first of them being When Harry Tries to Marry (108 Pics), Nayan Padrai’s romantic comedy about an Indian bachelor living in New York who plans an arranged marriage with a woman back in India, but then he meets an American student who causes conflict in the young man. It opens in New York at the Regal Union Square and in Los Angeles on May 6. Satyajit Bhatkal’s Zokkomon (UTV Motion Pictures) is about an orphan abandoned by his uncle and left to fend for himself who sets off on an adventure to become the hero Zokkomon. It opens in select cities, as does Dum Maaro Dum (Fox STAR Studios), which we know nothing about. Sorry!


Next week, the month of April and the spring movie season ends with the fifth installment of the hit action franchise Fast Five (Universal), reuniting Vin Diesel and Paul Walker and bringing in Dwayne Johnson, the animated comedy Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil (Weinstein Co.), the teen movie Prom (Disney) and the action-thriller Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (Freestyle Releasing).

Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas