The Weekend Warrior (Lite): April 29 – May 1

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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. Fast Five (Universal) – $75.2 million N/A (up 3.2 million)

2. Rio (20th Century Fox) – $16.5 million -37% (down .1 million)

3. Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family (Lionsgate) – $11.5 million -55% (same)

4. Water for Elephants (20th Century Fox) – $10.0 million -42% (same)

5. Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil (The Weinstein Co.) – $9.2 million N/A (same)

6. Prom (Walt Disney) – $8 million N/A (same)

7. Hop (Universal) – $6.2 million -51% (same)

8. African Cats (Disneynature) – $4.0 million -33% (same)

9. Soul Surfer (Film District) – $3.5 million -35% (same)

10. Insidious (Film District) – $3.2 million -38% (down .1 million)

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (Freestyle Releasing) – $1.8 million N/A (down .5 million)

Weekend Overview

It’s the last weekend of April and depending whom you ask, it’s the either the last weekend of the spring movie season or the first weekend of the summer, and unfortunately, we’re so busy at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival that we have to do another stripped-down column this week. We have a full analysis of the big movie but don’t have much to say about the others anyway.

The top movie of the weekend is about as easy as you can get with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker returning for Fast Five (Universal), joined by Dwayne Johnson and Tyrese Gibson, and it should be the movie that FINALLY breaks the year’s rather dismal box office showing and opens with more than $40 million. If not, then we’re quite doomed going into the summer. The previous movie opened with over $70 million in early April and this one is opening in IMAX theaters so even if the downturn of the box office this year affects the fifth installment, that should help it at least do in the $60 million range before summer starts proper next week.

Two movies that will try to bring in very specific younger audiences are the animated sequel Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil (The Weinstein Co.) and Walt Disney Studios’ Prom, but we think both probably won’t get much further than the $10 million mark. The former is a sequel to the Weinstein Company’s hit animated movie with Hayden Panettiere taking over the role voiced by Anne Hathaway in the original, and though the long delays of the sequel’s release will surely hurt it, there should be enough families looking for something new to see after taking the kids to see Hop and Rio that it shouldn’t bomb too badly. On the other hand, the latter is hoping to entice teens, mostly females, who are busy preparing for their own prom. The film stars Aimee Teegarden and Thomas McDonnell, the former as a prom queen who finds herself attracted to the latter’s bad boy. We know next to nothing about this movie and having seen no commercials, we have no idea why female teens might be interested in this at all, so we think this will be lucky to make $8 million and could end up making even less.

You can read comparisons for these two movies here.

Lastly, there’s an independently-made action-horror movie starring Brandon “Superman Returns” Routh as Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (Freestyle Releasing), a movie based on a little known foreign comic that’s been finished for years and is now being self-released into nearly 1,000 theaters. Considering that the audience for this is more likely to want to see Fast Five, this one probably won’t be getting too much attention and is likely to end up outside the Top 10 for the weekend.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Takashi Miike’s samurai flick 13 Assassins (Magnet), which you can read more about below.

Last April wrapped up with the release of New Line and Platinum Dunes’ remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street (New Line/WB) starring Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger, which opened at #1 with just under $33 million. Offered as counter programming was the Brendan Fraser family comedy Furry Vengeance (Summit Entertainment) which tanked with just $6.6 million in nearly 3,000 theaters, averaging just 2,200 per venue, which is territory where a number of this week’s movies should find itself. The Top 10 grossed roughly $88 million and Fast Five should help this be another weekend where the box office is up from last year. Yay!


Fast Five (Universal)
Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Matt Schulze, Tego Calderon, Don Omar, Elsa Pataky, Joaquim de Almeida, Dwayne Johnson
Directed by Justin Lin (Fast and Furious, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Annapolis, Better Luck Tomorrow); Written by Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Wanted, Cellular)
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rated PG-13
Plot Summary: With Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) out of custody and now down in Rio de Janeiro, he and former police officer Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) put together a team of races for one last job but Federal Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is on their tail and has tracked Dom and Brian and aims to stop them.

Review

Analysis:

Way back in June 2001, a movie called The Fast and the Furious opened to $40 million and took the movie industry by surprise, because no one expected much from a movie by The Skulls director Rob Cohen involving street racing, scantily clad girls and a rising star named Vin Diesel.

While this column wasn’t around back then, we remember thinking the movie would do roughly $20 to 25 million, similar to the recent Nicolas Cage remake of Gone in Sixty Seconds. The movie was the brainchild of producer Neal Moritz, who had a number of hits with a couple fairly low-budget thrillers before making the move to action in a big way with the original movie making $144 million.
Maybe that’s why it was so surprising when its sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious lost its star Vin Diesel and its original director with Cohen replaced by John Singleton and Diesel replaced by R&B singer Tyrese Gibson. It debuted to $50 million but didn’t gross as much after opening, and its follow-up, subtitled “Tokyo Drift” and directed by Justin Lin, was going to be getting a DVD release before Universal decided to give it a theatrical release. Its $62 million domestic gross was fairly weak (actually what we expected from the first movie) but a secret cameo by Vin Diesel got people excited for another installment and in 2009, Moritz convinced Diesel and Walker to come back for Fast & Furious, which opened with an astounding $71 million, in April no less. That really was all that was needed to keep the franchise going, and Fast Five is coming out only two years from the previous movie so it’s still very much in the consciousness of action fans.

Of course, having Vin Diesel and Paul Walker back together is going to be a key draw for the movie, because that’s really what the fans want, although most of their success outside the franchise has been sparse, oddly both having hits when doing Disney family films, Diesel with The Pacifier and Walker with Eight Below. This time, they have quite a bit of support that should help bring in a much wider audience, especially since joining them this time is Dwayne Johnson, the former wrestling superstar who became an action star thanks to his appearance in Universal’s The Mummy Returns, leading to his own spin-off The Scorpion King, which opened with over $30 million in mid-April. That was followed by movies like Walking Tall and The Rundown before Johnson started making family movies like the hit The Game Plan and The Tooth Fairy–actually following a similar career path as Diesel’s decision to make The Pacifier. Last year, Johnson made his return to action movies with the similarly-themed Faster which did disappointing business over Thanksgiving weekend, but his return to the WWE in recent months has just made him a lot more high-profile, which means he’s a strong addition to the cast.

On top of that, Fast Five really is a “best of” compilation because it brings back characters from all of the other movies including Matt Schulze from the first movie, Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges from the second and Sung Kang from the third movie. Director Justin Lin is also returning for his third movie in a row, having had such huge success with the previous film.

Besides the sequel factor, one thing that’s really working well in Fast Five‘s favor is that there really haven’t been any strong movies specifically for guys in quite some time–maybe the last one was Battle: Los Angeles back in March–and there also hasn’t been anything that can appeal to guys in urban areas. With such a diverse cast, Fast Five should be able to draw a wide range of ethnicities in urban markets due to the presence of Tyrese and some of the other actors like Sun Kang. The movie has already been doing huge business in international markets, which is a good sign that American audiences will be just as excited. This is the third movie of the year produced by Neal Moritz following Seth Rogen’s The Green Hornet ($98.8 million total so far) and Battle: Los Angeles ($82.2 million), and he certainly is proving himself to have the Midas touch in recent years. (Except for Stealth–not sure what happened there.)

One big difference with this installment is that it’s opening in IMAX theatres, which many will see as a very cool way to see some of the bigger action set pieces. Even if by some chance, less people show up due to the generally slower box office we’ve seen over the last few weeks, the higher price for IMAX tickets should help bump up the per-theater average for the weekend.

Universal has been running on overdrive pushing this movie for months now with trailers in front of just about every other movie released in February, March and April making it hard to avoid and awareness of the movie being astronomical. The studio has also used the late April release date as a way to try and kick-start the summer movie season one week early, something that hasn’t always worked in the past as seen by the poor showing for XXX: State of the Union, the sequel to Vin Diesel’s other potential franchise, although granted, that was sans Diesel. In this case, it might be pure genius since the spring and winter has been so barren for movies which is just making moviegoers even more excited about the summer movie season starting.

With that in mind, we expect this to do huge business on Thursday at midnight on Friday, $25 million or more for sure, maybe even close to $30 million, and then it’s likely to tail off a bit over the weekend, but it should still bring in enough of the franchise’s fans to quickly become the top opener of the year. It probably won’t get hit that bad by the opening of Marvel’s Thor next week–both movies opened internationally in the last few weeks and Fast Five has been killing Thor–but should end up somewhere in the same range between the grosses of the first and fourth movies.

Why I Should See It: Fast Five is already well on its way to being declared one of the best action movies of the year.
Why Not: If you’re afraid of testosterone, you might want to stick with Water for Elephants.
Projections: $71 to 75 million opening weekend and roughly $160 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

13 Assassins (Magnet Labs)
Starring Kôji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yûsuke Iseya, Gorô Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura, Mikijiro Hira, Hiroki Matsukata, Ikki Sawamura, Arata Furuta, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Masataka Kubota, Sosuke Takaoka, Seiji Rokkaku, Yûma Ishigaki, Kôen Kondô
Directed by Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi the Killer, Sukiyaki Western Django, Yatterman, Gozu, Dead or Alive and dozens and many more); Written by Daisuke Tengan
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rated R
Plot Summary: As Japan’s feudal era comes to an end, a sadistic lord who is next in line for the throne has been targeted for assassination to be carried out by an unemployed samurai who puts together a motley group of warriors to implement the plan.

At this point, anyone reading this should already know what a huge fan of samurai movies I am, and though the prolific output of Japan’s genre madman Takashi Miike has been fairly spotty in recent years, seeing him do a story set during Edo-era Japan just sounds too enticing to miss. Surprisingly, 13 Assassins, apparently a remake of a Japanese film from the ’60s, is a lot more straightforward than anything he’s done before and the results make for a solid samurai epic much like the ones Kurosawa used to make.

Much of the story surrounds two men, Koji Yakusho’s Shinzaemon Shimada, a weathered samurai who has been looking for a reason to use his sword again, and Lord Naritsugu, played by Goro Inagaki, who has gone against the Shogun’s wishes and killed and tortured a number of commoners for no particular reason. After hearing a number of horror stories from survivors and loved ones pleading with him to do something about Naritsugu before he becomes shogun, Shinzaemon sets out to find the right group of warriors. Since there hasn’t been a war in many years, there are a lot of great swordsmen itching to test their mettle once again. Lord Naritsugu’s right hand man also happens to be Shinzaemon’s old classmate creating an added bit of tension from their rivalry.

One thing you have to be prepared for is the slow build approach Miike takes with the material, as we watch Shinzaemon gather the troops and plan how they’re going to Naritsugu and his men. There are a lot of characters introduced during this first hour and only a few of them have enough personality to really stand out, including a bizarre homeless man who seems to be channeling Toshiro Mifune’s character from Seven SamuraI. You have to be impressed with the cast Miike assembles for this one, because there are not a lot of names or faces that Westerners will be familiar with. (For all we know, the film equates to an “Ocean’s 11” level of starpower in Japan.)

All of the set-up builds to a fantastic climax as all the characters converge on a village where Shinzaemon’s 13 samurai literally take on an army of thousands and the last 45 minutes is bound to be some of the best filmmaking you’re likely to see this year. Miike shows an incredible amount of control and restraint to not make the battle an excuse to have lots of blood spray and severed limbs, as some might expect. Despite the number of characters introduced, each of them gets their moment to shine in the battle, which makes up for any confusion of not knowing who anyone is earlier in the film.

Either way, 13 Assassins is Takashi Miike’s masterwork, the type of grand filmmaking we’ve always come to expect from him, but that’s always been diluted by his quirky sensibilities that made his films an acquired taste. This is the film that should get him taken more seriously among cinephiles and mainstream movie fans alike.

13 Assassins opens in New York, L.A. and Austin Texas on Friday and you can see where else it will be playing on the official site.

Honorable Mention:

The Robber (Kino Lorber)
Starring Andreas Lust, Franziska Weisz, Markus Schleinzer, Michaela Christl
Written and directed by Benjamin Heisenberg (Revanche) with Maritn Prinz
Genre: Thriller
Plot Summary: Based loosely on the real-life crimes of Johann Kastenberger, one of Austria’s most notorious bank robbers due to his methods, it follows a loner named Johann (Andreas Lust) who tempers his crimes by getting into a relationship with his social worker Erika, but soon finds himself on the run from the police.

(We hope to have a review of this later in the week.)

The Robber opens in New York at the Cinema Village on Friday.

Also in Limited Release:

Werner Herzog returns with the 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams (IFC Films), which takes him into the Chauvet Cave in France, a series of caverns that have been sealed off for over 20,000 years, containing all sorts of remnants of early Neanderthal man in the form of cavern paintings, as well as the skeletons of animals that date back to those times. You can see it exclusively in 3D at New York’s IFC Center and in 2D at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, plus it’s opening in Los Angeles and Chicago as well.

Interview with Werner Herzog (Coming Soon!)

Mark Ruffalo’s directorial debut Sympathy for Delicious (Maya Entertainment) stars Christopher Thornton (who also wrote the screenplay) as Dean, a homeless paraplegic DJ who discovers that he has the powers to heal others, and he gets caught up with people who want him to use his powers to help them make money including a preacher with seemingly good intentions (Ruffalo) and a rock band. Co-starring Laura Linney, Orlando Bloom and Juliette Lewis, it opens in select cities on Friday.

Ed Harris and professional wrestler Randy Orton star in… wait a second, I need a few minutes to register those two names in the same sentence… That’s What I Am (WWE Films/Samuel Goldwyn Pictures), a coming of age story set in the ’60s, starring Chase Ellison as 12-year-old Andy Nichol who is being bullied by his peers until his teacher (Harris) pairs him with “Big G” (Alexander Walters), a freakishly odd-looking social outcast who helps Andy take on the bullies. It opens in select cities on Friday and we honestly have no idea who Randy Orton plays in the movie.

Opening at the Film Forum on Wednesday is Clio Barnard’s The Arbor (Strand Releasing) is an innovative take on British playwright Andrea Dunbar’s “Rita, Sue and Bob Too!” with actors lip-synching to documentary recordings of Dunbar’s daughters in a family drama about drugs, alcohol, sexual abuse and violence.

Oscar-nominated actor John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) stars in Chris Ordal’s Earthwork (Shadow Distribution), the story of crop artist Stan Herd who traveled to New York from Kansas to create a massive piece of environmental art on land owned by Donald Trump. It opens in New York on Friday and in Los Angeles on May 20.
“Everybody Loves Raymond” creator Phil Rosenthal wrote and directed this documentary Exporting Raymond (Samuel Goldwyn Films) about his efforts to translate the show into Russian for a country that doesn’t share his taste or sense of humor. It opens in select cities.

Ben Hickernel’s Lebanon, PA stars Josh Hopkins as Will, a 35-year-old who returns to Lebanon, Pennsylvania to bury his father where he forms a friendship with his 17-year-old cousin CJ (Rachel Kitson) and becomes interested in her married teacher and helps her deal with her father. It opens at the Cinema Village and in Philadelphia at the Ritz, then expands to other PA towns next week.

Also opening at the Cinema Village Friday is Matt McCormick’s debut Some Days are Better Than Others about four people trying to find themselves when they reach a crossroads in their lives including Carrie Brownstein’s Katrina, a 20-year-old animal shelter worker, 30-year-old slacker Eli (James Mercer), and an eccentric 84-year-old filmmaker (David Wodehouse) trying to get recognition for his work.

Based on the bestselling Dutch novel by Marieke van der Pol, who also wrote the screenplay, the Dutch drama Bride Flight (Music Box Films) from director Ben Sombogaart is about three Dutch women who travel to New Zealand following WWII in order to get married to their fiancés who have already settled there. On the flight, they become friends and meet the good-looking Frank (Waldemar Torenstra) who will have a major part in their lives. It opens in select cities on Friday.

Monte Hellman’s romantic thriller Road to Nowhere (Monterey Media) is about a filmmaker making a movie based on a true crime, casting a young woman who looks eerily like the femme fatale involved in the original murder.


Next week, the month of May and the summer movie season kicks off with Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins in the first big screen appearance of the Marvel Comics’ God Thor (Marvel Studios/Paramount), the romantic comedy Something Borrowed (Warner Bros.), starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson and Jon Krasinski, and the urban dramedy Jumping the Broom (Sony/Screen Gems).

Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas