The Weekend Warrior: May 13 – 15

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. Thor (Paramount/Marvel) – $34.5 million -48%

2. Bridesmaids (Universal) – $25.0 million N/A (up 2.5 million)

3. Priest (Sony/Screen Gems) – $18.3 million N/A (down .5 million)

4. Fast Five (Universal) – $16.5 million -50% (Same)

5. Jumping the Broom (Sony/Tristar) – $8.1 million -47% (down .7 million)

6. Something Borrowed (Warner Bros.) – $7.7 million -45% (same)

7. Rio (20th Century Fox) – $5.3 million -37% (same)

8. Water for Elephants (20th Century Fox) – $3.5 million -43% (same)

9. Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family (Lionsgate) – $2.0 million -52% (same)

10. Soul Surfer (Film District) – $1.5 million -38% (Up .1 million)

Weekend Overview

Following two big weekends with movies opening over $65 million, it’s time for things to settle down a bit before we’re slammed with four huge sequels, some of them more anticipated than others.

Normally, the second weekend of May is one where things die down after a big opening, although there’s been exceptions like the week J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek opened. This may be why it was seen as the perfect weekend to open the latest Judd Apatow production, the Kristen Wiig comedy vehicle Bridesmaids (Universal). Although star power is fairly minimal–for now, expect a number of breakout stars to come out of the movie ala 2009′s The Hangover–the premise is solid and the raunchy R-rated material has already created a huge buzz for the movie since it debuted at the SXSW Film Festival, so expect a lot of women to be checking this one out with their friends, and unlike other female-driven comedies, the Apatow connection might convince more than a few guys to check it out, either with their significant others or dates.

Normally, a futuristic action thriller like Priest (Sony/Screen Gems) would win any weekend in which it might open in January or February or the fall, but this one has been delayed multiple times before opening in the middle of May when moviegoers are expecting big tentpoles. Starring Paul Bettany, Maggie Q, Cam Gigandet, Christopher Plummer and others, there doesn’t seem to be anyone among the cast who could be considered a draw for the movie’s targeted audience of young males. With that in mind, we can see a lot of young guys who might normally go see this, give it a big shrug and wait until it hits DVD, although the stylish action-driven trailers and commercials might convince the most desperate of them to give it a look. Being that it was converted to 3D rather than being filmed in 3D will also be a huge turn-off.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Lu Chuan’s Chinese war drama City of Life and Death (Kino•Lorber), which you can read about below. An “Honorable Mention” goes to Dan Rush’s Everything Must Go (Roadside Attractions), starring Will Ferrell.

This weekend last year, three new movies opened but none of them were able to dethrone Robert Downey’s Iron Man 2, which remained on top with $52 million, down nearly 59% from its opening weekend. Ridley Scott’s fifth movie with actor Russell Crowe, the action epic Robin Hood (Universal), co-starring Cate Blanchett, opened with $36.1 million in second place, averaging more than 10k per site. Third place went to the Amanda Seyfried romance flick Letters to Juliet (Summit) with $13.5 million in nearly 3,000 theaters, followed in fourth place by Queen Latifah’s rom-com Just Wright (Fox Searchlight) with $8.3 million in roughly a thousand fewer. The Top 10 grossed $129 million, and unless one or both of the new movies does better than we predicted, this weekend will be roughly even or slightly down from last year.


Bridesmaids (Universal)
Starring Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Matt Lucas, Jill Clayburgh, Rebel Wilson, Michael Hitchcock
Directed by Paul Feig (Unaccompanied Minors); Written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo
Genre: Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: “Save the Date”
Plot Summary: Life hasn’t been great for 30-something Annie (Kristen Wiig), but when her childhood friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged and Annie becomes her maid of honor, she finds herself having to step up in leading the bridesmaids in all of the preparations while Lillian’s wealthy new friend Helen (Rose Byrne) tries to take over.

Review

Analysis:

The power of filmmaker Judd Apatow when it comes to the world of R-rated comedy has been well-documented in this column, and though he has a couple misses under his belt, they’re fewer and further between than the hits with his directorial debut The 40-Year-Old Virgin, its follow-up Knocked Up and Seth Rogen’s Superbad, all being comedy blockbusters that grossed over $100 million.

Bridesmaids is the very first starring vehicle for Kristen Wiig, who has appeared in a number of movies that Apatow has directed and produced, but she’s been one of the featured stars on NBC’s late night show “Saturday Night Live” for nearly six years now which has helped her become a known commodity. Although many people find her funny, she’s yet to really prove herself as someone who can bring people into movie theaters. Most recently, Wiig starred in Greg Mottola’s Paul, having appeared in his previous film Adventureland. She also starred opposite Will Forte in the SNL movie MacGruber and opposite John C. Reilly in the Apatow-produced Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which was one of the few movies Apatow was involved with that completely tanked.

The ensemble cast includes Wiig’s SNL-mate Maya Rudolph, who has appeared in a number of smaller movies, normally pregnant, while Australian Rose Byrne has mainly made her name as a dramatic actress in movies like the sci-fi thriller Knowing and this year’s breakout horror hit Insidious. The breakout star of Bridesmaids is likely to be Melissa McCarthy, who currently stars in the CBS show “Mike and Molly,” but who has also been a veteran character actor for many years, most recently appearing in the Katherine Heigl comedy Life As We Know It. The cast is rounded out by the likes of “Mad Men” star John Hamm, Ellie Kemper from “The Office,” Chris O’Dowd, Matt Lucas from “Little Britain,” as well as being the last film to star the late actress Jill Clayburgh.

The movie is directed by long-time Apatow collaborator Paul Feig, creator of the breakthrough TV show “Freaks and Geeks,” but his previous feature film, the PG family film Unaccompanied Minors, tanked when it opened in December 2006. In the time since then, Feig has mainly been directing television shows like “The Office” and “Nurse Jackie.”

One of the keys to the film’s success will probably be the fact it’s essentially a wedding comedy, a genre that’s proven very popular among women of all ages. While it’s coming just one week after two wedding-related comedies, this one actually looks funny and should be able to bring in a wider range of 20-to-30 something women who might not be into the formulaic movies released last weekend.

More than anything, the film should do decent business based on early buzz from its SXSW reviews and the popular trailers and commercials that have gotten many women excited, and however well it does this weekend, it’s going to have huge legs, especially going into the actual wedding season in June where women going through that stress will need some way to unwind. (For instance, if they think their wedding plans are going wrong, they’ll be able to see how things could be even worse!)

Trying to do a female-oriented comedy with an R-rating is daring, because it means that the teen girls who normally might go see this movie in groups probably can’t get in to see it without a parent. Of course, Judd Apatow’s own Knocked Up (in which Wiig had a small part) was the perfect example of an R-rated comedy that was able to defy that stigma by bringing in lots of women, and before that, there was New Line’s Wedding Crashers, which probably was the last R-rated wedding comedy, and that did HUGE business. Last year’s Going the Distance starring Drew Barrymore and Justin Long was a good example of an attempt at a female-driven R-rated comedy that bombed, though Ivan Reitman’s No Strings Attached, starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, was able to defy the odds and do much better. Bridesmaids doesn’t have the star power of any of those movies though we do think that the easy-to-sell premise and the positive reviews should push this into the upper 20s in terms of opening and then over the $100 million as word-of-mouth spreads.

Why I Should See It: This is an insanely funny movie, right up there with some of the best films produced and directed by Apatow.
Why Not: If there’s a chance of dying from prolonged laughter, this movie will be leaving quite a big body count in its wake.
Projections: Between $21 and 25 million opening weekend and while this may sound crazy, we think it could end up with roughly $120 million or more by summer’s end.

COMPARISONS


Priest (Sony/Screen Gems)
Starring Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Lily Collins, Steven Moyer, Brad Dourif, Christopher Plummer
Directed by Scott Stewart (Legion); Written by Cory Goodman, Scott Stewart
Genre: Action, Thriller, Horror
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “The War is Eternal. His Mission is Just the Beginning.”
Plot Summary: On an alternate world ravaged by war between man and vampires, a legendary Warrior Priest (Paul Bettany) who has been living among the humans of a walled-in city run by the church must return to his old vampire-hunting ways when his niece (Lily Collins) is kidnapped, joined by her boyfriend (Cam Gigandet), a young sheriff, and a Warrior Priestess (Maggie Q).

Review (Not being screened until Friday)

Analysis:

Screen Gems has had so much success with movies tailored to young males with two successful franchises under their belt that one has to take it seriously when they try to introduce a new movie that combines action and horror. The new movie by Scott Stewart, who helmed Legion, is based on the Korean series of graphic novels published by Tokyopop in 16 volumes, which one assumes has a fairly niche audience among comic fans. It stars Paul Bettany, who early last year co-starred in Stewart’s directorial debut (also released by Screen Gems), Legion, which had similar elements of action and religion. Before that, Bettany has appeared in a number of movies with a religious angle including his role as Charles Darwin in last year’s Creation as well as a key role in Ron Howard’s The Da Vinci Code with Tom Hanks. He’s also appeared in a number of really bad movies including the thriller Firewall with Harrison Ford, and the similarly-delayed fantasy film Inkheart. It’s a shame since Bettany’s career started quite promisingly with roles in Oscar-nominated movies like Howard’s A Beautiful Mind and Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

Bettany’s co-star Cam Gigandet has generally had more success following his role in the first Twilight and the mixed martial arts movie Never Back Down, both in 2008. Priest is his fourth movie for Screen Gems following Easy A opposite Emma Stone, the musical Burlesque and the thriller The Roommate earlier this year. Essentially, Gigandet offers male eye candy one assumes young women would lust after, but who knows of any of them would care to see a movie like this compared to some of the other movies he’s appeared in. On the other hand, the movie’s secret weapon may very well be sexy Asian superstar Maggie Q, who first made waves here with appearances in Mission: Impossible III and Live Free or Die Hard, but who has been finding more fans for her title role in the CW show “Nikita.” The cast is rounded out by Brad Dourif, most famous for providing the voice of Chucky in the “Child’s Play” movies, and legendary actor Christopher Plummer, who seems to appear in just as many bad movies as he does good ones.

Other than the rather mediocre cast, there are a number of other things that might prevent it from having much of an impact this weekend, the biggest one being the backlash against 3D in recent months, especially for movies that are converted to 3D after the fact, which is the case here. Obviously, the decision by Screen Gems to delay the movie in order to do that conversion makes you think it might be better than some of the other quickly-converted movies we saw in 2010, though the thought Priest may do better due to the 3D (which as we know, means higher ticket prices) may very well backfire because it’s targeting an audience smart enough to realize that not all 3D is the same.

The amount of delays the movie has suffered might also be a problem because moviegoers have become fairly well-versed in the fact that movies that are delayed generally have problems or are outright bad. Screen Gems started promoting Priest literally years ago with the likes of “Access Hollywood” visiting the set, and all of those earlier efforts to generate buzz probably were wasted since anyone who saw them will have already forgotten them. The hopes of getting the comic book audience into see the movie may also be difficult because it’s facing the second week of Marvel Studios’ higher-profile Thor, although Screen Gems is already playing up the Friday the 13th release date, since that’s usually a good date for a horror movie.

One could think it feasible that the title and the religious aspects of the movie might bring in a religious audience who might not normally check out a movie like this, but it’s just as likely that they’ll be turned off or even offended in the references. These days, the movie’s young male audience seem to be more interested in video games and watching movies on DVD or their iPads and mobile devices, so a movie really has to grab them with its premise, and this one just doesn’t look like it offers anything new.

As has become standard operating procedure, Screen Gems isn’t screening the movie for critics in hope that their marketing does the trick rather than allowing potentially bad reviews hurt the movie. We’ve seen so many movies do well despite bad reviews and others bomb despite raves, and really, there’s not a lot of damage bad reviews would do in this case and the movie might be helped if it can find some support. We’ve heard that the movie isn’t very good from those who normally like this sort of thing, so they may have better reason than normal not to screen it.

Even if the movie does decent business opening weekend, we can’t see it holding up well against next week’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides or The Hangover Part II a week later, and it’s likely that this will out-and-out tank once anyone even remotely interested in seeing it goes to see it this weekend. Since we expect word-of-mouth to be pretty bad, it may have a major drop of 60% or more next week and then it’s pretty much over.

Why I Should See It: Everyone should go see a priest from time to time in order to unload.
Why Not: Who is going to confess that they want to see this movie?
Projections: $18 to 20 million opening weekend and roughly $45 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

City of Life and Death (Kino•Lorber)
Starring Liu Ye, Gao Yuanyuan, Hideo Nakaizumi, Wei Fan, Yiyan Jiang, Ryu Kohata, Bin Liu, Yuko Miyamoto, Lan Qin, John Paisley
Written and directed by Lu Chuan (Mountain Patrol, The Missing Gun)
Genre: Drama, War
Unrated
Plot Summary: In 1937, the Japanese army invaded the Chinese capitol of Nanking, easily besting the local military and then proceeding to rape, pillage and murder the refugees. One outsider, German businessman John Rabe (John Paisley) steps forward to offer his protection while his Chinese secretary Mr. Tang (Fan Wei) sees his family torn apart by the horrible events that follow the invasion.

I wasn’t really that big a fan of Lu Chuan’s last movie, the acclaimed Mountain Patrol: Kekexili, but the subject matter of his latest film is something with which I’m all too familiar having first learned much about Japan’s infamous invasion and pillaging of Nanking, China from the 2007 doc Nanking. It was an amazing film, although hearing “first-hand” about the atrocities in that pseudo-doc format is completely different from watching reenactments of those events taking place. It’s certainly compelling to see a Chinese filmmaker addressing one of the country’s biggest tragedies, but it also makes City of Life and Death a movie I can’t recommend wholeheartedly, since not everyone can deal with the dark and unrelenting nature of the story.

Filmed in black and white, the movie is essentially divided into three sections, the first one showing the Chinese soldiers valiantly trying to take on the overwhelming forces, and how the prisoners of war are dealt with once they’re overpowered. The second part deals with the most horrifying aspect of the invasion, the Japanese soldiers taking advantage of their status to rape any women they find and how everyone deals with this situation. The last act pulls everything together as it shows how people strive to survive despite the insurmountable odds.

So many movies have focused on the Europeans who helped make life more bearable for the local people trapped in this horrifying situation, but Lu Chuan instead focuses on the Asians, telling what happened through the stories of three individuals.

In some ways, the first act is the most like other films because it’s essentially a straight war movie and to be honest, it’s hard to figure out who everyone is and exactly what’s going on. It essentially follows the story of Liu Ye as a soldier who bonds with a young child who finds his way into the warzone. The story that has the most impact is that of Fan Wei’s Mr. Tang, a man who is protected by his connection to German John Rabe at first but then sells himself out to the Japanese in hopes of keeping his family safe. This ultimately goes wrong, very wrong, yet Wei’s performance makes you feel for him on every level despite a number of serious missteps. On the other hand, the most jarring aspect of the film is Lu’s decision to show the Japanese point-of-view through the eyes of Hideo Nakaizumi’s soldier Kadokawa, creating empathy for the men forced to commit unforgivable crimes by their superiors. It’s not hard to understand that not everyone involved in what happened was just evil, watching the Japanese having fun, celebrating their victory and justifying the irreparable damage they did to so many people and families makes it hard to completely get behind the movie. (This aspect of the movie created a controversy on the film’s release in China and it’s probably deserved.)

As someone who takes serious issue with violence against women on any level, it’s incredibly hard getting through the scenes of rape and even those of the Chinese women who willingly give themselves up to be used by the Japanese soldiers as “comfort women.” As was the case at times of war, few of the characters come to happy endings, and ultimately, the movie is a grim affair. It makes you wish that someone would make a movie about the saving of Nanking and how things were able to get back to normal once the Japanese were driven out.

The easiest comparison for City of Life and Death is that it’s akin to a Chinese Schindler’s List; while it’s not an easy film to watch, it’s an important story that needs to be told and remembered. Yu Chuan does such a thorough job, it’s hard to imagine master filmmaker Zhang Yimou will have a lot more to say about this horrifying event in his own upcoming movie.

City of Life and Death opens on Wednesday in New York at the Film Forum.

Honorable Mention:

Everything Must Go (Roadside Attractions)
Starring Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Michael Peña, Christopher C.J. Wallace, Glenn Howerton, Stephen Root, Laura Dern
Written and Directed by Dan Rush (debut)
Genre: Drama
Rated R
Tagline: “Lost is a Good Place to Find Yourself”
Plot Summary: When salesman Nick Porter (Will Ferrell) is fired from his job and his wife leaves him, dumping all of his belongings in their front yard, he starts drinking again, but with no money or car and in danger of being arrested for all the belongings littering his yard, he’s convinced to hold a yard sale in order to get rid of all his junk. With the help of a local kid (Christopher C.J. Wallace), a woman moving in across the street (Rebecca Hall) and his police detective AA sponsor (Michael Peña), Nick must overcome his biggest life obstacle.

Review

Everything Must Go opens in select cities on Friday.

Also in Limited Release:

Anthony Burns’ ’80s based Skateland (Freestyle Releasing) stars Shiloh Fernandez (Red Riding Hood) as Ritchie Wheeler, the young manager of the local skating rink in a small Texas town trying to find his way in life along with his best friend Michelle (played by Ashley Greene). Meanwhile, her older brother Brent (co-writer Heath Freeman), a former motocross racer, keeps getting the both of them into trouble. It opens in select cities on Friday.

Interview with Ashley Greene (Later this week)

Review (Coming Soon!)

Zach Braff stars in Deborah Chow’s debut The High Cost of Living (Tribeca Films) as a drug dealer named Henry who one night accidentally hits the pregnant woman Nathalie (Isabelle Blais) with his car then drives off. As Nathalie deals with the tragedy of losing her first child, Henry’s guilt drives him to become her guardian angel, although his own dark past starts to catch up to him. It opens in New York and Los Angeles.

Interview with Zach Braff (Later this week)

Comic actor Dax Sheppard wrote and co-directs the comedy Brother’s Justice (Tribeca Films) essentially playing himself and following his decision to give up comedy to become a martial arts training and make an action blockbuster despite having no experience or training. Along the way, he gets help from the likes of Tom Arnold, Bradley Cooper, David Koechner, Michael Rosenbaum and producer Nate Tuck. It opens in select cities.

Philip Gellat’s horror film The Bleeding House (Tribeca Films) involves a family full of secrets living in a small Midwestern town whose lives are turned upside down when a Texan arrives with hopes to absolve them of their sins.

Tony Krantz’s crime thriller The Big Bang (Anchor Bay) stars Antonio Banderas as private investigator Ned Cruz, who is hired by a Russian boxer to find his missing girlfriend Lexie and the 30 millions of diamonds she’s been hiding. He becomes obsessed with finding her, interacting with a lot of seedy characters along the way while being followed by three cops trying to find Lexie and the diamonds. With an emsemble cast that includes James Van Der Beek, Snoop Dogg, Sam Elliot, Jimmi Simpson, Thomas Kretschmann, William Fichtner, and Delroy Lindo, it opens in select cities before its DVD release on May 24.

Naomie Harris stars in Justin (The Other Boleyn Girl) Chadwick’s The First Grader (BBC Films) a story set in the bush of Kenya where hundreds of children are trying to get an education, joined by Maruge, an 80+ tribesman who fought for the liberation of the country and now hopes to learn to read. His passion convinces the school’s head teacher (Harris) to accept him to sit in the classroom with 6-year-olds though Maruge is hiding a dark past living in the British detention camps.

Carmen Marron’s Go For It! (Lionsgate) about a Mexican teen with an attitude problem named Carmen who dances in Chicago’s underground clubs despite her immigrant parents wanting her to stay in school and go to junior college. When her professor sees her dancing, he convinces her to audition for a California dance school despite the domestic conflicts surrounding her. It opens in select cities on Friday.

Joseph Gordon Levitt stars in the title role of Spencer Susser’s Hesher (Wrekin Hall), a violent tattooed homeless metalhead who enters the life of a sullen widower (Rainn Wilson) and his 13-year-old son TJ (Devin Brochu), who is having a harder time dealing with the death of his mother despite befriending a quirky older cashier, played by Natalie Portman. Also starring Piper Laurie as T.J.’s grandmother who bonds with the often semi-nude rocker, it opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Legendary Hong Kong action director Yuen Woo Ping (The Matrix, Kung Fu Hustle, Hero) makes his return to full-on directing with True Legend (Indomina Releasing) starring Vincent Zhao as Su Can, the master of the martial arts technique, The Drunken Fist, something he needs to learn to counter the deadly Five Venom Fists of his former comrade on the battlefield who has become his greatest enemy. Co-starring Michelle Yeoh, Jay Chou from Green Hornet, and the last big screen appearance by the late David Carradine, it opens in New York, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Austin and San Francisco on Friday.

Mark Wexler’s semi-serious documentary How to Live Forever (Variance Films) looks at the process of aging and how people from Jack LaLanne to Ray Kurzweil and biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey have figured out ways to prevent aging and the deteriorating effects that come along with it. Wexler talks to a wide variety of people including a number of 90-year-old and older people who have found a way to get through life without allowing age to get them down. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinemas as does…

Craig McCall’s documentary Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (Strand Releasing) looks at the 90-year-career of one of Hollywood’s most groundbreaking cinematographers and cameramen, featuring interviews with Martin Scorsese, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston and Lauren Bacall.

Also opening at the Quad is Hey Boo: Harper Lee and “To Kill a Mocking Bird” (First Run Features), Mary McDonagh Murphy’s doc which explores the ways that the only novel Harper Lee ever wrote became such an influential part of so many lives.

Pierre Thoretton’s L’Amour Fou (First Film Co.) looks at the life of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his influence over 50 years of fashion through the eyes of Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent’s significant other for nearly four decades.

J. Clay Tweel’s Make Believe (Crowd Starter) follows six young magicians from across the globe on the road to the Teen World Championship in Las Vegas in order to be named the top teen magician. Including interviews with Neil Patrick Harris and Lance Burton, this doc opens in New York at the Cinema Village on Friday as does…

Fresh off its award-winning premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, Leanne Pooley’s doc The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (Argot Pictures) tells the story of New Zealand’s hugely-popular yodeling folk singer twin sisters Lynda and Jools Topp and how they became well-loved political icons in the country over their nearly 50-year career.


Next week, the summer kicks into high gear with only one major movie in wide release, but it’s a doozy… it’s the return of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in Jerry Bruckheimer’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Walt Disney Pictures)!

Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas

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