The Weekend Warrior: June 3 – 5

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.

We’re very excited that Warner Home Video is releasing a 40th Anniversary Edition of our second favorite movie of all time Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange on Tuesday, May 31; you can read our interview with the film’s star Malcolm McDowell reflecting back on making the movie here.

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

UPDATE: Not a lot of major changes from Tuesday though we do think Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life may just miss the Top 10 as it expands into only 16 more theaters than its opening week.

1. X-Men: First Class (20th Century Fox) – $72.6 million N/A (up .1 million)

2. The Hangover Part II (Warner Bros.) – $40.0 million -54% (same)

3. Kung Fu Panda 2 (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $26.5 million -45% (up 1.1 million)

4. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Walt Disney Pictures) – $18.1 million -54% (up .1 million)

5. Bridesmaids (Universal) – $12.4 million -25% (same)

6. Thor (Paramount/Marvel) – $4.8 million -49% (same)

7. Fast Five (Universal) – $3.4 million -47% (same)

8. Midnight in Paris (Sony Pictures Classics) – $2.8 million +45%* (up .7 million)

9. Something Borrowed (Warner Bros.) – $.97 million -47% (new entry)

10. Rio (20th Century Fox) – $.9 million -48% (down .1 million and one spot)

The Tree of Life (Fox Searchlight) – $.76 million

Weekend Overview

After a bangin’ Memorial Day weekend, things aren’t going to settle down so soon as Marvel’s “Merry Mutants” return to the big screen under the guidance of Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn. X-Men: First Class (20th Century Fox) is a prequel that stars James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Professor Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr (the future Magneto) with the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Kevin Bacon and January Jones filling in the cast. The notable absence of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and other known characters from the previous series might keep some away, but in general, the fans of the X-Men are fairly die-hard and they’ll certainly give the movie a look this weekend especially with all the early raves the movie’s been getting. With so many other strong movies in theaters, it does have some fierce competition, so we think it will probably fall short of the opening of X2 but then have better legs than some of the previous X-movies as word-of-mouth gets around.

*As you can see the entry point into the Top 10 is getting lower and lower, which means that last week’s surprise entry of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (Sony Pictures Classics) into the Top 10 could be joined by something like Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life if Fox Searchlight gives it a substantial expansion. The former should be able to retain its place as it adds more theaters and word-of-mouth continues to build that it’s one of Woody Allen’s better films while offering counter-programming for older audiences.

This week’s “Chosen One” is Bill Haney’s doc The Last Mountain (Uncommon Productions/Dada Films) which you can read more about below.

This weekend last year, June kicked off with four new movies in wide release but DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek Forever After stayed on top for a third weekend in a row with $25.5 million and $183 million total to date after three weeks. Russell Brand and Jonah Hill starred in the road comedy Get Him to the Greek (Universal), which scored a solid second place with $17.6 million followed by the Ashton Kutcher-Katherine Heigl action-comedy Killers (Lionsgate) with $15.8 million. Not doing quite so well as the family comedy Marmaduke (20th Century Fox) with $11.6 million in 3,200 theaters, settling for sixth place, while the horror-thriller Splice (Warner Bros.) opened in eighth place with $7.4 million. The Top 10 scored $120 million, an amount that should get slaughtered with the release of X-Men: First Class and with so many other big movies still in theaters.


THE BATTLE CRY

This past weekend, Todd Phillips’ The Hangover Part II became the highest opening R-rated comedy of all time, making roughly $137.4 million in five days, which is crazy “Star Wars” or “Transformers” numbers, and that’s following the latest production by Judd Apatow, Universal’s Bridesmaids, which should be reaching $100 million sometime this weekend.

We’ve written a lot about the pros and cons of R-rated comedies in this column and while Apatow has been able to have great success without taming the humor down for a teen audience, clearly the game changer was Todd Phillips’ The Hangover, which raked in $277 million over the summer of 2009, making stars out of all those involved. It’s not hard to analyze why that movie was a hit, because anyone who has ever had a drink has at least one time in their life drank too much. Waking up with a hangover or hearing about crazy things you’ve done while drunk is an instantly relatable premise, which is why it caught on. Same can be said for Bridesmaids, since pre-wedding craziness is something many women can relate to as well.

The question is where do we go from here, especially with a summer so filled with R-rated comedies, one wonders whether moviegoers might hit overload by the time the last of them comes out in August?

We’ll get a bit of a respite over the next few weeks of June for more PG and PG-13 fare but then Cameron Diaz will be getting raunchy again for the comedy Bad Teacher, which is just as high concept as those others, though it’s more of a character-driven comedy that may or may not click with audiences depending on whether they find the idea of a bad teacher funny or not. In fact, Sony, who had a substantial hit four years ago with the Apatow-produced Superbad, is going a bit crazy on the R-rated comedy this summer, because they follow that up with Friends With Benefits, also starring Justin Timberlake and pairing him with Mila Kunis who was great in Nicholas Stoller’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The commercials and trailers have offered solid laughs so far and maybe Easy A‘s Will Gluck can save the “f*ck buddies” concept following No Strings Attached, starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, which still made bank despite being so horrendous. Sony’s last R-rated comedy of the summer is Ruben Fleischer’s 30 Minutes or Less on August 12, which is probably going to have more of a challenge since it’s more of a situational action-comedy and it puts Jesse Eisenberg–who couldn’t get a hit until he was paired with Woody Harrelson in Zombieland–with a group of comics who should thrive on the R rating from Danny McBride to Nick Swardson and Aziz Ansari. The problem is that it’s really more of an action-comedy like we’ve seen before, and one wonders if it can do as well as something like Bad Boys or Beverly Hills Cop with an R rating despite not having a proven box office star selling it. (It’s going to be a real test for Eisenberg, that’s for sure.)

The R-rated comedy we have the highest hopes for and the one we think will follow just behind Bridesmaids in terms of summer box office is Seth Gordon’s Horrible Bosses, a star-studded high-concept comedy about three guys who pull a “Strangers on a Train” while trying to rid themselves of abusive employers. Again, this is a concept that every single man, woman or teenager over 16 will be able to relate to and it has a solid cast including Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey and Colin Farrell – at least two of them playing against type. It’s a showcase for “Arrested Development” star Jason Bateman, who is teamed with “Saturday Night Live” star Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day from “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” the latter two appeared together in the R-rated comedy dud Going the Distance. That was a pretty good example of how going for the R-rated raunch can fail, and one wonders how No Strings Attached was able to thrive while that one tanked.

Jason Bateman also stars with Ryan Reynolds in David (Wedding Crashers) Dobkin’s The Change-Up, a movie that literally brings together the men responsible for the two biggest R-rated comedies of all time, since it’s written by the guys who wrote The Hangover. (You can read my report from the set of this movie here.) In September, we’ll get even more R-rated humor in the smaller indies 50/50 and A Good Old Fashioned Orgy.

There’s a good reason why studios have pushed so hard for PG-13 movies in the past, because it allows teenagers to go see the movies without their parents, and theaters have been enforcing the R rating rule more and more. Because of this, there have been just as many R-rated bombs as hits. (Anyone remember Eurotrip or The Girl Next Door? How about the first “Harold & Kumar” movie? All of those came out in 2004 and did poorly.) To be honest, there’s just as much a chance that all the above will bomb as it is that we’ll see one or two breakouts. Certainly, Sony has the most to lose with their decision to go R-rated on three of their summer comedies, but also Jason Bateman has two chances to elevate himself to an A-lister (or close) if he can open either of those movies since most of the bigger comedies he’s been in previously have been in secondary roles.

You also have to wonder if those who rail against raunchy humor–as much as we loved Bridesmaids, it had its detractors and critics–might get even more annoyed when every comedy that comes out this summer goes for those low-brow laughs. There is a good reason why there’s more bathroom humor in kids’ movies than in adult dramas like The King’s Speech, and that’s because adults like to think themselves more mature than teenagers (even if that’s not necessarily true). Friends With Benefits is all about its sex humor, while The Change-Up‘s funniest scene involves a toilet and the best Bad Teacher can do is a scene where she’s playing dodgeball with kids, offering the type of physical humor that would normally be in a kids’ film.

Either way, those of us over a certain age certainly appreciate comedy when it’s unfiltered and the R rating goes a long way in allowing filmmakers and actors to really free themselves of boundaries when they don’t have to worry about scarring 10-year-olds for life.

If you’ve read this, I’d love to hear what you think of the current crop of R-rated comedies being released this summer and if you care one way or another that they may be raunchier than the summer comedies we normally get. Are you planning on seeing any of the others mentioned or are we in danger of getting a bit of overload?


X-Men: First Class (20th Century Fox)
Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Kevin Bacon, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, Jason Flemyng, Oliver Platt, Morgan Lily, Zoe Kravitz, Bill Bilner
Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Stardust, Layer Cake); Written by Ashley Miller and Jack Stentz (Thor), Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Stardust)
Genre: Action, Adventure
Rated PG-13
Tagline:
Plot Summary: In 1962, two men from different backgrounds come together to find and train young mutants on how to use their powers. Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is an academic who specializes in genetic mutations and who is able to read and control minds while Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) is a concentration camp survivor who has used his magnetic powers to get revenge for the death of his parents. Meanwhile, a power monger known as Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who has his own mutant powers, has been creating allies on both sides of the Cold War in hopes of starting World War III.

Review

Interview with Matthew Vaughn

Analysis:

The summer of superhero movies and sequels hits its stride with a movie that’s both things (prequel in this case), as 20th Century Fox goes even further back in time than they did with 2009′s X-Men Origins: Wolverine to tell the story of how Professor X and Magneto first met back in the early ’60s. The hope is that the fans who helped the original three movies and that prequel gross $1.6 billion will be returning to see a bunch of new actors step into the roles of the popular characters.

Back in 2000, 20th Century Fox released Bryan Singer’s The X-Men, the first non-animated version of the characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the early ’60s who became the company’s most successful comic characters during the mid-70s, ’80s and ’90s due to the decision to reboot them. The movie opened with $54 million–at the time, that was quite impressive since it was the fourth-biggest opening ever–and grossed over $150 million total. The sequel X2 kicked off the summer of 2003 with $85 million to break the $200 million mark, but then Singer departed to make Superman Returns, replaced first by Matthew Vaughn and then by Brett Ratner, whose X-Men: The Last Stand opened with $123 million over the Memorial Day weekend in 2006 but ended up with less than twice that total.

Two years ago, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine was given his own spin-off prequel which also did decently, ending up with $180 million, and the success of that movie led 20th Century Fox and producer Lauren Schuler Donner to try to do more spin-offs. That’s when Bryan Singer started showing interest in returning to the mutants which helped get this prequel going even if he was committed to other projects and had to accept the position of producer. Cue the return of director Matthew Vaughn, who had helmed the graphic novel movies Stardust and Kick-Ass in the interim.

The two actors who will have the most impact on people deciding whether to see the movie or not are James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, taking the roles of Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto, originally played by Sirs Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen respectively.

McAvoy had an early role in the blockbuster The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, as well as supporting roles in Oscar fare such as The Last King of Scotland and Atonement before being cast in Timur Bekmambetov’s summer action flick Wanted, which opened with nearly $51 million and grossed over $135 million (Part of that can probably be attributed to his co-stars Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman we would think.) McAvoy has been laying fairly low since then with key roles in festival fare The Last Station and Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, both which did moderate business. McAvoy also voiced the title role in Gnomeo & Juliet, which was a surprise hit earlier this year and has grossed nearly $100 million. Fassbender’s previous foray into comic book movies included Zack Snyder’s mega-hit 300 as well Warner Bros.’ summer 2010 bomb Jonah Hex, though most have probably forgiven him for that, especially since he was so memorable in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. He followed that with a starring role in Neil Marshall’s action epic Centurion and playing Rochester in the recent adaptation of Jane Eyre. Like McAvoy, Fassbender is well on his way to becoming a huge star and playing Magneto in X-Men: First Class is a big step forward, plus he’s already signed to star in Ridley Scott’s return to science fiction with Prometheus in 2012.

Joining them as the new Mystique, a role previously played by Rebecca Romijn, is Jennifer Lawrence, the 20-year-old actress who wowed audiences in Debra Grainik’s Winter’s Bone last year, garnering her first Oscar nomination. While she’s remained an indie darling with appearances in movies like Jodie Foster’s The Beaver and the upcoming Like Crazy, Lawrence is well on her way to stardom, not only for her role here but also scoring the coveted role of Katniss Everdeen in next year’s The Hunger Games.

The most prominent veteran of the cast is Kevin Bacon, who has been appearing in movies since the ’80s but hasn’t really appeared in a big studio movie in some time. He’s playing Sebastian Shaw, leader of the Hellfire Club and the main villain of the movie. January Jones’s Q-rating has increased since she started appearing on AMC’s “Mad Men” and she follows up the recent hit thriller Unknown by playing the popular X-Men villain Emma Frost aka The White Queen. Nicolas Hoult, who played the title role in Chris Weitz’ About a Boy, steps into the paws of Kelsey Grammar to play Dr. Henry McCoy aka Beast. The cast is rounded out by the likes of Oliver Platt and Matthew Vaughn mainstay Jason Flemyng, this time playing a bigger role as Azazel, another one of Sebastian Shaw’s henchmen. The cast also includes Rose Byrne–fresh off her starring role in James Wan’s hit horror film Insidious–Lucas Till (Battle: Los Angeles) and Zoë Kravitz (daughter of rocker Lenny and Lisa Bonet).

It’s a fairly strong and diverse cast, although other than McAvoy and Byrne, none of them really have much of a box office track record, not that it matters since neither did the cast of the original “X-Men” movies. Really, this is about the comic book characters and as we’ve seen before, they’ve already seeped into the mainstream where they’re popular among those who don’t read the books as well. While the X-Men were Marvel Comics’ biggest seller with lots of diehard fans for many years, that seems to have slipped quite a bit in recent years even as the movies have helped generate a new audience of fans. There’s also the many animated shows over the years, which is where a lot of people under the age of 30 probably have first seen or heard of the X-Men even if they never read comics.

Prequels and reboots have become fairly standard in recent years with J.J. Abrams’ reimagination of the popular sci-fi show Star Trek being one of the more successful reboots, as well as Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, which led to the even more successful The Dark Knight a few years later. Bringing Daniel Craig on as James Bond also helped Casino Royale become the highest-grossing film in the long-running spy franchise. Clearly, going back in time and bringing on new people to play various characters from the X-Men franchise can only be a positive, especially for those who may have been frustrated with the last few movies.

It’s hard to think that the movie will be able to bring in kids too young because it’s pretty dark and violent compared to things like Kung Fu Panda 2 or even Thor, but superhero movies tend to appeal to boys and fathers certainly will consider bringing their sons to see a movie based on characters they love. Matthew Vaughn certainly has created an edgier X-Men movie which really pushes its PG-13 rating, so one assumes that smarter parents might wait to see the movie themselves before deciding to bring kids. On the other hand, the X-Men are some of Marvel’s characters that have already done well among women, because there is more drama and relationship stuff in there that relates more to them, and that’s carried over to the movies as well.

Opening the weekend after two big sequels as well as in the weekend after Memorial Day when people are trying to put their nose to the grindstone and get back to the work may hurt the movie’s opening more than anything else. After all, the other X-movies were released in better weekends without as much direct competition. X-Men: First Class is opening without any counter-programming but it’s opening against three stronger sequels that have word-of-mouth going for them and with none of the actors that movie fans are familiar with, they might be dubious of giving this a chance.

Still, we think there’s enough of a fanbase to keep this franchise going and the favorable reviews the film has already garnered among the geek crowd will go a long way to convince their peers to see this opening weekend. Since it’s actually a decent prequel, we could probably see it behave more like Batman Begins or Star Trek and have moderate legs, rather than doing all its business opening week and quickly dropping.

Why I Should See It: It’s a great reintroduction to all the mutants we love so much!
Why Not: If you’re already superheroed out after just one movie… c’mon, folks, we have at least two more to go, get with it!
Projections: $71 to 74 million opening weekend and roughly $200 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

The Last Mountain (Uncommon Productions/Dada Films)
Starring William Sadler, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Maria Gunnoe, Bob Webb
Directed by Bill Haney (The Price of Sugar); Written by Bill Haney, Peter Rhodes
Genre: Documentary
Tagline: “A Fight for Our Future”
Plot Summary: A film about the struggle by the tiny town of Coal River Valley, West Virginia who has been taking on the Big Coal corporations and their practice of Mountain Top Removal which is destroying their immediate environment.

Most people take for granted where electricity comes from, but anyone who has been keeping on top of the number of environmental docs released in the last few years may already be aware of how the corporations are destroying the earth to bring it to us. Bill Haney’s doc takes a more direct look at how people are directly affected by showing a community who have become victims of the energy companies’ disregard for their welfare by mining the nearby Appalachian mountains for coal.

This is first and foremost an informative doc that lets people know what is going on in the Appalachians and how coal companies like Massey Energy blast off the top of the mountains to get to the coal essentially destroying the local environment and leaving a barren wasteland behind them. More than that, it’s a personal story told from the perspective of the people of Coal River Valley whose concerns have been greatly ignored by the coal companies. They find themselves in a quandary where many of them have to forego the main source of income, working for the coal companies, in order to stand up for their rights. It’s a similar issue people have with timber companies that are razing the forests, but it’s not just about how coal mining is affecting the air and water in the region but also the noise from the explosions that disrupts everyday lives of these people, and they’ve really had enough of all of it.

Helping the people out is ecological lawyer Bobby Kenney Jr., who goes to bat for the people of Coal River Valley to get the big coal companies to take responsibility for what they’re doing, but it’s clear that they have a lot of powerful allies in Washington D.C., many of whom they helped get into power. It doesn’t spend too much of time on the global warming issue which coal mining and burning does have the greatest affect on, but it briefly touches upon it before getting back to the more important subject at hand, those whose lives are being threatened by the coal mining.

Besides capturing the region with gorgeous cinematography, Haney presents the information in a way that doesn’t make it feel preachy, and it’s a lot more focused than many of the other post-”Inconvenient Truth” films. For the most part, Haney does a great job covering every aspect of this incredibly powerful story and how people are trying to fight against the corporations, although there also seems to be an underlying agenda for the film to play some part in a campaign for Robert Kennedy Jr’s political career. Even so, he makes a great focal point for the political aspects of the challenges fighting the coal companies, and Haney’s cameras are there when Kennedy sits down for lunch with Bill Raney, the President of the West Virginia Coal Association. (It’s impressive how involved in the film Raney chose to be considering that some probably consider him to be a big part of the problem.) It also follows the activists who take a stronger approach to stopping the coal miners by sneaking onto the site and placing themselves in trees before they can be knocked down.

Even if you’re burnt out on ecological docs (that pun was only half-intended) then Bill Haney’s The Last Mountain is a more contained approach at exploring how money-grubbing corporations are directly harming citizens and what they and others are doing to fight back. It’s a troubling but inspiring David vs. Goliath story that’s probably one of the better films to explore the current ecological problems with a more personal touch.

The Last Mountain opens in New York and Washington D.C. at the local landmarks on Friday and then in other cities to come. You can read the full theater listing on the official site.

Honorable Mention(s):

Also worth checking out are two very different dark coming-of-age comedies from writer/directors that should offer some alternatives for those not into superhero movies. I hope to have reviews of both them later this week.

Beginners (Focus Features)
Starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic, Cosmo
Written and directed by Mike Mills (Thumbsucker)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rated R
Tagline: “This is what love feels like”
Plot Summary: Graphic artist Oliver Fields (Ewan McGregor) has just come to terms with his elderly widower father Hal (Christopher Plummer) coming out of the closet when he learns he’s dying of cancer. After his death, the distraught Oliver meets a quirky French actress named Anna (Mélanie Laurent) at a party and starts trying to find his own way into love.

Interview with Mike Mills

Review (Coming Soon!)

Submarine (The Weinstein Company)
Starring Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins
Written and directed by Richard Ayoade (member of “The Mighty Boosh” and “The IT Crowd”, directed various British television shows)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rated R
Tagline: “A Comedy That Doesn’t Let Principles Stand in the Way of Progress”
Plot Summary: 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is dealing with many of the things other schoolboys in Wales must deal with including the marriage of his parents (Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor) which seems to be falling apart when her old flame (Paddy Considine) moves in next door. Meanwhile, Oliver has become quite smitten with Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Page), a precocious girl who uses Oliver for her own means.

Interview with Richard Ayoade

Review (Coming Soon!)

Also in Limited Release:

Shawn Ko’s drama Beautiful Boy (Anchor Bay Films) stars Maria Bello and Michael Sheen as the parents of a college student who shoots up his college campus before shooting himself, driving a wedge into their marriage that threatens to destroy it as they try to figure out which one of them is to blame. The intense drama which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Interview with Maria Bello (Coming Soon!)

Christina Yao’s Empire of Silver (NeoClassic Films) is set in 1899 China among the Shanxi merchants who controlled the nation’s finances, following a young man, known as the “Third Master,” who becomes heir to a banking empire lorded over by his father Lord Kang, but he is reticent to follow in his father’s footsteps especially after he took his first love away from him and she’s now his stepmother. The Asian epic opens in select cities.

Actor Dylan McDermott directs Love, Wedding, Marrage (IFC Films) starring Mandy Moore as recently married marriage counselor Ava who learns that her parents (James Brolin, Jane Seymour) are heading for a divorce, so she does everything in her power to save their marriage by manipulating everyone she knows. Also starring Kellan Lutz, it opens in select cities on Friday.

Rhys Ifan stars in Bernard Rose’s Mr. Nice (MPI Media Group), playing Howard Marks, a notorious Welsh drugsmuggler who took all sorts of identities in order to perpetrate his crimes. It opens in New York and L.A.

Don McGlynn’s documentary Rejoice and Shout (Magnolia) takes a look at the history of African-American gospel music in the United States over the course of 200 years. It opens in New York at the Film Forum on Friday, and in other theaters starting June 10. You can see a full release slate here.


Next week, J.J. Abrams returns with his coming-of-age alien invasion flick Super 8 (Paramount) while the popular kids book Judy Moody and the Bummer Summer (Relativity) also comes to theaters.

Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas

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